Safe


There’s yet another misapprehension about language in the present ongoing discussion about sexism and harassment in our respective communities lately. I say yet another because they seem to comprise vast majority of the most jarring moments in these conversations — when people don’t understand one word or another, and fight for days about whether this parsing or another is more correct.

The entirety of the “witch-hunt” trolling that the pro-harassment-policies folks have endured stems from some misapprehension that the informal “watch out for this guy” network that Jen brought up in the original incident meant that there was actually a written list and that we were planning on trying to make conventions blackball these folks based on “rumors and innuendo”.

The “Taliban” accusations with regard to “dress codes” could be attributable to a perfectly honest misunderstanding about whether or not the proposed sample policy from the Geek Feminism wiki meant by the so-called “no booth babes” clauses. Of course, one would have to be quite charitable to presume the specific people initiating that meme had an honest misunderstanding, since they’ve done so much for so long to fight against the idea of feminism intersecting the skeptical or atheist movements. But one could attribute the meme’s spread to legitimate misunderstandings from people who weren’t skeptical enough to check the source materials and took the words of those authoritative voices.

And then there’s “safe spaces”.

Even DJ Grothe got that one wrong. Which, frankly, surprises the living hell out of me.

In USA Today, Rebecca Watson was interviewed with regard to the problem she’s somehow catalyzed by the horrific act of advising men not to act inadvertently predatorily if they don’t want to creep their flirting targets out. She said this about the community after the backlash and rape and murder threats ensued:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space and we have a lot of growing to do. The good news is there are a lot of people within the community who are interested in making it better and getting rid of our prejudices.”

When DJ later hypothesized that the reason TAM’s female attendance was down owed largely to women and their “irresponsible messaging” giving people the impression that TAM was an unsafe space — as in, women attending TAM would likely get harassed, molested, raped or killed. But nobody’s ever said that.

DJ further overstated his case by saying that nobody’s ever reported any harassment at any of the TAMs that have taken place since he’s been president. This was, of course, demonstrably wrong — there were a small number of reported incidents that he’s since forgotten.

But does anyone think, like the outright trolls and those who think harassment policies are just a bete noir of the radical feminist element who’ve infested their good-old-boys’ atheism and skepticism do, that anyone thinks this harassment is atypical, that what you encounter at TAM is any WORSE than the background levels of harassment in general society?

I strongly doubt that. I suspect that at absolute worst, people think that TAM is exactly as likely as any other place in general society to end up on the receiving end of harassment.

But that should be damning in and of itself, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t we, the skeptics, the people who examine received dogmas and who question them in an effort to keep people from harming themselves with horrible memetics that propagate from liars and charlatans, be above engaging in activities like harassment that directly harm people? Shouldn’t our community be a safe space for women as well as men, and shouldn’t the memes that lead to excluding them from our endeavours be questioned just as thoroughly as God or Bigfoot?

And yet, trolls still think that the distinction between a safe space, an unsafe space, and a “not safe” space, is sophistry.

WilloNyx attempted to explain the difference in a post at her blog:

See, the general population is not what I call a “safe space for women.” What do I mean by that? At work, if I am sexually harassed by a coworker, I don’t feel confident that it will be dealt with when I report it. I have watched sexual harassment being reported. It wasn’t taken seriously. Another example: If I am raped, If I am sexually assaulted, I am fairly confident that reporting it will result in slut shaming and victim blaming. I am fairly confident that my entire past sexual history will be cause for my rapist or assaulter to go unpunished, that it will be assumed I was asking for it.

To me for the general population to become “safe for women” it needs to take extra precautions to make sure that the current attitudes of a culture (you know that patriarchy) don’t prohibit women from seeking legal or even emotional recourse for those if’s that may come up. Creating a safe space for women in the general population may be having something like specially trained police to deal with victims of sexual abuse. It may be that a workplace has sexual harassment training periodically. It may even be a domestic violence shelter that has gone so far in making a safe space for women that it creates a “not safe space” or “unsafe space” for men genderfluid or transgender people.

Making the general population “safe for women” overall won’t happen until the culture changes. No matter how many rules we create, we also need to trust those rules will be enforced. So instead we carve out lots of little niches and claim some places as “safe for women” some places as “not safe for women” and some places as “unsafe for women.”

Gays often have to build safe spaces so they have places of refuge — at schools most prevalently, but often in other communities — and in fact, it seems the whole definition of “safe space” originates with the LGBTQ fights. Which is why I’m so gobsmacked that DJ Grothe, who claims his homosexuality sensitizes him to issues of sexism and homosexism, might mistake “not a safe space” with “an unsafe space”.

We don’t have a problem with this community being a “not safe for women” space. Well, not to any extraordinary extent — the outright misogyny you’ll get online if you’re a girl in the gamer communities is probably significantly higher. If anything, our communities are only about as not-safe as all communities weighed and averaged, online or off.

What we DO have in this community, however, is a problem with bullies. Misogynists who don’t like women trying to take part in our conversations. Trolls who attack women — and generally mostly women because they’re deemed easy targets — just to get a rise out of them. People who just want all these women to shut up about all the times they’re told they’re going to be raped or attacked. And the well-intentioned who don’t have any clue what splash damage is, and who just want everyone to shut up so they can go back to “more important” issues. Sometimes they say “you should stand up to the bullies, but also take all these ridiculous precautions that no reasonable person should ever have to take just to stay safe”. Sometimes they outright tell you they’re going to hurt you themselves. Sometimes they try to call you the bully for talking about people bullying you. The bar for bullying anonymously is so low that it happens all the time, every day and at huge volumes and extraordinarily low cost, and it does despite some folks’ best efforts wear on you over time.

