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Skepchick vs Psychology Today
June 18, 2012 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Elyse, one of the bloggers at Skepchick (previously, an incident involving another member of Skepchick), is propositioned at a conference and writes about it. Marty Klein, a writer for Psychology Today (previously: 1 2 3) doesn't like it. Elyse responds.

PZ Myers also weighs in.
posted by kmz (555 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
It may not be popular at the New Yorker, but here it's totally fitting: Christ, what an asshole!
posted by tommasz at 3:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


you will find a number of updates regarding the current content of Dr. Klein's article which now contains a number of stealth edits on the PT site. The original article is quoted in it's entirety (with comments) in this post.

Has the stealth edit ever worked? I guess if it had, we wouldn't know about it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


But a creepy couple handing out a "come have sex with us!" card isn't actual harassment. Tasteless, stupid and unwelcome, sure, but so are many things in the world. I don't quite get all the drama about this. Throw it away and move on.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [61 favorites]


She gets really defensive, which seems unnecessary. If the event organizers handled the incident as well as could be expected, then it seems strange to continue the discussion.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:36 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


For someone who didn’t want one kind of attention, this woman has certainly managed to get plenty of another kind of attention.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a palm pressed against a face - forever.
posted by dumbland at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [50 favorites]


Wow, Marty's stealth edits are disgusting. When you change something after publication, you need to own it. Despite common mainstream newspaper practice, this is not in dispute.
posted by mediareport at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my workplace, a request to come have sex is considered harassment if it's unwelcome, and the onus is on the person offering the sex to be aware of whether it's welcome or not.
posted by Peach at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


I would consider it harassment. Not much of a difference between this and a flasher.
posted by karmiolz at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


Wow. And they didn't even really proposition her in a way that could be construed as an offer of sex. Here is *wink* *wink* our card. At any time they could claim they never mentioned sex at all and are offended, yes very offended, that she would assume that is what they meant. They certainly never offered a quid-pro-quo or even tried to follow up on it.

Cray cray indeed.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:38 PM on June 18, 2012


Oh, and the word "defensive" is often used to characterize people who feel attacked. It's an old red flag for me when someone uses it, and very handy for helping me recognize that I am indeed being attacked :)
posted by Peach at 3:38 PM on June 18, 2012 [20 favorites]


I just. This is a thing that real people really do? They make up business cards with a candid naked photo on it with their contact info and hand it out to people as a creepy invitation for sex? Really?

THAT IS WHAT THE INTERNETS IS FOR
posted by elizardbits at 3:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [49 favorites]


They make up business cards with a candid naked photo

No, no! They have business cards. This is their "pleasure card."
posted by gladly at 3:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


So what did that young woman experience? Not Sexual Harassment, but Unwanted Sexual Attention.

And then I stopped reading. Ugh.
posted by King Bee at 3:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


Klein appears to be a "grassroots" blogger rather than a writer for Psychology Today in the traditional sense. Like Forbes magazine, Psychology Today has a Huffington Post style network of hundreds of "grassroots" bloggers (with low levels of gatekeeping/editorial control) who have some claim to be specialists/experts and who work under the brand in loose association but are not really employed by the brand's company. They are writing in effect for free advertising and the prestige association with Forbes/PT. Forbes/PT gets free expert content and spreading their brand more widely. Yes, Forbes and PT are magazines in the traditional print sense too, but they have these new online presences that are dominated by amateur semi-amateur expert bloggers. PT's variations is particularly interesting as it is based around what is a therapist/psychiatrist directory hub website.
posted by Bwithh at 3:42 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just. This is a thing that real people really do? They make up business cards with a candid naked photo on it with their contact info and hand it out to people as a creepy invitation for sex? Really?

Google "The Lifestyle".
You are warned.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


no i won't and you can't make me
posted by elizardbits at 3:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [50 favorites]


I mean obviously if Romola Garai handed me a card like that it would be totally okay but this is a very limited dispensation.
posted by elizardbits at 3:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


...to reduce your keynote speaker to a thing you want to fuck, and not respect that she’s there as a professional is so much more than offensive to her personally...

Yeah, save that kind of behavior for the booth babes and hotel staff, not an important person like me.
posted by 445supermag at 3:45 PM on June 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


They are writing in effect for free advertising and the prestige association with Forbes/PT. Forbes/PT gets free expert content and spreading their brand more widely. Yes, Forbes and PT are magazines in the traditional print sense too, but they have these new online presences that are dominated by amateur semi-amateur expert bloggers. PT's variations is particularly interesting as it is based around what is a therapist/psychiatrist directory hub website.

I have two friends who blog there and they told me that they were getting paid to blog on PT. That said, I don't think PT seems to have any particular criteria for choosing bloggers besides the fact they blog about vaguely psychology-related topics and generate hits. I don't see much quality control beyond that.
posted by melissam at 3:46 PM on June 18, 2012


"So what did that young woman experience? Not Sexual Harassment, but Unwanted Sexual Attention."

And then I stopped reading. Ugh.


No kidding. And if that weren't enough, here is the official definition of Sexual Harassment, from the conference at which this incident occurred:

Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. [emphasis mine]

Oops!
posted by vorfeed at 3:48 PM on June 18, 2012 [37 favorites]


woman shouldn't have to constantly put up with unwanted sexual advances, especially in their work place. i don't understand how her blogging about her experience condones the behavior with booth babes and hotel staff. i'd bet she'd also think this couple handing the card to their hotel maid is out of line (because it is).
posted by nadawi at 3:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [25 favorites]


Ugh, how odd. I thought Mr. Klein made some interesting (if not necessarily correct) observations about an aspect of sexuality in society in his article. Come to find out, he did it in a sleazy and disrespectful (to Elyse) way, and it's not surprising she was upset. What a nasty and easily avoidable kerfuffle.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, save that kind of behavior for the booth babes and hotel staff, not an important person like me.

Really?
posted by empath at 3:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


this argument is bullshit. One side tells a story. the other interprets it. now they are slinging "he said she said" bullshit at each other. An interesting conversation falls to the wayside. My take: Society only need be concerned if there was something they had neglected to do to make her feel safe. If she's uncomfortable, she should get over it. if she feels unsafe, and society could have prevented that, then we need to pick up our game.
posted by rebent at 3:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


So here's how I see it:

Step one: person gets propositioned for sex in a way that makes it clear sex is being solicited, even though it may not be 100% explicit*.

Step two: person calls out the propositioner in some way; to the propositioner, or their boss, or to coworkers, or to friends, or to the internet.

Step three: the person who called out the propositioner gets attacked by someone else**.

Step four: now the conversation is about how the person is at fault, and the propositioner goes off to their next adventure thinking "well, I didn't do anything wrong, it was the person.")

I quite honestly will never understand why some people can't just say "Wow, hey, propositioner, you did a bad thing, and you should feel bad about it. Do not do that bad thing again."

*wink wink nudge nudge and all that.

**it might be the propositioner ("oh, you're being oversensitive" and such), the boss ("well, you do dress somewhat inappropriately for the office") or random uninvolved person who read about it on the internet (see the referenced article, or some of the comments here.)

posted by davejay at 3:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't think PT seems to have any particular criteria for choosing bloggers besides the fact they blog about vaguely psychology-related topics and generate hits.

Sounds just like their criteria for choosing writers and articles for their print edition.
posted by grouse at 3:52 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Much ado about nothing.
posted by Max Power at 3:52 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, and the word "defensive" is often used to characterize people who feel attacked. It's an old red flag for me when someone uses it, and very handy for helping me recognize that I am indeed being attacked :)

Perhaps I should have said "overly". She no longer seems interested in a discussion; she wants to flame this guy. It's akin to replying to nasty YouTube comments. It doesn't do much good to approach it that way, IMO.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


But a creepy couple handing out a "come have sex with us!" card isn't actual harassment. Tasteless, stupid and unwelcome, sure, but so are many things in the world. I don't quite get all the drama about this. Throw it away and move on.

Perhaps you can't get all the drama because you have a definition for "actual harassment" that doesn't jibe with other peoples' definition. Perhaps you could share?
posted by davejay at 3:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I mean, okay, if you are attending some kind of Sexy Sex Swingers in the Community conference or whatever, then yeah, there exists the possibility that this kind of solicitation could, in situations of mutual admiration, be appropriate.

THIS WAS A SPEECH ABOUT CHILDHOOD VACCINATIONS.

What the fuck is wrong with these people.
posted by elizardbits at 3:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [84 favorites]


If we can’t even handle a friendly sexual invitation in a genuinely safe environment without losing our composure, how can we tolerate the rough-and-tumble of the world out there?

Wow, Marty Klein either fails reading comprehension or he's being intentionally sloppy. This wasn't a "friendly sexual invitation", it was a more like a stalker hit & run. Bonus points for larding the entire thing with paternalistic "concern" as if Elyse Anders was a tender innocent who needed someone to explain the ways of the world to her. Clearly, she is perfectly capable of standing up for herself.
posted by ambrosia at 4:00 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Psychology Today, you say? This is my shocked face.
posted by symbioid at 4:00 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


She no longer seems interested in a discussion; she wants to flame this guy. It's akin to replying to nasty YouTube comments. It doesn't do much good to approach it that way, IMO.

Consider: she shared her personal experience, and he (an uninvolved person) responded in an intellectually dishonest way, aka in bad faith. It would be foolish to assume that he would suddenly begin a discourse in good faith when he's already interjected himself into the conversation in bad faith.

Therefore, she only has three options: ignore it (and give him the last public word), attempt to engage in good faith (irrational as noted above), or refute what he's said and call him out on his bad faith interjection into the conversation.

I find myself thinking that he should approve, actually; if he truly feels she should have confronted the couple directly (which she couldn't do, of course, as they'd left) then he should also agree that she should respond to his article directly. Which she did.
posted by davejay at 4:00 PM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


Ad hominem: “Wow. And they didn't even really proposition her in a way that could be construed as an offer of sex. Here is *wink* *wink* our card. At any time they could claim they never mentioned sex at all and are offended, yes very offended, that she would assume that is what they meant. They certainly never offered a quid-pro-quo or even tried to follow up on it.”

This is one of the dangers of reading Marty Klein's account in isolation: he is omitting essential facts, so you'll get an utterly mistaken impression of what happened here.

Specifically, please note that it wasn't just a "card." It was a naked picture of the two of them with their phone number and contact info on the other side. This seems like it crosses some lines, right? Maybe I'm being presumptuous, but I have a feeling you wouldn't be okay with saying that guys should be allowed to walk up to random women and hand them pictures of their penises.
posted by koeselitz at 4:08 PM on June 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


Marty Klein comes off as a real dick.

On top of that, "Ohio Skeptics" is a thing? Let alone "a national conference of a major progressive organization" that has things like keynote speakers? Who knew?
posted by spitbull at 4:08 PM on June 18, 2012


There's this impulse certain writers have toward compulsive capitalization, either to Sarcastically Reify Concepts by putting the initial letters in uppercase, or to SUBSTITUTE FOR ITALICS even when italics are totally feasible. Marty Klein does it a lot in that article.

The weird thing is, it's always a huge giveaway that the author has some serious antisocial tendencies. You see someone do it in a blog post about muffins and then on the next page they're working themselves up into a violent frenzy over immigrants or something. Never seems to fail.
posted by decagon at 4:09 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I know what people are thinking. I can ask the woman in accounting out to dinner and if she says no cool and I'll drop it and it isn't harassment. In that case it probably isn't. If you left a picture of your dick on her desk and said "A little something to remember me by" you would be escorted out by security before the day is over. It is so beyond the pale of acceptable behavior that it borders on insane.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:10 PM on June 18, 2012 [77 favorites]


I have a feeling you wouldn't be okay with saying that guys should be allowed to walk up to random women and hand them pictures of their penises

This always confuses me from just even an effectiveness standpoint. If it doesn't seem to work for hugely famous Quarterbacks or Congressmen, why would some random jerk expect it to work for them?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


why would some random jerk expect it to work for them?

Usually the fact that they continue to do this means that it has worked at some point in time. Think of those Nigerian Prince scams. Most people seem to be aware of them, but they continue to persist because there are those that seem to fall for that shit.
posted by Fizz at 4:13 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Were the offending couple attendees at the conference? That seems to be the biggest discrepancy between the two versions.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:14 PM on June 18, 2012


Chekhovian: “This always confuses me from just even an effectiveness standpoint. If it doesn't seem to work for hugely famous Quarterbacks or Congressmen, why would some random jerk expect it to work for them?”

Fizz: “Usually the fact that they continue to do this means that it has worked at some point in time. Think of those Nigerian Prince scams. Most people seem to be aware of them, but they continue to persist because there are those that seem to fall for that shit.”

I think there's a vanishingly small possibility that this "works" in the way you mean at any real frequency. It seems to me that the discrepancy is caused by some difference in what the people who do this view as "success." When what gets you off is an exhibitionist thrill of knowing about the discomfort of others, well, it "works" pretty much every time.
posted by koeselitz at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


now they are slinging "he said she said"

No, they're not, and I think it's pretty bad to trivialize it like that. He made she up. She called him on it, and provided evidence. He backtracked in an incompetent and stupid way. If you report something incorrectly and get called on it, with evidence provided, even, you apologize and correct the article. You don't lie and act like you never made shit up.
posted by rtha at 4:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


I found one of the comments on the psychologists article particularly telling, as she described her reactions to being flashed--e.g. pointing and laughing loudly, which is what you should always do to flashers--they become humiliated and leave you alone. It strikes me that the skepchick speaker did basically the same thing. She was given a printed nude image, and because she couldn't point and laugh in the moment due to them disappearing so quickly, she did point and laugh using her blog on the internet--which seems appropriate considering how she received it.
posted by brenton at 4:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


(link to the comment)
posted by brenton at 4:19 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


i don't really want to go hunting for it, i'm pretty sure it was linked here before - but there's a message board out there where flashers talk about disgusting people and getting shouted at, all being really happy about the "humiliation." some of them really, really love when you insult their dick size. it might feel good for the person who got flashed, but i don't get the sense it discourages the flashers.
posted by nadawi at 4:23 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


So this was some kind of 'manual sexting'? To strangers? That is awful. Is it even legal to hand someone a naked photo of yourself like that?

I remember when I got married in vegas, and a friend's kids were picking up all of the ladies of the evening cards 'cause they looked like baseball cards. We put a stop to that.
posted by poe at 4:24 PM on June 18, 2012


brenton: “... pointing and laughing loudly, which is what you should always do to flashers... ”

Yeah, like nadawi, I don't know if I agree with this.
posted by koeselitz at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just, words fsil me theynreally really do.
posted by Faintdreams at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, save that kind of behavior for the booth babes and hotel staff, not an important person like me.

Except that if you RTFA, you'd see that she said: "Your conference speakers are at work. Your conference vendors are at work. They may be there to entertain and provide services, but unless that entertainment and those services are explicitly for your sexual pleasure, then they’re not for your sexual pleasure."

I'm pretty sure booth babes (which they don't have at Skeptic conferences, do they?) would fall under "vendors" and that the author would agree that maids, waiters, and hotel staff do too. But go ahead and assume this is about her snobbery, not the guy leaving naked let's-do-it cards, if that makes you feel better.

A lady I worked with once had the experience of a dude in our company sending her a picture of his junk (and roses! Classy) after she turned him down for dates repeatedly. He got canned. I don't see any difference here.
posted by emjaybee at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


This thread is weird. In the first previously, half the internet went nuts over something I thought was maybe worth talking about but not like the end of the world. Now here's a story about a thing that looks pretty much like sexual harassment to me but the overall response seems to be, "Meh. It's not like they were giving out pamphlets."
posted by byanyothername at 4:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was ok until I read the phrase "manual sexting" and then I got that scared Yao Ming face. Ewwww.
posted by cashman at 4:26 PM on June 18, 2012


Oh, you don’t like getting questioned by the cops every time you go out? Well you sure like all that attention every time you sing karaoke.

It depends. Can the police harmonize? "Young man, are you listening to me? I said, young man, what do you want to be?..."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


> it might feel good for the person who got flashed, but i don't get the sense it discourages the flashers.

Interesting, I'm surprised to hear it. Still, I haven't ever talked to a flasher bragging about being humiliated, but I have talked to someone who was traumatized by being flashed. It can be a very painful thing for people to go through and so I'm all for equipping people with coping mechanisms to deal with this sort of thing--I've heard from therapists that it is very effective. I would guess it's more effective than telling the 'victim' they shouldn't be so sensitive (not that anyone here said that.)
posted by brenton at 4:29 PM on June 18, 2012


On top of that, "Ohio Skeptics" is a thing? Let alone "a national conference of a major progressive organization" that has things like keynote speakers? Who knew?

Did you miss the thread we just had about how Alabama doesn't exist? Frankly, the evidence for Ohio is even weaker.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


The skepchicks site might want to have some words with GoogleAds, as for me (and, uh, at work...) right at the end of the first article, there's an ad for the travelgirls website*, which I'm pretty sure was talked about here, but I can't seem to find it.

* Which is, unfortunately, a website full of people who'd use the line from The Mexican, "Do you like sex and travel?" in complete earnest.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:31 PM on June 18, 2012


Much ado about nothing.

I like when people decide that something that's not a big deal to them just isn't a big deal at all. It's like listening to Karl Pilkington talk. If he doesn't understand what good a creature in the animal kingdom does for him personally, he can't even comprehend why it exists.

Thank you for offering your perspective. It's nice to know how limited it is.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [35 favorites]


From the PT article:

Dissatisfied and emotionally distressed, this previously loyal movement member blogged about it

This is some Grade A wagon-circling. It's amazing that this kind of thing (questioning the "loyalty" or commitment of a woman who raises issues like this) is so often part of how these things play out, that this guy would include it in a "composite" uncritically.

Wow.
posted by lunasol at 4:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


I always thought there had to be more than one incident for it to be considered harassment, A quick buzz through some online dictionaries seems to confirm that. Creepy? Yes. Harassment? No. If the couple had repeatedly propositioned her despite being rebuffed I would call that harassment, this, not so much.
posted by MikeMc at 4:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


The definition offered at the convention, posted above, and which the participants presumably knew about, says nothing about it needing to be repeated.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Asking out just once is, generally, not harassment. Handing someone a picture of yourself and yourself naked suggesting a threesome is, even the very first time you do it.
posted by jeather at 4:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yourself and your spouse.
posted by jeather at 4:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I guess it wasn't really a composite (it's a weird rhetorical flourish to say it was) - I should have RTFA. But still ... an excellent example of circling those wagons.
posted by lunasol at 4:35 PM on June 18, 2012


The super skeevy thing to me is that clearly these Fuck Us cards are a thing that has worked for them before, and has worked for others before, or they would not use them. I wonder about the success rate of their give-card-and-run approach and then I think about the failures -- all the other cards they have handed out to others that were neither expected or appropriate -- and all the other grossed out, offended (or just nonplussed) people who got them.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:37 PM on June 18, 2012


"This always confuses me from just even an effectiveness standpoint."

It's like a shotgun. The more cards this couple distributes, the greater their chances of connecting with others living a sexually liberated lifestyle. Pleasure cards are more a product of the 80s and 90s since now the internet is a better facilitator for introductions. However, many swingers still distribute cards because they continue to attract curious newbs into the scene.
posted by Ardiril at 4:38 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is part of a much, much larger conversation about feminism (or, more to the point, lack thereof) in the skepticism community. For more context, see this handy timeline. (Note that while the conversation has been going on for at least a year [see the "previous" link], the timeline there only documents the last few weeks' of flare-up.)
posted by hades at 4:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


So is it harrassment every single time one human expresses sexual interest in another that turns out not to be reciprocal?

I really don't understand the need for these semi regular "OMG someone wanted to sleep with me, how very dare they" articles.

Isn't this card thing a kind of decent way to make intentions perfectly clear and then leave the ball in the other persons court to make a response or not?

Its hardly my kind of thing but there are all kinds of kinks and turn ons that aren't my kind of thing but are perfectly fine for interested people to engage in.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 4:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


The incidents described at Skepchick are part of a large and vocal controversy involving the organized atheism and skeptical communities. Participants at atheist and skeptical conventions have talked about sexual harassment they have experienced, and they have advocated for harassment policies to be put into place at conventions.

The reports of harassment have been met by some atheists and event organizers with skepticism (pun sadly not intended). Blogger Jason Thibeault has a timeline of the latest incidents involving pushback from the director of the Randi Foundation's Amazing Meeting.

The sexist, even misogynist commentary from some in the atheist community has been extremely disheartening to read. Attempting for some levity, one blog commenter proposed envisioning popular women in the atheist community as the "Four Horsewomen of the Feminist Apocalypse" (to parallel the so-called four horsemen of the New Atheists). Another blogger obliged with drawings of the atheists riding the ponies from My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:40 PM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


IMO, the naked photo really does push this to a whole other level. It sounds to me like the couple was *getting off* on knowing she would soon see them naked, whether she wanted to or not, thus making her part of a non-consensual sexual situation. Just because it was a photo doesn't mean it wasn't a form of flashing.
posted by treepour at 4:42 PM on June 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


So is it harrassment every single time one human expresses sexual interest in another that turns out not to be reciprocal?

Nope. Read the article. She maps out exactly why, in those circumstances, it was harassment. If you wish to engage this discussion, it would be nice if you engaged what she actually said, instead of extrapolating to an extreme that nobody would support.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:42 PM on June 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


> So is it harrassment every single time one human expresses sexual interest in another that turns out not to be reciprocal?

If it was just that, we wouldn't be having this conversation. A question more in-line with what happened would be "So is it harrassment every single time one human flashes another and it turns out not to be reciprocal?"
posted by brenton at 4:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


So is it harrassment every single time one human expresses sexual interest in another that turns out not to be reciprocal?

Maybe not at places that were not that conference, but the conferences rules are very clear: yes, yes it is. If you are at the conference, the rules apply to you. If you're not, then no.
posted by rtha at 4:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


so I'm all for equipping people with coping mechanisms to deal with this sort of thing

me too! if the victims want to yell and scream and insult the flashes to make themselves feel more in control, or better able to deal with it later i support that completely. however, if the goal is to shame the flashers so the humiliation discourages them, well, that's probably not what's going on and people might like to know that.

curiosity got the better of me and i searched for the thread;
http://www.metafilter.com/97856/Then-I-See-His-Penis-Out
posted by nadawi at 4:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Did you miss the thread we just had about how Alabama doesn't exist? Frankly, the evidence for Ohio is even weaker.

<<<<Michigander.... hahahahaha!

Seriously, she over reacted and Klein was a dick.
posted by Mojojojo at 4:45 PM on June 18, 2012


Defensiveness: I used to get really defensive. Sometimes I still do. It happens that when you are a person of constant attention (whether this is because of some internally manufactured, finely honed paranoia or because of external, cultural, social factors, or some ungodly mix of those and other possibilties), you can get defensive. It's understandable and all right.

People who get overstimulated, who get a lot of attention for something they don't feel they deserved, can get a little defensive about it. It really doesn't help to criticize them for it unless it's years later in a completely different context, perhaps over drinks, laughing, with friends. To have a third party say that defensiveness isn't helpful in a metablog that's talking about your stuff isn't... uh... helpful.
posted by kalessin at 4:46 PM on June 18, 2012


The nudity on the cards is pretty fucked up but I think the larger context is that some women have gotten fed up with the misogynistic bullshit they have to face everyday and especially during these events/conferences. It all adds up and it has to be really really sad finding out that parts of the community you belonged to has these shitty views about your gender.

But seriously though, what kind of creepy weirdos gives out these cards? Could someone please page Doctor Waad Dafuq because I'm about to have an aneurysm.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:48 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Y'all, whether or not this would qualify as harassment to your HR department, it qualifies by the conference's policy, which specifically includes " unwanted sexual attention " as one of the violations.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:48 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, save that kind of behavior for the booth babes and hotel staff, not an important person like me.

Except that if you RTFA, you'd see that she said: "Your conference speakers are at work...


I did read the article, and it seemed to me that she thought that she should get extra respect because she was the keynote speaker. I then used ctrl-f and searched for "keynote" to make sure I wasn't imagining things.
posted by 445supermag at 4:54 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nope. Read the article. She maps out exactly why, in those circumstances, it was harassment.

She maps out plenty but not why it was harrassment, at least not in a convincing manner.


If it was just that, we wouldn't be having this conversation. A question more in-line with what happened would be "So is it harrassment every single time one human flashes another and it turns out not to be reciprocal?"


The picture on the card didn't show any actual nudity did it? All "sensitive areas" were either not in shot or covered up. You can see that much flesh in any club in the western world, hardly flashng.

Maybe not at places that were not that conference, but the conferences rules are very clear: yes, yes it is. If you are at the conference, the rules apply to you. If you're not, then no.

The rules barred "unwelcome sexual attention". There really isn't any way to know if sexual attention will be unwelcome until after it has been offered, at which point it is too late as you are a harrasser.

And I realise the approach of this couple isn't exactly mainstream but there must be some people open to it or they wouldn't still be handing out pleasure cards.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 4:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


"what kind of creepy weirdos gives out these cards?"

Swingers, wife-swappers, key-partiers...

They are pretty much a holdover from the 60s sexual revolution and 70s women's lib movement.
posted by Ardiril at 4:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


All "sensitive areas" were either not in shot or covered up. You can see that much flesh in any club in the western world, hardly flashng.

A woman whose breasts are only being covered by her partner's hands is considerably more naked than a woman whose breasts are being covered by a bikini top. Context is important. More importantly, it's possible to interpret that picture such that her partner is fondling her, which makes it a picture of a sex act (albeit a pretty mild one) in progress. Which is definitely flashing.
posted by KathrynT at 4:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


The picture on the card didn't show any actual nudity did it? All "sensitive areas" were either not in shot or covered up. You can see that much flesh in any club in the western world, hardly flashng.

I think the actual card itself was not blurred out.

And I realise the approach of this couple isn't exactly mainstream but there must be some people open to it or they wouldn't still be handing out pleasure cards.

Exactly! And while those kind of people may very well be present at a conference panel discussing the cultlike demonization of childhood vaccinations, can you perhaps agree that this is a suboptimal venue for that kind of social discourse?
posted by elizardbits at 4:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


So the issue is apparently the card - as Elsye sates that the dude (male half) left before she even saw the nudity on the card. There was no overt proposition by the couple other than the card. So.. card - totally fucked up and inappropriate. But would I consider this sexual harassment absent the picture on the card? Not really? He didn't say anything crude, didn't make any suggestive comments, or acted inappropriate other than that stupid ass offensive card. So, if the situation was exactly the same except the card read "we think you are totally awesome and would like the opportunity to get buy you a drink and maybe - if we are all cool with it - move on to sexy boom boom time," would that still be considered harassment?
posted by jason says at 4:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The rules barred "unwelcome sexual attention". There really isn't any way to know if sexual attention will be unwelcome until after it has been offered, at which point it is too late as you are a harrasser.

You're being disingenuous. By this definition there is no such thing as sexual harassment short of sexual assault. There are undeniably cultural norms that dictate when sexual attention is appropriate. There are borderline cases, of course, but to most people this isn't one of them.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


There really isn't any way to know if sexual attention will be unwelcome until after it has been offered

There are ways to get a hint about whether it would be welcomed. I'm not sure why the default is "Well, I don't have any idea whether or not this would be welcome, so let's assume yes" instead of " . . . so let's assume no" or " . . . so I'll try and get more information to make an informed decision.
posted by jeather at 5:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


What the couple did was WAY over the line, especially considering any number of things, but what I thought was interesting was that Elyse was kind enough not to post the business card and publicly shame the couple. That was certainly more considerate than their behavior, and she should be commended for that.
posted by Slinga at 5:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, if the situation was exactly the same except the card read "we think you are totally awesome and would like the opportunity to get buy you a drink and maybe - if we are all cool with it - move on to sexy boom boom time," would that still be considered harassment?

When she's at WORK? Yes. Not as egregiously -- the sudden intrusion of naked people is a big deal -- but yes, it definitely would. They had other ways of communicating this intent other than when she was at work.
posted by KathrynT at 5:05 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm guessing most people's HR manuals don't adress this because nobody ever expects it to occur.

How about this thought experiment. If they couple had tried to walk into the panel shirtless with the man hiding some parts from behind with his hands would they have gotten in? I'm guessing the police would be called.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:05 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you don't know that slapping a photo of you fucking down on a table where someone who has just given a talk on childhood vaccinations is answering questions from lecture attendees is "unwelcome sexual attention," I think you need to learn that pretty fast.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:06 PM on June 18, 2012 [63 favorites]


there's plenty of ways to find out if sexual attention is unwelcome without handing over unsolicited naked (even if the areola are technically covered) pictures while someone is working at a conference for childhood vaccinations. for instance, you can have a conversation with someone, ask them out to dinner, find out whether or not any flirtatious tension is in the air. at the very least you could wait until your target isn't on the clock.

on preview - yes jason says - that'd still be harassment. unless the person is a prostitute it's pretty much always harassment to proposition someone for sex while they're working. now, it might be successful sometimes and some people might not feel harassed, but that doesn't make it ok. some random woman might love to be cat called on the street and has found her last 10 partners that way, it doesn't mean that all female meter readers should have put up with that treatment day in and day out.
posted by nadawi at 5:06 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


The super skeevy thing to me is that clearly these Fuck Us cards are a thing that has worked for them before, and has worked for others before, or they would not use them.

Not necessarily. The thrill may be in handing them out rather than in any hope that the gesture will "work." Skeevers gonna skeeve and all that....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Elyse was kind enough not to post the business card and publicly shame the couple. That was certainly more considerate than their behavior, and she should be commended for that."

I wouldn't have blurred anything out. This couple is obviously comfortable enough with people knowing about their lifestyle that they give these cards to complete strangers. Wait, I probably would blur out the contact info, not to protect them but to prevent them from scoring any hookups from my post.
posted by MikeMc at 5:15 PM on June 18, 2012


"The thrill may be in handing them out"

No, generally the woman in the relationship has asked her husband to distribute the cards because she feels too oppressed by society's attitudes to introduce herself to other women.
posted by Ardiril at 5:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a bit boggled that people can debate if this is harassment - would you question whether forcing someone to look at porn is harassment? Because that's what they did - they gave her a card in a situation where it would be completely normal to be handed a business card, and the card turned out to be pornographic. So there she is, in front of the remains of the audience, looking at porn against her will. There is a time and place where sexy imagery is just fine, but that sure as hell isn't it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:20 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm not quite sure why giving a complete stranger (whose name you know and who you can track down quite easily) an unsolicited naked picture of yourself is somehow more acceptable than exposing yourself in front of this person (and exposing oneself in public is treated pretty seriously as a sexual crime).

The problem is this sort of behavior is so completely out of bounds for the conference that the only way they could do anything about it was to invoke a harassment guideline.

Telling someone to "just get over it" is pretty insensitive.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I did read the article, and it seemed to me that she thought that she should get extra respect because she was the keynote speaker. I then used ctrl-f and searched for "keynote" to make sure I wasn't imagining things.

Well, I control-f'ed and I didn't see anything about "booth babes." I would be really surprised if there even were booth babes at a conference like that.

Seems like a thinly-disguised "uppity woman" argument to me. Why shouldn't someone who's worked hard enough to be a keynote speaker expect to be treated with respect?

Also, to the people who are saying you wouldn't see this as sexual harassment if it happened to you - well, that's great, but not really relevant.
posted by lunasol at 5:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


the larger context is that some women have gotten fed up with the misogynistic bullshit they have to face everyday and especially during these events/conferences.

Important events in that context include last year's "Elevatorgate." Rebecca Watson of Skepchick reported being propositioned in an elevator while at a conference and argued that such behavior was inappropriate. Her comments were met with responses deeply steeped in male privilege, obliviousness to sexism, and outright misogyny. This year she decided not to attend The Amazing Meeting because its organizer suggested that women talking about sexism, not sexism itself, was creating an unwelcoming environment at conferences.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


Thank you for that thoughtful and well-reasoned assessment of the situation.
posted by elizardbits at 5:25 PM on June 18, 2012


Oh my god.

Ok everyone who says "this isn't harassment," I encourage you to take a nearly naked or naked picture of yourself, make a card out of it, and give it to your co-workers with the phrase "something to remember me by."

The phrase will still be appropriate because you're going to get totally fired, and rightfully so. It's obviously sexual harassment.

People need to stop looking at each incident as if it exists in a vacuum, it's lazy and stupid. It also leads to the sort of thing you see from the writer of that contemptibly dishonest PT article, where theoretical feminist or feminist-ally men are all too happy to condemn categories and generalities of behavior, but when you get to specific examples suddenly they're on the other side, every time. They never voluntarily weigh in to actually say they thought something was unacceptable or misogynist or whatever, but instead only appear when they decide a woman has overstepped her bounds.

--
The rules barred "unwelcome sexual attention". There really isn't any way to know if sexual attention will be unwelcome until after it has been offered, at which point it is too late as you are a harrasser.
Uh yeah. Duh. This is why, if you're at an event where this is the rule, you don't fucking do this. Not difficult.
posted by kavasa at 5:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [49 favorites]


i wish people would grow up and stop making inappropriate advances to women and understand that there are places that are more and less appropriate for that sort of thing. i also wish people would grow up and not take upskirt pictures of women on the train. or that people would grow up and realize they don't have a right to say whatever skeevy thing comes to their head because a woman smiled politely at them. a lot of growing up would fix so much of this.
posted by nadawi at 5:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also yes, what audi said is super important. That's what I was meaning to reference with my "vacuum" paragraph: this stuff is never just the one incident, and pretending that it is is lazy at best.
posted by kavasa at 5:31 PM on June 18, 2012


[Hey um, we don't always like these "OMG something creepy happened on the internet, dramaz ensues" post but we've been trying to let them alone if you're not flagging them. But you still have to act like adults and/or go to MetaTalk if you can't. Anything that looks like trolling will be considered trolling if we don't have evidence to the contrary. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:32 PM on June 18, 2012


Oh my god.

Ok everyone who says "this isn't harassment," I encourage you to take a nearly naked or naked picture of yourself, make a card out of it, and give it to your co-workers with the phrase "something to remember me by."


In my own defense I never said I thought this was in any way appropriate or "no big deal", my issue is what I feel is the misuse of the word "harassment".
posted by MikeMc at 5:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Somehow the notion of "skeptic" got translated into "Nothing is true; everything is permitted."
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Reggie Knoble: “The rules barred ‘unwelcome sexual attention’. There really isn't any way to know if sexual attention will be unwelcome until after it has been offered, at which point it is too late as you are a harrasser.”

