She said he said

A few people think I’ve been unfair to DJ Grothe. I don’t. I think it’s the other way around.

I’ll explain why, as succinctly as I explained it to DJ (and Carrie) the day after threat-day.

I think he stuck a metaphorical target on me. He didn’t do anything to take it off. He didn’t do anything to assure me that he still welcomed me to TAM. He triggered a shit-storm, and then let it get worse and worse and worse.

That’s it.

He stuck a metaphorical target on me (in my view) when he blamed the fall in women’s attendance at TAM on

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.

Since I was scheduled to do a talk at TAM, the target was very awkward. I blogged about this. DJ never responded. (I could have emailed him directly – but his target-attaching was public as opposed to email, so I replied to it in public rather than email. Besides, I didn’t feel as if I should have to email him to say, “Uh er am I still supposed to do this talk or wut?” I thought it was his job to deal with it, not mine. I still think that.)

As time went on, the fallout from DJ’s remark got bigger and nastier. I felt steadily more unwelcome. DJ still did nothing. Again – I think this is not how someone in charge of an event should treat an invited speaker.

Then came the emails. When I told DJ about them and my decision not to go to TAM as a result, he finally did say they would welcome me as a speaker and value my safety “like we do of everyone who attends our events.” It wasn’t entirely convincing…and it was also very late (and forced). It wasn’t entirely convincing for instance because he went on to predict that some attendees might have different opinions and then cited “these recent couple dozen blog posts on Freethought Blogs about TAM” – in other words he blamed posts at Freethought Blogs for people at TAM disliking me. I, on the other hand, think the dislike originates in his remarks about the clumsy women. He then pointed out that controversial speakers possibly disliked by attendees were still treated respectfully, and named three examples: Dawkins, Krauss, and Jillette.

As I pointed out to him in my reply, there are some salient differences between me on the one hand and Dawkins, Krauss, and Jillette on the other. I think they kind of jump off the page, especially in this context. They’re all men. They’re all Names. They don’t piss off angry misogynists.

So that’s why I don’t think I’ve been unfair to DJ Grothe. That’s why I think it’s the other way around.

As I said, I replied to DJ’s reply, but I got no reply in turn. Carrie told me I could phone them, but that’s all the answer I got. I don’t think that’s very good management.

So that’s that. I expect now we can at last drop the whole smelly subject!


  1. anthrosciguy says

    Dawkins? the guy who said what happened with Rebecca in the elevator in the wee hours of the morning was the same as if someone had been chewing gum in an elevator with Dawkins?

    Jillette? the serial misogynist?

    Krauss? the guy who defended a friend who admitted to engaging in sex with underage prostitutes?

    DJ thought those were equivalent to you? You’ve got a libel case there. 🙂

  2. Great American Satan says

    I feel like before this is over, Grothe is going to have to quit or do some serious (secular) ablutions before this is done. Good gravy.

  3. sawells says

    I think a more likely outcome is that TAM gets a reputation as the place to go if you want your convention to be a sausagefest, and its attendance will drop precipitously, and people can go to other events where the atmosphere’s better. There’s no rule saying that TAM has to go on existing or being successful; they could have done better, they didn’t, they have competitors, and they can now fail and leave room for others.

  4. MichaelD says

    There’s no rule saying that TAM has to go on existing or being successful; they could have done better, they didn’t, they have competitors, and they can now fail and leave room for others.

    Its evolution in action survival of the fittest. Convention competing against convention for the sweet nourishing fields of paying attendees. The aged and venerable TAM suddenly competing for limited resources again a slew of new event entering the skeptical environment!

  5. Mriana says

    You know, if women are feeling sexually harassed at these events, esp and including TAM, then the issue should not be swept under the rug and ignored. There is obviously a problem here and it isn’t women suffering with Freud’s Dx of hysteria. I think it’s time we put an end to the Freudian attitudes about women, as well as sexism and harassment. I’m not just talking about women doing something, but everyone, including DJ and others who attempt to sweep it under the rug, which needs to stop. Sweeping it under the rug and insinuating it is hysteria isn’t going to make it go away or resolve the problem.

