In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in

Have you noticed that the people who tend to engender the most by-volume outrage about the feminist topics that have intersected with our skeptical and atheist communities lately aren’t actually the outright trolls or blatantly bigoted jerks? Okay, they get some ire, but are usually silenced in due course, and the rest of my statement is probably true of a lot of arguments. So I’m going to try to make this general, mostly, as a resource for future conversations, but include specific advice for this specific argument in the process.

The people who really seem to create the longest-term whargarbl — the peak burn for internet conflict — are almost always the folks who think they’re reasonable and just want to know what all the fuss is about, and make snap judgments about or unreasonable demands of the folks trying to drive the discussion — demands like “Explain everything that’s happened to lead up to this point in the conversation. And you both should calm down because both sides are being mean. Also, all those weird words that you’ve used up there, they mean something different in my mind and so you’re probably wrong unless you explain right now. ANNNNND GO.

These people can very often be extremely well-placed in the community, and have a lot of fans and cause a lot of blowback and DEEEEEEP RIIIIIIFTS. The higher up the food chain a supporter or detractor is, the more likely they carry with them any number of adjuncts who will complain bitterly that they’re being “forced to choose sides” or otherwise buy into the slurs and mischaracterizations that their heroes proclaim. When someone near the top jumps in without doing the background research, the splash damage can be absolutely enormous.

But I was just asking questions!

Let’s assume for the moment that this straw-dummy example of what we’ve seen in the second paragraph italicized bit is not, in actuality, a troll using the technique to get a rise out of people, e.g. that it’s not someone arguing in bad faith. It’s very difficult to tell if someone is just asking questions, or if someone is Just Asking Questions (a.k.a JAQing off) in an effort to forestall conversational progress, which is probably why the technique is favored by certain seasoned derailers.

I will assume good faith in this because it is in actuality somewhat of an alleviation — a pressure-valve release — of some of the frustration that a conversation might entail. When you recognize that someone’s just trying to get your goat, you can back off of a conversation where the other person is obviously arguing in bad faith. Of course, it would be somewhat uncharitable to smack people around who are ACTUALLY just asking questions, because they just tuned in. And active bigotry is probably pretty rare in background society, but the bar for expressing it is absurdly low on the internet where nobody knows that you’re a dog — and sure, when we spot one of those, we get rightly annoyed.

But what really gets us furious is when people make specious claims and decisions based on insufficient information, then dig in their heels when people try to reeducate those naifs. When someone comes along claiming some supernatural thing that they “just know”, and you ask them what it would take to change their minds, if the answer is “nothing” then there’s no conversation to be had. Likewise with people who stand by their original judgments even in the face of all the further evidence, links, et cetera that you provide. If one side is not budging at all, it’s not a dialogue. Especially not if the person who isn’t budging is the person who’s proven themselves grossly ignorant of the facts at hand. You know how it works with creationism and Bigfoot, so why not with feminism?

Why all the hostility then?

Chances are, the outrage around these parts about the Just Asking Questions tactic comes mostly from the fact that we as skeptics are pretty much expected to Google that shit before asking it. We expect that folks in our community know how to find the resources and the information that we need before making judgments about stuff. And when we see “one of our own” being terrible at actually making the effort necessary to learn something before spouting off at the mouth, even the best of us will get testy.

And rightly so, when the brusque “hey, try this link” reply is summarily dismissed as rude by the recipient. Or worse, when the whole conversation is mischaracterized blatantly as “dogmatic” by someone who admits to essentially having just started watching after the final commercial break in the last part of a five-part miniseries. Seriously, there are some points where it’s better to just sit back and take in the action, and try to find the information you need, before you drop the brain-mouth filter long enough to ask something stupid and spiteful-sounding.

Okay, so are there ground rules to keep in mind if I don’t want to hit a nerve?