Yes. This situation provides a pretty clear solution: if you can't tell without a doubt whether it's wanted, don't give people sexual attention. This makes sense as a general rule especially at professional conferences.
posted by koeselitz at 5:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd be significantly LESS offended by a proposition on a note that didn't include INESCAPABLE STRANGER NUDITY. A lot of the writing on this plays down how the card had NAKED PEOPLE on it. Flashing someone is ok if it's on a card?
posted by nile_red at 5:38 PM on June 18, 2012


Is being handed a sexually inappropriate card by a couple at a conference worse than putting a bunch of photos of a man with pro-rape, pro-sexual-assault, and rape-denying slogans on your website? Maybe these tactics were explained in the "How to win friends and influence people: Club des Jacobins edition"
posted by ryanfou at 5:38 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"at an event where this is the rule"

My 10 to your 1 that Cardguy didn't read the rules.
posted by Ardiril at 5:38 PM on June 18, 2012


If you need to read a set of rules to determine that handing out a nude-photo-featuring group sex invitation at a conference discussing babies and vaccinations then I submit that you have perhaps made a series of bad decisions throughout your life that have led you inexorably to this moment WTFery.
posted by elizardbits at 5:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


to determine that it is inappropriate, i mean

sigh

daquiris
posted by elizardbits at 5:42 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are any other Australians of a certain age reminded of Bob & Cheryl, the swingers from 'Fast Forward'? I tried to find the clip where they propositioned another couple, but couldn't.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Daniel Fincke explains in detail why giving out the card was inappropriate:
people expect to be first addressed and considered and treated on grounds other than their sexual desirability to you. That should be our default assumption. To convey otherwise where this expectation is implicitly in place is to effectively risk being interpreted by the recipient of your sexual request that you are so uninterested in them for anything but sex that you refuse even to take the normal steps of acquaintance and friendship and trust-building but insist instead of just seeing if they are willing to be a sex partner first since that is all that matters.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


In my own defense I never said I thought this was in any way appropriate or "no big deal", my issue is what I feel is the misuse of the word "harassment".
Yeah I got that. That's why I said it's obviously harassment and supplied my evidence for that position. If you gave an explicit "let's fuck" card to a coworker that would be sexual harassment. If all you did was, out of the blue, at work, say "hey we should have sex after work," that would be harassment and I'd expect you to face some sort of corrective counseling or other measure. If you did the same with a card featuring an explicit photo of yourself, I'd expect you to be fired. It is textbook sexual harassment. The term's use here is completely correct.
My 10 to your 1 that Cardguy didn't read the rules.
If you attend an event with clearly communicated rules and don't read them, you have no one but yourself to blame when you're ejected and informed that you'll not be welcome at further events.
posted by kavasa at 5:45 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


* reads all of the "but it wasn't really harrassment/but it wasn't a big deal" comments *

Christ almighty, how many times are we going to have to have this conversation?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


I was on Facebook the other day and a random friend-of-a-friend had posted a nude photo of themselves, which appeared in my feed based on some algorithm. I can understand this situation being unwelcome and strange from her perspective, but people here comparing it to a "fuck me or you're fired" moment with the boss is just ridiculous. The guy handed her a bit of information and walked away. She didn't even see the card until after he was gone. Is seeing a small photo of someone else partially nude along with a solicitation for sex so deeply troubling to an adult woman that she needs to tell thousands of internet strangers about it days later?

Should the guy/couple have used more discretion/had more of an idea she was interested before making this move? Of course. Did it violate some conference rules? Sure. This was certainly an absurd situation worth discussing with her friends and the couple in question, which she did. I'm not really clear on why it needed to be shared with the world. If the card just had a picture of a couple drinking some beers, there'd be no complaint. But sex needs to be locked far far away at all times now, is now our solution to the real problem of harassment?
posted by crayz at 5:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I submit that you have perhaps made a series of bad decisions throughout your life that have led you inexorably to this moment WTFery."

From the little evidence we have, this incident ended for Cardguy and his spouse at the moment he left the room. I don't see how that can be construed as their being in this moment's WTFery, except perhaps by proxy. They're history.

The only real issue here and now is a couple bloggers' flamewar and an ensuing debate involving definitions.

"no one but yourself to blame when you're ejected"

Cardguy wasn't ejected. He was leaving anyway.

"how many times are we going to have to have this conversation?"

When you people realize that for the vast majority this stuff isn't an issue.
posted by Ardiril at 5:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


The incidents described at Skepchick are part of a large and vocal controversy involving the organized atheism and skeptical communities..

Yeah, it sure seems that way. It's interesting to me - as a person that finds the skeptic movement generally insufferable regardless of how many of their points I agree with - how what I feel is the movement's intellectual authoritarianism is unable to cope with emotive, intangible, nuanced and belief-centred issues in a healthy way.

Skeptics, as a movement, ruled out the tools for engaging with stuff like this constructively, and it's revealing to see how "I can't see it therefore it's not real," or "Your beliefs are invalid" is provoking such a storm amongst the marginalised (female) membership. Pro-tip guys, this is what non-skeptics feel every time you snootily dismiss something they regard as important. It's not a good way to interact, and it would be great if this particular issue served as an illustration to the movement as a whole that who's right is often immaterial and society can be better served by good faith engagement.

Of course, as a movement - to me - it seems underpinned by many things that - whilst not intrinsically - often have associations with chauvinism (libertarians, neo-liberals, islamophobia, whole lotta middle-to-upper class westerners etc).
posted by smoke at 5:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


So there she is, in front of the remains of the audience, looking at porn against her will.

I agree that what this couple did was gross and inappropriate, but I think it's dangerous to call it harassment. That's an exaggerated form of political correctness, and this forced-viewing idea is especially antithetical to free speech.

Men in certain places think that if women dress a certain way, it's like they're subjecting men to porn. There are plenty of people in this country who'd want to ban Janet Jackson's nipples because that's subjecting them to porn. And so on. Just because a woman is the subjectee here does not make this reasoning any less wrong.
posted by shivohum at 5:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


dot dot dot

yeah

I give up

not worth it, I spend way too much time angry as it is
posted by kavasa at 5:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not really clear on why it needed to be shared with the world.

I'm not really care is why the onus is on her to keep quiet about it. If these peeps are comfortable sharing themselves with a stranger at a conference, they should be comfortable with said stranger tearing strips off em on the internet. Why does she have a duty or obligation to keep quiet about it?
posted by smoke at 5:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


I agree that what this couple did was gross and inappropriate, but I think it's dangerous to call it harassment.

I don't care what you call it; people shouldn't be doing it.
posted by grouse at 5:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


They're history.

No. The moment of WTFery to which I am referring is the moment where someone is attending a panel about childhood vaccinations and decides that this is an appropriate venue for soliciting the speaker for group sex with a naked business card.
posted by elizardbits at 5:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh my god, she was being politically correct!!!
posted by KokuRyu at 5:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


When you people realize that for the vast majority this stuff isn't an issue.

Riiight. Keep telling yourself that.
posted by mediareport at 5:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


she criticizes the guy for immediately walking away after handing her the card, but would it really have been better for him to stand there waiting for her reply? it seems like the least-creepy and least-threatening option is for him to leave like he did.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:56 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can understand this situation being unwelcome and strange from her perspective, but people here comparing it to a "fuck me or you're fired" moment with the boss is just ridiculous.

Just to be clear, the perpetrator need not be one's boss for it to be sexual harassment. If your definition of sexual harassment is limited to a quid pro quo demand from a superior, your definition is unduly narrow.
posted by ambrosia at 5:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


it seems like the least-creepy and least-threatening option is for him to leave like he did.

The least-creepy option is definitely for him not to leave a nude group sex card at all.
posted by grouse at 5:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [30 favorites]


an honest and sincere question for those who are arguing this isn't harassment - what do you consider sexual harassment?
posted by nadawi at 5:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is seeing a small photo of someone else partially nude along with a solicitation for sex so deeply troubling to an adult woman that she needs to tell thousands of internet strangers about it days later?

I suspect the bigger issue was that at a meeting where she came as a professional and was given to expectations that she would be treated as a professional, thanks, in part, to explicitly stated sexual harassment policies, she was nonetheless approached in a non-professional and explicitly sexual manner than explicitly contravenes those policies, and was handed explicitly sexual material in a strangely underhanded way.

You make it sound like you think the issue is that she is too uptight. Is it incomprehensible that there might be some other reason? Like maybe in a professional environment among peers a woman doesn't want to be reminded, yet again, that for some people her primary value is as a sex object?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [46 favorites]




Riiight. Keep telling yourself that.

Oh, c'mon. This whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, just another debate in a cloistered community, outrage theatre for a vocal few. As others have said, this isn't an isolated incident; it happens all the time. As cupcake's link shows, this card isn't porn, it's a joke.
posted by Ardiril at 6:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you people realize that for the vast majority this stuff isn't an issue.

Who are you calling 'you people'?
posted by jacalata at 6:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


ewwwwww
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, just another debate in a cloistered community, outrage theatre for a vocal few.

Or, alternately, it's a pretty standard example of a systemic problem in which women, in a social sphere, are treated as a sort of a open-at-all-hours market for sex.

But, you know, if it's not your problem, it must not actually be a problem.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [66 favorites]


it happens all the time

And is worth discussing seriously. Not sure why you're here if you don't agree with that.
posted by mediareport at 6:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ardiril - Thanks a few details on what would probably be Cardguy's perspective. I've been propositioned before when it's unwelcome, including one time a strange man in a bar (I'm a hetero guy) came up to me after I left gave me a little love note. Did I really *want* this? No. Was I traumatized by it? Also no

There's a serious problem with the way men treat women in this society and a long history of men abusing power relationships to continue unwanted sexual aggression. But this to me is more like a recovering alcoholic who's offended by the "let's get a beer" comment. Her perspective is certainly valid - it's how she feels. But the assumption that we ought to all spend most of our lives as sexless professionals who sexlessly interact with other professionals frankly to me just seems weird and absolutist and unhealthy

Handing out these cards is not, like, I thing I would recommend most anyone do. But neither is obsessing over a tiny slice of life, a piece of paper that you could have giggled at for a few seconds and thrown away, days ago. I think this situation says a lot more about who she is that she feels the need to Tell The World than it does about the couple that they were interested in some random sexyfuntimes
posted by crayz at 6:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


I was involved with a conference where there was a similar incident. I don't particularly care what people think is or is not sexual harassment. We had clear guidelines, as all conferences should, and the person in question had violated the guidelines. We asked that they refrain from attending future iterations of that conference. No blog posts needed, though if the person who had been reported the incident had written one, that would have been a great reminder to future attendees that we don't tolerate people who flout our guidelines.
posted by melissam at 6:04 PM on June 18, 2012


Skeptics, as a movement, ruled out the tools for engaging with stuff like this constructively, and it's revealing to see how "I can't see it therefore it's not real," or "Your beliefs are invalid" is provoking such a storm amongst the marginalised (female) membership. Pro-tip guys, this is what non-skeptics feel every time you snootily dismiss something they regard as important.

There's a complex genealogy to the "movement." The James Randi Foundation's pedigree includes some strong libertarian leanings, most prominently Penn Jillette (who has himself participated in misogynistic commentary in this controversy). Other branches of the family tree, such as Greta Christina, argue for paying attention to social justice as part of skepticism.

It is not because critics of religion and the supernatural are "snooty" that the community struggles with sexism and privilege. It is because sexism and privilege are deeply embedded in our society and as a society we struggle with engaging social injustice.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:05 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


I suspect the bigger issue was that at a meeting where she came as a professional and was given to expectations that she would be treated as a professional ... she was nonetheless approached in a non-professional and explicitly sexual manner ...

honest question: if the card was in invitation to do a non-sexual, yet still non-professional, activity, would it be plain old harassment?
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:07 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The new rules:
In order to express your attraction you have to first request the permission to express attraction form.
After submitting your form, with photo identification you will receive a response within 2 weeks.
After you receive a request to express attraction permit approval you will have 72 hours to express your attraction to me on the terms that have deemed acceptable, which will be based upon the quality of your original form, so please, use complete sentences in your answers.
posted by roboton666 at 6:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


the assumption that we ought to all spend most of our lives as sexless professionals who sexlessly interact with other professionals

no one is saying that. it's more like, when someone is at a professional conference discussing vaccinating children it should be assumed that she doesn't want a card with a naked picture of you and your wife on it. if they were at a bar, having some drinks, telling jokes about sex and running topless through the grounds during college, then a card of that nature might still be weird, but not necessarily immediately harassing. context matters.

i'm still waiting for a definition of what sexual harassment is if this doesn't qualify.
posted by nadawi at 6:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


honest question: if the card was in invitation to do a non-sexual, yet still non-professional, activity, would it be plain old harassment?

jesus will you stop making it worse.
posted by facetious at 6:12 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like maybe in a professional environment among peers a woman doesn't want to be reminded, yet again, that for some people her primary value is as a sex object?

You're just assuming their perspective. The main page for SkeptiCamps says:
SkeptiCamps are informal, community-organized conferences borne from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. Everyone from casual skeptics to the experienced participate, give talks and get to know each other.
This is not a boss grabbing his secretary's boob. This is a woman who wants sex to be sequestered far far away from much of her life, offended by people who don't share that perspective. It's good for people to try not to offend each other, but it might help to consider that the couple in question probably do not consider sex to be an inherently offensive topic
posted by crayz at 6:12 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


In order to express your attraction you have to first request the permission to express attraction form.

No, you're totally right, let's all sniff one another's butts instead. Later, leg humping.
posted by elizardbits at 6:13 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


seriously, it's not that hard - if you can't find a non-overtly sexual way to express your attraction, wait for a situation where overt sexuality is being welcomed. and if you only want to express overt sexual attraction, blindsiding a woman sitting on a panel about childhood vaccinations isn't a good way to do that.
posted by nadawi at 6:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


if the card was in invitation to do a non-sexual, yet still non-professional, activity, would it be plain old harassment?

That's a good question. A lot depends on context, and it is going to be hard to replicate that context with another group without the metaphor being incomplete. I can only talk about it in terms of how it feels.

Women are consistently treated as being sexual objects -- that it's either the most valuable thing about them or, in extreme cases, the only thing that's valuable about them. I suppose in my own life it's a little like the fact that we Jews are presumed to be great with money (for the record, I am particularly not good with money.)

So let's say I went to a playwrighting convention, as I just did. And let's say I gave a presentation, as I did. And let's say at the end of that presentation, as I was packing up, somebody handed me a card. And I flipped the card over, and it said "Are you Jewish? WE'RE LOOKING FOR AN ACCOUNTANT."

There is no reason to assume I can do accounting, except that I am a Jew. And me doing accounting has nothing to do with the conference. It was just somebody seeing me, do to factors beyond my control, as being somebody who might be able to take care of their needs, thanks to unfair presumptions they have made about me. They also send the message that my actual presence there isn't really important, but instead the possibility that, because of their stereotypes about me, I might be able to help them with something unrelated.

Now imagine the card had a naked couple on it.

I might be feeling the way she is. And I would not appreciate people saying "OH IT'S NOT A BIG DEAL."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [45 favorites]


"That's why I said it's obviously harassment and supplied my evidence for that position. "

There's a difference between what you feel is harassment and what actually constitutes harassment. A single incident does not constitute harassment except perhaps a "quid pro quo" situation the workplace. Outside that a single incident doesn't meet the definition as it does not constitute the creation of a "hostile environment" caused by severe or pervasive abuse. There are actual definitions of these things out there, I'm not just making this stuff up.
posted by MikeMc at 6:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


You don't have to consider sex an offensive topic to consider it an intensely intimate one.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


You're just assuming their perspective. ... This is a woman who wants sex to be sequestered far far away from much of her life, offended by people who don't share that perspective.

Irony much?
posted by facetious at 6:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


crayz: This is a woman who wants sex to be sequestered far far away from much of her life

Is it really so upsetting to you, the idea that this woman maybe has to determine when and where she does and doesn't want to be made part of sexual situations?
posted by gilrain at 6:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [39 favorites]


The semantic games being played by some of the participants in this thread lead me to believe some folks are using this forum as an interactive try-out for The Onion. "I'm not saying that the guy should have given her the card with a picture of himself obviously naked, squeezing his wife's bare tits with the implied offer a sexual threesome at a conference in which she was there in the role of a professional speaker, but let's not confuse this with actual *harassment*, ok?"
posted by The Gooch at 6:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


I've been propositioned before when it's unwelcome, including one time a strange man in a bar (I'm a hetero guy) came up to me after I left gave me a little love note. Did I really *want* this? No. Was I traumatized by it? Also no

Yeah but have you grown up being sexually approached probably since you were child? Do men regularly proposition you, regardless of where you are and what you're doing? Were you worried he might follow you, and attempt to touch you? Were you concerned that he could rape you or physically dominate you? Were you worried he would start hurling abuse at you, or tell people you had slept with him? Were you concerned it would effect your reputation and what other people thought of you and how they would interact with you in the future? Did he confirm a belief that many men you talk with regard you as a sexual opportunity first and last?

This is the problem with that kind of thinking. Of course you didn't react the same way she did - you have a different horizons and your entire worldview about your body, gender, and sexuality has been developed differently.

Doesn't make your reaction invalid; doesn't make hers invalid.

It is not because critics of religion and the supernatural are "snooty" that the community struggles with sexism and privilege. It is because sexism and privilege are deeply embedded in our society and as a society we struggle with engaging social injustice.

I certainly think that's a factor, but I also feel the discourse of Skepticism as it's developed as a thing basically encourages a de facto chauvinist response.
posted by smoke at 6:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


not wanting to receive unsolicited naked pictures of near-strangers doesn't mean she wants sex sequestered far far away from much of her life. it's saying "hey, doodz, i'm working and i never indicated i wanted naked pictures of you."
posted by nadawi at 6:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


The bigger question that Marty raises is: why are we so freaked out about seeing someone else's body, even if it's involuntarily? So what? It is indeed considered skeezy as society is today -- but should it be?

Why isn't this the same tiresome old puritanism hiding behind the guise of "protecting women" and "privilege" and all the other fun oppression terminology?

i'm still waiting for a definition of what sexual harassment is if this doesn't qualify.

I'm not talking about a legal definition, but morally I see harassment as happening when there's some threat or coercion involved, or attention persists past the point when it is clearly unreciprocated.
posted by shivohum at 6:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why isn't this the same tiresome old puritanism hiding behind the guise of "protecting women" and "privilege" and all the other fun oppression terminology?

Because the opposite of puritanism isn't "Women are sexual objects I can approach with unwelcome advances any time I want."

The opposite of puritanism isn't "sexism."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:19 PM on June 18, 2012 [57 favorites]


it's more like, when someone is at a professional conference discussing vaccinating children

You're making this sound like some black tie meeting at the NIH to discuss the latest outbreak. Here's what Skepticamp Ohio 2012 actually says:
Skepticamp is based on the Barcamp model - user-generated open conferences where the content is provided by the participants.
Here's a page with some pictures

This. Was. Not. Harassment
posted by crayz at 6:20 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This. Was. Not. Harassment

Remind me not to accept business cards from you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:21 PM on June 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


"Irony much?"

Irony is expecting the world to not be offended by gay marriage, not to be offended by some representative using 'vagina' as a cheap shock tactic, yet defending someone getting offended over an image that is, by this era's standards, G-rated.
posted by Ardiril at 6:23 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


You're making this sound like some black tie meeting at the NIH to discuss the latest outbreak. Here's what Skepticamp Ohio 2012 actually says:
Skepticamp is based on the Barcamp model - user-generated open conferences where the content is provided by the participants.

Barcamps are informal in structure, but professional in purpose.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:24 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


this might not be fair - but as a woman who has been raped/molested/the subject of unwanted upskirt pictures/flashed/groped in jr high hallways, high school football games, crowded lines, public transit and church, etc - when a man shows that he has no care or knowledge about social norms as it relates to expressing (especially overtly sexual) attractions, i worry that my consent or interests isn't of importance to him and then i worry if i'm safe walking to my car later or back down the same hallway.

this isn't why this situation is harassment - it's harassment because it falls under the guidelines the conference set as harassment - but this might be a reason why some people react so strongly to this sort of thing.
posted by nadawi at 6:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [28 favorites]


Irony is expecting the world to not be offended by gay marriage, not to be offended by some representative using 'vagina' as a cheap shock tactic, yet defending someone getting offended over an image that is, by this era's standards, G-rated.

That's not actually irony. There may be other things you are defining incorrectly.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [14 favorites]


'content provided by the participants' doesn't mean 'bring naked pics'.
posted by jacalata at 6:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is a woman who wants sex to be sequestered far far away from much of her life, offended by people who don't share that perspective.

Did you read the policy of the conference? It's linked Elyse's response in the main post:
We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Explicit sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue. While some important and relevant issues may touch upon sexual issues, please keep it professional and in an academic context. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference [without a refund] at the discretion of the conference organizers.
What part of that card and the solicitation says "professional and academic" to you?
posted by gladly at 6:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it really so upsetting to you, the idea that this woman maybe has to determine when and where she does and doesn't want to be made part of sexual situations?

A few of us in this thread are just asking, since it is unclear. Is it solely sex that must be tip-toed around, or would anything "non-professional" be harassment at this event? Or do women just get prior restraint regarding all topics they dislike?

Remind me not to accept business cards from you.

Haaaa. Except, what is the actual problem here, except naked fat people on a business card? Are the people involved actually adults, who have seen small printed photographs of naked humans before? According to most people in this thread, any sort of "move" would have been harassment, not just one as clumsy and unattractive as this. So, yeah, if awkward passes at informal conferences of like-minded people have now become akin to "fuck me or you're fired" sexual harassment such that no one can draw a line between the two, and alll the internets must be told about each and every awkward pass, then that was a memo that I missed
posted by crayz at 6:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


This. Was. Not. Harassment

You are wrong. She was propositioned by a stranger in a professional environment for 3-way sex. That is harassment.
posted by King Bee at 6:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


Let me clarify my previous comment: if people think giving cards of themselves naked to keynote speakers is ok, then we need forms to fill out. Okcupid is essentially this, right?

It could be misconstrued that I'm trying to shame elyse, I'm not.
posted by roboton666 at 6:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"That's not actually irony."

You are correct, sir. It's outright hypocrisy.
posted by Ardiril at 6:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's totally mind-blowing is that it wasn't some lone weirdo. TWO people had thought about this ahead of time, decided it was a good idea, and followed through on the plan. Either that or they carry a stack of sex cards wherever they go, you know, just in case. Equally baffling.
posted by braksandwich at 6:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


t might help to consider that the couple in question probably do not consider sex to be an inherently offensive topic

I don't consider sex to be an inherently offensive topic, and I actually did quite a bit of swinging before my marriage. However, if I were giving a talk about childhood vaccination as part of my professional life, even in an informal setting, I wouldn't want to have someone(s) I didn't know come up to me and make an explicit offer of swinging by giving me an "erotic" photo of themself/themselves.

If that makes me a prude, selah.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:29 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


[Don't make it personal. Don't troll.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2012


Either that or they carry a stack of sex cards wherever they go, you know, just in case.

I am pretty sure this is indeed the case.
posted by elizardbits at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2012


This is not a boss grabbing his secretary's boob. This is a woman who wants sex to be sequestered far far away from much of her life, offended by people who don't share that perspective. It's good for people to try not to offend each other, but it might help to consider that the couple in question probably do not consider sex to be an inherently offensive topic

This attitude is bizarre to me.

Several years ago I attended an event at UC Berkeley where Walter Cronkite gave a talk about his years in the news business. From what I'm extrapolating from your argument, there would have been nothing inappropriate about me approaching Cronkite after the talk, handing him a photo of my asshole with my number on the back and walking away.
posted by The Gooch at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [31 favorites]


if awkward passes at informal conferences of like-minded people have now become akin to "fuck me or you're fired" sexual harassment

Don't conflate. The conference had specific policies that the organizers of the conference thought were violated by this action. Nobody's getting fired from anything.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I was giving a talk at work and someone gave me that card, I would be upset and it would be harassment.
posted by stoneegg21 at 6:31 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


You are correct, sir. It's outright hypocrisy.

Taking comments made by disparate members of a very large community out of context, combining them to represent a single point of view, superimposing the point of view onto the entire community, and then deliberately giving it as contrary and simplified a reading as possible is not hypocrisy on anybody's part. It is disingenousness on your part.

Usually I presume good faith on the part of the people I am taking to. You have voided this presumption, and I won't engage you any more.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:31 PM on June 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


If I were...
posted by stoneegg21 at 6:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, haven't people ever heard of inviting someone out for a drink rather than just handing them a photo and description of the goods?

Also, everyone saying that Elyse was being "defensive" is kind of overlooking that she was indeed defending herself against inaccurate and pissy descriptions of her behavior in a high-traffic public space by someone she'd never met and who didn't actually know what had transpired.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


"they carry a stack of sex cards wherever they go, you know, just in case"

That is precisely what they do.
posted by Ardiril at 6:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate humans some days. This isn't even close to being appropriate, and yet, here we are, several people arguing that it was no big deal. (I'm guessing if they were at their daughter's high school graduation they'd see it differently if the douche couple handed their precious [adult] child one of their cards.)

Why do you have to do this to me, metafilter, just when I thought things were OK?
posted by maxwelton at 6:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


What if we set aside the sexual angle of this for a moment, and consider how this might have made her feel professionally? If something similar happened to me, it would feel considerably dismissive, of my work, of my seminar, and of my ideas. Because it is essentially the same as having someone patiently listen to your argument, then say, "that's nice. How about we fuck?"
It shows how little value was placed on the content of what you presented.

This in combination with the unsolicited sexual advance does say something, and it is insulting. There are ways to show sexual attraction that are not demeaning, which this was.
posted by nasayre at 6:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [34 favorites]


So, you're at a conference with your stack of sex cards, because you carry your sex cards around... just in case. But since you're at a conference you probably also have your business cards, you know for regular networking. YOU GOTTA HAVE A SYSTEM to remember which pocket has which.
posted by braksandwich at 6:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I feel like the non business ones might be ever so slightly sticky.
posted by elizardbits at 6:36 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


What if we set aside the sexual angle of this for a moment, and consider how this might have made her feel professionally?

You say you're going to set aside the sex angle, and then you just talk about how sex sex sex would make you feel insulted. Would any other non-professional topic (e.g. let's take a hike, have a meal, do nonsexual common physical human things together) also make you feel insulted about the lack of interest in your work? Or just sex?
posted by crayz at 6:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Shooting junk.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:40 PM on June 18, 2012


when women have been controlled for nearly all of recorded human history around the topic of taking hikes, that comparison would scale.
posted by nadawi at 6:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Are you Jewish? WE'RE LOOKING FOR AN ACCOUNTANT."

No wai, are you really offering that as a counterfactual for our study and discussion? That doesn't seem like a simplified case that will cut away baggage and help clarify things.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would think the couple's behavior was weird and inappropriate at a BDSM conference, let alone a conference that has nothing to do with sex.
posted by desjardins at 6:52 PM on June 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


Would any other non-professional topic (e.g. let's take a hike, have a meal, do nonsexual common physical human things together) also make you feel insulted about the lack of interest in your work? Or just sex?

Don't be obtuse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Would any other non-professional topic (e.g. let's take a hike, have a meal, do nonsexual common physical human things together) also make you feel insulted about the lack of interest in your work? Or just sex?

How about babysitting their kid? I'd be totally freaked out if someone came up and invited me to babysit their kid without knowing anything about me except that I was female [and, in this case, supported vaccinations]. Do you think it would be reasonable for them to do that? Do you think it would be normal for people to select random people at work, or at a conference, and give them a card saying "I need a babysitter, please call at xxx". Why or why not?
posted by jacalata at 6:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


your co-workers
Random swinger couple are not, nor ever were, her "co-workers". They were members of an audience. Fans, if you like. Maybe groupies, even. And why not name them if they were harassers?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:57 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would any other non-professional topic (e.g. let's take a hike, have a meal, do nonsexual common physical human things together) also make you feel insulted about the lack of interest in your work? Or just sex?


Well, yes actually. Any abrupt change of conversation like that would amount to acting dismissive of the topic you just finished discussing. Would you not feel the same?
posted by nasayre at 6:58 PM on June 18, 2012


or at a conference in case you missed that.
posted by jacalata at 6:58 PM on June 18, 2012


Continuing with jacalata's idea: cooking. A card that said "Interested in coming to cook us a meal?", and a picture of the pots and pans that you could use. Because you're a woman, and you'll like that kind of thing.

I am always weirded out when people make this out to be a puritan thing, when most of the people I know who are most clear about how pissed off they are with this are extremely comfortable in their sexuality, and often are writing or discussing porn in entirely comfortable way the rest of the time. Could be rampant hypocrisy, I guess. Possibly more likely that this isn't about "sex" and more about "power", just like they've always said it's been.
posted by ntk at 6:59 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess the thing is, that wouldn't be considered harassment. Strange, inappropriate, tone-deaf, sure. But offering a hike / babysitting gig to a keynote speaker is not harassment.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:00 PM on June 18, 2012


"Random swinger couple are not, nor ever were, her "co-workers". They were members of an audience. Fans, if you like. Maybe groupies, even."

Let's not get bogged down in facts here. It's much easier to score rhetorical points if you turn the squicky swingers into hypothetical co-workers.
posted by MikeMc at 7:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Shit. Marty Klein is a fucking asshole. The stealth edits/revisionism really speak to his lack of professionalism and ethics.

No one has mentioned this, but the reason Elyse Anders was on vicodin is that last month she had most of her stomach resected. She was preparing to have gastric bypass surgery, and her doctor found a 3cm malignant tumor.

And yet she still went to the conference to work because she no doubt felt it was an important topic and audience. Only to have a couple of horny assholes sexually harass her while she was working.
posted by zarq at 7:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


when women have been controlled for nearly all of recorded human history around the topic of taking hikes, that comparison would scale.

That's fair, but then we are saying sex specifically needs to sequestered away from day-to-day human life. What you said above:
when a man shows that he has no care or knowledge about social norms as it relates to expressing (especially overtly sexual) attractions, i worry that my consent or interests isn't of importance to him and then i worry if i'm safe walking to my car later or back down the same hallway.
is something I've heard variations of from many women, and it's real and it's terrible for women that life is like that. But also realize, it's terrible for the majority of men who aren't violent womanizers. Take a walk alone at night as a guy

How about babysitting their kid?

As I said, I think what they did was weird and ill-considered. If it was a babysitting card, do you think there would be a blog post and 200 & counting comment thread on mefi, about this offensive babysitting card? Only a couple people here seem willing to actually discuss real reasons that specifically sex is so uncomfortable and problematic. And I think that would be a good discussion to have, but step 1 is admitting this was not a babysitting card, and why that matters even though the babysitting card would have also been weird
posted by crayz at 7:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes. But I was describing the inherent dismissive/insulting behavior of the act. But we have talked about the other side of it to death haven't we? How is showing nudy pictures of yourself to a stranger not harassment? Combine the harassment with the insult, and clearly that made it something more to Elyse.
posted by nasayre at 7:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


But also realize, it's terrible for the majority of men who aren't violent womanizers. Take a walk alone at night as a guy

now i feel dumb for participating in this thread
posted by facetious at 7:09 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Geez, this thread is all kinds of fucked up.

You just don't get to jump right into "Let's fuck!" with a sexually charged picture without it being harassment. It doesn't have to be more than once. Once is enough with this kind of explicitness. You have a right to not be exposed to sexually charged photos at your workplace (outside of working for a porn company), especially when the object of the photo is propositioning a woman for sex.

And hell, even if she wasn't on the clock, she should still be protected from this kind of sexual ambush. It would be a completely different thing if they asked her "Hey, would you like to go for a drink?" and she accepts their offer then they got to talking and topics became sexual. But that's not what happened here at all. It was just a parachute drop of "Let's fuck!" based on no expressed or implied interest of a sexual nature.

I mean, why would this couple ever think this was okay? Is this just something they love doing because, who wouldn't be DTF with them? It's entitled, it's tone deaf, it's HARASSMENT.
posted by inturnaround at 7:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, yes actually. Any abrupt change of conversation like that would amount to acting dismissive of the topic you just finished discussing. Would you not feel the same?

Are you really serious? Have you been to a small informal conference/gathering like this? They tend to end at a bar with the single participants alternately networking/bullshitting/hitting on each other. Because human beings aren't robot "professionals". This was an ill-timed and stupid pass, but the airs around this "professional conference" are becoming laughable. This wasn't her dissertation
posted by crayz at 7:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


it's up to men to not act in a way that stereotypical violent womanizers act. i'm sorry it's terrible for innocent men, but the way to fix that is through less sexism and harassment, not more.

this still doesn't advocate sequestering sex from everything. it means that men have to take more care to make sure their advances are welcome. since rape education exists near totally of advice like "here's how to not get raped!" instead of "stop raping people!" i don't think it's an undo burden for men to take some of the responsibility in making sure the target of their attraction wants to be targeted.
posted by nadawi at 7:12 PM on June 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Let's not get bogged down in facts here. It's much easier to score rhetorical points if you turn the squicky swingers into hypothetical co-workers.

I'm sorry, I included that because crayz earlier implied that we were talking about work situations (f awkward passes at informal conferences of like-minded people have now become akin to "fuck me or you're fired" sexual harassment such that no one can draw a line between the two,). I'm sorry I confused you too much for you to respond, because I am genuinely curious if you or any others arguing that this was unobjectionable would find the babysitting weird or objectionable.

If it was a babysitting card, do you think there would be a blog post and 200 & counting comment thread on mefi, about this offensive babysitting card?

I do, actually. Because I see the problem here as primarily someone who saw her solely as a random female who could be available for their 'insert female here' scenario (which is why hiking doesn't have the same issues). And it's about sex because that's where people seem to be most likely to revert to 'insert female here' crap.
posted by jacalata at 7:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take a walk alone at night as a guy

I do. All the time. I do it without fear that I'm going to be assaulted, kidnapped or raped by other males on the street. I do it without being a target of unwanted catcalling or attention. I do it without being worried that someone else might put me in bodily danger. I do it without worrying that everyone around me is a potential threat? Do you know why? Because I don't have to. Because I'm a guy. Not only that, I'm a big guy. Over six feet tall. I don't look helpless. Because I'm living in a society where I have a certain amount of unconscious privilege and protection from such things. See this.

Many women -- MOST women -- do not have that same experience in Western society.
posted by zarq at 7:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [31 favorites]


Here's the actual description, from the first paragraph of the event listing, of this black-tie professional conference where this professional was demeaned in her workplace:
SkeptiCamp is a one-of-a-kind event coming Memorial Day weekend, and this year there are two great speakers, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist blog (as well as selling his soul on ebay) fame and Skepchick and the anti-Jenny McCarthy, Elyse Anders! Skeptics will be gathering from all over the state and beyond to listen and watch a series of presentations made by fellow attendees or maybe even YOU. Although you do not have to present to attend, everyone contributes in some way. The event goes until 6PM and I would not be surprised if you will be able to find a group of skeptics to have a great Saturday night with at a local bar or restaurant. How often do you get to meet and party with skeptics from all over the state?
Italics theirs
posted by crayz at 7:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah. I see. So I guess immediately after I give a seminar, it is completely normal to have someone come up directly to you and "network/bullshit" with a sexual proposition. Also, it was a serious topic, why could she not be treated with a level of professionalism? She wasn't, in fact, at a bar, or at free drink night at the conference. Nor in the hot tub/swimming pool.
posted by nasayre at 7:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's certainly not what I would ordinarily think of as harassment. But it's such a weird and creepy thing, that I just don't how else to characterize it. I mean, had they just smiled at her and said "we have a very open marriage, call us if you want to relax together," I think I'd be reluctantly saying it wasn't, so long as they took "no" for an answer. But the naked picture thing? Yeah, that's way over the line.
posted by tyllwin at 7:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I heard mefites sometimes have meetups at bars, so does that mean I can post penis shots here?
posted by jacalata at 7:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I heard mefites sometimes have meetups at bars, so does that mean I can post penis shots here?

