Kate Donovan is wonderful and patient and finally done. Here is part one of the transcript of this video. There will probably be a few errors in the detail here. I told Kate not to bother to do one last play through after she’d immersed herself in the nastiness for this long. Please let me know if you find errors, so I can get them corrected. Parts two and three coming soon are done.
Trigger warning for dismissal of claims of abuse, gendered slurs, and jokes about rape.
Wendell: Okay, we got the compliments out of the way. I just want you to understand, nothing personal here. I think you guys are all great.
Emery: I think we just strongly disagree. Obviously, about the cries of sexism and um, what’s the word that just doesn’t apply, in my opinion…sexual harassment.
Wendell: harassment, yeah
Emery: It’s obvious Wendell, that you and I wholeheartedly disagree, and I am always very bummed out, when I have a fan of the show, you know, being so bothered by one of my shows. But I am doing the best I can, and I’m certainly doing what I think is right, and the show is a show of opinions. BJ Kramer has joined us! (sp?)
[multiple ppl]: hey BJ!
BJ: Hey there, I don’t know if my stuff’s working just yet.
Wendell: Guys I’m totally out of focus, I apologize for that. I have no idea why.
Travis: It has to do with pixilation because of the bandwidth. Don’t worry about it too much, it comes in and out.
Wendell: This is my first Google Hangout. I’m a Google Hangout virgin.
Wendell: I expect you to have your way with me.
Emery: How long do we have you BJ?
BJ: About 10-15 minutes. Did you hear me?
Travis: Okay, do we want to tackle something specific right now, or what?
Emery: Well I’m going to do what I was trying to do in the chat. Where I just want to talk with—and BJ, feel free to jump in. We only have you here for a short time, I know. First of all, my first point of contention with the points, and before we do that, let’s go over a point B. Travis, will you please set up all of the points we’re hoping to hit today?
Travis: Yes, one second.
So there were seven points I got out of Wendell’s initial post. One is that “people telling others that women going to TAM would be ‘in danger’ is not true”.
Point two is that “people like Jen, Greta, PZ and Rebecca are prudes and anti-sex”.
Emery: Let’s be clear about that. That claim is that I said that on the show, I think. Right?
Wendell: Correct. Or, not specifically you. It might have been DJ. I’d have to check the records to prove it. It was said on the show and not contested.
Travis: Number Three: “our issue is consent and power and balances”. I know that’s an important one for Emery.
Four: “making fun of speaker agreements”/”do not have sex with attendees”.
Five mentions “informal network” of female speakers that pass around names of male speakers that do inappropriate sexual actions.
Wendell: I’m not sure what that one meant. I didn’t make that one specifically. I’m not sure what you mean by that.
Travis: Okay, we can clarify that when I’m done with the list. Only two more to go.
Six: DJ dismisses these concerns and blames blogs for lower female attendance. And Number Seven: claims Emery supported Dawkins on his Muslima comment on PZ’s blog.
Emery: so those are the points we want to really try and make sure we speak on clearly. And I want to go really Socratic on this. I want go point by point. I want to respond to them and I want to discuss them with you, Wendell. The first one I want to hit—I’m not going to go in order—the first one is….I think this entire thing, it all falls underneath this one point. That’s my position. I have no desire to try to debate you in um, a strategic way. I want to debate you in the most honest exchange of ideas possible.
Wendell: I wouldn’t know how to debate you in a strategic way, so go ahead. I’m just a guy, you know.
Emery: Well, I know how to debate strategically, and you know, and I’m not going to do that. Because at the end of the day, what I’m hoping we all walk away with, and any viewers or listeners might walk away with, are the facts. To me, that’s what’s important here. Because we’re skeptics. It’s what we deal in. So, that said, I want to start with this: I don’t see how anybody can complain that there is this power balance problem, where any speaker of TAM, or any convention for that matter, in my opinion, where people are actually paying money to be there, they’re adults, the speakers are adults, the imbalance of power, this thing that they can wield over convention-goers. I just think it’s nonexistent. I think it’s invented to hold up this really really awful argument.
