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Elevatorgate: frustrations with creepiness as a man-slut July 5, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Another male perspective on something I cannot comprehend, I know.  But I have a few frustrations I want to vent, understanding that many feminists (and I count myself among them) will view my comments as just not getting it.

I will not recap the events over the last weekend about the Elevatorgate issue that arose from Rebecca Watson’s recent video and subsequent kerfuffle.  If you don’t know, then simply skip this (or catch up and come back).  I had a long conversation with Ginny about this yesterday, one that made it clear that I’m not completely understanding Watson’s (and many other women’s) experience with this, but nonetheless an issue I have thought a lot about the last few days.

During that conversation with Ginny, I said something that was better articulated in a comment by a “Marty” on Phil Plait’s blog today (#31)

Just as it would be insulting for me to assume that every moment I spend with other women is a possible sexual encounter, it’s also insulting to treat every moment a woman spends around any man as a potential sexual assault.

This gets to the heart of part of this issue for me.  Now, I recognize that there is no comparing the issue of me being around a woman and feeling like I want to be sexual with her and the fear a woman might feel in an enclosed space, especially if he is hitting on her.  But what I think has been overlooked in the conversations about this issue in the last few days (and I have read many, not nearly half however, of the comments on the various blogs that have brought this up) is the fact that their is a two-sided responsibility here and that there are frustrations that are valid for people in elevator guy’s place.

What I have learned

I have learned that many women would feel uncomfortable, and not in just some socially anxious way, if they were in an elevator with me, alone, and I propositioned her.  Even if I used respectful words.  Even if I didn’t physically touch, or even get close to, her.  Even if (as one commenter on Pharyngula said) it were at noon.  This teaches me that it is just a thing not to do if only for the fact that it will not work.  That is, even if I was convinced there was nothing wrong with doing so per se, as many commenters still uphold, the fact is that it is not pragmatically wise.  I accept that it causes women discomfort, and I want to avoid that.

I have learned that many women think a lot about how to avoid sexual assault day to day.  I have learned that the fear of such things is prominent for many people.  I knew previously that the statistics for rape and sexual assault are astoundingly high, but I learned that an elevator is one of the places where the anxiety is a little higher.

I will not be propositioning women in elevators, ever.  Even if I see one smiling at me and giving me bedroom eyes as we ascend (or descend), I’ll wait until she is off the elevator to say anything.  Certainly, if I see Rebecca Watson in an elevator, I will wait until another time to compliment her, just in case it comes across as flirting.  Let’s just say when I’m interested in someone I don’t hide it well (And no, that was not a crude reference…).

Also, I’ll certainly never look at this song the same again:

Essentially, I understand that as a male in our culture, I have a responsibility to be aware of how my “privilege” blinds me to how I can use sexuality in ways that make women uncomfortable.  I accept that some things I may do, even while trying to be respectful of women as people, will come across as creepy and inappropriate.  I will keep trying to expand my understanding of this problem.

What I want others to understand

For clarification, much of the following is NOT directed towards Rebecca Watson per se.  this issue has grown larger than the initial encounter that spawned it.  It’s mostly a rant.

Just because statistics of rape are ridiculously high, and the vast majority of them are committed by men to women, does not mean that women are rationally justified to live their lives in fear of men, even in elevators.  I know that most women do not, but the comments in recent days concerning this issue tells me that many do.  I am an advocate of not allowing fear to dominate a person’s behavior or thinking.  Fear is a tool of oppression as much as patriarchy, white/male privilege, or wealth disparity.  When you encounter a guy hitting on you in an elevator, you need to keep in mind that even though the statistics of assault are really really high, probability states that he’s just clueless at best, overly aggressive at worst.  He’s probably just drunk.

I want women to be cautious, aware, and safe, but I don’t want them to be afraid of men without justification.  And women do have the right to request that a certain kind of behavior is not done (like hitting on women in elevators), however you have to keep in mind that you are responsible for how you are interpreting people’s actions based upon statistics.  I think it is fair to request that women do not assumes that violence is likely, even while being aware of its possibility.  I think the distinction is important.

