31 July 2011

Transcript of the Rebecca Watson talk at the CFI Leadership Conference 2011

The Center for Inquiry has posted the video recording of Rebecca Watson's talk from the CFI Leadership Conference on 26 Jun 2011.  If you have been following the "Elevatorgate" hubbub, you'll remember that this is the talk in which RW "called out" Stef McGraw.

After the jump, I've included a transcript of the introductory part of the talk (the first 17 and a half minutes or so).  Warning: the transcript includes words that may be offensive to some people, and are definitely NSFW.

Thank you, thank you.  That was a great introduction, Debbie.  By the way, write something for Skepchick or your fired.  Sure, yeah.  It's hard to really keep your writers in line when you don't pay them, so...  It's like, "start writing, or I'll stop… liking you."  That won't happen.  I love Debbie.

So yeah, thank you very much.  It's great to be here.  It's always been a dream of mine to be here at CFI, opening for a magician.  It's an oddly specific dream, but I've finally achieved it.  I'm just kidding.  I love magicians.  I was a magician, in a past life.  That's how I worked my way through college, and how I got involved in this whole skeptical thing.  And I was thinking, because a magician is up next, I thought that maybe I would do, like,  a magic trick for you guys.  I thought that would be fun. So I pulled out my old, dusty box of magic stuff, and I opened it up, and it turns out, like, all my bunnies are dead.  So… no magic, sorry.  It's OK, though, I didn't want to steal Brian Brushwood's thunder, so it's just as well.

I… I wanted to… before I get into this topic, this topic about the Religious Right and their war on women, I first wanted to tell you a bit about why I'm here, in a bit of a roundabout way.  A few weeks ago, I gave a talk in Dublin, at this atheist conference.  And it was in response to a comment made earlier in that conference, that women… there was no problem with skepticism… er, no problem with sexism, excuse me, in the atheist community.  Because atheists are rational, and rational people aren't sexist.  Just let you roll that one around in your head a bit. 

So in my talk I just wanted to -- and the person who said that, her experience had been sexism-free.  She had never had a problem with it in the community, so that also fed into her opinion.  So I thought that, you know, during my talk, I would talk a little bit about my experience, and how it differs from hers, and point out that not everybody's going to have the same experience, and we should acknowledge when women are having a terrible experience, so that we can make life a little better for them. And also, by doing so, encourage more women to get involved.

So what I talked about was the kind of messages I get.  First I talked about the hate mail I get, oh and by the way, this is going to be graphic at times, and I apologize for that, but it is for the point.  So the top example -- and also I apologize that most of these come from YouTube, but I tend to delete these e-mails right away, but on the Internet things live forever, so, mostly, I just screen-shotted a bunch of stuff this morning.

From a chiropractor: "The only thing the vid's bitch" - that would be me, it's true - "has going for her is a firm rack, and an adequate mouth for a good cocksucking.  Otherwise, toss the bitch in the sack, chiropractic for me."  So this is an example of the sort of hate mail I get from people who disagree with my skepticism and my atheism.  They are. you know, similar to hate mail that my male colleagues get, only the ones I get tend to reference rape, and other sort of sexual things.  A lot of people write in to encourage me to be raped, for some reason.

I also get some interesting messages from people who agree with me.  These people think that they're complimenting me, so I get things like: "You're hot, I want to see the outline of your boobs in that green shirt.  Nice juicy cheeks and beautiful skin."  Who says "juicy cheeks?"  Like, are you, like, Hannibal Lecter?  That pick-up line is not working.  Or this one that came in the other day, no today actually, "I, for one,  would like to see Rebecca bent over my sofa, and I would defeat an army of feminist ninjas to make it happen."  Good for you.

Here's another one I got late last year, when I was giving a talk in Melbourne.  This man wrote to tell me that he was going to be at a club right around the street from where I was giving a talk, and invited me to come by the club, and then said that I'm welcome to stay at his house, that's very nice, then he goes on to make a joke about having a small penis, and then he describes how he will, "particularly enjoy shagging you and having you fight back from the intensity as you come around me, I think you are particularly hot, you are brainy, you aren't showy," blah, blah, blah.

So yeah, these are the sort of e-mails I get from people who agree with me.  And it's sort of a non-stop torrent.  And like I said, I think they think they're complimenting me, but somehow, I don't feel complimented.  I just feel like they, I wish they would stop.

