Sex and the Keynote

Sex and the Keynote


This past weekend, I flew out to Columbus, Oh, to attend Skepticamp Ohio as the keynote speaker. I was honored to be invited and I want to thank Carl Tracy, Ashley Paramore and everyone involved for putting together a great event and a fun weekend. One thing that I really want to commend them for was their harassment policy, which only had to be enforced one time, and was done so swiftly and respectfully. I applaud them.

Well, technically, it needed to be enforced twice. But the second time, no one was given the opportunity to act. And it’s a big deal. And days later, I’m still really angry about what happened.

After lunch, I gave my talk about vaccines. I talked about my experiences as a mother, how I came up with the concept of Hug Me, showed photos of my kids, did a fake Q&A, and utterly shamed the audience for not being vaccinated, which I only half apologize for. And I did this talk while on Vicodin… which I also only half apologize for.

The rest of the conference went beautifully. No inappropriate comments. No more Vicodin-infused talks. Or at least no more talks that started with “So… I’m on Vicodin.”

Then, at the very end, when everyone was preparing to leave, and I was packing up the Hug Me table, answering questions, and generally socializing with other speakers and attendees, thinking about how fat my check is going to be from Big Pharma when one man and his wife, whom I’ve become vaguely acquainted with on Facebook in the last week, approached my table. He said, “Here’s a little something to remember us by” and handed me an upside-down card. I turned it halfway over, glanced at it peripherally, then thanked them.

A minute or so later, I had a “wait… what?” moment, then flipped the card over and looked at it not peripherally to discover I had not been handed a business card, but a card with a naked photo of the two of them, with their information on how to contact them should I want to fuck. The card is obviously NSFW, so here’s a SFW card, click on it for the NSFW real version… that’s a warning and an FYI.

By the time I realized what happened, they were gone.

People, the harassment policies put into place by conference organizers are not there as a challenge to overcome. They’re there to create a comfortable and safe environment for speakers and attendees alike. Propositioning your keynote speaker via your sex calling card then bolting is not a loophole, it’s being an asshole.

I don’t know where someone would get the idea from any part of my presence or from my talk that I was available for sex now or in the future.

I am not. But it’s more than that.

It’s not okay to assume that any woman (or non-woman) is at a conference to be your plaything. But to reduce your keynote speaker to a thing you want to fuck, and not respect that she’s there as a professional is so much more than offensive to her personally. It’s disrespectful to the conference and its organizers.

It’s not okay to assume a stranger welcomes your nakedness. I was never asked if I was interested in this couple. Not explicitly. Not implicitly. This couple obviously knows that it’s not acceptable to just go around flashing your sexy nudie pics at people since they’re adults functioning in society, but they also waited until the conference was over to give it to me and they handed to me upside down. A clear indication that there’s an understanding that sex cards are not handed out the same way as business cards are.

It’s not okay to remove another person’s ability to have a say in the situation you’ve put them in. Handing someone your naked photo with an implicit invitation to come fuck them then running away is something awful people do. You think this is how you get people to have sex with you? By making it clear that you have no respect for their feelings and that you refuse to give them agency in your interactions? I was never given an opportunity to respond to them. I could not tell them that this was something that offended me as an individual, as a woman and as a professional. I wasn’t able to politely decline the card. I wasn’t able to say anything. Not yes. Not no. Not anything.

It’s not okay to proposition someone while they are at work. Your conference speakers are at work. Your conference vendors are at work. They may be there to entertain and provide services, but unless that entertainment and those services are explicitly for your sexual pleasure, then they’re not for your sexual pleasure.

Your speaker’s looks are irrelevant to everything else she brings to your conference. And so is your boner. So put it away, thank your speaker for coming out. Thank her for the presentation. Or don’t. But don’t thank her by offering your dick… or your tongue. Or whatever it is. If your offer involves touching her in places that are typically protected by clothing, keep your thanks to yourself.

If there is a conference policy on not propositioning people at your conference, don’t approach people for sex. Don’t give people your sex card. Don’t be inappropriate. If you can’t bring yourself go a full day without being inappropriate, don’t go places where appropriate and respectful behavior is expected.

I cannot think of a single situation where it’s ever appropriate to hand someone an invitation to group sex if you haven’t already had or discussed having sex. I think a nice rule of thumb on handing out such things is: Have you discussed or engaged in sexual activity with this person? If yes, hand them the card. If not, do not hand them the card. If you’re sad because you never had the opportunity to discuss such an opportunity with them, the thing to do is not to shove your card in their face. The thing to do is accept that sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. There isn’t a shortage of humans in the world. You can find another one to have sex with.

Outnumbering a stranger while putting them in an uncomfortable situation is a dick thing to do. Two inappropriate strangers approaching you at the same time is more intimidating and threatening than one. Because there’s two of them. And there’s one of you. That’s why.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to simply treat women speakers with respect and not assume that their existence is for your sexual pleasure. Or to believe that how attracted you are to us doesn’t matter to us. That maybe our passion projects are not a front to lure your loins to ours. That maybe our work is just as valid as men’s work.

Shit like this makes me second guess whether my work in this community is worth doing. And I do good work. I do important work. The work I do saves lives. And yet I still have to worry about whether I’m worthy or if I’ll ever be respected beyond my fuckability. And that’s bullshit. I deserve better than that.

So shame on you, couple who handed me that card. And shame on a community that’s given some impression that this is okay by not standing up and making it more clear that it is not.

The night before Skepticamp, my friends and I were talking about how feminism in skepticism is reaching critical mass, and that things are about to start changing, fast. Then this happened and reminded me how much changing we have to do.

After this incident, co-keynote Hemant Mehta jokingly asked, “Why doen’t this ever happen to me?”

Exactly, Hemant. Exactly.

Carl Tracy, co-organizer of the event, has contacted the couple in question, and I have received an apology after an explanation that this was “just a joke”. A joke that I really don’t get and an excuse that I think is incredibly unfair. I definitely feel like this was a case of it being easier to apologize later than to consider my feelings ahead of time… because best case scenario, they get to fuck me. Worst case scenario, they get to say “It’s a joke! Boobs in your professional face! Get it?”

While I accept their apology, I still want to address the issue. I was denied a voice in the situation. Additionally, I believe this incident illustrates how women in skepticism are still not being treated with the respect they deserve.

Edit: having re-read the apology, I’ve decided that maybe it was less sincere than I first thought, having read it upon waking this morning. I will leave the text here. You can decide if it was hilarious and whether he should be sorry I misinterpreted him:

Carl, I’m sorry to have caused all the commotion. We had no idea that there would be an objection to sharing what we call our “pleasure card” with Elyse. The intention was not sexual, it was comical, and i truly apologize that there was a misinterpretation of what I did on a whim.

We didn’t give cards to anyone else (except our business card to stay in contact with other participants), and had no intention of harassment. It was an act of boorish behavior on my part, but it won’t be repeated. I certainly have learned from this experience.

Please pass on our apologies to anyone who may have been offended. We now consider ourselves part of the Skepticamp community, not just observers and supporters.

I want to thank Carl and Sarah Moglia for putting together a harassment policy to ensure a respectful enviornment and Carl for diligently enforcing it. I am proud to have taken part in an event that was so dedicated to the safety and comfort of all its attendees.

Avatar of Elyse
Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

276 Comments

  1. Avatar of Iris Vander Pluym

    Gracious of you to accept the apology, even though it’s clearly total bullshit. That was obviously no “joke,” it was a completely serious proposition.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      The joke part was out of line. However, the rest of the email was, I believe, honest and heartfelt. However, still needs addressing.

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor

        Calling the behavior out publicly is the right thing to do. It shows that this behavior is not to be tolerated and results in a positive net change against such behavior in the future.

        Winning.

      • Avatar of dr. dr. professor

        Also, I run a game company with half women in the office, and they have to deal with creepiness at conferences a lot too and I can tell it takes a toll on them. So we’ve created what I hope is a positive support network for this at work and a zero-tolerance for sex-based nonsense.

        Unsurprisingly a lot of companies in the computer gaming industry kinda tell their female employees to “just deal with it” and go to the lengths of hiring women to flirt with guys at their networking parties.

        So ya, why is it NOT okay to flirt wonton in a professional setting, because it dehumanizes someone and cheapens their professional effort.

        Pretty dumb thing to do to half the labor force.

      • Avatar of Elyse

        Obviously, my stance on this has changed… once I realized that I somehow managed to not read the entire second half of the first sentence.

        I apologize. Sometimes my inattention to detail leads me to naively believe that people are good.

  2. Avatar of rjblaskiewicz

    Holy shit. Fucking. Holy. Shit.

    Fuck.

    That is all.

    Fuck.

  3. Avatar of Otoki

    Glad you addressed it. While it doesn’t undo what happened, hopefully it will make people who were considering this sort of stuff acceptable decide to avoid such behavior.

  4. Avatar of Carl

    So nice to finally have this up. Linking in every social media outlet I have. I’m so bummed this happened to someone, I’m super bummed it happened to you. I’m hoping we can all learn from this experience.

  5. Avatar of msatheism

    Wow that is insane. I have no issue with what people want to do sexually; do what you like but it is so disrespectful to approach someone, anyone that way let alone a keynote speaker.

    I am sorry that this happened but hopefully that couple realizes this is not the way to approach someone and it does not happen to anyone else.

  6. Avatar of Luna

    If I were feeling vindictive I’d say copy up their card to mega size posters and plaster them all over the town where they live (it should be on the card, right? Or their facebook page as they clearly have no shame). They wanted publicity, right? So give it to them.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      If I were vindictive, yeah.

      But I’m not… And they’re pretty proud of their lifestyle. And really, that’s fine with me. Even having those cards to give out doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that it was given to me and when/how it was given to me.

      I want to shame them for their actions. Not for their preferences.

      • Avatar of Luna

        @Elyse I agree it would be a bit much however I don’t think that action punishes their preferences. As you pointed out, they could have just asked their own friends in private and they had no right to shove it some stranger while she was trying to work. The message would be that you never know who you’re giving the card to, and forcing your naked body in someone’s face shows a lack of respect, which may some day get them outed as harassers (where they live).

        • Avatar of marilove

          So, your response to a harasser is to … harass back?! That’s not helpful.

          “you never know who you’re giving your card to” makes me uncomfortable. I have experiences of a naughty picture getting into the WRONG HANDS and it was humiliating. I don’t really think we need to be promoting and encouraging that sort of behavior just to “punish” some random assholes.

          Finally, this comes off as “naked bodies are shameful, look, we’re going to plaster your naked body all over the internet. Aren’t you shamed now?!” Not good.

          They are assholes, yes, but seriously? And everyone calls ME the aggressive jerk ’round here?

          • Avatar of donboc

            marilove, couldn’t reply to your post to me in-place.

            You wrote, “You are feeling unsafe because people are calling you out on your sexist, trollish bullshit, but YOU DO NOT AT ALL SEE how a woman might feel unsafe when two random strangers run up and leave a card for Elyse, face down because it shows them both naked, and it is also propositioning her for sex?!

            This is totally fine with you, but you feel unsafe HERE.”

            I don’t feel unsafe. I feel that you folks don’t like me. I feel that you’re being dismissive of me and generally not being nice. It’s unpleasant to feel your hostility.

            I don’t think that Elyse felt hostility from those people. Of course, I shouldn’t speak for her since I don’t know what she did or didn’t feel. But the only place that “unsafe” has shown up on this page is in your post and in a few from me, and the word “hostile” doesn’t show up at all in Elyse’s original post either. She didn’t say that she felt unsafe or felt that they were hostile. I agree now (and I addressed this elsewhere) that it’s probably a reasonable inference that she felt unsafe. But yeah, at first I didn’t see what about handing a person a card would make the person feel unsafe. As best I can tell at this point, it’s that a person who would so flagrantly flaut social norms is a person who cannot be trusted, and being near such a person can make a body feel unsafe and threatened.

    • Avatar of marilove

      No … don’t “give it to them”. This isn’t high school. While this certainly needs addressing, we certainly don’t need to be TOTAL assholes about it. I hope you’re not really serious about your suggestions; it just seems nasty, really (if they’d respond to something like that, anyway).

      THAT SAID, as Elyse said — they are already pretty proud and open about their lifestyle, so I”m not sure your suggestion would be a big deal to them anyway. I’ve known people like this and … yeah. That’s not the way to go about shaming them and in fact they’d probably really, really enjoy the attention in ways you’d rather not consider. So!

      • Avatar of marilove

        “That’s not the way to go about shaming them” — re-reading that makes me realizing that’s what makes me so uncomfortable about using her naked body to “shame” or “punish” them. Doesn’t seem right. Seems kind of on their level, really, when it comes right down to it.

        • Avatar of Luna

          Depends on how I’m feeling that day. Most times I might let it go. But if I’m having a crappy week, am not feeling well or whatever, I can be more vindictive than most people imagine (no need for illegal activity, I can be very creative).

          I don’t know anything about you personally, but when I’ve attended conferences (mostly science) it is an opportunity to have business and job networking. If some couple who wants a 3-way zones in on me, and people who I’m trying to impress find out about it, yeah I could stammer “oh um hee hee I don’t know who those people are” but at best it would make for awkward conversation and at worst it could cause me to lose a job opportunity. That’s my world.

          This in no way shames their lifestyle. If a single Christian guy handed me a naked picture of himself and said he wanted to get married, I would give him the exact same punishment.

          • Avatar of marilove

            You seem to elude to the fact that conventions tend to be professional events. But this is after you brag about how vindictive you are.

            I think you and I have FAR different ideas of what professional behavior means. Being a vindictive asshole is not part of my definition, I assure you.

            And your vindictive nature includes wanting to shame people for their sexual practices. And yes, that is part of that. Your actual intent is to show of their naked body TO SHAME THEM. That’s your actual intent. At least own it.

            ” If a single Christian guy handed me a naked picture of himself and said he wanted to get married, I would give him the exact same punishment.”

            Would you do the same if he gave you a picture of him CLOTHED? Nope. You wouldn’t. Because then there’d be no point to put it on the internet for all the world to see, because you can’t shame a clothed person.

            But you certainly can shame a naked person!

        • Avatar of Luna

          When I say “know you personally” I simply meant that I don’t know what kind of job you have. For me I am careful to avoid being associated with such flagrant demonstrative people who would shove their naked bodies in someone’s face.

          • Avatar of marilove

            Okay, bluntly, what the flying monkey are you talking about? I never even implied that you shouldn’t try to avoid such behavior.

            You keep mentioning that you’re very professional and oh my god these people would have put your professional life at risk! But that doesn’t match your proud admission to being vindictive and, had this happened to you, your likely intention of plastering their names and naked bodies all over the internet, as a way to punish and shame them.

            I am quite frankly, confused.

          • Avatar of kagehi

            Not to mention the minor little fact that some moron handing you such a thing could be explained away with indignation, while actually posting stuff on the internet, to try to shame them ***could*** get your fired far more quickly than the original situation. While I generally think the people that use what someone else does off the job, even on the internet, as an excuse to fire them are much bigger assholes, and far more immoral, than the people they do fire, in many cases, even I would consider finding out that they where posting someone else’s naked photo on the net, to try to shame and abuse someone, a step too far. That isn’t a personal choice, its not you putting yourself on the net, with the expectation that your boss has no more right to complain that if they saw you at a European beach without a top, and freaked, or some similar stupid BS, its you being ethically challenged, and showing a vindictive streak that I would have to worry could translate into your business dealings, and thus *hurt* my business, and is thus not defensible as, “Its none of my business what they do off work.”

            Frankly, while idiots, I almost would have more sympathy for the person that handed you an inappropriate photo. Not quite, but almost…

        • Avatar of Luna

          Ran out of reply boxes.

          I suppose I made it sound like I go around seeking revenge on every a-hole who bothers me. Trust me, if that were so I’d be writing this from a jail cell. No, I’ve never done anything like what my comment implies except perhaps calling the police when people commit crimes in our area.

          As I said, it was if I was “feeling vindictive”. Which would probably not happen unless these creeps stalked me more than once. But I won’t apologize for my suggestion that people who take such risks should be aware that handing a sexual card to a stranger is really fucking dumb.

          I’m not some high faluten professional, I make minimum wage – thus the reason I attend conferences and pray that someday I might get a job that allows me to not have to choose between groceries and electricity.

          Maybe I assume too much when I think people must be uptight and purely professional at these conferences. But listen, I don’t take associations lightly. If some group sex fans try to engage with me in front of my colleagues, I would be horrified and really, really pissed off.

          So yeah, it’s a fantasty to get revenge, and nothing more. But should someone pull this on me more than once, we’ll have a problem.

          Go ahead and call me a prude. As I told one person, if that’s the worst thing I ever get called, I think I’m doing pretty well.

          • Avatar of Luna

            And by the way, I don’t see how wanting to be left alone means I am condeming their sexual practices. Unless you think handing women cards that invite sex is just fine. What they do in the bedroom (or in the forest, or office closet for that matter), is none of my business. Until they start stalking me to get involved.

          • Avatar of marilove

            “And by the way, I don’t see how wanting to be left alone means I am condeming their sexual practices. Unless you think handing women cards that invite sex is just fine.”

            NO ONE SAID THAT. I certainly didn’t. Again, what in the flying monkey are you talking about?

            You aren’t going to be left alone if you harass them back. That’s my only point. TRULY.

            I know how it feels to want to be vindictive. I’ve been there. I had someone turn my entire life upside down because they got hold of a naughty picture of me (it wasn’t even that bad). He was a stalker (online and in real life) and it was a MESS. I wanted to be vindictive — but I couldn’t because that would have been stupid and would have caused even more problems.

            Plastering their picture and their name all over the internet will likely not have any real results. I also, once again, don’t like the idea of shaming someone because of their naked body (AGAIN you wouldn’t do it if they had handed you a clothed photo *and there is a reason for that*).

