One of the biggest victories I was really, truly hoping for in the harassment policies campaign came to pass. But rather than crowing about it like I did with the American Atheists and CFI policies, I can barely fathom what’s going on and can’t bring myself to celebrate at all. TAM’s harassment policy appears to have come to pass in one of those strange “but you won’t like it” sort of ways, like we’d all been wishing on a Monkey’s Paw instead of making cogent arguments for these policies.
I honestly hoped that DJ Grothe and/or other powers-that-be at JREF would realize that the people DJ claimed are trying to hurt The Amazing Meeting by discussing the harassment they’d experienced, and proposing countermeasures, were instead trying to help TAM, and him, rectify the situation. I had hoped that DJ et al would come to understand that it was not about painting his specific convention as an “unsafe space“, but rather as a place that SHOULD be better than background levels of harassment but WASN’T.
But, until now, nobody has shown any indication that harassment was being taken seriously. In fact, it looked quite a bit like they’d decided harassment policies themselves were the problem, when they removed all mention of the weak-tea and toothless policy that had existed the year prior.
Then a tweet tipped us off.
(@Maria_Myrback Yes. For others’ info, volunteers had training on proper process to follow if any kind of harassment is reported at #tam2012)
(@ErikB120 Thanks Eric. People need to know we have a process in place for handling harassment #tam2012)
An easier way to show people that a process was in place for handling harassment would be to include information about your harassment policy in the hand-out literature, on the website, or even mentioning in the introduction ceremony that harassment isn’t tolerated and to report harassment to TAM staff. That’s how you get the word out to people that you have a process in place — you tell them yourself.
As though that wasn’t enough, Surly Amy provided Ophelia with the following quote, with the relevant details bolded by me:
I think one of the most hurtful things I experienced while attending TAM was Harriet Hall’s Tshirt that she wore three days in a row. I told her through tears, in the speakers’ lounge, that it was dehumanizing and gender/color blind and very hurtful to me specifically as a person who does have to deal with harassment regularly. I said I was glad she felt safe and that I wouldn’t have sent 22 women to the event if I didn’t think it was safe for them either. So who was she talking to?
I felt that it was a personal attack (whether or not intended as such) since I was the main public representative of Skepchick at the event and it said ‘skepchick’ on her shirt and I told her that. I know she had a right to wear that shirt even though it was hurtful. But one day would have been enough when she was at the podium to send her message. To continue wearing it every single day, especially after I had expressed how upset I was with it, was cruel and shortsighted to say the least. That was very, very disappointing since I used to have a lot of respect for her. But there were so many detractors there that I’m sure she was getting a lot of love for slamming “skepchicks” everyday, and so my feelings were the minority and so became irrelevant.
It’s this kind of dehumanizing and angry sports-fan mentality that is driving people like me away from this group of skeptics. And I am one of the people actually doing something quantifiable with the grants (which I plan on continuing to do btw.) Seriously, imagine if half the energy used to make angry shirts and fake websites were dedicated to helping me send women to science events or to do any sort of good in this movement. We could change the world. Skeptics are supposed to fight back against psychics and scam artists, they aren’t supposed to make people like me cry and leave events early. We need to stop the harassment and hate and this sort of instigating should not be tolerated by a group of rationalists. It is certainly not going to be tolerated by me.
There was definitely an us against them feeling that I personally experienced at the event, with groups of people who wouldn’t get within 10 feet of my table. Many identifiable online FtB- and Skepchick-detractors and their friends. Oh and there were undercover harassment people, which just seemed so strange and creepy to me. I was told there were 19 people secretly monitoring the event for harassment but no public policy or message on how to report incidents other than some info hidden on the JREF website under FAQs that I never saw. I only found out about this after I was in tears in the speakers’ lounge with a few people and suddenly a super-secret harassment specialist team was brought in to talk with me. After I reported to them that the TAM twitter feed with the anonymous blogging from the event and Harriet’s shirt had upset me to the point of wanting to leave, I had security cameras trained on me and my table where I sat with my mother the entire time. A security/harassment person checked on me regularly. They said I was being monitored and recorded. It was intended, I was told, to help me feel safe but instead it just exacerbated the stress I felt. I changed my flight and left a day early.
That’s not how you deal with harassment. That’s — dare I risk Godwinning our conversation? — too much like secret police, too much like Stasi spies. Is this anything like what we asked for? Did we ask for people to be treated to their own personal SWAT team and 24/7 surveillance whenever they reported that they were being mistreated by someone? Well, I sure as hell didn’t at least.
And what did the JREF and DJ gain from this course of action, by proving that they’re taking harassment seriously while simultaneously creeping the harassed right the fuck out? Is it that they simply don’t want to admit that maybe they should have a code of conduct, or a harassment policy, in place after all, and all those people they’ve been yelling at and whipping furore up against were right? Is it that this would be too much of an admission that everyone at JREF, from the top down, fucked this one up way too badly and they just wanted to deal with the problem without admitting they were wrong to deny the problem in the first place?
I can’t even begin to speculate why some people in our community would twist themselves into knots to root for Pamela Gay’s inspiring anti-harassment speech at TAM, and try to ferret out harassment in our community though by the most secretive and creepy means imaginable, while simultaneously calling us Freethought Bloggers “bullies” and “stasi” out of the sides of their mouths. All because we dared suggest that we should all do something about the harassment in our communities. How do rationalists square that? How do you overcome that level of cognitive dissonance?
I’ll say it again: I can’t even begin to speculate. I’ve tried. I simply can’t.
Update: In the comments, UAJamie relates another incident that I strongly recommend you read.
Update 2: More clarity from Surly Amy over at Ophelia’s.