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May 22 2012

Men Behaving Badly at Atheist Conferences

I’ve just gotten back from the Women in Secularism conference, which was made almost entirely of awesome, and was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. I’ll soon post a recap of the conference highlights.

But right now, I want to point you to some posts about one of the main topics of conversation at the con: the discussion, started by Jen McCreight on one of her panels, about some male speakers behaving badly towards women at conferences, and the fact that women who attend these cons regularly have an informal network warning each other away from these guys… since, for assorted reasons, women don’t feel safe talking about this publicly and naming names.

Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds has two excellent posts up right now about the issue, summing up the main problems and proposing/ discussing solutions. She says most of what I want to say, so I’m just going to point you there:

Zero Intolerance
Making It Safer in the Meantime

Skatje Myers, guest posting on Pharyngula, also has a good post discussing this (near the end of the post):

Women in Secularism conference: a summary, part 1

And at WWJTD?, JT Eberhard has a related post, on a separate but not entirely unconnected issue: how conferences can be made comfortable and safe for women, free of the persistent unwanted sexual advances that are all too common… while still being welcoming to flirting and hooking up for people of all genders who want to do that:

Flirting, sex, and lines: removing skeeze from the movement

It’s a somewhat separate issue from the one Jen raised at the conference — because of the power imbalance, “skeezy behavior on the part of some speakers/ organizers/ other leaders” and “skeezy behavior on the part of some conference attendees” are very different issues — but they’re not totally unrelated, and talk about one is almost certain to raise talk about the other. So go to Almost Diamonds and Pharyngula to talk about how to deal with predatory male speakers in an environment where women don’t feel safe naming names… and go to WWJTD? to talk about boundaries and social cues in flirting, physicality, and hooking up.

57 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    You mean it’s going to take more than scheduling all infidel events at one-floor venues?

  2. 2
    Noelle George

    Leaders almost always dictate the tone/culture of an organization or movement. If we address this problem at the speaker/leadership level and resolve it there, then attendee behavior will follow suit. It will take time, but it will happen. If this behavior continues to be allowed for speakers, the most visible people in our movement, it will continue on all levels.

    I’m so glad that this topic is finally getting some attention, I really wish that I could have attended the Women in Secularism conference. It sounds like an awesome event on many levels.

  3. 3
    echidna

    I agree with the idea that this needs to be a leadership effort – too much of the problem is over-priveliged people thinking that whatever they do is ok. I’ve suggested on Almost Diamonds Zero Intolerance thread that it might be useful for the FTB community to develop a Code of Conduct for speakers, and written processes and procedures for dealing with complaints. The purpose of this would be to provide guidance to the clueless, and also to impart the idea that speakers are accountable for their actions.

  4. 4
    echidna

    It looks like the idea of policy documents is already well in hand on Almost Diamonds.

  5. 5
    CT

    how conferences can be made comfortable and safe for women, free of the persistent unwanted sexual advances that are all too common… while still being welcoming to flirting and hooking up for people of all genders who want to do that

    Hooking up usually begins with asking someone for a coffee.

    Sounds like a minefield, and a minefield that you guys have planted yourselves.

    Have fun.

  6. 6
    Lyanna

    Hooking up usually begins with asking someone for a coffee.

    In an elevator, at 4 am, after that someone has just announced that they’re tired of being harassed.

    If that’s how your hookups begin, you’re rather an exception.

  7. 7
    CT

    Lyanna.

    Exactly my point.

    Flirting/hooking up is the same thing.

    Either you want to defend flirting and hooking up at conventions, or you don’t. Each of these will result in elevator type incidents.

    You are in the minefield – not me.

    Have a nice day.

  8. 8
    Paul Weaver

    I can understand that women are leery of coming forward and naming names publicly – especially after the treatment Watson was given.

    But that doesn’t mean the information must only be kept to an informal women-only network. Find a reasonable male to make the public protest. There have got to be some who will stand up for what’s right, and protect the victims in the process.

    Otherwise these abusers will continue to get invited (and paid) to appear – and nothing will stop their abuse.

  9. 9
    CT

    I think the increase of young male speakers and leaders in the movement has resulted in an emergence and upturn of sexist attitudes towards women in the movement.

    The influx of young male leaders in the movement is to be applauded. However, one must guard against the flirty nature that these people bring with them.

  10. 10
    Greta Christina

    CT: Do you have anything actually constructive to say? Do you recognize that there is a legitimate problem here — the problem that some male speakers (and no, not young ones) make persistent and unwanted sexual advances towards women at atheist conferences, and that women don’t feel safe disclosing or naming names when this happens to them? Do you have any constructive suggestions about how this problem might be handled? Did you even read the posts that were linked to here discussing the problem and proposing possible solutions?

    Or are you just going to be reflexively snarky and dismissive of the whole subject?

    If the latter: Leave the conversation. Now.

