[Originally published in Freethought Kampala]
Elevatorgate is the unprecedented INTERNET WAR that erupted after Rebecca Watson (above) posted a video in which she discussed an ordeal she experienced in an elevator while attending the World Atheist Convention which took place in Dublin, Ireland, from June 3rd to June 5th, 2011.
During the months of July and August 2011, the atheist-skeptic blogosphere was ablaze with accusations, counter-accusations, verbal fights, moral declarations and insults as hundreds of bloggers and
millions thousands of their readers tried to determine whose assessment of the events narrated by Watson best represented the facts at hand.
What also came under much discussion, and perhaps the crux of Elevatorgate, was Watson’s conduct after posting the initial video, particularly her treatment of a female student called Stef McGraw – and the manner in which dissenting opinions were dismissed as being products of misogyny and sexism.
Rebecca Watson is the founder of Skepchick, which she says is an organization dedicated to promoting skepticism and critical thinking among women around the world. Watson is also one of the co-presenters of the popular Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe podcast. She is fairly well-known in atheist-skeptic circles, and speaks at many events targeted at that community. Many of her talks tackle feminism – of which she is a vocal advocate.
She was invited to speak at this year’s World Atheist Convention in Dublin, Ireland, at the conference, she participated in a panel discussion on Communicating Atheism.
This is where the infamous incident took place.
According to an account she gives in the video below (posted on June 20, 2011), sometime during the period of the conference, she was having drinks with friends late into the night. At about 4am, she told her companions that she was tired and was going to bed. She entered the elevator and was joined by a man. While in the elevator, the man expressed interest in talking to Rebecca some more and invited her to his hotel room for coffee. She declined, but felt that she had been sexualised in the process. She also said it made her very uncomfortable to be approached this way, and suggested to ‘guys’ that – as a general rule – they should not to do this:
Not all were in agreement with Watson. Some female students, such as Rose St. Clair and Stef McGraw, did not agree that the actions of the man in the elevator constituted sexism or objectification, and expressed their reasons why. Rosie St. Clair put out a video explaining her position on the matter, a day after Watson posted hers (June 21st):
…and Stef McGraw posted an article in her blog, a day after that (June 22nd ):
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?
By this time this controversy was still relatively unknown in the wider atheist-skeptic community.
Not very happy with the comments from these students, on June 26th, during her presentation at the CFI Student Leadership Conference titled “The Religious Right VS Every Woman On Earth”, Rebecca Watson decided to criticise Stef McGraw. She did this after briefly talking about sexism in the atheist movement at the start of her talk, and showing her audience samples of highly obscene hate mail she receives from people who disagree with her views, particularly on feminism. She cited McGraw’s views as being part of the problem:
About McGraw’s comments, Watson said:
“This is, unfortunately, a pretty standard parroting of misogynistic thought.”
She later expanded on her criticisms of McGraw in a blog post on Skepchick two days later (June 28th), prompted by criticism Watson herself was receiving from several students over Twitter. They were unhappy at the way McGraw was called out during the conference:
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?”
Shocked at how Watson used her position as a keynote speaker at the CFI student conference to criticise her in that manner, McGraw posted the following on her blog:
Then, a day later at the conference, Watson delivered a keynote speech on the religious right’s war against women. Before she got to her main content, though, she decided to address sexism in the secular movement, which she views as a rampant problem. I shared her disgust as she showed screenshots of people online calling her demeaning names, making comments about her appearance, and, worst of all, making rape comments.
Then, switching gears, Watson made a remark to the extent that there are people in our own community who would not stand up for her in these sorts of situations; my name, organization, and a few sentences from my blog post then flashed on the screen before my eyes. She went on to explain how I didn’t understand what objectification meant and was espousing anti-woman sentiment.
My first reaction was complete shock. I wasn’t surprised that she had seen my post, but I didn’t think she would choose to address it during her keynote, let alone place it in a category with people advocating for her to be raped. In fact, I was excited to possibly speak with her afterward in order to discuss the matter face-to-face. Instead, all I could do was just sit there and watch myself being berated for supposedly espousing anti-woman views and told that I wouldn’t stand up for women in sticky situations with men, as one hundred of my peers watched on. I found both of those accusations to be completely and utterly incorrect, as anyone who actually knows me could tell you I care deeply about fighting sexist thought. I started thinking, how can I respond? It didn’t feel right to have to endure a widely respected keynote speaker’s accusations that I was a living example of what was wrong with our movement while I sat there unable to defend my position.
There was no time at the conference where I, as a student attendee, could appropriately make any sort of public statement addressing what Watson claimed about my argument and me. She has said over Twitter that “An attendee has every right to counter during Q&A or by publicly blogging again later,” but there are issues with both of these approaches. First, the Q&A was not an option in my mind, as I wasn’t going to get up after her great talk and argue with her about something unrelated; I have more respect for a speaker than that.
[…] My issue is the forum in which Ms. Watson chose to present her views, as it was one in which there was an extreme imbalance of power. As I stated before, I was a student listening to her along with one hundred of my peers, while she was a keynote with a following and internationally successful blog. She had a podium, and I had nothing but word of mouth.
Sharing McGraw’s disappointment, scientist and blogger Abbie Smith (ERV) charged that Watson’s actions were in bad form (July 1st):
Someone says something you disagree with, so you actively try to discuss the issue with said person in a reasonable manner!! THE SECOND SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE!!!
Who the hell thinks Watsons behavior will ‘get through’ to McGraw better than a 30 minute discussion with McGraw on why Watson was hurt/disappointed/whatever by what McGraw said? On what planet would Watsons behavior have resulted in a net positive? Someone with Watsons speaking experience and internet experience should have done better.
Even granting the premise that what Watson did was technically 100% ‘not wrong’, what she did was bad form.
And worst of all… dammit worst of all– Watsons comments in her speech re: McGraw were apparently completely unnecessary. The audience appeared to view her McGraw comments as separate from her actual speech, and Watson herself said that it was leik, only two minutes, for reals. So why the fuck did she bring it up at all? Why??? Cause it was the bitchy thing to do! McGraw said something Watson thought was bitchy, so Watson did something bitchy right back.Goddammit. As a woman in skepticism, Rebecca Watson, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it. I really do. Irony is one of my favorite sources of lulz, and nothing is more ironic than someone embodying the stereotype they purport to be combating, especially when I myself am trying to combat those stereotypes. Faaaaantastic.
