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Justin M. Stoddard


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Wherein I Go Apoplectic
July 8, 2011 — 8:41 pm

I’m going to write two blog posts about this, because it fascinates me so much and I’d like to approach it differently, for different audiences. This first post will be followed up by a second on The Lesson Applied at a later date. You can expect this one to be a bit more charged.

This will be a rather long post, so brace yourself. Much back story is needed to set all of this up properly, and it delves into atheism (for a part), skepticism, feminism, and rational thought, among other topics.

I can’t promise that I’ll get the whole story straight, as it is a bit muddied, but I will do my best. I’ll be happy to correct any factual errors. I’ll be willing to modify any speculation made by myself if persuaded. Where I will welcome all challengers, however, is in the opinions I reach about the whole affair, great or small.

Before I begin, a few disclosures about my preconceptions of the main players, least I be blamed for any type of confirmation bias:

  • Before a few days ago, I had never heard of Rebecca Watson (aka Skepchick). I have since read through several of her blog posts and have watched some of her videos. I think I understand her shtick and have no real problem with it, in and of itself. I do have problems with it in the context of what I’ll be writing about below.
  • I have read several of Richard Dawkins’s books and have frequented his website from time to time. I like his personality and have no problems with his ideas on atheism, although his delivery methods have made me squeamish from time to time. I have frequently and loudly derided his enthusiasm for the moniker The Brights, for example. People like Christopher Hitchens agree.
  • P.Z. Myers has crossed my radar a few times in the past, but never about scientific/skeptical issues. I can’t vouch for his scientific knowledge, but I assume he knows what he’s talking about, given that he’s a highly regarded figure in the scientific community. The area where I have taken strong issue with Myers is in his take on libertarians. See here, here, and here for examples.

My take on libertarian thought is well documented, as you can see elsewhere on this blog or over at The Lesson Applied, so it’s only honest to say that I have somewhat of a dog in this fight. But this particular post isn’t about libertarianism. I’ll try not to belabor this point too much, but it ties directly into how P.Z. Myers conducts himself in what I’ll be writing about below. Suffice it to say, I find his opinions on the matter lazy, unoriginal, vacuous, and far beneath any reasonable measurement of “rational thought.”

Phil Pliat (aka The Bad Astronomer) is someone I came across about five years ago, peripherally, when I started reading books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I also have an amateur’s interest in cosmology, so I always enjoyed reading his posts. To date, I’ve not read his book and have only rarely visited his blog in the past year or so.

A few notes on some beliefs I hold, relevant to this subject …

I am an atheist myself, but apart from some writings back and forth a few years ago, I mostly keep that to myself now. I don’t think that I, or anyone else, is intellectually superior for being an atheist. Too many people conflate being an atheist with being intellectually superior to everyone who isn’t, which I find amusing. As you’ll hopefully see in what I’m about the write, atheists, “free thinkers,” and skeptics are just as prone to cliquish behavior, psychological biases, cognitive dissonance, and downright willful ignorance.

As for feminism: I have serious problems with feminist ideology when it deviates from equality for both sexes. I am happy to concede that women, as a gender, have their problems. I am more than happy to educate myself about those problems and help work towards an equatable solution. I would hope, that in return, feminists acknowledge that men, as a gender, have their own problems.

I’ve talked to very few feminists who will concede this point. But, apart from rampant objectification of men in society (turn on any sitcom at anytime and witness the oafish man that is there but for the grace of his girlfriend/wife), let me point this out, just as a primer. According to many feminists, girls are oppressed into gender roles early on by the Patriarchy. May I suggest trying to imagine yourself as a young boy growing up in rural Texas or Montana and showing absolutely no interest in sports? Also victims of the Patriarchy? Do mothers not shame their sons into pursuing these goals as well? Do young women reward socially awkward, chess club members with physical and emotional affection? Or, are they instead labeled creeps or nerds?

Once people realize that both genders have their problems and social pressures they must adapt to, they can start learning to work towards equality. But when those problems are flatly ignored, or, worse, denied for half the population by the very people who should be most sensitive to gender equality, well, you can understand why there’s quite a bit of cynicism out there.

Granted, this is an oversimplification to a very complex problem, probably better left for a longer post later on, but I wanted to put it out there for the sake of honesty. This is how I’m approaching this debate.

