DJ Grothe apologizes to one woman

while leaving several others under the bus, including sidelong stabs at the FtB bloggers in particular. I paste it in its entirety below, though I don’t have a lot of time to pick it apart right this second.

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

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

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 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 ( 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).

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.


D.J. Grothe
President, James Randi Educational Foundation |
(323) 229-7771 cell | (703) 226-3784 voicemail | (703) 226-3785 fax

I have lots of problems with this apology. Many of them are covered in Stephanie Zvan’s reply. Most of them have to do with the “irresponsible messaging” that DJ’s actually engaging in, and the fact that while apologizing, he’s STILL being churlish about people who are actually trying to work on the problem of harassment in general as though the problem they’re working on is an indictment of TAM in particular.

I appreciate that DJ is apologizing to one of the women he’s mistreated in this. I really do. I don’t think it’s anywhere near broad enough, notwithstanding the “apologize to all women” line. Not where he repeatedly undercuts that part thereafter.

DJ Grothe apologizes to one woman

160 thoughts on “DJ Grothe apologizes to one woman

  1. 101

    I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but damn……

    Yeah, I was willing to give DJ the benefit of the doubt, but I wonder how many time I have to do that. After this notpology, I’m not sure I have much more left in the benefit-of-doubt tank.

    There are several points of his “apology” that strike me as highly problematic, like his emphasis on tooting his own PR horn, his constant implications that he’s been taken out of context or misrepresented, all the while himself misrepresenting the criticism he’s received and of course his continued equivocation on the matter of what constitutes a report.

    Despite apologizing for victim-blaming, he goes right on to do it again, laying the responsibility on gathering information squarely on the victims.

    He admits that he’s been unaware of the facts of previous incidents of harassment, but he also says things like “If the data is wrong…”
    What do you mean if, DJ? You know it is. You admitted that it was in this very same post!

    I don’t know if DJ is just being defensive, is truly this incompetent, or if he’s responding to pressure from elsewhere, as have been suggested. I don’t think it really matters either.

    I’m not sure we can trust him to work out this problem. Whatever the reason for his apparent obliviousness, I think it disqualifies him for doing this job.

  2. 102

    According to that Backup Project site, the founder won’t be running it anymore (dang!) but as it was always grassroots, perhaps our communities could follow their lead.

    – They provided Backup Project ribbons or buttons, to raise awareness and help identify people willing to witness.

    – They ran information tables at conventions, explaining the Backup Project and sexual harassment and assault.

    – They provided resources for further study, such as this excellent short series by Jim C. Hines:

    “Boys will be Boys” and other minimizing comments

    Sexual Harassment: Bystander Intervention

    Supporting Victims of Sexual Harassment

    All of those seem viable. I’ve run info tables before; I can see bringing a stack of information and references to hand out. Maybe Sexual Harassment Fallacy cards with debunked excuses on them such as “But it’s just flirting”, “That only happens to women”, and “But this person’s an ally/friend/important.”

  3. 103

    Also, as someone pointed out on Ashley Miller’s blog, when DJ says no one reported the incident to TAM or JREF people, he ignores that fact that HE WAS THERE, and that as prez of the JREF one might expect him to FILL OUT A DAMN REPORT.

    “In light of the new information JREF received this week…”

    If it’s new information, then that’s evidence enough that he fucked up, and he ought to stop being a dick and start trying to make things right. I mean, you think he’d feel at least SOME shame for forgetting an incident like that, and would be trying to make up for it, not throwing around excuses and ass-covering.

  4. 104

    Pteryxx, I’ve already offered to pay for buttons/ribbons/stickers and literature (up to a reasonable $$ amount), over at B&W, and have at least another friend who will be at TAM who’s willing to help out, too. I don’t have a good organizational space online to use for figuring out logistics and finding other interested parties, but am working on figuring that out, too.

    I believe there are also other materials on the Back Up Project livejournal community, but I haven’t waded in there yet. To say it’s hard to find things there is an understatement.