  11. 11
    Martin Knutsen

    Im not one of the scene, but Ive been around similar situations. Most of the solutions are awkward. The best one is to find a couple of people, preferably of both genders, who have a reputation for levelheadednes. Make them responsible for telling people off who have clearly crossed the line and make them sort of judges/mediators on the issues that are unclear. And you need som sort of definition on what is clearly crossing the line, and what is just annoying. (Grabbing ass – crossing line. Calling someone “honey” in a patronizing voice, or for that sake “Evil because of your male gender” is just annoying. In my opinion.)

    When a lot of socialy inept people come together (wich face it, is the definition of any -con) there will always be situations where one side feels slighted and the other does not understand what happened, thats the area where cleverness must rule unless you want the “godamn feminists” vs “godamn machoasshole” split to emerge. And while I know this is hard for so many people, try to retain a sense of humopur, unless we are talking about criminal offences and/or complete assholes. The wonderful fauna of nerd-dom contains many strange beasts.

  12. 12
    Robert B.

    Martin:

    I think I know what you’re getting at, but asking people to “retain a sense of humor” in this situation is problematic in a big way. Sexual harassment is often framed as a joke; it can happen in a crowded room, with the victim being the only one present who doesn’t find it funny. Tell such a victim to “have a sense of humor,” and what they hear is that you agree that harassing them was normal and acceptable.

    It would be better to say, “try to keep in mind the difference between the complete assholes and the socially awkward / unconventional,” which I think is the point you were trying to make.

  13. 13
    chriskg

    The issue can be trickier than some of these posts suggest. Drew Carey has stand-up bit on the issue (although in reference to colleges, not conferences). He said that the standards were such at one college that any “unwanted” sexual advance was considered sexual harassment. Noting, that “if it were wanted, he would be getting laid every once in a while.” While this is clearly an oversimplification, the point remains. When does an advance, asking to share a cup of coffee for example, become an unwanted advance? When does it become “unwanted”? I can’t help but think that if the advance was from an attractive person, it would be seen as flattering, and not harassment even if it wasn’t reciprocated. I think guys need to learn to be more attentive, and “yes”, there are some people out there who prefer the direct approach, but are conferences the right venue for this? Who goes to conferences looking for a hook-up? So, what’s the solution? Posted rules on fraternization prior to any conference and after-party, maybe? A “Just say No” standard? I think the only viable solution is to raise awareness of the issue and speak out if you see, hear it, or experience it. No one should feel uncomfortable at a conference, but then again, I’m a guy raised in a cultural marred in sexism and repression…I just may not know the difference between being kindness.

  14. 14
    Greg Laden

    Find a reasonable male to make the public protest. There have got to be some who will stand up for what’s right, and protect the victims in the process.

    There is always the More than Men project.

  15. 15
    chriskg

    Please ignore the last three words in my post. In my haste, I forgot to delete them.

  16. 16
    James Sweet

    So, I know Stephanie doesn’t want to name names, and I think she’s articulated the reasons for that pretty clearly… I was wondering, though, if anybody would be willing to describe a couple of example behaviors of what we are talking about. To be clear, I’m not asking this because I want to decide for myself why it is a problem — if it’s making a large number of people uncomfortable, then it’s definitely a big problem! I’m just wondering what we’re talking about here… are we talking about subtle things, like interrupting women more often*, etc.? Are we talking about painful misunderstandings, like men asking women out in an awkward way or with inappropriate timing? Are we talking about sexist jokes? Are we talking about blatantly and unapologetically sexually demeaning behavior, like randomly commenting on a woman’s breasts? All of the above?

    I’m mostly just curious, but it can also help me to contextualize some of the discussion.

    * I work in a pretty progressive workplace. Although it is male-dominated, it is far less male-dominated than a lot of workplaces in a comparable field, and far less male-dominated than my graduating class at university was. The company has won all kinds of diversity awards, and has very strict sexual harassment policies.

    And yet, in the last couple of years, as I’ve become sensitized to this sort of thing, I’ve noticed how pervasive are the problems of women being interrupted more than men, men being paid more attention to, men’s ideas being solicited more, etc. It’s usually subtle, but if you are looking for it, it’s absolutely everywhere. And because it’s so subtle, it’s more difficult to address it, despite the fact that it’s still tremendously pervasive and damaging.

    So when I referred to that type of problem as being “subtle”, don’t think I was downplaying it. I actually think in many ways those problems are worse, because it’s so difficult to do anything effective about it.

  17. 17
    Gonch

    It’s fine that Stephanie doesn’t want to name names, going against FTB protocol, however, each situation is different.

    I’m aware of one speaker/leader in the atheist/skeptic movement who exhibits these characteristics. He’s also a blogger, but not particulary well known outside the movement. He’s in his late 20s/early 30s. Maybe Stephanie is referring to the same guy.

    Maybe he’ll modify his behaviour after these recent events.

  18. 18
    Reginald Selkirk

    No one is willing to name names; so how do I know it’s not me?
    .
    And is it entirely heterosexual men engaging in this misbehaviour?

