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Jun 16 2012

Naming the problem

I keep meaning (and wanting) to get back to more usual subjects – violence against women, persecution of “blasphemers,” bishops telling everyone what to do – but more shrapnel keeps coming in, so I keep reporting on it.

I could do the other thing. I could ignore it. I could skirt around it, leaving names out.

But I don’t think that’s the way to deal with bullying. There’s been a lot of discussion of this lately, with regard to the bullying of gays, atheists, women – lots of Others – and there’s a pretty strong consensus that advice to “ignore it” just lets it go on. It’s not Buddhist or Tolstoyan or pacifist, it’s lazy and callous and status quo-protecting.

So fuck that. I’m being subjected to systematic bullying, as are other women who are talking about this, and no I’m not going to smile politely and ignore it.

So I’m sorry about the interruption and the monotony, but there it is. There’s a grotesque awkward situation here and it’s not my job to try to smoothe away the awkwardness by pretending it isn’t happening.

31 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    Somewhat tangentially, but I thought you & others might find some ironic amusement in this bit of mansplaining to Abby Johnson (the Benedict Arnold of Planned Parenthood) from a wannabe “gray-haired mentor” about how the “pro-life” movement is about ladybits and nothing but ladybits.

    He doesn’t quite, in so many words, tell her to stay in her place or not to worry her pretty little head (just that she’s way in over it), but if AJ happens to read this rant, she may well feel bullied. (Cue the microviolins…)

  2. 2
    John the Drunkard

    Thank you Ophelia!

    Being at the margins of this whole mess. I feel presumtuous commenting. BUT, this is getting down to the real problem.

    This is not really about centuries of patriarchical oppression.

    This is not really about socially inept geeks of either gender.

    This is not really about immature boyz learning that girlz don’t like them.

    This is about abusive, bullying behaviour by pathological individuals (male ones in this instance). Because sex is involved, everyone goes into tailspins about THEIR views on every sexual topic under the sun. Every personal grievance, however unrelated to the matter at hand, is aired as if it were relevant to these incidents.

    If conference attendees were snatching purses, fiddling their drinks-bills on to other people’s hotel bills, vandalizing property etc. etc. No one would hesitate to name and denounce them.

    But let sex rear its head and everyone is paralysed, reverting to school-yard abuse towards the victims, who in turn reward the guilty by protecting them. This is not really different from the Catholics, or Penn State, or DSK in New York. Sexual lunacy seems to trump common sense every time.

    It seems as if there may be a break in this, as frank, thorough reporting of the misdeeds starts to accumulate. When names are named and creeps are held to account, things change.

    It isn’t jokes about choirboys, or anecdotes about how someone’s second cousin’s best-friends hair dresser heard a story about some priest in Idaho that overcome institutional, and personal moral sluggishness.

    Kicking ass and naming names does.

  3. 3
    smhll

    I’m going to throw a bone to pompous atheist men — sheesh, that religious dude is one of the most god-awful boring mansplainers ever! I couldn’t read it all, because he had so many damn doctrinal points. Give me an atheist mansplainer any day. Most of them are not quite so long winded. :-)

  4. 4
    Enkidum

    I’ve had my head totally turned upside down by the ongoing discussions (which I think of as essentially a continuation or recapitulation of Elevatorgate). One thing which really gets me:

    Even if the anti-FtB/RW crowd are correct (I don’t think they are, but just for the sake of argument), being correct doesn’t give you license to be a bully. I disagree with RW’s opinion about Elevator Guy, so… I send her rape threats ? I think that Greta’s out to lunch about harassment at conferences, so… I call her an ugly buck-toothed lesbian? What the hell? Does. Not. Compute.

    I mean, I get into arguments with people all the time. All. The. Time. I’m not always a fair interlocutor, I know I can be a bit overbearing and use rhetorical tricks above logic and have even been known to Godwin arguments simply to win points… But it would just honestly never occur to me that an appropriate response to disagreement would be active threats or insults that were actually meant to be insulting. (I add that last caveat simply because many of my friends and I insult each other on a regular basis – but obviously the context and intent are different and understood by all parties to be different than the assholish behaviour on these comment threads.)

