D.J. Grothe Tackles the Problem of Harassment »« The Thing About Work

Where Are the Women?

Kylie has a post up asking for information on what is keeping women from returning to atheist or skeptical conventions. As a conversational starting point, she quoted D.J. Grothe on the matter (emphasis hers):

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

I’ve heard the theory before, and I’m curious what information will turn up in Kylie’s comments. Please, if you’re a woman and not returning to a conference you’ve previously attended, tell her why.

Comments

  1. says

    I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics…

    Are you sure? This sounds like the kind of rumor campaign you’d get from Karl Rove. There’s lots of right-wing haters who are all too happy to join such a whisper-campaign; and plenty of opportunity to insinuate emotion and pure BS into the ongoing public discourse about sexism and sexual harassment.

    Seriously, I know that sounds paranoid, but it’s happened before, so we shouldn’t discount the possibility.

  2. Leo says

    Well, for TAM, specifically, I don’t think Grothe is helping the situation. His approach above seems to primarily be that if it’s not being reported, it’s not happening. He then adds in bits from absurd emails he’s getting as though those people represent the norm (especially those speaking of condoning child-sex trafficking). Then he finishes by scapegoating. Nothing in what he says is aimed at assuring women that TAM is woman-friendly. Let’s even grant for a moment that all of this is indeed a result of misinformation. Can’t he even attempt to address what he thinks are phantom problems? Does TAM have an anti-harassment policy? If not, and there is truly no problem, then why can’t he be bothered to take a few extra steps to implement a policy that he thinks won’t be violated anyway just to make women feel more comfortable?

  3. says

    TAM did implement an anti-harassment policy last year. I’ve seen a couple of people ask for more specifics in the policy on how to report and one person ask that it be made more prominent than the blog post it was released in. I’m not sure what the JREF may be doing about that, though.

  4. says

    But it must be true! Surely, the head of one of the largest skeptic organizations in the US wouldn’t make a claim like:

    “I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.”

    without having sufficient data to back it up. Surely.

  5. says

    We’re talking about the same prominent skeptic who appears to know somehow that “women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program” is “misinformation”, right?

  6. Godless Heathen says

    Also, hasn’t DJ Grothe said some pretty sexist things in the past year or so? I can’t recall what, but I thought something had happened.

    If so, I don’t put much stock in his analysis of the problem.

  7. says

    I just left this post on Kylie’s blog, but it is awaiting moderation. I figured in light of the last few comments here, the data below may be useful, especially points 9 and 10:

    I think these discussions are good if they help us improve our events and invite more people to get involved in our efforts to promote skepticism and critical thinking. Allow me to clarify some misunderstandings that seem to be cropping up in comments on this post by Kylie.

    (1) TAM and the JREF have no affiliation with The Global Atheist Convention or Jim Jeffries. There seems to be some confusion in the comments here about this point.

    (2) The JREF is not an atheist organization and TAM is not an atheist conference. Topics surrounding secularism, church state separation, humanism, social values, etc. won’t generally be found at TAM, with rare exceptions. For more on this, see: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1081-new-atheist-directions-at-the-jref.html

    (3) A third of TAM registrants this year do not identify as atheist or agnostic. Only 47% of registrants for this year’s TAM identify as politically liberal or progressive. There is a lot of religious and political diversity among skeptics at TAM. Also, over half of attendees are under 45.

    (4) Contrary to misinformation regarding skeptics events being only focused on Bigfoot and UFO’s, the focus of our events is actually largely on critical thinking, and the harm that results from undue credulity. Here is an example of the kinds of talks we feature at the event, apropos of current conversations: Carol Tavris on “Dissent and Dissonance: The Science and Art of Argument. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSYF4hzCHKA

    (5) TAM is the only major conference of its kind to feature half women speakers on the main program. No other skeptic (or atheist or humanist) event has come close to such parity on the program. Of course, we don’t program the event this way out of some commitment to “quotas,” but because we know our events are better if we do not ignore the talents of half of the population.

    (6) TAM is the only major skeptic or atheist or humanist event so far that has ever had a harassment/Code of Conduct policy. Last year’s statement was distributed to all attendees in the TAM printed program.

    (7) Women are the only demographic we’ve seen such a sharp percentage drop in attendance this year, as Kylie’s quote of mine states, and from the emails we have received we think it is the result of misinformation. We have gotten emails from women on our lists vowing never to attend the TAM because JREF purportedly condones child sex trafficking, or condones violence or threats of violence against women, and the like. These are false, harmful and irresponsible claims, even if they are made by well-meaning folks.

    (8) From a planning standpoint, the concern is less about a small number of people who do not to come back to an event, but about new folks who are scared away from attending in the first place, because they are told that if they go to such events they will be accosted or harassed. Events like TAM, because of growth over recent years, have a high percentage of new attendees each year.

    (9) It should be said that there has never been a report filed of sexual harassment at TAM to my knowledge and there have been zero reports of harassment at the TAMs we’ve put on while I’ve been at JREF.

    Of course that doesn’t mean such didn’t happen. But because of our concern regarding repeated claims by some that sexual harassment is rampant at such events, we attempted last year to see if we could get some data about the issue. So we distributed a survey to attendees of TAM last year. Of 800+ responses to this comprehensive survey, only two people reported feeling “unwelcome” at the event. Both of these respondents were men. One was a conservative who felt several speakers insulted his political beliefs. The other was a retiree who “hates” magic.

    11 respondents to the survey did report a problem with an interaction with someone else that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe (this was a difference question on the survey). 3 of them were men who did not elaborate on the interaction and 3 were from women who did not elaborate on the interaction. Another was a woman who reported a speaker was rude to her when she asked for a photo. Another was a woman who was made fun of for not being an atheist. Another was a woman was ridiculed for being a vegetarian. Another was a woman who reported no specific incident but claimed her enjoyment of the event was negatively affected by the “drama surrounding elevator gate” and “having to hear everyone talk about it.” Finally, one person did report feeling uncomfortable around an attendee, fearing future possible sexual harassment, and while we are concerned about such concerns, there was no complaint of any actual activity that had happened that the hotel or security or law enforcement or others could take action on. Importantly, every one of these 11 respondents nonetheless reported feeling welcome at TAM. It is inaccurate to say that “women do not feel welcome” at these sorts of events, judging by the 40% women attendance last year at TAM and these survey results. Similarly, I think it is an irresponsible message to tell people that women are “unsafe” at these events.

    (10) As skeptics we have to work off the available evidence. I think we should balance our sincere concern about these important issues with a resistance to developing firm views based solely on rumor and hearsay.

    Regarding how ugly rumor and hearsay can be, let me provide a personal example. For years I have heard from various quarters an unsupported rumor about me: that I refuse to hire heterosexuals and that I only hire gay and lesbian people. I believe this started when I was with CFI (because I was their first openly gay employee and subsequently hired both gay and straight employees, and both women and men; I personally hired half of the women professionally working in skepticism, for what it is worth) and after I moved over to the JREF and Randi came out at 82, the rumor became that the JREF only hires gay people, and that I forced Randi to come out as gay, etc. Indeed, some people started calling the JREF the “gay-REF,” and assumed that several of our straight employees were gay.

    These are the sort of unhelpful and sometimes destructive backchannel stories that go around and I think we need to take these sort of rumors with a grain of salt, and to try hard not to spread them. I have heard from a handful of people the same story of one young woman having sex at TAM with a speaker, one who left his book on the nightstand for her afterward, and this story is used as sort of a warning to many new young women attending the event. Such stories appear to have been some of the background for discussions at the recent Women in Secularism conference in DC and serve as context for a number of recent blog posts. But rather than a report of harassment, this ends up being nothing more than a distasteful locker room story (which might not even be true, obviously) that is repeated in a mean-spirited and distasteful way. (Also, to state the obvious, it is not JREF’s job to police the sexual activity of consenting adults.)

    As we endeavor together to continue building community, and to support and build the growing skeptics (and, for some, the atheist) movement(s), we need to take care that rumor and gossip may undermine those efforts, and be unnecessarily divisive. Everyone should feel welcome at these events, and while we should redouble our efforts to make sure everyone feels safe, I think we should also avoid telling women they should feel unsafe at these events.

  8. tinlizzy says

    My reasons/experience for not attending TAM this year:

    I followed how the entire brouhaha w/Rebecca Watson last year played out in the skeptic/atheist community – i.e. that it was initially a non-event/bit of fyi from RW, but then turned shit-storm under all the subsequent mansplaining & hey-it’s-hard-out-here-for-straight-guys finger-pointing, including by some male skeptics I admired.

    Since then I’ve observed within the JREF/TAM demographic a substantial thread sentiment lacking basic understanding of how to treat women like humans. Instead of stamping out dudes-behaving-badly, the JREF/TAM community seems at best to stand idly by, and at worst to foster and perpetuate bad behavior. Even good-people-but-clueless skeptic friends/acquaintances of mine continue to not get it and downplay the harm of Penn Gillette and other proven-to-be-jerks skeptic movers and shakers to be found at TAM.

    I found one opinion post on the JREF site itself to be particularly dickish leading me to think – meh, maybe it’s time to redirect my interest/pursuits away from the larger JREF/TAM community, (re)focusing instead more specifically on individuals in the skeptic/science/academic community and individual, both male and female, who clearly get it.

    In the end I opted to not drop the (not insubstantial) coin to go to TAM this year, even after I’d already booked my hotel. I decided it’s just too much ick. I’m not boycotting, not calling for anyone else to not go, just decided to put my money where my mouth is and find ways to connect with the academics and thinkers I respect in more women-positive/women’s-issues-mindful venues like SkepchickCon and Women in Secularism Conference.

  9. says

    I still don’t see who these “prominent and well-meaning women skeptics” are who “create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.”

    Who are they? What have they said that makes women feel unsafe? Please be specific.

  10. kaboobie says

    The reason I’m not attending TAM this year is that is conflicts with a family obligation. As I mentioned in Kylie’s thread, echoing what Stephanie herself said, the smoking situation in the casino is what will probably keep me from attending for the forseeable future. I missed out on a lot of socializing because of it, and I know for many if not most attendees that’s the best part of TAM.

    All things being equal (smoke-free environment, having the time and money to attend), I’ve heard enough independent claims about one particular individual that I would choose not to attend a conference where he is an invited speaker. And I heard these claims long before the recent discussion that came out of the Women in Secularism conference.

  11. says

    Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:

    “I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”

    (http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-09-15/atheist-sexism-women/50416454/1)

    If we tell people that our events or our movements are not safe for women, some women are bound to believe that. If I as a gay man had never attended a freethought or skeptic event and read in a national newspaper that that community wasn’t a safe space for gay people, I would certainly be reluctant to get involved.

    Additionally, many well-meaning if off-base posts about purported rampant sexual harassment at skeptic and freethought events may give the impression that such actually occurs, and a lot. Here are some recent posts with some quick quotes. I’d be pretty surprised if you haven’t already read them:

    http://www.skepticalabyss.com/ “at a skeptics event like TAM we have all the classic ingredients to make it an ideal place for sexual harassers to victimize women” etc

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/05/20/zero-intolerance/ — “you’ve probably seen the public behavior of some of these guys already. . . . Not only are these speakers still allowed to show up, but they’re still in demand. Conferences need to sell tickets and fill seats. When organizers stop inviting some of the people on this [sexist] list, unless sexism is a primary concern for donors, unless experiences are allowed to be made public, organizers get overruled.” [This is the audacious and unsupported claim that there are known sexual harassers on programs but that that is ignored because of a financial interest.]

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/05/23/real-progress/ — “I’ve also seen ideas about conferences sharing or consolidating data to make it easier to identify problem speakers” [This suggests something like the creation of a blacklist of "sexist" speakers?]

