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There were never any "good old days" — they are today, they are tomorrow
The amazing disappearing context 
6th-Jul-2011 08:29 pm
nobody knows you're a dog
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.


* 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.
7th-Jul-2011 04:15 am (UTC)
There is so very much I could say on this, but I'm in the middle of something AND tired, so I'll just say that Dawkins always kind of struck me as either a jerk, terminally clueless, or both.

Right now I'm going with both.

(Obviously there's more to this, Dawkins's response is just symptomatic of the larger problem, but even thinking about trying to address it just makes me even more tired.)
7th-Jul-2011 04:18 am (UTC) - PS
P.Z. Myers, to his credit, does get it, but I'd advise against reading the comments without something to strengthen your stomach first.
7th-Jul-2011 06:52 am (UTC) - Re: PS
So, that made me read it :-)

I liked this comment (sorry it's a bit long - the rest of this comment is a quote)

...I can remember a day in school (about aged eleven) when all of the girls were called into the library to watch a video while all of the boys went to have ice cream outside (we did get our ice cream eventually, but that's besides the point). The video went like this: A woman, on her own, walks into a confined space late at night. A man, bigger and, presumably, stronger, follows her, and has the weight and physical power to trap her if he so wishes. He makes a lewd remark. Superimposed are the words THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.
Sound familiar? This was a video about the precautions women are expected to take (from age eleven, apparently) in order to avoid being blamed when they are assaulted. This was the first of many ...It kind of gets to you after a while, you know?

As I say, the boys were never shown this video. They never got those lectures, or those chain letters. How would they know that such a situation would be, at best, annoying, at worst, terrifying and triggering? Nobody has ever thought to teach them.

I think Dawkins is clueless rather than malicious. I think that's true of a fair number of the dissenters on these boards, except for the obvious misogynists and trolls. Elevator guy was probably clueless as well. But we only stop being clueless when someone bothers to tell us we are wrong, and we LISTEN TO THEM.
7th-Jul-2011 04:48 pm (UTC) - Re: PS
As I say, the boys were never shown this video. They never got those lectures, or those chain letters. How would they know that such a situation would be, at best, annoying, at worst, terrifying and triggering? Nobody has ever thought to teach them.

That's a huge part of the problem, right there. I really do believe that at least some of these kinds of incidents are unintentional on the man's part, and all Watson did really was point out why that's a bad thing and how to do better next time.

I had a similar conversation with my husband a couple of years ago that was a real eye-opener for him. He'd never thought of it that way before, of course. Why would he?

And I mean, he's a good guy! He'd be mortified at the thought of putting me in even a mildly uncomfortable situation...but nobody had ever pointed out to him how or why certain things might be uncomfortable.

I refuse to allow worry or fear of what might happen to keep me from moving freely and behaving as I choose...but that doesn't mean that the possibility isn't lurking at the back of my mind, all the time. Over the years I've gotten pretty good at polite-and-firm boundary enforcement, to escalate to impolite-and-firm should the need arise.

How someone responds to such enforcement tells me a lot about them, including whether I'll associate with them again.
7th-Jul-2011 04:48 am (UTC) - Richard Dawkins: RE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
User spiritualmonkey referenced to your post from Richard Dawkins: RE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? saying: [...] OF CONTEXT everyone getting in a snit over this issue seems to be dropping from the conversation [...]
7th-Jul-2011 06:29 am (UTC)
This is an excellent summary of the case. Dawkins has not covered himself in glory over this whole incident. Thanks for pulling everything together into a coherent narrative. I think she did right not to mention his name, but giving a real life example is actually reaching out to the male atheist community and saying 'see, this is the kind of thing that upsets us.' And the reaction from some 'shut up, your emotions are stupid'.
8th-Jul-2011 01:47 am (UTC) - Wow. Schrodinger's Rapist
User semiotic_pirate referenced to your post from Wow. Schrodinger's Rapist saying: [...] link never dies. Thanks to Lexica510 - http://lexica510.livejournal.com/198066.html?style=mine&nc=7 [...]
8th-Jul-2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
I'll have you know I've never raped Schrodinger. :-)
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