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Jul 13 2012

Hugs, Handshakes, and Codes of Conduct at Conferences

Do codes of conduct at conferences have a chilling effect on ordinary social interaction?

In the discussions about sexual harassment and codes of conduct at atheist and skeptical conferences, there’s been a tendency for the conversations to wander off into a micro-analysis of whether people would have to get explicit verbal consent for handshakes and hugs. The codes requiring people to get consent before touching other people are often being met with a snarky, disbelieving attitude, along the lines of, “You want me to ask permission for a handshake?” or “We have to have a rulebook now on how to hug each other?”

I was at the Secular Student Alliance national conference last weekend. A code of conduct was in place, one that was well-publicized. And the social interaction at the conference was anything but chilly. It was warm, friendly, collegial, affectionate, enthusiastic, and inspired. And yes, there was plenty of both handshaking and hugging going on throughout the weekend. (I assume there was plenty of hooking up going on as well, but I don’t know that for certain.)

It’s hard not to see the cries of “How are we supposed to hug or shake hands now?” as anything but an attempt to derail a conversation about a serious problem into squabbling about minutiae. But in case there are people who are sincerely confused by this handshaking/ hugging issue, I’m going to share my observations: both from the conference, and just from, you know, life.

Here’s how it works.

When you want to shake someone’s hand, you don’t reach out and grab their hand without getting their consent. You extend your own hand, in a gesture that indicates an invitation to shake yours, which they can accept or not. If they say, “Sorry, but I don’t shake hands,” or, “I have arthritis, I can’t shake hands,” or something along those lines… it’s slightly awkward, but it’s no worse than that.

If you do shake people’s hands by reaching out and grabbing their hand… you’re doing it wrong.

Now, to hugs.

See above. It’s almost exactly the same.

When you want to hug someone, you don’t reach out and grab them without warning and without getting their consent. You open your arms, in a gesture that indicates an invitation to hug you, which they can accept or not. If they say, “Sorry, but I don’t want to hug you,” or “I’m not comfortable hugging strangers,” or something along those lines… it’s slightly awkward, but it’s no worse than that.

If you do hug people by reaching out and grabbing them without warning… you’re doing it wrong.

Hugs are somewhat more intimate than handshakes. And in general, the more intimate the contact, the more important it is to get explicit verbal consent. So if you’re not certain — by all means, ask in words. Say, “May I hug you?” or, “Would you like a hug?” Some people did that at the SSA conference — and it was fine. Yes, it’s slightly awkward. But it also indicates respect for the other person’s autonomy and physical boundaries, which more than counteracts any awkwardness. And — in the context of the recent firestorm over sexual harassment and codes of conduct at conferences — it indicates that you’ve been paying attention, and that you care about the issue of sexual harassment and take it seriously.

There are sometimes miscommunications. At one point at the SSA conference, someone opened their arms to hug me, right at the moment I was extending my hand to shake theirs. Then we switched: I opened my arms to hug them, and they extended their hand to shake mine. You know what we did? We laughed about it. I said, “Handshake or hug?” We hugged. And it was fine. It was funny. It was no more awkward than two people trying to pass each other in a hall, and both stepping to the same side.

But even with the occasional missteps, the principle is clear. You make a gesture, indicating that you would like a certain type of friendly physical contact. Your gesture is either accepted or not. If you’re following these guidelines, then you’re getting consent, and you’re well within the guidelines of the codes of conduct.

Codes of conduct are not in place to interfere with ordinary social interaction. And they don’t. They are in place to protect people from invasive behavior. Invasive behavior is a real problem at conferences. And some of us would like to talk about that problem, without being met with snide trivializations of it, or being derailed into a petty micro-analysis of tangential issues. Thank you.

178 comments

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  1. 1
    Jadehawk

    thanks for this thorough clarification. I have doubts that it’ll change the minds of those who’ve made up their minds about Teh Ebil Femi[insert evil German organization here] already, but I’m sure some people out there were ignorant and honestly confused by the many strawpeople and strawpolicies being bandied around, and this might well help them see what it’s actually about.

  2. 2
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    To be fair, I think there are legitimate questions for clarification what AA, for example, means by “ask”.

    But I think the problem leis elsewhere:
    The rules of politeness are firmly on the side of the wanna-hugger / handshaker.
    The comfort of the person who doesn’t want to hug/shake hands is considered less important than the embarassment and rejection felt on the side of the hugger/handshaker.
    People need to change the culture so they don’t take a “no” as an insult or rejection (tip, people who don’t want to hug you ’cause they don’t like you won’t like you more for having to hug you).
    Sometimes “it’s not about you, it’s about me” actually is true.

  3. 3
    kimrottman

    It’s completely a troll. I got into a discussion with a guy on PZ’s video explaining his side of the whole Tf00t debacle. He was all over the comments bleating about having to ask permission to flirt and declaring PZ and anyone who agrees with him to be incapable of understanding the subtleties of healthy social interaction. So a bunch of people explained to him that nobody is advocating having to ask permission to flirt; that consent doesn’t necessarily mean an explicit “yes” in response to an explicit “may I X”; it’s just a matter of an understanding between two people that their behavior toward each other is welcome and backing off if that understanding isn’t there. The guy does a complete 180. Now it was impossible for anyone to ever know whether they had consent and there shouldn’t be a rule in the first place if they’re not going to demand explicit consent.

  4. 4
    Loud - warm smiles do not make you welcome here

    It’s clear that anyone who was intimating that verbal permission would be required to shake someone’s hand under these anti-harassment policies is trying to wilfully derail the discussion.

  5. 5
    Phillip Helbig

    George W. Bush, of course, can’t understand this subtlety:

  6. 6
    'Tis Himself

    Teh Ebil Femi[insert evil German organization here]

    The German central bank, the Bundesbank (aka Buba) is considered by certain economists and financial types to be evil. Certainly they’re not being very nice to the Greeks right now.

  7. 7
    Loud - warm smiles do not make you welcome here

    @ ‘Tis Himself #6

    The German central bank, the Bundesbank (aka Buba) is considered by certain economists and financial types to be evil. Certainly they’re not being very nice to the Greeks right now.

    Teh Ebil Femibuba? :)

  8. 8
    Gnumann+, out&proud cultural marxist (just don't ask me about Gramsci)

    Funny. My first thought, before reading ‘Tis was the ebil femibundesbank.

  9. 9
    J. J. Ramsey

    But even with the occasional missteps, the principle is clear. You make a gesture, indicating that you would like a certain type of friendly physical contact. Your gesture is either accepted or not. If you’re following these guidelines, then you’re getting consent, and you’re well within the guidelines of the codes of conduct.

    That principle is clear for the OpenSF policy, which already has language like, “please do that awkward ‘wanna hug?’ gesture before actually hugging.” It also has a reasonable caveat on “No touching other people without asking,” namely “Or unless you already have that sort of relationship with them.” Both of those nuances are missing from the American Atheists policy.

    The problem is that the verb “ask” generally refers to verbal communication unless the context makes clear that one is referring to non-verbal communication. If a policy says, “No touching without asking,” period, it is trivially easy to read to it as referring to verbal consent. If the drafters of the policy really meant “ask” to include nonverbal gestures, then they were ambiguous and failed to communicate that.

  10. 10
    Deen

    Maybe Greta Christina can confirm this, but I’m guessing there also weren’t any convention staff going around with checklists monitoring each and every interaction to make sure The Official Feminist Protocol is followed.

  11. 11
    Daniel Schealler

    I predict that there will be one of two reactions to this from those sitting across from us in the divide:

    1) Silence.

    2) Astonishment.

    3) Denial that this is actually the position of Greta and/or FtB.

    Not sure which way I’m leaning. I’d put my money on ‘silence’ up until someone shares a link to this article, at which point it will be met by astonishment followed by denial.

    Just intuition, of course.

    Hope I’m wrong.

  12. 12
    David Gerard

    J..J.: claiming the anti-harassment rules are unclear is strong evidence that you personally are not a safe person to have around humans without extremely restrictive rules. So in your case, I would suggest you personally act according to the strictest possible interpretation of the rules, to protect others. We can observe if disaster ensues.

  13. 13
    jose

    “shake people’s hands by reaching out and grabbing their hand…” how delightful and rule-free!

  14. 14
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    The rules of politeness are firmly on the side of the wanna-hugger / handshaker.
    The comfort of the person who doesn’t want to hug/shake hands is considered less important than the embarassment and rejection felt on the side of the hugger/handshaker.
    People need to change the culture so they don’t take a “no” as an insult or rejection (tip, people who don’t want to hug you ’cause they don’t like you won’t like you more for having to hug you).

    I think you identified the bigger problem with this.
    There is a certain pressure on people, especially women, to accept gestures like hugs. Due to some issues, I find hugs a very intimate thing and don’t feel comfortable at all hugging strangers. But if I find myself in a situation where someone opens their arms inviting a hug, I will only very rarely have courage to offer my hand instead, because I don’t want to appear rude or hostile.

  15. 15
    Pteryxx

    There is a certain pressure on people, especially women, to accept gestures like hugs.

    Isn’t there also a social expectation that women put up with being touched in condescending ways by men, such as the “guiding” or “friendly” hand on a woman’s elbow, shoulder or upper arm? Or is that old-school now? It disturbs me no end when game-show or TV hosts do that to women guests.

  16. 16
    Eristae

    Now, a lot of people won’t care about this (because they think I’m a fun-ruining, hysterical, over-reacting feminazi bitch), but I am far more likely to hug someone or accept a hug from someone if they ask first. It indicates to me that the person who wants a hug is also accepting of my boundaries, needs, and desires. It also gives me time to get into a mindset of being hugged instead of being surprised.

  17. 17
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Pteryxx,

    I’ve encountered that. Mostly with older generations and even that rarely. There’s also hand on lower back to make you just that bit more uncomfortable.

  18. 18
    K. Kelly Meine

    David – I think you’re making an unfounded assumption. J.J. did not say he needed those rules for himself, but rather, pointed out that they already exist in another CoC. Remember that it’s helpful to have conversations like these, especially when a new policy is put in place, in order to smooth out the details. J.J. may not need these rules, but he may know / have run across someone who does. Just because he is looking out for the lowest common denominator does not mean that he *is* that.

  19. 19
    Matt Penfold

    David – I think you’re making an unfounded assumption. J.J. did not say he needed those rules for himself, but rather, pointed out that they already exist in another CoC. Remember that it’s helpful to have conversations like these, especially when a new policy is put in place, in order to smooth out the details. J.J. may not need these rules, but he may know / have run across someone who does. Just because he is looking out for the lowest common denominator does not mean that he *is* that.

    There may well be people who do not know the rules, although I suspect the number who don’t is rather small compared to those who don’t want to follow them but do know them. And if someone really does not know the rules, they really should not be out unaccompanied by a responsible adult.

  20. 20
    Der Zed

    why is any of this controversial in the least? just don’t hug people you don’t know well. why would you even think to try? all of this bizarre hubbub coming from men demanding the privilege to behave at conferences in a way they would never DREAM of anywhere else is nothing short of insane. would you hug someone you had a brief, interesting interaction with at the super market or coffee shop? you’d be crazy to and people around would treat you that way, not just the offended party. and I know its a cheap shot but if you ever proposition someone who has not given you the requisite (and fucking obvious!) interest and attention then you are a chump too pathetic to be taken seriously. and that is on you and you alone.

  21. 21
    K. Kelly Meine

    Der Zed – many times in subcultures and other social groups which are founded on a common interest, the rules for hugging and intimate touching are lax. One reason is that a common interest inspires a feeling of kinship. Another is that, especially in a group which perceives itself to be oppressed, touching encourages stronger social bonds between members. So the example you’ve used (a random person in a super market or coffee shop) doesn’t really fit here.

    That being said, I myself don’t like hugging people. I view it as a violation of my personal space. Unfortunately, I belong to a few subcultures which use hugging as a means of greeting. I take it with as much decorum as I can. It would be nice if we had a CoC everywhere we went, not just at conventions. But as it is, I’m quite pleased that the secular community is looking into this. It means a more welcoming environment for those of us who do not appreciate being touched, except by those we are intimate with.

  22. 22
    researchtobedone

    Yeah, but you remember all those conferences that implemented harassment policies and then no one ever interacted with each other in any way again?

    Oh, wait, neither do I.

    I think that’s what we need to say to these people. You think harassment policies destroy all physical social interaction? Why don’t you provide examples. Find one conference, ANYWHERE, where a policy was implemented and suddenly no one ever touched each other in any way ever. They won’t be able to, because the truth is harassment policies ENABLE comfortable interactions of all types between people by making it easier to deal with interactions that are actually not okay in a way that makes people feel safe. If anyone needs to see this principle thrown into sharp relief, they need only look as far as BDSM events.

  23. 23
    Der Zed

    I dunno K. that seems a bit of a leap for me. granted my sub cultural dealings often put me in the company of volatile personalities with whom it behooved me to play it cool or risk confrontation. but I still feel like the dudes who are really protesting this whole issue here and (mostly) elsewhere are taking advantage of the fact that they are relatively certain they will not have to pay any price for their actions. and that’s the only reason they are doing it, thus combining creepiness with cowardice. or they could prove me wrong by also hugging a biker after a short chat.

  24. 24
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    What I find bizarre about this is the spectacle of both sides trying to claim a ‘common sense’ approach.

    It seems common sense to me to watch for those cues that permit contact or intimacy–the outstretched hand or the opening embrace that signals ‘hug’.

    But according to the Resistance it’s common sense not to need a harassment policy because con-goers never do that icky non-consensual inappropriate touching stuff, and anyone who claims they do is just a touchy harridan harshing people’s ability to conduct everyday interactions.

    I find the latter to be deeply depressing.

  25. 25
    K. Kelly Meine

    Der Zed – oh, I’m not justifying anyone bitching about these CoCs by any means. I think that anyone who has a problem with having to get consent to touch someone is being a bit childish, at best. I’m just saying that the example you used may not apply here. The subcultures that I participate in (queers, goths, kinksters, poly folk, etc) tend to be more touchy groups than say, people who I interact with at the grocery store.

  26. 26
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Isn’t there also a social expectation that women put up with being touched in condescending ways by men, such as the “guiding” or “friendly” hand on a woman’s elbow, shoulder or upper arm? Or is that old-school now? It disturbs me no end when game-show or TV hosts do that to women guests

    I can testify that girls are trained to accept this from early on. The amount of /generally old women) who think it’s OK to pat the girls on the head is astonishing.

