It's not okay to threaten to rape people you don't like: Why I stand with Rebecca Watson

Every now and then, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I'm lucky that none of my readers has ever responded to a comment I made, which they didn't like, by calling me ugly. I'm lucky that they've never called me a cunt or a whore. I'm lucky that they've never threatened to rape me and then called me a humorless bitch when I pointed out how messed up that was. In general, the worst comments I've ever had directed to me, here, were from people accusing me of being a paid shill for Big Conspiracy, which is just funny.

But that shouldn't be luck, guys. My experience should not represent a minority experience among the female science bloggers I know. (And it is.) I shouldn't have to feel like thanking you, the BoingBoing readers, for being kind enough to not treat me like shit just because I'm a lady person.

Treating people with respect should not be a controversial position. It should not be a mindblowingly crazy idea to point out the fact that women are quite often treated as objects and, thus, have to deal with a lot more potentially threatening situations than men do. It shouldn't be offensive to say, hey, because of that fact, it's generally not a good idea to follow a woman you've never spoken to into an elevator late at night and ask her to come to your hotel room. Chances are good that you will make her feel threatened, rather than complimented.

And, even if you disagree, it's still totally not okay to threaten to rape people you disagree with. Seriously. Other than the specific bit about rape, we should have all learned this in preschool. And the fact that so many of the people engaging in this behavior claim to be rational thinkers and members of a community I strongly identify with ... well, that just makes me want to vomit. I honestly don't know what else to say.

Read Rebecca Watson's full article, Sexism in the Skeptic Community


  1. Dawkin’s response to that situation was so childish and illogical, it’s been hard for me to take him seriously since then. Then again, showing respect for other people has never been his strong suit. 

    1. So you’re saying that just because I don’t live in a third-world country, my problems are NOT magically invalidated? That makes no sense whatsoever.

      (I agree. Dawkin’s ‘Muslima’ post felt incredibly juvenile.)

    2. It was the same for me. I really liked reading his books, but if that was his “rational” response to a person that presents as the same gender as me, for such a small request, it really made me look back on his behavior in the past, and decide to avoid his work in the future. 

    3. Dawkins is part of a community where being technically, factually right is all that matters.  And where often, being right means one gets to make someone else feel stupid, naive, irrational, etc for believing otherwise.  Because after all, he’s right, and they’re wrong.  Dawkins is just telling the truth, and if that upsets anyone, well it’s their problem, isn’t it?

      That kind of community leaves no room for empathy.  It sets the perfect stage for misogyny, racism, and any other kind of bigotry which derives from being unable to understand a life experience that’s different from one’s own.

      1. It also set the stage for Dawkins, a bigwig among those, to waltz right out and sing and dance to the tune of logical fallacy, despite all the stuff about being technically, factually right about everything, cause he’s so smart.

        Dude severely downgraded hisself, not that my pinion matters, afer all, I disagree.

      2. Except that Dawkins’s argument doesn’t work on a purely logical, non-empathic basis either. He was basically saying that women in western nations have no basis for complaint about sexist behavior because women in some unspecified Muslim theocracy have it worse. 

        But atheists living in that same theocratic state no doubt also have it much worse than atheists in the secular west do; does Dawkins therefore argue that atheists in the secular west should shut up on the occasions when we are oppressed? 

        1. Sounds like by his own logic we can wilfully oppress Dawkins, and he would be fine with that.

    4. If you’re religious, and decide you want to be a decent human being, you’ve got a tradition and maybe a book to tell you how to do it, and a community to give you advice about whether you’re doing it right or wrong, and maybe even a supernatural being or some future reward or punishment to help encourage you to try.  And even then lots of people don’t get it right.

      If you’re not religious, you’ve got to do it all on your own, the only reward you get is knowing that you tried, and a bunch of people who don’t believe some of the same things you don’t believe isn’t an inherently deep or cohesive community.  You get more choices about what “being a decent human being” might mean for you, but less likelihood that other people will agree or cooperate.

      So yeah, it’s not surprising that you’ll have people around like Dawkins, who are brilliant about some things but real jerks about others, and some who are real jerks without being brilliant.  (And really, patriarchy is one of those things you don’t get to keep, and you especially don’t get to keep the “all the men own all the women” privilege bits while abandoning the “all the men are responsible for protecting all the women and children” bits or the “being rude to women is sinful” bits.) 

      1. If you’re trying to say that religious people are better at this sort of thing, then I find your viewpoint laughable. I mean, here in the UK, I can’t open a newspaper at the moment without hearing about a priest or minister being respectful of the sexual rights of women, children or minority groups, such as LGBT… oh wait. The other thing.
        Dawkins is a massive jerk for saying what he did, and should apologise. But don’t try to pin it on his religious views.

        1.  I didn’t get that impression from reading BillStewart2012’s comment. I think he was just saying that he/she can see how the atheist/skeptic community is more like herding cats, and thus less cohesive, and with less to fall back on when this sort of thing happens. Religion has this unfortunate strength as a built-in community that’s more difficult (but still possible) to achieve otherwise.It definitely didn’t sound like he/she was suggesting religion is more moral than the rest of us.

    5. I haven’t seen anyone else advance this possibility — is it possible that Dawkins’ response seems so out-of-touch because he *is*? Dawkins is not a young man. He’s 71. And he’s British. Religion isn’t the only source of brainwashing, you know. I’m not excusing him, of COURSE, but simply as an explanation, perhaps Dawkins is letting his outdated perspective show, and he doesn’t even realize it, because he’s old and his sensibilities on these topics are woefully behind the times! You can travel the world being treated like a star for 20-30 years, and you aren’t going to stop being someone who grew up in the 40s and 50s…

      1. I’m ten years older than Dawkins and doubt that my “sensibilities…are woefully behind the times.” We should resist excusing such assholery, especially from a  scientist, and call it what it is when we see it. But the 4,000-strong vitriolic comment thread made me once again appreciate the Mappy Mutant community — and our moderators. 

