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Posted on Apr 16, 2013 in arguments, blogosphere, gender, responding to arguments | 56 comments

Response to Greta Christina’s views on conference policies

Magic, intent! (

Greta Christina of the Freethought Blogs network has authored a response to some alleged criticisms of atheist/skeptic conference policies. She notes that persons ought not seriously consider criticisms “steeped in the contemptuous trivialization and dismissal of the very real problem of sexual and other harassment at conferences.” One might wonder what evidence supports this “very real problem,” which, on Christina’s view, likely provides the justification for conference policies she supports. Christina unwittingly provides excellent arguments against particular conference policies which I will explore in this piece.

Christina responds to a formulation of the following argument: (1) If there is a small problem with one part of a generally good rule or law or policy, the entire rule or law or policy should be discarded; (2) There is a small problem with one part of a generally good rule or law or policy; (3) The entire rule or law or policy should be discarded.

As an opponent of conference policies at atheist/skeptic conferences — particularly lengthy poorly-worded policies – I don’t think Christina addresses the strongest arguments against policies. Regardless, the elephants in the room — some of the most salient objections to particular conference policies — are quite clear: the conference policies are poorly worded, useless, not enforced as written, and born out of a false narrative of a, as Christina notes, “very real problem” of sexual harassment at conferences. Christina recognizes that people argue against policies because policies are poorly written, but she fails to adequately address these objections. Rather, she casually dismisses these concerns because, as she asserts, there is “obvious intent” beyond the conference policies and policies could be modified.

What, I wonder, is this “obvious intent” that Christina is privy to…and why would it matter? Proponents of conference policies — particularly lengthy conference policies implemented under the false narrative of an alleged “very real problem” of sexual harassment at conferences (inquiring minds, remember, still wait for evidence of this happening at conferences) — were kicking and screaming – arguing that these policies were necessary for women to feel safe at conferences and, without these policies, on some accounts (and even with these policies), the atheist/skeptic community is a dangerous, hostile, and unwelcoming place for women.

If these conference policies were so important, one would think that organizations and individuals touting these policies would take this “very real problem” seriously and take some time to craft something that is apparent to all, practical, enforced, and is not ‘excused away’ upon failure by the ad-hoc defense of “obvious intent.” Should not policies clearly spell what is expected and – regardless of what it written – be enforced as written? If organizations release policies, they should be followed. If the “obvious intent” is really so obvious, the words-as-written should match the intent. Since Christina distinguishes obvious intent from what is written — noting a contrast — it is very clear that there exists a disconnect.

Policies written and endorsed by atheist/skeptic organizations – particularly American Atheists spearheaded by David Silverman – are not enforced by organizers who, time and time again, turn a blind eye to violations and do not enforce what they had so cherished and promised to enforce. Rules-as-written do not matter, as we see from Christina’s defense of conference policies, and alleged “obvious intent” is what matters.

If outright violations of conference policies lead to tolerance from organizers with “obvious intent” which apparently trumps the rules-as-written, what is the point of rules-as-written or – of course – [lengthy] conference policies at all? Why not just have a policy stating something simple – that illegal behavior will not be tolerated – and leave everything up to organizers, as apparently is the case now on Christina’s account and was the case, before these extensive policies were implemented? The facts seem quite clear: exhaustive conference policies – inspired by Geek Feminism Wiki — are obvious attempts to pander to a particularly vocal dogmatic feminist subsection of the atheist community, and not just that of the organization Secular Woman, perpetuating a false victim narrative…

Greta Christina inadvertently makes a great case against conference policies when implying that the intent of the organizers trumps rules-as-written. Extensive conference policies, then, are useless and should be eliminated or – if for whatever reason they are necessary – shortened to a statement stipulating that organizers will eject conference participants at reasonable discretion [more on this in a possible future post: ‘The anatomy of a successful conference policy’]. Conference policies should not be eliminated because there are minor problems, but rather should be eliminated or shortened because intent of organizers trumps rules-as-written, as Christina notes, and because they are built upon a false narrative of an unevidenced “very real problem.”

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    17 April 2013 at 3:04pm
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  • West Coast Atheist
  • Eh, I think the no sexual language or imagery policy is unneeded. Heard the policy had all kinds of junk in there. I think the only policy needed is one saying NO ILLEGAL ACTIVITY of any kinds including uh those that land you in criminal court and those that people can choose whether to prosecute you on (harasssment) those that land you in law suits etc whatever.

