On drama vs conflict regarding harassment policies

I made a snide remark aimed at certain trollish parties in a comment at Almost Diamonds in a post that probably could stand far less of my snideness. Stephanie describes the repeated and disdainful dismissal of the conflict between folks who want harassment policies and folks who don’t, and the repeated and disdainful reductionistic treatment of that conflict as one between DJ Grothe and Rebecca Watson, two players who, while leaders in our skeptical communities, are really both adjunct to the overarching question of whether or not our communities need better harassment policies. You should read that post in its entirety before coming back here.

Did you do that? No, seriously, do that. This really won’t make any sense at all otherwise.

Okay. Assuming you’ve actually read what she has to say, and you’re not just a dirty horrible blog-skimmer, here’s why I reacted the way I did.

When I hear the word “drama”, I immediately think of fiction. I think of plays, screenwriting, of driving conflict so you get the nice happy denouement at the end of the show. I think of the intentional building of drama, the “let’s make it another notch worse” aspect of most screenwriting. I think of bombast, and overacting. I don’t think of people having legitimate grievances with one another by default, and a big part of the reason why I don’t is because it’s generally not used that way in popular culture. The fact that the most appropriate definition for the actual use that people mean when they call this stuff “drama” that Stephanie could find came from Urban Dictionary is very telling.

There’s a reason you hear “dramatics” used in the same sense as “hysteria” or “histrionics”. Either it’s coded to mean people making shit up about one another just because they enjoy creating strife where there isn’t or shouldn’t be any, or they’re just using it as a new anti-woman meme since “hysteria” and “histrionics” have pretty well gone the way of “shrill harpy”.

The debate in our community about whether we should have harassment policies and whether they will disproportionately harm innocent men — notwithstanding the underreporting problem, the fact that reports are often disbelieved even with multiple lines of corroborating evidence, and the fact that such policies exist in just about every other workplace — is trumped up. It does not match the background experience in society, and while any policy could be abused, false reports apparently match false reporting statistics for other crimes, e.g. between 2 and 4%. (Could someone source that for me, or disprove? It matches what I suspected, but I can’t find those stats myself.)

To be perfectly clear: talking about differences between folks, even heatedly and about very high-stakes issues, isn’t “drama”. Drumming up conflict over irrelevant concerns, conflating facts with fiction, and just plain making things up is drama. It’s fictionalised conflict. And if there’s one trend we’ve seen lately, it’s that there’s a bunch of people willing to make things up about the Loyal Opposition and their position. Cross-reference witch-hunting, Taliban, and any other code names. But what’s horrible is, it’s as likely this “side-plot” will be dropped as will have a nice happy denouement, unless of course the conversation moderator decides to drop the truly dramatic voices.

Conflict is conflict. Drama is illegitimate conflict, in a manner of speaking.

Now kindly go back here and comment on the real issue at hand.

On drama vs conflict regarding harassment policies

20 thoughts on “On drama vs conflict regarding harassment policies

  1. 1

    Reflexively, some guys seem to regard any voicing of sexual harassment (no matter how trivial or serious) as ‘drama’ because they are simply uninterested in listening to women articulating their problems. One thing that was noticeable about Elevatorgate was that months after the Internet Abuse Bureau had been set up and fixated on their Maximum Hate mode, almost every thread following up would have its fair share of clueless douches wandering in to say stuff like, “I stayed out of Elevatorgate because it looked like a storm in a teacup. Sheesh, Internet drama, what’s the big deal? I don’t get it. What’s so bad about a guy trying to pickup at a conference anyway? I wouldn’t mind it if a girl tried to invite me for coffee.” (… continue with similar paraphrases that demonstrate both a shallow understanding and unwillingness to deal with the issues, ad nauseam…)

  2. 2

    Drumming up conflict over irrelevant concerns, conflating facts with fiction, and just plain making things up is drama. It’s fictionalised conflict.

    But these concerns aren’t irrelevant to the MRAs. They know several undeniable facts:

    1. The vast majority of harassment charges are made-up lies perpetrated by castrating women.

    b. The MRAs aren’t misogynist sexists. They love women. It just that lesbian, man-hating feminazis have convinced other women that all men are rapists.

    iii. If the MRAs aren’t allowed to harass interact with women, they’ll never get laid.

    Just ask the MRAs, they’ll explain these undeniable facts to you. In fact, you don’t even have to ask, they’ll explain over and over and over and over….