            Elyse did a wonderful job of handling this. You keep implying that she failed because she didn’t take it far enough. Didn’t punish them enough. Wasn’t vindictive enough.

            Yeah … no. Fuck that. I mean you can react however you want, but I think Elyse handled this beautifuly. Professionally , even. Imagine that.

          • Avatar of marilove

            And what the hell, Luna?!

            Can I ask you something? Why do you keep bringing things into this conversation that were never brought up to begin with? I never called you a damn prude.

            This has nothing to do with trying to tell you how to feel if you were in Elyse’s place. Elyse was clearly made uncomfortable, and even angry, feelings which she has every right to feel.

            I have not once condoned this behavior. I haven’t even *implied* that this sort of behavior is okay. In fact, all I’ve said is that it’s really quite terrible, any way you look at it.

            Can you please stop accusing me of shit I am not doing or saying? You do this all the time and it’s, quite frankly, intensely frustrating.

        • Avatar of Luna

          Three comments, sorry! :( (I would have edited my other comments if the edit button were still there).

          “They are assholes, yes, but seriously? And everyone calls ME the aggressive jerk ’round here?”

          I for one don’t think you’re aggressive, just honest. Whatever, rather have that than phony people.

          I don’t see what I say as shaming at all. Going around forcing others to look at naked people is extremely controlling and harassing. It’s illegal, across the board, to go around naked in public. That law applies to me too. So it’s not biased.

          • Avatar of kagehi

            Actaully, no, its not illegal, across the board, and there are some good arguments for why its bullshit that it is any place. I mean, you have stupid nonsense like NY, where, as long as its not advertising business, its technically legal for a women to be topless. There are nude bike rides in any number of cities. There have been, though the number of them fell due to idiots protesting, nude beaches in the US, etc. None of those things have shown any more problems that general society. Its not the clothing, or lack of it, which determines that there are assholes, its the attitudes. And the idea that its shameful to be nude, its ***one*** of the things driving a lot of the attitudes. After all, its its shameful, then it *must* be about sex, even when its not, thus anyone doing it must be doing it to be sexual, thus its shameful, so it must be about… around and around, in one big loop of stupid. And it will remain that way, so long as 90% of the population things “sex” the moment they see half an inch of extra skin exposed. If anything, the fact that it continues now, when bathing suits cover almost nothing, and most places don’t even bother with more than, “You need at least pastes that cover the different colored bits.”, is, if anything, even more idiotic than when showing an ankle made the uptight people faint. But, heh, where would sexism be, if simply taking off part, or all, of your clothes wasn’t an automatic sign that you wanted to be harassed, right?

          • Avatar of marilove

            “. Going around forcing others to look at naked people is extremely controlling and harassing. It’s illegal, across the board, to go around naked in public. That law applies to me too. So it’s not biased.”

            …Okay, I never said it WSN’T extremely controlling and harassing.

            For the record, plastering their information and pictures online can *ALSO* be considered extremely controlling and harassing. Doing shitty things to people just because they did a shitty thing to you does not make things evil. It just makes you a shitty person, too.

            Also, it’s not necessarily illegal, as has been mentioned. Where did you get that idea?

            You keep responding like I’m trying to tell you how to FEEL about this, or like I’m calling you a prude, or as if this kind of behavior is totally okay, none of which I have ever implied.

            And, finally, once again, you desire that their naked bodies be plastered all over the internet so you can show ‘em who is boss, by shaming them because naked bodies are of course shameful. Yes, just like that hypothetical Christian yet Naked man you already mentioned. It’s not okay and it’s just as shitty a thing to do as the shitty thing they did to Elyse.

        • Avatar of Luna

          Sorry to hear you were stalked. That sucks. Just to reiterate, I was speaking only for myself. What Elyse does is her business, not mine. My hypothetical was more to imagine revenge more than to do it, but I suppose some people took it very literally. Again I would definetly consider it if I personally felt more harassed, but I’ve hammered home the point enough. This is about personal choices. They make theirs, I make mine.

          And I know you never called me a prude. I just meant I wouldn’t blame someone for thinking that about me. And I have no problem owning it.

          • Avatar of Luna

            Oh no, not plastered online. Read my comment carefully. I said in their hometown, and I said nudity is illegal. Not handing out cards like that. If I was a boss and someone did that to my employee the harassers would be roughly tossed out on their asses.

          • Avatar of marilove

            you always do this, then claim you’re just talking about “yourself” even when we’re talking about a specific event. Talking to you is like talking to someone who is having a completely different conversation on a completely different topic. Your inability to take responsibility for your words is also frustrating; it’s always “only about me!”

          • Avatar of Elyse

            I assumed this was Luna’s fantasy revenge.

            But can we agree that shaming isn’t an appropriate action and move on? I think we’re all on the same side of this.

  7. Avatar of rjblaskiewicz

    +1 Luna.

    (Additional holy shit.)

  8. Avatar of Rebecca Watson

    Good post, Elyse, and I agree with all your points.

  9. Avatar of Carl

    Luna – I honestly don’t think they would mind it. For real. That’s who they are, and I’m honestly cool with their lifestyle. It did however, show a lack of respect for the organizers, the event and most importantly Elyse.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe

      I doubt it. Those sorts of people only get their jollies from violating other people’s boundaries without consent. I’m sure they’re hugely vocal in their own defense over even the least transgressions against them.

      • Avatar of Carl

        As Elyse eluded to they seemed to be genuinely remorseful. They have been warned those kind of actions are not okay at our events, and if they cannot refrain from them they are not welcome.

        Replying to them was honestly very hard for me. It’s easy to react angrily and lash out, and I was fucking angry. But lashing out isn’t the answer. Nobody learns anything from that. If I can, I want them to understand why what they did was inappropriate.

        To be clear – they get a second change, but no third. I’m not going to stand for this shit on my watch.

      • Avatar of marilove

        It’s the “It was a joke” thing that gets me.

        I mean, it’s possible they are just so into their fetish/lifestyle that they forgot the real world doesn’t function that way. I’ve met people like that. They aren’t trying to be cruel or malicious, but they do tend to be really selfish and AWKWARD.

        But this was really kind of aggressive, and it was coordinated, so they had to have discussed it before doing it. They slapped the card down, and even had a good line to say, then ran away. They HAD to have known that she wouldn’t like it.

        Maybe they really didn’t know it was an awful, asshole thing to do, but hopefully they do NOW and don’t do it again, ugh.

        • Avatar of Carl

          I have to admit that when I apologize to someone it often takes me a while – my first reaction is always to explain my actions, to make excuses. It’s a natural reaction and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to overcome it.

          I don’t know what their intentions were, but I would have been much happier to have seen “We didn’t think our actions through fully. It was inappropriate and we sincerely apologize. It will never happen again.”

        • Avatar of Improbable Joe

          It is that aggressiveness along with the forethought that makes it hard for me to accept that there’s not some sort of gratification from knowingly crossing a line with people.

          • Avatar of marilove

            Wow. Just. Wow. This is some basic feminism 101 crap. I am actually *AMAZED* at how little you are grasping the simple concepts of simple human decency.

            This is not complicated stuff, and it is not our responsibility to educate you and every other sexist ass on the internet.

            Do a google search for “feminism 101″ and you’ll come up with a shit ton of information. I’d also like to introduce you to:

            http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/resources/mirror-derailing-for-dummies/

          • Avatar of marilove

            …Well. That was the wrong place for that!

          • Avatar of Improbable Joe

            Are you sure? Or are you and I going to have to play best-out-of-three death checkers to settle this once and for all?

  10. Avatar of Improbable Joe

    Sorry this happened to you Elyse. I hope these folks are permanently disinvited from any and all future events.

  11. Avatar of Carl

    Also – I really, really had hoped the anti-harassment policy wasn’t going to get any mileage. Oh well, it points out the importance of follow through – having the policy isn’t enough, there has to be follow-through.

  12. Avatar of rjblaskiewicz

    In which case, you should post a full sized photo of them fully clothed without their contact info saying that they hate fucking. That’ll show ‘em.

  13. Avatar of gregladen

    Wait, hold on a second … if it was a Joke, doesn’t that make it in some way worse? Instead of an inappropriate proposition comeon thingie where you could blow them off, it’s a pretend inappropriate proposition comeon thingie, which you blow off, then they say “We were only joking” and then you get to feel first put upon THEN made foolish?

    (Obviously they were not joking, of course. I think.)

    • Avatar of Elyse

      Had I called, I doubt they would have apologized and explained they were joking.

      But I just don’t understand what the joke is… Is it my sexuality? My job? That someone would want to have sex with me? That naked people exist? Or that I get to be uncomfortable and insulted for days?

      Maybe I just work harder when considering jokes, asking things like “will anyone find this funny” and “is this going to upset everyone involved”. And strangely, I’m rarely accused of not having a sense of humor.

      • Avatar of marilove

        I think “prank” would be closer to the truth, rather than “joke”.

        But then that doesn’t make it any better, does it? To me, sexually charged “pranks” smack of initiations in sororities, which sometimes get really aggressive and terrible. It’s all about power. It’s not really about being cute or funny or clever; it’s just about indicating the power you have over the person you are pranking. Very sinister, really.

        That’s kind of awful when you think about it.

        I DO think they were hoping you’d say yes. They certainly would have never turned you down, had to responded. But that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t some sort of awful prank.

        But I’d almost rather it just had been some clueless thing done bye clueless horny people and not a “joke” (prank).

    • Avatar of slightlymadscience

      I’ve seen “it’s just a joke” excuse used too many time by too many people when being called on something that is so far from being anything even resembling funny to believe this is nothing but an excuse.

      Now, printing Elyse’s SFW “card” above, and handing THAT over, even if it meant waiting a year to do so, that could be a decent joke. However, given that it’s linked to some rather unpleasant business, I wouldn’t.

      • Avatar of Improbable Joe

        OMG, that’s like the soon-to-be best joke ever!!! Everyone should totally start making ridiculous photo cards to hand out with their name and number and email on them. I’ve got dibs on wolverines in top hats making sweet love on the moon.

  14. Avatar of Nicole Introvert

    This gives whole new meaning to the song “Call Me Maybe.”

    Ugh. I can’t even fathom when this would EVER be appropriate unless maybe at a swingers club.

    • Avatar of Carolyn Dunne

      Dude, they have those cards, and one of my friends has gotten them from like three different people in the past two weeks. It’s the crappy pickup line for whomever is too shy to say a crappy pickup line out loud.

      • Avatar of Elyse

        And for those who aren’t at all shy but feel like there might be a missed opportunity to FUCK ALL THE PEOPLE, so they hand them out in situations where it wouldn’t be appropriate to actually flash and proposition women.

  15. Avatar of carolw

    Just when I think my jaw can’t drop any lower over inappropriate behavior at cons, I read this. Were the couple lost? Did they think they were U.S. Swingers 2012 or something? Honestly. If that’s your bag, fine, but keep it at the right time and place. I’m all for different strokes and all that, so be respectful. Seriously.

  16. Avatar of ologies

    As a fellow (albeit less known) speaker at this same conference, I was extremely grateful for the anti-harassment policy in terms of the man who yelled out from the back. I’ve heard a lot of people protest, “WELL, WAS THE SPEAKER OFFENDED?” Even if she weren’t, please bear in mind that I was scheduled to speak later in the day, and had the man not been confronted about his inappropriate behavior, I would have felt less secure getting up and delivering my own talk later if I thought he might yell out again.

    Being sexualized in front of a crowd of people? No thanks!

    • Avatar of ologies

      Also, thanks to the organizers for being awesome and implementing the policy. I felt secure knowing that if anything else inappropriate happened, I had the proper resources to have it taken care of quickly and discreetly.

      • Avatar of Carl

        =) This weekend was LOOOONG and sucked at times, but thanks for making it worth it. Knowing these things makes me very, very happy.

  17. Avatar of jjg.denis.robert

    I’m sorry, but I think you’re going too far in your complaint. Yes, the couple who gave you that card were assholes and morons. No question there. But how do you come to the conclusion that the “community” as a whole makes it seem like this is acceptable behaviour? It seems to me that there is a small subset of the community that thinks it’s ok to flirt and try to hook up at conferences, but I’ve personally never encountered anyone who claims that what this couple is in any way OK. I’m sure they exist, but they are certainly not representative of the “community”.

    Let’s not take things completely out of proportion. Sexual interactions are common at any gathering, especially when it’s far from home. I fully agree that rules should be in place to prevent anyone from making repeated and/or inappropriate advances. And it’s clear that this convention had such rules in place. The rules were violated by a couple of morons, which should have led to their warranted expulsion had they done it a little earlier. Whatever sanctions are put in place, however much education you do, you will *always* have a few of these idiots at your conferences. They shouldn’t be tolerated, but their existence should not lead one to unwarrantly claim that the “community” endorses their actions either.

    Sales conferences, trade conferences, scientific conferences, etc… They all have these issues; and quite a few of them take place in Las Vegas for the express reason that prostitution and gambling are legal there. A measurable proportion of any group of business travellers are going to take part in licit or illicit sexual activities. That’s inevitable. What we can do is make sure that no one makes unwanted advances without sanctions; but that doesn’t mean that one can prevent all such advances. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re dreaming in technicolor.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      It’s only recently that skeptic conferences began implementing harassment policies and this is the first time I’ve seen one enforced.

    • Avatar of marilove

      “Sexual interactions are common at any gathering, especially when it’s far from home”

      What does this MEAN? “Sexual interactions”? What kind? Aggressive, harassing, abusive sexual interactions? Because t hat’s what this was. And they are “common at any gathering”? Really? And why is it when it’s “far from home”? That … doesn’t make any sense.

      In fact, none of this makes any sense.

      • Avatar of punchdrunk

        It makes sense if your point is ‘Shut up and take it, bitch.’

      • Avatar of john85

        My guess would be that when people are far from home, they’re away from people who know them, and experience the inhibition-reducing effect of being anonymous and knowing that once they leave, all is (effectively, for them) forgotten. But like I said, that’s just my guess.

    • Avatar of Anna Bucci

      Prostitution isn’t legal in vegas.

  18. Avatar of vexorian

    Oh boy…

    Why have I just woken up in a world in which it is necessary to have a policy that says it is better not to no handle naked pictures of yourself to people you just met?

  19. Avatar of spellwight

    Thanks Elyse. I really believe documenting these situations will go a long way towards curbing them in the future. No more cover-ups, secrets or embarrassment when someone intentionally violates your comfort zone.

    • Avatar of john85

      I think you’re right, and another effect it has is that people (like me) who would otherwise have never imagined that such a thing would happen can see that it does in fact happen, at least occasionally.

  20. Avatar of obob

    +googol for Carl.

    I’m another who probably would have lashed out first, without considering whether it would be a learning experience for anyone. I appreciate the reminder, and the excellent example set.

  21. Avatar of robofish

    What, no names? Come on, at least tell us who they were, so we know who to avoid in future. If they weren’t willing to respect your privacy, why should you respect theirs?

  22. Avatar of zylla

    I’m very sorry this happened or that the behavior policies are even necessary (which they obviously are). I don’t understand it, but only because from my own point of view I understand that it’s not acceptable and would never engage in that sort of behavior.

    It’s interesting to note that you went into far more detail and were much more critical of the situation and actions than Rebecca’s infamous post, but you have not (as yet, at least) been flooded with the shitstorm she received. I hope that says something good about the community’s growth in the last year, but I remain… skeptical.

    Still, thank you for all your work.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      I think it’s a little early to declare victory over douches… the post hasn’t even been up for 2 hours yet. They still have plenty of time to show up and be all like “yo, bitch, Y U NO THINK YOU UGLY!”

      • Avatar of Carl

        My personal favorite: “Why are you mad? They think you’re hot, you should feel special”

      • Avatar of zylla

        True, true. The crotchwads have plenty of time to rant.

  23. Avatar of dr. dr. professor

    Gross..

  24. Avatar of cburschka

    A minute or so later, I had a “wait… what?” moment, then flipped the card over and looked at it not peripherally to discover I had not been handed a business card, but a card with a naked photo of the two of them, with their information on how to contact them should I want to fuck.

    … wow. That’s so ridiculously out of line it almost sounds like someone’s idea of trolling. But I guess this is a prime example of what Jen McCreight was talking about.

    I mean, there are strange late-night encounters in elevators and then there’s, um, this.

    (“But I bet they were just really shy and totally not creepy. Why do you hate men!”)

    • Avatar of cburschka

      Addendum: Missed the note that said yes, it was in fact someone’s idea of a joke.

  25. Avatar of ekimbrough

    This suggests a really inappropriate design for one of those pop-up business cards…

    I can joke from a distance, but had I actually witnessed it, I think I’d be permanently stuck in a cringe.

    And is no one thinking of the poor clerk at the print shop when THIS order came over counter?

    I wonder what the quantity was.

  26. Avatar of donboc

    Hi Elyse,

    Longtime reader; love your writing. I’m sorry that you had this upsetting moment.

    I’m sure I’m going to get a sh!tstorm for writing this, but what was so upsetting about the experience? I mean this as a real question. I am not suggesting that nothing was upsetting or that you shouldn’t have been upset — only that I don’t see what was so upsetting.

    In Rebecca’s case, the situation seemed plausibly threatening. That’s horrible. No one should ever have to feel threatened.

    In your case, though, you simply learned that these people were interested in you for sex. Let’s just stipulate that in any gathering of a few hundred people who listen to you talk, there will be somewhere between a few and a few dozen who would be interested in having sex with you. If they don’t slap down a card, then you have no idea which of them are sexualizing you in their minds. If they do hand you this sex card, then you DO know that these particular people are thinking of you sexually. Why is that worse?

