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.