Watson’s Experience: Empathy Needed for Accuracy

I don’t normally directly participate in social conflicts between individuals because I feel the issues are so transient that they rapidly lose relevance and long-term usefulness. But I have been both externally encouraged and internally provoked to share my opinion on the Rebecca Watson issue, so here goes.

I’ve taken a lot of time to think about this and hear many sides before commenting. My conclusion is that, as happens so often in human conflict, many people are falling short in the cognitive task of empathy. I think that all of the major players whose opinions I have read (Watson, PZ, Hemant Mehta, Dawkins, Phil Plait) have fallen short in some major ways at empathy and thus at accurately assessing the situation.

I think that outrage from both sides has caused people to galvanize their lack of empathy and villainize the other side. I think people have been impulsively and unconsciously engaging the “us vs them”/”in-group vs out-group” module in the brain, causing them to caricature their opponents and represent them inaccurately. I see this mental maneuver constantly in human conflict and it exhausts and discourages me. On the other hand, I can understand why people give into it because resisting it takes a lot of stamina and tedious mental reassessment of the situation given each new piece of information.

Here are the primary empathetical mistakes that I think have been made:

By Rebecca Watson, PZ, and Hemant:

Calling the Elevator Guy “creepy” or worse.

Based on the evidence of the words and actions of the conversation, I think that Elevator Guy had sincere and genuine intentions. I think that it was his understanding that this was an appropriate way to ask an intellectual and social equal for company. I don’t think he had any intentions of being misogynistic and I don’t think his actions were misogynistic. I don’t think that any general disrespect for women was committed. I think he was simply ignorant of how uncomfortable his advance made Watson and women in general. Given his ignorance, and, thus, given the limited information he had, he acted completely rationally and with full respect for women as equals.

By Dawkins:

Ignoring Watson’s appeal and request that these situations not continue.

Regardless of how noble Elevator Guy’s intentions were, his actions made Watson uncomfortable. She felt threatened in the situation. It was emotionally stressful for her to be approached by a relative stranger in a confined space. Elevator Guy and other men like him may have been ignorant of these feelings on the part of women before Watson spoke up and made it clear. But now that she has made it clear that women do feel like this when being approached this way, even when approached politely, I think we are obliged to take heed to those feelings and alter our social propositioning practices.

By Hemant and Phil Plait:

Calling this a potential sexual assault and generally associating Elevator Guy, Dawkins, etc with misogyny.

I think Phil and Hemant have been the closest to showing maximal empathy that I have read so far. But, as I said before, I don’t think Dawkins and Elevator Guy are misogynistic. I think they are just ignorant. I think that they want to fully respect women as equals. But I think that they have not processed how this new information from Watson is relevant to that goal and that practices should probably change.

In short, I think the fully empathetic cognitive summary of the situation is as follows:

1. Elevator Guy propositions Watson in an elevator. As far as he knows, he is being completely respectful towards women. He asks politely and withdraws politely when she refuses. Given the limited information he had at the time, he cannot justifiably be called creepy or misogynistic.

2. Watson reveals to the Internet community that this situation made her uncomfortable. She explains that the elevator was a confined space, the man was a relative stranger, and she was alone with him. All of these factors gave her anxiety. Others, such as Phil Plait, have also provided hard evidence for how situations like this have led to sexual assault.

3. Given the evidence of Watson’s feelings it seems that social conventions should change. Men should be informed that women feel this way when propositioned by strangers. And men should stop propositioning them this way.

I think Elevator Guy made an innocent mistake, ignorant of the cognitive situation. I don’t think that he or other people should be called misogynistic for making that mistake. But now that we are all aware, things should change.

68 comments on “Watson’s Experience: Empathy Needed for Accuracy

  1. Celeste says:

    I’m not convinced. I appreciate that you’re trying to empathize with everyone, but you’re also making broad assumptions based on almost no information and then choosing to empathize with only those broad assumptions. The fact is, we don’t know anything about Elevator Guy other than that he ignored Watson’s earlier statements about wanting to get some sleep, he approached her alone on an elevator, late at night. If he was ignorant of the threat that the second part would make her feel, he sure as hell was not ignorant about her desire to go to sleep. He ignored her desires and showed a lack of respect for her in that way. You can’t claim ignorance there, just boorishness, or creepiness as stated before.

    As for Dawkins, I do hope he wises up after having this situation explained to him so many times in so many ways, but for someone as intellectual and skeptical as he is, I would have expected him to be more willing to question his own initial response after being confronted so vehemently. His current unwillingness to admit error is disappointing at best, misogynistic at worst.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      “you’re.. choosing to empathize with only those broad assumptions”

      Let me frame it this way, then: the possibility cannot be ruled out by the evidence given that Elevator Guy was attempting to be polite and egalitarian.

      Just because she said she was going to sleep, that doesn’t automatically mean it is misogynistic to simply inquire if she would be interested in conversation instead, especially if he was drunk, as NotInMyName2050 pointed out. Perhaps he thought she would be intrigued by the opportunity.

      Maybe he truly was misogynistic. But this evidence isn’t enough to implicate him as such. Everything he said and did could have been done by a well-meaning and respectful but ultimately ignorant person.

      • Celeste says:

        And while I completely agree that this MIGHT have been the case, the fact is that ignorance or drunkenness on his part did not make this a less creepy experience for Watson. I’ll grant that describing him as creepy is subjective, because while he didn’t think he was being creepy, he did come off that way to her. Would you be complaining about her saying someone seemed nice when you thought them to be otherwise, even though you hadn’t met that person? Her experience was one that is all too typical for women, and we don’t usually care what the guy’s reasons are for setting off our alarm bells. All we care about is making sure the situation doesn’t end badly. Calling this guy ‘creepy’ under the circumstances she described is well within the range of reasonableness.

