One of the main complaints we’ve seen recently about our ongoing conversation with regard to sexism in the skeptical and atheist communities, is one about mission creep — that we’re a community defined by our common ground, e.g. atheism/skepticism, and we shouldn’t try to hash out other differences about other things.
I couldn’t agree less.
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.
This is a chronological timeline of major events in the campaign to get major secular and skeptical events to enact harassment policies, to protect convention-goers from needless harassment and encourage women who might otherwise avoid what they perceive as a gender-imbalanced chilly climate to join the community. It is presently a work-in-progress, and a living document. It could be edited at any time.
I’m beginning from an excellent blog comment by Pteryxx that tries to organize this timeline more contextually rather than purely chronologically, and pulls out blockquotes. I’m rearranging everything and summarizing the contents of the links. Please let me know if I’ve misinterpreted the contents or missed any notable events. This is meant to be a companion piece to the 101-level post In Media Res, where I opened the comments to general questions about this campaign. Please direct those questions there.
Have you noticed that the people who tend to engender the most by-volume outrage about the feminist topics that have intersected with our skeptical and atheist communities lately aren’t actually the outright trolls or blatantly bigoted jerks? Okay, they get some ire, but are usually silenced in due course, and the rest of my statement is probably true of a lot of arguments. So I’m going to try to make this general, mostly, as a resource for future conversations, but include specific advice for this specific argument in the process.
The people who really seem to create the longest-term whargarbl — the peak burn for internet conflict — are almost always the folks who think they’re reasonable and just want to know what all the fuss is about, and make snap judgments about or unreasonable demands of the folks trying to drive the discussion — demands like “Explain everything that’s happened to lead up to this point in the conversation. And you both should calm down because both sides are being mean. Also, all those weird words that you’ve used up there, they mean something different in my mind and so you’re probably wrong unless you explain right now. ANNNNND GO.”
These people can very often be extremely well-placed in the community, and have a lot of fans and cause a lot of blowback and DEEEEEEP RIIIIIIFTS. The higher up the food chain a supporter or detractor is, the more likely they carry with them any number of adjuncts who will complain bitterly that they’re being “forced to choose sides” or otherwise buy into the slurs and mischaracterizations that their heroes proclaim. When someone near the top jumps in without doing the background research, the splash damage can be absolutely enormous.
I’ve been an atheist since I was 13. This is well before I knew the word, or the implications, though I had a vague inkling that a lot of people were probably wrong about a lot of things. When I further realized that my own parents counted among those people, I figured it was a very bad idea to let anyone else know what I thought about theology.
Several years ago, my sister came out to me as gay. The way she approached it was to ask me, “what is the worst possible thing you could imagine me telling you about myself?” I joked, “that you vote Conservative.” So, she apparently took that as an indicator that I’m safe, and came out of the closet.
(And I’m not just saying that because he complimented me. Seriously. Ian’s got writing chops. All of the chops.)
Working on a secret project, so I don’t have terribly much to say today. So I’ll report on the news and throw in a few quick thoughts.
I can’t say I blame Rebecca for deciding not to participate in The Amazing Meeting this year — not because TAM is particularly unsafe for women, but because TAM is not a safe space for women. (Do you get the distinction? It’s really important that you do.)
I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.
DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment. I found that claim astonishing, since I was only aware of women speaking frankly about their own experiences and their own feelings. I couldn’t imagine that DJ would be literally blaming the victim for speaking out. To be sure, I asked him in that thread to give us examples of what he was talking about. To my surprise, this was his response:
Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:
“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. . . ”
( http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-09-15/atheist-sexism-women/50416454/1 )
Speakers, staff, and even people looking to increase their credibility in a particular field by networking and socializing all have very good reason to consider a convention to be a “workplace environment”. Even if they’re volunteering, even if they’re there only semi-professionally or as a hobbyist, the existence of a solid harassment policy that includes reporting mechanisms and collection of data for future improvement can be nothing but a good thing for their ability to carry out their work.
Conventions are not unique among workplaces — very many workplaces involve the dissemination of ideas, social components where “customers” can interact with one another and with the “employees” alike, and might even have an “overtime” component where people who are otherwise co-workers can fraternize outside of the purview of the actual “workplace environment”, often with those aforementioned “customers”. Most workplaces already have very solid harassment policies, and HR departments to enforce those policies. So why all the pushback against these policies when presented in context of trying to improve the situation for women who have apparently increasingly abandoning certain skeptical events despite leaders’ efforts to improve the situation?
My best guess is, because the people pushing back against these policies are the first ones who will be impacted by them.
The trollitariat have been out in full force recently about the real progress we’ve made recently in finally putting into place structures that will protect women from unwanted sexual advances at atheist/skeptic conventions. They’re getting some help from prominent skeptics like Russell Blackford, who evidently created the meme of the Talibanesquery of this initiative according to some commenters, resulting in wave after wave of sockpuppeting trolls repeating the meme despite being debunked repeatedly.
The trolls are even getting some help from local FtB bloggers who apparently bought that line of argumentation without looking at the policy itself, when actually looking at the policy in question is all it takes to turn the whole issue on its head.
Not only am I only celebrating the secular part of the holiday, I’m doing it in such a manner that onlookers might think I was the single most evil person in the universe for doing it. See, for lunch, I’m eating deviled live baby chickens, whole.
The beak’s a little crunchy, putting it at odds from the rest of the chick’s squishiness, but what can you expect?
Idea shamelessly stolen from this image.