If a women gave you a card with your boobs and a solicitation for sex on it and you publicly shamed her on your blog, I doubt the reaction here would be quite so black and white
posted by crayz at 7:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you been to a small informal conference/gathering like this?

Yes.

They tend to end at a bar with the single participants alternately networking/bullshitting/hitting on each other.

Were they at a bar? No. Had they changed venues, so that she was no longer working? No. Or was she still working, and speaking to people as the expert they had brought in to speak to them about a specific topic. Yes.

It's harassment because they were still present at the conference. And yes, it was still a professional conference (whether you want to dismiss it as a casual gathering or not, that fact is still not in question) which incidentally also had a list of rules that people were not only expected to follow, but were enforced by the organizers.
posted by zarq at 7:19 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Except.....the card in question does have a picture. Of a women. With boobs. So, you are pretty much describing the situation we are discussing.
posted by nasayre at 7:20 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you go to a conference and the code of conduct asks people to not wear strongly scented body or hair products, and someone comes up to you and without asking sprays perfume on you, you are not anti-all-scents everywhere forever if you object to that and report them to the organizers. Jesus.
posted by rtha at 7:20 PM on June 18, 2012 [22 favorites]


I participated in a bunch of Ohio Skeptics events before grad school took over my life to the degree it has. Skepticamp is fun - I was going to give a talk last year debunking common myths about evolution and giving people some good retorts for common creationist arguments, but was unable to attend. This year, there were some big names in attendance, including Elyse and Hemant Mehta. To suggest that this was so unprofessional a conference as to make random solicitations for sex acceptable ... is super bizarre.

I guess I don't really understand why this keeps happening. There've been a series of incidents at skeptics events where (mostly) men are horrified that women don't want to go from "eye contact" to "come back to my room at 3 AM" or "have three-way sex" and other men defend the right to make other people profoundly uncomfortable through sexual harassment.

By the definition of the conference organizers, was this sexual harassment? Yes. Was this something I would have considered sexual harassment? Yes! It reduced Elyse to a person possessing attractive genitalia, and I suspect this couple got off on dropping their card on her table ... it's totally not OK to involve someone else in your sex life (in real life) without their consent. Is this the worst sexual harassment ever? No, of course not. Was it dealt with appropriately by the conference organizers? Yes, absolutely. Did Klein behave like an asshole? Yep!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:20 PM on June 18, 2012 [38 favorites]


Did you miss the thread we just had about how Alabama doesn't exist? Frankly, the evidence for Ohio is even weaker.

Umm, I've been to a dozen major national conferences in Ohio, mostly in Columbus (I'm an academic). I wasn't knocking Ohio, I was laughing at the idea that a state "skeptic" organization is a "major national progressive conference," which is what Klein said, I believe, in making up his funny little fairy tale version of events. And I'm as skeptical as the next highly educated atheist, but pardon me for finding the idea of a "skeptic conference" amusing, and the self-importance of the whole thing a bit silly for any statewide organization having an annual conference. This wasn't the national meeting of the NAACP. It wasn't Netroots Nation. It was "Ohio Skeptics," of which I am sure there are a few hundred, no doubt.

So the snide put down of an elitism I never intended is unnecessary. I've also probably spent more time in Alabama than most MeFites.
posted by spitbull at 7:21 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


zarq: I do. All the time. I do it without fear that I'm going to be assaulted, kidnapped or raped by other males on the street. I do it without being a target of unwanted catcalling or attention. I do it without being worried that someone else might put me in bodily danger. I do it without worrying that everyone around me is a potential threat? Do you know why? Because I don't have to. Because I'm a guy.
I am also a guy, and I walk around without fear.

That said, I have been on separate occasions yelled at, verbally/physically threatened, and even beaten up by four homeless guys who "didn't like how I was looking at them". Because I live in a neighborhood historically known as gay friendly, I have been hit on politely (when I was younger and thinner) as well as had homophobic slurs yelled at me (I happen to be hetero).

These things sucked, and continue to be a rare but possible danger of walking down a sidewalk in a city. Turns out the contents of my jeans do not actually make me immune from all danger. In some cases- such as drunk/angry people attempting to engage me in a physical fight on the bus or the sidewalk- I'm actually at greater risk. Recent shootings in the Seattle area have been shocking- random people getting shot- but on the whole, these are anomalies. I and I suspect most people don't walk down the street any more fearful of being shot by some crazy person or gangbanger.

However, I don't have fear, because the fear is something I can control. Fear is in my head. I am not immune from dangers from random people, and as it happens no one really is- but recognize these dangers as unlikely in the day to day, and don't let that fear of a rare thing dominate my mind.

The world does not owe it to me to change what's going on inside my head so I'm not afraid. Being afraid, or not afraid, is ultimately something I can choose.
posted by hincandenza at 7:24 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the actual description, from the first paragraph of the event listing, of this black-tie professional conference where this professional was demeaned in her workplace

Here is the actual anti-harassment policy that governed the event where these folks handed out their pleasure card to the keynote speaker during the conference.

No, you're right. The Meet-Up announcement that mentions "partying" probably supersedes that.
posted by gladly at 7:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I personally don't think this was 100% dictionary definition harassment, but it was close enough that i would never waste a minute arguing that it wasn't.

Arguing against it is kind of like saying "that hand grenade didn't really hit you, it only landed at your feet."
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


As others have said, this isn't an isolated incident; it happens all the time.


Yes, and that is the problem.:roll:
posted by caryatid at 7:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being afraid, or not afraid, is ultimately something I can choose.

How wonderful for you. So I, as a woman, can simply choose not to be afraid, and that solves the problem that I am exponentially more likely to have reason to be afraid, because I am exponentially more likely to be attacked.

Yeah, that makes everything soooo much better.
posted by caryatid at 7:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


"I'm sorry I confused you too much for you to respond"

No need to apologize. You didn't confuse me, my comment was directed at someone else entirely.

I am genuinely curious if you or any others arguing that this was unobjectionable

[citation needed]

I don't recall ever arguing this was "unobjectionable". My argument was about the definition of the term not whether or not what these people did was "unobjectionable" or not. Sorry if I was unclear.
posted by MikeMc at 7:34 PM on June 18, 2012


Wasn't it over at Shakespeare's Sister blog where they went on at length at how when women complain about being hit on, they are in fact demonstrating privilege, and contributing to patriarchal oppression?

What about all the unattractive people who didn't get the card -- who will tend to their feelings? Who will right that wrong?

I exaggerate to make a point.

As a woman, as someone who -- yes -- has received unwanted attention from men since I was a child, I would have punched the couple in their respective throats and walked away. Hollering on a blog about sexism and misogyny and harassment doesn't do a damn thing except make you seem like a hysterical, attention grabbing fruit loop. (Especially since Ms. Watson's absurd elevator drama.)

Quit overreacting and take some of that direct action I hear about.
posted by gsh at 7:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


... it's totally not OK to involve someone else in your sex life (in real life) without their consent.

ChuraChura's distilled the whole matter. The couple are exhibitionists, and giving the sexually-explicit card was harassment. Elyse just walking around with a pulse is not implicit consent.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm sticking by my perspective that she became unnecessarily defensive in her response to some dumbass blog post by a nobody on a "high traffic" (is it really?) and apparently unscrupulous website. I'm a bit mystified over how he even gets a mention. Don't flame YouTube commentors is a good stance to take. And please don't lump me with these trolls. Her original post was great, and I fail to see how my opinion somehow insta-brands me as anti-feminist.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:35 PM on June 18, 2012


it's my experience that being harassed by men who reduce me to my ability to fuck is not a rare occurrence and i'm betting i'm in the norm on that.

lets say 90% of the time you stepped out of your house multiple random strangers threatened to beat you up and there were no places you could go where you could get a reprieve from that. then, if 200 or so times they followed up with that threat, with anything from aggressive shoving to straight up putting you in the hospital, with no other warning signs first - are you saying you wouldn't be the tiniest bit fearful when people walked up and threatened you?
posted by nadawi at 7:36 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


If it was a babysitting card, do you think there would be a blog post and 200 & counting comment thread on mefi, about this offensive babysitting card?
Are you kidding? Of course there would. A lot of it would be people going on about how they couldn't imagine it was that offensive, and why were women getting touchy about this stuff, when they as a man wouldn't see anything wrong with it. And don't get me on that whole "I don't babysit" thing, because actually as a man, I love kids, and would probably take them up on it. So really women should shut up about this, and stop trying to censor or sequester off child-raising. Which they want to do, because a lot of these feminists have actually lost touch with the whole idea of women raising children, which is why they treat actually mothers so badly, etc, etc.

And there would be a bunch of other people absolutely fuming at the fact that it isn't the *babysitting* that's the point, it's the fact that the woman was treated as an object that would only be interested in the stereotypical act of babysitting, rather than as a human being who'd just given a talk on vaccination.

And then someone would say, well, if it's not about babysitting, what other topic would be so bad. And maybe somebody would suggest handing over a card with a naked picture and a sexual proposition on it.

And then, weirdly, people would go, yeah that would be pretty bad, because alternative scenarios are always conceded in these endless, never-ending fights, because that shows you are generous to your opponent, while never actually engaging with the real discussion they want to have.
posted by ntk at 7:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [16 favorites]


Hollering on a blog about sexism and misogyny and harassment doesn't do a damn thing except make you seem like a hysterical, attention grabbing fruit loop.

The conversation has led to organizations instituting or revising harassment policies. It also provides an opportunity for education about sexism. I don't have a link, but I've seen at least one commenter on a blog indicate that discussion of these events had raised his awareness of sexism and privilege.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


No, generally the woman in the relationship has asked her husband to distribute the cards because she feels too oppressed by society's attitudes to introduce herself to other women.


But not too oppressed by society's attitudes to be monogamous! Seriously, this just comes off as homophobic "I'm not a lesbian" nonsense (homophobia is, IMO, rampant in swinger culture).
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we don't have conversations about sexual harassment when something small occurs, how do we start the conversation if something big occurs?
posted by ChuraChura at 7:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


However, I don't have fear, because the fear is something I can control. Fear is in my head. I am not immune from dangers from random people, and as it happens no one really is- but recognize these dangers as unlikely in the day to day, and don't let that fear of a rare thing dominate my mind.

They are not unlikely for women. I do not understand why so many men seem to have a disconnect towards understanding this. Women have around a 15% chance of being raped in their lifetime. 1 in 6. Men have a 3% chance. 1 in 33. There is a huge disparity by gender.

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape). About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

Go back and read the Schroedinger's Rapist thread, from beginning to end. There are many, many female members of this very community who explain in those comments that they are being subjected to unwanted sexual advances at inappropriate times with a frequency that is frankly shocking. Women should not be treated that way. Quite a few women in that thread talked about the fact that they themselves were raped.

It's nice for you that you get to control your fear. For me too. The risk is less for us.

The world does not owe it to me to change what's going on inside my head so I'm not afraid. Being afraid, or not afraid, is ultimately something I can choose.

Sorry, but I think we deserve a better world than that. And I'm going to continue to fight for a world in which women aren't treated like objects. Frankly, I want my four year old daughter to grow up in a world where she's going to be respected for her accomplishments, and not treated as if her only worth to men is as a sexual object.
posted by zarq at 7:48 PM on June 18, 2012 [40 favorites]


In a professional situation such as the one the woman was in, I can say that just about any out-of-the-blue irrelevant invitations from strangers would strike an odd and inappropriate note with me, be it to a to a knitting circle or a bible group. I'd probably be trying to put a distance between myself and any clueless folks who thought it was appropriate to invite me to random things. "And you thought that total non-sequitor to the topic at hand related to me why?"

I'll agree that in the strict legal or liability sense, this case doesn't fit a definition of workplace harassment - who is the employer, who are the employees, etc. etc. But she didn't bring her case to a court of law, she made a blog post. So if some of you naysayers are merely arguing academically about the legal ins and outs, well OK, maybe. But that's not what I am hearing. I am hearing, "Eh, she's too sensitive, no big deal."

If this happened in a workplace, an employer might be able to defend themselves against a harassment/hostile workplace charge. But they'd pretty much have to fire the employee(s) who engaged in this behavior to ensure that defense. It's totally inappropriate behavior in any work situation - and as has been pointed out, was explicitly proscribed by the event hosts.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Hand People a Wallet Size Picture of Your Junk Culture.

I'd continue to parody Tangerine's sage advice here, but oddly enough, it would pretty quickly cease being parody. Presumptuous and out of line? Check. Incomprehensible, and rife with passive aggression? Check.

Even "As you read through the responses to this, you can easily see who the Hand People a Wallet Size Picture of Your Junk and the who the Ask commenters are." kind of works.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:49 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I do. All the time. I do it without fear that I'm going to be assaulted, kidnapped or raped by other males on the street.

zarq it's cool that you are not afraid, no one should be scared to walk at night. But the reality is men are far more likely to be the victim of violent crime.
posted by rcdc at 7:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


So the snide put down of an elitism I never intended is unnecessary.

Given this thread has gotten heated, I will clarify the joke. We'd just been talking in a previous thread about whether Alabama and various other states existed. I made a tongue in cheek reference to that implying the meetup was, in fact, people who are skeptical of Ohio, suggesting the evidence that Ohio exists is thinner than the evidence that Alabama exists.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:51 PM on June 18, 2012


But the reality is men are far more likely to be the victim of violent crime.

With the exception of rape. When it comes to the topic at hand: sexual assault, women are more likely to be the victims. For the years 1976-2005 combined, among all homicide victims, females were particularly at risk for intimate killings and sex-related homicides:
Male victims in sex-related homicides: 18.8%
Female victims in sex-related homicides: 81.2%
Male killers in sex-related homicides: 93.6%
Female killers under similar circumstances: 6.4%

Charts here.
posted by zarq at 7:57 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Quit overreacting and take some of that direct action I hear about.

She had cancer surgery a few weeks ago, and most of her stomach resected. Somehow I don't think getting into a physical altercation is high on her priority list. Nor should it be.
posted by zarq at 8:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


When you people realize that for the vast majority this stuff isn't an issue.

If only minorities would stop bothering the majority with their pesky grievances.
posted by dumbland at 8:05 PM on June 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


zarq to tell you the truth I would not feel any better for simply being murdered as opposed to dying in a sex related homicide.


If all your concerned about is rape, I suppose you are right not to worry. You were talking about being safe at night. The fact remains men are more likely to be the victims of a violent crime even when sexual assault is included. All violent crime is bad.
posted by rcdc at 8:13 PM on June 18, 2012


Except of course that women are the majority...which makes this bullshit worse. There are lots of ok ways to hit on someone;chatting at a party, at a bar, whatever. If they are interested you will get your chance. Saying this is an ok way to seek out sex is saying you don't give a shit about the respectful way to approach someone you don't know. Which says pretty clearly you don't respect them period.
posted by emjaybee at 8:16 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Surely I'm not alone in being given unasked for photographs of male genitalia, right? Once on OKCupid, when I was younger, a guy sent me a tutorial on pleasuring one's self with swiss cheese. It was illustrated. Let me be clear, here: I was a young lady on the internet, hoping to do that "dating" thing I heard so much about, eyeing attractive male strangers. In no way did that excuse Swiss Cheese Fucker's behavior. It was, seriously, enough to make me walk away from the internet for a while. I stopped checking emailed messages associated with that account; I ignored some guys I had actually become friends with, because, hey! Every message could contain Bris with Brie! Was I naive and kind of young and heavens, not used to nasty closeups of anonymous junk? Yeahhh. But you know what? There are limits, and it is astounding to me that anyone could consider any variant of "unasked-for naked photograph with sex proposition" as somehow mundane and unworthy of protest or distaste.

If some guy I'd met at an academic conference had left this by my table, or anyone who saw me at my academic-campus-job slipped me a photographic flyer of sex off-campus? I would without question ask for help in dealing with it, and I would probably talk to campus mediators or conference staff. Because if I were in charge of a conference, and I found out there were people distributing Booty Call Business Cards, I'd want to know.


(but seriously people on OKC/twitter/senatorial payrolls stop sending photographic evidence of your ardor to strangers pleaaaaaaaase)
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:22 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


zarq, I followed that link and you seemed to have zoomed in on a very odd line- that particular section doesn't give any indication as to what percentage of homicides overall are sex-related. I suspect it's a pretty small overall percentage.

However, it does say that 76% of victims are males, and it also says that of male homicide victims, 15.5% are from strangers, while only 6.8% of female homicide victims are from strangers.

So men are, by the chart you linked, 3 times more likely to be victims of homicide, and those victims are about twice as likely to be from strangers.

Thumbnail math says that if the genders are roughly equal in society, a man walking down the street is six times more likely to be a homicide victim. This is of course a gross oversimplification, but the point stands: you linked to "official" numbers that suggest I as a man have more reason to be afraid walking down the street alone than does a woman.
posted by hincandenza at 8:25 PM on June 18, 2012


If all your concerned about is rape, I suppose you are right not to worry.

What I said was, "assault, kidnapping and rape." In context, I meant sexual assault. This entire thread is about women and the sexual harassment of women. The comment that I was responding to was about fear of sexual harassment. I did not believe I had to make this more overtly clear, considering the subject. Please also note my follow-up comment to hincandenza, which was clearly focused on rape and sexual assault.

You were talking about being safe at night.

No. This oversimplifies my point. I was talking about the justifiable concerns that women have regarding being safe at night, and the fact that men do not hold concerns along similar lines because there are specific, cultural differences in Western society regarding the way women are treated by men, compared to the way men treat men. That women are more at risk for sexual advances, rape and certain types of assault.

The fact remains men are more likely to be the victims of a violent crime even when sexual assault is included.

Okay. I'm sure that is relevant to something, but it has little to do with the point I've been making.

All violent crime is bad.

Yes, it is. This isn't a thread about all violent crime. My comments were not about all violent crime. My comments spoke to the likelihood that women might get raped.
posted by zarq at 8:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


If all your concerned about is rape, I suppose you are right not to worry. You were talking about being safe at night. The fact remains men are more likely to be the victims of a violent crime even when sexual assault is included. All violent crime is bad.

Women are more likely to be raped by people they know, than by people randomly grabbing them in an alley.
posted by empath at 8:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


This also isn't a thread about rape. And since that is notoriously a topic that (according to moderators, even) MetaFilter doesn't do well, maybe it would be better to rerail the discussion.
posted by cribcage at 8:27 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thumbnail math says that if the genders are roughly equal in society, a man walking down the street is six times more likely to be a homicide victim. This is of course a gross oversimplification, but the point stands: you linked to "official" numbers that suggest I as a man have more reason to be afraid walking down the street alone than does a woman.

hincandenza, I'm tired of repeating myself. If you don't want to concede the point, that's fine. But it would be nice if you focused on what I have actually said to you -- all of it, in context -- rather than trying to nitpick my words to prove a point that has little or nothing to do with what I said, and that I did not bring up.
posted by zarq at 8:31 PM on June 18, 2012


are we really not going to discuss the choice of orange backdrop on the card
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:39 PM on June 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


are we really not going to discuss the choice of orange backdrop on the card

I think the consensus is that it was acceptable behaviour.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:40 PM on June 18, 2012


I'm sorry zarq, perhaps it was a shoehorn on my part but I find a lot of people assume a man is safe alone at night simply because he is not a woman.

what you said, specifically:

I do it without being worried that someone else might put me in bodily danger. I do it without worrying that everyone around me is a potential threat?

Might help continue this myth. I figure accurate information is always valuable.

again sorry for expanding the scope of your conversation. with comments like

It's nice for you that you get to control your fear. For me too. The risk is less for us. /em>

It wasn't clear to me we were exclusively talking about sexual assault.

posted by rcdc at 8:40 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not nitpicking; your comment earlier is on record here, saying that as a guy you have no reason to be afraid like a woman would. Multiple people replied including myself to note two things: first, being afraid is a choice we make, and second that men might have as much reason to be afraid of walking down the street with the much higher risk of being victims of violent crime.

You responded to link a chart on homicide rates, cherry picking one line, where the overall point seems to contradict your thrust that women have more to fear then men. Pointing this out makes me apparently a nitpicker.

Your whole tangent about "walking down the street" has no real relation to the topic of this thread anyway,.
posted by hincandenza at 8:42 PM on June 18, 2012


Quit overreacting and take some of that direct action I hear about.

Yeah! she should take direct action like calling the people out on their bullshit!

Like....she did!

Only you think that's overreacting, so what should she have done?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [24 favorites]


MikeMc: “I don't recall ever arguing this was ‘unobjectionable’. My argument was about the definition of the term not whether or not what these people did was ‘unobjectionable’ or not. Sorry if I was unclear.”

I think the confusion came from the fact that many of us here seem to define "harassment" as "objectionable and unwanted interactions, largely of a sexual nature." So when you say you find it "objectionable," you just don't think it was "harassment," this seems odd to us. What exactly is "harassment" if it's not objectionable interactions?

See, the trouble is that people have this idea that "harassment" is a big, scary word that is a weapon, and there seems to be a fear that if we get too comfortable saying the word harassment then people will get unfairly accused and subjected to punishment they don't deserve. But that's not how it works, I don't think. What we should aim for here is clarity, and if we do that, if we shoot for the truth and hold onto rational moral categories, then nobody is going to get strung up over this or lynched. It's okay to talk about these things. More talking is better than less talking. That's the point.

Basically, when people say "harassment" and that word makes you slightly worried about what's being said, instead of saying "I don't think this is harassment," it's probably a better idea to ask "what do you specifically mean by 'harassment'?"

hincandenza: “Your whole tangent about ‘walking down the street’ has no real relation to the topic of this thread anyway.”

That wasn't zarq's tangent, that was crayz's.

There are differences in the way men and women are treated in this society – women bear the brunt of most sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is statistically not surprising that the person being harassed in this situation was a woman. That doesn't change the fact that it would have been just as bad if it'd happened to a man – if this couple came up to me, for example, and handed me their card, I would have felt harassed. Still, it's an important part of the context here.

The general point is that this should not happen in a society where individuals are valued for who they are.
posted by koeselitz at 8:48 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


It is not okay that men get physically assaulted.

It is also not okay that in every goddamn thread about women getting harrassed the usual suspect come in to diminish, dismiss, and sneer.
posted by rtha at 8:50 PM on June 18, 2012 [65 favorites]


Jesus tapdancing Christ, just ONCE I'd like to see this subject come up and NOT see a bunch of dudes posting in here about how this isn't harrassment and the lady must be a giant anti-sex prude and she just needs to loosen up and lighten up and have some fun and what's her problem and men have it worse. Jesus. It makes me sick.
posted by palomar at 8:52 PM on June 18, 2012 [80 favorites]


It's just weird to have the first time you ever talk to someone in person, at work, be a sexual proposition. Weird. Invasive. It would certainly make me uncomfortable to be propositioned by a stranger after I gave a public talk.

Re:
Quit overreacting and take some of that direct action I hear about.


I fail to see how punching someone in the throat (your proposal) is less overreaction than writing about/analysing your experience in a blog without identifying the people in question.

it is completely appropriate for women (and men!) to discuss this sort of experience, and how it was handled. She didn't name the people or do anything to encourage that they be identified or personally harassed. She credited those who supported her, and tried to make the conference experience positive.

If someone made some other kind of offensive remark (say, about her cancer, or her race) would we suggest she never write of it? She's a blogger!

Sheesh! If women can't talk about this stuff ... well let's just say a lot about our lives that should be discussed will instead remain unspoken! And that would be a shame.
posted by chapps at 8:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Meant to type "usual suspects" and not "suspect." There's pretty much never only one.
posted by rtha at 8:53 PM on June 18, 2012


I mean she credited those who worked to make the conference experience positive ... sorry for confusing punctuation!
posted by chapps at 8:54 PM on June 18, 2012


Irony is expecting the world to not be offended by gay marriage, not to be offended by some representative using 'vagina' as a cheap shock tactic, yet defending someone getting offended over an image that is, by this era's standards, G-rated.

What do either of these examples have to do with your point? Are you really asserting, for example, that a world in which marriage equality for gays and lesbians is being taken seriously as a civil rights issue is a world so . . . I don't know what to use here, maybe "desensitized" or "debased" or "fallen"? . . . that the image on the card should be considered G-rated and the woman who received the card is absurdly overreacting? If so, I find that an extraordinarily patronizing and insulting assertion.
posted by treepour at 8:57 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


That wasn't zarq's tangent, that was crayz's.

I was starting to write about how alienating it feels to walk down the street as a man at night, feared just for your physical appearance and stereotypes about it, tried to say it a few different ways and couldn't come up with a way I thought anyone would react positively to, continued on writing and forgot to delete it

The general point is that this should not happen in a society where individuals are valued for who they are.

One of the points some of us are trying to make is that there doesn't seem to have been much time spent trying to consider or hear the perspective of the swinger couple or other people who don't find casual, even awkward passes offensive. It's you who are choosing to see sexual interest as, for some reason, a denial of each person's unique value as a human being
posted by crayz at 8:58 PM on June 18, 2012


One of the points some of us are trying to make is that there doesn't seem to have been much time spent trying to consider or hear the perspective of the swinger couple or other people who don't find casual, even awkward passes offensive. It's you who are choosing to see sexual interest as, for some reason, a denial of each person's unique value as a human being

How does a swinger's right to show nude pictures of themselves to me trump my right to give a talk at a conference without being propositioned for sex during my Q&A?
posted by palomar at 9:01 PM on June 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


I mean, honestly, it seems like way too many people here value the right to show their genitalia to whomever they want, whenever they want, over any other individual's expectation that maybe in a professional setting they might not be seen solely as a sexual object. Why is that?
posted by palomar at 9:02 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


This bears repeating:

There are differences in the way men and women are treated in this society – women bear the brunt of most sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is statistically not surprising that the person being harassed in this situation was a woman. That doesn't change the fact that it would have been just as bad if it'd happened to a man – if this couple came up to me, for example, and handed me their card, I would have felt harassed. Still, it's an important part of the context here.

The general point is that this should not happen in a society where individuals are valued for who they are.

posted by KokuRyu at 9:03 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


[good faith discussion folks -- no one here is trying to show you their penis. Don't call people names. Don't make this thread all about you. Try harder.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 PM on June 18, 2012


I don't give a shit if you disagree with me. Go ahead.

But disagree with the thing the post is about, not some OMG MY PRECIOUS FREEDOM strawman you set up.

Douchebags broke conference rules; blogger blogged about it. No one, anywhere here, has said that no man should ever look at or talk to a woman again. Lots of us are saying, do not show pictures of your junk to strangers; that is unacceptable behavior. I don't understand what's controversial about that. It's not okay to do that to someone when they're working, or when they're in line at the grocery store, or waiting for the bus. It's not flirting. It's not gauging someone's level of interest in you. It's not making eyes at the cute girl in class while she eyes you back. It is none of those things. Why is this so fucking hard?
posted by rtha at 9:10 PM on June 18, 2012 [19 favorites]


koeselitz I think you might be right that this is a language issue.

To me harassment requires some amount of persistence on the part of a harasser (that includes creating or maintaining an environment where objectionable behavior acceptable.)

So simply doing something objectionable once and moving on can't be harassment.

I think some guys are so concerned with what constitutes sexual harassment because it's so easy to imagine yourself making a single bad/objectionable/inappropriate/poorly received pass. Furthermore the accusation carries a lot of weight.

Before I'm accused of trying to

diminish, dismiss, and sneer

I think the debate as to whether this can be considered sexual harassment is moot. What this couple did here is imo akin to indecent exposure. It's sad, it's strange, it's objectionable, but most importantly it's probably criminal.
posted by rcdc at 9:10 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, honestly, it seems like way too many people here value the right to show their genitalia to whomever they want, whenever they want, over any other individual's expectation that maybe in a professional setting they might not be seen solely as a sexual object.

She was Facebook friends with a guy with a similar set of beliefs/interests, who went to a free Meetup event called Skepticamp, where she gave a talk but "everyone contributes in some way", at a meeting hall at Ohio State University, with a promotion tagline "How often do you get to meet and party with skeptics from all over the state?" A few of the organizers hanging out looked like this, and the event page had a picture of our blogger, "Ready to Kick Irrational Butt"

Are we really going to keep pretending she was presenting TPS reports to her boss when he pulled out his dick? Context matters
posted by crayz at 9:14 PM on June 18, 2012


So simply doing something objectionable once and moving on can't be harassment.

But by this conference's rules, it was.

Context matters


The rules of this conference. Again. They prohibited approaching attendees with unwanted sexual attention. That was the context.
posted by rtha at 9:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


The main points in this to me are:
(a) Is there no point in life where a woman can not somehow boil down to "hey, I could fuck that?" For instance, at a professional conference?
(b) Anyone who has no boundaries or sense about sexually propositioning someone like this raises massive mental red flags about whether or not they'll respect a girl's boundaries in any other way, and makes any sensible girl not want to fuck them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:18 PM on June 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Wait, crayz, are you pulling out the look how she was dressed card?
posted by desjardins at 9:21 PM on June 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


Wait so being friends with people on Facebook who live different lifestyles and publicizing pictures of the keynote speaker's funny faces means it's not a work environment? The context of this is that she was a professional event, giving a professional talk, recovering from serious surgery, and was given a card with naked people on it. A lack of Excel sheets does not an unprofessional context make. In this case, those apparently objectionable organizers (who look exactly like most of the college campus I work at) implemented rules against this specific kind of thing. Their ability to lounge does not negate their rules. Her ability to make funny faces does not mean anyone at the conference should have felt it okay to drop off naked sex pictures.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:22 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


He also appears to be pulling out the look at this group of several human beings standing together, one of whom is holding a bag of chips! card.

Paaaaaaaar-tay, I guess.
posted by vorfeed at 9:25 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me harassment requires some amount of persistence on the part of a harasser

Out of curiosity, have you based this definition on anything other than your own sensibilities? Because I can assure you that every job I have had, there is a massive amount of behavior that will get you fired on the spot for sexual harassment, no additional misbehavior required.

Why do you think it must be repeated to qualify as harassment?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


crayz: “This is a woman who wants sex to be sequestered far far away from much of her life, offended by people who don't share that perspective. It's good for people to try not to offend each other, but it might help to consider that the couple in question probably do not consider sex to be an inherently offensive topic”

Well. This is a man (*thumbs to my chest*) who wants the kind of bullshit where couples proposition other couples by handing them naked photos to be sequestered far far away from his life. Yes, that kind of thing offends me. I am not offended by your disagreement, but I'll be completely honest about how I feel, crayz.

Look, I'm a man who's been sexually harassed. I actually think many men have been, and don't say anything about it, because the normative culture in our society says males are supposed to let that stuff roll off their backs. So we try to forget about the jeering other men subject us to, or the weird uncomfortable guffaws, or the off-color jokes that make us feel awkward and unhappy.

And, look, this is how I feel. It makes my blood boil when this stuff gets minimized. I guess I can't say I know exactly how Elyse felt when this happened, but good god I have an idea, and it is really not cool. It's not okay. I hate being made to feel that way, and nobody should be. Ever. It's not a feeling of being wanted. It's not a feeling of being desired. It's not a situation where this is just an innocuous involvement of sex in everyday life. This is pushing sex onto someone else. And you may think I am being oversensitive about it; you may think I am trying to 'sequester sex far away from my life;' but I guess you'll just have to take me at my word that I'm not. This is not cool. It is not okay for human beings to push their naked bodies on other human beings in a civilized society.
posted by koeselitz at 9:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


It's not nitpicking; your comment earlier is on record here, saying that as a guy you have no reason to be afraid like a woman would.

This comment is also on record. I have now clarified several times that I was speaking about sexual assault, catcalling and rape.

Multiple people replied including myself to note two things: first, being afraid is a choice we make...

You are the only person who made this point.

It is also wrong.

Being afraid is not always a "choice." Sometimes, it is a learned, ingrained experience. We live in a culture where it is still considered acceptable for men to demean women publicly by catcalling them. Where there are still clear examples of inequality between the genders, even after several decades of feminism. A generation ago, it was considered acceptable to hit a woman if they "needed it." Where "barefoot and pregnant" was considered an ideal, and women who got raped were "asking for it" if they dressed provocatively. We're not so far removed from those times. Hell, the latter sentiment still shows up on Mefi every once in a while, prompting some of us to remind people that rape by definition is not a consensual act. I pointed out to you earlier that in one particular thread, the "Schroedinger's Rapist" thread, many female mefites told of their personal experiences being sexually harassed, assaulted and/or raped.

Fear of sexual harassment for women in our society is very real. And it is very clearly still a problem.

and second that men might have as much reason to be afraid of walking down the street with the much higher risk of being victims of violent crime.

Sexual Assault. Rape. Catcalling. This is what I was referring to. If this wasn't clear to you before, then please accept this clarification to my meaning, which I have incidentally repeated in multiple goddamned comments before this one.

You responded to link a chart on homicide rates, cherry picking one line, where the overall point seems to contradict your thrust that women have more to fear then men.

If you had bothered to read my subsequent comment to rcdc more carefully, you would understand my point. Let me cut and paste it here, so you can read it now:
No. This oversimplifies my point. I was talking about the justifiable concerns that women have regarding being safe at night, and the fact that men do not hold concerns along similar lines because there are specific, cultural differences in Western society regarding the way women are treated by men, compared to the way men treat men. That women are more at risk for sexual advances, rape and certain types of assault.


I wasn't cherry picking. That was the whole point I was trying to make earlier. That women have specific fears which are not men's, and that those fears are very firmly grounded in the reality of their situations.

Pointing this out makes me apparently a nitpicker.

After I've attempted to clarify my meaning in multiple comments? Yes.

Oh hey, did you have any response to the other points I made? No?

Your whole tangent about "walking down the street" has no real relation to the topic of this thread anyway,.

It wasn't my tangent. It was a response to crayz.
posted by zarq at 9:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


To me harassment requires some amount of persistence on the part of a harasser (that includes creating or maintaining an environment where objectionable behavior acceptable.)

So simply doing something objectionable once and moving on can't be harassment.

I think some guys are so concerned with what constitutes sexual harassment because it's so easy to imagine yourself making a single bad/objectionable/inappropriate/poorly received pass. .

posted by rcdc at 9:10 PM on June 18 [+] [!]



I'm kind of flabbergasted by your logic, here. There are two faults I'm finding here.

1)Why can't you be harassed once? These people gave her a nude, sexual picture of them. Without any kind of consent on her part. It's the same as if they had just walked up to her and opened their trench coats. That's harassment. And it only involved on occurrence.

2) You're trying to dumb down what counts as harassment to make yourself feel better? I just can't wrap my head around that kind of thinking. "No, that can't be harassment! That could have been me, so it doesn't count. She's over reacting!" I mean, come on. Not only is that terribly dismissive and demeaning, it's horribly privileged to think you get to define what counts as harassment. Whether on the basis of frequency, or the likelihood of you doing it, it's wrong.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well. This is a man (*thumbs to my chest*) who wants the kind of bullshit where couples proposition other couples by handing them naked photos to be sequestered far far away from his life.

We're a bunch of hairless primates. We were born naked. Just so we're all clear. If an unsolicited printed representation of partial human nudity causes this much offense, that's just kind of sad. Let's keep enforcing a secularized abrahamic morality and call it enlightenment, everyone!
posted by crayz at 9:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's keep enforcing a secularized abrahamic morality and call it enlightenment, everyone!

