Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Because Enough Hasn't Been Said Already

BIG FAT CAVEATS: I DO NOT claim to speak for anyone in this post, and I can't know details I wasn't there to see, and I don't have Elevator Guy's firsthand account. A lot of this is interpreting the situation through my own lens and trying to figure out how I feel about it. I'm very very very new to feminism of this stripe, but I'm finding myself going "...YEAH! Uh, what they said!" with respect to a lot of it.

I'm going to weigh in on the Rebecca Watson-Elevator Guy thing. Mostly to clarify my own thoughts in my own head and figure out what, exactly, I'm thinking, and open myself up to constructive criticism. I want to learn from this, I'm just not sure what I should be learning.

I'm going to go a little light on the links in this post, since if you have any idea at all what I'm talking about, you probably know where to find the context.

The basic facts: Rebecca Watson was speaking at an event about feminism and skepticism, and had spent the day essentially saying "Don't hit on me." She spent the evening at a hotel bar, and when she decided to end her evening, said she was tired and was going to bed. Elevator Guy, albeit without his direct input since we don't know who he is, has apparently been confirmed to have been in earshot of both of these things. He still decided to follow her into the elevator and ask her to his room to continue speaking over a cup of coffee. This is, at best, ill-advised.

I've had my share of unpleasant experiences, but I've never been a victim of violent sexual assault or rape. Perhaps because of that, and because I've grown up around painfully awkward but nevertheless lovely men, I give Elevator Guy the benefit of the doubt on this one. I wasn't there, so I don't know, but regardless of whether he was hoping for intimate conversation or intimiate... intimacy, I'm betting he was well-intentioned. REGARDLESS, his actions were still creepy and could easily be construed as threatening.

First: He heard Rebecca's talks, he heard her say she was headed to bed, and he decided that this was still a good time to approach her for possibly sexual purposes. That shows that he finds his own ends more important than her expressed wishes, which, frankly, he has been socialized to do.

Second: He made his request (as far as I know) without attempting to engage her in a public setting, instead waiting until she was isolated and he was alone with her to ask her. This kind of abrupt escalation with no attempt to communicate interest beforehand shows me that you have made a decision about me LONG before you've given me time to make a decision about you. You've decided that you want to be alone with me, but you haven't given me the opportunity to decide whether I want to be alone with you. That disparity tends to set off alarm bells, because now we're in very different places with respect to our desires, and you've put me in a situation of rejecting you before I even have any idea who you are and what you're about. You might be a very nice person, but suddenly we're on very different pages from one another, and especially for women, that can be a scary place.

Why scary? Because now, literally all I know about you is that you have sexual interest in me. And I'm alone in an elevator with you. I don't know how long you've been interested in me, how deep that interest goes, how far you're willing to go to satisfy it, or how much you know about me already. But you've shown me that you've been thinking about me when I don't even know who you are, and that you're willing/clueless enough to completely ignore the context and my expressed desires and my sense of my own safety to tell me so. That swings the Schrodinger's Rapist pendulum, and I'll bet you can guess which way. Add to it the fact that men in our culture are generally taught that it's okay to press for what they want; and that "no" often means "yes," or even "maybe later;" and that for whatever reason, in sexual situations, normal methods of refusal apparently go deliberately misunderstood; and you've put me in a situation that appears pretty fucking threatening. Speaking as someone who's been in similar scenarios, it's a pleasant surprise when a man just takes "I'd rather not; I'm tired and want to go to sleep" as an answer and leaves me alone. Typically I'm bracing for further attempts at convincing, that I will have to deflect as politely as possible for the duration of this elevator ride.

Now you tell me, folks who are saying that this was just an innocent encounter: is any of the above okay? Should anyone be made to feel that way? Is it possible for men to be a little more context-sensitive, or should we refuse to point these things out to them because they're well-intentioned? Obviously, these are just my thoughts on the situation, and I CANNOT in any way speak to how Rebecca Watson felt in that elevator, but this is how I would feel. I'd love to live in a world where I could take this request at face value and have no expectation that a rejection on my part would mean anything more than "I don't want to come to your room/have sex with you right now" - a world where that wouldn't be taken personally, a world where I wouldn't fear for my safety saying that in a place with no exit, a world where that wouldn't reflect badly on me (both in other people's minds and in my own mind), and a world where this guy and I could even get to know each other further the next day. (In public.) But that is not the world that I, as a woman, live in, and it's become increasingly clear from some of the responses to this situation that a lot of men (and some women) don't see that, and are upset that Rebecca's pointing it out when they don't think it exists. Guys: it's not about you. It's not about how you can ask women out or how you can get laid or how you have the very purest of intentions. It's about how women can feel safer in society. So, um. Shut up and listen, I guess.

MORE BIG FAT CAVEATS: This post is obviously rambly and ill-formed, and is made up mostly of my own feelings on the matter. I don't claim to speak for any of the participants here. I'm just trying to nail down where I stand on it, because I think it's important enough for me to be able to articulate my opinions clearly. The Stef McGraw and Richard Dawkins side of things might be its own post later, or I might not get to it - we'll see.

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