        1. Oh, yes, as I emphasized in my original comment, I in no way excuse his words or anyone else’s — in fact, they make me nauseous. I just wanted to try to figure out what the specific motivations are. Even misogynists are misogynists for a reason… they aren’t cartoon villains with rootless character flaws. Understanding why people end up like this will better help us to adjust our societies to avoid such crap in the future.

          If we just tell ourselves that each individual misogynist is just a lone asshole with no larger societal cause, then we’re going to be surprised anew each time and never make any progress.

  2. Wow. I didn’t expect to hear that Richard Dawkins was pooh-poohing misogynistic behavior. This is actually something that surprised me. Perhaps it shouldn’t have. From my experience, I know that the engineering and physical science fields tend to be fairly sexist. And most of the skeptic people that I have met have been associated with those fields. You can’t draw a conclusion from just that data, but it is enough to strongly hypothesize. And given the testimony in the linked article, there is reasonable evidence that the same sexist “cancer” that lives in the engineering and physical science fields has been passed on to the skeptics.

    1.  The comment he made, which Watson specifically quotes basically says that since Watson was not being attacked, beaten, kept from driving, genitally mutilated, etc, that she has no real reason to complain about being sexually harrassed online or at conferences. Basically because people elsewhere have it worse, she should be happy about her situation. 

      1. It was such a hypocritical thing of Dawkins to say, to boot.  I mean, does he not have the right to complain about religion or oppression by religious elements if they aren’t jailing, stoning or burning him at the stake for heresy?

        1. Well of course he has the right to complain.  Because penis.  Does it all make sense now? 

          I thought Dawkins was dickish before, now I think he’s a misogynist asshat to boot.

          1. I do a lot of things because penis.  Although never anything rude like that and generally because of other penis rather than self penis.

        1. Technically correct, yet it seems at least as unfair as not allowing that he is most likely aware of the rest of the discussion given that his bit there was written after the threats to her began and thereby her response to those threats began and it all escalated, to the point he thought it warranted his input.

          Dawkins isn’t an idiot, he didn’t likely read the bit about the elevator and whip that off.

          1. I don’t think its really fair to accuse people of condoning online rape threats if there is absolutely no evidence of them actually doing so.  The comment was originally posted on a pz myers piece which was about the elevator incident and its aftermath, and didn’t really refer to the online threats at all.  All that can realistically be inferred his comment is that he does not regard being propositioned in an elevator as a big deal.  Of course, people are free to flame him for that, but not for things which he categorically did not say or imply.

          2. Mindy said that, I didn’t.

            I don’t say he condoned it, but given where it was posted and the various links right there in the piece I can with reason infer that Dawkins was not sitting on an island in the pacific exchanging opinions with only Watson herself using bottles.

            The only thing I’ll grant the guy is that what he did say was beneath reason for reasons repeated often enough that I can infer you have read them.

          3. “The only thing I’ll grant the guy is that what he did say was beneath reason for reasons repeated often enough that I can infer you have read them”.

            Well, I think it’s beneath reason that people who disagree regarding the seriousness of the elevator incident – which is of course their right in any rational debate – seem to be consistently associated with the online rape threats, which are of course a separate and a very different manner.  This seems to be what you are doing with Dawkins – you won’t actually come out and say that he condones those threats, but you are strongly implying it  – or else god alone knows what you mean by this weasely sentence: “I don’t say he condoned it, but given where it was posted and the various links right there in the piece  I can with reason infer that Dawkins was not sitting on an island in the pacific exchanging opinions with only Watson herself using bottles.”

          4. Dude I’m not making that association,

            Dawkins juxtaposed it that way in the negative, that rape etc are not = to her elevator incident, that they were not associated too. But when he did it, it was to dismiss her, thereby dismissing the context of her statement and her intent.

            Maybe he misread or misheard or attributed some commentators ignorance to Watson, but he invented what he dismissed her of. By the time that article was posted, everyone but the butthurts knew damn well that Watson was not comparing her incident to the things Dawkins did compare them to.

            You want to be correct, I’m saying you are, that’s all that’s written there. Good job. My stating that Dawkins isn’t a blind man saying “tree” while feeling up an elephant is NOT a suggestion that he condones threats. His monkeys closed that gap, not him.

    2. For all his merits, Dawkins is undeniably an inveterate asshole, and not much of a feminist either. His dickishness is amusing when it’s turned on a religious person in a debate. It’s distasteful the rest of the time. Would that he had more discretion.

      1. I find it distasteful also when he turns it on religious people in debates.

        A friend of mine directed me to a supposedly masterful takedown of Deepak Chopra.  Basically Dawkins attacks Chopra for using quantum physics terms, Chopra counters that his use of them is metaphoric, and should not be taken to suggest that meditation can actually influence the behaviour of electron orbitals and so on.  Then Dawkins completely fails to move on – he just goes on being a dick about quantum theory, while Chopra repeatedly, and quite courteously, tries to engage in any sort of constructive dialog.

        In the end, the exchange increased my respect for Chopra (not that I put any credence in his teachings), and cemented my impression that Dawkins is nobody a serious person should bother listening to.

