The eros of the podium


We’re arguing about it in comments, so I’ll bring it up here to argue some more. (And watch: now no one will argue any more. That always happens.)

We’re arguing about this question of whether it’s ok for conference speakers to hook up with attendees, assuming mutual enthusiasm and availability.

I’m not on the side my haters* would expect.They would expect me to screek in horror and demand that everyone be taken away in chains. You know the drill – ugly old bitch, crazy bitter ugly angry old bitch jealous of all the hot young people having secks, wants to see them all boiled in oil.

But nah. I don’t see the problem. I agree that the bigger stars among the conference speakers shouldn’t be obnoxious about it; they shouldn’t blatantly leverage their status to get laid; but other than that, go for it. Why not? These things are social, and that’s why they’re fun. You meet people, you talk, it’s fun. Sometimes that leads to sex and/or romance, a happy weekend or an extended relationship. What’s wrong with that?

Conferences aren’t universities. Nobody’s grading anybody. Nobody has any real power over anybody. If people want to jump on each other, I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t.

Conferences (of the kind we’re talking about) are like universities however in the sense that they’re meant to be intellectually stimulating, and often are. That’s erotic itself, as any fule kno. I was always getting crushes on the guys in the tweed jackets when I was at university – little crushes, big crushes, fun crushes, yearning crushes – alla crushes. This was 400 years ago, too, so there were far more men teaching than women; lots of scope for crushes. I never did anything about them though apart from trying to write really good papers. Sublimation, but then again, I wrote some good papers. Win-win if you ask me, but then I’m a nerd. But the point is: at conferences there’s not much reason not to act on attractions provided they are mutual. At least I can’t see any. You?

*They’re not just my haters. They all hate other people too. I don’t think I have any haters who focus on me alone. I don’t want to be boastful about them.

Comments

  1. Maureen Brian says

    I agree with you. Just one problem, though – how are we going to teach these entitled arseholes that you get better sex when both or all parties are enjoying it equally.

    That’s the real challenge because some of these – cough – shall we say men approaching 60 are so very set in their ways.

  2. Stacy says

    Yeah, I agree with you too, Ophelia. The argument that “but speakers have power!” doesn’t move me. It’s wrong to leverage power in order to get laid, or to sleep with somebody when you need to be as objective as possible toward them (ie, a professor sleeping with a student,) but a speaker at a conference just doesn’t have that kind of power over attendees.

    Of course there’s a difference between an individual’s ethical rules for themselves and codified rules. I can respect somebody saying, “I see possibilities for abuse there; I won’t do that.”

  3. says

    Good question, Maureen. But I guess it’s an issue of quantity v quality.

    Stacy – oh, sure. And there are people who just don’t fancy rushing it in that way, and people who want to talk at these events much more than they want to hump (ovah heah!), and the hordes of people in monogamous relationships.

    Ok now I’m starting to feel sad for people who want to get laid and can’t find anyone willing.

    :D

  4. Silentbob says

    Jen McCreight advocated the no-speaker-sex position:

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

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

    Emery my have been thinking of that. But I agree with you that “demand” is too strong a word.

  5. Pteryxx says

    bah, refresh ate my comment. Short version: speakers don’t have power OVER attendees, as in grading or hiring; but speakers have power RELATIVE to attendees, because of their close relationship with the organizers and each other. Speakers generally will be better known, probably more trusted (which is why there has to be an explicit guideline to take all complaints seriously) and have greater community connections and probably legions (or at least dozens) of fans ready to defend them; in some cases, ready to defend them with harassment. And the behavior of speakers reflects on the organizers, more than attendees hooking up with (or harassing) other attendees does.

    I’m not sure a formal restriction is the way to go, but what’s wrong with a suggestion or ethical guideline? If consensual speaker-attendee hookups happen and everyone’s happy about it (given a robust reporting system as backdrop), nobody will be complaining guideline or no, correct?

  6. Pteryxx says

    …and now I have another question. How many speakers actually are going around getting (in their case, happy and consensual) sexings at skeptic/atheist/secular conferences BESIDES the current crop of rapey douchebags? Maybe once the douchebags are removed from the equation, it becomes a non-issue.

  7. says

    I have no idea, myself, but I would guess (I suppose that is having an idea, but I have no idea of numbers or proportions or anything specific) it does happen, especially at the bigger ones, because it just would. They’re convivial, they’re in hotels…it just would.

  8. Jean says

    Maybe once the douchebags are removed from the equation, it becomes a non-issue.

    Wouldn’t it be a non-issue whether or not the other speakers are having consensual sex? The issue would then be to prevent from having a new crop.

  9. says

    Except…I was really surprised the first time a woman at a conference offered me her hotel key. I know I’m not personally attractive or otherwise appealing in any physical way, and it was simply that eroticism of intellectual stimulation, as you mentioned, and the impulse to indulge in a fleeting crush. You know speakers get a little edge from that position when I’m getting sexual opportunities!

    It felt like cheating, didn’t actually represent my ideal (all of my physical relationships have also been serious emotional relationships), and just generally seemed like something we might all regret when the first brief flush of enthusiasm wore off. So I’ve always gently turned down those offers.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I turn them down, so everybody else ought to, too. I’m really just saying that there’s some weird primate psychology going on, and we ought to be wary of it.

  10. says

    As for numbers, it doesn’t happen at every conference, it’s probably happened to me 8? 10? times? Thereabouts. A couple of times a year.

    I suspect it’s much more common for younger, handsomer speakers who aren’t geeky bearded weirdos. And I would imagine most of them would also turn down the offers, but I don’t know — maybe I’m a horrible weirdo in another way too.

  11. Al Dente says

    But what if the famous skeptic is attending the conference as an attendee, having no official function or speaking duties? They are still recognizable to their fans and assorted others familiar with the names and faces of the more recognizable ones. “No, I’m not speaking at this function. Say, can I get you another scotch and 7-Up?”

  12. Corvus Whiteneck says

    Just today I listened to an episode of BBC World Service’s “The Why Factor” on celebrity (it’s brief, maybe 15 min long). I think part of it has bearing on this topic, namely an anthropologist taking about cognitive errors related to status that humans seem prone to. The takeaway is more or less that people unknowingly transfer a high status in some venue/characteristic into other arenas/aspects (which is why, to pick an example completely at random, a prominent actress/model gets listened to when expounding upon vaccine safety despite a complete lack of expertise or knowledge about THAT subject).

    I don’t know what the right policy would be, but it does seem that the high status associated with being a speaker creates biases which the speaker could take advantage of if so inclined.

  13. Pteryxx says

    Al Dente: in that case, it’s not the conference’s responsibility to place restrictions on the more-or-less-famous person, beyond the same old harassment policy that applies to everybody.

    PZ, thanks for the numbers (though I wish you wouldn’t put yourself down; I’d probably offer except you’ve made it clear you’re not interested in such offers. Hey, consent!) So taking PZ as a midrange, ANY speaker might get a few to many offers a year from fans. Which means it’s a significant issue, and potentially a significant concern.

