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“I’m Sick of Talking about Sexual Harassment!”
August 8, 2013 7:57 AM   Subscribe

The dam of stonewalling and denial regarding sexual harassment is breaking in the Skeptical community, just as it has been toppling recently in the world of Sci-Fi and fan conventions. Prominent Skeptics Karen Stollznow and Carrie Poppy have come forward with their experiences of harassment while working at the Center for Inquiry and the James Randi Educational Foundation, respectively.
posted by Annie Savoy (325 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Though the path has been far from smooth, much of the sci fi and fandom communities appear to be serious about dealing with sexism and forming an inclusive -- as in, including half the human race -- community. It baffles and saddens me that prominent members of a community purportedly devoted to reason seem to have chosen sexism as the hill on which to plant their flag.
posted by Gelatin at 8:02 AM on August 8, 2013 [31 favorites]


These people are heroes. And I hope minds will change. It will be slow, but most male-dominated communities need some prodding to take sexual harassment seriously.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:03 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


This has been blowing up all over my facebook, mostly because a good friend is a feminist and atheist blogger; an unfortunate number of people commenting on her blog (and on her fb posts) have been saying that there *can't* be sexism in the atheist/skeptic communities and anyone who wants to talk about it or who says there is is just distracting from the "real" issues.

It makes me want to punch the universe.
posted by rtha at 8:06 AM on August 8, 2013 [58 favorites]


Link to CFI's statement.

A recap/roundup of some of the incidents (goes to a post from my blogger friend).

And in re-reading my earlier comment, I want to clarify that I don't think any of those "it can't happen HERE!" comments have been showing up on Greta's current posts on these most recently publicized incidents, but oh man you should have seen her comment threads during the whole Rebecca Watson Elevator thing. Or maybe you shouldn't.
posted by rtha at 8:12 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


It makes me want to punch the universe.

rtha, I'm with you. I've subscribed to The Skeptical Inquirer for years, and I've attended the annual Skeptics' conference The Amazing Meeting. The men involved are people I've heard speak in person and via podcast. I am deeply disappointed, disillusioned, and sad. Time for CFI and JFREF to step up and show some leadership in dealing with this issue rather than continuing to shelter the offenders.
posted by Annie Savoy at 8:13 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Link to CFI's statement.

What a long-winded way to say nothing at all.
posted by kmz at 8:16 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


rtha, thanks for posting CFI's statement and the roundup. I left a comment earlier on CFI's Facebook page when they put up the statement there, making it clear that my personal support of the organized Skeptical movement -- at least, as embodied by CFI and JREF -- depends on how they respond to what's happening.

Also, it's sad that this furor is erupting on James Randi's 85th birthday.
posted by Annie Savoy at 8:17 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


there *can't* be sexism in the atheist/skeptic communities and anyone who wants to talk about it or who says there is is just distracting from the "real" issues.

As I have said before, when you are dealing with "nerd sexism" (and skepticism is part of nerd culture, in it's own way), you have that weirdly toxic mix of people who have a) taken a few steps outside the "mainstream consensus" assuming that they have somehow liberated themselves from all societal baggage, b) been blinded by their own particular lack of privilege in some areas to their privilege in others, and c) a strong tendency to close ranks when they feel threatened from "outside." Note, in this case, women can always be "outside."
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:17 AM on August 8, 2013 [73 favorites]


From PZ Meyers' commentary on Stollznow's story:
I know who her abuser was…and I feel a weird combination of being appalled and being totally unsurprised. It’s another of those big name skeptics, popular with some on the lecture circuit, and also (the totally unsurprising part) with a history of belittling women’s concerns.

It's astonishing how similar that situation is to author Elaine Mattson's recent public account of her encounter with a well-known individual whose pattern of harassing behavior, it turns out, was also fairly well known, right down to the initial impulse not to name names until the pattern became all too clear.
Something strange happened after I posted this. People started emailing me. They all said the same thing: they knew exactly who the harasser was, and they named him, and eerily, they all named exactly the same name, and they were all 100% on the money. I’m starting to believe in psychic powers.

The accused harasser was Ben Radford.

Wait. Maybe it’s not psychic powers, it’s privileged ignorance. Almost all of the people writing to me are women, and some of them also tell tales of their husbands or boyfriends not believing them at first.

Is there such a thing as Male Pattern Blindness?

Given the unfortunate tendency of previous discussions of harassment to devolve into hair-splitting about misunderstandings and edge-case hypotheticals about false accusations, I'd have to say there is.

There is abundant and increasing evidence that sexual harassment extends into areas that ought to be welcoming to women and scornful of sexism. That's the problem, and I salute those who step forward with their stories and encourage others to do so.
posted by Gelatin at 8:21 AM on August 8, 2013 [18 favorites]


Oh, I am full of frustration and hate and not a small amount of tired resignation and a desire to give up and go hide in a hermit cave because to hell with the annoying sexist assholes. Also, rtha, I will kick the universe in the knees while you punch it in the face. Teamwork!
posted by rmd1023 at 8:27 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


an unfortunate number of people commenting on her blog (and on her fb posts) have been saying that there *can't* be sexism in the atheist/skeptic communities and anyone who wants to talk about it or who says there is is just distracting from the "real" issues.

Ugh, just yesterday my friend posted something about this on Facebook. Basically, an atheist guy started tearing into my trans priest friend for being so foolish as to be a Christian when EVERYONE KNOWS that atheists are the literal only group who are tolerant of trans people, and when she tried to explain that her church is actually incredibly tolerant, he essentially accused her of lying and/or being delusional. Yeah, that's so very tolerant of you, bro
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:27 AM on August 8, 2013 [40 favorites]


They all said the same thing: they knew exactly who the harasser was, and they named him, and eerily, they all named exactly the same name, and they were all 100% on the money.

It's sad and strange, but every time I hang out with a group of women who work or otherwise participate in a male-dominated field, this exact thing happens. As in, if a conversation about Prominent Creeps starts, there's always at least one dude nearly every woman in the conversation got creeped-on by, and yet is totally in the clear because he's either important enough to doom careers if confronted head-on, or no one will listen because, come on, he's an awesome guy, don't you read his blog? He's great! Who wouldn't want to be scarily propositioned by him.
posted by griphus at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


More from Pharyngula on Male Pattern Blindness and the toxic behaviors that are so easily denied and dismissed by observers:
Serial harassers are really, really good at looking wounded at accusations and apologizing verbally — they can be socially slick and glibly slide through these storms, because that’s what enables their activities. What you have to do is look at their patterns of behavior, what they do, not what they say.
posted by Annie Savoy at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


The CFI appears to be going out of their way to piss people off with weasel worded non-statements lately. First their not even a non-apology completely empty statement about Lindsay's condscending and hostile opening speech for the WiS2 conference, and now this.

If the WiS debacle hadn't already convincd me that he CFI wasn't on my side this certainly would.

What is it with men I want to respect due to their excellent work in atheisn and skepticism being sexist jerks? First Dawkins now Randi. Depressing.
posted by sotonohito at 8:32 AM on August 8, 2013


I'm looking for larger patterns behind the recent rise in reporting and outing of sexual harassment. Not sure if it's a change in generations, social acceptability of complaining, or passing a threshold.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:32 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


an unfortunate number of people commenting on her blog (and on her fb posts) have been saying that there *can't* be sexism in the atheist/skeptic communities

Really? Exhibit A would be the reaction to the so-called "elevator incident"
posted by Gelatin at 8:33 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


author Elaine Mattson's

Correcting to be polite: Don't you mean Elise Matthesen?
posted by MartinWisse at 8:34 AM on August 8, 2013


Exhibit A would be the reaction to the so-called "elevator incident"

Well, but, exactly. The reason that incident blew up is because so many people claimed it wasn't a big deal.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:34 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm looking for larger patterns behind the recent rise in reporting and outing of sexual harassment. Not sure if it's a change in generations, social acceptability of complaining, or passing a threshold.

One of the reason I'm happy about things changing is that I'm sick to death of harassing behavior being dismissed as normal male hijinks or boys-will-be-boys, as it implies that as a male who tries to act respectfully to my fellow human beings, I'm abnormal.
posted by Gelatin at 8:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [31 favorites]


Correcting to be polite: Don't you mean Elise Matthesen?

I do indeed. I don't know what happened, her name was right in front of me. My apologies.
posted by Gelatin at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2013


It seems like the weird flip-size of these atheist circles is, like... ok, so religion isn't true. Hoorah, the scales have fallen from my eyes, etc. But then, there's this totally unconscious failure of logic along the lines of "therefore, anything that isn't explicitly religious must be true/good, because the one and only force of evil in the world is religion!" So you get people blaming the Holocaust on Hitler's Christianity, or whatever, and you also get "how could we possibly be incorrect about literally anything? Don't you see, we're atheists! We've eliminated the root causes of wrongness so we can't possibly be wrong!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [38 favorites]


It's funny in a twisted way that in the atheist/skeptic communities, sexism manifests itself most evidently when members of those communities start arguing heatedly about how it doesn't exist.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [22 favorites]


The reason that incident blew up is because so many people claimed it wasn't a big deal.

But a good part of the reaction itself was overtly and obviously sexist, including rape threats. I mean, come on -- way to undermine your own argument.
posted by Gelatin at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I commented about this in the Riley Cooper thread, where the theme is racism, but I think it applies here, too. In today's episode of "Yo, Is This Racist," ("Circle of Friends") Andrew Ti observed that calling a person or an action racist is a good test, and I think his reasoning applies to sexism as well.

If you call someone a sexist or their action/speech sexist or someone else's action/speech/whatever sexist or you call out harassment specifically, if the person you are talking to responds by losing their shit, they are sexist. If they defend a harasser reflexively, they are sexist. If, on the other hand, they say "Oh, shit, sorry" or "I didn't see it that way, tell me more," they are not (so) sexist.* So calling someone/something sexist can be a test of whether your conversation partners are sexist. It's something.

* Not being sexist, like not being racist, is probably more of a process or a progress than a state.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


I mean, come on -- way to undermine your own argument.

What argument are you talking about? Nobody here's arguing anything different. (Not yet, anyway.)
posted by kmz at 8:47 AM on August 8, 2013


I'm pretty sure Gelatin is talking about the people reacting to the incident by further entrenching into their sexist views.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:49 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


"The dam of stonewalling and denial regarding sexual harassment is breaking in the Skeptical community, just as it has been toppling recently in the world of Sci-Fi and fan conventions. "

Never fear, cavemen. You've still got gaming!
posted by markkraft at 8:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


But a good part of the reaction itself was overtly and obviously sexist, including rape threats. I mean, come on -- way to undermine your own argument.

I have heard the rationale for the argument far too many times. If you're curious, it goes something like this:

"Rape threats aren't sexist! If you can't handle some basic invective just because you're a woman, then that's you being sexist. Not me. And by the way, rape isn't sexist either: it's a crime. I'm sure it sucks to get raped, but it only happens because somebody wants to have sex and doesn't have a good sense of morals. The problem is amorality, not sexism."

According to a great deal of people, the only thing that counts as being sexist is when somebody says, explicitly: "Well, I decided not to give Mary the job, because Mary is a woman and Stewart is a man." Anything else is fair game.

Guy hitting on woman in the elevator? Just social interaction! Guys want to get laid too! It's sexist to shame a guy for trying to hit a person up!

Jokes about wanting to screw some woman? It's a compliment! Women can be attractive and intelligent at the same time! We were just admiring that this woman is both at once!

It's a fundamental misreading of what sexism is, obviously, but it's a useful one for people who want to 1) call themselves progressive but 2) not change any of the behaviors they developed in the eighth-grade locker room.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:55 AM on August 8, 2013 [36 favorites]


One of the reason I'm happy about things changing is that I'm sick to death of harassing behavior being dismissed as normal male hijinks or boys-will-be-boys, as it implies that as a male who tries to act respectfully to my fellow human beings, I'm abnormal.

Yes! So much this! I'm often amazed in discussions on this topic that I'm the one being accused of misandry, when it seems so obvious to me that it's the people arguing that it's just hijinks or men can't help it etc. that are (unknowingly, I guess) taking the misandrist position.

Another thing I'd like to see disappear from discussions on this and similar/related topics is the idea that privilege is a binary thing: You either have it or you don't. And that's not how privilege works. Even me - person of color, woman, lesbian - I have privilege in some areas and I don't have it others.
posted by rtha at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


[Come on folks, enough with the casual name calling. Tough topic means make an effort please. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:03 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


showbiz_liz: ...and you also get "how could we possibly be incorrect about literally anything? Don't you see, we're atheists! We've eliminated the root causes of wrongness so we can't possibly be wrong!"

I've seen this, too, and I find it really weird. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that the hallmark of a skeptic is the willingness to follow any assertion with "...but I could be wrong." Maybe I was mistaken about that.
posted by ogooglebar at 9:04 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Somewhere, I picked up the idea that the hallmark of a skeptic is the willingness to follow any assertion with "...but I could be wrong." Maybe I was mistaken about that.

It's been discussed on the Blue a couple of times, but there's a trend among the "New Atheist" movement that is disturbingly similar to fundamentalist theology, making it more anti-theism than anything else.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:07 AM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


...and you also get "how could we possibly be incorrect about literally anything? Don't you see, we're atheists! We've eliminated the root causes of wrongness so we can't possibly be wrong!"

When I was in high school and college, I was involved with some groups that were pretty leftist. In all their cries for equality and rights, they also tolerated a whole bunch lot of misogyny and harassment. But if you said anything, you were dismissed because this was SUCH AND ENLIGHTENED GROUP, surely you must be sensitive and misinterpreting things. It didn't help that it was a pretty male-dominated scene.

I see a lot of echoes of that here. The idea that in other issues we're so progressive, so surely whatever we're doing is also progressive and enlightened, without exception.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Another thing I'd like to see disappear from discussions on this and similar/related topics is the idea that privilege is a binary thing: You either have it or you don't. And that's not how privilege works. Even me - person of color, woman, lesbian - I have privilege in some areas and I don't have it others.

God heavens, yes. There is a huge bundle of axes of privilege, and almost all of us fall toward one side or the other of many of them. It's certainly not a binary picture (although an individual axis can be pretty binary). One would hope that the experience of lack of privilege would sensitize a person to others' different lacks, but, sadly, it often seems to work the other way. It's frustrating. I have sat on diversity committees where some members openly dismissed other members' (different) privilege issues, and I thought "if we can't get past this, how can the students?" It's very frustrating.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


I wonder if there isn't also an element of, "C'mon, sexual prudery is a religious thing. Surely atheist ladies aren't going to get worked up about an off-color joke or a friendly pat or a man simply stating his desire to have sex?"
posted by straight at 9:16 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wonder if there isn't also an element of, "C'mon, sexual prudery is a religious thing. Surely atheist ladies aren't going to get worked up about an off-color joke or a friendly pat or a man simply stating his desire to have sex?"

It could be, but considering that you find rampant sexism in other groups of similar makeup, like philosophers and scifi groups, I think the reason the groups band together is less important than their composition.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:18 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


straight, I think that's a big part of it -- there was a lot of this in the counterculture movement in the 1960s and 1970s, too, the assumption that the only reason a woman wouldn't have sex was because she was "uptight" and "repressed," not that she, yanno, didn't WANT to.
posted by KathrynT at 9:19 AM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


In all their cries for equality and rights, they also tolerated a whole bunch lot of misogyny and harassment.

I would think that, when fighting for equality, feminism would be a starting point, not something left for last. If you're looking for allies, why write off half the human race?
posted by ogooglebar at 9:20 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm feeling sad because I used to be pretty heavy into the internet Skeptic community, so I've heard these guys on podcasts and whatnot, and didn't want them to be sexist jerks.

I'm also feeling a little guilty, because my initial reaction of "What? Noooo, not that guy, he's too nice!" is exactly the attitude that helps conceal harassment and protect harassers.
posted by jcreigh at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


really, i think the only safe course in the workplace/conference circuit etc. is to not talk about sex, at all. and if you want to date, do so outside of your professional circle. what if you have drinks with workmates after work, and one hits on you? is that harassment because the coworker is romantically interested? what if things are awkward between you at work after that, is that retaliation because you rebuked her advances? or if a coworker asks you to go out after work once, not necessarily in a romantic way, and you said no, then he asks another time? yes i know i'm making splitting hairs arguments, and that a purported harasser should know the difference between welcome and unwelcome behavior. however there is a subjective element involved, as it has do do with what the complainant views as harassing behavior.

If you call someone a sexist or their action/speech sexist or someone else's action/speech/whatever sexist or you call out harassment specifically, if the person you are talking to responds by losing their shit, they are sexist. If they defend a harasser reflexively, they are sexist. If, on the other hand, they say "Oh, shit, sorry" or "I didn't see it that way, tell me more," they are not (so) sexist.* So calling someone/something sexist can be a test of whether your conversation partners are sexist. It's something.

i disagree with you to a small extent, GenjiandProust. i think there is a cultural difference that exists in America between two types: there is the one that views an apology as an admission of wrongdoing. you really are going to be pulling teeth trying to get an apology from that person. the other type is more open to criticism, and will realize that if someone thinks they said something sexist/racist then perhaps they did so inadvertently, and they are more than willing to make amends. this difference in reaction to an accusation of racism/sexism i don't think necessarily reveals underlying racism or sexism.
posted by camdan at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


jcreigh: "I'm feeling sad because I used to be pretty heavy into the internet Skeptic community, so I've heard these guys on podcasts and whatnot, and didn't want them to be sexist jerks."

Yeah, ditto. It's been very disheartening.

Annie Savoy, thanks for making this post. I was hoping to see some discussion of this on MeFi.
posted by brundlefly at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Camdan, yes -- if you lack the ability to tell when sex talk would be welcome and when it would be unwelcome, then you should categorically refrain from sex talk at work.
posted by KathrynT at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2013 [30 favorites]


Guy hitting on woman in the elevator? Just social interaction!

That is about right.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


yes i know i'm making splitting hairs arguments

Don't do that, generally. Just trust the people telling you their experiences. Nitpicking every claim of harassment away is one of the primary ways people dismiss the existence of harassment. (So is jumping immediately to the hyperbolic "so you mean I can never ask a coworker out!?")
posted by Corinth at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2013 [25 favorites]


really, i think the only safe course in the workplace/conference circuit etc. is to not talk about sex, at all.

I don't know about conferences, but I would completely agree that unless it's directly relevant to the job, not talking about sex while at work is generally a good idea.

I see that less as some grim social dystopia than as professionalism.

yes i know i'm making splitting hairs arguments

Good, we agree.
posted by Gelatin at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


yes i know i'm making splitting hairs arguments, and that a purported harasser should know the difference between welcome and unwelcome behavior. however there is a subjective element involved, as it has do do with what the complainant views as harassing behavior.

You're not just splitting hairs, you're deflecting responsibility.

think there is a cultural difference that exists in America between two types: there is the one that views an apology as an admission of wrongdoing. you really are going to be pulling teeth trying to get an apology from that person. the other type is more open to criticism, and will realize that if someone thinks they said something sexist/racist then perhaps they did so inadvertently, and they are more than willing to make amends. this difference in reaction to an accusation of racism/sexism i don't think necessarily reveals underlying racism or sexism.

On the contrary, it's a pretty effective method to reveal underlying racism or sexism. If you're not even open to the very idea that you have said or done could even possibly be something racist or sexist even inadvertently, then you're not just racist or sexist, you're less likely than most to see racism or sexism and respond to it.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


yes i know i'm making splitting hairs arguments, and that a purported harasser should know the difference between welcome and unwelcome behavior. however there is a subjective element involved, as it has do do with what the complainant views as harassing behavior.