I do not believe Rebecca Watson did anything wrong in that elevator or in her subsequent video.  The guy was probably clueless, and her advice to not do that was good advice.  Whatever increases well-being, as Sam Harris says, right?   I like Rebecca Watson.  I think she is intelligent, thoughtful, funny, and eloquent.  I have met her a few times, although we have never spoken more than a word or few to each other because she is usually inundated with fans and friends, as a person of her abilities warrants.  I happen to also think she is an attractive woman, and under the right circumstances I would like to get to know her better (both intellectually and otherwise).  Is that sexist? Am I sexualizing her? Perhaps, but I am not merely sexualizing her.  I think that creates a distinction which matters as well.

Luckily for her, I don’t drink coffee.  I would also not use this euphemism to proposition someone anyway, nor would I do so without any existing familiarity at very least.  I also don’t think that coldly propositioning anyone is wrong or creepy in all cases, just not pragmatic in most cases.

If I were to find myself  talking to Rebecca Watson and got any indication that she might be interested in getting to know me, I would probably ask her if she’d like to get a drink and talk alone (but still in public, to start).  And I would let things take their natural course from there.   I doubt I’d have that opportunity, as I have no reason to think she would be interested in me (despite the fact that I’m brilliant and beautiful, that is…).  Of course, my guess is that most men will certainly avoid, if they have been paying attention, hitting on her at any conferences from now on, and I am no exception to this.  Perhaps that was what she wanted, I don’t know.

But could I imagine a situation where I would say or do something that would set off a woman’s creeper-meter? Oh for sure! I have no doubt that if actually faced with a women I was interested in romantically or sexually, I could (and certainly have in the past) creep said woman out.  The best intentions and the utmost respect can’t always avoid that, as sometimes it is just a look in the eye, bad choice of words, or awful timing to do so.

And that sucks, because it’s very very frustrating to know this fact looms over interpersonal interactions where sexuality is a factor.  As a man who wants to be sex-positive, likes casual sex on occasion, and meets attractive women while out and about, the fact that no matter my intentions I am more likely to creep a woman out than gain her interest is frustrating.  And it’s not that I assume I have the possibility of a sexual encounter with any women for whom I have interest, its just that when I would like some sexual contact with a woman I just met or don’t know well, my asking may come across as inappropriate even while presented respectfully.

I often find myself asking myself, after hearing of stories where men are perceived as creepy, questions like ‘is there a way he could have asked which would not have been creepy?’  And, if not, was it really creepy or was she just not attracted to him in particular? Also, is it sometimes the case that people are creeped out without justification?  I think these questions expose important distinctions as well.

There seems to be a tension, here, between the ideal sex-positive world that I strive for and one described by those talking about privilege of which men are usually blind.  I have no desire to be a pick up artist (PUA), but I do desire to live in a world where sexual interest in a woman, expressed openly, honestly, and respectfully, is not called sexist.   I, as a man, simply don’t know how to approach women I am attracted to, preferably in an at-least partially public area, without being pegged as suffering from privilege-blindness. I hope there is a realistic answer to this tension, because I want to be respectful while enjoying sex with others who want the same thing.  And just like women can’t tell the good men from the bad ones (the Schrodinger’s rapist problem), I can’t always tell the sluts (not a derogatory term) from the women who will view my proposition as creepy.  Let’s call that the Schroedinger’s slut problem.

I, as a slut, just want to be able to be a slut in a feminist world.  I know there are others out there too who feel this way, but now I’m anxious about being the next elevator guy because I crossed someone’s boundaries without knowing it.  Yes, I won’t hit on a woman in an elevator now (my consciousness has been raised, thank you Rebecca), but I might do it while she’s alone at the end of the bar, while at a party where she knows nobody, or some other situation that is uncomfortable or creepy for her.   And then I’ll have to be told that this is also unacceptable, and many people will agree and see me as sexist, and I’ll be just as confused as I was when I first read about what elevator guy did.

At bottom, I want women to give us men a little more leeway concerning creepiness, and I want men to treat women better so that men can stop being feared as sexual predators.  It will be so much better for everyone, men, to stop being predators.  And it would be some improvement if women would give us a little lenience about perceived creepiness.