  27. 27
    =8)-DX

    “I predict that there will be one of two reactions to this from those sitting across from us in the divide:”

    Isn’t that one of two?

    I’d go with:

    1) Derision
    2) Anger
    3) Denial

  28. 28
    Gus Snarp

    I think it’s pretty reasonable to explicitly, verbally ask before hugging someone you don’t know well. I don’t necessarily mind hugs, but I used to avoid them entirely, simply because I find them incredibly awkward. I still find them awkward, and am very unlikely to initiate them with anyone outside of my relatives and a very small number of very close friends. That number is probably two.

    But anyway, you can ask before hugging someone, and hugging is not all that essential. You can extend your hand for a handshake and see what happens. If you know each other well, then you know what you can or should do. And anyone who thinks that harassment policies interfere with this normal interaction is an idiot. No one is going to report you for offering a handshake, but if you reach out and grab someone to hug them, maybe they will, and they’ll be right.

  29. 29
    Brigit

    [delurking]
    Honestly, I don’t get how the harrassment policy detractors are not being willfully obtuse.
    Some of them have gone to grad school in places where, unless they tried very, very hard, they had to interact with field-mates and colleagues with very diverse cultural backgrounds and preferences with regards to physical contact and the size of their personal space.
    Hanguing out with others in, for example, Cornell’s Big Red Barn (and its wonderful cheap beer) involves gauging wether to nod at, handshake, hug, or cheek-kiss a person you’re meeting. If one’s paying attention to the people one’s interacting with this is, the vast majority of times, a simple thing to asses. Not to mention that, when in doubt, there’s nothing wrong to nodding in greeting until one notices someone’s preferred greeting method and their attitudes towards touching. I’ve yet to see this basic courtesy ruin nights of drunken revelry.
    [/delurking]

  30. 30
    The Mellow Monkey

    IME, there really are a lot of people who need these lessons. There are a number of people who for one reason or another (autism spectrum, trauma, illness, personal taste, etc) are really, really bothered by even purely platonic physical contact, and who are still pressured into “polite” touches.

    So someone who says “but how can we hug and shake hands?” worries me for more than derailing discussions of codes of conduct; they worry me because they aren’t thinking about all of the people who are genuinely caused distress by physical contact. You have to work it out person by person. No one owes you a hug or handshake.

  31. 31
    Eristae

    all of this bizarre hubbub coming from men demanding the privilege to behave at conferences in a way they would never DREAM of anywhere else is nothing short of insane. would you hug someone you had a brief, interesting interaction with at the super market or coffee shop? you’d be crazy to and people around would treat you that way, not just the offended party.

    ^This. The idea that I’m suddenly supposed to be okay with physical contact at a conference that I would not accept or be expected to accept anywhere else is ridiculous. If people want to be hugged by people at conferences that they don’t really know and wouldn’t hug in other circumstances, that’s really alright with me (whatever floats their boat), but when people act like I should automatically be okay with hugged by virtue of being at a conference where some people want to be hugged is absurd.

    And I’m going to agree with the people who say that women are socialized to accept and submit to physical contact that is initiated towards them, whether they want it or not. It’s one of the things that pisses me off; we tell women they can’t say no to physical contact that they don’t want in most situations (hugging, hand holding, arm holding, back touching head patting, etc), but if women don’t say no in other situations (like sexual situations) they are blamed. PSSSHHH.

  32. 32
    joed

    Greta has eloquently and simply described basic social interaction when physical touching may be part of that interaction.
    Seems any one that wants to obfuscate the “rules” is not really trying. Even for someone like me these rules are worthy.

  33. 33
    Borax

    I’m a heavily tattooed man and often times I meet strangers who think it’s OK to grab an arm and pull up my shirt sleeve for a better look. It creeps me out. I wonder what goes through the minds of people who do not understand the concept of personal space.

  34. 34
    fmcp

    Cairie, I’d like to thank you for explicitly pointing out that people on the autism spectrum sometimes need protection from having their personal boundaries violated. Part of the reason I’ve stayed a lurker during this whole conversation is that I find it really upsetting how many of the comments around sexual harassment dismissed it as social awkwardness, and often explicitly blamed ASD.

    I think that particular kind of dismissiveness is problematic for a whole host of reasons; primarily, it blames the “other” so we don’t have to look at our own behaviour, and it stigmatizes mental illness. (I’m not on the spectrum myself, but the bigotry around mental illness enrages me.)

    Anyway, thank you.

  35. 35
    lorn

    Used to be there were classes given in middle school on etiquette and manners. Even if you weren’t particularly smooth if you followed the formalities you did well enough.

    IMHO the problem is that most people don’t get the lessons any more. Everyone seems to assume you ‘just pick it up’ through osmosis. It might happen that way if you grew up around a more formal society where rules were discussed, observed, and you could pick them up by copying what you see around you.

    What I see is that the American society is fractured and unstructured. People who know etiquette are few and far between.
    A lot of boorish and awkward behavior is a result of not knowing or not thinking about these formalities. And, of course, things go sideways in an even bigger way if the someone makes a point of their bad etiquette and the person doubles down instead of accepting that they could have handled it better.

    The whole thing turns into a mess if the accused doubled down and the accuser makes a shrill point of demanding contrition. You get trench warfare that can easily slide into the wider community.

  36. 36
    A Hermit

    Who would have known social interactions could be so simple?

    And I think I’m going to go with “FemiModellbahnverband” for authoritarian German organization references from now on…those model railroad guys are real sticklers for following the rulebook…

  37. 37
    doubtthat

    Don’t know if this adds to the conversation or not, but I, a guydudebro, have never initiated a hug with a person who was not my mother, father or brother in non-intimate situations.

    A lot of my lady friends will initiate hugs when we meet someplace or are going our separate ways after some time together, but I’ve never considered driving that interaction. Maybe it’s different in England and Dawkins just grabs people, like legs are bitten in Australia, but social convention in the US generally places the choice of initiating a hug on women–in my experience.

    That being said, what the fuck? What is this discussion? What is happening?

  38. 38
    M. A. Melby

    Clarity/wording issues are valid issues. They aren’t however, particularly serious issues.

    In other words, don’t assume that a criticism of wording is a criticism of having policies or necessarily a distraction from the larger issues.

    Unless, of course, the people making suggestions of clarity/wording are making all sorts of vague and bizarre claims about the effects of the current language; or pulling a TF.

    (Yes, I’ve noun-ed his name. I feel a little dirty, but y’know.)

  39. 39
    Yiab

    In other words, don’t assume that a criticism of wording is a criticism of having policies or necessarily a distraction from the larger issues.

    Yes.
    Thank you.

  40. 40
    Miriam

    In other words, don’t assume that a criticism of wording is a criticism of having policies or necessarily a distraction from the larger issues.

    True, it isn’t necessarily a distraction. But in this context, it seems like it has been. The concerns raised by all the signed consent forms in triplicate folks were never, “Hey, how can we make sure that harassment policies don’t make ordinary social interactions impossible?” From my understanding, it was more like “LOL HARASSMENT POLICIES NOW NOBODY CAN SHAKE HANDS WITHOUT ASKING PERMISSION.”

  41. 41
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    I love hugs. I love being hugged, and I love giving hugs. In fact, I often find it odd that some people might not like being hugged, although I understand the reasons once I’m informed of them.

    That having been said, I would never, ever presume that I have the right to hug, or even touch, another human being without hir consent (if we weren’t already close enough to not need it/already have it implicitly).

    I’m able to set aside my personal feelings about hugging in order to respect the wishes and comfort of those around me. Why can’t the various detractors of these types of policies do the same?

  42. 42
    Jenora Feuer

    You want social expectations, just watch on a bus how many people seem to assume that an obviously pregnant belly is public property.

  43. 43
    Brian Murtagh

    But don’t you know there are laws against sexual assault, therefore codes of conduct are unnecessary, therefore it’s a mortal insult to suggest they might be helpful, therefore Hitler?

  44. 44
    Feminace, formerly Qurikythrope

    You want social expectations, just watch on a bus how many people seem to assume that an obviously pregnant belly is public property

    Or have dreadlocks. Nine years of “let’s not even bother asking before putting my grubby hands in your mane”.

  45. 45
    42Oolon

    Great post. Sad that it was necessary.

    I have a question. Do codes of conduct put a chilling effect on sexism and harassment ?

    This is a genuine good faith question. Even without evidence of results I still think such codes are a good idea.

    Does anyone know of evidence one way or the other? ( not just conferences , but workplaces, services,).

    My rule is: consent, if it is doubt, go without!

  46. 46
    Matt Penfold

    I see Verbose Stoic is partly living up to his name once again. He is certainly verbose, but the stoicism is needed not by him but by anyone silly enough to try and wade through his turgid prose.

  47. 47
    Pteryxx

    420, as a matter of fact:

    The Impact of a University Policy on the Sexual Harassment of Female Students

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/1982220

    Our survey results indicate that reports of faculty/staff sexual harassment of female undergraduates have declined over the past six years. Our analyses suggest that the sexual harassment policy and grievance procedure established at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst helped prevent faculty/staff sexual harassment of female undergraduate students.

  48. 48
    Matt Penfold

    I have a question. Do codes of conduct put a chilling effect on sexism and harassment ?

    This is a genuine good faith question. Even without evidence of results I still think such codes are a good idea.

    I am pretty sure they do, providing of course the code of conduct is properly implemented. No one, I hope, I would argue workplaces today are free from sexism (or other forms of discrimination) but they surely are better in that respect that workplaces even 10 years ago, let alone 20, 30 or 40. I should think it is pretty unheard of for a workplace in the US (or Europe, or anywhere in the developed world) not have in place a policy about conduct. It would be naive to suppose the reduction in sexism in the workplace is solely down to having such codes in place, but equally I think it would be naive to suppose they had no effect at all.

  49. 49
    lenoxus

    lorn:

    What I see is that the American society is fractured and unstructured. People who know etiquette are few and far between.

    But etiquette is like language – there’s more than one kind, with increasing variety the further around the globe one travels. Hardly anyone is entirely nonverbal, and almost no one has no etiquette – just different etiquette.

    Just as with language, it’s highy convenient when everyone uses the same etiquette, but when there are multiple competing standards, none of them has any right to consider itself the “correct” one. That’s where explicit rules help.

  50. 50
    Sili

    The problem is that the verb “ask” generally refers to verbal communication unless the context makes clear that one is referring to non-verbal communication. If a policy says, “No touching without asking,” period, it is trivially easy to read to it as referring to verbal consent.

    And why would that be so horrible?

    Why is it supposed to be so important to touch strangers? I, for one, wouldn’t at all mind going to a professional event where I could indeed expect not to be touched by any random people.

  51. 51
    Theo Bromine

    I’m a female, but rather socially awkward. After years working in tech, I think I have mastered the business and social handshake, but negotiating hugs is still a problem for me. For example, recently I encountered a couple I know somewhat at a CFI event(60ish, about 10 years older than me). The woman enthusiastically hugged me by way of greeting. I kinda then felt that I ought to hug the man as well, but afterwards I was not sure if I had done the right thing.

    I think people who object to codes of conduct and/or consider them unnecessary may be the sort who rarely if ever have doubts about how to act/react in social situations. And they are likely the majority in society at large, though there is anecdata that suggests that they may be rather less of a majority in the freethought community (especially where it intersects with the geek/nerd community). So if someone thinks a code of conduct is excessive, let’s consider that there are 2 possible reasons – either they are an insensitive boor who really does need to have explicit guidelines laid out for them, or they are so naturally gracious that such a thing is entirely superfluous.

  52. 52
    Eristae

    Part of the reason I’ve stayed a lurker during this whole conversation is that I find it really upsetting how many of the comments around sexual harassment dismissed it as social awkwardness, and often explicitly blamed ASD.

    Hear hear!

    Also, one of the things that pisses me off is this implication/statement that because something is a result of social awkwardness, we shouldn’t talk dress/talk about it.

    I am extraordinary socially awkward. I often don’t have any idea what to say to people, I miss social cues, I go on lengthy tangents and don’t notice people don’t want to talk about it, I don’t always understand when it is appropriate to talk about things (example: don’t talk about gross things when eating), I have odd interests, I am stressed out in new situations, I become overwhelmed by too much social stimuli, it feels unnatural to make eye contact, all that kind of thing. And even if I’m doing well in a social situation, there’s a fairly good chance I’m policing myself something fierce with the social tips that have been laid out to me by counselors and such.

    With all of this, one of the absolute worst things in the world is when people start acting oddly/offended at me and won’t explain what the fuck is going on, even when explicitly asked. Is it me? Is it them? Did I do something wrong? Are they just not that interested? Did I offend someone they like but not them personally? Is someone gossiping about me?

    So when, after Elevatorgate, people were all, “He was probably just socially awkward, so Rebecca shouldn’t have said anything,” I wanted to scream, “No, you unholy bastards! If he was socially awkward, then that is precisely why she should say something. Do you have any idea how damned awful it is to be making people feel bad around you but not know how to make it stop? It’s terrible! The only way for a person to be able to become more socially adept is if you bloody well tell them when they do well and when they mess up! If you insist on hiding your reactions and talking in code, then those of us who are socially awkward are just going to end up isolated and confused. And while you may or may not be okay with this happening to socially awkward people, this socially awkward person is NOT okay with being isolated and confused.”

  53. 53
    Feats of Cats

    So when, after Elevatorgate, people were all, “He was probably just socially awkward, so Rebecca shouldn’t have said anything,” I wanted to scream, “No, you unholy bastards! If he was socially awkward, then that is precisely why she should say something. Do you have any idea how damned awful it is to be making people feel bad around you but not know how to make it stop? It’s terrible! The only way for a person to be able to become more socially adept is if you bloody well tell them when they do well and when they mess up! If you insist on hiding your reactions and talking in code, then those of us who are socially awkward are just going to end up isolated and confused. And while you may or may not be okay with this happening to socially awkward people, this socially awkward person is NOT okay with being isolated and confused.”

    I think this is an excellent point. Having it politely spelled can be a huge favor to the socially anxious who haven’t quite mastered all the nuances. Quite offensive to those who want to pretend not to know better to get away with bad behavior.