All I can really say about the practice of asking for the run-down in the middle of a big fight, is this. If you, as a participant in a conversation that obviously has a lot of backstory, expect to have your analysis of the situation keyed properly and rationally and received as the enlightened wisdom that it is as befits your stature as a member of the skeptical community, you should probably find out what it’s about first.

The clues are very often right there in the post, so when you think you should disagree, perhaps make sure the provided source material supports or refutes your arguments preemptively. And when there are no links, but a lot of references or blockquotes, that often involves either searching for that backstory, or at the very least reading a few (preferably from opposing viewpoints) summaries of the arguments in question. And being good skeptics, don’t assume the first summary you find is canon. Seek out an opposing viewpoint. In the skeptical community, you’d think this advice would be obvious.

When you do decide to ask questions, it’s in your own best interest to avoid front-loading the question with your personal assumptions about what’s going on. You remember the last time someone asked you, “why did you choose not to believe in God?” Remember how irritated you were by that framing, given that you never chose any such thing? Avoid questions like those.

By the way, don’t come charging in with “both sides are equally as bad” when you know that’s pretty much never true any time it’s used, much less when you don’t know what both sides are actually doing. Especially when you think you DO know what both sides are doing, and you think you’re employing hyperbole to make a point. It’s never true in politics, it isn’t true in religion, and it isn’t true in feminist topics like this one. When there’s a disproportionate amount of voices doing disproportionately nasty things on one side of the equation, seeing another use somewhat-naughty words is false equivalence and you damn well know it.

Learn the language

If you’re completely brand new to the whole feminist thing, you’re probably going to hear a lot of terms-of-art like “privilege” or “slut-shaming“. They actually mean something, and you should probably know what they mean before you question that they exist or that they’re necessarily bad.

These words’ meanings very often actually entail a lot of the very objections you might initially want to raise, and it behooves you to know whether or not your objections are at all on point. The words are also well-evidenced, as they often describe sociological conditions and trends that are observed amongst real populations of real human beings. Very few of these sample populations are internet-based. Very many of these words apply to internet-based human beings equally, regardless. Another point to remember is that even trolls are human beings, though by definition trolls are only interested in shutting up the conversation, not in actually scoring rhetorical points.

So, what about the Taliban-like anti-harassment policies fight?

Now that you know the ground rules, it’s pretty much up to you to get up to speed. In context of this specific discussion, getting up to speed means knowing that:

a) Harassment happens at skeptical conferences (and probably at about the same rate as other conferences, or at least the same as the harassment rate in the background society). While this harassment may not be any WORSE than background society, that means it is NOT a “safe space” in the sense of being BETTER.

b) Harassment in general has a drastic underreporting problem that results in statistics being notoriously spotty.

c) Many skeptical conferences are only just now adopting strong anti-harassment policies for the first time, after noticing that their female attendance is either slipping or has never been all that great to begin with.

d) People advocating harassment policies are in actuality attempting to protect everyone from harassment, not just women. None of the language is protective exclusively of women.

e) These people who are advocating harassment policies (especially if they are women) are facing another iteration of the long-term trolling that anyone on the internet faces when talking about any sort of feminist topic. It has been cyclically cresting and waxing for years now, but all the abuse appears to be aimed at those folks who dare to question privilege on any particular axis.

You can find all of these facts from various sources covering this conflagration, and they are often not only well evidenced, but often the proof of these points come from the comment threads on the very posts they’re discussing.

So, is it okay to start late at all, then?

It’s perfectly acceptable to jump into watching a TV show or start reading a book near the end. That’s called “in medias res” — jumping into the middle of things. Sometimes stories do this on purpose, catching you up with the action as you watch, but the stories have to be specifically structured that way for it to be an enjoyable experience for the uninitiated.

