Amidst the moans and groans (my own included) of "why are we still talking about Elevatorgate?" I realize now why Elevatorgate got so much attention - and why it's still a relevant topic today. Regardless of which side of the debate one finds herself, Elevatorgate touches on sensitive and important issues: feminism, women's rights, decent behavior, objectification of women, rape, sexuality, et al; moreover, Elevatorgate has revealed the worst in people. For reasons which are still unclear to me, Elevatorgate has elevated the emotional reactions of people to such issues which are already emotional firestarters. The results have been rather disturbing.
Rebecca Watson posted her video, About Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes - the video that started Elevatorgate - almost a year ago (Yeah, it's been that long already). Even so, folks on YouTube are still leaving comments on her video every day, most of which are degrading toward Rebecca:
These are a few of the comments I found today. Yeah, I'd say Elevatorgate is still relevant.
Like I said in my previous post, we should be beyond this by now. It's the 21st Century, kids. Time to grow up. Bigotry, misogyny, sexism, racism, age-ism, homophobia, should be the things we read about as we reflect tearfully on how the human race has transcended such atrocities.
Elevatorgate has been an emotionally-charged topic that has caused people on both sides of the debate to lose touch with rationality and decency. I'm not just talking about the losers on YouTube I quoted above, but people who claim to be part of the skeptic community: people who spend much of their time advocating logic and reason. When I wrote about Elevatorgate, I wanted to maintain a level of respect for Rebecca Watson, because I never believed she did anything to make anyone lose respect for her. I disagreed with some of the things she said, but I approached the issue as one skeptic disagreeing with another skeptic. Being a skeptic, and part of the skeptic community, means we should be able to diagree without demonizing each other; unfortunately, I've seen people use Elevatorgate as a litmus test for acceptance, and those who fail the test are ostracized.
I experienced this a few months ago in my first (and only) encounter with a blogger who goes by the name "ManBoobz". I had never heard of ManBoobz before this, but he apparently knew me. I should say, he knows of me, because he clearly doesn't know much about me at all. I found out about ManBoobz because he posted a link to one of my entrys on Elevatorgate and referred to me as a "decidedly non-feminist atheist."
Okay, maybe there was some sort of misunderstanding. I wanted to give Mr. ManBoobz the benefit of the doubt, so I visited his blog and commented on that particular post. What I experienced from the regulars over there was a barrage of insults with no real attempt to communicate. I've been blogging now for close to three years. I know one needs to develop a thick skin if one is going to post personal thoughts and opinions on the Internet. I don't get offended easily, but I also have no interest in getting into huge debates, and I especially have no desire to waste time talking with people who have already made up their minds, who won't consider a different perspective. And ManBoobz's regulars already considered me a douchebag, so what was the point? I don't mind so much that someone is talking trash about me. What bothers me about the whole scenario is that Mr. ManBoobz and I are supposedly on the same side vis-à-vis feminism and women's rights. If that's the case, then no thanks. I don't need that kind of teammate. I decided to bow out of the conversation on ManBoobz's blog. I'm sure they continued to insult me and talk about how wrong I am. They're just taking after their leader, after all:
This is the only thing David "ManBoobz" Futrelle said to me. What am I to think? Like I said, I had never heard of Mr. ManBoobz before that encounter. After visiting his blog that day, I haven't been back. After what I experienced, I've had no desire to read anything else ManBoobz has written. I say this to make the point that I don't really know this ManBoobz guy. I don't know what he's all about. I don't know whether my encounter with him is unique (although I suspect it's not). From what I've seen (which, admittedly, is very little), Mr. ManBoobz puts on this over-the-top "outraged!" persona on his blog and attempts to make his point via outrageous comments and sarcasm. "Misogyny. I Mock It" is his tag line. I don't know whether his "Rawr! I'm angry!" act is actually helping the cause at all or whether he's just putting on a show for his choir. I think Mr. ManBoobz means well and wants to do right by women. I can't really say much else about the guy. As I have been trying to express ad nauseum, I've only ever read one article by ManBoobz. I don't know him, and I'm not going to judge him; however, I will not excuse his demonization tactics. If Elevatorgate has taught me anything, it's that people are still prone to drawing battle lines and waging ideological wars, regardless of whether they wear the "skeptic" or "freethinker" label or not. Judgmentalism is certainly not the sole property of the religious (regardless of how adept they may be at it).
