Respectable Privilege and Common Decency

No one I know of seems to disagree substantially with Watson’s first assessment and request. After the first salvos in clever reply, I lost track of who was shooting at whom and why: I was still naively asking people, while threats of boycott floated in the air, “But don’t you think she makes a good point?”

The issue blew up into a pissing match, I think, because of some unfortunate and irrelevant pleading (Plait, Mehta, et al), bandwagon political glosses, and reactions against reactions. As of this edit, there are nearly too many to cite. Maybe everyone wanted to jump on the short-lived publicity train. And now it looks like I’m on it, too, if only for a quick run down the tracks.

I am happy for the chance at jettisoning some my own, previously hidden naiveté. I was appalled by comments from people I had formerly taken to be consummately perceptive and rational, speaking as they did so earnestly and adamantly either for or against the so-called “Feminist Agenda”. Guess what? Everyone gets to be an idiot at least once in life!

So, that takes care of my naiveté. For now.

Those against the proposition cannot present evidence for the existence of any such feminist agenda, certainly none like the paranoid and incoherent insinuated version, and definitely none actually matching the real goals of feminism! Meanwhile, proponents were distracted and consumed by pure reaction against the “echo chamber”!

Those against believe militants (as they say) have forced this into yet another male v. female issue and were ready — in fact, are continually ready — with cynical, unwarranted and tiresome comments about body parts and with their self-pitying complaints about “Political Correctness”. Proponents countered with equally pointless comments about privilege and age. I say pointless since, just to mention one point of communication failure, the intended audience had already plugged their ears! The particular jibe I’m talking about with reference to privilege didn’t get a heck of a lot of subscribers; most people seem to want to sympathize with old man Dawkins despite the glaring stupidity of his comments and grotesque sarcasm.

Moments like this make me think that science and philosophy may not ultimately prevail over stupidity. I am confident this moment will pass. So, I have some specific questions for you to consider, thoughtful reader:

  • At what point did Watson’s two minute comment cease to be a request for self-reflection and begin to become part of an overarching conspiracy, a demand for or against special privileges?
  • When did otherwise rational, empirically-grounded skeptics forget that civilization lives and dies by the conditions of the women resident in that civilization?
  • Shall we trivialize every instance of male blundering until it becomes an entrenched problem?

By the way, if you think the last question represents an unwarranted exaggeration, please demonstrate to me how I have inappropriately invoked slippery slope! Yes, I am inviting comment.

What Watson said: On 20 June 2011,  published a video blog entitled About Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes to her publicly available video blog, Skepchick. The following is the (transcribed) “elevator” statement, with some context included:

…so, I was interested in the response to my, sort of, rambling on that panel which, like this video, was unscripted and rambling, for which I apologize.

But, the response was really fascinating. The response at the conference itself was really wonderful. There were a ton of great feminists there, male and female, and also just open-minded people who had maybe never really considered the way that women are treated in this community but were interested in learning more. Thank you to everyone who was at that conference who engaged in those discussions outside that panel. You were all fantastic. I love talking to you guys. All of you except for the one man who didn’t really grasp, I think, what I said on the panel because at the bar, later that night — actually, at 4 in the morning — we were at the hotel bar, 4 am.

I said, “…I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted, I’m going to bed.

So, I walked to 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 would 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. I don’t 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 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…

But everyone else seemed to really get it! and thank you, for getting it…

Please refer to for clarification.

Perhaps if she had only under-reacted! Would everyone be happier? Better still, perhaps she should have remained completely silent. I’m sure everyone would then approve, noddingly. Would her position then have been appropriately tasteful enough for the likes of the young, part-time, self-professed Third-Wave Feminists, the populist skeptics and serious atheists, any and all respectable holders of letters and leaders in the fields of science and philosophy? Everyone would sympathize, surely, having heard second hand, but her experiences and arguments would be completely meaningless and so, would be ignored. That so many are still in an uproar indicates that she nailed the right level.


One thought on “Respectable Privilege and Common Decency”

  1. Thanks for this post. I have been very ticked off by everyone’s response. The initial context of the Watson’s comments was lost immediately and everything was blown out of proportion. A lot of supposedly rational people missed the boat on this one. Irrationality won the day overall.


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