        1. I understand Chopra to be saying that, thanks to the discoveries of quantum mechanics and relativity, we now know that the mind has total control over the body. If he now says that he’s merely using those sciences metaphorically, he has been lying.

          1. That may be – I have never bothered listening to Chopra’s lectures or reading his books.  But if so, then Dawkins failed to point it out, when doing so would have made his point stronger, and instead just came off as a badgering jerk.

        2. “In the end, the exchange increased my respect for Chopra”

          If you knew anything about Chopra’s work, it wouldn’t. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He is not using metaphor. He only claims to when called on his snake-oil by the less gullible.

    3. I’m not terribly surprised, he’s a tool. As for skeptics being misogynistic, and everything else that can be labeled a human failing, 

      imagine how a group of people who get together to prove others wrong or as shysters or otherwise apply logic or hard science to stuff. They get together in a proud society and call themselves Skeptics.

      Now remember they are human, and that many are male, and that they are often on the internet. Now tell them that among them are human failings, like sociological stuff, stuff they do, stuff that pretty much levels them as just like the rest of us.

      Then watch rage ensue.

      It’s misogyny today, so today you get to watch them engage in misogynistic behaviour in response to being told there are misogynists among them and it’s not okay.

      Skeptics be human? Is unprossible

      1. That seems like a straw man. I’m very much a feminist and a skeptic, and not at all what you describe. Yes, there are douchebags out there who just spend all their time insulting believers of various quackeries to feel more intelligent, but they’re the obvious noise. The rest of us are busy convincing people with appeals to reason and evidence, and trying to create positive change in our lives and where ever else we can.

          1. You seem to have forgotten, this isn’t an issue about women feeing safe in elevators at 4am with strangers, it’s about men feeling insulted when you say “guys, don’t do that”. Duh!

        1. “That seems like a straw man. I’m very much a feminist and a skeptic, and not at all what you describe.”

          Why on earth does your presence prove the opposite? That you’re claiming to be a part of the community but don’t see the MRA rot from within makes me question your ability to see misogyny where it lies. There’s a lot of good people there (I love Pharyngula) but there’s a small but loathsome bunch of “skeptics (against feminism)” that hide under the umbrella and are tolerated far more than they should.

  3. To expand on the subject of women speaking out against inconsiderate and/or aggressive male attention, Kate Beaton of Hark A Vagrant has had some similar experiences, and has created some extremely funny responses:

    Other funny stuff in the same vein are her Strong Female Characters, and Straw Feminists.  However, I’m sure some people don’t bother to read very deeply into exactly what it is that she’s mocking, but I still think her work is very relevant to these discussions.

    1. Off-topic for the post and thread, but Kate Beaton continues to be a genius.

      Oh, and I thought Dawkins was kind of a tool before the “Muslima” comment.  He’s right about evolution and skepticism, obviously, but does he have to be such a dick all the time?

      1. There is a wide swath of dickishness in the skeptic community, not all related to misogyny or inflicted by owners of actual dicks, as there is in many communities, if not most of them. No one should be surprised.

  4. This kind of confirms what I suspected: that Richard Dawkins has a few good ideas but mostly enjoys being a gigantic dick to people.

    I believe it’s possible to argue for a secular society without telling people that their spiritual beliefs amount to make-believe-bullshit. You are entitled to conclude, in the absence of evidence, that there is no God. Others are entitled to their traditional spiritual beliefs. As a semi-agnostic, I’m entitled to not be sure what to believe, exactly, and remain open-minded. 

    We have amazing freedoms in our society: you can basically say whatever you like. But in order to have good debate and discourse, we need RESPECT. Dawkins totally robbed that from a kindred intellect, and he should be ashamed.

    tl;dr – Don’t be a dick. 

    1. Telling people that magic isn’t real isn’t being a dick unless you do it in an asshole manner.  The urgency at which you start screaming is proportional to the amount of harm they are doing.  Telling someone who is doing Reiki healing that their magic is stupid and doesn’t work is being a dick.  Telling someone who has cancer and has stopped chemo in favor of of Reiki healing that their magic is stupid and doesn’t work is not being such a dick.

      If someone is trying to decapitate you with their bible, it is okay to defend yourself by pointing out that there magic isn’t real and that they are dumb for believing in it.

    2. Off-topic, but I keep wondering if we should stop using “dick” as an insult. I know quite a few people who are very fond of dicks, and not just their own. And I don’t know what this particular organ has done to earn such ire that its name is an insult. It also makes me feel bad for anyone named Richard and, for that matter, Philip K. Dick.

      Yes, it is true that a lot of dicks have been used as weapons, but it’s not as though the dicks were separable from the individuals wielding them.

      1. I feel like “dick” is more likely to be acceptable to the mods than the several multi-word alternatives I would propose. Maybe shitbag would be better?

      2. Usually people can tell when you use it in the “possibly smelly thing you use to miss a toilet and generally won’t wave it at your mom” way as opposed to the “boy, I’d sure like that inside me or maybe draw it, hold still and model that for me” way.

  5. I was reading the main article yesterday on slate. And i was aghast, i could not believe that this kind of action and reaction had come out of people that are alledgedly love reason and sciencie. I dont even know the people mentioned in the article itself. But a line delivered by Morgan Freeman in the movie “the Bonfire of the vanities” at the came to my mind. It said:” Justice is the law and the law is the man’s feeble attempt to set down the principle of decency. Decency! And decency is not a deal. It isn’t and angle, or a contract, or a hustle! Decency is what your grandmother taught you. It’s in your bones! Now go home. Go home and be decent people. Be decent.