It was around this time that this by now growing controversy came to the attention of prominent blogger PZ Myers of Pharyngula. In his first posting on the matter, he wrote, in Always Name Names (July 2nd):
There is an odd attitude in our culture that it’s acceptable for men to proposition women in curious ways — Rebecca Watson recently experienced this in an elevator in Dublin, and I think this encounter Ophelia Benson had reflects the same attitude: women are lower status persons, and we men, as superior beings, get to ask things of them. Also as liberal, enlightened people, of course, we will graciously accede to their desires, and if they ask us to stop hassling them, we will back off, politely. Isn’t that nice of us?
It’s not enough. Maybe we should also recognize that applying unwanted pressure, no matter how politely phrased, is inappropriate behavior.
[…] But I don’t want to talk about that.I want to mention one thing that annoys me. Rebecca Watson talked about this experience at a CFI conference, and one thing she did was to directly address, by name, criticisms of her reaction to being importuned in an elevator late at night. She specifically discussed a criticism by one of the attendees, Stef McGraw, quoting her and saying where the argument was found, and a few people were angry at her for that, and demanded that she apologize to McGraw. Which is, frankly, bizarre.
While siding with Watson and taking the view that she was justified in ‘naming’ Stef McGraw as she addressed her criticisms, he did not acknowledge the fact that McGraw herself actually did not have a problem of being named. She stated very clearly in her blog entry (posted 3 days before Myers’ article):
There are a lot of people arguing on my behalf on Twitter and various blogs saying that the problem is that she used my name. On the contrary, I have no shame for what I said, and am proud to place my name with what I wrote. My issue is the forum in which Ms. Watson chose to present her views, as it was one in which there was an extreme imbalance of power.
It is possible that Myers was not aware of this posting. It was however later brought to his attention in the comments section of the article by one of the first commenters. What followed in the comments thread were discussions about whether or not Watson’s assessment of the elevator incident was justified, and whether or not her treatment of McGraw was fair. Views were divided, and things quickly heated up. Enter Richard Dawkins, who felt the whole scuffle was pointless, considering how much worse – in his view – women have it elsewhere in certain parts of the world:
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.
His attempt at a sarcastic dismissal of the commotion surrounding Watson’s ordeal was not taken well, and a vicious backlash against him ensued.
The “Big Bloggers” go after Dawkins
By “Big Bloggers” I am referring to bloggers who have risen to prominence within the atheist-skeptic community. Collectively they command a daily readership going into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and so have become opinion leaders of this growing movement. Some are more prominent than others, depending on their personality, style, quality and volume of writing. They more or less set the agenda for this community by bringing to people’s attention matters they feel are important.
Sometimes, a series of blog posts will be published on an issue in which the prominent bloggers will cross reference each other – and soon hundreds of lesser known bloggers pick it up, referencing the prominent ones, spawning an avalanche of commentary by thousands of their readers in a short span of time; or what, in internet slang, is called a “shitstorm”.
PZ Myers’ was the first of the Big Bloggers to comment on the matter. It was after his initial post, and Dawkins’ leaving comments on it, that what was initially a squabble between Watson and a few female students turned into a full blown internet “shitstorm”. One after the other, several prominent bloggers jumped in, in their castigation of Richard Dawkins.
Jennifer McCreight of “Blag Hag”, in Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing (July 2nd):
Frankly, this is disappointing for a number of reasons. One, because it was so refreshing to read PZ’s post and knowing a guy out there “gets it.” Two, because you’re kind of an idol of mine, and it makes me want to cry a little when you live up to the stereotype of a well-off, 70 year old, white, British, ivory tower academic. But let me spell it out for you instead of just getting mad (though I’ll do that too):
Words matter. You don’t get that because you’ve never been called a cunt, a faggot, a nigger, a kike. You don’t have people constantly explaining that you’re subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal. You don’t have people saying you shouldn’t have rights. You don’t have people constantly sexually harassing you. You don’t live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road.
You don’t, because you have fucking privilege.
Ebonmuse of “Daylight Atheism” in Atheists, Don’t Be That Guy (July 2nd):
I’m guessing that Richard Dawkins (if this was truly him) has never lived in an environment where larger, stronger men are constantly offering him chewing gum, and getting aggressive and even violent if he declines. The uncomfortable reality is that we live in a society where sexual harassment and sexual violence against women is accepted and condoned to a far greater extent than any remotely comparable violence against men. Men who fail to grasp this and act as if women are being unreasonable to fear it are just flaunting their own ignorance.
Greg Laden of “Greg Laden’s Blog” in Ladies, Richard Dawkins knows how to protect you from being raped in an elevator (July 4th):
Let’s be clear. Sexual assaults and other bad things happen on elevators. Dawkins is wrong, and his assertion is not one of fact, but rather, of backpedaling. He can’t possibly think that a) a woman can just decide to walk away from a sexual assault or b) that if a woman is in fact made to feel uncomfortable in a given situation that she should keep quiet about it, and if she does not, that she should be told to shut up about it.
Most of the voices telling Rebecca Watson to quiet down and get a grip on herself are coming from, I think, men who just don’t want there to be a rule that says that they must modulate their behavior in connection to the idea that a very large number of women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and that the vast majority of sexual assault comes from men, and that the world is full of Demonic Males.
Phil Plait of “Bad Astronomy” in Richard Dawkins and male privilege (July 5th):
If Dawkins — a leader in the critical thinking movement and a man known for defending women against religious oppression — can take such a dismissive stance, it’s clear that we have a long way to go. I don’t know if it was sexism on Dawkins’ part or just plain obtuseness, but this attitude is shared by far too many men. It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view, and that’s just plain wrong.
Amanda Marcotte of “Pandagon” in Because of The Implication (July 5th):
Personally, I think that convincing an audience of atheists that the religious right sucks is probably much less of a challenge than convincing them to look at themselves and find imperfections, and I applaud Rebecca for being willing to take the hard road.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that people in the movement are fighting back against this tedious and predictable sexism, and they’re fighting hard. PZ Myers, as usual, is on the side of the angels. So is Jennifer McCreight. Sadly, Richard Dawkins was a dick about all this.
Dawkins is what one might consider a ‘big fish’ in the atheist-skeptic community, and fits the profile of who feminists consider to be their worst enemy, according to their ideology – the old, white, wealthy, heterosexual male – the very embodiment of the “Patriarchy” that has, they argue, kept women oppressed since time immemorial. Feminists across the blogosphere (and there are many men within their ranks) used this coincidence as a rallying point, and the war began.
Rebecca Wasson, feeling emboldened from the show of support from the Big Bloggers, added her voice to the chorus of criticism against Dawkins, in The Privilege Delusion (July 5th):
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!
