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On Sexism, Objectification, and Power


I was hoping to kick-start this blog with a highly critical review (AKA, rant) about the BS spouted by two members of a panel at the World Atheist Convention. The four-person panel all made reasoning errors, the severity of which ranged from ‘not even notable or worthy of criticism’ (Rebecca Watson) all the way to ‘so ironic, hypocritical, and irrational that I can see why atheists are so hated’ (AronRa). I may still get to this at some point, but I have been sidetracked by something else and I am highly motivated to write about it instead.

So here I am, about to do something that may shock a few people who have read my criticisms of her in the past. I am about to stand beside Rebecca Watson.

While reading James Croft’s review of the CFI Student Leadership Conference, mostly to find out how the agenda, which focused on activism (especially the featured talk by Desiree Schell) was received, I got to this:

The skeptical twitterverse has been buzzing with criticism of Watson’s talk due to her singling out a specific member of the movement by name and critiquing them in her talk.

Well, that got my attention. A talk about sexism (Watson’s topic was the Republican War on Women) in which she names names? Curiosity took over and I popped over to Twitter for a look. The first thing that caught my eye was this post by an attendee. I watched the video in which Rebecca describes her experience at the WAC after the same panel I was planning to write about. Essentially, after a day in which she publicly discussed her experiences with sexism and after making it clear that she was tired and wanted to go bed, she had (from her post on the matter):

…an unpleasant encounter I had with a fellow atheist that I thought might serve as a good example of what men in our community should strive to avoid – basically, in an elevator in Dublin at 4AM I was invited back to the hotel room of a man I had never spoken to before and who was present to hear me say that I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed.

In other words, he just didn’t get it.

I initially skipped the reply from a blogger in order to get an understanding of what any of this had to do with naming names at the CFI Conference. Then I got the gist: It seems that Rebecca quoted (and named) this blogger at the beginning of her talk, knowing that the blogger was in the audience. A blogger who’d criticized her. On a public blog.

The rest of the post recounted the discussion among some of the conference attendees that followed the talk. I found most of it somewhat disturbing, but I have to say that there was a part that made me laugh out loud (bold mine):

The primary response to the incident seemed to be that there was a power imbalance, and it was inappropriate for Rebecca to use her power as a nationally-known skeptic and as an official CFI-endorsed speaker at the conference to attack a student at said conference. Moreover, having been publicly called out by Rebecca Watson, Stef McGraw’s reputation as a skeptical student leader is now ruined forevarz.

The discussion of “power imbalance” carried over in a rebuttal by McGraw.

So there are multiple issues here, but I think they are related and I hope to make that relationship clear here. The questions are:

  1. Was the story a case of sexualizing? Is Watson whining and/or demonizing men?
  2. Why the disagreements? Don’t we recognize sexism when we see it?
  3. Was Watson wrong to identify McGraw in her talk?
  4. Was there an “imbalance of power” comparable, as was suggested by many, to sexual harassment in the workplace?
  5. Is Watson an hypocrite?

Regarding the issue that sparked it all, I will spare you an analysis of what makes the incident a case of sexualizing (and creepy). Rebecca did a fine job of that in a post herself (which I quoted above). I am more interested in the incredible shallowness of the discussion, the lack of empathy demonstrated by McGraw and those who ‘sided’ with her on the issue, and the way the whole thing completely occluded any discussion of Rebecca’s talk, which is a talk I actually want to see and hear about.

I was amazed that a young woman could hear the story and not find it creepy. Perhaps it takes years of experiencing sexism for yourself before you can recognize and understand it. However, empathy doesn’t require that kind of understanding and I find the lack of empathy among the students who commented on this disturbing.

Watson blamed Stef’s reaction on ignorance and I won’t disagree, but a lack of perspective is more than just a failure to read the feminist literature. The difference between ‘getting it’ and not, I think, is in how deeply one is willing to think about the issues as well as and how much one is willing to be educated. Most importantly, how willing they are to listen to the views of those with more knowledge and experience than they have themselves. It is not dissimilar to the problem of expertise and, unfortunately, I see this as a symptom of a cultural shift away from both respect for others and the willingness to work for knowledge.

Mostly I think that shallow thinking and disrespect for wisdom stems from the narcissistic idea that one knows enough already. I realize this sounds like the typical crotchety “kids today!” attitude and maybe it is, but I am not alone in my thinking on it. I have seen so much of this in my classroom that it is now easy to for me to spot. Many simply do not think beyond the surface features of concepts, especially if doing so means that they might need to change their view.

The surface features of feminism that seem to get the most attention today are sexual freedom and equal voice. Both of these issues are complex and, when people oversimplify them in the name of feminism, the ‘solutions’ can exacerbate the problem. Sexism, the thing that feminism fights against, is not simple either.

On Sexual Freedom

If I were an anthropologist studying our culture today, I might get the idea that “sexual freedom” is about incorporating sex into every aspect of life or that it is the freedom to express one’s self sexually without regard to other people’s feelings. It’s not. Sexual freedom means YOU get to choose what happens to your body. You get to choose when and with whom to have sex. That’s all it means. In order to have that kind of freedom, we have to take responsibility. Culturally, it must be as okay to say “no” as it is to say “yes”. This cannot happen if women are primarily viewed as sexual objects when they do not choose to be.

With all freedom comes responsibility. In the Watson vs. elevator guy example, there were responsibilities on both sides. Watson’s responsibility was to refrain from expressing an interest in sex if she didn’t want it. She did more than that. She clearly expressed a desire to do something else: to sleep. Alone. The man in the elevator had a responsibility to consider the situation and put a little bit of thought into how she might feel about being propositioned at that time in that setting.

On a side note, calling women “prudes” because they do not choose to have sex with multiple partners, do not like it when men stare at their boobs (instead of listening), or do not enjoy a constant barrage of dick jokes, is the opposite of sexual freedom. Think of it as freedom of religion, which includes freedom from religion.

On Sexism and Equal Voice

Sexism is a deeply-rooted cultural phenomenon that is perpetuated, in part, by personal interactions involving struggles for power. Sexism is the set of subtle thought processes that keep women from equal access to resources for the same effort. It is not about simple numbers. It is not, for example, the high ratios if male to female speakers at conferences. It is the set of thought processes that, in part, leads to those high ratios and the thought processes that those high ratios perpetuate. What needs to change are the thought processes.

