PZ Myers is a Minnesota zoologist who studies squid professionally, and who also blogs at Pharyngula as a scientist, skeptical atheist, and opponent of creationism. He has also demonstrated that he is a mensch.
PZ demonstrated menschlichkeit as the atheist/skeptic/rationalist blogosphere has *exploded* over the weekend. The spark of the explosion was almost unbelievably small, but apparently there was a lot of gas hanging around just waiting to go up.
The spark was when Rebecca Watson aka Skepchick posted a video about her experiences at an atheism conference in which she mentioned, among other things, that she had been on a panel where she talked about some of her experiences as a woman in the atheist/skeptic community and the harassment and misogyny she'd encountered. Richard Dawkins was also on that panel, AFAICT.
So, thank you to everyone who was at that conference who, uh, engaged in those discussions outside of that panel. You were all fantastic; I loved talking to you guys—all of you except for the one man who didn't really grasp, I think, what I was saying on the panel. Because at the bar later that night—actually, at four in the morning— we were at the hotel bar, 4am, I said, you know, "I've had enough, guys, I'm exhausted, going to bed," uh, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?"PZ mentioned this incident, almost in passing, in a post where he really wanted to talk about something else -- and the comments exploded in flames.
Just a word to wise here, guys, 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.
And then Richard Dawkins showed up. First he said, addressing a hypothetical Muslim woman:
But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.PZ then said:
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 . . .
the existence of greater crimes does not excuse lesser crimes, and no one has even tried to equate this incident to any of the horrors above. What these situations demand is an appropriate level of response ...Dawkins, following the principle "When you're in a hole, dig deeper!", commented:
The elevator incident demands…a personal rejection and a woman nicely suggesting to the atheist community that they avoid doing that. And that is what it got. That is all Rebecca Watson did. For those of you who are outraged at that, I ask: which part of her response fills you with fury? That a woman said no, or that a woman has asked men to be more sensitive?
Our goal isn't to set the bar of equality at a level slightly higher than the situation in Saudi Arabia, or to some point somewhere around the significantly more enlightened (but still not adequate) level in America, but at a point where every woman has the same rights and privileges as every man, where women don't have to fear being raped, and yes, where women don't have to face this dismaying, depressing, common situation of seeing their autonomy disrespected and their compatriots rushing to excuse loutish behavior.
Here's the argument I was making. The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.When that didn't seem to persuade people, he dug further:
If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics' privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn't physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer, and he was absolutely right to do so because the heightened value of the wafer was a fantasy in the minds of the offended Catholics. Similarly, Rebecca's feeling that the man's proposition was 'creepy' was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.
The main reason seems to be that an elevator is a confined space from which there is no escape. This point has been made again and again in this thread, and the other one.In case you are Richard Dawkins or similarly need things explained to you v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y, it is possible to prevent someone from pressing an elevator button. Especially if you are larger and stronger than they are.
No escape? I am now really puzzled. Here's how you escape from an elevator. You press any one of the buttons conveniently provided. The elevator will obligingly stop at a floor, the door will open and you will no longer be in a confined space but in a well-lit corridor in a crowded hotel in the centre of Dublin.
No, I obviously don't get it. I will gladly apologise if somebody will calmly and politely, without using the word fuck in every sentence, explain to me what it is that I am not getting.
And as PZ said,
[Rebecca Watson] did not make these hysterical accusations everyone is claiming, she did not compare herself to the oppressed women of the third world, she did not demonize the clumsy sap in the elevator — she asked for some simple common courtesy, and for that she gets pilloried.He also posted The Decent Human Beings' Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences, setting forth such apparently novel principles as:
Sorry, people, but that sends a very clear signal to women that calm requests for respect will be met with jeers by a significant subset of the atheist community, and that's not right.
The first thing you must know is that you haven't failed when the object of your desire says "no". That's a perfectly reasonable response, and even if you do everything exactly right, you're going to hear "no" more often than you do "yes". Accepting a refusal graciously is an important part of being a Decent Human Being.Now, why do I call PZ's behavior menschlich?
You have failed if the person you're interested in calls your behavior creepy. That's where you need to step back and re-evaluate: you did something wrong. Decent Human Beings do not blame the other person, they recognize that they screwed up, accept their responsibility, and decide not to ever do that again.
Remember, this is not a gazelle hunt. Decent Human Beings always give potential partners opportunity to gracefully decline, and best of all, put them in positions of equal status so they aren't afraid to decline. If they look startled or their eyes dart around looking for an avenue of escape, you screwed up. Apologize and back off immediately.
How to tell. A guide, made by me.
PZ is a mensch because, in his space, he called out:
- his colleague
- who is his friend
- and is more famous and influential than he is
If you male-type people want to know what women want? This is it. We will of course tell you to be courteous, to follow the Decent Person's Guide, to be respectful of boundaries and consent. But what women (and other people trying to battle against rape culture need *most* from men is that you be willing to tell your *friends* when they're over the line.
It doesn't matter how good your behavior is (or you think it is), if you aren't willing to tell your friends when their behavior starts heading for not-so-nice. You don't have to *fight* them, but you do need to exert social, friendly pressure. And you need to be aware that it doesn't matter how great a guy seems when he's with you, if a bunch of women think he's a creep he's not actually that great a guy.
Every adult women is aware of a bunch of women who've been raped -- I certainly do. Conversely, if you have a lot of male friends, you probably know some rapists. Fortunately, because most rapists do it more than once, there is a lower percentage of male rapists than of female victims. If one in six women has been raped, then only maybe one in 20 men is a rapist. How reassuring.
As Thomas Macaulay Millar says (to other men):
Listen. The men in your lives will tell you what they do. As long as the R word doesn't get attached, rapists do self-report. The guy who says he sees a woman too drunk to know where she is as an opportunity is not joking. He's telling you how he sees it. The guy who says, "bros before hos", is asking you to make a pact.Do that, and you'll be a
The Pact. The social structure that allows the predators to hide in plain sight, to sit at the bar at the same table with everyone, take a target home, rape her, and stay in the same social circle because she can't or won't tell anyone, or because nobody does anything if she does.
Choose not to be part of a rape-supportive environment. Rape jokes are not jokes. Woman-hating jokes are not jokes. These guys are telling you what they think. When you laugh along to get their approval, you give them yours. You tell them that the social license to operate is in force; that you'll go along with the pact to turn your eyes away from the evidence; to make excuses for them; to assume it's a mistake, of the first time, or a confusing situation. You're telling them that they're at low risk.
What they do is what works. They rape their drunk acquaintances because it works. They rape their drunk acquaintances because we let them.
We need to revoke the rapists' social license to operate.
This is probably taking things a bit far; also, it is too confrontational to actually *work*. But there's swords, which is always a win. "For he had spoken lightly of a woman's name", by British artist John Arthur Lomax. This image is from Life; I can't find a good one online that doesn't have a watermark.
 Also a mensch, though not directly involved in this particular clash. Honourable mentions must go to Phil Plait, Greg Laden, and a number of (former) Dawkins fans who wrote open letters. I single out PZ because he is Dawkins' *friend*, not just a fan, and calling out a friend is much, much harder than calling out someone you admire from afar.