People who harass generally know exactly where the line is, which is why they just so happen to do things that are close to the line, or arguable, or will be brushed off by other people. They're perfectly competent at social interactions.

People who are not competent at social intereactions act really differently when they're acting creepy. It's generally easy to tell the difference.
posted by jeather at 9:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if there isn't also an element of, "C'mon, sexual prudery is a religious thing. Surely atheist ladies aren't going to get worked up about an off-color joke or a friendly pat or a man simply stating his desire to have sex?"
posted by straight at 9:16 AM on August 8 [+] [!]
straight, I think that's a big part of it -- there was a lot of this in the counterculture movement in the 1960s and 1970s, too, the assumption that the only reason a woman wouldn't have sex was because she was "uptight" and "repressed," not that she, yanno, didn't WANT to.
posted by KathrynT at 9:19 AM on August 8 [+] [!]


i agree with you here, i wonder if some in the sceptic community think it's ok to be more blatantly sexist because hey, we're not an uptight religious outfit. i've often thought that that is possibly an appeal of religion, as in you can socialize with these pretty clean people and not be worried about unwelcome sexual advances. of course that backfired in the church.
posted by camdan at 9:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


what if you have drinks with workmates after work, and one hits on you? is that harassment because the coworker is romantically interested?

This of course depends on the meaning and content of 'hits on you' but it is not sexual harassment to politely express romantic intent or flirtation in an appropriate manner.

Again, the issue isn't that people are talking about sex, or that people are dating, or that men who don't abuse, harass, or coerce women are 'hitting on' their colleagues, it is that there are men who serially abuse and harass women with impunity, and when women point this out, or mildly cautions against certain behavior, they are attacked.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:32 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Guy hitting on woman in the elevator? Just social interaction!

That is about right.


Thanks for illustrating everyday sexism for us.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2013 [36 favorites]


jcreigh: "I'm feeling sad because I used to be pretty heavy into the internet Skeptic community, so I've heard these guys on podcasts and whatnot, and didn't want them to be sexist jerks."

Fortunately there are also some really fantastic women blogging and podcasting and speaking at conferences. One of the few upsides of this is that more women are feeling free to just create their own space, own blog, to talk about their views, rather than trying to work their way up through unpleasantly sexist structures, organizations, and conferences. Not that it's easier, but from my perspective, women in the movement(s) are working hard to support each other and make space for more voices in alternate ways.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I married a great guy, who would never creep on a woman, and have a son, who I will raise to never creep on a woman, and on their behalfs, it angers me when anyone tries to tell me "That's just how men are." No it fucking isn't. It's how rapists, and creeps, and sexist assholes are.

The problem has been that those guys are good at hiding by a) pretending not to be rapists, creeps or sexist assholes around other guys and b) doing what they can to blur the lines between ok behavior and behavior that is rapey, creepy, and sexist.

The net result has been that even guys who are not rapists, creeps, or sexist assholes can be oblivious to the behavior of those who are, confused about what is ok and what isn't, and poisoned by the social miasma of sexism they were raised in to believe that lots of women are crazy, confused or exaggerating when they describe the behavior of rapists, creeps and sexist assholes.

Which is what all this discussion is about, and it's good to see that more men are opening their eyes to the realities women are dealing with.
posted by emjaybee at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [33 favorites]


I'm feeling sad because I used to be pretty heavy into the internet Skeptic community, so I've heard these guys on podcasts and whatnot, and didn't want them to be sexist jerks.

Me too. D.J. Grothe's role in this is causing me visceral pain.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for illustrating everyday sexism for us.

If inviting someone to coffee is sexist, there is no such thing as non-sexist behavior.

I, for one, wonder if we ever would have heard about the elevator incident if the inviting party had been a woman.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


however there is a subjective element involved, as it has [to] do with what the complainant views as harassing behavior.

I'd also like to point out that this statement is exactly correct, though not the subject for complaint that the commenter seems to think it is (my apologies if I'm misinterpreting and I'll cheerfully stand corrected). Nor does it render all complaints into some impenetrable he said/she said situation in which the "real truth" cannot possibly be discovered.

Yes, a person gets to decide if they don't like someone's behavior towards them, and their complaints are not invalid just because the one doing the (supposedly, if you please) harassing behavior doesn't think the other's discomfort is worthy of respect. And as jeather pointed out, many harassers know exactly what they're doing.
posted by Gelatin at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm glad people are talking about this more and it seems to be getting some traction. I am also sad because I've self-identified as atheist/agnostic since I was 13, and have been interested in science and skepticism ever since biology class that same year.

I started getting sexually harassed and assaulted at school around the same time, making learning a nightmare for me, up to and including university where I decided to study an applied science...and was stalked and harassed by a man hanging around my university campus while taking my qualifying courses in chemistry and biology.

Feminism and other social justice efforts have been a survival necessity for me since then, and I have never felt able to fully join in the skeptical community, though I am in line with its goals and efforts on many levels, and have been for decades.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of willingness to admit, in skeptical scientific circles, that social hierarchies exist, and social inequality and injustice exist and permeate all of our thinking. It requires years of unlearning what you unwittingly learned just to come to terms with your own internalized misogyny, racism, ableism, and other oppressive frameworks.

I have seen too many people who identify as skeptics unwilling to engage in this kind of self-examination, to admit that privilege and oppression exist, and that we all live within social hierarchies and our thinking is affected by them. This is an incredible failure of critical thinking.

I have been really heartened, though, by following Skepchick and other skeptic sites doing good work. Carl Sagan also seemed really compassionate and sensitive to these topics, so it has always been confusing to me that many of his purported followers have failed to follow in his footsteps.
posted by Ouisch at 9:38 AM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Tanizaki: Inviting someone to coffee in an open space - acceptable

Inviting someone to coffee in an elevator in the wee hours of the night - not acceptable, and really creepy.

Context matters.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [31 favorites]


I would think that, when fighting for equality, feminism would be a starting point, not something left for last. If you're looking for allies, why write off half the human race?

You;d think, but the argument was that fragmenting fights for equality was counterproductive. We're all humans, we should fight for all humans. Interestingly, that didn't seem to apply to fighting for racial equality, but it sure did apply to feminism and LGBT (this was in the 90's, I was hopeful things had changed in these kind of communites, but maybe not so much).
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I, for one, wonder if we ever would have heard about the elevator incident if the inviting party had been a woman.

The scenarios you posit are not symmetrical, they are not equivalent. The power relationships and social contexts are different.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2013 [22 favorites]


i wonder if some in the sceptic community think it's ok to be more blatantly sexist because hey, we're not an uptight religious outfit.

To be fair, we have plenty of blatant sexism here in the religious communities. It just has different justifications.
posted by straight at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Folks, this is not a thread about the elevator incident and you do not have to make it into one.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


Not that it's easier, but from my perspective, women in the movement(s) are working hard to support each other and make space for more voices in alternate ways.

Yes, and not just women, I'd add. It's a relief to see that a good number of people of all genders in the skeptical / sci-fi / convention community will not stand for this hoary nonsense and amplify the voices raised in protest. It makes the issue less one as women-versus-men and more one of sexist-creeps-versus-people who would prefer not to have to deal with sexist creeps.
posted by Gelatin at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Agreed, Gelatin.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2013


yes i know i'm making splitting hairs arguments, and that a purported harasser should know the difference between welcome and unwelcome behavior. however there is a subjective element involved, as it has do do with what the complainant views as harassing behavior.

Oof. I had this conversation recently with a female friend who knows the people involved in the Elise Mattheson situation. And we were talking about the role of social awkwardness and how it plays out in fannish interactions. And it finally came down to -- let's say a guy is really socially awkward, and he is distressing women by his overtures. His intent is more or less good, but the result is that he is ruining the time of at least a set of women. So does his intent matter all that much? He's got a problem, and I'm not unsympathetic, but why should his social awkwardness trump women's (or a woman's) comfort? Pretty much any answer you can give boils down to MALE PRIVILEGE, the huge semi-visible elephant that we need to dismantle.*

i disagree with you to a small extent, GenjiandProust. i think there is a cultural difference that exists in America between two types: there is the one that views an apology as an admission of wrongdoing. you really are going to be pulling teeth trying to get an apology from that person. the other type is more open to criticism, and will realize that if someone thinks they said something sexist/racist then perhaps they did so inadvertently, and they are more than willing to make amends. this difference in reaction to an accusation of racism/sexism i don't think necessarily reveals underlying racism or sexism.

I am not sure if defending someone from charges of racism/sexism by saying "well, maybe he is a huge jackass" is actually a winning strategy. If you really can't apologize, that is not a cultural thing so much as a social disorder.

* I apologize for that metaphor. Yeesh.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


> I, for one, wonder if we ever would have heard about the elevator incident if the inviting party had been a woman.

I, for one, am getting really tired of useless counterfactuals.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [45 favorites]


I've come to believe that the problem with "nerd culture" or whatever is that a number of these people got so good at arguing for/against things, that they began to believe their own hype, and assume that anything that makes them feel bad just needs more and better arguments to rationalize it.

Couple that with people who fetishize "logic" and "SCIENCE!!!1" so much that they pretend that they are not only unburdened by selfish desire and emotion, but they've transcended it: Their worldview really is an 'objective' view of the world, and every bad feeling they get from other people is just people they haven't 'enlightened' yet.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Honestly, I think a large number of people who call themselves skeptics are actually better described as contrarians. Which, for me, helps explain why they can be close-minded when not dealing with their particular point of opposition.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [34 favorites]


What I find pretty surprising and rather impressive about how women's rights is playing out over the last decade is that the real battle is no longer lumped into a rather subculture-specific box called "women's rights" or "feminism", but tends towards exploring simple, individual issues like privilege, entitlement, slut shaming, and those things that perpetuate discrimination / rape culture.

There's more emphasis on pretty clearly and publicly writing about or showing what sexism looks like when the shoe's on the other foot... and this is done quite well, over and over again, by exceptional "ordinary young women", who use the Internet to bring the arguments and incidents to people's widespread attention, and approach the matter very much differently than old-school feminists. Oftentimes, these same women are very sex-positive too, which is a good and powerful thing in many ways, I think.. so long as men realize that they are the ones that own their sexuality, and that they won't share that lightly, even if they choose to do so casually with someone of any orientation or gender.

Really, the internet has empowered advocates that are maximally effective... and in many ways, this is an exciting time, in that there are so many places and ways in which arguments, examples, and art from a feminist viewpoint can be approached in new ways that can and do actually get noticed by men and help to change minds, at a historic pace that most post-internet people really take for granted.
posted by markkraft at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Honestly, I think a large number of people who call themselves skeptics are actually better described as contrarians.

If this is the case, then why aren't they feminists?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


GenjiandProust: The thing is, the genuinely nice but socially awkward person who is discomforting women with their actions is receptive to the idea of changing their behavior to make people more comfortable. The guys who try to fall back on the social awkwardness defense quite often know exactly what they are doing and what effect it has.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


what if things are awkward between you at work after that, is that retaliation because you rebuked her advances?

What? Seriously? I can't even tell who you are implying is the harassment victim here. It this an attempt to be gender neutral or are you really pulling the "but people wanna mate! And she might use harassment policies to bear false witness!" card?

I, for one, wonder if we ever would have heard about the elevator incident if the inviting party had been a woman.

You mean if the woman were a lesbian trying to ask Watson out, or if it were an interaction without amorous implications? We only heard about this because Watson had just spent several hours telling people why atheism was a hostile environment to women and she was using it to illustrate her point- that she had told the guy in the elevator, in front of an entire audience hall of witnesses, that his behaviour was not okay by her. How much more explicit did she need to be, carry a speaker playing "No, no, no, no..." like some kind of mantra?

however there is a subjective element involved, as it has [to] do with what the complainant views as harassing behavior.

Yes, today you are learning the difference between consent and non-consent. For example that's a fundamentally important concept if I choose to get a piercing VS is someone chooses to pierce me against me will. Only one of those is assault. The other one is a chance to sell me earrings.

I think you're leading in the direction that it's not fair to expect a romantic initiator to know whether or not the person they are initiating wants it- but that's precisely part of why this is part of sexism- it assumes if someone, almost always a woman, is in an environment, she is open to solicitation through to sexual assault. This is a gross case of entitlement- the literal belief that you are automatically entitled to make that judgement call for someone.

To try to illustrate my point, because reversing the genders doesn't help, and saying "how would you feel if a dude asked out a dude?" enforces homophobia... I am a dominant sadomasochist. My preferred sexual expression involves uncomfortable things, to the extent that if I was not scrupulous in how I asked someone out I would be making a threat.

If I can handle not getting arrested or scaring cute boys because of my romantic desire to give masochists sex bruises, I think the minority of heterosexual men who do this sort of stupidity can reign it in and anything less than that is pig headed ignorance of how half the human population lives. No?
posted by Phalene at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [27 favorites]


Uther Bentrazor: "Couple that with people who fetishize "logic" and "SCIENCE!!!1" so much that they pretend that they are not only unburdened by selfish desire and emotion, but they've transcended it: Their worldview really is an 'objective' view of the world, and every bad feeling they get from other people is just people they haven't 'enlightened' yet."

I think this is accurate, and it's a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of science on their part.
posted by brundlefly at 9:52 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, a person gets to decide if they don't like someone's behavior towards them, and their complaints are not invalid just because the one doing the (supposedly, if you please) harassing behavior doesn't think the other's discomfort is worthy of respect. And as jeather pointed out, many harassers know exactly what they're doing.

There is also the issue of patterns of behavior. If you say, for example, "hey, do you want to get a drink sometime?" to a person who you are attracted to, that's just a request for a date. They should be able to say yes or no according to their inclination, and you respect that, right? Now, imagine that same interaction, but that object of your interest has been getting that question all day. They are worn down and tired, and your interest in another demand on their attention and blow to their person. This is why one generally doesn't hit on waitstaff -- you will be the third or forth person to do so that day, and it gets old....

Similarly, one unwelcome joke does not lead to firing. Sadly, one hundred unwelcome jokes also does not tend to lead to firing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:52 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


GenjiandProust: The thing is, the genuinely nice but socially awkward person who is discomforting women with their actions is receptive to the idea of changing their behavior to make people more comfortable. The guys who try to fall back on the social awkwardness defense quite often know exactly what they are doing and what effect it has.

Sure, but the point is that neither is a defense; both are problems that that person needs to deal with, not something that the women at the convention should have to put up with or spend a lot of their time explaining to the GNbSAP.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:55 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


it angers me when anyone tries to tell me "That's just how men are." No it fucking isn't. It's how rapists, and creeps, and sexist assholes are.

I did my high school years through the mid/late 70s, in fairly whitebread albeit small "l" liberal suburb. That is, we (the "popular" guys) smoked dope, weren't overtly racist, weren't afraid to buy condoms. But when it came to dealing with girls/women, the dominant attitude was pretty much across-the-board sexist to the point of creepy (and yeah, there were even a few date rapes, not that we had the term then). No doubt, part of this was just teenage horniness, but there was a whole lot of serious ugly mixed up with it ... and yet, no guy I knew ever really stood up and made a stand about it. Because to in any way doubt your right to be a bastard to a girl (at least in casual locker room sort of conversation) was to risk getting accused of being a fag. Which was very high stakes for an insecure teenage boy in 1975-76.

Not that we were all were rapists/creeps/sexists assholes, there was just no context (other than silence) in which to espouse anything different -- not if you wanted to still be part of the in-crowd. It wasn't until high school ended that things changed, because the context changed. For me, it was a supercharged change because I went into a Fine Arts program, ended up hanging with the burgeoning local punk scene, which was my first real experience of inclusiveness. As long as you were into the extreme music (and to a lesser degree the extreme fashion), it didn't matter if you were male, female, gay, straight ...

My long winded point being, there will be truth to "That's just how men are" statements as long as there are cliques of boys/young men which espouse creepy, sexist values, which are generally grounded in the inherent fear and powerlessness and confusion of coming of age ... and the degree to which so much our culture remains afraid of this coming of age, of watching our darling-young-kids mature into spotty, not so darling sexual creatures.

And so on ...
posted by philip-random at 10:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


If you call someone a sexist or their action/speech sexist or someone else's action/speech/whatever sexist or you call out harassment specifically, if the person you are talking to responds by losing their shit, they are sexist.

Speaking from experience this just makes everyone call you a troll and hate you :(
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:28 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ashley Paramore (aka healthyaddict, a long-time atheist/skeptic vlogger) posted a video last week talking about how she's been harassed at conferences, including The Amazing Meeting.

She has said on Twitter that this has "nothing to do" with the CFI/JREF harassment revelations, so apparently the timing is coincidental.
posted by jcreigh at 10:42 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


let's say a guy is really socially awkward, and he is distressing women by his overtures. His intent is more or less good, but the result is that he is ruining the time of at least a set of women. So does his intent matter all that much? He's got a problem, and I'm not unsympathetic, but why should his social awkwardness trump women's (or a woman's) comfort?

i think this is where communication is key - if the guy is truly socially awkward and distressing women because of it, then someone (the female or a third party) really needs to let him know that his behavior is not ok. if he is just behaving this way and no one ever confront him, i don't think it's fair to assume that he understands social cues that he is clearly not getting. it doesn't excuse his behavior but someone needs to let him know.
of course if he knows what he is doing and is feigning awkwardness as a cover, then that is an entirely different matter.

this reminds me of a dating advice book from a few years back that gave really bad tips to men. and socially awkward guys, who have a hard time meeting women in the first place, were using its clearly bad advice to disastrous results.
posted by camdan at 10:48 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


someone (the female or a third party) really needs to let him know

Why isn't it Hypothetical Dude's responsibility to personally work on ensuring that his behavior is appropriate?
posted by prefpara at 10:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


So you get people blaming the Holocaust on Hitler's Christianity, or whatever, and you also get "how could we possibly be incorrect about literally anything? Don't you see, we're atheists! We've eliminated the root causes of wrongness so we can't possibly be wrong!"

Seems like some people are taking this opportunity to underhandedly express their disdain for atheism, in general. If anything, misogyny is the one characteristic that atheist groups share with all others, along with an entrenched male power structure which tries to cover it up.

Except, in the case of atheism, misogyny can't be defended as a matter of doctrine, so they have to hash it out in public and bring the whole shitty edifice that is organized atheism down to its foundations. That is progress and the implicit acknowledgement of "wrongness." The right side will win this thing, and the above criticism will seem as silly as it is.
posted by klanawa at 10:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


it doesn't excuse his behavior but someone needs to let him know.

Here's the thing, though: in all the cases that make the Internet news, people HAVE let the guy know. They've said "Stop it, you're making me uncomfortable," they've said "This isn't OK," they've reported the guy to whomever would listen. And in all of these cases, the guy hasn't said "Oh, shit, I'm sorry;" the guy has harrumphed about how dare you and look at what she was wearing and my reputation! and what prudes and bitches be crazy, right?

So I'm not inclined to give that excuse the benefit of the doubt any more.
posted by KathrynT at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2013 [37 favorites]


I am, for what it's worth, really uncomfortable with the elevator anecdote even being brought into this discussion. To me, saying to someone, "I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?" is worlds away from sexual harrassment at a conference, in the workplace, online or anywhere else. Suggesting they are even roughly equivalent or that not accepting that correlation clearly makes one sexist is offensive to me.

