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Jun 16 2012

No, I won’t be going to TAM

Time to open up a can of worms!

I’ve been getting sporadic questions about if I’ll be attending TAM this year. No, I won’t. I apologize to any readers who were hoping to see me there! But contrary to what some people believe, it’s not because I think TAM is a cesspool where I’m going to get instantly raped, or that I think inappropriate behavior is more frequent at TAM than at other cons. I’ve never said such things. My decision about TAM was a long process that has gradually changed over time:

  1. After TAM last year, I was determined to come back. I had a great time. I told myself that even if I wasn’t invited back as a speaker, I would save up enough money to go. Travel plus registration can easily go over $1000, but I thought it was worth it to treat myself.
  2. I realized I’d be traveling in Europe soon before TAM. As much as I wanted to go, I was a little wary of taking additional travel time off. But I had so much fun that I told myself I’d just work extra hours to make up for the time.
  3. Greta Christina receives misogynistic vitriol and threats from a TAM attendee…and DJ Grothe, President of JREF, tries to defend the remarks and doesn’t take Greta’s concerns very seriously. I’m really disappointed in how DJ handled the situation, but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s just being a little clueless about this particular incident.
  4. The speaker lineup for TAM is announced. I click the link with glee, but then I’m disappointed. TAM is lacking its usual star power. Sure, there are still great people speaking – but I’ve seen them before, and no one gets me particularly excited. There was no Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye equivalent. But I’m a unique case as a speaker – I go to way more events than most people. By now I’m leaning toward not going, but I hope others will have fun.
  5. The “please have anti-harassment policies at cons” discussion begins, and DJ Grothe blames feminist bloggers like me for TAM’s decrease in female attendees. Not the economy. Not the timing. Not the fact that many people spent their yearly skeptical allowance attending the Reason Rally. Not the speaker line-up. Not his botched PR with Greta. He blamed me and my friends for daring to speak up and say “Hey, we don’t want to be sexually harassed anymore.” This is despite my previous love for TAM, and for the fundraising I did for JREF during boobquake. Why should I pay a four hundred dollar registration fee to fund an organization that’s randomly blaming me for its attendance issues? This is where I decide I’m done.
  6. Though I’ve already made my decision, DJ’s further comments make me certain that I’ve made the right one. Stephanie Zvan has the full summary. DJ says there has never been a report filed for sexual harassment at TAM…which is false. Upskirt photos taken by an individual that JREF was formally warned about? How do you forget that? DJ’s story keeps changing as more stories come to light. He could have staved off this whole PR disaster by initially saying “I’m so sorry you experienced that, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you never experience that again and that TAM is a safe space for all of our attendees.” But nope, he decided to blame those uppity feminist bloggers.
So why am I not going to TAM? Not because of women speaking out about how sexual harassment should be improved. Because of money, because of time, because of personal preferences about speakers…but most of all, because DJ Grothe had repeatedly shown himself to be more concerned about the image of his organization than about the concerns of its female supporters.
I’m not calling for a boycott of TAM – hell, I may go next year if these issues are resolved. But for now, my conference splurge of the year is going to be Skepticon, which has always made me feel welcome.

This is post 25 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

30 comments

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  1. 1
    K.W. Ramsey

    Wow. I mean, just wow. Talk about spineless people. (I’m referring to DJ of course, not Jen. I may not agree with everything Jen says, but she is definitely not spineless and that’s truly respectable)

  2. 2
    Ellen Lundgren

    Legit reasons. I don’t blame you. TAM is probably the most expensive conference I want to go to. We’ll see if it even happens. If it doesn’t though, at least I can hope that a later year will have better speakers and better policies.

  3. 3
    Epistaxis

    But it has an awesome keynote!

  4. 4
    Jacqueline S. Homan

    I don’t know how much money those men from TAM and JREF in the Google video rake in from female conference registrants who now know that their reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault will get swept under the rug while they are bullied into silence over any bad experience they had, but the idea that the men at the apex of these organizations’ hierarchy ARE being enriched by those same women’s dollars is noxious to me. Especially when those women could have chosen to use their money that they spent on exorbitant conference and travel costs to instead help their far less fortunate “sisters” who have nothing: Destitute women for whom $1,000 is as out of reach as a day-trip to Sedna who are in desperate need of birth control in areas where there is no longer a Planned Parenthood, and to the National Abortion Federation Network to help pay for poor, abused and marginalized women’s abortion care (some which are the result of rape).

