Here’s Part 3 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 pieces of wrong:
Now this is not to say that conferences are obsolete (they clearly still have functional roles to play), or that sexual harassment isn’t a bad thing. Sure it exists, I’ve seen it, although it seems to me that such acts overwhelming happen in the bars outside the conference.
So what? What’s your point? At many/ most conferences, hanging out in the bar outside the meeting room where the talks and panels are held, after the talks and panels are over, is a major part of the conference. In fact, at many conferences, after-hours bar time is organized by the conference, and is on the program.
I’ve seen some of this first hand, and was happy to help try to resolve the matter in an appropriate and mature fashion.
So what? What’s your point? If harassment happens at a conference that’s serious enough to warrant unofficial intervention by other conference attendees, doesn’t that indicate that it’s serious enough to warrant official intervention by conference organizers?
If I’m being harassed in a bar at a conference, I don’t want to have to depend on the kindness of strangers. I don’t know whether other folks in the bar are going to support me. If they do, I don’t know whether the folks supporting me are genuine allies, white-knight wannabes, jackalopes spoiling for an excuse for a fight, or what. If they are genuine allies, I don’t know if they have the knowledge or experience or ability to help me handle the situation — and I don’t want to put them in that position anyway. It’s not their job. They’re there to enjoy the conference, too. If I’m being harassed, I want to be able to turn to conference staff or volunteers, who have been trained in how to deal with these kinds of situations, and who have the authority to act. And I want the people attending the conference to know ahead of time that harassment won’t be tolerated.
Also, if this happens often enough that you remember it overwhelmingly happening in the bars… doesn’t that contradict your assertion (dismantled yesterday) that this hardly ever happens, and isn’t an important issue?
My personal estimate would be, of the things that aren’t just people being social clutzs, something like 1 guy in 100-1000 (and maybe the odd girl too!) causes almost all of the problems.
So what? What’s your point? I have no idea if your “statistics I just made up based on my personal experience and my own cognitive biases” bears any relationship with reality. But yes, for the record, I do agree that most people at conferences are generally well-behaved, and incidents of harassment are disproportionately caused by a handful of perpetrators. So what? Don’t we want those perpetrators warned that their behavior isn’t acceptable? Don’t we want them stopped if they do it anyway? Don’t we want them evicted from conferences if they do it egregiously or persistently? What possible difference does that make to the conversation?
My straw poll estimate from half a dozen such meetings is that the ‘harassment’ that goes on in the bars at such meetings is little different from that you would find in practically any other bar in the country.
So what? What’s your point? Nobody is saying that harassment is worse at atheist/ skeptical conferences than it is in the world at large. That point has been discussed and eviscerated ad nauseum in the conversations on this topic. We are saying that harassment is a problem in the world at large… and the world at large has found that having well-publicized codes of conduct at events is a good way to decrease the problem and to manage it when it does happen. (Codes of conduct are standard at most professional and political conferences.) We’re not saying, “Our corner of the world is so much worse than the rest of the world.” We’re saying, “This happens in our corner of the world — and in our corner, we have the power to do something about it.”
Further a female friend of mine who repeatedly attends many such events has informed me that the most recent TAM was the best ever in this fashion.
So what? What’s your point? “My friend’s personal assessment” does not equal “accurate statistics on the frequency of sexual harassment at TAM 9 compared to previous TAMs.” I don’t know if harassment incidents have actually decreased at TAM. If TAM had been keeping records of these incidents, we might have a better idea of whether that’s true. As I said yesterday: 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.
But even assuming that your friend is right, and sexual harassment has gone down at TAM… how does that prove your point? I’ll say again what I said yesterday: LAST YEAR’S TAM HAD A SEXUAL HARASSMENT POLICY IN PLACE, WHICH WAS HIGHLY PUBLICIZED AND DISSEMINATED TO ALL PARTICIPANTS. This isn’t an argument for your position. It’s an argument for mine: namely, that having a well-publicized sexual harassment policy at a conference can play an important part in decreasing how often harassment happens.
And I would also like to point out, once again: The fact that your female friend was even talking about how often harassment happens at conferences in general and at TAM in particular… doesn’t that contradict your assertion that this hardly ever happens, and is a non-issue?
I’m tempted to go on… but the next bit is the really meaty bit, the bit that really cuts to the heart of the matter, and I want to give it its own post. So you’ll have to wait for that until tomorrow.