Onward:

On June 20, 2011, Rebecca Watson posted a video on YouTube and her blog discussing random goings-on in her life and her recent panel discussions at an atheist convention in Dublin. At around the 4:30 mark (I encourage you to watch the entire video so you can put this completely into context), she says:

… so I walk to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and 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?” Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 a.m., in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner …

So far, so good. At first blush, I don’t have much of a problem with this. We all have our discomforts and we are all free to express them.

However:

There has been an incredible amount of speculation as to the circumstances surrounding this event, and I’ve taken the time to read through several accounts. Some of this is supposition, but most of it is based how Watson has described the evening.

Watson and others were in the hotel bar until around 3:30 to 4:00 a.m. There was a recent discussion revolving around sexism and feminism in the atheist community. It is unclear whether the man in the elevator was present for this discussion. At the end of the night, Watson said something to the effect of, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” and excused herself to do so. Again, it is unclear whether the man in the elevator followed her or whether he too decided it was time for bed and also excused himself. In the end, I don’t think any of this really matters, in the slightest.

What we do know (according to Watson’s own account) is the following. As they were riding the elevator, he turned to her and 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?” There is no talk about him being threatening. No talk of leering or aggressive body language. No talk of anything at all, really. He asked a question; it’s assumed that she politely declined, and that was it. I assume they got off at their respective floors and went on their way.

Of course, it can probably be safely assumed that “coffee” means “sex.” But, without the benefit of reading this gentleman’s mind, I can’t ascertain that with perfect certainty. It is possible, I suppose, that he really meant just having a cup of coffee.

Before I wade into the resulting explosion in the skeptic/atheist community, I’m going to tip my hand, here.

Regardless of how Watson felt about the incident, if I’m to take her version of events as an accurate accounting of what happened, I pretty much see nothing wrong with anything that transpired that night.

Without casting aspersions upon the gentleman in the elevator or making any assumptions on his awkwardness or lack thereof, this kind of thing happens thousands of times a day, all over the world. Men ask women for sex. And, surprisingly, women also approach men and ask them for sex. We do this whole dance about “coffee” because it’s a psychological defense that allows both sexes to pretend that if the offer is made and rejected, it really was just about coffee. In fact, asking someone out for coffee as a euphemism is a whole hell of a lot LESS creepy than just saying, “hey, wanna go fuck?”

I’m not saying this as a criticism to Watson. I’m not obtuse enough that I can’t mentally put myself in an elevator at 4:00 a.m. in the morning with a strange man and imagine how that might make me uncomfortable, or fearful. That’s fine. I get it. But where I draw the line is her making sweeping statements for all men and women as a reaction to that fear.

Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable …

If Watson feels uncomfortable being alone with a man in an elevator during its 40-second accent, that’s fine. However, the correct thing to say here is, “Men, don’t do that to ME.” This would be a perfectly rational, sane, defensible, and responsible thing to say. It clearly delineates boundaries. It lets the rest of us know what you are and what you are not comfortable with. Problem solved.

What Watson is blind to, and what I take exception to, is the idea that many women don’t feel uncomfortable in that situation. In fact, I’ll wager a guess that that line of approach has worked for scores of men AND women.

She is also blind to the way that she is treating men in general. I know it’s a cheap trick, but this is a fast way to get my point across. Let me just change what Watson said slightly and see if you feel any differently:

… so I walk to the elevator, and a black man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I like those shoes you have on, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Um, just a word to wise here, black guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a smaller white man, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when black men talk about shoes in that manner …

Racist and reprehensible. The very definition of base human thought. And yet, if I take a page from the Watson’s defenders, I would have every right not only to feel that way, but to say publicly that I feel that way, without recourse. After all, just as most rapists are men, there are more African-American men in prison for violent crimes than any other race or gender, so it must follow that my fears were justified. These are verifiable, yet unnuanced, facts.

Yes, most perpetrators of rape toward women are men — unless we are talking about our astronomical prison population, in which case, men also consist of the overwhelming number of victims. There is no hard statistical evidence, but the incidence of prison rape is so monumental that it nearly brings the instances of man-on-woman rape down to parity.

Also not mentioned is that the majority of non-consensual sex occurs in situations where the two people know each other in some way. All the way from casual acquaintances to close family members. Women being raped by strangers is certainly not rare, but it’s not anywhere near the level where anyone should feel uncomfortable (to an irrational level) sharing an elevator ride with a man who asks you to his room for “coffee.”