For those who have been engaged in the fight and have been targeted for gaslight and slur campaigns for any length of time, having someone show up with the popcorn now, so deep in, and expecting that person to fill you in personally is, well, pretty rude. It’s probably significantly ruder, since you’re doing it about real conflict and not made-up drama, than for you to do the same with that big movie that’s just about to end. Seriously, you don’t expect the person watching the climax to fill you in on why it’s NOT dumb that there’s a green guy swinging a pointy-hatted fellow around and smashing him into the ground a lot. Either keep quiet and watch the end, and rent the movie later so you find out why there’s space dragons, or simply leave the topic alone for the sake of the sanity of the person who’s been there since the beginning. Seriously. I’m trying to watch here.

Or, alternately, you can wait for it all to blow over and ask questions then. That’s less onerous on the time and motivations of the person involved, and way less likely to leave you looking pushy or uninformed.

So, I hope that helps somewhat. In the interest of fairness, the comments section will be a 101-level (e.g. “Intro To…”) discussion of this current anti-harassment policy flap, and I truly hope that people will understand if questions are asked which sound significantly like you’re JAQing off, as I’ve explicitly earmarked this thread for this purpose. As long as your questions are asked in good faith, I’ll try (and I hope my commenters will do likewise) to answer them as my own time allows.

Also, if folks are less interested in the 101-level conversation and more interested in crowdsourcing links that are appropriate to particular phrases in this post, I’d be very happy to add your suggestions. (You know, assuming I don’t read them and they turn out to be something completely the opposite of what I meant.) I’m especially looking at you, Pteryxx, and your cache of research.

In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in

46 thoughts on “In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in

  1. 1

    Some of the problems you highlight are extremely difficult to solve. Excepting trolls, most people who show the symptoms you describe, ie just asking questions, do not realize they have these symptoms. As someone immersed in a prolonged debate, I think it is difficult to see a post from a n00b’s perspective. The n00b may be unaware of the backstory or even that there is a backstory. The n00b is likely not aware that they do not understand the language. If you’re unaware that you have a deficiency, how could you possibly fix it? So unless one starts a post with a statement like “There is a long backstory leading up to this and here are some generally misunderstood terms you need to be aware of…” then you’ll always have these kind of comments. I guess you could have a link to this post before any post you may be concerned with. 🙂

    That being said, if the comments continue after being told by other commenters that there is a backstory or you’re using that word wrong, well then your commenter may have moved into troll territory. Of course sometimes it’s difficult for a well meaning n00b to really hear that there is a backstory and that their definition is wrong in a comment thread. The trolls are shouting down the commenters trying to explain the language. Commenters may be telling each other and the n00b to STFU and throwing insults around making communication essentially impossible.

    I agree with your major thrust here and you make excellent points. I do think as a person in on the atheist harassment policy discussion from the ground floor you have a certain privilege (to use a phrase) that makes it difficult to see things from the n00b perspective. As you ask, is it ok to start late at all? That questions depends on the reader knowing that they are starting late.

  2. 4

    The thing is that almost every post in this discussion starts with or contains bunch of links which point to other posts which have more links. Someone who’s new to the conversation should be following as many of those links as possible to catch up.

    Once the new-comer has read a post and it’s links, I consider it acceptable to comment, “I’m just tuning in, can someone point me to the major points so I can catch up before I stick my foot in my mouth?” The response to this can be a quick rundown of links to go read as opposed to the not-so-brief rundown of everything that’s happened up to that point which Jason’s italicized portion asks for (demands, really).

    And as much as I hate them, read the comments. A lot of the major points (or proofs of behaviour) are nested in the comments as well as some of the answers that latecomers are looking for. It’s up to the readers to do their due diligence as much as it’s up to those writing to make sure that they’ve done their research.

  3. 5

    Such a repeated conversation as feminism and male privilege is a hard one to prevent people jumping in on without doing the research.

    Ah, the topic is feminism. I know many women, I may be in a committed relationship with one or I may be one (or both), I’m related to several women and I have a lifetime of experience hearing the word feminism! What can two, seven, or sixty blog posts and comment threads tell me that I haven’t heard already? Therefore there is no reason to educate myself further, I have something to say, so brace yourself, Internet!