    I can also add, I’ve only been to a handful of conferences and I’ve *witnessed* a couple of speaker-attendee hookups being initiated. The public part, anyway. (None of them involved the current crop of horrible; but they did involve a lot of alcohol, and now I wonder…)

  14. Randomfactor says

    Seems to me that the fact that you’re hundreds (thousands?) of miles away from the intended hookup-ee should be an incredibly big barrier.. Is that the ONLY way you can show appreciation? Is it the best? (Full disclosure: celibate for five years now and likely to be for the remainder of my days.)

    But I’m with PZ– if you don’t truly care about the person you’re in bed with, why are you there? Is it worth the potential damage to the convention which paid for your ticket?

  15. ludicrous says

    ” I’m really just saying that there’s some weird primate psychology going on, and we ought to be wary of it.”

    Yup, more than be wary of it Weird or not, probably not I would say, more like powerful and underestimated.

    As a male I don’t know how to think about it and don’t want to presume, and would like to know how some women understand it.

    Failing that a pertinent reference(s) would be appreciated.

  16. says

    Hmm, really weird primate psychology (PZ), cognitive errors related to status that humans seem prone to (Corvus). There’s a lot to that. There’s something about that arrangement (one person speaking to a bunch of people) that has a strange edge to it.

    Hmm again. Priests, anyone?

    So maybe speakers – or maybe only male speakers? I wonder if it even works the other way? – really should be wary, because it’s as if the listeners (so to speak) are slightly hypnotized.

    Interesting.

  17. Pteryxx says

    Randomfactor: look, whether consensual, casual hookups are somehow emotionally valid or not is a completely separate issue. (Kink conferences exist after all.) This is about whether a conference speaker’s position with regard to such hookups poses an ethical problem worth formally addressing.

  18. says

    Studies! We need studies. In particular I want to know if it’s different when it’s a woman speaking. I bet it is…which is annoying. (Why do I bet? Because it is a kind of power thing – just as PZ said, but I was taking it too literally so I missed it.) (And that’s why so many say no no no, we can’t have women clerics.)

  19. Merlin says

    I suppose this all comes back to acknowledging being in a position of privilege and learning how to recognize when it is an influencing factor, and then acting in a considerate and responsible manner.

  20. machintelligence says

    I am really not qualified to speak from experience, having attended only a few conferences, and being a mostly non-drinking loner, but I have a few observations, for what they are worth.

    There will always be those with charisma, be it natural or fame based, and it is reasonable to expect those folks to use it on members of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that is how they are inclined.) I see nothing wrong with this, but sometimes it apparently grades into harassment, or more to the point, coercion, which is not OK.

    Additionally, there are apparently the equivalent of music concert tour “groupies” out there as well. I find nothing wrong with this, either, as long as both parties are willing participants.

    What is needed are not restrictions on the speakers, but rather uniformly enforced rules on harassment and unethical behavior. That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.

  21. Pteryxx says

    Yes Means Yes blog covers quite a bit of research on casual sex, but I haven’t found anything directly relevant yet. Maybe this:

    These studies demonstrated results consistent with risk perception, as women (but not men) perceived less risk from the familiar individuals than from the stranger making the sexual proposal. When women were considering the less risky (i.e., familiar) proposers, they were just as likely to agree to the CHSP as men were (after accounting for perceptions of sexual capabilities in the case of the best friend proposing sex to them).

    source

    because famous individuals, even bloggers through their words, seem (are?) more familiar than random acquaintances, even like-minded random acquaintances.

  22. ludicrous says

    I think it works both ways, at least it does for me as I observe female speakers.

    The speaker/audience, teacher/student, preacher/(I forget), situations are somewhat unique in that the audience gets to scrutinize, physically the speaker for long periods of time without any reluctance or embarrassment for either party.. I wonder if that in itself doesn’t induce a kind of intimacy. I think it’s a bit disconcerting for novice speakers to be looked over like that.

  23. says

    I think the policy makes sense for the SSA, because I would guess the demographics skew younger than other conferences. And yeah, college students are adults, but they do tend to be younger, which increases the power differential. And power differentials always comes with a possibility of abuse.

    Maybe once the douchebags are removed from the equation, it becomes a non-issue.

    And I also kind of agree with Pteryxx, here.

    My dad is a police officer. Over his 30+ years, he has had many women offer him sex. Almost always fearfully, women who were terrified of losing their kids, young girls afraid of being arrested and “what will my parents think”, poor women who didn’t know how they could ever pay a ticket, etc. And he has never once been tempted, not just because he’s been married to Mom for 29 years, but even before, the thought of sleeping with a woman who was doing so out of fear or obligation made him sick.

    If all cops were like my dad, there would never need to be rules about sexual misconduct. But they aren’t. There are plenty of his coworkers who gladly took advantage of those women. Heck, I learned about sexual harassment by going to my dad’s work–a lesson I’m not sure they intended “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” to teach.

    So maybe guidelines are necessary right now. Not in the least because it would give women the opportunity to point to a specific, clear-cut boundary that was crossed, with none of this “Well how much did you drink/why did you go to his room/why didn’t you yell for help or fight/whatever bullshit victim-blaming excuse people come up with to put off accusations. It leaves less space for “gray areas”. There was a rule, the speaker violated that rule, done.

    Growing up, Mama’s main child-rearing strategy was: “Rules check in when common sense checks out.” Meaning: you don’t want a strict bedtime? Then don’t stay up so late you can’t get up for school the next day. Don’t want your internet time restricted? Then don’t tie up the phone line (days before WiFi) all day long. Don’t want a curfew? Then don’t disappear for all hours without letting Mom know where you are, or go someplace you didn’t get prior permission for, or come home plastered, etc.

    So really, I don’t know. I understand what you’re saying, Ophelia, and I tend to agree, in an abstract sense, at least. But in a practical sense, right now, with what’s going on…maybe the secular community needs rules right now, or at least guidelines. Like training wheels. And in a decade, if it’s been shown that people understand and can act in a non-rapey manner, we can revisit the issue.

  24. ludicrous says

    I should have added that I think this is different for men and women. Men do get to look over women whether invited to or not but women must be very careful in looking at men and do not do it much. The example that often comes to my mind is parallel cars at a stop sign. A man will often look around towards or at other drivers whereas it would be dangerous for a woman to do that.

  25. machintelligence says

    Oh my. A lot of comments were posted while I was working on mine and two of them cause a quandary.
    Ophelia asks

    In particular I want to know if it’s different when it’s a woman speaking.

    Let me propose a thought experiment. PZ said

    Except…I was really surprised the first time a woman at a conference offered me her hotel key. I know I’m not personally attractive or otherwise appealing in any physical way, and it was simply that eroticism of intellectual stimulation, as you mentioned, and the impulse to indulge in a fleeting crush. You know speakers get a little edge from that position when I’m getting sexual opportunities!

    Flip the switch and change the sexes. What would have been PZ’s reaction if he had been a woman? Only he can say for sure, but I’m willing to bet it would have been different. Would that have qualified as harassment? What constitutes uniformly enforced rules?

  26. Pteryxx says

    EEB, you make all the sense. We KNOW there’s a big problem that needs solving – and it isn’t about consensual hookups.

    So maybe guidelines are necessary right now. Not in the least because it would give women the opportunity to point to a specific, clear-cut boundary that was crossed, with none of this “Well how much did you drink/why did you go to his room/why didn’t you yell for help or fight/whatever bullshit victim-blaming excuse people come up with to put off accusations. It leaves less space for “gray areas”. There was a rule, the speaker violated that rule, done.