And sometimes the bullies win. (Seriously, I was just writing this part when Ophelia made this news public. Pardon any tone shift as a result.) The bullies sometimes win when they make a marginalized person stop fighting and give up on any single fight because they’ve exhausted their personal reserves. They sometimes win by outlasting their victims. If the infrastructures that are supposed to make up the foundation of our community shrug their shoulders, rather than supporting these people when they need it, then the bullies win and those infrastructures are complicit.

We have a problem in this community. It is not a safe space for women, or frankly, for anyone in any position of underprivilege. We know it is a problem because many of us skeptics and atheists recognize that there’s a serious need for our movements to be composed of more than just old rich white libertarian men in order to bring ideas into a movement that is otherwise handling the same few ideas over and over again, while leaving others wholly unexamined. And it’s a fixable problem, but it takes changing the culture; waking people up to the fact that diversity is its own good. And in order to get minority voices into the movement to give us more universal perspective about our atheistic or skeptical movements, we first need to stop people from hurling insults and threats at them, at minimum.

That means we need to make it a safe space — as in, better than the background radiation they encounter in everyday life. If someone can get the exact same amount of opprobrium for their sex or gender or trans status or race by running around doing things that take less work and less directed effort and advocacy, they will. The ones that are left are naturally selected to be feisty… to have enough left over in their wells to tackle the problems of bullying and harassment head-on even while they’re fighting the fights that brought us together in the first place. So it’s up to these feisty ones to carve out a space and make it safe by defending it. But they can’t do it individually, because the trolls can issue their threats and bluster at such a low cost and they are such a rotating door of minor henchmen that every message becomes a war of attrition — including the messages that involve whether “people like you” are even allowed here.

You can’t just declare a space safe by fiat. You have to build such a space. Doing this makes some spaces unsafe for certain types of people — usually the people who’d rather this other underprivileged group just leave. And in a territory so apparently thoroughly entrenched in its ways, with such pervasive memetics that fight back against these efforts to improve diversity, it’s an uphill struggle. Every piece of territory taken must be fought over and over and over or it will be lost.

But if you love the ideas around which your community is built, even if the fight is exactly the same as one you’d have in any other level of society, it’s a fight worth having. If you’re passionate about skepticism, if you’re passionate about examining otherwise unquestioned dogmas, you’ll recognize the number of dogmas it takes having before you’re willing to bully whole groups of people out of the movement just for being different.

And you’ll have no problem bullying those bullies right out. Just like with Christians who demand the right to bully gays or else they cry that you’re discriminating against them.

This fight is EXACTLY IDENTICAL to that one.

Exactly.

Sorry this is probably unpolished. I’m posting in a bit of a moment of anger.

Comments

  1. says

    I suspect that at absolute worst, people think that TAM is exactly as likely as any other place in general society to end up on the receiving end of harassment.

    Wrong. I now believe that it *is* notably worse than “general society”.

    Before all the denialism and verbal abuse and threats, I probably thought it was about normal. Maybe a bit worse because I’ve seen their forums. But the words of the TAM ‘defenders’ have made it abundantly clear that they are going to treat harassment not as happens in the workplace now, but as the kind of thing that happened in the workplace of fifty years ago.

  2. says

    I think right now we’re seeing the hornets, because the nest has been stirred. I think overall, there’s not more of these people than in background society. I do think however that the trolling is, even as bad as it is, not worse than say in the gaming community. But I also think that each individual transgression has more impact as a result of not being part of a flood of generalized hyperbolic misogyny.

    I dunno. It’s complicated. And I’m a lot angrier now than when I wrote that part.

  3. carlie says

    I think that for me, it’s not that it’s worse than in general society, but it shocks and hurts me more because I expected it to be better. I expected people who claim to be rationalists to think that women were people. It’s sad to find out that so many of them are no better than the worst dreck the internet has to offer.

  4. carlie says

    Betrayed is the perfect word. It’s like they’re saying “Hey, those Christians, look at how they treat women! That’s terrible! We are rational and would never do anything like that!” so they sound interesting and you go over to talk to them and as soon as you get close enough they do a reacharound and grab your ass.

  5. Martha says

    I agree with Althea: it’s worse than in background society. I suspect the number of people producing misogynistic comments in a community scales more or less directly with the percentage of men in said community. That’s not to say that all the misogynistic comments come from men. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if women are also more likely to make such comments because of the acceptance it often provides them in a male-dominated community.

    I certainly don’t mean to say that all men make misogynistic comments. Well, at least not any more than *all* of us are trained to do in this society– unless we consciously think about not doing so. It seems to me that the percentage of men in this community who are conscious of this and committed to not doing so is higher than in background society.

    Unfortunately, the percentage who take such great pride in their rationality that they are unable or unwilling to see its limitations also seems to be higher than in the background population. Or perhaps they’re just more threatened by challenges their self-perception and therefore fight harder for it. Isn’t that what always happens when one has little to no evidence for a belief?

  6. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    On betrayal:

    For some us who’ve hung around Pharyngula and sympatico blogs for years, this is the latest round in a crushing disappointment that started years ago. First it was the Matt Nisbet/Chris Mooney Cavalcade of Framing. People we had thought were reasonable jumped on the bandwagon to denounce any candid criticism of religion as “hysterical,” “shrill,” “counter-productive,” “rude,” “irrational,” you name it.

    They deployed the same kinds of tactics: Outright distortion of easily verifiable facts and statements, conflation of events with no apology or retraction when said conflation was pointed out, throwing in with the worst and most virulent theists and anti-gnu-atheists at the expense of people who thought of ourselves as their friends and allies. It was bloody horrible. And genuinely shocking. Ophelia and I have discussed it at length; she dubbed it The Great Sorting.

