My Photo

The Out Campaign

Atheist Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 05/2005

« 5 Faulty Arguments Religious People Use Against Atheists (Debunked) | Main | Brief Blog Break »



I am so sick of hearing people say not to describe others as sexist or racist b/c that doesn't describe the "totality" of that person.

Do I not describe someone as shy b/c in 1 on 1 settings they can be quite assertive about their boundaries & needs ...or just refuse to do that b/c I don't know the person well and that MIGHT be true?


Should we not call people jerks if they are acting like jerks b/c maybe they give flowers to mom on Mothers' Day? Should we not call people blue-eyed b/c that puts the focus on only one part of their body?

There is an argument for not saying people are racist or sexist, but it's not because there exist non-racist/sexist parts of that person. The real argument would be something like, "The stigma from this is so huge it's counter productive to use the word in this way."

But here's the thing: I've never heard of a person being fired because someone used the word sexist to describe them. NEVER. Not once. I've never heard of a person who could not reproduce because at one point someone called them racist. NEVER. Not once.

The idea that there is some horrible stigma that will follow the person around if only some third party describes the person as sexist/racist is a myth.

Moreover, if we can't say that people are sexist or racist in the same way that we say that people are blood-bearing, trolls, alive, blue-eyed, or jerks, then we can't talk about the problems created by people being sexist.

You might say that we could just say that the actions involved were sexist, but not the person. This is like saying a person's job activities are janitorial or managerial but the person is not a janitor or manager. Not only that, but then people say that the actions aren't racist/sexist unless the person *intended* them to be so. Which goes back to saying that if the person isn't sexist, the action isn't sexist.

And if we can't call a person sexist and the person must be sexist for the action to be sexist, no sexism exists, period.

Get real. Saying we can't call people who engage in sexism sexist...or saying that if we do we are committing some horrible sin that is destined to blow up the internet... is effed up and is itself counterproductive. Let's not do that.


"When religious believers say this to atheists... do you say to yourself, 'You're right. This is such a troubling, divisive issue. I'm so sorry I brought it up. We'll stop talking about it now.'"

This is fantastic. Way to hit on the #1 best way to drawn an analogy people would understand that you possibly could have. Wow.


Unless a man self-identifies as a feminist, I assume he's sexist.

Chris Hallquist


If trolling, then lol

If you're serious... oh dear


...okay, not only did the comment I referred to above with the reference to "previous comment" get eaten by the blog software, so, apparently, did my follow-up attempt to clarify. Greta, mind seeing if they're held up somehow?


Connor | July 12, 2011 at 03:07 PM:

My concern is that this makes women out to be like victims.

Women are having their concerns be rejected. Women are victims.

That, because they're women, they need to be treated with extra-special care.

Not because they are women. Because women are more likely to have their concerns be ignored, because women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, because women (on average) are paid less than men - and so forth. It is Sexism - not being a woman - that makes victims out of women (and, in other ways, out of men as well, but that's another matter), whether they like it or not.

I just get the feeling that the extension from that argument is suggesting that women need to be coddled.

That's an irresponsible extension on your part. A request for empathy and consideration of context is not coddling; those two items are essential to any communication.

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

The worst possible response to vulnerability is to ignore it, and pretend to "come from a position of strength" when one does not in fact have that position. (To find strengths one does have, and make careful use of those, is wise, and quite another matter.)

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?

We do not live in a world were men and women are identical. Women are usually physically smaller and weaker than men, they are usually paid less, and worse. They are at much greater risk of sexual assault and domestic violence. Women are bombarded all their lives with the message that they need to watch their every action to prevent themselves from being raped. (For example, most police stations post rape prevention guidelines which state that Rebecca never should have even gotten onto the elevator with Elevator Guy.)

These differences mean that a woman will not view an encounter with a strange man, late at night, in an elevator, the same way a man will. If A man wants to communicate about such an incident, he must understand these differences in perspective, or he will send the wrong message.

Speaking to someone without considering their perspective can be sexist. And it can also be racist. But most of the time, it's just a gross failure to communicate. Solipsism is not a communication strategy.


Chris Hallquist | July 12, 2011 at 12:40 PM:

(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)

Richard Dawkins, of all people, said she shouldn't talk about these things. If you missed that, you really have not been paying attention. Sure, he originally said it in a comment, but plenty of top-level blog posts about it have been made about it since then.

(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.

There is a difference between calling the rhetoric used by a person "anti-woman", and calling that person "anti-woman". It's interesting that you made that error, but Stef McGraw did not. (Despite making many other errors.)

