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This was exactly what I needed to read.  Thank you so much for posting this.  "Elevatorgate" has pissed me all the way off, and it's exhausting and disheartening, and so thank you approximately one zillion times for the encouragement.

(In fact... this is something of a side note, but it has bugged me during this kerfuffle when women have called other women tools of the patriarchy and the like for disagreeing about what is and isn't sexist. As a feminist who defends porn, sex work, sadomasochism, etc., I've been on the receiving end of that "you're just sucking up to sexist men" trope way, way too often. Let's not do it, okay?)

As an expansion on this, I've noticed a disturbing increase in the number and visibility of people who, while nominally on our side, literally cannot conceive of being mistaken about anything, ever, and apparently believe their righteousness is so complete that they're under no obligation to make a good faith attempt at interpreting others' words or ask for clarification of ambiguities, or even read for comprehension. Instead, any time a post reminds them even vaguely of one of the handful of cardboard-caricature "enemy" position archetypes they've got stored in their heads, they equate the poster with that cardboard "enemy," attribute those cardboard "enemy" views to the poster, and absolutely refuse to acknowledge, no matter what, that they were mistaken in their attribution. Even if what they're attacking the poster for supposedly claiming is entirely not present, or even contradicted, in the actual post at issue. (For instance, I half suspect someone is going to jump down my throat on the grounds that my previous comment is supposedly claiming that "elevator guy must have had Asperger's and therefore no one can ever criticize anything he said or did" or some such bullshit).

I see the bit you described above as a symptom of the same problem, and it's a serious one that, unlike calling out sexism, actually has the potential to tear our movement apart. Fanaticism is utterly misplaced in a progressive movement, and the idea that the righteousness of our cause has imbued us with infallibility is, too, and quadruply so in a movement of secular skeptics.

Let's not do that either, 'kay? I don't see how "argue with what people are actually saying and stop to actually figure that out" is any more of a burden than "respect the appropriate contexts for flirting." >.>

Mavaddat Javid

Wonderful and well-said. I always appreciate your thoughts and I was especially anticipating hearing from you about this. Thank you for expressing these points so eloquently and succinctly! You are awesome.

Chris Hallquist

(1) I mostly agree with Rebecca about the initial elevator incident

(2) I haven't noticed any really ridiculous attacks on her (calling her a man-hater, or saying she shouldn't talk about these things whether or not she's right)

(3) I'm still happy to believe the ridiculous attacks have been happening. I'm a habitual blog reader, but not a habitual blog comment thread reader, and I've noticed that even good blogs can have cesspools for comment threads.

(4) A lot of atheists have objected to the way Rebecca has responder to her critics, and I'm largely with them. She's responded to even polite disagreement with accusations of being "anti-woman" and "misogynistic" (see here, for example). Baseless accusations of misogyny are majorly uncool, in the same way that baseless accusations of man-hating are majorly uncool.

(5) I suspect some of the blow up would have happened even if no one had made any ridiculous attacks on Rebecca, because of the ridiculous attacks *she* has made on her critics.

(6) Part of this post seems to argue "the behavior of some men can't be explained by straightforwardly selfish motivations, so it must be sexism." This is fallacious. As a man, I can attest that sometimes, men are just dumb. When there's no rational explanation for the way (some) men are behaving, "men being dumb" is often a better explanation that "sexism."

Robin Marie

As I wrote about over at An American Atheist, I think what was so disturbing is, as you've pointed out, the reaction from so some men was not to consider the situation or even to simply disagree, but to insist Watson had no right to have any feelings about it whatsoever. Other than what they would have had that is. How they do not see that this is classic sexism is beyond me.

It will be interesting to see if the women attending TAM will get hit on quite as much as usual, in light of this controversy. I am going to be there and hopefully I will be able to say hello to you again!


"And so now, I'm going to address... Everyone who's been participating in this blowup. Everyone who's been following it."

Why are you lecturing those of us who've been quietly following the incident, Greta? I've been reading PZ's, Rebecca's, and others' posts about the issue--and picking up some good-to-know stuff about privilege and awareness of it, but haven't wanted to add yet another voice to the whole blowup. It seemed unnecessary, since you guys have been making the point well and I didn't have too much to add to it.

But the way this article was worded came across as lecturing me (and anyone else who hadn't spoken up) that we Just Don't Get It--basically lumping us in with the clueless troglodytes who blew this whole thing up in the first place.