  3. 4

    Xanthë: oh cripes, how I hate umlauts. They really wreck my typing flow.

    Anyway. Yes. The folks wading into this fight are seeing actions in response to other actions without any of the context, so it’s like a show “in media res”. Only they apparently don’t care to figure things out before they start commenting.

  4. 5

    @2 Yup. At least four different dudes posted last July that if the very low odds come on was disallowed in elevators, the whole human race would die out.

  5. 6

    And are then absolutely flabberghasted when people with some irritation point out that their concerns have already been addressed many times over.

  6. 8

    Just one thing, though. There has to be space to criticize the tone that the conflict has taken, without this being automatically taken as a dismissal of the concerns in question. I for one believe that harassment policies are necessary; I do have to point out, though, that such policies often are written in a way that penalize behaviours that are quite acceptable. One example would be the harassment policy that was once put in place at Concordia University in Montreal, whereby making any sort of advance was considered sexual harassment led to people being charged for leaning in for a kiss at a party. This was not the result of a complaint by the woman involved, but by a third party. A well written policy that makes clear distinctions between harassment and non-threatening, non-coercive behaviours? count me in. But trying to eliminate all behaviour that one person might find uncomfortable? not really. Coercion, use of power relationships, insistence after refusal, all of these constitute harassment, and should most definitely be banned (and yes, that includes ElevatorGate, which falls under the “power relationship” class in my book).

    Let’s not conflate a convention, especially a non-professional one like an atheist convention (it may feel like a professional event for the speakers, but is not so for most attendees) with a workplace. A workplace can reasonably be expected to be free of all sexual relationships. A convention is as much a party as a formal gathering. And things that are ok at parties should be considered ok at conventions, especially outside of formal events. Once again, the question is: is the woman reasonably allowed to make her own choice to participate or not? If so, it’s not harassment; otherwise, it is.

  7. 9

    jjgdenisrobert: That’s nice, but conventions actually ARE workplaces for a lot of people. I wrote about that here.

    The proposed policies that people are raging the hardest about seem to be the ones that affect almost uniformly the employees and speakers at the convention. This is important.

  8. 10

    Your first comment on Stephanie’s post:

    If anyone’s driving “drama”, it’s the folks making up side concerns and distracting from the real issues at hand while the adults are trying to damn well fix this stuff.

    Isn’t this the opposite of one of the primary responses to why Dawkins’ ‘Dear Muslima’ post was so ‘wrong’, namely that there is time to work on big issues and smaller issues simultaneously? Your quote also reminds me of what I see as a low point in your blog’s posts on feminism, which was the response you got to your ‘Vilifying Dissent’ post (to be clear, your post itself was not the low point, just the comments from the community). For some reason your putting up one post that was legitimately critical of people on ‘your side’ was distracting from the important stuff and way off-base, along with some other ‘arguments’ that would get outright laughed at if the topic was atheism or evolution or just about anything except feminism.

    And yeesh, we’re consulting dictionaries now for definitions of ‘drama’, but they are irrelevant for ‘bitch’? I thought that was out of bounds since it is in conflict with some definitions provided by ‘Linguistics 101’ (which looks remarkably like Humpty-Dumpty-ism to me) and doesn’t capture usage.

  9. 11

    Spartan: the problem is almost entirely that while people can work on the big issues and the little issues simultaneously, the people working on the big issues are being drawn away from that via petulant demands that they instead work on those little issues.

    This has nothing even remotely to do with my villifying dissent post, because I said people can damn others for their actions. The response was that there is a disparity in pattern recognition — that some people are capable of telling that certain folks are working explicitly to erode the work on the big issues by distracting with the little ones. The difference here is the big issues and the little issues are directly correlated and the attention split is a zero sum game. The response with Dear Muslima is that you can’t rage about harassment in one place without ignoring sexual injustice elsewhere in the world — and that’s purely wrong.

  10. 12

    And yes, considering the dictionary definition of “drama” came from Urban Dictionary to get a sense how people are actually using those words, go look at all the top-rated UD definitions on the first page of “bitch”.