    Unfortunately, I do think that we (whoever would like to participate with me) need to do some research and figure out how to respond to someone attempting to abuse the Back Up concept and participants. I imagine there is a lot of good material from people who have used the system at other cons, if I can find it.

  5. 105


    Exactly. This incident is not about how women aren’t reporting enough. It’s about how the procedures at TAM are so lax that reports that are actually given, even directly to the head of the organization, aren’t followed up on or recorded.

    It’s quite simple really: if something is serious enough to expel a person from the venue, it’s surely also serious enough for the staff to follow up and file a report. This wasn’t done. It’s the fault of the staff, not the victim.

    Moreover, most instances of sexual harassment are at a level below what is legally actionable. You can’t get a guy arrested for string at your boobs. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant for the target of such behavior.

    DJ has previously been myopically focused on incidents requiring calling of security or law enforcement, so I’m wondering how seriously TAM staff would take a report about a guy leering at women’s chests. If they can forget to file a report about a guy who had to be evicted, what are the odds that they’ll remember to do so with someone who’s “just” staring?

    This is important because it speaks to the core problem regarding women reporting instances of sexual harassment, the question “will I be taken seriously?”
    If women have the (often correct) impression that their reports will be ignored, their feelings belittled and no action will be taken, then no bloody wonder they don’t report it. Who would?
    Who the hell would volunteer to be subjected to that kind of crap, knowing that most likely nothing will come of it? It won’t even be recorded or remembered. And who the hell would pay to go to a con where you know this kind of thing is likely to happen every goddamn day?

  6. 106

    further digging: Here’s an example of supposedly low-level harassment (in each individual incident) that informal networking revealed to be a much more serious pattern.

    I think this is why it’s necessary to encourage reporting of minor incidents, even anonymously, even by witnesses or bystanders. Not everyone harassed can or should be expected to report, but just a subset might help identify patterns (and predators) like this one.

  7. 108

    Reminder to nobody in particular: men do get sexually harassed (and assaulted, and raped) too, and are also unlikely to report for similar reasons. We’re seeing a huge public flood of hateful shit targeting women specifically, but when it comes to enacting policies, men who come forward need to be treated just as seriously and confidentially. That silencing message works on all victims. /publicserviceannouncement

  8. 109


    From the link you posted:

    I was, at one point, told that ‘we can’t handle this issue if people don’t report it’. But who do you report these incidents to? The police? The hotel security? The con-com? How do you get hold of them? Where are their numbers posted? What’s to ensure that you don’t suffer from repercussions? What if it was just ‘maybe accidental’? How do you track if something else, something ‘worse’ has happened? There are so many variables, so many loopholes.

    Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

  9. 111

    Jason: re the Backup Ribbon project, my instincts say to be very wary of the huge and outspoken false-ally contingent in this community. Any darn fool can grab a ribbon, if they’re freely available, and many will. Similarly, some skeezy people can nod and smile through any amount of awareness training and come out the other side unchanged.

    I don’t have good solutions for this, just brainstorming: keeping watch on each other, making the ribbons themselves tough to subvert (1-making them overt reminders of the policy, 2-making them slightly embarrassing for creepers to wear…), and combining any Backup Ribbon project with a hallway table and extensive education on what being victim-supportive really entails. I hope someone with experience might speak out here.

  10. 114

    I don’t know how to signal that the person who is designated as backup could be vetted in any way short of making it a different design of ribbon every year, and having them register as volunteer backup at a table after being briefed on how to go about BEING good backup.

    They’d also have to be clearly delineated in their responsibilities. We’d have to have a separate conversation about that. Leaving it out of that post, might make a new post discussing pros/cons of the idea.

    Just noticed this. Giliell@91: Sure, I’m not going to attract DJ’s ire with my recommendations against him this time around since he’s hyper-fixated on women bloggers, but we’ve crossed paths before during the Ryan Grant Long debacle and he’s demanded via email that I change things that I “mischaracterized” in an email where the mischaracterizations were blockquotes complete with context.