  6. This is an interesting problem. I think maybe part of the problem here (part of the reason that Watson’s arguments regarding feminism are not taken seriously) is that skeptics like to think of themselves as basing their arguments on objective scientific inquiry… And then there are these fuzzier lines of inquiry (like I’m involved in), the “soft sciences” as it were. Feminist studies of course falls into that category. Those of us who deal in such areas of study are often not seen as doing anything that can be seen as “objective”, especially given the reorientation that goes along with postmodernism. Since often postmodernist engage with language and how it “constructs our reality” (especially Foucault and his intervention into topics such as sexuality and discipline what that says about the power structure of the modern state) it is seen as balancing on air and hence is made up of nothing but opinions, hence fallible. Many historians have moved away from the Marxist attempts to make history a verifiable science.

    I teach a us history survey, and I make them read Zinn, and one thing that kind of frustrates me when we’re discussing the text is that everyone keeps saying that Zinn has “an opinion” about history.  Works of history, literary criticism, and gender/queer and ethnic studies are more often than not viewed by the hard sciences as just that. I think she is attempting to address her treatment by some in the skeptics community via her own experiences, and, especially since she seems to be putting it into terms that use feminist language, some quarters are reacting negatively to that.

    Of course a good bit of it can just be chalked up to good old sexist asshatery.  But maybe I’m being biased? ;-)

    Also, I have to agree with Maggie here, and say that I never feel as if my comments are going to be degraded because I am of the female persuasion. I think much of that has to do with the excellent moderation, as the moderators see no problems with shutting down people who are using offensive language.  But the fact that we are all aware of this online just highlights how much of a problem this can be in other parts of the cyber-world….

    1. everyone keeps saying that Zinn has “an opinion” about history

      But of course so do the “standard” textbooks. It’s just an opinion in which we have been so inculcated that we do not recognize it as such. 

      1.  True enough, but I think “opinion” is kind of the wrong word to use, yeah?  Analysis is what I’m trying to get them to think about.  How do the sources you use inform your view point? How does looking at history via unions, for example, change the story? Do you miss something when you only look at public policy?  Your sources change the story…

        I’m not sure if I’m clear, but my point was not to say that history or the humanities are “sciences” because I don’t think they are… but these things are not built on the hot air of our opinions, as I think some like to suggest. Since she’s moved from discussing skepticism to discussing the skeptics community, address a problem that she’s experienced, I think some people are apt to just dismiss her as expressing an “opinion”, hence you can dismiss it.  Opinions do not carry the same weight as a verifiable in science circles, no?

        1.  Perhaps history and humanities can, in deed, be ‘sciences’ in the sense that science could behave in a manner which was ‘aligned’ with the vision that HG Gadamer had of it. Just sayin’.

        2. With regard to Zinn maybe “perspective” is a more appropriate term than “opinion” but I am not sure why “opinion” is all that offensive.

          That being said, I am not sure that a lack of verifiable scientific data is why people are attacking this woman. After all, the comments themselves are verifiable. Being told you ought to be raped because you believe female genital mutilation is worse than circumcision is not her opinion, it’s a verifiable fact.

          I think these guys may just hate women. That they also self-identify as skeptics may give the illusion of causality when, in fact, they are just men who hate women.

        3. So you would agree that Her objective analysis of “threat” is unavoidably compromised by her gender perspective and the sexism talk.

  7. I have some quite strong views about modern feminism and the ways that it’s thought about and communicated, and they don’t align strongly with Rebecca Watson’s views in a lot of areas. But I can definitely agree that threatening to rape and molest people isn’t ever right. Just look at that tweet from the guy threatening to assault her at the conference, and the conference organiser’s absurd reaction! How is that guy not on a register!?

    In fact, I’d go so far as to say that people acting like that hinder our ability to have a sensible conversation about sexism at all, because those of us who would like to disagree with feminists on some point or other risk associating ourselves with people like that by doing so. If by having the conversation, I might make the person I was talking to feel threatened by association, or be accused of standing with people who threaten to abuse others, then I’d rather not enter into a discussion about feminism at all.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you’re preaching to the choir, Maggie, that I love your work, and that I hope we all continue to get along :)

  8. I’m very disappointed with Richard Dawkins on this point. I hold him in high regard but he is behind the curve in this instance.

  9. I wonder what Rosalind Franklin would have to say about this.  I still think that the Selfish Gene is a pretty great book, but good authors can of course be pinheads about things.  And also, though common decency should be a given and not an achievement, “yea us” for not being that guy.

    1.  Selfish Gene is pretty good, if you like having the Deity-apologizing Watchmaker’s Argument smuggled into a mechanism, thereby implying the existence of a godlike intentionality. Man, Dawkins really scr**ed the pooch on that bit, lol.

  10. There may be some plain ignorance of how to be a decent social citizen reflected in these unsavory behaviors by men of science. I say this not to condone their behavior, but to try to understand what’s behind it.

    For some background on this concept, read the essay “Why nerds are unpopular” by Paul Graham. He says that while most people spend their teen years learning how to interact with other people, nerds spend that time learning stuff about the non-human world. This puts them at a disadvantage when they have to interact with people socially in the adult world, where the stakes are higher.

    I (total electronics geek) personally had no idea how to relate to girls as a teen, and I only started learning when I found myself living in a party house at the age of 25. Someone who’s immersed in study of science may never have the opportunity to learn what’s acceptable social behavior and what isn’t.

    1. I’ve found the guys who spent high school “learning how to interact with girls” impossible to interact with.  They tend to treat interaction as some kind of game where women are the other team or worse where women are the goal.  They may be outwardly polite but on a deeper level the whole thing is still really dehumanizing.