Travis: Oh, Wendell, your mike went dead.
Wendell: What a shame.
[someone]: way to silence your opponent in a debate!
Travis: What, have him have technical problems? (laughs)
Wendell: I’m the IT manager for the group. I don’t know if the rest of you are geeks, but I work in IT for a living.
Travis: Okay, well, we got you back.
Wendell: Ah yes, I leaned on all the mute buttons. I leaned down like this and pushed all the mute buttons. So my point was….I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. I remember what you just said though. Ummm…you’re basically denying that it exists. Okay, why—
Travis: I’m sorry, BJ, what?
BJ: Sorry, Travis could you shoot me that list.
Wendell: So I guess my question is, Travis, why would somebody make it up? What do you think their motivation would be?
Emery: Well, what I’d like to do is… My argument is on the table, and that is: there is no power struggle. There’s no power to be wielded. Your examples, for example, you example the following: a child and a parent. Um, of course. No listener here, or any viewer, would think that a child and a parent should be able to have sex. The next one, I think, was boss and employee. That’s the classic example of sexual harassment. A boss can start to have sex with an employee, or use sex to convince and employee to become sexually active with them in order to keep their job. That’s power, that’s true and honest power. And I think the other one was a doctor and a patient. I’m not 100% on the doctor-patient difference for the record. I think when it’s psychological, you got issues. But when someone wants to be sexual with someone they’re operating on, I’m not sure I have a problem.
Wendell: Well, not during the operation!
Emery: Well, I don’t know, it depends. I would be open to that.
Travis: If I could just chime in for a bit—BJ, I emailed you the list—what I think might be a bit of confusion is, what I can see, to kind of take halfway in between, where I can see people where they might be starstruck over a speaker.
Emery: No question.
Travis: Not necessarily the power thing.
Wendell: Well, I think that’s half of it. The starstruck is half. But the other example that came to mind is, look at the abuse Rebecca got, for just talking casually about one of her peers who did something some people thought was inappropriate. Think of what it would have been if she had said Dawkins had groped her! Think of the abuse she would have gotten. The power imbalance is obviously clear. They aren’t equals.
Emery: Well, first of all, the example that you offer, the abuse that Rebecca suffered, is no different than the abuse DJ is suffering. DJ is suffering great, great abuse. People are saying things about him that aren’t accurate.
Wendell: I’m not sure if he is or isn’t, Emery. But that has nothing to do with the point under discussion: whether or not an improper balance can exist, that cause sexual things to be unequal. DJ getting abused is a yes or no, but it has nothing to do with what comment I’m making.
Emery: It has everything to do with the comment you’re making, Wendell. That’s why I pointed it out, and I’ll explain why that’s true.
[technical difficulties interruption]
BJ: My concern is that I keep hearing things about abuse. And Rebecca has cited individual statements she’s gotten via email and blog chat and comments and whatever. I don’t think I’m alone in not considering that abuse. Dawkins gets that every day also. This is what the internet is. It is where the idiots come out to play and say hateful things. It’s not about sex, it’s not about power, it’s not about skeptics. It’s just about what happens when you’re a public figure on the internet. I think it completely makes sense to just completely discount all the vile crap that people receive from anonymous people online. And then you’ll have the more real issues of abuse.
Emery: I also think that one of the errors that Rebecca is making is when she cites the kinds of abuses that you’re talking about, I think, Wendell—I don’t want to put words in your mouth—but when she cites them, she’s making this awful awful mistake of making it seem like they’re connected to her experiences at TAM, when in fact, they’re simply connected–
Wendell: I don’t know that I’ve seen her say that, but go ahead.
Travis: I have the actual quote here—
Emery: She absolutely tried to imply that.
Travis: Yes, I have the actual quote. I will read it off. It’s from her “I Won’t be at TAM This Year” post. So its odd for me to be announcing that I will not be attending TAM this year, because I do not feel welcome or safe, and I disagree strongly with the actions of the JREF president, DJ Grothe”. She goes on to give specific examples of what she’s been called, and it’s very clear that it’s kind of grouped in with TAM. The other thing that makes it…someone mentioned it to me previously…oh, well she’s talking about all freethought conferences. But she goes on to list specific conferences that she is going to and that she’s going to give money to, including CSICon, Nexus, SkepchickCon, Skepticon, and a bunch of others.