As for the African-American man analogy, although it is true that there are more African-American men in prison than of any other race or gender, a closer look explains much of that statistic away when one examines how our immoral and — dare I say, irrational — War on Drugs has done everything it can to destroy the African-American community.

But, to be fair to Watson, she never brought up the specter of rape. She did, however, imply it, as unintentional as that may have been. She was just talking about “creepy behavior,” here, but “creepy” is just too subjective to define.

This is sexism defined. Watson expects all men everywhere to curb their behavior to a level she finds “comfortable,” while not bothering to take into account that many other women may, in fact, not mind being propositioned in such a way.

Before I move on to the other players in this docudrama, this is the very crux of what bothers me about Rebecca Watson. Most of her shtick is the “geeky, nerdy, hot girl who likes to talk atheism and skepticism and stuff.” I’m not denigrating her by saying that, because I’ve watched a number of her videos and read through her blog, and I’m impressed by her intelligence. She’s articulate, well-spoken, and has a grasp on complex and complicated problems.

But she also does a good deal to sexualize herself. She plays the “hot geeky girl” angle to the hilt. There have been Skepchick pinup calendars, sexually suggestive blog posts, public sexual innuendo, cutesy and provocative pictures, etc., etc., etc.

There is absolutely nothing in the world wrong with this. I find it all a bit obnoxious after a while, only because I get bored easily and would like to skip to the substance rather than linger on the filler, but that’s a personal preference. I’m not going to Dawkins’s or Hitchens’s websites for their sex appeal, for example.

It seems to me that this is what gender equality is all about. Women shouldn’t hide their sexuality or apologize for it, just like men shouldn’t hide or apologize for theirs. If you don’t want to be “sexualized in that way,” don’t sexualize yourself in that way. You can’t justify the opinion that women talking about sex is liberating, but a man talking to her about sex is objectifying.

As a final note, one has to wonder what exactly Watson’s objection is, here. Was it the come-on, or where the come-on took place? Had this happened in the corner of a crowded lobby, for example, would we be hearing about it? And was she really being “sexualized” at all?

If you parse out the language, I don’t think even that plays out:

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more

This takes whatever “creepy” factor there was way down. The guy obviously cares about what she thinks of him, and about the overall situation. He’s genuflecting and trying to connect to her on an intellectual level (however awkward it may be). It sounds like this gentleman was attracted to the whole package, not just tits and ass. Is that sexualization? Don’t men and women get together all the time based on mutual attraction, and fornicate?

What’s the problem, here?

Phase Two: The Plot Thickens.

I’m not the only one who is thinking along these lines, and thank goodness for that.

On June 22, Stef McGraw posted what I thought was a well-thought-out rebuttal to the original video.

Here’s the money quote:

Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk relating to feminism, but my question is this: Since when are respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest mutually exclusive? Is it not possible to view to take interest in a woman AND see her as an intelligent person?

Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right? But of course no one ever makes that claim, which is why I see Watson's comment as so hypocritical.

If you really want social equality for women, which is what feminism is, why not apply the same standards to men and women, and stop demonizing men for being sexual beings?

Yup, pretty much exactly what I said above.

Things start to rapidly fall apart from here, and Watson is to blame for it. In a boorish move, while giving a talk about the Religious Right’s War on Women at the CFI’s Leadership Conference, Watson publicly called out Stef McGraw — who was sitting in the audience, with no chance to defend herself. From Watson’s blog:

I pointed out that she posted a transcript of my video but conveniently left off the fact that I had already expressed my desire to go to sleep. I also pointed out that approaching a single woman in an elevator to invite her back to your hotel room is the definition of “unsolicited sexual comment.” But those are unimportant details in comparison to the first quoted sentence, which demonstrates an ignorance of Feminism 101 – in this case, the difference between sexual attraction and sexual objectification. The former is great – be attracted to people! Flirt, have fun, make friends, have sex, meet the love of your life, whatever floats your boat. But the latter involves dismissing a person’s feelings, desires, and identity, with a complete disinterest in how one’s actions will affect the “object” in question. That’s what we shouldn’t be doing. No, we feminists are not outlawing sexuality.

I hear a lot of misogyny from skeptics and atheists, but when ancient anti-woman rhetoric like the above is repeated verbatim by a young woman online, it validates that misogyny in a way that goes above and beyond the validation those men get from one another. It also negatively affects the women who are nervous about being in similar situations. Some of them have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and some just don’t want to be put in that position. And they read these posts and watch these videos and they think, “If something were to happen to me and these women won’t stand up for me, who will?”

