I’ve refrained from commenting on #elevatorgate snafu, mostly because I feel like I can’t add anything original and neither side is making any sense any more. Or at least, the extremests on both sides are drowning out the people who are making sense. For my part, it seems to me like everyone did some things wrong. Elevator dude acted a bit creepy, he probably shouldn’t have done that. Watson called out a student who dared contradict her and lumped that student in with misogynists when she couldn’t defend herself, Watson probably shouldn’t have done that. I’m not sure why people couldn’t just walk away with some lessons learned, but there it is.*

But all of this was on my mind when I saw this thread on Reddit last week:

Jessa Younker bouldering. Phew! I think I’m in love

Which linked to this picture:

Jessa Younker bouldering
(Source for all the photos in this post)

I clicked the link, and my first thought was, I admit, “wow, hot.” The first few comments were predictable affirmations of her actractiveness, and then I saw this exchange:

Screen Shot 2011-08-09 at 12.57.08 PM.png

… and other responses ranging from the asinine to the thoughtful. For those of you unfamiliar with reddit, users can vote up or down on posts and comments, and that comment about the locker-room atmosphere currently has the second highest rating (right behind someone who posted a larger-resolution image for people to use as their desktop image). And at this point, a lot of the comments that just say “wow, hot” were down-voted. So that’s at least progress right?

The major criticism was that this photo is just a glamour shot showing off cleavage – not really showing her skill. By all accounts, Younker is a fantastic climber, so why not show off her climbing ability, especially in a forum about climbing? Like this one:

Jessa Younker works the Corkscrew (V6).jpg

My impression has been that climbers in general are the coolest community of people ever, and I think this was reaffirmed here. A bunch of people made great points about wanting women to feel comfortable in the community (climbing in general or that subreddit), and there was some good debate about whether or not the reaction was appropriate. Hopefully some consciousness was raised, and of course there are going to be guys who won’t get it, but most of the discussion was thoughtful and civil. Why can’t people bahave this way everywhere on the internet?

PS – Some pictures of awesome female climbers doing retardedlyincredibly hard stuff (also from that thread on reddit) after the jump.

Plus, a video.


Emily Stifler:
Emily Stifler and The Corkscrew (V6).jpg

Jen Vennon:
Jen Vennon on the Big Easy boulder.jpg

Dumpster Barbecue, 5.13c from Rock & Ice on Vimeo.

Comments

  1. #1 Lilin
    August 9, 2011

    Just to clarify: You didn’t comment on elevatorgate because you didn’t feel you could add anything to it. Then you commented on it. Then you said you didn’t understand why people couldn’t just walk away.

  2. #2 becca
    August 9, 2011

    Ok. I’m gonna try to go for “thoughtful civil consciousness building”. So help me Allah/Zeus/Yahweh.

    Gosh, this is hard. Where to start?

    Ok. I’m not a part of “the atheist/skeptic community”. However, to the degree they are looking to include scientists who don’t have any evidence for god (and are happy to tell you that you don’t have any suitable evidence either), I’m probably a fairly logical “possible community member”.
    I’m also not a part of “the climbing community”, lest of all one the internet (in fact, this post resulted in my very first glimmering of awareness of a community of climbers on the internet… so… thanks for that?). However, to the degree they are looking to include people who love to climb in gyms and would like to (eventually) climb out in the big beautiful wilderness, I’m probably a fairly logical “possible community member”.

    I’m also more or less gender identified as a woman, bisexual, a former artist, and every bit as capable of falling in love with a beautiful climber from such lovely and amazing pictures as these as the next person.

    I am repelled by the skeptic community because of the backlash Watson received.
    I am repelled by the climbing community online, and indeed from this blog, by comments like “I’m in love with Jessa!!!” *insert fanboi splooge here*

    So… while there’s no reason you need my approval, if you were trying to convince me that you are part of ‘the coolest community of people’… you kinda failed.