    I understand that you want people to fully appreciate the scientific/skeptical/intelligent contributions that you make. But whether someone hands you a sex card or not, you have to know that not everyone will be appreciating what you want them to appreciate. Some will be napping because they didn’t sleep enough last night or they ate too much for lunch. Some will be thinking about the awesome talk they saw earlier, or their child with a sore throat, or, yes, wanting to have sex with you. This is clear before you step up to the podium in the first place. I just can’t buy that the upsetting bit was that you learned that someone was thinking of you sexually — you had to know that that would be the case from when you first accepted the invitation to come talk.

    I again want to make clear that I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t have been upset. I’m just trying to understand what you wrote, and to put myself in your shoes, and I can’t see what would have been so upsetting to me, if it had happened to me.

    Several commenters referred to the aggressive nature of the invitation. But it really doesn’t seem all that aggressive to me. In fact, if someone’s going to proposition someone for group sex at a conference, this sounds like just about the least aggressive way to do it possible (except I guess for the photo, which was in your face whether you wanted to see it or not). It’s not like they cornered you and demanded a verbal interaction about the invitation.

    Just a bit more about what you wrote that I didn’t follow:
    • Did they assume you were there to be their “plaything”? Or did they simply ask if you wanted to join them for sex?
    • “Outnumbering a stranger while putting them in an uncomfortable situation is a dick thing to do.” Sure. But you weren’t in an uncomfortable situation when they outnumbered you! He simply said ‘here’s something to remember us by.’ and you thanked him. It wasn’t until after they were gone (when you outnumbered them 1 to 0) that you saw the invitation.
    • “It’s not okay to remove another person’s ability to have a say in the situation you’ve put them in.” That’s not really true, right? People approach and talk to other people all the time. The person who is approached has no say in whether s/he is approached. There’s something about this particular kind of situation (I guess seeing a naked photo and an invitation to have sex) that you think it’s particularly important for people to have a say in whether they end up in the situation. I guess that’s reasonable, it’s just not obvious to me.
    • “I cannot think of a single situation where it’s ever appropriate to hand someone an invitation to group sex if you haven’t already had or discussed having sex.” That sounds like a useful rule of thumb, in the sense that if a person hasn’t already had or discussed sex with another person, the invitation to group sex is unlikely to be accepted. But I don’t see what’s actually *bad* about issuing such an invitation without having previously had or discussed sex with the person.

    I’m writing because I want to learn. I think you’re right on just about everything I’ve seen you write, and you clearly found this experience to be very upsetting and as I said earlier I’m sorry that you were subjected to an experience that made you so upset. I suspect, based on my experience with your writing and thinking, that there’s actually a very good reason to be as upset as you are, and once I understand it I’ll look at the situation similarly to how you do. I wrote as much as I did not to be absurdly argumentative (I’m not trying to win an argument) but just to lay out for you what I don’t understand and where I’d really appreciate clarification.

    Thanks very much!
    Don

    • Avatar of Elyse

      Are there any points in my article that are unclear? I was at work. I do not know these people. I was not given an opportunity to give consent to their nakedness being thrust upon me. I was not there to have sex; I was there as a professional.

      I’m assuming you’re being sincere, and I hope I’m right… but I gave a list of reasons why what they did was wrong, and you don’t seem to understand any of them.

      I do not speak at conferences to attract people to my vagina. I talk to attract people to my causes. There was no reason to think I wanted to be propositioned.

      • Avatar of donboc

        Hi Elyse,

        Thanks for replying, and yes I’m being completely sincere. Your reply didn’t really clarify anything for me, though. I read your post carefully and I tried to point out the parts that I didn’t follow.

        I understand that you didn’t want to be propositioned. But aren’t people propositioned (for dates, for Greenpeace donations, for church membership, for 2-for-1 shoe deals) all the time despite not being interested in being propositioned? It just doesn’t seem to me that propositioning someone who doesn’t want to be is an awful thing to do. Threatening someone is an awful thing to do. Repeatedly harassing someone is an awful thing to do (but it doesn’t sound like these people did this to you).

        I understand that you don’t speak at conferences to attract people to you sexually. But that happens. If you didn’t already realize that, you surely do now. Just about all women — and probably a majority of men — who speak at conferences attract and/or arouse people in the audience. Usually no one acts on this attraction. But what was so bad about this person acting on it (in a manner that as far as I can tell wasn’t aggressive, harassing, or threatening) though? Was the key awful thing the naked photo on the picture? Or would any kind of propositioning be awful, and if so why?

        Thank you again.
        Best,
        Don

        • Avatar of Elyse

          People are attracted to other people, fine.

          People are propositioning me while I am at work. Not fine. To do so in a manner that was so blatantly disrespectful to any boundaries typical people have, is upsetting.

          Maybe the problem is that you are assuming that female speakers are simply subject to these things because they showed up with a vagina. That’s not the case. My presence has nothing to do with your boner and should be assumed to not have anything to do with your boner until our interactions indicate otherwise.

          Fact: “a penis gotta do what a penis gotta do” is not a thing. People are perfectly capable of treating their speakers as things other than holes to fill with cum.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Thank you again for replying.

            I resent your suggestion that there was anything sexist about what I’ve written.

          • Avatar of Elyse

            But if what you said was sexist, then what should I suggest?

          • Avatar of donboc

            I can’t reply to your very clever follow-up, for some reason. But sure, it’s fine to suggest that a sexist comment is sexist. But I don’t think I said anything sexist; I said nothing gender-specific. Please point out to me what I said that was sexist.

          • Avatar of Elyse

            The assumption that it’s impossible for women to speak at a conference without arousing the audience is pretty awful. That we cannot present content without being reduced to sexual beings and that, as a woman, that shouldn’t be considered so bad.

            1. I shouldn’t be propositioned at work.
            2. I shouldn’t be propositioned by people who haven’t talked to me.

            I don’t see this situation any different than if they walked up to me, flashed me and said “LET’S FUCK!” The only difference is that they did it in a way that no one else was forced to witness it, leaving me alone in my shock while they wandered off without any consideration for me, my boundaries or the conference policies.

          • Avatar of marilove

            Wow. Just. Wow. This is some basic feminism 101 crap. I am actually *AMAZED* at how little you are grasping the simple concepts of simple human decency.

            This is not complicated stuff, and it is not our responsibility to educate you and every other sexist ass on the internet.

            Do a google search for “feminism 101? and you’ll come up with a shit ton of information. I’d also like to introduce you to:

            http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/resources/mirror-derailing-for-dummies/

          • Avatar of agrajag

            I actually think it’s the -manner- of proposition that is the big problem here. You say people should not be propositioned at work, but I don’t think that holds as a general rule, assuming that the steps taken are apropriate to the setting (which nude cards thrust at strangers is definitely a lightyear away from)

            A general rule against initiating at work is, I think, overdoing it. Thing is, people are nearly *always* doing something other than being primarily in “let’s initiate relationships” mode, and I could just as well say people should not proposition me when I’m playing Volleyball, when I’m reading in the train, when I’m shopping, when I’m out geocaching or, basically 99% of my time.

            I don’t want a society where talking to strangers is forbidden unless, perhaps, you’re in a bar or some other of the rare occurences where there’s an implicit expectation that you’re in lets-be-social modus.

            I *do* however want a society where you don’t get random nude-photos of strangers thrust on you. (I suppose if you where at, say, the latest meeting of Texas Kinks, where 75% of the clientele is naked already, then it *might* be okay – atleast the nudity would not cross any borders at that venue)

          • Avatar of Elyse

            If you cannot interact with people without propositioning them, then no, you probably shouldn’t be out in public attempting to socialize with other humans.

            Why do people not understand that asking for sex is not something that just happens in normal conversation? I’ve managed through a few decades of talking to people without random hey-let’s-fucks being a thing people just do.

            If the following statements seem normal to you, then you should never leave the house:

            “I’d like a candy bar and a pack of Marlboros and to fuck you with my friends.”

            “I’m going to have an order of buffalo wings and a cheeseburger, medium rare, no oinions, and I want to stick my cock in you later.”

            “Hey, do you have those reports for accounting? We have a meeting in 20 minutes and I’m going to need to see those and then fuck the shit out of you after work.”

            “Going to pick up Starbucks for everyone. When I come back, you should give me head. Tall skinny mocha, right?”

        • Avatar of nokidsdammit

          Do you think it is ok to proposition the cashier checking you out at Best Buy / Walmart / Rite Aid?

          Do you think it is ok to proposition the receptionist / assistant at the doctor’s office / dentist office / car dealership / library / insurance agent?

          Do you think it’s ok to proposition the server at Denny’s / Applebee’s / or the staff at the gym / drycleaner / concert hall / museum?

          Do you think it is ok to go in to work and proposition someone in a cubicle / on the assembly line / operating the backhoe?

          Do you think it is ok to go to a church / college / bowling alley / card game meetup and proposition a random person you haven’t even spoken to before?

          Hint: If you think it is, *you* have some serious social skills to work on. Ditto if you can’t see why it would make someone uncomfortable. And I fail to see why Elyse being up on a stage would suddenly make it ok in your opinion.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Hi Nokids,

            You ask some excellent questions.

            At the same time, people ask out their cashiers and waitpeople all the time. I never thought that people who do this were doing an awful thing, as long as they don’t do it in an aggressive, harassing manner. In the movie Office Space, I don’t think it occurs to any viewer that Ron Livingston’s character is doing an awful thing when he asks out Jennifer Anniston’s character. Granted, he doesn’t do it with a naked photo and a suggestion of an orgy. So the kind of propositioning (and the material used) seem to matter a lot.

            I would have thought that slipping someone a card would be the ideal way to make this sort of suggestion. Maybe that’s like saying that using soccer cleats is the ideal way to kick a baby — it’s just a terrible thing to do and there’s no ideal way to do it.(?)

          • Avatar of Elyse

            Don, I think you might be confusing “flirting” with “propositioning”.

            Flirting is a precursor to gauge interest in a potential later proposition.

            Asking someone out to drinks or dinner is not propositioning, it’s inviting out to dinner and drinks. In many cases this is in appropriate, but in a case of an invite, the recipient is always allowed to respond in some manner.

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            @donboc: Do not use movies as education about respectful dating behavior.

            Start reading here:

            http://www.cracked.com/article_19285_5-romantic-movie-gestures-that-were-actually-dick-moves.html

          • Avatar of Kammy

            @ Don, How is it you can be this obtuse and still punctuate? I’m starting to smell troll around here.

          • Avatar of marilove

            Movies are not handbooks on life, dating or otherwise, hate to break it to you.

            My mouth is agape at this incredible display of ignorance.

        • Avatar of Kammy

          Don, what’s your stance on flashing? Is it okay to walk up to someone you don’t know and whip open your coat to reveal your naked body beneath? Are they not allowed to feel violated by being drug unwillingly into your kink? Cuz that’s what happened here, more or less. It sounds like you’re saying that because Elyse came to speak about vaccination awareness she just has to take what she gets. Stay home if you’re not interested in fielding any sexual advance thrown your way, amirite?

          • Avatar of pentatomid

            You’ve said pretty much exactly what I wanted to say. Thank you.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Okay, racking up the labels.

            “sexist”
            “troll”

            Thank you, Kammy, for the compliment on my punctuation….

            By the way, I responded to your question about flashing elsewhere. I think flashing is awful. I think it makes its victims feel unsafe, as though they might be subject to sexual violence. I hadn’t looked at handing someone a naked picture the same way, but maybe I should.

          • Avatar of Kammy

            @ Don, Don’t forget “obtuse”. I also called you obtuse.

          • Avatar of marilove

            You are feeling unsafe because people are calling you out on your sexist, trollish bullshit, but YOU DO NOT AT ALL SEE how a woman might feel unsafe when two random strangers run up and leave a card for Elyse, face down because it shows them both naked, and it is also propositioning her for sex?!

            This is totally fine with you, but you feel unsafe HERE.

            Woooow.

            If you’re not a troll, you have a really fucked up idea of boundaries. Seriously.

        • Avatar of ologies

          Don,

          I think you’re missing a little bit here. The problem is that nobody, regardless of gender, should have to put up with being propositioned where it is completely inappropriate.

          Elyse gave zero indications that she was interested in sex – sex was never a part of the conversation at any point in time, there was no flirtation, nothing. They didn’t discuss it with her at all or ask for her consent or even try to gauge interest in any way, shape or form. That is the problem here.

          Nobody is trying to remove anyone’s right to have sex with people they don’t know, we’re simply trying to make people consider the context before making a move. People need to practice greater social intelligence/awareness. If I gave my talk at this conference and someone approached me afterward and immediately propositioned me, I would be insulted. I would feel objectified, like my autonomy was completely disregarded in favor for some guy’s pursuit of sex. I would feel like they devalued my intelligence in favor of trying to fuck me. Great, you find me attractive – did you not listen to anything I just said?

        • Avatar of kagehi

          I would have to say, the “way” it was done is a big part of it, but that I do understand your confusion. Its not like no one ever says, “I met him/her at a conference and we went out for a drink after.”, or the like. Its not even an entirely reasonable reaction to “assume”, unlike this rather obvious case, that all such cases of someone asking you to do something later means they want to get into your pants, though I am not sure how you figure out which is which, purely from someone saying, “Want to get a coffee later and talk more?”, or the like. Yeah, it might be the case a lot of the time, but that is where the “be honest about what you are asking” part comes in. If what they do want is just to talk, then its called “paranoia”.

          When ever someone talks about these sorts of policies, there is two thought, in the heads of ***every person*** in that room, 1) “Well, obviously, if they did something like hand you a nude photo, it would be horrible, and obviously bad.”, and 2) “How the hell do you just ask someone if they would like to join you and some others for drinks after, without at least one of them assuming that your propositioning them?”

          The occasions where someone has brought up such a question in a meeting on, “What is harassment?”, generally are not at all helpful, frankly, you either get the TSA version, “If it even vaguely sounds like it might be harassment, assume they are a harasser, and take them into a room and grill them for it (though, I suppose strip searching them, to make sure they don’t have sex cards on them is a bit over the top…).”, or its the even less helpful, “Most of the time you don’t need to worry, unless you get someone really paranoid and prudish, who can’t see anything *other* than the wrong interpretation, then.. your ass is grass.”

          I always kind of wonder if the point is to curtail the wrong behavior, or prevent any behavior at all. The line is *never* the same for any two people, and may disappear all together, in some cases. But the implication is, even “trying” to talk to someone is bad, not keeping doing so, after they say no. Worse, actually being honest, instead of indirect, would probably be automatically harassment, while less direct, confusing, etc., approaches..

          It makes *my* head ache, and I am not even the sort that ever would harass someone.

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            @kagehi: This is ridiculous.

            …you either get the TSA version, “If it even vaguely sounds like it might be harassment, assume they are a harasser, and take them into a room and grill them for it (though, I suppose strip searching them, to make sure they don’t have sex cards on them is a bit over the top…).”, or its the even less helpful, “Most of the time you don’t need to worry, unless you get someone really paranoid and prudish, who can’t see anything *other* than the wrong interpretation, then.. your ass is grass.”

            More specifically, it’s a false dichotomy. People are not land mines lying in wait to go off at you. A harassment policy is instituted by convention organizers, or HR personnel, who are expected to have some education about harassment scenarios and can oversee a complaint without being personally involved. They may even be held publicly accountable for their handling of the situation, as Carl is here. They are not inquisitors bent on finding any excuse to punish you. You’re being silly.

            Formal harassment policies ALSO protect everyone from false accusations. If that’s your concern, you should be in favor of adopting policies.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe

      I think you’re having serious difficulty with the difference between “you” and “other people” and the lines that divide one from another. You talk about the things that you might have going on in your head, or the things that might be going on in other people’s heads, in relationship to the people around them. You don’t seem to get that your internal experience has nothing to do with the people you are thinking about, and that you don’t have any right to take that internal experience and inflict it on others. You can have all the attraction in the world for another person, and you have no actual right to approach them and dump your attraction in their laps, and they have no obligation to put up with you violating their personal space with your internal emotional states.

      The fact that Elyse was at work makes it worse, but the basic principle is the same in every situation.

      • Avatar of kagehi

        Sigh.. And, here is an example of the confusion this stuff creates. Step back for a moment, and imagine a case that isn’t about work, or a professional setting, or any of the contexts where, well, it makes rational sense, then reread your comment on, “inflicting your personal emotional state on someone.” Unless you are suggesting “arranged marriages”, as a solution, there are contexts where you ***have to*** “inflict” your attraction on someone. The question is whether or not you are honest about it, or obtuse and sneaky, etc. Yes, its about the context of a situation, but if you think, for one moment, that its simple, in all cases, to know the context, then..

        No, the idea that you shouldn’t ever bring up the subject, even in a “professional context”, is just flat absurd. What makes it harassment is not taking no for an answer, or not… apparently, being both direct enough to not be misunderstood, but obtuse enough not to be a total ass about it. I am sure there are classes for this stuff, but I wouldn’t trust them not to be run by either people trying to “trick” others into uncomfortable situations, or by people who haven’t had a date in 10 years. Normal people deal with the reality that a) other people don’t know what is going on in your head, b) the only way they can know is by saying something, and c) the only way to know if they are at all sharing anything like the same ideas is if they reply to your own statements, and the result isn’t them freaking out because you showed some sort of interest.

        When ever I see someone write, what amount to, “Just keep your mouth shut, all the time.”, I have to seriously wonder how they can write that, without **any** qualifiers at all, with a straight face, and with apparently no clue how little sense it makes, in the context of “ever” finding out if someone has an attraction to you.

        And, again, I am not saying this in the context of harassment, or a business situation, or any other context where the rules *may* logically differ. You are the one that are making a blanket statement, which may not even fit the very situations, in all cases, you want it to apply to, but where you make no statement at all about how, when, if, it doesn’t apply. And, there *must* be cases where it doesn’t, unless you also think that no one should ever ask people out, at all.

        Then, once you have given context.. please explain how that fits *everyone*, and why, where it didn’t fit (like people who met their husbands/wives at their job), it still somehow fits. Your argument is incoherent, and inapplicable. Therefor, it can’t be rational policy. Unfortunately, that means that the real policy needs to be a) messy, b) situational, c) entirely dependent of the views, and moods, of the people involved at the time, and d) unfortunately, all too human.