Here’s where we start to descend into irrational tripe disguised as righteous dogma. It is important to take note (because this will be a HUGE factor later on in this post) that Watson isn’t complaining about feeling threatened in an elevator late at night, here. Her complaint is her feeling of being objectified. Oh, and it just happened to happen on an elevator.

This is a classic shaming tactic, used in an unforgivable condescending tone from someone who calls herself a “free thinker.” Basically, she’s saying, if you don’t believe that I was objectified, you’re a misogynist. If you’re a young woman who questions if I was objectified, you can’t help it, you’re just parroting “ancient anti-woman rhetoric.” You’re a victim of the patriarchy, you poor young thing. But it’s OK. I’m here to help you through this.

This is offensive to the point of stupidity, and nobody should ever accept being talked to in that tone.

So, this is where Watson loses me. Her original post was flawed, but fine, as things go. She felt uncomfortable, she expressed that (in a poor way), and as a “free thinker” she should by definition be open to criticism without resorting to vile behavior.

Ah, but it gets so much better.

After several people took Watson to task for her boorish behavior at the CFI conference, P.Z. Meyers waded into the swamp with a classic bait-and-switch tactic.

You’ll have to read it for yourself, because it is rather long, but here’s a paraphrase: That guy in the elevator was a complete and total creep. Men and women are equals, but they really aren’t equals, so men should know better than to ever talk to them in any way that they might find creepy or make them uncomfortable. Don’t ever approach them about sex, because that’s inappropriate and it’s “unwanted pressure.” Also, all men see women as “lower status” creatures, but they’re totally equal, and stuff. Oh, and yeah, that guy was a total creep and probably a rapist. But I don’t want to talk about that, so I’ll get to my point.

He insisted that how Watson conducted herself at the CFI conference was defensible and not passive aggressive. He likes it when people “name names.”

Which is fine. I get it. Debate should be open and free, especially among those who call themselves “free thinkers.” (See how I keep harping on that point?)

Here’s what he says:

As Watson says, she loathes passive-aggressive behavior. So do I, and this is a fine example of it. Name names, always name names, and always do your best to be specific. It is right and proper as good skeptics to confront and provoke and challenge, and you have to be direct about it. Would it have been better if Rebecca had talked vaguely about broad-stroke disagreements, fuzzily mentioning some unnamed persons with some unrecognizably blurred wording of disagreement, and then taken that blank-faced effigy to task? I don’t think so. It also would have been a tactic to blunt subsequent rebuttals.

But that’s not the point, here.

The point is, Watson used her time on a panel addressing the Religious Right’s War on Women to publicly call out a member of the audience who wrote on a blog something about her with which she happened to disagree. Name names? Well, sure. Get on your video blog and respond that way. Don’t waste everyone else’s time talking about something you weren’t invited to talk about, while at the same time tying a woman’s valid criticism (as unintentionally as it may have been) to right-wing bigotry. And certainly don’t do it in a way where she can’t respond. On top of that, don’t make lame excuses later that she could have used the Q&A session afterward to state her claim, especially when you yourself have stated in the past that you don’t appreciate people who use up Q&A sessions as a way to facilitate a debate.

As I said before … very boorish behavior.

P.Z. Myers misses this point, completely:

And now, of course, Watson is getting all this heat because she was willing to stand and deliver the goods. Disagree with her all you want, but apparently, you’re not supposed to be confronted over your differences, ever. You can name Rebecca Watson as a villain, but she can’t take you to task over your characterization. When did skepticism become a one way street?

Stupid and lazy thinking. Watson was free to name names and respond all she wanted, on her own time and on her own dime. That this escapes Myers is nothing but a mystery to me.

This is right about where Richard Dawkins comes into the picture.

In the comment section of Meyers’s blog, Dawkins wrote:

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep“chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Richard

This is when everyone starts to go ape-shit crazy, of course. But I think there’s a great deal of astuteness in this statement. It has always really bothered me, for example, that western feminists seem to turn a completely blind eye to horrific, barbaric, and downright evil conditions that the majority of women live under in underdeveloped or developing countries.

