Ladies, Mind Your Manners

I was recently sent a copy of a column titled “He, Too” (pdf) from the September issue of The Rational Alternative, the newsletter of Atheists United in Los Angeles. Sadly, it’s not a call to remember that women and nonbinary people are not the only ones subject to harassment in the secular movement. It is, instead, a suggestion that #metoo is somehow obviating due process in the movement’s efforts to deal with sexual harassment and assault.

The first half of author Bobbie Kirkhart’s article is essentially summed up in one paragraph.

It is a sad surprise that the freethought community is tearing itself up over such accusations and denials. Unless the accused man confesses and apologizes immediately, our discussions on the allegations eat up much of our time and energy, destroy friendships and embarrass our movement. Although there is much emotion involved, I believe we can—and must—look at these things as the rationalists we are.

I suspect that Kirkhart means she’s distressed rather than genuinely surprised. I’ve been doing this too long to be surprised, and she’s been working in the movement longer than I have. I also disagree that confession of wrongdoing stops discussion and prevents strife. People expressing remorse for their actions are still told they have nothing to feel bad about when the subject under discussion is as politicized as harassment and assault are. I’d be a happier person if I’d never seen that happen, but I have.

Black and white, complicated flow chart of a process where every step has something to do with chickens or eggs.
Not all logic makes sense. “Chicken Chicken Flow” by healther vescent, CC BY 2.0

I do agree with Kirkhart that discussions on the topic could be more rational. The number of times I’ve seen an “argument” along the lines of “He’s nice to me/highly respected in his field/chased by other women, so he couldn’t have done that” is appalling. Harassers don’t harass everyone, and often groom others to stand up for them. We’ve seen many highly respected academics and business people turn out to be serial harassers. Harassment and assault don’t happen because people have no other choice; they are a choice. Literally none of those things are correlated with harassing people or not. Still the arguments fly with far too much of the secular movement.

Even more than rationalism, however, I would argue that the secular movement needs a heavy dose of empiricism on the topic of harassment and assault. In this respect, Kirkhart falls woefully short. Continue reading “Ladies, Mind Your Manners”

Ladies, Mind Your Manners
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Reducing Barriers to Reporting Harassment

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With the conversations and reporting of #metoo showing no signs of slowing down, we’re being provided with a trove of information about the reporting of harassment: who is reporting, who isn’t, the social and institutional responses to harassment reports. This all means we’re able to see how serial harassers continue to function over time.

Sometimes, often, the problem is as simple as organizations and individuals with the power to make a difference failing in their responsibilities. At the Weinstein Company, executives helped Harvey Weinstein settle a multitude of harassment claims without taking him out of the position that facilitated that harassment. Outside the company, gossip columnists used him to advance their own careers while keeping his behavior out of the news. NPR News knew about Michael Oreskes behavior his entire tenure but didn’t fire him until it became public.

Several people who’ve come forward have also spoken about experiencing or fearing retaliation as a consequence of speaking up. Unfortunately, retaliation is a reasonable concern. It’s a common experience when reporting harassment in the workplace. An EEOC report suggests an overwhelming majority of those who report face retaliation from their employer or their peers.

Given that kind of response, it absurd to blame targets of harassment for not stopping their harassers from harassing again or even for not coming forward before now. If they stay quiet, they’re merely doing what we’ve trained them to do. The tsunami that is #metoo demonstrates that when conditions change, people are ready to report.

That means that those of us who have and enforce codes of conduct have the power to make harassment claims heard. Continue reading “Reducing Barriers to Reporting Harassment”

Reducing Barriers to Reporting Harassment

Because Ignoring It Worked So Well

Yesterday, an article was published in The Observer1 to let us all in on the exciting secret that Milo Yiannopolous likes attention. He even actively seeks it out.

Someone like Milo or Mike Cernovich doesn’t care that you hate them—they like it. It’s proof to their followers that they are doing something subversive and meaningful. It gives their followers something to talk about. It imbues the whole movement with a sense of urgency and action—it creates purpose and meaning.

You’re worried about “normalizing” their behavior when in fact, that’s the one thing they don’t want to happen. The key tactic of alternative or provocative figures is to leverage the size and platform of their “not-audience” (i.e. their haters in the mainstream) to attract attention and build an actual audience. Let’s say 9 out of 10 people who hear something Milo says will find it repulsive and juvenile. Because of that response rate, it’s going to be hard for someone like Milo to market himself through traditional channels. His potential audience is too spread out, and doesn’t have that much in common. He can’t advertise, he can’t find them one by one. It’s just not going to scale.