Apes also fling shit at each other. I suppose if I didn't want that to happen, I would just be reinforcing some ancient, unfounded prejudices as well.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [18 favorites]


If an unsolicited printed representation of partial human nudity causes this much offense, that's just kind of sad. Let's keep enforcing a secularized abrahamic morality and call it enlightenment, everyone!

You get that the card was an invitation to fuck, right? That it wasn't simply random nudity on a card? I ask because you were focusing on the importance of context earlier, and now you seem to be blithely ignoring it to prove your point.
posted by zarq at 9:40 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well. This is a man (*thumbs to my chest*) who wants the kind of bullshit where couples proposition other couples by handing them naked photos to be sequestered far far away from his life.

We're a bunch of hairless primates. We were born naked. Just so we're all clear. If an unsolicited printed representation of partial human nudity causes this much offense, that's just kind of sad. Let's keep enforcing a secularized abrahamic morality and call it enlightenment, everyone!
posted by crayz at 9:33 PM on June 18 [+] [!]


What? We're born naked, so everyone should be forced to look at other naked people, and asked to engage in sexual activities, whether they want to or not?
Ugh.

Looking at a naked man groping a naked woman's breast while being proposition for sex is a sexual act. One which she did not want. And was forced to participate in, anyway. This is not some kind of "there was a topless woman on the beach minding her own business and someone got offended" situation here. For one, it's not just nakedness, and for two, it was a professional setting. You shouldn't expect to be forced to view naked bodies in a professional setting.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


guys if you're actually arguing in faith surely you'll acknowledge that the polite response in this thread would be to pay attention to the obvious points that several people are making. instead, you're playing word games with 'sexual harassment'. i get your point, and i'm sure everyone else does. i naturally associate sexual harassment with offensive words or touching between coworkers or superiors/inferiors, in a workplace at a fixed location. but it's meaning is actually broader than that, and reasonably should probably include situations like the one we're discussing. but the words don't matter. it's the concept of intentionally exposing someone to nudity and a sexual offer in the context of a professional conference with explicit (an of course unnecessary) rules against being a dickweed no-class dick-swinger.

but, again, if you were arguing in good faith, you would apologize for baiting the room by focusing on minutiae instead of on the actual issues everyone else is talking about.

playing the males-as-victims card is not a good-faith argument. wondering whether everyone would be upset if the couple had proposed a nice game of chess is not a good-faith argument (even stupid people aren't that stupid).

and pretending not to be able to think up one example *on your own* of offensive and unprofessional behavior (besides anything overtly sexual) that you would admit might shock and offend the average person once again shows that you're not willing to have a civil discussion. you're just baiting people with contradictory opinions. if you want someone to come over to your side for a respectful, sympathetic hearing of your point of view, why don't you set an example and show us all how it's done?
posted by facetious at 9:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


I feel uncomfortable speaking on behalf of the chimpanzees.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apes also fling shit at each other. I suppose if I didn't want that to happen,

...we would have avoided this thread entirely? ;)
posted by zarq at 9:44 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


ProTip: grab an older piece of poo, they're drier and your hands will wash up easier
posted by facetious at 9:46 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apes also fling shit at each other. I suppose if I didn't want that to happen, I would just be reinforcing some ancient, unfounded prejudices as well.

Yes, many people here view sex as equally appealing to shit-flinging. That much is clear
posted by crayz at 9:53 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz, it really isn't about prudery. It's about looking at a woman and thinking, above all the other things that that person is, that that thing is fuckable. This generally comes about from an environment where the dominant context is male, and where social interactions, which are, in any other primate band, richly complicated and subtle, are boiled down to environments where the only thing that somebody can take away from a smart woman giving a lecture is that maybe they can fuck them.

The idea you appear to have is that it would be wonderful if we could all just relax about sex enough for somebody to be able to do that without everyone getting het up. But in order for that world to exist, I believe men are going to have to stop sending crude propositioning requests approximately once every five minutes to every woman who crosses their path. They need to form a delayed, orderly queue; they need to not do it to everyone they meet who is a woman; they need to (especially) not become aggressive and angry when turned down; and they need to not do it in situations where we're talking about something else entirely. You may not do this. Enough men do this that it's a problem.

Woman also need to not do these things, but given that in most experiences, they don't, we're copacetic there.

Here is my stance. This sort of propositioning doesn't happen to me as a man at all, whereas every woman I know gets sent pictures of people's cocks. A lot. And if they start talking smack about the cock-senders, they are told that this is because *they* are hung up on sex. The endless cock-sending came as a genuine surprise to me, and changed my politics quite a lot.

You may say "are but this is not pictures of a cock, this is a picture of a naked guy cupping his naked wife's breasts". Sadly, we are probably still in a universe where there are enough pictures being sent of people's cocks that this is a fine line to draw. Fixing this to get to your universe, as I say, should probably involve less jumping on people who you think might want to stand up to tit-hugging pics in conference settings, and maybe more showing a bit more solidarity against the cock-delivery people.
posted by ntk at 9:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod

Why do you think it must be repeated to qualify as harassment?

It's just what the word means to me. I think traditionally this is accurate. As best I can tell the legal definition agrees http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/harassment

That being said, one instance of misconduct sexual or nonsexual should be enough to get someone fired / sent to jail. It's just not enough to qualify as harassment in my mind.

I guess it matters to me because knowingly persisting with unwanted attention removes any doubt about mens rea. I bothers me that many times what is or isn't sexual harassment is decided not by what the accused did, but on how the accuser felt.

and again, this situation is different as the nudity should qualify as indecent exposure.
posted by rcdc at 9:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, many people here view sex as equally appealing to shit-flinging.

You know, recasting other people's arguments in the least charitable way possible isn't the most cricket way to argue. Just because you personally would not have problems with strangers pressing sexual photos of themselves into your hands doesn't mean others don't have reasonable objections, and I wonder if it is at all possible for you to try to understand and respect their objections, rather than repeatedly reinterpret and mock them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:57 PM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's just what the word means to me. I think traditionally this is accurate.

It isn't, and it's sort of hard to discuss something with somebody who has an idiosyncratic definition of a word that they insist others share.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know who else wants to keep unsolicited sexual advances far away from them? The organizers and attendees at the Open SF conference - a conference by and for people in or interested in poly/open relationships and the issues that pertain! Their code of conduct says in part:
Yes means yes, no means no, and maybe means no. Please take no for an answer, for everything from simple social requests to intimate encounters. Do not corner people socially - if someone is looking trapped, give them space. Sexual or other harassment will not be tolerated at this event. We encourage you to seek enthusiastic consent for all activities during the weekend.

No touching other people without asking! (Or unless you already have that sort of relationship with them.) We really mean it. This means no random hands on knees, shoulders, etc. We know this is California and everyone hugs, but please do that awkward "wanna hug?" gesture before actually hugging. When in doubt about any kind of social or erotic touching, please ASK FIRST. We have attendees who do not like to be touched, and they will like you much better if you respect their personal space.
(emphasis mine)

Those horrible sex-hating puritans, right? I mean, if you went to this conference and approached a woman in a corset and touched her without asking, you would be thrown out! How awful! /sarcasm in case that's not clear
posted by rtha at 10:06 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'd gently suggest that folks might take a quick scroll through their own comments in this thread and consider whether they might come off as fair and open-minded, or whether those comments come off in the aggregate, one after another, as condescending.

I'm enjoying reading some folks' thoughts and it's easy enough for me to skip over the snark. And hey, I know some MeFites like snark. (It can be fun.) But if you're going to lecture each other on how to lecture each other, it's a quick and worthwhile exercise to double-check your own comments first.
posted by cribcage at 10:07 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


In fairness to MikeMc, I'll just point out it isn't really uncommon to describe persistent refusal to listen to another person telling you to stop as 'harassment'. For instance, agressive salespeople who don't stop phoning when you ask them to could be harassment. It is the repeated nature of the calling that makes it harassment in this example.

When feminists (like me) talk about sexual harassment, it usually connotes unwanted attention, regardless of number of times. Repeatedly making sexual advances when told not to is obviously worse.

It doesn't imply ill will, I think, to think first of the repeated agressiveness idea when encountering the term.
posted by chapps at 10:12 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know who else wants to keep unsolicited sexual advances far away from them? The organizers and attendees at the Open SF conference

They appear to be defining harassment in the usual way. You see no difference between unwanted physical contact and an unwanted piece of paper? Or do you actually think that giving this card and walking away at an open/poly event would inspire this kind of reaction? Or be considered harassment by anyone in attendance?
posted by crayz at 10:16 PM on June 18, 2012


I'm kinky and I go to kink events and I would consider it harassment if it happened there. Especially if I was presenting a topic that wasn't titled "I'd like to fuck a few of you later."
posted by desjardins at 10:23 PM on June 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh and I know kinksters who have "business cards" but none of them haver naked pics and they aren't given out as an unsolicited "hey lets fuck." rather it's after a conversation and it's "I'd like to continue this conversation, here's how you can contact me." it'd be extremely gauche to just walk up and hand someone a card even if it didn't have a sexy picture. And remember these are very sex positive folks. Many if not most are poly.
posted by desjardins at 10:29 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Crayz, I have been to conferences about sexual health where there are lots of full-color pictures of genitals, and lots of chit-chat about sexual behaviors. Even at the cocktail hours it wouldn't be okay to stride up to a near-stranger and hand him or her a card like that one. It would almost certainly be considered harassment and it would pose enough of a liability risk that the person with the card would have his or her delegate credentials terminated.
posted by gingerest at 10:30 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


They appear to be defining harassment in the usual way.

Including not cornering people or interfering with presenters when they're busy.
posted by rtha at 10:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, crayz, since you're all about context: the context was she was at a conference to talk about a non-sex topic. She was working. If someone had handed a naked junk card to someone at the Open SF conference without first establishing if the person was even interested, they could have been reported and tossed, even though they didn't touch anyone. Touching is not required for something to be defined as behavior (harassment) that can get you thrown out of a place.
posted by rtha at 10:37 PM on June 18, 2012


Do I actually think that attendees of open/poly events would give a shit about sexual consent? Y'know, I believe I actually do think that.
posted by Errant at 11:06 PM on June 18, 2012


Where I'm having a difficult time understanding the viewpoint of those defending this couple is: Even if you disregard the specific context that this was an event with explicit rules about making unwanted sexual advances towards other attendees, that the woman in question was there in the capacity of a speaker about a neutral topic, vaccines, which makes it difficult to comprehend why anyone would assume she would be open to invitations to a kinky threesome, I simply can't think of *any* circumstance where it would appropriate to shove unsolicited, sexually explicit photos of oneself onto a stranger with the hope of turning the encounter into a sexual one.

I don't write this with the intent of passing myself off as some sort of Sensitive, New Age guy. I'm just thinking of some of the most sexually charged events I've been present for in my own life, such as some of the wild, drunken parties my fraternity used to throw in college where I was definitely open to and often specifically seeking out casual sexual encounters with other attendees. Even then, if I had walked around passing out cards with photos of my junk on one side with directions on how to sneak off to my room on the other, I don't see any scenario that doesn't end with me deservedly being kicked in the nards.
posted by The Gooch at 11:12 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I take it Skepchick she was uncomfortable with the swingers card and when she went to the organizers of the conference they didn't take it very seriously. Personally I'm not sure that rises to the level of sexual harassment, at least in terms of seriousness, because my uderstanding of sexual harassment is that it involves either an intent to disturb/upset or the real or implied threat of adverse consequences; but just because it's not textbook sexual harassment doesn't make it an acceptable thing to do.

The conference organizers should have taken her concern seriously and done something about it, by locating the people involved or making a general announcement. Placing that swingers card on a slide in front of most of the conference and discussing why it's inappropriate to proposition strangers at an event like TAM would've been a good move.

that said, this Klein guy is a dick. If he wanted to write about what he thinks are facetious claims of sexual harassment then he didn't need to use a real, current example that he pieced together over the internet.
posted by PJLandis at 11:15 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


PJLandis, from reading Elyse's ("Skepchick") post on the issue, I learned that the conference organizers DID take this seriously. You say that the conference organizers should have "done something" -- from the context of that post, I learned that the conference was essentially over after this Q&A, which the couple in question left immediately after presenting Elyse with the naked photo card, and that the conference organizers were not immediately sure what to do because of these issues (conference over, creeps vanished). I'm not sure what else they should have done, honestly. It sounds like they did the best they could in a weird situation. But the fault here is not theirs, not in the slightest, and to cast blame on them seems very out of place to me. The fault lies entirely with the people who felt it appropriate to attend a lecture and Q&A about childhood vaccination with the sole purpose of trolling for pussy.
posted by palomar at 11:23 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


PJLandis: as mentioned in the original article, the conference organisers did take it seriously. Elyse (who writes for Skepchick), praised them for their efforts. The couple was already gone, and nothing could be done about it directly.

On preview, what Palomar said. I don't know from where the idea came that the event organisers were not doing their job. (not just PJLandis, it's popped up a few times in the thread)
posted by dumbland at 11:28 PM on June 18, 2012


So I guess what we can all agree on here is that we don't agree on the definition of harassment? In which case I don't imagine that any amount of arguing, by either side, no matter how heart-felt, clever, angry, or exasperated, is going to convince anyone else.
posted by Bugbread at 12:47 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Quit overreacting and take some of that direct action I hear about.

Because assaulting people when they make inappropriate advances is going to fix all our problems.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:21 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


To me harassment requires some amount of persistence on the part of a harasser (that includes creating or maintaining an environment where objectionable behavior acceptable.) So simply doing something objectionable once and moving on can't be harassment.

Sincere question -- do you realize that by your logic, someone can't complain of theft if their house only got broken into once? "Well, they got the stereo, the x-box and all the money, but shit, it's only happened to me once, I can't complain!"

I think some guys are so concerned with what constitutes sexual harassment because it's so easy to imagine yourself making a single bad/objectionable/inappropriate/poorly received pass.

You can honestly see yourself propositioning someone by handing them a card with a naked come-hither photo? I'm assuming no.

How about maybe, instead of trying to pin down the definition of "harrassment" -- think what kinds of things that you would do to make a pass at someone that you think could get you into trouble or be "poorly received", and then just don't do them, and try another way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think some guys are so concerned with what constitutes sexual harassment because it's so easy to imagine yourself making a single bad/objectionable/inappropriate/poorly received pass.

The only amusement I derive from sexual harassment threads is the absolute certainty that eventually someone will turn the problem of women being treated as disposable objects into a lament that somewhere, somehow, a man mgt not get laid.
posted by winna at 4:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [32 favorites]


You know, there's such a thing as an appropriate advance, even in a professional context. Some huge portion of relationships have a professional link -- that's just the environment we're in.

Doesn't mean it's without risk, but then, what isn't?

What's wrong here isn't that it was flirtation in a professional context. What's wrong is that SERIOUSLY NAKED CARD JIGGLY BITS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT'S OK KNEW IT WAS BAD RAN AWAY AFTER PROBABLY ENJOYING THE TABOO BREAK WITHOUT CARE FOR THE PERSON IN QUESTION.

That's not OK. That's not even in the universe of OK. These morals go back to Kant.
posted by effugas at 5:13 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


The card was intended to create drama, for the satisfaction of the giver. Apparently, it's a gift that keeps giving. This thread alone has over 300 comments! I wish my jollies were that easy!
posted by Goofyy at 5:18 AM on June 19, 2012


This was fascinating and led me to an amazing journey of reading about fruitbatgate.
posted by geeklizzard at 5:46 AM on June 19, 2012


Sincere question -- do you realize that by your logic, someone can't complain of theft if their house only got broken into once? "Well, they got the stereo, the x-box and all the money, but shit, it's only happened to me once, I can't complain!"

That isn't anywhere close to being a sincere question and you know it.

Sincere question--you do know that harrassment and theft are different things don't you?
posted by Reggie Knoble at 5:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is just ridiculous. Every time there is a discussion about a particular incident involving claims of sexual harassment by a woman, there's a vocal minority here who claim to be completely against sexual harassment of course, but then proceed to explain why this particular case is just not an example of sexual harassment and that the woman is overreacting. Various reasons are offered as to why this case does not fall into the narrow boundaries of what constitutes sexual harassment. In this case we have observed the following ploys:
1) They just gave her a card! Can't people give a personal card to someone else without it constituting harassment?
2) It wasn't really such a professional conference -- look at what everyone was wearing!
3) Everyone's being a prude -- such things are normal and common in our society and should continue to be accepted as normal and common.
4) If someone had offered that card to me, I wouldn't have thought of it as sexual harassment, hence it can't be sexual harassment.
posted by peacheater at 6:02 AM on June 19, 2012 [37 favorites]


peacheater, you forgot #5 or maybe #3.5 - we're all animals under our clothes, appreciate the lovely dance of sexuality, etc, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 6:10 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


5) Different people have different viewpoints on sexuality, and someone who sees sex as an enjoyable activity that people in their social circle enjoy being casually asked to participate in, isn't necessarily treating a person to whom they make such an offer as having "a primary value as a sex object" any more than any other suggested activity would imply that the person has value only within the context of that suggestion. It was a dumb, awkward move given the norms of our society, but this woman could have moved on from it with barely a second thought. Describing it as harassment diminishes countless situations that are qualitatively different than being given a casual, gauche invitation by an acquaintance
posted by crayz at 6:20 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


1)Why can't you be harassed once?

The very definition of the word prevents it.

ha·rass   [huh-ras, har-uhs]
verb (used with object)
1.
to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.
2.
to trouble by repeated attacks, incursions, etc., as in war or hostilities; harry; raid.
posted by MikeMc at 6:30 AM on June 19, 2012


Oh, boy....

Different people have different viewpoints on sexuality, and someone who sees sex as an enjoyable activity that people in their social circle enjoy being casually asked to participate in, isn't necessarily treating a person to whom they make such an offer as having "a primary value as a sex object" any more than any other suggested activity would imply that the person has value only within the context of that suggestion.

However, the people in the social circle which have those standards are also probably well aware that their viewpoint is at least a bit different from the norm, and thusly, chances would be good that someone outside that circle would not share their view on sexuality (since, as you mention, "different people have different viewpoints on sexuality"). Thus, it would be wise for them to ascertain whether someone outside their social circle would be receptive to their particular viewpoint in the first place.

That is, if the people in question gave a shit about the comfort of the person outside their regular social circle and thought about more than her "primary value as a sex object". But they didn't. Ergo....it looks like "sex object" was all they saw her as.

It was a dumb, awkward move given the norms of our society, but this woman could have moved on from it with barely a second thought.

Okay, so do you also think that a black person could "move on from it with barely a second thought" if someone calls him by the n-word?

Describing it as harassment diminishes countless situations that are qualitatively different than being given a casual, gauche invitation by an acquaintance.

...You seem awfully hung up on defending the right of this couple to hand out pornographic pictures of themselves. Is this, like, your own tactic or something?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:31 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


> I think some guys are so concerned with what constitutes sexual harassment because it's so easy to imagine yourself making a single bad/objectionable/inappropriate/poorly received pass. Furthermore the accusation carries a lot of weight.

I get what you're saying. Having a policy against "unwanted sexual advances", interpreted in an unreasonably literal way, can seem to set up a catch 22 situation — how do you know if an advance is unwanted until you make it? However, at most organizations that I've worked for that "unwanted sexual advances" were defined as either a) continuing to engage in behavior after the other person has told you they're not interested and want you to stop (applies to normal stuff like flirting or asking someone out), or b) it's egregious (that is, most people would realize it's unacceptable). In practice it's usually much more reasonable than that; it doesn't actually ban unobjectionable behavior like flirting or asking people on dates.

The conference organizers' enforcement of their policy seems reasonable. Passing out the naked calling card falls into area of what most people would consider creepy or objectionable behavior; it's not ordinary flirting. The organizers response was apparently to call the couple and tell them the card thing was not cool and (presumably) not to do it again. There's no mention of them being banned over the single incident. (Though I'd imagine they could be if they show up with similar cards at next year's convention and people complain about it.)
posted by nangar at 6:35 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, I think if we keep discussing this, we can all reach a mutually agreeable resolution. We're almost there.
posted by Bugbread at 6:37 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am fairly sure that the very first time my boss told me that if I didn't sleep with him (her), he would fire me, that this would count as sexual harassment and that I wouldn't have to wait for him (her) to do it a second time because just the once isn't "persistent" or "repeated".

(I am not suggesting that being handed a naked photo is as bad; I assume everyone here agrees that "sleep with me or you lose your job" is worse than "here's a naked pic of myself".)
posted by jeather at 6:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


crayz: It was a dumb, awkward move given the norms of our society, but this woman could have moved on from it with barely a second thought.

Yes, of course it's the duty of the person impinged upon to suck it up and move on, rather than the duty of the impinging party to, you know, stop forcing sexual situations on unconsenting people. I'm pretty tired of "Yes, of course it was inappropriate, and I would never condone such behavior. However, it's really troublesome when victims of such behavior complain about it. At this rate, people might hold me to a higher standard, too!"

Describing it as harassment diminishes countless situations that are qualitatively different than being given a casual, gauche invitation by an acquaintance

I find myself well able to maintain my outrage at and disapproval of more serious sexual abuses, in addition to vocally disapproving of the somewhat more minor abuses. In fact, I find myself well able to believe that passionately decrying both the large and small abuses will make both less acceptable in the future.
posted by gilrain at 6:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [22 favorites]


Okay, so do you also think that a black person could "move on from it with barely a second thought" if someone calls him by the n-word?

If you think that this situation is the equivalent of a stranger walking up to a black guy and calling him that word then your privilege is showing.

...You seem awfully hung up on defending the right of this couple to hand out pornographic pictures of themselves. Is this, like, your own tactic or something?

Stay classy.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 6:47 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thus, it would be wise for them to ascertain whether someone outside their social circle would be receptive to their particular viewpoint in the first place.

Yes, it would have been wise

That is, if the people in question gave a shit about the comfort of the person outside their regular social circle and thought about more than her "primary value as a sex object". But they didn't.

No, that does not follow. When I was in Tunisia walking around in public in 100° heat in shorts, I was clearly scorned for violating social norms. Women who showed any leg/arm skin had far worse reactions. I'm sure Tunisians would use many of the exact same arguments about violating social norms, forcing your sexuality onto others, etc. Different people look at the world differently

Being sexually conservative in a sexually conservative society isn't a dictate that all others must be as well, or an excuse to fake-mind-read their beliefs when they aren't
posted by crayz at 6:47 AM on June 19, 2012


crayz: “Being sexually conservative in a sexually conservative society isn't a dictate that all others must be as well, or an excuse to fake-mind-read their beliefs when they aren't”

Sometimes, a person has sex with another person even though the other person doesn't want to.Is the other person "sexually conservative?" Do they just hate sex? Are they prudish?
posted by koeselitz at 6:51 AM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sometimes, a person has sex with another person even though the other person doesn't want to.Is the other person "sexually conservative?"

Thanks for once again comparing this minor incident to rape and implying that everyone arguing for some nuance is pro-rape. It had been at least 10 comments since someone had done so, and seems to really help get the discussion back on track
posted by crayz at 6:53 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz, do you really see no difference between giving unwanted sexual attention to someone in a professional context and wearing whatever you please? This is not being sex-negative and prudish, this is being consent-positive. I think you're being extremely disingenuous with your arguments.
posted by peacheater at 6:53 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


crayz: “Describing it as harassment diminishes countless situations that are qualitatively different than being given a casual, gauche invitation by an acquaintance.”

EmpressCallipygos: “...You seem awfully hung up on defending the right of this couple to hand out pornographic pictures of themselves. Is this, like, your own tactic or something?”

Reggie Knoble: “Stay classy.”

Give me a fucking break. Empress got exasperated because crayz has spent this entire thread making this a personal attack, claiming that everybody here is a sex-negative prude who hates the human body and everything having to do with sex, and implying that we're all radical far-right mullahs trying to enforce ridiculous sexual mores. Who's "classy," again?
posted by koeselitz at 6:55 AM on June 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


The very definition of the word prevents it.

That was not the definition used by the conference. They didn't say "unwanted sexual attention, more than one time." This did not occur Out in The World. It occurred at a private event.
posted by rtha at 6:56 AM on June 19, 2012


crayz: “Thanks for once again comparing this minor incident to rape and implying that everyone arguing for some nuance is pro-rape. It had been at least 10 comments since someone had done so, and seems to really help get the discussion back on track”

Look, you've emphasized over and over again that you're intent on making this personal, guy. I have not claimed that you are pro-rape, and in fact I'm pretty certain you're not. What is fucking frustrating as all hell is the fact that you keep insisting that everybody who disagrees with you hates sex. Can you fucking stop that for five seconds, please? And maybe stop projecting your personalization of this onto me? I'm not the one who made assumptions about your personal life; that's what you're doing to me and everybody else.
posted by koeselitz at 6:56 AM on June 19, 2012


[Folks we're sort of done with the "what crayz thinks about this post" angle. Please email crayz directly if you want more of crayz's opinions, otherwise this is getting to the "Take it to MeTa" point. Put another way, everyone who continues to hyperrespond is also part of the problem here, please consider that.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that this is going on at the same time as a general misogyny in skepticism storm; thak you for linking to the timeline.
posted by bq at 6:58 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


crayz, do you really see no difference between giving unwanted sexual attention to someone in a professional context and wearing whatever you please?

In fact I do not see very much difference. The conservative argument for women to cover up their bodies is always that their open display of skin forces their sexuality on others in a way that's unpleasant and unavoidable

Opening up a trenchcoat in front of a woman is confrontational, in-your-face and would clearly be harassment. Giving her a card and walking away is none of those things. The "unwanted sexual attention in a professional setting" is a simplistic gloss that everyone can feel good getting the pitchforks out about, but removes all relevant detail from what actually happened here
posted by crayz at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2012


You know, I think if we keep discussing this, we can all reach a mutually agreeable resolution. We're almost there.

I don't see reaching resolution (on Metafilter or in society at large) as the purpose of these conversations. Instead, they provide an opportunity to expose the disturbing extent to which sexism operates. Whether of not the card incident meets a given definition of harassment, the responses Elyse and others have faced for voicing their opinion include language that can only be defined as sexist. Sexist not only in the explicit slurs and insults used, but sexist in that the constant goal-post shifting and redefining of harassment have the effect of making targets of sexist behavior less likely to speak up.

As Ashley Miller says:
I’ve gotten dozens of other comments here, on other blogs, on Facebook, and in e-mails that reflect the same sentiment. And I knew I would get them. Every woman knows she will get them. Every time she speaks up. Every time. And sometimes it’s just exhausting. It hurts a little, having to relive it and be called names and a liar, but ultimately it just makes you tired, completely bone-weary, and a little heartbroken.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:05 AM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Dissatisfied and emotionally distressed, this previously loyal movement member blogged about it, urging her female readers to stay away from the organization.

Klein, you lying douchnozzle. Even a casual read of Elyse' article points strongly the opposite way. You might have had some point to make - maybe Elyses overreacted, dunno, I'd say "no" given the policy in place - but since you're just a lying douchenozzle, I don't care.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:10 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, that does not follow. When I was in Tunisia walking around in public in 100° heat in shorts, I was clearly scorned for violating social norms. Women who showed any leg/arm skin had far worse reactions. I'm sure Tunisians would use many of the exact same arguments about violating social norms, forcing your sexuality onto others, etc. Different people look at the world differently.

I understand that you are aware that "different people look at the world differently." However, I'm curious why, since you apparently know that, that you didn't take the time to ascertain beforehand "gee, since differnet people look at the world differently, I wonder if there's a chance people in Tunisia would think wearing shorts in public is rude?" Then you could have researched that, discovered that "what do you know, they DO!" and then you could have not worn shorts, and not received that scorn.

Being sexually conservative in a sexually conservative society isn't a dictate that all others must be as well, or an excuse to fake-mind-read their beliefs when they aren't.

We're not talking "mind-reading," we're talking thirty seconds on Google. That is, assuming someone cares about being polite in a different culture.

I think the crux of the argument is: we all are in agreement that "different people look at the world differently." However, some of us seem to be using that fact as justification for "therefore, I shouldn't be held accountable for doing something someone else objects to," while other people are using that fact as justification for "therefore, it is my responsibility to ascertain what other people's comfort level is before I act."

One of those arguments stands a much better chance of not causing trouble. I leave the identification of which viewpoint as an exercise for the reader.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 AM on June 19, 2012


[Okay, folks, here is how it goes from here out: anyone who wants to continue this repetitive argument with crayz, take it to email. No more here. No more cracks about good faith arguments, or who get what favorites; no more moderation discussion: take it to Metatalk. No more derails about hijabs or "the human body". No more commenting that is indistinguishable from trolling. No more personal attacks. Everyone, chill out and discuss like adults. ]
posted by taz at 7:29 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meta.
posted by zarq at 7:36 AM on June 19, 2012


This sort of propositioning doesn't happen to me as a man at all, whereas every woman I know gets sent pictures of people's cocks. A lot.

Women of Metafilter, is this really true?
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:50 AM on June 19, 2012


Yes. Google "Anthony Weiner" for a public example.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:55 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


crayz: "Being sexually conservative in a sexually conservative society isn't a dictate that all others must be as well, or an excuse to fake-mind-read their beliefs when they aren't"

crayz, this is so obviously objectionable behavior for so many reasons that your "Everyone is just sexually repressed but me" argument is just not going to fly here. I get that you think you are sexually liberal and that our society is sexually repressed, I really do. In another context, in another thread, I might even be on your side, because Puritanical hand-wringing is not my thing at all.

But this is not that situation.

Here are the (many, many!) reasons your argument just don't make sense in this case:

This woman had just undergone extensive surgery in which her stomach was actually removed from her body due to cancer. She was existing on a liquid diet and she made no secret about her condition, in fact she began her talk by letting everyone know she was taking vicodin for her pain. I know of no universe where soliciting people on painkillers for sex is grey area. That's pretty much Not Done Anywhere.

The conference had a set-in-place Anti-Harassment policy on unacceptable behavior. Note that I didn't say "sexual harassment", because the harassment policy doesn't just signal out sexual overtures as being unacceptable. This is not an anti-sex policy designed to impose Puritanical values on the sexually liberated. Rather it is an anti-harassment policy, designed to protect staff AND guests: Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

Within the Anti-Harassment policy are these specific guidelines, designed so that there can be no misunderstanding about what behavior is unwelcome:
    Explicit sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue. Couple broke this rule. While some important and relevant issues may touch upon sexual issues, please keep it professional and in an academic context. Couple broke this rule by extending a personal invitation to swing with them. Harassment includes...sexual images in public spaces. Couple broke this rule just by handing her the card in the conference room.
Marty Klein is a jerk. He's a jerk not because he wrote a post I disagree with (though I do, and strongly), but because he made stealth edits and backpedaled. Which he did because his portayal of what happened was way off base. It wasn't factually accurate.

That anti-harassment policy specifically states that, "If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately". Elyse did this. She also blogged about it, because she's a blogger, and that's what we do, we blog about stuff.

She wasn't looking for any more action from the conference holders or attendees, like Marty Klein said. She certainly wasn't whining or advocating that other guests not to attend future conferences. Instead, she praised the way everything was handled. The only thing she criticized was the drive-by by the swinging couple who handled her the card.

Which, incidentally, took me aback, and I'm all about the sex-positivity. I've written erotica, for chrissake. I view, and enjoy, porn. I don't consider nudity a big deal, either. I'd expect it at, say, a clothing optional beach.

But if I'm attending a conference where I've just talked about the importance of giving your kids vaccinations and someone hands me what I assume is a business card after my talk, I don't expect to see a naked guy grabbing his partner's breasts on it. This isn't because I'm against nudity, or breasts, or people grabbing them. It's because it is completely inappropriate behavior in that setting, full stop.

Ardiril, I also call bullshit on this: "No, generally the woman in the relationship has asked her husband to distribute the cards because she feels too oppressed by society's attitudes to introduce herself to other women."

Are you in the swinging community, that you know this? If that's too personal a question, I understand, so can you at least provide any collaboration to back up such a bold statement?

I personally know at least one swinging couple (there may be more that haven't clued me in, of course). I have also been approached by swingers before, and asked to be a "third". And the woman asking her husband to take the lead? Yeah, that has NOT been my experience, at all.

In fact, it is generally the woman in the couple who will be the initiator when another woman is being propositioned. This is because swingers are well aware that a man approaching a single woman comes across as objectionable, "skeevy" behavior, and they don't want to scare her off by coming across as overly aggressive.
posted by misha at 7:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Women of Metafilter, is this really true?

Not, like, every day, but yeah.

Or, if you're in an urban area, you sometimes see the real thing live and in person.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Women of Metafilter, is this really true?

Yes, it's really true. Any sort of online dating scenario brings with it the risk of cocks in the mail.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes. I've had cocks in the mail sent via online dating service. My favorite was the one where the area around was tattooed like the cover from the Empire Strikes Back.

That said: am I alone in thinking that a man reaching from behind to cover a woman's breasts is not explicit sexual imagery, since no breasts or asses or genitalia were exposed? This picture honestly seems kind of tame.
posted by corb at 8:13 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


am I alone in thinking that a man reaching from behind to cover a woman's breasts is not explicit sexual imagery, since no breasts or asses or genitalia were exposed? This picture honestly seems kind of tame.

On an empiric scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being "nuns and kittens" and 100 being "movie stills from Knocked Up And Gun Toting", yes, it's arguably tame.

But it's still not quite a smart idea to put that kind of image on a card to present it to people at a business conference, I would think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless, of course, you are at a business conference expressly for erotic photographers. But you know what I mean.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on June 19, 2012


Women of Metafilter, is this really true?

Minimum once a month. You stop believing that connections can be made online and end up with really negative disclaimers in your profile about who will and will not get results from messaging you. Then you take down or friends-only attractive pictures of yourself, because if you look attractive, you're gonna get cock pictures and propositions that treat it as a given that you were just waiting to be given the chance to fuck them. You can't be attractive or dressed a certain way because it is an invitation/plea for attention as well as a willing invalidation of your personhood.
posted by nile_red at 8:18 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


...this month's count is seven cocks, with ten days to go.
posted by nile_red at 8:19 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow is all I can say.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:21 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know my fiancee got a stalker out of online dating before we met, but I never asked about dick pics. Now I'm morbidly curious.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:22 AM on June 19, 2012


Any sort of online dating scenario brings with it the risk of cocks in the mail.

Not just dating. Metafilter might not be the ONLY mixed-gender environment with private messaging where I've never received an unsolicited cock shot, but it's one of the few. Back when I had a MySpace page, I even edited it so that the profile picture was of a handful of baby crocodiles and the profile text read "I do not want to meet ANYONE. I am happily married and not looking. Please do not contact me looking for any kind of real-life or online sexual or romantic experience." And when went back to the page after about six weeks of neglecting it, I had an inbox full of cock shots.

am I alone in thinking that a man reaching from behind to cover a woman's breasts is not explicit sexual imagery, since no breasts or asses or genitalia were exposed?

Like I said above, I think it's definitely explicit sexual imagery. He's FONDLING her. It's a (very, very mild) sex act.
posted by KathrynT at 8:23 AM on June 19, 2012


Wow is all I can say.

