So what’s the other side like? Ask Surly Amy »« Dedicated dialogue

Understanding understanding harassment

Update March 27 – the tweet was a mistake, and does not reflect AAI’s views on harassment. See comment 33.

Update 2 See also AAI’s post on the subject.*

______________

Aaaaaaaaand there’s this.

aai

Atheist Alliance Int

Understanding Harassment | Atheist Revolution

And it links to the article at Atheist Revolution. There “vjack” explains what harassment is. Guess what!! It just so happens that it’s none of the things that the people I call harassers are doing to us! Is that a coincidence or what.

No, it’s not. It’s the whole point. Understanding Harassment=harassment is not what I’m doing to you.

How fucking convenient.

vjack is worried about the word.

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).

Just as we should distinguish between real rape and the other kind, which is just a bit of fun with some drunk girl who shouldn’t have gone to that party in the first place because football.

According to USLegal.com, legal definitions of harassment vary from state to state but it “is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety.” They go on to explain:

Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

Huh. There are quite a few items in that list that match exactly what I’ve been calling harassment: epithets, derogatory comments or slurs, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

vjack adds some refinements.

  • 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.
  • Harassment can involve speech (e.g., threatening statements, derogatory cartoons) as well as observable behavior (e.g., touching, physical interference with someone’s movement).

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

Ah what do you know – that link in “go out of his or her way” leads to a post by another nym, “unbelieve steve” this time, about…me. You can tell it’s about me because of the title. Ophelia Benson takes offense to parody accounts she scoured the interwebs to find.

Ok before I read that post, I’ll say – yes, I keep track to some extent of what kind of shit people are saying about me on the interwebs. It’s a meme among the harassers – yes, the harassers – that this is me doing “vanity searches.” Vanity! Hardly. And there are reasons for trying to keep track of shit people say about you in public. I don’t think I’ll even bother explaining that, because it seems pretty obvious.

[reads] Oh look, there it is already – “vanity search.”

A truly amazing feat. Ophelia Benson makes it her god given right and duty to conduct vanity searches for any mention of her name in any form of digital conversation.

She goes one step further and scours twitter feeds and monitors satirical accounts for the slightest WTF comments to be offended by.

Two satirical twitter accounts engage in a comedic conversation completely unrelated to any direct reference to the real Ophelia Benson.

I must say the back and forth by the two parody tweeters left me chuckling whilst enjoying my morning coffee.

Ophelia took offense to the content of the conversation and decided this is something that needs to be documented on her blog as some sort of proof of harassment.

“Two satirical twitter accounts engage in a comedic conversation completely unrelated to any direct reference to the real Ophelia Benson” except for the fact that both of them use my real name.

The fantasy world these people live in, where a person’s real name is completely unrelated to the real person.

Ophelia Benson is not a name exclusively owned by just one person. Census statistics show that in the United States alone, 17490 entries recorded for the use of “Ophelia” as a first name. “Benson” is not rare, showing 84233 instances recorded. Vital records show 31 entries for “Ophelia Benson” recorded in the United States. I feel ya O’Feel’ya, but a person is not identified by name alone. Impersonation is hardly the correct term to describe the parody accounts. One’s a pope and the other a parody Nazi nincompoop.

TIP: Stop doing vanity searches. Stick to blogging, and if at all possible, try keep it on topic of “free thought”. Just sayin’.

No harassment there! Nothing to see here folks, move along, keep the sidewalks clear.

So vjack draws on this scholarly and thoughtful source to explain that harassment you keep track of is not even close to harassment.

And then he moves on the the specifics.

Behavior That is Clearly NOT Harassment
Some of the behavior I have seen being labeled as harassment that does not appear to warrant the label, no matter how objectionable it may be, includes the following:

  1. Using the #FtBullies hashtag on Twitter.
  2. Expressing disagreement with someone’s position, no matter how cherished that opinion might be (e.g., one’s religious beliefs or one’s preferred brand of feminism).
  3. Wearing clothing with social or political messages, including those that are critical of a particular group, to a conference.
  4. Wearing “fake jewelry” to a conference.
  5. Inserting yourself into someone else’s conversation and making absurd accusations against them.
  6. Using mockery or satire in one’s work to lampoon public figures, call attention to relevant issues in the community, etc.
  7. Defending oneself against public criticism from others.
  8. Critiquing someone else’s public work (e.g., writing a book review).
  9. Calling someone a misogynist because they had the nerve to disagree with Rebecca Watson.
  10. Running a silly parody account on Twitter.
  11. Accurately quoting someone.
  12. Making silly images to mock someone.
  13. Belonging to an Internet forum.

