Followup comments

As you know, nine of us, Rebecca Watson and 8 FTB bloggers, had a conversation about TAM and DJ Grothe and related topics. There are two points raised during that discussion I’d like to make a few followup comments on.

Neither of these represents the main outcome of the conversation, which was, essentially, that 1) it is not true that Skepchick, FTB.com, Radfems, Women In General, or their Feminist Allies ever said anything negative or bad about TAM until AFTER DJ Grothe said they had, and 2) FTB.com and Skepchick and their various members and associates have been nothing but supportive of TAM over the years and wish to continue to do so. To put a fine point on that, Skepchick in the person of Amy Roth has been raising money to send people to TAM. Another important point brought up by Ophelia is that the reason for the drop off in women’s interest in TAM this year may well be because of a year of (mainly) Men in the Skeptics Movement shitting on (mainly) Women in the Skeptics Movement. While no one has said that TAM is especially unfriendly to women, it may well be that women just have more interesting and productive venues in which to be shat upon than this one. I’m sure my fellow blogeros will have summaries of the key points as well, or better yet, just watch the thing.

So, the two points I wanted to revisit:

The first is a topic that came up later on in the conversation. This relates to the expectation of sex at conferences. The first thing I’d like to note is that I’ve been to many dozens of conferences as parts of the AAAS, the AAA, the SAA, the APA, SoAfA, NEAA, MWAA, and a whole bunch of other thisorthat A’s and never once has this conversation come up. The very fact that we are asking this question in relation to skeptic and atheists conferences and conventions is notable, though I’m not sure exactly why. Anyway, during the conversation Rebecca pointed out that as usual we get to the disagreement near the end, and I pointed out that we probably don’t disagree much, but that the topic is complicated and if we explored the complexity we’d probably find a lot of agreement as we wrestled with that.

Apropos this notion, I’d like to suggest areas in which the issue is complex.

We are conflating (as Rebecca pointed out in part) different venues. I’ll add to what Rebecca said. She pointed out that TAM is not like Skepticon in purpose, organizational framework, or attendee demographics. To that I’ll add that there are Cons, and conferences, and they are not the same thing. With regard to speakers: Ophelia noted that she is just a plain regular person who is somehow on the stage. I disagree; as Stephanie pointed out, if you are a speaker or panelist you are part of the conference in a different way. There are invited speakers with honoraria, invited speakers without, people who’s way is paid and people who’s way is not paid, people who are plenary speakers, non-plenary speakers, panelists, commentators, hosts, staff, etc. etc. All these positions have different meanings in different contexts, and the relative meaning of those meanings is different depending on the conference/convention setting.

Males are usually harassing females, only rarely the other way ’round (whinging from MRA’s in 3..2..1..). So, that’s a factor.

It is all very complicated. Which means it is time for a parable.

When I started on the faculty of UMN, I got an email from President Mark Yudoff instructing me to read the regulations imposed on faculty by the Regents. Everyone got one, it was a form eLetter. I followed instructions and familiarized myself with the ten most important policies. A few weeks later, in a faculty meeting, the question came up (as pat of casual conversation, not officially about anyone in the department) of a faculty member having a consensual sexual relationship with a graduate student. Several of the faculty clearly indicated that that was against the rules and that you could get fired for doing that. I had read the top ten policies and right near the top of the list was the policy pertaining to this issue. It turns out that the University of Minnesota does not tell anyone to not have sex. And believe me, if there was ever going to be a US based public University telling anyone to not have sex it would be that one. But the thing is, they can’t. It’s one of the Constitutional Amendments; we have freedom of sex in this country.

Well, not really, but you see the point. There is a policy about sex between people who work or are enrolled designed to protect the individual(s) in the relationship lower on the academic or professional totem pole. There is not a “have sex and you are fired” rule. Even in the case of sex between, say, a Dean and an undergraduate. The reason I mention this is because most people who don’t read and learn the actual rules uncritically assume a “have sex and you are fired” rule. Even self described skeptics thing this. Putting it yet another way, almost everybody is misinformed.

