What Did D.J. Apologize For?

Today I would normally post my next installment in the dialog James Croft and I are having. James has very graciously allowed me to beg off for this week.

When D.J. Grothe posted his apology yesterday, I posted a prompt response. I was then taken to task for responding only to the negative in D.J.’s statement. I feel perfectly entitled to have a personal, emotional response, having been blamed and mischaracterized. However, I do agree that there is value in a more detailed response.

Presented below the fold, because the original, before I add any comment, is over 1,500 words long.

Rebecca: Sorry for not responding to this sooner; I was flying much of the day Friday and got to the hotel late, and Saturday was busy with skeptic events in the D.C. area.

First, let me say how sincerely and deeply regretful I am that I blamed you as the messenger. No woman – no person – should ever be blamed for being a victim or for speaking out about sexism or any social problem.

This is a good, strong statement about not laying blame where it doesn’t belong. That’s good. We could use more of that in these discussions. Too many people are trying to use D.J.’s original statements both to argue that talking about the problem is part of the problem and to tell Rebecca that she needs to stop being “dramatic” about things. It’s more than time that both of those stop.

I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

This is more problematic. How were those statements intended to be construed? There were multiple statements and requests for clarification, and the message that came through all of them was that “irresponsible” talk about the problems of harassment in the community and creating solutions to those problems is what led to fewer women signing up for TAM this year. Nor were there any other reasons posited.

I appreciate that D.J. regrets this now, but what was he trying to do in the first place?

I should also say that I believe I understand why there has been so much vituperation, anger and emption surrounding these issues: we want to protect others from harm (indeed, this is a central motivation in skepticism) and if we think people are being harmed, it angers us.

This is not nearly this impersonal an issue for most of us talking about it. Yes, some of our anger is in sympathy with others whom, for the record, we do not merely “think” are being harmed–we’ve been told and have no reason to doubt it. Some of our anger, however, is because this happens to us. Over the last year of talking about all of this, well, everyone should know what has happened to Rebecca. She’s hardly the only one. I had people start researching me and posting details of my employment over what I said.

Some of our anger is over what happens to people who are being harmed, yes. The rest of it is because the people who should be stepping up to ask what they can do to help professionalize this movement and make it accommodating to more people are instead turning around and fighting us. They are so invested in something–peace at all costs, appearances, the status quo–that they are making the inevitable take much longer. And that leaves all of us vulnerable to attack for longer as well.

I hope that we may increasingly refocus that anger toward working together on solutions to these problems.

That anger has been focused, and it has been getting results. If you wish to channel your own anger toward those results, that would be quite welcome.

I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements, that any reports of harassment or assault at atheist and skeptics events need to be taken seriously and recorded, and acted on effectively, and that those who make reports of such harassment shouldn’t ever be blamed for such. And I am mortified to find out that you have been “groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways,” etc. I had absolutely no idea. It disgusts me and makes me angry to hear it. I assure you that if any such offenses at TAM were reported, the offender or offenders would have been removed from TAM, and/or law enforcement called. I think it is very important that such incidents are reported to security or conference organizers or law enforcement, and that this is the most effective response.

I agree with this generally. Reporting is the only way we will be able to stop giving the offenders a playground within our movements. However, reporting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Organizations have to actively create an environment that is friendly to reporting. As Ophelia points out, reporting comes with costs to the reporter; they have to work to remove those costs. Harassment is part of the background noise of women’s lives; as Pteryxx points out, organizations have to be specific about the behavior you want reported. As I’ve pointed out, they have to have people prepared to take the sort of reports that will get at any harassing behavior that has occurred. Organizations have to do more than hope for reports if they want them.

I know that the atheist and skeptics communities have had serious problems when it comes to women’s issues, and this is something I have personally worked to combat over the last decade and a half I’ve been involved, including by making better hiring and programming decisions when it was within my power to do so. One way we worked to combat problems was by publishing a code of conduct for our particular event last year (http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/jref-news/1354-with-tam-right-around-the-corner-some-important-announcements.html).

This is good. I have asked for clarification that a harassment policy will apply this year as well.

Other ways include focusing on these topics on the program: a few years ago, I asked you to moderate a panel on women in skepticism and also run a workshop on related issues, for which JREF was grateful. And we have grown in the direction now of TAM having the highest number and percentage of women speakers at any major skeptics’ conference (50% solo speakers last year were women).

These are good. The success of these behaviors was seen in the attendance figures from last year’s event.

When we ran reports this year and discovered that while 40% of attendees at TAM 2011 were women, but that at the time I made my initial comments in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook wall about these issues, only 18% of TAM 2012 registrants were women, we were deeply concerned. That Facebook wall comment on a friend’s wall was partially quoted and blogged and reblogged a lot last week, and I think this discussion is important, especially if it helps improve the situation at atheist and skeptics meetings – which is our common goal.

I’m glad D.J. think it’s important. I’m quite concerned, however, that he has tried to take the discussion back underground. People considering attending TAM deserve access to these kinds of discussions every bit as much as an extended group of friends on Facebook do. People who don’t want to go to TAM should have a space to speak up and be heard if we want data on the situation.

My concern was that the message going to women who are not already familiar with the skeptics movement and TAM in particular be balanced.