    (I don’t know how to word that professionally ;) )

    If they are going to support a policy like that though, and they break it… it’s obvious that they will only use the policy against enemies, those they don’t like, or at least biasedly… which is, yknow, bad.

    • And in the case of the small group of bloggers and their readers who’ve decided they have “enemies”, their list is based on a single criterion: “people who have upset them on facebook or twitter”.

      • blondein_tokyo

        That is a huge exaggeration, and an extremely dishonest one.

        • Care to elaborate? It seems obvious to me that there’s definitely an FTB/A+ enemies list, one that I know I’m on. It’s even been made official by a Twitter filter they use with a large list of names.

          • Yes, and it’s a list that includes people from across the political spectrum. I’m on that list because Greta and her readers wrote nasty things to me, I took the bait and wrote nasty stuff back, and somehow all of their behavior was excused but I am considered evil until the end of time.

            But politically speaking, I’m a big gay lefty living in Madison, WI, surrounded by lefty feminist friends, and I probably vote exactly the same way as any “social justice warrior” would on almost every issue.

            Meanwhile I constantly get lumped in with “Slymepitters” (even though I have never in my life posted there), MRA’s (I had no idea what that was until I saw bloggers complaining about them), libertarians, I was called a “FOX News atheist” whatever that is, compared to Rush Limbaugh, etc…

            The enemies list includes people of all genders, there are plenty of women they consider to be “the enemy”. It includes liberals. It includes people who self-identify as feminists.

            The only thing all the “enemies” have in common is this: at one time or another they pissed off Greta or one of her pals.

            • ool0n

              You also have a habit of characterising people who don’t agree with you on Twitter as being a homophobes. Pretty close to supposed #FTBullies behaviour where if you just “disagree” you get labelled a misogynist. Strangely enough plenty of people don’t want to listen to you on Twitter as a result… Its weird but I really don’t have an issue with being blocked on there, maybe I’m not as narcissistic as I thought.

              Actually I’d love a Slymepit block bot, more ignoring what the “#FTBullies” say and less obsessing over every tiny utterance would improve the level of debate no end.

              • How interesting. This comment thread reads pretty well until…..guess what? oolon pops up. As usual contributing nothing of substance to the conversation. Want to improve the level of debate oolon? uninclude yourself, it’s that simple.

                • ool0n

                  Hehe funny that the FTBullies would say the same for Reap Paden… You do usually just whine about how badly you are treated however so I’d say that qualifies as even less substance than my comments..?

                  • Oh oolon? Did I touch a nerve? So sorry. You know the truth only hurts if you deserve it, right? Your comments? Painless as usual

                    • ool0n

                      You given up your one man performance art homage to butthurt? Or are you still churning out the videos…. I’m guessing yes! I’m also guessing it doesn’t hurt at all, numb as in skull :-P

          • ool0n

            Not listening to you and ignoring you can only be described as making you an enemy if you have a massive amount of narcissistic entitlement. IMO… I bet many on the other “side” would love it if that was how the Slymepitters made “enemies” of them.

            • Guest

              Oh, dear, and so it descends into name-calling and personal attack now. I’d love to know just what the hell you actually mean by “narcissistic entitlement”, though I’ll add that cracker-jack psychoanalysis like that doesn’t amount to much.

              As I’ve seen that insult hurled around, it typically refers to those of us who simply refuse to sacrifice individual rights on the alter of ideology, religion, or some other such abstraction. Maybe that hasn’t occurred to you, but that isn’t “narcissism”, so much as differing vision of the social good; one that views individual rights and autonomy as key values, because nobody is merely a means to another’s ends. That’s pretty far from “narcissistic”, actually, though I suppose from the point of view of a certain kind of immature leftism that demands individual needs be sacrificed at the alter of some glorious ideology, any kind of self-possession is simply “narcissistic” and unacceptable.

              • ool0n

                I didn’t say NPD, everyone is narcissistic to a degree, no? Just when you are so self absorbed that the mere fact someone is ignoring you means they are your enemy I feel it is going too far. Not so far that psychoanalysis is needed as it seems pretty common!

