Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sexual Harassment Amongst the Unbelievers

There is a kerfuffle going on in the Atheist community. I've been pretty silent about it, but somebody asked me my opinion so I wrote the following response, which I would like to share. Non-atheists will find nothing of interest here; move along, you folks have your own problems ;-)

Okay. So just to be clear, the kerfuffle I'm talking about is the ongoing flame-fest over the issue of sexual harassment policies at Atheist conventions. So here's what I think.

I think what we're seeing is the consequence of trying to form a community out of a bunch of people who have abandoned our culture's default (Christian) rules of behavior. I'm not saying it was a mistake, I'm saying we all ought to face up to the fact that we have some work to do.

Some who've dumped Christianity feel that in the absence of its archaic sexual taboos, we should now all be free and open about our sexual impulses. Others who've dumped Christianity feel that in the absence of its patriarchal biases, we should now finally respect the absolute equal rights of women and have zero tolerance for unsolicited sexual advances.

I don't think the problem is that one side or the other is wrong. I think they're both mostly right. The problem, in my view, is that we lack a clear new cultural standard for behavior that accommodates both of these views by adopting reasonable limits to enable them to co-exist. Both sides are being a bit shrill and defensive, and that's entirely understandable, because both are fighting to make sure that the new emerging standards of behavior place as few limits on their side of the dispute as possible.

So while it can be unpleasant to listen to this infighting, I think we need to accept it as inevitable. I also think it could be healthy in the long run. Because if we never work through these differences then we won't be one community, we'll be two.

23 Comments:

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Poruchik said...

Interesting piece; I would think that the Golden Rule would hold here with a big dose of Common Sense. At what point does it become Harassment; I think when the receiving party establishes that the advance is not or no longer wanted.

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger Poruchik said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:05 AM, Blogger Fabeo Firsoff said...

What surprises me most is that not one of the right wing propaganda machines like Faux News jumped at this opportunity yet to announce how "atheist conventions are ridden with rape and terror" while quote mining what's been happening at FtB.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger DubV said...

I don't doubt that sexual harassment occurs at conferences, etc. What is worrying to me is that there doesn't seem to be a list of examples or people, even anonymously, describing various bad scenarios they have been in or witnessed. If I've missed these I apologize. The only specifics I've heard of is the elevator thing and a card given to the youtube user Zomgitscriss.

I don't believe that specifics are needed for a general policy to be in place or for this to be brought up. However, it would be more convincing if something approaching data were available. To clarify, I'm not asking for rape victims to testify regarding their trauma. I'm suggesting a general way to appraise the actual situation.

It has been my experience that secular folks are usually less likely to engage in sexual harassment, but of course any is too much.

Interested in anyone's feedback. I might be totally off base here.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger J Burgoyne said...

I honestly don't see the issue. I agree with you that both sides are mostly right. But how hard is it to be free and open with your thoughts and desires regarding ANY topic and still maintain a healthy respect for those around you?
Shouldn't be hard.
Not that I think anyone has a right not to be offended, but if someone expresses a desire not to be approached about a certain subject or that they are uncomfortable discussing certain things, why would anyone force them? (regardless of the topic, sexual or not)

Honestly now, this isn't hard.

Nor is it new.

Just play nice.

J

Peace

 
At 8:46 AM, Blogger Alexandre said...

So, I started some time ago watching the atheist experience. I thought; “hey, that co-host has the same name as the D&D & Ultima illustrator guy!”. Took me a while to look up the information and actually find out It WAS him! (you).
Then I found this blog (first time Wikipedia was actually useful!).
SO, here’s the completely unrelated question: What is your opinion on Torment: Planescape?

 
At 8:47 AM, Blogger Alexandre said...

and by that i obviously mean Planescape:Torment.

 
At 8:32 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Sorry for the slow reply, Alexandre.

I have no particular feelings about Planescape: Torment, since I don't play any version of Dungeons & Dragons if I can avoid it. I'm sure it works fine for those who like it, but it doesn't meet my standards for a sensible, playable set of rules.

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger Alexandre said...

Thank you for the answer. Yeah, i agree on game mechanics, i meant your thoughts on the game's art. (And writing, why not).
But yeah second edition or whatever it was at the time was p. bad. Thank you, and good to see a new post!

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Alexander said...

Jeff, I think it's great that you bring this issue to the forefront.