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/05/dealing-with-badly-behaving-speakers/ — “I remarked that when I was about to attend my first major atheist/skeptical conference, multiple people independently sent me unsolicited advice about what male speakers to avoid at the con. The same speakers were mentioned by different individuals, with warnings that they often make unwanted and aggressive sexual advances toward young pretty women and that I should not be alone with them.” [Are these rumors about which men will rape or harass or accost someone? Are these rumors unfounded?]

    And at the same post — “Speakers and conference organizers should not be looking to get laid at conferences because they are there in a professional setting, even if attendees are there for more entertainment reasons.” [Are we seriously telling speakers and attendees at atheists and skeptics at conferences that they shouldn't be engaged in sexual activity? This usurps others' adult responsibilities and rights and is counter to my personal values.]

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/05/22/making-it-safer-in-the-meantime/ — “some of the male speakers at our conferences use their conference appearances as an opportunity to abuse women”

    So this is a very quick survey of some of the messaging that may be telling women that they are unsafe at or should be wary of atheist and skeptics events. I submit that this sort of messaging, and the talk about so called rampant sexual predators at atheist and skeptics conferences, may have the opposite of the intended effects to make the events more welcoming for women; these messages may instead encourage women to be less involved than they normally would.

    I refer you to the data in points #9 and #10 in my comment above. That information should be relevant in these discussions about how prevalent such “abuse of women,” how rampant “sexual harassers . . . victimizing women.”

    It is important to be sensitive to these sorts of real and legitimate concerns surrounding issues of sexual harassment at events. But again, such concern should be based on evidence and not rumor or gossip.

  12. says

    Your comment at 9 suggests, DJ, that you did not notice people asking for a better explanation of your comment that there are bloggers who are trying to improve the harassment situation and the women-in-the-movement situation who are somehow unwittingly CAUSING the problem. Perhaps you could elaborate on that claim? Perhaps with actual data points, even anecdotal?

  13. says

    Oh, I see. Identifying existing problems is letting people know that they’re there, and therefore warning people away. I get it. So everyone should ignore the problem and it’ll go away, like Stephanie said. That’s really a great strategy — silence the critics, rather than amending the problems. I can’t help but think you’re not a small part of the reason there was such a huge decline. Maybe you should listen to feedback!

  14. kerfluffle says

    DJ, number 7 is pretty weird. (condones child sex trafficking, or condones violence or threats of violence against women) Have you contacted people to find out why they think the JREF condones child sex trafficking and violence against women? Hard to see that coming from any blog that calls out the common harassment.

    Last year’s harassment quiz would have zero input from people who did not return because they had been targeted at previous TAMS. There were more women, many of those were first timers. This shows that the code of conduct was helpful but not that TAM is historically welcoming.

  15. Greta Christina says

    D.J. Grothe @ #12: This comment would seem to be arguing that what makes women feel unsafe at conferences is other women speaking out about sexual harassment and advocating that action be taken to make conferences more safe for women.

    I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume for the moment that this was not your intention. But you need to know that this is very much what your comment reads like.

    And this may be part of the answer to your question of why attendance from women at TAM is so far down this year. When you talk about these questions, it often comes across as trying to get people — especially women — to shut up about sexual harassment and other threats, since these conversations make the conference and the movement in general look bad. It certainly came across that way in this comment. If this is not your intention, I suggest that you choose your words more carefully.

  16. tinlizzy says

    re: DJ’s comment at #13:

    Asserting that something “isn’t a safe space” is a pretty context-driven statement, and it is not necessarily the same as asserting “if you go here you will be raped, pillaged or killed dead.” RW didn’t assert that about walking alone unarmed through a pack of lions or swimming in shark-infested waters. DJ, you imply that RW’s assertion “isn’t a safe space” means something that it obviously didn’t given the context, then you make a false equivalence of the two.

    “Safe” isn’t a concept encompassing only literal physical safety – I mean come on. “Safe” can and does entail all sorts of notions and nuances of mental and emotional safety, depending on context. An assertion that “this isn’t a safe space for speaking my mind” encompasses a range of intended meanings: from “I don’t feel I will be respected or taken seriously” to “I expect I will be harassed, ridiculed and/or turned into a pariah.” And when one’s experience has shown that that’s exactly what has played out in the past, it’s not just speculation in a vacuum.

    What RW’s statement means to me is “hey women, just know the freethought community doesn’t necessarily have your back.” And given what I watched play out in the TAM/JREF & freethought communities after RW’s no-nonsense statement at TAM last year, I would have to agree 100% with her.

    DJ, you seem very legalistic, more interested in winning debate points in an argument than discussing meaningful ways to encourage people to just be civil grown ups. Oh right – because what the JREF/TAM folks are all about is “critical thinking, and the harm that results from undue credulity.” That approach clearly obviates adoption of promoting and modeling civil reasonable human behavior, let alone calling folks out for what is generally-agreed-upon as jerkfaced asshattery.

  17. Melody says

    Well, I still haven’t learned that, since the comments at Kylie’s aren’t backing that up.

    There isn’t a lot of motivation to tell your harassment story when you get torn to shreds on the internet.

  18. Metaphysical Ham Sandwich says

    DJ Grothe appears to believe that the reason attendance is way down because women believe that it is not safe.

    So women who’ve been or are thinking about going, is TAM a safe or unsafe place for women? If it’s not safe, what can we do to address the fact that the presence of an anti-harassment policy did not help to make you feel more safe?

  19. says

    I suspect tinlizzy@19 is very right about DJ’s confusion over “safe space”. In the same sense as is being used by the people discussing the problem, TAM isn’t a safe space for astrologers or aura-readers — not to say they’ll be openly physically assaulted (or molested or what have you), but that they will not find sympathetic ears to their plights or their complaints that people are being too mean to them and their beliefs.

    So saying that women pointing out that conferences, in general, have not been safe spaces for women is pointing out that when something happens to them, it’s grossly unlikely that it will be taken seriously. As evidenced by the repeated characterization of these issues as “rumors”. If nobody’s listening, why should anyone tell their story? If they’re going to get accosted with “proof or it didn’t happen”, with the burden of proof ratcheting just higher than they have the ability to provide, they’re going to get dismissed.

    Knowing that harassment often happens when there are no witnesses, that serial harassers are well aware that they can mistreat people and get away with it if they do it carefully, and if the woman comes forward with a complaint she’ll be “torn to shreds on the internet” (look at what happened to Rebecca! Look at it!), then the estimation that the secular community is not really a safe space for women is a good one. Telling the people who are working to make it a safe space by providing real infrastructure for complaints to be handled seriously that they should just stop telling everyone that it’s not a safe space, is sticking your head in the sand. It will not improve this situation. Not by increasing attendance, not by ending harassment, and especially not by silencing the voices of women who are trying to help you with the problem you claim to be taking seriously.

  20. says

    As we endeavor together to continue building community, and to support and build the growing skeptics (and, for some, the atheist) movement(s), we need to take care that rumor and gossip may undermine those efforts, and be unnecessarily divisive.

    Identifying problems is not being divisive–the problems are divisive. Identifying the problems is a step toward removing divisiveness. It is a solution.

    I feel a little funny posting a link to my own blog here, but I wrote about this a few months ago. Shameles, yes. Somewhat apologetic I am, but it seems topical, so, here goes:

    Misconception: Protesting sexism is divisive.

  21. says

    I’m a bit shocked that DJ has now directly stated that I have created an unwelcome environment for women by telling USA Today that I was wrong to think of the skeptic and atheist communities of ~2004 as safe spaces for me.

    I really don’t even know what to say.

  22. kimbo jones says

    I tweeted @jref about their harassment policy and was linked to a blog post from last year and a brag about having it in the first place. I replied that it would be appropriate to include the policy on the website rather than buried in a blog post from a year ago. I got no response.

    DJ, you seem quite defensive in your responses like you’re taking this personally but I want you to know that this isn’t about you, so that attitude very off-putting. I am going to TAM with my husband and don’t expect any trouble, but I am aware that some people may have trouble. The one thing that still gives me pause about jref in general these days is you and how you handle these issues. I don’t know you but you’re probably a nice guy and I can see that you consider yourself to be a fair person. I have no reason to doubt that, but your communication style may be contributing to an image problem that is leading to defensiveness and turtles all the way down.

  23. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Rebecca, that is absolutely outrageous. DJ—what is the matter with you? On a Facebook conversation you said that as a gay man you “feel” you are sensitive to sexism. Being gay doesn’t make one any more likely to be so, and you certainly don’t appear to be.

    Can you imagine what you’d think if someone told you you were hurting the movement by talking to a reporter about homophobic comments and humor making you feel unsafe at a conference? Can you really not see this?

    Shame on you.

  24. Pseudonym says

    Based on my personal experiences in local atheist/skeptic combo groups, it’s pretty clear to me that there is a sexism problem in the atheist and skeptic movements (also a racism problem). I’ve experienced it myself, so I’m inclined to believe that the women who talk about it are telling the truth. And I’m also not inclined to give my money to these conferences.

  25. HumanisticJones says

    Stephanie Zvan @ #13
    This, a thousand times this. I was trying to put that thought into coherent words myself. This statements about women skeptics who “create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe” sounds a lot like marketing cover speak. Similar to a time I was told by a supervisor at a company I used to work for that I shouldn’t have been honest with a customer about our software’s limitations because it made us look bad. The problem to him wasn’t that we have an inefficient chunk of code that needed fixing and improving, but that anyone found out about it before they’d signed the contract and given us their money.

    I can understand the need to put out a good message and grow attendance at free-though/atheism/secular/skeptic events, I really can. I can even see how public stories of bad experiences can sour those attempts. However, I don’t think that the problem is that women are talking about issues with misogyny at these events, I think the problem is that there are issues with misogyny at these events to be talked about in the first place.

  26. Timid Atheist says

    It worries me, to some extent, that the comments made by Rebecca Watson to USA Today in 2004 are being used as an example for why the 2012 TAM meeting has only 18% female registration.

    It also worries me that because there has been talk about a few speakers who tend to make women uncomfortable or out right harass women, but there is no documentation to back up the talk, that it should be disregarded completely.

    I’m sorry, but as a woman who has had, on occasion, been harassed, I’d like to know that a place I’m going to go to where everyone is a stranger, is welcoming and safe and doesn’t leave everything up to the victims in order to make things welcoming and safe for everyone.

    As a non-out atheist, I wouldn’t attend TAM anyway just because it would raise too many questions that I’m not willing to address in my current situation.

    I’m still of the opinion, however, that if this is something that is told to female speakers “off the record”, then there’s a problem. Whatever that problem is, it needs to be addressed. It should never be okay to stifle discussion about something that real people face on a daily because it’s ruining attendance for a conference.

  27. Emptyell says

    A couple of thoughts…

    Are atheist/secular/skeptic conferences really any more hostile to women than academic, professional, etc conferences? Or is it just that we are saying that no amount is acceptable and that we want to find ways to minimize or eliminate it?

    As a privileged white guy I have little direct experience with this, but what I hear from female friends is the atmosphere at professional events isn’t all sunshine and roses either. It seems to me that the women there mostly put up with it rather than damage their careers.

    In many social environments it’s the exceptional that stands out. My experience of skeptical conferences (limited so far to two SkeptiCal events) has been that there is a notable lack of disrespect, harassment and othering going on. Not to say that it isn’t happening, but just that my anecdotal experience is that it is more prevalent elsewhere.

    The problem is that when we acknowledge the problem and attempt to address it, that provides ammunition to anyone who wants to say bad things and attack the godless heathens or whatever for all the horrible things that go on at their conferences.