[…] So many of you voiced what I had already been thinking: that this person who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer.
Despite the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of comments from those of you who plan to do the same, I’m sure Dawkins will continue to be stinking rich until the end of his days. But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers.
She shocked many by openly declaring, through the above remarks, a personal boycott of Dawkins and his associated works. She also initiated a campaign in which she urged her readers to writer letters to Dawkins expressing their disappointment. Excepts of some of the letters appeared on the Skepchick website, with some beginning with “Dear Dick…”.
(Throughout this ordeal, many of Dawkins’ critics have used the epithet “dick” to deride him – using it as a convenient slur that happened to coincide with the shortened form of the name Richard. The word “dick” is vulgar slang for penis – and is also used to describe a man who is regarded as obnoxious or stupid. Many of these critics using this epithet have been feminists, which is significant, given their negative reaction when the sexual epithet “twat”, and its associated pormanteau, Twatson, would be used to deride Rebecca Watson. The word “twat” is vulgar slang for vagina – and is also used to describe a a foolish or despicable person.)
Expressing disgust with Watson’s anti-Dawkins campaign, blogger Miranda Celeste, writing in There’s nothing skeptical about the Skepchicks’ vicious “campaign” (July 7th), said:
The Skepchick “Campaign” […] makes me ill. It’s baseless scapegoating. It’s vindictive and self-serving. It’s bullying. It’s viciousness and nastiness of the highest degree, and it’s a perfect example of groupthink at its worst. They’re acting in the most irrational, childish, and un-skeptical way possible.
And let’s call a spade a spade: it’s nothing less than an attempt at character assassination.
I just can’t grasp how anyone who possesses even an ounce of intellect or empathy or skepticism could support what they’re doing. It’s truly vile.
Atheists told how to behave towards women
The Big Bloggers soon came to realise that a sizable portion of their readers were not in agreement with them. They concluded that such people simply did not “get it.” Taking the view that this showed there was a very serious etiquette problem in the atheist-skeptic community, some Big Bloggers felt that their influence could be put to use in teaching atheist men the ‘basics’ of dealing with women.
PZ Myers, writing in The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences (July 3rd):
What about tactics? I know all the games entitled young men, in particular, play. If you are deploying wingmen, if you are approaching this as you would a gazelle hunt, where the goal is to isolate a target from the herd and make them vulnerable so they will succumb to you, where getting the target stupefyingly drunk is a desirable means to an end, then you might get laid — I don’t deny that those tactics works for unscrupulous people — but you will have forfeited the title of Decent Human Being, and we’d rather you didn’t come to our meetings. Also, atheist women tend to be assertive and not at all bashful about telling everyone else about your behavior, and you’ll find yourself discussed on youtube and on blogs and perhaps even from the podium at the meeting. Then you’ll feel compelled to comment anonymously on those blogs, complaining about ball-busting man-haters, and you’ll be forever receding from that desirable status as Decent Human Being.
Greg Laden, writing in Women in Elevators: A Man To Man Talk For The Menz, declared that men must go to whatever lengths they humanly could to act in ways that did not cause a woman stress, under any and all conceivable circumstances (July 5th):
Chances are that Elevator Guy was just a socially ignorant slightly drunk dweeb of no consequence.
Or not. And it is the “or not” part that a woman MUST pay attention to in order to live her life as long as she can before her first sexual assault, or to increase the amount of time spent between her last sexual assault and her next one, or to make the next sexual assault hopefully non-fatal or something that she can get out of quickly or minimize in some way. Because very few women get away without something happening in their lifetime.
[…] So I learned this trick. Cross the street about a block back and “pass” the lady that way. Same with a potential head-on encounter. If you see a woman walking towards you in the middle of the night on a lonely urban street, my practice in those days was to cross the street to not stress her out.
[…] All men. ALL men who have given sufficient consideration to women’s position in our society do this walking trick. If you are a man and you do not know about this trick then there is a problem with you.
Here’s the thing. A woman normally possesses a certain sense of caution, which does cause stress. A man should respect that and act accordingly, by doing certain things and not doing certain things.
Greta Christina, writing in Why We Have To Talk About This: Atheism, Sexism, and Blowing Up the Internet (July 12th):
To the men who have been resisting and pushing back against the feminists on this issue, there’s a very important thing I want to say to you:
We are trying to help you get laid.
We’re trying to do a lot more than that, of course. We’re trying to make the atheist community more welcoming to women: because that would be better for women, and because it’d be better for atheism. We’re trying to educate men about the reality of women’s experiences, including the reality of how sex commonly gets used to trivialize women, and the reality of sexual violence. We’re trying to make the world a less sexist place.
But we are also trying to help you get laid. (Many of us, anyway.) We are trying to show you the context into which your flirtations and advances and comments about our appearance are falling. We are trying to show you what it’s like to be a woman: what it’s like to try to be flirtatious and sex-positive and still be realistic about the no-joke threats we face every day to our safety and our lives. And we’re doing this, in part, to give you a better shot with us. In fact, one of the very first feminist responses to this latest ruckus, from Jen McCreight at BlagHag, came in the form of a helpful guide: a guide about context, a guide about when/ where your flirtations and advances and comments about our appearance might be well-received… and when/ where they might be perceived as insulting, demeaning, or dangerous.
Notable Blogger Squabbles
On occasion some of the Big Bloggers took swipes at each other over their disagreements on Elevatorgate.
Hemant Mehta of “The Friendly Atheist” (taking the side of Stef McGraw), wrote, in Everyone Needs to Calm the Fuck Down (July 2nd):
[..]whether it was the intention or not, you’ve convinced a young female in our movement that if she says something you don’t like, she better be ready for an all-out barrage of criticism from every “big name” in the atheist blogosphere. By opting for public humiliation instead of private criticism, who knows how many other potential atheist bloggers and podcasters and writers are now even more hesitant to voice their beliefs out loud. We should be helping them and encouraging them. If needed, we should offer constructive criticism. But tearing them down because they said something they probably shouldn’t have? Whatever happened to a learning curve? I’ve said about 3984239423 embarrassing things on this blog since starting it. If I got publicly reamed every time I did that, I probably would’ve stopped blogging a long time ago.
Could Female 2 have volleyed the criticism right back during Q&A? Why bother. The damage was already done, and the last thing I’d want to do in that situation is draw even more attention to myself. Not to mention bringing it up again would’ve only distracted people from the real issue even more.