  3. #3 Kevin
    August 9, 2011

    @ Lilin – I hadn’t felt I could add anything, so I didn’t comment. I think this example of a community on the internet interacting with similar issues is an addition, so I thought it was worth commenting. The idea is to support the sort of dialogue that’s constructive. For what it’s worth, I believe reading about elevatorgate, at least in the beginning, raised my consciousness about these issues. As a white, upper middle class male, I know I can be oblivious to this sort of thing, though I don’t want to be.

    I am sorry if it seems like I’m being a hypocrite, but it’s an example of something that I might have ignored before elevatorgate, and now I’m paying more attention. I feel like that’s a good thing.

    @ Becca – I certainly understand your point, and I appreciate your goal of “thoughtful consciousness building,” I think you succeeded. First point – the “I’m in love” bit was the title of the original post, not my comment – I’m not sure if that was clear (I just edited it to make it a quote which I hope is more clear). I know that point wasn’t central to your argument, but still.

    It’s frustrating that people have been repelled from the skeptic community because of elevatorgate, but I think it’s totally understandable. My hope is that, after the backlash, after the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, the community will be better for it.

    Your comment about being repelled from the climbing community because of this post is almost enough for me to just delete it completely. I wanted to highlight it because the asinine responses felt like an aberration, and because I thought the response to it was measured and thoughtful. If you look at the comments that got voted up and the ones that got voted down, the “OMG SHE’S SO HOT” types were generally not received well and the ones advocating for more gender-inclusive attitudes were received well.

    I love climbing, and I love climbers and I love the climbing community. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve never seen women treated with any less respect than men in the gym or at the crag, and I’m pretty sure plenty of people would speak out against it if they were. I would hate it if someone took what I’ve written here as a reason to avoid it.

  4. #4 Marnie
    August 9, 2011

    Ahh, the old “I would like it if you objectified me therefore you shouldn’t mind if I objectify you canard.” It’s pretty much everywhere and it’s most defended by people who claim to want to attract the very people likely to be put off by it.

    We need a new logical fallacy. We’ll call it the “Golden Rule Fallacy.” At least we’d have something quippy to throw at people who make the ridiculous claim that if they wouldn’t mind it, no one else should be allowed to.

    Also, those rock climbers are astounding. I don’t even understand how someone finds themselves in the second or third position and what one would possibly do to proceed from those points without involving a rescue crew.

  5. #5 Kevin
    August 9, 2011

    @ Marnie –

    We need a new logical fallacy. We’ll call it the “Golden Rule Fallacy.” At least we’d have something quippy to throw at people who make the ridiculous claim that if they wouldn’t mind it, no one else should be allowed to.

    I like it! It does seem to permeate every one of these debates. The conceit that I could possibly understand the experience of a women being hit on is one I don’t quite understand.

    Also, those rock climbers are astounding. I don’t even understand how someone finds themselves in the second or third position and what one would possibly do to proceed from those points without involving a rescue crew.

    I know right? And that nub Jen Vennon is holding onto in the last pic is probably no bigger than a walnut – can you imagine holding up most of your weight on that? I can only dream of one day being half as good as those women.

  6. #6 Marnie
    August 9, 2011

    @Kevin

    The conceit that I could possibly understand the experience of a women being hit on is one I don’t quite understand.

    Eh, you probably can, maybe not in the exact same terms but you can probably frame the situation in a way that is applicable to your own life. There are people who might, for instance, approach you on a street to sign a petition or donate for a cause. You may or may not be interested, you might appreciate the gesture if it’s for a good cause but not be able to donate or sign at that time. They may have approached you in an agreeable way and accepted your decline graciously.

    You may have also dealt with people who hound you, corner you, get aggressive if you won’t sign, try to make you feel bad for not being involved. They may be disrespectful of your personal space, or disrespectful of the fact that you don’t want to participate. They might even make you feel a little unsure of their intentions.

    The whole point is that when someone else wants you to give them [money/sex/support/whatever] or if they want you to participate in their [activity/charity/organization/whatever] and they treat you like a decent human being, you feel better than when you feel like they will bully you or treat you as though you are only valuable for your [money/looks/status/whatever]. It’s a pretty universal situation.