  19. 19
    christophernicholas

    WRT “unwanted advances,” you can’t always KNOW they’re unwanted until you make them and get turned down. I realize that a lot of advances made, by clumsy or inept or judgement impaired men who SHOULD have known, by context, body language, or a look in the mirror, that their advances wouldn’t be appreciated. But it’s not fair to label every guy who makes a pass and gets shot down a sexual predator.

    I’d say men need to learn to pick their moments better and more realistically, and more important, learn how to hear the word NO and accept it gracefully, the first time it’s said.

    I’ve known women who complained about sexual harassment who, for whatever reason felt uncomfortable just saying flat out “I’m not interested” to a man who propositioned them. These weren’t situations where the person asking them out was a boss or teacher or someone with any authority over them, or even a co-worker who could make them miserable with repeated advances. In each case, the man eventually left them alone, after hearing repeated excuses “I have to get home” “not tonight” “some other time” “I have a headache.” But in the mean time the woman felt put upon by the repeated requests for dates and the man’s slowness to get the hint. Is it so dangerous to directly say “no, I’m not interested” to most men?

  20. 20
    Gonch

    by clumsy or inept or judgement impaired men who SHOULD have known, by context, body language, or a look in the mirror

    I know. Ugly blokes should not approach women under any circumstances!

  21. 21
    christophernicholas

    Wow. I can’t stand by much of what I just posted above. Wish I could edit or delete it, I didn’t think through what I typed. Feel like I’ll dig myself into an even deeper hole if I try to clarify. But here goes: you should have some idea before you make a pass at someone, whether they are receptive to such a pass or not. And relative physical attractiveness is part of that equation.

    There’s a difference between a tone deaf guy, who makes a pass when he ought to have known better, and the maladjusted creep who tries to punish or intimidate the woman who says “no” to him. Most men would stop after a clear “no, thanks, I am not interested.” Maybe I’m just naive about how often rejected men turn out to be that second guy.

  22. 22
    Godless Heathen

    In each case, the man eventually left them alone, after hearing repeated excuses “I have to get home” “not tonight” “some other time” “I have a headache.”

    Except those are fairly clear indicators that the woman isn’t interested and shouldn’t need to be repeated for the man to get the hint. With the exception of “I have a headache,” which seems more ambiguous.

    All the others are pretty clear ways of saying “I’m not interested.” I mean, really, how does “not tonight” not mean “I’m not interested”?

    (I’m assuming these are situations in which the man is trying to hook up with the woman or at least do something with her that day rather than sometime in the future.)

  23. 23
    victoria

    @Christopher Nicholas (21)

    In my experience the trickier situations arise when the person making the advances is being obvious but not direct.

    I had a situation with a friend of a friend a few years ago where this was going on. I’m quite happily married and wouldn’t have been remotely interested in FOF even if I were single. The first time he made a remark to me that couldn’t be interpreted as anything but a come-on the problem was solved; I was able to respond politely but directly and coldly. I’m capable of doing that and I think most women are.

    The problem was all the stuff leading up to that — suggestive (but ambiguous) comments, happening to randomly “show up” at places I was likely to be and tag along when I was with our mutual friend, trying to touch me in nonsexual “flirty” ways when neither my words nor my tone nor my body language could have been construed as anything but uninterested.

    Could I have started a conversation and said, “Look, it’s obvious that you’re interested, but I’m not and you’re creeping me out. Cut it out.” Yeah, I could have, and I strongly considered it. But he had plausible deniability at that point — he hadn’t actually propositioned me — and I didn’t want to have a private conversation with him because I had an overwhelming sense that this was not someone who was safe to be alone with.

    I totally agree with you that not every unwanted attempt at flirtation is harassment. I was involved for many years in an activity that was overwhelmingly male and attracted its share of socially inept individuals. When I was doing that I was on the receiving end on my fair share of awkward attempts at flirtation and for the most part I was totally cool with it. When you’re dealing with someone who knows what they’re doing and is a creep anyhow, or someone who you suspect to be dangerous in some way, though, that’s a different story.

  24. 24
    LMM

    I feel like we just had some of this conversation a year or so ago. It’s a bit frustrating to have to rehash the *exact* same issues (complete with discussions of privilege and the right to get laid) with the exact same group of people all over again.

    This isn’t complicated. This isn’t even morally ambiguous.

  25. 25
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    But he had plausible deniability at that point — he hadn’t actually propositioned me — and I didn’t want to have a private conversation with him because I had an overwhelming sense that this was not someone who was safe to be alone with

    And this, right here, is why putting the onus on women to somehow psychically know when a guy is “really” hitting on them or not is bullshit. Creepers know how to maintain plausible deniability so that, if they are rejected, they can blame bitchez for creating the “minefield” and refuse any blame for their own behavior. It’s always women’s fault, after all. Men – especially creepy and/or inappropriate ones – are just perfect precious angels who are forced to behave badly by slutty temptresses or something. Its hard to keep track of a misogynists’ house of cards.

