Monday, October 29, 2012

Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) and "no means no"

From Sexism in the skeptic community: I spoke out, then came the rape threats.:
The audience was receptive, and afterward I spent many hours in the hotel bar discussing issues of gender, objectification, and misogyny with other thoughtful atheists. At around 4 a.m., I excused myself, announcing that I was exhausted and heading to bed in preparation for another day of talks.As I got to the elevator, a man who I had not yet spoken with directly broke away from the group and joined me. As the doors closed, he said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?” I politely declined and got off the elevator when it hit my floor. 
A few days later, I was making a video about the trip and I decided to use that as an example of how not to behave at conferences if you want to make women feel safe and comfortable. 
...My YouTube page and many of my videos were flooded with rape “jokes,” threats, objectifying insults, and slurs. A few individuals sent me hundreds of messages, promising to never leave me alone. My Wikipedia page was vandalized. Graphic photos of dead bodies were posted to my Facebook page.
I have enormous sympathy for Skepchick because I've gotten insults and death threats from haters online. But haters are the price of speaking on the internet—something that's triply true on Youtube, as anyone knows who has made the mistakes of reading comments there.

What fascinates me in her story is her interaction with the man at the conference. She's with a group at a bar at a hotel. It's 4 am. She's going back to her room. He's going back to his. He asks her if she'd like to come to his room for coffee. She says no and leaves. End of story.


Was he hoping for more than coffee? Probably. This situation has been and will be played out many times. Sometimes the man offers; sometimes the woman does. Sometimes it leads to sex; sometimes it leads to coffee and conversation. Sometimes it ends badly: men have been robbed and women have been raped when they accepted an offer from someone they shouldn't have.


But this man understood that "no means no." He offered coffee. She declined coffee. They went their separate ways.


And it should be acknowledged that he may not have wanted more than coffee and conversation. I've been in groups that broke up when I still wanted to talk. Coffee at 4 am in a hotel room can be exactly that, a chance for a private conversation with someone who seems interesting.

I don't plan to go digging into Skepchick's beliefs about sex—life's too ashort—but I'm curious. Does she think men should never make any offer that has the potential of leading to sex?

When I was a young would-be actor in New York City, I was hit on fairly often by gay men. Sometimes the timing was annoying, but I was raised to be polite. My response was invariably, "No, thanks." Some of the guys became good friends after learning I was hopelessly straight; others had no interest of any sort in me once they learned I had no sexual interest in them.

I've always believed that "no means no", whether you're talking about sex or anything else. It's a good standard for every sort of human interaction.

At least, I always thought so, until I read Skepchick's account.

Because some people have remarkably poor reading comprehension, I'll stress that I'm not condoning the response to her. Haters respond with empty expressions of hatred, and if you've had no experience with them, that's terrifying or infuriating or both.

But I must add, as someone who has gotten similar threats from women, that the online crap she's encountered says nothing about men. It only says that people who can't reason will fall back on threats and abuse.