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Jun 25 2012

On Sexual Harassment

Thunderf00t’s post today on the ongoing sexual harassment policy debate (titled MISOGYNIST!!!) has already generated nearly 600 comments (and that in barely half a day). Almost simultaneously, Cristina Rad has told one story of her own and asked whether it falls under the definition of sexual harassment (Educate Me on Sexual Harassment. Case 1.). (My own answer: it does, but only in the moral sense, not the legal, i.e. it was harassing, and it was sexual, and that’s the kind of behavior we don’t want at events, but not anything we’re calling to outlaw). Earlier this month the “ongoing sexual harrassment policy debate” gained a historical treatment, which anyone who wants to get in on this debate had better read first before assuming they have all the information or have been told the truth about it (because a lot of lies have been circulated and are still being generated regarding what has actually been said and done in this debate): see Harassment Policies Campaign – Timeline of Major Events. IMO, most of it has been debating the debate rather than the issue, and most of it consists of reaction to trolls and bullshit rather than worthwhile disagreement (and I will remind you, most does not mean all).

But I find it boils down to five simple truths:

(1) It’s true that talking about it makes it seem like it’s happening a lot more than it is–but this is a cognitive error in the hearer, not the speaker. (Just as the spectacular school shootings at Columbine and elsewhere caused people to believe school violence was on the rise or even spiraling out of control, when in fact statistics showed it was long in decline and continued to decline ever since. That the human brain has been mistakenly built to translate “talked about a lot” into “happens a lot” is an established cognitive error called the availability heuristic. It is the responsibility of the hearer to correct for this error. Because, as long as they themselves aren’t committing it, there is literally nothing the speaker can do to prevent the error…other than what the USSR did, which is bury the truth by preventing anyone from ever talking about it, but I am not claiming anyone has suggested doing this, because I am assuming anyone who values the truth regards that solution as repugnant.)

(2) That being true does not mean there is no problem to address, that nothing ever happens, and therefore no one should openly talk about it. (School violence, after all, does exist and does need policies in place to address and reduce it and protect against it, and we can do even better at that than we are doing. So, too, anything else that actually happens we don’t like, regardless of its frequency.)

(3) Saying we need to address the problem is a request to discuss what the best policy would be, not a declaration that all must adopt some unspecified draconian policy. (Insert random fantasy here as to what you think a sexual harassment policy would entail.)

(4) There can be rational and friendly discussion over what policy recommendations go too far (e.g. prohibitions on speakers having sex with attendees–not only excessive when the attendees are their husbands or wives, but even the distinction between “married or not married” in this respect is not anyone’s business), and what policy recommendations are not within the means of a group to enact (e.g. controlling behavior in pubs open to the general public), and what policy recommendations might actually be a good idea (e.g. having a reporting procedure in place, making sure all staff know about it and to take it seriously, and thereby keep good records of anything that happens or is complained about and who was involved, and to make sure any attendee knows this will be done and with all requested confidentiality), and what behaviors will be deemed acceptable and not acceptable at any given venue (some venues may have more relaxed rules than others, some contexts at the same venue may have more relaxed rules than others), so that everyone can know what is expected of them and what will earn a negative reaction (such as, a warning for first offense, expulsion without refund for persistent offenses, or even a ban from future attendance for the worst offenders). (The best stock policy, BTW, is outlined on the GeekFeminismWiki, and it’s worth pointing out that even that page says you don’t need to adopt the offered policy as-wrote, but can revise it to suit your conference or community’s own values and preferences.)

And finally…

(5) Anyone who does not agree with points 1 through 4 is not being reasonable.

Basically, what most women want to know is that the officers and staff at any given venue will have their back. As in: take them seriously, and make clear to them what it is that the organizers will frown upon and what it is that they will allow, and then do whatever is within their means to do to maintain that atmosphere. All major conferences in all fields (from entertainment to industry) have these policies. So for us not to have them makes us look lame by comparison–even openly sex-positive “free love” conferences have them: see Sexual Harassment and the OpenSF Conference Code of Conduct. Indeed, you really need to read the perspective of an outside conference professional: An Organizational Perspective; and for an example of how this problem was recognized and treated by other conference communities last year, like the tech-con community, see Sexual Harassment at Technical Conferences: A Big No-No. (BTW, it is very interesting to compare the behavior and responses in the comments thread following that announcement, with how the same exact thing has been responded to in the atheist community, which has often been alarmingly more dismissive, sexist and immature.)

If conferences want to draw more women, they have to do this. What any minority of women say they are comfortable with is irrelevant, because conferences don’t want to draw a small minority of women. They want to draw a parity of women. And that requires addressing what most women want. And of course that means in a way that doesn’t step on the toes of anyone who is behaving with common decency. We just want a “no douchebags” policy. Not a “no fun” policy. Hence point number four: just because some people propose a bad policy idea (like making speakers sign “no sex” agreements) does not mean all policy suggestions are bad. They are all negotiable (excepting violations of the law, but that ought to go without saying; the role of sexual harassment policies is not to enforce laws already on the books, but to make meetings more comfortable and welcoming and fun, and thus they are more about moral and professional standards than legal ones).

Ironically, in his attempt to point out an “availability heuristic” error in people’s reactions to the sexual harassment policy discussion, Thunderf00t fell victim to exactly the same bias when he cited his own experience as being normative–a classic mistake that any cognitive scientist would cringe at. Experiences have to be aggregated. We can’t assume that our own personal experience accurately reflects the general reality, particularly when the “reality” we are concerned about is something that happens with a low (but nevertheless non-negligible) frequency, and rarely happens in the open public, and is often not visible to a third party even when it does (unless they actually know what to look for).

This importance of aggregating experience is demonstrated by the fact that my experience differs somewhat from Thunderf00t’s. I have had a lot of experience with atheist conferences (and have only been witness there to a low rate of minor harassment), but I have a vastly more extensive experience with atheist meetups and community groups, having toured the U.S. (and beyond) speaking to scores of such groups over the last six years. Everywhere I went I asked why so few women were attending them, and whenever I had the opportunity I asked women I knew to be atheists in the area why they weren’t showing up (or only rarely doing so), and consistently I received the same answer as their number one reason: they don’t like the way the men treat them when they show up. Things have visibly improved on that score over the last five years, but usually, in my experience, it’s a snowball effect: once more women start coming, they can gang up on the men, and the men start behaving themselves. Which makes the group more welcoming of more women. And so more come. And so on.

There was a real behavior problem. It was pervasive. It probably is still–as I cannot believe men the nation over have had a radical personality change in just five years (and the recent debate over the last two years has exposed a large quantity of rather shocking sexism in the woodwork of our community that even I had not thought was there). That they start acting decently only when they can’t get away with it is not indicative of men being reformed. Rather, it’s indicative of women acquiring a greater balance of social power. I must be clear, though: even in the worst cases, it was always a minority of men causing the problem; but the other men weren’t standing up for the women, often because they were oblivious to the problem and sided with the jerks instead of the women. Which is the surest way to communicate to women that they aren’t welcome.

And again, I have actually seen remarkable improvements on this in the last five years (in fact, most of all in the last two), as more men have become more aware of how a minority among them are making the women in their company uncomfortable, and doing something about it. Most particularly, by marginalizing the sexists, the same way we marginalize racists and fascists. And to that end this is not just about harassment policies, which can only target persistent or egregious misbehavior, but also whether we men will stand up for the women among us and defend them against misbehavior that doesn’t rise to the level of policy action but nevertheless can ruin their enjoyment of an event if they feel alone in dealing with it.

And let me be clear again: the problem I’ve been witness to has not only been unwanted sexual advances or behavior (constantly hitting on them, staring at their tits, saying inappropriate things), but all kinds of stock sexism (interrupting women when they speak, distrusting what they say with uncharacteristic frequency, assuming a condescending position of superiority, showing blatant disinterest in any topic of conversation that isn’t what “guys” are into, and so on), which is not something any policy can address, but is something we as individuals can address by our awareness of it and reaction to it. Indeed, the fact that more and more people are expressing the fact that they “get it” now, at the same time that more and more conferences are adopting anti-harassment policies, reflects an awakening. It’s moving inexorably in the positive direction now, no matter what any naysayers may do to try and drag it all down.

If this has been the case in local atheist groups, I would not be surprised if the same dynamic governs attendance at conferences. But that means women have to know going in that they aren’t going to be uncomfortable, a vulnerable minority in a sea of privilege. They have to know that someone there has got their back. That they aren’t going to be dismissed as complainy whiners who just need to get over it. That they aren’t always going to be assumed to have exaggerated because what they’ve reported can’t possibly have happened because (warning: circular argument) it never does. They certainly need to know that the conference organizers share their values when it comes to the atmosphere that will be promoted, which requires a statement of what those values are, which is what a sexual harassment policy is.

And being against that is being very unreasonable indeed.

169 comments

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  1. 1
    MichaelD

    I hereby award you 1 internet and a cheezeburger. I would really love if we could move on to important part of debating the pros and cons of different policies. I’m just getting tired of arguing the same misconceptions over and over again.

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      I hate cheezeburgers and internet gives me gas. But nevertheless, ditto.

    2. 1.2
      Jamie

      I see you are giving legal advice Dr. Carrier! This is great. When did you get your law degree?

    3. Richard Carrier

      You replied to a comment that does no such thing, so I don’t know what you are referring to.

      But in general, if you are a literate, responsible citizen of your country, then you had better be able to read and understand your own nation’s laws and judicial rulings (with reasonable effort). Indeed, it is an implicit assumption of jurisprudence that all citizens can do so, such that any law that is written so as to make that impossible, cannot be enforced (see Void for Vagueness).

      That’s why and how we as voters can know how to follow the law, and discuss and debate what laws we want to support or oppose.

      If you can’t do that, then you need to instill in yourself the rudimentary skills to do it, with all reasonable haste.

  2. 2
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Nice one, Richard. It’s good to see another sensible supportive voice.

    On the specific topic of sex with speakers, I think that where it’s a student gathering – especially high-school as some of the SSA does – then that strict policy is quite in order. Obviously different events can have different policies, as you do note.

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      To be clear, the SSA Speaker’s Bureau Policy states: “Speakers should not engage in sexual behavior with students with respect to Speakers Bureau events,” which applies to college students and high school students. On the one hand, one might say that is not absolute (“should” vs. “shall”), and the intent is workplace professionalism (which sexual relationships, and their pursuit, can interfere with). But I still believe it is overbearing and unrealistic as-wrote (there is no relevant difference between a college venue sponsored by the SSA and one not, and college kids are not really kids, and the policy would make no sense if I were married to one, which again gets us into “why is it okay if we’re married and not if we’re not?”).

      But it’s their show, and they can set the rules. So I have no problem abiding by it when they are sponsoring me as a speaker (except when it makes no sense, e.g. if my wife became a student at a venue). But I don’t think it’s a good policy and I don’t encourage it being adopted by other orgs. If I were ever keen to violate it (that is, if I were single and wanted to fool around), I’d just withdraw from the SSA Speaker’s Bureau. But I have no reason to, since I’m married, making it a non-issue for me. But that can be unfair to single or polyamorous speakers.

      IMO, a better policy would be: “Speakers are not to solicit sexual behavior from students with respect to Speakers Bureau events.” That covers what they actually want to prevent (harassment and horndogging, which is unprofessional), without prohibiting mutually consensual behavior among adults (which can certainly adhere to workplace etiquette).

  3. 3
    Sethra

    Well said, thank you.

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    I want to say here and now that it’s refreshing to hear from someone who spends a lot of time at atheist meetups specifically, both correctly identifying the scope of the problem as identified by those folks who’ve been harassed, and identifying the sensible solutions. I’ve been to science meetups and geek meetups (e.g. CONvergence), and they’ve had harassment policies. And I’m amazed that there’s any pushback at all in the skeptic/atheist community.

    In fact, there are at least eleven conventions that have or will have new harassment policies as a result of this campaign, which I’d count as a huge win, even at the risk of creating a “rift” between us and the people who just really want to retain their privilege to harass at will.

    (Or whatever the hell is motivating them to argue against these policies — because even as the keeper of the timeline and reader of nearly everything of note that’s been said on the matter, I still can’t figure that out.)

    1. 4.1
      Eamon Knight

      Or whatever the hell is motivating them to argue against these policies — because even as the keeper of the timeline and reader of nearly everything of note that’s been said on the matter, I still can’t figure that out.

      A dickhead (and I use the term because it seems apropos) in Pharyngula comments yesterday (sorry, can’t find it now in the voluminous “Misogynists” thread) confirmed my suspicions on that count. Basically: the more women he can “hit on” (ie. solicit for sex in a fairly explicit and pushy manner), the greater the chances he has of getting laid. The collateral damage in the form of a trail of women who are creeped out by his behaviour is apparently invisible to him. An anti-harassment policy that restrains such behaviour decreases his chances of getting laid, and we can’t have that, can we?

      It really seems like it’s that simple.

    2. 4.2
      'Tis Himself

      I believe those who object to harassment policies do so for some or all of the following reasons:

      ● They don’t see sexual harassment as a problem. A corollary to this is if people would just shut up about it, it would continue to not be a problem.

      ● The killjoys are trying to stamp out harmless flirting.

      ● It’s nobody’s business what a couple of adults do.

      ● I asked my wife/girlfriend/female coworker/other random woman and she didn’t see any problem.

      ● If it’s hard for a guy to hit on a woman then he’ll never get laid.

      ● Feminists are all ugly and should be happy some guy is paying attention to them.

      ● And last but hardly least: Bitches ain’t shit!!1!

    3. 4.3
      xtog

      Jason,

      Do you agree with Richard’s Truth #1?

  5. 5
    George W.

    Richard,
    Thank you for the most even handed post this subject has been treated to so far. If we could start the discussion based on this post, I think we could get somewhere.

  6. 6
    Ace of Sevens

    I wrote about this, too. One thing I find interesting is that Thunderf00t hasn’t directly responded to anything anyone says. By making vague claims about draconian policies, he’s left an opening for someone to dig up anything anyone has said ay any point that sounds like a bad policy and make it look like ee was justified. His fans are already crying fowl if someone accuses him of misrepresenting the arguments.

    1. 6.1
      Richard Carrier

      Note that you are turning the discussion into a debate about the debate. I don’t think that’s productive. Let’s dial that back as much as we can. We should just stick to identifiable fallacies and factual errors in what Thunderf00t himself said.

      Also, it’s only been a day. Thunderf00t is probably busy. I know I am. I can take days to get to comments myself. Let’s be charitable.

      You are right to note, however, that he did resort to hyperbole (his graphic mentions a “three page legal document”; when the model policy at GreekFeminismWiki consists of a single public sentence, leading to a single public paragraph, pointing to a document that takes up all of half a page at best, none of which is in legalese or even objectionable), and that is a fallacy, and skeptics should be avoiding fallacies when attempting to make substantive points.

      Thunderf00t also seems to think pubs don’t have written harassment policies. That would make him naive about business liability insurance. The best businesses even go beyond what their carriers require: see Bars Adopt ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Sexual Harassment (ironic considering this is what he said smart businesses would never do–yet the most successful ones have done exactly that: openly promote their sexual harassment policies specifically to increase female clientele). Crommunist writes about this as an informed insider, having worked as a bouncer at several bars.

  7. 7
    Perm

    I guess I’ll leap onto item #4 and ask what “too far” means? RC, you are one of my favorite people on this planet (no we’ve never met) and everything you said above makes absolutely perfect logical sense to me.

    I’m probably committing sample bias, but I’m just not seeing the same harassment that others point out as ubiquitous. Am I to believe that the conferences (I’ve been to several national) and local meet-ups (mostly in Indiana) are some kind of kindly exception to the misogynistic rule? Indiana isn’t exactly known for its progressive roots…

    Yes I’m posting this with the understand that I’m not going to be popular in saying it.. but I also post it knowing full well me and the circle of people I know in the community treat women as… well, people. Just like anyone else.

    If I can use a local event in an analogy… having a sexual harassment policy at an atheist convention seems somewhat akin to posting robbery and manslaughter laws and punishments at the Indianapolis 500. Sure, some people might get robbed or even ran over at the track, but that has just about nothing to do with the event, its organizers or the participants.

    If the policy is designed to make people feel better about themselves or the event (I mean will posting a harassment policy really alter someone Luddite’s behavior? Really?) then I guess I feel it’s my duty to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

    1. 7.1
      Richard Carrier

      I guess I’ll leap onto item #4 and ask what “too far” means?

      As stated: that is precisely one of the things we can have a rational and friendly discussion about.

      If you are inclined to. But that means you have to be inclined to.

      Am I to believe that the conferences (I’ve been to several national) and local meet-ups (mostly in Indiana) are some kind of kindly exception to the misogynistic rule?

      I don’t know what the phrase “misogynistic rule” means in this sentence. Do you mean, you’ve never seen douchebaggery? Reference “availability heuristic.” Then reference my discussion around the remark “indicative of women acquiring a greater balance of social power” and “I have actually seen remarkable improvements on this in the last five years.” If after revisiting all that you still have a point to make that I already didn’t, let me know.

      Having a sexual harassment policy at an atheist convention seems somewhat akin to posting robbery and manslaughter laws and punishments at the Indianapolis 500.

      This is a fallacy called “false analogy.” Reference my remark: “the role of sexual harassment policies is not to enforce laws already on the books, but to make meetings more comfortable and welcoming and fun, and thus they are more about moral and professional standards than legal ones.”

      I mean will posting a harassment policy really alter someone Luddite’s behavior? Really?

      Yes. That’s why businesses and organizations nationwide adopt, enforce, and advertise them. See Crommunist’s remarks on his direct experience with this, and the other links I provide on this point, above.

      If it is known, going in, that certain behavior will be policed, and people won’t have your back if you engage in it, you will change your behavior (or avoid the venue, either way we get what we want). Only extreme idiots and dolts (a much smaller percentage) won’t. Reference my point again about the role “of women acquiring a greater balance of social power” and how it’s unlikely men have changed personality in the last five years, yet have significantly changed their behavior over that time. Proof is in the pudding.

      Moreover, if women know, going in, that their complaints (should they have any…encountering, perhaps, the idiots and dolts just referenced) will be acted upon and not ignored, that the people there will have their back, then they will know the venue is the sort of place they can hang out and relax. Ironically, the debate before this had often involved insistence that women who tell tales of sexual harassment “should have reported it”–yet reporting it requires a procedure, which is a policy. Thus even people against a policy inadvertently defend the need of having one.

      This is, again, why nearly every other business and organization dealing with congregations of people has these policies. Including bars (again, see linked comment above).

  8. 8
    Becky

    Some of your readers (perhaps you, if I should be so presumptive to think that you might tune in to our little local radio show), might be surprised to hear that I am with you all the way from 1 to 5. Thank you for your insightful distillation–it’s better than I’ve been doing. I’ll be cribbing notes from you with attribution.

    1. 8.1
      Anne C. Hanna

      Becky (from Ask an Atheist, right?), I agree that Richard has expressed these points very well, but I want to point out that I don’t think he’s saying anything that’s fundamentally in disagreement with what the feminist bloggers you were criticizing earlier have been arguing on this issue all along. They may have taken a somewhat more strident tone on the issue, but that tone is a response to the fact that they’ve been targeted by some fairly horrific trolls over this, not to mention some pretty serious rudeness from some people they might reasonably have expected to be allies. As far as I know (and, Richard, please correct me if I’m wrong), this hasn’t really happened to Richard on this issue (yet).

      I do think that Richard is right that this is the direction we need to go with on this, and I appreciate the very clear way in which he’s expressed it. I’d just hate to see this become yet another one of those cases where women have been shouting the obvious at the top of their lungs for ages and somehow they’re just screechy nagging sex-negative harpies, right up until the point where a man says it and then somehow everybody recognizes how sensible and worthwhile the idea is. This is yet another one of those bits of “stock sexism” that Richard calls out as a problem we athei-skepti-humani-secularists need to deal with, and I’d ideally like to avoid seeing it happen right in the comments to his (excellent) post. (And I’m not saying that that’s necessarily what you’re doing, I just want to point out the danger so that it can be avoided.)

    2. Richard Carrier

      Anne C. Hanna is right. I’ve been spared the vicious attacks, libels, bullying, and attempts to humiliate that other writers have been rewarded with for speaking about this. And I have worried from the very beginning that exactly what she says will happen: that I will get credit for saying what women have been saying for a year now, simply because I’m a man. Although several other men have been stumping for this cause, too, well before me, and they got the shitstorm. So maybe the trolls are just tired. (Or maybe they are shitting on me elsewhere; I run full moderation, so they know they can’t work their Devil’s magic here.)

    3. 8.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      I took a dive into ERV’s Periodic Table of Swearing just out of curiosity, and it appears that one of them thinks you’re being reasonable, one of them thinks you’re facepalmingly Amerocentric and legally naive (according to him a harassment policy is a legal contract and everything that’s not explicitly prohibited in such a contract is permitted, therefore having a policy makes things worse instead of better), one of them thinks it’s hilariously hypocritical that you used the evil word “tits”, and one of them thinks that your suggestion that women don’t like having their tits stared at is a depressingly narrow minded and sweeping generalization. And then they went back to slandering Rebecca et al. and cheering on Thunderf00t’s self-immolation. So I don’t think you need to worry that most folks in the troll brigade are going to suddenly see sweet reason and hail you as the savior of atheism just ’cause you laid it all out so nicely. For the most part, they’re not even paying attention to anything that’s sweetly reasonable at this point. :-/

      The parties who are more likely to be influenced are the relatively well-meaning but ignorant folks who are kind of coming in in the middle of the game and don’t understand the history and so find it all too easy to believe that the angry feminists are just as much part of the problem as (if not bigger contributors to the problem than) their nasty opponents. And those people are absolutely worth influencing. It’s just I’d like them to see not only that the sexual harassment discussion is in and of itself an important discussion which can be had by reasonable people, but also that the women who have been doing what it takes to put this issue on everyone’s radar and not let the trolls shut them down are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

      And that’s the thing here, there are two parts to this problem. One is, how do we deal with the immediate specific issue of cons and other athei-skepti-humani-secularist orgs needing to respond appropriately to harassment that happens under their purview. Your post makes some great points about that and I’d like to see these influence the wider discussion. The other question is, how do we deal with the massively toxic thing this discussion has turned into on these internet fora? I don’t want to debate the debate, so to speak, but I think we can all agree that it’s awful and tedious to watch and a massive drain on the community’s resources that we have to do this. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be any immediate way out that doesn’t involve leaving the targets of the harassment hanging out to dry. This isn’t an authoritarian community, so we can’t just rely on a decree from some Power That Is to shut down the trolls for good; we have to build from the ground up a solid majority consensus about what constitutes acceptable behavior. And I think what makes that hard is that, while we’re a diverse lot, one thing that many of us have in common is that we had to be fighters and rebels at some level to escape our youthful religious indoctrination, and we’ll be damned if anybody is going to tell us to sit down and be nice now that we’ve finally won the freedom to do whatever the hell we want without gods looking over our shoulders.