Wendell: Hey! CSIcon…will she be there?!
Wendell: That’s in Nashville this year, which is where I am.
Emery: Don’t touch her!
[everyone on screen laughs]
Wendell: I don’t think I’ll say hello to her, but that’s a different subject. Umm, I think we’re wandering. So what you’re saying is that my example of using her abuse as an example of how power can be used is inappropriate because it isn’t really a power differential that caused her to be abused?
Travis: Well, I would go even further and say I don’t think you should count her abuse because she’s a skeptical celebrity and her experience at a conference is not going to be typical of a normal conference goer.
Emery: And in fact, is not even remotely—
Wendell: I’d go the other way around. I’d say because she’s a celebrity, there’s a closer to power equality between her and other people than the other way around. Honestly, Emery, on this particular issue, the idea of a power imbalance, I don’t think we’re going to reach agreement. I mean, it’s a perception thing. I perceive that there is an imbalance, some other people agree with me. You all don’t agree with me. I honestly don’t see a path out of that to more information.
Emery: Well, I would say this, Wendell. I would say if indeed, there is a power imbalance, then you have to defend that claim. That’s all I’m saying.
Wendell: I have defended that claim. And you’ve said that in your perception, my analogies aren’t sufficient. And all I can do is say ‘yes they are’ and you can say ‘no they aren’t’. And we can do that all day.
Travis: Well, let me interject there, and just say…well, here’s what I’ll say. In the examples you gave…doctor patient, parent child, all those other ones—
Travis: Yeah, whatever. The person of power can give consequence to the person who is not of power. What kind of consequence can a speaker give to a conference goer?
Wendell: Well, number one, I think the closest one is the minister to the parishioner, in terms of consequences, to be equivalent. And I think the consequences they can give is shaming them, harming their reputation, making them look like a fool. There can be quite a lot of consequences. They’re informal. I said informal power exists, and you all denied it. So what can I say?
Emery: Can you name an example where that kind of power has been used? You’ve offered Rebecca, and to the best of my ability to glean what you’re saying, and in my opinion, what has happened to Rebecca is the result of awful, awful idiots on the internet, anonymously, picking on this woman.
Wendell: No, my example about Rebecca is that this is what happened when she talked about someone important. If she’d talked about someone who was important, the consequences would have been larger.
Emery: Wait, when you say someone who wasn’t important, you mean the guy in Ireland?
Wendell: The elevator guy, yeah. Somebody who was nobody. I’m saying if she’d made an accusation about somebody in power, it would have been much worse, by many more people. But I can’t prove it to you, I don’t have an example—I can’t give you one.
Emery: Well, and what bothers me about that argument, Wendell, is that it’s all the ‘what ifs’ and it’s all what if, what if, what if.
Wendell: Your perception is that there is no informal power that would cause someone to have an unfair advantage over someone else. [everyone speaking]
Emery: And I have evidence to support my claim. There aren’t examples of people who have spoken out about anyone at TAM who was speaking and suffered those consequences. There aren’t examples!
BJ: Isn’t this a normal issue that humans deal with every day, always? In any kind of social interaction ,there’s power imbalances. If that person is better looking than me, or dresses nicer, or whatever, it’s a power imbalance. And if we go to a conference where some people are famous, yeah, it’s a power imbalance, but I think that’s just the way humans have to operate. We always have, to negotiate fields of power imbalance. And it’s ludicrous for us to try to institute social rules, to say that one person who may have social advantage over another, cannot take advantage of that…advantage.
Wendell: But you do agree, in situations, like, priest-parishioner, you agree that’s an unfair power imbalance. Right?
BJ: Yeah, sure, and we can agree that all students and teachers, sure, I mean, you can come up with things…
Wendell: So the point is, I don’t know how we’re going to come to a conclusion on this. I feel it is significant, some other people who aren’t here to talk about it with me, agreed with me, and you all don’t.