    I’m changing my mind – I agree with this. The only fail condition would be some fully consensual hookup getting reported even if all partners affirm it was consensual and a response of polite warning not to do it again should cover that.

    What constitutes uniformly enforced rules?

    When the person whose lines are crossed complains. The policies don’t depend on gendering. Seriously, this isn’t a new concept here.

  27. imnotandrei says

    When this whole thing first blew up, this was a question for me — because, while it’s not the skeptical community, I have had sex with a Guest of Honor at a SF con I attended.

    So, to come down on the “No, Speakers should not hit on attendees!” side felt hypocritical, to put it mildly.

    I talked about it with a friend, and we came to some conclusions:

    1) Because of the way the particular SF con is structured, the power gap between “Guest of Honor” and “Panel Participant w/friends on the ConCom” is much smaller than that where you have “speakers” and “attendees”

    2) It might have changed things that this was a same-sex interaction. At least, it both a) increased the vulnerability of the GoH, since the default assumption is not “Odds are, the other person is interested in people of my gender!”, and b) significantly decreased the power gap between us for gender reasons.

    3) N years later, I can’t remember which of us initiated things — I know the flirtation lasted over several days of the conference, and it was not the first year we’d met.

    The problem is, these are things hard to codify into rules — they make for good guidelines, sometimes — “Are you both still interested the day after you start flirting”, and the like — but they’re not things you can guarantee.

    I suppose I offer them here as a different perspective on the problem. I think the GoH behaved perfectly reasonably towards me, and I would regret not having had that chance — but I was in a much less disadvantaged position than many an attendee.

  28. iplon says

    Off the top of my head, the only issue I could see with this is if the conference speakers have any say in who gets to speak at next conferences.

    Conference organizers, and those who have any strong direct or indirect influence on the organization of future conferences, should be at a minimum firmly discouraged from doing so in my opion.

  29. says

    I think that there should just be a clear policy in place at cons so attendees know if it is a possibility. Like if you aren’t comfortable with speaker/attendee hook ups then you can skip the conferences where it is allowed.

  30. procrastinatorordinaire says

    The only fail condition would be some fully consensual hookup getting reported even if all partners affirm it was consensual and a response of polite warning not to do it again should cover that.

    But is that not the only condition which would be censured by such a rule? Non consensual hookups would be covered by the general rules against harassment whether they involved speakers or not.

  31. says

    Wow. PZ is making out better than Aron. No hotel keys to date. Although, he gets confessions that men and women think he is sexy. Seriously though, most people know that PZ is married. Is there an issue where some women don’t respect people’s marriages?

  32. M31 says

    I know this topic is about consensual activities between speakers and guests, but if there is a problem of harassment or rape, then the conference organizers might be tempted to cover up or downplay any allegations (sound familiar?). They hired the speaker, after all, and did so because he brought in guests and prestige, might be buddies/colleagues of long standing, etc., which tips the power balance away from the guest pretty significantly. (This is another reason that harassment policies with procedures and reporting are so important to formalize complaints so they are harder to sweep under the rug.)

    I think the speaker/guest dynamic is more like the famous person/fan dynamic than the professor/student one (i.e., more likely to be a one-off, and less likely to have any even implied quid-pro-quo), but there are plenty of similarities.

  33. says

    We’re arguing about this question of whether it’s ok for conference speakers to hook up with attendees, assuming mutual enthusiasm and availability.

    I’ve keynoted over 50 information security conferences, and been an invited or juried-in speaker at many more. The simple answer is: NO

    Why? Because if you’re a conference speaker, you’re working and more importantly you are representing the conference. The conference lives and dies by whether or not the speakers are good, personable, interesting, etc. So I consider a big piece of my gig, when I take one, to hang out at the coffee line and answer questions. Even when my feet hurt, or I want to go to sleep, or I’m jet-lagged, or someone is asking me the same question I have answered 100 times before. I went to one conference where they keynote (John Dvorak) was conspicuously bored during the intro speechifying – he was sitting with a newspaper open, eating a croissant and utterly ignoring everyone. Maybe he was just having a bad day – but I know the conference organizers that run that show, and he’ll never work there again. It’s a show it’s a performance. You’re on stage – and a big piece of that is that you almost certainly were not invited to put on a demonstration of your seduction technique.

    Alcohol is a problem. I used to joke that I got my good ideas by taking a shot of tequila (somewhat true) and at one conference in Australia (AusCERT 2013) I went to drink some of the water in front of me and it was silver patron, neat. Nice. I learned that it’s dangerous – to me – to joke about drinking because some people like to see the industry figure fall face-first in the pasta. Apparently. But you know that if you do fall face-first in the pasta you’re going to have apologies to make (and even then, you’re probably burned) to the conference organizers. At a decent conference, you can forget entirely about mashing on one of the attendees, or biting someone’s ankle in an alcohol-fuelled display of mis-humor: you’re done, if you do that. And that’s as it should be.

    Sam Kinison used to do a pretty funny routine about what it was like for him to go to parties, because people would go “HEY IT’S KINISON” and cut him a line of coke 3 feet long and 1/8″ wide. And, you can’t turn that down, because it’s also inhospitable… If you expect to survive as a speaker (I may actually have been on the speaker’s circuit longer than Shermer, come to think of it! When did he start?) you learn to avoid that.

    Conferences are a social activity. Specifically, that’s what they are. For the attendees. For the performers? If you’re a smart performer, you’re going to remember you’re on stage every minute that you’re not in your hotel room.

    So, I repeat: No. Unless you’re fucking stupid.

    Besides, this is the day of email. If some attendee really wants to get together with you, they’ll email you afterward and say, “hey, do you come this way often?” I’ve gotten those, too. Some of them have made me wince – it goes both ways – I sure as hell wouldn’t want to wake up with a hangover and a legal liability in the bed next to me! Especially since, if I drink a lot, it impairs my memory – so what’s the point?

  34. says

    I’ve seen speaker-speaker and attendee-attendee, but not speaker-attendee. But if PZ gets 2 offers a year, I’d like to be a fly at Sam Harris’ hotel room wall!

    Here’s why I think it’s a bad idea, and speakers should refrain from it. Not only can you not deny that there is a power imbalance between a paying attendee at a con and a speaker, whose books or articles you may have read, or whose vidoes you watched. Attendees pay money to see speakers!

    There is also the fact that many people will fortify themselves with alcohol before they dare to approach a celebrity. I certainly had a few before I dared speak to AC Grayling or Dawkins, say, in the past. And given that alcohol will often be involved in speaker-attendee interactions, I think it’s an even worse idea for speakers to get engaged like that.

  35. says

    yeah, this is a tricky one. In principle *cough* I don’t think there’s anything wrong with speaker/attendee hookups, but in praxis there seem to be problematic situations that could indeed be ameliorated by such rules. Then again, when a famous person goes from speaker to attendee, there’s little change in the power a famous person has relative to a non-famous one. A n00b-speaker/panelist hooking up with a world-famous book author who’s just an attendee has a completely different power-dynamic than when the famous author is the speaker and the n00b is the attendee.