… for which he was roasted by Amanda Marcotte. After quoting the above comments of Mehta, she wrote of it (July 5th):
It has it all: 1) Countering criticism that makes you uncomfortable by saying there’s something more important to worry about 2) Shaming a woman for having success 3) Sexist paternalism in the form of arguing that a woman has to be shielded from open discourse lest she be too frightened to return and 4) Implying that said paternalism is feminism. Sarah Palin’s P.R. team would be proud.
Mehta was not too happy about this, feeling he had been misunderstood (July 5th):
I had written before that the way Rebecca publicly berated Stef McGraw at the CFI conference was unprofessional. That led Amanda Marcotte to call me a “sexist paternalist” whose intent was to shame Rebecca for being successful.
2. Russel Blackford vs. PZ Myers
Russel Blackford of “Metamagician and the Hellfire Club” stated his views on Elevatorgate on Ophelia Benson’s blog “Butterflies & Wheels”as follows (July 12th):
Just to remind us all, the huge shitstorm broke out when:
1. Stef McGraw criticised Watson in a civil way on a student blog.
2. Watson took the opportunity to attack McGraw from the podium at a CFI conference for student leaders, where Watson was a keyunote speaker McGraw was one of the delegates and had no real opportunity to defend herself. (Watson had previously behaved pretty badly towards Paula Kirby in Dublin, when she went off-topic on a panel to use her time to attack Kirby.)
3. PZ wrote a blog post supporting Watson’s action in abusing her power to humiliate McGraw at the CFI conference.
4. Dawkins made a comment on PZ’s blog in which he (rather sarcastically) suggested a bit of perspective.
A lot of us think that Elevator Guy must have seemed creepy (irrespective of what he really intended or didn’t intend), but we don’t think McGraw did anything so wrong that it justified how Watson treated her, let alone PZ praising Watson for it from his bully pulpit. We may also believe that Dawkins’ initial comment was a bit dismissive of a genuine issue of people not creeping each other out at conferences, but we agree with him that it was OTT for PZ to write a blog post in support of the humiliation of an up-and-coming leader in our movement at a conference put on to nurture such people. And we don’t believe that Dawkins did anything so wrong as to justify the demonisation he’s received or particularly the calls for him to “Shut up,” on the basis that he’s white and male and “doesn’t get it”.
I’m not at all surprised to see which way Chris “Shut Up” Mooney has jumped. Is anybody?
For me, the central issue here is still the treatment of McGraw (who is still owed an apology) … and now more generally the use of power to try to shut people up.
Not too happy with Blackford’s assessment of events, PZ Myers responded further down in the comments of that post:
Jebus, not here, too.
I’ve noticed a consistent bias, well represented by Russell Blackford here (not to pick on him, but it’s just fairly typical).
“1. Stef McGraw criticised Watson in a civil way on a student blog.”
Yes. I disagree with McGraw’s position: Watson was also civil and casual in her criticism of the elevator incident. But I saw nothing wrong in her saying her piece.
“2. Watson took the opportunity to attack McGraw from the podium at a CFI conference for student leaders, where Watson was a keyunote speaker McGraw was one of the delegates and had no real opportunity to defend herself. (Watson had previously behaved pretty badly towards Paula Kirby in Dublin, when she went off-topic on a panel to use her time to attack Kirby.)”
Oops. Here’s the problem. In #1, McGraw criticized Watson in a civil way. In #2, the language changes dramatically: now Watson is “attacking”. She’s denying McGraw an opportunity to defend herself. Russell has not heard this talk. I haven’t either. I doubt that it was a mean-spirited, one-sided attack as it has been so frequently characterized.
I suspect this because I did hear both Paula Kirby’s and Rebecca Watson’s talks in Dublin. Watson did not behave “pretty badly”. She offered a polite, respectful criticism of Kirby’s earlier assertion that sexism wasn’t really a problem for her, pointing out that it is still a problem for many women. Again, there was no attack, no anger. I talked to Kirby at some length afterwards, she didn’t seem mauled at all, and conceded that she’d been given food for thought.
This has been a consistent pattern. The anti-Watson camp relies on gross misrepresentation: I’ve heard so many over-the-top descriptions of her behavior that do not correspond in any way to what actually happened. Even her original comments on the now notorious youtube video were remarkably innocuous — no condemnations of anyone, no declarations that she was persecuted, no long drawn out discussions of what it all means (something I wish these threads were capable of): all she said was a brief description of an awkward moment, with a light and casual suggest that guys not do that anymore. And that’s it.
That’s actually why this issue hasn’t gone away. It’s fundamentally so trivial, so boring, so inconsequential, and Watson’s comment on it was so normal and proportionate, that people are appalled that there are so many recriminations over entirely reasonable behavior by Watson. And we’re kind of peeved that so many people can’t understand why such vociferous condemnation of the most mildly assertive statements from a woman constitute a dismissal of her right to speak.
Myers brought up Blackford again – this time in ERV’s previously discussed Dawkins thread, where he said:
Scroll down a little further on that B&W post, Mr DNA, to comment #105, where I point out the rhetorical game Blackford played in that comment you liked.
Claiming that it is the McGraw/Dawkins lynching that has raised hackles is simply a lie, a barefaced, dishonest revision of history. McGraw was not in any way lynched; Dawkins was raked over the coals, that’s for sure, but only after he made a painfully unaware comment. Most of the sturm and drang occurred over Watson’s youtube video, which you now desperately struggle to ignore in order to pretend her angry reaction was unjustified. I can’t fault people for telling you apologists for sexism, you hysterical serial exaggerators, you dishonest rationalizers to fuck off. You do realize that you can lie calmly and clearly, too, and it doesn’t make it any prettier?
Blackford did not take this well. He responded to Myers:
All right, I’ve tried to stay out of this whole train wreck as much as possible. My general view is that no good can come out of saying anything in public. That’s been the case for some time. I’m not at all sure that my very limited participation in the public debate has been helpful, and I’m reluctant to get involved any further.
But I can’t ignore #175. For the record, Paul, I do not play “rhetorical games” and I am not a liar. Over on one (or maybe it was more than one) of Ophelia’s threads, I criticised your actions and views relating to this particular issue. I did so in rather mild and impersonal terms, and I did not attack you personally. I’d imagined until I saw your comments here that we were friends, despite having a disagreement on the merits of this particular issue – not *close* friends, granted, since we’ve only met at a couple of conferences, but still friends.
I believe that what I wrote on Ophelia’s site was true. Even if I was mistaken, that does not make me a liar – we all make genuine mistakes. At my end, I think that you’re making some serious errors of judgment in this whole debacle, but I haven’t accused you of being a liar. You’re doubtless calling it as you see it. Well, so am I.
