The MU SASHA Blog

The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

You knew it was coming… Elevatorgate, Part MLXVI

Welcome to the official MU SASHA blog.

Click here to Like our Page on Facebook (or use the sidebar if you’re logged in).

If you like this post, please upvote it on Reddit.

Hello all; Dave here.

You knew this was coming eventually. I held off as long as I could, figuring that, even though I was at the conference and was the one who coined the term Watsongate (because of its aural similarity to Watergate, which eventually morphed into the more-fitting Elevatorgate), too much had been said on this already and I had nothing new to add. Well, I have something to add now, so here ’tis:

Elevator gate... har har.

From a Facebook thread, regarding the aftermath of Elevatorgate:

KH:
“…I’m hoping more guys will come forward and say “Look, I realize now that I may have made some women uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm.” I think it’ll make it much easier for those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of both awkward social advances and legitimately predatory targeting to better communicate our needs without sounding like we have some kind of blanket hatred for people who’ve put us in uncomfortable or frightening positions.”

Me:
“I realize now that I may have made some women uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm. I was born male, I identify as a man, and I will never be able to understand other vantage points firsthand. The best I can do is listen, respond, and adjust my thinking and behavior to the best of my ability.

I’ve considered myself a feminist for about 3 years now (since I started dating a Bryn Mawr alumna) and I’ve learned a lot. I learned not to refer to women as “girls” and, coming from an economics- and anthropology-student’s perspective, I’ve begun to appreciate just how much misogyny (including religious-based misogyny) has harmed society here and worldwide. I would recommend Betty Friedan as well as this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Fail ure-Impossible-Susan-Antho ny-Words/dp/0812927184/ref =sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=131094 7150&sr=8-4

to anyone interested in this topic.

Overall I think Elevatorgate is a good thing. We need to be talking about how to talk to someone you find attractive. That is how progress is made. Communication clarifies misunderstandings and it’s only by engaging each other in this way that ignorance can be addressed and give yield to more enlightened thinking and action.”

MB:
“If you would just admit to the equal horrors women put guys through, which guys on the whole are usually to tough to talk about or confess for that matter, then maybe your pain, which you’ve dissimulated in abstract blame, will be better used to polemicize against men and women, which would then provide grounds enough for you to channel your volcanic non-verbal, into a more healthy political exercise in ideology, eh? It will be like you cutting the cake, with the small rule that you take the last portion.”

Me:
I hope, too, that more women will come forward and say, “Look, I realize that I may have made some men uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm.”

Women are also capable (and some do) cause harm through their ignorance and in some extreme cases, some do so intentionally. For example, most men will never understand what it’s like to be scared of being raped if you are caught in a compromising situation with someone bigger than you. (I say “most men” because this happens to tens of thousands of men every single day in our prisons, and also, there are plenty of men out there who did not always identify as men).

But please also recognize that (most) women will never understand the fear – yes, fear – that accompanies consensual sex in the minds of many men. The reasons for this fear are layered: Men can be accused, arrested for, and even convicted of sexual assault if a woman changes her mind about consensual sex mid-coitus or even completely ex post facto, especially if alcohol or other intoxicants were involved. Even a not-guilty verdict or a dismissal on the whole can ruin someone’s reputation, ability to date, ability to get a job, etc for life.

Some unscrupulous women even abuse this aspect of our legal system intentionally. (Most) women will never know what it’s like to be afraid of being accused of rape for having what they thought at the time was consensual sex. (Most) women will never know what it’s like to be afraid to say anything at all to a woman because you might not use the right feminist language and risk offending her. (Most) women will never understand the fear that accompanies genuine attempts by men to indicate to women they find attractive that they’re interested in getting to know them better. (Most) women will never understand the heartache that comes from developing feelings for someone, only to find out later that she was “flirting for fun.”

Don’t get me wrong; flirting can be fun, but I protest to the use of the term “harmless flirting.” Flirting if you’re not sincere can really hurt people, and I think it’s important that (especially) women keep this in mind if they choose to flirt for fun.

Unlike many other animal species, humans don’t have abundantly obvious physical signals that the feeling is mutual. Sure, our cheeks and lips redden, our pupils dilate, we get “dreamy eyed,” etc, but these are not only subtle, but unreliable, too. One advantage we have over (all?) other animals is our language ability. If we’re interested in someone, we can signal this with words instead of with some physical sign, and with much better clarity, too, if we decide to be clear.

There is a double standard here that I think we should address. Women can indicate that they think a guy (or gal) is attractive and they don’t have to worry, the way men do, about being thought of as creepy or dangerous. For many men, it’s to the point where we just simply don’t ever hit on women, not for fear of rejection in the classic sense, but for fear that we will be thought of as creeps, especially if there is alcohol around.

I have seen advice in online forums about how a woman should indicate to a man that she is interested in him. Some examples I’ve seen include touching his arm, touching his hand, licking your lips, playing with his hair, etc. Can you imagine if the roles were reversed? If a man (that is, a man you weren’t interested in) touched your arm playfully, it would be reasonable for a woman to feel violated. In many cases he will instantly be written off as a creep or worse. I’m not even going to mention what would happen if a guy, during a conversation, just started touching your hair.

