On the Rebecca Watson/Thunderf00t Conflict

There may be those who disagree with me, and I would like to hear their opinion if they would like to share it in a calm and reasonable manner. I would advise that you make the comment after reading the entire post, otherwise you will miss some key points. I will not start this post in support of either Rebecca Watson or Thunderf00t. That undermines the prospect of objectivity, and,  therefore, rational debate. I will attempt to come to a reasonable conclusion based on calm deduction. Having Aspergers it will naturally be difficult for me to understand the emotional side of the argument (aside from the frustration both sides may experience) although I consider most emotional arguments to be worthless as it is.

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with a girl. There was no particular reason why I was obsessed with her  other than that she was very attractive. I was of course, superficial at that time and I did stupid things. For example, I  wrote hidden messages to her that clearly made her uncomfortable, but I either didn’t notice or didn’t realize how much I was making her uncomfortable, until one day she told me to stay away from her (after having to have a private meeting with the Vice Principal). This gives me the advantage of having some perspective in this vitriol-filled debate. What were the reasons that I did not understand what I was doing was unacceptable, and could they actually allow me to understand Thunderf00t’s argument a bit more?

1. Males are generally ignorant of female social cues. This is an important aspect of this situation. In fact
our ignorance is so powerful that men rarely think about their actions towards women before going through with them. They usually involve some form of self-encouragement, but not risk/reward decision making. This is not to excuse everything men do, only to attempt to inspire some sympathy.

2. I was young, very young. Young people are naturally ignorant of how social situations play out realistically (this is probably true of many people, not just young people). I didn’t realize that my expectations of having a relationship with her were unrealistic, and I always had a hope that she would one day confess to me
that she liked me.

3. As already mentioned, I have Aspergers. This makes it more difficult for me to understand social situations, and I rarely effectively communicate with someone.

4. I desperately wanted some connection with a human being. I was desperate and I didn’t know why I was desperate, just for the
sake of being desperate.

5. Very little interaction with women. Some males have very few female friends/acquaintances, and therefore do not have a lot of ways to interact with them. This contributes to further ignorance of female social cues and how to interact with females.

These are reasons that aren’t talked about in the debate, because people are only focused on whether the man was “guilty” in that he asked a woman if she wanted to have coffee in an elevator at 4 AM, which most would describe as “creepy” (not entirely a word I understand even though I myself was far more “creepy” towards a person of the opposite sex), or “innocent” (people who are in this camp usually focus on things like sexism against men, the idea that harassment at atheist conferences is a non-issue, etc). In coming to both extremes people tend to focus on only some aspects rather than the whole, and they miss important key points like the ones described above.

What are some things that may allow me to understand Watson’s argument a bit more?

1. Context. Asking a woman who is tired at 4 AM in an empty elevator for coffee is not acceptable.
2. Opportunities. The man had many throughout the day. He chose the worst opportunity to ask her.
3. Sexual intent. The man described Watson as “interesting” and wanted her in his room.
4. “Creepiness”. The atmosphere given by the man was not conductive towards Watson’s potential
desire to agree to have coffee with him, making Watson feel uncomfortable.
5. Public place. The man in the elevator should have invited her to a public place, instead of a private room.

Now I may be as frustrated as some of the Watson supporters about the first point, depending on one factor: politeness. The man did ask politely. He may have been completely clueless regarding Watson’s desire to be left alone, but he was not insistent nor did he force her into any situation that she didn’t want to be a part of. This is the part I do not understand about this entire debate- what is wrong with asking politely? It may have given the overall “creepy” atmosphere, but the man in question clearly did not pick up on it. It is not his fault he didn’t pick up on it- most men probably wouldn’t.

If the man was insistent, and said something along the lines of “I just need a moment of your time”
or something like “I’m doing an interview”, then I would have been at least a bit more suspicious and would have regarded that as unacceptable. If he forced her, then obviously unacceptable. But nothing of the sort happened and the man’s polite question is being treated as though it is a heinous crime among Watson supporters.

I would agree with the second point. The man did have many opportunities throughout the day, and it would have been better if he had asked her in a public place. While asking a woman in an elevator at 4 AM is, in my opinion, not the best option, it is still acceptable as long as the person asking is polite about it and acts in a kind manner towards said person.

The third point I would disagree with. There are many who claim that the man had sexual intent for whatever reason. All we know about him is that he thought Watson was “interesting” and that, for some reason, he preferred his room instead of Watson’s. The only thing we can do about this is speculate. There are too many unknowns. The fourth and fifth points were already touched on.

My conclusion of this whole debate is, like in many debates, there is a lot of unnecessary vitriol coming from both sides. I do not personally regard the man as an issue, and this entire debate could be dealt with far more calmly. There may be those who disagree with me, and I would like to hear their opinion if they would like to share it in a calm and reasonable manner.

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~ by theuncynic on July 7, 2012.

3 Responses to “On the Rebecca Watson/Thunderf00t Conflict”

  1. There are many other angles to approach this debate from, but I think you’ve done a great job of focusing on some of the central points. Very logical, very well reasoned. Unfortunately, the “vitriol” is the result of otherwise rational people being blinded by emotion, so I doubt your argument will have any impact. I think what you have done is roughly boil the “guys” side down to “no harm, no foul”, but the “womens” side is largely based on idea [correctly or incorrectly] that they are not safe at conferences and that we [men] don’t care about their feelings/safety.

    • Woot, first comment. Thanks for replying!

      After doing a bit more research on the subject I’ve realized another point about the vitriol, and a lot of it was in fact due to a “disruptive environment” on thunderf00t’s blog, and thunderf00t was not as civil as I at first thought he was, for example typing in caps after claiming that people should only “state their case clearly”. There was still vitriol on both sides, though. I also failed to mention the issue with the harassment policies, and I may or may not discuss that in another post. I personally agree with the harassment policies, it was only the backlash against the “elevator incident” that I found curious.

  2. Sorry if my comment changed, I have a bad habit of editing my posts late.

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