  6. Great American Satan says

    I’m just looking at this from real far away, not spending as much time as others in the blogs. Seems to me like Elevatorgate would’ve ended years ago if the powers that be hadn’t tacitly (or sometimes explicitly) endorsed Team Elevator Guy. Now a year out women are bailing on (or forced by threats to bail on) major conventions, and every smug dudebag that was dismissive about this looks more like an asshole by the minute. I know I’m not at all interested in seeing Dawkins give the same old talk for a fat entrance fee on the east side of Lake Washington (Discotute territory), while McCreight and Benson are seeming like hometown heroes to me.

    I just can’t imagine the Old Boys can ignore this forever, because unlike the trolls, this shit is hitting them in the money. They placed their bets on the side of misogynists for the purposes of greed, guessing that they were the majority. If they’d quietly appeased progressives at the outset, they could’ve kept most of the misogynist dollars and ours besides. But they let it be a wedge issue and shaved off a fat load of potential cash. See how long it takes for them to figure it out.

    But, to quote pre-9-11-brain-damage Dennis Miller, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  7. Beauzeaux says

    Olivia, I admire you very much. You’ve conducted yourself with dignity and more forbearance than I could manage.

    Thank you for everything you’ve done — and I’m sure, will do.

  8. ibbica says

    I first posted this comment as a reply over at Pharyngula, although really it applies to several bloggers here and elsewhere. At this moment you’re probably the one who deserves to hear it most. So at the risk of both spamming and exposing my own conceit about how important this might be to hear from a random stranger… Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    All this has made me realize just how very happy I am that there exist at least some people around who do give a shit.

    I’m especially thankful for all the people who care enough to not only “not participate” in unwelcome or unwelcoming behaviours and attitudes, but to call them out, to actively oppose them, whether they’re the target or not.

    I appreciate all those who have worked – and are working – to make at least some spaces welcoming to people of all races, genders, appearances, abilities, sexual orientation… and any other features you care to add to that list. Who indeed have worked, and are working, to make our world a better place.

    I thank all those who endure all the baseless insults, the threats, the cries of ‘just stfu already!’ and other inane bullshit thrown their way, and yet continue on. Who continue speaking out, continue trying to educate the ignorant, continue fighting for everyone’s right to be heard and to be treated as fully human.

    Thank you.

  9. Samantha M says

    So to catch up, is jillette more involved in this other than the remark he made on Twitter pointing to his friend’s letter who said, in essence, the Skepiguys are awesome, they make her feel welcome and she likes to flirt with them?

    DJ came out of the gate in defensive-blaming mode and whoever stood in his path seemed to me to be collateral damage. Ophelia, for whatever it is worth I DO NOT think he considered you in the “well meaning” group of evildoers, but when you weren’t sure, he had an obligation to communicate with you. Plus it would have been in his best interest. Speakers pulling out of TAM is not good PR.

    That being said, I also do not expect there to be fallout upon him. From my experience, the JREF was perfectly content doing things the “Old School” way. And hopefully change will come but I doubt it will be swift. (Ha! Swift!)

    I hope most of you realize how ingrained these attitudes are, and how difficult it is for these guys who have never gotten flak before are now stunned and defensive about it. I know so many women do NOT want to slowly make small changes, but to undo what they know AND what they didn’t realize they were a part of takes time, understanding and finesse. Maybe it has gotten too late for that but that method could reach many of them who feel vilified now.

    But I don’t think you owe DJ an apology and I think he should offer you one. You blogged about your confusion and it was his responsibly to reassure you. The emails were weird, came at a bad time, it was a huge headache anyway and you chose to be safe. Honoring commitments are very important and that is why you must have a good reason for backing out, which you did. The End.

  10. Lyanna says

    I just can’t imagine the Old Boys can ignore this forever, because unlike the trolls, this shit is hitting them in the money. They placed their bets on the side of misogynists for the purposes of greed, guessing that they were the majority. If they’d quietly appeased progressives at the outset, they could’ve kept most of the misogynist dollars and ours besides. But they let it be a wedge issue and shaved off a fat load of potential cash. See how long it takes for them to figure it out.