Beyond that, what Rebecca actually said about Stef McGraw is adequately explained here:

But those are unimportant details in comparison to the first quoted sentence, which demonstrates an ignorance of Feminism 101 – in this case, the difference between sexual attraction and sexual objectification. The former is great – be attracted to people! Flirt, have fun, make friends, have sex, meet the love of your life, whatever floats your boat. But the latter involves dismissing a person’s feelings, desires, and identity, with a complete disinterest in how one’s actions will affect the “object” in question. That’s what we shouldn’t be doing. No, we feminists are not outlawing sexuality.

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

What you and Stef are both missing here, is that the rhetoric Rebecca referred to is so widespread, and so ingrained in our culture that many people, yes, even women who are otherwise aware of many feminist concerns, repeat the rhetoric without understanding how it dismisses the difference between sexual attraction and objectification. Despite the fact that the speaker's intent is often good, it perpetuates the failure to appreciate women as people.

(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.

It is interesting that you should say that, after downplaying the ugliness of many of Rebecca's critics, after distorting what she said, and after linking to a post by Stef McGraw which repeats the tired canard that Rebecca "place [McGraw's earlier post] in a category with people advocating for her to be raped".

(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.

The fact that a person does not actively intend to be sexist does not mean their actions are not sexist, and it does not mean the words do not perpetuate sexist behavior in others. Intent is not magic.

This is the whole reason that Rebecca's complaint about Elevator Guy are necessary; some people (like me, when I was younger) do need to be told things like that. And, in some cases, repeatedly. A great deal of sexism is indeed the result of ignorance, and that is why feminists spend so much time trying to raise awareness abou things like this.

It is important to note that Rebecca did not claime EG intended to rape her, or that he intended to be sexist - she said he didn't get it.

Chris Hallquist | July 12, 2011 at 01:42 PM:

@Lou: Ugh, for the second time, I'm not advocating letting anything slide ...

Good. But when you downplay the hideousness of many of her critics, and srawperson her supporters, you play into the hands of those that would prefer to dismiss her concerns entirely.


brian t | July 12, 2011 at 04:22 PM:

"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.

A big chunk of Greta's post was about the strategic importantce that the atheist movement deal with sexism as soon as possible. And she has written about this in the past. This illustrates that she is aware that men care about many other things. Greta has also written about the problems caused by the assumption that men only care about sex; see here. You've missed an awful lot, and I suggest you re-read this article, as well as the two I linked.

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.
Rebecca, Greta, Jen, and many other feminists who have written about this topic have been careful to say that not all men are misogynists, not all are sexist, and not all are clueless. They've taken care to thank men who exhibit good qualities. They are not tarring all men with the same brush.

It's so interesting thinking back on it. I saw Rebecca's post about the incident right after it happened (pre-blowup), and thought to myself "yeah, good point, well said, etc" and that it was very rationally put. Honestly I didn't think about it too much because the point was so obvious. Then it exploded and...yeah...facepalm.

I did a blog post on the subject towards the end of the explosion, and I didn't really want to write it either. Thanks for the encouraging words about the importance of discussing the issue, even we're tired of discussing it.

George Montgomery

Great post, Greta. I read PZ's blog and was dismayed by the MRAs over there. An awful lot of them use the same reasoning style as Limbaugh. The advent of civil and women's rights has him and his tribe sorely butthurt. Too bad. We are all human beings first and foremost and are entitled to all the rights associated with being human.
I have a wife and a daughter who are people, not sex meat.

David Tveraas

"(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. "

Is it that a woman saying it is okay justifies it or is it a) the freedom of speech and b) respecting people as equal humans regardless of sex that makes it okay?

I appreciate the advice and reality we live in; but should it be this way? No.



"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."

Point taken, I think. See below.

" disrespectful of them as beings less able to understand their own needs and desires."

Disrespectful or not, it was a concern I had. Thank you for your answer.

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

Quoting "concern" for sarcasm is unnecessary as it was something that legitimately bothered me. My lack of intellectual talent (a.k.a. stupidity) at sorting these issues out doesn't make my concern any less real.

As far as my question being sexist, that's true. Unintentionally and, according to me, well-meaningky sexist, but sexist nonetheless.

So if I'm understanding you correctly, the fact that women have boundaries that they need respected does not mean that they require "extra-special care" but instead need courtesy and a decent sense of these boundaries. Talking about these boundaries and how, in Watson's case, they were crossed in open and rational discourse is not victimization but empowerment.

From reading about this in the past few weeks, I've seen this go both ways. One person calls this new awareness "respecting boundaries" and another calls it "victimizing women." I hope you can see how confusing this can be. Both ways lead to a claim of more respect for women, and I want that.

I really do.

