We’re having it. Due to legal issues and the fact that women get incredible blow-back when they mention that sexual harassment happens and it would be nice if men stopped engaging in it (see: Elevatorgate), the Conversation has to be somewhat circumspect in places. Certain names will not be named. At least, not until some Big Names have a documented history of Certain Behaviors that will allow people to say, calmly and without fear of legal reprisal, “Big Name X has had n sexual harassment instances documented, and this is why Big Name X will not be the Big Draw at Conference Y.”
The Conversation isn’t about naming names, anyway. The Conversation is about ensuring women especially but also men do not have to worry so much about harassment when attending conferences. It’s about ensuring the atheist movement has policies in place at its conferences that state clearly and unequivocally that harassment won’t be tolerated, and back that statement up with effective enforcement.
The Conversation didn’t start on this blog, because I don’t often speak at conferences and am hence nearly oblivious to the things that go on in the back channels. It started at Stephanie Zvan’s blog, with this post: Zero Intolerance. It continued there with Making it Safer in the Meantime. Wonderful things are happening in the comment threads to those posts: people are working their way toward a fair and just system that will put a stop to harassment. Wonderful things are happening outside the comment threads, with conference organizers already committing to strong and effective harassment policies.
The Conversation continued at WWJTD, with Flirting, sex, and lines: removing skeeze from the movement. This is where clueless but well-intentioned people can go to get advice from people willing to clue them in, where an excellent discussion is happening that helps everyone decide where lines are, how to see them, and how not to cross them without explicit permission.
It’s sprung up elsewhere, too – it’s not just the folks of Freethought Blogs who care to have the Conversation. But I’ve only had time to read the Freethought Blogs part of the Conversation, so they’re the ones I’ll link. Yes, I’m partial. Can’t help to be.
I’m glad we’re having this Conversation. And we’ll continue to have it until speakers and attendees have recourse at every conference if someone harasses them, until the vast majority of people are aware that there are consequences to harassment, and until harassment policies combined with effective enforcement thereof are just one of those necessary items you have, like registration and a venue. Then the Conversation won’t have to be had quite as often, but it’ll still be had from time to time, to make sure we’re doing the right thing by everybody. This is how you do it. You have the Conversation, and then you act, and then you make sure that your actions as a whole have accomplished the goals the Conversation set out to achieve.
We can do this together, all of us. We can ensure harassment won’t be an endemic part of this movement. We can ensure it’s not one of those things a person has to worry about when deciding to speak at or attend a conference. And other movements will look at us and say, “Damn, they’re good!” before promptly filching our methods and making other conferences safer for all involved.
The Conversation may get a little heated at times, but there’s absolutely no doubt it’s worth having.