Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Men, please don't proposition women in elevators

How can somebody contradict a statement like "I felt scared"? I don't understand. If somebody says they felt scared and they have no reason to lie about it then I believe them. This is what baffles me about the recent kerfuffle that came from Rebecca Watson telling a story about being uncomfortable when a man propositioned her in a hotel elevator. Her point was "Men, please don't proposition women in elevators." I think that's pretty straightforward. There's certainly no reason to discuss it. But man, is it being discussed!

This issue really went all to pieces when Richard Dawkins weighed in on it. He basically dismissed the whole idea of privileged women being creeped out by men on elevators. He made some argument about genital mutilation and other really horrible atrocities against women. You can read all about it on Phil Plait's blog. It's a blog about a blog about a blog, so here's another blog about it just in case some of you don't read the other ones. Phil gets it. Thanks, Phil. He defends Rebecca Watson and maybe jumps to some extreme conclusions that I don't really think are necessary. To me it's not relevant what MIGHT happen in that scenario or WHY a woman should be on edge. The point to me is that it's totally involuntary. I never think of any of the stuff Phil mentions that might happen.

This Richard Dawkins thing blows my mind because I'm pretty sure women's instinct to feel afraid the minute a man steps on the elevator alone with them is evolution. Women are afraid of men like everybody is afraid of snakes, or big barking jumping dogs. It's perfectly natural. We can't help it. All men live in fear that women will humiliate them and all women live in fear that men will kill them. This is just how we evolved. It is unavoidable that a woman would have a stress reaction to being put in a position to humiliate a man when she is trapped in an enclosed space with him. He might kill her. We don't REALLY think that EVERY man is going to kill us, but it doesn't matter what we THINK. Our body evolved to react with fear. All Rebecca Watson did was point this out because clearly all men didn't get the memo. She was trying to do you all a favor and fill you in on what women want.

I posed this situation to my friend who travels a lot and rides a lot of hotel elevators. He said he HATES getting on an elevator with a woman. He is petrified that he will scare her. "Please don't think I'm a creep!" He hugs the wall and keeps his eyes on the floor so he doesn't make eye contact in the shiny door. He said it enrages him that it has to be that way. Yeah, it does suck. But that's where we are. Somehow our evolution got us to where women are afraid of men and some men are empathetic and don't want to make us feel worse. But judging by the comments on these other blogs some men have not evolved to this point. They insist women are wrong to feel this way and they can ask us for sex whenever and wherever they want. These men will prevent women from evolving beyond this fear because it is still preventing some of us from putting ourselves in harm's way. Our fear makes us alert. Actually, it kind of makes me a hermit. It's why I like the Sunday matinee at the theater downtown because I can walk back to my car in the daylight. Actually I feel bad calling it "fear" because it's just a mild stress reaction. But it goes from mild to overwhelming when somebody actually talks to you and asks you to go to their hotel room. For my delicate constitution I expect it would be enough of a brain chemistry change to trigger a migraine, no kidding.

Now another friend popped up on chat and made me realize that more about this topic that is argumentative. I want to be really clear.
  • This discussion is not about what actions the woman on the elevator could/should take
  • The stress reaction is automatic. The brain releases the chemicals without conscious effort
I had to explain this to my friend with a lot of caps lock. Especially when he said this.
Women need to work on that innate fear/stereotyping, because there is a huge variety of men of all different stripes on a broad spectrum of sexuality
We cannot "work on" an innate fear. It's innate. You might as well tell me to work on growing red hair. That's the whole point of this discussion. How do you not get it?! MEN ARE SCARY! I tried to equate it to snakes. He said he doesn't agree all men are snakes. What? No, all men are men. All snakes are snakes. Some snakes are harmless. But people have an innate fear of ALL snakes. Women have an innate fear of all men.

OK, great. Another man friend of mine has popped up taking the elevator man's side. Saying he didn't do anything wrong.
Well, I don't think the guy in the elevator did a damn thing wrong... Except, perhaps, not be attractive to Rebecca.
If he was someone she was interested in, this would have been a Good Thing.
No. Listen. This is the reason she brought it up. He did do something wrong. No man should ask a woman back to his room on an elevator. Period. That's it.

I'm still having the argument with this guy on IM. I can't believe it. He's proposing scenarios of what she could do or say. See bullet point one above.
Sorry, I'm not going to put limits on men speaking, politely, to women.
OK, what aren't you getting? It's NOT POLITE TO PROPOSITION A WOMAN ON AN ELEVATOR! EVER! There is no leeway on this.

So of the four men I talked to today about this two instantly got it. The first one had already heard about the events over the weekend but not the Richard Dawkins part. He immediately said that arguing something worse exists doesn't make a minor wrong go away and that was the end of that discussion. The second one is already well aware of this problem of women being scared. The third I convinced quickly, and the other is stubbornly arguing stuff that's not cogent to the point, which is very specifically, creepy behavior in hotel elevators. He finally came around after watching Rebecca Watson's video from the link in Phil Plait's post.

The part where she talks about the elevator incident is at 4:30. My friend says now:

I still maintain there are scenarios in which this might not be creepy, but it is clear that this was not one of them...