    The same thing is happening since Rebecca Watson dared to say “guys don’t do that.” The outpouring of hateful, inhumane, blatant misogyny and victim-blaming or misogyny-coddling and apology-making has genuinely astonished me (sensing a pattern here? I’m almost 40; you’d think I’d know better by now). And once again, it’s people we never would have suspected of being capable of it: Jerry Coyne, Russell Blackford, Chris Hallquist, etc.

    The feeling is as it would be if you woke up one morning at home among your family and suddenly realized that, contra everything you thought about them and the world the day before, they actually hate you and you can’t turn your back on them. It chills the blood.

  7. says

    So is this a second Great Sorting? I’m kinda hoping so. Because all the douchebags can go commisserate together and chuckle about how clever they were in flushing out all the people who had decent moral compasses, and have their own little community isolated from the rest of us who think women are human beings and are worth being in this conversation. I’ll even let them think they’ve “won”. And I won’t gleefully count which side has the more support and conventions and awesome people.

    No really, I won’t, I swear.

  8. Robert B. says

    It is not a safe space for women, or frankly, for anyone in any position of underprivilege.

    (sensing a pattern here? I’m almost 40; you’d think I’d know better by now)

    I wonder who else would get a bullying campaign if the situation came up? I would have thought, for example, that a community of atheists, skeptics, and rationalists would be the last place to find a well of heterosexism, except I would have once thought that about regular sexism too, and also this thread happened. Not nearly the same as what women have been facing around here, but troubling nonetheless. I find myself wondering what’s waiting for me in the deep water.

    But that’s a digression – to respond more directly, Jason, I agree about safe spaces. In fact I said something rather like that in a comment the other day, though not as well as WilloNyx said it. Danger is the background assumption – “not a safe space” means “just like everywhere else.”

  9. Cam says

    I dunno, Josh. (And heya, Jason. I wandered over from Butterflies and Wheels.) I guess my expectations were so low that I can’t scrape up much of a feeling of betrayal, though I’ll admit that Jerry Coyne’s managed to surprise me.

    A confession: when my more technical half (the webmaster at B&W) said that he was going to get involved with FreethoughtBlogs, I tried to dissuade him. I was saying things along the lines of, “your funeral,” and “wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole,” because my impression had been that a base level of whackadoodle misogyny (and all that goes with it) is pretty much what one could reasonably expect from many/most corners of the internet skepticism world. Webmastering for Ophelia is one thing — and heck, I roped him into that one myself — but if he got involved with the skeptic community at large, I figured he was setting himself up for some serious hair-tearing.

    So I’ve been pleasantly surprised by FtB. If FtB can make a name for itself as a large, fairly-general-interest, mixed-gender set of blogs that is generally understood not to be a home to fans of misogyny and sexism, that’s a great thing.

  10. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I dunno, Josh. (And heya, Jason. I wandered over from Butterflies and Wheels.) I guess my expectations were so low that I can’t scrape up much of a feeling of betrayal, though I’ll admit that Jerry Coyne’s managed to surprise me.

    Well Cam, through the patient tutelage of friends (meaning constant head-scratching as they ask, “What’s wrong with you? You know better. Why on earth does this surprise you?”) I’ve discovered an idiotic capacity for feeling betrayed and ever disappointed. It’s quite out of character considering how I know (intellectually) that people are shit and we’re all fighting against the basest motivations every minute. Apparently I don’t grok it emotionally which explains my state of constant bewilderment. It’s a character flaw.

  11. says

    It’s quite out of character considering how I know (intellectually) that people are shit and we’re all fighting against the basest motivations every minute.

    And not just our basest motivations, but our piss-poor evolved brains replete with feedback loops, damage areas, mental traps of all varieties, and pitiful processing ability. How many times have I said something that’s complete bullshit because my brain couldn’t catch up?

    And hi Cam!

  12. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    but our piss-poor evolved brains replete with feedback loops, damage areas, mental traps of all varieties, and pitiful processing ability.

    Ain’t that the damned truth. It’s the height of irony that this can be so and that we can also recognize it without being able to change it.

    Grr.

  13. says

    So is this a second Great Sorting? I’m kinda hoping so.

    Honestly? So am I. These rifts aren’t nearly deep enough for me yet. You’re either down with justice or you’re not. If you’re not then you’re not welcome in the movement. If that splinters the movement then GOOD. We’ll see which one lasts.

  14. says

    You call it “unpolished”, but this was an excellent post. It cohesively assembles a lot of what has been going on lately in one place.

  15. says

    “Honestly? So am I. These rifts aren’t nearly deep enough for me yet. You’re either down with justice or you’re not. If you’re not then you’re not welcome in the movement. If that splinters the movement then GOOD. We’ll see which one lasts.”

    Yep x2

  16. A nym too says

    Robert- heterocentric cmd ciscentric vileness is festering under a few FTB rocks.

    Speaking out just gets you banned. It gets a series of angry posts (Nasty evil gays, be nicer to trolls who are triggering you. If you don’t, then I’ll stop supporting LGBT rights!) and whiny posts (Hey why is my homophobia and transphobia like… so homophobic and transphobic? Please hold my hand and spoonfeed me, while I continue to use slurs and insist you’re being OMG! SO MEEN! and oppressing cisstraight people)

    Ask Josh the OSG aka Josh the meanypants oppressor of cisstraights.

    I’m still feeling betrayed and upset by that. So, as a gay woman, I feel unsafe. The ableism and armchair psychiatry is unnerving too. So gay+woman+visibly disabled = target on my back.