                Your right to be listened to never trumps another individual’s right to ignore you. Cannot see how that truism doesn’t apply here – the bot is individuals deciding they want a quiet life on Twitter. Just want to connect to like-minded friends and share with them sans bullshit. You can characterise that as a “shit-list” or “hivemind” as much as you like. Won’t make it any more than it is, people just ignoring you. Not sure how you argue against that without looking like a self absorbed prat, but you are welcome to try :-D

                • ool0n

                  BTW I’ve not blocked you on Twitter, but you blocking me means you are on my personal shit list! /joke

        • No it isn’t. There are far more blogs on FTB complaining about troll comments or petty facebook/twitter arguments than any documenting actual harassment at conferences. So-and-so called me a name, here’s a screen cap, wah.

        • it is neither, not even slightly.

        • MosesZD

          I used to read all their blogs. But they really turned me off with their constant proclimations of victimhood, their clear ‘enemies lists,’ the constant lying and strawmaning…
          They, by their actions, drove me away without a single cross word in my direction through their revolting behavior. The bottom-line is, just because I’m not a direct victim doesn’t mean I’m blind to it. It’s the ‘cool-kids’ crap all over again.
          And I’ve never liked the cool-kids club crap because I see what vicious little assholes they are.. It was BS in elementary school. It was vicious BS in middle school (of which level and conduct they remind me). It was BS in high school.
          Thank god there wasn’t any of the crap in college. Or maybe there was. I sure as hell never hung around with those kind of people as they make me sick.

      • corpsepants

        Or worse, people who follow twitter accounts they don’t like. (Disregarding any of the friendlies they follow.)

  • qbsmd

    I agree; the point of the policies seems to be to enforce social norms. The policy should either just be a single line saying “attendees may be removed for violating [AmericanBrittishetc] social norms as judged by conference staff” or be a clear and comprehensive description of those norms such that a foreigner or someone with poor social skills understands what’s expected. Having a policy and ignoring it in favor of rules you expect everyone to already know is worse than just expecting everyone to already know the rules.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Yep, that Saudi student… he didn’t do anything illegal, but he’s going to be harassed because it’s obvious his intent was to perform terroristic activity.

  • I see that Greta Christina has responded with a massive straw man, considering it was my critique that touched off the (usual closed) discussion on FTB. I have never said anywhere that I support the elimination of all anti-harassment policies. I support a general, clearly written, non-overboard policy, and I’ve stated that numerous times in the past. I do support, however, the elimination of anti-“sexual imagery” and “sexualized presentation” policies, or at least putting strong limitations on such clauses to restrict such rules to behavior that which is actually harassing, not merely that which might offend the overly-sensitive.

    But, once again, the usual folks are framing this as a battle between the good feminists and we evil misogynists who want open season on women, and are just using these policies as a wedge issue.

    What’s conspicuously absent from Greta Christina’s article is any mention of the censorship of Violet Blue’s BSides talk and how this came straight out of the policies Greta Christina and the rest of the FTB crowd are so bullish toward. That’s got to put GC in a tricky position, considering VB comes out of the same San Francisco sex-positive feminist milieu as GC and even appears on her blogroll. GC has for the last year maintained the fiction that such policies were flexible and modifiable, and would not have a chilling effect on sex-positive speech. Now Valerie Aurora and the Ada Initiative are demonstrating they have no intention of being flexible with regards to such policies, proving GC is dangerously mistaken at best and an apologist at worst.

    • It is extremely odd to see supposedly sex-positive and LGBT affirming people latch onto these practically Victorian attitudes.

      • What, you mean the sane ones, or the ones like Greta? Greta being ragingly hypocritical about this is about as surprising as gravity.

        • It’s been really an odd mix of amusing and horrifying over the last year watching Greta Christina’s very public cognitive dissonance over the kind of gender politics she’s embraced. I remember specifically her showing up on the A+ forum looking for a justification for the term “chill girl” or a good alternative to it, all the while going on about how she didn’t want to use a slut-shaming term, because that’s the kind of thing the second-wave radfems used to hurl at her! In other words, she wanted to hurl the same caliber of insult as she used to get from previous generations of “true feminist”, while trying to have it in some way be “different”. Just astounding, and a bit sad too, as she used to be way better than this.