As someone firmly in the "Sexual harrassment, whether in person or in the form of rape and death threats on the internet, is emphatically NOT OKAY" camp, who also feels that the elevator invitation for coffee IS perfectly okay, I find this monotheistic mindset off-putting. This latest report of sexual harrassment has nothing to do with Rebecca Watson and her elevator story. Why bring it up, as if it were not only related, but also stands as an unequivocal example of harrassment, when in fact it is neither?

I don't feel the need to pass some manufactured sexism purity litmus test in order to prove my own NOT A SEXIST feminist credentials, but I feel like drawing this line in the sand--you must be THIS feminist to take part in this thread!--can be very intimidating to Mefites who might otherwise want to engage in a discussion of sexual harrassment in the Skeptic community. I could certainly understand feeling wary of being attacked or labelled as sexist if they don't fall precisely in line.
posted by misha at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


i think this is where communication is key - if the guy is truly socially awkward and distressing women because of it, then someone (the female or a third party) really needs to let him know that his behavior is not ok. if he is just behaving this way and no one ever confront him, i don't think it's fair to assume that he understands social cues that he is clearly not getting. it doesn't excuse his behavior but someone needs to let him know.

Communication is key. On the other hand, I am not terribly thrilled by the suggestion that the women who are being bothered have a duty to educate him. Especially if they are getting a lot of this. How much of a woman's time at a convention should she spend educating clueless guys? 15 minutes? an hour? Half an hour per guy? That's not what she paid her membership for.

So, yeah, I am sympathetic to the guy in your scenario, but it's his problem, and he needs to address it himself. I realize that there is a cycle here -- socially awkward guy has trouble making friends, and, without friends, he can't get good advice on how to make friends -- but the women at the con cannot be made responsible for his education because that is not fair to them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:57 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am, for what it's worth, really uncomfortable with the elevator anecdote even being brought into this discussion. To me, saying to someone, "I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?" is worlds away from sexual harrassment at a conference, in the workplace, online or anywhere else. Suggesting they are even roughly equivalent or that not accepting that correlation clearly makes one sexist is offensive to me.

Rebecca Watson found it offensive, too. And tiresome. And unwelcome.

Playing the "You must be harassed THIS MUCH to have your incident Count" card is also tiresome.
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on August 8, 2013 [47 favorites]


I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Traditionally atheism was seen as a leftist belief, running hand in hand with progressive beliefs about equality of races, sexes etc. However, the current professionally atheist community in the US and UK is for a large part libertarian/rightwing and based in the same arrogance and scientism as a lot of libertarian beliefs. It's the idea that only coding is important and since I know how to code good, I'm automatically an expert on everything.

Exhibit a: Richard Dawkins' Islamophobia.

The disdain for women and disparaging of sexual harassment reports fits in neatly.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


i think this is where communication is key - if the guy is truly socially awkward and distressing women because of it, then someone (the female or a third party) really needs to let him know that his behavior is not ok.

a) It's not like women are born with perfect mediator and social skills in a cute accessory bag

b) Can we please stop bringing up the Socially Awkward Strawman in every single one of these posts? Yes, some people are bad with other people. When we are talking about serial harassment and sexual harassment, we are not talking about those people.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2013 [26 favorites]


As someone firmly in the "Sexual harrassment, whether in person or in the form of rape and death threats on the internet, is emphatically NOT OKAY" camp, who also feels that the elevator invitation for coffee IS perfectly okay,

If you thought that incident was harmless you haven't understood it, didn't think it through, or are not so feminist and anti-sexism as you'd like to think. Let's just note that it's easy to be against rape and death threats on the internet, but it is in concrete situations like this, where you do have people making excuse after excuse for why this particular piece of harassment is okay, that you know who walks the walk.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


I am, for what it's worth, really uncomfortable with the elevator anecdote even being brought into this discussion.

Thank goodness you're here to bring it back, then, well after it's been determined that this is not a thread about the elevator incident.
posted by sculpin at 11:04 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not terribly thrilled by the suggestion that the women who are being bothered have a duty to educate him.

I'll go farther than that: They do not have a duty to educate Hypothetical Socially Awkward Dude. That'd be subordinating their privilege to his, when he's the one being (however unintentionally) offensive, and that doesn't fly.

If they choose to do so, that's fine and dandy, but sooner or later HSAD needs to figure out that his interactions are not getting him what he wants and work out his problems himself. (And come on -- I can't believe that HSAD can attend fandom events and not have the internet for a research tool.)

On the other hand, the plight HSAD is too often trotted out as cover for genuine creepers who know exactly what they're doing. And in both cases, genuine creeper and HSAD comes equipped with the belief that women at cons or wherever owe them attention, and that just isn't so.
posted by Gelatin at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


There was also the incident with Georgia Weidman and Fernando Gont at an IT security conference in Poland in June of 2013. Although it seems that people were generally supportive of her and he was the only one denying what happened.
posted by larrybob at 11:08 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


if the guy is truly socially awkward and distressing women because of it, then someone (the female or a third party) really needs to let him know that his behavior is not ok.

1. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here, but my Humorless Misandrist card would be taken away and torn to pieces if I failed to point out that [human] "females" generally prefer to be referred to as "women."

2a. It is actually not the responsibility of the person who is being harrassed, in this case "the female," to have to figure out a way to notify her harasser that he is exhibiting distressing behavior, particularly since he will almost certainly deny the inappropriateness of his behavior to his dying breath. Rather, it is the responsibility of the man -- all men! all women! all people everywhere always forever! -- to maintain a level of self-awareness that specifically excludes harassing and distressing behavior. Preventing your "true social awkwardness" from rising to the level of harassment is actually a very basic human expectation, part and parcel of living in a social world, and it is drilled into basically everyone who is not actively resisting. The level of persistent [str]awkwardness you are treating as presumably commonplace is actually remarkably uncommon.
2b. Do you think women are not doing this, that we are not moved to call out inappropriate behavior when we see it? Oh my god, it is like a part-time job. Comes with the gender!
2c. When we do this, particularly in public-facing forums like those noted in the OP, it is with full knowledge that we will be called a tease, a slut and/or frigid, a liar, etc., often by people we have long presumed to be allies, and that the hailstorm of name-calling will usually end with a triumphant crow to the effect of "I wouldn't want to fuck you anyway, ugly bitch!"
2d. This is all very exhausting.

3. I am much too tired to fully engage in this conversation, but hot DAMN, I adore P.Z. Myers and Pharyngula. A+ awesome, would ally with again.
posted by divined by radio at 11:13 AM on August 8, 2013 [55 favorites]


[folks if you want to have a side discussion about the elevator incident take it to MeMail and don't do it here, it's derailing and borderline trollish. This is a thread about something else.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:17 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I love the coinage of the word "[str]awkwardness" and will gleefully steal it henceforth.
posted by Gelatin at 11:18 AM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Here's the thing, though: in all the cases that make the Internet news, people HAVE let the guy know.
then that supports my argument - the guy was given fair warning and is continuing in his behavior. obviously not ok. however it sounds like in the cases being mentioned his behavior was so egregious that by an objective standard he should have known better in the first place. i would say in that instance it's ok to sanction the guy's behavior without first confronting him.

I am not terribly thrilled by the suggestion that the women who are being bothered have a duty to educate him. Especially if they are getting a lot of this. How much of a woman's time at a convention should she spend educating clueless guys? 15 minutes? an hour? Half an hour per guy? That's not what she paid her membership for.

I suppose i agree with you here, i was thinking more of in the work or community (college or town or whatever) setting, where everyone knows and encounters this guy on a regular basis. women at cons shouldn't have to spend the whole convention educating clueless dudes.

b) Can we please stop bringing up the Socially Awkward Strawman in every single one of these posts? Yes, some people are bad with other people. When we are talking about serial harassment and sexual harassment, we are not talking about those people.

alright i'll take it that we are not talking about that guy.
posted by camdan at 11:20 AM on August 8, 2013


of course if he knows what he is doing and is feigning awkwardness as a cover, then that is an entirely different matter.

That's the problem. Creepy guys can be awkward, awkward guys can be creepy, and the only litmus test is the instincts of the woman the guy in question is interacting with. And regardless of the personality or intentions, if the dude sets off the creep-dar, the woman's responsibility is to her own personal safety first, and whatever the hell else way, way behind that.
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


jetlagaddict: b) Can we please stop bringing up the Socially Awkward Strawman in every single one of these posts? Yes, some people are bad with other people. When we are talking about serial harassment and sexual harassment, we are not talking about those people.


I dunno. These guys do exist, they have a rough time, and I think a lot of the defensiveness that crops up in these threads and elsewhere is from guys who are or have been that guy to some degree and feel sympathy for what they see as another guy like them getting "badly misunderstood." And I don't think that's going to go away soon, so I think it needs to be acknowledged. Rather than say it's a strawman, I think it's more productive to keep pointing out that it really doesn't matter why someone is making women uncomfortable, they have the right to not be uncomfortable, and it's the (usually guy's) job to figure out what is wrong and fix it, not the women's.

Gelatin: On the other hand, the plight HSAD is too often trotted out as cover for genuine creepers who know exactly what they're doing. And in both cases, genuine creeper and HSAD comes equipped with the belief that women at cons or wherever owe them attention, and that just isn't so.

Absolutely. And stressing that it's not the woman's job gives them space in both situations.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Tanizaki, please work on having a discussion with the other people in this thread. If you are not trolling you need to do a better job at making this clear.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


These guys do exist, they have a rough time, and I think a lot of the defensiveness that crops up in these threads and elsewhere is from guys who are or have been that guy to some degree and feel sympathy for what they see as another guy like them getting "badly misunderstood."

The socially awkward guy exists. (So do socially awkward girls. True fact!)

The problem is that the creeper is, when convenient, pretending to be the socially awkward guy.
posted by jeather at 11:27 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really wish I phrased my previous comment in a way that doesn't sound like i'm Telling Women What To Do. Consider this the explicit acknowledgement that I wasn't trying to.
posted by griphus at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Creepy guys can be awkward, awkward guys can be creepy, and the only litmus test is the instincts of the woman the guy in question is interacting with.

The problem with this litmus test is that it leaves a severely stigmatizing accusation 100% dependent upon another person's subjective "instincts".
posted by Tanizaki at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


And the repercussions of that being what, exactly? Are you specifically talking about the extremely edge case of it being made public? Or about the, say, 99% of other times when the interaction is completely private?
posted by griphus at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with this litmus test is that it leaves a severely stigmatizing accusation 100% dependent upon another person's subjective "instincts".

Except that as evidenced by articles like this one, being accused of harassment is usually the opposite of stigmatizing or problematic.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:34 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not exactly seeing how convicted harassers are stigmatized, never mind accused. I mean, in the case mentioned here, the "punishment" for the harassment that the guy admitted to was that he was put on "suspension" while he was on vacation.
posted by KathrynT at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's just a question of which risk you care about more and want to eliminate:

1. risk of sexual harassment

2. risk of false accusations of sexual harassment

There's always going to be an imbalance in one direction or the other. Right now, there's a lot of sexual harassment. Working against that will increase the risk of false accusations by some measure. Some people notice that and freak the fuck out. Because their priorities are fucked up. Or, to be charitable, because they haven't examined the consequences and implications of their sudden anxiety about men and their reputational injuries.
posted by prefpara at 11:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


The socially awkward guy exists. (So do socially awkward girls. True fact!)

Absolutely.

The problem is that the creeper is, when convenient, pretending to be the socially awkward guy.

Absolutely again. That's why reminding the SAG and his defenders that "it's not the women's problem that they are uncomfortable, it's his" simultaneously robs the creepers of protective cover and clues the SAG that he needs to do something differently.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:37 AM on August 8, 2013


The problem with this litmus test is that it leaves a severely stigmatizing accusation 100% dependent upon another person's subjective "instincts".

You mean, like slut-shaming? Or body policing? Or the majority of sexism (the instinct to stigmatize women based on the instincts of men) itself?
posted by zombieflanders at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


The problem with this litmus test is that it leaves a severely stigmatizing accusation 100% dependent upon another person's subjective "instincts".

So what? That argument smacks of the whole "false accusation" ploy -- or to be kind, a good-faith but embarrassing misunderstanding -- which, as has been discussed here on the blue time and again, is simply not a problem. Or maybe you missed the part about how in several these cases, the accused proves to be both a prominent individual and a serial offender, with other people stepping forward to corroborate the assertion.

As for "severely stigmatizing accusation," the entire point of the FPP is that certain of the powers that be in the skeptical community stigmatized the accuser and more or less gave the accused a free pass.
posted by Gelatin at 11:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


The problem with this litmus test is that it leaves a severely stigmatizing accusation 100% dependent upon another person's subjective "instincts".

Because the "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" ethos is the default for the American legal system people think it should be used everywhere. When a man's life hangs in the balance it's a useful ethic to reach for, but this is a situation where the penalties are miniscule and a situation where if you give someplace for the creepers to hide, they will use that as a shield every time.
posted by john-a-dreams at 11:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Traditionally atheism was seen as a leftist belief, running hand in hand with progressive beliefs about equality of races, sexes etc. However, the current professionally atheist community in the US and UK is for a large part libertarian/rightwing and based in the same arrogance and scientism as a lot of libertarian beliefs.

Yeah, it's amazing when you read posts and comments on those sites and you'd think you were reading Freerepublic or TCOT tweets or something. Lots of "liberal do-gooders", "political correctness", etc used derisively.
posted by kmz at 11:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right now, there's a lot of sexual harassment. Working against that will increase the risk of false accusations by some measure. Some people notice that and freak the fuck out.

One would be hard pressed to come up with a better example of male privilege at work than that.
posted by Gelatin at 11:40 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


And the repercussions of that being what, exactly?

Do you think that reputational damage does not matter? I think "made public" rather underestimates things. It is the rare incident that will be featured in online articles, but people talk. This will depend on your community and career, but if you were accused of sexual harassment rightly or wrongly, to what degree would that follow you around?

It's just a question of which risk you care about more and want to eliminate:

1. risk of sexual harassment
2. risk of false accusations of sexual harassment


I remember hearing a quote somewhere to the effect of "It is better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".
posted by Tanizaki at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2013


By so closely equating false harassment claims with the entirety of sexist behavior based on the political, social, and economic power that men have, you're basically going past sexism into misogyny here. Not surprising, but still: dude, WTF?
posted by zombieflanders at 11:44 AM on August 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


Do you think that reputational damage does not matter?

Observationally, it does not appear to.

I remember hearing a quote somewhere to the effect of "It is better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".

That's talking about the court system, not employment and hiring decisions.
posted by KathrynT at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


I remember hearing a quote somewhere to the effect of "It is better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".

Ah yes, and no one suffers at all if we just let the status quo continue

I mean, no HUMANS, just females
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [45 favorites]


Of course, the woman's reputation doesn't count. Isn't at risk. Isn't something that she must take into account when considering how - or if - to respond to sexual harassment, or support a friend who's gotten hit by it. No. We gotta think about the man's reputation first.
posted by rtha at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2013 [43 favorites]


There's always going to be an imbalance in one direction or the other. Right now, there's a lot of sexual harassment. Working against that will increase the risk of false accusations by some measure. Some people notice that and freak the fuck out. Because their priorities are fucked up. Or, to be charitable, because they haven't examined the consequences and implications of their sudden anxiety about men and their reputational injuries.

And a great way to address this is to have (and follow) clear harassment policies in workplaces and conferences. And for management and organizers to follow up. Because, as a bunch of people have noted upthread, the problem is not really that one guy made one woman uncomfortable briefly (although that would be best if it didn't happen), but that a fairly small number of men is doing this over and over. No one is going to lose their job or get thrown out of a conference for a lewd joke or clumsy pass. The most they will face is some social embarrassment. But when you have multiple complaints against a person, that's reasonably cause to say "I am sorry, we decline your membership (or employment); you are making us look bad." This also nicely deals with the extremely unlikely possibility of a "revenge accusation," which seems to bother some people.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do you think that reputational damage does not matter? I think "made public" rather underestimates things. It is the rare incident that will be featured in online articles, but people talk. This will depend on your community and career, but if you were accused of sexual harassment rightly or wrongly, to what degree would that follow you around?

To be honest and somewhat repetitive, the whole point of these articles is that usually, in most communities, it doesn't. At all! Not at all does it matter most of the time. Head of a school leering at mothers? Nope. Professor sleeping with grad students? Often not. But you're not really concerned about those people, are you.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:47 AM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


To quote an author extremely beloved of the geek world:
“It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.”

-Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
posted by casarkos at 11:48 AM on August 8, 2013 [39 favorites]


I remember hearing a quote somewhere to the effect of "It is better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".

It's probs also better that 100 titties get forcibly squeezed than that one innocent man suffer. Probs.
posted by prefpara at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


Do you think that reputational damage does not matter?

Oh, it does. Which is why when I attend public events, I try to make sure my behavior is not offensive. And you know, it really isn't that hard.

It is the rare incident that will be featured in online articles, but people talk.

Oh, you're right there -- once again, as was thoroughly discussed in the FPP, several previous posts on the Blue and several links here, it turns out that the harassers had a reputation for repeated -- and genuine -- bad behavior long before formal complaints were made.

Which meant, of course, that their bad behavior continued, and various women suffered for it.

I remember hearing a quote somewhere to the effect of "It is better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".

Yes, and that's exactly the problem -- by giving 100 genuine creepers a free pass on behalf of one hypothetical falsely accused, at least 100 women -- and probably much more, thanks to serial bad behavior that's only encouraged by giving it a free pass -- suffer because of their actions.

We have already experienced the situation where creeps get to harass women at conventions and whatnot -- to some extent we're still experiencing it right now. It's a real problem; phony hypothesizing about false accusations simply isn't. Certainly it isn't enough of a worry to justify tolerating the real and ongoing harassment of women.
posted by Gelatin at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


A series of images relevant to the conversation at hand.
posted by griphus at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Tanizaki we're done playing Harassment 101 Tropes with you. You can wrap up your participation in this thread, start participating in the discussion that is actually happening with this actual community, or take the day off. Those are your choices. ]
posted by jessamyn at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2013 [29 favorites]


Jesus, why do so many dudes have a Mommy fetish whenever they contemplate having to deal with reality?

Random strangers are not obligated to be men's mommies, teachers, or social guidance counselors. If you are awkward, then take a class, read a book, or go to therapy.

Because? It is not my job to fix you. It is not ANY woman's job to fix you!

This is exactly, EXACTLY like those guys who abjure women to cover their sexy parts to help THEM not feel lustful. When did that become OUR job? Deal with your own problems, all of you hapless boys who just can't help creeping out women.

Grow. The. Fuck. Up.
posted by emjaybee at 11:55 AM on August 8, 2013 [52 favorites]


I remember hearing a quote somewhere to the effect of "It is better that 100 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".


you're talking about the criminal justice system, where the burden of proof for an accusation is beyond a reasonable doubt, so as not to convict innocent parties. sexual harassment, if an employer gets sued for it, would be a civil case, where the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, a much lower standard. i imagine it's similar with a workplace codes of conduct, where if there is good evidence the guy is doing it (a corroborating complaint or emails or what have you) he'll get fired or reprimanded but not sent to prison.
posted by camdan at 11:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


> who also feels that the elevator invitation for coffee IS perfectly okay, I find this monotheistic mindset off-putting. This latest report of sexual harrassment has nothing to do with Rebecca Watson and her elevator story. Why bring it up, as if it were not only related, but also stands as an unequivocal example of harrassment, when in fact it is neither? I don't feel the need to pass some manufactured sexism purity litmus test in order to prove my own NOT A SEXIST feminist credentials, but I feel like drawing this line in the sand--you must be THIS feminist to take part in this thread!--can be very intimidating to Mefites who might otherwise want to engage in a discussion of sexual harrassment in the Skeptic community. I could certainly understand feeling wary of being attacked or labelled as sexist if they don't fall precisely in line.

