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Dealing with badly behaving speakers

At last weekend’s Women in Secularism conference, I accidentally set off a lot of discussion with something I said during a panel. I say “accidentally” because I wasn’t planning on talking about this specific point, nor did I think it would result in such a reaction. 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.

It certainly made my first big con a little more stressful. But it became more stressful when I realized this was far more pervasive than I thought. As I started getting more involved in these communities, more and more stories came out of the woodwork. 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. Once after I had publicly criticized someone on my blog, people made sure to warn me that this person had a skeevy record. I had to request friends attending the con to be extra diligent about making sure I wasn’t alone.

The same names kept popping up over time. None are particularly shocking, honestly. They’re all people who have been criticized for public sexist comments that they’ve made. Which does not mean everyone who’s made a sexist comment is also making inappropriate advances – it’s a subset. But women in the movement had formed an unofficial underground network of knowledge, making sure to warn people about who to avoid.

There are obviously problems with this. A commenter at Almost Diamonds summarized it well:

You will, of course, do whatever you want, but I find it very upsetting to be told that, “You should come to our conferences! Of course, some of the people who really have a chunk of power at the conferences (the speakers) are known to treat women badly, and thus might treat you badly. But I won’t tell you who they are, so you’ll just have to hope you don’t encounter them or, if you do encounter them, that they won’t treat you badly. But do come!”

I’ve been to one secular/atheist/freethinker conference, and I was treated badly by a man (not a speaker). As awful as it was, the one of the things that made it bearable was the thought that no one knew this was going to happen and that if they had, they would have acted to support me. To think that I might go through a similar experience with a speaker while knowing that other people knew what was going to happen but felt no need to warn me makes me very angry, and it makes me feel like I’m not safe to go to conferences.

It’s all well and good to advise “networking behind the scenes,” but I don’t have a fucking network, and that’s part of the reason I feel like going to conferences might be good for me. But if I have to network behind the scenes to be safe at conferences, then I have to already have what I’m looking for to be safe.

Maybe I’m being selfish about this. Maybe I’m too angry. But I’ve been abused enough in my life. I am not about to set myself up to be abused again, and it makes my eyes tear up and my throat constrict to think that going to these conferences means going to interact with people who everyone else may know is abusive but won’t warn me because I don’t have connections.

This commenter has every right to be angry. I’m angry at myself for being part of the problem – for being someone with this knowledge who has no clue what to do with it.

“Why don’t you just publish a list of names?” you ask. If only it were that easy. Imagine what would happen if I published a list of names based on hearsay alone. I don’t have video evidence. I don’t even have personal experience – people now know I’m a loud mouth blogger, which makes me a terrible target. Even though I trust my friends to be truthful, and patterns of bad behavior make the hearsay convincing, it’s an easy target for skeptics. There’d be a flood of accusations that people are lying or oversensitive.

Not only that, but I fear the consequences. Look at what happened to Rebecca Watson when she simply said “guys, don’t do that” about an anonymous conference attendee. Imagine the shitstorm if there were public accusations of sexual misconduct of some very famous speakers. I’m not ready for the flood of rape and death threats. I’m not ready to be blacklisted and have my atheist “career” ruined by people more powerful and influential than me. I’m not ready to be sued for libel or slander. I’m not ready for the SSA or other organizations I’m affiliated with to also be harmed by association. And that’s exactly how all of these other women feel – hence the silence (See Stephanie Zvan’s lovely FAQ for this situation).

It’s a terrible Catch 22.

And I frankly don’t know how to navigate this minefield. I’m a scientist by day, with atheism and feminism as my hobbies. I’m not an HR specialist. I’m out of my element.

But because of my random comment, progress is already being made. For one, I didn’t realize so many people were oblivious to these problems. I thought because I was so quickly brought into The Know, this had to be something everyone in the movement was aware of. But it wasn’t. After I made my comment, dozens of people kept asking me for the names on The List (which I didn’t give – see my previous points). I was independently approached by multiple big names at the conference who wanted to help and learn what they could do to make their conferences safer.

Stephanie Zvan has given an excellent suggestion: Our conferences need to start adopting anti-harassment policies with guidelines of how to handle harassment that are clearly known to everyone, including speakers. It’s not a cure-all, but as Stephanie says:

“The problem with speakers didn’t develop overnight, and given the difficulties in dealing with them, they’re not going to disappear overnight. However, not only does having formal policies in place help protect your guests while this is being sorted out, but they provide a means of collecting and tracking this misbehavior. It’s much simpler to push back against pressure to include a speaker with formal tracking. It’s much simpler to share information with, “We had X number of violations of policy reported to us, and we have the records to back that up,” rather than, “So-and-so did such-and-such according to some person I can’t name.””

And her blog post is already having results. Groups are pledging to adopt this policy, including American Atheists and the Secular Student Alliance (which had an anti-harassment policy last year but will make it more prominent). I encourage you to ask other major atheist and secular organizations to adopt similar policies with a link to Stephanie’s post. Because an easy first step is to put pressure on organizations to address this problem. EDIT: Freethought Festival and the Minnesota Atheist Convention have also pledged to adopt a policy.

Obviously more needs to be done. An idea that has been floated is to create a list of speakers who will not attend events unless there’s a strict anti-harassment policy with them. I would happily sign up for this list, and maybe if enough big names did as well, it would put pressure on organizations to accept.

An idea is to make conference organizers and speakers agree to not partake in sexual activity with attendees at their events. The SSA already has this policy, which I’ve received as a member of their Speakers Bureau. If you’re a conference organizer or a speaker, you are in a position of power. If you are making advances toward someone, you are abusing that position of power. Full stop. 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. Even if things seem consensual, that power differential makes things inherently unbalanced. Women are already socialized to not directly say no – it’s even more difficult to do so when power differentials are involved.

And I say this as a sex positive person. There’s a time and a place for flirtation and mating rituals, and when you’re a speaker, a con is neither the time nor place. I understand if attendees want to flirt and hook up with each other, since the event is not necessarily a professional setting for them (but please do your flirting during at the pub and not in the middle of a lecture, and please take no for an answer). But in my opinion, this just shouldn’t acceptable for speakers.

Again, this isn’t my area of expertise. What do you think we can do to deal with badly behaving big names? Is the anti-harassment policy enough? Do you like the idea of a list of speakers who want anti-harassment policies in place? What can we do to solve this problem?

Comments

  1. says

    Absolutely! The HR concept, which I’ve been pushing for months vis-a-vis the internet ( http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2012/05/13/does-the-internet-need-an-hr-d/ ) clearly applies well to conference settings. The hearsay as evidence problem and the lack of specific proximate liability or agency (or, for that matter, authority) makes this difficult, but difficulties can be overcome.

    I’ve suggested that the organizations that run conferences supply liaisons to some kind of confederation of conferences to discuss this sort of thing, and there is a small group of people forming an ad hoc committee to talk about this.

    Thanks for being forthright in your conversation at WIS. I wonder how much difference it made to be at that particular conference as opposed to some other conference, in terms of your comfort level discussing these issues?

  2. says

    The positive anti-harassment policy is a very good one.

    But I think that it is only a start. Con organizers will need to network together heavily and share concerns and information. I agree with Jen – you can’t call someone out without evidence. What she, Stephanie, and countless others have said is “common wisdom”. X Guy is sleazy. Be careful. He is just there to fuck/use/abuse/grope/etc. Do I agree that information should be shared privately, especially when someone has been identified as a possible target? Yes. Publicly? No. Not without evidence.

    Cons need to set up ways for people to report sexual harassment, and they need to make it very clear they take it seriously. How? By sharing reports and agreeing to disinvite people if they have a clear record of abusing women. Or anyone, really, but we’re realistically speaking about women.

    Let me be clear: I don’t care if one of these assholes is the biggest name in atheism at the time, I wouldn’t go to any con, buy any books, or in any way otherwise support someone who treats women like this. And if you can, with evidence, state that you’re not inviting Big Name A because he has been reported as using his position of power to leverage sex, it’s tough to fight that.

    And if someone tries? Fuck them.

  3. L says

    (at least some of) the people who wrote the sample anti-harassment policy at the Geek Feminism Wiki (which Stephanie Zvan links, in the post you quoted) co-founded the Ada Initiative, which works “to increase the participation of women in open technology and culture” — http://adainitiative.org/what-we-do/

    They provide consulting on individual instances, as well as resources for working on increasing participation. I’m not sure if the atheist community counts as part of open culture, but a lot of their ideas are useful for conference organizers in general. If anyone knows what to do, they do.

  4. says

    Jen,

    I would hope that organizers at any conference would know what to do if they had evidence of such behavior, regardless of stated policies. It should be a given, but could well not be.

    However, there is an aspect of this I find disturbing. These stories (yes, I’ve heard them too, and I’ve heard names as well) could be true – but they could also be false. In such an environment, where the names are only whispered in the back rooms, the temptation could be too much for someone to include the name of someone they simply didn’t like, or wanted to hurt.

    And, as you well know, once a name has been whispered, it will stay around forever. The result? Reputation unjustly destroyed, at no cost to the accuser. Because, after all, it is only whispers in the back rooms.

    I understand why people won’t accuse in public, but their silence also creates problems.

    It’s a difficult situation, that’s for sure.

  5. mara says

    The Canadian university debating circuit, which has historically been populated by more men than women, has adopted a policy of having a national ombudsperson, as well as one for each region. Moreover, most tournaments have a Complaints and Equity Officer who fields inquiries and concerns about any kind of harassment or misconduct. Although I have no details about the volume of complaints received, or even how they’re dealt with, I imagine the very existence of these much-publicized portfolios effects some deterrence.

  6. Paul Gowder says

    Forbidding any fully consensual sexual activity between speakers and attendees seems like overkill. It strikes me that the real point of leverage is: what can we do to make victims feel safe to come forward, so that abusive people can be appropriately deterred?

    One possibility that comes to mind is shared organizational blacklists. Provide a mechanism for victims to anonymously say what happened to the organizations sponsoring an event, and if someone gets two or more complaints, all participating organizations simply agree to stop inviting that person.

  7. Eliott says

    Jen…unfortunately I do have significant experience with this type of behavior having investigated way too many sexual harrassment and hostile work environment issues as part of my professional responsibilities. I have reached out to someone in a position of responsibility in our community to develope and implement some processes and documents for use at conventions or as needed in an effort to get this poor behavior under control quickly. No one should have to suffer because of this type of horrific behavior and there should be negative consequences for people that perpetuate bad behavior.

  8. says

    Take the Underwriters Laboratories approach:

    “Here is a list of appliances that have been shown NOT to cause fires.”

    There is no need to list appliances which are believed to cause fires, nor appliances which have not been evaluated.

  9. jalyth says

    I agree with the commenter you quote. I haven’t been to a conference. I’m not sure I want to. This issue wouldn’t hold me back, but it sure doesn’t inspire me, either. I’m probably not young enough anymore to be groped anywhere but a nightclub (where I can never see who did it). I simply don’t listen to any sexists, atheist/skeptic or not. I’m not sure who the public face of this movement even is. But if someone famous in any circle hit on/sleazed at me, I’d tell everyone. It’s pretty ‘common knowledge’ that Bill Clinton hit on young women, and nobody cares about that.

    I don’t understand the choice of silence, even after the explanations. I don’t care what the community decides, but if the actions being talked about aren’t criminal, then they won’t really ruin a reputation either. “Boys will be boys” attitude is pretty deep set in current culture, so I seriously can’t believe very many people are going to even listen to “he’s a creep”, except maybe the women who need to know.

  10. says

    I’m really disturbed by this. I can understand speakers being rude, nasty or even sexist, but that their behavior is so bad and dangerous that their fellow female speakers need to avoid being alone with them?

    Not only do conference organizers need to have a system in place so that bad behavior can be reported and officially documented, and not only do they have to share these reports with other organizers but don’t they also have an obligation to be public about why they aren’t inviting X speaker?

    I mean let’s say that there is a very popular speaker and attendees want to see him but he’s also got several clearly documented cases of acting badly with fellow female speakers. By not inviting him, the conference might not be as big draw if the people attending don’t realize that the reason he’s not being invited is because he has a bad reputation from previous conventions.

    Likewise, when local groups invite speakers for events, we want these groups to be inviting people who won’t be behaving badly with their volunteers and staff. Don’t we also want the members and supporters of those organizations to know why X speaker isn’t being invited?

  11. says

    “An idea is to make conference organizers and speakers agree to not partake in sexual activity with attendees at their events.”

    As another commenter commented, this does seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Also, where do you draw the line? What if speaker and attendee are already a couple? What if they have been seeing each other on and off? What if an old friendship is rekindled?

    Also, the default rule should be “what consensual adults do is their own business and no-one else’s”; you’re more than willing to support this in almost every context. Protecting attendees from speakers seems like protecting, say, teenagers from slightly older homosexuals who might “seduce” them.

    (Of course, it should go without saying that rape, violence and appropriately defined harassment are something all agree should not happen, but consensual sex is none of these.)

    There are many examples of publishers who have married authors, say, which couldn’t have happened if such a restriction (those in power should leave their underlings alone) had been in place.

    I think at most you could ask those in power not to make any advances, but you really can’t blame the speaker if the groupies are banging at his door (yes, this does happen and yes, most groupies are female and heterosexual and target heterosexual males—you could ask Wilt Chamberlain if he were still alive).

    I have to say that I am quite surprised at the extent of the problem; maybe it’s specific to North America?

  12. says

    “I have to say that I am quite surprised at the extent of the problem; maybe it’s specific to North America?”

    That’s not the first time I’ve seen that suggested and it baffles me every time. The answer is “of course not.”

  13. says

    There are many examples of publishers who have married authors, say, which couldn’t have happened if such a restriction (those in power should leave their underlings alone) had been in place.

    such restrictions actually are in place in many workplaces and other areas where people with great power imbalance have to work together (for example between students and professors), because when power imbalances are too big for one party to say no without having to fear consequences from the other party, consent can no longer be given.

    I don’t know that this situation necessarily applies in this instance, but it’s not a nonexistent situation nor a policy suggestion Jen pulled out of her ass.

  14. Max says

    I agree with you Paul that policing consensual sexual activity seems overkill. Also ridiculously hard to enforce. At what point would a speaker get a black mark? During the flirting (defined by who)? If they decide to go somewhere for “coffee”? Just a whole big can of worms. I appreciate the concerns, but I think there are better ways (including the initiatives already discussed) to address them.

    The anonymous blacklist seems like a horrible idea. If a small group of people decide they want to blacklist someone (whether for being a rad fem or sex positivist or a capitalist or a marxist) it would be a simple matter to coordinate anonymous charges at a few conferences to make it happen.

  15. says

    yes, most groupies are female and heterosexual and target heterosexual males

    [citation needed]

    in my experience, famous women get propositioned a lot, too. the dynamics however work out differently, since entitlement and possibility of getting harmed are reversed.

  16. Robert B. says

    That’s a very good point about professionalism. I speak/perform at anime and gaming conventions. It’s not high profile or anything, I’m far from famous, but when I’m at these cons I’m representing the group and I’m always on stage. I can be casual, I can have fun, I can even swear my head off (our show’s not exactly rated G) but I never say anything in the hallway or the gaming room that I wouldn’t say into a live mic in front of five hundred people. It’s just not an appropriate time to be hitting on strangers. It’s the most fun and vacation-like of my jobs, but I’m still at work.

  17. says

    I have to say this, I am dead certain that this will end up showing itself to be far worse and more deeply rooted that most of us would believe when first hearing about sexism/sexual wrong doings in the atheist/secular movements.

    A big target for our movements is Religion and religious affliated groups and a big issue with them is sexism and sexual abuse.
    I think that many of us assumed that the gender bigot attitudes would not be present(or at least not very strongly) in non-religious people. We were wrong.
    Time to put our money where are mouths are and make damn sure this issue does not get worse. Then we can all make it get better.

    An anti-harrasment policy at conventions/conferences is a good start(well written of course), the hard part is going to be how to publicly censure the bad guys without turning it into a witchhunt.

    I do have one suggestion: Please ensure that males are involved in helping with this issue, if only females are involved it would so easily turn into a them and us situation to the detriment of all. I’m sure there will be a degree of that occuring anyway but if we can minimize that it would be great.

    Well that’s my two cents:-) Good luck to all.

