I am a woman; I do not fear rape

I’ve tried really hard to stay out of the whole “Elevatorgate” issue. The rhetoric coming from both sides has far exceeded what is either rational or relevant. But after reading a few of the new posts from the weekend, I just can’t keep my mouth shut anymore.

The background:

Rebecca Watson, Skepchick and frequent atheist panel speaker, posted a video update a few weeks ago and in the middle made a comment about an encounter she had in an elevator.

You were all fantastic and I loved talking to all of you guys. All of you except for the one man who didn’t really grasp, I think, what I was saying on that panel because, um, at the bar, later that night – actually at 4 in the morning – we were at the hotel bar, 4 am, I said you know, I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted – going to bed. Uh, so I walked to the elevator and a man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”

Um, just a word to the wise here guys, uh, don’t do that. Um, you know, uh I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that as a single woman you know… in a foreign country… at 4am…in a hotel…elevator…with you. Just you. And… don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

That’s the entirety of the comment that started this entire maelstrom of craziness that has infected the interwebs for the past week.

Not long after that, Stef McGraw criticized Rebecca for overreacting:

It’s possible the man actually just wanted to talk and do nothing more, but I’ll even give that point to her; I obviously wasn’t there, and don’t know what sort of vibes he was giving off. Fair enough. My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her. What’s wrong with that? How on earth does that justify him as creepy? Are we not sexual beings? Let’s review, it’s not as if he touched her or made an unsolicited sexual comment; he merely asked if she’d like to come back to his room. She easily could have said (and I’m assuming did say), “No thanks, I’m tired and would like to go to my room to sleep.”

Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk relating to feminism, but my question is this: Since when are respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest mutually exclusive? Is it not possible to view to take interest in a woman AND see her as an intelligent person?

A response I find to be perfectly reasonable and rational. But somehow, this is where the shit hits the fan. Rebecca takes offense to this criticism and, in her keynote address at the CFI Student Leadership Conference, makes an example of Stef and quotes her by name in a slide of her presentation in an effort to “call out the anti-woman rhetoric my audience was engaging in.” All of a sudden the word misogyny is being thrown around and rape and sexual assault are now being discussed.

Wait a minute… what?

Where did rape, sexual assault, and misogyny come from?

Let’s look at the original incident one more time.

I walked to the elevator and a man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”

Oh I see… rape, sexual assault, and misogyny.

No. No, I don’t see it. At all.

There was an article on Salon that skewers Richard Dawkins for the comments he made about the whole hullaballoo:

Clearly, Dawkins has never experienced what it’s like to carry around the fear of sexual assault, as most women do on some level.

I’m sorry, what?

Am I to read this as saying that as a woman, I should carry the fear of sexual assault?

That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

Not to mention one of the most sexist statements I’ve seen.

I wholeheartedly believe that woman and men are equals and should be treated as such. Women are strong and independent and fully capable of making their own decisions, despite the fairly patriarchal society we live in. Some would say that this makes me a feminist.

But in reading all of the responses that have turned a simple flirtation into a thwarted rape attempt, I have learned that feminism is about overcoming female oppression in such a manner that all men are subsequently demonized.

I want no part of this.

Rebecca had every right to feel creeped out by a stranger asking her to his hotel room at 4am, but that is where this should have stopped. There was nothing misogynistic about the incident. There was no threat of sexual assault. And by turning this into a discourse about those things, we have done both men and women a real disservice.

This world may have creepy criminals in it. But not every man who speaks to a woman is hoping to commit a crime.

And women, you should be smart enough to know that.

14 thoughts on “I am a woman; I do not fear rape

  1. I’ve been following this topic, and found your link on the Geek Feminism post. My own perspective differs somewhat from yours, as I just posted at my place, but I’ll quote the most salient part wrt your post:

    Rebecca had spent a lot of time at that very conference talking about misogyny in the atheist movement and how the way in which she personally is objectified and sexualised by atheist/skeptical men at meetings is creepy and offputting. Elevator Guy’s out-of-the-blue proposition showed that either he hadn’t been listening to what she had been saying, or he didn’t think that it was important.