This is more of a rant borne of frustration than anything else.  Thanks for listening.

So, Rebecca Watson, would you like to come over to Philly for a drink?  I promise; no elevators!

(that wasn’t creepy, was it?)

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Comments»

1. Staks Rosch - July 6, 2011

I think you hit on my Braveheart Question: http://www.dangeroustalk.net/?p=2100

2. Caraleisa - July 6, 2011

The elevator problem, my dear Shaun, is that this guy was a stranger. There’s really never a ‘good time’ for a stranger to flash his lust before acting ‘nicely’. That is the creep factor. Most women want to be wanted for who they are, not for their bra size. EVEN those who do want their breasts to speak for them… ultimately want respect.

So, if, for example, you and the attractive Ms. Watson found yourselves in an elevator alone together at 4 am, there are ways you could let her know you’re interested without outright propositoning her. I suspect you’d get much farther by commenting on something she’s written or her talk, and coming up with an interesting question about it. Hell, just an “I can’t believe I’m still awake!” could open a conversation. Perhaps then SHE might suggest a cup of coffee in the coffee shop — to TALK. That’s showing interest in the person without being lewd, and that’s far more attractive. Once you’re talking, things may become more intimate, or they may not. But believe me, most woman ‘get’ the signals that someone finds them attractive. You males are incapable of hiding it – so announcing it as well is overkill AND a turn off.

As for all women fearing all men in all enclosed type situations, NO. That’s not what’s being said. But does it cross our minds — yes, when the circumstances warrant it. Alone, 4 am, in a closed elevator a stranger you’ve never seen before invites you to his room? Alarm bells would certainly sound off for most of us on that one. Same woman, same hour and same elevator, only the other person, a male, is someone she knows. Far less concern happens then (one hopes!). None? Depends on how well she knows him, and/or his body language, etc. There are always numerous things which contribute to a woman feeling safe or not. Remember, she is trying to be non-judgemental – she did get ON the elevator, despite the niggling thoughts which crossed her mind. These concerns are on a sliding scale and it’s up to men to recognize that it is how they behave which will send that slider up or down the Creepy scale. There wouldn’t BE a creepy scale if unwanted advances – or worse – never happened. I find this ‘confusion’ by men about ‘when to do what’ a bit disingenuous. How about always be a gentleman? (Gentleman: a man who treats a woman like she’s an important person deserving respect.) There’s a reason so many women like chick flicks. . . if you guys watched a few, you’d notice, I suspect, that the guy who gets the girl did NOT get her by wagging it front and center.

And if she, like you, just wants some quick hot sex in your room with no obligations, believe me, she’ll let you know – just a simple ‘Hi!’ will get you the ‘go ahead’ or the ‘keep your distance’ smiles – and I bet you know exactly what I mean by that.

You lose nothing, and stand to gain much by being nice instead of lecherous, but the reverse could be quite costly in terms of your success both in and outside of the bed.

3. shaunphilly - July 6, 2011

@Staks: Yes. I put it in terms of how the difference between romantic and stalker is the interest of the party desired. It is a related question.

@Carol: I’m not sure you read my post carefully. I agree with what you are saying, I’m talking about the problem that comes up, from the male point of view (usually) where good intentions and respect are perceived as creepy anyway. Before this issue arose, I would have not done what elevator guy did, but mostly for pragmatic reasons. I would have not understood the fear that many women would feel in that situation because I, as has been pointed out, have some blinders on.

The further problem is that in the slut-friendly world I want to live in, propositions between people who don’t know each other well would be acceptable, so long as the context is right (like not in an elevator). The issue is this; what would be acceptable for one woman would be creepy for another. IOW, just like with the Schroedinger’s rapist issue, we have the issue of Schroedinger’s slut; we don’t know (in most cases) when the proposition will be acceptable or creepy.

I’m extending this issue into the realm of sex-positivity and sluthood, not common bar/party meetings of people where the normal vanilla rules apply. In my world, a proposition of sex between relative strangers is morally acceptable, even if it is unlikely to succeed. I still don’t do it often, because I am often in vanilla circles and realize that many people are sex negative and view sluthood as a bad thing. But at a kink club, polyamory meetup, or a swing club?

