For the most part, I think we're on the same page; but I want to clarify a few things. (long rant, sorry)
First of all, no-one knows what "elevator-guy"'s motives were, unless they are psychic. An awful lot of time and energy has been expended by people saying - he was a creep - he was hitting on her - it was a harmless invitation. Nobody knows (except him). What you can
analyse are his actions (at least as reported by Rebecca Watson) - and that is that it was a badly misjudged invitation. She never said he was rude or threatening; and we all know that he certainly took "no" for an answer. To give RW credit, she never claimed that he was a potential rapist. However, that is precisely the claim that has been made by rather a lot of other people, and they have NO BASIS to say that what so ever. She said no, he went away. That is the opposite of what rapists or misogynists do.
Equality does not mean treating women like men. It means giving equal values to the rights, needs and interests of men and women. And that - among other things - means recognising that women are physically weaker than men, and have a justifiably greater fear of being sexually assaulted.
I appreciate the sentiment as you intend it. But I do not want to be treated like a helpless feeble creature who requires every man around her to constantly second-guess themselves in case they offend me. How do you know what offends me? How do you know what my needs are?
The problem is that people respond to situations differently; it really ought to be sufficient to be polite and considerate. You cannot possibly predict everything that may offend or upset someone. It is at least one of the reasons why we so often say that no-one has the right not to be offended.
Here's an anecdote of my own: Once upon a time at an office Christmas party I got into a lively debate with a co-worker about multiculturalism. We exchanged opinions, rebutted each others points, disagreed on details. It was all perfectly amicable, polite and enjoyable - at least, on this last point, I thought so. Later on, he apologised to me. Just out of the blue apologised. He had done absolutely nothing wrong at all, but he felt he had to apologise because I was a woman and I might be feeling offended or insulted. I then awkwardly had to try and make him feel less awkward about it. He was trying to do the right thing. But it made me feel ashamed that he thought that just by the act of debating a point with me, he might have done something wrong.
That, my friends, is (slightly) insulting.
Please note: he was not insulting me, he was trying to do the opposite of insulting me. I can tell the difference.
It is a tricky situation for men, I appreciate this. You never know what will or won't offend or upset someone. And that is precisely why this subject ought to be able to be discussed. However, on most websites that have posted about it; no-one is allowed to discuss different points of view. And that beings me to my second point.
Point the Second: How the Community reacted to this, and why it stinks.
Just for starters, you should take a look at how women (yes, women) have been treated by the so-called self-proclaimed pro-feminist community if they chose to dissent from the RW side. Take a look at how AbbieSmith
and Stef McGraw
have been treated by others. The reaction has invariably not been: you are incorrect, this is why. The reaction has been a torrent of abuse and invective, they have been told they are "gender traitors", that they ought to "die in a fire" and that essentially, they just haven't been abused or raped enough to know any better. This last point is often couched in exceptionally polite, passive-aggressive language to mask the horror of what they are actually suggesting.
This is not the way civilised or sceptical people debate issues. You would also think that it is not the way that intelligent pro-women activists would talk.
My next issue: How Rebecca Watson has behaved.
First, lets get this straight. I am a single woman too. I know what it is like to live by myself, travel by myself and walk in strange places by myself. Yes, it can be intimidating. and if someone says that they experienced Person X doing Activity Y and they were uncomfortable with it; then I am not going to argue. I would encourage anybody to listen to such a complaint seriously and examine it carefully. Feelings and reactions are what they are: they are genuine and they have to be taken as such.
Where it all goes horribly wrong is when no-one is allowed to question how this should impact on society at large.
When Catholics got very offended at PZ Myers desecrating a consecrated communion host, how many atheists thought that this was an outrage and that any such atheist ought to be branded a reckless vandal and scorned? Not many.
When Christians vandalised billboards because they were offended at the American Atheists advertisement on it, who in the atheist community thought that it was fair enough and that AA ought to be barred for life for depicting something others would find a threat to their way of life?
My point is not that all offence is equal, or that all offence is unjustifiable. It is just that differing opinions ought to be able to be aired. And this isn't happening on the major websites.
Dissenters are being abused, and the main leaders in this have done nothing to try and foster an adult conversation.
In addition, Rebecca Watson appears to be rather enjoying this. Apart from her gloating on Twitter that she now has a billion followers thanks to this, "SCORE!"; she has now decided to take Dawkins head-on, encouraging people to boycott him and his books.
That is the act of someone supremely confident of their own influence.
A word on the Richard Dawkins comment that has earned him so much trouble: I think you could interpret his comment to be offensive if you are looking -even innocently - to see something offensive in it. But I find it hard to see how he was supposed to be trivialising lesser forms of sexism by his comments if you see them in the context of the blog discussion where they were written (this was on Pharyngula... people are LOUD, and SHOUTY, and SWEARY, and the general drift of the discussion was that elevator-man was very nearly almost a creepy rapist).
His mistake was that his comments showed sheer exasperation with the soap-opera style self-pity of the situation and could therefore be read as not sympathetic towards Watson. However, it is a discussion that the other side has declared off-limits and verboten; and anyone not offering 100% support is automatically The Enemy.
Yes, perhaps he shouldn't have said anything. But then again, everyone else was allowed to pontificate at length.
[Post edit: those who think Dawkins doesn't understand anything about abuse might read this: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/118
Make sure you read the 4th & 5th paragraphs]
It is a shame that a community that once prided itself on never holding any subject as taboo, and never granted anyone the right to not be offended has decided that certain people must unquestioningly be accorded special deferential status.
I am glad that this community still will discuss these things, even if we have different opinions and takes on the subject.