        • Avatar of Elyse

          I think there is an appropriate time and place for propositioning. That can usually be gauged by having a conversation which then leads to flirting.

          But I still think that “give me a call if you ever want to fuck” is not going to fly in almost every situation, and the number of times it works goes down the further you stray from “conventional” sexual suggestions…

          • Avatar of donboc

            Elyse,

            “The assumption that it’s impossible for women to speak at a conference without arousing the audience is pretty awful. That we cannot present content without being reduced to sexual beings and that, as a woman, that shouldn’t be considered so bad.”

            But I said this of both genders! Both male and female speakers are likely to arouse sexual feelings in some members of a reasonably large audience. Most audience members don’t do anything about it, but the feeling/thought still flits through their minds. I’m not praising this state of affairs, nor am I condemning it. But I don’t see what’s “pretty awful” about stating what’s clearly a fact.

            You might wish that your audience members would think of nothing but the material that you present, but clearly people’s minds will bounce over a wide range of topics, including sex (and plenty of other things). I said it earlier, I said it again now, and there was nothing sexist about my saying it either time.

            “1. I shouldn’t be propositioned at work.”

            People are propositioned at work all the time! Is it always an awful thing? I know many many lovely couples who met while at work. Maybe propositioning for sex is the problem, and maybe using the naked picture is the problem? (I also know plenty of people who have been very happy couples for a night — or for a half hour — who were propositioned pretty explicitly for sex while working as a bartender, though I’m not aware of naked photos every being involved.)

            “2. I shouldn’t be propositioned by people who haven’t talked to me.”

            Okay, I just don’t see what’s so awful about it.

            “I don’t see this situation any different than if they walked up to me, flashed me and said “LET’S FUCK!” The only difference is that they did it in a way that no one else was forced to witness it, leaving me alone in my shock while they wandered off without any consideration for me, my boundaries or the conference policies.”

            But it’s TOTALLY different. As far as I can see, the problem with flashing you is that it suggests the possibility of sexual violence. I would completely agree that these people did an awful thing if they had flashed you. I’d be scared if two people approached me and flashed me at a conference (or pretty much anywhere else)! But were you scared? It seems to me that what they did was far more respectful of your boundaries, your feelings, and your desire for personal safety than if they had flashed you. I realize that this is passing a pretty low bar, and just because they didn’t do a clearly awful thing doesn’t mean they did a good thing. But I’m still in the dark about why it was SO awful.

          • Avatar of Elyse

            I can’t help you understand why people have boundaries and why there is such thing as appropriate behavior.

            To walk up to someone at work and say “let’s fuck” is awful, yes… I guess we’ll just have to agree to let you think that this is silly emotional woman stuff.

            I’m not talking about flirting. I’m talking about being imposed on. I don’t know how to help you understand that.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Hi Elyse,

            I hoped we could have a better conversation.

            I’m sorry that you had an upsetting experience. I tried to engage in a conversation to help clarify for me what about the experience was so upsetting. The conversation (both with you and other commenters) was helpful, but you resorted to suggesting that I’m sexist at least 3 times. I never suggested anything you said or felt had to do with you being an emotional woman. Nor is my confusion because I’m a clueless man. (I don’t think women are particularly emotional nor that men are particularly clueless.)

            I think that making unwarranted assumptions and accusations of sexism is a pretty crummy thing to do, and I wish you hadn’t done it.

            Best,
            Don

          • Avatar of Elyse

            “That’s sexist” does not mean you intended it to be so. It means that something you are saying is problematic and sexist. Saying something or doing something sexist, not on purpose does not make you a bad person.

            And I’m honestly just at a loss for how to explain everything that is wrong with this without re-writing my post… except maybe to point out, again, that flirting and propositioning are not the same thing, and that there are few situations where a straight up proposition is appropriate.

        • Avatar of pteryxx

          Gah, you give socially awkward people a bad name.

          The *principle* is extremely simple and rational. All parties must consent. End of story.

          What you’re complaining about is whether the *policy* is *explicit*. The harassment policy gives guidelines for appropriate behavior and a list of probable rule-breaking behaviors. That’s as explicit as it can be where consent is involved, because consent is determined by the individual – not by the other party, and not by the policy. You’re NEVER going to get a set of rules that you can point to and say “But, but it wasn’t harassment because of this sentence here!” The rules don’t decide that. The other person does.

          If you’re actually concerned about not harassing anyone (which, as a side effect, includes complying with the policy) then always behave in a way that minimizes the potential transgression upon the other person. You decide to initiate, but they decide whether to consent. If you can’t figure that out, ASK. Personally, as a person lacking in social awareness, I flat out *say* “If I’m bothering you, let me know.” It’s not that hard to interact by a set of rules if you’re doing so in good faith.

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            Er, that was @Kagehi. I fail at nested comments…

          • Avatar of donboc

            @pteryxx,

            Good point, in general, about movies.

            But WAS it awful for him to ask out the waitress in that movie?

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            @donboc: I haven’t seen Office Space, nor could I find a critique on a quick search, so I can’t answer that question for you.

            However, I did find an educational guide on sexual harassment in the movie 9 to 5:

            http://www.beneficialfilmguides.com/custom.em?pid=817591

            This guide is designed to be used as a companion to the Twentieth Century Fox movie, 9 To 5, which can be rented or purchased in DVD or VHS format from a vendor of the user’s choice.

            Readers will:

            Define sexual harassment
            Identify types of sexual harassment:

            Gender-based sexual harassment
            Third-party sexual harassment
            Hostile environment sexual harassment
            Visual sexual harassment
            Non-verbal sexual harassment
            Intent vs. impact
            Quid pro quo sexual harassment
            Retaliation
            Identify hidden costs of sexual harassment.

            Identify the potential for ethical and legal issues surrounding sexual harassment.

            Recognize subtle and overt sexual harassment by explaining and referencing demonstrations of sexual harassment with specific scenes from the Twentieth Century Fox movie, 9 To 5.

        • Avatar of Improbable Joe

          “No, the idea that you shouldn’t ever bring up the subject, even in a “professional context”, is just flat absurd. What makes it harassment is not taking no for an answer, or not… ”

          Bullshit. You don’t get to transfer the burden from the perpetrator onto their victim. You don’t get to say extreme things to people and put it on them to accept or decline. I don’t even think you’re being remotely honest though, because we’re not saying that no one is ever allowed to talk to people, or flirt with people, although it is fair to say it is close to that in professional context… unless you think you’d get away with asking random people at your job for sex? Because I think you’re not that stupid and you’re just being dishonest.

          Look what I said, about dumping your internal stuff into someone else’s lap. That’s what you don’t get to do. You can say hello to someone. You can try to instigate a conversation. You can go through every step along the way from greeting to proposition and watch for a demurral at every step. What you don’t get to do is skip all those steps and slam someone with a “here’s a picture of my junk, wanna let me put my junk on your junk?” request immediately following the “hi, how you doin’?” step.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Hi Joe,

            Look, I’d never do that. For a number of reasons, I have no desire to do it.

            But, why doesn’t a person get to skip those steps? What’s the reasoning?

            My basic (perhaps hopelessly naive) perspective is that it’s bad to hurt other people, it’s bad to make other people feel unsafe, it’s bad to harass other people, and aside from that pretty much everything’s okay.

            Why is trying to flirt with someone who isn’t interested in flirting (and then noticing that the person isn’t interested and leaving him/her alone) better than slipping the person a naked photo with an invitation to have sex? Is it that the sight of junk and the word “sex” makes blindness set in? I don’t mean to be annoyingly sarcastic here. But is it possible to articulate why asking someone for coffee is so much better than asking the person for sex? (I recognize that it’s a lot likelier to win you a date if you ask for coffee, but now we’re talking strategy not morality.)

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            donboc:

            Why is trying to flirt with someone who isn’t interested in flirting (and then noticing that the person isn’t interested and leaving him/her alone) better than slipping the person a naked photo with an invitation to have sex?

            Because the latter is much more likely to cause harm to the recipient. We know this because women report that they hate overt sexual attention, and plenty of research exists on harassment, stereotype threat and chilly climate. Do you really need proof?

          • Avatar of Improbable Joe

            Don, I think you’re a liar, because I would prefer that to believing that you’re actually as stupid as you’re pretending to be.

            But just in case you are that oblivious, and someone is actually helping you work the computer and changing your diapers for you, let’s flip this around and see if you understand it.

            Let’s say you and I meet, and you say or do something that makes me angry… and I tell you that I am going to kill you, your family, your 20th high school reunion, everyone you have ever known and cared about in your whole life. Would you think that I had gone too far? Maybe?

            You’d probably say “Hey Joe. Maybe you could have said ‘knock it off, bud’ and then if I didn’t knock it off, you could say ‘no, seriously I mean it and I’m walking away now’ and only if I followed you would you say ‘back off or I’m going to punch you’ and you’d probably never get to the death threat because we’ve gone through several stages of escalation before you go nuclear, and I would have backed off long before that!”

            Well, sexual propositions need to go through the same level of “escalation” in the other direction, while giving the other person the chance to walk away or say “no” long before an invite to group sex. If you can’t understand that, it is because you don’t want to.

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            Replying to donboc some more… *heavy sigh*

            donboc:

            Is it that the sight of junk and the word “sex” makes blindness set in? I don’t mean to be annoyingly sarcastic here. But is it possible to articulate why asking someone for coffee is so much better than asking the person for sex? (I recognize that it’s a lot likelier to win you a date if you ask for coffee, but now we’re talking strategy not morality.)

            Okay. Basically, this is because people have different preferences. There is a range of tolerance for certain, high-emotion topics. Sex is one of these topics. Some people will be disturbed by a slightly sexual comment or gesture. Some will be disturbed by an overtly or blatantly sexual comment or gesture. The polite thing to do is stay at the lowest level, because you don’t know the tolerance of the other person, and it is harmful to perform sexual stress tests on them to find out.

            Compare it to tolerance for spicy food. There’s nothing wrong with liking spicy food. However, I’m not going to offer a share of my five-star Thai dish to someone else, because if their preference is ANYTHING less than mine, they are going to get hurt. If they ask to taste it, I’m going to warn them.

            If you don’t see anything wrong with giving naked sex cards to strangers, then you need to realize that your sex tolerance is set so high that other people will be hurt by what you consider harmless. Accept this and compensate for it.

          • Avatar of spellwight

            Don’s “Why is trying to flirt with someone who isn’t interested in flirting (and then noticing that the person isn’t interested and leaving him/her alone) better than slipping the person a naked photo with an invitation to have sex?”

            The difference is like poking someone with a small twig versus whacking them over the head with a log.

            Or telling someone they look nice versus they’d look nice NAKED.

            Or politely responding to an obtuse person by re-explaining the obvious versus calling donboc out as a troll and telling him to STFU.

            See how some things are more socially acceptable (therefore less offensive) than others?

          • Avatar of donboc

            @Joe

            This is in reply to your post where you suggest that I’m either lying or in diapers.

            “Let’s say you and I meet, and you say or do something that makes me angry… and I tell you that I am going to kill you, your family, your 20th high school reunion, everyone you have ever known and cared about in your whole life. Would you think that I had gone too far? Maybe?”

            Yes. What you would have done is threatening. I’ve been saying all along that threats are terrible. I’m not sure what part of my saying that you didn’t understand. Your example isn’t inappropriate because it fails to follow some prescribed ladder of escalation. It’s inappropriate because no matter what had come previously, it’s illegal (and rightfully so) to threaten to kill someone’s whole family. Sex is a totally different thing. It’s not illegal to offer sex. (In certain circumstances maybe, but certainly not absolutely illegal the way that death threats are.) You seem to be reifying some notion of propriety, wherein crawling comes before walking, punch threats come before death threats, and coffee offers come before sex offers. But again, the problem with death threats right-off-the-bat isn’t that they came in the wrong order — it’s that death threats are never okay. And some kids walk and never crawl, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

            Maybe you should ask the person helping you with your diapers to explain this to you.

    • Avatar of absinthia

      Don, since Elyse’s OP and her subsequent reply seem to be unclear for you, let me try to help you out.

      Imagine you work with the general public, say a clerk at a convenience store. Would you feel uncomfortable if a customer sexually propositioned you? Wouldn’t you consider that somewhat aggressive and totally inappropriate? Because most people would.

      Now if that proposition included you being forced to witness to someone else’s nudity, say they flashed you or gave you photos of themselves naked, would that not increase the effect of your discomfort and sense of inappropriateness? Most people it would.

      Elyse was at the conference as a speaker, ie, she was AT WORK.

      Easier to comprehend now?

      • Avatar of donboc

        Hi absinthia,

        Thanks for the reply.

        I guess the key thing is the distinction between propositioning for sex versus propositioning for a date, right? And also propositioning with a naked picture seems to be a problem?

        I think that people ask out cashiers (of both genders) all the time. I have worked as a cashier, and I’ve been asked out in ways that I appreciated and ways that I did not. Appreciated: being slipped a business card. Did not appreciate: the person repeatedly showing up at the end of my shift to walk to the subway with me — that felt like stalker sh!t, and made me very uncomfortable.

        I guess the thing that threw me off about what Elyse wrote is that a lot of it sounded to me like, “He should know that that kind of stuff never works!” And, okay, sure, it sounds like pretty crummy game and is unlikely to get him much action. But just because he’s a bad pickup artist is no reason for Elyse to be offended.

        And I also wondered about the word “offended” — what’s offensive about being propositioned for sex? Things I find offensive include things like, “You’re ugly.”, “You’re a bad father.”, “You’re a horrible excuse for a human being.”, “You’re sexist.” (the last of which was leveled at me by Elyse). I guess “offensive” is used in other ways too — “Those socks smell offensive.” But I wouldn’t say that I’m offended by the smell of the socks….

        I don’t think the upshot is that it’s never okay to suggest an activity to a person who’s at work. People suggest dates all the time and it doesn’t seem awful. But the activity should be a drink or coffee or something tame. I guess the upshot seems to be that there’s a basic rule that people shouldn’t proposition other people for sex or with naked pictures … just because. It seems really tough to explain why this is. I guess I’m lucky because it would never occur to me to do either of these activities.

        • Avatar of robofish

          “what’s offensive about being propositioned for sex?”

          I’m going to have to assume you’re male, because I can’t imagine how a woman could write that. If you don’t have the experience of random strangers coming up to you and telling you they want to have sex with you, I guess you might not understand how disturbing and unpleasant it can be. But even if you haven’t, aren’t you able to understand that many people *do* find such behaviour offensive? If you really don’t see how someone could be offended by that, I don’t think there’s any hope in getting through to you.

          Meanwhile, Elyse calling you ‘sexist’ was not a personal attack. It was simply a comment that you may not have considered how your views are affected by gender, and what’s true for a man often isn’t true for a woman.

        • Avatar of pteryxx

          donboc:

          I guess the upshot seems to be that there’s a basic rule that people shouldn’t proposition other people for sex or with naked pictures … just because. It seems really tough to explain why this is. I guess I’m lucky because it would never occur to me to do either of these activities.

          …Yes, if that’s what makes the concept clear to you, consider it a rule. Never proposition other people for sex or offer them naked pictures. Wait for THEM to ask YOU.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Hi pteryxx,

            I couldn’t click “reply” on your post where you wrote this, but….

            You wrote,
            “Okay. Basically, this is because people have different preferences. There is a range of tolerance for certain, high-emotion topics. Sex is one of these topics. Some people will be disturbed by a slightly sexual comment or gesture. Some will be disturbed by an overtly or blatantly sexual comment or gesture. The polite thing to do is stay at the lowest level, because you don’t know the tolerance of the other person, and it is harmful to perform sexual stress tests on them to find out.”

            Sure, excellent point.

            On the other hand, I’m just a bit wary of arguments like this, because people have a range of tolerance for mixed-racial couples, and people have a range of tolerance for same-gender couples, and people have a range of tolerance for seeing men in patent leather, assless chaps. But these ranges of tolerance are not good reasons to have anti-miscegenation laws, to ban same-sex marriage (“I’ll feel uncomfortable explaining it to my kids,” opponents always whine), or to disallow provocative but fully covered clothing at a parade. Heck, in Victorian England, a woman in a skirt would have been scandalous.

            I’m not saying that handing a sex card is the same as a black person marrying a white person. And the “it’s threatening” argument is pretty powerful to me, so I’ve basically come around entirely on my original question. But I’m just pointing out that we don’t have to avoid offending all people’s sensibilities all the time.

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            donboc:

            On the other hand, I’m just a bit wary of arguments like this, because people have a range of tolerance for mixed-racial couples, and people have a range of tolerance for same-gender couples, and people have a range of tolerance for seeing men in patent leather, assless chaps.

            First off, that’s a different usage of the word “tolerance”. That means “acceptance of people who behave differently without hurting you” not “degree of actual harm you can handle”.

            Second, those are all instances of a third person, who is NOT INVOLVED, observing other consenting people interacting with each other. Very different situation than you deciding how to make a sexual proposition to someone.

            Also, there’s a reason assless chaps are not acceptable clothing at a business conference, and it’s covered in the sexual harassment policy. It’s rude to impose nakedness on people who didn’t agree to it.

            I’m trying to keep this as simple as you seem to require.

        • Avatar of absinthia

          Don,

          You wrote: “I guess the key thing is the distinction between propositioning for sex versus propositioning for a date, right? And also propositioning with a naked picture seems to be a problem?”

          Yes, this is a problem. A straight out proposition for sex in a totally inappropriate time and place is considered aggressive, objectifying, and sometimes even threatening for a woman (perhaps you are unable to understand a woman’s perspective?) Many women don’t want to see people they’ve just met naked; in this case, Elyse wasn’t given a choice, they took her choice away.