    I have no way of knowing where those vile emails about child trafficking and promoting the objectification of women are coming from. But, since they are the exact opposite of what Ms Watson, Ms Svan et al are saying it seems likely that they are from people just looking to do as much harm as possible.

    In any case it seems the best strategy is to keep attacking the problem head on and counter the criticisms as the ridiculous lies that they are.

  28. says

    Do atheist conventions do surveys? Because it seems to me that a great way to gather information would be to do exit surveys. Or maybe a 6 months later sort of thing. Email people who didn’t come last year with a survey. Find out why.

    Also, @DJ Grothe #12

    On the extremely off chance you are right that women aren’t coming to conventions because of the publicity of a problem, then maybe the JREF and other convention hosts should act happily to ensure that things are safe.

    “We’ve taken the concerns of our attendees and speakers into account and we’ve crafted this policy. We’ll double-check to make sure it’s in place and that our speakers, staff, and volunteers are drilled in how to act if a complaint is brought to them. We’ve established safe zones. And it’s all available right on our website. We don’t think that there is an epidemic of sexual harassment at our conventions, and we don’t think that this is any more than some people causing trouble. We want to end that trouble with a clear policy and a strong enforcement setup that we hope never has to be used.”

    Seriously. You do this shit at a business. I don’t know how many times, working at a basic corporation, I was made to go through harassment training, even when nobody had done anything wrong. It was part of my hire process, I refreshed twice during my 5 years at the company, plus the refresher that happened when I was promoted. Try taking it seriously and taking strong public steps to prove the JREF is a safe place.

    It’s not hard, and the concerns are valid. Harassment policies should have popped up a decade ago, as far as I’m concerned. Where’s the lawyers screaming at all the organizers to get one? Lawsuits would kill cons very, very quickly.

  29. Lotte says

    Here is a specific problem I saw at TAM last year: Woman comes to TAM, Woman gets unwelcome attention from dude, instead of reporting said unwelcome attention from dude chick just does nothing and then complains about it in private to other people.

    The issue is not doing something about it-it’s being informed about it when it happens. If nothing gets reported AS IT HAPPENS nothing is going to get fixed. You can’t fault the people organizing the meetings if the victims aren’t speaking out when said organizers can do something.

  30. says

    Lotte, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know this: Where was the closest person to whom this woman should have complained? Where would this woman have gotten the information (or a pointer to the information) on where to complain while at the conference?

  31. Timid Atheist says

    Lotte #32 –

    Your comment is victim blaming. There are a great many reasons that victims do not report harassment or assault. That is why it’s important to have more than just harassment policies in place to ensure that these victims (not always women, but mostly), do not have to do something that may be even more painful than the original harassment and assault.

    Often times victims are not believed in the first place. They’re accused of making something out of nothing or assuming something was real when it was “just a joke.”

    Honestly, this is absolutely a sign, if what you, Lotte, are saying is true, that TAM needs to do more.

  32. Godless Heathen says

    @Lotte-Well, since that kind of behavior is often condoned or, at the very least, shrugged off, she may have felt that reporting it wouldn’t have made a difference.

    Plus, what Stephanie said.

    The onus is on the conference organizers clearly state the anti-harassment policy, that it is safe to report harassment, who to report it to, and what will be done when it is reported.

    Usually, when harassment occurs, there’s nothing the victim can do besides talk about it with her friends.

    Talking about being harassed isn’t complaining, btw.

  33. Beleth says

    Ann: “There’s an apple orchard over there. I wonder what the fruit from it is like.”

    Betty: “See that tree there? I ate an apple from it and got terribly sick.”

    Carrie: “And that tree over there? I ate an apple from it, and bit into a worm!”

    Doris, Elaine, Felicia, Grace, and Harriet: “We ate from apples in that orchard too, and we all got sick or bit into bugs as well!”

    DJ: “Well, I take care of this tree in the orchard over here! In all the time I’ve taken care of it, no one has ever complained of getting sick or eating a bug, and in fact last year I made a policy to make sure that all the apples on my tree are healthy and bug-free!”

    Ann: “Thanks for all your advice, everyone. Based on what I’ve heard, I don’t think I’ll be eating from that orchard at all… not even from DJ’s tree.”

    ——

    – Is Ann’s conclusion reasonable?
    – If Betty, Carrie, et al. had said nothing, and only DJ had said something, would it have been reasonable for Ann to eat an apple from DJ’s tree?
    – What more could DJ have done to get Ann to eat from his tree?

  34. emily_ says

    Quoted by DJ: “Speakers and conference organizers should not be looking to get laid at conferences because they are there in a professional setting, even if attendees are there for more entertainment reasons.”

    Said by DJ: Are we seriously telling speakers and attendees at atheists and skeptics at conferences that they shouldn’t be engaged in sexual activity? This usurps others’ adult responsibilities and rights and is counter to my personal values.

    No, we aren’t seriously telling anyone anything of the sort. This comparison is disingenuous, and comes up often when women talk about ways that they can feel more safe. Other people sputter about their right to engage in consensual behavior, as though anyone was trying to take away those rights.

    This is about not walking up to the speaker and handing her a card with a picture of you and your wife naked and asking her if she wants to fuck. This is about people not expecting that they’re going to get some, not preventing two adults who are interested in one another from having a social conversation.

  35. Timid Atheist says

    No, we aren’t seriously telling anyone anything of the sort. This comparison is disingenuous, and comes up often when women talk about ways that they can feel more safe. Other people sputter about their right to engage in consensual behavior, as though anyone was trying to take away those rights.

    This is about not walking up to the speaker and handing her a card with a picture of you and your wife naked and asking her if she wants to fuck. This is about people not expecting that they’re going to get some, not preventing two adults who are interested in one another from having a social conversation.

    Exactly. And why is this so hard to grasp for some people? Why is it assumed that because we want to keep people from being harassed that we’re suddenly condemning sex full stop? Is harassment really that similar to seeking out sex for some people?

  36. says

    I stopped wanting to be part of TAM for a lot of reasons, but the main one is I see the people involved at the highest level have shown me that they don’t give a damn about me as a woman, about me as a sexual assault survivor, or about me as an educator.

    Penn Jillette’s misogyny.
    Krauss’ defense of an friend that participated in what appears to be underage sex with the statement “everyone was a victim”.
    Dawkins trivialization of sexual assault.
    DJ’s quickness to blame women who speak out about harassment, not just here but a pattern of statements over the last year. (And, I might add, to violate the confidentiality of the TAM survey. I would be extremely pissed if I was a respondent. Hey, DJ? You think THAT might be why women don’t tell you about harassment?)

    Instead of trying to defend yourself, DJ, STFU and start reading the feedback you are getting. It won’t be easy, but there clearly is a problem. Learn from it.

    The role of a leader is to ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY for things, even if they aren’t your fault. It is your job to make things work. If you can’t…well, maybe Greg is right and you are more of a liability than an asset.

  37. says

    Timid Atheist:

    To be clear, I didn’t make the comments in 2004. I was discussing how back then (when I first got involved in this community) I thought it was a safe space. Over the following years I discovered that it was not.

    I think I gave the interview a few months ago.

  38. Emptyell says

    @ Lotte #32

    I don’t see any way to entirely prevent this sort of thing happening short of providing all female attendees with body guards. I don’t think any one is expecting that some magic policy is going to fix everything and lack of reporting isn’t actually the problem. It’s that the harassment is happening, reported or not, that is the problem.

    The reality is that even if minor incidents are reported there isn’t much that can be done about them that won’t be perceived as overreaction so punishment after the fact is unlikely to be an effective deterrent. (Collecting the data is useful and should be encouraged but this doesn’t directly fix anything.)

    What’s needed is to find ways to minimize the offensive behavior before it happens. Having anti-harassment policies is a start, but publicising and enforcing them is vital for success.

    It would also help to encourage men not to tolerate this sort of stuff either. I’m not sure the best way to go about this but we need to somehow convince the majority of guys that is in their interest to help promote a safe and comfortable space for female attendees. This shouldn’t be that difficult but the tone trolls are always ready to jump in and make a big deal about why we’re making such a big deal out of something that shouldn’t be such a big deal.

  39. tinlizzy says

    re: Jason @ #23: well said, and much more succinctly than I was able to put it. :D

  40. The Witch Hunt Continues... says

    D.J., if you are still reading this cesspit, there is one thing you can do – kick the lot of them off the speakers list and ban then from attending.

    You know the bullies and troublemakers am referring to – Greg Laden, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, and a few others.

    Kick them out – TAM does not need them, and I certainly don’t want to be associated with such a bunch of nasty hypocritical with-hunters who simply want MORE POWER AND INFLUENCE.

    Ban them from attending TAM. Other conferences will follow suit, and then the word will get round just what these bullies have been up to for the past year. They will then be persona non grata everywhere.

    It’s time to start standing up to these brutes.

  41. MyaR says

    DJ, thanks for enabling assholes like the commenter at 43. I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being part of the 18%, but not because of what any of the women (assuming commenter 43 isn’t a woman) are saying.

  42. says

    The girl who @Lotte refers to about the harassment at last year’s TAM felt very uncomfortable and bothered by the unwanted attention, but she did not feel the behavior was enough to warrant an official complaint. It wasn’t until the gentleman was seen being sexually aggressive (by the elevators, none the less) that the guy was mentioned to the JREF by me (and I handled it in a very informal/sloppy way). It’s probably correct to say that the situation was treated as gossip fodder (can you believe this is happening again?) rather than in an appropriate fashion.

    It turns out, by the way, that this individual did not have a lanyard and was not part of TAM.

  43. Jason says

    I think the point DJ was trying to make is that all of these comments about the danger of the skeptical/secular/atheist community to women have been made without *any* substantial evidence to give women an indication of what the risks actually are to their person.

    As opposed to hard data, we have a bunch of vague accusations, many of which people won’t even name names for. This makes it essentially impossible to gauge in any probabilistic sense how bad things actually are and what an attendee is likely to experience.

    This is what happens when an idea is supported entirely by the naming of incidences rather than statistics. When you have a segment of a movement that starts telling everyone that the plural of anecdote is data and personal experience crammed through the ‘telephone’ process is considered reliable, there are downsides and upsides.

    This doesn’t mean that the writers DJ links to have necessarily done something wrong either. It’s naive to think that the activism to elevate the place of women within secularism wouldn’t claim some casualties. The issue is out there and yes, there will be some ways in which the cause suffers as a result.

    Doing the right thing doesn’t always have the best of consequences all the time, but that also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider how to better handle these discussions in the future. I think there’s a path forward that can minimize some of the damage, one that tries harder to present hard evidence and rhetoric that is a bit more moderate.

  44. emily_ says

    “As opposed to hard data, we have a bunch of vague accusations, many of which people won’t even name names for. This makes it essentially impossible to gauge in any probabilistic sense how bad things actually are and what an attendee is likely to experience.”

    Did you stop for a single second to wonder why many people won’t name names?

  45. says

    YEAH! Stop the bullies who are bullying conferences into taking harassment claims seriously! And then when you’re done, stop the bullies who are fighting back against the religious folks’ RIGHT to shame and target gays!

  46. William says

    Timid Atheist Re: Post #34
    You blame Lotte of victim blaming. Are you intentionally being argumentative through ignorance? It’s not that Lotte is blaming the victim. I might be putting words in Lotte’s mouth but I seriously doubt it but I’m pretty sure she would agree that behavior that is clearly unwelcome, unwarranted, and unacceptable is not to be encouraged. The problem is when you genuinely have one person doing something uncouth, and there are no documented cases of this ONE PERSON’S behavior so that the perpetrator can be rightfully taken out of the environment. This isn’t victim blaming, this is what is needed if you’re to make changes. If you want to throw around the term victim blaming, I get to say you’re playing the part of the victim. Take some self defense classes and punch the next guy in the face who physically assaults you. Then go find DJ, and tell him, “Please kick out the guy who has the bleeding nose.” If you don’t like that approach, speak up.