Now, a lot of women may say, “We’re not saying you can’t hit on us.” Well, for many men, please understand that, de facto, that’s what we’re hearing. It’s simply not worth the risk of being thought of as a creep. This is especially problematic because traditionally, the guy is supposed to make the first move. It’s a catch-22.

I am NOT saying this is true objectively, but for the sake of women reading this, here is what goes through many men’s minds after observing something like Elevatorgate unfold: As if we weren’t already scared enough from fear of rejection before, we are now scared to make the first move, ever, because we might get vituperated on the internet if we hit on someone at the wrong place or the wrong time. This is especially true for socially-awkward men, and there, frankly, is an overlap between skepticism/atheism & social awkwardness among men. To reiterate I am not saying that that’s really true. But that is how I’m sure many men feel after hearing all of this. The elevator guy will almost certainly never come forward for fear of being eaten alive by feminists (of all genders), even if it’s just to apologize and say that he meant no harm.

"I'm sorry!"

The problem here, I think, is that there is no instruction manual for men about how to ask someone out respectfully or show her/him you’re interested. And there really can’t be, because everybody responds in different ways to different come-ons, some positive, some negative, and it can reasonably be argued that it also depends on the suitor’s level of attractiveness (or even the relative attractiveness of between suitor & “suitee”). This is a problem. I think it’s fair to say that people, generally speaking, want to be hit on, when it’s socially appropriate and not creepy. It can be flattering when someone (attractive) thinks you’re attractive – frankly that is how all relationships get off the ground! It’s a necessary step in the process of beginning a relationship.

But if traditionally, women expect men to make the first move, how are we to know what’s socially appropriate and not creepy when the conditions are in a constant state of flux, depending on

  1. how attractive you are
  2. how attractive the other person is
  3. how much alcohol you have had
  4. how much alcohol the other person has had
  5. how many other people are around
  6. WHO is around
  7. what time it is
  8. when you last slept
  9. when the other person last slept
  10. whether the other person is in an exclusive relationship or not, which you can only reasonably be expected to know if the information is promulgated, the other person is wearing a wedding ring, or you ask directly
  11. etc, etc, etc?


I have had more than one woman tell me that she likes it when her suitor “takes charge” as far as asking someone out. For example, saying to someone: “I’m taking you to dinner on Saturday.” I know some people who would consider this the ultimate in flattery. I know others who would consider this the height of misogynistic bullying and anti-feminism. I know some women who would be offended at the very suggestion of splitting the check, and others who don’t bat an eye alternating who picks up the tab, sometimes even planning & paying, starting with the very first date.

There are so many hidden rules, rules that contradict each other, and situation-dependent rules that it’s enough to make a one’s head spin. In addition, a different set of rules apply to overweight, older, or otherwise less-attractive men than those which apply to young, fit, rich, or otherwise more-attractive men.

Folks, men are dense. This is not news. We don’t read between the lines as well as women do. Our brains are not wired that way and it’s not a personality flaw or anybody’s fault. We just work much better with very clear instructions. There is a spectrum of ability in this area and men are simply not as good at it on average.

We don’t want to insult you. We don’t want to scare you. We don’t want to creep you out. We want to be attractive to you, and we want to make you feel good about yourself and good about us. We want to make you feel special and important. But we need help. Your help. If you insist or prefer that we make the first move (I recognize that not all of you do, and I applaud that), you have to understand that sometimes we are going to screw it up. That doesn’t mean we are misogynistic. It doesn’t mean we aren’t feminists. It just means that we’re human.

If we are using language that offends you, don’t stop talking to us. Correct us. (If you actually feel threatened as opposed to just offended, obviously, that’s different). On the whole, we desire to not offend you. This goes for LGBTQ language as well as feminist language as well as any other type of language where the wrong wording may cause offense. If someone doesn’t know to say “a gay man” instead of “a gay,” correct her/him. If someone doesn’t know to say “woman” instead of “girl,” correct her/him. If someone you’re talking to touches your hand, and you’d rather them not do that, just say, “I’d rather you not do that. We can still talk; I just prefer not to be touched. Thank you,” etc, then just continue the conversation. Men need more verbal feedback because we’re just not as good as you are with nonverbal cues. It really is that simple. We want to learn, and we can’t learn if we’re shunned instead of instructed.

If you think I’m saying this because of privilege, I’m asking you not to get pissed at me, but instead tell me so in the comment section below, and tell me what you would suggest instead. I ask that you not tell me I’m obviously not really a feminist – I identify as a feminist, and if you acknowledged me as one when I said so at the very beginning of this post but you don’t now, recognize that you are committing both the logical fallacy of moving the goalpost and the No True Scotsman fallacy. It is not true that only women can have legitimate views on feminist topics. If you think I’m wrong, tell me why, and tell me what to say instead.

Remember, as I said above, communication clarifies misunderstandings and it’s only by engaging each other in this way that ignorance can be addressed and give yield to more enlightened thinking and action.

I look forward to your responses.