      So I think the other discussion that needs to be had is, how do we begin to establish and spread community norms for acceptable behavior in the online sphere as well, in order to make our athei-skepti-humani-secularist internet spaces as welcoming and open as possible. Obviously, we can’t police the world, and obviously every blogger or forum host is going to want to do their own thing to some extent, but these spaces are one part of the face we show the world, and it seems like it might be worth having a more explicit discussion (beyond the relatively narrow “are we too mean to religious folks” focus of the Gnu/accommodationist war) about what we want that face to look like.

    4. Richard Carrier

      Thanks for the update Anne. Well observed, too.

      Your question I think is already being answered in practice (it’s happening as we speak), albeit slowly. The best way to facilitate it is to start a specific question (not a general “what should our values be” but something more like “what should our shared values be on specific issue x“) and then have a reasonable conversation from there. Then do another. And so on.

      I’m welcoming everyone to email me what they’d like to see on that list of questions (the answers to which would collectively become “our shared values”). Don’t expect a reply. I’ll just collate it all into one big list and blog about it some time in the coming months. And please use email, don’t post here. I’d like to get a proper thread started on that, and not derail this one. Thanks!

      (NOTE: If you want to be credited for anything you send me on this point, please state this specifically in the email, and how you want to be credited. Otherwise, I’ll be using the material freely without attribution, as anonymous submissions.)

  9. 9
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    (Or whatever the hell is motivating them to argue against these policies — because even as the keeper of the timeline and reader of nearly everything of note that’s been said on the matter, I still can’t figure that out.)

    Conservatism.

    (This, incidentally, is the mindset at work in Carrier’s piece on vegetarianism. But that’s for another time…)

  10. 10
    Pat Sheen

    Hi Richard, good summary and explanation. The following link is missing an h in the http Harassment Policies Campaign – Timeline of Major Events

    Pat

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      Thanks! Fixed.

  11. 11
    Rabidtreeweasel

    Thank you. It is helpful to hear someone less emotionally vested (allies are awesome) articulate the things I have been too furious to explain.

  12. 12
    RahXephon, Waahmbulance Driver for St. Entitlement's Hospital

    IMO, most of it has been debating the debate rather than the issue, and most of it consists of reaction to trolls and bullshit rather than worthwhile disagreement (and I will remind you, most does not mean all).

    Richard, I wanted to thank you for your post, but I especially wanted to thank you for this part. I’m glad someone has finally recognized that the debate is being eaten up by trolls and the response to them, and not that both sides are equally at fault (i.e. “just as bad”).

  13. 13
    iknklast

    I’m glad you included the bit about it not just being sexual; the disrespect is probably at least as prevalent, if not ubiquitous. I also get the feeling that many people doing it are totally unaware.

    I was recently at a conference for playwrights; we had a discussion on women in playwrighting (we’re a distinct minority). There were three famous women playwrights who told us that many women feel it necessary to use their initials or adopt a male sounding name, because plays are more likely to not get read or taken seriously if they think it’s a woman.

    I was in a conversation with a male guest about one of the plays that was being shown that morning. He wanted to know what it was about. I started out that it was about three women…he shut me off. He wasn’t interested any further. Picture this: you ask someone what a play is about. They start with “it’s about these three men…”. Stop. See if they ask you to say more. My guess is yes, because you told them nothing which would indicate whether the play was interesting. But knowing it is about three women (and it was written by a woman, to boot) is enough to shut down all interest. By the way, the three women it was about? Cassandra, Medea, and Clytemnestra. It was a wonderful play, and I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for that guy who didn’t get to see and experience it.

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      I’m glad you included the bit about it not just being sexual; the disrespect is probably at least as prevalent, if not ubiquitous. I also get the feeling that many people doing it are totally unaware.

      They usually are, IMO. And I would guess the nonsexual (but just sexist) stuff is far more prevalent, if I can judge by the fact that I have witnessed far more of it by comparison (I have witnessed a lot of the sexual harassment and related behavior, too, but the nonsexual stuff has it more than beat in frequency).

      There were three famous women playwrights who told us that many women feel it necessary to use their initials or adopt a male sounding name, because plays are more likely to not get read or taken seriously if they think it’s a woman.

      This was once a major problem (at least in all areas of publishing; I’ve heard the same from old-school female novelists, film and television writers, and scholars who publish academically). It has improved a lot. But it’s hard to measure how much more it needs to.

      I can’t speak to the culture among producers and critics in theater, but I have direct experience in academia, and I have indeed noticed this sexist trend (to discount or demote in merit work written by women), and it has been documented rather widely, even as it is in noticeable decline (but not entirely gone). See my series on Women in Philosophy and the Being a Woman in Philosophy Blog for extensive discussion. One example I address in Are Women Just Stupid? (where I show that my field, ancient science, seems to have bucked the sexism entirely, or at least to an impressive extent, given how many women are major respected players there).

      I was in a conversation with a male guest about one of the plays that was being shown that morning. He wanted to know what it was about. I started out that it was about three women…he shut me off. He wasn’t interested any further.

      Yikes. I’d actually be intrigued by that opening. (I suppose he’d have stayed if you led with “It’s a stage production of the gritty 1993 thriller Survive the Night, in which three women…”)

  14. 14
    dogeared, spotted and foxed

    This next time the subject comes up, I’ll just refer them to this post. Succinct and comprehensive.

  15. 15
    SallyStrange

    This is excellent. Thank you.

  16. 16
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    Thank you very much for this post, Richard, and especially for raising the point about the availability heuristic, since I haven’t seen anyone point out this specific argument in opposition to the offensive bromide which Thunderf00l specifically stated as, ‘talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment’.

  17. 17
    anonatheist

    This is a pretty sane and rational post and in theory you are correct but the reality is different. Nearly nobody actually wants to discuss concrete policies. When such a discussion happens it mostly happens accidentally. These policies are being implemented as is without discussion including the draconian measures. According to Jen the SSA does not allow speakers to engage with attendances in sexual activity.

    I think it is naive to assume that people want to have a rational discussion about the topic. This is about power and each side has played the issue with a certain tactic and we will see which side is going to win.

    1. 17.1
      Richard Carrier

      First of all, the SSA policy you refer to predated most of this public discussion of sexual harassment policies in the atheist community. So, not a valid example for your point. Some workplaces and contracting agencies have had such policies for years. It’s not new. (Especially in academia.) Nor is it as common as you seem to think. And in any case, we can voice our disagreement with it rationally, as I have. And since it only affects speakers they contract and people who specifically want to sleep with them, it doesn’t qualify as draconian. It’s mildly annoying, patronizing, and unrealistic. But that does not draconian make.

      Secondly, unless you have attempted to sincerely engage in a discussion about the best policy to adopt with any event organizers and they rebuffed and ignored you (have you ever politely communicated with the SSA about this policy point? Like, even once?), I am skeptical of your hyperbolic “nearly nobody actually wants to discuss concrete policies.” Everyone I know who isn’t a troll or a douchebag is more than happy to discuss the details of these policies, and many have done so, in blogs and vlogs and podcasts. Indeed, it is the irrational immaturity of policy detractors that I have seen shut down reasonable discussion, by their simply refusing to have any. If you don’t participate in a civil discussion, you don’t get to complain that no one is listening to your concerns.

      Which puts the lie to your last statement. Unless you are including only the trolls and douchebags in that remark. Everyone else is ready to have a conversation. Indeed, they’ve been having it for almost a year now. I can’t help you if you weren’t paying attention. Even less if you weren’t even participating.

  18. 18
    Iamcuriousblue

    “(The best stock policy, BTW, is outlined on the GeekFeminismWiki, and it’s worth pointing out that even that page says you don’t need to adopt the offered policy as-wrote, but can revise it to suit your conference or community’s own values and preferences.)”

    I fail to see why this is the “best” stock policy (as I have pointed out elsewhere, it’s language on “sexualization” is overly broad and not appropriate for many venues), or indeed why any “off the shelf” policy that is does not specifically address the nature of the venue itself would be a good idea at all.

    1. 18.1
      Richard Carrier

      You know what I find amusing? That you said this immediately after quoting my words “it’s worth pointing out that even that page says you don’t need to adopt the offered policy as-wrote, but can revise it to suit your conference or community’s own values and preferences.”

  19. 19
    Dana Hunter

    Fantastic! So much win. I hope Jason’s adding this to the timeliness – it certainly belongs there.

    1. 19.1
      Richard Carrier

      He did, thanks. It was almost the last thing he put in before closing the timeline.

  20. 20
    Hamilton Jacobi

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  21. 21
    Deen

    Sounds reasonable to me.

  22. 22
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Well written and spot on.

  23. 23
    Dunc

    Or whatever the hell is motivating them to argue against these policies

    People often react badly to anything which calls attention to their privilege, even if they aren’t actually using that privilege to the fullest possible extent. I don’t think that the majority of those arguing against these policies are doing so because they want to be able to harass women, they’re just reacting negatively to the notion that they have privilege. They don’t feel like they have privilege (no-one ever does), so they try to reduce the cognitive dissonance by dismissing the problem. Then, of course, there’s the subset of arseholes who just have a raging hate-on for certain bloggers here at FTB, or just for FTB in general…

    1. 23.1
      Richard Carrier

      I suspect it’s more about alarmist overreaction. Privilegism plays a role. And anti-FTBism. But I think it’s more like “mole hill = mountain; mountain gets in my way; must crush mountain.” If you read their actual statements, the assumption they all share is that sexual harassment policies will prohibit or interfere with appropriate (non-harassing) behaviors. Which is mostly false–and even when true, is a valid complaint even proponents have already made yet still (a) overblown and (b) a non sequitur when used as a reason to oppose any policy whatever. This is the same kind of illogical thinking that drives anarcho-libertarians, IMO: there can’t be any such thing as good government even in principle, therefore anarchy will solve all problems (and anyone who disagrees is a neonazi-commie sharia-loving fascist). In other words, it’s just stupid people–or people being stupid. Which is annoying for a movement that prides itself on being smart.

      (Although I do wonder how high these detractors would score on the Authoritarian Personality instrument, since that tracks several personality traits like ambiguity intolerance, resistance to change, and black and white thinking, which would explain almost all of their behavior in this case.)

  24. 24
    Brian

    Clearly thought out, correct, and well written Richard. Well done.

  25. 25
    NancyNew

    This is excellent, start to finish.

  26. 26
    CT Chimako.27

    A huge article WIN. Thanks.

  27. 27
    EllenBeth Wachs

    Yes, THIS!

    Thank you, Richard.

  28. 28
    The Nerd

    There’s some things I’ve said and done that I look back now and think “someone would have been completely justified in telling me I’m making them uncomfortable and to please not do that anymore”. It’s my responsibility to behave in a respectful manner, so I’m not trying to push the blame for my actions onto anyone else. Even still, the simplest (fewest steps, least “legalism”) response to inappropriate behavior is to tell the person and hope for a response of “gee, I didn’t see it that way before, I’ll stop now”. This only works if people will actually give a damn and be open to feedback. Sadly, the negative pushback all over the net only makes us more aware that the best case scenario is probably the least likely, and that we do need “bigger guns” at our disposal.

  29. 29
    miraxpath

    This is a fantastic post on the subject and yet all the frothers from the slimepit are absent! Wonder what they are scared of? Reason? Calm and cool analysis?

    1. 29.1
      Richard Carrier

      Or full moderation.

      (No, I have not yet deleted any comments [except comments the commentators themselves asked to be deleted]. But the fact that what you will write will never be seen by anyone unless you are civil and relevant seems to have been a very good deterrent on all my blog posts. Kind of says a lot, IMO.)

  30. 30
    Josh

    The biggest thing that has been happening in this entire ordeal, stretching back over a year now is that people aren’t listening very well to each other. There is little empathy. There is a lack of politeness. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary to not be polite, but there is a lack of the wisdom required to identify those situations. There is the lack of recognition when a mistake has been made. The ability and apparent freedom to say “I’m sorry” is missing.

    1. 30.1
      xtog

      One might add, the failure to accept said apology when it has been offered and explained thoughtfully and calmly.

  31. 31
    A Hermit

    I’m not a conference goer or a joiner of clubs/groups/associations, but I am a curious agnostic/atheist/skeptic and (I like to think) rational thinker who has taken some comfort from the fact that there are groups of other like minded people out there getting together talking about and popularizing these things.

    So it’s a bit of a shock and a disappointment to have seen this whole sad soap opera playing out in blogs where I come to get my intellectual stimulation and, yes occasionally moral support.

    For what it’s worth, here’s how it looks to this Hermit, from the admittedly limited perspective of my perch up the goat track in the third cave on the left:

    There is a problem; it’s not the biggest problem in the world, for some people it’s not a problem at all, but it is a problem and the people affected by it are often affected profoundly.

    Some of these people have pointed out, politely, that this problem exists, and have proposed a way of addressing the problem; it’s not a perfect solution, it won’t make the problem go away, but it will help; basically they are asking that we acknowledge the problem exists, talk about it openly and ask each other to treat one another with respect and consideration…to THINK before we act. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

    And the response form so many people who call themselves rational, skeptical thinkers has been a tide of reactionary rhetoric, denial, distortion and thoughtless knee-jerking of the kind I fully expect from religious fanatics or pubescent teenagers but not from rational, skeptical, reasonable adults.

    Thank you Dr. Carrier for this most reasonable posting…one of the best I’ve seen in this whole ugly “debate.”

  32. 32
    Gnawer

    I have been trying to follow this “drama” going on, but I must admit, that I’m having problems with that. A lot of the arguments just don’t make sense to me, but that may be because I’m living in Denmark, and most of the people commenting don’t. Who knows..

    Of course any type of harassment is and should be unwanted at an atheist convention, but doesn’t that kinda go without saying? Are our cultures really THAT different?

    We don’t set up specific rules against harassment of every possible group of potential victims whenever we organize a (Relatively speaking) small event here, and they don’t end up with raped women, tortured gays, police reports, people being jailed or anything like that. Basically, the “Don’t be a jerk!” rule takes care of it all the vast majority of the time, and the few times it doesn’t, I don’t believe that an event guideline to good behavior would have stopped that individual. I’m not even sure that those types of people would be able to read the rules anyway.

    I’m not claiming that there aren’t any rapes in Denmark, or that sexism doesn’t still exist in some places. I’m simply saying, that the people who commit those crimes are already ignoring the law. Setting up an extra set of rules that are “below” the actual law won’t change their behavior.

    In my opinion, the separate event rules only affect the already-decent people, as they’re probably the only ones who even bother reading them.

    If you’re going to an event planning on being a complete jerk and treat women like crap, you’re not going to care whether the convention takes a stand on the issue or not. You already know that you’re in the wrong.. With or without those rules.
    That’s my theory anyway.

    I’ll give you a few real world examples, and remember that I do live in Denmark. It’s not uncommon at all for women to be the “aggressive predators” on the Danish dating scene.

    I have a friend who’s a gay male, and he once got his ass kicked by a girl’s friends because he (according to her) had been a sexist pig, a pervert, touching her and whatnot. In reality he had turned down HER advances by telling her that he was gay. I don’t know if that disappointed her, if she was used to getting whatever (and whoever) she wanted, or what the hell her problem was, but apparently she’d told her friends to go deal with him.. And so they did. We only found out why a few weeks later through some common friends who’d heard her friends’ side of the story. They thought they were in the ‘right’ at the time.

    I have never been beaten up like that, but I have been accused of total nonsense after turning down women at bars. Some of them just don’t seem able to deal with rejection at all. If I don’t want them, I must be a freak, gay, a pervert, a weirdo etc. Obviously. It’s clear to everyone in the world, that it would be totally impossible for me to simply not be interested in that particular woman. ;)

    If I wanted to go to TAM (or any other event) and they had set up rules against any sort of potential problem, I’d be worried what one dumb ***** (Trying to keep this civil, but anyone filing a false report does deserve that term.) could do to my reputation. I don’t go to conventions to date, and I certainly never grope random women, but by making those kinds of rules, it seems pretty clear who the organizers would be supporting no matter what evidence she might present. I don’t want to be at an event where I risk being viewed as a “Keep an eye on that guy. He might be a perv!” without any evidence besides “Some girl said it, so we have to take it seriously.”

    Since I already HAVE been accused of being gay, a pervert etc. by women after simply rejecting them, I don’t like the idea of having an entire convention staff suspecting me because of one potential lying *****.

    Women are in no way more trustworthy than men, so I’m not really a big fan of those special “laws” completely stacking the odds against the other party in advance whether he’s guilty or not. To me it seems like the cases where they had put up the ten commandments outside a court house. We can’t PROVE that they would be treating non-Christians worse, but it does send a troubling signal to anyone outside of “the group”.

    And let’s be honest here (I hope this isn’t simply a Danish thing.. That would kinda kill the following point.) Do we have anyone (Male) here who hasn’t been groped by women at a bar? You’ll be sitting there drinking your beer and suddenly there’s a hand in a very private area below the table. I just don’t think men are so threatened by it, and while we may be offended on some level and find it extremely rude, we usually just say “I’m not interested.” or maybe even a “Leave me the fuck alone!” and that’s the end of it. We don’t go home and feel violated afterwards. Chances are, I won’t even remember it the next day, as it’s so common and a complete non-issue for me.

    That obviously doesn’t make it okay in any way, but these “debates” just always seem to talk about women like they’re all helpless victims and men are all such pigs.

    I simply cannot imagine any of my male friends EVER reporting a girl/woman for groping them. It’s just not an issue for men whether we’re interested or not, and I think most women are well aware of that, so saying a sexual harassment rule also protects men is sort of pointless. It’s a rule that protects women and nothing else.

    I saw someone (Comments section of Thunderf00t’s blog) say something along the lines of “.. but some women don’t feel comfortable saying “Thanks but no thanks””, and that kinda scares me, to be honest. We don’t make laws based on what people are “comfortable” with. If you’re not interested in someone, it is up to you to let the person know! Laws aren’t made, so people can simply make legal accusations to get out of an awkward conversation. If a person really cannot say “No”, they shouldn’t go outside. I really can’t see any other solution.

    I simply don’t think the rules will change the behavior of the assholes, and I fear they’d only scare “normal” people away. It IS possible to make too many rules, in my opinion. Fires do happen as well, but most work places and conventions don’t have separate fire laws for that reason. That doesn’t mean, they don’t take fires seriously, or that they support fires. They simply rely on people’s own knowledge and judgement to not start a fire in the office.

    I guess, it’s simply a matter of not every event in the world appealing to every single individual in the world.

    If I’m having a party and decide to ban smoking (Because of non-smokers), ban alcohol (Because of my Muslim friends), ban pork (Muslim/Jewish friends), ban swearing (Religious friends), ban offensive jokes (To protect whoever’s the “target” of those jokes) etc. I have done it all with good intentions, but in the end I will be sitting there all alone on Friday night. I killed it for everyone by trying to protect everyone against everything.

    1. 32.1
      Richard Carrier

      Setting up an extra set of rules that are “below” the actual law won’t change their behavior.

      This is demonstrably false. See comment above and the preceding comment it links to.

      If I wanted to go to TAM (or any other event) and they had set up rules against any sort of potential problem, I’d be worried what one dumb ***** (Trying to keep this civil, but anyone filing a false report does deserve that term.) could do to my reputation…I don’t want to be at an event where I risk being viewed as a “Keep an eye on that guy. He might be a perv!” without any evidence besides “Some girl said it, so we have to take it seriously.”

      The absence of a policy will have zero effect on preventing that from happening. So as an argument against any policy at all, this is a non sequitur. It is also contradicted by years of established data: sexual harassment policies have been in place and in force at restaurants, bars, conferences, workplaces, and membership societies for years, and there has not been any documented uptick in false accusations ruining people’s reputations. Likewise, there is no evidence that this has scared “normal” people away. To the contrary, it appears to have increased patronage and attendance.

      In short, you are being irrational (by resorting to demonstrably fallacious reasoning) and ignorant (by not actually knowing the relevant facts that would test your empirical claims, and showing no evident concern for having even checked what they are).

      It’s also a bit strange that your thinking entails that no woman is ever or can ever be telling the truth therefore even rape and assault can never be prosecuted (in which case, why even outlaw them?). Is that really the social system you are advocating?

      That obviously doesn’t make it okay in any way, but these “debates” just always seem to talk about women like they’re all helpless victims and men are all such pigs.

      Notice your fallacy of hyperbole (here and in the remainder of your comments). Compare it with what I actually said in my article above. Who is the reasonable one between us is thereby demonstrated.

      Indeed, you just confirmed my suspicions that people like you might have an authoritarian personality: you just exhibited black and white thinking, ambiguity intolerance, and resistance to change, and resorted to argument from hyperbole, turning molehills (a policy against what even you agrees is bad behavior) into mountains (a policy against drinking, bacon, and swearing), and then concluding the molehills will harsh your mellow, because the mountains would. That’s dumb.

    2. 32.2
      Richard Carrier

      Oh, and BTW, anyone here who wants to play Bingo with Gnawer’s post, please let me know if you score a win!

      You can use either card. Winners get a free drink (from me, if ever we meet in a place that serves them). Only one prize per win (that is, if you can only win with the same squares as someone else who announced here before you, only they get the prize; but if you can eek a win with different squares, that counts as another win!).

    3. 32.3
      Ace of Sevens

      Who’s talking about laws? The issue is having a consistent set of rules for how things are handled at the conference. At worst, somebody would be kicked out and no one’s suggested kicking out guys on first complaint with just one person’s word against another.

    4. 32.4
      Gnawer

      Heh, and here I was hoping to get some sort of decent debate going, but even the author is ignoring every single point. At least TF doesn’t try to make fun of the people posting comments that he doesn’t like.

      Anywho, there must be a bigger difference between our cultures than I first thought, cause every work place, restaurant, convention etc. certainly does NOT have a separate “law” on sexual harassment here, so it seems pointless trying to argue about that. Your comments about that are simply false, when I compare them to the culture, that I’m living in. They’re probably true in the US, if you guys say so, but how am I to know or check? I can’t visit the US and do a poll at various work places etc. to check if you’re correct or not, so I’ll just have to trust you on that I suppose. ;)

      If you think Danish women must be suffering in a horrible place because of this, you’re very wrong. You’ll have a hard time finding many places where women have more rights, more equality, more leadership positions etc. than in Denmark.
      The “feminization” of our society over the last years has been so successful, that they’re know starting to talk about maybe having gone too far. Fewer and fewer males are getting university educations etc, because they’ve been focusing so much on making everything more female-friendly, that we’re now starting to see the opposite problem than what we did some years ago. Males are simply losing interest in the higher educations, since it’s all been tuned towards females now.
      BUT.. Men and women are just different, and that’s quite alright.