    Also, Chris Hallquist has gone after me once before for what he thought were specious arguments against misogynists, erecting a strawman of my argument and ably tearing it down. He used a Harry Potter fanfiction as a rhetorical club against said strawman. It was pretty brilliant.

    That’s not to say that either of them are going to turn their eye to me or PZ or Crommunist or any other guy saying exactly the same things. No, the bad guys this time are all girls, and DJ’s gonna stomp them all flat.

  11. 115

    I previously commented on how DJ seems to think that reporting would help; and it makes sense that he would focus on this because if these incidence are not reported HE can’t do anything directly about them.

    And yes – it is true that sometimes when these things are reported, it is worse for the person reporting because of the scrutiny and attacks that they may receive.

    However, even if everyone is well-meaning and wants to do what they can about the situation; very often this just can’t be done. The type of unwanted touching that I’ve experienced had few or no witnesses other than myself, there was no physical evidence that this happened, and if I were to report I knew that whomever I reported to would only have my word that anything happened at all.

    So, who do I tell – only people who know me well enough to take my word for it. I don’t place it in the realm of public opinion and I certainly wouldn’t place the problem in the realm where I was compelled to show beyond reasonable doubt that it happened.

    That’s just a necessary evil, because yeah – sometimes people lie.

    The problems I have had (though disturbing) were relatively minor compared to what others have had to deal with. So, certainly it wasn’t worth it for me to formally report. I have no idea how I would feel if the situation were different.

    What I suggest is a policy and basic training for staff (not just for these types of occurrences, but other difficult situations that may arise.) I’m sure this has been suggested by others – even in this thread.

    However, at some point the problem is what the problem is and those that run the events cannot magically make these things never happen. The solution to the problem is a change in culture and that doesn’t happen over night and isn’t in any one person’s control.

  12. 116

    So no one else likes the Flying Monkeys Gentlemen’s Auxiliary? Is it too insensitive and lighthearted?

    I can see how it might be. But it might also offer a way to diffuse situations in a good natured way, only getting serious as needed. Perhaps I am just too enamored of my mental image of a woman replying to some creep’s advances with “Don’t make me call my flying monkeys!” and the flying monkeys actually being there and “just checking” to make sure everything’s ok.

    If anyone else thinks this might be a good idea I’d be happy to make up some prototype flying monkey pins*. I’m thinking laser engraved and filled in strongly contrasting colors for easy identification but small and elegant enough to look like just a tasteful accessory (tricky with men’s apparel). Of course I’d also have to check whether there are any IP issues before ant large scale roll out.

  13. 117

    …I went afk and had a thought (I know, right?)

    There IS one very important purpose that a Backup Project presence could serve (meaning, an education table and/or a few committed, publicly accountable representatives) – they could potentially serve as an alternative reporting system. As volunteers in their own right, they would not be affiliated with a specific event or its organization. Meaning, if someone DOES go report to the convention staff, and is marginalized or worse, that person could report *the mishandling* to Backup Project central volunteers. Similarly, Backup Project could report the anonymized stats that they receive to the event organizers, as a crude fact-check on their data – nobody could claim “zero incidents” with an independent body formally reporting incidents to them. It could be a way to hold organizers accountable, while taking on some of the burden of education and response.

    To Jason specifically: there’s no way to “vet” anyone for matters of trust and expect that to be a clean bill of health thereafter. People can change, they can be unaware of their own actions, and some few predators will go undercover for years to get into a position where they can finally, freely abuse someone. (I should know; I was abused by a beloved partner for over a decade.)

    Trust of anyone has to be ongoing with constant accountability, no matter how good an ally someone has proven to be in other areas, or in the past. That’s the ONLY way to smoke out potential abuses.

  14. 118

    he’s demanded via email that I change things that I “mischaracterized” in an email where the mischaracterizations were blockquotes complete with context.

    Along with the things he’s said to women bloggers whose ‘messaging’ he doesn’t like, I’m concluding that he has a bad case of trying to control the uncontrollable, namely the internet-published output of many, many people.

