Richard Dawkins and male privilege

By Phil Plait | July 5, 2011 10:30 am

Over the weekend, a full-blown scandal erupted in the skeptical movement atheist and skeptical communities* over sexism and attitudes about sexual harassment. It started with a fairly straightforward story about a clueless man putting a woman in an uncomfortable situation. The conversation about it was interesting, to say the least. An important point that came up multiple times is that many men do not truly understand what women go through in such situations.

This point was driven home 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.

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.

If the story ended here there would be obvious things to say about it (obvious to me, at least, but not everyone, as will become quite clear). This man may have had nothing but noble intentions, but that doesn’t matter. Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent. But when he hits on her? There’s no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that’s unacceptable. A situation like this can lead to sexual assault; I just read in the news here in Boulder that a few days ago a relatively innocent situation turned into assault. This isn’t some rare event; it happens a lot and most women are all-too painfully aware of it.

Rebecca, apparently, handled this situation with aplomb, and I’m glad. She turned it into a useful lesson for men on how not to treat women.

At this point there are many offshoot discussions and tangential topics being discussed on the skeptical blogs and elsewhere. I will ignore those, as they distract from what is in my opinion the most important thing here. As it happens, PZ Myers wrote a blog post about this, and Richard Dawkins — yes, the Richard Dawkins, PZ has confirmed this — left a comment in that post. And what he said… well. Read it for yourself:

It took me a moment to parse this. He was being sarcastic, obviously, but he wasn’t talking to someone specifically; he was using a rhetorical tool of speaking to an imaginary person. So he is saying to a generic Muslim woman, you think you have problems, why, Rebecca was hit on in an elevator! How horrible!

At first I thought I had misread this. Surely, Dr. Dawkins, who has written and spoken eloquently in the past on the plight of women suffering under religious intolerance wouldn’t trivialize what happened to Rebecca, would he?

Many people certainly interpreted it that way, as that does seem overwhelmingly to be his point. Dawkins then attempted to clear this up by leaving a second comment trying to argue that he was not doing this. However, in my opinion, what he claims he was trying to say is actually worse:

Oh my. I have tried and tried to see some other way to interpret this, but it looks to me that he really is comparing a potential sexual assault to someone chewing gum.

And I’m not the only one who thought so. Many others did, and none, I think, put it more clearly than Jen McCreight at her blog BlagHag (note: I have edited this because it uses some choice NSFW words that will get my own blog caught in nanny filters; seriously, go to read Jen’s whole post on this. It’s important), who addresses Dr. Dawkins:

Frankly, this is disappointing for a number of reasons [...] you’re kind of an idol of mine, and it makes me want to cry a little when you live up to the stereotype of a well-off, 70 year old, white, British, ivory tower academic. But let me spell it out for you instead of just getting mad (though I’ll do that too):

Words matter. [...] You don’t have people constantly explaining that you’re subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal. You don’t have people saying you shouldn’t have rights. You don’t have people constantly sexually harassing you. You don’t live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road.

This.

The real problem here is that Dawkins (and several others who left comments) didn’t see this as a potential assault scenario. This problem is driven home by Dawkins again in a third comment, where he literally argues that nothing bad happened to Rebecca in that elevator [I blurred the instance of a cuss word in the section below]:

It’s this third comment that truly stunned me. I know a lot of people might agree with his sentiment, but it’s staggeringly wrong.

I can understand that it’s hard for men to truly grasp the woman’s point of view here, since men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault. But Jen McCrieght’s post, and many others, make it clear that to a woman, being alone on that elevator with that man was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps he has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most men don’t understand this, so women are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.

Put even more simply: this wasn’t a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.

So you may not think anything bad happened to Rebecca on that elevator, but something bad did indeed happen. He didn’t have to physically assault her for the situation to be bad. The atmosphere in there was enough to make it bad. And Rebecca was absolutely right to talk about it and raise awareness of it.

The discussion ongoing in the blogs is in general aimed at the skeptical and atheist movements. But this is far, far larger than that. This is a societal issue; sexism (conscious or otherwise) is still a strong force in our society, and a lot of men will dismiss claims of sexism from women. As has been made very clear here, we all need to make sure that all men understand the woman’s point of view, or else this type of thing will continue to happen… and people will continue to dismiss it as no big deal.

It is a big deal. If Dawkins — a leader in the critical thinking movement and a man known for defending women against religious oppression — can take such a dismissive stance, it’s clear that we have a long way to go. I don’t know if it was sexism on Dawkins’ part or just plain obtuseness, but this attitude is shared by far too many men. It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view, and that’s just plain wrong.

[UPDATE: Rebecca herself has posted at Skephick about this, and it's very much worth your time to read.]


* It was pointed out to me that all this started at an atheist meeting and not at a skeptics meeting. There is substantial overlap between the two communities, of course, though in reality they are different. I made the correction to the text to make that more clear.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Skepticism, Top Post

Comments (2,036)

Links to this Post

  1. With Regards to Women on Elevators… | The Naturalist Biologist | July 5, 2011
  2. Richard Dawkins – and how the female atheist world is a little shocked… « The Puzzled Ponderer | July 5, 2011
  3. He grabbed my hand and I doubted myself | Hayley Stevens | July 5, 2011
  4. Pretty Worried About Richard Dawkins « Shams' Infinite Playlist of Quantum Sufi Madness | July 5, 2011
  5. Dear Feminism: Please Stop Trying To Speak For Me And Let Me Speak For Myself » Julia Sherred | From The Mundane To The Insane | July 5, 2011
  6. Getting and not getting « Butterflies and Wheels | July 5, 2011
  7. Elevatorgate: frustrations with creepiness as a man-slut « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic | July 5, 2011
  8. Elevatorgate « Rooker's Soapbox | July 5, 2011
  9. Latest Rape News | July 5, 2011
  10. ‘Potential sexual assualt’? Mr Plait, you disappoint me with jumping on the Rebecca Watson hurt-feelings bandwagon. « The Web Presence of Anna Johnstone | July 5, 2011
  11. To my fellow men « Pig and Pepper | July 5, 2011
  12. Watson vs. Dawkins | The Large Idea Collider | July 5, 2011
  13. In which I lose all respect for Richard Dawkins « The Kitchen Sink | July 6, 2011
  14. The privilege of the forum « Falsify This! | July 6, 2011
  15. Sexual Harrassment | Free Everything | July 6, 2011
  16. Coffeegate: Atheists behaving badly | July 6, 2011
  17. Rebecca Watson’s Pink Hair and More « Fledgeling Skeptic | July 6, 2011
  18. An Analogy of Assault « Disjointed Thinking | July 6, 2011
  19. An Analogy of Assault « Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo | July 6, 2011
  20. No veas cómo está el patio « el pandemonium | July 6, 2011
  21. The long-suffering Richard Dawkins « The Delphiad Blog | July 6, 2011
  22. Rift brewing in New Atheist movement over Dublin elevator incident. - Page 3 | July 7, 2011
  23. Richard Dawkins Shows His Misogynistic Side | Homebrewed Theology | July 7, 2011
  24. Too Much Reason? | STEVE VOLK: THE GENERALIST | July 7, 2011
  25. Watson’s Experience: Empathy Needed for Accuracy « Evid3nc3 | July 8, 2011
  26. The Shrubbloggers » Wherein I Go Apoplectic | July 8, 2011
  27. So Long And Thanks For All The Fish « Female Gazing | July 8, 2011
  28. The Problem with Most Conversations on Feminism « Debunking Denialism | July 9, 2011
  29. nkblog » Ein paar Sachen, die man als Mann mal lesen kann | July 9, 2011
  30. Respectable Privilege and Common Decency « Alexander Safir | July 10, 2011
  31. Richard Dawkins, Sexismus und Privilegien « Alles Evolution | July 11, 2011
  32. Ironic take on female privilege exposes male ignorance — The Hathor Legacy | July 12, 2011
  33. How’s it going? « Butterflies and Wheels | July 12, 2011
  34. Sexual harassment discussion in the atheist and skeptical communities « Geek Feminism Blog | July 12, 2011
  35. Much ado about…wait, what? | And another thing... | July 14, 2011
  36. Personal update, plus some recommended reading « Greater Than Lapsed | July 17, 2011
  37. The New Atheist Guide to Women « ehmsnbc | July 19, 2011
  38. How loud can you scream? Thanks to either nature or nurture, I found out yesterday! « Victacular | July 21, 2011
  39. Ett onödigt inlägg om hissar « Skepchick.se | September 6, 2011
  40. Feminismo: um delírio » O Alvorecer | December 26, 2011
  41. Real Men Don’t Need the Bible to Grow Up « Friendly Atheist | January 30, 2012
  42. Rebecca Watson – Sexism and Feminism in American Atheism « The Self Taught Atheist | February 14, 2012
  43. Bule Voador » Está frio aqui dentro? | March 8, 2012
  44. Bule Voador » Feminismo: um delírio! | April 5, 2012
  45. A Small Matter of Privilege | Bill Cameron | April 24, 2012
  46. Elevatorgate | Rational Ugandan | July 5, 2012
  47. Elevatorgate – Part 2 – The Failure of Skepticism | Rational Ugandan | July 5, 2012
  48. “He just offered coffee!” | Terra Sine Logica | August 11, 2012
  49. Sexism in Secular Society: Can’t blame religion for Dawkins « The Happy Book Lady | August 17, 2012
  1. This is why I really like you and PZ, Phil.

  2. John duBois

    I 100% understand where you are coming from here, and I agree that it is important that women shouldn’t feel threatened in mundane circumstances (or any circumstances, for that matter). My question (and it’s a question to incite discussion because I’m way too self-conscious to ever actually do this) is this: Suppose that a man sees an attractive woman in an elevator after seeing her give a very intelligently delivered lecture, and he would like to get to know her better. Is there any way he can make an advance without creating a threatening situation or a “potential sexual assault”? I would like to believe that the man in the elevator did not intend to threaten, but am not sure how he could have gone about things differently without being threatening. Would it have been different had he waited until the elevator door was open and there was an easy exit?

  3. Stephanie

    I’m a woman and I think it was a bit of an overreaction. Yes, women generally have more to fear than men do, but being alone with any man doesn’t make him a threat. There are things that a man can do to end up being a threat, but a few words are not it.
    It’s perfectly ok to feel threatened for one reason or another, but it seems paranoid to assume that any man alone in an elevator is a threat.

  4. Judith

    Thanks, Phil.

  5. Chris

    I think what really confuses me about this whole issue is this: Rebecca was uncomfortable. Many, many women would also be uncomfortable. So, uh, DON’T DO IT. Seriously, why is this so hard to figure out? Don’t be creepy, because it makes other people uncomfortable. “I don’t think this is creepy” is irrelevant when the other party is assuring you that, yes, it is.

    And above all, this isn’t person a talking to person b for 3 hours, flirting, then asking them to come back to their room. Still skeevy, perhaps, but more reasonable. This was a TOTAL STRANGER SOLICITING SEX ON AN ELEVATOR AT 4 AM. WTF, people, why isn’t this completely obvious?

  6. SkepDude

    Men are not allowed to speak to or even make eye contact with women without express written permission, signed in triplicate, notarized with at least two witnesses. Because all men are potential sexual predators and all women are delicate potential victims. Sexism, much?

  7. Daffy

    The confined space is definitely an issue—and if I were the woman, I would have been concerned as well. Understandably so. On the other hand, where is the line? As a man, am I forbidden ever to speak with a woman on an elevator? Coffee is pretty innocent, taken by itself. What CAN I say that isn’t a potential assault?

    As I say, I get her point. But, really, there seem to be two sides to this one and I am not certain there is a correct answer. Although I do think Dawkins was way over the top.

  8. I think most men are honestly clueless about what it means to live as a woman. There are a million little things that I hardly even think about any more which are ways in which I try to avoid sexual assault. It’s just things I do, things that I would be blamed for not doing if I were assaulted.

    If I go to a bar without my husband, I never leave my drink. If I do leave my drink to go to the bathroom, I won’t drink from it again.

    When I’m walking by myself at night, I try to stay under streetlamps and keep an eye on the people around me.

    I don’t accept rides from male friends until I’ve known them a long time.

    According to a (male) magazine editor, I shouldn’t visit male friends in the evening unless I want sex.

    And I know that none of these things will necessarily mean I don’t get raped. Friends of mine have been raped by boyfriends, by parents’ friends, harassed by people in positions of authority. I’ve had men grab my butt or stroke my thigh on the street and on the train while I’m commuting (and no, I don’t wear short skirts, tight pants, etc). This isn’t something I linger on, but it’s a difference I become aware of when I’m out with my husband and do things differently because I’m not alone and I have a wookie-sized man who’s watching out for me.

    If a man hit on me in a bar, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable, but if he hit on me in an enclosed space in which we were alone, I would. It’s a power thing. I don’t think Dawkins realizes just how much, but he might if he had to live with this mentality, this deep-down awareness of just how vulnerable one can be.

    What I would give for a body switcher that would let men spend a week as a woman. And I’m very grateful for the many men I’ve met who do “get it,” even if they may not realize just how many ways it plays out in our lives. (Even my husband is surprised.) I’m also let down by the ones I think should who so clearly don’t.

  9. Oak

    You rock! I actually felt betrayed by RD.

  10. Kitty

    Thank you, Phil. Diving into the fray when things have already gotten ugly isn’t always easy. I appreciate your willingness to do so and the great empathy it shows.

  11. david

    I see what you mean. It’s obviously wrong to speak or write in such a way that might cause someone to feel in any way threatened or uneasy or offended or insulted. Words do matter, more than anything else in human history.

  12. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  13. Chris

    He didn’t ask her if she’d like to have coffee sometime, he asked her to come have coffee in his room THEN, which to most people implies sex. “Come in for a cup of coffee” is a pretty standard code phrase

  14. > It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view,
    > and that’s just plain wrong.

    The most horrible part to me is that men never seem to grasp this no matter how many times it’s been told to them. It’s sad that you even had to write this, but I’m glad you did.

  15. Alex

    At this point you are basically advocating total segregation of men and women.

    Men are not allowed to make even the slightest advance towards women. We’re supposed to deny our own sexuality while telling women to go off and celebrate theirs. Male sexuality is a dirty thing to be kept hidden away.

    You’ve taken a one-sided report of an incident where the woman in question freely admits that the man ASKED her if she wanted to accompany him to her hotel room and effectively joined in the chorus screaming ‘PERVERT!’ – the possibility that the man in question might have a different view of events has gone completely unnoticed.

    Have you found the man? Have you asked him what happened? No. You just assume that what the woman says happened is accurate, and that all men should stay chaste until a woman chooses to make the first move.

  16. armillary

    There’s a related problem, and that is that this incident doesn’t happen in isolation. Women at atheist/skeptic conferences are still somewhat of a “deviation from the norm”, and especially high-profile people like Watson probably have to put up with a lot more than they let on. The first proposition might be annoying but harmless, but after the 10th repetition the whole movement is looking like a bad trip back to the worst of high school. I’m speaking from the other side of the aisle here, so I’d be interested in female commenters’ experiences.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that these places are the wrong places to be looking for a random fling. Meeting new people? Fine. Finding kindred spirits? Great. Potential love interests? Even better (key word: potential). But the chance that someone you just met is going to take you up for some wild monkey atheist sex? Not good, and even suggesting it makes you an ass. Yes, I’m talking to you.

    Don’t be a dick, and don’t let your dick do the thinking.

  17. Kim

    Daffy, “come have coffee at 4am in my hotel room” isn’t “coffee”. It’s “let’s have sex now” from a stranger in an elevator. Just to be perfectly clear: chatting and flirting is fine and fun. “Let’s have sex now” from a stranger in an elevator is a sign that it is time to hit the “lobby” button in the elevator (do not go to your own floor, as there’s a reasonable chance he will want to go with you to your room). Anyone who is socially ‘off’ enough to get this far might very well cross the next line, too.

    Returning to the lobby (or crossing the street, or whatever) is a reasonable precaution, not the end of the world, and we all do it from time to time. It’s just too bad that otherwise reasonable guys don’t understand why these precautions are sometimes necessary.

  18. Stan Wram

    So, as men are all potential rapists, we’re forbidden from talking to women, lest we make them feel ‘uncomfortable’. Rape is rape. Talking to someone in an elevator is just that. Get a grip.

  19. Alex

    Chris – so what? It’s a perfectly honest question. The simple thing to do is say ‘no thanks’.

    In the real world, where men aren’t all the evil rapists people seem to think we are, that would be enough. Instead we get this guilty until proven more guilty nonsense.

  20. @Daffy: The point is … now you do know. That’s why Rebecca spoke up. She didn’t say that men can’t hit on women, or speak to women, or invite them up for coffee. She said, in this situation, and for these reasons, this made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to let men know that. I’m glad she said it, because I, and many other women, would be too.

    That’s what no one seems to be taking away from this. Instead of telling her that it isn’t a big deal and that she should shut up, they need to recognize why she said anything at all.

    “Don’t do this.”

  21. Kaylen

    Ack, wow! As a young lady, I find Dawkins’s statements really offensive and unsympathetic. Thank you for your post. I’ve had several men hit on me in situations where it’s late at night, one-on-one, and in closed spaces. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. Some of those moments of intense fear will probably stay with me for a long time. Like this one dude kept walking past my friend and I, late at night. He would come back and look at me and I would move out of the way… So the eighth time he’s walking by us, he stops and screams at me, “STOP STEPPING BACK, I’M NOT GOING TO HURT YOU.” Well okay then, that sure makes me feel safe! Ugh.

  22. @Daffy

    Uh, you tell her you enjoyed her talk, and maybe where (website wise) he could read more or her stuff, or maybe even other conferences she’s attending. Not that thard.

  23. MarkW

    Well said Phil. Those of us men who do “get it” need to stand up in solidarity with women. I’m staggered at how badly wrong Dawkins is (and apparently a large percentage of “skeptic” men are) on this issue. I’m truly disappointed.

  24. I’m glad this issue is getting more play. Feminism is very important and relevant to the skeptical community, because we’re too big for it to not be an issue. Dawkins’ take on the matter underscores a culture of indifference about these mundane, every day serious issues that men simply never have to experience. Thanks, Phil for talking about this.

  25. Ad Hominid

    I’m surprised at how tone-deaf many men are about this. I hadn’t really thought about it much but for my entire adult life, I have always been cautious and strictly polite if I found myself alone with a woman I didn’t know. It just seemed natural that any other behavior, even if completely innocent, could seem threatening when it wouldn’t in another, safer, situation. This isn’t PC, it is common sense.

  26. Shawn S.

    Maybe Dr. Dawkins’ wife will explain it to him in words he can understand. Or maybe she already tried and failed. It is just something men can never truly understand on that instinctive level. Dr. Dawkins doesn’t get that this man wasn’t asking for coffee, although that is what the words said, he was propositioning her. You don’t ask a woman you don’t know for coffee in your private room at 4am while she in in an small enclosed space. Yes, she could press a button and be let out, but not if she were restrained. It is unlikely that this would happen (cameras in elevators for one thing) but a guy who would attack a woman in an elevator isn’t exactly always rational. Dr. Dawkins is merely ignorant of how this is bad. He can be convinced. He is rational. We just have to be polite and explain it rationally. Anyone who is just attacking him is being stupid. Just look at why he thinks Rebecca was overreacting and calmly and rationally explain why nearly all women in that situation would feel the same. People need to quit saying “you’re just a white dude in your 70s you mysogist prick” and convince him properly. We owe him that much respect, even if he was being a bit of a dick about it.

  27. ctzn

    I think this is an interesting story and even more interesting chain of reactions. I could not have imagined the polarizing nature of such an encounter, but perhaps that is a good thing. What was not inherently obvious to some, is now an opportunity to put the shoe on the other foot.

    What troubles me is this, and let me preface this by saying that I wasn’t there in the elevator, so I don’t know what was said verbatim. This guy has rights as well, he has the right to get into an elevator and return to his room. There seems to be an implication that simply his presence on that elevator made the situation a potential threat. If this is the case, should the man have waited for another elevator, as to avoid putting a female in an uncomfortable position?

    Is the issue here that he said something? Or was it what he said? Or was it simply his presence? Perhaps a combination of all three?

    I think there are potentially dangerous situations that I avoid everyday, but I find it hard to judge a man simply by his presence. In this case, we can judge him by his actions. As I understand it, he got in an elevator to return to his room, and made a pass at a female passenger he admired previously in the day at the conference. Simply because the potential was there for him to cause harm, I have a hard time condemning him of anything other than a tasteless pick up attempt, because, he didn’t cause or attempt to cause any harm.

    I’m alone with other people quite often throughout the day, I have the potential to cause harm to any of these people, however I do not. I wouldn’t know how to feel if my mere presence made these people uncomfortable. I have my rights as well, as did this guy in the elevator. He didn’t infringe on anyones rights, he didn’t attempt to cause any harm. He made an inappropriately timed move to hit on a girl. I met my wife in a similar manner, albeit in a more appropriate location and manner.

    While the woman has every right to feel uncomfortable, I think it is unfair for label this guy as a predator. He has rights as well. I don’t want women to fear my presence, and I give them no reason to. But sometimes I can’t help where I am, such as leaving a conference and heading back to my room, and that shouldn’t be enough cause to label me a sexual devint.

  28. Alex

    Still waiting for somebody to ask for the man’s side of events.

  29. Robyn

    *facepalm x infinity*

    Wow, Dr. Dawkins, tell me more about the issues that affect me as a woman! I just don’t think you did enough mansplaining.

    If you seriously cannot understand the problem with a guy whom this woman has never met asking her to go to his room for “a cup of coffee”, I seriously don’t know what to tell you. Asking a woman to come have a cup of coffee at an actual coffeehouse is exactly what it is and no more. Asking a woman to come have a cup of coffee in your hotel room is propositioning her for sex, full stop. She would have been a fool to accept, especially from a complete stranger – no matter how polite he seemed. Maybe nothing would have happened, I don’t know, but I can say that it would have set off my creep radar all the same.

    And it is a mark of your privilege, Dr. Dawkins, that this particular scenario is something you personally will never have to worry about.

    Stick to evolutionary biology, please. It’s far easier to respect you when you know what you’re talking about.

  30. What I can’t figure out, is why Dawkins felt the need to say anything at all. It seemed clear to me that he hadn’t watched the video (btw, a lot of commenters didn’t as well), and didn’t really know what he was talking about.

  31. Marty

    Perhaps it was a bit cowardly for the man to ask her out when he knew she couldn’t easily avoid answering, but aside from that (and the inherent uncomfortableness of it), I have a hard time understanding why this is an issue. Yeah, it wasn’t the best moment to ask; but why should the man be treated as some kind criminal over it?

    Just as it would be insulting for me to assume that every moment I spend with other women is a possible sexual encounter, it’s also insulting to treat every moment a woman spends around any man as a potential sexual assault.

  32. As a bit of extra context, Rebecca was also talking in her talk at the WAC, and to many of the attendees in the bar afterwards, about the weird fan / hate mail she had been receiving, which included “weiner” shots and actual threats of rape. “Elevator Guy” really, really should have known better, but that’s what drinking till 4.30 in the morning does to one’s judgement. (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was drunk).

  33. Keith

    I wonder if Dawkins would have felt differently if a large shabbily dressed man accompanied him in an elevator late at night and asked him, calmly, for $20. Would he have felt comfortable riding the rest of the way up?

  34. Well, I guess I’ll be the first to point out a glaring error in your factual assertions.

    It is simply false to say that all women feel that way – particularly in light of the related issue of Rebecca Watson’s abuse of power with respect to a woman who disagreed with her. Or, even, say, some actual women who’ve actually been raped who actually wrote in response to PZ’s actual post saying they actually don’t feel the way you’ve just said they do; congratulations on speaking for people who are publicly telling everyone they don’t feel that way. Like any good dogmatic cause, let’s make sure we do NOT take honest stock of trivialities like what people you’re saying must feel are saying they in reality do not feel.

    To say that most men don’t feel as though they’re going to be raped is technically likely to be correct. Feeling, one notes, doesn’t imply rationality. Take us mere gays for example (I note you kindly redacted Jennifer McCreight’s dragging through the mud of the gays in her lecture to Richard Dawkins to make your post not NSFW, and blacks, and jews too!). Our realities of dealing with being raped are similar. But it’s also true that we don’t as a whole “feel” the same. Even though it’s a very real concern for us, the simple fact someone talks to us in a place we wouldn’t necessarily choose doesn’t instill in many of us some reason to claim potential victim status. We face the same very real possibility as many women do. And like many women, we choose to lead our lives understanding that possibility doesn’t equal a reason to live in mortal apprehension of Schroedinger’s Rapist.

    Sorry, being emotionally crippled by the possibility that something might someday happen and therefore everyone who is nearby is a potential rapist isn’t an argument that everyone else has to turn out their pockets, and prostrate themselves to alleviate someone’s fear. If a Rebecca Watson chooses to live in fear that every man who dares to speak to her without permission is Schroedinger’s Rapist, so be it. She’s entitled to do that. It’s just not an argument that half of the human race has is obliged to defer to her emotional instability as though it warrants anything other than a reality check.

    In fact, almost all of us do that with respect to things far more likely to happen than being raped in a crowded hotel during an international conference of atheists. I note at which, no single rape has ever been reported. If one did, I can rest assured that Rebecca Watson would bilk it for all its worth (like she is with respect to this issue on facebook). Yes, she’s bragging about how her popularity has dramatically increased as a result, and considers it a job well done. Almost like a goal one could “score”.

    Speaking of which. Why is this man still anonymous? No description? Others would have seen him since he was with them somewhere in the bar. They would know who he is. A small-time blogger warrants an address in a keynote speech for disagreement, but the would-be/potential rapist she refuses to even say word one about. But you take it hook, line and sinker that he was even a he. She was even in an elevator with another person. People are saying “he” followed her in, which she didn’t say happened. But she won’t correct the story or answer questions because she doesn’t have to. PZ’s apronstrings have done it for her.

  35. Dorkman

    Thanks for this, Phil. This whole thing has been blown out of proportion, with people attributing a far more hysterical reaction to Rebecca than she actually had (which is probably also evidence of unconscious sexism, but I digress). All she said was “Guys, don’t do that. It’s creepy, and doubly so when you do it to a woman who just gave a talk about how being sexualized by strangers is creepy.” But the blowing out of proportion has brought to light that even Professor Dawkins is not immune to male privilege.

    A point I saw on another blog that really struck home was, amid all the people saying “She doesn’t know his intentions, he probably just wanted an innocent cup of coffee and conversation in his room,” if she’d gone with him and had in fact been raped, a *significant* portion of those same people would be chiming in with “Well, really, she should have known better than to go back to a stranger’s room at 4AM. It’s just naive to think coffee and conversation are all he’s got on his mind.” Can’t win for losing.

    A couple links to some blog posts — which were provided in the comments to other posts on this subject — that aren’t about this particular situation, but explain important aspects of the female perspective and male privilege:

    “Schrödinger’s Rapist”: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/ (Marty #15, read this one for an answer to your question)

    “The Parable of the Lizard and the Dog”: https://sindeloke.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/37/

  36. Paul

    I know it’s a stretch, but what if the person in the elevator was a white man being asked for spare change by a black man? Would they be justified in sending a message to all black men asking them to refrain from this, due to fear of mugging?

  37. Steph

    This 33-year old woman says: you CAN innocently ask a woman to coffee, but have the brains to invite her to a common area. We don’t mind being asked to coffee, but if we don’t know you, your place (room, home, other territory) is a RED FLAG.

    If you ARE soliciting consensual sex, you should still ask her to coffee in a public space first.

  38. Gus Snarp

    I think the bad thing that happened to her was that she was attacked for what she said in that one minute of an eight minute video. She didn’t even seem to think of the elevator scenario as that much of a bad thing, she was just saying: “this happened. This is creepy. This is a bad idea. Guys, please don’t do this”, which is a perfectly reasonable thing for her to say. Then she gets attacked for saying this, as if she’s an evil man hater. None of which changes the elevator situation from bad to good, it’s just that why on earth do people have a problem with her comment on it?

  39. It strikes me that this whole long conversation (argument? Sure) rolls right out of the same cognitive malfunction that creates so many of the problems that drive skepticism. People have to interpret the actions and behaviors of others, and that is hard. Daffy, you say “taken by itself,” and that’s where you’re losing the plot. It would be irresponsible for Rebecca to have taken that comment by itself. This man’s specific behavior and choice of environment were pretty much the worst context he could have created, and while he may not have been a real threat, it was his failure to see how it could look potentially threatening that caused this. Likewise, it is the continued failure of others to see the same that keeps this discussion going. Rebecca was being cautious and that behavior was legitimately creepy. She asked people to consider the way that a person at the other end of their advances will interpret their behavior. That’s all, and she was right. Not everything you do is a potential assault, but you should consider whether it might look that way, say at 4 in the morning, drunk, in a confined place.

  40. sven

    Ok, the fact that I can’t read about anything else anymore on all the blogs I read starts to annoy me. I read a lot of bad posts from both sides with sometimes dubious arguments (there are also a lot of different topics being discussed under the same umbrella, like e.g. the way Rebecca used it in her talk, which is a different matter).

    I agree that it was creepy from the guy who asked her. I wouldn’t have done it because I get that. This guy didn’t. Since nothing happened we now afterwards know that they guy did not want to assault her or else it would have happened and would have been a different story. I actually think both sides discussing this overreacted and still do and I think that this is normal on such an issue.

    I didn’t want to comment on any of it, but then I read this:
    “This was a potential sexual assault.”

    Yes, like walking along a road with another guy is a potential robbery, or me picking up a knife in my kitchen with other people present is a potential murder.
    The logical conclusion is that as soon as you are a man and there is an elevator with already a woman in it, you should wait for the next one.

    As I said, it was creepy and every women has the right to think that the guy might have different intentions in that situation. But some women will definitely think this as soon as a guy enters the elevator because it is a confined space. Other will think nothing of it.

    Rebecca mentioned it to raise awareness (and could have done so directly to the guy who probably would have apologized a 1000 times). Done. The situation was creepy, but the guy was not a sexual offender and most men are not.

    I get the feeling that whole thing only got blown out of proportion because of the second issue of Rebecca mentioning other names in her talk.

  41. JeDii Watkins

    Actually, I do think Richard Dawkins has a point. I’m female and feminist, nearly fifty and of fragile build- and yes have found myself in situations I saw had the potential to become dangerous. I also think that demonising men for what they might possibly have done if they had been someone else helps no-one, including women. If you go through life looking for scary stuff you will be sure to find it, and limit your life if you identify as a victim before there is anything to be a victim of. Do a risk assessment is very sensible, as long as you then give the risks a proper weighting without assuming the worst-case scenario every time.

  42. ActingUpAgain

    I agree with Daffy. Dawkins made the point very poorly, but a man apparently has to choose his words extra-carefully when chatting with a woman in an elevator alone, or remain completely silent? I do have to wonder if he’d stopped short of asking her up for coffee, would she have thought the same way about him?

    Am I to completely change how I do things simply because someone may be uncomfortable for a couple of minutes? Especially since I’m not breaking any laws?

    It’s a slippery slope.

  43. I often despair for humanity and here is another example. I find that in an elevator situation, a male should either remain silent and aloof but remotely threatening or be friendly verbal bu potentially threatening. The only option appears to be exiting the elevator thus removing the potential threat. I shall certainly keep this in mind for future. I think I get it. I am sure that the many thousands of encounters such as this which occur daily are statistically in the struck by lightning category. How sad for humanity.

  44. Wow… Jen, Skepchick, PZ and now you Phil? This isn’t even a storm in a teacup at this point, it’s a comet impact in a saucer.

    Now, mind you, I’m not talking about the incident itself because I can see where Rebecca has room for some serious concerns. It’s late, she’s with some strange guy in an elevator propositioning her, she has no idea if he’s sane and whether he’ll take no for an answer, etc, etc. I get it. She’s right. It’s stupid, creepy, and if you’re going to invite someone for a cup of coffee, do it somewhere public and invite her somewhere other than your hotel room. The guy was a dolt at best.

    Now, with the obligatory exposition that I understand the issue, the aforementioned Category 6 in the proverbial teacup is how many people didn’t just laugh this off and say “wow, what an awkward creep,” and in light of the fact that everything turned out ok, make fun of his attempt at flirting. Why in the name of FSM’s meatballs did Dawkins suddenly butt in to ignite a fury of heated fights about gender, class and privilege? Why did this item have to suddenly become a firestorm and why are there so many twits who can’t use their imaginations about how things can go wrong in confined spaces?

  45. Jane

    I have been a BA lurker…and a woman.. for quite a few years now and this is the first time I’ve felt the need to comment.
    What ridiculous overreaction. “Potential sexual assault”? How so? He asked her for a coffee. She said no. End of story. What if he would have said “nice weather”? Or said nothing at all? What if it was a woman who asked her for coffee? Is this also potential sexual assault?

  46. Saket

    Good post, Phil. And, in general, I agree. Here’s where I think the disconnect is: the struggle in our societies of finding a balance between male and female perceptions of communication.

    Men tend to err in falling back on the tired (Victorian?) trope of women all being hysterical. Women must err on the side of safety, as you explain in your post, but as a result end up grouping all men in the role of (potential) ‘predator’. This leads to very skewed conversations on-line and off.

    I have not spent any time wading through the comments in the posts you linked to, so forgive me if this has all been said elsewhere.

    Ironically, the problem lies in the fact that we have not really found acceptable replacements for the sexist etiquette we got rid of with the rise of feminism. In the “Good Ol’ Days” it would’ve been unthinkable for a gentleman to proposition a lady in such a fashion in such a place. He would’ve been labelled a ‘cad’ and a ‘blackguard’ and possibly beaten within an inch of his life by other gentlemen the moment they got wind of this behavior.

    Today, there is just no social control, or guideline to which men and women can adhere. The individualization of society has fragmented old social controls and eroded the upbringing/mores that could once be depended on to protect women from the ‘predatory’ behavior some men can display.

    On the other hand, men are constantly being ‘trained’ by the feminist narrative to see women as equals and to treat them as equally capable in all respects. Of course, these narratives vary, but generally it can lead to confusion over even such innocent things as holding a door open for a lady or insisting on picking up the bill. The narrative of the strong, independent, confident woman is I think misinterpreted by a *lot* of men. No excuse for predatory behavior, of course, but it can certainly explain many mens’ cluelessness over points of social etiquette.

    But where does that leave us? I was raised by my parents to be aware of such things, and do my best to behave in a “gentlemanly” fashion at all times: Politeness, a respect for another’s dignity and personal space, consideration for their feelings and keeping an eye open for seeing if anyone (male or female) is in need of assistance. Not everyone has the fortune of receiving such an old-fashioned upbringing.

    Back to Ms.(?) Watson and the man in the elevator. If his intent was predatory, he succeeded in making Ms. Watson feel this and perhaps that was the only ‘thrill’ he’d been seeking. If his intentions were benign it would’ve helped if he’d understood the first thing about propositioning women and appreciated how important it is to ensure they’re in a comfortable, public setting with lots of people around. Either way, Ms. Watson’s response was logical and unfortunately inevitable.

    Conclusion: Men need to be made more aware, as Ms.Watson has attempted in the video, of the impact of their actions and the contexts surrounding women. It might help if some guidelines and social etiquette was set down somewhere where men would come into contact with it laying out the basic rules of interaction. Also, it would be helpful if women stuck to the same rules of etiquette. It’s not common, but it’s not unthinkable that the roles could be reversed. ;)

  47. Bre

    Thank you, I will reblog, replay, and retweet this into eternity.

    Marty–Decent men aren’t physically identifiable. It’s hard to look at someone and know if their intentions are good or bad.

  48. Eskil

    Just so I’m clear on what we’re saying here… Is it wrong for a man to talk to a woman in an elevator when there’s only the two of them there, or is the line crossed when suggesting something like going to her hotel room for coffee? Reading the post, it wasn’t clear to me where that line was (might be a language/culture thing), so I just wanted to ask.

    In any case, I’m on the fence here. I see how Rebecca interpreted the situation as uncomfortable, but I’m also saddened by the fact that all men seem to often be treated as potential sex offenders. Of course, the sad truth is that none of us will ever be able to see it from the other side.

  49. Matt

    I don’t know whether to classify Dawkins (and the guy in the elevator) as nerds or not, but they both remind me of the kind of nerdy guy I was in high school. I had no luck with girls, for many reasons; but chief among them was my inability to judge appropriate contexts for flirtation. So I often came off as being blunt and pushy because I chose the wrong time, wrong place, and wrong words. Like Dawkins, I couldn’t perceive the woman’s point of view, and thus measure my own words and behavior accordingly. Back then, I might have made a pass at a girl alone in an elevator, because the thought going through my mind would have been: “If I don’t do it now, she’s going to get off the elevator and I’ll never see her again, and she might be THE ONE!” I wouldn’t even consider making that pass as a mature adult, who has been through the dating and marriage game already. Now if I were at a conference, seated next to an interesting woman at dinner, and our conversation was clicking–then I might make a pass, but I’d still ask her to continue our conversation at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby first, not ask her straight up to my room. Hotel room coffee is awful anyway.

  50. Mitch

    I began this blogosphere tempest on the side of Rebecca, PZ, Jen, et al, and now you Phil. I’ve been completely on board the recent push in the community to involve more women and minorities. I genuinely wanted to take Rebecca’s word since she was the one who experienced the event, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.

    But. I’ve been uncomfortably veering away from all the so-called feminist bloggers. I think what my problem boils down to is how everyone is conflating being socially awkward with being morally wrong, and how this guy in the elevator, who may well have thought he was being polite, is placed on the same continuum as chauvinists and sex offenders.

    I mean Christ, Phil. You called it a “Potential sexual assault [...]a potential threat, and a serious one. ” Jen says men don’t know what it’s like to “have people constantly explaining that you’re subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal,” but you’re demonizing this poor guy pretty harshly.

    Watson herself, in her opening video, complains of the man “sexualizing” her, as though it were a given that’s all he saw her as.

    Believe me, it makes me really uncomfortable to be using “men’s rights” rhetoric. I’m sure it does make women uncomfortable to be alone with a unknown man in confined space. But is the solution discourage interaction between the sexes? Should we have segregated elevators?

    Is it helpful to validate the notion that all men are rapists? That’s the kind of mindset that leds to burkas.

  51. Michael B

    Dawkins was clearly going over the top a little on that one, but here’s the problem. She was uncomfortable. The man asked her politely if she would like to come back to his hotel room. She politely declined, and everyone went on their way. Is every action by a male, if one shows interest in a female, a potential sexual attack? She has every right to feel uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be surprised that some may see things differently. Dawkins has a point.

    Furthermore, whether in academia or elsewhere, females are still heavily outnumbered and are routinely surrounded a sausage fest. I can understand where she’s coming from, but I think sometimes we live in our own little bubbles, post our narcissistic meanderings online, and further slide down the slippery slopes of humanity.

  52. Jeege

    I see her/your point, but I think the reaction to Dawkin’s is what is really out of line here.

    She was uncomfortable, sure. The guy in the elevator was a sleaze, sure. But there was no physical altercation, nor as I understand it, did he continue to pressure her after he declined.

    This is a big nothing of a moment being blown way out of proportion and Dawkins was trying to point that out.

    I’m with him on this.

  53. thomas

    There is no such thing as “potential assault”.

    Anyone could potentially assault anyone. Phil, if you have ever been in an elevator with a woman, you are guilty of potential assault. In fact, if you have ever held a kitchen knife, you are guilty of “potential murder”, and if you are diving a car you are guilty of potential vehicular manslaughter.

    “Potential” crimes is the realm of Minority Report.

    Everyone potentially could commit any crime at any time. There are no such things as “potential assaults”. You can attempt assault, but you can’t have potential assault, because then everyone potentially could be an assailant, especially when the only evidence is in the mind of the potential victim.

    If no assault was attempted, then there was no potential for assault.

  54. I love you so much right now, Phil. I have been so disheartened by the response by so many men on the internet in regards to this issue. Thank you so much for speaking out so intelligently and passionately about this.

  55. _anti_misandrist

    “Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent.”

    What? Why? That’s a ridiculous and borderline misandrist statement. Oh noes, watch out for the scary SEXUAL AGGRESSOR!!!! Yah right. If anything, the guy in the late night elevator is in the more uncomfortable position.

  56. Maria

    @15 (Marty)

    “I understand both points, and while I don’t necessarily agree with Dawkins on this, why should we treat a non-violent, non-predatory interaction between a man and a woman as a “potential assault”?”

    Who is “we” here? Given the statistics on sexual assault of women by men, of course I’m aware that every one-on-one interaction with men in an enclosed space is a potential assault. No, you would never assault a woman; yes, your intentions are pure, but *I don’t know you and I don’t know that.*

    It’s just terrible that it’s so hard for men to ask women out in elevators at 4am, but seriously, would you approach a woman walking home alone at 11pm to ask for her phone number? (The right answer is “no, because she would feel threatened.”)

  57. Jaydan

    I can sympathize. Any time I walk through a neighborhood consisting mostly of black people, I assume that every one of them wants to murder me, or at the very least take my wallet. Any time anyone so much as looks at me, I feel like I should scold them for their potential assault. I would scold them too, but I’m always afraid that the potential assault could turn into a real assault if I acknowledge their existence. I’m essentialy a victim of potential violent crime at all times when I’m in a black neighborhood. Someone should really do something about that.

  58. Ganze

    Give me a break you guys! Sure it might be creepy, but I’ve been in tons of uncomfortable situations before, and some way more potentially dangerous than this. Asking for coffee in an enclosed space is really a potential sexual assault? Than what isn’t a potential sexual assault. People need to chill out.

  59. Movius

    This is a stupid argument.

  60. Ryan

    Since even remaining silent in the elevator would make a woman uncomfortable, I think from here on I’ll make a point of getting out of the elevator if the only other occupant is a woman. Seems reasonable.

  61. Marina Stern

    No one seems to be considering the possibility that Dawkins is just a jerk. One can be a convincing writer, with an admirable intellect, and still be a jerk. In fact, that has been my impression of Dawkins all along. This example reinforces my initial impression of him.

  62. Gus Snarp

    @Eskil – There’s no distinct line. What is wrong is following a woman you’ve never spoken to down a hotel hallway to get to be alone with her in an elevator and ask her to your room. If there’s a line, it’s the moment he decided to get to be alone and isolated with a strange woman at 4 in the morning. Is it wrong in and of itself to talk to a woman in an elevator when you’re alone with her? Not necessarily. Particularly in the middle of the day in a busy place. But in the middle of the night, to seek out being alone in an elevator with a woman as your chance to talk to her – bad idea.

  63. Jason

    @Daffy
    To me, the biggest point was asking to come back to his Room. If he had instead asked if she wanted to meet at the cafe later for coffee or some other public location then it would have been less problematic, and in this case, probably best to wait till the elevator was actually open to allow her the escape route if she felt the need.

    There unfortunately does seem to be the attitude that if a man expresses Interest AT all its a potential assault. How does one balance that out?

    @David Words Do matter yes, but there is also a responsibility to not take offense too easily. In a functioning society one should strive to not Give offense, but also to gracefully handle the situation when offense if given (which it sounds like Rebecca did).

  64. The Captain

    Phil, I’m really saddened this finally came up on this blog too, but I suppose it’s to be expected since the cool kids atheist clique is rallying around RW at all cost.

    But Dawkins is right, Sorry, “what if’s” and “potentials” are not how we treat other people! Anyone can come up with any potential scenario and that does not make it so.

    Seriously, would anyone who is supporting RW here put up with the statement that any muslim on a bus is a potential terrorist attacker, so people are right to be creeped out by muslims riding the bus??????? This is the same thing!

    How we interact as a society can not be defined by the most hyper sensitive among us, and yes, RW is hyper sensitive, as Stef, and my girlfriend both pointed out, but since they are not as “cool” or popular as RW their opinions don’t seem to count. It seems the world and all human interactions must be viewed through RW eyes alone. Seriously what’s next, RW says that biker guys with beards creep her out, then suddenly guys in harley T-shirts are not welcome at skeptics events?

    And yes the ” tangential topics” are just as relevant. Everyone defending RW keeps talking about some “Male privilege” (and by what evidence supposed skeptics have that I or any man has had it in their life is beyond me), but RW also used her privilege status as a speaker, and internet celeb to humiliate someone lesser known than her at a conference, but that’s all ok (or not to be discussed).

    Too bad Stef wasn’t in the cool kids atheist clique, then maybe her opinion as a woman on mens behavior would be treated as valid as RW’s!

