Our very own El Mofo laid the smackdown yesterday on how the overt sexualization of speakers is unprofessional, uncouth, and just plain unproductive in building a better skeptical community. Recently, the blogosphere has been abuzz with the issues that sexual harassment by speakers raise, such as disclosure and what can be done to improve the situation. I’ve written in the past about the type of sexual harassment that cannot be blamed on so-called “clumsy Romeos.”

Anytime the word “sexism” comes up in the skeptical and atheist community, someone will usually cite the Morgan Freeman Principle: we need to ignore it by not talking about it so that it will go away. Misogyny is clearly a pimple, so let us not inflame it further, yes? Ostriching (or not) is obviously a poor course of action to prescribe if the community ever hopes to be as better than mainstream society as many of its members consider themselves be.

The chilling effect goes further than just on improving the community as a whole, or ensuring that it is welcoming for prospective members: it can kill the spark of activism that exists in women.

Picture if you will a young, enthusiastic woman, full of vim and verve, quite ready to take on the world. She used to volunteer at religious events as a child and adolescent, and, post-deconversion, has missed the feelings of fulfillment, community, and, simple happiness that came from such service.  When she hears of skeptic-related volunteer opportunities, she jumps on the chance. During her volunteering stint for a particular gathering, she is assigned to and is more than happy to fulfill a public-facing role.

 

Pick me! Pick me!

 

As the doors open and she puts on her best face, she realizes that she will be interacting with all of the speakers. In order to appear professional and official, she expresses her impulse to fangirl through an energetic tone and quick smile that she consistently uses with everyone, speakers or not. One speaker in particular seems responsive to her enthusiasm. She chats with him sporadically throughout the day.

At one point, between the speeches, he tells her of a gathering that he is orchestrating. It is too far and too soon for her to attend, but she is thrilled that someone of his caliber has taken note of her. At dinner, when she brings up her ideas and criticisms related to the community, he not only responds positively to what she has to say, he corroborates her and rolls his eyes at others’ clueless comments, to her great satisfaction.

Later, during his speech, her heart swells with hope for the community into which she has stumbled. How well the day has gone, coupled with the fact that her ideas have seemed well-received by a leader, has put her on cloud 9.

Then, a week or so later, when she mentions her interaction with the speaker and how much hope it has given her, a friend who had been at the gathering and seen her interact with the speaker mentions that said speaker has something of a, shall we say, reputation, somewhat implying a rather demeaning explanation as to why the speaker had paid so much attention to her.

 

 

A  record scratch zips through in her head as she asks herself, for the first time, but not the last, “so, did he really think that I would be able to contribute towards the community, or what… ?” No matter how she looks at it, she loses. If she thinks that he actually values her ideas and she is proven wrong, she is a fool for not seeing through his facade and arrogant for considering her intellect of any sort of worth. If she decides that what he did was due to the actions that garnered him his reputation and she is proven wrong, she is an arrogant woman who thinks too much of her looks and too little of men.

You’ve probably guessed this already, but I have been disillusioned in this exact manner. Where overt sexism couldn’t get me to leave, this experience left me seriously considering fully backing out of the community.

To this day, I don’t know if the person in question really thought that I could make a contribution, wanted to add me to his scorecard, or some combination of the above. What I do know is that I can’t be the only young woman who has called into question the value and validity of her ideas and her potential because the person who paid attention to what she had to say is known to be a certain type of man. Even if the young woman in question were to remain secure in her worth to the community, others could easily construe any help given to her by a certain type of man to be a sign that he wants to have, or already has had, some sort of sexual entanglement with her.

Not all of us grow up to write for Skepchick and speak at cons. Some of us are left eternally wondering if the things that were said to us by prominent community members were sincere or just slimy sexual flattery. And that?

That sucks.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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61 Comments

  1. Avatar of aceofsevens
    May 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm —

    The Morgan Freeman principle is wrong mainly because its based on the idea that all bigots are bullies and bullies bully people to get a reaction so they can feel like they have control over their targets. This is sometimes true, but nowhere near always. Most bigots are bigots because they think in a bigoted manner, not because they are looking for external validation.

    It’s also ignoring the historical problem that we used to teach women and minorities to put up with being second class citizens because complaining would only make things worse and that they only needed to work hard to prove their mettle. This didn’t work, to put it mildly.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm —

      Based on what I’ve read of the context of the conversation, it seemed that he was trying more for the colorblind angle, i.e. the “let’s all treat each other as if we were the same” (read: “let’s all treat each other like white people”).

      The 90s showed us how well that worked.