You do “get” that publicly calling someone a liar is a friendship-breaker and a bridge-burner, right? I don’t see how I’ve done anything to deserve that kind of language. Nor do see how I can go on being friends with you after you’ve said that in public.
Mate, you seriously owe me an apology.
Even if you grant everything else to PZ, the worst conclusion that you could draw is that I made some kind of honest error in a confusing situation. I am not a liar and I resent the claim that I am.
ERV offered Blackford consolation:
Liar’, Russell? Pffff. Could be worse. He could have called you a *whispers* twat.
Heres my response to PZ bullshittery on your point.
And that response to PZ Myers was:
PZ, you keep saying over and over and over that you ‘disagree’ with Dawkins. Dawkins is ‘wrong’. But you have the exact same opinion as him.
Elevator Guy massively less than Other Shit.
Elevator Guy does not equal rape.
But when *you* say it, its ‘calm and reasoned’, and when *Dawkins* says it, hes ‘painfully unaware’, and when *anyone else* says it they are misogynists and gender traitors, as their gender warrants.
But yeah, I am prepared to coincede that I wasn;t there and tehrefore I don;y really know shit.
Why? We have Stefs account of the events. We have other students accounts of the events (not only the nameless faceless ‘lurkers’ Watson referred to who liek TOATLLY supported her behavior).
I dont have to be in the elevator to know Watson felt creeped out. She said as much.
I dont have to be at the CFI conference to know that Stef was shocked and hurt, and that her conference mates were *PISSED OFF* at Watson. They said as much.
Once again, however, Watson gets to glide on the lube of entitlement and everyone else needs to STFU because they are WRONG.
3. PZ Myers vs. ERV
In a blog post posted on July 18th, blogger Abbie Smith (a.k.a ERV) mocked Rebecca Watson and her feminist defenders that were critical of Richard Dawkins following his comments on Pharyngula, after it was announced that the Richard Dawkins Foundation was going to be sponsoring childcare at future TAM (The Amazing Meeting) events:
Many put up guesses as to why this happened, and I think the ‘why?’ is now clear. Dawkins has shown with his actions time, time, time and again, that he is supportive of everyone in science and skepticism. When it became clear that words, discussion, reasoning were useless against what he was up against, he stopped using words, discussion, and reasoning, and kept doing what he do, which is, to ‘do':
[…] The non-response this move has gotten, the stunned silence from the True Feminists mirrors that of the duped Evangelicals before. Stricken dumb by being too dumb to understand what just happened. Its hysterical.
[…] Apparently this move has been in the works for a long time, with Camp Quest. Apparently before Twatson fell down and threw a temper tantrum and demanded everyone kiss her invisible boo-boo.
PZ Myers posted a comment, conveying his disapproval of ERV’s attitude:
All this petty sniping at Watson is incomprehensible, and beneath you. She is a talented and eloquent activist for skepticism: she has been writing and speaking on this subject for a long time, and has been a catalyst for events and online activism. She’s not a do-nothing or someone who’s only famous for being famous, as some idiots have claimed — she has put a lot of work into this movement. When you demean her, you demean Abbie Smith, who is just a woman with a blog; you demean Richard Dawkins, who is just a guy who wrote some books.
[…] In particular, this — “Twatson fell down and threw a temper tantrum and demanded everyone kiss her invisible boo-boo” — is inexcusable and dishonest. Everyone has seen her “tantrum”, since it’s on youtube, and all it was was a woman calmly asking that guys don’t hit on her. No tantrum. No demands. No hysteria. It was actually a reasonable request in a reasonable context. And all the people raging over it are indicting themselves, not Rebecca Watson.
PZ– You have shown exactly *zero* interest in learning my perspective on this issue. You had an opportunity to ask/discuss this with me in a private conversation weeks ago and you didnt care. You dont care. You dont care why I hold the opinion I hold. All you care is that Im ‘wrong’.
But you, like everyone else, are more than welcome to comment here.
Since the thread is closed at your place.
Really is a shame about NatGeo censoring commentors, huh? Oh wait, they arent, nor are they asking us to, and you actually are.
After several heated exchanges with the ERV and others spanning numerous comments, PZ concluded:
I’m done. People aren’t listening, and are still straining to justify the noise of the last few weeks. I’ll leave it to women to speak, and recommend this one comment.
ERV not-so-politely bid him farewell:
PZ– Go fuck yourself.
4. “Ophelia Benson vs. ERV (and ERV’s commenters)
Ophelia Benson of “Butterflies & Wheels” was not happy with ERV for use of the word Twatson, and other obscenities used to describe Rebecca Waston and her defenders. She lamented as follows (July 20th):
Dear oh dear. The slow-motion train wreck lumbers on its way, tumbling down the slope uprooting trees and squashing goats.
[Apparently this move has been in the works for a long time, with Camp Quest. Apparently before Twatson fell down and threw a temper tantrum and demanded everyone kiss her invisible boo-boo.]
If you search for “twatson” on that post there are currently 58 matches, with the number of comments at 519.Including
[How could I think that this was in the works for a while, AND think that this was in response to Twatson and the Bitch Brigade?]
Most in the comments section seemed to share Benson’s dismay.
She later ventured into the same thread in which ERV had earlier tussled it out with PZ Myers, and engaged her and her commenters in discussion there. As expected, it did not go well, and soon, Benson found herself the target of many harsh criticisms and insults. Upset at the degree and tone of criticism she received in the comments section of that post and in consequent ones, she announced that ERV’s sympathizers were likely to be blocked from posting comments on her own blog.
Commenting at Jean Kazez’s blog (August 6th), ERV explained why she called Rebecca Watson, “Twatson”:
Yup! I used the word ‘Twatson’. A very mild political jab in response to ‘Dear Dick’.
She explained her ‘behaviour’:
When I became acutely aware of ‘what was going down’, ie, “Anyone who disagrees with a vocal fraction of the internet? Their emotions are not only dismissible, they are *wrong*. Intimidate dissent into silence.” was the SOP, I did what everyone in the internet generation does- escalate the situation for the lulz. Wasnt hard at all because I was personally hurt by PZ Myers horrible behavior.