    Oh and Martha, you’re right. I mostly keep to the company of women for that reaSon. Safety, and protecting my sanity.

  17. Silentbob says

    … I’m so gobsmacked that DJ Grothe… might mistake “not a safe space” with “an unsafe space”.

    Personally, I’m gobsmacked that anyone could be gobsmacked by this.

    In ordinary English, the prefix “un” indicates “not”. If my shoelaces are untied, they are not tied. If my wine is uncorked, it is not corked. If my hair is uncombed, it is not combed. Etc.

    Yet you express astonishment that anyone could possibly interpret “not safe” as “unsafe”.

    In everyday, jargon-free English, “not a safe space” is exactly equivalent to “dangerous space”. If you are using some esoteric jargon definition of “safe space” to mean something other than “not a dangerous space” (as 99% of your audience will interpret it), such as, “a space that is hyper-vigilant about sexual harassment”, then why not say so in the first place?

    In other words, instead as saying, “the atheist community is not a safe space”, why not say, “the atheist community is not hyper-vigilant about sexual harassment”. Seems to me this would save a great deal of time and unnecessary misunderstanding.

    It is difficult to believe that this terminology has not been deliberately chosen to convey the impression that TAM is dangerous.

  18. says

    It might be easier to think of the term as a compound word at this point.

    It’s a safespace. Its origins are in the words “safe” and “space,” but it has its own meaning now. (See above.) Just like how there’s a windshield on your car, which is not the same as a shield erected to protect you from wind in the woods camping somewhere, or at the beach.

  19. says

    It is difficult to believe that this terminology has not been deliberately chosen to convey the impression that TAM is dangerous.

    Well, believe it. It’s a phrase that predates TAM I.

  20. mehitabel, wotthehell wotthehell says

    It is difficult to believe that this terminology has not been deliberately chosen to convey the impression that TAM is dangerous.

    If you’re deeply dedicated to your disingenuity, I guess.
    Wait, let me rephrase that. It is difficult to believe that your line of argument has not been deliberately chosen to convey the impression that certain people are being all sinister and stuff.
    It’s a term of art. This has been explained over and over. Seriously.

  21. dysomniak says

    @SallyStrange

    So is this a second Great Sorting? I’m kinda hoping so.

    Honestly? So am I. These rifts aren’t nearly deep enough for me yet. You’re either down with justice or you’re not. If you’re not then you’re not welcome in the movement. If that splinters the movement then GOOD. We’ll see which one lasts.

    I’ve been thinking the same damn thing. Ever since “elevatorgate”, in fact. Let the trolls and the bigots have TAM, Vegas is a shithole anyways. Social Justice, motherfuckers – if you aren’t with us then, yeah, you’re against us.

    This is why I no longer consider “atheist” a sufficient label to earn my respect. If you aren’t a fucking humanist then I don’t want to be anywhere near you or you fucking “movement”.

  22. dysomniak says

    Now if you’ll excuse me I need to have some vegan pastries and listen to They Might be Giants until the urge to kill subsides. Maybe all this Stella in the fridge will help…

  23. B-Lar says

    @SilentBob

    Actually, it quite difficult to imagine that it has been chosen deliberately. Its more likely that in trying to have a discussion about this the impression has been given that TAM is an unsafe place. No one said that TAM was unsafe, its true, but the implication is there. For some women any sniff of an space being unsafe will be enough to put them off. Its disingenious to suggest otherwise, but its also disingenious to suggest that this was Jen/Stephanie/etc’s intention.

    Aside, any sympathy I had with Grothe has evaporated when it transpired that he has actually fabricated and rationalised his position out of thin air. Any criticisms I had about Stephanie’s (now heroic) position are shrivelling to negligability.

  24. says

    According to the Geek Feminism wiki, a feminist safe space would not allow for free expression of anti-feminist views, concern trolling, or JAQ’ing the conversation back to the 101 level, and might also require trigger warnings for certain topics.

    However, a safe space could be taken in the broader sense, a place where “a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate” therein, where presumably the  viewpoint is feminism or at least humanism.

    There is an even broader possible meaning of ‘safe space’ – a place in which women are safe from standard stereotypes, marginalization, and harassment, at least to the extent that reporting is encouraged, enforcement is taken seriously, and documentation of the process is professionalized. 

    I’ve listed these definitions in order from least to most plausible, in my mind, when attempting to create a ‘safe space’ at a conference or skeptics in the pub, as opposed to online, but I’m most interested in hearing what sort of ‘safe space’ you are hoping to create at TAM, at least for those who haven’t already given up on it.

  25. karmakin says

    @D4M10N:I think the problem is that while you’re looking at it in the way that’s the most intuitive, you actually have the order backwards.

    You’re not going to get #3, which I agree is the most essential part of it, if people have aggressively anti-feminist views. The common refrain, or what people imply, I think is that “ideas are meaningless”. That is, if someone has anti-feminist ideology, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to ACT on that ideology and treat women like crap. I find that extremely implausible, not just in this case, but whenever you see it. (And it’s shockingly common)

    So the gap between 1 and 3 isn’t really there as much as it might seem to be.

    One thing I do think, is that I don’t think that it’s “just” sexism at play here. I think that for the haters this turned a proxy fight for a whole lot of other divisive issues for the reason that Jason mentioned above. Quite frankly, the current movement as a whole cannot last. The gap between progressive humanists and libertarian skeptics is simply too great to sustain in the long-term.