Getting more women involved is not a cure-all, especially if the women who are included are not qualified to contribute (which only serves to exacerbate the problem as it appears that’s what women have to offer; that’s what makes tokenism bad). And nobody who is qualified wants to be asked to speak simply because they have the right genitalia. This is what some people mean when they say that ratios are a “non-issue”. It’s not that they don’t matter. It’s the fact that the problem is not the ratios. The problem is the culture that keeps them high.

On Watson’s Public Flogging

Regarding the ‘naming of names’, I don’t know if I would have added the quotes to my talk, knowing that the blogger was in the audience, but how doing so is wrong escapes me. One comment was that Watson was “using the first part of her talk as a soapbox”, which tells me that either they haven’t seen her talk before or they haven’t been paying attention. Most of her talks begin with personal stories. Some are very long and most are irrelevant “small talk”, but some are soapbox-like. I don’t know if it is an intentional strategy for her, but it has the effect of bringing most of the audience closer, which makes them more receptive to the message. Speaking style is one of Rebecca’s strengths. As for the “soap box”, I wonder if they realize that what we ALL do is stand on a soap box and preach. Few of us actually take actions to affect policy change.

Other criticisms included calling into question Watson’s “atheist credentials”. I didn’t realize atheists needed credentials, nor is it relevant. Yes, I have criticized her openly (on more than one occasion, actually) in the past for speaking outside her knowledge base. I do not think she has done so in this case, but that does not matter because it is just not relevant.

One commenter actually claimed that, “…Dawkins or Christina [Greta, I assume?] would never insult someone who was in the audience at a peer conference.” Um. Really? Indeed, they would if it were warranted. At The Amaz!ng Meeting last year, Massimo Pigliucci’s talk was built around criticizing two very prominent skeptics, Michael Shermer, and James Randi (whose organization hosted the meeting; Shermer’s co-sponsored it) for a lack of hubris! In a university setting, academic talks are criticized on the spot by colleagues, in front of other colleagues. Open discussion, including criticism, is how shared knowledge is built.

The bulk of the criticism of Watson’s ‘calling out’ seems to be about power. Power to do what? Some have compared it to sexual harassment, which is a bit ridiculous and, again, shallow thinking.

McGraw and others claimed that Watson’s position and ‘celebrity’ in skeptic circles put McGraw at a disadvantage. That may be true, but I fail to see the relevance of this, either. This is not about power at all. There are no decisions to be made, positions to fill, salaries to pay, or awards to be given. It’s a disagreement, not an exchange. In cases of sexual harassment and discrimination, power is used to control people or coerce sexual favors in exchange for access to resources. To use some stereotypical examples, get the job, you need to sleep with the casting director. To get a raise, you’re expected to look the other way when your boss ogles you or slaps your ass. If you have sex with the teacher, they’ll give you an A. THAT is about power.

And McGraw’s reputation has “ruined” by Watson? Rebecca doesn’t have that kind of power. Nobody does. First, people do not start with “a good reputation” that can then only be reduced. Nobody is entitled to such a thing. A reputation is something you earn. Nobody can harm your reputation unless they lie. If they are telling the truth, then it is you who have harmed it.

Finally, some discussion of whether Watson is a hypocrite was pushed around. I have to say that, although it clearly doesn’t change my view of the elevator man’s actions or Rebecca’s in naming McGraw in her talk, it is clear that her actions and messages today are a world apart from what they were just a few years ago – or even more recently. However, I am encouraged by this recent edit to a 2006 post:

EDIT, June 26, 2011: Someone just sent me a link to this and asked me what I think about what I wrote more than five years ago. Well, I think I was wrong to make a joke that sexualized two women. I made a lot of off-color jokes back then, and to be fair I probably still do — but the difference now is that I’ve had five years to grow and change and learn about ideas like feminism and the patriarchy, and I’ve figured out that my actions and words will never be separate from those concepts.

And I am equally encouraged that she wrote this instead of trying to bury or hide from the past.

I have heard, third hand, that Rebecca’s talk, which was about a dangerous threat we face today, was excellent. I will have to wait for the video to be posted to judge for myself. In the meantime, I am hugely disappointed that some of the students were so wrapped up in the drama and threatened by the idea that we still have work to do to in promoting equality (work that doesn’t involve raising our own self-esteems) seem to have missed it along with its point.


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56 Comments

  1. [...] been in lengthy discussion with friends about the topic rather than filling up the blog with it) is something Barbara Drescher has written. It’s called On Sexism, Objectification, and Power: The difference between ‘getting it’ [...]

  2. Greg Laden says:

    I loved this post, and here’s my response: Rebecca Watson, Barbara Drescher and the Elevator Guy.

    I agree with you that I may have overstated how often we may disagree.

    1. admin says:

      See how the ratio of agreement to disagreement finds a homeostasis? :)

  3. eSantipapa says:

    As if women don’t proposition men in identical ways… lol

  4. “The difference between ‘getting it’ and not, I think, is in how deeply one is willing to think about the issues as well as and how much one is willing to be educated.”

    This is applicable to every single topic under the sun.

    Wonderfully thought-provoking post, Barb. Thank you.

  5. I would just add that if I post something on the Internet, I should expect that the person whom I wrote about would read it. So when I go to TAM, I shouldn’t be surprised if Michael Shermer talks to me about the satirical posts I wrote about him. Maybe we’ll come away with a better understanding of each other, or maybe we’ll fuel a lot of twitter feeds.

    If you don’t want Rebecca Watson to comment about your blog post, don’t make a blog post about her. You can ignore her response, or respond back, but don’t be surprised if she responds.

  6. Aaron Friel says:

    I didn’t like this blog post because the arguments covered seem so disparate from the arguments used by Stef’s proponents, including myself and others. Since the CFI conference I’ve heard, or thought I’d heard just about every argument imaginable in her defense, in Rebecca’s defense, and everything in between.