    So probably we’re stuck with making that a personal ethics question, with the right to consider people known to take advantage of their position of relative power as skeevy creeps to be avoided.

  36. says

    To me, it just boils down to whether or not you want to invite trouble. It’s the same as why it’s a bad idea to date at the workplace (you can do that, but you gotta be careful and sensible about it and I suspect we’ve all seen the kind of splashcraters that happen when a relationship goes passionately sour at the office) – it’s just a dumb idea. Perhaps I’m paranoid. But I’m at professional conferences – I watch my language, keep to one glass of wine, and I show an even level of interest toward everyone. Let’s say I’m talking with 2 people at the coffee line, one of whom is an interesting-seeming member of my preferred gender and the other is the CSO of a FORTUNE500 firm. You treat everyone with respect; you listen, nod, treat them the same – and you don’t “cut someone out of the herd” because when you’re doing that you’re also cutting yourself out of the conference, which means that the CSO of the big company, who wanted to ask you about a consulting project, asks someone else.

    It appears that some of the speakers we all know are so fucking stupid that getting some rape action in is more important to them than doing a good job for their employers. It’s immoral as hell but it’s also a bad career move.

  37. says

    One more comment: “thou shalt not create headaches for the conference organizers” is a good rule. And, an upset attendee complaining that they were sexually harrassed is a #1-a-primo headache even for an utter asshole of a conference organizer. Conference organizers are dealing with worrying whether the keynote is going to show up on time, whether the catering is OK, is there enough coffee, are the wireless mics in Track A flaky, is the AC on too hot, are there lines at the bathrooms, etc, etc. If you’re a conference speaker and you aren’t a complete fool, you’re going to do absolutely everything you can to minimize your footprint. You want to be the original low-drag ultra reliable carbon fiber hybrid fuel conference speaker.

    Which raises another point: if Shermer’s proclivities are well known, WTF are the conference organizers thinking, who hire him?? Not to be crass, I’m sure you could get Richard Carrier for less – or offer him the same amount and he’d be thrilled, enthusiastic, and probably well-rewarded enough not to bite the hand that feeds him.

    I used to teach (and speak) at one very large infosec conference, every 6 (they had multiple shows in different locations) and that conference had a really interesting technique: they made their own speakers. They got people who were interested and articulate and turned them into speakers. Then, after that, it was “we made you, we can break you” It’s a hugely successful and profitable conference, and I saw speakers get dropped off the roster for being late to the “all hands” briefing that was held 45 minutes before the conference officially started.

    You do not want to be hung over from mashing on sweet things of your preferred gender when you’re working for pros. You want to be a pro.

  38. Dave Ricks says

    PZ, as a speaker, you have an advantage to consensual sex. She offered you her key, and I see no harm in that.

    Consider respecting the agency of the women who want you.  A high school friend of mine Ron Horton is a professional trumpet player in New York, and he used to be a member of the “I Suck Club” (him and Pat Metheny and a million other players who ever played music including me). So when he would get a phone call to play with someone great like Jane Ira Bloom, he would turn them down because he felt he wasn’t good enough. Then he realized he was denying her judgement to assemble her musical projects that he respected, so he was contradicting himself, and undermining her, and he emphasized I should never do that. This is not being selfish, it’s really the opposite, it’s really understanding another person’s point of view.

    Since then Ron played on Jane’s record Art in Aviation, and you just need to embrace your inner bear.

  39. Martha says

    What is needed are not restrictions on the speakers, but rather uniformly enforced rules on harassment and unethical behavior. That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.

    I agree with machintelligence that this is the crux of the matter. The onus is on conference organizers to take complaints about speakers seriously. I have no intention of attending a conference organized by people who have shown that they can’t be trusted to do so.

    I guess I see conferences less in the way that Rorschach does and more like, say, summer science conferences. I never feel that I’m in a position of authority if I’m a speaker at those; it’s more that it’s just my turn.

  40. Corvus Whiteneck says

    To pick up on something Marcus said in @37….. Harassment- or speaker-attendee-sex- policies are really not the point. These con organizers need to be held to account for who they invite to their cons. They need to feel like they are going to own the speakers’ behavior, and their speakers should feel like they will answer to the con organizers for how they behave at the con.

    There have been eloquent and interesting atheists and skeptics since ancient-fucking-Greece or before, and there is no shortage of them today. Not only are there lots, there are tons of high profile celebrities (recognizable names, good for ticket sales!) of various backgrounds — science, acting, writing, journalism, comedy, etc. — who fit the atheist or skeptic label but may not be “professional” atheists or skeptics, per se. In addition, there are tons of AWESOME people who are not well known to the general skeptic or atheist community, but could be known to a con organizer who was motivated/plugged-in.

    Look, there are vanishingly few atheists or skeptics who have truly unique or revolutionary things to say — such is the nature of accumulated knowledge or wisdom: most of us are synthesizers, not originators. In light of all this, inviting a well-known creep to speak at your con is inexcusable.

    The dudebro/pitter set has somewhat derailed things by making this about anonymity, or what constitutes consent, or how drunk is too drunk, etc. FUUUUUUUUUUCK that.

    The bar is a hell of a lot lower, or should be. What’s creepy? No, no, not even that. What’s inappropriate? Yes, that should be the question. THAT should be the standard for exclusion.

  41. pneumo says

    I want to have sex with the the line “eros of the podium”. By the many moons of Hyrule, that is a wonderful turn of phrase.

    Annnyyywayyy… A total ban on sex on conventions might actually help those of us that can’t tell when consent is actually available. I can’t think have any recent examples of such persons, it hasn’t been much of an issue of late.

    *Damn, why is my irony meter smoking?*

  42. John Phillips, FCD says

    Dave Ricks #38, and what about respecting Mary’s agency, you know, PZ’s better half.

  43. Charles Sullivan says

    Humans are status-seeking primates, as Frans de Waal says; among having many other qualities, as he also usually adds. I believe a person’s high-ish status can have sex-appeal for some. And for them, intelligence does contribute to a person’s status, and his/her desirableness. Of course culture plays a big role reinforcing these desires.

    We should be a bit wary of this psychological potential among our species, though, for the simple reason that it’s rife for abuse. Nonetheless, If the relations are consensual and adult, and it delivers that tingling feeling for all, then I say let it be.

  44. says

    I think anyone working at a conference (speakers, organizers, etc.) should remain celibate, and just focus on the paying customers. As mentioned above, obsessing on a single attendee is unfair to everyone else.

    However, enforcement could be difficult, so I have a suggestion. Announce at the keynote that a randomly designated “secret-creeper” will try to hit on a few attendees throughout the conference, and when you turn them in you win a door prize.

    Now the organizers have a long list (and some interesting stats) of who is bending the rules; the punishment could be public shaming – with names announced at the conference conclusion and posted on the web site.

    Would this be a good strategy to raise consciousness about harassment in general?

  45. Smokey Dusty says

    I think we might be going a bit far if we try to deny our weird primate psychology. Maybe the rules are becoming a bit oppressive at that stage.

    What about out of the conference environment? Should I analyze every approach to make sure I’m not exploiting weird primate psychology? Cause I’d never have had sex if I did.

