The First Rule of Elevators

If you just keep pressing buttons, you’re never going to get to where you want to be.

Way back on June 20th, 2011, Rebecca Watson posted a YouTube video about some recent experiences she’d had with Mythbusters, robots, oh and a guy propositioning her in an elevator.

Almost a full year later (I suppose the next 19 days may change something dramatically), you can still find MRAs and misogynists harping about the incident, as if it were the first and only instance in history in which a woman felt somewhat unsafe or harassed or targeted at a gathering because of her sex. I didn’t have to do a “Ctrl+F” for long on a recent post to find someone using the incident to dismiss harassment, concerns about harassment, and conversations about sexism across the board.

It’s not hard to see why the sexists have latched onto the issue: it was a prominent incident, it kicked off a lot of the conversation, and it was a situation where a woman deigned to tell men that a woman’s opinion and personal choices were at least as valid as a man’s desire to get laid. Even Dick to the Dawk to the P-h-D joined in–and on the side of the MRAs! So now, every time the sexism conversation comes up, some exasperated MRA will summon the ancient spirit of Elevatorgate as their Guardian Force. Perhaps they think that drawing the connection will show that all women’s complaints are just as overblown and out-of-proportion and silly and dismissible as they clearly think Rebecca’s was. Perhaps it’s more sinister, a way of saying “remember Elevatorgate? Remember what we did to Rebecca Watson? You don’t want to bring that shitstorm down on your head, so you’d better shut up if you know what’s good for you.”

Unfortunately for the MRAs, all the damage dealt by the Elevatorgate spirit is self-inflicted. I realize that the MRAs and misogynists have blown up the incident into Rebecca Watson cruelly bullying a well-meaning, awkward young man–maybe a child?–who just wanted to drink coffee with a famous skeptic in his hotel room at 4 AM and had no other intentions, by saying that he attempted to rape her, and then calling for a blanket ban on all sex with men everywhere, as well as a boycott of books by Dawkins, who was gallant enough to stand up for the real problems women face and wasn’t blinded into acquiescence by Rebecca’s celebrity.

But to anyone with a reasoning brain that doesn’t suddenly fly into rage-mode when it hears Rebecca’s name or when someone talks about women’s issues, what happened is that a guy ignored her explicitly-expressed wishes, followed her into a confined space, and propositioned her. She then said “guys, don’t do that.”

And for her troubles, she’s become the target of going-on-a-year’s worth of constant abuse from a variety of corners, in the form of name-calling, threats, and what do you know, plans to assault her at TAM.

For the MRAs who haven’t figured out the problem with this yet, if you want to diminish and dismiss women’s concerns about sexism and misogyny in the skeptical movement, the precise wrong way to do it is to continue attacking someone for saying “guys, don’t do that” a year ago. Every time a misogynist resurrects the spectre of Elevatorgate, they’re reminding the reasonable people out there that a woman can’t say something as simple, calm, and reasonable as “maybe don’t corner women and proposition them right after they said they didn’t like being hit on and were going to bed” without receiving over-the-top abuse for a year.

Which is the primary reason that anyone else brings up Elevatorgate: not because of the actual incident, not even because of Rebecca’s discussion of the incident, but because of the response to the incident, that dozens if not hundreds of people came out of the woodwork to offer rape threats and slurs and abuse in response to a reasonable request to treat women like people with agency first, and sex objects second. The actual incident wasn’t evidence of a problem with sexism and misogyny within the skeptical and atheist movements, but the response to the incident showed that the problem was big, sensitive, and prone to exploding at the slightest provocation. And as it turns out, a lot of guys seem to have that problem.

So my advice to the MRAs is to let sleeping elevators lie. Stop calling on the ghost of Elevatorgate. It doesn’t help your case, and only really serves to remind everyone else that you’re aligned with a vitriolic, reactionary, frothy-at-the-mouth group of people who are all too willing to spew bile and threaten violence at people on the Internet. If you want to help your cause, find new ways to ignore and dismiss the concerns of women.

Or, you know, listen to and address them. But that would never work.

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