Elevator Guy

"In your dreams, Elevator Guy!"
Here's a video that's launched a thousand ships--Rebecca Watson, secular activist, talks about getting on an elevator at 4 in the morning at an atheist conference in Ireland.  Elevator Guy, who was in her group at the bar, and heard her say she was going to sleep, gets on and asks if she'd like to come to his room for a cup of coffee.  In the video Watson says (rough transcription)--
Just a word from the wise, guys. Don't do that!  I don't know how else to explain that this makes me incredibly uncomfortable but I'll just lay it out that I was a single woman in a foreign country at 4 am in a hotel elevator with you, just you.  Don't invite me back to your hotel bedroom right after I've finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.
The video got a response from some deranged misogynists in the comments here, which then lead to this post at Pharyngula, with billions of comments, and then this one and this one, with billions more comments. 

Obviously, the issue is not just whether Watson is entitled to be annoyed by Elevator Guy, and can express her annoyance wherever she likes. The issue is whether Elevator Guy was guilty of sexism, so counts as data for Watson's larger case that there is sexism and misogyny in "the skeptical community." She clearly thinks so, or wouldn't be lecturing "guys" as a group.  "Don't do that!" is a message to all men about how to interact with women.

I think that's what some people find annoying.  "That" is not always a bad thing to do, if it's coming on to women, or even coming on to women in elevators, or even coming on to them in elevators at 4 am in Dublin.  So--too broad!  But I do see what's objectionable to Watson about what happened to her personally.   She'd evidently made it clear how she was going to react both in the bar and in a panel discussion that very night. So Elevator Guy was asking even though he already had his answer.  He wasn't taking her attitudes seriously.  That pattern is objectionable and has the aroma of sexism--even if the guy was actually just a klutz.

Here's Richard Dawkins' take on Elevator Guy-- Dear Muslima and then Clarification.  And here's an outraged reaction to Dawkins. I sympathize with what Dawkins says, actually.  I just think he's missed the elements in the story that make Elevator Guy's come on a bit worse than chewing gum.


Jeremy Stangroom said...

I was told the following story by the woman involved the day after it happened at the World Congress of Philosophy in Boston (in 1998).

A woman philosopher was standing waiting for an elevator and got chatting to a guy philosopher who she didn't know. The elevator took a couple of minutes to arrive, and then they got on together.

On the way up, he asked her whether she wanted to come to his room for a drink and maybe more. She was incredulous: she'd literally only just met him. (I don't recall her saying that she felt intimidated or that it was indicative of sexism or anything else like that.)

Anyway, she asked him what the hell he thought he was playing at. (It was also the case that she was beautiful, he wasn't, and she was 25 years younger than him.)

He told her that he had found that if he asked 25 women (or thereabouts, I can't quite remember) in that sort of situation to go back to his room with him, then 1 would say yes...

Jean Kazez said...

Ha! Same explanation why annoying telemarketers keep going at it.

Jean Kazez said...

A comment for my Irish ghost: I know who you are. You might want to stop leaving deranged comments at this blog. Thanks, and have a great day.

Grains of Truth said...

I question whether Elevator Guy's actions were sexist, much less misogynist. His actions were inappropriate, especially considering Rebecca Watson had been discussing sexism 'in the sceptical community', and his asking her back to his room for coffee suggests he probably wasn't taking her views seriously. If he wasn't taking her views seriously because she's a woman, then that's clearly sexist, though not necessarily misogynist. I find sexism and misogyny are conflated too often and too widely. Just because a particular man doesn't take a particular woman's views seriously, that doesn't necessarily mean he hates all women.

But how would anyone ever have sex if there wasn't someone to ask "hey, shall we have sex?"

s. wallerstein said...

Harassment of women is so common that Dawkin's comments making light of the elevator incident is insensitive even if the incident is hardly of the scale of what women suffer in Saudi Arabia.

Dawkin's attitude is a bit like mocking someone for complaining
about being homeless because she isn't suffering like those in Auschwitz or the Gulag.

s. wallerstein said...


Women will generally signal their interest if they are attracted to a man.

If you're not good at reading those signals, let the woman make the first move.

In fact, a man playing mysterious and hard to get (waiting for the woman to make the first move) attracts lots of women.

Jean Kazez said...

Grains--Yes, "inappropriate" seems like a sure thing, but the rest is up in the air. Maybe sexist, but misogynist is a big leap.