My encounter with ManBoobz reminds me of my exchange with Eugene Gerber. A comparison should be made between ManBoobz and Eugene. Regular readers may recall that I referred to Mr. Gerber as "stupid." Granted, my calling him stupid was to emphasize the importance of free speech and what not, but it was still a pretty brash thing to do on my part. Admittedly, leveling insults - even tongue-in-cheek insults - is a bit out of character for me, but I was trying to make a point. Eugene had the guts to visit my blog and comment respectfully. Eugene explained himself, and rather well I must say. In spite of my disagreeing with his position (not to mention in spite of being called stupid), Eugene's response was calm, cordial, and rational. Consequently, he and I engaged in a discussion that started on the blog, then moved to email, and ended in Eugene's posting two entries on the blog as a guest writer as well as my reconsidering my views in light of the best available evidence and argumentation.
I wrote about how difficult rethinking one's views can be, since we want to be right, and those of us who blog especially so, since we leave our words out there for the world to see and thus it's hard to just take something back that has been written (check out the Eugene Gerber Series). If everyone in the skeptic community were like Eugene Gerber, we'd be a hell of a lot better off. Here's the point: when Eugene visited my blog, he wasn't insulted or shooed off or called a douchebag. My regular readers engaged in rational conversation with Eugene, as did I. Critical thinking means something to us around here. I can't say how things work on other blogs, but around here we abide by a certain code.
That's how we roll.
ManBoobz, on the other hand, didn't even attempt to discuss things with me, but instead glibly lobbed another insult. Prior to that, his readers had already begun their insults. Instead of trying to understand my position, they attacked straw men; that is, when they weren't attacking me directly. Getting back to the main point, while Elevatorgate may not have been what triggered ManBoobz's behavior (he might act like that all the time), his actions represent the effect Elevatorgate has had on us. Elevatorgate represents the best and worst of us. Reactions to Rebecca Watson's comments created a snowball effect that's still felt almost a year later. Rebecca Watson is still being insulted, belittled, and verbally dehumanized. Douchebags are still drawing lines in the sand and attacking people on their own team because of it. Skeptics have abandoned skepticism because of it. So far, I think Elevatorgate has been most successful in both invigorating the sexists and misogynists and handicapping the feminists and freethinkers.
Well I'm drawing a line here. I say we turn Elevatorgate into something which reminds us of what really matters:
(Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault)
Rebecca Watson was right in that we should be conscientious of how we approach others, whether we're looking for sex, a date, whether we actually just want coffee, or whatever our intentions might be. Women especially still live in fear, and we need to be mindful of how we make those around us feel. Fear of rape and assault is strong, and we still live in a culture that tries to find blame in the victim rather than the villain. But make no mistake: Rape is never the victim’s fault. People get raped regardless of what they’re wearing, or even what they look like. Both men and women get raped. No one is ever "asking for it."
A person should learn how to keep oneself safe, whether man or woman, and not just because of rape. And learning how to keep oneself safe doesn’t necessarily mean studying a martial art or carrying a weapon (though it might be the right choice for some). It means making smart choices, living defensively, to keep oneself safe. I hear a lot of people say we should teach men not to rape instead of teaching women how to not get raped. Yes, we should teach men not to rape. But until the day comes when all men listen, we should also be teaching women how to protect themselves.
Again, because people draw stupid conclusions, let me state this explicitly: the above advice in no way implies that rape is ever the victim’s fault. Self-protection comes with no guarantees. Violence is random, chaotic and surprising, and even those best trained and equiped to handle an assault can be overcome in a conflict. Learning to stay safe on the streets is a way to stay confident and keep the odds in one’s favor as much as possible. There are no guarantees. Still, I will repeat: advising people to learn how to defend themselves in no way at all implies that the victim of rape (or any assault) is to blame for what happened.
Men need to be educated on how to treat women. Period. Rape is bad. Rape jokes aren’t funny (sorry, Reddit). People should be able to tell someone that they were raped without fearing judgment or condemnation.
A woman should be able to wear whatever the hell she wants without being shamed by the conservatives and puritans, objectified by the misogynists and chauvinists, or belittled by the privileged and unenlightened.
A woman can show strength and power without utilizing her sexuality.
A woman can be sexual if she damn well pleases. The choice belongs to her.
Women are not weak.
Women need men to understand, not save them.
Men can and should be feminists.
Men should not be villified.
Feminists often disagree with each other on all sorts of things, and that's okay. We should do our best to help each other figure out the best way to uphold the values we share.