  4. 6

    When there’s a disproportionate amount of voices doing disproportionately nasty things on one side of the equation, seeing another use somewhat-naughty words is false equivalence and you damn well know it.


  5. 7

    It’s very difficult to tell if someone is just asking questions, or if someone is Just Asking Questions (a.k.a JAQing off) in an effort to forestall conversational progress, which is probably why the technique is favored by certain seasoned derailers.

    I’ve also been wrestling with this topic. I’m newish, so I don’t know the habitual trolls by name, so I tend to be startled when a possibly innocent question gets a response that contains a lot of hostility.

    I have been wondering if having a separate thread for 101 questions about feminism and other progressive topics would be helpful. And as I thought about it, I realized that an honestly curious person who had background questions would probably move to a subthread, but a JAQ off would probably stay parked in the center of the room, like King Kong up a building, swatting conversational efforts out of the sky.

  6. 9

    *cringes in spotlight* Eeep!

    Um, I’m not sure what exactly you’re asking for Jason, but thanks. Here are some of the go-to links I keep pulling out over and over in these discussions.

    General feminism 101: what is slut-shaming, privilege etc.

    Q: Why are women so upset about men flirting with them, complimenting them, joking about them and so on? Isn’t that harmless?

    A: Chilly climate is real. Article with links to research:

    A: So is stereotype threat:

    Q: Why are some women frightened when men approach them? Why don’t they just say “no” and not let it bother them?

    A: Men can very easily act scary to women without realizing it. See “Schrodinger’s Rapist”, still the best for the basics:

    Also Crommunist’s excellent take on it:

    A: Women cannot expect that their “no” will do any good. Some men take “no” as a challenge or insult and will subject the woman to WORSE treatment if she dares say “no”. See:

    Also see Gavin de Becker’s work in “The Gift of Fear”.

    Q: But this person/I can’t be sexist if they’re/I’m not doing it on purpose, right?

    A: Unfortunately unconscious racism or sexism, called “implicit bias”, is a big factor and everyone has it to some degree. Classic examples are screened orchestra auditions and ethnic names on job applications. This is a decent starting point:

    Q: Aren’t women just punishing socially clueless guys for innocent misinterpretations?

    A: Not really, no. There’s a pervasive and dangerous myth that the *women* are causing misunderstandings. Actually, there are a LOT of dangerous, predatory men out there who pretend to be misunderstood as cover.


    Q: Why is this all about women? Do men NEVER get sexually harassed/assaulted/raped?

    A: Absolutely men do, by any gender of assailant, though they’re at less risk than women. Male victims often are silenced by the same victim-blaming that women receive, with the addition of threats to their masculinity, such as accusations that they’re gay. Toxic masculinity says that Real Men don’t get raped, Real Men do the raping.



    This link I don’t toss out in just any conversation, but it’s one of the most valuable resources I know. This is a strictly moderated thread where male rape survivors recount their stories. It’s important when someone absolutely refuses to acknowledge that men can be raped, and because male survivors often have no narrative with which to understand what happened to them; and it’s vital that anyone concerned with rape and sexual assault understand what it looks like for men.

  7. 10

    As far as the roundup of *this* particular mess, here’s a rough timeline focusing mostly on Stephanie Zvan’s blogging, which has been central to the conversation.

    May 20: Jen of Blag Hag’s offhand comment about being informally warned of “creepy” male speakers, mentioned here:

    and here:

    Jen’s own mention here:

    May 22: Stephanie Zvan picked up on the need for harassment policies and began working on getting them instituted:

    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.