    But this blog post struck me as vaguely disingenuous and distracting from the arguments made by Stef and others on the three (not just two anymore!) simultaneous arguments. As an example of some statements I took issue with:

    Perhaps it takes years of experiencing sexism for yourself before you can recognize and understand it. However, empathy doesn’t require that kind of understanding and I find the lack of empathy among the students who commented on this disturbing.

    This appeal to experience or authority seems out of place and disrespectful. Stef’s argument isn’t valid because she isn’t old enough, hasn’t experienced it enough, and her supporters are wrong for the same? I don’t know what to make of this.

    On a side note, calling women “prudes” because they do not choose to have sex with multiple partners, do not like it when men stare at their boobs (instead of listening), or do not enjoy a constant barrage of dick jokes, is the opposite of sexual freedom. Think of it as freedom of religion, which includes freedom from religion.

    I have not seen this argument made by anyone in response to this. It seems like an unnecessary aside.

    The bulk of the criticism of Watson’s ‘calling out’ seems to be about power. Power to do what? Some have compared it to sexual harassment, which is a bit ridiculous and, again, shallow thinking.

    Again, who is making these arguments that are so awful? People likened Rebecca Watson’s soapbox performance to sexual harassment?

    McGraw and others claimed that Watson’s position and ‘celebrity’ in skeptic circles put McGraw at a disadvantage. That may be true, but I fail to see the relevance of this, either. This is not about power at all. There are no decisions to be made, positions to fill, salaries to pay, or awards to be given. It’s a disagreement, not an exchange. In cases of sexual harassment and discrimination, power is used to control people or coerce sexual favors in exchange for access to resources. To use some stereotypical examples, get the job, you need to sleep with the casting director. To get a raise, you’re expected to look the other way when your boss ogles you or slaps your ass. If you have sex with the teacher, they’ll give you an A. THAT is about power.

    The issue about power is two-fold. One is that the manner in which Stef was brought up was spiteful and vindictive. I missed the beginning of the talk, but as I learned from people on all sides, the beginning of Rebecca Watson’s talk, the prelude, consisted of her talking about rampant misogyny and sexism in the atheist community. So far so good. But she began to bring her hate mail and comments on youtube videos into it, and of course the content of these anonymous remarks was abhorrent. Then Rebecca switched gears, suggested to the audience that this misogyny was present and expressed by someone “in your midst”, displayed Stef McGraw’s name and snippets of her blog post, and related her remarks to “parroting misogynistic thought”. This is not reasonable discourse and should not be treated as such. This was a power play in the most basic sense of the phrase, not the contrived meaning you want to use. When Stef’s supporters say this was about power, they aren’t talking about the feminist philosophical meaning.

    As someone who has vocally defended Stef McGraw, I think I have to distance myself from such inanity as the arguments you rightfully cast aside in this blog post.

    1. admin says:

      This appeal to experience or authority seems out of place and disrespectful. Stef’s argument isn’t valid because she isn’t old enough, hasn’t experienced it enough, and her supporters are wrong for the same? I don’t know what to make of this.

      It isn’t an “appeal to authority”. Appeal to authority is when the evidence to support a statement is, “X said so.” What I did was speculate about why some of the people discussing the issue did not categorize “Elevator Guy’s” behavior in the same way that Rebecca did and that I do. I didn’t say that her argument was invalid because she wasn’t old enough. I said that the discussion of the issue by her and others was shallow.

      I have not seen this argument made by anyone in response to this. It seems like an unnecessary aside.

      Side notes, by definition, are not necessary. If it was something that someone had explicitly stated in one of the posts that I referenced, it wouldn’t be called a “side note”.

      The bulk of the criticism of Watson’s ‘calling out’ seems to be about power. Power to do what? Some have compared it to sexual harassment, which is a bit ridiculous and, again, shallow thinking.

      Again, who is making these arguments that are so awful? People likened Rebecca Watson’s soapbox performance to sexual harassment?

      I linked to posts which made those arguments, with many references to power in the comments of the posts including comparisons to sexual harassment (regardless of whether they used the same language). Sexual harassment and rape (especially date rape) are where references to power in discussions of women’s rights are made. Unfortunately, the terms and concepts are often misinterpreted and misapplied when one’s understanding is shallow. This is precisely what I meant by the “shallowness” of the discussion.

      I understand that some commenters did not make this comparison, but some did.

      I also addressed the arguments that you described here: I acknowledged that Rebecca had an advantage in the sense that her voice reaches more people. Precious little in this world is equal. We could argue about the moral obligations of those whose voices are able to reach more people to those whose voices are able to reach fewer people, but then we could argue whether Rebecca is morally obligated to frame her message in the way that she believes it is most effective and whether she has a moral right to address public criticism in a public place.

      As I stated, I don’t know if I would have made the choice to include Stef’s comments in my talk. I wrote this because I thought it was important to ardently defend her right to do so and express my own dismay and disappointment in those comments as well as my opinion, as a psychologist and educator, about the root of the problem.

  7. Poppy says:

    Aaron is correct. Watson bundles McGraw in with the people who were calling for her to be raped.
    Stef basically said “I don’t think it’s wrong for a man to ask you back for coffee or proposition you”–that can be argued.
    To stand in front of equal peers as a keynote speaker and call an audience member, at the least, a rape sympathizer- placing McGraw with that set of commenters who said things like “I hope you get raped, you heathen bitch”, is wrong and there is really no way you can justify it.
    If Watson wanted to debate the issue, it should have been debated where Stef had a chance to respond. It should not have been done in a situation where Stef had to sit there and be called a misogynist because of a personal disagreement. Especially when it took Watson 5 years to apologize for her own misogynist statements.

    1. admin says:

      I missed this earlier, so pardon the late reply.

      To stand in front of equal peers as a keynote speaker…

      The CFI Student Leadership Conference is not a gathering of “equal peers”. Attendees are meant to be mentored. Rebecca’s talk was not a “keynote”, but as a featured speaker and veteran of the movement, she was (and is) considered a mentor, like it or not.

      Regardless, questions of what sort of protocol should occur in these situations is a moral judgment that I don’t think is necessary. Public statements are best addressed in public for many reasons. The only thing left to decide is whether Rebecca’s tone or specific statements were out of line (e.g., bullying). I’ll reserve judgment on that point for when and if I have seen it myself.