  65. Brian

    I think it’s ridiculous to consider what happened in the elevator “potential sexual assault.”

  66. Raiko

    I think it was on “Greg Laden’s Blog” where I found a bunch of quotes from newspaper snippets from assaults to women that happened or started in elevators.

    In principle, with his third comment, Richard Dawkins implies that every woman who got assaulted, harassed, molested or raped in an elevator was simply too stupid to push a button. I know I am repeating myself here, but I still find that the most marvellous aspect of all his priviledges-old-white-guy babble.

    THAT is seriously something he needs to apologize for.

    And as BlagHag already said – it’s so disappointing for anyone who is actually admiring Richard Dawkins otherwise.

  67. Matthew Brannigan

    My first knee-jerk thought on this subject was “What a lot of fuss about nothing!”, which is probably what Richard Dawkins thought as well, but after reading all the commentary on the subject I see the bigger picture and must admit I have grown up a bit in the last couple of days and have reexamined my attitudes, which is what skepticism is all about. Thank you Phil.

  68. SmashCrate

    Wow, this whole argument is stunning on many levels.

    The first takeaway is, apparently, all men are just seconds away from a sexual assault.

    The second takeaway, never talk to a woman unless she has an escape route, and more than two people are present.

    Sad planet.

    Can’t wait to leave.

  69. I’m glad that in light of this whole thing, a few of you guys are actually taking the time to explain properly why what Dawkins’ said is a problem-especially his third comment. While(if this is what he was even implying) rape culture in one society is not comparable to the rape culture present in another society, women are nonetheless still treated without equity and trivialised and dismissed. Dangerous thinking often leads to the dangerous physical acts that Dawkins mentioned. Internalised sexism is present everywhere, in both Islam dominated countries and Christian ones, and affluent secular ones. It is apparently also present in Dawkins and it is a shame.
    When he said he didn’t understand, at least he got that much right.

  70. Gary

    Knowing that women tend to see all men as potential rapists, I seriosuly always go out of my way to avoid all women as much as practically possible. If I’m walking on the same sidewalk behind a woman at any time I will cross the road to keep as far away from her as possible so she doesn’t get scared. If I’m at a bus stop I will talk to a man standing there ‘cos they wont assume I’m trying to chat them up, but I won’t talk to a woman as she might take it the wrong way, and when I pass through a door I will hold it open if a man is behind me as they won’t assume I’m being sexist, but if it’s a woman I’ll let it close on her so she doesn’t think I’m trying to ‘importune’ her by being polite. No doubt all these actions will be seen as wrong too, but short of killing myself I cannot remove the unintentional threat I pose as a ‘potential rapist’.

  71. Kim

    Eskil: Light chat in an elevator is fine. Body language is important, too – give plenty of room, and keep your eyes to the front or in eye contact (i.e. not on *her* front). If she doesn’t chat back, don’t be offended, just get off at your floor.

    The problem here is that there really is no non-skeevy way to get from “complete strangers” to “come back to my hotel room” over the course of an elevator ride.

  72. Mrs. BA

    @Marty – I understand that you feel a bit defensive about this. You seem to be a decent man who is respectful of women, so I’m sure you can understand the bigger issue here. It’s not really about Rebecca’s reaction to the situation, it’s about Dawkins’ reaction to Rebecca’s reaction. He’s basically saying “shut up, you have nothing to complain about, nothing bad happened to you physically so it’s all fine.” That is WRONG. Having to live with anxiety or fear for your safety is emotionally stressful. No one said men should not approach women or that we view every approach as a potential sexual assault. We want you to approach us – that’s why we put on makeup and wear pretty dresses and go to bars. What we’re asking for is some understanding of how being cornered and propositioned makes us feel. Having men use a little better judgement about when and where they approach a woman is not too much to ask. And having a leader of the skeptic movement be so sarcastic, condescending and dismissive of that request is appalling.

  73. Mrs. BA

    @Marty – I understand that you feel a bit defensive about this. You seem to be a decent man who is respectful of women, so I’m sure you can understand the bigger issue here. It’s not really about Rebecca’s reaction to the situation, it’s about Dawkins’ reaction to Rebecca’s reaction. He’s basically saying “shut up, you have nothing to complain about, nothing bad happened to you physically so it’s all fine.” That is WRONG. Having to live with anxiety or fear for your safety is emotionally stressful. No one said men should not approach women or that we view every approach as a potential sexual assault. We want you to approach us – that’s why we put on makeup and wear pretty dresses and go to bars. What we’re asking for is some understanding of how being cornered and propositioned makes us feel. Having men use a little better judgement about when and where they approach a woman is not too much to ask. And having a leader of the skeptic movement be so sarcastic, condescending and dismissive of that request is appalling.

  74. Jack

    I’m not going to pretend that what he did wasn’t creepy, and that it wasn’t wrong. It absolutely was. But was it sexism? No, it was a misguided bit of drunjen flirting. It may just me misandry to assume that all men with sex drives are rapists, though.

  75. Kyle S

    I think the problem with this issue is that it sucks both ways, but most people don’t look at it both ways.
    It sucks for the women because they do live in a world of caution, where every situation must be diligently monitored to prevent harm.
    It sucks for the men because those of us who are decent folk get lumped in the same category as those that aren’t when women make judgement calls about potential harm.

    It sucks more for the women, obviously, because they have the real issue of being hurt and having to live in the world with more fear than a man; men just have the issue of feeling sorry for themselves, mostly, which is justified to an extent but not as big a deal. What Dawkins and others fail to get is that the levels of suckiness are nowhere near equal. This doesn’t make people like him bad, don’t get me wrong, just a little un-empathetic towards this particular issue.

    It’s a common saying that patriarchy hurts everyone, and that’s exactly the point here. It doesn’t hurt everyone equally, though.

  76. Phil, you have made a grave error in my opinion:

    This was a potential sexual assault

    Everything is a potential sexual assault. Whether you’re walking down the street on a bright sunny day, minding your own business; or whether you’re running naked through a room full of sex offenders, the potential for sexual assault is ALWAYS there.

    By viewing this elevator proposition as some kind of prelude to sexual assault you are, at once:

    a) Cheapening real sexual assault by lumping it in with the most trivial, and dare I say natural, of activities;
    b) Trotting out a tired old canard of the Patty Dworkin era that any contact with a man is a potential sexual assault (she also felt that all penetrative sex was rape);
    c) Justifying an old opinion that women are the weaker sex and need to be protected from evil, nasty men who are all potential perverts waiting to pounce on some poor innocent

    If you are a woman, it is likely that at some point some heterosexual men (and maybe even some homosexual women) will proposition you. That is not a “potential sexual assault”, it’s just human nature… instinct. It’s perfectly normal. Whether someone feels threatened in those situations is another issue and that is absolutely NOT the fault of the person propositioning if they are not otherwise behaving in a threatening manner.

    In fact, thinking in these lines, how would this discussion have unfolded, do you think, if the person in the elevator wasn’t a man, but a woman who had invited her to the hotel room? That’s just as much a potential sexual assault, but I’m willing to conjecture that this whole public spectacle wouldn’t have taken place.

    What about if it was you in the elevator, Phil, and some woman invited you back for a coffee with an obvious wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of way about her? That’s “potential adultery”… hell, maybe she’s potentially leading you on to blackmail you later! “Potential blackmail” Do you see where this “potential” stuff leads?

    When I pick up a steak knife, it’s a potential murder of anyone around me and I’m sure glad people aren’t going to pillory me in public because they feel threatened that I want my dinner in bite-sized chunks.

  77. David

    There sure are alot of assumptions working here.

    How do we know that the guy wasn’t gay? What’s with the automatic implication that he was propositioning her? If Ms. Watson is so terrified about finding herself ‘trapped’ in an elevator with a man, she should think about taking a self defense course. I don’t feel like she is doing the feminist movement any good by reinforcing the stereotype that women are shrinking violents who must be tip-toed around for fear of offending their delicate sensiblities. That doesn’t sound very ‘equal’ to me.

    Ovary up, Ms. Watson.

  78. Just to throw this out there, but anyone who’s heard Dawkins speak…haven’t we already kind of seen this dickish behavior from him already? I’ll always listen to him on evolution and such, and he’s a big promoter of the separation of church and state, but I’m not sure I’d want to talk to him outside of that.

  79. @Eskil,

    “… is the line crossed when suggesting something like going to her hotel room for coffee?”

    Yes. If you really want to invite a woman for coffee and happen to catch her in an elevator, what about saying “hi, I enjoyed your talk,” waiting until one of you arrives to your floor and steps out of the elevator, then ask her if she’d like to get coffee “sometime” and swap contact info if she’s interested? Not exactly rocket surgery and eliminates the whole hotel room/enclosed space problem.

  80. I agree with Phil. Men should be prohibited from riding in elevators with women. We need separate elevators. That way no one will ever feel in danger.

  81. Interesting topic. As a chick, I would have felt uncomfortable too, considering how inappropriate it was to ask her back to his room. If you don’t understand why it was inappropriate, what’s the first thing you think of when a guy asks a girl back to his hotel room? So yes, duh, of course it felt like a proposition. And IMO women shouldn’t have to put up with being propositioned by complete strangers in elevators. Arguments that it’s “biologically natural” for men to hit on women are ridiculous. Humans have the capacity to be polite to each other and avoid being inappropriate/creepy. Otherwise humans would act like ducks, gang raping each other at any opportunity.

    Does it surprise me? No. Have I had to put up with worse behavior from men? Yes, and it really emotionally f’s with you. Is that a big part of why I do kung fu and jiu jitsu? Yes.

    Am I appreciative that I live in a country where I can have a job and don’t need a male proxy to vote? Yes. That’s different though. Bringing up genital mutilation in a thread on first-world gender issues sounds an awful lot like Godwin’s law.

  82. Jenn

    A scenario that would feel similar to me as the elevator case, would be if she were in the corner of a room alone and he was standing in front of her, blocking her in, with his arm on one wall (this is a stereotypical enough situation that I hope people can visualize it). There might be other people in the room and the woman in that situation will still likely feel trapped, so whatever is said, no matter how polite, will be coloured by the situation.

    I realize that many men won’t see a parallel. In the case I am discussing the man is going out of the way to block her in, whereas in the elevator it is likely just chance that they are alone. That doesn’t change the feeling I would have of being trapped and unable to leave if the situation is uncomfortable, and again, the situation will end up colouring any words that are said, no matter how polite.

    Are there worse situations in the world? Definitely.
    Should that stop us from learning from this? No.

  83. Darryl Mott Jr.

    Maybe I’m not really getting this situation correctly, but it seems like a guy asked out a girl, she shot him down, he said okay and left her alone, and then she proceeded to post on a blog how creepy and disgusting it felt? And now it’s suddenly being compared to sexual assault? I’m sure every unattractive man who’s ever been shot down by a woman is going to feel pretty crappy about themselves seeing as they’re all horrible sexual predators. I’m not kidding here, I really want to know…am I missing something?

  84. Cox

    Some people I worked with years ago said they lived in fear of something happening to them as they drove to work. The office was location in a predominately black neighborhood, one which I grew up, yet these people lived in rural white areas. These were men and women. Their fear was genuine. The talked of how unsafe they felt when someone on the street came up to them. In this case it was not potential sexual assault, but potential murder. Their fear was real. This was a time when kids were killed over tennis shoes. Yet I was unwilling to label every black person on the street as a potential killer, any more than I would label every man in an elevator a potential rapists.

    I believe I do understand the feeling this person had, and she has a right to have them and express them. I do not believe anyone has the right to label the other person as a potential rapist, even if he did have the stupidity to ask a women to his room for coffee in a society that sees such a thing as taboo. You do that at bars. The problem I see is that we go around labeling people. It is true that some situations are potentially dangerous, and in those case provisional labels are useful, and acting on those labels prudent. But prudent precautions and fear are different. in this case, the vast majority of rapes are committed to someone known by the victim.

    Fear is what this is all about. We are always in danger. It is part of life. Risk levels cannot be put to zero, and it is those who will take risks that push the limits of a posteriori knowledge rather than hiding behind a priori facts. It is in the interest to keep some people in a state of constant fear so they do not go our and do great things.

  85. MarkW

    Wow, it wasn’t long before the jerks defending male privilege turned up.

  86. I think some of the comment in support of Rebecca is also becoming similarly tone-deaf.

    It took me awhile to understand and accept the concept of privilege (and I’m still constantly learning — I had similarly reserved reactions to this incidence as those who are siding with the man, but through reading the thoughtful, rational comments, began to see where the problem was…and I am a young female) and it wasn’t through reading absolutely assured statements such as “he was propositioning her”.

    That’s bad skepticism, you don’t know what his intentions were with any more degree of certainty than Rebecca. We know that it was a /potential/ intention, one with a great likelihood based on his choice of hypothetical venue (his room), time (4AM), and the way that he asked her; those are the choices we are criticizing, and rightfully so, and that is the crux of the situation. Choices, and namely how they affect others.

    Likewise, the lesson that needs to be hammered through here to the men who are feeling offended is that although we don’t know his intentions for sure, his intent is not the point, and neither is “omg lol all men wanna rape wimmens!!!”. If you are uncomfortable with a level of scrutiny being leveled on your own (even potential) actions, if you are unwilling to put a magnifying glass to your own personal ideologies and consider that you have a level of power/influence that you are responsible for, then perhaps it’s time to rethink just how skeptical you really are.

  87. DiscountDeity

    Huh. Seems to be a lot of guys whose first reaction to this is some variation of “Geez, how am I supposed to talk to a woman without being creepy?”

    Here’s a nice rule of thumb: if you have to ask, don’t talk to women you don’t know. You’re not ready yet.

  88. Magnum

    100% behind Dawkins on this.

    This was a “potential sexual assault”? A woman feeling threatened just by being in an elevator with a man is offensive towards men, no?

    Might as well say that every time I walk past a black person on the street is a potential robbery.

  89. Bill

    I completely agree that hitting on her in that way was a poor thing to do and that it understandably made her uncomfortable. What worries me though is the idea that what he did was morally wrong in some way.

    Should members of a group be responsible for what other members do? Should one be morally obligated to make sure people don’t feel uncomfortable because of actions by other members of the group? I’m guessing if the person in the elevator was a lesbian woman, it might still be uncomfortable, but wouldn’t have raised this level of outrage. The reason is of course that men are far more likely to rape (way way way more).

    You are more likely to be robbed in the states by someone who is black than any other race (http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_43.html). Should black people feel morally obligated to not act in certain ways around white people in case they come off as a potential robber? One could argue it’s the wise thing to do, but I can’t bring myself to think it should be morally obligated.

  90. Alex

    MarkW – it’s subjects like this that prove that ‘male privilege’ is a myth. We’re not privileged enough to have our side of the story heard before we are judged. You’re convicting people of thoughtcrime here, surely people realise that?

  91. Benji

    I have to disagree with you Phil. There is something that you don’t understand here.

    You are right, men don’t understand what women go through. You are right, men don’t experience the fear of rape. But there is something else.

    Intention matters, whether you like it or not. It matters in court when we judge criminals, it matters in relationships when solve problems, it matters when we debate. I am a modern young man, who grew up in a society where women are empowered. I was taught to respect them and always felt like their equal. Don’t you see that it’s GOOD that I can’t understand this fear? You see the problem is, I can easily imagine myself as the guy in that elevator, asking this question without a shred of bad intention, without the thought of rape ever crossing my mind.

    What’s the goal of the feminist movement Phil? To create a world where women do not have to fear men. You participated in building this world. I participate in actuating it. I try to make it a reality, by showing them that they do not have to fear me.

    Blaming this guy just on the situation, without more detail on his intentions, will perpetuate the fear and delay equality. It DOES matter what his intentions were.

  92. JP

    So here’s what I’ve learned from all this: I am not always aware of my own privilege as a white male. Upon (re)watching Rebecca’s original video, her point is fairly basic and fairly clear: This situation is not acceptable, don’t do this. Dawkins responses are more about the furor surrounding the incident than the incident itself, and frankly miss the key point. Don’t proposition (even innocently) a strange woman in an elevator, because there is a subtext there that you are probably not aware of. Your intent is irrelevant. This is not acceptable behavior.

    I never really thought about the subtext of a woman alone with a strange man in a non-public (or yes, even a public) space. It didn’t occur to me because it’s not part of my experience. It sure as hell will occur to me to think about my interactions in the future. Granted, I’m not involved in the dating scene, but whether or not I AM a threat (I’m really, really not) I MAY be perceived as a threat, and it behooves me to act as a decent human in these circumstances and not increase the anxiety of another person.

  93. Matt

    From now on I’m going to refer to all my conversations with women as “potential sexual assaults.” e.g., “I potentially sexually assaulted my mom this morning to wish her a happy birthday.”

  94. I really hoped that this wouldn’t have grown into such a controversy.

    Rebecca felt uncomfortable with the way a fan interacted with her and, in her way, requested that men refrain from interacting with her in that way. Totally reasonable. That should have been the end of it.

    I am a six foot tall 300 pound man, apparently scary looking man. I know that I have to consider how I appear to others when trying to approach strangers. I quite often overcompensate and end up seeming meek or shy in those situations.

    I do not consider myself dangerous or threatening at all, but as a rule, I need to try to see how I may appear to others because if I make others uncomfortable when trying to interact, I have failed.

    One should never back someone into a corner, nor make advances in a steel box with no instant escape. If someone feels threatened, it doesn’t matter how soon in actual time the elevator doors may open, it can seem to be an eternity of fear, or at least discomfort.

    And if you ARE attempting to get laid, I can’t see how being perceived as a threat is going to help you in the long run.

  95. Matt

    I’m sorry, but this was no more a “potential sexual assault” then a man walking behind a woman on a street, or a male employee helping his fellow female employee bring a heavy item to the back of the store, or any other hundreds of situations where a woman finds herself alone and somewhat confined with a man.

    I suppose that one-on-one conversation with an African American in the convenience store I had today was a potential murder or hate crime, right? And that day I babysat my nephew was a potential child abuse?

    If your argument is that anyone can do any number of bad things at any time, then I agree.

    -edit- I see a number of other readers have been similar points as mine. Nonetheless, it requires repeating: Intention matters.

  96. Roger

    Rebecca felt threatened. That’s really all that matters. She is letting men know what behavior men do that might sometimes threaten women. Men for the most part are clueless about everything. Giving the man on the elevator the benefit of the doubt, he was probably clueless too. He really should know better, but might not because nobody ever told him his behavior spooked them. Kudos to Rebecca for saying it.

    As a sciency aside, though. Does anyone else here think of the chapter in Pinker’s The Language Instinct (I think) where he discusses language idioms. By asking “Do you want a cup of coffee?” the man is obviously alluding to sex, but giving himself and the askee a face-saving cover story if either “yes” or “no” is the answer. It’s a fascinating chapter. But anyway, kudos to Rebecca for speaking up. And us men, and those raising boys to become future men, should listen, take it to heart, and be more considerate in the future.

  97. It astounds me that Dawkins can make the statement

    If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics’ privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn’t physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer, and he was absolutely right to do so because the heightened value of the wafer was a fantasy in the minds of the offended Catholics.

    and not realize that he is saying that 1. hitting on someone in an elevator is okay because it’s the same as intentionally offending someone and 2. the heightened value of Rebecca’s safety was a fantasy in her own mind.

  98. @Evolving Squid Try thinking of “potential assault” not as a binary state, but a sliding scale. It is not that things are or are not potential assaults, but one must evaluate the actions of others to find out how much of a potential assault they might be, and you, when dealing with others, should be aware of where your actions might fall on that scale regardless of your real threat level toward them. You know how much of a potential threat you are, but how will they know, exactly?

  99. Ira

    What Richard said was indeed odd and offensive, and deserves some backlash. But his plain point was this – the guy was rude, made her uncomfortable, but jumping to the conclusion of “potential sexual attacker” is also a bit over the top. If every man with a rude remark was a potential attacker, women would never leave the house. Yes, there are major douches out there (and some of them are worldwide recognised professors), but if you see them all as threats then it also stinks of prejudice, doesn’t it?

    Now I’ll go read the links and what, if anything, has RW replied to RD. Oh boy :)

  100. Alex

    I agree with others here that there’s a whole collaboration of factors that made this situation utterly less than ideal, and one in which I’d have been worried had it been me.

    I’m a woman who has had a sexual assault attempted on her. This was a highly public area yet crowded, where one can easily “get lost” in said crowd, and it was instigated by the then-boyfriend of a longtime friend of mine (not a total stranger, but not someone I knew very well at that point). There had been red flags prior to the actual attempt, ones that I ignored 1) out of politeness (I mean, socially, I would assume people would consider it “rude” to accuse someone of premeditating sexual harrassment or rape — and it was doubly uncomfortable that it was the man my friend was dating at the time) and 2) because I was a bit tipsy (as could be expected for one out at a dance club for the evening). Because I ignored those, I quite nearly might have been raped, had I not managed to, as the ill-tempered four year-old in the supermarket does, sink to the ground, all dead weight, making it harder for him to continue pulling me by my arm into the stall of a unisex bathroom. That people happened in at that moment (and it probably didn’t look like a sexual assault attempt to them, really, just a drunk girl who had lost her balance and fallen on the floor) saved me.

    So there’s no way I could ever fault this woman for being preemptive even to the “extreme” that she was in this instance. The cultural joke concerning the implications of “coming up for coffee” late at night is quite an obvious one; and to those not in the know (perhaps Mr. Dawkins, in this instance), we should set the record straight. An invitation for coffee at such an incredibly late hour, ESPECIALLY in something so private as one’s hotel room (as opposed to an actual house with other rooms wherein the predominate features are NOT furniture upon which one typically engages in sex), is a pretty unambiguous suggestion. To do this to a woman in a confined space (and at that moment, it WAS a confined space — and at four in the morning, it would be safe to assume the corridors that would eventually open up to them might be sparsely populated, as well, creating a perfect opportunity for him to follow her, uninterrupted, to her hotel room) is in poor taste, AT BEST.

    I have no idea if Mr. Dawkins will see this, but I think this is a sufficient and quite respectful explanation (even if part of it is anecdotal) of why she took this instance so seriously. Sexual assault is nothing one can ever predict; you’re either well on your guard, or you’re caught completely off-guard (and it’s really only blind luck as to whether or not you, as a woman, are strong or clever or simply strategically located enough to evade your attacker). Sure, women’s rights suffer elsewhere far more than ours here in America, but situations are relative. We’ve never grown up in a society where we’re genitally mutilated or beaten for the “crime” of BEING raped; however, we HAVE grown up in a society where rape is still especially hard to prosecute, resulting in few reported rapes *because* of the character attack a woman tends to endure in trying to bear out the truth of a rape; because of the often private and intimate nature of it, it’s usually the credibility of the person bringing charges that is put on trial.

    Men, while they have their own unique issues as a subsect of humanity, very rarely have to deal with this in an everyday setting. Men are raped, absolutely, but statistically, only 10% of rape victims are male and most are children raped by larger children or adults. There’s always a power-struggle involved, usually a physical difference in power and size. Our biology alone subjects us to the majority of the risk. We’ve had to adapt our behavior and the way we look at situations to avoid this kind of attack.

    Surely you can understand this, if you’re truly trying.

  101. just because the situation COULD have been bad doesnt mean it was bad, it seems like a man was shocked at his luck and decided to take a chance, he was turned down and all parties involved went on with their lives.

    i can see how it might have been scary or awkward, but unless you can prove the man had made a threatening advance of any form, i see no foul.

    all i do see is blatant sexism. not male priviledge, but rather female priveldge. somehow this whole article seems to be attempting to prove that what transpired is irrelevent because how the woman interpreted it is teh way everyone should interpret it.

    its no different than being in an elevator with a bunch of young black men and fearing for your life and running out the door first chance you get. Their only crime is encountering you ina confined area.

    i side with dawkins, that mans only crime was poor timing, if he had ran into her at a bar the exact same scene would have transpired but never would have been newsworthy. the only difference is enviroment, and perspective

  102. Dito

    I read and respect most of the players mentioned in this little drama. My take on it is that Dawkins perceived the situation as over-dramatized. I think he’s right to point out that she wasn’t actually assaulted on the elevator, nor did she seem to suspect any immediate, imminent danger. She found the situation distasteful (as do I) and deflected it without escalation.

    This *should* have been the end of the tale. Except that, this time, there are some very high-profile players in the drama. If the comments posted by Dawkins had been posted by any other random reader, this *would* have been the end of the tale.

    In the long run, Richard Dawkins is an admirable and important person in the scientific community. He is not – as I’m sure he’d agree – not perfect, not faultless. Perhaps this is some kind of person pet issue of his; we don’t know. He wrote a few blog comments and inadvertently ignited a controversy.

    To resume what I think his original intent was: let’s all settle down, let’s all regain some perspective. What happened in that elevator was unpleasant, unsettling, and Dawkins probably shouldn’t have tried to downplay the young woman’s fears. However, his body of work outweighs this handful of clumsy sentences.

    I propose we give it a rest and go about our business. We’ve got much more important things to debate than whether or not Richard Dawkins can be abrasive.

  103. Qwerty

    Sigh, not on this blog as well…

    Elevator guy: Inappropriate, probably creepy, at least Watson felt he was (which is her right). We have no source for his behaviour apart from Watson’s video, so I can’t say anything else.

    Stef McGraw: While quite a few people disagree with her, I can’t say that her experience and opinion is any less valid than others.

    Rebecca Watson: Used her position of power to belittle Stef who was (unprepared and surprised) in the audience and had no good chance to reply without making it all about her, dragging her post out and comparing it to youtube comments about rape. In short: A bully.

    Dawkins: Bad form, but not as bad as Watson. Always saw him as a bit stuffy anyway.

    In short: I lost some respect for Dawkins, but much more for Watson who behaved completely unprofessional. Her video was ok (no naming and shaming there), but the talk she held later was moronic and inappropriate)

  104. DiscountDeity

    “What’s the goal of the feminist movement Phil? To create a world where women do not have to fear men.”

    Uh, no. To create a world where women are seen as equal to men.

  105. Varsil

    Watched the video, don’t think that Rebecca Watson was being unreasonable. She finds it creepy, and encourages people not to do that. Okay.

    Phil, calling it “potential sexual assault”? As others have pointed out, that covers any interaction at all, pretty much.

    But here’s the question–if someone makes me nervous when they share my space or interact with me, is that their fault? What if I have crime statistics to point to that show that that person is more likely than average to commit a particular sort of crime against me? If I’m walking to my car in a nearly-deserted underground parkade and a black guy tells me, “Hey, nice car”, is that a potential carjacking? Should he have known better than to exert his black privilege against me?

    Yes, my example is a bit offensive, but the point is to show that the principle being suggested here is one that I don’t think most people would consider a valid one.

  106. A

    “Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent.”

    Right..

  107. Lex

    No matter which way I look at it, Richard was clearly wrong. Rebecca mentions in the video she was “incredibly uncomfortable” and the incident was brought up by various bloggers. Even if Richard was arguing against the attention it was receiving over other, more serious manifestations of male privilege, the incident was clearly serious enough to Rebecca to mention it in her video.

    I feel like I just lost a mentor.

  108. Andrew

    Seems to me that this guy tried to make a bold, and clearly misguided, attempt to pickup a woman that he found attractive .. It’s difficult to know what really happened since both people were clearly not on the same wavelength.

    However, stating that the next obvious step is a sexual assault is a bit rich. Maybe that might have happened in this situation (I don’t know what the tone of the conversation was really like) but probably not. Otherwise we should shut down every bar and nightclub in the land in case any guy attempts to pickup a girl and if he is rejected will immediately resort to rape …

  109. VAB

    Let me start by saying: I agree with you, Phil.

    I’m a young woman currently attending CMU, in pursuit of my MS. I’m in a male-dominated field (in fact, there are no women in the MS program at all, though there are some in the greater department). I see stuff like this happen all the time, where men just don’t realize how women feel every day.

    For example:

    When I was attending a “meet-and-greet” at CMU this spring, the incoming students had lunch with the current students – a mix of MS students and PhD students. Several men asked where the bathroom was and went, and a short time later I got up to use the restroom as well. Jokingly I said “I assume the women’s bathroom is in the same place? Next to the men’s?” and got blank stares in return. The men in the program actually looked around the room, baffled as to where the women’s bathroom was. A woman – a PhD student – luckily was there and said “Yes, it is. But don’t use the stall closest to the wall: there’s a window there without a shade on it and I saw a guy on the roof the other day looking in.”

    Obviously everyone in the room – myself and my male colleagues – were shocked. She hurried on to explain that it seemed like he was a worker, and he wasn’t actually looking in on purpose, he was just RIGHT THERE since the roof butted up against the window. Still, she went on, they were looking into getting some curtains on that troublesome window.

    Anecdote #2:

    Before that same trip I was supposed to be assigned a current student to room with for the two nights I was up there. Because my field is notoriously laid-back, no one really got back to me about where I was staying until I received an e-mail from a strange man the night before I was scheduled to fly out. He introduced himself as a young man in the program and as the person I’d be staying with. I had received no confirmation from the department about this, and was feeling – understandably, I think – uncomfortable with sharing a house for two nights with two men I had never met before in my life, and had no character references on.

    I looked up the young man online, confirmed that he was in the program, packed my mace and hopped on the plane. There was nothing I could do about the situation. When I got there I joked with the young man (who is a lovely, upstanding person, but I didn’t know this going in) about how awkward it was, and he kind of shrugged and had a look on his face that said the thought had never occurred to him that this would be uncomfortable for me.

    (As it is, I had a great time visiting, and am looking forward to attending this fall. But that doesn’t change how nervous I felt going into these situations – and I’m a pretty physically tough chick.)

    These are the kinds of things that just DON’T occur to men – and probably occur even less to academic men, who have a tendency to be off in their head even more than the average man. This isn’t to say men are stupid or anything – they just don’t have to THINK about this all the time:

    Do I have my keys out? Should I have parked down that alley? The movie let out later than I thought it would and the parking lot is dark. I don’t want to run into 7-11 for cigarettes now, because there’s a large group of men milling about inside the store. That guy behind me is walking a little close – should I be worried? Some guy rear-ended me on a lonely stretch of road – should I even get out of my car?

    All of these are things that women live with every day of our lives, because the world can be a violent, mean place sometimes, and these are just basic realities of life. I wish it wasn’t like that, because I’m sick and tired of having to devote any part of my brain to worrying about stuff like this. But it is, and I do. Because otherwise I could end up being another victim, and that’s my worst fear.

    Hopefully this helps bring someone out there to more of an understanding.

    Cheers,
    Vincenza

  110. Benji

    @DiscountDeity

    Equivalent in that context, and at worst, one implies the other.

  111. Jeff

    I would have to say I agree with Mr. Dawkins. The potential for offense is not offense. The only thing the gentlemen in question did wrong was show interest in getting to know her in the only setting that opportunity provided. If anything this article reeks of anti-male sexism. The mere fact he was a male automatically made him a potential rapist. It frustrating being the villain because I am a white male. I think I am a fairly nice person.

  112. Steve

    Of course the guy was creepy…What’s weird to me is I thought all the ruckus was about Rebecca Watson mentioning some random blogger by name in her speech? Wasn’t that was the initial hoo-ha was about?

  113. rabrav

    love the debate…
    being a male human, I agree that I don’t understand how female humans feel in such a situation.

    I have seen an explosion of posts on this topic on most of the skeptic/atheist/feminist blogs I follow. For a while, I didn’t understand why the brouhaha. You are right Phil when you say:
    [...]
    … in general aimed at the skeptical and atheist movements. .But this is far, far larger than that. This is a societal issue; sexism (conscious or otherwise) is still a strong force in our society .
    [...]

    After reading the original blogposts by rebecca and stef, and the comments on them, I am leaning towards rebecca’s argument ( http://goo.gl/3hbPg ) that:

    [...]
    for the men (and women) who are behaving in sexist and destructive ways, I hope that pointing it out to them has the effect of making them consider their actions and stop being sexist and damaging.
    [...]

  114. Dave

    So, I guess the ideal would be to have two separate elevators. One for men, one for women. That way NO ONE has to feel uncomfortable and we can avoid all these terrible instances of ‘potential assault.’

    Because it seems that simply a man’s ‘presence’ in the elevator is a threat to a lone woman. So, let’s keep ‘em separated.

    ‘Potential assault’ is everywhere, at all times. A person can haul off and punch you with no warning at any time. A person can pull a knife and stab you for no reason. All things are ‘potential.’

    This is a semantic argument.

  115. Mark

    “Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent … a potential threat, and a serious one.”

    What gets me about some of the subtext of this story is the implication that a man simply getting on an elevator in this situation is doing the woman serious harm, even if he never says a word. Fine, the pickup attempt was a really bad move, but I’m getting the impression that the guy’s deserving of condemnation merely for being a man on an elevator.

    Are able-bodied men morally obligated to take the stairs? Seriously?

  116. CJSF

    I think this whole thing is shameful and unfortunate. I should no more be considered a “potential sexual predator” because of what other men have done in the past, than all African-Amercian/black males should be treated as gang members or crack addicts. What does that say about us? I’m not discounting that women “do” or even “must” feel this way because “you never know,” but change the descriptor from guy in an elevator to something else, and it quickly becomes offensive and perhaps illegal.

    What a sad society we’ve become, because I can honestly agree with Rebecca, even though I shoudn’t “have to.”

    I really hope Gary’s comment, above, was at least partly tongue-in-cheek, but I have to admit, it has a certain charm of self-preservation about it.

    CJSF

  117. Jonathan

    I’ll make a note to never talk to a woman I don’t know if she doesn’t have an escape route. But I’d like to make the reverse point. Women just don’t know what it’s like to be a guy, where you are always considered a potential rapist (or pedophile! we have penises and we just can’t control them!!!), so you better not say or do anything too friendly to anyone.

    I’m a perfectly nice guy, I’m uncomfortable most of the time, and I’m thoroughly harmless. Ladies, I may not actually be physically stronger than you. But, if I had the courage at that moment, I would not have realized that talking to a woman on an elevator is a mistake (although I would have the sense not to ask her to my hotel room). Bam, now I’m a potential rapist in someone’s eyes.

    Sure, it’s preferable to living in constant fear of rape, but it’s still stupid that I get thrown in that bin just because I have the Y chromosome. I guess we can all agree to hate rapists for both selfish and unselfish reasons.

  118. Squid: “Everything is a potential sexual assault. Whether you’re walking down the street on a bright sunny day, minding your own business; or whether you’re running naked through a room full of sex offenders, the potential for sexual assault is ALWAYS there.”

    Magnum: “Might as well say that every time I walk past a black person on the street is a potential robbery.”

    Well that depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it? If you want to be as wonky as possible, sure, you can be sexually assaulted at any time, just like you could be killed in an accident at any moment. However, there are degrees of how severe the risk is. Walking down the street on a sunny day in a busy neighborhood with passing police cars? The risk is rather low. Running naked through a room of sex offenders in an empty warehouse on the outskirts of town? The risk is a lot higher.

    Same goes for the racist mugging stereotypes. If you pass a black person on the street, the risk of you being mugged is statistically insignificant. If you pass a black person who suddenly turns around and starts following you with disturbing determination, your risk of being may have just went up. Same goes with a heavily tattooed skinhead. He might leave you alone or he might chase you down and beat you because you looked Jewish to him. Again, it all depends on the context of the situation.

    Propositioning a woman in an elevator in the middle of the night carries a higher risk of a potential sexual assault than asking her if she’s like to get some coffee in the lobby.

    back to Squid: “… trotting out a tired old canard of the Patty Dworkin era that any contact with a man is a potential sexual assault (she also felt that all penetrative sex was rape)”

    Except you’re the one doing that. None of the women commenting on the issue seem to have a problem with sex or men in general. Just creeps. And hey, let’s keep in mind that there are also rather creepy women out there who do very stalkerish things to get male attention. It’s just that we have a much lower risk of sexual assault against us due to a wide variety of factors.

  119. Drew

    If he was better looking or possibly younger, she would have been flattered.

    I am a male feminist, but I also understand how ‘it’ works. Dawkin’s is right on this one.

    I certainly don’t think it is right, but I’ve said before: “Men don’t get dirty, they just get old.”

  120. G

    I dunno, there can be a lot said for one’s own perceptions clouding the issue. Potentially anywhere or any situation could be an area of “potential assault”. Potential exists everywhere.

    As someone with anxiety problems, I see potential dangers everywhere and it constantly keeps me on edge. Through mindfulness training, I’m learning that I’m reading a lot into all situations. The potential for anything exists– including getting hit on the head by an meteorite when I go outside. Admittedly so is the potential for getting assaulted in an elevator. But is that fear legitimately founded? Perhaps in this case it is, but in many cases I am learning that fear is just that– fear.

    Our society is overburdened with fear– and yet each year we actually are having fewer and fewer crimes, deaths, assaults, etc. Things are actually getting safer and safer. And yet our children are not even let out of the house anymore to walk to school.

    Let go of your fears, everyone. Sometimes a polite request by a gentleman can be just that.

  121. Benji

    @Jonathan

    Thank you.

  122. Cymraes

    “A point I saw on another blog that really struck home was, amid all the people saying “She doesn’t know his intentions, he probably just wanted an innocent cup of coffee and conversation in his room,” if she’d gone with him and had in fact been raped, a *significant* portion of those same people would be chiming in with “Well, really, she should have known better than to go back to a stranger’s room at 4AM. It’s just naive to think coffee and conversation are all he’s got on his mind.” Can’t win for losing.”

    This is such a great point.

  123. Benji

    @Mark

    Apparently. I’m deeply insulted by this.

  124. Why was this a deal at all? Maybe Dawkins was being sexist, but Rebecca was being sexist first. Someone asked her to his room for coffee, she said no, and he dropped it. Where’s the deal? Where’s the part that’s worth saying anything about? She chose to complain about it and put it online. She chose to take it the way she took it.

    I’m the security director at a conference. If an attendee came to me with something like this, there is literally zero to do. Nothing at all. We have real issues to deal with. There’s no “potential sexual assault” here at any point. If he’d followed her, gotten forceful, or wouldn’t drop it, then there is concern, but there wasn’t here. She said no and it was case closed for him, but she sexistly decided that because this was a man, he was a potential sexual predator.

    This may sound insensitive, but grow up. Dawkins may have been out of line, but I found Rebecca’s reaction to the initial proposition to be completely over the top, out of line, and sexist and demaning toward men.

  125. Anonymous in Washington

    I have to agree with Dawkins here.

    Would you accept this argument if a white person said he was intimidated by a black person walking down the street?

    No – you’d call it what it is: racial stereotyping.

    The sexist here is Watson, not Dawkins, and you shouldn’t encourage it.

    The worst that can be said of Dawkins is that he used bad taste in pointing to Watson’s experience specifically to highlight the treatment of women in certain Muslim communities.

  126. Christopher Beattie

    If I remember my old non verbal communications course that I took ages ago, every person has “zones” of personal space which they feel comfortable in a given level of intimacy. These zones vary depending on culture and personality but the basic problem is that if onversation is initiated at a level inside the proper “zone” that conversation forces a level of intamicy that might be uncomfortable (and to use a non sexual reference that drill sergent who just doesn’t yell in your face but yells within 6″ of your face is trying to deliberately make you feel uncomfortable). Thus the combination of distance and the confined space (as well as the fact that there are no other observers) forces a very high level of intimacy just by those factors alone. You don’t need much else to really get to intimidation here, even if you don’t realize it at the time.

  127. Chris

    Now I know I’m going to die alone. I’ll never be able to get a date because I’ll always be too worried about looking like some kind of pervert. Let’s say I ask a girl out. Assuming she doesn’t spray me with pepper spray she’ll think I’m some weirdo. Then she’ll tell all her friends that I’m a pervert and to stay away from me. And since there are only 6 degrees of separation between people eventually every woman on the planet will know I tried to ask a girl out. I’ll have to go into hiding because I know that they know. I’ll live the rest of my years hiding in shame. Eventually I’ll die and my cat will eat my remains. But then since the door is locked, my cat will be trapped inside and he’ll die of starvation. Great not only will I die alone, but my cat will be condemned as well. It’s a wonder that the human race has been able to survive this long.

  128. A reader

    Before I write this post, a disclaimer: Richard Dawkins is a total dick, and does not understand the scariness and the seriousness of sexual assault. The man in the elevator was creepy, scary, and way out of line. No matter how attracted you are to someone, no matter how likely you think it is that someone will sleep with you, to pressure and menace them in that way is not OK, and if I saw him do it I would punch him (or at least, I’d consider punching him, and maybe if I had had a couple drinks…).

    That said…

    On an unrelated topic, in her video Rebecca Watson complains about people sexualizing her. Here is a link to a picture she posted of herself reading Phil Plait’s book while naked on a bed:

    http://a2.l3-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/124/63ad30877bc1494285a4f44e7708cade/l.jpg

    Here is another photo of Rebecca Watson, commonly used for publicity purposes, in which she also appears to be naked:

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/183/415175552_065279a643_z.jpg

    So, my recommendation to Rebecca Watson is: If you want people not to think of you as a sex symbol, you might want to stop posting naked pictures of yourself on the internet.

    (Again, let me reiterate that this comment has nothing to do with the creepy, scary guy in the elevator, or with Richard Dawkins’ insensitivity and possible misogyny, both of whom I condemn. Anyone who misinterprets this post to lay any sort of blame on Rebecca Watson for the actions of the creepy elevator guy, or any other creepy or scary person, is misinterpreting this post. Also, anyone who misinterprets this post as a claim that women who are sexually threatened are somehow “asking for it” is misinterpreting this post. My comment was a comment about sexual objectification; violence, intimidation, and the threat of violence are completely separate issues, since these things are utterly unacceptable in a civilized society, while sexual objectification is merely rude and shallow.)

  129. Kat

    I agree with others here,
    I feel like if we want to “take back the night” without imprisoning all men, we have to reward the men who don’t force themselves on women with anything more than an overt “Coffee? Yes/No”.

    But, There are some clear issues. 1) she just finished covering how this sort of thing made her feel in a speech, 2) she had already told everyone she was tired and wanted to sleep, 3) If she is really so interesting, why not have coffee with her tomorrow?

    I don’t feel like she over reacted at all. She didn’t start a campaign, she just posted on her video blog as a side note to all her other updates.

    Honestly, I am of the mindset that this man thought he knew women… and that women never meant what they said (we’ve all met at least one person like this). He learned his lesson, she talked about it so that other people don’t have to learn too. But I doubt it needs the level of discussion that this has gotten, or the level of anger or insult that some people have stated here.

  130. CJSF

    oh, and @Roger #96, “Men for the most part are clueless about everything. ”

    I find that an offensive sentiment. A false factoid promulgated by the media and adopted by some men because, frankly, I think it makes their lives easier. Be clueless, let the women take care of things, because they are supermoms/multitasking experts. Men are NOT for the most part clueless about everything.

    CJSF

  131. Although I will never know everything women put up with, I definitely get that elevators and other confined spaces can be intimidating with men they don’t know. I happen to have the added feature of being a large, athletic looking man (friends sometimes describe me as having a linebacker build…one that would intimidate a lot of men if I was acting aggressive). Every time I end up in an elevator alone with anyone, I think about how I am presenting myself and how it could be interpreted.

    I don’t have hard and fast rules about whether or not to speak to someone, but I observe their demeanor and try to determine whether saying a friendly hello would put the person more at ease or not. Of course, my women friends don’t mind being out in a crowd with me because they know that I can usually solve any problems they are having with men by giving them a stern look, handy skill to have sometimes.

    I am sure some people will get all idealistic and say we shouldn’t have to worry so much. In in ideal world, maybe, but we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world with lots of strange people who can be dangerous and if you don’t want to be mistaken for one of them, use your loaf.

  132. strawperson

    It makes me uncomfortable when minorities are in the elevator with me.

    We can conclude, therefore, it is inappropriate for minorities to enter an elevator if they see me in it already.

    That’s a pretty absurd position on the face of it – a minority isn’t doing anything that should make me uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable because of my biases. However, the man that “propositioned” Rebecca Watson “sexualized” her. Let’s take a look at what she says he said.

    “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”

    Let’s discuss this for a moment.

    One: “don’t take this the wrong way” – I read that as, “I’m aware of your position on men &c, as I was at your talk earlier, so this is not an attempt to sleep with you.”