  26. omcdurham says

    This was an excellent post. I often read, but don’t often comment, due to my lack of experience with most of the subject matter. As a male, I don’t often see the abuse women go through. My wife is educating me on the issues that are addressed in posts like this one, and I am not shocked that some men are acting like predators in a conference setting.

    As long as society allows men to act like walking testosterone bombs, there will be creepy situations. Trolling for a one-nighter at an out-of-town conference is nothing new; it’s been going on for centuries. I have been “that guy”, and my wife has been “that woman”. We both understand that it happens…hormones sometimes trump common sense. But we don’t condone it. Not only is it creepy for women, but also could be internetted very quickly.

    I really enjoy the Humanist ideology, and the feminism that goes with it. I don’t enjoy that some men still act like douchenozzles at Humanist gatherings. We should be about leveling the table, not keeping it tilted!

  27. says

    As a fan of Blackford’s writings, I find his recent spoutings to be a very big disappointing cherry on top of this shit sundae. I’d love to see him explain, or justify, what the hell he meant by “Talibanesque” or “bullying” (in the faint hope that it’s not what it sounds like).

    Re “atheist”: yes, absolutely, it’s not enough, maybe it’s not even the main point. One should be a *skeptical* atheist (unlike, eg. a certain Patheos blogger who recently went Catholic), and one should be a *humanistic* atheist. Give me a liberal, feminist, LGBT-positive, social-justice-advocating Christian any day over some of the atheists we’ve seen lately.

  28. Rieux says

    I have to concur with Carlie and Jason @3-5 about feeling betrayed—though as a heterosexual guy who benefits from the major privilege (I did not adequately recognize how major until the past year) of not being subjected to horrific gendered garbage on a regular basis, I’m not sure how seriously my personal feelings to that end should be taken. (Which apparently is not going to stop me from holding forth about them, to wit….)

    The first Great Sorting didn’t feel this way to me at all. Perhaps it helped that I never identified Stangroom or Mooney or Hoffman or whomever as a Valuable Ally, but when they started gnubashing that didn’t break my heart; lots of us were capable of exposing the illogic and misrepresentations that the bashing was based on, and the clashes over those issues have (IMO) very often had positive consequences for our community.

    By contrast, the shocking inhumanity inherent in public displays of nonbeliever misogyny and virulent male privilege over the past year just feels vastly different. Watching Grothe blame atheist feminists for hurting TAM’s woman-attendee stats, or blockheaded trolls derail (say) multiple Greta Christina threads by arguing that there’s no evidence Monopod Guy was doing anything wrong—to say nothing of the Slimepit and the disgusting threats that have been directed at our community leaders, most recently Ophelia—just hurts in a way that “Don’t Be A Dick” and the “Tom Johnson” affair didn’t. Russell Blackford thinks that demanding conferences adopt effective harassment policies makes FTBers “bullies”? Ouch. “Dear Muslima”? Ouch.

    I’m left simply dejected that people I respect(ed?) and admire(d?) behave in such obviously disgusting ways. The whole thing just makes me want to give up and spend time elsewhere.

    And then that makes me feel guilty—I’m a person lucky enough to never have to worry much about being sexually harassed or raped; what business do I have whining about How Tough It Is For Me to see all of this happening, when only the silliest and weakest tiny fraction of the slime (oh noes, maybe I’m a “white knight”!) is directed at me? That’s not exactly what I owe the people who are forced to field the serious stuff.

    So shit. “Betrayed,” yes. But more to the point I’m so, so sorry for all of the women and other targets of gendered bullshit who are subjected to this garbage. It’s awful.

  29. Rieux says

    Oh, and my wife and I are expecting a baby in July. Some scientist or other told me there’s a 50% chance that it’ll be a daughter. The real possibility that, if she grows up to be an out-and-proud atheist (as her dad hopes), she’ll be subjected to this crap from her fellow nonbelievers just makes me furious.

    Anyway.

  30. says

    D4M10N: Considering your oblique trolling at Stephanie’s on a thread about “what is a troll”, you’ll pardon me if my suspicions of your motivations are raised. Because they are. I’m suspicious here of what you’re asking, considering that you think this is about carving out a safe space “at TAM“. Because it’s not JUST about TAM. In fact, it’s mostly NOT about TAM.

    We want THIS space — where we talk about atheism and skepticism and whatnot — to be a space where women are not mistreated for being women. Where they are allowed to bring their unique perspectives on skepticism and atheism to the conversation without being drummed out with misogynist comments. We want women to participate in the conversation without being issued death threats and rape threats and told to shut up and get back in the kitchen. That does in fact entail shutting out those voices that only want to say those things. There’s nothing implausible about our ability to build that space. But you have to shut the trolls up, because they ARE the problem.

  31. karmakin says

    Well, it IS bullying, in a certain definition of the term. There’s actually a lot of parallels to social bullying, to be sure. It’s the creation of strong social norms and using social pressure to “encourage” people to adopt them as well and to remove people who refuse to do so.

    The core difference is that generally what we call bullying is about arbitrarily singling out subgroups for what really are flimsy and even non-existent reasons that don’t affect us at all, and what we’re talking about here is trying to stop misogynistic behavior, that does actively hurt people.

    However, I will say that even though I think they’re wrong I don’t think that they’re acting disingenuous or anything. There actually is a very widespread concern about such usage of moral force, as it’s something that religious groups tend to do, and I think generally we all share it to some degree. The argument I think that Blackford is making here is that the ends NEVER justify the means, however, I disagree, in that I think that the means are unavoidable, more or less.

  32. davidjanes says

    It’s a term of art.

    And that’s part of the problem when the audience is not versed in the art isn’t it? It reminds me of people who are confused and equate “theory” with “guess” when speaking of scientific theories. On the other hand, I don’t see an iota of malice in the original statement, but I do understand where some of the confusion could possibly come from. Just remember not to equate “understand” with “condone” or “accept”.

  33. says

    Yet you express astonishment that anyone could possibly interpret “not safe” as “unsafe”.

    No. Jason expressed astonishment that a gay man who trumpets the fact that he’s a gay man and, thus, understanding of issues of marginalization, would interpret it that way. D.J. is not just “anyone”.

  34. smhll says

    @ A nym too

    Speaking out just gets you banned. It gets a series of angry posts (Nasty evil gays, be nicer to trolls who are triggering you. If you don’t, then I’ll stop supporting LGBT rights!) and whiny posts (Hey why is my homophobia and transphobia like… so homophobic and transphobic?

    I think you are referencing JT Eberhart’s blog? I saw just the tip of the iceberg about what happened there. I agree that letting skeptics run on and on being insensitive in debates is wrong. And dissing marginalized people for becoming distressed; also wrong.

    The discussion made me think. I really think anyone marginalized, anyone with “skin in the game” is at a terrible disadvantage attempting to have a discussion with some damned skeptic who “just likes to argue”. That’s the flavor I got from JTE, that he just enjoys abstract argument. But for those whose lives are at stake, who have skin and flesh and blood and bone and nerve endings in the game, for those who feel terrified and harassed themselves or who feel some empathy for fellow human beings getting thumped with both micro and macro aggressions, these debates are really painful and costly.

    I see the people on the progressive/feminist side of some of these debates sharing their pain very openly, and at length. And then I see the same fucking dismissive paragraphs of “challenge” cut and pasted over and over, by someone who may not have even bothered to read anything but an outside TL;DR of the thread. The concerned dude who recently at Pharyngula who kept suggesting that vaginas could be locked up out of sight like expensive posesions was a classic case. I don’t think he could have even passed a Turing test of pseudo humanity.)

    People who are reading and caring are grossly disadvantaged in arguments with people who are not reading and not caring.

    I don’t care to attend any convention with an attending population that contains lots of people that don’t care. The fact that they love to argue does not recommend them to me.

  35. mehitabel, wotthehell wotthehell says

    ^^
    This.

    Also,

    TAM exits, pursued by a bear.

    The one they’ve been feeding.

    But, psanity, a sad tale’s best for winter. It’s summer where I am.

  36. mehitabel, wotthehell wotthehell says

    Oh, crap, I meant my “this” for 40.

    No. Jason expressed astonishment that a gay man who trumpets the fact that he’s a gay man and, thus, understanding of issues of marginalization, would interpret it that way. D.J. is not just “anyone”.

    That.

  37. says

    D.J. is not just “anyone”.

    QFT. He claimed his specific experiences informed his actions. That’s why his actions are wholly incongruous and I and others feel betrayed.

  38. says

    The gap between progressive humanists and libertarian skeptics is simply too great to sustain in the long-term.

    I’d like to push back against this idea, karmakin, at least a bit. At the level of national groups we can somewhat afford to splinter into these and various other camps, but there is no way that grassroots groups of atheists, humanists, and other secular people can do that, we just don’t have the numbers. Even if we did have the numbers (as we surely will someday) I wouldn’t want to see the sub-groups splinter off, because the discussions are generally more interesting when not everyone is reading from the same book.

    Moreover, I’d argue that the so-called “harassment policy campaign” is an effort to persuade various groups to get on board with creating safe spaces, in at least the broadest sense of the phrase. Given the dramatic results so far, I see no reason to despair.

  39. karmakin says

    Well, to be honest I don’t think it’s anywhere close to a 50-50 split. I think that the libertarians are a very vocal minority in the movement as a whole.

    However, the point remains that I simply don’t think you’re going to convince people with a base ideology that power differentials either do not exist or do not matter, that power differentials in the skeptic/atheist movement need to be pushed back against.

  40. says

    I’m suspicious here of what you’re asking, considering that you think this is about carving out a safe space “at TAM“.

    Obviously, the campaign is much broader than TAM, and I actually mentioned in that same sentence that other conventions and even local skeptic pub groups should be considered as well. That said, I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to point out that the JREF and DJ have been getting most of the attention so far.

    I expect that ‘safe space’ should probably mean something different at FtB than it does at the conventions, if only because comment moderation is way easier to implement online. What I’m interested in is which of the several definitions you’d like to see applied to freethought conventions in general, in the ongoing campaign.

  41. A nym too says

    Smhll – got it in one. I’m ex-religious, raised by evangelicals. Gayness was hidden (and profoundly traumatising), health issues were ‘tests’, as was poverty. When a weird combination of health+sexuality issues led to homelessness, I started the long, painful process of scrubbing my brain clean. I unleashed my always sceptical, newly atheist outlook.

    And now I’m in this supposed “free thinking” zone. Only, the privileged need to keep women, queers, trans people etc. in their place. This means that “free thought” has been redefined as mental masturbation, that splooges privilege everywhere. Real life terror, hardship, trauma and oppression gets subverted into hypothetical straw-debate fodder.

    We’re living it every day. We don’t get to switch off and walk away. We don’t find JAQing cute, or funny, or to be a tool of the ‘Devil’s Advocate’.

    It’s triggering, and threatening. It reminds me of church. Of long sermons about “Christian oppression”, of “love the sinner, hate. the sin”, of “If you just acted normally, didn’t bring attention to yourself, focused on God.. Then you wouldn’t be abused, rejected, bullied “.

    It’s so sad. It truly feels like nowhere’s safe. The world is sprinkled with landmines of misogyny, homophobia, ableism, etc.