    PS: You said

    That is why it’s important to have more than just harassment policies in place to ensure that these victims…

    But didn’t complete your thought. You’re calling for change without offering solutions. Easy to tear down, harder to build up. To me, it’s important to recognize how warm, kind, AND welcoming every single person at the event has been, save maybe a statistically insignificant one or two people who should have been kicked out. Creating a toxic environment, disproportionately magnifying the negative effects is a shame. So shame on you all.

  47. carlie says

    Boring troll is boring.

    Why is there so much backlash against the idea of creating a policy? A policy that, at most, means that the organizers have to have someone designated to actively listen to complaints, and tell offenders to quit it or get kicked out? That’s really not that much to ask. Seriously. “Power and influence”, witch? Yeah. What a feat: getting someone to write a policy that says please don’t act like an entitled jerk for 1-3 days in public while at a convention. Oooooooo. I can feel the power welling up just thinking about it.

  48. Jason says

    Emily, nothing you said there invalidates the fact that the problem exists. Even if they had a good reason (and I think they did), it’s still really hard to figure out how at risk you are as a woman attending a conference and they’ve drummed up quite a bit of fear without facts.

    Your statement may excuse their behavior morally, but it does not wash away the negative consequences.

  49. emily_ says

    “This isn’t victim blaming, this is what is needed if you’re to make changes.”

    Do you know what it’s like to report harassment? Do you not see how EVEN WHEN women don’t name names, EVEN WHEN they couch it in terms like “Hey, don’t do that”, they are told they’re making a big deal out of nothing? They’re making it up?

    “If you don’t like that approach, speak up.”

    I don’t like that approach. Nobody should have to become violent in order to have their safety taken seriously.

  50. emily_ says

    Jason, if you don’t understand why a woman might not be comfortable making a formal complaint, and you insist that this is the only way for anyone to be able to speak out, you are a part of the problem, not the solution.

  51. carlie says

    all of these comments about the danger of the skeptical/secular/atheist community to women have been made without *any* substantial evidence to give women an indication of what the risks actually are to their person.

    And that part right there in bold is the problem.

    What women say that they have personally experienced is “without any substantial evidence”.

    Because being a skeptic means that the default condition is that women are liars? That’s exactly what you’re saying. Please stop and think about that until you absorb it. You are saying that every time a woman relates a story that’s happened to her, you consider that to be equivalent to no evidence at all. She is considered to be wrong until somehow proven correct (by having at least two male witnesses, maybe? I think I’ve read that used as a criterion somewhere…)

  52. Jason says

    I said this:

    “This doesn’t mean that the writers DJ links to have necessarily done something wrong either. It’s naive to think that the activism to elevate the place of women within secularism wouldn’t claim some casualties. The issue is out there and yes, there will be some ways in which the cause suffers as a result.

    Doing the right thing doesn’t always have the best of consequences all the time, but that also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider how to better handle these discussions in the future. I think there’s a path forward that can minimize some of the damage, one that tries harder to present hard evidence and rhetoric that is a bit more moderate.”

    And my saying there is a path forward that would be better, in my opinion, is summed up by you as:

    “you insist that this is the only way for anyone to be able to speak out”

    Yeah, that sounds like me insisting that there is only 1 way to do things.

    This is the problem with the current tone of the debate, the rhetoric is ratcheted all the way up. One can’t disagree even slightly without being misrepresented.

  53. emily_ says

    Aw, Jason, you cut out the “if” at the beginning.

    IF you don’t understand why a woman wouldn’t make a complaint, AND you insist that making a formal complaint is the only way to make change, THEN you are part of the problem.

    Who is misreading whom here, dude?

  54. says

    Tell you what, Jason, just so you’re not misunderstood: How about you tell me in detail what I should have done and said instead of just saying I did it wrong. Then we can discuss the consequences of your proposed plan of action and why or how they would be more acceptable than any consequences of what did.

  55. says

    Harassment happens. Often in private, where harassers can get away with it. Saying that a person was personally harassed is an ordinary event and doesn’t require extraordinary evidence. Granted, people might make false claims to get back at speakers they don’t like, but that’s why a framework where claims can be made and dealt with privately is so damned important.

    Meanwhile, since false harassment claims are exceedingly rare, why is the default to deny that they happened at all? Why not take them seriously, investigate, and take appropriate and private measures against repeated offenders?

  56. says

    Jason: get yourself another name, please, because you’re getting asshole all over mine. Telling the victim of harassment that they should have done anything differently, is victim-blaming.

  57. anon atheist says

    Seems like a catch-22, doesn’t it. I don’t think it is. If your portrayal of the problem of sexual harassment was accurate then you were purely the messenger and you have no responsibility for scaring women away. But if you have inflated the issue the positive and negative consequences are yours.

    I don’t know if the constant talk about sexism at atheist conferences has actually scared women away or not. But I guess the first thing to recognize is that the goal to make more women come to these kind of evens and the goal to make women feel safer at these events are to quite an extent independent of each other and thus are the means to archive these goals.

  58. says

    D. J. said @ 12 –

    It is important to be sensitive to these sorts of real and legitimate concerns surrounding issues of sexual harassment at events. But again, such concern should be based on evidence and not rumor or gossip.

    There’s a big big big problem with that, which ought to be obvious – which is that sexual harassment doesn’t usually produce “evidence.”

    Which is not to say that all accusations should be treated as automatically true, but it is to say that sometimes people warning you is all you have.

    This is why prevention is at the top of the list of what to do, not accusation or similar. But if the standard is physical evidence or shut up and stop complaining – well that’s a problem.

  59. Lauren says

    DJ 9

    This post seems to be where the action is, so I’ll bring my reply to you from moderation in Kylie’s post.

    Let’s say women attending TAM experienced the same amount and variety of background sexism we are accustomed to in any venue we ever went to. So we report everything was fine, meaning no worse than usual. But “usual” is a lot of sexism when you think about it.

    Then some women bloggers shine a light on the bullshit we have put up with and taken for granted our entire lives, and say, “we should be better than this.” Then MRAs show up in astonishing numbers ferociously defending teh men’z right to impose on any woman at any time because … you can’t outlaw FLIRTING.

    The issues were there before the event – we just got especially incensed about it afterwards because of the defensive, hateful, and explosive reaction to women who pointed out that the status quo sucked.

    So, DJ, please stop pissing on the women who called the fire department when the problem is the assholes who lit the match – some of whom grace your dais and stage.

  60. MichaelD says

    Ok new plan everyone films using a 360 degree camera mounted on their heads every moment of the conference non stop with the video all streamed wirelessly into gigantic servers! With every moment of the conference recorded we’ll have all the hard evidence we need should something happen!

  61. Anonymous says

    Why not create a visible volunteer presence like the goons at DefCon to deal with these kinds of issues and escalate them to conference staff and/or security if deemed appropriate?

    If the problem ends up being as pervasive as some say it is, you’d find out real quick, wouldn’t you?

  62. says

    Ophelia, completely agreed. By ‘evidence,” I mean simply that there is a lack of evidence that there is a widespread problem of sexual predators at TAM and similar events, despite assertions to the contrary the likes of which I quoted about above. But I’m not talking about anyone requiring physical evidence of specific predation. Again, there have been zero reports of such harassment at the TAMs I’ve been a part of, and as I say above, while that doesn’t mean that such didn’t occur (it could have been unreported) we do have some data from last year’s survey, as an example:

    Of 800+ responses to this comprehensive survey, only two people reported feeling “unwelcome” at the event. Both of these respondents were men. One was a conservative who felt several speakers insulted his political beliefs. The other was a retiree who “hates” magic.

    11 respondents to the survey did report a problem with an interaction with someone else that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe (this was a difference question on the survey). 3 of them were men who did not elaborate on the interaction and 3 were from women who did not elaborate on the interaction. Another was a woman who reported a speaker was rude to her when she asked for a photo. Another was a woman who was made fun of for not being an atheist. Another was a woman was ridiculed for being a vegetarian. Another was a woman who reported no specific incident but claimed her enjoyment of the event was negatively affected by the “drama surrounding elevator gate” and “having to hear everyone talk about it.” Finally, one person did report feeling uncomfortable around an attendee, fearing future possible sexual harassment, and while we are concerned about such concerns, there was no complaint of any actual activity that had happened that the hotel or security or law enforcement or others could take action on. Importantly, every one of these 11 respondents nonetheless reported feeling welcome at TAM. It is inaccurate to say that “women do not feel welcome” at these sorts of events, judging by the 40% women attendance last year at TAM and these survey results. Similarly, I think it is an irresponsible (and inaccurate) message to tell people that women should feel “unsafe” at these events.

    Issues of sexism and homosexism and lack of diversity and racism and the like are very important and merit our attention, and demand our hard work to ameliorate. Indeed, we have worked hard to address such issues over the last few years, in some ways leading the way before any blogosphere attention was even given to the issues (I asked Watson, as an example, to run a Women in Skepticism panel a few years ago at TAM, and also a workshop on related topics, in addition to our deciding to program what I think was a productive conversation on diversity within the skeptics movement last year. A speaker or two will also likely address related issues this year, in all likelihood).

    But if our goal is to attract more gays or people of color or women to our movement(s) and our events, I believe it is counterproductive to concentrate mostly or only on the (inaccurate) message of how unsafe we think it is for gays or people of color or women if they chose to attend our events.

    Again, I think our survey data from last year’s TAM is pretty relevant to this point. People who attend do not feel unsafe or unwelcome, and that bears mentioning at least somewhere in all of these posts about supposed rampant sexual harassment and unnamed lists of certain speakers “victimizing” young women, and the like. So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.

  63. says

    On the Facebook discussion Barbara Drescher is apparently blaming the Women in Secularism conference for…something.

    Barbara A. Drescher I agree, Travis. Even the WIS event doesn’t explain the drop in percentage. The number of events could explain a drop in attendance, but given that 50% of TAM attendees are usually newbees, that doesn’t work, either.

    “Even the WIS event doesn’t explain” – but it’s the most likely culprit, or it comes the closest to explaining, or something.

    Oy.

  64. MichaelD says

    “especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.”

    umm… Is that really an issue we’re dealing with?

  65. says

    Oh, so now it’s about women having “sexual exploits” with speakers, then doubling back on that? Rather than speakers trying to have “sexual exploits” with women without first obtaining consent?

    Jeezum crow, how can you have lost the plot so badly, DJ?

  66. MichaelD says

    @ Ophelia B
    I think BD is referring to WIS drawing some of the women away from other conferences. IE if you only go to one or maybe 2 conventions a year (due to finances vacation days etc) you might choose WIS which had a very high female turn out over say TAM this year. This might then account for my TAM has fewer women signed up this year. Or just an increased number of conferences could be spreading the female attendance thin? That’s how I read it.

  67. Timid Atheist says

    William @ #50:

    You blame Lotte of victim blaming. Are you intentionally being argumentative through ignorance?

    Lotte @#32 wrote:

    The issue is not doing something about it-it’s being informed about it when it happens. If nothing gets reported AS IT HAPPENS nothing is going to get fixed. You can’t fault the people organizing the meetings if the victims aren’t speaking out when said organizers can do something.

    You are saying, William, that I am being argumentative through ignorance. Does this mean that I’m arguing about something I know nothing about?

    I called her comment victim blaming because she says that the meeting organizers cannot be at fault if the victims do not report. As I said, victims do not report for a great many reasons and to blame them for not reporting is just as much a problem as blaming them for being victims in the first place.