Forced abortions in China. Women stoned in Iran. Girls suffering acid attacks for daring to go to school in Afghanistan, zero reproductive rights, forced to wear identity-stripping and soul-crushing clothing, rampant rape and genital mutilation, etc., etc., etc.

Yes, yes, I know these things have been addressed, but you’re more likely to hear it from the conservative side of the spectrum than from second-wave progressive feminists. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has spoken extensively on this subject, and was so disenchanted with her treatment from the “left” that she shifted her whole political ideology to the right and has been speaking out on this subject through that prism ever since.

I cannot account for why western feminists so blatantly ignore women’s plight in the Third World. I have my ideas, but they are based on pure supposition. What I do know is that because of this nearly unforgivable failure, it makes many people give up completely on gender issues.

This isn’t to say that what happens here is irrelevant because people have it worse elsewhere. But it does call for a bit of perspective.

This is what Dawkins is saying … and remember, up to this point, nobody has overtly brought up sexual assault or rape (except for P.Z. Meyers, in his lazy way). What happened between Watson and the man in the elevator was a complete non-issue. Given the facts at hand, nothing happened that was objectionable. The worst criticism you can come up with is that it might not have been overly smooth to attempt such a verbal pick-up in an elevator, but … meh.

But Watson is waving the bloody shirt, here. She’s taking up the mantle of feminism and deriding anyone who disagrees with her. Men who think differently are misogynists. Women who think differently are victims. Only Watson herself has the right to speak on behalf of both genders, shaming one and patronizing another, all over a perceived belief that she was “objectified” by a man who asked her to his room for “coffee” in what appears to be a slightly awkward yet polite way.

When you have a wider world view of real suffering and oppression, how can this be taken seriously? A better question: Why should it be taken seriously?

Enter Phil Pliat:

In a blog post titled Richard Dawkins and male privilege, Pliat attempts to take Dawkins to task for his comment. You’ll have to read the back and forth to get the full context, because Dawkins follows up on his original comment with two more that clarify what he meant. It’s all here on the provided link.

Pliat rambles on about male privilege and then proceeds to get the vapors:

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.

I have never witnessed such a horrible case of twisted thinking, cognitive dissonance, and just pure stupidity from someone so intelligent.

Let me break this down for you again with the same tactic I used way upstream and you can determine whether or not it’s fair:

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.

Put even more simply: this wasn’t a black guy chewing gum at a white person. This was a potential mugging.

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

I’m not prepared to say that Pliat is an idiot. But his statement goes beyond idiocy. It’s reprehensible.

If Pliat believes, actually believes, that all women must be protected from being alone with a man she does not know on a 40-second elevator ride because just him BEING THERE makes the “atmosphere bad,” then he’s a sexist fool. It demonizes all men and infantilizes all women in one fell swoop. As I said above, nobody (man or woman) should ever submit to being talked to like that.

If Pliat believes, actually believes, that the situation Watson described was a “potential sexual assault,” then he is a dangerous sexist fool and I cannot understand for one moment why anyone would take him seriously on any subject thereafter. What he is espousing is worse than any kind of religious fundamentalism I’ve ever run up against.

Following his logic, any woman is a potential prostitute.

It’s meaningless to the point of absurdity, and offensive to any person who values reason and intellect. How someone could twist their way into that way of thinking confounds me. There is nothing else I can say but shame on him. And I mean that. His conduct is shameful and it’s right that people are calling him out on it.

To kind of wind this back and forth up (up to this point, anyway), we’ll end where we started, with Rebecca Watson.

In a July 5 post titled The Privilege Delusion, Watson gets in her jabs against Dawkins:

Well, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, Phil Plait, Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Melissa McEwan and others have all already said it, but I figured I should post this for the record: yes, Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!”

This is just pathetic and lazy and … OK, I’m running out of pejorative adjectives.

Feel free to read the rest of the post, because it really is quite the education, but I’ll just comment on the paragraph above before I move on to my closing comments about this whole brouhaha.

And again, please note, Watson is using the term “objectified,” here. Not “harassed,” not “threatened,” not “scared” or “uncomfortable” or “in danger” or “rape” or “assault.” “Objectified.”

Of course, Dawkins didn’t say or imply anything of the kind. As I stated above, he was adding a bit of perspective to the discussion. Agree or disagree with the tone, the message is clear. He’s saying that if this is the worst you can come up with as a feminist, well, I don’t respect it, nor do I have time for it, but here, have a bit of my biting sarcasm, just because.