Amos--I don't think Dawkins should be read too literally. He was making rhetorical points to get across his view that nothing untoward happened in the elevator. Um, are you actually giving Grains advice on how to pick up women? I hope not.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

Amos, Grains is a woman (I know her in the real world, and she said it was okay for me to disclose this!).

There was a very cool piece of research done a long time ago (and I'm going to get the details wrong, because I haven't read it for many years).

Basically, researchers found a very attractive man and a very attractive woman (as ranked by a random group of people, presumably), and then had the two of them wandering around a university campus: the guy would approach women, and ask them whether they wanted to have a date and sex that evening; the woman would approach guys, and ask the same question.

IIRC, no women agreed to the date and sex, whereas 50% of men agreed, and 50% of those who said no, asked whether the woman could make a different night!

As I say, I might have got the details wrong, but that was pretty much how it played out.

s. wallerstein said...


Sorry, Grains.

I've been following this theme here and elsewhere and what amazes me is the fact that highly intelligent males don't pay attention to women.

By "pay attention", I mean "observe them closely".

Part of being with others is observing their reactions, their eyes, their body language, their tone of voice, trying to guess what is behind what they say or don't say.

If males begin to do that with women, it's not that women become "easy", but simply that males avoid so many disastrous, embarassing and sexist situations.

Besides, it's interesting and fun to try to figure out what is going on with others.

In fact, women are in general more less-stereotyped in their reactions, less "square", more creative in their ways of facing reality than males and one (being a male) can learn a lot from observing them.

Jeremy, I know that you know all of the above already.

Jean Kazez said...

Amos, I knew Grains was female (I had followed her link), but that wasn't really my point when I asked whether you were giving advice. Even if Grains had been male, I would have found the way you were giving advice (in the imperative mood, even) presumptuous on many levels.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

Amos - I'm not sure whether it's true that women are "less-stereotyped" in their reactions - I'd want to see hard evidence - but I certainly think it's the case that there is an awful lot of willingness in this debate to talk in a rather essentialist way about how women experience sexual inequality, the threat of sexual violence, etc.

Not that how people "feel" about or "experience" these things is anything like the whole story anyway. If one goes down the path of privileging the subjective correlates of structural inequality, then a whole series of very tricky problems will quickly emerge.

s. wallerstein said...


Grains asked how people would have sex if someone did not ask explicitly if the other wanted to have sex.

I assumed incorrectly that she was a he and gave some advice.

My advice may be good or bad or even stupid, but I fail to see why it is presumptuous, unless it is always presumptous, in your opinion, to give advice to people whom one does not know.

Jean Kazez said...

Grain's question was pretty obviously rhetorical and semi-humorous, and also completely general. You responded as if she/he was looking for concrete advice about how to succeed with women. I do think that's presuming a great deal. Obviously a person can ask general questions about about communication without actually soliciting personal advice from total strangers!

s. wallerstein said...


Since I already seem to putting my feet in my mouth in this conversation, I might as well continue.

No, I have no hard evidence that women are less stereotyped than men, but in my experience, the average woman is less stereotyped than the average male, probably (I think) because the conventional stereotypes are male-generated or stem from a discourse which males have given us and which suit their "interests" or flatter their wishes and thus, women, seeing this discourse as not "theirs", buy into it less than men do.

Note that I say that the average male is less stereotyped than the average female, because there are some very creative (in their personal reactions) and non-stereotyped males on this planet.

s. wallerstein said...

One can presume a great deal (as I did) without being "presumptuous".

The word "presumptuous" has the sense of "taking liberties" or being "invasive", while to presume is "to take for granted".
(Dr. Livingston, I presume.)

I took a lot of things for granted, but I don't think that I was invasive.

If I was invasive, I apologize.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, I know what "presumptuous" means, and that's how I meant it. Seems obvious to me, but I'm not going to belabor the point.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't often pay attention to the skeptical community as a whole, and now I'm starting to think I'm going to keep it that way. Here's Rebecca Watson slamming Richard Dawkins--

"Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!"

All in two sentences we have a gigantic straw man, plus a howling ad hominem. And she's one of the stars of the skeptical community--gets invited to all the big meetings! Agh.

This, together with the big brouhaha at Rationally Speaking about a week ago makes me think the whole idea of a "skeptical community" might just be horseshit. The members I've been reading lately are very good at being skeptics on standard topics, but not so good at looking at their own reasoning and decision-making critically. Agh.