The religious right, conservatives, authoritarians etc. always seems to speak with one voice, a carefully modulated message seemingly worked out beforehand, and if someone does stray from the message, they get back on point very quickly indeed or face ostracism.

This has been a huge problem over the past few decades, decision making by a small group at the top with no voice allowed to people actually faced with the problems of the real world has led to disaster after disaster with crazily authoritarian laws that are anti-women, anti-LGBT, anti-minority, anti-poor, pro-religion, pro-rich, and pro-status quo.

I'm glad that we have these huge shitstorms and while I'm saddened by the content of some of the arguments brought forth, I know that it's highly unlikely that we'll ever get into the same kind of insane, inbred, intellectual vaccuum that anti-progressives have fallen into.

Good for us.


First, mad kudos for "we're trying to help you get laid" and all of the logical extensions of that thought. I keep thinking the same thing and was kind of wondering why no one lese had addressed that angle specifically.

I think it's really interesting how many odd little pathos (including my own) have come out in the comments on other posts about this issue. I'm a chick who had another chick practically jump down her throat (and not in the fun way) when I expressed doubt about the idea that all women live a certain way because of the threat of rape. That's just one example and I'm sure we've all seen others but it seems like the shitstorm that came out of this just brought out everyone's broad strokes brush.

Chris Hallquist

Azkyroth said:

any time a post reminds them even vaguely of one of the handful of cardboard-caricature "enemy" position archetypes they've got stored in their heads, they equate the poster with that cardboard "enemy," attribute those cardboard "enemy" views to the poster, and absolutely refuse to acknowledge, no matter what, that they were mistaken in their attribution. Even if what they're attacking the poster for supposedly claiming is entirely not present, or even contradicted, in the actual post at issue.


Chris Hallquist:

As a man, I can attest that sometimes, men are just dumb.

(a) Men certainly have all the free time and movement to be that variety of dumb, largely because any time someone steps up and says "Hey men, stop being this kind of dumb", which is what Rebecca did (both in an hours-long talk and in her vlog afters), everyone leaps to defend men's right to be dumb.

(b) I find it seriously difficult to believe that someone, even a man, could sit through a talk about how not to treat women (especially if one is looking to attract them to the atheist movement!), then do what he did -- which is to not talk to her at the hotel bar, but rather to wait until she was alone and had stated she was going to bed, then invite her to his hotel room.

As usual, many feminists have a higher opinion of men's intelligence than a lot of men do, which makes me sad.

Chris Hallquist


To be clear: I'm not defending Elevatorguy's behavior. I'm just asking Greta to be careful about inferring sexism... not so much for the sake of Elevatorguy, but for the sake of the people involved in having these discussions.

Baseless accusations of sexism can really tarnish otherwise worthwhile discussions, and it's worth emphasizing that the problem isn't just men getting accused of being misogynists or women getting accused of man-hating. It's also women getting accused of being "brainwashed tools of the patriarchy" or whatever the fuck.

As for your "makes me sad" comment... yeah, the universe is a depressing place.


You seem to gloss over all the women who think Rebecca was in the wrong, or at least overreacted.

Stef McGraw, stclairose. ?? Why is everyone casually leaving this part out? It's what made it blow up in the first place! It's what made Dawkins comment later on.
Stef's post:

Watson is trying to silence other women who respectfully disagree by calling them names.

I have been so offended by Watson's actions (as a feminist and a human being) that I am no longer a fan. She did later on bring up rape, which trivializes real rape victims. It's messed up.

She's attaching special rules to women, that's what I've been fighting against. I want equality, not special treatment. It can be argued that she's setting back the movement.


Your eloquence never ceases to amaze me. Thank you.

Andrew Hall

What I like about this piece is the level of professionalism displayed (no name calling, and respect for all). Greta, you have stated your point in a mature manner and that is what's needed.


Greta, you implore (scream, rather) for us men to "LISTEN TO WHAT THE WOMEN ARE SAYING."

I did. I listened to Stef, and the many, many, many other women who said that Rebecca was wrong to tell men what behavior they may and may not do.

And let's say this: If Rebecca had said "Don't do this if you're trying to hook up with a woman" this shitstorm might not've happened. But she wasn't giving dating advice to men.

She was saying that we could solve this whole lack-of-women-in-atheism thing if men just "knew their place."

She was speaking from a position of arrogance, sprouted from an anecdotal seed that pissed off MANY other women who disagreed with her.

