‘Potential sexual assualt’? Mr Plait, you disappoint me with jumping on the Rebecca Watson hurt-feelings bandwagon.

Thanks to another Reapsow listener, Sheldon.  I was put onto this article by Phil Plait and it shocked me and some of the comments are just as face-palmingly bad.

Yes, I’m a long-standing fan of his blog and I thought he had some common sense but since the ‘don’t be a dick’ speech I had lost a little patience.  This one takes the biscuit, ice cream and whole damn cake to boot.  Dawkins’ comment didn’t surprise me in the least: we all know he can be blunt to the point of brutality and its more hypocritical that no one bats an eyelid when it suits our purpose or aides our cause but when he voices a view people (on ‘our side’) don’t agree with he gets lampooned by prissy commentators who have failed to live by their own mantra of ‘think critically’.

Where is this poor chap who so completely blew it with a pretty girl?  There was no descriptions other than the ‘you know who you are’ toned video that began to make this non-issue into a giant snowball of a drama.  If he exists outside Ms Watson’s over active sense of personal danger (if you are that insecure RW, take a self-defence class or better yet don’t ride hotel lifts 4am), I encourage you to come forward and make your case before the whole blog-sphere demonises you as a sexual deviant simply because your chat-up lines are obvious and your timing is lousy (sorry mate, but that’s the case).  The chap had every right to be in that lift.  It is not HIS responsibility to make sure that everyone around him is totally comfortable (or emotionally stable) and he should NOT be instantly assumed to be a sex-offender simply because he’s male and had the presumption to ask someone out.  Aside from being a bit of a dork, the guy did nothing wrong.

“Put even more simply: this wasn’t a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.”

Potential crimes really are the realm of Minority Report and 1984 and it disappoints me that someone like Phil made such a stupid comment yet we all put our foot in it sometimes.  If we automatically think the worst of everyone we meet or stranger we have a moment’s contact with society is going to implode. It just will not work.  While a healthy dose of cynicism is usually a good safeguard from being fleeced, viewing all members of any demographic as an instant real and physical threat is just deeply prejudicial and insulting.  We claim to be a progressive lot but it’s hardly progressive to reinforce the stereotype of the feminine shrinking violet who must be protected from the stereotype male who can’t help but thinking with his knob and is a dangerous threat to all of us.  All this is in the comment thread by the way and it alternates with comments claiming that ‘male privilege’  in society is the sole cause of this communication error.  This is no more helpful than the god-lot claiming that ‘god has a plan’.  I wish they would all get a grip and realise exactly patronising they are ALL being.  We can never truly know or understand what other people are thinking or how they might react to any given situation, all we can do is give it a good guess based on past experiences and generally hope we’re on the right lines and not everyone even cares how much they come across to others which is why we are so often disappointed when others fail to meet our ‘standards’.  We all do it and as Reap Paden has repeatedly said, everyone assumes that everyone else will react the same way they would.

What has the world come to when far from innocent until proven otherwise, otherwise decent men are treated like pariahs by the PC crowd (who sometimes even manage to point a scornful finger and shout ‘sexist’ at simple acts of courtesy)?  Have to say I agree with Dawkins on this one; she was mildly creeped out by – based on  what she said and what hundreds have merely taken her word for – a man who discreetly offered her ‘coffee’ and then politely accepted ‘no’ for an answer.  Shock horror!  I’m not saying she’s lying but I ask again, where is he?  It is Ms Watson’s churlish behaviour which needs to be brought into check – not the male gender – as she has decided to milk it for all its worth on YouTube (did she not consider what the reaction to this would be?  Is the assumption of good intentions only good enough for her when they’re hers?)  Ms Watson, GROW UP!  We as women no more have the right ‘not to be made uncomfortable‘ than the followers of the religions we criticise have the right ‘not to be offended’.



28 thoughts on “‘Potential sexual assualt’? Mr Plait, you disappoint me with jumping on the Rebecca Watson hurt-feelings bandwagon.

  1. Michael Kingsford Gray says:

    You also appear to jump to an unwarranted conclusion: That “elevator guy” actually existed, and was not a conveniently fantasy confected in order to acquire more attention, (or for some other reason).
    Occam’s razor demands that this very reasonable possibility be seriously entertained.