  18. says

    Good post, until you went and said that getting laid while in a position of differential power is ipso facto an abuse of power. The power can’t be abused if it isn’t used. (In more than just in the way that being an important person makes people eager to socialize with you or hook up with you). If the victim communicates consent to impress a VIP (without real duress) but secretly thinks no, they’re only a victim of themself. Otherwise the president could be comitting a secret thoughtcrime (in another person’s thoughts!) any time he is ostensibly having consensual sex with anyone in any circumstances. Rock stars get laid (consensually) at rock concerts and that’s a perfectly reasonable perk of being a rockstar. One of the biggest perks, I daresay. It’s fine when the do it in the proper manner. Mere VIP identity at a con does not constitute duress.

  19. Robert B. says

    I think that many of us assumed that the gender bigot attitudes would not be present(or at least not very strongly) in non-religious people.

    I sure did, though my wake-up call was Elevatorgate. And it’s not just us – my religious/agnostic/not part of the atheist community friends were all totally shocked when I mentioned we had a sexism problem. It really gives a bad impression of the movement. People expect us to be better than this, and not without cause. If we can’t address these problems now, how do we know organized atheism won’t become just as misogynist as religion when we’re in the dominant social position? (We can address them, of course, and it looks like we’re doing so, but there’s a sad long ways to go.)

  20. Robert B. says

    The sexual appeal of a rock star is generally considered part of their job. They intend to be sexy, fans come to see them be sexy, everyone knows what they’re getting into – including the power dynamic. You consented to a sexual atmosphere, at least, when you bought your concert ticket.

    A public speaker is not generally a sex symbol. Someone interacting with a speaker has not signed up for a sexual environment. They don’t expect the speaker’s authority to be turned on them in a sexual situation. They have the right to expect that not to happen.

    And it’s not a matter of wanting to impress the VIP. It’s an implied threat – if I shoot him down, can he get me fired? If I reject him in public, will his fans send me death threats? If I ask him to stop doing something and he refuses, what recourse do I have? If something happens when no one is watching, will anyone ever believe my word over his? And these threats are unspoken, which means they are present whether the speaker intends them or not, whether he thinks about them or not, just because he has the power he does. He can’t even withdraw them, or at least not easily – it would take deliberate effort and exquisite courtesy. It’s not a thoughtcrime, just because it is never spoken of: real practical dangers are being brought into play.

    And as for the president – of course, a sitting president having sex with, for example, his wife or her husband would be unproblematic. They know each other, they know their relationship, they know what the other will and won’t do and consent to, and have known all this for years. But can you imagine someone beginning a new sexual relationship during their tenure as president, in a way that isn’t skeevy? (Hint: Clinton did not make the cut.) I can, but it would be really hard – you’d have to do some kind of very low-pressure, formal courtship, with explicitly offered outs if the potential partner is uninterested. The unspoken threats are too many and too profound.

  21. says

    from my experience living and working in Germany, sexual harassment is a lot more present, and much more tolerated over there. so if you’re not paying attention, or only paying attention when something is being done against harassment, it might look as if it’s more of a problem in North America

    caveat: pure anecdote based on my work experiences and the work experiences of my mom.

  22. Silentbob says

    Look at what happened to Rebecca Watson when she simply said “guys, don’t do that” about an anonymous conference attendee. Imagine the shitstorm if there were public accusations of sexual misconduct of some very famous speakers. I’m not ready for the flood of rape and death threats.

    Oh dear. I apologise in advance for going off topic. But seriously…

    If I had a buck for every time someone trots out this disingenuous revisionist version of Elevatorgate…

    Guys, don’t do that was not the spark that ignited Elevatorgate. It was

    a) the (seemingly) trivial nature of the thing guys are not supposed to do (politely offer a cup of coffee), and

    b) Watson’s acerbic reaction to anyone who made point a), particularly McGraw and Dawkins, but also the male atheist community in general with her follow-up “go fuck a blow-up doll” video.

    If guys, don’t do that had been in reference to something more obviously sexist – like ElevatorGuy pinching her backside – there would have been no Elevatorgate.

    Guys, don’t do that wasn’t the problem. It was the impression that Watson was opposed to any flirting whatsoever, and that anyone who didn’t agree was guilty of “ancient anti-woman rhetoric”.

  23. Robert B. says

    Wow, yeah, when you totally delete the context like that, it makes all those slurs and threats sound completely sane and justified. Speaking of disingenuous revisionism.

  24. says

    Would it be too impractical to have women carry voice recorders on them? And maybe announce that with the harassment policy?

  25. Jefrir says

    I don’t understand the choice of silence, even after the explanations. I don’t care what the community decides, but if the actions being talked about aren’t criminal, then they won’t really ruin a reputation either. “Boys will be boys” attitude is pretty deep set in current culture, so I seriously can’t believe very many people are going to even listen to “he’s a creep”, except maybe the women who need to know.

    Well, yes, that’s the problem. The silence isn’t to protect the harrassers, it’s to protect the women from the massive waves of misogynistic bullshit that they’d get for daring to criticise such a great figure – and it won’t even solve the problem, because of exactly the attitude you describe.

  26. Alex says

    Yeah, I think that’s just being a dick, or insensitive prick, a horrendous lust-sucking tick, a primitive tool in a shallow pool, a lusting lumbering lucrative leisure-suit Larry looking loaded at he ladies, missing the mark while trying to bark, search and you’re right there on Fark, under ‘jerk’ or ‘irk’ or Capt’n Kirk, too busy looking at her thighs to see that she also has eyes.

  27. Alex says

    Hmm. I’m not totally convinced. Of course there is male privilege and sexism everywhere, but I’ve been on the international circuit for a number of years, and I’m afraid that this kind of sexism is, if nothing else, more blatant in the US. It has always puzzled me as a male feminist Scandinavian European, often bugged me, sometimes shocked me. But as circumstantial evidence go … take for what it is; just a feeling, I might of course be wrong.

  28. says

    Of course it isn’t, but let us also not forget cultural differences; what is seen as acceptable in one country could be quite different in another. A remark said in jest, or just an innocent one, can be perceived quite differently, depending on where people come from. Also, sexual harassment is not an objective situation.

    Immigrants, both from North America and from the Middle East (to pick two), are often absolutely horrified at how Danes talk to each other. We do have a more relaxed tone, and certainly a more relaxed attitude toward sex. Not to say that sexual harassment doesn’t occur here too, of course. But again, what goes in one culture might not go in another.

    It’s a serious matter, not just because it can be very uncomfortable, but also because it is open to so many misunderstandings.

  29. Alex says

    I think awareness of male privilege must continue to be pushed (and I’m very happy PZ as a dominant male do this very well!) and then pushed some more. Sexism is more a by-product of the male dominance our society has built up through eons, and it will take more than just voting rights to truly squash.

    Every conference should have a male privilege talk / debate / poster, pointing out, again and again, that sexism is a cultural evil that needs to be squashed. If you don’t see any sexism, maybe you are the problem.

    Every conference should have either a list of topics, or people who attend can agree to certain topics, we idly talk about them, one of them being ‘male privilege’. Blogging more about this spreads the word, makes the community aware, and explains hopefully what this male privilege is and how it affects people, especially women, but I have to say it makes me sick as well.

    Make buttons with ‘male privilege not accepted’ or ‘don’t be a jerk’ on them, and give them out to all participants. Make a stand at the entrance with material, have a guy stand there to make a stand against stupid sexism.

    Some times people are completely unaware of their sexism and privilege. and then a lot of the sexism isn’t well thought-out plans to take advantage; it’s a drug that may start small and grow, making you – the addict – unaware or, at best, play down what you’re doing. Other times it’s people being dicks, fully aware of what they’re doing. All of the categories, and all of the ones in between, needs to be dealt with, pointed at, shunned and shunned some more.

    I like the idea that people who create conferences should make it a point that speakers are aware of the issue, and hopefully against the disease. So if a sleazebag slips through this non-rigid pretend mechanism, there *is* somewhere to turn to and for it to be dealt with in more formal ways. And little by little either the behaviour stops, or those people stop getting invited.

  30. says

    Religion doesn’t cause hatred, bigotry, etc., any more than it causes the positive impulses that oppose those things. The negative and positive impulses are all part of human nature. Religion just claims to be the origin of the positives, and then selectively disables the positive impulses in order to let its followers indulge their dark side without feeling guilty about it (it’s okay because God said so, or the like). The potential strength of the non-religious community lies not in absence of negative impulses, but in freedom to exercise positive impulses (including guilt).

  31. says

    Philip, for the most part, this is something that happens wherein a man acts inappropriately vis-a-vis a woman, and probably more often than not in less than the most public venue. (Though bad behavior is not limited to this scenario I quickly point out.) The whole thing is largely being under-address (as is the point of Jen’s post). So, probably, your observation of where, when and among whom this occurs would be not very useful. Better that you pay attention to what Teh Womenz are saying on this one.

  32. says

    Very well put sir. You have hit on an issue that I felt got steamrolled past during the discussion of Rebecca Watson’s unfortunate elevator encounter. One of the reasons that you “don’t do that” is that it is incredibly unprofessional. Speakers at conferences are doing a job… they are on stage pretty much the whole time.

  33. Pteryxx says

    Unfortunately, that’d be illegal recording in most places. Also, to be more meta about it, the problem of automatically disbelieving the victims of harassment (‘too sensitive’ ‘troublemaker’ ‘liar’) isn’t addressed very well by recording them.

  34. says

    Actually, it often is. A convention may be a party for you, but it’s a business meeting for a lot of people. If you have to do business with someone, and they’re making you put up with having your chest stared at in order to do that, that is creating a hostile environment. That’s harassment.

  35. says

    That’s true about the legalities.

    I guess my point was more about making people uncomfortable in erroneously approaching women because they might be caught at something. It may also act as consciousness raising that if the problem is this bad, that we need voice recorders…

    It wasn’t really about trusting the women. Heresay would be invalid no matter who says it, not just the women. It’s about evidence collection.

  36. says

    I think that something that would be beneficial (yet challenging) would be to have an accountability process for the perpetrator and survivor if/when we have another incident in the future.

    A difficult thing would be actually working with folks through the accountability process since we generally aren’t in the same locality except for that conference weekend or what not. That is, if they accept going through a process in the first place. Also, volunteers to work through the accountability process would have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders but hopefully some folks would be willing to take it on.

  37. Michael Kingsford Gray says

    What do you think we can do to deal with badly behaving big names?

    Name them, of course.

  38. Pteryxx says

    Well, there’s a reason why “someone stole cash from my room” is believable by default, but “someone groped me on the staircase” gets doubted by default, even though the latter event is far more common than the former.

  39. Gus Snarp says

    That this goes on really pisses me off more than I can express. I’ve read this comment from you somewhere else about being warned about male speakers and I was both shocked and not at all surprised. What surprises me is who I think of off the top of my head as being the big names doing it. Maybe I’m thinking of the wrong people, but whoever it is, it’s profoundly disappointing.

    Many people make the point that this is a societal problem, and we’re just surprised because we feel like our community should be better and we’re not. But can we be? I hope so. I hope these discussions and policy changes work, but here’s what I see happening here and in broader society and why I’m not optimistic:

    First, this behavior is so common among travelling men that it’s a cliche. The travelling salesman and the farmer’s daughter. The convention going businessman picking up girls in the bar. The rock and roll roadie. Some subset of men behave like this. A larger, sadly, subset of men secretly roots for them and wishes they were like them. This sucks.

    Second, big names almost always get away with bad behavior. It needn’t be sexual harassment, it can be any kind of abusive behavior or just foolishness. From my personal experience in the performing arts I’ve seen conductors, directors, and performers who were routinely abusive in many ways to many people, and nothing is ever done about it, no one ever stops getting work even if everyone they work with hates working with them, as long as the people writing the checks are happy with the output. I’m certain this same phenomenon is going on at skeptical conferences. Not only are these people being invited back because there’s no hard evidence or because organizers don’t know about them, but as long as they deliver the goods on stage in the organizers’ minds, they’ll be invited back no matter how they behave. This is where I hope we can rise above and I hope all these measures help, but I’m not optimistic because I’ve just seen too many people get away with too much abuse. In my mind I always want most people to be decent and do the right thing, and I expect assholes not to get work, but they always do.

  40. says

    I’m absolutely 110% in favor of making up a “rules of conduct” contract for organizers and speakers, and if they violate the rules they are bounced from any future participation with that organization and ALL of its activities. And that includes sexual encounters with attendees… the burden of maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all in these semi-professional settings should fall on the people in power, not on their potential victims.

    And let’s not any of us forget the simple truth of these situations: in most cases, everyone knows who the perpetrators are, and most people(men) in positions to do something about it simply don’t care about or even approve of the problem behavior. The people who could do something and don’t also need to be put on notice that they will also face some sort of consequence if they allow their conferences to be a buffet for sexual predators and sexist scumbags.

  41. MariaO says

    I have been to innumerable conferences within my male dominated scientific area. My observation is this: not all US men are sleezeballs, far from it, but all the sleezeballs I have encountered at these meetings have been US men. Men from Europe and Asia and elsewhere know enough not to treat their female colleagues like that. And yes, also in our community there were some names – big names – that we tried to warn all new young women in the field about. They were all professors at US universities… So, yes, there seems to be a cultural difference that makes US men thinks its allowed to be a sleezeball at all time and places.

  42. Sken says

    As someone who has been staff for a convention, and has had to address issues like the ones we’re talking about, it really is a very challenging situation. I am fortunate in that the circumstances I had to deal with had witnesses, and our actions reflected that, but when you are trying to be fair to all attendees, how do you draw the line? Where does the burden of proof end/begin?

    I know how prevalent it is, and the idea that, on my watch, I’d let someone get away with harassing someone else makes me rather upset. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that it is POSSIBLE (not probable) that the person looking to have the other person punished/ejected is not being honest.

    Somewhat relatedly, there was a report on public radio about the gathering of data on people who were wrongly convicted, and the person who created the database used to be a defense attorney. He said that as a defense attorney he knew that the large majority of people who made it to him through the system were guilty of the charge, but it was a grave disservice to then assume the specific person in front of him was guilty.

    In my mind this has nothing to do with men or women as such, and I would be in just as much of a pickle if the genders were switched up in any way. We absolutely want a comfortable place for all people, a place where abuse of any kind is not tolerated and where any complaint is taken seriously.

    Honestly, in the one situation where the woman reporting a problem agreed to let us call the police to deal with the matter, it was a great relief to me. Someone else could arbitrate that sticky situation.

  43. happyathiestmommy says

    It is sad… but I can also see the point. This is all the more reason for organizers to have a process to report such behavior (and keep records so they can watch for trends and patterns of individuals). At that point it isn’t just something being whispered about, which makes it more difficult to reasonably question the validity of the reports.
    To say it another way (since I need more coffee)- Since some women WILL do that (and I’ve met them), and other women will be accused of doing that, having an official reporting system rather than just “networking” will help to back up claims. It will also make it easier to pick out who made one thoughtless comment to the wrong person, who might just need to be told what is appropriate and what isn’t (humans can be clueless sometimes and informing them helps), and who has a history of misconduct and should be avoided, banned, outed and shamed, etc.

  44. Reginald Selkirk says

    I recall when Phil Plait gave his “Don’t be a Dick” speech, and he was widely criticised for not naming names.

  45. Sken says

    Okay, now I feel awful for more or less defending your viewpoint up above.

    Do you have female friends or family? Do you have female coworkers?

    Why don’t you try honestly asking them what their experience is like?

    Or you could try going to google and actually looking up statistics for sexual harassment. Believe it or not, there is hard evidence.

    As a convention organizer (not in the skeptic community), I can say that it happens. It happens at nearly every single con, and definitely not the same people every time.

  46. says

    My point is that to me it sounds like minimizing and marginalizing the problem of sexual harassment and assault when people immediately trot out the much more rare cases of false claims as though it is an equal-but-opposite problem. Why is it that when we’re talking about the safety of women, someone immediately (comment #6, 57 minutes after the original post) puts keeping men safe as a top priority? That and the whole thing about not restricting the behavior of speakers and organizers when interacting with attendees…

    What it sounds like to me is basically “Sure, we can try to keep women safe from harassment and assault as much as we can… just as long as we 100% guarantee that no man is falsely accused and speakers and organizers can still get laid. PRIORITIES!” People have a right to the safety and security of their person. People don’t have a right to get a check for speaking, and they don’t have a right to use a conference as a nightclub. Being told that you won’t be invited back next year is a shame if they weren’t guilty of anything, but it is less of a shame than someone not coming to any conference ever again because they were attacked or harassed.