You've phrased this all wrong in your post - which is too bad - because if things really happened like you said here, you would've been RIGHT ON.

Lou Doench

Please, I'm sick to death of the "guys can just be dumb" trope. That's more misandrist than anything Rebecca has said in response to this mess. If the guy is just being dumb, but not sexist, then he can maybe learn from the incident and not make the same mistake twice. On the other hand, dude might be an actual bad apple and we let it slide because, y'know, "boys will be boys"?

Chris Hallquist

@Lou: Ugh, for the second time, I'm not advocating letting anything slide, I'm just advocating not making inferences about people's motives on insufficient data.

Against reading comprehension difficulties, the gods themselves contend in vain...


Schrodinger’s rapist:
Men rape women more often than women rape men => women are justified to be on their guard when in the presence of men in particular => men should be extra-careful when talking to women…

Schrodinger’s black assaulter:
There are more African Americans in jail than white people, even though only 12,6% of the US population is African American => white people are justified to be on their guard when in presence of African Americans in particular => African Americans should be extra-careful when talking to white people…


Greta, I know you mean well by this and your tone is mostly appreciated - however, there is still a crucial point that is being missed here.

You do not speak for all women. Some women like being hit on under certain contexts, others do not. Some women like to be hit on at the gym, or at Starbucks, or at the grocery store, or at atheist conferences, and others dont. Men have no way of knowing until they try. We cannot read minds - and this is the bottom line. Awkward circumstances can never be avoided when it comes to the dating world - and its simply unreasonable to demand that one never be made uncomfortable.

It is about getting laid, because the man that is too sensitive about what the woman is going to think will miss 100% of the opportunities he does not take.


There are more African Americans in jail than white people, even though only 12,6% of the US population is African American

Wow.  Yeah, that can't possibly be due to inherent racism in the US, leading to black people being arrested way more than white people.

Robin Marie

There seems to be a serious problem with issues like these because in our culture, being told you did something sexist or with sexist overtones is taken to be a huge accusation -- it is taken to mean the same as saying, "you ARE sexist."

But sexism isn't something that individuals are or are not. It is something that impacts ALL of us. Was Dawkins behavior in all this a product of sexism? I think so. Do I think he himself can be described in his totality a sexist? I don't think so.

Discussions about race, where it gets even more sensitive, go down in the same way. Whenever anyway says, "Hey, that thing you did - that was racist" a huge shit storm explodes because we understand issues about racism in a complete black and white way - you're either racist or you're not. But this is nonsense. I have issues with race just like most white people (or most people, really) do, but I do my best to be scrupulously conscious of this and to push myself towards better and clearer thinking all the time. Most men are impacted somehow by sexism; most WOMEN are impacted somehow by sexism. To treat the issue of sexism or racism as though we are talking about a horrible virus that, once you are infected with, makes you a horrible person is an incredibly unrealistic way to go about talking about a complex problem that plays out amongst complex human beings.

And I think a lot of the defensiveness on the part of men has to do with this; they feel like they are being called Nazis or something, when if really wanted to "man-up," so to speak, they would really consider where Watson and the other women upset about this were coming from and then at least ENTERTAIN the possibility that sexism was playing a role here. But people can't do that when they think in terms of black and white. And the entire debate gets excessively moralistic because of it; which is a shame, because while most people who participate in sexism are far from unambiguously "bad people," the consequences of sexism usually are.



Rebecca Watson had just spent an entire day saying 'don't hit on me at atheist/sceptical conferences' and the guy still hit on her anyway.

The talk itself was given as part of a larger narrative that's been a topic on a lot of atheist/sceptical sites, namely that the level of sexual objectification of women at atheist/sceptical meetings is putting a lot of women off actually attending those meetings.

That said, I'm pretty sure that no-one involved in this discussion has ever said that hitting on women is the problem. It's that hitting on women in the wrong circumstances can make women feel uncomfortable. The guy in Rebecca Watson's example didn't get to know her by approaching her in the bar and speaking to her for a couple of hours, then after seeing that she was interested in him asked her to his room, what he did was approach her, a complete stranger, in an elevator when she was alone and proposition her at 4am.

