Elevatorgate – Because Not Enough People Have Written About It Yet

July 5, 2011 at 8:33 PM (Uncategorized)

A banker takes a minute out of his keynote address to tell conference attendees about an oblivious customer the day before who walked into his bank wearing a ski mask. The person wasn’t there to rob the bank; it was just a very cold day.

Still, you shouldn’t walk into a bank wearing a ski mask. It makes everyone in the bank nervous. Don’t do that.

He chuckles with his audience at the silliness of having to point out something so blatantly obvious, then moves on to give his hour-long keynote speech.

The next day, he awakes to find that the world of banker bloggers has erupted into outrage. How dare he compare some innocent person wearing a mask on a cold day to a bank robber? Not everyone wearing a mask is a criminal. MOST people wearing masks are not criminals. It’s COLD outside. Is it any wonder the person was wearing a mask?

How can you take anyone seriously when they whine about every silly little thing that makes them vaguely nervous?

Either you get why it’s bad to walk into a bank wearing a ski mask or you don’t. Either you get why this needs to be pointed out or you don’t.

If you are one of the people who can’t understand why it needs to be pointed out, you are the reason. You. Until your reaction to the story is “well duh,” you are the reason it needs to be pointed out.

Now, with this ridiculous, fictional story fresh in your mind, read about what happened to Rebecca Watson.

It should go without saying that men should not hit on a woman standing alone with them in an elevator. That should be obvious. But men do it anyway. So Rebecca said it, because it needed to be said.

And then she was upbraided for saying it. Really. And you know what? That’s even worse.

The first part? I get that. It’s dumb, but guys act dumb sometimes. Admit it, fellas. Sometimes we just step on it and we have no idea.

Being in an elevator – or any other tight space – alone with us when they don’t know us, sometimes that makes many women a little nervous. Not all women. Not always. Sometimes. Not because we’re doing anything creepy. Not because they’re being oversensitive. Because of things like this:

1 of 6 U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. More than a quarter of college age women report having experienced a rape or rape attempt since age 14.

Don’t roll your eyes. That’s how it is in America. It’s even worse elsewhere in the world. Women live in a world where that’s the reality. Even if that blurb I quoted doesn’t describe the woman standing next to you in the elevator, it very likely describes someone she knows.

We’re guys, so those are numbers we’ve probably never seen before. Why would we notice that? We’re not thinking about things like that when we’re around people we don’t know. The only thing we’re worried about when we’re alone in an elevator with a woman we don’t know is trying not to be too obvious when checking her out and regretting the onions we ate for lunch.

Just imagine it’s you and another guy on that elevator. A guy dressed as a biker. A biker who stands a foot taller than you. And outweighs you 2-to-1. It would be a little awkward to stand there and have a conversation about how much money you make. Right?

I get that there may be a few blockheads who don’t realize that the 60 seconds spent alone in an elevator is the wrong time to ask a woman back to your hotel room. If you’ve decided to take your shot, that’s fine. Please wait until the door opens and there are other people nearby.

I understand if it doesn’t make sense to you. You don’t need to understand it. It won’t be the first time your wife / girlfriend / female friend-with-benefits leaves you standing there completely baffled. They do that sometimes. Just go with it.

If for no other reason, keep in mind that your chances of scoring with a woman go up in direct proportion to how much you’re not creeping her out. Anything that improves your odds is a good thing, right?

Nobody is saying don’t flirt with women. Really guys, they’re not saying that. I see men everywhere saying that’s what they think women are telling them. I don’t know if they really think that or if they’re just being deliberately obtuse to avoid answering a point that’s beyond them. Either way, guys are not being told to stop flirting.

[Update July 12: Also? Read this. Seriously.]

Flirt away. In public, not inside a 6-foot-wide box. Please do a breath check first.

Like I said, I get the first part. What I don’t get is the second part, the part where people criticized Rebecca for having the nerve to be publicly annoyed at clueless elevator guy. She was very polite about it. Her exact words were “Umm, guys, don’t do that.”