It's honestly been fucking up my mind for the past few days. and I don't even date women! I'd never, ever be in this situation. Even if I were, I wouldn't do like EG because it really is creepy (it's the "why?" that I'm exploring). But my mind is teetering between realizing these sex-specific boundaries and realizing that another name for these boundaries could be "extra-special care."

You called the "extra-special care" thing an argument from bad faith, which it very well could be. I could be deceiving myself big time here.

If you (or anyone) could explain, what the difference is between respecting a woman's boundaries and treating her with "extra-special care," it'd help me out. Honestly, I feel like respecting a woman's boundaries is not sexist, but that seems to just be based on a feeling.


Utterly off-topic, the artwork next to

"What created this firestorm was not feminists pointing out sexism."

Is the MTG:Portal 2nd Age art for "Wildfire". It is really good art, and I was tickled to see it here.


Ian: "Unless a man self-identifies as a feminist, I assume he's sexist."

I don't think Ian is trolling and I tend to agree with him. Most people with privilege have some sexist (racist, homophobic, etc) thoughts in our heads because a lot of sexist (etc) tropes are prevalent in our culture. I think of it as -ist inertia. The ideas stick around until you actively remove them.

If people say or do sexist things, I'm actually okay with calling them sexists. Because I think the big problem with sexism in the world isn't the people who go around thinking "women are inferior." I think the problem is the folks who think "I wish my [female] boss would stop nagging me."

Here's my analogy (although it still needs some refining): the first type of sexists are like religious extremists, while the second type are like religious moderates. The moderates agree that the extremists are bad, but they don't recognize that they both believe [sexist] things that aren't true. Feminists are like atheists because we think both types of sexists are harmful.

I think from now on I'm going to start calling people moderate sexists and extremist sexists :)


May I respectfully ask a few questions?

1.Exactly at what time is it ok to ask a female to coffee?

2. Is it proper for me to wait until the female to propositions me?

3. What makes women think they are always a sexual object? Is it even possible that the guy just really wanted to have coffee with her because she is smart and wanted to talk? (They were BOTH on an elevator at 4am.)

4. I completely understand Rebecca's trepidation at the situation and time. (sarcasm following) - Like it being improper for a black person to approach my lily white ass at 4 am in and asking me for change to put in the parking meter. saying I don't have any... and them him just walking away.

Teh Merkin

So why on earth would you turn around and say to people who are talking about feminism, "This is such a divisive issue -- why do you have to keep bringing it up?"

Do you see how this is the same?

I do, yes, and I think that is the clearest explanation of it that I have ever read. Thank you.

Luis Dias

Just wanted to state that I witnessed all this "gate" with astonishment and bemusement at the ridiculousness of it, and never wrote a single word about it for it was so strange and alien to me. RD's words almost seemed to come from planet XIX century. But you are absolutely right, these things should be talked about until the last man understands basic points about sexism and, you know, common decency.


If I weren't a gay man, I'd probably be in love with you Greta. Perfect. Brilliant as usual.


I rarely read your blog, not for any other reason than I read a few others and just don't have time to keep expanding my blog reading. However, the few times I have read it, I have always thought very highly of your work (and is usually linked over from PZ). This is no exception and is spot on the money. I'm not a regular follower and I likely wont ever see the responses to this comment (if any), but I wanted to put in my 2 cents of support as a male who is learning and growing in this. I too was (and sometimes am) prone to oblivious comments. My own girlfriend has chastised me a few times for making light of her fear to walk somewhere by herself at night. I also though Watsons response was pointless. But I am an atheist, a physician in training (i.e. med school grunt), a skeptic, an ardent supporter of listening to the evidence, and a writer to combat pseudoscience and dogma so I figured I should actually try and listen. And I did, and I learned.

Part of what I see is the problem is the reaction to criticism. Watson said, "That was creepy. Don't do that." Men heard, "Y'all are fucking creepy ass rapists. Fuck you!" Because it is hard to take a criticism, no matter who you are. Atheist, skeptic, or dyed-in-the-wool faith head, learning to be OK with being called out and criticized is a SKILL you must develop, just like any other and over a long period of time. And no matter how good you are at it, it still stings and it always will. Learning to grit your teeth and listen anyways is the hallmark of being more "evolved" (if you will), more mature, more likely to be a reasonable human being. And the best part? Doing so in no way negates your right to call the other person an idiot.... after due consideration. In fact, it STRENGTHENS your position if you have duly listened to the critique and come back with throughtful questions and responses. If that fails, you can at least say you tried, and have lost nothing you would have gained by calling them an idiot right out the gate.

So, yeah, keep up the great work Greta, and count yourself one more educated male out there.

