Our Employees Are Not Authorized to Speak Against Harassment

Peter Boghossian didn’t stop making an ass of himself with the tweets I noted earlier this week. He’s still at it, and he’s gotten worse. After someone pointed him to my post, he tweeted at me.

He didn’t actually block me, so I responded to him.

Yes, once again, he was parodying a strawman. Still, I tried to think what he could possibly be referring to. The Block Bot picking up slyme pitters? It could be, though we’ve been over that before. Being a participant in a place that has no purpose except targeting a group of people for abuse goes far beyond “association”.

I thought about a few more options, none of which were close enough to what Boghossian said to settle on. (Yes, I do have a tendency to try to find some sense in nonsense.) Then I thought about when, ages ago, Melody Hensley said she was blocking people who followed accounts like @AngrySkepchick. It still didn’t match Boghossian’s tweet, but it was as close as I could get.

Still, I thought he couldn’t be referring to that. He wouldn’t have been holding onto that as some outrage for nearly two years. He wouldn’t mock the efforts of someone with (at that point) acute stress disorder to take some control of her environment. He wouldn’t be painting Melody’s efforts to avoid the stimuli that were causing her problems as a bad thing. Would he?

While I still don’t know whether he meant to reference Melody, the rest of my questions were answered in short order. He would. He did.

Now, if you’ve forgotten what happened the last time someone stirred up the “fake PTSD” and “demeaning veterans” bullshit regarding Melody, go read this very small sample. No, the whole thing. Read it and understand that it’s only a small part of the torrent she received then. Understand too that several people have told me that Boghossian tweeting about them stirred up a great deal of harassment on Twitter. It’s not Thunderf00t levels, because, well, it’s just Boghossian, but it has been significant enough for multiple independent comments. Melody, needless to say, did not care for the idea of Boghossian–with whom she had not been interacting–stirring up more harassment for her, and she let that be known.

Boghossian responded.

I decided to call his bluff. I did not then and do not currently believe he had any intention of resigning. What he did instead was put pressure on CFI over the situation.

Now here is where this goes off the rails. They helped him.

Dearest Center for Inquiry, let me clue you in on one thing: Your employee absolutely has the authority to call for someone who is abusing her to be shut out of opportunities. She doesn’t have the authority to keep everyone in your organization from giving him those opportunities, but she has every right to ask and to ask publicly.

Not only that, but it’s really about time you stop treating her like some embarrassingly mouthy woman and give some serious thought to what she’s asking for as an employee. If you try to tell her that she has to sit down and take that from someone you do business with and promote, you should maybe talk to people who can explain to you in detail what a hostile environment is. Also a whistleblower. Also retaliation.

Then you should be really damned careful in both how you talk to her and how you talk about her. That is particularly true if this:

…has anything to do with action on your part, rather than a new uptick in harassment.

Even if the circumstances of your interactions with Boghossian or the indirectness of his behavior mean that maybe a court would let you get away with that, get your heads out of the sand. Sure, you think you’re all fine because you don’t want to invite Michael Shermer to anything since you feel he screwed you over* in starting the Skeptic Society, but stop for a minute.

Do you really want to be the group that is most visibly hanging one of its female employees out to dry right now over her being attacked by a male speaker?

That’s what you’re setting yourselves up for. Melody developed PTSD in your employ. She was targeted for harassment in large part because she started a very successful feminist conference for your organization. She received no small amount of the abuse that led to the PTSD at her office and on your social media accounts. Every wave of harassment has involved calls to fire her that you haven’t publicly called for an end to.

Now you want to tell her she can’t object to that publicly and say that isn’t an acceptable way to treat women who work for atheist organizations? You want to tell that to the world?

You have no idea how far down the rabbit hole you’ve gone that this didn’t immediately sound like a terrible idea. If you think you can just call harassment over a disability a condition of working in the movement, you need to stop and figure out what choices led you here. Sort out how it is that you decided feminist power needed to be so opposed that you came to say someone egging on harassment needed to be protected over your own employee.

The rest of us don’t care how it happened, but we’re sure as hell not going to take that lying down, for our own sakes as well as Melody’s.

*Update: There used to be a link here that went to a discussion of rumors that should have been put to rest ages ago but continue to circulate as recently as this year, when I heard them. If you’re really interested, you can still find them discussed here. The linked post was taken down because people wanted to argue with the person who put it up, as though that has anything at all to do with the point of this post. Congratulations on utter irrelevancy, whoever decided that the important thing to do was argue more about something that had already been settled in the comments I linked to.

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Our Employees Are Not Authorized to Speak Against Harassment
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23 thoughts on “Our Employees Are Not Authorized to Speak Against Harassment

  1. 1

    Oh, I think this is very good PR. They’ve made themselves very plain.

    They can’t openly say they don’t want women applying or volunteering to work with them. That would be impolite as well as illegal. With this out in the open as it is, they can be sure that the only women willing to do work with or for them will be those who’ve nailed their flag to that mast as well. The pesky feminists and their allies will stay well away.