Alfarr Hotei
    For the six of you who have spent the last three weeks under a rock in a cave on Mars with your eyes shut and your hands over your ears:
Guilty as charged. It was quite a feat too. A shame I didn't get to see much of the landscape. I was busy trying not to die from the extremely hostile environment. Though seriously, I am not exactly a fervent follower of the atheist blogosphere. My true passions lie elsewhere, and religion tends to be a very, very small problem around here. I just stumbled randomly on this one blog recently, and found you to be a very good writer. I may pick up a few more as I go.
    We are trying to help you get laid.
Thank you. Much appreciated. Though my own problem tends to be opposite to the one highlighted here: I err on the side of caution. Which can also make that aspect of life ever so slightly boring in the long run.

But anyway, yes. Anyone who rejects advice from women on how to approach women must have a dim spot somewhere in their minds.
Such attitudes puzzle me.

    Wow. You really don't want to hear what we have to say, do you? There's a part of you that knows we're right, or that fears we're right, or that's getting some assumptions challenged that you're deeply attached to... and you're uncomfortable with that. And you're trying to shut us up.
Indeed! So true it is. From experience, being religious is often an exercise in pruning rogue thought patterns so that you don't end up alienating those religious friends of yours. I'm not sure this is quite the same, but guys talking to guys talking to guys does not always foster a very healthy mindset about women. And so the mental line gets pushed a bit too much. If the atheist movement is as male-dominant as you sometimes seem to imply, this could be one of the consequences. In which case I must applaud you (and others) for not just bending over. Some people need to learn what is definitely not good behaviour.


To be clear: I'm not defending Elevatorguy's behavior. I'm just asking Greta to be careful about inferring sexism... not so much for the sake of Elevatorguy, but for the sake of the people involved in having these discussions.

I suppose it's within the realm of human possibility that this guy didn't listen at all to the talk that Watson gave, that he found absolutely no way to catch her attention at the hotel bar after, that he didn't hear her tell the group that she was tired and going to bed, that he wasn't aware that he might come off as intimidating or creepy by waiting until she was alone to invite her to his room, and that he never learned that asking a woman at 4 in the morning to his hotel room might in fact be not an innocent thing*.

(* Whoops, he checked for that when he initiated the convo!  My bad!  Seems he may have had some idea (a) that there were boundaries that (b) he'd be overstepping after all!)

Occam's Razor might have something to do here.  Can't think of how, though...

Gary Booker

This is one of the reasons why I am less inclined to organize for atheist causes these days. The so-called "atheist" community is filled with some of the most arrogant, misogynistic men with megalomania issues. This situation should be a no-brainer, and yet men are engaging in the most disingenuous intellectual gymnastics to avoid acknowledging what is an obvious act of disrespect.

Sarah Zizic

I agree that this incident created a lot of discussion but let's keep a constructive dialog going.
I'm very disappointed that usually rational people have resorted to finger-pointing, name calling, and threats. Please stop! None of that is constructive and will only divide us. We are better than this!


"But I don't understand what the problem is with elevators"

Whenever I find myself thinking, "I don't understand why they are getting all pissy" or some similar thought (admittly dismissive - I'm not proud of this), I try to focus on the "I don't understand" part and then just listen (well, technically, read). It's surprisingly effective.

"And I want to remind you -- and everyone else reading this -- that what we are doing is working."

As a forty-some-odd year old white male who is new to the skeptic movement, a newly self-identified atheist and with, at best, a tenuous grasp on the concept of privilege, I'd like to say that I agree with you. Every time one of these shitstorms happen, I learn a little more. And while I understand that it's a difficult subject, I, for one, appreciate the discussion.


Greta, I saw a question (don't remember where), that I'd appreciate it if you addressed:

the atheist/skeptic community is great on LGBT issues, recognizing that homophobia is largely driven by religion/superstition. Why isn't there similar recognition that sexism is also driven by religion? Why are so many in the community consistently FAIL on feminism while being WIN on LGBT stuff?


Just to point. I keep reading people using Watson's statement of being at the bar till 4am, and her stating she's going to sleep as proof positive that elevator guy is a sexist.

I do urge you people to actually *watch* the video she made. Unless she's made additional clarification since, there's nothing specifying that elevator guy was ever at the bar, only that he was at the talk and the elevator. He could have been drinking with buddies elsewhere till 4am.

Further, we don't know the specifics of her talk, only that she ad-hocked a talk on sexism in the religious right to talk about sexism in atheism. There's no guarantee that she said anything that could remotely be considered pickup-tips, or warnings against hitting on her in an elevator.

