Feminist Friday–How to Identify Sexism

It’s a handy guide!

So here I am with a self-imposed deadline of one hour and I desire to knock out some post on Feminist Friday instead of on Sunday, and because I’ve been caught up in “ElevatorGate” (Team Rebecca!), it seems like a good topic. But I don’t want to get into this whole big thing where I explain the situation again, or where I list my reasons for joining Team Rebecca (as far as I know, there’s not a real Team Rebecca–I’m just saying that), but I have spotted a point of confusion amongst the chatter and diatribes, and I want to clarify it. The skeptic and atheist communities are involved in a conversation that includes a description of said communities as sexist. It is distressing to many people within the communities that sexism is a possibility, including people on the receiving end of sexism and people who don’t want to think that their preferred behaviors are sexist even if they don’t intend them to be. The dialogue has included a lot of goofy assertions, too, and one whine in particular is repeated often:

So now feminists are telling men that it’s sexist to ask women out on dates. (Wah is unstated but implied.)

No, feminists are not telling men that it’s sexist to ask women on dates. It’s not sexist to ask women on dates. Find out why below!

If you don’t know what “ElevatorGate” is, it doesn’t matter. This post will still make sense. If you’re curious and must know now what all the hullabaloo is, set aside a couple of hours and search Rebecca Watson, Richard Dawkins, ElevatorGate, Boycott. Much of the drama is embedded in comment sections on blogs. On with the show.

Not Sexist
A person approaches a stranger and asks for sex without ever having said anything to their target before is being a creep. A person who follows said stranger out of a public place to a private place (in this case, from a hotel bar to an elevator) and waits until they are alone to ask for sex without ever having said anything to their target before is being a scary aggressive creep. But not sexist.

Not Sexist
The person so followed says aloud (or blogs, or makes a video) that the stranger is a creep for asking sex without before they’ve exchanged any other words. The person may even suggest not doing it if you don’t want to be thought of as a creep.


People hear that a woman is criticizing the behavior of a man and freak out. They accuse her of being overemotional and blame her for bringing it on herself, or suggest that her concerns are not real concerns and she’d spend her time better discussing global issues if she was really trying to help women.

People defend a man’s right to ask strange women for sex without being labeled as creeps (at best) and potential rapists (at worst), and explain why a woman should not call a guy a creep for doing something justifiable: She’s just so pretty! Men like sex! Some guys are just socially awkward and need a break! It’s not like she was actually raped! He backed off when she said no! If men never asked women for sex, the species would die out! They say women need to understand what’s going on in men’s heads before they are so quick to judge them, even as they ignore what was going on in women’s heads when women try to explain it. As a final jab, people might concede that the woman did the right thing by pointing out the creepy behavior, but remark that she should have been nicer about it.

Sexist and Misogynist
The culture (the skeptic and atheist culture, say, but Western culture at large, too) defends a man’s right to ask women for sex whenever they want to. It does this by assuming women who use a personal anecdote to describe creepy behavior are exaggerating or lying for attention, by arguing that if the woman doesn’t give the creepy man a platform to explain himself she is being biased, by equating “a guy did this” to “she publicly humiliated a man for no reason” (even though she never even said his name). Sympathies align with the poor guy who was just tryin’ to get a little sumpinsumpin off some chick he fancied instead of aligning with the woman who announced she was tired and wanted to go to bed and was harassed alone in an elevator by a stalker.

Sexist and Misogynist
The culture values a man’s right to ask strange women for sex at any time and in any place without censure more than it values women’s feelings about being so approached. If a women who has, say, been invited to be a featured speaker at an atheist conference objects to the idea that she is a walking vagina first and a valued contributor to the shared goals of the community that invited her to teach them something second, the woman is the one being antisocial. Society is supposed to work like that. Men expect women to be sexually available to them. She ought to be grateful she’s living in a country that didn’t cut up her genitals and that lets her drive a car.

An Analogy
Let’s say you’d been talking to a bunch of people in a crowded hotel bar and finally said that you were tired, it was late, and you were going back to your room to sleep. Let’s say that someone who had never talked to you before followed you out of the bar, waited until you were alone in an elevator together, and asked for your scarf. You said no. Let’s say that later you mentioned that people who don’t want to be thought of as creepy shouldn’t follow strangers into elevators and ask for their accessories. Would you get angry? Would you agree? Would you explain that maybe the guy was just a really, really bad dresser and really, really liked your scarf, and it’s not like he took it from you. You weren’t actually robbed. What’s the problem? And maybe if you understood how sensitive that guy was about his inability to put an ensemble together, and how hard it is to find good clothes, you wouldn’t be acting like such a petty bitch about it. After all, there are people in the world who have no new clothes; you should be grateful you even get to have a scarf. Besides, it’s a compliment, really–you should be flattered he found your scarf so pretty. Can’t you take a compliment? Because if people couldn’t come to atheist conferences to learn how to dress better, why would they come at all?

The Moral of the Story
If you want more women to participate in your community, don’t side against them with the stalkers and then tell women to put up with it or get out. It will not give you the results you are looking for.

(And it turns out that even though the Transatlantic Blonde is on vacation, she did put a Feminist Friday post together! You can read more posts about other topics in feminism by clicking the picture below.)

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  • Vincent  On July 8, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I think you missed that this blew up first because the statement on video you say is not sexist did not just say the guy was creepy, but that he objectified and sexualized the woman. She called him sexist.

    Then another woman responded by saying it wasn’t sexist, just bad form.

    Then the first woman called the second woman sexist and part of the problem, equating her with men who threatened to rape the first woman.

    THEN someone went overboard and said her concerns were not real….

  • Karen  On July 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I didn’t really address the hows and whys and whens of ElevatorGate blowing up, so I didn’t really miss anything but this is a transcript of what Rebecca said about the elevator incident:

    Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

    Rebecca didn’t call anyone sexist.
    Rebecca said a man sexualized her by asking for sex.
    Describing an action that a person did is not sexist. It is descriptive.

    Everything else about who said what next and posted what where is irrelevant to the post that I made.

  • Gingembre  On July 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I. love. this. post.

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