  • RussellBlackford

    I have some sympathy for this, Justin. But the simplest policy would not say, “Illegal behaviour will not be tolerated.” It would say, “Disruptive or obnoxious behaviour that spoils other people’s fun will not be tolerated.” The purpose of a convention conduct policy is not to enforce the criminal law. It is to deter behaviour that spoils the conference (such behaviour may be quite legal in some cases, and some behaviour that is technically illegal in the jurisdiction may not have such an effect). It should set out how such behaviour will be dealt with (e.g. who you can complain to and who will investigate), what the penalty will be from the point of view of the conference organisers (e.g. that in serious cases it can lead to a cancellation of membership), and should not say anything about illegality, the role of the police, etc.

    • I agree with this. Having a policy that only prohibits illegal behavior still leaves room for a lot of behavior that infringes on the enjoyment by one, a few, or everybody else. There’s no problem with a commonsense policy.

      The fact that I want to have people be able to get together in a common space and have a good time is why I want some of the stupider policies (like the Geek Feminism one), anti-“sexualization” clauses, and the rest to be avoided. The reason I harp on the BSides incident so much is because here is a clear case where some bad policy was used by one individual to clearly infringe on the rights of the speaker and everybody who wanted to hear her. The “anti-harassment” policy was used as a pretext for carrying out an action that was in itself a type of harassment.

      • RussellBlackford

        Yeah, the idea is not to enforce the criminal law but to enhance the product being sold – i.e. the experience of the conference. You can do that if you deter some genuinely obnoxious behaviour and/or deal well with it when it happens. You don’t do it with policies that demand that people suppress their personalities to an unreasonable extent.

        You’d think after all we went through as a society in the 1960s and ’70s that it would not be necessary to argue that we should be allowed considerable scope to talk about or even joke about sex, for example, before it is regarded as obnoxious, disruptive, or otherwise something to be deterred. But it seems that in every generation we have to fight against unreasonable restrictions on sexual expression.

    • “Disruptive or obnoxious behaviour that spoils other people’s fun will not be tolerated.” I could be accused of this if I disrupted a dogfight! One person’s fun, may be another’s abuse. Policy MUST be more specific than that.

  • SubMan USN

    Excellent logic Justin.
    I especially liked the part where the words written down in the policy are not as important as the “obvious intent” of the words in the policy. Obvious to who?

    It seems to me that once we ignore the actual words in favor of some nebulous “obvious intent” we are granting someone arbitrary power to interpret the rules as he/she sees fit. This seems to me to be very Orwellian.

  • MosesZD

    There is no real problem. Atheist conferences are, like pretty much all conferences, rather mundane and innocuous with only have a few easily-avoided, slightly-annoying boors (usually found in the bar half potted).
    FWIW, I’d ban drinking at conferences long before any of the BS they talk about. People are not very ****ing clever or funny when they’re half-looped and not interested in their drunken, semi-coherent rambling…
    But I do the adult thing and simply stay away from the bar-crowd. Power to them if they want to pickle their brains and liver. I’ll just go to my room and read a good book. And then we’ll all be happy…

  • Skep tickle

    “Illegal behavior will not be tolerated” as a policy seems pointless, unless there were reason to believe that attendees (or those funding or hosting the conference) might be under the impression that in the absence of such a policy, illegal behavior WOULD be tolerated. And having a policy that’s specific but is explicitly not followed by the conference organizers seems like it could become a lawyer’s dream come true.

  • ool0n

    I asked in the other thread about the “strawmanning” by Greta and how it is possible when you are not mentioned… You are not the only person on the other “side” to talk about this issue you know. So it really isn’t a strawman to generalise your “side” as not wanting harassment policies. Just look in this thread for examples of people seemingly seriously suggesting a conference policy needs to be “Disruptive or obnoxious behaviour that spoils other people’s fun will not be tolerated.” …. Pretty akin to no policy is required to me!

    Again as I said in the other thread rules have to be flexible and open to interpretation, a policy needs to be flexible not followed to the letter or it will be too restrictive. As “sceptics” I would think we would understand this as there is for a start no way for the individuals at any conference to parse and understand written rules in the same way. One person’s interpretation will be different to anothers so your suggestion that rules need to be set in stone is both impossible and bizarre. You are certainly not following the Thunderf00t argument that we are all adults and don’t need any rules as we can just work it out. Or as I, and probably many in FtBs, suspect this iron clad YOU MUST FOLLOW THE RULES OR… HYPOCRISY… Shrieking is bullshit intended to try and attack conference policies with no understanding of how rules work in real life. AAcon13 was a perfect example, many clearly realised they were allowed to take photos and tweet but the sound/call side of the mobile phone needed to be turned off to not be disruptive. So again the most restrictive interpretation possible of the rules is used to attack and gain the high ground, lucky you lot are not religious as you’d be hardline fundamentalists for sure!

    Try comparing your position to a little known set of rules known as the law of the land. Constantly re-interpreted and sometimes rewritten to update its intent while being open to change and staying flexible.

    • RussellBlackford

      Oolon, I did not say, or even “appear” to say, the policy should just read: “Disruptive or obnoxious behaviour that spoils other people’s fun will not be tolerated.” That policy might actually work if backed up with adequate complaint and enforcement mechanisms, etc., but what I actually said, as anyone can see above, was that this would be the minimalist policy, rather than something like “Illegal behaviour will not be tolerated.” The point I was making was to correct Justin on one aspect: the purpose of such policies is to deter bad behaviour that spoils the fun of other convention goers, not to enforce the criminal law. Either you have read my comment in an extremely careless way or you have deliberately misrepresented it.

      As it happens, I wrote a post just the other day supporting the CFI’s policy on hostile conduct and harassment. The CFI’s policy is pretty sensible, but it is not in such an absolutely minimal form.

      As for your pontifications about legal interpretation and disciplinary procedures… sorry, but they’re weak. You shouldn’t write a disciplinary rules or laws that, read literally, cover all sorts of behaviour that is innocuous, then let people breach what is written at their discretion… and then decide how far you will enforce it. That is a recipe for manipulation and abuse. You should target whatever behaviours you want to exclude with good, narrowly-focused drafting.

      If you want there to be a grey area where decision-makers have to decide, case by case, what is “reasonable” or “proportional” or “foreseeable” or even “obnoxious”, or the like, you don’t sweepingly prohibit all behaviour in a certain category (such as “sexual language” or “display of sexual images”) then expect the enforcing body to read the words down somehow. You should draft it in a way that expresses your intentions. E.g. a formal sexual harassment provision in a statute might forbid, if this is what you’re really trying to target: “Unwelcome sexual conduct that a reasonable person would foresee would be likely to cause the recipient to feel intimidated, humiliated, or insulted.” A less formal code of conduct actually could forbid, simply, “Unwelcome and obnoxious sexual conduct”, even though “obnoxious” is not the sort of word that appears in formal statutes. The investigator would then be directed to apply what he or she believed to be community standards for what is “obnoxious”, and individuals covered by the provision would be warned to stay within those standards and not try to push the envelope.

      Just a word to the wise. It doesn’t impress me if you talk about the law as if you actually know something about legal drafting and interpretation… while showing a poor grasp of the concepts. I doubt that it will impress anyone else, either. It just makes you look silly.

      • ool0n

        I didn’t mention you Russell, but I did copy the quote from you. So I apologise if anyone thought I meant that was your position as I’ve seen you argue that policies are needed in other threads against ppl saying none are needed. Which was my point… Plenty seem to be on that side of the debate hence it is not unreasonable of Greta to characterise a section of opposition as not wanting them at all. I could be reasonably blamed for strawmanning you, even though I didn’t mention you, as that was copy and pasted from your comment, hence I apologised. But to not mention IACB or quote him and still strawman him is an achievement I don’t think even I could manage.

        I agree with you about the AACon13 policy on phones, it was unclear, even though many obviously understood its intent. Next year it won’t be as unclear.

        I agree with you on the “sexual imagery” section of the policy at Skeptech its not perfect, hence Greta criticised it and suggested a rewrite. As did Jadehawk in the comment section. I’m betting it will be different next year.

        BTW the law stuff was called an *analogy*, do you think the laws were written perfectly first time or are they rewritten and re-interpreted by precedent? Hence my examples above and why I think it is extremely unhelpful to just criticise with no suggestion for improvement. Its beyond unhelpful and into extremely uncharitable to interpret the enforcement of policies that are unclear and not interpreted in your (General your, or IACB as the main offender here) own most extreme and authoritarian way possible as hypocritical.

