Working on a secret project, so I don’t have terribly much to say today. So I’ll report on the news and throw in a few quick thoughts.
I can’t say I blame Rebecca for deciding not to participate in The Amazing Meeting this year — not because TAM is particularly unsafe for women, but because TAM is not a safe space for women. (Do you get the distinction? It’s really important that you do.)
I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.
DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment. I found that claim astonishing, since I was only aware of women speaking frankly about their own experiences and their own feelings. I couldn’t imagine that DJ would be literally blaming the victim for speaking out. To be sure, I asked him in that thread to give us examples of what he was talking about. To my surprise, this was his response:
Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:
“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”
( http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-09-15/atheist-sexism-women/50416454/1 )
As well as throwing other women skeptics under the bus for discussing the greater problem of misogyny that our recent internet conversations over the last year have exposed, with MRAs, anti-feminists, outright misogynists, and privileged-but-clueless mandudes scurrying out from every overturned rock, DJ Grothe is engaging in harmful messaging in conflating those two separate claims about TAM that I mentioned in the first sentence in this post. And I’m really concerned that he’s singled out the WOMEN in the movement who are complaining about this, when male bloggers like PZ Myers, Sasha Pixlee and myself have been harping on about misogynist fuckwits targeting women in the skeptical community for years.
There is an ongoing question about this — where exactly did DJ get the data that he’s using as a rhetorical club to go after the women discussing misogyny and harassment? And there’s a corollary question here: where does he get off saying that there were zero instances of reported harassment when there are many, from those self-same women skeptics, as well as a well-known problem of underreporting is evidently skewing the one metric he’s using to make that assertion? We actually do have some data showing that there’s a skew in harassment to affect women disproportionately, though I’m honestly glad the numbers are as small as they are for either sex.
There’s also the question of whether there is a real problem with harassment in this community. When Rebecca Watson told a humorous story about a guy who probably unintentionally acted creepy, she has thereafter been the recipient of a full year worth of death threats, insults, rape threats, vitriol, gaslighting campaigns, and concerted trolling by even very prominent members of the community. This proves that there’s a problem with harassment even if it doesn’t translate directly off of the internet, and that’s why implementing a strong anti-harassment policy is important. I’m well aware that the internet is pretty much a clearinghouse for the shittiest bits of misogyny and hatred imaginable, and that the likelihood that any of it would translate into real life is probably very low, but considering the volume of horrid misogyny on here, any probability translates into a shit-ton of real-life harassment.
The goal is to make TAM a safe space for women, right? It is imperative that these conventions implement a strong harassment policy, so as to make it clear to everyone that harassing participants will have consequences. Since DJ is evidently more concerned with throwing the women skeptics under the bus to try to save TAM’s face, it’s clear the motivation to actually make it a safe space, to address the concerns these women are bringing forth, is secondary to the PR snowjob he’s trying to pull. Perhaps he should find a new communications director and vet any comments he makes through them from now on, so as not to appear to be unfairly paranoid about women skeptics and skeptical feminists’ motivations.
I don’t blame Rebecca Watson one bit for bowing out. I only hope the remainder of the SGU crew address why she’s not there.