  26. 26
    Greta Christina

    No one is willing to name names; so how do I know it’s not me?

    Reginald Selkirk @ #20: Are you a prominent speaker on the atheist/ skeptic conference circuit? If not — then you’re not one of the names people are talking about naming.

    Part of the problem here is that we’re talking about two different issues. We’re talking about speakers and organizers hitting on people at conferences — and we’re talking about conferences attendees hitting on each other. The answers to many of these questions are going to be different in these different situations.

    For instance: The question of “How do you know your advances are unwanted until you try?” For conference attendees, the answer is something along the lines of, “Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues about whether your advances are being welcomed, and to whether this is a situation where women will feel safe or feel vulnerable.” For speakers/ organizers, the answer should be more along the lines of, “Do not hit on conference attendees at conferences, period, full stop — there’s a power imbalance, and you’re taking advantage of it.”

  27. 27
    Josh

    Is this somehow seen as a “problem” in the atheist community and not in every other community? There are dirtbags and jerks that are and aren’t atheist. It is in their nature. I know that we like to think that most in our community are socially enlightened enough to stay above a certain level of conduct but lets live in reality. Being a non-believer in no way guarantees that an individual will not act like a jerk or hit on a woman whether she wants to be or not. I am certainly not condoning their actions but thats life. We can certainly try to discourage these actions and hope that people will act in a decent manner but there will always be some who do not see their actions as unreasonable or out-of-line. I have always found a direct approach is much more effective than trying to be nice or dismissive. Me their directness with your own and let them slink away with their beaten pride.

  28. 28
    Timothy Brannan

    I had a long reply worked out here, but it became ranty.
    So I posted over at my own site.
    http://freedomofnonbelief.blogspot.com/2012/05/we-should-be-better-than-this.html.

    My issue here. We should be better than this.
    These are the issues that we lambast other groups for and we should not be sexually harassing anyone.

  29. 29
    Greta Christina

    I was wondering, though, if anybody would be willing to describe a couple of example behaviors of what we are talking about.

    James Sweet @ #18: For the purposes of these conversations, we’re not talking about interrupting women more than men, or other more subtle forms of sexism. Jen McCreight at BlagHag, who started this conversation at the Women In Secularism conference, has weighed in about it on her blog, and here’s an excerpt where she describes some of what we’re talking about:

    Both female friends and strangers confided in me, telling me stories of speakers that talked only to their chest, groped them against their wishes, followed them to their hotel room, or had goals to bag a young hottie at every speaking gig they did.

    And again: These are different conversations depending on whether we’re talking about speakers or conference attendees. This behavior isn’t acceptable for anyone — but for a speaker, it’s taking advantage of a power imbalance in a way that’s downright predatory.

  30. 30
    Nick Gotts

    When does an advance, asking to share a cup of coffee for example, become an unwanted advance? – chriskg

    In an elevator, at 4am, with only the asker and the person asked present, when the latter has recently made clear they are tired, and do not like being hit on at conferences, for example.

  31. 31
    Greta Christina

    Is this somehow seen as a “problem” in the atheist community and not in every other community?

    Josh @ #29: It’s a problem in lots of communities. And each community has the responsibility to deal with it. Nobody is saying “this is a special atheist problem.” We’re saying, “this is a problem, among atheists as well as other groups, and if we want atheism to be safe and welcoming to women, we need to deal with it.”

  32. 32
    jamessweet

    @Greta #31: Egads! Well, thanks for filling that in for me (I had somehow missed Jen’s post, I guess). That provides a lot of useful context here. The good news, I think, is that those sort of blatant behaviors should be preventable. It’s not like the aggressor doesn’t realize they’re doing it, after all… (Unlike some of the other things I mentioned, which are incredibly difficult to address because the guys in the wrong often have no idea they are even doing it)

    And yeah, I think I agree with you about there being a power imbalance with speakers/organizers vs. attendees that changes the lines of what sort of things are acceptable. That’s an important point that should be made forcefully, and could go some way to alleviate the concerns of people who think they are going to get in trouble just for innocent flirting.

  33. 33
    Nick Gotts

    In each case, the man eventually left them alone, after hearing repeated excuses “I have to get home” “not tonight” “some other time” “I have a headache.” – christophernicholas

    Really, one such excuse, unaccompanied by a “But how about…”, should be enough. Two most certainly should.

  34. 34
    nameit

    There is something to be said for a pithy short-cut term. I like the term “Don’t be a Dick”, and I think we should also use “Don’t be a Skeeve”.
    That said, is there a term for “Rape Threat As Argument Cut-off”?
    This seems to be a fairly common problem for some men who spiral into agressive frustration and then when they have no more real arguments, close a post with a throw-away rape threat.
    This seems akin to Godwin’s Law (that all arguments will devolve into a Hitler reference), but only applies against women, and seems to hold true malicious hatred.
    If there is no such term, I vote we call it “Skepchick Attack Syndrome”, named for the vicious attack on Rebecca Watson after she addressed a skeevy sexual pursuit at a convention.