      • evid3nc3 says:

        “Calling this guy ‘creepy’ under the circumstances she described is well within the range of reasonableness.”

        I disagree. Have you ever been called creepy? I have and in situations where I felt that I was being entirely polite and considerate.

        If a woman has discomfort with a situation, fine. She should say so. And Watson did. But making a judgement on someone’s character when so little has been said and done is not only rude: it promotes villainizing people and hampers empathizing with their true motives and resolving the conflict in a way that satisfies both sides.

      • Celeste says:

        Have you ever tried to tell someone something and they completely ignored you? That happens to women all too frequently, especially when men are showing “interest” in us. This guy did just that. He ignored the talk she had given during the day about not approaching women that way. He ignored the fact that she was tired and had said so. At this point, what better way to get a man’s attention than to tell him something that’s going to smack him upside the face, like call him “creepy”? It’s a much better word than many, many others I can think of.

        When you were called creepy, did you ask politely about what it was you had done to make the woman uncomfortable and then try very hard to refrain from ever repeating those actions again? (Yes, I can understand how uncomfortable that might be, so what about asking another female that saw the interaction?) Or did you just dismiss her view of your actions because they didn’t match your own point of view, and walk away? In my personal experience, most men will do the latter.

      • evid3nc3 says:

        “Have you ever tried to tell someone something and they completely ignored you?”

        That is not what happened to Watson. The guy asked if she wanted to come to his room, she said no, and he listened.

        Categorizing her talks during the day as direct responses to him is an unbelievable stretch. And I already said that he may have believed she might be intrigued by the offer despite being tired.

        If a man ACTUALLY did this, if he ACTUALLY completely ignored you, then you have every right to be rude. I don’t think calling him creepy is helpful or necessary and would probably just piss someone like that off. I think that leaving the man or complaining to security would work just fine.

        “It’s a much better word than many, many others I can think of”

        Do you really think that calling people names and disparaging adjectives is an effective form of dialogue and conflict resolution?

      • Celeste says:

        There are a few points here:

        The panel she spoke in was before the elevator incident, so they weren’t a response to him and I didn’t say they were. But she was discussing sexism in the atheist community and what it’s like to be a woman in this community. From what she says in her video, he was there for that talk.

        She didn’t call him creepy to his face, but said behavior like that creeps her out during her video. And it was creepy behavior. He followed her from the table at 4 am in the morning in a foreign country to get her alone in a hotel elevator when he could have asked her to speak in public but spoken to her quietly so others couldn’t overhear (that assumes he was shy).

        He was also in the bar with her and others when she said she was tired. Now, unless while she was saying this she was giving obvious body language that said “please follow me”, then he was ignoring her clear declaration of intent. He then asked her to go ALONE with him back to his hotel room instead of suggesting she meet him the next morning for breakfast in a public area. Yes, this is all creepy.

        I will grant that language can, at times, be destructive. But so can pussyfooting around things. Women have been told not to speak up for ourselves for centuries, to just let boys be boys and put up with this behavior. Now that we can finally speak up for ourselves and call a spade a spade, we get constant complaints from men because we’re what, “mean?”

        Do I think disparaging words are the best form of conflict resolution? Not always. But sometimes they are accurate and necessary to communicate a specific point, even if that point isn’t pleasant to everyone’s ears.

      • evid3nc3 says:

        “From what she says in her video, he was there for that talk.”

        I still think it is a stretch to assume from this that she had clearly communicated: “it makes me uncomfortable to be propositioned in elevators.” I’m skeptical that her talk communicated that to him just because he was there.

        “He followed her from the table at 4 am in the morning in a foreign country to get her alone in a hotel elevator”

        You are framing it like he was stalking her. You don’t know what his motives were (e.g. “to get her alone in an elevator”). You are attributing all kinds of mental states to him that you personally have no access to and no knowledge of (e.g. “he was ignoring her clear declaration of intent”). You weren’t in his head but you are acting like you were.

        I think this type of judgement and “mind reading” is damaging to the conversation. If you are uncomfortable with a situation, feel free to communicate YOUR feelings. But attributing motives and feelings to other people is not helpful or intellectually honest.

        “Now that we can finally speak up for ourselves and call a spade a spade”

        Attributing precise and disparaging mental states to other people when you have very little evidence to go on is not “calling a spade a spade”. It is being judgmental and begging for inaccuracy, misunderstanding, and further conflict.

      • dissentinc says:

        Or, it could have been the fact the it was 4 am and he was tired as well and not thinking straight. If it was 4 pm he very well could have not dreamed of doing such a thing. Lots of people were quick to throw this guy under the bus right away, but I don’t think Rebecca even did so. The people who jumped on the “racist” and “misogynist” bandwagon were her critics who made the conclusion that that’s what SHE was saying.

        I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus. It was late, people were tired, and mistakes were made. One person said “hey, please don’t do that,” and everyone should have said “okay,” and moved on. Instead, some in the movement erupted in rage that Rebecca would DARE have certain feelings in a certain situation. Others pointed out how that eruption proved the feminist point, which resulted in even more eruption, culminating in Dawkins’ comments that were even more inflammatory (the fact that he wouldn’t even admit it was at least a LITTLE wrong was what pissed people off), and now we have a full-blown fiasco that the major media is starting to pay attention to. Well done.