  47. Lynn Wilhelm says

    Does anyone here have any thoughts on what to do if one sees the beginnings of such predatory behavior?

    I’m talking about that attractive, young woman who stays to talk to the speaker. The woman who wants the attention of the speaker but doesn’t know what she might be getting into. The woman who is pleased that the speaker is paying attention to her ideas.

    How can we, as potential observers, intervene? Should we intervene?

    I’ve been there in my past and like the commenter at Almost Diamonds I never had warnings or a network to rely on. (I’m not speaking particularly of atheist speakers here.) It’s really too late for me, but as the mother of a young girl and a future teacher, I want to know how I can help that future attractive, young woman learn to protect herself.

    What do we need to teach our young women? It seems as if I should know…. But it took me a long time until I realized that some men are really only out to get as much sex as possible and that they would do nearly anything to get it. I hate to teach that because one also must learn how to teach about men that do not fit that category. How do women learn to tell the difference?

  48. Lynn Wilhelm says

    By the way, my first revelation about the behavior of men was when I saw the PBS movie Take a Girl Like You.
    After doing some research (I had forgotten the name), I found the movie, it was shown in 2001. I also realized it was based on a book–which I must now read.

    Perhaps all teenage girls should watch it. It’s not so much that virginity should be so important, but the behavior of the main character, Patrick, that is important.

  49. Kim says

    I think an ombudsman is a brilliant idea. Every organization or company that I’ve been a part of that had this option has had good results. It’s a small step toward a long-term solution.

  50. Aratina Cage says

    When some of us brought that up at the time–how conferences are professional events and not dating/hookup parties–it tended to get downplayed by the anti-Watson faction as prudishness (a.k.a. “feminist dogma”).

  51. says

    “But can you imagine someone beginning a new sexual relationship during their tenure as president, in a way that isn’t skeevy? (Hint: Clinton did not make the cut.) I can, but it would be really hard – you’d have to do some kind of very low-pressure, formal courtship, with explicitly offered outs if the potential partner is uninterested. The unspoken threats are too many and too profound.”

    Have you seen the American President? Good movie. Do you think that what occurred in that film was skeevy?

  52. says

    I think the only thing I *might* be in disagreement with is the last bit… the SSA’s policy against speakers and attendees having sex.

    Before I can make up my mind, I’d need to see the policy and spend some time thinking about it.

    In any case, I’m all for sensible policies that create a better environment for everyone – so thanks for getting the ball rolling, even if accidentally.

  53. Aratina Cage says

    Guys, don’t do that was not the spark that ignited Elevatorgate.

    Yes it fucking was!

  54. Pteryxx says

    Lynn: there’s little point in trying to identify “the type of men” because some predators will cultivate squeaky-clean, well-connected public images as part of their defense and grooming strategy. It’s dangerous to assume a certain type of person is an identifiable threat, because that makes it harder for a victim to recognize abuse or harassment from a close friend, boss, mentor, or family member. (Also, don’t assume that the young attractive women are the most at risk; they’re really not.)

    The focus needs to be on behavior: what consent is, what being pressured is, and realizing that having one’s boundaries pushed in a sexual or interpersonal context should be taken very, very seriously. That applies regardless of who’s doing the pushing or what gender anyone is; and should be taught to everyone, not just women. While women are at GREATER risk than men or boys, it’s counterproductive to restrict instruction to them.

  55. Adam L. says

    Just to echo some of the suggestions here, it might be in the best interest of the movement to set up an independent review board for claims of sexual harassment. Many universities have resources for women and men who are sexually harassed (yes it works both ways, see some of the writings by Robin P. Clair, she addresses the rationalization of sexual harassment, as well as the reluctance of men to step forward with claims of sexual harassment). Usually these boards serve the purpose of listening to complaints, and offering advice, as well as levying formal disciplinary punishment to offenders with proper evidence. What do you do with this knowledge of sexual harassment at conferences? You formalize a support system with real consequences for members that break these rules. You have speakers sign an anti-sexual harassment clause (honestly, the more draconic the better in many cases), and you have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behavior.

  56. Pramod says

    Given the constraints you are working under, I really think this is the best you could have done. Fantastic job!

  57. Pramod says

    It’s not as simple as you make it sound. It’s definitely not in Jen’s interest to name names, and I completely understand and support her position.

    Now, if a old white guy with tenure or some equivalent (hint hint) wanted to come forward and name names without naming any of those who gave him the names, it *might* work. Even so, this person would have to make sure he gets buy-in from all of those who gave him this information and should definitely ensure all of those where were harassed are kept anonymous.

  58. Lynn Wilhelm says

    Of course you are right. I suppose I’m asking how we teach others to recognize predatory behavior, especially for those who are vulnerable and seeking attention. And of course, that applies to all genders. I was focusing on women because of the OP but went a bit further because of what it triggered for me.

    But all this probably goes beyond the scope of this discussion.

  59. Aratina Cage says

    Is that really comparable? Plait’s DBAD list of behaviors that were compromising the integrity of atheism were not things that were fraught with legal and social consequences for him, if he named the people doing them, or for the people doing them, if named, right? Sure, by naming the people doing those things, Plait might have had an argument or two on his hands, he might have lost good standing with a colleague or two, but not much else.

    Besides that, the things he was accusing some nebulous atheists of doing had the strong possibility of being made up or exaggerated since we had no idea who he was talking about. If he wanted to say, “Here is a list of things atheists should not do”, great!, more power to him. That it was seen as if he was saying that most of us behave badly, that was why names were called for, to let us differentiate ourselves and show we are not all like that and that Plait was generalizing too broadly or even misportraying the actions of the atheists he had in mind.

  60. says

    See what I mean? Seemingly dismissive of the problem as a whole, looking for more data of the problem while demanding no such data for false claims.

  61. Reginald Selkirk says

    Besides that, the things he was accusing some nebulous atheists of doing had the strong possibility of being made up or exaggerated since we had no idea who he was talking about.

    Well there you go.

  62. says

    [T]he burden of maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all in these semi-professional settings should fall on the people in power, not on their potential victims.

    That was just so perfectly stated that I thought it needed to be repeated.

  63. says

    One person’s “more relaxed attitude toward sex” is another person’s “culture of rape and sexual harassment towards women with no consequences for the perpetrators.” I’m sure it seems more relaxed to the men who get the benefit of being able to abuse women without punishment, but I doubt that their victims feel too good about it.

  64. says

    That is a tough situation to be in. If there aren’t witnesses he said she said are notoriously hard to prove. And sadly most harassers are smart enough not to do it in public.

  65. Aratina Cage says

    No, there you don’t go. You are ignoring the second sentence I wrote. You are ignoring that it was unclear to some who it was aimed at or seen as passive-aggressive. You are ignoring that it was a tone argument. You are also ignoring that it came on the heels of the “You’re not helping” sockpuppet attack by Wally Smith (whose whole career got put on the line by Jerry Coyne and others because of Smith fabricating sensationalist verbal assaults by atheists at professional conferences and because of Smith’s continual sexist slurs sniping at women like Ophelia Benson). You can access the talk and more from this link: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/18/dont-be-a-dick-part-2-links/

  66. says

    I’m one of those socially awkward introverted people, so my level of interaction with the humans is limited.

    I wasn’t aware that problem existed.

  67. Pteryxx says

    It kinda does go OT, but it’s also directly relevant to the issue of harassment – just, the answer’s extremely long and rather conceptual. If I had to summarize what to teach, it’d be “Is this still fun for everyone involved” and “If it stops being fun, can you leave”. If the other party’s enjoying themselves, but you’re not (or vice versa) THAT’S A PROBLEM. If the party not enjoying themselves can’t escape, HUGE PROBLEM. There’s a guide to teaching the basics of consent and bodily autonomy, starting with toddlers, in Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear”.

    From a bystander’s POV, it’s even harder to tell whether someone’s being pressured or not. Personally I err on the side of butting in, and I just ask “How are you folks doing?” which already lets them know their presence together has been witnessed. Gently interrupting also gives the injured party a plausible escape route; and if there is no injured party, they can always BOTH tell me everything’s fine and to butt out.

    For an example of what to look for re pressuring behavior and escalation I’d start with this summary:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/09/16/after-you-say-no/

    and the referenced conversation and analysis:

    http://anotherfeministblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/boundaries/

  68. says

    What do you think we can do to deal with badly behaving big names?

    Jen, if you’ve seen Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander offers some inspiration.

  69. techspoon says

    I’m not sure if sexual harassment follows exactly the same statistical trends as sexual assault, but studies have been done on the percentage of false accusations. The percent of false sexual assault/rape accusations is the same statistically as other crimes, and runs around 2-8%. It has also been shown in studies that sexual crimes are vastly under reported.

    So the fear should be how many of these are going unreported, not how many are false accusations. Women just don’t go around accusing men of sexual harassment because they don’t like them or they want to get back at them. Many of my female friends (as well as myself) have been sexually harassed at work because we are women in engineering. In my anecdotal experience, we are very likely to discuss with another woman to see if someone else agrees that it was in fact sexual harassment. Even if it is blatant, my friends and I have often not reported it.

    I think there’s essentially no danger of rampant false accusations sweeping the skeptic world.

    For sources, the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape
    has several research studies cited.

  70. happyathiestmommy says

    In which you you stoop to attacks on her appearance, strawman her attempt to find a solution, ignore what she’s actually trying to do (float different ideas and ask for feedback on the best approach, NOT set up a “witch hunt”), and place a premium on protecting the assholes at expensive of the victims. Fabulous.

  71. happyathiestmommy says

    Having now read the link “Scented Nectar” posted below, I totally agree that you’re on to something here, Joe. It’s ridiculous how that seems to be the first idea jumped on, before they even start brain storming ways an anti-harassment policy could be set up.

  72. Lynn Wilhelm says

    Thanks so much for the book reference. I’ll check that out as soon as I can.
    With this topic in mind, I’ll look at those links with new eyes.

  73. says

    That would be my post.

    I’m afraid that you are wrong. I did not put “keeping men safe as a top priority”, and I did not jump at the opportunity to claim so, as soon as Jen published her post. I just happened to see her post, and voiced my views on the matter. I said nothing of priorities or guarantees either.

    I pointed out that there is much more to this. If we are to conquer this problem, we need to examine all aspects of it.

    The first step is not to jump to unfounded conclusions, based on emotions.

  74. karmakin says

    To be honest I feel that the “pro-Watson” group, so to speak are downplaying this as well, just in their own way.

  75. says

    Sken,

    Please do not make any assumptions on my part; I am well aware of the many problems women have in a male dominated world. I know it happens that speakers of both sexes at any convention or gathering will take advantage of their position. That’s one of the problems of power: It corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    It sure is nice up there, the view from the podium. You get automatic cred, you get the fans, you get the groupies (of both sexes), and you get to pontificate, if ever so slightly. And, you get to strike out at those you don’t agree with – and they can’t really get back at you, can they?

    The power of the podium is great, but also something that should be handled with great consideration and responsibility. Whatever the podium gives you, you should always be humble and careful. You should never abuse that power.

    But, since we are skeptics, we cannot do what we chastise others for not doing: Seeking evidence. We *have* to make our decisions based on *evidence*, because if we do not, what separates us from any of those groups we are criticizing for acting on impulse, hear-say, emotion, what-have-ya?

    Evidence is (if I may!) a bitch.

  76. Pteryxx says

    Jasper T: For starter evidence that accusations of sexual aggression aren’t taken as seriously as other crimes, compare the rates of dismissal in rape cases. I suggest starting here, which is heavy on evidence:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/09/18/rape-myth-1-shes-probably-lying/

    While this isn’t an ideal parallel to sexual harassment allegations, there’s no reason to assume that the conference-going population is LESS prone to biased dismissal than the general population.

  77. Jacob V says

    That an apparently earned reputation does not have a negative effect on the future engagements of a speaker is beyond me; and that someone has not directly confronted of one of these individuals is also beyond me. Perhaps these things are already happening but it’s hard to imagine that anyone would know about it beyond certain circles. I would recommend a response that is as transparent as possible and very frank when any concerns are raised by a conference attendee whenever the information becomes known to the conference planners or sponsoring organizations. Any speaker can be told that their behavior has been called into question by an attendee without that person’s name ever being mentioned and the speaker can simply be told that the speaker will not be welcome again. And if the speaker is representing a university or organization the next step could be to advise the speaker that one option available would be a memo of concern being sent to that institution. And I say memo of concern because a formal complaint would require the complainant to be willing to let their name be known in some circumstances.

  78. Aral says

    There is something that is lacking from this discussion: namely, that the responsibility for not being a sexist asshole should fall upon the people in question, not upon the women on whom they prey. It is not my choice to be a female and therefore a target of their (unwanted) affections, but it is their choice to behave badly, aggressively, and skeezily towards me or any other person.

    As a matter of practicality, of course, this is no solution. We don’t have good ways of changing the behavior of such people, unfortunately. I simply wished to remind people, although the readers here seem to be the people who need the least reminding, that the blame should not be toward the victim but the attacker. In an ideal world the onus of changing things would be on their shoulders. In the more practical world we live in, I find the ideas of clearly stated policy on sexual harassment, with tangible and clear punishments, to be an excellent policy.

  79. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    LOLwhut? Reducing a woman to one physical attribute, in front of other people, isn’t harrassment.

    You’re a dude, aren’t you.

  80. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Blatantly lying when everyone around was there for the though debacle is, like, the most impressively stupid thing to do ever.

  81. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    LOl thank you. I wasted moments of my life reading that worthless dreck. I’m stunned someone’s proud enough of being so utterly not even wrong they’d post a link to it.

  82. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    That an apparently earned reputation does not have a negative effect on the future engagements of a speaker is beyond me

    I used to feel the same way until I started learning what athletes – at ANY level (student to pro) – get away with.

  83. IslandBrewer says

    To be honest, “Elevatorgate” wasn’t about a speaker’s behavior, it was about someone else’s behavior.

  84. Robert B. says

    I’m afraid I haven’t seen it. But it would actually be easier to do in a visual storytelling medium like film or theater, just because everyone involved is an actor. Actors are really good at things like making their feelings clear through body language, so it can be completely obvious that no one feels uncomfortable or threatened. It’s hard to be that clear in real life.

    Can you describe what happens in the movie?

  85. says

    Silentbob: you also forgot to mention Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comments, which poured gasoline on the fire by inciting his more ignorant fanboys to pile on with wave after wave of ridiculous lies and unconcealed pointless hate (which is still happening today). The shitstorm Dawkins incited is, in fact, possibly the main reason why Watson’s comments were taken so far out of context in the first place. And the fact that you completely ignore Dawkins’ role in all this says something about your honesty.

  86. Pteryxx says

    playing the “impulsive” and “emotional” accusations? Rly?

    The evidence is that sexual harassment and assault is pervasive, underreported, and that victims are disproportionately subject to dismissal. Where is your evidence that atheism cons are exempt?

  87. Maggie says

    @Claus Larsen:
    Why? Any corporate or educational event will have such guidelines in place and have to deal with teasing out false reports from accurate ones. These sorts of policies are commonplace and managed in any number of ways. So unless you’re saying that skeptic/atheist/freethought organizers/events are more prone to blindly accepting questionable evidence as truth and more likely to be guilty of using emotion to validate a claim, as you imply could be the case, then this is a non-point. A superfluous what-if based purely on a notion of something that’s yet to manifest itself. It’s pedantry for pedantry’s sake.

  88. Robert B. says

    Hah, well, I had to start learning that in middle school, so that sounds weird in my ear, like “I used to think that until always.” But I see what you mean.

  89. Pteryxx says

    My guess is that a clearly stated, well publicized sexual harassment policy and reporting system will reduce incidences significantly *before* any actual disciplinary action takes place. Just the perception of enforcement can moderate behavior; so can reminders and cues.

  90. says

    Ah, but that’s just it, isn’t it?

    If any corporate or educational event will have guidelines in place to deal with teasing out false reports from accurate ones, they will also have guidelines in place to prevent or punish improper behavior in the first place.

  91. says

    Actually, putting the responsibility on the people who are harassing/assaulting, and the people inviting them to the conferences, has been part of this discussion at least.