  35. 35
    Michael Brew

    And this, right here, is why putting the onus on women to somehow psychically know when a guy is “really” hitting on them or not is bullshit.

    True, though in the same fashion it’s unreasonable to put the onus on guys to psychically know when a woman is “really” not interested. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not cool for anyone to dog anyone else for a date. Hell, I’ve been dogged by a couple women in the past and I felt rather uncomfortable about it. I don’t really blame them, though, because I don’t think they could have honestly been expected to see through my friendly front. Not only was I very evasive, but I know that when you get a crush on someone it’s hard not to be… overly optimistic. Of course, I’ve also known a couple people who’ve gotten together after the woman put the man off initially, but he kept trying and she decided to go ahead and go out, they fell in love, and started going steady and, in at least one case, got married. It’s difficult to tell sometimes if a woman is actually rejecting you (which she honestly probably is nine times out of ten if you’re lucky) or if she’s just trying not to look “too eager.” Relating with other people is messy, though, and sexual dynamics is like a minefield and you don’t have a sweeper. There are going to be times when people are going to become uncomfortable or get hurt. Sometimes there’s no one really to blame, either, but is simply the result of two personalities people meeting. Still, we should certainly do everything we can to make sure people, especially women who currently suffer a dearth of social power, aren’t made needlessly uncomfortable. And I do hope we can do that without making flirting a more stressful affair than it already is.

  36. 36
    jamessweet

    @michaelbrew: I think those issues can all get pretty complicated, but I’m not sure that’s what we’re talking about here. It’s less complicated when it’s a boss propositioning a direct report; it’s less complicated when it’s a famous speaker propositioning a conference attendee; and it’s way less complicated when it involves unsolicited groping.

    That’s one reason I asked Greta what we are talking about here. I don’t think we’re talking about Elevator Guy. I think we’re talking about something a lot less ambiguous.

  37. 37
    Greta Christina

    michaelbrew @ #37: Yes, these issues can become complicated. But remember: We’re not talking about ordinary dating life here. We’re talking about a fairly specific set of circumstances: namely, flirting and hookups at conferences.

    And in that specific set of circumstances, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to:

    a) tread on the side of caution, and assume that “lack of interest” means “lack of interest” rather than “trying not to look too eager”;

    b) not hit on people if you’re a speaker, organizer, or otherwise in a position of power.

    As for the whole thing about “some women reject men at first just so they don’t look too eager”: Compare, on the one hand, the problem of a hostile environment in which many women don’t feel welcome or safe in a community because of a climate that tolerates sexual predation. Compare, on the other hand, the problem that some women who don’t want to seem too eager won’t get laid when they might otherwise, and some men who aren’t persistent in the face of rejection won’t get laid when they might otherwise. Which do you think is the bigger problem?

  38. 38
    John the Drunkard

    This sort of reflects on the last post, about Atheism demanding social justice. Clearly a lot of atheist movement members/leaders have not got to that point yet.

    I DO support the idea that fully reasoned atheism developes values that demand social justice. ‘Atheist’ movements that do not (e.g. Bolsheviks, Khmer Rouge, Objectivists) are tainted by pseudo-religiosity.

    How do we get to a situation where, within the atheist community:
    A. “…women [DO] feel safe talking about this publicly and naming names.”
    B. We are “… welcoming to flirting and hooking up for people of all genders who want to do that.”

    These two goals are actually the same. How can anyone be safe from creepy, intrusive, power-corrupted advances if they cannot speak up for themselves? How can people connect in a kind and friendly sexual atmosphere when they feel at risk?

    As a geeky, raised-by-wolves sort of guy, I can tell y’all that there is no way that ‘subtle’ messages of interest or disinterest work in real life. I spent a decade and a half in unwanted celebacy, trusting that interested parties would make their interest known. I understand now that women are crushed under the threat of slut-shaming if they even glance at men.

    The trolls will lash out at any woman who raises these topics at all. (Thanks Jen, for breaking omerta) So why not name names?

    I don’t have a blog, and am not particulary well known. If anyone wants to send me names, and incidents, I am willing to post them as comments here.

  39. 39
    Michael Brew

    @jamessweet

    Understood. I was speaking more toward the casual flirting with which some commenters seemed to be taking issue.

    @Greta

    I think I made it clear that I don’t agree with any environment that makes anyone, especially those who are at a disadvantage, uncomfortable or unsafe. I only wanted to point out that we shouldn’t take condemning people for being persistent in their flirting too far. Obviously, there’s a very thin and blurry line between being persistent and predatory, and one most dating men unfortunately have to walk, but I think from what I’ve read from you that you would agree with that general sentiment.

  40. 40
    janetfactor

    I’d like to make a suggestion as to how this problem with speakers might be handled.

