Rape, privilege and stupidity

An awful lot of fuss has been made about Rebecca Watson, an anonymous guy in a lift, and what Richard Dawkins said about it. See Blag Hag: Context matters for the original story and Blag Hag: Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing for what Dawkins said about it.

For those that don’t know, here’s a brief outline. Watson spoke at an atheist conference in Dublin. She talked about sexism and misogyny  in the atheist community and her experience of it. Later that night at 4am she told everyone that she was going to bed, and left the bar. As she got in the lift to go to her room, a man got in with her. He 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.”

Speaking about the incident later in a video blog Watson said “Just a word to the wise here, guys: don’t do that. 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 in a foreign country at 4am in a hotel elevator with you. Just you. and I… 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 sexualise me in that manner.”

Later on, Richard Dawkins left three comments on a blog post about it. These comments used very derisive language, compared this incident to female genital mutilation and to oppression of women in Muslim countries, women being banned from driving, being beaten by their husbands and stoned to death for adultery. He also said that because she didn’t suffer physically in this incident, that there was no problem.

This whole thing has already been talked about extensively, so I’m just going to state my opinion. The guy in the lift was an idiot. He waited until a woman was in a vulnerable situation (trapped in a lift alone) and asked her back to his room when she had just stated that she was going to bed. I think that most women would be uncomfortable at this. Certainly all that I have spoken to said that they would be. Rape is not rare, and most women take care not to be in a situation where they are alone with a man that they don’t know, especially if they cannot simply walk away as in this situation. The man here was thoughtless and stupid to ask the question under those circumstances.

However, this doesn’t merit a huge fuss. It happened, it was mentioned in passing on a video blog. Lessons learned, carry on. But no, Dawkins had to chip in with his insensitive comparison from a privileged viewpoint and enrage women everywhere.

Dawkins is an old rich white man. He has never been in fear of rape. He has never carried a rape alarm, been told to dress modestly for fear of “asking for it” or avoided situations or walking routes where rape could happen out of sight. As a man if he ever was raped there would be no question of blaming the victim for dressing the wrong way or being in the wrong place. Dawkins probably isn’t aware that at least 47,000 adult women are raped every year in the UK, or that rape is one of the most under reported crimes and has an extremely low prosecution rate. Dawkins is privileged. He should have stopped to consider this before weighing in and insulting people or making stupid comparisons. As Sam points out in the comments below, Blag Hag later stated that Dawkins is not a misogynist, and said “So even though his heart was probably in the right place, he was being dismissive. But more disappointing than his initial obliviousness about his privilege was his stubborn denial of said obliviousness when called out on it.”

So: man in lift, hapless idiot. Dawkins, bloody stupid and thoughtless. Other men: try not to corner women and make them feel threatened when you’re trying to ask them out. OK?

Related links

Blag Hag: Context matters

Blag Hag: Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing

Blag Hag: Dawkins is not a misogynist

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

Richard Dawkins original comments on Pharyngula

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

3 thoughts on “Rape, privilege and stupidity”

  1. I agree with what you say almost completely. The only difference I would make is this: if the man in the lift hadn’t been party to the woman’s remarks about how such situations affect her then ‘hapless idiot’ would be a fully appropriate term. That he had heard the remarks and chose to do what he did regardless makes it, to me, a good bit worse. He has disregarded her stated feelings and saw his own wishes/desires as more important.
    That said, I am at a loss for a better term to use, all I can come up with is ‘inconsiderate, arrogant prick’.
    I read some of the stuff a few days ago and was annoyed by the number of people who seemed to be willfully obscuring the main point that Rebecca Watson was making, that such behaviour is not appropriate. I am also very disappointed by Dawkins.
    A well written piece, thank you!

  2. Don’t forget the further BlagHag post about Richard Dawkins not being a misogynist… criticism of it went too far in other places, and was exaggerated by critics in others.

    However, I think you missed the step where another woman online criticised Watson about the vlog, and Watson then named her in a talk or something (I can’t remember all of the details.

    As to the actual issues, I think my comments in the BlagHag comment threads make my views clear – and at the general level you cover here, we agree.

  3. This post misses important points and context to Dawkins comments; he was on a panel as Watsons ego ran riot and she lambasted Paula Kirby who happened to disagree with her; he was engaged with a campaign against women being stoned to death and was no doubt exasperated at the time and energy expended over a relatively minor incident; Watson attacked a student from the podium. Her initial comment seems fair enough and innocuous taken on its own, but the vitriolic hate campaign against Dawkins, censorship, and shouting down of disagreement is really shameful.

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