Those messages are already balanced. I can’t think of a single person who writes about these problems who doesn’t also write and/or tweet enthusiastically about the events they participate in. Skepchick sends women to TAM with grants that are widely promoted. The positive aspects of events in these movements in general, and TAM specifically, are hardly ignored.

I do not deny that there is a problem with sexism at atheist or skeptics conferences, nor any of the accounts blogged about in general terms by women who have attended TAM or similar kinds of events, but I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women.

What is that great effort? That sounds snarky, but it’s a serious question. Most of the women I know of who go to TAM go because James Randi is a personal hero and their gateway into skepticism. Randi himself gets the credit for that, I think. Others go because they’re already involved in skepticism and TAM is the big professional meeting in their field.

Still others, a lot of others, go because of the amazing women involved in and peripheral to the event. JREF has certainly invited many of those women, but I don’t think anyone wants to claim that required a great effort.

Nor have I seen great effort put into making women safe at TAM. Plenty of stories attest to the fact that TAM hasn’t been “safe” in sense that women felt they had official recourse when approached or touched inappropriately. To claim otherwise doesn’t fit the data we have at the moment. Last year’s policy was an admirable start to changing the situation, but I think most of the effort on this is yet to come.

I and the rest of the JREF team are passionately invested in skeptic outreach to diverse communities. Skepticism is for everyone, not just privileged straight old white men.

Good. Please keep repeating that, particularly in venues where the opposite is being said. Far too many of them exist, including in JREF’s own message boards.

My sharing survey data and other data from last year’s TAM was an attempt to suggest that despite many blog posts and other public messaging focused on how unsafe and unwelcoming atheist or skeptics events may be for women, the data suggest we have at least been partially successful in making TAM safe and welcoming for women.

I think we’ve already covered both parts of this particular message.

If this data is wrong, due to underreporting, then I think we should work together to correct that.

There isn’t really any room left for “if” here. It’s time to stop referring to this data except in the past tense.

(Unfortunately, the atheist movement has almost a universally bad reputation for being bad to women. Just a couple days ago on a popular non-movement website there was advice for readers about how not to be “creepy” at atheist conventions: http://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/the-ten-commandments-of-flirting-or-how-to-not-be-creepy-at-atheist-conventions).

Adam’s a bit surprised to not be considered part of the movement. I’m surprised as well, as he’s been part of the discussions here on this topic.

Talking about sexism isn’t the problem, sexism is the problem — I completely agree.


But when trying to solve the problem, I believe reporting instances of being groped or grabbed (these may be criminal acts) to be the most effective way to help organizers make sure events are safe for everyone.

We’ve already gone over this. Again, reporting does not happen in a vacuum.

This week, there were over twenty blog posts about TAM specifically, many containing misinformation.

Here are the blog posts from this network on the topic:

I haven’t been informed of any misinformation in any of my posts. I’d like to be told if there is any. These things should be reported. Also, to the extent there is misinformation, this is a very strong argument for JREF getting out in front of this with official communications.

Many commenters on these blogs, mostly on one blog network, appear to believe that going to TAM or similar events in the skeptics or atheist world means they will be assaulted, harassed, or worse.

I’ve been reading those threads, particularly at that (this) one blog network (the name is Freethought Blogs), and that’s not at all what I’ve seen. If D.J. has seen otherwise, I would like a pointer to that discussion.

What I have seen is people being very realistic about the fact that, where harassment is not actively discouraged, it will occur. It won’t happen to everyone. It won’t happen every time. But it will happen. If someone wants to have a serious discussion about harassment concerns, it’s important to recognize the distinction between this simple realization and the deterministic idea that D.J. is presenting here. I hope he gets that distinction soon.

Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed, and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders.

Again, D.J. is confused about the distinction between an atmosphere and policies that don’t stop harassment and events that constitute nothing but harassment. The latter is a gross caricature of anything anyone has said on the topic.

Many solutions were proposed in these blog posts, even as no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging which I believe has the paradoxical and opposite effect of making our movements seem less welcoming to women than they are. (I concede that blogging may come more naturally to some folks than direct dialogue, or that vague public messaging about problems may feel safer than reporting incidents to law enforcement.)

The concession is sweet and all, but this is flat out wrong. I’ve been talking to organizations. Rebecca has been talking to organizations. Jen has been talking to organizations. Kim Jones talked to JREF. The response she received wasn’t exemplary, but D.J. should know about it. JREF is a very small organization.

And here D.J. started blaming people “for speaking out about sexism or any social problem” again. This is completely unacceptable, even by his own terms. He knows this is wrong. He said this is wrong. He apologized–for being able to be construed to have done this–and then he did it again.

Not only that, but he did this after having been repeatedly told in those comment threads he said he was reading:

  1. Talking about sexism is not the problem.
  2. Women are already aware of the problems of harassment in all aspects of their lives.
  3. Some of them have actually been harassed within the movement.
  4. Getting harassment policies in place makes the movement safer.
  5. The thing that does make the movement seem less welcoming is the prevalence of misogynist bloggers, commenters, Redditors, and forum threads.

That’s what people are saying. I would think someone dedicated to making the movement more welcoming to women would pay attention to this information so he can focus his efforts on the real problems.

Rebecca, you are a talented, funny, influential skeptic who has introduced skepticism to new audiences.

Agreed. 100%.