You’re shocked I know. Me too. I never would have guessed this before I saw people sharing it on Facebook in yet one more attempt to find an acceptable way to say, “Don’t feed the trolls.” I thought he was shy and retiring.

All right. That’s 100% obvious bullshit. Yiannopolous didn’t invent shock jockery. It’s not at all a new concept. We all know that protests draw attention to the thing or person being protested. We do it anyway, and for very good reason. Continue reading “Because Ignoring It Worked So Well”

Because Ignoring It Worked So Well

The Upside of Abuse

Martin Hughes has responded to my prior post on anti-theism. He notes that he decided not to respond point by point, but I definitely consider it responsive nonetheless. It’s a personal and vulnerable post, and I think it’s a valuable contribution to any discussion of the experiences of prior believers.

Martin’s post also clarifies that part of our disagreement is in how we conceive and construct our identities around religion. Where mine are many and determined by my actions, his is singular and determined by his primary priorities. While he’s rejecting “anti-theist” as his singular label, he’s not rejecting all anti-theist work. I still have serious concerns about the way vocal and public rejections of that label feed narratives that reject anti-theist work as anti-social, but I think Alex Gabriel’s piece from yesterday can speak to those for now.

Instead, I’m going to answer the personal with the personal. I don’t know that this is even arguing with Martin’s post, though my perspective is definitely not his and is counter to it in some ways. But who knows, maybe people dealing with situations like his will get something out of it.

It’s not a secret that I come from an abusive home. From the time I learned to say, “No”, there was nothing I could do right and very few places I could go to get away from the consequences of that. Eventually abuse became abandonment, and there’s nowhere to go to get away from that.

It’s also not a secret that one of the places Gamergate and “alt-right” harassment tactics were honed was in the broader secular movement or that I was one of the targets of those. Implicit and explicit threats, demeaning sexual commentary, smear campaigns, coordinated monitoring and attacks at a dedicated site, denial or tacit acceptance of the harassment from people and institutions who benefited from their critics being silenced, big names directing harassers and refusing to take responsibility–all of that was there. It still is.

People ask me how I do it sometimes, how I handle the harassment. I usually shrug or say I don’t know. I do know. I handle it because I was abused. Continue reading “The Upside of Abuse”

The Upside of Abuse

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1

Photo of about a dozen and a half questions marks stenciled onto black pavement in white paint. Alternating right-side up and upside down in three rows.
Crop of “What?” by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, CC BY-SA 2.0

Niki transcribed the latest video of “unanswerable” gotcha questions. No, this isn’t another one aimed at atheists by Christians, though it’s about as effective and as grounded in real attempts to understand another person’s position. This one is aimed at social justice warriors by the status quo warriors.

Niki’s answers were mostly snark. I love them. You should read them. But it’s also worthwhile to have a few people answer even questions like these seriously, so I’m going to take a stab at that. I’m technically a social justice assassin, so not all the warriors want to admit I’m in the guild, but whatever.

It’s going to be long and tedious, since there are plenty of assumptions to unpack along with the questions themselves and the list itself is long and repetitive. But if we’re going to adopt this kind of tactic from the Christians, we might as well gallop while we’re at it, right? In order to keep it from getting unreadable, I’ll break it into thirds.

  • Do you realize that your war on language through political correctness has made you bedfellows with true rape culture? In other words, Islam, the world’s most misogynistic ideology.

Let’s start with your assumptions. Continue reading “Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1”

Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 1

Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

Skepticon has just released a statement saying that Richard Carrier will not be allowed to attend their future conferences because of inappropriate behavior. They had previously stopped inviting him to speak after he displayed a pattern of pushing a staffer’s boundaries.

In light of the recent revelations of sexual harassment, unwelcome attention, and/or unwanted behavior from more than one prominent atheist, Skepticon would like to renew our vow to keep our attendees, speakers, volunteers, vendors, organizers, and anyone else involved in Skepticon safe at our events.

The accusations specifically against Richard Carrier are, sadly, not so surprising to the Skepticon organizers. While he was a featured speaker for many years, we stopped inviting him to speak partly because of his repeated boundary-pushing behavior, including towards someone involved in Skepticon. What has been made clear by the recent discussions is that our attendees’ well being and comfort is put at an unacceptable risk by Carrier’s presence, and so we are officially prohibiting Richard Carrier from attending any future Skepticons.