    I can only dream of one day being half as good as those women.

    I’m pretty sure I’d rip the skin right off my fingers just holding the gear they bring with them. It’s like a ballet to see them at work. Such exceptional athleticism is always awe inspiring for me.

  7. #7 Kevin
    August 9, 2011

    @ Marnie – Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I think that the major difference is that I wouldn’t ever feel threatened by those people. Being taken for granted for any reason is irritating, but my sense is that the sexual objectification stuff goes beyond mere irritation mostly because of the threat of potential violence.

    Or maybe I’m way off base.

    I’m pretty sure I’d rip the skin right off my fingers just holding the gear they bring with them.

    Get to a climbing gym and play around on the easy stuff. The callouses come quickly :-) (and seriously, it’s the best sport in the world)

  8. #8 Marnie
    August 9, 2011

    @Kevin

    You are right there’s some more nuance to the situation. I was making a half hearted attempt to not go into the elevator guy debacle, per your original post, and focus on the objectification of women in largely male dominated groups, which I think can be more easily compared to how you feel when, for instance, a used car salesman tells you how smart you are while eyeballing a car on his lot versus how you feel when someone says that who knows you and values you as a person, not a wallet. The salesman can say “I like being called smart,” and “why don’t you like being called smart?” and “What people can’t say you’re smart?” All he wants but he’s still saying it because he sees you as a paycheck not as a person.

    I can only dream of one day being half as good as those women.

    When we are back to being a two income household I just might. I live a few hours from Bend, Oregon which is supposed to have amazing climbing. We’re already huge fans of hiking. :)

  9. #9 Kevin
    August 9, 2011

    @ Marnie – I see what you’re saying, makes sense to me.

    I live a few hours from Bend, Oregon which is supposed to have amazing climbing.

    Jealous!

    We’re already huge fans of hiking. :)

    It’s a very similar crowd/mindset. And you can climb in the gym in the winter without getting cold :-).

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    August 9, 2011

    *sigh*

    Kevin, painting Stef as just a student is a tactic. She’s the leader of an organization at her college and is, in fact, the director of activities for that organization. She wrote what she did on her organization’s blog, telling those women who might want to participate that their complaints about being treated as though they’re at a freethought group event just to provide dating fodder (a very common complaint) won’t be taken seriously. For that, she is accountable in a way that some private student wouldn’t be.

  11. #11 Mike Olson
    August 10, 2011

    25 years ago no one really climbed like this. I remember seeing a picture of some folks “ice climbing,” it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. A frozen waterfall in some national park with climbers trying to scale it. I think sometimes we seek metaphors…living metaphors…for how we view life. In the case of science and the scientific mind…extreme climbs seem to be a great metaphor. Meaning, there is that thrill of having some sort of skill, and being able to retain some hand hold, and seeing and knowing something others have no idea, or little idea that it exists. It is difficult to get there. Any miscalculation would mean death. (or perhaps a meaningless existence or meaningless work…for the rest of your life)…. Adding to that an object of sexual desire, regardless of sexual preference….but what you find desirable would make the image all that more alluring. Meaning, okay, she is a great climber. Having said that, would all the scientist find her attractive? Or is she just some mindless yahoo with a great set of skills like many other athletes? Personally, I ran into burning buildings as a volunteer firefighter…which is also a great metaphor for a variety of life’s situations…however, watch 10 minutes of “Rescue Me,” and you’ll understand why scientists and those with a scientific mindset have no reason to idolize firefighters. And that is coming from a guy who can work as a firefighter or a scientist.

  12. #12 ugh, really?
    August 10, 2011

    So sexism isn’t ok (I agree. Really and with my whole being), but ableism (‘retardedly difficult’? You couldnt think of a single other adverb?) is?

    And this is why, as an atheist female disabled person, the skeptic community is unwelcoming for me-because none of the other communities I am part of are welcome.

    Climbing too, for that matter. You’ve not LIVED until climbing instructor types debated about whether or not someone with your disability should be allowed to climb. In front of you.

    Conclusion: everyone sucks.

