Emotional sceptics

If you are unaware that a man made a pass at Rebecca Wilson in a lift/ “elevator”, you take no interest in sceptic/ rationalist/ atheist fora.

She was a speaker at a conference in Dublin. In the lift, at 4am, a man she had not met said to her,

“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?”

This video is her original complaint about it. Later, she wrote this article about the backlash. Here is the New Statesman criticising Richard Dawkins’ comment on a blog post, and here is “Athefist”‘s blog post, two years later, which has got me writing this. Here is a woman who calls some of Watson’s later behaviour “bitchy”- I love the joke about the “vagina licence”, and that was where I found the video. Here is a blog which protests it is “not just about the lift thing”.

Watson objects to being “sexualised”. If he had just wanted a discussion, he could have had it in the bar. Proposing going to a bedroom, just the two of us, is merely sexual: not really interested in the conversation, or her as a person, just as an object for sex play. I think, Ew. Charm me first. Don’t just proposition me like that. Watson’s reaction, and mine, is emotional.

Athefist calls Watson’s arguments “dogma, irrationality, and faith”. Well, how should rationalist atheists talk about emotion?

Discussing it rationally is possible. In some cases, for example flashing, eliciting an emotional response without physical harm to another is sufficient to be a criminal offence. Where do we draw the line? Is it wrong to proposition someone except in a meat-market bar?

Rational thinking can affect emotional responses. The man in the lift did not touch her, and there was no reason to suppose that he would. or would have refused to accept her “No”. These thoughts may reassure.

In the end, though, it is an issue of empathy. Do you feel as Watson does? Do you empathise more with the unnamed man? Should she be safe when alone in a foreign country at 4am from being propositioned for sex? Should he be able to ask her- after all, he did not argue with her refusal?

Watson herself in the video argues by mockery. “It was”- pause, open eyes wide- “a Joke“, she says, about some other matter- if you do not realise that you’re an idiot, obviously. She may be overreacting. “A man tweeted that he’d assault me”. Well, no. He tweeted, “If I run into Rebecca Watson at TAM9 next week I’m totally copping a feel”. That is a joke, not a serious statement of intent. Or so I think. Watson is distressed by the tweet, and here I do not share her distress, so I find reasons why her distress is excessive.

There is so much anger in Athefist’s response. Does he realise that? Dawkins, as well. He is right that she is less subjugated than a Muslim woman- even lots of Christian women– but that is an argument of derision, not a rational argument.

In that first video she was pleased to be on a platform with Prof Dawkins- now, she despises him.

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