    I agree with your bigger point that it is rarely the main focus, due to the perceived difficulty in getting people to stop engaging in horrible and often criminal behavior towards one another. There seems to be a cultural tendency to assume that men have a right to seek whatever sexual gratification they want, and it is a woman’s responsibility to avoid unwanted actions without interfering too much with the man’s ability to do as he pleases. It is so ingrained that even when people aren’t blaming the victim, the conversation seems to focus on what women can do to avoid being targets, rather than on getting men to stop targeting women.

    As a man, I think it is my responsibility to act appropriately, not a woman’s responsibility to put up with my bullshit and reject me as gently as possible without hurting my feelings or getting me in trouble.

  92. says

    I am not arguing that there is no evidence that sexual harassment and assault is pervasive, underreported, or that victims are disproportionately subject to dismissal. Nor am I saying that atheism cons are exempt.

    I am asking for evidence, because, as skeptics, we cannot act without.

    We would never act on mere accusations of wrong-doing, e.g. in the field of healing, cults, or any of the many forms of superstitious beliefs. We would, and should, demand evidence.

    Why should we act without evidence in this case? That would be anathema to skeptical thinking.

  93. jamessweet says

    I think you are right, especially for the kind of blatant behaviors we seem to be talking about here. More subtle forms of sexism, while they can be equally pernicious, are much harder to root out. But the kinds of behaviors Jen describes here, I think that kind of bullshit can be virtually eliminated with a good anti-harassment policy.

  94. Robert B. says

    Oh, I don’t know about atheist cons, but fandom cons actually are hookup parties for some people, and that’s okay. The attendees are basically on vacation and may enjoy themselves at will (within bounds of safety and consent). I, however, am at work, though it’s extremely enjoyable and not very financially renumerative work. I’m not going to go there.

  95. jamessweet says

    Could I make a suggestion, that putting in place a good anti-harassment policy and effective reporting procedures is the most reasonable way of establishing this “hard evidence” of which you speak?

  96. Aral says

    I think I may have missed some of those connotations of blaming the perpetrators whilst sorting through the comments, and so, I apologize for my misconstrual. I certainly think that in general, if not in this particular instance, the focus is placed on the woman to avoid being prey than on the man to stop being a predator – most notably in anti-rape campaigns.

    Regards the rest of your comment: you, sir, are a good man.

  97. Aral says

    I agree that in many cases, perhaps even most cases, the presence of a policy will be enough to deter bad behavior. However, it is certainly not always enough, and there are many instances in my knowledge – mostly from my friends’ and family’s experiences – where a policy does not deter things, especially if it becomes clear that the policy is not enforced in any meaningful way. This is why I suggest having a punishment, such as not being allowed to return, appended to the bad behavior – so that it will actually be a deterrent, instead of simply empty words.

  98. Pteryxx says

    Claus Larsen: Personal complaints ARE evidence. They just aren’t definitive evidence, and that is not justification for completely dismissing them. Personal accusations are roughly 90% likely to be valid.

  99. rrpostal says

    Wait, these events are meant as professional, non-leisure time events? Plus people are acting like boorish twits everywhere? Not something I’ll plan a vacation around after all.

  100. Pteryxx says

    Well, that’s why I said ‘significantly reduced’ and not ‘eliminated’. With policies actually in place and stats collected, then there’s a chance to discover just how many offenders are habitual vs occasional, how many stop after a simple reminder or after being privately confronted with a stack of complaints, and how many are the really intractable few who will double-down or go to great lengths to cover up their activities.

  101. says

    Jeez, the standards for “good man” have gotten pretty lax since last I checked! Seriously, it is sort of a shame that what should be considered sort of a baseline neutral position of “not particularly terrible” qualifies as “good” in 2012, you know what I mean?

  102. Aral says

    I’ll agree; it’s sad the ‘not being an asshole’ is enough to count as a good man. On the other hand, you also indicate willingness to not only avoid being an asshole yourself, but to tell other men, “Hey, this isn’t cool – we need to respect their decisions.” That, willingness to stand up and stand out is something that I think is excellent qualifications for ‘good man’ standing.

  103. jamessweet says

    I think attendee-to-attendee, it is not a professional setting, and therefore there is a lot more leeway. Something that would be boorish in a bar is still boorish at a con, but it’s ultimately a social setting with its own social norms.

    Attendee-to-speaker is a bit different. And speaker-to-attendee is a lot different.

  104. Aratina Cage says

    Yes, that was something that kept coming up. Apparently, some conventions explicitly integrate that kind of sexualized climate into their events. Instituting and publicizing anti-harassment policies at atheist conventions seems to me to be a good middle road. It allows people to do what they want without policing anyone while giving people who are harassed or victimized a way to do something about it without having to end up going through the public woman-shaming machine the way Rebecca Watson had to.

  105. Laurence says

    I think when it comes to things like harassment at conferences we don’t have the luxury to wait for hard data kind of evidence. We have to make decisions based off of testimonial type evidence. We can’t just sit around waiting for hard data type evidence to solve the problem especially when we know there is a problem and don’t have much of a reason to think the problem is being made up or embellished.

  106. Hayden says

    “An idea is to make conference organizers and speakers agree to not partake in sexual activity with attendees at their events.”

    I agree with instating a harassment policy, but I’m not sure I agree with this. A speaker at one of these conferences is not in a position of power. A teacher-student relationship or an employer-employee relationship is a good example of imbalance of power. I don’t see that a speaker-attendee relationship is anything like that. A speaker has no authority over an attendee the way a teacher can determine grades or an employer can determine salary. The speaker is in a position of celebrity, not power.

    IMO, if two people at a conference hit it off, and decide to head back to the same hotel room at the end of the night, more power to them. I don’t think it matters whether one of those people is a speaker or not. The problem comes when a speaker feels that their celebrity entitles them to something from the attendees. Plus, Elevatorgate demonstrates that the problem of harassment is not exclusively in the direction of speaker to attendee. The celebrity of being a speaker can actually make you a target of harassment.

  107. Pteryxx says

    While I’m not sure I agree with that particular policy suggestion either… celebrity *does* entail power, just not direct power. Having a greater audience and better connections, for one. Also, because speakers are invited by conference organizers, often by contract and with fees involved, the conference organizers may be held to greater responsibility wrt their speakers’ behavior than they are re their attendees.

  108. says

    Pteryxx,

    If personal complaints are evidence, although not definitive evidence, and thus, not justification for completely dismissing them, we would have to accept personal testimonials – because that is what they are – of UFO abductions, to name but one.

    You know perfectly well that we cannot do that.

    After you contemplate that, I would like to see evidence – there it is again, that evidence thing – for your assertion that roughly 90% of personal accusations are likely to be valid.

    For starters, how on Earth can we even begin to validate your claim? What does it mean that X % of Y are “likely” to be valid? You threw in at least three qualifiers, none of which are determinable, in just one claim.

    Laurence,

    The severity of a claim does not justify the demand for *not* seeking evidence. Quite contrary, as Carl Sagan said, and I am sure you know, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    If we are to let the more emotional claim decide which is true, we are pandering to the very thing we are fighting: Argument from emotion.

    How can you possibly argue against me contacting my dead grandmother, whom I adored and sought guidance from?

    How can you possibly argue against me claiming that I was saved from a homeopathic remedy?

    How can you possibly argue against me when I say that I was molested by Catholic priests?

    See where I am going?

    Yes, I know: It sounds harsh, and it is. But if we agree to let evidence guide our decisions, we cannot abandon our principles if someone we sympathize with comes along, begging us to agree with him/her, just because he/she feels right about whatever the issue may be.

    If anything, that is when we, as skeptics, should stop and ask ourselves: Wait a second….what’s going on here? What evidence do we have to act upon?

  109. Aratina Cage says

    For some attendees it still would be primarily a professional event. A professional setting does not rule out socializing or networking, either, but it does usually mean that sexual advances and touching are not welcome from or toward any first-time acquaintance. So, I disagree. It still would be a professional setting for attendee to attendee interactions.

    I think a strong anti-harassment policy with a clear starting process will make this whole issue clear up. With such a policy and process, the people attending conventions, conferences, or rallies who are there to hook up or look for a longer-term relationship can do so all they want, but they will have to respect the boundaries of people there who don’t want that for themselves or risk being prohibited from attending future conferences and possibly blacklisted by other event organizers.

    Creating and including such a policy with every atheist event is the mature thing to do, and it is really great to see atheists figuring it out now, whether that means making a policy that wasn’t there before or getting the word out about a policy against harassment that was there but not known about, before we go through another Elevatorgate.

  110. Timid Atheist says

    Again with the promoting of rape and torture in dealing with sexual harassment. This is not okay. This is not funny. This is not helpful. Please stop.

  111. Pteryxx says

    Claus: Simple. Because sexual harassment is not an extraordinary claim, but UFO abduction is.

    After you contemplate that, I would like to see evidence – there it is again, that evidence thing – for your assertion that roughly 90% of personal accusations are likely to be valid.

    See techspoon’s excellent comment above; also my reply to Jasper T. below.

  112. happyathiestmommy says

    You’ve now moved into the realm of the ridiculous. By your logic, sexual harassment would need to be caught on camera, which very rarely happens. By comparing it to UFO sightings, you’re not only committing several logical fallacies, you’re demeaning the experiences of women who have been harassed.

  113. Randy says

    Bringing up elevatorgate doesn’t help you. Rebecca was wrong. The response she received from scum doesn’t make her right.

    But you have made a serious charge against all speakers, by not naming names. That’s not right either. It’s not hard to get evidence. So get it.

  114. says

    I just wanted to butt in and say that I’m really, really pleased this conversation is happening.

    I live in the UK, where the entire atheist community seems different. I do not feel, here, that I am going to be discriminated against because of my lack of faith. But, you know, I still get groped in nightclubs without my permission, men still occasionally try to follow me home and even customers where I work still talk to my boobs rather than my face.

    Atheism is a huge part of my life, but so is feminism. Being a woman is something I cannot, and do not want to, change about my identity, just as much as being an atheist. I have not attended any atheist conferences, mainly because in the atheist community here I haven’t really heard of any. I would go though, I think conferences and events like this are a fantastic way to meet new, likeminded people.

    I’

  115. says

    …I obviously struggle to type when angry!

    As I was saying, before I so rudely interrupted myself, I think every woman has the right to feel safe. Choice, as I find myself telling people almost everyday when they question why I would want to be a feminist, is the absolute element of feminism. When you hand out unwanted attention and make a nuisance of yourself, you remove a woman’s choice.

    I just wanted to say thanks for even talking about this.

  116. says

    No, your first step is to protect the accused instead of the victims. That was what you felt was the most important contribution you could make to the conversation. I think you might want to step back and think about that for a minute.

  117. Don says

    I’m of two minds about this one:

    On the one hand, OBVIOUSLY this bullshit goes on and OBVIOUSLY it’s minimized and tolerated. There’s no place for it in the skeptical community and it is a constant mind-fuck that there’s even any debate about it.

    On the other hand, I’m deeply uncomfortable with reputation smearing and innuendo–the going public, as it were. If there’s a specific incident and a specific case, go for it, I will engage my enormous powers as an internet commenter to help out. The, “Hey, ______ has a reputation,” is troubling.

    Let me just point out that I may be overly cynical about these things because I’m a family law attorney. I watch in constant awe as people who were previously “in love” and have children together go to insane lengths to humiliate and destroy one another. I would conservatively estimate that about half of the protective orders I’ve encountered (maybe out of total of 150) have been total fabricated bullshit. If people are curious I can tell some stories to illustrate how I know they are absolute bullshit.

    So I find it very plausible that a random speaker could be intentionally smeared through the rumor mill. That’s not to say that complaints about harassment are illegitimate, but any solution has to involve laying out the specifics of an incident. In other words, despite my personal curiosity, don’t just publish a list of names unless there is someone willing to pursue the complaint.

    But yes, this is undoubtedly a massive problem for the skeptical community. I sincerely hope that the majority of it is generational, but we can’t just wait for the old guard to die out. In other words, I have no solutions, but a lot of complaints. You’re welcome.

  118. says

    I’m not about to rehash Elevatorgate with you, but Rebecca was not wrong, and your obvious misunderstanding of her point kind of colours everything else you have said.

    Basically, a lone woman (to be honest, a lone anyone) in a lift, at night, will feel more vulnerable than one in the daytime, not in a lift, and not quite as alone. Therefore, ElevatorGuy made a bad decision when he chose to invite her for coffee at that moment. Especially since coffee is socially laden with sexual connotation.

    Then again, looking at the rest of your comment, you obviously also believe that it is up to Jen, and other women, to stop these speakers from acting shittily, rather like vigilantes. Well, that’s not really going to help, for reasons stated over and over again already on this thread.

    Oh, but you’re more worried about hypothetical reputations of innocent men potentially being beschmirched anyway, aren’t you? No one here is saying all men are inappropriate at these conferences. Having an anti-harrassment system in place would protect these speakers as much as anyone else.

    If you really don’t understand that, no one can help you.

  119. says

    Pteryxx,

    To some degree, you are right: Claims of sexual harassment are nowhere as extraordinary as claims of UFOs. But, maybe I didn’t make myself clear, or maybe you misunderstood me. Who knows? Misunderstandings occur – which is kinda my point.

    You pointed to personal complaints as evidence. However, you also pointed out that they are not definitive evidence, but also asserted that that is no reason for completely dismissing them.

    Perhaps I should ask you this, then: When do we dismiss personal complaints, even though they are not definitive evidence?

    That aside, I cannot spot where you provide the evidence of your assertion that roughly 90% of personal accusations are likely to be valid. I see nothing of that in your other posts here. What you have linked to is a blog post by Jen, pointing to studies ranging *from* 1.5% *to* 90%. That is a far cry from – and, if I may say so, a blatant misrepresentation of – reality.

    That you think other people may have provided the evidence is beside the point. I asked *you* for evidence of *your* claim.

    So, can you just list them here?

    Mind you, if you fail providing evidence of your claims when asked repeatedly, we must conclude that you made a false statement. You would do the same, if you were in my shoes – as you should.

    happyathiestmommy,

    If you want to accuse me of committing logical fallacies, you need to point out what those are, and not just stating that I have done so.

    Additionally, I am not demeaning the experiences of women being harassed, far from it. I have continuously acknowledged that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with. I am simply applying the same standards as we, as skeptics, would and should, to any claim.

  120. says

    Did you notice that pretty much everyone without direct personal experience has avoided naming names? Your concerns have been noted and respected thus far. I think the point of this conversation in part is to create an atmosphere where people CAN name names in response to specific events without the well-founded fear that they will face dismissal, condemnation, and even threats of violence for challenging the privilege of the “rock stars” of the speaking circuit. Until there’s a system in place that allows people to come forward without being shamed or attacked, the only thing available to the victims is the behind-the-scenes networking and that’s just not enough.

  121. Eric RoM says

    “Secularists shocked to find evidence of feet of clay! Film at eleven!”

    It’s LAUGHABLE how the same human problems keep cropping up at atheist/skeptic events, and watching the ensuing pearl clutching, tap-dancing, and blame-shifting.

    Did y’all think you were just above it?

  122. Pteryxx says

    Keep in mind that people with a long personal relationship are *far more likely* to go to great lengths to harm each other than are relative strangers, with the exception of stalkers. The vast majority of people at a conference are not going to be deeply invested in attacking each other.

    Informal networks can have problems; that’s WHY folks are calling for a formal harassment policy with methods of reporting.

  123. says

    …but somehow you’re not skeptical of the idea that sexual predators are really the victims of false claims. You didn’t need any evidence to make the claim that men would be the victims of lying women, but you need tons of evidence to accept that women are the victims of men.

    That’s really telling, don’t you think?

  124. Don says

    No, she wasn’t wrong.

    If you can’t approach a woman in a safe, public place where she is comfortable, it’s not her fault. Women are under no obligation to treat behavior that is, at best, pathetic, and at worst potentially dangerous, with any respect. Lurking around and waiting until someone is isolated (man or woman) is pretty damned weird and troubling.

    The anti-Watson male is an interesting creature, indeed. Shunned and ridiculed by inhabitants of the 21st century as pathetic anachronisms and dismissed by the alpha males as insecure wimps, who are their allies? Who do they caucus with?

    They obviously don’t belong with the category of people who express a basic level of respect for their fellow humans, and neither can they claim to be members of the Don Draper class. A very sad lot.

