Being propositioned ... or flirted with at a conference will not make most women feel devalued. Being propositioned several times, or feeling like most men only approach you for the purpose of getting in your pants, can.This reminds me of an anecdote, which may seem only tangentially related. I have a friend who one time told me about her experiences looking for women. She said that she had been rejected many times because she is trans. This is not too surprising, because plenty of lesbians and bisexuals are transphobic. And even among people who are not openly transphobic, many of them still feel uncomfortable actually dating transgender people.
And I, ever the skeptical thinker, commented that in any particular case (excluding cases where people were being openly transphobic), there was no way of knowing that people were rejecting her because she was trans. People could just be disinterested for whatever reason, and it doesn't even necessarily reflect on her.
But she explained to me, individual cases may be uncertain, but if you look at the whole series of rejections, it's reasonable to claim that some of them were caused by transphobia, though we may not know which ones.
I had been thinking of it superficially, looking at an individual case, weighing the evidence for and against transphobia, and I concluded it was uncertain. But I should have thought about the deeper implications. What do you actually do with this uncertainty? Will you just sit back and take it? Hope that everyone involved has good intentions, rather than concealing bad ones?
The uncertainty just makes it worse. When every case is uncertain, you have no one in particular to blame. You can't complain about any particular case without people dismissing the case as uncertain. You can't complain about rejection, because by itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with rejecting a trans person. The problem is in the pattern.
Similarly, by itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with hitting on a woman. There are more or less awkward ways to hit on people, but if it were just a one-time thing, I think most women could tolerate being hit on in even the most awkward situation. The problem is in the pattern.
And yet, every time the internet blows up over sexism, the focus is on a single case study. What's up with that?