      • Avatar of anuran
        June 2, 2012 at 1:09 am —

        Don’t think it’s every been tried, actually. The 90s was an exercise in moving backwards by saying “Everything is fine now. If women and darkies haven’t got everything White Men do it’s because they’re lazy and naturally inferior.”

        Actually giving the same basic human respect and consideration to everyone as a baseline? Hasn’t happened.

      • Avatar of furiouslysleepy
        June 5, 2012 at 4:01 am —

        Sorry, I’m not familiar with this. What got tried in the 90s that didn’t work? Links are good.

        • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
          June 5, 2012 at 8:09 am —

          We’re referring to the Morgan Freeman approach alluded to in the article, i.e. the notion that if you stop talking about race, racism magically disappears.

          • Avatar of furiouslysleepy
            June 9, 2012 at 5:04 am

            If you know somewhere I could read about that off the top of your head, I would be grateful.

            Not your job of course, I understand if it’s too much of a bother.

    • Avatar of cangeli
      May 31, 2012 at 7:07 am —

      I was going at it more from the perspective that talking about it gives in legitimacy. Instead of talking about “it”, we should treat racisim as wrong. The conversation should only be about it being wrong. Then again maybe Mr. Freeman would like to be a bit more forthcoming on what he meant. As to sexism in the conferences here’s an idea how about we treat Women as real memembers of the human race and value what they can bring to the skeptical table. In fact how about everyone check your sexism and the registration table and turn the meetings into learning events? So too simple I am sure for most people. (yes that is sarcasm)

      • Avatar of aceofsevens
        May 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm —

        That’s likely the case, but I see a lot of white people on Facebook quoting him to support a policy of ignoring racism until it goes away.

  2. Avatar of wichettyg
    May 30, 2012 at 8:41 pm —

    been there.

  3. Avatar of dr. dr. professor
    May 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm —

    Whoah like who?

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 30, 2012 at 11:03 pm —

      If you’re asking who the person in this scenario was besides me, I don’t think it would be a good idea to say who it was.

      Now if you’re asking who might be a discouraged and doubting young woman who didn’t end up being ultimately validated in the way that I have been — say hi if you’re out there.

      • Avatar of thatchick
        June 5, 2012 at 12:12 am —

        “Now if you’re asking who might be a discouraged and doubting young woman who didn’t end up being ultimately validated in the way that I have been — say hi if you’re out there.”

        I’m sure I’m not the only one out here, but “Hi”. Will I be ultimately validated? Dunno. Guess time will tell. It stinks to be in the middle of it, though.

    • Avatar of freemage
      May 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm —

      See, this is why the conversation about policies at conventions is so important. It WOULD be unfair for Heina to put the guy’s name up on the internet on the basis of a lone comment someone else made to her. At the same time, the odds are that if there was a regular policy in place, it would help establish a record of reported incidents.

      One hearsay example isn’t very useful. But if a convention organizer, because of a firm reporting policy, gets similar stories about a particular attendee or speaker from five different people, then he would be justified in, at the very least, bringing the individual in for a one-on-one chat that makes it clear that he’s developing this rep, and if it continues, he’ll be disinvited. (Note: I’m speaking here of conduct that’s potentially inappropriate or skeevy, but not specifically dangerous. Groping, sexual intimidation and other conduct would require a more decisive approach.)

  4. Avatar of Anthropologist Underground
    May 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm —

    “A record scratch zips through her head…” What a perfect description of that moment when self-doubt creeps in.

  5. Avatar of reggiesveggies
    May 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm —

    I go to a school for visual effects/entertainment art, where girls are the drastic minority of an already small student body. Every time I do well at something, jokes are made about how the teacher’s real motivation was sexual attraction, not the quality of my work. While there are a couple teachers who admittedly cross the line of conduct, it angers me to no end that this is a constant jibe. This same doubt you talk about is constantly in my mind, regardless of the fact that I’m working my ass off to produce good work. I feel your pain. This is only a small corner of the rampant sexism that takes place at a nerd-school…

  6. Avatar of ShaunPhilly
    May 31, 2012 at 12:09 am —

    So, I would like a clarification on something. It seems to me, upon my reading, that a dichotomy is being presented here between a person who either genuinely thinks you have something to contribute and a person who pretends to think so due to some sleazy sexual interest. Now, I have no doubt that there are people out there who do pretend such, and for that very reason. But perhaps a third option is possible?

    So with the full knowledge that I will likely make enemies by even bringing up the issue, I dive in because I think there is an important issue buried under all of this.

    What I am wondering is whether it might be possible that a leader who may or may not have sexual interest in a younger activist may also think that they have something to contribute. And possibly that attraction (if it exists) might be in part to the talents, intelligence, etc which would allow someone to contribute.