    I don’t have PZ’s alleged problem. Women approach me quiet regularly, in normal social settings, I’ve never spoken at a conference. I suspect part of my appeal is inferred power. I’m slightly handsome, on the taller side of average and athletic. Bringing in a recent theme, I have a John Hamm-esque Resting Asshole Face.

    So what do I tell the women (apart from ‘no I’m married’)? Sorry but I suspect your motives are literally primitive…

    Weird primate psychology underpins all our motivations, right?

  46. says

    Marcus Ranum’s, it’s work, argument seems the most compelling to me. Having a professional conference where you as speaker are representing that organisation then it’s reasonable for them to not want you to get pissed and hook up with the paying guests. So as speaker guidelines I could see it working.

  47. Pen says

    I think Marcus @33 has the best answer so far, the one that convinced me. In what little experience I’ve had of speaking gigs, he’s absolutely right – you’re paid to be professional and generate atmosphere as well as speak. Minimally, if you’re trying to hook up, you’re probably investing attention in one person that’s better spread around. Similarly, an attendee who monopolises a speaker’s attention is being a bit unfair to others. Con attendees are actually your employer’s clients, not your horde of admirers (why does that make me think of PZ? Sorry PZ). In exchange for all this, you usually get free attendance as well as the fee. I do think that’s a critical aspect of his argument.

    So, there could be exceptions for conferences with a very informal structure and unpaid or insufficiently paid speakers, for cons to have specific sex-encouraging policies if they want, and for people who are really interested in each other to arrange to meet again at some later date – when the speaker isn’t working?

  48. says

    The professionalism part: yes, I feel the same way. When someone brings me in to speak, I’m not responsible for just the one hour I’m up on stage: I’m there to interact with the audience throughout the event. There is no time off where I can say, now I’m done, I get to be a troglodyte for the next 5 hours.

    The secret creeper idea is quite possibly the worst solution I’ve ever heard.

    The con is going to commission someone to harass attendees? No way.

    Who are you going to get to “pretend” to be a creeper? What kind of person do you think would volunteer for such a job?

    You have just given every real creeper plausible deniability. “I was just testing you!”

  49. says

    @PZ #48

    The con is going to commission someone to harass attendees? No way.

    No way – I agree, any volunteer (if there even is one) would have to be in complete compliance with the conference harassment policy.

    The idea would be to promote a pervasive vigilance, and reward formal reporting. It might also discourage would-be harassers, as they would be more likely to be reported.

    Maybe it wouldn’t help, I was just looking for a creative solution to this tragic problem.

  50. Maureen Brian says

    Far better than a licensed harasser – there’d be too many volunteers – would be to print in bold and large font at the foot of every anti-harassment policy

    “Nothing in this policy should deter you from going direct to the police if you consider than a criminal offence has been committed.”

    That plus all speakers following Scalzi’s lead on which conferences he will and won’t attend should do it.

    (I’m trying not to gloat here but I do recommend organising / attending conferences of EU Trades Unionists. Of course they drink too much and even overstep the mark sometimes but they do know the laws and the definitions of hard words like “consent” and “harass”. And they know that you know, too.)

  51. carlie says

    I agree completely with the “be professional; it’s work” argument. If someone is being paid to be there, part of that is to mingle with the audience, and if that person is scoping out who they might want to take back to their room later, or has found that person and is trying to seduce them, they aren’t paying attention to everyone else.

  52. says

    Who are you going to get to “pretend” to be a creeper? What kind of person do you think would volunteer for such a job?

    Shermer’s probably going to be looking for new gigs. …

  53. says

    These con organizers need to be held to account for who they invite to their cons.

    Do not – ever hesitate to give con organizers direct positive and negative feedback. Feedback delivered in person is the most effective. We speakers also have a surprising amount of leverage (as Scalzi has realized and pointed out) There was one con I spoke at (Secure 3/60 in Minneapolis, 2011) which had a lunchtime speaker who made a bizzare ranting jingoistic speech that was really, shockingly, bad. So I contacted several of my other friends who spoke at that conference and orchestrated all of us sending the program committee emails that they were going to lose speakers let alone attendees if they forced us to share a stage with idiots like that guy, again. To cement the point, I declined to attend the next year. Now, I’ve noticed that the program committee includes, as part of their invitation, a sampling of who else is speaking, so we can sort of cross-check the overall tone of the conference. Carrot and stick. It works.

    In 25+ years of doing the security scene I’ve only ever once seen a publicly posted anti-harrassment policy (LOPSA East, 2013 in NJ) I immediately and loudly congratulated the folks at the registration desk – who said that there had been considerable debate over it, but they seemed gratified to be getting positive feedback. Immediate reward for positive behaviors has a better impact on training.

    The same goes for attendees. Of course you’re going to have the occasional conference organizers that are made of fail (*ahem* CFI?) but any program committee that’s not is going to get the hint if 40 or 50 attendees casually drop by and say, “you know, I wish there were more female speakers represented here. there’s a lot of talent in that community, in fact, there’s half of it. I take that kind of thing into account when I decide which conferences I’m going to attend…” It is my opinion that word of mouth works better than writing it down on the conference feedback forms. Why? Because for a trade/professional conference, the feedback forms go to the marketing department, whereas talking to the program committee members becomes all-powerful anecdotal evidence. If you want to leverage a conference through the marketing arm, you have to go through the vendors marketing organizations; a conference with a vendor floor (unlike a typical skeptics’ conference) gets 50% or more of its sponsorship $ from the vendors.

    This is a big problem in the security world; big vendor shows occasionally result in nonsense like booth babes. (see: http://ranum.com/security/computer_security/editorials/RSA_in_stripper_shoes/index.html )

  54. says

    Really, this is not the issue at hand. It’s not whether two consenting adults in full possession of their faculties and with equivalent ethical/moral sensibilities can hook up. Their agency. Their bodies. Their consent. There’s no issue here.

    Yes, there’s a “power” difference. As every grunge band groupie, sports fan junkie, political wonk will tell you. power differential is sexy in and of itself. That doesn’t make it “wrong”, again, as long as both parties in the conversation give clear consent. The groupie knows what s/he is getting. It’s star fucking.

    Enforcing such a rule would be absolutely impossible, anyway. Look at PZs example. Someone handed him a room key. I travel alone, and always get two room keys. Who doesn’t? So, instead of going “to bed” in room 406, he ends up in 604. How the hell are you going to monitor something like that?

    Impossible.

    Let’s keep our eyes on the real issue, which is nonconsent. Frankly, the fact that in this one instance the player involved is a “famous person” is — quite frankly — irrelevant as hell. Except to make me wonder what in his psychosexual make-up impels him to get his conference jollies in this manner, rather than waiting for that random room key, ala PZ’s experience. Dude is messed up.

  55. jaggington says

    How many of the organisations that run these conferences have employment and sexual harassment policies that cover employee relations with other employees and with suppliers and customers (membership)? At the very least, I would expect these policies to be extended to paid speakers and volunteers, as well as anyone with a stall selling merchandise, for example.

  56. says

    @51: Every professional (and collegiate) athlete has an advantage over every other non-athlete in “getting the girl” (idiomatically, understanding it’s a complext world out there). Do we tell them not to have sex? What about entertainers?