BJ: I’m fine with continuing on the assumption that people have a difference of opinion on that. Some people think that there is a relevant power imbalance, some people think it doesn’t exist, some people think it exists, like me, but so what? You have to learn to navigate that. Therefore, what? What are we saying should be done as a result?
Emery: Well, let’s move to another point at this point. Are you okay with that, Wendell?
Wendell: Yeah, that’s fine. I didn’t think we were going to get agreement anywhere on this, so that’s fine.
Wendell: Well we should go with the harassment policy then, shouldn’t we?
Emery: I have no problem with that. Let’s talk about harassment policies.
Wendell: Cuz that fits in with this.
Emery: Wendell, one of the things in your initial post on my [Facebook] wall, one of your points—and I don’t want to put any words in your mouth, I’ll ask Travis to clarify, or yourself—you basically were saying that DJ wasn’t acting, and that there wasn’t even, there wasn’t any action taken when Rebecca and her followers and her friends, and of the feminists—
Wendell: We like the term minions, actually [sarcastically]
Emery: Uh hunh, –any of the people in that camp were complaining, wasn’t being heeded. And I will say very clearly on this point, the exact opposite is true. The exact opposite. DJ reacted, I think very very well, indecisively, certainly; he made a couple of missteps, public gaffes along the way, in what he said as this unfolded. No question about that. His action was significant.
Wendell: Now we’ve kind of wandered. I thought we were going to talk about the need for harassment policy, or what should be in it, as opposed to whether DJ was acting like a fool and should be fired.
Travis: As far as the need for policy, TAM 9 had a harassment policy.
Wendell: Yes, it did, and good for them. That was great. I’ve never said anything against it. It was before people were even aware.
Emery: Travis, what were the words of Wendell when he said something about the harassment policy not being readily available? Do you recall?
Travis: Let me see.
Wendell: I could tell them myself if you’d like.
Emery: Go ahead!
Wendell: What I said was that the harassment policy was posted on a blog last year. It wasn’t, to my knowledge, but I wouldn’t know a lot about it, but it was, and you corrected me, as it should be.
BJ: It was a big deal. IT was printed in literature, like as a last minute deal, put into the packet. Everyone saw it.
Wendell: Okay, I’ll grant you that. I was not at TAM, so I’m not going to argue that point further.
Travis: Just real quick, I talked to Emery about this before, it would be nice to get a female perspective….Sara Mayhew wants in, if nobody has any objections to me inviting her in.
Wendell: The only objection I’ve got is, it was one on four, one on five, one on six. God, if only it was an orgy, instead of this!
Emery: Well, you know Wendell, one of the things I felt really strongly about, and I wasn’t able to drum it up was, I was hoping to get a woman’s perspective in here.
Wendell: I agree! I’m not saying, “don’t”. I’m just whining.
Travis: We’re not here to beat you up!
Wendell: You sure?
Travis: I’m here to get your perspective. I’m honestly very interested in why we’re seeing this issue in very different ways.
BJ: It is odd. I have had conversations with people I have assumed would take a different position from me. Because it does seem that everyone joins a team, rather than formulate an opinion. But some of the more thoughtful people, who’ve I’ve discussed this with off the record, have expressed complete agreement with me. In that, as far as I could tell, there’s been a variety of bad behavior all around, but everybody basically wants the same thing. So it really comes down to how much do you think ‘certain people said stupid things on the internet’, you know, and that’s very much a matter of taste and a matter or repercussion. But in terms of what we care about…Oh, man, I’ve got to leave. [in intro and setup, was established that BJ was only able to converse for a short time]
Wendell: But I agree. That’s great, BJ. But I’d like to spend sometime at the end of this talking about what do we think should be happening in the future? Regardless of what I said in my post that was stupid, or wrong, or what DJ said, or Rebecca said, that was ignorant. It would be nice to have some sort of discussion about what we think should be happening.