David Spring

First off, advice to get a man laid should only come from women men actually want to have sex with. But aside from that, I offer this solution to both the elevator issue as well as our current economic issues. Since there are millions of women every day alone in elevators with men and only an infinitesimally small amount of them actually suffer harm as a result we can safely say women are more likely to be struck by lightning than raped in an elevator. Surely that warrants federal tax dollars to retrofit all buildings with gender specific elevators which will both create jobs and solve an otherwise non-existent issue. In the mean time while all that work is being done all men stand rigid, eyes forward, utterly silent with our hands where you can see them until we reach our destination. As well we should get the word out to women to avoid the obviously male chauvinist God of Lightning. After all, it's only fair the minority of women with issues get to control the behaviors of men who are not actually guilty of any crime. Right?
Does this sound crazy? Unfortunately a completely insane response is the only germane response to this man-made... ahem.. sorry... woman-made issue of all importance to atheists around the world who are struggling to be taken seriously.
In addition, since it is now apparently ok to steal 15 minutes of fame next to Dawkins by speaking about an issue that has nothing to do with any other issue on the table at any given meeting, I say we up the ante and invite PETA to give a talk about all the animals killed on roads by drunk drivers in front of a MADD meeting. Why not?
In fact let's also discuss the non-existence of feminism at the next town hall meeting for political candidates.
It's unfortunate women can't agree on the definition of feminism but would rather use it to make something seem important [as well as an extra dollar for less work]. Christians do the same thing with the Bible and apparently it works really well.
Good luck with all that. I'm going to see if I can't find a hot woman in a random elevator to scare the daylights out of by complimenting her and asking her out.....

Matt Hone

Thanks "Hitch" for your interesting comment, one of the best I've read about this whole furore.

The problem I have is not the issue in question (is it appropriate for a man to proposition a woman in an elevator at 4am? Of course not, it was wrong of him to do so), but the way it has been used as ego-stroking by the likes of PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson. Richard Dawkins made an excellent point, although he might have gone a little too far. Women are treated horribly by men all over the world, and we're meant to feel shock and revulsion about what may (or may not, we only have her word) Rebecca Watson may have FELT about a man?

I think this is a massive waste of time, when there are far more important things to be getting on with. Why don't we make more noise about FGM, which not only happens in deprived African countries but in the UK itself?


Well said: Silence, not noise, is the enemy.


MMmmhh ... interesting. All feminists ( I don't think just because someone oppose elevatorgate alone make him/her feminist ) oppose elevator proposition. But everybody has entirely different kind of reasons for opposing it.
Some view it as misogynist approach.
Some (particularly PZ) its nothing but indecent and inappropriate.
Some its not about getting laid,but its women nature to get scared alone in an elevator and its highly likely crime spot.

All these different view is a self evident that this particular issue has more to do with "How you paraphrasing the issue ".
If Rebecca said " I don't like that a guy approach me in an elevator " there wont be much of an issue.But Men view it as just generalizing men as misogynist because she claim no guy should do that. Since she claim herself as hardcore feminist, and reject other feminist's feminism, her talk about elevatorgate insinuate that she is speaking in general and speaks for all women.

Some ask if you say its indecent then why you draw the line up there and deny Hindus, Christians, Muslims drawing their own line on indecency. Lot of ideas PZ proposed for proposition is very very indecent in 3rd world.

Some say if its like threatening then that argument is fine, but when its works for both a girl and a guy to get laid, then its more of a subjective statement that all men should not proposition at elevator at particular time.

I do not think this argument will be over, or anyone can claim victory, because it involves more subjective view considering how the incident happened at the elevator, a proposition but no harm.
If feminist still claim they speak for all women , then feminist in developing country where those feminist still go along with conservative values when it comes to women sexuality, all of their claims should not be rejected as just their own view.


Hitch | July 12, 2011 at 04:08 PM:

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.

Correcting this asymmetry requires creating a environments in which women feel comfortable approaching men. That in turn requires paying attention when women explain what makes them uncomfortable.

The process is not helped by long waffling posts that try to have it both ways in consecutive paragraphs; you claim "That is indeed itself a sexist resolution. One gender's behavior is circumscribed and confined, based on a generalized stereotype." and then you turn right around and say "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."

You know the Elevator Guy was inconsiderate and clumsy, but somehow, you think it is sexist to expect him to understand the basics of communication, to do something in order to not be inconsiderate.

The process is also not helped by arguing that it is ok to ignore women who are upset by the Elevator Guy's approach, because other women "took his perspective".

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.

You should have listened to Rebecca's video, in which she explained that many men are getting it. Or maybe you should have read Greta's post in which she said similar things. Or maybe you should have read any of several other posts in which this was explained.


"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."

Posted by: XtinaS

i would like to reiterate that, with one change: i'd like to thank you one zillion times for assuming that i'm going to rape someone- "'s likely to be perceived as a potential threat..." i'll add that to the rather prodigious list of assumptions that many white people i encounter on a daily basis make. still, i'm glad you have an excuse now: instead of saying you were afraid i would rape you because i'm not white, you can say you were afraid i'd rape you because i have a penis. in some ways it's a step up, i suppose.

I guess then that i'll just become racist against whites-after all, you're justifying it, right? demean, "otherize" and rebuke another group for something over which they have no say-their sex, yet take that same attribute, and use it's properties to attribute controllable behavior to it? Sorry lady: PHILO 101 FAIL. but thanks again for justifying any kind of ignorant stereotyping.

thx. for not listening to anyone. except RW.

your sexism is just as depressing as the racism i encounter every day.

and by the way, if you're tempted to defend your sexism, you said this:
"'s likely to be perceived as a potential threat..." which to anyone who isn't white, sounds exactly like "it looked like a gun, and that's why i fired."

think i'm not afraid of whites? and cops? think again. any white person who cares to can have me arrested on a say so. while in custody, i can have a broomstick shoved into my rectum. i may be beaten, repeatedly, i might spend more than a few evenings in a jail cell-with actual criminals (though that's something you've thankfully resolved for me, since you a priori categorize me as such), among whom i may again be beaten, and yes, possibly raped. because someone white decided to point in my direction and say 'it was him'. irrespective of truth, or evidence, all these things can happen to me. because i am not white. you're not the only one who might fear rape, lady. but again, thanks a bunch. for continuing to not see what's clearly in front of you: you're a sexist.

so again, thank you for giving me carte blanche with which to justify any hatred i might want to gin up against both whites and cops. very kind of you.

Got WHITE privilege?


The most hilarious thing that's going on for me, right now, is an argument I'm having on YouTube with someone.

You see, I'm actually female, but on YouTube, I'm a man.

I keep on giving this good advice about when it's OK to hit on women, basically saying, anywhere she can easily say "no" and walk away, but someone who claims to be female keeps on arguing with me about it. I am told, for example, that I shouldn't do anything to discourage men from asking women out for coffee.

I keep on saying "It's just good advice," but the internet-borne escalation keeps growing. I just keep hitting the tennis ball back to the same location at the same moderate speed, and I watch as the frustration of the other person mounts.

Now I see why the internet crazies do it.

Uh, oh. I am an internet crazy.

Jeffy Joe

Including the apology letter was a stroke of genius. I think a lot of the push back comes from guys who are not sexist (or at least try their best not to be) who are afraid of being labeled as such because of some stupid comment or slip up. You show just how easy it is to dismiss these concerns. If you slip up in a way that others might construe as sexist, APOLOGIZE. Explain that you didn't mean it that way, and you were being a dummy. Imagine what a simple apology letter from elevator guy could do (you KNOW he is reading all this stuff). Step up, dude.


Whatever happened to this being about how Watson dealt with Stef McGraw? How did that get lost in all this noise? I wonder if Watson had been a man and the issue not about sexism if we'd be discussing the actual issue?


To be absolutely honest, this whole thing has made me extremely nervous. I don't think that what the Elevator guy did was very bad (it was a little bad) but the response to Watson talking about it appalls me. I was sexually abused as a child by my father, and one of the biggest guns in his arsenal was the, "You should be ok with what I'm doing to you," shotgun. This insistence that if I didn't want him doing something to me, that I had to come up with an reason and then successfully pitch it to him was horrible, and it is one of the the things I find myself struggling with to this day. Much to my mother's dismay, if some guy does something to creep me out, rather than tell him and distance myself from him until I am once again comfortable, I freeze and start analyzing whether or not I should be creeped out, whether or not I'm justified in being creeped out.

It's really, really awful, and I don't want to do it. If I have to come up with some song and dance for atheist men at conferences so as to convince them that it is reasonable to respect my boundaries, it's not going to end well. At best, it will end with me unhappy; at worst, it will end with me hyperventilating in my car. Either way, no one has sex, no one gets a date, no one has fun. And that's hardly the goal.

I truly hope that we are able to get to a point that if a woman says something on par to, "I don't like that, it makes me feel bad, don't do it," that the conversation doesn't collapse into assertions that she shouldn't have minded, or if she did, she should have just shut up and endured.


Fantastic post! I bookmarked it and I do not usually bookmark blog posts. I also understand that the scope of the post is not limited to RW or EG or every other little thing that happened in the conference so those who complain that the post is not comprehensive, must try to have a broader view.