    She links to the Geek Feminism sample policy in this post. That link again:

    May 23: Four days after the initial mention, several conventions had pledged to adopt or improve their harassment policies and Stephanie was collecting suggestions for further improvements:

    Other blogs picking up the conversation:

    And disagreeing:

    Then the backlash started:

    Targeting Jen, May 23:

    May 29: While this was going on, Elyse reported the sex-card incident at Skepticamp Ohio, which was handled adeptly by Carl Tracy under that event’s newly adopted anti-harassment policy:

    —– DJ Grothe and TAM’s harassment policy

    As the discussion spread, Kylie Sturgess blogged about the conversation and asked for women to volunteer their reasons:

    In that post, she quoted a Facebook comment by an event organizer, DJ Grothe, mentioning that women’s registration at TAM had fallen from 40% last year to 18% this year.

    Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. 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 followed up on this quote in comments at Kylie’s and Stephanie’s blogs. Rebecca Watson asked him to clarify who he meant by prominent women skeptics creating a climate where women feel unsafe. His response named Rebecca’s interview in USA Today a year previous, Stephanie’s posts “Zero Tolerance” “Making it Safer in the Meantime” and “Real Progress”, and Jen’s post “Dealing with Badly Behaving Speakers” all linked above.

    Link to DJ’s comment, May 30:

    Commenters called DJ out immediately, and he followed up with this comment:

    Again, I think our survey data from last year’s TAM is pretty relevant to this point. People who attend do not feel unsafe or unwelcome, and that bears mentioning at least somewhere in all of these posts about supposed rampant sexual harassment and unnamed lists of certain speakers “victimizing” young women, and the like. So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.

    May 31: Stephanie summarized the conversation with DJ Grothe and critiques his comments here:

    So now you know. If you were considering reporting harassment or assault to JREF so that they could make their speaker roster more safe, you now know what kind of person you are and what actually happened–all before you tell him. At least according to this comment. For anyone who was trying to find out why these things aren’t reported, here’s one answer.

    For the record, no, that’s not the kind of thing we’re talking about. One of the incidents, told to me by the person it happened to, was an attempted rape. And Jen has been clear about the scope of the problem from the beginning.

    May 30: Ashley Miller reports a serious incident of harassment at TAM that DJ apparently intervened in but did not recognize as such; the incident was not considered reported until DJ took note of this conversation. Her blog conversation is linked in her FTB intro roundup:

    Sexual Harassment and TAM

    I have weighed in on this several times — I was harassed at TAM last year, and the problem was addressed very quickly, but I still have problems with the way DJ talks about the issue.

    TAM 8: Slut Shaming

    The Sexist Speaker Problem

    TAM9: How I was harassed and how DJ dealt with it. My main takeaways of the online discussion, my angry fact-correction of DJ, and Why Women Don’t Report Harassment.


    One of DJ’s arguments was that sexual harassment isn’t a significant problem, at least not at TAM, due to his general exit survey and having no incidents (barring Ashley’s above) reported.

    June 1: American Secular Census information released:

    June 2: Jason Thibeault quotes my citations showing sexual harassment is rarely reported at all:

    June 1: Rebecca Watson withdraws from TAM, citing unwelcome climate and disagreement with the statements and policies of DJ Grothe:

    June 3: DJ Grothe apologizes, in that comment thread, only to Rebecca Watson, and only for misconstruing her comments. He repeated claims that blogs about the topic contain misinformation and that public messaging was creating a hostile environment.

    Covered and replied to here:

    and here:

    June 4: Stephanie Zvan posts to repeat multiple requests for DJ Grothe to confirm and clarify TAM’s harassment policy, if any, for 2012.

    As of this writing, DJ has not responded and no official policy or statement is on the TAM website.

  8. 11

    Oh wow. You wonder why you’re getting a reputation as a boon to these talks, Pteryxx? I was honestly just hoping you’d pass along a few links from your existing cache, not doing a whole crapload of original research and link-farming.

    I’ll get to work integrating some of those links from the first one ASAP.

    Unreal. Well done!