      • Steve Krasner says:

        Jonathon did you ever meet face to face with your mentor you emailed during your journey?
        I totally enjoyed your video series and look forward to upcoming episodes. Excellently narrated, you made all the complex very simple to understand. I learned so much thank you so your insights.

  2. I great assessment overall though I have a little less sympathy for Elevator-guy, I mean Rebecca had just spent the day talking about this kind of thing and how annoying it was for her and other women at these conferences. Though, that being said, he was more thoughtless than anything else (the fact that it was 4am and drinking was involved would account for such a lapse in judgement.)

    On another unrelated not, what I have not enjoyed in the aftermath is the idiotic, “guys will be guys” attitude and the implication that women should just be expected to deal with it. As a male I am more than capable of modifying my behaviour depending on the social circumstances involved and expecting women to simply grin and bear it is an abdication of personal responsibility over ones own behaviour. We can make this excuse for children, not adult men.

  3. Gabby says:

    Thank you for the clear thinking. This closely resembles my original feelings before the eruption. I appreciate you putting this forward.

  4. Dorian says:

    It seems pretty obvious that propositioning a stranger for sex would be a faux pas: elevator guy probably knew this but just lacked manners. That being said, what exactly should change? I’m with Dawkins, I don’t see what the issue is, unless Watson and her supporters are after some kind of anti-asshole movement. It would be nice if there were no assholes, but I don’t see what changes they wish to occur outside of a massive-scale personality change, all in the name of keeping people “comfortable”.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Finally! Thank you.

    Also, people get too convinced of their rightness. Rebecca Watson assumed she clearly articulated the issue. Had she just taken a moment to talk to this other young woman, they might have cleared up any misunderstanding, and Watson might now have an ally instead of an adversary. It seems like everyone instantly went for the juggular…

  6. I mostly agree, but I think you misrepresented Dawkins’ comment a bit. He wasn’t reacting to Watson directly, but on PZ’s blog, were Watson was basically portrait as a rape victim in the comment section and feminist nonsense was rampant.

    Since you are involved in academia and acquainted with conferences, I’m curious on what your take on Watson’s treatment of Stef McGraw is.

    • Celeste says:

      “feminist nonsense was rampant”…You have completely and utterly missed the point of empathy.

      • Maybe, but I hope not. Having empathy doesn’t mean everyone is correct or makes sense. What I was refering to was “sexing up” (pun intended) the story by going far beyond what Rebecca Watson had said about the situation (e.g. all the sudden the guy was severely drunk, physically blocking her,…), dismissing every differing male opinion by refering to “male privilege” and stuff like that.

        I’d like to clarify that I didn’t mean to imply that all feminism is nonsense, but only the radical brand of feminism I meant to refer to.

      • Celeste says:

        Do you at least understand that no woman can simply assume a total stranger is perfectly safe for her to be around? That we have to be wary because a strange man is a complete unknown? Can you empathize with the fact that the vast majority of men are bigger and stronger than women and since we can’t read your minds, we have no idea if you’re going to be the nicest guy on earth or a sadistic murderer and that, because of that, we have to err on the side of caution at all times?

      • “Do you at least understand that no woman can simply assume a total stranger is perfectly safe for her to be around?[…]”

        Sure, that’s why I thought it was important to point out that Dawkins did not comment on Rebecca Watson’s video, but reacted in the middle of a comment section spiraling towards hysteria.

        But following your logic the problem wasn’t really the elevator guy hitting on Rebecca Watson, but simply him *being* in the elevator. I mean what can we derive from this without becoming totally paranoid?

      • Celeste says:

        As hundreds of women have been pointing out all over the blogosphere, you can be aware of how your actions affect other people. If you want to meet a woman in an environment that she will feel comfortable in and you won’t get flatly turned down, don’t get her alone in an elevator. Meet her in a public place. If you don’t want a woman to be reaching into her purse to clutch her mace “just in case” when you have to enter an elevator alone with her, use your body language to tell her you’re a total non-threat. What we women are all trying to convey to you is that our boundaries are, and have to be, completely different from mens’ and that men should attempt to respect those if you want women to respond positively to you.

        It’s not paranoia if you refrain from grabbing another man’s arm so that he doesn’t punch you. That’s simply respect for his boundaries. Why is it paranoia to treat womens’ boundaries with respect so our blood-pressure doesn’t go through the roof?

      • Jerry W Barrington says:

        Celeste, you said “If you don’t want a woman to be reaching into her purse to clutch her mace “just in case” when you have to enter an elevator alone with her, use your body language to tell her you’re a total non-threat.”

        Isn’t that *exactly* what a predator *would* do, try to set you at ease until he got you trapped?

  7. Baluba says:

    I think Rebecca is guilty of feminazzism, seeing everyone that approaches her as a rapist in disguise. For example, lets apply the Brad Pitt test. Should she have met The man in the elevator, would her actions have been different? Me thinks so. Treating the polite man as a rapist is wrong. Unless she was actually abused or threatened prior to this incident in a similar location, she is just wrong.

    • Celeste says:

      I suggest you read this: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/gender-differences-and-casual-sex-the-new-research/

      The perceived familiarity of a celebrity does, in fact, raise a person’s (not just women’s but men’s too) confidence in taking them as a sexual partner, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. However, if the guy had only been as good looking as Brad Pitt, but otherwise unfamiliar, he still would most likely have been turned away by the vast majority of women. Bottom line: If you’re not getting laid enough, either change your approach to women or become famous to bridge the gap. But accusing her of feminazzism because she didn’t want to sleep with a man (Watson herself never said anything about suspecting he was a rapist) lets your own misogyny show.