    It’s their job to perform. Afterwards? Again, you’re telling someone that because they’re in such-and-such position, suddenly they no longer have agency? No right to control their own bodies? In a consensual situation?

    Seriously. Think about it. You would be imposing an impossibly severe restriction on absolutely every single non-work endeavor.

    Their bodies. Their rights. And again, as long as both (or more) parties in the exchange consent.

    Consent is the only issue. Otherwise, you’re walking with the blue noses, who tell you what you can and cannot do with your own body.

  57. says

    One last thing: I get where PZ is coming from because he doesn’t hook up at conferences (nor anywhere else that doesn’t involve his own wife).

    But that’s his choice. His agency. His body. His moral/ethical sensibility, including his commitment to the marriage contract with his wife.

    Sorry, PZ, but I don’t think it’s your right to impose your standards — which are the same as mine, FWIW — on every other person.

    Their bodies. Their choice. Their right. With consent.

    And think of it this way — what if I say “OK you can hook up at conferences, but no gay sex.” Suddenly, you have a totally different situation. You’d be appalled at the suggestion that I would limit the type of sexual encounter one can have. Why? Because I’m imposing my personal standards on you, who does not share them.

    Sorry. People control their own bodies. Even at conferences.

  58. jaggington says

    Kevin,
    If someone has accepted a fee plus expenses to appear at a conference, when are they off the clock? Does their professional responsibility end once they’ve stepped down from the podium?

  59. johnthedrunkard says

    In this culture, as a whole, ALL potential connections between men and women (possibly same-sex too, but I’m not qualified to comment) are poisoned with power and status. PZ gets offered hotel keys, Ted Bundy had a fan club, Donald Trump has his supply of arm-candy etc. etc.

    Yes, we want a spirit of excitement and play in social events (including conventions and conferences) which would include sexual possibilities. We don’t get it. Rapey speakers/organizers almost certainly don’t recognize the exploitive nature of their acts. Groupies and key-slingers may be too dazzled to realize that these are guys they wouldn’t want to share a cup with in other circumstances.

    And then there is alcohol. How many incidents involve people in black-outs? ‘Mr Deity’ and a heap of other commenters seem oblivious to the actual biology/neurology of alcohol, especially in the bodies of alcoholics.

    So, as long as booze, power, self-commodification etc. aren’t involved, hell…hump away. But when do we deal with each other without those specters hovering over us?

  60. says

    People control their own bodies. Even at conferences.

    Of course they do; that’s why it’s possible to expect a professional to show good judgement and to control themselves. By which I mean not acting like rutting animals at the watering-hole – there are plenty of contexts in which it’s acceptable to do that. Of course lots of mating goes on! It goes on everywhere! But it’s not SkePtiKzGoneWILD that most people signed up for.

    I wouldn’t be really impressed with a co-worker at a conference who wasn’t a speaker, but still got trashed and acted like an ass. It might not be grounds for termination, but it’s still a dumb idea to misbehave badly in a professional context, because an employer or a co-worker might reasonably conclude that someone who does that doesn’t have very good professional judgement.

    A lot of my attitudes toward this are influenced by my peripheral involvement in the kink community. Want to see a conference that has strictly enforced consent rules? Go to a BD/SM conference. Oddly, it an environment where it’s considered perfectly acceptable to strip and tie up another attendee, and flog them. But the room has plenty of, well, sadists, who will jump your shit hard if you pull out a camera-phone in one of the “no photography” areas, or lay a hand on someone without consent. It’s interesting to me that where people are doing edge-play, they learn to be more careful and set the environment up more carefully. In the conferences where I normally work, it’s a highly professional environment and there’s a lot of money riding on not being a fuckup. Not surprisingly, the conferences don’t have rules and enforcement like BD/SM conferences, but they’re there. And I went to TAM 2008 and thought it was pretty damn sloppily run but assumed (rightly) that it was amateur hour exactly because it was amateur hour. There’s no big consulting contracts or careers at stake at some podunk conference about debunking bigfoot. (I also remember seeing an exhausted-looking PZ hosting a table full of admirers at dinner. He may be a spawn of satan, but PZ is a pro from the top of his pointy head to his tentacles)

    That, in a nutshell, is why I think skeptic/atheist conferences have been having a problem – they tend to be smaller, clubbier, without a lot of money at stake and without a lot of marketing directors watching over the amenities and the attendee’s experiences. Put differently: atheism and skepticism are a backwater and apparently we act like it. There’s a process of maturing that will inevitably take place and the dialogue is opened and we’ll see where it goes. My bet is that the money is going to favor collegial, professional, safe, accepting conferences and that the clubhouse mentalities are going to lose out. I went to the free conference put on in Minnesota, as did many of us, and it was a good show with great speakers and – to a certain degree – leveraged the collegial atmosphere of the university’s space very nicely. Having campus security handy, and no hotel bar with lots of alcohol – that was a really delightful, informative, friendly, and safe-feeling event. Unless skepticism/atheism suddenly becomes a big money market (which is hard to imagine, since we only have un-products and un-belief to offer) that’s probably where the value’s going to be.

  61. notsont says

    Harassment policies do not stop harassment, that’s not what they are for. A policy against sexual conduct for paid speakers if not there to stop them from having sex, its to protect and separate the conference from any activity that may blow back and embarrass them.

    This whole scandal was bound to happen eventually and it is certainly going to happen again if speakers are encouraged to think of conferences as pickup bars. You can not tell me that this whole mess with harassment at conventions in the past few years isn’t in large part caused by the speakers who think every convention is a great time to get laid. How much damage has been done already?

  62. says

    People keep mentioning accepting a fee for speaking – I just want to remind y’all that most of us don’t get a fee. I sure as hell don’t; I’m not nearly enough of a star to ask for one, let alone get one. PZ could but doesn’t. These are little non-profit orgs we’re talking about, not corporations.

  63. says

    Interesting discussion. I think there’s a lot of validity to the argument that conference speakers should abstain from hooking up with other conference goers, but as a policy it would be impossible to enforce. Instead of an outright ban conference organizers should make it clear that speakers are held to a higher standard than ordinary attendees. Any behavior that reflects badly on the conference will get them uninvited or even banned. That could include getting plastered and barfing on attendees as well as trying to sleep with them.

  64. says

    People keep mentioning accepting a fee for speaking – I just want to remind y’all that most of us don’t get a fee. I sure as hell don’t; I’m not nearly enough of a star to ask for one, let alone get one. PZ could but doesn’t. These are little non-profit orgs we’re talking about, not corporations.

    Yes. I’m engaging in an exercise of “compare and contrast” because I believe there’s a connection.

    In my community we’re dealing with the fallout from a sexual assault at a security conference in Europe. The conference mis-handled the victim’s complaint terribly (to the extent that the assailant gave a talk the next day and was photographed with facial injuries from where the victim dissuaded him by smashing him in the face with a coffee mug) There are two distinguishing factors that I think are important:
    1) it was a hacker-oriented conference; not a corporate conference
    2) it was a smaller conference, without significant corporate sponsorship; not professionalized
    There’s also the possible fact that it was in Europe, but I suspect #1 and #2 are more important in the situation.