Yeah, there's a reason so many women have such strong opinions on harrassment. It's not like we're all just delicate or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 AM on June 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


If the standard of behavior for the conference is expected to be "professional." Then we can apply the standards for defining sexual harassment in the workplace to this case:

1: quid pro quo harassment where sexual favors are expected in exchange for job privileges.
2: hostile environment harassment in which people are exposed to unwanted sexual behavior.

Unsolicited distribution of nude materials has previously been found to fall under the hostile environment guidelines. And I think it would be a bit creepy even in sex-positive/fetish circles to pass out swinging invitations without sussing out whether the recipient is interested.

There are a lot more diplomatic methods of signaling that you're a kinkster looking for a good time in mixed company.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:28 AM on June 19, 2012


Women of Metafilter, is this really true?

Yes. Annoyingly so.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:29 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


But it's still not quite a smart idea to put that kind of image on a card to present it to people at a business conference, I would think.

Oh, definitely. This seems pretty stupid. But I'm pretty sure this wasn't intended just for her - it seems clear to me from reading this that Dude and Dude's Wife are swingers, that they found something charming about her, and wanted to put the offer on the table in an unobtrusive way. Maybe they thought she was really funny, or really pretty, or "I think she held my eye." They probably do carry sex cards around with them with their business cards all the time, and wanted to make the offer, but not offend her at the same time by either doing it publicly, or by making her feel pressured to answer. They put a card (upside down) on the table, and left.

I personally wouldn't consider this sexual harassment - but this may also be because, as noted above, the top of my picture-showing scale swings to unsolicited pictures of penii. The top of my unwanted sexual-harassment scale is a toss up between dude opening a robe to show that he was completely naked and suggesting I blow him, and a guy I work with trying to feel my breast at work.

That said, because I'm a snarky bitch, I would totally mock this couple on the internet for inappropriate behavior. I don't think it's wrong for them to be mocked on the internet. I think mocking them on the internet was a perfectly acceptable response. Don't do anything with no expectation of privacy that you wouldn't be comfortable with it being made public.
posted by corb at 8:34 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


corb: it seems clear to me from reading this that Dude and Dude's Wife are swingers, that they found something charming about her, and wanted to put the offer on the table in an unobtrusive way. Maybe they thought she was really funny, or really pretty, or "I think she held my eye."

Maybe they're into gore, and found it sexy that the speaker was still in pain from and on pain killers for recent, emergency stomach surgery, as she mentioned in her presentation.

There's really no excuse for this couple. I generally try to read people charitably, even to the annoyance of my friends when they need an ally, but I just can't see it here.
posted by gilrain at 8:40 AM on June 19, 2012


Hmmm. You may have hit upon a reason for some other disconnects - it sounds like you use the nature of the act itself to ascertain whether something is harrassment, whereas I would use the context of the act.

Personally, I think the context is a more useful benchmark -- because, honestly, I would have no problem whatsoever if I was making out with a guy and he then told me "I'm gonna bang you like a grand piano at a Tori Amos concert". But if, like, one of the guys sitting around me here at work just leaned over and told me that exact same thing, I would freak the hell out. It's the exact same action, but the context makes the difference.





For the record, I cannot claim credit towards "banged like Tori Amos's piano". That was an old roommate's phrase. It passed into our group lexicon with all speed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:40 AM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Women of Metafilter, is this really true?

Yes. I had to lock down the contact options on my Facebook profile so that only my Facebook friends can contact me privately or post on my wall, because a handful of dudes didn't like something I said in a thread on Roger Ebert's wall, and they decided to let me know by sending me cock pics and threatening to rape me.

These were full grown men, by the way. Adults, over the age of 21. Not children. Men. Men who should goddamn well know better.
posted by palomar at 8:41 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've only had a few genitalia picture experiences in my professional life. I'm very lucky.

I have been at a conference when the dude's laptop in front of me goes to sleep and the screensaver is all pictures of naked women. I was feeling vicariously embarassed for the dude until I realized he was tilting it carefully in the direction of other women in the audience trying to cacth their attention. When he got their attention, he'd waggle his tongue at them.

I have been on the receiving end of an email featuring a former's coworker's penis; it was quickly followed up by an email claiming he had sent it to the wrong person (he blamed the automatic completion of an email address with the wrong email address and he didn't notice) . If indeed he indeed meant it for some else, the person who I suspect it was intended for didn't want it more than I did.

Here's a bonus:

I have overheard detailed descriptions of a coworker's penis ostensibly in pursuit of dating advice. However, he was looking at my coworker for the first part of the description who was sitting one table over from the person he was talking to. About a year later, she found a picture of a penis in an envelope slid under her apartment door. She always felt they were from the same guy based on the description.
posted by julen at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who knows, perhaps they were just video game fans (NSFW)?

That's what I thought of the first time I saw it. (the cover, I mean--I doubt they're actual video game fans) I suppose every time someone showed it to someone else they were also committing sexual harassment???

I'd have laughed about it, shown the card to my friends at dinner, and then moved on with my life. One giant OMG OFFENDED blogpost was already over the top, but this extended flamewar on the internet is kind of ridiculous. Maybe you'd get more women in the atheist movement if the women already in it weren't so damn histrionic. It's probably making the sane ones want to keep away.
posted by Estraven at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Estraven, if you doubt that they're actual video game fans, then why are you attempting to use that as a defense in their case?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Estraven's link is NSFW, FYI to others. It's Duke Nukem covering Lara Croft's breasts in a similar way to the card being discussed.
posted by gilrain at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2012


It's nice that that's what you'd do, but this isn't about you and your imaginary reactions to a situation you have not experienced.
posted by palomar at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Oh, man, jessamyn and taz. I was writing my comment and didn't preview to see your notices in the thread. I'm so sorry if I screwed up.
posted by misha at 8:49 AM on June 19, 2012


Wait, you're calling this histrionic?

I'm male, and I'm not involved with the atheist movement (which is an absurd idea in and of itself - skeptic or rationalist would make more sense) primarily due to not being willing to associate with that degree of misogyny.

The sane ones stay away because the atheist/skeptic movements generally aren't very pleasant, at least in my corner of the world.
posted by Neuffy at 8:53 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe they're into gore, and found it sexy that the speaker was still in pain from and on pain killers for recent, emergency stomach surgery, as she mentioned in her presentation.

There's really no excuse for this couple. I generally try to read people charitably, even to the annoyance of my friends when they need an ally, but I just can't see it here.


My attempt to be charitable: they didn't actually watch the whole presentation, or weren't paying attention. I know I've gone to conferences where I was there to hang out, and I blew off the presentation. Maybe they generally go to sex conferences, and they saw "Skeptic Conference" as "Place Where No One Adheres To Unsexy Christian Morality." So to them, it might have been a target of opportunity, in my charitable read.

In my charitable read, Elyse also said there'd been facebook communication on her wall, and they'd talked about meeting and taking pictures together. Which means that it's totally possible that in that couple's mind, Elyse was /not/ a total stranger. She was an acquaintance that they'd already felt out a little bit, and thought she'd be receptive. They were obviously unskilled in social perception, because she was offended rather than receptive. They also may not have seen soliciting for group sex to be offensive - particularly at a place where Judeo-Christian morality is assumed not to be at the fore.

I don't know if this scenario is the likeliest, but I think this scenario is totally plausible.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Estrogen, you are so wrong you could be no wronger. Women speaking out about skeeziness isn't what's keeping women out of the US skeptics' or atheists' scenes (this was a skeptics' conference, btw). It's the skeeziness itself.

See also upskirt photos and other sexual harassment at the most recent Randi Foundation conference.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ha ha my iPad "corrected" Estraven to Estrogen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any sort of online dating scenario brings with it the risk of cocks in the mail.

Not just dating. Metafilter might not be the ONLY mixed-gender environment with private messaging where I've never received an unsolicited cock shot, but it's one of the few.


Yeah, this is surprisingly common. And you don't even have to be in a discussion forum. You could be playing an online game and get propositioned, guys trying to send you cock pics, the whole deal. I've played WoW online and, in the middle of a quest, had one guy offering me gold and the best loot to have virtual sex with him .

You don't even have to actually be female, either. Guys with female avatars get it, too.
posted by misha at 9:00 AM on June 19, 2012


Sincere question -- do you realize that by your logic, someone can't complain of theft if their house only got broken into once? "Well, they got the stereo, the x-box and all the money, but shit, it's only happened to me once, I can't complain!"


No, and I am glad you asked because I think this mischaracterizes my position. In this case I am still a victim, just not a victim of harassment.

I am fairly sure that the very first time my boss told me that if I didn't sleep with him (her), he would fire me, that this would count as sexual harassment and that I wouldn't have to wait for him (her) to do it a second time because just the once isn't "persistent" or "repeated".


For the record I do think this is wrong, it's coercion and an abuse of power. This individual should have been fired and sued if you were interested. I would even be okay if this person were tried for something like attempted rape or some kind of sexual assault.

think what kinds of things that you would do to make a pass at someone that you think could get you into trouble or be "poorly received"

It's not that black and white. Maybe you wait until you have a private moment with someone, You think it's okay because there are people within earshot but they feel cornered, vulnerable and threatened.


firstmatekate
I think we probably do agree on what behaviors are acceptable vs. unacceptable. Just not what constitutes harassment. Most of the examples listed are to me greater crimes than harassment i.e. coercion, abuse of power, assault.

Okay with all that said. It's been nice speaking with you all, no one accused me of being a misogynist or abusing my position of privilege for thinking harassment is a stupid and confusing word to describe isolated inappropriate or egregious behavior. I apologize if I have broken some local etiquette by posting.
posted by rcdc at 9:00 AM on June 19, 2012


Oh yeah, that's true -- my most recent ex ALWAYS chooses a female avatar when he games, and he always, always, always gets harrassed by other players. It's ridiculous.
posted by palomar at 9:01 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's a good charitable reading, corb, thanks for the perspective. I've known people who were almost that socially unaware... but in that case, his partner generally kept him abreast of when he was being inappropriate. I suppose if both partners were equally oblivious, it could devolve into this sort of radically inappropriate behavior.

Their scurrying away before the card could even be glanced at could indicate that they knew they were crossing a line, though. Or maybe they just had to be somewhere, I guess.
posted by gilrain at 9:02 AM on June 19, 2012


For the record I do think this is wrong, it's coercion and an abuse of power. This individual should have been fired and sued if you were interested. I would even be okay if this person were tried for something like attempted rape or some kind of sexual assault.

Oh, I am sure that everyone here thinks it is wrong for a boss to say (explicitly or implicitly) to a subordinate "sleep with me or you get fired". The point is that this is sexual harassment, even the first time it happens, even though harassment generally is defined as having repeated instances, it isn't a necessary condition.
posted by jeather at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think insisting that sexual harassment in all forms must adhere to one very narrow definition is very shortsighted... it's like insisting that gout only occurs in the big toe, or that marriage is only for heterosexuals.
posted by palomar at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2012


Women of Metafilter, is this really true?

I put an ad on craigslist to sell/give away some old furniture. In the very bottom left hand corner of the photo you could see a pair of strappy pink summer sandals. This was apparently a good enough confirmation of my gender for 4 different men to send me pictures of their dicks as a response.

Dicks. In response to an old futon couch. The form of communication they chose was dicks.
posted by elizardbits at 9:24 AM on June 19, 2012 [31 favorites]


I can honestly say this has never happened to me, and my email address is everywhere (including on my Mefi profile). But this is one of the reasons why I won't do online dating.
posted by Summer at 9:27 AM on June 19, 2012


The form of communication they chose was dicks.

And I thought, "I wonder if there're any dick fonts out there". And then, even before I finished googling, I said to myself: "of course there are."
posted by cortex at 9:42 AM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


This was most certainly a crass and offensive approach that couple made, but having followed the seemingly endless "harassment" dramas at Skepchick (the upturned-camera-on-a-stick-at-ankle-level one has long superseded this particular old news, by the way) I'm finding my sympathy glands drying up pretty rapidly, I have to say. If some of these people could manage to deliver a firm "Fuck off, you creep" and move the fuck on with their lives it might help matters a lot.
posted by Decani at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right, time to pack my picnic basket and leave...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on June 19, 2012


Yes, it's really true. Any sort of online dating scenario brings with it the risk of cocks in the mail.

Any guy who has trouble believing this can go create a sock puppet account on any major dating site for their own weekly variety pack.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just for the record, I've never received a cockshot in my 25+ years of online presence, including a 4-month stint at online dating on multiple dating sites (admittedly, that was back in early 2004, when the cockshot technology of camera phones/texting/twittering etc. was still in its infancy, I suppose). Still, it saddens me that so many others have to endure it, and one shouldn't have to be male and/or an unsexy old lady such as myself to live a life free of gratuitous unsolicited willies.
posted by drlith at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2012


Decani - why did you put harassment in "scare quotes"? Do you think this incident and upskirt peeping tom pictures aren't harassment?
posted by rmd1023 at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2012


My general impression is that being a woman on the Internet who doesn't actively hide her gender is like using ChatRoulette for all of your communications.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


This was most certainly a crass and offensive approach that couple made, but having followed the seemingly endless "harassment" dramas at Skepchick (the upturned-camera-on-a-stick-at-ankle-level one has long superseded this particular old news, by the way) I'm finding my sympathy glands drying up pretty rapidly, I have to say. If some of these people could manage to deliver a firm "Fuck off, you creep" and move the fuck on with their lives it might help matters a lot.

By this reasoning women should have shut up about this whole being harassed thing several thousand years ago. After all, no one should have to hear about this sort of assshattery more than twice in their lifetime.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:03 AM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Decani: " If some of these people could manage to deliver a firm "Fuck off, you creep" and move the fuck on with their lives it might help matters a lot."

They shouldn't have to deliver a firm "fuck off, you creep." They should not be put in a position where they have to respond at all. Especially during an event where they are providing professional expertise to an audience.

The whole point of all these "dramas" is that women want to be left the fuck alone, or at least be able to control whether or not they have these interactions. They don't want perverts taking stealth pictures of their underwear / crotches, they don't want people to offer them "pleasure cards" showing someone's breasts being groped from behind, they don't want to be propositioned for sex when they've just finished participating in a public Q&A as an expert on a topic, they don't want people to send them pictures of dicks, etc., etc.
posted by zarq at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2012 [22 favorites]


At least, not unsolicited.
posted by zarq at 10:09 AM on June 19, 2012


God, the asshole drivers in New Jersey. I shouldn't have to deal with being cut off or trying to pass some slowpoke in front of me who speeds up when I go to pass them. Or (and this really bugs me for some reason), the idiots who think that the way to merge when the right lane is ending is to stay over as far to the right as possible, dragging it out for as long as they conceivably can. If you know you're supposed to be in the next lane over, then GET THE FUCK OVER THERE, for fuck's sake!

I sure as hell haven't solicited any of that, I just want them to leave me the fuck alone. I'm so glad to have MetaFilter's approval to complain about this continually for the rest of my natural life.
posted by Jestocost at 10:18 AM on June 19, 2012


They shouldn't have to deliver a firm "fuck off, you creep." They should not be put in a position where they have to respond at all.
posted by zarq at 6:08 PM on June 19


I agree. I also wish I never had to see people with their feet on the seats on trains, or chewing gum loudly, or cycling on the pavement. My point was not so much about what was done and whether it should be done, it was about the reaction to it which, in my view, has become excessively hypersensitive and counterproductive.

I should add that I have followed all of these recent dramas in the "skeptical community" in great and painful detail, and so if I seem a touch dismissive, consider that it is in part precisely because I've seen a hell of a lot more of the interminable agonising and hand-wringing than some of the folk here, to whom this is clearly very new, and who are only getting a slanted angle on it.
posted by Decani at 10:20 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm so glad to have MetaFilter's approval to complain about this continually for the rest of my natural life.

Go right ahead, dude. The turnpike is hell on earth.
posted by elizardbits at 10:25 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jestocost: I'm so glad to have MetaFilter's approval to complain about this continually for the rest of my natural life.

I doubt anyone here will argue that you shouldn't gripe about road complaints as much as you want on your own blog. However, a few people have expressed that they feel people should keep sexual complaints to themselves and avoid discussing them on their own blog, which is more what we're debating here.
posted by gilrain at 10:32 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've seen a hell of a lot more of the interminable agonising and hand-wringing than some of the folk here, to whom this is clearly very new, and who are only getting a slanted angle on it.

A friend of mine is getting to be kind of a Big Name in (U.S.) skeptic/atheist arenas - she gets invited to speak at stuff and so on.

If she *dares* to write about sexism in the movement(s), she gets called bitch and cunt and is told she just needs a good fucking. She gets death threats. She gets told that she's too ugly for anyone to want to fuck, so she's just jealous.

She is not new to encountering sexism or harassment. She has also been writing about sex and kink for many years (and practicing it!); she used to work at Blowfish (sex toy company). She gets more shit from atheist/skeptic folk than she ever did from supposed creepos who called Blowfish to ask about what kind of dildo to get.

Bad behavior doesn't stop just because people ignore it. It gets stopped when people say "That shit is unacceptable, cut it the fuck out."
posted by rtha at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [20 favorites]


Takeaway: The "skeptic" community is even more full of assholes than I had ever imagined.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:41 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, gilrain, I don't have any problem with anyone posting whatever they want to on their own blog. But as I've learned from MetaFilter, freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from criticism.
posted by Jestocost at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012


> she criticizes the guy for immediately walking away after handing her the card, but would it really have been better for him to stand there waiting for her reply?

She's being forced to get the offer in public; I think it's fair for him to get her response in public.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Decani: "My point was not so much about what was done and whether it should be done, it was about the reaction to it which, in my view, has become excessively hypersensitive and counterproductive."

Which is of course an idea that you're entitled to have. Personally, I think dismissively characterizing legitimate complaints about unwanted sexual advances as "excessively hypersensitive" is equally counterproductive.

I also wish I never had to see people with their feet on the seats on trains, or chewing gum loudly, or cycling on the pavement.

I hope you are also cognizant that being sexually harassed is not merely an inconvenience to be tolerated. In many cases, it's considered threatening behavior. Which is why most companies and events have policies that ban it -- or at least allow authorities to step in and stop it if it happens.
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Takeaway: The "skeptic" community is even more full of assholes than I had ever imagined.

I recall reading a New Yorker profile of Joe Nickell who said that when he broke his leg after tripping and falling down some stairs at a skeptics conference, he didn't receive help immediately as everyone stood around him debating whether or not he was actually hurt.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:51 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's being forced to get the offer in public; I think it's fair for him to get her response in public.

Hey, I know. Just the other day some dude handed me a Chick tract. Right in public! and everything! I was shocked. Not only that, I had read that one already! He got my response in public, all right! Haw! Haw! Haw!
posted by Jestocost at 10:54 AM on June 19, 2012


Takeaway: The "skeptic" community is even more full of assholes than I had ever imagined.

Spend 15 minutes browsing /r/atheism to confirm.

It has nothing to do with being a skeptic or an atheist, though, and everything to do with the kind of people that would form a community dedicated to telling other people that they are full of shit.
posted by empath at 10:57 AM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


> I have to say. If some of these people could manage to deliver a firm "Fuck off, you creep" and move the fuck on with their lives it might help matters a lot.

I'm not sure that's very different from what happened. The organizers of the conference made a 'hey, that's not cool, cut it out' phone call to the couple. Elyse made a post on her blog basically saying 'this weird thing that happened at convention I was at was pretty uncool, and this is why it's not cool'. That's it.

I don't why this is described as histrionic. And I don't see why there had to be a huge internet drama about this just because Elyse made a blog post about the incident describing it as uncool, without even outing the people involved. (OK. Weird people show up to conventions. Sometimes they do weird stuff. This was kind of creepy. It got dealt with. Not a big deal.)

Klein and other people seem outraged specifically because she delivered a firm "Fuck off, you creep". What the fuck is wrong with this? All I'm seeing here in either her response or the organizers' is 'this is not cool, don't do this'.
posted by nangar at 10:58 AM on June 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


If some of these people could manage to deliver a firm "Fuck off, you creep" and move the fuck on with their lives it might help matters a lot.

More importantly, if all of these creeps would just stop doing creepy shit then no one would ever have to deliver a firm "Fuck off, you creep".
posted by skye.dancer at 10:59 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


My coworker flashed his penis at me just this morning!!








(My husband and I work together.)

This happened at home.
posted by desjardins at 11:06 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


God, the asshole drivers in New Jersey.

Bad example given that there are actual traffic laws in place to regulate road behavior and law enforcement officers who enforce those laws. E.g. cut someone off, merge improperly, drive at an unsafe speed, etc. in eyeshot of a cop and you're likely to get a citation.

On second thought, maybe not a bad example seeing how there are laws against harassment, and in the case of this conference, actual rules (though not laws) governing the behavior of participants. /snark
posted by skye.dancer at 11:11 AM on June 19, 2012


In addition to providing sobering examples of sexism and an opportunity for education, I've found in the discussion of this controversy a helpful perspective on the intersection of sexism, harassment, and transgender rights. Natalie Reed writes extensively on transgender issues, including this comment where she says in part:
Similarly, resources, help-and-crisis-lines, policies, report structures, sensitivity training programs, sexual assault/harassment workshops, etc. will all completely overlook the existence of trans people, much less our specific needs in relation to these issues and how to have those needs met in a compassionate, understanding way, and not provide any structures in place to help us in the event that we do end up being victims of sexual assault, harassment or violence, or rape.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:33 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read most but not all of the thread and saw the issue of the definition of harassment raised a few times but did not see anyone provide an answer from the legal perspective. Just as an FYI, a single incident can indeed give rise to a viable claim of sexual harassment in the American legal system. Sorry if this is repetitive. But yeah, don't anyone feel like you can get away with sexually explicit and unwelcome behavior at work as long as it's just the one time.
posted by prefpara at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was wondering why there was all this parsing of the language of harassment. I think I understand -- because there are many sorts of harassment, and we use the same word for all of them. Stalking is a kind of harassment, but you can't just stalk somebody once -- it has to be a sustained campaign. Gaslighting is a sort of harassment, and relies on a sustained campaign.

It's an inexact word used to describe a lot of behavior. Bullying is considered a form of harassment, and doesn't have to happen multiple times. Hazing is seen as harassment, and need only occur once to be in violation of most college policies. Excessive force on the part of police can be identified as police harassment, and need not repeat itself to be acted on.

But, colloquially, to "harass" means "to bother" or "to annoy," and that's the sort of thing that tends to be sustained, rather than one time.

It's worth noting that the legal usage of a word is often different that the colloquial use. Colloquially, a homicide is a murder. Legally, it's any death brought about by human intervention, which may or may not be totally legal. Executing a prison is homicide. Killing somebody in self defense is homicide.

So is this incident sexual harassment? According to the rules set in place by the conference, yes. Any discussion about whether or not this is the right use of the word is a little self-defeating beyond this, because then we get into the complexities of language, when the complexities of language are secondary here. The basic question is, is this behavior inappropriate in this circumstance.

And, by the rules of the conference, it was.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:52 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


man fuck this whole mess

just reproduce by cloning, fuck it
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:36 PM on June 19, 2012


it'd be extremely gauche to just walk up and hand someone a card even if it didn't have a sexy picture.

Describing it as harassment diminishes countless situations that are qualitatively different than being given a casual, gauche invitation by an acquaintance

Hi, kids. What'd I miss?
posted by gauche at 2:17 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


The rules barred "unwelcome sexual attention". There really isn't any way to know if sexual attention will be unwelcome until after it has been offered, at which point it is too late as you are a harrasser.

I don't think that's true; but even if it were, so what? The conference lasted, what, a weekend? Is it really a horrible imposition on these people to ask that they refrain from propositioning strangers for two days?
posted by steambadger at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Estraven, if you doubt that they're actual video game fans, then why are you attempting to use that as a defense in their case?

...are you familiar with the concept of analogies?

Estraven's link is NSFW, FYI to others.


FYI, that is why I put NSFW right next to the link........

It's nice that that's what you'd do, but this isn't about you and your imaginary reactions to a situation you have not experienced.


This isn't about your imaginary assumptions about my life experiences, either. Due to a combination of factors, I am unfortunately propositioned with a high frequency by persons I have absolutely no interest in due to my sexual orientation. It is definitely a situation I have a lot of experience with, on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. If I wrote 10,000 angry words on the internet every time it happened, I'd have little time for anything else...!
posted by Estraven at 2:37 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


that is why I put NSFW right next to the link

I'm not sure if this is a joke or not, but I added that to your post after the fact.
posted by jessamyn at 2:39 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've never received unsolicited cock-mail, but I've also never tried online dating.

What gets me about this incident is that the card-givers had enough insight to think to themselves "Hmmm, we should give her this upside down, because if we have this card face up then she can see that it's boobies and she might not like that... or someone else might not like it and we'll get all yelled at. Best turn it upside down so it can be all 'BOOBIE SURPRISE!'" Or whatever went through their heads to at least be *somewhat* discreet about their boobie card.

And yet, couldn't take that train of thought all the way to the "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't give out this boobie card right now. This isn't a good time/place for boobies." station.
posted by sonika at 2:54 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I wrote 10,000 angry words on the internet every time it happened, I'd have little time for anything else...!

That's not what she's doing. If she were, you're right; she wouldn't have time for anything else.

This piece is part of a conversation that's happening in (some parts, at least) the skeptic/atheist blogosphere in a context about how to get more women to participate at atheist conferences and gatherings, and why women may choose not to participate. One of those reasons is how they're treated when they go to conferences.
posted by rtha at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jessamyn: lol whoops. I had thought I'd put in "possibly NSFW," and when I double checked later on when replying to the other person, it was there! I guess I should have realized from the lack of the "possibly." (I also didn't know that mods here edit people's posts without leaving some sort of note to that effect.)
posted by Estraven at 4:15 PM on June 19, 2012


Yeah sorry about that, we literally only do it to add NSFW or to fix an obvious and problematic typo (here's the FAQ entry). My apologies.
posted by jessamyn at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2012


So it looks like we have some work to do, people. I'm rolling up my sleeves as I type: How are we going to educate people on the definition of Sexual Harassment. I mean, getting people to stop sexually harassing other people would be nice, but obviously that will never happen. Baby steps, baby steps.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:14 PM on June 19, 2012


disclaimer: i haven't read *every single* comment, but a good chunk of them. please try not to read this through rage-filled eyes.

stop forcing sexual situations on unconsenting people.

there is no rule book for how people should negotiate having a sexual relationship, no matter how sure you are that you know the right rules that everyone should follow. even if some mandatory rule book could be put in place, a lot of people would balk at the idea because they like "the chase."

for any sexual/dating/whatever relationship to happen someone has to initiate it, but because of the inherent ambiguity it's inevitably that some people will proposition others and the proposition is rejected. it sucks to be the reject-er and to be rejected. but raising the sucky feeling of rejecting someone to "harassment" creates a lot of complicated issues. that last sentence is a good idea to take away from Klien, regardless of what else he says.

for example, you could say "first they have to invite me out to a drink, then it's ok for them to bring up the subject of a sexual relationship." but, there are times when someone accepts and invitation for a drink to mean that they will consider an invitation for a sexual relationship. so, maybe it's harassment. so you say, we have to be flirty first. what exactly is being "flirty"? "oh, but you didn't do it in the right way, so it's harassment." and that line of reasoning could continue.

---

the guy giving her the card is kind of like a pan-handler. when i walk somewhere i'm not inviting people to ask me for money. depending on who you are and where you are it can happen a lot. and it's annoying. and, if you say "no" there's always a chance that person could be crazy and follow you and murder you in your own home. the way i cope with it is that i realize that it's not about me but about *how desperate the other person is.* i give an unambiguous but polite "no" signal and move on. if it was such a big deal to me i would take active measure to avoid them and discourage them from contacting me, that's why i don't watch much tv and use ad-blockers in my web-browser.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:09 PM on June 19, 2012


at least it's not france
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:52 PM on June 19, 2012


I was a terribly nerdy and awkward kinky queer person, and I had enough sense not to open with an exhibitionistic carte-de-visite at a conference presentation. That sort of thing would even be a bit pushy at a munch where people are potentially open to partners.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:10 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find the "this is not the definition of harassment" argument to be bizarre. Yes, the typical definition of the word 'harass' implies repetition, but surely most people agree that this was inappropriate, and therefore shouldn't be condoned?!

In Australia the definition of sexual harassment is:

The legal test for sexual harassment in the federal Sex Discrimination Act has three essential elements:
- the behaviour must be unwelcome;
- it must be of a sexual nature;
- it must be such that a reasonable person would anticipate in the circumstances that the person who was harassed would be offended, humiliated and/or intimidated.

The unwelcome behaviour need not be repeated or continuous. A single incident can amount to sexual harassment.
A complaint of sexual harassment will not necessarily be dismissed because the person subjected to the behaviour did not directly inform the harasser that it was unwelcome.


She was offended. Most people in this thread would have been offended. Therefore, at least in Australia, this was harassment. I would assume that the US was similar.
posted by kjs4 at 6:21 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


A reasonable person would not have been offended. Therefore, in order for a reasonable person to have anticipated her taking offense, he would have had to have known that she was a nut to begin with. Had he known that she was a nut, he probably wouldn't have handed her a card, because getting mixed up with nuts is always a bad idea.

The "unwelcome behaviour" part is a crock. If it can't be defined objectively, it shouldn't be in the law.
posted by Jestocost at 6:29 AM on June 20, 2012


Jestocost: A reasonable person would not have been offended.

Really? I like to think I'm a reasonable person, and I would have been offended.

Tell you what. Print up a bunch of copies of their card (be sure it includes a clear copy of their picture), perhaps with your contact information substituted for theirs, and stand on a street corner there in Princeton handing one (and only one) to anyone that walks by. The rest of us here will start a pool as to how long it takes before a 'reasonable person' on the street either a) reports you to the cops for being creepy and offensive or b) throatpunches you.
posted by hanov3r at 6:48 AM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Jestocost: "A reasonable person would not have been offended."

I like to think of myself as reasonable. In her place, I would have been offended.

People should have a right to maintain reasonable boundaries. This is especially true in professional settings, where unspoken (or overt) personal boundaries allow folks to set social concerns aside and get work done.

Therefore, in order for a reasonable person to have anticipated her taking offense, he would have had to have known that she was a nut to begin with.

Handing people cards inviting them to have sex with you (complete with a picture of one's breasts being groped,) when you have previously had little to no intimate interaction with them is not normal or acceptable behavior in most settings.

The "unwelcome behaviour" part is a crock. If it can't be defined objectively, it shouldn't be in the law.

A law that is too specific might not cover every contingency. Plenty of laws and guidelines are written vaguely enough so that a 'rules lawyer' can't wiggle out of illegal behavior on a technicality. This is nothing new.
posted by zarq at 7:00 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back in the 80's you couldn't really attach photos to emails/private messages very easily. Nonetheless, I remember being fifteen or so, and getting an email on a local BBS from a stranger helpfully informing me that he "ha[d] a giant cock." I doubt he knew I was fifteen, but he sure knew I was female. That's when I learned to use gender neutral handles/nicks/usernames. So the genitalia in email thing isn't even a new development.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:09 AM on June 20, 2012


The "unwelcome behaviour" part is a crock. If it can't be defined objectively, it shouldn't be in the law.

Then there's a lot of law that shouldn't be law.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:17 AM on June 20, 2012


Some in the debate have demanded that those reporting harassment (or unwelcome sexual behavior or whatever you wish to call it) to publicly name names. Others have pointed out that, because reports of sexist behavior have received such sexist and at times threatening responses, those subjected to bad behavior may be reluctant to speak out in public for fear of having to face more of the same.

Thus, those who face sexism also face a Scylla and Charybdis of bad actors and counterproductive advice from ostensible allies. The scope of the problem and the slow, incremental pace of change can prove quite daunting. However, commenter Maureen on PZ Myers' blog offers some words of hope:
Now listen up, children. I was 70 last week and I have been on to this since I was 12. In my lifetime and in just one country I have seen changes to the teaching of maths and science, the professions opened to women, the banking system woken up so that it no longer demands a male countersignature, individual taxation for couples, women’s refuges and rape crisis centres, clarification of what rape is and stalking on the books as a criminal offence plus other changes to the law. And so on and so forth. And marched and wrote and spoke and supported comrades in the fight.

In the course of that I have met an amazing number of totally impressive people, people I have been so proud to know. Not a few of them on this very blog where I come for the very clarity of thought, effective communication, depth of commitment and experience which has always proved to be far more effective than any amount of mealy-mouthed wanking.

We are not there yet and sometimes that get a bit frustrating. Some of us, though, know exactly what we are aiming for and it is still eyes on the prize.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


A reasonable person would not have been offended. Therefore, in order for a reasonable person to have anticipated her taking offense, he would have had to have known that she was a nut to begin with.

So, what, every single person in this thread who has agreed that they would be offended is just a nutcase, and you are the lone voice of reason?

Spoiler alert: NO.
posted by elizardbits at 9:37 AM on June 20, 2012 [34 favorites]


snuffleupagus: "The "unwelcome behaviour" part is a crock. If it can't be defined objectively, it shouldn't be in the law.

Then there's a lot of law that shouldn't be law.
"

Well, yes, there is.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


For example – on the "unwelcome behaviour" should not be part of the law thing – battery is legally defined as "harmful or offensive contact." Offensiveness of touch as a determinant of legal right and wrong is written into the law in all 50 United States. And yet somehow our society manages not to collapse entirely. Courts cogently render intelligible opinions on the basis of the offensiveness of touching.

Offensiveness is and should be a absolute and concrete point of reference. The idea that offensiveness is not concrete, that "unwelcome" is vague and undefined, is false. These are very real measures of behavior that are used by rational humans all over the world every day to govern their actions.
posted by koeselitz at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


It baffles me that people think there's even a debate here. You don't throw your unsolicited amateur erotica at people because 1) doing so unsolicited isn't consensual and 2) it makes your kinky/poly/nudie community look like a bunch of creeps.

Part of cruising in mixed company involves a fair bit of tact for the fact that most people in the room are not going to be comfortable discussing how and with whom you'd like to have sex. It's not rocket science, and if someone complains about your behavior to the person managing the space, you're almost certainly doing it wrong.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


And most people won't complain unless the problem is really egregious. That especially seems to apply to creepy behavior.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tried to read this thread and the MeTa it spawned, but I can't get my mind off one thing: SKEPTICAMP OHIO. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND GOES TO SKEPTICAMP OHIO.
posted by gertzedek at 10:02 PM on June 20, 2012


Ardiril: "When you people realize that for the vast majority this stuff isn't an issue."

Sorry, but is your profile correct in stating that you're male. In which case it's small wonder that you feel part of a vast majority who doesn't have an issue with this.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:30 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


shivohum: "So there she is, in front of the remains of the audience, looking at porn against her will.

I agree that what this couple did was gross and inappropriate, but I think it's dangerous to call it harassment. That's an exaggerated form of political correctness, and this forced-viewing idea is especially antithetical to free speech.
"

Not that I'm saying you're actually doing this, but people often make use of semantic arguments or the mantle of free speech when defending sexist and abusive behavior. Just sayin'.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:38 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


CBrachyrhynchos: "It baffles me that people think there's even a debate here. You don't throw your unsolicited amateur erotica at people because 1) doing so unsolicited isn't consensual and 2) it makes your kinky/poly/nudie community look like a bunch of creeps.

