Guest post: what harassment really is


Guest post by Tom Foss.

Quoting “vjack”

 

Harassment involves repeated, unsolicited behavior in which the target is demeaned, threatened, or offended in such a manner that a hostile environment is created for the target.

I wonder if Vjack’s workplace ever includes presentations on sexual harassment. If it does, I wonder if he just spends his time during them sleeping or doodling, because even cursory attentiveness would show what kind of bullshit this is. “Repeated” is often the case (and includes microaggressions that add up to create a hostile environment) but is not a necessary component–and, in fact, the sources I found (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) don’t include “repeated” as a condition. Instead, the necessary components are severity and pervasiveness (1, 2, 3), with repetition figuring (as one of multiple components) into the “pervasiveness” aspect.

Harassment often involves repeated behavior, but not always. No HR representative worth their salt (and wishing to avoid a legal conflict) would tell a complainant “Well, no, you see, they have to tell you how much better that outfit would look on their floor twice” or “Yes, but if Peterson only called you a ‘lazy w*tb*ck’ once, there’s nothing I can do.”

If we put these pieces together, we’d end up with an understanding of harassment as a pattern of repeated, behavior in which the harasser intentionally acts in such a manner that a reasonable person would find threatening, annoying, intimidating, alarming, or offensive.

More bullshit. Nothing in the law suggests that there must be one “harasser;” in fact, that’s the whole point of the “hostile environment” model of harassment–that there are a variety of aggressions which contribute to an overall air of hostility. The “pattern of repeated behavior” need not come from any one person, but can be a result of many people.

The behavior would need to have no other purpose besides impacting the target in this manner,

Bullshit. I mean, this would be great for harassers, right? “When I told her to bend over to pick up those files, I just wanted the files cleaned up!”

and typically, the behavior would be intrusive in some way. If the target has to go out of his or her way to discover the behavior, odds are pretty good that it is not even close to harassment.

So it’s okay, for instance, to hang pornographic images in the stalls in the men’s room, because women won’t see that, right? It’s okay, even, to write long, lewd screeds about the dirty things one imagines their coworkers would do for money, as long as it’s somewhere in the building that they won’t see? If I trade e-mails with all the white coworkers sharing racist jokes where a PoC coworker is the punchline, it’s okay as long as no one tells him about it?

See how well that flies in a workplace, or a courtroom. Because at the very least, such conduct forms an important piece of the context of more overt harassing behavior, and would serve as evidence of a pattern. Maybe “did you know they photoshopped your head onto a whale’s body and hung it up in the men’s room?” won’t come out until you’re filing a grievance over someone dumping a bag of pork rinds into your cubicle, but it would be pretty bad for the harassers when it did.

It’d also be bad for the employer for allowing/not preventing it in the first place, but that’s a little outside the scope.

Of course, by restricting his discussion to “harassment” and the legal definition thereof, Vjack’s missing that a good deal of this falls under the umbrella of bullying, which is related but distinct.

I’ll note the irony of steve harping about “vanity searches” when so much of the Slymepit oeuvre is about the nonstop monitoring of anything an “FtBully” says so they can snark about it. The mental gymnastics of “there are loads of Ophelia Bensons” while ignoring that only one of them uses those particular pictures and avatars, ought to earn a gold medal. Again, flashbacks to grade school. “You can’t prove we were talking about you!”

As to the list:

  1. I think you’ll find that repeated/constant name-calling would result in a hostile environment and would form grounds for a harassment case.
  2. If this were all that were happening, we’d have a very different conversation right now. Then again, if every time a Hispanic employee walked into the lunchroom, his coworkers were all talking about how the “illegals” need to learn English or go home, I think he’d probably have a case too.
  3. Yeah, guess again–whether it’s Harriet Hall’s exercise or the kids who wear “It’s okay to not be gay” and “straight pride” t-shirts to schools, the effect is to intimidate and contribute to a hostile environment.
  4. See #3.
  5. That’s…weird.
  6. Ah, right, the old “public figures” gambit. It was dumb before, it’s dumb now. And again, if one posted a bunch of “satirical” pictures of their supervisor in a lunchroom depicting them as a portly slave driver to protest working conditions, it doesn’t make it any less of a contribution to a hostile environment, even if it is about an issue important to the community.
  7. Oh just fuck off. If you can’t “defend yourself” without invoking Nazi Commie Witch-hunters, you don’t have a place in the conversation.
  8. Depends on the content & context of the review, I suppose.
  9. See #5.
  10. Hold on, I’ve got to set up a Vjack parody account so I can tweet things under his name.
  11. Depends on the content & context. And, of course, the “accuracy.” There’s nothing “inaccurate” about that quote that creationists use about Darwin and the eye, but it doesn’t make their use legitimate.
  12. Depends on the content and context of the “silly images.” If you’re making those “silly images” to call people old/pigs, then yes, it may contribute to a hostile environment.
  13. Depends on the content of the forum, now, doesn’t it?