She went on to articulate the problem she has with those who are supportive of Watson, such as PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson:
Everyone and anyone on Watsons ‘side’ has been exposed as a hypocrite. From the image of Watson ‘branding’ (her phrase) ‘FUCK YOU, PUSSY- REBECCA’ on a mans chest, to PZ ‘mansplaining’ my/McGraws/any females opinion (and of course its not hard to find examples of him being non-PC), to Nanny Ophelia telling another female to “Fuck off” (and then deleting it without saying ‘my emotions got the best of me, i shouldnt have dont that. im sorry’). You know what? I do use ‘naughty words’. And I will continue to do so. I dont ask anyone to condone it. But to dismiss someone saying ‘twat’ in one sentence while comparing women who dont agree with you with sex-addicted non-human primates in the next breath (theyre only trying to get attention of the boys, and eliminate ‘the competition’, you see), I cant help but think those tut-tutting about ‘naughty language’ and how it ‘degrades women’ are crying crocodile tears.
Of course, none of this excuses Watsons decision to abuse her position as an invited speaker to personally attack a member of the audience.
Sometimes smaller bloggers were the target…
5. PZ Myers vs. Franc Hoggle
Once the Big Bloggers escalated the significance of Watson’s elevator experience, it was inevitable that they themselves would soon come under the spot light.
Voices of dissent sprung up all over the internet, harshly criticising PZ Myers. Some of them were scathing enough to warrant his attention and response. The first, from Franc Hoggle of “Grey Lining”, writing in Atheist Flagellants and Puritans (July 9th):
The latest moral panic / fart-in-a-bathtub comes, rather depressingly, via Skepchick’s Rebecca Watson, who you could be excused for expecting to be above such trite gamespersonship. In this case exploiting a perceived atrocity against that most terrifying of socio-theo-politico-morasses: the sacred temple of the divine yoni and all of its sensitivity and delicateness. A blasphemy against the purity of the holy of holies, the supreme goddess-hood, the sublime and perfect eternal feminine, the über-she who’s poop smells like cinnamon buns…
Yeah, perhaps that is stretching the point. But there is no other way to try and get a handle on the way conventional reality simply vaporises and all commonsense ceases to play any role when the deadly combination of pussy, circumstance, insecurity and a readily available male patsy to blame everything on combine in surreal Grand Guignol – especially when the masses rally behind it and give it a good head of indignant steam. This is all grist for the misandrist blog industry, but it is particularly disheartening seeing it become such a staple amongst the godless and allegedly “freethinking” rationalist communities.
… to which Myers responded, on his own blog, in Two awful no-good terribad miserable arguments (July 10th):
Let me remind you what really happened, without the “divine yoni” and “Grand Guignol” and self-righteous accusations of misandry. A woman was awkwardly propositioned. She said no. She later briefly addresses atheists in a youtube video to say, “guys, don’t do that”.
So let’s just be clear here. If your version of the events requires comically strident exaggeration in order to make a case, you’re definitely wrong, and you are to blame for the discord and confusion. You are lying. And, by the way, if you even mention the words “misandrist blog industry”, you’re a flaming conspiracy nut.
Not impressed with the response from Myers, Hoggle responded by issuing a harsh indictment against him and the atheist-skeptic community in general, for what he considers their failure to adhere to the very standards they profess to hold to, in The Watson Circus – Stick To Science PZ (July 22nd):
Any movement that tries to claim both a moral and intellectual high ground, then fails to objectively and mercilessly apply its own standards to itself is a failure. QED.
I’m already resigned to the big godless social sites being overrun by vanity spammers, ideological monomaniacs and gibberish machines. That’s OK. I can live with that – when you pander to the lowest common denominator you get what you deserve. It’s quite another matter though when you see major, allegedly rationalist, portals skid off down the same path. That starts to hurt and you begin to wonder what happened to the integrity that first attracted you to, what you at first assumed to be, fellow Freethinkers – only to discover most are anything but.
The degeneration of both the atheist and skeptic communities over the last few years has been more than noticeable – repugnant don’t be a dick accommodationist populism; self-loathing, neo-puritan* groupthink; and complete abdication of clear- and freethought principles – culminating in the recent crucifixion of Richard Dawkins by a torches-n-pitchforks mob (for daring to respond to stupidity in a manner that would have made Voltaire proud), and largely with Pharyngula‘s and PZ’s blessing.
[…] The Watson / elevator guy fiasco is hardly the only idiocy responsible – it’s just the cherry on top of the dung heap. Anyone who has followed my writings around the place will know this is far from the first thing I have taken issue with, nor is it likely to be the last. Accusations of bandwagon jumping about this are irrelevant.
So to see such double standards, Pollyannaist naivety and exceptionalist considerations extended purely on the basis of gender by sacred cows PZ Myers and Pharyngula is enough to just make you want to hang up your boots and give up.
Integrity is a commodity that is currently being sold by many in the community for the sake of grubby, short-term political reward.
Myers responded in the comments section of Hoggle’s article, accusing him, and people who share his view, of making atheists look misogynistic:
It wasn’t Rebecca Watson who made atheists look misogynistic. It is people like you who rant and rave about your god-given right to hit on women and make them uncomfortable any time you feel like it, and who express such inflated outrage at a woman calmly mentioning that she was made uncomfortable (nothing more) by one guy. You represent the creepy segment of the atheist community; are you proud?
Hoggle then wrote a new post dedicated to responding to Myers’ above comment, The Watson Circus – Evidently PZ Has Not Disgraced Himself Sufficiently Yet (July 25th):
“It is people like you who rant and rave about your god-given right to hit on women and make them uncomfortable any time you feel like it”
Reductio ad Watsonum. I believe I covered this in detail here, in one of the very posts you claim to have read. I’ll reiterate for your sake – it was about demonising the other, by equating them to subhumans that consider the brutalisation and rape of women to be sport. I also pointed out how remarkably similar both the language and the approach you are using is to Stormfront posts about Jews. Evidently, this observation causes you no discomfort and you have no inhibitions about carrying on in that manner in public, because you seem to be in the habit of it.
You represent the creepy segment of the atheist community; are you proud?
If it’s by your definition of “creepy“, damn right I’m proud. I am especially proud of the “creepy”women who are similarly coming forward and challenging this repugnant nonsense for what it is.Unfortunately for you, it’s starting to look like they may not be a minority either. There are many who have even done what you are incapable of doing1 and spotted the Watson / Skepchick hypocrisy, manipulations and double standards long before elevators became a google trend.
PZ, it is time to call you and your bullshit for what it is – BULLSHIT.
Franc Hoggle had more or less declared all out war on PZ Myers by now, and has since proceeded to write several more blog posts dedicated to attacking Myer’s credibility. Myers returned the favour by adding Hoggle’s name to a list of offenders in the Phayryngula “dungeon”, where “the banned offenders are listed for public scorn.”