  2. Zena says:

    Perilous: “Anna, you are dead wrong here. Your attitude is part of the reason that women have to continue to put up with this kind of nonsense in the first place. It’s bad enough that men perpetrate the “oh, you dumb broad” attitude, but when women do it to each other it’s far worse.”

    No, actually YOU are part of the problem, here. Telling a woman you find her interesting and inviting her for coffee and further conversation is not projecting them as “you dumb broad”. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

    What is a real problem here, is people who call themselves skeptic, jump on a bandwagon of assumptions without any evidence to support it. It’s called stereotyping. Profiling. It’s an insult to skeptism and to try and use your gender as an “act according to my expectations” manipulative tool is an insult to women, to humans, in general.


  3. Gonz says:

    What makes me “uncomfortable” is that Plait and Watson, who are just famous enough to believe their own bullshit, fall so easily into writing their own additions to the massive politically correct dogma. I they have just enough groupies to enforce their doctrine.

    Plait, who routinely is a guest on the SGU, frequently shilling his book, seems to see no conflict of interest here. If this is what results from skeptics organizing I suggest one thing: disperse now before more damage is done.


  4. You can’t say “the guy lacked social skills” and then say “he should have known what he did was creepy” He either lacked skills or not. My opinion is he that he lacked social skills. I think leafhuntress went a bit dramatic and was probably wrong to assume the fellow was somehow like an animal on the hunt. As a male I can assure you that sometimes a guy will wait til he can approach a woman where a couple dozen people won’t hear him get shot down.
    “Elevator Guy did not aproach her after her talk nor at the meal nor at the bar nor just outside the bar in the lobby” that is a comment from someone who has no idea what it is like for a person who has low self esteem.
    This whole overblown mess seems to result from a condition which is running rampant. People think others should react to the world just like them and should form opinions just like their own. If they don’t then those people are stupid or crazy.


  5. Yikes. An awful lot of fiery responses here. Since I am coming in at the end of the movie, let me review here. A lady was riding in an elevator at 4 am with another guy, correct? This guy asks her out(as happens on virtually every elevator, in every city, every second of the day) and she freaks out. Do I have the details correct? Assuming I do, why did this lady freak out over this? Have none of you been in an elevator at 4 am with an attractive man, woman, pet rock and decided to take a chance? What does it hurt to ask someone out? All they can say is No, correct? Well, actually, apparently now they can accuse you of assault now, just by talking to them. This is becoming a truly sad world we live in.

    I have another question, if this lady had friends at the bar with her, and she is afraid of being approached, why did one of them not walk her to her room? Am I the only one that escorts my female friends to their cars, hotel rooms, etc when we are out? I would expect that to be done for my wife when I am not there, and there have been a few times when my presence was necessary. Is that a “sexist” view? Perhaps it is, and I am perfectly comfortable having it. Some of my female friends could handle themselves in a rumble far better than I could, which if something happened, then they could protect me, instead of the other way around. 🙂


  6. JenniferT says:

    Anna, I totally agree.

    I’m losing interest in the atheist blogosphere because it seems to have been overwhelmed by this narrative that Men Are Perpetual Oppressors and its corrolary, Women Are Perpetual Victims. Pharyngula especially now seems to have become a masculine self-hate group where men post screeds about what horrible people they are, *just because they’re male*, like they’ve internalized some gender-flipped version of Original Sin. If there’s one thing that makes me feel uncomfortable as a woman in the atheist “movement” (not that I’m really a movement-joiner in the first place, but anyway) it isn’t the idea that someone might try to hit on me (in The Elevator Situation I’d just think “ha ha, silly boy, like THAT was going to work!”) but that there appears to be this widespread reductionist dogma – and yes, I think I can use the word dogma here – that I just don’t buy into. At least this storm-in-a-teacup has revealed that there are a substantial number of people who don’t buy into it either.


    • Thanks for your response. I don’t feel guilty about my views and in fact I now feel a bit sorry for EG as it seems that he was at fault just for being male in this case. The way some people have reacted there was no way it was going to end well for the poor bloke.


  7. mamalujo says:

    Since I’m flip-flopping about this issue, allow me to vent confusion a bit in this blog too.

    I neither am am woman, nor do I date/approach any, so I need to take other ppl’s word for any of this. Still I guess I can imagine how this situation could make someone uncomfortable. Blogger here seems to agree; EG’s timing was poor.