    Does anybody really think that a man blithely ignoring what a woman has said she finds objectionable, clearly not considering it interesting/important enough to respect her stated wishes, is a man that most woman would find at all appealing? Acting against a woman’s known objections is creepy on its own, because it waves a warning flag that any other objections might also be ignored.

    I find men who ignore the objections of women, even “just in conversation”, creepy. I always will.

    Reasoned debate about someone’s objections can be different – if objections were never debated, no compromises/negotiations could ever be successful. But downright ignoring what has been clearly stated as if it couldn’t possibly really matter? That’s an indication of being a potential threat to one’s safety, and it’s creepy as fuck.


  2. I haven’t said the man wasn’t creepy or that he wasn’t wrong.

    I simply take the stand that turning that incident into the shitstorm that we’re seeing is ridiculous because it really had nothing to do with misogyny, sexual assault, or rape.

    It’s fine to be creeped out by the dude. It’s fine to call him out on it. What’s not fine is to call people who disagree with that stance “anti-woman“, misogynistic, pro-rape, or any of the other myriad names I’ve seen flung about this week.

    People (yes people, not just men) everywhere often think to themselves that doesn’t apply to me. Yet somehow, we’re going to crucify one man who does this, accuse him of attempted rape, and then use the incident to create a movement that seeks to demonize both men and women who are considered not feminist.

    This is neither rational nor reasonable, and it is this that I object to.


  3. because it really had nothing to do with misogyny, sexual assault, or rape

    what tigtog was pointing out is just how it does have to do with those. it has to do with people (often women, but not always) communicating boundaries and other people (often men, but not always) ignoring those boundaries.

    respecting women and showing sexual interest are not mutually exclusive. but when a particular person has just said she (or he!) is not interested in sexual advances in a particular context… respecting them involves not hitting on them in that context.

    as for:

    Am I to read this as saying that as a woman, I should carry the fear of sex.
    ual assault?

    no, no, no. not at all. it’s flipping fantastic that you don’t. but the sad thing is, at least among the sample size of, say, every female-identified person i know, many of us do carry that fear around, often from direct personal experience of being sexually assaulted. no-one’s saying that that’s how you (or anyone else, for that matter) should feel; it’s stating how many of us do feel.


  4. I’m probably going to get a lot of crap for this but here goes anyways…

    First, let me say that I’m not trying to be insensitive to those who have been sexually assaulted. I have had the fortune not to have personal experience with this, so perhaps I should keep my mouth shut here, but… I’m not.

    I don’t think people should censor themselves because their audience *may* have been sexually assaulted (which is one of the points the author from Salon was making). In other words, men should not stop approaching women they are attracted to because she may have been raped. You can’t live life worrying about what might have happened – what matters is what’s happening now.


  5. I haven’t actually had time to read the Salon article yet, so please consider my comments to just be based on Skepchick’s post…

    I think what you’re saying is orthogonal to what happened to skepchick, though. She stated that she wasn’t into being objectified / sexualized in the context of skeptic events, and elevator dude proceeded to do something that made her feel that exactly that was happening. That’s the kind of boundary violation I’m talking about. I hope that clarifies it a bit further 🙂


  6. Mandi, I just wanted to thank you for coming over to my blog to make your arguments there. We continue to disagree on quite a few (most?) points regarding this incident, but I appreciate that you made the effort.

    The main feminist point that I think you are missing about how sexism is hurting the skeptical movement (and how this incident is just another example of the depressing sidelining of it) is that women keep on getting told that, no matter what the current objection being made is, that they are being silly for thinking that it’s important. That’s not treating women as equals whose concerns matter, it’s demanding that women be cheerfully accommodating mascots for the cause. That’s sexist.


  7. tigtog – Thanks for having me. I’m sure you understand why I stopped responding over there, though.

    I should point out that I’m not *only* disagreeing with women here. Being a woman myself, that would certainly be self-defeating! I understand your point and I agree that your logic is sound there, but I disagree that that’s what I’m doing by disagreeing with the majority on this particular issue.