  125. Pteryxx says

    What you have linked to is a blog post by Jen, pointing to studies ranging *from* 1.5% *to* 90%. That is a far cry from – and, if I may say so, a blatant misrepresentation of – reality.

    Then you didn’t pay attention to the post; or you’re outright lying. Want to know how likely I think it is that you’re lying?

    Their results were interesting in two respects. The first is that all the credible studies produced rates close to the standard figure. Rates ranged from 2.1% to 10.9%, with the college study falling in the middle at 5.9%. The numbers on rape just don’t support the idea that extra vigilance is required for this crime over others.

    The second finding of the study is even more striking. In the authors’ own words, “It is notable that in general the greater the scrutiny applied to police classifications, the lower the rate of false reporting detected.”

    Emphasis mine, quoted from:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/09/18/rape-myth-1-shes-probably-lying/

  126. happyathiestmommy says

    We’ll begin with the freshman fallacy of slippery sloping that if we accept a personal claim from a victim, it would be the same as accepting UFO claims. We can then move on to the subtle straw-man of suggesting that every claim would be taken as fact automatically, rather than looked into for further corroboration. After that there the changing/unreasonable goal posts, how much evidence is required? The majority of sexual harassment cases have only personal experience (and perhaps the personal experiences of others) because most harassers are going to be smart enough not to do it in crowded area or while being recorded. Seeing as we’re discussing reporting to a security team rather than bringing up legal charges, your goal-posts for proof are unreasonable and creates an system that only protects the accused.
    Also, since finding concrete and unbiased statistics on how many claims are false would be very difficult in a short time period, “Mind you, if you fail providing evidence of your claims when asked repeatedly, we must conclude that you made a false statement.” is known as the “fallacy fallacy”.

  127. Don says

    Sure, I agree with you, but you don’t think this is building to names getting out there?

    Shit, I’m curious, but I’m reading other blogs that are pushing for public humiliation–which would be great punishment if the crimes are confirmed.

    I was just sort of babbling in that first post, I don’t really have a good idea how to handle this. The speaking circuit is fragmented such that there can’t be an oversight body as there is in a university or business (and it’s not like those have a great track record).

    Hell, find the states where it isn’t illegal to secretly tape conversations. Hold all future conversations there.

    And as for people treating others like crap–certainly personal relationships generate that acrimony but 1) who’s to say the source of the allegations against the speakers aren’t personal relationships and 2) professional ambition creates similar incentives, though not with nearly the same frequency.

  128. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    if nothing else, it calls into serious question their actual ability to be skeptical. I’m sure the male supremacist contingent among us believes that they are being skeptical, rather than completely credulous, when they attack Watson. however, “women lie” is a standard sexist trope. It lets the male supremacist off the hook so he doesn’t have to think. it also lets the sexual harrasser/rapist off the hook.

    Being a victim-blaming misogyny-apologist is pretty much the exact definition of “NOT a skeptic”.

  129. says

    Well, think of it like a rock concert. There’s a difference between fans hooking up with each other after the show, and security guards trading access to the band for sexual favors.

  130. Pteryxx says

    Don: public naming is the most extreme response short of legal action. It’d have to be proportionate to the offense, proportionate to the evidence, and robust enough to withstand further legal claims of libel or slander.

    However, at that point, a lot of victimization has happened without redress. The whole point of this is to develop a system that protects victims and potential victims with minimal infringement on everyone, including harassers.

    but 1) who’s to say the source of the allegations against the speakers aren’t personal relationships and 2) professional ambition creates similar incentives, though not with nearly the same frequency.

    Formal reporting helps address that, with frequency and pattern taken into consideration. Frankly this is where conferences need help (and if possible, statistics) from pros with experience monitoring harassment, such as HR officers, or Gavin de Becker.

  131. Pteryxx says

    meta: Have I mentioned how much I hate nested commenting recently. That was quoting Don from the reply to Improbable Joe just above.

  132. says

    You know, it is interesting and disturbing to me to see how Rebecca Watson is constantly misrepresented in this issue, in some small part because I actually watched the video in question and I think I was one of the first people to comment on YouTube. I got to see the original comment without the influence of the ElevatorGate thing that sprung up afterwards. Based on that, the statement “Rebecca Watson was wrong” is not only stupid, but incoherent and makes no sense from any reasonable perspective.

    She could no more have been wrong than my statement that my favorite flavor of Jello is green can be called wrong. Unless you’re a psychic and want to go win yourself a million dollars while proving it, you can’t declare someone’s statement of personal preferences and feelings to be “wrong” in any meaningful way. All you can do is be a jerk when people say things you don’t like.

  133. Don says

    I think we’re in agreement. The rambling nature of my initial post probably caused you to rightly respond with criticism, but substantively I think you’re right.

    I just have trouble envisioning how it’s going to work. At some point it’s going to require specific conventions or conferences to refuse to hire speakers with a given track record (and that’s before figuring out how to substantiate those claims). Rest assured that there will be a competing conference eager to indulge the inevitable victim-complex the misogynists resort to.

    Will this be our Great Schism, with the Skeptic movement fragmenting in conferences for “Bitches ain’t shit” party (Amanda Marcotte’s term) and the, you know, reasonable folks? And hell, that might be necessary, anyway. Women shouldn’t be forced to ignore this in the name of unity.

    Sexual harassment law depends on employment, so the solution for the stuff that isn’t outright battery or worse is going to have to go through the conferences. It’s going to be rough establishing some commonality between them, especially since the skeptical movement is quite international.

    Obviously including more women speakers and organizers–generally assaulting the good-old-boys network can begin immediately. Maybe we just need to set up an independent body that evaluates these cases and makes public the results, but that wouldn’t be binding on any particular conference. It’s a mess.

  134. Pteryxx says

    In my opinion, *some* of the statistics could be made public: probably, number of incidents reported, number of incidents versus total population, number of incidents per reported offender, and proportion of reports that were anonymous versus named but confidential. Also, what actions were taken, such as security intervening when they witness an incident, or con personnel privately notifying an individual that X number of complaints have been reported. Having each conference report its own results actually could help with validation, because I assume they’d all have roughly similar stats.

    At some point it’s going to require specific conventions or conferences to refuse to hire speakers with a given track record (and that’s before figuring out how to substantiate those claims).

    Um, why assume that refusal to hire MUST come before substantiated claims? (Or *publicly* substantiated claims, which is a very different level.) Quite a few private claims probably have been substantiated.

  135. says

    Lynn, I’m getting a whiff from your comments of the idea that women and girls are never interested in having sex for its own sake, while men are sexually animalistic.

    (Jen, if this is a derail, please let me know, but I think that gender-essentialist assumptions of “what women are like” and “what men are like” contribute to this issue.)

  136. jamessweet says

    In any case, the existence of this kind of disagreement emphasizes another good reason for having an explicitly stated policy: to eliminate ambiguities like that.

  137. Derek says

    That’s not what Claus was saying at all. There’s a reason people are not tried on hearsay and it’s nothing to do with women being untrustworthy or liars.

    The majority of these whispered accusations are probably true. However some fraction may not be true. Given this there must be some degree of caution about finding people guilty in absentia and without trial.

  138. Pteryxx says

    Sure, but there’s rather a vast difference between “some degree of caution” and comparing harassment reports to UFO abductions.

  139. Don says

    Pteryxx:

    I don’t see the public/private distinction as particularly meaningful, at least in terms of a conference’s role in the process. I can see a lot of paranoid conspiracy bullshit springing up if a speaker is turned down based on private reports (It’s like the Fed and 9-11, derp).

    What I meant is that the process has to follow some iteration of 1) fielding a complaint 2) investigating the complaint and 3) doing something.

    I don’t see how the order of those things can really be altered, and there are issues with each step. Who do you report it to? Who does the investigation and how? Who enforces any decision made? How does that entity avoid being sued into oblivion by a speaker claiming that their reputation and future employment has been damaged?…etc. (notice that “sued into oblivion” doesn’t really require that this entity make a mistake–just that they don’t have enough money to battle some massive lawsuit).

    Honestly, it’s much easier for instances of actual crimes–just call the police. It’s the “inappropriate but not criminal” behavior that creates problems. Businesses and universities have a system of laws governing that exact situation, you have rights as an employee, but I don’t see how it applies to a case of a speaker harassing a conference attendee or even fellow speaker. The whole thing is murky, legally speaking.

    Let’s say, for instance, that a conference receives a complaint that Speaker X was behaving inappropriately. No crime is committed. There’s no civil sanction through employment law, the only thing that can be done is that the conference refuses to bring that person back, and maybe publishes specific information to convince other conferences to deny them access (thereby engaging in behavior 100% likely to result in a lawsuit, legitimate or not). That doesn’t strike as particularly promising.

    Maybe the speaker contracts could have a mandatory arbitration clause allowing some association to determine if their fees can be rescinded based on a legitimate sexual harassment complaint. It could all be kept confidential, but even if the clauses describe themselves as binding, sometimes they aren’t.

    All this seems to be leading to some conferences refusing to hire a group of popular but disgusting speakers and some rival organization snapping them up.

  140. Andy says

    Aaahhh yes the ugly geek birds want an anti harassment policy, drawing attention to how hot they are, cos you know men are just running over themselves to get a piece of that ass.

    No you did not notice it, well they do! And it does not mean it did not happen…so there!

    How the strong independent women collapse into piles of quivering merde when faced with MAN.

  141. Pteryxx says

    Don: I really think you’re focusing too much on the sole response of a speaker being banned, and not enough on all the more proportional responses up to that point. Realistically, I only see a conference *banning* a speaker if the evidence were such that they reasonably feared being sued by a victim of said speaker more than they feared being sued by the speaker for being banned.

  142. adamgordon says

    Thanks for such a profound contribution to the discussion. Clearly you have a lot of great ideas to offer in order to further the goals of our community.

    /sarcasm

  143. spdoyle17 says

    YES! This is likely the most optimal solution. Place the burden of proof on those trying to strike a name from the list, and that will require a better organized body of evidence. We’re a science-friendly crowd, this should be simple enough.

  144. carlie says

    Thank you, Andy, for volunteering to besmirch your good name by pretending to be an example of exactly the kind of self-important smug asshole that is the problem being discussed here. It is indeed noble of you to fall on your sword like that, and so entirely disappear into the character that it is impossible to see the decent person underneath. Bravo, Andy. Bravo. *slow clap*

  145. Jacob V says

    I see your point, however conference organizers have no obligation to ask someone with a reputation to come and speak, none whatsoever. There are a few well known skeptics and atheists that I would never ask to speak or be involved in a conference for reasons other than sexist idiocy, so if those with information about bad behaving speakers communicate it to those who organize conferences, the unnamed individuals in question would very likely have fewer gigs and may even be asked about their reported behavior. And if all that happens are conversations like this at Blag Hag then that’s all that will happen. People lose their jobs or get disciplined for sexist behavior in the work place all the time, and a speaker is a private contractor who can be thrown to the curb and never hired again with zero HR, issues, legal requirements or investigations needed.

  146. KT says

    “I agree with you Paul that policing consensual sexual activity seems overkill. Also ridiculously hard to enforce.”

    And yet most workplaces have some kind of sexual harassment policy in place. It’s really no different. The conferences are employing the speakers on a temporary basis, they can easily implement a sexual harassment policy for those speakers in the same manners that employers commonly do.

    It would probably something akin to the kind of policies that academia has where relationships between instructors and students can be problematic. While speakers at a convention don’t have the same direct authority over attendees as a teacher over a student, they still have some measure of status that makes attempts to socialize with convention goers potential problems in a related manner.

  147. Stacy says

    It’s LAUGHABLE how the same human problems keep cropping up at atheist/skeptic events

    Really? What’s your point–human problems are laughable, or laughable when they happen to people you disagree with?

    and watching the ensuing pearl clutching, tap-dancing, and blame-shifting.

    Here we are, dealing with the problem, and discussing possible solutions, openly and civilly. Not sure how that’s “pearl-clutching” or “tap-dancing,” but call it that if it makes you feel better, Cupcake.

    Did y’all think you were just above it?

    Uh, no. No, not at all. Did you think we thought so? Why would you? Wishful thinking?

    (Incoherent tu quoque coupled with a strawman so flimsy he couldn’t withstand a zephyr–pathetic. *sigh* The trolls just ain’t what they were back in the day.)

  148. midorime says

    This makes for a quick solution to the problem, right?
    We will only accept hard evidence of the problem.
    Those who are least likely to be victims get to define what qualifies as hard evidence.
    For social and historical reasons victims are reluctant to supply hard evidence.
    There is no (or little) hard evidence.
    Therefore there is no problem.
    Solved.

  149. Stacy says

    It’s true–I *choke* I don’t think I’ve ever *sniff* seen such a courageous performance on any comment thread before–

    *wipes tear*

  150. happyathiestmommy says

    Thank you, you said this much better than my frustrated brain could patch together.

  151. Jacob V says

    Randy, Randy, Randy; it may surprise you to know that empathy is considered by many scholars to be the root of human morality and ethics. So if you hope to understand where woman are coming from and how they experience different situations with badly behaving men you will be required to be thoughtful and try, and I mean really – try – hard, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Is fear your constant companion when you’re out in public like it is for many women? Do you often consider a person of the opposite sex to potentially be someone who may assault or rape you? Do members of the opposite sex say demeaning and derogatory things to you for simply being a particular gender? Do you ever worry that you may not get a job or a promotion because of your gender? Have you ever had a boss who was constantly making comments about your appearance, clothing, or body shape? When you were in school were your ideas or opinions ever discounted by a teacher/prof because of your gender? Have you ever once in your entire life been anxious about a person not of your gender who got in an elevator with you such that you were wondering if the elevator had an alarm or if you’d be able to get to your phone in an emergency?

    Yea, I thought not.

  152. Jacob V says

    Don. I’m amazed as well that someone could persist in this kind of behavior and not be confronted about it or be made unwelcome. In my county the lawyers I work with call the family law docket the perjury calendar. And with regard to reputations, wouldn’t you say that most all persistent reputations are earned?

  153. anon atheist says

    An idea is to make conference organizers and speakers agree to not partake in sexual activity with attendees at their events.

    Thanks for adopting some Sharia law. I have been waiting for that so long.

  154. says

    A (very reliable)female friend of mine was groped on the bum by a VERY big name speaker at an atheist convention. She was so shocked, she didn’t know what to say! And how do you take action against that? Who would believe you against such a superstar?

    It seems to me that the ‘names’ probably know who the culprits are. Maybe they should be putting pressure on their colleagues to ‘quit it’ because as long as we’re talking about this and not outing anyone, it puts ALL of them under suspicion.

    A little bit of peer-pressure might be a good start.

  155. says

    Wow.

    Someone explain this phenomena to me. Did I leave the Moron Signal on? Do I release special pheromones that make misogynist flock to me? Is attracting assholes my secret superhero ability? I would have preferred telepathy, or flight, or invisibility. Damn.

  156. Jacob V says

    Hey Eric, way to use demeaning and discounting language there big strong sarcastic skeptic man. And if by “pearl clutching” you’re implying that sexual harassment is not something to be concerned about, or skeptics are being overly concerned, all I can say is that when your capacity for empathy has developed beyond that of a mollusk I’m sure you’ll understand this discussion better and be more able to constructively contribute.

  157. Aral says

    Yes, because asking people politely to not have sex in certain situations where the power dynamics are awkward is totally the same as prohibiting all female sexual activity outside the confines of marriage! And feminists (particularly feminist atheists) are SO very fond of Sharia law! Your powers of observation are simply astounding.

    (Jen, I hope the awesome commenters, like Improbable Joe, don’t get lost in the idiotic ones – there are some intelligent, well-spoken, cool people on your blog, not least of whom is you.)

    (That sentence mangled grammar. My apologies.)

  158. says

    Wait, hold on… I’ve got this one.

    Blame it all on Boobquake. You organized Boobquake with the meaning of “boob” being “breast,” but through the grapevine all the “boobs” as in “moron” folks heard that you were putting out the invite for them to spread their buffoonery all over your blog.

    Moral of the story? Watch out for words with more than one meaning, or else you’ll have a bunch of boobs hanging around, and most of them probably talking to your boobs.

  159. Don says

    Well, the original post was mostly focused on well-known speakers with a reputation. A lot of the problems involving attendees are adequately handled by the anti-harassment policies that several other blogs have discussed. It’s pretty easy to haul in a wayward ticket-buyer and give them a warning or kick them out.