      Bye ftb, I’ll let you folks live in peace in your own little world from now on. ;)

    5. Richard Carrier

      Indeed, Gnawer. Sounds like Holland sucks. Or you actually haven’t really bothered to check any of your facts. I’m taking bets on which.

      (And your weirdly archaic sexist notion that education has been “feminized” and thus driving away manly men is pretty funny. You’d better start defending those Precious Bodily Fluids too!)

    6. 32.5
      SallyStrange

      I don’t know why it isn’t completely obvious to you that in the situations you described–being insulted in return for rejecting someone–YOU were the harassed party, and as such, the organizers of any conference would clearly have YOUR back and not the harasser’s, whatever their gender.

      I suppose the most obvious explanation is that you didn’t actually read the policy. Because if you did you would have noticed that it is totally gender-neutral.

  33. 33
    garyfletcher

    Well reasoned. Best blog entry yet on the sexual harrasment issue. There needn’t be such devisiveness on the issue. I hope these ideas are widely promulgated.

  34. 34
    Corpus Christy

    This is one of the best posts about this dismal affair, Richard, although honestly the bar isn’t set too high for that distinction, if you know what I mean.

    Good stuff, but right after your reproach to Thunderf00t for citing his own experiences as normative, you do the same thing (with admission). I’m not sure what the point of citing your differing experiences are to the discussion at hand. Are yours more authentic or closer to normative than Thunderf00t’s, or should we likewise dismiss them? (Perhaps not ‘dismiss’ so much as include a grain of salt.)

    1. 34.1
      Richard Carrier

      It’s not a question of which is authentic (since I don’t doubt he’s totally honest and sincere). It’s that you can’t say there is no x when other people have seen lots of x. It only takes one black swan to refute the claim that no swans are black. Thus, that I have seen black swans is relevant to exposing his availability bias in claiming he “hadn’t seen any, therefore there were none.” To be clear, that’s not actually what he said; he affirmed having seen some, and in effect defined x as “enough to be a problem worth addressing,” thus x here is not “any whatever” but “enough to be a problem worth addressing,” which is harder to assess (since it’s a question of proportion). However, as I explain, I certainly saw “enough to be a problem worth addressing,” so there are evidently some black swans out there. Unless you think (a) I’m lying or (b) my experience has been a freakish statistical anomaly. I would hope he and you agree either is very improbable (the latter, by definition).

      But still, we have to aggregate experience. I don’t expect anyone to assume my experience is normative (although it has been broad, national, and extended over time, and thus has a lot of cases behind it), but to aggregate all the experiences they can (mine, his, other men’s, several women’s–the latter especially, BTW) before deciding what is happening, has happened, and could happen, and what’s worth the bother of doing about it. And BTW, I have done that (for a few years now, and over the last year with particular attention to this problem).

  35. 35
    plutosdad

    I wonder if, decades ago, enacting similar policies in other communities met with the same resistance, the same excuses and anecdotes that “well I haven’t seen it, it must not be a huge problem”

    Obliviousness is very easy for the privileged. Even re: “elevatorgate”, I knew many things and thought I knew how to treat women, but I would not have known picking up women in an elevator is just that bad. Not merely uncomfortable but also plain fear generating.

    About 10 years ago I read The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker, which is all about listening to instinct especially in fearful situations, and he talked about rapes happening in elevators (in regards to counseling women not to get into an elevator with a man when their “funny feeling” radar goes off) and if I hadn’t read that, I would not have understood what elevatorgate was about, since no one really told me.

    I mean, common decency taught me not to take advantage of a drunk girl, but obliviousness to the threat the size of my body poses didn’t prepare me for how women might feel when I do certain things. As DeBecker says “men are afraid women will make fun of them, but women are afraid men will kill them”. That was a real eyeopener for me. And I think more men need to be aware of this.

    1. 35.1
      Campbell

      Re: “I wonder if, decades ago, enacting similar policies in other communities met with the same resistance, the same excuses and anecdotes that ‘well I haven’t seen it, it must not be a huge problem’” Absolutely. Years ago, efforts to introduce legislation regarding marital rape and efforts to amend rape law (e.g., to encompass more than a stranger, demonstrable evidence of fighting back and horrendous physical injuries or to include males as victims) were typically met with precisely the sorts of responses you describe. With regard to policies aimed at influencing normative behavior (the “don’t be an ass” as opposed to “don’t break the law” context which the current debate in the skeptic community addresses), I really think RC’s point regarding the importance of sheer numbers of women attendees is crucial, as anyone who remembers what it was like to press for change in classroom or convention climate in academic fields traditionally male dominated can attest.

  36. 36
    Mark

    An excellent post that has clarified certain things for me as someone who has never been to any kind of atheist meet up or conference. Thanks Richard.

  37. 37
    Lauren

    …the problem I’ve been witness to has not only been unwanted sexual advances or behavior (constantly hitting on them, staring at their tits, saying inappropriate things), but all kinds of stock sexism (interrupting women when they speak, distrusting what they say with uncharacteristic frequency, assuming a condescending position of superiority, showing blatant disinterest in any topic of conversation that isn’t what “guys” are into, and so on),…

    Thank you. The MRA crowd likes to portray only rape or assault as legitimate areas of concern, (“I don’t do that, so I’m a great guy”), conveniently ignoring the ubiquitous unwanted non-contact sexualized attention and garden variety gender discrimination that prop up their privilege.

    1. 37.1
      Richard Carrier

      Right. “I don’t rape women. I just joke about raping women, occasionally threaten to rape women, and talk with my buddies on public forums about what would happen when I raped them (sometimes including graphic details about where she would be bleeding from when I’m done).” Some here might think I’m making that up. But I’ve actually seen that happen online a shocking amount (being said about specific named women).

      But you are right, it’s not just extremo scuzzos like that that are a concern. In person I’ve mostly seen much milder, but still uninviting and offputting, sexist behavior, of both a sexualized and nonsexualized nature. And there is a difference between behavior I will mock and marginalize when I see it (or, if truly unintentional, just correct), and behavior that warrants calling security or filing a report with conference staff.

      The latter is what policies spell out. But this movement is not just about policies, which are just a part of the defense network, it’s also about men being more aware of this and more proactive a reactive about it when it occurs, so women don’t only have to gather other women to defend themselves against it, but can count on us as allies in that, too. This has been what I have seen needed, and now increasingly happening, in local atheist meetups. And now I expect, conferences, too.

  38. 38
    C Rowan

    “I must be clear, though: even in the worst cases, it was always a minority of men causing the problem; but the other men weren’t standing up for the women, often because they were oblivious to the problem and sided with the jerks instead of the women. Which is the surest way to communicate to women that they aren’t welcome.” YES! This! I think the ones who push back frequently miss this point or miss its importance.

  39. 39
    EveryMan

    Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the facts remain that:

    1. The JREF had an anti-harassment policy in place last year for TAM.

    2. Registrations by women are down 50% this year.

    There is some effect here, probably. And of course correlation does not imply causation.

    My personal feeling is that Rebecca Watson is a polarizing figure in the community and is driving away both her allies and enemies. Which I guess in the long-term is probably in everyone’s best interest.

    1. 39.1
      Richard Carrier

      Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the facts remain that:

      1. I never mentioned JREF.

      2. Correlation is not causation.

      3. Substituting your personal feelings for empirical facts is like, totes skeptical, dude.

    2. 39.2
      Lou Doench

      Rebecca Watson is a polarizing figure in the community

      That’s right, play the “Rebecca Watson” card. It trumps all of our so called “evidence” and “reasoned discussion”, because Ms. Watson has a preternatural ability to “polarize” merely by existing.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Surely that’s a bingo square.

    4. 39.3
      Laura-Ray

      PS: Watson had a fundraising program to send more women to TAM, until recently, when some asshole told her she was ruining TAM and lowering female attendance.

      Man, I think your credulity is showing…

  40. 40
    sphex

    This was such a breath of fresh air to read. Thank you for understanding, and thank you for posting. If Thunderf00t and his ilk don’t ‘get it’ after reading this, I believe they never will. Keeping my fingers crossed…

  41. 41
    Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk

    Excellent post, thank you. I especially resonated with this part:

    And to that end this is not just about harassment policies, which can only target persistent or egregious misbehavior, but also whether we men will stand up for the women among us and defend them against misbehavior that doesn’t rise to the level of policy action but nevertheless can ruin their enjoyment of an event if they feel alone in dealing with it.

    And let me be clear again: the problem I’ve been witness to has not only been unwanted sexual advances or behavior (constantly hitting on them, staring at their tits, saying inappropriate things), but all kinds of stock sexism (interrupting women when they speak, distrusting what they say with uncharacteristic frequency, assuming a condescending position of superiority, showing blatant disinterest in any topic of conversation that isn’t what “guys” are into, and so on), which is not something any policy can address, but is something we as individuals can address by our awareness of it and reaction to it.

    That’s some real, solid truth you got there.

  42. 42
    AZryan

    As expected, great representation of the issues.

    The phrase ‘The Voice of Reason’ comes to mind from what you wrote, but it also makes me think of what the reason is for this sort of thing happening? Clearly I’m not the only one that’s disappointed that it’s going on. I think many are even surprised because it seems like just what you wouldn’t expect to happen.

    I’d love to think that being an ‘atheist’ greatly implies ‘rational thought’, but sadly, it doesn’t. It just means ‘not a theist’ and it seems that many atheists believe in all sorts of supernatural, and/or conspiracy theory nonsense, etc…and I suppose now also ‘treat women like meat’.

    Piecing polling data together like ‘how many people are non-theists’ and ‘how many believe in (insert nonsense)’, it seems that maybe as high as 40% of all atheists today are poor-thinking, irrational people in some blatantly significant ways. This also seems to be pretty much the entirety of the increase in the percentage of atheists (in the US) in the post-9/11, so-called ‘new atheist’ movement.

    People like to say, “We were just at ~6%, now we’re at ~10%! We’re the fastest growing ‘group’ in religion polls! This is a significant political/ideological voting block!”

    But I think (sadly) that these are probably exaggerated claims in practical terms.

    Most know that atheists aren’t of one clear ideology, but I think many of us think we’re mostly all at least of a similar mindset of being heavily devoted to Science, a balance of evidence, logic/reason, solid morals/equality, etc…

    But it seems to me that there’s sort of an ‘atheist tea party’ sub group. There are atheists who think the US caused 9/11. Who believe in reincarnation, ghosts, horoscopes, past lives, you name it…

    Maybe this helps explain the harassment problems? We know these are not bright, rational guys who also think it’s fine to treat the rare women at these meetings like defenseless prey.

    It seems like a safe guess that drinking (and drugs?) are probably often in the mix during instances of harassment, but usually younger age is a factor in that sort of behavior too, no? ‘Youth in revolt’ is clearly a huge factor in the growth of overall ‘atheist’ numbers. I wish that weren’t true, but that seems to be the bulk of converts. And that says a fairly disappointing thing about how poorly a rational message is really getting through to a much broader demographic. And maybe says that the trend is not a clear, growing pattern -’cuz youth often grows out of whatever crap we were into.

    It’s hard to imagine any number of famous prominent atheists talking about how the education and empowerment of women is basically a magic bullet to vastly improving civilization, and then a significant number of dicks in the crowd decide to start scamming on chicks like they’re at some sleazy nightclub.

    I guess my main point is that maybe we’re attracting a problematic number of people at ‘atheist’ meet-ups that are, as Richard would call them, ‘Bad Weirdos’? And if we are, could part of the solution be that ‘atheism’ has no ideology, so maybe a lot of people are coming for lousy reasons and awful agendas?

    Shouldn’t we focus more on the concepts of reason, secular-based morality, and balance of evidence, rather than just stand under the label of -”I don’t have a religion for whatever random reason that might be. Join me!”? It seems like that would just be to gain the most members for numbers propaganda.

    Are many people hearing ‘free-thought’ and thinking that it’s an Ayn Rand/Libertarian movement of just ‘doing whatever you want’ and saying ‘screw the system(including the control of religious dogma)’? That would correlate heavily with youth too, as well as a more conservative, misogynistic, anti-politically correct ideology.

    Sorry if this seems like a weird tangent. I was thinking that we might need to research more about ‘ourselves as a group’. Maybe our doors are too wide open and our core message is too vague to mean anything?

    1. 42.1
      Richard Carrier

      I concur with all said.

      As to the research you call for, many have already made that same point, and it’s in the works (I’ve personally spoken to four separate sociologists, two established, and two doctoral students, who are on track to do the kinds of inquiries you have in mind–look for it in the coming years).

      As to the bad weirdo problem, all movements will have that, and I don’t think that’s the main problem in this case (I find atheist crowds score much better on general reasonableness and sanity than other crowds I’ve hung with, but still that’s only comparatively speaking). A lot of fuddies have done sexist things in my presence, and several others have confirmed same. And there have been a few good weirdo posers who have, too.

      But on the central point you are aiming at: I am totally behind the idea that we need to develop a common set of core values by which to define the movement and distinguish good atheists from bad atheists. It just has to be as inclusive as possible without being too inclusive. And indeed, IMO, this is one of the most basic responsibilities of atheists everywhere: to work out a defensible worldview that defines their understanding of themselves and the world, including the morality that then follows. This can even be two projects in parallel: the general core values that unite us, then the narrower sets of values within that that separate us into different worldview groups which can nevertheless get along and work together on common goals (e.g. the vegans vs. the omnis).

    2. 42.2
      plutosdad

      I think a lot of atheists maybe be looking for something like this. Well ok I am. It’s similar to what Dan Fincke said on a podcast recently. Besides saying “no” we have to start replacing theist ethical philosophy. Philosophers have already done this, but by “we” I mean the rest of us.

      I don’t miss the ritual and tradition on sunday mornings, but I do miss the ethics discussions and lessons. If there were more humanist gatherings it would be welcome, I think. Certainly better than going to a UU church, which tends to make me batty with the woo resulting from their “no judgement” policies which really means “no critical analysis”. My somewhat theist fiance (to be my wife in 3 days) can’t stand UU even more, so it’s not an option for us.

  43. 43
    congaboy

    Richard:

    This has been the most rational discussion on this topic. Well done, as usual.

  44. 44
    Brad

    Thanks for bringing up the availability heuristic. I was getting some serious dissonance reading that we’re no worse (and maybe a little better) than society at large and also seeing such a shitstorm.

    While it’s a cognitive error on the part of the listener, I think speakers have a vested interest in being mindful of such common cognitions in their audience that could negatively impact the discourse, and I wonder if this and other shitstorms are as shitstormy as they are in part because nobody really thinks about the availability heuristic (that needs a shorter name, any ideas?) when they participate in a discussion. I’m not a communications consequentialist, but I do think there’s some merit to the ideas in Jesse Galef’s article on the subject.

    1. 44.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes, indeed. This is a case in point: 99.99% of the noise on this subject was entirely caused by opponents and trolls (who said things, often involving lies, sometimes borderline libelous, that could not go unanswered, generating more noise, etc.). Had they never raised a peep, there would have been almost no noise about this at all. Orgs would all have internally discussed and then developed and adopted a policy, their public efforts to attract more women would have included (but not solely consisted of) casual mentions of this fact, some blogs would have been written praising this. And that would have been it. Instead, the opponents of policies made it infinitely worse by pumping the very well that made the problem more visible. And then had the gall to complain about the fact that it’s being discussed so much. Nice. Reminds me of John Stewart’s apt critique of Republican Campaign Strategy 101: deliberately break a bill so that it doesn’t work, then complain about how broken it is and that it doesn’t work, and take a bow for doing both.

      P.S. You can say “availability bias”

      P.P.S. Let me know what Galef article you mean.

    2. 44.2
      Brad

      Here’s the article: Be a Communications Consequentialist

      Thinking about it a little bit more my disagreement is that he lets the reader off easy, not with any of the advice. Students should be taught these as best practices in english communication arts classes.

      How much html do you fix for people?

    3. Richard Carrier

      Brad: Thanks for the Galef article and link. How much html do I fix for people? What is most necessary, and if I have time.

    4. 44.3
      karmakin

      I think it’s a bit more than what’s listed under the availability bias, but it’s certainly on the right track.

      Another common shortcut, and I think it’s equally applicable here, it the “moral force” shortcut as I call it. That is, the stronger you present a moralistic argument, people will often assume two things from it.

      #1. The more severe the problem is

      #2. The more severe the fix for the problem is.

      The error is still with the listener after all, but I do think that it’s something we should try to account for. And in this argument, I do think that it WAS accounted for, at least on the pro-policy side. Positions were clarified repeatedly. Yes, it’s annoying and tedious, but it’s also important IMO.

      Now, the anti-side ALSO was making moralistic statements. But the clarifications are nowhere near to clear, if they’re there at all. It’s just RRRAAAGGGEEE. They have to understand AS WELL that they’re giving off the impression that they think that things are extreme in the opposite direction…that “harassment” (quotes in their eyes) doesn’t really exist.

      However, clarifying means dropping the rage and joining the productive conversation, and quite frankly, the tribalistic nature of this debate really hinders that.

    5. Richard Carrier

      Karmakin: I’m curious if you know any links or literature discussing what you call the “moral force” heuristic. I agree it’s plausible (and I could swear I’ve seen that effect many a time myself), but I would love to know if it’s been studied.

    6. 44.4
      karmakin

      Just something rolling around in my head, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was studied, just under an entirely different name.

      The term, “moral force”, stems from my discussions with various religious individuals. To be specific, where it comes from, is that the Catholic church, to be specific, puts very little moral force behind fighting poverty and a whole lot behind things such as homosexuality and ordaining women. They’ll excommunicate and put tons of social pressure on the latter..but what do they ever do for the former? Does the church (as a whole) speak out against downsizing or anything like that? Not really.

      But yes, it does seem to be a pattern that once you look for it tends to show up a lot, and I think that it shows up in this particular debate all over the place.

    7. Richard Carrier

      That seems like a different thing (yet even more obviously true–it’s been one of my biggest peeves with Christianity as a whole, that it never actually does anything useful, but burns all its rage and resources on the trivial, and gives a token to the rest; I mean, if they were morally consistent, Catholics should have been full-bore in favor of the Affordable Care Act and stumping for it from every pulpit and street corner…although props for the irony that Roberts, a Catholic, stood up for it, making the deciding vote in the face of Kennedy’s unbelievable dissent).

      Although perhaps I see what you mean: abortion and gay marriage have been made to seem earth shattering by all the energy spent arguing against and fighting them, when poverty, crime, war, and clerical pedophilia are vastly more important yet virtually not on the Church’s radar in any practical sense. And the “solutions” can then seem to “have to be” draconian, and thus people on the other side of the debate will assume they will be draconian. Much like the way people think the GOP wants a total theocracy in the U.S. when in fact what they want is more nuanced, more insidious, and far more achievable (and still quite bad). This might also be why the mere proposal of “government regulation” is seen as inevitably draconian the more a threat (like unregulated derivatives markets) is talked about or demonized. Might be worth empirical study.

  45. 45
    fmcp

    Thank you for posting this; the writing is excellent and the ideas are thoughtful. More importantly (to me, at least), thank you for creating a space where commenters disagree respectfully. Honestly, I tend to lurk rather than commenting primarily because I’m worried about stumbling into a flame war through naïveté or awkward phrasing. Maybe I’ll come out of my hidey-hole!

    1. 45.1
      Richard Carrier

      Thanks.

      So far I haven’t had to reject a single comment (though I will if my policy is violated; or sometimes I will edit out things if a comment mixes acceptable and policy-violating material that can be teased apart, but I’ve actually very rarely had to do even that on my blog, since I instituted full moderation, and I haven’t had to do that here at all).

      Although to be cautious, don’t assume all commentators here will “disagree respectfully.” I will block gratuitous stuff like blatant ad hominems and indefensible language, and call upon tempers to calm if they flare, but I want to err generously, so I will let through mean comments that skirt just this side of my comments policy, likewise the occasional bullshit that does, and so on. But I will do my best to keep it from getting out of hand.

      And I’m usually pretty good at Spocking the meanies and bullshitters. Bullies hate that. Which I think might also be why they stay away from here more than they do elsewhere. But who knows. Maybe I’m just lucky. Or maybe the shitstorm is coming and it’s to the Augean stables with me. Then I just have to divert some rivers or something. I’ll check the manual.

    2. 45.2
      Lou Doench

      Extra love for using “Spock” as a verb!

  46. 46
    Todd Hanson

    * applause *

    Measured, and correct. The first time I’ve commented on FTB, and probably last. But after all of the other blog posts I’ve read on this… well:

    * applause *

  47. 47
    Childermass

    I am not sure that some detailed policy on what is or is not harassment is the answer. Those who wish to harass will become wannabee lawyers. What is needed is someone in a position of responsibility who is trusted to make decisions such as “stay away from [whoever]” or “leave the conference now.”

    How about: All members agree to obey the law, to respect a request of another to leave them alone, not to harass any person, not to make unwanted sexual advances, not to act like asses, and to act like adults. The conference chair (or acting chair in his absence) has the power to summarily enforce this up to and including expelling the offender. By joining the conference one agrees that his/her authority on this matter is binding. The conference committee has the sole power to determine if any refund is to be issued and mailed to the address provided by the expelled during registration.

    1. 47.1
      Richard Carrier

      The basic principle of the rule of law is that the subject must know what the laws are. That’s why we are a nation of laws and not of dictators whose whims and secret thoughts decide what’s right or wrong. Thus we need policies: so would-be criminals will know what they are less likely to get away with, and would-be enjoyers will know what they are most likely to be protected from. (And also so everything is covered as far as liability issues.)

      And that’s what you then proposed. Which of course will immediately evoke a number of problems. The solution to which will generate a more developed policy like this one (which covers more than just sexual harassment, it’s a complete code of conduct and expectations). And of course different venues will want to change things even in that policy, or yours, according to their preferences and values.

      Which is all as it should be.

    2. 47.2
      Childermass

      Every place you visit, someone can be expelled for bad behavior by the person or persons in charge. They did not have create a policy booklet first to do it either.

      The stuff that I thought we are talking about is stuff that we have all been instructed repeatedly prior to become adults and often long before becoming adults. The behaviors being described fail to live up to the most bottom-of-the-barrel standards of behavior. The “criminals” do know is expected of them — they simply don’t care.