I have always admired you for that in particular. Indeed, that is why I have featured you so prominently at TAM in the past. (And I believe that years before I came to lead the JREF, TAM was the first conference you ever spoke at.) You have contributed a lot to our communities of reason over the last few years. That’s why I regret not only how you have been treated over the last year especially, but how issues surrounding feminism in atheism and allied movements — issues for which in some ways you have become the standard bearer — have grown so divisive, with reprehensible behavior on all sides. Invective and enemy-list making. Bullying. Dishonest mischaracterizations.

I’d sincerely hope D.J. would regret any woman being treated the same way. Using all of that as a lead in to tell Rebecca that her “side” is as bad as the people that have been harassing her and others is reprehensible, however.

If anyone thinks these things are in any way balanced between the people who have been harassing Rebecca–writing entire blogs dedicated to talking about her and the people who work with her, demanding that she be removed from The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, sending her threats–and the people who have expressed disgust with this behavior, they’ve got some work to do in critical thinking. And D.J. is well aware that the equivalence he’s suggesting is, at best, controversial.

Presenting that kind of equivalence as part of an apology to Rebecca is insulting.

I have to remain optimistic that these are growing pains in our fledgling movements and that civility and honest disagreement over best strategies will eventually win out. People of good will may disagree on which strategies are best to address serious problems, and should be able to do so without being vilified. I believe we need more good will, and less us vs. them thinking, in atheism and skepticism.

I would like to see this as well. That’s part of the reason that D.J.’s statements, for which this is supposed to be some sort of apology, have created the reaction that they have. See the part way up above where I discuss anger.

Before I close, an important correction to a misstatement of fact in your post: no one reported to JREF staff or hotel staff any incident of assault or sexual harassment at our speakers reception last year, and no JREF staff were told about nor knew about any such incident until last week. In fact, someone was removed from the speaker reception because he wasn’t permitted to be there, and was apparently drunk. In her blog post and in further comments, Ashley says she didn’t feel like she needed to personally report the alleged harassment to JREF staff or hotel staff at the time because she thought someone else reported it, and that it had been taken care of. Unfortunately, neither she nor anyone else mentioned the incident of sexual harassment in one of the TAM attendee surveys, nor made any other report of it at the time. I find this regrettable, because without knowing about it, we (JREF, hotel security, etc.) were not able to do anything about it.

As has been mentioned in many places, well before this apology was made, it is a weakness of the reporting procedures last year at TAM that this was not classified as sexual harassment. It’s an understandable weakness, as no such policy had been put in place before. It is still a weakness of which D.J. was made aware. Insisting on an account of events that doesn’t recognize that weakness in what is supposed to be an apology is also insulting.

Nor does it address Rebecca’s objections to D.J.’s behavior. Her concerns were that D.J. was gaslighting Ashley, trying to convince her that her account of what had happened to her was unreliable in order to protect the reputations of JREF and TAM. Whatever D.J. says here, Ashley feels the characterization is reasonable.

Let me be clear: If I or any of the other TAM staff or hotel staff would have known that someone (or possibly more than one person) had been sexually harassed, or assaulted or otherwise accosted at our speakers reception, we would have contacted security and removed the offender immediately from TAM, and/or called law enforcement. As it turns out, someone was just removed from the speakers reception because he didn’t belong there and seemed drunk. A complaint has since been reported and recorded (last week), and appropriate action will be taken to make sure the person won’t be able to assault or sexually harass again at one of our events.

It’s good that further action has been taken to address this specific event. I would also like to see action taken for the future that addresses that weakness in policy.

In light of this new information JREF received this week, we can no longer say that there were no reports of sexual harassment at the event last year. This only motivates us to redouble our efforts to create a space where everyone is safe and welcome, so that we can focus on what brings us together at these events in the first place.

And that’s the end of the apology, such as it is. Notice what it doesn’t walk back. It still insists what he started out saying, that female bloggers are “making our movements seem less welcoming to women”. Notice that he still doesn’t talk about the male bloggers who are also talking about the problems.

Notice that he still doesn’t even come close to addressing his statement on the discussion of harassers among high-profile speakers in the movement.

So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.

D.J.’s statements that remain unaddressed are what people are up in arms about. This isn’t a personal matter between D.J. and Rebecca, and it’s insulting for him to treat it as one. It’s an insult to the bloggers he wagged his finger at. It’s an insult to the ones he left out who are also working on this. It’s an insult to the person whose experience of harassment at TAM he is trying to manage the perception of. It’s an insult to the women he’s accusing of regretting “sexual exploits”. It’s an insult to everyone who has taken the time to tell him what actually concerns them about the conference scene in general, and now, TAM in particular.

That’s why I walked away from this apology more angry than I went into it. 1,500 words in, and I still have no idea what D.J. is sorry for aside from choosing a woman with a high-profile blog as one of his targets when it came time to lay the blame for female registration at TAM being down. There are some nice sentiments, no specific actions being taken, and a lot more blame for the situation being laid anywhere but with the person who started all this–D.J.

That’s not going to (and demonstrably hasn’t at this point) increase anyone’s confidence in D.J., in JREF, or in TAM. It isn’t even, when it comes right down to it, much of an apology.

What Did D.J. Apologize For?

59 thoughts on “What Did D.J. Apologize For?

  1. 2

    Probably the biggest issue of all is there doesn’t seem to be any on-going engagement here from Grothe. The sort-of-apologetic essay was more of a one directional document dump to try to rebuild baseline public relations than anything else.

