He Said/She Said at #TAM2014

I was at the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference all day yesterday, but I still had people asking me whether I was going to address the talk by Carol Tavris on rape allegations and rape culture that she gave at TAM on Friday night. The short answer is “Maybe”.

The problem is that I don’t have the talk. All I have is the tweets. They’re terrible, by and large, but most of them come from people who are already terrible on this topic. This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers. There’s a certain motivation for the attendees to pull out every dismissive, permissive, victim-blaming message possible from a talk on rape. The tribalism in the tweets is not subtle. I could give a talk on rape myths in front of that audience, and the Twitter feed would still be terrible.

So I’ll wait to see whether the talk is released to a general audience. If the point was to rally the troops, it may not be. And if it stays private, it can’t be used to bolster bad policy recommendations based on its credentials of having been delivered by a skeptic at a skeptic conference. If it does come out, then I’ll see what it actually says. I may write about some of the tweeted messages in the meantime, because they’re common enough to be worth addressing, but I won’t assume those were actually in Tavris’s talk itself.

So…maybe. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the tweeted account of the talk. [Read more...]

About This CONvergence Thing

I’m recovering from con crud (slept until four Tuesday afternoon and still got to bed reasonably early Wednesday night, as a measure of strain on my body). Since CONvergence has been with me a few days longer than expected, I might as well write a little bit about the experience. Goodness knows I’m not getting a lot else done.

CONvergence is a strange experience for me. As I said more than once over the course of the weekend, the con crosses all my streams. I would estimate that I know 3-5% of the attendees. When more than 6,300 people attend, this means I know an awful lot of the people there, and they come from all over my life.

In addition to the huge crew of volunteers that make SkepchickCon and the FtB party room work, there’s a large local contingent of atheist and skeptic geeks who find CONvergence friendlier to their interests since more skepticism and science programming has been added. I went to college with one of the founders of CONvergence and met more through the generation of Renaissance Festival workers that they and my husband are all part of. I’ve been attending cons in the region for well over a decade, meeting regular attendees. Many of CONvergence’s year-round volunteers also come from both of these groups.

Then there are the writers. At least four people I’ve been in writers groups with were at CONvergence. Two other writers groups where I know most of the members were well-represented, along with locals who aren’t in writers groups or whose groups are online. And because F&SF is a small field, these writers know all the other fiction writers there, from the guests of honor to all the writers who were guests once and keep coming back because CONvergence took good care of them and the spirit of thoughtful squee is appealing. They know the fan writers (a category that includes critics) too, because this isn’t so much a clique as an intellectual ecosystem, in which everyone creates and consumes and creates in a dialog with what they consume.

I don’t know quite all these writers, because I haven’t actively written fiction in a few years and because my own fan writing is not consistent or frequent enough to make me recognizable and because even in a four-day weekend there is only so much time to meet even very cool friends of friends, but I know a lot of them. I know so many of them that I can’t keep track of which of them are at CONvergence in any given year. We see each other serendipitously and often in passing, if at all.

This means CONvergence sees me pulled in lots of different directions, sometimes trying to manage an interruption to an interruption to an interruption, and sometimes finding myself with no dinner plans because everyone assumed I was busy elsewhere. It means spending a lot of time on the edges of social groups because I don’t have the time or attention to become central to them. It means sometimes being frustrated that I can’t spend the time I’d like with all the people at com whom I admire the hell out of.

It also means that spending a good chunk of time interacting with someone I’ve never met is a rarity. Sometimes it’s even a bit of an oddity. [Read more...]

Returning to the Scene, Or Coming Back After Harassment

This isn’t a post I wanted to write. In early April, I wrote a 900-word letter to the chairs of Wiscon 38 in hopes that, not only would I not have to write this post, but I would be able to write a much happier post instead. The letter started:

I am, of course, writing to you about Jim Frenkel.

I’m a long-time WisCon attendee, although I haven’t attended the last two years due to a scheduling conflict. I still consider WisCon one of my “home” cons even though I live in Minneapolis.