    I totally understand the reluctance to come forward on the part of individuals. Any one woman who made such an accusation against a prominent speaker would undoubtedly be, pardon the expression, crucified. Also, I suspect that some women might be willing to take the heat but unwilling to do something that could well create a real division within the movement, as people line up to take sides for one party or the other. Not to mention the fear that the tarnishing a prominent speaker could bring the movement itself into disrepute,

    But there is a way past this difficulty: coordinated action.

    We need to find multiple women who have had similar experiences with the same speakers, and persuade them to make a joint statement to that effect. One statement per speaker, each statement containing specifics from at least three women. The statements must be as factual as possible, with details of places and times, etc. They need to be made under the aegis of a major secular organization, or even better, a coalition of such.

    The long term history of such events in the media at large shows that when multiple women come forward with similar accusations, the public is much morel likely to credit them. Moreover, if this is done formally by secular organizations, it will be a demonstration that we police ourselves and protect our own, and that will be a positive for the movement rather than a negative.

  41. 41
    Gonch

    Is it only his behaviour at conventions that is a problem, or does it spread to other areas?

    One of the people involved frequently posts on various FTB threads. At conventions, he has a habit of constantly gaping into his iPhone – except when a woman passes by!

    The thing is, he often pops up on these threads suppoorting the consensus that sexism in the movement is a problem. I’m glad people are starting to see through him.

  42. 42
    CultureVulture

    I am currently reading up on false flag operations created by the US government. They will often release vague but incriminating information about a certain problem, and then proceed to put forward a plan of action against that problem, even when nobody is sure what the problem is.

    Essentially, a witch hunt can be used to shout down people who are not subscribed to the government’s POV. The government have provided the information (the vague and incriminating information) and therefore can attack opponents who questions that false flag operation. The witch hunt can also be used to sideline anybody who is not on board with the agenda. It is a useful little trick, even if it can backfire with disasterous consequences.

    BTW, anybody else read ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller? Classic stuff.

  43. 43
    Greta Christina

    CultureVulture @ #44: Are you arguing that this is happening now? That there is not, in fact, any problem with male speakers at atheist conferences talking only to women’s chests, groping them against their wishes, following them to their hotel room, having goals to bag a young hottie at every speaking gig they did, or otherwise abusing their power in sexually invasive and predatory ways? That the women who are talking about this, the multiple women who have separately reported these incidents to Jen and to others, are just making all this up, in an attempt to create a witch-hunt and enforce an agenda?

    Do you really think this is a more plausible hypothesis than the hypothesis that this is a real problem?

    Sexual harassment is a problem that is well-documented in society at large, outside the atheist community. Why do you find it so implausible to think that it might be a problem in our community as well?

    The question of what kind of evidence is sufficient to support these allegations is a real one. And it’s one that’s being discussed, and taken seriously, by the people who have raised this issue. I’ll say what I said above to CT: Do you have anything actually constructive to contribute? Or are you just going to be reflexively dismissive of the whole subject? If the latter: Leave the conversation. Now.

  44. 44
    CultureVulture

    Hi Greta.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with sexism in the movement. Why wouldn’t there be? There is a problem with sexism in all movements.

    I also didn’t accuse the women coming forward of starting the witch hunt. Others have done that by sending out the signal that there are “witches” in the movement, but are rather private with identities and evidence. This has led to people to point fingers based on no evidence. That is why the Salem reference is very apt.

    There may be good reasons to keep all this private (except for the actual witch hunt, of course), but it does give the impression that you now have a false flag operation running, and that any questioning to that false flag operation means you can be sidelined, banned, branded, etc. simply for joining the trendy bandwagon.

    The people in question need to be challenged, but a witch hunt is not going to change their behaviour, simply because they might not even be aware you had them in mind. You need to take the issue directly to them, and not initiating a witch hunt in the wider atheist/skeptic community.

  45. 45
    Greta Christina

    There may be good reasons to keep all this private

    CultureVulture @ #46: Yes. There are. They have been discussed extensively, at Almost Diamonds and elsewhere. Those of us who are actually trying to solve this problem are trying to find a way that it can be made public, without making the targets’ lives into a misery.

    Do you have any constructive suggestions for how to do that? Other than just dismissing the situation as a “witch hunt”? If not, then leave the conversation. Now.

  46. 46
    Gonch

    Those of us who are actually trying to solve this problem are trying to find a way that it can be made public, without making the targets’ lives into a misery.

    You could at least stop him from posting here and elsewhere at FTB.

    Particulary as his public persona is that of supporting the FTB point of view regarding EG and women in skepticism!

    The scoundrel.

  47. 47
    echidna

    The people in question need to be challenged, but a witch hunt is not going to change their behaviour

    This is why the idea of open, written policies and procedures is being discussed and adopted.

  48. 48
    Ace of Sevens

    There’s a difference between a tone deaf guy, who makes a pass when he ought to have known better, and the maladjusted creep who tries to punish or intimidate the woman who says “no” to him.

    Yes, but in my experience, the tone deaf guys tend to be very insecure and thus have a tendency to think that women complaining about sleazes are talking about them when they aren’t. The actually sleazes either don’t know or don’t care that they are the ones being talked about, so these attempts to call out me in a non-specific way reach the wrong people and don’t do much good once you’ve passed the point of making sure people are aware of basic decorum.