  8. Reed Esau says:

    McGraw and others claimed that Watson’s position and ‘celebrity’ in skeptic circles put McGraw at a disadvantage. That may be true, but I fail to see the relevance of this, either. This is not about power at all. There are no decisions to be made, positions to fill, salaries to pay, or awards to be given. It’s a disagreement, not an exchange.

    Sure, it’s a disagreement. But where’s the line at which it becomes bullying?

    1. admin says:

      I was not there and can’t make judgments about her tone or whether Poppy’s description is accurate. I addressed the arguments & descriptions in the blog posts and comments that I summarized in the post – the complaints. If the talk is ever posted and I see for myself that there is more to it, I’ll amend the post.

  9. Greg Laden says:

    It is important, now and then, to point out that Godwin was joking.

  10. [...] 2 (part 2, or is it three?) – On Sexism, Objectification, and Power – Barbara Drescher, also agrees with Rebecca (much to her distaste) and lays a bit of [...]

  11. Michelle says:

    I’ve been a victim of sexual assault. Is that experience enough? I’m 43. Is that old enough? I worked in psych with victims of abuse for several years. Is that having enough background to disqualify me from speaking from ignorance? Good. As you’ll see by looking at many blog posts and responses, there are many other victims of sexual assault who agreed with McGraw. Just because we’ve been a victim, doesn’t mean we have to remain one. Some of us refuse to. Some of us refuse to live in fear. Because we didn’t see the situation in the same light that RW did, doesn’t make us any less informed, less qualified or less supportive of women’s right. It doesn’t mean we lack empathy. It doesn’t make us misogynists. It doesn’t even make us misogynist sympathizers, as RW accused McGraw of. Quite frankly, I grow tired of those who believe they speak for all women, or all feminists and conduct themselves in a manner as to imply to all men that everything they say is universal. If you’re amazed at the young women who ‘lacked empathy’ then you’ll be even more amazed that there are a lot more of us who have been in RW’s shoes, but choose not to jump to conclusions about a person because they have a penis. What RW did by singling out McGraw was pathetic. It was juvenile. It was nothing more than a vindictive ploy. RW complained about Dawkins calling her out and comparing her with a Muslim woman. Then turns around and calls McGraw out and lumps her in with misogynists. Hypocrisy?

    1. admin says:

      Please quote the part of the post where I say that I speak for everyone.

      I did not say “All young women are ignorant and all experienced women are wise.” I did make statements suggesting that Stef demonstrated a shallow understanding of the issues. I stand by that. I speculated as to why her understanding was shallow by considering her age and lack of experience. Experience may or may not lead to deeper understanding and deeper understanding may be the result of things other than experience. Nuance is important, which is was my whole point, ironically.

      As Greg noted, you’ve mischaracterized the events. Rebecca didn’t “jump to conclusions about a person”. Few have argued that his intention was not clear (sex) because it is pretty clear. Rebecca simply asked men who do not know her personally not to sexualize her the way that EG clearly did.

      1. Tim says:

        Please quote the part of the post where I say that I speak for everyone.

        Why do you mention this? Please quote the part of Michelle’s post where she claims that you (and not, for example, merely an unspecified group of women) make this claim.

        Moving on to the crux of the matter:

        I speculated as to why her understanding was shallow by considering her age and lack of experience.

        Perhaps that speculation was justified before. Now that new evidence has emerged — namely, that women who have experienced the worst that misogyny can throw at them, and emerged with empathy for men intact — it is time to revise your views on what constitutes a shallow understanding.

        1. admin says:
          Please quote the part of the post where I say that I speak for everyone.

          Why do you mention this? Please quote the part of Michelle’s post where she claims that you (and not, for example, merely an unspecified group of women) make this claim.

          Her implication was clear in her first comment and she did not deny that she interpreted my post in that way.

          Perhaps that speculation was justified before. Now that new evidence has emerged — namely, that women who have experienced the worst that misogyny can throw at them, and emerged with empathy for men intact — it is time to revise your views on what constitutes a shallow understanding.

          Not at all. This is a straw man. First, saying “I don’t jump to conclusions about a man’s intentions” is not a demonstration of empathy for those men. Second, Stef did not say this; a commenter here (Michelle) did. She used her opinion as a foundation for a rival hypothesis to explain Stef’s reaction. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it is not cause for me to revise my view, which is based on more than just Stef’s expression that she doesn’t see what’s wrong.

          My hypothesis considered the discussions in blog comments by Stef and her peers, which misused and misapplied basic terms such as “power” and “hostile environment”. I do not tend to talk out of my ass on this blog. I give an educated opinion, keep my mouth shut, or clearly describe personal opinions as purely personal.

  12. Greg Laden says:

    Michelle, one could argue that the one telling the other person to shut up is speaking for both, but it is hard to argue that the one who expressed an opinion and then was told to shut up is as well.

    Also, your recounting of events is inaccurate, so I’m not sure you are really speaking to what has happened.

  13. Michelle says:

    Greg, who told anyone to shut up? What events are you claiming to be inaccurate?

  14. Greg Laden says:

    Michelle, this argument is about whether or not it was appropriate for people to tell Rebecca Watson that she should not have made anything at all of Elevator Guy’s proposition. That is at the core of this discussion, in terms of events. If you (or McGraw) think you’d do something in the elevator differently fine. If you or McGraw think you’d react differently, fine. Talk about that. But telling Rebecca that she needed to keep her annoyance to herself, or telling her that her reaction or feelings are invalid is potentially a matter of discussion but really, rather dickish, and yes, misogynist (though I quickly add to appease the relativists, worse things have happened).

    So, unless I’m reading you wrong, you and others are telling Rebecca to shut up. Or, you don’t quite grok the actual events being discussed, in which case you should and then maybe you’d have a different perspective.

    I quickly add: Your expression of annoyance at this whole thing is about at the same level of discourse as Rebecca’s expressed annoyance of the carelessness of Elevatorman. I assume you feel that it is OK for you to express your opinion! So does she.