  54. 54
    Christophe

    I’ve been pondering and pondering until my ponderer is sore as to what the actual objection to the policies might be. As Greta points out, we already have extremely well-established and reasonable cultural norms for how to handle handshakes and hugs; this is hardly breaking new ground.

    My current pop-psych explanation is that, for a class of person that is socially awkward, they are terrified of Doing It Wrong. And, rather than attempt to learn to Do It Right, they push back against the idea that they Did It Wrong.

    In the case of Certain-Vertical-Motion-Conveyance-Gate, I have to interpret the incredibly white-hot vehement reaction against the original, mild comments to a lashing out against being embarrassed. No one likes incidents where they did not really do the right thing socially (I certainly don’t enjoy dwelling on those occasions in my past!), and thus, rather than just say, “Well, yeah, OK, that wasn’t my finest moment” and moving on, it becomes an Internet Fight: “How dare you tell me that anything I did was wrong! It wasn’t illegal!”

  55. 55
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Lorn:

    Used to be there were classes given in middle school on etiquette and manners.

    For some socioeconomic classes.

    What I see is that the American society is fractured and unstructured. People who know etiquette are few and far between.

    Oh, joy, a rant about Ye Goode Olde Days, and a focus on manners instead of power differentials. I hate to tell you, but back then, women got undesired touches a lot.

    …and the accuser makes a shrill point of demanding contrition.

    Oh, those shrill feminists.

    You get trench warfare that can easily slide into the wider community.

    DEEEP RIIIIIIIFTS!!!

  56. 56
    Georgia Sam

    Two thumbs up, Greta! You got it exactly right.

  57. 57
    Usernames are smart

    Once again, The Oatmeal helps us understand the various types of crappy hugs.

  58. 58
    Bronze Dog

    I’m an aspie, and I tend to like my personal space. I rarely initiate hugs, but I generally follow through with invitations. Thankfully, most people I’ve encountered knew to make inviting gestures instead of just grabbing me.

    The fact that we have supposed adults who don’t understand reserved contact environments is really disappointing and disturbing. Seeing some of them essentially arguing that people should expect uninvited advances feels discriminatory to those of us who aren’t comfortable sharing personal space as well as to women who don’t want to be assumed to be interested in intimate contact.

    It also reminds me of the childish game of “I’m not touching you!”: It feels like they’re trying to establish their own special, overly specific, overly technical rules so that they can create an illusion of compliance with social standards. A child playing “I’m not touching you” will plead that he didn’t touch the person, per adult instructions, therefore he technically did nothing wrong, and yet he still violated his victim’s personal space, flaunted the fact, and deliberately caused discomfort in the process.

  59. 59
    Zocora

    @Erista 55:

    This made me cry. It’s the perfect explanation of why people need to know what effect they are having on the people around them. Most decent people want to make a good impression and, even if having other people like them is not paramount, they don’t want to go around causing harm unawares. I’m saving this comment. It says perfectly the thing I have wanted to say so many times. Thank you.

  60. 60
    proxer

    Greta,

    I think you’ve set up a straw-man here; some of the codes of conduct presented on this very site indicated a strict “ask-first” rule:

    You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!).

    In fact, you yourself have appeared to advocate for verbal confirmation for hugging:

    “It’s really not that hard to ask someone you don’t know, “Is it okay if I hug you?” I don’t see why that’s a problem.”

    But this language, the language that you accuse people of objecting to solely in an attempt to derail productive conversation, APPEARS NOWHERE IN THE SSA CODE OF CONDUCT, where apparently everyone had a great time following the normal rules of social interaction.

    While many or most objectors to the proposed social rule cited above (verbal confirmation for any physical contact) have been snarky, there have been more moderate voices too, such as Todd Stiefel (you never did explain exactly what you disagreed with him on). We think that these overly-invasive codes of conduct are unnecessary and counterproductive. Maybe not to a huge degree, but to a significant degree for sure.

    The funny thing is, despite your initial favor for codes of conduct encouraging explicit verbal authorization for physical conduct, you’ve actually done an about-face and sided with the people who you claim are derailing the conversation.

    At the beginning of your article you asked an important question:

    Do codes of conduct at conferences have a chilling effect on ordinary social interaction?

    The answer is clearly “It depends on the code of conduct.” People who objected to poorly-expressed, poorly-thought-out rules for social interaction were not derailing; they were ahead of you. They said “We already have perfectly good rules for interacting with people already. Let’s not insist on awkward ‘conference-behavior’ that very clearly impacts on social interaction.”

  61. 61
    male voice

    1) There are actually quite a few situations where you touch somebody without asking: If you have to draw attention to you but the person is not facing you and you can’t pass that person; if you are tripping and the closest thing to hold onto is another person; if somebody else trips and you want to prevent them from falling; if somebody is unconscious and you want to provide first aid; if somebody is so intoxicated that he can’t clearly articulate himself and you want to help him get home; etc.
    2) You can’t claim that codes of conduct are supposed to tell people how to behave when at the same time these codes assume that people already know how to behave. Which they obviously do since you have entire blogposts explaining single sentences of these codes.
    3) Codes of conduct have a chilling effect in the same way that anti-corruption rules have. Anti-corruption rules may make you think twice about whether you can offer a business partner a coffee. The chilling effect is actually to some extent a feature not a bug.

  62. 62
    TheBlackCat

    @ male voice: I think that if the policy makes you think twice before doing something that might creep someone out, then I would say it is definitely a feature, not a bug.

  63. 63
    Feats of Cats

    @63

    We think that these overly-invasive codes of conduct are unnecessary and counterproductive.

    Counterproductive to what?

    -To creating an unambiguous code of conduct? If it’s spelled out quite clearly, we can eliminate those who claim to be ignorant to the rules in order to avoid punishment. For anyone who is legitimately clueless and really isn’t sure about correct behavior, having it spelled out seems like a helpful thing, yes?

    -To engaging with other people? Why do you need to touch other people to interact with them in a meaningful way?

    -To flirting? Making people feel safe and like their boundaries are respected seems like a good way to help everyone relax and is unlikely to deter anyone who would be receptive to your (at least initially) verbal approaches. Nothing makes people think ‘you’re a creep and you need to get away from me’ like unwanted touching. There’s not anything in there against wanted touching. Just respect of boundaries. If your flirting strategies rely on physical contact the other person hasn’t made welcome, you’re doing something wrong.

    Moreover, it may seem unnecessary to you if this is not a problem you have experienced frequently, but avoiding unwanted touching is important to a lot of people. I myself find it creepy and disrespectful, but there’s a lot of folk who have experienced major trauma or such and being touched without their permission can set off hugely painful memories and be a Really Big Deal. Why do you think it’s not important to make these people feel comfortable?

  64. 64
    Pandademic

    @male voice:

    1) Your first example (tapping someone on the shoulder, I assume) is something that happens, yes. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is correct. You don’t think that people can be made uncomfortable by someone they don’t know touching them from behind?

    Your next three examples are varying degrees of emergency situations, which aren’t very analogous to a hug or handshake.

    As for the last one, how often do you do this when the drunk person in question isn’t a friend? Do you regularly walk strangers home from the bar? And if so, clearly you can divine consent despite their inebriation, because you already psychically extracted their home address. Besides, standard procedure here would be to say, “Come on, I’ll help you walk” and offering your arm, not forcibly grabbing them and hoisting them to their feet.

    2) Clever, but you missed the point of this post. Greta is explaining the more nuanced, nonverbal consent involved in handshakes/hugs. The policies in question are more restrictive if read literally as requiring verbal consent. If you already understand that appropriate hugs and handshakes involve nonverbal consent, then you’re fine. If you don’t understand that, then you follow the policy literally and stick to verbal consent, and everybody’s still fine.

    3) As Greta mentioned, the chilling effect of the policies is not in evidence.

  65. 65
    proxer

    TheBlackCat,

    I think male voice’s post was saying that there are also situations where we make people think twice when they shouldn’t, like when you want to tap someone on the shoulder to get their attention.

    Feats of Cats,

    You set up four straw women and knocked them down with great valor. They shall scourge this land no longer!

    Why do you think it’s not important to make these people feel comfortable?

    When did I ever say this? I’m not asking rhetorically, please show where I argued this point?

    Also, Greta Christina agrees (now) that explicit verbal acknowledgement prior to normal social touching, such as a hug, is not something that need be enforced by a code of conduct.

    My point was that there are already social norms for negotiating acceptable physical contact, such as the “wanna hug?” gesture, reaching out for a handshake etc. Some are more complex, and rigid, blanket rules that break these norms will surely have a chilling effect on acceptable interactions.

    More to the point, as Greta has demonstrated, rigid, abnormal rules for social interaction are unnecessary. All that is needed in a code of conduct (vis-a-vis harassment) is to state that harassment is not tolerated, and to tell attendees what the reporting process is.

  66. 66
    proxer

    Pandademic,

    The policies in question are more restrictive if read literally as requiring verbal consent.

    Right, so lets write them to be more clear.

    3) As Greta mentioned, the chilling effect of the policies is not in evidence.

    No, Greta pulled a bait-and-switch. She claimed that people complaining about the poor language in codes of conduct that she has posted here were just derailing the conversation. Then she went to a conference without that poor wording in its code of conduct, and had a fine time.

    What she demonstrated was that lack a policy implying that everyone get express verbal consent is not necessary for a congenial conference. She proved the detractors right – we don’t need to tell everyone (with poor wording) that they have to get consent before acceptable physical contact can occur. People know that. What we DO have to do is state that harassment will not be tolerated and describe the reporting procedure.

  67. 67
    fmcp

    Regarding the way that positive social interaction will be impacted, I think it’s important to remember that the codes (while potentially helpful to people who don’t know how to navigate social situations) are really important tools for stopping predatory behaviour. I would argue that most people who conciously engage in creepy/sleazy/predatory behaviour are extrememly good at riding social situations; they have to be in order to peg the easiest victims and thereby avoid consequences.

  68. 68
    Theo Bromine

    the codes (while potentially helpful to people who don’t know how to navigate social situations) are really important tools for stopping predatory behaviour.

    There are those (not me) who would argue that the codes will not stop anyone who is really intent on predatory behaviour, and/or that this sort of behaviour is not sufficiently prevalent to make a fuss about. So it’s good to be able to say that these codes have several purposes: 1) to discourage predatory behaviour, 2) to provide recourse for victims in the case of predatory behaviour, and 3) to provide guidelines for navigating social situations. Even if one of these purposes is considered unnecessary, it’s hard to argue that all of them put together will not have sufficient beneficial effect to make it worth the effort.

  69. 69
    J. J. Ramsey

    Sili:

    If a policy says, “No touching without asking,” period, it is trivially easy to read to it as referring to verbal consent.

    And why would that be so horrible?

    Because the way the policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy. And that’s not the only example of normal, reasonable social interactions that would be forbidden by such a policy, as Blackford pointed out. Yes, that is absurd, and the writers of the policy probably weren’t thinking that their policy could be interpreted as banning such things. However, that’s how the policy reads.

  70. 70
    Christophe

    Because the way the policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy.

    Um, and who under this situation would have standing to lodge a complaint?

  71. 71
    Pandademic

    @proxer:

    Right, so lets write them to be more clear.

    I don’t see why they need to be more clear. If you know the other person is comfortable with you hugging them, you don’t need to ask verbally. If you don’t know that, then either use your own knowledge of how an appropriate hug already nonverbally asks for consent, or just ask.

    You realize that you don’t get in trouble for breaking the letter of the rules, right? You get in trouble when someone reports you for breaking the rules.

    No, Greta pulled a bait-and-switch. She claimed that people complaining about the poor language in codes of conduct that she has posted here were just derailing the conversation. Then she went to a conference without that poor wording in its code of conduct, and had a fine time.

    From the SSA policy that Greta linked: “All incidents of violence, physical intimidation, and unwanted intentional physical contact will result in immediate expulsion from the SSA Conference.”

    Bolding mine. Hugs and handshakes are both “intentional physical contact.” How do you make sure that yours is not “unwanted?” Either by asking verbally, or by understanding the request for consent implicit in non-aggressively offering one.

    The implications of both policies seem the same to me. Is there something in the particular word choice of the AA policy that makes a significant difference?

    …we don’t need to tell everyone (with poor wording) that they have to get consent before acceptable physical contact can occur. People know that. What we DO have to do is state that harassment will not be tolerated and describe the reporting procedure.

    How does leaving the boundaries of harassment vague or undefined help anyone? As in, anyone at all?

  72. 72
    Feats of Cats

    @68 proxer:

    My bullet points were in response to possible things I thought you could have been referring to with your:

    We think that these overly-invasive codes of conduct are unnecessary and counterproductive.

    and my question:

    Counterproductive to what?

    as I really wasn’t sure what you were referring to. If none of my guesses as to what you might have meant were correct, feel free to clarify what the codes are counterproductive to.

    The problem with saying that there are already social norms in place I think can be answered by what I said above:

    If it’s spelled out quite clearly, we can eliminate those who claim to be ignorant to the rules in order to avoid punishment. For anyone who is legitimately clueless and really isn’t sure about correct behavior, having it spelled out seems like a helpful thing, yes?

    Why not spell them out in writing so predators don’t have an excuse, and those who don’t have an intuitive grasp have some helpful guidelines?

    By your logic, there should be no laws at all because there’s already social norms against taking things that don’t belong to you and not killing people and so on.

  73. 73
    Pandademic

    @J. J. Ramsey:

    Okay, so two friends hug each other without asking first. What happens next? Well, nothing, unless one of the friends decides to report the other. Is this what you’re concerned about?

  74. 74
    Homo Straminus

    I sympathize with the apparently heavily-tattooed Borax, and applaud Erista’s willingness to stand up and say, “Hey, touching makes me uncomfortable in an already potentially uncomfortable situation, so do me the simple respect of recognizing my space.” Though I probably identify most with hug-loving TerranRich.

    I, too, am a hug lover. In a venue with a lot of people, I am greatly reassured by physical contact, whether it’s holding hands with my S.O. or, indeed, hugging people.