    I think this is key.

    At some point it’s pointless and demeaning to argue that you (general you) deserve to be treated like a human being; that you should not be sexually harassed; that you are not a “bitch” or a “cunt” or a “twat.”

    At some point you have to stop arguing because arguing is pointless and legitimizes the miscreants.

    You just have to make them stop, instead of arguing with them, and the best way to do that in a capitalist world is MONEY.

  11. says

    Samantha – do you have any particular reasons for thinking DJ didn’t consider me in the “well meaning” group of evildoers?

    I do think there’s at least one good reason for thinking that, which is that he simply wasn’t thinking of me at all; I wasn’t on the radar. TAM is big, and there are a lot of speakers, nearly all of them Names, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if I were just not on his radar at that moment.

    But pulling the other way is the fact that he clearly was thinking about WiS and Stephanie and Jen and Rebecca (since he listed them all in reply to Rebecca). Well I was on that panel with Jen and Rebecca; I had blogged about it; Stephanie and Jen and I are on the same blog network. Add the fact that I was in fact an invited guest and it looks less plausible that I was just not on his radar. (There’s also the fact that we were both at QED in March, and on a panel there.)

  12. says

    That’s not a hostile question, by the way; I really want to know.

    Another potential reason on the off-radar side is that I didn’t in fact blog about harassment; I left that to people who’ve gone to a lot more conferences than I have and know more about it. That’s a potential reason but I don’t think it applies here, because I don’t think he was being careful in that way.

  13. Samantha M says

    I do have a few particular reasons for thinking that you were not included when DJ called out the “well-meaning” group of evildoers. I think the main reason is that you didn’t blog about the harassment. I don’t think DJ was necessarily trying to be careful, but he really was thinking there was a connection between Jen’s post about the speakers to watch out for, Rebecca’s comment that she didn’t feel the freethought community was a safe space, Stephanie’s really strong opinions about sexual harassment in general, all in relation to female TAM registration. I don’t think you were on his radar because you are less likely to ramp up an argument and more likely to state your case in more civil tones than some.

    As you said, you deferred to those who have been to more conferences, and they have certainly made their opinions heard. I don’t think he was trying to paint with a broad brush; I think he really was thinking about just a few people.

    Wow, it sure would have been easier if he could have just let you know himself, huh? These are just my impressions. I can see how what the others said would have put him on the defensive since he is responsible for TAM. I just don’t see how what you said would have. (And nope, I have zero evidences! 🙂 )

  14. says

    Right, that makes sense. He was thinking of the people he named. Ok. That is a good reason on that side of the case.

    On the other side is the suspicion that there was passive-aggressive indirection going on – that he stopped short of naming me because I was supposed to be a speaker…but was content to let me be splashed if that’s how things fell out.

    I really don’t know which it is.

    But yes – it would have been easier if he’d let me know himself!

    I could have asked him myself, as I mentioned in the post – but it would have been fucking awkward, and anyway it’s his job, not mine.

    I think in that sense he’s quite staggeringly incompetent.

    Then there’s a slightly different question, which is would I have wanted to get a personal exemption that implied I thought he was right to blame Rebecca and Stephanie and Jen.


  15. Samantha M says

    And not only did he fuck up, he fucked up first, Ophelia.

    Suppose for a moment that there is some sort of connection between the sexism/ harassment issue in the community and the number of women registering for TAM. Did his temper tantrum help the situation? No, he accomplished the exact opposite. He further fractured the community, provided proof that he lacks skeptical abilities, very likely lost his organization revenue, damaged its (and his) reputation and basically made himself look like a complete ass. He harmed his foundation. Not you. He created the atmosphere; you just decided not to fly your kite.

    You were not unfair to DJ. Things could have been handled differently and things could have turned out differently, but it isn’t a question of fairness. The most important person who has been unfair to DJ is himself. You know he has to be kicking himself in the ass.


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