Elevatorgate and Schrodinger’s Rapist

In which I talk about Elevatorgate, racism, rape culture, and Schrödinger’s rapist.



Rebecca Watson should not have said “…guys, don’t do that.” When she did, she claimed that all men are rapists and this doesn’t take into account that the man might have been harmlessly interested in her. Additionally, by doing this, she reinforces the idea that all women are precious helpless objects that must be protected.




“she reinforces the idea that all women are precious helpless objects that must be protected.”

We need to be really careful when we make these claims universally. This harmful stereotype is actually only ever applied to white women. Women of colour are overly sexualised and, especially in the case of black women, treated as the exact opposite.

Furthermore, let’s actually take a look at what Rebecca is actually saying. She isn’t actually saying anything about women (or in fact, any people that are not men.) As to what she said about men…

“she claimed that all men are rapists”

Except that she didn’t.

Her words didn’t mean “don’t do this guys, because all of you are rapists.” What Rebecca Watson was actually talking about was the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Or, in simpler terms:

Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.


“the man might have been harmlessly interested in her”

Except that it’s not harmless.

To understand this, let’s look at what Watson points in her video (she starts speaking about it at 4:33).

  1. The panel she was on at the conference was about the very thing that the man did.
  2. It was 4 am. Rebecca Watson clearly stated that she was done with socialising and wanted to go to her room.
  3. There were many red flags to his behaviour that he should have been aware of and chosen to approach her in a context that was not as threatening.

In approaching her in the context that he did, he sent the message that his desires trumped her desire to be left alone. In other words, it showed that he believed his desires overruled her no.

 And in a highly red-flagged situation — like a hotel elevator at 4 am in the morning, after you’ve been on a panel explaining why this behaviour makes you uncomfortable — this is far from harmless.

Final thoughts

It was brought up that the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist is harmful to people read as men as it infringed on their right to free speech.

And that’s rape culture for you. Which is harmful for people of all genders.

People read as male have to worry about being perceived as rapists — but people read as women have to worry about being raped. Shouldn’t the dialogue should be focused on the how to minimise the harm towards people who are trained to live in a state of fear, as opposed to those that are caused inconvenience?

3 thoughts on “Elevatorgate and Schrodinger’s Rapist

  1. I came into this post wondering why it was tagged ‘racism’, and that point turns out to be a tricky one for me. I recognize the prevalent stereotype of the black (or otherwise dark-skinned) woman whom men need protection from, rather than the other way around…but i suspect that that doesn’t translate for one into a position of real power *as a perceived woman* or prevent one from feeling the same kind of anxiety in vulnerable situations (on average). Any insights?

  2. “The panel she was on at the conference was about the very thing that the man did.”

    On the panel, she was talking about threats and aggressive come-ons, which even by her own account did not happen in the elevator.

    • It’s arguable whether propositioning someone alone in an enclosed space without an easy exit constitutes an “aggressive come-on” (aggression isn’t equivalent to violence). I would say that it does.

      But that’s not necessary. In her video shortly after, Watson situates the incident “…right after I’ve finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.” She later describes having “used my time to talk about what it’s like for me to communicate atheism online, and how being a woman might affect the response I receive, as in rape threats and other sexual comments”, and the event does illustrate a pretty stark difference in the way women than men are treated in atheist circles. That is, had the timing been reversed, the elevator incident anecdote would have fit right in to her contribution to the panel. That seems like as good a test as any that it’s what she talked about.

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