  9. 12

    Um, those first ones WERE from my existing cache. ~;> I didn’t have a timeline made up for Harassmentgate yet, though, and it really needs one.

    Note that the problem – unreported systemic harassment, as Jen mentioned – was discussed, addressed, and solutions suggested (and implemented) within the first week or so. Everything SINCE then has been waves of backlash and misinformation – and, yes, harassment – aimed at the messengers. I had no idea of the sweep of it before making that timeline.

  10. 14

    Yes, better make sure you block all those those don’t agree with all the character assassinations, straw manning of others people’s views etc.

    If we ban all the dissenters, freethoughtblogs can safely circle jerk(or scissor) with the privilege hunting feminists and their white knights.

  11. 16

    Any specific examples of what you’re alleging (character assassination, straw-manning), polanski? Or are you just fapping off?

  12. 18

    I think we might need a fullish timeline somewhere, if only so it’s easier to cross reference the various major posts, comments, and videos.

    I’ve been following this on FTB and Skepchick since Rebeca announced she wasn’t going to TAM, and I’m painfully aware of the gaps in my knowlage regarding… Erm, the other things in the camel’s load, so to speak. I’m not certain DJ’s assessment of the drop in female TAM should be considered a straw, but I can’t think of a better word or analogy now.

  13. 20

    That timeline could easily be filled out with Ophelia’s, PZ’s, and Jason’s posts on the same issues, then with the posts for and against DJ Grothe. Probably with notations where key arguments, quotes, and citations were introduced.

    Now there’s a new wave of secondary attacks following the Drama posts:

    the Ask an Atheist podcast, referenced here:

    the Ardent Atheist discussion here:

    And just in, *another* report of harassment at TAM 2011 that event staff apparently refused to record:

    And now we’re up to date.

  14. 21

    *sigh* I ought to curate a timeline-of-major-events I guess. At least to point out what we started talking about when, because it puts the lie to DJ’s “they’re scaring people away from TAM!” nonsense. You know, since his mention of TAM is the first mention of TAM in this conversation, AFAIK.

  15. 22

    Right – DJ *volunteered* that women’s registration at TAM was down, along with his theory that women bloggers talking about harassment was scaring them away. Before that, the conversation was about harassment policies, demanding that victims report and name names, and a side issue of supposedly demonizing harmless flirting. Rebecca wasn’t involved at all until DJ named her.

  16. 23

    Thanks Pteryxx. Just having the order of the posts by date has been extremely helpful, because I hadn’t realized that the backlash had started almost a full week *before* DJ made the post about TAM attendance.

    Which makes it more likely that he was looking for a scapegoat rather than being clueless.

  17. Rob

    Jason & Pteryxx

    The OP and Pteryxx’s comments with links are great. I do wish that I had had the info and guidance prior to the most recent shit storm erupting. Having only been following a few of the FTB bloggers for a short time I had not even got my head around the range of viewpoints present, let alone the depth of assumed knowledge and the subtleties of the language required for meaningful conversation.

    It was quite shocking seeing what had appeared to be a unified (while diverse) group suddenly fracture quite so spectacularly. Still they say civil wars are the bloodiest. I certainly didn’t feel safe to join in, partly because I rapidly became aware I was out of my depth with respect to a frame of reference for much of the discussion.

    Still, at least I’m better informed now and less likely to say something stupid on this topic at least (best efforts but no promises).

    So, this stuff is good, I know Natalie Reed has a good glossary & FAQ. If other FTB’ers (bloggers and regular commentators) felt energetic enough to over time put together similar materials I think it would make a fantastic resource to help inform discussion, probably better than the results of random googling for sure.

    Thanks again.

  18. 29

    Pteryxx: adding to the chorus, thanks for awesome work.

    Should things like Hallq’s (idiotic, IMO) attempted defense of DJ Grothe be added to the list? It demonstrates that this isn’t a “FTB vs TAM” thing.