          You say you’ve worked as a clerk and been propositioned in ways that you liked and ways that made you uncomfortable; are you willing to accept that what makes you uncomfortable and what makes someone else uncomfortable may not be the same things?

          You wrote, “what’s offensive about being propositioned for sex?” I refer you to Robofish’s response.

          You wrote: “I guess the upshot seems to be that there’s a basic rule that people shouldn’t proposition other people for sex or with naked pictures … just because.”

          Not “just because” – did you not read the responses? Because it’s inappropriate, because it makes people (not you, obviously, and perhaps mostly just female people) feel uncomfortable (at best) and threatened (at worst). Those are very good reasons, not “just because.” Please don’t trivialize this simply because you personally would not be offended to be propositioned for sex by a customer while at work. It is inappropriate, even if you wouldn’t mind.

          • Avatar of donboc

            Hi absinthia,

            Thank you again for your reply.

            You wrote, “Yes, this is a problem. A straight out proposition for sex in a totally inappropriate time and place is considered aggressive, objectifying, and sometimes even threatening for a woman (perhaps you are unable to understand a woman’s perspective?)”

            Okay, like I said in several places,
            (a) Clearly, I didn’t have Elyse’s perspective, and I was trying to gain perspective, which was why I engaged in the discussion in the first place. I’d just like to quote myself from my original post, since some people seem to think I’m history’s greatest monster: “I’m writing because I want to learn. I think you’re right on just about everything I’ve seen you write, and you clearly found this experience to be very upsetting and as I said earlier I’m sorry that you were subjected to an experience that made you so upset. I suspect, based on my experience with your writing and thinking, that there’s actually a very good reason to be as upset as you are, and once I understand it I’ll look at the situation similarly to how you do.”
            (b) I think (and I said this previously too) that threatening actions are awful, terrible, horrible things. Flashing is subtly (or not so subtly) threatening and therefore awful. The guy hitting on Rebecca late at night in the elevator was threatening and therefore awful.

            So: if Elyse felt threatened, then I completely agree that it was a horrible thing. I can understand why many things that men might enjoy can feel threatening to a woman. The coffee invitation that Rebecca received is one example. Cat calls on the street are another example. Being flashed is another example.

            And, referring back to her post, she did write this:
            “Outnumbering a stranger while putting them in an uncomfortable situation is a dick thing to do. Two inappropriate strangers approaching you at the same time is more intimidating and threatening than one. Because there’s two of them. And there’s one of you. That’s why.”

            So, she said right there that she felt threatened. That’s horrible. (Essentially) no one should ever have to feel threatened. [I write "(essentially)" because some people might feel threatened even by perfectly innocuous things, like another person saying hello,....]

            I just didn’t see what was threatening about slipping someone a card.

            Anyway, to clarify one more time, I would never ever do anything like what this couple did. And it’s awful that Elyse was made to feel threatened. I didn’t understand why she felt threatened, and I still don’t totally, but I can understand that the action felt similar enough to various other actions — actions which are more obviously (to me) threatening — that it too felt threatening. And furthermore, there’s clearly such a strong societal proscription against doing what these folks did that it’s a bit unnerving that they would violate this social norm, and it makes one wonder what ELSE they might do if they’re so lacking in social sense as to toss down a sex card at a conference.

            And to those of you calling me a troll and telling me to shut up (not you, absinthia), I think that’s a pretty crummy way to interact. I’ve been nothing but polite to all of you, and I very much appreciate the valuable and enlightening conversation, but the conversation would have also been possible without the name-calling and rudeness.

            Best,
            Don

          • Avatar of pteryxx

            donboc:

            And furthermore, there’s clearly such a strong societal proscription against doing what these folks did that it’s a bit unnerving that they would violate this social norm, and it makes one wonder what ELSE they might do if they’re so lacking in social sense as to toss down a sex card at a conference.

            That’s absolutely correct. It’s not the only factor, but definitely a major concern.

          • Avatar of Kammy

            @ Don

            “And to those of you calling me a troll and telling me to shut up (not you, absinthia), I think that’s a pretty crummy way to interact. I’ve been nothing but polite to all of you, and I very much appreciate the valuable and enlightening conversation, but the conversation would have also been possible without the name-calling and rudeness.”

            Oh puh-leese. You spent the whole day basically saying the same thing: What’s so awful about it? It doesn’t seem so awful to me? You got polite responses and you just kept up your whiny chorus of “I still don’t see what’s so awful.” and it wasn’t long before it was accompanied by “You meanies called me names.”

            Polite. Pfft. Not even.

          • Avatar of donboc

            @Kammy

            “Oh puh-leese. You spent the whole day basically saying the same thing: What’s so awful about it? It doesn’t seem so awful to me? You got polite responses and you just kept up your whiny chorus of “I still don’t see what’s so awful.” and it wasn’t long before it was accompanied by “You meanies called me names.”

            Polite. Pfft. Not even.”

            Really? Yes, I didn’t see what was so awful. So I asked questions. I engaged in discussion. And in the second response to me, Elyse essentially said I’m sexist. That was not the whole litany of polite responses that you’re suggesting I received. I got one reasonably polite response, and in #2 I was accused of being sexist.

            I of course recognize that you might think there’s some irony in my complaining about language at all here. Like, “Dude, you were defending those scumbags’ right to harass Elyse all afternoon, and now you’re getting touchy over a few words?” If anyone thinks this, yes, I see this argument. But, (1) I wasn’t defending anyone’s right to do anything — I was trying to learn and sort out what was so upsetting about it; and (2) people are impugning my character and just generally being rude. I suspect that on matters of politics and social decorum I share 99.9% of views in common with most of the people here. Not that this is even terribly relevant — if I were coming from an entirely opposite worldview, that’s still not a great reason to speak rudely. But anyway, I asked a few questions because I was legitimately trying to understand an issue better and was told to shut the F up. Again, that’s a crummy way to interact. I don’t see why you’d be so committed to defending this sort of name-calling and dismissive attitude that you would double down here.

          • Avatar of Kammy

            @ Don,

            Ima let you finish but, this is getting too nested. Please scroll to the very end of the comment thread for my rebuttal to this, your latest lament upon the the rampant abuse you’ve suffered.

  27. Avatar of freemage

    The “prank” comments really hit the situation on its head. Pranks are jack-assery, meant to get someone riled as a form of amusement. They CAN be acceptable in a group of friends, just as insulting language can be (my best friend, from back in high school, and I have a tendency to turn the air blue when we get together and his kids aren’t around–but we know the context). Pranking a stranger is a completely different matter, and utterly unacceptable conduct.

  28. Avatar of snarp

    If it was a joke, I don’t get it, and I agree with some others, that it would actually make it worse. If it’s not a joke, then they are swingers who are somewhat socially inept outside of that group and made a bad decision about what was socially appropriate. But if it was a joke, then, well, ewwwwwwwwww.

  29. Avatar of Luna

    @kagehi sorry, no reply button?? I agree some people barely wear any clothes anyway. But having worked with 2 “hands-on” men, I can safely say that if I’m at work, I do not tolerate harassing shit for one second. I am lucky that my current boss is VERY hardcore serious about preventing sexual harassment. But if I felt like the harassment would continue, I would expect any authority at the event to step up or else understand that it was my turn to take care of the situation.

    • Avatar of Luna

      Beach is a different story; while I don’t enjoy total nudity, I am not forced to sit next to them or have them hang over me to get an office supply. Two very different environments. I am much less uncomfortable at a vacation setting.

  30. Avatar of Noadi

    I don’t think there is never a time when flirting/propositioning someone at a conference is okay but this situation is so far from okay I don’t get how anyone could justify it.

    Okay: We’re a couple and would like to get to know you better and maybe got on a date so here is our number/email address.
    Not Okay: We’re a couple who would like to have sex with you, here is a naked picture of us with our number/email address.

    Okay: Engaging in a conversation with some appropriate flirting for a period of time in a public place with other people around and then inviting the other person back to your room for “coffee”.
    Not Okay: Cornering someone alone in an enclosed space late at night and asking them back to your room for “coffee”.

    How is it that these concepts are not obvious to everyone?

    • Avatar of Carl

      > How is it that these concepts are not obvious to everyone?

      I wake up nearly every day and ask myself that. I understand that people are like this, but honestly can’t understand why.

    • Avatar of Nicole

      “How is it that these concepts are not obvious to everyone?”

      That seems to be the key to this and similar situations. For whatever reason, sociological, personal, or otherwise, it’s only obvious to *most* people, not all people. For those who don’t understand those boundaries, even *if* their intentions are innocent, harassment policies are necessary so that people aren’t put in the incredibly uncomfortable situation that Elyse was put in.

      Note: the subset of “those” changes to include all kinds of people, depending on the topic or situation. I find myself having to remind myself of different boundary conditions than what I’m used to when in certain groups of people!

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe

      I know everyone else tries to see the best motives in other people, but since I’m a terrible human being I just assume other bad people are just as bad as me.

      There’s an advantage to “playing dumb” in social situations. You get plausible deniability and can say “just kidding” when you get busted, but when someone accepts your intrusion on their personal boundaries, it means you can ignore other boundaries and probably get away with it. Find someone who thinks it is OK to shove your nude pictures in their face, and you can probably “accidentally” film them without their knowledge, or “forget” to wear a condom, or “not hear” when they use a safeword. You strike out 99 times out of 100, probably only get called out publicly once out of 500 times, and every so often you find someone with poorly-defined personal boundaries who can be exploited.

    • Avatar of pteryxx

      *wince* Okay, as someone who really IS socially dense, I think I should give my embarrassing viewpoint here.

      I’m pretty darn sure that if someone handed a nekkid sex card to me, I’d go “Oo. Hm. Yay for sex!” and probably not realize anything was wrong. With the reminder that yes, there’s a harassment policy in place, and yes giving out sex cards probably counts, I MIGHT have enough of a clue to say “Hey, you card person, thanks but you realize that was against the rules, right?” I doubt I’d have realized that if they handed cards to one random person (me) they probably handed them to others who weren’t so sanguine about it. To my shame, I *probably* wouldn’t have thought it merited reporting before this discussion happened.

      But it damn well DOES merit reporting WHETHER OR NOT IT BOTHERED ME. I mean shit, people, how hard is this! (mostly meaning myself.) I don’t get to decide what other people “ought” to be skeeved out about. No. Consent is EVERYONE’s responsibility.

      I can’t thank y’all enough for talking about the problem so error-prone people like myself can better avoid contributing to the levels of squick in the world. Thanks especially to Carl for showing how it’s done.

      *note: content paraphrased from my rant on Pharyngula

      • Avatar of marilove

        Are you a man? I’m not sure. That might be one reason why it might not bother you as much. It’s different for (most) women.

        • Avatar of pteryxx

          marilove: You meant me? I don’t claim either one, but I’m queer enough (and weird enough) that I’ve never been sexually harassed that I could tell – abused in other ways, but not that one. So I have no direct experience with unwanted sexual invites, like most men.

          (Caveat: I was sexually bullied as a child, but that had more to do with being gender-variant. I didn’t connect it at the time with the strictly gendered “teasing” the girls got.)

    • Avatar of john85

      > Okay: We’re a couple and would like to get to know you better and maybe got on a date so here is our number/email address.
      > Not Okay: We’re a couple who would like to have sex with you, here is a naked picture of us with our number/email address.

      What about “We’re a couple who would like to have sex with you and here is our number/email address in case you’re interested”? You changed two variables, so it’s unclear which variable is the important one, or if it’s both. But it would seem to me that if they want to have sex, then that’s what they should say, rather than being misleading by saying “get to know you better”. Or would you say it’s the desire that’s wrong and not merely its expression?

      > Not Okay: Cornering someone alone in an enclosed space late at night and asking them back to your room for “coffee”.

      This seems like a fairly obvious reference to “Elevatorgate”. Did “cornering” actually occur then? To corner somebody is to position yourself or another so as to prevent their escape until either you allow it or they force their way free. The elevator door may have closed, but if so it would soon open again and unless he actually prevented her from leaving, it’s misrepresentation to say he “cornered” her.

      So what about “asking someone back to your room for ‘coffee’ while together in a small space”? Again you’re altering many variables so it’s not clear which one(s) makes the distinction.

      While I would with your distinctions, it isn’t clear which specific concepts you’re referring to.

  31. Avatar of Buzz Parsec

    I’m glad Elyse and Carl and most of the people commenting are way more grown up than I would probably be.

    I think Luna’s reaction would be juvenile and unproductive and have bad unintended consequences, but I can’t criticize her for it because that is exactly what I would do (or more likely, what I would want to do if not inhibited by extreme cowardice) if I were in Elyse’s shoes.

    Oh, and @rjblaskiewicz, that comment can be taken more than one way ;-)

    • Avatar of Luna

      You might think it’s immature unless you’re a woman who has been grabbed at work and not been taken seriously when you complained. Then you might feel differently about what’s appropriate.

      • Avatar of marilove

        I have been grabbed and I have responded in the heat of the moment. I wouldn’t fault anyone for doing anything in the heat of the moment if they were harassed. I have a temper, so I know how it is.

        That’s FAR different from going home and then plastering their name and photos all over the internet.

        That is not at all helpful. At all. And it probably wouldn’t discourage them. It might even turn them on.

        It also feels like you seem to think Elyse didn’t do enough, which is bullshit. We’re all talking about it here and hopefully they feel awful, but to do anything else is just vigilante justice and that never works out, no matter how much you might want it to.

        • Avatar of Luna

          Not at all, just to be clear I was speaking strictly for myselfand how I would respond or feel like responding. How Elyse handles it is none of my business.

          • Avatar of Luna

            Did not say on the Internet by the way, I said plaster it in their hometown.

  32. Avatar of Crip Dyke

    Since these 2 aren’t holding themselves out as leaders or representatives of any movement of which any of us here are aware, I’m actually not as pissed at them as I am at Hemant Mehta.

    “Why doesn’t this ever happen to me?”

    For Realzez?

    That disgusts me.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      It was a joke made to lighten the situation. He totally gets it.

      • Avatar of Carl

        Agreed. Something is definitely lost in translation. It was delivered ironically.

      • Avatar of Crip Dyke

        Okay, objection withdrawn

        In a post that was a complaint, I didn’t catch the transition to positive solidarity…and too many men have responded in exactly that way to this stuff so the believability was high.

        However, I don’t mean to censor irony – you were there and clearly if he gets it and is saying this in an ironic way he’s trying to call attention not just to the non-consensuality but to the sexism, and that’s good.

  33. Avatar of ragdish

    As an atheist who has never attended any conference (ie. atheist, skeptic, humanist, etc..), I am curious as to why sexual harrassment continues to be a recurrent problem. Why aren’t there any zero tolerance policies on this matter with legal ramifications universally embraced by the movement as a whole? It works in other social mileu eg. universities, government institutions, private business, etc..

    • Avatar of Crip Dyke

      Zero tolerance can mean a lot of different things. Zero tolerance for the behavior in this post could mean confiscating and destroying all the cards. Or it could mean ejection from the conference. Or it could mean ejection and a bar on all future conferences.

      All ZT really means is that there is a response every time. There is a large disagreement over what the response should be to any specific incident, and there should be freedom to titrate response to the offending behavior.

      I don’t think that no conferences have had a zero tolerance policy. I just think that 1) sexism inhibits the reporting itself and ZT is meaningless if you haven’t had **other** policies in place to encourage reporting, and 2) the consequences, whatever they’ve been, haven’t been sufficiently serious to address the behavior, and 3) even if there’s been something like a ZT policy somewhere, if one doesn’t publicize the fact that incidents occur and consequences followed, there is no cultural shift.

      Saying, ZT is desirable begs the question since there’s no evidence that a ZT not supported by other appropriate policies will work. We have to know what you mean by ZT and we have to support any “ZT” (whether it’s named that or not) with other policies, such as reporting-encouragement and publicity/public information.

      Saying, “Just have ZT” adds nothing to the conversation. We already want no sexual harassment, no sexual assault, and no sexism at conferences. The question is “how do we get there?” and answering, “Don’t allow it!” evades all of the important discussion that is necessary.

      • Avatar of ragdish

        “Don’t allow it!” is a good start wouldn’t you say? Trying to expand or open up empathy (ie. the root of the problem) in a jerk is far more difficult than enforcing punishment. I’m not saying that doesn’t work but it is a much more difficult process. Back in college we all took mandatory classes in sensitivity. I was put in the shoes of a woman being sexually harrassed. The pain I felt merely scratched the surface of what women must go through on a daily basis. Such empathy exercises generally work and maybe atheist groups should do similar things to get to the root of the issue. But for a person who has gone so far down the path of assholedom, what effect will these exercises have? I’m doubtful if any. Therefore, shouldn’t there be consequences for unwanted sexual advances?

    • Avatar of john85

      I think as someone else mentioned, there are always a couple jerks in any big group. (And sometimes that couple of jerks is even a couple :-).)

      Saying “don’t allow it” is pointless unless you’re actually able to prevent it. Otherwise, you can only react to it after the fact. What they did is not illegal, so there could be no legal ramifications. The threat of expulsion would have made no difference in this case. The only credible threat may be to bar them from future conventions, but doing so requires identifying attendees and maintaining records of their behavior, which some groups may not tolerate. It also wouldn’t stop first time violations (which this apparently was).

      An idea that could perhaps work would be to require a substantial deposit from each attendee, to be returned when they leave unless they’ve violated the policy, which should be provided to each of them in advance. But again, some groups would probably consider that to be more burdensome than the problem itself. And so it will remain an occasional issue…

  34. Avatar of Aratina Cage

    Applause to Carl for how he handled this situation (and it looks like another situation as well at the same conference according to comments above) and to him and Sarah for instituting an anti-harassment policy at the event! It makes me wonder why the conference organizers didn’t do the same for Rebecca a year ago and contact Elevator Guy and tell him his behavior was unacceptable and to not do it again? If they did, I don’t remember reading about it.

  35. Avatar of Amy

    I also wanted to jump in and show my complete support for Elyse and give a hat tip to Carl for handling the situation in a timely and professional manner. I would be proud to attend any event he had a part of.

    • Avatar of bug_girl

      Ditto what amy said. And as an older woman that worked in a predominantly all male field, this shit happened ALL. THE. TIME. to me at entomological conferences.
      Just being present and female apparently meant I was sexually receptive/available. Even when presenting my research in a suit.

      I am saddened that some folks don’t get this–but really really encouraged that the conference folks do, and took speedy action. Big props to them. It gives me hope.

      • Avatar of Carl

        Same for you bug_girl – thank you. When I implemented the policy I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. I never expected to be in this situation… and honestly it’s a little overwhelming.

        I’m in awe of you ladies that you wake up every day and deal with this shit. I’m not sure why this stuff is so hard for people to understand. =/

        I saw a quote on Facebook, that inspired me to put up the anti-harassment policy. By the time I get to TAM I very well may have this tattooed on my arm:

        “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
        ~ Lily Tomlin

    • Avatar of Carl

      Thank you Amy. That means a lot to me.

  36. Avatar of Sarah Moglia

    Having read the apology, I say don’t accept it. “We had no idea that there would be an objection to sharing what we call our “pleasure card” with Elyse. The intention was not sexual, it was comical, and i truly apologize that there was a misinterpretation of what I did on a whim.”

    Really? So if you had called them and said, “hey, yeah, I’d love to have sex with you strangers!” They’d reply, “Oh…about that, we were just kidding. We absolutely are not interested in having sex with you.” Hardly.

    Everyone makes mistakes. What’s important is how you react to it. Do you accept your mistakes, don’t make excuses, and promise to do better? (By saying something like: “Wow, you are right. I was not thinking, and I behaved in an improper way. I will not do so again in the future. Thank you for giving me another chance.”) Or do you pretend it was a joke and/or make excuses? (By saying something like: “It’s HER fault for misinterpreting our joke!!”)

    Clearly, they are unwilling to own up to their inappropriate behavior.

    • Avatar of Brian G

      Yes, it’s the classic not-apology : “I’m sorry that you misunderstood me” instead of “I’m sorry for what I did”.

  37. Avatar of Tracy King

    There are so many things wrong with these people I don’t know where to start. I don’t mean that they swing, I have no problem with other people’s lifestyle choices. I have a huge problem with such an utter disregard for other people’s comfort. It’s not just rude, it’s actively anti-social.

    Making assumptions about someone else’s sexual behaviour (e.g. that they might be interested in swinging without any sort of prompting) is one of the major issues of feminism, for me. Short skirt = asking for it, etc etc. We condemn people who make sexual assumptions about us. This couple did exactly that and I’m glad you’ve exposed (ahem) them.

  38. Avatar of tsarbomba

    What this couple did was essentially the same thing that a flasher does. Subject an innocent person to viewing their naked bodies engaged in sexual behavior. While there is no doubt a broad spectrum of psychological reasons people like to expose themselves to others in this fashion, I think that many do it out of a perverse desire to see te offended/horrified reaction in the recipient. And to them it might seem like a joke–a perverse joke where they get pleasure out of the displeasure of others. These people seem really sick to me. One wonders whether this guy is a sex offender.

  39. Avatar of Grand Lunar

    The fact that a man AND his wife did this makes thid doubly creepy, IMO.

    Were it just the man, I’d call it another case of a male being the type of guy that ought to be thrown into the water with a school of either pacu or candiru (or both).

    For a couple to do this boggle my mind.
    It makes me wonder what the wife may have been thinking about you.

    Despite this, I say don’t let people like them discourage you from your work. NEVER stop. And NEVER give up.
    If anything, this should serve as a call to arms, so to speak, to fight against this sort of behavior, to ensure it doesn’t happen and to make it absolutly clear that this bullshit is NOT acceptable.

    And it also shows that appearently, men aren’t only ones to watch out for.

    • Avatar of Christophe Petroni

      Has anyone ever suggested that men are the only ones to look out for? Why does the wife’s participation make the affrontery worse? Your post seems to invoke the stereotype that men are sexual aggressors and that sexually assertive women are “off” somehow. That’s sexist.

      If I’ve learned anything, the problem isn’t that these two are swingers, man and woman alike. It’s that they forced a level of intimacy on Elyse without giving her the opportunity to consent to it and without a shadow of a plausible reason for thinking that she would do so.

      • Avatar of Elyse

        I think that it was a man and his wife did feel worse to me for the reason that I was stuck in a situation where he was the aggressor and the only other person who was aware of what was happening was a woman.

        It’s a different thing than everything else that happened, and something that I had in the post and deleted because it was tangential to the point I was making. It was sort of a letdown that there was no solidarity from the other woman. There was no understanding of why this isn’t okay to do to women. No defense of me as a woman and a speaker… just an excitement to hand me this hilarious proposition.

        So it is worse, but for reasons beyond what I was addressing.

        But also that it was an outnumbered thing. 2 of them. 1 of me.

        • Avatar of Christophe Petroni

          OK, I think I understand that. Thanks Elyse! I’ll go back to listening and learning.

        • Avatar of Grand Lunar

          Yes, that’s pretty much what I had in mind.
          I can’t figure why the wife would’ve been okay with what was done, other than she was a creep as well.

  40. Avatar of Improbable Joe

    Something that I haven’t seen mentioned (sorry if I missed it) is how much an aggressive “offer of sex” must feel like a “demand for sex” and how uncomfortable that will naturally make a woman feel. When someone comes on this very strong, there is an implied expectation that their target is going to say ‘yes’ or at least give the idea serious thought whether they are really into it or not. That’s a coercive sort of pressure that is really and truly unfair to inflict on someone who is more or less a complete stranger. (Seeing someone speak in public or reading their posts on a website might make you feel like you know them, but you are a stranger to them.)

    • Avatar of pteryxx

      Joe, I suggest two articles for follow-up reading on why putting a woman into a situation where she has to say “no” (i.e. rebuff an assumed “yes”) is problematic:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/09/16/after-you-say-no/

      and

      http://kateharding.net/2009/08/04/she-didn%E2%80%99t-fight-back-because-you-told-her-not-to/

      • Avatar of Improbable Joe

        Excellent links both. I’d read the link on Stephanie Zvan’s post back during the ElevatorGate thing, but the second link was completely new to me. This part is maybe especially educational for some folks here:

        “And because the really bad guys don’t pop out of thin air as fully formed misogynists. They need encouragement and reinforcement in order to completely miss the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them. Subtle sexism gives them that. Keeping your mouth shut about overt sexism gives them that. Not really listening to the women you love, let alone women you don’t even know–thereby being one more guy sending a message to women that we’re only worth listening to on men’s terms–gives them that. Telling yourself and anyone who will listen that that’s just the way it is, and people need to quit whining gives them that. How can they clue into the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them when so many guys are acting just like they do in public, or at least never calling them out?”

        When people say “what’s the big deal?” or try to minimize the feelings of the victims of harassment, they are contributing to the atmosphere that allows predators to act with impunity in our culture. I just wish I could go back and kick the 19 year old version of me in the ass, because I know I helped contribute to the negative culture as well.

  41. Avatar of anuran

    Ye flippin’ gawds. What they did was nine kinds of bad.

    You handled it very well. Hope it doesn’t happen again.

  42. Avatar of punchdrunk

    They weren’t joking. They’re CYA liars in addition to harassers.

    I’m tired of people giving lifestylers and socially awkward people a bad name. This has nothing to do with either of those things. There are so many places for them to get their freak on, this is just borderline assaultive. It makes me think they get off on transgressing others’ boundaries. Also a good way to get kicked out of any lifestyle community they might be involved in. Most fetish groups want to stay far away from any associations with this kind of behavior.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe

      Good point. Most “alternative” lifestyle communities tend to be even more obsessed with boundaries and consent, since it is a more obvious part of what they’re all about.

    • Avatar of anuran

      Not into that sort of thing personally, so correct me if I’m wrong. Guessing there’s a world of difference between like-minded people abiding by the customs of their sub-culture and horny simpletons who trample all over others’ boundaries.

      • Avatar of Improbable Joe

        That’s exactly right.

      • Avatar of Christophe Petroni

        There’s nothing wrong with being horny, and calling them “simpletons” tends to excuse their behavior by implying that they didn’t or shouldn’t have known better. Thir fault was all in ignoring boundaries and the hurtful consequences of crossing them. As I understand it.

      • Avatar of mouthyb

        There’s a million years of different between what I tend to call ‘tourists’ (Ooo, this sounds interesting so I’m going to try it but not pay attention to any social rules or community agreements no matter what I’m told or if I’ll be ejected for it) and people who are invested members of alternative communities, who pay attention to this kind of thing.

        I fucking hate tourists. They do, in fact, trample all over boundaries, then get indignant about transgressions on their ‘sexual freedom’ if anyone tells them to stop it.

        And, FYI, that behavior wasn’t acceptable in any community, assuming they were community members, in the same way that walking up to someone else’s sub at an event and trying to boss them around is seriously insulting.

        • Avatar of GeekGirlsRule

          I think it’s both disingenuous and overly hopeful to label them tourists. As someone involved in my local “community,” and as more and more incidents of long-time community members and supporters engaging in shit behaviors emerge, I think we need to recognize that for all our promotion of communication and consent, we do fall down an awful lot on that factor.

          An awful lot. Sadly.

  43. Avatar of theredqueentheory

    I think this is related to the subject, if not related enough please forgive me and ignore this post: but I have always wondered if it is sexist to use the standard “female” stick symbol of a woman with a dress and “male” symbol of just a stick figure. Is this sexist? For example, if I opened a coffee shop, would I be sexist for putting these symbols on my bathroom doors? I for one am a female who only rarely wears dresses, yet immediately recognize which symbol represents the bathroom I wish to enter. I know, this sounds like a stupid question, and it is, but I just don’t know! Can any feminists enlighten me?

    • Avatar of marilove

      It’s based on sexist notions, maybe, but it’s also a really well-recognized symbol. Eh. There are worse things.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      Re: random drawings…. maybe… probably. But I’d hope it’s low on the list of egregious errors.

      Re: bathrooms, they’re a good idea to avoid confusion and awkwardness.

    • Avatar of theredqueentheory

      I’m only asking because sometimes I look at the symbol myself and sigh, thinking, geez isn’t this outdated? Do women always have to be portrayed by a person wearing a dress? And I wonder if anyone else feels the same, or if I’m just weird. :)

      • Avatar of Improbable Joe

        No weirder than anyone else here… :)

        I think sometimes on a few occasions we need to sort of accept the cultural norms because they are a safe shorthand that everyone understands…

        … sort of like not handing people naked pictures of yourself, come to think of it.

        • Avatar of Otoki

          I actually saw a really cute twist on this in a park in Japan, where the bathroom signs were a cartoony rendition of a man and a woman in very traditional dress:P I thought it was really cool, pretty, and funny.

          But yeah, not much of a problem. I guess we could switch to the male and female symbols. It could be fun to brainstorm less gendered symbols for…symbols of gender.

          • Avatar of weatherwax

            That’s almost funny in Japan where so many of the restrooms are unisex, anyway.

            On one of my mothers bus tours she was relieved to find separate male and female doors, but then discovered both doors entered the same room…

    • Avatar of absinthia

      I think The Oatmeal did a cartoon about this, protesting that not all women wear superhero capes to the bathroom…

      But of course, i can’t find it now.

    • Avatar of Crip Dyke

      Don’t gender your bathrooms, if they are single occupancy.

      Putting those symbols on the door may not be the most sexist thing you can do, but it’s a very transphobic thing to do.

    • Avatar of gregladen

      One could do a major study of this. In coastal New England, the problem is solved by using pelagic sea birds and floating markers (gulls and buoys). A guy I know had a restaurant with totally gender/sex ambiguous symbols way up high over the doors so the only way to know which bathroom was which was to experiment then thereafter try to remember which one was which. In Paris, public bathrooms are for men and take the form of open air urinals, and the women apparently don’t go to the bathroom.

    • Avatar of cyranothe2nd1

      I always thought gendered bathrooms were stupid anyway, especially if they are ‘one-seaters.’ Recently, I was at a parade with about 10,000 attendees and was waiting in line to use the bathroom at Starbucks–two gendered stalls, both with one toilet each, locked door so people were doing the sensible thing, which was using whichever was free, which worked until a guy tried to cut in line in front of 10+ women with the logic that that was “his” bathroom (I disabused him of that notion real quick.)

    • Avatar of anuran

      It’s a well-known fact that women wear superhero capes when they go to the restroom. That’s why the silhouette is the way it is.

  44. Avatar of Ophelia Benson

    Argh argh argh.

    Bad!!!!!

    And that “apology” is downright obnoxious – it’s a sneer from the first few words. “All the commotion” my ass – that’s passive-agressive for “shut up you whiny bitch!”

  45. Avatar of Reverend Skepdick

    I am in an open marriage. My wife and I are reluctant to admit it because of people like this. We aren’t ashamed of being polyamorous, we’re worried about bring equated with swingers who do this sort of thing *all* the time. As noted by others people who do something like this are selfish and have no care or concern for their target, they just want fresh meat. Disgusting and offensive.

    • Avatar of Joshua Zelinsky

      This fits in with a general trend I’ve noticed (warning- possible stereotyping!) people who self-identify as polyamorous are generally much more reasonable and much less creepy than swingers. Poly people seem to be a general swath of humanity, and are generally respectful of others boundaries and issues. Whereas swingers seem to have a lot of trouble respecting other people and having some idea of what is at all socially acceptable behavior.

      I do wonder if it is a cultural thing. Is the fact that the poly community emphasizes consent so much more than the swingers part of the issue? Is it more a holdover from the fact that swingers as a cultural group arose before ideas like enthusiastic consent were even concepts? How much of this is because what most poly people and most swingers want seem to be different things (a lot of poly people have committed relationships that just involve more than other person, and some of those relationships may be romantic but non-sexual or some other complicated status, whereas for many of the swingers, part of the whole point is the sex with strangers thing)?

  46. Avatar of Don Gwinn

    The solution is simple, but it’s hard to do because it requires calling people on their bullshit. The solution is that you, Elyse, never speak to these people again, and Skepticamp’s promoters make it clear to them that they’re no longer welcome at Skepticamp events.

    That’s what happens if you pull something like this at an event I’m helping run; I’ll boot your ass without asking anyone if I can help it. We had an event where a person chose to show up despite having been told clearly that he would not be allowed to participate; he was told to leave, but that order was countermanded by someone of slightly higher rank. We’re still dealing with the fallout from that one, because people who behave badly and get away with it usually escalate rather than being grateful for their second chance.

    Their apology was bullshit. They didn’t apologize, they accused Elyse of overreacting due to an acute lack of a sense of humor. They also didn’t work very hard to convince anyone that if Elyse had called their number, they’d have said, “Oh, that card? That was a joke! Sorry, I mean, you’re very attractive, but we find it’s best to respect professional boundaries, you know?”

  47. Avatar of Reverend Skepdick

    @ImprobableJoe and others: yes this would be frowned on in many fetish communities, it’s at most mildly finger wagged at with a wink and a nod in the swinger community. Not all swingers are like that, but a large portion (possibly a majority or close to it) are very very predatory and women are completely exploited.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe

      My wife and I were briefly in a theoretically open relationship before we got married, and we faced the issue of people not understanding that just because one or both of us might be willing to have sex with another person, it didn’t mean we were both open to having sex with any and every random guy who approached us. And I saw the exploitation of women, in that the guys who wanted to fuck my wife-to-be would sort of fling their female partner at me like she was a trading chip rather than a person who might or might not be attracted to me.

      The whole thing was so sickening that we checked out of that lifestyle because we weren’t willing to risk our good thing by interacting with people who might probably intentionally destabilize our happiness.

      • Avatar of Otoki

        Wow. You really just described something I had felt for a long time but had trouble putting into words. There are some great, happy, healthy poly relationships out there, but like with many monogamous relationships there is an abundance of partners (particularly female ones) being objectified, dismissed, or abused. But in the swinger community especially it seems like that abuse was more obvious with how men treated their female partners.

  48. Avatar of Nora Miller

    Have all the back-and-forth with interest. I align pretty squarely with the folks who find this egregious and totally inappropriate.

    I don’t mean to stir this pot any more than it has already been stirred, but I want to comment on one very to-me disturbing thing in the “apology” that no one else seems to have noticed: “We didn’t give cards to anyone else”. Doesn’t that mean that they singled out Elyse for this “joke”? Why would that make their horrible behavior *better*? If it is such a funny joke, why not share the “fun” with others? To me, this amps up the “harassment” score for this “prank” a whole heck of a lot.

  49. Avatar of Alex Samaras

    Was that the apology in full? Because that looks like a textbook example of a “nonpology”.

    “I’m sorry you misinterpreted” does NOT equal “I’m sorry for what I did”. “I’m sorry you may have been offended” also does NOT equal “I’m sorry for what I did.”

  50. Avatar of Grimalkin

    Christ, if that happened to me I’d be trying to find a way to have them arrested. I kind of doubt that “handing a naked picture of yourself out to someone against their will” is a specific crime, but that has to be illegal in some way… right?

    It seems like a form of flashing to me, honestly. Or something with public indecency anyways.

  51. Avatar of Kammy

    @ Don,

    You keep saying that all you’ve done is ask a few questions. This is from your first comment:

    Just a bit more about what you wrote that I didn’t follow:
    • Did they assume you were there to be their “plaything”? Or did they simply ask if you wanted to join them for sex?
    • ”Outnumbering a stranger while putting them in an uncomfortable situation is a dick thing to do.” Sure. But you weren’t in an uncomfortable situation when they outnumbered you! He simply said ‘here’s something to remember us by.’ and you thanked him. It wasn’t until after they were gone (when you outnumbered them 1 to 0) that you saw the invitation.
    • “It’s not okay to remove another person’s ability to have a say in the situation you’ve put them in.” That’s not really true, right? People approach and talk to other people all the time. The person who is approached has no say in whether s/he is approached. There’s something about this particular kind of situation (I guess seeing a naked photo and an invitation to have sex) that you think it’s particularly important for people to have a say in whether they end up in the situation. I guess that’s reasonable, it’s just not obvious to me.
    • “I cannot think of a single situation where it’s ever appropriate to hand someone an invitation to group sex if you haven’t already had or discussed having sex.” That sounds like a useful rule of thumb, in the sense that if a person hasn’t already had or discussed sex with another person, the invitation to group sex is unlikely to be accepted. But I don’t see what’s actually *bad* about issuing such an invitation without having previously had or discussed sex with the person.

    That was not just asking a few questions. You’ve been arguing against Elyse’s point from the get-go. You start out with aren’t you overreacting to a simple request for sex. Then you tell her she was not outnumbered. On to no big deal, people approach other people all the time. And finish with I don’t see what’s so bad.

    You call this polite. I call it invalidating, minimizing and lack of empathy all topped off with why can’t you be more like me.

    • Avatar of Kammy

      @ Don,

      See also http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/JAQing_off

    • Avatar of donboc

      @Kammy,

      Did you see the end of my post, too? Where I wrote,
      “I’m writing because I want to learn. I think you’re right on just about everything I’ve seen you write, and you clearly found this experience to be very upsetting and as I said earlier I’m sorry that you were subjected to an experience that made you so upset. I suspect, based on my experience with your writing and thinking, that there’s actually a very good reason to be as upset as you are, and once I understand it I’ll look at the situation similarly to how you do. I wrote as much as I did not to be absurdly argumentative (I’m not trying to win an argument) but just to lay out for you what I don’t understand and where I’d really appreciate clarification.”

      Is that sort of paragraph typical of JAQing-Off trolls? (I like that you have a clever term for dismissing people, by the way.)
      In response to your most recent comment —
      No, I have not been arguing against Elyse’s overall point from the get-go. I’ve simply been trying to get it clear in my head.
      “You start out with aren’t you overreacting to a simple request for sex.”
      I didn’t say she was overreacting. I just asked if her claim that they assumed she was their plaything was really true. Did they assume this? Or did they simply hope that she wanted to play with them sexually (and assume that it was okay to ask)?
      “Then you tell her she was not outnumbered.”
      Maybe I misunderstood, but from my reading of the original post I didn’t get the feeling that Elyse was uncomfortable while outnumbered. However, this was a silly point of mine — in retrospect I can clearly see how, upon seeing the contents of the card, she could worry that these two would cause her problems later.
      “On to no big deal, people approach other people all the time.”
      The claim that, “It’s not okay to remove another person’s ability to have a say in the situation you’ve put them in.” is clearly not generically true, so I pointed this out, in an attempt to clarify the argument.

      “You call this polite. I call it invalidating, minimizing and lack of empathy all topped off with why can’t you be more like me.”

      Sure, I lacked some empathy — I could not follow why she felt the way she felt, so I was asking questions in order to gain empathy and understanding. But no, no no! I was not asking anyone to be more like me. I was asking for clarification, so that I could understand and be more like her!!

      And I did come around to agreeing that what they did could easily come off as threatening and they really shouldn’t have done it, and it’s very upsetting. And I thank the people who have participated in this conversation, which has been helpful to me. (And I don’t think that THIS paragraph is typical of the kind of troll you’re assuming I am, either.)

      Again, I appreciate the discussion. I just think it’s possible to have the discussion in a more polite way.

      • Avatar of pteryxx

        donboc:

        Is that sort of paragraph typical of JAQing-Off trolls?

        Actually, yes it is. Your behavior’s indistinguishable from that of a JAQing-off troll. I’m trying to answer you politely because I suspect there’s a slight chance you may actually be honest. However, it’s a very reasonable assumption for others to make.

      • Avatar of cyranothe2nd1

        Doc,

        I what way is asking Elyse to have sex with them WITHOUT KNOWING HER AT ALL *not* objectifying her and treating her like a plaything?

        • Avatar of donboc

          It was asking if she wanted to play with them.

          It was assuming that it was okay to ask this question.

          It was not clearly to me assuming that she was or wanted to be a plaything. But I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know.

          • Avatar of cyranothe2nd1

            1. The assumption that it was okay to ask was wrong. Most people grok this.

            2. The idea that she ~might~ have been okay with being objectified is disturbing and also wrong. WTF?

          • Avatar of donboc

            @cyranothe2nd1

            “1. The assumption that it was okay to ask was wrong. Most people grok this.”

            Yes, I agree. I didn’t follow this at first, which prompted my questions. I recognized all along of course that it’s considered antisocial behavior and I of course would never do anything like that (and would have no desire to), but I didn’t at first see what was actually so wrong about it. I do now.

            “2. The idea that she ~might~ have been okay with being objectified is disturbing and also wrong. WTF?”

            Well, the only way to definitely avoid being objectified is to stay inside one’s house all the time. People look, people see, people imagine, people sexualize. This happens all the time. But I agree now that it can seem potentially threatening to do what these people did, and so it’s an awful thing to do.

            Point is, I agree that they shouldn’t have done it, and it was bad (awful, sure) for them to do it. I don’t agree with all the reasons that have been offered as to why it was so bad.

      • Avatar of Kammy

        Oh Don. Don, Don, Don.

        You come around here with your sad puppy dog eyes filled with sincere questions and I want to believe you just don’t understand. I really do. But you’re not the first JAQ off artist we’ve seen round these parts.

        Tell you what, sugar, stick around a few months. Pay attention. Don’t mansplain, demonstrate that you get the concept of privilege and don’t tell women who’ve been objectified how they should feel about it and maybe I’ll believe you’re not a troll. If you do that, and keep your eyes open, you’ll spot the next JAQhead to come in and you’ll understand why your sincerity was doubted. I’m not going to apologize for being touchy since this happens time and time again. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but your insistence that your feelings are hurt by my tone is not going to do it.

        • Avatar of donboc

          I’ve been reading this blog for at least a year, probably longer. I’ll be reading it long into the future, too. I think this is the first time I’ve commented.

          You all seem to have a nice, supportive community … that is not very welcoming of folks who ask questions that deviate from the prescribed script.

          Tell you what: It’s a JAQass move to call someone sexist without some solid evidence that s/he is. It’s a JAQass move to

          Personally, I like to engage with people and have discussions with them, and to leave the dripping sarcasm aside. You can do what you like, of course. But if you’re talking to someone who isn’t me — someone who thinks gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry or raise kids, someone who thinks vaccines cause autism, someone who thinks abortion should not be legal — and if you want to change the world, you might find that talking down to him/her, yelling at him/her, etc., are not the most effective ways of accomplishing your aims. If your aim is just to gratify your ego though, then go right ahead and tell them off to your heart’s content.

          • Avatar of Kammy

            Don, stop trying to tell me you’re Just Asking Questions. I’ve ready stated that I do not believe you. Further I’ve given you the means by which you could prove me wrong. Hint: it’s not going to happen in this thread. Prove it over time by not mansplaining and minimizing. Start listening and do some of the suggested reading. Come this time next year you can be the one dripping with sarcasm when some super sincere guy comes in here to tell us he just can’t see what’s so awful.

          • Avatar of cyranothe2nd1

            Your butthurt is noted.

      • Avatar of marilove

        Drop the tone argument. Now. And start LISTENING.

      • Avatar of sallystrange

        Is that sort of paragraph typical of JAQing-Off trolls?

        Extremely typical. De rigeur, one might say.

        (I like that you have a clever term for dismissing people, by the way.)

        So is this sort of faux-victim whining. You were plenty dismissive yourself. Don’t like now that the shoe’s on the other foot, eh?

        You are having massive empathy failure.

  52. Avatar of karenx

    @Don, and in general…

    It’s not even really about whether or not a speaker (or waitress, or notary public, or drycleaner) feels threatened by a proposal for sex (or even a request for a romantic date) right off the bat–it’s just straight up rude and dismissive and disrespectful.

    Here’s this person, with knowledge and expertise you presumably don’t have, in a position of sharing that knowledge and expertise to help you, and you’ve made her believe all along that you value her knowledge and expertise, and then bam! Out of the blue some guy tells her–in the nicest way possible, let’s say–that sure that’s cool she knows all that but really he’d rather be fucking her.

    It sends her the message that her primary value in public is as a sex partner.

    That it’s great she has this hobby to keep herself occupied between the times men will want her.

    If you want to do a little flirting with a stranger to establish some rapport, that’s one thing, but the minute you start flirting with sexual topics, you’ve ruined it. And yes, it is possible to flirt while making jokes that might even be about the topic/expertise the woman just shared with you. To show, you know, that you actually are interested in her as a person.

  53. Avatar of karenx

    @Don, specifically:

    I appreciate the discussion. I just think it’s possible to have the discussion in a more polite way.

    It is. So what? We could have the discussion in a ruder way, too. There are lots of ways to have the discussion. Why do you care more about its tone than its content?

    • Avatar of donboc

      Who said I care more about tone than content?

      I’m just pointing out that there’s not much to be gained by calling names etc.

      Well, maybe it makes some people feel better. If so, bully for you.

      • Avatar of mouthyb

        Actually, you aren’t being sincere. The burden of proof you’ve asked for keeps being either moved (okay, well that’s bad, but surely this is okay because I’ve seen it done) or you deny basic tenants, like the importance of situation in getting to know someone.

        You’re not even consistent in that; you agree that cornering someone in an elevator is bad, and that flashing is bad, but you can’t understand why coming up to a speaker (at work, where she can’t leave without causing a problem for other attendees) and giving her a naked picture (flashing her) is a problem.

        You keep testing other scenarios, looking for the magic combination which makes it okay, so you can argue that it wasn’t a big deal based on others conceding that case.

        If people think you are a troll, it is because you are being supremely dishonest. If people seem to get angry fast, it’s because you are troll number eleventy billion doing the EXACT same script: pretend to be curious, change the standard of proof, probe situations which you might be able to get away with and be *gosh* SO INDIGNANT that people are upset about that.

        It’s like you assholes have a script. You could try comparing your posts to some of the shitstorm around elevator gate. They are remarkably alike to the trolls.

        • Avatar of donboc

          @mouthyb

          “Actually, you aren’t being sincere. The burden of proof you’ve asked for keeps being either moved (okay, well that’s bad, but surely this is okay because I’ve seen it done) or you deny basic tenants, like the importance of situation in getting to know someone.”

          What I was doing was trying to figure out what’s really wrong with the sex card. I never tried to defend it. I just was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. It seems to me that what’s wrong with it can’t be that it’s wrong to approach someone if you don’t know in advance that it’s okay, because this happens all the time and isn’t a problem. There’s something specially wrong about approaching someone with a sex offer and a naked photo, and I was trying to figure out what that was. This discussion was helpful to me.

          “You’re not even consistent in that; you agree that cornering someone in an elevator is bad, and that flashing is bad, but you can’t understand why coming up to a speaker (at work, where she can’t leave without causing a problem for other attendees) and giving her a naked picture (flashing her) is a problem.”

          Wait, because I questioned one thing that you believe, I automatically have to disagree with everything you believe? What on Earth was “inconsistent” about agreeing that cornering someone in an elevator is bad and flashing is bad but not seeing why it’s bad to slip someone a card with a sex invitation? It would be inconsistent if I said it’s bad to slip a sex card to person A but it’s not bad to slip a sex card to person B. But it’s not inconsistent to say that I see that doing X to person A is awful but I don’t see why doing Y to person B is awful.

          “You keep testing other scenarios, looking for the magic combination which makes it okay, so you can argue that it wasn’t a big deal based on others conceding that case.”

          No, I was never trying to argue it wasn’t a big deal. I was simply trying to understand what made it a big deal. I was trying to learn. I did learn. I also was called a lot of names along the way, which doesn’t have to be part of the learning process.

          “If people think you are a troll, it is because you are being supremely dishonest. If people seem to get angry fast, it’s because you are troll number eleventy billion doing the EXACT same script: pretend to be curious, change the standard of proof, probe situations which you might be able to get away with and be *gosh* SO INDIGNANT that people are upset about that.”

          I got nothin, man (or woman). I’m not being dishonest about anything. I’m not moving any goalposts.

          “It’s like you assholes have a script. You could try comparing your posts to some of the shitstorm around elevator gate. They are remarkably alike to the trolls.”

          Ye gads. How many hearts and minds do you think you tend to change by calling people sexist assholes?

          • Avatar of LicoriceAllsort

            donboc, I assume that part of your problem is you don’t understand the frequency with which these types of come-ons are thrust upon women, and that come-ons are often used as a tool to belittle women. You assume that come-ons for women are usually intended to be compliments (as this is usually the case for men)–this isn’t true.

            Women are propositioned for sex much more often and for a wider variety of reasons than men are. Among those reasons is to maintain a pecking order, in which women are valued less than men and primarily for reasons related to fuckability. Propositioning a woman in a professional context is usually a message that she is not valued as a peer. Sometimes, come-ons are intentionallyused in a professional context to put a woman in her “place”.

            Once you understand this, then it’s easy to see why propositioning a woman who you don’t know at a conference (a professional environment, particularly for speakers) can be interpreted as a threat or insult. If she hasn’t given consent (or even indicated an interest in sex), then an uninvited come-on is indistinguishable from other ways in which women are frequently propositioned for less-than-nice reasons.

          • Avatar of cara

            I’m sure I’m going to get a sh!tstorm for writing this, but what was so upsetting about the experience? I mean this as a real question. I am not suggesting that nothing was upsetting or that you shouldn’t have been upset — only that I don’t see what was so upsetting.

            Oh, Jesus Christ on a pogo stick. You’re a guy and have very little chance of being physically assaulted. OF COURSE you don’t see what’s so upsetting about being treated like a walking meatsock by total strangers every time you leave the damned house.

  54. Avatar of didgen

    I’m going to say that in my opinion their action was never intended as a joke, clearly jokes are shared experience. Why not stick around for the hilarity that was sure to follow? They also knew that what they were doing could and would easily be perceived as inappropriate, or they would not have left in such a manner, nor would they have bothered to pass the card facedown.
    It can be difficult to recognize boundaries sometimes, but this doesn’t seem to be one of the more ambiguous instances, nor do you seem to have reacted in an out of proportion way. Please don’t allow this to change what you do.

  55. Avatar of cyranothe2nd1

    @ Don,

    What you don’t seem to be getting is that being propositioned for sex is ~objectifying.~ And by “propositioned” I mean “asked to have sex out of the blue, without prior talking, or flirting or any of the usual getting-to-know-you-as-a-person stuff.” Sure, some people like that sort of thing. Most people rightly find it awkward and disconcerting to be reduced to a sex object, rather than valued as an actual person.

  56. Avatar of weatherwax

    No time to read all these comments, probably for a couple weeks.

    Elyse, thank you for pointing out the problem with this behavior in a clear, calm manner. Especially given how upsetting it was. I hope at least a few people learn something.

    I also can’t help thinking maybe this was some kind of set up, by some MRM/ Tosh type show/ you name it.

  57. Avatar of mrmisconception

    I am trying my best to figure out why anyone is continuing to respond to a person who can’t grasp the difference between “would you like to get a drink after work?” and “would you like to fuck after work?”

    After so many attempts to get a basic admission that these two are indeed different and being continually rebuffed with “I still don’t get it and why are you being so mean?” it is time to simple stop beating your collective heads against that particular wall.

    • Avatar of Kammy

      The reason I do it is that it takes practice to keep my sarcasm dripping at just the right rate. Can’t let my snarky jabbing skills get rusty. Mostly I get tired of keeping my mouth shut in the hopes that it will make the inanity stop. Especially when we know that even if one gets bored and goes away when we don’t play, another will come skipping down the path.

    • Avatar of spellwight

      I agree, it’s time to stop feeding the troll.

  58. Avatar of john85

    Being given that card sounds disgusting, but I have to say that the anti-harassment policy as written is horrible.

    For one thing, harassment requires mens rea. It doesn’t make sense to say that somebody accidentally harassed someone else. That’s why all anti-harassment policies of which I’m aware (except this one) require that the offender must have known that the activity was unwanted by the offended. Usually this is interpreted to mean that the offended must have previously stated such, unless the activity is one that is near universally recognized as unacceptable or explicitly defined as such by the policy. (Because of this, flirting with a coworker, etc. is not generally considered harassment unless the coworker has previously expressed that they dislike it.)

    For another, unlike any other policy I’ve seen, this one makes no exception for activities considered legitimate in the context of the organization. (So a manager making a comment to a report that they’re not very good at their job is not harassment in the context of a work review even though the manager knows in advance that the report will dislike it, although tact should be employed.) It’s especially ridiculous that the policy bars offensive comments about religion or “beliefs in the Boogeyman” given that this is a skeptic conference! I realize that the question of whether skeptics should apply a skeptical approach to religion or politely keep their mouths shut is an open question in the skeptical community, and there are respected people on either side, but to say that any comment about belief that offends somebody is automatically harassment makes no sense. A speaker who made a comment denigrating belief in the Boogeyman (or Xenu or Jesus or alien abductions or Bigfoot) from the podium could be guilty of accidentally “harassing” part of the audience without even knowing it!

    How can a skeptical organization have an anti-harassment policy that bars any comment about any belief if the comment causes offense, even if it was unknown in advance that anybody would be offended? That is absolutely ridiculous. (Imagine a university that could cite professors for harassment if they stated any fact that any student happened to find offensive.) And if the plan in practice was to create this overly broad policy and then selectively enforce it, that’s even worse.