    So, if indeed it is awkward for many woman to be approached in a lift in 4am, then it is reasonable to suggest “guys, don’t do that, its creepy”, as Rebecca initially did.

    I think a bit of what happened after this is overblown – a student happens to disagree w Rebecca here, to get some pontification about ‘feminism 101’, which at first hand at least looked dubious to me, and responses to this becoming treated by ppl like a measuring stick of their misogyny….


  8. perilous says:

    Exactly this, Leafhuntress. I’m glad you posted this and wrote your response so beautifully so all I have to do is agree with you instead of having to write it out myself.

    Anna, you are dead wrong here. Your attitude is part of the reason that women have to continue to put up with this kind of nonsense in the first place. It’s bad enough that men perpetrate the “oh, you dumb broad” attitude, but when women do it to each other it’s far worse. You are very badly in need of a wake-up call.


    • Angel says:

      Pardon me, but I’m confused. Is the dumb nonsense you are referring to this?

      “Would you like to come up to my room for a cup of coffee?”

      That, according to the source, was the gist AND end of the conversation. Last I checked, a man who respects no isn’t “dumb nonsense”. In fact, MORE men should be encouraged to respect that and respond in such a manner, regardless of their social prowess. Is that the message that is being shouted from the rooftops? No? Are people still trying to relate this event to male privilege and “potential rape” scenarios? Yes?

      Then the issue isn’t about the incident. It’s about the narrative. And if the narrative is some form of “all men could rape you and this is why Watson was justified in spending her discussion shaming not the EG, but someone who disagreed with a minor incident”, there is no reason for rationalizing that what proceeded to unfold was in any way acceptable.


  9. leafhuntress says:

    “If he exists outside Ms Watson’s over active sense of personal danger (if you are that insecure RW, take a self-defence class or better yet don’t ride hotel lifts 4am)”

    That is an ableist view; not al women CAN take self defense classes. The second IS living by a rape schedule…. *sigh*

    Why can’t people learn to google terms like schrödingers rapist?

    Ms Watson was speaking in Dublin about sexism agianst the backdrop of “why aren’t we a more diverse bunch of atheists instead of the same old white men?”
    After her talk she was hanging out at the bar, mingling, the talk at the bar was; “don’t objectify women, they are humans too!” At 4am she said to everybody there; “I’m tired, i’m going to bed, bye.”

    Elevator Guy did not aproach her after her talk nor at the meal nor at the bar nor just outside the bar in the lobby. He waited till she was in the fucking elevator and HAD to listen to his proposal. Disregarding her talk, disredarding the subject at the bartalk, disregarding her being tired (& disregading her being married, but to be fair, he might not have known that and/or RW might have an open relationship).

    So he already jumped over a few of her bounderies and didn’t “just took no for an answer” like a lot of people are claiming.

    She speaks less then 3/4 of a minute on the subject and what she basically says is; “guys, this is a bit creepy, don’t do that mkay?”
    She doesn’t cry assault/rape or murder. She doesn’t say that this guy was anything other than an akward person nor does she say that people shouldn’t have casual sex or hook up or whatever.

    All she said was that cornering somebody you’ve never met before in a empty lift & propositioning them @ 4am is creepy. (and that that probable will not get you what you want ;-).

    Is that REALY such a radical idea?

    In an effort to explain this, because strangly enough there where guys that did not get that, people have pointed to lots of sources (even scientific ones, golly how strange of sceptics!) of why this can be an akward moment for lots of women. NOBODY claimed that EG was a rapist, most people concluded he was a socially inept guy. But people did point out that there are cases like this that it DOES go wrong, hence “the potential”. And since we live in a world where rape occurs, even in the west, thank you Richard Dawkins, this is just “keeping safe” & “rasing awareness”. What the hell is so strange about that?


    • An ‘ableist’ view? Have you got any idea how crass that sounds!? Are we now not allowed to assume other individuals are capable adults? Am I now supposed to feel guilty for being strong, healthy and able bodied & constantly be on my guard just in case my obvious lack of frailty offends somebody? You are being ridiculous. As I said before if you don’t feel comfortable being in hotel lifts at 4am on your own in case strangers get in with you, then don’t be there. Problem solved. He had every right to be there. He did not touch her or push the issue, he merely spoke to her but apparently we should all be terribly offended on her behalf that this single socially inept and probably very shy man who may have only wanted an embarrassment proof moment to ask her out. He did it badly but DID TAKE no for an answer but your asinine comment makes it very clear you feel he had no right to even speak to her let alone make it clear he found her attractive.