    Two: “I find you very interesting” – I read that as, “I find your ideas (not your breasts) compelling”

    Three: “I would like to talk more” – I read that as, “I would like to talk more and I recognize that the conference schedule is busy and I may not have the opportunity to speak with you one-on-one again”

    Four: “Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee” – I read that as, “I recognize that you are tired and coffee would likely help maintain your mental acuity; however, it’s 4 AM and the cafes are all closed.”

    She doesn’t at any point describe his manner as physically intimidating. It also appears that he takes no as an answer pretty unquestioningly. If there’s anything sexual or sexist or any manner of harassment in his statement, I can’t find it. Did he wink? Did he leer? Did he do anything to suggest that his intent was to engage in any manner of physical intimacy with her? If he did, she didn’t find it worthy of mentioning.

  133. Thorsten

    Shorthand: I’m with Marty here and Eskil asks the right question.

    Richard ist correct, she might just have pressed a button and Phil is correct, she might not have been able too, if it would have been a real rape sceanrio. So much about would and might and potential worldlines.

    Women are in danger of assault and man are in danger of being accused of assault.

    Here’s your little skeptical subtext: If you are like me, in puperty a great deal of school yard talk revolved about the issue “How do you talk to a girl without sounding creepy?”

    So what do fine magazines tell us? Let it be natural! Join a club – with girls in it of course – to have some common interest! Go out to some dance and music – which girls like. Of course. Etc.

    In other words: Feign interests and personal traits which you don’t have in order to avoid looking creepy.

    How dare you to be interested in talking to a girl as such? How dare you to articulate this? How dare you to be honest about it?

    In still other words: Be a lier, be a cheat – or be a creep.

    Nice thing you are putting your skeptical bro through here, folks.

    Audiatur et altera pars. Get the offender and ask him for his feeling.

  134. @Evolving Squid… thank you. There are a lot of people posting on here that this was a potential sexual assault, I think you summed up the only rational response to them. This isn’t saying she is a bad person, or that an icky vibe isn’t relevant… sure, Dawkins could have just let it go, but he is also right. The man who hit on her sucked at hitting on her. That could be for a lot of reasons. Hate to say it, but a guy who she found really attractive would have had a different reaction from her. Sure, she probably wouldn’t have done coffee with him, but likely she would have left the elevator with a happy feeling, a positive state of mind (this isn’t specific to her, or to women… it’s just a human thing)…

  135. Alex

    Jeff – I agree. I’m male, I have a sex drive that I will not be told to be ashamed of and I’m 6’4″. Just by my very existence I may very well intimidate a lot of women I meet because I’m a lot bigger than they are.

    I can’t shrink, I’m not going to cross the street just to avoid passing a woman just in case I frighten her. Yet, somehow, I’ve managed to not sexually assault anyone in my 33 years on this Earth.

    I’m not going to accept the inference that just by being male I am a latent rapist who should avoid all contact with women just in case they are intimidated by me. I’m also a geek, attractive women intimidate me as they do a lot of less attractive men. Should they stop being attractive to make me feel better?

    You know what? As a result of this discussion I’m not going out at night anymore. I’m not joking, if women are that sensitive to male presence at night then it’s the only thing I can do. I’ll just spend my nights playing video games. Better stick to single player thouh just in case I end up in the same match as a woman who feels intimidated.

  136. Andy

    I never talk to women unless they talk to me first and I avoid them which helps reduce my chances of becoming the victim of a false accusation. This way I can live my life and never have to worry about being eviscerated by the court of public opinion or get involved in any mind games. Down side is that its a pretty lonely existence.

  137. Daffy

    #17

    Kim, you make my point very well. Chatting and flirting are fine (you say), but let’s have sex is not. Fair enough. But that’s not what the man said—it is your interpretation of what the man said. And it may be correct—or it may not. Perhaps nothing else was open for business at that time. I have been to many hotel functions where things went late, and someone wanted to continue the discussion in their room—simply for lack of any other place. Did that happen here? I don’t know and neither do you.

    In any case, I am not suggesting for a moment that women don’t need to be concerned; clearly they do. I am asking how is a man supposed to know where the line is? If the woman feels his approach is a potential assault and therefore it IS a potential assault, how is a well meaning man supposed to approach a woman ever?

    As far as I can tell from the story, the man took no for an acceptable answer. And that, to me, is where the line is. She says no; the conversation is over.

  138. Reggie

    The lesson I take away from this is to be careful about who you are alone with. For women, it could be to protect themselves from potential rapists. For men, it could be to protect themselves from false accusations of sexual assault and/or rape.

  139. Trevor

    I agree with Richard. The girl in the elevator was totally overreacting. If a person (man OR woman) is so timid that something as innocent as that will frighten them, the problem is with that person.
    There are real problems in the world, and Richard did a good job at putting things in perspective.

    When a person hits on someone, and the other person declines the advance, it creates an awkward situation for both parties. So the guy in the elevator made both parties feel uncomfortable, but that’s just how life goes. If no one ever risked getting rejected, we would have died out long ago. To assert that just because he is a man there is a threat of rape in the air, THAT is what is sexist here.

  140. Suni

    Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of the SGU and skepchick, and my disagreement with Rebecca Watson on this issue doesn’t change that in the slightest. This entire discussion is exactly what does need to happen And I should say that as far as I can tell I don’t even strongly disagree. I have yet to see anyone implying that some sort of interventionist act to prevent or redress what that man said would be needed. No gender segregated elevators, no escorts for female attendees, no jail time for him, etc.

    What I do see here that I disagree with is the unstated premise that the man should be aware of the fact that by being male they are inherently a threat to all women, and that they should take action to redress the fact that their existence is inherently threatening.

    While it is true that men are likely going to be the source of any given sexual assault on women it is NOT true to say that a man is likely to be the source of a sexual assault. This is a huge and meaningful difference. Claiming that his being a male, even a male with a sex drive made the situation a “potential sexual assault” bothers me. It makes so many assumptions about what he is based on his gender. Particularly I noted the mention of “he could have…” with a number of options that seem universal to me. She could have pulled a knife, or a gun. Recent history is rife with examples of smaller and weaker individuals overpowering others with the aid of modern technology. What this seems like to me is a series of assumptions of the worst case about what an individual was based on his gender. Assumptions he did not live up to (thankfully).

    Had the line been racial most of us would quickly say such prejudice (judging an individual before learning about them) is inappropriate. And, unfortunately, the statistics for crime in the united states would back up claims that African Americans are inherently threatening just as well as they would back up claims that men are.

    And I do not argue that there exist men who victimize women, on ever scale from verbal to physical. Yet I am not comfortable with holding that against all men any more than I am comfortable holding 9/11 against all Muslims, or any number of other generalizations.

    That said, thank you Rebecca for providing the opportunity for us all to discuss such an interesting topic. ^_^

  141. Ad Hominid

    It might be interesting if the man from the elevator happened to see this uproar and recognize himself. I urge him to speak up if he does.

  142. Still a bit confused

    I do see her point, but I wonder when this goes from being a justified fear to being an example of sexism? As a male, I normally do not live with fear of being raped so I can’t come up with a perfect similarity but I will try: when I was in college I often worked in clothing stores to make ends meet and found that as a straight male I was a bit of a rarity in the workforce. Often I would go to parties hosted by fellow employees and found myself around many gay men, most of whom were larger in physical size than I was since I am quite small. Anyway, there have been many times at these parties when I would find myself in a small confined space with another man (such as both heading towards the bathroom on an upper floor at the same time or something and would be isolated in a hallway) and have been hit on during these times in a very suggestive manner. After politely refusing and explaining that I was not into men the situation would end. Sure, in my mind I was a bit weirded out but at no point did I consider the possibility that they were going to rape me. Honestly, looking back on it, I think being weirded out was an example of homophobia and was completely unjustified even though there have been male-male rapes in the past and being gay is completely natural. Maybe the guys just wanted to get lucky and upon refusal moved on with their lives.

    So I guess my question is, if I was a blogger and went online to blog about my fear of these men raping me after making suggestive comments while isolated in a hallway near a bathroom with only stairs leading down three floors to other people, would I be called a homophobe or would my fear be justified? I honestly don’t know if there is a right answer to this question and similar questions could be raised about justifiable fear of urban-looking African Americans and robbery/shootings, justifiable fear of Muslims, and justifiable fear of all priests being rapists. I don’t have a problem with he being weirded out, but saying her fear is justified is, in my opinion, agreeing with stereotypes.

  143. Chris

    Is that cracker Dawkins is referring to the same as the communion wafer or host? Maybe they call it something different in England.

  144. Cymraes

    Seriously, will everyone quit the “stop calling all men rapists!” rubbish? That isn’t what is being said at all. What was being said is just this – DON’T BE CREEPY. Sure, the limits of what is and isn’t creepy aren’t always clear, but following someone you’ve never spoken to into an elevator at 4am and asking them to come back to your room alone is easily creepy and bound to make most people uncomfortable.
    EMPATHY GUYS. LEARN IT.

  145. Ted

    Ugh. Does this have to be either-or? Can we not agree that a) propositioning a strange woman at 4 am on an elevator is kind of creepy and should be avoided (not criminalized; just try to be considerate) and b) describing this as a “potential sexual assault” is a bit extreme? It is possible for a woman to feel profoundly uncomfortable in a social situation even though she doesn’t think she’s about to be attacked. This isn’t about safety or assault; it’s about good manners and consideration.

  146. Cretoro

    I’m a bit upset that suddenly people have taken this to mean that Mr. Dawkins hates women. So his attempt at putting this topic into context was ham fisted at best, but I don’t understand how the skeptical/atheist community has labeled him a misogynist.

    It certainly is true that the majority of men would rape a woman if given the chance, but Richard Dawkins has proven repeatedly in the past that he is against the current rape culture. It was a mistake.

  147. Brownman

    Women will never be seen as “equal to men” when every awkward come on is seen as a “potential sexual assult”

  148. FK

    I’m erring more towards Dawkins side on this but I hope we’ll have a good discussion on this. And I definitely need to talk about it with my wife because it does concern me to have an opinion that offends so many women.

    The way I see it, the elevator guy was for sure inappropriate and creepy, no doubt about it. When people talk about the power of words however, would it have been less creepy and inappropriate if the guy had been staring at her and at her body without saying anything? I don’t think so, it could have made Rebecca feel even more uncomfortable. But there I completely agree with Rebecca when she says “Don’t do it” to guys who don’t want to be seen as inappropriate, a jerk, creepy, whatever you want to call it. However, that doesn’t make the guy in the elevator a rapist or a sexual predator. He might be one, he might be the nicest guy in the world and was just confused as to what to do to talk to a charismatic woman, we’ll never know. The point that Dawkins makes (I think) is that what the guy did should not be reprehensible in any way by our society. It’s akin to free speech. It’s not less or more appropriate than a coworker asking you to join his political party in the elevator, or your boss asking you to go pick up his laundry at the cleaner. You can say no in every instance. And in every instance, if there are physical threats, if there are repercussions about your job safety or whatever, then the yellow line is crossed and it becomes reprehensible and possibly punishable by law. From Rebecca’s account, there was no such threat and while I’m sure she was uncomfortable, I think her initial message of “Don’t do it” is sufficient. Sure Dawkins might have been inappropriate in the same way with his sarcastic comment but he is also entitled to his opinion and frankly, this is much ado about nothing IF Rebecca’s account is correct about the lack of physical threat. But I guess it boils down to whether one considers being in an elevator with someone else as a physical threat…

  149. Kevin

    Should I feel threatened when I cross a street where there are cars present that could run me over? The fact that I feel threatened doesn’t put the drivers in the wrong.

    I don’t mean that she should not have felt threatened – you have the right to feel how you wish, given a particular situation, as does she. Given the evidence she presented, I don’t think he intentionally wanted her to feel threatened. Some women respond positively to questions like that in similar situations, and women who do are just as guilty of propagating this problem as he is, if we’re meant to take the wrongness of this situation as a social norm.

    The guy may very well be a creep, and she may very well have had reason to feel threatened, but to equate his actions with sexual predation is over the top.

  150. Sam

    Are these the sort of problems white women have ? Being in an elevator with another man who hit on her and when refused, didn’t bother her anymore. Seriously ? And that was taken as a ‘potential sexual assault’ ? I am a black man and sometimes when I walk past families/single women, they move away. I.KID. YOU.NOT. Does this count as a “potential mugging/rape” ?

    This, THIS is being turned into a controversy ? Oh I see! Its a woman! Gee, its alright then I guess.

    Just because you THINK you are right does not mean you ARE correct. Please, please see the situation from the other viewpoint.

  151. Sarah

    So, she was asked for coffee at 4am in an elevator. All of us girls have been approached at one time or another by some guy, “asking for coffee.” She says no, that’s that. Any two people hanging out in a bar till 4am surely must have been drinking and having a good time. This guy thought he might try his chances and perhaps this was the only time he could get her away from a group of people. He asked, she said no. What’s the big deal? I’d call her a liar if she said she’s never looked at a man (or woman) with “coffee eyes.”
    In my opinion, Richard Dawkins was 100% correct with what he wrote. It seems to have been a simple exchange of words. Nothing more. I can’t decide is Rebecca is more annoyed by the fact that this guy didn’t get the topic of her talk earlier in the day or the fact that she was hit on in an elevator.

  152. @VAB
    Men can be victims every bit as easily as women. I think that in my life I have found myself in situations where victimhood was a great deal more likely than in either of the ones you mention… in fact both of those prove that while you do worry about those things, that is something inside you, not something outside. When I had a knife to my throat while someone told me to get on my knees, that was a real threat (luckily it turned out okay for me). Not the idea that there might be a threat, and I still don’t live my life in fear of things like that, which makes sense because they haven’t happened again.

  153. Varsil

    Further thought: If it was two men in the elevator and one propositions the other, is that a potential sexual assault? What if the propositioning man happens to be physically larger and more imposing?

    Viewing “Hey, do you want to have sex?” as a threat is basically the basis for the “gay panic” argument.

  154. I wonder if any of the guys here had experiences in high school of being labeled as a nerd and roughed up or beaten up–or even just intimidated–a little or a lot by boys older/bigger than you.

    Imagine that you get up from a bar at 4 a.m. and are clearly *followed* onto an elevator by a burly, juvenile punk. You and he are the only ones on the elevator, and he gets up close to you and says, “You goin’ beddy bye?”

    Just words, right?

  155. Blue

    I’ve been a woman in a male-dominated field before. I’ve gotten the, “Isn’t she cute” kinds of reactions and I’ve gotten the down-right offensive, “What’s the matter, does your pussy hurt?” reactions from peers. More often, though, I’m happy to say that the male counterparts in my field treat me no differently for having 2 x chromosomes.

    I’ve been sexually harassed, I was molested… (I refuse to call myself a victim) and I have to say that the societal roles of men and women, the threats of rape and mistreatment, are very real and they color a person’s reaction. Words are products of ideas and those words spread…ideas spread. The idea that it’s okay to ask a stranger to your room at 4am is one such idea. I agree that this was an uncomfortable situation.

    But… I think Dawkins and others (male and female) miss the root of the problem. It’s not that RW was propositioned, but that society told that man that this was okay. That society thinks its okay to mutilate women, belittle them or treat them as second class citizens or chattle. And how did we get here? Words.

  156. Smedrick

    It strikes me as amusing that most of the kerfuffle over this topic has been people trying to decipher every syllable uttered by a random stranger in a hotel elevator.

    My take on this is that RW was made to feel uneasy at a convention and used the opportunity to bring up a healthy discussion on sexism. Feeling strength from Rebecca’s words (as I myself have experienced) the female skeptics created a movement that began to feel as an attack from a large number of male skeptics. I have no doubt that the female faction meant only to inspire, not attack…but the men took on the defensive regardless. Being a male skeptic/atheist/geek, I can understand the male blow-back. A great number of us in the community are not the most socially competent…in fact, we are met with a great deal of stress on a daily basis as we foolishly try to decipher the female mystique. Personally, my first reaction to RW’s story was “Well that’s mean. What if the guy really just wanted coffee?” I have been in situations like this before…stuck on an elevator or in line at the grocery store, and trying to muster up the courage to talk to a female before she disappears forever. Anyway, being a male of this mindset, I think it should be understood by the females that we take social criticism quite seriously. Hearing from a female that my actions could possibly incite fear of rape in her cut me straight to the heart. It’s quite panicking to think that lady you’re trying to develop a bond with could very possibly be reaching for her pepper spray as you fumble for coherent conversational phrases.

    Misogyny? Perhaps. I’m sure there’s a good number out there. But I wouldn’t be so quick to label every male in this conversation a misogynist just for taking offense to the term. Both sides of the debate need to give the other side just an ounce of understanding. And as for Richard Dawkins, I understand what he was trying to say. I don’t think his words were as calculated as they usually are and his reasoning was a trifle off, but he was definitely blunt about it…and that’s why I am such a fan of his. The discussion of sexism needs to exist…on a continual basis…but as RD pointed out, perhaps the elevator story is not the correct vehicle.

  157. @Thorston #133

    “Women are in danger of assault and man are in danger of being accused of assault”

    Exactly this.

    As I mentioned above, I’m the security director for a conference (not skeptic/science related), and have worked staff/host at other events and parties. From my observations, woman and men commit what I would consider “assault” equally, but men get reported far, far more often. Men get grossly overreported, and women get grossly underreported. It’s gross sexism against men. A man can look at a woman just right and suddenly, she’s reporting a creep is stalking or harassing her, and then that same night, that same woman will be blatently hanging on, harassing, and stalking half a dozen guys, who continuously push her away, and a word is never about it. It’s a gross double standard.

    Again, I’m not trying to imply that women are worse than men at this, or that women don’t get harassed. What I am saying, is that there is a sexist double standard that causes harassment by women to be overlooked, and oversensitizes woman to harassment by men.

  158. james

    The problem is, our society has become so bad that we always assume the worst of people.

    A man asking a women out, should not mean the woman automatically assumes the man is a rapist.

    Obviously, the man had poor judgement in this situation. But probably really fancied her and saw that the moment he was with her in the lift, was the only chance he would get to speak to her.

    He knew he wasn’t a crazy psychopath and the thought probably never entered his mind that she might think that. The problem was he was too direct, he should have asked her if she would like to meet up at some undefined point in the future. If she was at all negative about the suggestion, he should have immediately put her mind at rest by saying it was no problem and returning to general chit-chat.

    But lots of people are really direct like this guy, both men and women. The problem comes when a confident guy comes on to a women who isn’t.

    But meeting new people and starting relationships is really hard, especially with all the social barriers we put up. Which is why so many people meet their partners when they are drunk and not really in full control of themselves.

    It’s sad that it has to be that way… and it’s a shame that adults can’t trust other adults, in everyday situations.

  159. Alex

    Yes, Blue, words like ‘he harassed me’. Words that are accepted as true without question as this article has already proven.

  160. Tony

    Not to be light hearted about this, but I would love to talk to the guy in the elevator. It would be absolutely sensational to find out he was gay.

    I can see both sides of this argument, really. Women shouldn’t be made to feel threatened, but as a male it is hard to know how someone is going to interpret your actions. You are told to treat women as equals, but at the same time you really can’t. If I tell a friend ‘hey, I am going to the bar..do you want something?’ it could be taken completely differently if the friend is a man or a woman. A guy will probably just say ‘yeah, get me a beer’. A woman may or may not suspect I have ill intentions. Its a difficult knot to untangle.

    We need to get to a point in society where not only are men considerate of women’s feelings, but also where women don’t feel so constantly threatened. The paranoia goes both ways and makes simple friendly interactions into a potential mine field.

  161. adkay

    I would strongly suggest that people watch Rebecca’s video to understand the context. In this situation, context is everything. Rebecca’s talk had specifically been about sexist behavior and her objecting to being sexualized. She had stayed in the bar talking and hanging out for several hours. Apparently the man had had ample opportunity to speak with her all evening but chose not to do so. After she announced at 4:00 AM that she was tired and was going to bed–the unknown man followed her into the elevator and propositioned her. The man even said “Don’t take this the wrong way but…” That indicates he had at least some awareness that his behavior was inappropriate, but he went ahead and propositioned her anyway. Even if the threat of potential sexual assault was not present, the man was rude and inconsiderate.

  162. Phil, thank you so much for highlighting this. I have always been a huge fan and supporter of Richard Dawkins. If you pardon my language, it’s good to know our saint has feet of clay. In light of everything that was said, I’m inclined to believe Dawkins is unaware of the measure of his own mysoginy. I sincerely hope he reevaluates his positions and apologize for his uncharacteristically uncaring words.

  163. Roger

    @CJSF: You are of course right. It wasn’t a good statement to make.

    I meant that men are clueless, often but not always, about how their behavior can make women feel. It wasn’t meant as something to hide behind. But I think many men don’t realize that women can be uncomfortable in their presence through no fault of their own.

    Men should realize this and know how to not act creepy, but they don’t. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of similar things myself and don’t even know when.

    Example: as someone who always carries jumper cables, I’ve several times jump started a car for a woman late at night in a parking lot. Even though I will act the perfect gentleman, stand appropriately far away and not ask her back to my place for a cup of coffee, I can sense the nervousness they have being alone in a parking lot with a strange man. I hope they left with a positive feeling and thinking that I was not creepy, but I’ll never know.

  164. steve

    What kind of idiot asks a woman he does not know back to his room while the two of them are in a confined space at 3am. I’m a man, and I would find it creepy if a man asked me back to his room in the same situation.
    Smart men learn how to talk to women without being frightening (and sometimes they make a mistake, so, women, please be patient with us).

  165. Anon

    I am with Dawkins on this.

    A potential scenario (that did not come true) is not and cannot be taken serious, it’s potential, not a fact. Skeptics should know that. It seems only Dawkins has a clear mind on this matter.

    Nothing happened and someone felt uncomfortable, well so do I when I’m alone in a lift with a woman. Get over it.

    When talking to a woman and being alone with her at the same time is being creepy now and you are seen as a potential rapist because of that then I am sorry but you have lost it. You know doing a crime is a crime, not someone thinking you potentially could do one is.

    It’s a shame that you throw Dawkins under the bus while he is actually right on the matter.

  166. Alex

    Cymraes – How about some empathy for the man being accused of all sorts here without being given a chance to defend himself. I’m not American, but I thought your justice system was based on hearing BOTH sides of a case.

  167. The Captain

    @Qwerty

    Yea, that sums up what really has me saddened by this coming on this blog too, but I guess not to be unexpected. RW actions (and arguments) in all this have been bad. Yet since she’s in the Skeptics cool kids club her actions are all excused, and her opinions are all considered more valid than any other woman’s.

    As someone else pointed out, this whole thing became a big fuss because of what RW did at the conference to Stef, not her original video, but notice how on certain blogs the deflection has to be pushed back on to either the original fellow (who is unknown), or Dawkins (who’s based in england so not part of the little cool kids club here in the US). What RW did to Stef is not to be considered either, since Stef is an outsider to them (and why only RW’s opinions on men are valid and not other women who disagree).

    This whole thing has for me just shined a light on how the skeptics movement in the US has turned into a hierarchy of high school cliques with a peking order.

  168. Choder

    Perhaps it is an inhere t flaw of skepticism that it lends itself to unfounded paranoia. I understand the logic here, but is it not true that setting the bar too low for some conduct is not only a disservice to the truly harmful acts of others, but also sets the threshold for harm too low? In a civilized society we must allow and anticipate for some level of interaction that accounts for individual sensitivities without making the standard itself too sensitive. Here, she had every right to feel uncomfortable as anyone who finds themselves in a situation of an unwanted sexual/social advancement would, however to paint it as predatory is like turning a rabbit into a medieval knight slayer.

  169. Joe S

    Has the human race gone mad!? Being afraid of this “potential” assault is the equivalent of a white man being afraid of a black “potential” assailant simply saying hello. Not all men are rapists, in fact very few are. This whole incident is premised on prejudice… pure and simple. Shame on you.

  170. Paul

    I’m not normally one for commenting on blogs, but this brought me out of the woodwork, so to speak.

    I’m not really sure what the issue is to be honest. A man made an akward sexual advance and the woman felt uncomfortable? Has no one here ever been to a bar or a college party before? It’s part of learning. Men learn how to make advances that are better timed and more welcomed and women learn how to handle these things. That should be it. It’s not potential assault, it’s awkward social skills, that’s it.

    As a straight male with gay friends, I’ve been on the receiving end of these before. I’ve had a gay friend who was crashing it my place after the bar offer to give me a blowjob, and he was sleeping at my house . . . that’s a lot more awkward than 5 minutes in the elevator. I was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t “potential sexual assault”, it was a drunk dude making a social faux pas. I didn’t freak out, I just said no firmly, walked off, and made jokes about it later.

  171. Marcus

    How many of you would agree that this sort of situation is the reason more women should be armed (and well practiced)?

    Granted, if Rebecca was packing, she would probably feel worse, not better.

    Still, the option should be available for those who feel they need it. Of course, where this incident occurred, such an assurance was completely out of the question. I think that should change.

  172. Andy

    @166 I don’t think potential rapist should be allowed to have rights. wait what…

  173. Jim

    There are too many comments for me to take the time to read them all, so, this may have already been said. But, just to make my own point. Men don’t understand women. Women don’t understand men. Let’s be fair to both sexes.

    Rebecca has a right to feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable alone with another person in a confined space, also. If a woman said “come up to my room for coffee”, I would feel like there was something wrong. I would be stupid to do it. If the guy really wanted to discuss things with Rebecca, why not suggest meeting in a public place? Much less threatening. Since he suggested his room rather than a more public place, I think Rebecca did have reason for concern. So, I agree with Dawkins that there can be over reaction to “just words”, but, really, asking her to his room? Something was not right there.

    Even as a man, I can not believe how clueless some guys are. Some women are also clueless about how men perceive them. I think it sucks that a man can not approach a woman and have a polite conversation without sexual tension involved, but the way we are wired, an attractive woman has that affect on us. However, there are a lot of us who do control that and can be trusted. How any woman cold figure out which ones can be trusted is beyond me.

    So, guys, find a way to approach someone that you are interested in in a non-aggressive way and consider how your actions and words might be perceived by her.

  174. Even if it weren’t threatening -even if he had bothered her in an open, public space- my understanding was that she had just told the entire group she was exhausted and going to bed. Ignoring what a woman says/wants to pursue your own agenda? Big warning flag. If he really was just a nice guy who wanted coffee, he could have said “Hey, do you want to grab coffee somewhere tomorrow?” before she got on the elevator, thus a) not confining her in a small, enclosed space to b) try and get her to go (with a total stranger) to another private, enclosed space (that is, his room, as versus a coffee shop, which is where most people would ask a stranger to meet for coffee) while c) completely ignoring her clearly-articulated wishes to go to bed.

    He did not ask her out for coffee. He asked her to his room. At 4AM. As a complete stranger. After she made it clear she wanted nothing more than to go to sleep (presumably in her room). That? Is bloody obnoxious behavior, even without the threat of assault.

    How could anyone argue that a, b, and c are perfectly reasonable ways to act amongst equals?

  175. My usual way of discussing this with straight men is to ask them to imagine that they are being approached, using their exact words and demeanor and circumstances, by a gay man who is significantly larger and stronger than they are. If that imaginary scenario feels uncomfortable, then, yes, you have a problem in your approach methods.

    That said: I’ve been a sex educator for many, many years, and spoken at uncountable sexuality conferences (BDSM, polyamory and general sexuality). I’ve been in situations such as this one many times, being approached one-on-one by men who don’t interest me much. Many questions can’t be answered except by the two people who were there: How close was he standing to her? What was his tone of voice? Did he use the standard “I’m not threatening you” cues in his body language and voice (an interrogative “up” at the end of his sentences, avoidance of direct eye contact, slight turning away of his body, etc.)? In the absence of information like that, I don’t know whether I’d feel uncomfortable or not… and I’m guessing that nobody else in this thread does, either.

  176. Kate

    What people seem to be missing here is that she didn’t call him out by name. She didn’t call the police. She didn’t accuse him of rape. All she did is try to start a discussion with men. Women are told constantly –in college rape seminars, in the questions asked in rape trials–that we should know that being alone with a man is potentially dangerous, and, further, that if we put ourselves in a situation where we’re alone with a man (like, say, in his bedroom having coffee), WE ARE TO BLAME for the bad thing that will likely happen to us. 

    I don’t believe that man intended what he did to be creepy or scary, but who cares? It was. Men are unintentionally creepy with me A LOT. It’s a conversation worth having. 

  177. Gus Snarp

    Seriously, have any of you people who are saying Rebecca was wrong actually watched the video? It’s not as if she makes a big deal of it, or identifies anyone, or calls anyone a rapist. She says, this happened, I felt uncomfortable, you probably don’t want to do that sort of thing. She does it briefly, and with a sense of humor. It’s the people attacking her for saying that that are making a big deal out of that, and requiring explanations of just why she felt uncomfortable in explicit detail, and why it was a bad move on the guy’s part. Those explanations should be unnecessary, and Rebecca did nothing wrong. She didn’t call security. She didn’t make accusations. She handled the situation responsibly and then used her platform to suggest that this sort of behavior by men is not a good idea. There is nothing to attack in what Rebecca did.

  178. Alex

    The funniest part here is that we’re expected to automatically believe someone who advocates skepticism.

    @Gus Snarp – I wish she had made an accusation. The man would at least have had his side of events heard that way. It would still be ignored, because we all know that when a woman accuses a man of almost anything she is automatically believed, but at least somewhere there would be some sort of record of the other side of the story.

    A wise man once said, understanding is a three edged sword – your side, their side and the truth.

  179. @Horseman: You know how much of a potential threat you are, but how will they know, exactly?

    They won’t know, exactly, but that’s not necessarily my fault. Lots of people feel uncomfortable in the social situation of elevators. Lots of people don’t. The onus is not on the world to make any one person feel comfortable.

    @elaine!: And IMO women shouldn’t have to put up with being propositioned by complete strangers in elevators.

    IMO everyone should have to put up with it. IMO nobody has to like putting up with it. There is no reason why all social behaviour has to march to the beat of the most timid, sensitive person.

    If the issue is the enclosed space, then let’s discuss what the minimum room size for a proposition might be. We can work out the parameters for “number of people in the space versus the size of space, versus comfort level for various women” and perhaps work out some kind of formula that we can drill into boys from a young age so no woman will ever have to worry about feeling uncomfortable again… yeah, that’s the ticket! It will take a least a generation to be effective though.

    @Greg Fish: None of the women commenting on the issue seem to have a problem with sex or men in general. Just creeps.

    No, Greg, I was not the one who brought up the term “potential sexual assault”… Phil did. That is an old-school, Patty Dworkin description of male-female social interaction. It was unreasonable bordering on insane back in the 70′s, and it still is.

    @Greg Fish: Propositioning a woman in an elevator in the middle of the night carries a higher risk of a potential sexual assault than asking her if she’s like to get some coffee in the lobby.

    I see where you have it wrong.

    Being propositioned in an elevator in the middle of the night may carry a higher risk of potential sexual assault. That’s a risk decision that the woman has to make. Some women may not see it that way.

    However, from the other end, propositioning a woman in an elevator in the middle of the night does increase the risk of sexual assault commencing. The propositioner is no more likely to be a rapist because he is propositioning than he would be if he was not propositioning.

    Some people seem to be trying to blame the man for something that is wholly the woman’s issue. Nobody owes Rebecca Watson a feeling of comfort to whatever standard she desires to feel comfortable. People seem to be suggesting that the onus is on men to take whatever steps are necessary so that women don’t feel uncomfortable. I disagree. The onus should never be on the rest of the world to take steps so an individual doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It’s not a matter of male privilege. It’s a matter of personal freedom. If Rebecca feels uncomfortable with the risk of assault or being propositioned in elevators then SHE should take the stairs.

  180. Cymraes

    @Sarah: “Any two people hanging out in a bar till 4am surely must have been drinking and having a good time.”

    Rebecca said that she had never spoken to the guy before the elevator. That’s a big part as to why what he did was creepy.

  181. Dr. Dawkins has many fine things to say. I do not agree with everything he says, and of some of the things he does say, I might not agree with the way he says it. However, in this case, Dawkins totally screwed the pooch. His first comment was a juvenile attempt at sarcasm, and quite frankly I am disgusted by it.

    His second comment was not much better – comparing Rebecca’s situation to how someone entering an elevator chewing gum makes him uncomfortable? Really? Has Mr. Dawkins ever been assaulted by chewing gum?

    His third comment just makes it worse. Here are my thoughts on why he should not have made the comment.

    As Rebecca states on her blog, she was a single, attractive young lady alone in a foreign country. She, and many of the guests at this conference had been enjoying a night out at the hotel pub. It’s 4 AM, and she, and another man get on an elevator, he makes a comment to her that could be perceived as a come-on. Now, maybe it is different in Ireland, but here in North America, that situation has often led to a situation where a woman has been assaulted.

    I know, all that man did was make a comment and invite her to his room. Did he do anything wrong? Maybe not, but the problem is many men are clueless about how women percieve certain situations. Change the setting: Rebecca is walking to her car in an empty underground parking lot at 4AM. Man approaches her and invites her back to his place for coffee. Would your thoughts of this situation be different? Why? Why not?

    Again, change the setting: Man approaches Rebecca in the pub and asks if he could get together over coffee to discuss her topic. She may have still refused, but I doubt she would have felt as uncomfortable as she did being approached in a tiny, confined space.

    The fact is, women are more vulnerable to sexual and physical assault. Men need to be aware of this. Maybe Dawkins should talk about this, and how men need to be sensitive to the feelings of women, especially in a situation like this. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth, for what it’s worth.

  182. AFallenLeaf

    I’m so ashamed of every man here who is jumping on the “Is everything I do potentially a sexual assault?” line of thought.

    You’re so concerned for yourselves that you can’t stop for a minute and think about it from the perspective of women. Women who live in our world 24/7/365. Yes, it is our world. If you won’t admit that, then you’re not ready to participate in this discussion. Everything on this planet has been so tipped in our favor for so long that a lot of you can’t (or won’t) see the problem.

    You cannot know what it is like to be a woman in this world, because you are a man. You will never know on an instinctual level what it feels like to be a woman in this world. Recognize that and respect women when they say they don’t want to be cornered and propositioned for ANYTHING by a stranger in an elevator. If that’s what they’re saying, then that’s the end of it. It’s not that you don’t have the right to do something. It’s that you have the responsibility as a human being to be respectful. What happened to Rebecca was in no way respectful and far too common of a behavior.

    The sentiment that what happened in that elevator was nothing disgusts me and everyone who’s said it should all be ashamed of themselves for having done so. Are you seriously going to sit here and tell me that Rebecca should have just shut up and taken it? Only men could be so arrogant to think that propositioning a woman they don’t know (for anything) while alone with her in an elevator is acceptable behavior. My FSM! Try for a second and understand the constant fear of sexual assault that dominates the world of women.

    Boy. It is really disheartening to see so many men from the skeptical movement responding this way.

  183. Leon_Ateo

    Invitation extended, invitation denied, accepted denial and did not push the issue.

    I’m not sure how she survived.

  184. Lenny

    It is absolutely amazing the language used in this post. This guy plucked up the courage to ask a girl out (yeah i know it was a bit sleazy), but she said no, and they both got on with their lives, both probably unconfortable and embarrased for the remainder of the elevator ride.
    Yet this is referred to as a “potential assault”, give me a break. I have the potential to assault anyone who walks within an arms reach of me, yet i don’t.

    Get over it, everything doesnt have to be a bloody crusade.

    P.S. Oh did anything astronomy related happen today? Dissapointing :(

  185. mlr

    @91. Benji:

    Yes, intention matters. And I think Rebecca Watson correctly intuited his intention. His intention was to corner a woman he had never met in a secluded area and ask her to his room to have sex.

    That is CREEPY. Don’t do it.

    In all these blog comments (RW/PZ/Phi/etc.) literally scores (maybe hundreds at this point) of women have concurred. This behavior is creepy. Don’t do it.

    But, thank god you know better than us about what we should or should not fear.

    The fact that you can easily see yourself as that guy in the elevator is not a cause for you to second guess RW’s response. It is a cause for you to reflect on how that behavior can and does frighten women (you know that it does because that is what we keep telling you). It is cause for you to consider that perhaps your magnanimous efforts to “show [women] that they do not have to fear [you]” are wasted, because women, by in large, cannot and do not rely upon you to tell them how they should feel.

    After the fifth time I drove the female babysitter home, my husband asked me why I always insisted on doing it myself. I explained, gently, that it can be uncomfortable, and even scary, for a woman to get into an enclosed area with a male she does not know well. I know this, because I was a babysitter in my youth and struggled through many uncomfortable, dreaded drives home with “the dad.” I was never harmed, and I understood that the “dad” was driving me home so that I would arrive home safely. But I _hated_ those drives. I was mere teenager who was ignorant of rape statistics, never received a “strange danger” course in school, and had never been assaulted in any manner. Nonetheless, I felt fear.

    My husband’s response to my explanation was, “Oh, I never thought of that. OK.”

    See how easy that was?

  186. Aaron

    I am a self-defense instructor, so I pay attention to the sorts of situations that can lead to an assault. I think about them from a tactical point of view, I suppose.
    First, if the guy made Rebecca feel creepy, she did the right thing by clearly stating to him that she was not interested. Our ability to read body language and tone is very powerful and we should listen to our feelings. If it occasionally goes off around a perfectly nice guy, it is better safe than sorry.
    Second, a unexpected question in close proximity is a tactic used by muggers and such called “interviewing”. They will approach asking a question, knowing it will lower your guard and allow them to get close. They are counting on the social awkwardness of the exchange to distract you. Rarely does someone simply jump on someone with no preamble whatsoever. Predators tend to “ramp up” a bit, like when a cat wiggles its butt before pouncing.
    Now most sexual assaults do not happen from surprise in public, even in a somewhat secluded place like an elevator, but some do. They usually happens someplace more private, like in someone’s hotel room.
    So if the guy asked her to join him in his room without having had some sort of conversation with her earlier, he should have known this would creep anyone out, and might make him look like a potential attacker.
    So the lesson is, don’t make socially awkward comments to women (or anyone smaller than you, really) in close proximity if they do not have an easy way to run. It will likely make them feel trapped.
    As for escaping by simply hitting a button, it does not take long to subdue someone in close quarters if you are larger than they are. Hoping a button press will reward you with an escape route more quickly than someone can grab you is unrealistic. A person can simply see you hit the button and grab you between the button press and the opening of the door.
    Now, was he a rapist? Probably not. He was probably just a fellow that thought Rebecca was attractive and interesting and honestly wanted to get to know her better, but he messed it up.
    So what does a guy do? He needs to approach women in a time and place where such approaches are appropriate, such as during the socializing or as she leaves the gathering, not when she gets in the elevator. You missed your socially appropriate window.
    There is a certain amount of logic in the old fashioned etiquette of having someone introduce a you to a stranger instead of doing it yourself. It used to be considered rude.

  187. jemand

    thank you so very much for this blog post.

  188. Benji

    @Tony

    “We need to get to a point in society where not only are men considerate of women’s feelings, but also where women don’t feel so constantly threatened. The paranoia goes both ways and makes simple friendly interactions into a potential mine field.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  189. Mrs. BA

    I can understand that a lot of men are feeling defensive right now, but those who are upset that all men are being painted with the some brush need to understand a basic truth. Women have to live with the fear of being assaulted. We may not feel that fear every day, but we have all felt it at some point. So please forgive us if we tend to see the potential for violence in seemingly innocent situations, but all we have to do is watch the news to know that potential exists and we ignore it at our own peril. So yes, being on an elevator alone with a strange man who has verbally expressed his interest in “having coffee” should set off at least a low-level alarm bell for the woman. This is not about what that specific man did on the elevator with Rebecca, it’s about a woman’s right to NOT be demeaned or told that she’s overreacting when that alarm bell goes off. If you don’t live with this fear then you can’t understand how it feels and you do not have the right to judge how a woman feels or reacts in that situation.

    For me the core of the issue here is not really Rebecca’s reaction to the situation she was in, it’s Dawkins’ reaction to Rebecca’s reaction. He’s basically saying “shut up, you have nothing to complain about, nothing bad happened to you physically so it’s all fine.” That is WRONG. Having to live with anxiety or fear for your safety is emotionally stressful and extremely unpleasant. No one said men should not approach women or that we view every approach as a potential sexual assault. We often want you to approach us – sometimes that’s why we put on makeup and wear pretty dresses and go to bars. What we’re asking for is some understanding of how being alone in a confined space while we’re being propositioned makes us feel. Having men use a little better judgement about when and where they approach a woman is not too much to ask. And having a leader of the skeptic movement be so sarcastic, condescending and dismissive of that request is appalling.

  190. My initial reaction here was to defend the guy because he never actually did anything. Upon further consideration, the situation is a lot more nuanced than any single person being in the wrong.

    Dude was being creepy. He probably shouldn’t have done what he did. Making someone feel threatened is something you should avoid. I think that, in hindsight, Rebecca assumed he didn’t know he’d done anything wrong, and that’s what the blog is for: “Hey guys, this dude didn’t know he was messing up, so let’s all learn from his mistake.”

    On the other hand: Can we please recognize that assuming he might resort to sexual assault is a sexist assumption in itself. If you want to try to cite statistics that’s fine: unfair discrimination usually has some basis in reality. Just consider how it feels for men to be raised under that assumption: It’s painful to know that every woman I meet has been taught to see me as a statistical rapist. It’s sort of a lesser of two evils: Let more women get raped or assume all men are capable of rape. I’ll take the second, but let’s not forget that it would be better if we could find a third choice that was a positive for everybody.

    As for Mr Dawkins… well… to be perfectly honest, he said pretty much what I felt in the first two minutes of thinking about this. I completely understand his point of view because for a well-adjusted and civil man it’s offensive to think that any awkward or poorly timed remark is some sort of rape threat. It took me some time to wrangle that idea under control and analyze the larger problem.

    If we can all agree that Dawkins thinks highly of himself and isn’t afraid to speak his mind (as has always been my impression), it’s not hard to see how he might have just let that initial thought run off without a careful analysis. It’s also not hard to see how he might refuse to admit that he was wrong or, at the very least, that he might have worded things better. All of which is to say: I’m less inclined to believe that Dawkins is being sexist or insensitive and more inclined to believe that he made a careless mistake and is too arrogant to admit it.

  191. Sam H

    Christ… :o I haven’t seen this many responses since the BA was giving away a Doctor Who set!!

    Anyway, after seeing this issue spread on many skeptical blogs over the past few days it’s helpful to finally have a clear overview of the events. As I am still young (with my brain more than occasionally migrating a meter downward), I have difficulty understanding the female viewpoint. But in a sense, both sides were right – Although the man may have had good intention, he did the wrong thing – given our culture and the fact of rape you just don’t talk to women like that at such times. And it’s sad to see RD being so unnecessarily sarcastic and incredulous, but he had ONE VERY MINISCULE point – IMHO her fear of rape was just a LITTLE bit reactionary. But then again, that’s human nature – so RD had no right to say everything else he did.

    Aside rant: the thing that gets me with this (along with research onto the nature of homo and hetero relationships, as well as the nature of human monogamy) is that my lifelong, no-questions-asked view of sex as something so beautiful and sacred (you’re basically giving yourself to another person and becoming one with them; what could be more intimate?) that it should be respected and kept within the bound of lifelong monogamy – this lifelong view is breaking down. Based on the facts of the science, biology, evolution, psychology and sociology, sex seems to become simply a physical act to reproduce and/or spread genes, and nothing more. Monogamy becomes solely a social construction to help raise kids, and nothing more. And infidelity becomes totally natural (not necessarily right, but still) and (in the context of spreading genes) almost desirable.
    In attempting to distance myself from the conservative evangelicalism of my youth and re-evalute my views of the world during these tumultuous, hormone-spiked years, I’ve been able to accept the facts of evolution, human insignificance and moral postmodernism without much heartache, but THIS goes too far. If sex is solely physical and monogamy unnatural, then what becomes of the value of the sexual act? And even human dignity?
    (end aside rant)

  192. Clayton

    @david: “It’s obviously wrong to speak or write in such a way that might cause someone to feel in any way threatened or uneasy or offended or insulted. ”

    I think that this is a dangerous position. Although I do not like being insulted or offended, it certainly is not wrong for someone to insult or offend me. Just as Rebecca may have been unsettled by the proposition for coffee, it was not wrong for the man to ask. Should he have been more considerate to her situation? I do think so. But she cannot be protected from offense, either by law or by some other social agreement.