The thing Vjack seems to mistake (going all the way back to his fallacious assumption that there must be one “harasser” involved) is that you can take all these things in isolation. You can’t. The whole point of “hostile environment” harassment is that a number of factors contribute to a sense of hostility and unwelcomeness. Any one of his bullet points there might be fine in isolation. In isolation, most don’t amount to a case for harassment (some, however, clearly do). But the notion of a “hostile environment” considers the larger context and pattern of those instances. And when you have, say, a dozen things that, each considered on its own, might not be harassment alone, happening to the same group of people? Well, that creates (say it with me, folks) a hostile environment for those people.

But it sure was nice of Vjack to compile such a long (albeit woefully incomplete) list of microaggressions, even if he doesn’t understand how they add up into a hostile environment.

Comments

  1. says

    what amazes me about the post by vjack is that
    a)he actually had to make up things not part of the legal definition(“intent”, “the harasser”, “repeated”) to make his point
    b)conversely, he managed to declare “silly images” as not-harassment, when derogatory imagery specifically is mentioned
    c)apparently a one-time defense of your copyright is harassment, while repeated “epithets, derogatory comments or slurs […], and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.” are somehow not.

    Teh Lol

  2. Audra says

    Excellent! And yes, it’s obvious vjack either hasn’t taken any HR harassment training or disregarded it. His “understanding” of harassment issues is laughable.

  3. says

    on the “intent” issue, which you don’t focus on much, I find that a lot of anti-harassment policies don’t focus exclusively on intent. for example, my university policy includes the phrase “intent or effect”, so even unintended harassment counts.

    and on a small sidenote: you’ll find plenty of criticism from various branches of critical theory, including critical legal theory, of the “reasonable person” standard, based on the fact that said “person”, while meant to be an abstraction, ends up being a representative of a hegemonic view, and therefore can put minorities of all kinds at distinct disadvantage (and the more marginalized the group, the more this is likely the case. For example. a “reasonable person” might not feel harassed by being misgendered, but a trans person most likely would. So, can the legal system account for trans experiences in the “reasonable person” standard?)

  4. says

    Right, “intent” is essentially a red herring here. I would venture to say that most workplace harassment is unintended and of the “it was just a joke/compliment! Can’t you take a joke/compliment?” variety. It also ignores the EEOC point that the victim/complainant may not be the person targeted by the harassment or behavior. Russ the copy machine repairman may put up with your racist comments toward him, but that doesn’t mean they’re okay or that I can’t complain about them making me uncomfortable.

  5. Ulysses says

    The case law on harassment goes back decades and the definitions of harassment are quite well known. If vjack were to talk to his company’s HR people he’d be given very specific examples of what constitutes harassment. This is not a new concept which magically appeared in the past couple of weeks. I was first given training on harassment is in the 1980s and several people wondered why it took the company so long to come up with a harassment policy.

  6. Anthony K says

    So this is what constitutes skepticism? Just making up definitions to suit one’s needs?

    Hey, theists and creationists! Take some notes from vjack: expertise and research isn’t necessary. Just say any ol’ thing. The smartsiest people on the interwebs who wanna teach you about science and reason do it, so why not you?

    Feh.

  7. says

    Expertise? Research? We don’t need to dadgum academic references. We’re the anti-vaxxers of the gender studies world. “No, patriarchy is GOOD for you!”

  8. says

    SallyStrange… you sound like a climate change denier: “The world isn’t getting hotter, but if it is getting hotter then that’s a natural cycle, and even if it isn’t a natural cycle it is too late/expensive to do anything about it, but it totally isn’t getting hotter so SHUT UP!!”

    Same shit from these idiots: “We’re not sexist, men and women are equal. But maybe men are just better and some things, and women are better at other things. Not that that’s a bad thing, but maybe the things that men are better at are more important, and true equality is letting men do the important things and women do the less-valued stuff. But we’re not sexist so SHUT UP!!”

  9. maudell says

    [TW – rape]
    The worst is this assumption that the only real harassment is the kind that warrants criminal charges (see vjack’s post). Reminds me of those who assume that the only real kind of rape is stranger back alley rape with a weapon (though it’s only rape if you weren’t wearing a rape outfit).

    Also, the “it’s harassment if people don’t agree with my brand of feminism” trope is getting ridiculous. As if the wild idea of not demeaning (sorry – “disagreeing with”) women to a completely disproportionate level was ideological. At least s/he didn’t say “gender feminism”, or “radfem”. S/he deserves a cookie for effort.

