These famous words were spoken by Rebecca Watson on June 20, 2011 thus igniting Elevatorgate and the epic split within the atheist community that is the basis of the current political configuration of different blogger networks and forums. By far the most interesting thing going on in the atheist community right now is gender politics, debates about relations between men and women. There are basically two camps, Men’s Rights Activist sympathizer libertarian types (libertarian in a cultural sense; not classical libertarian small government advocates) and the feminists. This could be simplified as MRAs versus feminists but it should be kept in mind that MRA sympathetic arguments made by those in the atheist community tend to be much more mild and reasonable than the ranting and raving hard core MRAs that the MRA label tends to be associated with. Call them mild MRAs versus the radical feminists.
It should be understood that “anti-feminist” within an atheist context almost always means MRA sympathizer; the battle is not between feminism and traditional gender roles, it is instead between feminism and no gender roles. To put things in terms of Chivalry feminists are for female controlled weak Chivalry while the MRA sympathizers are for no Chivalry. I am instead for strong male controlled Chivalry consistent with traditional gender roles.
There is something odd about the atheist feminists; that is that they seek to impose responsibilities upon men. The pushback the feminists receive almost always centers around men protesting “don’t tell me what to do” and accusing the feminists of “playing the victim card.” These criticisms are fine as far as they go but the problem is that those who object to the feminist demands never offer women any kind of alternative basis of protection. In fact the response of many men is to turn quite nasty and aggressive. The attitude seems to be “how dare you place any demands on me, I don’t owe you anything!” The attack against the feminists is generally that they are female supremacists, that they are disingenuous about claiming to seek equality. The response of the anti-feminists is that they seek “true equality.” This basis of opposition against feminism is completely wrong headed because the problem with feminism is that it undermines men’s investment in family life by using female empowerment as a mechanism for legitimizing men abandoning their responsibilities towards women. The MRA sympathetic anti-feminist then points out the abusive nature of women’s demands for power and uses that as an excuse to abandon their responsibilities towards women all together.
Now for some background on this whole “Elevatorgate” thing. On June 20, 2011 Rebecca Watson made a youtube video; the relevant part being transcribed here:
About Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes
4:20 to 5:42
“Thank you everyone who was at that conference who engaged in these discussions outside of that panel, you were all fantastic, I loved talking to you guys. All of you except for the one man who didn’t really grasp, I think, what I was saying? on the panel because at the bar later that night, actually at four in the morning, we were at the hotel bar, 4am I said, “I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed” so I walked on the elevator and a man got on the elevator with me and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I’d like to talk more, would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Just a word to the wise here, Guys, don’t do that. You know, 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 don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.”
What I find especially interesting about Rebecca Watson’s admonishment of “Elevator Guy” is that she made the admonishment in the first place; that she somehow felt that it was her job or her place to “tell men how they should behave” or to set the ground rules of men’s behavior in relation to women. I believe Watson felt it was her gender role as a woman to “clue the guys in” about proper masculine etiquette when approaching a woman. That it is somehow natural for women to set the rules of men’s behavior in relation to how men should treat women when men are trying to gain the approval of women; that the fact that the man in question presumably was seeking Watson’s approval automatically puts Watson “in charge” of how exactly the man should behave in order to gain Watson’s approval. Watson then presumed to “lecture” men in general about how to approach women in general in a way that would gain female approval and would constitute proper behavior on the part of the man.
Rebecca Watson is clearly in the feminist camp politically so her mindset was that of the feminist. In the feminist scheme of things it is the woman’s place to tell men how to act when trying to gain the approval of women and that furthermore it is the woman’s place to judge when a man is “behaving badly” or “making them uncomfortable” and therefore is not only ineffective in his efforts to appeal to women but is actually bad or wrong in his approaches towards women. So operating under these assumptions Watson felt like it was her role as a woman to “set the rules” of men’s romantic behaviors towards women. She then made her “Guys, don’t do that” comments as part of this process of regulating male behavior towards women.
My question is why didn’t PZ Myers make the “Guys, don’t do that” comments? PZ Myers is a male feminist political ally of Rebecca Watson prominent in the atheist community. Why did Rebecca Watson as a woman admonish men rather than PZ Myers as a man admonishing men? Why didn’t Watson tell PZ Myers about how some guy approached her in an elevator and how that made her uncomfortable and how guys shouldn’t do that so that PZ Myers could then make a public statement telling men “Guys, don’t do that”? That would have been a better way to handle this “offense” against Rebecca Watson’s sensibilities. The assumption however would have to be that PZ Myers was admonishing men based on his own judgment of proper male behavior, not that he was simply supporting “what the woman said.” In other words there should have been a “male filter” of Rebecca Watson’s complaint that then would be expressed to men through a male voice. It was wrong for Rebecca Watson to assert herself directly as a woman to then “tell men what to do.” This is a classic example of a feminist asserting control of Chivalry as a woman; the rules of male romantic behavior towards women being an aspect of Chivalry.
There is a problem though with criticizing Watson’s “Guys, don’t do that” assertion as a woman. That is that without Watson speaking up nobody else would have taken on the role of “telling men what to do.” The feminists are the only ones in the atheist community trying to impose obligations upon men at all; the point of the anti-feminists is not that women shouldn’t be telling men what to do; it is that nobody should be telling men what to do. Nobody is saying that men should be the ones imposing rules of conduct upon men; they are instead saying that women shouldn’t presume to have the right to tell men what to do and they are leaving it at that. The woman telling the man what to do is female supremacy. I would agree with that criticism of the feminists. However to claim that nobody has the right to tell men what to do is male supremacy. It is male supremacy when men ignore or disregard complaints about their behavior from women and at the same time refuse any other sources of accountability for their actions.
The feminist position is female supremacy because it is based on women taking control of Chivalry; the fundamental male obligation on behalf of women. The MRA friendly anti-feminist position is male supremacy because it is based on denying all male obligations towards women. The solution is male controlled Chivalry or men imposing obligations upon men. Men imposing obligations upon men works best because it means men’s behavior will be judged according to an objective standard that takes both the man’s and the woman’s interests into account.
For those wanting to learn more about Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers here is where their writing can be found: