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Posted on Jun 25, 2013 in blogosphere, EWTS2013, gender, Women in Secularism 2 | 27 comments

Inconsistency, irony, and intrigue in Ireland

While preparing for my trip to the Empowering Women Through Secularism (EWTS) conference — thanks to a fundraiser graciously promoted and funded by supporters — I failed to notice any type of anti-harassment policy listed on the conference’s website and am thus quite befuddled. I praise conference organizers for not implementing an anti-harassment policy, but cannot help but note inconsistency within some speakers at this upcoming conference.

According to a select group of bloggers and their commenters, anti-harassment policies in various flavors are required for women to feel safe, welcome, and invited at conferences throughout the secular community [and beyond] because, as they claim, conferences are unsafe places for women. The secular community is allegedly rife with misogyny and only with anti-harassment policies may women be protected from sexual harassment and ‘creepy men’ which are allegedly common at conferences.

At least three individuals who have been fiercely engaged in rhetoric surrounding the necessity of anti-harassment policies will be speaking at this conference and, as far as I know, they have made no objections concerning the lack of an anti-harassment policy although other conferences and conference organizers have been under extreme fire – characterized as “anti-woman,” “not caring about diversity,” “not caring about women,” “siding with harassers,” “misogynistic,” “sexist,”etc.

One particular EWTS speaker — according to a recent interview — established two requirements for her speaking at conferences: at least 35% women speakers and an anti-harassment policy.

Perhaps because EWTS is a conference primarily concerned with women there is no need for an anti-harassment policy? Not so…at least when considering the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference which heralded its prized conduct policy — trumpeted by and invoked by speakers scheduled for both Women in Secularism 2 and EWTS — included on the conference’s main page.

In October of 2012, Atheist Ireland, one of the organizations responsible for and/or working to make EWTS possible released a statement noting another organization — Atheist Alliance International — instituted an anti-harassment policy and encouraged member organizations to adopt similar policies…but there is no policy at the EWTS conference nor does Atheist Ireland, as it seems, have such a policy.

Since EWTS has no anti-harassment policy, why is it the case that — since anti-harassment policies, according to a select group of bloggers and their commenters, are so important — there has been no outrage directed at EWTS and its organizers although outrage was directed at other conferences and conference organizers?

How can speakers objecting to the lack of anti-harassment policies at other conferences, and even refusing to speak at conferences lacking anti-harassment policies, be ethically justified in speaking at EWTS and saying nothing about the lack of an anti-harassment policy? Why the double standard? Perhaps flights from the United States to Ireland, fame, and speaking to audiences are enough to compromise principles?

I must, though, applaud organizers of EWTS for not falling into the ‘anti-harassment policies are necessary for women to feel safe from ‘creepy men’ and the secular community is rife with misogyny’ false narratives.

Instead of infantilizing women and demonizing men by instituting a bogus, worthless, and pandering anti-harassment policy which provides an illusory safety net, women are left to be empowered by their own assertiveness, Irish laws, and venue regulations…unless the intrepid and suspiciously-placed security team/personal bodyguards which were rumored to have been put in place by Melody Hensley at Women in Secularism 2 because of “concerns” due to my Washington D.C. appearance may mysteriously appear in Ireland.

The conference which was home to the alleged ‘elevator incident’ has no anti-harassment policy and the woman involved in the supposed ‘elevator incident’ — although she stipulates that conferences she speaks at must have anti-harassment policies —  is scheduled to speak at this conference lacking an anti-harassment policy with no complaints. Inconsistancy, irony, and intrigue indeed.

As always, feel free to add your thoughts below.

  • MosesZD

    Well written, JV.

  • Richard Sanderson

    Makes you wonder why the Baboons have failed to mention anything.

    Could it be that they only screamed about the “anti-harassment policy” before, because it was in their political interests to do so.

    We know the answer. They can’t fool us.

  • Lojong

    1) I think it’s great that you’re attending EWTS in Ireland this year. I expect you will prove yet again, as you did at WIS2, that you are not going to “stir up shit” (which I believe PZ Myers claimed, without consulting with David Silverman as to what “shit” he was referring to). I believe you will demonstrate that “facts on the ground” as to your character, today, are more important than smears, rumors, or even missteps you might have made in the past.

    2) This article could have been better–by being more informative, and less dependent upon innuendo-laden character attacks. You’re basically calling out Watson, Myers, and Benson for being “inconsistent.” Well–big deal. People are not consistent, not even former or pretend skeptics. It’s part of being human. Focusing on a character flaw, one shared by most humans, seem a bit–petty.