    Apparently, these entitled champions of free speech get cold feet when people call their bullshit using, you know, speech. Because who knows, calling out a troll on the internet tweeting with your real name and making artful collages of your face on porn might tarnish his hard earned reputation as Viperknot666.

    Did anyone think of that?

  10. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Depends on the content & context…

    They really ought to look up that word “context” sometime..

    The thing Vjack seems to mistake […] is that you can take all these things in isolation.

    By the same logic:
    * Fossil 1 doesn’t prove evolution. Fossil 2 doesn’t prove evolution…. Fossil n doesn’t prove evolution…
    * Gene 1 doesn’t prove evolution. Gene 2 doesn’t prove evolution…. Gene n doesn’t prove evolution…
    * …
    * Vestigial organ 1 doesn’t prove evolution. Vestigial organ 2 doesn’t prove evolution…. Vestigial organ n doesn’t prove evolution…

    Therefore there is no evidence for evolution.

    QED

  11. great1american1satan says

    OK, people have begun to talk about this around here and I feel like it deserves to have a proper discussion. Maybe an endless bitchfest of screechy freakiness like the Nuge Pit, except for not. Here’s the idea:

    Deepening the rift all the way. The ostensible offense that necessitated the Slime response was “damaging people’s reputations.” They were so upset about being labelled as sexists that they went all out and painted themselves in the most disgusting light possible, cozied up to a known hate movement, and all that.

    My proposal:
    Give them what they want. They want to feel persecuted by a shadowy network of femistasi and manginas? Make it official. Say: These guys have shown themselves beneath reproach, shaken hands with the psychos of the Men’s Rights Movement, unrepentantly shown themselves hostile to inclusion and progress. Therefore, as voices for hate and abuse, any time we see them on schedule for speaking at events, send letters of concern to the organizers. Every organization that shows sympathy for their aims and no concern at their activities (lookin at you JREF), boycott them.

    Spread the word. Let people know the atheist and skeptic movements have a hateful lunatic fringe that needs to be marginalized and shunned, if we want to be able to grow in the future. Try to build stronger relationships with the kind of organizations that would give these creeps hives, like Black Skeptics. Start new cons or build up established cons that specifically exclude people known to promote hate speech. And grow the atheist movement our way.

    So yeah, maybe someone can start a thread to talk about that, or use the Thunderdome over at Pharyngula or something. Or is that too much, too far? What do you think?

  12. great1american1satan says

    OOPS. I used an ableist slur, and I apologize to the mentally ill. I love you guys. The MRM is not “psycho,” it is evil. In a secular sense. Or something.

  13. great1american1satan says

    In a discussion about language that ensued here, my partner suggested “unreasonable” as a good pejorative for these people. I like it, especially for the “skeptics.”

  14. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Deepening the rift all the way.

    That has been my thinking for quite a while as well. The greater the schism the better. There is no possible benefit of having a movement that can outweigh the cost of having to share it with the scum that has flooded every social medium, forum, youtube channel and blog with toxic waste for nearly two years. If I had to chose between an atheist/skeptical/humanist movement that included these people and no atheist/skeptical/humanist movement at all, I would chose the latter any time.

  15. Dunc says

    You know what this crap from vjack reminds me of? Table-top battlegaming rules lawyers – only in this case, the rules are apparently the rules of Calvinball.

  16. says

    Well you could see the Nugent thing as distancing further… At the moment they seem superficially to be very close to FtBs/A+ as they spend a LOT of time pointing out ableist, homophobic, transphobic, assorted bigoted comments from bloggers and commenters on FtBs. They have no truck with apologies for these either so great1american1satan is on the shit list now ;-)
    So from the outside it might appear for a few seconds like they are the “SJWs”….

    If they have to lay out what they really believe then that will show where the rifts lie to all and sundry. Might also get them to think about what they really believe as I’ve never got a coherent answer.

  17. latsot says

    in fact, that’s the whole point of the “hostile environment” model of harassment–that there are a variety of aggressions which contribute to an overall air of hostility.

    Yes, I see an awful lot of wide-eyed ‘innocent’ blinking and ‘shocked’ responses of “but what did *I* do?” when what they did was sit around sniggering and encouraging a hostile environment. I saw it every day at school and was fortunate enough not to see much of it for years then Suddenly Internet. At school, these people knew perfectly well that siding with the bully – even if they didn’t overtly bully anyone themselves – made the target’s life even more miserable. Overhearing people laughing about something that was deeply painful or embarrassing or traumatic to you can easily be as bad as the experience itself. And they know it now. Their claims to have done nothing wrong are bogus.

