I’ve been around on the internets a LONNNG time, and its been my experience that the more people use terms like MISOGYNIST, RACIST, BIGOT and FEMINAZI, the less valid their arguments are likely to be. It’s kinda obvious in many ways, a good argument stands on its merits, not on how many times you can call someone a misogynist, and if you had a worthwhile argument, why not just present it, like so:
“Sexual Harassment at Conferences”. –Lets nail some colors to the mast!
!!!!Accurate assessment of a problem is the first step towards moving towards an appropriate solution!!!!
Now first let me say from a strategically point of view sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue (and if reading that has just pushed some buttons, I want you to calmly unplug those emotions and put them in a box, then take a deep breath, relax and read the rest of this reasoned argument)… breathing calmly yet? good!, then we can continue….
…… indeed to a large degree the conference scene is mostly redundant. A large conference is a couple of thousand people. In terms of viewership, a mediocre channel such as mine would pull in several tens of thousands of views for a video. Then of course many of these lectures are repeated from conference to conference, and virtually all of them are available online. Put simply if your primary focus is on the conference scene, then in the internet age, it’s probably misplaced. Further it’s my personal experience that sexual harassment affects only a very significant minority of attendees. Indeed I personally know prominent women who went to TAM last year who said from a harassment point of view, it was the cleanest TAM yet (battle fought and game won?). So the full scope of the problem is a minority of a minority. As such do you really think this is the priority target where you will get best bang for your buck in terms of focusing hard won resources, or focusing the attention of the online community?
Now this is not to say that conferences are obsolete (they clearly still have functional roles to play), or that sexual harassment isn’t a bad thing. Sure it exists, I’ve seen it, although it seems to me that such acts overwhelming happen in the bars outside the conference. I’ve seen some of this first hand, and was happy to help try to resolve the matter in an appropriate and mature fashion. My personal estimate would be, of the things that aren’t just people being social clutzs, something like 1 guy in 100-1000 (and maybe the odd girl too!) causes almost all of the problems. My straw poll estimate from half a dozen such meetings is that the ‘harassment’ that goes on in the bars at such meetings is little different from that you would find in practically any other bar in the country.
Further a female friend of mine who repeatedly attends many such events has informed me that the most recent TAM was the best ever in this fashion.
*THIS REALLY ISN’T A BIG PROBLEM*
Straight shooter…. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em…. and this is my strategic assessment of the extent of the problem.
… and such problems can of course be dealt with quickly and discretely without spoiling the fun for everyone else (the modus operandi of most nightclubs).
So why the 50% drop in female attendance at TAM?
Well like most things its likely to be a mix of factors, but I can tell you there is a reason why nightclubs typically advertise themselves with a little subtext in the bottom left hand corner saying ‘management reserves the right to refuse admission’ and do not advertise themselves as:
1) The level of the warning suggests the issue is far more problematic than it is in reality. I’ve heard talks at such conferences (from prominent activists in the community) that literally suggest that to merely turn up at such talks will get you rape threats etc etc. (let me be honest, repeatedly publicizing rape threats from a troll simply shows a crass lack of personal judgment and an immaturity at dealing with the interwebs, rather than a secular community ridden with men looking to rape women at conferences). Put simply the environment is widely being unrealistically portrayed as more hostile than it actually is. If your goal is to encourage women to attend such events, highlighting troll comments as representative of the conduct at such conferences is both willfully reckless and counterproductive to such a cause. Indeed it’s kind of self evident. If these threats had even the remotest air of credibility, the ONLY appropriate course of action is to simply report the matter to the FBI and take it to its logical conclusion, and then drag their legally beaten carcass around the walls of Troy… you get the idea. (and yeah, it’s what I would have done in the blink of an eye had I found such threats credible).
-Put simply, YES talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment.
2) The VAST majority of people at these conferences are civil, honest, respectable folks. Giving people a list of things they are and are not allowed to do in the bars in the evenings gives the impression that this is not a conference for grown-ups but an expensive and repressive day/night care where your every action will be vigilantly vetted for dis-approval by the conference organizers. Put simply this sort of thing is a killjoy for the civil, honest respectable majority. If I want to chew on some womans leg in a bar, I don’t want to have to consult the conference handbook to see if this classes as acceptable behavior!
It’s a bar….boys AND girls and have fun in bars! Sure sometime people misjudge situations, and sure there will be a few bad apples (who usually, and quite rightly, get their actions addressed at some point). But like I say, IT’S A BAR!! and those are the rules of engagement in bars, as the old saying goes, if you are gonna eat tuna, you gotta expect some bones!
Look, I’m no libertarian, but I frankly find the idea that a conference should be dictating to me what I am and am not allowed to do in a bar outside the conference as approaching the “WTF is wrong with you???” line. Nor do I particularly care for the McCarthyism argument which would typically be advanced at this point of ‘only communists would oppose such rules’/ ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’.
In summary, is there ‘harassment’ at conference? I’ve not really seen anything at conferences themselves, although in the bars elsewhere, yeah sure it goes on (although arguably not that different from any other bar in the country). –From half a dozen conferences, this alone gives a ball park figure of the extent of the problem.
As for the actionable items, I see writing down policies then policing them as essentially unfit for intended purpose and an inefficient deployment of resources. For the conference itself, this would seem an exercise in redundancy (you might as well have rules against theft, it would be exactly as valid, and likely see exactly the same usage (or does the lack of a theft policy suggest conferences tolerate kleptomania? Or is the absence of evidence for theft being endemic not evidence of absence?)). Put simply, typically the less bureaucratic paper work associated with these conferences the better for EVERYONE. Less legal fees in getting them written, less overhead in getting everyone running the conference to know what the guidelines are and in getting the attendees to read them all (no point in having guidelines if no one knows what they are!)
In terms of enforcement ‘Management reserves the right to refuse admission’ is perfectly fit for purpose for enforcing the policy of ‘don’t be a jerk’.
…and as for what happens in the bars elsewhere I really don’t see as falling within the remit of the conference organizers.
That does not however mean that nothing can be done. I would go for the application of ‘soft power’. Even if it’s not the direct concern of the conference, most of these things can (and should) be effectively addressed in a quiet, mature and social way, in a way that is eminently more fit for purpose (the more so if cooler heads prevail), but that’s a story for another day.