I agree with Rebecca. Sex amongst (is that a good use of “amongst”?) attendees regardless of station shall not be infringed. I also agree with PZ. Extra powerful members of the community should not go to conferences with the Expectation of Nookie. I get the impression that the EoN has been prevalent in the past among senior skeptical male speakers, and that this is part of (but by no means only, or even mainly, the problem). The social relations among individuals at conferences can be complex, but differential power or position should a) never restrict what people can say or do but should b) always be considered intelligently in any action or activity. This is the place where I could say “this is not hard, folks” but the truth is, it is a little hard. So, instead of saying “this is not hard” I’ll say “deal.” How’s that?

The other issue I want to expand on is my suggestion that there is an open question as to the personal or institutional motivation behind DJ Grothe’s actions and possibly nefariousness afoot. I’m afraid my fellow interlocutors dismissed my suggestion without understanding it.

I am not suggesting that people sat down in a board meeting and made a plan and DJ Grothe is carrying it out.

I am suggesting that a male dominated society within a society (JREF/TAM within Western Culture) is blind to certain things, and has certain self-serving expectations, and smooth sailing is defined when those expectation are not interfered with by, well, by “Feminist Bitches.” Are there no conversations happening amongst (there’s that word again) JREF financiers, board members, DJ, others? Are there no emails distributed among any of the various mainly male defenders of DJ Grothe in social networking circles that say anything about anything? Is there no background discussion going on at all? Of course there are. How organized is all that? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that an important part of the culture of the skeptical movement is being threatened and JREF is one of the pillars of that culture. JREF, TAM and DJ Grothe do not need to defend the status quo, and they shouldn’t. Yet they are. After a while, that ceases, all due respect to my colleague Crommie, to be attributable to incompetence.

I blame the patriarchy.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Followup comments

  1. Second that.

    I was disagreeing with the suggestion of a plan. The patriarchy? Whole different thing.

    I think a lot of it is just dislike and contempt, simmering in those background discussions you mentioned. I think DJ blurted some of that out…maybe thinking that it was an “everybody thinks” kind of thing, because of the background discussions – and lots of people do think, so he wasn’t all wrong. I suppose he expected us all just to go “ouch” and creep away to the corner and stop bugging everyone until maybe late July or so. I don’t think he expected the conversation to go the way it has. But the idea that we’re (we pesky women, we feminist bitches, to use Rebecca’s term) threatening the Normal skeptical movement – yes, I think that.

  2. Pingback: Not a plan but a background | Butterflies and Wheels

  3. smhll says:

    The very fact that we are asking this question in relation to skeptic and atheists conferences and conventions is notable…

    I’m pretty sure it’s the “Hey, folks, let’s break all the commandments” T-shirts. (Speaking only for the atheists.)

    /kidding

  4. jamessweet says:

    The clarification helps, but I’m still not comfortable with some of the accusations you’ve been making about Groethe, or at least the way they are making it. The reason is this: While it’s true that intention matters very little when it comes to the effects of privilege, if what you are saying at all comes across as, “You’re doing this on purpose!”, and the person doing it is not consciously doing it on purpose, then you’ve just handed them a gift-wrapped excuse to stop listening to you. It’s a shitty excuse, but for someone desperate to avoid painful self-examination, it’s plenty good ’nuff.

    Okay, yes, you’ve clarified somewhat that that isn’t really quite what you were saying… but if even fellow like-minded FtBers, who are also really frikkin’ fed up with DJ, misinterpreted your previous remarks as suggesting that he is “doing this on purpose”, then how do you think this is coming across to Groethe, who (emotionally) has every incentive to find an excuse to be dismissive of your input? If people like Ophelia are misinterpreting you as ascribing malicious intention that isn’t there, then absolutely Groethe and people who are sympathetic to Groethe are going to perceive it that way, and then immediately write off anything you say.

    I dunno, there it is, FWIW.

  5. jamessweet says:

    To be clear, I am talking almost exclusively about stuff Greg has said, though a couple other FtBers occasionally skirt into this territory as well. The drubbing Groethe has received here is well-deserved, and I’m not trying to tell anyone to lay off him. Far from it! I just think, if even people on your side are starting to misinterpret your remarks as conspiracy mongering… well, that’s something to think about.

  6. echidna says:

    Jamessweet,

    I hear you, but the bare facts remain that Grothe stated explicitly that no harassment had been reported at TAM last year, and this has been demonstrated to be incorrect. Whether the falsehood was in error or intentional, there has been no mea culpa from Grothe.