Different rules. But creepiness is still an issue, and that is what I am curious about. See for us, one thing we have to learn is how to hear “no.” A few years back I was at a polyamory meeting where we went around the room asking anyone and everyone for permission to kiss them. Male, female, old, young, etc. Everyone had to say no (even if you wanted to say yes) so that we could get accustomed to hearing a no. The reason for this is that we learn that there is no harm in asking. Some people may think there is harm in asking, and others feel bad saying no. That’s just immaturity. I’m trying to address where that issue intersects with the elevatorgate issue, because I think it raises interesting points.

And while at a conference among godless heathens and (often) libertines, I sometimes meet more freaky people, and the only way to find out is by asking. Just not while you are in an elevator and alone. But I will not be shamed by my admitted privilege into not asking at all. That is a form of sex-negativity, and is not a step towards health for our community or for any individuals.

4. Caraleisa - July 7, 2011

Hey Shaun, Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I thought I was… I thought I had excepted situations in which it was obvious both parties were looking for sex. Obviously if you’re at an event designed precisely for finding a sexual partner(s), the rules ARE different. However, that’s just NOT your ‘wish it was’ world in most cases. (And my posts are really about the interactions when neither party has any intent of pursuing a threat like rape, etc. THAT’s pretty obvious, this is far more subtle.)

I wasn’t suggesting that men (or women) be forced to hide their intentions ALL the time – but rather, try to be a bit discreet when meeting someone for the FIRST time. ESPECIALLY if it’s in a potentially threatening situation.

For example, in a busy bar, it’s far less threatening to invite someone to your room than it is to do the same when alone in an elevator at 4 am. It’s just a FACT. Lots of guys hope to meet their dream slut… and sometimes they do. But they need to put the reins on a bit until they get a signal back that says “I’m also looking for a good ‘encounter’.”

The point everyone seems to be missing is that this won’t force anyone to SUBMERGE their desires, ONLY to help them shoot their arrows towards a receptive … part.

What guys in particular seem to ‘miss’ is perhaps best shown in a couple of examples, and using an elevator is as good a place as any for this.

1. You walk onto an elevator and the lone other passenger is a gorgeous woman. You say Hi… she nods briefly and stares at the wall or the floor.
2. You walk onto an elevator and the lone other passenger is a gorgeous woman. You say Hi … she says Hello! back and gives you a huge, warm smile, and maintains eye contact.

Isn’t it flipping obvious as hell which one might be approachable and which one is NOT interested? THAT is the point – when we’re sending ‘leave me alone’ signals and guys ignore them and come on anyhow, they will most likely be considered creepy.

What it seems like from what the men are saying (on Phil’s page in particular) is that they don’t understand why they can’t walk up to a strange woman and say outright “I want to fuck you.” (In ‘normal’ circumstances, not sex clubs, obviously!). It’s just NOT a good method for success… no matter what type of world you WISH it were. . . it is what it is and adapting to it will get you laid far more often, with partners who are interested. How you present yourself in general will bode far better for you than a blatant, and highly inappropriate, overture, which could seem threatening and creepy… because that approach has, sadly, proven to be a real threat more of the time than you might think.

I guess perhaps this may help explain what I’m trying to say – we all have our personal body space boundary areas. In general, women seem to have wider ‘safe zones’ than men seem to have when in the presence of unknown or otherwise unwanted people… (I don’t know if studies have been done on this- it’s just my observation.) Successful interaction will happen when both sides learn to recognize the body language and behavior that define an individual’s boundary, rather than cross it inappropriately.

You can wish it was different, but you can’t WISH it into being different… it is what it is. Adapt, or go it alone.

5. shaunphilly - July 7, 2011

Carol said:

“1. You walk onto an elevator and the lone other passenger is a gorgeous woman. You say Hi… she nods briefly and stares at the wall or the floor.
2. You walk onto an elevator and the lone other passenger is a gorgeous woman. You say Hi … she says Hello! back and gives you a huge, warm smile, and maintains eye contact.”