    I can’t decide whether vjack is trying to Define Away the Problem or is using the Playing Dumb gambit. It doesn’t matter of course because neither one has ever fooled anybody. The only difference is that the former shows some kind of awareness that doing bad things to people is bad. That does little to console the victims, though.

  18. ischemgeek says

    I would guess vjack’s emphasis on repeated comes from argument-from-Wikipedia, because Wikipedia’s definition includes “repeated,” even though that’s not the legal definition.

  19. says

    I can’t decide whether vjack is trying to Define Away the Problem or is using the Playing Dumb gambit. It doesn’t matter of course because neither one has ever fooled anybody.

    Except for, apparently, Atheist Alliance International.

  20. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    Excellent post, Tim. Thank you.

    Sally and Anthony had me doubled over my keyboard in laughter. A thousand internet points to both of you.

    IJoe, you do a spot on climate change denier impression.

    Great American Satan, I could not agree more.

  21. aziraphale says

    “So it’s okay, for instance, to hang pornographic images in the stalls in the men’s room, because women won’t see that, right?”

    Agree completely with most of what you say, but not this. Hanging pornographic images is arguably not OK, but if no woman sees them, how can it be harassment? It may lead to harassment, but that’s not the same as being harassment

  22. latsot says

    Except for, apparently, Atheist Alliance International.

    Heh, there is that :)

    I meant something along the lines of it not fooling people at large or people in the long run.

  23. says

    aziraphale: to take your logic a step further, if no woman sees the hidden cameras planted in the ladies’ room, how can it be harassment?

  24. says

    @aziraphale #23

    Agree completely with most of what you say, but not this. Hanging pornographic images is arguably not OK, but if no woman sees them, how can it be harassment? It may lead to harassment, but that’s not the same as being harassment

    First, because it’s part of a hostile climate. It means that in such a workplace, treating women as sexualised objects for male gratification is okay. Second, it might make some *men* uncomfortable.

  25. says

    @great1american1satan: There are definitely some of these bozos whose presence at a conference might be grounds for writing or complaining about it (mostly the ones working & writing for hate sites), but I don’t have either the inclination or ipenergy for staging an actual “persecution” to feed their fetish. Let them do the constant monitoring. I’d rather widen and deepen the rifts by forming an actual safe space side of the movement, and making it robust enough that it can move away from these nimrods.

    @aziraphale: Well, two things: first, the person complaining about harassment needn’t be the target of it (a straight guy could feel uncomfortable about those images too). Second, as I mentioned, the images serve as part of the context of the hostile environment; on their own, they don’t constitute harassment of an individual who doesn’t see them. But they contribute to an overall atmosphere where women are objectified and sexualized, and management doesn’t do anything about it. The relevant court case in the US is Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc., which resulted in a company harassment policy that prohibited bringing pornographic materials into the workplace at all. I haven’t had the chance to read through the whole thing for the relevant decisions (except that the judge ordered the adoption of said harassment policy, provided by the plaintiff) but it’s the most sure way of avoiding legal issues, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most workplace harassment policies include similar clauses.

  26. says

    Either way, Vjack’s “you had to look for it” argument is just as easily applied to such images in less sexually segregated places like cubicles or lockers, which are more clearly covered under harassment laws.

  27. aardvark406 says

    Coming out of the woodwork. This whole situation is starting to make me sick. Now someone called Iamcuriousblue on Nugent’s latest free range asshole farm is claiming that because no one shares a relationship anything like a co-worker with Ophelia that workplace harassment guidelines don’t apply. So it clearly follows from “if A, then not B” that if it’s not B it must be A, so their pet definition of harassment is totes legit.

  28. says

    Sigh. Yet again – thanks a lot, Michael. There’s just nothing quite like a man trying to force a “dialogue” with harassers on the women the harassers are harassing.

  29. says

    And again…again, again – he keeps saying “we have to start somewhere.” And I keep saying “who’s we?” Who is this “we”? I don’t have to “start somewhere” if that means “start having a dialogue with people who have been harassing me for nearly two years.” I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to start somewhere. I don’t have to start there. Michael isn’t the boss of things. As I’ve said fifty times now, all he’s doing is helping the harassers do more harassing in a more respectable place.

    I suppose the idea is that if he succeeds, there will be less disagreement where he is, and his work will go better. But the price of doing that is throwing a few women overboard.

    Well ok. From a hard-nosed point of view I guess I can see that. He’s doing it because it’s good for him, and he naturally doesn’t care that it’s bad for us, because he is who he is, not who we are.

    What was that again about the atheist movement not being friendly to women? Maybe I’ll stop disputing that claim.

  30. Anthony K says

    What was that again about the atheist movement not being friendly to women? Maybe I’ll stop disputing that claim.

    That’s probably a good idea. The claim is pretty indisputable.