    It’s quite easy to figure out whether Grothe was sincere, and whether he’s learned anything. Does he do anything now to actually fix the (many) issues that were raised to him?

  2. RH

    As the general manager for a small bussiness I can think of a dozen ways this could have been handled without DJ and by extention thr TAM name/brand comming off looking even more sexist.
    While DJ may have his skills as a manager I would be forced to let him go after this kind of damage. He should know his words and actions represent TAM and his non-pollogy is unacceptable.

    My suggestions for TAM to show they are serious about this issue:
    1. Let DJ step down, or let him go. This is the strongest message that blaming the victim will NOT be tollarated. Anti-harrassment and a welcoming atmosphere start at the top.
    2. Accept you have a VERY serious problem and be prepared to expend funds to adress it.
    3. Fly a wide range of women out to a pre-confrence specifically about how to create a safe environment.
    4. LISTEN to them.
    5. Implement a strong anti-harassment policy, and train AL

  3. RH

    … stupid finingers…
    ALL your staff on the policy, reporting procedures, and escelation procedures.
    6. Follow the procedures.
    7. Have intervention wording and tracking in place for less severe problems.
    8. Follow up after the confrence (not in the exit questioneer).
    9. Hold another meeting to adress shortfalls.
    10. Follow through and work with the female sceptic community. Don’t ask particular speakers back, Ban problem participants, track ‘people to watch’.
    11. Coordinate with other events
    12. Be absolutely clear about the harrasment policy so all visitors know how to report innapropriate behavior.
    13. Take an active stance against those already harrassing women on the web by not giving them further opertunity at TAM.

  4. 5

    D.J.’s statements that remain unaddressed are what people are up in arms about. This isn’t a personal matter between D.J. and Rebecca, and it’s insulting for him to treat it as one. It’s an insult to the bloggers he wagged his finger at. It’s an insult to the ones he left out who are also working on this. It’s an insult to the person whose experience of harassment at TAM he is trying to manage the perception of. It’s an insult to the women he’s accusing of regretting “sexual exploits”. It’s an insult to everyone who has taken the time to tell him what actually concerns them about the conference scene in general, and now, TAM in particular.


    It’s also why all the “oh noes, you’re insulting DJ” concern trolling is really getting my back up.

  5. 6

    I think the biggest tell is that he is still not naming names or making reference to specific claims. I mean, fuck,

    Many commenters on these blogs, mostly on one blog network,

    Come on. Come. On. This is FTB. Anyone who’s been following the events damn well would know it’s a reference to FTB. And yet rather than be a straight, honest skeptic upholding the values that the JREF supposedly promotes, DJ continues pulling scare claims and dog whistles out of his rectal cavity in an attempt to say that his opposition is just as bad.

    Seems to me like DJ has been taking debate tips from Jonathan Haidt.

    It also makes me wonder in general about this “naming names” debacle. On the side of privilege-based harassment, I can understand being cautious with naming names. When I see DJ and ilk complaining about it? I see dog-whistlers attempting to defend their dog-whistling as not just equal, but better, by playing themselves off as all “nice” for “not naming names”.

  6. 7

    I find it uncanny how DJ only talks about TAM itself and doesn’t say a word about online harassment. Online harassment is where the biggest shitstorm is IMHO. If that wasn’t there there would have been far less blogging about sexism because it really would have been less of a problem.

    Given that he can completely ignore that portion of the atheist movement seriously calls doubt to anything he claims about TAM.

    And yes, I’m buying partially in his statement that blogging about this turns away women.
    But is it really that strange that women are voting with their feet about this?

  7. 8


    As I put up in my GrotheBot5000 meme,



  8. 9

    @Setár: Hey, hey, D.J. could be talking about any particular blogging network. Like he was six months ago, when “two people” (unnamed, of course) “who have been personally involved with one of the controversialist blogs” told him that “there [had] been explicit direction from that blog’s founder” to write “‘call-out’ posts against various people in skepticism for real or supposed sins.”

    We don’t know what blog he could be talking about (I certainly didn’t), but the important thing is that he has insiders feeding him clearly reliable information. We know it’s clearly reliable because D.J. is a prominent skeptic, and would never accept specious information or jump to unfounded just because it fit his preconceptions, or accept a conclusion based on flawed or incomplete data.

    Similarly, it’s likely that unnamed but clearly reliable women have written to him personally to say that they’re not attending TAM because irresponsible messaging from certain women bloggers has them a-scared. He’s basically said as much, and we know how reliable self-selected anecdotes are for drawing broad conclusions on which to base big public statements that risk alienating supporters, right?


  9. 10

    Excellent post. This is more than a response to Grothe, it is also the clearest, best crafted summation and explanation of concerns over this issue that I have seen. If people don’t “get it” after reading this, they never will.

  10. 12

    Your post here pretty much expresses my own problems with this “apology”. It sounds like a PR job more than anything else. I don’t at all get the feeling that DJ really gets what the problems are.

  11. CT

    Wow, DJ’s notpology sounds like a real piece of big corporate bullshit. Wag the dog, all that jazz. The more I read his stuff, the more he sounds like a big corporate asshole.

    I’m dying to meet him and find out. 🙂 You know, so we can exchange business cards…yeah.

  12. 14

    CT, I’m going to have to ask you to clarify what non-exchange-of-business-cards behavior you’re talking about here. There have been threats made in the last year over similar issues, you know.