I have been around in all sorts of places with all sorts of people. I have had a lot of sex. #2 NEVER happens, at least I have never seen it, not even from women who told me later that they were interested upon meeting me. Even at swing clubs. The only time I say hi to a woman and get this kind of obvious response is when I already know them. This never happens with relative strangers, as far as I have seen (outside of porn). In the extremely rare case when it would, I think I’d be so shocked I would have a problem gathering my surprise into a verbal follow-up before the time-lapse becomes awkward. Not because I’d be scared or intimidated, but just because I had never seen it before and I’d have to register and appreciate the rarity of such a thing. By the time I recovered, she’s off the elevator, down the street, etc.

As Ginny (my gf) says, women in our culture are usually acculturated to feel anxious about saying no. It is also true that women are not usually going to respond enthusiastically like this (#2) in the vast majority of cases, not even the sluts who actually invite this kind of directness. The problem we men have is that we don’t perceive a noticeable difference in reaction from interested girl and not interested girl. The interested girl is socially trained to soften her interest and the disinterested girl is trained to soften the rejection, and they end up both looking like mild social disinterest to us. There are exceptions of course, but in those cases there is no problem, but they are also much more rare.

“What it seems like from what the men are saying (on Phil’s page in particular) is that they don’t understand why they can’t walk up to a strange woman and say outright “I want to fuck you.” (In ‘normal’ circumstances, not sex clubs, obviously!). It’s just NOT a good method for success… no matter what type of world you WISH it were. . . ”

I know this. I have never spoken to a stranger and said words like that. But I have spoken to relative strangers (people I met that night and had only been introduced to or made some eye contact with) in a way that made it clear what I was interested in. In many cases, I get neutral responses. I have never had a drink thrown in my face, never yelled at, and very rarely have I been told an unambiguous “no” either. I’ve gotten yes answers, but not anything like your #2 above. They were more like neutral responses that don’t result in them turning away, while not being precisely friendly either.

Let me be clear about this. Even when I “get lucky” with a relative stranger, I still do not get a response that is obvious to me that they are saying yes, or even “we’ll see, let’s talk first.” I always get apparent disinterest and caution, which from the outside looks exactly like polite non-interest. We are NOT getting clear and unambiguous responses from women the vast majority of the time. This is part of why men sometimes continue to be aggressive even when they get what might be rejection, because even interested women often look like they are disinterested.

Thus, even when you we trying to be respectful, sometimes we cross boundaries because we still are not sure what is going on.

6. Caraleisa - July 7, 2011

Wow… well, I honestly have no idea how to respond to that… you’ve never gotten a response even remotely like #2? (Perhaps if I rephrased it… the ‘maintains eye contact’ part – not a LONG stare, but a much longer look, say one or two seconds than the barely blinking not even half a second look in scenario one…)

All I can say is if that’s more par for the course these days, then it’s no wonder most people have no idea how to communicate, much less show interest on a more physical level without being offensive. There’s a wide range between the two examples, but both happen, as do the varied responses which would lie between the two. And yes, those would be much harder to read.

Shaun, I suspect that if you’ve never been told you’re being offensive, never had a drink thrown in your face, never been yelled at or had a woman look at you like you’re disgusting and then stomp off, then you’re probably NOT being offensive in the first place, and the whole concept here isn’t applying to men like you. No one will ALWAYS get it right – but some awareness of how others think, and how some things look ought to be considered. Which really is all that Watson was saying… and why Dawkin’s remarks were just downright piggish. It was like saying “Quit being upset that you have cancer, because 3000+ people were killed on 9-11– and you’re just worried about a few wild cells in your body.”

Switching to the ‘rape’ side of the discussion… I don’t know any women who don’t at least know someone who was raped, if not having been raped themselves. I fit both categories. I suspect that when men think of rape, they ONLY see the violent nutbag in a dark alley grabbing their grandmother- or the ultra drunk frat group gangraping a drugged up coed or three. That’s the rare side of rape. Far more, if not most, rapes occur in a known situation by someone that was trusted to some degree. Often in those situations a woman (I know men and kids get raped too, but let’s talk about women and men since this whole thread has been about women and men)… a woman is told to blame herself. She was in the wrong place and didn’t recognize it, so it was HER fault she got raped. She took the drugs or drank the drinks, so it was HER fault that later on she was raped. And there are men who truly expect that taking someone to dinner or a movie ENTITLEs them to sex afterwards.