  15. [...] may be the most ironic comment I’ve read in years. It’s from a discussion about Rebecca Watson’s recent takedown of a man’s approach to her in a hotel elevator in the wee hours. This commenter is male, and [...]

  16. Michelle says:

    Greg, this discussion is about several things surrounding this, not just what you just tried to limit it to. The point of people’s response to her, and this was made clear by many, was that not every woman things a guy who is being nice or even asking for coffee is “hitting” on you or sexualizing you. As well as RW’s message of “guys don’t do that”, as if she speaks for all women. She doesn’t. Of course she is entitled to feel what she feels, but it doesn’t make her assumption about the guy true. The guy told her off the bat not to take was he was going to say the wrong way, but that he found her interesting. So, people get to assume that he meant something other than what he said? Let a woman tell a guy no, and a guy imply that she meant something other than that, and watch riots take place. It’s a double standard. You, nor anyone else, knows if that guy had sex on his mind. This took place in a different culture. He could have been homosexual for all you know.

    Because RW is considered a “mentor” makes it even more foul and tacky what she did. Some role model. What RW did was no different then a Creationist quote mining and making someone out to be something they’re not. A misogynist is someone who hates women for the sake of being a woman. Disagreeing with another woman, is not being a misogynist. Even downplaying another woman’s experience because you don’t agree that it was a threat, is not being a misogynist. This is a problem with the skeptic community, the whole hero-worship and groupie complexes, that it’s laced with. And heaven forbid you disagree with any of them.

  17. Greg Laden says:

    Yes, a lot of other things are being discussed, but referring to the periphery is certainly a sort of cherry picking. The central issues here are not about living in fear or remaining a victim. The main central issue, I think, is the misogyny, and it really is misogyny, that pervades the skeptical/atheist movement(s).

    I get your point, and I think it is valid as i understand it: There is an approach here that involves moving past victim-hood. However, I think you can make that point without vilifying Rebecca. And, vilifying a woman who was speaking about sexism because you don’t like the way she spoke about sexism might not be misogyny but … well, as they say, it is not helping.

    I’m not sure where the hero-worship thing comes in. Are we choosing to worship Dawkins over Watson vs. Watson over Dawkins?

    1. admin says:

      Speaking for myself, hero-worship doesn’t factor in. Neither is a hero to me (that’s not an insult; I’m a bit of a realist).

      The main point of my post (written prior to Dawkins’ comments), and the one that I think that it may have been Michelle’s reason to post here, is that I criticized the view that there is nothing inappropriate about EG’s behavior. Some people today view criticism of another’s viewpoint as disrespect. It’s not. People deserve equal treatment. Views do not. People are entitled to their opinions and they are entitled to express them, but they are not entitled to do so without opposition or criticism. That is not “critical thinking” and it serves no good purpose.

      Sorry for the hijack – I guess this reply was more to Michelle than to you, Greg…

  18. Greg Laden says:

    I don’t think you can actually hijack your own comment section.

    1. admin says:

      I can’t hijack your comment sub-thingy? :)

  19. Greg Laden says:

    Ok, NOW we are getting off topic! .. so yes, I suppose you can…

  20. [...] 2 (part 2, or is it three?) – On Sexism, Objectification, and Power – Barbara Drescher, also agrees with Rebecca (much to her distaste) and lays a bit of [...]

  21. Richard Manning says:

    Okay, Help me understand this.

    Rebecca is complaining that guys are hitting on her all the time at conferences.

    Well, okay but what does she mean by that?

    Does that mean guys are flirting with her and that annoys her because
    flirting is sexualizing? Or does she mean that men are straight out
    constantly propositioning her for sex?

    If it’s the first case then I think she’s a hypocrite because she
    does that to men. (as has been noted by previous bloggers) If it’s the
    second case then maybe she’s just interpreting men as propositioning
    her? I mean based on her knee jerk assessment of a guy asking her out
    for coffee, it sounds like she kind of projects sexual intentions on to
    men. Am I naive for thinking that way?

  22. Richard Manning says:

    Okay folks, this is what is going on.

    Rebecca Watson insists that she explicitly told guys not to sexualize her on the panel discussion with Richard Dawkins.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKHwduG1Frk&feature=player_embedded#at=242

    However the actual panel discussion which was uploaded by AronRa she never talks about being sexualized in the kind of way that she purports elevator guy is doing to her.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W014KhaRtik

    She doesn’t talk about being hit on at all she talks about getting crude emails.

    Rebecca Watson distorts things and does not know how to distinguish between her feelings and reality.

    That doesn’t make her a good feminist or a good skeptic.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W014KhaRtik

    So this is what people are referring to when they talk about how Rebecca had already told others that she didn’t like being “hit on” at conferences. Sadly that’s not what she said at all and the so called skeptics never bothered to check their sources.

    1. admin says:

      If you read the post, part of it is the question of whether Rebecca is a hypocrite, so I addressed that. I’m happy to discuss it further, but but I did address it – in this post and in others.

  23. [...] World Atheist Convention in Dublin — even though they weren’t there?  Or even the recent CFI Student Leadership conference? Yes, that’s a link, go click it to read a fine example of someone-not-attending but still [...]

  24. Greg Laden says:

    Richard:

    Okay, Help me understand this.

    I don’t actually think this is what you are asking for here.

  25. S.C. says:

    It’s women like this who give feminism a bad name.

    Look, I don’t blame Rebecca for being uncomfortable, because everyone has their own individual comfort zones. I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable in that situation, but I don’t think you have to be some crazy person to have felt uncomfortable in that situation. I’m about to say that I’m “amazed” that any woman could possibly feel uncomfortable in a situation that would not have the same effect on me.

    I mean, for pete’s sakes. I live in a major city. If this was all it took to “creep me out” I would never be able to live my apartment!

    Yet this woman blogger (and her supporters) have the nerve to say that if I have a higher level of tolerance than them for what creeps me out – it must be because I’m so sheltered I don’t know any better.

    This is really my biggest problem with many women who label themselves as “feminists.” They claim that they want women to have greater freedom. But really what they mean is they want women to be free to think like them.

