I was catching up on The Atheist Experience blog this week and came across the flying debris of a rather puzzling shitstorm. A female atheist/skeptic blogger had recently commented on an awkward late-nigh encounter in an elevator at a convention and had- consequently- advised men to generally avoid propositioning lone women in elevators, late at night…
Not only was it rather shocking that Richard Dawkins shared his thoughts on the matter, the tone and nature of his response was, in my humble opinion, baffling.
As a lover of science (and a gemologist- which makes me sort of a bona fide Scientist, in some way, no?) and an atheist, I obviously have been closely following Dawkins’ excellent work and contributions to the science world. Perhaps this is why his extremely sarcastic and- worst of all- ineloquent response was extremely sobering to me:
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
I must admit, I was actually wondering if this was indeed penned by Dawkins’ hand; the same hand that wrote ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, a sensitive, lovely, shining description of the wonders of life and world…
It seems to me that Dawkins has somewhat misunderstood Rebecca Watson’s statement. My greatest disappointment in his dismissive reply is that, despite being deeply immersed and knowledgeable in life itself, in every animal’s drives, challenges and motivations, he could somehow completely disregard a state that all beings must contend with:
Rebecca Watson’s story about the man in the elevator was not a story about all men being crass and violent. It was an honest statement about vulnerability.
Women, everywhere, in all countries and all walks of life, are vulnerable. They are vulnerable of course because all living beings are vulnerable; it is such fine line between a living animal and a dead one, between vigor and crippling injury… They are also vulnerable as women; generally smaller and lighter, more empoverished, more underestimated and, quite simply, more fucked with. Mrs Watson’s was describing a situation in which she was isolated (in a foreign environment) and confined with a perfect stranger. This, while not necessarily a dire situation is indeed a vulnerable one. This, I believe, was the gist of her comment: If one wishes to engage a person positively, especially a woman, an elevator in a strange environment at a late hour is not a good place/time to do it because it makes her extremely vulnerable. Vulnerable beings are simply not in a prime state to socialize, just ask any cornered, trapped, frightened, injured or ailing animal…
Being vulnerable is, in most contexts, not an enjoyable state. It is stressful not to know if harm is right around the next corner or moment. While men tend to be raised to deny their own vulnerablility outright (for better and for worse), most women are conditioned to deal with their vulnerability on a daily basis: Avoiding dark alleys, listening to their ‘gut feeling’, not letting their drinks unattended, not leaving their doors unlocked, not travelling alone, not hitchhiking, etc, etc… They also often take a lot of blame when they dare letting their guard down and walk the dark alley alone, wear too short a skirt, get a bit too drunk, etc, etc… So, indeed, a lot of women ARE mindful. They prize their physical integrity and life and act accordingly. It makes for a bit less spontaneous get-togethers in late-night elevators, but it is also a tactic to maintain some measure of control and safety in a STILL relatively unsafe world, America included.
I don’t know what Mr Dawkins’ advices to his own daughter were when she was young: Did he encourage her socializing with men at 4am in hotel elevators? Would he had coldly chastized her for ‘whining’ about an uncomfortable exchange in a foreign, isolated spot?
I would have thought that, of all places, the atheist and so-called ‘rational’ circles would have been a tiny bit more open to a dialogue about basic human (or, hell, animal) interaction and gender issues. Men and women need to openly discuss about ways to make their relations healthier and more empathetic. A tiny bit of acknowledgement of the Other’s true situation and- often very legitimate- concerns goes a long way.
I still respect Richard Dawkins’ contribution to science but I sure expected a bit more empathy from him.
We are all animals; humans, women… We are all vulnerable at times.