  13. CT

    No, I didn’t know and I was being facetious. DJ sounds exactly like 98% of the men I work with and if it came down to it, I would like to meet him and find out if he’s as conflicted about that corporate mentality as those 98% are. The non-exchange of business cards was just a corporate joke. I’m corporate. He sounds corporate, of course we would exchange business cards. That’s what corporate people do. Kind of like bronies fist bump. I was stereotyping him. Probably shouldn’t have but I did.

    How exactly do you threaten someone with non-exchange of business cards? I mean, in the real world, not corporate world where that’s synonymous with a nose thumb.

  14. 16

    I didn’t think there was any threat there, but there are a number of people who would use any ambiguity (“I’d like to meet D.J. so I can do…something”) to argue that threats are being made. I prefer to not leave that sort of ambiguity for them to point at. Thanks for the clarification.

  15. CT

    too bad, thought you were going to tell me a great story about business cards as a threat. 🙂 Although, since I just got out of a stodgy meeting amongst the corporates(TM), I’m trying to imagine ways I could threaten people with not sharing my stulifying boring business card.

    “if you use that word again, I’m totally not sharing my business card with you”

    okay, not much of a threat.

  16. 18

    This isn’t a personal matter between D.J. and Rebecca, and it’s insulting for him to treat it as one. It’s an insult to the bloggers he wagged his finger at. It’s an insult to the ones he left out who are also working on this. It’s an insult to the person whose experience of harassment at TAM he is trying to manage the perception of. It’s an insult to the women he’s accusing of regretting “sexual exploits”. It’s an insult to everyone who has taken the time to tell him what actually concerns them about the conference scene in general, and now, TAM in particular.

    It’s an insult to one of the invited speakers at TAM in a few weeks, who wrote some of the blog posts he presumably had in mind and who is part of that evil blog network he passive-aggressively blamed without naming. It’s an insult, in short, to me.

    And he hasn’t even spoken to me. He hasn’t even answered the questions I asked on Rebecca’s thread or on his FB page or in my posts – and meanwhile I get Orac commenting at my place yesterday and saying “if you still go to TAM” – which looks like a not-very-veiled suggestion that I should decide not to go to TAM.

  17. CT

    OH yeah, forgot about that one. I guess the giving of business cards *can* be a threat. 🙂 I’m still unsure how the Non-sharing can be a threat tho.

    “If you look down my shirt one more time, I’m totally not giving you my business card”

  18. 21

    CT, the whole I-won’t-give-you-my-business-card! thing strikes me as a slightly grown-up version of “You can’t come to my birthday party!!”

    Was that a universal thing on playgrounds?? I’ve never seen it brought up in pop culture, but in my kindergarten/early gradeschool that was THE strongest disapprobation you could possibly give someone, the ultimate laying down of youngster LAW. It didn’t matter if your birthday was in March and you were arguing with someone in October, but if they were out of line, they were officially disinvited from your birthday party ON THE SPOT.

    Of course, I have no recollection if this actually held up, come the actual birthday–knowing kid’s memories at that age, I’m gonna have to guess not.

  19. 22

    Hey, good news everybody! Thanks to this sign that a friend of mine spotted at the bus stop this morning, I think all of the sexual harassment problems are solved!

    “Yous don’t even have to live in fear & terror of those lustfull men no more at all! ! !”

  20. 23

    Left Side Positive @21: while intent certainly isn’t magic, I think CT’s “not give him my business card” was intended more to register that you don’t want to make him a contact in your network than it was to suggest CT was going to do something else instead. At least, judging from the further clarifications. It’s a pretty weak-tea way of registering disapproval though — one you would miss if you weren’t in the business world. (I am adjunct to it as IT for a corporatey business; I don’t have cards; I have to explain that I don’t whenever someone gives me theirs.)

    Also: “disapprobation”. That explains my inability to disentangle “approbation” and “opprobrium” when I’m in a ranty and wordy mood. Heh.

    jamessweet@22: Oh that is priceless!

  21. 26

    @Jason, I wasn’t disagreeing with CT, I was just sharing in zir general amusement. I read zir posts as mocking DJ for coming off totally soulless and corporate and that judging by his buzzwordiness, he’d find the non-exchange of business cards would be momentous!!

    And yes, it does bring back fond memories of my schoolyard days!

    & I agree intent isn’t magic. Fuck, on this thread it hasn’t even been SCRUTABLE!!!

  22. CT

    @LeftSidePositive That’s exactly the way I view it “neener, you can’t have my business card cuz, so there”. The whole ritual can cause some internal laughter at times. But for the most part, business cards are freely given.

    @jamessweet lovely sign, too funny for words. Also, meat business cards? is that real?

  23. CT

    I feel like I need to apologize. This is a pretty serious post and I commented in a totally silly way.

    Although that pic of the meat business card was almost worth feeling like an ass.

  24. 31

    I think the meat business cards were real, but the website seems to have disappeared. Apparently — gasp! — business cards made of meat was not a sustainable business plan. Whodathunk!

  25. 33

    The cynic in me says the apology has much to do with skepchicks work on grants that directly go to bringing more women to TAM. Particularly the decision to support a different con in the future with their fundraising grants. Plenty of other people have been involved in this discussion, many with large audiences. Its only when money comes up that apologies start coming out. None of this means its true but its certainly a cynical explanation.

  26. 35

    @MichaelD: I have to admit that thought has crossed my mind as well. I don’t think he’s apologized to anyone else who he considered doing “irresponsible messaging” yet either.

    As to DJ’s response, as I said on the Skepchick site, if you’re writing an apology and it runs longer than a paragraph or two, you should really stop and wonder if you aren’t writing a justification for why you were right all along. He did that in the apology to Ashley Miller too, by the way.

  27. 36

    One of the issues is the constant deep analysis of anything written. No matter how much time you spend on writing something it is always possible for somebody else to read different things in to it.

    What you end up with is a never ending stream of blog posts, replies to blog posts, comments, tweets, etc.

    The reality is that the perfect reply is impossible. We are all people and so we read into words what we ourselves bring to the table. Our perceptions, our prejudices, our opinions. A little bit more restraint in judging people on their written words would then be helpful.

    The “leaders” in this skeptical movement, the Rebecca’s and the DJs, would then do us all a favour if they counted to ten before firing off a blog post and picked up the phone to talk to each other.

    I have hardly ever seen people work differences out through email, because it is so hard to do in writing. Get two people in a room or let them speak on a phone and usually they work out that either it was a misunderstanding or how they can resolve their differences.

    Unfortunately it will take time to reduce (will it ever totally go?) sexism. it seems to be that people like DJ are allies in this fight. Probably one who needs educating, but an ally for sure. Calling for his resignation seems to me counter productive.

  28. 37

    Nobody is asking for perfection, Mark. We’re asking for much simpler things: Not being attacked for working to make the movement safer, not having experiences of harassment and assault labeled dismissively as women’s “sexual exploits”, a commitment from JREF that there will be a harassment policy this year and going forward that accurately captures reports of harassment.

    How much perfection does that require?

  29. 38


    I am not arguing with any of those points. Unfortunately, being the bossin a company I am well aware of the importance of these policies. I am also aware that writing a policy is the easy part. Making it important and effective is not easy. It requires changing attitudes and that takes time.

    An event like TAM is actually not that easy. There are a number of events organised by JREF, there are events organised by other groups and there is a whole bunch of (drunken) socialising over a few days in the main hotel.

    Getting the whole thing right is actually not that easy. The policy is just a small step. Who is responsible when and where? To be honest the JREF is incredibly amateuristic in how they have handled this and are just lucky they have not been sued yet. This is clearly something that has been brewing for longer than just a year and still they get it wrong.

    The main points are easily listed, but once you start filling in the details you will see plenty of debate as to the wording and the best way to implement things. Obviously they should have been doing this ages ago.

    The other thing of course is that many men (me included) have never witnessed these incidents or experienced what it is like to be a victim of such sexism. It doesn’t mean not caring but it does mean that convincing everybody it is an issue will take time. Most men will be on side with this. Maybe they will not choose their words with sufficient care or come across differently from what they intended but educating and explaining will go a long way.

  30. 39


    The other thing of course is that many men (me included) have never witnessed these incidents or experienced what it is like to be a victim of such sexism. It doesn’t mean not caring but it does mean that convincing everybody it is an issue will take time.

    You may be on to something here. The only thing about it is that while you may think this is true, it isn’t really. Unless you are living as a hermit, you have witnessed countless incidents. You have seen women interrupted and talked over, and their ideas appropriated without attribution. You have seen women groped and leered at, you have heard women’s physical attributes talked about all the time. You have read countless comments about women on Freethought blogs which are mean, derogatory and contradictory.

    You have seen DJ dismiss women’s writing about being on the receiving end of harassment as “locker room banter”, primarily manufactured to get blog hits.

    However, you are not categorising these things that you have seen as an issue to be addressed. I’m asking you: why not? Why are these things so normal to you?

    Think for a moment about how the founding fathers managed to write that all men are created equal, even while they owned slaves. How Rhode Island was founded as a safe haven because freedom of religion was understood as the freedom to persecute those of another religion. If you are not on the receiving end of injustice, it is easy not to take note of what is right in front of your eyes.

    Just don’t tell me that you have not witnessed sexually-based injustice and harassment, because you have. You’ve just rationalised it.

  31. 40

    Yes. Kind of stupid to use the word never there. Apologies. You are right. The problem is that it largely accepted behaviour and that has to change. I am just trying to be honest and not claim to be holier than…

    So yes and also proving my earlier point that writing these comments, tweets, etc leads to this kind of communication. Were we to talk on the phone I am not sure that poor choice of words would have come out my side!

  32. 41

    Mark3700, I’ll just leave this here (again; sorry for spamming, Stephanie)

    Short version: contact your local rape crisis center and they’ll probably have free training sessions. Get your local group, event staff, bowling league or whatever to schedule one.

    I realize education isn’t going to solve the cultural problem overnight, either, but c’mon. FREE TRAINING. Any interested group should jump at that.


    Okay… I talked to my local rape crisis center (located through the RAINN hotline) about the education they provide. Your local center MAY provide similar services, gotta ask them.

    Their educators do sexual harassment and assault education training as a presentation format and Q&A session, usually 60 to 90 minutes long. Presenters will come to your group’s event or meeting place, days or evenings or weekends. This is a free service and summer is a good time to schedule as it’s not very busy.