6. Zenbuffy vs. Jennifer Ouellette
Blogger Jennifer Keane (a.k.a. Zenbuffy) of “And another thing…” is one of many women in the atheist-skeptic blogosphere who do not share the views of the feminists and their approach to dealing with Elevatorgate. In Much ado about…wait, what? (July 14th) she wrote:
You can’t simultaneously demand equality, and then also demand different treatment because you are a woman. Equality should mean equality on all fronts, which should mean that men and women are free to express their desires, and men and women are free to say yes or no. And as long as no crime occurs (i.e. sexual assault after a clear refusal), then that really should be the end of it.
[…] I am lucky enough to live in a corner of the world where, for the most part, being a woman isn’t a big deal. I won’t look for sexist issues where they don’t exist, and I won’t add gravitas to otherwise unimportant happenings by tacking the word “feminism” onto them; especially when so many women do not enjoy the many freedoms that I take for granted. I’m not a feminist. I’m just a programmer, a martial artist, a blogger, a scientist, and a skeptic. I also happen to be female.
Science writer and blogger Jennifer Ouellette wrote a commentary in the “Scientific American” blog on sexism in the atheist-skeptic community in light of Elevatorgate, Is It Cold in Here? (July 20th):
Here is the message being sent to the women skeptics and atheists say they want to join their ranks: “If an atheist/skeptic man behaves boorishly toward you, or refuses to respect your boundaries, whether social or sexual, and you have the gall to state firmly that this is not okay, you will be publicly pilloried, ridiculed for being hysterical, called a man-hating feminazi (or worse), and have your concerns belittled and dismissed.”
Why should I, or any woman, want to be part of that community?
Further on in her article she writes a “manifesto for change” in which she challenges those in the skeptic/atheist community to implement a number of principles – one of which was the following:
(2) There are also women out there who do not believe this is an issue because they haven’t personally experienced it, or have experienced things they feel are far worse. Please do not diminish the experiences and emotions of your sisters in skepticism. Remain open to the possibility that you, too, might be unconsciously influenced by cultural baggage.
In her initial posting of this article, Ouellette referenced (by embedding a link to it) Jennifer Keane’s article as an example of women “diminishing the experiences and emotions” of their “sisters in skepticism” (an allegation that would be satirised by the cartoonists of Jesus and Mo).
Keane was not pleased at how here position was represented on Ouellette’s article. She wrote, in Integrity starts at home (July 22nd):
My blog was linked to by Jennifer Ouellette in a blog which was published on the Scientific American website. Understandably, I was curious as to what had brought my blog (relatively small as it is) to the attention of someone posting on SA, so I headed on over to see. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that thrilled with what I found. The blog was about the recent “elevatorgate” furore, and about sexism in science in general, and it seemed that my blog had been referenced in, what I believed to be, a rather unfavourable light.
According to Keane, her attempts to engage Ouellette on the matter did not go well:
After the link was brought to my attention, I posted about it on twitter, wondering whether Ouellette had actually read my blog (since she seemed, in my estimation, to be misrepresenting what I had said, and indeed, who I am). You can also see her (slightly confusing) reply in the tweet linked above. I attempted to continue the conversation, by explaining that I wasn’t offended, but didn’t agree with how she had referenced me (those tweets read from last to first, to get the sentences in correct order). I had hoped to engage in further discussion with her on the point, but that hope was quickly quashed by, arguably, one of the more dismissive responses I’ve received in recent times – “Interesting that in a 3000 word post with 25+ links, you’re making it all about you.” My final reply (again, read from bottom to top) attempted to call her on this behaviour, but she obviously considered the matter closed, as I’ve received no further reply.
At some point during their back on forth on Twitter, it seems Oubliette removed the link referencing Keane’s original article – a deed that Keane considered ‘pathetic’:
Some time after my twitter comments, the link to my blog was quietly removed without comment. I received no message to tell me it was done, and no comment appears on the article to indicate that it was further edited after being published. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have web data records to prove the visits coming from the blog, the link might never have existed. And, frankly, that’s more than a little pathetic.
[…] I don’t change my posts after I’ve written them to better suit my mood, or to avoid something that I don’t want to deal with. I stand by what I write, even if others don’t like it. If a small-time blogger like me can manage, surely someone like Jennifer Ouellette can at least try?
The Blog Wars were broad in scope and battles were fought across hundreds of blogs, comments sections, and forums across the Internet. It is therefore quite difficult to capture every skirmish that erupted over this fiasco, between bloggers.
Below is a the popular comedy skit, Mr. Deity, satirizing what they view as the witch-hunting climate that the controversy generated (posted July 11th):
Below is the most widely viewed video on the matter (135,125 views as of this writing), by a Youtuber by the name of TheAmazingAtheist (posted on July 12th):
Elsewhere on the Internet
“Atheist Cartoons” satirized Richard Dawkins’s dismissive attitude towards Rebecca Watson’s elevator experience by depicting him being alone in a an elevator at 4.00am with Ray Comfort, a Christians apologist widely mocked in the atheist community for his rather bizarre view that bananas constitute a nightmare for atheists (July 5th):
“Jesus and Mo” made sure they had something to say on the matter – particularly in response to claims that there is such a thing as a patriarchy, and how women who disagree with Watson are not “true” feminists (July 27th):
Rebecca Watson’s credibility also became a subject of commentary. Some bloggers attempted to dig up details of alleged gross misconduct on the part of Watson while she held moderator privileges at the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) forums. She was many times accused of hypocrisy for engaging in sexual objectification of herself, and others, while actively castigating others for allegedly doing so:
Watson posing nude for the Skepchick Calendar
It reads: “Fuck you pussy – Rebecca”
The Fellowship of Freethought Dallas debated Elevatorgate during their monthly meeting (August 21st):
Reddit entries on Elevatorgate (various)
Elevatorgate in Mainstream Online Media
The fiasco attracted the interest of several media sources outside the atheist blogosphere.
New Statesman (July 6th):
There is considerable controversy in the blogosphere about Richard Dawkins and his apparent views on women. Dawkins, whose strident atheism undoubtedly puts off more people than it attracts, has long been a figure who has divided atheists and skeptics (the latter a general label for many who self-consciously promote critical thinking and an evidence-based approach).
The Atlantic Wire (July 6th):
Dawkins seems to be losing, based on the many who’ve disagreed with him in the Science Blogs comments section and their own blogs. Watson, though having become disillusioned by someone she once admired, should feel vindicated by the amount of support she’s received.