  13. #13 becca
    August 10, 2011

    Kevin,
    Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

    Due to elevatorgate, I found new blogs (some of which I really like), and had one of those really profound conversations with an old friend. I also count reading the Almost Diamond sexual assault survival thread as a net benefit, despite it being incredibly painful. So, for my part at least, I can vouch for *some* good coming out of the whole thing. I hope that’s true for some others, and I also hope the community will emerge stronger for it (whether or not I identify with that community).

    Something that applies to both elevatorgate and your climbing example… when we love a community, or even moreso when we identify with a community, it becomes more difficult and painful to see the problems in that community. If you see the climbing community as “an awesome group of people who handled the typical sexist bullpockey endemic in our society remarkably well in this instance”, I can see where you’re coming from. It’s just that your post had a note that sounded more like “the climbing community is an awesome group of people who don’t have sexist asshats”, which really isn’t accurate.

    Most ‘let’s look at ladies bodies’ comments, taken individually, have an element that one can empathize with. It’s the net effect of a society heavy with valuing that above all else that gets tiresomely sexist.

    The blunt fact of the matter is that it’s normal, and probably a sign of healthy human bonding, to put up with things from friends you wouldn’t put up with from strangers. Indeed, it’s one of the ways we demonstrate friendship. But when we take that to the community level, we do sometimes run the risk of loosing the opportunity to make the community better.

    Various sectors of the feminist community have problems with racism. Do they have more problems than our society in general, and are they worse-equipped to discuss that problem? No (at least as far as I can tell), and quite the contrary.
    Is the climbing community really better than society at large? I have no idea. Can the climbing community improve? From the thread you posted, Yep.

  14. #14 Hel
    August 10, 2011

    mmmmm, when I began to climb (15 years ago), the community of women climbers in Spain was very little, and the men used to look down us, like she is only here because his boyfriend climbs (a gri-gri girl), she does never lead because she is a girl etc. I was bored of always having to prove that I could be as good climber as the men.
    Now the things have changed, there are a lot more of woman climbers, and the men do not assume that we are bad because we are women.
    Climbers women and men, used to have great bodies , and the climbers comment about the look of the bodies of the rest, not only their strenght of ability but their hotness too. I don’t think is can be called sexism because it happens with women and men.

  15. #15 Kevin
    August 10, 2011

    @ Stephanie Z – I apologize, I did not mean to use McGraw’s status (student or otherwise) as a tactic. Leader of an organization or just a student, I disagree with the way Watson handled that bit of this. Which is not to say that she’s wrong in general.

    @ Mike – Your comments are always unexpected and insightful. I still can’t work up the courage to do ice climbing. Your protection is screws placed in ice, and those are meant to catch you falling 20 ft? My need for adrenaline just isn’t that urgent… yet.

    @ Ugh – No, it’s not. Perhaps, when I mentioned my ability to be oblivious to prejudice (#3), I should have said “White, upper middle-class able-bodied male.” I would hope that the climbing instructors you mentioned were having that debate out of a concern for your safety, but it’s more likely they just didn’t have experience and were worried about things like liability (not saying that’s ok).

    That said, I’ve seen a guy with no legs climb harder than me. There’s a girl that’s regularly at my gym that has a prosthesis on one leg, and walks with crutches, but she climbs harder than me.

    @ Becca
    It’s just that your post had a note that sounded more like “the climbing community is an awesome group of people who don’t have sexist asshats”, which really isn’t accurate.

    You’re right, that isn’t accurate, and I didn’t mean to imply that. I’d like to think, on average, that group has less sexist asshats, but that’s asserted without formal evidence. Your point about being blind to problems within your own community is important I think. I’ve never noticed sexism, but it’s possible I just ignored it. Hopefully I’ll pay more attention now.

    @ Hel – Glad to hear your experience is changing. Any prejudice I might have had about women not being as good as men was dispelled rather quickly after watching girls effortlessly do moves I could only imagine.

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    August 10, 2011

    Kevin, I apologize. I did not mean to imply that you were using it as a tactic, merely that the meme got its start as a tactic.