    My contact says the presentations will cover the definitions of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, how to recognize suspect or dangerous situations, what an escalating situation looks like, the basics of how reporting should be handled, and bystander training in how to intervene as safely as possible. She says they have never dealt with training event staff before, but it shouldn’t be much different from their usual presentation except possibly in scale.

    She also said (which I’m overjoyed to hear) that they RUN INFORMATION TABLES AT EVENTS. That means, if your group can arrange for a educator to run a table, volunteers can have a professional mentor! The educator’s there to teach and answer questions, not to handle reporting, but still.

  33. 42

    Mark, now who’s asking for perfection? At this point, I’m asking for a commitment from D.J. on the policy. I understand there are things that need revising and it will take time to do that. But right now, we don’t have a commitment from D.J. that there will be a policy this year. I asked about this two days ago, and he still hasn’t said anything. That should be about as simple a step as there is.

  34. 43

    Thank you. We have had indeed people into my company to do some workshops on this and it was incredibly useful. It also sends a very strong signal to all involved that the leadership thinks this is important. It all starts there…

    I think coming back to the very valid point made to me earlier that what needs to happen is a cultural change. It is there, but it is so imbedded throughout society that many of us don’t even notice on a day to day basis. Even those of us who like to think we are part of the good guys….:)

  35. 44


    Completely agreed.

    They need to appoint somebody with management skills and run the place like a real organization/company. Separate out the activism/skepticism from the management. The whole thing is awful.


  36. 45

    An event like TAM is actually not that easy. There are a number of events organised by JREF, there are events organised by other groups and there is a whole bunch of (drunken) socialising over a few days in the main hotel.

    Ok I’m going to ask a really stupid naive clueless question here…but it’s beginning to dawn on me – way too late in the game – that I really don’t know anything about TAM in the first place. Is it basically just a party in Vegas like any other party in Vegas? If so, why are there all those boring sciencey talks attached?

    Seriously. I don’t get it. If it’s just a party in Vegas, why organize it around wonky subjects? If it’s about skepticism and science, why organize it around a party in Vegas?

    Isn’t this kind of a drastic disconnect?

    I mean, I wouldn’t go to a party in Vegas like any other party in Vegas and then be shocked shocked that the atmosphere was kind of sexist. I wouldn’t expect anything else (and wouldn’t in reality go to such a thing at all).

    Sorry to be so thick. I haven’t really grasped before that it was basically a party in Vegas.

  37. 46

    @Ophelia :

    I’m also starting to think that the perception of the event is more like a party than a serious affair, and this is one of the causes of the butt-hurt feelings over this issue. “You’re ruining all our fun!”

    JREF as an organization needs to figure out what it wants it character to be. It can have an exclusive club party atmosphere or it can take people’s concerns seriously, but it cannot do both.

  38. 47

    That’s what I’m thinking. I frankly had no clue that it was basically a party, and the fact that it is would indeed explain a lot of DJ’s er commentary about teh wicked feminists. If a Vegas-type party just is what it is then it seems kind of stupid to try to make it be not sexist…but then if it’s that, why is all the sciencey stuff attached?

    I wonder if this is the same kind of thinking that makes visits to strip clubs a “normal” part of doing business.

  39. 48

    TAM is a bit of everything. There’s a lot of sitting facing a stage on which people are talking, without much space for interacting without getting in the way of someone else’s ability to hear the speakers. Then there are Penn and Teller’s parties. Somewhere in between the two are things like the workshops, the SGU dinner, a quiz show event, and socializing in the restaurants downstairs, which are generally also bars because it’s in a casino.

  40. 49

    It might well be why the JREF hasn’t thought this through. They might very well take the attitude that whatever takes place during the day, during the conference program is their responsibility. However, anything that takes place in the evening is up to people and has nothing to do with TAM.

    How about the SGU dinner and the SGU live recording? Are those independent SGU events or part of the offical TAM? If SGU events does Rebecca have the harassment policy for those events? Not trying to be clever or sarcastic by the way…

    Are the Skepchick parties official events? Part of TAM? Or completely informal gatherings?

    There are some really huge and potentially scary liability issues here. Maybe it was never an issue when it was smaller in scale? or when there were only 5 lost women showing up?!

    Looks like things have developed faster than the organizing has.

  41. 50

    Conventions have always had associated social scenes, though – even completely professional ones such as the AAAS annual meeting have social outings and networking in the hotel bars. And, I’m sure, hookups happen.

    If the PURPOSE is to address harassment, protect victims and potential victims, and create a supportive atmosphere for women to speak, there’s no reason not to extend a code-of-conduct harassment policy over basically everything that involves event participants. If a private party trashes a hotel suite, for instance, the hotel darn well is going to come to *the event organizers* whose attendees were misbehaving.

    If the purpose is merely for organizers to avoid liability, then it’d make sense to disclaim responsibility for anything their attendees do that isn’t specifically under the organization’s direct control. And I spit upon that reasoning.

    Remember that social spaces of any sort are *already* prime grounds for acquaintance rape. Exempting the social gatherings from an event’s harassment policy basically allows that situation to go unaddressed.

  42. 51

    Sure. You have every right to spit upon that reasoning. It is however naive to think there is no potential problem here. Of course the hotel will come to the event organizers if there are troubles. The problem is, what if something happens at the SGU event?

    Speaking as an employer I can assure you there are two parts to get right here. One is the moral part. Take the responsibility and accountability and do what you can because it is the right thing to do.