    Also, I don’t see how this was as Phil put it – “potential sexual assault.” I don’t see how any crime can be “potential” as by definition there has been no act committed. Even crimes that are premeditated involve the “acts” of planning, which was not evident here. If a crime can be seen as potentially occurring, then all personal interactions would become suspect depending on your bias. A so-called “potential” crime cannot exist without a pre-existing bias. In this case the bias is that Rebecca was a sexual object and the man was a sexual predator. Both are gross assumptions which can lead to misunderstanding motives that for all we know may have been innocent.

    Regardless, I think that ways of acting normally in social situations, wherein no criminal act is committed, are grey and should never be given hard rules of conduct for sake of free personal interaction. One needs to use one’s best judgement.

  193. Jay

    This entire debate is, I think, an interesting window in to our societal stereotypes. It seems to me, reading the comments here and other places, that many people seem to simply make assumptions about men and women as a class.

    There appears that a sizable chunk of our society that sees all men as potential sexual predators. Is this true? Are they? How many men, as a percentage of the class “men” actually *are* potential violators of women? 1%? 10%? 50%? 100%? Some seem to believe the last number. I don’t know – I do suspect it’s much closer to the first number than the last. Perhaps civilization is simply a thin veneer we wrap around ourselves to make society work and the number actually is closer to the last. Though I will admit I have no absolute proof of either since, as my wife likes to say “ESP is not a supported protocol”.

    It does seem though, as a society, we’ve stereotyped men as, at least internally to themselves, slavering beasts, with the beast simply waiting to make an appearance. Personally, I think this view of half of the species is a sad one.

    The flip side of this is that it also seems we stereotype woman as inherent victims, reinforcing, at every opportunity, the idea that women are too weak – both physically and mentally – to stand up to the slavering beast our society says is in every man. This, it seems to me, can’t be the case either.

    In my view the truly “bad thing” that’s happened here isn’t what did or didn’t happen in an elevator or what Dawkins said, but the assumptions that have lead us all here to this place where we see only uncontrollable sexual predators in half our society and weakness and a fear filled life in the other half. Surely we’re better than that, aren’t we?

  194. drst

    Jeremy -HE DID FOLLOW HER. For heaven’s sake, he followed her into the elevator and waited until she was alone with him in an enclosed space with no witnesses to proposition her. Why didn’t he do it in the bar? Why didn’t he say something before they got into the elevator, when she could’ve backed away? Because being alone and afraid might increase the chances of her saying yes, because she’s afraid of what he’ll do if he says no? Maybe. Possibly he was just clueless as to how threatening what he did was, but in that case, all of you should be taking away the lesson from this that chasing a woman into an enclosed space in order to hit on her will read as threatening and assuming most of you are not That Guy, don’t do it. Why is that so hard to grasp?

    All of you who are arguing about this need to go read Schrodinger’s Rapist: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

  195. Amanda

    As a 25 year old woman, I’ve had my fair share of uncomfortable come-ons from strange men, though I must admit, in more public places than an deserted elevator at 4 in the morning. Were those events creepy? Yes. Was I uncomfortable? Yes. Did I at any point feel like I was in imminent danger of being assaulted? No.

    Saying a man coming on to a woman in an elevator is “potential sexual assault” is a gross over-simplification, in my opinion. It reminds me of this joke I remember hearing.

    A woman takes her husband’s boat onto the lake, where there is no fishing allowed, to have some peace and quiet. The boat is still laden with fishing equipment from the husband’s prior fishing trip to a different lake. The woman boats to the middle of the lake, starts reading and drifts off to sleep.

    She awakens sometime later to see a police officer in a boat next to her. He asks her, “Ma’am, what are you doing?”

    “Oh,” she says. “I was just reading, I must have drifted off to sleep.”

    “Ma’am, I’m afraid I’m going to have to write you a ticket for fishing, as it is prohibited on this lake.”

    “But Officer, I wasn’t fishing, I was reading.”

    “Well, you have all the equipment, for all I know you could start at any time.”

    “In that case, I’m going to have to accuse you of raping me.”

    “What? Why?”

    “You have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any time.”

    The officer left her alone.

    I mean, yes, hitting on a woman in a deserted elevator at 4am is a little creepy. Is it potential sexual assault? No. If something like that is, then what isn’t? Is a man buying you a drink at the bar potential assault? If a man bumps into you on the subway or on the street? Is any man anywhere a potential rapist just because he has all the equipment? Some men are skeevy, some men are violent and deranged, but I think it’s unfair to judge all men by those men.

    And while I think Richard Dawkins’ comment was obviously a bit over the top and overdramatic, I think there are much, much worse things women in other places have to deal with than a man making her feel uncomfortable for a few moments in time. I’m with him on this one.

  196. Blizaaaarrrrrggg!!!

    People can be brilliant and be socially awkward…as evidenced by the probably-kinda-deserved science nerd stereotype. See “The Big Bang Theory.”

    Dawkins is no doubt a truly outstanding scientist in his field(s)…but there’s no reason to look to him for advice on social intercourse. Remember that he’s also the one who decided that atheists should declare ourselves to be “Brights” and celebrate “Bright Day” instead of Christmas. You know…because “atheist” had been given negative connotations by the rest of society, and calling ourselves “Brights” would be just fine with the rest of society. Yup…no one would have any issue with that!

  197. Paul

    Some great posts here, however I find it ironic that skeptics seem to have leapt into the fray based on anecdotal evidence alone. Are we not meant to test all sides.

  198. Muleke

    Sounds like the guy in the elevator had a momentary lapse of judgment. Phil decided to respond to it by wallowing in bigotry and bad logic.
    As Phil pointed out, merely being alone in an elevator with a man makes some women uncomfortable. Obviously men and women need separate facilities, or else men should be required to never have lapses in judgment. Hmm? (I realize he doesn’t say this, but it is the logical consequence of what he says).
    I work as an EMT, with fundamentalist Christians who use the same argument Phil is using here. Except they don’t use it against heterosexual men, they use it against homosexuals.
    I’ve tried to find a difference between Phil’s logic and the reasons the Christians use for why I should never drink alcohol or play role-playing games, but I can’t.
    Also, Phil makes a serious error in fact: men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than women are (mostly of course, at the hands of other men). We just have a higher tolerance for risk, probably because we’re trained from birth not to be “sissies.”
    The Christians I work with claim that liberals are the real bigots, and I’ve defended the left at considerable risk to my employment. But I’m done. Fundamentalist liberals can be as clueless and bigoted as their counterparts on the right. I’m taking this blog off my list. I no longer consider Phil a reliable source of information. Dawkins on the other hand- he may have little understanding of how most people think or how they will react to what he says, but I have renewed respect for his moral courage.

  199. Benji

    @Jay 181

    “I think the truly “bad thing” that’s happened here isn’t what did or didn’t happen in an elevator or what Dawkins said, but the assumptions that have lead us all here to this place where we see only uncontrollable sexual predators in half our society and weakness and a fear filled life in the other half. Surely we’re better than that, aren’t we?”

    I wanted to say exactly that. You express my sentiment very well.

  200. A man tried to chat up a woman in a lift, she said no, he left it at that! She felt uncomfortable for the length of time she was left in the lift with him. And I bet, so did he!

    Are men not allowed to chat up women? Of course they are. A man chatting up a woman in a lift and leaving the topic when she says no is not a potential rape situation. It’s a man chatting up a woman in a lift and leaving it at that.

    Are men supposed to be held responsible every time a woman feels uncomfortable?

    If he hadn’t said anything, and she felt uncomfortable, would that be his fault too?

    What was the man supposed to do? He liked the woman, asked her for a drink and she said no! End of!

    It’s difficult enough for most guys to pluck up the courage to talk to a woman they are attracted to, never mind chat them up. Please, let’s not make it more difficult!

  201. The Captain

    @Evolving Squid

    “IMO everyone should have to put up with it. IMO nobody has to like putting up with it. There is no reason why all social behavior has to march to the beat of the most timid, sensitive person.”

    But the problem here is the “sensitive person” is in the cool kids skeptic club, so she can’t be wrong. That’s why certain blogs are pushing this to make sure everyone must make sure their interaction with others are exactly as RW says they should be, while her actions towards others like Stef don’t matter (or are just “tangential topics”), and the opinions of women like stef (and the three girls I personally asked today who agree with Stef) who disagree just aren’t as important as RW so they should’t be listened to. That’s what really is disgusting me!

  202. Cymraes

    @Alex: “How about some empathy for the man being accused of all sorts here without being given a chance to defend himself. I’m not American, but I thought your justice system was based on hearing BOTH sides of a case.”

    (I’m not American either, but I fail to see what the point is of that comment)

    It’s because the issue here is how Rebecca felt, because people are dismissing her experience. If I was in her situation I would feel exactly the same way as her.

    As for the man, no one knows who he is apart from Rebecca, he might not even know this discussion was going on, but if he did I hope he would be adult enough to take away from this what is intended (“hey man, what you did, asking a woman you had never spoken to before to come back to your room alone at 4am, whilst in an elevator, was creepy, don’t do that, try to think of how a woman might feel in that situation”) and not what everyone is making this out to be (“Hey man, don’t be a potential rapist!”). I empathise that he may not have very good social skills, so I hope he has learnt from her comment and taken away something valuable about the way to treat women – which is basically, don’t proposition women (or, if that is not what he was doing, don’t ask them back to your room alone) at 4am if it’s someone you’ve never spoken to before. Get to know her first, talk to her in an appropriately public place.

    See? Not that difficult.

  203. Ted

    BTW – Before anyone comments further, please watch the video from Rebecca. What she said and what feel is saying are quite different. Try not to put words into her mouth that she did not say.

  204. @Evolving Squid “You know how much of a potential threat you are, but how will they know, exactly?” That’s pretty much my point. Essentially, they won’t. This whole “potential rapist” phrase is a bit of a red herring, because that’s really just a reference point for how one might interpret the actions of another person. I doubt very seriously that Elevator Guy would have raped anyone, but my point is that his actions could look creepy in context, and that if you’re going to proposition someone, it is your responsibility to recognize not where you actually fall on that sliding scale, but where you might look like you fall. Your own knowledge of your potential as any sort of creepy person, even on a much less serious scale than rapist, is irrelevant. The other person in the conversation is going to have to figure out where you fall for them, so if you’re going to present yourself, do it with that in mind. That’s all I’m really saying. The “potential assault” gambit is just a way of illustrating one possible element of context in which one’s actions will be interpreted. What Elevator Guy did wasn’t wrong morally because he was a potential rapist; it was just wrong socially because he failed to realize how creepy he would seem. And I think that’s pretty much all that PZ, Phil Plait, etc. have really been saying about Elevator Guy.

    You are correct that the onus is not on the rest of us to make any other person comfortable, in general. However, if you want to make friends with her, or even better have sex with her, the onus certainly is on you to either make her feel comfortable with you, or not to be surprised or offended when she rejects you because you made her uncomfortable.

  205. human

    +1 @Jay 181

    Phil Plait says on his twitter that “many don’t get it“, I think he doesn’t get “it“ this time. Please read comment 181 Mr. Plait.

  206. Adam

    My main quibble is with the idea that a clumsy pickup line is a threat.

    A large male just walking into the elevator at 4am would be just as much a potential rapist as this bumbling guy.

    I absolutely agree life is different for women. I worry more about my wife walking at night.

    But I see no connection between the fumbling pass and rape.

    Considering the guy didn’t press his luck it really is a minor incident. Good luck if you think that means I’m trivializing female safety.

  207. Fred

    I sympathize with this woman and I think her plight is similar to whites living in black neighborhoods. The other day I had to take the bus from the grocery store to my house in west philadelphia. It was the last bus of the day. On the bus it was just me, the bus driver, and a young black fellow. As it was time to get off, the man got off the bus with me; I believe he lived just a block away. As we got off, he turned to me and asked me if I needed help with my bags. I told him I did not and walked away. I think members of the black community need to understand that they account for the vast majority of violent crimes in Philadelphia. As such, when it’s late at night they should not be talking to white people because it makes us feel uncomfortable. I believe Richard owes an apology to this woman and all people who feel dismissed and threatened in such situations.

  208. lagomorph

    146: “It certainly is true that the majority of men would rape a woman if given the chance, but Richard Dawkins has proven repeatedly in the past that he is against the current rape culture. It was a mistake.”

    Er, what? I don’t know what’s worse, you believing this or no one here questioning it.

  209. JH

    I wonder if the man’s appearance has anything to do with Watson’s reaction. (I am asking for a scholarly answer. No intention of attacking Watson at all.)

    I don’t necessary disagree with Mr. Dawkins, but surely a great writer like him can express his points in a more positive and sympathetic way.

  210. Chuck

    I don’t want to seem unsympathetic, but I find the anti-male sentiment here kind of hurtful myself to be honest. If I’m alone and a black man is walking my direction on the sidewalk and I feel the need to cross the street to avoid this potential mugging, does that make him a predator for making me feel threatened or me a racist for calling this a “potential mugging” just because of his skin color?

    And how does it make a difference that the distinguishing characteristic is a Y chromosome rather than melanin levels?

    Posts like this make me feel like, as a man, I need to walk on eggshells around women and it’s probably best to just avoid them entirely so as not to be called out as a predator. I don’t think that’s a productive attitude to foster.

    I had a lot of gender issues as a boy because I felt like my maleness was somehow “wrong.” I had few male friends because I was worried their testosterone would rub off on me and I’d come out too male. All of my friends were always girls. I think we should teach the sexes to get along with each other and treat each other right, not simply tell men that they’re always in the wrong and they should have known better than to do [insert action here] because men are all potential rapists and they need to constantly worry about dispelling any fear that they will rape at this moment.

    I’m not saying Rebecca is wrong. I don’t doubt she felt very uncomfortable and quite possibly threatened, but blaming it on the dude *just for being a dude* is unfair. IMO, this should be framed as, “This dude was socially awkward, and this is not the right way to talk to people, NO MATTER WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR PANTS.”

  211. Cymraes

    @Andrew Wilson: “What was the man supposed to do?”

    Get to know her first? Talk to her well before they even got to the elevator, and see if she was friendly, and then maybe receptive to his advances? It’s not that difficult.

  212. Alex

    @Cymraes – the point is that maybe she propositioned him, maybe any number of things happened but we don’t know because we only heard one side of the story. We’re expected to believe that one side because it’s a woman giving it?

    We automatically override the presumption of innocence whenever we talk about cases like this. Why is that? Do we think women are saints who cannot tell a lie? Isn’t that more sexist than anything that may or may not have happened in an elevator.

  213. Can we please stop bringing up the “obviously this means all men are rapists” point? I thought it had been made sufficiently clear that wasn’t the moral of the story, but it keeps getting brought up tirelessly as if it’s some kind of nail in the coffin. This conversation is running in circles. If you’re here for an echo chamber, do the spirit of intelligent debate a favor and leave.

    If you don’t understand someone’s point, ASK. Ask lots of questions! If you’re here in good faith to expand your ideas — even if you don’t change your mind — most will respond positively and try to help you see what they’re saying. Have none of you seen Phil’s “Don’t be a Dick” speech?

  214. pVolt

    I’m sad to say I don’t get it either. I read PZ’s Blog, so this makes the fifth post I’ve seen about “elevatorgate”. I’ve asked my wife to explain it to me, but she doesn’t get it either. I understand RDs point about getting it in perspective, but I can’t see the other side.

    I doubt anyone is going to be able to explain it to me, but maybe someone knows of some good media, books, films, maybe even a poem, that could explain what’s so wrong with what happened?

  215. Irv

    Well, here’s the thing. Sometimes men are alone in elevators with shady looking characters too. While the threat of sexual assault is practically nil they may still feel threatened. Does this mean that they do not have a right to feel safe? No, but we, as a society, have to understand that, in dealing with other people, face risks. If you want to bring those risks to nil, you can live like a hermit. Otherwise, we have to deal with other people. Polite people in elevators indicating an interest in someone else is about as innocent an interaction as you can get. Are men simply never supposed to engage in a conversation with a woman in an effort to make her feel more secure? Where do we draw the line?

  216. Several issues:
    1. I’m kind of sorry Phil is the latest “professional skeptic” to tone-troll this a bit.
    2. I’m glad that not all women are wanting to stereotype all men, and worry this issue has headed down that road already
    3. I “love” how some people are assuming, without evidence, that the guy in question was a creep.
    4. As to the details of the situation, not every “coffee” approach out in the open is a sexual come-in. Probably not every one in an elevator. In this specific situation, did the guy plan to meet her there or was it just a chance coincidence. Per Rebecca’s own story, this wasn’t a total 110 percent stranger, but someone who had heard her talk.

  217. sometimes the smartest people say the absolutely dumbest things.

    Two additional comments:

    “Yeah, but Richard was right about horrible things happening in other parts of the world” isn’t really a defense for being insensitive to the original story.

    You can’t really negate how someone is feeling by telling them they are stupid for feeling that way without showing your own ignorance.

  218. Alex

    Using a name for male genitalia as an insult?

  219. MathewS

    As Shawn S pointed out in his comment, isn’t it common knowledge that elevators often have cameras installed in them? You’d have to be one incredibly big ol’ dumb man to try and pull something in there. As a smart woman wouldn’t she be aware of such a camera? As Dawkins pointed out, the woman must also have been aware of buttons to open doors, emergency buttons, etc.

    I must agree with Dawkins about the sense of danger (or lack thereof) in the situation.

    I found myself in an elevator in a far less admirable location (a shopping mall) and a young man in baggy clothes and chains entered my elevator and proceeded to press all the buttons available. He also began to talk to himself and fiddle with things in his pockets.

    Did I think there was a good possibility that he was about to physically harm me? Yes, certainly more than if a more normal person entered the elevator and acted appropriately.

    Was I thinking, hours later, about how much of a dangerous situation I found myself in? Was I thinking about how he could have murdered me in his insanity? Did I ruminate on the topic and begin to reflect on my position as a normal person in society in relation to those of us less sane? No. Sure, I panicked a little in the elevator but I swiftly found my way out and that was the end of it.

    Certainly a large part of the problem exists in the mind of the potential victim here.

  220. MarkW

    Come on people.

    Sure, most men are NOT rapists. But a fair proportion (maybe 2%) are. And how is a woman to know that you’re a “good guy”? See Schrödinger’s Rapist

    Laughing this off as “no big deal” is NOT HELPING. We wonder why women feel unwelcome in the “skeptical movement” and then, when one woman has the TEMERITY to complain about inappropriate behaviour from a man everyone falls over each other to condemn her?

    Get a grip and LISTEN to women’s concerns.

  221. DigitalAxis

    Speaking as a man, the nature of these comments bothers me. YES, as a guy, I’m often shocked at what counts as ‘sexual assault’ (I had that at freshman orientation in college, where (I THINK) asking someone out was considered sexual assault if they said no) but at the same time… but I’ve always thought the general rule of thumb is to give the other person an easy out if they’re not interested in talking to you. THEN… if I heard that in an elevator from a woman, I’m pretty sure I’d also be making similar assumptions about when and where and why she was asking. So, it’s not a ‘nothing happened’ scenario, and I can’t quite understand why Dawkins didn’t see that.

    Inasmuch as the label of what constitutes sexual assault can be pretty broad if the person is determined to pin something on you, I’ve always thought the general rule of thumb is to give the other person an easy out if they’re not interested in talking to you. This guy didn’t really give her an easy out, and the topic of conversation was itself a little creepy. I wonder if RW would have mentioned it if the encounter hadn’t had two alarms.

  222. james

    I’m surprised everyone ignored Richard’s original point, that genuinely horrible things are happening to Muslim women around the world and nobody cares.

    Why do we not care about them?

    Why are there hundreds of comments about a girl being made to feel uncomfortable by a clueless guy. But for some reason, the women Richard was referring to, are completely irrelevant?

    Is it not slightly concerning that we only seem to care about western people living in western society?

  223. Oi vey. Sorry to say, now i have very little reason to bother to read this blog anymore. This story brings astronomy to a whole new low…

  224. Thorsten

    @ 104. DiscountDeity Says:
    “Uh, no. To create a world where women are seen as equal to men.”

    Tough luke than, because they in fact aren’t equal. And that is part of the issue here: Woman can not be seen as equal to men, in as much as the are not equally likely to be raped.

    Insofar the fear of women to be raped is more justified. However the fear of being invaded by the Commies was more justified than that of being invaded by Marsians. But acting on this fear to the max and disrespect other peoples freedom smells of McCarthy.

    So saying “I’m in fear, please don’t do this ” is surely ok with me, but responding to this with either agreement or rejection is optional.

  225. Varsil

    Equality isn’t:
    -Assuming that you are on an equal footing with someone, and making them an open and honest proposition.

    Equality is:
    -Remembering that women are fundamentally weaker than men, and thus can only be approached in specific circumstances and contexts in order to prevent causing them trauma.
    -To avoid being a sexist, you must learn complicated and arcane rules about how to avoid treading on the particular frailties of women and follow them at all times. Men, however, are resilient and hardy, and thus can be approached as human beings.

    The whole “creepy” argument is basically predicated on the notion that women are inferior. If we’re going to be breaking down stereotypes, let’s start there.

  226. Pix

    My problem with this whole “scandal” is that it turns a suggestion into an accusation. Nowhere in RW’s video does she accuse this guy of being a potential rapist or of sexual harassment. She simply said, given the context of the situation, that it made her uncomfortable. That’s not the same thing. She didn’t vilify this person, she used it as an example of the kind of faux pas we’re likely to make when interacting with the opposite sex. There was nothing dramatic or hysterical about it. So you have a lot of people crying foul over something she never said. The intense back and forth we’re seeing is in response to each other – not RW’s original point.

  227. djcinsb

    Come on, guys, it’s not a case of trying to talk with Rebecca. The definitive “over the line” part is inviting her TO HIS ROOM to talk. That part is most definitely not acceptable, and more than a little bit creepy. I suspect — though, being male, can’t say for sure — that something like “Interesting talk. I’d like to discuss it further over coffee sometime” would be less creepy, though perhaps not completely so, given the late hour and isolated location.

  228. Andy

    @james that’s the whole point. To take the concern away from muslim women and focus on the problems of women not in a an oppressive society, but in a stereotypical-double-standard society.

  229. bulbul

    I’m not surprised. As much as I respect and admire Richard Dawkins’ accomplishments, having observed his public life for some years now, this only confirms to me what I’ve suspected all along: Richard Dawkins is an a-hole. He’s one of those smart people who totally lose it at the bare mention of religion, especially Islam. He doesn’t care about freedom or reason or anything else – the only thing that matters to him is to prove how justified his hatred of religion is and he can’t do that if you point out to him that we (Western civilization) aren’t all pure and good, either, especially when it comes to our treatment of women which can’t all be blamed on religion. This is very much like back in the good old days of the Cold War where all who dared to criticize the West were immediately accused of losing perspective and/or siding with the enemy.
    As for the Elevator Guy, the first thing I thought of was a quote from Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” which goes something like this: what men fear most is that some woman will laugh at them. What women fear most is that some man will kill them. And that’s all women, all the time. This is the context the elevator incident must be viewed in. Dammit, I’m a 6″ 300 lbs dude with murder in my eyes and I would take a good damn look at any guy in an elevator at 4am, so I sure as hell won’t blame a woman for feeling uncomfortable.

  230. @Cymraes: “Get to know her first?”

    That’s all very well saying that. Maybe he hadn’t had the opportunity and this was the only time he had to ask her. Maybe he was only asking her back to his room in order to get to know her better! Who knows?

    I’m afraid people cannot be held responsible every time someone else feels uncomfortable. People are different and behave differently, we need to get used to that.

    Chatting someone up in a lift is not a crime, not even a potential one. Indeed, some women that I know personally, may have said yes to him, even if it had just been plain sex he was looking for (and that’s fine).

    There is noting wrong with consenting adults having sex and, believe it or not, getting chatting in a lift is one of the ways it happens!

    She said no, he left it. He did nothing wrong!

  231. Mrs. BA

    @ Andrew Wilson #184 – “It’s difficult enough for most guys to pluck up the courage to talk to a woman they are attracted to, never mind chat them up. Please, let’s not make it more difficult!”

    Wow – just, wow! Do you understand what you’re saying? Are you really asking women to not communicate to men what behaviors make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, because it will make men more nervous about talking to women?

    “Chatting someone up in a lift is not a crime…She said no, he left it. He did nothing wrong!” – No one said it was a crime – those are your words. It’s a matter of using good judgment and being a little more understanding of a woman’s feelings in certain situations.

    You have succeeded in providing a startlingly clear example of a man trivializing a woman’s perspective in favor of his own.

  232. Yikes!

    @SocraticGadfly -
    I’m here to tell you that any man that I didn’t know, regardless of what he looked like, who pulled this come on in an elevator would be branded a creep. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that a lot of women would agree with me. Maybe this is something you’d appreciate learning?
    Also – just because he heard her talk does not mean he suddenly knows her, and, more importantly, definitely does not mean she knows him (or even recognizes him). I graduated engineering school in a class that was less than 10% female. I had guys come up to me years after we graduated and I had no idea who they were….but they apparently “knew” (and remembered) every female.

  233. Heather

    You’re a man at a conference and you’ve seen/heard a woman who you really, really like. By a stroke of luck, you end up in an elevator together. You feel she could Be The One, but she doesn’t know you from Adam. What can you say to her that won’t get you featured in all of her OMG The Creeps I’ve Met stories?
    I have a flowchart!
    1. Hi!
    2. I happened to (see/hear) your (presentation/workshop/comment made) and I thought you brought up some really good points.
    [If she doesn't respond in anyway (no eye contact/grunt/silence) she's not The One. Oh well. STOP]
    [But if she does respond with a smile, a thank you, "I worked really hard on that", etc, go to step 3.]
    3. It’s really late and I’m tired and need to get to bed, but I would love to talk to you more about this. I’ve done (research in/studies on/lifelong hobby in that area) and it’s nice to find someone who can speak so well on it. You wouldn’t happen to be free for lunch tomorrow? The restaurant has some (pretty good/pretty crappy but cheap) food.
    [STOP. If she says yes, great! Make arrangements.]
    [If she says she's busy, she might truly be busy, or she might be blowing you off. If she says she's busy, go to step 4.]
    4. Yeah these schedules are packed. Here is my card with my (email/website/twitter/facebook). Feel free to contact me. OR. Hey, my twitter is this Easily Remembered Handle. Feel free to (follow/comment/contact me).
    5. I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference. Bye! Take care!

    There you go. You can feel good that you took a chance on talking to a woman, and you haven’t acted like a possible rapist featured in a local news story. (“The attacker lured the victim back to his hotel room with an offer for ‘coffee’”, said with a sad yet knowing look for the victim’s foolishness in falling for such a ploy.)

  234. Alex

    @James – Strangely enough, a middle eastern culture seems to be what people want here. Women have to cover themselves up whenever they go outside just in case us evil men won’t be able to restrain ourselves.

  235. Raikoala

    I am frankly amazed by all the idiots who keep saying they’ve been told all man are rapists and now it’s forbidden to flirt/talk to a lady or look her in the eyes and whatnot.

    No, that is not what is being said and that deliberate distortion of what IS being said is only driving the point home that atheist males appear to be utterly unable to see where they need to work on their attitudes.

    Looking a woman in the eye/talking to her/flirting with her/being interested in her =/= most unsubtly asking for sex when you don’t even know her and being a total creep.

    Chris said it best in one of the above comments: If you think Rebecca SHOULD not have felt uncomfortable, that is completely irrelevant. The other side is telling you it IS.

    A handful of males and females even point out to you that being harassed or sexually assaulted in an elevator is not extremely far-fetched, nor an easily escapable situation.

    So please, do as proper atheists do, accept the facts and act accordingly. Your fantasy world, in which a woman alone in an elevator doesn’t have to worry about a thing when some guy she doesn’t know invites her for sex (or where she is likely to think: Hey, awesome idea!) is fiction. If you want to live a life based on fiction, you know where your local church is.

  236. Gary

    @CJSF, I wasn’t being tongue in cheek, I really do avoid all contact with women to reduce the chances they’ll think I’m a potential rapist or a creep. I’d rather be thought of as rude, antisocial and unhelpful as these seem slightly better than creep. Like Andy and Chris, I’m resigned to living alone as whatever I do women assume the worst and say it’s wrong, so I gave up long ago trying to live up to their ideals. Our society is being slowly torn apart by the mutual fear, paranoia and suspicions we have about each other, so the situation cannot last too long before we entirely destroy ourselves. In the end, humans cannot live together, so we’ll die together.

  237. vexorian

    I keep seeing the same pattern in the posts I read about this. It does not seem to matter whose blog is it or how time it passed since the discussion started. It forces me to basically make the same post all over again.

    I am a guy, and I don’t blame anyone for trying to meet women at these conferences because they are clearly going to be smart women with compatible beliefs. Though really, the elevator guy was wrong. Perhaps unintentionally so, but still. I will agree with RD that it was only “slightly bad”. What I don’t find to be “slightly bad” is RD’s and many people0s reaction to Skepchick talking about this.

    1) No, nobody is asking you guys not to propose women. Or to lose your sexual identity, etc. What you are being asked for is to consider not to make the woman you are asking out completely uncomfortable. If you want to ask someone out try doing it in a public place like a bar when she actually looks like she is not incredibly tired. Perhaps you have to consider to get she to know you before proposing those things? And try to first check out if she is actually interested in meeting potential partners before going into that. I think it is basic consideration.

    2) Yes, it was uncomfortable. Elevators are worse than a dark corner and much harder to get out from. You can’t just press a button, you will then have to wait at least 3 seconds for the door to open. If the guy is a rapist you are doomed.

    3) No, you are not entitled for the benefit of the doubt. If your first choice to approach a woman for the first time is a confined elevator away of witnesses. She has no choice but to consider you a potential threat. Yes, perhaps you are a nice guy and are not a threat, but how will she know? You didn’t bother to get her to know you before that situation.

    4) No, the guy didn’t “just” ask for coffee. “Coffee at his room” at 4:00 AM is obviously more than just coffee, and boy, I used to think I was socially clueless but if even I can see it, I don’t get why wouldn’t you see it.

    5) Finally, and what I really want to say. Is that the overall attitude about thinking that you are entitled to ask women out regardless of any consideration to her situation and how comfortable it would be for her to receive the proposal. I don’t think it is right to believe that their only right is to say no. They shouldn’t have to go through these situations in their first place. It is great that they can say no, but they shouldn’t have to say it in the first place.

  238. chuko

    It’s offensive to label someone a possible sexual predator when they haven’t done or said or implied anything of the sort, isn’t it? How would you feel to be considered a possible racist, for example? Or what if it was a guy of one race feeling threatened by a guy of another race who invited him for coffee in an elevator? Would he have a point? Would it be to say that those of the other race should watch what they say in order to not be threatening?

    Look, we all know that sexual assault and disrespect for women are real problems. I’m a guy, and I can’t imagine how annoying and threatening it must be when men shout things from the street or follow you or do any other things of that sort. Men like that should be shot. But a man in an elevator asking a woman back to his room for coffee is not that, and it’s not a threat, unless you’ve prejudged him as a possible sexual predator (because without an implied threat, there’s no disrespect here). And I think that’s wrong. You don’t have to agree, of course, but some people are going to feel offended if you suspect that they’re a racist, or a sexual predator, or a misogynist, or murderer or whatever.

    One might also characterize it as less than respectful, but that’s largely a matter of perspective, and I don’t really hear any gender issues here anyway, unless you’re inclined to ascribe gender issues to any discussion coming anywhere near sex. That is, where’s the implication in what the guy did that has anything to do with the particulars of their sex?

    Not to say that Rebecca Watson shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable, or that she shouldn’t say to the community, “hey, this made me feel uncomfortable, this is a problem for the community.” It’s a point of view, and worth saying because it clearly does make people uncomfortable: Watson, for example. And that’s worth knowing. But it doesn’t mean that people who disagree are misogynists, whatever their gender.

    I suspect as well that there’s a cultural difference at play here between Europeans and Americans. America is somewhat more violent country than most of western Europe; we may be more inclined to feel threatened than Europeans in the same situation.

  239. mk

    Phil,

    You’ve added nothing to this overblown, drawn-out conversation. (did you really think you could at this point?) This has been going on for days with some of the stupidest commentary I’ve ever seen on the web. Tempest in teacup doesn’t come close to describing it. It should have died down long ago. Even PZ said he was done with it but couldn’t help typing up another post about it today. Also offering nothing new. It’s now clear you and everyone else see the benefit of dragging this on a little more. More hits for me! Congrats, my man! … you too are a low rent hoar. You’re a hoar for cheap hits. (misspelled on purpose in the hopes of avoiding pathetic nanny filter)

    And that goes for anyone else who makes a post about this ridiculous dust-up.

    (And yes, I’m kind of embarrassed I’ve just enabled you with this comment… ugh.)

  240. Utakata

    This and other blogs on this topic reminds me their are infact two species of human males: Ones that get it and ones that don’t. I guess it would be prejudice of me to say, I wish the latter where unable to reproduce. But suffice to say, I think the world would be a better place if they didn’t. Just saying.

  241. Eric

    The problem isn’t so much that the man made her feel uncomfortable, but that the man put Rebecca in a position where she could not tell if he posed a danger or not. Her uneasiness stems not directly from his actions but indirectly from her inability to determine his intentions. The moral is not that her interpretation of the situation was wrong or over reacting, but that men should take care not to act in a way that makes innocent intentions come off as ambiguous, especially given that the threshold of being threatening to a woman is much lower than it is to a man.

  242. vexorian

    Sorry, but forgot to include.

    You really wanted to meet a certain member of the opposite sex and you haven’t have a chance to do so. So, by fate you end up in the same elevator! And it is 4:00 AM! This is your only chance! What do you do?

    You do nothing. Because meeting her in a secluded area when she is looking really tired is NOT your only chance. Because it is NOT a chance. There is a great deal of probability you will come out as creepy or at least inconsiderate if you do that. So, try not to do it and wait for an actual opportunity.

  243. Marc Jagoe

    I don’t think people understand the potential implications of what this line of thinking means. By saying this is a potential rape/assault scenario and suggesting that the elevator guy should have seen it as such has broader social implications. It means that every time a black person is shopping in a white owned establishment, they are required to avoid appearing suspicious. It means that white people should go out of their way, in all interaction, to not appear to be racists to blacks and other minorities because of the entrenched history of racism in the US. If you’re white, you may have a black friend that you can tell a benign racial joke, to and she might laugh, but if you were to tell that joke to another black person you are a perceived racist. Does it make you a racist? This is a ridiculous standard of behavior and completely discounts the individual. No one should purposefully put another person into a position where they feel uncomfortable, however people are overlooking the elevator guy’s state of mind throughout all of this. Bloggers and commenters are turning this situation in to a cosmic universal truth that everyone should just get, but to do this, you have to assert that every woman would have the same fear or level of discomfort that Rebecca Watson had in that situation and it’s just not true, as demonstrated by many women in various comment threads that have indicated they wouldn’t (at least based on the facts available). This is a ridiculous standard, and in my opinion, the reason why we have so much discrimination and mistrust in our society. People making broad sweeping generalizations about one group is the reason why people are discriminatory and live in states of fear, whether they have power or not. I know for some, it doesn’t appear to be as big of a crime when one group is holding another group with more power to that standard, but it becomes a problem when you start applying this standard to other aspects in our lives. It is what many people do to others and it created the system before the civil rights movement when blacks changed and adapted their behavior to please whites, to include walking around the block when white women were standing in certain places.

    I want to make it clear that I am in no way complaining about what Rebecca Watson may have felt during this incident or saying she should have felt differently. If she felt creeped out and uncomfortable, she was well within her rights, and had the right to blog about it. My issue with people is when they say this guy should have known he was placing himself in a situation as a potential rapist or assaulter. They are discounting his state of mind altogether. The same way he knows he’s not a rapist is the same way I know I’m not a shoplifter when I go to the mall to buy some shoes, and I’m not going to walk around worrying about what people may think of me. As a black man in an elevator with a white woman who is clutching her purse (because of her fear of me as a black and also a man) am I supposed to step out of the elevator, or should I go about my business and ride the elevator to my destination? What the elevator guy did was a social error, in my opinion, but it was a part of the everyday interaction that most people do. Perhaps he did it at the wrong time and perhaps he lacked adequate social skills to know the times where things are generally more acceptable (measured only by personal experience and honed through many years of social interaction) but it doesn’t make what he did universally wrong in a cosmic sense. It makes him a person who made someone uncomfortable because of how she felt.

  244. @Squid:

    “No, Greg, I was not the one who brought up the term ‘potential sexual assault’… Phil did. That is an old-school, Patty Dworkin description of male-female social interaction.”

    Yes, but Phil is not one of the women commenting on this. Somewhere after the initial “hey this is a creepy thing that happened” something went horribly wrong and all too many skeptics are now debating whether man + woman + elevator at 4 am = rape waiting to happen. As I said in my initial comment this is a storm in a teacup that should’ve been left as an example of how not to approach women in hotels and became an amalgamation of the readers’ fears and sensibilities.

    “That is an old-school, Patty Dworkin description of male-female social interaction.”

    No, a Patty Dworkin description would be saying that every time a man looks at a woman all he can think about is how best to rape her and make her his sex slave. (For those who don’t know, she insisted that penetrative intercourse between consenting adults is rape by definition of being penetrative.) Yes, a lot of the reactions of “OMFG! Rapist!” here are way overblown, I’ll grant you that. But again, as noted above, we’re now talking about possibilities and potentialities colored through the readers’ biases and fears rather than the actual incident.

    Being propositioned in an elevator in the middle of the night may carry a higher risk of potential sexual assault. That’s a risk decision that the woman has to make.

    After something has already happened, or as it’s happening, is a little too late to make a risk decision. To Rebecca’s credit, we should note that she didn’t freak out that she was alone with a man in an elevator and consider that a countdown to sexual assault, nor did she say that she was terrified that he was going to rape her if she said no. All this is being added by the readers and acquired a life of its own.

    “Some people seem to be trying to blame the man for something that is wholly the woman’s issue.”

    Well, I think we owe it to women to gauge the situation and try not to be creepy. In another post, I showed how he could’ve still asked her to get some coffee without coming off as a total creep. Again, he didn’t have to be silent or refuse to take the elevator so a woman didn’t even have to think about being uncomfortable. He should’ve just picked a better moment.

    “People seem to be suggesting that the onus is on men to take whatever steps are necessary so that women don’t feel uncomfortable.”

    Well, being respectful and non-threatening to others should be everyone’s responsibility. Yes, we as men should try to do what we can so we don’t scare the women around us. And having met some rather creepy women a few times, yes, there are things women shouldn’t do as well. Now if the issues is that some women are threatened by the very presence of a man around them and immediately assume that he’s a rapist, that’s not a problem any amount of social decorum will solve.

  245. Thanny

    I think Phil has really distilled the argument down here fairly well (or, rather, the argument that people are all clinging to, but not the poor way Watson handled the other issue, when she called out someone who disagreed with her at the beginning of her speech on something unrelated).

    He refers to the incident as a “potential sexual assault”. Some people (men and women) do not agree with that assessment. So to say that Dawkins is comparing chewing come to a potential sexual assault is rather defamatory.

    Here’s the rub: I can see how a woman might feel that way in that situation, but how someone feels does not translate into an actual fact. If a woman feels that a man in an elevator (even one that doesn’t talk) is a potential rapist, that doesn’t make him a potential rapist.

    I, like others on the sane side of this argument, have no problem with Watson finding the invitation creepy and uncomfortable. Nor do I have a problem with her saying so publicly. I agree that the guy was clueless, and shouldn’t have done what he did.

    I do have a problem with the invective received by those who don’t share her feelings on the matter, not least the woman who was named in her speech (Watson accused a woman who disagreed with her of parroting sexist attitudes, in a forum where no response was possible). No one is obligated to believe that Rebecca Watson’s feelings reflect anything more than her opinion, which can be disagreed with.

    And quite frankly, Phil’s equation of “man and woman in an elevator” with “potential sexual assault” is incredibly insulting to men in general. It ranks right up there with “group of black kids” being the same as “potential mugging”.

  246. I think the problem here is a fundamental failure to understand by both sides. Dawkins didn’t get that Rebecca Watson’s purpose was to explain how these types of situations can make some women feel. She was explaining why and how situations that appear innocent can turn into a terrible situation. It is a legitimate concern to many women and something people should be aware of. If I interrupt it right, the purpose of her talking about this story was to raise awareness so that people consider how their actions might be interpreted.

    Now, on the other side, there are people who don’t get how the people on Dawkin’s side feel. Just as it is important to understand how Rebecca Watson perceived the situation, it is important to understand how Dawkins and other perceived the situation. To them, there was an innocent man, making a polite bit of conversation with a woman, and being treated like a rapist for it. To them, he did nothing actually wrong so he shouldn’t be treated like he did. Their argument was that all of the people saying “Don’t do this!” were being ridiculous because if you tried to avoid doing anything that might make someone uncomfortable, you’d never do anything.

    The problem is, they are both right. Everyone should be aware of how their actions may be interrupted and may affect others. Words do matter and the other persons perception matters. But at the same time, intentions also matter. You need to consider how you’re actions will effect and be interpreted by others. But that applies to the creepy guy in the elevator as well as the lone woman in the elevator.

    Not all women and not all men are the same, nor is every situation. The line “There’s no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that’s unacceptable” is incorrect. A predatory vibe can exist under two conditions in this scenario. If the man is intending to be predatory or if the woman perceives him to be predatory. Neither have to happen. He could be intending to be friendly and she could interpret it as friendly.

    He should be aware she might perceive that, and she should be aware he might not have meant that. Maybe he should think twice before inviting a strange woman up to his room but she should also think twice about assuming he wants to do something bad to her just because it’s possible.

  247. Jasper

    I fully agree with Phil and I hope my following comments will not be taken out of proportion.

    The above just reminded me of something that happened to me a while back. When I was a teenager I used to like to smile, wave or talk to children on a sunny day, just as a friendly gesture or to enjoy the marvelous imagination of young kids. (ok this already sounds weird if you write it down..) It wasn’t considered strange due to my age. However, recently (I’m 25 now) if I were to even smile or wave or talk to a child in the presence of her mother, I would get a stare from the mother that says something like: get away from my child, you rapist. I completely understand the attitude, but it kind of hurts.

    The same is the case if I get into a elevator and there is only a woman. I usually get so uncomfortable (under the implication of that I might be some kind of weirdo) that I’d rather take the stairs, which I then most often do.

    I know it’s always better to be cautious but sometimes I get depressed by the fact that people are basically implying that you might be some kind of sexual predator.

    Remember: the above inconveniences should certainly not be compared with any of the above, since they are certainly of a more serious quality.

  248. Ross

    Ok, I think I understand now. After decades demanding equal rights for women because they aren’t fragile little snowflakes, it turns out women are, in fact, fragile little snowflakes who can’t handle simple conversation with a lone man. So I guess we should go back to the old ways of keeping women protected and safe from the big bad world. After all, every single male is a potential rapist and can’t be trusted to be alone with any woman.

  249. Should we rename this blog “Bad Philosophy” now instead?

  250. Cymraes

    @SocraticGadfly: “I “love” how some people are assuming, without evidence, that the guy in question was a creep.”

    As far as I can tell, no one is calling him a creep, just that what he did (or rather, the manner in which he did it) was creepy. There is a difference.

    @Alex: The point is, you’re still dismissing her experience. Can you really not understand how a woman would feel in that situation? The issue blew up like this because people just don’t seem to understand why what he (allegedly *sigh*) did was inappropriate. THAT is the point. Whether he did it or not is beside the point – Rebecca was just trying to inform guys that it is the wrong way to approach someone. That’s it. On the other hand, if she had named a guy, said he did this thing, and called him a malicious creep or something, then yes, I would need to hear his side of the story. I definitely do not always assume innocence when I hear a woman’s side of a story, but that isn’t the point here.

  251. Dennis

    If we’re choosing sides, and Rebecca’s story is accurate (and I have no reason to believe it inaccurate), then I think Rebecca’s in the right here: she, and other reasonable women, feel that this was creepy, so don’t be creepy. Easy enough. I think most men would recognize that this was creepy from the get-go, without having to be told. Calling it a “potential sexual assault” might even be accurate, if somewhat hyperbolic (pretty clear he was propositioning her, but I’d *hope* the odds of actual assault after clueless-propositioner-shootdown are tiny compared to the propositioner just moving along, as apparently happened here.)