This all leads back to the fact that, while I agree elevator guy was stupid to hit on someone in an elevator, claiming he's sexist for it is a claim built on far too many assumptions on an issue we only have 1 side of.

Should elevator guy not have cold-propositioned someone in an elevator? Yes, he should not have. Does doing so in and of itself make him sexist? No, it doesn't. Do we have any data beyond this? No we don't. Are people jumping to conclusions? Yes, they are.


"It's that hitting on women in the wrong circumstances can make women feel uncomfortable. "

Herein lies the problem. Problably 99% of women will agree that in an elevator at 4 am when you want to go to sleep and the guy has never spoken to you before is the wrong circumstance. But there are other situations that are much grayer.

Im not going to defend what elevator guy did. But to see it as evidence for sexism in the atheist movement is not justified. To call it a "potential sexual assault" is not justified. To denigrate people who dare to disagree, including other women who have a different point of view, with cheap condescending slogans (i.e. "you just dont get it" and "gender traitor") is not justified.

Something awkward happened when one clueless guy made a clumsy attempt to get laid. Thats it.

Robin Marie

@Ragarth: you just made the mistake I talk about above. Did Watson argue that what Elevator Guy did was sexist? Yes. Did she argue that he is, in his entirety, therefore *a* sexist? No. There is a difference between behaving in a sexist way and being such a douchebag that we can label you a sexist in your entirety. Just like people can have anxieties about race they may not entirely recognize without being full-fledged, KKK attending racists.


My concern is that this makes women out to be like victims. That, because they're women, they need to be treated with extra-special care.

I understand the potential threat Watson experienced with all of the different circumstances (the 4 AM, the elevator, the aloneness, the foreigness), but I just get the feeling that the extension from that argument is suggesting that women need to be coddled.

That's to say that I worry this isn't about Watson's specific situation anymore but instead about a wider range of situations. Not all situations, just more. Enough to make people feel on edge.

In order for women to be treated equally, isn't it best to come from a position of strength rather than vulnerability?

In other words, is it sexist to say what you want in whatever context you want, regardless of the person's sex, or is it sexist to choose your words wisely according to the context based on the person's sex?

Based on how I worded that, you can easily see which one I think is sexist, but I want another opinion.

This isn't a sarcastic or suggestive or mean question! I'm really trying to understand.

Levi in NY

Is it just me, or does Oscar Wilde look uncannily like Jay Novella in that picture?


This is an excellent read. I came here for the first time today (linked from Jen McCreight) and have read MANY of your articles in the space of an hour and sadly must retreat to do some other work. However, I wanted to share with you a comment I posted already on Jen's site.

Because of the letter you posted, I was reminded of another article I read earlier today:

This kind of nonsense starts at an early age, and avoiding talking about appearance when you are talking to a little girl is just as important as avoiding it when talking to an adult woman. That is, not COMPLETELY avoiding it necessarily when you find the adult woman attractive, or just like something about her appearance. But it belongs in a proper setting, and is not something you want to do as one of the first things you say. Appearance compliments belong in a dating setting, or perhaps in a casual setting.

Personally, I am least comfortable giving compliments until I know a person, and most comfortable when I know that person's appearance habits and they change something with the obvious express purpose of drawing appearance attention. That is NOT something you can tell if you meet someone for the first time. Perhaps that flower in her hair is something she does all the time, or she always wears a dress, or she always puts on make up thick. It could just be a normal thing, which means it is not something that is there to necessarily draw in men (or women).

That's not to say I don't sometimes get that uncontrollable "WOW" effect when I see someone I find to be very attractive, partly augmented by the style of dress, style of hair and so on, but resistance to immediately jumping to the appearance compliments is a good thing in MOST common situations.

Of course, I could have potentially fallen into many pitfalls by writing all that, and please point out where I am wrong. But I hope the sentiments are understood.


I keep hearing this argument that EG's behaviour was OKAY because it obviously works for some people. I'm dubious of this -- does anyone actually KNOW anyone who has successfully asked a women back to his room at 4 in the morning while in a hotel elevator? I've talked to a lot of women not involved in Elevatorgate, giving them the general scenario and asking what they'd do, and not one of them has said "hell yeah I'd go with him!" Reactions have ranged from "wow, someone sucks at hitting on women" to "christ, you'd have to be mental."