There is only one thing that I do not like: I do not like Shrodinger's rapist article. The first time that I read it, I really liked it but then later I got disillusioned and I think it is written from another privileged point of view. I do not want to nitpick, because I mainly posted to say that I really like what you wrote and that I do hope people listen and learn.

The optimist in me likes to think that the violent defensive outburst of some people might actually be a sign that the these discussions are working and that they just just need more quiet time of their own to really soak the lessons. So maybe, in a month, or in a year they can actually have the guts to laugh at their reactions and admit that they have changed.


I've been following this on Pharyngula, and as a feminist from way back in the late '60s/early '70s, I posted this idea there.
When reading about the death of Betty Ford and her leadership in feminism, I was surprised to learn that the ERA was never ratified. I missed it while busy raising kids.
I suggest that the Atheist community should rally behind the idea of finally getting it ratified. We need to make the younger generation of women aware of this and get them out to vote for candidates that would support it. Most of those candidates would probably also be supportive of issues near and dear to the Atheist community, so it's a win-win situation.

Sam Salerno

Okay so no hitting on women until you get to know them. Obviously, I still don't get it. I'm going to read Jen McCreights blog to see if I can understand it any better.


David Spring | July 12, 2011 at 06:39 PM:

First off, advice to get a man laid should only come from women men actually want to have sex with.

Women you do not personally desire are also capable of having insight into sexual or romantic interactions. Your approach deafens you to many valuable ideas. Furthermore, you are a fool to presume that all men share your narrow-minded ideas about who is desirable, and who is worth listening to.

More importantly, to assume that women you don't find attractive are not worth listening to is quite sexist; it is an expectation that women are required to conform themselves to your desires, even if they have no sexual interest in you personally, but simply have some advice for you.

Since there are millions of women every day alone in elevators with men and only an infinitesimally small amount of them actually suffer harm as a result we can safely say women are more likely to be struck by lightning than raped in an elevator.

Most police stations post rape prevention guidelines which state that women should not get onto elevators alone with strange men.

I say we up the ante and invite PETA to give a talk about all the animals killed on roads by drunk drivers in front of a MADD meeting. Why not?

This is an issue which strongly affects whether or not women join the atheist movement. And that was already explained, by Rebecca, by Greta, and by many other people. To pretend otherwise is to advocate both sexism and ignorance.


Mox, some women like to have sex with Newt Gingrich for free (arguably). What's your point here? I like to be given electric shocks with this very sophisticated and visually appealing implement sold in specialty stores; I have no problem with the general assumption that sex and electric shocks don't mix. It forces me to take certain preemptive measures on craigslist and so forth, but I prefer it to the alternatives, and I assume you do too.

It is fair to generalize in the following way: all women under patriarchy face increased risk of rape compounded by ignorance of rape; all women under patriarchy face the social obligation to manage their own risk. Therefore, most women are more aware of risky situations, and many women react negatively to men who put them in those situations.

The solution for men is to have as broadly friendly approach as possible, within reason. Not to put any woman in a "risky" situation. You might be a little more circumspect than some women prefer, but you know what the alternative is? Making other women, normal sensible women, afraid. I don't think that more adventurous women will complain about how nobody hits on them in enclosed spaces anymore. Maybe they can hit on men in elevators instead.

And it is not true that all that happened here was a clueless man hitting on an irritable woman. What happened was, she made a mild criticism of his behavior and then a herd of men on the internet went, "FUCK YOU I DO WHAT I WANT" and also, "I just don't understand why you would get so upset!" Now the event includes the shitstorm of sexist apologism, and therefore people will comment on it. Especially if the discussion is, "Context: Women Perceive It."

What created this firestorm was not feminists pointing out sexism. What created this firestorm was sexist men perpetuating it.

You said it.
You said a lot of good stuff.
So thanks for that.


MagistraMarla | July 12, 2011 at 07:13 PM:

I suggest that the Atheist community should rally behind the idea of finally getting it ratified.

I really like this idea. It fits nicely with the argument that Rebecca and others have been making, that women's rights should be an atheist issue, and a skeptic issue.


"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?

...Women don't just spout off about how much they want men to get all the sex they can handle. That's a response to the oft-asserted complaint of how men have a really hard time getting laid what with being perceived as a potential threat by a woman who does not know you.

But wait, I don't need to tell you that, because you make that very same complaint in the very next paragraph!

You know what really sucks? Having to paint men with the same brush. That is, this isn't actually true. Women don't actually go around thinking, "Gee, I wonder if that guy's a rapist." What women understand is a little different: "Nobody but me is going to do anything to stop me getting raped." Women know that most sexual violence goes unpunished. They know that abusive behavior isn't really stigmatized. They know that society supports--even valorizes--a certain level of coercion and harassment. They know that they will be blamed if they have failed to be vigilant, or just for being a girl. That's what seems like paranoia to you: the justified belief that they are all alone.