    It does seem to me that there’s a significant difference between conferences where the environment is more professionalized, there’s money at stake, media presence. Perhaps it’s simply that, when there’s more money on the table, it’s harder for the conference organizers to maintain a boy’s club clique. To that extent I have to admit that having corporate stakeholders seems to improve the situation.

  65. leni says

    Marcus Ranum:

    A lot of my attitudes toward this are influenced by my peripheral involvement in the kink community. Want to see a conference that has strictly enforced consent rules? Go to a BD/SM conference.

    Do they have rules about speakers and attendees engaging? It would be interesting to see how they handle that.

    And I went to TAM 2008 and thought it was pretty damn sloppily run but assumed (rightly) that it was amateur hour exactly because it was amateur hour.

    That I can believe.

    But there is also the fact that speakers aren’t there representing their employers, necessarily. (Though some may be.) They will obviously be professional networking and such, but your actual job probably isn’t on the line. Reputation yes, job, maybe not so much.

    I admit that it may very well be a bad idea and in some cases *should* be enough to get a speaker or attendee un-invited from future conferences, but that isn’t even happening now. A no-sex policy between speakers and guests seems a bit heavy-handed for small, podunk conferences where professional networking isn’t the primary focus.

    Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it just seems like hobby and or special interest conferences are really not the same thing as professional conferences.

    So what about guidelines rather than rules?

    Anyone remember those studies on hand-washing signs and doctors?

    To test that, Grant and his coauthor, David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, came up with two signs to post over dispensers for soap and hand sanitizer. One said “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.” The other said “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.” They posted these signs above different dispensers in a hospital and recorded how often people washed, measuring how much soap and gel was used― and having trained observers spy on their colleagues.

    The sign about patients was the winner. Healthcare professionals were much more likely to wash their hands if they were reminded that they were keeping patients safe. The patient sign increased soap and gel use by 33% per dispenser, and healthcare professionals were 10% more likely to wash their hands. The sign about personal risks did no good.

    “Our findings challenge prevailing wisdom in the healthcare professions,” Grant says, “that the best way to get people to wash their hands is to scare them about their own health. Instead, his research demonstrates, you should remind them that hand-washing helps others.

    You know there’s always going to be some level of non-compliance. Some people just wont give a fuck, but better is still better.

    Perhaps some gentle reminders to speakers that the attendees’ safety and comfort is their personal and professional responsibility? Maybe a reminder that the conference owners consider you their representative?

  66. says

    @61…Irrelevant. A complete and utter red herring.

    However, unless you’re talking about a speaker humping someone in the convention hall while the meeting is going on, I’m going to assume we’re talking about social events that are “off the clock”.

    Unless it’s spelled out specifically in the contract that the speaker MUST attend X social event. But when that social event is over — off the clock. As in — when people go to their rooms to sleep and/or do other things that are done in hotel rooms.

    Look, I used to plan and run BIG meetings — 500 to 1000 people. We paid our speakers a pretty hefty honorarium to be there. Our contracts with those speakers included provisions that they A) show up for slide review, and B) give the presentation as reviewed and agreed upon. (These were meetings where I generally ‘controlled’ the content — not a “con” where speakers bring their own slides.)

    At no time and in no way would I ever think to tell a speaker — or any attendee, or any staff member, for that matter — that they could not have consensual sex during the meeting. Now, our staff members were warned about the potential conflict of interest in having sex with clients — so that was frowned upon, but NOT banned. But speakers? Nope. Attendees? Nope.

    It’s irrelevant. Period.

  67. says

    Ah…just remembered … so let me add that one series of meetings I was responsible for had a speaker who had a pretty big crush on one of my staffers. He was single, she was single. He let her know. She was interested — even though she checked him out and discovered he had a minor reputation as being a “playah”, if you catch my drift. But he was good looking, a leader in his field, smart, intelligent, well-off. She was a senior account person, so there wasn’t a big age differential — also successful in her own right.

    They “hooked up” at one of our meetings. I knew about it. No big deal. They even long-distance dated for a while.

    Again, no big deal.

    Why? Because they were two consenting adults. Their bodies, their choice.

    He didn’t have any authority over her, and she had none over him. Well, actually she was one of the people who recommended speakers, so I suppose that in a sense she had MORE power in that dynamic than he did. And during the time they were dating, it never came up as an issue. Why? Because they were adults about it. Didn’t sneak around. Didn’t hide.

  68. says

    Do they have rules about speakers and attendees engaging?

    No. At the fetish conventions I’ve gone to, you’re (kind of by definition) already being transgressive, so a lot of social norms are deliberately flouted. What’s interesting is that people are appropriately guarded, as a consequence. It’s pretty much unimaginable, for example, that some idiot would start trying to mash on a dom’s sub and not take “hey, back off.” as a signal. Because, if they didn’t, they’d be ejected immediately and firmly, and if there was push-back the police would be called, immediately. When you play with knives for fun, you’ve got a better idea at all times of where the edge is than someone who just thinks knives are what you use to spread cream cheese on your bagel.

    Not that it’s relevant, but when people ask me what my kink is, I usually get a laugh by saying “I’m a psychologist” ;)

  69. says

    I’ll quit after I address the issue brought up by Marcus in #65. And that’s the issue of personal responsibility. Yes, it’s important.

    Another anecdote:
    Usually, our slide reviews were held the night before the presentations…with exceptions. And one exception was this conference where we were holding a satellite symposium. Our slide review was held a couple of hours prior to the (evening) event itself. And there were a couple of bottles of wine in the slide review room — which was the SOP for our slide reviews. They’re convivial. Business-but-relaxed.

    But this one speaker proceeded not only to drink all the wine in the slide review room, he ordered more and then went on stage with a bottle of wine in his hand, and rambled about something irrelevant to the topic at hand. (I was handling a different event and wasn’t there to witness the slide review — I did arrive in time for the speaking event itself and saw him wine-bottle-in-hand, not presenting the data that needed to be presented.)

    We did not pay him his honorarium. We sent him home. We put him on the “banned” list for future speaking events and for working with us in any capacity — though he was an acknowledged leader in his field.

    And we changed our SOPs for slide reviews happening just prior to evening symposia. Wine after, not before.

    But you can’t legislate everything, and Murphy’s Law isn’t a cliche for nothing. And private behavior outside the “performance”? Forget about it.

    If this guy had gotten that soused after the show — as long as he had given his speech straight-up — I would not have had a problem with it. He wasn’t driving. I would have been concerned about his alcohol intake and would have issued a note of caution about using him. So it wasn’t the alcohol itself — it was the lack of personal responsibility to not get lit up for the event itself that got him into trouble.

    Just like it’s the lack of personal responsibility of a certain someone to not get women drunk that’s the issue here. Not whether he’s a speaker or important or a big-fat nobody. Paid or unpaid.

    OK. Done now.

  70. leni says

    @ Marcus Ranum- I expected as much. I would think the BDSM community would be heavily vested in self-policing. That’s a good thing, but I don’t think we’ll ever get that level of internal compliance on other communities. Though I don’t think that’s a reason to do nothing, I just think it’s apples and oranges.

