Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Elevatorgate could have been handled...

A quick thought before we plunge into the cesspit of dishonesty and shit-stirring that is PZ Myer's exploitation of Elevatorgate. How could the incident have been handled better? Could it have been used as a valuable teaching moment instead of the radfems declaring feminist jihad on everyone else and dehumanizing them as "rabid misogynists"? You bet your ass.

First of all, there is ZERO EVIDENCE that Elevator Guy used, or would have used, any kind of violence or undue pressure against Rebecca Watson. It would appear that he did not do anything illegal, or even immoral. He spoke some words to Watson, words which were polite on their surface and even tried to reassure her that he found her "interesting" and wanted to "talk more". As feminists love to remind us, words are not fists.

Now, you could fault the guy for hitting on Watson in an enclosed space. (You could question his taste, or his eyesight, for hitting on her at all.) But did he do it with malice aforethought? More likely he was simply clueless and socially awkward. Perhaps he had been sitting in the bar for hours, pining away for Watson, but too shy to approach her with other people around. Perhaps when he saw her heading for the elevator, he thought it was his last chance. He threw a Hail Mary, and struck out - and I've totally mixed my sports metaphors, but who gives a crap.

Of course it's also conceivable that he was as slimy and scheming as the radfems assume in knee-jerk fashion that he was, based only on their hatred of all men as a group, but in the absence of any evidence for this, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Personally, having been pretty awkward around girls when I was younger, I can sympathize with EG. Imagine having a brief, embarrassing interaction with someone, going to bed alone and thinking it was all over, and waking up the next morning to find almost the entire internet screaming that you are a rapist and a danger to persons of gender everywhere.

Imagine if a woman, preferably a prominent figure in the atheist/skeptical community, had written an open message to EG along the following lines:
Hey dude, I'm sure you didn't mean any harm, and it's kind of sweet how you did your best to be polite and respectful. But there are a couple of things you should be aware of. 
First, an elevator is an enclosed space, and some women - not all, but some - feel nervous when a strange guy propositions them in an enclosed space. Maybe they've had bad experiences in similar situations in the past. Maybe they've even been raped, or know someone who has. So don't take it personally.
Secondly, when you try to go from zero to sex in one sentence, it comes across as desperate, disrespectful, even sleazy. I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, but try to put yourself in the woman's shoes. She doesn't know you from Adam, but she's less physically strong than you and she doesn't know how you will conduct yourself. You've just made a bad first impression, sweetie, and that's kind of hard to recover from.
How could you have handled this better? Unlike some people, I'm not saying you should never share an elevator with a woman, much less that you should cross the street to avoid them. This is not Saudi Arabia. You have a perfect right to be in the elevator. But be sensitive to the woman's demeanor. If she seems nervous and won't make eye contact, don't give her any reason to be frightened. She is not going to be receptive to your advances. Just try again later with someone else.
If she does seem open to eye contact, try a simple "hi". If she says "hi" back, again try to gauge her demeanor. Does she smile, and seem open to conversation? Or is it a perfunctory "hi"? If the former, feel free to engage her in conversation, but don't immediately make it about going to your room.
Do you see the pattern here? Take things one step at a time. If you get pushback at any stage, wish her a polite "good day" or "goodnight" and move on. Only if you get positive feedback should you take it to the next level. And always remember that no woman owes you sex. If she says "no", you have to respect that and not take it personally. Be polite and move on. What have you lost? Nothing - you had a brief but pleasant interaction with another human being, and she is less likely to blog to the world about what a monster you are.
This may seem like a long drawn out process, which is another reason why elevators are not usually good places to pick up a chick. But keep these guidelines in mind, and I'm sure you will get lucky more often in the future.
All the best,
Some Hypothetical Woman
Schrödinger's Therapist speaking again - this is the approach I use with women, and it works very well most of the time. Plus, I'm more selective than EG apparently was. I wouldn't hit on a woman it it was 4AM and I had heard her say that she really needed to get some sleep. Hell, even I'm usually not horny at that time of the night. And let's be honest, Watson doesn't turn me on in the slightest.

Anyway, imagine if a woman with clout in the community had responded in this way, instead of going to Defcon 1 immediately. There might still have been a few Neanderthals - there always are - whining, "How come we're not allowed to hit on chicks in the elevator? How are we supposed to get laid?" But I'm sure most guys would have distanced themselves from the Neanderthals, and said, "You know, what Some Hypothetical Woman says makes a lot of sense." It would have been a valuable learning moment, not only for EG but a lot of guys who might have been inclined to approach a woman in a way that would inadvertently make her feel uncomfortable, but who had no bad intentions in them.

What happened instead? Well, as I mentioned previously, Watson's initial response was at the right level: "Guys, don't do that." But then she got called on her assholistic treatment of Stef McGraw, she needed a distraction, and that's when (with the help of Professor Zerobrains) Elevatorgate conveniently became a Category 5 shitstorm that continues to generate bad feelings and divide the community to this day. We got the insulting "Schrödinger's Rapist", we got that stupid story about the Siberian Husky and the iguana, we got Phil Plait running around like a headless chicken and calling a trivial incident a potential sexual assault (see also this terrific response), and we got a two-minute hate against Richard Dawkins (more on this later).

Okay, this post has gotten way longer than I intended - perhaps I'm putting off the moment when I hold my nose and wade into the "all men are rapists" slimepit formerly known as Pharyngula. But my point is that if Elevatorgate had been responded to with good will and a genuine desire to educate instead of eviscerate, the subsequent history of the freethought movement would have been very different.

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