Boycott Richard Dawkins? – #Elevatorgate 69


A bit of a fuss has been set in motion. Many of you may already be up to speed so I don’t propose to go into too much detail, but I’ll start with a few links for the truly curious:

OK, so what is all the fuss about?

The story is that Rebecca Watson attended a conference and spoke about sexism in the skeptical community. At 4am she was closing down the bar with fellow skeptics, declares she is gonna go to bed, so gets on the elevator, and a guy from the bar hops on, too. The guy on the elevator says: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”. Rebecca says “no”. Later, on her video blog, she tells the story and simply says …

Just a word to the wise here, guys. Don’t do that. I don’t know how else to explain how this makes me very uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out: I was a single women in foreign country in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and I—don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

In response to that, lots of folks chipped in with comments in various places, and it just so happens that one of the commenter’s happened to be Richard Dawkins (here, its comment number 75).

Now I don’t propose to get drawn into the details of what is now known as “Elevatorgate”. Many disagree with what Dawkins wrote, as a result there is now a proposal to boycott Dawkins.

Rebecca has now called for a complete boycott of Dawkins here. Also we now have the skepchicks launching a letter writing campaign against Dawkins here.

OK, let me try a couple of quick questions now:

  • Do I agree with what Richard wrote? – Nope, the folks being critical of him have a point
  • Do I feel inclined to boycott Dawkins because of this? – Nope, thats crazy … and this is my key point.

We (skeptics / atheists) have a great deal in common, we are refusing to drink the woo cool aid being offered to many, but it is also true to observe that we have no party line. I can guarantee you that when chatting with others in the community you will often be faced with folks who have views and/or opinions that are not the same as yours, and thats OK. We also have one huge advantage over many other communities, as we debate, we look for evidence and when presented with new evidence that proves us wrong, we change our minds. In fact, it is fairly common for most of us to have believed crazy stuff or spouted silly views at one time or another, and so are quite open to rational discussion and changing our minds.

If you really wish to boycott everybody with whom you disagree with, you will end up in complete isolation. So while I might not agree with every utterance ever issued by Richard Dawkins, (this specific case being an example), I do not propose to join any boycott; we both still have too much in common, and I for one still respect him for his rational stance on so many other issues.


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69 thoughts on “Boycott Richard Dawkins? – #Elevatorgate

  • xiaoeee

    Dawkins is a great man. He deserves a lot of respect and he needs a gun and a satchel charge to destroy every church and temple in the world.

  • Benson

    What Dawkins did was indeed creepy and weird. Sounds like it was even planned-

    After a night of drunken revelry and stimulating, non-stop, pseudo-intellectual discussion, and mutual adoration of all the attendees towards one another, a 70 year old, British, intellectual, academic, corners and propositions a 20-something, hipster-chick in elevator. To add to the insult and injury, he creates a silly and transparent subterfuge, based upon sipping coffee in his lair and the continuation of same pseudo-intellectual jabber.

    Hipster chick predictably becomes ‘creeped out’ and offended. Understandably so. Thinking about Richard Dawkins naked, or even having a sex drive, would scare any rationalist thinker.

    Just a few comments I need to get off my chest here- Is Ms. Watson actually naive enough to believe rationalist academics types, are in full control of their penises and are immune to evolutionary-based, sexual urges? Perhaps more importantly, does she believe rationalist/skeptic types are in any way better or superior to other folk in morals, character, etc? This is her fundamental mistake. I think this incident perhaps ‘burst her bubble’ a bit that ‘skeptical types’ are above such coarse aspects of human nature.

    Disclosure- I am myself an engineer/scientist, cold rationalist, atheist, pseudo-intellectual, and I am in no doubt, in many regards, eerily similar to Ms. Watson and her crowd of skeptical skeptics, with one keen distinction- I find that group of people, no more interesting and no more worthy of respect, adulation, or adoration, than anyone else. I find them just as annoying, if not more so, than born-again x-ians and their lot. The idea of “atheist/skeptic conventions,” groups, organizations, and such is quite nauseating to me. Replete with its heroes, best-selling authors, evangelists of the movement, etc. I would not want to be in the same city as one of these gatherings, never mind the same hotel. It’s just a mutual-adoration, mutual-verbal-masturbatory, society. Surrounding yourself, because of the lack of intellectual security, and for reasons of self-doubt and comfort-zones, with a bunch of like-minded, clone-ish, people. All eerily similar in their thinking and beliefs.
    Anything humans organize into a group, goes to hell in a handbasket, whether it is religion, politics, “skeptic societies,” etc. In any case, I still have hope for Ms. Watson. If she is smart, she’ll become a misanthrope such as myself, and start to see the pettiness and hypocrisy within her own movement and crowd of people.