It has something to do with Rebecca Watson because she unequivocally felt sexually harassed in the elevator. This does not mean that there is a monotheistic belief that every invitation to coffee in an elevator is sexual, or harassment. The whole root of the issue is that sexual harassment relies on context and nuance that can't be empirically detected, let alone proven, with a literal or metaphorical strip of paper dunked into liquid.

You don't have to be a certain kind of feminist to take part in this thread or engage in a discussion of sexual harassment in the skeptic community. All you have to do is not contradict the validity of someone to relate their own experiences and thoughts. There's a big difference between thinking "eh, coffee invite scenario wouldn't bother me" and "Watson says she was harassed but she wasn't, because her description of the scenario does not sound like something that I personally would have found threatening."

Individual instances of harassment can certainly sound ambiguous and subjective, but in the aggregate there is a very obvious, very unambiguous pattern, and changing it is going to require a broader sea-change in thinking and behavior beyond "new rule #437: no coffee invites in the elevator because apparently it's been decreed to be sexist or something?"
posted by desuetude at 12:06 PM on August 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


It's not illegal, but, because of power imbalances it's unlikely to go well for the student

I've attended sexual harassment training at various clients that cites this factor as well. A proposition does not have to be explicitly quid pro quo to rise to the level of sexual harassment. If an individual perceives -- subjectively, thank you -- that compliance with a proposal may result in favor, or refusal result in retaliation, it's potentially actionable. Which is why -- again! -- the training usually advises workers to avoid sexual discussions at work as a default choice.

I'd also point out that irrespective of the personal stances of the individuals involved, many companies have, and enforce, sexual harassment policies because they can be liable in a civil suit if they're seen as tolerating harassment. It's good to see fandom organizations embracing anti-harassment policies merely because it's the right thing to do.
posted by Gelatin at 12:07 PM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


If someone is, say, physically very awkward, through no fault of their own, it is still their responsibility to figure out how not to hurt people in social situations, even if they do not intend to hurt people. If they do hurt people, it is their responsibility to make it right with an apology or some kind of amends.

If sexual harassment in the skeptics community really were largely an issue of awkward people making socially awkward mistakes and unintentionally scaring people, then there really should be more sincere apologies and less...oh...rape threats and virulent misogyny in response to people speaking up and saying, "Yeah, you hurt me."

For those of us who care about being good and decent people, and not accidentally hurting others, it is on us, all of us, to educate ourselves about our own place in the social structure, about the power imbalances that surround us, and to figure out how to be better people. No, it's not easy, and when you've been coddled in privilege your whole life, it feels deeply unfair as well.

Thankfully, in this day and age, information is much more readily at hand for all of us to learn about what goes on in our culture, the ways in which we accidentally harm people or contribute to unfairness, and we absolutely do not need to demand that people who already have a lot of injustice on their plate are obligated to spend their time educating us. Those who choose to, do us an immeasurable favour, because they help us to be better people. But learning to be better people was always our responsibility in the first place.
posted by Ouisch at 12:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [16 favorites]


[Whoops, missed the note, please mentally substitute your favorite similarly-ambiguous or disputed example of sexual harassment for that of the elevator incident.]
posted by desuetude at 12:13 PM on August 8, 2013


[Are there many undisputed examples of sexual harassment, lately? It seems like there are always people - generally men - coming out of the woodwork to explain that maybe it was all a misunderstanding...]
posted by rmd1023 at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Random strangers are not obligated to be men's mommies, teachers, or social guidance counselors. If you are awkward, then take a class, read a book, or go to therapy.

I don't think every awkward guy can afford to go to therapy or take a class though. And while it's true it's not up to random men or women to teach awkward men (and the awkward guy has to want to be helped in the first place), I think shaming has it's limits of fixing the issue. It brings a lot of awareness and helps control the problem, but it doesn't really resolve the root, which is the awkward guy. I mean, the awkward guy still has feet, so it just becomes a NIMBY problem with the awkward guy polluting some other social group.
posted by FJT at 12:20 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there many undisputed examples of sexual harassment, lately?

If I had to guess, there are as many examples of disputed and false claims of sexual harassment in the entire history of professional organizations, private companies, and public employment as there are actual instances of harassment in any given single 30-day period.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:22 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are there many undisputed examples of sexual harassment, lately? It seems like there are always people - generally men - coming out of the woodwork to explain that maybe it was all a misunderstanding...

The sad thing about Karen Stollznow's story referenced in the FPP was that it her accusation wasn't disputed; it's just that there were no real consequences for anyone but her:
Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he was on vacation overseas.

[snip]

The situation has disadvantaged me greatly. I have lost a project I once worked on, I have had to disclose highly personal information to colleagues, and I don’t think that I’ll be offered work anymore from this company.
posted by Gelatin at 12:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think shaming has it's limits of fixing the issue. It brings a lot of awareness and helps control the problem, but it doesn't really resolve the root, which is the awkward guy.

No, the root of the problem is the presumption that women by default owe attention or consideration to men.
posted by Gelatin at 12:25 PM on August 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


I think shaming has it's limits of fixing the issue. It brings a lot of awareness and helps control the problem, but it doesn't really resolve the root, which is the awkward guy. I mean, the awkward guy still has feet, so it just becomes a NIMBY problem with the awkward guy polluting some other social group.

The actual awkward guy who wants to make friends and have a relationship -- who isn't, of course, the real problem -- also has things like the internet, which is filled with places offering advice.

The creeper, who is also the awkward guy who doesn't want to be helped, who is also the fake-awkward-guy, is the actual problem, and it's not my social group's job to teach them all so that they cannot go to a second group. NIMBYism works fine here because it's not like someone who is actively creeping needs to exist in a social group in the same way that a halfway house has to actually physically exist somewhere.
posted by jeather at 12:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think every awkward guy can afford to go to therapy or take a class though.

Thankfully all the information he would need is literally at his fingertips.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:27 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


And as I said before, the HSAD might not be able to afford therapy, but he can at least look up basic rules of etiquette on the Internet -- or at the public library, for crying out loud -- and follow them.
posted by Gelatin at 12:28 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


These guys do exist, they have a rough time, and I think a lot of the defensiveness that crops up in these threads and elsewhere is from guys who are or have been that guy to some degree and feel sympathy for what they see as another guy like them getting "badly misunderstood."

Ptui.

There's a kernel of truth there, but socially awkward guys really should learn that being socially awkward is not something you're going to overcome by harassing women and that the first step to learning to overcome social awkwardness is to realise you have no claim on a stranger's attention just because she's a woman and you'd like to get to know her.

Not defend assholes.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:28 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


No, the root of the problem is the presumption that women by default owe attention or consideration to men.

But, you still need to deal with men, because that's where these held presumptions do the most harm.
posted by FJT at 12:33 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why are we talking about "awkward guys" when these incidents involve well-known and in at least one case C-level participants in a large community that includes famous and wealthy people? You don't get to be well known and/or c-level by being unable to interact socially and climb the hierarchy.

99% of the socially awkward people I know do not ask other people out or ask for sex until a fairly significant amount of time and interaction has passed. Rejection is scary so they avoid it. Let's please stop making them strawpeople or pretending that they're the actual problem that needs to be solved.

Also, here's a thought: whenever a person stands up and says, "Hey, I was hurt by someone else's actions," the default reaction should not be "no you weren't, prove it. It needs to be good enough for ME to decide you were hurt before you were actually hurt." It doesn't really matter what you're arguing against, that's the path of least possible helpfulness.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:34 PM on August 8, 2013 [36 favorites]


But, you still need to deal with men, because that's where these held presumptions do the most harm.

And men who jump to defend harassers might want to examine why they're automatically identifying with a harasser rather than with the harassed. It seems to me that men who make that identification are more entrenched in their own gender identity than are the women complaining about harassers.

I mean, when I hear a story about a little boy being abused by his mother, I don't automatically defend the woman just because I'm also a woman. Presumably, a man who saw a boy being bullied by other boys could identify with the victim in that scenario. So what's keeping him from identifying with women in these situations?
posted by jaguar at 12:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


But, you still need to deal with men, because that's where these held presumptions do the most harm.

I agree with the general point that the patriarchy is harmful to men too, but the evidence is rather overwhelming that those perceptions harm women far more than men. And it isn't women's -- or mine, as a man, or anyone else's -- obligation to bring someone up to speed on the basic rules of civilized behavior when they are a matter of public record (as in, say, a convention's anti-harassment policy).

Why are we talking about "awkward guys"

Because it's a classic derail from the topic of genuine creepers, and the trap is that even pointing the fact out is participating in it.
posted by Gelatin at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


All of the instances and patterns of harassment described in the articles and posts linked above involve high-profile people in positions of authority. Not this socially awkward straw man we are repeatedly forced to pay attention to. In several instances, as Gelatin points out, the harassment is not at all denied, just minimized. These situations have very little to do with socially awkward guys not knowing how to ask girls out, but quite the opposite, men in positions of authority who know very well what they are doing and that their social skills and status will in fact protect them from any repercussions for their harassment and sexual assault on women.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:42 PM on August 8, 2013 [23 favorites]


Why are we talking about "awkward guys" when these incidents involve well-known and in at least one case C-level participants in a large community that includes famous and wealthy people? You don't get to be well known and/or c-level by being unable to interact socially and climb the hierarchy.

Yeah. Both Ben Radford and James Frenkel are the kind of guys who are far from the "awkward" end of the meter. It's a little ironic to me that both of them seem like the kind of guys who are much more in the category of "But when good-looking, non-awkward guys do stuff that would get awkward guys called creepy, they get away with it and women even date them!" that comes up in these discussions.

And you know, they did get away with it. Not because they're so awesomely handsome and suave, but because their victims were too afraid of what would happen to their reputations and careers if they came forward. Until now.
posted by rtha at 12:42 PM on August 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


There was a truly excellent piece about why some men fight the term creep on tumblr recently but I cannot find it again.

The gist was that, unlike anything else, "he's creepy" shuts things down for good. "I'm in a relationship" leads to waiting for it to end, etc etc, but there's no real pushback possible against "creepy" except nitpicking what it means.

I really need to find this again.
posted by jeather at 12:43 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thankfully all the information he would need is literally at his fingertips.

But so are massive amounts of misinformation, too. Just because the information is out there, doesn't mean the problem is resolved. People spend billions of dollars every year to just push information out to people, it's called a lot of things including marketing, public diplomacy, public relations, and plain 'ole propaganda.

mean, when I hear a story about a little boy being abused by his mother, I don't automatically defend the woman just because I'm also a woman. Presumably, a man who saw a boy being bullied by other boys could identify with the victim in that scenario.

For the former example, I would most likely read about why the woman abuses the child. Is she mentally ill or maybe was abused herself? For the latter, I would identify with both. As a younger child, I was bullied and did bully too.
posted by FJT at 12:52 PM on August 8, 2013


Things that I have experienced that are discrimination and possibly sexual harassment:
- at work, at a celebration of a female coworker's college graduation: Group of men(including a supervisor) talking about whether or not the graduate is a MILF, and a general discussion of MILFs.
- Lots of language addressed to a work group that was predominantly female and adult: "Would you ladies ... "
- addressed to the work group's supervisor: "Would you ask one of the girls, err, uh, ladies to ... "
- Persistent assumptions that female staff have less technical expertise, meaning assignments go to male staff, who get more experience, who get more promotions.
- "Would you round up some of the guys to help unload some equipment?"
- Female employee makes a suggestion. No response. Male supervisor says "Mom just suggested X." Male staff reply "Hey, that's a good idea, Supervisor" and obviously not hearing the part about "Mom just said"
- If a person at a meeting uses any word that might have a sexual connotation, there will be a 'joke', i.e., "We'll have to do that job manually" "Oh, you're going to do a hand job?"
- Faculty member: "You control the stimulation therefore you control my response. You've turned me on, don't you think we should do something about it? I have a lot of contacts in (are of study) and I could really be a big help to you, etc."
- Hiring male students for jobs requiring technical expertise, and other jobs that pay better, and also have good post-school applications.
- shopping for a used car "What color car are you looking for, dear?"

That's off the top of my head, not all at my current employer/school. Most of the time, most people know better than to be explicitly sexual and explicitly sexist at work. I encounter quite a bit of age discrimination, and am currently grieving discrimination on the basis of disability status. The paperwork and process is a huge hassle, and the employer gets to make the judgement (unless you want to lawyer up and risk a bunch of cash). Thank you, Karen Stollznow, for complaining at work and for coming forward. It's difficult and really unpleasant, but it changes things.

The elevator thing? whatevs. The thing is, there's big discrimination is in the unprovable events - the manager who just plain dislikes you because you're female and not flirty-girly-submissive, and makes your life miserable until you leave. There are a thousand examples of body language, subtle verbal cues, but it's really slippery, so you say Screw it, and leave. The assignments you don't get because if you're loud when the opportunity comes up, it's unfeminine and aggressive, but if a guy is loud, so what. The assignments you don't get because the manager plays online games with the guys, and you are not welcome in that group. But they chat and the guys always know what's going on - this scenario plays out over and over. The raises men still get because they have a family to support, because they have egos that will be bruised. The raises men get because maleness is still associated with competency at work for many people, who aren't even aware of it.
posted by Mom at 12:52 PM on August 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


But so are massive amounts of misinformation, too. Just because the information is out there, doesn't mean the problem is resolved.

What of it? It's still his responsibility to get it right, not anyone else's.

If he hangs out on MRA or so-called pick-up artist forums, he may still experience rejection for being a creep, which of course does not solve his problem, but it's no one else's obligation to educate him.
posted by Gelatin at 1:04 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


However, the current professionally atheist community in the US and UK is for a large part libertarian/rightwing and based in the same arrogance and scientism as a lot of libertarian beliefs.

Good thing there's a growing portion of public atheists who aren't libertarian and are pro-equality. It's too bad they only seem to get a lot of widespread attention when they're condemning horrendous behavior from other atheists instead of when they're articulating a positive atheism without arrogance.
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Evolution clearly demonstrates that women are incapable of accurately determining physical threats, implicit intimidation, unwelcome physical contact, or other forms of coercion and violence from the men around them. This is because over millions of years of female dominance in physical, economic, and social realms, the relevant selective pressure has never been applied to women as a group. Essentially women just roll a d20, and if you get a 17-20, you're "creepy." Nothing to do with your behavior, and really it's not their fault. It's just basic evolutionary theory.

That's why whenever women report an incident of harassment, intimidation, inappropriate behavior, inappropriate physical contact, or unwelcome sexual advances, the first thing you should do is explain how the incident should properly be interpreted.

If you simply understood how evolutionary biology worked, this would be immediately clear.
posted by jsturgill at 1:12 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


If he hangs out on MRA or so-called pick-up artist forums, he may still experience rejection for being a creep, which of course does not solve his problem, but it's no one else's obligation to educate him.

I think I understand it's not anyone's obligation, but it just doesn't sit well with me. The MRA and pick up artist movements are growing and becoming increasingly part of the cultural landscape. For pick up artists alone, I've seen Meetup groups, television shows, and let's not forget how The Game popularized the whole thing. When I google Men's Rights, there's 192 million hits, with 3 Google Ads specifically for "father's rights". When I google Feminism, there's 20 million hits, and no Google Ads.

Finally, a more personal example: In a nerdy meetup group I'm in, someone posts a meetup to a Feminist event, within a day there's a couple of guys actively commenting how this is "hostile" and should be taken down. Our main organizer, doesn't say anything, and she's a woman herself!

Are all Feminists just Taoists, or is something else going on?
posted by FJT at 1:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


is something else going on?

The "something else going on" is that women are sick and tired of being the ones policing men's sexual behavior. I am not these dudes' parents, shrinks, or parole officers; it is not my job to enlighten them patiently and respectfully. If a guy walks into a restaurant and takes an enormous shit on the floor, nobody thinks the community at large should respond by gently teaching him about toilet training -- rather we correctly label this behavior as gross and call the authorities. Sexual harassment should be the same way.
posted by KathrynT at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2013 [48 favorites]


Are all Feminists just Taoists, or is something else going on?
posted by FJT at 4:24 PM on August 8 [+] [!]


eponysterical?
posted by yeoz at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2013


Just because the information is out there, doesn't mean the problem is resolved. People spend billions of dollars every year to just push information out to people, it's called a lot of things including marketing, public diplomacy, public relations, and plain 'ole propaganda.

OK, so who do you think is responsible for solving "the problem" for these poor, terminally awkward men?
If the answer is women, why?
If the answer is other men, can you confirm that you, personally, have done enough to combat the seemingly virulent spread of this terrible, damaging misinformation?

If those feel like inappropriate questions, I would recommend examining why you think the onus of resolving inappropriate behavior should be placed on absolutely anyone in the entire world except the people who are engaging in it. Why is it our job instead of theirs?
Continually defending the abiding honor of all the hapless men who have been so blinded by the onslaught of misogynistic propaganda that they simply cannot help but harass women is classic misdirection. It is basically the opposite of meaningful discussion; it is a false yellow card, a ruse, a non-issue. Why do you think we don't hear more about hapless, awkward women harassing men who are just trying to go about their business, attend conventions, and/or do their jobs? Is it because similarly awkward women don't exist? Or is it because we tacitly accept that sort of behavior from men and men alone?

For the former example, I would most likely read about why the woman abuses the child. Is she mentally ill or maybe was abused herself? For the latter, I would identify with both. As a younger child, I was bullied and did bully too.

The hypotheticals are getting a bit difficult for me to parse here, but are you suggesting that we must first take care to examine the root cause of any individual instance of harassment before we can condemn it? Because we've already done that -- we've already figured out why. The answer is sexism.
posted by divined by radio at 1:30 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


FJT: "Finally, a more personal example: In a nerdy meetup group I'm in, someone posts a meetup to a Feminist event, within a day there's a couple of guys actively commenting how this is "hostile" and should be taken down. Our main organizer, doesn't say anything, and she's a woman herself! "

So why don't you say something? Or do you?
posted by gingerbeer at 1:34 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


So why don't you say something? Or do you?

I did, but should I have? Apparently, everyone here thinks it's not my or anyone else's job to do that.
posted by FJT at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently, everyone here thinks it's not my or anyone else's job to do that.

You are not morally responsible for someone else's inappropriate behavior, but you do have a moral responsibility to push back against such behavior. Is that clear?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


The people with more institutional power and privilege in any situation need to be more actively engaged in helping to make things more equitable for everyone. That means men who are aware of sexism need to step up to help us end it, while at the same time not talking over or disrespecting women. It is a balance to strike, but not an impossible one. Listen to women. Learn and read about sexism and misogyny (and racism and homophobia and everything), and change your own behaviour, and question the statements and behaviours of other men when confronted with something sexist. Yeah, you will probably take shit for it. You will also be a better person for it.
posted by Ouisch at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


jeather, was this Why Guys Really Hate Being Called Creepy the article?
posted by 1066 at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I did, but should I have? Apparently, everyone here thinks it's not my or anyone else's job to do that.

You -- like everyone else -- aren't required to teach every person who is socially awkward how not to be. You can choose to do so, but it is not obligatory.

And again: the people in these stories are not the poor, socially awkward guys. They are very socially skilled. Also they are creeps.
posted by jeather at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Apparently, everyone here thinks it's not my or anyone else's job to do that.

There's a difference between an implied obligation to spend one's valuable time educating individuals about their socially inappropriate behavior and voluntarily discussing matters that affect a group collectively (like, for instance, advocating that a convention one plans to attend have a clear anti-harassment policy...or commenting on MetaFilter).
posted by Gelatin at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there lots of innocent but awkward guys who get in trouble for unwanted but one-off expressions of romantic or sexual interest? Because I just haven't seen that happening. Usually, the woman just lets him know that she's not interested and the thing ends. Maybe she complains about him to her friends. The guys who get into trouble (and too few do) do much more. They persist in unwelcome behavior, create quid pro quo situations, grope people, etc. Sometimes for years.

Lots of men have been complaining about the subjectivity of sexual harassment and the scenario of the awkward guy for decades now, but I don't believe it is a problem in real life.
posted by Area Man at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Are there lots of innocent but awkward guys who get in trouble for unwanted but one-off expressions of romantic or sexual interest?

I dunno, but some people would clearly rather discuss them than the dudes who abuse their privilege to harass women and get away with it.
posted by Gelatin at 1:41 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The hypotheticals are getting a bit difficult for me to parse here, but are you suggesting that we must first take care to examine the root cause of any individual instance of harassment before we can condemn it?

No, I am not suggesting to examine before condemn. I was responding to two hypotheticals that were given to me. The abuser in question should be punished as should the bully. I mean, I think it would help attack the issue better if there's more knowledge, but I don't think it should come before condemnation.

And I think there should be more knowledge, because unlike child abuse and bullying, for some reason sexism has entire forums, organizations, and Meetup groups dedicated to propagating that idea. I mean, there's no group that supports child abuse or a union of bullies, but there are men's rights groups.
posted by FJT at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2013


When I google Men's Rights, there's 192 million hits, with 3 Google Ads specifically for "father's rights". When I google Feminism, there's 20 million hits, and no Google Ads.

Before throwing out stats like this, please learn how to properly search for phrases in Google (or any search engine).
posted by kmz at 1:48 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before throwing out stats like this, please learn how to properly search for phrases in Google (or any search engine).

Sorry, my mistake.
posted by FJT at 1:50 PM on August 8, 2013


I mean, there's no group that supports child abuse or a union of bullies

Uh, NAMBLA? (Don't Google that at work.) And all the organizations devoted to restricting or banning same-sex marriage, abortion, voting rights, etc.? I don't know what I could call them except bullies.

If you're talking about organizations that are specifically pro-childhood bullying, I am absolutely sure you could find at least one. There are hundreds to thousands of groups of people engaged in active support of every ghastly idea the dregs of humanity have dreamed of since the beginning of time, some of which are seen as more acceptable than others. Identification, condemnation, and legal action are basically the sum total of options we have for dealing with them.

So-called "men's rights" groups simply do not wield the vaunted level of power you are assigning to them. The presumed virulence of their propaganda has been dramatically overstated. And most importantly, none of this has anything to do with the type of people called out in the OP for harassment: powerful, popular, widely-respected men in leadership positions. Or do you think they're just victims of The Game, too?
posted by divined by radio at 2:01 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are a number of groups, like the American Family Association, that are working very hard against rules that prevent bullying because it might keep people from bashing queer kids like God intended.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also...
presumed virulence of their [MRAs] propaganda has been dramatically overstated.

I'm not sure it's possible to overstate the virulence of some of these self-described 'men's rights' advocates. I don't really want to link to this stuff directly for the same reason I don't want to link to stormfront, but if you check out sites like heartiste.wordpress.com and umslopogaas.wordpress.com you can find all manner of virulent hate speech.

I don't think these folks are *powerful* in terms of any kind of social capital, but they do seem to be very closely linked with the Internet Sexist Hate Machine that deluges women with threats of rape and violent injury for daring to be women on the internet. Which seems to have the power to chill a lot of women's speech.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, there's no group that supports child abuse or a union of bullies

The people in this thread suggesting that we sympathize with abusers and harassers instead of those being abused and harassed are, in fact, a group that supports abuse and bullying. That was my point.

This categorical refusal of men to identify with women seems to me to be part and parcel of the original idea of the Male Gaze, that men experience stories through a male protagonist's eyes and women are expected to experience stories through those male eyes as well. That's what I'm seeing suggested here -- that both men and women should be identifying with male bullies and abusers.

I think any man suggesting this may need to start reading and watching more literature and film written, directed, and starring women, in order to ease into the cross-gender identification that women do every single day. If any of you think that women don't intimately understand the bullying man's point of view on this, you're wrong. We watch it every day on tv, we read it every day in assigned and best-selling books, we see it every day in every blockbuster action film that exists. We read it over and over and over again in threads like these, in op-eds, on blogs, in magazine articles, in discussions about how modern men just can't find their way in the world. We're taught that men's problems are human problems while women's problems are frivolous, so we learn to concentrate on men's problems and explanations and psyches. Many of us, unfortunately, have been in enough abusive or dysfunctional relationships or situations where our very existence relied on understanding men's psyches, so that we could tip-toe around their triggers in order to avoid abuse or assault.

WE UNDERSTAND THE MAN'S POINT OF VIEW. ALL the men's points of view -- the awkward dude, the unintentionally creepy dude, the intentionally creepy dude, the bully. We understand them, because our cultural training prioritizes their stories over ours, and our safety often depends on understanding them.

So you can stop explaining all the misunderstandings you think you see. We understand where these guys are coming from, we're just sick of giving a fuck.
posted by jaguar at 2:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [60 favorites]


When you Google "men's rights" -- with the quote marks-- you get 633,000 results. In case you didn't know, searching for men's rights (no quotes) will get you all pages that include men's plus all pages that include rights.
posted by zompist at 2:16 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me: These guys do exist, they have a rough time, and I think a lot of the defensiveness that crops up in these threads and elsewhere is from guys who are or have been that guy to some degree and feel sympathy for what they see as another guy like them getting "badly misunderstood."

MartinWisse : Ptui.

There's a kernel of truth there, but socially awkward guys really should learn that being socially awkward is not something you're going to overcome by harassing women and that the first step to learning to overcome social awkwardness is to realise you have no claim on a stranger's attention just because she's a woman and you'd like to get to know her.

Not defend assholes.


Not disagreeing with your conclusion, MartinWisse, but the whole reason I brought that up was to try and answer the question why so many straight men (especially "nerdy men") jump to the "awkward guy defense" and are likely to continue to do so. They feel awkward themselves, disempowered in their romantic/sexual aspirations, and very nervous around women. They imagine themselves in a situation where they would do something awkward and be shamed for it. So that is the scenario they spin. Yeah, I imagine that there are predators cynically exploiting that stance to give themselves cover, but I expect there are far more who make this argument out of their own fear. Which is, ironically, largely a result of the Patriarchy, which they are enthusiastically supporting while benefiting very little from.

I think the antidote to that is to not insist that awkward guys do not exist; ten minutes at a science fiction or gamer (or, apparently, a skeptic) convention or meeting should disabuse you of that. The point is that the man's intentions are irrelevant. The real question is did the woman feel uncomfortable? That's a question that can be answered pretty easily and definitively, and it skirts the entire question of whether the guy is a creep, socially anxious, or whatever.

As for the larger question, I guess that conventions could run workshops for guys who feel awkward, but I am not sure how well attended they would be. It might be worth a try.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:23 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


> As for the larger question, I guess that conventions could run workshops for guys who feel awkward, but I am not sure how well attended they would be. It might be worth a try.

This isn't the problem we need to spend time solving. Identifying and dealing with predatory behaviour is.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:26 PM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I hereby assign every man who comes into a thread about harrassment of women to express concern about the sorrow of male social awkwardness to find, teach and nurture these poor beleaguered souls. Go out! Teach them! Spread your knowledge and compassion! I commission you to make it your life's work, since you're so very concerned about it!

Hanging out here weeping for those guys isn't going to help them,and to be frank, I'm tired of every thread on harassment of women going this way.
posted by emjaybee at 2:33 PM on August 8, 2013 [38 favorites]


I'm not sure it's possible to overstate the virulence of some of these self-described 'men's rights' advocates.

Of course, you're completely right -- I meant to reference virulence purely in terms of infectiousness rather than noxiousness/poisonousness, which is just to say that I think FJT's belief that MRA viewpoints are exponentially increasing in popularity while feminism meekly languishes in the shadows is incontrovertibly false.

I absolutely agree that the Internet Sexist Hate Machine is a, if not the, most serious problem that needs to be addressed if women can ever hope speak about their lives without being shouted down by a roving band of whinging loudmouths who believe that all men will be rounded up and ground down under the stiletto heels of gender equality feminazis. And I try hard to have faith in the idea that their acts are increasingly inspired by sheer desperation, a la today's Republican Party, as they are forced to realize that they are being increasingly outgunned, outwitted, and outnumbered. (Key word: Try. And try. And try...)
posted by divined by radio at 2:33 PM on August 8, 2013


Are all Feminists just Taoists, or is something else going on?

Some women fear being ostracized, especially those within nerd/geek communities whose members commonly refuse to believe gender inequality could ever be an issue within their ranks and frequently react with threats of physical and sexual violence at the mere suggestion that they could be privileged in some way.

It's awesome that you're keeping an open mind about all this, FJT. There's a lot of justified anger here that you shouldn't take personally. A lot of people have been dealing with this issue for years, the basics of the issue are hashed out over and over again on MetaFilter. There's a bunch of resources online about Feminism that are really eye-opening, as are a lot of the personal experience threads here on MeFi. Check out the Female Experience Simulator thread we just had or Google "feminism 101". Don't forget the quotes this time :)
posted by dubusadus at 2:36 PM on August 8, 2013


Back to the topic: In my experience, the sexism you get at church has the same root, but is expressed differently, than the sexism you get from avowed atheist types.

Maybe because church sexists feel obligated (mostly) to wrap it up in concern for your wellbeing, to feign compassion, to praise you for your efforts, and to try to make you feel good about being second-class. God has a job for you! It's just not the top job.

Whereas many of the atheist/libertarian dudes I met made it fairly clear they were straight-out believers in women being biologically inferior, and saw coddling us as hiding the truth. I mean, where were all the brilliant women scientists and artists? Didn't the intelligence tests clearly show women as inferior? Not to mention our relative physical weakness and inability to run faster or lift more than men.
posted by emjaybee at 2:40 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Did anyone else read the e-mails that Carrie Poppy provided to PZ Myers?

I was blown away by the exchange in which Dr. Karen Stollznow tells D.J. Grothe that she thinks CFI "trivialized and minimized" her complaints and he responds by writing "I am happy to learn from you that the CFI has responded to your complaints with the seriousness they deserve." What a jerk.
posted by Area Man at 2:47 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Our main organizer, doesn't say anything, and she's a woman herself!

Inherent to the problem of sexism is that women have been told to shut the fuck up and stop whining since birth. Sometimes it's actually in those words. Sometimes it's the "but-but-but-but" just like in this thread, but the message is the same: shut the fuck up and stop whining. You've got nothing to bitch about. Speak up and someone will suggest you be raped, or publish your home address so someone can go rape you, or call your job and try to get you fired just for fun. It's not free and painless to say something, and your bafflement that a woman might not automatically do so speaks to your privilege to say something if you see something you don't like.

There are a thousand times I haven't said anything because I was so shocked I didn't know what to say, or so afraid that I didn't say anything, or so unsure (often unsure if maybe I deserved it) what to do and whether it was safe to do so that I convinced myself it wasn't my place or my business or my meetup group to dictate how people behave in it. And anyway, if someone says something, the response is going to be this:

commenting how this is "hostile" and should be taken down

but-but-but-but.

Just because someone is a woman and a feminist doesn't mean she's always brave or willing to risk the punishment or just has the energy to fight this fight every single goddamn time.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:51 PM on August 8, 2013 [18 favorites]


I think FJT's belief that MRA viewpoints are exponentially increasing in popularity while feminism meekly languishes in the shadows is incontrovertibly false.

Really? Because I see these groups growing and starting to become active in the real world (at a time when feminists seem to dusting off their hands and withdrawing to the internet). Their critiques of society are superficial and/or incorrect, but that's exactly what makes the worldview so appealing.
posted by cdward at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2013


"I am happy to learn from you that the CFI has responded to your complaints with the seriousness they deserve."

That was, I thought, the most breathtaking part. Especially when she replies and isn't sure if he meant that to sound the way it came out and he replies that he most certainly did. Stunning, not just in its hatefulness but the absolute certainty that he is in the right AND terribly clever for saying it that way.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:55 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


(at a time when feminists seem to dusting off their hands and withdrawing to the internet)

Really, now.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Really? Because I see these groups growing and starting to become active in the real world (at a time when feminists seem to dusting off their hands and withdrawing to the internet). Their critiques of society are superficial and/or incorrect, but that's exactly what makes the worldview so appealing.

Do you actually know any feminists? Because many of the ones I know are out protesting, raising hell, and raising money for causes they care about. "Dusting their hands off" wha?
posted by emjaybee at 2:57 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Alright, ignore that bit. It wasn't the point.
posted by cdward at 2:58 PM on August 8, 2013


it doesn't excuse his behavior but someone needs to let him know.

You don't count the women turning him down as "someone letting him know"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:05 PM on August 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


I have been the socially-awkward dude. I've done creepy-stalkery things in my past, and I've grown enough as a person (thanks to a combination of mindfulness and empathy and life experience) to know not to do those things anymore.

The socially-awkward-strawman reasoning gets me almost transcendentally angry, because it's rooted in the privileged idea that 'Because I am who I am, I have an expectation that I can talk to anyone I want, even if it would be an impediment on them.'

And that's bullshit, because it's a model that falls apart when you direct it back on itself.

Are you required to talk to the petitioner outside your supermarket because they want to take a minute of your time to 'Help save the children'? Hell no. You say 'That's why I got a vasectomy, man' and keep walking.

When the boring jackass at work really gets into their Tahitian nail collection and you feel your brain sliding out your ears because you actually have work you need to get done, you blow the explosive bolts and eject from the conversation, and god damn the feelings.

The people around you are not required to help you when you are revealed to be deficient, regardless of whether your deficiency is mental, physical, or social. It's nice if someone helps you, but that doesn't mean that they should if they feel the cost to them is too high.
posted by mikurski at 4:04 PM on August 8, 2013 [38 favorites]



I have been the socially-awkward dude. I've done creepy-stalkery things in my past, and I've grown enough as a person (thanks to a combination of mindfulness and empathy and life experience) to know not to do those things anymore.


THIS

One of the Australian skeptic groups I belong to has already started dismissing and victim-blaming the author of this post. It's not a good look.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:03 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


You should tell them that's not okay.
posted by jessamyn at 6:34 PM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm pretty ashamed of the Australian Skeptics right now; people are saying it's a 'false accusation' and that this is 'gossip-mongering'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:37 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well and here's my question: not putting you on the spot or anything, but what do you think are the things that are keeping you from going over there and saying "Hey man not cool" to them?

I think for a lot of us, that's been the difficult thing to sort of explain in this thread. There was a discussion upthread about why all women don't spend all their time sort of helping people toe the line or showing them where the line is and a bunch of other people saying "Hey not my job"

But at some level you, right now, are in a real position to actually step up and tell people that victim-blaming isn't acceptable and that they're behaving poorly and in a way that is sort of shameful to the maybe-otherwise-okay (I don't know, are they?) Australian Skeptics, a group that you are a member of. That said, I could see a lot of reasons for not doing that ranging from getting a bunch of shit for it to possibly not caring that much about their actions, though you cared enough about them to bring their commentary over here.

So this might be an interesting time to discuss this same theme from another perspective. And again, I mean this as mostly an intellectual exercise not to put you on the spot to do a thing you might not want to do. You belong to this group. What are the things preventing you from telling them to stop talking that way?
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on August 8, 2013 [16 favorites]


I did tell them to stop talking that way, twice, and both times my posts were deleted. The third time there was a note from the moderator saying that "This group is for the discussion of science and skeptical matters - not for the participation of rumour mongering and a smear campaign. "
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:48 PM on August 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wow, that's terrible.

A possible course of action is talking about why that isn't okay, that claims of "rumour mongering" are a silencing tactic, and that the skeptical community is not ever going to improve and show itself to be more accepting and tolerant than religious communities if it continues doing this. Then, when you get banned, show the screenshots of everything that happened in other skeptic communities, send it to blogs, post it on the atheism plus subreddit, and otherwise shame them into admitting they were being huge dicks, or at least make it public that they are huge dicks that are willing to accept bad behavior.
posted by NoraReed at 8:22 PM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wish I was part of a group full of sexist people so I could say "Hey not cool" to them. I even like arguing the same thing over and over again, that's why I'm here!

So, I was an awkward guy. I still may be an awkward guy, except I've got a girlfriend now and don't have to worry about this particular form of awkwardness for the time being. Let me tell all you dudes feeling sorry for the awkward guys that you are wasting your time. Awkward guys are very rarely the target of such misandry as you see here.

The thing about women? Most of them, like most people period, have empathy. They are capable of witnessing an awkward guy attempt something remarkably stupid and understanding that maybe that guy is a total moron who doesn't know when the heck is the right time to try and kiss a person. They have the capacity to say, "Um, I was not expecting that, and that was kind of not okay," and then hear the awkward guy go "Oh shit I am totally sorry that was really dumb," and not like destroy that guy's life or anything. Believe me. I have made awkward propositions. I have made stupid passes. I was an idiot and knew it, and I received way more sympathy than I probably deserved.

But there's a difference between being awkward and being, dare I say it, outright misogynistic, even if the one does sometimes bloom into the other. The difference is that plain awkward people assume that the women they're awkwarding up are people too. They have lives and motives of their own. Misogynists think that women exist to serve a purpose. They are in this room to be hit on, to be propositioned, to be kissed or fucked, whatever. And it is the man's right to do these things, consequence-free. It is okay for the man to try anything he fucking wants, because it's all a part of the game, yo.

Awkward people often assume the opposite of this. Which is why many awkward people grow up into reasonable adults after they've gained some modicum of self-esteem.

I was not one of those awkward people. I was an arrogant little twit who assumed that every woman on the planet was playing some kind of game, and that the only reason I wasn't getting laid left and right was that I was making some kind of losing moves. Mind you, I had enough decency not to voice these thoughts out loud, so even I received more empathy than I perhaps deserved. But to the extent that I let those opinions dictate my actions, I was a pain in the ass (at best) to all the women who crossed my way. (I will offer as a slight self-defense that I was a teenager at the time.)

The impulse to feel empathy towards us poor men who aren't getting laid enough is, maybe, a decent one. But you have to understand that by siding first and always with the man in a scenario, you are basically ignoring the massive gaping problem that is the frequency with which women are treated like objects or possessions, denied their right to just go about their lives, and then abused whenever they speak up about how maybe this isn't quite an okay thing. Personally, I would not mind if you started paying them more attention than you paid me. Tragic and noble as my many flaws may be.

And as for the atheist/skeptic response to this: acknowledging your impulses and human nature or whatever is not the same as going, "welp, I feel this way, so that's the way it's gotta be." That's essentially a nihilist view of the world, and the notion that atheism equals nihilism is one of those things that I thought atheists were always trying to argue against. Incidentally, the refusal to accept that status quo is one of the things I find beautiful about most major religions. I wish their followers would follow suit.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:33 PM on August 8, 2013 [40 favorites]


The thing about women? Most of them, like most people period, have empathy. They are capable of witnessing an awkward guy attempt something remarkably stupid and understanding that maybe that guy is a total moron who doesn't know when the heck is the right time to try and kiss a person.

Seriously. We've been told "Maybe he's harassing you because he likes you" since we were, like, six years old. Really, we've internalized that sometimes guys are awkward. We've also learned that predators often pretend to be awkward in order to gain sympathy; we've had DECADES of experience dealing with both situations and differentiating between the two.
posted by jaguar at 10:06 PM on August 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


It gets worse.
At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me. I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity, and I am very scared that he will come after me in some way. But I wanted to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening. I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously. Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them) and wanted to just say something and warn people, and I didn’t know how. I hope this protects someone.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:20 PM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Soooo... Now that we have Michael Shermer accused of raping a woman, is anybody having second thoughts about whether this sort of culture is an unhealthy one to foster?
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:52 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


HOLY SHIT.

Incidentally, the Socialist Workers Party (UK) has been imploding since early in the year due to the leadership's coverup of the fact that one of its coordinating committee members is a serial rapist; there's been a mass exodus from the party, including writers China Miéville and Richard Seymour, in protest.
posted by scody at 10:56 PM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Soooo... Now that we have Michael Shermer accused of raping a woman, is anybody having second thoughts about whether this sort of culture is an unhealthy one to foster?

I'm gonna be charitable and assume you mean rape culture.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:57 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that or "culture where any way men behave towards women is okay because free choice! freedom of speech! we are liberated thinkers!" Which is itself rape culture, so.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:12 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The people around you are not required to help you when you are revealed to be deficient, regardless of whether your deficiency is mental, physical, or social. It's nice if someone helps you, but that doesn't mean that they should if they feel the cost to them is too high.

Yeah but apparently being a Libertarian is some horrible crime against mankind, so.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:22 PM on August 8, 2013


There's a difference between "it's your responsibility not to be an asshole" and "my political philosophy is sociopathy".
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:45 PM on August 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Don't worry, even if the accusations stick or go to trial, these people can still run for office.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:48 PM on August 8, 2013


@Pope Guilty

And that's a line I'd rather I draw than some guy in an elevator.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:56 PM on August 8, 2013


They feel awkward themselves, disempowered in their romantic/sexual aspirations, and very nervous around women. They imagine themselves in a situation where they would do something awkward and be shamed for it. So that is the scenario they spin.

Yeah, but, I'm exactly this type of fella and if I can universalise from my own experiences (course I can, I'm a bloke) than really, I don't think many true awkward guys do identify with clear cases of sexual harassment, because we have enough trouble just saying hi to anybody we find attractive, even if we were inclined to get all rapey in the first place. I certainly never have felt the need to pre-emptively defend myself from possible acusations of harassment through the dismissal of things like the elevator incident.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:24 AM on August 9, 2013


I wish I was part of a group full of sexist people so I could say "Hey not cool" to them. I even like arguing the same thing over and over again, that's why I'm here!

After reading this thread, I almost feel obligated to start hanging out in the "Men's Rights" subreddit so I can routinely point out how tragically wrong they are.
posted by heathkit at 1:26 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You'll get banned in like 10 seconds, heathkit. But I hope you guys keep that energy you have and use it next time this does come up in a community you're a part of, or a family gathering, or your workplace, because it will, and the sexists who perpetuate this kind of thing really will dismiss women's voices, so you have an opportunity to do something as a man that women often get serious reprisal for doing, if they even have the energy to do it in the first place.
posted by NoraReed at 1:30 AM on August 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, it's really important to just not let that shit slide. It's not always easy- in fact sometimes it's really goddamned uncomfortable and awkward- but it's necessary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:46 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


After reading this thread, I almost feel obligated to start hanging out in the "Men's Rights" subreddit so I can routinely point out how tragically wrong they are.

That would be like making a special trip to step in a pile of dog shit. Then, of course, track it all through the house.

Why not strike yourself with a mallet instead?
posted by Pudhoho at 2:12 AM on August 9, 2013


Incidentally, the Socialist Workers Party (UK) has been imploding since early in the year due to the leadership's coverup of the fact that one of its coordinating committee members is a serial rapist

Yes, this has been actively painful to me and for the first time made me feel grateful my wife was dead so didn't have to see this happening. Because she was an active, locally prominent member of the SWP when we first met, somebody who was thought off well enough to be asked to become an executive committee member of the Socialist Alliance and she would've hated to see what hade become of the party. Bad enough it went all doctrinaire and insular in the past decade, but this went against everything the party should stand for, hoary old cliches about horizontal recruitment notwithstanding.

Worse, quite a few people I've known and respected have been defending the party in this, seeing this as a bourgeois witch hunt aimed at smearing the party, having been actively lied to by the leadership to defend Martin Smith.

My wife always said too many people in the SWP were stuck in a 1972 mindset, that if only they kept preaching to the choir, the revolution would come of its own accord, but she never realised it applied to sexual harassment attitudes as well.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The third time there was a note from the moderator saying that "This group is for the discussion of science and skeptical matters - not for the participation of rumour mongering and a smear campaign. "

Holy cow.

Of course, it's fine and dandy for them to participate in plenty of rumor mongering and a smear campaign against a woman, since Karen Stollznow's story was well documented and the organization conceded Radford's guilt.

On top of that. P.Z. Meyers isn't exactly an obscure member of the skeptic community, and he's gone to bat for the victims, going so far as to publicize a serious accusation against Shermer because he knows and trusts the woman who made it. (And about that: wow, he accurately described it as explosive!) While I could see that discussing an admittedly unsubstantiated accusation like that might be out of bounds, when it comes to facts that aren't really in dispute as in Stollzanow's case, it's a shame others choose not to follow his example.

Again, the irony of certain members of the skeptical community, of all people, clinging to some alternate interpretation of reality that isn't really supported by the data is baffling and sad.
posted by Gelatin at 3:07 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'll point out another scary thing about the accusation against Shermer that P.Z. Meyers passed along
At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me. I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity

The writer goes on to mention that she has spoken to others who have described similar experiences, but think about that second sentence: if the mere accusation doesn't reveal the accuser's identity, then of course he'll have offended multiple times.
posted by Gelatin at 3:29 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


...think about that second sentence: if the mere accusation doesn't reveal the accuser's identity, then of course he'll have offended multiple times.

I'm not quite sure how that follows? Publicizing data that reveals her identity also opens her to harassment from the public, regardless of whether what happened to her was a single incident or one in a series.
posted by mikurski at 6:00 AM on August 9, 2013


If she were the only person that he raped, then by accusing him, it'd be a cinch to deduce who she is. If she accuses him publicly in confidence that the mere fact of her accusation does not allow him to deduce her identity, it follows that there must be multiple women who could possibly accuse him.

As far as I know, other than the fact that his friend is a writer, P.Z. Meyers is keeping her identity confidential, as the source requested, and it goes without saying that the other women she mentions are anonymous as well.

And again, this is not some random Hypothetical Socially Awkward Dude, we're talking about an allegation of rape leveled against someone I gather is Michael Shermer, about whom to describe him as a prominent member of the skeptical community might be an understatement.
posted by Gelatin at 6:10 AM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Never fear, cavemen. You've still got gaming!

Playing Gods is produced through Radford's company, Balls Out Entertainment.

Oi.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:14 AM on August 9, 2013


I wonder how many anonymous rape accusations it takes to make it into the accused rapist's wikipedia bio?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:20 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Check out the Female Experience Simulator thread we just had or Google "feminism 101". Don't forget the quotes this time :)

Thanks. I have read those topics and have checked out those sights before, and I did check out the female experience simulator. I guess mostly lurking for two years on these sorts of topics isn't enough and I should probably go back to drawing board.
posted by FJT at 6:22 AM on August 9, 2013


I am beyond devastated to see Michael Shermer's as the latest name on the list of misogynist assholes I used to think were admirable men. (Especially since his predilection for harassment and rape isn't news to women in his circles, according to multiple comments on the Pharyngula post that names him).

I am furious. Sickened. And ready to see the good ol' boys' Skepticism Inc. burned to the ground so something new and healthy can grow.
posted by Annie Savoy at 7:42 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am afraid to go to Greta's blog or fb.
posted by rtha at 7:55 AM on August 9, 2013


I strongly support the "what should happen next" list suggested by Dana Hunter on her blog. For my part, I will be canceling two magazine subscriptions, writing to CFI and JREF to express my disappointment and concern, un-Liking some Facebook pages, and withholding my support from these organizations and individuals until the House of Skepticism is cleaned.
posted by Annie Savoy at 8:11 AM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


This comment from Pharyngula sums up everything I could say:
I understand the impulse to call these people monsters, but they are not monsters and othering doesn't help. When you call someone who rapes or assaults someone a monster, you are removing them, distancing them from being human. That's a mistake, because the people who commit rapes and assaults are indeed human. They are numbered in friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances. They have every appearance of being a regular, likeable person for the most part. One of the ways we blind ourselves to toxic sexism and rape culture is by labeling people as monsters. It implies that actual people wouldn't do such a thing, making us more comfortable by allowing us the thought that no one I know would do such a thing. Chances are very good that you do know someone who would do such a thing.
This is the reason I always try to catch myself when I find myself reading information like this and thinking something like, "That's unbelievable! We're supposed to be on the same side!" No, it isn't unbelievable at all. That's the worst part: the insidiousness, the imperceptibility, how banal it is. I wish we lived in a world where behavior like this was genuinely surprising, more unusual; instead, it's just depressing.

It feels completely unavoidable, like there is nowhere to go if you are a woman who wants to exist or meet with like-minded people in peace, but no matter how extreme the examples or how insidious the culture, we are still told that there are actions that we must take before we are allowed to request to be taken seriously. It is always implied that it is partially, if not entirely incumbent upon women to somehow uproot sexism writ large (quietly and non-accusingly, of course!) and take at least a modicum of responsibility for our own experiences with harassment, assault, and rape. How are we supposed to escape? These organizations are meant to support us in acknowledging that we can be good without god, but this is just the same old status quo, no different or better than the closed-rank religions they claim to revile.

If my fellow women skeptics are looking for someplace to focus their time and attention now that so many of the big skeptic orgs have shown themselves to be suffuse with putrid sexism, can I recommend Secular Woman?
posted by divined by radio at 8:31 AM on August 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


A neat thing (MeFi's own!) John Scalzi did in the wake of harassment incidents at science fiction cons was to pledge not to attend or participate in cons that did not have, and enforce, and anti-harassment policy. And by request, he provided a space for others to join the pledge; more than a thousand people did so, myself included.

It'd be nice if a prominent member of the skeptic community would step up and declare they wouldn't attend or participate in gatherings where harassment is tolerated, but in the mean time individuals are free not only to do so but also to make their reasons known.
posted by Gelatin at 8:35 AM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I ventured outside of metafilter to see what people were saying about this, and holy fuck. You people are saints.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:45 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many anonymous rape accusations it takes to make it into the accused rapist's wikipedia bio?

Shermer's page has been reverted and locked, and looks like based on the "biographies of living persons" policy that it is pretty hard to include such info.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:31 AM on August 9, 2013


Yeah, and wikipedia doesn't allow self-published sources, so the news media will have to report on Myers' post before wikipedia allows it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:43 AM on August 9, 2013


Morbid curiosity may motivate you to check and see how this is being discussed on reddit.

Do not do it.
posted by brundlefly at 10:03 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I ventured outside of metafilter to see what people were saying about this, and holy fuck. You people are saints.

Morbid curiosity may motivate you to check and see how this is being discussed on reddit. / Do not do it.

Hello, Lewis' Law.
posted by Gelatin at 10:06 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The discussion on P.Z. Myers' page is quite good, despite the inevitable trolling (which is being refuted extremely well).

My favorite exchange is when one of them essentially (and tellingly) sneered, "whatever happened to 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,' huh?!" To which one woman promptly replied, "Rape is not Bigfoot."
posted by scody at 10:38 AM on August 9, 2013 [33 favorites]


Yeah, I saw that, scody, and before I even got to the Bigfoot comment I thought "Rape is an extraordinary claim? It's not like she's saying she was abducted by aliens."
posted by rtha at 10:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


....Go far enough down in the comments, though, and someone is now accusing PZ Meyers of rape. However, the public sentiment seems to be that it's someone pulling some kind of stunt to prove some point about "what people believe based on shaky evidence and hearsay" and public sentiment is against them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:59 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah unfortunately someone showed up to anonymously "accuse" PZ of rape, using pretty purple prose to do so. I assume their point is to show that anonymous accusations of rape are all equivalent...except when they're not.
posted by Ouisch at 11:00 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


the public sentiment seems to be that it's someone pulling some kind of stunt to prove some point about "what people believe based on shaky evidence and hearsay"

Of course, the woman P.Z. Meyers quoted is not not anonymous to him; to the contrary, he said he knows her and trusts her enough to pass on an allegation of which he has no firsthand knowledge, and simply withheld her identity. (He also had access to details he did not initially share, such as the fact that alcohol was involved that he mentioned later in comments.)

So, not so equivalent after all.

And yet again I'm baffled and dismayed by the very basic failures of logic and reason by those who claim to be motivated by rationality. I expect that kind of crap from creationists, not skeptics.
posted by Gelatin at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, the woman P.Z. Meyers quoted is not not anonymous to him; to the contrary, he said he knows her and trusts her enough to pass on an allegation of which he has no firsthand knowledge, and simply withheld her identity. (He also had access to details he did not initially share, such as the fact that alcohol was involved that he mentioned later in comments.)

So, not so equivalent after all.


Also, not to mention that if he really were someone with a history of committing sexual assault, it's kind of unlikely a sexual assault victim would ultimately come to trust him enough to speak for her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is already a shitstorm, and I'm afraid it's going to get worse because the pathologically entitled MRA set, which seem to be a strong faction within skepticism, are willing to go very far to protect their entitlements, while many of the people already victimized (the accusers) or at risk for misogynist attacks (other women in skepticism) have much to lose in the fight. I am only hoping more men with institutional privilege and power, like PZ, will continue to speak up and help clean house on this.

It's also worth noting that social decisions about who is accepted and afforded a platform and power within a community are not the same as legal judgments or criminal convictions or prison sentences or even lynching (ugh, the racism inherent in using that as a comparison is so gross), so I find the arguments that attempt to set legal standards to a situation like this kind of...stupid. And misunderstanding the context.

Yes, of course it is bad to accuse people without good reason, but in a case where social censure is going to be the most likely actual consequence, the standard of "good reason" is necessarily somewhat lower than in a courtroom where someone faces criminal conviction and imprisonment.

The ignorance on display about the realities of going to police with rape accusations are also telling. This is a situation in which, much of the time, authorities actively refuse to do anything - and yet, still, people are getting hurt. Should we just let that go? In this kind of situation, social consequences may be the only possible solution, though not as satisfying as a criminal conviction and sentence.

Some form of social exclusion will at least serve to protect *some* people and avert *some* harm, whereas remaining quiet and attempting to just privately circulate warnings have obviously not been effective at preventing harm. The people who want to shut this down are effectively saying that they don't care if more people get hurt, and that the people at risk of being hurt are less worthwhile than the reputations of the people being accused. "Your physical safety and right to security of person are not as important as this man's reputation and social standing in the skeptical community."

That is misogyny on bald display.
posted by Ouisch at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah unfortunately someone showed up to anonymously "accuse" PZ of rape, using pretty purple prose to do so.

Which was sort of predicted earlier in the thread.
posted by brundlefly at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, not to mention that if he really were someone with a history of committing sexual assault, it's kind of unlikely a sexual assault victim would ultimately come to trust him enough to speak for her.

...and, as we've seen in the cases of Shermer, Radford and (earlier, from the earlier thread on convention harassment) Frenkel, these individuals had garnered for themselves quite a reputation for their deeds, to the point that when the accusations surface, several others step forward to say, "yeah, me too" or "several friends told me he was someone to avoid."

The attitude among the creeps and their apologists seems to be that if victimizers aren't brought up on official charges, it's as if it never really happened, much less that the victim can share her story with whomever she chooses. Which is, sad to say, yet another bafflingly irrational attitude.
posted by Gelatin at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and apparently the "rape accusation" against PZ was cribbed from an old blog post. I apologize for invoking "purple prose." The tone of the story just didn't match up well with the tone of the rest of the comment. I am appalled if that is a legit blog post from a victim and it was used to this purpose, ugh.
posted by Ouisch at 11:24 AM on August 9, 2013


Oh, and apparently the "rape accusation" against PZ was cribbed from an old blog post.

Wow. And here I thought it couldn't be more nauseating. Silly me.
posted by Gelatin at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2013


I know. I am going to go take approximately 400 showers and then go outside.
posted by Ouisch at 11:28 AM on August 9, 2013


Oh, ew, ick, bleh, barf. What is wrong with people.
posted by rtha at 11:32 AM on August 9, 2013


when the accusations surface, several others step forward to say, "yeah, me too"

Not every rapist is a serial rapist, and I don't think it would be wise to generally judge someone's story of being raped by whether anyone else says "me too."

What I think is hard to believe in this instance is that a woman who had been raped would put forward her story to be used as a stick to discredit someone else's claims of being raped.
posted by straight at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and apparently the "rape accusation" against PZ was cribbed from an old blog post.

And PZ's response was perfect:

"He was too lazy or too stupid to even write his own imaginary rape story about me? Now I feel cheap and used. Quality trolls! I DEMAND QUALITY TROLLS!"
posted by ogooglebar at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


The attitude among the creeps and their apologists seems to be that if victimizers aren't brought up on official charges, it's as if it never really happened, much less that the victim can share her story with whomever she chooses. Which is, sad to say, yet another bafflingly irrational attitude.

Irrational on the face of it, but when it comes to protecting privilege, it makes sense.

I think it helps to look at misogyny as a system of Jane Crow. Women are not fully human under the system, just like African-Americans were not fully human under Jim Crow. Women's accusations of rape are assumed by default to be spurious, just like accusations by black people against white people of any sort of abuse were assumed by default to be spurious. Women rarely report rape or sexual assault because the police may very well not believe them and the legal process will add to the trauma; black people couldn't even give evidence against whites in a court of law. Women can be kept in line by threats of rape and assault (which can, of course, is backed up by the not-rare existence of actual rape and assault); black people could be kept in line by threat of lynching (which, of course, was backed up by the not-rare existence of actual lynching).

The people who love their privilege the most love it violently, and will protect it by whatever means they have at hand.
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


The thing that absolutely fucking kills me about discussions about rape, assault, and sexual harassment is the immediate rush to pinpoint "evidence," where "evidence" stands in for "something that I, personally, have deemed to be appropriately credible." There is little surprise to be found in the fact that this demand just so happens to neatly align with the ongoing perpetuation of male supremacist culture. (I blame the patriarchy.)

We just had a thread here, linked in the OP, where a man stepped in to repeatedly inform everyone that reports of sexual harassment must be ignored outright if they are not witnessed by multiple bystanders; moreover, if multiple witnesses are not available, then at least three individual accounts must be reported before any action can be taken. Predators know this attitude very well. They could not exist without it.

I've been a radical feminist for as long as I can remember, but I did not report my own assault because I knew I would be drilled for "evidence" and I believed I had none. My utter inability to realize that my own lived experience WAS "evidence" echoed in my mind as the assault was taking place. I went to a quiet place inside my head and mused, with complete earnestness, "What if I am misconstruing this? Could this be a misunderstanding?" Hell, the man who assaulted me stole my underwear specifically so there would be no way for him to be physically tied to the situation; he had a solid foot and a half and a good 150 pounds on me, so it wasn't like there was anything I could do to get them back. I just cried out of hopelessness, begged and pleaded with him as he swatted my helpless little hands away and laughed in my face. It's one of the most vivid memories of my life.
This noxious stream of self-blame continued long after he called me to tell me that he had thrown away my underwear "in a place no one will ever be able to find them" and talk down to me like a child, helpfully informing me that there was just something about me that had made him do it. I thought, just as I am thinking now: "If I tell someone about this, they are going to accuse me of lying, and there will be hell for me to pay." I knew it. He knew it. James Frenkel knew it. Ben Radford knew it. Michael Shermer knew it. This exact circumstance has played out millions of times with millions of people all over the world. So here we are.

Every time someone is inspired to cry for "evidence" in a case of sexual harassment or assault, they are actively working to empower rapists and abusers. They are publicly espousing the notion that it is significantly more important to preserve a man's reputation than it is to take women at their word. They are telling people who have been harassed, assaulted, raped, and abused that society does not value them, and will never believe them if they are brave enough to talk about their experiences. In what other circumstance could this be viewed as anything except the malignant, poisonous victim-blaming garbage that it is?

Again, from the excellent discussion at Pharyngula:
If you are here demanding that victims of sexual assault in our community be treated the same way the Catholic apologists have treated their accusers, if you have a different standard of evidence when it comes to cleaning our own house than the one you use when accusing “approved enemies” of misconduct, then you are not only acting hypocritically, you are actively undermining the credibility of the entire atheist/skeptic enterprise.

There is massive amounts of available evidence that the reporting of sexual assaults against adults is fraught with problems inherent in our society and our criminal justice system. These problems are almost perfectly parallel with the problems reporting clergy sexual abuse, in that case problems that the atheist/skeptic community have been incredibly vocal and energetic about. The clergy sex abuse case is one of the issues we have used as a rallying cry to increase awareness of the harms of religion. If we are not willing to apply the same kind of energy to cleaning our own house then that rallying cry becomes hypocritical self serving bullshit.
posted by divined by radio at 11:34 AM on August 9, 2013 [30 favorites]


Metafilter: We have quality trolls.
posted by ogooglebar at 11:34 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not every rapist is a serial rapist, and I don't think it would be wise to generally judge someone's story of being raped by whether anyone else says "me too."

Absolutely; my point was that Shermer, Radford and Frenkel all had bad reputations, not that the latter two were accused of rape as opposed to harassment.

One shouldn't discount one's story of being rape by the absence of similar accounts, but corroborating stories obviously can't help but add weight to one's account. And of course one could have a spotless reputation and still be guilty of bad acts.
posted by Gelatin at 11:39 AM on August 9, 2013


and I don't think it would be wise to generally judge someone's story of being raped by whether anyone else says "me too."

I disagree vehemently. Multiple accusations of sexual assault are really enough for me to believe that someone is a rapist.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:43 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


divined, I am so sorry for your experience.

As someone who served on a jury this year, I can assure you all that even in a court of law, testimony is evidence.
posted by Gelatin at 11:44 AM on August 9, 2013


@Misanthropic, we seem to have interpreted straight's comment differently. I think straight's point was that one shouldn't imply (and I certainly didn't mean to) that multiple accounts are needed for the accusation to be credible; one alone is sufficient.
posted by Gelatin at 11:48 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes you are absolutely right and I reread straight's comment, and I didn't just interpret it differently, I misinterpreted. Thanks for the clarification, and my apologies to straight.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2013


It's still worthy to point out that while the existence of only a single story doesn't diminish credibility in any way, multiple corroborating stories can enhance it.
posted by Gelatin at 11:58 AM on August 9, 2013


i think this is where communication is key - if the guy is truly socially awkward and distressing women because of it, then someone (the female or a third party) really needs to let him know that his behavior is not ok.

I have a socialization disorder. I stay stupid shit to people I shouldn't because of it. However I am not absolved from the consequences of my actions and I'm not sure I want people who commit sexual assault and harassment given a pass because of implied Aspergers.
posted by Phalene at 1:44 PM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Every time someone is inspired to cry for "evidence" in a case of sexual harassment or assault, they are actively working to empower rapists and abusers.

Yes. Evidence - who needs that?

They are publicly espousing the notion that it is significantly more important to preserve a man's reputation than it is to take women at their word.

Or, publicly espousing the notion that it is significantly more important to know facts rather than believe everything we are told without question.

Just ask Sonar Yasa about a matter of $13 ($3.25 if split four ways).

or Brian Banks.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:09 PM on August 9, 2013


Yes. Evidence - who needs that?

Courts.

Are you familiar with the story of the woman who was charged with filing a false rape accusation....and whose photo was later found on the phone of a serial rapist who took pictures of his victims?
posted by rtha at 2:20 PM on August 9, 2013


Two anecdotes. Congratulations, your two anecdotes about men outweight the lived experience of the majority of women. And here you are mocking standards of evidence. HAH! the irony.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:21 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tanizaki, we have evidence. Testimony is evidence. You're a lawyer, you know this.
posted by KathrynT at 2:21 PM on August 9, 2013


Tanizaki, we have evidence. Testimony is evidence. You're a lawyer, you know this.

I am not sure what testimony you are referring to, but if there is some sort of sworn statement then yes, that would be testimony and evidence. (unsworn statements are not testimony). I am not saying that a sworn statement is required before a claim is investigated, of course.

What I responding to is the disbelief of "what not take someone at their word?" The folks at the Innocence Project would have something to say on that score.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:28 PM on August 9, 2013


What I responding to is the disbelief of "what not take someone at their word?"

You must be a fun friend to tell a personal story to.
posted by rtha at 2:31 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You personally can believe whatever you want about this case, and enact whatever social consequences you think are appropriate. So, too, can other people choose socially to steer clear of someone who multiple people have accused of assault. They don't need sworn testimony to make that judgment call, or to choose to believe the report.
posted by Ouisch at 2:31 PM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


What I responding to is the disbelief of "what not take someone at their word?"

Actually, no, you selectively quoted a single phrase from a long post about how their testimony counted as evidence. Which is pretty fucking low.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:31 PM on August 9, 2013


What I responding to is the disbelief of "what not take someone at their word?"

The backlog in rape kit analysis suggests a systemic disregard for physical evidence even when it's available, because far too often rape is not treated as the serious crime that it is.
posted by ambrosia at 2:36 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Deleted a couple of comments. Reload and move on, if you will, folks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:47 PM on August 9, 2013


Well, as far as "evidence" and "testimony" goes, PZ Myers has publicly accused, or at least allowed his blog to be used as a forum to accuse, a public figure, Michael Shermer of raping no fewer than six women. If the allegations are false, it seems to me Shermer has a strong civil case against Myers.

Which, not being a complete idiot, Myers surely knows. Just as he knows that any discussion of sexual assault invites the inevitable "oh, however do we know who's telling the truth?" concern trolls out of the woodwork, and that the accuser is in for even more slut-shaming and second-guessing.

All those facts are part of the evidence I use in evaluating the claim, stacked up against whatever Myer could possibly have to gain by a knowingly false accusation -- one wag on his comment thread suggested page hits -- while, of course, someone accused might well deny everything, true or not.

So yes -- I give someone who steps forward with an accusation of sexual harasment, the benefit of the doubt in presuming that they're telling the truth that an incident occurred. Now, is there a good reason to doubt them? And no, the mere possibility they might be lying doesn't count.
posted by Gelatin at 3:27 PM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


"When someone enters a conversation about rape, and the only thing they want to talk about is the possibility that the victim is lying, they don't want you to be talking about rape. They want to talk about how women are liars."
posted by divined by radio at 3:37 PM on August 9, 2013 [25 favorites]


Well, as far as "evidence" and "testimony" goes, PZ Myers has publicly accused, or at least allowed his blog to be used as a forum to accuse, a public figure, Michael Shermer of raping no fewer than six women.

This is untrue. There has only been one accusation of rape.
posted by jokeefe at 3:56 PM on August 9, 2013


There has only been one accusation of rape.

Myers' post includes an assertion from his source that five other women told her they had similar experiences. I quote:
Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them)
posted by Gelatin at 4:00 PM on August 9, 2013


Meyers also just updated his post with a statement from a second person, stating that they knew who the first person was - and confirming their account of the rape.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:02 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was linked somewhere in the PZ Myers comments, but it is awesome enough that it deserves linkage here - Rape Prevention Aimed At Rapists Does Work.
posted by Ouisch at 4:24 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Myers' post includes an assertion from his source that five other women told her they had similar experiences.

Gelatin, you are correct, apologies for reading comprehension fail.
posted by jokeefe at 4:41 PM on August 9, 2013


No worries, jokeefe, it occurred to me on reflection that the quote is ambiguous. For example, the mention of five women seems to be a subset of those to whom he was "doing things," so it's possible some have experienced, and shared privately the stories of, harassment that falls short of rape or sexual assault.

By the way, Myers noted in the comment thread that her specific situation was that Shermer had sex with her after she was too drunk to consent (and I hope to hell that bringing that up doesn't create another bout of second-guessing), so I interpret "did the same to them" as "had sex with them when they were drunk," but that's just me and I could be wrong.
posted by Gelatin at 4:49 PM on August 9, 2013


As noted by EmpressCallipygos, Pharyngula has added the following to his post about Michael Shermer:
Further corroboration: a witness has come forward. This person has asked to remain anonymous too, but I will say they’re someone who doesn’t particularly like me — so no accusations of fannishness, OK?
The anonymous woman who wrote to you through Carrie is known to me, and in fact I was in her presence immediately after said incident (she was extremely distraught), and when she told the management of the conference (some time later).
posted by Annie Savoy at 5:53 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hadn't been following this thread, and only heard the news about Shermer tonight. I find it incredibly disheartening. I've bought his books, given them as gifts. I found it useful and enlightening to apply the same techniques he used against Holocaust denial to rape culture -- why couldn't he?
posted by asperity at 9:17 PM on August 9, 2013


Asperity - because if he applied the same stringency he'd accuse himself of complacency in th process.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:32 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Atheism+ subreddit is asking people to read this post first before they comment on any of the anecdotes on harassment, assault, etc. By the nature of reddit there are a lot of downvotes in these threads because people don't like safe spaces, and they get brigaded by the MRA types and the mainstream /r/atheism types a lot, so you'll see bullshit going on there, but the mods have been pretty on the ball with deleting it. Here's the thread on the PZ Meyers "grenade" piece. Here's their front page.

Also, has George Hrab said anything about this yet? He was my introduction to atheism as an actual movement, and I used to listen to his podcast pretty religiously, but his silence on the issues of sexual harassment puts a bad feeling in my stomach.
posted by NoraReed at 11:05 PM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well and here's my question: not putting you on the spot or anything, but what do you think are the things that are keeping you from going over there and saying "Hey man not cool" to them?

You mean like at work, face-to-face or among a social group? For me, partly it's not wanting to seem rude. Two reasons. I remember reading Ms. Manners and my takeaway from her is that rudeness does not justify being rude in return. You're still being rude, and it's not good to be rude. This is something I aspire to, as in reality I still slip and act rude at times. What ends up happening is when someone says something racist or sexist in real life, I usually attempt to change the subject quickly. If it's in a group, I just ignore them.

This is hardly perfect and I still struggle with it, and it was hard especially at work, where you have to deal with coworkers and colleagues who are just plain offensive at times.
posted by FJT at 11:35 PM on August 9, 2013


FJT, I sympathize, but that's not really polite, it's enabling. It's up to you, of course, about what's worth calling out, but prioritizing "group harmony" over "respect for everyone" is not really a great outcome -- it's pretty much reinforcing the (sexist, racist, etc -ist) status quo.
posted by jaguar at 11:47 PM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Miss Manners would surely understand that to NOT call out people for offensive behavior is to implicitly allow other people to feel unwelcome or unsafe. Proper manners would be to judge whether you're calling somebody out on grounds of pure etiquette or for something more serious, to determine whether a serious or polite response is warranted.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:26 AM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I found it useful and enlightening to apply the same techniques he used against Holocaust denial to rape culture -- why couldn't he?

This is going out on a limb, but I assume it's because he liked being able to rape women and not get in trouble over it.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:30 AM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know it's rude to comment three times in a row, but after writing that last thing I started thinking. Specifically, I was thinking that I bet Shermer doesn't think about himself as a rapist, and probably doesn't even think about whatever the hell he actually did as rape. And how so many of the horrible horrible people on Reddit that I should not have bothered to read are essentially making this argument against Myers:

"What an asshole for turning things into rape that clearly we haven't been calling rape up till now. I can imagine a way that this wouldn't have been rape, so it's shitty of Myers and these women to be saying that what happened to them was rape. Rape wasn't even a part of the equation until they started going around naming rapists!"

The tricky thing about language is that by its nature it's highly subjective. When you're describing an act which involved two parties, it makes perfect sense that each of those two parties interprets that action differently. Rape, which is a horribly intrusive form of assault both physically and emotionally, isn't necessarily going to feel like rape to the rapist, because they're not the ones being assaulted. And obviously a rape doesn't "feel" like a rape to any third party, especially a third party who has little experience with rape.

When we argue with somebody who has been raped, we are essentially denying them their own reaction to what happened to them. We are deciding that our own non-lived experience trumps their personal, actual reaction. And, as I've said, it is as easy for a rapist to do this as it is for a third party, because unless you have a certain amount of empathy for the person you've decided you're going to have sex with, I'm sure you can tell yourself that you're not raping her after all, because it doesn't feel like rape.

This is part of the reason why it's useful to think of rape as a crime that's about power, not about sex. Sex may be the medium, but the crime is one of denying somebody her right to be a human being rather than an end, to have choice, to say no—and to ultimately determine for herself whether or not she's been raped. In situations like this one, where some measure of external authority is involved – fame, prestige within an organization, ranking leadership – reporting a rape becomes ever-more-fraught, because you're not just contending with perception, you're dealing with masses of people with an obvious bias, with a rapist who potentially has organizational authority over you, and with a combined authority of all the people who will more readily empathize with that rapist, who they perhaps even know well. It gets easier and easier to simply ignore the victim, and decide that majority opinion is this didn't feel like rape, and therefore rape occurred.

That this is happening within a major skeptics circle is particularly noteworthy because it points to one of the flaws within the skeptical/atheistic movement, which is an over-reliance on the literal interpretation of language. At my heart, I think skepticism is a worthwhile and even necessary cause, a questioning and re-questioning of collective myths that exposes the falsehoods we tell ourselves. But many within the movement become focused on expression rather than intent: they focus on the way a thing is said rather than on what that thing means. In the process, they acquire a dogma of their own, wherein there is a right way and a wrong way to speak or act, which has less to do with intent or effect than it has to do with an arbitrary favoring of whichever symbolic language is currently the accepted fashion.

Atheists and skeptics become dogmatic the exact same way Christians or Muslims do: they focus on the specificities of what they've been told, down to every last quirk and flawed nuance, rather than internalizing the purpose of their original teachings and applying them independently. That's how you reveal the flaws in a line of thinking; it's the only way you can be properly skeptical. It is, in fact, literally what the process of skepticism entails! But it's easier to resort to mechanical assaults and debate tricks, which is why plenty of atheists on Reddit and elsewhere ask each other for "talking points" that they can memorize for the next time they're telling their Christian friend why the Bible sucks.

That mode of debate, popularized by Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris, is as rigidly dogmatic as the fundamentalist religions they attempt to fight. I've heard atheists respond that such anti-theist attacks can't be as harmful as fundamentalism, because no anti-theist advocates death to gays or whatever, and anti-theism, unlike evangelical Christianity or Islam, doesn't dictate the policies of major countries around the world. But while they're right, they're missing a bigger problem, which is that such modes of thinking are harmful to movements which aren't about religion in particular. For instance, they enable worldviews which actively prevent rape victims from seeking justice, and which allow rapists to get away with horrible crimes.

Though it's only in the last year or so that I've been hearing about controversies regarding the treatment of women in skeptic circles, this exposes a fault line in the movement that's existed for as long as I've known the movement to exist. Skeptics too often resort to rhetoric and point-scoring debate techniques to carry their opinions, and in doing so they reinforce that the point of debate, or an effective strategy for conducting conversation, is to prove your opponent wrong by dismantling the language they've chosen to use. But language is too tenuous to so rely upon; and when you argue based on language you don't only weaken your own arguments. You train yourself to ignore what a person means or feels or wishes to convey and focus only on the exact nature of how they've managed to convey it.

In the case of rape scenarios, where it is near-impossible and incredibly exhausting to accurately convey the nature of the crime committed to a skeptical (ahem) audience, the lines of argument I'm seeing all across the Internet are doing more than just expressing opposition to the rape victims who are starting to speak up in droves. They're essentially making it impossible for anybody to prove that rape has occurred at all, no matter the plausibility or the number of people speaking up to confirm that it happened.

We see that happening even here, unfortunately; and a part of me thinks it would be valuable to have a community discussion about exactly why the stupid rhetorical tricks lobbed off by people here are worse than harmful to the discussion, they essentially end the discussion wherever such debates are pursued. Certainly that would be an exhausting discussion to have, but I think that part of the problem that occurs in discussions like these* is that they often degenerate into a bunch of people seeing if they can trick one stubborn asshole into stumbling on his own rhetoric. And it just can't be done.

* Which, it should be pointed out, are so so so much better than the ones I'm seeing most everywhere else on the Internet. I'm grateful that this place exists to suck so significantly less; you are the reason I wasn't screaming at anybody over the Internet yesterday.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:36 AM on August 10, 2013 [20 favorites]


Great comment @5:36 am, Rory.

What an asshole for turning things into rape that clearly we haven't been calling rape up till now.

The flaw with that thinking is that while it may be true that getting a woman too drunk for meaningful consent hasn't been called rape until relatively recently, it's because the prevailing attitude is that women by default should be available to men for sex. So, maybe getting a woman too drunk to provide positive enthusiastic consent didn't use to be considered rape, but so what? Now it is.

I can imagine a way that this wouldn't have been rape

Which is lovely, but essentially irrelevant. It's the victim's interpretation of her experience that counts. Even applying the courtroom standard the innocent-until-proven-guilty crowd likes to trot out, just because one can imagine a scenario in which the accused is innocent doesn't mean he is in fact not guilty; doubt must be reasonable. (Again, I served on a jury recently, and these concepts were thoroughly explained in our instructions, both orally from the bench and in a packet to take into the jury room with us.)

In light of the recent discussion, the Australian general's recent excellent speech to his command seems relevant: "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept".
posted by Gelatin at 5:16 AM on August 10, 2013


I was thinking that I bet Shermer doesn't think about himself as a rapist, and probably doesn't even think about whatever the hell he actually did as rape.

Well, yeah. Wasn't there some study someone did a couple years ago where someone first asked a bunch of guys "have you ever raped anyone" and they said "no, no!" but then they asked them if they'd engaged in behavior that basically was rape ("have you ever had sex with someone who was too drunk to consent"/"have you ever socially pressured someone to have sex", things like that), and suddenly a lot of those guys were now saying yes, they had?

A lot of people still see "rape" as only being "dark guy in alley" or "uses physical force".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:01 AM on August 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


If memory serves me correctly, that kind of behavior was what the successful "don't be that guy" campaign mentioned earlier focused on, wasn't it?
posted by Gelatin at 6:03 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


NoraReed, that Reddit comment is fantastic.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:14 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


For me, partly it's not wanting to seem rude.

