What a Strange Creature

In case you hadn’t already heard, D.J. Grothe apologized today…to Rebecca. Not to me. Not to Jen. Not to Ashley. Not to the women whose complaints of harassment and assault he decided were simply regrets about their “sexual exploits”. Not to the male bloggers whom he decided weren’t part of the problem when they wrote about harassment policies.

Then he said I hadn’t contacted any conference organizers about harassment policies. This will be news to some conference organizers. And he still hasn’t had anything to say about the request to put the JREF harassment policy somewhere more prominent than a year-old blog post.

I really said all I had to say right after the apology. I’m still just baffled by the whole thing. I was going to blog something else this afternoon, but…yeah.

Here. Have a platypus instead.

What a Strange Creature

23 thoughts on “What a Strange Creature

  1. 3

    Well, he’s *kind of* apologized to Ashley…but not for what HE actually did wrong. He’s very sorry that someone else harassed her, he’s sorry that she didn’t report “properly,” he’s sorry there was a misunderstanding, but I can’t seem to find anything that actually says he’s sorry about how he forgot the incident, sorry he stonewalled her, nor sorry she said she “didn’t think it was important enough” to report…

  2. 4

    It is apparently the job of the victim, and not the employees and organizers, to know the procedures for proper harassment reporting.

  3. 5

    It is apparently the job of the victim, and not the employees and organizers, to know the procedures for proper harassment reporting.

    Argh… you’re right, and this just enrages me. Over at Lousy Canuck we’ve started discussing how *the act of reporting* makes a victim vulnerable to abuse by the system.

    For what it’s worth, I just found out that RAINN centers have professional educators. Tomorrow I hope to find out if helping train event staff is something they could do.

  4. 9

    It’s driving me nuts. HE threw the guy out. How is that not a report? Is he a bot that gets his memory wiped after every conference?

  5. 10

    No, Pteryxx, thank you and everyone else who has been working to figure out how to deal with all of this. I know that sexual harassment and assault aren’t easy issues with easy answers; if they were, we wouldn’t be facing them now. But I think that we really can at least make a good swing at this if we just have the right information, resources, and implementation. There are places that have managed to make themselves more safe, and it isn’t hopeless.

  6. 11

    Erista: I may not have experience of harassment but I was abused, and I remember being incredulous that there were actually networks in place to help people like me, with folks I could trust and who would be outraged on my behalf. I offer you this; I am furious for you.

  7. CT

    @Cara: I look at it like a workplace incident. Often your boss will do something but that never gets reported officially because, well, it will make the boss look bad. That’s why it’s the best policy to just go to HR and skip the whole boss thing. If HR isn’t involved then it’s pretty unlikely there is going to be any kind of paper trail. So asking someone who works for JREF or TAM to “be the man” and get rid of someone, doesn’t necessarily mean there’ll be paper. In order for that to work, you have to find the person who fills out the paper itself. IMO, it’s pretty unlikely someone who is profiting off a convention is going to report anything, ever, unless that’s their job. Yes, a paycheck is profiting. Again, it’s like working for a big company.

    Having a harassment policy in place and people who will not only enforce it but fill out the paperwork will go a long way to getting rid of a lot of the bullying. Workplace bullying has gone down, IMO, a lot since implementation of policies and since the victim now knows they can legitimately go to HR and get heard.

  8. 13

    I’m not nearly as down on this “apology” as you and some others are… it’s unfortunate he’s still doing a little bit of messenger-shooting, and he should be rightfully criticized for that, but DJ at least seemed to indicate that he understands most of the issues and is committed to addressing them.

    I think that the right way to move forward — and your post “About That TAM Harassment Policy” right after this one is already moving in this direction, so kudos — is to keep the pressure on JREF to put their money with their mouth is and make sure that the policy/statement from last year’s TAM is maintained and strengthened into a full-blown anti-harassment policy and procedure.

    I wish DJ would stop hand-wringing about bloggers giving the wrong impression, because even if his criticism is valid — and I’m not saying it is — this is still the wrong way to respond. But I don’t know as we’re getting anywhere by focusing too much on that. Let’s hold DJ’s feet to the coals, but let’s do it by saying, “Okay, DJ, if you think people are painting an inaccurate picture of TAM, then prove it!, by making sure this year’s TAM has the such a comprehensive and effective anti-harassment policy that it will become the model for all skeptic/atheist conferences to come.”

  9. 14

    Also: What CT said.

    A lot of companies have already figured out this sexual harassment thing pretty well, and while the situation is still far from perfect, it goes a long way to preventing the most egregious offenses. Look at what industry is doing, and copy that. It won’t eliminate the subtler (and in many ways, more pernicious) forms of misogyny, but it will end the groping and most of the inappropriate propositioning.