BJ: I’d be happy to, and it’s remarkable how little of that I’ve seen. Considering that we’re all should be on the same page. It seems that the people, the people who are assumed to be in the anti-Rebecca camp. Which is certainly not how I would call myself, although I may well be painted in that light.
Wendell: I understand.
BJ: Rebecca and I are still Facebook friends, and we get along just fine! It seems like the Emerys and Travises and BJ’s of the world have been more vocal about what to do, than anything else. And unfortunately, the very first thing that very many people seem to be trying to champion, is to impress upon conference goers to be more forthcoming with information. And immediately we get shot down as victim-blaming.
Wendell: Nononono. That’s not what the shouting that I’ve heard has come from.
Emery: I’ve been called a sexist and a misogynist for taking the position that I’ve taken. Nobody seems to be aware of the episode we did on this back when Elevatorgate was being called Elevatorgate. What a joke.
Wendell: Heck, you called this PenisGate. I’d rather it be called Elevatorgate.
Travis: It’s a joke. An actual joke.
Emery: That’s called satire, Wendell. If you speak out against the feminist position in this particular discussion, you really are instantly labeled, and loudly labeled, as a misogynistic sexist. And I’m definitely a guy with a penis. I admit that. But that’s just about it.
[interlude for penis jokes and saying hi to Sara Mayhew, who has arrived. BJ leaves]
Travis: Real quick, since Sara just came in. I know you’ve been watching for a little bit—do you have anything you want to chime in with?
Travis: If not, that’s okay.
Sara: I’m just here to break up the sausage-fest, that’s all.
Travis: On that point, Heidi Anderson just sent me a message. She wants in as well, if everybody is okay with that.
Emery: While you bring her in, I’m going to bring us back to the point.
Wendell: That’s fine.
Emery: And Wendell, I want to agree with you on something in all this. I think at the end of the day, I would be very excited if you and I could individually, clearly state how we feel we should move forward from all this. That’s exactly what I’d like to do. I think that’s a really smart request, and I agree with it. That said, the point we were just talking about…and you felt like we were getting off point? Ummmm, let me find my notes here, dammit.
Wendell: I was trying to bring it back to the sexual harassment policy itself, and having one or not having one. You pointed out that I was wrong about saying it wasn’t well publicized at TAM last year. I’ve given you that point.
Emery: Wendell, let me be very clear as we wrap up that point. What I want to say very very very loudly is: this is the problem. This is the fundamental problem. There’s so much misinformation about DJ. There’s so much information about JREF, and what they did in light of the discussion, that it’s insidious. It’s almost religious-eque, and it’s really pissing me off. And it makes me embarrassed for my community. And by that, I mean the skeptical and the atheistic community. It really really bothers me.
Wendell: I’d like to make one question in the harassment policy category, and we won’t go into the speaker-no-sex part because that was part of the power thing we aren’t going to agree on. But it does strike me as odd, that with all this going on, that they don’t have a public—to my knowledge, you all can correct me if I’m wrong—they haven’t published a policy for the TAM that’s happening in three weeks? Four weeks? They haven’t talked about it, they haven’t published it. It seems to me, if I was them, I’d be putting that out front.
Travis: BJ, I mean DJ, did post a link to last year’s policy, and said they would have a similar or equal policy to last year.
Wendell: Where did it say that, because I think—
Travis: It was said on one of his comments somewhere—
Wendell: Where’d it say that. Every comment I’ve read, he’s referred to last year’s policy. He hasn’t said that this year’s will be the same.
Travis: Well, I think part of the reason is that they’re working on the new policy.
Emery: What do you think needs to happen in the new policy, Wendell?
Wendell: Well, first off, publicizing the fact that it’s going to be there, definitely, and that they’re working on it. That would go a long way to making people feel better, that they’re doing good stuff. As far as what’s in it? I’m not a pro. I would like to see a clear reporting policy, of what the reporting procedures are, so that records are kept. I would like to see it be anonymous, so that people can feel safe reporting. And I would like to see something covering the speakers. We’re going to argue about what is, but I would like to see something covering the speakers.
Emery: We will definitely not agree, I’m going to warn you now.
Travis: I’m going to bring in Mallorie.