While I would consider myself a skeptic, I am not really part of any organization or group. So, the whole “Elevatorgate” incident passed me without noticing. That is, until a few weeks ago, when I stumbled upon a couple of videos on YouTube. Well, shit, that’s not only why women become scarce, that makes some men not want to attend ever as well. While I missed the whole discussion I was eager to read what other people thought about it. Better yet, hear some smart people talk about it on YouTube. So I was very happy to see that “A Voice for Men” did a show about it a few days ago. You can find the show as Podcast in iTunes, or more information in this posting on their website.
I was also interested enough to leave a comment on their site how the whole incident seems to me. It turned out to be rather long (time and words flies/fly when you are having fun), probably a bit long, but, what the hell, I’m reposting it here.
Thank you for the show, it was further food for thought. I have to admit that I missed the whole “Elevator Gate” incident and even the Atheism+ movement until a couple of weeks ago. While I would consider myself a skeptic, I’m not really a part of any organization. So my view might be old and I might not have all the information.
When I heard about “Elevator Gate” — mostly by stumbling upon videos by ‘The Amazing Atheist’, ‘Girl Writes What’ (I think), and the series by ‘Thunderf00t’ — first I shook my head, then it made sense, then it made even more sense. Not in the logical sense but in the ‘this is how humans sometimes operate’ sense.
The first thing that came to mind was the research in psychology on the role of interpersonal distance. In an elevator people are usually standing closer than what we would normally like. People come into our personal/intimate space, even when they normally would not qualify to stand that close to us. In other settings we would move back, but in an elevator we can’t. The closeness produces anxiety, which is simply due to the constraints of the room. Combine this with 1) being “trapped” into a metal room where the doors shut noticeably and cannot possibly be opened for some time (no way to ‘escape’ from the situation), 2) no way to politely avoid eye contact (as many people normally do in these spaces) due to being asked a question, and 3) the time of night — yeah, some people might feel uncomfortable in such a situation. And they might mistakenly attribute their anxiety in that situation to the person standing close, ending up with the interpretation of regarding him as a threat. If you see yourself as an independent, competent and logical/skeptical person and you feel anxiety, it has to have a good reason, doesn’t it? It has to come from the outside, from a real threat, from someone else, doesn’t it? Nope, not if you mistakenly attribute your anxiety, something which humans are prone to do.
And sure, one could even make a case for not starting a conversation in a situation where the conversation partner cannot leave easily/at all, esp. when no other people are around.
However, I think this is mostly a personal problem — you need a certain worldview to mistakenly attribute the anxiety and interpret the situation this way. And (no news here) that tells you a lot about the … really ugly social climate we are living in — what it can do to some people. And I really mean people here — women and men. If men are vilified and seen as potential rapists or murderers, it poisons the interactions, not only between men and women, but also the normal interactions between men. To put it differently, when I walk the streets at night, I feel some anxiety when I see a man/group of men — but not when I see a woman/group of women. That might be a personal problem, but I do not think that it is that rare. Society sends very strong signals that men are possible threats. And yes, while I am a man, I have also experienced violence and harassment by other men. It happens (in some forms actually much more frequently to men than to women).
That fear would be okay and even useful if it really were a problem. But while more men commit assaults, it is a very small minority of men. The view that men are the problem as a group is wrong, and that begs the question why Elevator Girl as a self-proclaimed skeptic did not start the conversation this way: Why do (many) women and (probably some) men feel uncomfortable when they hear a man walking behind them? When they are ‘trapped’ with an unknown man in a small, confined space? Why do we ignore the data and make a whole biological demographic responsible and not the small subgroup of really screwed up criminals or sociopaths?
I mean, it’s easy to be skeptical about something you don’t believe in. But noticing the sexism in our everyday life, noticing that many men and women are positively and negatively discriminated by men and women? Noticing one’s own biases — that’s where things get interesting. And I guess that these biases are prevalent also among skeptics, women and men.