Item 7 is weirdly gratuitous, because the link is to Shermer’s eSkeptic piece that shouts at me. It’s gratuitous because no one ever called it harassment, that I know of.

Some of the items are true enough if that’s all there is to it – but if it isn’t, they’re not. Others are highly dubious even if you don’t know they’re part of a pattern and practice of extended non-stop harassment. Making images to mock people? That’s just self-evidently not harassment? Certainly not.

So the “dialogue” proceeds.

*AAI’s post didn’t sit well with everyone.

awfulmiranda2

 

Comments

  1. MyaR says

    Why, “Ophelia Benson”, that’s just like John Smith — you could be referring to virtually anyone! I mean, I personally know three “Ophelia Bensons”, and if you include the people whose names sound a lot like “Ophelia Benson” there must be at least a dozen! And “making silly images to mock someone” is totally different from “visual insults”!

  2. says

    Huh. Is it a “relevant issue in the community” that I’m fat or that I’m “too ugly to rape“? How long does a “parody” Twitter account stay “silly” when it confuses Dave Silverman over who the real owner is?

    The argument by assertion is strong here and rather a lot of assumptions included. On top of that, he elides the idea of a hostile environment. If this were meant to be a school assignment designed to help anyone else understand a topic, I don’t think it would grade well.

  3. AndrewD says

    Ophelia, I am not a lawyer but I do know that there is a tort (Civil legal offence) in the UK called Passing off: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passing_off The deliberate use of your name by another would certainly meet two of the requirements which are:-
    1. Goodwill owned by a trader
    2. Misrepresentation
    3. Damage to goodwill
    I presume that you would qualify as a Trader, since you make a living as a freelance writer but only you would know if the goodwill in you professional activities has been damaged. Is there a similar Tort in US law? Perhaps a legally qualified commentator could tell us

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    Why is Atheist Alliance International tweeting that link? And what does member group Minnesota Atheists have to say about this?

  5. says

    Wow, list all the ways they’ve been harassing people, and redefine them as “not harassment” and **POOF** it isn’t harassment anymore. Thank goodness that Jesus and Allah and Krishna came together and appointed someone named “vjack” as the Sole and Infallible Arbiter of Harassment Claims.

  6. says

    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.

  7. says

    Does he not feel embarrassed by the Ophelia Benson is a common name example? I mean it may make sense if the name of the account was a randomly named one or existed prior to the harassment. But it was expressly chosen to attack this Ophelia Benson! So wtf relevance is it how common the name is?

  8. says

    @Improbable Joe: It’s a bit like the creationists who ask for the “missing link,” the one piece of evidence that proves evolution. There isn’t one, but there’s a big ol’ pattern formed from tons of evidence that has evolution as the only reasonable conclusion.

  9. UnknownEric: A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama? says

    So basically vjack is grabbing people’s hands, smacking said hands into their faces, then saying, “Stop hitting yourself.” Good to know our opponents are 8 years old.

  10. says

    It’s more like Vjack is noticing a crowd of people piling on one person, and asking what the big deal is. I mean, only a couple of them managed to get in more than one punch or kick, really.

  11. says

    To pick on AAI cause they tweeted this dreck…. there are 76 meanings for AAI according to http://www.acronymfinder.com/AAI.html . So if I started bad mouthing them and chewing them out in the comments here, would “well there’s 76 other meanings of AAI so how do you know it refers to you?” be much of a defense if I was called on it? I doubt very much that many people would find that argument convincing.

  12. ibbica says

    What the…? I mean, I get that there are assholes who spew shit, but for the AAI to pass it on without specifically condemning it?