And the solution to that is not to freak out about how women might think you're a bad man, or to act like they're hysterical, or to give up beer at parties. The solution is to give them your support.


The thing that I still don't understand - and what nobody seems to be explaining in a way I get - is how asking a girl for coffee is misogynistic.

It's been explained, considering the situation that it's a little creepy. That it was in bad taste. That it was a bit inconsiderate and rude.

I get those things, but I'm not seeing the connection to any rampant sexism or misogyny.


Steve | July 12, 2011 at 07:04 PM:

Whatever happened to this being about how Watson dealt with Stef McGraw? How did that get lost in all this noise?

It got buried under a horde of idiots insisting they deserved a magic right to be assholes. I don't think they cared for Stef McGraw's opinion any more than they cared for Rebecca's. Note that some people did address that issue, however.


... actually no, I'm not trying to help anyone who insists on their right to hit on me. If it's all about them, the question can't possibly be "do you want to do this with me," which is consent and would be the right question.

Their question is "can I do that to you," which is the legal definition of consent and the wrong question. And then, yes, when people get angry because I don't want to hear it, I do have to wonder why they want the social right to check with every woman around.

But I don't want to "help" them by inflicting them on another woman just so they'll leave me alone.


Well, first of all, it's not quite "rude" or "inconsiderate." He didn't fart in the elevator. The reason women are bothered by this stuff is that it can sometimes lead to really frightening and dangerous situations.

It's not sexist or misogynist to ask a woman out for coffee. It is ignorant to ask a woman out in creepy circumstances. That ignorance depends on sexist beliefs about what the world is like for everyone. It is misogynist to get upset at a woman for pointing out that sexism. It is misogynist to expect women to manage the threat of sexual violence all by themselves. And it is misogynist to expect women to pretend sexual violence is not a real problem so that men don't feel sad.

You are not being called sexist or misogynist for wanting to ask a woman out for coffee.

John Morales

Good one, Greta!


llewelly | July 12, 2011 at 06:54 PM:

Correcting this asymmetry requires creating a environments in which women feel comfortable approaching men. That in turn requires paying attention when women explain what makes them uncomfortable.

I'm sorry that makes no sense. The first sentence has to do with women being approached. The second with women approaching. There is literally no relationship with comfort in the first to comfort in the second.

But notice that if 50% of the approaching was done by women, far fewer guys would actually need to do the approaching and perhaps there would be less inclination to pick worse scenarios, have positive role modeling by somone showing how to do it with grace etc etc.

This idea that X has to be solved first as you say is actually silly. No. Women can start approaching more now. And it really can only help.

The process is not helped by long waffling posts that try to have it both ways in consecutive paragraphs;


you claim "That is indeed itself a sexist resolution. One gender's behavior is circumscribed and confined, based on a generalized stereotype." and then you turn right around and say "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."

You know the Elevator Guy was inconsiderate and clumsy, but somehow, you think it is sexist to expect him to understand the basics of communication, to do something in order to not be inconsiderate.

Er there is no contradiction here. At all. I guess my empathizing with the discomfort of Rebecca somehow says that the fact that only a guys behavior here is corrected but the whole gendered pattern is not changed cannot be described as sexist, even though it is. Well OK...

The process is also not helped by arguing that it is ok to ignore women who are upset by the Elevator Guy's approach, because other women "took his perspective".

Er I just said that he was insensitive and clumbsy. How is that ignoring women who are upset. It is NOT. I say the opposite of what you accuse me of. I would appreciate if you would not do that. Thank you.

You should have listened to Rebecca's video, in which she explained that many men are getting it.

I have watched Rebecca's video. I have no problem with the video and nowhere said that I have. I have massive problems with lots of things that have happened surrounding the video, including your condescending remarks right here.

Or maybe you should have read Greta's post in which she said similar things.

More condescension.

Or maybe you should have read any of several other posts in which this was explained.

I read plenty. So you condescend to my perspective, mischaracterize my views and basically give a fallacious argument why women supposedly cannot do anything about dissolving the sexist dating patterns we have... at least not until some other thing is fixed.

So granted, your comment was shorter than mine... if that is all that matters to you I don't see why we should have an exchange. I certainly won't accept being condescended to like this.

Account Deleted

Thanks Greta, well put. I'm glad you wrote this - as you said, it's important to talk about it.