    But, speaking as an adult male who (hopefully) manages to avoid being creepy, it saddens me that just my solitary, silent presence in an elevator with a woman would also be interpreted as creepy by (some) reasonable women. Although I know there are men out there that have given reason for women to think this, at some level that seems to share roots with the batch of crazy that the skeptical community was so recently calling Scott Adams out on (with the worst of us men being used as a model for the rest of us.) It’s hard for that realization to not prompt at least a little defensiveness, though.

  252. Joey

    My guess is that Ms. Watson posted her video for pure lucrative reasons. Ka-ching!

  253. Rickken

    I don’t think I have time or energy to read through and respond to the comments on this post, but I fell the need to speak up all the same. Dawkins has always been a hero of mine, but it is tremendously disappointing to see him shoot so incredibly wide of the mark. I am a white, straight, middle-class American male. Now, I don’t think this makes my thoughts on feminist matters automatically invalid—but I do respect the simple fact that WOMEN will always know what it’s like to be a woman better than I do. Furthermore, the perception of danger is a bad thing. Less bad than real, actual danger? Sure. But still bad, and still worth considering.

    Look, the actual problem in Dawkins’s response is rather fundamental: it shows a lack of compassion and consideration for another human being’s perspective I find deeply troubling.

  254. @lagomorph:

    146: “It certainly is true that the majority of men would rape a woman if given the chance, but Richard Dawkins has proven repeatedly in the past that he is against the current rape culture. It was a mistake.”

    Er, what? I don’t know what’s worse, you believing this or no one here questioning it.

    I think it’s just too much of a WTF?! comment to even question. There’s nonsense, absurdity, inanity, and things that make you walk away shaking your head in shock or disgust and disbelief. That comment falls firmly into the last category for me.

  255. james

    Judging by the comments, this debate could go on all night…

    So do you guys want to come back to my place for coffee?

  256. Kevin Brennan

    Seems like both positions are extreme. I’m a younger man, albeit married. Is there any situation in which I don’t run this risk of seeming “creepy” to a randomly-chosen woman? I’ll wager no, so the solution derived from this sort of argument is to never speak to women. That’s unsatisfactory to me (and, I would hope, anybody), so I’ll continue as I have been thus far: doing my best to act appropriately for the situation at hand. That’s not very easy for me in particular, but I’d rather fail than not try.

    In this case, I can absolutely emphasize with the man (assuming he wasn’t a predator). If I ran into someone whose talk I’d seen, I’d probably jump at the opportunity to talk with her about it more, even if it was late and in an elevator. If she’s offended by this, she has every right to tell me why, so hopefully I can avoid it next time.

    I disagree that awkward situations are atrocities to be avoided at all costs, but I also disagree that women don’t have the right to be offended.

  257. @Mrs. BA
    ” … @ Andrew Wilson #184 – “It’s difficult enough for most guys to pluck up the courage to talk to a woman they are attracted to, never mind chat them up. Please, let’s not make it more difficult!”
    Wow – just, wow! Do you understand what you’re saying? Are you really asking women to not communicate to men what behaviors make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, because it will make men more nervous about talking to women?
    You have succeeded in providing a startlingly clear example of a man trivializing a woman’s perspective in favor of his own. … ”

    I am actually asking women to make it more clear if they are uncomfortable.

    Had she made it clear to him in the lift that she felt uncomfortable then I would agree. She didn’t. She made a video claiming it was a potential assault situation and put it on the internet! Way to increase face to face communication!

    As it was, we don’t even know if that guy was attracted to her. As far as she knows it could really have been in innocent suggestion (to assume otherwise is to assume that any man in that situation is a potential rapist which, of course, they are not!).

    Are you seriously suggesting that, by trying to put forward how the man may have felt, I am trivialising the woman’s situation?

  258. Alex

    @Mrs. BA – You have trivialised men’s perspective in this, not the other way around. There is nothing trivial about the ridiculous, Victorian approach some women seem to think men should take.

    Let me make this perfectly clear so you can pass it on to every woman you know. Men want this thing they might have taught you about in school called ‘sexual intercourse’. We’re bombarded with messages every second of every day telling us that we should want this.

    We were, unfortunately, also led to believe that the people we want sexual intercourse with – I believe they are called ‘women’ – are equally interested in sexual intercourse with the male of the species.

    What we weren’t told was that we are only supposed to want it when we have a signed contract specifically stating that the woman wants it to, and only then once there has been some sort of ceremony involving a church, lots of crying and an expensive ring. And only then once a week on Saturdays with the lights turned off.

    Even more unfortunately, despite what certain Mel Gibson films suggest, the male of the species is not telepathic so we are incapable of knowing whether or not a woman is interested without opening a discussion first.

    In all seriousness, this man’s only crime (which I’m now more inclined than ever to believe didn’t actually happen) was being honest about what he wanted.

  259. Phil: “we all need to make sure that all men understand the woman’s point of view”

    There’s a monolithic “woman’s point of view” that I can study? Link please!

    If such a public education campaign actually succeeded, wouldn’t it give the real creeps (whether manipulative pick-up artist or violent rapist) a chance to fine-tune their strategies? I speculate that the evolution of empathy was at least partially from the benefits that being able to think like your prey/opponent gives you in hunting/war.

  260. James

    IMO, it’s issues like these that destroy communities. The extremists square off across a somewhat artificial line and start “representing” the community, while those in the middle just kind of quietly wander away. It doesn’t help at all if those with prominence in the community allow themselves to be dragged in, without trying to find and stress the common ground. It seems like there is a common issue here, that all humans everywhere should be able to live without feeling fear of the threat of violence. Is it helpful or necessary to debate the *type* of violence threatened?

  261. Andy

    @218. james

    if any thing happens we could hire Casey Anthony’s lawyers.

  262. @Horseman: However, if you want to make friends with her, or even better have sex with her, the onus certainly is on you to either make her feel comfortable with you, or not to be surprised or offended when she rejects you because you made her uncomfortable.

    I agree. However, what I may think of his personal technique for doing that is largely irrelevant. *HE* thought he had a chance, and in the absence of any evidence that he did anything that might actually be physically threatening, the whole of this issue is in RW’s head. Further, in the heads of some others, like Phil, they are basing their outcry on a “potential sexual assault” – a position for which they have not a shred of evidence. Still further, it is being suggested by some commenters that the onus to not appear to be in a position of “potential sexual assault” lies with the man.

    @bulbul: As for the Elevator Guy, the first thing I thought of was a quote from Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” which goes something like this: what men fear most is that some woman will laugh at them. What women fear most is that some man will kill them. And that’s all women, all the time.

    Which is really interesting because if you look at assault statistics (many links, easy to look up), men are overwhelmingly the victims of assault, including deadly assault. If you waved a magic wand and wiped out all violence against women tomorrow, it would only lightly dent crime statistics. Even if you look at aggravated assault and cut out common assault, men are overwhelmingly victims, and aggravated assault is seriously injurious by definition. Men are not expected to live in fear despite this. Or is being assaulted an example of “male privilege” ?

    Is being groped or raped really worse than being stabbed in the face with a screwdriver and beaten to within an inch of your life because you looked at someone wrong on a Saturday night down at the bar? I don’t know.

  263. John B

    Who would’ve guessed that a man whose primary authorial gimmick was to be unnecessarily confrontational and nasty towards religious people would turn out to be unnecessarily confrontational and nasty in what by any standards should’ve been a small internet debate. People are surprised by this?

    The heart of party politics is believing people who agree with you are, on the whole, somehow morally superior to people who don’t. Or, to restate that, if a person who… let’s say believed in ghosts/homeopathic medicine/some other nonsense posted those same three comments I feel the general level of outrage around here would’ve been 50-60 times higher. Based on half the comments on here, saying the right things apparently buys you a lot of “benefit of the doubt”

    Regardless of his impressive scientific achievements, Dawkins has bluntly been a jerk for a while now. I guess people didn’t notice because he was being a jerk to the right sorts of people.

  264. Chris

    Here’s my problem with the whole “creepy” thing:

    The term “Creepy” is often (especially in a case like this one) completely defined by whether or not the woman is interested in turn, with NO CHANGE in circumstance. If I’m at some sort of conference, and see a woman in the elevator also an attendee, and I invite her to lunch, is that creepy?

    The answer is: it depends on if she says yes or no. If she likes my pheromones of voice or facial symmetry or whatever and says yes, and we have a pleasant lunch… it’ll never be considered strange. But if not, then I’m a weird creepy guy hitting on her.

    While I get that it’s a little uncomfortable, given that this guy is NOT some sort of predator, and that the social expectation is on men to make the first move, I think he needs to be given ex post facto a little slack.

  265. Mark

    The guy was being a creep. He was also quite likely under the influence of some alcohol. Hands up those of us who have not done something stupid or insensitive after drinking until 4AM…

  266. Cymraes

    @Andrew Wilson: “Maybe he hadn’t had the opportunity and this was the only time he had to ask her.”

    Then he should have just left it be and hoped he’d have another chance at another time. 4am after a woman has declared her wish to go to bed is no time to start chatting a woman up. Really.

    “Maybe he was only asking her back to his room in order to get to know her better! Who knows?”

    It doesn’t matter what his intention really was – he was asking a woman that he had never spoken to before back to his hotel room ALONE AT 4AM. That is creepy. Most women would be creeped out by that, and rightly so because it’s an inappropriate situation. Because a false negative is safer than a false positive – it’s safer to assume he might mean her harm and not go to a strangers room alone, than to assume he means no harm and go to a strangers room and be assaulted. That is the basic judging of a situation anyone will do for their own safety.

    “I’m afraid people cannot be held responsible every time someone else feels uncomfortable. People are different and behave differently, we need to get used to that.”

    And people should be able to judge what is appropriate behaviour, so as to avoid making anyone feel unnecessarily uncomfortable.

    “Chatting someone up in a lift is not a crime, not even a potential one.”

    No one said it was. Just that it is creepy if you don’t know the person, and it is 4am in a hotel.

    “Indeed, some women that I know personally, may have said yes to him, even if it had just been plain sex he was looking for (and that’s fine).”

    That is totally fine, but I would be rather concerned about how these women manage their safety if they were my friends.

    “There is noting wrong with consenting adults having sex and, believe it or not, getting chatting in a lift is one of the ways it happens!”

    Wow, you are REALLY missing the point here.

    She said no, he left it. He did nothing wrong!

  267. Mike R

    So is this finally the situation where Pascal’s Wager makes sense? It’s safer to assume a man is a rapist because the consequence of making an error in the other direction is horrific. I know. A huge majority of men are not actually rapists, even the creepy ones. Are male rapists giving the rest of us a bad reputation like those darn Islamic terrorists who cause so much trouble for peaceful Muslims?

    As a fairly introverted guy I can say that almost all social situations make me uncomfortable every day. I realize there are people who freely blurt out every thought that crosses their mind, while seeming comfortable with wide eyed stares and laughter. But it seems to me there is a huge difference between being rude and “potentially assaulting” someone. I certainly admire Rebecca mentioning the encounter in order to educate the filterless people that there are some times and places where come-ons are not just unappreciated, but also scary. But I think Richard makes a valid point that you can’t expect people to not be human. When one person is attracted to another, it is not uncommon for a proposition to follow.

    It seems there is a very wide gray area on this topic, and people on all sides of the conversation are going to be uncomfortable. When the resolution of this topic finally settles to some equilibrium, I very much hope that it doesn’t result in the Pascal’s Wager-like acquiescence to the judgment that the safest and most common assessment of any individual man as an unwelcome predator. That would be a defeat for both women and men. I certainly don’t think Rebecca meant it that way.

  268. Sam H

    My God hasn’t enough time been wasted on this? Just skimming these comments it seems obvious that this is rapidly degrading into an old-fashioned battle of the sexes. Let’s just admit that the guy was wrong to do what he did, admit that many women and men have difficulty understanding each other’s opinions, leave it at that and stop wasting the day arguing over it.
    But then again, that’s just a consequence of the digital age… :roll:

  269. Dale

    Also, please remember, if you are a young black man, you basically make all white people, and Jesse Jackson, uneasy just by your mere presence, so please be so kind as to not get on the elevator with a white person at all.

  270. QuietDesperation

    John duBois: Is there any way he can make an advance without creating a threatening situation or a “potential sexual assault”?

    Asking her to lunch the next day would be better. You don’t ask a stranger back to your room right off the bat. *That’s* the creepy part, IMHO. Maybe also wait until one or both was leaving the elevator.

    However calling this a “potential sexual assault” is just stupid. Sorry, Phil, but it is.

    Phil said: since men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault

    True dat, however we can most assuredly feel in danger of a multitude of other types of assault. Many, if not most, of us are not exactly trained in deadly martial arts or Jedi masters. Even a good fighter is hosed if someone scores a good sucker punch, or a gun is involved.

    Ruth said; I think most men are honestly clueless about what it means to live as a woman.

    And women are clueless as to what it means to be a man. What’s your point? You can compare any two major groups this way.

    However all the hub bub and hyperbole from people who lay claim to being sophisticated and part of some upper crust intelligentsia is quite entertaining. :-) *Please* keep it up, folks. I still have a few particles of faith in humanity that need to be stamped out of existence.

  271. Alex

    @Cymraes – I’m dismissing her alleged experience as an act of social commentary on White Knights who swoop in automatically take the woman’s word as gospel. How about some of the women here who are constantly demanding that us typical, unsympathetic men see their point of view try seeing the other side of the argument for a change?

    Has anyone female here considered that he might have been lonely? What was his name? Does he have children? Pets? Friends? He’s a person too, try remembering that.

  272. Gus Snarp

    @james –

    I’m surprised everyone ignored Richard’s original point, that genuinely horrible things are happening to Muslim women around the world and nobody cares.
    Why do we not care about them?
    Why are there hundreds of comments about a girl being made to feel uncomfortable by a clueless guy. But for some reason, the women Richard was referring to, are completely irrelevant?
    Is it not slightly concerning that we only seem to care about western people living in western society?

    What makes you think no one cares? What generates comments on blogs is disagreement, and there’s very little disagreement that horrible things happen to Muslim women around the world. Plenty of atheists have spoken out about, and plenty continue to do so. So do people from a variety of religious backgrounds. There have been petitions, there have been protests, there have been letters, there have been blog posts, people have even suggested that one reason we’re right to be dropping bombs in the Middle East is the way Islamic theocracies treat women.

    So yes, it’s terrible. But what do you propose we do about it? Shall we bomb Saudi Arabia? Boycott Middle East oil? Write one more petition that will have no effect whatsoever? I’m all in favor of option two, but good luck getting that to take off.

  273. Adam

    The author of this is unbelievably retarded.

    “Put even more simply: this wasn’t a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.”

    No it wasn’t, you moron. Not any more then the guy chewing gum is a potential terrorist attack. Yeah everything has the “potential” to be bad. The fact here is that it wasn’t. End of story. I feel uncomfortable in a lot of situations, you know who’s fault that is? Mine. No one else.

  274. jsb16

    I’m amazed at how many people can drop all context like a hot potato when it interferes with their privilege. As I understand it,
    1) RW had just spent time (while Elevator Dude was listening) explaining why she dislikes being sexualized by strangers.
    2) ED followed RW out of the bar (away from other people) and into an elevator before talking to her.
    3) ED asked RW back to his room (away from other people) “to have coffee”.

    Anyone who doesn’t understand why this is creepy and would make someone uncomfortable should have to read “The Gift of Fear” followed by transcripts of all the rape trials in which the victim’s behavior is dissected and twisted into “leading him on”.

  275. Michael

    This whole situation is crazy. It is a complete non-issue, at worst a first-world-problem. Life isn’t all puppies and cupcakes, it can be (and often is) uncomfortable and sometimes downright cruel without anyone being at fault.

  276. Jeff

    Ok, I see this from both sides CONDITIONALLY.

    If this interaction happened at the hotel bar, or perhaps even outside of the elevator in a lobby or hallway, the impact of the conversation would probably be nothing or insignificant at worst based on what was said and how the reply was taken.

    Since this situation happened in an enclosed space (regardless of the convenience of the escape buttons), this could very well be a threatening situation based on the mindset of the recipient and should have been avoided altogether or proposed at an earlier time.

    This whole scenario boils to down to two potential trigger points: “intent versus impact” and situational awareness.

  277. Alec

    Well, I guess we just learned that Phil is prejudical and trying to justify it. Saying that ‘man + woman + lift = potential sexual assault’ is equal to saying ‘black kid + badly lit alley = potential mugging’ or ‘mexican man + construction site = illegal migrant’.
    Nothing to see here, move on.

  278. Alex

    Phil is right about one thing. I don’t live in fear of sexual assault. I live in fear of being murdered instead, seeing as men my age are more likely than anyone to be the victims of assault and to die violently.

    Still, doesn’t matter since we all know men are the expendable gender.

  279. David

    Once while shopping, I had a creepy woman blatantly hit on me.
    It was the most terrifying moment of my life.

  280. Thorsten

    @211. Greg Fish
    I think I get the point that you and many others are making: Be a nice guy, care for how others feel, try not to be creepy etc.

    All very nice and well. Good Advice from Aunt Mary’s advice column in the local newspaper. But is this the job Mrs. Watson aspires too? If it all boils down to this triviality, isn’t this a bit much coverage for a small issue?

    I suspect the intention of Richard Dawkin’s original post, was to set exactly this into perspective. It is not big violation of women’s rights abroad vs. small violation of women’s rights at home. I certainly agree that the big violation in no way justifies the small one, but this is big violation of women’s rights abroad vs. bad taste issue at home.

  281. Cymraes

    @Alex: “There is nothing trivial about the ridiculous, Victorian approach some women seem to think men should take.”

    What? Getting to know them first? Actually chatting to them and finding out if there is a mutual attraction? Quelle horreur!!

    “Has anyone female here considered that he might have been lonely? What was his name? Does he have children? Pets? Friends? He’s a person too, try remembering that.”

    Yes, and it would have been nice if he had chatted to Rebecca first so she could have discovered this information, and (this is the last time I am saying this, I am DONE) **asking a stranger back to his room alone, at 4am, in an elevator**.

    I’m done.

  282. KennyJC

    I’m so glad Dawkins appears to be one of the few people in this ATHEIST/SKEPTIC movement to see sense. The leaders of this movement have fallen off a cliff on this issue, they can’t understand that since these threads get thousands of comments that it’s NOT something everyone wants to have shoved down their throat about how we should all accept certain values. A lot of people, especially women are going around acting like a bunch of petulant children. I haven’t seen this much stupidity since the whole “is female a bad word”.

    I am a feminist UP TO A POINT… because I like most other people in this movement am a big leftist. I get angry reading about actual female oppression and violations but THIS IS RETARDED.

  283. Third Brother of the Peach Orchard

    I 100% agree with Richard Dawkins.

    Phil Plait is a prude a la 19th century Victorian values.

    Did the guy follow her to her hotel room and stalk her? No.

    Did he try and grab her? No.

    Did he verbally abuse her when she refused? No.

    He asked, she said no, he left.

    To talk of this as part of a slippery slop to rape is too way to far towards hysteria? That link is prudish and alarmist to the extreme as there is zero commonality with the present set of facts.

    Should we instigate new hijab-style rules at Atheist conferences? NO MEN ALLOWED WITH UNCOVERED AND UNRELATED WOMEN IN ELEVATORS! Not unless you want to go to such a ‘male-privilege’ narrative extreme as to begin meeting up with the current regime of Saudi Arabia. Yet again, another reason why the so-called “atheist movement” is so unattractive to me.

    Meet the new Mullah Plait, same as the old Mullah.

  284. Eric B

    I’d like to bring up one point that, so far, I haven’t seen mentioned.

    First off, I very much respect Rebecca and have no reason to seriously doubt her account of the situation. I think it’s very important to keep the skeptical thinking on at all times though and remember how flawed anecdotal evidence, personal accounts and eyewitness testimony is.
    Rebecca was by her own admission exhausted and presumably at least slighty inebriated. These things must be factored into her retelling of the events, as well as her emotional reactions and the resulting perceived threat level of the situation.

  285. QuietDesperation

    Cretoro Says: It certainly is true that the majority of men would rape a woman if given the chance…

    This is the sickest, most bigoted comment in the whole furor.

    Cretoro, get thee to a psychologist. Seriously, if you really think this, you possess a level of misandry that requires professional help.

    How said is it that misogyny is in Firefox’s spellchecker but not misandry? Says a lot about double standards.

  286. Todd

    Oh no, a man spoke to a woman in an elevator. Call the police. People who think it was “sexist” or “potential sexual assault” need to get their heads examined. If you are so afraid of men you clearly have a mental condition and the problems is your’s, not the man’s.

  287. Alex

    @Cymraes – No, you’re right, he should have led her up the garden path. Bought her some nice jewellery, impressed her with his expensive car and all of the rest of the gender role hoops men are supposed to jump through in order to get the single most natural thing in the world.

    As others have pointed out, an invitation like this is so obvious that he could barely have been more direct. He chose not to patronise her and just ask her if she was interested. If more people were that honest about what they want the world might be a much less melodramatic place.

  288. Benz145

    Sexism?

    Let me tell you what sexism is.

    Sexism people on a blog saying that a man cannot speak to a woman in an elevator without being pointed at as a “potential” sexual predator. If he said no words at all, it seems the author of this post would peg him has a potential sexual predator anyway, just for existing within the same elevator as a woman.

    I’m a man and I’m a little bit offended. I understand the point you are trying to make that a woman may ‘feel’ a bit uncomfortable alone, but to assume that men are out to commit sexual assaults is ridiculous. Now next time I’m in an elevator with an interesting woman and want to open my mouth to simply compliment her speech, I have to wonder whether or not she’ll think I’m targeting her for sexual assault.

  289. Tom

    I’m really shocked at these reactions. Have you gone insane? Richard is absolutely right, you need to get a reality check.

    But first, basic text understanding: Dawkins is NOT comparing chewing gum with sexual assault. He is comparing chewing gum with being in an uncomfortable situation. Fear of a potential assault is not the same as an assault actually happening, and anyone who doesn’t get the important difference between things in your mind and physical events should see a professional.

    Can I understand a woman feeling uncomfortable if she’s invited for coffee and doesn’t want to and can’t immediately leave the situation? Yeah, I can understand some women may feel uncomfortable in that situation.
    But let’s follow the causality, yes? Who is responsible for that feeling of discomfort? The man who asked, friendly and as far as I get it without being in the least pushy? You can not seriously mean that. Should we men stop talking to you women altogether, because it just might make you uncomfortable? Or is that limited to elevators, cars, busses, trains, crowded rooms and other circumstances where an immediate exit is impossible?

    Dawkins is perfectly right. Being made uncomfortable by someone else is something that is part of life. Nobody asks you to like it, but if I were to whine on the Internet every time someone made me uncomfortable, I would be hard-pressed to find time for anything else.

    If the guy had touched her, or become pushy, we MAY be entering a territory where it’s worth talking about. If he had grabbed her, or tried to coerce her verbally with threats etc., then we would be in that territory. But we aren’t. We were at an invitation for coffee. Heck, even that the invitation was made with sex in mind is nothing but an assumption with no evidence going for it.

    Maybe I should be whining about how women have become so aggressive towards us males that you can’t put out a perfectly innocent invitation without being labeled a potential sex offender? How everything we do is seen as an attempt to get sex? How even if what you say and how you say it is perfectly ok, something like the context in which you said it will be constructed to make you look bad.

    Girls, you need to get a life and worry about real problems. Dawkins is right. Get some perspective. Once you realize that women ARE being mutilated, raped, tortured and killed all over the planet for really crazy reasons, you may realize that being uncomfortable in an elevator really isn’t something worth writing about.

    The obnoxious, overly loud people in front of my living room window, on the other hand…

  290. Dude

    If that was a “potential rape situation” then what isn’t? This is RIDICULOUS. If a woman can’t be safe unless she’s in a crowd then why do we let them leave their houses without a male to protect them? You are essentially trivialising the equal rights of women, how dare you skep”chick” and the author of this entry, you misogynists!

  291. Arthor De Jesus

    Put women in hijab and let them only out if shaperoned by a male relative Phil, that is really the best solution for, gulp, <i.potential assault scenarios.

    Other things that atheist men shouldn’t do with women:

    Look at the them, or have direct eye contact with them – potential assault scenarios

    Speak to them alone – potential assault scenarios

    Look at their hair, or exposed arms – potential assault scenarios

    Ever date – only arranged marriages – potential assault scenarios

    Work with them in the same building – potential assault scenarios

    Allow them to attend sports events – potential assault scenarios

    Allow them to go to the schools – potential assault scenarios

    Hell, even allow them to go to any schools – potential assault scenarios

    We also need to censor all porn and any images of uncovered women in the media because…

    potential assault scenarios

    Phil has dropped many levels in my opinion of him for this and his rather worthless “don’t be a dick” speech.

  292. ID

    There’s no such thing as a ‘potential sexual assault’ – that is legislating on thought crime. You people (unquestionning fans of mr. Dawkins) got trolled by some dick who took a pseudonym, nevertheless his statement is correct.

  293. John H.

    As a man, I feel the need to point out to other men that this is the reality.

    Are all men potentially going to be a rapist? No, the percentage is very low. I’m sure you’re with me so far.

    now:

    Should all women, in order to be safe, treat all men as potential rapists? I would say, unfortunately, yes.

    Just as we warn all children about strangers, do we really think all strangers are dangerous? Or do we think the POTENTIAL risk is there, and since we value our children, we want them to be safe.

    Begs the question: DO WE VALUE women and want them to be safe, as much as we value children?

    If we do, then we must therefore easily understand the lack of comfort that woman felt in the elevator. If we do not, then we must understand that we value our ability to approach women as a higher value than their safety… right? and that we think adult women are LESS VALUABLE in society than children.

    I see the crux of the issue as VALUE and SAFETY. If viewed that way, there should be no disagreement on whether its appropriate to proposition a stranger in a confined space.

  294. asdf

    Is sexual assault a branch of physics? Like can I convert potential sexual assault into kinetic sexual assault and back again?

  295. @jsb16
    ” … 1) RW had just spent time (while Elevator Dude was listening) explaining why she dislikes being sexualized by strangers … ”

    Perhaps a simple “No”, rather than a “no” followed by a lecture would have sufficed!

    Everyone seems to be picking on this unknown guy! At the very worst reading, he asked to sleep with her (not a crime, not immoral and not even a social blunder, even at 4 in the morning in a lift)! She said no and he took it no further.

    Perhaps his approach has even been succsessful before for him! People sleep with strangers all the time. How else do you think they meet?

  296. shams

    sadly Richard Dawkins is a common, garden variety islamophobe.
    i have no other explanation.
    im a muslimah revert, and im banned from dawkins.net for using a “non-english” phrase.
    i think i said, bi la kayfah, which means “it is understood.”

  297. QuietDesperation

    Should we rename this blog “Bad Philosophy” now instead?

    Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Can I use that? I was toying with a Bad Ideology blog (easy for me since I consider *all* ideology to be Bad), but Bad Philosophy opens up the playing field even more.

  298. pris

    When I was young and some over-eager testosterone-packer would NOT leave me alone in a bar, I would turn it around: stare at his crotch, pinch his butt, leer at him, make lewd comments. They do NOT handle this well. I’m lucky no one ever decked me.

  299. K

    Well don’t hate me because I’m beautiful but LOTS of guys have hit on me, gawd, since I was about 10. Seriously, walking home from school and cars would slow down and honk and guys would yell. I was 10.
    Perhaps because of this, I instinctively learned how to send out the proper vibe with men a LONG time ago but the chickie in question is no child. Sure, she’s obviously had waaaaaay less male attention is utterly clueless in such a situation but hey, seriously, what’s she up to with this? We all intentionally and subconsciously give off vibes, body signals (posture, eye contact, hand placement) and others act upon them. If someone acts inappropriately with you, there are ways to stop it cold and in most cases, not allow it to happen in the first place. It’s all in how you present yourself to the world. Play a victim, get treated like a victim.
    And I don’t think the nameless guy acted inappropriately at all. If anyone is, it’s her, making a spectacle of herself, I guess to prove to the world that yes, she really is desirable.
    After nothing at all happened, she decided to feel…”uncomfortable,” because that’s more dramatic and makes a better story.
    What this child needs is some severe training in social skills instead of showing pride in dramatizing a situation until it’s blossomed into this weirdo story of what-could-have-happened. I guess she grew up with too much Jerry Springer and reality tv.

  300. Frank

    Add the word “black” before “man” in this scenario and then tell me if her reaction ( and others) afterwards was justifiable.

  301. Rick Albert

    A Case study in how not to make a friend. Guy has all evening to meet his intended, and does nothing.
    She announces publically to all she is tired and going to bed. He decides to approach. He follows her to the elevator. Then he hits on her.

    He was not listening to her.
    He chose to approach her when they were alone.
    She rebuffs him.

    Personally I think it is imperative to listen to the women I’d like to have sex with. This guy ignored RW’s stated wishes and pressed on with his agenda.

    Never ignore a woman’s wishes if you want her to like you. Never hit on someone in an isolated context, lest they think you’re a predator.

  302. Dan L.

    OK, it’s really scary how many men think the feminist position here is “men are not allowed to talk to women.” Because that suggests to me that all those men can’t even conceive of a middle ground between propositioning a woman one doesn’t know and avoiding all contact with women entirely.

    Here’s a suggestion, guys. Presumably you know other men with whom you’ve established some rapport that didn’t involve casual sex. You probably just treated each other like normal, full-fledged human beings with rich internal lives, etc. Try treating women like that. Seriously, women appreciate being treated like human beings. Indicating that you think your only two options are locking yourself in your room for the rest of your life or propositioning any woman who has the misfortune of making incidental eye contact demonstrates that you don’t think of women as people but purely as sexual objects. Really, you couldn’t make it more clear.

    This is coming from someone without a lot of self confidence in social situations and is hopelessly lost in any situation where flirting is called for. I’m “bad with women” I guess. But I don’t feel like I have to lock myself alone in my room or consign myself to a life of loneliness, because hey, I always have the option of connecting to women as fully-fledged and equal human beings instead of treating them like objects put on earth for my titillation and amusement. Guess which approach is more likely to lead to a rewarding long-term relationship.

  303. Jose

    @45. Jane: idem!
    I can’t believe people are making such a big deal from
    - Do you want coffee?
    - No, thanks
    - OK
    To be honest, if she is uncomfortable being alone with a man in an elevator, the solution is pretty simple: DON’T BE ALONE WITH A MAN IN AN ELEVATOR! just don’t blame it on the guy as if it was his fault that you feel this way.

    Also, if someone will sexually assault you the location is irrelevant, it can happen literally ANYWHERE, this does not depend on the place, it depends on the people, and being a guy that takes an elevator and asks someone out doesn’t make you a RAPIST, stop overreacting!

  304. Robin

    I’ve had men come up to me in a crowded bar with lots of people around, say something like “you look really pretty” I say thank you, and they unceremoniously stick a hand down my pants. Multiple times, actually. I’ve had a coworker tell me he appreciated seeing my legs and I should wear shorts more often (so that he could look at them). As a result, I’m a little nervous when a stranger comes up to me in bars or at parties or other places, really. I don’t assume I’m going to be assaulted all the time, but sometimes I feel uncomfortable or nervous.

    It gets frustrating when men start claiming “oh, we must not be allowed to flirt ever or the feminists will be after us!” when all Rebecca said was that she was uncomfortable. I would have been uncomfortable too. For good reason; bad things happen. She didn’t say he was assaulting her, or he was raping her. She said she was uncomfortable. She has a right to feel uncomfortable as much as the elevator guy has a right to say stupid things. He doesn’t have a right to assault her, and he didn’t.

    Not so confusing.

  305. QuietDesperation

    The same is the case if I get into a elevator and there is only a woman. I usually get so uncomfortable (under the implication of that I might be some kind of weirdo) that I’d rather take the stairs, which I then most often do.

    I know guys, me included, who don’t like to be alone with children we don’t know lest someone add 2 and 2 and get 519, and I’m someone who is trusted enough to have my friends enlist me for babysitting now and then (my only rule is they be post-toilet training- I don’t do diaper changes). One person I know was on a cruise, and went to the sauna. It was a family cruise, so swimwear required in the sauna. He was alone until some young teens came in. He immediately left the sauna because he felt uncomfortable about what others might think. He even admits it was an irrational reaction, but this is the “stranger danger” culture we live in.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_danger

  306. Yoweigh

    Propositioning someone, while perhaps rude, is NOT sexual assault.

  307. Mark Derail

    What about the fact that this unknown man – did he know who Rebecca was? Would that change anything? His intoxication level?

    IOW, without more info, I side with Phil.

    What about the fact that RD’s condition – wheelchair bound – would that mean he doesn’t understand the context? I would think so.

    Myself, recognizing or not Rebecca, would not have propositioned in the elevator as such. Knowing who she was, I would have made positive comments on her talk, perhaps being a fan, then shut up.

    Not recognizing who she was, I would have perhaps just smiled.

    IOW, a normal man, having experienced dating, knows how to give the woman initiative. That’s respect.

    Knowing how short elevator rides are, and that he got on alone with her, suggests to me, that he was stalking her, got on on purpose, not by random chance.

    Most men have experienced following a woman a night, out of the subway or on a street, and know how to behave not to freak her out, like walking wide away.

    RD’s condition might not have given him this “etiquette” life experience, since he compares to chewing gum as an irritant. However I don’t condone the verbal attacks he received.

    IOW, even if I had been alone in Vegas, in an elevator ride at the Planet Hollywood with a showgirl that I recognize that late, I would *NOT* have invited/propositioned her.

    For the same reason I don’t follow girls at night. Creepy guy was creepy.

  308. I really really wish the guy that approached Rebecca, comes out and say: Hey, all I wanted was coffee, chill, I’m gay!

  309. Stephanie

    As a woman, I just can’t wrap my head about being so anti-male. Let me first say that, yes, many women have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by men. It’s an awful thing, and I can see that leading to being fearful of the opposite sex, or even people in general. That said, I have never once felt like being alone in an elevator with a man, regardless of the time of day, was inherently dangerous. I don’t view every man I see as a potential rapist. I simply see another person in an elevator.

    Now, if I’m in an elevator late at night, and a strange man asks me if I want to have coffee in his room, my first reaction is not to start crying sexual harassment. You say no, and leave it alone. Had the man badgered her about it, tried to block her way out of the elevator, or followed her? Yes, that would absolutely be wrong. It wasn’t the slickest move in the world for the guy to pull, but he asked, accepted the refusal, and that was the end of it. Potential sexual assault? You could read that into almost anything. A cop pulls me over at night? He could potentially sexually assault me! My next door neighbor walks over into my yard and speaks to me? Watch out, potential sexual assault! Guy in a bar asks me how I am? Better get my tab and leave, I could potentially be sexually assaulted! Yes, yes, I know. He got her alone and asked her to go to his room for a cup of coffee. Again, that’s not Prince Charming moves, but someone is making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    I just don’t understand why it is that a man so much as glances at a woman, he runs the risk of being considered inappropriate. I think this entire issues is being blown out of proportion because someone made a good point, just in a bad way. The whole thing screams of being anti-male to me. As a female, I just don’t think the world should stop for me because a male might say something to me.

  310. QuietDesperation

    Hey! It seems there was a camera in the elevator. They have posted this picture of the guy!

    http://images.wikia.com/masseffect/images/c/ce/Vorcha.png

  311. Utakata

    Um…no. Let’s not, Quiet @ 289. Philosophy has it own strange conculsions (glares at Sam Harris) and it’s not science. And it’s hard enough to get trolls to stick with the science without having something to thrown around that muddies the waters further. So let’s not go there.

  312. Shane

    So do you cower every time a black person approaches you alone at night as well? I mean, that’s potentially a gang violence scenario, right? Because every black person who approaches someone alone in the dark is potentially a gang member looking to mug them, right? Just like every male who hits on a woman in an elevator is a potential rapist. The obvious solution here is for black men to avoid talking to white people alone at night, yes? Likening what happened here to a potential assault is bogus. It gets us nowhere to think about things in that way.

    More importantly, what do you expect to be done about it? Socially awkward people aren’t going to wake up one day clued into these things. Should she have alerted the police that there was a potential rapist in the hotel? Maybe have him searched when he got back to his room? Where do you want to draw the arbitrary line here? Dealing with uncomfortable social situations is part of living in a society as big as the one we live in here. Women deal with more of those situations than men, but they also have periods and pee sitting down. No amount of complaining about sexism and rights is going to change any of that.

    What’s important is that people aren’t hurting each other, and that’s Dawkin’s point. He’s not saying it’s ok to make women feel uncomfortable. He’s not demanding that she feel ok about it. He’s not apologizing for the guy being a social idiot. He’s simply saying that she wasn’t hurt by his awkward advances, so let’s go back to focusing on helping people (religiously oppressed and assaulted women in this case) who aren’t so lucky.

  313. @Evolving Squid

    (I’m sorry that I keep addressing my comments to a hypothetical “you” when discussing behavior. It’s not meant to sound like I’m suggesting that you, Evolving Squid, are anything like any of these illustrative rhetorical “you”s. Just to be clear.)

    His personal technique is absolutely relevant. If you plan on propositioning someone, here’s some advice: don’t do it in a way that the other person will find creepy. That’s really all that Rebecca Watson’s video said.

    As for all this argument about the “potential rape” image, I don’t think BA is using that to say that Elevator Guy was actually a potential rapist. It’s just meant to illustrate that whoever you’re propositioning is going to have to evaluate your actions, and even if she feels fairly safe that you won’t actually rape her, propositioning her in a way that looks like the actions of a creepy guy will…wait for it…MAKE YOU LOOK CREEPY.

    Here’s an example: in my job, I have to deal with a customer who is a creepy person. Cognitively, having watched him for the last 4 years, I am fairly certain that he would never actually do anything harmful. However, he is socially inept to a pathological degree, and has some paranoid delusions. For the last year, those delusions have centered around me and around a female employee who he thinks loves him. She knows he won’t actually do anything to her, but he is incredibly creepy and doesn’t understand how to interact with other people. He is now not allowed to talk to her (much less bring her presents, creepy creepy presents) or wait for her after the store closes.

    The story here goes on, but I’ll stop it there. It’s an extreme example, without involving a real potential rapist (at least, we’re pretty sure). However, it is a reasonable reaction to want to keep this guy at a distance. Elevator Guy, I’m sure, is nothing near this customer. However, like Creepy Customer, Elevator Guy behaved in a way that made another person uncomfortable.

    It doesn’t matter one bit if the creepy factor was all in RW’s head. If you’re going to do anything socially, much less something as personal, intimate, and potentially intrusive as propositioning sex with someone, it is your responsibility to make every effort to present yourself in a way that doesn’t make the other person uncomfortable. You should look at your behavior and ask, “Is this a good way to do this, or might she possibly think I seem a bit creepy?” If you don’t, it’s your fault you came off so creepy. We live in a society, so we need to consider the effect of our actions on others. It doesn’t matter if we know in our own heads that what we’re doing has no creepy intent. She isn’t in your head. All she can do is evaluate your behavior, and if your behavior looks creepy, well you were the one behaving that way, not her.

    Hanging out around a person in public, in a group, all night, then drunkenly cornering her in an elevator when she has declared her night over at 4 AM is creepy. I’m sorry, but it just is. We have social conventions for personal interactions, they are there for a reason, and that particular procedure is not on the list.

  314. Jose

    @296. Stephanie:
    Well said! (Jose stands up and gives her an applause). I totally agree with you, especially on your examples, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

  315. Mike

    Phil, I can’t agree with you very much here. Fine, I can see how she could be creeped out at the propsition considering the enviroment in which she was asked (as a speaker at a meeting). And, yes it’s fine that she said no. But it’s more than over-the-top to go out thinking every man you meet that wants to take you out is going to assault you. It’s kinda sad. But, the fact that these sorts of sexual assaults happen regularly makes me sadder… So I kinda see it both ways… but it just leaves me uneasy to think that just as men and women objectify each other w/ sexy some women will objectify men as rapists.

  316. @Thorsten:

    “@211. Greg Fish I think I get the point that you and many others are making: Be a nice guy, care for how others feel, try not to be creepy etc. All very nice and well. Good Advice from Aunt Mary’s advice column in the local newspaper. But is this the job Mrs. Watson aspires too? If it all boils down to this triviality, isn’t this a bit much coverage for a small issue?”

    And I refer you to my first comment asking the exact same question. My issue is the whole “women are just paranoid”/”men are all rapists in waiting” discussion taking place. Hell, I’m not even saying be nice. I’m just saying to pick your moment and don’t creep people out, man or woman.

    When I was in college, a girl who decided to hit on me got my number and would call at the most awkward hours and leave the most bizarre and awkward messages. She also followed one of my friends home one night. Creepy, huh? And there are more stories from whence that came.

    Again, my point in Google-speak: don’t be creepy. No need to start epic flame wars over it. That’s all.

  317. QuietDesperation

    Um…no. Let’s not, Quiet @ 289. Philosophy has it own strange conculsions (glares at Sam Harris) and it’s not science. And it’s hard enough to get trolls to stick with the science without having something to thrown around that muddies the waters further. So let’s not go there.

    Well, heck, that just makes me want to do it more. :-)

    And if someone can point to the “science” in this issue, I’d sure enough be appreciative.

  318. Jason

    So every woman should now be offended or “creeped out” because a man is in the elevator with her. Additionally, her “terror alert” should be mauve. Increasing to perhaps fuchsia if he talks to her. Progressively approaching a red if the words might be interpreted as some thing “less noble”.

    You are kidding, right?

    A potential assault? You mean like if I am waiting at the bus stop at 5am and three men walk by? Or maybe I should give their skin some color other than white and that would increase the terror alert? Yes, it IS the same thing.

    I am not saying you should never be “on alert” but being aware of your surroundings and blatant paranoia, yes I use that word as intended, is comparatively equivalent to scratching ones behind versus tearing a hole in it.

    I suppose next time I am at a table and a few women are sitting across from me having a chuckle I should assume they are laughing at me as well.

    Wow… Maybe women do not get it either? Or maybe, just maybe, we need male and female elevators.

  319. PedoBear

    Before subtly suggesting to have sex it would’ve been more polite from him to take into account her moral values. Then he might have realized that a Christian woman would be offended by such an immoral proposition.

  320. CJSF

    Just to restate what’s been interspersed through much of these comments: The main issue revolves around Phil (and others) basically saying that all men are potential sexual assaulters, not in Rebecca’s feeling “creeped out” or “Elevator Dude’s” stupidity.

    CJSF

  321. In the future, if I get on an elevator and there’s only one other woman, I’m going to scream for help at the top of my lungs: “Potential fake rape accussssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssserrrrrrr!” and then run out. That way, any guys who get in after me will know they’re a welcome replacement.

  322. Kathleen

    Context is everything – the man invited Rebecca TO HIS ROOM for coffee LATE AT NIGHT, proffering said invitation in an enclosed space when there was no one else around. His intentions may have been pure, but surely anyone should understand how the invitation would have made her uneasy. There’s a reason why so many film and tv assault victims are approached in elevators, and it’s not because the slowly closing doors add drama.

  323. “No, you’re right, he should have led her up the garden path. Bought her some nice jewellery, impressed her with his expensive car and all of the rest of the gender role hoops men are supposed to jump through in order to get the single most natural thing in the world.”

    Alex, I don’t know what sort of women you’ve been dating but I really think it’s time to get out a little and broaden your horizons somehow. There are women who dig for gold but to say that anyone here is defending or promoting golddiggers seems misguided at best.

  324. Beau

    As a 6’5″ male, I can’t understand the feeling of being scared by being alone with someone in an elevator, but I can understand it’s a whole different ballgame and women need to be cautious. I get that.

    The moral of the story however: Richard Dawkins is a nut job and people really need to stop listening to him.

  325. Grimoire

    Hell, I’m not even saying be nice. I’m just saying to pick your moment and don’t creep people out, man or woman.

    I don’t think anyone really disagrees with that, but on the other hand, if someone *DARES* to be human and *DARES* to make a mistake in Ms. Watson’s precious presence, is it worth making a video and posting it on the web?

    I showed this to a few female co-workers, and the derisive things they said about Rebecca are not repeatable here, and these are women who’d kick your a** if you mess with them. A couple were so angry at her for being such a “weak little bunny” I feel bad for showing it to them. :-

  326. Alex

    @Horseman – again, why should men spend their entire lives walking on eggshells to ensure that any woman they encounter doesn’t feel intimidated? I’m still waiting after 33 years on this planet for a sensible answer to that question that doesn’t infer that all men are potential rapists.

    Like many less attractive men, good looking women intimidate me, so why shouldn’t they have plastic surgery to be less attractive? You’re not asking much less of me.