Until next time,

Dave

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, and posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

If you like this post, please upvote it on Reddit.

Advertisements

About MU SASHA Administrator

University of Missouri SASHA (Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics) University of Missouri-Columbia http://www.muSASHA.org

20 comments on “You knew it was coming… Elevatorgate, Part MLXVI

  1. Jashin
    July 18, 2011

    “(Most) women will never understand the heartache that comes from developing feelings for someone, only to find out later that she was “flirting for fun.””

    Don’t even _pretend_ this is a gender specific thing. I’ve sat by and listened to my female friends bitching about mixed signals and confusing messages – and experienced them myself – to know that men also have a large enough share in the harmless flirtation market. You’ve generalized heavily about the dumb, can’t-read-between-the-lines man stereotype, which may be true of atheist nerds who are trying to communicate in good faith, but is certainly not true of men who are just as conflicted, whimsical, and manipulative in the dating game as you seem to be implying that women are. Hell, even atheist nerds who don’t set out to be cruel can leave a trail of confusing signals a mile wide, and then gender roles and politics get the middle, and then we get another round of the blame game.

    “There are so many hidden rules, rules that contradict each other, and situation-dependent rules that it’s enough to make a one’s head spin. In addition, a different set of rules apply to overweight, older, or otherwise less-attractive men than those which apply to young, fit, rich, or otherwise more-attractive men.”

    Again, not a gender specific thing. I understand this blog post is going to be written out of your own experiences, but you seem to be saying that “women will never experience this.” Bullshit with a capital B.S. Try being a woman making her way in an old boys’ club (like, say, state government) and see how much of this applies to her as well.

    “The problem here, I think, is that there is no instruction manual for men about how to ask someone out respectfully or show her/him you’re interested. And there really can’t be, because everybody responds in different ways to different come-ons, some positive, some negative, and it can reasonably be argued that it also depends on the suitor’s level of attractiveness (or even the relative attractiveness of between suitor & “suitee”).”

    So, the solution I have always advocated, as to ASK. Ask about anything you’re unsure of. I’m female and I’m just complete shit at reading signals (Stereotype 1 exploded!). So I ask about everything – if it’s okay, if that’s what they want, if they’re sure it’s okay, what’s their opinion. Perhaps it would irritate someone who expects me to magically know everything without saying much, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure I would want to date them or be their friend anyway. It’s that simple. Just open your mouth and freaking communicate.

  2. Rev. Aaron O'Donahue
    July 18, 2011

    My fb account has been deleted by skepchicks, rebecca watson, and her thugs over this elevatorgate nonsense. My fb username is Rev. Aaron O’Donahue

  3. Dan Linford
    July 18, 2011

    This was fantastic! I agree 100% with what you said here.

  4. maggiesaurusmay
    July 18, 2011

    I don’t think you’re a misogynist or bad person. But, here are some things that I have disagree with.

    “But please also recognize that (most) women will never understand the fear – yes, fear – that accompanies consensual sex in the minds of many men.”
    I certainly don’t disagree with this statement. I have read many questionable rape cases and have defended men on the issue of consent. However, I don’t know how this in any way relates to elevatorgate. Rape accusations aren’t the result of a woman’s social faux pas making a man uncomfortable. It seems like this is included as a way of saying “Hey, men have it hard too!” It is a valid complaint, but not in relation to “Look, I realize that I may have made some men uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm.” I think this very difficult topic would be better dealt with in an entire post completely separate from elevatorgate

    “(Most) women will never understand the heartache that comes from developing feelings for someone, only to find out later that she was ‘flirting for fun.’” “I think it’s important that (especially) women keep this in mind if they choose to flirt for fun.”
    I don’t think that women are the only ones who lead on the opposite sex. By saying that most women can never understand this, you’re implying that men rarely lead women on then break their hearts. I guess men tend to flirt for sex rather than for fun, but it seems like the heartache is still something that many, if not most, women can readily understand. I don’t see why it’s important that especially women understand this. Is a woman’s playful insincere flirting somehow more damaging than a man’s?

    Is there a double standard between men and women? Yes. It would seem weird for a man to play with a woman’s hair, but not for a woman to play with a man’s hair. This works both ways though. You have a fabulous beard, but when a woman has one it’s soooo weird. (This was Seth’s joke). But seriously, the advice columns for women are generally going to be inadmissible to men just as men’s advice columns are going to be inadmissible for women. I’m not sure what the point is here other than women and men flirt differently.