    It’s the well-known speakers that cause the problem because, obviously, these conferences need the big-names to stay in business. It’s that group of people that will be difficult to handle, so that’s who I’ve been thinking about. If the surveys say 25% of ticket-buyers want to hear Speaker X, and Speaker X is a problem, what’s the next step? What happens if they flaunt every policy people develop?

    If these people are currently notorious, well-known by organizers and other speakers, how do they keep getting gigs? We can’t organize against them because we don’t know who they are, so I’m confused about who is going to make these rules and who will enforce them. In other words, if one of the perks of speaking at these conferences is shuffling through the female attendees until one falls for your bullshit, what incentive do you have to change?

  160. Pteryxx says

    Don: for what it’s worth, I don’t know of ANY community that has solved that problem short of criminal or civil charges (and those don’t often work either). We’re on the cutting edge here. Can you suggest some possible solutions?

    One suggestion off the top of my head would be chaperoning – just assign a volunteer from con staff (preferably not of the harasser’s target gender) to be that speaker’s personal gofer for the duration of the con, errand-running a bonus. Whoever has this job should be informed of the speaker’s, er, preferences, the con’s harassment policy, and have a radio or other means of contacting con security just in case.

    Being a speaker’s assigned aide or gofer is actually a real convention position, one I’ve done as a volunteer. Providing aides to multiple speakers could be good cover so that no one speaker needs to be publicly singled out, should organizers decide that’s important.

    Anyway, that’s a brainstorming idea to start with.

  161. says

    But but but… you’re a humorless radical feminist!! You can’t joke about breasts unless you’re using them to beat men to death with them! Down with the penis!

  162. Robert B. says

    In my experience, different people go to cons for different reasons. That means that there are plenty of people who go expecting a professional environment, or at least a non-sexual one, and they need that respected. But that doesn’t mean the whole con has to be a NO SEXYTIMES ZONE. It depends on the setting. If two ordinary attendees meet in the hotel bar, say, or at a room party, or at the dance (do atheist cons have dances?) they should be just as free to flirt or whatever as in any social situation. (Of course, standard anti-creepiness rules still apply.) Randomly passing in the hallway, or in on-topic conversations in a panel room, or sitting next to each other in the audience for something… not so much.

  163. says

    Improbable Joe, Ms. Daisy Cutter,

    You are both reading way too much into what I wrote, and, unfortunately, putting words in my mouth.

    I understand that this is a sensitive and emotional subject, but we do ourselves a disservice as skeptics if we rush to conclusions that quickly turn into established truths.

  164. says

    Improbable Joe,

    I have not said anywhere that I accept the idea that sexual predators are really the victims of false claims.

    I don’t know if it is intentional, but you seem to keep misreading what I write.

    Pteryxx,

    No, I did not lie. I pointed out that your claim – that “roughly 90% of personal accusations are likely to be valid” is false. The study you linked to pointed to studies ranging *from* 1.5% *to* 90%.

    You took the higher number and applied that to all the evidence. You can’t do that.

    happyathiestmommy,

    There is no question that it is a difficult matter to assure evidence of harassment. We are not talking about a crime that leaves physical evidence (unless, of course, recordings are available). And data is hard to find, also no question about it.

    Ms. Daisy Cutter,

    No, I did not “defend” ElevatorGuy. I pointed out, as I do now, that perception of an event is hard to judge, especially if we only have hear-say to go on.

    Not rushing to judge is not equivalent to defending the other side.

  165. says

    midorime,

    I was not looking for a quick solution, far from it. I was looking for ways to gather that evidence, and jamessweet’s suggestion is a really good one.

  166. Pteryxx says

    Claus: wow, I would’ve expected someone who lies as much as you do to be better at it. You tried to discredit me by quoting the wrong numbers, from the article that I linked and you failed to comprehend, *twice* – AND you just quoted the wrong numbers BACKWARDS. You can’t even quotemine coherently. Sheesh.

  167. Robert B. says

    Holy gender roles, Batman!

    Lynn, I need to know how to avoid users and manipulators and people who lie about what they want out of a relationship. And it’s not just because I’m gay. People who are into women need the same skills, because women can pull all the same nasty tricks. And the potential for abuse and pain in relationships turns up in so many more different ways than just manipulating a partner into having sex. The situation you describe is such a tiny subset of the problem you’re trying to talk about, because you’re limiting yourself with the old-fashioned model of “guys want to have sex with girls.”

    But to answer your question, here’s my number one relationship rule: every person should expect their partner’s complete and whole-hearted respect, in any romantic or sexual relationship of any duration or kind. Not getting that respect is always grounds for terminating the relationship, no matter how good it seems otherwise.

    Corollary: people who know what true respect feels like because they already get it from friends and family are much harder to fool, and are at a big advantage in avoiding relationship strife.

  168. says

    Ms. Daisy Cutter,

    Sorry, this got misplaced.

    No, I did not “defend” ElevatorGuy. I pointed out, as I do now, that perception of an event is hard to judge, especially if we only have hear-say to go on.

    Not rushing to judge is not equivalent to defending the other side.

  169. Pteryxx says

    Claus: Well heck, if THAT’S what you consider “mutual misunderstanding” then I’m really frickin’ glad you aren’t contributing towards a sexual harassment policy.

  170. says

    Just as men can destroy women’s reputation by dropping hints of sexual availability, women can likewise drop hints about men being swines.

    I don’t think we progress by accepting the notion that a whole gender is incapable of doing something bad.

    But your point about underreporting is certainly valid. If we cannot get numbers that reflect reality as best as is possible, we are merely fumbling in the dark.

  171. midorime says

    The suggestion sounds great, and was no doubt well meant. But realistically the problem lies in the vague “effective reporting”. Read more than just the first line of what I wrote. Reporting carries risk (see Jen’s original post and many of the comments). So how exactly do you encourage effective reporting when you have already indicated that you are concerned that victims are liars? No hand-waving please. Hard data, and detailed plans.

  172. says

    Citation needed? Read up on Wilt Chamberlain. This guy alone has probably had more female groupies than all the male groupies in the world in all of history combined.

    While most famous in the rock-star context (find out what a plaster caster is if you don’t know), groupies exist in many fields, almost always (for whatever reasons) female groupies and male, err, groupees.

  173. says

    At what point would a speaker get a black mark? During the flirting (defined by who)? If they decide to go somewhere for “coffee”?

    People always bring up these kinds of situations, as if that’s the kind of thing generally reported. In my experience occasional flirting, if it stops the moment it is not reciprocated, is not what is at issue here.

    unwanted and aggressive sexual advances

    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

    I had to request friends attending the con to be extra diligent about making sure I wasn’t alone.

    What is being described here is not flirting, and it is a typical strawman to pretend that is what is under discussion. People are not warning about someone who flirts – they’re saying that there are speakers you should not be alone with. That’s an unbelievably worrying thing, and a statement which some men here would do well to think about, and try to put themselves in the place of a woman who has to worry about this, especially as (judging by the apologetics above) she knows she is unlikely to be believed.

  174. says

    seconded. from a dude’s perspective, I’m sure my jobs in Germany had a “relaxed attitude”; as it happens, what it actually was, from the perspective of the women working there, was “ew, our boss is a creep”

    and then there was the manager at my mom’s job who repeatedly commented about how much worse women are at informatics. on the job. to a group of female programmers.

  175. Jade Falcon says

    Excellent examination of the issue, and I think the policy remedies you’ve advanced are an excellent way forward. Probably not a panacea (we seem to have a dearth of those in the world, don’t we?), but a substantive and substantial improvement.

    I also agree that the policies should include an expected code of conduct for presenters AND staff. The inherent power differential is just too sticky to ignore. If someone really strikes your fancy, get a phone number and agree to meet some other time, away from circumstances that would make any interaction unbalanced.

    I enjoy your writing. Keep it up!

    Unrelated food for thought: Would the next logical step of feminism be “personism”? It’d need a better term, since “personism” just reeks of political correctness. In my idealized world, we as a culture and species could move from addressing the abuses and mistreatments of women to the abuses and mistreatments of everyone, regardless of sex or gender. We’re not there yet, so I remain an strident feminist until that golden age arrives.

  176. says

    I think you misunderstand my stance.

    In my first post, I was voicing a concern of false rumours of misconduct, because there wouldn’t be a program in place for reporting incidents of misconduct.

    When – if – a program of reporting is in place, such false rumours would all but disappear. If you really feel you have been harassed, you contact the program. If you are trying to set someone up, you will have to come forward and make the accusation. That takes a lot more than just vicious gossip in the back rooms.

  177. says

    I notice Randy makes absolutely no attempt to specify exactly HOW Rebecca Watson was “wrong.” That’s probably because he has no idea what he’s talking about, and just wants to grind the same old rusty axe without having to make any effort to think.

  178. left0ver1under says

    “Why don’t you just publish a list of names?” you ask. If only it were that easy. Imagine what would happen if I published a list of names based on hearsay alone.

    This is where the benefit of anonymity can come in. An anonymous “clearing house” blog could be made where suspected cretins are reported and named. The names of individuals who are reported multiple times by different women would be published.

    And by published, I do not mean openly accused of sexual assault or harassment. It could simply say “these people should be avoided” or they are “suspected of harassment”. Statements without proof (regardless of veracity) could lead to legal trouble for those saying it. But just because someone is innocent until proven guilty doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be warned.

    For example, the first accusation of rape against Ben Roethlisberger could be explained away based on “benefit of doubt”. But now that it’s up to three accusations of rape, is it wrong to talk about him? He may never have been convicted, but I would still warn women not to be alone with him.

  179. Pteryxx says

    The problem with an anonymous *blog* in real time is that without serious moderating, anonymous trolls would organize to get names on the publicly viewable list, push them as high as possible, and then use the rating as justification to get them banned. Note the harassment campaign against Rebecca Watson that attempted to get her fired.

    Better to have someone responsible for collecting confidential and anonymous complaints and release data as a bloc, for each convention or each year or some such, to insulate them from manipulation. Whether the public results should be attached to names or not is a separate question.

  180. says

    My apologies if this duplicates an earlier comment’s content, but it was impossible to do more than skim them at this point. I originally made this post on Greta Christina’s piece, but I think it also belongs here. So:

    I’d like to make a suggestion as to how this problem with speakers might be handled.

    I totally understand the reluctance to come forward on the part of individuals. Any one woman who made such an accusation against a prominent speaker would undoubtedly be, pardon the expression, crucified. Also, I suspect that some women might be willing to take the heat but unwilling to do something that could well create a real division within the movement, as people line up to take sides for one party or the other. Not to mention the fear that the tarnishing a prominent speaker could bring the movement itself into disrepute.
    But there is a way past this difficulty: coordinated action.

    We need to find multiple women who have had similar experiences with the same speakers, and persuade them to make a joint statement to that effect. One statement per speaker, each statement containing specifics from at least three women. The statements must be as factual as possible, with details of places and times, etc. They need to be made under the aegis of a major secular organization, or even better, a coalition of such.

    The long term history of such events in the media at large shows that when multiple women come forward with similar accusations, the public is much morel likely to credit them. Moreover, if this is done formally by secular organizations, it will be a demonstration that we police ourselves and protect our own, and that will be a positive for the movement rather than a negative.

  181. says

    If naming names isn’t an option, and disinviting “big names” isn’t on the table either, then perhaps organizers should compensate by drumming up a more positive cultural message for conference attendees, to counterbalance the default attitude of respect for “big names” and unwillingness to rock boats. Something along the lines of “We understand you’re coming here to make connections, learn stuff, and have a good time besides. While we value the contribution of those we’ve invited to speak, we also remind everyone that respect for someone’s wit or wisdom does not mean turning off our minds and compromising our own best interests. Mistreatment BY an invited speaker is no more acceptable than mistreatment OF an invited speaker. Equality and mutual respect are among the core values of the atheist/skeptic community, and among the main reasons why we became atheists in the first place. We’re not the Catholic Church — it’s okay to stand up for your own safety and dignity.”

    On the subject of keeping silent to avoid threats and harassment: I know I’m not one of the ones facing serious harassment myself, so take my opinion for what it’s worth — but I really think that caving to threats and orchestrated tantrums will only bring more of the same. Sooner or later, those who have something to say will have to say it. And the more people say what needs to be said, the less effect the cyberbullying will have. I suspect that most of the people doing the cyberbullying are exremely immature, and will eventually give up if their targets persevere. Capitulation and compromise only encourage the bullies; solidarity and perseverance will eventually wear them out.

  182. says

    We are not, and have not, been talking about rape, but of sexual harassment from privileged speakers. If a person reported rape to the organizers, and those did not report it to the police, they would be in serious trouble, both from a legal point of view, and a public relations one.

    I am also not sure that it is a good idea to limit the scope to sexual harassment. Why not simply about harassment, and include all at the conference, speakers, organizers, staff, and attendees? If it were only targeted toward male speakers, it could be seen as an indifference toward those among the attendees who would also engage in such practices. “Male speakers cannot sexually harass, but we have intention of caring about those who are harassed, sexually or otherwise, by attendees.” Yeah, that would go down well. Sure.

  183. Pteryxx says

    And here we have the intellectual homeopathy approach: confronted with evidence of a problem, dilute the issue with any and every possible concern and doubt.

  184. Pteryxx says

    I suspect that most of the people doing the cyberbullying are exremely immature, and will eventually give up if their targets persevere. Capitulation and compromise only encourage the bullies; solidarity and perseverance will eventually wear them out.

    Yeah, about that… today is May 24 in my stripe of the world. In less than a month will be the one-year anniversary of Rebecca Watson’s talk reporting ONE instance of sexual harassment at a conference, without naming the individual involved. How much cyberbullying has she received over the past year, and how much is she still receiving to this day, in these comment threads? How much vilification is Jen McCreight receiving in the thread next door because she reported merely *that a problem exists*? Do you really think all the women who privately warned her are getting the same or worse treatment?

    It’s not capitulation that provokes these bullying campaigns. Many victims know perfectly well that capitulation gives them the best odds of preserving their sanity.

    http://skepchick.org/2011/09/mom-dont-read-this/

    Someone Tweeted to ask if I get emails like that often, and I had to laugh. Ever since the incident that shall not be named, I get these emails several times a week. But more than that, I’ve now amassed a following of obsessive creeps who have seemingly devoted their lives to hounding me down and making sure I never dare to speak my bitch mind again. Their tactics? Scientologist-level private investigation to dredge up the deepest, darkest mysteries of my past combined with grade school-level name-calling. It’s impressive, really. Really. Really.

    For months, I’ve been ignoring these people with varying amounts of success. I read all my emails, which means I see these people sending me links to their posts, apparently proud of their work. They post their angry rants on Reddit, where I happen upon them while browsing stupid cat gifs. They post poorly-formed insults on my Facebook page(s). Well-meaning friends even send me some links, worried that these people will take their obsession to the next level.

    Some friends have encouraged me to write about it in the hopes of exposing this idiocy and protecting myself in case someone does actually try something. I’ve put it off, because diving into that pool of bitter bile isn’t good for my mental well-being. When I write about something – particularly something depressing – I like to have a call to action, or a lesson of some sort. A story arc. But after thinking this over for weeks, all I have is this: there are some truly terrible people out there, who define themselves by their hatred. Worse, these people aren’t the “others” that we might wish. They aren’t David Mabus, a crazed Christian holed away in Canada sending bizarre threats all day. They aren’t adolescent trolls who will grow out of it. These are “normal” adults, with jobs and families. They attend skeptic and atheist events. They probably have the ability to read and think and be compassionate, but they choose not to.

  185. left0ver1under says

    I wasn’t inferring the two were the same, but you tried to suggest that I was.

    I was trying to pick an example in the same ballpark that most/all readers would be familiar with.

  186. left0ver1under says

    I guess I should have added that such a list would be best not held on this site, but rather on a third-hand site and linked to. One can be held accountable for the content of one’s own site, but not the sites of third parties.

  187. Don says

    Just my lawyer mind working, but the more I think about, adding some “standard of behavior” clause to the contracts the speakers sign could be promising. There’s still the problem of what group decides whether a complaint is legitimate or not, but there are plenty of arbitration organizations filled with retired judges and such.

    The idea of a chaperone seems so goddamn childish, but it’s probably the in-house leader in terms of “chance of working”ness.