    You’re asking me to spend my life taking the stairs, crossing the street, making sure I never have a one on one meeting with a female subordinate at work, going on the crowded Tube carriage instead of the one with the lone woman until I’m sure that no paranoid woman is ever afraid of me.

    Oh, and I should chop my legs off so I’m not taller than 99.999999% of women.

  327. Roger

    @CJSF: Why is that the “main” issue? And how do you define “potential sexual assaulter” and from who’s point of view?

    From the point-of-view of a woman alone in a foreign country late at night, the prudent thing to do might be to assume that someone who can overpower her and has opportunity to do it is a “potential sexual assaulter”. Note that this does not say anything about the actual motives of the man in question. It’s just a matter of risk-aversion. The risk of sexual assault in any instance, though slight, carries with it such a horrible consequent that one should treat it as a more likely possibility.

  328. Tyler

    I’m not sure many of you are thinking critically and I think Phil has demonstrated poor reasoning skills. If a (from all accounts, polite) proposition in an elevator can be considered a potential sexual assault, then I’m worried that just about any scenario imaginable can likewise be considered an offense of one form or another. If anyone is being sexist here, it is Rebecca.

  329. Jeeves

    Yes, I get it. When a woman says “no” what she means is “no”. When a man says “would you like to come to my room for a cup of coffee” what he really means is “Would you like to come to my room so I can sexually assault you”. Because, you know, all men are potential homicidal sex maniacs instead of possibly socially inept, possibly non-native English speakers who don’t know of this “would you like some coffee, nudge nudge wink wink” etiquette. Nail the bastard to a tree I say. It’s the only way to be sure.

    Oh, and also: is it now OK for me to assume that every black man I meet is going to rob me? Because I heard that’s what happened to other people, you know. I wouldn’t want to take any chances.

  330. Utakata

    And no Stephanie @ 296, this is not being about anti-male. It never was. If it where I doubt PZ and BA (both men) would be posting anything about it, if not to scorn it. It’s instead about learning to be respectful about other peoples’ spaces and comfort zones. It’s seem others (glares at Richard Dawkins) have blown this way out of preportion by being stupid about it.

    …but so you should know, it’s okay feel your way about men in elevators too. I too don’t pay any real atttention to what’s going on in a vator other than wondering when the bloody thing going to let me off at my intended floor. But not everyone is like that. :)

  331. Calli Arcale

    I wasn’t able to read all of the comments in this thread (it’s gone on for a long ways now) but of what I did read, I didn’t see anyone comment on what I thought was the most threatening part of this.

    It’s not the elevator. I’ve been alone on elevators with men many times. I was rarely afraid. Some of those men even had conversations with me. But, and here’s the crucial part, none of those men asked me to come to their rooms alone.

    Men, don’t be afraid to ask intelligent, attractive women out for coffee to get to know them better. Just remember the crucial word “out”, and not “in”. Remember that you are a complete stranger to her. It is way too early to ask her to come alone to your apartment, house, or hotel room, since that is frequently a prelude to sex — it’s also your territory, where you will have a strong advantage over her. A coffeehouse is fine. The hotel lounge is fine. That’s part of what they are for. It’s safe, neutral ground.

    Asking a woman to come up to your hotel room alone at 4AM does not sound like nicely asking to get to know her better. It sounds like a veiled proposition for sex. Seriously. Thing is, women aren’t psychic. We can’t tell the difference between nice total strangers and total strangers who happen to be axe murderers. And at 4AM, honestly, there aren’t very many innocent reasons to ask a complete stranger to come up to your room alone.

  332. DDayDawg

    “…but it looks to me that he really is comparing a potential sexual assault to someone chewing gum.”

    This is where your argument came off the rails. “Potential Sexual Assault” doesn’t exist. Or it exists everywhere a woman is present at all times. If you are so paranoid of men that you feel any interaction that was not directly started by you is a “Potential Sexual Assault” then you are, quite frankly, insane.

    This is possibly the stupidest damn argument I have ever heard in my life. A guy asks a woman to go to his room for coffee. She says no. It’s no different than several billion situations that occur on any normal day. The elevation of this past anything but some harmlessly creepy dude is just crazy.

  333. @CJSF
    I don’t think that the potential sexual assault idea means what you think it does. Phil isn’t, as far as I can tell, saying that all men are really potential rapists. He and I and others are saying that any man who is an unknown quantity in a potentially dangerous looking situation must be evaluated for the possibility of being a potential rapist. Even if the woman in question concludes that this guy probably isn’t actually going to rape her, she can still feel bothered by the situation.

    Think of it another way: a job interview. You are the epitome of punctuality, efficiency, and responsibility, and your job record and references all back that up, but you show up in torn jeans and a stained t-shirt. You are a potential slacker, no matter what the reality of the situation may be, and it would be perfectly understandable if the manager cut the interview short and moved on to another applicant. It would also be perfectly understandable if he then put up a short post on the company website saying, “Yeah, applicants, don’t do that.”

    Then some other employees comment that this was an unreasonable way to act. Then another manager says “Hey, there are a lot of slackers out there, and you should understand that this manager has to evaluate applicants based on that. Even if this guy might have been great, he looked like a slacker at his interview.”

    Then a whole bunch of people start shouting, “Oh, so now you’re saying that all applicants are potential slackers?” Well, yeah, unless they present themselves otherwise. That doesn’t mean I actually think they all will all fail to show up at work on time given the chance. It just means that if you don’t present yourself in a way that looks responsible, you will probably come out looking like a slacker.

  334. Mountains out of molehills, I tell ya. I can just imagine all the religious folks rubbing their hands in delight at this stage.

  335. James

    Being alone in an elevator with a black person late at night is uncomfortable for any white person, even if the black person is silent. But when the black person mentions money? There’s no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that’s unacceptable. A situation like this can lead to a mugging; I just read in the news here in Boulder that a few days ago a relatively innocent situation turned into assault. This isn’t some rare event; it happens a lot and most white people are all-too painfully aware of it.

    I can understand that it’s hard for black people to truly grasp the white person’s point of view here, since black people rarely feel in danger of being robbed by whites. But Jen McCrieght’s post, and many others, make it clear that to a white person, being alone on that elevator with that black person was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps the black person has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most black people don’t understand this, so white people are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.

  336. Leon_Ateo

    @312

    Richard Dawkins responded in the comment thread of a PZ Myer’s post. Obviously PZ Myers brought it up. That’s what he does on anything that he can interpret as a feminist issue so he can chortle it up with his feminist brigade at the “menz” in the thread that have a modicum of sanity. This isn’t new for PZ.

    Can’t say I’m surprised Phil Plait came down on this side of the “argument”.

  337. Derek

    I haven’t read all 300 comments but I haven’t read this argument:

    Irrespective of whether or not someone is justified in feeling uncomfortable, wouldn’t a nice and compassionate person try to prevent or alleviate discomfort?

    Seriously. I may disagree with your discomfort, but I’ll defend to the death your right to avoid it.

  338. @258 Alex Yes, men would occasionally like some sexual intercourse. Ok maybe more than occasionally. However, I don’t think the time and place for requesting it is on an elevator at 4AM after a night of drinking. He was an idiot for doing so. No crime occured. Hell, his intent may have been just having coffee. If he wanted to meet Rebecca to discuss her talk, he should have approached her in a more public place.

  339. Alex

    @Greg Fish – I was making a different point here. Like it or not, men and women are expected to act a certain way during whatever courtship rituals are being used at the time. Every society has them, whether we notice them or not.

    What’s happened here is that this man has apparently decided to bypass them and skip straight to what he wants.

    And I don’t need to expand my dating horizons. I happen to think men put dating waaaaaay too high up on their priorities list. I prefer to remain single. It’s better for me financially (and that’s not a gold digging comment, there’s a reason why advertisers chase single men) and doesn’t come with the severe risk that divorce brings.

  340. menarepigs

    What is so hard for all you complainers to understand? All men are predators plain and simple. They must be segregated (or in the very least castrated!) from all woman for our protection. What Richard Dawkin’s clearly doesn’t understand is that being a woman, everyone single person is obviously going to rape you, and we have to actively and strategically avoid this 24/7.

    For example, one time when I was 12 my grandfather asked me if I would like to go swimming at the local quarry. Immediately my natural feminine intuition kicked in and I recognized this as a potential sexual assault, or PSA as I call them. I was like, are you kidding me grampa? You want me to ‘go to the quarry’ so you can drive me to a secluded area and RAPE ME! So I ran down to the neighbours house as fast as I could and told them and the police when they arrived that old gramps attempted to rape me. Never saw that old pervert since!

    This just goes to show, even our own grandfathers are trying to rape us! I’ve probably stopped about 12 guys from raping me through my natural intuition. That reminds me, this one time in college this PIG asked me after class if I would like to ‘get together at the library and study’. Haha, let’s just say he got what he deserved after I told the entire student body he was a RAPIST!

  341. Kim

    I didn’t read all the comment, but I believe I can contribute to this anyway. Matt #49 shares my point of view that maybe the elevator guy was a clueless nerd not knowing how to flirt and end up being creepy. We can only measure his intention with probabilities, drifting it from innocent to stupid according to information: he is a man, probably atheist/nerd/left-winged/libertarian, “take a cup of coffee” is a passphrase for sex in US, Rebecca is a pretty woman, he started his phrase with “don’t take it the wrong way”. Depending on your a priori probabilities, you’ll find different chances of it being a sex invitation or not: mine is 91.41%.

    Does his intentions matter? Even a 5% chance seems too much to risk, we know that sex assaults happen and worse, word assaults happen all the time. Get used to it, women? As she says, just don’t do this. Sensible men do a lot of things not to make women uncomfortable, whether we understand or not. I never share the same seat at the bus/metro, avoid looking to a woman’s breasts, don’t generalize one’s hability to all gender (xkcd.com/385).

    I understand why Dawkins thought what he thought at first place. I felt the same way, because I’m a clueless nerd who mangle it’s words even if I’m really just wanting a cup of coffee with an interesting person. But, if he was not able to see a woman’s side after potential leeeenghty discussion (as normally happen at PZ’s blog), he may just be stubborn and it disappoints me.

  342. Utakata

    We are reasoning this out, Quiet @ 303,…well some of us are at any rate, instead of taking it at face value. I know it’s not exactly test tubes, measurements and maths…but there’s certainly pschological stuff going on here that we’ve likely inhereted from our ancestores as well from our socialization. So I can least give you that. :)

  343. José T.

    Assumptions are full of maybe, might and could. Nothing happened here, Richard Dawkins was 100% correct.

  344. Dave

    It’s a tough situation. We’d like to be able to invite women for “coffee” while in a confined space at 4 AM and not have it seem threatening, but in reality, there have probably been plenty of sexual assaults that have started just that way. Rebecca is somewhat famous among skeptics, and therefore I can imagine that she’s already had her share of creepy/stalker interactions, so she might feel more threatened than the average person (and rightly so). I don’t think it’s much of an overreaction, although I’d hate to be this guy who keeps getting referred to as a “potential sexual assailant”.

  345. Leon_Ateo

    @MichaelL – 318

    So what if he was an idiot? Did he sexually assault her? The controversy here is that Dawkins called it a non-issue in a world full of women *actually* being harmed.

  346. Kitty

    I’m an American woman. I agree with Rebecca’s statement that it’s creepy to be invited into a private space by someone with whom I’d never spoken. The circumstances don’t matter; being alone together makes it worse but it can be awkward in a public space, as well.

    However, I cannot agree with any side of the resulting debate.

    It is not unreasonable to try to explain to men a situation one woman found uncomfortable.
    It should be expected that some men will take offense at being corrected on something they may have never done or may have done but didn’t think was a problem.

    Their offense really isn’t worth much, just as the fact that a woman was made uncomfortable isn’t worth much either. So what?

    Reactions on both sides are overblown and bear a depressing similarity to Cre/Evo debates.

    Enemy lines are clearly drawn and each side is viciously correct and superior.

    Well, not really because the Evo side is appropriately correct and superior!
    But the relations and understandings between men and women are not hard science. We’re arguing about FEELINGS and the unfortunate gap between them.

    It would be nice if all men had finely tuned appropriateness meters and good intentions towards all.
    It would be nice if some women weren’t so quick to accuse men of vicious and heinous (uncommitted) crimes.

    The facts of the case appear to be:
    Late night hotel elevator (implying a security presence) being travelled enough so two unconnected people may ride one together.
    This is the setting in which a man invited a woman to a private encounter of vague intent.

    Yes, coffee in a private room does suggest sex to most but not all people have keen awarenesses of how they are interpreted vs their intent. “Getting to know you better” also has a high-creep factor but is a literally “normal” phrase of the type which can get said automatically.

    However, I fail to see it as a crime against women to invite one to a private encounter. She said no, he respected it. End of story.

    It’s not a good move and it’s unlikely to be very successful on many women. It’s far from classy behavior. In fact, it’s quite boorish. It’s not a terrible thing to try to help men understand why it’s boorish and unlikely to be successful.

    If the man wanted to get to know her better, there were better ways to approach the problem and his failure to do so was a lack of grace and understanding.

    It wasn’t rape, pseudo rape, or possible rape. If his body actions were boxing her in a corner, then it could be considered possible imminent rape, at minimum it would be an attempt to intimidate and control.
    If he asked again, whined or wheedled, pressed her, or aggressively positioned his body relative to hers and continued to talk, it could become harassment. If he followed her, she should be very alarmed and behave appropriately.

    This isn’t about rape or sexual harassment. It isn’t about respect towards women, either.

    It’s about manners, perception and the differences between what each person wants and the biases they carry into every human interaction.

    Personally, I’ve encountered plenty of creeps.

    One example: I was 22, coming home to my NYC apt and had to walk by commotion in the laundry room. On the ride up I was alone with an older guy I did not recognize; he told me a dryer had caught on fire. I didn’t greet him or ask him what had happened, he just told me unprompted. He chuckled and told me it must have been caused by someone’s hot pants while eyeing me up and down. Then he asked me if I was missing a pair.
    Yuck!
    He didn’t want to have sex, he just wanted to say a creepy comment to a young woman and laugh about it. I just rolled my eyes and ignored him. Not a problem.

    I’m personally not interested in controlling human behavior so much that a creepy man couldn’t say a comment which would allow me to recognize a creep for who he is.
    I didn’t feel afraid of this man. I wasn’t afraid he would touch me or follow me off of the elevator. And I was right.

    So, men of creepy intent, continue saying creepy things!

    Another example: a former boyfriend’s best friend was a mega-creep. The BF had a good track record with women and repeatedly tried setting up his pathetic friend. It took a few years before BF began to understand why the creep never finished a first date, let alone got a second (or laid).

    The creep would walk behind his date (who he’d just met) and put his hand on the back of her neck and steer her. He would talk only about himself and never ask her any questions (not even, “how are you?”) at the beginning. At some point he would explain his entitlement to sex from her since he was paying. Unfailingly, women walked off before dinner was finished.

    My personal encounters with this man were always awful but in the eye-rolling sort of way. They resulted in a stream of quiet “oh my gawd”s by his pathetic behavior. And while he was terrible with women, he was also awkward around men as well. This guy was not a rapist but he had no understanding of boundaries or appropriateness. He was devoid of social skills. Thankfully he offered his own best repellent: his words and social actions warned away women long before his failure to understand proper boundaries could be a threat to them.

    As a woman, I’d PREFER the occasional awkward or creepy encounter, else false mannered behavior might trick me into not recognizing jerks until it’s to late to just walk away.

    We can’t “fix” the behavior and attitudes of all men. We can simply try to explain what we each find creepy and that varies from one person to the next.

    And we also cannot prevent women from feeling threatened, and each woman has her own understanding of what is threatening. It may be safer to perceive more threat than is really present.

    However, it’s just so dang easy to get upset about how the other side just doesn’t understand.

    And, Dawkins, your responses weren’t quite as rational as you’d like to pretend you are yet most of the so-called skeptic types reacting on this are in the same boat. Human, aren’t we?

  347. QuietDesperation

    You are the epitome of punctuality, efficiency, and responsibility, and your job record and references all back that up, but you show up in torn jeans and a stained t-shirt.

    I go on interviews every now and then just to see what’s out there in engineering. It allows me to experiment. In the last one I just wore a polo shirt, nice jeans and running shoes. When the attire was mentioned, I said I was a good enough and experienced enough that I don’t have to play dress up like some green college grad noob, which I then demonstrated as they quizzed me about technical items. They later made me an offer good enough that I actually was tempted to take it.

    So, yeah, I’d at least talk to the guy in the T-shirt to see what’s ticking there.

  348. Varsil

    It also seems to me that a lot of folks here are upset because he was /disrespectful/, because he was implying that she might be /that sort of woman/.

    You know, the sort of woman that has sex casually at conventions.

    No, she’s a higher class of lady–well into the ‘virgin’ role of the whole virgin-whore dichotomy.

    There’s nothing wrong with sex, including casual sex, if that’s what the people are interested in doing. The point here shouldn’t be to shepherd virtue at all.

  349. Steve

    Rebecca did nothing wrong here. I don’t think you can argue that. Context is everything, and, honestly, if it was 4am in a foreign country, and I was alone in an elevator with some girl who asked me to her room for coffee, I’d be pretty creeped out too. I won’t go so far as to guess Elevator Guy’s intentions, because that just seems too speculative, but pretty much everything he did in approaching Rebecca was wrong.

    Does that mean every guy chatting up a girl should be considered a potential sexual assailant? No! But, again, context is everything. There are plenty of appropriate times and places for chatting somebody up, and they typically are public and non-threatening. An elevator is not one of these places. And the sad truth of the matter is that, even in public places like a bar or a party, women still need to be wary of sexual predators. This doesn’t mean one has to immediately assume every person you meet is a rapist, but you also should never completely put your guard down when meeting somebody new. It’s dangerous to assume anything when talking with a complete stranger, so an air of caution while you feel the other person out (not literally, I would hope) is simply a wise course of action, regardless of gender. Don’t assume the worst, but don’t assume the best either.

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that the actions of an extreme few can color the impressions of the rest of us, but doesn’t it make more sense to get angry at the rapists than at Rebecca who quite correctly picked up on several warning signs and went into defensive mode? I would hope most of Phil’s readers are against misogyny, but I think the discussion here proves it to be a much subtler beast than most people realize.

  350. Dave

    I totally appreciate the concerns about attack; I’ve, numerous times, crossed the street to avoid passing a woman on a dark street just to make sure she didn’t feel threatened. When I end up in a situation – a bus stop comes to mind, but you can imagine others – where it’s just me and a woman alone, I try to make brief eye contact, and then give off “I’m not a threat” vibes (body language, move to the other end of the area, etc.).

    In this case, the adult male made a quick pass on an elevator ride. He didn’t want to get to know her better, he didn’t want to have dinner with her, he didn’t want to know about her personality or her past. He wanted some NSA sex. She didn’t want that (at least then and/or with him) and said so.

    She went to her room. He went to his room – or maybe he went out asking women for what he wanted (you know, straightforward communication) until he found a consenting partner – who knows.

    If the dude had pushed it, asked again, or done anything other than back off at the “no”, sure, label him “creepy” or even a “threat”. But getting offended because one adult propositioned another adult simply perpetuates gender stereotypes, inequality and actually strips women of equal power.

  351. Eternally Learning

    Was the bad situation created by the man’s words or simply his presence and the lack of anyone else being there? What if he had said nothing and Rebecca caught him glancing at her? What if she thought he was checking her out? What if she thought he just seemed creepy? What then? What’s the man to do to counter this feeling? He could make a joke to break the tension, but then maybe she’d think he was trying to disarm her defenses in order to more easily strike. He move away from her, but maybe she’d think he was giving himself room to charge at her. He could move to push the button to get off and alleviate her discomfort but maybe she’s in between him and the button panel and she thinks he’s trying to grab her.

    I will never marginalize what women go through on a day-to-day basis, mostly because I’m not a woman and can never fully understand. That does not enable them though to try and coerce men into walking on eggshells for fear of intimidating or otherwise offending them. Call it a potential assault all you want, but it was a potential assault the moment the doors closed and it was just a young woman and man who didn’t know each other. If women want to simply raise awareness of what’s going on in their heads in situations like that so men can be more informed the next time it comes up, I’m all for it. The second people start getting mad at those men for unwittingly walking into a minefield, I think they’ve gone too far.

  352. @Alex
    For a skeptical discussion, there are a lot of straw men in this room.

    When you try to engage someone in polite conversation, you evaluate your behavior to make sure it doesn’t look rude. If you skip that step, you are more likely to come out looking rude. We all do this all the time without any real complaint (except the rude ones, of course). Behaving in a way that doesn’t look especially creepy is the exact same thing. Evaluate your behavior and ask yourself, “How might this look to the other party? Does this look like a guy who can interact socially and understands the conventions and limits of social intercourse and casual relationships, or does it look like a drunk guy on an elevator at 4 AM?”

    I’m not asking you to cut off your legs or hide in a corner, so don’t put words in my mouth. I’m asking you to consider the other person in the conversation and how they might perceive your actions. You most likely hope that others act the same way toward you, so why does it seem like a draconian request when I put it in the specific context of a man talking to a woman?

  353. QuietDesperation

    Mountains out of molehills, I tell ya. I can just imagine all the religious folks rubbing their hands in delight at this stage.

    Yes, they would have just burned Rebecca as a witch.

    Oh, snap! He went there!

  354. Keith Bowden

    I’m stunned. If someone had simply told me Dawkins was spouting this clueless gibberish I wouldn’t have believed it.

    Sadly, I am not at all surprised at the number of guys posting here who don’t get it. Skeptics, comics, sf, fantasy, gaming – oddly interrelated gatherings – featuring women vastly outnumbered (less so these days, fortunately) in areas where morons do actively hit on, maneuver, badger and attack women all the time. Female guests as well as attendees have found themselves accosted by other guests and attendees for decades.

    It’s not that every guy is always on the prowl. In this instance, he didn’t ask her to go “somewhere” for coffee, or if they could “meet later” for coffee. Even if he genuinely had no ulterior motives and simply thought his hotel room would be a convenient place to have a conversation (unlikely at 4AM but possible), it put her in an uncomfortable position when she was otherwise alone in an enclosed space.

    Let’s put another spin on the scenario to see if some of these guys can get it. You’re on an elevator with a guy. He pulls out a gun as he’s talking to you. He doesn’t point it at you, doesn’t threaten you, he’s just holding the gun. Does it really make you feel any safer around this stranger when someone tells you later that it probably wasn’t loaded? Within the context of this situation (woman alone on an elevator at 4AM with a stranger who asks her to come back to his room for any reason), the woman has no idea what his reaction will be to being rebuffed, however kindly she declines, however well he seems to take it.

    In this instance, it worked out fine, he may (or not) have been horny, but he wasn’t an ogre. But it’s not a cheesy scene from a movie from the “free love” ’70s, and until they parted and the elevator doors securely closed between them again, she was understandably nervous.

    In a perfect world, he could have posed this question (or even directly asked for sex), she could have said no, and that would be the end of it. We do not live in a perfect world. Or have you not gone through an airport screening recently? Knowing that, and knowing the physical power imbalance between most men and women, how can anyone not understand on some level that women can feel nervous – even when not overtly threatened – in certain situations?

  355. Alex

    @MichaelL – More than once a week? Sounds like deviant behaviour to me. Next you’ll be telling me you want it for physical pleasure rather than for the purposes of reproduction.

    Which, by the way, if you aren’t doing you’re immature and need to ‘grow up’. The script for any man is school, university, work, wife, mortgage, kids, retirement, death with no gaps in-between!

    You will live by the unrealistic image of male gender roles set by women’s magazines!!

  356. EdgarJPublius

    Screw me sideways! A creepy proposition for consensual sex is misogynistic, offensive and incredibly tactless for sure, but ‘potential sexual assault’? Come on!

    I had a whole lot more to say, but reading back through the posts that were written between when I started writing and when I submitted my comment, I noticed that 324. Kitty made the points I was trying to with far more eloquence than I could manage right now, so I’d just like to highlight that post.

    With the addition of this:

    When you try to cast a debate about how certain behaviors are disrespectful and offensive to women as one about how certain behaviors are predatory and threatening to women, it makes it seem as though it is not important to avoid being disrespectful and offensive towards women as long as you avoid seeming threatening and predatory.

    I know in this case at least, that isn’t the intent nor is it a view held by those who seem to be promoting it, but it highlights the importance of considering the implications of your arguments in a debate as complex and highly charged as this one.

    Remember also the terrible and yet subtle threat of (a href=http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/alt-text-internet-argument/>Alien Space Squids in arguments such as this.

  357. Jeff

    Well, from what I’ve gathered, a lady got offered sex by some dude in a elevator 4′o clock in the morning, she said no, and they went separate ways. What exactly is the issue here? Sure it is pretty creepy to offer sex to some random women, but is this necessary to blow this out of propotion into some sort of women’s rights/patriarchy society issue? But still, the lady has every right to be concerned about her wellbeing, and RD’s ‘you shouldn’t complain about your issues because third world people are having it WAY WORSE’ is at best callous and patronizing and at worst dickish.

  358. This whole thing has been blown way out of proportion and now my head hurts.

    Ok, men, don’t talk to women in elevators unless you know them.

    Ladies, carry pepper spray and learn self defense techniques! Nice men do exist in the world but you just never know.

    Now, lets all get on with our lives.

  359. QuietDesperation

    I’m asking you to consider the other person in the conversation and how they might perceive your actions.

    And some of us are saying that if a person *does* make a mistake that it does not deserve International Incident status. These days if someone says *one* thing considered inappropriate, even if they are quoted entirely out of context and what they said *in* context is harmless, their entire career can be destroyed and their lives irreversibly disrupted.

    This is why we only have sociopaths in charge of everything anymore. You don’t need a thick shin- you need absolutely nothing inside that can be affected when the media and the activists get you in their sights for whatever scary sequence of words you chose to utter. But that’s a different thread.

  360. Jason

    It would be interesting to see a true statistic, probably hard to come by, on the number of women asked about having a drink in ones room or similar scenario which morphs into an actual assault. While I have no hard statistics, and I would be very critical of anything I did see, my suspicion is the percentage is approximately infinitesimal in measure versus the total number of pick up attempts. Or at least less likely than say, dying in an airplane crash.

    It is far more likely someone with nefarious intentions is not going to provide the opportunity to think the situation through let alone attempt some thing in such a publicly confined and controlled space likely with a security camera.

    Then again, you know all us men. We are just animals waiting to take advantage of all those frail women out there. We have no control over ourselves and the only thing on our minds all the time is sex. Or I suppose in this scenario, potential assault. As opposed to being a human being just like the other person in the elevator and perhaps not always using the most appropriate words at the most appropriate times. The nerve!

  361. Andrew W

    I’m at a loss as to your point Phil.

    “Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent.”

    If a white fellow and a black fellow are alone on an elevator, and the white fellow feels threatened, no matter what the black fellow does, is this somehow the fault of the black fellow, Does the existence of the white fellows fears somehow make it a “potential assault scenario”??

    As far as I can see the only solution to the situation is a public ban on men getting onto elevators if there’s a woman on or getting on. So it looks like you either don’t have a solution or that you’re proposing some form of segregation.

  362. Clara Bunford

    I’m with Rebecca up to and including the point that all-in-all his line was clumsy.
    But the whole potential rapist thing is ridiculous. When you look at it that way, the guy who came to fix my central heating was a potential rapist. As was everyone else with whom I’ve ever been alone. There is no such thing as potential crime; thinking otherwise leads to madness. Fortunately I’ll be dead before the buses are segregated, even it that were where all this is going.
    Furthermore, calling out Stef like that in a public forum was a very low thing to do. It’s like punching a tied-up person. Rebecca knew that Stef would never be able to defend herself from her towards an equivalent audience.
    As for you girls and boys out there… if you’re ever alone with someone you’ve got a crush on, don’t hesitate to ask, or you might end up alone for the rest of your life. Getting turned down isn’t that big of a deal, even if it does kick up a sandstorm on the internet.

  363. Daniel

    I have to agree with Dawkins on this. It was 4AM, they had been at a bar, he asked her back for coffee, she declined, and they parted ways. Maybe he wanted her to go back to his room for some sex, or maybe he just found her interesting. This type of situation happens all the time, all over the world. Was the guy a creeper? Yeah. Was his behavior inexcusable? No. He was just being a man following through on his attraction to a woman in a polite manner.

    It get the feeling that many believe there is never an appropriate situation in which a man should approach a woman with sexual intentions. That for a man to look at a woman as someone he would like to have sex with is inappropriate.

    Humans are sexual creatures. A man being aroused by a woman is not inherently misogynistic; it is how he follows through on that arousal that can be deemed misogynistic. In the case of this man he was very polite in his approach, did not persist after his rejections, and it seems he was aroused by the woman’s intelligence. It seems to me that he was being a very progressive man with the exception of approaching her in the elevator. Of course the alternative would have been approaching her at the bar, which would have been awkward, or follow her off the elevator, which would have been even creepier.

    Before I ramble anymore, I find it odd that it is in the midst of Atheists that I find the suggestion that men should repress their sexual urges. Seems more suited to Catholics.

  364. andy

    Being alone in an elevator with a black person late at night is uncomfortable for any white person, even if the black person is silent. But when the black person mentions money? There’s no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that’s unacceptable. A situation like this can lead to a mugging; I just read in the news here in Boulder that a few days ago a relatively innocent situation turned into assault. This isn’t some rare event; it happens a lot and most white people are all-too painfully aware of it.
    I can understand that it’s hard for black people to truly grasp the white person’s point of view here, since black people rarely feel in danger of being robbed by whites. But Jen McCrieght’s post, and many others, make it clear that to a white person, being alone on that elevator with that black person was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away — perhaps the black person has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When there’s no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most black people don’t understand this, so white people are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.

  365. QuietDesperation

    This just in- Homeland Security has raised the Terror level to magenta, and referenced “chatter” about threats involving elevators.

    Members of the media and community leaders were heard to comment “WTF does magenta mean?”

  366. Dan L.

    again, why should men spend their entire lives walking on eggshells to ensure that any woman they encounter doesn’t feel intimidated? I’m still waiting after 33 years on this planet for a sensible answer to that question that doesn’t infer that all men are potential rapists.

    This is about a guy alone on an elevator propositioning a woman who doesn’t know him. Or innocently offering her coffee at 4 AM, because for all we know he had this AWESOME arabica and even though she had said she was going to be, he KNEW she just had to try a french press of this awesome coffee.

    Treating women like people =/= walking on eggshells.

    Like many less attractive men, good looking women intimidate me, so why shouldn’t they have plastic surgery to be less attractive? You’re not asking much less of me.

    So asking you to treat women like real human beings is ethically equivalent to asking women to mutilate their faces? I don’t think there’s a punctuation mark to express my reaction at how weird a thing this is to say.

    You’re asking me to spend my life taking the stairs, crossing the street, making sure I never have a one on one meeting with a female subordinate at work, going on the crowded Tube carriage instead of the one with the lone woman until I’m sure that no paranoid woman is ever afraid of me.

    No. People are asking you to treat women like real human beings. This really isn’t that hard.

    This is so disgusting. I can’t stand the fact that so many guys take “treat women like human beings” to mean “you’re not allowed to talk to women.” Again, troubling that so many men can’t seem to find a middle ground between treating women like objects and avoiding them entirely.

  367. Oldsfield

    The only thing that matters is her feelings. If someone feels that someone else committed a crime against them, that person is a criminal, PERIOD, END OF STORY. He should be locked up, sent to the gulags, off with his head. This is true justice. Intention does not matter. That is true feminist empowerment.

    All women are insecure shrinking violets who must be protected at all costs, and never made to feel bad in any way. If anyone makes any women have any inkling of negative emotions of any kind, they should be convicted of psychological rape. That is true feminist empowerment.

    The real problem here, I think, is men are simply ignorant of how women feel. Sigh, it’s so typical of men to be so unempathetic and insensitive, isn’t it? It’s time for them to realize it doesn’t matter what men feel themselves, we are past such patriarchal neanderthal tendencies as a modern progressive feminist society. The only opinions and feelings that matter is that of a women. Any time a man holds his opinion or feelings over a women, he is a misogynist. That is true feminist empowerment.

    Watch this video, men, to learn how women like Rebecca want you to act and think at all times: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_uRIMUBnvw

    We will only have true equality when all men are just as utterly petrified of women as all women are of men. That is true feminist empowerment.

  368. Grimoire

    I can’t stand the fact that so many guys take “treat women like human beings” to mean “you’re not allowed to talk to women.”

    *cough*strawman*cough*

    Again, troubling that so many men can’t seem to find a middle ground between treating women like objects and avoiding them entirely.

    Maybe the problem is on *your* end and you need to get out more. Most of us men do just fine, actually.

  369. bulbul

    @Evolving Squid,
    as you may have noticed, the quote refers to the male-female dynamic pertinent to the situation in question.
    I.e., what @Keith Bowden said.

  370. Ron1

    @283. Third Brother of the Peach Orchard Says:

    “I 100% agree with Richard Dawkins.
    Phil Plait is a prude a la 19th century Victorian values. …”

    …………………………………………………….

    You’re missing the point about setting — the elevator come on at 4am made Rebecca feel very uncomfortable.

    If you really think it’s no big deal then how about trying that with a co-worker in your company’s elevator in the middle of the afternoon in a building full of (generally) sober people. You know what – you just don’t do it because you know that your corporation has an anti-sexual harassment policy and it will fire your !@#! ass if you tried it and she makes a complaint.

    But then you probably think that an elevator at 4am in a building full of drunks is different, it’s acceptable. Why is that? Oh, well, because you know that you’ll generally get away with it. Well, think again — this guy was called out. It’s not alright. Context and setting ARE important and the women are right to be upset.

    Listen to the women — they know.

  371. Jeff

    Come on, dude, how is propositioning a woman, as inapropriate as it might be, not treating them like human beings and objectifying them? It’s not like the dude persisted and stalked her or something. He respected her refusal and went about his business.

  372. Niki

    I am a woman and I would have been scared in Rebecca’s position. I consider myself quite average and have been sexually assaulted more times than I care to remember, from being flashed at to almost (I managed to get away) raped at knife point. I’m guessing there are very, very, very few women out there who have never been sexually assaulted by a man. So all you good guys out there, think that through.

    Also almost all sexual assaults start with an aggressive advance, the aggressor is testing the waters, give himself space to back out if the woman isn’t an easy enough target. Rebecca’s firm and confident no probably put him off. He may have been innocent, but I think the chances of that are just too low for it to be taken seriously, and certainly saying that this was a potential sexual assault is not an exaggeration. I’d call it an aborted sexual assault – good job Rebecca.

    Richard Dawkins is a pompous self-righteous idiot. I suspected that before this, but now I am sure!

  373. Tony

    I completely understand what you are saying and how you feel. I feel the same way every time I have to get on an airplane with a person closely resembling a Muslim. I know they may not be a terrorist, but how dare they confine me to a space I have no ability to react in the event the Muslim-look-alike is actually a terrorist and wants to blow up the plane. Every since 911 I live in fear every time I see an Muslim man with a beard. When will we get some compassion in this world, and have Arabs fly on their OWN planes instead of our non-terrorist planes.

    Of course I’m being sarcastic because this womans argument is baseless. If you live your life scared of being raped, maybe you should see a psychologist. Or at the least, go to a self defense class. I’m pretty sure a knee to the boys will stop most would-be attackers. FYI I am a 33 year old white male, and I assure you I have never raped any woman in my life. I may be the only one out there, but I’m pretty sure your message is misguided.

  374. Alex

    @Horseman – The only people here who have been at all skeptical are the people like me who have questioned the reliability of the woman’s side of this story.

    Everyone else has assumed she her statements were entirely true. Was he drunk? Tired?

    He may have come off as rude, it happens. People are rude to me every day. It’s called travelling on the London Underground. That’s also the place where I’m expected to allow able-bodied women to take the last available seat.

    The more I see discussions like this the lower wasting my time with dating falls down my list of priorities because all I see is women expecting me, including complete strangers, to put their needs first. Men are becoming subservient, spineless and incapable of expressing their own wants and needs in their pursuit of women and I want no part of that.

  375. Leon_Ateo

    “So asking you to treat women like real human beings is ethically equivalent to asking women to mutilate their faces? I don’t think there’s a punctuation mark to express my reaction at how weird a thing this is to say.”

    I’m confused. How is propositioning a woman and then politely accepting the denial not treating her as a person?

  376. Villa

    I feel like there were two events that need to be separated.

    1. The guy gets on the elevator at 4am with a lone woman from a foreign country.

    If we’re going to discuss danger/trepidation, then it started here. This is the point at which the whole ‘unknown intentions’ thing beings. A reasonable argument could be made that entering enclosed spaces with lone women should be avoided at 4am.

    2. Guy invites woman to coffee

    This is a problem of etiquette. We can discuss if it’s rude or not. And reasonable points can be made about correct times to flirt. But I’m not seeing how a coffee-invitation increases or mitigates any sense of danger. A reasonable argument could be made that 4am flirting is undesirable.

    But I don’t think we can mix the two. That seems bizarre to take away a message of, “The woman was safe in the elevator with the man until he politely (but unwelcomely) asked her for coffee then she was in danger.”

    As I understand it, the original comments were about objectification and the etiquette of point 2. In this context, RD’s position makes more sense; the invitation doesn’t raise a safety issue one way or another (even if the ‘getting on an elevator at 4am’ does)

  377. Alex

    @Dan L – I already treat women like human beings. I ask the same in return and do not receive.

    I made the purposefully ridiculous suggestion that women make themselves less attractive in order to show you how ridiculous the arguments I’ve heard here have been.

    Propositioning her might have been a dumb thing to do, but it’s a flawed human thing to do as well. Part of my treatment of women as human beings is acknowledging that they do flawed human things too. You all seem to be talking about women like they’re a race of flawless Mary Sues out of someone’s bad Star Trek fan fiction.

    How about, instead, you think about the man accused here? What are his hobbies? Does he have any pets? Had he had a bad day? Was he drunk? Was he tired? Does he love his mother? Does he have children?

    You don’t know the answer to any of these questions because he’s a faceless man who some random person on the internet told a story about.

  378. @Stephanie:
    ” … As a woman, I just can’t wrap my head about being so anti-male. Let me first say that, yes, many women have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by men. It’s an awful thing, and I can see that leading to being fearful of the opposite sex, or even people in general. That said, I have never once felt like being alone in an elevator with a man, regardless of the time of day, was inherently dangerous. I don’t view every man I see as a potential rapist. I simply see another person in an elevator … ”

    Thank you for not making the guy feel like a creep.He had plucked up the courage to chat up a fairly well known woman. It sounds like he was probably a little awkward around women (Lets face it, most guys (like me) at these kind of conferences are :-) ). To have been brave enough to take the plunge took a lot of guts.

    This kind of reaction is only going to serve to make the guy even more awkward and embarrassed about chatting up women.

    And what’s so wrong if he did want sex? He accepted “No” as her answer.

  379. Ron1

    @ 334. Andrew W Says:

    “I’m at a loss as to your point Phil. … As far as I can see the only solution to the situation is a public ban on men getting onto elevators if there’s a woman on or getting on. ”

    …………………………………………………

    Andrew, that’s exactly how I work it. Late at night I won’t enter an elevator if there is a woman in it by herself — I politely tell her I’ll wait for the next one because I know that my being there will make her uncomfortable.

    This is basic male/female etiquette that my wife and daughters drilled into my head a long time ago.

  380. JJ (the other one)

    Let me get this straight…

    RW has a problem with the way some people act in some situations. She elects to inform people about why this is a problem. In this particular case I agree with the decision to bring it up and agree why it’s “creepy” – specifically, the act of asking a stranger of the opposite gender for a private meeting to your own private room while, possibly unintentionally, using a colloquialism for sex, is “creepy”.

    Note that RW is not telling people “you can’t flirt anymore, it might make someone uncomfortable.” No, she’s saying “hey, this happened to me, here’s why it’s creepy”.

    So exactly what do people need to get all self-righteous over? I don’t see careful, thought out reasons why RW is outright wrong, or even merely overreacting. I see self-righteous b******t, chock full of fallacy.

    Like all this “well guys are more likely to be assaulted or killed” or “women in Muslim societies have it worse”. If you posted something along these lines then congratulations, you so-called skeptic. You chose to disagree with someone using a non-argument, through deflection, instead of addressing the point at hand. Exactly the sort of thing that so-called skeptics despise.

  381. @308 Alex,

    You’re asking me to spend my life taking the stairs, crossing the street, making sure I never have a one on one meeting with a female subordinate at work, going on the crowded Tube carriage instead of the one with the lone woman until I’m sure that no paranoid woman is ever afraid of me.

    No, I believe what’s being suggested is that if you don’t want to be viewed as a creepy lecher, you probably shouldn’t proposition women who don’t know you when you’re both alone in an enclosed space at 4am. There’s nothing really morally wrong with what he did, and it was probably just a clumsy and misguided attempt that came off as creepy, but my guard is up against potential threats when I’m in a foreign country at 4am (even more so if I’m on an elevator, which I can be prevented from leaving and there are no other people around), so it’s reasonable that someone might feel uncomfortable in that scenario.

    It’s highly context specific. If he’d approached her with the same request at 2pm in a crowded hotel lobby, it’d still be a little creepy, but it would be less potentially threatening.

    Which seems to be all Rebecca’s comment tried to express. “This makes people uncomfortable because you’re acting like a creep, so you should stop acting like a creep for your own benefit and the benefit of everyone around you.”

  382. Jester

    I haven’t read through all of the comments and I don’t want to get into the philosophical discussion as many good points have already been made. I did want to point out however that the writing style of this Richard is not at all similar to his published works and that as an Brit, he would have said “whingeing” not “whining” in his first post. How certain are we that this is indeed Richard Dawkins, author of “The Greatest Show on Earth”?

  383. Garth

    Here is why the point of this article is wrong and Richard Dawkins is not. It is simply because no one seems to be able to differentiate between possibility and and reality. The possibility never took the turn for the worse, so any ill feelings are the propriety of the woman alone and the man is not at fault at all. It is ridiculously reactionary and stupid to claim that there was anything wrong done in that elevator. Being a large male myself I can tend to be intimidating to people. I have been in similar situations as the one being discussed, and would like to ask why I am in the wrong for being genetically ordered as not only a man but also large. Speaking as the person on the other side of this story, knowing that there is no danger, yet still feeling the tension and not being able to do anything about the pother persons ridiculous and unnecessary. If you feel fear in a situation as innocuous as this it is your problem and not the other person’s.

  384. CanisMajor

    Remember, guys, do not ever talk to a woman! You’d potentially sexually assaulting her! What a paranoid culture we live in.

    He accepted her “No” and that was it. He invited her for a coffee. He was polite all the time. In my opinion, she overreacted.

  385. This could get confusing. There’s an Andrew W and Andrew Wilson(me) posting! :-)

  386. Just to clarify – under what conditions, exactly, are males allowed to ask girls to their room for a cup of coffee, so that we can be sure it is not making them uncomfortable?

  387. Bernhard

    Let me put this in an extremely nerdy way:

    Person A is interested in Person B.

    Person A expresses his/her interest in Person B in a way that makes Person B uncomfortable.

    Person B expresses this discomfort.

    You would assume that if Person A is truly interested in and truly cares about Person B, he/she would care about the way his/her behaviour affects Person B, and would be willing to adjust his/her behaviour to minimize this discomfort (in fact youwould expect Person A to be grateful for Person B’s helpful feedback)

    You would also expect the same of people who identify with / take the point of view of Person A.

    However, this does not seem to be the case…. AT ALL…

    Why not?

  388. Adam Wong

    OMG He asked her for COFFEE!? OUTRAGEOUS!

  389. Dan L.

    Leon@340:

    I’m confused. How is propositioning a woman and then politely accepting the denial not treating her as a person?

    Do you frequently introduce yourself to new people by propositioning them for sex?

    Treating her as a person would involve maybe introducing yourself, trying to strike up a conversation…maybe waiting to see if she’s exhibiting the tiniest signal that maybe she might be interested in an amorous fling before suggesting such a thing. Or being the least bit self-aware — 4 AM, man and woman alone in an elevator is not the sort of situation that would make most women feel comfortable with being propositioned.

    Alex@339:

    The only people here who have been at all skeptical are the people like me who have questioned the reliability of the woman’s side of this story.

    No, that would be believing whatever is convenient for your side of an argument. That’s essentially the opposite of skepticism.

    Skepticism is asking whether you, yourself might on the wrong side of the argument.