        So many examples of that on Twitter at the time, including Justin Vacula burning any bridges he had with American Atheists by spamming the hash tag. Not that I’m complaining given the @hashspamkiller got good reviews as a result!

    • ool0n – I’ve addressed your issues elsewhere and your constant repeating of the same point is growing rather old. If we followed your line of thinking, all sorts of very bad, overly-broad legislation would be the law of the land, under the idea the courts could fix the fine points later. In fact, all sorts of horrible laws have been struck down entirely for being overly broad, the Dworkin/MacKinnon Antipornography “Civil Rights” legislation of the 80s being a prime example, and a clear precursor to the kind of language found in the current Ada Initiative/Geek Feminism model policy. (Of course, the latter is not public law, but since we’re talking about public law as a model, the example applies.)

      The fact that the kind of policies you advocate not only can but *has* been used to censor sex-positive expression is all the proof that is needed to establish the harmful reality of this kind of policy.

      As for generalizations about opposition to anti-harassment policy, some on this side are against them entirely, many, such as myself and Russell Blackford, among others, support a more carefully worded version. Greta Christina is simply full of it insofar as she claims opposition to the anti-sexualization language is inevitably rooted in opposition to any kind of anti-harassment policy.

      • ool0n

        The reason Greta and others think the “criticism” is rooted in opposition to any kind of harassment policy is because it is not constructive criticism. There are screams of hypocrisy and little else. Where is your suggested rewriting of the relevant section? Greta provides one in her post… That is constructive criticism. Just asserting the #FTBullies failed at harassment policies because they are not worded perfectly first time around is rather daft IMO. But its certainly a prevalent view…

        • Oh, bugger off! I don’t have to re-invent the wheel here, and I don’t have to rewrite a whole new policy to point out what’s very wrong with the one that’s being pushed. My most specific suggestions are that the anti-“sexualization” language needs to go. Russell has made some good suggestions as to much clearer language that can go in its place.

          Your ongoing attempts to strawman criticism of existing policy are getting *very* old, ool0n. (Yes, I know, we’re just a bunch of evil misogynists out to undermine the shining glory of True Feminism.) Let me know when you can dialogue with the actual positions we’re advocating here.

          • ool0n

            I did, in the other thread, you found one not particularly relevant incident of a conference with no harassment policy possibly getting bad advice from an organisation with a policy and that “proves” they are problematic! Scepticism, who needs it?

            • Not particularly relevant? Just, why, ool0n? Because you say so? Because Jason says so? That line of argument is just bizarre.

              In terms of what one incident proves, I suggest you revisit the old “black swan problem”. Verifiable observation of a black swan falsifies the statements “all swans are white” or “no swans are black”.

              In this case, verifiable use of the model conference antiharassment policy, in this case by Ada Initiative, to shut down a talk by a sex-positive feminist speaker over claims that it will be “triggering” to unnamed survivors most certainly falsifies Jason’s claim that any actual interpretation of such rules will be restricted to “telling others to suck your cock, or that they’re only good for being fucked, or photoshopping them into porn pictures, for instance”.

              Of course, ultimately we have a clash of values here, not a scientific question. Nontheless, it does not serve this conversation at all to misstate what the empirical effects of anti-“sexual imagery” rules are. Only when we start with evidence-based observation of what these rules mean and how they are used in practice in the real world can the actual discussion of the desirability of such rules be meaningful.

              • ool0n

                Not particularly relevant with the, I thought, obvious proviso of I.M.O. Not really bizarre given its my opinion that when/if there is a conference with this wording in its policy (Like skeptech) and sex-positivity is ruined then I’d say more relevant to the question of the validity of the policy. If there are multiple instances of it suppressing free exchange of sex-positive ideas and discussion then yeah throw it in the dustbin…

                Which makes me have to observe that there shouldn’t be as much animus here as you, I, Jason and Greta want that discussion to be able to happen at conferences. Greta definitely does given the subject matter of her new book! So if you have something to add beyond saying the current policy is just shit then I guess they’d want to know. Saying something is broken is not particularly helpful in of itself!

                What would be your proposal for a better worded section to that policy, to cover the objectification and not suppress the valid discussion?

                • First, I do not want policies to cover “objectification”, as that’s a mental act, and often an ideologically-loaded concept. I do not want categories of thoughtcrime and political infraction in conference policies.