      I say this as someone who never flirts, almost never gets hit on, and who dates established friends.  In my case those friends are nerds or geeks who do understand feminism.

      1. You’ve noticed a rather interesting point of comparison there. Some people spend their time interacting with people like they’re things and not people. Others spend their time interacting with things… and not people.

  11. Yes, but seriously: threatening to torture, murder, and/or rape someone? That’s far outside the realm of “acceptable social behavior,” and into the realm of “actively anti-social behavior.” This isn’t farting at the dinner table we’re talking about here.

    EDIT: Oh dear, my comment seems not to be linked to the one I was replying to. It’s Nixiebunny above.

  12. Those of us non-raping non-assholish non-sexist men need to spend our time outing and shaming the douchebags who give our gender a bad name, not getting our panties in a twist when women point out that some men are assholes.

    In almost all cases, men who get upset when women express outrage at violence or sexism by men are engaging in a widespread form of concern trollery – taking a very serious and scary issue and making it all about them and their widdle hurt feewings.

    It’s pretty easy to be a man in this world (relatively speaking).  I routinely walk dark streets without fear of anything more than wildlife.  I have had many advantages handed to me without even trying (and it took me a long while to realize it).  I never fear strangers (unless they look dangerous or armed) and certainly have nothing to fear at conferences or other public events.

    The idea that a logical response to hearing someone express a fear of assault by assholes is to get offended makes no sense at all (unless one is an asshole).

    1. That’s an excellent point.  Men could be a lot more intolerant of other men behaving badly towards women.  Its precisely because the way our male ancestors tended to view women that there’s a backlash toward any sort of unwelcome male advances…and the women who voice this are completely correct.  I wasn’t sensitive to that in my original post.

      1. I’m trying to find a way to ask this that doesn’t sound sarcastic, but it’s difficult.

        Do you note that you’ve acknowledged the logic of rocketpjs (whom we both assume is male) while arguing almost exclusively with (assumed female) posters above? Do you see a pattern here? Please read rocketpjs again if it helps.

        As we used to say back in the day, there are no non-sexist men, only anti-sexist men. There are no non-racist white folks, only anti-racist white folks. We have all internalized this crap, but we can work against it.

        1. So the argument is that we all have base instincts (objectifying people we find attractive, fear/dislike of “the other”) but that as a enlightened humans, we must act to hide or control those base instincts in ourselves, help correct them correction in others? 

          I think I’d RATHER believe that humans are fundamentally good and that most base behaviors are learned. 

          Maybe the distinction is moot as, reglardless of source, part of being human is knowing that we ALL have negative behaviors and fears that we must continuously work to improve and rationalize (and be open to fair conversations about those fears and behaviors).

          I could go with that.  (obviously this post is pretty much me thinking out loud, but I hit return at the end anyway).

          1. I think I’d RATHER believe that humans are fundamentally good and that most base behaviors are learned.

            Given that other mammals engage in violent behavior against members of their own species, that seems like wishful thinking.

          2. “I think I’d RATHER believe that humans are fundamentally good and that most base behaviors are learned.”

            While that idealism may help one get through the day, I don’t think it’s healthy to pretend that it can’t be nature (with regards to mental illness) and nurture working together against us.

    2. After memorizing the above in its eloquent entirety I will always try to remember to cite you as the source when I repeat it. However should I fail to do so I would like to apologize. Even though it was what I was already thinking you deserve credit for putting my thoughts into words.

    3. Rocketpgs’ opening paragraph, as wysinwyg said, “nailed it.”  I didn’t read the Slate article as saying she thought the guy at the elevator was a rapist, just that he was a douche whose approach was simply moronic, assuming it wasn’t malevolent.  Additionally, considering the elevator guy had not even spoken with her directly at that point also greatly ups the creepiness factor which Ms. Watson had every right to call out without facing the blowback she did (though “blowback” doesn’t do justice to the threat of rape).  

      I must admit that while I identify tremendously with skeptic ideas I’m not a part of the community, at least not to the point of going to conventions or even spending a lot of time in online atheist discussions.  I mention all that to say I was bothered to hear about her experiences in this world.   Any sort of Wall Street or bodybuilding convention (or really almost anything short of a women’s studies convention) that sort of behavior, while unacceptable and insane, wouldn’t be surprising.  I must admit that I am rather pissed to hear about it in the skeptical community, in Ms. Watson’s “safe space.”

      Because we’re talking about the world of skepticism and reason and rationality I do want to point out an issue with Rocketpgs’ post (as well as others) and even Ms. Koerth-Baker’s original write up.  Specifically I’m a little confused with Ms. Koerth-Baker’s statement:

      “It should not be a mindblowingly crazy idea to point out the fact that women are quite often treated as objects and, thus, have to deal with a lot more potentially threatening situations than men do.”

      No argument with the objectification statement, but the data on violent crimes completely contradicts the second half of the sentance:

      For violent sex crimes there is zero doubt that women do have a lot more to fear than men, however for violent crimes overall, and homicide especially, the situation is significantly different.  Rocketpgs’ lack of fear, in paragraph 3 of his post, is much more a function of his testosterone than the data.  

      It is not that women face more potentially threatening situations than men, but rather BOTH men and women face potentially threatening situations from other men.  

      This brings us back to Rocketpgs’ opening paragraph.  If men do a better job of self-policing the predatory tendencies of the “douchebags who give our gender a bad name” then it creates a safer environment for both sexes.  On what planet is this even controversial?