More to the point, just because something works doesn't mean it's a good thing to do. How about if we ignore the existence of gay people, so long as well all promise not to persecute them or kill them? It "works". Many gay people lived perfectly happy lives with their "cousin" or "housemate" in the past. But it isn't a nice thing to do, it isn't a just thing to do, and it is an entirely pointless thing to do when one considers the alternative -- accepting all forms of sexuality between consenting adults -- doesn't actually hurt us at all, and in fact makes us more tolerant and diverse as a population. It's the same -- to a lesser extent, admittedly -- with Elevator Guy. It might, ostensibly (though again, I doubt it) work for him to hit on strange women in elevators, but it doesn't really hurt him not to, and it will make a significant portion of the female population feel much more comfortable.

Z Gehlke

Excuse my insistence on fact, but you claimed that it's "well documented" that being alone in an elevator with a man is a dangerous situation.

Could you provide said documentation?

I haven't seen it, but would like to: I've said things to the contrary, and as much as I'll dislike having to eat my words, I'd like to actually find out what's true.


Fantastically written description of the issue, I haven't followed the whole saga but this put it all in an excellent perspective. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Your point on men having to understand how to talk to women wrt male privilege and different levels of power (be it talk to flirt, or even talk in general) is very, very well made.


So you're saying if I want people to keep talking about this issue, I should tell you to stop talking about it? Well, then: stop talking about it! ;)

Your post is useful. It highlights an important issue. But I don't think it answers it. And I don't think it's meant to, but I'd like to see the conversation broaden a bit in the following directions:

Sure it is in everyone's best interest to teach men what might make a woman uncomfortable, but that leaves open the rather important question of how hard a man should be expected to work at this. "Don't ever do anything that might make a woman (or even a reasonable woman) uncomfortable" just doesn't work.

Can I make eye contact with a woman in an elevator? In a corridor? On a hike? After dark? Can I say hi? Can I compliment her on her talk? On her glasses? Is any of these less okay after dark, or after midnight, or in Brazil? How about if I have tattoos? How about if I'm black? How about if I'm wearing an atheism T-shirt? How about if I'm ugly? Yes, that last few are serious questions.

Anyone can name a threshold, but the threshold will be different for everyone, and different at different times. Basically, it depends on the levels of fear/tiredness/shyness/*-ism present in the woman. Because this is about managing _her_ feelings, not mine.

How can I measure, reproducibly, whether it is reasonable to perform some action around a woman? Jen McCreight's post provides useful examples for her, and probably for a lot of smart, well-educated American women, but rather than anecdote I'd like to see a general theory that applies to actual women rather than just averages.

There's really no way for me to figure out someone's level of fear/tiredness/shyness/*-ism without asking. *And you have taken asking off the table!*

You encounter a strange man in the elevator late at night. You know nothing about him, besides that he's probably not a rapist but he might be. If he asks you for a drink and you say no and he stops and leaves you alone, you know one more thing about him than you used to: that he has just taken "no" for an answer. Why does this additional information make a woman _more_ uncomfortable? Is it learning that he also is a human with intentions rather than just a thing taking up space in the elevator? Or is it, as seems reasonable if you're worried about rape, his very presence in the elevator?

If the latter, then if a man desired to be totally respectful, he would get out of the elevator the moment a woman got in. How can I tell if that's reasonable? It might be deeply appreciated on occasion. Even frequently?

This whole story makes sense if you're more likely to be raped by someone who first invites you for a drink and accepts your rejection than someone who just stands there. Is that the case? I have no idea. And if that answers the general question, then we're all doomed.

Care to talk about "owning your feelings"? When a man and a woman interact, the woman will have feelings. (So will the man, but ours usually don't involve fear of physical violence, and thus can be ignored for now. I assume that this is also why it's okay to blog about subjects that make people uncomfortable.) Recognising that the feelings may contain useful information--being on guard etc---seems reasonable. But blaming the man for those feelings seems immature (not to mention disempowering!).

Chris Hallquist

@XtinaS: I'm not sure we actually disagree about anything here.


I'd also like to add that it helps my sanity to think of this not as "half of the atheist community is full of clueless jerks" but as "half of the atheist community is full of people who GET it, and who are willing to stand up for fair treatment of others." It's not that we have more sexists than any other community -- it's that we're willing to call them on it.