      Conference organizers are not functioning as part of law. I dare say that if someone keep their hands to themselves, those in charge don’t need to convene a jury. They have the right to decide. What can they decide? If it merits calling the police then the legal process will take over from there. Otherwise the worst they can do is revoke the membership of the alleged offender. The real law does need to be more specific because it really can toss people in jail, fine them, etc. and because it applies everywhere and to everyone. The law also can take months on a case which is not a luxury a event has.

      Could the persons in charge of the conference become petty dictators and abuse the trust given to them. Yes. But frankly, such people will probably be a problem before a case of alleged harassment happens. And there are consequences to them. I assume the organization can change its leadership. And people can vote with their feet: if conference organizers abuse their power, people can simply stop any future associations with the group and the power hungry individuals. The same is true if they fail to act.

      Actually I would hope that anyone in charge would be reluctant to toss someone out and would do it because they felt they were given no other choice. And to be blunt: if I did not think I could trust the conference organizers to exercise their right and responsibility to remove those who exhibit extremely had behavior, then I certainly don’t want to be at their event.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Every place you visit, someone can be expelled for bad behavior by the person or persons in charge. They did not have create a policy booklet first to do it either.

      They don’t have to, but they do it anyway (ample examples upthread, e.g. here, and in the main article, from many industries and commercial enterprises). Because if it’s all at the whim of some person, no one knows what the expectations are. Everyone has to know what the people in charge will and won’t tolerate. Otherwise you won’t know if they will create a safe or unsafe space, and you won’t know what code to conform your own conduct to. Likewise, when the law gets involved, and liability is at issue, things can go badly if policies were not clearly stated at the outset. (I already commented on this point above.)

      The stuff that I thought we are talking about is stuff that we have all been instructed repeatedly prior to become adults and often long before becoming adults. The behaviors being described fail to live up to the most bottom-of-the-barrel standards of behavior. The “criminals” do know is expected of them — they simply don’t care.

      If that were true, then no one would be defending the bad behavior. Yet hundreds have done so in this very debate online over the past year, thus refuting your thesis, point blank.

      Moreover, your statement can’t be true even in principle, since different venues have different policies and expectations, thus it can’t ever have been that you were taught what behavior to conform to in which venues as a child.

      It’s also dubious on its face. I know plenty of people who were not taught what appropriate behavior is with or around a woman–and plenty as well who were taught that mean and sexist behavior was appropriate.

      (And harassment policies don’t just address treatment of women, but also of men, gays, transsexuals–and in my experience hardly anyone is taught how to appropriately behave toward gays and transsexuals, they have to learn that themselves, and usually only do if they find themselves partying or working with them a lot. Likewise I have known women who clearly were not taught how to treat men appropriately–some women, for example, have not been taught that you should not openly hit on a married man or intimately touch and cozy up to them and then persist even when they say to back off.)

      And all that is besides the point, since the point of policies is to communicate what will be policed and what will or won’t be let to slide, which makes the difference between a safe venue and an unsafe one, so customers know what businesses they will want to frequent and what businesses they won’t (which is why successful businesses have and publicize their policies), and “criminals” (so-called) know where they probably should watch themselves or shouldn’t go.

      It’s common sense really. Or at least sense.

      Conference organizers are not functioning as part of law. I dare say that if someone [can't?--RC] keep their hands to themselves, those in charge don’t need to convene a jury. They have the right to decide. What can they decide? If it merits calling the police then the legal process will take over from there. Otherwise the worst they can do is revoke the membership of the alleged offender.

      The worst is not the point. The point is creating an environment with high conformance to the chosen code of conduct, which requires specifying what code of conduct is desired. Then they can give warnings first as the first stage toward conforming behavior to that code of conduct. If warnings are ignored they can ask them to leave (and compel them to if they refuse), without refund or compensation for losses (and with a policy in place, they are covered on liability, i.e. the offender can’t sue them). The actual worst they can do is ban them from meetings/conferences (the one in question, all in future, or many other conventions besides). Except, of course, calling the cops on them. But as I said in the original article:

      The role of sexual harassment policies is not to enforce laws already on the books, but to make meetings more comfortable and welcoming and fun, and thus they are more about moral and professional standards than legal ones.

      Nevertheless, obviously the laws will be enforced, too. It’s just that that’s not what sexual harassment policies are needed for. Especially since different venues will have different needs and desires with respect to codes of conduct. They might even have different codes of conduct for different stages of the event.

      Again, it’s common sense really. Or at least sense.

    4. 47.3
      Anne C. Hanna

      Or, in another version:

      A well-written code of conduct ensures the following:

      1) That potential victims know that the conference organizers are indeed on their side, thus making them feel safer and more willing to attend.

      2) That potential offenders know that the organizers are *not* on their side, thus making them feel less comfortable committing offenses and less willing to attend.

      3) That people who are likely to neither be victimized nor intentionally offend know that they’re not going to be severely punished for innocent misunderstandings or reasonable behavior (they will just be asked politely but firmly to discontinue anything which is problematic and will be otherwise left alone as long as they comply), thus leaving them essentially unaffected.

      Thus, a win for all decent folks.

      The only thing we should be arguing about is how to write a code of conduct that best attains all of these three goals.

  48. 48
    Markita Lynda

    I am mystified as to why the first ever Women in Skepticism conference doesn’t get some credit as a likely reason that fewer women chose to go to The Amazing Meeting when allocating their limited conference funds.

    1. 48.1
      Richard Carrier

      Well the question is, “get some credit” by whom? Many have indeed said that’s a likely reason. I assume you are meaning to ask why, say, D.J. Grothe didn’t think of that. Which is more debating the debate and thus unproductive here. But feel free to ask him!

      As for myself, before TAM ever came up in this debate (and it only did when D.J. blamed women for the drop in registration), I had two separate women tell me they weren’t going to TAM because (so they said to me, I have no idea if this is true, but as it was told me before TAM was even being discussed in the context of the sexual harassment policy debate, they were certainly sincere) this year’s speaker line-up looked a lot like last year’s (too little changeup) and looked to be boring so they were eying other conventions instead.

      Now, that’s two separate women. Maybe a fluke. But it’s as plausible a hypothesis as D.J. leapt into. Then people started pointing out that the Women in Skepticism conference likely drew many women and thus exhausted their convention budget (since most people only go to one convention every few years, and thus have to pick which one), which is yet another very plausible hypothesis.

      And when I consider that most conference goers don’t follow blog wars at all (but all will check speaker lineups or their own bank accounts), it’s kind of obvious what the forced ranking will be on probable hypotheses here.

  49. 49
    A Hermit

    Deacon over at the Alethian blog had a good post…replace “harassment” with “panhandling” and think about how the conversation would sound…http://freethoughtblogs.com/alethianworldview/2012/06/27/sexual-panhandling/#comment-48571

  50. 50
    Pteryxx

    Richard:

    So far I haven’t had to reject a single comment (though I will if my policy is violated; or sometimes I will edit out things if a comment mixes acceptable and policy-violating material that can be teased apart, but I’ve actually very rarely had to do even that on my blog, since I instituted full moderation, and I haven’t had to do that here at all).

    Y’know, by analogy, that gives me hope that just having a policy in place, publicized, and enforced at conferences will result in a better atmosphere by pre-emptively warning off many of the folks most inclined to harass. Thank you.

    1. 50.1
      Pteryxx

      (Also, thank you for having only single-level nested comments!)

  51. 51
    Emburii

    (Sorry if this isn’t directed enough relevant, Mr. Carrier, and I understand if it doesn’t go up).

    Everyman:

    DJ Grothe himself may have something to do with the drop in figures. Months ago, he involved himself in a Facebook discussion with…I think Greta Christina and Stephanie Zvan because they took one of his friends to task over some behavior and word choices, and DJ did not exactly cover himself in glory with his responses. I personally took TAM out of my bucket list because of him and the tone he sets for the organization, not because of Rebecca Watson.

    Furthermore, in regards to Mr. Carrier’s note that not all harassment is sexual, the JREF forums are well-known for being privileged at best and flat-out nasty at worst. That’s what they allow on their official forum. Add that hostile environment with DJ Grothe’s foot in his mouth, and I suspect that does an excellent job of bringing down attendance for TAM on its own.

    1. 51.1
      Richard Carrier

      I’ve heard that a lot about the JREF forums. I don’t have any direct experience with it, but I’ve heard it said by many independent sources. If that’s true, that could be a problem.

      The Facebook discussion you refer to is less likely to affect registration counts by 2:1 since most people by far don’t actually read those things (they barely even read blogs). However, if that is reflective of things D.J. had done a lot (so that the probability of any woman conference-goer happening upon one of them is then high), then that might be a problem, too. But you’d have to document enough cases pre-explosion.

      And there are other hypotheses that might be more likely.

      But that’s JREF’s problem to sort out. Responsible market research, people. Learn it. Live it.

    2. 51.2
      Emburii

      Hmm, the hypotheses you mention there do work just as well (same line-up of speakers, static and ‘samey’ events, budget issues). I like to attend science fiction and gaming conventions, but those same factors are probably going to strike some off my list for next time; I went for the same five people or the same one game system last year, so there are better things to do with the money this time than hear the exact same speech or play the same scenario again.

      Thank you as always for your interesting and incisive analysis!

  52. 52
    suyamariyathai

    Most particularly, by marginalizing the sexists, the same way we marginalize racists and fascists.

    Can you explain how/why you think that racism has been marginalized?

    I’m just curious. I have never attended any US atheist group meetings, partially because I read US atheist blogs and they do not give me the impression that racism has been marginalized. From reading the blogs, I get the impression that the meetings/conferences are disproportionately white, I would suppose for the same “don’t like the way I’m treated if I show up”.

    1. 52.1
      Richard Carrier

      First, of course, there is a difference between conferences/meetups being mostly white, and their being dens of racism. There are some good talks and blogs by prominent black atheists who have discussed the issue of why the race disparity exists (look into the writings and vids of Sikivu Hutchinson, Jamila Bey, Alix Jules, Debbie Goddard, etc.), but racism driving minorities away hasn’t been one of the most prominent reasons.

      Second, there is a huge difference between online communities and real world communities. Online communities can seem larger than they are (five racists nationwide can stink up dozens of whole forums or comment threads, thus creating the illusion of an endemic problem), and this is as true of the sexism issue, although the shear number of individual people saying horrific things about Lunam and Anita Sarkeesian demonstrate the number of rabid sexists is way more than five, although it could conceivably be as few as a couple thousand douchebags nationwide (or worldwide), which in perspective would be a tiny minority (but still one of worrying size).

      But in answer to your question, we marginalize racists by making fun of them, refuting them to their face, shutting them down, kicking them out, etc. Although here I am using racist in the mean sense (e.g. white people are superior, etc.) and not the inadvertent sense (e.g. “Wait, don’t all black people listened to hip hop music?”). Crommunist, for example, defines racism in the broadest sense, to the point that it is not even a moral term anymore, but one of information bias awareness. In that broad category everyone is a racist to some degree, but doesn’t want to be and thus is educable and correctable. But in the narrower category, it’s a staked-out dogma that is an attribute of an unsavory or ugly character who is not any fun to be around.

      The difference is between someone who has met their basic entry-level moral responsibility (to be at least rudimentarily informed and sensitive, and responsive to new data), and someone who willfully has not (and persists in that).

    2. 52.2
      suyamariyathai

      racism driving minorities away hasn’t been one of the most prominent reasons.

      I should clarify, in case I wasn’t clear, that I referring to atheists who don’t go to atheist groups out of, let’s say, cautiousness.

      It’s true that the neither how white a group is, or how frequently casual racism is displayed on popular white atheist blogs, is proof that any meeting/conference will be unpleasant, but they are the data points that made me surprised at your conviction that racism has been marginalized.

      this is as true of the sexism issue, although the shear number of individual people saying horrific things about Lunam and Anita Sarkeesian demonstrate the number of rabid sexists is way more than five,

      I think the rabidity comes out because there are frequent challenges to sexist comments. Racist comments are unremarkable enough not to require vociferous self-justification.

      I rarely comment on them myself — but often I wonder who else is reading and thinking what I’m thinking.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Suyamariyathai

      I should clarify, in case I wasn’t clear, that I referring to atheists who don’t go to atheist groups out of, let’s say, cautiousness. It’s true that the neither how white a group is, or how frequently casual racism is displayed on popular white atheist blogs, is proof that any meeting/conference will be unpleasant, but they are the data points that made me surprised at your conviction that racism has been marginalized.

      Right. But what makes minorities uncomfortable at meetings is not (by and large) an actual worry about overt or even implicit racism (of the mean variety), but that they will be treated as unusual (stared at, treated with unusual deference, etc.) and their own particular interests not addressed or accepted as valid (e.g. social justice). They fear they won’t “fit it” or that it will feel strange to be the only minority in the room (exactly as a white person might who went to a conference or meetup peopled entirely by black people–there may be no actual reason to feel weird about it, but it could still feel weird, as if too much attention will be on you or you won’t know how to relax for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, even if that fear is wholly unwarranted).

      I think the rabidity comes out because there are frequent challenges to sexist comments. Racist comments are unremarkable enough not to require vociferous self-justification.

      I don’t have sufficient experience with most venues (like Reddit) to answer that. All I do know is that I have seen vastly more and worse sexism than racism online (such that if you replaced all the gender words with race words, we would think we were living under the KKK). That may be selection bias (from where I have happened to go, what I have happened to be drawn into, etc.). If you know of any threads like the Lunam or Sarkeesian threads to point to that mirror them in scale and persistence on a point of race rather than gender, do please post the link here.

      (Just to be clear, though, I’m not asking for threads that evince racism. I’ve seen plenty and I know there’s a lot of that. I mean comparable in scale, vehemence, and persistence to those threads evincing sexism.)

    4. 52.3
      Anne C. Hanna

      Richard, I can’t really comment on the relative prevalence of racism vs. sexism, partly since I’m only targeted by the latter, so it stands out more to me, and partly since I’m a little bit uncomfortable trying to contest who is oppressed worse in any given situation — I worry that I’ll come off as minimizing experiences that I haven’t had from the inside and thus can’t really appreciate properly.

      But I would note that I think the things you mention as the primary influences driving away ethnic/racial minorities from atheist groups are probably pretty much the primary things that drive away women too. I don’t usually experience a whole lot of overt sexism (although the few times it does happen are upsetting all out of proportion to their frequency). But feeling singled out and alienated from the other people in a group *does* happen to me a lot (and not always just because of my physical gender), and it makes it pretty hard to even show up once, much less to keep coming on a regular basis. The overt sexism is simply the most extreme manifestation of this. But the reality is that women and minorities both tend to have an uphill battle for fair treatment among certain groups of “skeptics”, just as they do in the surrounding society.

      Part of the problem is that most of us, no matter how boldly we may have pierced the veil of conventional wisdom on some issues (e.g. religion), will still harbor some massive blind spots in other regards. Reasonably well-off/western/white/straight/cis/physically and mentally typical men in particular (the vast majority of members of our athei-skepti-humani-secularist communities fit most of these criteria), may not have yet been forced to question stereotypes about women, gender non-conforming folks, racial/ethnic minorities, people from non-western cultures, disabled people, poor people, etc. So they’ll still carelessly hold onto a lot of that. Even worse, because they’ve learned to consider themselves to be supremely rational and logical, anybody who questions their stereotypes must therefore be illogical and foolishly emotional, thus confirming all the worst parts of those stereotypes.

      So anyone who’s not a white/straight/cis/middle class+/western/neurologically and physically typical/etc. man and who joins one of these groups has to spend a huge piece of their time and emotional energy just giving 101 lessons to unwilling and disrespectful students, and a lot of the time it just feels like the small benefit from joining such a group isn’t worth the work. Even if the students *are* willing and respectful, it can still feel less like joining the group has given you the benefit of a group of mature, equal, and like-minded allies, and more like it’s given you yet another place where your experience is completely alien to everyone else’s and yet you have an enormous amount of social responsibility, just like every other damn part of your life in this white men’s world.

      We’ve been seeing this happen very dramatically to the women bloggers who got caught up in this whole Elevatorgate/Harassmentgate/Slimepitgate mess, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it happens any less to people whose difference from the current skeptic mean is of another type. It’s just, this happens to be the current hot topic. It may be that sexism is the big thing on our radar at the moment precisely because there are more women in the athei-skepti-humani-secularist movement than members of other disenfranchised groups, so there’s a critical mass of people who were able to make a stink about the way they were treated and support each other through the subsequent clusterfuck. But if we start to see the other skeptical minorities growing to the same level, we may start to see them getting the same extreme level of mistreatment from our friendly neighborhood scum. Some of the crap that Taslima Nasreen has been faced with already gives a small taste of how that might go, and Penn and Teller’s rather offensively ignorant Bullshit! episode about the ADA is another example.

      I don’t have a complete solution to this, but I think a part of it will be for the skeptical community to begin to take social justice issues seriously, as many have been proposing. We need to recognize that stereotypes and artificial limitations on people’s ability to live as full and equal members of society are just as worthy of skeptical deconstruction as UFOs and Bigfoot (if not more so). The way things are is not the way things have to be, and you’d think that as skeptics we would be the first ones to recognize that.

  53. 53
    ischemgeek

    I don’t necessarily disagree with a “no sex with attendees” thing when the attendees in question are younger and/or at lower power (undergrads vs grad student conference workers, for example). That said, a general sentence about not using your power to put inapprorpriate pressure on the attendees, and not being too flirtatious and/or unprofessional while working would work just as well without being as vulnerable to push-back, I think. Talking about the policy where I work, nothing says I can’t have sex with a university student as a grad student and TA. There is something that says I’m not allowed to grade/TA for any of my friends and/or significant others, and there’s a general statement about not acting inappropriately toward students. Further, I’m not allowed to socialize excessively while working.

    1. 53.1
      Richard Carrier

      I concur. I don’t agree with the infantilizing notion that “younger” means “immature/powerless/in thrall.” It’s actually rather ageist to assume that I am not competent to make decisions about my own sexuality at age 20 but I am at age 40. We speakers are not vampires with miraculous hypnotic powers over women and men that overwhelm their free will. But we can be annoying, we can make people uncomfortable, we can make people feel pressured, we can arrogantly overjudge our permission, and so on, without realizing it simply because we have a position of greater authority and influence (to the point that behavior that could be brushed off or checked from anyone else, might put someone more on the spot and in a deeper bind). That’s as far as the power imbalance really matters (places where we have real direct power, over grades or income, for example, are a different matter, but here we’re not talking about internal organization policy, but speakers at conferences, who are hired talent).

      That is why I approve of prohibiting speakers from “soliciting sexual behavior.” They should not be scouting, nor hitting on people (mild flirting would be okay, IMO, as long as it adheres to the usual code of conduct expected of everyone). And if they lay off that, they won’t cross any lines, while if someone wants to have sex with them, they can initiate, exercising their own uncoerced free will. Speakers would already be subject to the same rules as attendees in all other respects (regarding harassment and other issues of conduct) so no further special rule for them is needed.

      The school policies you talk about, for example, sound reasonable.

      I just want to caution against what I have heard some suggest before, which is the notion that attendees can’t make sound decisions when in the presence of our awesome charismas and thus are forced into bed by a speaker’s aura of greatness. That’s fiction. Case in point: my wife does find my speaking sexually exciting and we have a lot of fun with that, but I am not destroying her free will by it. If we were single and she came on to me because she wanted to cash in on that excitement factor, I do not see any reason why I should be compelled to say no, and accordingly I don’t want to police other people’s sex-lives that way (speakers or attendees). This isn’t 1984.

      But maybe that’s an argument against a straw man. Since no one here has suggested such a thing.

  54. 54
    LadyShea

    Hello Richard,

    We met in person at Lake Hypatia some years back, and both posted on IIDB back in the day. I appreciate your allying on this issue.

    What saddens me most is that this heinous misogyny is currently happening in several cultures (atheist/skeptic, geek/tech/gamer, and science) where things are supposedly different (and according to the claims of some, supposedly better) from the Good Ole Boys, the churches, and the assorted dumbs like rednecks and jocks.

    Dr. Tara Smith blogged about the problematic attitudes expressed by being told she was “too pretty” to be a scientist, and was met with the same tired old attacks of “You’re not even pretty”, “You should be flattered”, “You’re being a bitch because some poor guy paid you a compliment”.

    Linda Henneberg reported being harassed and diminished while interning at CERN (and really she was very charitable to the men involved, and almost apologetic that she was even pointing it out) and was told to STFU, told there was no problem, that scientists are socially inept, etc.

    We all know about the death and rape threats made to the atheist/skeptic bloggers under discussion here, and as you mentioned in a comment, made to Anita Sarkeesian. In Anita’s case it was all pre-emptive douchebaggery since her project hasn’t even been started yet.

    All who have read any of these experiences have heard the “Yeah well women in Africa/Middle East have it worse so you should STFU”, which even came from a prominent figure in the skeptics movement.

    Richard, moderated comments aside, I am willing to bet you have never been told you’re fat/ugly, should be raped, should be kicked in balls, or should be barred from participating in conferences because of your relating personal experiences. If you’ve ever been told that atheists in other countries are treated way worse so you should STFU about any complaints you might have I would be surprised. This is simply not something that happens to men, and especially not to men in the skeptical, geek, or science cultures/circles.

    So back to my original point, where there could, maybe even should, so easily be a safe place for women, simply by people committing to being different from the traditional patriarchy in the way they treat women, there isn’t.

    It’s disgusting, and it’s pathetic, and it makes me despair.

    1. 54.1
      Richard Carrier

      LadyShea:

      Richard, moderated comments aside, I am willing to bet you have never been told you’re fat/ugly, should be raped, should be kicked in balls, or should be barred from participating in conferences because of your relating personal experiences. If you’ve ever been told that atheists in other countries are treated way worse so you should STFU about any complaints you might have I would be surprised. This is simply not something that happens to men, and especially not to men in the skeptical, geek, or science cultures/circles.

      That’s largely true, though to be fair, not completely. I have been told I’m ugly (in a deliberately mean, ad hominem way) and I have been threatened with violence (though not sexual violence, I do know some men who have received actual rape/ballkicking threats–by other men). But the scale, frequency, and persistence of it is vastly less. And I certainly don’t get the “it’s worse over there so STFU about how it is over here” bullshit. And when people assume I’m lying about something I saw or experienced, for no good reason, it’s never because I’m a man, but only because what I saw is something they don’t want to be true (and therefore, ipso facto, I must be lying about it).

      If I were to tell my story of being (mildly, but not trivially) sexually harassed by a woman (which had an uncharacteristically good outcome because she knew people would back me if I complained, a privilege most women don’t enjoy, as you point out), no one would assume I was lying, because it wouldn’t contradict anything they want to believe in. But sexists by definition don’t want to believe in the possibility that women can be disadvantaged, therefore they must disbelieve all evidence of it (and therefore engage standard delusional defenses, from avoidance to attacking the messenger, and in-group reinforcement and out-group denigration, and so on, all predictable, but yes, sad).