    I might be putting words in Lotte’s mouth but I seriously doubt it but I’m pretty sure she would agree that behavior that is clearly unwelcome, unwarranted, and unacceptable is not to be encouraged.

    So if a victim doesn’t report unwelcome, unwarrented and unacceptable behavior, they’re encouraging it?

    I have to say, this sounds like more victim blaming to me. As in, it’s the victim’s fault this person is continuing to harass people. If the first victim had spoken up, there wouldn’t have been a second.

    In my opinion, there shouldn’t have been a first. Who’s to blame for that first instance of unacceptable behavior? The victim because they should have known it was going to happen?

    But didn’t complete your thought. You’re calling for change without offering solutions.

    Oh no, I completed my thought.

    I don’t have any solutions. Do you? I’d love to hear them if so. Especially if they involve making things safe without blaming those who are victims.

    Creating a toxic environment, disproportionately magnifying the negative effects is a shame. So shame on you all.

    No one is magnifying the negative affects. They are simply reporting them and asking for support in order to deal with them and make things okay for everyone.

    You cannot shame me for wanting a safe place for everyone to interact and discuss atheism. I will never feel shame for wanting that.

  68. says

    Michael D, yes, I think you’re right – I figured that out from a comment by someone else somewhere else – Greg Laden, I think – oh right, just the drain caused by competing events.

    Never mind.

  69. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    DJ Grothe, you are stunningly ineffective at preserving even the barest PR image for JREF. Even if you don’t care, and even if you think that “I was harassed” is an extraordinary claim (no, no, stop it. Don’t talk to me about how many reports you got.), you are not adding credibility to your organization by citing the myriad reasons why it’s being persecuted and Those Bad Things Can’t Be Happening And It’s Not Fair.

    This is what they pay you for? No bargain for JREF.

  70. aw says

    I think Lauren @67 has it right. Women are being put off by the reaction to any attempt to bring these problems to light or solve them.

    Read any comment thread related to this issue. Pick one. Watch the insulting, disingenuous attempts to mock, belittle, berate, and shut down the women who complain. Who wants to wade into that?

    I understand that internet commenters don’t represent all (or even the majority) of attendees or speakers. But, for those of us following along at home, the amount of dismissive and outright hostile commentary is at best disheartening, and at worst inspires despair and rage. Why would I associate with these people, or put myself up for their judgement?

    I don’t think blaming the bloggers is accurate or fair. I think we’re reacting to the reaction, as it were. The wrong people are being asked to shoulder ‘blame’.

    It’s not a problem with an apparent solution, except to keep the blame firmly on the ridiculousness of those who push back against anyone who tries to address issues of sexism. I think they’re the ones convincing us that we’re not welcome.

  71. MichaelD says

    Ok since I hate watching DJ keep digging like this here are a couple ideas to improve the female attendance at TAM.

    First off try to stop making accusations to people worried about sexual harassment that they are to blame. This is just counter productive and I personally don’t see how this will improve the situation whether the accusation is true or not.

    Try working a bit of advertising and getting the message out to women about TAM. There are plenty of skeptical/atheist blogs or podcasts with at least some focus on women or women’s issues. Why not try to get the word out to them a little interview or guest post for example. Talk about TAM coming up what it is and isn’t about and what women can have to look forward to coming to the event. Mention say the number of female speakers and if there are any topics events going on that maybe of more interest to women mention them.

    Similarly if you are doing any promotional writing where the readership maybe more male include something in part to try to hook women and other minority groups into attending.

    Given the recent talk on sexual harassment policies focus on the positive aspects. Like the fact that you have one. Lay out your policy as it stands along with a commitment to continue to ensure that your events are safe places where women, minorities etc can and should feel comfortable. Stress that although you haven’t gotten any reports yet that if something happens that people should know the policy is in place and are encouraged to speak up if something bothers them.

    Last idea try asking your women speakers for their ideas on improving women’s attendance I’m sure they have some more ideas to offer.

  72. says

    BTW – comments should be out of moderation at my site (including DJ Grothe’s), as there’s a time difference between USA and Australia. Thanks.

  73. Maria says

    As someone that considered going to TAM, I am scared off, not by the stories I have heard of harassment, but the response to those stories and DJ’s post. His comment above makes it clear to me that if I were in an uncomfortable situation and complained about it that I would be the one making people feel unsafe. Rebecca says “Don’t be a jerk.” And she gets attacked by everyone on the internet. No thanks.

  74. karmakin says

    Erg..why are we making a big deal over the “evidence” that people say that conventions are not safe for women? I thought that was the whole point of it all, and that’s what we’re trying to fix. They’re not safe.

  75. says

    unnecessarily divisive

    O RLY?

    It seems that dividing decent human beings from the people who make comments like this:

    D.J., if you are still reading this cesspit, there is one thing you can do – kick the lot of them off the speakers list and ban then from attending.

    You know the bullies and troublemakers am referring to – Greg Laden, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, and a few others.

    Kick them out – TAM does not need them, and I certainly don’t want to be associated with such a bunch of nasty hypocritical with-hunters who simply want MORE POWER AND INFLUENCE.

    Ban them from attending TAM. Other conferences will follow suit, and then the word will get round just what these bullies have been up to for the past year. They will then be persona non grata everywhere.

    It’s time to start standing up to these brutes.

    is absolutely necessary.

    Observe: on one side, people advocating adopting reasonable anti-harassment policies, such as have been in place in corporate offices and government workplaces for decades now.

    On the other, wild accusations of power-grubbing, witch-hunting brutality.

    This divide is necessary.

  76. says

    they’ve drummed up quite a bit of fear without facts.

    This again. This isn’t skepticism. I know you think it is, but that’s because you’re not in possession of all the facts. Why are you not in possession of all the facts? Because you’ve never had to pay attention to the issue before. Why have you never had to pay attention to the issue before?

    [cue dramatic music]

    MALE PRIVILEGE.

    The fact is that harassment is exceedingly common in general. Atheists and skeptics are a subset of people, and it is well-demonstrated that among people–American and Canadian people, yes, it’s true–harassment occurs on a regular basis.

    So really, the extraordinary claim would be that harassment is not occurring. If that were happening, it would imply an extraordinary state of affairs–that somehow, all the attendees at skeptical and atheist conferences magically freed their minds from their cultural context upon walking through the hotel doors.

    If you have been a skeptic for any period of time, you should be aware that it’s spectacularly easy to justify a wrong belief, deny evidence that doesn’t fit your preconceived notions, or even just not notice it. That’s how male privilege functions. That’s how ALL privilege functions. Selective admission of information, confirmation bias, and all the rest.

    Women, in general, have more data about sexism than men do, in general, simply because they cannot afford to ignore it, whereas men are actively encouraged by cultural training to ignore it.

    These are the facts.

    Now you can’t say you didn’t know anymore.

  77. LeftSidePositive says

    @Maria #84–yeah, I’ve never had occasion to go to TAM, but I have to say that the number one thing preventing me from even considering it right now is the behavior of DJ.

    It’s one thing to understand the calculated risk of being harassed in public–I’m a woman, after all, and I do leave the house on a near-daily basis, so I’ve pretty much worked out how I deal with that risk and I’ve decided the vast majority of the time the risk is not enough to keep me from things I enjoy.

    HOWEVER, I am sure as hell not going to give any of my money or support to an organization that openly tries to silence women for speaking out about our experiences. That is something I can avoid, and I will be spending my money and enjoying my travel elsewhere.

  78. karmakin says

    I think by and large the anti-harassment policies are/will be in place.

    The real question is how they’re going to be enforced.

  79. Pteryxx says

    I posted these over at B&W for evidence of the background rates:

    A GAO report released today criticized the Department of Defense (DOD) for its oversight of sexual harassment, citing new statistics suggesting that the majority of sexual harassment in the military goes unreported.

    According to the report, only 4 of the 82 service members who said they were sexually harassed in the past year reported it formally.

    The study also found that an estimated 41 percent of servicemembers believed that people in their work group would be able to get away with sexual harassment, even if it were reported.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20125528-10391695/gao-sexual-harassment-in-the-military-underreported/

    The harrassment ranges from wolf-whistling and lewd comments to physical groping and sexual assault.

    Campaigners say that reported cases represent “the tip of the iceberg” and that authorities can no longer afford to ignore the issue.

    Research released today by the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition shows 41 per cent of women under the age of 34 have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment in the street.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/catcalls-whistles-groping-the-everyday-picture-of-sexual-harassment-in-london-7786185.html

    Cited by Ophelia in “Life on the Streets” a few days ago.

    So why should anyone assume that skeptic conventions just happen to be harassment-free zones when harassment, underreporting, and discounting are so common?

  80. says

    DJ Grothe, I have a different story for you:
    Pver the last year, women have not only become increasingly aware of the sexism /harassment going on in the skeptical community, they have also seen what Rebecca Watson got in response for making the mildest complaint “guys, don’t do that”.
    Do you think that witnessing such a backlash will make it easier for other women to speak out?
    And they have seen your reaction. They have seen how in each and every instance you came down on the side of the sexists and attacked the female bloggers who made those problems public.
    That’s the thing about the safe space: It’s not that I’m not aware that bad things still happen, but thinking that they will not be accepted.
    That’s why I would be comfortable going to Skepticamp Ohio where Elyse was harassed: I got the impression that the organizers actually care, that they would have my back.
    While with you, DJ, I got the impression that should I report harassment I’d be treated like I claimed I had just seen bigfoot and accused of ruining TAM.

  81. says

    People who attend do not feel unsafe or unwelcome, and that bears mentioning at least somewhere in all of these posts about supposed rampant sexual harassment and unnamed lists of certain speakers “victimizing” young women, and the like.

    Oh, and stuff the scarequotes around victimizing where the sun doesn’t shine.
    I’m sick and tired of hearing that women just want to be victims.

  82. says

    SallyStrange,

    On one hand, we have Part A, who says something to the effect that the environment for women at skeptic, atheist and humanist conventions is ignoring/encouraging sexual harassment against women. No data is offered.

    On the other hand, we have Part B, who does not ignore that sexual harassment exists, that there is no reason to think it does not happen at skeptic, atheist and humanist conventions, but the data so far, gathered from documented cases and surveys (where the respondents can even complain anonymously), does not point in this direction.

    Which side of this particular argument has the best data?

    Remember, we are skeptics. We go where the evidence takes us, regardless of personal biases.

  83. says

    On the however many-eth hand you need, Claus, we have Ashley Miller pointing out (see Jason’s link at #82) that at least one of the people telling us this doesn’t happen isn’t even reporting an incident he was present for. We have ticktock up at #46 telling us he reported something to TAM staff that we’ve been told wasn’t reported.

    Where is that evidence taking you?

  84. says

    Both those examples you provided were addressed in the best way circumstances afforded. If they are data points, let them be toward women feeling protected at TAM. And you automatically assume that my friend was not part of the previously mentioned anonymous data point, which is an assumption that I wouldn’t be so quick to make.

  85. says

    Ticktock, whether they were handled at TAM is not the question. The question here is about incidents happening at TAM (being well-handled doesn’t mean they didn’t happen), DJ denying that any incidents happened, and people using that denial to say that harassment doesn’t happen.

  86. Pteryxx says

    Both those examples you provided were addressed in the best way circumstances afforded.

    Publicly pretending the incidents didn’t happen or didn’t count IS handling them badly, even afterwards. This is Sexual Harassment Policy 101: Be supportive of victims and potential victims by treating them with respect, taking harassment seriously, and dealing with incidents in a respectful and professional manner.

    If they are data points,

    Oh really.

    let them be toward women feeling protected at TAM.