Part of cruising in mixed company involves a fair bit of tact for the fact that most people in the room are not going to be comfortable discussing how and with whom you'd like to have sex. It's not rocket science, and if someone complains about your behavior to the person managing the space, you're almost certainly doing it wrong.
"


I think you're confused.

NO ONE is arguing that the couple in question should have given their nudie card to Elyse.

NO ONE is suggesting that is a successful technique for cruising.

We're arguing about whether or not this social faux-pas was worthy of "official intervention" (the organizers stepping in because they, and Elyse, believed sexual assault had happened).

We're pretty much all agreed that it was a social faux-pas.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:13 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


IAmBroom: " NO ONE is arguing that the couple in question should have given their nudie card to Elyse. "

I disagree. Some of Ardiril's comments characterized it as nothing more than a joke. Reggie Knoble asked if the card wasn't actually a decent way for someone to make their intentions clear. There were a couple of other people who implied the incident wasn't a big deal and Ms. Anders' reaction was ridiculous / disproportionate.
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


(the organizers stepping in because they, and Elyse, believed sexual assault had happened

Sorry, did someone - Elyse, the organizers - ever actually call it assault?

Their policy reads: Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

She seems to have considered what they did unwelcome sexual attention, and reported it. That's what you're supposed to do. Then the organizers went to investigate it. This is also what's supposed to happen.

The organizers are the ones who get to decide if someone at their convention broke one of their rules. It's not up to them to police behavior outside the convention, and they did not do that.
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


IAmBroom: We're arguing about whether or not this social faux-pas was worthy of "official intervention" (the organizers stepping in because they, and Elyse, believed sexual assault had happened).

We're pretty much all agreed that it was a social faux-pas.


The "official intervention" was asking the couple to cut it out or be barred from the venue. Organizers use this form of intervention all the time in response to bad behavior on the part of guests: dress codes, disruptive protest, selling goods without registering as a vendor, interrupting conference talks, and violating rules about photography and videos are all things that can get you barred from an event.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:41 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the couple were not even barred from the venue, so being told by the organizers to knock it off is really lowest rung of censure.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The conflagrations work. They raise consciousness. They make people recognize that sexism is real, and is fucked-up, and is worth fighting.
"Why I Have Hope: Atheism, Sexism and Blowing Up The Internet" by Greta Christina
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:52 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


The "official intervention" was asking the couple to cut it out or be barred from the venue.

That seems like the right call. I also think blogging is appropriate; if you act like a tool to a prominent person in public, you should not be surprised if you are publicly ridiculed.

It would have been nice if the blogger acknowledged that there are worse forms of sexual harassment (e.g. firing someone who won't sleep with you) which are properly illegal; I'm not sure this behavior, as crude and obnoxious as it is, should be illegal, and to a certain degree lumping these situations together minimizes the worse ones.

And some of her language is over the top, though I guess that's what successful bloggers do, to build controversy. EG the couple "attempted to shock and humiliate me in an attempt to get me to have sex with them then ran off." Really? They were trying to shock and humiliate her, not just making a ham-fisted and offensive pass?
posted by msalt at 4:19 PM on June 21, 2012


I don't know that "legal" matters that much here. It does not appear to have been brought up in the linked articles. Sexual harassment law sets a higher bar because, in that context, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, and therefore, a violation of the Civil Rights Acts regarding equality in employment and education.

The arguments that feminist and pro-feminist people have been making about conventions (with parallel discussions happening in both SF/F and skeptic land, but I've heard about similar issues with professional groups) is about norms and policy. It's about what you agree to when you hand over your credit card and get your convention pass, schedule, and a bag of swag.

I'll just pull up the rules for the last convention I attended. There's a lot of interesting things on that list which are not in any way illegal, but which can get you kicked out of the con. Most of those rules probably stem from one or more incidents that caused problems for another person, and may have involved someone affirming that sipping coke in an exhibition or falling asleep on a couch isn't criminal. And that's not really relevant because event organizers can ask you to leave for all kinds of non-criminal rudeness, from queue-jumping to shoving a flash in someone's face.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:34 PM on June 21, 2012


I've been the asshole in charge of saying, "you can't do that (perfectly legal on your own computer in your own room) activity here." The final rule for employees on that job was not to pull shit that could be written up another policy rule.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:38 PM on June 21, 2012


calling someone who steals a case of beer a thief doesn't minimize or diminish the crime of someone who embezzles a million dollars. discussing the issues of spousal rape doesn't diminish the crime of violent gang rapes.

she didn't go to the police. she's not looking for a legal remedy. as far as i can tell, she's saying - this is shitty and it shouldn't have happened and maybe it's something to think about. under the rules of the conference she was harassed. why shouldn't she use the word?
posted by nadawi at 7:54 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


why shouldn't she use the word?

My daughter has OCD. Diagnosed, in treatment, etc. This has made me reflect on obsessive traits I have, plus my brother's childhood handwashing obsession, etc. I wondered aloud to her if I might have OCD tendencies. (I'm very obsessive, write palindromes for fun, etc.)

And this really offended her, despite the categorical similarities. Because the degree does matter. Her OCD is literally painful to her. Describing much milder behavior that is similar in nature is not accurate because severe OCD is not a quirk, it can literally disable you. It is also rhetorically dangerous because you are assuming the mantle or sympathetic advantage extended to people who are really disabled by it, and I think it does minimize the problems of those more seriously affected and it claims a false kinship with their suffering. I was very chagrined and embarrassed to have done that with my own daughter.

I don't have the eloquence that Not That Girl wielded, but I think you can see the analogy I'm making. And I think using a different term is appropriate. (Sexual Boorishness? Horribly offensive?)

One overture, without coercion, threat of violence or repetition, I don't think that's comparable to a single mother who is grabbed, verbally accosted every day for years, threatened with job loss if she doesn't submit, and not rarely raped. But that more severe scenario that is not, sadly, uncommon. I find it offensive for this blogger to say "Yeah I had that happen to me too."
posted by msalt at 9:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll just pull up the rules for the last convention I attended. There's a lot of interesting things on that list which are not in any way illegal, but which can get you kicked out of the con.

Oh, absolutely. I'm all for the conference booting the creepy couple out forever, and I totally agree that different social situations should have rules stricter than whatever is illegal.

But that's kind of the point. Sexual harassment as popularly understood IS against the law. By using that term, she is essentially alleging illegal behavior. Which is an excellent reason to use a different term.
posted by msalt at 9:12 PM on June 21, 2012


msalt, do you feel the same way that, for example, people on one end of the autism spectrum trivialise and marginalise what profound autism is like for people?

I'm not question the validity of your exchange with your daughter, but as an analogy I think it's very far from universal an doesn't really hold up in a lot of situations.
posted by smoke at 9:13 PM on June 21, 2012


per the rules of the conference, it was harassment. i disagree that it's minimizing or insulting to call it so. over on metatalk, i sort of went into how i feel harassment and sexual assualt are linked. i'm actively hurt by issues of sexual assault and i feel that recognizing things like this as (probably not legally actionable) harassment creates a world safer for women and more free of sexism.
posted by nadawi at 11:13 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


msalt: "One overture, without coercion, threat of violence or repetition, I don't think that's comparable to a single mother who is grabbed, verbally accosted every day for years, threatened with job loss if she doesn't submit, and not rarely raped. But that more severe scenario that is not, sadly, uncommon. I find it offensive for this blogger to say 'Yeah I had that happen to me too.'"

That's nonsense. For one thing, no one is saying this was precisely the same as a lifetime of abuse. For another, you're arguing that categories cannot apply to things that are different from each other. But they can. A brick wall I built in my back yard and the Great Wall of China are both walls; should anyone be offended and say that, by calling my small stack of bricks a wall, I am diminishing the importance of one of the greatest achievements of architecture in history? No, because they're both walls.
posted by koeselitz at 11:33 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


... and of course it's "comparable." It is possible to compare two different things, no matter how different they are.

And these two things - a lifetime of suffering verbal abuse on the one hand, and being handed a naked-picture-sexy card without warning as a proposition on the other - have lots of things in common. For example, they are both instances of sexual misconduct where one person imposed their sexuality on another without consent.

Hold on now - that's a good definition for "harassment!" What an odd coincidence.
posted by koeselitz at 11:37 PM on June 21, 2012


smoke: do you feel the same way that, for example, people on one end of the autism spectrum trivialise and marginalise what profound autism is like for people?

I don't know much about autism, so I can't offer an intelligent opinion on your question. I do think that for a lot of more recently defined neurological disorders -- such as OCD, ADHD, and autism -- it's pretty clear that the medical understanding of these conditions is imprecise at best. So there is a problem because we are used to scientific terminology being specific and grounded in deep scientific understanding that is not actually present in these cases.

For example, I recently spoke with a well educated psychiatrist about pharmaceutical treatments for OCD. Apparently, the standard of care is generic antidepressants (such as Prozac and Zoloft) given at much higher doses than those prescribed for use of the same drugs to treat depression. To me, as a non-scientist, this seems like a clear sign that they don't really have a precise treatment for (or understanding of) this condition, and are wielding a blunt instrument as a result.
posted by msalt at 12:20 AM on June 22, 2012


single mother who is grabbed, verbally accosted every day for years, threatened with job loss if she doesn't submit, and not rarely raped

Wait, what does single motherhood have to do with it? Is it that a single mother is more desperate to keep her job, more trapped and thus more blameless? Because nobody should have to quit a job to escape harassment. The victim is not to blame, the harasser is.

Anyway, never mind that. There is a whole spectrum of sexual misconduct, from the merely unacceptable to the frankly illegal, and there are plenty of things unacceptable in the workplace (or at other event spaces shared under published policy) that are fully legal. Your example goes beyond harassment to repeated, patterned physical and sexual assault. The workplace still wouldn't be a fair or safe one if a female employee were only "verbally accosted" and "threatened with job loss" because of her gender but it would definitely be improved if she were protected from grabbing and rape (even if it happens only once or is only attempted - still illegal everywhere, not just at work!).

Sexual harassment has degrees. The higher degrees are criminal. That's pretty simple, isn't it?
posted by gingerest at 12:21 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does single motherhood have to do with it?

Vulnerability, financially. Someone who can't afford to lose their job and so is heavily coerced. This is a very common situation.

But you're right, anyone who is pressured for sex by someone in a position of authority or power over them is a victim of sexual harassment. That position of power could be financial (as in the common case of an employer), educational (an instructor), or other (simply being older and more confident, or a media personality who might be able to provide the victim with very useful publicity, for example.) And there is no reason that the victim need be a parent or even female.

The only common denominator in sexual harassment is some position of power over the victim. Which is not present in the case here. So in fact, there is a categorical difference here as well as one of degree.
posted by msalt at 12:32 AM on June 22, 2012


[A couple of comments deleted. Let's try to avoid getting personal, please.]
posted by taz at 1:40 AM on June 22, 2012


koeselitz: I never said anything about "a lifetime of abuse." Please don't twist my words.

And I'm not saying that categories can't apply to things that are different, any more than you are arguing that categories can't be misapplied to categorically different items.

To follow your analogy, I would also object if someone talked about the Great Wall of China, and you said "I have a Great Wall in my backyard, too!" The fact that they are both walls does not make that a valid description.
posted by msalt at 2:07 AM on June 22, 2012


I've been a bit bemused by all the intense and angry focus on definitions of "harassment"/"sexual harassment" and whether this is actually "harassment"... which, as far as I can tell, has been pretty much completely driven by the Marty Klein commentary. The Skepchick original article doesn't talk about harassment at all, except to refer to the con's harassment policy. It's clear that she found this to be absolutely inappropriate behavior that didn't belong in that setting (which I agree with), but Klein says "the woman felt that this invitation constituted Sexual Harassment," although she never said that. In her response to his article, in fact, she specifically says "this isn’t about sexual harassment law. This is about event policies."

So, for whatever it's worth, I think a whole lot of people here and elsewhere are spending a lot time arguing this thing almost entirely on his terms, which sort of sucks. A fairer discussion or debate, if it were based on her actual post instead of his response, might be what a reasonable harassment policy for conventions and events might look like, and if this incident is the sort of thing that should be covered by such policies, or even if it should be called a "conduct policy" or some such, as opposed to "harassment policy."
posted by taz at 2:14 AM on June 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


The only common denominator in sexual harassment is some position of power over the victim. Which is not present in the case here.

That's not how most laws and workplace policies (or in this case, conference policies) define it really. It can involve that power imbalance but doesn't have to. You could have a female CEO of the company being sexually harassed by an employee, it's still harassment if it fits the definition in the company policies.

I only skimmed through this discussion and I keep noticing people argue about the definitions, across different contexts and planes though, so I think that adds to the confusion and incapacity to find common ground here.

This is very interesting to me because, while I'm not a lawyer, as a translator I often work on documents explaining company policies and codes of conducts, so amongst other things I come across definitions of 'sexual harassment' a lot. Having to pay attention to the words being used in different languages and having to be precise (ok, pedantic) kind of brings down the issue of definition to a very practical level for me.

So, in pedantic fashion, I think it's helpful to keep in mind there are at least three different levels/contexts for the definition of sexual harassment:

- laws at national level (at higher level as with most such things you also have references in UN conventions)
- policies, internal to each company (usually sexual harassment in the workplace is just a section or clause within a wider 'code of conduct' policy)
- social/cultural/political context in which the behaviour is identified, discussed, examples are presented, etc. (that's the context from which definitions at policy and legal level emerged, as with all legal stuff, obviously)

A lot of the times in these discussions online, a lot of people keep switching from one level to the other, which is only natural in a way, but it's a tricky thing when discussing the definition itself and how the case is being reported or what consequences there were and so on.

In this situation, it was at a conference, and the conference had a specific policy already in place, and the person who reported the incident referred to that policy, and the conference organisers found the incident did in fact violate the policy, so for the sake of the internal rules of the conference, it was deemed to be an incident in violation of their own policies on sexual harassment.

Seems there was no long argument or indecision or equivocation there - incident reported, violation found, case closed, with no consequences because the couple in question were not other conference speakers, just regular attenders, and walked away.

(I assume if they sign up for next year's conference maybe they'd get a word from the organisers about how to avoid repeating the incident? I have no idea. If they do I'd like to see the conversation... I mean, having to explain to a married couple into swinging that it's really inappropriate to hand out a 'fuck us' card with you two naked to a conference speaker at a conference that has nothing whatsoever to do with swinging or sex, just like that, out of the blue. What were they thinking! It's so ridiculous it's laughable and sad at the same time. )

Can one disagree with the decision by the conference organisers to view this particular incident as a violation agaisnt their own policies, or even disagree with the policies themsevels? Yes by all means, but they are their own internal policies so they get to decide on them - they alone, not you, or I or anyone else.


So, this happened at internal policy level only - not at legal level, ie. the incident was not reported to law authorities and did not end up in the jurisdiction of a court.

The conference speaker did not file a suit for damages or anything. If she had, would this have held up in court? Probably not, but it's useless to speculate anyway because she didn't, and besides, that's (in part) what internal policies are for - to allow reporting of incidents that are considered by the company/organisers inappropriate or unwelcome or disrupting for the context of that workplace/event, but would not necessarily qualify as violations of the law.

Inappropriate in a particular context doesn't have to mean illegal, and in this specific case no one claimed it should.


So, from my pedantic point of view, there is no practical point going on how this is nothing compared to more severe violations of laws about sexual harassment (up to and including rape) with potential criminal or financial penalties, because it did not fall in that category anyway, and it was never brought to that level.



At third level, social/cultural/political discussion, you have the blog post by the conference speaker. She blogged about it referring to a wider context to bring about discussion. She described the incident in detail, described her reactions, her thoughts, and referred to a wider issue at conferences, of women being approached inappropriately or in a way that diminishes the professional capacity they were presenting themselves in, in that particular context.

Can one criticise the way she chose to bring up the discussion? You sure can, you can dislike her way of writing, her tone, anything about it. But in the end it's a personal account of her experience and her opinions on the matter, maybe you would have done differently, but that's neither nor there. That's her blog, she's talking about what happened to her, how she felt, and how it was handled. Did she overreact? Maybe, but so what? it's her reaction and it was validated by the conference organisers according to their own internal policy. That's very important to keep in mind, and I think some people were not doing it (the Psychology Today guy in the first place).

She also respected the couple's anonymity, avoiding any pubic naming (which could have been questionable at a legal level. After all it was a private interaction, they gave her their card with their contact details, they didn't hand it out to everyone else or put it up on a noticeboard).

So what is there to object in the end? that was is not a serious crime? No one claimed it was! That sexual harassment is always vaguely defined? Well, yeah, in a way, both laws and policies cannot list every single incident which could qualify as harassment, so they do use general enough language, that's what legal regulations do when it comes to a lot of human behaviour. Some of the wording I come across most often in company policies:

"Harassment is defined as any unwelcome conduct, whether voluntary or involuntary, that is found to be threatening, disturbing, or inappropriate... any unreasonable interference with work performance, diminishing of the dignity of any person, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or otherwise offensive working environment."

And general examples span from "demanding sexual considerations in exchange for job benefits" to "threaten to take adverse employment actions if sexual favors are not performed" to "unwelcome physical contact, or inappropriate verbal or written communications that are sexual in nature" to "displaying sexually suggestive pictures or objects".

The conference's own policy, as quoted already, mentions: "Explicit sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue. While some important and relevant issues may touch upon sexual issues, please keep it professional and in an academic context."

So the language is vague enough but not so vague as to make it entirely a matter of opinion whether one incident qualifies as inappropriate or not in that context. This one did, according to the organisers who had to only authority to decide on that. The couple walked away and faced no other consequence. What is the problem here for anyone else not involved? No one was trying to change the laws and include this couple's behaviour as a criminal offense.

Policies don't have to worry about penalties other than internal disciplinary action. At legal level you do put a price on every offense - how many years of prison, or how big a fine - so lawmakers first and then courts have to decide on the seriousness of the violation very precisely.

At policy level, it's an issue of inappropriateness only, and at a conference the maximum penalty for a participant violating the policy is being kicked out - which was preempted by the couple walking out.

So... what's the point in arguing that yes this was inappropriate, but umm not so serious it becomes illegal? That's already an ascertained fact. This was about an harassment policy of a small local even, not a court case. Some people are arguing as if it were. I think it's very important to keep that in mind.

Apologies for the repetitions and excessive pedantry. this is what translating endless boring pages legal stuff does to you. Which reminds me I should get back to work... in my completely harassment-free workplace, since it's an office of one. I shouldn't complain so much really.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:28 AM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


taz: The Skepchick original article doesn't talk about harassment at all, except to refer to the con's harassment policy.

I hear you, but I'm not sure I agree. I just reread the original post, and she mentions harassment in the first paragraph, and again in the 7th, and refers to it in the second paragraph, which reads

Well, technically, it {the harassment policy} needed to be enforced twice. But the second time, no one was given the opportunity to act. And it’s a big deal. And days later, I’m still really angry about what happened.

So as I see it, harassment is set forth as the main subject of the blog post.

Granted, Marty Klein is tone-deaf and comes off nearly as obtuse as the swinging couple who offended her in the first place. He's kind of a perfect enemy for her, and he certainly picked up the harassment theme and ran with it. But I don't think it's fair to say that he put it there in the first place.
posted by msalt at 2:40 AM on June 22, 2012


The only common denominator in sexual harassment is some position of power over the victim.

The hostile environment standard does not require a "position of power over the victim."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:15 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It worth pointing out that the other instance of harassment at the convention where the organizers stepped in was heckling. The organizers' response was also pretty moderate; they apparently threatened to kick the heckler out of the conference if he didn't stop, and he stopped. Heckling falls under the common definition of harassment as we normally use the word in conversation, regardless of whether the content of heckling is sexual. (It usually isn't.) Heckling doesn't involve a higher status person harassing a lower status person, but usually the reverse. It's a strategy lower status people (regular attendees) use to annoy speakers they don't like and interfere with their speaking.

It's also not a legal issue. I think the police would pretty annoyed if the conference organizers called them and said 'some is speaking out of turn, and would wait till the Q and A session, and plus he said some bad words'. It their job to police their own conference and that's what they did.


I haven't mentioned this before. But I think it's worth placing this argument within political context in the Skeptic Community:

Skepchik is a group blog by a group of feminists in the Skeptic Community who have been trying to increase participation of women at Skeptcs' Conventions. One of Elyse's fellow Skepchik bloggers, Rebecca Watson, has been outspoken about the problem of sexual harassment at Skeptics' Conventions, along with a number of other members of the community, and official anti-harassment policies at conventions are fairly new. This has been really contentious issue in the community. There seems to be fairly sizable anti-feminist faction in the community and there's been a lot opposition to instituting policies about accepaible behavior at conventions. People have gotten death threats and PZ Myers a prominent feminist sympathizer in the community was apparently offered bodyguard protection by the organizers one conference because he'd been threatened if showed up at the conference. (He turned down the offer and nothing happened.)

(Jason Thibault, another Skeptic activist, has a timeline.)

Within that context, the naked calling card probably came across as a fuck-you gesture. (Something like: 'Oh, so you don't like sexual harassment? How about THIS?') And, yeah, as part of an ongoing pattern of harassment directed at prominent feminists in the community. After the conference organizers called the couple, they sent her an apology letter which suggests that maybe they did just think it was a cute way to introduce themselves after all and were just kind of clueless, who knows?

Klein is apparently part of the anti-feminist faction and opposed to the idea of having harassment policies at conventions at all, so what would otherwise seem like a pretty minor incident dealt with in a reasonable and moderate way, in his mind, is an example of feminists trying to destroy the Skeptical Community. (He also doesn't seem to realize that Skepchik is a group blog, and Elyse and Rebeca are different people.)
posted by nangar at 8:35 AM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


The hostile environment standard does not require a "position of power over the victim."

True, but it's kind of the exception that proves the rule, the only element of the law that doesn't, because there were many situations where official tolerance of frequent bad behavior by underlings basically became indistinguishable from bad behavior by the powerful.

I'm 99% certain that a single sexual overture by a person not in a position of power, after which the person is told to stop it or be banned, would not be considered creating a hostile environment under any definition though.
posted by msalt at 9:06 AM on June 22, 2012


Nangar -- very helpful context, thanks. The response of the soliciting couple did seem pretty weird. "It was a joke"? I like a lot of alternative comedy but I'm just not feeling the funny there. At first I took that as a pathetically transparent lie to cover their butts (so to speak). But in the context you give, "joke" does sound more like a "fuck you."

None of this is making me eager to visit Skeptic Communities, much as I loved Martin Gardner.
posted by msalt at 9:11 AM on June 22, 2012


Darg! conventions not communities.
posted by msalt at 9:12 AM on June 22, 2012


I'm 99% certain that a single sexual overture by a person not in a position of power, after which the person is told to stop it or be banned, would not be considered creating a hostile environment under any definition though.

Well, maybe, I'm 0.99% certain on that myself, because it all depends on which kind of overture, and which kind of environment, and which many other things...

But this was considered as "unwelcome sexual attention" (and possibly "sexually explicit imagery"?), according to the event's own organisers and their policies - that's the only relevant aspect of "deciding" if it was harassment or not. They didn't even need to define it as harassment really, just that it was an inappropriate thing for them and their own rules.

I'd heard (here on metafilter) about the previous cases of unwanted attention for female speakers at the skeptic conferences, but damn, I had no idea people had received death threats. That's, wow.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:44 AM on June 22, 2012


I doubt if sexual harassment or people being being creepy is more of a problem at Skeptic meetings and conventions than at similar venues. The people complaining about it don't seem to think it's a cultural problem rather than specifically a Skeptic one. But the level of vitriol is amazing.
posted by nangar at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2012


grrr ... The people complaining about it don't seem to think it's a cultural problem rather than specifically a Skeptic one.

(Hamfisted editing leads to incoherent sentences. Sorry.)
posted by nangar at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2012


They didn't even need to define it as harassment really, just that it was an inappropriate thing for them and their own rules.

I couldn't agree more, as I've said. If the Skepchik blogger hadn't used that term, I can't imagine how even the Pyschology Today guy, tool that he appears to be, could have argued with her point.
posted by msalt at 12:34 PM on June 22, 2012


If the Skepchik blogger hadn't used that term, I can't imagine how even the Pyschology Today guy, tool that he appears to be, could have argued with her point.

He would have just made fun of her for "feeling offended", "being angry" or "not liking it". All of the exact same people would have lined up with the exact same positions as they have here regardless of word choice. They have before and they will again, both here on MetaFilter and within the Skeptic Community. What we're arguing about here isn't basically words.
posted by nangar at 1:04 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


msalt: The hostile environment standard does not require a "position of power over the victim."

True, but it's kind of the exception that proves the rule...
That's not what that phrase means. An exception does not prove a rule is valid; the ability to find an exception proves (tests) the rule for validity. The meaning you are using is insensible: "If my rule doesn't fit the situation, it must be true."

So, that exception to your rule proves your rule doesn't work.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:04 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm 99% certain that a single sexual overture by a person not in a position of power, after which the person is told to stop it or be banned, would not be considered creating a hostile environment under any definition though.

I've been the recipient of various sexual overtures that have raised giant red flags about my personal physical safety and the danger of imminent sexual violence. As has been stated before, it it impossible for the recipient to know whether the person making the overture is a genuine threat or merely clueless about boundaries.

Environments can go from benign to hostile in the time it takes two guys to come up and say "hey baby, we want to make a sandwich out of you."
posted by ambrosia at 1:13 PM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


IamBroom: That's not what that phrase means. An exception does not prove a rule is valid; the ability to find an exception proves (tests) the rule for validity. The meaning you are using is insensible: "If my rule doesn't fit the situation, it must be true."So, that exception to your rule proves your rule doesn't work.

If you really want to drill down that far, exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis ("the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted") applies here because the "hostile environment" situation is the only case in which sexual harassment law applies in the absence of coercion or a power relationship. A single occurrence punished by the authorities does not fit the exception, and the exception reinforces the underlying principle because people in power tolerating bad behavior by underlings can approximate bad behavior by the people in power themselves. The work environment itself becomes coercive.
posted by msalt at 3:55 PM on June 22, 2012


In the MetaTalk topic, Palomar said
Again, it was a genuine request for you to point out the phrasing from Elyse {about sexual overtures reducing the recipient to a sexual object}, because I did not see any thing like that in her blog post. You've called it out specifically, so it's something that you obviously can see. I have said more than once now that I can't find what you're talking about despite going back to the source material, so maybe you could do me the solid of showing me what you're talking about when you make those accusations about her meaning. Can you? Or do you just want to call me sarcastic and unhelpful some more when I'm GENUINELY ASKING YOU TO SHOW ME WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. For fuck's sake, why can you not do that.

Wow. OK, in the original blog post, Elyse draws several lessons from the experience. This is the bulk of the blog post, actually. The very first one is
It’s not okay to assume that any woman (or non-woman) is at a conference to be your plaything. But to reduce your keynote speaker to a thing you want to fuck...

Her only evidence was a single overture; they handed her a business card. She has no idea what they were thinking, but the overture is proof to her that they reduced her to "a plaything... a thing you want to fuck."

In the comments, she says The assumption that it’s impossible for women to speak at a conference without arousing the audience is pretty awful. That we cannot present content without being reduced to sexual beings ...

See the leap? She's jumping from A) if you speak at a conference some people in the audience might be aroused to B) this reduces the speaker to only a sexual being. A) is true for all speakers; people in the audience may be aroused by your presence. This happens to men and women. That doesn't not in anyway mean B).

People can have sexual longings without ONLY being sexual, or regarding the person they are longing for as ONLY sexual. In fact, pretty much everyone does.
posted by msalt at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Her only evidence was a single overture; they handed her a business card. She has no idea what they were thinking, but the overture is proof to her that they reduced her to "a plaything... a thing you want to fuck."

That wasn't a business card. They didn't stick around to see if she wanted to get to know them better. There was no message other than "Let's fuck" or perhaps "We want you to see us naked." If they wanted any interaction other than sex, they were going about it wrong.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:06 PM on June 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think we all agree that the card couple were idiots and going about whatever they wanted wrong.

The only point I'm making here is that Elyse is leaping from people "wanting sex" to "only wanting sex," not just with this oddball couple but generally. You can be attracted to a public speaker and still value them as an intelligent and thoughtful person doing great work. For many people, in fact, valuing them that way would make them more attractive.

You can be a public speaker (I am) and have people find you attractive (don't know about that) without it diminishing your worth as a person. You have no control over people's reaction, and they don't actually choose who they're attracted to either, it's a spontaneous thing. She's making a judgment against people who simply have sexual longings that I don't think is valid. That's all I'm saying.
posted by msalt at 1:23 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


She's making a judgment against people who simply have sexual longings

No, she isn't. She's making a judgment against people who thought it was appropriate to publicize those sexual longings while she was at work, despite a conduct policy that specifically forbade it.
posted by KathrynT at 1:35 PM on June 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


The only point I'm making here is that Elyse is leaping from people "wanting sex" to "only wanting sex,"

this has needed to be said for a long time.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:00 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


msalt, have you ever met any feminists? You know they actually date people, right? And fall in love and crushes on people? And some of them get married and have kids? Right? Wanting equality and respect doesn't preclude being attracted to people and liking sex.

I think you're assuming the worst about Elyse that you possibly can and trying to squeeze meanings out of what she wrote to fit your 'sex-hating prude' narrative. I can see why palomar couldn't find what you were talking about because your readings aren't obvious unless you squint at it right, that is, unless you start with a certain set of assumptions.

Could you give her some benefit of the doubt? Assume that maybe, just maybe, she's a fairly normal human being? Maybe she has an SO. Maybe she's been attracted to people. Maybe there are Skeptics even that she thinks are cute.

It’s not okay to assume that any woman (or non-woman) is at a conference to be your plaything. Why the exclusive reading? "... is at a conference to be your plaything" My reading is that's not why they exist and it's not why they're there. That doesn't necessarily mean you can't "play" with people at conferences. Maybe you can play with one or some of them if they're up for it. I think the choice of the word "plaything" is deliberate. You can play with people, but they're not toys.

It’s not okay to proposition someone while they are at work. You completely ignored this one. Doesn't this imply, maybe, that she's OK with people flirting with her in other circumstances, when she's not, say, working a conference table? (This is a really common complaint, actually. If you don't believe me, see a gazillion dating AskMe's. The advice is always, if you attracted to someone you know from their job, to try to catch them when off work and then ask them out. Doing it when they're working makes them feel hassled, and you can't have a natural interaction.)

Quoting you now: You have no control over people's reaction, and they don't actually choose who they're attracted to either, it's a spontaneous thing. She's making a judgment against people who simply have sexual longings that I don't think is valid.

Yes, of course. We're attracted to people we think are attractive, including television personalities, waitresses, random people we run into and, yeah, conference speakers we think are cute. The thing is, you might consider that if you're attributing beliefs to someone that no human being could possibly think, that might not be what they meant.
posted by nangar at 3:12 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only point I'm making here is that Elyse is leaping from people "wanting sex" to "only wanting sex,"

This may be a leap, but the evidence that the couple wanted to do anything with Elyse but have sex is nil. The card isn't an offer for anything but sex. Assuming the people who handed it to her wanted anything else would also be a leap.
posted by immlass at 3:13 PM on June 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Having followed this back down the wormhole from MetaTalk...

Sexual harassment as popularly understood IS against the law.

Um. Right. Here's a thing - not the only thing, but definitely a thing. Certain forms of sexual harassment are against the law in certain geographies. Depending on geography, certain actions provide grounds for civil litigation against employers. Whether a particular set of behaviors is pursuable under Title VII (workplace) or IX (education), say, is a complex question, and a large number of factors are taken into account.

In other geographies, other standards apply. Other things - including rape - are felonies. The narrative you present of according-to-Hoyle sexual harassment:
a single mother who is grabbed, verbally accosted every day for years, threatened with job loss if she doesn't submit, and not rarely raped
Describes illegality above and beyond workplace regulations on sexual harassment - it describes grounds for Title VII litigation and also felony sexual assault. These are not things Elyse has complained of.

Conventions often have harassment policies which cover a number of things which are not actually illegal under the law of the land, or which might require considerable legal debate before a judgement could be given on whether there was a civil case to answer. And the consequences of breaching those policies (being asked to stop, being asked to leave, not being invited back) are not as serious as the consequences of breaking the law of the land.

The anti-harassment policy for this convention is here. As you can see, it covers a number of things which are not illegal, or rather which it would be very hard to justify litigation over, but are undesirable in the view of the conference organizers, and for which they reserve the right to eject you from the conference (but not to arrest, try or imprison you). Giving someone an invitation to group sex in card form is, Elyse is arguing, within the set of transgressions covered by the conduct standards of a private organization, not within the set of transgressions likely to lead to civil litigation or arrest by State or Federal authorities.

So, arguing that this isn't sexual harassment because it doesn't break the law of the land is... well, it's a thing you can do, but it's seeking to disprove something that nobody has said. Elyse hasn't said that anyone broke the law, or that she wants anyone prosecuted. She has said that she feels this to be a violation of her personal harassment boundaries, and understands it to be a violation of the harassment boundaries of the conference, and wants enforcement at that level.

And, honestly, saying, in effect, that it's not like she was repeatedly raped, and that you're offended on behalf of a rape survivor with whom you imagine Elyse would claim a commonality of experience, because the term "sexual harassment" might be used to describe events in both cases, is something I'd probably have avoided. Because it creates an imaginary situation involving, I assume, a hypothetical rape survivor whose only function is to create an hypothetical situation in which the Elyse in your narrative behaves like an entitled monster.

There is at least one perspective on this situation from an actual survivor of sexual assault in this thread - I don't think it needs the insertion of a hypothetical survivor of sexual assault on whose behalf to be offended...
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:50 PM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's probably a lot more perspectives from survivors of sexual assault than just one. They're just not all raising their hand.
posted by corb at 4:58 PM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Assuming the people who handed it to her wanted anything else would also be a leap.

it's a common logical fallacy, in my experience i usually hear it from women, that when someone expresses interest in a person sexually, that person interprets the other person's motives as *only* interested in sex.

when i go to a restaurant, the server doesn't think i'm objectifying her by *only* wanting her to give me my food, like some kind of robot object for my enjoyment, and not a fully formed human. rather, i know they are a human, that's the sub-context, but in the more local context there is an understanding so that i can cut to the content that is more immediately important. maybe if i met the server at a party, i could have a conversation with them, and in that case telling them to get me food would not be as appropriate.

in the case with the original link, presumably they share some common interest, atheism. and presumably he didn't just go there to give her the card, he most likely listened to her talk. most likely, in his mind she already passed the "this is a cool enough person" test and the "hot enough to have sex with" test. the key part is that given that she was asked she implicitly passed the "this is a cool enough person" test, whatever criteria that has. so, it's not as big of a leap to assume they might have liked her in other ways as well.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:28 PM on June 23, 2012


in the case with the original link, presumably they share some common interest, atheism. and presumably he didn't just go there to give her the card, he most likely listened to her talk. most likely, in his mind she already passed the "this is a cool enough person" test and the "hot enough to have sex with" test. the key part is that given that she was asked she implicitly passed the "this is a cool enough person" test, whatever criteria that has.

But they didn't invite her to their home to discuss atheism or vaccines or feminism or whatever; they invited her to check out their swinging website. If they wanted to invite her to do other stuff, they had the capability to do that. They chose not to. The context in this case, which nangar discussed some ways upthread, actually suggests that it was a fuck-you to complaints about sexual harassment.

so, it's not as big of a leap to assume they might have liked her in other ways as well.