      On the fact that we’re not there yet making you despair: I’m a historian, which means I see things in large scale. I see and think in centuries, not decades. In that context, the progress is clear and unmistakable and not at all slowing down, it’s arguably accelerating (compare the last fifty years to the previous three hundred). It’s just slow. As Thomas Paine said, time makes more converts than reason. But it won’t happen at all if we don’t work to make it happen, and the more of us that do, the more that gets done in a decade. Project where we’ll be in ten years, for example. Will there be notable improvement? Probably. Will there cease to be any sexist douchebaggery whatever? No. But it’s not a black-and-white game. It’s dialing out the grey. The sexist population will eternally shrink, never disappear, but there will come a point when they will be no more socially significant than the Amish or your average low-rent UFO cult.

  55. 55
    Laura-Ray

    No words. Only gratitude.

  56. 56
    oolon

    Excellent post – and the comments section is eerily sane and coherent. If all posts on this subject had been as sticking to the facts and not as emotive then there would not be such a problem of ‘cognitive error’ mentioned? Also I’ve seen a lot of conflating the post made with the sometimes hysterical reaction in the comments (RWs elevator-gate was a great example with her being accused of saying she was nearly raped and other such rubbish that was in the comments section). All this does is serve to polarise the issue and more hysteria ensues in a vicious circle.

    The sad thing about the DJ Grothe thing was if he has just called RW it would most likely have gone a different way. She said in one of the comments threads he has her number and didn’t know why he didn’t call. Now its been aired in public with all the comment shit-throwing associated with that – can I imagine Grothe or anyone else in that situation again extending an olive branch? Absolutely not the climate is polarised and a them vs us environment fosters distrust and everyone assumes the worst of the ‘baboons’, ‘slimepitters’, ‘sexists at JREF’ or insert dehumanising generalisation here.

    1. 56.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes, true. The bullshit and lies are something I made a point of mentioning in my article. Which reminds me, anyone reading this who thinks they know what Watson actually said, please actually watch the original video, at minute 4:20 here (and if you want the whole context, watch from minute 2:44 to 6:30, or even keep watching for an honest-to-juno feminist joke at the end).

      On the Grothe gaffe, it’s even worse than that, IMO, since Watson reports that she and Grothe and Amy Roth (Surly Amy) were working closely together on developing ways to promote TAM to women through the Skepchick network just a few weeks before he posted his comments blaming her for their poor registration figures (this according to her statements in the recent FtB vidcon posted somewhere on this network). Certainly that would have been an ideal time to mention this, on their backchannel, and work something out there before going public. And indeed, had he done that, the result would have been completely the opposite: he could have recruited Watson and the whole Skephick network to blitz the intertubes with women-should-go-to-TAM promotion, playing up its last-year attendance, it’s early adoption of sexual harassment policies, even its deft handing of sexual harassment claims, all as evidence it was the most woman-friendly convention yet. And yet, what did he decide to do instead? Well, not that.

      At the very least, this is a good morality tale for organizational marketing. Option A, good outcome. Option B, bad outcome. Choose option A.

  57. 57
    Richard Carrier

    Todd Stiefel has produced an excellent example of how to debate the specifics of policy and recommend improvements (On Harassment and Policies). He makes three specific recommendations that I happen to agree with (I even think the language of his alternative proposals could be simplified considerably). Greta Christina makes a general observation about how this is exactly how people in the atheist movement should behave when debating these issues, and I concur with her general observations (Some Thoughts on Critiquing Codes of Conduct).

    Here we’re seeing the difference between maturity and immaturity. This is what my point 4 looks like in action.

  58. 58
    Justin Griffith

    This is probably the best summary of the situation. It is troll-proof. I give you +1 ARPAnet (hope it doesn’t give you gas).

  59. 59
    kacyray

    I read your post, and was beginning to read through the comments, with great interest and was impressed at the quality of the dialogue I saw coming from both sides.

    Then about halfway through I saw that you, too, use these ridiculous bingo cards.

    How can someone as clearly intelligent, educated, and articulate as yourself stoop to that level? I feel like I’ve just watched a tenured philosophy professor address a dissenting student with poise, confidence, and a commanding grasp of the facts… then shoot the kid in the forehead with a spitball. Very, very disappointing brother. I thought for sure that you would be one of the few bloggers here that was above such playground nonsense.

    1. 59.1
      Richard Carrier

      Stoop to the level of fallacy-shaming humor?

      You can’t get to the level of fallacy-shaming humor by stooping. You have to climb up the ladder of sound sense to get there.

      By contrast, attempting to use “shame” to shut down fallacy-shaming is itself shameful. People who rely on an overabundance of cliche-based fallacies ought to be ridiculed. Bingo cards do that quite well.

      That’s why it’s funny.

    2. 59.2
      kacyray

      Stoop to the level of fallacy-shaming humor? You can’t get to the level of fallacy-shaming humor by stooping. You have to climb up the ladder of sound sense to get there.

      You realize that bingo cards are used by Christians, vegans, and just about all other online communities, don’t you? All they do is demonstrate that the bingo player believes a fallacy has been committed. It makes no actual argument for that assertion.

      I once pointed out to someone on PZ’s board that their behavior was consistent with classic tribalism, and they replied “Bingo!’ and that was it. That was their entire reply. Later on I found out that they have a “Hivemindedness” block… but my contention was tribalism. Perhaps if they’d been more concerned with what I was saying and the case I was making and less concerned with finding the right bingo block, we could’ve had a productive conversation.

      Often times it becomes obvious that when you step into a forum in which you are a dissenter, the automatic reaction of the community is to 1) Assume that since the guy who just stepped in has a dissenting view, he is going to make a ton of fallacious arguments and then 2) Pick up your bingo cards and every time he says something, see if you can plug his argument into one of your little blocks.

      Is that really the level of discourse you condone? Do you really approve of this mentality? I would be surprised.

      By contrast, attempting to use “shame” to shut down fallacy-shaming is itself shameful. People who rely on an overabundance of cliche-based fallacies ought to be ridiculed.

      You weren’t always a doctor, and I suspect you weren’t always as intellectually savvy as you are today. Have you committed a fallacy in your time? If yes, do you think someone elses use of a bingo card would’ve helped you to see the error of your ways? Do you think you would’ve gotten to where you are now if every mistake you made was ridiculed rather than identified and explained? Have you even been accused of making a disingenuous argument or “trolling” when you were, in fact, making a well articulated case for something you actually believed in? (If the internet had been around in your younger days, you would certainly have encountered all of this if you haven’t already).

      I find it interesting that you are enthusiastically supporting shame-based humor via bingo cards while simultaneously scorning the idea that anyone else should use shame in making their case. Have you co-opted the employment of shame for your own exclusive use? Why is shame “okay” for fallacious argumentation but not okay when applied to an appraisal of the behavior in which one responds to an argument?

      Bingo cards do that quite well.

      Assuming “that” is even something worth doing, it actually does more than that. It permits the bingo player to dismiss ANY honest attempt at discourse with a playground tactic that may or may not even be employed correctly.

      That’s why it’s funny.

      If you say so.

      I should point out… the whole reason I’m having this conversation is because I think your blog, and your comments section, is probably the best there is here at FTB. I just really hated to see that you support one of the most awful memes I’ve ever encountered in an online community.

      You probably have a bingo card with a square on it that you can fill in with this comment too! I mean… why not?

    3. Richard Carrier

      You realize that bingo cards are used by Christians, vegans, and just about all other online communities, don’t you?

      You realize that language, cars, and toasters are used by Nazis, terrorists, and pedophiles, don’t you?

      As for the abuse of bingo cards, that’s no different than the abuse of formal fallacy labels or syllogisms or anything else: If someone accuses you of a fallacy and you haven’t committed one, the proper response is to explain why your use isn’t a fallacy.

      So you really have no valid complaint here. Either a fallacy is committed (and bingo fun is appropriate) or it is not (and an error has been made that can be rebutted, same as any other error). It would be stupid to say “that guy over there was abusing logic, therefore shame on everyone for using logic.” It is likewise stupid to say “that guy over there was abusing bingo cards, therefore shame on everyone for using bingo cards.”

      I find it interesting that you are enthusiastically supporting shame-based humor via bingo cards while simultaneously scorning the idea that anyone else should use shame in making their case.

      Because appropriate shaming is to shame what is in fact wrong. Inappropriate shaming is to shame what is in fact not. When you realize the difference, you’ll get the point.

  60. 60
    Maureen Brian

    Thank you, Richard, for this excellent post.

  61. 61
    seethegalaxy

    Richard Carrier — as always a blowtorch of clear reason cutting thru the tangles of bullshit. Kudos.

  62. 62
    cultureclash

    Just chiming in to add my agreement with and support for your post and the ideas expressed in it.

    Also, this blog just won a place on my bookmarks toolbar.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

  63. 63
    Richard Carrier

    Cristina Rad has come out with her Case 2 on sexual harassment, and her stories and observations are well worth reading.

  64. 64
    Jason

    For the record, I agree with you in a way I haven’t agreed with what a lot of people said not because you’re a man (I didn’t even know you were til I read it in the comments), but because you’ve been far more diplomatic and charitable than a lot of other people who have discussed these issues.

    I think a lot of writers could learn something about skepticism and level-headedness from you. You were very precise, I’m enjoying your blog and I appreciate your adherence to rigidity and clarity.

    1. 64.1
      Richard Carrier

      Thank you.

      But do note even I sometimes have my limits. I can get stern or snarky, and I believe in the moral value of well-placed ridicule. It just takes a bit more to set me off than most people. I believe in giving everyone at least one fair shot to be treated like a reasonable person. Sometimes I’ll give them two. But rarely three. And I do expect people to adhere to my comments policy. Which everyone so far has done, which I’m happy to see happen. I hear that’s not common.

    2. 64.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      Jason, I’m not trying to be snarky or derail or anything, but with the name “Richard Carrier” plastered all over everything here it’s a little hard for me to believe that you had no inkling whatsoever that he’s male before you decided what you thought of his post. I can believe that you might not have taken conscious note of the fact, but that’s exactly how this type of bias works — it takes place on a sort of preconscious level. The same words just seem to sound more reasonable coming from a masculinish source, even if you can’t quite put your finger on why, and even if you don’t notice that you’re responding in that way.

      Don’t get me wrong, I liked Richard’s piece too, and I’m not saying that you’re not allowed to like it. What I *don’t* like is the way you seem to be implicitly contrasting the women writers here *whom he is agreeing with* unfavorably against him, and then putting up this pre-emptive, “Oh, but it’s not because he’s a man!” defense. It’s as if you think that because you’re not consciously biased you can’t be unconsciously biased. I’m not saying that you *are* unconsciously biased; I don’t claim to have magic access to your subconscious mind. But I would encourage you to think carefully about the possibility. Maybe go try out an implicit association test for gender and see how you come out before you confidently claim that you only like Richard’s post better because it *is* better, and that it’s nothing to do with his gender.

    3. 64.3
      Richard Carrier

      That’s a good point, Anne.

      This could be such an example: of unconscious biasing. You can take the exact same article and put a woman’s name on it and give it to people unaware of the original, and you would see a higher rate of rejection (often complete with diminishing insults and bingo card gainsaying) and a much lower rate of men saying what Jason did. For many readers, their mind will simply perceive the article as being bitchy or cunty or shrill or irrational or whatever it is they color everything a woman says by. They won’t have consciously chosen to see it that way. It’s just how their brain will present it to them. Conversely, because I’m a man, their brains perceive my words as calm and rational and whatever it is they color everything a man says by. We should always be on the lookout for that and habituate ourselves against it.

      However, to be fair to Jason, you should not assume he is comparing me to women. The men on FtB who have written far more vociferously on this issue than I have (Thibeault and Laden and PZ) are almost certainly being included in Jason’s claim that I have been more “diplomatic and charitable than a lot of other people who have discussed these issues.” So the unconscious “everything a woman says is frivolous” bias is probably not at work here (certainly not principally). That doesn’t entail his statement is objectively true, but that’s another matter.

    4. 64.4
      Anne C. Hanna

      Yeah, it’s true that Jason could have been thinking of the male bloggers here as a contrast as well. I of course don’t think that I have privileged access to what was going on in his head, and I don’t really want to pick on him. It’s just that in the context of the way this discussion has been going to date, his comments kind of brought up (for me) echos of ones that were more clearly problematic. It also seemed like they could potentially inadvertently reinforce the notion that the only thing we have to worry about is conscious bias. So I wanted to get a clarification in there.

      Additionally, even if we’re talking about male and female bloggers both as being too vociferous, there’s this thing again where the people who have actually been directly and viciously attacked in this whole mess seem to be perceived as less worthy of being heard, on accounta they’re *angry* about the way they and others have been treated and they aren’t trying to hide it. I don’t feel like being passionate as opposed to dispassionate oughta discredit a person’s voice, but unfortunately “you’re displaying emotion so your arguments are invalid” seems to be a common fallacy amongst so-called skeptics. I’d say that passion about social justice issues is a good thing, and if anything I think we need more of it.

      I also think it’s good that we have a lot of different voices making this argument in a lot of different ways. That diversity is good because it allows us to reach a lot of different audiences. It strikes me as counterproductive to try to reduce that diversity by suggesting (perhaps unintentionally) that there’s only one right way to make the argument, and that’s the way that appeals most to me personally.

      So, um, sorry Jason. I know you were just trying to appreciate Richard’s writing, and I admit that I may be reacting less to your post in particular and more to the general climate of this argument. But I think these climatic themes are important, and I don’t want them to go unrecognized.

    5. Richard Carrier

      Anne: IMO it was still worth making the point that we need to be aware of unconscious bias as well as conscious. And I agree that with your point that unfortunately “you’re displaying emotion so your arguments are invalid” seems to be a common fallacy amongst so-called skeptics. The more so when that emotion was provoked by the very same people who then resort to that fallacy to dismiss their response.

  65. 65
    LadyAtheist

    Well said. You definitely “get it.” I have been harrassed in atheist chatrooms, which didn’t exactly make me want to meet the people in person. I have also endured chats about gaming and geeky computer stuff *yawn* but I have also met some women and men I can relate to.

    I am not a “feminist” in the recent modern sense but I do expect to be treated with respect. That’s not too much to ask.

  66. 66
    nohellbelowus

    Hello Dr. Carrier! This is my first visit to your blog, and I would like to echo an earlier poster who complimented you on your use of precise language, and for your clarity of expression. (I also agree with your stance on ridicule, for what that’s worth).

    I was painfully inept in my dealings with women during my adolescence. It would be nice if I could blame that (at least partially?) on my Catholic-school upbringing, or on the fact that I had three brothers and zero sisters, but the actual cause was probably closer to the fact that I was very shy, matured quite late, looked geeky, and acted geeky. These factors essentially prevented me from socializing (in a flirtatious way) with women, and therefore I had extremely few opportunities to practice my “night moves”, if you will.

    Unfortunately, a mere reading of someone’s opinion on how to approach women at atheist conferences (or anywhere) is very likely just as effective as reading someone’s opinion on how to hit a golf ball, or someone’s opinion on how to play the violin, or how to calculate eigenvectors, or how to make a soufflé, etc. Not very effective, in other words, unless accompanied by a significant amount of practice. And practice of this particular kind, as we all know, usually involves much (possibly embarrassing) trial and error.

    Elevator Guy could certainly have posed a threat to Rebecca Watson. But given his reported statements and tactics, it sounds like he was just another guy who needed (a lot more) practice on how to approach women.

    I agree with and appreciate your post above in its entirety, but I must also point out that a prescription for what NOT to do at atheist conferences will not solve Elevator Guy’s problem, or anybody like him. You obviously weren’t proposing formalized and documented rules of conduct as a means for helping Elevator Guy, but if we don’t help people like EG learn how to be nice to the ladies, he and his naive brothers-in-arms will probably just bumble onward to their next hard lessons, informed by whatever TV shows they watch, or perhaps whatever internet (porn?) sites they visit.

    Assuming that EG wasn’t a psycho, a bit of pedogogical pity (dare I say compassion?) may be in order here. Maybe that’s what Rebecca Watson was trying to do in her original video, but I doubt it. I’ll surmise that every Elevator Guy who watched it felt their faces flush hot with painful memories of previous embarrassments at the hands of women. And that’s where all the ridiculous anger and misogynistic screaming stemmed (still stems?) from, in my opinion.

    You [insert plural gender epithet here] keep telling us we’re doing it wrong!“, they screamed immaturely. “What the hell do you WANT from us???

    Until artificially intelligent female androids can be tasked with the thankless job, how can we do a better job training Elevator-type Guys to respect women and approach them in ways they find less threatening? And please note that I said training, not telling.

    Because it’s practice that makes perfect, after all.

    1. 66.1
      Richard Carrier

      I concur. And I had exactly the same problem you did until my twenties, and even then I was mostly an idiot about this stuff until my thirties.

      As to the constructive project (how to do it right), that has indeed been discussed on the FtB network several times, most directly:

      Flirting, Sex, and Lines

      Flirting Is Easy

      But even the deconstructive project is partly constructive in the hands of an intelligent person, who can infer from what is bad that which is not. For example, if you discover that the proposition “a woman you have never spoken to before, who says she is tired and wants to go to bed, and is inebriated and alone in a foreign country, is not to be asked for a private meetup alone in an elevator to her room” is true, then the proposition “a woman you have built a rapport with who is not cornered and alone may be politely asked for a private meetup” is what you would then want to test the truth of, and since we are sentient beings, you don’t have to engage in hasty human experiments: you can first just ask several women (whom you are not asking for a private meetup) whether that would be okay and how to go about it, and then employ their advice in your ensuing field experiments.

      Overall, though, the advice everyone needs is generally the advice they should be living by 24-7 (and not something specific to dating), which I in effect summarize in (Not) Our Kind of People. The most important of which is: think about how your actions will be perceived and make someone feel. Put yourself in their shoes. That’s really all there is to it. Because it is precisely your ability to do that that women will be evaluating when choosing a friend or mate. In other words, if you don’t do that, women aren’t going to want you anyway. They only generally want guys who are attentive to and considerate of their feelings. So if you don’t even have that down, then you need to seriously get to work on building up that skill in general, with people in general, not just women (or men or whoever–since this isn’t solely a hetero male problem). Once you have that, you will already be operating on effective software that will alert you to good and bad ideas in this respect. You will thus know, without even having to be told, that approaching strange women at late hours in inescapable boxes in foreign countries is probably a little unnerving and actually would advertise your insensitivity to their perspective, the very thing they would count as nixing you as a potential interest to begin with. Just for example.

    2. 66.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      nohellbelowus, might I suggest that if you know that you’re inept at hitting on people, the best first approximation of how to act is to just *not do it* to anybody that you don’t know well enough to have some reasonable level of interpersonal trust (so that even if you fumble they won’t think you’re a rapist, and they’ll let you down gently if they’re not interested)? And the best way to make sure that you establish that interpersonal trust before you get down to the hitting on people thing is to go into encounters with women thinking of them as potential friends *first* and withholding judgment on the potential mates question until you actually know something about them and they actually know something about you. If all you’re looking for is an orgasm, the internet is full of porn tailor-made to assist you. If you want to involve another person in the process, then treat them as a person first (force yourself think of them as a man at first if that’s the only way you’re capable of keeping your focus on their personhood) and let everything else develop naturally from there. Seems to me that’s really the only rule you need to have to avert the most humiliating fuckups. No android women required, just basic respect for the equal and remarkably-similar-to-your-own humanity of the actual women you encounter.

      Oh, and, incidentally, talking about wanting android female-replacements for anything relating to sex is one of those things that creeps a lot of women out, even if you mean well, on accounta it reinforces our all-too-well-substantiated baseline suspicion that a lot of men just think of us as animated fucktoys with the inconvenient misfeature “personality”. So you might want to watch out for that…

    3. Richard Carrier

      Anne, don’t be too harsh on NoHellBelowUs. I think you misread what he was saying.

      About androids, he was talking about androids as training units, like flight simulators, not as replacements for women–incidentally, we do have those, they’re called sexual surrogates and flirting coaches…they’re just not androids, but they are available if you can afford them).

      And making female friends was part of the issue he was asking about (how does one do that, without seeming to be hitting on them, etc.).

      Lots of people want sexual partners, and if they are to limit their pool of prospects to friends (single-serving or not), they first have to make friends–in the desired gender category. That doesn’t entail assuming all women are potential sexual partners, but it does mean unless you are asexual, your only potential sexual partners are friends–unless you are going to hit on women you haven’t built a prospective friendship with. Which gets us back to the problem. So it is not useful advice to say “you should befriend women before ever hitting on them, and you should never make women friends so you can hit on them.” That’s self-contradictory.

      Crommunist wrote a blog about that, which NoHellBelowUs might like to read, although he might already get that part of it and thus not need to, I don’t know. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. For example, maybe you need to read Crommunist’s post. I don’t know that either! :-]

    4. 66.3
      Anne C. Hanna

      Richard, perhaps I was not clear enough, but I was not trying to say that he meant the comment about androids badly. Rather, I was trying to point out that talking about wanting android women in anything even remotely resembling a sexual context is one of those things that’s just a bad idea for a man who already admits to being somewhat socially awkward around women, no matter how well he may mean it. It just plain gives off a yucky vibe, and that’s usually not a wise choice if you’re trying to make yourself appealing to women.

      As for how to make female friends, and how to learn how to hit on people, the other stuff I was saying in my comment is already the answer to that too, but maybe I wasn’t clear enough about that either. To get women to be your friends, treat us like fucking *people*, not like we’re people you want to fuck. Think of us as men if that’s what it takes for you to get sex out of the equation for long enough to establish a human relationship first, because for god’s sake, we’re not another species. The number one thing that makes me never want to talk to a guy again is if he makes a huge fucking deal about our gender difference, like it’s supposed to be a super-important aspect of our interaction. What that tells me is that he thinks that I’m a space alien, and rishathra is really not my thing. So if you’re making a big deal in your head about, “omg how do I talk to girls I don’t get it,” well, you’re right, you don’t get it, because making talking to girls into so much of a big deal compared to talking to guys is the very first step in Doing It Rong.