Suppose, just suppose that ElevatorGuy gets on the elevator, and instead of Ms. Watson getting on, Bubba does. Bubba is about 6'6", 275 lbs., and has interesting tattoos especially on his neck. Bubba tells ElevatorGuy that he finds him interesting and invites him to his room for a drink. Maybe his eyebrows move, or his lips - we can't see that. How comfy is ElevatorGuy?


I can't really imagine going to a conference on atheism. If you are an atheist already, what do you do there? I mean, other than get propositioned in elevators at four in the morning, apparently? I do appreciate that you are trying to get us laid more, and I do apologize that so many of my sex have given women reason for feeling threatened. A lot of the problem is that there is no clear set of rules, for either sex. It's a bit confusing in a society where women try their best to look attractive, and in most cases men are supposed to ignore their attraction. If you figure this problem out at your conferences, I'll start going, because solving global warming should be comparatively simple.


I keep seeing guys posting on ElevatorGate threads complaining that they feel like there's this arbitrary and arcane set of "rules" that women are expecting them to follow without them being able to know what these rules are in advance, i.e., "Never ask a woman out in an elevator", "Never talk to a woman after 2am", etc.

You're thinking about this the wrong way. What we're trying to get you to do is put yourself in our place and specifically think about this: "If I lived my life knowing that there was a frighteningly high likelihood that at some point I will be sexually assaulted, that I live in a culture that is way, way too accomodating to and encouraging of sexual assault and sexist behavior in general, HOW COMFORTABLE WOULD *I* FEEL IN THIS SITUATION?"

Let's suppose that I were Rebecca and Elevator Guy had instead said something like this:

"I'm sorry to bother you this late at night, but I really enjoyed your talk at the conference and would enjoy a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with you. I know you're probably going to bed now, but would you like to meet me for coffee at $some_local_establishment tomorrow?"

Now, you have to bear in mind that I (a) already have a boyfriend and (b) am a pretty shy person and not really inclined to "go out" that often, especially with people I don't know, so I would probably say no anyway. (Or, if EG seemed interesting enough, gently clue him in to the presence of the boyfriend and suggest he come along.)

But at least this way I would be much less likely to feel creeped out or threatened by the situation, because in this scenario EG has demonstrated that he *has* considered my feelings and priorities, and -- this is important, guys -- he asked me to a PUBLIC PLACE during the DAYTIME. Not to his hotel room in the middle of the night.

So, there IS a way to navigate a situation like this without scaring the hell out of the lady you'd like to get to know. You don't have to get it perfect. You just have to pay attention and at least TRY to see things from her perspective. If you're at least making an effort, we can tell and will appreciate it.


Methinks everyone should take a deep breath, step back, and watch Mr. Deity's tongue-in-cheek episode on this, all the way to end credits:

THANK YOU, Mr. Deity... and "Muslima"!

Tom Shamma

Thank you, Greta.

Every time I've read one of these posts on the blogs lately, it's made me cringe. As a few people have pointed out, it's hard to own up to and face privilege. But this conversation on the blogs has really helped, it's clarified a lot of specific points in really tangible ways. So as much as it makes me cringe to keep reading about it, I really want to see bloggers keep writing about it.

The other day, I was talking to a feminist activist, and I told her I was active in the atheist movement. The first thing she said was, "The atheist movement is really sexist." As much as it stings to get called out like that on blogs, hearing it in person, from someone who might otherwise have been an ally to the movement, is a lot worse.

A lot of progressives already think of us as backward, bigoted extremists for not embracing the "All religions are awesome, let's hug" mentality. I can live with that. I'm somewhat less okay with "I'm an atheist" sounding like "I'm a sexist" in the ears of activists outside this particular movement.

Questioning Kat

Thanks for this article. I caught the whole conversation from the start and after a few days quickly became tired of the thousands of comments from different sites yelling about the same thing over and over. I guess I'm impatient with people don't get something which to me seems so obvious, then dealing with what I considered bad behavior from people who agreed with my perspective. Just stop I thought, and will everybody deal with this compassionately and rationally in a civilized manner.

Now I see that sometimes persisting (even if it's ugly) that those (sexist males) who don't get it really is being more considerate and caring because people siding with Rebecca didn't give up and dismiss people voicing their sexist attitude an quickly as I did. I figured these individuals needed to learn it on their own. I guess sometimes people need have something shoved into their face, because they may not learn or change otherwise. Strangely, this approach can at times be more inclusive and considerate to everybody involved.

I guess different approaches work for different people.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe/ Donate to This Blog!

Books of mine

Greta on SSA Speakers Bureau

  • Greta Christina is on the Speakers Bureau of the Secular Students Alliance. Invite her to speak to your group!

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Powered by Rollyo

Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Atheism

Some Favorite Posts and Conversations: Sex

Some Favorite Posts: Art, Politics, Other Stuff