This needs to be said. You can feel like you were sexually objectified all you want. That’s your right. You can talk about it all you want. That, too, is your right. What you cannot do is demand that men change their behavior because you feel you were sexually objectified, especially when there are plenty of women in the world who would not feel sexually objectified under the same conditions.

You cannot claim to speak for half the human population in defining what is and what is not sexual objectification. I believe that individual women can make that decision on their own, thank you very much. We all know well enough now not to approach you in that manner, so you’ve made the job that much easier for all men.

You do not get to go around implying that because men have a penis they are just waiting to rape you in an elevator once they get the chance and not expect people to go ape-shit crazy about it. The very idea is sexist.

You do not get to make a huge deal of how you are a sexually liberated, hot, geeky girl who talks about science and atheism and cool nerdy stuff, via pin-up calendars, sexual innuendo, sexually charged discussions, being overly flirtatious and then cry foul when someone actually dares to approach you based on your sexuality. If you are really concerned about not being perceived as a sexual object for men, don’t promote yourself as a sexual object for men.

If this above paragraph is confusing, scroll up to the part where I wrote that any man or woman should feel absolutely free to express their sexuality nor should they feel they need to apologize for it. But, if it’s equality you’re after, you can’t have it both ways. Men are going to be sexually attracted to you. Some for your intellect, some for your body, some for both; and you would be lying if you said you weren’t attracted to others for the same reasons.

Lastly, the “wealthy old heterosexual white man” comment makes me embarrassed for Watson.

I’m going to assume that Watson isn’t an overly affluent person, but given her status in the community and the number of speaking engagements she attends (worldwide), along with other gigs, I would guess that she does alright for herself. But, let’s just say for argument’s sake that she makes around $50,000 per year.

At that rate, she is richer than about 97 percent of the world’s population.

Sure, Dawkins might be a tad wealthier. Let’s say he’s worth $50 million dollars, and I imagine that’s an over-estimation. That would make him about 98 percent richer than the rest of the world’s population.

Kind of changes things when put in perspective, no?

As a woman, Watson will statistically outlive Dawkins (in overall years). And, as such, her life expectancy is greater than almost every other human on the face of the earth (in the aggregate).

Unless I missed something, Watson is white, too, is she not?

I assume she’s heterosexual, but I could be wrong.

So, in perspective, the only real difference we are looking at here, is gender, right?

And, I don’t see anyone rushing to Dawkins’s side of the argument because he’s a man. I do see a whole lot of that on Watson’s side, which is interesting to me. It’s not what she’s saying or even how she’s saying it that’s being defended. It’s because she’s a woman, and women should never, ever have to be in the situation where they are alone in an elevator with a man who awkwardly, yet politely asks her for “coffee,” ‘cause that man is a potential rapist. And he’s creepy. And he objectified her. And, blah, blah, blah, blah …

So, who’s the person with privilege, here?

— Justin M. StoddardComments (8)

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8 Comments
  1. This fight between the skeptics and the feminists has been coming for a long time. The skeptic orgonisations are very eager to get more women into the organisation, sadly this has given a free pass to a group of people who do not like being fact checked. Ms. Watson has been using feminist arguments and jargon for a long time, this is the first time it has blown up, but it won’t be the last.

    One of the strengths of our organisation is that it is not overtly political. Skeptics come from all over the political spectrum. The one thing we ask for is evidence. Modern feminism is the opposite in every way, Ms. Watson appears enraged that anyone would dare ask questions. We should have started asking questions a long time ago, but it’s never too late.

    Comment by H Sakrison — July 8, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  2. Great Post. Thanks for taking the time to write about that, I do hope some of Watson’s defensers are going to read this and get some new perspective from it.
    I found it really childish from Watson to announce how she would shun Dawkins from now on.
    You mentioned that a second post would follow, I be eager to read that too.

    Shoutout to reddit.com/r/skeptic

    Comment by A Thomas — July 9, 2011 @ 8:45 am

  3. “May I suggest trying to imagine yourself as a young boy growing up in rural Texas or Montana and showing absolutely no interest in sports? Also victims of the Patriarchy?”

    Yes. If you don’t get that, then you really aren’t understanding anything we are talking about. And I think your ignorance is willful.

    Yes. The boys socialized to be ‘macho’ because it’s bad for them to be anything less because then they’d be ‘feminine’ are indeed victims of the patriarchy.