Assuming you mean that "it's not as big a leap to assume they wanted to do nonsexual activities as well as have sex with her" by this, I disagree, especially given nangar's context.

It really boggles me that people have so much trouble with the idea that "hi I want to fuck you" is not always perceived as an unalloyed compliment and under a lot of conditions is perceived as an insult.
posted by immlass at 9:53 PM on June 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


cupcake1337 - As one of the many people who met their spouse at work, I definitely agree that one can have sexual interest in a person while simultaneously respecting them in other areas as well.

This defense doesn't really work in regards to the couple who are the subject of this thread though, because their immediate reaction to hearing this woman give a talk about the importance of vaccines was to....hand her a card offering a three-way.

Their behavior was no more appropriate than if I were to attend a Zadie Smith reading and slipped her a "So, how about a BJ?" card and then tried to hang my hat on a "Well, obviously my attendance here proves I think she's a great writer too" as a defense against the inappropriateness of my behavior.
posted by The Gooch at 10:21 PM on June 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


msalt, have you ever met any feminists? You know they actually date people, right?

This is condescending and obnoxious. It's precisely the kind of statement that undermines respectful conversation here.
posted by msalt at 2:32 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


> the server doesn't think i'm objectifying her by *only* wanting her to give me my food

Similarly, a conference speaker wouldn't think you were objectifying her if you wanted her only to speak at a conference.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:09 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also coming back to this post after a night's sleep, I'll add that it's not Elyse's responsibility to put the kindest possible interpretation on a sexual invitation. As women, many of us are socialized to interpret other people's behavior, especially men's, in the best possible light. As a feminist, like Elyse, I don't expect women to rationalize insulting behavior from men or generously view unsocialized behavior in the best possible light every time. If they want to be angry, even what other people might consider unreasonably angry, that's OK.
posted by immlass at 7:44 AM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


I guess I should explain what my own position is on this issue, something I haven't done yet:

I don't think this incident, taken in isolation, constitutes harassment according to the ordinary definition of the word. Harassment requires repetition of annoying, insulting,or threatening behavior. Taken on it's own, It's more of just a weird thing and fairly minor. If a conference wants to ban this sort of thing, though, as something like 'inappropriate solicitation', that's fine.

I've pointed out above, this incident occurred in the context of an ongoing pattern of harassment directed at members a political faction in the Skeptic Community that Elyse is a member of, much of which has been much more serious than this. I think it's very likely that both Elyse and the conference organizers perceived this as part of this pattern of harassment, at least initially, and that their reaction was much stronger because of this than it would have been otherwise. I think it's also quite likely that it wasn't intended that way.

I do think it's reasonable for organizations like this to have codes of conduct and for those policies to include policies on sexual harassment, as well as prohibitions on other problematic or disruptive behaviors such as heckling speakers, egregiously rude or obnoxious behavior (especially if repeated), and non-sexual forms of harassment. Communities and organizations do have have social norms, and when they get large enough to be difficult to self-manage, it makes sense for them to set up formal policies, and mechanisms for enforcing them if the mere existence of social norms and disapproval by other people doesn't work.

I do think that vaguely worded guidelines like prohibitions on "unwanted" or "unwelcome" sexual advances are problematic. I think reasonable people, who don't engage in behavior most of us would describe as harassment, have legitimate and reasonable concerns that such policies could lead to them facing official sanctions, such as firing or being banned from a conference, if they engage in ordinarily innocuous behavior such as flirting or asking someone on a date, if they get turned down or rebuffed and the other person decides to make a complaint.

To work, such policies need to be clear about what they are and are not prohibiting. They need to make it very clear that ordinary behavior like flirting or asking someone out is OK and not a problem unless you're persisting in pestering or hassling a person after they've told you to leave them alone. They need to make it clear that behavior most people would see as out of line, such as flashing people, or grabbing people's boobs or genitalia outside of situations where you're consensually making out with them, is not equated with flirting, and will be dealt with differently and appropriately. Such policies need to clarify both that complaints will be taken seriously, and that the people in charge of enforcing such a policy will exercise common sense and judgment in deciding whether and how to act on such a complaint or not.
posted by nangar at 12:59 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Harassment requires repetition of annoying, insulting,or threatening behavior

No, it doesn't.

Imagine if every guy gets to make an obnoxious pass a single time at every woman.
posted by empath at 1:04 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nangar -- very well put, thanks.

empath: Imagine if every guy gets to make an obnoxious pass a single time at every woman.

I don't think that's what anyone means. If someone is making an obnoxious pass at more than one person, that is repetition of that behavior by definition.
If someone does something once that conceivably might be clueless rather than hateful, it might or might not be harassment. But as soon as they repeat it, after being handed a clue, any doubt has been removed.
posted by msalt at 3:06 PM on June 24, 2012


I think reasonable people, who don't engage in behavior most of us would describe as harassment, have legitimate and reasonable concerns that such policies could lead to them facing official sanctions, such as firing or being banned from a conference, if they engage in ordinarily innocuous behavior such as flirting or asking someone on a date, if they get turned down or rebuffed and the other person decides to make a complaint.

Those are wildly different types of sanction, though. Being banned from a conference, or asked not to attend in future, is not the same as being fired from one's job.

And, of course, what happened in this case was neither flirting nor asking out on a date. I think if one assumes that reasonable people would not indulge in behavior that could be construed as harassing, one should consider that, by the same rubric, harassment policies are presumably also being applied by reasonable people. The fear that you can't even ask someone out for a coffee (unless you are in an elevator at 4am) without fear of having your career ruined feels like a non-reasonable fear, if one assumes that the bulk of people in the situation are themselves reasonable.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:17 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


If someone is making an obnoxious pass at more than one person, that is repetition of that behavior by definition. If someone does something once that conceivably might be clueless rather than hateful, it might or might not be harassment.

True. But that is only half the equation. What about the one person who is on the receiving end of single-time obnoxious passes from a number of different people? Even assuming that all of the attention is clueless rather than hateful, there's a cumulative impact that should not be overlooked or waved away. That single-use free pass to make one clumsy, obnoxious or unwelcome advance won't get spread out evenly. A small number of hapless, unwilling recipients wind up having to put up with a staggering amount of crap. And it becomes, intentionally or unintentionally, a very effective way of discouraging women from participating in activities dominated by men.
posted by ambrosia at 4:57 PM on June 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


That's a good point, but I don't see anyone advocating "a single-use free pass to make one clumsy, obnoxious or unwelcome advance." What Nangar suggested was "that the people in charge of enforcing such a policy will exercise common sense and judgment in deciding whether and how to act on such a complaint or not."
posted by msalt at 6:27 PM on June 24, 2012


msalt, thanks for finally responding to my request.

I still think you are wildly, deeply wrong.
posted by palomar at 8:09 PM on June 24, 2012


This is condescending and obnoxious. It's precisely the kind of statement that undermines respectful conversation here.

I'm sorry that came across as condescending, msalt. Looking back at what I said, I can see why it did. I think I'm making unwarranted assumption about you and where you're coming from in the same way I think you're making unwarranted assumptions about Elyse Anders. So, mea culpa, I shouldn't have done that.
posted by nangar at 9:03 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


nangar: "Harassment requires repetition of annoying, insulting,or threatening behavior"

No, it doesn't.

To build off what bitteschoen posted above....

Many sexual harassment policies adopted by organizations, employers, colleges and state institutions throughout the US and Canada do not recognize a "repetition requirement" for an act to qualify as sexual harassment. The qualifier for sexual harassment is usually that an act must be "severe or pervasive." Meaning that a single act of unwanted sexual conduct may indeed be considered severe enough to create a negative psychological and emotional environment, affecting their ability to participate at school or work. Which is one of the things sexual harassment laws and policies are put in place to prevent.

Quid Pro Quo-type harassment is often mentioned as a type of sexual harassment that does not require repetition to qualify, because it involves a power imbalance between employees. However, the power imbalance does not, (as asserted by someone upthread,) have to exist for sexual harassment to have occurred.

Some sample policies:
Stanford University (pdf)
University of Colorado (pdf)
The United Nations
US State Department.
The Massachusetts Commision Against Discrimination has a model anti sexual harassment policy which business and organizations can adopt for themselves.

Most of these specifically indicate that a single incident may be considered sexual harassment, if determined severe enough.
posted by zarq at 9:14 PM on June 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh, and since the question was raised earlier, Elyse Anders bio says she's a mother of two.
posted by zarq at 9:41 PM on June 24, 2012


I'm sorry that came across as condescending, msalt. Looking back at what I said, I can see why it did. I think I'm making unwarranted assumption about you and where you're coming from in the same way I think you're making unwarranted assumptions about Elyse Anders. So, mea culpa, I shouldn't have done that.

Thank you very much. I'm trying not to make any unwarranted assumptions about Elyse Anders or anyone here, but I'm open to hearing otherwise. I'm trying very hard to focus on her writing along (which is what is presented to us in the FPP). I don't think I've talked about the personal life of her or anyone in this discussion, as I don't consider that appropriate. But it's easy to get caught up in heated arguments and I may have slipped. Please point it out if I have or do.
posted by msalt at 11:26 PM on June 24, 2012


I find myself completely agreeing with Nangar here. But what ambrosia says is also true, too. Which makes me torn in a lot of ways.

I've been on the receiving end of a lot of street harassment, and it almost always pisses me off. At the same time, I've liked being hit on tastefully (by my definition) by people I find attractive, but I don't like being hassled by guys that I am not attracted to or that I think are tasteless.

I seriously do not know how to write rules that allow the one to happen, while still eliminating the massive amount of jerks. If anyone has ideas, I'm game.
posted by corb at 12:31 AM on June 25, 2012


In my actual comment I said:

I don't think this incident, taken in isolation, constitutes harassment according to the ordinary definition of the word. ... Taken on it's own, It's more of just a weird thing ...

I then explained (again) that in actual context that was missing from the FPP, this was not an isolated incident, and so was perceived quite differently.

I also said:

I do think it's reasonable for organizations like this to have codes of conduct and for those policies to include policies on sexual harassment, as well as prohibitions on other problematic or disruptive behaviors ...

and:

such policies ... need to make it clear that behavior most people would see as out of line, such as flashing people, or grabbing people's boobs or genitalia outside of situations where you're consensually making out with them, is not equated with flirting, and will be dealt with differently and appropriately.

(And by "appropriately" I mean "banned". Sorry if that wasn't clear.)

There's a difference between how "harassment" is defined colloquially and in policy. In terms of the colloquial meaning the term, most sexual harassment policies actually cover harassment and other aggressive or inappropriate sexual behavior. It's OK that they do this. There is behavior that's egregious enough to be prohibited even it happens only once. I think it's OK if the policy definition is not exactly the same as the colloquial one, if they prohibit behavior that needs to prohibited. (I wasn't clear about this, I guess.)

empath's mischaracterization of my position is not what I said. I agree with ambrosia that behavior can count as harassment if the harassee is subjected repeatedly to it, even if some individuals engage in it only once. This is true even under the colloquial definition of term. And adversarial behavior repeatedly experienced by someone is usually what the word refers to.

zarq, ambrosia, running order squabble fest, I don't think I disagree you very much. But I guess I'm now officially a really bad person for not agreeing with you in exactly the right way. Sorry for being cranky.
posted by nangar at 1:12 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, corb, I agree with ambrosia too. Since you can't police how someone will react, I think we're getting into what forms of 'hitting on' people are acceptable, and when and where it's OK. I believe in the last Skepchik thread jessamyn said at librarians' conferences they usually have a designated singles bar. If you're up for that, you can go there. It seems to work well for them.
posted by nangar at 1:23 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stephanie Zvan on different understandings of harassment:
Smaller acts add up to a larger effect if they are ongoing or inescapable. Being asked out on a date once in a place or a manner that you consider to be unacceptable is a small annoyance. Being unable to hang out at a event with your friends without being interrupted by someone who thinks they’re entitled to stand as close to you as they want is quite something else.

People aren’t oysters. If something is continually irritating us, we move. If harassing behavior is pervasive in a organization, participation in that organization is denied to or severely limited for anyone who doesn’t excrete the equivalent of mother of pearl.

As people are not oysters, it also doesn’t matter whether the irritant someone encounters today is the same as the irritant they encountered yesterday. This is why a single act from a single person is not necessarily “no big deal”. It can still constitute harassment if it occurs where other similar acts are happening. One small act by one person can’t create a hostile environment, but it can certainly contribute to one.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:32 AM on June 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


zarq, ambrosia, running order squabble fest, I don't think I disagree you very much. But I guess I'm now officially a really bad person for not agreeing with you in exactly the right way.

This is odd. I thought we were having a conversation - in fact, I think I put a liking-not-bookmarking favorite on one or more of your posts earlier. I'm surprised that you are employing this rhetoric in this way. I don't think attempting to personalize this - or rather, to make it about MeFite A vs MeFite B - is a good idea. It's adding smoke and heat without light.

If you have a quote where I say that you're officially a really bad person, or imply it heavily, maybe quote that, or take it to MetaFilter? If not, I'd suggest taking a look at why you might be feeling this way, but probably in your own time. And instead using our public time here talking about what I've actually said, rather than trying to make me feel or look bad about things I haven't.

For example, getting back ontopic: taz made a very good point a while back, which I think has gotten a little lost, about whether and where Elyse actually used the phrase "sexual harassment" to describe what happened. She doesn't - she talks about the harassment policy of the event as the relevant way to address the situation. The text of the policy bears that out:
SkeptiCamp Ohio is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion or beliefs in the Boogeyman. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form.
The section of the harassment policy most relevant to the situation is the directly following:
Explicit sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue.
(Which they are probably thinking of in terms of risqué presentation materials, or maybe T-shirts and posters in the merch/exhibition stands.)

The "unwanted sexual attention" bit is probably a derail - introduced by Klein. It probably also describes what happened, but the couple broke a rule above the fold, so there isn't any real need to get into what constitutes unwanted sexual attention, or when it's OK to call something actively unwanted rather than simply unsolicited.

However, Elyse at no point actually says "this is according-to-Hoyle sexual harassment". Which I think means that msalt's arrival in this thread from MetaTalk leads to a significant derail; msalt's first argument is that this is not sexual harassment, because of a set of characteristics that sexual harassment has (always illegal, involves a power imbalance - these are themselves open to criticism, of course, but I think we've already done that) which this situation does not share, and that it is misleading of Elyse to describe it as such.

Which leads to what I think I am happy to say I thought was a bad rhetorical strategy - although I am not operating in an official capacity when I say that - of imagining a woman who has been "not rarely raped", and further imagining that, upon meeting this woman, Elyse's response would be not, say, "I am very sorry to hear that", say, but something like "What happened to you could be described as sexual harassment, as could what happened to me - therefore, I have suffered as you have". Which is complicated by, as corb says, a not-negligible number of people in the discussion - including Elyse - potentially being survivors of sexual assault.

(Incidentally, msalt, to your question - I think that's a pretty big unwarranted assumption about whether or not Elyse is basically an offensively awful person, based on no particularly firm ground. And I think that might lead in to the problems you had with Palomar around the question of how Elyse might view human beings who have sexual longings in general.)

But anyway. Getting back to your position, nangar - which doesn't make you an officially bad person, if you need that reassurance:
I do think that vaguely worded guidelines like prohibitions on "unwanted" or "unwelcome" sexual advances are problematic. I think reasonable people, who don't engage in behavior most of us would describe as harassment, have legitimate and reasonable concerns that such policies could lead to them facing official sanctions, such as firing or being banned from a conference, if they engage in ordinarily innocuous behavior such as flirting or asking someone on a date, if they get turned down or rebuffed and the other person decides to make a complaint.
This, it seems to me, is all perfectly reasonable, but requires to be read in something of a vacuum. It's kind of like guys in the discussion of women being approached/catcalled/PUAed in the street or on the bus expressing their concern that their respectful, polite and friendly socialization with strangers (who might happen to be women) might be misinterpreted (keep an eye on that verb) as harassment. It's possible, because it's possible that it might feel like harassment, because there is so much harassment going on. But the danger that their friendly or respectfully romantic approach might be misread as harassment is quite a long way down the list of problems with this picture.

(The next question asked is usually "Well, how can I tell when it's OK to approach a woman I don't know?" - which I think you've responded to with the Skepticon singles bars. Singles bars are a good example of a space set up _precisely_ to alter the range of socially acceptable early-stage interactions between people for the purposes of increasing the possibilities of romantic or sexual connection. However, it is clearly still possible to be creepy or harassing in a singles bar; the bar - as it were - is just set differently.)

Harassment policies should definitely be clearly worded - I think there is clear wording in this one about sexual imagery. But they cannot define every action and degree that tips something over into harassment, nor should they attempt to.

And we live in this world, and in this world sexual harassment is a complex thing to prove. It requires long investigations - the EEOC might take months just to decide that a case wouldn't be strong enough to go to court. The vast majority of instances of workplace or other interaction which leave women - or gay people, or trans people, or people of minority ethnic or cultural groups, for that matter - feeling uncomfortable or threatened will never be reported and will certainly never go to court.

It is kind of odd - not bad, necessarily, but odd - to think that the thing to be worried about here is that flirting or asking someone on a date will lead to people losing their jobs, because there is, as far as I can tell, no case law to suggest that "innocuous" actions will lead to these possible sanctions. And, of course, there are recourses for people deprived of something meaningful or valuable (a job, a day they paid for to attend a conference, a reputation) as a result of disproportionate punishment of innocuous actions.

On the other hand, there are quite a few precedents for people's sense of what constitutes innocuous behavior differing: in this case, by his own account, the man handing over the sex card believed that what he was doing was innocuous - that it was a joke that Elyse "misinterpreted". This is also a fairly common element in harassment proceedings - the argument over whether a particular action was "just a bit of fun".

Which is why every workplace harassment manual says that the first thing you should do if you feel that you are subject to harassing behavior is to report it, either to the person whose behavior it is (who might not realize the impact they are having) or to a manager, or (if the harasser is your manager) to the Compliance Officer, Human Resources or another nominated authority. Some things are clearly more likely to provide a strong foundation for a Title VII or IX case than others. Some things are felonies, and will if reported be treated as such. Other things may be identified as not conducive to a good workplace environment - someone may not like innocuous flirting - and will be treated primarily as productivity issues.

(e.g. If Mr Johnson calls Mr Brown "Mr Brown" and Miss Svensson "Julie" in meetings, despite their having the same title and level of seniority, it damages Miss Svensson's morale. There is nothing inherently wrong with him calling her Julie - the issue is contextual - nor is it likely to support a sexual harassment case without aggravating factors. It's a productivity issue.)

I think it's perfectly understandable to be concerned about one's own likely area of practice being endangered or disrupted (I am assuming here that most of us are in little danger of, on a whim, handing a stranger a card inviting them to have sex with ourself and our spouse, whereas many of us probably indulge in a little office flirtation). However, the Disclosure model of sexual harassment - in which a sexual harassment proceeding is embarked upon maliciously against somebody whose conduct was innocuous, and the authorities are duped into supporting the fraudulent claim - is, I think, largely a Hollywood thing.

If a group of rational (or majority-rational) agents found themselves in a situation where one person reported that another's mild flrtation was upsetting, or rebuffed an invitation to dinner and asked that it not be resubmitted, the response would be, I think, to recalibrate their approach to that person (without ruling out the appropriateness of mild flirtation or invitations to dinner in the case of other co-workers in future). That would be entirely within the reasonable strictures of almost all harassment policies and certainly US law. No successful harassment case could be brought, and an employer launching severe disciplinary proceedings would likely find themselves on the receiving end of a countersuit for loss of earnings and/or reputational damage.

Slopes do exist, and some are slippery - it's possible that at some point in the future the perceived risks of litigation will create strict no-flirting, no-dinner-invitation rules in every workplace. But I think that that is actually a slippery _uphill_ slope - it would take a lot of time and effort to get there.

Tying it back to this case - we don't have a clear picture of what the consequences will be here. Groupsex McBoobs is not going to lose his job, clearly. He couldn't be banned from the conference, because the conference was over before the complaint was raised. He could be banned from future conferences organized by the same people, potentially, but there is no clear sign that this is happening, to my knowledge. It's unlikely that the loose-knit skeptical community would be able to, much less want to, ban him from all skeptical social or conference events.

As far as one can tell, the conference organizers contacted Mr. McBoobs and told him that there had been a complaint, and that handing out sexually explicit material at a conference was a) a violation of the conference harassment policy and b) mondo creepy. Mr. McBoobs disagrees with the latter (he maintains that Elyse "misunderstood" an innocuous and humorous action taken on a whim), but presumably, in light of the former, has undertaken not to do it again. That's roughly what would happen in a workplace. In some situations, the deflect/deny about misinterpretation would be cause for further action, probably some form of training progam, because it would be suggestive that the employee had difficulty with acknowledging other people's boundaries as valid. But, clearly, that's not something that is likely to happen here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:45 AM on June 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been on the receiving end of a lot of street harassment, and it almost always pisses me off. At the same time, I've liked being hit on tastefully (by my definition) by people I find attractive, but I don't like being hassled by guys that I am not attracted to or that I think are tasteless.

I seriously do not know how to write rules that allow the one to happen, while still eliminating the massive amount of jerks. If anyone has ideas, I'm game.


Well, writing rules is sort of pointless, since it's impossible that all guys everywhere will always follow them, and by definition, jerky guys won't even if they know the rules, because...jerks.

I've been hit on by guys I didn't find attractive (because...lesbian!), but when the hitting-on occurs in an appropriate kind of place - a bar or club, e.g. - and consists of dude going "Great show, right? Can I buy you a drink?" and I go "Yeah, love this band, no thanks," and he goes away - well, okay! Not harassment, to me. If some really hot woman I don't know comes up to me and says "Nice tits!" - um, no. Just...no. Or if she wants to buy me a drink but for whatever reason I don't want to stand around and talk to her but she won't take no for an answer - this is also behavior that falls into approaching/actually is harassment territory for me.
posted by rtha at 6:26 AM on June 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think the concern that people could fired for flirting is unfounded, and know it has to seem weird to be talking about purely hypothetical concerns that some men have while we're also talking about things that are real problems for woman (and sometimes men), but I think such concerns are often sincere, if misguided, and allaying them by clarifying what is and isn't meant by 'unwanted sexual advances' and similar terms can be helpful in getting more people on board with the idea of having such policies. (To phrase this a little differently: I don't think this is a real problem; I think that it's perceived to be a problem is a problem.)

It's worth noting that some of the people who've been arguing in favor of anti-harassment policies in the Skeptic Community have been trying to address this.


Yeah, that last comment of mine was unnecessarily personal and pissy. I wish I could delete everything but the next to the last paragraph. Pretty much everything but "I agree with ambrosia" is me overreacting to stuff.
posted by nangar at 7:27 AM on June 25, 2012


nangar: " zarq, ambrosia, running order squabble fest, I don't think I disagree you very much. But I guess I'm now officially a really bad person for not agreeing with you in exactly the right way. Sorry for being cranky."

I see on preview that you addressed this, but I just want to chime in that my comment wasn't intended to attack you personally. It merely addressed an aspect of your argument that had been raised earlier in the thread. At least 2 or 3 people in this thread declared that this single incident didn't measure up to the definition of sexual harassment because it was not repeated. It's an argument I feel isn't a great one for many reasons, including those outlined by running order squabble fest above. So even though I was quoting you alone, my comment was more aimed at everyone who had raised the argument in the thread.

I realize I gave you no indication of that. Sorry.

I also appreciate that your position is more nuanced and better fleshed out than others who have raised the idea. So thanks for that.
posted by zarq at 7:37 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that last comment of mine was unnecessarily personal and pissy. I wish I could delete everything but the next to the last paragraph. Pretty much everything but "I agree with ambrosia" is me overreacting to stuff.

Ah, no problem. It stung me into thinking a lot about stuff - or at least writing a lot, which is not necessarily that same thing.

And I totally feel you about the problem/perceived problem thing - although I'd question whether the confusion is also sincere. I suspect that there are many people - primarily but not exclusively men - who actively seek to maintain this confusion, in order to build resentment against unions and equality movements for restricting freedoms they have no actual interest in restricting.

So, I think it's used, intentionally or unintentionally, as part of deny/deflect/derail ("How can it be sexual harassment when she didn't complain/led them on/wasn't touched/was their boss?"/"Aren't men even allowed to be friendly to women any more?"/"What about women who are murdered/people-trafficked/genitally mutilated? Shouldn't we be thinking about them, not the hurt feelings of an affluent westerner?").

So, if it were just "what about the mens?" I think that would look weird - because, as you say, it basically doesn't happen, whereas people - primarily but not exclusively women - do get sexually harassed, for various values of "sexually harassed", in the workplace. But as a tactic either adopted or taught in the struggle against fighting sexual harassment and other inequalities, I absolutely get where you're coming from. I wouldn't describe those concerns as legitimate or reasonable, exactly, but I take the point that at least some of the people advancing them are sincerely convinced that they are endangered, however phantasmic this danger actually is.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


(also sincere=always sincere)
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:57 AM on June 25, 2012


running order: I suspect that there are many people - primarily but not exclusively men - who actively seek to maintain this confusion,

I suspect you're quite right about this.

I wouldn't describe those concerns as legitimate or reasonable, exactly, ...

Yeah, poor choice of words on my part. "Frequently sincere" would work.


zarq: It merely addressed an aspect of your argument that had been raised earlier in the thread. ... I realize I gave you no indication of that. Sorry.

It's OK. I was taking this way too personally.
posted by nangar at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's easy to do when the stakes are high, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 8:37 AM on June 25, 2012


If we were all in the same room I'd offer to get coffee/booze/snacks for everyone.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


nangar: " It's OK. I was taking this way too personally."

It's okay. You're not alone. There have definitely been threads where my frustration has gotten the better of me.

I have a tendency to be hypersensitive to anyone I think is attempting to diminish the harrassee in a situation like this, and at times it takes a lot of conscious effort not to take on threads guns-a-blazin'. I suspect that this is probably a common reaction for people who have had to deal with either some form of sexual abuse (like me), assault and/or harassment. But it could just be me.

It's been a long, frustrating thread. But it's also been edifying, I think.
posted by zarq at 8:54 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


And just to be clear (because re-reading my comment I see how it might give the wrong impression) I do not think you were trying to diminish or dismiss Elyse Anders, nangar.
posted by zarq at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2012


running order squabble fest: (Incidentally, msalt, to your question - I think that's a pretty big unwarranted assumption about whether or not Elyse is basically an offensively awful person, based on no particularly firm ground.

I'm not at all sure what you are talking about. Where did anyone say Elyse is an offensively awful person?
posted by msalt at 3:20 PM on June 25, 2012


Well – you did say that Elyse is being flatly judgmental toward other people simply because of their "sexual longings." That is the part that seems to have bothered people. I think that some people believe that, since judging others solely on the basis of their "sexual longings" is offensive and awful, saying that a person makes such judgments, particularly publicly and repeatedly, is labeling them "an offensively awful person."
posted by koeselitz at 4:14 PM on June 25, 2012


(Remember – much earlier in this conversation, the charge that Elyse and all of her defenders are prudish haters of sex who need to get over ourselves was leveled without compunction. It makes sense that some are still sensitive to it.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, msalt - I did ramble on a bit, and probably tripped over my toes. I've been a bit hectic lately, and I think it's been showing. That statement was a reference back to:
Which leads to what I think I am happy to say I thought was a bad rhetorical strategy - although I am not operating in an official capacity when I say that - of imagining a woman who has been "not rarely raped", and further imagining that, upon meeting this woman, Elyse's response would be not, say, "I am very sorry to hear that", say, but something like "What happened to you could be described as sexual harassment, as could what happened to me - therefore, I have suffered as you have". Which is complicated by, as corb says, a not-negligible number of people in the discussion - including Elyse - potentially being survivors of sexual assault.
Which was in turn a reference back to:
One overture, without coercion, threat of violence or repetition, I don't think that's comparable to a single mother who is grabbed, verbally accosted every day for years, threatened with job loss if she doesn't submit, and not rarely raped. But that more severe scenario that is not, sadly, uncommon. I find it offensive for this blogger to say "Yeah I had that happen to me too."
Which - well, like I said, it didn't work for me. The use of a hypothetical multiple rape survivor felt emotionally off, which may well be about my damage rather than the metaphor. But I also thought it didn't reflect what had happened - on one level because Elyse hadn't specifically used the phrase "sexual harassment", on another level because the kind of abuse you were hypothesizing was described accurately but not completely by "sexual harassment" - so it already felt odd to imagine a situation in which the rape survivor was describing her experience primarily in terms of sexual harassment, IYSWIM. And then it felt like an imaginative reach to imagine Elyse saying to or of that survivor "Yeah I had that happen to me too." Because it would involve plugging data I didn't have into the representation of Elyse: specifically that she was self-absorbed and totally devoid of empathy. Or, shorthanded there, and I think picking up unconsciously on your language, "an offensively awful person".

It's not a big thing; I think I was still thinking about nangar saying that s/he thought I thought s/he was a bad person, and that struck me as a bad _piece of rhetoric_ - because you can think people have bad ideas without them being bad people.

So, with respect to koeselitz, that was the part I was specifically thinking about in terms of your rhetorical construction relying on the unproven status of Elyse as an offensively awful person - specifically, an awful person (my phrase) by whose imagined actions you are offended (your term).
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:25 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, what you heard was very far from what I intended to say. I'm sorry my wording was so clumsy. "Not rarely raped" was just very poorly constructed phrasing. I meant to say that it is not uncommon for victims of sexual harassment, e.g. in the workplace, to be raped, not that one hypothetical person would be frequently raped.

Furthermore, I consider any sex obtained through coercion to be rape, which I understand that not everyone may use that meaning. So what I meant was that a victim of sexual harassment might have to live with forced sex over months or years, forced by threat of losing your job perhaps rather than physical force, but possibly also by both -- such cases continue to happen today. Not rarely. Because coercive people coerce and escalate. That's what I meant.

I think one of the awful things about sexual harassment is the distinction most people apply between different types of coercion. It's not rare to hear people complain about a victim of sexual harassment like "Oh, she's sleeping with the boss, sleeping her way up the ladder" or whatever.

In Elyse's case, though, there was (IMHO) simply no coercion. She actually complains that the couple left a card and walked away, rather than confronting her directly with a proposition, as a further injury, and then complains that a married couple approaching her and leaving a card was "more intimidating and threatening" -- because there were two of them and one of her -- even though she didn't even know they had left a sexual message until after they were gone.

So, yes, I am offended that she is comparing her situation, in very strong language, to that of the women in the article I linked, where drill sergeants, who have the right to yell at and order you around, are using their power to force women under their power to have sex. And in some cases, they go further and rape them by anyone's definition.

I think this swinger couple was inappropriate and offensive and deserved to be banned immediately from the conference (I would have) and publicly ridiculed. That's all good. I also think that Elyse as a professional writer went too far in describing the situation in ways that muddy these issues, and I don't think it's wrong or anti-feminist to say so.
posted by msalt at 4:59 PM on June 25, 2012


Ah! Right, yes, I misread that. I'll get my head straight on meanings and have another think about the whole thing... Sorry about that.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:09 PM on June 25, 2012


Well my wording was very clumsy at best. I apologize for that. While I'm here, there's also the issue of, was Elyse talking about sexual harassment or not? I think she clearly was. She does tend to use the word harassment rather than "sexual harassment" but there's no doubt that she sees this couple's actions in sexual terms. And she uses the terms interchangeably.

In the followup article, here she quotes that Marty Klein guy and responds to him:

* Some people want a policy on Sexual Harassment
Yes, I do. And the conference had one in place.
* Some people want a zero-tolerance policy on Sexual Harassment—one COMPLAINT and you’re out
Zero-tolerance, yes. One complaint and you’re out? No.
...
Oh, sweet sweet naive, Dr. Klein, I think it’s adorable that you think that sexual harassment ended by 1980. But I hate to tell you, it didn’t.

And in the comments, responding to people there. RobRoss posts:
So does Elyse consider the original incident sexual harassment, or just inappropriate behavior?
and she replies
Yes, I consider it harassment. In the same way I would consider it harassment if you dropped a picture of your dick on your coworker’s desk.
posted by msalt at 5:23 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, I see your point...

So, am I right in thinking that... (winds clockwork in head):

1) You concur that what happened to Elyse comes under the harassment policy of the event, and that it was clearly sexual in nature - but that you don't feel that that is sufficient to describe it as sexual harassment, because it doesn't fall under the Title VII or Title IX infractions identified as sexual harassment in workplaces or educational establishments.

2) That therefore you see the problem as being that she is using the term "sexual harassment" to describe a broad range of things, some of which (including her case) do not fall under the Title VII or Title IX infractions identified as sexual harassment in workplaces or educational establishments, or felony sexual assault.

3) That you agree that the behavior of the guy with the cards was unacceptable, and that he deserved to be taken to task for it according to the policies of the event, but you don't want it to be called "sexual harassment", because it risks reducing people's perceptions of the severity of Title VII and Title IX sexual harassment, and the felony sexual violence it can lead to - and that you find it offensive for Elyse to be using that term to describe a non-coercive, non-sustained encounter?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:19 AM on June 26, 2012


So I was considering the other day my attitudes about women.

I was at an amusement park on a hot day. I usually leave my glasses in the car because I don't like to have to keep track of them on fast rides, but I'm stunningly hypermetropic so I don't see so well. Like, for instance, I tend to only notice the shapes (and especially the fore and aft paired adipose deposits) of women and young ladies. Who, in the heat and informality, are dressed sparsely.

I love the sensualness of women; I am almost captive to the physicality of a great diversity of women; I have a great desire for sex on a daily basis; I have an avid, engrossing, and accommodating imagination.

So I am already at risk of seeing many women as just an outlet for a phylogenetically primitive urgency of lustfulness and sensuality. Now at the amusement park I can literally only see their boobs.

Standing in line for a roller coaster, one begins to think. And do credit me: this was no epiphany. I've long thought about the contradictions to what I credited was a feminist nature. These young women and ladies are of course persons in the fullest
sense. Are of course individuals with talents and misgivings and fears and interests and the plenum of human circumstances--and against whom I am cognizant there are a multitude of soft barriers in the form of (typically innocuous-ized) male attention and aggression and objectification. I don't want to be the jerk that makes a young woman uncomfortable, or holds her back, or continues a pattern of behavioral stupidity. And I know that, in many instances, when I'm trying to be cognizant of not being that jerk, I will not really be aware of the ways in which I am that jerk. Not quite an incapability of awareness, but some pretty crafty blinders.

So then I feel bad about seeing only the boobs, in a figurative sense. And feeling bad that I wonder, fleetingly and as it were off the cuff, how the ultra-talented and bright women with whom I work look without a shirt on, or how their muff is styled, etc.

But then also thinking: well, but if this is really so off the cuff, so automatic, so difficult to control in a rigorous neuropsychological sense (which I have not proved, but that's the leap one takes when simultaneously navigating a grimy ride queue), then isn't it silly to enforce a norm of shame upon impulses and thoughts which come so naturally? I really like breasts and hips, buttocks, waists, dimples of venus, legs, the popliteal space, the clavice, the neck, the nape, the belly. The anterior superior iliac spine; the small of the back; the inner thigh. I can hardly believe I was simply socialized to like these the things; not to the degree of ardour with which I like them.

