Ever since I suggested that event organizers adopt anti-harassment policies for their events, I’ve been seeing two sorts of deeply concerned comments on the idea. (Well, three really, but the complaint that I suggested a policy put together by feminists just makes me laugh.) The first is captured in this comment:
One can try to set some more solid standards but you immediately hit the issue that some people will consider it simply normal behaviour and some people will consider it out of place and harassment. This is why it’s generally better to place the standard on the “reasonable person” standard, which says that it is if a reasonable person under those circumstances ought to know that it will be unacceptable. “Wanna fuck?” might hit that in most cases, while “Go for coffee” might not.
The problem is that by that standard you will indeed, and MUST, have incidents be examined on the basis of whether or not it was obvious to a reasonable person. This can feel like victim-blaming, but not everything that a “victim” thinks is a problem reasonably is. If someone, for example, cried harassment because someone coming up behind them said “Excuse me” to get them to move aside, surely we’d all agree that that wouldn’t be reasonable. And groping and sexual insults are obvious to the reasonable person. It’s the things in-between where we’re seeing most of the problems, it seems to me.
You see, we have this huge problem that might make us hem and haw and hesitate in putting policies in place because what if–what if?!–two people had a different definition of harassment on that all so perfectly reasonable border cases! Whatever would we do?!!?
Oh, I don’t know, look at the proposed policy maybe? What kind of horrible events would result in this case?
A participant may be expelled by the decision of any of the above listed entities for whatever reasons they deem sufficient. However, here are some general guidelines for when a participant should be expelled:
- A [first/second/third/seventeenth] offense resulting in a warning from staff
- Continuing to harass after any “No” or “Stop” instruction
- A pattern of harassing behavior, with or without warnings
- A single serious offense (e.g., punching or groping someone)
- A single obviously intentional offense (e.g., taking up-skirt photos)
- [Your guideline here]
Huh. Looks to me like someone who did one thing that simply made one person uncomfortable enough to make a report would probably have a chat with staff. A solution that made the event comfortable for both parties might even be suggested. The tragedy. Darn those unreasonable feminists.
This is not a controversy. It is not a problem of anti-harassment policies like the ones proposed.
Then there are the comments that are mostly coming from people I already had in moderation.
Out of pure interest, is anyone going to EVER address any point about what you’ll do to guard against false accusations?
Ah, yes. Ye olde false accusations.
You know, I’m always amused by the worry about false accusations–assuming that it really is worry and not a simple matter of poisoning the well. Given that the particular IP address that came from is most likely being used by someone who had substantiated accusations of harassment against him, I do have to wonder, of course.
Why does it amuse me? Because the guys who get the tiniest taste of what women dea with all the time end up being such whiny babies about it. Afraid you won’t be believed when it comes to harassment? Join the club.
Women live with that fear day in and day out, and for us, it’s a much more realistic fear than it is for any guy looking at the simple implementation of a harassment policy. It doesn’t matter for us that there are witnesses, not even multiple, well-respected witnesses. We still won’t be believed. We’ll face questions over whether the incident happened at all. If that can’t be questioned, we’ll have the details doubted or our interpretations of someone’s behavior or even whether, as with the first question presented here, we have any right to decide that we don’t like what’s being done to us. For those of you who’ve been paying attention in the skeptic or atheist blogosphere in the last year, you’ve seen all that happen.
This kind of questioning doesn’t just come from random strangers on the internet either. A friend was recently at a conference where her tattoo was considered consent enough for random people to touch her. When she objected, her friends, who were part of the crowd, told her that of course she didn’t really mind–because the name she uses online can be interpreted as flirty. Her friends, the people who were supposed to be on her side, told her this while strangers were poking at her.
So when some guy comes along and gets all panicky about the idea that they might not have every word of theirs treated as gospel, I have nothing to tell them except that this is what equality looks like. Guys lie about harassment all the time. Not all of them, but enough that we have the problem and have to deal with it. So maybe if these terribly, terribly concerned people spent their time getting other guys to stop lying, they wouldn’t have to worry about someone lying about them.
It would be a lot more productive than whining about these policies.