  31. Anthony K says

    The atheist community should come with a sign: “You must love being called a cunt this much to ride.”

  32. says

    There’s just nothing quite like a man trying to force a “dialogue” with harassers on the women the harassers are harassing.

    Yeah, I notice it’s all men trying to push this kind of mediation — probably because they see themselves as mature fathers or big brothers trying to convince the girls that maybe there’s something THEY’RE doing to cause all this nasty behavior they’re crying about.

    And again…again, again – he keeps saying “we have to start somewhere.”

    “Start” what, exactly? What needs to be done that someone, somewhere, hasn’t already started trying to do years ago? This guy sounds like yet another slackadaisacal latecomer showing up full of recommendations, while not having a clue of what’s already been done before he deigned to show up.

    I don’t know squat about this Nugent guy, but he really sounds like a clueless patronizing twit trying to take control of something he doesn’t understand.

  33. says

    I keep having to replace my irony meters when I read posts about people like “vjack” who are lecturing on harassment while hiding under the blanket of a pseudonym.

  34. says

    Hanging pornographic images is arguably not OK, but if no woman sees them, how can it be harassment? It may lead to harassment, but that’s not the same as being harassment

    I find Aziraphale’s assumption that zero men would ever be bothered by having pornographic images of women displayed in their workplace bothersome and uncomfortable.

    Why so sexist against men, Aziraphale?

  35. says

    Well I know a lot of good things about him. A lot. Look up his post about Savita Halappanavar, for example. Look at the vids of him addressing the Dail. From everything I hear he’s a great guy. I know for myself he does great things. It’s just that this isn’t one of them.

    And as for what he thinks the outcome will be – I too am baffled.

    I’m all the more baffled because he says

    I am optimistic from the dialogue so far that we can combine the best contributions of many good people, on all perceived ‘sides’ of the rifts, to recapture the potential that we had two years ago to advocate for atheism, secularism, skepticism and science.

    From the dialogue so far! The dialogue so far has made him optmistic!

    Oy.

  36. says

    BTW and FWIW: I am completely in agreement with Great American Satan. Rifts is what they want — rifts is what they get. Deepen them, widen them, fill the intervening space with crocodiles and piranhas.

  37. says

    atheism, secularism, skepticism and science

    He left out “human rights”.

    Funny that. You’d think it would be high on the list.

  38. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    Anthony,
    Yep. What folks like Michael Nuggent don’t seem to get is that some of us who were in the process of starting secular support groups and skeptic events in our isolated communities have stopped. I no longer see the point. More and more I realize that an intersectional progressive movement is the only one I’m interested in supporting.

    I don’t only want a rift between me and denialists and bigots. I want an ocean….of lava.

    He can sit down and accommodate the liars, bigots and harassers if he likes. I’m sure he means well. But I think Ophelia pointed out very clearly what’s wrong with what he’s doing. He may be drawing them in, but he is driving me away.

  39. says

    Wait, what?

    I am optimistic from the dialogue so far that we can combine the best contributions of many good people, on all perceived ‘sides’ of the rifts, to recapture the potential that we had two years ago to advocate for atheism, secularism, skepticism and science.

    The best way to recapture the potential (assuming it was lost in the first place, which is debatable) is to direct our advocacy to the people who need it most and/or are actually willing to listen; and to address and listen to their concerns, instead of just saying “all we care about is athieism for its own sake!”

    Talking to people who don’t even want to contribute is not the way to “combine contributions.”

    And still with the “perceived” sides bullshit? What, he thinks we’re hallucinating or something?

    Oh, and +1 to Kevin @41 too. Bit of a huge omission there. Not for the first or last time, WTF?!

  40. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    “And still with the “perceived” sides bullshit? What, he thinks we’re hallucinating or something?”

    Raging Bee,

    Nope. That’s the pernicious nature of being brought up in a sexist society. If he says he is optimistic and sees only good people and no sides, I believe him. Look at the comment threads concerning Adria Richards or the little girl who started a kicckstarter with her mom so she could learn to create RPGs. In them you will see over and over again people who are able to minimize their own reaction to the frightening abuse being hurled at these women and instead focus on picking apart the women themselves to find a reason why they might just be in the wrong too or even deserve it. They aren’t doing it on purpose. Is it so hard to believe that Michael Nugent, well intentioned as he may be, might be doing the same thing?

  41. latsot says

    Up to this point, my experiences of Michael Nugent have been entirely positive, but I have no idea why he’s doing this, why he doesn’t understand that victims don’t want to engage with their harassers or what he’s trying to achieve.

    I guess I’ll get an opportunity to ask him in person in June if an answer hasn’t emerged by then.