  11. 13

    To be clear, because I wasn’t @11: in this case, the overarching issue is harassment policies. The people working on trying to implement them are being called Talibanesque, witch-hunters, prudes, et cetera, all while being told that they have to explain how anyone knows there’s even any harassment in the community (because they’re “skeptical”), that harassment policies actually help, that we’re putting into place procedures to protect the 2-4% of false reports from undue blowback, et cetera. We’re re-fighting the same ground over and over again. And not because we’re not winning on those points (e.g. providing evidence, providing education), but because we’re getting Zerg rushed. How is anyone supposed to work on the harassment policies themselves while trying to hold the ground that they’re even NECESSARY?

    That’s how this fight is a zero sum game. The big concerns and the little ones are directly opposed.

  12. 14

    The big concerns and the little ones are directly opposed.

    Why exactly then are you even fighting the little ones? Is it really necessary in this case to fight these little ones in order to achieve the big one? The ‘Crossreference…Taliban’ link in your post is broken, but I’ll assume that it is some idiotic ‘argument’ against harassment policies that deserves a good squashing, but if you didn’t squash how would that impede your ability to address the big concerns? To use your analogy, are you sure that this mission is to hold your base against and eventually destroy the Zerg as much it is to build enough troops to escort Raynor off the top of the map before the Zerg overwhelm your base?

    As far as ‘bitch’, I guess I’m not seeing any of the top rated UD definitions saying or implying that it is a slur, as I think you define that term, or that it is the sexist equivalent of ‘nigger’. I’ll admit that my sample is non-scientific, but I cannot find a female family member, friend, or co-workers who agrees that the word bitch is sexist, and the way they define it is pretty consistent and far more benign than what it seems to mean to you. And they are of course, as the potential target of the word, precisely the people who define its meaning. I’ve never been clear on the reasoning why their opinion is ignored.

  13. 15

    Uh oh. Spartan may be a Zerg apologist.

    I mean, really now. How few women must you know to not be able to find a single one who thinks “bitch” is sexist?

  14. 16

    I mean, really now. How few women must you know to not be able to find a single one who thinks “bitch” is sexist?

    Didn’t say it was a scientific sample. I’m assuming you are not so sheltered as to not know any who don’t think it’s sexist? These women are just ‘wrong’? None of them have said things to the effect that they see it as the equivalent of ‘jerk’ or ‘asshole’? Since it does have a benign meaning as defined, and used, by some women, and I accept that it has a sexist one as defined by some women, does the more offensive definition/usage automatically take precedent? I’m trying to understand your logic. Ophelia has said essentially that yes, the stronger more offensive meanings obliterate the more benign one, which is fine, it makes her stance on the word rational from top to bottom… if you agree with that subjective step.

    Which of the up-voted definitions on UD do you believe is sexist? Are the UD users just being bashful and not just coming out and saying straight, “I think it is the sexist equivalent of the ‘n-word””?

  15. 17

    No, the folks at UD on those top-rated definitions all uniformly mean it as either “whine like a”, or define it strictly as a thing that women are or do. Consider also its origin as “female dog”, and you get the full scope and breadth of why it’s sexist.

  16. 19

    Jason @17,

    With all due respect man, and a lot is due, don’t you think you are adding content to the UD definitions? None of the top rated ones I saw say ‘whine like a woman’, but I’ll admit I haven’t gone through all 10+ pages; the closest I see is ‘an annoying and whining woman’. Being annoying and whining are not positive traits in anyone, correct? And I’m sorry, the proposition that some people are able to use ‘pattern recognition’ to ascertain content that is not provided from freakin blog comments sets off just about all my skeptical alarms.

    I know you believe this topic has been refuted over and over and is tiresome and I’m way OT with this discussion, so thanks for your responses. Out of the usual words objected to, ‘bitch’ is the only one that doesn’t seem right to me and to women I’ve asked; I think you have a stronger case in fact that ‘pussy’ is more sexist than ‘bitch’. Limbaugh calls a woman a slut and there is a giant uproar, yet you can’t watch the tube for very long without encountering the word bitch, and almost no one says anything. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that women are used to prevalent sexism and just abide it and I don’t deny there is credence to that, but there is pretty much undeniable evidence that another reason that the word gets a pass is that many women do not define it the way you do. Is the rule that the most offensive definition/usage prevails when you have words that have a spectrum of meanings? Are you confident enough declaring what the word means to the extent that you are comfortable telling women who use the word bitch that they should not, in person?

    And seriously, keep up the good work. How anyone can object to sexual harassment policies for conventions/meetings that are already in place at every place of employment is beyond me.

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