  390. Jeff

    “Which seems to be all Rebecca’s comment tried to express. ‘This makes people uncomfortable because you’re acting like a creep, so you should stop acting like a creep for your own benefit and the benefit of everyone around you.’”

    I think that’s exactly what that guy did? He respected the lady’s refusal and as far as I know never persisted in his attempt. Come on.

  391. DiscountDeity

    Guys, go read Phil’s post again.

    He’s not saying that every man is a potential rapist, or that every encounter is potential rape.

    He’s pointing out that the situation had the potential to be far more serious than Dawkins made it ou to be. Period.

    Anyone who reads anything more in his comments is being ridiculous.

  392. Sam
  393. @Alex
    This isn’t a claim about ghosts or Bigfoot. “This guy behaved in a way that made me uncomfortable,” is not an extraordinary claim. It doesn’t matter if he was sober, wearing a suit and tie, and smelled of fresh flowers. If she felt uncomfortable because of the way this guy was behaving, then she felt uncomfortable. Done.

    If you want to dismiss her feelings in the guise of “being skeptical” then you have obviously missed the point. The point is that you should try not to make people uncomfortable, especially if you want to be friendly with them. If you’re making them uncomfortable, you’re doing that wrong, and playing games with skepticism isn’t helping. You complain about difficulty dealing with women, yet you see no problem in dismissing their feelings. Think about that a little.

  394. Pedro De Jesus

    @Roni1

    Then what do you want? Special sharia rules that don’t allow men and women in the same elevator? Or gender segregated elevators?

    Its utterly preposterous in a Western society where men and women are supposed to be equals.

    There are big red alarm buttons in about 99% of modern elevators.

    I once had to work in Pakistan and even with all their Muslim anti-woman bullsh$#, I could still ride the same elevator as woman in my office building. Wow, this is real authoritarian women-are-so-fragile and need special dispensation stuff your throwing out here.

  395. Oldsfield

    The lesson we should all learn is that if you’re not talking to people solely on women’s terms, you’re an insensitive misogynist, and don’t treat women like human beings. The only thing that matters is how the women feels. Her feelings trump everything, always, all the time. End of story. If you ever make any women feel uncomfortable in any way, you’re a horrible person and should be ashamed of ever showing your face in public again.

  396. @342 Andrew Wilson

    This kind of reaction is only going to serve to make the guy even more awkward and embarrassed about chatting up women.

    Potentially. It also might make him think more about ways to chat up women so that he doesn’t come off as a creep and a potential threat which would, incidentally, increase his chances of successfully picking someone up.

    There’s nothing wrong with flirting, but flirting in the wrong context can make you seem like a creep and will not be appreciated, which is (it seems) all that RW’s post was saying.

  397. @323 Leon_Ateo
    “So what if he was an idiot? Did he sexually assault her? The controversy here is that Dawkins called it a non-issue in a world full of women *actually* being harmed.”

    So, just because the almighty atheist Dawkins declares this a non-issue, should we just ignore the fact that Rebecca was uncomfortable in the situation and may have felt an ulterior motive? To be honest, none of us – Dawkins or the rest of us were there. There were two people, alone, on an elevator at 4AM – Rebecca and the guy asking her to his room. I don’t want to put words in Rebecca’s mouth, but maybe it was a sense of intuition that made her feel something was not quite right with this guy. Who knows. For Dawkins to trivialize it and call it a non issue was plain stupid, and in this case, he would have been better to just keep his mouth shut.

    @342 Andrew Wilson.
    So, just because this may make the guy feel more awkward chatting up women in the future, I guess Rebecca should have accepted the guy’s proposition? Are you insane? That is the silliest thing I have ever heard. Maybe the guy needs to learn how to meet women if he’s awkward asking them out. There are 101 ways he could have gone about talking to Rebecca without making her feel uncomfortable. I have stated before, if all he wanted was to chat about her topic at the conference, he should have approached her in a more public place. Even in the elevator, he could have stated that he would like to meet over coffee in the hotel cafe to discuss it. Inviting her back to his room in many cases is an invitation for sex.

  398. Alex

    @Dan L – Nope. I am just as willing to hear both sides of the story, but only one has been presented. Therefore we all have less than all the facts.

    You ask that men treat women as human beings. Well, human beings are known for being very good liars. Sorry she ended up tarred with the same brush as the rest of humanity.

  399. @murphspot

    Why is it wrong to ask a woman if she wants to have sex and accept her “No” as an answer?

    He wasn’t acting like a creep (despite her perception of it). He was asking to have sex (at the most extreme reading of the situation), which is the most natural thing in the world. She said no and he didn’t pursue the matter any further.

    Had he not accepted her answer or tried to stop her leaving the lift that would have been creepy.

    What if she had said yes? would it still be creepy?

    Perhaps women had said yes, in the past, in similar circumstances! Would that have been creepy?

    He did her the honour of being as up front about it as he felt comfortable with. He could have met her in the lobby and pretend to befriend her and get her into bed that way. That however, would have been dishonest!

  400. Andrew W

    Ron1,

    That’s good of you, but there are certainly situations in which men riding on elevators in other company also feel intimidated by the mere presence of certain other passengers, should those other passengers wait for the next ride? or should the fearful man wait? If a woman is fearful it’s her problem, it’s only if the man acts in ways that are intimidating that she has a genuine complaint in my view.

    In the example given the man acted badly, but his mere presence is not grounds for grievance.

    (I’m betting he was gay and didn’t realize his offer was threatening)

  401. Pedro De Jesus

    @discount diety

    What is so ‘serious’ about a man riding in an elevator with a woman in a public space? If that is all your facts you should join hezbollah.

    If the facts extended to real aggression, or threats, then I’m all in and would agree. However, simple presence in a public space is still o.k. in our free society. Until then, egg shell feelings will have to live with it. If women want to be equal, they have to accept equality and not request special treatment like gender segregation. I think that we can do far more productive actions to prevent rape then instigate your Saudi mullah copy cat ideas.

  402. Charm City Girl

    I completely agree with Dawkins and yes, I am a woman. A woman was asked out, she declined, plain and simple. Sorry she felt awkward, as most women do when they reject someone, but the fact that SHE wanted to escape that very awkward feeling is getting twisted into something else entirely.

  403. Clark Cox

    @330 Keith Bowden

    Let’s put another spin on the scenario to see if some of these guys can get it. You’re on an elevator with a guy. He pulls out a gun as he’s talking to you. He doesn’t point it at you, doesn’t threaten you, he’s just holding the gun.

    So being male is equivalent to waving a weapon around?

    In a perfect world, he could have posed this question (or even directly asked for sex), she could have said no, and that would be the end of it.

    Isn’t that exactly what happened? He asked the question, she said “no”, and that was the end of it.

  404. Piper Wilson

    Disclaimer – I’m new to the blog and am only vaguely familiar with Richard Dawkins.

    Is it possible he does get it but wants the attention?

  405. I still getting how this was “This was a potential sexual assault”. Or maybe I commit a “potential sexual assault” everytime i make any come on.

    Not to forget “mental rapes” every time I get naughty thought. This whole deal is EXTREMALLY american, where you can get sued for everything.

    While sarcasm may not be nicest way to put things I 100% support Dawkins, for getting angry because she made such fuzz out of polite proposal from potentional sexual predator every male is.

  406. I’m confused about what Richard Dawkins is arguing. He says that Rebecca Watson experienced “zero bad,” but if we take him at his word, and if we allow that Watson’s report of her own feelings is accurate, then the “zero bad” proposition is immediately refuted by her report of her mental state after being asked to coffee (for surely Dawkins isn’t arguing that her mental state was a coincidence rather than a result). The invitation made her feel uncomfortable, and feeling uncomfortable is a bad thing. End of story.

    Is Dawkins saying that the man in the elevator could not have reasonably anticipated the bad result of his action, so that, as a general proposition, actions such as his are not bad? So that Watson’s advice “Don’t do that” is actually bad advice, and one is likely, on average, to end up with equally bad (or worse) outcomes by attempting to follow that advice than by ignoring it? So that the man’s action wasn’t even a faux pas and does not reflect negatively on his social skills (or his sobriety, his capacity for empathy, or whatever)? If that’s what Dawkins is saying, he needs to clarify it, and he needs to realize that most reasonable people will regard it as being obviously wrong, so that he needs to make a better case if his argument is going to be accepted.

    Is Dawkins saying that the man’s action, though it could reasonably be anticipated to have a bad result, was nonetheless not a bad action? If this is what Dawkins is saying, then he needs to provide a better articulated moral theory to argue the non-consequentialist basis for what he regards as good and bad actions.

    Or is he merely saying that this is not a moral issue, that the man committed nothing more that a faux pas? If that’s what Dawkins is saying, then he needs to clarify it, and perhaps most people will agree with him. Indeed, Watson might well agree with him, and we can stamp “paid” to this whole argument.

    All in all, it seems Dawkins would have done better to stick by his guns rather than implicitly conceding the point that the existence of greater evils is irrelevant to the need to oppose smaller ones. It is not irrelevant, because we have limited resources. As an abstract proposition, it’s quite possible that the existence of a greater evil can render it inefficient to devote any resources to fighting a smaller one. Of course it depends on the marginal relative resource-effectiveness of the struggles against the greater and the lesser evil, but at least the point is arguable.

  407. Dan L.

    Alex@341:

    @Dan L – I already treat women like human beings. I ask the same in return and do not receive.

    Oh, so it was a different Alex who said the following?

    The more I see discussions like this the lower wasting my time with dating falls down my list of priorities because all I see is women expecting me, including complete strangers, to put their needs first. Men are becoming subservient, spineless and incapable of expressing their own wants and needs in their pursuit of women and I want no part of that.

    What is it you think that’s being expected of you? If you don’t want to get out of your seat on the subway, don’t. It’s not creepy. I wouldn’t even call it rude.

    I’m pretty sure treating women like people involves talking to them as if they weren’t waiting to be sexually conquered by you. I assume when you first meet a man you don’t proposition him for sex. Instead, you treat him like a human being with agency on par with your own. You can treat women the same way — talk to them like they’re people with internal lives just like you. In some cases, this leads to flirting and various other amorous behaviors, and that’s wonderful. In other cases it doesn’t, and in those cases the woman is probably not interested in having sex with you and you can (maybe?) keep yourself constrained to pleasant conversation instead of unwanted sexual advances.

    Or you can dismiss her from your sight as soon as it’s clear she’s not interested in having sex with you. Which will make it entirely clear what a staunch feminist you are, because you respected her desires, right?

  408. Alex

    @Horseman – No, it isn’t like ghosts or Bigfoot. People at least gave us video of those.

    I am not saying she is lying, I’m saying the man may have a very different side of the story which must be heard. Hence the Babylon 5 three edged sword quote above.

  409. CelticChimp

    I left a comment earlier but it appears to have vanished into the ether.

    I submit that by calling the elevator incident a “potential sexual assault” Phil has removed himself from at least this conversation. Maybe he is not as ridiculous on other topics but on this one, he clearly has left the realm of the rational.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfjLfyXYlA

    Presumably, the woman in that video (albeit in characature) would be considered racist for reacting this way because the guy was black. In the case of woman acting like this because the guy was….well a guy, thats not sexist or anything, thats just good sense.

    You might argue, and there is some truth in the claim, that in the case of woman and man, that women have some good reasons for wariness. (Incidentally, I’m sure many a purse has been snatched by black men over the years, that hardly makes an unprompted generalisation ok.)

    What is not ok, is not only expecting men to make accomodations for the feelings of another person, who is at least considering him a threat for no reason other than his involuntary membership in a particular gender but to make matters worse, any man who is unaware of the situation is characterised as a sexist. What a completely skewed perspective.

  410. Andrew W

    393. DiscountDeity Says:
    July 5th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Guys, go read Phil’s post again.
    He’s not saying that every man is a potential rapist

    Phil’s phrase “potential assault scenario” means that every man is a potential assailant, the context strongly implies an assault of a sexual nature.

  411. CanisMajor

    Guys, do not ever talk to a woman! You’d be potentially sexually assaulting her! What a paranoid culture we live in.

    He invited her for a coffee. He accepted her “No”. Imagine how would be the reaction if he hadn’t been polite.

  412. Dan L.

    Alex@352:

    @Dan L – Nope. I am just as willing to hear both sides of the story, but only one has been presented. Therefore we all have less than all the facts.

    You ask that men treat women as human beings. Well, human beings are known for being very good liars. Sorry she ended up tarred with the same brush as the rest of humanity.

    That’s your argument? Really? Some people lie, this woman is a person, therefore this woman is a liar?

    That and you’re an unrepentant chauvinist, no wonder the girls are knocking each other down to get at you.

  413. JCW

    I, as a woman, agree with RD.

    I don’t agree with PP and others that this should be interpreted as a potential attack scenario. If it was, then every elevator, or room with a closed door, or subway car or any other of a billion scenarios would be a “potential sexual assault.”

    I for one, won’t spend every second of my life worrying about every potential assault that comes along. That’s the makings of an agoraphobe (ooh, but be sure to never let a man into your house-sanctuary! Potential attack scenario!).

    I know no one will probably see my comment, down here at the bottom on 375 other people’s opinions, but I feel better having that out.

  414. Andrew Wilson @ 401

    Why is it wrong to ask a woman if she wants to have sex and accept her “No” as an answer?

    It’s not, potentially. But if you do it in the wrong way (say, alone, with no one else in earshot at 4am in a country you know she’s foreign to in an elevator without establishing any prior conversation before leaping into the proposition), it might come across as creepy and potentially threatening.

    Which is all she was saying. That it was creepy. Which it was.

    It’s clear that he wasn’t going to assault her (because he didn’t), but it’s still uncomfortable. If he wanted to chat her up, he picked a very inappropriate venue.

    He was asking to have sex (at the most extreme reading of the situation), which is the most natural thing in the world.

    Which was also the first thing he said to her. It’s not as though they had some sort of discussion at the bar prior to getting into the elevator. He propositioned a strange woman at an inappropriate time.

    Again, nothing morally wrong, but it’s creepy and if he wants to have any success in the future, he should probably take the lesson to not be so creepy away from this.

    He did her the honour of being as up front about it as he felt comfortable with.

    And he wound up creeping her out by skipping over the part where he demonstrates that he’s a decent guy who wouldn’t take advantage of her. He probably was a decent guy who wouldn’t take advantage of her or trap her in an elevator, but if he wanted her to know that, he should have, you know, done the groundwork establishing that he’s an okay fellow.

    He could have met her in the lobby and pretend to befriend her and get her into bed that way. That however, would have been dishonest!

    Oddly, I sort of presume that he actually had some interest in her as a person and would gladly have made her acquaintance, rather than simply viewing her as something he could screw.

    But then it seems that I’ve got a more sunny opinion of him than you do. He was probably a misguided fan who didn’t realize his offer could be taken the wrong way nor that he was presenting it in a really, really inappropriate setting.

  415. Oldsfield

    Dawkins vs Dworkin, who will the feminists back?

    The answer seems clear.

  416. Dana Blumrosen

    Thank you, Phil! One of the better outcomes of this debacle is the number of male allies who have stepped up to the plate. Well done!

  417. Dana Blumrosen

    Thank you, Phil! One of the better outcomes of this debacle is the number of male allies who have stepped up to the plate. Well done!

  418. Pedro De Jesus

    If you don’t “get it” please read this post.

    Americans, like Phil and Rebecca, are very uptight when it comes to sexuality. On top of this, they’ve added this weird layer of critical studies dogma where everything a white male does is bad and due to something called “privilege”. If you are unfortunate enough to be both white and a male, like Phil, you have to engage in a lot of self abnegation and guilty rhetoric to absolve yourself. He won’t admit it, but this is cultural inheritance of christianity still resident in his world view. One thing you can never do, is ever question Rebecca, as a member of a victim group, how she is privileged enough to have so much time and money to constantly blog, podcast and travel to atheist conventions in Dublin. As a brown man, I spend all my time working and afraid of being fired, along with all the white and asian men in our company. This is a part of our male privilege. Of course, all our female co-workers who are victims like Rebecca but don’t have her means and are forced to work in cubicles are also afraid of losing their jobs.

    All in all, we enjoy be lectured by Rebecca whose victim status provides her with unlimited time to blog, vlog, podcast, travel and do other victimhood activities like being asked out in an elevator.

  419. Dan L.

    One last comment. Rebecca Watson was suggesting that if males want to be respected by females instead of being thought of as repellant then males shouldn’t proposition women who don’t know them alone in an elevator at 4 AM.

    What part of that is unreasonable? Seriously. If you can’t answer that one simple question then you’re refusing to examine your own motives for engaging in this argument.

  420. Alex

    @Dan L – What makes you think I’ve done anything like what you describe?

    For the record, I don’t date. It has been a long time since I’ve even asked a woman if she wanted a cup of coffee. I happen to believe that if men put half the effort in to more productive pursuits that we put in to our sex lives we’d have colonies on Mars by now.

    It’s extremely insulting that you think my defence of this man has anything to do with wanting to dominate anyone.

  421. Oldsfield

    If only he had followed correct legal procedures and submitted his official resume detailing his exact intentions and proof of good moral character before even thinking of actually having the audacity to speak to a woman, all of this could have been avoided. Why are men so insensitive?

  422. Duck

    Hey don’t take this the wrong way but do you want to go get a cup of coffee? Oh its 4 in the morning and there aren’t any cafes open. I have coffee in my hotel room? I think you we’re interesting at the conference and I would like to get to know you more.

    Hey don’t take this the wrong way but do you want to go get a cup of sex in my hotel room? I thought you were pretty and sex please?

    Which one of these we’re his motive? Does she know which one? No. Does he know that she doesn’t? No. Who has the right of way in this situation? She does. Does the dude’s request make him a “bad male”? No. Did he not take no for an answer? No.

  423. Spaceman Spiff

    @296. Stephanie

    Thank you. Well said.

    In my opinion, the guy was out of line in asking what he asked, where and when he asked it. But in the end, Rebecca declined an offer from someone who was impolite/cloddish (and may have had one too many — not that this excuses ill-behavior) and that was the end of it. That Rebecca might have felt uncomfortable is completely understandable. That she has a generally useful point to make to guys is fine with me. That Dr. Dawkins makes a valid point, but maybe, just maybe could be a bit more empathetic, and make more effective arguments — yep. But from what evidence I have before me — to say that “this was a potential sexual assault” is out of line.

  424. Alex

    @Dan L (again) – And yet more insults. I treat women like human beings by assuming they are capable of the same flaws as men. I am NOT calling her a liar, I am pointing out that she, as a human being, is CAPABLE OF LYING. We all are.

    I have no reason to disbelieve her story, but I want to hear the other side too. Why do you continue to fail to understand that?

  425. Andrew W

    I think Kitty’s comment #348 nails it, but I’m left wondering if it had been another woman who had offered coffee in her room if it would have also been threatening to some women? Or how about two men?

  426. Darren M

    Ok. So, I’m open to the possibility that I’m just clueless, here — so please help me out if that’s the case.

    I don’t in any way blame Rebecca for her discomfort. We live in a society where sexual assault is real, and sadly all too common. On top of that, our society actively teaches women to treat all men as potential rapists. So, woman alone with a “strange” man asking her to coffee — I can see why she might be creeped out and feel really uncomfortable. And I applaud her for handling it with grace, and being willing to talk about it in public. Neither of those things can be easy.

    But. I just can’t bring myself to blame the man in question either. I’m struggling to see what he did wrong, here. From *his* point of view, he had an opportunity he might never have again — to ask something of a celebrity to have coffee with him in a context where his embarrassment at a possible rejection would be confined to she and he alone.

    It seems that the opinion is that the man *should have known* that women in general — or at least one woman in particular — would perceive an request for coffee in an elevator as a “potential sexual assault.” I’m struggling to understand why he should have known that. I’m struggling to understand why anyone would ask for prior restraint on a perfectly reasonable and innocent request on the grounds that it might be taken as too aggressive given the context.

    Again, I want to point out that I feel for Rebecca here — if I had my way, no woman would ever have to feel that sort of threat. It’s just that it seems to me the blame lies with a culture of assault and fear, not with the actions of the man in the elevator.

    So what am I missing?

  427. @DiscountedDeity:

    He’s not saying that every man is a potential rapist, or that every encounter is potential rape.
    He’s pointing out that the situation had the potential to be far more serious than Dawkins made it ou to be. Period.

    You might want to read again too, because you missed the part where he preaches about your duty to proselytize until “all men” understand “the” woman’s point of view.

    Not only are you obliged to think and speak a certain way, but you should enforce that way of thinking and speaking in others. It is a shockingly sexist comment, but perhaps it escapes scrutiny because the rest of the paragraph condemns sexism.

    I’ve heard it said that “feminism isn’t about dogma”, but here Phil says (in a post tagged “feminism”) that there is something we all must believe and promulgate.

    Given how vague it is, I’m inclined to chalk it up to sloppy writing/editing. But I can see why so many take offense.

  428. @murphspot

    He may well have just wanted to get to know her. It doesn’t matter.

    Even if he WAS only interested in sex, there is nothing wrong or creepy about asking her if she wants to have sex, even if it is the first thing he says, even it is 4AM and even if it is in a lift. He accepted her no answer. That is NOT creepy.

    Not asking would be the creepy thing to do!

  429. I only see one thing in this argument : a cultural difference.

    Americans have to rethink their social life and political life (like preventive wars) … Hé ! NOTHING HAPPENED ! NOTHING HAPPENED ! NOTHING HAPPENED ! NOTHING HAPPENED !

    STOP YOUR FEARS, AMERICAN PEOPLE ! I had once an american supplier (Texas) who told me that he would have liked to visit Paris again but FEARED a terrorist move. COM’ON he has far far far more chance in dying in his car than by a bomb…

    FEAR IS AMERICA’S BEST FRIEND http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipujWRYUjS4

    Women can be scared anywhere, anytime, even in their own home but when nothing happens like it is the case here, just a polite invitation, there is no meaning of making a fuss about a talk, even if she could not “escape”. Escape what … her imagination ?

    MAN = potential rape / pedophilia nowadays. So, we hear cases where people don’t help young kids in a difficult situation on purpose, so as their help is not misinterpreted ! Com’on wake up ! This is becoming crazy.

    By the way, the elevator social space is a well known topic in social sciences. Everyone feels “strange” in a small elevator with an unknown person. If people understand French, they can have fun with this humourous sequence of the “Elevator situation” (with direct contact ! ) from Desproges. That’s a far better story than this one !

    http://www.funnyhumorclips.net/v/pierre-desproges-lascenseur_2076.html

  430. Sergio

    @Ron1 #343
    ——-
    Andrew, that’s exactly how I work it. Late at night I won’t enter an elevator if there is a woman in it by herself — I politely tell her I’ll wait for the next one because I know that my being there will make her uncomfortable.
    This is basic male/female etiquette that my wife and daughters drilled into my head a long time ago.
    ———

    I cant believe what Im reading. Someone actually advocating this form of extreme hypersensitivity, where every movement is questioned because it might offend someone. Are you going to lobby congress to make it illegal? Write letters to the President? No thanks. Be it about atheism or sexuality Im not going to police my thoughts and actions just because it might make someone uncomfortable. Lets get real here.

    Phil Plait is wrong and Richard Dawkins is right. This is not evidence of mysognism or sexism, just some clueless dude who struck out in a clumsy and stupid attempt to get laid. In the dating world awkward things WILL happen and people WILL be uncomfortable, and this does not apply only to women. Just because RW was made uncomfortable does not justify the ridiculous hysteria this has generated, and I frankly cant believe Im reading something else about it on Discoverblogs. The notion that “any unwelcome sexual advance is always inappropiate” is flat out ludicrous on its face. This is the real world, where some people want sex and others don’t – as long as no is taken for an answer there is nothing wrong.

    Im not surprised to hear this useless diatribe from Phil Plait – his “Dont be a dick” speech was lacking in substance just like this article. Get your heads out of the sand- the rational ones will be waiting in the real world.

  431. As someone said about 3,oo0 comments ago about making an advance without being creepy, it would come in the form of, “I really enjoyed your talk and hope we can talk tomorrow, perhaps at lunchtime.”

    A man getting onto an elevator with a lone woman is not doing harm but police safety advice is to step out of the elevator and take another one. He would be polite to say, “I’ll take the next one.” Because if she gets raped, she will be blamed for not getting off.

  432. My mother taught me that “there is a time and a place for everything”, but apparently some people didn’t get that lesson. Nighttime in a bar? Perfectly appropriate time to chat up a woman. If she tells you she’s not interested and you move on, then no harm no foul. Four hours later in the elevator? Seriously creepy, therefore you shouldn’t do it. This isn’t rocket science.

  433. DavidByron

    So… you are claiming it is sexist for a man to enter an elevator with a woman — or not immediately leave an elevator should the woman follow him inside? Is that your claim? I am asking because if that is your view then you are a sexist idiot. But it sure looks like its what you think.

    quote:
    “Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman”

    quote:
    “to a woman, being alone on that elevator with that man was a potential threat, and a serious one”

    This doesn’t seem to be the point of the woman in the video by the way. But her point seems equally sexist and idiotic. Her point appears t to be that men should never talk to women ever, because it is sexist.

  434. Spaceman Spiff @ 424

    But from what evidence I have before me — to say that “this was a potential sexual assault” is out of line.

    I was in Athens last month. I’m a large-ish guy and (while I’ve never been anywhere close to getting into a fight) am reasonably confident in my ability to handle myself.

    That said, when I got on the metro shortly after midnight (and walking around the neighborhood around the hotel at 2am), I made sure that I knew where my wallet was at every single moment (which was in my front pocket; a departure from how I usually walk around) and I was suspicious as hell of everyone. I’m certain that nearly everyone I came into contact with was just living their lives and most of them were really, really friendly. Everyone I talked to was awesome. But I was somewhere I wasn’t familiar with and in situations where the potential to be pickpocketed was significantly higher than it is in other situations. And I have no way to tell a potential pickpocket from someone who’s just going home from the bar, particularly in a country I’d never been to before.

    So I was on my guard.

    Rebecca didn’t even say she felt threatened, but she was in a situation where the possibility that she could be assaulted was increased (in an enclosed space that can be stopped and which you could potentially be restrained in, without the comfort of other people being in earshot and being propositioned by someone she’d never met), so it would be totally reasonable for red flags to be raised.

  435. Adam

    “The problem isn’t so much that the man made her feel uncomfortable, but that the man put Rebecca in a position where she could not tell if he posed a danger or not. ”

    I would put Rebecca in that same position if I simply walked into the elevator with her at 4am! The problem here is conflating his boorish (?) behavior with sexual assault.

    I don’t understand the comments that say “Why can’t you see he acted inconsiderately?”

    OK, so let’s grant (without knowing) that he acted inappropriately. That IS laughably meaningless next to the plight of oppressed women.

    Sometimes I get panhandled. Even as a guy, I sometimes get nervous about the remote possibility that the panhandler will stab me or do something insane. IMHO, my “problem” with that is close to nil next to the problems of oppressed women in third world countries.

  436. Pedro De Jesus

    @Adam

    There are actually crazypants in here that want us to never ride alone with women in elevators!

    I live in a 20 story apartment building in SF, how the hell am I going to get home about 50% of the time if I followed that rule.

    Its like there are Saudi agents pretending to be skeptics in here trying to socially engineer us into a Wahabi cultural norm.

  437. Andrew Wilson @ 430

    Even if he WAS only interested in sex, there is nothing wrong or creepy about asking her if she wants to have sex, even if it is the first thing he says, even it is 4AM and even if it is in a lift. He accepted her no answer. That is NOT creepy.

    To each their own, I suppose. That seems creepy to me. It seems like it would be potentially perceived as creepy, which would make me not do that as it seems like it would dramatically decrease the chances that the offer would be accepted, even if completely innocent.

    I also don’t as women whether they’d like to sleep with me after they help me load some furniture into a windowless van. I know that I’d never hurt anyone, but people I’ve never met might not know that and I’m not about to just assume that they’ll think that.

  438. Roger Scott

    I’m with Richard. We are most likely dealing with a male whose brain is lagging behind his hormones. In other words, verbally he was clumsy. I’ve been there myself. This does NOT mean a sexual assault was about to happen. This does NOT mean a sexual assault is about to happen. This does NOT mean a sexual assault will happen.

  439. Brian

    I think I figured out what bothers me about this situation. Every man is automatically assumed to be a sexual predator and treated as such, because some men are. There is a word for that: stereotyping. “I/someone I know/I heard someone was mugged by a black guy and now I treat all black guys as if they are going to mug me whenever I am alone with them.” How is that any different than how she treated the man in the elevator? Why is everyone justifying and defender her and berating the sort of behavior in the fictional situation?

  440. D

    Wow, I want to buy that unknown guy a drink. Here he is being denigrated all across the interwebtubes as a creep and boor, he has become some sort of posterchild for potential elevator rapists…

    and all he did was make the mistake of thinking that his time might be enjoyable to a woman…

    as if that were possible.

  441. Adam @ 434

    OK, so let’s grant (without knowing) that he acted inappropriately. That IS laughably meaningless next to the plight of oppressed women.

    Which is irrelevant, as her comments did not compare it to the plight of oppressed women. She said it made it uncomfortable, explained why, and appealed men to act in a way that wouldn’t come off as creepy and unnerving.

    There’s nothing unreasonable.

    Sometimes I get panhandled. Even as a guy, I sometimes get nervous about the remote possibility that the panhandler will stab me or do something insane.

    So, let’s say a guy followed you down an alleyway to ask you for a few dollars to get some gas because they’d run out and had left their wallet at home. You’d politely decline and view that as the end of it, and wouldn’t later, when discussing the incident, say that it made you uncomfortable and that you wished that people wouldn’t do that?

    Because that’s all RW did here.

  442. Andy

    I’m sad because I read this blog for the astronomy. But instead today I am reminded once again that just for being male I am a potential sexual predator. THIS is why I do not even look at women anymore. Talk? In an elevator!!?? This man shall hang!

  443. Seth

    Women, and men who understand them, please forgive me for being a clueless, ignorant male, who like many other males does not magically know exactly when my attempts to socialize with a woman will be well received. I am clearly just another one of those guys who “just doesn’t get it”. Since it would be unforgivable to risk causing any female to be even the slightest bit uncomfortable, I will refrain from speaking to and standing in close proximity with females until all you enlightened women and men get together and publish the complete, highly detailed, and case specific guide to acceptable social interactions that a young man such as myself is permitted to have with a female. I am sure that there will be no disagreement among enlightened individuals, or ambiguity whatsoever in this guide, because all women have exactly the same comfort zone. And of course, any male who disagrees just simply “doesn’t get it!”

  444. Thorsten

    @ 302. Greg Fish
    “Again, my point in Google-speak: don’t be creepy.”

    That’s fine but not the point. Anyway we probably never will know what really happend. Pro and contra-creepy hypotheses have been stated. With the facts given, even if I assume them for the moment, which seems ultimately unfair, I can’t decide which to favour.

    “No need to start epic flame wars over it.”

    That’s more to it, but – flames aside – the “war” has been started, but (in this case) not by Richard Dawkins.

    “That’s all.”

    Contrary, from here it starts. But why? One of the two persons did choose, not to resolve this among them, but bring it to a greater audience. With Dawkins I agree that this is hardly justified.

    I’ve read Watson’s explanation on this. As far as I understand, I fail feminism 101, and that’s that. No further explanation required. And she’s right in a way. I fail on purpose on her “feminism 101″. I don’t buy into the objectification vs. attraction dogma, after all I’m a materialist and women are objects as are men.

    Falling in love with each overs mind? Fine with me.

    Hot and steemy sex? Fine with me.

    Love and sex? Fine with me.

    One but not the other? Fine with me.

    Trading love for sex or sex for love? Fine with me.

    etc.

    Telling lies about these things is the nono.

    You see me as an object to satisify your urge? Fine with me. Just don’t lie to me about it. I’ll decide if I go along with it as your object.

  445. twirlgrl

    Greg Fish said “My issue is the whole “women are just paranoid”/”men are all rapists in waiting” discussion taking place.”

    I can only speak for myself but I would not be surprised if many others share my viewpoint that women have to calculate risk. If we were to use a 1 – 10 scale, for me, most men, most of the time are a 1 (I don’t think you are a threat but the bad guys look just like the good guys so I’ll just keep the potential in mind). If we are in a secluded area, such as an elevator alone, you go up to maybe a 3 solely because of the circumstances (at this point, I am making note of the location of the alarm button although I don’t expect I will need to use it). Most of the time, casual conversation is fine but if a woman doesn’t repond or gives one-word answers, leave her alone. If you ask me to go to your place/your room you’ve maybe gone up to a 5 (if you are actually a threat, this situation just got worse and I need to be prepared to think and move quickly). At that point, if you move closer or get loud or appear physically agitated, you shoot up to about an 8 or a 9 and I am genuinely afraid for my safety (and probably trying to get to my cell phone without you seeing while also considering what I might use as a weapon). I do not think all men are rapists but they are a potential danger (note – potential danger does not mean assumed or likely danger, rather, it means there is a need for caution in light of not knowing a particular man’s temperament and history). My perception of the level of threat you pose depends largely on your behavior.

  446. MarkW

    At this point, I’m starting to wonder whether Dawkins himself is Creepy Elevator Guy. It’s the only thing I can think of that explains his defence of the idiot.

  447. I’ve only read about half the comments, so this may have been beaten to death in the other half already, but I really wanted to emphasize what Paul said:

    “I know it’s a stretch, but what if the person in the elevator was a white man being asked for spare change by a black man? Would they be justified in sending a message to all black men asking them to refrain from this, due to fear of mugging?”

    That’s the first thing I thought, as well. There’s a slightly higher percentage of black people convicted of violent felonies than white people. Surely this means we should treat them like this, too?

    Like Dawkins, I’m a white male, but I still think there are some major logical flaws in the original ‘potential assault’ comments as well as Phil’s post. While I can certainly sympathize with the woman in the elevator, that does not necessarily mean that Dawkins was wrong. It’s an unfortunate feature of our society that she is afraid; nonetheless, the man has every right to be there and does not deserve this reaction, nor should all women be treated as if they are continually in need of protection and gentleness. It demeans both sexes. The situation that arose is indicative of societal problems indeed, but the criticism is being directed in all the wrong directions.

    Elevator-man might not have been the most tactful guy in the world. If this was only about giving a etiquette tip, it’d be fine, but it isn’t.

  448. @murphspot

    I think the thing that I find a bit depressing, to be honest is that people still have this 1950′s false notion that women aren’t as interested in sex as men. They are! Even anonymous sex in strange hotels.

    I’m not saying that all women will want sex, if only you could get the right chat up line. However, some women are interested in that kind of sex, but he would never have known unless he asked.

    I still think that asking was the only real honest thing he could do. At least his intentions were made known rather than him leering at her from the corner of the lift and probably creeping her out even more!

  449. poodles

    I’m sort of with you but the way you KEEP repeating that it’s a POTENTIAL ASSAULT SCENARIO strikes me as overblown. Every situation in life where a man and a woman (or really any two people) is a potential something. Dawkins wasn’t there, but you weren’t either. This is getting too much ink.

  450. Ryan

    Sorry Phil but you are off base on this one. You say ” a potential sexual assault” Hold on there cowboy. This wasn’t an “a potential sexual assault”. No where near.

    If society has gotten to the point where a man asking a women for coffee is ” a potential sexual assault” than things are pretty messed up.

    He asked, she said no, he left. End of story. She talked about how it made her feel and she should be able to without people attacking her. But to attack people who disagree is wrong.

    People ask other people for dates all the time. There is nothing wrong with that. If men can’t ask women on dates how should it be done? Or do we need to carry around flow charts?

  451. Andy Beaton

    It makes me sad and tired to see my fellow guys weeping and wailing that they can never talk to women again because someone has pointed out that it’s creepy and threatening to proposition someone when you’re alone in an elevator at 4AM.

    Come on guys! Did your fathers never tell you how to behave like a gentleman and not a creep?

  452. wolfe

    I’m sorry, was hitting on someone in an elevator socially awkward? Did it show a lack of planning and knowledge of western social protocol? Yes and Yes.

    But potential rape? I’m sorry, but if thats the measuring stick we are using then any human communication is potential rape. Hide your kids, hide yours wives, I guess.

    Yes, bad things happen and rape is inhuman and atrocious but pretending every man in existence is a barely caged rape machine is just as offensive as objectifying every woman as a sex object. And it is done far too often.

    That being said, who ask a woman out alone on an elevator? Seriously. Bad form.

  453. Ray

    A man spoke to a woman in an elevator. THAT IS ALL. We males are not the violent, souless monsters some would make of us.

  454. man

    We get it. Men are all predators. Women are all victims. *yawn* Asking a woman over for coffee means sex is if that is how you take it, or if that’s what a particular man “means.” It gets tiring listening to certain people who feel ‘entitled’ spew their victim crap. Without man-woman interaction the human race would just cease to exist.

  455. @Andy Beaton:

    ” … Come on guys! Did your fathers never tell you how to behave like a gentleman and not a creep? … ”

    Yes, which is why he asked her, accepted her no answer and left it at that!

  456. Scenario_dave

    I agree with Rebecca that the situation was really creepy and potentially dangerous. The guy was either totally clueless or totally sexist. If he had said something like “I liked your speech or can we get together tomorrow?”, it would have been fine. Asking her for sex without any prior conversation, in an enclosed area, late at night is creepy. There was also probably an element of sexism there although he might just just be clueless with everyone. I don’t think there is enough evidence to prove that he hates women. I feel that it was very reasonable for Rebecca to feel threatened.

    I think there are two questions here, perception of danger and where do we draw the line?

    I think about the bar scene in Animal House where the black guys say “Do you mind if we dance with your dates? ” They didn’t say anything wrong but the guys perceived they were being threatened. Was it reasonable for them to feel threatened in this situation?

    Another thing I think about is the story about Michele Bachman. After she gave a speech, she was confronted by two middle aged lesbian women in the ladies room. They didn’t say anything threatening but because she was in an enclosed place with women that she considered threatening, she screamed for the police. Most of the comments I read about the incident laughed at her. She perceived that she was being threatened but most of the comments I’ve read about the situation feel that she was silly . (This question isn’t about her politics, which I hate, but her perception of danger.)

    Where is the line? Where it is reasonable to feel threatened to where it is unreasonable to feel threatened?

  457. Andrew Hackard

    Behavior that might be acceptable, if unwelcome, in a hotel bar becomes threatening when it’s in an elevator from which there is only one exit and there are no witnesses and no place to go where the other person can’t get to you.

    The utter failure by some to concede that Setting Matters is disheartening.

    Was the guy a potential predator? Almost certainly not. I’d say the odds are very high that he simply saw a chance, figured he wasn’t likely to get another, and made his pitch. Clueless, not malicious. That doesn’t mean that Rebecca’s reaction is any less valid, however — because there’s no way she can tell the clueless dweeb from the predator just based on the opening salvo in an elevator.

  458. Alex

    @Andy Beaton – you used the G-word. It’s my belief that the entire concept of gentlemanliness is holding men back from being happy and looking after our own needs while simultaneously treating women like delicate flowers with no minds of their own.

    I’m not actually advocating propositioning women at 4am in an elevator, only that the assumption that he was going to assault her speaks very loudly of how our society views men.

    Both people here are human beings, not just the woman.

  459. Christopher Ambler

    A “potential” rape scenario?

    Gee, and here I thought this was a country where you’re innocent until proven guilty.

    By this logic, every time I get in the car I’m a potential vehicular homicide waiting to happen. Better take my license now before I hurt someone.

  460. Steve

    Point 1, the guy was a cad asking for a date in an elevator late at night. It’s better if you get to know someone first before inviting them into your room.

    Point 2, Dawkins still has a point – who has the bigger “cross to bear” here? Many women around the world suffer greatly still. Being a cad is not a crime.

    One final point to consider – had he asked the same question to a Muslim woman in an elevator, he probably would have had his testicles removed by one of her male family members. Life is different in the desert.

  461. twirlgrl

    @Alex #457 – No one has said or even assumed that the guy was going to assault her only the he could assault her. You are making this into something it’s not.

  462. Phil, some of us aren’t as clueless and feminists paint us. Some of us aren’t abusing our privilege.

    Some of us are wondering how an uncomfortable situation talked briefly about exploded into a feminist rage-fest about everything that was wrong about atheist and skeptical men.

    And there are three parts to this story. The first part is the man I would hate to be from the elevator. The second part is the response from a student blogger. The third part is the unfair public shaming of that blogger for daring to have an opinion that differed from Rebecca’s.

    Really at this point the elevator incident is the past. What is current is the amount of rage from feminists and allies pointed at men and women who dare not agree. It’s a double standard when those same feminists and allies tell men to stop whining about their circumcision because there’s women somewhere in the world getting their genitals mutilated.

    But what do I know, that’s just the privileged white guy talking, so all the feminists can ignore any arguments that don’t agree with your own. It’s funny that when a privileged white guy bears the feminist standard he’s held up as a saint.

    …and now I’m probably going to be kicked off this blog as well.

  463. Andy Beaton

    @Andrew Wilson: “Yes, which is why he asked her, accepted her no answer and left it at that!”

    Where I come from, a proposition from a stranger at 4AM, alone in an elevator has crossed the line into creepy. It was the wrong time and place to ask.

  464. stellar.vore

    I don’t think Dawkins was being sexist. I am woman and I always tell men that they can’t imagine how hard it is to walk on the streets at night or at desert place without the fear of being raped. I hate sexism. I think people overreacted too much on this elevator situation. It’s obvious the guy was searching for sex, I would feel pretty disgusted by this kind of invite (4am at the elevator) too , but not to the point of the idea “all men are sexual predators”. Anyway, Rebecca showed a lesson on how not to treat a woman, we hope some guys learn it.

  465. twirlgrl

    @ Christopher Amber #458

    “A “potential” rape scenario?

    Gee, and here I thought this was a country where you’re innocent until proven guilty.

    By this logic, every time I get in the car I’m a potential vehicular homicide waiting to happen. Better take my license now before I hurt someone.”

    You are a potential perpetrator of vehicular homicide. That is why people wear seat belts and look both ways. We don’t take your license away, we just take steps to reduce the risk and/or damage.

    If you are driving erratically, you become a higher risk and I would slow down or pull over to avoid you.

  466. Father Time

    “Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent.”

    And you know this is true for every women … how?

    “There’s no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and that’s unacceptable. ”

    You said it yourself he could’ve had noble intentions. You can’t assume he was a predator just because he invited her for coffee. In fact I’d go as far as to say that naturally assuming that men are predators is pretty sexist. He could’ve been an insomniac for all we know.

  467. Confused

    My wife has made it very clear that saying she is very tired and going to bed does not mean she doesn’t want to have sex. And I have made it very clear that grabbing her ass in bed does mean I do want to have sex. And yet, we neither have sex every time she goes to bed, nor every time I grab her ass in bed. And for some reason when we have sex she never screams, “Oh god I love your mind!!!”

    Obviously I am very confused about how this is supposed to work.

  468. benji

    @Shawmutt

    “It’s a double standard when those same feminists and allies tell men to stop whining about their circumcision because there’s women somewhere in the world getting their genitals mutilated.”

    Who does that??? I want an example, I think it’s very interesting if it’s true. + Good post.

  469. IW

    The problem here is that this is not a conversation. It’s one person crying foul and a host of others crying foul on anyone who disagrees with that person no matter what the nature of the disagreement is.

    If you seriously think that there can be a conversation about a relationship when one party is forcibly excluded from the conversation because they’re instantly shouted down as “mansplainers” (or whatever the latest put-down is) no matter what they try to contribute, then you’re delusional, period.

    You cannot fix the problem of a pendulum having been too far, for too long, in one direction by demanding that it be forced in the other direction and kept there no matter what. The only rational solution is to center the pendulum and keep it there.

    It seems to me that this is what Dawkins was trying to do. His comment was entirely in keeping with his rational approach to life and I don’t doubt that it was posted in an attempt to inject some rationality into what’s lamentably become a completely irrational response.

    If we’re going to cry “Rape!” when someone merely asks someone else back for coffee *and nothing else happens* then what are we going to call actual rape? Murder? So then what are we going to call actual murder?

    Are we now insisting that boys be restrained at all times, but girls need show no restraint in how they subsequently portray events?

    The shameless devaluation of those who actually are raped, by this Hollywood blockbuster approach to what happened, is disgusting. It would seem obvious that that’s the point Dawkins was making. The fact that it’s not obvious to all-too-many others is an issue that’s being conveniently swept under the rug whilst we continue to get as much mileage as we can out of discomfort masquerading as tragedy.