  42. Jenora Feuer says

    @Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty:
    Yes, one of the things I remember from the whole ‘Justin Vacula got nominated’ bit was the comment from the woman who had stopped dealing with her local secular society specifically because Justin Vacula was part of it and actively driving the group’s direction, and that direction obviously did not include her or anybody like her.

    People like Vacula and vjack are preventing other people from contributing, both actively and passively by creating a hostile environment, so they can make sure that the movement mostly rewards people like them.

  43. Richard Funuts says

    Hate to break it to you but your reading comprehension skills are a bit poor. Vjack talked about criminal harassment. It includes things like stalking or telephone harassment. You then proceeded on a long rant using workplace harassment. These are two very different animals. There are many acts which would constitute workplace harassment that are and never would be prosecuted.

  44. says

    More and more I realize that an intersectional progressive movement is the only one I’m interested in supporting.

    That’s the only kind that will work. Minority religious movements make themselves relevant by reaching out to people otuside their identity range; and skeptics/atheists have to do the same if we want to accomplish anything. “A+” doesn’t need to work with other “As” as much as we need to work with other “+s” — Christian+, Muslim+, Jew+, Pagan+, etc.+. And the path to the other “+” camps is NOT through (or even near) the “-” camp.

  45. says

    @ 47 – No, that’s completely wrong. What “vjack” did was to say that harassment is “defined as a criminal offense in most jurisdictions.” He did not limit himself to talking about criminal harassment, but the other way around, he tried to define all harassment as criminal.

    The word “harassment” is being thrown around quite a bit these days in the online atheist community. I find this troubling for two reasons. First, accusations of harassment are highly inflammatory and typically lead to an abrupt end to any discussion in which they occur, followed by increased polarization by the parties involved in the discussion. When the accusations were truly warranted, this may be unavoidable; however, unwarranted accusations seem to be surprisingly common and can do real harm. Second, harassment has legal implications in that it is defined as a criminal offense in most jurisdictions. Because of this, we should exercise caution about using the term to describe all behavior we do not like and reserve it for the occasions where it is clearly appropriate (i.e., real harassment).

    See? He’s trying to define the kind of thing his friends do as not “real harassment” and thus as not something anyone should give a flying fuck about.

  46. says

    Vjack talked about criminal harassment.

    Yes, and he did that to try to divert attention from the harassment he and his chums are trying to excuse. (So if that’s really the case, then who, exactly, is he accusing of a cirme?)

  47. says

    First, accusations of harassment are highly inflammatory and typically lead to an abrupt end to any discussion in which they occur, followed by increased polarization by the parties involved in the discussion.

    Did it ever occur to Vjerk that such polarization might be caused by actual harassment, not by people complaining about it?

  48. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    This topic keeps bringing to mind a doctor’s response to the term “benign pain”.

    “Benign pain is pain other people feel.”

    It’s not so bad when you are not the target. That makes it easy to discuss in mild, understanding tones.

  49. PatrickG says

    Re: Michael Nugent. I’m still cradling a dim, flickering hope that this is all an elaborate and oh-so-civil exercise in trolling the trolls. Make a space public and advertise it as broadly as possible. Let them all come in and demonstrate — and provide helpful links! self-documentation! — just precisely what they’ve been doing, then whip back the curtain and say “There is no further doubt. These are jackasses, and a stain on the movement. Begone!”

    A very slight hope, as I said. And really doesn’t justify opening doors to let them shit on even more carpets. Ugh.

    But how sweet it would be to see that post from him, as a Respected Leader™. Not holding my breath, though.

  50. says

    @Kevin:

    I keep having to replace my irony meters when I read posts about people like “vjack” who are lecturing on harassment while hiding under the blanket of a pseudonym.

    To be fair, there are a lot fewer “Vjacks” in this world (and this corner of the Internet) than “Kevins.” A sufficiently common real name is often more anonymous than a distinctive pseudonym, with the caveat that unless you use that pseudonym in meatspace, things you say under it aren’t going to affect your meatspace life. But it’s possible (indeed, common) to build up a reputation under an online pseudonym that’s just as legitimate as a real name.

    That said, there was a while a few years back when I thought that Vjack of Atheist Revolution and Vorjack of Unreasonable Faith were the same person. So, you know, it swings both ways.

    @SallyStrange:

    I find Aziraphale’s assumption that zero men would ever be bothered by having pornographic images of women displayed in their workplace bothersome and uncomfortable.

    I’ll take responsibility for that one, since it was implicit in the short example scenario I was offering that the complainant was a woman who did not regularly access the men’s restroom (e.g., was not a custodian or anything). It doesn’t really matter, since the point is that it serves as a piece of the broader hostile environment.