    We’ve said this multiple times. It’s not a hard concept. And yet…you’ve deliberately failed to grasp this concept. Why?

    What is so hard to accept about being told ‘don’t go up to a woman in a confined space and invite her to sex at 4am, it’s creepy?’

    Why are you having such a problem with this concept?

    Seriously?

    Have you ever been to this website? http://www.ihollaback.org/ Look at these stories. This is what the average woman has to put up with. Why are you shocked that we’ve finally reached the point where we are saying, ‘look, guys, enough, please, stop it’.

    You aren’t being honest here. And so, to answer your question:

    “So, who’s the person with privilege, here?”

    You are.

    Comment by Me — July 9, 2011 @ 11:18 am

  4. “What is so hard to accept about being told ‘don’t go up to a woman in a confined space and invite her to sex at 4am, it’s creepy?’ ”

    That’s not hard to accept at all, once the statement is fixed. Here. Let me help you out. “What is so hard to accept about being told ‘don’t go up to SOME women in a confined space and invite her to sex at 4 am, it’s creepy’”.

    I mean, I assume you didn’t mean to speak for all women when you wrote that, as any rational person does not make unfounded, sweeping generalizations, right?

    Comment by Justin M. Stoddard — July 9, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

  5. Great post! Agreed with most of it, and your examples substituting “black person” and “white person” in were really persuasive.

    Comment by Andrew Hanson — July 9, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

  6. [...] With my previous post, I waded full-on into our ongoing gender war, though that really wasn’t my intention. [...]

    Pingback by The Shrubbloggers » Wherin I Clarify — July 10, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

  7. I really like this post. It was very informative, and like Mr. Hanson, I appreciated your shifting the argument to one of race to illustrate how antiquated and sexist it is.
    In all this uproar, I think the person I most agree with is Dawkins, but your arguments pretty much all ring true as well.
    What I don’t necessarily agree with is your conclusion that if Watson doesn’t want the kind of attention she perceives as predatory or objectifying, then she should not act in a way that makes her easy to objectify. I think that all people, regardless of their looks can or will be objectified by someone. The solution is basically to get over it, unless the objectification takes the form of harassment, in which case I think you have legal or at least social recourse to call them out on inappropriate behavior.
    What happened in that elevator barely sounds like objectification, and Watson needs to get over it. If she felt unsafe, perhaps she should not have been wandering a hotel in a strange city at night alone. You, I, or Dawkins (white males that we are) all run the risk of a mugging in a situation like that, but a mugging is a definite, no-gray-area crime. What Watson is getting upset about here was just some guy asking the wrong girl for a hookup in language sufficiently coded as to not be gross.

    Comment by Josh Smith — July 20, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  8. Josh, a couple of points.

    I probably conflated two issues that really didn’t need to be conflated. I guess I find Watson’s self objectification offensive only in the context that she is all of a sudden a tried and true feminist telling men not to objectify her. It’s the hypocrisy I’m after, here. I couldn’t care less about men and women objectifying themselves in anyway they wish.

    Though, I do believe there is an economic component, here. People very often describe me as cold, intimidating and unapproachable. Other terms like ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ are also thrown about. This has always puzzled me and in some instances, really upset me.

    I have come to realize, however, that I kind of project myself as cold, intimidating and unapproachable without even knowing that I’m doing it. In fact, I quite think I’m the opposite of all those things. I cannot, however, blame anyone who approaches me or describes me as such. That’s more my problem than anyone else’s.

    My second point (not brought up by you, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about) is this: Men often approach other men under the same set of circumstances for the same thing. More discussion and coffee. I’ve had it done to me. I’ve done it to others. Even the qualifier “Don’t take this the wrong way” is used, for exactly the same reasons. “I’m not gay, I’m not hitting on you”, in this case.

    So, it seems to me that this is equatable behavior. Which is problematic. I think many men empathize with the elevator guy for this very reason. Sure, ‘coffee’ could mean ‘sex’, but it could just as easily actually just mean ‘coffee’. That Watson and others automatically just assume ‘sex’ seems rather sexist to me.

    So, do we treat women the same we would treat other men in the same situation (based on context) or do we treat them unequally because of their gender? This is a rather glaring double-standard, no?

    Anyway, just some thoughts I’m working on.

    Comment by Justin M. Stoddard — July 20, 2011 @ 11:31 am

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