    My position on this is basically that it’s a clear problem with very murky solutions. I would really like to have a confirmed list of these a-holes so everyone could organize against them and refuse to attend conferences where they’re invited…etc., but how do we get to that list? I think that’s the most effective method of the community regulating itself, I even look forward to the shit-storm backlash, some messy fights are worth having, but I have no confidence in the integrity of such a list right now.

  188. Pteryxx says

    Don: Okay, from a lawyer’s perspective then, how would you suggest verifying the integrity of such a list? Keep in mind, complainants are vulnerable to harassment if they go public or are outed; also the possibility that persons responsible for receiving complaints may be sympathetic to harassers.

    What I gather is that right now, there IS an informal worst-offender list, and it’s likely to be accurate, but there’s no clear way to go from *probably* accurate to *demonstrably* accurate.

  189. JM says

    Harassment probably happens in many venues. The one I’m most familiar with is a specialized folk music circuit. It is handled informally there, usually as organizers hear of incidents and put performers on a blacklist. A non-harassment policy that vendors and performers have to sign sounds like a good idea. I will suggest it to my husband who has had to deal with a couple of cases over the years. It doesn’t hurt to go on record that “really, people, this just isn’t OK.”

  190. says

    If you can’t be held accountable for such a list, why should anyone believe the contents of said list?

    When you accuse someone of something, you should be held accountable for it. Otherwise, it would be an invitation to create smear campaigns sans accountability.

  191. John says

    Good job, Jen. An offhand comment looks like it’s leading to meaningful change. That’s awesome!

  192. BVG says

    I am a man and have never attended one of the atheist conventions that are the subject of this discussion, but I have litigated sexual harassment claims on behalf of harassment victims. I must confess that I am confused by the assertion by Jen and other participants in this thread that the “power differential” between well-known speakers and other participants in these conferences is enough to covert a sexual proposition from one adult to another into harassment that should be prohibited by some quasi-legal rule. Unless these celebrity speakers have economic or other concrete power over the objects of their desire, comparable to that of an employer or teacher, I’m not sure that one is justified in affixing the harassment label to every unwelcome solicitation. If the mere fact that a person proposing sex is older, younger, richer, more famous, handsomer, uglier, or in some other fashion unequal to the the person he or she is approaching creates a power differential that eliminates the possibility of the proposee’s freely giving or withholding consent, then I dare say that there have not been many consensual relationships in human history.

  193. midorime says

    Claus,
    I do not misunderstand you. Your concerns come from who and what you are. You imagine that the only reason someone would not file a complaint which could be linked to them is because they are lying. You are ignoring that someone could be quite certain that they were harassed, that they may be made so uncomfortable that they would avoid even going to more meetings, and that they STILL would have valid reasons for not filing a public complaint. Until you understand that you cannot have this argument in good faith.

  194. Max says

    One person’s “more relaxed attitude toward sex” is another person’s “culture of rape and sexual harassment towards women with no consequences for the perpetrators.” I’m sure it seems more relaxed to the men who get the benefit of being able to abuse women without punishment, but I doubt that their victims feel too good about it.

    Um, what? How the hell can one person get from one to the other. There is a great deal of latitude in cultural conventions, but this is ridiculous. A culture of sexual harassment towards anyone requires the minimizing of the autonomy of the persons being harassed. This is not the same as a more relaxed attitude toward sex.

  195. Max says

    What is being described here is not flirting, and it is a typical strawman to pretend that is what is under discussion.

    Except that I was not addressing that charge. I was addressing the question of the no-hooking-up policy. It is under that scenario that I brought up the question of flirting. At no point was I saying a non-harassment policy should not be enacted or enforced. At no point did I say groping, stalking, or harassment did not take place or was acceptable. If you’re going to criticize me, do it for what I am actually discussing.

  196. Max says

    And yet most workplaces have some kind of sexual harassment policy in place. It’s really no different. The conferences are employing the speakers on a temporary basis, they can easily implement a sexual harassment policy for those speakers in the same manners that employers commonly do.

    I was not addressing the no harassment suggestion (who wouldn’t go along with that?). I was addressing the no-consensual-hooking up-for-speakers policy proposal. It is essentially a no-fraternization policy at heart (unless you want to plant people outside speakers’ doors).

    As far as their being no difference, not quite. The power interaction between a speaker and another guest is quite a great deal different than that between an employer and employee or a teacher and a student.

  197. says

    midorime,

    I do not imagine that the only reason someone would not file a complaint which could be linked to them is because they are lying. I am saying that there could be a risk of this happening, and I also think those who do feel like they have been harassed have valid reasons for not filing a complaint.

    I have stressed, again and again, that this is a sensitive matter, for all involved.

    So, yes, you do misunderstand me. I can, and I do, have this argument in good faith.

  198. denature says

    I had similar thoughts BVG. The idea of a position of authority being assigned to speakers seems fundamentally different than definitions I have been exposed to in workplace and academic environments.

    In my U.S. scientific upbringing, speakers were always in the category of colleagues rather than authority figures. I reserve the right to recant due to being naive, but I would be disappointed if speakers relevant to this thread are tacitly given by attendees the weight of rock stars whose words inherently possess more value.

    But speakers should certainly be subject to the same anti-harassment policies as other conference attendees. And speakers who violate established policies could be subject to more severe consequences.

  199. Chris Lawson says

    Jen,

    I agree with almost everything in this post. I think conferences and conventions should be safe for people to attend without having to fear being sexually harassed or assaulted (and although it mostly applies to protecting women, it should apply to people of every gender, orientation, and proclivity). Conventions need to have a robust sexual harassment policy and they need to put it in people’s faces to change behaviour.

    My only disagreement is with putting in a blanket ban on sexual relations between speakers and attendees. I think it would be appropriate to make it very clear to speakers (i) what constitutes harassment, (ii) that reports of sexual harassment will be taken seriously, and (iii) that sexual harassment may result in not being invited back, being publicly named, or even legal action or criminal prosecution. However, the whole point about harassment is that it is non-consensual. Consensual sex should not be any concern of the convention committee. And speaker-attendee is not the sort of power differential that should put the kibosh on a relationship (generally when people talk about power differentials, they’re talking about teacher-student, doctor-patient, boss-subordinate, etc.; that is, a situation where the more powerful person can directly harm the other by giving poor grades, revealing private information, giving them the sack, etc.).

    I think the more difficult subject is how to name and shame perpetrators. If you can forgive a little diversion into epidemiology, we are often caught between false positives and false negatives when we decide on test levels. In blood sugar levels, for instance, there is a large overlap in readings from diabetic and non-diabetic people. That is, there is no way of setting a glucose level that will 100% identify diabetics and 100% exclude non-diabetics. So when we decide what level to act on, we have to choose which error we’d prefer to accept. The same problem affects sexual harassment reports. We don’t want to perpetrators to get away with it and we don’t want non-perpetrators to be falsely accused, but there is no perfect point where we can be 100% right on every reported incident. Given the incidence of sexual harassment (esp. when one considers under-reporting) compared to the incidence of false reporting, I think any decision on where to draw the line has got to favour acting on reports of sexual harassment unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.

    “Beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard for criminal law, not for conference organisers.

  200. BVG says

    Certainly physical assaults are crimes and should be reported to the authorities. At the other end of the spectrum, it is perfectly appropriate for the conference sponsors to enforce rules establishing rules of civil discourse at the conference if it is necessary. (No racial or sexual epithets during conference activities, etc.) However, I get the sense that the major complaint here is that well-known atheist luminaries are propositioning their fellow speakers and other conference attendees and that, because of the “power differential” the recipients of the propositions are somehow unable to turn down unwanted invitations. Therefore, such propositions should be banned.

    I agree that in the some workplace and other institutional situations superiors should be absolutely prohibited from seeking sex from subordinates because the superior’s power over the subordinate compromises her ability to withhold consent, but I don’t understand the atheist conference speaker as being in such a relationship. Given that fact, I would say that speakers and other conference attendees should be free to approach other speakers and attendees and the folks they approach should be free to reply “In your dreams, dude.”

  201. says

    Giving the names of these offenders is problematic, for sure. A possible solution would be to give the names of speakers who do NOT have a bad reputation.

  202. sevlevboss says

    ““Why don’t you just publish a list of names?” you ask. If only it were that easy. Imagine what would happen if I published a list of names based on hearsay alone. I don’t have video evidence. I don’t even have personal experience”

    I can see how this would be a problem talking to skeptics.

    “Not only that, but I fear the consequences. Look at what happened to Rebecca Watson when she simply said “guys, don’t do that” about an anonymous conference attendee. ”

    She didn’t call him “Weird”, “Abnormal”, “Creepy”, or that he should get a sex doll, fleshlight, or “cut a hole in a watermelon” instead because he would never get laid? She never referred to him as a “misogynist” for the crime of not knowing she would react badly to the invite for coffee?

    If she had said “guys, don’t do that”, there would have been at least one less negative comment to her video and following comments that painted any guy who lacks social skills as a “mysogynist” This kind of labeling regardless of the actual intent of the target cheapens the word.

  203. hieropants says

    She didn’t call him “Weird”, “Abnormal”, “Creepy”, or that he should get a sex doll, fleshlight, or “cut a hole in a watermelon” instead because he would never get laid? She never referred to him as a “misogynist” for the crime of not knowing she would react badly to the invite for coffee?

    Nope! She did none of those things.

    Glad we got that cleared up!

  204. says

    I was with you until this part:

    “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. Even if things seem consensual, that power differential makes things inherently unbalanced. Women are already socialized to not directly say no – it’s even more difficult to do so when power differentials are involved.”

    I’m not even going to respond, I’m just shaking my head…

  205. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    But, you did respond with . . . absolutely nothing.

    So, since you’re fishing, I’ll bite: why?

  206. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    She said none of those things. Either you can prove that she did, with links, etc. Or you can’t.

    And WHEN you fail to do so, we’ll await your apology with baited breath.

  207. Pteryxx says

    Nope! The watermelon stuff was specifically directed to the guys who keep emailing her with threats and insults because they can’t figure out how to have sex except by cornering an unwilling woman.

    Not only do those jackasses deserve the snark… they should heed the advice.

    Y’know, the point of me uploading the video previously wasn’t necessarily to GIVE sex advice, but to give advice on how we, as a community, might go about making our community a more inviting one to women. But, a lot of you just have no interest in that (headshake)… you just wanted the sex advice.

    Video here: http://skepchick.org/2011/07/update-plus-dating-advice/

    Quoting transcript: http://skepchick.org/2011/07/update-plus-dating-advice/#comment-129888

  208. al says

    Actually the problem of innocents suffering beiing higher priority than guilty going free has traditionally been accepted as the innocent having the higher right against unjust punishment. I hope you are never on a jury if you think that it is equally important to put someone behind bars who is guilty, as it is to protect an innocent from going behind those same bars. PS: I have never been to one of these “conferences” and have no interest in attending one.

  209. doubtthat says

    I would vote for putting something in the speaker contracts that say they will submit to the authority of an arbitrator or some neutral body that will review the cases and render a verdict. Most likely it would remain confidential, which means the most effective path-public protest-won’t be available, but at least there will be some forum to deal with complaints and some punishment for those who misbehave.

    Not a perfect solution, but at least there’s some binding accountability.

  210. Chris Lawson says

    ^ “Bated breath”. Baited breath is another kettle of fish entirely :-)

  211. Chris Lawson says

    @anon atheist,

    I happen to disagree with Jen on this particular point…but comparing it to Sharia law? Really?

  212. says

    It is the accused who has to be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It is the prosecution who bears the burden of proof, not the other way around.

  213. sevlevboss says

    sigh…

    “She said none of those things. Either you can prove that she did, with links, etc. Or you can’t.

    And WHEN you fail to do so, we’ll await your apology with baited breath.”

    You need a link? It’s the original video..didn’t you watch it?:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m1sm8z7i0I&feature=relmfu

    “Weird, Creepy” (and undesirable) 3:20
    “Normal” people get that it’s creepy and weird: 3:37
    “Sex dolls…” 4:00
    “Cut a hole in a watermelon” 4:45

    Do I get an apology?

  214. sevlevboss says

    She directed it at anyone who responded to her video with defense of the guy’s actions, and they don’t see how he was being weird, creepy, or undesirable.

    (Asking her to his room, even though they were alone in an elevator, and he had never talked to her before)

    She never says anything about the targets of her insults having previously insulted her beyond disagreeing with her on the appropriateness of his actions.

  215. sevlevboss says

    P.S.

    I’m genuinely confused. You posted a transcript!

    Where did you get that it was directed to people who emailed her with “threats and insults”?

    It’s certainly not what she said, and I don’t even see it implied. It seemed clear to me that she was responding to those who emailed her suggesting that “elevator guy”‘s actions weren’t an example of not understanding her panel discussion.

    Though I notice watching that video again, and her panel discussion again, and her responses to the attention the indecent received how she continually seems to believe that anecdotal evidence is suddenly compelling as long as it’s supporting her already existing views, and seems convinced we should all find it compelling.

    I doubt she would find anecdotal evidence compelling for an issue she wasn’t strongly emotionally invested in. Personally, as a skeptic I do not find anecdotal evidence to be of much value at all.

    Anecdotal evidence of “nasty youtube comments” even less so.

  216. Pteryxx says

    sevlevboss:

    I’m genuinely confused. You posted a transcript!

    Yep. I wrote the transcript. It consists of all the words Rebecca said in that video, in the order in which she said them. Some of those words form statements that relate to the other statements in the same video. That’s a phenomenon called context. Your repeated objections to certain phrases she used, while misunderstanding (or misrepresenting) the referents of those phrases, is called (generously) “taking statements out of context”. Also, the terms “cherry-picking” or “quote-mining” may apply. (Or “biased” but we’ll get to that.)

    Where did you get that it was directed to people who emailed her with “threats and insults”?

    It’s certainly not what she said, and I don’t even see it implied.

    The entire video is a reply directed to those who commented on her previous statement, as seen by her use of second person (“you” as the subject) throughout, and by specific references to “you who left comments”, “your questions” and so on;

    and she lists some of the insults received, as responses from the people she’s addressing, in the second paragraph: “faggot”, “retard”, “man-hater”.

    She never says anything about the targets of her insults having previously insulted her beyond disagreeing with her on the appropriateness of his* actions.

    Sending insults, as noted above, definitely goes beyond disagreeing with her.

    She directed it at anyone who responded to her video with defense of the guy’s* actions, and they don’t see how he* was being weird, creepy, or undesirable.

    Trivially untrue. In the fourth paragraph, she specifically addressed the subset who didn’t see a problem with the situation before she pointed it out to them. The start of the fifth paragraph makes clear she is specifically addressing a subset of respondents, namely (as stated in paragraph 3) those who ask “If I can’t do THAT, HOW can I possibly get laid?”

    Not “how can HE possibly get laid”. These respondents demand to know how THEY, personally, can get laid; and they think it’s appropriate to ask Rebecca to personally answer that question. She answered these people by suggesting they “get their rocks off” in a list of ways that don’t require deciding what is or is not appropriate behavior towards another person. Certainly, she’s replying in an insulting manner; but considering these respondents are demanding sex advice as a *derail* to her original topic of improving women’s participation in the community (as she states clearly in her final paragraph, which I quoted to you) they deserve to be insulted.

    It seemed clear to me that she was responding to those who emailed her suggesting that “elevator guy”‘s* actions weren’t an example of not understanding her panel discussion.

    Which is why I’m pointing out to you what you overlooked, ignored, or discounted when your reading seemed clear to you.

    *Note that nowhere in the transcript does Rebecca refer to a specific individual, only to the inappropriateness *of the situation* in general. You, however, insist on framing the discussion as defending or attacking this individual. This is an example of bias in your thinking, which I expect is interfering with your comprehension.

    Though I notice watching that video again, and her panel discussion again, and her responses to the attention the indecent received

    By “attention” you’re of course including the insults she describes here and the threats and personal attacks documented elsewhere?

    how she continually seems to believe that anecdotal evidence is suddenly compelling as long as it’s supporting her already existing views, and seems convinced we should all find it compelling.

    Why are you suddenly making a (vague) claim about anecdotal evidence and using it as a blanket accusation of bias in the speaker?

    I doubt she would find anecdotal evidence compelling for an issue she wasn’t strongly emotionally invested in. Personally, as a skeptic I do not find anecdotal evidence to be of much value at all.

    (see above)

    Anecdotal evidence of “nasty youtube comments” even less so.