The key problem for atheism, and secular humanism in general, is how to establish a rational basis for right behavior in the absence of religion. I don't think it's impossible, but I do think that to date the method has been to "borrow" the better part of Christianity's ethics without a solid justification for why.

 
At 11:11 PM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

I came down pretty strongly on the 'Skeptchick's' side on this issue and found Dawkins' objections to be uncharacteristically stupid. If someone writes down a description of the events that occurred between Rebecca Watson and the guy hitting on her, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the guy was just some innocent guy whom Watson had unfairly criticized. But the fact of the matter is that we had a young, attractive girl, apparently with no guy on her arm who said she was going to bed and had enjoyed everyone's company (at the bar where they had been talking). And then we have a guy whom she does not know from Adam following her out and inviting her back to his place for drinks or 'more talk' or whatever.
If you do not see what is wrong with this guy's behavior then I probably cannot reach you as you seem like my brother...a guy who sees nothing wrong with offering cheesy sexually endowed advances to waitresses in restaurants.

If you just got done talking with a group of like minded folk at the bar and you feel attracted to one of the female, the time to approach her on this is NOT at 4:15 in the morning after she has reported she is going to bed, following her towards her room.

 
At 11:20 PM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

To add to that last post:

WE cannot ignore the fact that many, MANY, MANY rapes and murders of young women happen every year in the U.S. by psychos whom no one suspected of being psycho. They often start off with the guy hitting on the woman at the bar/office party/etc. and end with savage rape & torture and murder. I do not have to worry much about this myself (which will change if I go to prison I am certain) but if I were a young woman who even 3 in 10 men found sexually attractive, this would be on my mind every time I was about to go anywhere.

Watson did not publicly slam the guy or give his name or anything like that. She just said 'Look guys, don't do this. It makes me feel uncomfortable' and for that she was screeched at by dozens of macho 'git over it girly!' types.

 
At 5:32 PM, Blogger I Will Never Accept The Terms of Service said...

Wading in late, hope you don't mind.

The whole idea sounds quite silly that "oh, we have no Jebus so therefore we have no morality, we gotta think something up."

In a variant of Poruchik's comment, I'd like to suggest a morality like this:

Don't do stuff that p*sses people off.

You don't need religious morals, you don't need philosophically-based morals like (I dunno) Objectivism or the Kantian categorical imperative or anything.

Just simply don't do stuff that p*sses people off.

That's all "morality" is anyway, with maybe a bit of paternalistic social control thrown in.

 
At 11:16 PM, Blogger Mark Robn said...

Actually, if a group of people adapt a set of rules that pertain to how a few or even one person applies "morality", won't you atheists be guilty of making that group or that person your "God"? -- That is your problem here, atheists. You deny the law written in your hearts, then you gravitate back to that law, thinking that changing the name of the authority (and author) behind it will emancipate you from following it.

 
At 11:20 PM, Blogger Mark Robn said...

PS -- following the Golden Rule and "don't do stuff that p-s-s people off", so to speak, are both forms of that very law written in your hearts. Atheists can't have the cake and eat it, too.

It's like Satan talking to God, saying: "I don't need you, I can make my own world with my own rules." -- God says "Ok, you are free to do that." -- So then, Satan picks up some dirt, but God interrupts him: "Nah, nah, nah: go get your OWN dirt..."

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Mark Robn said...
"if a group of people adapt a set of rules that pertain to how a few or even one person applies "morality", won't you atheists be guilty of making that group or that person your "God"?"

No, because it doesn't take a god to make up a set of moral rules. Plus, we atheists wouldn't ANY set morals as absolute rules - just guidelines.

"You deny the law written in your hearts, then you gravitate back to that law..."

1) The heart is an organ for pumping blood. It has nothing to do with morality.

2) It's true that human beings come pre-loaded with certain behavioral impulses. Those are *instincts*, not 'laws', and they're the result of evolution, not of some god's command. Plus, not every behavioral impulse we experience is constructive.

3) No god could be the author of morality, even if the god existed. We know this thanks to Socrates' 'Euthyphro Dilemma'. Look it up. The 'divine command theory' of morality simply does not work.

 
At 12:06 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Mark Robn said...
"It's like Satan talking to God, saying: "I don't need you, I can make my own world with my own rules." -- God says "Ok, you are free to do that." -- So then, Satan picks up some dirt, but God interrupts him: "Nah, nah, nah: go get your OWN dirt..."

See 3).

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Well! It appears that I've got a live one.

Mark Robn wrote, "Actually, when speaking of spiritual matters..."

You may be speaking of 'spiritual matters', but I'm not. This is because, as far as I can tell, there's no such thing as 'spirits'.

"Animals have instinct, but humans have something animals do not have: imagination."

You have no idea what you're talking about. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2011/09/07/animal-imagination-the-dog-that-pretended-to-feed-a-frog-and-other-tales/

"Logic is not imagination -- evidently, that's why humans run Starfleet, not Vulcans."

Um, moron? You realize that there's no such thing as Starfleet? Or Vulcans, for that matter?

"Eccl. 9:11"

Don't quote the Bible as me. It's no more relevant than the Starfleet Technical Manual.

"Instinct is always constructive (name one instinct an animal has that is not)."

Human beings have an instinct to react with hostility to perceived or imagined competition for their mate. Which is not always constructive. And we humans are animals.

"Just let me know if you want me to burst your little bubble and pull the rug right out from under you [about the Euthyphro Dilemma], Jeff, and I will be more than happy to do so."

Go right ahead, this ought to be good.

"SOCRATES THE SODOMITE"

Ad hominem much? Socrates' personal behavior has nothing at all to do with the force of the Euthyphro Dilemma. If Adolf Hitler has proposed it, it would still rest on its own merits.

"...you mean to tell me, Jeff Dee, that you follow a man that "knows not of what he speaks" or more plainly "knows nothing""?

I don't 'follow' anybody. And SO WHAT is Socrates was self-deprecating in his estimation of his own knowledge? The Euthyphro Dilemma STILL rests on its own merits.

I must say, for a guy who claims to be able to actually SOLVE the Euthyphro Dilemma, you're sure wasting a lot of time making pointless attacks on its author... in fact, you go on at great length insulting philosophy in general. You appear to be doing this simply because philosophy comes up with different answers to the same questions as your holy book - and you can't tolerate that. Well I'm sorry you feel that way, but the fact that it annoys you is not an argument. You claim to HAVE an argument against the Euthyphro Dilemma, but instead of telling me what it is you've chosen to froth at the mouth instead. Is it any surprise that I'm not persuaded?

And THEN you have the nerve to claim knowledge of some secret motivation that's driving me. Hey, guess what jackass? That's over the line. You are out of here.

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

I have removed Mark Robn's last 7 posts, marking them as spam. I would normally leave them up for everyone's amusement, but this jackass is clearly in it simply for the thrill of hearing himself talk, and so this seemed like the best form of rebuke.

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger Kevin~ said...

My problem with this, and many others, was misrepresented I feel when you said, "we should now all be free and open about our sexual impulses."

This isn't simply over we should do whatever we want, and I feel like that isn't very accurate to assume so. This is about an in-group forming that wants to dictate rules to the rest of us. It would be as if the Catholic Church had rule over the rest of the churches and what they could and couldn't do.

I don't have problems with rules about harassment. I have problems with dissenting opinions being banned simply for disagreeing from their forums of discussion. I have problems with a t-shirt that is (in my opinion) making a statement about gender neutrality being banned because it offends a prominent feminist figure in the community. I have problems with demands for more diversity in the speaker panels, with the repurcussions obviously being speaker quality.

I have a problem with being called a misogynist or an MRA for merely disagreeing. I have a problem with people calling themselves skeptics but when asked for evidence none is presented.

Other than that, they are people too, and I don't buy into the totalitarian conspiracy theories, just I think they are doing what they think is right. And I am doing what I think is right by disagreeing. Even the term feminist is non-inclusive of transgenders, asexuals, and men. Women aren't the only ones that are discriminated against by antiquated stereotypical cultural standards.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Kevin~ said...
"This isn't simply over we should do whatever we want..."

That's not what I meant, and I apologize if I was unclear.

What I was trying to say is that many people seem to feel that any limitations placed upon their sexual expression are now more egregious than ever. Of course that attitude would include the view that they shouldn't be *obligated* to "do whatever (they) want".

"This is about an in-group forming that wants to dictate rules to the rest of us."

And the rules are, "don't be a jerk".

You can whine all you want about being outside of the group that wants people to behave politely. But rather than gaining my sympathy, though, you're making me wonder why you WANT to be outside of the group that wants people to behave politely?