      If you stop going into every interaction with a woman like it’s such a huge deal (which, the only reason it could possibly be such a big deal compared to talking to a man is because of Teh Secks, so, really, *stop* thinking of every woman as a potential sexual partner right now until you’ve gotten over the being massively awkward thing first, because as long as you are treating women like space aliens, *no* woman is a potential sexual partner for you, so you might as well just stop worrying about it), then you will have female friends. And once you have female friends, you can learn from them the right way to hit on women, whether by trying it with them directly, or just by getting advice from them. Frankly, if you’re too inept at interacting with women to obtain female friends with whom you can discuss this kind of thing, you are too inept at interacting with women to be making passes at total strangers either, and you are going to have to be satisfied with the internet for a while. Casual hookups are an advanced skill and men who can’t even talk to a woman without breaking into a cold sweat should not be aspiring to that until they engage in some extensive practice on the bunny slopes of making female friends first and *then* considering whether and how to try to introduce the issue of sex. I’d already read Crommunist’s post, and it’s very good, like most everything he writes, but the stuff he is talking about is not the kind of stuff you should be trying when you’re at an Elevator Guy level.

      Sure, insisting that EG types try making friends with women before hitting on them limits their pool of potential dating partners, but not being able to have sex with another human being Right Now is not exactly the world’s biggest tragedy. And if you’re as bad at trying to get people to have sex with you as EG was, then even if you don’t limit your pool of potential partners to women who are your friends, you’re probably not going to be having a hell of a lot of partnered sex no matter what, so deciding to just leave the strangers alone for a bit isn’t really gonna have much of an effect on your blue-ball quotient anyway. So my point is, if EG *ever* wants to have sex that involves another actual human being, then going around awkwardly propositioning strangers is probably not going to get him there, whereas backing off a bit and interacting with women as fellow human beings first and potential sex partners only *much* later is probably a far better approach.

    5. 66.4
      Anne C. Hanna

      Oh, and one more point on this: for any man living in the modern U.S., the vast majority of his interactions with unrelated women are not going to result in sex, no matter how much game he’s got. So whenever you, as a man, talk to a woman, your prior should generally be that you are almost certainly not going to be combining your sperm with her eggs in the near future. Consequently, sex should just be a non-issue until you’ve talked to her long enough to update that prior with some actual data on the interaction.

  67. 67
    nohellbelowus

    Indeed. Kind thanks for your considered reply. I’ve bookmarked your blog for future visits.

    1. 67.1
      nohellbelowus

      Thanks for your accurate intercession on my behalf, Dr. Carrier. It seems nearly impossible to avoid egregious misunderstandings on such an emotionally and politically-charged issue. (I also didn’t realize I was writing into a sex & love advice column!)

      Perhaps I’m a bit different than most, but nearly fifteen years ago I purposely chose to remain (heterosexually) single, having now just entered my early fifties, and this decision came despite not being physically unattractive (or unduly kinky), and despite having several opportunities for marriage along the way.

      I simply decided to be honest with myself: I much prefer sex with people who are essentially strangers. It definitely has something to do with the foibles of familiarity, and it also has much to do with the degree of uninhibitedness and release these short-term relationships can foster. The sights and sounds of a new woman, especially one who I intentionally picked for her physical attractiveness, is one of life’s highlights, for me.

      Am I hitting on strange women? No, I’m paying prostitutes for their services. If you know where to look, the Internet has made it fairly easy to find almost exactly what you want, without excessive risk, and taking place (usually) in the private comfort of a four-star hotel room.

      The women I prefer are always independent providers of legal age — meaning not pimped or trafficked. (There are ways of researching and verifying these things.) Additionally, I’ve never, EVER mistreated a woman, physically or otherwise on these adventures, and I take absolutely ZERO joy in pain or violence of any sort. But no matter how many qualifiers I add here, I’m sure it won’t make any difference to those who will sanctimoniously (or otherwise) choose to respond to this post, so I’ll stop here.

      This choice has taken a huge amount of pressure off of my other relationships with women (yes, I’ve revealed my “secret” to several). In fact, my honest admission on friendly “dates” has often lead to extremely interesting conversations, where I will be thoroughly quizzed (interrogated?) by the woman sitting across the table from me. It has almost never lead to outright rejection — quite the opposite, in fact. (It oddly seems to increase my attractiveness, to some.)

      I don’t think I’m “broken” in any way. I’m just being honest to myself, and to women. Marriage is a religiously inspired institution I don’t really believe in. Sex with the same person gets old after a while. Furthermore, I personally have never found “love“, at least the kind of love that one might share with a true friend, to be an integral part of good sex.

      I suppose I’m also very fortunate, in spite of over one hundred of these trysts over the years (and sorry if that sounds arrogant), to not have had one single instance of an STD. The women I see absolutely demand condoms, and impose limits on activities which might unduly compromise their own health. (Again, researching the scene beforehand is key.)

      Did I just step in it? I guess time will tell. I decided to offer this bit of (repugnant?) honesty rather than continue to be scolded about acceptable dating practices.

      Now, if there are any women out there who would like to discuss more of a “business” relationship in our potential shared life, including separate bedrooms and pooling finances, I’m six-foot-four, 220 pounds, blue eyes, and I graduated from one of the top schools in the country and make well into the six-figures in salary.

      And as you can clearly see, an embarrassing level of honesty and sincerity is a given.

      ;)

    2. Richard Carrier

      Thanks for that, NoHellBelowUs.

      It is actually important to remind people that not all sexlives are “conventional” in the way people stereotype what is “conventional” (so in fact I make no assumptions that yours is really all that unconventional).

      And nothing you’ve said, IMO, is worthy of censure. As anyone will know who read my blog post on the sex industry, the idea that contracting sex is in any way “bad” is only an old die-hard religious superstition that atheists ought to have chucked years ago.

    3. 67.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      Nohellbelowus, I’ve got nothing against people engaging in safe, sane, and consensual paid sexual activity with professionals, but you do understand that that’s a totally different scenario from going to a skeptic convention and hitting on fellow con-goers, right? So I’m not really sure how the ethics and logistics of finding someone you can pay to have sex with you are related to the ethics and logistics of finding someone who will have sex with you *without* being paid, the latter being the actual topic of discussion here.

      Also, a discussion about how some male skeptics have a habit of being rather objectifying toward women is maybe not the greatest place to solicit for trophy partners.

  68. 68
    nohellbelowus

    And btw… another little clarification:

    The avatars at the top of my posts are auto-generated… I’m not angry and I don’t wear a monocle!

  69. 69
    nohellbelowus

    My first post addressed the topic. It’s called practice. Please review it if you like, and this time try to keep an open mind.

    I could explain to you how to write a cover letter, for instance, every single hour for the next three months. But if you never actually wrote one during that entire time, you would have very little idea how to really do it — especially if I didn’t allow you to look at examples while you were being tested.

    Now, extend this analogy by assuming the HR person who read your first tentative attempt at a cover letter merely scoffed at it, and then posted it on the company intranet as an example of how not to do things.

    Then, to complete the Catch-22, the HR person suggests to you that you need to learn how to write cover letters, and then starts telling you exactly how to do it.

    Being told how to do something, and being able to do it, are two entirely different worlds. And unless you disagree in principle with this rather obvious statement, allow me to put the question to you, Anne:

    How would YOU suggest that young men practice their night moves? On friends? I won’t scoff at that amusing suggestion, but I will assert from personal experience that play-acting with friends, and actually approaching women you consider to be potential sex partners, are once again, two different worlds.

    1. 69.1
      Anne C. Hanna

      Nohellbelowus, I would suggest, first, that talking about flirting with women as “night moves” is also a sort of skeezy approach to the whole issue. This is not a freaking strategy game, wherein the victory condition (and the prize!) is sticking your pee-pee in a disembodied hoo-hah. It’s the establishment of a consensual (even if short-term) relationship between two people which is beneficial to both parties (which is ideally true even if we wander off onto your tangent about prostitution). If you’re just looking to manipulate a woman into letting you screw her, as opposed to finding a partner who wants to have sex with you just as much as you want to have sex with her, you are, again, Doing It Rong. And maybe you don’t mean it that way, but if you don’t mean it that way and you want to have a productive conversation about the subject, it would be a really really good idea to *stop talking about it that way*.

      I’ll grant that your persistent resort to slightly-off ways of talking about women and relationships with women does indeed validate your insistence that, for some men, interacting with women without completely creeping them out is absolutely a skill that requires a lot of practice, because you *clearly* need practice. But an important part of that practice is actually listening to the feedback you get, as opposed to just repeatedly trying the same damn thing over and over and moaning about how it doesn’t work and you need woman-simulators to practice on. The problem is that a lot of men (you seemingly included) don’t seem to be very good at that “listening to women” thing. I am giving you feedback on how your approach sounds right now, and on the best way to improve it, and you are persistently not listening to what I’m saying. Rather, you are just continuing to make excuses for why the suggestions I’m giving you on *how to practice* (the question you asked) are too hard, and trying to justify why men just pawing at women clumsily (figuratively or literally) ought not to piss those women off and I’m just too closed-minded to understand how hard it is for the poor oppressed men. Just to be clear, ignoring what actual women tell you about how you actually sound to them is not a recipe for getting women to like you, or for learning how to improve your awkward ways.

      The fundamental principle of this conversation, and the primary point I’ve been making from post one, is that women are remarkably similar to people, and no amount of practice with an android female-replacement is going to teach you how to handle that fact if you can’t accept it on your own. In fact, practicing with an android female-replacement is, if anything, a recipe for making this issue even worse, because the whole point of bringing an android into play is explicitly that you *don’t* have to think of it as a person or deal with the real consequences of your failures to do so, thus it lets you escape the very thing that’s tripping you up in your interactions with real women. What you’re missing is that the thing you need to practice is not your game, it’s thinking of women as people. And for that, you need to interact with actual women as equals and actually try to process what they’re saying to you as if you have respect for their experiences, as opposed to just thinking of conversations with women as stepping-stones on the way to pussy.

      It’s fine if you’re sexually adventurous and like to try a lot of different partners. It’s fine if you don’t want most of your sexual encounters to result in long-term relationships. It’s fine if you want to have sex with people you pay so that they’ll go away afterward. (It’s not far different from paying a psychologist to listen to your problems and not be part of your social life, in my book.) But it’s not fine to use all of that as an excuse to put the burden on women to “train” men who are so oblivious to women’s humanity that they think every interaction with a woman has to jump straight to the sex/no sex question, without any attempt to establish how the woman feels about it first. Even (especially) with a professional sex worker, there are things you have to do to make it clear that you respect hir boundaries and hir safety; why on earth should we be censured for being angry when men don’t recognize that they have comparable obligations to people whom they might want to have sex with outside of such a formally-regulated context?

      I’m going to say it one more time, and please do try to listen this time, because I’m getting tired of repeating it in different words: if you want to ever get to have consensual sex with women (without paying for it), the best way to do that is to stop worrying so damn much about having sex with women for a while, and just try to make friends. Hang out in mixed groups in contexts where there’s not a lot of mating pressure (book clubs, humanist society meetings, cooking classes, whatever, but *not* bars), and don’t try to hit on the women, just think of it as being out having fun with friends. Make some female friends thinking of them *as friends* rather than as people you might want to fuck someday, and learn from them what women’s experiences are like and what makes them comfortable and what makes them creeped out. But don’t even think about hitting on random women in bars (or elevators) until you’ve got this part down pat, because until you can act in a way that makes women comfortable being friends with you, you are not going to be able to act in a way that makes women comfortable being hit on by you. And when you do start hitting on people (hell, even when you start trying to make friends with people), accept that you’re probably going to fail a lot, both because of the “most women you meet probably aren’t going to fuck you no matter how good your game is” prior that I mentioned above, and because you’ll probably be bad at it. Just accept that it’s going to happen, and don’t be angry at the women when it does. It’s not their fault, it’s the fault of whoever didn’t teach you when you were a kid how to act normally around 51% of the human species. So try to learn from your failure instead. (You can even ask the woman you failed with *very* respectfully what you did wrong, but make sure you don’t argue with her answer, ’cause invalidating her experiences or insisting that you have the right to her attentions puts you right back into creep territory again.)

      I agree that awkward guys aren’t going to learn how to be non-awkward without practice, but there are right ways and wrong ways to do that practice, and what I am telling you here is what the least offensive and most effective way to practice is. I know it’s not a magic bullet, but there isn’t one of those, and if you and all the Elevator Guy types out there aren’t willing to accept that, then the problem isn’t Rebecca Watson humiliating them so cruelly, it’s your unwillingness to accept your share of the burdens of being a social animal.

    2. 69.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      Also, I want to point out, NHBU, that the reason that I’m so disgusted with your approach to this is that you’re forcing me to “spend a huge piece of [my] time and emotional energy just giving 101 lessons to [an] unwilling and disrespectful [student]” (to quote myself from above). This is a part of the burden that women and minorities are currently forced to take on when we join skeptics’ groups these days. We are *continually* forced to act as educators and trainers for all y’all whether we want that profession or not, just as the price of entry into the world you take for granted.

      Men don’t experience a comparable burden, and yet here you come complaining about how hard it is for men because we’re not spending *enough* of our energy on figuring out the most diplomatic ways to teach you stuff that ought to be part of every decent human being’s basic toolkit. You are part of this problem. You are simply sitting on your butt telling us that we’re not working hard enough to help you get sexy-times rather than slaps. You aren’t even presenting your own proposed solutions, much less remotely attempting to understand why I’m proposing the solutions I’m proposing, and what legitimate experience there might be behind those proposals, and yet you have the gall to suggest that *I’m* closed-minded.

      You, and every other past and future Elevator Guy can fix this. You can listen to what women tell you and put it into action. You can listen to what men who listen to women tell you and put it into action. You can recognize that it’s not Rebecca Watson’s fault that Elevator Guy didn’t think enough about how she might feel when he propositioned her the way he did, that it’s not Rebecca Watson’s fault that EG isn’t the only one who’s bad at thinking about women’s feelings, and that it’s not Rebecca Watson’s (or any other woman skeptic’s) job to help guys get laid, and you can act accordingly. You can accept that the onus for not acting like a bunch of creeps is on y’all men, and that when you fuck up and accidentally act like a creep to a woman you need to blame yourself, not her. It may be the case that it takes practice to avoid this, but unless you go into your practice with the right attitude, you are never going to learn what you need to learn to actually have any success. And until you and all of the other Elevator Guys out there recognize these facts as the starting point of any discussion, we’re going to keep having this problem, no matter how many opportunities we give you to practice your “elevator pitch”.

  70. 70
    nohellbelowus

    But it’s not fine to use all of that as an excuse to put the burden on women to “train” men who are so oblivious to women’s humanity that they think every interaction with a woman has to jump straight to the sex/no sex question, without any attempt to establish how the woman feels about it first.

    Well that’s clearly just a strawperson. I’ll pass. The only part of your post that addresses my point about practice starts below:

    And when you do start hitting on people (hell, even when you start trying to make friends with people), accept that you’re probably going to fail a lot, both because of the “most women you meet probably aren’t going to fuck you no matter how good your game is” prior that I mentioned above, and because you’ll probably be bad at it. Just accept that it’s going to happen, and don’t be angry at the women when it does. It’s not their fault, it’s the fault of whoever didn’t teach you when you were a kid how to act normally around 51% of the human species. So try to learn from your failure instead

    .
    So it’s the fault of “whoever”, then. More precisely, whoever didn’t teach you to act “normally” when you were a “kid”.

    Thanks for making my point for me.

    By the way, and with all due respect… what makes you think you represent all women? Why should I trust you, in other words? (That’s rhetorical, because believe me, and no offense intended, I’m not asking for more of your trite observations on this matter.) In my experience, women’s characteristics form a continuum, ranging from gay to straight. (There are even more continuums nested within those continuums.) The point being, there are no good ways to stereotype women, in terms of how to approach them, sexually or otherwise, apart from your vague “act normally around us ‘cuz we’re humans, too” tap dance. Unfortunately for millions of young men, in terms of providing instructions, the words “normal” and “human” don’t say very much at all, and if we took time exploring the details and nuances of what you might actually mean by employing these meta words (we won’t), you would quickly realize the problems invoked by such crass and dismissive generalizations.

    The larger point though, is the fact that simply TELLING someone to treat you like a “human”, or to treat you “normally”, or to not be “skeezy” about things completely misses my point, once again, about practice. Listening to someone doesn’t constitute practice, in any universe I’m familiar with. Maybe educational techniques have changed over the last few decades.

    The bottom line is, an approach that you consider “bad” may be exactly what another woman is looking for, once we’ve cleared away the white noise introduced by the subjectively useless words “normal” and “not skeezy”, and start addressing those devilish (and all-important) details. I’m absolutely certain there are many, many cases of people becoming happily joined for years and years directly as a result of a “skeezy”, poorly-delivered pickup line — yes, even in an inappropriate setting. (It may be a lot more common than Joe Notskeezy hooking-up with Jane Feminist.)

    (You can even ask the woman you failed with *very* respectfully what you did wrong, but make sure you don’t argue with her answer, ’cause invalidating her experiences or insisting that you have the right to her attentions puts you right back into creep territory again.)

    In other words, LISTEN to one woman generalize about how not to be a “creep” to all other women. Gotcha. Now when does practice begin? I’m sure this hypothetical young male intern would be really, REALLY eager for practice to start… wait… Where are you going, my lovely and intelligent failed conquest?

    BTW have you offered this advice to Elevator Guy and Rebecca Watson? The internet is all ears — I’d bet my life on it.

    I agree that awkward guys aren’t going to learn how to be non-awkward without practice, but there are right ways and wrong ways to do that practice, and what I am telling you here is what the least offensive and most effective way to practice is.

    Maybe you need to reply again, and this time Anne please be more concise, because I fail to see where you’ve really addressed my point about practice, other than admitting that it is awkward, and may indeed result in shitstorms on the internet — that men should just accept as part of the learning process.

    Be normal, make friends, don’t be “skeezy”, and treat us like humans. Right. What could be more simple? And if you’re really good, you might even get a sexual reward (sympathy fuck?) from one of your friends.

    Pardon me, but this sounds as effective as praying for rain.

    1. 70.1
      nohellbelowus

      A further bit of clarification, Anne, because I think we may be talking at cross-purposes. (Please feel free, of course, to also address the previous post — or any of my five posts.)

      I’m saying that what young men like Elevator Guy are lacking is practice. Being told how to do something is not practice. It’s simply ineffective hot air, in many respects. Without actual, in-situ practice, the resulting process of trial and error inherent in finding sexual partners is not only embarrassing, but potentially harmful for either party, both legally, physically, and emotionally.

      Do you disagree?

      Now, you’ve suggested that making friends with women (a process that is itself a source of many blind and awkward — and possibly offensive — incidents, because many men aren’t even trained in these basic skills and by definition haven’t practiced them), and then subsequently listening to these “friendly” female acquaintances is the “most effective” form of practice.

      I counter by saying it’s not even practice, because (1) being told how to do something doesn’t constitute practice, even if the tutoring takes the form of detailed verbal and/or written instructions by experienced female (or male) companions; and (2) the intent, emotions, and body language on display during mock practice sessions with casual friends doesn’t much resemble the real McCoy — if at all.

      My cover letter analogy is fairly accurate, and I noticed you didn’t respond to it. Please address the issue of practice. Real practice. Being told how to do something, even if it’s fifty videos on the Casanova channel on YouTube, doesn’t constitute practice.

      Without training, men and women are simply stuck with the embarrassments and potential misunderstandings of trial and error that we’ve seen play out over this last year. I’m not placing blame on women for not training men, but surely we must be talking about, at least in the case of heterosexual hook-ups, female training partners… right?

      Where do these women come from? Any volunteers?

    2. 70.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      You whine about how I’m not being concise, and then you spend hundreds of words telling me how the caricatured bullet points you extracted from my very long posts aren’t enough information? To quote your own words, “What the HELL do you want from [me]?” But I’ll give you one last chance to try to actually listen as opposed to just poor-little-me-ing, and then I’m done wasting my life on you.

      1. Most worthwhile things are hard. If you want romance and you are not a natural-born Casanova, you are going to have to work for it, and you are going to fuck up a lot, and when you fuck up people are going to get mad at you, as happens when you fuck up any social interaction. That’s just life, and it’s not women’s fault or responsibility that life is like that. The internet should not explode in flames when a woman says, “Guys, don’t do that,” and if it does, the responsibility belongs to the people who exploded the internet because they wanted to “do that”, not to the woman who had the temerity to mention a point of etiquette and basic human decency.

      2. The skeptical community is not your dating service. It is not skeptical women’s problem that you can’t wet your willy. Don’t expect us to be patient with the thing where a woman walks into a skeptic’s meeting and a room full of guys stare at her with drool coming out of their mouths. And don’t expect us to do your job for you on figuring out how to treat us like fellow human beings either. You already know how to do that — you do it with other men all the time. You just need to apply the same principles to us. If this is too hard for you, then you need to check your misogyny, rather than complain about how we’re not giving you enough information or enough chances to practice on us. Can you imagine saying to a black person that you just need more “practice” at treating dark-skinned people like fellow human beings, in the same way that you’re saying this shit to me about women?

      3. Despite the fact that this is not our job, tons of female (and male) skeptics have spent tons of time over the past year or so explaining to y’all how to get the “night game” practice you so desperately crave in ways that will dramatically reduce your chances of getting slapped even if you *are* a fumbling doofus. People are *already giving you advice on how to practice relatively safely*. People are telling you, “look, here’s the kiddie pool, swim in here for a while before you dive into the ocean”. And you are insisting over and over that the kiddie pool is too hard, and then going into the ocean anyway and blaming us when you drown. Yes, it is possible to drown in the kiddie pool too, but everything entails a certain amount of risk, and you’ve got to decide for yourself whether the potential rewards are worth it. If the kiddie pool (interacting with women without dating pressure) really is too hard for you, then you need a psychologist more than you need a girlfriend, so you really ought to be going that route first. (And I say this with no stigma intended — psychologists are great, and I use them for my own shit too.)

      4. If you don’t think I’m representative of skeptical women (and you’re right, I’m not — I’m hella more tolerant of overenthusiastic guys and their clumsy pickup attempts than average), then go read any of the dozens of others who have blogged about this and given talks about this, or the hundreds of others who have commented on their posts. Learn from the community as a whole and stop wasting your time mansplaining to me about how different women are different (gee, I never thought of that!). The thing you need to practice if you want to become competent at interacting with women is not saying the right things or making the right moves, it is shutting the hell up and *listening*, and the best possible practice you can get at this is to go out and do that right now, and stop whinging at me.

      Anyway, enough of this. I’m done here unless your next post shows that you’ve actually bothered to listen this time.

    3. 70.3
      Anne C. Hanna

      Well, okay, one more tiny little point that I just remembered I’d wanted to make.

      Here’s the thing: women are 51% of the human species. 51%. More than half of all humans are women. And yet here you are talking about how difficult and confusing and weird we are to interact with, and implying that it’s therefore perfectly reasonable for a large contingent of supposedly grown men to still need major training and accommodations in doing so. How *exactly* do you imagine that sounds to people who are members of that more-than-half of humanity? What kind of environment do you think you’re proposing that we should have to live in?