    @ Kevin:

    …power differential is sexy in and of itself. That doesn’t make it “wrong”…

    I don’t disagree with your general points, but that sentence made my skin crawl. You’re kind of making me want no-sexy time action policies now ;)

  71. says

    I would think the BDSM community would be heavily vested in self-policing. That’s a good thing, but I don’t think we’ll ever get that level of internal compliance on other communities. Though I don’t think that’s a reason to do nothing, I just think it’s apples and oranges.

    Yeah, but at its core, it’s about nothing but consent. Right? It’s “who plays with whom and what are the limits” — that’s something that applies everywhere, apparently. The BDSM community simply understands it a bit more because it’s all edge-play and often the people involved are coming out of the closet about things that are closely held and important to them, the stuff of life-long fantasy. I mean, part of the irony is that if Shermer wanted to have the “get a girl drunk and rape her” experience he could probably find someone in the DS community who had the matching opposite fantasy and they could have a good old consensual time. But that’d be work.

    I don’t think it’s apples and oranges at all. I think it’s the case that the BDSM community takes the problem seriously because it’s inherent in BDSM. But the skeptical/atheist community doesn’t because, well, I guess we’re in the process of discovering that taking the problem as seriously as the BDSM folks do might be a good idea. I mean, for fuck’s sake, if the issue is that consensual hookups at cons may be suppressed by expecting people to be decent to eachother, let’s have a fucking “in search of hookups” board at the conference, and be flippin’ clear about who’s looking for fun and who wants to be left alone. I was at one fetish event where the sign by the door said, “wear a red ribbon if you are willing to listen to propositions, wear a blue ribbon if you are not. if you proposition someone wearing a blue ribbon, you will be told to leave.” That’s simple enough that even a famous skeptic could figure it out.

  72. says

    Never been to a BDSM conference, but I’ve heard that significant parts of that community are actually more invested in the appearance of self-policing than actual self-policing. No shortage of “we can’t do anything about the rapists among us because then people might think there are rapists among us, we’ll just increase the font size on the sign listing rules for consent.”

    But that might be tangential.

  73. says

    @74 – leni. Seriously? You don’t find some famous person “sexy”? An athlete? An entertainer? A politician? A professor of biology?

    That’s a “power differential”. Power is sexy. The entire entertainment industry – music, TV, films — depends on this.

    Even absent entire communities where power exchange is done willingly (ie, the BDSM community, of which Greta Christina is a member).

    Also, as to “creepy” … well, YKINMK.

  74. imnotandrei says

    I think it’s the case that the BDSM community takes the problem seriously because it’s inherent in BDSM.

    I completely agree with this statement — and I’ve been a DM in BDSM spaces, and had to deal with issues of consent-on-the-ground; usually, it’s a very short discussion, because the attitude in most “grey areas” is “When in doubt, *stop*, or make the people stop.”

    And the BDSM community has also had long wars about things like consensual non-consent, which means by the time you’ve been in the community a while, you’ve talked about consent *a lot*.

    (I figure you know this, Marcus — I’m adding my voice as further confirmation and possible explanation.)

    Similarly — the environment I discussed in my previous post was a specifically *feminist* SF convention, and power dynamics and consent were part of the everyday discussion.

    Part of the good work that’s happening every time these discussions flare up, for all the annoyance/ire/pain they generate, is that more people become aware of this stuff, and more discussions do happen — more panels about what it means, more discussions online and in hallways, etc., etc., and so forth. Hopefully, someday, we can reach the point where we don’t need to keep having the 101 discussions.

  75. leni says

    Kevin:

    @74 – leni. Seriously? You don’t find some famous person “sexy”? An athlete? An entertainer? A politician? A professor of biology?

    Only if I think they’re sexy otherwise, as in without the power. No. I’ve worked in the service industry long enough to know that power is not sexy and pretending it is creeps me the fuck out.

    Sorry?

  76. leni says

    Marcus Ranum:

    Yeah, but at its core, it’s about nothing but consent. Right? It’s “who plays with whom and what are the limits” — that’s something that applies everywhere, apparently. The BDSM community simply understands it a bit more because it’s all edge-play and often the people involved are coming out of the closet about things that are closely held and important to them, the stuff of life-long fantasy. I mean, part of the irony is that if Shermer wanted to have the “get a girl drunk and rape her” experience he could probably find someone in the DS community who had the matching opposite fantasy and they could have a good old consensual time. But that’d be work.

    Ha! No disagreement here :)

    But the skeptical/atheist community doesn’t because, well, I guess we’re in the process of discovering that taking the problem as seriously as the BDSM folks do might be a good idea. I mean, for fuck’s sake, if the issue is that consensual hookups at cons may be suppressed by expecting people to be decent to eachother, let’s have a fucking “in search of hookups” board at the conference, and be flippin’ clear about who’s looking for fun and who wants to be left alone. I was at one fetish event where the sign by the door said, “wear a red ribbon if you are willing to listen to propositions, wear a blue ribbon if you are not. if you proposition someone wearing a blue ribbon, you will be told to leave.” That’s simple enough that even a famous skeptic could figure it out.

    Lol, well maybe that could work. I have a proposal: You organize the next TAM! Or whatever!

    Though I honestly would not want a god damned ribbon. I probably wouldn’t go if It was a “hook up availability ribbon optional” event because why? Can’t I just go to a god damned conference without having to advertise my sexual availability?

    That would kind of make me want to be there less because for me, and I suspect I’m not the only one, that would make it unnecessarily weird. I don’t really want to know whose hooking up and I don’t want to advertise my owns tatus. I just want to go and maybe hook up under the right circumstances without having to have it be a conversational piece XD Purple ribbon?

    At a BDSM event ok. Fine. At a god damned bird watching or atheism convention? Kinda weird!

    (PS and the swearing isn’t ragey, I’m just a potty mouth :) Hence the overuse of smileys, sorry! )

  77. leni says

    @ Kevin:

    @74 – leni. Seriously? You don’t find some famous person “sexy”? An athlete? An entertainer? A politician? A professor of biology?

    Ok, revision: I admit that it may be so for other people, even if I find power differentials in sexual relationships totally and utterly revolting, particularly if it is based on bullshit assumptions of worth because of celebrity. But yes, it happens.

    And yes, it still makes my skin crawl.

    Note: Bill Clinton did not earn the “title” of “The Big Creep” for having power and being sexy. He earned that title for being a big god damned creep. Never found it sexy and any general implication that it could be makes me want to vomit myself out of my own skin.

  78. says

    For various reasons I was reviewing this thread and I have one minor adjustment:
    Can’t I just go to a god damned conference without having to advertise my sexual availability?

    I think there are many many many social cues that we use all the time. Wedding rings, clothing, body language, etc. I generally agree with you that relying on those cues is lazy – but it’s also safer. We expect that if someone goes to a conference and is wearing a wedding band, that they are less likely to be mashing on everyone of the preferred gender, right? Not 100% less likely but slightly less. But there are some people who need a fucking billboard reading “I AM NOT INTERESTED” to get them to take the hint. I know single women who wear wedding bands instead of ribbons…

    I seem to recall a big kerfuffle about someone going around a skeptic conference with a business card consisting of a sexual proposal of a group get-together and was apparently standing around handing them out to many passers-by. They were broadcasting a signal. People who aren’t interested can broadcast signals, too.

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