    Nonetheless, having a policy in place, for a community that is working to address a known issue, in no way would detract from or limit my enjoyment of one of these conferences. I know I can hug my family. I know I can hug old friends. But as Erista and others have pointed out, I have no idea if I can hug a stranger. So of course I would try and get unambiguous permission before doing so. For me (and me alone), I think a gesture like a hand on a shoulder in order to get someone’s attention—so that you can let them know you’d like to get around them in a grocery store aisle, for example—is the extent of no-previous-consent stranger touching. I make this statement at least partially because I used to live in a city that had a sizable deaf community and quickly learned that no amount of polite, “Um, excuse me?” was going to work.

    But as I say, this is what I’ve decided is the acceptable limit. And again, though I’m a toucher, having this policy in place in no way negatively affects my thoughts on attendance, and I applaud the organizers for taking steps to address this issue. I sincerely fail to understand arguments to the contrary.

  75. 75
    J. J. Ramsey

    Christophe:

    Um, and who under this situation would have standing to lodge a complaint?

    I already answered a similar point a while back, so I’ll just repeat it here:

    Now one may argue that those kind of violations don’t count because no one will report them to conference staff. The problem is that if one has to violate the policy in order to do things that reasonable people will consider innocent, then people will lose respect for the policy and not take it seriously.

    Pandademic:

    Is there something in the particular word choice of the AA policy [as compared to the SSA policy] that makes a significant difference?

    Yes. The AA policy reads, “No touching without asking” [emphasis mine], which looks innocuous until one realizes that it doesn’t leave room for the usual nonverbal cues that govern whether physical contact is wanted or not. The SSA policy lacks such language.

  76. 76
    salo

    When you want to shake someone’s hand, you don’t reach out and grab their hand without getting their consent. You extend your own hand, in a gesture that indicates an invitation to shake yours, which they can accept or not.

    You know…I don’t think I’ve ever had someone just grab my hand and start shaking it. It would probably freak me out if someone did. That people are bringing this up as a legitimate argument is just facepalm level absurdity.

  77. 77
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Because the way the policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy.

    You’re smarter than that.

  78. 78
    Homo Straminus

    salo: “That people are bringing this up as a legitimate argument is just facepalm level absurdity.”

    I think we’ve moved on from facepalm to napalm levels of absurdity, frankly.

    Azkyroth: That’s a rather generous assumption, IMHO.

  79. 79
    Christophe

    The problem is that if one has to violate the policy in order to do things that reasonable people will consider innocent, then people will lose respect for the policy and not take it seriously.</blockquote

    "We've had complaints that you are hugging people without asking."

    "But I saw two other people hugging, and it didn't look to me like they asked first!"

    "You don't know that, you don't know what prior relationship they had, and we've had no complaints from them, so it's not relevant. We have to ask you to stop hugging without explicit verbal consent first, or leave the conference."

    Problem solved.

    In absence of a policy with objective criteria (did you touch? did you ask first?), the arguments over whether the behavior was "really harassment" are going to be endless and pointless. And if anyone thinks such long pharisaical arguments will not occur, this very discussion should disabuse them of that notion.

  80. 80
    J. J. Ramsey

    Christophe, think about the scenario that you have described. Someone sees the policy flouted without consequence and concludes that the unwritten rule is to ignore the policy. Said someone later learns that the unwritten rule applies to some people and not others. This is apparently your idea of a problem solved.

  81. 81
    J. J. Ramsey

    FYI, Christophe, I think Blackford said it better than I did:

    Now, you might say that the rule won’t be applied literally. It will only be applied to the narrow range of situations where everyone knows that touching someone else without explicit agreement is a bad idea. But if the rule is only going to be applied to those cases, it’s not much of a rule. On the other hand, if it is going to be applied more literally it is officious and impertinent.

    I’ll add that there are plenty of policies that avoid the traps in the American Atheists policy, such as those of the CFI, SSA, and–as I indicated before–the OpenSF. There’s no need to defend a bad policy when doing it right is well within reach.

  82. 82
    Mike V

    If they say, “Sorry, but I don’t want to hug you,” or “I’m not comfortable hugging strangers,” or something along those lines… it’s slightly awkward, but it’s no worse than that.”

    I think I would die a little bit inside if someone said “Sorry, but I don’t want to hug you.” But then again I wouldn’t be offering hugs to strangers.

  83. 83
    brucegee1962

    There are a number of people who for one reason or another (autism spectrum, trauma, illness, personal taste, etc) are really, really bothered by even purely platonic physical contact, and who are still pressured into “polite” touches.

    It’s worth mentioning that one of the aforementioned people who couldn’t stand to be touched was uber-geek Nicola Tesla. If he was around today with his lightning bolt zappers, you would NOT want to freak him out with an unwanted hug.

  84. 84
    mrfat

    I’m not sure what people are fighting against omg i have to ask before i touch someone oh the horror.I think its kinda simple don’t know that person well enough to know if they’d feel comfortable with a hug then ask if you do know them well enough then the normal hug queue should be fine. I thought the hug motion was ubiquitous in most places and having it in policy is helpful for those where its not. when in doubt ask

  85. 85
    proxer

    Pandademic,

    You say, I don’t see why they need to be more clear. I think we’re talking past each other here. I’m asserting that the policy language that I cited in my initial response is poor. You’re citing the well-worded SSA language that I’ve already identified as lacking such poor language. Where’s the conflict?

    In case it’s not clear, here’s the wording that I object to:

    You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking.

    This can clearly be interpreted by normal people as “No touching without verbal asking”. We do not, in common parlance, identify gestures as “asking”. What’s more, Greta herself interpreted this as verbal asking:

    “It’s really not that hard to ask someone you don’t know, “Is it okay if I hug you?” I don’t see why that’s a problem.”

    By contrast, the SSA policy is clearer because it lacks such poor wording.

    On the other hand, your point here just seems like a bad argument:

    You realize that you don’t get in trouble for breaking the letter of the rules, right? You get in trouble when someone reports you for breaking the rules.

    What does it benefit us to have policies that we expect people to break when they’re problematic, and follow when they’re beneficial? Now you’re just adding confusion, not eliminating it.

    Again I have to ask what point it is that you’re arguing. Greta herself establishes here that the SSA wording is fine. I object to her assertion that people who found fault with the AA wording were just ‘derailing’. They were correct, the AA wording was problematic and unnecessary, as demonstrated by Greta’s experience at the SSA conference.

  86. 86
    Feats of Cats

    What does it benefit us to have policies that we expect people to break when they’re problematic, and follow when they’re beneficial? Now you’re just adding confusion, not eliminating it.

    Well, take sexual harassment policies in general, which are meant to prevent unwanted sexual attention without preventing consensual activities. The whole no-touching-without-permission thing is meant to prevent unwanted touching, not all touching. It’s not so much breaking the rules when problematic and following them when beneficial, but rather letting people know inappropriate behavior isn’t tolerated and there will be repercussions if it happens so everyone can have a good time.

    The specific wording of what Greta’s saying here isn’t worth being pedantic about since it’s not actually part of the policy; it’s just meant as guidelines to counteract the people who are insisting the harassment policy means you need triple-signed documents to hug or shake hands.

  87. 87
    Amanda Marcotte

    For so-called skeptics, they sure are unwilling to look at the piles of carefully cultivated scientific evidence showing that a large portion of interpersonal communication is non-verbal.

    A large part of it is they don’t really think of interacting with woman as “communication”, which of course implies two subjective beings sharing their subjectivity with each other. They see women as objects. I don’t try to approach my coffee maker with a series of words and gestures to make sure our interaction is meaningful and relevant for both parties, so why should they have to do so with vagina-toys?

  88. 88
    proxer

    Feats of Cats,

    Who are you arguing with? It’s not me, you haven’t ever addressed my arguments and the facts I present. You keep quoting me, though, and arguing against positions that I’ve never presented.

    Amanda Marcotte,

    Who’s this “They”? Anyone who thinks that the AA code was well-intentioned but poorly thought out and worded?

  89. 89
    smhll

    I think a gesture like a hand on a shoulder in order to get someone’s attention—so that you can let them know you’d like to get around them in a grocery store aisle, for example—is the extent of no-previous-consent stranger touching.

    OK, I live in a suburb, rather than a more crowded city, but I don’t touch anyone at the grocery store who didn’t come in with me, i.e. my family members. If people are blocking the aisle, I wait for them to move, or I say “excuse me”. If I need to lean into someone’s personal space to pick up an item that’s right in front of them I say “pardon me” or “do you mind if I just lean in and grab this?” I don’t touch them. Is this really a thing? Is it a cultural difference? I don’t think my hands belong in their personal space bubbles, although I sometimes edge my cart through with only an inch of room to spare.

  90. 90
    Amanda Marcotte

    The notion that harassment isn’t a problem is just a lie. Unless I’m with a man, the vast majority of crowd situations I’m in have involved some level of harassment. In our culture, men are encouraged to routinely display dominance over women with subtle and obnoxious gestures. For instance, most times I’m in a crowd, at least one strange man will put his palm on the small of my back or waist,places only intimates should touch. They do it quickly, and try to pass it off as as “just moving through” gesture, but they know and I know that’s bullshit. I can shove my way through a crowd without every engaging a gesture that resembles intimate touch; they are engaging in a quick dominance display to put you in your place. This happens so much that most women don’t do shit about it. We tend only to speak up when men escalate.

    A lot of men play a grown-up version of “I’m not touching you!”, as well, which usually involves standing too close and leaning in. Claims that this is due to social awkwardness are lies, of course, because they don’t do it to men.

    This is so frequent my assumption is that anyone pretending anti-harassment policies are too complicated is probably just a grabby creep who doesn’t want people to be more aware of the problem, because then they do stuff to spoil his fun, like come over and rescue a woman he’s cornered at a convention and is using the social code of politeness to keep her from saying, “Could you like not pant on me? Thanks.”

  91. 91
    Amanda Marcotte

    Proxer, yes. Because I decline to pretend anyone pretending that normal politeness is beyond understanding is well-intentioned. Like I said, most to all guys who get all huffy about wanting to know the legal “line” only want to do so in order to find out how much they can make women uncomfortable before they get booted.

  92. 92
    Eristae

    God, the amount of rules lawyering that is going on in relation to these harassment policies is amazing. “Well, the rule says not to hit people, and I didn’t hit her, I yanked her chair out form under her! That isn’t against the rules, so you can’t do anything, nya nya!” “Oh, well, it says unwanted touching is against the rules, but what if I lean in and kiss my wife and it turns out she doesn’t want to be kissed at that particular moment? Am I going to be stoned to death on the steps of the conference center?!”

    Seriously, WTF? I am an incredibly literal person (it sometimes causes me trouble) and even I’m not misunderstanding this. Even I understand what these kind of rules are meant to cover and what they are not. Why so many people are suddenly acting like the text of an anti-harassment policy must be so specific that it will precisely apply to ever given situation is beyond me. It baffles me that so many people feel the need to abandon any attempt at common sense.

  93. 93
    proxer

    Amanda,

    Who is pretending that normal politeness is beyond understanding? I really don’t think you’re paying attention to the arguments here. This should be a non-issue. It comes down to a simple question: Which of these policies is better?

    1) You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!).

    2) All incidents of violence, physical intimidation, and unwanted intentional physical contact will result in immediate expulsion from the SSA Conference.

    I believe that the second policy is better. Significantly better. In fact, the first time I read the first policy I thought “This isn’t a good policy – it’s trying to fix a complex problem with a simplistic new rule for social behavior.”

    As a more complete example of a well-written policy, there’s the code of conduct for the Center for Inquiry.

    It clearly outlines prohibited behavior, the consequences of said behavior, and the reporting methods available to attendees. It does not muddy the issue with vaguely worded statements like “You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference.”

  94. 94
    NitricAcid

    When I was in Germany, I’d often have people walk up to me in the bar and grab my beard to see if it was real. At one point I was tempted to grab the offending woman’s chest and say, “Ja, das ist auch echte”, but I decided to err on the side of caution.

  95. 95
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Codes of conduct have a chilling effect

    Unless you can offer some evidence otherwise, this is an assertion, not an informed view. In fact early anecdotes from the SSA conference suggest that policies make for a more comfortable environment.

    My question is: how does not having a policy help anyone? As far as I can see, a lack of a policy has only enabled harassers and gropers, to the point where–as Jen stated in the post that kicked off the latest round of argument–women have networked to pass around information about known creeps.

    Because the way the policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy.

    Oh, come on! The whole ‘you can’t hug a friend without being reported’ claim is absurd for the many reasons given above.

    Sigh. That said, I suppose it’s a positive sign if we are moving on to specifics of policy wording rather than arguing whether we should have a policy at all. At least then there is an acceptance that we will have policies and the only disagreement is on pedantic points about the exact form.

  96. 96
    Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion

    Right… so even if the AA policy were in place at an event and someone witnessed two people hugging without verbal consent, would the third, uninvolved, party be able to make a complaint to the event organisers? No.
    Well, yes, but their likelihood of being taken seriously would be less than that of the rest of the conference spontaneously converting to Asatru whilst dancing the charleston.

    The people who file reports are, in the vast majority of situations, the people who experience harrassment. Even if we were to widen the scope of complaint-makers to those who had witnessed harrassment, we can easily see the difference:

    1) A complaint citing the spectacle of two people hugging (with no obvious non-verbal communication to the effect that said hug was unwelcome or nonconsensual)

    2) A report of someone going around with a small camera on a pole held at foot level and pointed upwards.

    Going beyond the complete incredulity I’d feel personally at anyone unable to differentiate between the two behaviours reported, we can put forth hypothetically that both complaints were still made and even taken seriously.

    The response to claim 1 would be a quick chat with both hug participants to discern whether or not it was consensual. If it was, then the participants are slightly baffled but otherwise have something silly to laugh at. If, on the off chance it wasn’t, the organisers have the ability to deal with the perpetrator in a suitable manner.

    The response to claim 2 would be to find said individual, find said recording implement if it exists (it could be a walking aid, for example, rather than a camera) and if the individual -is- in fact carrying a camera that fitted the description in the original complaint and cannot give a very good reason why they are in possession of such a thing, then the staff could do anything from simply confiscating the camera until the end of the convention through to expelling them from the event, or even calling in the authorities if event-goers had already been assaulted by this person and wished to press charges.

    Note that in both scenarios, nobody has been unfairly thrown out of the convention or had their interactions stifled (even in the ridiculous claim 1).

  97. 97
    Svlad Cjelli

    As the issue drags on, I lose trust in assurances that the intent is not predatory.