    The last portion of the post presents the biggest problem for me. In this you seemingly take all responsibility away from men and put it on women. You say “…men are dense…We don’t read between the lines…” Then you go on to tell women how women should behave in order to help men. You tell women what we should and shouldn’t do. We should correct men when they do something wrong and explain to them what we really want. We shouldn’t just shun men who offend us. Why should women spend their time correcting a man’s bad behavior instead of looking for a man with good behavior? Because it’s easier for men that way?
    I don’t think women expect men to be perfect. We expect men to make mistakes. Some mistakes we will allow and deal with, others we won’t. Asking a woman to coffee in your hotel room at 4am is a mistake some women won’t deal with. Others might. If a woman wants to tell a man “I would rather you didn’t touch me. I want to just talk” then that’s great. Similarly, if a woman does something that makes you uncomfortable, you can tell her that. But you certainly would be justified in just breaking things off and finding a woman who doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

  5. Holli Carr
    July 18, 2011

    “Women can indicate that they think a guy (or gal) is attractive and they don’t have to worry, the way men do, about being thought of as creepy or dangerous. For many men, it’s to the point where we just simply don’t ever hit on women, not for fear of rejection in the classic sense, but for fear that we will be thought of as creeps, especially if there is alcohol around.”
    This is not a double standard. It reflects reality. It is rarely dangerous for a man to be approached by a woman. It is frequently dangerous for a woman to be approached by a man. It’s not fair for the nice guys to have to worry about coming off as a creep, true, but it’s not women’s fault–it’s the fault of the creepy asshole men. You get conditioned pretty quickly when you’ve been hit on inappropriately, much less actually assaulted. And take the hint about alcohol. If you and/or the woman have been drinking, maybe it’s not the best time to try to get in her pants–just like it’s not the best time to get in your car. Yeah, you might make it home safely, but it’s an awful risk.

    “I have seen advice in online forums about how a woman should indicate to a man that she is interested in him. Some examples I’ve seen include touching his arm, touching his hand, licking your lips, playing with his hair, etc. Can you imagine if the roles were reversed? If a man (that is, a man you weren’t interested in) touched your arm playfully, it would be reasonable for a woman to feel violated. In many cases he will instantly be written off as a creep or worse. I’m not even going to mention what would happen if a guy, during a conversation, just started touching your hair.”
    Well, first I want to say I think those are terrible suggestions. Maybe if you really know the person, that’s an appropriate way to signal you’re ready for the relationship to move from friendship to romantic. But if you do that to a relative stranger–especially with alcohol involved–you’re asking for trouble! Plus, it’s about as anti-feminist as any advice I’ve ever heard. Sheesh! The same advice many are giving guys during this debate is just as good for the goose. People need to speak plainly and clearly what they want, so there’s no question and less concern for misunderstandings.

    “Now, a lot of women may say, “We’re not saying you can’t hit on us.” ”
    I am. I don’t think it’s appropriate very often at all for anyone to “hit on” anyone. Strike up a conversation–a real one, as you would with any other real person. Be yourself (well, a nicer, politer, less nose-picky version of yourself) and just talk–and really listen. If you want women to be genuinely interested in you, treat them as real people, not as potential lays.

  6. Katie Hartman
    July 18, 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree with Maggie, here:

    ‘However, I don’t know how this in any way relates to elevatorgate. Rape accusations aren’t the result of a woman’s social faux pas making a man uncomfortable. It seems like this is included as a way of saying “Hey, men have it hard too!” It is a valid complaint, but not in relation to “Look, I realize that I may have made some men uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm.” I think this very difficult topic would be better dealt with in an entire post completely separate from elevatorgate.’

    False rape accusations are definitely not an insignificant problem – some are naively desperate (the individual will report that she did not know her attacker and will remain very vague on his appearance because she does not actually intend for anyone to be arrested; she may be attempting to provide an excuse for a pregnancy or STD) and others are definitely malicious (the individual will finger someone out of vengeance). In any case, this has nothing to do with any social faux pas, and thus comes off as an attempt to show that “hey, women might get raped pretty frequently, but men get pinned for rapes they didn’t commit, too!” I don’t think this was your intention, but it comes across as an attempt to equate a physical sexual attack with a legal one, and that leaves a pretty nasty taste in my mouth.

  7. Steve S
    July 18, 2011

    “Folks, men are dense. This is not news. We don’t read between the lines as well as women do.”

    Not true. Men are actually just as good as, if not better than, women at reading the emotional states of the opposite sex. The “men are dumb animals” line is BS. We aren’t.

    “As if we weren’t already scared enough from fear of rejection before, we are now scared to make the first move, ever, because we might get vituperated on the internet if we hit on someone at the wrong place or the wrong time.”

    So, maybe a possible solution here would be for bloggers who have taken up events like these as an issue (you know, the feminist bloggers like Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, Amanda Marcotte, and Jen McCreight) to take note of inappropriate come-ons when they happen, and use them as teachable moments to educate the men in their readership.

    Like they’ve done over and over and over and over.

    And I think the danger to elevator guy is overblown. If he came out with an public apology, he’d actually be the darling of those same bloggers, who would use him to say, “See? Talking about it actually works.”

    “We don’t want to insult you. We don’t want to scare you. We don’t want to creep you out.”

    Ok, the problem here is that you’re speaking for a subset of men who don’t blame women for feeling threatened. That is not all men, as this whole ordeal very obviously pointed out. And women have no way of knowing whether a man is a well-meaning Dave or something more dangerous.

    “But we need help. Your help.”

    Your conclusion here is the main point I wanted to address. It’s way off base.

    Even if you’re right about the atheist movement attracting a higher-than-average number of socially misfit men, the answer simply cannot be for women to be socially aware for both sexes. It shifts the responsibility to the person being made uncomfortable by the situation. It splits the blame between two parties for the deeds of one. It sends the message that men in the movement get to be socially inept, but women don’t.