"It would be as if the Catholic Church had rule over the rest of the churches and what they could and couldn't do."

I'm calling shenanigans. You're clearly bringing up the Catholic church because its a *theistic* organization that has rules, and you think this will win you points because you're talking to atheists. But the anti-harassment rules being discussed are not theistic, and have nothing to do with any church. Not all rules are bad, and not all groups which propose them are bad. And you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to manipulate atheist emotions in this discussion by bringing up completely irrelevant references to religion.

"I don't have problems with rules about harassment."

Then we're done, right?

"I have problems with dissenting opinions being banned simply for disagreeing from their forums of discussion."

Emotions have gotten heated on both sides. I've banned people myself, from here and from my Facebook page, and I'm not always sure I've done the right thing, so you could probably find examples of me over-stepping if you went looking for them. But if you did that, I think you'd be hunting for excuses rather than actually making a valid point.

"I have problems with a t-shirt that is (in my opinion) making a statement about gender neutrality being banned because it offends a prominent feminist figure in the community."

I'll decline to respond to this specific point because I'm not familiar with the details. But even if I agreed with your opinion of this specific t-shirt, it would take more than a few isolated mistakes to make me think that imposing rules of politeness is inappropriate. A LOT more.

"I have problems with demands for more diversity in the speaker panels, with the repurcussions obviously being speaker quality."

What's 'obvious' about that?

"I have a problem with being called a misogynist or an MRA for merely disagreeing."

Maybe (just maybe) you're called a misogynist or an MRA for expressing the opinion that having more diverse speakers will 'obviously' result in lower-quality speakers?

"I have a problem with people calling themselves skeptics but when asked for evidence none is presented."

I look forward to hearing the evidence in support of your assertion that having more diverse speakers will 'obviously' result in lower-quality speakers.

"I am doing what I think is right by disagreeing."

I agree with you; people should speak their minds.

And then take their lumps, if it turns out that their minds contained a load of crap.

"Even the term feminist is non-inclusive of transgenders, asexuals, and men. Women aren't the only ones that are discriminated against by antiquated stereotypical cultural standards."

This is absolutely true. But I get the impression that if I were to campaign for rules of behavior at conferences which attempted to curb discrimination against all of those groups, you would attack me for forming "an in-group that wants to dictate rules to the rest of us", instead of joining in.

 
At 5:11 AM, Blogger Kaye Chapman said...

the elevator thing, it seems to me that it was taken way out of proportion (I am female, btw). He didn't force her, he didn't explicitly say he wanted to have sex with her. His intensions may have been innocent, it is one of those occasions where you meet someone who you like and think may have a connection with, though you have to approach them then and there or you may never get another chance to talk to this person. understandably he could have simply asked her her number, but maybe he wanted to impress her with some lively debate. He didn't pull her away physically into his room, he simply asked. and to me that sounds very decent. if she thought he fancied her and she didn't like him the same way, he has given her the opportunity to say no thanks.

additionally religion has never played a role in the way i approach people for a relationship or once off encounter. i do not think religion has anything to do with this matter. i understand as a female it can be confronting and sometimes scary when an older, larger, or racy male when you feel there is no one about to help you if something did go wrong. though on the other hand it can be embarrassing for guys if they are turned down in a public place. but seriously a little common sense, read their mannerisms, if your not interested say so, you don't have to be rude about it (though if they are being rude sometimes i'll match their wit/humour) and you don't have to make a big deal. it can be hard enough for guys to approach girls.

 
At 10:56 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

This is exactly what's wrong with this discussion. Kaye says she thinks "the elevator thing was taken way out of proportion", but then proceeds to (apparently) berate Rebecca Watson because of (insert laundry list of things the guy in the elevator didn't do).

Ms. Watson NEVER SAID that the guy did any of those things. She simply said that what he DID do creeped her out, and then she asked her male atheist colleagues not to act likewise.

That's ALL she said.

Somebody damn well IS "taking the elevator thing way out of proportion" - but it's not Rebecca Watson. It's every single jackass who went ballistic in response to her simple request. I'm not talking about anyone who simply replied to her by saying, "I've considered you request, and I think it's unreasonable, so no." I'm talking about a) the people who posted hate-filled rants against her and b) the people who posted such twisted versions of the story so that otherwise decent folks like Kaye think that Ms. Watson is the problem.

 

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