    1. admin says:

      S.C., this is a giant straw man. I have yet to see Rebecca’s talk, but my point (and what I believe Rebecca said) was not that I am surprised that other women might not be creeped out (keep in mind that they are only speculating that they would not. We don’t really know for certain how we will feel unless we are in the situation).

      My amazement was of Stef’s lack of empathy – her inability to understand why Rebecca was creeped out.

  26. S.C. says:

    Sorry I accidentally deleted the first part of my post on editing. What I meant to say is it is extremely close minded to be “Amazed” that any young woman wouldn’t be creeped out by this experience.

    Really, you’re amazed that not all women think exactly the same and respond exactly the same emotionally to every situation? And if a woman wouldn’t respond in the exact same way, it’s because she must be ignorant and naive.

    Actually, I think it’s just the opposite. Women I know who are worldly, well traveled, and urban dwellers tend to have a lot higher tolerance for what makes them uncomfortable, simply because they wouldn’t be able to get through the day if they were as sensitive as you suggest we ought to be.

    You are perfectly free to say what makes you uncomfortable and what creeps you out. You don’t have any right to tell me that if I can handle the same situation without it bothering me, there’s something wrong with me.

    1. S.C. says:

      one last comment:

      are you really suggesting that if someone disagrees with you on what makes them uncomfortable, the only possible explanation is that they are a naive woman who has never experienced sexism.

      Sorry, you’re not a very good skeptic then. Anyone who believes there is only one possibility for why a person can feel (or not feel) a certain way is shockingly ignorant of basic psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

      Again, I want to reiterate I have absolutely no problem with Rebecca’s original blog. I would not feel the same as her, but I feel that all she did was briefly make a complaint about something that made her uncomfortable. I have no problem with that.

      I have a huge problem with people like you who state that any woman who did not have the same reaction as Rebeccas must have something wrong with them.

      You show both the fact that you aren’t a feminist to be a feminist, you’re a feminist because you think it empowers you to force women to prescribe to only one mentality: your own.

      That and you really, really fail at social sciences 101.

      1. S.C. says:

        sorry, here is my last comment:

        “Watson’s responsibility was to refrain from expressing an interest in sex if she didn’t want it. She did more than that. She clearly expressed a desire to do something else: to sleep. Alone. The man in the elevator had a responsibility to consider the situation and put a little bit of thought into how she might feel about being propositioned at that time in that setting”

        There has been no proof offered that EG heard her say that. If he wasn’t sitting/standing in her direct viscinity, I find it extremely unlikely that he didn’t hear her.

        how do you know that sexism is what lead to this guy’s come on?

        How do you know he doesn’t have asperger’s, and just isn’t very good and social interaction?

        How do you know he wasn’t drinking too much and thus simply wasn’t thinking when he asked her to his room? Or maybe he’d smoked a big joint in the parking lot right beforehand? That the lesson here isn’t “don’t drink too much or don’t get stoned” as opposed to “don’t be a sexist.”

        How do you know the guy isn’t hard of hearing?

        How do you know he isn’t hard of hearing, and was drinking, and had aspergers?

        The fact is that while I understand why the situation made Rebecca uncomfortable (though it would not have the same effect on me), you again fail as a skeptic by, with no information whatsoever about EG, assuming that his behavior has one and only one possible explanation: sexism.

        It’s perfectly appropriate to say that you feel what EG did would make you uncomfortable, and explain why it made you uncomfortable. It’s appropriate to explain why you think such an act could be construed as a result of sexism.

        It is not appropriate for you, while knowing nothing about EG, to assume that sexism was the only reason he could have done what he did, and that any person who doesn’t immediately decide that it was a result of sexism must be ignorant.

        It is far more ignorant to actually be unaware that human beings can have more than one determining factor for why they exhibit a given behavior.

        My sister and I were in Chicago on vacation some time ago. We got home very late, about 5am, and my sister was drunk and noisy. Our neighbors in the hotel room next to us pounded on the wall and told her to shut up. While she did quiet down, my sister started complaining angrily about how hey, this was a Best Western, not the Ritz. People are on vacation and should just deal with noise around them and not complain.

        When I told her in the morning she had said that, she stated, “I can’t believe I said that! I feel so bad that I said something like that!” Saying such a thing was completely out of character for her.

        My sister did not say these things becuase she’s an inconsiderate idiot who honestly doesn’t know some people don’t like being rudely awakened at 5am. She was just drunk.

        1. admin says:

          This comment adds more straw men (I didn’t call EG’s behavior ‘sexism’. The fact that you think I did means that you missed the point of a huge chunk of my post), makes false claims (it is clear that EG heard Rebecca’s complaints), and includes totally irrelevant arguments (it doesn’t matter if the guy was socially clueless because it isn’t about him).

          I’m sorry, but you seem to have misread, misinterpreted, and misrepresented this post.

      2. admin says:

        Wow. You’re building more straw men on top of straw men.

        I have a huge problem with people like you who state that any woman who did not have the same reaction as Rebeccas must have something wrong with them.

        - You have said this so many times now that I have lost count and it’s still wrong. Please read my other replies regarding what I actually stated in the post (rereading the post might be in order, too).
        - I never said “naive”.
        - Not a very good skeptic?

        …shockingly ignorant of basic psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

        and

        That and you really, really fail at social sciences 101.

        - Wow. This is really out of line and just plain wrong.

    2. admin says:

      Really, you’re amazed that not all women think exactly the same and respond exactly the same emotionally to every situation? And if a woman wouldn’t respond in the exact same way, it’s because she must be ignorant and naive.

      Again, not at all. What I amazed by is the inability to understand another’s view – quite the opposite of what you are saying here. I didn’t say “ignorant and naive”, but I admit that I did imply that ignorance, in the form of shallow thinking, is suspect.

  27. Skeptic Ginger says:

    As a woman who has been addicted to exploring the world since I was about 12 years old, I’ve found myself in a handful of very dangerous places. I can probably count them on 2 hands. It happens. Especially when you are naive until you’ve experienced that particular mistake, then you know not to do that again.

    But by far the vast majority of the places I’ve been, including ones people warned me about, which people tend to do a lot, never turned out to be dangerous. People are normal everywhere you go. They have families, they go to jobs, they aren’t looking to rob and rape you around every corner. Crime occurs, yes, as do assaults. But these things are not the overwhelming natural state of things in most of the world.

