Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's very simple, really. Really.

So the conversation about sexual harassment at skeptical conferences continues on Freethought Blogs, and doesn't show any sign of ending soon. And it has turned to the topic of what constitutes sexual harassment is generally, what people in charge can do about it, and how to avoid being guilty of it. That's a good discussion to's just that it's not a new discussion, and it's not a radically different concept from how sexual harassment is handled in the workplace, though it's kind of bizarre how many people are acting as if it is.

A new person was added to the network, Thunderf00t (no, I don't know why he spells it like that) who makes Youtube videos on skepticism. In his second post ever as part of the network, what Thunderf00t did was effectively take a flying leap and land right in the middle of a very complex and lengthy discussion, and in doing so he splattered ignorance all over the place. Ignorance of the specific conversation about TAM and DJ Grothe, which is entirely understandable and which I don't think anyone needs to have knowledge of in order to talk about sexual harassment and sexual harassment policies generally, but also a much less forgivable kind of ignorance-- that of what sexual harassment is, and why it still is that even when you add 1) alcohol and 2) fun. Thunderf00t is, you see, quite certain that policies against sexual harassment will be the end of fun, especially while drinking alcohol. So basically he did a big cannonball dive of "I don't care to even find out what you guys think or have been saying first" right in the deep end of rational discussion, and then he did so again with a follow-up post about PZ Myers after Myers pointed out what was wrong with the first one.

To wit:
And maybe most pertinently, PZ explaining why his policy wouldn’t be a killjoy.
 If you want to chew on some woman’s leg, no, you don’t have to consult the conference handbook.”
“You have to fucking consult the woman.”
Facepalm.  Yes this is exactly why you are killjoys to the VAST majority of civil, honest respectable folks.  IT WAS IN A BAR.  I enjoyed it, she enjoyed it (she left a comment specifically saying so, just to remove all doubt (see MyLegMYCHOICE!)), AND I NEVER HAD TO CONSULT HER, NOR APPLY FOR PERMISSION FROM THE CONFERENCE, IN ORDERS SIGNED IN TRIPLICATE SENT IN, SENT BACK AND BURIED IN SOFT PEAT FOR THREE MONTHS AND RECYCLED AS FIRELIGHTERS etc etc.  Indeed had I had to fill in the paperwork along with ‘permission to bite your leg in a horseplay photo’ form under conference interpersonal contact rule 144 b) 2, it would have probably kinda killed the moment, and neither I nor she would have got our mild thrills for the night.  It’s boys n girls have fun in bars! 
Look I’ll make it simple, the point of a bar isn’t to make everyone maximally safe (indeed if it were, they would ban bars, as it would be far safer if everyone just stayed at home and did nothing), it’s to let everyone have the most amount of fun.  The reason people don’t go to bars that are maximally safe, is because they are DULL, with folks always living in fear of crossing some random rule written by  some hypersensitive pencil-necked PC jockey.
Man, I hate caps for emphasis. Don't do it-- that's what italics are for. Use them, so you don't look like the Unabomber crossed with a chimpanzee. Kaczynski couldn't help it because he was using a typewriter, but if you've got a computer, you have the capacity to use italics! Although if you italicized every word that is capitalized here, it would simply change what looks like a person screaming at the top of his lungs to someone hissing like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Okay, let's go through the problems with this:

1. "Consult" obviously does not mean filling out documents, as Myers just got done pointing out-- not with the conference, not with the woman, not with anybody. Consulting someone means (wait for it) obtaining consent. Yes, it's that magical word again! And it's really not a difficult concept. It's so easy a concept, in fact, that I refuse to believe that Thunderf00t didn't get it loud and clear from the woman whose leg he bit, and that it was even important to him at the time to get it so as not to come off like an obnoxious creep doing what is technically battery if the recipient is unwilling. You bite a stranger on the leg; you get arrested. There's a reason for that. And hopefully nobody, including Thunderf00t, wants things any other way.

2. The fact that this is a bar we're talking about changes precisely nothing. It's still illegal to bite a stranger's leg in a bar, regardless of how drunk you are or she is. Groping someone at a bar-- any bar-- is still not okay if they're not willing. People go to bars for a lot of reasons, and for some of those people the reasons involve horseplay. For others it doesn't, and last I checked both groups of people are allowed at most bars. You don't just assume that a person is up for it without an indication from them, because that's an excellent way to get booted out of the establishment and because it's just, you know, wrong.

3. An interesting remark in the comment thread for a post at Almost Diamonds:
When you mention kink here, it just reminds me of another ironic aspect of all this. Thunderf00t is prattling on about how consulting women or setting boundaries (via harassment policies) is prohibiting ‘boys n’ girls having fun.’ But actual kink/BDSM–which I think would be clearly agreed upon by most is definitely one example of ‘boys n’ girls having fun.’–is founded on the idea of consent and boundaries. Because clearly defined consent and boundaries are what make it fun for all parties involved. (Didn’t Greta post something on exactly that subject recently, a kink/sexuality con that had very clear policies and guidelines?) 
And exactly how does ‘people letting their hair down’ prohibit making everyone ‘maximally safe’? Why does fun = unsafe? You know, I’m pretty sure that even bungee-jumping has safety rules and procedures. Why is there an assumption that respecting personal boundaries means eliminating flirtation and sexual innuendo? Why does being in a bar eliminate the need for consent? 
And why…ay. I can’t even begin to cover the fail. Why is so something so simple so difficult for people to comprehend?! 
Indeed-- it shouldn't be difficult at all, but the fact that safety is so heavily emphasized in kinky/swinger/BDSM circles is good to note. People who are involved in these groups generally take safety very seriously, because they know the risk of what could happen if they don't. People could get hurt, physically or emotionally or both. Some people have more fun when the stakes are high, but what goes along with that fun is the necessity of making sure that everybody's okay and enjoying what is happening. A lot of swingers' groups don't even allow single men to attend, because the ultimate concern is that the women who attend feel safe, and they're not likely to feel safe if the men attending are radically more numerous (no, I don't know this from experience...I read about it in Skipping Towards Gomorrah).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record yet again-- safety isn't the enemy of fun in a sexual context; it's a requirement for fun for women, and should therefore be a requirement for men. If it isn't, that's the kind of man women fear rather than wanting to have fun with. A man who doesn't give a damn about consent is bad news, and I wonder how the woman whose leg Thunderf00t bit-- with her consent apparently, whether he asked for it or not-- feels about the knowledge that he doesn't consider it necessary to have. Actually, again as I said, he probably does. He just seems to be stunningly unaware of that fact, and how important it is.

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