    Sorry, that got long.

  42. psanity says

    But, psanity, a sad tale’s best for winter. It’s summer where I am.

    Yabbut, this is the winter of our discontent. Damn long winter, too. It’s gone on for over a year, now.

    And, howcome is it, that there are still people insisting that we should pay lots of money to attend TAM even though they’ve made it clear that they are not interested in the comfort and safety of attendees? Including the well-meaning but irritating idealists who think we should pay lots of money to attend TAM so we can, I guess, sacrifice ourselves to fight the good fight?

    Let’s get this straight. JREF is selling a conference. I’m not buying it, for a number of reasons. If they want to sell it to me, they’re going to have to improve the product. Why is it that these damned libertarians never actually believe that the invisible hand of the free market could slap them upside the head?

    And, for all those who are astonished by the lack of grip on reality we’re seeing in the skeptical “leadership”, remember that the two flagship magazines of skepticism maintained a “skeptical” position on AGW long after it was untenable. Politics trumps science. Just saying.

  43. says

    Why is it that these damned libertarians never actually believe that the invisible hand of the free market could slap them upside the head?

    QFT.

    If JREF could frame this as a product development and marketing problem (pro-capitalist connotations) rather than a problem of internal policing (anti-libertarian connotations) that might well appeal to the libertarian wing. Frame it and claim it!

  44. says

    To repeat a comment I made this morning at Skepchick: If TAM wants to consign themselves to the trash can of history, fine by me. Good riddance. Don’t let the screen door hit ya where developmental processes shaped by billions of years of Darwinian accidents split ya.

    Why is it that these damned libertarians never actually believe that the invisible hand of the free market could slap them upside the head?

    My friend Josh and I were comparing notes a while ago, and we realised that we’ve yet to find anyone who read Atlas Shrugged and then said, “Hey, I must be one of the parasites who are leeching and mooching off the true creative geniuses!”

  45. says

    My friend Josh and I were comparing notes a while ago, and we realised that we’ve yet to find anyone who read Atlas Shrugged and then said, “Hey, I must be one of the parasites who are leeching and mooching off the true creative geniuses!”

    And one can only wonder if Ayn Rand had any idea what she was suggesting when she brought that meme into the public discourse, because I know for certain she was not one of those creative geniuses on whom society rested. Neither, so far as I can tell, are any of her devout followers.

    Libertarianism in the economic sense is every bit the dogma that religion is. It’s a shame civil libertarianism is so co-opted by the woo that is the Invisible Hand deity.

  46. dysomniak says

    It’s a shame civil libertarianism is so co-opted by the woo that is the Invisible Hand deity.

    Co-opted is putting it mildly, since the first people to self identify as libertarians were in fact communists. In fact it wasn’t until the 1950s that Rothbard and his foul kind decided to steal the term for their own use. The term libertarian socialist is still in use by Chomsky and others (like, say, me) as a sort of polite euphemism for anarcho-communism.

  47. Utakata says

    Somewhat OT, but…

    “Libertarianism in the economic sense is every bit the dogma that religion is. It’s a shame civil libertarianism is so co-opted by the woo that is the Invisible Hand deity.”

    They haven’t co-opted me. I am all for civil liberties, but I am also all for better income redistribution…because it sucks having all this civil freedom only never to enjoy it, because the Invisible Hand deity has left most of us behind living in a carboard boxes. To me, this is not true freedom even in the slightest.

  48. says

    I’m still unclear on what the meaning of ‘safe space’ should be in the sentence “This freethought event is not a safe space for women.” I listed three possibilities, and I’m sure there are several more available. I tend to assume that any ideas that run counter to feminism are typically barred from a ‘safe space’ in the relevant sense of the phrase, as per the geek feminism wiki, but that raises a whole other set of problems regarding enforcement. Online forums are easily policed so as to prevent certain kinds of dissent, but I’m pretty sure you cannot get conference security to boot someone for running plays from the MRA handbook in the course of a free-flowing debate with several people from all along the political spectrum.

  49. says

    @D4M10n, I suggest you start trying to conceptualise “safe space” as a social justice ideal rather than just as a feminist ideal.

    It’s about creating spaces where the usual societal marginalisation is actively worked against.

  50. says

    P.S. Your framing of the concept regarding ideas and dissent is also way off the mark. Safe spaces are about the recognition and calling out of inappropriate behaviours first and foremost.

  51. says

    Your framing of the concept regarding ideas and dissent is also way off the mark…

    I hope you are right about that, but it’s not my framing at all. I wanted to have a working definition of safe space (outside of common LGBT usage) and since the OP favorably cited the geek feminism wiki, I looked up their definition: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Safe_space

    The ideas condemned therein are “standard mainstream stereotypes” along with anti-feminist viewpoints, which must be disallowed so as to facilitate more advanced discussions of feminism between feminists. Expanding this conception of ‘safe space’ to social justice, one might assume that pro-capitalist or libertarian views should be similarly disallowed, which might help explain some of the comments above regarding how libertarian skeptics cannot continue to coexist with progressive humanists.

  52. says

    It is not that these views must needs be disallowed. I’ll allow all sorts of contentious conversation on my blog. I won’t allow personal invective or making shit up, for the most part, and I won’t generally allow slurs. I also won’t allow festering anti-feminist sentiment as a matter of course, but that’s usually challenged pretty quickly, and I mostly only squish particularly tiresome and repetitive folks who don’t engage on the arguments.

    And libertarian ideals are very woo-heavy in my estimation, so it’s entirely in our bailiwick to challenge them.

