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Is It Cold in Here?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Last week, Linda Henneberg, a young science communication intern at CERN in Switzerland — best known these days as the home of the Large Hadron Collider — wrote a blog post about her experiences at the laboratory as both a woman and a non-PhD physicist. Haltingly, timidly, even a bit apologetically, she confessed, “I’ve never felt more constantly objectified, hit on, and creeped on than while at CERN.”

She was careful to say that she has not encountered blatant sexism of the most egregious sort, although she has endured unwelcome awkward flirting: a wink and a hand on the knee, lame attempts at playing “footsie” with her under the table during meetings, and of course, tacky double entendres. Even then, she cut the guys a lot of slack; it’s just social awkwardness, she rationalized, not a malicious attempt to make her feel uncomfortable — and yet, she does feel uncomfortable. (There may also be cultural factors at play, given the international diversity at CERN.)

What she found equally bothersome is that because she’s a woman in education, not physics research, she simply isn’t taken seriously by her male colleagues at CERN, who apparently treat her with amiable condescension. Henneberg holds an undergraduate degree is in physics and a graduate degree in science communication, yet “[P]eople here, men especially, treat me like some sort of novelty item. Like because I am not a physicist, I have nothing substantive to contribute to CERN, but it’s cute that I try.”

There’s a phrase for what Linda Henneberg is experiencing: it’s called a “chilly climate,” and it describes not just overt sexism or sexual harassment — which most people agree are unacceptable, at least in theory — but the myriad unconscious diminishing behaviors that seem to proliferate in any male-dominated environment, whether it be a classroom, a boardroom, an Internet chat room, World of Warcraft, or an international physics laboratory. The Australian band Tripod immortalized this phenomenon with their satirical tune, “Hot Girl in the Comic Shop” (video at end of post), poking fun at the social awkwardness and ridiculous over-reaction of nerdy comic book guys at the sudden appearance of a girl in their male-dominated realm.

What constitutes “chilling” behavior? A teacher calls on the boys in class more than the girls. A CEO ignores what a woman says in a meeting but listens intently when a man makes the exact same point.  A conference emcee mentions a female speaker’s appearance rather than (or in addition to) her accomplishments, but feels no need to comment on the appearance of male speakers. A guy at an atheist/skeptics meeting hits on a young woman in an elevator at 4 AM, ignoring the fact that she just spent the evening talking about how she hates being objectified at such gatherings.

All these sorts of things seem tiny and insignificant by themselves, but they add up, and this produces a cumulative “chilling” effect that makes women feel unwelcome, like they don’t belong. That’s a “chilly climate.” The effect is subtle; sometimes we’re not even consciously aware of it. We just have that nagging feeling of being “less than,” unable to put our finger on why we feel that way.

Here’s some good news for Henneberg: in the physics community, the “chilly climate” is a widely recognized concern (yes, even at CERN), with many programs in place to improve working environments for women in physics. The American Physical Society has a site visits program and maintains a “Best Practices” document for academic departments, for example, and in 2007 released a gender equity report (PDF) summarizing the progress made to date and offering recommendations for future improvements. That’s not to say they’ve solved the problem: the number of women physicists is still less than 20%, one of the worst ratios in the sciences, along with engineering and mathematics. But it’s progress, nonetheless.

With all the other trouble in the world, why should we care about this? It’s because those climate issues chase many women out of the hard sciences — and indeed, out of any male-dominated community. In March, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, conducted an NSF-funded study on the retention (or lack thereof) of women in engineering.  Nearly half of the women surveyed who left engineering said they did so because of negative working conditions, lack of advancement or low salary, and one in three left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture. Only one in four left to spend more time with family — the usual excuse that gets trotted out when folks try to explain away the low numbers of women in such fields.

The message is clear: if you want to attract women to your community, the first step is to make sure they feel welcome.

Chill, Baby, Chill

The term “chilly climate” was coined back in 1982 by feminist icon Bernice Sandler, now a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, DC; an updated 2005 paper addressing the chilly climate in the classroom can be found here (PDF). For those who might not have heard of Sandler, she’s known as the “godmother of Title IX,” having played a pivotal role in the passage of that law prohibiting gender discrimination in education, and she filed the first charges of gender discrimination in the 1970s against more than 250 institutions — at a time when such anti-discrimination laws simply didn’t exist.

I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion back in June for the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools that included Sandler. Honestly? I was expecting a stern, forceful Caped Crusader sort of person, and instead encountered a charming gray-haired soft-spoken woman who shares my penchant for rich jewel toned clothing (check out that awesome jacket at right — WANT!), and who insisted I call her “Bunny.” Yet, in her own quiet way, she is every bit as formidable as the Caped Crusader persona in my head –  an iron hand in a velvet glove.

Sandler told me she first encountered the chilly climate for women as a feminist activist in the 1970s, sitting in a policy meeting in which she noticed that the few token women in the room were constantly being interrupted by the men. She decided to perform her own little social experiment, carefully keeping count of the number of times both men and women in the meeting were interrupted.

The results: women were interrupted (invariably by men) at least three times more often than the men. Sandler shared her results with her male colleagues, who were predictably defensive, claiming she must have miscounted or been biased in some way because of course they would never do such a thing. But the next day, when the meeting resumed, the men were far more careful not to interrupt when the women were speaking. Their awareness of the problem altered the way they treated the women in the meeting, even though they denied the problem existed. And Sandler realized, “Oh — this is changeable behavior.” She’s been working to change those behaviors ever since.

I thought of Sandler as I was preparing for The Amaz!ing Meeting (TAM9) in Las Vegas last week, where I was slated to give a light-hearted talk on how changing concepts of the universe have been reflected in popular culture. For the uninitiated, TAM is an annual conference organized by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), and has grown from humble beginnings into the biggest gathering of atheists and skeptics in the country. Science and skepticism are natural allies, so as a science writer, I am tangentially involved with that community, and I’ve met some great people within it. And yet — I almost didn’t go this year.  Why? One word: “Elevatorgate.”

The Elevator Pitch

For the two people in the science blogosphere who missed it, here’s what happened. Rebecca Watson, founder of the Skepchick website and co-host of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, put up a “vlog” describing her recent trip to attend a meeting of atheists in Dublin, Ireland, where she was speaking on (of all things) gender issues in the skeptical community. (Full disclosure: I know Watson slightly, and like her, although we’re not BFFs; I mean, we’re not braiding each other’s hair every Saturday night.)

Towards the end of the video, she casually related her discomfort at being approached in an elevator at 4 AM by an intoxicated Irish guy, who asked her back to his room “for coffee.” Watson wasn’t hysterical, or raving, or even angry. (You can see for yourself here. It starts at the 4:30 mark.) She simply said, “Look, guys — don’t do that. It makes me very uncomfortable,” and briefly outlined the reasons why.

You’d think she’d castrated the poor guy on tape and held up his severed member as a trophy, the way some people over-reacted. I won’t bother rehashing the various arguments, or my own thoughts on the matter, which have already been well expressed by John Rennie, Lindsey Beyerstein, Isis Scientist, the pseudonymous “Ryawesome” (who wins the prize for Most Colorfully Profane blog post title: “Frankly, atheists, skeptics, you’re embarrassing as fuck”), and Watson herself. (Watson is also featured in this week’s Point of Inquiry podcast.) Suffice to say, emotions were running high, and I waded through the ensuing comment threads with a growing sense of dismay, then anger, then outright revulsion at many of the opinions being expressed.

Watson was vilified for over-reacting, for being a diva, a “media-whore,” an attention-monger, a bitch, a man-hating feminazi,  and a troublemaker who was deflecting attention away from far more important issues. She was accused of being anti-sex (as if), calling all men rapists (she did not), and was threatened with sexual assault at the upcoming TAM “to give you something to complain about.” (Being threatened with rape is not a new experience for Watson, alas.)

Those who spoke up and came to her defense received similar treatment — including a couple of women who had survived sexual assaults. I was tempted to make a bingo card based on Derailing for Dummies and start checking off each hopelessly cliched argument designed to protect those with privilege from having to acknowledge the problem.

It pretty much mirrored every Internet comment thread (follow that link for a terrific comic by Gabby Schulz) that ensues whenever a woman, however diplomatically, dares to raise the issue of sexist behavior, with one crucial difference: Watson was being attacked by members of her own community, who prided themselves on their rationality and critical thinking — in short, by the very people who should have had her back.

Here is the message being sent to the women skeptics and atheists say they want to join their ranks: “If an atheist/skeptic man behaves boorishly toward you, or refuses to respect your boundaries, whether social or sexual, and you have the gall to state firmly that this is not okay, you will be publicly pilloried, ridiculed for being hysterical, called a man-hating feminazi (or worse), and have your concerns belittled and dismissed.”

Why should I, or any woman, want to be part of that community?

Let me be clear: I like men, and enjoy their company. I write about physics for a living, and earned a black belt in jujitsu by training in a mostly all-male dojo in Brooklyn back when I still lived in New York City. Plus I spent the last two years working to bridge the gap between science and Hollywood (still very much a patriarchy, especially when it comes to film). I am very comfortable in male-dominated environments, and accustomed to being the only woman in the room. And yet I have had far more negative experiences with men in the skeptic/atheist community than anywhere else.

Case in point: When I spoke two years ago at TAM7, I was flooded afterwards with friend requests on Facebook from the skeptical community. It was initially kind of gratifying, and I pretty much accepted them all, provided they weren’t using obvious pseudonyms. Most of my interactions on Facebook have been positive, but there have been a dozen or so instances over the last two years where a man has become obnoxious, offensive, overbearing, overly flirtatious, or just plain creepy about personal boundaries, forcing me to defriend him. With one exception, they were all from the skeptic/atheist community. I now rarely accept Facebook friend requests from skeptic/atheist men. No, it isn’t “fair.” But even though 98% of them are probably very nice guys, I just don’t have the time to comb through each profile, trying to ferret out clues as to who is most likely to tweak out on me unexpectedly.

So believe me when I tell you that the skeptic/atheist community has a serious problem when it comes to creating a welcoming environment for women. The APS lists causes of concern in an academic department that are indicative of a chilly climate. Guess what tops the list? “Denial that such issues do matter to people.” And further down the list: “Derogatory comments about female faculty to reduce their ability to bring about change. Branding faculty as ‘difficult’ or ‘troublemaker.’”

Manifesto for Change

It doesn’t have to be this way; as Sandler discovered, this is changeable behavior. That’s why I’m offering a Manifesto for Change, and I challenge those in the skeptic/atheist community to implement its principles.

(1) Ladies: even though you might not feel 100% welcome, grit your teeth and show up anyway, because there is power in numbers. Studies have shown that these chilling effects start to dissipate as communities approach 50/50 gender ratios. I showed up anyway, and I’m glad I did, because I could see firsthand how much has changed since I last attended TAM. TAM9 had markedly more women in the audience (around 40%), and half the speakers were women. I was the only woman speaker at TAM7 two years ago. That is tremendous progress in a very short time, and the willingness of Watson and her fellow “skepchicks” to show up, speak out, and endure the inevitable slings and arrows cast their way played a key role in making it happen.

(2) There are also women out there who do not believe this is an issue because they haven’t personally experienced it, or have experienced things they feel are far worse. Please do not diminish the experiences and emotions of your sisters in skepticism. Remain open to the possibility that you, too, might be unconsciously influenced by cultural baggage.

A few years ago, Bernice Sandler realized that she had a bad habit of checking her watch during talks or panel discussions — but she only checked her watch when women were speaking. That’s how deeply ingrained these cultural attitudes can be: even a woman like Sandler, who has spent her career fighting for gender equality, can fall victim to the subtle assumption that men’s voices are more valuable than those of women. She recognized her behavior, and actively worked to change it: “Now I only check my watch when I’m speaking.” Little things matter.

(3) Foster top-down change. Leadership, especially male leadership, needs to set the tone for what is and is not acceptable in a community. The 2007 APS report quotes Virginia Tech’s Patricia Hyer on this: “The voices of male heads … can carry great weight in moving forward an institutional change agenda, especially if they use their access to institutional leaders and personal prestige to make the case for gender equity.” (Richard Dawkins, are you listening?)

JREF president DJ Grothe did just that when, a few days before TAM9, he openly addressed the rift caused by “Elevatorgate” and made it clear that unwanted sexual advances or other harassing behavior were unacceptable, and grounds for being ejected from the conference. Grothe also deserves credit for making diversity a priority in his selection of speakers and topic. That’s the mark of a true leader, and the JREF is lucky to have him. Kudos, also, to Big Name skeptics like Phil Plait, PZ Myers, Josh Rosenau, Greg Laden and others who spoke up eloquently in support of Watson.

(4) Foster bottom-up change. Men at the grassroots level need to reinforce the leadership position and make it clear to their peers that such behavior is unacceptable. As former APS president Judy Franz said in the 2007 APS report, “If you make all your women … feel more valued by your speech and actions … and if you publicly chastise those that make demeaning or snide comments, you will find the rewards are great.”

Guys, why wouldn’t you do this for people you claim to value and respect? These women are smart, sassy, strong, and yes, sexy. They’re amazing. And they’re your sisters in arms. It’s time to step up and start acting like brothers. The next time you see a guy acting like a jerk around a woman at a skeptic/atheist gathering, call him out: “Dude. Not cool. She’s not the hot girl in the comic shop, you know.” Feel free to quote The Social Network: “You’re going to go through life thinking girls don’t like you cuz you’re a nerd, when really it’s because you’re an asshole.”

If a woman calls you out on your behavior, instead of getting angry and defensive, just say, “Wow, I never thought of it like that. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It wasn’t intentional.” Cop to the behavior, and we can all move on. Or just be like that anonymous guy at Watson’s TAM9 quiz show event; as Watson took the stage, he shouted, “WE RESPECT WOMEN’S VOICES SO HARD!”

Follow the manifesto, and you will continue to see your community change for the better as more and more women (and other under-represented groups as well, because these principles can be broadly applied) feel welcome in your midst. And who knows? Maybe at next year’s TAM, Rebecca Watson will finally get the public apology she so richly deserves.

Jennifer Ouellette About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter @JenLucPiquant.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. Jim Kakalios 6:15 pm 07/20/2011

    Another excellent piece, Jennifer. Years ago as a new professor I was skeptical about the importance of hiring female faculty to serve as role models for the female graduate students, arguing that a great, dynamic physicist would inspire anyone, regardless of gender. I took the step to talk to the (woefully few) female grad students in our program, and they all stressed that having woman faculty members, that were clearly hired on the merits, would have a tremendous influence on their attitutdes about our program and their retention rate.

    So, I adopted when the data answered my question, even if it was not the question I anticipated. And in the years since I have been very agressive in trying to recruit highly qualified female scientists. The main difficulty in securing these positions seems to be finding positions for the male spouse, but that’s a story for another time.

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  2. 2. wdaigle 6:36 pm 07/20/2011

    Am I the only one who thinks addressing the problem in this way only widens the gender rift in the skeptic community? The issue with the way you address it is that it does give off an “all men are pigs until proven otherwise” vibe.

    The issue for those who criticize Rebecca Watson (read: not me) is that it seems she is saying that men should never ever speak to women. Yes, she was hit on, but she denied the advance. It went no further. Are men never to ask a woman for coffee? He was a stranger, having no bearing on her life, meaning that after the advance was denied and he did nothing, no harm was done.

    The issue for those who stand with Rebecca Watson is that the advance was uncomfortable and she merely told guys that what the man in the elevator did makes women uncomfortable, and that avoiding that kind of situation would be prudent. The reaction to her statement was extreme, and caused all sorts of nutters to come out of the woodwork and I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that a large percentage of them were trolling (not that that excuses anything).

    What I take from this is that, in general, people are stupid. What the man did wasn’t sexist, what Rebecca Watson did wasn’t sexist, it was simply a response to something that rightfully made her uncomfortable. If you want to change the environment in the skeptical community, try not blaming the men, because that’s what this article does. Her points are not baseless, but doesn’t address it in a way that reconciliation in the recent schism in the skeptical community is likely. We can all agree that the man’s action in the elevator was at least a drunken lapse in judgement, at least judged by the reaction. We all can hopefully agree that Rebecca Watson was offering a piece of advice that was widely misinterpreted, meaning that she could have worded it better. We can all hopefully agree that the reaction has been greatly disproportionate to any of the actions. Now lets move on.

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  3. 3. DocAltMed 6:40 pm 07/20/2011

    I’ve never been terribly impressed with the skeptic community’s capacity for self-reflection. By identifying oneself as a “skeptic,” it seems that many people assume the mantle of a stultifying dogma; rather than helping to keep one’s mind open to robust ideation, one merely becomes another member of the congregation, chanting the liturgy. This rather gets in the way of introspection and welcome examination of internal criticism.

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  4. 4. wdaigle 6:43 pm 07/20/2011

    DocAltMed, I’m already worried by your name, but may I ask what your comment has to do with the article?

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  5. 5. Jennifer Ouellette 7:17 pm 07/20/2011

    RE: #2, there was a reason the four points in the Manifesto for Change were equally divided between things women and men can do to change things. Please readjust your reading accordingly.

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  6. 6. Jennifer Ouellette 7:39 pm 07/20/2011

    I should add: the onus for changing behavior will always be on the privileged majority, by definition, whether we’re talking about gender, race, or what have you. And saying you’re tired of the discussion and just want to stop talking about it and move on, is tantamount to putting your head in the sand. It merely prolongs the change that needs to happen. By all means, let’s move forward, but let’s do so proactively.

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  7. 7. Heidi 7:48 pm 07/20/2011

    @#2
    “it seems she is saying that men should never ever speak to women.”

