Saturday, 22 June 2013

An open letter to men confused by the words "Don't do that."

Reading the comments under Dan Cardamon's video on Elevatorgate it's pretty clear that three (or possibly two) years on, some guys still have trouble grasping what a certain Rebecca Watson was trying to say in her original vlog.  The blame for that obviously lies with Watson, as she is only a woman and therefore useless at communication, so let me - a bloke; one with testicles and a penis - attempt an explanation.

When she said "Guys, don't do that" - with "that" being "Follow a woman into an elevator at four in the morning right after she's said she's tired and is going to bed and invite her to your room" - it wasn't a Legal Commandment.  Rebecca Watson has no legislative power; she cannot enact laws, and she cannot actually prevent you from approaching women in confined spaces if you choose do so.

So what was she playing at, when she "burned her bra and waved the Nazi flag", as one commenter unironically put it under a video satirising exactly that kind of rhetoric?  Let's see if we can work it out.

The words "Guys, don't do that" were advice.  And usually, when advice is given, a condition is implied.  If, for example I said "Guys, don't put your hand in a fire" the implied condition is "...unless you want to get burned."  If you don't mind getting burned, you are still free to put your hand in the fire.  I cannot physically stop you, because I don't know where you are or why there's a fire.  And I don't explicitly state the condition, because I assume you already understand the reason why you should avoid putting your hand in the fire.

This is where Watson failed.  As a feminist, a woman, and as a human being.  She expected you to know that when she said "Guys, don't do that", the implied condition was "unless you want to make women feel uncomfortable".  She simply assumed that you would understand that following a woman into an elevator at four in the morning and inviting her to your room had the potential to make her feel cornered.

And she shouldn't have assumed that. Expecting you to understand what that might be like from a woman's perspective is beyond your remit.  It's not your job.  You don't have the training. You've never been told.

Which is why I'm telling you now.  And I'm not telling you not to continue to approach women whenever and wherever you choose.  Like Watson, I have no legislative power.  All I can advise is that IF YOU DON'T WANT TO MAKE WOMEN FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE, you should consider the potential effects of your actions and adjust those actions accordingly.

If, on the other hand, you don't care about making women feel uncomfortable, you should ignore this advice.  If you honestly don't give a shit, or actively want to make women feel uncomfortable, by all means carry on doing what you do.  But with one caveat - another implied condition: if that's the choice you make, people are going to call you a misogynistic douchebag and you will be in no position to complain.

You can't have it both ways, as much as you'd really really like to.

OBJECTIONS:

1) "But I saw a woman say that she doesn't mind being hit on in elevators!" 


That's fine. But being aware that there are women out there who *do* mind, maybe your default should be not doing it just in case you've picked one of those women.

2) "But how am I supposed to know where and when and how it *is* okay to approach women?" 

You could try asking a representative sample of women. I heard they have them online now, and that some of them have written articles and things dealing with those questions.

3) "But why should I adjust my actions to take other peoples' feelings into consideration? That's not fair to me! I want to do whatever I want and I deeply resent being told that some of the things I want to do affect other people negatively! Why should I even CARE what you think?"

I have no answer to that, but you might want to go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociopathy

22 comments:

Johan said...

"... it wasn't a Legal Commandment. Rebecca Watson has no legislative power; she cannot enact laws..."

What she can do -- and this is what appears to have happened -- is influence the policies of the conference. It's not the kind of law that the police and court system enforces, I know, but it is a codified rule which can be enforced.

Morgan said...

By the way she dresses and poses (lots to see on the web) I believe Rebecca Watson actually does like to be hit on in elevators late at night.
So many mixed signals.

John-Henry Beck said...

May I assume that Morgan was being sarcastic or snarky? Please?

Erik Bray said...

I know Johan. What ever will men at conferences do if they can't get their boners taken care of? This still really needs to be overriding concern of conference organizers if they want us to have a good time.

(Also believe it or not if you're not a total creep and approach women who have given signals that they're willing to be approached in the appropriate context rather than cornering them in uncomfortable manners you can *still* have a chance (in fact a better one!) of getting your boner's needs met despite (or even thanks to) rules intended to ensure everyone's comfort.)

Johan said...
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Johan said...

Erik, I think you've missed the point of my comment completely.

Morgan said...

No, l am quite serious. She dresses like a skank. Girls that dress like that are obviously looking for attention... At least that is what my wife and daughters say.