  98. 98
    Sophia

    This blows my mind.

    We don’t live in an alternate universe where the letter of the law is all that matters, with husbands being thrown out for kissing their wives and indignant convention goers wondering why they can’t hug random strangers with no warning when they saw a pair of friends hugging.

    When there is a policy in place that says, “Don’t touch people without their consent,” people KNOW what that means. Anyone who claims not to is being disingenuous.

    Is it reasonable to quibble with the wording out of a desire to make a policy more specific? Sure. But to react as if this is some kind of crazy feminazi authoritarian policy that will oppress those who give handshakes without signing a form? That’s…worrying.

  99. 99
    Samantha Vimes, Chalkboard Monitor

    I *know* one of my Aspie friends is fussy about being touched. And I’m a hugger. And we’re pretty much besties, so we do hug. It’s not like she can’t stand any touch, she just wants to know in advance and give permission.
    So I both open my arms and say, “Hugs?” This is not an awkward thing. The response is usually, “Hugs!” and a lovely embrace. Or it may be, “No,” accompanied by a sad headshake that says she just doesn’t feel up to it right now, although I can consider myself hugged in spirit.
    This is much less complex to convey to each other than it is to write, and we are both socially awkward. In fact, I think I got the idea of saying, “Hugs?” from a young man at a sci fi convention who wanted to show his liking of me.
    And anyone who knows enough to actually verbally ask *is* okay with “Not now” or “I’m not a hugger” type answers. That’s why we ask.
    And if you are a hugger and have a problem with rejected– would you want to cause pain to someone with arthritis? Catch a virus from someone who really needed to show up but is trying to avoid transmission? Got sexually assaulted last weekend and doesn’t allow their own family to touch them yet? No, you wouldn’t want those things. Accept that if a person says “no” it is about them, whether it is physical, psychological or cultural. It isn’t a rejection of you as a person, or as a friend. I have fibromyalgia and so does my husband. Some days, one has to ask the other to be careful about touching, because it HURTS. We still love each other, but love doesn’t cause pain if it is avoidable.

  100. 100
    Ysanne

    Thanks Greta for spelling it out!

    (As for policies: I do think they should be worded properly and in a way that precisely reflects the actual intent of the policy, instead of relying on people having common sense. After all, you wouldn’t accept unreasonably written laws on the argument that “no one is going to use these to deny you your rights, even if it were possible if you stick to the wording and argue in bad faith”, would you?)

  101. 101
    lenoxus

    Svlad Cjelli:

    As the issue drags on, I lose trust in assurances that the intent is not predatory.

    Do you mean the intent of the (various) rules being discussed?

    Sometimes I’m getting a sense that people think it’s a bad idea to have explicit rules about this social stuff because then people might effectively play an “I’m not touching you” game, so we should just stick to common sense. A law with no letter means a more enforceabe spririt, eg, “You made her/him uncomfortable and that settles it.” Perhaps all the creeps/predators out there are hoping for an explicit line, so that they can know how to make women uncomfortable without crossing that line.

    I’m likely misreading, though. (To be clear, I don’t agree with any hypothetical person who says that.)

  102. 102
    J. J. Ramsey

    leebrimmicombe-wood:

    Oh, come on! The whole ‘you can’t hug a friend without being reported’ claim is absurd for the many reasons given above.

    I never said what you attributed to me. I said, “Because the way the [AA] policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy.” Whether the policy violation would be reported is immaterial. See what I quoted from Blackford in comment #84 and what Ysanne wrote in #103.

  103. 103
    jayarrrr

    Well, that settles it. I will **NEVER** go to one of these fests if everyone is so socially retarded (yes, he said the non-PC “retarded” word. Deal) that they need detailed instructions on the “correct” way to shake hands.

    Bleah!

  104. 104
    Amanda Marcotte

    proxer, you and your comrades in trying to find every argument under the sun against harassment policies are arguing in bad faith. There are two reasons I know this:

    1) Goalpost-moving in the most aggressive way. If feminists offer a simple policy that relies on common sense knowledge and scientific research showing that people do, in fact, know the basic rules of social engagement, you holler that it’s not specific enough. If feminists try to comply with that complaint and offer policies that are finely detailed, you complain that we want a triple replicate consent form filled out before you can talk to someone. The clear intent is to make sure that there is no way a policy can be written that you will accept, while pretending—because you’re arguing in bad faith—that you’re anti-harassment and just interested in a “better” policy. Which obviously means no policy so that harassment can be easier to conduct without concerns about victims or their friends feeling like they don’t have to put up with this shit.

    2) Scientific research indicates men who claim they don’t understand diverse social signals indicating lack of interest are lying.

    http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/mythcommunication-its-not-that-they-dont-understand-they-just-dont-like-the-answer/

    Summary of research findings:

    Drawing on the conversation analytic literature, and on our own data, we claim that both men and women have a sophisticated ability to convey and to comprehend refusals, including refusals which do not include the word ‘no’, and we suggest that male claims not to have ‘understood’ refusals which conform to culturally normative patterns can only be heard as self-interested justifications for coercive behaviour.

    What the researchers found was that the only time men like yourself pretend that reading women’s non-verbal or “soft” refusals of sexual (or any, really) kind of interaction was when offering excuses for sexual abuse. Absent the context of feeling the need to defend a system where men can overstep women’s boundaries and then blame the victim for not fighting back enough, men displayed an ability to read women’s signals, everything from closed body language to “soft” refusals like—you’ll love this one—”It’s getting late and I want to go to bed”. (Remember! The one disingenuous harassment-apologists claimed was unclear when offered by Rebecca Watson?)

    One of the other things that researchers also found is that people offering denials aren’t being nearly as subtle as pretended by harassment-apologists. Like Greta said in the posts, while we often don’t consciously talk about the various ways consent is requested and either accepted/denied (putting out your hand for a shake instead of grabbing, for instance), that doesn’t mean “soft” refusals are all that soft. “I really must leave” or looking down at the floor while backing away slowly are incredibly easy to read. I can tell across a room when a woman is signaling to a man who’s cornered her that she would like this interaction to end. So he can clearly tell, being, you know, right on top of her. He’s just pretending not to notice because he gets a thrill out of dominating her.

    @100: Agreed. We have to be more miserly about offering the assumption of good faith in discussions of sexual abuse and harassment, because abusers and harassers are really well-practiced at exploiting it. It’s their main tool when harassing women, playing innocent about social standards so they can cross boundaries. So it follows that they’d be really good and well-practiced at arguing in bad faith when trying to confuse the issue so people are unable to run interference on their RL harassment of women.

    Repeat: The main strategy of harassers in offline life is the bad faith argument: “Nuh-uh! She’s just making shit up. And frankly, she’s flattering herself.” “I was just moving through the crowd and my hand slipped!” “I was asking her about her pet cat!”

    We should be surprised to see the same tactics used to maintain a social order where harassers have free reign.

  105. 105
    Amanda Marcotte

    *Er, shouldn’t be surprised to see that harassment apologists use the same rhetorical tactic of bad faith argument as harassers use in real life. Indeed, I have to imagine the overlap between “guys who like to harass women” and “guys who push back hard every time someone tries to make it harder to harass women” is pretty high.

  106. 106
    J. J. Ramsey

    Amanda Marcotte (or someone claiming to be her?):

    proxer, you and your comrades in trying to find every argument under the sun against harassment policies …

    Citation needed. None of the posts by proxer on this thread have argued against harassment policies in general. None of the posts by me have done this, either.

    If feminists offer a simple policy that relies on common sense knowledge and scientific research showing that people do, in fact, know the basic rules of social engagement, you holler that it’s not specific enough.

    Which is why proxer and I have been complaining about the SSA and CFI policies as not being specific enough?

    Except that, well, we haven’t. Rather we think that they are decent models as compared to the AA policy, which has been singled out for criticism.

    The clear intent is to make sure that there is no way a policy can be written that you will accept

    Yet the SSA and CFI policies have been held up as acceptable, even good policies, in this very thread.

  107. 107
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    I never said what you attributed to me. I said, “Because the way the [AA] policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy.”

    Oh, righto. Then let me amend my statement to:

    ‘Oh, come on! The whole ‘you can’t hug a friend without violating policy’ claim is absurd for the many reasons given above.’

    There, fixed.

  108. 108
    J. J. Ramsey

    leebrimmicombe-wood:

    ‘Oh, come on! The whole ‘you can’t hug a friend without violating policy’ claim is absurd for the many reasons given above.’

    That’s not what I said either. What I said was, “Because the way the [AA] policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy [emphasis added].”

  109. 109
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Oh, okay. Let’s try take three:

    ‘Oh, come on! The whole ‘you can’t spontaneously hug a friend without violating policy’ claim is absurd for the many reasons given above.’

    J.J. I really think you are flogging the dead equine to the point of utter absurdity.

  110. 110
    Christophe

    What I said was, “Because the way the [AA] policy reads, two friends who spontaneously hugged each other would violate the policy [emphasis added].”

    I really have no idea what horrible scenario you are imagining playing out here. The only argument I’ve seen presented is an abstract, hypothetical “People might not Respect Authority if we do not enforce the rule to the exact precise letter,” and that is simply absurd. Every single time one enforces a rule, one brings one’s brain to the subject.

    Are you (or the people you quoting) honestly saying that someone will start running around grabbing people in a way that they would not have otherwise done before if they happen to see two friends spontaneously hugging and did not hear magic words exchanged first? Really? In the extremely unlikely event that they should do so, are you (or others) honestly saying that the convention staff would be powerless in the face of this?

  111. 111
    J. J. Ramsey

    leebrimmicombe-wood:

    J.J. I really think you are flogging the dead equine to the point of utter absurdity.

    I certainly agree that we’re going around in circles.

  112. 112
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    J.J. please read what Christophe said.

  113. 113
    J. J. Ramsey

    Christophe:

    The only argument I’ve seen presented is an abstract, hypothetical “People might not Respect Authority if we do not enforce the rule to the exact precise letter,”

    No, it’s more like people won’t respect an authority that makes rules that are recognized as absurd.

    Are you (or the people you quoting) honestly saying that someone will start running around grabbing people in a way that they would not have otherwise done before if they happen to see two friends spontaneously hugging and did not hear magic words exchanged first?

    Personally, I find that particular scenario unlikely. However, I find it less absurd that someone will conclude that if part of the written policy is ignored in favor of unstated and unwritten rules, then other parts of the policy may be as well. The written policy, then, becomes a largely pointless piece of paper, more useful for making it look like the AA is “doing something” than as an actual guide to what is expected from conference attendees and staff.

  114. 114
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Every single time one enforces a rule, one brings one’s brain to the subject.

    Maybe this is the (perceived) problem?

  115. 115
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Well, that settles it. I will **NEVER** go to one of these fests if everyone is so socially retarded (yes, he said the non-PC “retarded” word. Deal) that they need detailed instructions on the “correct” way to shake hands.

    Promise?

  116. 116
    Christophe

    However, I find it less absurd that someone will conclude that if part of the written policy is ignored in favor of unstated and unwritten rules, then other parts of the policy may be as well.

    Then, the first time they are the subject of a complaint, the staff will have the task of realigning their diodes on the subject.

    I will use an analogy: In San Francisco, you can be towed for blocking a driveway. This is well-understood, and people very rarely block driveways… except their own, which they block constantly and with enthusiasm. Yet, no one thinks that the law against blocking driveways (or the vehicle code in general) is unenforceable for this reason… and if they do so believe, their expectations are correctly quickly.

    The advance of a policy such as this is if there *is* an issue, it becomes quite cut and driedt: Did you touch? Did you ask? No arguing the toss.

    An argument of “this policy, if taken literally and to its most extreme possible interpretation, is absurd” is pretty much universally true in all human behavior. It’s not a convincing argument for anything.

  117. 117
    proxer

    Amanda Marcotte,

    1) There’s no goalpost moving. If you’re going to accuse me of goalpost moving, please back up your accusation with quotes.

    2) When did I ever claim not to understand social interaction?

    You seem to be arguing under the assumption that all codes of conduct are equal. That is to say, that they are all equally well thought out and cogent. In such a world, anyone objecting to any code of conduct would be, in effect, arguing against them all.

    That is not the world that we live in. Some writing is clearer than others. Some rules are better thought-out than others. Since my first post, I have made it abundantly clear that I object to what I see as a either a poorly-thought out rule, or a poorly worded rephrasing of social rules that everyone should already be aware of. Let me quote it for a third time, so that there will be no justification for misunderstanding:

    You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking.

    At this point I need to point out that Greta agrees with me: This language is vague and unnecessary.

    So, why are you arguing for this language?

    As for your assertion that I have ever “pushed back hard” against people or policies that make harassment harder, again, I must ask that you please provide evidence to this effect. This language doesn’t make harassment harder. As Greta demonstrated, it is unnecessary for a harassment-free conference.

    Also, (as J.J. so kindly pointed out) I have already identified what I see to be well-written, well thought-out codes of conduct, including the SSA and CfI codes of conduct. Please look at the CfI code of conduct; it clearly identifies several forms of harassment. This is what I am advocating, and have been advocating since my first post here.

    Let me repeat that: I identified a good code of conduct in my very first post, pointing out that it lacks this language. My argument has never been that codes of conduct are unnecessary. My argument has always been that this language is lousy, and that to call it what it is is no crime.

    The fact that you and others in this thread continue to set up straw-people to beat down while addressing me is, frankly, disappointing. I come to FtB because I expect, and usually see, a higher level of discourse.

  118. 118
    Greta Christina

    I have so far stayed out of this conversation, and have been letting it take its course. But I feel compelled to say something here.

    I did not say that every single critique of specific harassment policies was a snarky, snide, trivializing attempt to derail a conversation about a serious problem into squabbling about minutiae. I specifically said that this was often happening — not that every critique was an example of it. I have even cited Todd Stiefel’s critique as an example of a how to make a good-faith critique of certain portions of certain policies, while clearly acknowledging the great need for these policies, and not treating the people advocating for these policies as the enemy.

    I am not, however, seeing that in this conversation.

  119. 119
    proxer

    Greta,

    This is only my second time engaging in discussion on your blog, so maybe you could help me out. It sounds like you’re saying that you are not seeing

    “good-faith critique of certain portions of certain policies”

    “clearly acknowledging the great need for these policies”

    “not treating the people advocating for these policies as the enemy”

    I see these things in this thread. Where do you not see the opposite of these things, or the clear lack of these things?

