So there's been a small internet storm over a minor encounter Rebecca Watson had in an elevator at an atheist convention, and the remarks
she made about it.
I say "minor" not to downplay it or any similar encounters anyone has had, but because Watson noted the encounter solely for the irony of the situation: that of being propositioned in an elevator at a convention at four in the morning, a convention at which she'd given a talk about, you know, stuff like that.
I have to admit that when I first started reading about it on PZ Myers blog
at Pharyngula, I wasn't very sympathetic. I know people go to conventions for all sorts of social interaction, including sexual, and at some point someone's got ask someone else if they want a cup of coffee, else there's nothing going to happen that way. It would be nice if people could be as witty as a Hollywood movie, but clichés are clichés for a reason.
But I read on. I didn't really get the thing about the elevator at first; the worst thing that's happened to me in an elevator was somebody else's fart. But, yeah, being in an elevator with someone who's propositioning you isn't going to be comfortable, especially considering the other circumstances. But give Elevator Guy a little credit, he took 'No, thank you' for an answer.
On the other side of the balance, though, the whole set-up looks fishy. Watson was chatting in the bar until four in the morning, but from what I can tell Elevator Guy didn't talk to her during this period, despite having been to her earlier talk. Then, when Watson announces that she's running on empty and needs some sleep, he hops on the elevator with her, and then
he propositions her. The guy could be socially inept, but that's some fine timing he's got there.
My ideal for folk at conventions is for them (us!) to do whatever they mutually agree upon in whatever combinations and to whatever degree pleases them (including the option of "none at all"). But for that to occur requires communication.
Elevator Guy failed in that regard, not for his clichéd inquiry, but for completely ignoring what Watson had had to say in her earlier talk. There was no 'co' in that communication, it was just the guy thinking that he'd like to get off with her. From Watson's account there's no evidence that he'd internalised anything she'd had to say whatsoever. And the fact that he'd avoided talking to her for several hours in the bar gives credence to the view that he wasn't
interested in her thoughts at all. Which would probably have made him a lousy lay anyway.
So PZ Myers had some thoughts on the subject of sex at conventions
as well, and wrote those up. Not so much the sex, but the bit before the sex. I think they're worth reading. I'd exercise caution with the comments, though, them Pharyngulites like to play rough.
Edit: I suppose I ought to say something about Stef McGraw. McGraw criticised Watson's remarks about Elevator Guy in her blog. Watson then addressed that criticism briefly in a later speech at the convention, and then McGraw felt put upon and blogged about that.
My view is that McGraw publicly criticised Watson, and Watson publicly addressed those criticisms. The circumstances were slightly different, but there's nothing in the rules of debating etiquette that say the disagreement has to stay in the same field at all times. (I'm now thinking of the John Wayne movie The Quiet Man.
I shall probably start humming the tune in a minute.) Watson opined, McGraw demurred, Watson riposted, McGraw countered. The change of venue incurred no special penalties on McGraw; she was able to answer, and did, in a setting she was more comfortable in. Where's the problem?