    That statement is intellectually dishonest, and I think you know it. She never indicated anything of the sort. Please dispense with the strawmen.

    But to answer your question, no, men are never, ever to walk up to a female stranger in an elevator at 4 am, after listening to her speak for hours about how she hates being objectified and ask her back to their room.

    (FTR, I don’t read Skepchick, and I wouldn’t know Ms. Watson if she sat next to me on the bus.)

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  8. 8. Calladus 8:11 pm 07/20/2011

    “What the man did wasn’t sexist, what Rebecca Watson did wasn’t sexist, it was simply a response to something that rightfully made her uncomfortable.”

    Why would she feel uncomfortable? Stuck in an elevator with an unknown male at 4am who has just expressed interest in getting her into his room? I mean, all men always take “no” for an answer, and none ever try to force their advantage in a place where no one can see or hear a woman’s protest.

    I think Heidi is correct, but not just about one point. You’re whole message seems either intellectually dishonest, or completely clueless.

    As a male, if I want to go pick up something from the corner store at 2am in the morning – I just go do it. My only planning involves figuring out whether I have some cash in my wallet or whether I need to use the ATM.

    But for a female to do the same thing requires a fair amount of planning and environmental awareness. She may keep her pepper spray handy, she might change clothes before leaving to better blend in, she might park in the light, or review her Judo / Karate lessons in her head. And if things look hinky, she may decide to try a different store.

    I’ve seen this difference in mentality, and I do my best to NOT be a threat. If I found myself alone in an elevator at 4am with a woman, I’d spend the ride staring at the door, and nothing more. Maybe she’s nervous – maybe she’s a calm and confident 5th degree black belt with a can of pepper spray in her hands.

    Either way, if I wanted to ask her to my place, I’d do so in a more public location where she could say “no” without fear of me being creepy.

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  9. 9. authorless 8:16 pm 07/20/2011

    I registered to make a suggestion, and amended to point number four: Regardless of whether it is around a woman or not, if he is being sexist, call him out. I am quick to call someone out if they are racist or homophobic or in any other way being a scumbag. But why do I not extend that to being sexist? I will now. Actually, I am rather embarrassed that I have seemingly over looked this. Perhaps it is the acceptance and pervasiveness of sexist attitudes in our society. None the less, the folly for not recognizing it is entirely mine. I have always cringed when I heard men describe women as “hot” or “sexy” or talked about what they would “like to do to them.” But I have always just tuned them out and walked away.

    Thank you for putting this in a way that resonated with me, and in a way that didn’t feel like “all men are pigs.” I often have trouble relating to emotions or understanding how things I say or do can negatively impact others, and because of that things sometimes need to be worded in just the right way for me to understand the situation. You message was received, the light switch has been turned on. Again, thank you.

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  10. 10. ikonografer 8:17 pm 07/20/2011

    Dear Ms. Oullette:

    your words:

    “I now rarely accept Facebook friend requests from skeptic/atheist men. No, it isn’t “fair.” But even though 98% of them are probably very nice guys…”

    now try it like this:

    I now rarely accept Facebook friend requests from [HISPANIC OR BLACK]skeptic/atheist men. No, it isn’t “fair.” But even though 98% of them are probably very nice guys, I just don’t have the time to comb through each profile, trying to ferret out clues as to who is most likely to tweak out on me unexpectedly.

    which i find a ridiculous thing to say. by that logic, if there’s a 98% you might win a $100 in a lottery, but a 2% chance you wont, you wouldn’t buy a ticket, because there’s a 2% chance you’ll lose a dollar. amazing. here’s another thing privileged women tend to gloss over: your logic, such as it is, dictates that a NYPD police officer shoot me if there’s a 2% chance i might have a gun.

    See, i have no particular problem with acknowledging that sexism exists in the atheist community-it obviously does, since quite obviously, you are an example of it, as is rebecca watson. and please, save your infantile defense: sexism is the belief that the other sex is ‘less’, or ‘different’, or in this case, ‘dangerous’. you said this isn’t true 98% of the time, but you don’t care, you’re more than willing to revise your 2% of men who are likely to wig out on you to 100% and be done with it. that is what you said. should i quote you again? you’re a sexist. and ms. watson is right to thank those people who’ve decided to put their sexism on full display. and i thank both you and her for coming out as sexists.

    my problem is this: just as I’ve been, my entire life, judged by the color of my skin by white men, you decide that this particular form of ignorant discrimination is not enough, you propose that not only should you have the right to victimize all men for their sex, but you ignore your very own complaint, that women “have [had] your concerns belittled and dismissed.” by defending watson’s overreaction. where is the concern for the sloppy, ignorant thinking you and other sexists like ms. watson exhibit, that now adds insult to injury for men like myself? or is my objection clearly enough to label me a misogynist? if so, i put that to you: you’re casual dismissal of my own concerns is both callous and sexist, and the label misandrist fits you just as well as you claim the label misogynist fits me.

    and let’s be clear: if, as you say, “little things count”, would it have been so extremely difficult for watson to have only referred to the one man in the elevator, or to “some of you guys”? NO, if little things matter, watson should not have said “guys”, in general, as she does in the video-and you would not so callously dismiss 98% of men in deference to protect yourself from the 2% who might want to cause you harm.

    The problem here is that watson is a depraved opportunist, bent on vilifying all men for the–and this is key–merely obnoxious– actions of one man. clearly, you and she are sexists. and uh…not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s sloppy thinking, if it can be called thinking at all.

    and by the way, the fear of rape or brutalization at the hands of men is not foreign to me: it is quite clear, if you had bothered to educate yourself, that black and brown men can be severely beaten, and yes, raped with objects by the NYPD, and there is little we can do about that. Add to that the possibility of being raped in prison, and the fact is that it’s infinitely more likely that i, not having the protection that white skin affords, am likely to be beaten, falsely imprisoned, and raped at the hands of the criminal justice system in NYC, than you are ever likely to be.

    Again, how said that ms. watson is right, and that there is so much sexism in the atheist community. i am quite content to relate to you, however, that if you really want to find it, all you have to do is look in a mirror.

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  11. 11. johncwelch 8:23 pm 07/20/2011

    “You’d think she’d castrated the poor guy on tape and held up his severed member as a trophy, the way some people over-reacted.”

    *Some*. Some people did react to her initial statement that way. But not all, and not even all the people who now have really low opinions of her. Quite a few of us, myself included, had no, none, zero problems with her reaction to the “EG” encounter. Some of us thought she was overblowing it a bit, some didn’t, but rather a lot of us didn’t think she was WRONG. Some of us just disagreed with her.

    Where I became rather irate with her was over her treatment of Stef McGraw, and I first read about that here: http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2011/07/bad_form_rebecca_watson.php

    I don’t care that she and Stef disagree on the EG incident, they’re both grownups, able to hopefully recognize that disagreement does not require one person be right and the other wrong. Well, I thougt that until I read about how Watson abused her position as a speaker to call Stef a parrot of misogynistic thought and someone espousing anti-woman sentiment. Evidently, according to Watson, there is one correct opinion on this issue and it is hers. Disagreement gets you labeled.

    It got worse from there.

    There are a lot of people who, right now, think that Watson is naught but the skeptic version of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSP8xm_gaK4 ala Robert Scoble and others. It’s not because she’s a woman, it’s not because of her reaction to the EG incident. It’s how she’s treated Stef, and others who disagree with her, even when they aren’t attacking her to disagree.

    You feel watson deserves accolades, I disagree, based on her behavior starting with Stef.

    On most of your points I agree, but this paragraph:

    “If a woman calls you out on your behavior, instead of getting angry and defensive, just say, “Wow, I never thought of it like that. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It wasn’t intentional.” Cop to the behavior, and we can all move on. ”

    That comes awfully close to saying “any time a woman has a problem with something a man has done, the man is always wrong.” You may not have meant it that way, but it does come across as such. “Calling someone out” will, of course, put them on the defensive. It’s not finding out what they meant, and if maybe both sides erred. It’s saying “YOU did something wrong, and YOU need to apologize.” I’m rather surprised that anyone thinks calling someone out *isn’t* going to put them on the defensive, as it is, albeit a mild one in most cases, an attack.

    Even a mild attack puts one on the defensive. So now you have two people on the defensive, and you’re telling one that they must always apologize based solely on gender? Maybe a better approach would be:

    “If someone, regardless of gender, says something that makes you upset or angry, rather than demanding an apology or “calling them out”, (we will of course, not include obvious cases here. A drunken idiot calling you a ho, or a sober moron yelling “nice tits, give us a wiggle”, there’s clearly no “good” way to take that for the vast majority of sane people. Let’s keep to the areas causing us the current problem, namely, the situations that are NOT crystal clear. Those examples ARE bad, and should be dealt with too, but not pertinent in THIS case) find out what they actually meant. Maybe there is some cultural difference going on that one or both of you are missing. Maybe you missed some key part, or maybe they THOUGHT they included some key part, but didn’t, that changes the meaning.

    Instead of calling out, inquire and investigate, then explain. You may be WAY off-base in your interpretation, you may not be, but if you call someone out, you’re going to raise someone’s defenses, and at that point, positive progress is HIGHLY doubtful.

    sometimes, the man is not in fact, wrong. Allowing for that, and proceeding with that in mind might take longer, but have a better long term effect.

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  12. 12. Hephaestus 8:32 pm 07/20/2011

    This is truly sad. I attended TAM for the first time last week and I was truly amazed to see how many women are part of the skeptical community. In particular, I was very pleased to note the number of young(er) women, which bodes well for the future of the movement.

    What’s sad is that I’d like to bring my daughter to the next TAM, but I can’t if this is the kind of boorish behavior that she can expect.

    Without more data, it’s not possible to clearly identify the problem. There were a large number of couples of all ages present, so it can’t simply be a matter of men who have never dealt with women.

    The problem might be more specific to the academic and institutional communities. Any professional working for a large company in 2011 has been repeatedly exposed to multiple classes on diversity. The kind of behavior being discussed here and in other forums is grounds for termination in most major American companies.

    I am sorry that you felt so uncomfortable attending TAM. I heard both you and Ms. Watson speak and it would have been a shame if either or both of you had not attended because of the behavior of ignorant buffoons. With luck, the community will make a major effort to self-correct, so that you (and my daughter) will be welcome at all future events.

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  13. 13. kimberlychapman 8:39 pm 07/20/2011

    This is an excellent article. I’ve experienced these chill factors myself many times over the years but didn’t know there was a specific phrase to describe them. I’ve observed how guys in the RPG shop get louder just by me walking in, and I’m So. Not. Hot.

    (And before anyone feels it necessary to start in on that “all women are beautiful” stuff, save it, I’ve rejected that notion as silly because not every person is hot and I’m much happier to be judged on my brains and skills anyway, thanks.)

    I’ve also experienced rape and been threatened with it for speaking my mind. It’s galling that so many people still think that’s an acceptable form of discourse.

    I’ll be sharing this article around. Thank you for writing it.

    What I won’t be doing is point #1. Sorry.

    I tried joining the local skeptic community and had one nice encounter followed by the typical crap-loaded discussions later. Did you know all people of any religious persuasion whatsoever are completely stupid, worthless, and unwelcome, and anybody (even an atheist) who dares to stand up and say that being jerks to all religious people isn’t cool (even if some religious people are jerks to us) is automatically too soft and unwelcome in the skeptic community? Frankly I don’t have the energy to constantly battle a community I increasingly see as asinine. It was hard enough to talk my husband into going to the one CFI event because he’s had his fill of snark-riddled message boards over the years. Then he saw this local flame war coming down on my head when all I did was ask for people to be polite and now neither of us wants to be part of it.

    There’s far too much of an “I’m so much smarter than you” attitude in skeptic circles as it is. Add in the sexism and it turns into, “I’m so much smarter than you and if you criticize me for anything I don’t deem problematic, I’ll pile flames on your head until I scare you into silence and then I’ll brag to my nerd buddies about what a genius I am.”

    Yay for those of you fighting this attitude. I wish you well. But I have dishes in the sink, volunteer work to attend to, a kid refusing to go to sleep, groceries to shop for, and guilt because we had Hamburger Helper tonight which is not local, organic, sustainable, whole, or anything else Pollan-esque. The last thing I have energy for is to show up at meetings to a community full of asshats who ought to know better. Maybe I should be out there fighting for my daughter’s future, but I’m already doing that with the education system, food labelling, reproductive rights, breastfeeding rights, etc. etc. etc.

    Sorry, but the skeptic community can rot. It doesn’t want me and I don’t want it anymore. I remain a skeptic, I still listen to SGU and read Skepchick when I can, but meetings? Nope. Conventions where I have to pay money for travel? Absolutely not.

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  14. 14. MA-writer 9:10 pm 07/20/2011

    Unfortunately for the comparison to racism, skepticism is an attitude and a behaviour that people adopt, not something they are born with. Skeptics and atheists choose their attitudes and it’s quite possible that Ms. Ouellette has detected a pattern to their behaviour.

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  15. 15. jnjox 9:19 pm 07/20/2011

    I thought your artical was very good until you did an about face and described women as “smart, sassy, strong, and yes, sexy.” My daughter is an engineer, not a sexy engineer, not even a sassy engineer. She may be sexy at home with her partner, but that is her business. I wonder if even you can fall prey to “the myriad of unconscious diminishing behaviors.”

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  16. 16. NerdyChristie 9:27 pm 07/20/2011

    First off: thank you for this.

    To the men out there who think that a woman’s view of a man as potential monster is unfair: I recently had a conversation with a male friend of mine. We were drinking and laughing at terrible exes we had and the variety of stupid to awful things they had done. At some point, he made the semi-joking comment that, on the plus side, just about any amount of crazy is survivable, so long as they aren’t armed. My response was that a guy with 30 lbs more muscle mass than you is always armed.

    I can tell you, from personal experience, that it takes less than a second for a man you trust (let alone a stranger) to go from seemingly harmless to throwing you across a room. If we women are nervous and uncomfortable when a guy makes sexual advances at 4 am, it’s because we can’t predict if he’s a good guy with bad timing or a bad guy with good timing, and prefer to err on the side of caution. If you don’t want to be seen as a potential threat, don’t do things like that.

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  17. 17. =8)-DX 9:33 pm 07/20/2011

    Just like to add my two Cents (Heller).

    Hearing of this chilling effect… makes my spine freeze. I mean there are lots of situations where men are in the MINORITY. But do we feel this same kind of discomfort? I haven’t ever. At secondary school the majority of teachers where women. The men there were looked up to, respected and had teenage girls getting crushes on them all the time. Similarly I went to uni to do a course on English and American studies (in CZ). We were 5 boys among 30 girls. They literally fawned over us! The teachers were attentive every time a boy raised his hand. We went to cafes together and I remember that at a table of 10 girls and four boys, we males had all the attention, no one interrupted us.. we were like sultans with a harem.

    I’d just like to point out how difficult it is for males to imagine what privilege we have. In situations where the priviliged white male exults in his exclusivity, women can feel alone and afraid.. or just uncomfortable.

    Of course I’ve experience a bit of the other side – there are many ways women can make us guys uncomfortable (socially inept as we often are), there are many places where they have a similar social and historic advantage. But I think that in general, it speaks a lot about someone if they fail to aknowledge the privilege they have and scoff at the feelings of their equals – or perhaps more saliently – of women who have many times their worth, experience and intellect.

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  18. 18. Justin.M.Stoddard 9:51 pm 07/20/2011

    @NerdyChrisie

    “To the men out there who think that a woman’s view of a man as potential monster is unfair: I recently had a conversation with a male friend of mine.”

    Let me rework that for you. “To all the women out there who think a man’s view of a woman as a potential prostitute is unfair: I recently had a conversation with a female friend of mine. We were drinking and laughing at the terrible exes we had and the variety of stupid to awful things they had done. At some point, she made a semi-joking comment that, on the plus side, just about any amount of crazy is survivable, so long as he isn’t 30 pounds heavier. My response was that a woman with a vagina is always a prostitute.”

    NerdyChristie: There is absolutely nothing for it. If all men are “potential monsters”, then all women are potential prostitutes. Or potential killers. Or potential pederasts or…wait for it…potential monsters.

    This is meaningless to the point of absurdity. No grown-up should ever make such assertions. No grown up should ever condescend to being spoken to in that tone of voice.

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  19. 19. Samizdat 10:19 pm 07/20/2011

    Any account of Elevatorgate that does not even mentioned Stef McGraw is one-sided and misses the point that for many the crux of the matter had nothing at all to do with RW’s “Guys, don’t do that” admonition.

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  20. 20. Hephaestus 10:28 pm 07/20/2011

    Holy cow. This thread has rapidly gone from sad to scary.

    I’m an engineering supervisor with four female engineers reporting to me. My wife is an engineer. There are roughly thirty women out of the 250 total engineers in our organization. I guess that I’ll need to poll them to find out if this is common at all technical conferences.

    With respect to the implication that it’s not relevant that a man hitting on a woman has an advantage because of his size and strength, I can say, as a very large bearded man, that I can intimidate a normal-sized adult male with little more than a nasty look. I can’t imagine how terrifying I would be to a petite woman.

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  21. 21. Justin.M.Stoddard 10:30 pm 07/20/2011

    @Samizdat

    “Any account of Elevatorgate that does not even mentioned Stef McGraw is one-sided and misses the point that for many the crux of the matter had nothing at all to do with RW’s “Guys, don’t do that” admonition.”

    Thank you! This incident is completely tossed down the memory hole in order to change the whole narrative. The elevator incident got hashed out the first week. All we are left with are the dregs of the “potential sexual assault” and “potential monsters” trope.