    The bottom line is that sexual interest does not have to be slimy. It may often be slimy, especially with the power differential involved here, but it does not have to be in all cases. I don’t know about many other people’s personal experiences with leaders in the skeptic/atheist community. What I do know that my sexual interest in a person is a result, to a great degree, of a person’s intellectual and emotional attributes. The more they have to contribute, the more I am likely to be attracted to them.

    And while I don’t know any details about people’s reputations behind the scenes (I have some educated guesses, having been around the community since 2002), I wonder whether those reputations are ALWAYS earned (my guess is yes, as the people making the judgment are people whose judgment I generally trust), or if perhaps they may sometimes be the result of this oh-so-human circumstance of being attracted to smart, interesting, and in cases like described above, often much younger activists. The thought of whether to act or not act would be a hard one, for many a leader in such a circumstance. I understand that many are handling such situations poorly, and they need to be lambasted (ideally in private, to start) for such transgressions.

    I don’t think it is always wrong for leaders to act in such a way. But it probably would be wise for them to be extremely careful in doing so, and perhaps to avoid it in almost every case. The amount of care, respect, and consideration such a person would have to do would be well beyond what the average person would have to go through before voicing interest in another person within the community.

    That responsibility weighs heavy on many a mind in recent days, no doubt, and I hope we as a community can find a solution that works for all people, whether they have no interest in sex at conferences, might be interested, or want it with as many people as possible. I imagine most of us are somewhere in between the first and last. Most leaning towards the first, perhaps.

    And where those leaders, in such situations, take advantage and are sleazy, well they are not good examples of sex positive, respectful, trustworthy people. I will not defend those that cross those lines even a little. But I wonder to what extent potential healthy expressions of attraction are also being vilified recently. I wonder if there will remain room for healthy expressions of attraction in the community after all the dust settles here.

    Most important is the safety, sense of comfort, and environment of learning and community at gatherings for all people involved. In considering those most important things, however, let us not forget that we are sexual beings, and that people in leadership positions are no exception to this.

    I don’t know what the solution is. I only know that we are pinning ideals of safety against human nature. That seems an explosive conjunction of circumstances.

    I hope we can find a way to make all of this better. If any group can do it, the skeptic community can. I personally thank this very site for educating me over the last couple of years, and I know I have much more to learn. So I will listen now.

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      May 31, 2012 at 12:21 am —

      “But I wonder to what extent potential healthy expressions of attraction are also being vilified recently. I wonder if there will remain room for healthy expressions of attraction in the community after all the dust settles here.”

      Could you point out the specific reasons you have this concern? I haven’t seen healthy, respectful, consenting sexual activity included in any of the harassment policies under consideration. Nor have I seen it vilified. I’ve only seen (mostly) women asking that these interactions not rise to the level of harassment. And asking for channels through which to file complaints if it does reach that level.

      • Avatar of punchdrunk
        May 31, 2012 at 12:23 am —

        And as regards Heina’s post, she is pointing out how the specter of male entitlement and female objectification colors our self-worth and makes us question ourselves and our accomplishments.

        • Avatar of ShaunPhilly
          May 31, 2012 at 12:32 am —

          I understand that. I know not nearly enough about that kind of experience to address that further, and so I will not comment further concerning that.

      • Avatar of ShaunPhilly
        May 31, 2012 at 12:31 am —

        If the recent issues are only about making sure harassment is dealt with, then I think we are all on the right path. Over the last few days, however, I have seen discussions and comments (mostly over at WWJTD?, but also elsewhere) which suggest making policies that would make conferences spaces devoid of hooking up, flirtation, etc.

        I just hope that what policies are implemented will not become too over-reaching. I trust the judgment of people in this community in many cases, but not in all. I just wanted to raise the issue of maintaining room for healthy sex-positivity in this community, because I hear almost nobody else doing so explicitly.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 31, 2012 at 1:12 am —

      I actually did present said third option: “To this day, I don’t know if the person in question really thought that I could make a contribution, wanted to add me to his scorecard, or some combination of the above.”

      The real issue is the point of this piece: someone in this situation can never know if they were paid attention to solely due to sexual interest or if it’s sexual interest based on intellect.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 31, 2012 at 1:25 am —

      I just re-read your comment and saw something I forgot to address.

      If it were to become known that leaders were sleeping with their proteges, how many men in the community would berate the women for it? It’s bad enough that many of us deal with accusations of tokenism (i.e. “you’re only there because you’re a girl!”). Imagine how bad it would be if it was “you’re only there because you sucked his dick?”