    Sexual Harassment Policy 101: Do not dictate how victims and potential victims should feel about an incident. Treat them with respect. (In fact, “Don’t dictate how women should feel” is also Sexism 101, but it represents a SPECIFIC failure to professionally handle sexual harassment incidents,) which is a responsibility of any organization with a harassment policy.

    Taken from legal guidelines for handling harassment claims (emphasis mine):

    Treat the complainer with respect and compassion. Employees often find it extremely difficult to complain about discrimination or harassment. They feel vulnerable and afraid. This can have an impact on the quality of their work, and it can also lead them to seek outside assistance from lawyers. When an employee comes to you with concerns about discrimination or harassment, be understanding. An employee who sees that you are taking the problem seriously is less likely to escalate the issue to a government agency or to court.
    Don’t shoot the messenger. You may be tempted to become angry at the complaining employee for the fact that you must now deal with the specter of discrimination and harassment in your business. But don’t forget that the complaining employee is the victim and not the cause of the problem. If you allow yourself to become angry at the employee, you open yourself up to claims of illegal retaliation (see next tip, below). You also run the risk of polarizing your workplace, damaging morale, and lowering productivity.

    Don’t retaliate. It is against the law to punish someone for complaining about discrimination or harassment. The most obvious forms of retaliation are termination, discipline, demotion, pay cuts, or threats to do any of these things. More subtle forms of retaliation may include changing the shift hours or work area of the accuser, changing the accuser’s job responsibilities, or isolating the accuser by leaving her out of meetings and other office functions. To learn more about retaliation, see Preventing Retaliation Claims by Employees.

    http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/guidelines-handling-discrimination-harassment-complaints-29490.html

    Referenced in “What is sexual harassment” here:

    http://www.nhcadsv.org/sexual_harassment.cfm

    If your organization handled a safety policy or research integrity policy as badly as you’re mishandling your own sexual harassment policy right now, you’d be a laughingstock. A harassment policy is not a piece of paper that absolves you of liability. Do the homework and remedial training.

  87. says

    I don’t know that anything was pretended. He acknowledged a complaint from the surveys. He was a bonehead for forgetting the incident with Ashley, but I disagree that it was purposeful.

  88. Pteryxx says

    He was a bonehead for forgetting the incident with Ashley, but I disagree that it was purposeful.

    All right, that’s a plausible interpretation. I hope DJ makes a clarifying statement, then.

  89. says

    I hope he publicly retracts the claim that there were no incidents of harassment at TAM last year. We have four women documented as having been harassed and a policy that either doesn’t require documentation (and thus, can’t tell D.J. what he’s claiming) or is so widely violated in that respect, including by D.J., that it can’t be relied on for statistics.

  90. says

    One attempt at clarification before new misinformation takes hold: no incident of sexual harassment or assault was reported to me or any other JREF staffer at the speakers reception last year. Had such been reported, the incident would have been documented, security would have been called and the offender would have been removed from TAM. What in fact happened was an attendee who appeared inebriated, and who was not a speaker and not permitted at the private speakers reception, was asked to leave the reception.

  91. says

    D.J., what exactly made this person appear inebriated? What exactly was the problem behavior? If it was, as Ashley, Jen, and Jamila say, harassment, why did you not make that report?

  92. says

    Also, you’ve been told by Ticktock, who is supporting you in this, that he reported harassment to TAM last year. Where is the documentation of that report and why is it not included in your statistics?

  93. Pteryxx says

    DJ:

    What in fact happened was an attendee who appeared inebriated, and who was not a speaker and not permitted at the private speakers reception, was asked to leave the reception.

    I accept this, however the incident still should be documented in your organization’s own reporting because it did involve your attendees. Thus, it still fell under your organization’s purview, whether or not the purported harasser was registered with your event. Harassed attendees should not be expected to take it upon themselves to decide whose authority their harasser falls under; they will go to your staff.

    caveat: IANAL

  94. Frogmistress says

    This is an example of how incidents of harassment are erased from the record. It is also an example of the importance we put on keeping women from being harassed.

    In DJ’s mind, this man wasn’t removed for groping and bothering women. This man was removed because he was inebriated and in a private event without authorization.

  95. says

    The situation was complicated. The incident wasn’t reported because the person couldn’t be immediately identified and the harassment was vague enough that it didn’t immediately merit anything but vigilance. DJ didn’t have any actionable information, but it was mentioned in conversation after the fact.

  96. Jean K says

    Point of clarification–did Ashley Miller fill out the survey that DJ is talking about? Did she report the incident she’s now talking about in that survey? If she did, did she give all the details she’s now offering? If she didn’t why not? What gives with the survey vs. Miller’s present allegations?

  97. says

    DJ didn’t have any actionable information, but it was mentioned in conversation after the fact.

    Aren’t all harassment complaints reported after the fact?

  98. says

    DJ: There are other conferences than TAM and many are approaching or exceeding gender parity. The kind of commenting and reacting you’re doing here is exactly why women stop attending TAM: they don’t like you and the things you say about them in public forums. As long as you continue to deny that there is a problem and try to shame and silence the dissenters, and encourage others to continue your attempts for you, you will continue to have fewer repeat attendees at TAM, both men and women.

    Add to this that your comments are inconsistent in agreeing that there is harassment and that it is being handled, yet saying that there are no reports of harassment. Clearly, your reporting system is severely flawed.

  99. says

    Jean, those are not “Miller’s present allegations”. Those are Ashley Miller’s recollections, Jen McCreight’s recollections, Jamila Bey’s recollections, and the recollections of at least one other person who was there, last I looked at the Facebook thread she linked. Referring to an incident with this much corroboration as “allegations” at this point is a bit much.

    As for the survey, I don’t know whether Ashley filled it out. I do know that a survey after the fact is generally not how an organization is expected to keep records of harassment incidents, particularly ones in which the organization’s staff took an active role.

  100. Pteryxx says

    In DJ’s mind, this man wasn’t removed for groping and bothering women. This man was removed because he was inebriated and in a private event without authorization.

    One point: strategically, a clear cut rule like “in a private event without authorization” is easier to ENFORCE than a code of conduct. That doesn’t justify dismissal of the sexual harassment component in reporting, discussion, or data collection however.

    Better said by Larry over at PZ’s blog:

    Going from your description alone, I’d agree with you, but also point out that sometimes, administratively, it’s easier to go after the “low hanging fruit”. This “Winebreath” guy and/or his friends (if any :) might dispute that he was behaving badly, but he couldn’t dispute that he was at a private function without an invitation.

    It’s easier to kick someone out on a clear cut, objective requirement (“you weren’t invited”) than over behavior (“you’re being a dick”), even if the impetus for the inquiry about the invitation was the behavior in question.

    Aren’t all harassment complaints reported after the fact?

    Some incidents may be witnessed directly by convention staff, thus they’re involved and have a duty to intervene immediately. As staff, they’re also now responsible for “the organization” being made aware of the event.

    Again, incidents should still be documented afterward, by the staff members themselves.

  101. says

    After the fact = after he could have done something (at the airport), and he correctly noted that it was not reported except for gossip. This is the same incident noted by PZ, btw.

  102. Jean K says

    Let’s let Ashley answer the question, OK? I asked here and at facebook, so hopefully we’ll have an answer. It’s certainly important to know how she regarded the incident at the time, and what she said about it on the survey is entirely relevant. (Then again, did she take the survey? It would be good to know.)

  103. Frogmistress says

    One point: strategically, a clear cut rule like “in a private event without authorization” is easier to ENFORCE than a code of conduct. That doesn’t justify dismissal of the sexual harassment component in reporting, discussion, or data collection however.

    I agree that it is easier to enforce a clear cut rule than it is harassment. That’s part of the problem, right? People keep wanting evidence of sexism and harassment happening (and, apparently, can’t be arsed to look around and see it for themselves). Not only do we, typically, not have any type of physical evidence, but any recorded history has been whitewashed because it’s easier, not just in the records, but in the memories of those involved.

  104. says

    Jean, I’m happy to let Ashley answer the question. However, she hasn’t been participating in this thread, and since you asked here, I assumed you weren’t asking her.

    Now, to what do you think her survey response is relevant? Whether D.J. should have, as a staff member of JREF, made a formal report of the harassment in which he intervened at his own event?

  105. Pteryxx says

    Frogmistress:

    Not only do we, typically, not have any type of physical evidence, but any recorded history has been whitewashed because it’s easier, not just in the records, but in the memories of those involved.

    I agree; I just think there needs to be a distinction between “he was there without a ticket” as a situational pretext for resolving the incident quickly, and “he was there without a ticket” as an excuse to cover up or dismiss sexual harassment allegations. If this person had crashed the event but hadn’t disturbed anyone, it’s likely he would have gone unnoticed and there would not have been any incident to report.

    note: I should point out, while I’m not a lawyer or security professional, I have been a security volunteer or general volunteer for over a dozen convention events, both fan-run and professional. I’m describing how *I* would be expected to respond to any incident I witnessed, or to any attendee who came to me for help or to report an incident: take it seriously, act to mitigate the conflict, report to supervisors, ensure the incident’s logged and followed up, and coordinate with hotel security or law enforcement if necessary.

  106. Frogmistress says

    I agree; I just think there needs to be a distinction between “he was there without a ticket” as a situational pretext for resolving the incident quickly, and “he was there without a ticket” as an excuse to cover up or dismiss sexual harassment allegations. If this person had crashed the event but hadn’t disturbed anyone, it’s likely he would have gone unnoticed and there would not have been any incident to report.

    And, had the incident been remembered as one in which harassment had occurred, I would be right there with you.

    I don’t think anyone is being maliciously forgetful of the details. I don’t think the enforceable rule is being used as an excuse to cover up or dismiss sexual harassment allegations. I do think this method of dealing with these types of issues is partly at fault for erasing sexual harassment allegations from the picture altogether.

    When we decide to go for the low hanging fruit, as it was put, we tell ourselves that the real problem was that he wasn’t supposed to be there. The real problem was, in fact, that he was making a lot of women uncomfortable.

  107. says

    @94 claus larsen

    Remember, we are skeptics. We go where the evidence takes us, regardless of personal biases.

    yes, because if anyone knew your personal biases it would be impossible to take you seriously. Your actions and positions in the past are pro-sexual harassment, not because of some evidence that said your behavior was acceptable, but because you found it amusing to treat other people poorly.

    I remember you. You posted sexual fantasies about ducky’s wife at the JREF message boards, it made her quit posting. You defended fucking underage girls as acceptable.
    You were constantly, irritatingly intellectually dishonest in every discussion.

  108. says

    On one hand, we have Part A, who says something to the effect that the environment for women at skeptic, atheist and humanist conventions is ignoring/encouraging sexual harassment against women. No data is offered.

    Oh really? No data at all? And yet right here in this thread, you have Ashley Miller talking about a harassment event that affected her and between 2-3 other people, and DJ Grothe at first not remembering, and then revealing that the incident was not logged as a sexual harassment incident. Though the incident was handled appropriately at the time, the recording of the incident appears to have been handled in such a way as to make the sexual harassment part of it disappear. Whether this was intentional or not I cannot say. However, it is not encouraging. Here we have one clear example of the organizers mis-filing an incident of sexual harassment. This raises the probability that they did the same with other incidents, and undermines Mr. Grothe’s credibility in the matter, since he initially claims that there were zero such incidents.

    On the other hand, we have Part B, who does not ignore that sexual harassment exists, that there is no reason to think it does not happen at skeptic, atheist and humanist conventions, but the data so far, gathered from documented cases and surveys (where the respondents can even complain anonymously), does not point in this direction.

    I’d like you to substantiate this point. What data DO we have, and what makes you conclude that it does not point in the direction of atheist/skeptic conventions being largely similar to, rather than radically different from, our society in general?

    Which side of this particular argument has the best data?