    I don’t think Rebecca’s objection to EG was silly at all. It’s the reactions and overreactions – by both men and women – that have been spawned by the incident that I think are silly. People keep insisting that it’s all the same thing, but it’s not.


  8. “Am I to read this as saying that as a woman, I should carry the fear of sexual assault?”

    Yes, you are. Think about it. Think of all the talk of Rape Culture, and the “rape epidemic” we supposedly have in the west. Think about all the highly publicized studies that ultimately lead women to believe that rape is virtually inevitable. Think about all the denouncing of precautionary measures women could take as “something they shouldn’t HAVE to do” as victim-blaming. Think of all the feminists who claim rape victims aren’t believed by the authorities (despite rape shield anonymity, perp-walks, mug-shots, etc). Think of all the emphasis both in public discourse and popular culture as to how rape is the single worst violation that can happen to a woman, one that will leave her feeling ashamed and devalued maybe forever. Think about the studies that demonstrate 6% of men* will admit to having raped a woman if you don’t actually use the word “rape”.

    It’s as if feminist academics and activists want women to believe rape or sexual assault will happen to them, there’s nothing they can (or should) do to protect themselves, that it will destroy them psychologically, that no one will believe them, and that any man you meet could be a rapist.

    I mean, I’m a woman and I HAVE been sexually assaulted, and I’m not 1/100th as afraid of rape as most feminists seem to be. And, frankly, I believe it’s because I have agency. Agency is an understanding that though shit does happen, most of the time it doesn’t fall out of a clear blue sky and land on us. Most of the time, we as individuals play a part in it–usually the primary part. It’s an understanding that we can’t control the behavior, thoughts, feelings or decisions of other people–we can only control our own, and our control over our own behavior, thoughts, feelings and decisions will largely determine what will happen to us.

    When it comes to sexual violence against women, agency is taking a hand in your own safety, making wise and deliberate decisions, NOT walking around wishing the world were perfect and waiting for it to be so before you feel safe. It’s taking ownership of any stupid decisions you may have made that made it easy for someone to victimize you, and accepting that you need not repeat them.

    Women have tons of agency when it comes to sexual violence, if they would only use it. And agency is what leads you to feel less like a victim or potential victim and more like a whole, effectual person.

    But that’s where feminism and I part ways–because feminism would have you believe women have no real agency. If women believed they had it, no one would need feminism to fight for them. They could do it all on their own.

    *similar studies determined that up to 28% of women will admit to sexual assaulting or raping men under the same circumstances. So I have to wonder why it is that women are walking around in fear of men.


  9. What sort of things do you suggest people do to prevent assault?

    The only thing I can think of that prevents assault is to not be around a predator. To try and trust your senses about what a predator is and is not and then to not physically be around them other wise. You also need a group of friends and family to be around while you are in a relationship in case it turns out to be abusive. You need to know what to do if you are raped as well.

    Where do you draw the line with agency and with victim blaming?

    It seems that a lot of people can’t draw the line and instead suggest people limit their own personal freedom.


  10. I just think it’s a huge failure for the skeptical movement to endorse a belief system (in this case, the modern feminist idea that women should live in fear of being raped and prejudicially assume the worst of all men they encounter) without the same open-eyed skepticism that they so skillfully apply to every other belief system on the planet. It’s as if the skeptics all deride the idea of UFO’s, religions, and the Loch Ness Monster, but believe fervently in bigfoot and shout down everything that contradicts their beliefs. If Rebecca and her ilk were true skeptics, they would go through the hard and painful process of examining their own belief systems and find that believing in some of these radical feminist notions is about as rational as believing that aliens from Tau Ceti are talking to them through their television.


  11. @girlwriteswhat – yes, yes, yes! Thank you for taking the time to write out your thoughts and post them here.

    @Mandy – I got exactly 3:22 in before I just couldn’t watch anymore.

    @Ray – Personally, I think you should simply live your life. You can’t live your life in fear of what might happen – that’s not living at all.

    @Corey – I fully support your statement.


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