    What is not being mentioned here is Watson’s boorish and borderline vile behavior towards Stef McGraw. To whit, calling her out in public during an unrelated speech, from the podium, because she disagreed with a blog post that questioned her. Imagine. She puts up screen-caps of emails from Youtube viewers telling her they want to rape her, tells anecdotal stories about sexism in the community and then puts up an out of context quote from Stef McGraw for all to see, naming her and her blog.

    Then, she essentially says the elevator guy was a misogynist. Any man who had questions about her elevator guy narrative was, essentially, a misogynist. Anyone who was a ‘young woman’ who had concerns with her elevator guy narrative was, essentially, someone who ‘parroted ancient anti-woman rhetoric.”

    So, in a 3 minute span, she essentially says, men who question me are misogynists. Women who question me are victims of the patriarchy.

    Stay skeptical, Rebecca Watson.

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  22. 22. Jennifer Ouellette 10:31 pm 07/20/2011

    We’re doing very well on Derailing for Dummies Bingo! So far we’ve gotten variants of the following. I’m feeling lucky…. :)

    But That Happens To Me Too!
    You’re Interrogating From The Wrong Perspective
    Your Experience Is Not Representative Of Everyone
    Unless You Can Prove Your Experience Is Widespread I Won’t Believe It
    I Don’t Think You’re As Marginalised As You Claim
    Aren’t You Treating Each Other Worse Anyway
    Well I Know Another Person From Your Group Who Disagrees!
    I’m Just Saying What Other People Believe. I Never Said I Agree
    I Said SOME Marginalised People Do That, Not ALL
    A In B Situation Is Not Equivalent To X In Y Situation
    But I’m Not Like That – Stop Stereotyping!
    Who Wins Gold in the Oppression Olympics?
    You’re As Bad As They Are

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  23. 23. Zuska 10:36 pm 07/20/2011

    Wow, so even if you put in the obligatory “I like men” bit so as not to frighten the poor widdle d00ds with the realization that there might be one woman somewhere on the planet who doesn’t offer unconditional worship to all men at all times, you still get “this post gives off an ‘all men are pigs’ vibe”. D00ds, if this post is so very scary and threatening for you, you definitely don’t want to read the one I wrote inspired by Jennifer’s most excellent work here.

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  24. 24. Justin.M.Stoddard 10:50 pm 07/20/2011

    @Zuska

    Right. Because anyone who ever disagrees with your narrative, ever is a ‘poor widdle dood.”

    That you can wrap your mind around such straw is not threatening or scary in the least (Amazing, yes, but not scary). I’ve seen and experienced threatening and scary. An ignoramus on the interwebs being saucy does not compare.

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  25. 25. John Greg 11:10 pm 07/20/2011

    Ouellette said:
    .
    “Watson was vilified for over-reacting, for being a diva, a ‘media-whore,’ an attention-monger, a bitch, a man-hating feminazi, and a troublemaker who was deflecting attention away from far more important issues. She was accused of being anti-sex (as if), calling all men rapists (she did not), and was threatened with sexual assault at the upcoming TAM ‘to give you something to complain about.’”
    .
    While much of that was said, sometimes from erstwhile Watson supporters, sometimes from neutral commentors, and sometimes from a small group of hateful hit-and-run posters, the problem with Ouellette’s entire premise is the utterly false, demonstrabley so, claim that all, or even a large percentage of those hostile reactions were due to Watson’s statement of discomfort at being approached in an elevator at 4 AM by an intoxicated Irish guy, who asked her back to his room ‘for coffee.’
    .
    Ouellette, you are either ignorant of the reasons behind the vast majority of hostile reaction, or you are just being dishonest for the sake of trying to stir things up even more.
    .
    The majority of hostility towards Watson were the result of a series of events, to wit:
    .
    1. Watson’s assumption that EG was sexualizing her. Whether he was sexualizing her or not is nothing more than an unprovable assumption.
    2. The gender feminists unquestioning acceptance of Watsons’ anecdote as indisputable evidence.
    3. Watson’s immature abuse of power in the method and style of her criticism of Stef McGraw.
    4. The gender feminist community’s avoidance and/or dismissal of the strong possibility that Dawkin’s initial comments at Pharyngula were in fact directed toward raging Pharyngulites, and not Watson.
    5. Watson’s remarkable, hostile, vitriolic, and dismissive comments towards Dawkins and his achievments combined with her tacit and implicit endorsement of a general Dawkins boycott.
    6. The gender feminist community’s complete acceptance of ad hominem, personal insult, invective, and hate-filled language as the most acceptable and best and first course for responding to any type of dissent or disagreement whatsoever.
    7. Watson’s scathing arrogance, condescension, and dismissal of any and all dissent or disagreement with any of her points, and her tactic of shaming, dismissing, and belittling anyone who disagrees with her or who asks questions she feels carry obvious answers.
    .
    However well spoken and reasoned Ouellette’s long post may seem, it is fundamentally dishonest. It utterly ignores those seven issues, and in so doing sets up a massive series of false dichotomies, insurmountable strawmen arguments, and a range of other “wagon-circling” behaviours, especially such dialogue dismissers as “Derailing for Dummies Bingo!”, all of whose primary intent is clearly to stifle dissent, disagreement, and rational debate and discussion.

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  26. 26. LeeKottner 11:15 pm 07/20/2011

    It is rarely women who make feminists out of other women.

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  27. 27. Zuska 11:46 pm 07/20/2011

    Many thanks to all the d00ds who are offering a textbook example of everything Jennifer talks about in her post and everything that’s illustrated in the cartoon she links to. These d00ds make abundantly clear that trying to reassure Dude Nation that pointing out sexism is not the same thing as saying “I hate men” is a futile exercise.

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  28. 28. Ishmael 11:52 pm 07/20/2011

    Jennifer:
    But the problem Linda mentioned working at CERN more likely came from a strong distrust(1) that the hard sciences have of the soft sciences. Because things can be measured and directly proven or supported by “Real Math”. I’ve seen the credential waving in many different environments, usually trying to determine some sort of pecking order. Heck it was fairly accurately depicted on Big Bang Theory btwn Sheldon and Amy that one time.
    Or for a different approach communications is often seen as dilution of a message. Information being distributed usually must be made less precise for laymen to understand. Bad analogies are used, which gets under real scientists/engineers skin. Think how often we see the tantalizing headlines “harry potter invisibility cloak” or some such. The fact that it’s better to have someone w/ a real science background trying to explain what’s happening doesn’t matter. The communications person just gets tarred with the same brush.

    Linda indicates she is treated as a novelty, which is leading to what you perceive as the chilling effect. But sexism maybe playing less of an issue here that you believe, but more good old fashion elitism.

    As a side note, I’m curious. You call out MC’s (yeah I’m lazy for the spelling) for talking about woman’s clothing as well as, or instead of, their clothing. Was the comment on, and strong want of, Bunny’s jacket then sarcasm that I missed? I’ll admit to missing 2 earlier today and trying for at least a 1 of 3.

    (1) I dont like the word distrust here, but can’t currently think of anything better.

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  29. 29. DLC001 11:54 pm 07/20/2011

    I appreciate the link to the CERN document. People should read it. More to the point, they should act on it positively.

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  30. 30. Justin.M.Stoddard 12:02 am 07/21/2011

    @Zuska

    What textbook are we referencing, here? Rhetoric 101? Because, I just spent 20 minutes re-reading everything above and I’ve come across exactly zero instances of what you’re oh-so-cleverly expressing. None. It’s in your imagination.

    What is ever so ironic, here is you attempting to point out a false dichotomy with…another logical fallacy. For example: “When we point out sexism, Dude nation says ‘All Women Hate Men!’” That’s a false dichotomy.

    But, you’re pointing it out by saying. “Hey, we’re just pointing out that some men are sexist. I hate men! Shut the hell up, Dude Nation!”

    How can you expect to be taken seriously by any clear thinking adult?

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  31. 31. Podblack 1:08 am 07/21/2011

    Thanks Jennifer – I also wrote about it here: http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/codes_of_conduct_a_brief_history_of_civility_inclusivity_sexism_and_skeptic and very pleased to see that discussion is ongoing.

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  32. 32. NerdyChristie 2:19 am 07/21/2011

    Wow. All I can say in response to @ Justin.M.Stoddard is that even if your analogy were remotely the same, there is a big difference between a potential prostitute and a potential rapist: the whore doesn’t force you to have sex with her.

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  33. 33. egbetten 2:36 am 07/21/2011

    @ John Greg:

    B.S. Stef McGraw put up a blog post where she said stuff like: “If you really want social equality for women, which is what feminism is, why not apply the same standards to men and women, and stop demonizing men for being sexual beings?” Rebecca Watson quoted it to show how spectacularly easy it is for even a female skeptic to exactly parrot anti-feminist rhetoric without realizing it. I think the fact that she decided to talk about sexism in the skeptic’s movement instead of sexism in religion took real damn courage.

    And, @DocAltMed: A man approaching a woman isn’t necessarily sexist. A man insisting that he has the right to approach a woman and that he bears no responsibility to learn to read her body language to know if it’s okay or not, and that any subsequent social discomfort she might feel isn’t his problem? THAT’S sexism.

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  34. 34. egbetten 2:40 am 07/21/2011

    Also, here’s the big tipoff, privilege-wise:

    Every time one of teh doodz comes up with some analogy to discredit the situation (I see, “white guy is on an elevator and black guy gets on”), not a single one has noticed so far that they get the DAMN POWER BALANCE WRONG. Women aren’t in charge of society. White guys are. A white guy on an elevator when a black guy gets on can be absolutely certain that the police will have his back when it comes time to testify. A woman? Not so much.

    For the analogy to hold, it needs to be a scrawny black dude on an elevator in rural Georgia, and a big burly white guy in a Confederate flag cap gets on.

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  35. 35. oynaz 3:03 am 07/21/2011

    I have kept out of this debate until now, as a lot of it is very culturally biased, and I am not American, but explain this to me:

    “…and made it clear that unwanted sexual advances or other harassing behavior were unacceptable, and grounds for being ejected from the conference.”

    Unwanted sexual advances are unacceptable? That wold mean that wanted sexual advances are acceptable, yes?
    How on Earth are people to know whether or not their sexual advances are wanted without making said sexual advances in the first place?

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  36. 36. jason hunter 3:12 am 07/21/2011

    (Full disclosure: i’m a white, American male, the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.)
    i helped to put on a production of the Vagina Monologues here in our sleepy little conservative town. i watched and listened to the ladies on our team as they wove a narrative of how empowering it is to be doing something like this and how hard it has been for them because they are women. Mind you, almost every single one of these women had career jobs (paying at least twice what i make), and owned homes, some had kids… basically, they were all happy, healthy, middle-class American women with (mostly) healthy and supportive relationships. Yet they identified strongly with their self-spun narrative of Women Overcoming Adversity. The story is an important part of their identity. The thing is, that if we’re to be honest, none of those women had to overcome any more or less adversity than i myself have had to. More on this in a moment.
    You’ve done a disservice to this article by conflating the incident in the elevator with the story of the CERN employee. By inviting the thoughtless anger still reverberating from the Elevatorgate fallout, you’ve effectively salted the soil for good debate. In the case of the CERN employee, we have a much tidier scenario which is circumscribed neatly by an environment that should be strictly professional and not mired in the social crossing over that the atmosphere of a conference has. Too, the vagary of detail in Tales from an Elevator leave me without enough information to really form an opinion. The whole question of the Irishman’s “culpability” rests on whether or not the man actually attended the lecture on sexual objectification, does it not?
    But i digress. It’s the furor after the fact, after the vlog, that is the most interesting to me, because i think it’s the most falsely constructed part.
    i mentioned my fellow Vagina Warriors earlier because i wanted to highlight their communal bonding over their shared tale of women overcoming adversity. There is solidarity in this feeling. This feeling leads to outrage over a perceived slight to their sister, Ms. Watson. It evokes the shared common experience. Every woman knows what it feels like to be hit on by that creepy, peevish, raisin of a man… and so, regardless whether the Irishman was verifiably creepy, or for that matter whether all men who hit on any women anywhere are unsalvageable douchebags (is that an inherently sexist term? Jon Stewart’s been saying it, so i figure, you know… erm. Gulp.), no matter how upstanding and noble the majority of men in the real world are, for the purpose of the ensuing vent fest, every man might as well be the raisin, and every woman the betrayer who took my Guns and Roses CD when she left me (to move in with my best friend at the time, Kirkland. Bitch! Hey Chrystal, if you’re reading this, i want my black t-shirt back too.).
    The exacerbated debate (the angry one) which ensues between the Womyn and the Men is a clashing of armor, not an exchange of ideas and certainly not a measure of sexism in the real world. And mostly resembles a game of gotcha last.
    i agree that both men and women need to work together to be better aware of the differences between not just the sexes, but between people in general. In the same way that men have been asked to reexamine their role in the “mythology of what makes a man,” i ask that women also be aware of and examine the narratives they use to shape their group identity. And for that matter, is the group identity antithetical to achieving a truly post-gender equality.
    Which brings me to my summation. It’s natural to want to belong to a group. There is safety in numbers. We can relax more easily knowing that someone else is watching out for us, and there is satisfaction in having someone else to watch out for. But don’t lose sight of the individuals in each group or system. No person is the same, and everybody does it a little differently. Some are shy, others aren’t. Some are smart, others not so. So let’s do ourselves a favor and cut everybody a little slack, and be ready to hear, not just listen to, what people have to say. You might just be surprised what will happen when we stop trying so hard to offend or avoid offending and just be curious and honest and stop being so damned afraid of everyone. It’s an irrational fear.

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  37. 37. Dreaded Anomaly 3:46 am 07/21/2011

    I’m a male physicist (and atheist and rationalist), I’m going to start my PhD in a month, and I plan on staying in science-land afterward (academia, research, and so forth). I really do try to be conscious of issues of privilege, dismissal, and so forth, because the gender gap in the sciences and related areas is a big problem. It’s a failure of our culture at least and perhaps our species. Society (in the sense of the social environment that is made up of people’s interactions with each other) tends to steer women away from science from birth right up to the point of getting and keeping a tenured position (for those brave few who try).

    The way Linda Henneberg was treated is a shame. Science communication is necessary for science to prosper, and right now most of the media doesn’t do a good job at it. Someone with a physics degree who wants to go into that field (and almost undoubtedly improve it) should be encouraged.

    Unfortunately, there were parts of this post that led me not toward a feeling of disappointment and a resolution to do better (as was, I am pretty sure, the intention), but rather to feelings of anger and frustration that seem to be increasingly associated with any discussion of a certain type of issue involving feminism. I actually took a half hour after reading to collect myself before starting to write this comment.

    Let me preface this part by saying that I understood, right away, the initial point that Rebecca Watson was making with the elevator story. She was using it to illustrate the concepts she had previously discussed in her talk, not just bringing it up to complain about it. (Also, despite some people’s characterizations, it wasn’t just a guy asking her to have coffee; it was a guy asking her to come into his hotel room, while they were in an enclosed space.) I think that most people who made critical or disparaging remarks about the initial story missed that point.

    The problem is that Watson and her defenders seemed to accept the premise of those remarks and then joined their critics in overreacting. The drawn out comment/blog fight over this issue was a typical race-to-the-bottom situation. Hyperbole was flying and misinterpretations were left to fester, instead of being calmly corrected. You even did it yourself, with the “Here is the message being sent to the women skeptics and atheists say they want to join their ranks:” part. The point of the story was that the guy didn’t get what Watson was saying, but it’s not like he continued to “disrespect her boundaries” after she turned him down.

    Some people have compared criticism of religion to the discussions of sexism that happened as a result of all of this, asking why some people are okay with the former and not the latter. The difference, to me, is that religion is an ideology; attacking religion doesn’t necessarily mean attacking religious people as people. I don’t think sexism, at least the kind that was at issue there (specifically the “interacting romantically and/or sexually” parts, not the chilly environment in general), is so much an ideology as a pattern of behavior. It’s harder to attack or criticize people’s behavior without seeming like you’re attacking them as people. When people (on both sides, but that does include the “feminist side”) resort almost immediately to hyperbole, it doesn’t help matters.

    Now, of course there’s lots of non-ideology-inspired behavior that deserves criticism, but I’m not sure that’s the case in the majority of these situations. It’s undoubtedly true that guys in the science/skeptic/atheist/etc. spheres often give women in the same sphere what the women feel is undue attention. Women are entitled to that feeling, but I don’t think it’s realistic or accurate to assign all such actions just to sexualization and objectification.

    Let’s say someone is a heterosexual male in such spheres, and when it comes to dating, he primarily wants someone with the same interests/thoughts/ideas/so forth. (This happens to be true for me.) Looking at the gender ratios, well… he’s pretty much screwed. Let’s also take into account that his interaction with women might be more or less limited to those few who do end up at the comic store, or the science lab, or the skeptics forum. It’s far from unreasonable to think that such a person might just decide his best chance is to go after every woman he meets, given the relatively tiny prior probability of success. Now, people with more social skills and experience will realize this probably isn’t the most effective strategy on an individual level, let alone the problems with the environment that it creates when everyone does it. I don’t think that simply castigating men for this is productive; calm, pleasant correction and advice would be more helpful.

    The first item of your manifesto does speak to this to some degree, although I don’t think the mindset of “grit your teeth and show up anyway” is going to be a big help by itself in the romantic arena. I do believe that, if the gender ratio ever becomes more even, the specific issue that I addressed above will become much less of a problem.

