The controversy over “Elevatorgate” just keeps getting more riotous. Now Rebecca Watson has gotten into a catfight with another “freethinking” blogger and student named Stef McGraw.
First, McGraw attacked Rebecca for her supposed hypocrisy:
Someone who truly abides by feminist principles would, in my view, have to react in the same manner were the situation reversed; if a woman were to engage a man in the same way, she would probably be creeping him out and making him uncomfortable and unfairly sexualizing him, right? But of course no one ever makes that claim, which is why I see Watson’s comment as so hypocritical.
If you really want social equality for women, which is what feminism is, why not apply the same standards to men and women, and stop demonizing men for being sexual beings?
I found the ignorance of McGraw’s criticism appalling. Several years ago, I was at a gas station when I was approached by a woman I soon realized was a prostitute. She asked me if I wanted to go on “dates” with her and then asked for money. After figuring out that she was propositioning me for sex, I was so repulsed that I immediately went into station and told the employees about the woman, and the promised me that they would get rid of her, even as she was proceeding to hit on other men at the station!
Rebecca certainly did not say that men shouldn’t object to women hitting on men in an elevator at 4 AM, did she? No, and that made McGraw’s rebuke of her pointless, if not flat out stupid!
Rebecca then dealt with the attack by taking it right to McGraw’s own territory. No, not her blog, but at the CFI Student Leadership Conference, in Amherst, New York, on June 26, 2011.
That video is almost 50 minutes long. To focus on the part relevant to the dispute referred to here, look at this:
[12:04] There’s another comment I found on a blog from actually one of your own. And, I wanted to use it as an example, not to embarrass this person, but to point out that we have a serious problem when young women [quoted part of McGraw's blog post shows up under previous YouTube comment] are this ignorant about feminism. So let me read it to you. This is from the UNI Freethought blog. Stef McGraw, she posts a transcript of the story I just told you, the elevator story, and she writes:
[12:37] “My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her. What’s wrong with that? How on Earth does that justify him as ‘creepy’? Are we not sexual beings? Let’s review. It’s not as if he touched her or made an unsolicited sexual comment. He merely asked if she’d like to come back to his room. She easily could have said–and I’m assuming did say, ‘No thanks. I’m tired and would like to go to my room to sleep.’”
[13:00] So, there are many things wrong with this paragraph; I won’t really go into them all. I’ll mention that asking someone back to your hotel room at four in the morning who you’ve never spoken to is the definition of ‘unsolicited sexual comment’. And in the transcript that Stef posted, she conveniently edited it to begin after I told everyone at the bar that I was exhausted and going back to my room–kind of an important point in which I state exactly what my desire is because later this man in the elevator specifically tried to talk me out of doing that. So I did actually make it quite clear that I was tired and going to my room to sleep.
[13:45] But the real problem is actually in the first sentence, and it’s sort of the same problem that the other commenter has [note that McGraw's quote is still shown below the YouTube comment ending with "Congratulations" on the screen]. “My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her.” This is unfortunately a pretty standard parroting of misogynistic thought. And it’s not new; it’s something that feminists have been dealing with for ages. In fact, it’s Feminism 101. [Slide changes to a page taken from some website.] In fact, it’s covered on a blog called Feminism 101 [laughs] which you should definitely check out because it’s great. They go over a lot of concepts that may be new to many of you. But in this case, what we’re talking about is the difference between sexual interest/sexual attraction versus sexual objectification.
McGraw responded with this:
Then, a day later at the conference, Watson delivered a keynote speech on the religious right’s war against women. Before she got to her main content, though, she decided to address sexism in the secular movement, which she views as a rampant problem. I shared her disgust as she showed screenshots of people online calling her demeaning names, making comments about her appearance, and, worst of all, making rape comments.
Then, switching gears, Watson made a remark to the extent that there are people in our own community who would not stand up for her in these sorts of situations; my name, organization, and a few sentences from my blog post then flashed on the screen before my eyes. She went on to explain how I didn’t understand what objectification meant and was espousing anti-woman sentiment.
My first reaction was complete shock. I wasn’t surprised that she had seen my post, but I didn’t think she would choose to address it during her keynote, let alone place it in a category with people advocating for her to be raped. In fact, I was excited to possibly speak with her afterward in order to discuss the matter face-to-face. Instead, all I could do was just sit there and watch myself being berated for supposedly espousing anti-woman views and told that I wouldn’t stand up for women in sticky situations with men, as one hundred of my peers watched on. I found both of those accusations to be completely and utterly incorrect, as anyone who actually knows me could tell you I care deeply about fighting sexist thought. I started thinking, how can I respond? It didn’t feel right to have to endure a widely respected keynote speaker’s accusations that I was a living example of what was wrong with our movement while I sat there unable to defend my position.
There was no time at the conference where I, as a student attendee, could appropriately make any sort of public statement addressing what Watson claimed about my argument and me. She has said over Twitter that “An attendee has every right to counter during Q&A or by publicly blogging again later,” but there are issues with both of these approaches. First, the Q&A was not an option in my mind, as I wasn’t going to get up after her great talk and argue with her about something unrelated; I have more respect for a speaker than that. And second, yes, I currently am blogging about the issue, but this won’t reach everyone who went to the conference; I write for a successful student blog, not one like Skepchick that a large percentage of the secular community reads.
The real issue, of course, was that Rebecca used McGraw’s own words against her, right in front of her no less, in such a way as to make her look clueless before her peers. That would never have happened if McGraw had not actually made a complete idiot of herself on her blog in the first place!
And for that, Rebecca has been called a bully, and her critics have said what she did was unprofessional and inappropriate. Oh, and Richard Dawkins’ sarcastic response to Rebecca several weeks ago wasn’t?!
So who’s the damned hypocrite now?
- Rebecca Watson at CFI (scienceblogs.com)
- There’s No Hiding in Public (Or More on Rebecca Watson, CFI, UNI) (aafwaterloo.wordpress.com)
- New Point of Inquiry: Rebecca Watson – Skepticism and Feminism | The Intersection (blogs.discovermagazine.com)