    Maybe also some link to the Krauss thing to give context to the otherwise-bizarre mention of child sex trafficking.

  19. 30

    I’ll join in on the chorus of thinking Pteryxx is awesome for the links. I’ve been following since the beginning and still missed some of the info, so this is even better for people who come into this new.

    Jason, I woke up this morning thinking the same thing…that the first mention of TAM in any of this was when DJ brought it up. Nobody that I can remember said anything positive or really negative about any SPECIFIC event (excepting of course Elyse’s situation that was handled BY a policy) prior to DJ bringing TAM into the conversation. Anyone have any different information?

    Because the only thing I can find of Rebecca saying anything about TAM prior to DJ’s comments were positive, which would indicate that anyone who’s trying to make this situation ABOUT a fight between DJ and Rebecca would seem to have either incorrect information, or an agenda of their own in my opinion.

  20. 31

    Question from samoanbiscuit on the timeline thread:

    Hi, I have a question. If I offend for seeming to JAQ or something, I’ll understand, but I’ve been reading these links for the past two days (I’m a pharyngula lurker who’s recently decided to read other blogs where the comments threads don’t race into the hundreds of comments before breakfast).
    My question is: The people (women) who have experienced such behaviour from these “big names” in the skeptic community, why don’t they find some “wikileakish” way of releasing the names (times, dates, maybe evidence would be awesome)? This reluctance to out these people as abusive due to concerns about the skeptic movement sound oddly like the justifications for covering up for paedophile priests. Surely that can’t do as much damage as has already been done by this divide?

    Not as much damage to the individual harassment victims, but that would certainly be unfair and unmeasured, and very prone to abuse. The goal isn’t to name-and-shame publicly here, it’s to protect the victims and make sure that harassment incidents have the support they need. We’re trying to be measured, not to spam people with lists of names that could as easily have been compiled out of spite for this effort.

    Though I note on the timeline when a name was named but nobody did any gaslighting, questioning of the experience, nor vilifying the alleged harasser.

  21. 34

    Thanks for the helpful links! My head was spinning and my paraphrases were getting sloppy.

    I think there’s been some misinterpretation of this embedded quote.

    “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. . . ”

    This is apparently quoted from Rebecca’s USA Today interview. I haven’t found that page and seen the larger context. Just these two sentences that DJ quoted are apparently the basis for much discussion.

    I want to point out that Rebecca doesn’t say “TAM”, she says “freethought community”. And, without context, she could easily mean freethought community on the internet as well as in person. Considering the kind of hostility, abuse and threats she faces on the internet, characterizing the broader freethought community as “not a safe space” is not an extreme statement. (She did not say anything like – attending TAM will cause you harm.)

    I also want to point that the phrase “safe space” means something specific when used in feminist or progressive circles, and I think D.J. didn’t interpret Rebecca’s point very clearly.

    #1 yahoo search result for — feminism “safe space” — is the Geek Feminism Wiki. These are the first two sentences of the definition:

    Safe space is a term for an area or forum where either a marginalised group are not supposed to face standard mainstream stereotypes and marginalisation, or in which a shared political or social viewpoint is required to participate in the space. For example, a feminist safe space would not allow free expression of anti-feminist viewpoints, and would typically also prevent concern trolling and continual Feminism 101 discussions in favour of feminist discussion among feminists.

  22. 35

    I’ve seen that objection in other contexts, too – “You say we’re not a safe space? What a horrible accusation!” If it’s not clear why that makes marginalized people tear their eyebrows out, you are blinkered by privilege.

    Here’s how it is: the world is an unsafe space. Marginalized people go about their everyday lives in a state of unsafety or uncertain safety. If they can hide their differences, as I can with being gay, atheist, and mentally ill, they often do so, because otherwise any given encounter might or might not contain bigotry, harassment, misunderstanding, condesplaining, or a threat to our jobs or physical safety. Therefore, if a space does not take active, vigorous measures to protect marginalized people, it is not a safe space. If you’re doing it right, these measures will be noticed by privileged people and make some of them uncomfortable – if that’s not happening, your measures are not actually having an effect on their behavior, which is what’s required. In fact, it’s probably not desirable for every place to be a safe space – 101 conversations like this one have to happen somewhere, for one thing.