    From AAI’s own anti-harassment policy: http://www.atheistalliance.org/activities/23-conventions/507-anti-harassment-policy

    “Based on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition, “harassment” is behaviour that:
    annoys another person persistently, or
    creates an unpleasant or hostile situation especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.
    Behaviour that can constitute harassment includes discriminatory comments or actions, personal abuse, intimidation, stalking, intrusive photography or video or audio recording, sustained disruption of presentations or other events, inappropriate physical contact, unwelcome sexual attention and the making of a false report of harassment against an innocent person.”

    Oh wait, nevermind. The behaviours described are totes cool, as long as they’re done outside of AAI conventions. (wish it didn’t have to be said, but… /sarcasm)

  13. maudell says

    In the same logic:

    Walking behind someone on the sidewalk is not harassment. You know, that guy who was following me to work everyday just happened to not harass me 100 days in a row.

    Once we can all understand that: the world will be almost rid of harassment (by our new skepto-atheistic definition)! All we’ll have left is people saying: I am harassing you!

    And those people are pretty rare. Problem solved!

  14. says

    Oh, look. Another manly man coming along to explain that what you’re experiencing isn’t “really” harassment, it’s just a few guys having a bit of fun, why are you taking it so seriously, can’t you take a joke?

    Ugh.

  15. ibbica says

    @maudell

    Walking behind someone on the sidewalk is not harassment. You know, that guy who was following me to work everyday just happened to not harass me 100 days in a row.

    Ugh, I really wish that wasn’t such a near-perfect mimic of at least one of the comments left, without a whiff of sarcasm, in response to the original AR article :/
    (No, I can’t say it’s worth reading the comments there. They’re nearly all exactly what you’d expect.)

  16. Stacy says

    Using the #FtBullies hashtag on Twitter

    Has anybody claimed this is harassment? I mean, except for the people who called us bullies for flooding that hashtag and using it to make jokes back when it started?

    Inserting yourself into someone else’s conversation and making absurd accusations against them

    Huh? Depending on circumstances, that sounds like it could very well be harassment.

    Defending oneself against public criticism from others

    Obviously that’s not harassment. But it doesn’t go far enough: publicly criticizing someone is not “witch-hunting” them, let alone harassment.

    Calling someone a misogynist because they had the nerve to disagree with Rebecca Watson

    I have the feeling that one got in there by mistake. ; )

  17. carlie says

    I must say the back and forth by the two parody tweeters left me chuckling whilst enjoying my morning coffee.

    Well, at least we know he’s being all neutral and objective about it.
    *eyeroll*

  18. says

    maudell #13:

    Once we can all understand that: the world will be almost rid of harassment (by our new skepto-atheistic definition)! All we’ll have left is people saying: I am harassing you!

    Sounds a lot like their definition of ‘hate group’. They’re not waving swastikas around or assembling on Stormfront, they can’t possibly be a hate group. And don’t you dare call them one, that’s unfair and damaging.

    (Much in the same way as that case in Ohio was damaging to the convicted, I guess.)

  19. sharoncrawford says

    The hardest thing about being a feminist is not hating men. There are so many nasty versions of male and so few actual decent ones that it’s been a struggle for me. When I became a feminist some 40+ years ago, I was more than willing to cut just about everyone some slack. After all, this Second Wave of feminism was new to most of us.
    But now, 43 years later, I see that the ratio of men who get it versus the trogodytes is still very depressing. Don’t mistake me, I’ve very grateful for the men who act like decent human beings and who don’t have any trouble identifying me as a fellow human. But why should I have to be grateful? Why should Black people have to feel grateful to white people who don’t treat them like shit? But there it is. Reality trumps wistful thinking.

  20. says

    Whew, thanks for your comment @ 6, Tom, which got held up – I guess because of links. I think Ima make it a post, to make up for getting held and because it needs to be more seen.

  21. says

    Sigh. I’ve donated to AAI.

    I really don’t have a lot of time to go long on working out what happened, here. So I’m probably just gonna have to mark a little ‘seriously reconsider’ next to that one when it comes up for renewal, for now…

    Colour me unimpressed.

    Seriously. What. The. Fuck. People: that there, that’s a bottom feeder. You don’t want to get this stuff on you.

  22. says

    It happens that I’ve just been updating my post in which I disagreed with Melissa McEwan about how friendly or unfriendly theatheistcommunity really is to women and other vulgar people, to say that having taken a closer look at what she said I don’t disagree with her after all.

