Here’s Part 4 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.
Here’s today’s wrong — and I think this really cuts to the heart of the matter.
*THIS REALLY ISN’T A BIG PROBLEM*
Straight shooter…. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em…. and this is my strategic assessment of the extent of the problem.
… and such problems can of course be dealt with quickly and discretely without spoiling the fun for everyone else (the modus operandi of most nightclubs).
So why the 50% drop in female attendance at TAM?
Well like most things its likely to be a mix of factors, but I can tell you there is a reason why nightclubs typically advertise themselves with a little subtext in the bottom left hand corner saying ‘management reserves the right to refuse admission’ and do not advertise themselves as:
(image with text reading, “PULSAR NIGHTCLUB. SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS ENDEMIC HERE SUCH THAT WE REALLY NEED A POLICY AND TO POLICE IT. see three page legal document at entry stating permitted and non-permitted behavior. now with DANCING!”
There’s a reason why nightclubs don’t advertise themselves like this
1) The level of the warning suggests the issue is far more problematic than it is in reality. I’ve heard talks at such conferences (from prominent activists in the community) that literally suggest that to merely turn up at such talks will get you rape threats etc etc. (let me be honest, repeatedly publicizing rape threats from a troll simply shows a crass lack of personal judgment and an immaturity at dealing with the interwebs, rather than a secular community ridden with men looking to rape women at conferences). Put simply the environment is widely being unrealistically portrayed as more hostile than it actually is. If your goal is to encourage women to attend such events, highlighting troll comments as representative of the conduct at such conferences is both willfully reckless and counterproductive to such a cause. Indeed it’s kind of self evident. If these threats had even the remotest air of credibility, the ONLY appropriate course of action is to simply report the matter to the FBI and take it to its logical conclusion, and then drag their legally beaten carcass around the walls of Troy… you get the idea. (and yeah, it’s what I would have done in the blink of an eye had I found such threats credible).
(image reading on the left, “TALKING ABOUT SEXISM IS NOT THE PROBLEM. SEXISM IS THE PROBLEM.” reading on the right, “SCREAMING FIRE WHEN THERE ISN’T ONE IS NOT THE PROBLEM. FIRES ARE THE PROBLEM.”)
Left ‘Copyrighted’ Amy Roth ‘logic’, Right, Why Amy Roth should spend more time thinking and less worrying about copyright.
-Put simply, YES talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment.
Wow. Where to begin.
Let’s start with the idea that having a code of conduct at a conference will make the conference less inviting, and less fun.
The question that immediately leaps to mind is, “Fun for whom?”
Listen to the number of women in this conversation saying, “We want well-publicized sexual harassment policies at conferences.” Listen to the number of women saying, “We will feel more welcomed, more comfortable, safer, happier, more listened to, more part of this community, more able to participate freely and have fun, if conferences have these policies.” It’s a lot.
And look at the code of conduct at the recent OpenSF polyamory conference in San Francisco — a very strong code of conduct, and one that’s been taken as a template by at least one atheist organization. And look at the comment conversation about it, among people who participate in the polyamory, kinky, and other sex-focused communities… who are saying that plenty of people managed to flirt and hook up at this conference, and at similar sex events with strong codes of conduct. Listen to what those people are saying: Having a clear code of conduct doesn’t make an event less fun. It makes it more fun, for more people.
So when thunderf00t says that having a well-publicized code of conduct, with clear rules against sexual harassment and clearly stated consequences if these rules are violated, makes a conference less fun, I have to ask, “Less fun for whom?” (I will leave speculation on the answer as an exercise for the reader.)
So now, let’s look the idea that having a code of conduct banning certain behaviors at a conference will give people the impression that these behaviors are “endemic,” and will scare people off from the conference.
Let me make an analogy. If I’m traveling, and I’m thinking about visiting a country, and I find out that this country doesn’t have laws against theft… I’m not going to assume, “Oh, this must be a very ethical country where theft never happens.” I’m going to assume the opposite. I know that theft happens almost universally, in any human culture where it’s possible. I’m going to assume instead that they don’t give a shit about theft. I’m going to assume that this country is pretty much lawless, and that nobody will be looking out for my property but me. And I’m a lot less likely to go to that country. I won’t feel safe there. I’m a lot more likely to go to the country that has clearly stated laws against theft, and clearly stated consequences if you violate those laws, and a law enforcement structure that’s willing and able to enforce those laws.
This idea that having clearly-stated rules against a common bad behavior makes people more scared rather than less? This is one of the most ridiculous ideas I’ve ever heard. And I’m the person who heard the argument from tigers.
I think thunderf00t himself may even understand this. Because he had to absurdly overstate the codes of conduct being advocated in order to oppose them. Let me state this very clearly: I’ve been following these conversations about codes of conduct pretty closely. And I have not seen a single person propose that these codes of conduct should include an announcement that “SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS ENDEMIC HERE.” I have not seen a single person propose that these codes of conduct, as thunderf00t suggested they did in a follow-up post, the requirement that anyone initiating physical contact at a bar must get written permission from the conference first. Having a code of conduct does not state either of these — explicitly, or implicitly. It states, “We know that sexual harassment sometimes happens, it happens more than many people think — and we don’t want it to happen here, so here’s our rule against it, and here are the consequences if it happens.” It states, “If you want to have physical contact with someone at this conference, you have to get permission — not from the conference, but from the person you want to touch.” This level of warning seems entirely appropriate to the reality of the problem. The only way to see it as an over-reaction is to deny the seriousness of the problem in the first place.
Which brings me to some of the ugliest parts of this very ugly post. I repeat from above:
Put simply the environment is widely being unrealistically portrayed as more hostile than it actually is.
“SCREAMING FIRE WHEN THERE ISN’T ONE IS NOT THE PROBLEM. FIRES ARE THE PROBLEM.”
Please note the sneaky inclusion of “where there isn’t one” into the above.
And please note the not-so-sneaky, completely open, utterly shameless trivialization of the fact that women get harassed at conferences, and the extent of the problem.
Has thunderf00t been reading the conversations about this? Has he been reading the things women are saying happen to them at conferences? This is a problem. It doesn’t happen every second of every day of every conference — but it happens a distressing amount. It happens more than most people think, because it’s almost certainly under-reported.
And it is not up to thunderf00t to decide, unilaterally, that because he personally hasn’t seen or experienced much sexual harassment at conferences — even though he actually says he has, and completely contradicts himself on this point — therefore women should stop complaining about it, and should not expect conference organizers to take action about it.
It is very hard to speak out about sexual harassment. People who report sexual harassment routinely get ignored, dismissed, trivialized, treated as liars, and/or blamed for their harassment. The fact that people are finally speaking out about this, and are expecting conference organizers to give enough of a shit about them to do something about it… this is awesome. And when you say that we’re “screaming fire when there isn’t one,” you are making yourself part of the problem. You are telling people who are on fire that there is no fire, and that all their screaming about it and saying “Where the fuck are the firefighters?” is ruining everyone else’s fun. You are allying yourself with the harassers.
Please, for the sweet love of Loki and all the non-existent gods, knock it off.
Oh, and as I said yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that: If you think we shouldn’t be focusing so much attention on this issue, 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.
Note to readers: Some commenters have expressed concern that thunderf00t is continuing to post further posts on this subject, and that I’m going to have to keep writing about this for eternity if I’m going to keep up. Please rest assured: I’m not going to do that. I’m going to finish up dismantling this particular post tomorrow, and I may or may not take a quick look at one or two other pieces by him, and then I’m going to move on. This has been educational, and some people have found it useful, but I don’t have any intention of turning this blog into the “everything that’s wrong with thunderf00t” show.