    @Richard Funts:

    Hate to break it to you but your reading comprehension skills are a bit poor. Vjack talked about criminal harassment. It includes things like stalking or telephone harassment. You then proceeded on a long rant using workplace harassment. These are two very different animals. There are many acts which would constitute workplace harassment that are and never would be prosecuted.

    It’s not that my comprehension skills are poor, it’s that Vjack is arguing fallaciously. He equivocates on the term “harassment,” using the general term to mean the more specific and more narrowly-defined criminal harassment (what he appears to mean by “real harassment”). He then builds a strawman around said equivocation, suggesting that those accusing the anti-feminists of “harassment” are necessarily accusing them of criminal harassment, which typically includes a credible threat to a person’s safety. This is obviously not the case, since those situations where feminists have seen credible threats (Ophelia & TAM, that “acid” guy, the rape threat against Rebecca Watson, Justin Vacula posting Surly Amy’s address) have been identified and addressed as such, with proper contact to criminal authorities. It is at best disingenuous for Vjack to then insinuate that accusations of harassment are accusations of criminal rather than civil harassment–especially when he linked to a post where he discusses cyberharassment, which is fairly similar to civil harassment (cases more similar to criminal harassment generally fall under cyberstalking statutes, though it’s clear the law is still catching up–the relevant law for Vjack’s home state of Mississippi is all about telephone harassment).

    The civil harassment guidelines are more relevant, not just because they are more uniform and clearly-outlined than the state-by-state hodgepodge of cyberharassment guidelines, not just because blogging, being a source of income for most of the targets, forms an online workplace, but also because the primary complaint of the harassed (besides the general annoyance) has been the creation and reinforcement of a chilly climate in the atheist community–you know, a hostile environment. It’s true that the workplace analogy is just that–analogous–but when we’re talking about harassers creating and contributing to a generally unwelcome atmosphere for certain people, hostile environment harassment is clearly and obviously the most relevant topic.

    Incidentally, taking a look at what qualifies as cyberharassment, it’s pretty clear that much of Vjack’s list qualifies there as well.

  51. psocoptera says

    #23 Aziraphale – hanging pornographic pictures of women in the men’s room could be used as way to harass one’s gay co-workers or classmates. Sexual harassment isn’t something than only men do to only women.

  52. MyaR says

    Also, porn in the bathroom guy, who cleans the bathroom? But the people who count are the ones who use urinals.

  53. great1american1satan says

    Thx for the feedback on that idea, Jackie, Tom, and Kevin. :-)

    BTW, workplace harassment became a huge issue the last place I worked, and I agree that vjack doesn’t know shit one about it. MyaR- I worked in office buildings where on day shift there would only be one or two janitors for 13 floors or more, and they’d have no choice but to clean bathrooms for the opposite gender.

    And harassment is frequently not even sexual. There’s lots of ways to fuck up somebody else’s experience of life, willfully or through ignorance. I made mistakes myself regarding race and religion, and I’m glad it never turned into more than a “talking to,” but I would have accepted punishment without fuss if it came to me.

    We gotta come correct.

  54. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    Patrick G, that’s certainly possible, but I’m not that optimistic.

  55. Richard Funuts says

    I’m against harassment. You guys annoy me; therefore you’re harassing me and should be severely punished.

    Honestly, you do need to at least try to define what it is that you’re against. Harassment can be anything from mere annoyance to behaviors that violate numerous criminal laws.

    Vjack at least attempted to define what he believed was harassment and spoke to what did or did not fit the definition. Is his definition so narrow as to trivialize harassment? That is a subjective criteria that is in the eye of the reader.

    I really don’t have much of a dog in this fight. I read his blog and find him a generally reasonable and thoughtful fellow. Apparently not everyone shares my opinion.

  56. sawells says

    @61: This: “You guys annoy me; therefore you’re harassing me” is one of the dumbest things ever written.

    If I do something that annoys you – say, playing the violin badly – and I do it far away from you and it doesn’t affect you, I’m not harassing you.

    If I persistently follow you around all day playing my violin, badly, then I’m harassing you.

    If you persistently come into my home when I’m practising the violin to tell me that you don’t like my violin playing and I should stop, then _you_ are harassing _me_ and you need to get out of my house.

    At least try to pretend to think. It’s embarrassing.

  57. Richard Funuts says

    See #62 you’re persistent in annoying me. Plus, your attempts to demean and depersonalize me show a clearly evil intent. Therefore, it constitutes harassment and I demand that you immediately cease. Don’t make me lawyer up on this.

    Here try starting here before you talk about being an embarrassment:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harassment

  58. says

    @Ophelia: It’s no problem. I write long posts with lots of HTML. Spam traps hate me. I’m used to it.

    @Richard:

    I’m against harassment. You guys annoy me; therefore you’re harassing me and should be severely punished.