Instead the discussion started and went on with the one-sided narrative of ‘all men harass (and they don’t even know it and we have to indoctri… aehm, educate them)’ or even ‘all men are (potential) rapist’. By criticizing men this way and continuing to trying to justify herself, elevator girl rang a bell she cannot unring — and I suspect she does not want to unring it. Not only because of ‘attention due to assumed personal victimhood’, combined with assumed ‘moral superiority’. Attention and a feeling of superiority are nice to have and much easier to achieve this way than through the hard work of thinking critically. Not to mention that after a certain point there is really no way to stop it unless you are willing to lose face big time. And risk the scorn not only by falsely accused, but also by your former allies who want to ride ‘the cause’ and are absolutely willing to bury you beneath it if you stop. To put an end to it after it went rolling — that demands not only insight but a strength of character that is extremely rare.
But it’s not only elevator girl who profits. This ideological version of feminism (e.g., rights without responsibilities/accountability/fairness) itself profits by it. For any ideology, a strong, organized movement of skeptics is a threat. If you apply skepticism to that kind of feminism — it just tears it to shreds. That kind of feminism has used dogma, and misrepresented the data, for far too long — it’s like a religion this way. Or rather, even worse than a religion. If criticizing religion is shooting cows with a high-powered rifle and a scope, criticizing that kind of feminism is doing the same with a grenade launcher. There is no save escape by an appeal to faith, or by referring to a god. And what’s worse, the former sheep of the fold pack an even harder punch. You can discount men (“they want their positions of power back — and they are evil”), and you can discount a handful of women who publicly criticize feminism (“Stockholm syndrom” or even — gasp — “Quisling” might come to mind). But if a large portion of women publicly criticize your brand of feminism you’re gonna have a problem if you claim to fight for them.
And it seems that that was happening before: A growing number of women became involved with skepticism/atheism. Given that critical thinking has an epistemic quality (people who learn to think critically quickly begin to think critically about a lot of things), it could have ended up with a lot of women skillfully criticizing feminism.
So, from a certain viewpoint it makes sense to attack and discredit skepticism via an preemptive strike. To infiltrate it first and then explode it from within. It seems to have brought down the number of women in the atheist/skeptic community. I guess it makes the interactions awkward — when frank conversations and honest criticism is what is needed to think critically. It distracts from the relevant issues. It might even bring down the whole movement by combining it with a dogma, the very anathema of skepticism and atheism. How can you balance thinking skeptically/critically in one area but not in another? Criticize religion and pseudoscience, yet accept a certain feminist ideology as gospel? How can you live with such a strain, such a cognitive dissonance?
But hey, some men might even like it, given that a religion like Christianity runs partly on guilt (sin, atonement) — so that branch of feminism with it’s ‘all men are evil theme’ fits right in. Feel guilty just for being alive (as a man). And the atheist finds new faith in the next ‘religion’ that pushes him down — where it’s familiar and the world is ‘known’.
I don’t think it was planned this way, but I would not be surprised if some people would regard this as an serendipitous development. After all, the biggest threat to feminism are people, and especially women, who are able to think skeptically and apply their critical thinking skills to feminism itself. And organized skeptics are a big threat for any ideology (if organizing them even without these disturbances weren’t already like herding cats).
To end on a positive note, I think that skepticism/atheism will survive. The ones outside of movements and conferences will likely ignore it (or miss it). Movements itself might take a hit, it might even split or destroy some groups, but thinking critically is inherent in too many skeptics/atheists. People are already dismantling the attacks and the dogma. In the end, it brought the ugly side of that version of feminism onto the radar of the skeptics and made it one more topic to think critically about. What began as a vile poison that did and does much damage might end up as a painful inoculation.
The thing many of these feminists have yet to learn is that many skeptics/atheists, men and women, might be hit or fooled once or twice, but they can also deal with it — deal with criticism and attacks, dismantle them, examine their merit, learn from them, and become better in the long run.
Hmm, in any case an interesting topic to think about … esp. to think critically about.