  13. even tho i have lost my temper online at times, my overall thought is that it’s not okay to threaten anyone, male or female. it’s especially not okay to threaten women, but that’s part of how i was raised. the older i get the more i like removing some of the anonymity from the net. i think you would see a lot of hate go away if people were held accountable for their words.

    1. Sadly, this has been examined, and it generally doesn’t work.  It turns out most dumbasses are still dumbasses when you know their name.

    2. That’s a stupid solution.

      1) MRAs and other rape culture supporters will proudly harass under their real names.
      2) Women, minorities, all sorts of people prefer the anonymity and PERSONAL PRIVACY to avoid harassment, on an individual site and throughout their online profile. Avoiding stalkers? Ex-boyfriends? There are dangerous people out there, and you’re damning a lot of people by assuming that a lack of anonymity benefits anyone but those without shame.

    1. I’m astonished that the shitlords haven’t already descended on this post and the quick link earlier. Either they don’t come to boingboing or someone told Antinous to suit up and get the banhammer ready.

      1. I’m sure they’ll be here eventually.  Right now I’m more concerned about the comment thread collapsing under the weight of all the straw men.

        1. I once dressed up as a straw man at Hallowe’en and sat on my front porch without moving. As groups of kids would approach, they’d say stuff like “Is he real?” and once they got close enough I’d suddenly jump up and scare them.

          So I’d appreciate you not making comments about my weight!

          Oh, you meant the other kind of straw men. Carry on.

  14. Though I’m a liberal christian, I am very supportive of the atheist/skeptic community generally.  But it’s worth noting that at least some portion of that community (as in any) are active because of the ego-boo of winning fights.

    I’m also a solid civil libertarian and believe in the importance of anonymity, free speech and even yes, am willing to admit enjoying offensive humor.  But people like this REALLY make me wonder if there shouldn’t be some sort of “not a shithead” test that should be passed before giving those civil liberties to people.

    1. Don’t worry, your libertarian views are safe. Dawkins is entitled to say what even he wants. But we’re equally entitled to throw tons of criticism at him and try to educate him as to why he’s being a dick.

      It’s free market discourse, man. And Dawkin’s stock price has just dropped. 

      1. But Dawkins wasn’t anonymous, so there were repercussions to his words (at least for anyone who didn’t already know that he is a shithead, even if brilliant).

        I meant more like I’m starting to feel that the civil liberties of anonymous and free speech should be limited until one has proven that they can handle it. 

        Unfortunately anonymity protects bullies just as much as it does the weak.  And there is always a non-zero risk that threats from trolls could be real.

        1. “I meant more like I’m starting to feel that the civil liberties of anonymous and free speech should be limited until one has proven that they can handle it. ”

          The ruling class of bullies is pleased with this development.

  15. people are acting like watson believed the guy who approached her was trying to rape her. i didn’t get that at all, she just used that as a mildly amusing example of how not to hit on a woman. that it immediately got turned into a “help rape!” thing shows just how quickly the sexist mind jumps to the notion of a woman as whiny and inconsequential. p.s. why aren’t we all going after dawkins?

    1. a) She didn’t. She got rape threats via e-mail. And her complaint about being approached alone in an elevator was met with a threat of being groped. Both are threats of sexual assault. 

      b) We are going after him. Read my first comment.

    2. “people are acting like watson believed the guy who approached her was trying to rape her”

      If they didn’t lie, they’d have to admit that a woman was right, and they were inferior to her logic.

  16. As a physically small woman who, in my youth, was pretty cute, I would find being alone in an elevator with a strange man at 4 a.m. very uncomfortable.  If he asked me back to HIS room for coffee, as opposed to a bar or a restaurant, especially knowing that he knew I had just said how tired I was, I would feel that he was an idiot for hitting on me and I would feel fearful in case he wasn’t going to take no for answer.
    Men do not understand how many women feel afraid simply because they know that some men do not understand the word “no.”  Men do not understand that some men feel women are all available for sex at all times and if a woman says “no,” it is an insult to that man and he has right to take what he wants.
    How I dress, where I walk, all make me at fault for being attacked, according to a large population.
    In summation, I would be creeped out by the guy in the elevator, too, and would get off ASAP.

  17. >It’s not okay to threaten to rape people you don’t like
    It’s not okay to threaten rape, regardless of whether you dislike them or not.

    1. Lotta that going on is there? Those friendly, trying to impress or please threats of rape?

      I think Xeni was keeping it contextual with the distinction. At least I haven’t seen Watson comment on any jocular, well meaning, you’re the kind of person I like to be around rape threats. Or even the meh, I’d take it or leave it rape threats.

      1. I mean in jokingly threatening to rape someone. You might be joking (for whatever Bizarre reason), they might take it very differently.

        1. Bro-style you mean? 

          I hear what you’re saying but between genders there is little to none of that, but it could be I’ve just never noticed it.

          1. No… rape is thrown around jokinly a lot. In mixed company. Just log into any online gaming and you will see it… a lot. More or less in the same way as “gay” is thrown around as an insult… a lot. Just tune your ears to the word “rape” and you will start hearing it a lot more.

            Rape is not funny, gay is not an insult.

          2. Gaming has seen a steep decline in both gay and rape misuse, I have heard it there but not elsewhere. 
            Lately EVE is the only online game I’ve been playing, it’s there but not too everywhere the way it is with fps & console stuff thank goodness.

            I also forego headset/chat. kik it oldschool wit a keyboard

  18. If she had said, “hey guys, ha ha, don’t publicly urinate on fire hydrants!”, I wonder if the hands down two most popular responses would be:

    A. Hey! That man probably had really good warm and fuzzy intentions inside which were making him urinate in public on fire hydrants. You can’t know what was in his heart!