Then there are the messages I get from people who agree with 99% of what I'm saying -- so they're skeptics, they're atheists, they identify as those labels, they come to conferences like this -- but they disagree with me when I talk about specific, usually feminist, issues.  This is an example. I did a video on YouTube about female genital mutilation, in which I point out that I'm against male circumcision, and also FGM tends to be much worse than male circumcision.  That inspired one person to write (the subject line is "die," that's subtle): "How the fuck isn't male circumcision mutilation?  Is it OK to cut off a hand, because cutting off the hand is worse?"  I think he got a little confused there. "No, female circumcision is not worse than male genital mutilation, 80% of the times, you type 1 MGM destroys the ability to have natural sex.  It's an infant, you sick cunt.  How the fuck would you feel?  Honestly, and I mean honestly, you deserve to be raped and tortured and killed. Swear I'd laugh if I could watch it."  That's somebody who identifies as a skeptic and an atheist. I checked out his profile; he subscribes to a lot of my friends on YouTube.  Not to me any more, apparently.  So that's the sort of stuff I get from, even from people who identify as one of us.

So I was talking about this sort of mail at the Dublin conference, and that talk went up on YouTube in some sort of "Inception"-like world, where suddenly I was talking about YouTube comments, and then that's on YouTube, and then I'm reading the YouTube comments to that, and they were pretty much the same sort of stuff.  Here are a few of them: "Maybe the reason for many of the mails is just that feminists are the biggest lolcows out there."  "Gather a bunch of prominent atheists, hijack the conversation to talk about feminism.  How on earth is one supposed to take this talk seriously now?"  Feminism, not a serious topic.  "Please slap that bitch!"  Right to the point.  Glad Dawkins didn't follow that advice, would have been awkward.  "Yawn, yawn, lesbian bitch whining on about sexism.  Christ, who gives a fuck?  Go back to church if you hate male atheists that much.  I'm sure there are no sexist Christians."  Threw that in there, just in case any of you were under the impression that atheists also don't tend to be homophobes.  I am, in fact, a "lesbian bitch" to this man.  And then, this is great: "Thumbs up if you are a woman who hates feminism…" and apparently grammar and spelling, "…at least modern feminism.  As a woman, I can say we don't need it any more."  Yeah.  So I threw that one in there so you know it's not just the men.  There's a serious problem with women. Particularly, I think, younger women who don't know anything about feminism, and as this comment indicates, don't necessarily want to learn.

Then there's this other one, "You are an annoying cunt."  That's true. "It has nothing to do with you being a woman, it has everything to do with you being a self-absorbed and pretentious human being."  Now, this comment is actually in response to another video I did, a follow-up video, in which I talk about what happened after my talk at Dublin.  And what happened after this talk is that, I was at the pub, as one does in Dublin, the hotel bar, actually, where I was staying, with a big group of skeptics, having a -- and atheists, you know -- having a really good conversation.  So good that it went on until 4 in the morning.  Actually it went on much longer than that, but at 4 in the morning I said, "You know what, guys?  Big day tomorrow, I'm turning in, I'm exhausted, I'm going to bed. Have a good night."  And I got up and I left the table, and i walked toward the elevator, and a man sort of broke away from the group -- a man who I had never spoken to before -- came over to me, and got on the elevator with me, and said, "Don't take this the wrong way," which immediately, it's kind of like when one of your friends goes, "I'm not a racist, but," you know that whatever's about to come, you're not going to like.  "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you really interesting, and I'm wondering if you'd like to go back to my hotel room for some coffee."  Which is odd, because the bar was open, and serving coffee -- some people had it down there -- and I had already said that I was exhausted and going to bed.  I am not one -- I consider myself a sort of bad mamma-jamma, if you will -- and I'm not one to get easily intimidated.  But, in this case -- alone, in an elevator in a foreign country at 4 in the morning, after I'd been drinking -- a man who is quite obviously propositioning me, made me extremely uncomfortable. I declined, and I hopped off the elevator at the next floor, and went to bed.

So I mentioned this story on YouTube, and I used it as an example of what men should strive not to do.  You know, if you want to make women feel comfortable at your conferences, then don't proposition them.  Don't let that be the first thing out of your mouth.  Don't do it in a secluded place, at 4 in the morning, when they've already expressed the desire to go to bed alone.  I thought it was fairly clear.  However, there were some interesting responses, like this, calling me "an annoying cunt."  This person writes: "I can't believe that someone (gasp) would talk with you on an elevator.  How dare a man talk with you alone.  You sound like the fundamental Muslims that you hate, due to their positions on women.  Congratulations."  So, I mean, you know, in this guy's defense, I did suggest that at conferences, men and women cease all communication.  I think it's a terrible idea that they ever talk to one another, and I suggested that conferences give out gimp masks, to be sure that no one is engaging in conversation.  Gimp masks maybe send the wrong message, maybe not the best idea.  No, I didn't suggest any of that.  And I'm certainly not against communication, I'm not against flirting, anything like that, but this commenter completely missed the point, and he or she is not the only one.