    Yes, it was an awful situation which should never have happened, but over-reaction, misrepresentation, and shouting down those who have the temerity to disagree with what’s all-too-rapidly becoming the new status quo is not going to fix it. It’s not going to fix anything. It’s going to make things worse.

    Sadly, I see little hope of rationally approaching a solution which will benefit both sides when we’re so myopically focused on what will make one person’s hurt feelings go away.

    Rest assured that angrily telling one party that they’re hopelessly wrong no matter what they do, say, think, or feel isn’t going to solve anything.

  470. Father Time

    “Put even more simply: this wasn’t a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.”

    So being alone in the room with any man is a potential sexual assault?

    By that logic being alone with ANYONE is a potential murder or a potential robbery, or hell a potential rape.

  471. President for Life

    So there are 336 comments above me, and I’m not sure whether any of them address something that is really important here – which is that people grow and learn from experience. Yes, men start out callow and clueless in the ways of the world (I’m a man and in retrospect, I know that I said and did things in my late teens that probably were completely creepy to women around me), but we learn, as do all human beings, from engaging with the world and being open and understanding of other people’s experiences. For me the real question is not “was the dude in the elevator really a potential rapist” – which is beside the point – but rather “how can everybody learn to better appreciate what it means to live a life that is deeply respectful of other people, all the time”, and hence “how can boys and young men (for I was one once, after all) be educated to truly respect and appreciate the points of view of those who are different from them?”

    The thing that ought to truly embarass Prof Dawkins, and which he probably cannot bring himself to admit, is that he reached the age of 70 without achieving enough worldly experience to understand that propositioning strangers after midnight in elevators is a little creepy.

    Peace out

  472. shams

    It took me a moment to parse this. He was being sarcastic, obviously, but he wasn’t talking to someone specifically; he was using a rhetorical tool of speaking to an imaginary person. So he is saying to a generic Muslim woman, you think you have problems, why, Rebecca was hit on in an elevator! How horrible!

    im still unable to parse that.
    umm. im an amerimuslimah and i don’t get all the shariah law references Dawkins worked into his rebuttals.
    I would have just told the guy to step on.
    is Rebecca Watson a closet muslimah perhaps?

    In a majority muslim nation a single young female would probably not be alone in an elevator with a creeper in the first place. And in america, like i said, we would just tell the creep to step on.
    I think Rebecca’s viewpoint is useful for guys that want to hit on high IQ sensitive types in elevators, but other than that, not so much. Not 400+ comments much.

    But what exactly is Dawkins saying? Because muslim women have no rights american women can’t complain?
    Is it possible that Dawkins is just cuckoo-bananas about al-Islam like most westerners?
    I need a translation.

  473. Black man

    In a fashion similar to above, can a white male please outline what ways of communication are acceptable for me, a black male, to speak to him such that he is not made uncomfortable? I really don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings and surely don’t want my mere presence in an elevator or me walking down the street to cause unpleasantry.

  474. @Andy Beaton:
    ” … Where I come from, a proposition from a stranger at 4AM, alone in an elevator has crossed the line into creepy. It was the wrong time and place to ask. … ”

    Where you come from, how do people proposition each other for anonymous, meaningless sex then?

    I suspect, even where you come from, a tipsy, 4am proposition in a lift, away from home, at a conference, in a foreign country is probably the usual way.

  475. Carl

    The dichotomy I’m seeing is between empathy for feelings and intolerance for physical abuse.

    Dawkins certainly has the latter but not so much for the former.

    BA is hitting the points of both.

    Dawkins’ perspective, intolerance for physical abuse, is the minimum standard. To the degree there is empathy for feelings, and thus a different behavior in the elevator by the gentleman, is well above this minimum.

  476. Alex

    @twirlgrl – Again, that’s not how this article reads.

    @shawnmutt – I have heard that argument from feminists in various forums many times. Ritual circumcision only matters when it’s happening to girls. It’s too messed up a viewpoint to even talk to the people who hold it.

  477. Father Time

    “You don’t have people constantly explaining that you’re subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal.”

    Are you kidding? I can’t count the number of times men are protrayed as unthinking brutes who only care about sex and have no real intellect otherwise.

    “You don’t live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road.”

    Is she saying that men are never raped? What an incredibly ignorant statement.

  478. wiffle

    Perhaps she should wear a burka, that would stop men talking to her.

  479. JJ (the other one)

    @ 461 shawmutt:

    You can climb that cross if you want but begging for nails is just tacky.

    444 Andy said:

    “I’m sad because I read this blog for the astronomy. But instead today I am reminded once again that just for being male I am a potential sexual predator.”

    Really, this reminded you of yourself, of your social identity? Why, because you’re the kind of guy that propositions strangers for sex in hotel elevators @ 4 AM?

  480. Digital Atheist

    Bomb throwing time: why is it that men get to be labeled as potential rapists if they even go out the same door as a woman… or get on the elevator? Why do women get to avoid registering with Selective Service (draft board) when they turn 18? Double standards exist and go both ways.

  481. Lucas J

    Dawkins is right on the money. I’m sorry, but equating an unwanted advance to sexism is colossally stupid. Claiming that this was “a potential sexual assault” is colossally stupid. I thought atheists and skeptics were more rational than this. This kind of black and white thinking is absolutely absurd.

    A man asked her to get coffee. She declined. End of story. There is nothing sexist about politely asking a woman to get coffee. You can view it as being creepy given the circumstances, but sexist? Potential sexual assault? Are you serious? If there’s any sexism at all in this situation, you’ve clearly got it backwards.

  482. Chronos

    Here’s something that occurred to me (a heterosexual white man) around 15 years ago:

    I was coming back home after a fairly lenghty trip and the taxi driver was fairly chatty guy. I’m generally not much of a person for small talk but chatted away nonetheless.

    When we almost got home, the driver told me: “Don’t take this the wrong way… but you’re the nicest looking person I’ve picked up all day.”

    I replied: “Thanks” while thinking: “Okay, that was a little strange. Hopefully he’s just looking for a good tip? Is this some cultural misunderstanding?”.

    We arrived at my house. I paid the driver. As I was removing my seat belt, I heard the click of the car doors locking… at which point my mind started racing….

    The driver sighed, turned around, and placed his hand on my inner thigh and started to lightly stroke it. At this point, I’m wondering if I’d be able to fight my way out of this considering the driver did have a size advantage over me. (Let’s not forget that at this point, he also knows where I live).

    He asked me a question but it didn’t register as I was frantically thinking of an escape route… I replied: “No” as flatly as possible.

    The driver turned away, unlocked the door, I gathered my things and went home in a daze…

    I blurted out what happened to my roommate, who I had to stop from trying to confront the guy (the cab was long gone anyway). I debated calling the taxi company to report this incident. I contacted my numerous acquaintances to ask them if I am somehow sending out false signals.

    It took me a couple of weeks or so before I would get into another cab, even then it might have taken me another several months before I felt comfortable enough to hop into a cab without looking at who was driving (alone or with my girlfriend).

    I don’t like revisiting that memory, but it does help me empathize with this scenario.

    I reasoned that the driver was probably honest in his intentions (or maybe wanted to offer some sort of premium services). Had the proposition occured in another context (i.e. while I was safely out of the cab with my luggage), it might have been a fun little anecdote. Switch the context to being trapped inside the back seat of a car with the child proof locks and it takes on a whole new meaning.

    I’m certain that Elevator Guy probably had honest intentions, hell, maybe he was just offering coffee, maybe he was nervous and said the first thing that popped into his head. I can sympathize with that.

    However, I also empathize with Rebecca and for her to say: “Guys. Don’t approach a woman in an elevator at 4am and ask to go to your room. It’s creepy”.

    A general rule of thumb for me is:
    Would I appreciate being approached in the same way by a person twice my size with the same level of relantionship in this context?

    Even with all of the above, I might still need a reminder from time to time as, being happily married, my interactions with other women are generally innocent so I might not always see how they might be misinterpreted.

  483. nnaylime

    In 1996, I was a naiive college student who accepted the seemingly innocent invitation from a young man who invited me back to his room because he had book related to his field of study. I had to fight my way out as his room locked with a key on both sides.

    When I talked about that experience later, both men and women (including the school officials to whom I reported the incident) criticized me for not knowing that OBVIOUSLY men don’t invite women back to their rooms for innocent purposes, and by accepting the invitation I was giving him a tacit invitation to do whatever he wanted.

    It’s therefor painful to me to see people are now criticizing Skepchick for drawing the very conclusion that I was criticized for failing to draw–nevermind the closed environment in which the invitation was offered (I’ve since been taught in rape prevention classes just how dangerous elevators are–and that women should always stand next to the button panel in order to remain in “control” in that otherwise closed and vulnerable environment).

    I appreciate your willingness to discuss this–it *is* a serious issue – and understanding what led to her discomfort will help the dialogue and perhaps (though I may be naiive in believing so) lead to fewer such instances in the future.

  484. Jeffersonian

    I must be out of the loop. When I’ve invited women up for a drink, I’ve always meant it literally. (This man stated “don’t take this the wrong way” and yet many people are insisting on taking it the “wrong” way. It’s not up to passers-by to evaluate and second-guess what happened to Watson, it’s up to her. Nobody else has all the facts).

    I appreciate hearing Watson’s POV and there’s some take-away learning available in the anecdote. That’s what I can do with the info she presented.

    sidenote re: The amount of people who believe that some humans do not engage in and enjoy random sex with strangers (at conferences or wherever) – I find that oddly naive. Almost as odd as the woman/man who self-elects to speak for all women/men on the planet.

  485. Oh hell, Dawkins. That’s so disappointing.

    One step forward, so many steps back. It’s sad to even read.

  486. Spaceman Spiff

    @#436. murphspot

    I don’t disagree with anything you said. So I am unsure of the point you’re trying to make. Human reactions to situations (like being on one’s guard, having red flags raised, etc) are natural — and individual. Ineffective verbal communication by a clumsy clod shouldn’t lead to the conclusion regarding “potential” sexual assault, at least not from the facts thus far presented. Sexual assault is a felony.

    And I will also second #348. Kitty. Spot on.

  487. I have been thinking about this squeamishness amongst the athesit/skeptic crowd over sex.

    I suppose most atheists/skeptics (myself included) have originally come from a fairly religious background and religion’s squeamishness about sex is the last thing to disappear from the brainwashed mind.

  488. Nonsense, Phil. Pure nonsense. Don’t cloak your argument in gallingly condescending terms. Say what you mean. Don’t pretend that there’s some magical “it” that you and other ever-so-enlightened men “get”, some “it” that other men (and some women, myself included) are supposedly too “privileged” or “clueless” to “get”. There’s not. This isn’t about that at all. This is about attempting to silence anyone who dares to dissent. This is about bullying those who disagree with your take on this issue. Many of us, Dawkins included, happen to disagree with your take. We dissent. And attempting to silence dissenters, to bully them into silence for fear that they’ll be labelled a misogynist (or worse) if they speak their mind, is a completely dickish thing to do. This entire episode is going to make dissenters even more reluctant to speak their minds in the future, as we’ve now seen the condescending and vicious invective that is heaped upon those who do dare to dissent. And anyone who wants a skeptic/atheist movement that promotes reasonable, rational, mature, respectful, and productive discourse and that encourages dissent, disagreement, and a variety of viewpoints should find that very troubling indeed.

  489. armpit hairy

    CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE! there are rapists behind every bush. in fact, women are terrified to the point of urinating even in an empty elevator. who knows when that hatch at the top could be pulled off and a crazy rapist leaps down and crazily rapes away.

    did you know 6 out of 6 women will be brutally raped to death at some point in their lives? five women are raped every nanosecond. by the time you finish reading this post, all the women in the world were raped at knifepoint. tsk. bet your patriarchy blinded you to those simple facts didn’t it.

  490. Read her response

    It is quite apparent that Dr. Dawkins does not understand where she is coming from because he is a privileged white male. Therefore, his opinions on feminism dont matter because he is a male. I actually agree with this in a Sam Harris-esque way, some people’s opinions simply do not matter. However this makes me wonder why we listen to a young lady talk about science and skepticism when she graduated with a communications degree? Dr. Dawkins should stick to science and Miss Watson should stick to communications. The world would be a much better place.

  491. AJ

    Hmmm, how to say this without sounding like too much of a creep myself…

    The potential for sexual assault did not change because the man opened his mouth and made the invitation to diddle back at his place. What did change was that Rebecca was reminded that she was indeed on an elevator @ 4am alone with a strange man who may or may not be a threat.

    We can argue back an fourth about proper etiquette, and perceived creepiness vs liberated honesty in the age of Aquarius, yadda yadda… but those would be arguments about perceptions.

    I thought the folks here would be more concerned about root facts in this situation to inform all sides. Yes, I do understand RW’s discomfort as a fact of the situation to be honored and recognized, but not a fact regarding level of threat.

  492. Read her response

    Also, Miss Watson is a white female, why on earth does she think that she has the qualifications to judge a privileged white male? She is doing the exact same thing Dr. Dawkins did, making sweeping generalizations about something that she isn’t and will never be able to understand (unless she gets a Y chromosome somehow, of course).

  493. Grand Lunar

    I think the issue with Dawkins is a matter of perspective.
    He might not see what Rebecca went through as anything signifigent, others will see the potential for harm.

    Perhaps religon’s effect on women seems trivial to an event in an elevator to him.

    I’m just guessing.

    I do see the potential for harm that might have happened, though I see it as “no harm, no foul” in Rebecca’s case.
    Had it escalated, that would be a different story.

  494. JJ (the other one)

    466 Andrew Wilson said:

    “Where you come from, how do people proposition each other for anonymous, meaningless sex then?”

    If you were to ask a stranger this, without any context or understanding of this issue, I wonder how many places they would list BEFORE a hotel elevator @ 4 AM with no one else around …

  495. benji, the thread is on Pharyngula, the least abrasive of these comments is:

    “It is still not the same, dimwit. Boys get the procedure only days after birth; most girls are older and fully conscious of what’s happening to them. Outside of the Jewish tradition, most boys circumcised in the West have the procedure in a hospital, with highly trained staff, and state of the art equipment and procedures. Most FGMs occur on the likes of a kitchen table with questionable instruments and folk practitioners who aren’t licensed, with training that is abysmal at best.

    But go ahead and keep whining about how terrible you boys have it and how nobody cares about poor widdle boy diddums, when most people on here have expressed their opposition to the procedure right here.

    It doesn’t have to be about you all the time, anyway, you know.”

    Ironically this comment was made by the same person who was VERY vocal in other threads about Mr. Dawkin’s supposed gaffe. I repeat, this was the more family friendly one I could find, it gets worse but if you want to read it all you can Google some of the phrases in the quote.

  496. Kai Teorn

    I’d say that _either_ Dawkins “has a long way to go” _or_ he’s actually gone way ahead of us. I’d say it’s more likely the latter.

    Yes, he was insensitive in this specific case, and yes, in our current age and culture it wasn’t exactly nice of that guy to make such an offer in an elevator. But let’s ask ourselves a question: what we, as rational moral beings, would rather prefer: World No 1 where it is prohibited, by law or tradition or whatever, for males to make such “elevator offers” to females; or World No 2 where such offers are totally fine because it would not even occur to anyone that things like rape, violence, aggression are possible – thinkable?

    I don’t know about you but I would take World No 2 any minute. And I sincerely hope that our poor world, in 200 or 2000 or 20000 years, will evolve to that state. So why would I be mad at a 70-year old biologist whose knowledge of current societal practices might be limited and who might not be the most compassionate being, but who evidently made his remark due to mistaking our world for World No 2?

  497. Spaceman Spiff @472

    I don’t disagree with anything you said. So I am unsure of the point you’re trying to make.

    My point was more generally aimed at those who seem astonished at the fact that this situation could potentially be viewed as threatening, and are defending this as “a simple question that was refused, and the refusal accepted” rather than “incredibly clumsy and pretty certain to be viewed as creepy.”

    It’s only a “potential assault” in the same sense that I viewed everyone I didn’t know as a potential pickpocket. It’s exceedingly unlikely, but to completely turn off the little alarm in the back of my head would have probably been a stupid thing to do. Likewise, this guy should have realized that while he might have been making an innocent request (to get some coffee), the context made the request inappropriate.

  498. Regner Trampedach

    Can I assume that all the men(!) thinking that Rebecca Wattson and Phil Plait are stupid on this subject, would act exactly like the guy in that elevator?
    Well two things:
    A) Phil’s “potential sexual assault” statement refers to the fact that any women (without a black belt in karate) would have to interpret that sitation as a “potential sexual assault” – for their own safety. This is a point I myself, only realized about seven years ago, and I was shocked when I found out. This is not to be taken lightly and for Rebecca to bring it up is highly commendable – some of the comments here, are pretty scary, though – Dawkin’s too…
    B) The point many commenters make about violence against males being more common – well, that might be. But first of all, much violence against women (often by relatives!) goes unreported. More importantly, you can most often avoid male-male violence by avoiding bad neighborhoods and by not flipping off huge, mean-looking guys.
    Something most sensible people wouldn’t do for that same reason. Women don’t have the luxury to easily avoid their main threat.
    C) For those of you trivializing the incident as “man meets women in elevator”,
    try to read the account again and please improve a bit on your reading comprehension.
    Eric B @ 284: Come on. It was a simple situation that should have set off alarm bells in any women (Please see my point C). For you to question her account, and to pull out the “women are so emotional” trump card is beyond pathetic. If you read her account, and believed her as you would believe your male friends, then you would see nothing particularely emotional about her response – it seems rather rational to me.
    Cheers, Regner

  499. Andy Beaton

    @Andrew Wilson:”Where you come from, how do people proposition each other for anonymous, meaningless sex then?

    I suspect, even where you come from, a tipsy, 4am proposition in a lift, away from home, at a conference, in a foreign country is probably the usual way.”

    You ask her in the bar three hours earlier, long before she says she wants to go to sleep and leaves to go to her room. Somewhere where she can get away from you if you inadvertently drool while speaking. Maybe after you’ve put some effort into conversing with her. Maybe after she’s given a few subtle signals (smiling at you? hair-twirling? touching? erotic moaning?) that would indicate your advances would not be unwelcome. Something, perhaps, a bit more suave and sophisticated than the corner lurk, the stalk and the 4AM pounce and cold proposition when she’s alone in an enclosed space.

  500. @JJ (the other one)

    People don’t decide where or when to have anonymous, meaningless sex. That’s kind of the point of it!

  501. TTfearalot

    From Dawkins I didn’t expect anything else. From you, Phil, I expected a lot more. Minority Report.

  502. MB

    One word that stands out in this debacle is “potential” – a *potential* sexual assault. Pretty much any situation could be a *potential* assault. What’s next, I can’t help my elderly neighbor with her shopping because it could be a potential assault? That’s sad.

    I understand if she felt uncomfortable about the situation, that’s fair enough. Explaining to guys how to avoid making women feel uncomfortable, also fine. But getting all up in arms about how it could have potentially been a lot worse?

  503. Thorsten

    @ 356. Keith Bowden

    So let me get this right. In a perfect world, one could directly ask for sex without being considered creepy. But this isn’t, so I can’t. Let’s assume elevator dude did this with his remarks. So maybe he was of the wrong opinion, that this is the perfect world, or close. After all was’nt this at a party of selfproclaimed rationalists? So he is now a sort of a hero? Breaker of the last taboo at the rationalist conference? “He spoke truth to the opressive power of social convention! Let’s crucify him!”

    Maybe 350. Varsil has a point.

  504. @Andrew Wilson, the more of your posts I read, the more I am convinced you are a troll. If you are not, you are seriously misguided. Do you honestly believe, that just because we are atheists/skeptics, that that gives us the right to approach another person and ask for anonymous, meaningless sex anywhere at any time? You cannot be that deluded? If I were to proposition someone for anonymous sex, I would at least have the courtesy of buying them a drink first, and at least five minutes of conversation!

  505. Sheldon

    If we’re going to start creating different elevator rules for men and women, perhaps we should create them based upon race as well?

    After all, many White people are intimidated by Black men. Should we tell Black men to wait until all of the White folks have left the elevator before using it? Maybe we should just create different elevators for White men, White women, Black men, Black women, etc.?

    This is such an easy bandwagon to jump on when it’s couched in such a spooky way. If Rebecca felt intimidated, I’ll take her at her word. After all, I wasn’t there. But, as Dawkins pointed out, she could have easily gotten off at the next floor (only moments away). And we have no way of knowing whether she was actually in any danger (apparently she wasn’t), so how about we all calm down and stop using terms like “potential sexual assault”? That’s like saying “all men are potential rapists,” as some early Feminist sociologists were fond of saying.

    By the way, I took exception to the statement, “I can understand that it’s hard for men to truly grasp the woman’s point of view here, since men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault.” Need I remind you that there are, in fact, gay men in the world? And they DO sometimes feel in danger of sexual assault. It may have been more accurate to say that men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault FROM WOMEN.

    Oh well, hopefully two good things will come out of this incident. First, it might dissuade some of you from continuing to pray at the alter of the Almighty Dawkins. (I love his books, but he has quite a “holier than thou” attitude at these conventions.) And second, maybe some of you will think twice about your “boobquake” talk and “sexy Skeptic posters”? If you continue to sexualize these conventions and the movement in general, don’t be surprised if people start feeling intimidated by each other and see sexual assault everywhere they look.

  506. Messier Tidy Upper

    My reaction to all this is :

    Oh Richard Dawkins! Don’t be such a stubborn, wilfully ignorant fool . :-(
    Please. You’re better than that. Much smarter. Usually. Nobody’s perfect, we’re all fallible human apes and, heck, I’ve messed things up often enough that I can understand where you’re coming from but, please Richard Dawkins, think a bit more and, please, have the decency to apologise to Rebecca Watson. You are in the wrong here and pointing out other, admittedly *far* worse, wrongs by others doesn’t make you any righter or better.

    As for the original Elevator Guy (EG) incident – Just one word folks :

    Consideration

    As in show some to others along with some basic respect and manners.

    Dude, if you wanna get with a girl just try for a second to think – to consider – how she might feel and what she might want.

    An elevator at 4 a.m. is NOT the place especially when she doesn’t know you very, *very* well and has already said she’s sleepy and wants to go to bed. Alone. To sleep. Only sleep. Not metaphorically.

    Women *do* get raped in elevators and there *is* good reason for them to call males out on being creepy and to be worried by people who act as EG did – and to say “Now hang on a minute!” to those who defend EG’s conduct as Dawkins did. Period.

    Could it be EG was just a socially clueless and totally thoughtless but utterly harmless drunk /overtired putz who wasn’t thinking and blurted out the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place out of good feelings? Could it have been that his intentions were not sexual and he really only wanted a chat and coffee – well, at that hour that’s *really* implausible but theoretically possible. Equally, for all RW knew could he have been a potential rapist? Yes. Duh!

    Dudes you do NOT do what that guy did.

    It’s bad form, it is a sexist way of thinking because you are ignoring and thus disrespecting the thoughts and feelings of the person you’re trying to woo, selfishly putting your own sexual desires above their wishes and sensitivities. It’s creepy and bad manners and just a bad approach.

    Is that really so hard and such a horrible thing to say? How is that a controversial thing for Rebecca Watson to calmly and reasonably point out?

    Has our culture fallen that low and got that sexist where this is even an issue? Obviously it must have and that like RD’s digginghimself ever deeper disappoints and saddens me.

    Rebecca Watson has the right to express how she sees things and to put her viewpoint across. Her doing so is, I think, entirely legitimate and fair enough. We need to listen to her and respect what she says and how she feels.

    He was wrong, Dawkin’s was wrong, you need to respect women and NOT do things that will inevitably make them feel threatened or uncomfortable.

    Moreover, when women tell us stuff about how their lives are different to ours in ways we cannot experience (well NOT with the very serious surgical procedure of gender reassignment and even then that’s just not the same!) how things make them feel listen and respect what they say as legitimate as they see it! That’s being considerate, being a gentleman, being a worthwhile human being.

    For pity’s sake, how the blazes is any of that difficult to comprehend or do?

    Oh & I’m a bloke – and I consider myself a feminist of sorts too.

    ***

    Whoah! Over 480 comments on this topic here already! Yegods! :-o

  507. Jeffersonian @ 471

    sidenote re: The amount of people who believe that some humans do not engage in and enjoy random sex with strangers (at conferences or wherever) – I find that oddly naive.

    They do indeed, and more power to them. One of the risks of doing that, though, is that you might proposition someone who won’t appreciate your advances and you’ll come off as creepy. And that person might post a video about the experience asking other guys not to do that.

    It’s a risk.

  508. hacksoncode

    I think the point here is not that she shouldn’t have been afraid, it’s what some people have historically done to “solve” this problem in the past. The Muslim segregation of women is one extreme example.

    Expecting that we’re ever going to live in a fantasy world where men don’t ask women for sex and pontificating that they shouldn’t isn’t doing anything at all real about the problem, such as it is. Any real “solution” to that “problem” is going to be far, far worse than the disease itself.

    If we ever want to get to a world where women are equal to men, we’re can only get there by treating them equally. There’s really no way around that. Perhaps that’s not a worthwhile goal, but again, the alternatives aren’t pleasant.

  509. QuietDesperation

    Even as a guy, I sometimes get nervous about the remote possibility that the panhandler will stab me or do something insane.

    Oh, I went off on a guy like that once. Never once even thought about safety.

    He asked for my change when I left a 7-11, and I honestly didn’t have any. I had a penny because the Big Gulp was 99 cents, but I put it in the “spare penny” bowl you see by a lot of registers. So he said something like “oh, thanks, go and drive in your fancy car now, must be nice” really sarcastically. I got right up in his face and told him I have a nice car because I worked hard in school, stayed away from (most) drugs, went to college, lived within my means, and gave up a lot of fun in order to be a productive and prosperous person. Then I took a $20 from my wallet, tossed it at him, and told him to have a good drunken bender on me. It was quite a controlled and articulate outburst as such things go.

    Yeah, I was already in a bad mood that day, and my elderly mother had just been put in the hospital for the third time in as many months. I felt bad about it later, but not all that much because he made $20 from the deal.

  510. HA

    Don’t be blinded by your heteronormativity. A man can sexually assault another man. Given this, any elevator situation involving men is a potential sexual assault. Don’t be so dismissive of the possibility that a man becomes a victim of sexual assault. Male victims of sexual assault are probably less recognized and not taken as seriously.

  511. joe

    supposing that being alone on an elevator with a man is an inherently uncomfortable situation (“Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent.”), and further supposing that the man on the elevator, being a feminist, is cognizant of this, what is the proper course of action for the man? a) be himself uncomfortable about unintentionally making the woman uncomfortable?; b) stop and get off of the elevator and take another elevator or the stairs?; c) apologize to the woman for inadvertently creating an uncomfortable situation?; d) feign obliviousness and fiddle with his cell phone?

  512. QuietDesperation

    Where you come from, how do people proposition each other for anonymous, meaningless sex then?

    You used to call an agency or, if you like playing Russian roulette with viruses, cruised certain streets in certain towns. The independents would gather clients via word of mouth.

    Now they have web sites (eros.com) and some states/countries even have legal businesses that cater to such things. Penn & Teller do an episode where they totally support it.

    How is it done in your universe?

  513. GeezGuys

    I try to understand male friends when they talk about how it feels to be the one who “has to make the move” according to our culture. If they say it feels demeaning if women avoid eye contact or whatever when turning them down, I’d try not to do that to men. I wouldn’t lecture them about how that’s completely ridiculous. And I surely wouldn’t tell them how they should feel.

    So in that vein, unless you are in a pick up bar or a brothel, do not approach a total stranger and in 30 seconds or less ask them to have sex with you. Why is this so controversial?

    If you don’t understand that women generally don’t like that, but still think it’s your right to go around asking for sexual encounters at random (for the woman) moments, then get lost. Creeping out 99 women on the off chance the 100th will say “oh, yes, I’d rather have sex with you than finish grocery shopping” makes you a jerk.

    *This applies to straightforward close-the-deal-NOW-honey propositions. Not “gee, nice hair” or clumsy attempts to start a conversation.

  514. Peter

    This entire “creepgate” affair amazes me and yet it doesn’t amaze me, after all, we all have our inner ape, Trevor, inside. This issue also has the yuk factor and that is if you try to discuss one side of some issues rationally you will be jumped on. Is it an issue of the statistics of personal safety or how no one deserves to have their feelings hurt? Extremely educated people are suddenly taking a black and white approach to this.

  515. @469. JJ

    Yes, JJ, that is my intention, to crucify myself in the name of men’s rights. A regular e-martyr to the cause.

    @478. Regner Trampedach More importantly, you can most often avoid male-male violence by avoiding bad neighborhoods and by not flipping off huge, mean-looking guys.

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and guess you’re joking, because this is a rather silly statement. For example, what about the honest folks that live in bad neighborhoods? What about…

    You know, I really don’t want to get into this all night again, I wasted my whole weekend on those PZ threads and I’m not going to do it again. I’m not gonna make it, go ahead without me…..

    eta: you know, I usually despise ____gate references, but “creepgate” made me laugh out loud.

    OK, now I’m really out, carry on, hopefully Phil will have some cool anti-woo or astronomy to talk about soon.

  516. Brian

    Sheldon 483 “maybe some of you will think twice about your “boobquake” talk and “sexy Skeptic posters”? If you continue to sexualize these conventions and the movement in general, don’t be surprised if people start feeling intimidated by each other and see sexual assault everywhere they look.” Excellent point

  517. Yikes… nearly 500 comments already. It’s like a horror show you just can’t ignore in here.

    For the sake of a mental exercise to those deep in the debate, allow me to present a very real, actual situation which happened a while ago in my town and ask you two questions. And yes, I know it happened. I saw the whole thing.

    A guy and a girl in their early to mid-twenties walk into a pool hall and start playing. She seems a little stiff and nervous. He seems a bit tense and quiet. Both of them are drinking and he walks up to the bar to get both their drinks. After a few hours, he invites her for coffee and sweets over at his place. She takes a minute and agrees.

    Now, choose one of the ways the story ends.

    1) The girl is never heard from again and her picture shows up on missing ads you get in the mail. Police suspect that the guy raped and killed her but they have no real leads and leave the case cold.

    2) The duo is actually on a date and it was the girl who first suggested that it would be a good idea for them to get out sometime. She had a fun evening, the two really hit it off and ended up happily living together.

    Now the questions: which ending did you reflexively choose? Why?

    Think about it for a second and decide what it says about how you view the world. Then consider how that colors your view of Rebecca’s story.

    Oh and by the way, ending 2 is what actually happened. Bonus points if you can figure out who the guy was.

  518. Ben

    I’ve no doubt the woman had rape on the mind before he even opened his mouth. Him opening his mouth just gave her an excuse to blame him for her feeling helpless. He certainly did nothing wrong. Crass, yes, but the description doesn’t provide any indication that he was overly aggressive or threatening in any way.

  519. Bedro

    Potential sexual assault for talking to a woman? I think you need to rethink what you are saying. Seems like one of my fave scientists is missing a big point when it comes to evidence. Also saying that a man is creeping a girl out just by standing in an elevator is also a huge stretch and anyone who thinks so should be presumed sexist.

  520. Jeffersonian

    …and it doesn’t help matters to use the word “creepy” along with the assumption that your particular usage is universally defined.

  521. OK, one more comment, and then I’m really gone…

    …does this mean no more Skepchick calendars?

  522. @Andy Beaton:
    ” … maybe after you’ve put some effort into conversing with her … ”

    Hardly anonymous, meaningless sex then!

    I’m not saying that was what he was looking for, or that she looks for that kind of sex either.

    What I am saying is that this whole thing has been blown so far out of proportion. He propositioned her, in a lift at 4AM.

    So what?

    She said no and he accepted that.

    Sounds pretty much textbook human interaction to me.

    Someone being sexually interested in another person is not objectifying them, it’s wanting to sleep with them and explore there physicality (and wanting to give yourself to them as well, of course).

    Why do some people perceive sex as a creepy thing?

  523. Grand Lunar

    “Can I assume that all the men(!) thinking that Rebecca Wattson and Phil Plait are stupid on this subject, would act exactly like the guy in that elevator?”

    I wouldn’t act like the guy on the elevator.
    In a typical situation, I would just be silent and try not to look at her, especially given that she’s married. I’d also assume she would want to be left alone.

  524. Connie Dobbs

    I am gonna have to side with Dawkins on this too. One of the most liberating things, to me, was getting rid of the old sexual hangups instilled in me due to my judeo-christian upbringing. I am sad to see those have been rebranded for the atheist community in the name of feminism. yes, the guy probably wanted sex, but so what? Most guys want to have sex – I hear they enjoy it (as well as being driven by instinctual drives). The most powerful weapon a woman has is to say no, which ScepChick was right in employing – assuming that was her wish. For example, last year I was at a conference for work, and met someone in one of the lounges. A few drinks later, we were in bed. He asked, I said yes. That was my right, just as it was his right to ask. Now for the judgemental part – if you are in a crowded, well lit hotel in a high traffic area (yes, despite that an elevator is “enclosed”, those doors open at least every minute or so) and you feel threatened by a lone man asking you for coffee (code word or not), then the problem is YOU being weak and scared. Which, incidentally, is exactly how the “patriarchy” wants you to feel. Being a feminist is more than going to meetings and reading books – it’s living your life, unburdened by the archaic idea of women as the “weaker sex”. All ScepChick did was reinforce that idea.

  525. Adam

    Just because the whole thing is so surreal, I ran it by my friend involved in a rape crisis center and my attorney wife. They both agree with Dawkins. It’s zero bad. Maybe we missed the part where Dawkins did something wrong. I certainly don’t think RW did anything wrong.

    There’s plenty of worthwhile discussions to be had about women and assault. Not sure what in the world it has to do with this clumsy pickup line.

  526. Spaceman Spiff

    @#477. murphspot

    “incredibly clumsy and pretty certain to be viewed as creepy.”

    No disagreement, there, either. I can imagine that many, perhaps most, women would feel similarly in a similar situation. And during that brief moment after he asked his question, and also awaiting the guy’s reaction to her decline, I can imagine some anxiety on her part. But as far as the facts stated, that was it. He asked (whatever you think of the guy’s manners, given the situation). She declined. There was no mention of him invading her space, blocking, or touching, etc.

    My question (not to you, but in general), and that of a few female commentors above, is, where does the felony and all the acrimony come in? And just because Dr. Dawkins could have made his points more effectively (and with a bit of empathy), doesn’t invalidate everything he had to say.

  527. Wow this really blew up. Interestingly enough I saw Rebecca’s video yesterday, visited YouTube to take a look at the videos of the Conference in Dublin and saw how Dawkins reacted while Rebecca talked.

    And all day long today I thought about how I would now talk to Rebecca without creeping her out.

    It’s the mindset Dawkins represents here that basically ruins my life on a daily basis. People who behave like inconsiderate (expletive omitted) because they don’t think twice about how the other person might feel about what they say. Because of that I (have to) overthink everything I say every single minute of the day. And on top of that I keep thinking about what I in the end DID say to women and minorities around me long afterwards. Could they have interpreted my words wrong? Did I say something offensive?

    And the kicker to all of it is that really do feel like women are my equal. Foreigners are my equal. People with different skin color are my equal. I don’t care who you are and what you do as long as you treat me right.

    But because so many people in the world still have this mindset… this… not getting it. This feeling better than others, demanding more from themselves and expecting people to put in effort…

    Frankly I think Dawkins was pissed off that Rebecca first said she didn’t know what she wanted to talk about before coming to the panel (e.g. being unprepared) and then focusing on something he thought of as being ridiculously unimportant compared to other things in life he thinks are more important. I get that. If I were him, author of many books, accomplished, it might piss me off as well to sit on a panel with someone who’s been nobody years ago and because of “some podcast” and “some website” is now the up and comer.

    But the problem there AGAIN is that he doesn’t GET IT that before HE wrote his first book he was nothing either. Doing Podcasts in an enjoyable way and writing blog posts isn’t easy and even though Rebecca doesn’t have a doctorate, she worked for what the has now.

    The annoying thing about this is, again, that I would love to criticize Rebecca for some of the things she said on the show but because she gets E-Mails from complete and utter a**hats I can’t. I can’t even make compliments for the stuff I like either, because they ruined that too. Not a single line she hasn’t heard before, and even worse, most likely even the most innocent line might have been uttered before just as a lead-in to a real pickup line and a derogatory remark after a witty “thanks but no thanks” line from her.

    Basically what Rebecca talked about was not being able to handle being a celebrity Atheist in a world dominated by Atheist men. I think a lot of the things she experiences are “simply” fan reactions that are creepy but because of the male dominent fanbase these creepy fans are interpreted as misogynists (which of course they are but most likely them being fans exaggerates the misogyny even more).

    Not being able to live your life because of this is creepy and because this most likely happens to a lot of female Atheist activists, this IS a problem. And you can’t deny these women their right to complain about the creepiness of the fanbase because other people in Africa suffer more than they do. This IS a problem. There are enough stars who could not handle their daily lives anymore who later on died because of prescription drug overdoses. Just because YOU can handle it doesn’t mean that others might be afraid to go outside.

    And it’s a horrible thing to not support her in her plight just because women in Saudi-Arabia suffer more than her. OF COURSE it’s a first world problem, yet it’s still a problem.

    And what do we take away from all this? People suck. *sigh*

  528. orion

    “……Oh my. I have tried and tried to see some other way to interpret this, but it looks to me that he really is comparing a potential sexual assault to someone chewing gum….”

    WTF!!! Stop overblowing this! There was NO ‘potential sexual assault’. There never was a suggestion of any coercion, force, refusal to take no for an answer – nothing!

    That has to be the most ludicrous, twisted take on the facts I have ever read. How about you get a little perspective here? Watch this video and compare the two situations.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfjLfyXYlA

    Does the woman in this video have the right to feel threatened? So then, why does the woman in this issue feel the same ‘right’? Do people have the ‘right’ to feel threatened by the presence of muslims on aeroplanes?

  529. Jason

    Dawkins is right, this guy is wrong.

    What bothers me greatly are three points. First, the assumption of ill will on the man’s side. He’s male, he must have some evil motive in there! I find that dangerous. you can say “well maybe he should have waited for a better time to ask”, but when was he supposed to ask? Just hope he randomly runs into her again? He asked her for coffee, not to go have sex. Would down to a cafe for Coffee have been better? Was he not allowed to try and talk to her in an elevator?

    The second is this idea that all men must know at all times what every woman will find creepy and actively avoid it. That’s just not possible. And for an Atheist community to expect the impossible is frankly insulting and rude.

    Third, how she “perceived” the comments is irrelevant. I’m sorry my female friends, but it is completely irrelevant. A Christian could say “I see Jesus in the trees and a baby’s smile, and…” and it would be equally as irrelevant. How someone perceives something has no basis in what is really going on. The only thing that matters is what happened, and what happened is one of the most innocent things I’ve ever read which the only complaint to be made is the location. Would this have been OK had he asked in the lobby instead of the elevator?

  530. Thorsten

    @ # 467. Carl Says:

    “The dichotomy I’m seeing is between empathy for feelings and intolerance for physical abuse.

    Dawkins’ perspective, intolerance for physical abuse, is the minimum standard.”

    What I think is important here, and the issues of Dawkin’s example is, that there should be a right to go no further than that minimum standard.

    This is where religious feelings come in. They are the best example. For them it is most clearly that you can have deep feelings about, well, everthing you want to conjure up. But if it’s feeling, nothing more than feeling, other people should not be bound to cater to them. They can be nicely asked to do so though. Or creepely asked for that matter.

  531. QuietDesperation

    Extremely educated people are suddenly taking a black and white approach to this.

    *snort* You think that’s unusual? “Extremely educated” people (read: people who have a degree in something and think that it’s an inoculation against unreason) act like this all the time.

    Can I assume that all the men(!) thinking that Rebecca Wattson and Phil Plait are stupid on this subject, would act exactly like the guy in that elevator?

    If you are incapable of seeing people as individuals, and unable to think beyond very shallow levels, then please do.

  532. Dave

    488 Comments? Holy Crow! I’ve got one too. Inviting someone you’re interested in to a hotel room from an elevator is not at all smooth. You should expect rejection if you try that. The gentleman showed bad form, but from what I can tell, accepted ‘no’ for an answer. Some of us simply suck at asking a woman out – and that may leed to the perception of creepiness, though it may not be deserved. Bottom line – I can understand her being spooked, creaped out, etc., but nothing awful happened to her.

  533. EvilBob

    Thank you, Phil. You constantly inspire me with your take on things. I cannot believe that anyone would see this situation as harmless or non-threatening, and while it’s very disappointing that RD has taken the stance he has, it’s very good to see that some do not see it the way he clearly does.
    Since he has never in his life been in a situation where he’s had to worry about a woman or group of women forcing themselves on him, he clearly doesn’t get it. A little humanity from such a humanist would go a long way.
    Thank you again.

  534. cox

    “it looks to me that he really is comparing a potential sexual assault to someone chewing gum.”

    “#460. twirlgrl Says:

    @Alex #457 – No one has said or even assumed that the guy was going to assault her only the he could assault her. You are making this into something it’s not.”

    Rape is a serious crime. Women taking prudent steps to avoid rape is very important. Creating drama like this does not help prevent rape. What it does is create a climate of fear in which women are treated like children. As an adult I would never be in a room alone with a child. There is power imbalance there, and much room for misunderstanding. There should not be such an imbalance between adults.

    As sometimes happens on the Bad Astronomy blog emotions tend to overcome skepticism. This could have a been a wonderful teachable moment to talk about how when discussing things emotions and bigotry cloud the facts. In this case because of the way the man approached the woman he is labeled as a potential rapists. Because many men can see themselves in the situation, in an elevator, perhaps drunk, with a hot women, many men are going to identify with man and feel they are being called rapists. We can see how the way we communicate an idea prevents the discussion of the idea. Perhaps we can remember this when we talk about other subjects.

    Of course those of us who are skeptical and capable of rational thought do not see rape at att. What we see is a clumsy man in search of consensual sex. A rapist would have gotten off some floors below, used the stairs to run up to her floor, and then rushed her as she entered her room. This is how we prevent crime. By suggested meaningful threat models, not by thinking some man who is caught on camera is a criminal.

    I know many women who are perfectly capable of dealing with even the most aggressive of men on a one-to-one situation. We should be raising girls to be such women, seeing themselves as equal. We should also be raising our boys to see women as equal, rather then funding their sports, their career electives, at disproportionately higher rates. We should be against gender segregated schools where boys are not forced to interact and compete equally with girls, and where the administration does not let boys get away with victimizing girls because ‘boys will be boys’, or let girls remain uneducated because there main purpose in life is to please the boys.

    And may I add one thing? The chance of being raped by someone who is a stranger is about 4%. The chance of being murdered is about 0.2%, or one order of magnitude less. Still it is only one order of magnitude. Why is that nobody calls this man a potential murderer?

  535. JJ (the other one)

    480 Andrew Wilson said:

    “People don’t decide where or when to have anonymous, meaningless sex. That’s kind of the point of it!”

    To quote a well known image macro..

    Dude, wait, what?

    If people don’t decide to have “anonymous, meaningless sex” then how can they ever have it?

    Someone has to decide to proposition someone else for it. That was the whole point you were trying to make, wasn’t it? That there are relatively few opportunities but still enough demand and that this particular random encounter was an understandable, if not ideal, choice?

    @490 shawmutt:

    Whatever floats your ark. I just have to wonder why what you perceive as inconsistencies among others regarding genital mutilation has to do with, well, anything. Yes, you can find people on the Internet with inconsistent positions. Good work.

  536. JJ (the other one)

    IMO, “creepergate” rolls off the tongue better than “creepgate”.

  537. Muzz

    It still blows my mind that there’s people in this saying “I agree 100% with Richard Dawkins” in this.
    Sorry, you can’t do that and be right. His remarks are so off topic and out of proportion to anything that Watson said he’s flat out preposterously wrong and so is anyone who backs him up.

    Second point: some people need to get it through their thick skulls that the situation itself was not sexual assault and if you pay attention no one said it was (at least none of the main players). But by way of explanation the discomfort from it can be rooted in fears of sexual assault. This is not controversial! This is not hard to understand!

    Get some damn nuance in your thinking, people. A good percentage of this debate across dozens of blogs and thousands of comments is twits saying “You radical feminists compared a pass in a lift to rape!!”. And they say women are the hysterical ones.