    Thanks,
    Proxer

  120. 120
    proxer

    Christophe,

    I think that your analogy is a useful one, because it illustrates the difference between a useful law that often appears to be broken, and a redundant law.

    Your example is one of people occupying public space in such a way as to harm a private property owner: parking on a street to block a driveway.

    The conference equivalent would be standing in a hallway such as to block someone’s exit from their room. This could clearly be a form of harassment and should not be tolerated. The CFI policy covers this under “unreasonably interfering with another person’s ability to enjoy and participate in the conference”, and by adding ‘but is not limited to’ when enumerating prohibited behaviors.

    On the other hand, the wording that JJ and I object to would be analogous to a law stating “You must get explicit permission from a property owner to park on their property.”

    This law would be redundant, as there are already laws concerning the illegality of parking on private property without permission. The law would also be technically broken most of the time that friends visit each other. That is JJ’s point: the rule is not only redundant, it muddies the water.

    Maybe I could rephrase the question: What is so critical about this wording that you find it necessary? Does it bother you that this wording is not in the CFI or SSA policies?

  121. 121
    David John Wellman

    I’m one of those poor, unfortunate souls where certain social protocols do, in fact, have to be made explicit. Thank you Greta.

  122. 122
    Pandademic

    @proxer:

    All right, let me back up then. If you’re just arguing that the particular wording is not ideal, that the SSA wording gets their intent across more clearly, then okay. I’m not so wedded to the AA policy’s word choice that I would defend it against switching it out for something more similar to SSA’s or OpenSF’s policies. Like I said, I’m of the opinion that they have the same implications.

    I disagree that AA’s policy would lead to adverse consequences in the real world, but changing it out for the equivalent passage from SSA wouldn’t hurt anybody either, in my view.

    But here’s why I’m a bit confused about where you stand on the issue – from your comment #68:

    More to the point, as Greta has demonstrated, rigid, abnormal rules for social interaction are unnecessary. All that is needed in a code of conduct (vis-a-vis harassment) is to state that harassment is not tolerated, and to tell attendees what the reporting process is.

    And in your next comment, #69:

    She proved the detractors right – we don’t need to tell everyone (with poor wording) that they have to get consent before acceptable physical contact can occur. People know that. What we DO have to do is state that harassment will not be tolerated and describe the reporting procedure.

    The way I read those passages was that we shouldn’t get specific with harassment policies. We should just state “Harassment is bad” and leave everything else up to the reporting and mediation procedures.

    Since then, you’ve stated several times that you’re in favor of how policies like SSA’s and CfI’s approach this subject. Which would seem to me to be support for explicit and well-defined rules.

    So what exactly did you mean in those two quotes? Am I misreading you?

  123. 123
    Daniel Schealler

    @=8)-DX

    Gah!

    Yes, you’re right. On the first write-through my 2) and my 3) were the same line – ‘Astonishment followed by denial.’

    Broke that into two parts but neglected to edit the first sentence. Silly me.

    Anyway: Your guess is probably as good as mine. Better in that it’s probably more accurate, but worse in that it’s more depressing.

    Ah well.

  124. 124
    proxer

    Pandademic,

    I can see where my vague wording leaves of room for interpretation; I wasn’t trying to argue for any given language, so I got hand-wavy with my descriptions.

    Since you ask, I do think that giving examples of unacceptable behavior makes for a stronger code of conduct.

    Something I found interesting about the CfI’s code was this statement of what does not constitute harassment:

    Critical examination of beliefs, including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.

    I’d love to have been a fly on the wall while that part was being written. Do they really get complaints of ‘hostility’ from people whose views have been challenged? If so, then I feel for them :(.

  125. 125
    John Phillips, FCD

    proxer, I think that one came about through something like a poster I saw on another freethought blog, might have been PZ’s, asking whether, if defining harassment was left up to the individual feeling harassed, couldn’t they claim that criticisng religious beliefs, xianity in this example, amounted to harassment. I know that a few then contacted them about this. The reply was pretty much the line you quote while pointing out that following an individual self-identified believer around and going on and on about, say, the RC’s protecting of its child raping priests, would be harassment. I.e. distinguishing between attacking the idea and the person. So though many believers automatically consider attacking the idea as attacking the person, the CFI doesn’t. In other words, they are covering the bases.

  126. 126
    George From NY

    I would posit a substantial difference between hugging someone vs handshaking. Yes, they’re all of a piece as “physical contact” but then so is tackling someone to the ground, linebacker-style.

    Hugs – even the friendship types – are very physically intimate and negate ‘personal space’ utterly. Handshakes do not.

    Declining a handshake is simply a matter of smiling while saying something like, “I don’t shake hands. Nothing personal. It’s just not my thing.” Boom. Done. A moment of awkwardness, perhaps, then you both move on to conversation (or whatever).

    Declining an incoming hug is a wholly different affair. You might well have to literally shove the other person away if you cannot abruptly move out of range. You’ve just gone from friendly greeting to physical altercation in an eye-blink.

    Also, size matters (lulz) in hugs as it does not in handshakes. At 6’3″ and 300 lbs, it is a trivial matter for me to moderate my grip to something appropriate for shaking the hand of a young child or an elderly person. Hugging them would entail a level of care akin to handling porcelain artworks, so I don’t even attempt it.

    I just tackle them, linebacker-style.

  127. 127
    Theo Bromine

    Do they really get complaints of ‘hostility’ from people whose views have been challenged?

    It’s worth noting that some of the harassment policies that had been cited have religion as a category about which attendees are forbidden to make “offensive verbal comments” (eg Florida Humanist Association says, “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion – https://hfaconference.wordpress.com/harassment-policy/). Lots of religious people consider that they are being bullied or harassed if their beliefs are challenged. A significant number of theists think that it is aggressive harassment simply for an atheist to say, “There is no god”.

  128. 128
    George From NY

    Theo, Richard Carrier relates that CFI solved it thus:

    And they adopt the ideal clarification all atheist and skeptical events should incorporate into their policies:

    Critical examination of beliefs, including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1679

  129. 129
    George From NY

    Ye gods, I see someone already referred to this. Never mind. Strike my previous post, please.

  130. 130
    daniellavine

    I honestly can’t understand the problem with acquiring consent before making personal contact. If you know a person already and frequently hug that person then you clearly have already acquired consent and so such situations are not even relevant to the policy.

    Let’s try this again.

    What is the freakin’ problem? What specific harm is caused by the wording as it is? (“Chilling effects” will not be accepted as an answer unless you can demonstrate empirically that such a thing happens. Of course, sexual harassment policies probably have a “chilling effect” on sexual harassment in the work place but that’s not exactly a bad thing, is it? So demonstrate the harm that would be caused by this wording.)

    proxer and Ramsey, try to keep it to a paragraph. This is a simple question. Please try to answer it briefly.

  131. 131
    daniellavine

    Incidentally, it REALLY looks like you guys are looking for stuff to complain about. Neither of you have acknowledged any validity to a single rebuttal of your points. That could mean that none of them are effective, but from reading the thread that’s not the case. Your objections have been put to rest and you turn to “But I like THIS wording better!” Seems like petulance.

  132. 132
    J. J. Ramsey

    daniellavine:

    If you know a person already and frequently hug that person then you clearly have already acquired consent

    We’ve been over this already. What you describe works well under the SSA and CFI policies, but not the AA policy, for reasons that I already pointed out in my very first post on this thread. If you want more detail, go here: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=5102. Both the post itself and the comments should be enlightening.

  133. 133
    Christophe

    J. J. Ramsey:

    What you’ve done is assert, over and over again, that you can imagine extremely unlikely things happening were both the participants and convention organizers to lose their minds. I’m not sure that’s a very compelling argument.

  134. 134
    J. J. Ramsey

    Christophe:

    What you’ve done is assert, over and over again, that you can imagine extremely unlikely things happening were both the participants and convention organizers to lose their minds.

    You seem to have forgotten that when you asked the question,

    Are you (or the people you quoting) honestly saying that someone will start running around grabbing people in a way that they would not have otherwise done before if they happen to see two friends spontaneously hugging and did not hear magic words exchanged first?

    that I found your particular proposed scenario unlikely. Proxer managed to read me correctly back in comment #123. I wish that you would have done the same.

    We’re back to equine corpses again.

  135. 135
    Christophe

    I found your particular proposed scenario unlikely.

    It’s pretty clear that whatever the negative reaction to the AA policy is based on, it is not the plausibility of an actual negative consequence. What it *is* based on, I have no idea.

  136. 136
    efrique

    I’d have to say that what you lay out there Greta – that you don’t grab someone’s hand for a handshake, but offer it, and that hugs are similar, but since they’re more personal you have to be *even more careful* about grabbing – that’s all spot on, I agree completely (with of course, the possible exception of close friends who know each other well, but even there, if there’s any doubt at all …). This is just basic human courtesy.

    However, I find some of the things being said in the comments seem to be astoundingly divisive, many apparently suggesting that anyone with *any* level of dissent cannot be dealt with at all.

    Among a number of commenters above, there seems to be little concept that people can be moved to agree – instead the line seems to be more that this issue can only be approached as a pitched, all in – everyone one can only be ‘with us or against us’ – type battle.

    Yet we know that people we disagree with strongly *can* be convinced – atheists do it with religious people all the time. Many of us are ex-theists. I think, as a wise person said recently, that we were worth it.

    It’s important to keep trying to engage, and to keep trying to treat each person individually.

    And in fact there are a variety of positions on this issue. Not every aspect of every position can be neatly placed in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bin. Where people can be engaged, they should be.

  137. 137
    proxer

    daniellavine:

    You are correct, nobody has made a solid case for this language over other language. In fact, we have good evidence that this language is completely unnecessary for a safe, welcoming, successful conference. You don’t seem to recognize that the burden of proof is on the proponents of this specific language. You have failed to make your case, not the other way around. What is the use case for this language? Groping is already prohibited, blindsiding people with bear-hugs is already prohibited.

    The downsides are not tremendous – nobody is going to die if this language is in place – but I’ll enumerate a few:

    1) It’s just bad language – it strongly implies verbal consent (the vernacular understanding of “ask” is clearly verbal) where in reality non-verbal consent would suffice.
    2) It’s an unnecessary rule – we can have very safe and successful conventions without this rule. All other things considered, conciseness is preferred to verbosity and vagueness
    3) Because of #1, which no one has managed to refute, readers are likely to be confused about the intent of the rule, which will make them uncertain when encountering people. There ARE conferences where handshakes are discouraged (usually due to a recent flu outbreak). Maybe that has been extended to this conference as well.
    4) The language implies that attendees at this conference are, as a group, incapable of adult interaction. It is inherently mildly insulting, and actually lowers the bar for expected behavior. You cannot argue for this language and also claim that most attendees are both aware of and follow social norms surrounding touching, including non-verbal permission.

    It has been repeated by proponents of this wording that ‘It only comes into effect when something bad happens.’ This logic actually serves to underscore the uselessness and absurdity of having such stupid language in the first place. What is the use of a law that is only applied when other laws are already in effect?

    Finally, please stop suggesting that JJ and I are just whining. You don’t seem to realize that you are making essentially the same claim that you are trying to indict us for: “I like THIS wording better!” Seems like petulance. I believe that that kind of accusation can more easily be turned against you, given the ambiguity of the language that you’re trying to promote.

    We think that this language is bad, not horrific, just bad, and we as feminists should be able to say to our fellow feminists “hey, we think this is a misstep” without being bullied or shamed in to shutting up.

  138. 138
    proxer

    Christophe,

    I believe that I have enumerated the downsides above. What are the demonstrable benefits? I think it’s clear from where JJ and I stand that you have failed to make a case for this language. Are you petitioning the SSA and the CfI to include this language in their codes of conduct?

  139. 139
    Christophe

    . In fact, we have good evidence that this language is completely unnecessary for a safe, welcoming, successful conference.

    No. We have no evidence of that whatsoever. What we have the fact that Greta went to a convention without it, and had a wonderful time. This is a single anecdotal data point that proves exactly nothing. If there was a rule that said, “To avoid meteor strikes, giraffes are not allowed at the convention,” one should not conclude that the lack of a meteor strike proved that rule was sufficient.

    But we’ll have an existence proof soon enough. I assume you will agree that if the AA convention comes and goes with this in place, and nothing untoward happens, you’ll agree that the rule has no negative consequences.

    You don’t seem to recognize that the burden of proof is on the proponents of this specific language.

    I’m not sure why you believe this. You have the option of not attending AA conventions if you feel it will be the Hugapocalypse, but why do the AA people require you signature at the bottom of the form to put this rule into place?

    Regarding the specific points:

    #1: Feature, not bug.

    #2: Of course you can have a safe convention without this rule. You can *potentially* have a safe convention without any particular rule. I feel that having a crisp red line, judiciously enforced, is useful.

    #3: At this point, we’re heading off into the weeds. The argument that people will be wandering around the convention utterly confused about how to behave, as if we are all aliens with only the convention rules as guides to human behavior, is simply absurd. Friends will continue to hug where consent is clearly a non-issue. People who are automatic huggers will stop and ask, “Would you like a hug?” or “May I hug you?”

    The argument that people will see friends hugging and conclude that is license to ignore other rules or to stop groping is either made in bad faith, or requires such a limited experience with real-world humanity that it qualifies as insane. And, in the unlikely event that happens, the convention staff can deal with it by explaining the situation.

    #4: The advantage of this rule is that it eliminates toss-arguing (and if anyone thinks that pharisaic debate over whether or not “implicit” consent was obtained won’t happen, this thread should prove otherwise). In the event there are complaints, the rule is clear-cut and significantly harder to be Internet Clever in coming up with a reason why one’s behavior was correct despite the complaint.

    I think that the AA language is superior. I think that the SSA and Cfl language is acceptable. I’m not the one arguing that anyone should change their rules, if we’re going to argue where the burden of proof lies.

  140. 140
    proxer

    Christophe,

    You are correct, we have one anecdote, and the plural of anecdote is not data. Of course, you commit the same fallacy in assuming that a harassment-free AA convention is evidence that the rule has no harmful consequences.