    3) The issues you’re raising here are relevant, however, and it would have been helpful had you spelled them out a bit better–taking the opportunity to do so. For one thing–did you contact the conference organizers about it, rather than only relying on the (apparent) fact that no policy is posted on their website? Doing so would accomplish a couple things: a) If they do have a policy, they’ve not done a good job of publicizing it. You would be doing them a good turn by bringing this to their attention. b) If they don’t have a policy, it would be an opportunity for you to have a dialogue with them–and maybe find that you have an ally with regard to the meme that secular conferences are not “safe places” for secular women (with the accompanying implication that secular men are possibly more predatory than non-secular men).

    4) You could have explicitly-stated a thesis that you generally only imply: that certain issues are being leveraged in a kind of “attempted power grab” by ideologically-driven gender-feminists in order to raised their profile within the atheist skeptical community by suggesting that established skeptics/atheists, and associated organizations “don’t care about women” – like the JREF, Richard Dawkins, and now CFI. They do this by creating some controversy, demand that their concerns be accepted without challenge or question as “real”, and if the measures they demand are not taken–they will boycott, advocate a change in leadership, and even argue that certain individuals such as yourself be banned from conferences. This is not the way skeptical people behave.

    I think had you focused less on attacking the apparent hypocrisy of the people involved, and avoided speculating about their “true priorities” (getting a trip to Ireland comped, or whatever), you could have better advanced a serious discussion: to what extent can or should gender-feminism be accommodated by the atheist/secular community?

    I believe there is nothing wrong in raising awareness in order to help more women feel welcome and safe at conferences. I do not think it is necessary to adopt the ideology of gender-feminism to achieve this aim (including the idea that a man being attracted to a woman sexually is “offensive” and “objectifying”). In fact, I believe gender-feminism, which argues that all evil in the world can be explain by “patriarchy,” (an active, organized, hegemonic effort by men to oppress women), actually DIS-empowers women. It is an ideology that brokers no criticism for individuals’ own responsibility for their life situation–which they attack as “victim-blaming,” and it treats women as less-capable-than-men, while cynically and ironically leveraging the evolutionarily-driven trait of men to protect women–which gives us the PZ Myers, Greg Ladens, and Mike Booths (Dan Cardamon video creator) of the world – guys called “white knights” by MRA types.

    We are products of our biology AND our culture. We can study this honestly and make a better world for everybody. But gender-feminism will not permit an open inquiry into the biological side of things, as it doesn’t suit their agenda. Will, that’s bullshit, and the fact that “skeptics” are afraid to challenge this, as evidenced by the recent CFI kerfuffle, demonstrates just how powerful and pervasive these gender-feminist ideas currently are in US socio-political culture.

    I really do appreciate you being the “fly in the ointment” with respect to these issues, Justin, but I really wish you’d be a little more mature and informative about it.

    Of course – I may be wrong in assuming that the “thesis” I’ve laid out matches your own perspective. And I respect that you are doing what you think is right. But one of the biggest criticisms you get from people who would otherwise support and agree with you is your tendency to make some of this stuff more personal than it needs to be. You yourself argue that it “should be about ideas.” I agree with you there 100%. And yeah – you’re human too, and not always consistent either.

    I still support you, and I hope you have a great time in Ireland!

    • Gerhard Prinsloo

      I do agree that it a appears a bit as if Justin has been veering slightly toward the gotcha side lately. I don’t think that you can really say that here though because of how much the bloggers in question invested in this issue. It doesn’t seem honest to parade women ‘feeling unsafe’ due to lack of conference policies on your blog, dumping on DJ Grothe of the JREF and then blithely ignoring the issue when convenient. It raises doubts about their integrity.

      If you want to see what real petty, mean-spiritedness looks like then look no further than Rebecca Watson’s latest attack on Richard Dawkins.

      • Richard Sanderson

        Rebecca uses any opportunity to have a dig at Dawkins, and no doubt she will be highly miffed that he completely ignores her in that interview by Wired.

        One of Ophelia Benson’s posters suggests Dawkins is suffering from a mental illness! Don’t know if they were serious or not, or just getting a really low blow in. Makes light of the issues surround mental illness though – you’d think these self-proclaimed social justice warriors would know better!