Hitting on women in an elevator is something that people obviously should not do. That this should be pointed out is also obvious. The fact that people exist who don’t understand why it’s important to point it out is exactly the reason why it needs to be pointed out.

They aren’t bad people who have done something wrong. But they are clueless. As long as people who don’t get it exist, the people who do get it need to keep pointing it out. That’s the only way things change.

If I were going to criticize anything about Rebecca’s part in this, it would be bringing up and responding to comments about elevator guy made by another blogger on YouTube while she was onstage at the conference where this all blew up. I think that should have been kept on YouTube I think responding to specific comments by specific bloggers should be done specifically on one blog or the other. But the elevator incident itself? At a conference where she’s speaking about feminism and skepticism? I don’t see the problem with that.
[Correction: It was a blog post about the YouTube post, not a comment on the YouTube post. Minor point, but anyway…]

That is the one valid criticism of all this that I’ve noticed. And yet, very few of the people with an opinion on any of this have anything at all to say about that point. Most of the reaction is from people calling her out merely for bringing up the elevator incident in the first place.

And then, there’s Richard Dawkins. Oh man…

You know, I’ve been a bad atheist. I’ve never actually read any of Dawkins’ books, though I always meant to get around to it eventually. But after this? I don’t want to read them now. Dawkins has burned his credibility to the ground with his ignorant, moronic comments about this.

For the last several years, Richard Dawkins has been the poster boy for atheism. From now on, I guess he can be the poster boy for sexism too.

NOTE: If you happened to see an earlier draft of this a couple of hours ago, it’s because I’m an idiot who can’t tell the difference between “publish” and “save draft.” Forget you ever saw the other version.


  1. Angela said,

    Thank you for this post. It was good to see it all summed up so nicely. (Sorry, I’m coming late to this.)

  2. JFMongrain said,

    Firts, thanks. The ski mask analogy was very well presented. I may still it for my classes (I’m a teacher.)

    But, you know, Dawkins may have made an ignorant and moronic comment (not may have, it was clearly moronic) about this situation, but his work is still very valuable in his field.

    Refusing to read an author because he made a sexist comment about an unrelated subject is akind to refusing reading a women biologist about biology only because she is a women.

    This king of attitude, not being able to distinguish the message from the messenger, is partly at the root of every “ism”.



    • JFMongrain said,

      I meant, “steal it”, obviously…

  3. str said,

    I guess it wasn’t really Dawkins who made these comments, it was one of his egoist genes.

  4. Skeptguy said,

    I agree that the alleged Elevator Guy’s attitude was inappropriate; I understand she felt uncomfortable and I agree that the Dawkins’ response was insensitive. Now…

    “Just a word to the wise here, ladies. Don’t do that. I don’t know how else to explain how this makes me very uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out: I wholeheartedly support equal rights and opportunities of genders, I’ve never harassed any woman and I never had even a slightest desire to anyhow approach Skeptchik – so don’t imply sexism and generalize an awkward attitude of a single man on the whole male part rationalist community in such an insensitive manner, please.”

    Does it sound like a parody? Yes, I just turned the mirror. Unfortunately, I find again and again that fundamentalism can turn even ideas I wholeheartedly support into their parodies.

    Besides, I’m skeptical about everything, including Skeptchik story.

  5. Notbuyingit said,

    So, by Rebecca Watson’s (and your) logic, black people should be deferential and submissive to white people in elevators because white people are afraid of black people. Not all white people. Not always. Sometimes. Not because black people are doing anything creepy. Not because white people are being oversensitive. It’s merely because of statistics that a higher percentage of black people as compared to white people commit violent crime.

    Sound familiar? The same painting with a broad brush an entire group of people. The same claim to privilege based solely on membership in a particular group. The same unrealistic (and paternalistic) expectation regarding how others “should” act.

    I politely offer that you may actually be the ones that need to have a “well duh” moment.

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