Achess said

"Schrodinger’s black assaulter:
There are more African Americans in jail than white people, even though only 12,6% of the US population is African American => white people are justified to be on their guard when in presence of African Americans in particular => African Americans should be extra-careful when talking to white people…"

Your analogy would be a bit more on point if you referred to the likelihood of a black person committing an assault against a white person. Of course, the statistics wouldnt be on your side since blacks are far more likely to commit violent crime against other blacks. Either way, the analogy is an EPIC FAIL


So many words for such a non-existent point. Thought Greta would have a reasonable opinion of this shitshow, but I guess not.


I am disappointed. With many people. Given your summary I gather that you don't have the full context so I'll assume that you mean well, frankly, you clearly do.

But Rebecca didn't just step into the trap of blinded males who cannot empathize.

In fact early reactions to her video were women. She didn't take kindly to the dissent, called them peddling in anti-women rhetoric and misogynistic, incidentally clearly pro-feminist women themselves, but trying to take the guy's perspective.

Rebecca had earlier called out Paula Kirby and claimed that she said that there is no sexism in the atheist movement. The panel in question is now online. Why Rebecca singled out Paula, a friend of Richard Dawkins is beyond me, because multiple women on the panel articulated comparable, I'd call them inclusive views of gender in the atheist community. I didn't really hear Paula promoting the view that there is no sexism, but rather a issuing a rallying call that stated that men really did want more women in the movement.

That part of the context is completely missing from your discourse that reads:

"A shitstorm in which many men, including Richard Dawkins, have argued that this is a trivial issue, or even a non-issue"

So no, this is not men vs women and it wasn't. Richard did not kick this off etc etc.

In reality what is going on here is a complex situation.

There is real discourse to be had about sexism, but many of the real aspects that do go into this are frankly pushed to the side by the kind of rhetoric that is being flung around.

I'm a survivor of abuse, yet I have been told to go to hell, simply because I did not 100% agree with Rebecca Watson. At the same time there is all this talk about empathy and anti-sexism.

But you know what. To look at a guy and say "he's a potential rapist" is sexist. At least if we are serious about what sexism is.

But a lot of the discourse has been leaning this way. Guys don't understand how the creepiness stems from this fear of rape that is anchored in the reality we have. Yes it is. But does that mean that only reaction one can have here is that no guy can politely invite a woman in an elevator?

No. That is indeed itself a sexist resolution. One gender's behavior is circumscribed and confined, based on a generalized stereotype.

But that's too harsh to say because we have to empathize. And yes we should. It's no fun to be hit on in creepy settings. Most critics actually agree with Rebecca. The guy in the elevator was inconsiderate and clumbsy and perhaps should have known better. He should listen to advice how to approach and all that.

But you know what? There has been almost no discourse about that issue. The whole topic of approaching and being approached and how the very notion that guys usually have to take the risk, and be rejected, seen as creepy, or worse as a potential rapist. That is A-OK. That in our society we are nowhere near a 50% ratio in terms of the split of who approaches and who is approached. That kind of sexism is unreflected.

And no, many women don't care that guys get laid, because the non-sexist solution would indeed be that women hit on men just about as much as men hit on women. But we are centuries away form that and rather than question that pattern, in this shit-storm it has been reinforced.

Sure the guy approaches, but he has to approach in a gendered way that solidifies the roles.

That is not really helping guys get laid, especially not those who would never dream of hitting on a woman in an elevator (or anywhere else where they might suspect that an advance may be in any way unwelcome).

But I sympathize. We are very far from a utopia where sexism is so far undermines that we can indeed listen to all concerns, all issues, and empathize with all live stories. See all fears, and mitigate all of them.

For now, if you dare, you are "no feminist" somehow a friend of MRMs, a mansplainer or anti-woman, a misogynist and clearly have no time to worry about the safety of women in society, let along advocate for women's rights in the political sphere.

Perhaps we do need to wake up and actually battle sexism and advance feminism that is, as Steinem correctly said, ultimately a kind of humanism. But guys are human too, and like women or anyone else, we are not all the same, we don't fit one mold, or one prescription, and we don't deserve to have gendered roles that are forced on us.

It is still unspeakable, because some of us have "privilege", that includes being unable to take a passive role in dating and relating...

I think if we actually did look at the root causes why the story is about a guy approaching a woman, and not a woman approaching at a guy, including everybody's roles, we'd actually break down that sexism that does pervade our social norms. (And yes, sorry for rambling)

My concern is that this makes women out to be like victims. That, because they're women, they need to be treated with extra-special care.