    To say that a place is not a safe space is not to say that it’s especially bad. “Not a safe space” just means “normal.” It’s just that we’re not big fans of normal, because “normal” is equipped with things like cameras on telescoping poles.

  23. 40

    Pteryxx, Wow that is amazing. Damn where were you when I needed you. This is Wendell a semi noobie (I have been reading what I thought was most of what was going on but turns out to not be anywhere near sufficient) the instigator of the Argument with Emery video (“Penisgate Debate” (you tube) or Great Penis Debate (Almost Diamonds). If I had your post at hand it would have made a huge difference in what I knew and how I presented it. Sigh .. too bad you did not write it until after I needed it.

    Jason sorry I have not been following your writings on this. I think that would have helped. At least I would have known what Mallorie was talking about.

    I am not experienced at this level of discussion and I now have the bruises to prove it. In particular I have always thought myself a feminist but am suffering from what can only be labeled ‘reality shock’ from the reactions to my posts on this at Almost Diamonds. I can easily see how the attitudes of the ‘Emerites’ are faulty and when they beat me up it is not a problem but when the people whom I am (however clumsily) making an effort to help smack me around for word choices and implications I have no awareness of, I have been gobsmacked.

    Oh well who ever said learning anything new was easy and particularly being a calcified older white male I am clearly blind to my own privilege. As mentioned above, time for me to get me some readin’ in.

    Gee I guess my 15 minutes of fame is up. Penisgate did not even make the timeline….(LOL)

  24. 42

    A few links to add to Pterryx’s wonderfully lovely list:

    Sexual Harassment/Rape/Misogyny

    1 in 6:
    Another resource for male survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the director at a training recently, and was very impressed. Also, they will happily provide their materials for free upon request, and run a ‘lending library’ of other resources if requested.

    Another Post About Rape:
    Discusses some of the socialization that contributes to rape culture; useful in that it covers the reasons why women sometimes don’t report/don’t say no strongly/’put up with’ harassment.

    Don’t be that guy:
    Useful in looking at how men can be better allies, or how to help create safe spaces. (Jim Hines has a post linked from here which is also worth a look)

    On bitch and other misogynistic language:
    Discusses why misogyny in language is so powerful; helpful in explaining why language has to be a part of any discussion about harassment and safe space.

    Meet the Predators:
    Pteryxx has the follow-up to this, but even though it’s linked back on that post, it may be useful to have the original post which covers the Lisak & Miller and McWhorter papers.

    Privilege in general

    Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:
    The essay by Peggy McIntosh that started off the whole privilege discussion.

    And as a corollary:

    The Privilege List:
    As it says, a list of links covering the varying types of privilege.

    Project Implicit:
    This can be helpful to really nail home the message at how pervasive and invisible privilege can be, and it frequently helps folks to see for themselves why these discussions are necessary. Also helpful because not everyone learns by reading; sometimes the hands-on approach is easier for people to understand.

    Diversity Awareness quizzes:
    Another site with some hands-on tests people can take; the digital sexism one is quite useful

    Derailing for Dummies:
    Derailing is another concept/bit of jargon newbies may be unfamiliar with, which will be frequently mentioned during arguments like these.

  25. Meg

    Reading through various summaries and several links reviewing the history, which lead me to your post. Trying to catch up on the drama. Unfortunately it is needed to hash this topic out to make a better end result. I’m heartened and glad that harassment policies and safety plans for conferences are being a positive outcome from the various discussions, as well as maybe a few more folks realizing you shouldn’t threaten and call a woman bad names merely for expressing her feelings or opinions.

Comments are closed.