Monday, July 04, 2011

Skepchick and The Elevator Incident: WTF?

A summary, at Mefi.

So, Rebecca Watson at Skepchick was propositioned by a guy, in a hotel elevator, at 4 a.m., in Dublin, after a night of drinking, during the World Atheists' Convention. She calls it "creepy," and seems to suggest that there's some kind of sexism and "objectification" involved. I tend to side with females in such cases, but I myself am skeptical in this case. (Richard Dawkins seems to think she's is it that I so often agree with someone so far off my intellectual wavelength?) A few thoughts:

1. People really, really, really, really, really, really need to start recognizing that reason cannot adjudicate every dispute. One needn't be a relativist, a skeptic (in the philosophical sense of 'skeptic,' not the more colloquial sense), a misologist, nor any other such daft person to recognize that there are gray areas and swamps of complexity such that, once we get down to these levels, we might reasonably have to say something like "there's no fact of the matter down below this point."

2. One needn't be a subjectivist to acknowledge that there is a fair measure of subjectivity involved in certain types of judgments. Judgments of creepiness are probably of that kind.

3. There are good points (and bad ones) to be made on both sides of this discussion.

4. Details matter in such cases, and even if 1 and 2 are inapplicable here, we aren't privy to the details. Tone of voice, body language, and so forth all matter here. We're in an information deficit, so we shouldn't expect to be able to make the call in this case.

And let me add one other set of considerations:

I do worry that feminists invoke one set of considerations when it suits them and another when those suit them. I've heard the speech indicating that men should mind their own business and be very, very cautious and circumspect when approaching women about sexual or romantic matters. I've also heard the speech about how men should be somewhat (if not excessively) "manly," and recognize that there is something alluring to the female of the species about males who are bold--yet, of course, respectful--in such matters. I've heard that speech even from feminists. I've heard both speeches given as if they were the veriest common sense and that men were stupid for ever having erred in the other direction. I've even heard some speech-givers admit that, in large part, it matters whether they are interested in the male in question. And there's (one of) the rub(s), of course...

If I had to make guesses in this case, I'd say that Skepchick would have had a different reaction if she'd been interested in...well, let's call him Mr. Smith. But she wasn't. I'd also guess that Mr. Smith is not the sharpest nor suavest tool in the shed. If Skepchick wasn't interested, she'd probably made this pretty clear by 4 a.m., but Mr. Smith seems to have not picked up on this. In the absence of some fairly clear indication of interest, it does take a certain degree of cluelessness to think that a 4 a.m. elevator proposition is going anywhere. Was Mr. Smith merely clueless, or was he creepy? Well, the two sometimes go together. What we know of the case is perfectly consistent with (a) a non-creepy yet somewhat forward and probably rather clueless, probably basically sexual, proposition, and (b) a at-least-somewhat-creepy sexual proposition.

So what to think? Well, but for the next bit, we needn't think anything in this case. Nothing hangs on it thus far, and, as in so many cases, this may be a don't know case. On the other hand, in the absence of any named other party, and given that there's no particular reason to doubt Ms. Skepchick in this case, I'm inclined to believe her.

The real problem, however, is that she characterizes the incident as an instance of sexism...and that, I suspect, is an error. And she trots out "objectification," a term and a concept that rarely help advance understanding. Acknowledging again that details that we do not know matter, it's that last bit that seems a bridge too far. There's nothing inherently wrong with making a sexual advance...without them the species wouldn't last long, of course. And there's nothing morally wrong with making such an advance even after the object of that advance has claimed to be headed for sleep (a fact emphasized in the account). My guess--little more than a guess--about what happened was that it was awkward and uncomfortable (and it was clearly not well-received)...but there is no reason to think that it was sexist or an instance of so-called "objectification." I could be wrong, of course, and I might think differently if I'd seen the event in question, but there's my guess FWIW.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home