    You never said what claim you’re dismissing by saying something is anecdotal, except as you’re using it to impugn Rebecca’s motives. However, “nasty youtube comments” is not anecdotal. The comments were publicly viewable for anyone to see (and probably still are) as are scores of similar comments on publicly viewable discussion threads, continuing to the present day.

    Therefore, I conclude that you’re using “anecdotal evidence” as a thin and unjustified excuse for your own denial.

    Hope this helped to enlighten your confusion.

  217. Pteryxx says

    And where in that video is she speaking to the individual you’re so busily insisting she insulted? Timestamp please?

    (Hint: Nowhere. See transcript, also my reply below.)

  218. says

    However, I get the sense that the major complaint here is that well-known atheist luminaries are propositioning their fellow speakers and other conference attendees and that, because of the “power differential” the recipients of the propositions are somehow unable to turn down unwanted invitations.

    Really? That’s what you hear when Jen says this?

    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.

    That’s a really interesting translator you’ve got going there.

  219. Max says

    From

    She didn’t call him “Weird”, “Abnormal”, “Creepy”, or that he should get a sex doll, fleshlight, or “cut a hole in a watermelon” instead because he would never get laid? She never referred to him as a “misogynist” for the crime of not knowing she would react badly to the invite for coffee?

    To

    She directed it at anyone who responded to her video with defense of the guy’s actions,

    I gotta give you this. Changing goal posts within the same thread and pretending no one will notice takes balls.

  220. sevlevboss says

    “Also, the terms “cherry-picking” or “quote-mining” may apply. (Or “biased” but we’ll get to that.)”

    You can throw around terms like “cherry-picking” all you like, they only apply if I’m ignoring context, which you say I am, but provide little evidence for other than your assertion, (but we’ll get to that).

    “The entire video is a reply directed to those who commented on her previous statement, …and she lists some of the insults received, as responses from the people she’s addressing, in the second paragraph: “faggot”, “retard”, “man-hater”.”

    I agree on both points. I question how you get from these points to your claim that her video addresses ONLY those who insulted her. Her video on Youtube alone has nearly 10,000 comments. Many of those comments disagree with her without containing insults. Her response in the following video (your transcript), does not differentiate one from the other. If it did, and I ignored that, your accusation of “cherry-picking” would be fair and accurate. However, it doesn’t, and it isn’t.

    “Sending insults, as noted above, definitely goes beyond disagreeing with her.”

    Agreed. Rebecca has every right to defend herself when she is attacked. Responding to insults in kind doesn’t bother me at all, and I think it’s perfectly justified. However, her response is not limited to those who insulted her. It is broadened to those who disagreed, or did not understand why approaching a girl in an elevator was wrong.

    “*Note that nowhere in the transcript does Rebecca refer to a specific individual, only to the inappropriateness *of the situation* in general. You, however, insist on framing the discussion as defending or attacking this individual”

    From “About Mythbusters…” Youtube video: “Thank you to everyone who was at that conference, you were all fantastic…all of you except for the one man who didn’t really grasp what I was saying”

    This is from the previous video, which frames the context. It is also the video referenced in this blog entry with the claim, “Not only that, but I fear the consequences. Look at what happened to Rebecca Watson [b]when she simply said “guys, don’t do that” about an anonymous conference attendee.[/b]”

    This is the claim I disputed in my original post, and continue to dispute.

    “By “attention” you’re of course including the insults she describes here and the threats and personal attacks documented elsewhere?”

    Not specifically, is your claim that all the attention was attacks, threats and insults? I should make it clear that I don’t consider disagreements insults. (For example, nothing in our exchange I would consider an insult or threat)

    “Why are you suddenly making a (vague) claim about anecdotal evidence and using it as a blanket accusation of bias in the speaker?”

    I’m not certain of bias, so I’ll back off from the statement enough to make it clear I’m not convinced there is bias. However, I am making the claim there is inconsistency in the burden of proof based on the claim that Ms Watson is defending or attacking, as this is the only subject which she uses anecdotes as evidence.

    However, your point is valid, I will back off from assuming motive for the discrepancy.

    “However, “nasty youtube comments” is not anecdotal. The comments were publicly viewable for anyone to see (and probably still are)

    Of course they are anecdotal. Just because they can be read by others doesn’t change that. If I were to (hypothetically) say I had a friend cured of homosexuality through therapy, that evidence would be anecdotal. Showing you a written transcript from him that he claims to be “cured” doesn’t change anything.

    The point I’m making here is that Rebecca Watson claims the skeptical community is sexist. I certainly believe society in general is sexist, so it is a claim I don’t consider that unlikely, though her evidence supporting that claim is all very weak and/or uncompelling.

    When I’m presented with nasty emails or Youtube comments, I immediately wonder,
    “How do we know these comments are from skeptics or atheists at all?”
    “What percentage of the skeptical or atheist community does this represent?”
    “How do we know these comments or emails represent the skeptical or atheist community?”
    “How can we draw any conclusions at all about any large community based upon this kind of evidence?”

  221. BVG says

    Jen says “If you are making advances toward someone, you are abusing that position of power.” That was the contention I was addressing.

  222. says

    sevlevboss, this is not a post about Elevatorgate. If you continue to derail the thread with it, you will be banned. This is your warning.

  223. Rosemary says

    This is a nasty situation. I applaude the attempts to bring it out into the open and deal with it. This is so different from the Catholic policy of ignoring and hiding it.

  224. arsinoe says

    In the American legal system, presumption of innocence before guilt is absolutely the appropriate and just way to treat accusations of wrongdoing. However, as a woman, and in real-life situations (including informal discussions about who can and cannot be trusted) it is *far* more rational, for one’s own safety, to presume guilt before innocence if one wishes to get by unmolested. That’s the sort of world we live in, even if we perceive it differently. I’m not sure how to translate one type of justice (channel of information?) to the other, with their differing assumptions and requirements for evidence, unfortunately. The default justice system does seem to have the *effect* of privileging abusers and assaulters over their victims in practice, so on the balance? Perhaps that’s not the system you would wish to emulate when trying to include women in skeptical conventions.

  225. arsinoe says

    Because if you can’t get your flirt on, why attend a con, amirite. MY HORMONES

  226. arsinoe says

    Thank you so much for kindly telling us what we should find degrading, humiliating, or outright threatening! We were so confused about this sort of thing until you appeared.

  227. arsinoe says

    Sir,

    There is dealing with evidence in a vacuum wherein said evidence has no impact on one’s life and the merits of either side can debated with impunity and no real urgency.

    On the other hand, there is the case where one must proceed in an environment generally hostile to one’s sex, in which case accusations offered in good faith must be acted on swiftly in order to ensure one’s own safety. Skepticism is primarily concerned with the absolute truth of the matter, which is an important thing to seek and to know. However, it cannot always be known in a timely fashion, and must at times be guessed at, evidence pending, in order to ensure the best possible chance of avoiding harm to one’s person. That *you* are able to assume this lack of harm in all circumstances, and contemplate and bemoan the philosophical implications of false accusations of sexual impropriety, marks you as a person who has never personally experienced that kind of risk or harm, which you might wish to realize *is a privilege.*

    You might also wish to contemplate that the worst effect of these informal networks of women, IN REALITY, is that a dude might not get laid at a convention, which I hardly need to state is not all that big a buzzkill in the greater scheme of things. We always have to balance our ideals against the reality of our own lives, and in the case of women, the reality is usually a far more present, imminent concern than the abstract.

  228. says

    There’s always a difference in power, and thus that argument carries no weight. Every social interaction is filtered through and beautified. Every attempt to hookup contains coercion, or the more palatable word, persuasion. While your intent may be good, in people’s desire to take a deep stance they’ll often make the wrong choice to the point where we’re walking on eggshells, and with that repression could come negative consequences. In an attempt to make people more comfortable you could be creating a division between sexes until asking a girl out for coffee is the new rape.

  229. Darren M says

    I… don’t think anyone said “women are liars and men are victims, too”. However, there *is* a legitimate concern that a bad actor could make a false report against someone for whatever reason, and it *is* important to consider this when creating policies and procedures.

    Just concerns about libel alone should make conference organizers cautious to ensure that things are in place to ensure that actions are taken carefully, and procedures are organized to resist abuse by bad actors. And designing these well is no easy task. Consider:

    It is difficult for some women to trust that they can safely report inappropriate behavior; some level of anonymity could improve this, but it also makes it more likely to be abused.

    Blacklisting/publicly shaming someone is a big and irreversible action; would you want to be responsible for ruining someone’s name, marriage, career, etc. if there was a reasonable chance the report was erroneous or malicious?

    I think it’s important to talk about these things, because while it may be rare there *are* people who would abuse such a reporting process. I think Elsye’s proposal at least deals with this in the broad strokes, as she talks about the need to act on patterns of reports. Such a thing goes a long way — a single report could be in error, an overreaction, or even malicious. It’s very unlikely that multiple reports from multiple women at several conferences are all such things.

    The one thing I think is missing from what I’ve seen in this discussion is a “fair warning” provision. If someone does something inappropriate, they should be warned that their behavior was unacceptable and is now documented, and what the consequences of continuing that or similar behavior will be. This reduces the chance that a black-balled speaker (for example) can claim simple ignorance or misunderstanding.

    Obviously, there would have to be exceptions to the “fair warning” rule for egregious offenses, but I think people *generally* should get the benefit of the doubt on a first offense.

  230. says

    Not really fishing, just don’t have the time to give a decent response. A response that would basically parrot some of the other, more well spoken ones.

  231. sc_b9bed3f1d5882e09f55f54c2d4cf5b7c says

    Nah. Essential to the concept of atheist conferences is that people have grown out of their impressed culture and can think for themselves, and travel to sexually mixed groups and make social decisions for themselves.

    Atheism is NOT nannyism. The case for nannyism appeals much more to women than men, but if women are going to argue equality, then they need to network.

    The blogger throws off her social responsibility by whining that she doesn’t have a network. Well, build one, and if you’re at a conference and have need to meet a sexual predator in private, take a woman or man friend to mediate. Cell phones take pictures, too.

    If your SUSPECTED predator invites you to an “unsafe” place, don’t assent to the location. The initial assent is the key, however eager you are for whatever revelation will occur there. There’s plenty of precedent in the ’60′s for groupie behavior.

  232. says

    I find it really sad that when a bunch of scum-bag men hit on women (or worse), that the knee jerk reaction is to limit innocent peoples freedoms.

    I’m a skeptic, a scientist and a free-thinker. I’ve never been to one of these conferences, but they now sound unhealthy and on-track for heavy regulation and limited-thinking.

    I’ll stick to Burning Man, TED talks, SXSW and other conferences that are far more freedom oriented and where healthy sexual relations continue to exist between both lecturers and audience members.

  233. says

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  234. Yahzi says

    I am glad to see you so concerned with accuracy.

    Many years ago, on a different board, I remember a prominent member of that board making a disparaging remark about another poster. When it was pointed out to this person that he almost certainly made a mistake and meant to be referring to a different poster (who’s handle differed by a single letter), this person… doubled down on his original, erroneous position.

    No power found within the entire on-line community at that site could convince this person that he had made a simple, imminently understandable mistake. He continued to make disparaging remarks about his original target (even going to far as to quote comments made by the actual target) without ever acknowledging that he was capable of being wrong in even the tiniest detail.

    So I can see why you’re keen to raise this point, and I’m glad you did.

  235. says

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  236. says

    We “can’t” share crucial information in public, but if we share it only through backchannels then the women left out don’t get warned, and the sleazebags and assaulters and harassers aren’t held accountable. I would rather err on the side of making information public.

    I’ve hosted several discussions on feminist hacking and trolling and feminist ethics, and it’s been very interesting each time to see what people bring up!

  237. says

    I tracked this back from the recent “ERV field trip to Ophelia’s”. I’ve gotta say that as much as I am myself constantly tempted to adopt a “people are being too sensitive” stance, it is stuff like this:

    [blockquote] I’m not ready for the flood of rape and death threats. I’m not ready to be blacklisted and have my atheist “career” ruined by people more powerful and influential than me. I’m not ready to be sued for libel or slander. [/blockquote]

    that makes it clear which side has the problem. When I consider that there are apparently some people in this world who willingly label themselves “Mens Rights Activists”, it boggles my mind that there could be human beings walking around with such a complete inability to understand irony or be at all self-aware, or whatever it is that they are missing that makes them so dangerously offensively wrong.

    Sorry for that run-on sentence. My browser has been eating comments today, so I’ve got a lot to say and little patience for editing.

  238. says

    Leigh@62 (who apparently believes they represent all of MIT):

    That was pitiful, really. Your unstated-but-necessary assumption that women enjoy being harassed or even raped at SXSW, TED, and Burning Man is offensive. Your comparison between such events and a conference of atheists is nonsensical. And your belief that without license to offend you will never find a willing sexual partner is, as I mentioned, pitiful.

    Your use of such a large number of dishonest rhetorical techniques is a remarkably good example of trolling. So now I’m wondering, is EVERY “MRA” just a troll at heart, who simply doesn’t really know how normal human beings interact on a personal basis?

    I mean, I’m not even a normal human being, and I know that anyone who’s chances of getting laid impacts their decision to go to skeptics conference has no business going to a skeptics conference. Why wouldn’t he?

  239. says

    L-OK. Since the demand is greatest to answer this question…

    Woo master: “Where do you see anyone proposing a harassment policy that forbids consensual activities?”
    L-And…

    Brownian “Give an example of such a policy that people are supporting, please.”

    L-There a few examples that people have suggested that forbid consensual activities. Here is one by Jen McCreight-
    “And I say this as a sex positive person. There’s a time and a place for flirtation and mating rituals, and when you’re a speaker, a con is neither the time nor place. I understand if attendees want to flirt and hook up with each other, since the event is not necessarily a professional setting for them (but please do your flirting during at the pub and not in the middle of a lecture, and please take no for an answer). But in my opinion, this just shouldn’t acceptable for speakers.”
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/05/dealing-with-badly-behaving-speakers/

    L-She suggests that consensual flirting between speakers and convention attendees be considered unacceptable. My original statements stand…
    “I support a reasonable anti-harassment policy that is about UNWANTED sexual attention.
    I do not support a policy that prohibits behavior that is consensual, but offends the subjective sensibilities of a few people. ex. consensual leg chewing and other activities that don’t involve public nudity. Another example dictating what people wear at booths again with the caveat of public nudity which is already against the law.”

    L-However due to the signal to noise ratio in the comments section my original statement became distorted to …

    Deen: “@lilandra in #190: who exactly do you think is trying to outlaw consentual behavior?”
    Matt Penfold: Where do you see anyone proposing a harassment policy that forbids consensual activities?
    “It’s posted on the wall of their straw house. I believe they got three pigs into build it.”
    Rowanvt “@190- None of the policies prohibit consensual behaviour. No one is suggesting that at all.”

    L-There clearly are people suggesting that some forms of consensual behavior be unacceptable. Further evidence of this can be found in The Geek Girl Feminist Wiki policy which was suggested by some to be used at freethinking conferences…
    I quote:
    [Exhibitors in the expo hall, sponsor or vendor booths, or similar activities are also subject to the anti-harassment policy. In particular, exhibitors should not use sexualized images, activities, or other material. Booth staff (including volunteers) should not use sexualized clothing/uniforms/costumes, or otherwise create a sexualized environment.
    http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Conference_anti-harassment/Policy

    L-Here people cannot where the clothes they have chosen for themselves as adult.

  240. Nick says

    “Even if things seem consensual, that power differential makes things inherently unbalanced. Women are already socialized to not directly say no – it’s even more difficult to do so when power differentials are involved.”

    So you think women are too weak to say “no” directly and they need additional protection so they should never have to? It seems to me that women are stronger than that. They don’t need to be coddled that way, IMO.

    I would also argue speaking at a con does not constitute a true power differential. Power differentials are important in matters of sexual advances because they give rise to the possibility of sanctions in the event of refusal. A speaker has no authority whatever over an attendee so although there may be a difference in status in the minds of some women, this certainly does not constitute a power differential. I suppose you could say that the perceived difference in status may have an effect on sexual advances but this would be in an entirely different way. Some women are apt to be more attracted to notable personalities they admire; that’s just a fact. That could contribute to a woman sleeping with a speaker but it certainly isn’t because they actually think refusing their advances will result in some sort of sanction. If a speaker thinks they can take advantage of their sort of celebrity status by propositioning women at cons, that is one thing, but the idea of power differentials does not come into the issue.

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