    He’d probably benefit from a brisk lecture from a PR professional. Because the best way to deal with customer-types who have criticism of your ‘product’ is NOT trying to shut them up or shout them down. And internal criticism is also worth a listen.

    I can understand him fixating on the issue of whether big name speakers are harassing and pressuring attendees/staff for sex as the big issue and general conference climate as the little issue (because of bigger legal ramifications attached to the former). That concern somewhat explains his emphasis on narrowing his focus to the most egregious problems. But, overall, his ability to look at clearly outlined issues from any point but his own has been overwhelmingly poor.

  15. 119

    Emptyell: I think your logo’s adorable, but we’re in danger of jumping the gun here re women’s input. Nobody’s actually stepped forward to BE a female presence in security, that I know of; nor has the idea taken hold past here.

    I posted this over at Crommunist’s, but I think it bears repeating: Don’t be a creeper, but also don’t be this guy!

    (Warning: Flash cartoon AUTOPLAYS with totally necessary LOUD MUSIC)

  16. 120


    That is usefully illustrative. Shame, yeah, about the music.

    Yeah, I’d worry about any guys too eager to be part of some kind of auxiliary security thing, as a dude who would have been really into that not too long ago. From reading comments, most of the time men get called to help someone they’re close friends of the person in question, and are asked. If it’s just some random dude with a ribbon, though, I can easily seem them either not being asked, or butting in awkwardly without knowing if they’re needed or wanted.

    Anyone know how this Backup Ribbon thing has worked in the past? Do people at least require a police check, or references, or something? Early vetting, to supplement the ongoing proof of decency thing?

  17. 121


    I agree which is why I am asking for input. This is something that The Men can’t just step up and do. I’m wondering what is an appropriate way to show support. The FMGA pins could be a way to do this without taking over or imposing in any way on whatever formal arrangements are made and could also be incorporated in them as appropriate.

  18. 122

    Emptyell: just remember that the *default* is going to be distrust. You probably can’t be trusted. I probably can’t be trusted. A pin or ribbon isn’t going to change that. Being over-enthusiastic is a danger signal, just as it is in flirting, really.

    Sivi: I have no idea but I’m hoping an educator can give me some advice, when I get back, darn RL.

  19. 123

    The Back Up Project was conceived as a response to a specific incident — google Open Source Boob Project for context — and is meant to be open source in the same sort of way Occupy is.

    The project FAQ gives a good description of what the project goals are:

    To encourage ourselves to be aware of situations where women are being harassed, and to help those women out to the best of our abilities, rather than ignoring it as Somebody Else’s Problem.
    To actively provide assistance to women who need it and who want it.
    To promote an atmosphere where creepy behavior, random groping, and harassment will not be silently ignored or tolerated. It will not be considered “just the way cons are” or “just something women have to deal with.” In an ideal world, that would be the default atmosphere, but we all know we don’t live in that world.

    “Somebody Else’s Problem” resonated particularly with Ashley F. Miller’s description of her experience, where the harasser followed her around from group to group, and the group would disband, abandoning her to the harasser without recognizing what he was doing.

  20. 124

    I don’t think this is something that men can get involved in, in the same way that women do. I don’t think men can or should step in as bodyguards/security for reasons of trust as well as white knighting and even legal issues. It doesn’t mean we can’t be supportive, but maybe just in different ways.

  21. 125

    I don’t think the Back Up Project is meant to be additional event security. It’s meant to make us (the participants) more aware of what’s going on around us, and to break through the social taboos about noticing harassment and creepy behavior. It’s not meant to lead to confrontation, but of providing an out for a woman (or man) who’d like to get away from a harasser.

    I also think Pteryxx’s point above about providing a back up reporting mechanism is also good, and one that’s appealed to me from the moment I heard about it. It’s obvious that the current (or maybe just previous, as Stephanie Zvan noted) JREF “code of conduct” is insufficient in the processes needed to effectively deal with harassment, and having some easily identified people to approach who are also willing to help with official reporting is a very useful thing.

    I think there is a place for men to get involved, although it’s very much of the helping out and not leading sort of involvement. Back Up to the Back Up, as it were.