    Essentially, what you’re telling women in the movement to do is:

    1. Take for granted that every overly-aggressive, personal-space-violating, or unwanted-attention-giving man is really just a well-meaning Dave in need of correction.

    2. Never take it personally when that man makes you feel uncomfortable.

    3. Be willing to take the time out of your schedule to educate him, in spite of the fact that it kills conversation, creates a whole new level of awkwardness, and makes you look like a bitch.

    4. Assume that he will appreciate your correction, and even be thankful for it.

    5. Basically, be socially and persuasively super-human.

    Sorry, man. I know you’re a well-meaning guy. I am, too. And I get overwhelmed with all the variables in what is and isn’t OK. But neither of us is as socially inept as this article makes us seem. And even if we were, we don’t get to say to women, “Gauging social situations is hard. You do it for us.”

  8. Jerry Winn
    July 19, 2011

    I was going to reply to a blog that defended Watson, but too much red tape… so I’ll just stick it here.

    There isn’t and should be nothing wrong with expressing a romantic or even sexual interest in another person (who has reached the age of consent). Asking all men, on behalf of all women, to never do that is foolishly narrow-minded. If the advance is unwelcome, then you decline. That’s how language works.

    Perhaps I lack relevant particulars, but even as a feminist, I have to agree with Dawkins. Holding men, and likewise women, to such a standard is absurd. Just because you’d prefer if the opposite sex could intuitively know if you’d be interested doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t even ask as a matter of cultural institution.

    Interestingly, Japan has a problem with this now… what they consider “herbivorous males,” and it’s partly to blame for their declining marriage and population rates, which is contributing to social and economic problems.

    • maggiesaurusmay
      July 19, 2011

      Jeremy, you need to add a lot more caveats to “There isn’t and should be nothing wrong with expressing a romantic or even sexual interest in another person (who has reached the age of consent).” How about if a man continuously expresses that interest to a woman who has repeatedly declined? Now it seems like there is something wrong with that person expressing a sexual interest. How about if a woman is walking down a dark alley and a man comes up to her and says “I want to have sex with you.” Now it seems like there is something wrong with expressing a sexual interest. How about if a woman is in her boss’s office and he expresses a sexual interest in her. Now it seems like there is something wrong with expressing a sexual interest.
      I don’t know what you’ve read or what Dawkins post you’re talking about, but I think you may need to explore this topic a little deeper. Also, you either entirely misunderstood or misinterpreted the problem of the herbivorous males in Japan.

      • Jerry Winn
        July 19, 2011

        I guess I underestimate how socially retarded some men are if I need to clarify that you should not persist if your advance was declined.

        As for the dark alley scenario, I don’t think there’s anything innately wrong with that. Potentially creepy and in poor taste, admittedly, but not wrong. As for sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s important to understand, but I didn’t catch where it was relevant to this situation.

        Dawkins was asked about Watson’s comments and he made some comment to the effect of, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” which angered many people (though of course many people agree). I recommend looking into it for context.

        I’m not at all new to internet discussions, and if it’s a social issue, I’ve probably discussed it to death already. Feminist views on sexual advances are no exception. I’m actually relatively knowledgeable about Japanese culture. Were you just assuming that I MUST be wrong, or do you know something I don’t? Here’s an informative article: http://www.slate.com/id/2220535/

  9. maggiesaurusmay
    July 19, 2011

    Ok, so it seems like you’re taking the position that it even if a man has good reason to know that he will be making a woman uncomfortable and possibly fearful, he still has the right to express his sexual interest (the dark alley situation). I hope you won’t dispute that a reasonable person would agree that a man approaching a lone woman in a dark alley and propositioning her for sex would make her feel uncomfortable and possibly fearful. But you’re saying a man still has this right because…? Maybe you can clarify this for me.

    I know of the Dawkins comment where he wrote a letter to “Muslima” and basically said that American women have nothing to complain about because women in Islamic cultures have it much worse. Is this what you’re saying you agree with Dawkins about?

    Finally, you said: “Just because you’d prefer if the opposite sex could intuitively know if you’d be interested doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t even ask as a matter of cultural institution. Interestingly, Japan has a problem with this now… ”
    This seems to be suggesting that Japan has a problem with a cultural institution that asks men to not express an interest in women. In fact, I don’t see how the herbivorous men have anything to do with the issue at hand. The herbivorous men live in a society where their culture tells them to be sexually aggressive, make money, and spend money. However, the herbivorous men lack a desire to have sex, or make or spend money. The women in the society don’t like this, and want the men to desire sex and hit on them, according to the article you cited. I said that you either misunderstood or misinterpreted because I don’t see any way in which the problem in Japan is related to the problems elicited from Elevatorgate.

