Rebecca Watson did the right thing when she spoke about McGrew’s response too her (Watson’s) response to the Elevator Guy, and Barbara Drescher’s response to all of that is amazing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, it might be best to move on. Otherwise, here’s my two cents (and there are exactly two) about this Matryoshka Moment.
You may recall this post about “Naming Names at the CFI Student Leadership Conference” by Rebecca Watson. Here’s the story in a nutshell. First, some guy known as “The Elevator Guy” hit, rather lamely it seems, on Rebecca in a way that one could easily argue was not only sexist but ironic. Rebecca had just given a widely loved speech addressing sexism and stuff; She had indicated that it was long past time for her to go back to her room and sleep off the day; And when the Elevator Guy and Rebecca found themselves on the elevator, he suggested they stop at his room for a drink or something. Later, Rebecca mentioned this incident, publicly, as an example of annoying sexist male behavior, though really the moment was, I think, being noted for its deep irony more than anything else. Then (sorry, this is getting complicated) Stef McGraw, a blogger, skeptic, and undergrad student posted this item responding to Rebecca’s mention of the event, in which she downplays the significance of the Guy in the Elevator. Then, in a later talk, Rebecca responded to Stef. When she did so, Rebecca mentioned Stef by name, and that made a bunch of people mad because Rebecca is a big famous scary (and she IS scary in person) dude and Stef is a little vulnerable student dude (apparently) and thus there was an imbalance of power and yada yada yada..
I may have gotten some of the details wrong, but they do not matter to the two points I want to make. To get the story, read all the posts linked to here and therein. My points are that Barbara Drescher did something interesting, and Elevator Guy is a typical guy but shouldn’t have been.
Barbara Drescher. Barbara is a friend and colleague whom I love and respect but with whom I sometimes disagree1. So is Rebecca. And for the last couple of years I’ve now and then found myself observing and thinking about the two of them telling me very different things about something. These two women could be said to exist in fairly different places along the various spectra of feminism, skeptical thinking, skeptical or atheist activism, and so on. This is a case of two people with what I think are very similar overall goals following different routes to those goals, in part because of different backgrounds and different experiences, but also just different perspectives. For my part, I think I’ve come to a better understanding of the interrelationships among skepticism, society, sexism, feminism, and so on by observing the differences in their opinions (among other things). And, without going into details (only because it is a distraction at the moment … perhaps another time) I am fairly regularly blown away by various impressive (yet different) qualities of these two women, so even if I wasn’t getting an education here I’d still be stalking them. Intellectually, of course.
Anyway, it is fair to say that most of the time Barbara and Rebecca see things somewhat differently and would be expected to disagree now and then, maybe often. But, Barbara has just posted a description (much better than mine) and analysis of what some are calling Watson-Gate (though I prefer Rebeccapocalypse). And here, Barb explicitly stands with Rebecca. You have to read this post.
My second point is about elevator guy. First, I am amused that we don’t know who he is. I wonder about him. Does he know we are talking about him? Does he have the same version of this story that Rebecca has provided us with? Her story is pretty simple, and I can’t imagine that his version could be much different, but it could be. For instance, although Rebecca does not recall any communication with Elevator Guy before the Elevator Incident, maybe there was one but she did not notice or forgot. This can happen with guys. Some guys, especially when drunk, can see signals that are not there, and over-interpret them. Maybe Rebecca failed to look away from one of his glances, or smiled to herself about something in her own head at the same time that Elevator Guy was across the room telling a joke. If he saw either of these (accidental) signals, would it not be reasonable for him to assume that she might want to have sex with him as soon as possible?
Well, no, not really. Possible, maybe likely, but not reasonable.
It is possible that Elevator Guy has miscalibrated “Hey there, handsome”-dar. It is possible that he lacks social skills. And, perhaps we could just leave it at that and chalk this up to the fact that men are generally oafish and clumsy and not too smart owing mainly to the damage done to their brains by testosterone during puberty. The problem is, this is not really good enough in our modern world. The act of not paying what may sometimes seem like excessive attention to the signaling process, among educated thoughtful progressive adults, is itself a sexist act, though I quickly add perhaps not the worst kind. But still.
I’m glad Barbara has decided to stand with Rebecca on this.
1Well, not really. Usually, she disagrees with me. Which is not the same thing.