  22. 126


    Emptyell: just remember that the *default* is going to be distrust. You probably can’t be trusted. I probably can’t be trusted. A pin or ribbon isn’t going to change that.

    Yes, I know. It’s still hard for me to accept. I am so accustomed to trust being the default that it’s very hard for me to really imagine the contrary. This is why I try to be clear about my own limitations and my (limited) awareness of them. It is also part of why I am here, to get a reality check. Though I am occasionally clueless and presumptuous the alternative is to just stay in my privilege cocoon, so I am trusting ( 🙂 ) that people will set me straight as needed.

    This poisoned atmosphere of distrust that is created by the abusers makes me very angry and is the source of my enthusiasm and eagerness to do something about it, which in turn makes my motives suspect and me presumed untrustworthy by default, which pisses me off more, which…

    FWIW I fully understand the distrust default* and do not in any way blame women for the situation. I blame the dickheads who create this environment and dream up the White Knight scenario of which I can be fairly accused**.

    So I guess my question is can I do anything constructive here or should I just back off and limit my activities and support to people who already know and trust me? I’m quite serious about this because if I can’t contribute then I don’t want to waste my time or anyone else’s.

    * Rationally and intellectually that is. I really can’t model the actual experience, or perhaps just don’t want to since it makes me I’ll just to think about it.

    ** Not in a creepy way but I do see how it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the motives and behaviors.

  23. 127

    Oh ugh, the Open Source Boob Project. Ugh ugh ugh.

    I’m glad to see there was push-back on that stuff. Takes me back, and not in a great way.

  24. 128

    I know I can’t get too involved, because I’ll just start shooting and stabbing people and then that’s sort of a PR disaster, right?

    On the other hand, there’s certainly a place for guys in this. We used to sort of do something vaguely related when I was young and partying on a regular basis, where we guys would police each other. Designate a few guys to be sober, and sort of pull other guys aside if they were getting loud, getting a bit aggressive, or seemed to be trying to corner women and make their move in private. My condo was one of the main party spots one summer, and we were really strict about making sure everyone was cool, and that included not letting guys corral women into private spaces.

  25. 129


    Emptyell: just remember that the *default* is going to be distrust. You probably can’t be trusted. I probably can’t be trusted. A pin or ribbon isn’t going to change that. Being over-enthusiastic is a danger signal, just as it is in flirting, really.

    Bingo. I wouldn’t trust a man with a pin on if I didn’t know him or have any context for him. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe there are good men out there who actually do want to help, it just means there is no way for me to distinguish them from other men.

  26. 130

    On the other hand, there’s certainly a place for guys in this. We used to sort of do something vaguely related when I was young and partying on a regular basis, where we guys would police each other.

    Thanks for saying this, Improbable Joe.

    I was going to bring up the fact that men should definitely be watching out for other men engaging in or talking about harassing behavior. And then they should call those other men out. Make it so it’s not okay for men to voice those ideas in groups of men and it will help them realize that it’s really not acceptable. Otherwise, it ends up being one of those “don’t say when you’re around women, but it’s totally acceptable to say it around other men” things. When it really shouldn’t be.

    The other thing that men could do to help is to start conversations with the person doing the harassing rather than with the woman being harassed. That way the woman can escape the harasser and not be in the awkward situation of having to talk to another man whose motives she doesn’t know (assuming he’s a stranger).

  27. 131

    Improbable Joe:

    …where we guys would police each other. Designate a few guys to be sober, and sort of pull other guys aside if they were getting loud…

    This works among people who know each other. From what Pteryxx and others have pointed out it is much more difficult, if even possible, to apply in a more general way in an environment where trust is so badly broken.

    Perhaps the only way for it to work is by growing out of networks of people who know and trust each other in real life in ways similar to what you describe. To the extent that I can, I also do this within my own circles. I am beginning to get the feeling that there is little more that I can do.

    Godless Heathen:

    Bingo. I wouldn’t trust a man with a pin on if I didn’t know him or have any context for him.