    It doesn’t sit well with me and a lot of other women when we see how the men running the show with these atheist and skeptics organizations enrich themselves at the expense of women whom they despise and view as disposable fuck toys in terms of male sexual ethics as if “scoring” women is just another game to them.

  5. 5
    kamsly...

    Well, maybe you want to stop by SkepchickCON. You know. If you’re in the neighborhood. :D

    Great post, Jen. Succinct and to the point. Hard to believe anyone could misunderstand or misconstrue it. But they will. I’m psychic. *sigh*

  6. 6
    John-Henry Beck

    Seeing as how Skepticon is local for me and TAM outside my price range (particularly after Reason Rally), I definitely endorse this choice.

  7. 7
    JoeBuddha

    You know, as a Buddhist, I’m tasked with “pursuing [my] own salvation with diligence.”
    When I first happened upon the skeptical community, I thought I’d found people living my aspirations. People debating philosophy and accepting the better argument. I’ve been lurking for many months, relishing the arguments and admiring the spirit of accepting correction when wrong. However, I’ve begun to understand the problem of constructing a community based on a negative.
    There is nothing preventing an athiest from being a misogynist. Feelings trump reality, even in the skeptical community. Thank-you, but I think I’ll keep my wooful practices. Please let me know when you folk finally WAKE UP.

  8. 8
    GeekGoddess

    I agree that the speaker line-up is boring this year.

    The registration fee is high. It’s too bad that they can’t find corporate sponsors like the technical conferences I go to. Which cost about the same WITH the sponsors. Input on conferences, so I know what renting rooms, supplying meals and coffee breaks, and paying speaker travel costs entail. I’d like evidence that someone is “enriching” themselves, however. Other than, of course, being the main fundraising source for the JREF. DJ pretty much did away with the all-volunteer work force and went to paid registration and paid ‘security’ at the doors to make sure people don’t sneak in without registration. That costs thousands.

  9. 9
    kaboobie

    I attended my first TAM last year. I enjoyed the speakers very much, the setting less so. Vegas holds no appeal for me, and the smoke in the casino was a major detriment to my enjoyment, even though it wasn’t allowed in the convention space itself. I probably wouldn’t go back unless it was held in a smoke-free facility, or they lined up speakers who really blew me away. But DJ’s current attitude is certainly affecting my future willingness to attend.

    I couldn’t go this year anyway because of 1) my cousin’s wedding and 2) not really able to afford it two years in a row.

  10. 10
    Jacqueline S. Homan

    Well Kamsly,

    I don’t have the resources to afford to travel anywhere, as an impoverished very long-term unemployed middle-aged woman (I am 45 and been out of a job since 2004) living in rural northwestern Pennsylvania in an economically depressed Rust Belt ghost town. So I can’t afford to go anywhere. But I am needed at the battlefront in this War on Women.

    I’d like evidence that someone is “enriching” themselves, however.

    As much as these shindigs cost, these guys that dominate the organizations of the atheist movement aren’t doing it for free or putting up the money themselves, are they?

  11. 11
    rorschach

    It has always baffled me that TAM would be held in Las Vegas,it really seems a very odd choice of venue. But nothing baffles me more than the prices for events like TAM or atheist conventions, events that should be priced so that more than upper middle class folks can attend without emptying their savings, and yet the prices are going up, not down.

  12. 12
    Jacqueline S. Homan

    I’d like evidence that someone is “enriching” themselves, however.

    Yeah, that’s my intuitive take on it because as much as these gigs cost (which is far, far more than I’d ever be able to afford since I scrape and struggle just to afford food), I don’t imagine that the men dominating the organizations in the atheist/skeptics movement are doing it all out of the kindness of their hearts for free or investing so much of their efforts into it plus picking up the tab out of their own pockets, are they?

    And why else are they so bent out of shape about women not coming after they alienated a bunch of women and made it plain in their Google Hangout podcast PenisGate Debate where they are railing at women who were retaliated against for COMPLAINING about sexual harassment ? Does this not strike you as odd? Almost Diamonds has the entire podcast transcript on her site in three parts.

  13. 13
    Eric RoM

    “There is nothing preventing an athiest from being a misogynist.”

    I’m surprised this needs to be said. I’d add “Nothing prevents an academic from being an idiot.” This has seemed obvious to me for a LONG time, but it seems to escape academics repeatedly.

  14. 14
    Jacqueline S. Homan

    Considering that the pool of upper-middle class people has shrunk, and more and more middle class people are now poor, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Just sayin’.

  15. 15
    rorschach

    True.
    Btw, I thought your comments on the thread you linked above were outstanding.