The key word here is ENTITLED. And THAT is what women sense when they feel threatened. That someone somehow believes, for whatever twisted reason, that this woman OWES him sex. . . and then, even among men who believe that, only fewer of them will act upon it and actually rape someone. But the possibility exists – statistics state that one in every six adult women has been raped!!! With numbers like that, can you possibly think it over-reaction to be suspicious in certain circumstances? With numbers like that, it would seem to me that men would WANT to know how NOT to come off like that. I don’t see why men should RESENT the need for behaving nicely.

And as I said above, if you’re never getting a ‘YOU CREEP!” response, then you’re probably already doing the ‘approach a woman’ thing in a non-threatening manner. Though, maybe you should try some different elevators … 😉

c.

7. ShaunPhilly - July 7, 2011

I really don’t have anything to add except to say that I have known a few women, including ex girlfriends, who were raped in the more common way. Whether it was an ex-bf who assumed that they were allowed because they had before, a “friend” who took advantage while drunk, etc.

Also, where I have been referred to as making someone uncomfortable, it is usually related to being more direct than a person is comfortable with.

In any case, thanks for your comments.

8. Caraleisa - July 7, 2011

Hell, Shaun, EVERYONE makes someone uncomfortable on occasion. NO one is perfect, and who would want someone who’s perfect, anyhow? Not I!

There are some guys, however, who consistently have a high percentages for creeping out women. I’m pretty sure that’s the sort that Watson et al are referring to. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there’s one rather famous male ‘star’ speaker in particular who attends most of these conferences, whose incessant crotch-grabbing/thrusting, endless-propositioning, leeringly nauseating behavior is the REAL reason behind so many of these somewhat oblique ‘male behavior’ posts these days. And no, he’s no one who responds to these conversations on any of the sites I’ve seen, including Phil’s and Rebecca’s.

I’ve enjoyed our conversation, as usual! 🙂

9. Doug Reardon - July 10, 2011

I was on an elevator late one night, in the distant past, with a woman who pushed the stop button, grabbed my crotch, and kissed me. She invited me to her room. I declined as I was going back to my room and my wife, but I was pleasantly taken aback, and felt complimented. I guess we all react differently in different situations.

10. Small Town Skeptic - July 14, 2011

This reminds me of a scene I saw in The Big Bang Theory

Penny and Stuart are home from the gallery, mainly because Captain Sweatpants showed up and touched all the cheese. Penny invites him in for coffee, but Stuart thinks it’s a little late for coffee. (“Oh, you think “coffee” means coffee. That’s so sweet.”) She covers by saying she has decaf.

11. BrinConvenient - July 14, 2011

Regarding the any man is a rapist idea, try reading this article: http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

Schroedinger’s rapist is an excellent meme that I think gets the women’s position across well.

12. shaunphilly - July 16, 2011

BrinConvenient,

Thank you for the link. I had already seen the post, and I was making reference to it when I used the term in my recent articles. But for anyone else who runs into this post and the comments, it will be useful.

13. dysfunctionalwatsondawkins - September 10, 2011

We are not all as immature: Open letter to Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins http://bit.ly/pSpoBg

14. shaunphilly - September 10, 2011

um, dysfunctional….

Some of “us” are supremely immature. That site is just ridiculous…as in, worthy of ridicule.

The skeptical movement are not children. We are used to (or should be) seeing our leaders and co-members argue bluntly with each other. We are mature enough to handle that, because we are adults.

I’d call POE, but I don’t know anyone else who has such a ridiculous position to mock.

15. Caraleisa - September 12, 2011

I saw the ‘dysfunctional’ website the other day. Shaun, you’re being too kind. It’s not just ridiculous, it perpetrates that which it derides. I don’t know who created it, but it’s telling that they haven’t posted their real names, but are doing this anonymously. Very mature indeed.


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