    The data:

    1. TAM has a sexual harassment policy, like many other cons. It was enforced well, but data was not recorded properly.

    2. The leader/head administrator of TAM is on public record as blaming women who point out that sexual harassment can be a problem for driving women away.

    3. The “vast majority” of female attendees are reported as not encountering harassment, which is unsurprising since it reflects the patterns present in larger society. A majority of women will experience harassment during their lifetime, but only a small fraction of women will be harassed on a given day in a given setting.

    Remember, we are skeptics. We go where the evidence takes us, regardless of personal biases.

    Thanks for reminding me. I had forgotten about all that skeptic stuff. It’s hard to keep my personal biases clear of this fuzzy pink lady brain sometimes! *twirl* *giggle*

    /sarcasm

    Seriously, are you this condescending all the time, or only when attempting to mansplain sexual harassment and sexism?

  109. Jean K says

    Stephanie, The reason I’d like the answer to this question is because IF Ashley did take the survey, and did not report the incident, that says a lot about how she regarded it. I assume it was obvious that the point of the survey was to obtain a complete record of what kinds of problems people encounter. Given that the meeting happened right after “elevator-gate” it would have been clear that problems for women should particularly be reported. So IF she took the survey, and didn’t report the incident, that tells me she may have seen the incident as not integral to TAM. It was just an outsider breaking in, as can happen wherever you are in the world. I would find it very strange to draw any conclusions about how women are treated at atheist meetings, based on the actions of an intruder. That may have been her judgment at the time (if she took the survey and didn’t report the incident), and I wonder if that really ought to continue to be her judgment now. If she didn’t take the survey, that’s another story. If she took the survey and did report the incident, then DJ’s summary of the results is inaccurate. So–the answer to my question does matter.

  110. says

    Actually, Jean, I don’t think the answer to your question does matter. It certainly doesn’t warrant the conclusions you draw about Ashley’s views on the incident (or Jen’s or Jamila’s or any onlookers’). Why would someone feel they had to use a survey to report an incident that was handled at the time by the staff of the event? Information on the incident was already in the hands of the people who would be receiving the survey data. Why repeat it?

  111. Pteryxx says

    I would find it very strange to draw any conclusions about how women are treated at atheist meetings, based on the actions of an intruder.

    Frogmistress called it. This IS a data point about how ATTENDEES at a meeting WERE TREATED. The incident does not get to go unreported simply because (after the harassment) the instigator was shown to be unregistered.

  112. Somite says

    The problem is that so far there is no evidence of systemic harassment of women at TAM as proposed by Rebecca Watson. The data in fact indicates incidents are sporadic and most appear to have been dealt with on the spot. See DJ point (9) http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/05/30/where-are-the-women/#comment-84687

    Those proposing that TAM is unsafe for women have to come up with data that supports this assertion. Data that is not based on sporadic event, rumors, or personal foibles of speakers.

    Organizers can only make the event as safe as possible but not perfectly “safe” considering all the individual variations of what is considered safe and externalities like people crashing the event.

    I for one support DJ and all his efforts in this matter.

    One word about the speakers. If some speakers do have a confirmed history of harassment then they should be warned that will not be tolerated and not invited again if they continue the behavior.

  113. BJ Kramer says

    SallyStrange:

    Actually, your data is a bit out-of-date:
    https://www.facebook.com/mgafm/posts/394636350588993

    1) Tam does have a policy, and it seems that DJ enforced it as well as anyone possibly could given the facts, and recorded it appropriately
    2) The leader/head administrator of TAM is on public record as blaming women who point out that sexual harassment can be a problem for driving women away. …well, of course it can. I can’t imagine even you would deny that. The question of this post is which is the larger cause, a genuine problem of harassment, or the mistaken inflation of harassment scaring people off? It’s a good question, and demands good evidence, which DJ has been excoriated for trying to provide.
    3) The “vast majority” of female attendees are reported as not encountering harassment, which is unsurprising since it reflects the patterns present in larger society. A majority of women will experience harassment during their lifetime, but only a small fraction of women will be harassed on a given day in a given setting. No argument here. And not from DJ either, from what I can tell.

    So where does your data lead you? It leads me to think we need to make sure the TAM staff continues knows how to handle incidents brought to their attention, and we need to make sure attendees know they need to speak up at the time if they want something done, rather than just make vague complaints on the Internet later.

    It’s terribly ironic to me that the president of the JREF is getting crap for not being more psychic.

  114. situsinversus says

    This:

    “I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ” – Rebecca Watson in USA Today according to DJ.

    Systemic harassment means that there is a significant probability a woman will be harassed.

  115. says

    situsinversus, are you saying that there is no significant probability that Rebecca Watson will be harassed? Or are you saying that when she talks about her situation, which is what she did in that article, she is making claims about how every woman is/will be treated?

  116. says

    The question of this post is which is the larger cause, a genuine problem of harassment, or the mistaken inflation of harassment scaring people off?

    There’s a third option: women choosing not to attend because of the perception that any harassment may be dismissed and/or covered up by the event organizers.

    To me, this is the biggest turn-off.

    It’s a given that harassment is a possibility. Or are you contending that TAM is radically different from society in general on that front? If so, please explain why and back it up.

  117. situsinversus says

    I am saying the response of the JREF is proportional and adequate to the problem. Rebecca Watson’s is disproportional and harmful. She wasn’t talking about her own experience. She said the even is “unsafe”.

    Yes.. I am aware of the bingo and the mansplaining and all that.

  118. says

    we need to make sure attendees know they need to speak up at the time if they want something done, rather than just make vague complaints on the Internet later.

    The organizers, and everyone else for that matter, need to fucking stop with the resentful bitter blaming if women do make vague complaints on the internet later.

    If you react this way to “vague complaints” then the probability that specific complaints will be met with hostility and victim-blaming is significantly raised.

  119. Jean K says

    Stephanie, Why repeat it? Isn’t it obvious? I think anyone would understand that the survey was meant as a complete record of how participants felt about the meeting. Nobody would assume they could leave something out of the survey, but it would be included anyway, based on staff records. That’s not how surveys work. The statistics are based on the survey results, nothing else. I mean really–anyone who’s participated in surveys understands this. So leaving an incident off of a survey does say something about how the person viewed it at the time. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if Ashley took the survey, and what she wrote on it about it at the time. I’m not saying the implications have to be what I said–I’m just saying those are at least possible implications. I’m happy to let her speak for herself about what she wrote on the survey, and why she under-reported the incident (if in fact she did).

  120. Timid Atheist says

    She wasn’t talking about her own experience. She said the even is “unsafe”.

    Where does she say that TAM was unsafe?

    Rebecca was talking about the freethought community in general.

  121. says

    situsinversus, Rebecca did not say anything about “the event”. Even in D.J.’s excerpt, which he cut off at an important point, that’s obvious. Here it is again for you, this time the whole thing:

    “I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space and we have a lot of growing to do. The good news is there are a lot of people within the community who are interested in making it better and getting rid of our prejudices.”

  122. Pteryxx says

    Note: Somite’s comment above was posted, almost exactly word for word, at PZ’s thread:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/05/31/dj-please-fix-this-genuine-problem/comment-page-1/#comment-350736

    situsinversus
    31 May 2012 at 10:02 am

    The problem is that so far there is no evidence of systemic harassment of women at TAM as proposed by Rebecca Watson. The data in fact indicates incidents are sporadic and most appear to have been dealt with on the spot. See DJ point (9) http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/05/30/where-are-the-women/#comment-84687

    Those proposing that TAM is unsafe for women have to come up with data that supports this assertion. Data that is not based on sporadic event, rumors, or personal foibles of speakers.

    I’m not sure if this constitutes morphing or spamming. (So I’m reporting it.)

  123. situsinversus says

    So TAM is not included as part of the freethought community space?

    Yes. I thought it was important to post the same comment in both threads.

  124. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    I’m a bit shocked that DJ has now directly stated that I have created an unwelcome environment for women by telling USA Today that I was wrong to think of the skeptic and atheist communities of ~2004 as safe spaces for me.
    I really don’t even know what to say.

    C’mon Ms. Watson – haven’t you learned by now that EVERYTHING is your fault? Its not warm and sunny in my neck of the woods today – that’s your fault. It might rain tomorrow – that’s your fault too.

    I can’t believe we’re still at the ‘blame the bitchez’ stage. What the fuck is “rational” or “skeptical” about that? Blame women for speaking out and not just absorbing this shit like an obedient little sponges. How rational! How skeptical! Plus, everything Bug Girl said in #39.

  125. Metaphysical Ham Sandwich says

    At this point, do we really know that “I think TAM is unsafe.” is the reason for the drop in women attendance?

  126. says

    situsinversus, get honest fast or get gone. You’re not actually important enough to the conversation to stick around if you can’t stand behind what you actually said when you’re shown you’re wrong.

  127. situsinversus says

    A survey is statistical in nature and may not include sporadic events. If the problem was real and systemic and TAM it would have been reflected by the survey regardless of whether it included certain events or not.

  128. says

    So, situsinversus, exactly what questions were on the survey? And how many sporadic events do there have to be before we can talk about them without being accused of scaring women away?

  129. says

    Stephanie Zvan,

    Where is what evidence taking me?

    We have one unreported incident – so how can JREF be held responsible for this?

    We have an anonymous source telling us X happened – you really believe anonymous sources?

    I am sorry, but your standard of evidence is way lower than mine.

    I am fully prepared to be convinced by the evidence. But I need to see it, not to be told it’s somewhere. I hope you understand that.

    Just saw your response to Ticktock: Now I get it: It isn’t about how JREF handles sexual harassment at TAM, but about D.J.

    SallyStrange,

    No data is offered that the environment for women at skeptic, atheist and humanist conventions is ignoring/encouraging sexual harassment against women.

    The incident was reported (thus substantiating re. Part B), however it was not reported as sexual harassment. Not because D.J. tried to sweep it under the carpet, but because he didn’t have the information he has now.

    Yet, you, and others, think the worst of him, and JREF in general.

    And you can drop that insinuation that I reminded you of being skeptical because you are female (while, apparently, it is A-OK for you to diss me because I am a man).

    I don’t care what gender you are, but I do care if you call yourself a skeptic and ignore what skepticism is.

  130. Timid Atheist says

    So TAM is not included as part of the freethought community space?

    What’s the point of this question? You misrepresented Rebecca’s quote by saying it was only about TAM. When it was shown to you that her comment was not about TAM specifically, but about the community as a whole, you’re suddenly changing tactics?

    It is one thing to single out an event as being unsafe, it is another to talk about a sense someone gets from a community at large.

    At this point, do we really know that “I think TAM is unsafe.” is the reason for the drop in women attendance?

    At this point, we do not because the only evidence of this was a broad assertion that the result must be because of the discussions by certain skeptics and atheists that the community has a problem with sexism and harassment.

    DJ Grothe has no proof that any of his points caused the drop in attendance by women to TAM.

  131. BJ Kramer says

    There’s a third option: women choosing not to attend because of the perception that any harassment may be dismissed and/or covered up by the event organizers.

    To me, this is the biggest turn-off.

    It’s a given that harassment is a possibility. Or are you contending that TAM is radically different from society in general on that front? If so, please explain why and back it up.

    You’re right, that is a third option. However, we’ve been over the DJ-throws-the-drunk-guy-out case and it’s pretty clear he behaved exactly right. If there are serious allegations remaining that he dismissed or covered up incidents of harassment they should be brought up specifically. I’d happily insist he be immediately fired if he actually did that.

    I suspect TAM is probably quite similar to the public at large. Additionally, I suspect higher education correlates with fewer serious incidents, but possibly poorer-than-average social skills may correlate with an increase of minor incidents. That may be a wash. But that’s just my speculation (you asked), and it doesn’t change anything.

