Here’s the fifth — and final — part of my series on thunderf00t’s horrible post about sexual harassment.
As some of you may know, videoblogger thunderf00t has recently joined the Freethought Blogs network — and has weighed in on the conversation about sexual harassment at conferences. Saying, essentially and among many other things, that:
*THIS REALLY ISN’T A BIG PROBLEM*
Put simply, YES talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment.
There is so much wrong packed into this one post, I could write an entire novel-length systematically dismantling everything that’s wrong with it. But I don’t have time or energy for that today… and I can’t imagine anyone having it in them to read it anyway. So I’m going to look at one piece of this wrong at a time, until I get bored or otherwise sick of it.
The wrong for today:
2) The VAST majority of people at these conferences are civil, honest, respectable folks. Giving people a list of things they are and are not allowed to do in the bars in the evenings gives the impression that this is not a conference for grown-ups but an expensive and repressive day/night care where your every action will be vigilantly vetted for dis-approval by the conference organizers. Put simply this sort of thing is a killjoy for the civil, honest respectable majority.
Nobody is disputing the fact that most people at conferences are civil, honest, respectable folks. The issue is that a small handful of people can make an event seriously unpleasant and horrible for lots of other people. Especially since harassers often harass more than person. (Even if only five guys at a conference behave obnoxiously and invasively… if each of them behaves this way with ten women, that’s fifty women harassed.)
And I am baffled at this idea that a code of conduct at a conference gives the impression that the attendees are not adults, or that their every action will be vigilantly vetted. I have been to lots of events with codes of conduct, from conferences to concerts to sex parties, and I have never gotten this impression. The impression I have gotten is that:
a) the organizers recognize that most of its attendees are civil, honest, respectable folks… but if the event is big enough and/or open to the public, there’s probably going to be a handful of uncivil, skeezy, irresponsible jerks — so the organizers are letting these jerks know that their behavior won’t be tolerated;
b) the organizers recognize that social expectations vary in different situations, and even civil, honest, respectable folks may not know what’s expected in this particular setting — so the organizers are letting attendees know what the guidelines are here.
Like I said yesterday: The existence of laws and rules, as long as they’re reasonable and fair and fairly enforced, does not make most people feel like they’re being vigilantly vetted by killjoys. (I examined this idea in more detail in yesterday’s post, so I’m not going to repeat it here.)
Now, if particular details of a particular code of conduct seem either too restrictive or too vague, by all means, say so. That’s a conversation that’s worth having. But that is very different from an attack on the very idea of a code of conduct. And it’s very different indeed from an attack on absurdly exaggerated strawman versions of codes of conduct that nobody has adopted or even proposed.
If I want to chew on some womans leg in a bar, I don’t want to have to consult the conference handbook to see if this classes as acceptable behavior!
(Photo of thunderf00t biting a laughing woman’s leg in a bar, with the caption, “The screaming ones always taste better!”)
This has now been said many times by many people, including me. But it’s important, and it warrants repeating:
Do you want to know if this behavior classes as acceptable behavior?
Ask the woman whose leg you’re biting.
That’s what the codes of conduct say. You have to get consent first. If you have a long-standing friendly relationship, with a standing agreement that okays physical horseplay and leg-biting — fine. That counts as consent. But whether you got that consent months or years ago when you first started hanging around with this person, or whether you’re getting it right this minute from someone you just met and whose leg you want to bite… you have to get their consent.
You don’t have to consult the conference organizers if you want to touch someone. You don’t have to consult the conference handbook. You have to consult the person you want to touch. That’s what the codes of conduct say.
And if someone thinks that’s a repressive policy instituted by killjoys — then I don’t want them at any conference I’m going to attend.
It’s a bar….boys AND girls and have fun in bars! Sure sometime people misjudge situations, and sure there will be a few bad apples (who usually, and quite rightly, get their actions addressed at some point). But like I say, IT’S A BAR!! and those are the rules of engagement in bars, as the old saying goes, if you are gonna eat tuna, you gotta expect some bones!
Please let me know which bars you go to — so I can be sure to avoid them.
Not so I can avoid you. So I can avoid the bars.
I do not want to go to any bar where the implied “rules of engagement” are that I should expect to be touched without my consent. I do not want to go to any bar where the “bones” I’m supposed to expect include giving up my right to decide who will and will not touch me. I do not want to go to any bar where any obnoxious, invasive, or harassing behavior short of law-breaking is tolerated, and where any complaint of mine is met with the equivalent of, “Call the cops. Oh, he wasn’t breaking the law? Then shut up.” I do not want to go to any bar where my clearly stated desire to not be harassed is seen as ruining everyone else’s fun.
I don’t want that at bars — and I don’t want it at conferences. Or at bars outside/ after/ as part of conferences. Lots of women don’t want it. We’ve been putting up with this attitude our whole lives… and we’re sick of it. That isn’t fun for us. We want to have fun, too. And we think our idea of fun matters. We want conference organizers to listen to us. Sexual harassment is a real thing that happens a distressing amount of the time at these conferences, and women are finally starting to talk about it and to ask that something be done about it. This isn’t an unreasonable request, or even an unusual one: codes of conduct are standard operating procedure at conferences. We’re not asking atheist/ skeptical conferences to blaze new trails here. We’re asking them to catch up with the rest of the world.
And if you think — as you seem to — that sexual harassment at conferences is a minor issue that’s being blown up all out of proportion, that your desire to horse around at bars without impediment is more important than women’s desire to attend atheist/ skeptical conferences and the social events connected with them without being harassed, and that the women speaking up about all this are just ruining the fun for everyone else… how shall I say this?
Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.
Thus endeth the lesson. thunderf00t has written more on this, both in the original post and in two follow-ups, including a follow-up that replied to this series. But I’m getting bored with this now, and the balance in my brain on the “irritating/ interesting and potentially useful” scale is tipping towards “irritating.” The follow-ups didn’t say anything substantially different from what was said in the previous post, so I’m going to knock it off now. I think I’ve made my point.