    My take on a liberated woman: When you are past being bothered by ignorant men, when you pay no attention to the occasional jerk, when you pay no mind whatsoever to a drunk in a hotel elevator at 4 am as long as he doesn’t touch you, you are on your way to being a liberated woman. When you do what you want to do, go where you want to go, be who you want to be and sexist men who would get in your way are no more than dust you flick off your shoulder, you are there.

    It’s no surprise a guy on an elevator in a nice hotel at 4am might “creep you out”. But if you are so bothered by such a minor encounter you feel the need to publicly ask “guys, don’t do that”, it’s time to reconsider just where you are placing your locus of control.

  28. S.C. says:

    You did not say “I am amazed that a young woman could not hear this story and not be empathetic to how it could make another woman feel creeped out.”

    You stated, specifically,

    “I was amazed that a young woman could hear the story and not find it creepy.”

    And now you are saying that all you said was that you were amazed a woman couldn’t understand another woman’s point of view. Do you not realize that we can see the words you typed above?

    1. admin says:

      I also said,

      Sexism is the set of subtle thought processes that keep women from equal access to resources for the same effort.

      You are taking my words out of context and assuming quite a bit about what I do and do not respect, assume, or think. I called what EG did objectification, which is a component of, and contributor to, overt sexism. I also said that sexism was not simple.

  29. S.C. says:

    You also state:

    “Why the disagreements? Don’t we recognize sexism when we see it?”

    and then go on to talk about how you are amazed that any young woman weren’t creeped out by the story and must be inexperienced with sexism to not recognize it in this incident. In fact, this entire article is about how this guy must be sexist and doesn’t get it, and women who don’t think this guy is necessarily sexist are ignorant.

    “I was amazed that a young woman could hear the story and not find it creepy. Perhaps it takes years of experiencing sexism for yourself before you can recognize and understand it.”

    You talk about women respecting other women’s point of view. But really you just want women to support your point of view. You have no respect for a woman who does not immediately get creeped out by a guy and assume he must be sexist. You find such women to be “amazing.” And now you are trying to say that you did not refer to them as ignorant.

    You claim them to be ignorant by stating that for them to think this way, it is a sign they are unfamiliar with sexism and unable to “recognize and understand it.” Not being able to recognize and understand a situation properly is what “ignorance” means. So by saying that a woman who is not creeped out by said situation indicated that she has not seen sexism herself so that she can’t experience and recignize it is calling a woman ignorant.

    And it’s not that we can’t recognize sexism. Its just that some of us recognize that behavior does not have one single causality, and that it’s pretty silly to assume that this particular incident must have been a case of sexism.

    And some of us aren’t willing to just assume that one incident, with absolutely no background information on the man involved in said incident, was definitely a result of sexism as opposed to a myriad of other reasons (asperger’s, alcohol, etc.

    1. S.C. says:

      Also, how do you know this guy isn’t just socially awkward or imperceptive, as opposed to sexist.

      You state that Rebecca made clear that she wanted to go to bed alone, while offering zero proof elevator guy had heard this.

      The claim that this was definitely a case of sexism assumes that the only possible explanation is this: elevator guy knew Rebecca would be offended by being proposititioned, and knew that she wanted to go to bed alone, and knew that she would feel uncomfortable and threatened in an enclosed space late at night, and didn’t care, because all he thought about were his own desires and not how his words would affect her emotionally.

      I agree that is one possible explanation.

      Another equally possible explanation:

      Elevator guy heard Rebecca speak and saw her as a strong, confident woman he was attracted to. He didn’t hear her say she wanted to go to sleep alone. He found himself, unexpectedly, in an elevator with her and thought, “holy smokes, it’s that awesome woman I saw earlier tonight! Man, I’ll probably never have another chance to speak with her like this, and she won’t be around long because this is a conference with limited time. I should ask her to hang out right now because I may never get another chance!” And maybe he just too nervous, or not intuitive enough, or just plain old not smart enough to realize this would be taken as a sexual proposition.

      I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. If some guy did this to me, I’m not going to assume the guy is a sexist and write long diatribes about sexism in society while using this guy as a prime example, as you have done here. I will recoginze that he very well might be just trying to get in my pants and not giving a darn about making me uncomfortable, but knowing nothing about this man, I’m not going to make such a negative assumption about someone I don’t know.

      And I’m certainly not going to say that I’m amazed that other women who don’t instantly think the worst of a situation that could possibly be the result of lack of social intelligence or nervousness as sexism, and claim that women not jumping to the same conclusions I have are not able to “recognize and understand sexism.”

    2. admin says:

      Despite your attempts to paint everything as “a point of view”, the truth underneath remains. It is not disrespect to criticize and I am not required to accept Stef’s “point of view” as valid any more than I am required to accept a kindergartner’s “point of view” that the moon is made of green cheese.

      Understanding is about knowledge, not respect for differing opinions. Not all “points of view” are equally valid.

      And, once again, whether EG’s behavior stems from ignorance, Asperger’s, or any other excuse is not relevant because it isn’t about EG.

  30. S.C. says:

    You states:

    “Regarding the issue that sparked it all, I will spare you an analysis of what makes the incident a case of sexualizing (and creepy).”

    “I was amazed that a young woman could hear the story and not find it creepy. Perhaps it takes years of experiencing sexism for yourself before you can recognize and understand it.”

    You then state:

    “I didn’t call EG’s behavior ‘sexism’”

    Yes. Yes you did. I just quoted you above doing so. Twice. Using the exact word “sexism” when descring this incident. You stated that this story is something that you are amazed a woman would not recognize as sexism.

    I stated I had an issue with this line, which says nothing about empathy for the point of view of another person, but only speaks to how Barbara would expect a woman to think herself upon hearing such a story :

    “I was amazed that a young woman could hear the story and not find it creepy

    then you claim:

    “What I amazed by is the inability to understand another’s view – quite the opposite of what you are saying here.”

    It’s really, really, really stupid to lie on the very page that has written documented proof you are lying.

