Yesterday, I asked people to help Kylie collect information on why women don’t return to TAM. I included D.J. Grothe’s hypothesis on the topic. As Kylie was asleep in Australia, D.J. left a response (to what exactly, I’m not sure) in my comments as well. Rebecca Watson took the opportunity to ask D.J. to clarify part of his original hypothesis, which he did. He left an additional comment, which was largely repetition of prior points, as well.
I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight and comment on some of what D.J. had to say. First, from the original hypothesis:
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.
There are a few interesting points to note here. First and foremost, I very much hope that D.J. is not telling us that JREF has gotten complaints about specific speakers that he is calling “misinformation” and blaming on the discussion of the last two weeks. To the best of my knowledge, only one person has publicly named a speaker, and she was specific about what she said that speaker had done to her. If people have been writing in about that speaker, to the best of my knowledge, D.J. is not in a position to determine whether that is misinformation.
If people are writing in about other specific, named speakers and D.J. is also dismissing this as “misinformation”, there is an organizational problem that needs addressing immediately. That information has not been spread publicly, which means that someone not feeling safe about a particular speaker has their own reasons for doing so. Those reasons may not be public information, but neither does that mean they are invalid. If JREF doesn’t have a better policy in place for dealing with this kind of information than scoffing about it publicly, I think D.J. has one more answer about why people might not feel safe at TAM.
Then there is the problem of using the word “misinformation” at all. If you are misinformed, you’ve been told something that is incorrect. Starting from the position that the people who have been saying there’s a problem with some speakers are incorrect can only lead you to one conclusion, whether that conclusion is true or not. So if some of the speakers who speak at TAM are dangerous to some of the audience, that kind of closed inquiry can never uncover it.
You can see the effects of D.J.’s presuppositions in a later comment.
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.
So now you know. If you were considering reporting harassment or assault to JREF so that they could make their speaker roster more safe, you now know what kind of person you are and what actually happened–all before you tell him. At least according to this comment. For anyone who was trying to find out why these things aren’t reported, here’s one answer.
For the record, no, that’s not the kind of thing we’re talking about. One of the incidents, told to me by the person it happened to, was an attempted rape. And Jen has been clear about the scope of the problem from the beginning.
Both female friends and strangers confided in me, telling me stories of speakers that talked only to their chest, groped them against their wishes, followed them to their hotel room, or had goals to bag a young hottie at every speaking gig they did.
As for D.J.’s insinuation that it’s “misinformation” that he holds any particular opinion, that would require someone saying that he does. If the complaints he’s gotten have been based on his own words and actions, he doesn’t get to deflect that onto anyone else. I did warn him of that. He preferred to blame me and keep making public statements like the ones here.
At Rebecca’s request, D.J. also got more specific about which statements were causing women to stay away from TAM this year. Part of the fault was Rebecca’s.
“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. . . ”
If we tell people that our events or our movements are not safe for women, some women are bound to believe that.
D.J. doesn’t say that Rebecca was wrong. Just that people are staying away because she spoke up. And then there are those elipses…
“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.”
Yes, Rebecca is painting such a dire picture–of people tackling a problem. Eek.
Or maybe I’m the problem. Or Jen. After all, D.J. linked four posts from us pointing out that there is a problem with speakers and trying to get it fixed in a responsible way. Of course, all of those posts have gone up in the last two weeks. I’m pretty sure the gender ratio of TAM attendees has not changed appreciably in that time. Someone please let me know if that’s wrong.
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?]
If a bunch of conferences share their harassment-report data, then take action based on patterns of reports, this is nothing like “a blacklist of ‘sexist’ speakers”. It is responsible behavior based on patterns of harassment, and minimizing it as targeting scare-quoted sexism is appalling.
Then there are the statistics D.J. quoted from TAM’s survey and from incident reports. I’ll tread lightly over this, because the discussion is still ongoing. As I write this, we don’t know how the survey questions were phrased. We do know that there were incidents last year that were reported to D.J. but not included in any incident reports for various reasons. I’ll refer everyone to Ashley Miller to keep up with that.
Essentially, shortcomings have been exposed in the reporting system for harassment at TAM. I sincerely hope they’ll be straightened out before this year’s event. I also hope that D.J. will publicly revise his public statement that there were no events reported for TAM last year. I hope, for JREF’s sake, that he revises that soon.
As for the rest of it, I’d also like to think that D.J. would reconsider his allegations that people trying to fix the problems in this community are [ETA: any sort of major force] driving people away from the community by doing so, particularly since it’s demonstrably wrong [ETA: based on all the data collected to date]. From what I’ve seen, however, D.J. is not capable of changing his mind on that. He’s not capable of listening to the people telling him that he’s part of the problem. Given all that, this looks ever more reasonable.