  10. 15

    @13, well I for one am not particularly convinced by a declarative statement, “I understand issue X and I am committed to working toward solutions.” Anyone can say that, and he knows he has to, but that declaration means nothing when the rest of his blitheringly obtuse wall of text shows how badly he does not understand these issues.

  11. 16

    Anyone can say that, and he knows he has to, but that declaration means nothing when the rest of his blitheringly obtuse wall of text shows how badly he does not understand these issues.

    Fair enough… my only response to that is, if we take the approach of “Okay, DJ, put your money where your mouth is”, then either a) JREF permanently institutes a model anti-harassment policy for all their conferences and we are pleasantly surprised that DJ gets it after all, or b) he continues to waffle and you are proved right.

  12. 18


    I’m huge fan of FtB and as a result, have been exposed to a lot of discussion on feminism. Unsurprisingly (to me), I started out in a bubble of privilege (straight, white, male here) looking at all claims of sexism very skeptically and, yes, with condescension. I did have a feeling gnawing at me I was wrong. I’d been wrong about different races (straight white male from Mississippi), I’d been wrong about the queer community, I’d been wrong about Evolution, and I’d been wrong about atheism. This is a much truncated list but I think it illustrates where I started, where I am, and who I’m trying to be.

    So I’ve purposefully been chipping away at my privilege bubble.

    Never, however, have I met a community where there is such little patience left. I’ve met so many people whose patience with me helped make me the person I am today. I’m naturally a team guy who gets along with everybody. I try to see the good in people and I try to empathize in order to see where someone is coming from.

    DJ seems to be trying to reach out an olive branch, and instead of a moment of appreciation from any big names on this blog, it is pure uncut repudiation. Maybe DJ is just being slick and political, attempting to merely fix a PR problem and put the genie back in the bottle. Still, no benefit of the doubt for a guy who has a history of doing the right thing?

    You can also argue that women (or any non-privileged group) have no obligation to be patient or anyone’s teacher. This is true, but if it is the case I would suggest giving up all pretense of advocating for change instead of ranting for catharsis.

    To close this out, I’ve never met a group of people whose points of fact I agree with and whose core aims I support, yet I can’t imagine having a conversation with. I’d be afraid to say something dumb, and if I did how there would be no forgiveness until I’d given the proper apology. Your world is just too harsh and unforgiving for a polite southern boy like me.

    — JohnS

  13. 19

    John, I appreciate that this isn’t an easy place to be right now. There are very good reasons that patience is gone, however. The last year couldn’t have been designed much better to eat up patience. You may not have seen it, but it happened. Nor has D.J. stayed out of that, so you might want to be aware that there is history here that you probably haven’t seen.

  14. 20

    Thx for the response Stephanie. You’re right, before I was brought here by Pharyngula / Dispatches from the Culture Wars I’d had no exposure to feminist thinking at all. If forced to guess I would say I’ve only been reading feminist articles and postings for about 6 months.

    BTW I don’t want to be a “concern troll” telling women to be thankful for what they’re offered. The criticisms of yours and of Rebecca’s in regards to DJ’s apology seem fair upon first read. I have no idea why DJ hasn’t updated and published (or at least announced) an anti-harassment policy as part of a new comprehensive plan to reassure potential women conference attendees and speakers.

    I do have one question about a harassment policy, though. DJ repeatedly implores victims to report harassing activity so that it can be recorded and dealt with swiftly. Many feminists have said this puts an obligation on a victim (victim-blaming). While I can’t help but agree with the conclusion that a person does not gain an obligation upon being assaulted, what is the proper solution? How do conferences with such an imbalance of men to women deal with this problem?

    Would one solution in my head would be to have a larger and clearly marked security presence. Big people in shirts marked “SECURITY” tend to make the average jerk-inclined person check their behavior. Security personnel also act as a beacon of safety if someone is feeling pressured / threatened. At least, that’s the theory.

    — John S

  15. 21

    Actually, the most effective con security I’ve ever seen provided was by people in Hawaiian shirts. 🙂 Talking about the difficulty of reporting isn’t about saying that victims will never report, though. It’s about talking about the fact that procedures have to be designed with victims in mind. They have to be made to lower the barriers to reporting as much as possible.

  16. 22

    I’m thinking about that, “lowering the barriers”. That really requires a culture change. There are a lot of guys (like me) out there who are basically decent but really blinded by their privilege. I guess what we need is to inculcate a culture where that type of behavior is not tolerated and is immediately confronted by anyone within earshot.

    — JohnS

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