      • Baluba says:

        Celeste, you missed the point entirely. Whether she wanted to make sex to him or not, it does not matter. My example serves to illustrate the point that the approach could have made her feel much better (even if she had declined to have sex with Pitt as well) but for the judgment she made of the man’s character. She did say that the approach made her “feel bad”. The assumption was that bad things could happen to her and this is why she felt bad. This is the point where I’d urge her to get counselling on. Perhaps she had been raped while a child. But it is not normal to see a guy that is approaching you, especially when he does it POLITELY, as a rape threat. If she hasn’t been actually molested, then this is a feminazzi stereotypical thought which needs to go away. Now, if he indeed pushed on after the initial refusal and became threatening, I absolutely do not condone that, whether in an elevator, stadium, or on the moon.

      • Celeste says:

        Let me ask you something: Do you like dogs? Do you greet all dogs, even big ones that you’ve never met, who are running around with no leash on, with a big friendly hug? Do you never, ever think to yourself that a strange dog might bite you? Would you tell a smaller dog to go play with a bunch of bigger dogs that you are completely unfamiliar with, without compunction? Have you never worried about your safety when a large dog is coming straight for you and it’s intentions are unknown to you?

        A woman doesn’t have to be a victim of rape to be nervous around a strange man. Most of us are smaller than you, weaker than you. and you are a complete unknown to us. I have ever been raped, but I would react EXACTLY as Rebecca did in that situation as would most other women. We are not the problem. There is nothing wrong with us. We are simply being cautious, because we HAVE to be.

  8. arte809 says:

    Probably the Elevator Guy is simply very unskilled and ignorant about aproaching women.

    Men aren’t handled a manual for aproaching women or something like that in life, and they also can’t read women minds, men mostly learn throught trial and error (a LOT of BIG and VERY STUPID errors sometimes; why do you think there are male virgin at 40?), and sometimes mess up like this.

    He should learn after knowing this, others like him too.

  9. Baluba says:

    Celeste, sorry, but one, you cannot speak for the majority of women out there. Secondly, dogs? Seriously? I rest my case.

    • Celeste says:

      Based on the huge amount of women out there espousing the same feelings I’ve stated above, actually, yes, I can speak for those women. Most of us are saying the same things. Read the blogs and comments and try to understand their points of view instead of just dismissing them as “feminazis”.

      And the fact that you won’t even consider trying to imagine yourself in an uncomfortable situation that approximates what women feel when we’re in situations like Watson’s tells me far too much about your character. Believe it or not, metaphors can be helpful tools in explaining things. But you dismiss it entirely because…well, apparently just because.

      • Baluba says:

        Sorry, but comparing people to dogs is not something I am likely to do. You know, apples to apples, treating humans equally and all that? I do understand why a woman could feel a bit worried in that situation. However that is entirely her problem, it is a misfire of a paranoid protection mechanism. It does not mean that in a civilized society we should treat each person that happens to trigger that mechanism as if he is a ruthless rapist. We should recognize that it is an overreaction and we should grin and bear it. There is no reason to chastise a person that behaved in a CIVILIZED manner just because your brain is f. up.

      • Celeste says:

        I wasn’t saying you’re a dog. I was giving you an example of a time when, even though you are probably safe, you’re going to react with caution. You obviously can’t tell the difference between metaphor and direct name-calling though.

        “It does not mean that in a civilized society we should treat each person that happens to trigger that mechanism as if he is a ruthless rapist.”

        If Rebecca had done this, she wouldn’t have turned the guy down, she’d have maced him and called the cops on him. She didn’t. She turned him down and then politely asked other men not to put women in that situation.

        Her polite request to not do that to us is what has you and other men like you up in arms saying “Don’t treat us like rapists, just be polite”. Obviously we’ve tried that and it doesn’t work. You just scream and moan that it’s all us over-reacting, when you are the ones moaning that a woman politely said no.

      • Jake says:

        You know celeste was giving you a good example of a situation where you are in danger so you could empathise. I don’t mind being compared to a dog, most dogs are adorable and only a few are dangerous. So yeah if your Androsexual and have a man as an subject of your affection that’s quite a good comparison and I’m certainly not offended by it.

  10. Alan says:

    I wasn’t there and could be wrong, but as far as I can tell, elevator guy’s words were polite and he respected Rebecca’s choice. I think Rebecca intended to point out that a sexual invitation at night when the woman is alone in an elevator risks the guy coming off as creepy or threatening.

    I think Richard Dawkins and others interpreted Rebecca as saying that elevator guy was being sexist. They took offence to the idea that politely expressing interest in a woman made a guy misogynistic. If men can’t even politely ask, how are they expected to find wives, girlfriends, or sexual partners?

    I think Dawkins and his supporters are correct on that point, but they are missing the fact that Rebecca was complaining about the setting of the invitation and not so much about the words used.

    In Summary:
    Rebecca Watson wants to ensure the atheist community is a female friendly one. She is alerting males that late-night elevator rides are not the best place for propositioning. Richard Dawkins and his supporters want to ensure that men can respectfully engage women without being labeled as sexist. I don’t see these goal as mutually exclusive.

  11. That was pretty well laid out, again. Well written and thought out on your part – which is why we enjoy your video’s and posts so much.