    The informal network is putting the onus on women to avoid being harassed, even if no one is saying “why were you in a room alone with him if you didn’t want to be groped? You should know that he does that. Every talks about it int he informal network.”

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure of a better solution. All the women who are prominent in the community who have been personally targeted by such behavior could simultaneously publish about it. This would avoid the rumors and innuendo problem of just giving out a sourceless list and would spread out the blowback and minimize the chances of people being forever pigeon-holed as that woman who just complains about sexism in the atheist movement as opposed to writing about atheism. On the other hand, this would surely miss some of the people who deserve to be called out (who may have only targeted staff members who don’t have a big pulpit) and there’s plenty of blowback to go around, so it could just multiply the problem.

    Someone who isn’t well-known could publish the list. They would have less to lose and more to gain than a more prominent blogger since the resulting attention would get them some readers and they don’t really have a reputation to lose. There are plenty of downsides, but I’m sure that someone is willing to do it. Unfortunately, you have the rumors and innuendo problem. If the list is being passed around informally, it’s pretty much guaranteed that this will happen sooner or later. I think it’s prudent to do something better first if anyone can figure out what that might be.

    Also, I am familiar with one version of this list. There’s no way that a lot of these people are going to stop being invited to conferences because a dozen or two less famous women don’t want to be on the same bill. It would take a popular move against them. Unfortunately, elevator guy was a nobody who wasn’t even given a name and still had loads of people jumping to his defense. I’m not sure there would be enough popular sentiment to unseat the problem speakers even if they grabbed every boob they saw and every potential attendee was aware of this.

  49. 49
    Melody

    Hold the phone! Maybe we should reconsider! The very respectable Russell Blackford thinks any sexual harassment policy is “Talibanesque.”

    “There’s also the small issue of some people wanting to introduce Talibanesque codes of conduct that go far beyond any legal requirements into the atheist/skeptic/secularist movements. I’m glad these people don’t have any actual political power.” — Russell Blackford

    Super feminist Miranda Celeste Hale agrees.

  50. 50
    julian

    “There’s also the small issue of some people wanting to introduce Talibanesque codes of conduct that go far beyond any legal requirements into the atheist/skeptic/secularist movements. I’m glad these people don’t have any actual political power.”

    Ha!

    Called it.

    Knew he’d come out on ERV’s side of the issue. Obviously asking atheist orgs to have anti-harassment policies is the same as being forcing women to where sacks over their faces.

    This guys a joke.

  51. 51
    jamessweet

    Before we jump down Russell’s throat, when and where exactly did he say this? Googling for this phrase only comes up with Melody’s comment.

  52. 52
  53. 53
    chagrined

    Time for some humor here.

    Bring in some Pentecostal Holiness females to act as “enforcers”. Their strict religious code has taught to them quickly identify and shut down any guy who attempts to engage in skeevy behavior (visions of the Cheech and Chong episode “Bailiff take him out side and whack his …. ).

  54. 54
    Cara

    While this is clearly an oversimplification, the point remains. When does an advance, asking to share a cup of coffee for example, become an unwanted advance? When does it become “unwanted”? I can’t help but think that if the advance was from an attractive person, it would be seen as flattering, and not harassment even if it wasn’t reciprocated.

    Sigh.

    Dude. You must know that this isn’t “just asking questions”.

    And “Oh, it’s unwanted because you don’t like me like that, boo hoo,” is such a bunch of garbage.

    Men know damned well when they’re not being encouraged. They pick up on non-verbal communication just fine in situations where their penises aren’t involved. They just choose to play Technical Foul when they hone in on some woman because THEY DON’T WANT TO HEAR “NO THANKS”, VERBALLY OR NON-VERBALLY.
    So they play the variation of Technical Foul (if she doesn’t say an outright no, it’s not a foul, keep shooting for the basket) called Plausible Deniability, where any ambiguity means it’s just a “misunderstanding” and she’s “oversensitive”.

    (After all, it’s just a cup of coffee. In an elevator. In the early morning hours. After leaving a bar that serves coffee. When she already said “I’m tired, I’m going to bed.” To everyone. Not giving a Sooper Sekrit Wink to anyone to follow her up.)

    And the very idea that a woman might, indeed, be annoyed is so much less important than a man’s pursuit of that slim chance of getting a total stranger to sleep with him. She’s not a person, just life support for a vagina he wants to access, so her irritation or split-second of fear IS SO IRRELEVANT. After all, women have to expect to be hit on every time they leave the house, that’s what they’re FOR.

    How about this: When in doubt, DON’T. Or wait for a woman to invite YOU for coffee.

    Better still, listen to her words and watch her body language instead of your penis. Because that sucker will lie to you all day long.