    Honestly, you do need to at least try to define what it is that you’re against. Harassment can be anything from mere annoyance to behaviors that violate numerous criminal laws.

    Actually, the literature is remarkably consistent as to what constitutes harassment in civil, workplace, and online contexts. It’s also pretty consistent in terms of what distinguishes those kinds of harassment from criminal harassment. If you’re so confused, perhaps you’re the one with the reading comprehension problem (a bit of Internet 101: the little blue bits of text are called “hyperlinks,” and clicking them will take you to resources, all of them more relevant to the topic at hand than the Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

    You and Vjack are both making thorough use of the equivocation fallacy and a couple of other fallacies. Interestingly, your fallacies are so opposed to each other that you’re actually arguing against Vjack. Now this might be a few words longer than you’re used to reading, and I may use some analogies which I know you have difficulties processing, but do try to keep up.

    Vjack argues that we shouldn’t throw around the word harassment so lightly, because “it is defined as a criminal offense in most jurisdictions.” He then proceeds to use the narrow definition for the most severe kind of harassment, criminal harassment, to argue against a strawman, namely the patently and obviously untrue notion that when people (read: feminists) complain about harassment in the skeptic/atheist community, they are necessarily talking about criminal harassment. This is basic equivocation: he takes a term with multiple meanings, cherry-picks one, and uses it to argue against people who are using another. In this case, he’s using the stricter, more severe (criminal) definition of the word to dismiss those who were using the broader, less severe (civil, workplace, cyber) definitions.

    It’s a bit like saying “that crime of passion obviously can’t be murder, since there was no planning or malice aforethought,” trying to dismiss discussion of second-degree murder by assuming the defining characteristics of the more strictly-defined first-degree murder. In science/skepticism terms, it’s like trying to argue that Darwin’s finches and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can’t be examples of evolution, because they don’t show one species changing into another (i.e., equivocating between macro- and micro- senses of evolution). This is a bit of false dilemma as well, since he’s effectively arguing that there cannot be different degrees of harassment: if it doesn’t meet the standard of criminal harassment, then it’s not “real harassment.”

    You, on the other hand, are arguing more that since a word has multiple meanings in different contexts, then the word is effectively meaningless and useless, since there is no way to tell what a person means when they use it. Now, we’ll set aside for the moment the strategies that most people use to suss out the meaning from a text, things like context clues and relevant definitions, because I imagine lacking those skills must make life awfully difficult for you–‘What do they mean when they say hockey games have three periods? Do hockey games menstruate, or are they just very stingy about punctuation, or do elements after argon simply not affect the game?” The problem is that if we accept your position, then Vjack has no grounds to say that the term is “highly inflammatory,” or that there are only certain circumstances where it is “truly warranted,” and his claim that harassment is defined as a criminal offense is clearly ludicrous, since obviously “annoy[ing] persistently” isn’t a criminal offense in most jurisdictions, or jails would be full of little siblings. This is a continuum fallacy, seizing on the fact that the word “harassment” has multiple meanings (and therefore carries a degree of vagueness) to imply that the different uses are therefore indistinct, and thus that the term is effectively meaningless.

    To put this in science/skepticism terms, you’re saying that since “evolution” can just mean “change” or “growth,” then we could say that a child evolves into an adult, or that a caterpillar evolves into a moth, so it doesn’t really make sense to talk about evolution because clearly the scientists are using a meaningless term.

    I realize that the world is complicated, and language doubly so, but that doesn’t make meaning impossible to discern, or really even as hard as you and Vjack are making it out to be. As with most things, if you weren’t so intent on your preferred and presupposed position that you fall into obvious fallacious reasoning, you might find that this stuff is actually pretty easy to comprehend.

    I really don’t have much of a dog in this fight. I read his blog and find him a generally reasonable and thoughtful fellow. Apparently not everyone shares my opinion.

    The sad thing is that I used to. I really did. Vjack and I read a lot of the same blogs and commented in a lot of the same circles–including on each other’s blogs. But when he started sounding off on feminism, he also started using a lot of these terrible arguments in support of his positions. And so I lost a great deal of respect for him, and that really sucks.

  59. freemage says

    vjack’s argument is clearly based on the same old, tired tactic of ignoring context. By ignoring the very concept of an environment, each microaggression can be isolated and reduced down to nothing, thereby creating nothing of the whole.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Something odd happened a couple of days ago. Atheist Alliance International tweeted a link to a post that purports to explain harassment–by limiting its definition to criminal harassment and applying tests that don’t exist within that definition to say that what we’ve been experiencing isn’t harassment. Ophelia has an excellent guest post by Tom Foss explaining how the original post goes wrong. […]

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