    TAM has a problem with culture, governance, process and procedure. This is described very well here:
    comment by psanity on Almost Diamonds

  7. F says:

    Thing is, jamessweet, that once the complaints and observations have been laid out, suggestions made, and the party which made wild conspiracy accusations in the first place doubles down and embarks on a voyage of willful ignorance and denial, this is on purpose. It is also a display of so-called skeptics’ lacking the capability of rational thought. (I believe one can qualify as a skeptic simply by mocking some other person’s belief in bigfoot in a parallel manner of one religious person calling a different religion silly.)

  8. Greg Laden says:

    jamessweet, I hear you too, but this isn’t even one tiny bit about me, and it is even less about what anyone thinks I think. Again and again in this argument, people who complain about the misogyny are being asked to retract or take back or modify because white guys found an irrelevant chink in their argument. It will not surprise you to know that that’s not happening here.

    I see your point but it isn’t important. Sorry. To echo and expand on what you’ve said: This is 2012. It is not even a tiny itsy bitsy bit OK that conferences and conventions in the skeptical and free thought world are bastions of mid 20th century tomfoolery, stinking male priv, and misogyny. There isn’t anyone who can credibly claim to not know this, but there are plenty who act like it isn’t true.

    I’m not concerned about intentionality. I don’t care if someone is intentional in maintaining this crap and accidentally is not identified as such, and I don’t care if someone is willfully allowing this crap to continue and is thus painted as having arranged for it. My advice to those in the position of control and power is to step away from the misogyny. Just step away. And if you don’t whatever shit falls on you is your own problem.

  9. I am suggesting that a male dominated society within a society (JREF/TAM within Western Culture) is blind to certain things, and has certain self-serving expectations, and smooth sailing is defined when those expectation are not interfered with by, well, by “Feminist Bitches.” Are there no conversations happening amongst (there’s that word again) JREF financiers, board members, DJ, others? Are there no emails distributed among any of the various mainly male defenders of DJ Grothe in social networking circles that say anything about anything? Is there no background discussion going on at all? Of course there are. How organized is all that? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that an important part of the culture of the skeptical movement is being threatened and JREF is one of the pillars of that culture. JREF, TAM and DJ Grothe do not need to defend the status quo, and they shouldn’t. Yet they are. After a while, that ceases, all due respect to my colleague Crommie, to be attributable to incompetence.

    A fair clarification, Greg. If DJ’s attitudes reflects the mores of a community, particularly one with a libertarian bent, that makes more sense than him being a puppet of sinister forces.

    I have to say that when I first heard you pounding on this I thought that you came over as someone making unsubstantiated conspiracy claims. I regarded this as dangerous because it gives the critics ammunition not only to dismiss you, but everyone else in the blast radius, such as the contributors to yesterday’s FTB conference call.

    I’m glad you’ve walked this back, but fear it is both late and couched in a way that is not accessible to an audience that thrives on soundbite controversy.

  10. James Sweet says:

    The message I am hearing here is that people are so fed up with this bullshit that we are not willing to turn it around for even a moment to consider how to be more effective. Which, you know, I’m not really going to argue with, actually… What can I say to that? Whatever the practical effects, that frustration level is pretty frikkin’ well-justified at this point.

    I remain convinced that some of what I would call “overreaching” is counterproductive. But in the face of the kind of eye-rolling bullshit that has provoked the “overreaching” in the first place, it is difficult for me to find much fault with Greg when he says, “I see your point but it isn’t important.”

    Depending on your definition of “important”, I agree actually. I disagree that it doesn’t matter at all — while I think it doesn’t matter that much in the long view, in the short term at least I think there are missed opportunities with the way the message is being crafted by some bloggers. OTOH, if one’s patience for such things has run out, it is better to keep swinging wildly than to stop fighting altogether. Better to be in the right but occasionally unfair, rather than to retreat to a false middle.

    So I stand by what I said. But I also understand if y’all are so fed up you don’t give a shit. :D Cheers.

  11. James Sweet says:

    By the way, just one more comment to make it clear I am not trying to play concern troll here… the two FtB bloggers I would hold up as paragons of how I personally like to see these battles fought are Crommunist and Greta. Ian in particular has (for my money, at least) the perfect touch when dealing with issues of privilege — he has a real talent for distinguishing between trolls JAQing off vs. people who really do have legitimate questions/misunderstandings regarding privilege.