    Again, I just want to make it clear that I’m specifically talking about the sexual/romantic side of things in the above paragraphs and in any anger or frustration with what seem like the typical feminist responses to such issues. I am not talking about the broader chilly environment and the dismissal of women as equals worthy of respect, which is definitely a major problem and something I try very hard to keep in mind.

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  38. 38. Dreaded Anomaly 3:50 am 07/21/2011

    And, of course, my italics tag didn’t close correctly and there’s no edit option. (The italicized text should just be “to come into his hotel room”, if there is anyone around who can deal with that.)

    On a note related to the above paragraph but not to the subject of the blog post at all: I’m not sure how much influence you have over the back end of the SciAm blog system, but this is not a good layout for a blog. The text of your post is squeezed into less than half of my screen horizontally, and the comment text is close to a quarter.

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  39. 39. cripdyke 3:59 am 07/21/2011

    I hate to have to do this, but I have to repost a comment that I made on BlagHag. ElevatorGate simply is incomprehensible to too many people otherwise:

    ……………………………….
    You’re missing important parts of what happened. He didn’t JUST ask her back to his room. This alone is not enough to be Creepy ™.

    <>

    He apparently attended her panel in which she discussed not wanting to be hit on @ conferences anymore b/c *fcuk!* it’s exhausting, annoying & old. She gets asked about her panel afterwords and ends up talking through dinner about this same prob (no evidence he was w/ her at dinner). Then she hangs out in public spaces -post keynote, the hotel lobby & later the bar. In each of those spaces she continues talking about this…not because she’s a broken record but because some women wanted to commiserate and some men wanted information. From midnight to 4am she was in a conversation in the bar with quite a number of people participating. Man in question was there the whole time but did not say word one to her. For the whole time she is talking repeatedly about not wanting to be hit on – for 4 *freaking* hours!!!1eleventy!1!!1!

    At the end of listening to her say for FOUR HOURS – “Please, for heaven’s sake, if there’s one thing you don’t do at this conference, make it hitting on me!” – this man (who again, said nothing the whole time and thus revealed/risked nothing of himself, making no personal connection whatsoever) still wants to ask her out.

    Does he do this at the bar where she has supportive friends & easy escape routes? No. He waits until she says that she’s literally too tired to do anything more tonight, certainly not talk, b/c she desperately needs (and is about to involuntarily fall into) sleep. THEN his brilliant plan is that he follows her to the elevator, gets her isolated, alone, in a confined space with no escape route and…wait for it…hits on her.

    She then spoke up & said, “Guys, you’re always asking how you make these conferences more welcoming to women, well, (tells story, then says) if you’re doing that, you’re doing it wrong.”

    In response to Mansplaining she and others also made points to the effect of: When you approach us when we don’t know you, you are Schroedinger’s Rapist. You may know that you are a good guy, just like the cat might know it is alive, but we don’t know this. We treat you with default respect and openness b/c the chances that you are an actual rapist (not merely Schroedinger’s Rapist) is not 50/50. It’s fairly small.

    But what defines a rapist? He ignores what you say, ignores your will and agency, when you express the desire not to have sex. So if you want to not make our bayesian safety calculations push the odds that you are an actual rapist up, you will avoid ignoring what we say, ignoring our will and agency, in other contexts. So when a woman says, “Whatever you do, don’t hit on me” for literally HOURS, and then you hit on her, you are scary not because you’re a man, not because you have a libido & not because you hit on someone, which involves only inoffensive words. It’s because you are ignoring a woman saying NO in a social but not sexual context. Once you prove yourself to be someone who ignores our consent SOMEtimes, we have no way of knowing which consent boundaries you take seriously enough to respect.

    In this case he had no respect for her consent around topics of conversation, but respected her refusal to consent to come to his room For her this was a scary moment b/c she couldn’t know if that consent would be respected or not. That adds some intense, albeit brief, stress to a conference in a way that is likely to push women from attending.

    So, if you want women to attend, again, You’reDoingItWrong ™.

    A lot of people have gotten part one & part two confused. The 2nd critique is still dead on, but she actually avoided making it b/c she was trying to keep things on a positive level (hey, here’s some advice to reach that goal you say you want to reach!) until a bunch of people screamed, What about teh Menz!!!!

    I hope this clarifies what happened and why it was wrong and why it is an issue of sexism. Men ignoring women’s consent is a widespread problem. She thought she could use a single example and people would get that it was about consent ignoring. Instead, everyone seems to say, “But what’s wrong with asking a woman out? Poor Menz can’t do anything right if you listen to the feminists!!”
    ………………………………………

    Link to this
  40. 40. Bruce Gorton 4:08 am 07/21/2011

    My post didn’t come through – probably due to the link – so here it goes again.

    I think the major problem here is a lot of people aren’t paying attention to what the feminist side of the argument is actually saying, instead acting like five year olds over it and yelling “Nuh-uh!” at the tops of our lungs.

    Lets face it if you take the idea that “Please do not hit on a woman in an elevator at 4am in the morning just after she has given a talk on how she doesn’t like to be sexually objectified” as “Don’t hit on women ever” then you sir, shouldn’t get a dip in the gene pool.

    We have enough stupid.

    There has been a lot of mansplaining going on. I know, I do it too sometimes, but you know what? To me being a skeptic means having the guts to listen when someone points out your bullshit.

    That is why feminism is so important to the movement as a whole. We all have bullshit, heck Richard Dawkins provided some prime examples of it in his letter to Muslima, and we need feminists who are willing to get loud enough to overcome our internal flatulence to help us clear it.

    Link to this
  41. 41. cripdyke 4:12 am 07/21/2011

    Oynaz: Read my post above. “Unwanted advances” is meant to refer to advances that you KNOW aren’t wanted. This is where your tautology argument fails: in the US, especially in the corporate environment in the US, “unwanted advances” is a kind of jargon that corporate lawyers have used in delineating rules around sexualization & sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Link to this
  42. 42. cripdyke 4:15 am 07/21/2011

    egbetten @32 said:
    And, @DocAltMed: A man approaching a woman isn’t necessarily sexist. A man insisting that he has the right to approach a woman and that he bears no responsibility to learn to read her body language to know if it’s okay or not, and that any subsequent social discomfort she might feel isn’t his problem? THAT’S sexism.

    =======================

    But this case isn’t even that. Read #38

    Link to this
  43. 43. oynaz 5:29 am 07/21/2011

    “Oynaz: Read my post above. “Unwanted advances” is meant to refer to advances that you KNOW aren’t wanted. This is where your tautology argument fails: in the US, especially in the corporate environment in the US, “unwanted advances” is a kind of jargon that corporate lawyers have used in delineating rules around sexualization & sexual harassment in the workplace.”

    OK, thanks for clearing that up.

    Link to this
  44. 44. cripdyke 5:33 am 07/21/2011

    No problem, oynaz. Honest curiosity is exactly what we need when controversies, arguments, disagreements and/or just plain old confusion occur.

    Link to this
  45. 45. Justin.M.Stoddard 7:34 am 07/21/2011

    @NerdyChristie

    I wasn’t attempting to make an analogy. I was pointing out how lazy your rhetoric was. If a man can be a potential monster because he has a penis, a woman can be a potential prostitute because she has a vagina. In point of fact, this becomes a case of Reductio ad absurdum, where anyone is a potential anything because of any aspect of their physical or mental nature.

    I mean, if you don’t believe African-Americans are potential muggers, then you should hear about this personal experience I had…

    This is not to be taken seriously.

    Link to this
  46. 46. tpr007 9:02 am 07/21/2011

    Promoting sexual equality is a good thing, but R Watson hasn’t been doing that. She’s been proselytising her own personal brand of feminism, and been a bit sexist herself en route. Ironic, but unfortunately true. Feminism is about creating equality, not bashing people or pushing a variety of agendas like the skepchicks have done.

    The threats received by Watson are sickening but not reflective of the majority of people in the community. You will never eradicate all elements of sexism, from either side of the gender population, including those so-called nerdy girls like Watson herself. Well done for bringing attention to an issue, but it’s just one of many issues we should be concerned with, not the only or most important one.

    Also, PZ Meyers ought to be ashamed of himself for his blind sycophantic following lately.

    http://tonyryan.org.uk/?p=602

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  47. 47. zhimbo 9:15 am 07/21/2011

    The idea that Watson’s “treatment” of McGraw is the “real issue” is – in my opinion – a great example of real sexism, and at the very least baffling and irrelevant. What was Watson’s “treatment”? She cited a source of criticism. Horrors! How catty! How “not nice!”.

    The argument the McGraw was attending the conference makes a difference is simply patronizing. Horrors! Someone at a conference addressed the arguments of someone else at the same conference!
    Gee, I’ve never seen that happen before

    Link to this
  48. 48. zhimbo 9:16 am 07/21/2011

    My ironic “start sarcasm” and “stop sarcasm” tags were removed around my final sentence. Oops.

    Link to this
  49. 49. cripdyke 9:51 am 07/21/2011

    Justin @17 – Who said:
    At some point, she made a semi-joking comment that, on the plus side, just about any amount of crazy is survivable, so long as he isn’t 30 pounds heavier. My response was that a woman with a vagina is always a prostitute.”

    and @44 – said:
    I wasn’t attempting to make an analogy. I was pointing out how lazy your rhetoric was. If a man can be a potential monster because he has a penis, a woman can be a potential prostitute because she has a vagina.

    ==========================
    Justin, you are simply lying. In 17 you said “a woman with a vagina is ALWAYS a prostitute” (emphasis mine). In 44 you claimed that you were saying “a woman CAN BE a POTENTIAL prostitute” (emphasis mine).

    If you don’t know the difference between “X = Y” and “X may in some cases = Y” you’re in no shape to understand the arguments being made here, much less shape a useful counter argument.

    And the thing is that you really seem not to know the difference. You utterly fail to comprehend the simple English word “Potential.”

    When 2 people meet, they are potential future spouses, potential long lost cousins, potential partners in crime, blah, blah, blah. Unless and until more information rules out a possibility, that possibility exists.

    Rapists do not go around with “I rape sometimes” tattooed on their foreheads. When I meet someone, I simply do not know whether or not ze will eventually rape me. Thus, that person is in fact a potential rapist. Literally. This does not mean that the person is an actual rapist. It means that the person is a potential rapist, no more, no less. If you can’t comprehend that, you shouldn’t go around using the word “potential.”

    In fact, to that other party in the exchange, *I* am a potential rapist. Too many people want to insist that they are never potential rapists because they *know* they are Good People(tm). This is like Schroedinger’s Cat musing in the box, “Those idiot scientists think I am potentially dead, but this is clearly not the case as I am alive & thinking.” From Schroedinger’s Cat’s perspective, the thought experiment doesn’t make sense. However the cat’s inability to reason its way to see the scientists point of view does not mean that the scientist is wrong.

    Now, out of all the possibilities, all the “potential” things that ElevatorGuy could have been, why was rapist the one that was brought up in this discussion? Because it was the most relevant of the potentialities in using the ElevatorGuy incident in explaining why women do not attend skeptic/ atheist events as often as men want us to attend.

    [Why is explaining why women do not attend as often as men want us to attend important? Because Men ASKED Ms. Watson to explain it! MEN brought up this topic. MEN asked Watson for her insight. This would never have been brought up unless men WANTED IT to be brought up.]

    Earlier in the day, Watson spoke for 20 minutes at a workshop that EG attended. Her topic? “DON’T HIT ON ME.” For 20 minutes. Around midnight she met up with folks in the hotel bar and started talking with a good number of them at some pushed together tables about the events of the day. What did they ask her about and what did she keep saying? “Don’t hit on me. I’m tired of it. I don’t want it. I am not going to sleep with anyone, I want people to LISTEN to my WORDS not focus on my body.” For FOUR HOURS she said this over & over as she was asked to elaborate on her experiences of being sexually treated, sexually propositioned, and sexually threatened in the atheist/ skeptic community. She also explained that these repeated experiences were, yes, hers, but that many women have similar experiences and that the tiresome, sometimes rude, sometimes revolting, & sometimes threatening nature of these experiences make it less likely that women will come to these events.

    EG was at her panel presentation earlier in the day & at the bar for the whole 4 hours. During NONE of that time did he say ONE WORD to her.

    At this point, she said that she didn’t want to talk to anyone anymore. She said that she wanted to go to her room, alone, because she was too tired to talk and really needed rest. What did EG do? He followed her out of the bar to the elevator, waited until alone with her in a closed space with no witnesses and then violated her expressed wishes by not only talking to her when she said she was too tired for that & was done with that for the evening, but he used that time talking to her to HIT ON HER which was what she said for HOURS that she did not want.

    At the risk of being obvious, what defines a rapist is that s/he ignores your consent around the topic of sex. EG ignored Ms. Watson’s consent around the topic of hitting on her. He had thus proved himself willing to ignore her consent on a relatively minor topic. This set off alarm bells for Ms. Watson. She performed a Bayesian safety calculation and found that the guy not only ignored her denial of consent when he was in the bar with her for FOUR HOURS and she spoke again & again for that entire time about how she didn’t want to be hit on, but that he also ignored that she had just expressed when she was leaving that she was too tired to talk and very much didn’t want to talk any more…AND that after he was told that a) she didn’t want to talk and b) even if you did talk to her the last thing she wanted was to be hit on, this guy not only violated both clearly expressed wishes, but sought out an enclosed, one-exit-only, sound insulated location in which to violate her wishes.

    While she still didn’t know he was an ACTUAL RAPIST, and while the calculations for this interaction ending in rape still had a relatively low likelihood compared to 50/50 odds, the man’s behavior had made the likelihood of the interaction ending in rape escalate wildly above the background probability of rape because he had already proved himself someone who:
    a) disregards her consent on little things, and
    b) arranges circumstances so that when he disregarded her consent, they were visually and sonically isolated from others – i.e. he arranged for their to be no possibility of witnesses.

    These are the behaviors of some people who are inconsiderate doofuses, but they are also the behaviors of ACTUAL RAPISTS. If you imitate enough of the behavior of actual rapists, we may actually have the hairs on the backs of our necks go up even before a rape (if it occurs) begins.

    At this point, Ms. Watson (who has been threatened with rape many, many times by men claiming to be skeptics and/or atheists) felt uncomfortable and in her words “creeped out.” Although the guy finally took No for an answer in the elevator in a way that he hadn’t taken repeated Nos for no before then, Ms. Watson suffered significant, albeit brief, stress.

    The importance of this should not be understated. He didn’t “simply” take no for an answer. He refused to take no for an answer when she told him and the others in the room not to talk to her anymore that night and not to hit on her at all during the conference. In the elevator he took no for an answer on the direct question of hooking up with him, but 1 out of 3 is not a good track record…especially when it’s 1 out of 3 TOPICS, but there were actually a hell of a lot more “No”s than just 2 that he refused to take. This man somehow thought that when she said “Don’t hit on me, anyone” he was okay interpreting that as, “Don’t hit on me anyone, except you, cute EG, whom I do not know, who never said a word to me, but whose erection is so important it obviously constitutes a perfectly reasonable exception to the No One Hit On Me rule.”

    The follow up:
    Ms. Watson, like almost every prominent woman atheist, has been asked repeatedly how to make conferences friendlier to women atheists & skeptics. So, later on her blog she suggested not acting like EG.

    Quite a mild message – and quite an accurate one. And Ryan is right to point out that the intertubez went wild with assumptions that Ms. Watson said things that she didn’t. However, and this is the point that I really, really want to make, if she had said, “Men I don’t know are Schroedinger’s Rapist(tm),” or, in Ryan’s words, “a potential rapist,”

    ****that would not be wrong****

    In fact, that would be exactly right. If you are at all interested in women attending atheist/skeptic conferences in equal numbers to men, you could do worse than by acknowledging that, the list of all the potential things you are to a strange women includes potential rapist. That’s not hysterical. That’s a fact.

    ……..
    So get with it & try to keep up with the English language. i don’t know you, Justin. I don’t know if you’ve raped people hundreds of times or never. The odds are never, but the probability that you are a rapist is non-zero. If we meet and you act like a rapist in certain respects, my estimation that you are a rapist will escalate. This doesn’t mean I’m assuming you’re a rapist. The options for probability are not a discontinuous two-option set of 0 & 1. Do you get it yet?

    ———————-

    As a final word, when we say there is a non-zero probability that someone we meet is a rapist and you come back saying there is a CERTAINTY that every female is a prostitute, you not only show flaming sexism and a pitiful grasp of analogies and probabilities, but you also fail to understand that the possibility of violence is not the same as the possibility that someone will try to negotiate a consensual contract that involves both money and sex.

    The idea that men are hurt by prostitution in a way anywhere comparable to how women are hurt by rape is so mind-bogglingly ignorant I despair of you ever comprehending why, much less how, feminists hope to alter the current coercive, reductive, and violent nature of gender systems into complex, rich, & voluntary individual gender expressions.

    Still, we try to help as we may.

    Link to this
  50. 50. Riftmann 10:31 am 07/21/2011

    #24 John Greg-

    As someone who saw this mess unfold from the start, (heck I’ve been seeing, reading, have known Rebecca from nearly her start on the BadAstronomy Forum 10 to 15 years ago) I’ll clue you in to where you got the series of events wrong.

    1- Horsehooey, who cares what his real intentions were she felt sexualized, and all she said was she didn’t like to be sexualized ‘in that way’. Not that she was against sex or even sexualization.

    2- More horse hooey. The noise from the ‘feminist’ didn’t start until the ugly noise from the male privileged group started. I read, I kid you not (unfortunately I’ve forgotten on which of the myriad thread and the myriad of post or I’d link), a guy state “I reserve the right to ask for sex from any woman at any place at any time”, as if it was in the Bill of Rights. How would you respond to that if female. If I were female I would say I reserve the right to kick in the crotch anybody who thinks those are rights.