    I know that slapping a pin on doesn’t make me or anyone else trustworthy. I have had my doubts from the beginning about the sticker, pin, ribbon idea, but got caught up in my fairy tale imaginings of empowered women and their minions creating a safe environment with a bit of serious humor. References to the Back Up project were also encouraging.

    It may be that the problem is intractable or it may be that it can be dealt with but that there’s little I (and men like me) can do to help. Nevertheless I will continue to look for opportunities.

  28. 132


    It’s difficult to know what to do as an ally. Unfortunately, I don’t have any solutions either. It’s rather depressing, isn’t it? I know there are men out there who want to make things better, but it’s difficult.

    I think calling out other men is a great way to do something, although I know it’s hard to do so among strangers or acquaintances for the same reason it’s difficult for women to report harassment (social conditioning, being shunned/mocked/etc., fear of the person responding poorly and escalating the situation, etc.).

  29. 133

    Can I just point out, you male guys, why is it when I say “Be careful of white-knighting” or plowing over women’s voices, y’all go straight to “But I want to Do Something!! eleventy!!” They’re not mutually exclusive, sheesh.

    Maybe this makes sense to me because I’ve volunteered so much. We’re volunteers in this fight. We don’t HAVE to be here. We’re the grunts, the rookies, the strong backs (as it were). Women (mostly) are the veterans who’ve been through the trenches and know this territory. They outrank us. LET THEM LEAD. There’s a FUCKTON of work to be done, plenty for everyone and to spare, without folks charging ahead with burning-bright rookie enthusiasm. Sexual victimization is not a game. Well-meaning mistakes can get real people trashed like Rebecca, stalked, injured or even killed.

    I can talk more about that but I think it might be a derail. For now, I’d suggest as a way to learn the field, use that RAINN website or hotline to find a sexual assault center local to you (in the US anyway) and ask if they have a volunteer course you can take. (Some of them accept male volunteers on the hotlines.) If they have fundraising events, help out at one. Listen to these people. Having experience can only help you know what to do when you’re at a conference and something suspicious goes down.

  30. 134

    Thanks Pteryxx,

    That pretty much says it. It’s always been frustrating (and infuriating, and…) for me but my frustration isn’t much compared to the problems other people are facing. So I think I’ll just shut up and learn for a while. I will continue to do my part IRL but I’ll leave the online activism to the veterans.

    Cheers, and thanks again for the insight.

  31. 135

    @ Godless Heathen,

    I think calling out other men is a great way to do something

    Yes, and I do it when I can but I don’t get much opportunity. The bubble I inhabit is not just privileged but pretty enlightened. The odd creep doesn’t get much traction in my circles.

  32. 137


    but we’ve crossed paths before during the Ryan Grant Long debacle and he’s demanded via email that I change things that I “mischaracterized” in an email where the mischaracterizations were blockquotes complete with context.

    That’s a noticable difference.
    Didn’t he also full publicly shame Greta and then tried to go for E-mail?
    But it seems like a pattern to me…

  33. 138

    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, the Backup Project volunteers can have a professional mentor! The educator’s there to teach and answer questions, not to handle reporting, but still.

    One more note – she said that a group should check with their local crisis center BEFORE listing the center by name on their harassment policy, in case it constitutes an endorsement.

    Printable materials can be requested or downloaded from local resource sites. I’m in Texas, so my local site is:

    which has lists of brochures (in English and Spanish) about non-stranger rape, sexual harassment (in the workplace) and lots of other topics.

    My two cents: y’all who are outraged, make a note to find your local center and either attend a training session or nudge your group, employer, bowling league or whatever to host one. Push this information to the organizers of any events you might attend – they too can probably have a training session for the asking.

  34. 139

    Giliell: yes and yes. Though I just realized I made an error in that pullquote — the second email should be “blog post”.

    He emailed me a very long complaint, but I was at work at the time and couldn’t really deal with it immediately. Literally twenty minutes later he cut-and-pasted his request into a comment on the post, with about a hundred words added talking about how he emailed me but since I didn’t reply or action his request, he posted it in public.