    Given the unlikelyhood of peer-reviewed trials of said verbage, we have only the language to analyze. Your rebuttals to my four points do not stand:

    1) You really believe that verbal consent is superior in all respects and in all cases? You are asserting then, that in general, all physical contact should be preceded by verbal confirmation? I disagree, but you should write a paper on this significant shift in social norms and have it published.

    2) Perhaps I should clarify, This rule adds no significant safety or comfort to attendees above and beyond those rules already enumerated in the CfI and/or SSA codes of conduct. If you disagree, please provide use cases and evidence to back up your claim that it does. Here is what, at minimum, I would expect you to show in order to back up your assertion that this rule and verbage are superior:

    i) People consciously engaging in physical harassment will be deterred by this language more effectively than by the language in the CfI or SSA codes of conduct
    ii) We can reasonably expect a significant number of people to follow current social norms (‘wanna hug’ gesture and/or verbal confirmation etc.) and perceive that touching is acceptable when it is not.
    iii) Explicit verbal communication prior to such contact would have prevented ii
    iv) Identify and quantify all other potential benefits of such language, such as increased comfort of attendees.
    v) Identify and quantify all potential downsides to such a dramatic shift in social norms, and show that they are of less significance than the expected cases of false-positives.

    In addition to demonstrating that this shift in social norms is an overall positive one, I would also expect you to show that the verbage prohibiting “unwelcome physical contact” in the CfI code of conduct draws an insufficiently clear line.

    3) I agree, you once again attribute me with an absurd argument. You seem unable to differentiate between degrees of confusion. Nobody has made the claim that people will be wandering around the convention utterly confused about how to behave. For the last time, I ask you to please put down all of the straw men. The point is simply that having rules that are followed ‘sometimes’ is confusing. If a rule is worth having, it’s worth expressing well and enforcing consistently. The claim that JJ and I are making is simply this: The AA wording introduces element of confusion where better rules and wording would achieve the same goals without confusion. Clarity is preferred to confusion. Period.

    4) This is a valid point – if everyone gives verbal consent all the time, then there is less ground for anyone to harass via unwanted physical contact and claim ignorance that the contact was unwanted. That said, this argument is inconsistent with your argument in #3 – It only stands if you accept that verbal consent must be granted in all cases.

    If you assert that ‘physical contact among friends without verbal consent’ breaks the rule but will simply not be prosecuted, then you’ve opened the door for someone to commit a false-positive in assuming that they are friends and that a hug is in order.

    If you concede that verbal consent is required in all cases, then you will have to deal with the negative impact of such a significant change in social norms. If you maintain that verbal consent is not required in all cases, then you have to address the necessity of an inherently confusing rule and your argument in #4 becomes tenuous at best.

    Oh, and this is also a strawman: why do the AA people require you signature at the bottom of the form to put this rule into place. Please feed the straw to the cows, I’m full.

  141. 141
    Christophe

    ou are correct, we have one anecdote, and the plural of anecdote is not data. Of course, you commit the same fallacy in assuming that a harassment-free AA convention is evidence that the rule has no harmful consequences.

    Great, then we can agree that Greta’s experience is no evidence on the AA policy either way.

    I’m afraid that you have the burden of proof backwards. I’m not proposing anyone change their policies. Since you feel that AA’s policy is bad, you need to persuade those of us who feel it is acceptable that they need to change it, or be faced with real-world, plausible problems. I look forward to you attempting to do so.

  142. 142
    proxer

    Christophe,

    I have presented a number of reasons that the wording in the AA policy is bad. You have failed to adequately address any of them, mostly by hyperbolizing and straw-manning. On the other hand, you claim that the AA policy is not only good, but that it is superior to other policies. You still hold the burden of proof for that claim, whatever I or anyone else may claim.

  143. 143
    Christophe

    I must admit I find “someone might be confused” a less-than-compelling argument. But we’ll find out next year, yes?

  144. 144
    proxer

    Christophe,

    I think my biggest issue with your arguments is that the don’t appear to be internally consistent. You’re arguing that a rule requiring explicit verbal permission for all physical contact is the best approach, while simultaneously asserting that any valid exceptions to this rule will be ignored by staff and other attendees and invalid exceptions will be clearly identifiable.

    If there are valid exceptions, then why not refine the rule to exclude those exceptions? Wouldn’t that make the rule better?

  145. 145
    Christophe

    If there are valid exceptions, then why not refine the rule to exclude those exceptions? Wouldn’t that make the rule better?

    If the staff cannot be trusted to enforce rules with good judgement, no rule set in the world will produce a good result.

  146. 146
    proxer

    Christophe,

    I must admit I find “someone might be confused” a less-than-compelling argument. But we’ll find out next year, yes?

    No, we won’t find out. In fact it was you who pointed out that correlating the incidence of harassment at any single convention to the policies in place is probably impossible.

    Also, I have found none of your arguments compelling. I’ve asked you for clarification of several and you have declined. You have also avoided addressing the basic arguments that JJ and I have been making from the outset without resorting to straw men or hyperbole.

  147. 147
    proxer

    If the staff cannot be trusted to enforce rules with good judgement, no rule set in the world will produce a good result.

    Wait, why are we relying on some people’s correct judgement and not others? i.e. if we can rely on staff and other attendees to correctly interpret the ‘welcomeness’ of physical contact between other people, why do we not rely on their judgement in the first place? You appear to be arguing against yourself again.

  148. 148
    Christophe

    No, we won’t find out.

    If it won’t have any effect, why debate it?

    Also, I have found none of your arguments compelling.

    That’s a shame.

    Wait, why are we relying on some people’s correct judgement and not others?

    Someone will have to adjudicate complaints. I assume the convention staff will do this. If they are not able to sort out reasonable from unreasonable complaints, the situation is hopeless regardless of the rule set.

  149. 149
    proxer

    Christophe,

    That’s true, no matter what, someone will have to adjudicate complaints. That was a bad argument.

    If it won’t have any effect, why debate it?

    I think we agreed that the effect will not be easily measurable, not that there won’t be an effect. A man comes up behind his life partner and wraps his arms around her, he’s in violation of the AA wording. That has consequences one way or another.

    That’s a shame.

  150. 150
    Christophe

    A man comes up behind his life partner and wraps his arms around her, he’s in violation of the AA wording. That has consequences one way or another.

    What consequences are we worried about here? The life partner is not going to go to the organizers and complain, the organizers are not going to be patrolling the halls for unapproved hugging.

    Every consequence that has been proposed has been, at best, an improbable edge case that the organizers can deal with in no time at all. I would be astonished if any innocent part would even know the policy was in place.

  151. 151
    proxer

    Christophe,

    Lets mark the scoreboard correctly then. I have presented clear evidence of confusion caused by this lousy wording. You may call such confusing improbable, minimal, whatever you like, but you can’t deny that it is there. You, on the other hand, have presented zero examples where this language and rule would provide a clear benefit above and beyond language in other codes. The burden of proof is still on you.

    Also, I’m losing interest in discussing this issue with you. You’ve finally stopped strawmanning my arguments, but you haven’t accepted responsibility for acknowledging the clear conflicts in your own arguments. At this point I feel like I’ve successfully presented my case, and I’m willing to let it stand.

  152. 152
    proxer

    Incidentally, the director of the CFI explained the motivation behind and approach to their policy in a great post here.

  153. 153
    Christophe

    I have presented clear evidence of confusion caused by this lousy wording.

    No, actually, I haven’t seen any evidence. You’ve presented scenarios that I consider highly unlikely; indeed, many of them you consider highly unlikely.

  154. 154
    laschesis

    Having been to a lot of science Fiction, Anime and Star Trek/media conventions, almost all of which have such policies in place I have rarely seen any problems with “enforcement”. I’m female and have worked convention security on conventions from 100+ people up to worldcons (5000+). Everyone knows what sort of conduct is appropriate and if people cross the line they are quickly informed of their wrongdoing.

    I find the whole “well sceptical men are socially inept and awkward” a disingenuous and self serving argument. You don’t get much more socially awkward than SF/anime/comic book/Trek/B5 etc nerds. BUT they do know where the line is. Perhaps its because scepticism in terms of conventions is still pretty young and is still “finding its feet”.

    However, the relentless demonization of people such Rebecca Watson is both unreasonable, and smacks of defending privilege.

    (OMG our fun will be ruined by teh GURLZ!!!).

    I’ve seen a lot of strawmen erected in these discussions, taking corner cases (such as a couple hugging) used to back up the idea of “enforcers” roaming convention spaces ticketing/removing people for “gratuitous consensual public hugging”.

    Perhaps this is an area where the sceptical community could do with learning from the SF/comic/anime community – I know from reading various blogs that there are significant overlaps between them.

    Also just quietly stating the simple facts -

    People have a right to their personal space – do not invade it with out asking, either verbally or non-verbally (i.e holding your arms open in a hugging gesture) if you are unfamiliar with someone. Or even if you do know someone, always err on the side of being non-invasive.

    Remember these cardinal unwritten rules of fandom, be friendly, be polite and shower at least once every 24 hours. :)

  155. 155
    Christophe

    @ laschesis:

    Indeed!

    I really do not mean to be dismissive or patronizing towards people with honest, good-fatih concerns about the policy, but there is something very, “We are inventing brand new things all by ourselves!” about some of the concerns.

    This is not a revolution. This is very well-trod ground. I have been to conventions (including alternative sexuality gatherings) with rules very much like AA proposed policy, and it has been an utter non-problem. No one was tossed out on their ear for hugging their SO, no one suffered physical damage for thinking that they were violating the policy. The benefit in that case was that someone couldn’t hold up, “Well, we hugged four years ago so I assumed slapping her butt was fine” as a justification in the event of a complaint.

    I will take as a given that proxer and JJ are offering good-fatih concerns, but they seem utterly detached from the reality of real-life conventions. Asking skeptics to trust is pretty much impossible, but I would be astonished if, in the real world, AA’s policy was problematic.

  156. 156
    proxer

    laschesis:

    First of all, you and I are in 100% agreement that the whole ” is just socially awkward!” argument is bogus.

    I think that we’re actually more in agreement than you might think: The behavior that you’re presenting as acceptable is also behavior that I’m presenting as acceptable:

    People have a right to their personal space – do not invade it with out asking, either verbally or non-verbally (i.e holding your arms open in a hugging gesture) if you are unfamiliar with someone. Or even if you do know someone, always err on the side of being non-invasive.

    This actually highlights the problem with the AA wording: as written it says that verbal permission is required in all cases, including hugs between friends/family. That’s just silly. In other words:

    1) As written the AA language prohibits acceptable, normal behavior. It could be re-written so that it doesn’t have this flaw.
    2) It provides no protection for victims above and beyond other language that doesn’t have this conflict.

    Many proponents of the language have argued two points:

    1) In practice, this rule as written will just be ignored by friends, family members, and people who don’t mind physical contact, and will only be enforced when someone actually does something inappropriate.

    2) The rule is necessary for identification and/or prosecution of inappropriate acts.

    Let me be clear, I am in full agreement with the first part. Since you brought up past experience, I’ll point out that I’ve worked as convention security for a convention with more than 40,000 attendees. As a person responsible for the safety and well being of attendees, I want all rules to be as clear and unambiguous as possible. I don’t want any confusion as to what is appropriate and what is not. I also don’t want attendees to assume that it’s ever reasonable to routinely ignore a safety policy that the convention staff has laid out, because the second one policy is clearly being interpreted as ‘well, this rule is only for those people’, other rules come into question.

    Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that having a rule on camera flashes ignored is suddenly going to cause attendees to start shooting each other. These are just subtle but important cues that attendees pick up on.

    As for the second point (which you may not agree with, but Christophe clearly does), in order for this to be true, the first objection, that good people will ignore the rule, can’t be true. If the rules is going to provide a clearer boundary, then everyone has to follow it all the time. If we don’t follow the rule all the time, then we have to rely on some other criteria for determining when this AA policy applies and when it doesn’t.

    What would that criteria be? Christophe asserts that the convention staff will ‘use their judgement’. Well, they could use their judgement whether the rule is in place or not. The outcome is the same, with our without the AA wording, so the AA wording is useless. What’s more, I feel that the SSA and particulary the CfI policies to an even better job of clearly defining the lines between appropriate and prohibited behavior.

  157. 157
    proxer

    Haha, I meant that to read “_some_group_ is just socially awkward!”

  158. 158
    Christophe

    Well, this is all very speculative. Let’s take some real-world examples.

    1. I have been to alternative sexuality conferences with “No touching without verbal consent” rules, with no specific exceptions. I have even been on staff on them; at some events, my company was the sponsor. Pretty much the point of this event was to find people to play with sexually, but lots of couples and triads and all kinds of people showed up.

    The rule was not a problem. Zero. This real-life experience leads me to believe that it will not be a problem AA, and the concerns about how it is going to have a chilling effect on social interaction are overblown.

    In the times we had to enforce it, it was clear to me that the person was simply going to come up with any excuse possible to justify their behavior, and the bright red line of, “You didn’t ask, and the person complained” was valuable in that case.

    2. I have been, and been staff on, conventions with a rule of “No running at any time in the convention area.” The rule did not go on to say “… unless you are a first-responder,” or “… unless it is an emergency,” or “… unless you are an AV tech racing to get the projector working for the midnight movie.” Every sentient person at the convention realized that the those things happen, and that “But I’m late for an event I wanted to go to” wasn’t a sufficient reason. If there was confusion about the rule, the convention staff explained that, no, being late to a panel you wanted to get into wasn’t a good enough reason.

    Really, I think this is much ado about nothing. Thinking that the AA rule is going to cause people to be guarded in their social interactions, be chided by convention staff for normal behavior, or create an atmosphere of non-compliance is simply not supported by real-life experience.

  159. 159
    J. J. Ramsey

    Christophe:

    I have been to alternative sexuality conferences with “No touching without verbal consent” rules, with no specific exceptions.

    Can you post links to the policies of those conferences? I’d like to see for myself if they are as you say, or if they are like the policy of another alternative sexuality conference, OpenSF.

  160. 160
    dragonfly

    “Well, that settles it. I will **NEVER** go to one of these fests if everyone is so socially retarded (yes, he said the non-PC “retarded” word. Deal) that they need detailed instructions on the “correct” way to shake hands.

    Bleah!”

    HEAR, HEAR!!!

    All of this brou-ha-ha, from both the atheist and sci-fi corners, is just astounding to me. You know, there are plenty of large social gatherings out there where this just doesn’t come up. People generally know how to behave.