    3-see #46 above please by zhimbo. Watson called out a person that named her publicly on a public blog. She did so in a public forum and had the descency to quote her and give her credit for the quote. That Stef McGraw felt lumped in with others Watson was talking about is her fault. PZ was right at this point. And his posting “Always Name Names” is what started the real fire storm, of which Dawkins felt some weird reason to get involved.

    4- Then Dawkins should have said so. I read it when it came up and I didn’t believe it was him it was so vile and in poor taste. Even for Dawkins. I literaly dropped my mouth open when I read PZ’s post that it was the real Dawkins. And he dug himself in deeper by two more postings on PZ’s blog, one calling that Watson was no more uncomfortable than if somebody chewing gum had gotten on the elevator with Dawkins. Boy howdy, what a work he is.

    5- “Watson’s remarkable, hostile, vitriolic, and dismissive comments towards Dawkins and his achievments combined with her tacit and implicit endorsement of a general Dawkins boycott.”
    Watson was calm and cool, I wouldn’t have been.
    The call for the boycott lie is one of the most annoying things in all this. (That and pointing out she posed ‘nude’ for a skepchick calendar to raise money. There was a Skepdude calendar too featuring Phil Plait, PZ Myers, and James Randi, but interesting enough they aren’t called sluts)
    This is what Watson said-
    “So many of you voiced what I had already been thinking: that this person who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer.”

    Tacit and implicit endorsement of a boycott??? WTF? Wrong, wrong, wrongity, wrong. That is so wrong it is not even wrong. Reading comprehension skill test please. And Watson in the next paragraph said she had gotten a lot of mail from people that said they were no longer buying Dawkins books either. So the ‘boycott’ started even before Watson said what she said. A personal decision not to buy or recommend his books to friends. Boycott? Horse hooey.

    6- No an embattled minority faced with a community with a complete acceptance of ad hominem, personal insult, invective, and hate-filled language as the most acceptable and best and first course for responding to any type of dissent or disagreement whatsoever. BZZT. Thanks for playing, here are some lovely parting gifts.

    7- Nope, Watson has carried herself with calm and dignity, especially at the just ended TAM9. I wouldn’t faced with what she with the decorum she has faced for a one minute “don’t do this guys” in an eight minute video blog. She didn’t blow it out of proportion, misogynistic twits did.

    Ouellette is not the one being dishonest here, you are by misrepresenting, and lying, about what actually happened, and is happening.

    I praise Ouellette for this post. Thank You.

    Link to this
  51. 51. hillsonghoods 10:59 am 07/21/2011

    Okay, listen to this, dudes who think Rebecca Watson is full of shit, that sexism isn’t a problem, etc: Say that there was a group of people who really liked wearing yellow feathers, and who otherwise agree with your beliefs, but won’t join your movement unless you wear a yellow feather. If those yellow feather wearers joined your group, you would have twice as many people protesting when things needed to be protested, twice as many people on the watch for horrifying stuff, etc. Would you wear the yellow feather?

    If you think feminism is rubbish and Rebecca Watson is sexist herself (etc), think of feminism (etc) as the yellow feather. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that, other than the feminism stuff that is clearly pissing you off, Rebecca Watson probably more or less has the same concerns about the world that you do. She is concerned about almost all of the same delusions that you are. Women are half the population, they have good ideas, different perspectives that can be helpful, etc – and we skeptics need all the help we can get if we want to influence the events of the world, because we are decidedly the minority. Wear the bloody yellow feather, okay?

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  52. 52. DonkeyTamer 11:22 am 07/21/2011

    First off, I want to thank the author for taking the time to write a thoughtful, well organized piece. Good job! I look forward to reading more from you, Ms. Ouellette!

    Now for my, undoubtedly, against the grain – flame inducing post. There a few things we need to recast. First, “elevatorgate” illustrated the over-reaction of one individual elevated by the extremely pinheaded over-reaction of another individual. Both parties made way to big a deal of this, otherwise, innate occurrence. Watson handled the situation perfectly and should otherwise have just moved on. As for that fellow in the elevator with her, well simply in no unclear terms he was a loser.

    I notice everytime we have one of these big gender flair ups, it becomes unrelentingly a one sided dialog whereby women dictate to men regarding how horribly they are treated in a 21st century egalitarian society. I’m not a woman, nor will I ever be (at least that’s the plan). I realize that women require increased protections due to the mere, evolutionary fact that, unless you have a gun, you are nearly always on the short side (no pun intended) of the muscle to mass ratio (keep cool – I’m simply talking about actual physical strength).

    In this endless one sided lecture, women never, ever take responsibility for controlling their own environment. I’m not talking about dressing like a man to show strength (b/c honestly that makes no sense to me). I’m talking about you having the power to control the dialog and expectations of your peers. So what if you come off nasty and unlikable – that’s life! If you don’t want certain people to think a certain way about you or act in a certain manner, control it. Stop pushing responsibility off on everyone else and take control of your own environment.

    Before you lecture me on why I’m off base, keep in mind I’m simply talking in the context of this article. I’m not talking about situations where women truly don’t have a choice in their actions. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people don’t simply stand up for themselves (and not make a big deal to show the world their big triumph over some lowly jerk).

    Let the enjoyable disparaging comments begin. For the record, my standing rule is to never hit on a coworker for exactly the reasons stated above. I’m thinking some fellas might want to adopt that code.

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  53. 53. happyfangirl 12:00 pm 07/21/2011

    @DonkeyTamer:

    I’m talking about you having the power to control the dialog and expectations of your peers….If you don’t want certain people to think a certain way about you or act in a certain manner, control it. Stop pushing responsibility off on everyone else and take control of your own environment.

    Excellent suggestion!

    You first.

    You can control the dialogue and expectations of your peers – start calling out your fellow men on the behavior that objectifies women. So what if you get called pussywhipped and told to get a skirt on for doing it, that’s life! Stop pushing the responsibility off on women and take control of your own environment!

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why men don’t simply stop these other asshole guys for objectifying and harassing women (and not expect cookies from women because they acted like a decent human being instead of a creep).

    Link to this
  54. 54. LeeKottner 12:05 pm 07/21/2011

    Here’s the thing about arguing about human behavior: if you are being told by someone else that your behavior is offensive or frightening to them, explaining to them that you are not offensive or frightening will not change their feelings. It may, in fact, make you more offensive, because you are denying that person’s right to interpret their own emotions (and who are you do interpret those for them? They’re not yours.), and more frightening by denying them agency by stepping away with a nice apology for scaring them. Nobody wins that argument. Each person goes their own way feeling what they feel, no justification necessary.

    But the adult thing to do in a situation like this, if you are the annoyer or frightener, and after you’ve left the field peaceably, is to ask yourself and maybe somebody else like the person you annoyed or frightened, “Hmmm, was it something I did?” And if it was, change your behavior.

    That is, if you give a damn. And if you don’t, here’s hoping you don’t get to procreate. The human race has enough clueless, aggressive, self-righteous morons in it.

    Link to this
  55. 55. nerdygirl 1:24 pm 07/21/2011

    Donkey:
    “In this endless one sided lecture, women never, ever take responsibility for controlling their own environment….I’m talking about you having the power to control the dialog and expectations of your peers. So what if you come off nasty and unlikable – that’s life!”

    Except that there are different types of rapists. Yes, screaming will scare off one type of rapist, but it will be like flashing red at a bull (metaphorically speaking, since it’s not biologically true) for another type of rapist. Which type of rapist is in front of you? Get it wrong, possibly get raped and/or killed.

    Why is OK to tell women they must change their behavior to avoid being a victim of a violent crime, but not OK to tell men to change their behavior just a smidge to avoid putting women in a stressful situation?

    Link to this
  56. 56. Riftmann 3:28 pm 07/21/2011

    #52 happyfangirl-

    “For the life of me, I cannot understand why men don’t simply stop these other asshole guys for objectifying and harassing women.”

    It’s not from a lack of trying, believe me. On one thread when I said the morons were making me embarrassed to be male, one of them said that was proof that I was enmasculated by feminists. (roll eyes)

    I’m just being a nice guy.

    And I doubt most of the guys posting ever saw that 8 minute video Watson posted that posted this whole mess. She spent a minute talking about the elevator guy, in a calm reasonable tone. Worse thing she said was it made her uncomfortable, guys don’t do that at 4 am, and she doesn’t like to be sexualize in that manner.

    Guys, grow up. She didn’t hack your penis off.

    Just an observation, everyone in the blogoverse that is defending her; Phil Plait, PZ Myers, Josh Rosenau, and Greg Laden, are married, and all but Josh have kids. Certain obstiacles have made it so I’m not yet married, but engaged to a wonderful woman. She can’t even read about this mess, it makes her so mad. Perhaps we have a different perspective on things than single guys. Now how to explain the woman not backing Watson- I have no clue. Stef McGraw was massively naive. And Rebecca told her so, rightly.

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  57. 57. FrankO'Hara 4:18 pm 07/21/2011

    eh. i can’t say i have too much sympathy for women. i’m black and gay…have you ever tried being black on the internet (i guess the anonymity of an IP address fuels the courage of a lot of white suburban 14 year olds, who are more than comfortable typing racial slurs they would never dare speak in public)? or tried playing xbox live as a gay man (i generally quit playing halo or cod after about the 100th “faggot”)? it sucks…but then again, a lot of things suck as a gay black man (no pun intended). i know it must be hell to be a woman, i understand, but get over it.

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  58. 58. jason hunter 4:23 pm 07/21/2011

    Almost every single argument or example in this thread rely on the false constructs of group identity or false equivalencies. i’m sorry people, but because one person does not like being approached does not mean that another won’t be open to similar advances. Also, just because YOU think i might be a potential rapist based on game theory, does not make it so. Our entire society seems based on legislating the stupid and elevating the unlikely to the marquee stories. It’s not surprising that so many people live in fear of the least likely things, because those horrors are the mainstay of “journalistic entertainment.”

    Of course i’m not saying that rape doesn’t exist, in fact it happens at an alarming rate compared with, say, serial killing hitchhikers or kidnappings. Rape is wrong. Period. But in the course of this dialogue, we’ve taken a guy who apparently doesn’t listen well, and we’ve turned him into an emblem of something vile and despicable. He wasn’t. Add to that the many threats from wacko blog commenters that may have been on Watson’s mind at the time. What we have is a situation that’s loaded with assumption and the unknowable extent of intentions and feelings.

    One post above (sorry, you all are intelligent and express yourselves, well, but i couldn’t find the post to cite in all of those words;) begins by putting blame on the Irishman for the way that Ms. Watson felt, then goes on to say that Ms. McGraw is to blame for her own feelings, although there seems to be active aggression in the case of Ms. Watson calling out Ms. McGraw in the middle of her presentation. You can’t have it both ways.

    Another trend i have noticed is that the women in this thread are more likely to tell the men that they aren’t listening. For a vast majority of men, that’s absolutely not true. (BTW, Ms. Oulette, your bingo list does nothing to bridge the communication gap, as it seems to say, “Yadda yadda yadda, men moving their lips, now can I get back to what I was saying? Because THAT’s the truth and you just don’t get it.”) For my part, i simply disagree with some of what you are saying. i think that many of these arguments are predicated on personal feelings for which you can’t hold strangers accountable. From my perspective, i am not being listened to. Just as it is unfair to say to you, you are a feminist, therefore you are like A, B, and C, it is unfair to say that because you are a man you’re ignorant or a weapon.

    i’ve spent more time working with and interacting with women (platonically) than almost any man i know. It is easy to make observations from outside of the group. It is much harder to objectively assess your own group’s weaknesses. We all need to listen to each other. The invective and broad assumptions don’t help any of this.

    Thank you to the posters who provided context on Tales from an Elevator. Now i can agree that the Irishman was out of line because he did, in fact, have the opportunity to understand what Watson was feeling. However, i don’t see how this rises to the level of scandal. That part seems fueled by political and social agendas, it does not seem to reflect an honest attempt to solve the real problem, a solution i believe has to do with individuals and their attitudes, not groups and the age-old stereotypes that still linger within.

    If you define yourself by struggle, then that is what you will find in life. Personally, i’ve chosen to focus on the actual relationships that i maintain and create, and have abandoned the idealization of groups as a way to provide identity. Groups are almost always dominated by the most aggressive few, and those few control the message. Dawkins and Watson seem to illustrate this phenomenon quite well.

    The goal is to increase equality. Divide and conquer may have won wars for Napoleon, but it’s a tactic of subjugation, not enlightenment.

    When called for, i do step up and defend the honor of the women in my life (including those i don’t know). i don’t do it because i’m a feminist or because you ask me to, or because i think women need a man to protect them because they’re 30 pounds lighter, i do it because i care about my relationships, and protecting them increases my quality of life. This problem will only be solved when individuals communicate with one another about what they want and what they’re comfortable with. The Great Journey begins with a single step (to quote a fortune cookie). The journey to post-gender will take the steps of many, both men and women.

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  59. 59. jason hunter 4:34 pm 07/21/2011

    But then again, i’m uncommonly comfortable in my own skin. And that’s the point, to create an environment where people can feel comfortable to express themselves without being attacked or marginalized.

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  60. 60. Riftmann 4:39 pm 07/21/2011

    I’ve always given Elevator Guy the benefit of the doubt. And as far as I know so did Watson. All she did was give advice “If you don’t want to creep out women, don’t ask them to come up to your room at 4 am after you’ve listened to them all day about how much crap she gets from guys at conventions.”

    That is all she said.

    And most of us backing her are saying the same thing.

    The guys that took it as a personal attack (including Dawkins for some strange reason) is what fueled, and fueling, this fire storm.

    Active aggression in Watson’s public reaction to McGraw’s public announcement that Watson was taking things to seriously? For just saying, guys don’t creep girls out??? That’s active aggression???

    Dude, chill.

    It is past the elevator incident. It is past Watson and McGraw. It’s past PZ and Dawkins. Why are some, mostly guys, getting so worked up about this??? Why is this thing entering its second month? I think the answers to those questions are what we should focus on. And apparently, to me anyway, is that, yes, the skeptic/atheist community is highly, highly sexist towards women.

    The fact that TAM9 went off without a hitch, with a record number of women attending is very good news though.

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  61. 61. jason hunter 5:03 pm 07/21/2011

    Riftmann, if you’re referring to my comment, i was not saying that Ms. Watson was actively aggressive in the elevator. i said that she was actively aggressive (in a direct fashion, with intent to make uneasy) towards Ms. McGraw. My point is that the poster applies two different standards. One for her protagonist, Ms. Watson, and another for the antagonists. In the statement, everyone BUT Ms. Watson is responsible for their own feelings. That’s all.

    i wish you knew me, because you would find that i’m a top supporter of women and their inclusion as equal participants in all aspects of life. i find many of them attractive, but i look them in the eye when we converse, and i listen to them. That doesn’t mean i can’t see bias where it exists, and it doesn’t mean i don’t accept that i have my own bias. Being equal participants means that you are also subject to the same level of criticism that you level at The Men. If you want to play, then play. You can’t just tell men what their problem is and then expect to be treated any differently in return. That’s all.

    If, in fact, you were “Dude, chill-ing” me, please observe that you are baiting, which is a way to minimize others’ opinions and condescend to them. i would suggest that you take Ms. Watson’s advice, and stop creating uncomfortable situations that push people away from the debate. Despite the fact that my perspective, and therefore my opinion, differs from yours. i still wear the yellow feather. ;)

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  62. 62. John Greg 6:41 pm 07/21/2011

    In reply to Riftman at #49.
    .
    Note: If the html has gone askew, I apologize in advance.
    .
    Thanks Riftman. For the most part your timeline agrees quite comfortably with mine, although we do see it all from different sides of the great divide.
    .
    There are a couple of things I’d like to comment on though.
    .
    1. Yes, I agree, she felt sexualized. But what EG’s real intentions were is of extreme importance; how you can so glibly dismiss that boggles my mind. It is his intent that determines whether or not she was in fact sexualized. And we have no actual evidence that she in fact was sexualized.
    .
    From the Canadian Oxford Dictionary: sexualize – 1. make sexual; 2. attribute sex or a sexual role to.
    .
    To actually be sexualized requires a specific act and intent (hence, why it is critical to know EG’s intent) on behalf of the sexualizer, not the sexualized.
    .
    Watson did not in fact say “I felt sexualized and I don’t like that”. She said “it creeps me out when men sexualize me in that manner”, meaning that EG specifically sexualized her, had the intent to do so, and Watson somehow knows it.
    .
    However, there is no evidence (unless you unquestioningly accept Watson’s anecdote as irrefutable evidence) that EG did in fact sexualize her. Are you able to see the difference there? Yes, he may have done so; he also may not have done so. We just don’t know. We have no evidence beyond Watson’s anecdote and the angry posts of angry gender feminists (who were not there) as to what his intent was, and knowing his intent is critical to determining whether or not she was in fact sexualized as she claims.
    .
    2. Yes, I’ll give you that her dismissal of Dawkins was calm and cool, and may not have been vitriolic — though I am under the impression that she did dismiss him as something along the lines of “filthy rich old white man who’s time is past”, but I cannot find that quote. Anyway, I give you the calm and cool but maintain the hostile and dismissive.
    .
    As I say, thanks for supporting my thesis even though we see it all from a different point of view. That’s kind of nice isn’t it, that we can actually hold different points of view; that that is allowed is one of the nice things about rational and reasoned dialogue, discussion, and debate. I am sorry you couldn’t do it without such dismissive hostility, absolute certainty in your correctness, and your invective and spitting anger though … but so it goes.