                  I’m with Russell on this one – the conference should cover disruptive, aggressive, harmful, and/or illegal behavior, sexual or otherwise; in fact, I do not see need for sexual behavior to even go into a separate category. As for current policies that are based off the poorly-written “Geek Feminist” policy, they need an overhaul, not chipping away at the edges.

                  Generally speaking, I’m pretty partial to the conference policy at DragonCon, which seems to cover the necessary points without going overboard:


                  The only thing I think the above policy really needs is a clause with clear language about procedures for reporting and what the expected response should be if one is being infringed upon.

                  Similarly, a space where I spend a fair amount of time, Noisebridge, has some clear Community policies, including a harassment policy, one that actually address harassment, not sexuality:


        • “The reason Greta and others think the “criticism” is rooted in opposition to any kind of harassment policy is because it is not constructive criticism.”

          …as defined by those who don’t want to hear or address ANY criticism. Quite convenient, eh?

        • There were plenty of reasonable voices all along and we get told we’re just trying to keep women as “fuck toys for privileged white men.” Please be honest and don’t pretend there hasn’t been plenty of people saying from the start that we need better policies.

      • Ooops – I will note that when I said I’ve addressed this, I was mistaking this comment thread for the other one, so this is the first time these points have been raised here. In any event, I’ve addressed them elsewhere, and Russell has done a particularly bang-up job of addressing them here.

    • I’m not sure how your laws are interpreted, but here in the States they are interpreted as written, not as intended, which is why they must be constantly updated. They aren’t “re-interpreted” to update intent, they are constantly compared to what was actually written in the Constitution. This is a huge cornerstone of our laws and causes some strife, but ultimately prevents tyranny of the law by people who would use the law’s “intent” to stifle others.

  • Funny how many of Greta’s readers specifically decry the “intent is magic” argument, but embrace it when it suits their convenience….

  • The only policy I would be in favor of would be Russell’s suggestion – “Disruptive or obnoxious behaviour that spoils other people’s fun will not be tolerated.” In the United States of America I would simply leave the ‘v’ out of behaviour, to make it culturally adapted. I find this to be ‘movie theater’ policy however. Everyone knows if you ‘act up’ in the movie theater you will be escorted out by security. Yet amazingly and magically, not even movie theaters post it. The only thing you see before the show is a reminder on the big screen to silence mobile devices and remain quiet so others can enjoy the show. Incredibly, every day of every year since the early 1900’s, humans have communed to view motion pictures with a group of strangers and somehow their poor behavior doesn’t seem to make the news much ( except for the Colorado mass murder which no behavior policy would have prevented). That a bazillion hours of time and Internet space has been occupied with telling adults how to behave in a room full of people, and conversation about it, boggles my mind and irritates me. Every time you organize an event you risk individuals who will not conform to social norms showing up – and ‘policies’ is never going to prevent this or their behavior. It is simply redundant. Once again I will say, the best strategy is to let attendees know that any concerns should be directed to the conference liaison in the lobby who is in contact with event managers and has been provided a strategic plan in the event of untoward events. My last point is, if you are going to have a policy above and beyond the kind Russell suggested, be sure it is reviewed by an attorney.

  • RussellBlackford

    First, the apology from Oolon appreciated and accepted.

    Second, I agree with the narrow point that imperfectly-drafted laws or rules can be modified when problems come to light. But this is not just a matter of imperfect drafting. Some of these provisions were drafted with undue haste, against a background of false urgency, with little consultation (and considerable vilification of people who raised legitimate concerns at an early stage), and with lazy borrowing from other policies that are themselves open to strong criticism.

    The result is that we see policies with clauses that are not just imperfectly drafted and in need of some fine-tuning but extraordinarily overbroad, and someone, somewhere along the line who originally drafted these provisions really did seek to problematize public or semi-public sexual language, etc., in a very broad way.

