So here’s Part 2 of my new series on thunderf00t’s horrible post about sexual harassment.
As some of you may know, videoblogger thunderf00t has recently joined the Freethought Blogs network — and has weighed in on the conversation about sexual harassment at conferences. Saying, essentially and among many other things, that:
*THIS REALLY ISN’T A BIG PROBLEM*
Put simply, YES talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment.
There is so much wrong packed into this one post, I could write an entire novel-length systematically dismantling everything that’s wrong with it. But I don’t have time or energy for that today… and I can’t imagine anyone having it in them to read it anyway. So I’m going to look at one piece of this wrong at a time, until I get bored or otherwise sick of it.
Today’s piece of wrong:
Further it’s my personal experience that sexual harassment affects only a very significant minority of attendees. Indeed I personally know prominent women who went to TAM last year who said from a harassment point of view, it was the cleanest TAM yet (battle fought and game won?). So the full scope of the problem is a minority of a minority. As such do you really think this is the priority target where you will get best bang for your buck in terms of focusing hard won resources, or focusing the attention of the online community?
Where to begin? So much wrong, packed into just one paragraph.
For starters: “thunderf00t’s personal experience” does not equal “accurate statistics on the frequency of sexual harassment at atheist/ skeptical conferences.”
This is one of the reasons many people think reporting procedures are a crucial part of a conference’s code of conduct. Organizations need to know how often these incidents happen, so they know how serious a problem it is and can take appropriate action. There is actually some data on how common harassment is at atheist/ skeptical conferences — and it’s not trivial. It’s not happening every second of every day, but it’s more common than many people think, and it’s almost certainly under-reported. (And my guess would be that it’s even more under-reported to thunderf00t: given his evident lack of sympathy or concern about this issue, he’s pretty much the last person I’d talk to about being harassed.)
Second: So what if it only affects a minority of participants? Assault only affects a very significant minority of the population. Should we therefore not have rules against assault?
This point literally makes no sense. Yes, most people at conferences are decent people who behave themselves and treat one another well. But sexual harassment does happen, and it’s not some wildly implausible one-in-a-billion event. At the last TAM, it happened at least twice in the course of the long weekend — and those are just the incidents that have been publicly reported and widely discussed. Why shouldn’t conferences have rules against it?
I’m mostly trying to avoid getting personal in this series. But I feel like I need to say this: It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, when thunderf00t says that sexual harassment “affects only a very significant minority of attendees,” what he means is, “it doesn’t affect me — therefore, we can all ignore it.”
Third: It’s very possible that, from a harassment point of view, last year’s TAM was the cleanest TAM yet. Again, we don’t know, because we don’t have records. But assuming for the sake of argument that this is the case:
LAST YEAR’S TAM HAD A SEXUAL HARASSMENT POLICY IN PLACE, WHICH WAS HIGHLY PUBLICIZED AND DISSEMINATED TO ALL PARTICIPANTS.
If the battle against sexual harassment at conferences is indeed being won, why would you argue so vehemently against what is very likely one of the key elements in that victory?
Fourth: Where does this idea come from that creating a code of conduct is some huge drain on our organizations’ resources? There are several templates for codes of conduct, readily available for conference organizers to either adopt as is or to adapt and modify for their own needs. It’s standard procedure at most professional conferences to have these codes of conduct, and it’s really not that hard to create. And it’s a whole lot less hard than doing the damage control, and facing the possible legal repercussions, if a serious incident of harassment does happen and the organization didn’t have a policy in place to prevent it and/or respond to it.
And fifth — and finally for today — regarding the attention of the online community, and whether we’re spending too much time and attention on all this:
This could have been, and IMO should have been, a fairly short conversation in our community. Here’s how it could have played out, IMO should have played out, was beginning to play out before it got derailed: At the Women in Secularism conference, Jen McCreight brought up the subject of sexual harassment at conferences. Some people started writing about it, saying, “Hey, yeah, this is a problem, what can we do about it? Having sexual harassment policies at our conferences would be a good start.” Some organizations that host conferences said, “Hey, yeah, that’s a good idea, let’s do that.”
It could have stopped there. Or rather, it could have moved into a conversation about what the details of those policies could be. Instead, it got derailed into a firestorm, in which the people raising the issue were blamed for making women feel unwelcome at conferences, and women who reported their experiences of harassment were accused of lying, and women discussing the issue were told that nobody would ever harass them anyway because they’re ugly, and codes of conduct at conferences were compared to the Taliban, and people discussing the issue were condemned both for not naming names and then for naming names, and harassment victims who didn’t report to the police were dismissed or treated as liars, and any form of harassment that fell short of criminal activity was trivialized, and women who reported sexual harassment were told that they simply had sexual exploits they later regretted, and people started attacking straw-man versions of these policies and claiming that having an anti-harassment policy meant requiring written consent in triplicate for any sexual interaction or friendly horseplay.
The reason this conversation is going on for so long is that we’re having to do Sexual Harassment 101. And that takes time.
As I said yesterday: The conversation about harassment at conferences is only part of an ongoing conversation we’ve been having for a long time about sexism and misogyny in the atheist/ skeptical communities, and making these communities safer and more welcoming for women. It is going on for longer than it needs to because there is a lot of stupid in our community that needs to be dismantled.
And as I said yesterday: If you think we shouldn’t be focusing so much attention on it, then why are you focusing attention on it? If you think we’re paying too much attention to sexual harassment at conferences, throwing gasoline on the flame war is not the way to go.