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  63. 63. gnomricon 8:02 pm 07/21/2011

    All this is worth saying, but it should be made clear that this behavior comes from a minority of men, and the rest of the men in the population don’t like those guys either. Simply put, 100% of sexist males are male, yes, that’s true. But not 100% of males are sexist.

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  64. 64. greg_t_laden 9:18 pm 07/21/2011

    mdagle is that it seems she is saying that men should never ever speak to women

    It is known what she said. We know. What. She. Said. She did not say that.

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  65. 65. delzoup 12:47 am 07/22/2011

    In this endless one sided lecture, women never, ever take responsibility for controlling their own environment…–DonkeyTamer

    Ouellette gives advice in this article on exactly how women can control the environment when she says things like, “Ladies: even though you might not feel 100% welcome, grit your teeth and show up anyway, because there is power in numbers. Studies have shown that these chilling effects start to dissipate as communities approach 50/50 gender ratios, ” and “[Ladies:] Please do not diminish the experiences and emotions of your sisters in skepticism. Remain open to the possibility that you, too, might be unconsciously influenced by cultural baggage.” In fact, I see this whole article and the responses in defense of Watson as attempts by women to control the environment.

    And we have no actual evidence that she in fact was sexualized.–John Greg

    Are you saying that the gentleman in question was not making a pass and genuinely wanted Watson to “look at his etchings?” (And that it would be exception to interpret inviting someone up to your hotel room at 4am as a pass.) Or, are you saying that making a pass at someone is not sexualizing them? I would think that assigning someone a sexual role would be the eventual outcome of a successful pass. What evidence are you waiting on to clarify his intentions?

    Thank you to the posters who provided context on Tales from an Elevator. Now i can agree that the Irishman was out of line because he did, in fact, have the opportunity to understand what Watson was feeling. However, i don’t see how this rises to the level of scandal. That part seems fueled by political and social agendas, it does not seem to reflect an honest attempt to solve the real problem, a solution i believe has to do with individuals and their attitudes, not groups and the age-old stereotypes that still linger within.-jason hunter

    Jason, I’m glad that you agree that elevator guy (EG) was out of line. However, we seem to be still in conflict because you see the problem as one (minor) incident of a guy being out of line, and I see the problem as the skeptic communities response to Watson. The scandal is that when a woman implies censure about these instances, the woman is vilified and the guy is vindicated. EG guy, I posit, is probably overall a rather nice guy who happened to exhibit bad judgment. However instead of trying to correct his behavior (and anyone who would do something similar), people are belittling, attacking, and ridiculing Watson. To quote Ouellette again,

    Here is the message being sent to the women skeptics and atheists say they want to join their ranks: “If an atheist/skeptic man behaves boorishly toward you, or refuses to respect your boundaries, whether social or sexual, and you have the gall to state firmly that this is not okay, you will be publicly pilloried, ridiculed for being hysterical, called a man-hating feminazi (or worse), and have your concerns belittled and dismissed.”

    Why should I, or any woman, want to be part of that community?

    The reason I think women are saying that the men aren’t listening is that its much more hopeful that guys who are defending or minimizing EG are unaware that they are actively taking part in making women feel unwelcome, than that they know that they are making women unwelcome and they do not care.

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  66. 66. John Greg 1:32 am 07/22/2011

    In reply to delzoup #64.

    “Are you saying that the gentleman in question was not making a pass and genuinely wanted Watson to ‘look at his etchings?’”

    No. I am saying the gentleman in question might not have been making a pass and might have genuinely wanted Watson to join him in his room for coffee and conversation, and just coffee and conversation.

    “(And that it would be exception to interpret inviting someone up to your hotel room at 4am as a pass.)”

    No. It can be interpreted in several ways, including as a possible sexual proposition (pass), or as a genuine desire for coffee and chat.

    “Or, are you saying that making a pass at someone is not sexualizing them?”

    No. Making a sexual pass at someone is almost certainly sexualizing them, but we do not know for certain that EG was making a sexual pass. Watson, and everyone else who supports that hypothesis, is simply making an assumption.

    “I would think that assigning someone a sexual role would be the eventual outcome of a successful pass.”

    Probably.

    “What evidence are you waiting on to clarify his intentions?”

    Any evidence. Anything at all. At the moment we have no actual evidence whatsoever. We have an anecdote of assumptions that does not even identify EG, the so-called perpetrator — identifying EG would allow him to make his case and either verify, deny, or some combination therein, Watson’s assumptions and accusations.

    At the moment EG has been found, by most gender feminists and Watson supporters, to be guilty without evidence; guilty without trial; guilty without any opportunty for defense.

    How judicious and exemplary of critical thinking that is of all these armchair jurists.

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  67. 67. cripdyke 2:21 am 07/22/2011

    John Greg @61:
    “Yes, I agree, she felt sexualized. But what EG’s real intentions were is of extreme importance; how you can so glibly dismiss that boggles my mind. It is his intent that determines whether or not she was in fact sexualized. And we have no actual evidence that she in fact was sexualized.”

    We have Rebecca Watson’s testimony. Do you have any evidence that counters her testimony? Were you there? Do you somehow know MORE than Ms. Watson about what happened that night?

    If not than just come right out & say what you mean, “No matter what a woman says about how she is treated by a man, I will not believe it.”

    you take all kinds of things for granted. You read newspapers and, while I’m sure questioning some of the facts some of the time, take much for granted as true. And yet you’re willing to argue THIS FACT so hard when you have NO evidence against it.

    SEPARATELY:
    As I have said in other places, this example is used to Illustrate and not to prove a problem. Do you believe that men do not sexualize women? Do you believe that they do but somehow manage to turn that off and never do it at atheist/skeptic conferences? There is a difference between a study engaged in for proving the existence of a dynamic and an anecdote used to aid in understanding a dynamic that is known to exist.

    This was clearly the latter. Of course it doesn’t meet the requirements for the former. My question to you is, If you accept that sexualization at conferences happens, why are you arguing about this case which is simply used to help guys figure out when not to hit on women so that men get what men want, which is more women at these conferences & more success when they do hit on women?

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  68. 68. MonkeyJoe 2:54 am 07/22/2011

    Greta Christina offered this up which finally made the light bulb go off in my privilege-skewed brain:

    “Let me ask you this. When religious believers tell atheists, “Why do you have to keep talking about atheism? Why do you have to keep pointing out religious privilege, and anti-atheist bigotry, and the ways that religion is so deeply entrenched in our culture? It’s so divisive. Nobody can talk about religion and atheism without starting a huge, ugly fight. So why do you keep bringing it up?”

    When religious believers say this to atheists… do you say to yourself, “You’re right. This is such a troubling, divisive issue. I’m so sorry I brought it up. We’ll stop talking about it now.”

    Or do you say to yourself, “Wow. You really don’t want to hear what we have to say, do you? There’s a part of you that knows we’re right, or that fears we’re right, or that’s getting some assumptions challenged that you’re deeply attached to… and you’re uncomfortable with that. And you’re trying to shut us up. Knock it off. And try listening to what we have to say for a change.”

    I’m going to assume that the answer is the latter.

    So why on earth would you turn around and say to people who are talking about feminism, “This is such a divisive issue — why do you have to keep bringing it up?”

    Do you see how this is the same?”

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  69. 69. John Greg 2:58 am 07/22/2011

    In reply to cripdyke #66.

    cripdyke said:

    “We have Rebecca Watson’s testimony. Do you have any evidence that counters her testimony? Were you there? Do you somehow know MORE than Ms. Watson about what happened that night?”

    We have Watson’s anecdote, which is neither evidence nor testimony. Do you unquestioningly accept anecdotes as incontrovertible evidence or testimony?

    The rest of your questions in that paragraph are either non-sequitor or moot.

    “If not than just come right out & say what you mean, ‘No matter what a woman says about how she is treated by a man, I will not believe it.’”

    I do not disbelieve her statement of the events, nor do I disbelive her claim to feeling uncomfortable, neither do I dispute her absolute right to feel whatever she felt at that time.

    My principal argument has been two-fold:

    1.No one, including Watson, should glibly assume that EG’s proposition was abolutely and only a sexual advance — there is no evidence to either prove that it was such an advance, or to disprove that it was not simply a late night invite to coffee and chat.

    2. None of us should assume, especially based only on an anecdote, that Watson’s assumption of being sexualized was incontrovertibly correct and that there were no other options implied by EG’s proposition, and that Watson did not err in assuming that was unquestionably his intent.

    If you re-read my post at #65 I make some of those points more clearly.

    Lastly, I don’t know if the paragraphs under the heading “Separately” were addressed to me, but I am not going to answer them. For one thing, having read them a couple of times I find they do not make coherent sense; they strike me as being bafflegab to some degree. Secondly, what parts of them do make sense represent something of both a non-sequitor and a red herring.

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  70. 70. Anna_B 9:17 am 07/22/2011

    John Greg,

    Point 1) I’m saying this not only for you: Your intentions DO NOT MATTER.

    If you go to a friend’s house and spill something on the carpet, what would you do? Would say you’re sorry and try to help clean it up or would you stamp your feet and whine about the fact that you didn’t intend to spill your drink?
    No one is expecting that you purposely dumped your drink to begin with. If you did, that would make you a pretty big jerk, right?
    You didn’t intend to do it so apologize, help and try not to do it again. That’s what an adult, mature, normal person would do. Doing anything else would make you look like a jerk or an immature brat.

    I do not care whether or not someone meant well if they do something sexist. If the end result is sexism, how they got there doesn’t interest me. If I have good faith in them – the way Rebecca Watson did when she mentioned the story – I will tell them their error in hopes they will be mature and adult enough to admit it and apologize so that we could move on and future dealings with that person will be nicer and smoother for both of us.

    It’s disturbing to me how many white people in cases of racism or men in cases of sexism get so caught up in their supposed intentions as if their intentions excuse or erase what they’ve done (or said).

    Point 2) When your friends tell you about their day do you require evidence from them to prove their perceptions are the correct ones? Will you seek out the strangers who your friends felt were rude to them to get their side of the story? If the strangers felt they weren’t being rude will you then dismiss your friends?
    If not, why the standard for Rebecca Watson’s statement? Why does she have to give you solid proof before you’ll believe her? Honestly, that’s a load of crap. Even if he FELT he wasn’t sexualizing her, does that negate anything? Why do his feelings and intentions take precedence over hers for you? Especially after I said intentions don’t matter. There is a pattern in this society of not believing women.

    FYI: She gave a lecture on how to make women feel welcomed at events and not hitting on them was one of things she mentioned. That man was in the audience listening to her lecture and he listened to her talk about it again for HOURS afterwards in the bar area. He didn’t say a word to her the entire time.
    After a few hours, she said she was tired and going to bed. He followed her into the elevator to ask her to his room.
    If he really wanted to talk, he had *plenty* of time to do so. She stated she was tired – which means she wants to sleep not continue talking – he ignored everything she had been saying and asked anyway. He knew her answer was no before he asked and he knew what he was doing was rude because he was doing precisely the thing she said she didn’t want. He did it on purpose which makes him a jerk.

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  71. 71. DonkeyTamer 11:46 am 07/22/2011

    Re:John Greg & crypdyke #66

    “Or, are you saying that making a pass at someone is not sexualizing them?”

    No. Making a sexual pass at someone is almost certainly sexualizing them, but we do not know for certain that EG was making a sexual pass. Watson, and everyone else who supports that hypothesis, is simply making an assumption.

    If feels like we’re crucifying the guy in the elevator for making a sexualized pass. My question, beyond the obvious ignorance to his frame of reference, why do I get the sense that most people on this board would be 100% against sexualized passes? If not at a conference of your peers, when is it ever appropriate to hit on a lady?

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  72. 72. moxie7 12:51 pm 07/22/2011

    The only part of this I disagree with is here…

    Guys, why wouldn’t you do this for people you claim to value and respect? These women are smart, sassy, strong, and yes, sexy. They’re amazing. And they’re your sisters in arms. It’s time to step up and start acting like brothers. The next time you see a guy acting like a jerk around a woman at a skeptic/atheist gathering, call him out: “Dude. Not cool. She’s not the hot girl in the comic shop, you know.”

    I have one daughter that is a graduate student at MIT. I have another daughter that is much younger, and works at GAMESTOP. You know, it’s time we stopped the “good girl/bad girl” thing. The hot girl in the comic shop may very well BE Rebecca Watson or some other really brilliant young woman. Or perhaps a not so brilliant young woman. But NO WOMAN, be she skeptic or not, deserves to be made uncomfortable or hit on in situations where they may feel unsafe. It’s not any more OK to hit on my daughter at Gamestop than my daughter on the campus of MIT. So please DO NOT SAY THE ABOVE if you are a male to another male. It’s not ok, ever, to any human being. Being smart or well educated or skeptic does not mean you are to be treated in a different manner than women that are just browsing the aisles at their local comic store.

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  73. 73. John Greg 4:25 pm 07/22/2011

    In reply to Ann_B #69.

    The problem with your drink spilling analogy is this: Everyone is calling the drink spiller a willful and intentional drink spilling arse even though they do not know whether or not he spilled the drink on purpose. In addition, the drink spiller is not being given the opportunity to either defend himself, or to explain himself. And lastly, the spill was cleaned up before anyone could even see for certain whether or not it actually happened.

    To repeat, I believe Watson’s statement of the chain of events. It is Watson’s insupportable assumptions, asccusations, and suppositions that I’ve been posting about.

    As for the rest of your post, you are clearly missing the point, and also fabricating events to suit your angry thesis. I don’t think it would behoove me, this blog, or the rest of the participants to fill yet more space trying for the umpteenth time to clarify something you clearly have no wish to have clarified.

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  74. 74. nerdygirl 4:35 pm 07/22/2011

    @ John Greg

    “In addition, the drink spiller is not being given the opportunity to either defend himself, or to explain himself.”

    Is somebody holding him down? Is he handcuffed to a radiator? Has he been extradited to Gitmo?

    It seems the only person on the intertoobs who hasn’t spoken up on the subject is EG.

    “And lastly, the spill was cleaned up before anyone could even see for certain whether or not it actually happened.”

    Except the point is that the damned spill happens at every. single. gathering. and is never cleaned up.

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  75. 75. John Greg 5:38 pm 07/22/2011

    In reply to to nerdygirl #73.

    “Is somebody holding him down? Is he handcuffed to a radiator? Has he been extradited to Gitmo?”

    Thanks; probably a good point. Although, I suspect by this time it’s actually too late for him to “arise” without being assaulted one way or another, so maybe he’s in hiding.

    “Except the point is that the damned spill happens at every. single. gathering. and is never cleaned up.”

    Huh? Watson gets hit on in elevators at every single gathering she goes to?

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  76. 76. Yagisanatode 8:39 pm 07/22/2011

    First, I want to thank Rebecca Watson and Jennifer Ouellette for raising such an important ethical issue. While from what I have read from Ms Watson, she did not intend for her comments to be made such a deal of, these ethical debates, when treated with concern are important for the progress of and group. I agree that the advances of men can be an irritant and should be addressed professionally.
    I only wish to enquire about a small part of the arguments made in the above article.
    I don’t have any answers but many questions. Is it logically efficient to believe that all men are potential sex offenders? Assuming that this gives certain women a heightened and prolonged state of anxiety and stress during their every day life, would this have long term effects on the person’s health? The belief that all men are potentially dangerous seems to me to be a logical fallacy. While I see the importance of making general assumptions, people often make these assumptions based on the experiences in similar environments.
    For example. I live in Japan. When I walk to work I know that the rate of violent crime here is very low so I have no level of anxiety and am not really aware of my personal safety. If I did the same in Australia perhaps my anxiety and awareness may increase with the statistical evidence of crime. When I was in the army on active service in a war zone my level of anxiety and awareness was at its peak and boy was that exhausting. Now I know that I never once got out my calculator and worked out the likelihood of each environmental hazard but I certainly changed my behaviour to my environment. Would this be the same for women in these conditions?

    Do we have the statistics on the number of attacks by skeptics and atheists on women? Or perhaps the number of rapes or sexual violence instigated in hotel lifts compared to the average origins of sexual violence against women and compared to the number of victims of sexual violence per capita. I know that question sounds a little sarcastic but having even the slightest awareness of the statistics would change how a person would deal with their environment more effectively.

    On another note. While I believe that a persons fear for their safety overrides any of the other concerns I will express below I would encourage you to consider on small case. I am a tall muscular man (not an advertisement). Like another commenter wrote, even if I give a guy a stern look I can see that they become very nervous. I am aware of how my size effects people and I try to alleviate this stress on people whenever I can. But because of my size I often have women cross the road – or in some cases in Japan run away from me – when I walk by. I try and make sure I keep my distance and I know from experience to avoid eye contact because that seems to stress some women more. I don’t enter elevators when there is a woman by myself. I used to wonder why women reached into their bag every time I was alone in an elevator with them only to discover one day that a woman had a can of mace ready in her hand. I really freaked me out. It takes a while for some female work colleagues to talk professionally with me rather than a few meek words before scurrying off. I can’t even smile at children playing in a playground on my way to work without fearful look and mothers calling children to their safety.

    My wife and close female friends even get annoyed at the way women behave around me like this. Most of the time I see the funny side of it and laugh it off but honestly I find it debilitating and humiliating. By no means does this compare to the way women feel in fear of their safety but it is another perspective that I wish to highlight for this debate. Perhaps with a better understand of the statistics instead of the pervasive fear that the news and media feed us we could be adept at handling these situations.

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  77. 77. moxie7 8:48 pm 07/22/2011

    OK so no commentary on the belief that seems to be expressed that it’s “OK” to hit on the “hot chick in the comic store” but not the “respected skeptic speaker”? Yikes!