So he came around. I asked him why he automatically defended the man instead of just taking the woman's word for it that she felt creeped out. He said he automatically defends people who are put upon.

Ooooohhhh, I think I get it. Men are jumping to defend the other man because they think he's being attacked. I really didn't see it that way at all. She was just using that experience as an example for other men of what not to do. She never said that man who made her uncomfortable should be sanctioned in any way. That's why I didn't understand why he would need defending. She wasn't even talking about him really. It was meant as a broad lesson.

Apparently the details are important to men. My friend explains:

One thing that is a give-away was the guy said "don't take this the wrong way." That's a huge red flag...
It says "I know this seems creepy but I'm doing it anyway."
"you're interesting, wanna get a coffee sometime" may not be creepy... May not...
"Don't take this the wrong way, but you're interesting and would you like to come to my hotel room now for coffee" at 4am is fucking creepy.
Why did I jump to the conclusion that she was over-reacting? Because I assume the first situation, because I would never do the second - it's truly hard for me to imagine doing that to someone...

I think this is the same situation my second friend was in. He couldn't imagine anybody would really be genuinely creepy. This is why I'm writing this. This is why Rebecca Watson started the discussion about it in the first place. It doesn't happen to me a lot because I'm a complete freaking hermit. But it has happened to me enough to make me want to be a hermit. There are a lot of men out there who are seriously socially stunted. They are ruining it for the rest of you.

I'm really sorry for my friends who get it and who have to worry about making women uncomfortable in elevators and on the street at night. I don't know what to do about it. All I can say is if we are tough enough to deal with our physical effects of this stress you can just suck it up and deal with it too.

Of course I'm not happy with this argument as I'm an engineer and all problems have technical solutions. I think I will pay more attention to which hotels have glass elevators looking out on giant public atriums if I ever go to a conference.

*Update already. I have to put in a link to this letter to Richard Dawkins from victims of sexual assault. It is very well written and succinct. I wonder if Richard Dawkins is like my friends and he just can't conceive of somebody being that creepy? Too bad he doesn't have a friend like me on IM to 'splain it to him. In all caps. With curse words.


  1. OK, I am clueless about all of this because I have to admit, I don't really read the news and I dislike Richard Dawkins. So, I am glad for this post, because I know now of something happening in the world.

    When is it ever OK or not creepy to proposition someone you barely know or don't know to proposition you in an elevator? At a bar, is one thing. You expect this could happen. But, unless you are my significant other or someone I know very well, I would not expect to be proposition in an elevator ever. Just, that's tasteless. Yuck. So, that should stand alone. I guess he felt nervous, and they were alone, so he thought it would be OK (and he was probably drunk) but no.

    2nd, if you are a woman, and someone does that How could you not feel at least uncomfortable, if not afraid? I think that is a natural reaction to the situation. It is always awkward if someone propositions you and you have to say you aren't interested. but when you are in a confined space w/them.... really not OK. Because yes, we have this stress response that we really don't have any control over.

    I have had a man get off the bus in the same place at me, when it was night and dark and in the middle of nowhere, and that was creepy as hell. i have had a man follow me down the street for over a mile before I had to make multiple attempts to ditch him before i succeeded. There are creepy things that happen to women unfortunately, so not only is it biology, but conditioning through things that still happen to us.

    I have talked to male friends about sexism i have dealt w/in the work place or just sexism in general. Most of them don't get it, because they themselves would never behave like that. Ross finally got it when he was in a situation in which he was surrounded by frat boys. He saw some of the type of men I was talking about who were misogynistic. So, I think that's the problem. So guys really do not have any experience w/men who are like this, so think they view women as being "Crazy Feminists" when things like this happen. But really, it is just out of their realm of experiences.

    Thanks for sharing and educating!

  2. You should realize that Richard Dawkins was molested as a child. I assure you he can conceive of it. Nothing happened to Rebecca, something did to Richard.

    "Being that creepy"? Please. Watson was the one who said that she was being sexualized because someone she'd been hanging with at the bar asked her for coffee. Secondly, Rebecca really did start all this herself.

    Comparing men to snakes doesn't work, because most primates also fear snakes, but the intelligent primate gets past that fear with the frontal cortex and realizes that 99% are not a threat, or contextualizes and parses the supposed threat.

  3. This is easy. Barbara is on target 100%. Simple, slam-dunk correct. And extremely well put, to a fine point. I'm happy to say I get it. But I already got it. This is something I've been aware of for years, maybe decades.

    If I was a woman, I'd piss myself if I stepped into an elevator with me (just go with it people, you know what I mean)!

    Of course, I am a bit scary looking anyway - those are the breaks in life. Not everyone is George Clooney (or whoever women find irresistible).

    What I have a hard time understanding is why such a big deal is being made about this and why Rebecca is taking such flak. I don't know what Dawkins said, but I'm sure it was tactless.


    Women. Sorry for the scare. I'm not out to get you...I got one already and she's more than I can handle. Men, get over it. You are not Adonis, use some freaking sound judgment when dealing with women. If you're idiotic enough to do what this guy did to Rebecca, even if you aren't trying to rape her, you don't deserve the date, the time of day, or a second chance.