    1. admin says:

      It’s really, really, really stupid to lie on the very page that has written documented proof you are lying.

      1) There is no such thing as “proof”. Basic science, induction, first principles.
      2) Calling me a liar is not something I take lightly.

      The fact that you took my words out of context and failed to recognize the big picture does not make me a liar, nor does your act of picking apart my comments, looking for contradictions. The fact that you think you have found them may be evidence that my communication/writing skills need some work, but that’s about it.

      I am generally against censorship, but when comments are as repetitive, presumptuous, and accusatory as yours, it crosses my mind.

  31. admin says:

    For the record, I have deleted the last three comments submitted by “S.C.” because they were abusive and summed to over 2,000 words – considerably more than the original (not quoted) text of the post itself.

    S.C., if you want to rant on repeatedly and call me names, do so on your own blog.

  32. Michelle says:

    Admin said: “Please quote the part of the post where I say that I speak for everyone.”

    Please quote where I said YOU said that.

    Admin said: “I did not say “All young women are ignorant and all experienced women are wise.” I did make statements suggesting that Stef demonstrated a shallow understanding of the issues. I stand by that. I speculated as to why her understanding was shallow by considering her age and lack of experience”

    Actually, you applied it to more than just Steph….your words: “I am more interested in the incredible shallowness of the discussion, the lack of empathy demonstrated by McGraw and those who ‘sided’ with her on the issue…..Most importantly, how willing they are to listen to the views of those with more knowledge and experience than they have themselves.”

    Admin said: ” Few have argued that his intention was not clear (sex) because it is pretty clear. Rebecca simply asked men who do not know her personally not to sexualize her the way that EG clearly did.”

    What? We’re mind readers now? No one knows what that guy’s intentions were, and no…neither do you. So by your logic, because it’s okay to assume this guy meant something other than what he said, then it’s okay for a guy to assume a woman means something other than “no” when she says “no”, right? Otherwise, you’re applying a double standard. And since when does a guy telling you exactly what you ask for mean he’s ‘sexualizing’ you? She said she wanted to be treated like a “thinking human being, first”. What part of “I find you interesting. Would you like to come up for coffee and conversation?” does NOT imply the guy sees you as a thinking human being? He didn’t say he wanted to jump her bones. He didn’t ask for sex. He said he found here interesting and offered the opportunity for more conversation. Some people ACTUALLY mean what they say. Not everyone talks behind cryptic messages. Where this guy was from, it may not have been outside of social norms for him to extend the invitation. And as some other bloggers pointed out, some people interact that way and think nothing of it. One culture’s norm is another’s taboo. It’s not very wise to go into another country, as RW did, and expect someone to adjust themselves to your social norms, especially when they are not infringing your rights. It’s even less wise to tell a gender what they should or shouldn’t do when it comes to interaction between other people, as RW did. If it made her feel uncomfortable, then that’s how she felt. She has that right. But this isn’t simply about how RW felt. This has to do with people painting this guy, someone none of them know anything about, as some “creepy” individual based on one person’s feelings of insecurity during the situation. Just because she’s entitled to feel the way she did, doesn’t make her assessment of the guy accurate. Nor does it give her the right to dictate to other men what they can or can’t do, in a blanket statement, as she did, especially when it’s implied they surrender basic freedom of speech or expression. That was Steph’s point. No one has a protected right to never feel uncomfortable. If we did, we’d all be serving prison time at one point or another.

    As far as the SC person, he/she pointing out where you contradicted yourself, and yes….you did…is not being abusive. He/she said you lied. Well, when you post one thing then later say you didn’t say it….what do you call it? Yes, I have the whole exchange sitting in my email inbox from alerts that came across. You claim he/she took you out of context…..like RW did Steph by quoting only part of her entry and lumping her in with people threatening RW with rape and suggesting that she supported something she didn’t, like…misogyny? Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of females for no other reason than they are females. There’s no evidence to suggest Steph falls in that category or supports it. Not even close.

    In a nutshell, nothing came of the situation. The guy didn’t push the issue. Therefore, we are left with no evidence that this guy meant anything other than what he said, taking it at face value. To demand that we want what we say to be taken at face value, such as, when we say “no” then to turn around and imply this guy meant something other than what he said, is a double standard. If women want to stop the gender double standards, that feminists have often complained about, they have to stop applying them, as well. That pendulum swings both ways. With equal rights comes equal responsibility and equal accountability, too.

  33. david says:

    today’s lesson kids: if you like lying, but hate being held accountable for your actions, you probably shouldn’t have a comments section on your blog. this is just another privilaged white woman trying to stir up drama.

    1. admin says:

      The last time I checked, accusing someone of lying does not magically turn them into liars, nor does hyperrationalizing, quoting out of context, or making the same straw man arguments over and over again.

      Again, it’s a free internet. If you want to write a whole freaking book about what you think I did or said that was wrong, go ahead. Just do it somewhere else, M’kay?

  34. jaime says:

    Of course Barbara lied. She’s a R Becca Watson supporter. This group has proven that they are simply incapable of rational discourse. I have not seen a single pro Skeptics blog that was based on facts rather than lies and hysterical exaggerations.

    Watson’s word is worth nothing. At the very conference she claims this incident happened at, she lied in her presentation about what had been said by another female skeptic, Paula Kirby, who had said she personally did not have a problem with sexism, Rebecca then falsely claimed Kirby claimed there was no sexism in skepticism. And Rebecca’s latest video blog is just one giant misrepresentation of the major criticsms against her, and filled with crassly worded insults to boot. And her story has changed as well. Now she’s claiming she was cornered in the elevator, which is strange to not have mentioned up front. also, why would a man threateningly corner a women in an elevator only to politely accept her refusal?

    Watson and her ilk crave attention, but don’t have the looks or any actual skills or talent to earn it. So they fabricate a controversy and dramatze about it so they can at least get attention through pity.

    This is a fabricated controversy all so that women like this can whine, “everyone pay attention to me!”

    1. admin says:

      Of course Barbara lied. She’s a R Becca Watson supporter.

      Wow. You clearly did not read the post that you have commented on at all, nor do you read this blog or know me at all. I am probably Rebecca’s most outspoken critic, at least within the community.