      • Lojong

        I wonder what would happen if those of us who disagree with the FTB/A+/Skepchick “approach” to secularism would focus less on trying to paint them as “bad skeptics,” or “dishonest people,” and instead, only respond to specific utterances of bullshit–like a Ms. Watson’s latest anti-Dawkins declaration? I mean really trying to focus on ideas, as opposed to character flaws (her alleged alcohol “problem,” victim-whoring, and deliberately misrepresenting opponents’ arguments and positions to her unquestioning fan-boys, fan-girls, and comrades)?

        What perplexes me is how she can be so popular, gets invited to speak at so many venues, and is enabled by her continued presence on the SGU podcast (zero respect here for her co-hosts for pretending like they don’t see or know what she’s up to–or worse, the defense for dishonest, community-disrupting stunts, with the lame excuse “We’ve seen the awful email she gets….” BOLLOCKS!). But then again, I feel that I am part of a “minority” who (rightly or wrongly) believes her to be a negative force for “skepticism,” and I’ll go one further–for “feminism” as well.

        We’re just dogs howling at the moon on this one. Most people believe the “I’m constantly under attack” narrative, without knowing how she calculatedly crafts it, using a small number of dumb-fucks who are too stupid to recognize the gifts they keep giving her (for her weird “Page O’Hate”) or are just in it for teh lulz – because feminists are so entertaining when peeved by the Patriarchy.

        Why not just ignore her, Myers, Benson, Christina, Carrier, et al? Let them have their little fiefdoms within the wider world of secular activism? Atheism+ won’t be any less the self-parody it already is for lack of ridicule. They really believe in that stuff. They believe they are “truly making a difference.” (And who am I to say that they are not?)

        They’ve already made TAM and the JREF a “safe space” free of their bullshit. Big whoop if they get invited to every other atheist/skeptic conference on the face of the earth. Eventually, the reality of their non-skeptical, politically-driven approach to “atheist activism” will become clear enough to those not invested in being “one of the cool kids,” and for whom church/state separation, and reducing discrimination against non-believers, are a greater priority than 42 odd “social justice concerns” cat-herded under the banner of “enlightened atheism.”

        Let them have their cult. But let’s try not to deliberately hurt them (or anyone else for that matter–be it theists, bigfoot believers, or even false cancer curers – as odious as some may seem). No matter how differently people experience the world, they are still human–capable of feeling the same things we feel, and also capable of “changing for the better” (whatever the fuck THAT means). I mean to say–let’s not treat anyone as if they are “un-redeemable.” That’s just lazy. Doing so just gives us carte blanche to attack, without any strategy for persuading, and without any openness that we my be wrong about some things ourselves. Real skeptics should be open to changing their minds, even about Rebecca Watson.

        • Biohazard

          I wonder what would happen if those of us who disagree with the
          FTB/A+/Skepchick “approach” to secularism would focus less on trying to
          paint them as “bad skeptics,” or “dishonest people,” and instead, only
          respond to specific utterances of bullshit–like a Ms. Watson’s latest
          anti-Dawkins declaration? I mean really trying to focus on ideas, as
          opposed to character flaws (her alleged alcohol “problem,”
          victim-whoring, and deliberately misrepresenting opponents’ arguments
          and positions to her unquestioning fan-boys, fan-girls, and comrades)?


  • iamcuriousblue

    I find it no small irony that this conference features radfem Kate Smurthwaite, who’s notorious for a Westboro Baptist style picket at writer Sebastian Horsely’s funeral, apparently because the guy had been an unrepentant buyer of prostitutes’ services. For which the police threatened her with arrest for – as you might have guessed – harassment:

    As with similar actions of outright censorship and property destruction by Canadian feminists vis a vis MRAs, this somehow won’t register with the usual idiots as “harassment”, but anything negative you say about them and their movement in any context, no matter how non-violent and in the context of protected political speech, amounts to “harassment”.

    Gotta love blatant double-standards.

  • bismarket 1

    Maybe it was a deliberate ploy by enablers to allow harassment of YOU, Matriarchy?

  • Jiggle Jowls

    Haha, Justin hates women because they think he’s creepy.

  • “Instead of infantilizing women and demonizing men by instituting a bogus, worthless, and pandering anti-harassment policy which provides an illusory safety net…”

    This is unduly hyperbolic. There is nothing in a well-crafted policy that singles out just one gender or sex for special treatment, and you certainly will not find passages which infantalize one while demonizing the other. If you can find such passages, I will humbly retract, but it looks like you are doing rhetoric here, not skepticism.