I’ve also been in the middle of the sexual harassment storm in the atheist and skeptical movements. I led the push to get policies in place for our conferences. I’ve consulted with organizations writing policies. I’ve written extensively about the topic. And I’ve both whipped up and eased anger on the topic as I felt it was appropriate and could be productive.

So when I say WisCon is headed for an internet explosion, I both know what I’m talking about and am invested in heading it off. I’ve been talking to several friends who have received their programming information, and the chatter isn’t pretty, as I’m guessing you already know. I would much rather see WisCon be an example of what to do right than end up a patch of scorched earth. To that end, I’m offering some unsolicited advice and some help to make my recommendations easier to follow if you think they have merit.

The rest of the letter consisted of three specific recommendations and a template for a statement proactively addressing the return of Jim Frenkel after a harassment complaint last year led to the sharing of additional harassment complaints* and ultimately Frenkel’s parting ways with the publishing company for which he had long been an editor. I sent the letter because friends had noticed Frenkel’s name showing up in the preliminary programming for this year. They had written to the co-chairs or to the concom (convention committee) and not been pleased with the responses they received.

So I put in hours of work on that letter and statement, covering both the possibility that they were lacking only in communication and the possibility that they hadn’t worked the decision through in an organized fashion. I did some of the work they would need to do in order to get ahead of the problem and offered to do more or to find them a person acceptable to them who would. I didn’t insist that Frenkel not be allowed to return, but I did make it clear that they would need to be able to explain their decision if he came back.

This is the response I received a few hours after I sent my email.

Stephanie,

Thank you for your input.


Piglet Evans, chair@wiscon.info
WisCon 38 co-chair

[Read more...]

How to Moderate a Panel

So you’re thinking about running a session for FtBCon, but you haven’t moderated a panel discussion before. Or you ran one, but you didn’t feel that you knew quite how to make it go the way you wanted it to. We’re here to help.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Moderating a panel discussion, like most complex skills, looks effortless when done by someone with experience. It’s easy to underestimate how much work it is until you’re the person expected to keep things moving, on topic, interesting, and interactive all at once. Here’s a guide to make it easier when you find yourself in that position with no idea what to do. [Read more...]

Find Me at CONvergence

I’m not sure why everyone is so excited to get their CONvergence/SkepchickCon schedules up. I mean, the con is a whole week away! (Eek, it’s only a week away!) (Yay, only one more week to CONvergence!)

All right. Here’s where I can be found over the Fourth of July weekend:

Thursday, July 3

When Science Isn’t Your Friend 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When has science hurt people in reality and what has that taught us about how science should be practiced? We’ll discuss everything from the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks to continuing issues like surgery on intersex babies. Panelists: Stephanie Zvan (mod), Caleph Wilson, PZ Myers, Mary Brock, Debbie Goddard

Saberhagen’s Dracula10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., Atrium 3

Fred Saberhagen wrote a series of books from Dracula’s point of view, including The Dracula Tape, Old Friend of the Family, and more. We’ll discuss his work, particularly the more complicated moral portrayal of vampires. Panelists: Paul Weimer, Stephanie Zvan

Saturday, July 5

Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down? 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Edina

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done? Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6

I’m starting Sunday morning at 9 a.m. by interviewing Dr. Rubidium for Atheists Talk radio about, among other things, using pop culture to communicate science.

Evaluating Scientific Claims 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Plaza 1

You’ve just heard or read about an amazing scientific claim. Where do you go to start vetting the claim or the study, especially if you’re not a scientist? What are the signs that it might be hyped, misleading, or false? Panelists: Caleph Wilson (mod), Siouxsie Wiles, Stephanie Zvan, Shawn Otto, Heina Dadabhoy

Science of Group Differences 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Atrium 6

Men are from Sirius; women are from the Pleiades. Am I right? Let’s talk about all that research on sex and racial differences and what it means in day-to-day life. Is there any significance beyond the statistical? Panelists: Will Robertson, Stephanie Zvan, Betsy Lundsten, Desiree Schell (mod)

Science ‘Fiction’ Journalism 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When more and more news outlets are dropping their dedicated science staff, what happens to the quality of the news coverage? How much of what we read is just plain wrong, and what can we do about it? Panelists: Rob Callahan, Shawn Otto, Debbie Goddard, Stephanie Zvan

I’ll also be in the FtB party room each evening.