    I love the freedom of expression that comes with the relative anonymity of the internet – although there are many problems with it, you can often find out what people are actually thinking. But the trouble is, sometimes you find out what people are actually thinking, and it’s scary as fuck. If nothing else, it has really driven home to me why feminism is important. If there are this many people out there who really think this way, and a wider group of people who are willing to defend them, or at least play the “well, there’s wrong on both sides” card, then yeah, we have a problem.

    Keep your head up, OB. If nothing else, you and the rest of the people who won’t back down about this are educating schlubs like me. (Where “educating” = “pointing out the horror”.)

  5. 5
    m.e.

    Sorry you’re having to deal with this.

    It sometimes seems to me that groups of progressive thinkers often shoot themselves in the foot (feet?) with this kind of infighting — which is not to denigrate your defense; the problem is that people act in egregious ways that make others have to take time to defend themselves, with the result that good capable liberal people aren’t out there defending progressive principles in the face of conservatives, so the conservatives get to go on their merry way unhindered.

    Sigh. Hang in there…

  6. 6
    kagerato

    [John the Drunkard]: This is not really about centuries of patriarchical oppression.

    Everything else you said is pretty much fine. This, however, is wrong. All of this behavior we see now is a symptom and result of those centuries (millenia, actually) of oppression.

    It’s completely clear that this is a feminist matter, because it is the women who speak who have received the vast majority of the hatred, slurs, and threats. We can’t allow the fact that it is women being bullied, threatened, and shouted out of the public sphere go unrecognized.

  7. 7
    Josh Slocum

    I’m right there with you, Ophelia; a lot of us are. No fucking back ing down. Free pass time is over.

  8. 8
    Chakolate

    I do wish some… no, *all* of those who experienced harassment would name names. When one says, ‘Women have been harassed by well-known and popular speakers…’ and then doesn’t name names, then suspicion falls on every well-known and popular speaker.

    I understand the reasons people have for not doing it, (oh, WOW do I understand that) but I hate that the innocent are being tarred with the same brush as the guilty.

  9. 9
    carlie

    Thank you for staying on this. I’m having a hell of a time keeping up; I can’t imagine what it’s like having to produce this stuff and cope with it at that level of processing (in addition to the fact that so much of it is directed personally at you).

  10. 10
    Josh Slocum

    but I hate that the innocent are being tarred with the same brush as the guilty.

    Stupid me. I was so concerned over the guilty being able to continue victimizing women that I completely forgot to be more concerned about innocent folks “being tarred”. Jesus Christ.

  11. 11
    carlie

    Oh, FFS. This has gone far, far beyond particular popular speakers and which or how many of them might be harassers. The entire slate of speakers who are called upon for conferences could be entirely wiped out and replaced wholesale with a new set and the problems would still be there, and the amount of harassment would go down by, what, maybe 10 people out of the dozens and dozens who are chiming in to say all manner of stupid shit ranging from “you deserve to get raped” to “I hate that the innocent are being tarred with the same brush as the guilty”.

  12. 12
    Chakolate

    Josh Slocum says:
    June 16, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    but I hate that the innocent are being tarred with the same brush as the guilty.

    Stupid me. I was so concerned over the guilty being able to continue victimizing women that I completely forgot to be more concerned about innocent folks “being tarred”. Jesus Christ.

    Yes, Josh, because if the harassed come forward that will certainly complicate the problem of continued victimization. Don’t be dense.

  13. 13
    Chakolate

    Seriously, it doesn’t bother anybody else? That you can’t read Pharyngula any more without wondering if PZ assaults women at conferences? That now when I see ‘The God Delusion’ on my shelf I see ugliness?

    It’s like living in a house where you know someone is a thief, but you don’t know who. It taints everything.

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    Chakolate – Pharyngula??! Are you nuts? Nobody thinks PZ assaults women at cons or anywhere else. As far as I know nobody thinks Dawkins does either.