  • noboychildrenformethanks

    Yep. The skeptic community is still steeped in misogyny. But singing “la la la la”, reading The Game for the millionth pathetic time, and whining about critiques on the nasty yet boring Bayonetta will not save you now.

    He’s been riding the wave as an ivory tower academic, but those types tend not to be radical. So he got beat in moral debate by a radical. Natch.
    A bummer, to be sure. But the guy’s way to uppity to be a good example anyway.

    • xiaoeee

      I think that there is a reason for misogyny. I am a woman and I think I should know my rights better… just to stay at home and to cook and give births which I obviously don’t want to. I hate kids and I can’t cook. And this is probably the reason why chicks like me are hated.

  • SmithSmith

    Are you telling me that man in the elevator had the audacity to ask that poor, poor girl to have coffee with him. Oh the humanity! Grow up, people have the right to attempt to start a conversation with each other, yes even men.

  • ou812

    I’m a straight man who often gets propositioned by homosexuals, sometimes late at night in isolated areas. I’m not large, and many of them could overpower me if they wanted to. But as long as they respect my wishes, I just let it go. If I was to make a blog post saying “Gays, don’t do that”, and accusing them of sexualizing me, I suspect I would have received about as much hate mail as Rebecca did, but much less support from the feminist movement.

  • iain

    I’m new to this debate and seemed to have missed its kick off, but as the atheist movement grows, it will enounter the same problems every group aiming at mass acceptance has struggled with over the course of history.

    If you are going to set up a group based on the sovereignty of the individual mind over what it is told to do by less able leaders, you’re on to a winner and will attract those able to think for themselves. But if you are going to base it on the individual’s absolute right to use their own conception of right and wrong to do what they like to others, the end result casn only be anarchy.

    Groups like Anonymous are often supposed to be anarchic. But they are not: they depend on their reputation of inspiring a fight against oppressive and criminal groups; the mask also symbolises the anonymity of those who, behind the scenes, manipulate the media so that 491,000 separately reported Iraq atrocities and another 91,000 in Afghanistan – all commited by the US military invaders – were completely ignored by the US media. That’s a hell of a lot of deaths, considering that in one incident alone, 181 people in a village were killed by an attack helicopter.

    Assange with Wikileaks, and the Anonymous group, are two examples of people who stand for something. They’re not just exercising their own self-indulgence: they are willing to sacrifice their time for a higher cause. This is highly appealing to the human mind: an inner sense of justice.

    It’s true that every group also attracts those who just want to be on a winning side. But groups who have to make some kind of sacrifice tend to attract less of them, because it’s much easier to join one conferring power and untouchability. Sociopaths gravitaed to religion throughout history because of the power and unaccountability it offered. Today, they gravitate to the weapons business, government, and large corporations, where they do extreme damage to our world..

    But any group offering unlimited scope for self-expression, at no cost to them, is going to fragment, sooner or later, into those who feel morally bound to sacrifice on behalf of their cause on one side, and on ther other, a chaotic anarchy.

  • Man42

    You don’t have a right to not be made uncomfortable. What makes one person uncomfortable does not make another so. Whether you would like to believe it or not, there are plenty of people who would have said “yes” to the coffee offer. Whether the elevator is perceived as a threatening place is also just a matter of opinion. There are elevator cameras in most places, it was about to open at some point in a crowded hotel.. it wouldn’t have been a feasible situation for rape either way. This is an attempt to force everyone to view all situations from a victim mindset, which sadly, many feminists who are so concerned with non-issues like this tend to have. Dawkins tried to point this out as a non-issue by citing some examples of what misogyny actually is, but was sadly just added to the hate train.

  • Pyramus

    People have used the phrase ‘hitting on’ as in a man hitting on a woman. I think this shows that some people have quite old fashioned ideas about sex that come from religion. They associate sex with aggression, violence and death. Maybe he was looking to start a new relationship, maybe that’s how he met his wife. Rebecca Watson doesn’t speak for all women. Some women respond to men’s advances, if that is what it was. Men are attracted to women, it isn’t evil, and to use the word ‘sexualize’ doesn’t make a lot of sense.