  10. Jerry Winn
    July 20, 2011

    Re: the dark alley; to me it is simply a question of which right is greater… the right to express a thought or desire, or the right to not feel uncomfortable and possibly fearful. Particularly to the extent that the latter is interpretive and not necessarily rational, I think the right to express wins out nearly every time. Of course, that is different when the threat is real, but “I want to have sex with you,” in a dark alley should be no more an expression of intent to harm than, “I wish I had all of the money in this bank,” in the lobby of a bank is an intent to rob. Granted, there are sociocultural factors at play here that warrant exceptions… it is -reasonable- to think that there may be intent to harm in the case of the dark alley, but it is also fallacious to -assume- that there is intent to harm. If “no” doesn’t do it, then outrage is justified.

    Re: Dawkins; No, I’m referring exclusively to his response to the “Elevatorgate” incident.

    Re: Herbivorism; It is related because the message of the Elevatorgate incident was essentially that men should be more herbivorous… It discourages asserting an interest in women. A critical aspect of herbivorism that the article may neglect is that for many men it isn’t a lack of desire, but a lack of empowerment to talk to women. The culture may explicitly encourage more carnivorous behavior, but its social and cultural institutions fail to back that up. As a result, men don’t talk to women, women don’t talk to men, and relationships simply fail to happen.

    There are other aspects to it, for sure, but that is one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

    Now, to come full circle, is a lonely elevator or dark alley the best place to approach a woman you don’t know? Not ideally, but in the mind of many perfectly harmless men, that is the safe place for THEM (and very possibly their only opportunity to address the lady of their interest). They have an opportunity to assert their interest without facing public embarrassment if rejected. By asking all men everywhere to avoid expressing interest in that case, it’s unrealistic to expect that the more timid and harmless of them won’t simply give up altogether. Conversely, a man who you should be afraid of isn’t concerned with your expectations for social courtesy. All I’m saying is that if you are a woman in that situation and the man means you harm, telling the ones who are innocently expressing their interest in you that they shouldn’t do that offers you no real protection, and merely discourages earnest men from expressing interest at all.

    • maggiesaurusmay
      July 21, 2011

      “the right to express a thought or desire, or the right to not feel uncomfortable and possibly fearful. Particularly to the extent that the latter is interpretive and not necessarily rational, I think the right to express wins out nearly every time.”
      Thoughts or desires are not necessarily rational either. Lust is certainly not rational. Where do rights come from? What are the criteria for ranking rights?

      “Of course, that is different when the threat is real, but ‘I want to have sex with you,’ in a dark alley should be no more an expression of intent to harm than, ‘I wish I had all of the money in this bank,’ in the lobby of a bank is an intent to rob.”
      So, the bank one seems a little more innocent and could be played off as a joke, right? This is because you adjusted the wording slightly. If you want a more accurate analogy, the man in the bank should be saying “I want all of the money in this bank” and he should be saying it to a teller with the intent of receiving all of the money. See, the man in the bank in your scenario doesn’t actually want the teller to start handing over cash, whereas a man telling a woman he wants to have sex with her does want the woman to accept his advances and have sex. But as far as how we as a society favor safety over someone’s right to express desires, try saying this the next time you take a flight somewhere: I want this airplane to explode.

      “it is -reasonable- to think that there may be intent to harm in the case of the dark alley, but it is also fallacious to -assume- that there is intent to harm.”
      What’s the fallacy in that assumption? If the situation is exactly the same in the dark alley and the man actually is intending harm, is it fallacious to assume he’s intending harm? If it’s reasonable to think there may be an intent to harm, doesn’t it follow that it’s reasonable to assume an intent to harm? Isn’t it dangerous for a woman not to assume a harmful intent?

      “If ‘no’ doesn’t do it, then outrage is justified.”
      So a woman will be justified in being outraged once it’s clear that a man won’t take no for an answer and is going to rape her? That’s comforting.

      “I’m referring exclusively to his response to the ‘Elevatorgate’ incident.”
      His response to Elevatorgate was the letter from Muslima. I have read one of his follow-ups in which he minimizes the situation: “A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story. “ Is this the one you’re referring to?

      “the message of the Elevatorgate incident was essentially that men should be more herbivorous… It discourages asserting an interest in women.” Not entirely true. It discourages men asserting an interest in women when the assertion makes women feel uncomfortable or unsafe, rather than a blanket discouragement.

      “A critical aspect of herbivorism that the article may neglect is that for many men it isn’t a lack of desire, but a lack of empowerment to talk to women. The culture may explicitly encourage more carnivorous behavior, but its social and cultural institutions fail to back that up.”(emphasis added)
      I don’t understand how the culture explicitly encourages men to be carnivorous, but its social and cultural institutions don’t “back that up.” I don’t know what this means nor how this isn’t a contradiction. Furthermore, the article you linked states/implies several times that there is a lack of desire among the herbivorous men: they “shun sex”, were “Named for their lack of interest in sex”. “they’re not particularly motivated by sex.” They “have no desire to live up to traditional social expectations in their relationships with women…” “their behavior reflects a rejection of … traditional Japanese definition of masculinity”
      What’s so interesting about this to me is that the problem actually seems to derive from your viewpoint rather than the one advocated by feminists. The men didn’t become herbivorous because they were encouraged to. Rather, “Herbivores represent an unspoken rebellion against many of the masculine, materialist values associated with Japan’s 1980s bubble economy.”

      “Now, to come full circle, is a lonely elevator or dark alley the best place to approach a woman you don’t know? Not ideally, but in the mind of many perfectly harmless men, that is the safe place for THEM (and very possibly their only opportunity to address the lady of their interest).”
      When it was suggested that women felt unsafe, I didn’t mean to convey to you that women felt unsafe due to some kind of social embarrassment. I meant they felt unsafe as in they legitimately feared they were going to be in danger of a physical attack. To conflate these two kinds of safety shows a bias on your part. You dismissed the women’s fear as it is often irrational and interpretive. But this fear of men’s you seem to suggest is entirely legitimate and a good basis for your view that men should be able to express sexual desires whenever, wherever.
      “Conversely, a man who you should be afraid of isn’t concerned with your expectations for social courtesy.”
      Precisely. This is why women assume that men violating social courtesies are a potential threat. This is why women are afraid of men violating social courtesies. If you don’t want to be perceived as a threat, don’t violate social courtesies.

      “All I’m saying is that if you are a woman in that situation and the man means you harm, telling the ones who are innocently expressing their interest in you that they shouldn’t do that offers you no real protection, and merely discourages earnest men from expressing interest at all.” Actually, if innocent men didn’t violate these social courtesies, women would be protected from feeling uncomfortable and unsafe. I think most people want to be protected from situations in which we feel unsafe, and I don’t think this is asking too much.

      • Jerry Winn
        July 22, 2011

        Sorry, but that’s just way too long.

  11. Lauren
    July 20, 2011

    Watson did exactly what you are asking women to do here by explaining to men that we are not comfortable with being asked to go to a strange man’s hotel room while alone with him in an elevator at 4 A.M. It’s true that women are not comfortable with that. So, a guy who wants to know how to avoid making a woman uncomfortable would benefit from being informed of that. As a general rule, women usually feel uncomfortable when men try to hit on us in any situation where we are alone in an enclosed space. Sexual assaults often occur in elevators and other such enclosed spaces. They also often occur in dark alleys. Women know this. So when a guy hits on us in a place where we cannot easily get away, or where there are no other people around to hear us scream, we feel uncomfortable. Maybe he’s harmless, but he’s less likely to be harmless than a guy who leaves us alone in those locations. Harmful men seek to get themselves alone with a woman in a place where she can’t easily get away or call for help. So men who hit on us in those places creep us out.

    If you want to know how to better impress women and better avoid creeping them out, that is useful information. We are communicating that to you, just like you are asking us to communicate things to you to help you avoid creeping us out. In case you are wondering what to do if coming across a strange woman alone in elevator is the only chance you have to talk to her and you may never see her again… let it go. Do you really want to spend what could be your only chance to interact with a certain woman by creeping her out? Let her be, unless you can later come across her in a place/situation where she will feel more safe and won’t be creeped out by someone trying to flirt with her. That way, if you later have an opportunity to talk to us in a safer location, we won’t remember you as the creepy elevator guy and make an excuse to get away from you as soon as you start to try to talk to us.

    We want men to learn how to avoid creeping us out. We are willing to explain to you exactly how you could avoid making us feel uncomfortable. That is exactly what Watson was trying to do by advising men not to invite a woman they’ve never talked to before to their hotel rooms while inside an elevator at 4 A.M. There ARE many locations where being flirted with will not automatically make us uncomfortable. But elevators and dark alleys are not among those places where we could feel safe, because so many women have been sexually assaulted in places like that by men taking advantage of how they cannot easily get away or call for help. I love flirting with men. Even men I’ve just met. I like it when a guy introduces himself and starts a friendly conversation with a few (not perverted) compliments thrown in. But only in locations where I am not isolated with him in some way. Most women feel this way.

    • Jerry Winn
      July 21, 2011

      I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, but it also doesn’t contradict anything I’ve said. If the woman is uncomfortable with advances when she is alone, and the man is uncomfortable making advances when NOT alone, then so long as the man feels the social and cultural onus to make advances, it is naturally his prerogative to do so in the way that he is comfortable with, however successful or unsuccessful that may be. Society cannot ask the man to be responsible for the advance but insist that he does so in a way that makes him vulnerable to public rejection and expect any great success.

      Unfortunately even if women shared that onus, the problem is not reconciled… until one person expresses interest and the other answers, the presence of mutual interest is unknown. However, given that women are less predatory and threatening in general, I certainly wouldn’t object to the shoe being on the other foot, and shifting the onus to the woman. But for that to happen, women would actually have to be much more aggressive with their interest, and that’s hoping rather optimistically that this would even be plausible when considering the evolutionary chemistry of the mating process.

      • Lauren
        July 21, 2011

        A guy who only feels confident enough to make a move when the woman is isolated with him has several options:

        1. You could keep only making a move on women you’ve just met when she is isolated with you, but… I’m sorry, many women will find you creepy that way. This will not help your chances of finding a partner.