  2. 2

    All the best minds are leaving in droves. I left 2 years ago. I have PTSD. Seeing this, I will NEVER go back! I no longer ID as “atheist,” nor as “skeptic,” because of the vitriol. I ID now as a secular humanist. I have no interest in this destructive infighting and hate. Disgusting.

  3. 3

    I’m wondering if what CFI means to say is that employees don’t have the authority to call for bans as CFI employees, and that Melody’s opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of the CFI or its board, etc.

    I’m also wondering why they didn’t just say that, as I’m pretty sure that could be conveyed on a twitter, and what, if anything, can be inferred from the difference.

    The headline insults me as a reader. CFI absolutely did not say that and their contribution to the discussion was bad enough without an “everything wrong with modern journalism”-style overstated headline.

  4. 5

    It would be a surprise if the whole thing between Boghossian and CfI played out over Twitter, but yes, CfI most definitely have an employer–employee obligation to Melody. The harassment from Twitter and other social media has been on-going for months – years, really. The conversations that Boghossian happily took part in, before going off on his own tangent, seems to have had the effect of an uptick in the harassment aimed at her in the last few days.
    Also as Lindsay Beyerstein also pointed out directly to him (again on Twitter), “As a humanist, you know that healthcare is between a patient and their doctor. Don’t go undiagnosing strangers with PTSD!” Evidently being an asshole on Twitter is a higher priority for him.
    Further reading (or watching/listening):
    • FtBcon 2: Sexual Harassment Law and You, a talk by Ken White of popehat.com, which touches on the issues of hostile workplace environment and employer obligations;
    • Secular Woman: Harassment Quiz Results, a short quiz of 10 questions put together by Ken White and which tease out some of the issues arising from the talk. (I’m linking the results, seeing as I don’t seem to be able to access the actual interactive page for the Quiz.)

  5. 6

    you said the word “retaliation”, therefore obviously this post is a vigilantismic lynching.

    Also, I fucking want to see that gag-clause in the CFI employment contract that says an employee may not use a personal social media account to individually ask people & orgs to not give a harasser any speaking opportunities.

  6. 7

    FFS…. a few things:

    1) Melody did not “call for a ban,” she urged people/orgs not to have him as a speaker. Pedantic? Maybe, but it is a distinction with a difference. She’s advocating they choose a certain path, not dictating they do so, nor threatening anything if they do not.

    2) With the exception of CFI-Canada, her tweet was directed at non-CFI orgs (8 out of 9 mentioned to be precise)… so the insinuation she was over-stepping and declaring a policy on behalf of CFI is utter bullshit.

    3) Who the fuck runs the @center4inquiry Twitter account? Not which corporate “person,” that is obvious. Which human being? Fidalgo is Communications Director… is it him? Who else would it realistically be, and who would have directed such a tweet if not Lindsay?

    4) The Freeze Peach warriors will be standing up for her soon, right?… RIGHT?

  7. 8

    I noticed a lot of people on here were excited to go to WiS and held my tongue, but I never felt right about how they & espesh Ron Lindsay handled themselves after the one, further disgusted that – while privy to important evidence – they haven’t punted Radford over his bullish sleazy legal situation. I haven’t seen much reason to trust them even provisionally since then, aside from really needing an event like WiS and desperately hoping that at least one big org wasn’t a lost cause about this shit.

  8. 9

    In addition to everything else that is wrong with this, how could anyone think it is a good idea to reprimand an employee via policy statement on twitter, rather than contacting them privately?

  9. 10

    Brad, do you prefer “Our Employees Are Authorized to Speak Against Harassment in the Abstract, but Not Against Any Individual With Whom We Have a Relationship Who May Contribute to the Problem”? Is that accurate enough that you no longer feel insulted? Should I care?

  10. 11

    To carry on from Twitter, “#TheirSexistSide likes to trumpet what they “do for women”, but it often becomes what they “do to women”. ”

    Also: Really, CFI? There’s a clause in your employment contract that says people aren’t allowed to express dismay over the behavior of others and/or call for their boycott on their own time, on their own computers, on social media? Really? Call me a skeptic, but I’d really like to see where you’ve written that out.

  11. 12

    Wow, Lindsay really can’t help himself, can he? He says/does something unacceptable, digs in, then apologizes months later, then when most people have forgotten/forgiven his previous muck-up, he makes another one and repeats. And this guy is a “leader”?

  12. 13

    My point was that the title is a misrepresentation. Bad headlines like that are harmful to causes for which you’ve written about caring. We need a cultural shift against that sort of buzzfeed nee yellow journalism-esque titling, so it seems reasonable to point out the problem.

    CFI seems to draw no distinction between “don’t hire this guy” and “ban this guy.” They don’t seem the same to me, so I don’t know why they would respond with policy about an employee calling for a ban. Posts #7 and 11 seem to share my reading. I don’t see how you can honestly get your headline from their tweet.