  35. 140

    @Godless Heathen (#132): I think you hit it perfectly in comment #130. That is exactly How To Be An Ally Without Imposing Yourself: police the privileged group of which you are part, while taking cues about what’s helpful (and not!) from the group to which you’re offering help. Men at gatherings can work to create an environment hostile to harassment and harassers instead of indifferent, accepting, or even encouraging. Men: call other men out on harassing or assaulting behaviors. Make it clear that they’re not cool. Doing so is not unreasonable: acting in a public space carries an implicit acceptance that one’s public actions may be publicly scrutinized. That’s sort of the meaning of “public”.

  36. 142


    That’s great stuff. By all means, let’s take advantage of the people who already have experience in these matters. That can only be to our benefit.

  37. 143

    @Godless Heathen #130:

    I’m glad you got my point. There’s a real place for men to say to other men “this is not cool” before, during, and after conventions and other public meetings. And I think that the guys who tend towards inappropriate behavior tend to knock it off when they know other guys are keeping an eye out, which is part of why simply having strong and strict anti-harassment policies in place is a great idea.

    @ Emptyell #131:

    I know the self-policing isn’t a perfect solution, but it is one more step in the right direction. The main point behind my idea and my experience is that it takes the burden off of women. Women shouldn’t have to make themselves safe from abuse, men should stop abusing women and where possible discourage other men from being abusive. It shouldn’t be up to women to avoid abuse, it should be up to men to avoid being abusive. And at every step, over and over, we need to listen to women for direction. As equals, as our friends and peers and family and loved ones.

    Every chance we all get, where it is safe and comfortable, and mostly and especially for us men, we should try to teach men to not be abusive asshats.

  38. 144

    Pteryxx: I feel like my shooting/stabbing comment was interpreted as “going straight to eleventy”… which is fair because I actually go straight to eleven. I wasn’t trying to suggest that anyone else should, or that it has anything to do with guys trying to be allies or trying to be helpful. It is just that I’m not only a former Marine, but I also went through the basic instructor classes for marksmanship and unarmed combat. So my response tends to be at a higher level than other people’s, and I have to absent myself from that sort of thing.

  39. 145

    Also, everything I said in 130 and everything Improbable Joe said in 143 and Pteryxx said in 133 goes for white people working to combat racism as well.

    I know it’s not directly related to the topic at hand, but considering how white the atheist/skeptic movement is and the fact that there’s been a lot of talk about how to make people of color feel welcome, it’s worth remembering. My guess is that there is a lot of racism and/or unexamined white privilege among this group and it would be a shame to start at zero when that becomes a larger issue (although I’m sure we will).

    In general, I believe that the best way for privileged groups to be allies to oppressed groups is to challenge members of their own group.

  40. 146

    @ Improbable Joe:

    Clearly there are no perfect solutions at present. Ultimately self-policing would be the solution if everyone did it. Even then it only works when people are free to call others out when they fail.

    In the meantime we do what we can. It seems like the only response to the toxic distrust is to just keep slowly, diligently working to rebuild it wherever and however it’s possible. Trust is so much easier to destroy than to rebuild it doesn’t feel like a fair fight, but I’ve seen enough successes that I continue to be optimistic.

  41. 147

    @ Godless Heathen #145

    You’re right. There are lots of similarities between all the various class/power struggles. It does seem that it would behoove the skeptical movement to attack these problems to whatever extent is possible. Besides being the right thing to do, we can use all the members we can get and skepticism and rationality may be the only way to really get at the problems.

  42. 148

    It is almost like… I don’t feel like I need to build trust. I feel like I need to act right and trust comes or it doesn’t, and I don’t need to make my acting right contingent on being trusted, you know? Because if I did, it would mean that I could excuse not acting right if I didn’t get enough pats on the back, and that would make me one of the bad guys.

  43. 150

    Emptyell: let it percolate, then. Take a day. Not everyone has the same stamina. You’ll find yourself back on the blogs to go over some new point again in no time.

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