  12. Azz1515 says:

    In my mind Elevator Guy was definately lacking in TACT but based on the “evidence” provided by Rebecca (there are always two sides to a story and EG’s side is absent so I don’t think the leap to “potential rape situation” is logical) he was not acting misogynistic.
    He apparently said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” which should have been a big red flag to him that propositioning a female for conversation (or more) after she has expressed her displeasure at being sexualised by strangers was kinda dumb and would make her feel uncomfortable. Not to mention doing it in a confined space after she has decided to go to sleep. That’s kinda stupid and Rebecca is warranted in saying “Guys, don’t do this.” in that particular scenario. But to over-generalise it out to imply that what he did was an example of a misogynist view of women is a bit of a leap. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

    When I put myself in EG’s shoes I can kinda see myself working up my confidence to approach someone I have an interest in (intellectually or emotionally) and then epic-facepalming at HOW I did it and the way I approached the situation, after the fact. He lacked a bit of empathy for sure.

    Dawkins’ response directly to Rebecca is pretty disappointing. As a general rule, I am of the opinion that when you hear someone trying to minimise the way you feel by saying “people in other parts of the world have it much worse, so don’t complain”, I think it reveals more about that person than it does about the person they are accusing of lacking perspective. An example is the “toughen up, princess” phrase said to males. Everything we experience is relative and there is no need to censor ourselves simply because someone has it worse than us – that is no way to get change on a local level.

  13. arte809 says:

    This is an interesting video about it.

    And this:

    • evid3nc3 says:

      These make some important points. Unfortunately, both make the omission of addressing that, regardless of whether she communicated it clearly in her talks or whether Elevator Guy is misogynistic: the situation did make Watson uncomfortable.

      And NOW that we know she and many other women are uncomfortable with this situation, we are obliged to use that information to modify future behavior. I.e. sure, everybody makes mistakes and Elevator Guy can be excused for his ignorance. But NOW, we are all informed and things should change. This is the most glaring omission I am seeing from the “defending the guy” camp.

      Here is the most egalitarian video I have seen so far:

      • arte809 says:

        “the situation did make Watson uncomfortable.”

        Of course I agree on that, why make something that ones know makes the other person feel threatened? That’s what I said in my first comment “He should learn after knowing this, others like him too.”

        I like the girl video too.

  14. Wilma says:

    Please insert ‘according to me’, ‘I think’, and ‘in my opinion’ in the below comment as suitable. I’ve left them out because you have to be able to read it somehow.

    Assuming Elevator Guy was well-intentioned and just ignorant of how he came across – he can be faulted for that, as well as other men in similar situations. Basically, give any woman the following description of what happened: “A woman has been giving a talk about feminism and misogyny in an activist movement. The disucssion continues later. The woman announces at 4 am that she are going to bed, to sleep. A man follows her into the elevator and asks her back to his room.” and well, I can’t guarantee you that every single one will say that the woman is likely to experience that as uncomfortable or even threatening but I am willing to bet well over 95% will. So why is it taken for granted in this discussion that men don’t know? It’s not like this is a new idea. You say “Now we know that women feel this way”, as if you could not have known already. As if feminism and discussions of this sort have only come up this week, instead of being around for decades. Men have not had to pay attention to these things, because of their privileged position, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be faulted for not having paid attention to these things. This whole argument about ‘EG guy may have been well-intentioned’, to me, just betrays a different problem: if this was so he would still be in the wrong for not considering her point of view. He would still be wrong for having made it into adulthood without apparently expending thought on the idea that women have every reason not to feel safe in confined spaces with relative strangers who ask them back to their room in the middle of the night.

    Anyway, for me, it’s not EG’s original actions that are the biggest point in all this, it’s the atheist community’s, and particularly Richard Dawkins’, response. So many men have shown unwilling to examine their own privileged position before responding to this mess, and too many women have ignored that their exprience does not equal all women’s experiences. Neither does Ms. Watson’s experience = all other experiences, but her experience is as valid as that of anyone and ought to be treated as such. I, as a woman and an atheist, am sad to say that the responses to Ms. Watson make me feel incredibly unsafe in this community now – particularly knowing that the fact that I feel unsafe in itself will probably earn me more scorn for being ‘dramatic’, or ‘illogical’, or any of a host of other words that are used daily to confirm women’s experiences as less valid, less important or less worthy than those of men.

    (in summary, just because (general) you as a person are ignorant or well-intentioned, doesn’t mean your actions are not misogynistic and that you cannot be faulted for them if you could reasonably be expected to have known better)

    • Wilma says:

      Okay, so, I proabably could’ve put all that a lot more eloquently, but I hope the point comes across. I just wanted to add a response to your first point, that it was an empathetical mistake of Ms. Watson to call EG ‘creepy or worse’. Why is it that it’s an empathetical mistake of her to call him creepy, rather than an empathetical mistake of him doing something that she considered creepy? Why should she have to take into account that he may not have meant to be creepy, when he did not take into account that his actions may cause her to find him creepy? (at least, I assume he didn’t think about it; if he thought about it and did it anyway, he really was creepy)

      • evid3nc3 says:

        “Why should she have to take into account that he may not have meant to be creepy?”

        In the *situation* I don’t think either party made mistakes. He thought it was okay, she was uncomfortable. Both feelings are valid.

        It is in the analysis AFTERWARDS that I have a problem with people presuming and attributing disparaging mental states to either party without some serious evidence to back such a damaging assessment up.

        I think we should all be very cautious to put other people down, especially when it is possible that they are actually being genuine. It doesn’t help anyone to make unjustified judgements: it makes the accused feel misunderstood and, in the process of defending themselves, they are likely to ignore the actual concerns of the accuser.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      I appreciate the egalitarianism in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs.