    The second part is the annoying, boring part and the hardest to get right. I have sat through enough meetings with lawyers and liability insurance people to go on about that for hours… Put it all in writing. Decide where your responsibilities start and end. Where is there overlap with other organizations or companies? Where do your legal responsibilities start and end? How does you liability insurance company view your documents and policies?

    It is perfectly fine for activists to spit and shout. In fact, it is usually the activists that manage to really move things along. However, somewhere, in a grey meeting room, some people have to sit down and do the sausage making.

    Again, the fact that JREF has never done this (Apparently. Maybe in Area 51?) is appalling, irresponsible an beyond me.

  43. 52

    Mark7300: We’re still talking about small organizations, mostly volunteer, mostly nonprofit, overseeing events with voluntary participation. Even when harassment scandals happen in broad daylight (for example: Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis at the Hugos in 2006, see citation), public accountability happens WAY before lawsuits, if any. Also, for employers, sexual harassment falls under discrimination law and a lawsuit would have to rise to that standard.

    I just don’t think legal liability is a significant concern for the sort of events under discussion here, except that after this very public discussion, they could conceivably be sued for *refusing to adopt a harassment policy*. It’s certainly not a reason to ignore the very real and ongoing harassment and chilly climate that results.

    *caveat: again, IANAL (I am not a lawyer). I really think this sort of question could best be addressed by the crisis center professional educators mentioned above.


  44. 53

    You are right. Of course it is no reason not to have a policy. In fact the opposite. It is exactly the reason they should have a policy.

    I can absolutely assure that the size of the JREF or SGU means absolutely nothing. If you have a 1,000 or so people running around you need to get your act together.

    If the stories that Rebecca and others have blogged about the past week or so are true (and I don’t see why they would not be true) and the groping, fondling, harassing is really of such a scale as described than you better believe there is a real issue here of legal liability.

    You do not get a chilly climate because you adapt a well thought out and well constructed harassment policy that is properly implemented and enforced. The opposite is true. You get leadership and you provide clarity to all those attending. Clarity on what is acceptable, what measures are in place, how people can report incidents, you can measure and monitor and adjust based on data.

    Legal liability is not the key issue, but it is part of the solution. It is conceivable JREF and those attending have to accept that not all activities are covered by the JREF organization.

    I have to say that I go to lots of conferences for my work as does my wife for her work (never together anywhere). And neither of us have EVER been to conferences where there is apparently so much stuff going on that is clearly wrong and outside the boundaries of what is acceptable. There is a huge issue here and looking at the responses of Rebecca and others my guess is that this has been going on for some time without being as high profile as it is now.

    A good clearly written, well thought out policy and set of procedures that properly implemented will provide clarity to all. That is what is needed. That process is business like in many ways and the end result will be a better atmosphere for all.

  45. 54

    I also don’t know firsthand how legal liability works for *an event* because generally they are renting space from a hotel or conference center, or using campus space or a meeting room in a bar or some such. I expect there’s overlap between the organizers’ responsibility and the venue’s responsibility, included in the contract or price.

    It still seems like enacting a policy and training is the best possible response from a liability standpoint – wouldn’t a hotel *want* its renters to have a policy that discourages potential crimes on its premises?

    Mark7300, thanks for your observations. I saved them for reference for the next events I’m involved with.

  46. 55

    You are completely right that the whole “legal” thing should not be the focus. But in my experience the “legal” thing is an excellent tool that gets people to focus sometimes… 🙂

  47. 58

    Ophelia, to add to what others have said:

    “Officially” the TAM program is almost 0% party. It’s speeches, panels, Q&As, etc., with (optional, extra) workshops, and some live entertainment (magic shows or music — some of these are included in the core program, others are extra). There’s usually I think one “official” welcoming reception hosted by the JREF.

    But, this being a group of hundreds of (in some respects) like-minded individuals in Vegas, many of whom know each other already, there’s a whole series of social events that take place outside of the formal program. These are of varying degrees of formality. Penn & Teller host a party that supposedly isn’t an “official” JREF event but that is nonetheless listed on the schedule at the JREF’s site. Skepchick has hosted parties in the past. There have been Pharyngula meet-ups. And there are plenty of people on the JREF forum putting together lists of people who want to go to dinner or bowling or a particular show or other social activity. And of course plenty of TAM attendees just hanging out in the hotel bar.

    So it really depends. You can “do” TAM by showing up for the formal presentations and the one “official” reception (which is usually short enough and early enough in the evening that I don’t think it’s much of a party atmosphere), and I’m sure many people treat it that way. There’s still some socializing that goes on during lunches and breaks. For other people, TAM is mostly about getting to meet old and new friends and socialize, and the formal program is almost an afterthought. With varying shades in between.

  48. 59

    Great post. Fantastic comments. Honestly, TAM sounds like a really fun event. But I’m really not convinced, after seeing Grothe’s responses as compared to some of the comments on these posts, that he is responsible enough to handle sexual harassment for a quickly growing convention. But I’m sure if I told Grothe that, on his responses to valid concerns alone, I didn’t feel safe going to his convention, he would make another comment about how “multiple women feel unsafe going to TAM for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with my incompetence at my job and inability to listen to criticism. They have specifically stated it is because evil feminazis have lied to them and told them that TAM is only rape. Ever.”

Comments are closed.