    Yes, there are socially awkward people out there. But part of learning to navigate social situations is learning to deal with socially awkward people. Most times, one can extricate oneself from annoying attention gracefully. If that’s not working, well, start with a definitive “f- off,” and if that doesn’t suffice, proceed to security.

    Of course, if someone isn’t just socially awkward, but is actually grabbing your ass, &c, a swift punch to the nose, BEFORE calling security, works too. :-D

    But seriously… in 25 years of attending festivals, going to nightclubs, working at bars, and generally being a person who exists in public, I think I’ve had to get security to deal with a guy once, and I’ve had to punch grabbers twice. Most people aren’t actually malicious; and the graceful (but assertive) extrication route usually works.

    The concept that the complexities and nuances of social interaction can be or should be reduced to a set of rules is pretty repellent to me. I know sets of rules make some people feel more secure, more comfortable. Not everyone feels that way; and that doesn’t mean that the people who don’t like having everything spelled out in an authoritarian way are necessarily socially awkward, creepy, or molesters. (In my experience, it tends to be the more socially awkward people who prefer having a set of rules to follow.)

  161. 161
    Christophe

    Can you post links to the policies of those conferences?

    For events held in the early-to-mid 1990s? No. :)

  162. 162
    J. J. Ramsey

    Christophe:

    For events held in the early-to-mid 1990s?

    Hmm, did you happen to keep a hard copy of one of those policies around? I know it’s a bit of a stretch to hope for that, but it would be much stronger evidence than memories of events from over ten years ago.

  163. 163
    Christophe

    Hmm, did you happen to keep a hard copy of one of those policies around?

    I suppose I might have, but I’d be kind of surprised: I’ve moved five times since then, including one move to and from Europe.

    In any event, if you want to distrust my memory, I’ll make it easy for you: Even producing the rules doesn’t mean that the events happened without a glitch and without resentment on anyone’s part. For that, you’ll simply have to trust my memory, or not.

    But the reality is that not only was the rule not a problem, it was a net positive, because there was no toss-arguing involved. As for existing couples, the one case that I can recall where it came up was a life-partners, fluid-bonded couple who made a point of publicly asking for and getting permission to touch each other at the party, as a way of demonstrating how it was done. I thought it was sweet!

    In a perfect world, conferences could have two rules:

    “1. We are dedicated to making sure each and every attendee and staff member experiences a pleasant and harassment-free convention. In the event you feel you are being harassed or intimidated, please immediately contact a staff member so we can take prompt action.”

    “2. The staff is authorized to take any action required, up to and including ejection from the conference, in the event the staff (in its sole judgement) feels an attendee is harassing, intimidating, or interfering with the enjoyment of any other attendee.”

    The problem is that the trust level in the community (looking at it from the outside) appears to be at such a nadir that neither side is willing to let it go at that, and wants more explicit rules:

    – Those who are concerned about harassment feel that, the staff will simply play “go along to get along” and not act on complaints of harassment.

    – Those who are concerned about excessive power on the convention staff are worried that too-general rules will cause the staff to be self-important martinets, unfairly cracking down on normal social behavior.

    The problem is that the rules that each side wants are different:

    1. Those concerned about harassment want rules that cannot be easily gamed or rules-laywered, for fear that the whole process will descend into an endless discussion of whether or not the behavior Really Was Harassment.

    2. Those worried about excessive staff power appear to feel that if the rule can be interpreted in some draconian way, it perforce will be, and that will cause issues. Or, conversely, if enforced with discretion, it will cause resentment by people who think it should not apply to them, and see it not being strictly enforced on others.

    Speaking as an outsider, and looking at the controversies that got the community to this position, I give a lot more weight to #1 above than #2, and thus tend to favor more explicit rules enforced flexibly over more general rules that can be gamed.

    My hope would be that as time goes on, the community can move to more general rules and get past the idea that the either side cannot be trusted, and thus needs to be bound tightly with specific rules. But it’s clearly not there yet.

  164. 164
    Theo Bromine

    @dragonfly: Good for you that you have not encountered many assholes over the past 29 years, and that you have the personal resources to have been able to deal those whom you have encountered.

    You say that socially awkward people appreciate having rules. It could be argued that nasty sociopaths like to have official rules so that they know just how far they can push things. But, socially awkward people who are trying to be nice also benefit from having rules – even though they might *really* want to behave properly, many do not have the innate sense of what that means, especially in an unusual social context like a conference/convention.

    Codes of conduct are not there for people who are able to easily defend themselves, they are there to protect those who might not even realize that they have complete control over who has access to their body, let alone knowing what to do when when someone has crossed the line (and that would have been me, 30-odd years ago – not so much now). I suppose the question is how does one balance the desire to assist such people against the risk of annoying people who don’t perceive any problems themselves.

  165. 165
    Proxer

    Christophe,

    Again, you’re making my point for me: an “explicit verbal permission before physical contact” rule makes sense at a conference where physical contact is a primary activity. Your “no running” rule argument gets closer to the mark, but in order to justify inclusion of this ‘common sense’ rule in a code of conduct, you’d have to have some value to that rule. If the attendees are unlikely to break this rule, as is the case with the thousands of academic conferences held each year, then the value added by a ‘no running’ rule is negligible, and as such it’s better left out for conciseness’ sake.

    Please present some cases where we could reasonably expect the AA wording to provide protection and clarity above and beyond the CfI or SSA wording. The burden of proof is still on you to show that the AA wording is better for skeptic-atheist conventions and conferences.

  166. 166
    dragonfly

    @Theo Bromine – How does one balance it? Well, inform everyone that security will be available to everyone. If anyone tells security, “This person is harassing me and refuses to leave me alone,” security should make sure that person leaves said person alone. If a harasser refuses, they will be ejected from the event. (or, if evidence of something worse is there, police will be called.)
    You know, the way it goes at most events where large numbers of people congregate.

    If for any reason a person is incapable of telling someone that they would prefer to be left alone, or too timid to call security (or other help) as needed, then they should probably be attending therapy before navigating large social groups… (Or they can make sure a bolder friend is at their side.) I’m not being glib here; being able to tell someone to f- off is an essential part of navigating life… not just cons, but you know, walking down the street, dealing with coworkers or classmates, or random strangers, you name it.
    A convention is not different from any usual social gathering. Different social rules do not apply. It’s NOT equivalent to a BDSM play party or a swingers’ event, which is predicated on the assumption that at such an event, different social rules DO apply, and therefore it makes sense to ennumerate the rules that are agreed upon as far as social conduct.

  167. 167
    Christophe

    The burden of proof is still on you to show that the AA wording is better for skeptic-atheist conventions and conferences.

    Sorry, I don’t play Calvinball unless I get to be Calvin. It’s your mind, you can make it up however you like. If you want to wait until the Third Egg hatches and the Fire Witch returns and the Fisher King is healed by the Grail before you are willing to accept the AA wording, knock yourself out.

    But, really, isn’t this the most pointless argument ever? I am not on the AA convention committee. Girolamo Savonarola has as much control over the AA policies as I do. He probably has more, and he’s dead.

    The people you should be approaching about this are the AA committee. They may not be wild about having you plant your flag in the field of battle and insist that the burden of proof is on them, but that’s between you and them.

    I’m curious:

    1. Have you done so?
    2. What was there response?
    3. If the keep the current wording, will you attend? (Assuming you were planning to.)

  168. 168
    Christophe

    s/there/their/, of course. This is what I get for writing something after an 11 hour drive, with a cold.

  169. 169
    Proxer

    Christophe,

    You keep ducking the question. I wish you’d answer it honestly instead of flailing about pretending that you haven’t asserted a position that you refuse to back-up with argument or evidence.

    Also, this idea that it’s somehow wrong to discuss these things without engaging the AA committee is just ludicrous. It’s another way of saying ‘just shut up and go away’.

  170. 170
    dragonfly

    Just thinking about this whole issue and why it bothers me, on my way to work…

    I think that first, as an atheist, I am inclined to disagree with the whole idea that people can’t get along without strictly outlined moral rules. After all, isn’t that what religious people always say? That we need moral codes of behavior dictated to us, because simple human decency and common sense aren’t enough?

    Secondly, I find it insulting to have it implied that, as a group, atheists/skeptics are so much more incompetent and/or malicious than the population at large that we can’t even get together for a social gathering/professional convention without a bunch of rules. (And a bunch of nitpicking about what those rules should be).

    Seriously, if a bunch of religious fundamentalists were to come across this thread, I’m sure they’d have a field day with it.

  171. 171
    Christophe

    I wish you’d answer it honestly instead of flailing about pretending that you haven’t asserted a position that you refuse to back-up with argument or evidence.

    Oh, come now. I’ve presented tons of arguments and evidence. You find them unpersuasive, and there’s not much I can do about that.

    Also, this idea that it’s somehow wrong to discuss these things without engaging the AA committee is just ludicrous.

    Well, it *is* pointless. Suppose the scales fall from my eyes and I agree with you (spoiler alert: unlikely!)… *nothing has changed*.

    My advice is to take the discussion to the people who can actually *do something about it*. This seems rather obvious to me.

  172. 172
    Christophe

    And, proxer? You may want to take a step back and look at how you are coming off here.

    It is clear that it is very important for you to Win This Debate. There’s only one victory condition: AA agrees with you and changes their rules. AA doesn’t *have* to change their rules to suit you; you’re going to need to sell them on that idea. It appears you haven’t even approached them about it. Why not?

    The way you sell someone on an idea is not to say, “The burden of proof is on you!” If I were the on the AA committee, I’d look at that, smile ironically, and reply that we all greatly appreciate your input and get on with life, because that approach is, frankly, dickish and unpersuasive.

    If your goal is counting coups in a comment thread on a blog in which you both play and keep score, sure, have a great time! Enjoy the victory party (I think you already declared victory once).

    But if you are wondering why some people take a look at the community and wonder if normal human interaction is even possible, I’m afraid this is a superb example of why they may think otherwise.

    So, in short, if your goal is, “I sure showed that Christophe dude!”, please, have a great deal of fun with it. Enjoy the pizza at the victory party. But that won’t change *anything* about the community, and you may want to focus your energies there.

  173. 173
    Proxer

    Cristophe,

    You’ve presented tons of arguments and evidence, none of which addresses my question: can you demonstrate that the AA wording provides protections above and beyond the CFI or SSA wording, in the context of a secular/atheist conference (and not a conference centered on physical contact).

    If you have addressed that question, I honestly missed it and I’d appreciate seeing it again.

    As to your other arguments, they just as easily apply to you, so I’m not sure why you think they’ll be compelling to me.

  174. 174
    Christophe

    You’ve presented tons of arguments and evidence, none of which addresses my question: can you demonstrate that the AA wording provides protections above and beyond the CFI or SSA wording, in the context of a secular/atheist conference (and not a conference centered on physical contact).

    I notice that the parenthetical made a sudden appearance here after I agave a quite apt example. No doubt if I gave another example, a new parenthetical of “… in the last three months” would pop up mushroom-like from the ground.

    In any event, you left off the most important clause:

    … to my [proxer's] satisfaction.

    And the answer is clearly not. Enjoy the pizza!

    As to your other arguments, they just as easily apply to you, so I’m not sure why you think they’ll be compelling to me.

    Dude you can’t be that dense. The reason they apply to you and not me is that *I am not trying to get AA to change their policy*. Looks great to me. Fine! Ship it. Golden master, tomorrow. If you disagree, then it’s up to you to get them to change it.

    You can’t be so solipsistic as to believe that unless AA has your personal blessing on their policy they are guilty of a great wrong… can you?

  175. 175
    Proxer

    Christophe,

    All I’m looking for is a reasonable hypothetical of “thing that is likely to happen at the AA conference” to answer my question, something that you did not actually provide in your previous example. It’s disingenuous to throw out the smoke bomb of “You would just disregard any argument I make!” and run away.

    That said, if you don’t agree that different conferences might necessitate different codes of conduct, then we can agree to disagree as to whether your example centered on a convention where Pretty much the point of this event was to find people to play with sexually, but lots of couples and triads and all kinds of people showed up. is a valid comparison.

    As for your latest strawman, that somehow I have asserted that the AA organizers need my say-so to do anything, well, it’s another strawman.

    The argument that you’re making in a somewhat roundabout way seems to be that any discussion of the AA rules outside of the context of a meeting with AA organizers is pointless and stupid.

    I happen to disagree with that argument, but then again, it would appear that you disagree with yourself, as you’ve been arguing over this very thing for quite some time as well, which brings me to the point that I thought most obvious:

    This argument that begins with You may want to take a step back and look at how you are coming off here… applies just as much to you as it does to me. The fact that you would try to shame me into silence was somewhat surprising to me; While I agree that we both appear a little “bent” for beating this dead horse for so long, I am not sure how you could have your own justification for doing so and somehow assume that I do not, or that I would be swayed by your (dubious) concern for my reputation.

    In fact, I’ve actually acknowledged a couple of good points that you have made, as well as some bad arguments that I have made. I don’t recall you “giving an inch” in this entire exchange, though I have pointed out a number of clear straw-man arguments that you have presented.

    In any case, I’ll be incommunicado for a couple weeks. Enjoy the last word :)

  176. 176
    Christophe

    The fact that you would try to shame me into silence was somewhat surprising to me

    Dude, if “have you contacted the AA organizers, because they are the only ones who can fix this?” is “shaming [someone] into silence”… I’m speechless. :)

  177. 177
    Christophe

    I’m going to close with this, because it is an anecdote that Greta told me years and years ago, which I have used all the freaking time since (so, thank you, Greta!):

    J.P. Morgan was riding in his private railway car, and called for ice cream. When told that there was none on the train, he became enraged. His fury knew no bounds! The train crew, in terror, made an emergency stop at the next station, obtained ice cream, and promptly served it to him in a silver dish.

    He looked at it for a moment, and swept it off the table with his arm, declaring, “I would rather have my grievance.”

    proxer, JJ, if you really do care about this, the people you need to talk to are the convention organizers. If you decline to do so, the only thing a reasonable person can conclude is that you would rather have your grievance.

  178. 178
    urita

    Hello,

    Regarding what the facilitator of a conference should do, I found this article :

    http://conference.planning-an-event.com/2012/bringing-conference-life/

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