      “So why is it taken for granted in this discussion that men don’t know? It’s not like this is a new idea.”

      This is the primary problem I see from the “attacking the man” camp.

      You presume that from the GENERAL discussion of women’s rights over the decades that men should automatically be able to infer the VERY SPECIFIC fact that it makes women feel threatened to be propositioned in an elevator. I don’t think this is reasonable or fair.

      You are acting like, in order to see women as equals and think they are important, we should be expected to perform the mental gymnastics of simulating in our minds every possible scenario that could possibly make a woman uncomfortable and avoid doing it. That is not realistic. We have too many cognitive limitations to be expected to simulate all possible situations in our minds and meet the needs of all other people without ever experimenting and being provided feedback.

      I think the only reasonable approach to human conflict resolution over situational issues is this:

      1. If you think an action is reasonable and does not seem to harm anyone but does benefit you: try it.

      2. If someone responds negatively to this action and informs you that this does indeed harm them, change your behavior.

      I don’t think we can reasonably ask more from people than this.

      As far as I know this is the first time I have EVER seen this elevator issue on the topic of women’s feelings. Maybe women feel this is obvious. But men don’t. And just as we can’t dismiss your feelings of discomfort, you can’t dismiss our feelings of genuine confusion. Equality works both ways. Both genders’ feelings matter.

      And calling someone misogynistic (disrespecting women) when they actually have every intention of respecting women is just plain inaccurate. What you *should* say is that they are egalitarians who were uninformed. If, after being informed, they don’t change their behavior and are KNOWINGLY disrespecting women, then and ONLY then can they validly be considered misogynistic.

  15. @Dumnezero says:

    I have plenty empathy for beings who suffer, who struggle, who revolt, who emancipate themselves. It’s one of the reasons I’m an antitheist and vegan. I have little empathy for… feelings of egoism, indignation and arrogance. The elevator story… it seems to be more about personal comfort and manners.

    “All men are potential rapists” is prejudice. If you’re too traumatized or too bored to notice that this is a stereotype, that’s your problem. “You”, as in readers and other feminists. If you consider yourself a rational person and you support prejudice, slap yourself.

    As a feminist, and a guy, I think Rebecca is doing a great disservice to women by (directly or indirectly) portraying them as weaklings and by portraying men as wild beasts, “the boogey man”, “the wolf”. This was confirmed after the first “round” of the row, especially by the mobs of sexist feminists formed in the comment threads. What she is promoting is the old “Lady and Gentleman” gender roles. Basically, the Elevator Guy was NOT a gentleman. Gender roles = sexism, I think you all know that. It seems to me that she’s the kind of feminist that supports censorship, banning prostitution and banning movies and art or even pornography – i.e. NOT the liberal kind.

    I’m not even going to talk about Phil Plait. He’s a paternalistic scumbag who pretends to use rational discourse while sneaking in plenty of fallacies.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      I understand your frustration and agree that saying “All men are potential rapists” is prejudiced and sexist.

      However, in the same way that I cannot support attributing disparaging mental states to Elevator Guy without some serious evidence to back it up, I cannot support attributing disparaging mental states to Rebecca (e.g. “feelings of egoism, indignation and arrogance”) without serious evidence either. Please see my comments directly above to Wilma. They work both ways.

      As far as I can tell, Rebecca had a genuine concern and expressed it fairly well in her first video (though making some mistakes that I have pointed out). It is primarily the commentary that followed afterward from everyone, including her, that got disparaging, damaging, and lacking in empathy (and, therefore, accuracy).

      • arte809 says:


        “This was confirmed after the first “round” of the row, especially by the mobs of sexist feminists formed in the comment threads.”


        It is primarily the commentary that followed afterward from everyone, including her, that got disparaging, damaging, and lacking in empathy (and, therefore, accuracy).


      • @Dumnezero says:

        My points were related to the whole thing, not just the first discourse and reactions.

        When I see people having one discourse “on stage” and another in the intimacy of online forums, I cringe. Such difference is at best an oddity and worse evidence of hypocrisy or deceit (like ” internet trolls “).

  16. soma says:

    Quick preface: I’m a huge fan of your ongoing video essay about your becoming an atheist. I frequently recommend your Youtube channel to people whom I feel might benefit from listening to your own account. And I have been exposed to many great works of literature thanks to your work.
    So a quick thank you is in order.

    Now, about your own “Elevatorgate” commentary, while I generally agree with the gist of your post. I did feel as though I needed to point out one particular statement as being especially… myopic, for lack of a better word.

    “Elevator Guy and other men like him may have been ignorant of these feelings on the part of women before Watson spoke up and made it clear. But now that she has made it clear that women do feel like this when being approached this way, even when approached politely, I think we are obliged to take heed to those feelings and alter our social propositioning practices.” ~ Evid3nc3

    So, all of a sudden Watson represents all of womankind?

    Based solely on her testimony, I think she overreacted. She admittedly had good some reasons to be a little paranoid untowards men, but this is a flimsy reason for her react the way she did.

    I don’t like the fact that she presumes to speak for all womankind, and I especially do not like that you’re falling for it.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      “I don’t like the fact that she presumes to speak for all womankind”

      Agreed. She doesn’t speak for all womankind and we should not presume this. I have spoken to a few women now who don’t think there was anything uncomfortable or wrong about what Elevator Guy did. These women deserve their opinions to receive respect every bit as much as Watson and other discomforted women do.

