Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Elevators, Creepers, and Conventions

The Feminism waters is one into which I rarely tread. I think it's partially because, assuming the popular definition of feminism as "he radical notion that women are people", it's too obvious for me to think much about. I take that as a given to think much about slapping a label on myself for the issue.

So I don't spend much time thinking about this topic. But a series of recent events has been sticking in my mind lately. If you've been following the skeptical blogosphere lately, the title should be a dead giveaway.

If you've somehow missed it, here's a recap:

While at the global atheist conference in Dublin, Skepchick Rebecca Watson was propositioned in her hotel elevator at 4am by a guy. She included this experience in part of a youtube video to make the point that some guys just aren't getting that it's really creepy to follow "a single woman, in a foreign country, at 4am in a hotel elevator with you, just you...." because it comes across as sexual objectification.

And of course, the apologists were all over it. Not the religious ones. The misogynist apologists. They claimed it wasn't a big deal, that it's not objectification, that she should be happy to get hit on, and, perhaps worst of all, that she should shut the hell up because there's bigger issues for women than guys being generally creepy.

The real kicker is that the last bit, came from none other than Richard Dawkins.

In some respects, I have to agree. There's creepers out there and on the grand scheme of things, making a quick note of it is all that needs to be said. And that's precisely what Rebecca did. Used it as a quick anecdote to highlight that men often do things that make women very uncomfortable and don't even think it's an issue. As PZ pointed out, "What these situations demand is an appropriate level of response." This should have been a done deal.

Instead, the apologists tried to dismiss it as an irrelevant deal.

This bugs me. The reason goes back to the definition of feminism I mentioned earlier: Women are people. They shouldn't be expected to ignore situations that make them uncomfortable any more than anyone else should. And given that women are sexually assaulted far more than men, situations like this should be viewed as even more spurious.

In my own experience, I go to a lot of conventions. I'm leaving town Thursday and will be away for 11 days two hit two, at both of which, I will be giving talks. At conventions, I've also been a frequent costumer. My best costume is my Sesshomaru a human form of a dog demon, reproduced from the series Inuyasha. The character is very popular and rarely costumed well. This, combined with the popularity of my talk has made me a well known and popular figures at conventions.

Which is awesome. But let's face it: It attracts creepers. And I've had more than my fair share. Perhaps the oddest was when I was wearing the aforementioned costume and a girl asked if she could "have my puppies." In other situations, I've had people do the romantic interest of a character I costume and proceed to follow me around conventions.

A general strategy is to have friends with whom you can hide for a little while to catch a breath, but some of my creepers have even gone so far as to try to make friends with them to take away my hiding places. That's fucking creepy and it's not at all welcome.

What's worse, is that all of my experiences have been in public. I've never even found myself cornered, even as long as it would take to stop an elevator and get off, by one of these creepers. And I sure as hell wouldn't want to be.

So I get how not cool creepers can be. They can completely ruin an otherwise pleasant convention or experience. As a result of my creepers, I am far less likely to wear costumes at conventions unless I have some of my closest friends there to help act as a buffer. I've changed my behavior and shy away from something I love because others can't act responsibly. That's a bummer.

That's why I get where Rebecca's coming from. She had a creeper that's raining on the fun parade. But in her circumstance, it's not just a matter of you don't do something as eccentric as costuming occasionally. What she, and other women face, is a daily ordeal. What do they have to quit doing to get rid of pervasive creepiness? Going out in public? Wearing veils so men can't think them attractive?

I don't really think that's a realistic scenario. Things, at least in the US, generally aren't so bad as all that, but it's the same principle: Why should others have to change their behavior because someone else is a creeper? I'm a person that doesn't appreciate it and women, being people too, shouldn't have to either. And you know what, that's perfectly fine to state.

1 comment:

elowe said...

LOL - this may be the first comment thread on this that I've seen that doesn't have at least 100 comments in it... ranging from the sensible to the "RW-thinks-all-men-are-rapists."

Having been in a situation where I was propositioned by a drunk guy a lot bigger than me, under circumstances where I was effectively isolated and "cornered," I completely sympathize with Rebecca's discomfort. The fact that you're alone; have no immediate options for escape; and don't know if your propositioner is willing to take "no" for an answer adds substantially to the "creep factor." It's not about the proposition itself (I've been hit on in public places before - that's life), it's about the realization that you have only as much power in the interaction as the propositioner allows... and you're SOL if it goes south. LIke RW's, mine didn't either... but I still remember that sense of apprehension and uncertainty. This is not sexy or flattering in the least.

When RW made the video, she already knew that "Elevator Guy" was harmless. But that was precisely the point: she wanted to make it clear to the harmless-but-clueless guys that they should be more aware about how they approach women - no one likes to feeling vulnerable. This is why the "he-was-just-asking-her-for-coffee" responses are so frustrating - people (including Dawkins) just don't seem to "get" this.