      I strongly recommend that you think about that very hard, and when you think you understand it, stop and think about it again another couple dozen times until you realize that you’ve got *no comprehension whatsoever* of what you’re trying to subject us to. And then you should stop talking and start listening on this subject for a good long time.

    4. 70.4
      Richard Carrier

      I won’t weigh beyond this, since I think, Anne and NHBU, you are both talking a bit past each other and you will have to work that out between yourselves (since you are both making valid comments, just not always ones relevant to what the other has said).

      But let me just interject with one reminder:

      What NBHU is talking about is valid enough that entire professions exist to deal with it (as I noted before, sexual surrogates and flirting coaches; note that I do not include here “pickup artists,” who are teaching a shady business and not a valuable one). There are people you can hire to practice with and give you field experience with this sort of thing (with full sensitivity to both parties in any equation). And if that’s the case, there could in principle be volunteers to do the same. But lacking either, what is one to do?

      Certainly, getting to know a lot of women, as friends and acquaintances, one-offs and long term, and listening to them and learning from them is essential; it’s just not sufficient.

      The question then, is, what else does it take (to gain that experience, to pursue the life you want to lead), and what etiquette should govern that process that can be easily disseminated within a population, so that everyone reasonable is happy? Certainly, some efforts to practice flirting and conversing are simply bad form. Others will not be.

      I don’t think this question is going to be answered here. But perhaps we can at least agree it’s a valid question, that must indeed have some answer?

    5. 70.5
      Anne C. Hanna

      Richard, I’m done talking to NHBU, because he seems to be a lost cause, but I would still like to discuss this with you, because I respect you enough to want to make sure you understand why I’m responding to him the way I am.

      I agree that social etiquette is a valid subject for discussion and a challenging issue, particularly when sex is in the picture. The difficulty I have with the way NHBU is addressing this issue is that he seems to be coming at this from a perspective that such social etiquette is just far more difficult for men than it is for women, so we should see it as normal and acceptable for men to need special training at not completely creeping women out.

      I think most people would see it as pretty pathological for a woman to need special training in how to not creep men out, rather than as an acceptable part of the normal spectrum. And, sure, a woman like that *should* get the help she needs, but she shouldn’t see the stuff she does that disturbs men as just a normal phase of awkwardness that most women go through. In fact, we *don’t* normally go through that. A woman creeping men out when she tries to flirt isn’t just n00b-clumsy, she’s learned some seriously distorted views about her relationship to other people (her “fellow human beings”, if you will), and she doesn’t just need *practice*, she needs to unlearn those distorted views. I’ll agree that it probably is far more common right now for men rather than for women to learn the particular types of attitudes that tend to bias them towards acting creepy, but common or not, it’s something we should be treating as pathological, because it’s part of the overall misogyny in our society, even if the men who act that way don’t intend for it to be so.

      It’s similar to the analogy I made above about how it would sound if NHBU was talking about interacting with black people the way he talks about interacting with women. It would be pretty clear in that case that the problem he had wasn’t that he needed to “practice” talking to black people, it was that he’d learned some messed-up attitudes towards black people that he needed to unlearn, and that he was being part of the larger problem of racism in our society even if he didn’t mean to be. Why is the same not clear in the case of women? (Or, to directly address the pointless “cover letter” analogy he’s so proud of, if somebody is sending out cover letters that are so bad that HR folks find them creepy, that’s not a matter of needing practice writing cover letters, it’s a matter of needing to seriously reconsider your attitudes toward the entire employment process. Except, in that case the person isn’t also advancing anti-HRism in our society, which is why this analogy is shit.)

      Combined with the fact that he keeps sprinkling his conversation with other odd approaches that tend to be hallmarks of some level of male entitlement and bias (android women, “night moves”, “women aren’t funny” — which woman, exactly, was he referencing, and how on earth was this supposed to be germane to *anything*?), it’s just very hard for me to see NHBU as someone who is either enlightened on this subject or interested in becoming enlightened. And that’s why I’m being so hard on him — he’s an unwilling and ungrateful “student” who is wasting my time by insisting on being part of the problem of sexism in the skeptical community. Please don’t encourage him.

    6. Richard Carrier

      Anne C. Hanna:

      NHBU aside (he’s a special case, IMO, and thus not a relevant stereotype to project on men generally), I agree with you but for two important qualifications:

      [Re: the idea that] such social etiquette is just far more difficult for men than it is for women, so we should see it as normal and acceptable for men to need special training at not completely creeping women out.

      It actually is true (scientifically proven, in fact) that men are typically more inept at social cues and interaction than women. That’s not quite the same thing as “social etiquette,” which is just a set of fixed behavioral rules. Being inept at social cues and interaction is, in fact, more important, and more precisely the problem.

      And this is especially true for men (and there are a lot of them) who get poorly socialized precisely because of dysfunctional notions of masculinity affecting our youth culture, in which “manly boys,” i.e. bullies, use violence and intimidation and more subtle forms of social punishment to marginalize boys who do not conform to their ideals, resulting in those boys not getting socialization practice, whereas the bullies then get tons of practice figuring out how to manipulate women (a situation that would be easily solved by all high school girls only ever hanging out with the marginalized boys and not the bullies, but alas, high school girls are as stupid as high school boys and thus actually participate in reinforcing their marginalization, a behavior that is completely contrary to the interests of women everywhere, yet they do it anyway).

      The premise is therefore correct. The question then is, does the conclusion follow. And that depends on what exactly you take the conclusion to be.

      If you are asking whether the conclusion that follows is “women should let men be creepy because they need practice learning what’s creepy,” then the answer is self-evidently no, since the whole point of learning in this scenario is learning what is creepy, which actually necessitates women (and their male colleagues) punishing creepy behavior. Otherwise you aren’t going to learn it’s unacceptable, or how unacceptable it is–and the latter is why social punishment should always be proportionate and not disproportionate (mildly creepy warrants only mild social punishment, like a plain statement of disapproval).

      However, I myself take the correct conclusion to be that many men (disproportionately by far with respect to women) need help assimilating into social environments, because they weren’t properly socialized to begin with (thanks, for one thing, to the toxic and dysfunctional environments in American high schools). That help will consist of instruction (talking to a variety of women about this and listening to what they say), but also practice (at flirting, dancing, striking up conversations, and so on). However, what they need in order to benefit from both with the least collateral harm to others is a basic system of etiquette, a simple set of “act like this” rules that will let them enter into conversations (with anyone, women or men) and seem polite and interesting (and interested) without seeming creepy (which they often will not know, i.e. they do not know what “seems” creepy). Really, as with all social skills, the best way to do this is for inexperienced men to apprentice themselves to experienced men and watch what they do and say, and ease into trying it themselves with the experienced man present as a social buffer.

      The major gender disparity is that all women assume that a man who approaches them cold is (or is probably) looking for sex, and therefore even if he isn’t, he is at an extreme disadvantage with respect to how his words and actions will be perceived. They will appear radically different in that context, even when the exact same words and actions would not look that way at all when approaching a man. And without feedback, you have absolutely no way of knowing what your words and actions look like to someone else. And without a lot of socialization, you will have very little feedback to go on. And a lot of men (disproportionately by far with respect to women) experience very little socialization with women until well after puberty.

      This is all real. The only question is what to do about it.

      It probably is far more common right now for men rather than for women to learn the particular types of attitudes that tend to bias them towards acting creepy, but common or not, it’s something we should be treating as pathological, because it’s part of the overall misogyny in our society.

      I disagree with this equation. The problem we’re talking about here is not “the overall misogyny in our society.” To the contrary, misogynists are the most socialized and successful at manipulating women. Those are the very bullies that win access to women in high schools (which is why their misogyny usually only becomes apparent in two contexts: the internet, where they can be honest because they are anonymous; and after months or years of dating, a woman finally realizes she’s being played by a very skillful asshole…if she’s lucky).

      So the problem here is not the misogynists (that is a problem, but it’s a different problem), the problem is the poor and negligent way our society socializes many of its men. Most “creepy” behaviors are not born of misogyny, but the inability to read or know how something is or will come across. There is a subset of creepy behaviors that arise from those fringe few sexists or misogynists who somehow ended up both sexists or misogynists and socially inept (again, that is actually very much not the norm: sexists and misogynists actually typically are the least socially inept–they just tend to be the most socially dishonest in face-to-face interaction). But there is a much greater problem (in sheer numbers) with poorly socialized men who don’t know what to do or how it comes across when they try (who, in contradistinction to sexists and misogynists, tend in fact to be the nicest and most honest, but just don’t know how to communicate it).

      The solution I suggest, is what I discussed above (apart, that is, from changing the culture of our high schools: we need a simple standard of basic etiquette that permits safe practice for all involved, followed by a lot of practice, preferably while apprenticed to more skilled persons). But there needs to be some solution. Because those men are not pathological. To the contrary, they are the victims of the pathology of our society.

    7. 70.6
      Anne C. Hanna

      Richard, I don’t think we agree on our definitions of misogyny. Part of the problem in our society is that women are explicitly burdened with this notion that we have to be the socially ept ones, and that men don’t have to be. We are pushed into always making allowances for men who trample all over us, because of course the poor dears can’t be expected to do any social/emotional work themselves — they’re just not capable of it, and it’s women’s work so it’s beneath them anyway. It’s true that this isn’t the best thing for men either, because they get trained to be terrible at it, and then they can’t do it when they need to (thus the studies you point to showing that men are indeed worse at social stuff), but suggesting that women are obligated to go out of our way to explicitly construct a set of rules of etiquette for men to abide by, or that women should be tolerant of men “practicing” on us is just another way of once more placing the burden of social eptness squarely on our shoulders. It may be that this is unavoidable if progress is to be made, and there may not be one single misogynist person we can point to to blame this all on, but it’s certainly part of our society’s overall misogyny. So if NHBU feels that he needs some extra help, he ought to be asking in a way that respects the extra burden he’s imposing on the women he asks it of, rather than demanding it as his right.

      I’ve pointed out before that there are plenty of social environments in which a man can engage with a woman “cold” without there being dating pressure. Cooking classes, book discussion clubs, atheist meetups, and the like all require people to talk to each other about a common interest (so any guy who’s there participating *has* to talk to the women and vice versa) and don’t set up any other expectations. In addition, you’re interacting in a group setting rather than one-on-one, so there’s less direct pressure on the other people you talk to. So if somebody just needs to learn how to interact “normally” with people of a different sex (or a different race or physical ability level or whatever), these kind of environments are a great place to go.

      Of course, if a man’s only goal in going to a cooking club is to figure out how to get women to date him (and maybe even to try to pick up some of the women there) that’s going to come through to the women. You say that women tend to assume that a man who approaches them cold is looking for sex, but this whole discussion here involving NHBU has been about how to make things easier on men looking for sex. And the point I’m trying to make here is that if you do *exactly the thing that women are wary of you doing* (being interested in them only as sex partners), then the problem you’re having in getting women to respond positively is more about your attitude towards women (that women are primarily sex partners, not friends) than it is about your need to practice your “game”. Not recognizing this *is* a pathological attitude, and the men who hold to it are indeed being part of the problem, even if they don’t intend to. It’s similar to the careful distinction Crommunist makes between “being a racist” and “doing/saying something racist”. (And, yes, racism does harm white people too, but not to anything like the same degree to which it harms everyone else.) These men may not be “misogynists”, but they’re doing something misogynist, and the onus is on them to stop it, not on the rest of us to be patient with them until they figure it out. The problem really is their attitudes, not just their level of practice. And the way to correct it is for them to adopt an attitude of greater humility and respect towards the women they are hoping will teach them how to do things better.

    8. 70.7
      Anne C. Hanna

      Also, I want to mention that the “women only like bad boys/bullies” trope is another one of those distortions that’s continually used by so-called “nice guys” as an excuse to avoid reflecting on how their own attitudes and actions might be driving women away. It’s true that confidence is often attractive, that bad boys and bullies often convincingly simulate confidence, and that gentle, shy guys often get less attention than their good qualities might merit because of this. But this is something that women tend to suffer from too — those of us who are less well-matched to the conventional model of attractiveness or are less outgoing or less fashionably dressed are often dismissed as unworthy of attention, even by the same “nice guys” who spend all their time being miserable and angry because the pretty-but-shallow prom queen won’t give them the time of day. And then of course even the pretty prom queens have to contend with having their intelligence and emotional depth ignored and downplayed *because* they’re pretty, and with disproportionately being targets of male resentment over rejections by other women, or over perfectly warranted rejections by themselves.

      Pathological male responses to not being able to get sex when they feel entitled to it take the form of stalkers and abusive partners and guys who shoot up fitness centers (and guys who engage in obsessive and interminable online harassment campaigns against female bloggers who have the temerity to say “guys, don’t do that”). These responses are not proportionate in any way to the “crime” that women (as an amorphous collective entity) have committed in denying these men access to partnered sex. The fact that some men engage in such disproportionate responses cannot reasonably be blamed on their limited “practice” in interacting with women (but the fact that women reject them might well be due to them giving off subtle signals that they’re this type of entitled creep). Without the underlying and socially-reinforced notion that women exist for the use of men, these men would be unhappy, but they wouldn’t turn into raging misogynists. So I still don’t think this “practice” notion really has very much explanatory power in regard to the current clusterfuck.

    9. 70.8
      Richard Carrier

      Anne C. Hanna:


      Richard, I don’t think we agree on our definitions of misogyny.

      mis-o-gyny = the hatred, dislike, or disdain of women.


      Part of the problem in our society is that women are explicitly burdened with this notion that we have to be the socially ept ones, and that men don’t have to be.

      Insofar as someone thinks that, that would be (mild) sexism, as in assuming without valid basis that a person’s rights and privileges differ according to gender. That’s not the same thing as misogyny.

      Obviously, it’s a fallacy to conclude from “men tend on average to be weaker in social skills” that “men don’t have to be socially skilled,” just as it would be a fallacy to conclude from “women tend on average to be weaker in upper body strength” that “women don’t have to lift things.”

      I am arguing, in fact, the opposite: that men need to develop their social skills, and could use help doing it, precisely because they do need to be socially skilled.


      We are pushed into always making allowances for men who trample all over us, because of course the poor dears can’t be expected to do any social/emotional work themselves — they’re just not capable of it, and it’s women’s work so it’s beneath them anyway.

      Which I’m not defending. This may be where you are talking past everyone. You are mistaking what I actually said, for having said this. I didn’t.


      …suggesting that women are obligated to go out of our way to explicitly construct a set of rules of etiquette for men to abide by

      I never said women were obliged to do this. I said it needs to be done. By everyone. The responsibility is on humanity.


      …or that women should be tolerant of men “practicing” on us is just another way of once more placing the burden of social eptness squarely on our shoulders.

      You will note that I said the opposite: women should punish bad behavior proportionately, regardless. Not tolerate it. Again, this looks like an instance where you are reading past what I actually said, and erroneously concluding I said something else.


      So if somebody just needs to learn how to interact “normally” with people of a different sex (or a different race or physical ability level or whatever), these kind of environments are a great place to go.

      I quite concur. Nevertheless, there is a huge gender disparity in how remarks and behavior are interpreted, based on the dynamic, of whether it’s a man talking to a woman or a man talking to a man. That remains a fact, in every context there is. Thus, an etiquette is needed to control for that disparity and manage it.

      And again, as I said in my last comment, I am uninterested in and not speaking about the outlier example of NHBU, yet you continue to conflate us and what we separately said. Thus, for example…


      And the point I’m trying to make here is that if you do *exactly the thing that women are wary of you doing* (being interested in them only as sex partners), then the problem you’re having in getting women to respond positively is more about your attitude towards women (that women are primarily sex partners, not friends) than it is about your need to practice your “game”. Not recognizing this *is* a pathological attitude, and the men who hold to it are indeed being part of the problem, even if they don’t intend to.

      Those men by and large aren’t having the problem I am talking about. As I tried very carefully to explain, most men like this are consummately skilled in social interaction. You are confusing the rare few men like this who don’t know what they are doing (in reality, most such men will have perfected their game well before high school graduation), with the vastly greater number of men who are not like this yet still come across badly because they don’t know how they come across at all.

    10. 70.9
      Richard Carrier


      Also, I want to mention that the “women only like bad boys/bullies” trope is another one of those distortions that’s continually used by so-called “nice guys” as an excuse to avoid reflecting on how their own attitudes and actions might be driving women away. It’s true that confidence is often attractive, that bad boys and bullies often convincingly simulate confidence, and that gentle, shy guys often get less attention than their good qualities might merit because of this. But this is something that women tend to suffer from too — those of us who are less well-matched to the conventional model of attractiveness or are less outgoing or less fashionably dressed are often dismissed as unworthy of attention, even by the same “nice guys” who spend all their time being miserable and angry because the pretty-but-shallow prom queen won’t give them the time of day. And then of course even the pretty prom queens have to contend with having their intelligence and emotional depth ignored and downplayed *because* they’re pretty, and with disproportionately being targets of male resentment over rejections by other women, or over perfectly warranted rejections by themselves.

      Oh, indeed. But we weren’t discussing the emotional damage done to women by other women. We were discussing the extent to which men get poorly socialized by the same toxic environment during puberty and adolescence.

      And there it’s not the trope that “naive girls like douchebag alpha males” I am referring to, but the fact that girls in those environments often reinforce the marginalization of the boys targeted by the alphas and their chosen betas. It’s not simply a matter of hanging with the bad boys (who are often not tagged as “bad boys” by the adults, but treated with favoritism by them, thus reinforcing the toxic social dynamic), but of joining them in devaluing them, verbally and in every social interaction and selection of shared activities.

      In other words, girls all too often simply buy the “undesirable nerds” narrative that is created by the alpha males, and thus avoid, mock, and mistreat them. There are exceptions, and I have seen some school environments in the last ten years that have been really changing for the better in this respect, but I don’t know if that’s a national trend (although if it is, the shift in social status in favor of the geek that has occurred over the last twenty years may have something to do with that).


      Pathological male responses to not being able to get sex when they feel entitled to it take the form of stalkers and abusive partners and guys who shoot up fitness centers (and guys who engage in obsessive and interminable online harassment campaigns against female bloggers who have the temerity to say “guys, don’t do that”).

      First of all, the shooter you refer to is an outlier and thus cannot be used as a stereotype even for your average misogynist. He was a massively dysfunctional lunatic. Secondly, misogynists by and large get sex when they feel entitled to it, often enough. They are, again, usually the most skilled at doing that. They are therefore not the awkward poorly socialized nerds I’m talking about. As I said, misogynists tend in fact to be very well socialized, and very good at socially interacting with women. Those that aren’t are a relative rarity, and very rare relative to men who are not misogynists at all but merely awkward poorly socialized nerds.


      The fact that some men engage in such disproportionate responses cannot reasonably be blamed on their limited “practice” in interacting with women (but the fact that women reject them might well be due to them giving off subtle signals that they’re this type of entitled creep).

      Indeed, such radical behaviors (which were not the subject of discussion until now; another example of your missing the point) are the product of poor impulse control, which is a characteristic of psychopathy and when found in non-psychopaths is a product of toxic developmental environments in which boys are not taught impulse control–and the boys who are not taught that, are the alphas and high-ranking betas, not the marginalized gamma males.

      These are therefore two different things: being inept with women, and being abusive of women. They are caused by different things, and disproportionately affect entirely different classes of men. Being abusive of women more frequently typifies alphas and high betas, who by virtue of their status are not usually inept with women but very good manipulators of them. Whereas men who are inept with women are so because they were marginalized as gammas, an experience that far more frequently teaches them impulse control (from excessive experience with social punishment).

      Misogynists tend to come from the former group, not the latter.

    11. 70.10
      Anne C. Hanna

      Richard, I’m going to leave a lot of things unaddressed, because I think you’re right that we’ve been talking at cross-purposes. In order to straighten this out, I’d like to remind you that my entry point into this particular branch of the Elevatorgate discussion was an objection to NHBU’s original comment here, a comment which included the following:

      I’ll surmise that every Elevator Guy who watched it felt their faces flush hot with painful memories of previous embarrassments at the hands of women. And that’s where all the ridiculous anger and misogynistic screaming stemmed (still stems?) from, in my opinion.

      You [insert plural gender epithet here] keep telling us we’re doing it wrong!“, they screamed immaturely. “What the hell do you WANT from us???

      Until artificially intelligent female androids can be tasked with the thankless job, how can we do a better job training Elevator-type Guys to respect women and approach them in ways they find less threatening?

      As far as I can tell, the three of us agree that the internet screaming fit that arose after Rebecca said, “Hey guys, don’t do that,” has involved a massive amount of misogyny (even by your narrow definition above). In this comment of his, NHBU seemed to me to be proposing “training” these guys as a way to avoid such explosions of misogyny. My objection to this proposal is that if somebody’s response to being rejected by a woman (or even many women) is interminable misogynist internet harassment, then his attitude toward women is a far bigger part of his problem than any failure of social eptness.

      I’ve long been an advocate of being gentle toward the merely inept and helping them understand how to do it right. As a nerd who’s spent most of my life hanging around with primarily male nerds, I have friends whom I’ve had to help through that stage of ineptness, one of whom, in trying to convince me to date him, did stuff that, if I hadn’t known him sufficiently well and been sufficiently fond of him at the time he did it, would easily have been interpretable as verging on stalking. Fortunately he got past that stage and we were able to be friends again, and now he’s married to a wonderful woman who is a far better match for him than I could ever have been.

      But the misogynist harassers, and even the casual objectifiers and sociopaths and “alpha” bullies, are another story entirely, and we’re not going to reduce that kind of behavior just by training the so-called beta and gamma men to interact better with women. My “beta” and “gamma” male friends would never have pulled the kind of shit that the ERVites and their like get up to, and while some kind of formalized training might well have been beneficial for my friends, I am really not convinced that the availability of such training would do much to drain the sewer that Rebecca inadvertently uncovered. For that, I really do think that the only sure remedy is to make it clear that misogyny is just simply not acceptable any more in our society. This means that we do actually want to marginalize the people who engage in it, rather than encouraging them in their delusion that they deserve some kind of kid gloves accommodations for the disability of being born male.

      I think the failure to carefully distinguish between these two groups in NHBU’s original proposal may be part of the reason we’ve been talking past each other. Training socially inept but otherwise decent guys is nice, and quite possibly even important as part of an overall feminist agenda, but I don’t think it really addresses the particular problem that Elevatorgate brought to light, and proposing it as a solution to that problem has some offensive implications on a number of levels, as I’ve mentioned previously. So this context is what I’ve been responding to, but perhaps you were not intending to take this context on board in your own comments. Does the distinction I’m drawing make sense to you, and does this clarify for you where I’m coming from on this?