Then I collapse and hope I haven’t gotten con crud or can get over it before the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference the next weekend.

Tell Us What You Want to See at FtBCon3

In case you haven’t already seen the news, July 22 is the deadline to submit your panel proposals for FtBConscience3.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Don’t want to run a panel but you still have ideas about what you want to see? That’s okay too. While proposals that come with a moderator and participants baked in save us time and energy and are viewed with gratitude, your con runners are happy to do some recruiting for topics you particularly want to see. [Read more...]

Meeting Creepy

Kate Leth did another great comic for Comics Alliance. This one is for those fans who are afraid of being creepy in expressing their admiration for the creators of the content they love. Here’s a quick taste of the dilemma.

Two panels of cartoon. Panel one: Fan says, "Hi! Um, I'm a huge fan. I've read all your work!" Artist says, "Thank you!" Panel 2: Fan looks stressed and says, "Oh, God, that must sound so CREEPY!"

This comic sparked a discussion between a few of us who are relatively new to speaking and conferences about what we are and aren’t comfortable with at conferences. With Women in Secularism this weekend, this seemed like a good time to talk about where my boundaries fall for meeting creepy with fans. [Read more...]

So You’ve Got Yourself a Policy. Now What?

I talk to a lot of people about anti-harassment policies. For a long time, those discussions were mostly about why we should have them for our events. After that, figuring out what to put in them predominated. Much discussion has gone into how to treat people who come forward to report abuse and how and whether to share information with people who might have a legitimate interest.

Those are all good discussions to have. I think they’ve generally been productive. Some of them, like sharing information, will be ongoing for a while as we make good decisions and bad in these uncharted waters. Lately, however, a different topic has been surfacing.

We know from situations in which they’ve failed that “zero-tolerance” policies, policies in which any act that is deemed to be unacceptable results in expulsion and exclusion, don’t work well. They fail in three main ways. People who are against harassment policies in general are quick to point out that they leave no room for honest mistakes. They are correct when talking about zero-tolerance policies, even if they make the same criticism about all policies.

These policies also fail because they discourage reporting. People who experience undesirable behavior under zero-tolerance policies know that reporting may well lead to expulsion. That frequently isn’t what they’re looking for. They just want the behavior to stop. This means that much undesirable behavior goes unreported. Even people who have experienced significant harassment won’t always report if reporting means taking responsibility for someone being expelled and excluded.

Finally, zero-tolerance policies fail because they’re difficult for organizers to follow. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. When there’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy, it gets harder for organizers to determine they’re making the right choice. Patterns of behavior are easier to work with than a single incident. Except in blatant cases, a single incident may be ambiguous where a pattern of behavior won’t be. This can lead to very high standards of evidence being required for action because the only action allowed is drastic.

It’s little wonder that we avoid zero-tolerance policies. At the same time, however, we haven’t talked much about how event organizers should deal with behavior that, on its own, may not merit expulsion. And if organizers don’t feel they have the knowledge to do more than expel or ignore, we end up with de facto zero-tolerance policies. [Read more...]

Skeptech Is Over

My weekend started at 8 a.m. Thursday morning and finished just a few hours ago. I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in that time. I’ve tweeted a ridiculous amount, took a shift overseeing a conference safe space, and moderated two panels, one with very little notice. I’ve had a house full of people, who all decided to congregate in the living room for some reason. I’ve seen people drool over our kitchen knives and our dog. I’ve had several conversations about what the skeptical and secular movements need and how to make those things happen. And I’ve heard more people griping about the snow….

Now, Skeptech is over. People have made dates to talk about planning for next year, then caught planes or collapsed in their respective corners. I’m too tired to really think about the conference, though I swear I had IDEAS up until the time I stopped moving. But here are some scattered thoughts. [Read more...]