    B. Hey! I really object to being accused of publicly urinating on fire hydrants. I really resent the insinuation that I do that all the time. I don’t like being put in the same box as those “guys”.

    I just find the popularity of those responses really fascinating. I mean, the first is just arrant nonsense. But a lot of people don’t seem to think so!

    And the second, well, it seems like pretty basic language comprehension. If you look inside yourself and feel like you’re already pretty confident that you’re never going to be tempted to urinate on a fire hydrant, then I think it’s pretty obvious she wasn’t talking to you. 

    Especially when it’s a blog addressing the internet. She doesn’t know you. Everyone knows she doesn’t know you. So it’s kind of understood that she’s not talking to you.  At least, I for one don’t go around thinking what anyone says anywhere on the internet is addressing me individually.

    I’m just saying. There’s something kind of weird about how personal a lot of people took it.

    1. YES. I never could understand how a basic advice on common courtesy was interpreted as ” all men are vicious rapists and should NEVER approach women EVAR!!”

      She wasn’t saying men ought to never approach women they feel interested in, she was giving advice on how to make such approaches more enjoyable (and potentially more successful) for all involved, like sex and romance are supposed to be in the first place. All the idiots who responded with the pathetic hyperbole that “ZOMG that means men could never meet new women for sex!!” ought to have been taking notes (and thanking her) instead of flipping cold out.

      1. Don’t be silly. Having a romantic interaction with a woman as a respected equal isn’t important.

        What’s important is for everyone to understand  that that one guy Rebecca was talking about might possibly have had really good intentions while he was acting like an obnoxious jerk!

        And also that I personally really resent [putting myself] in that box with all those other guys, because we’d never even consider acting like that, but you were definitely talking to us!

        And we’d have really good intentions if we ever did act that way, so there’s no reason to be alarmed!

  19. I’d actually like to hear if there are any theories about why it is that BB has been mercifully free from this sort of thing.

    Every science blog I read blew up with threads on the subject at the time.  Many other female scientists and science readers were also threatened and insulted in the aftermath.  Basically, if you posted about it, you would be attacked by legions of what-about-the-menz responses, even if you were responding to a male science blogger’s post rather than creating your own.  And the women who created their own threads?  Oy vey.

    We’ve lost several excellent bloggers as a result: women who made the decision that the threats were too dangerous and they had to stop writing publicly to protect themselves.  That’s a loss to everyone.

    What is the secret to BB’s success?

    1. I’d say it is pretty well moderated. If it were entirely unmoderated or poorly moderated then the thing it is free of tends to snowball, because shitbags know that their shit opinion will be left up forever in infamy. When they are moderated, or as they might say, censored, then people who want to discuss the subject matter of the post or an interesting offshoot are free to without wading through the AOL excrement.

      1. Good use of “shitbag.” It really works better than “dick” doesn’t it?

        I also believe that the moderation . . . moderates. I don’t tend toward rape threats and misogyny, but I do sometimes use other arguments and words in other fora that I know will just get me deleted here. So I don’t use them here. While I believe that the mods can sometimes be stifling of reasonable discussion, they also make reasonable discussion possible. Stupid, lousy conundrum.

        Also, I cannot imagine reading a science blog and having the urge to threaten rape or use some of the vile terms expressed here. Really. Seriously. I guess I just don’t have enough hatred in my heart.

        1. I sometimes take out comments that may be reasonable in themselves because, in my experience, they’re going to turn the thread into a clusterfuck.

    2. Free hand with the banhammers, not suffering trolls, and judicious use of snark by moderators.  Plus unkind comments are often attacked and belittled by the regulars.  Keeps it civil. 

      1. Theranthrope:
        I don’t believe people get banned/censored here for logic and reason, it usually is being for being offensive and personal.  Everyone’s a concern troll for something, self included, I think it’s more the manner of discourse rather than the opinion that I’ve seen getting banned.  There’s a lot of argument on the internet, and it’s occasionally not based on logic and reason.  I’ve disagreed with Maggie, Antinous and Cory at times, and haven’t been banned or censored for expressing that opinion.  The reason I was censored here, that I recall, was that I was berating someone for being stupid enough to not believe in AGW, and I was expressing it more in a STFU way, rather then logically or reasonably.  My comments were removed, their commnents stayed, though I know Maggie and I agreed on the issue.  When I rephrased my comments in a manner more composed and less unkind, my comments stated up.  Truly uncivil discourse goes away.

  20. I think at first it was a few anonymous bigots. But once she started talking about it and bringing it to everyone’s attention then the trolls got wind of it and went all out. 

  21. “I honestly don’t know what else to say.”
    Well, that’s OK, because I think you pretty much said it all.

  22. I don’t get misogyny.  I don’t understand also how a bunch of guys who claim to be rational thinkers can’t think rationally. 

    This is so ridiculous and such a dark time for us in the skeptical movement.  Anti-female bigotry is right up there with UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit
    photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness
    monster and the theory of Atlantis.  It’s so ridiculous.  I can’t even stomach this shit.

    I mean, there’s some legitimate criticism too of Skepchick, and some folks like PZ Myers, but no one’s perfect.  Nor do they have to be.

  23. What saddens me about the whole situation is that anyone even feels the need to take sides, because honestly and objectively, the whole thing got blown way out of proportion last year. Feelings got hurt. People got angry. Stupid things were said and done on all sides. 

    And Internet trolls (or mean and/or crazy people) took advantage of the situation to make anonymous threats to Watson, which is decidedly not OK in any way, but which is also typical behavior on the Internet when these sorts of situations reach a certain level of notoriety. (I say that not to dismiss it, but rather in the same way I’d say that prison life is violent or that kids on a playground are often mean to one another — it sucks, but it’s a reality that isn’t going to change just from wishing it away.)