    • Avatar of marilove

      It’s a very simple policy. Does the person/people who wrote it have experience with such things? Maybe they could use some helpful advice on writing a good anti-harassment policy.

      • Avatar of Carl

        No, absolutely none whatsoever. As noted at the bottom of the policy it was adapted from the Geek Feminism Wiki Conference anti-harassment Policy.

        http://skepticampohio.com/anti-harassment-policy

        Honestly I didn’t think it would ever be an issue. I’m horrified and frankly disappointed that it needed to be enforced. I’ll do it again 1,000,000 times if I have to, but I would love to see a world some day where this isn’t even an issue…

    • Avatar of Carl

      98% of the general population understands harassment is, but the remaining 2% do not. The harassment policy is intentionally written strict – because assholes and predators thrive on ambiguity. If we had a policy that encompassed everything you suggest it might be better, but it would read like a fucking legal document. No one would understand it. It’s modeled after one of the best ones I could find (again – better to me = clear, concise and non-ambiguous)

      The section you refer to was tongue in cheek. But it still stands. “Bigfoot doesn’t exist” is okay – “If you believe in bigfoot you’re an stupid asshole” is not.

      PLEASE REMEMBER: This isn’t about crushing open discussion, it’s about keeping predators and truly obnoxious people out of our events.

      It’s fine if you don’t like our policy. Feel free to put on your own free event with your own anti-harassment policy.

      • Avatar of john85

        I think the general population understands harassment as being different from causing offense (even if the offense was predictable), but the policy as written pretty much equates the two, even when the offense was unintentional.

        I got that the Boogeyman reference was tongue-in-cheek, and took it to stand for beliefs in general. I liked it.

        You make a good point that some assholes thrive on ambiguity, but I think it’s actually more ambiguous this way, it’s just that all the error is on the side of being overly strict. So instead of helping assholes, the ambiguity hurts people who want to follow the rules. Basically, many otherwise legitimate comments people might make would be technically against the policy, but not actually punished (because it’s only enforced against truly obnoxious people), so people just end up using their own judgment anyway.

        That said, I understand that smart people would factor the existence of the policy into their judgment, even if they don’t actually follow it as written, and having something in writing to point people to can make any punishment seem less arbitrary and thereby reduce the difficulty of enforcing it. But if it was a law, it would never stand. :-) (And it’s still kinda ridiculous for a skeptical organization to have an official policy against comments that offend any beliefs, even if it’s only actually enforced against truly obnoxious ones. :-P)

        • Avatar of Reverend Skepdick

          It is overly strict on purpose. The primary goal is making the conference a place where everyone feels welcome and valued, as opposed to making it a place where people have maximum freedom of action. Erring on the side of caution is the proper approach in this context.

          It is not more ambiguous this way, it’s less ambiguous as you note in the second half of the sentence in which you claim it’s more ambiguous. Your critique seems to actually be that it’s restricting peoples actions by putting the burden on people to not be assholes. I fail to see why this is an undesirable thing.

      • Avatar of Carl

        Oh man was I tired when I wrote this. As one of my favorite Sarah-isms goes: HOW DO I WORDS?

        Also, words are not easy for me in the best of circumstances. So let’s try again:

        I view an anti-harassment policy as a tool. Tools can be used appropriately and inappropriately. Given the choice, I would prefer to have a good old fashioned hammer over a laser guided robotic arm with a an AI nail detector.

        Yes – the hammer puts the responsibility of wielding it on the organizers. I have no problem with that. At the end of the day it’s not the quality of the policy that matters, it’s our willingness to use it in the appropriate circumstances. A “terrible” anti-harassment policy that’s used appropriately is infinitely better than a precise one that’s not used at all. I don’t need a spreadsheet to understand what is and isn’t appropriate.

        If someone has a problem with our anti-harassment policy, then the solution is very simple: don’t come to our event.

    • Avatar of sallystrange

      It doesn’t make sense to say that somebody accidentally harassed someone else.

      Whyever not? Are we then to accept that harassment only takes place when someone deliberately sets out to make another person feel uncomfortable? Have you never heard the phrase, “intent is not magic”?

      The whole point of having anti-harassment policies to prevent accidental harassment by forcing people to think before they ask for sex out of the blue, and by giving people who have been harassed a non-threatening conduit to report that they felt uncomfortable, therefore giving the accidental harasser feedback. If the harasser is not a vicious sociopath who gets off on making other people unhappy, then he should be appreciative for the feedback, and more than happy to change his behavior in order to avoid making others uncomfortable in the future.

  59. Avatar of Carl

    Fucking hell… why, oh why did I come back and read the comments at 2am when I have an early meeting tomorrow? The over-under for how much sleep I get tonight is 4 hours. Any takers?

  60. Avatar of viggen

    Rarely have much to say here, but I’m kind of aghast reading about this. At what point could that action ever have seemed either appropriate or comical?

    The culture needs some balance between liberal and prude that makes it clear that there are appropriate times and inappropriate times. If it spooges out to cover your whole life, you’ve gone too far.

  61. Avatar of James Fox

    A bit late to the party and a tip of the hat to Elyse and all the great and thoughtful comments as well as the responses to the obtuse who were clearly hoping for a donnybrook.

    It seems that most of these kinds of inappropriate and often offensive social behaviors are the result of a person’s inability to engage in active and thoughtful empathy. Which makes me wonder to what degree this couple is consumed by their personal lifestyle choice such that they have diminished their capacity to understand other people’s reactions, irritation, and offense at their public behaviors. We all have funny shit that goes on in our minds, perhaps in our bedrooms, or even funny shit hobbies, but being a reasonable person usually means keeping that shit tucked away where it’s private unless there’s agreement by a another party that they’re willing or interested in hearing about your shit. I suppose if you’re attending a shitfest passing out shitcards might be compulsory and expected, otherwise… .

  62. Avatar of alteredstory

    OK, donboc – I’M going to try to explain it TOO.

    So somewhere in this mess that vaguely resembles a discussion, you called the standard escalation between introduction and sexual proposition “arbitrary”.

    Here’s why it’s not.

    It is an empirical FACT that for some people, sex is a weapon. It is a form of assault. It is a way to hurt people. Of course, in general, rape isn’t ABOUT sex, but the mechanics of it are sexual in nature, which is what separates it from normal assault.

    So – Sex can be used to hurt people.

    With me so far?

    Now another fact is that a very VERY large number of women have had sex used to hurt them. Now you can argue that it wasn’t intentional, or that they were asking for it or ANY of that bullshit, and if you do, I’ll have to resist the urge to to hurt you, but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you’re not going to go down that road – you said repeatedly that you’re ignorant, not misogynistic.

    So – a great many people, most of them women, but NOT ALL, have been raped, or sexually assaulted.

    The HALLMARK of sexual assault is that the perpetrator is doing something that, under the right circumstances is just fine, but they are doing it without permission, and without consideration for what the other person wants. In some cases it is actually BECAUSE the other person doesn’t want it.

    It’s not possible to tell, when meeting somebody, what their past has been. You don’t know if the girl you’re talking to was raped a week ago by the man she trusted most in the world.

    Most humans who do not have some sort of disorder do not want to make other people’s lives unpleasant if there’s no reason to. Most of us don’t want to bring up traumatic memories, or make rape victims fear that the worst moment of their life could happen all over again.

    So we have developed an array of social interactions designed to gauge whether a person is interested, to begin with, in even being alone with you – for some people that’s too much. It’s a mutual process too – you never know if the person you’re hitting on has such radically different interests that a night with them, without warning, could leave you a quivering, dysfunctional mess.

    So the steps of “escalation” are not arbitrary. They came about through years of figuring how how to get by in a world where we’re free to do what we want with whoever we want to, IF THEY WANT IT TOO.

    So we come back to naked pictures. If somebody shows you a naked picture of themselves, when you barely even know your name, they are doing two things. First, they are forcing their own lifestyle choices on you. Clearly they get something out of you seeing them naked, and JUST AS CLEARLY, THEY DON’T CARE IF YOU WANT TO GIVE WHAT THEY’RE GETTING.

    So that’s one mark of doing something sexual without regard for the person you’re doing it to.

    The second is that they have shown that all the conventions that have evolved in our society, including the ones that DO give people of various interests safe spaces to engage in their activities of choice, even with other people around, if that’s their thing – ALL those conventions don’t matter to them. They will do what they want to do, whenever they want to do it, to whoever they want to do it to, without regard for any damage they might cause.

    And that’s what rapists do.

    So what, right? They DIDN’T rape her? Why is it upsetting?

    It’s a little like having a guy with a very serious face show you that he has a gun, without any preamble or reasoning that you can determine. He didn’t hurt you, he simply proved that was was willing to break all sorts of social conventions set up to give us warnings that somebody might be dangerous.

    So:

    We have the experience of being propositioned in a context where we’re hoping for compliments to be about the parts of our lives that do not have to do with sex, which sucks. It’s like getting a “compliment” on the frames of your paintings at one of your art shows. It’s nice that you like the frames, but in the context, it means the frames matter more than the reason you’re there, and that’s generally off-putting.

    We have the experience of being flashed in such a way that nobody noticed, and any reaction makes the victim look bad, which gives the IMMEDIATE feeling of being trapped.

    We have the knowledge that the people who did it have already shown that they don’t care what YOU think, as long as you serve their purpose, one way or another.

    And we have the knowledge that the people who did it are willing to cross a whole array of lines to get what they want, and don’t mind setting off every warning bell from here to Timbuktu, and they don’t even think about you as a person to the degree where they might ask themselves if maybe this person doesn’t want the proposition that I’m going WAY out of line in giving. And that makes them dangerous. All of that combines to an insulting, humiliating, and potentially frightening experience inflicted by strangers who don’t know and more importantly don’t CARE what damage they do. Apologizing after the fact doesn’t make the fact go away.

    Some social conventions are idiotic, cruel, and dangerous. Others are essential, in many ways. There are generally situations in which social conventions can and SHOULD be broken, but this was really NOT one of those situations, and I have to say that if you can’t see that, then I worry about you, and more importantly I worry about people who you may hurt because you don’t get why your actions might have a negative impact on them, or why it’s your problem if they do.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      Thank you

      • Avatar of alteredstory

        Thank YOU for what you do. Seriously. If it wasn’t for you and those like you, I wouldn’t have a chance to gain understanding here. I’m white, I’m male, I’m straight, and I’ve got a nice bucketful of privilege here that allowed me to ignore all this for a good chunk of my life.

        You folks here at Skepchick and elsewhere are doing important work, and I’m very grateful for it.

    • Avatar of Carl

      Holy crap! +9223372036854775807

      • Avatar of alteredstory

        I think I may have an OCD streak in me. For some reason I keep feeling like there is significance to that string of numbers. I’m pretty sure there’s not but I can’t be positive…

    • Avatar of BeardofPants

      That was really well explained!

  63. Avatar of alteredstory

    Oh, that was much to long. Sorry, but I didn’t have time to write a shorter piece >.<

  64. Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy

    Unicorn hunters … when will they ever learn?

    • Avatar of James Fox

      Yea, that unicorn shit never tasted like the rainbow sherbet I was promised. I blame Rebecca.

  65. Avatar of kylev

    I’ve created a petition to demand that a code of conduct be in place before TAM 2012: http://chn.ge/KdG6gg

  66. Avatar of wichettyg

    reminds me of that Cracked article about when an apology is not an apology… lemme find it…meh I can’t find it. maybe I imagined it.

  67. Avatar of wichettyg

    oh well fine I find it immediately after http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-types-apologies-that-arent-apologies-at-all_p1

  68. Avatar of baloney

    I know I’m a day or so late to this, but: Holy Freaking Crap!! I’m terribly sad this happened, but to put a positive spin on this — at least it didn’t happen at the CFI Women in Secularism Conference!

  69. Avatar of donboc

    Will repost this on a more recent thread, since this one is probably dying:

    A couple days ago, I posted a few questions here. To Elyse and others who were upset by my post(s), I’d like to apologize (primarily to Elyse). I should have been more sensitive to the fact that she just went through this upsetting experience (an experience that might have touched a nerve with many commenters, too, because they might have had similar experiences themselves).

    I very much appreciate some of the responses I received, as they helped me understand what was so upsetting about the experience. Despite what people might have taken from my comments, I never was arguing that what those two did was okay and that Elyse was wrong for feeling as she did; I just wanted to better understand what made it so upsetting. Maybe I should have realized the answers to my questions prior to asking, but what I really wish I had realized prior to asking was that asking her to explain her feelings could easily seem like asking her to defend her feelings. I shouldn’t have done anything that remotely might have made her feel as though she were on trial for feeling violated/upset/etc. by this experience.

    • Avatar of alteredstory

      It’s difficult to get a grasp of a concept that’s outside one’s experience, and a general rule of thumb when trying is to tread very, very lightly, and assume you have a lot of misconceptions. It’s also good, at first to do a LOT more listening than talking, and think very, very carefully about how you phrase things.

      Like with the issues I mentioned in the tome I posted before, you never know who’s had to deal with what, and on issues of sex, gender, and sexuality, a lot of people have had a lot of horrible things said to them on a very regular basis.

      I’m not sure of your demographic, but I’m a white, cisgender, hetero male, which means I don’t have to deal with people denigrating me for my interests, my libido, or my identity – I’m more or less the definition of privilege in America. It took me a while to accept, since I grew up among really nice, generally feminist people, the degree to which women, homosexuals, and transgender people are handed a steaming pile of shit on a daily basis and told to eat it (yes, that’s a metaphor).

      So just like the numbers that indicate that on this forum you’re probably talking to at least one person who’s had been assaulted sexually, you’re also probably talking to at least ten people who’ve been told that their opinions don’t matter, generally because of the status of their genitals. When you get that a lot, you tend to be on the lookout for it, because as a species, we try to avoid pain, and the sort of people who do that generally don’t care that they’re upsetting you.

      Kudos to you for trying to learn. Keep trying, and I’d say keep assuming you’re not there yet. Also keep working on how you say things because it’s very hard to tell the difference between assholes and those who sound like assholes without realizing it, and for people who have to deal with that crap on a regular basis, trying to parse it out is generally a waste of time and effort.

      It’s on us to avoid tracking dirt into other people’s homes.

    • Avatar of alteredstory

      Also you probably should try not to be as long-winded as I am.

      :D

    • Avatar of mrmisconception

      Congrats, you are on your way to understanding. I was close to where you are when I started reading here and I had my share of “I’m just asking questions” moments.

      I have learned that if you have said something that was taken in a way you didn’t intend, and that happens to even the best spoken amongst us, that trying to explain yourself over and over is about the worst way to deal with it.

      The better way is to stop talking and just listen, but the best way is to say you’re sorry and ask how you were mistaken, it really is the best way to learn.

  70. Avatar of Brett Nuckles

    The Godless Bitches are talking about this post on the newest episode. Anyway, I received Facebook friend requests from both of these fine folks the next day. I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Consider me thoroughly creeped out.

    Also, I didn’t get a Facebook invite to post here… I guess I’ll go ahead anyway.

  71. Avatar of tracylords

    Welcome to Columbus OH!! Home of James Thurber, Geraldine Mock (first woman to fly around the world) and hilarious swingers apparently. I am always embarrassed for my fellow Buckeyes, but hopefully overall it was a positive experience. I was not able to attend due to my daughters graduation, but I was hoping you would have a positive effect on the community. OSU can be a rough place, I graduated from that fine institution, and I know it has a history of violence and insanity on campus, as most massively big, right in the middle of the city, has its own power supply, surrounded by impoverished housing, football stadium bigger than professional stadium universities do. Hope you will return someday. Thank you for coming!

    • Avatar of Elyse

      In Columbus’ defense, this couple traveled from KY, so they’re not really “one of you” in any sense.

      And also in Columbus’ defense, I would come visit your skeptic group again in a heartbeat. I feel safe and respected there, both before this incident, but especially after because of how Carl handled it.

      Columbus Skeptics get my full endorsement.

  72. Avatar of tracylords

    Wow, to travel all that way to play such a hilarious joke. The mind boggles. I am glad to hear it was a positive experience other than that. Did the OSU Lantern or Columbus Dispatch show up to do any kind of reporting? I haven’t seen anything. I look forward to meeting up with Ashley in one of the local skeptic groups. Your work is not unappreciated, thanks again for your efforts.

  73. Avatar of Marcus Evenstar

    Bit late to this party but I just wanted to add my support to Elyse and her actions. That couple crossed several lines in giving you their ‘special’ card and their reply was a text-book example of a non-apology. They did something profoundly stupid so, of course, they were just ‘joking’, no offensive meant, honest!

    Unhappily, I am familiar with this sort of couple. When I first started going to events for perverse and/or poly folks (details not available), there was always the… overenthusiastic couple who felt they had just discovered the Secrets Of Sexuality and had to share their wisdom with a Special Someone, no matter what they wished. (BTW, I’ve seen all gender variants for this type!) Very often, they’re looking for the Sparkly Magical Unicorn Lover (m/f/?) who will Make Their Romance Complete.

    I’m sure that you feel as bad as I do when being just regarded a prop in a stranger’s fantasy. Treating people as things is the only real sin in my book and this certainly qualifies. That card is may be okay (but tacky) at poly puppy piles but anywhere else it’s just harassment, especially considering how it was delivered.

    All eight of the bolded points in your article are the exact reason an anti-harassment protocol is needed. Skepticism seems to be one of the last bastions of Male Privilege/ Obliviousness and the sooner it’s torn down, the better it will be.

  74. Avatar of cara

    Oh, what a bunch of crap. “Joke”, my blue-jeaned ass. I hate that plausible deniability garbage. If you’re going to be a pervy creep, dude, sack up and own it. “Hey, we’re pervs, we’re inappropriate and tacky, you caught us!”

  75. Avatar of mrmisconception

    Brian Brushwood and Justin Robert Young brought up this incident on the most recent NSFW podcast.

    They used it to make fun of the swingers but they did mention it.

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