Salon (July 8th)
Surely not all of the men who reacted angrily to Watson’s video are woman-hating sociopaths. It’s probably the case that many were indirectly responding to past personal rejections that made them feel confused and wounded. I’ve known kind, decent men who express supreme frustration over how unclear women can be. Resentment builds up and some become hypersensitive to any female complaint about being hit on. It’s true that women can be confusing, and that is especially true when it comes to hitting on them, because we have been socialized against saying “no.” Instead, we say things like, I’d love to, but I’m busy or I can’t or I have a boyfriend (even if we aren’t, we can, and we really don’t). I try to fight my natural inclination to wrap up rejection in such a way that one might mistake it for a valentine — but I also expect men to put in some effort to try to pick up on subtle, humane hints (or to simply give a shit about what I want rather than doggedly pursuing their end goal).
Taki’s Magazine (July 12th):
The Skepchick has called for the head of Richard Dawkins. She dropped the big one, informing him that he is the most loathsome of creatures: the privileged old white man. Being something of a skeptic myself, I find it hard not to notice that young Anglosphere women are easily the most privileged people in the known universe. They’re so privileged that even pie-faced, cabbage-brained ones such Rebecca Watson may be able to ruin a world-famous author’s reputation.
Washington Times (July 16th):
The point is that because the issue is sexism in the atheist movement, perceptions of sexism are not based on absolute principle, but on relative emotion.
Watson speaks out against the sexual objectification of women, but she apparently sees nothing wrong with the pinup calendars that she and her female atheist friends publish. Myers defended her views on his blog, but only last year he linked to an interesting interview with Nina Hartley, a feminist atheist who sees nothing wrong with women performing as sex workers.
You see, sexism and the exploitation of women are not immoral to godless women as long as such things are on their terms. Is it any surprise, then, that some unprincipled men with their own terms try to take advantage of this – or that some godless men insensitively accuse alert women of “whining”?
The Guardian (July 24th):
I usually have a great deal of respect for Dawkins’s ideas but I strongly disagree with his stance on this issue. Being drunkenly flirted with by an intoxicated man in a lift at 4am can make someone feel intimidated even if no physical contact is made. I’ve had similar experiences while waiting at bus stops after dark. The freedom to escape is there, as Dawkins points out, but the verbal exchange alone can still make some of us feel unsettled and shaken – not to mention the fact that many of us have experienced being followed home. This effect is amplified within a confined space with no other people present.
As Dawkins has conceded in a later reply, highlighting a problem on a larger scale, as he did when comparing Watson’s complaint to the hardships encountered by women in some developing countries, does not erase the damage caused by a smaller problem. His dismissal of Watson’s concerns further contributes to the problem of alienation felt by some women within the Skeptic community – something we should be collectively working to combat rather than develop.
Religion Dispatches (August 16th):
[…] the people arguing that we have no obligation to accommodate the discomfort of women in situations like Watson’s might consider whether they’re akin to the driver telling himself that he wouldn’t ever need help, so therefore he feels no obligation to help other people who stuck. In other words, if you’ve never encountered situations which make you skittish about being propositioned in an elevator—or if you have, but prefer to deal with your discomfort yourself—you should make sure that you’re not retrofitting your ethical maxim (i.e., “People have no obligation to concern themselves with the comfort of women in those situations”) to your own situation.
Mail & Gurdian (September 2nd):
If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from all of this it is that feminists have as much hope of converting misogynists to their cause with public rebuke and shaming, as militant atheists do in converting believers to reason by offending the religious. Finally, the onslaught of misogynist bile spewed at Watson after “Elevatorgate” did nothing to dispel the notion that sexism was absent among male atheists. Instead it bolstered her cause and showed the world that she’s part of a reason-based movement that’s riddled with chauvinism.
(new) USA Today (September 17th):
In a video blog, the popular skeptic blogger recalled a man following her into an empty elevator and inviting her up to his room after she spoke about feminism at a European atheist conference last June.
“Guys,” she said with a bit of a laugh, “don’t do that.”
Hers and other atheist/skeptic blogs were soon flooded with comments. Many women told of receiving unwanted sexual advances at freethinker gatherings. Some men, meanwhile, ridiculed Watson as overly sensitive or worse — or threatened her with rape, mutilation and murder.
Rebecca Watson eventually released a follow up video to the first one in which she first discussed the elevator incident. In the new video (posted on July 22nd) she commented on the feedback received, and criticised people who felt that there was nothing wrong with the actions of the man in the elevator. She described as ‘normal’ those who accepted her point of view on the matter, and sarcastically advised those who disagreed with her to opt for alternative ways of “getting their rocks off” such as using inflatable dolls, flesh-lights, or watermelons:
Below is a response to the above video by Youtuber, Friendough, who feels that Watson’s dismissive attitude towards her critics, many of whom have offered what he feels are legitimate criticisms, was not helpful in fostering a climate of dialogue and understanding. It was posted on July 29th:
As of this writing, the matter is far from settled, although tempers have cooled. August ended fairly quietly – even so, up to now there is still no consensus on how best to interpret the events surrounding, and following, Elevatorgate. The real challenge seems to be the fact that Elevatorgate is not a debate over a single issue. It is a meta-issue, encompassing a wide spectrum of important questions:
Does the behaviour of the man in the elevator constitute sexism or objectification?
Should men proposition women in elevators?
Did Rebecca Watson abuse her position as a keynote speaker at the CFI conference in calling out Stef McGraw?
Are women who disagree with Watson’s assessment of the elevator situation gender traitors?
Is Feminism an integral part of Atheism and Skepticism?
Is Rebecca Watson using this to simply draw attention to herself?
Is ‘rape culture’ really pervasive in America?
Is it because of sexism that woman are not participating in atheist-skeptic events?
Was Dawkins right, and is this is an overblown affair?
Was Dawkins wrong, and is he a misogynist?
- Is group-think pervading the atheist-skeptical movement?
Atheism has dos and don’ts? Who decided that, and how?
Is it sexist to be skeptical of feminism?
Do women live in perpetual fear of rape, and must men modify their behaviour to accommodate this fear?
Are men privileged?
Are women privileged?
Is it wrong to call each other “dicks” or “twats”?
In any given blog or forum in which Elevatorgate is being discussed, different comments will go off into several different tangents exploring any one of the above, or even more, issues. As such, it is difficult for there to be any systematic evaluation of all the pertinent issues without diversions occurring – resulting in a general feeling of frustration and exasperation as matters are left unresolved.