    When I manage to feel well enough to write, I make different style choices than you do so I’m in much better position to evaluate a title on low subjectivity criteria than I am suggest new ones, but perhaps something like the following, which I imagine you could use on a future article as I doubt Petey B. and/or CFI will be able to extricate their heads from their asses any time soon:

    “Peter Boghossian is still [bad], CFI PR is still [bad], film at 11”?

    Why are you being so adversarial about this? I’ve made no excuses for CFI, nor do I think there are any to be made. I’ve said nothing about Boghossian other than his head-wear problem. Or did I misread your tone?

    I agree that CFI’s contribution to the discussion was embarrassingly terrible and out of place. Is your problem the actual words of the tweet, or where and when they said them? I don’t think the first sentence is unreasonable policy provided they mean “as representatives of CFI”, if they mean at all, publicly, then that’s, again, awful and ridiculous.

  13. 14

    I promise you that comments #7 and #11 do not share your interpretation that this is misleading headline based on what you think CFI must have maybe been saying instead of what they actually did say. And I am antagonistic toward you because you seem to think it’s your job to show up and tell me how to make my points which aren’t even the same as your points. This is hardly the first time. If you don’t like how I blog, stop reading. I’m not going to miss you.

  14. 16

    When I was involved in organized atheism from 2003-2007, I found CFI to be an insular group who did not care about the grassroots. CFI had no interest in working with others or doing anything that wasn’t self-promoting. I basically ignored them, never referring to them when recommending atheist groups to people, never mentioning their publications or events. This is because CFI sucked. Although I am no longer an atheist activist, I still think CFI sucks, and I marvel over the great numbers of people who have taken years to come to the same realization.

  15. 18

    CFI reflexively side with the arseholes (again).

    Even if they needed to distance themselves professionally from Melody’s individual opinion, which I would still consider to be cowardly in response to Boghossian’s despicable wankerishness and ableism, then there are ways and means. This blunt dismissal could only possibly be a sop to people who would like to drive her from the public space (and worse).

  16. 19

    How does “not authorized to speak” fit with “every victim of abuse/assault should go immediately to the police” because reasons which have nothing to do with her well-being in either case.

    I only ask!

  17. 20

    Well, I’ve worked at some shitty places in my career…but holy fuck, not even my most-abusive boss would treat me like that. And I worked for a boss who quite literally told one of the women in the office that she was “pretty — for a fat girl”. Made her cry.

    CFI: Public relations — ur doon it rong.

    Boghossian seems like a smug, self-absorbed punk. Glad I never paid any attention to anything he had to say ever. Makes it easier for me to continue to do the same.

  18. 22

    Peter Boghossian seems to be engaging in a form of the childhood game where you mockingly mimic what someone else is doing, and CFI seems to be enabling an adult child in the harassment of others.

    He’s taking the form of criticisms, and community responses to individuals engaging in disruptive activity, but he’s pulling out all the context and simply miming it back mockingly and out of context. It’s a bit like trying to apply the combined gas law to measure the rate of insect song by temperature. The gas law is a real equation measuring real things, and even includes temperature, but the rest of it just won’t fit in there no matter how one postures and exclaims.

    Form #1: Mimed criticism based on the responsibility of an authority to address fans acting badly in their name.
    “whale murderer”
    This was referencing criticism of people like Harris for not speaking out against people who were abusing, harassing, lying and more in his name. This is reasonable because authority figures should have some morals and ethics about addressing what people do in their name. So who is acting like a sociopath towards whom because Ms. Svan was criticized? If the example that Peter has in mind is even something that can be considered criticism. It’s possible to mockingly mime the form of criticism another uses but it’s meaningless and insulting if you can’t get the analog correct.

    Form #2: Mimed community responses to individuals engaging in disruptive activity.
    “Banned”
    I could be wrong but this seems a reference to how many here at FTB ban individuals that choose to argue in dishonest and insulting ways that get mythologized via “free speech” excuses, and mocked via “freeze peach”. So how are the people he tweeted at arguing in dishonest and insulting ways? This is a rhetorical question because his school yard bully approach requires spewing his feelings out in an attempt at mimicry and no actual substance.
    Form #3: Mimed criticism pointing the demeaning personal experience relevant to a disagreement in a conflict.
    “Demeans the experience of veterans who actually suffer from PTSD.”
    In creating this bit of childish drivel Peter has totally undermined himself since it requires him to demean the experience of someone else with PTSD. Apparently people are tools to him. This philosopher should reacquaint himself with the idea of making sure that he deso not immorally treat someone else as a means to his end.

    There is an adult version of this game. On example is where you replace one marginalized group like “jews” and replace it with “women” in a statement of aweful logic and reasoning in the hopes of showing someone how bad it is through the shift in perspective. But Peter Boghossian looks like nothing more complicated than a pre-school bully in these tweets.

    There is something about twitter that makes it easy for some people to revert to childhood level taunts and reasoning. I’m simultaneously terrified and intrigued by seeing what it would force me to do.

  19. 23

    People here have asked various questions about CFI policies. I’m wondering does CFI had an official policy of shooting itself in the foot at random intervals or is there a schedule?

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