  53. says

    Expanding this conception of ‘safe space’ to social justice, one might assume that pro-capitalist or libertarian views should be similarly disallowed, which might help explain some of the comments above regarding how libertarian skeptics cannot continue to coexist with progressive humanists.

    I’m sure most people will agree with me when I say that Libertarians are welcome to come and help by suggesting free-market solutions to social justice issues. However, they are not free to deny there is an issue that needs solving, or that it can’t be solved, or that it will solve all on its own. Right to your own opinions, not to your own facts, and all that.

  54. Heliantus says

    Re: Libertarians

    In my country, the ones closer to Libertarians would be what we call the Ultra-Libéraux.
    They are right in-between the major right-wing party and the wannabe neo-nazi…
    To be fair, maybe some of our ultra-left parties would fit the libertarian line as well.

    Re: safe space for women

    I started getting clues about women wanting safe spaces when I noticed the woman-only fitness clubs in North America.

    Also, at about the same time, a woman compatriot told me about a nightclub in the city of Nice, Le Club. In theory, it’s a club for gay men.
    But where will a party of (straight) women want to go if they want a night out drinking and chatting, with limited male interference? Yes, they went to this Club.
    After a while, the (straight) men noticed it, so they went to the Club, too. Which soon stopped to be a safe place for either gay or women. Not in the sense that it became a hive of scum (actually have no idea one way or another), just that if you are gay or a woman and want to relax, the Club is not anymore the place to go.

  55. A nym too says

    Heliantus – I think that’s happened in every gay bar I’ve ever been to.

    1) Straight woman goes along with her gay male friend.

    2) Tells her friends “It’s so cool, and nobody feels you up!”

    3) More straight women every night.

    4) Straight men follow.

    5) The place is taken over by these .tourists’, weekends see the place choked with wooed ok hen mights.

    6) Lesbians are verbally, and sometimes physically, abused for daring to talk to women. Women kissing attract disgust from the straight women, and leering from straight men, as well as crude comments, come-ons, and sexual harassment.

    7) The lesbians desert the place. It’s not safe or fun anymore.

    8) Gay men attract aggression and violence for going anywhera near a straight man, queueing at the bar, or using the. toilet, can become a blood sport. Gay men kissing. each other attract stares, threats, aggression, and even violence

    9) The gay men move on, like their sisters. Nor safe, not fun.

    and finally:

    10) The novelty wears off for the straight ‘tourists’, and they desert too. Straight women don’t feel safe,and move to a new gay bar. The place closes due to lack of customers.

    Every. Fucking. Time. I’ve had more than one straight woman tell me that it’s our duty to provide them with somewhere to party. We’re told “You’re lucky, the men here don’t bother you. Oh, but please don’t hit on us or dance with us, we’re not like that. But, y’know, I’ve never tried it, and…”

    It’s beyond annoying, it’s often devastating, especially in places with only a small scene. Straight pubs and bars tend not to offer reciprocal safe spaces for us.

    We end up socialising in small groups at each others homes, which is fine if you’re established out there, but then there’s no real-life place of safety for newly out people who’re trying to find their way.

    That’s privilege for ya though, “Yeah we have a whole city centre full of bars to drink in, but we want yours,we want to see what you do and who you are, we want to use your space on OUR terms.

  56. says

    My friend Josh and I were comparing notes a while ago, and we realised that we’ve yet to find anyone who read Atlas Shrugged and then said, “Hey, I must be one of the parasites who are leeching and mooching off the true creative geniuses!”

    I actually did have worries of that sort, when I was a libertarian.

    (Though I hadn’t read Atlas at the time; I didn’t read it until after I’d abandoned libertarianism. I wasn’t missing much. It isn’t particularly good.)

  57. Emptyell says

    SilentBob @22

    In ordinary English, the prefix “un” indicates “not”. If my shoelaces are untied, they are not tied. If my wine is uncorked, it is not corked. If my hair is uncombed, it is not combed. Etc.

    These examples are binary distinctions. Clearly, untied = not tied. Safety is a matter of degree.

    It may be a slightly arbitrary “term of art” but it seems most sensible to use “not a safe space” to mean a space that is not notable for its safety, and “unsafe” as a space notable for its lack of safety.

    In everyday, jargon-free English, “not a safe space” is exactly equivalent to “dangerous space”.

    We obviously speak different forms of English. Where I come from on the scale from warm and cozy to probably deadly, “dangerous” is well toward the latter while “not safe” is pretty close to the neutral condition.

    It’s easy for us privileged types to imagine any degree of unsafety as distinct from our typical expectation of protection not just from harm but also from unpleasantness. For many people a “safe space” is one that is simply less dangerous than usual.

  58. ik says

    ” pro-capitalist or libertarian views should be similarly disallowed, which might help explain some of the comments above regarding how libertarian skeptics cannot continue to coexist with progressive humanists.”

    NO!.

    For one thing, what even is capitalism anymore?

    For another thing, there are libertarians and then there are libertarians. There are the right-wingers and the infantilist ‘dont tell me what to do’ types, and then there are the ones who want a libertarian (and DEFINITELY not vaguely anarcho-communist) future but recognize that somebody powerful needs to make the world more just. While I generally oppose the latter group, they could hardly belong in this discussion more!.

    Personally, I’m rooting for the Authoritarian State of Not Oppressing People, though.

    Incidentally, does anybody thing that ‘unsafe spaces’ should be intentionally maintained? Pretty much they would be spaces of limited size where freedom of speech is paramount and unlimited. Among other things, might improve working out some kinds of theories. Like most people, SJ advocates are not great with uncomfortable findings that might or might not be truths.

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