Your concern is misplaced. Victimisation is perpetuated by silence; never by open and productive discourse.

It is also a bad faith argument to claim that by asking for courtesy and a decent sense of our (likely, socially "normal") boundaries, women are asking to be treated with extra-special care.

In fact I would go as far as to say that to view courtesy and a decent respect for boundaries as extra-special care is inherently disrespectful towards women as beings deserving less courtesy and less respect for their boundaries.

In the context of at least two women - Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina, in this case - openly and rationally expressing a desire to discuss and analyse and issue, professing a concern for their well-being from allowing them to engage in what they are clearly intellectually capable of engaging in (open and rational discourse) is disrespectful of them as beings less able to understand their own needs and desires.

tl;dr version: all this "concern" about discussions of sexism and women's boundaries being "victimising" and "disempowering" is sexist fucking bullshit.


I would like to compliment those posting here for managing to maintain a high degree of civility despite having differing perspectives on the situation. It's not what I saw on other blogs.

Congrats to Greta. I think she encourages and attracts a good following.


I think the most eloquent and level headed discussion on this issue that I've seen was in the's forum on the recent podcast (312). A couple commenters differentiated between the encounter being merely inappropriate vs sexist. I have to agree with that conclusion, and I think that was Dawkins point also (after sifting through the sarcasm).

I will happily admit I would never make such a pass, but then, I'm not the kind of person that would approach any stranger and propose casual sex. However I do know plenty of men and women that enjoy that kind of casual sex and they (and I, frankly) see nothing wrong with that kind of "subtle" propositioning, and it is completely fine with everyone involved....when it is mutual, of course. When it isn't mutual, a lot of people might take offense to it.

Jen McCreight suggested markers on name tags to help prevent these kinds of issues. If nothing else, it removes any excuses of mixed signals. That would prevent INAPPROPRIATE sexual offers (in front of dozens of people, or when alone). The real sexism can, of course, continue on for all to see.


"Watson is trying to silence other women who respectfully disagree by calling them names."

How? Stef made a debatable comment, in public, and essentially finished off by suggesting hypocrisy on Watson's part. This ignored it was a personal anecdote and a whole lot else beside. Neither appears to be any better than the other in that light. In any case, it was said all right out there in public, and I've also seen Rebecca Watson say Paula Kirby disagrees with her as well in conference video right there out in public too. So what? Not many out there that agree that you should never address what others say. I just wish people would stop with the "silencing" trope, it just doesn't happen that I or anyone else can do anything to shut anyone up and the person concerned has been able to respond with their viewpoint albeit later on their blog. Apparently not enough though. As PZ Myers said "Name names, always name names, and always do your best to be specific."

I any case, I've been reading through some of this and it's self-evident the discussion about sexism had to happen. I think Greta Christina pointed out well, it's something seems to be a recurring theme and it's time to start talking about it and time to start listening when people talk about how they are experiencing this.

brian t

"We are trying to help you get laid."

Yeah, that's what it takes to get a man's attention and consideration. That's all we think about, and we'll only absorb a message if there's the prospect of sex at the other end. I don't doubt for a second that all those dumb no-nos have happened, but I'm sick of being tarred with the same brush as those idiots.

So I've toned myself down, and feel safe saying less and less, and whenever I go to a party I end up in a corner by myself, sober, wondering how little offence I can cause by leaving early. Great example of Evolution in Action, eh?

Ania Bula

You are definitely right about one thing. The more people try to shut someone else up about a topic, the more it encourages others to speak up.

I even did a response to Richard Dawkins and I highly doubt there is a chance he will ever read it. I just felt so upset about that I had to write something.

if anyone is ever interested in reading it you can find it on my blog,


You seem to gloss over all the women who think Rebecca was in the wrong, or at least overreacted.

There's nothing wrong, Rose, with noting that women's opinions differ on this subject. The question is how men react to this information. There are two ways to go about it:

(1) "Some women say they'd have no problem with this approach technique; many women say it would bother them. I will therefore update my Bayesian model of the likelihood of success for various flirting techniques accordingly."

(2) "If at least one woman says it's OK, then it's OK, and any women who say otherwise are overreacting and getting hysterical and upset over nothing."

Regrettably, I've observed that the men bringing up this point fall mostly into the latter camp. As Greta said so well, I've been forced to the conclusion that for many of them, this isn't about getting dates or getting laid - it's about proving a point.

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