In case you missed it last week, this is the third allegation of flatly unacceptable behavior from Carrier to be made public. Continue reading “Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier”

Summarizing the Current Allegations Against Richard Carrier

“Sexism and Harassment at Professional Events” Discussion Tonight

I’m doing an event tonight in Northeast Minneapolis with Women Who Code Twin Cities and Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers, but it’s open to all. We’ll be talking about harassment in professional contexts for people whose professional lives include a lot of non-office events. From the description:

Microsoft recently came under fire for hiring women in “tiny schoolgirl outfits” to interact with guests at an event at the GDC gaming conference. Unfortunately, these incidences are all too prevalent in tech.

As a developer, I’ve seen my fair share of inappropriate behavior at conventions, conferences, meetups, happy hours and other work-related gatherings. These incidences include anything from awkward situations to inappropriate comments to outright harassment and abuse. As a writer, I’ve also been involved in the Speculative Fiction community, which has had a number of harassment issues at conventions in the past few years. Since this is a problem both communities share, I’ve invited a local speculative fiction group, MinnSpec, to partner on this event.

Discussion Topics

I’ve had a number of women ask me for advice on handling various situations at professional events. We’ll discuss the following topics:

• How to escape an uncomfortable situation, especially ones with potential to become hostile

• Recognizing body language to understand when someone else is in distress

• Understanding consent

• How to help someone else out of an uncomfortable or potentially hostile situation

• Recognizing body language to understand when you might be making someone else uncomfortable

• How to escalate issues to organizers and/or authorities

• Understanding the potential backlash or criticism that may come from reporting issues

The Schedule

6:30 – 7:00 PM – Mingle and Network
7:00 – 8:30 PM – Panel/discussion
8:30 – 9:00 PM – More Mingling and Networking

For more information, see the Meetup event.

“Sexism and Harassment at Professional Events” Discussion Tonight

Providing Leverage

It started with Laura Anne Gilman:

I will be a Guest at Anachrocon this weekend, and there’s something I want everyone there to know.

I may look about as tough as a toasted corn muffin, but I lived and worked in NYC for two decades. I take no shit, and I give no shits. If you are at the convention and feel unsafe or harassed, you can walk straight up to me, no matter who else I’m talking to, and tell me you need Leverage (term in this usage suggested by the awesome Seanan McGuire).

I won’t be at Anachrocon, but you may do this at conventions and conferences I attend. Tell me you need Leverage, and you’ll have: Continue reading “Providing Leverage”

Providing Leverage

NECSS, Fallout, and Where the Fallout Falls

At this point, I think the major takeaway from the situation with NECSS and Richard Dawkins is “Don’t invite someone as relentlessly divisive as Dawkins to speak from your stage unless you want to be left with no good options when he does it again.” There are organizations that will refuse to learn this, and there are organizations that will learn this quietly, which is probably wise. There are a handful of organizations that will talk about it as appropriate, which is decidedly brave.

In the meantime, however, let’s look at who takes the hits in all this back and forth, shall we?

If there are problems with the Storify embedding, you can read it here. Continue reading “NECSS, Fallout, and Where the Fallout Falls”

NECSS, Fallout, and Where the Fallout Falls

No, You Can’t Address Misogyny in an Election Year, Comments Edition

Yesterday, I posted something about the race for the Democratic nomination. It wasn’t an endorsement of either candidate. It made no argument in favor of either candidate. It didn’t even express my preference for either candidate.

What I posted yesterday was a critique of the political process as it’s playing out this year. It pointed out that allowing our progressive selves to embrace decades of right-wing character assassination of Hillary Clinton harms more than Clinton. It pointed out that doing this harms me and other women who have been subjected to similar campaigns for being politically active and effective. And it pointed out that it’s nearly impossible to get people to pay attention to this problem.

It also said this:

Commenting note: If you think a personal reflection like this is a place to argue for or against your candidate, whoever that might be, think again. Think hard. Trying to talk about this problem–and having that treated as though I were campaigning instead of engaging in the same cultural critique I do every day as a feminist–has been exhausting and disheartening. My reserves of diplomacy are running low.

Here are the comments I received on that post that you won’t see there. Continue reading “No, You Can’t Address Misogyny in an Election Year, Comments Edition”

No, You Can’t Address Misogyny in an Election Year, Comments Edition