  16. 16
    Remainder

    Posts like this are the problem. Your facts are wrong wrong wrong, according to the thread on Gretas wall the guy Greta went ballistic on that you link to never attended TAM, yet you link him to TAM (honest mistake or malice on your part we will never know). And your spreading rumors about someone taking up skirt photos but according to the threads I’ve read on facebook and freethought blogs no one said someone did that but just that they heard he did / feared he might. You and your friends on the freethought blogs are spreading misinformation though I doubt you’d ever admit it or apologize. You bloggers are spreading lies and somebody needs to call you out about it. for some reason you all have decided to wage some insane civil war with no care about the consequences.

  17. 17
    Jen

    Maybe I’m wrong that the guy physically attended TAM, but I know he was linked to TAM somehow. It escapes my memory since the discussion occurred a while ago, but didn’t he have something to do with making TAM shirts? He helped somehow and had a connection to TAM and DJ.

    As for your remarks about the upskirt stuff…uh, no. I personally know the guy who reported it (which included a photo he took of the guy taking an upskirt shot).

  18. 18
    Abbie

    It is true you can split hairs about monopodgate: the guy wasn’t actually caught taking pictures; he was just found, by at least two attendees, to be acting sketchy. You can hem and haw over whether it was a “legit” complaint, but the fact is DJ denied there were complaints, when there was.

    Really, if someone had a camera on a monopod, why would they hold it upside down, with the camera near the ground, in a crowd? Do they want to get it kicked? Unless it was very briefly, I think that’s legit sketchiness.

  19. 19
    Abbie

    Oh! If there is proof of him actually engaging in that behaviour, I take back what I said. That’s new information to me.

  20. 20
    Winterwind

    I think many of us are way ahead of you and would agree with what you have to say. Atheism is just one belief/lack of belief. It tells you nothing about a person’s values. I have met atheists who were racists, sexists, and virulent homophobes, as well as atheists who were fair, kind, compassionate and altruistic. That’s one of the reasons I identify as a secular humanist first and an atheist second. The humanist label is not perfect, but at least it gives people some idea of the positive values I do hold. The label “atheist” is useful too, but it only tells people what I don’t believe in.

  21. 21
    Utakata

    People like Remainder keeps reminding that there are indeed denialists hiding amoungst the skeptics…as he/she is a classic example of one. The better they are exposed for what they are, the better we’ll be without them. Just saying.

  22. 22
    Preint

    I feel like scaring away all the social-justice-as-performance-art bimbos will be one of the best moves TAM could have made.

  23. 23
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    I don’t blame you. I’m not going for a lot of the same reasons. Thank goodness for skepticon and all the other smaller, less expensive events.

  24. 24
    Utakata

    I’m sure leaving it with selfish mysogynist dickheads will make TAM go a long way in libertarian asshole’ry. But I doubt Randi would ever of wanted that way. /sigh

  25. 25
    Sili

    Frankly, I have no idea what James T.A. Randi would or would not want.

    He’s pretty good at keeping to a narrow track of skepticism, and I have to say that when he’s ventured out of his comfort zone in the past, he’s said some amazingly stupid things.

    Someone (Zvan?) was talking elsewhere about this being a very bad long term strategy for TAM, but I don’t see much evidence the DJG has any focus on anything but the short term. As such, catering to arseholes is indeed likely to help him tide TAM over for another year.

  26. 26
    julian

    There is nothing preventing an athiest from being a misogynist.

    Yeah. I disagree with you overall but you hit why I really can’t stand this community anymore. There’s no commitment to social justice. Yes we have liberal atheist like Jen McCreight and so many others who make that a key point of their philosophies but, overall, atheist are more concerned with the next iteration of a tea pot orbiting Jupiter than they are with wage discrimination or anti-abortion legislation.

    The wonder and allure of learning all the different ways to counter Pascal’s Wager wore off a long time ago.

  27. 27
    julian

    Supposedly this wasn’t the first time he was observed doing this and he has argued on JREF forums that such voyeurism should not be criminal or outlawed.

  28. 28
    CT Chimako.27

    But nothing baffles me more than the prices for events like TAM or atheist conventions, events that should be priced so that more than upper middle class folks can attend without emptying their savings,

    I think it’s become pretty obvious the organizers are pretty much only interested in this class of people, male preferred.

  29. 29
    Hope

    Since I don’t have the time or resources to go to TAM but will absolutely be attending Skepticon I’m thrilled with this choice. I feel somewhat guilty for reveling in what I’m sure was a hard choice but since the decision has been made, I’m going to be happy about it!

  30. 30
    Utakata

    That was a bit depressing to read, Sili. :(

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