Deiter said...

I for one support the right of any woman to dress as a skank (a very subjective observation) if she so chooses and still feel safe and worthy of being treated with respect. I happen to love skanks (whatever that may be in my own subjective definition) and hope they do feel safe dressing skanky so that they will continue to dress so.

(I admit I've my doubts of the skankitude of the woman being accused. People using the word skank to refer to a someone they don't even really know is most often just being an a**hole.)

ou812 said...

Even if Elevator Guy had sex on his mind, he did exactly what feminists have been asking for by taking no for an answer. I'm not saying he deserves an award, but at least spare him the slut-shaming, Rebecca.

m said...

@ou812 -

Are you seriously suggesting we should give some guy a round of applause for not forcing himself on someone after they rejected his advances?

Seriously? Really? You might want to replay that sentence in your head before saying it out loud again.

Feminists should be glad that not every guy that tries to hit on them is going to sexually assault them? and that we should cut those guys some slack for being decent upstanding members of the community

what f***ing planet do you live on? Is the weather nice there this time of year?

ou812 said...
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ou812 said...

Did you even read my f*cking post?

And yes, he was slut-shamed (or creep-shamed): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyrAYT2bo_A

Unknown said...

Creep-shaming isn't a thing. If someone feels uncomfortable with how a person is interacting with them, i.e. not giving them enough personal space, refusing to take no for an answer, or hitting on them in a confined space where they have no exit, and calls them a "creep", the creep in question needs to back off and leave the "creep-shamer" alone. You do not have rights to other people's company.

ou812 said...

Even by Rebecca's account, he took no for an answer. And she had an exit; she clearly would have mentioned it if he had tried to block the elevator doors/buttons.

Unknown said...

Like m said, just because he didn't physically assault the woman or hold her hostage in the elevator doesn't relieve him of doing wrong in that situation. I'm sure you can imagine a young woman feeling threatened by someone following you into a box with one exit at four in the morning to extend an invitation to your bed, regardless of where he was standing.

If your rebuttal at this point would be, "well her fear is misplaced, there isn't anything wrong with approaching strangers", I invite you to consider that an individual has a responsibility to ensure that their actions aren't making other people uncomfortable, rather than placing the blame on the girl for feeling the way she did.

Johan said...

"to extend an invitation to your bed"

Even by Rebecca Watson's account, that's not what he said. We may all assume this because it's such an easy assumption to make. But he may have been a socially awkward dweeb who actually wanted nothing more than a cup of tea and some talk. Unless/until he approaches the public (unlikely) we'll never know.

Unknown said...

Hey, everyone that's confused about why Watson was upset in this situation, I invite you to read this very interesting blog post on the subject. Here, I'll provide a link;

http://somegreybloke.blogspot.ca/2013/06/an-open-letter-to-men-confused-by-words.html

Some highlights;

"She expected you to know that when she said "Guys, don't do that", the implied condition was "unless you want to make women feel uncomfortable". She simply assumed that you would understand that following a woman into an an elevator at four in the morning and inviting her to your room had the potential to make her feel cornered."

" If you don't care about making women feel uncomfortable, you should ignore this advice. If you honestly don't give a shit, by all means carry on doing what you do. [...] if that's the choice you make, people are going to call you a misogynistic douchebag and you will be in no position to complain."

ou812 said...

Oh, Rebecca! Tell me how should we act!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1DzMXD8SKg

Daniel Lustig said...

Amazing that after a post explaining how, maybe just possibly, one might be empathetic enough to occasionally consider whether one is making a woman feel uncomfortable, almost half of the comments are variations of: "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ??!!"

ou812 said...

And the problem with that is...?

If a tall, muscular gay man invited me to coffee in an elevator, and I posted a video saying "gays don't do that" and accusing him of "sexualizing" me, people would be calling me a homophobe, or at least suggesting I grow a set of balls.

Unknown said...

Objection to refutation of objection 1: The fact that there are women out there who *do* dislike something shouldn't prevent you doing it.
The real topic is that *most* women won't like such an approach.

Rebecca shouldn't have used the words "objectifying" or "sexualising" for what this guy did. I mean, where is her scepticism? She has no clue on what he had in his mind.
But I have nothing more to criticize on her video.

ou812 said...

I concur. It was an awkward pickup attempt, and not something I would have tried. But shaming him for the terrible things he could possibly have done is going too far.