    Anyway, I don’t think anybody is going to accuse those two bloggers of being soft on this issue :D

  12. Greg Laden says:

    jamesweet: “The message I am hearing here is that people are so fed up with this bullshit that we are not willing to turn it around for even a moment to consider how to be more effective.”

    I don’t see how you can possibly think that after you’ve listened to the Google hangout chat thing, so go listen to that!

    And also, and again, and again and again, the issues at hand have to do with how (mostly) women are treated by fellow conference goers in this community and how conference organizers (not just TAM) handle that, and not about the reaction by women who have been harassed or bothered, or about people’s overall reactions and comments. This is the point I made near the end of the video. A lot of people who for some reason prefer to not see a problem that most people see have been spending way too much effort making sure that those who bring up issues are somehow shown to be wrong or inaccurate or are using the wrong approach, or whatever, when those accusations (against the bitchy feminists) are either minor or invalid.

  13. I’m one of the “conspiracy theorists” roaming the blogs complaining that Grothe’s and JREF’s apparent incompetence in handling this issue is better explained by it being a reflection of their desired outcome to this issue. I’m sure the talk behind the scenes isn’t “Mwahahaha! Let us gather our forces and crush the FtB community, and then TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!”, but I’m sure based on what I know about JREF that what ever talk is happening is probably taking the form of “fuck those bitches, who do they think they are?” A lot of general hostility towards feminists and feminism, combined with the feeling that they are the owners of skepticism and everyone else is a distraction or worse.

    I’m also glad the libertarian angle keeps coming up too, especially based on King Libertarian Ron Paul’s statement about how workplace sexual harassment victims should quit, rather than the person harassing them facing any sanctions. That sort of nonsense is a part of why I dropped out of the JREF forums a few years ago.

  14. karmakin says:

    The libertarian angle makes the most sense to me as well, although in reality it’s an intersection of a variety of influences, of course.

    I’m generally anti-tone trolly, that is I generally think that tone is overrused as a direct factor of debate. Someone could say in nasty terms things they agree with and they wouldn’t blink an eye, usually. However, I do think that be it a matter of tone or content, sometimes we can make bad arguments that might not serve us best in the primary goal, that is convincing people on the fence to join our side.

    I’m not convinced that the post in question is a place where this is happening, although I do think that there has been the occasional post/comment that has potentially gone to that place, although generally speaking I don’t think it stayed there for very long. (Talking about stuff on our side)

  15. To be fair, I don’t think anyone is saying “libertarians are automatically misogynistic jerks” either. It DOES seem to be the intersection of a bunch of different influences that all converge into an environment hostile towards solutions that require a change in the behavior and attitudes of the privileged members of JREF.

    And you know… if they had been more up-front about it, I could almost respect it. That is to say, if JREF and Grothe had simply said that they generally support certain positions on social justice issues that are antithetical to feminism, and that they aren’t interested in being all-inclusive, then the conversation is over and everyone moves on. Hell, they could have spun it as a net positive, in that the skeptical movement is large and strong enough that JREF doesn’t need to be all things to all people.

    Instead, it seems to me that they want to hold that position in practice while maintaining the image of being more inclusive. In order to do so, they have been put in the position where they have to demonize and dismiss their critics for what are observations of objective truths about the public behavior of Grothe, as well as perfectly reasonable assumptions about the behind-the-scenes goings on at JREF. You FtB bloggers have to be the villains, in order to maintain the illusion that JREF is doing the right thing and doesn’t need to make any changed to make its desired image match its reality.

  16. Cara says:

    And you know… if they had been more up-front about it, I could almost respect it. That is to say, if JREF and Grothe had simply said that they generally support certain positions on social justice issues that are antithetical to feminism, and that they aren’t interested in being all-inclusive, then the conversation is over and everyone moves on. Hell, they could have spun it as a net positive, in that the skeptical movement is large and strong enough that JREF doesn’t need to be all things to all people.

    Uh, no.

    Feminism means women are people. No more, no less. Therefore, any stance antithetical to feminism means skepticism is a male-only movement, which is completely irrational, and therefore the whole movement disappears in a puff of logic.

  17. Greg Laden says:

    Cara, your position is illogical because it ruins all the fun at conferences! But, as a woman, you would not be expected to understand these things.

  18. Cara says:

    Oh, Greg, you’re soooooo riiiiight. I forgot, a woman’s function in these matters is to, and I quote, “break up the sausage-fest”.

    Tee hee!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>