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  78. 78. MonkeyJoe 11:54 pm 07/22/2011

    moxie, the way I understood the comic shop reference was that it’s a glib way to point out to a guy that he is acting like the guy in the comic shop song and that that is not okay. The nerd hitting on your daughter at gamestop is just as much unwelcome and wrong in his advances, and that’s the point of the suggested phrase. If I frequented the comic shops/gamestops of the world, I would try and make a point of calling out my brethren if they were making women uncomfortable there.

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  79. 79. delzoup 12:08 am 07/23/2011

    oxie7 (71)

    …it’s time we stopped the “good girl/bad girl” thing. … NO WOMAN, be she skeptic or not, deserves to be made uncomfortable or hit on in situations where they may feel unsafe.”

    Moxie7, Ouellette is trying to say don’t be like the guys in the Tripod song, Hot Girl in the COmicbook Shop, that she mentions previously and embedded at the end of her post. It might have been awkwardly worded, but it was not meant as a dis against comic book ladies.

    John Greg (68)

    I do not disbelieve her statement of the events, nor do I disbelive her claim to feeling uncomfortable, neither do I dispute her absolute right to feel whatever she felt at that time.

    Then I am not really sure why you are objecting so very hard, because in the end EG’s intentions don’t really change the outcome.

    Option A) EG did intend to make a pass at Watson. He asked her up to his room late at night while they were alone in an elevator, which was creepy. He asked her up even though he had been to both the conference and the bar where she stated publicly that she did not want to be hit on. Either he was not listening or he was being disrespectful.
    Final Result: Don’t ask out a woman out at 4am in the elevator, and/or when she has repeatedly, publicly requested not to be hit on.

    Option B) EG did not intend to make a pass at Watson. He asked her up to his room late at night while they were alone in an elevator, which was creepy. He asked her up in a way that , given the circumstances, most people would assume was a pass, even though he had been to both the conference and the bar where she stated publicly that she did not want to be hit on. Either he was not listening, he was being disrespectful, or he was insensitive and cluesless.
    Final Result: Don’t ask out a woman out at 4am in the elevator, and/or when she has repeatedly, publicly requested not to be hit on.

    What option C do you really see that allows men to make passes alone, small elevators in the wee hours of the morning to relative strangers once the news is out that this makes women uncomfortable?

    If feels like we’re crucifying the guy in the elevator for making a sexualized pass. My question, beyond the obvious ignorance to his frame of reference, why do I get the sense that most people on this board would be 100% against sexualized passes? If not at a conference of your peers, when is it ever appropriate to hit on a lady?

    This seems like you answer your own question. To be redundant, it’s ok to hit on people, but some times are better than others. A few examples:

    *At a fun social gathering, like a bar, party, or event is better than At a serious working setting, like working out at the gym, studying at the library, or … at work
    *Asking her out in a way where turning you down does not put her on the spotis better than A small enclosed area without exits
    *When the other party has made it clear that they are single and looking, say by joining a dating site is better than when the other party has made it clear they are not interested in being hit on, or they are in a commited relationship
    *Early in the day when you both have energy, or invite out for a day where you can both be rested and refreshed is better than asking someone at 4 am when they are on the way to bed
    *Asking out someone to a public location, where there is no pressure to be physical is better than asking someone to a private room
    *asking someone out sober is better than asking someone out while intoxicated

    You just have to pay attention to common sense, and it is possible that you might find your one true love (or a quick fling) at a con–as long as you are respectful and considerate.

    EG’s mistake was not that he hit on Watson, but that he was inconsiderate and boorish. The problem is that instead of correcting EG’s behavior, some people are going to great lengths to defend EG and blame Watson & women. This is a pattern of blaming the victim/protecting the offender is something I have seen over and over again, and it was this pattern that I think nerdygirl was saying with her milkspill analogy.

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  80. 80. Woden 2:57 am 07/23/2011

    A few things that I feel need to be pointed out:

    1) The situation involving Linda Henneberg at CERN does *not* sound as though it is an issue of sexism–it sounds much, much, *much* more likely that it is an issue of educational elitism. If there is any sexism going on in that example, it would be in that her treatment seemed to be kinder than a male in her situation would have received.

    2) In regards to Elevator Guy, I am seeing many people (including Rebecca Watson herself) claiming that Ms. Watson’s prior discussion at the conference was about “being hit on”… yet, having reviewed some video of that same conference, the only thing I see her discussing is sexually abusive and sexually explicit emails, which is far from the situation presented with E.G. (that is, a poorly timed yet polite proposal, and an apparently gracious acceptance of refusal).

    Furthermore, his advance being characterized as “sexually objectifying” is not only silly, but downright demeaning to both men and women everywhere. Humans, of both genders, are more than capable of being sexually attracted to someone without denigrating them to the status of a mere object, and this is something that a number of radical feminists seem to be far too quick to forget. I am perfectly capable of being both physically and intellectually attracted to a woman, and I know that I am far from the only male who can make this claim.

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  81. 81. jason hunter 5:24 am 07/23/2011

    Can i just sum this up for you?

    EG made a dumbass move.

    Watson used his example as a generalized example.

    A reactionary minority took offense at the generalization.

    A reactionary group of supporters took to Waton’s defense.

    Yadda yadda, some guy Dawkins, some gal McGraw… interruption

    tabloid hyperbole

    A woman at CERN is one of few women and isn’t academically respected.

    The point is missed.

    The Scientific American blog responses are filled with the finer points of disproving the hyperbole of others.

    @delzoup
    i completely agree that it is unfair to vilify a woman who feels uncomfortable. The human(e) response should be to understand and make easy those discomforts. i merely extend the same courtesy to EG—that he not be unfairly vilified. However, as i have said, i think he was out of line because he was present for Watson’s declaration of off limits. He’s a dick, not a villain. Beyond that, people have multiple layers and their understanding can incorporate multiple levels of comprehension of a given instance, particularly when we’re referring to a community of intellectuals. Perhaps you are a married person and have downshifted the emphasis of your sexual impulses, but i would find it hard to believe that you don’t also have a layer of that aspect in your interactions with members of the other sex. Yet, one also regards any person in many other ways. Perhaps a professional idea team, perhaps commiserating after work over a beer. It doesn’t really matter, unless one is a 2 dimensional dickhead, one constantly balances a complex matrix of social mores that varies from person to person. i’m basically saying that i believe Ms. Watson when she says she doesn’t want to be sexualized. And i won’t sexualize Ms. Watson. Even if she’s really hot. (i do have a sardonic sense of humor, and i hope others do too…) But, being the egalitarian that i am, i will allow for each individual person to decide what they want out of a moment.

    Be polite. Right?

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  82. 82. Woden 9:54 am 07/23/2011

    @jason hunter:
    Actually, as I pointed out above, I can’t find where Ms. Watson actually made the “off-limits” discussion she said she had. It most certainly wasn’t at the conference, of which video is available on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W014KhaRtik). I didn’t catch any mention of anything beyond fan mail which was wishing or threatening rape, and fan mail which was sexually explicit. Neither of those is anything that could *remotely* be expected to have warned Elevator Guy off from his polite approach, and neither are E.G.’s actions in any way indicating sexual objectification (another claim Ms. Watson made against E.G.); he specifically stated, by Ms. Watson’s own account, that he finds her interesting, after having attended a conference where she was a speaker, for chrissakes.

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  83. 83. Woden 9:55 am 07/23/2011

    Pardon, that should have been “[...]*hate* mail which was wishing or threatening[...]“, not fan mail.

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  84. 84. Woden 8:07 pm 07/23/2011

    Re-reading my comments, I realized that I need to clarify something:

    In regards to Linda Henneberg, the footsie-playing, inappropriate touching, and other acts of the sort are definitely sexual harassment; they are virtually textbook examples of such. I did not intend to downplay that, but after re-reading my comment, I realized how easily it could be interpreted as trying to do so. Those actions were wholly inappropriate, and should have been dealt with as any other instances of sexual harassment would be. Such behavior is unprofessional and should not be condoned.

    *However*, with regards to the following quote:
    “[P]eople here, men especially, treat me like some sort of novelty item. Like because I am not a physicist, I have nothing substantive to contribute to CERN, but it’s cute that I try.”

    I do not see the above as being remotely related to sexism, when educational elitism is a far more credible explanation. While it is, I am certain, unpleasant to be on the receiving end of such treatment… Ms. Henneberg did *not* have the same level of educational credentials as the physicists she was working with. She was not their equal, she was an intern. An intern expecting to be treated as an equal by their superiors is holding an unrealistic expectation.

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  85. 85. John Greg 9:13 pm 07/23/2011

    Woden, in regard to your last paragraph I think you are quite right.

    I’ve known a fair number of PhDs in my time, and I cannot imagine any one of them, whether male or female, under any circumstances treating an intern with any semblance of equality when it comes to contributing to the academic environment. That’s just not how it’s done. Ever. As far as most PhD’s would be concerned, male and female, Henneberg would indeed “have nothing substantive to contribute to CERN” until she defended and earned her own PhD.

    It’s another instance, which I regret overlooking, that highlights why Ouellette’s essay is both fundamentally flawed and intellectually dishonest.

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  86. 86. Woden 12:07 am 07/24/2011

    Riftmann @ 49:

    2- More horse hooey. The noise from the ‘feminist’ didn’t start until the ugly noise from the male privileged group started.

    And this excuses equally bad behavior from the feminist side? Hell, I strongly emphasize with feminism (moreover, I find the term to be a misnomer, as the real goal is equality for everyone; the very name is, I feel, part of why the radicals and female chauvinists so readily come to the public mind)–the main reason that I do not self-identify as a feminist is purely because I do not wish to be associated with the, frankly, dogmatic and unreasonable people (of both genders) who comprise the radical end of feminism, but who so heavily color the popular perception of the movement. When they go and fight prejudice with prejudice, and insult with insult, they are doing a disservice to their own movement, and they definitely deserve to be called out for it. Has the popular wisdom of “two wrongs don’t make a right” and “be the better person” really been lost on us all? Do we need to respond to hostility and idiocy by sinking down to the same levels?

    3-see #46 above please by zhimbo. Watson called out a person that named her publicly on a public blog. She did so in a public forum and had the descency to quote her and give her credit for the quote.

    Hardly so. She did not simply quote her as an example, but by all accounts, described her as “parroting misogynist thinking,” and did this from the position of being a keynote speaker in which her target had no real opportunity to respond. This is especially hypocritical given that it has been pointed out that in a prior similar situation, Watson herself had used a speaking role she had later in a conference (rather than the Q&A session, as Watson herself suggested that Stef use) to address something said of her while she was in the audience; Stef McGraw had no such opportunity afforded to her.

    Also the “always name names” point rings incredibly hollow given how exceedingly selective the application has been. It has been applied to Stef McGraw, Richard Dawkins… yeah, that seems to be about it. Quite a small selection for “ALWAYS name names,” wouldn’t you say? Particularly given that both examples have been used to basically say, “Look, a traitor!”

    Riftmann @ 59

    It is past the elevator incident. It is past Watson and McGraw. It’s past PZ and Dawkins. Why are some, mostly guys, getting so worked up about this??? Why is this thing entering its second month?

    For me, at least, it is because I am utterly disgusted with some of the things I am seeing said by people who claim to be skeptical and rational. While many horrible things are being said on both sides of the issue, I further find that the very positive response that some of the pro-Watson radical feminists are receiving to be especially dismaying. PZ Meyer has practically been encouraging it lately, and even shut me down when I tried to point out just how rabid it is getting. Responding to a calmly and honestly asked question with nothing but a string of invectives and personal insults is not even remotely appropriate, and serves only to stifle debate, and yet I am seeing it encouraged in a number of venues. This isn’t even getting into the whole “you’re either with us, or you’re against us” mentality that has been cropping up, which also serves no purpose but to stifle debate.

    The main thing that I, as a general outsider who sometimes observes but rarely enters the discussions, has been that there has been:
    A small number of (presumably entirely) men who are being misogynistic boors;
    A small (but seemingly larger) number of men and women who are being misandrists or female chauvinists, and/or simply dogmatic, condescending, and rude, but who are receiving support from a small number of big-names (such as PZ Myers);
    And a whole lot of people in the middle who are generally going “Seriously, what the hell?!” and being hated on by one or both of the other groups. In particular, I have seen the ugly “with us or against us” mentality rear its ugly head, causing people who support Watson’s original message (“please don’t do this, it makes us uncomfortable”) but criticize her on other points (e.g., her treatment of Stef McGraw) or who take issue with the hyperbole and nastiness of some of the radicals on the pro-Watson side, to get called misogynists, or have it claimed that they “just don’t get it,” or otherwise be dismissed and/or insulted.

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  87. 87. John Greg 2:26 am 07/24/2011

    In reply to Woden #85.

    Woden, I think you’ve got it spot-on. The general tenor these days, coming from the gender feminsts (as opposed to the equity feminists) is that if you question their ideology, or offer disagreement or dissent to any degree, you are a mysogynist or gender traitor, you don’t get it, you are sexist and almost certainly a rape apologist and/or enabler, and absolutely no rational discussion with varying opinions is allowed. Utterly verboten.

    And finally, even if you are young, black, broke, female, and/or gay, you suffer from old white rich male heterosexual privilege — seriously, I’ve witnessed several gender feminists accuse a wide range of non-white, non-male, poor, etc., folks as suffering from the above mentioned privilege.

    And over at Phryngula it is positively toxic, psychotically so. PZ Myers gleefully encourages such intelligent rhetoric as “shut the fuck up”, “you’re too stupid to breathe”, “just fuck off”, “stick it up your urethra with a porcupine”, and so on in response to simple disagreement with any Pharyngulated doctrine, by calling it, I kid you not, rational and reasoned dialogue.

    What seems to have happened is that a large group of radical feminism supporters, incapable of independentaly understanding such concepts as critical thought, skepticism, or objective analysis, as well as being incapable of understanding that the real world is not black and white but is layered with nuance, have been aided and abetted in their rather rabid madness by Watson, Myers, Marcotte, and other so-called leaders in the feminist community who are in search of media cache and public recognition.

    Or so it seems to me.

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  88. 88. S.E. Gould (labrat) 7:27 am 07/24/2011

    Wow. We’ve reached comment number 86 on a post about how women are often made to feel uncomfortable in situations that men are traditionally a large part of, and we’ve got two people agreeing that the whole elevator-guy fuss was really caused by “a large group of radical feminism supporters, incapable of independentaly understanding such concepts as critical thought, skepticism, or objective analysis.”

    You’re right. It is a bit chilly in here!

    I am proud to be a feminist. But I am SO GLAD right now that I would never touch this whole ‘skeptic community’ with a bargepole. It seems to be an excuse for people to wind themselves up with smug superior righteousness ala Dawkins.

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  89. 89. Woden 10:12 am 07/24/2011

    @ S.E. Gould:

    and we’ve got two people agreeing that the whole elevator-guy fuss was really caused by “a large group of radical feminism supporters,[...]“

    TWO people? I would assume that you are including me in this comment, and I am very unappreciative of that, given that I have said nothing of the sort. I have maintained that the level of anger and poor conduct emanating from the radical feminists has contributed to the way things have gotten polarized and how debate and disagreement have turned into nothing more than name-calling. If you look back on my posts, I have not denied that sexism exists, that there are misogynists in the community, or that actual misogynists were part of the spark that set all of this off. I have, however, condemned the positive response that is being given to radical feminists who are being every bit as bad as the much-maligned individuals that they are arguing with.

    Let me make this absolutely clear for you: I support Watson’s purpose in her original video, that is, informing men that the action was creepy so that they would know not to do so again. I support taking action against sexual harassment. I do NOT, however, support people who will stoop to the same debate-killing tactics that I regularly deal with from Creationists, nor do I support community leaders abusing their authority to shield one side of a discussion from honest critique, nor do I support them joining in with the mud-slinging.

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  90. 90. John Greg 10:32 am 07/24/2011

    In reply to S.E. Gould (labrat) #87.

    I have a fairly strong impression that you are not reading the comments very closely and without initial bias blocking your understanding of what is actually being said.

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  91. 91. 2Geeked 10:38 am 07/24/2011

    When Jennifer Ouellette proffers a “Manifesto For Change”, it automatically brought to mind the forerunner from which all such Feminist Manifestos harvest their larger ideas, which is the S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. (http://www.womynkind.org/scum.htm)

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  92. 92. delzoup 6:40 pm 07/24/2011

    Perhaps you are a married person and have downshifted the emphasis of your sexual impulses, but i would find it hard to believe that you don’t also have a layer of that aspect in your interactions with members of the other sex.- 80. jason hunter

    Am I reading this right, that you are implying that a person is sexually frigid if you’re not lusting the opposite sex? I’m not trying to be hostile, I just can’t seem to see this comment in another context, and it seem to speculate on my sexual impulses specifically, so I want to make sure I was understanding you correctly.

    I just think there are some places that are better than others for hitting on acquaintances and strangers: bars are better than elevators, weddings are better than wakes. I also think that it is the responsibility of the person who is propositioning (or even platonically asking) to recognize if this is an appropriate time and place.

    Sometimes I think that the gentlemen here are in agreement with me on this concept. Sometimes I think that as long as someone accepts that “no means no” that it is ok to ask anyone anything, anywhere. Ignoring “no means no” makes you a criminal, ignoring context makes you a jerk, and having no repercussions for being a jerk makes you privileged.

    Which brings me to the remarks regarding Linda Henneberg.