    And nobody, not even DJ, has claimed that there is no risk, just no recorded incidents. He can’t fix what he isn’t told about.

    The organizers, and everyone else for that matter, need to fucking stop with the resentful bitter blaming if women do make vague complaints on the internet later.

    If you react this way to “vague complaints” then the probability that specific complaints will be met with hostility and victim-blaming is significantly raised.

    I read quite a few comments from DJ and at no point did he sound to me like he was engaging in “resentful bitter blaming”. He’s trying to accomplish the same thing you are, making TAM a safe, wonderful environment from all involved. He just came to a different conclusion than you; specifically, that exaggerating the problem of sexist behavior is actually making the problem worse. Disagree and bring your evidence (as he has tried to do), but he hasn’t resorted to name-calling.

    I’n not sure what “react this way” means you think DJ did about the vague complaints, but your logic is deeply flawed. Whatever his reaction to vague complaints, we know how he handled the one real complaint that reached him — the drunk at the speaker’s reception. He handled that quickly and professionally. If anything, you’re exactly wrong; with more specific information we have reason to believe he’d be far more effective.

  132. situsinversus says

    Do we honestly think that TAM was being excluded from Rebecca’s comment? She said the whole freethought movement was unsafe for women. TAM is the meeting for that movement.

    It is not the “unsafe” quote that may reduce attendance but the constant insidious insinuations

  133. says

    situsinversus is gone from the discussion here. “Well, Rebecca sorta said something like that, but really, the problem is something else even though I said it was what Rebecca said” is not honesty, and I’m too fucking busy to put up with it.

  134. Jean K says

    Stephanie, So … you think when someone conducts a survey, they combine the survey results with other reports? No, they just don’t. The reason why they don’t is because they have no idea whether that creates double counting. Suppose DJ has Ashley’s report about the incident, separate from the survey. Does he add it to the survey? No, of course not, because he doesn’t know whether Ashley has anonymously already reported the incident on the survey. If he added the separate report to the survey, he’d be messing up his statistics. This is just obvious. If you want something counted in an anonymous survey, you’ve got to write it down. You can’t count on it being included because you told some one else, even if someone in an official capacity. If you really find this puzzling, well, I’m puzzled. I would just say you need to think more about how anonymous surveys work.

  135. says

    Actually, Jean, I think you need to think a little bit more about how reporting of harassment works–or is supposed to work. This has nothing to do with “combining” anything. It has to do with recordkeeping and reporting. Your assumption that a survey would be the go-to place for these is problematic.

  136. Utakata says

    I find this a real sad state of affairs. It seems a number of DJ Grothe apologists are posting here demanding evidence, yet they’re not providing any real evidence that those who speak about harrassment are the ones that are turning off its female attendees. It seems all about reasoning the indefensible and constructing straw men, because it’s quite likely they know they’re and DJ are in the wrong and simply don’t want to admit to it. /shrug

  137. says

    @Claus Larsen:

    I am sorry, but your standard of evidence is way lower than mine.

    The standard of evidence needed to support the claim that harassment happened at any big event where men and women interact should be pretty damn low. It’s not like this is uncommon. It is not an extraordinary claim at all. The claim that such an event was entirely harassment-free, however, is an extraordinary claim, requiring an extraordinarily high standard of evidence. I didn’t see you offer any, though.

  138. Jean K says

    Yes, I think you’re right about what I’m assuming–that the survey was the “go to” place as far as measuring amounts of sexism and other problems was concerned. Surely DJ did intend to use the survey for that purpose, and that seems all to the good. To know how much sexism (and other problems) exist, you need reports from all participants and you need them to be anonymous. I think it makes sense that he drew his conclusions about amounts of sexism from that survey. If he’d drawn his conclusions from the survey plus other sources, there would have been the problem of double counting I already mentioned (counting someone by name who’s also made the same report anonymously in the survey). So he did just what he needed to do, as far as I’m concerned. If he didn’t capture all the problems in his survey, the problem has got to be that some people didn’t take it, or that there was under-reporting, or that the questions were badly phrased. So–I’d also like to know what the questions were.

  139. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    At this point, do we really know that “I think TAM is unsafe.” is the reason for the drop in women attendance?

    Well, speaking only for myself. I’m dropping out of TAM because I have a more limited amount of fun-monies to spend on non-necessities this year. And I sure as shit am not going to spend that money on an event whose Powers That Be have plainly told a woman who’s been the focus of psychotic hatred and threats for a fucking year by people who presumably attend these conferences that its her fault women don’t feel safe, when they have absolutely no fucking proof that is the reason for the drop in female attendance. Where’s the calls for “hard evidence” for that, boys?

    Given the constant implication all over the comment threads about this topic on multiple blogs that this isn’t problem really all that bad because bitchez always lie, are irrational, untrustworthy and are, of course hysterical, I say Enjoy your sausage-fest, boys.

  140. BJ Kramer says

    Deen, Utakata:

    There’s been much heat generated about ‘evidence’. The only evidence possible would be the JREF’s recordkeeping and surveys, which do reasonably defend DJ.

    Opposed to that we have some belated anecdotes (mostly vague), rumors, and assertions that the record-keeping and surveys are worthless because of the anecdotes and rumors.

    Or course there’s going to be harassment at a conference with 1500 people; nobody, not even DJ, would claim otherwise. But first and foremost we need to know what the facts are, and the JREF has made attempts to collect data. They know it could be better; we all do. But it is something. We need better data this year.

    The best way to do that is to stop insisting that vague belated anecdotes be treated as authoritative (which is a disincentive to report), and start encouraging detailed reporting to staff at the time of offense.

  141. Metaphysical Ham Sandwich says

    So far “I can’t afford it” has been the only response I’ve heard from actual women who actually decided not to go this year.

    It’s admittedly a small sample size, but surely women being disproportionately affected by the economy might be a factor here?

    Granted, this kerfluffle clearly won’t help the numbers either. :P

  142. Lauren says

    It seems to me that DJ has successfully framed the issue as one of “safety,” i.e. physical safety. Have women been raped at TAM? No? Then women must not be coming because those crazy bitches made them fear being raped at TAM.

    So DJ’s got people spilling lots of ink over “safety.” That’s easily defended territory for him. He could have presented his dilemma of losing women neutrally and non-judgmentally, instead of jumping to the conclusion that women aren’t signing up because other irresponsible, lying, hysterical women made them afraid for their physical safety. He might have discovered that the unpleasantness women experience at any conference, including his, is more about disrespect, marginalization, being discounted, dismissed, and condescended to. All of which negatives he has revealed by his own behavior in this particular kerfluffle.

    This is not to discount leering, groping, assault, and rape as issues to be dealt with, but those physical safety issues are just the tip of the iceberg. The vast amount of verbal and attitudinal crap below the surface of those physical manifestations may be what turns women off of his conference. To try to wrap his problem up in small box of “physical safety” ignores the majority of what bothers women about good-old-boy-ism.

  143. says

    A majority of women will experience harassment during their lifetime, but only a small fraction of women will be harassed on a given day in a given setting.

    No argument here, I want to add something:
    Sexual harassment is so commonplace that women often file it under “unimportant” themselves. There isn’t only a good chance for me to have an unpleasant encounter any given day, there’s also a good chance that I will have forgotten by the time I get to talk to my husband in the evening.

    Utakata

    I find this a real sad state of affairs. It seems a number of DJ Grothe apologists are posting here demanding evidence, yet they’re not providing any real evidence that those who speak about harrassment are the ones that are turning off its female attendees.

    Spot on!
    Obviously, skepticism only works in one direction.
    So, where’s the scientific survey that provides the evidence?
    Oh wait, there isn’t any but DJ’s assumptions. Which are, of course, more credible than anything else.

  144. says

    D.J. Grothe could have handled this so much better… and while I’m not going to play mind-reader, I’m convinced by his behavior that he’s operating under a different set of assumptions than what almost everyone else seems to assume.

    While I wait for my turban and cape to come back from the cleaners, here’s my take on what could have and should have happened. D.J. Grothe could easily have said this:

    Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed.

    While we at JREF pride ourselves on providing a safe place for all people regardless of gender, race, disability, etc., and we’ve got a code of conduct in place we know that no conference is perfect and that problems still exist. We invite your feedback, comments, complaints, and suggestions as to how to improve the situation for everyone involved. We will also be exploring, with the help of the best experts we can find from within and without JREF, more effective was to deal with reporting and managing this issue for our organization and hopefully to serve as a model for other conferences in the skeptical and associated communities.

    It might even have been blowing smoke up everyone’s ass, but it would have prevented the current shitstorm that will now discourage women AND the men who care about them from participating in TAM. So, willing to insult, dismiss, and marginalize women in favor of… well, in favor of who exactly? I just got a call from the cleaners, and I can already feel my psychic powers coming back. They are telling me that the question that needs to be answered is “If JREF is willing to alienate a huge swath of the skeptical/freethought/atheist communities, then they must see a benefit. Who benefits?”

  145. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    The best way to do that is to stop insisting that vague belated anecdotes be treated as authoritative (which is a disincentive to report),

    Translation: bitchez always lie, are irrational, untrustworthy and are, of course, hysterical.

  146. says

    @BJ Kramer:

    The only evidence possible would be the JREF’s recordkeeping and surveys, which do reasonably defend DJ.

    And as has been pointed out several times now, that evidence is
    (1) not evidence of absence of harassment
    (2) already shown to be incomplete by the testimony of several witnesses.

    They know it could be better;

    That’s not the impression I’m getting from DJ’s comments.

    We need better data this year.

    Then why didn’t DJ say this, and instead suggested we should talk about it less?

    The best way to do that is to stop insisting that vague belated anecdotes be treated as authoritative (which is a disincentive to report)

    Really? And dismissing personal experiences – especially coming from multiple people corroborating each other’s stories – as “vague belated anecdotes” or “mere rumors” (as others have called it) isn’t a disincentive to report?

    “Pictures or it didn’t happen” comes to mind…

  147. Utakata says

    @ BJ Kramer

    “There’s been much heat generated about ‘evidence’. The only evidence possible would be the JREF’s recordkeeping and surveys, which do reasonably defend DJ.”

    Yet, these “records” appear to be blaming the victims. As in telling them to STFU about it, because they’re driving others away. I don’t believe that’s a reasonable position by any stretch of the imagination.

    However, I’ll let others here who are more well suited for this, dissect the particulars of these records better. But I strongly suspect the record keeping and what is was asking went off the rails somewhere. Just saying.

  148. says

    This constant conflation between TAM and the skeptical/atheist community as a whole keeps bugging me… People seem to keep taking comments about the community and deciding they equally apply to every part of the community…

  149. Frogmistress says

    Honestly, do people really expect that women would answer a survey with “Well, I had fun except for all the misogyny going on”?

    We shouldn’t have to complain about the sexism. We shouldn’t have to complain about the harassment. We shouldn’t be the only ones to recognize that harassment is occurring.

    And when we do speak up about it, our complaints shouldn’t be blamed for any perceived decrease in women’s attendance.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] would think JREF would be grateful. But then DJ Grothe, president of JREF, blamed women talking about sexism and harassment for a reported decline in women registering for TA…. Say what? DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment. I found that [...]

  2. [...] The FtB crowd have been getting a kicking recently, especially with the recent JREF events, because of stances they tend to take. Most of this has nothing to do with Paula. There are plenty of other people calling Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight feminazis, and if you search #FTBullies on Twitter you’ll find pages and pages of results. Ophelia in particular has mentioned this in on Butterflies and Wheels, and it was no doubt she and other FtB writers who DJ Grothe originally called ‘irresponsible’. [...]