    As for the tainting…Yes probably, and yes of course it bothers us, but it’s not our fault. It’s also not our responsibility. Go shout at DJ Grothe instead of shouting at us.

    Right now I’m quite bothered by the way I have been tainted. I’m egocentric enough for that to annoy me a good deal.

  15. 15
    SallyStrange

    Seriously, it doesn’t bother anybody else? That you can’t read Pharyngula any more without wondering if PZ assaults women at conferences? That now when I see ‘The God Delusion’ on my shelf I see ugliness?

    It’s always been like this. Not specifically PZ or Dawkins, but in general, I can’t go around and not wonder occasionally if this man or that assaults women. You never thought about it before because of *cue dramatic music* male privilege. DUN DUN DUNNNN.

    If you want to hear about this less then do more feminism. Convince more men that it’s worth it to alienate misogynists and harassers, so that fewer of them show up in the movement, and women don’t have to wonder these things *as much* (I doubt it’ll go away entirely, not in my lifetime).

  16. 16
    John the Drunkard

    kagerato;

    You’re right that this is a feminist matter, as women are the victims here. BUT: It is a feminist matter because women need to overcome the ‘specialness’ that piles on to every issue that involves women and sex.

    Sex brings out the crazy trolls, THAT is absolutely a feminist matter. Seeing the hideous nest of vicious creeps under this rock requires a response in feminist. But this is a problem that arises from the first problem; abusive behaviour that no one want to believe is happening.

    Some years back I had to deal with a violent stalker. It was absolutely amazing how nearly everyone I spoke to refused to believe this man was capable of the actions that I had witnessed. The urge to relativize or rationalize away the facts was universal. Women were just as likely to do this as men, unless they had experienced a similar case themselves.

    Anyhow, thanks for underlining the point, though that might not have been your original intention.

  17. 17
    Chakolate

    >Chakolate – Pharyngula??! Are you nuts? Nobody thinks PZ assaults >women at cons or anywhere else. As far as I know nobody thinks >Dawkins does either.

    >As for the tainting…Yes probably, and yes of course it bothers us, >but it’s not our fault. It’s also not our responsibility. Go shout >at DJ Grothe instead of shouting at us.

    >Right now I’m quite bothered by the way I have been tainted. I’m >egocentric enough for that to annoy me a good deal.

    (I hope that’s adequate – I don’t know how to indent to show a quote.)

    I deliberately chose PZ and Dawkins because a) I *don’t* think they’re the ones meant and b)to point out how the brush tars even the best.

    When someone states that there’s a list of pervs and that the list includes popular speakers, then doesn’t produce the list, every popular speaker comes under suspicion.

    I don’t believe I shouted at you. Perhaps if you heard it as a shout, you should think about why. All I did, rather wistfully, was wish people could come forward, even though I know why they don’t/can’t/won’t.

  18. 18
    Chakolate

    SallyStrange,

    I never thought about it before? Really? Not even in Catholic school when they told us that if we got raped it would be our own fault? It’s technically not possible for me to know anything at all about male privilege, but I’ve known about sexual harassment since 1962 when a teacher put a hand on my ass. Don’t assume.

    I never said I wanted to hear less about this. I implied I wanted to hear more: specifically, I want to know the list. Naming and shaming has been used against us for millennia, let’s use it against those who would persecute us.

    Finally, I want to thank everyone who overreacted to my post. It made me nostalgic for the days of usenet, when the most innocuous post was seen as heinous, and the flame wars were extended and only ended when someone compared someone else to Hitler and Godwin’s Law was invoked. I miss those days. alt.support.menopause in particular. :-)

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    Perhaps if you heard it as a shout, you should think about why.

    The past week, would be one reason. The past year would be another. Context would be another. The fact that “wistful” doesn’t come across on the internet unless you make an effort to signal it in some way would be another.

  20. 20
    SallyStrange

    Someone overreacted, but it wasn’t me.

  21. 21
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Seriously, it doesn’t bother anybody else? That you can’t read Pharyngula any more without wondering if PZ assaults women at conferences? That now when I see ‘The God Delusion’ on my shelf I see ugliness?