        2. Get brave and start talking with women when they are not isolated. Perhaps you could just have some casual get-to-know-you conversations at first to build up your confidence. Your best chance is a woman who you’ll see on a regular basis because she works with you or goes to the same events. After many casual conversations you won’t be a stranger anymore. If during those conversations you are respectful and show that you have a respectful attitude towards women in general she might end up liking you. Then if you still can only ask her out in a place where no one else will hear her response at least you won’t be a complete stranger anymore. Fewer women feel threatened and uncomfortable if it is someone they know who expresses a respectful attitude about women.

        3. Some women do make the first move. It doesn’t usually happen in elevators, but it does happen. I’ve done it. It’s not completely off the table.

      • Jerry Winn
        July 22, 2011

        I’m not single myself, but having been for a long time, I can certainly appreciate advice on how to be more successful when talking to women. The problem here is the context of Elevatorgate, which was not constructive advice on how to talk to women. It was, to my understanding, telling men how NOT to talk to women, which only removes options… options which may be viable depending on the woman.

        Telling men to be brave, however, is not useful advice. Nobody, man or woman, wants to be rejected, and they certainly don’t want to be rejected publicly. I’ve met very few women bold enough to make the initial expression of interest, and like most males, they prefer to do so privately.

        Men already bear a disproportionate burden for pursuing relationships without being asked to be brave about it.

  12. Steve S
    July 21, 2011

    RE: dark alleys and the inalienable right to express sexual interest, regardless of context

    Are you really framing this as a discussion of absolute rights, pitting self-expression against feeling safe? That’s a terrible way of framing the situation, because the entire discussion about sexism in the atheist movement is based around certain unspoken caveats — assumptions I didn’t think needed to be laid out. But apparently they do.

    If you want to be perceived in a particular way, there are certain behaviors that are off limits to you. No one is talking about completely prohibiting those behaviors. We’re just talking about cause and effect.

    IF you don’t want to come off as racist, there are certain behaviors you cannot act out toward or regarding people of another race.

    IF you don’t want to come off as homophobic, there are certain behaviors you cannot act out toward or regarding homosexuals.

    IF you don’t want to come off as sexist, there are certain behaviors you cannot act out toward or regarding members of the opposite sex.

    IF you don’t want to come off as creepy, there are certain behaviors you cannot act out toward or regarding your sexual or romantic interests.

    Again, no one is talking about removing from you the right to say racist, homophobic, sexist, or creepy things. They’re simply offering suggestions to the community as a whole about how we could make women more comfortable at atheist meetings and conferences, and increase their participation in the movement and its events.

    So, it goes like this:

    IF you believe there is a gender gap in atheist meetings and conferences…

    IF you believe that gender gap is a problem which needs to be addressed…

    IF you believe — based on the testimony of countless women who have gone to these events and participated in the community — that the reason women aren’t more involved is that they’re made to feel uncomfortable at these events…

    IF you believe — again, based on listening to these women — that one of the major causes of this discomfort is unwanted sexual attention, ranging from outright catcalls to inappropriate flirting…

    THEN you accept that unwanted sexual attention is driving women away from atheist meetings and conferences.

    Furthermore,

    IF you believe that atheists — rational as we like to think we are — can still have subtle sexist attitudes ingrained in us by living in a male-dominated and patriarchal society, particularly attitudes about women and sex…

    IF you believe the best way to get over those sexist attitudes is to have them challenged, to accept that the challenge is legitimate, and then change the behavior…

    THEN you have to accept that people like Watson — by using Elevator Guy as an example of what not to do — are doing us all a favor, teaching men what makes women uncomfortable so we can change the behavior and stop alienating women, thereby closing the gender gap in the atheist community.

    So when people like Watson say, “Don’t follow women into enclosed spaces in the early morning to ask them for sex,” what they’re really saying is: “If you want more women to enjoy atheist events, then don’t follow women into enclosed spaces in the early morning to ask them for sex.”

    Now, I’m not saying you can’t go on insisting that it’s far more important for men to able to express sexual interest any time, any place, regardless of the context and likelihood that they’ll make the woman they’re addressing feel uncomfortable and threatened. You’re perfectly within your rights to say so.

    But you’ll be hard-pressed afterwards to convince people that you care much about whether atheist women enjoy being part of the movement.

    • Jerry Winn
      July 21, 2011

      Those are also not mutually exclusive from the arguments I’m making, you realize. I am simply pointing out the other side of the coin (while in no way disavowing the first side).

      I think the key here is in recognizing that I am saying it’s more important for men to BE ABLE TO express sexual interest any time/place. I’m not saying it’s -unimportant- for men to understand the potential repercussions of being bad at talking to women. It’s very important, but it’s also been spoken for… countless times in various contexts, in fact.

      You’ll have to learn that I am generally a disagreeable person only because I don’t see much point in saying what’s already been said. I have no problem agreeing with a viewpoint whether mainstream or fringe while simultaneously pointing out all its weaknesses, exceptions, and consequences, to include matters that are only tangentially related. That assumes, as is often true, that the purpose of my contribution is to develop an idea intellectually rather than to necessarily serve as an advocate. I do advocate for many things, and the difference will be obvious when I do, you’ll find.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: