You may have heard about the recent "Richard Dawkins doesn't get it" kerfuffle*
. I wasn't going to write anything about it, but I think it's interesting that a certain piece of context is getting dropped from the story.
This is how it was described on Bad Astronomy in a post titled Richard Dawkins and Male Privilege
Here’s what happened, boiled down from a video post Skepchick Rebecca Watson made about this (she tells this story starting at 4m30s into the video at that link). Rebecca was a speaker at a conference recently. After her talk and a late evening of socializing with attendees at the bar, she got on an elevator to go to her room. She found herself alone on the elevator with a man presumably also an attendee. He said he "found her very interesting", and would she like to get some coffee in his hotel room? Rebecca turned him down, and in her video talks about how uncomfortable that made her feel.
The post goes on to discuss how "when Richard Dawkins spoke up about it. Through his own words, he proved quite clearly that a lot of men just don’t get it."
The thing is, this isn't just about a guy not getting that most women will find it threatening if a guy comes on to them in an elevator (and yes, asking a woman to your hotel room "for coffee" at four AM is most definitely coming on to her). Let's take a step back and look at the larger context, shall we?
This is the talk that Watson gave at the conference earlier that day:
It's cued up at the relevant point. Here's a transcript
of the relevant section, if you prefer text:
Then there are there e-mails from people who seem to agree with me 100% of the time, there are, I get fan mail, and a certain percentage of the fan-mail is graphically sexual. [laughter] And it's, you're laughing, I hope, out of a little bit of discomfort. [laughter] And if you're not uncomfortable, I'm gonna make you uncomfortable. [laughter] Because some of these emails do describe in graphic detail what these men would like to do me sexually. These are from the people agree with me and they think they're complimenting me by sending these e-mails, these tweets, youtube messages, things like that. So these are from atheists. And they don't necessarily understand that they're being horribly misogynistic, but they are.
So after she gives a talk that included as one of its main themes the idea that women in the community — and her in particular — get hit on all the time and don't like having to deal with that kind of objectification and misogyny again and again, this guy thinks that it's a good idea to follow her into an elevator at four in the morning and ask if she wants to come back to his room with him.
Unless he actually put it into words, he could hardly have communicated more clearly "I either have not listened to anything you have said, or I think your preferences and boundaries are completely unimportant compared to what I want."
This isn't the general problem that comes up so often of "how can a smart and geeky guy with possibly sub-suave social skills meet potential romantic partners?" This is a much more specific problem of a man acting out a recurrent societal pattern of disregarding what a woman has said about what she likes, wants, and finds acceptable. And I think it's the kind of situation where it doesn't matter whether he agrees that it's misogynistic or not, what matters is that she's said she doesn't like it, is tired of it, and would prefer not to have to deal with it.
In a video post about it, Watson herself summarized
it as being about, basically, "Don't invite me back to your hotel room, right after I've finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner."
I think it's interesting that that particular piece of context is being omitted from the story. Many of the responses I've seen to it have been tired old strawmen like "so you're saying that men should never talk to women" and "you think all men are rapists"†
and "but what about the poor guy who's now being humiliated in public when maybe he was just socially awkward"‡
and "she should have taken the time to explain to him why this was a problem"§
or implying that it's a woman's responsibility to turn a man down gently and tactfully so as not to bruise his ego, while never acknowledging the reality (which many women can tell you from personal experience) that simply saying "no" can cause a man to switch from "hey, gorgeous" to "you fucking CUNT!" in half a second. (Don't believe me on that last one? Spend a little time reading the Hollaback
archives. You'll be horrified.)
So in a story about how what women say is often disregarded as if they'd said nothing... what the woman at the heart of it said is being disregarded as if she hadn't said it.
Interesting.* The fact that this is how it's being referred to in many places is interesting in itself.
† It is not true that all men are rapists, and it is insulting to good men to say so. It is true that every man is Schroedinger's rapist, and it is insulting to women to deny this truth of our experience.
‡ She didn't name him or give any hint to his identity. Unless he's out there telling his friends "that clueless guy she talks about in the video? That's me!" there's no public humiliation, only private shame. If he has any self-reflection at all, that is.
§ If you think this, start here. I'm too tired to deal with it. So are most women I know.