    The redrafting suggested by Greta Christina does solve one problem – at least the policy will not now forbid sessions that are in some way about sex. And kudos to her for at least agreeing that there is one problem. But her drafting still forbids far more than the sort of hostile, intimidating, pestering, humiliating, or generally obnoxious kinds of sexual conduct that fall under the concept of sexual harassment. The “no sexual language or imagery” type provision will allow presenters to talk about sex as long as they keep it strictly relevant. But it will still prohibit people in the audience from talking about the session afterwards, unless they leave the venue. It will prohibit other conversations that include sexual discussion or sexual jokes among lovers or friends. It will prohibit erotic images in art shows. It will prohibit erotic images on book covers. And on and on. The effect is still to target sexual expression as inherently problematic and needing special justification, rather than to support sexual openness unless it reaches of the point of being obnoxious by ordinary, fairly robust social standards. I copped a lot of flak at one point for using the word “Talibanesque” (in a very obscure place on the internet, namely someone’s Facebook profile page). But this sort of provision really is Talibanesque in its level of intrusion and control.

    Even with Greta’s added words, it is still getting things backwards. Instead of tampering around the edges with a provision like that, any such provision should be repudiated. Once again, conduct policies are to facilitate fun and enjoyment at conferences. They should help conference organisers to deal with disruptive behaviour or with the kinds of nasty behaviour (including but not limited to sexual behaviour) that understandably upset people and spoil the event for them. They should give some reassurance that obnoxious behaviour won’t be tolerated, and should deter it to some extent. That is the place to start, not with the notion that there is something inherently offensive or intrusive about sexual language and imagery, so that it has to be specifically justified. As a society, we should have advanced way past that idea.

  • Interesting that Greta would argue for interpreting rules under intent rather than as written, seeing as how our society and laws are all interpreted as written. There are many problems with intent of the law and we threw that out a long time ago. It’s why we have a Constitution that can apply to modern-day questions and situations which the founding fathers never could have dreamed of.

    • RussellBlackford

      It’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Courts will “read down”, identify the “mischief”, worry about the “legislative purpose”, etc. But this is all a bit more flexible than what is meant by “original intent” theorists. Courts often will read down provisions that are absurd on their face by reading them as if a word like “reasonably” (or perhaps “unreasonably”) appeared there somewhere.

      Still, you’re right that the kind of massive reading down or judicial redrafting where a rule that pretty clear says one thing is interpreted to mean something quite different and much narrower, on the basis that it’s the sort of situation that the drafters probably had in mind, is not what courts do, and not what other people who enforce rules should do either. While you don’t want to be totally literal-minded about things if it leads to absurd results, you do try to interpret what is actually there, rather than rewriting it when its time to enforce the rule. And the people who are covered by a rule need to be able to rely on more or less its literal meaning without having to guess how it will be applied in practice. All this is important to the rule of law.

      Which means it is important to get the drafting pretty close to right in the first place. You can fine-tune it later. But meanwhile, if the literal words cover a much wider range of cases than the particular cases that the drafters subjectively had in mind, that’s poor drafting – and it’s the sort of poor drafting that we should be protesting about when we see it.

      And to take this a step further, people who criticise poor, overbroad drafting of rules are performing a service. They should be thanked, not held up to shame and vilification by others with popular platforms. That has been one of the worst aspects of this whole debacle.

      • Thanks for mentioning that. My scope of knowledge is very general, of course.

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  • So Justin, care to take a crack at writing a policy?

    You seem to have criticism of the demands of others, and they may be legitimate criticism. I’m curious what you would consider an acceptable harassment policy which addresses possible issues yet does not presume guilt.

    • Yup. I plan to write an upcoming post on a potential policy.

  • You call some atheists, a ” vocal dogmatic feminist subsection of the atheist community.”
    In 2013, I would think that all but the most dogmatic woman haters would be defined as feminists by these standard definitions:
    Today the Oxford English Dictionary defines a feminist as “an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women”.

    Feminism – Definition of feminism – Civil Liberties – › … › Equal Rights › Gender & SexualityDefinition: Historian and activist Cheris Kramarae once famously remarked that “feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”

    • SexyIsntSexist

      That is an extremely simplistic idea of feminism – or feminismS (no typo!)

      It is at times very easy for radical (gender/separatist/postmodern/french/’orthodox’) feminism to hide under the skirts of liberal feminist ideals when they talk themselves up a blind alley. The equation of orthodox feminism today with liberal feminist sentiments, such as those you use above from the dictionary are, however, disingenuous.

      The sentiments of A+ are of a profoundly ‘radical’ i.e. orthodox and not liberal – the primary goal of which is to dismantle patriarchy, not advocate for the rights and equality of women.