    AAI kind of underlines that.

  23. leni says

    Using the #FtBullies hashtag on Twitter.

    Curious how there’s no mention of what is being tweeted.

    ***

    This really is creationist level denialism.

    That whole list reminds me a lot of the micro-macro argument. You watch someone do this and can almost feel sorry for hard they’re working to not see the big picture. Almost.

  24. says

    so let me get this straight: vjack shiws the legal definition of harassment, and then adds shit to it that very explicitly wasn’t in tthe definition (“repeated” and “the harasser”) because otherwise dude can’t make his point?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    and claiming that making “silly images” of someone is not harassment, right after quoting a legal definition that specifically mentions derogatory imagery? brilliant.

  25. says

    I’ll admit I’m not the best twitterer but it looks like aai has removed the tweet sometime between yesterday and today.

  26. ibbica says

    Well, look at that. So they did. Glad someone there was paying attention, however late (or however many complaints it took). Too bad they didn’t bother to actively denounce it, but correcting mistakes doesn’t seem to be SOP on Twitter.

    Still, at least someone there noticed that it wasn’t appropriate.

  27. says

    Well I replied to it within seconds, so someone must have known at least that one person thought it wasn’t appropriate quite promptly…unless whoever tweeted it left the scene immediately after tweeting.

  28. Carlos Alfredo Diaz says

    Hi everyone, tweeting that link was a mistake, a big one. One of our Social Media collaborators twitted the link from what looked to him as a sensible source with a title that seemed on the same page as we are.
    He wasn´t aware of the fact that the article is far off from our stance on harassment: we don´t condone it, we don´t defend it and we certainly will not accept it in our community, end of story.
    We are completely committed to promoting women feeling safer in our community (something we should all strive for) and to stopping this senseless harassment that plagues us.

    We have an anti-harassment policy that is mandatory for all conventions we help organize or give funding to (http://www.atheistalliance.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=507&Itemid=30) and we are always open to receiving suggestions or requests for help regarding this, and any other issue.

    I personally apologize for the slip up and hope you understand we, in no way, share any view other than the fact that we all must work together agains´t harassment in our community, we must all feel safe discussing ideas among ourselves and not blame the victims in order to hide the shortcomings our community has.

  29. Audra says

    Thank you AAI and Carlos! Both for apologizing and for making your stance against harassment clear.

  30. sqlrob says

    /me slow claps for Carlos.

    Now, that’s how you do an apology. Good for you, may others take note.

  31. kellym says

    Thank you AAI. Any atheist/secular organization that is pro-Slymepit will never receive donations from me. Glad to know that I can happily support the AAI.

  32. Carlos Alfredo Diaz says

    Hi all, thanks for being so understanding. You shouldn´t be thanking AAI for doing what´s right, you should be proud for bringing this to our attention.
    As I said before, we´re always open to suggestions or for requests of supports, you can always shoot me an email at [email protected] or simply talk to us on Twitter or Facebook.

    Carlos A. Diaz

  33. says

    Aw…

    Hey Carlos do you know about Waleed Al-Husseini? I’m always looking to get him as much support as possible, because he needs asylum.

    Well I’ll shoot you that email.

  34. says

    So…they feel they can downplay your concerns because you did the Googling yourself? They’d like it better if some of us did the Googling for you? Okay, well, that’s completely ludicrous argument, but I’m sure we can arrange to do some searching on your behalf…

    (Geez…)

  35. says

    I am hereby reinforcing comments to Carlos in the ‘thank you for doing the right thing’ vein. Noted and very much appreciated.

    (And I think the AAI does some really good work. And I think it’s a very, _very_ good idea in general pulling together smaller organizations, some of which have members in some pretty hostile contexts. Not maybe the _best_ context in which to have to say, but still, I’m saying: they do, and it is.)

  36. fredslocombe says

    Living in a free-speech zone makes identification of harassment a little complicated. We spent an entire semester of college discussing hate speech, harassment, and pornography. I factor in such acts as simply criticizing someone behind their back, or tweeting a photo of a private citizen, thereby making them a public figure without their permission which fall under stalking, slander and libel laws.

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