      But I have heard enough discomforted women speak up that I think it may generally be a good idea to play it a little safe for their sake. I don’t think that waiting for a less awkward opportunity to ask is a bad idea.

      There are definitely women that are okay with the elevator situation. We know this for a fact based on the blogosphere. But perhaps it is better to err on the side of oversensitivity for the sake of the women who aren’t. It isn’t too much to ask and could make things smoother for everyone involved, including the men who are asking.

      • soma says:

        Thank you for answering me.

        For the record I do wish I would have phrased things differently, or at least have emphasized that I do feel that her having to deal with threatening letters, the vast majority of which coming from men, on a frequent basis, has probably caused some deep feelings of anxiety to well up in her while in certain social situations with the opposite sex, especially at 4am, and especially while most likely exhausted both physically and intellectually after a long day of lively social exchanges.

        That being said, I strongly dislike how she is choosing to deal with this situation after the fact. After having had the chance to rationalize this.. incident, she still chose to make the statements she did. To the whole world. I hope I’m wrong, but she seems to be manipulating the situation, at least a little, to help champion her cause, and to help her protect her own insecurities.

        As to “err on the side of oversensitivity”, I would argue that this is a very bad slippery slope I would dearly love for all of us to avoid. Both women and men deal with oversensitivity issues on a more or less regular basis, so do teens, and our elders. And if we all expect the worst out of everyone, then how can we ever expect honest/genuine discourse/interactions from anyone?

        As a former victim of infantile sexual abuse, by a man, and one who still occasionally feels insecure, and sometimes threatened, around men of a particular build and place in society, should I expect them to always bend over backwards so as to not invoke the possibility that they might trigger a feeling of anxiety in me? ..or any other potential sexual abuse victim?

        I don’t think so, I think that finding a balance between Tact, Rational, Mutual Respect, Critical Thinking, Appreciation for Context, and Candid Honesty make for a much more fulfilling and functional society, and I would hate for everyone to always walk on egg shells so as to always avoid possibly vexing someone, anyone, over a myriad of real or imagined sensitivities.

        We shouldn’t let our emotions rule us. Which is what I think Miss Watson is currently doing.

      • evid3nc3 says:

        Well, I agree that we shouldn’t be expected to “bend over backwards” (see my responses to Wilma above).

        But I don’t really think that not asking on an elevator, asking during the day, and asking for a more public meeting place first constitute “bending over backwards”. For me, this isn’t walking on eggshells: this is what I already do.

        I’m aware of men who go “straight for the jugular”, so-to-speak. I’ve never been comfortable with that approach and it appears some women aren’t either (not just Watson; there is a very fair-minded girl in a video above who feels the same way).

        But I completely agree that Watson and others are going too far by saying any men or women who disagree with their particular viewpoint are misogynistic and/or promoting male privilege. That is just dogmatizing one’s own subjective viewpoint.

  17. Josh Young says:

    I think men should stop approaching women all together because as all evidence shows 100% of rape includes men approaching women. If men didn’t approach women there’d be no rape, therefore this is a rational argument, thee end. Fucking idiots….

  18. Bentobox says:

    So happy someone else finally said this!

    There seems to be such drama being generated all based on assumption and dramatization. We don’t know what was going through the guy’s mind. All we have is a line: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but would you like to come over for coffee and a chat?”

    So what are the options here? The plain meaning that the guy was intrigued and he would like to exchange thoughts some more, or he can be a scumbag who just wanted to score some poon.

    I’ll Occam’s Razor the shit out of this and assume the null, the plain interpretation. Once anyone has actual EVIDENCE of the guy having an alternative agenda, I’ll gladly hear it, but just playing a guessing game and branding him as a someone who “sexualized” Rebecca is a shit move on the part of Rebecca herself and everyone who went along in that view.

  19. Traveler says:

    I think Watson has a valid point that there are things men do at skeptical meet-ups and in forums that make many women uncomfortable. But Elevator Guy seems like one of the worst examples she could have used to illustrate her point. He may have chosen the wrong time and place, but his approach certainly seemed polite. I don’t think there would have been so much controversy if she had selected an example of genuine hostility and creepiness from the emails she gets.

    I also think it’s an over generalization to assume that the creepy behavior that some women have experienced to misogyny. I’ve been on the receiving end of some really creepy propositions from gay men. I’d say that the problem is in how a subset of men think about their sexual targets. It just so happens that the target is usually a woman. Not that this makes it any less creepy for the recipient.

  20. Keefo says:

    Evid3nc3, what is your stance on feminism? What do you like and what do you not like about it?

  21. Don says:

    I’m curious, has anyone claimed to be elevator guy?

    • arte809 says:

      Jokingly, IntegralMath user from Youtube did, but he’s not him really.

      Maybe the elevator guy will never say who he is, but if somebody tells who he is and this hit back to him, I hope he sues some people, at least the ones who said that he harrased her (PZ Myers) and that he coerced her (Amanda Marcotte). You know the ‘good feminists’ that Watson links in her second post.

  22. B.J. says:

    I guess I don’t see how this relates to aetheism, skeptics, misogyny, “the community,” or anything else. A guy liked a girl, made a move (poorly), and got rejected. Oh well, sucks to be him. But can you really blame the guy for trying? If we waited for women to approach men the species would die out.

    Saying things like, “This is how sexual assault occurs” is retarded. Sexual assault occurs when… sexual assault occurs! It didn’t happen in this case so what’s the big deal?

