On the Internet, You Can Be Anything...
-Something more people need to hear
You're at a convention, held by folks that some people find controversial. A lot of people disagree with your views, but not inside the convention: here, you're quite safe.
As one of the speakers, you give a talk you wrote up just for the occasion, and it goes over well; everything's good, and when that meeting is over you greet some well-wishers say thanks and head back to your room. Everything's good.
Until you notice someone followed you, and he's holding a gun.
He wasn't noticed until you pressed the call elevator button, and now he's right behind you telling you how much he liked your speech and how he thinks you're really great. His gun hand never comes up, and he doesn't raise his voice. In fact, he doesn't seem aggressive in any way. He seems happy and smiling and really, genuinely pleased to see you - even if he is a bit nervous, and possibly a little drunk.
And when the elevator comes, he steps on with you.
He doesn't bother pressing a floor, but does keep talking about how much he liked your speech, and by the way, he really likes your writing which he's been following online for a long time. And do you know what? He really likes you, too, especially now that he's seen you in person, up close like this. Did you know you're really cute in person, up close like this? Because you are.
His gun hand never comes up, and he never raises his voice, and he doesn't seem aggressive in any way. He clearly doesn't think he's doing anything wrong, and hey: can he ask you just one question...? Please?
Here's my question: is there anything in his behaviour that strikes you as potentially dangerous? Any alarm bells going off? Then, congratulations! You're a woman!
This has happened, and at a convention of skeptics. I've been away from blogging for nearly two years, but I like to think of the online skeptic groups as "my people" - these are the ones I most consistently identify with, despite the wide-ranging (and often rambling) fields I wander through. I tend to like them, despite and because of disagreements in approach and ideas that crop up - the reliance on logic and snark usually gets entertaining results, especially when blended with politics, which frankly needs way more humour in real life.
Which is why it's stung me to see a stories about women being harassed at skeptical conventions. That alone was bad enough, but what has been shocking is the astounding reaction when these women have complained about inappropriate behaviour: they'd get attacked. Not in person, of course, but online. The way would be led by so-called men whose mission in life seems to be huddling in misogynistic echo chambers full of desperate idiots, gathering digital bile to spew at imagined slights to "manhood", whatever their fevered imaginations define it as being.
You know: what atheists like to laugh at when the poor, persecuted Christians in America bemoan their outcast state?
Yeah. Same thing.
Those folks who know the story know the blogger in question had to stop writing because of the constant bombardment of insulting and barbarous attacks on her, and we lost a voice of reason to hate.
Her crime? To say that following a strange woman onto an empty elevator while trying to chat her up was NOT the way to win her over. Some of the guy's "defenders" (I don't know if he even knew what was happening online) will no doubt be outraged that I put a gun into his hand, but it was done for a reason: so you would feel uncomfortable.
I am not a particularly strong man. I don't work out, I don't have a physical job, I'm not naturally big, and I'm a long ways away from my theoretical prime-of-life. But I am physically stronger than 95% of the women you know, and that is something most men simply don't think of.
Unless you have been a single woman or small man (I didn't hit my growth spurt until grade 12), then the idea of potential threat is just not something that will occur to you until you encounter someone who has had it as part of their lives. Now obviously, this does not mean that everyone is an enemy - but it does add the possibility.
Ask Western soldiers stationed in Afghanistan as community liaisons how it can colour your world. Ask them how they react when they see someone following them through the streets, or what they think when they're alone and a stranger approaches them.
Hint: it's not "Oh, here's a charming person about to engage in some light conversation!"
Remember when I said that the women I'm talking about haven't been attacked in person? A couple of them have had their addresses published in open forums on expressly misogynistic websites. Can you think of any reason for that to happen other than to intimidate? Again, picture the home addresses of Seal Team Six getting published on a site dedicated to supporting al-Quaida.
But instead of taking her advice on how to actually approach women in the real world (ie. not following them into empty elevators chatting them up) and moving on, the pathetic folks suffering their imaginary wounds hounded her until she left. The guy who liked her speech? He's not going to hear another one from her. Likewise, no more of her writing is going to appear online and she's really, really not going to go to another convention for him to try talking to her again, but with a more acceptable and understanding approach this time.
Total losers in this unnecessary and hyperbolic exchange? Him, her, us, and the idiots who think they won. But that's pretty much a given, isn't it?