    I do not see the above as being remotely related to sexism…An intern expecting to be treated as an equal by their superiors is holding an unrealistic expectation. Woden (83)

    I do not believe that Henneberg was expecting to be treated as an equal by her superiors–I think she was having trouble delinating her experiance into woman/non-physicist categories. Like she says in her intro:

    This post is about my experiences as a woman and as a non-physicist while at CERN. I feel that these are two separate issues, but I am having difficulty addressing them separately, since my experiences as a woman are so closely related to my experiences as a non-physicist in the way that people treat me here.

    She elaborates how she perceives how women/non-scientist aspect.

    And I think that if I was a physicist, I would probably not get hit on as much. I think that some people just don’t take me seriously, because I do education, not physics. And because I don’t do “serious” intellectual work, that makes me more ok to hit on? Maybe it’s the whole “Mad Men” type of mentality, where executives are free to harass their secretaries because they have “lower,” “less important” jobs.

    Hell, I strongly emphasize with feminism - Woden (85)

    Hehe :) Thank you, this made me giggle, when overall this discussion makes me feel kinda sad and weary.
    It’s another instance, which I regret overlooking, that highlights why Ouellette’s essay is both fundamentally flawed and intellectually dishonest. – John Greg (86)
    Oullette’s Essay is about the chilly climate in skeptic/science communities and what can be done to make it more welcoming for women. Do you discount the whole essay? Is the skeptic/science community welcoming to women?
    Your original-7 points argue that Oullette was not fair by ignoring the counterarguments of Elavatorgate and that invalidated her argument, although it was only a small part of her essay. You have now discounted her remarks on Henneberg because she should not expect respect as an intern. It seems like there’s still plenty of essay left to chew on.
    Also, do I seem, “ incapable of independently understanding such concepts as critical thought, skepticism, or objective analysis, as well as being incapable of understanding that the real world is not black and white but is layered with nuance?” as I tend to be a radical feminist…

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  93. 93. rcreative1 7:44 pm 07/24/2011

    I was a bit disappointed in myself when Jen McCreight called out David Eller at the Rapture RAM in May because, until she spoke up, I hadn’t noticed anything wrong with Eller’s comments. As Greta Christina and others seconded Jen’s complaint, I sensed a palpable “duh!” moment pass over most of the audience, and I was grateful to Jen et al for speaking out. I also sympathized with Eller because I could see that he didn’t mean to offend anyone … he very likely thought he was offering a great compliment. Those of us who benefit from privilege have a hard time seeing it in ourselves.

    I’ve also followed the “elevatorgate” story with dismay. Even if you object to Watson’s feminist point of view, the incident could just as easily be boiled down to basic respect for a person’s clearly and politely stated preferences. At bottom, the man in the elevator at 4 a.m. had NOT listened to or given any credit to anything Watson had said, and the great majority of anti-Watson commentators compounded that error by repeating it. The further mind-boggling aspect of the whole thing was that most of the critics were atheists who complain about objectification and discrimination directed at them by the religious majority. I was shocked when I read Richard Dawkins’ “Muslima” commentary, but as a person who strives to live skeptically, I mentally separated his failure in this area from the great contributions he has made in others. My sense was that a good portion of the anti-Watson commentary was really misguided defensiveness on Dawkins’ behalf. Again, those of us who benefit from privilege often have trouble seeing it.

    In my opinion, the atheist and skeptical communities should be eager to take the feminist viewpoint on board both to help the men in the movement “get it,” and because the ongoing attacks by religious authorities on women deserve our contempt.

    Thank you, Jennifer.

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  94. 94. Woden 8:05 pm 07/24/2011

    rcreative1 @ 92:

    In my opinion, the atheist and skeptical communities should be eager to take the feminist viewpoint on board both to help the men in the movement “get it,” and because the ongoing attacks by religious authorities on women deserve our contempt.

    I agree. Equality in religious preference, equality in gender, equality in skin color and heritage, equality in sexuality; all of these are important and often related struggles. However, I feel that it is important to stress that equality should be the goal; too often (not so much as a percentage of the movement, but more as a percentage of what the media covers), I see feminists who go off the deep end: they stop pushing for equality, and instead start pushing for patriarchy to be replaced with matriarchy. While fighting against male chauvinism is important, replacing it with female chauvinism is not an improvement at all. Turning one type of discrimination into another type of discrimination still leaves you with discrimination. I am not accusing anyone here of this, but… well, given what I have read over at Pharyngula, this attitude of “oppress the oppressor” is still alive and well.

    Eh. I guess at this point, I’m probably sounding like a broken record speaking out against the excesses of extremist feminists. In my defense, this is directly due to how I have perceived these extremist views being accepted and cultivated in some venues during discussions of the elevator incident (I refuse to use any “-gate” terms other than Watergate. Seriously, it’s such a goofy way to name scandals. >_< ).

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  95. 95. John Greg 8:08 pm 07/24/2011

    In reply to delzoup #91.

    “Do you discount the whole essay?”

    No, I do not discount the whole essay; indeed I think there are several valid points in it. But I do question its overall integrity and intellectual honesty. Which only means that it is my belief that readers should take it with several grains of salt, using, one would hope, some informed judgement.

    “Is the skeptic/science community welcoming to women?”

    It would certainly seem not. But for several reasons I am suspect as to the degree that it is unwelcoming, especially the degree to which the less rational and more angry gender feminists insist upon. One of those reasons is because essays like this, with some questionable facts, and some suspect intellectual honesty, tend to encourage readers who are ideologically myopic to get overly worked up, hostile, and irrational, and to suspect things may be worse than they in fact are, and to then lambaste, insult, and generally pillory anyone who disagrees with their argument however slightly. So, in that sense, I see essays like this as actually fanning the flames that damage the cause of equality feminism in favour of the zealotry of the less rational gender feminists.

    “Your original-7 points argue that Oullette was not fair by ignoring the counterarguments of Elavatorgate and that invalidated her argument, although it was only a small part of her essay.”

    I didn’t say it entirely invalidated it, I said it made it fundamentally flawed and intellectually dishonest. Still, I can see how on the surface that might look overblown. I’ll try to clarify. The essay is an almost textbook example of an essay based on the principles of Aristotelian rhetoric, with the logos and ethos presentations in the first section (the Henneberg section), which are then boosted and reinforced by the pathos of the second section (the Elevatorgate section), and then all of that is followed by the resolution (the Manifest for Change) — which also carries some flawed ethos and logos, but that’s not necessarily relevant at the moment. So, in a rhetorical essay if the ethos and logos are flawed, and the pathos is dishonest, then although the pathos may be only a small part of the whole, because its function is to support the whole then therefore, yes, it weakens the whole when it is dishonest.

    I don’t know how links work at this blog, but Wikipedia has some good stuff on rhetoric.

    “You have now discounted her remarks on Henneberg because she should not expect respect as an intern.”

    I didn’t discount them, I pointed out that they were not wholly accurate and are subject to deeper and wider interpretation.

    In that you call my points discounting as opposed to appealing for a deeper interpretation, yes, perhaps you see the world in a more black and white perspective. Maybe; maybe not. I don’t have enough to go on to really answer your question. But certainly many, many posters on this issue around the ‘net do indeed see only a “my side or your side”; “with us or against us” kind of perspective. And that is simply not realiatic.

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  96. 96. flame821 8:11 pm 07/24/2011

    I know this comment will be seen as stirring the pot or vilifying elevator guy. However as a young woman who has to actually has to keep these things in her mind at all times or risk being a victim and, unfortunately, getting to play the ‘blame the victim’ game with law enforcement and courts.

    1] Do we all agree that EG was at the talk, and at the bar and heard Watson repeatedly say she did not want to be hit on.

    2] Do we all agree that instead of speaking to her during the 4 hours at the bar where he apparently sat silently taking in the conversation he waited until after she had excused herself as she was ‘falling asleep at the table’ and wanted to go to bed.

    3] Do we all agree that he waited for her to get into the elevator and THEN propositioned her.

    If we all agree on these things, I think I know where it falls apart with several of the comments I’m reading on this thread.

    Many of the commentors here seem to find this ‘fair sport’ he liked what he saw and decided to give it a shot.

    Other Commentors, for reasons quite beyond me, have decided that the man who sat silently for 4 hours in the bar and waited to get in into an enclosed space and THEN decided he wanted to talk to her, no really…TALK to her in his ROOM over coffee is really, actually what he wanted and we’re all horrible, horrible people for thinking otherwise.

    Let me tell you my take on this. IF (big IF, granted) things had played out differently. If EG had attacked her, do you have any idea what would be happening right now? The police would be questioning them, including her. Asking her WHY did she stay on the elevator when she felt uncomfortable with this man. Why didn’t she get out when she saw he was drunk? Why didn’t she dial 911 as soon as he propositioned her? WHAT WAS SHE THINKING GOING TO HER ROOM WITHOUT AN ESCORT AT THAT TIME OF NIGHT?

    As young women we are taught and told time and time again; do not walk alone. Do not talk to strangers. Do not accept rides from strangers. Listen to your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right get out of there.

    We are taught to see potential danger in nearly every man we see. We are taught that too many men cannot or will not control their ‘urges’ therefore WE have to stay out of any situation that might even vaguely seem dangerous or iffy, because if something happens then we only have ourselves to blame.

    Think that is harsh? Look around you. How many times have you seen lawyers bringing up a rape victim’s past even if it is not related to the situation at hand. Too many men get a pass on rape, so often it is not even prosecuted due to the ‘he said, she said’ nature of the crime.

    Commentors on here wonder why women have an issue with men not respecting their wishes, particularly well expressed and repeated wishes. Wonder why we don’t feel welcome when we’re vilified for calling attention to stressful, possibly dangerous situations? Wonder why so many people sent Watson threats in the form of promised sexual assault?

    Take a look at the society you’ve help to form. Are all men rapist? Of course not. CAN ANY man be a rapist? Most definitely yes. You expect women to somehow magically know who the good guy and bad guys are. You get offended if a ‘good guy’ is cast in a bad light. You blame a woman if she ‘put herself in a bad situation’ or didn’t know not to trust ‘that guy’. How could anyone with a working brain fall for that. What was she thinking?

    How many times have we heard these things said. How many times are you going to blame women for listening, for not listening, for simply being a woman and trying to live and walk in the same world you do without having to worry about how she dresses, walks, speaks, who she talks to, how she sits, what shift she works, where she parks her car.

    I don’t think some of the commentors on this thread understand what life for women is like. Some women hide it better than others, but we all have these thoughts going through our heads because most of us know, no matter what happens, someone will point the finger at us and make it ‘our’ fault. As if we don’t have the same right to be a person and live a life as a man.

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  97. 97. John Greg 10:32 pm 07/24/2011

    In reply to flame821 #95.

    “1] Do we all agree that EG was at the talk, and at the bar and heard Watson repeatedly say she did not want to be hit on.”

    No. There does not seem to be any confirmation that he was in fact at the talk — he may have been, but there is no confirmation one way or the other (I may have overlooked or forgotten a specific confirmation of this as time has passed). Neither do we know that if he was at the talk whether he in fact was listening or was otherwise occupied. There has also been some doubt expressed as to whether or not Watson even spoke at the talk about not wanting to be hit on, or whether that discussion only came up at te bar. Also, it has been noted by other folks on other blogs that when in a bar it is actually quite difficult to hear any conversation other than the one you are immediately involved in. And there has been, so far as I know, no confirmation from Watson that EG was actually at her table.

    “2] Do we all agree that instead of speaking to her during the 4 hours at the bar where he apparently sat silently taking in the conversation he waited until after she had excused herself as she was ‘falling asleep at the table’ and wanted to go to bed.”

    No. I do not think Watson ever said that EG “sat silently taking in the conversation” at her table. As I understand it, that is yet one more of the many groundless assumptions made by her supporters in lieu of evidence. If someone has a link to Watson stating that EG was in fact sitting at Watson’s table “silently taking in the conversation”, please provide it.

    “3] Do we all agree that he waited for her to get into the elevator and THEN propositioned her.”

    No. Again, to the best of my knowledge, Watson has nowhere stated whether EG followed her on to the elevator, preceded her on to the elevator, or walked in at the same time. But, however they entered the elevator, it was apparently after that that he invited her for coffee.

    Link to this
  98. 98. Woden 1:59 am 07/25/2011

    flame821 @ 95:

    Think that is harsh? Look around you. How many times have you seen lawyers bringing up a rape victim’s past even if it is not related to the situation at hand. Too many men get a pass on rape, so often it is not even prosecuted due to the ‘he said, she said’ nature of the crime.

    Umm… beg pardon? Are we looking at the same cases? I honestly would like some clarification on this… which region’s cases are you referring to? I could see this being very different between, say, the United States, Iceland, and Greece.

    However, moving past that issue for now, I have to say that the cases I am familiar with and the data I have seen strongly leads me in the opposite direction in regards to rape cases: at least in the U.S. jurisdictions I am more familiar with, rape cases are often prosecuted with the assumption that the alleged victim is telling the truth, and, basically, would not dare to make up such a heinous crime. There have even been a few cases in which directly-relevant information about the accuser’s past (e.g., psychological disturbances, past rape accusations that were proven to be false, etc.) have been denied admission as evidence. And data suggests that false charges of rape are not at all a rarity.

    However, there are a number of high-profile individuals out there, such as Amanda Marcotte and Wendy Murphy, who try to paint an entirely different picture (Wendy Murphy has even suggested that accused rapists should be exempt from “innocent until proven guilty”). There have been a number of cases which were conclusively proven to be false claims of rape, which these individuals and others had viciously attacked the character and innocence of the accused, as well as being extremely hostile towards anyone who dared to suggest even the possibility that the claim was not true.

    I’ll attempt to post a link to a relevant article here:

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/noble-lie-feminist-style_577309.html

    Link to this
  99. 99. Zenbuffy 6:17 am 07/25/2011

    This blog used to have a link to mine, and on twitter, I told Jennifer Ouellette that I thought she had interpreted my blog incorrectly. In response, she accused me of making the article all about me, dismissed me out of hand, and then edited the article to remove the link. You’ll note that there is no indication of this post-publication edit above, and I noted, with deepest irony, that only a few hours later, she tweeted a link about how to correctly cite blogs when posting.

    When someone displays such a lack of basic integrity, I’m afraid I can’t take seriously what they have to say about serious issues. Looking for proof – screenshots, etc. at my blog: http://www.zenbuffy.com/2011/07/integrity-starts-at-home/

    Link to this
  100. 100. gphil 9:33 am 07/26/2011

    yowza. i didn’t know anything about the skeptic/athiest community until today (i was referred to this piece from a philosophy blog– our discipline having its own problems with the chilling effect), and after a gander at the comments thread here i’m going to do my best to forget about it again. good luck, ladies. sounds like you’re wasting your breath.

    Link to this
  101. 101. wormguy2u 7:55 pm 07/27/2011

    Sorry, #2 what organized group one chooses to affiliate with is a choice and so is how a person responds to actions by anyone obviously affiliating with that group – be it atheist skeptics and boorish behavior at conferences or the Catholic church and pedophiles or blogs. Those choices tell me a lot about that person. Despite the latter caveat one can evaluate data or what a person says independently. Zenbuffy may have “problems” with Jennifer’s integrity, but I have no problem accepting the fundamental thesis that “chilling” exists and that it preferentially is applied against females. That has nothing to do with whatever may happen in society (like false accusations of rape) and that some women aren’t bothered by it doesn’t mean other women have to suck it up or pretend that equality means accepting it. And men, like me, who acknowledge it are not apologists. I’ve never been propositioned in an elevator (I am vain enough to think it’s not my looks); I consider any man boorish enough to proposition a woman in that way to be mentally messed up and therefore an elevated threat. I’ve never been discounted in meetings in the way I have seen many women treated. So, go ahead and find counter examples or excuses for discounting the messenger; the condition exists just like racism exists.

    Link to this
  102. 102. kclancy 10:51 am 07/28/2011

    Just heading over to this post to send appreciation in Jennifer’s direction. This post was thoughtful, kind, and provides important information about the chilly climate that many women experience in their workplaces or hobbies. I’ll be passing it along to my students.

    Link to this
  103. 103. John Greg 3:22 am 07/29/2011

    Just heading over to this post to send appreciation in Jennifer’s [mendacious] direction. This post was thoughtful, [dishonest,] kind, [biased,] and provides important [self-confirmation biased] information about the chilly climate that many women experience in their workplaces or hobbies. I’ll be passing it along to my students [because there's nothing like intellectual dishonesty to provide a fit education for the leaders of tomorow].

    Link to this
  104. 104. whitewater12 1:30 am 07/31/2011

    For the Watson story you left out one thing a lot of people were objecting to.

    She said Elevator Guy sexualized her when in reality all he did was ask for coffee.

    To assume that any man who would do that automatically wants sex to me seems to be playing to gender stereotypes (that all men are perverts).

    Link to this
  105. 105. PhillipHelbig 9:23 am 08/2/2011

    I think it is interesting to reproduce Linda Henneberg’s response to the first (rather aggressive) comment on her blog post:

    Actually, the vast majority of the men making uncomfortable comments and gestures toward me have been American, not European. And they have all been physicists; none of the Europeans that I work with in the education group have done or said anything inappropriate to me.

    Link to this
  106. 106. JDahiya 9:16 am 11/25/2011

    Thanks for the post, Ms Ouellette. Chilly climate is a problem for everyone, except perhaps the privileged. I will be posting the link further.

    Indeed, reading the comments to the (bitter) end shows just how such chilly climates get set up by ignorant people and how important it is to call these assumptions out. (Not to mention trolls who loudly, stubbornly and provocatively insist on showing just what they are–wrong.)

    Link to this

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