  23. Cubelarooso says:

    Has no one considered that maybe the guy was just trolling? Maybe he HAD listened to everything she said, and he purposely acted against it simply for irony and lulz? The fact she is a woman would have nothing to do with it, he simply enjoys making PEOPLE upset – particularly when it’s for no reason.
    Considering the tumult that has arisen, I’d say (if my hypothesis is correct) he’s laughing his ass off now.

  24. Thomas says:

    It is possibly, in my opinion, that humor is a universal language and can fix most problems. Here is how I imagine the situation with laughter:

    A man walks into an elevator with Rebecca Watson at 4am. He is tired and as he turns to push his floor button, he accidentally bumps into Rebecca. In doing so, his elbow goes into her breast.
    They are both quite startled. The man turns to her and says, “Ma’am, if your heart is as soft as your breast, I know you’ll forgive me.”
    Rebecca Watson replies, “If your penis is as hard as your elbow, I’m in Room 1221.”

    Problem solved.

    • Thomas says:

      Here’s a better one.

      A human being walks into an elevator with another human being. Human 1 unsuccessfully and, perhaps, poorly makes a pass at Human 2. The entire blogosphere falls apart in a fit of hysteria.

  25. Hi evid3nc3 (chris?)

    I am requesting your permission to make reference of your hexagonal model of deconversion to talk about multi-dimensional mindset in our current reality (journey towards freedom).
    Sample of direction of thoughts can be found in the petition video

    Quick and direct answer appreciated more than vague, guessing, long, delayed answer or lack of.
    anca sovarosi

  26. I have to say that I was a little discouraged at the general lack of understanding expressed by all parties concerned. The Watson-Elevator Guy thing was something that happens all the time. Sometimes it goes badly. Other times it goes well. The point is: unless you ante up and ask, you won’t know the answer.

    From my point of view, I thought it was somewhat considerate of Elevator Guy to wait until Rebecca was not surrounded by gads of people: it may have saved both him and Rebecca some undue embarrassment. I know I would be far too shy to proposition a rising intellectual celebrity amidst a throng of people. I mean, it’s hard enough to be turned down in a one-to-one situation; but to be turned down in a crowd of people who are most likely listening in… epic embarassment!

    So, yes, it is reasonable for Rebecca to feel cornered or intimidated by being asked out in an elevator. She was at the mercy of buttons or the next stop. That would undoubtedly be uncomfortable. But like you pointed out, Evid3nc3, it was also reasonable for Elevator Guy to take the time to ask Rebecca out in a quieter, less crowded place.

    Overall, I think the whole thing was blown way out of proportion and there was a lot of pettiness being trumpeted about the internet. Rebecca could simply have said, “no thank you” and the whole thing would’ve been over with: no facetiousness from Dawkins, no manifestos from Rebecca, and no private humiliation for Elevator Guy.

  27. Џорџ says:

    The debate of such length over a minute issue can be called pointless or simply ridiculous. First of all I don’t have any problem with sexualization, though I might be wrong about the way others here define it or mean by this term. Additionally I haven’t adopted some holy cows that seem to be universally accepted recently in western civilization regarding human/this or that rights, so I might be a bit off in that sense in my reasoning.

    All this talk about women rights (reproductive rights, abortion rights, carrier, divorce etc) boils down to freedom, freedom to enjoy various things if one pleases, freedom to see men as expendable and freedom to sexualize men for instance. Henceforth, a “free woman” could have decided to accompany the man in his room, or talk to him, or could have decided to make love with the man in the elevator.

    One’s personal needs for closeness or intimacy are the ones that make the world go round whether we like it or not, there isn’t anything inherently right or wrong in it by default. Therefore if you assume the radical liberal or similar approach to women and apply equality to it (and everyone’s mouth is full of equality) a woman can behave or misbehave or choose both, while in order to be equal a man can approach a woman the same way, not excluding the 4am scenario in an elevator with a guy perhaps being lonely, bored or wishing to share something.

    Some of these notions might be absurd, but they do proceed from the above-mentioned holy cows like ‘human rights’, ‘equality’ and so forth. The point is you give certain rights or privileges to women, extend it to men for equality reasons, then why complain about it. In this radical idea a man can try to approach a woman and she has the ‘right’ to be a complete bitch about it. I personally would find it repugnant, but that’s the way it works. The Elevator guy might be a by-product of liberation of women and perhaps he would never have courage to talk to a woman had it not been for some liberating notions of female behavior. Are we gonna crucify him to set an example?

    Finally, it happened in a foreign country, so the cultural differences might have played the role in the case of the Elevator Guy, just like they do for me.

  28. I still feel that we are basing this all on the assumption that all women feel the same way. I feel that this,

    “Now that it’s known to be uncomfortable for one, or even many women, then all men should change how they approach all women.”

    This not only tells all men how they should be, but also tells all women that they shouldn’t put up with that kind of behavior. That’s my only problem with many feminists. It’s not ok for men to think they need to protect all women, which I agree, but for some reason it’s perfectly fine for women to “protect” all other women as well.

    I think ALL humans are too unique to establish general behaviors to ALL interactions between the genders. We’re all put into uncomfortable situations and the point is to make it known, but that doesn’t mean people should get to judge someone’s entire character based on their PERSONAL interaction preferences.

  29. silverionmox says:

    “Men should be informed that women feel this way when propositioned by strangers. And men should stop propositioning them this way.”

    So, offering someone a coffee is sexual intimidation now. Next step: breathing out in the same room will be considered unwanted penetration. All men ought to hold their breath or run away when a woman enters the room, lest she might feel slightly uncomfortable at the though of breathing in the same air a man breathed out.

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