      As far as your tale of his carefully deliberated ‘cornering’ of Miss Watson, YOU made that little narrative up to justify your own imagined and low expectations of his intentions because she said nothing about him being actually aggressive or predatory. Since you nor I were actually there, neither of us can tell what really happened let alone the inner thoughts of this yet to be heard from ‘potential’ assailant who had the audacity to speak to a woman he did not know in a lift. .

      I did NOt say that Ms Watson said she assumed he was a potential rapist, Phil Plait said it was a ‘potential assault’ and this is the same ‘logic’ that you and the ‘female boundaries are sacred‘ lot have jumped on and clung to for dear life. If everyone is a ‘potential threat’, as you say in your last paragraph, then nobody should ever speak to anybody else -because we must of course factor in sexuality or we’re being ‘potentially’ homophobic by assuming everyone is ‘straight -and since women are statistically more likely to be raped by someone they know, the danger doubles and they (including husbands, and partners) should not speak to us or approach us in any manner which could even possibly be construed as a ‘potential assault’ either.

      Get a fucking grip, will you! Yes, there are cases where it does go wrong, but to hold ALL men accountable for being just that, is sexism on its own. Yes, I am calling YOU out for sexism on three levels. Firstly on the count that you are being a ‘gender generalist’ (Yes, I can make up insulting names for normal human behaviour too). How do you know that ‘men just don’t get it’? Have you MET all men and spoken to them ALL in turn? I doubt it. Secondly for assuming that because NOT ALL women are physically capable of physical defence, we should ALL be treated like precious, delicate flowers and protected from all harm at all times, real and potential (I find that idea nauseating). Thirdly, that because some men are dangerous sexual predators with no self control, they should ALL be treated that way! That’s the same sort of attitude that keeps the women in Iran and Afghanistan wrapped up in burkhas because they may inflame male sexual desire. Not considered that one? Didn’t think so.

      MY ADVICE: Get out of your Orwellian bubble for five minutes and try to see the world as it actually is.

      A certain level of trust in our fellow citizens is vital if we are to even hope to live in a stable and comfortable society. We cannot just assume that every stranger is a ‘potential’ threat out to rob or rape us ‘just to be on the safe side’ or none of us would ever do anything or go anywhere. I’d prefer not to waste the one life I have by worrying about the threat which might or might not exist round every corner. Before you say what if something happens that I could have prevented by being more cautious, that is treading dangerously close to the ‘blame the victim’ mentality which goes arm-in-arm with Plait’s’potential threat’ ‘argument’. If everyone is a potential threat, then equally every tiny thing that the ‘potential victim’ DID NOT DO to prevent a ‘ potential situation’ makes it more their own fault and less the fault of the perpetrator if something does actually happen.


    • It seems that, according to a vast number of the feminatheist crowd, as a woman am supposed to fear and distrust men on principle due to the ‘potential’ threat they pose. That is as a ridiculous idea as the mass hysteria surrounding this whole massively blown out of proportion non-event.


      • perilous says:

        Yeah, except that’s actually not what the story is at all.

        I agree that this whole thing has been blown up to a preposterous degree, but it’s not because of Rebecca. It’s because of people like you.


  10. Good response, and fully agree. I guess one could say that because I am a guy that “I just don’t get it”. But let me put it to you this way:

    I am a fan of both Skepchick and Richard Dawkins. Given a scenario where I was in a position to be able to monopolise a bit of one on one time with either of them to pick their brains I would take it. That doesn’t mean I am going to assault either of them once we are in private, but the opportunity to speak to a public figure like that, one on one and uninterrupted by others trying to do speak with them would be hard to pass up.

    Maybe the guy could have / should have made it clear he meant nothing by it, and who knows, maybe he did. Maybe Skepchick is being over sensitive, or maybe the guy was a total slime ball. None of us will ever know because we were not there and there is no video evidence of the event happening and how it played out. We are being told that just because sexism happens that we have to take it on her word that it was a totally inappropriate action that could have lead to an assault. To me that is tantamount to reverse sexism.


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