One must, of course, own the feelings one has, but be vigilant about acting upon them in ways that objectify women, fairly sensu lato. Okay, but having those feelings, as previously mentioned, masks and distorts perceptions and introspections about behavior. Very crafty and intricate blinders. So I can't be sure, burdened with this ultimately bizarre ardour for--what?--squeezing evolutionarily modified sweat glands, that my decisions are all appropriate.

And God forbid I should lose the ardor. Certain Doctors of the Church may have found it liberating to abolish their sexuality through orchiectomy, and I certainly am in no position to argue with their decisions. But I have spent short times floating down a placid river on a raft of serotonin. As if my libido were a drop of attar diffused in a wide ocean. This was not, to put it bluntly, a pleasant sensation.

At which point I get literally strapped into a roller coaster car and carried up a hill. I have no solution except for potentially radical conception that to be a male and a feminist means constant attention to the words and cues of actual women and corresponding adaptation of my own behavior. This, finally, almost seems like an epiphany, or at least a flash of understanding, as we crest the lift hill and go on a jerky and thrilling ride.
posted by adoarns at 5:48 AM on June 26, 2012


adoarns, seriously, what is your point with that?
posted by sweetkid at 6:51 AM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


running order squabble fest: So am I right in thinking that ....

No, nothing nearly so legalistic as that.

The offensive couple (interesting that you remove the wife from this scenario) violated the clear rules of the conference, in an environment that was already supercharged due to previous incidents of harassment and weird blowback from those incidents (I don't know the details). Conferences and public events get to make whatever rules they want and as Elyse notes, federal sexual harassment law is not the only issue. (See the Dave Chappelle topic re: hecklers).

But as a writer, Elyse is presenting this to the general public as a terrible case of sexual harassment, using language of intense violation. They have treated her horribly, reducing her to a sexual object, treating her as their sexual plaything, "intimidating and threatening" her, violating her further by "removing [my] ability to have a say in the situation" which turns out to mean that "They left before I even looked at the card."

This is where she loses me. It's not that I imagine some hypothetical conversation between Elyse and one victim of severe sexual harassment. Her blogs are that conversation, with the general public, and she is presenting herself as that victim of severe sexual harassment. This will naturally engage the sympathy of the reading audience, and make for a more interesting blog post, but you know what? A swinger couple left an obnoxious calling card face down on the table, indicating if you're interested call us for sex, and walked away. That's all that happened.
posted by msalt at 7:37 AM on June 26, 2012


weird blowback from those incidents (I don't know the details).

This "weird" blowback would be better described as misogynistic and at times violent. Elyse's colleague Rebecca Watson experienced horrendous reactions to her suggestion that men shouldn't proposition women alone in elevators at 4am. These reactions included rape and death threats and messages such as "Rebecca, you will go through life thinking that men don’t like you because your a woman. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re a [vulgar reference to genitalia redacted]."

This context might help explain why Elyse describes her situation using language more severe than you think she should.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:53 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


adoarns: " I have no solution except for potentially radical conception that to be a male and a feminist means constant attention to the words and cues of actual women and corresponding adaptation of my own behavior. "

Are you're saying that it takes constant vigilance on your part to treat women with respect and not solely as objects of desire?

I'm male. I'm feminist. I don't need to constantly adapt my behavior to keep my libido from taking over. I don't understand your perspective.
posted by zarq at 7:55 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


zarq: "Are you're"

"Are you." Sorry. $#@^&%! Autocorrect.
posted by zarq at 7:57 AM on June 26, 2012


adorns: a thread about the objectification of a woman isn't an appropriate place for how much you "really like breasts and hips, buttocks, waists, dimples of venus, legs, the popliteal space, the clavice, the neck, the nape, the belly" of women, all women, women who are indistinguishable from each other.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


OK. msalt, so your beef is entirely with how Elyse described the incident? You're not in fact saying that organizations shouldn't have policies on sexual harassment, or that they shouldn't call them that?


I have another question for you. You said earlier:

The only point I'm making here is that Elyse is leaping from people "wanting sex" to "only wanting sex," ...

and:

People can have sexual longings without ONLY being sexual, or regarding the person they are longing for as ONLY sexual. (ie, you think Elyse believes the opposite.)

Am I right in understanding that this is something you think Elyse believes, not something you think all feminists believe?


(It's likely these questions come across as unfair. I've been baffled by your position so far. It's only in your last couple of responses that it's starting to make sense. I'm trying to confirm if I'm understanding you correctly.)
posted by nangar at 8:31 AM on June 26, 2012


adoarns, sorry, not adorns. My browser's spellchecker took over.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:38 AM on June 26, 2012


Nangar: Your questions are entirely fair and reasonable and I appreciate your effort to understand where I'm coming from. Obviously I am not making myself very clear here, and I apologize for that. I realize that many if not most of the people here have had traumatic experiences around these issues in the past (myself included) and I should be working harder to choose my words carefully.

The short answer is yes, to both questions. It's great when organizations have policies on sexual harassment (and other harassment) and I very much agree with your earlier point, that these should be as clear as possible because that works better politically (it gets people on board who might otherwise fight it). It probably also makes them more effective.

(BTW, I am both a standup comedian, and someone who works at conferences on the official side. In both cases I'm all for running a tight ship, laying out clear policies and taking care of customers, including when that means policing offensive customers. In fact, I wonder -- only half kidding -- if "sexual heckling" might be a better term for some of these crappy propositions.)

And absolutely, I am only referring to Elyse's comments in these essays, when I talk about stretching from "wanting sex" to "only wanting sex." No comments on feminism generally intended at all. I don't even know anything about her writing or talks or life experience outside of the articles in this FPP. I'm just reacting to those two blog articles, and her responses to the comments below each.

I think the singles bar area is a great idea, by the way. Haven't heard that before. Like a designating smoking area. Good, clear boundaries for everyone.
posted by msalt at 10:40 AM on June 26, 2012


The offensive couple (interesting that you remove the wife from this scenario)

Not really interesting, merely accurate - I just read the article and followed the events as described. The man speaks, the man puts down the card, the man responds to the email. What the woman thinks about this course of events is available only from her inaction and his use of the first person plural after the first paragraph of his email. Thus her position, beyond having posed for the photo and not slapped her partner across the chops, is opaque.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:47 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


msalt: “But as a writer, Elyse is presenting this to the general public as a terrible case of sexual harassment, using language of intense violation. They have treated her horribly, reducing her to a sexual object, treating her as their sexual plaything, "intimidating and threatening" her, violating her further by ‘removing [my] ability to have a say in the situation’ which turns out to mean that ‘They left before I even looked at the card.’”

Hm. I am pretty sure that's not what she meant by that. When she says "They left before I even looked at the card," it's in the context established two sentences before that the couple "acted inappropriately and then immediately left the premises to avoid any consequences." And she points to the fact that they left immediately several times, not as a terrible thing that they did (I have a feeling she is not wishing they'd stopped to chat with her) but as evidence that they were well and completely aware that it was totally inappropriate to drop a naked sex-proposition card on somebody unawares, and that they were aware that everybody else knew it was inappropriate. That seems like a rational inference to me.

“This is where she loses me. It's not that I imagine some hypothetical conversation between Elyse and one victim of severe sexual harassment. Her blogs are that conversation, with the general public, and she is presenting herself as that victim of severe sexual harassment. This will naturally engage the sympathy of the reading audience, and make for a more interesting blog post, but you know what? A swinger couple left an obnoxious calling card face down on the table, indicating if you're interested call us for sex, and walked away. That's all that happened.”

Well – I really feel like this is a point introduced in Marty Klein's piece that Elyse has tried to respond to. Specifically, she says this:

from Elyse's response: “See, this is where that tiny change in context at the beginning of the story changes a lot of things. Dr Klein portrays this as some poor couple inviting me to have sex with them after misreading what they thought were signals that I might be interested. And after they propositioned me, I ran straight to conference organizers and my blog and started screaming ZOMG ALMOST RAPED IN OHIO! HELP! HEEEEEEELP! RAAAAAAPPPPPPEEEEE!!!! ... I was handed a sex card, while I was working, that was in no way welcome, and the couple had no reason to believe that attention was welcome. They ran off before I even looked at the card. They violated my boundaries, belittled my professionalism and offered me no way to respond to them. I was mad. And I blogged about why it was inappropriate. ... I never said I was a victim. I said I was offended. Because I was. Because that’s valid. Because my sexuality is not up for grabs. Because I shouldn’t have to defend that. Because women are often dismissed based on their fuckability (which must lie in perfect balance… must not be too fuckable but must not be unfuckable). Because there was a rule in place against such attention. Because I didn’t want the attention. Because it’s the IRL equivalent of trolling, essentially declaring that they’d fap to my talk.”

Now, I can see that she's responding to larger trends in society here, so what she's saying gets wrapped up in the "women are often dismissed based on their fuckability," etc. But the gist of this seems to be that she's not saying this is the most horrific thing that's ever happened to anybody at a conference, and she's not saying she was the victim of severe harassment. She's saying that she was sexually propositioned at a conference in a really direct way that was wholly inappropriate, and that that in itself isn't cool.

And I have to say – I think that's fair. I agree that there are things that are much worse, but does the fact that there are things that are much worse mean that people shouldn't make some noise and say "this here thing is inappropriate"? I can get pretty upset personally about people having access to really good books and to certain kinds of information. Sure, being denied that access is not the same as wasting away in a concentration camp – but things have different levels of importance, and things that are not the most severe things can still be inappropriate and wrong things that we as a community need to talk about.

msalt: “The only point I'm making here is that Elyse is leaping from people ‘wanting sex’ to ‘only wanting sex,’ not just with this oddball couple but generally. You can be attracted to a public speaker and still value them as an intelligent and thoughtful person doing great work. For many people, in fact, valuing them that way would make them more attractive.”

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't believe that Elyse really cares what the card-carrying couple wanted. If she does, well, I disagree with her on this point, then – I really don't think it matters what they want. Desires and feelings can't be policed or regulated, nor is it really very easy to say with authority that anybody can know in a simple what they themselves want or desire. That's a tangle that I don't think rules and regulations can get into.

What I think Elyse is talking about, however – and what I object to in what happened – is the fact that the interaction which the couple chose to have with her in person was purely sexual. And it seems to me that it's difficult to argue otherwise. Clearly the card was sexual. And, as we've discussed above, I don't think the context should be ignored here; not just the context of Skepticism conferences, but the context of the experience of women in society generally speaking.

The point here is that they led off with a sexual interest in Elyse and made it the center of their communication with her. It's hard for any person in that situation not to feel sexualized, I think; the point of the card is that you are desired for sexual activity, and in lieu of any other messages (since she had almost no other interaction with them otherwise, there were none) the strong implication is that you are desired solely for sexual activity. In this isolated incident, maybe it is possible to squint at this and make it appear as though this might really just be an awkward fumble by a couple who is really into her work and in addition is interested in her sexually. But the sexual contact was made primary. And this is something that happens to women daily, so it's understandable that she would be a bit fed up. Constant sexualization, constant attempts to initiate purely sexual contact, are sort of a depressing fact of life for women in this society. Elyse is saying: this is an example of it; and it's not cool. It isn't rape, it isn't murder, but it's still not a good thing, and it's worth it to say so and to talk about it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:35 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't believe that Elyse really cares what the card-carrying couple wanted. If she does, well, I disagree with her on this point, then – I really don't think it matters what they want. Desires and feelings can't be policed or regulated, nor is it really very easy to say with authority that anybody can know in a simple what they themselves want or desire. That's a tangle that I don't think rules and regulations can get into.

I agree with your position completely but I don't think Elyse does. And that is one of my objections to her blog post. That's what I see when I read her saying:
The assumption that it’s impossible for women to speak at a conference without arousing the audience is pretty awful.

I don't think it is awful for someone to be aroused by an impressive speaker. It's a fact of life, for male or female speakers, that some people in the audience may be aroused. I think she genuinely is bothered by them being aroused by her, which would explain why she goes on to charge that they were "essentially declaring that they’d fap to my talk.”
posted by msalt at 3:33 PM on June 26, 2012


What the woman thinks about this course of events is available only from her inaction and his use of the first person plural after the first paragraph of his email. Thus her position, beyond having posed for the photo and not slapped her partner across the chops, is opaque.

Elyse consistently describes her interactions as with them as a couple, not the man as an individual, and says them approaching her as a couple was more "threatening and intimidating" because 2 vs. 1. The wife was in the picture, and I don't think you can ignore the fact that they are swingers. They have sex, together, with strangers. Given that, it doesn't seem realistic to deny the wife agency in her actions.
posted by msalt at 3:38 PM on June 26, 2012


this is where that tiny change in context at the beginning of the story changes a lot of things.

The "tiny change" as Elyse sarcastically notes, was Marty Klein saying that Elyse had "gotten friendly" with the couple before this event, when all they had done was friend each other on Facebook. That was a dishonest distortion on his part and has nothing to do with what I'm saying.

Elyse may say the words "I am not saying I'm a victim" but she uses terminology of victimization throughout. They are diminishing her, reducing her, denying her the ability to respond. She was threatened and intimidated (because the wife was there too). IRL, this couple put a business card down on the table and walked away. That's all they did. She describes that as her "being forced into a sexually charged situation without a say."

It isn't any legal definition that makes her account too similar to tales of much worse sexual harassment. It's precisely this framing of victimhood. She was in the position of power, the headliner of the show, surrounded by other people wishing her well. Safe.
posted by msalt at 3:52 PM on June 26, 2012


...at least until she reaches the parking lot.

The wife was in the picture, and I don't think you can ignore the fact that they are swingers. They have sex, together, with strangers. Given that, it doesn't seem realistic to deny the wife agency in her actions.

I don't think I mentioned agency in her actions. I stated, as a matter of fact, that there were no attributed actions. If you want to start attributing acts, that's fine, but it's hypothesis, not reportage. And, in my experience, even couples who have sex with other people might feel and behave very differently.

I'm not sure what point you are trying to make, though. Your argument - that Elyse is overegging the outrage pudding - is surely better served if there is only one active agent?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:54 PM on June 26, 2012


I don't think it is awful for someone to be aroused by an impressive speaker. It's a fact of life, for male or female speakers, that some people in the audience may be aroused.

Really? I think when people are sexually aroused by the charisma of a speaker they generally aren't paying much attention to content. I would be pretty insulted if someone (gender irrelevant) came up and propositioned me after my stirring talk "Critical appraisal of observational studies", because I don't believe you can really engage with the subject, which is my whole goal in addressing an audience, if you're thinking about hot sexytimes with me. (Let's just take it as read that a talk about "How I'd Love to Hump You Right Now" isn't what we're discussing. If it helps at all, the title of Elyse Anders' talk is "Vaccinate Your Damn Kids".)
posted by gingerest at 5:58 PM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Elyse has a couple more recent posts about the issue.

About the American Atheists draft Code of Conduct:

I am really happy with what they’ve put together. They wanted a sex-positive policy that, at the same time, allows for a safe and comfortable conference for everyone. I think they accomplished that quite well ...
(Includes a copy of the policy.)

About the debate:

... in the middle of demanding respect, we get told that if we want to be treated equally, we need to ask for it nicer. ...

If you’re upset about something, you’re asked to please lay it out, logically and in detail, what exactly is upsetting, so it can be analyzed and determined whether your reaction to this specific incident is fair. Explain and re-explain why your reaction is fair.

I feel like we go through this a lot. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting. Hopefully, in the end, we’ll come out as a better community.

posted by nangar at 7:45 PM on June 26, 2012


I think when people are sexually aroused by the charisma of a speaker they generally aren't paying much attention to content.

If all goes well, a keynote speaker will be addressing 100 to 1,000 people in the audience. Given human nature, it is almost a statistical certainty that one or more of those people will be aroused by the speaker. People -- female or male -- are aroused all the time by actors, politicians, television hosts, musicians, and other performers who are not at all trying to be sexy.

Arousal is not a conscious choice, right? I hope you agree with that much. Even Koeselitz did. There's no accounting for taste. So IMHO, it's kind of odd to be upset that someone is attracted to a public figure. It happens all the time.

How people act on that attraction is a different story. but your judgment that people aren't paying attention to someone if they're attracted to them, what do you base that on? In my experience, people who wholeheartedly agree with a performer are much more likely to be attracted to them, not much less.
posted by msalt at 2:29 AM on June 27, 2012


I don't buy your "statistical certainty" - maybe if you're talking about that momentary sexual arousal that's related to that ancient men-think-of-sex-every-7-seconds canard, but not the kind of arousal that's sustained for more than a few seconds.

To be as clear as possible: I said I would be insulted, not "upset", and I am not insulted that someone was aroused by a public figure. I said that I would be insulted if someone who was supposed to be listening to my talk, to what I said, not only let their attention be diverted by their sexual arousal, but let that arousal take over so completely they came up to me afterwards, told me they were aroused, and made a pass. Urgh.

There's attraction and then there's totally ignoring that a person who is giving a lecture isn't there to be your sex person.
posted by gingerest at 3:51 AM on June 27, 2012


She was in the position of power, the headliner of the show, surrounded by other people wishing her well. Safe.

People hold multiple positions of power and safety simultaneously. At the conference Elyse was in the position of respected speaker and, as a woman in our cultural networks of power, a position where she was susceptible to inappropriate sexual communication.

How people act on that attraction is a different story.

Which is what sparked this controversy in the first place. You cite Elyse's comment, "The assumption that it’s impossible for women to speak at a conference without arousing the audience is pretty awful." I can't read this without supplying the implicit statement that is provided by the context of her experience: "without arousing the audience to the extent that they violate established norms in communicating this arousal to the speaker."

It isn't any legal definition that makes her account too similar to tales of much worse sexual harassment. It's precisely this framing of victimhood.

The extent of victimization does not matter for understanding the underlying causes of these problematic behaviors: sexism, misogyny, and other systemic injustices.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:03 AM on June 27, 2012


Aha! It suddenly strikes me some of our difference in perspective in this may arise from the fact that you are a stand-up comedian and I am an academic scientist, and the two goals of our public speaking are profoundly different. Your talks are intended to provoke a variety of emotional reactions, including laughter, with the intent people will remember what you've said and think about it later. My talks are chiefly didactic and technical. We both need to capture and keep the attention of our audiences, but the motivations of those audiences are quite different. But I expect the attention of my audience, and you have to win it. If I lose the attention of my audience, they sigh and wiggle, and in the case of undergrads, roll their eyes, send texts, and talk. If you lose yours, they shout mean things and throw stuff.

I think attention to presentations intended to entertain is very compatible with mild sexual (and other emotional) arousal in a way that presentations intended to convey complex technical information are not. (Also with alcohol.)

I think that Elyse's talk has more in common with my usual milieu than yours. But maybe not.
posted by gingerest at 4:04 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Aha! It suddenly strikes me some of our difference in perspective in this may arise from the fact that you are a stand-up comedian and I am an academic scientist, and the two goals of our public speaking are profoundly different.

Oh my God. This sentence has made my day.

And is also a really good point - I was mulling something similar with pop/rock stars, for whom a degree of arousal in the audience is, if not the norm, certainly understood and in some cases encouraged. So, Rihanna dances and dresses onstage in a way that is - if I understand it right - intended to be in some order sexual - although that will be received in different ways by different sectors of her fan base: for young fans it might be not wholly understood, but feel adult (back in my day clean-cut, wholesome rock'n'rollers were a sort of safe way for young people to experiment with feelings of obsessive love and desire). For fans who are in the attraction target bracket it might be sexually arousing, either at the time or later. For fans who are outside the attraction target audience (gay men, straight women, although, you know, Rihanna) it might be liberating to see that sort of sexual display without anxiety... and so on. I'm spitballing, here.

To what extent one accepts or encourages a degree of arousal-response in one's performance is probably different in different situations: a stand-up comedian, I guess, doesn't necessarily want his/her audience to be sexually attracted to him/her, but it probably doesn't hurt, and it might be useful for certain comic purposes - Krysten Ritter can make certain kinds of jokes work in a particular way, Mike McShane other jokes in other ways. Or for non-comic purposes, of course - I am sure we all know people who have become performers in part at least because it makes them more attractive to their gender(s) of choice.

However, even if, as Rihanna, you have spent an hour swinging around a stage dressed in what appear to be the offcuts of a spacesuit, you still have and can expect to have respected certain boundaries in interacting with the people who might have been emotionally or sexually aroused by your performance, right?

So... I think audi alteram partem's gloss is common-sense. Aroused is probably not a terrible thing in itself, although it's not the stated aim of a lecture about inoculating children (I would hope). Aroused in a way they would not be by a male speaker, which prevents them from giving the speaker the same reception or attention, not directly symptomatic but also sort of depressing. Aroused to the point of violating a social (and policy) norm after the speech, not cool.

(In the same way, although shouting "I love you", or "you're so beautiful" at Rihanna during a concert may be acceptable in a way it would not be acceptable to shout it at a skeptical blogger doing a speech on childhood immunizations, asking Rihanna backstage as a first communication if she would like to have sex with you and your wife probably still wouldn't be.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:14 AM on June 27, 2012


However, even if, as Rihanna, you have spent an hour swinging around a stage dressed in what appear to be the offcuts of a spacesuit, you still have and can expect to have respected certain boundaries in interacting with the people who might have been emotionally or sexually aroused by your performance, right?

Actually, no. I only know one person who might be described as a rock star, who was never the sexy frontman kind and who is now in advancing years. Apparantly, audiences believe that their fan status gives them the right to approach a performer at any time and have their demands - for attention, conversation, posing for photographs and quite possibly sexual favours - met in full. And then they are offended when the performer doesn't wish to fulfill any or all of these obligations.

People are very odd, and most of them are delusional about at least something almost all of the time. That a couple wrapped up in their delusions of Teh Seksy Life might believe it to be little more than a bit of light banter to proposition a lecturer using a saucy visiting card surprises me not in the least. Nobody ever does anything willingly that they believe to be wrong. It would be interesting to find out what they thought they were doing in more detail than the report gave, and how they responded to the rebuff (most people adjust their delusions just enough to conform to the new data. That is what makes them sane).

Has anyone (it's been quite a detailed thread and I have a short attention span) discussed that what appear to me to be two motivations have been conflated into one - on the one hand the explicit desire to cause emotional pain and discomfort and on the other extreme social incompetence? In the latter case (speaking from experience as a socially incompetent person myself) having one's mistake pointed out, especially publically, is punishment enough.

I don't think a policy is going to stop people doing stupid things, because such people don't usually find out that they're deluded about the stupidity of their actions until it's far too late. On the other hand there should be a policy against aggression, because of the nature of aggression (and it's more likely that an aggressive person will know in advance that they are being aggressive. Except in the case of an aggression-stupidity cocktail.)

Is it really helpful to conflate the two motivations even if the effect on the victim is the same?
posted by Grangousier at 6:27 AM on June 27, 2012


I think it's possible that the types of everyone's public speaking is definitely affecting perceptions here.

I do public speaking (Though less than I used to) where the goal is to get the audience emotionally invested - both in myself, and by extension, the cause I am attempting to enlist them in. So I'm deliberately trying to get them interested in myself as a human that they can empathize with, as a next step to taking action.

Consequentially (or unrelatedly, I don't know), I get hit on at conferences like you would not believe. I get dudes telling me about their penis size, I get guys telling me they're in love with me, I get guys telling me about how great in bed they are and how I should totally sleep with them.

And each of these interactions takes time out of my life as I have to fight through the crowd to get where I'm going and get stopped by dudes who "just want to talk" to me. (Pro tip: they don't just want to talk.)

So for me, the concept of the hitting on that attends conferences being condensed into a card that I could just glance at and throw away - that is like Mecca. That is, for me, almost the dream, where I can just ignore people's suggestions if I don't like them and throw them away.

But it's entirely possible that this does not happen in academic environments.
posted by corb at 6:38 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, no. I only know one person who might be described as a rock star, who was never the sexy frontman kind and who is now in advancing years. Apparantly, audiences believe that their fan status gives them the right to approach a performer at any time and have their demands - for attention, conversation, posing for photographs and quite possibly sexual favours - met in full. And then they are offended when the performer doesn't wish to fulfill any or all of these obligations.

So... actually, yes? The fact that the fans expect these things is inappropriate - they are an imposition on the performer. I'm not saying that people do not proposition Rihanna - although her security apparatus will limit her exposure to people who are likely to want to and be sufficiently insensitive to nuance as to do so. I'm saying that, even though she performs in a way that is likely to be in some ways arousing to some people, she still has a right to expect not to be propositioned out of the blue by people who saw her perform when she is not performing. I think we agree.

I don't think a policy is going to stop people doing stupid things, because such people don't usually find out that they're deluded about the stupidity of their actions until it's far too late. On the other hand there should be a policy against aggression, because of the nature of aggression (and it's more likely that an aggressive person will know in advance that they are being aggressive. Except in the case of an aggression-stupidity cocktail.)

I think that presupposes a lot about how people approach aggression and stupidity. People may not feel their proposition is inappropriate, but by the same token aggressive people often do not feel their aggression is unjustified. This is why a good policy doesn't deal with generalities like "don't be stupid" or "don't be aggressive". It says things like:
We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Explicit sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue. While some important and relevant issues may touch upon sexual issues, please keep it professional and in an academic context. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference [without a refund] at the discretion of the conference organizers.
One might believe that it is appropriate to proposition a conference speaker with a sexy sex card. However, if one has read the policy one knows that sexual imagery is verboten, and a card inviting one to have sex is neither professional nor operating in an academic context. Of course, our hypothetical stupid person might decide that the person they gave the sexy sex card to would be so into it that they would not report it. But they have a document which states precisely that what they are planning to do is against policy, and explains the consequences.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:22 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


gingerest: Aha! It suddenly strikes me some of our difference in perspective in this may arise from the fact that you are a stand-up comedian and I am an academic scientist, and the two goals of our public speaking are profoundly different.

That's a very interesting point, thanks. However, I also give "straight" speeches, teach computer classes, train people, talk to Rotary clubs, etc. and I don't see a fundamental difference there. Even in academia. I'm sure you know that RateMyProfessor.com has a category for hotness, right?

I'm with Grangousier here -- people are odd, they get delusions, they develop crushes, sometimes they get distracted (and it could be about your clothes or hair, not your sexiness, and it might be repulsion not attraction). That's human nature. It doesn't make them a bad person (silly though they may be) or diminish you as a speaker. Listen to people talk about TV news anchors or movie stars or (sorry, but true) professors.
posted by msalt at 9:29 AM on June 27, 2012


I don't think a policy is going to stop people doing stupid things, because such people don't usually find out that they're deluded about the stupidity of their actions until it's far too late.

it's a good point, but I'm with ROSF on this one -- people's delusions are precisely WHY rules need to be specific and tangible, because if you say "no unwanted sexual attention" some people will think they're wanted, and even invent reasons why the person really wants them despite saying they aren't. I think the conference policy was very good, and it seemed to work well. Some people will break the policy anyway, as this couple did, and it's a useful way to separate them from the herd.
posted by msalt at 9:35 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has anyone (it's been quite a detailed thread and I have a short attention span) discussed that what appear to me to be two motivations have been conflated into one - on the one hand the explicit desire to cause emotional pain and discomfort and on the other extreme social incompetence? In the latter case (speaking from experience as a socially incompetent person myself) having one's mistake pointed out, especially publically, is punishment enough.

Nangar raised an interesting point earlier along these lines, that the couple may have not been sexually motivated at all, but more political. IE, the theory is that they're swingers, they don't like the new no-seksiness rule and associated Elyse with it because she writes for Skepchick, which leads the push for better boundaries in the skeptic community. And so their motivation may have been an F U, which would better explain their response that leaving the card was "a joke," and would also fit the words she quotes them saying "Here is something to remember us by."

Or they may have been cloddish losers with terrible game. It's hard to tell. Elyse was the one they talked to, and seems very clear that their motivations were sexual, and this is what seems to bother her so much. (She goes on rhetorically about "your boner doesn't matter" and the couple fapping to her talk, etc.) Then again, she says she didn't even know their interest was sexual until after they left and she looked at the card.

To me, if their statement was political, it's much worse than an inept pass.
posted by msalt at 9:45 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If that was their motivation, it goes from “clueless horny couple with no sense of boundaries” to deliberate harassment.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:51 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm with Grangousier here -- people are odd, they get delusions, they develop crushes, sometimes they get distracted (and it could be about your clothes or hair, not your sexiness, and it might be repulsion not attraction). That's human nature. It doesn't make them a bad person (silly though they may be) or diminish you as a speaker.

I think that's a given - but it's worth noting, maybe, that the skeptical movement, or at least the part of it that goes to events, is still majority straight male - which is why Skepchick exists, in a way. So, if your audience is getting distracted by the boneriffic qualities of speakers, it means that they are going to be paying less attention to the female speakers, just because of statistics. So, while there is no shame in thinking how nicely turned out a speaker is, wandering off into a sexual reverie is statistically going to mean that the actual content of presentations made by women get paid less attention to - not because of the quality of their presentation, but because of their body shapes.

So, I think there is a space between "I hate sex, and do not think people should have sexual longings" and "boners aweigh, me lads!" which is something like "It would be good if people didn't let attraction to the speaker distract them from the content of the speech, because if they do female speakers will be disproportionately penalized, which will create a tragedy of the commons out of a whole bunch of innocent, harmless sexual reveries".

To me, if their statement was political, it's much worse than an inept pass.

Agree strongly - although I think it could just as possibly be both. I can see an imagined win/win where you either make a point about how you are free to be sexy however you like at whomever you like, or get group sex (which will be so good that your former prudish foe will be converted). I mean, who knows? Which is another good reason, as you say, to have specific policies - because if it was an inept pass, it is now clear to the maker of the pass and to others who might make inept passes in the same way that it won't fly, regardless of intent.

(We have this issue at programmer conferences when people put sexualized pictures of women in presentations, because their _reasons_ seem perfectly fine to them. "But Apple/Microsoft/Red Hat really _will_ make you their bitch and put you in bondage!", kind of thing. So you have to say that intent is basically irrelevant... or at least not the first thing to think about.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:02 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sure you know that RateMyProfessor.com has a category for hotness, right?

And I think it's degrading and gross.
posted by gingerest at 4:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, I remember students evaluating their professors for attractiveness before the internet even started. At least it seems to be applied to men every bit as much, if not more, than women on these websites.

Personally, I find it interesting and useful to try to distinguish between things are messed up social constructs (and can be changed) vs. things that are unattractive aspects of human nature (like, say, jealousy.) My sense is that audience members reacting to, and discussing, the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of people who speak to crowds is human nature.
posted by msalt at 10:34 AM on June 28, 2012


Personally, I find it interesting and useful to try to distinguish between things are messed up social constructs (and can be changed) vs. things that are unattractive aspects of human nature (like, say, jealousy.) My sense is that audience members reacting to, and discussing, the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of people who speak to crowds is human nature.

Except the two categories overlap. A human frailty (such as greed) can operate within a social structure that amplifies its bad effects (such as an under-regulated market economy). When attraction manifests in behavior that neither conforms to nor perpetuates unjust social structures (such as sexism), I don't find that behavior problematic, because I don't think feelings of sexual attraction are unattractive aspects of human nature.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:05 AM on June 28, 2012


I agree. But people will differ on what's unattractive, often depending on their role. For example, most people would agree that it's not wrong to be attracted to someone, even if your relationship to them is only professional, or if you know they're not available.

To a speaker though, the fact that audience members are unable to fully consider your hard-crafted ideas because they're distracted by sexual attraction seems unfair and dismissive. This seems to be what Elyse and Running Order Squabble Fest and gingerest are saying.

As a speaker myself, I make it my goal (and responsibility) to reach as many people as possible, and I don't love it when someone in the audience isn't giving me full attention for whatever reason. But I don't accept the framing that people owe me their attention, or take 100% attention as the normative standard. If half the audience is giving me focus and the other 50% is quiet and polite about their wandering attention, I 'm happy. Anything better is a success.
posted by msalt at 12:19 PM on June 28, 2012


But people will differ on what's unattractive, often depending on their role.

Just as people differ on what counts as (un)just social structures, what counts as sexism, etc.

When I speak at conferences, I'd like my audience's full attention too, but I know I'm not going to get it, and, so long as they're not disruptive, I don't care why they aren't paying attention, because their motivations are locked in the black boxes of their minds.

But when they act on those motivations, as the audience member in Elyse's case did, then they engage in public behavior that may or may not operate within more or less problematic social structures. In this case, I'd say the behavior is problematic.

We disagree on how to read the comment of Elyse's that you find problematic, and that's fine. I don't see her arguing about attitudes toward attraction and sex; I see her arguing about the actions that arise from those attitudes. Moreover, even if Elyse did voice opinions at odds with my preferred understanding of human sexuality, I see far less priority in addressing those opinions than in addressing the widespread problems with sexism etc. that have risen to the surface in the skeptical and atheist communities over the past year.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:44 PM on June 28, 2012


I'd like my audience's full attention too, but I know I'm not going to get it, and, so long as they're not disruptive, I don't care why they aren't paying attention, because their motivations are locked in the black boxes of their minds.

This. Very well said. I may be misreading Elyse's comment, though others here seem to agree with the position that I'm seeing there. If so, I apologize, and I think we agree 100% (on this point, anyway). I do think it's a smaller issue here.
posted by msalt at 1:09 PM on June 28, 2012


To a speaker though, the fact that audience members are unable to fully consider your hard-crafted ideas because they're distracted by sexual attraction seems unfair and dismissive. This seems to be what Elyse and Running Order Squabble Fest and gingerest are saying.

Nope. But I think this is probably a good sign that were not going to make any further progress.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:36 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're, even.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:36 PM on June 28, 2012


I'm sorry. On closer inspection your point is indeed more subtle:

"It would be good if people didn't let attraction to the speaker distract them from the content of the speech, because if they do female speakers will be disproportionately penalized, which will create a tragedy of the commons out of a whole bunch of innocent, harmless sexual reveries".

I'm not sure what the solution to that is, though. Other than better balancing attendance at sketpic conventions. And no doubt anti-harassment policies are a great step in that direction.
posted by msalt at 8:08 PM on June 28, 2012


the fact that audience members are unable to fully consider your hard-crafted ideas because they're distracted by sexual attraction seems unfair and dismissive

Again, there's a difference between attraction and arousal, and there's an issue of degree here. (And btw, I find the RateMyProfessor thing gross and demeaning for men and women alike. Sexual attractiveness is subjective and irrelevant to evaluation of didactic ability.)

But mostly, I think it's absolutely foully rude (at best) to walk up to someone who was trying to convey ideas to you and say, "Yeah, TCP/IP, great stuff, but look, your breasts/pecs just defy nature in that vendor-branded polyester polo shirt." It's not just being distracted, it's making your distraction the speaker's problem way above and beyond the effort of keeping an audience.

"Your body's what I'm thinking about" is a terrible thing to say to someone who's there to engage your mind.
posted by gingerest at 11:14 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some good news
As a member of the Python community, we pledge only to attend, speak at, assist, sponsor, or otherwise participate in conferences that publicly promote an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination code of conduct policy.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:59 AM on June 29, 2012


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