    What bizarre comments. You first experienced sexual harassment in 1962, but the idea that some of the speakers at atheist-skeptic events are harassing or lecherous has come as some breathtaking revelation to you? And your immediate response to this shocking news has been to suspect or assume the worst about people you have no reason to, and then to blame others for your own baseless suspicions and assumptions? Bizarre.

  22. 22
    Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally

    Chakolate–there are reasons that no one wants to name names, reasons which Jen has talked about. To wit:

    1. The balance of power is in the speaker’s favor
    2. These are unevidenced stories, sometimes with no known victim
    3. Sometimes the victims don’t want to come forward (and oughten be forced to)
    4. Some of these stories might run afoul of libel laws (not in the US, but maybe in the UK or elsewhere)
    5. To implicate specific speakers is to indicate that this isn’t a systemic problem, ie that it’s just these few speakers instead of a general cultural trend.
    6. The most damning of all—even if we could somehow prove that a speaker was a harassing piece of shit, we know from the last year that we still wouldn’t be believed.

    It is much safer and more effective to support the implementation of policies that will change the culture.

  23. 23
    Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally

    @ John, #16–

    I would say that EVERYONE needs to get over the misogynist tropes. This is a feminist matter, yes. But it’s not something that women alone can solve.

  24. 24
    Chakolate

    Chakolate–there are reasons that no one wants to name names, reasons which Jen has talked about.

    Yes, I know all of that. Well, except for #4 – the possibility of libel in the UK didn’t occur to me. I did think that the accuser would be caught in a he said/she said sort of situation.

    I’m not saying I blame anybody for not making accusations. I’m only saying I *wish* people could come forward. Naming and
    shaming is a very useful tool. That’s all I’m saying.

  25. 25
    Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally

    @ Chakolate–so do I. I wish we lived in a world where it was safe for a woman to do so. I think we can all help to fight to make that world. That’s my only point. :)

  26. 26
    Chakolate

    Cyranothe2nd,

    Couldn’t agree more. In the 60s & 70s, we were so sure that within a couple of years, decades at most, women would enjoy complete equality. Now we’re arguing about whether women should be able to get contraception, and I keep wondering how we got here. Sigh.

    I guess it’s just a work in progress. I really hope I see more progress in my lifetime.

  27. 27
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Seriously, it doesn’t bother anybody else? That you can’t read Pharyngula any more without wondering if PZ assaults women at conferences?

    I think you ought to call up the bursar at Concern Troll University and demand a full refund, because they failed you.

    Finally, I want to thank everyone who overreacted to my post.

    “LOL U MAD.” Concluding with a reference to a newsgroup for women going through menopause. In the context of sexual harassment, and in the context of a discussion thereof in which women are continually called “emotional” and “hormonal” for being angry about it.

  28. 28
    Ophelia Benson

    Chakolate @ 24 – but then you commented a second time to say “Seriously, it doesn’t bother anybody else?” It was then that I and others “over-reacted.” It’s an incredibly rude question, under the circumstances.

  29. 29
    Chakolate

    Ophelia @ 28:

    I didn’t mean it to be. This really bothers me a lot, maybe because I *did* live in a house where one of the residents was a thief and everybody was suspect. It dragged on for months.

    I don’t follow most comment threads, I have barely enough time to read the posts, so maybe this was already discussed, but I never saw it. I really was wondering why it wasn’t even mentioned.

  30. 30
    Ophelia Benson

    Chakolate – ok. That makes sense. Sorry I was grumpy.

    I think there are men who aren’t under suspicion, because of their general behavior. It has been said several times in this discussion that the men in question are not at all surprising, if you look at how they talk about or to women and the like.

  31. 31
    Chakolate

    Ophelia,

    I hadn’t heard that – that those one might guess are in fact more likely to be guilty. I’ve noticed that it’s very hard to tell who is likely to commit sexual harassment – sometimes it’s a guy you would have sworn wouldn’t.

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