Elevatorgate

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Elevatorgate is the common name for a kerfuffle touching on feminism, privilege, conference creeps and the social makeup of the skepticsphere.

The initial video

In July 2011, Rebecca Watson, the founder of the website Skepchick, mentioned in a vlog an experience she'd had at a recent conference. A man had approached her in an elevator and invited her to his hotel room to talk over coffee. The invitation made Watson uncomfortable, and she suggested to her audience that they not behave in a similar manner.[1] [2] As it was just a note in a longer video about the conference, it went mostly unnoticed, except for two other female atheists who disagreed with Watson and believe the man's comment wasn't aggressive, and ended up devolving into the typical nasty YouTube comment fare.[3] Even this did not cause anyone else to care.

Seriously, watch the original video; her only comment on the incident was to say "guys, don't do that". No shaming, no naming, no ranting. She has never said anything more than that; she did not accuse the man who accosted her of rape, she hasn't given any more details about him (and nor has anyone else), so no doxxing either. This was the impetus for years of hate. Decide for yourself if it warrants the following reaction:

The reaction

A week later, while presenting at a Center for Inquiry conference, Watson discussed the response to her video, citing some alarming comments and emails directed at her.[4] PZ Myers, a friend of Watson's, would later defend Watson, arguing in a blog post that the insults and slurs directed at Watson were evidence of the sexism within the atheist community.[5]

The post's comment thread was full of trolling and hysterics, when Richard Dawkins decided to interject with a comment letter headed "Dear Muslima." Dawkins accused Watson of overreacting, comparing her experience to those of women being forced to wear burkas or undergo genital mutilation (a classic example of the not as bad as fallacy):[6]

Dear Muslima,
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and...yawn...don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with. Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so...And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.[7]

Dawkins identifies as a strong supporter of women's rights and is a vocal opponent of the treatment of women by religion; however, his comments drew the ire of many within the atheist movement. [8]

Things generally devolved from there with some of Watson's defenders repeatedly calling Dawkins a misogynist.[9][10][11] A lot of big names, attempting to show off their credentials, came out in support of either Watson or Dawkins. The opinion of the lowly peon commenters was mixed, and sometimes quite sexist. Everyone agreed it was an overreaction, but blamed the opposite side.[3]

In a show of good faith, Dawkins arranged to provide childcare at future atheist meetings, a move generally praised by the community.[12][13]

Footnotes

  1. Rebecca Watson's vlog
  2. An elevator is an uncomfortable setting for a sexual proposition, especially from a stranger; there are no witnesses and getting away is impossible until the elevator stops. Yes, a person stuck in such a situation can press a button and get out early but that would mean, at the least, admitting fear, and creating a socially-awkward situation. At worst, if the person initiating the proposal is thinking of anything nasty, such a move may trigger an attack.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Deep Rifts or Humanity of It All Part 1
  4. Excerpts from her speech
  5. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/always_name_names.php
  6. http://gawker.com/5818993/richard-dawkins-torn-limb-from-limbby-atheists
  7. The Privilege Delusion, Watson
  8. http://www.secularism.org.uk/dawkinssayswomenwilldefeatmilita.html
  9. http://twitter.com/#!/amygroark/status/88644513786114048
  10. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6WlkQeG7cw
  11. http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=214x293746
  12. "Dawkins coup de grâce in Vegas"
  13. Dawkins Announces Funding for Childcare, Blaghag
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