    12. 70.11
      Richard Carrier


      In this comment of his, NHBU seemed to me to be proposing “training” these guys as a way to avoid such explosions of misogyny.

      You’re right. That’s silly.

      It conflates two completely unrelated problems: ineptitude and misogyny. “Elevator guy” was inept. The people who reacted negatively to being told about him were misogynists. Not the same people.

    13. 70.12
      Anne C. Hanna

      Okay, then. I think we agree after all, at least mostly, and any remaining minor points of disagreement probably aren’t worth picking apart. Sorry it took so long to work out exactly what the difficulty was.

    14. 70.13
      Anne C. Hanna

      Richard, I apologize for resurrecting a dead discussion, but I ran across this today, and I think it’s very relevant to what we were talking about and might give you a little bit more perspective on why I responded to this issue the way I did.

      In particular, the response the blogger suggests for creeper #1 (cut off contact completely and explain to him and the rest of the friend group why you’re doing it) is very much like what I ended up having to do with the almost-stalkery friend I mentioned above. I literally sat down with him one day after a particularly provocative incident and said, “Look, I’m sorry, I really like being your friend, but this other stuff you’re doing has to stop, and no matter how much I ask you to stop it and you say you’ll try, you can’t seem to stop it as long as I let you hang around with me. So I don’t have any more choice at this point — I can’t let you hang around with me any more.” And then I had to back off and let the rest of our friend group pick up the pieces. After that, it so happened that I left school for a year, and when I came back, everything had settled down enough that we were able to be friends again.

      That friend had a comparatively minor case of creeping — he didn’t engage in all the sexual innuendos and weird touching and other such stuff that a lot of guys do, he was just *always there*, whenever I turned around, whether I wanted him to be or not. It got to the level of him repeatedly showing up at my door in the mornings wanting to hang out while I was still sitting around in my pajamas, because he saw that I’d logged in to the school’s computer system. After that I set up an email reader to automatically check my email every eleven minutes (simulating a login), so that he couldn’t easily track my wakeup times any more, and I told him that I’d done it and why, but even this didn’t stop him from being oppressively over-present in other ways. I was the only woman in our group that he’d acted that way toward (he was looking for romance, not just sex, so he was a little more focused in his attentions), so he wasn’t a habitual creeper like the guys described in the post. Thus it was a hell of a lot easier to be charitable toward him, and his behavior was a lot easier to correct.

      I was also fortunate in that our mutual friends were aware of what was going on and were understanding about why I did what I did. I didn’t have to be the “Bitch Who Doesn’t Like To Be Touched” in order to explain my actions in his case. (I *had* previously developed a “Totally Asexual” persona as a more general form of protection, but this incident happened when we were freshmen at a predominantly male and very nerdy school, an environment where it takes considerably more than a couple academic quarters for a woman to convincingly deter all the men who want to take a shot at her, and where unattached means “available” in a lot of guys’ minds no matter what the woman might say.) Also, because we were both freshmen (me being the more assertive personality of us two, even though he might have been a little bit physically stronger), there wasn’t any significant power imbalance between the two of us. So this particular sequence of events, unpleasant as it was for everyone involved, was comparatively minor by the standards of things one might classify as male social ineptitude towards women.

      My point with all this exposition is that given my experiences it’s not entirely clear to me that training is necessarily always a very workable solution even with otherwise decent, well-intentioned guys, leaving the hideous misogynists out of the discussion entirely. My friend had multiple chances to try to moderate his approach to me and to learn how to back off. We had numerous careful discussions about what he was doing wrong and what he should do instead, and then I would forgive him and try to let him put the fruits of those discussions into practice, and he’d go right back to the same behavior patterns all over again. He never could manage to take these gentle lessons to heart, and the process of trying to let him learn caused a lot of misery for both of us. The lesson only really stuck when I finally took the drastic step of cutting him off completely. The problem was that he’d internalized our society’s stupid ideas about how romance works, and these were driving him at such a deep level that he was well beyond the reach of any mere friendly education, right up until the point where I was forced to do cut him off, which effectively constituted serious emotional violence. It was only then that the things I had been trying to convey more gently finally began to overwhelm all the nonsense that he’d imbibed with his mother’s milk.

      So even with the possibility of training, and even with the most gentle and decent guys (and he *really* is a very good person — it still makes me ridiculously happy to know that he’s got such a good partner now), I still think that the most important thing is just to make it very clear that certain behavior patterns are flat-out unacceptable, and to enforce social consequences on those who engage in such behaviors. No matter how well-meaning they may be and no matter how many chances they’re offered to learn better ways to do things, some guys just can’t help themselves, right up until they’re hit with a really serious social shock that forces them to re-evaluate. “Social consequences” doesn’t necessarily have to mean complete ostracism and devastating vilification of the person, but it *should* at minimum include uniform condemnation of the behavior in question, even if it’s just at the “whoa, dude, not cool” level, and even if some people who aren’t the victims still want to reach out to the perpetrator in other ways. There’s a difference between education and handholding, and the reality is that sometimes education necessarily involves getting your views and actions slapped down hard, if they’re genuinely beyond the pale. If we respond too gently to major transgressions, perpetrators may not learn to appreciate the seriousness of their actions and therefore may not make an appropriate level of effort to correct their behavior. Sometimes it really is necessary to bring the hammer down, even when one would rather not.

      A perpetrator’s response to such chastisement is how one measures their character — in my friend’s case, he accepted my verdict and did not continue to try to hang around with me, even though he was pretty broken up about it. (He was sufficiently distressed that I felt the need to ask our other friends to make sure that he didn’t hurt himself, but he did stay away as asked.) In the case of the more recent MRAsplosion, the response of some men to a relatively mild general reprimand (“Hey guys, don’t do that.”) has been to escalate to major harassment and threats. But despite its potentially devastating impact, socially stigmatizing certain behaviors is probably the most important tool in our toolbox, and I don’t think any training program is going to completely negate the need for it, even with people who actually are, for the most part, nice guys.

    15. 70.14
      Anne C. Hanna

      Also… do read the comments on that post, especially down to the point where a poster who claims to be “Creeper #1″ shows up being all fumbling and self-defensive while still seeming to maybe be starting to get the point a little bit. To the degree that he’s learning anything at all, it seems to be because he’s being called out on his behavior in no uncertain terms. Without a wakeup call like this, he’d probably still be happily going along doing what he’s always done. Maybe he’ll go looking for some kind of training or practice scenarios now that he knows how badly he’s been messing things up, but without the motivating factor of harsh criticism, it seems unlikely that he would have ever bothered with such a thing, or even considered bothering with it. I would wager that most guys who provoke these kinds of responses in women either don’t know they’re doing it or don’t care, so it will usually take a lot more than just the availability of “How Not to Be a Creep” training classes to get them to change their ways.

      Other women in the comments there also point out that, while it may be true that men are on average worse at social stuff, it’s *not* the case that most men are *so* bad at it that they are completely incapable of detecting when they’re pushing a woman’s boundaries, even if they don’t entirely understand what it is about their behavior that’s problematic. If men were, on average, really as inept as some excuses seem to suggest, we would never have been able to form the complex societies we have today, because they’d be unable to read social signals well enough to avoid having to fight each other to establish dominance every time they got on a crowded bus. A non-neurotypical woman notes in that thread: “As soon as we enter the territory of sex and romance, the same guys who are leagues beyond me in this business and would never cut me slack for, say, difficulty telling if someone is bored with what I’m saying, will start bemoaning how impossible this body language thing is, and how it is totally unfair to expect them to get it.”

      It’s not that most men can’t tell when they’re doing something they shouldn’t (even my almost-stalker friend seemed to have a sort of hangdog realization that being so omnipresent was really not cool), it’s that they’re not socialized to treat women’s boundaries as inviolable. They think that pushing things a little in regard to sex and relationships is like going five miles per hour over the speed limit, and so they don’t see cornering women in elevators as a serious transgression. It’s only a little naughty in their minds, not seriously harmful, and so they’re pissed when a woman calls them out on it, just as they’d be angry if a cop gave them a ticket for a 5 mph speeding violation.

      They don’t understand, because they generally don’t have to, that for the women on the other end of such microaggressions it’s a far different experience. Being called out in a very forceful way is how they learn to appreciate this fact. And the thing is, once they recognize how seriously others take such behavior, they generally do in fact know perfectly well how to avoid it, in the same way they (for the most part) know how to avoid pissing in the punch bowl. Or, at the very least, if they later transgress inadvertently, they know how to respond gracefully to being called out on it, just as they know that if a host at a party reminds you that they prefer for you to take off your shoes in their house, you apologize and take off your damn shoes instead of making a huge deal about how their rules are so complicated and you need practice.

      I’ll grant that there are certainly some guys, particularly those on the autism spectrum, for whom practice really probably is the best prescription. And there are probably even a lot of guys who, while they’re well-intentioned, are so low in confidence or so poorly socialized that a certain amount of practice in a non-threatening environment wouldn’t hurt them either. But it still seems to me that the biggest problem isn’t so much that some guys fumble, it’s that behavior (fumbling or intentional) that has serious negative effects on women often isn’t called out as serious. Consequently, the guys who do it don’t have very strong incentives to correct it, and it becomes entrenched, and then everybody’s lives are worse.

  71. 71
    nohellbelowus

    Furthermore, Anne… what have you got against Bob Seger, anyway?

    ;)

    1. 71.1
      nohellbelowus

      Some of Anne’s posts have appeared asynchronously… perhaps this is a result of your full moderation policy, Dr. Carrier (which I’m thankful for, at least in this particular debate).

      I would be quite interested in the demographics of the sexual surrogate and flirting coaches market. Are college students, many of whom are virtually penniless and hamstrung by tuition costs, or young men in their twenties, many of whom are pinned down by low wages, student loan payments, and high rents, a significant part of the customer base?

      My original post suggested that a bit of mature compassion for the Catch-22 of flirtatious engagement would go a long way. I stand by that assertion. By and large, this is how older and more experienced women deal with the matter. Unfortunately I think Christopher Hitchens may have gotten it right: women simply aren’t funny.

      The issue certainly won’t be solved here, but learning how to write cover letters, under the anxieties and realistic pressures of trying (and potentially failing) to secure employment at a real company, is a good analogy for the path forward.

    2. Richard Carrier

      NoHellBelowUs:

      Unfortunately I think Christopher Hitchens may have gotten it right: women simply aren’t funny

      Almost every single thing he says in that article is demonstrably false, and reflects his poor knowledge not only of female comics, but female comic actresses and writers, as well as the actual science of humor. For his lack of knowledge he substitutes ridiculous sexist and racist stereotypes. And calls it science. The most embarrassing thing he ever wrote, frankly.

      His treatment of the science is especially embarrassing for an atheist who ought to know how to read a science paper. The one paper he refers to is Eiman Azim et al., “Sex Differences in Brain Activation Elicited by Humor,” PNAS 102.45 (8 Nov. 2005): 16496–501. He gets almost everything about it wrong. The paper found zero (read: zero) differences between men and women, except neural ones that had no observed correlate in behavior or perception, and one single behavioral difference: when men and women were presented with cartoons that had no humor content (i.e. both men and women agreed they contained no jokes), women were quicker to identify that there was no humor content. Sompare that with what Hitchens said the study said, and bow your head in shame. As that study actually says, “between sexes, there is no significant difference in the number of cartoons found funny, the degree of funniness, or [response time] to stimuli” and that “differences in neural activity observed in this study are independent of any measured between-sex behavioral differences. Equivalent subjective amusement seems to recruit divergent processing strategies that manifest equivalent behavior” (emphasis added). In fact, in all studies, before and since, “The differences we find between men’s and women’s ability to be funny are so small that they can’t account for the strength of the belief in the stereotype,” Dr. Laura Mickes, UC San Diego.

      Just saying.

    3. 71.2
      Anne C. Hanna

      Well, between his complete failure to actually read what I said for comprehension (instead just looking for ways to distort and nitpick) and his expressed approval of Hitchens’ misogynistic bullshit, I think I’m done wasting my time with NHBU. I think he’s pretty successfully revealed who he is by the way he’s defended himself, without needing any help from me. Thanks for your patience Richard.

  72. 72
    nohellbelowus

    Would that Christopher was still here to defend himself! (I’m going to surmise that you’ve fielded that fly ball before, Dr. Carrier, given the depth and passion of your response.)

    I’ll accept your analysis and won’t defend the science in Hitchens’ famous article, for when I read that Salon piece I sensed a clear tongue-in-cheek (and quite humorous) challenge underpinning it, like a whoopie cushion embedded in a Chippendale chair. (The irony of the many frustrated responses his satire received must have brought Christopher a measure of satisfaction.)

    Of course, and as I’m sure you’ll agree, your criticism of Hitchens does absolutely nothing to invalidate, or even address, my earlier point regarding the value of practice in relations between men and women.

    So if by this clever diversion you’ve merely opened a Pandora’s Box of future personal attacks and poorly focused accusations of sexism by a scornful feminist jury, then I’ll be happily moving on, because it’s your back yard, and my work is done here anyway.

    ;)

    1. 72.1
      nohellbelowus

      To quote your own words, “What the HELL do you want from [me]?”

      Honestly, Anne, I truly don’t remember soliciting anything from you in particular. My first post actually addressed Dr. Carrier, and it was your choice to scamper in from left field with the wacky assertions about my personal life. I certainly don’t need anything from you – please accept my word on that. It’s presumptuous and immature on your part to make these crazy accusations about someone you don’t even know. We’re having a discussion about the relationships between men and women, not about my personal life. Please stop being so callous.

      Most worthwhile things are hard. If you want romance and you are not a natural-born Casanova, you are going to have to work for it, and you are going to fuck up a lot, and when you fuck up people are going to get mad at you, as happens when you fuck up any social interaction. That’s just life, and it’s not women’s fault or responsibility that life is like that.

      Thanks for the trite clichés, platitudes, and F-bombs. No disagreement here. You have a juvenile mode of expressing yourself, but that’s not a crime.

      The internet should not explode in flames when a woman says, “Guys, don’t do that,” and if it does, the responsibility belongs to the people who exploded the internet because they wanted to “do that”, not to the woman who had the temerity to mention a point of etiquette and basic human decency.

      As much as you would like to rehash this matter, it’s completely irrelevant to the original point I made about practice. Please try to stay focused. That’s what I meant about being “concise”. Elevatorgate was a direct consequence of men being ignorant about how to engage with women, irrespective of who was right or wrong. I personally have no stake in the matter – I’m searching for common ground, and will not be drawn into your petulant flame wars, because they are a ridiculous waste of time.

      The skeptical community is not your dating service. It is not skeptical women’s problem that you can’t wet your willy. Don’t expect us to be patient with the thing where a woman walks into a skeptic’s meeting and a room full of guys stare at her with drool coming out of their mouths. And don’t expect us to do your job for you on figuring out how to treat us like fellow human beings either.

      Just another blatant strawman. Feel free to beat on it all you like, on your own dime. And there is that meaningless meta-word “human” again. Pass.

      You already know how to do that — you do it with other men all the time. You just need to apply the same principles to us.

      Finally, you said something halfway provocative. I have no doubt whatsoever that Elevator Guy would dare to ask one of his male friends to go back to his room for coffee, at 4AM, in a secluded elevator, after a night in the hotel bar. Therefore by your own definition he was just acting like a dude while he was “skeezily” propositioning Rebecca.

      How much do these flirting coaches cost, anyway? All that money just to tell guys to act like guys around women they are interested in? Who would’ve thunk it was so damn simple? I think I might even pass gas, belch loudly, and grab my crotch suggestively on my next encounter with a strange woman, given your clear instructions here.

      If this is too hard for you, then you need to check your misogyny, rather than complain about how we’re not giving you enough information or enough chances to practice on us.

      What? Too hard for guys to act like guys? Every guy is acting like a guy around women, and always will be. They can’t help it. It’s genetics. You obviously have some preconceptions and expectations that aren’t being met. And congratulations for finally jamming the word misogyny into one of your sentences! Too bad the sentence is incoherent in terms of addressing my point about practice. You’re working too hard on tangents, Anne! My point was actually quite simple. Please go back and re-read my posts if you need to.

      Can you imagine saying to a black person that you just need more “practice” at treating dark-skinned people like fellow human beings, in the same way that you’re saying this shit to me about women?

      You know Anne, in addition to disingenuously playing the race card here, the kitchen sink is still available as a possible addition to your fatuous argument. Lots of black people need improved social skills, along with every other race on the planet. If a black man was mistreating a black woman, you bet your ass it would be appropriate to suggest that he needs improvement. And watch out, there’s that meaningless meta-platitude “fellow human beings” again.

      This nonsense is the humorous highlight of your participation thus far.

      3. Despite the fact that this is not our job, tons of female (and male) skeptics have spent tons of time over the past year or so explaining to y’all how to get the “night game” practice you so desperately crave in ways that will dramatically reduce your chances of getting slapped even if you *are* a fumbling doofus. People are *already giving you advice on how to practice relatively safely*. People are telling you, “look, here’s the kiddie pool, swim in here for a while before you dive into the ocean”.

      This is all fine, except that it is, once again, completely and utterly missing my point about practice. Listening to advice doesn’t constitute practice for real engagements, any more than merely listening to your golf coach constitutes practicing golf. Number 3 is thus dismissed.

      And you are insisting over and over that the kiddie pool is too hard, and then going into the ocean anyway and blaming us when you drown.

      Another strawperson. It’s not too hard, it’s just the fact that listening isn’t practice. And therefore it’s mostly ineffective. I’d dearly love to watch you swing at a golf ball, for instance, after merely being told how to do it.

      As an aside, how do you know Elevator Guy didn’t have female friends giving him advice and urging him on? You have zero evidence to the contrary. Maybe his tactics actually were the direct result of his female friends telling him to “just act normal” around women at the conference. I think it’s unlikely in his case, but it’s also irrelevant, because helpful advice from women doesn’t constitute practice. Are you sensing a theme yet in my responses? Something related to practice, perhaps? I’m not sure how to make it any more clear to you.

      Yes, it is possible to drown in the kiddie pool too, but everything entails a certain amount of risk, and you’ve got to decide for yourself whether the potential rewards are worth it.

      Just another trite, meaningless, irrelevant platitude. But thanks?

      If the kiddie pool (interacting with women without dating pressure) really is too hard for you, then you need a psychologist more than you need a girlfriend, so you really ought to be going that route first. (And I say this with no stigma intended — psychologists are great, and I use them for my own shit too.)

      I think Dr. Carrier’s suggestion to use sexual surrogates or flirting coaches makes a lot more sense, if one has the coin, because that would be direct training and practice. Consulting a psychologist about dating issues seems a bit extreme, and it doesn’t directly address the issue of realistic practice. If it helps you with your “shit”, I’m very glad to hear you’re seeing one. Maybe you can talk to them about focusing better on the real points in online discussions.

      If you don’t think I’m representative of skeptical women (and you’re right, I’m not — I’m hella more tolerant of overenthusiastic guys and their clumsy pickup attempts than average)…

      I find your statement nearly impossible to believe at this juncture, but I’ll accept you at your word. Lucky guys!

      …then go read any of the dozens of others who have blogged about this and given talks about this, or the hundreds of others who have commented on their posts. Learn from the community as a whole and stop wasting your time mansplaining to me about how different women are different (gee, I never thought of that!).

      A thousand pardons, but reading opinions on blogs doesn’t constitute practice. You’re the one stereotyping women, not me. You’re the one insisting on a “one size fits all” solution, i.e. “just treat them like humans”, or “just act like a normal man”. None of these things addresses the issue of practice.

      The thing you need to practice if you want to become competent at interacting with women is not saying the right things or making the right moves, it is shutting the hell up and *listening*, and the best possible practice you can get at this is to go out and do that right now, and stop whinging at me.

      No, sorry. Listening to women doesn’t constitute practice. Are you okay? Do you need a glass of water and a lemon wedge? Telling me to shut-up isn’t going to help the situation. It’s just silly, juvenile, and incredibly rude. Par for your course, but still contemptible, even from a feminist.

      Anyway, enough of this. I’m done here unless your next post shows that you’ve actually bothered to listen this time.

      Listening doesn’t constitute practice.

      There. I’ve addressed every word in your post. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve now listened patiently to you. Unfortunately, you’ve spent 98% of the time completely missing my point. If there is a next post, please try and be less bitter, and focus on the actual matter at hand.

      Here’s the thing: women are 51% of the human species. 51%. More than half of all humans are women. And yet here you are talking about how difficult and confusing and weird we are to interact with…

      That’s a strawman. As a fifty year old, I personally don’t think women are confusing (or weird) at all. Relationships are indeed difficult, but I haven’t spent a single word suggesting that this is the fault of women. For the hundredth time, it’s the fact that young men lack any realistic way to practice their interactions with women. I don’t think women are from Venus. Evolution explains nearly everything about men and women, and what’s left over can be explained by the influence of culture and religion. Knowing these things doesn’t necessarily help a man engage romantically with a woman, however. Practice is by far the most effective thing.

      …and implying that it’s therefore perfectly reasonable for a large contingent of supposedly grown men to still need major training and accommodations in doing so.

      Yes, absolutely. I think it would help a great deal.

      How *exactly* do you imagine that sounds to people who are members of that more-than-half of humanity? What kind of environment do you think you’re proposing that we should have to live in?

      Who is “poor-little-me-ing” now?
      ;)
      C’mon, Anne, for chrissakes. It could be as simple as Eight-Minute-Dating type classes being mandatory for freshmen and sophomores in college, perhaps preceded by casual and friendly psychological assessments (to filter out undesirables who would then be given more intensive lessons) by experts. Perhaps conducting these lessons in high school would be even more effective, because obviously there are men who don’t attend college. It could be a lot of fun, if done correctly with proper supervision and honest critiques. Sure there are potential problems with this – I’m just throwing out an idea off the top of my head.

      Perhaps high schools and colleges could fund singles clubs that organize campus-wide events, or even “secret” events, where a male student would first be placed into a realistic setting, with real female strangers present (of appropriate age), and then the young man would be encouraged to approach a strange woman, under the watchful eye of “undercover” tutors and other people who could intervene in a friendly fashion if things got ticklish.

      Maybe all the females in a college could be secretly tasked with identifying all the “skeezy creeps” they encountered in the fall semester (btw I’d give my left nut to see such a list), and the college administrators could then impose “charm school” type training on them; training that would hopefully be fun and not necessarily penal or emotionally injurious.

      I think young men would love the idea of being trained for success in their future relationships with women. I know I would have enjoyed it!

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