    This all began when Watson made a strong statement about something that wasn’t really a big deal (the whole “elevator” situation, in which she claimed to have been sexualized by a guy who was really just making an awkward pass at her at 4 in the morning). When she was criticized for overreacting, instead of agreeing to disagree or calling for rational discourse, she doubled down and started rallying people against her critics. Many people perceived that she made herself into much more of a victim than she really was and hid behind cries of sexism and misogyny instead of standing strong and advocating her point of view without letting things wound her so. She also demonized Dawkins rather unfairly, entirely missing the point of his remark and taking offense at the fact that he would dare try to bring perspective to the problem. (She also demonized the JREF’s DJ Groethe, who really had nothing to do with any of this, but who failed to take her side because of his own reservations about her circumstances.)

    Now, Watson DID make some good points during all of this, and it IS sad that events based around science, atheism and skepticism might feel like they’re not safe places for women. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed at every level, and a lot of that involves acknowledging the problem honestly and inviting a lot more women to be a part of the planning and administration of these events.What happened as a result of Watson’s reaction, however, was that a line got drawn in the sand and people felt the need to align themselves. That’s led to a lot of shouting, but very little resolution. It’s important to remember that no one on any side (not even Dawkins) was ever advocating FOR sexism; the disagreement was about what sexism is, and how it should be dealt with. 

    The ensuing escalation leading to the nasty threats towards Watson came not from one side trying to score points on the other, but rather, that people on every side kept finding ways to pour more fuel on the fire, and that sort of activity has a way of attracting the attention of those who have little interest in what started the fire, but plenty of desire to see it continue burning.

    In the end, I’d encourage anyone who still feels the need to stand with anyone in this matter to stand aside and reconsider what the argument is really about. It’d be far better if this fire could burn out and we could reach some point of rational discourse where everyone’s looking for a real solution than to keep looking for more ways to keep those flames ablaze. 

    (Edited to fix spacing issues)

    1. Feelings got hurt. People got angry. Stupid things were said and done on all sides.

      Yeah, Ms. Watson really shouldn’t have threatened to rape and kill those men. What? She didn’t? We must be in some kind of false equivalency universe here.

      This all began when Watson made a strong statement about something that wasn’t really a big deal

      How nice of you to make the determination that it wasn’t a big deal, particularly since you weren’t there. And she was. But that’s irrelevant, of course.

      Many people perceived that she made herself into much more of a victim than she really was and hid behind cries of sexism and misogyny instead of standing strong and advocating her point of view without letting things wound her so.

      Maybe you should focus on your own butthurt around this before telling her to toughen up.

      It’d be far better if this fire could burn out and we could reach some point of rational discourse where everyone’s looking for a real solution than to keep looking for more ways to keep those flames ablaze.

      I don’t really see much upside for women in letting men control the terms of the discussion, and you certainly seem to be (in a passive aggressive sort of way) suggesting that the uppity woman should just pretend that there’s no problem.

      1. Very well said. The problem with posts like the one to which you responded is that they are incredibly discouraging. I hate reading them- one, they piss me off, and then two, they piss me off further when I feel compelled to respond to them and point out the breathtaking flaws in the logic- the stuff that anyone with a lick of sense, an ounce of compassion, or just a measure of self-awareness would recognize as a dumb, pointless, passive-aggressive, derailing argument. And it just makes me want to give up on these discussions, and in a small way, makes me wish I could just give up on humanity as a whole. TL;DR that comment made me wish it were possible to email baked goods. I would send you some awesome brownies for saving me from beating myself to death with my own keyboard.

      2. Thank you. It saddens me that it takes another man to explain this to other men, but I’m so very very happy that we male allies like you and PJ to explain it, and explain why you shouldn’t need to explain it. I tip my hat at you sir.

    2. “in which she claimed to have been sexualized by a guy who was really just making an awkward pass at her at 4 in the morning”

      Putting aside your unsubstantiated claim (her stated response at the time was “don’t do that”, not “I was sexualized”…although, of course, she was), I’d love to hear your explanation for how making a pass at a woman in an elevator at 4am is NOT sexual in any way.

      1. Good Lord, isn’t it obvious?  The man just really wanted some coffee, but didn’t know how to work his hotel room’s coffee maker!  He’d have kicked her out just as soon as the pot was boiling.  Really.

  24. I have to point out that, the only instance where I appreciated a rape ‘declaration’ was when I interviewed Lydia Lunch around 15-16 years ago. In a furious rant about the federal govt. of the US, she declared that a certain president needed to be bent over his desk and you-know. I laughed, because the comment was brutal, but in the context, well…
         This thread is really good, by the way. I’ve showed many friends Rebecca’s site and BB’s pieces about the BS Rebecca’s going through. It’s disgusting, and an indication of the reality of sub groups. I think one of Sturgeon’s laws covered the (lack of) intelligence of a mob. I would extend that law to most ‘banner’ organizations, EG. Skeptics/CSIOP/CSI believers, ‘nuts-and-bolts’ UFO believers, goths, preps, etc. I want to excuse Forteans from the mix, but I’m sure that would be a mistake on my part… LO!

  25. I must admit that I don’t understand what’s so uncomfortable of being invited to an hotel room. I’m a gay person, and this has happened to me some times. Some times I declined – politely – and hadn’t got any problem (it appears she didn’t have any, either). Some times I accepted. But I don’t find it as harsh.

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