There's another comment I found on a blog, from actually one of your own, and I wanted to use it as an example, not to embarrass this person, but to point out that we have a serious problem when young women are this ignorant about feminism.  So let me read it to you.  This is from the UNI Freethought blog.  Stef McGraw, she posts a transcript of the story I just told you, the elevator story, and she writes: "My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her.  What's wrong with that?  How on earth does that justify him as creepy?  Are we not sexual beings?  Let's review.  It's not as if he touched her, or made an unsolicited sexual comment.  He merely asked if she'd like to come back to his room.  She easily could have said, and I'm assuming did say, 'No thanks, I'm tired, and would like to go to my room to sleep.'" 

So there are many things wrong with this paragraph.  I won't really go into them all. I'll mention that asking someone back to your hotel room, at 4 in the morning, who you've never spoken to, is the definition of unsolicited sexual comment.  And, in the transcript that Stef posted, she conveniently edited it to begin after I told everyone at the bar that I was exhausted and going back to my room.  Kind of an important point, in which I state exactly what my desire is.  Because later, this man in the elevator is specifically trying to talk me out of doing that.  So I did actually make it quite clear that I was tired, and  going to my room to sleep.

But the real problem is actually in the first sentence, and it's sort of the same problem that the other commenter has:  "My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her."  This is, unfortunately, a pretty standard parroting of misogynistic thought.  And it's not new, it's something that feminists have been dealing with for ages.  In fact, it's Feminism 101.  In fact, it's covered on a blog called "Feminism 101," which you should definitely check out, because it's great.  They go over a lot of concepts that may be new to many of you.

But in this case, what we're talking about is the difference between sexual interest, sexual attraction, versus sexual objectification.  Objectification has a few things about it that separate it from interest.  For instance, focusing on the physical aspects of a person; ignoring their individuality, and their stated desires (for instance, my desire to go to sleep, my desire to not be hit on, which is all I had been talking about all day); and also a disinterest in how your actions will impact the "object" in question. And that's a really serious point, that I think you all should consider, especially if you want to encourage more women to join your groups.

Because there are people in this audience right now who believe this: that a woman's reasonable expectation to feel safe from sexual objectification and assault at skeptic and atheist events is outweighed by a man's right to sexually objectify her.  That's basically what these people have been telling me, and it's not true.  [one person applauds] Thank you, Melody.  You know, since starting Skepchick, I've heard from a lot of women who don't attend events like this because of those of you who have this attitude.  They're tired of being objectified, and some of them have actually been raped; quite a number of them have been raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted.   And situations like the one I was in, in an elevator, would have triggered a panic attack.  They're scared, because they know that you won't stand up for them.  And if they stand up for themselves, you're going to laugh them back down.  And that's why they're not coming out to these events.

So the reason why I'm here is entirely due to my support network of men and women, who value me as a human being, as a critical thinker, and as woman who can offer a perspective in this community that is otherwise missing.  And that's what we gain from diversity.  If it weren't for that support network, I would have quit years ago, when these messages first started coming in.  And so, I really just want you all to know that, despite the fact that it's really painful to read daily messages from people saying that you need to get raped, it's actually worth it, because I have a chance to convince at least a few of you, I hope, to work to make your groups more diverse, more inclusive.  And in doing so, you can actually help tackle some really serious human rights issues that are currently being handled by feminist organizations, which I see as a branch of humanism.  And so there are a lot of places where the goals overlap.  And so that's why I'm here, and that's why I'm talking about this topic.  About the Religious Right.  Because I think it's important, and it's not a fun topic, necessarily, but it's a good one, and you can actually work to help make a change, and for the better.  So with that, I'll get into what the actual topic is….


  1. Thanks for penispotatoing (dictation in the parlance) of this. I've included a link to it in my blog post on this video.

  2. Sure thing, Justicar. I put this out there for anyone to use, if they need to.

    I'm going to close comments on this, as I posted it for informational purposes only... there are already quite a few discussions on "Elevatorgate" going on out there, and I don't think we need yet another one.