    • Oh please. If you’re going to pull the “this is rhetoric, not skepticism” and demand justin prove what he said, then fine, *you* prove that there is an objective standard behind “unduly hyperbolic” beyond “I don’t like it”. Links too, after all, we musn’t leave anything uncited.

      What, because justin posts on a skeptic website, EVERYTHING he writes must pass a skeptic test? Were you planning on posting said test, *along with* proof that everything YOU’VE posted here passes said test as well? Nothing unsupported, nothing uncited, none of that nasssty rhetoric.

      Go ahead, we’ll wait.

      Oh, and while you’re doing that, here, an example of an infantilizing conference policy, from our bro, David Silverman at AA:

      You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders — and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.

      (cue Damion saying either that this clearly shows that the AA policy is not well-written, and therefore not what he was talking about, or that this is a matter of “interpretation” and not “objectively” infantilizing.)

      In the meantime…of COURSE he’s engaging in rhetoric, when the hell did that become bad? People have used rhetoric for thousands of years, for good and ill, and now it’s suddenly bad because it’s not *skepticism*?

      Mark Twain would be thrilled to hear your judgement of his rhetoric. As would Ambrose Bierce and many, many others.

      • That policy infantalizes everyone, to be sure, but it is not an example of “infantilizing women and demonizing men” which is what Justin claimed is actually happening. Skepticism requires at least a little bit of evidence to be paired with such bold claims, and you can surely come up with a better example, John, one that singles out men for demonization or women for infantilization. Until you or Justin do so, that statement is just sitting out there by itself, unsupported by even a single relevant fact.

        Go ahead, we’ll wait.

        • let me see, only 12 hours. Good job, and predictable. Now, about your definition of “unduly hyperbolic” that everyone will agree with, for it would be objective, with supporting data, and not just “Damion doesn’t like it”

          I’m STILL waiting on that. Take your time, I’ve dinner made.

          • To call a completely unsupported claim merely hyperbolic is being generous, so far as I can see. Justin claimed that the anti-harassment policies under discussion infantalize women in and demonize men. You seem to agree with that, but neither of you have provided the slightest bit of direct evidence to support that claim. Show us which policies do that, and how. It is the very least that you can do, on a website dedicated to skepticism.

            • Again, still waiting on your objective definition of “unduly hyperbolic” that means something besides “damion didn’t like it”.

              • Again, waiting on evidence that any of the policies proposed have singled out women for infantilization or singled out men for demonization, as Justin claimed in the OP. Without any evidence on point, I’m afraid that “unduly hyperbolic” was unduly charitable.

                • ah. so I at least manage to provide one example of what I’m talking about, and of course, as predicted, you dismissed it. Did you actually read it, or did you have the dismissal ready to go, regardless of what i provided. Given your performances of late, I’m going with that.

                  I’m still waiting for how “unduly hyperbolic” isn’t rhetoric, but skepticism. Since as you implied, rhetoric is bad, and clearly as a “proper” skeptic, you’d never, ever make a claim like something being “unduly hyperbolic” without backing evidence that showed the objective nature of your claim.

                  Then again, since y’all shitcanned Justin, it’s not like he’s a problem for you anymore, is it.

                  • You provided an example of infantalizing men and women alike. Can you see the difference between that and Justin’s original claim that these policies have the effect of “infantilizing women and demonizing men” at the same time?

                    If you have examples of proposed policies treating women differently than men, please don’t hold back.

                    • You are amusing Damion, with your banhammer and all to avoid scrutiny or criticism. Have your own dungeon yet?

                    • It’s being redecorated as we speak.


  • Jack.Rayner

    I ended up here by clicking on a link that a Feminist posted. Apparently, this post made her feel unsafe and so she stayed home from the conference, crying.

    Think about that for a second, and let it sink in. That’s CRAZY…

  • allison

    No anti-harassment policy?!? Alas! -the conference must have been a complete disaster for the attendees! Please, Justin, tell me – are the women who were there alright? I can only hope that the number of rapes and assaults were in the single digits!

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    “How can speakers objecting to the lack of anti-harassment policies at other conferences… be ethically justified in speaking at EWTS and saying nothing about the lack of an anti-harassment policy? Why the double standard?”

    Because, in their Weltanschauung, a women’s conference is already a “Safe Place.” When they venture out into the scary world of “men’s clubs” conferences, where the neanderthals spew sexism at them, peep up their skirts, and Schrödinger-rape them, they need the shield of a policy to protect them.