  55. 55
    chriskg

    @Cara,

    You said, “Dude. You must know that this isn’t ‘just asking questions’” Well, actually it is. If you noticed when that post was made, not all, if any of the details were made available of the incident. So, let me restate this becuase you tend not to read everything, “It was written before any specifics were mentioned” so context is key.

    You also said, And “Oh, it’s unwanted because you don’t like me like that, boo hoo,” is such a bunch of garbage.” which is not what I said. Not even close.

    Please reread the post. In fact, I was making the same point that you accusing me of missing although I was not so eloquent or clever as to suggest that I was thinking with my “penis” as you put it.

    The rest of your post is so off base I’m not sure how to respond except to say that bold text and all-caps really doesn’t make your point any stronger.

    The part of my post that you didn’t quote says, “I think guys need to learn to be more attentive, and “yes”, there are some people out there who prefer the direct approach, but are conferences the right venue for this?” And, “I think the only viable solution is to raise awareness of the issue and speak out if you see, hear it, or experience it. No one should feel uncomfortable at a conference, but then again, I’m a guy raised in a cultural marred in sexism and repression…I just may not know the difference.”

    So, are you against these points as well? Should we not raise awareness? Should we not speak out about it? Should everyone be made to feel uncomfortable?

    I was raising the point that guys can be oblivious, but it appears I’m not the only who can’t read between the lines, but you seemed to have missed this and instead deiced that I was the enemy. So be it.

    So, if you would be so kind as to try and slander these comments too, I would greatly appreciate it and feel free to use all caps again.

  56. 56
    Cara

    I responded to your “Oh, gee, I can’t help but feel that if you just liked the guy’s looks it wouldn’t be harassment…”

    I didn’t say, or imply, that you were “the enemy”.

    I said. That’s an old, tired meme. Knock it off.

    Women aren’t making up harassment.

    Women don’t get a thrill out of turning guys down.

    Women aren’t just waiting for guys to make a move so we can shoot them down and cackle with glee.

    We’re sick to fucking death of guys saying, “But how do I KNOW if I don’t TRY?”

    My point was, most of them DO know. BEFORE they try. They just try anyway because the movies say that’s how it’s done.

  57. 57
    chriskg

    @Cara,

    Again, “Oh, gee, I can’t help but feel that if you just liked the guy’s looks it wouldn’t be harassment…” Is not what I said. I realize that anecdotal evidence is not the strongest, but my point was attractive people can get away with it, while others cannot. Our threshold for putting up with bad behavior can be extended if the offender is more attractive. I have seen this numerous times in the workplace, the military and at school. Even Psychology Today noted, “Better looking people get the benefit of the doubt, get away with bad behavior, and make more money than everyone else” (Aug 1, 2011).

    You also said, “I didn’t say, or imply, that you were ‘the enemy.’” Granted, you did not use the word, you certainly implied that I must be thinking that “She’s not a person, just life support for a vagina he wants to access [to]” which is absurd. By your estimation, every single interaction between adults is a scam to have sex. What a sad way to live.

    Additionally, you said that your previous remarks were “That’s an old, tired meme. Knock it off.” Which, again, no you didn’t say that. As you are aware, a meme has a very specific context and your remarks were in no way related to the meme theme. Had you said, “There is a cultural meme, rooted in cultural misogyny, whereby males can presuppose the outcome of an attempted advance to garner sexual congress that needs to be addressed,” I would agree with you. However, telling me to “knock it off” is simply misplaced and stupid. What exactly should I “Knock off”?

    And then these little gems, “Women aren’t making up harassment” and “Women don’t get a thrill out of turning guys down” and “Women aren’t just waiting for guys to make a move so we can shoot them down and cackle with glee.”

    Please show me where I said, implied, or otherwise insinuated such inanity. I said none of these things and I fear you are simply projecting on the first person willing to discuss these issues with you.

    “We’re sick to fucking death of guys saying,” ‘But how do I KNOW if I don’t TRY?’”My point was, most of them DO know. BEFORE they try.’” There are several things wrong with this, primarily you are assuming that every attempt is an attempt at sex. The oft misquoted “Sometime a cigar, is just a cigar” should be “sometimes and invitation for coffee, is just an invitation for coffee.” And, just to be clear, no, some guys don’t know when they have gone too far. Since everyone is different, every threshold is also different. And, the guys that do know they’ve gone too far, and persist are the ones that need to slapped down. So, back to my original point, raise awareness of the issue. By all means, make rules, ban fraternization if that’s what solves the problem, or embarrass the hell out of the offenders. I’m okay with all of those things.

    Again, to be clear, I am not defending those men that can’t take “no” for an answer, are obnoxious, rude, or in any way intimidating, unwelcome, annoying or harassing women (or men). That is not my point and never has been. I am saying that there are still a few guys that can’t read the subtle gestures that women can give. As an example, my wife asked me out on a date because I was too clueless to realize she liked me. I’m forever grateful that she did. But then again, I’m not the kind to pester people. Maybe a simple “friends first policy” seems to the best course of action.

    If you don’t agree, then what is your solution?

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