For those people who think that blogging is narcissistic, self-centered prattling, that we’re yelling into a void, that we’re just whining and not working to make real change, Stephanie Zvan is here to prove that blogging can be activism and can lead to change of the best kind.
Over at her blog, Almost Diamonds, she posted about sexist behavior at conventions which leads to women and men feeling uncomfortable, and in cases, unsafe. Unchecked sexually-charged atmospheres have earned some conventions a reputation of being unwelcoming to women. Some – including myself – would argue that this is one reason why women have been slow to join active communities outside of the internet. It is a controversial topic because it’s a serious topic, and unless you have personally witnessed or been a victim of this sort of unwanted attention, it’s easy to believe that it doesn’t exist, or that it’s not as pervasive as witnesses have been saying, that people are over-reacting or misinterpreting. It’s easy to think this way because not enough of us have been working to open all of our eyes to this issue. But Stephanie has a way to help change this: Harassment policies at conventions.
The very first, most basic thing you need to do is make sure your event has a harassment policy. I’ll talk about sexual harassment for the most part here, but it should also cover harassment on the basis of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, etc.
Having such a policy in place doesn’t mean you expect harassment to occur or that you think harassers are particularly attracted to your event. It means you’re hosting an event at which you don’t want any harassment to occur, and you’re willing to take steps to make sure it doesn’t. This alone will help.
Don’t tell me that these are just words, that no one will listen or change their behavior because of them. I maintain that the reason why harassment is allowed to exist unchallenged at conventions and meetings is because many people do not know what harassment looks like. A sign on the wall where your event is taking place, on your group’s website, on registration sheets, these policies tell everyone – speakers and attendees – that we are aware that harassment can be an issue and that it is safe to report harassment. It reminds people to police their own behavior and and it warns potential harassers that we will not turn a blind eye to bad behavior. Acknowledging that harassment happens – giving sexist behavior a name – helps to minimize the likelihood that it will happen in the future.
I would like to see harassment polices enacted at future conferences that I attend. If I am attending a conference and such a policy is not easily found on the website or registration documents, I am going to to contact the organizers and ask if such a policy is in place, and if not, if one could be put in place. This isn’t just limited to skeptic and atheist conferences – all large gatherings can benefit from adding a few simple words in a visible place that lets attendees know we are all watching and protecting each other.
Blogging can be activism, and it can lead to change. Stephanie is bringing this dialogue to all of us and asking if we’re ready to take the next steps in making our movements more inclusive and welcoming to all those who would take part. She is helping to grow our movements. Her words are making a difference, and so can ours.