True for most women, as well, and it's one of the reasons why we my not say anything to the person harassing us. Don't be rude, don't cause offense, assume the best intentions in other people - add a cup of "Is this really happening? Is he actually doing this?" and you get a recipe for non-response and no reporting.
posted by rtha at 6:24 AM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, this might be what you're thinking of: Meet the Predators. (Accompanying discussion at Shakesville.)

Switching gears, this is an excellent read for everyone who regularly engages in these sorts of discussions: Derailing 101.

Particularly relevant options:
If you won't educate me, how can I learn?
You're arguing with opinion, not fact.
You're interrogating from the wrong perspective.
Your experience is not representative of everyone.
Unless you can prove your experience is widespread, I won't believe it.
I'm just saying what other people believe, I never said I agree.

And finally, here's a very solid post on Skepchick outlining the history of vicious sexism and reprehensible misogynistic behavior in skeptic and atheist communities: Atheism, Sexism and Harassment. The Price of Speaking Up. "I also hope that those voices that we have recently heard speak out will continue to rise up. Because the louder our voices are in unison the lesser the price each individual will have to pay." QFT.
posted by divined by radio at 6:40 AM on August 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


... here's a very solid post on Skepchick outlining the history of vicious sexism and reprehensible misogynistic behavior in skeptic and atheist communities: Atheism, Sexism and Harassment. The Price of Speaking Up.

Yeah, that was a really good essay.
posted by nangar at 6:48 AM on August 10, 2013


As far as I can tell, George Hrab hasn't commented publicly on the current furor. Neither has Steven Novella (whom I particarly admire). Rebecca Watson hasn't posted since the Radford accusation on Aug. 7. I'm waiting for strong statements from leading Skeptics and action from Skeptical organizations -- and hoping they don't let us down.
posted by Annie Savoy at 6:57 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Future con panels on "Why arent there more women in Skepticism/Atheism?" are going to be interesting to watch.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:49 AM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


A second update for PZ Meyers post, from a woman who fortunately got rescued before anything happened - but she's pretty sure he was planning something, because he kept refilling her drink and hanging around her being way flirty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:41 PM on August 10, 2013


One demographic skeptics are particularly uncomfortable with is the female of the species. It's an increasingly acknowledged fact that the skeptic community is rife with sexism -- especially in the wake of the "elevator guy" controversy, about which more later. Women are a small minority in the skeptic world, and the few who get involved get shit thrown at them constantly by their skeptic peers. Every day, they suffer the whole gamut of attitudes from sneering to leering.
Why I Am No Longer A Skeptic, sec 3: "Sexist Bastards"
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:42 PM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's a great essay, Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey. Thank you for sharing it.

(And I was going to ask why people talk about the "aesthetics" of skepticism, because I remembered another MetaFilter discussion about those terms, and when I searched I discovered that essay had an FPP a couple months ago. So, more discussion there, for anyone interested.)
posted by jaguar at 6:51 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not directly related to the allegations at hand, but thank you to NoraReed for linking to Atheism Plus in this thread (and elsewhere on Metafilter.) Its existence gives me a lot of hope.
posted by Ouisch at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sexual Harassment in comic form
posted by hydropsyche at 9:28 AM on August 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Jim C. Hines
August 11th, 2013 at 11:38 am · Reply

We’re done talking about false accusations here. Further comments on the topic will be eaten by goblins.


He has goblins on his site? That is so cool - I wonder if we can make a pony request for goblins here?
posted by rtha at 4:13 PM on August 11, 2013


No need for goblins, as we have mods.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:54 PM on August 11, 2013


We have an orc, too.

I was actually talking about this with Mr. Reed last night about how the sci-fi fandom is different from the atheist community in dealing with this and I think a big part of it is that even with Myers and the awesome Skepchick folks there's no one like Scalzi to sort of lead the people in the atheist community by being good at this sort of thing. Scalzi manages to be articulate *and* he's a member of the privileged "straight white male" overclass, so the racist/sexist/homophobic people will actually listen to him. Atheism and skepticism both have a lot of really fantastic members who are speaking out about this, but most of them are women. Fandom still is pretty balls at dealing with sexism, harassment, etc. but there's always Scalzi to make great metaphors. (This isn't to dismiss all the women in fandom doing stuff like this-- NK Jemisin in particular has been a really good speaker on these issues-- but I get the idea that people listen to white men more than they listen to women and POC about sexism. He's aware of his privilege and willing to use the status it grants to help people who don't have it. That's valuable.)
posted by NoraReed at 11:23 PM on August 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stollznow's post has been taken down after CFI's Ron Lindsay asked them for an apology and corrections. I found out via this post, which was via an update on Greta's fb.
posted by rtha at 2:31 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, what a galling exhibition of every trope used to discredit sexual harassment victims. All of his boo-hooing about how this affects his bottom line and the reputation of the company, combined with his nitpicking of three tiny points and playing the "logic and evidence" card when it wasn't really applicable, is carefully designed to make it look like Stollznow really is the crazy bitch she claimed Radford tried to make her look like.

For instance, his first complaint is about the zero-tolerance policy, which as noted in the comments, didn't exist for conferences until after Elevatorgate. Second, the whole bit about how the suspension was not concurrent with vacation shows that Stollznow's claims that CFI "was not serious in disciplining the employee" was wrong and therefore LIES? No, not firing his fucking ass for sustained sexual harassment was you not being serious, you misogynist shitnozzle. And finally, the fact that there have allegedly only been three sexual harassment claims since his tenure started five years ago? That's great and all, but CFI's been around for over twenty years. Nothing about his tenure disproves either the claim that CFI has a history of sexual harassment accusations or that they're treated lightly. In fact, both the "disciplining" of Radford and the incident that he "reluctantly" provides regarding an employee hiring a male stripper and being fired for it demonstrate that they apparently discipline lightly for actual harassment but will shut your ass down for hiring a male stripper, which implies that women (or gay men) are treated harsher for misconduct than men are for extended, disgusting harassment claims. And most telling is that he never actually denies Radford engaged in sexual harassment of Stollznow or anyone else, but is adamant that SciAm should have pulled the whole article over "falsehoods" that aren't really false.

Shame on him for engaging in this assholery, and shame on SciAm for overreacting in his favor.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:21 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


That is absolutely sickening.
posted by jaguar at 3:27 PM on August 12, 2013


And it looks like PZ Meyers basically agrees with me (although I think he's too willing to take Lindsay's word on their history):
Not having access to the full history of CFI’s engagement with this problem, I can accept the claim that it does not have an “extraordinary history of sexual harassment claims”. But the fact still remains that they did deal with Radford very lightly, to the point that they lost a significant contributor thanks to their attitude, and that they’re reduced to nitpicking over dates and phrases that are of little relevance to subject of concern.

In related news, Richard Carrier explains a New York law that may be stifling the conversation, and also reveals that he’s been blacklisted by CFI. Wait, I thought Ron Lindsay didn’t accept blacklists?

And now Chris Clarke spurns CFI-LA. The informal offer he mentions was the result of a conversation I had with CFI-LA; they were considering bringing me out for a Darwin Day event, and also snagging Chris to share the stage, which would have been excellent.

It may all be moot now, anyway. I suspect I’m on the CFI blacklist along with a few other speakers whose names you can probably guess…but they won’t be the well-known men who have reputations for womanizing. Funny how that works.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:27 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


divined by radio: "I've been a radical feminist for as long as I can remember, but I did not report my own assault because I knew I would be drilled for "evidence" and I believed I had none."

I believe you were assaulted. Because you say you were.
posted by scrump at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Michael Shermer has set the landsharks on PZ Myers.

Oh please, let this go to trial & discovery. Sweet Elvis, let there be depositions and witnesses on the record. Countdown till people start passing the hat for Myer's legal fees beginning...
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:18 PM on August 12, 2013


Yow. I thought the CFI's non-response was bad. Then Lindsay jumped in to make it even worse, which apparently is his superpower.

There isn't a split in the skeptic community, there are two skeptic communities. One is a bunch of good ole' boys who have each other's backs and won't let little things like crazy bitches with their endless complaining about sexual harassment get in the way of helping other good ole' boys. The other is a real skeptic community.

It'll be interesting to see how the CFI and others in the bitches ain't shit camp will survive once they've successfully reduced their donor base to raging misogynists. I somehow doubt the raging misogynist crowd can sustain the CFI and the others.
posted by sotonohito at 4:26 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I somehow doubt the raging misogynist crowd can sustain the CFI and the others.

That seems overly optimistic, to me, given the general state of the world, but I'm willing to hope.
posted by jaguar at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pirate zombie, I only get a 404 on your link - what was it ostensibly about?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:22 PM on August 12, 2013


He might have taken it down. This link says he's talking to Popehat about pro bono legal assistance.
posted by rtha at 5:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Pirate zombie, I only get a 404 on your link - what was it ostensibly about?

Text of PZ's blog post:
So, Michael Shermer’s lawyers have sent me a letter (pdf). It consists of accusations that I lied about being contacted directly by the victim of his assault (which is not true; that I had corroboration from other people does not imply that there was no primary source), that I did it for the blog hits (Jeebus, no, this does not profit me in the slightest and is more likely to have a long term cost to me), that I acted in malice against Shermer (also entirely false — I have nothing against the man), and that Shermer is shocked, shocked I tell you, never having ever heard such an accusation against him before (given that my correspondent has email from him making excuses for his behavior, this is clearly a lie).

Time to consider legal assistance now. I’m really, really reluctant to take down the post and especially reluctant to delete the comments as they demand, but I may close comments on that post until this is resolved.
He must have been advised to take it down. The pdf of the C&D letter is still available here.

In the comments, he said he was contacting popehat, and a couple people had already offered financial assistance.
posted by nangar at 5:43 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will definitely contribute to any legal fund set up on Myers' behalf.
posted by scody at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2013


In between the drama, here's another short post by Myers:
Here’s another challenge for the growing atheist movement: can we avoid the trap of charismatic leadership and the cult of personality? ...

What we need to construct are egalitarian institutions that do not simply co-opt the corrupt schema of existing religious institutions. We should be modeling democratic political forms rather than buying into destructive ecclesiastical patterns of organization.
posted by nangar at 6:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


I hope you'll excuse me if I don't really believe Lindsay or give a shit what President Mansplain has to say about how great his organization is at dealing with harassment
posted by NoraReed at 11:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Mother of God -

PZ Myers just rallied help for another blogger after they posted what looked like a suicide note.

In which they said that Shermer had raped them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


PZ Myers: "The police in his hometown have been contacted, and I’ve heard one report that they reached him and found him safe. Everyone relax a little bit."
posted by ogooglebar at 8:44 AM on August 13, 2013


saw that - I mentioned that case more for the "holy shit, another person coming forward" aspect.

Mods, if the folks in here think that link wasn't cool, please delete.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on August 13, 2013


Here’s another challenge for the growing atheist movement:

"I've learned to be very suspicious of all movements." A musician friend who was around when punk first erupted.
posted by philip-random at 8:47 AM on August 13, 2013


EmpressCallipygos: Yeah, sorry, I read "rallied help" as "trying to help."
posted by ogooglebar at 8:47 AM on August 13, 2013


Just another (horrifying) story regarding the general tendency of why women who've been raped rarely report their assaults to the police:
After repeat harassment and intimidation from police in Norfolk, Va., a 22-year-old sexual assault survivor submitted a written statement detailing how, after reporting her assault, investigators doubted her story multiple times and told her, “If we find out that you’re lying, this will be a felony charge.”

According to a report from the Virginia Pilot, in addition to verbal harassment that became so extreme that the unnamed victim was compelled to walk out of her interview with investigators, police officials failed to release a composite sketch of the woman’s assailant, Roy Ruiz Loredo, a serial rapist who, after leaving Norfolk, went on to allegedly assault three other women in Virginia Beach.

The woman’s mistreatment during the investigation prompted the department to update its sexual assault policy which, prior to the changes, classified all rape cases as “unfounded” as a default and had no written provision in place to ensure victims were taken to the hospital and examined following an assault.
posted by scody at 10:53 AM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Jesus.
posted by rtha at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2013


So they're changing the guidelines and offering more "training". Well that's great. But the actions of that police department, the actions of the military in sexual assault cases, the actions of just about every university there is, the actions of skeptic cons and sci-fi cons and I bet we haven't scratched the surface of what evil is lurking within business cons, all of this seems incomprehensible to me. But I know all of these people are not evil. All of those cops weren't just being evil.

But what was really going on I don't understand. I don't understand even a little bit. I cannot understand the impulse to castigate victims. I wish I could reason on this but I can't because I can't begin to understand. I've just spent days reading research study after research study on victim-blaming, trying to understand. But I find I don't care if it's just world theory, lower empathy, defensive attribution, gender bias, racial bias, the patriarchy or plain ol' stupidity. The sheer amount of pain caused by this victim-blaming rape culture is overwhelming.
posted by Danila at 11:09 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities: a timeline of major events
posted by rtha at 11:34 AM on August 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sarah Jones, blogger and staff member for Americans United, faced death threats on the Facebook page of a skeptic aligned with those unsympathetic to dealing with sexism in the community. She writes on her blog today:
I have never been particularly involved with the American atheist, humanist or skeptic communities. I sided with Rebecca Watson during ElevatorGate, but the extent of my participation in that fiasco is a single blog post. The backlash Watson received made me wary of any further interaction with this community; I didn’t think that as a feminist, and especially as a survivor of sexual assault, I could share my experiences without finding myself the object of harassment. And after my experiences with Christian fundamentalism, I felt I’d really hit a lifetime quota for that sort of abuse.

But then this week happened. About a month ago, I appeared as a guest on God Discussion, which is run by Al Stefanelli and Deborah Beeksma, along with other members of Homeschoolers Anonymous. I didn’t realize then that Stefanelli has a reputation for being an anti-feminist blowhard. If I’d known, I would have never agreed to appear on his show. His views only became known to me after I read his latest screed against PZ Meyers. I felt then, and still feel now, that Stefanelli’s post showed a deep ignorance of how rape and assault survivors respond to trauma, and that his attack on PZ Meyers was misplaced.

And so that’s exactly what I said on Stefanelli’s Facebook. I didn’t accuse Shermer or anyone else of rape. I said, simply, that I was disturbed by Stefanelli’s post for the reasons I described above.

Cue the abuse. I got immediately swarmed by atheist anti-feminist men and the situation escalated until one of them threatened to kill me. Several times, in fact. Al’s since deleted the threats, but as far as I know, he still acknowledges that the threats were made. The person making the threats is possibly unwell; he also told me he’s a genetically engineered soldier. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about the fact that someone repeatedly threatened to kill me.
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:59 PM on August 14, 2013


I'm tired of people who threaten others on the internet being dismissed as "trolls." These people are pounding the Kool-Aid so fucking hard they can't even admit that death threats are Never Okay.

Keep digging yourselves in, fuckwits.
posted by Ouisch at 8:57 PM on August 14, 2013


Philosophy has a sexual harassment problem
I set up a blog where philosophers (of any gender) could share anonymous stories — positive or negative — about what it is like to be a woman in philosophy. I was not prepared for what happened.

Almost instantly, I was deluged with stories of sexual harassment. There was the job candidate who said she was sexually assaulted at the annual APA meeting where job interviews take place. The undergraduate whose professor joked publicly about dripping hot wax on her nipples. The persistent failure to understand that a woman of color might actually be a philosophy professor. The lesbian who found herself suddenly invited, after she came out, to join in the sexualizing of her female colleagues. Most of all, the repeated failure to actually respond to and deal with harassment: the serial harassers who suffer no loss to their career, despite widespread knowledge of their behavior and even of their sometimes vicious retaliation against complainants. The complicity of their institutions and their colleagues, who in many cases join in the retaliation as they close ranks. Many, many stories came in of women who had left philosophy due to harassment. I was shocked by these stories, and struggled to schedule them to appear, four a day, two weeks in advance. It kept up this way for months. There is still a steady stream of stories of this sort.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:14 AM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


So I had something happen to me this weekend which prompted a couple blog posts which may be relevant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Ada Initiative reviews the history of anti-harassment campaigns in three con cultures: SFF, atheism & skepticism and open source. (via Jason Thibeault)
posted by nangar at 8:05 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


And in further news of serial harassers who insist they are the real victims, San Diego mayor Bob Filner has resigned, insisting that it's all the fault of "the hysteria of the lynch mob." And lest you think he's just using the the term broadly -- nope! He explicitly compared the calls for his resignation to the dangers he faced as a Freedom Rider in the 1960s.

That's right: according to Filner, the women (and their supporters) who spoke out against sexual harassment and demanded his resignation are the equivalent of Klansmen using torture and murder to enforce Jim Crow.
posted by scody at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


And it's all because of their defective uteri!
posted by jaguar at 3:17 PM on August 25, 2013


This is late, but I found the post about the word creep.
I think what bugs MRAs and guys like them so much about the word “creep” is that it’s the only word they understand means “Game over, you lose. Don’t ever go near me again.” Anything else, they feel they can work around, even a flat out “no”, just means “okay try again later” or “maybe it’s not a firm no, let’s see if I can talk my way into her phone number with another 5 minutes of pushing.”

But “creepy” means that their “shot” is over. If they’re creeping us out, that means anything else they do will just creep us out more. Pushing the issue will just mean they’re being more of a creep. It’s over. She’s never going to be interested. Goodbye. It is the ONLY word we have that shuts off all opportunities for them. It is the only word we have to set our boundaries in stone.

That’s why they’re obsessed with policing it, that’s why they want it to be unusable, or call it a slur, that’s why they keep wanting explanations and claiming creepy is too vague, because they can nitpick and rules lawyer and push against explanations.

If we say they had bad breath, it means pop a breath mint and try again, if we say we’re tired, it means try again tomorrow, if we say we don’t like them, it just means we need to get to know them better, if we say we’re in a relationship, it means wait until it’s over (or try to sabotage it if they pretend they’re our friend), if we just want to be friends, it means for them to wait until another time, if we hate that they’re a transphobe, they’ll try to convince us they’re really not, if we think they’re exotifying us for our race, they’ll try to dictionary fight us about what exotifying means and it’s “just a preference”, if we say we’re gay, they’ll say that we just haven’t met the right guy, if they touched us and we didn’t like it, they’ll try to convince us we’re over sensitive and it’s a compliment, if they were following us around, it was just them really liking us and not stalking. On and on and on, everything we say and do will be picked apart as to why it is totally okay for them to keep haranguing us and why we objectively mustn’t rule out dating them.

Hell, there are sites upon sites upon sites, and bestselling books teaching men how to push, talk, pressure, confuse, trick, threaten, and nitpick their way past our “nos”, past our explanations, past our boundaries. To so many guys, “no” (and any variation of no, including all explanations) means “wrong tactic, try again” or “she’s just playing hard to get.”

So we HAVE to say “you’re creeping me out”, because they ARE, because a lot of the behaviours above are creepy, because not leaving us alone is creepy, because anything else we say gets pushed back onto us, and they refuse to respect our boundaries, and that is fucking creepy! Creepy is the only tool we have to definitively send a message to a guy we’re not interested. You’re creepy, if you do anything else towards me, you’ll be even creepier, and THAT they do understand.

And that’s why they hate it so much. That’s why they want to take the word away from us. And that’s why we can’t let them. It’s the only tool we have in a society where nothing a woman says to a man to set her boundaries can’t be picked apart by that man and pushed back onto her to defend, and re-defend those boundaries.
posted by jeather at 7:08 PM on August 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


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