      The world is not some sex-positive, healthy, affirming, embracing place. It’s hard enough to earn respect as a woman. If it were even hinted that any sort of prestige or accomplishment were aided by someone with whom a woman had had sex, the fallout would not be at all pretty.

      The power differential isn’t just about speakers and leaders leveraging their power to have sex, but about the effect that known sexual entanglements could have on the woman in question. He would be seen as a powerful, sexy, studly leader, while she would likely be seen as a power-hungry slut.

      • Avatar of ShaunPhilly
        May 31, 2012 at 1:37 am —

        *sigh*

        I hate that you are right. I hate that the world is this way right now.

        “If it were to become known that leaders were sleeping with their proteges, how many men in the community would berate the women for it?….”

        Probably more than a few. I would not do so personally, but I know this is a reality. I apologize if my idealism came across as anything except discussion in good faith.

        “The world is not some sex-positive, healthy, affirming, embracing place. It’s hard enough to earn respect as a woman. If it were even hinted that any sort of prestige or accomplishment were aided by someone with whom a woman had had sex, the fallout would not be at all pretty.”

        You are, again, right. My long-term thinking is that if we are to work together in helping create a “sex-positive, healthy, embracing place,” then we need to keep in mind that goal while we deal with the problems before us. If I want anything from this conversation, it is to keep that long-term goal of sex positivity in mind.

        I want so badly for the world where such sex-positivity is real. There are so many wonderful people in this community, and there is potential for great things. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime, but I expect to keep that goal alive by making more people aware of it.

        • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
          May 31, 2012 at 6:16 am —

          I am a strongly sex-poz person myself, but part of that is recognizing the flawed paradigm in which we exist and not behaving as if we live in the world(s) in which we wished we lived and being aware of how people perceive others as a result of our words and actions.

          I’m the first to admit that the lesson is something that I’ve only relatively recently learned. One example would be with the word “slut.” I thought that “slut” was thoroughly reclaimed and so I loudly called myself one in front of my then-new boyfriend (now ex). It was only in front of our long-held, mutual friends, but he was upset by it. He thought people would perceive him as some idiot with a girlfriend who didn’t care about his feelings. I was angry with him because I thought that he was harshing my sex-poz buzz, but it was really recognizing that people do have feelings, that words mean things, and so forth.

          The fight for a better world is more than worth it, but just saying or doing things and acting as if the context is different from what it is isn’t as helpful as explaining things along the way to others and ensuring that everyone is, eventually, brought up to speed.

          • Avatar of ShaunPhilly
            May 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm

            No, it’s not all reclaimed. I do openly identify as a slut as well, and many friends, progressive and hip as they are (or were, at one time…we are aging), still balk at it. The connotations of the term still linger, but I think that that it’s worth the effort to claim the title proudly.

            In any case, I appreciate your post, and I will keep reading future posts. I have been reading this site for quite a long time, and Rebecca has gathered a pretty awesome group of people. Thanks.

    • Avatar of cara
      June 3, 2012 at 12:56 am —

      The bottom line is that sexual interest does not have to be slimy. It may often be slimy, especially with the power differential involved here, but it does not have to be in all cases. I don’t know about many other people’s personal experiences with leaders in the skeptic/atheist community. What I do know that my sexual interest in a person is a result, to a great degree, of a person’s intellectual and emotional attributes. The more they have to contribute, the more I am likely to be attracted to them.

      Oh, good. Captain Mansplainer got here. Now we can have our innocent little girly heads straightened, since few of us have any sexual experience or knowledge about how to have a relationship, casual or otherwise.

  7. Avatar of Cliff-Dogg
    May 31, 2012 at 12:46 am —

    The interesting feature of new groups, ideas, and events are that we
    always think they are going to be “different”—at times containing
    everything we could have ever hoped for. With this in mind, sexism and
    stereotyping exist in all groups, races, and communities. This
    undoubtedly is due to being a part of human nature/cultural structure.
    As a result, I do not see a reason why sexism and stereotyping would
    not exist in the skeptical and atheist communities, which you seem to hint at. Yes, we may like to think that our group is distinct; however, all groups have their
    portion of “bad-apples” (some groups tend to foster a greater portion
    of bad-apples then others). So we should not think our group is going
    to be any different, albeit this certainly does not mean we should
    accept it.

    Additionally, both men and women are guilty of sexism/stereotyping in one form or another. It may be more rampant in males due to nature and historic male-dominate power structure of society…but no woman can deny that things are not
    getting better—just not at a fast as some would wish.

    Another key element of this argument that can be labeled as sexism (if it is the case) could just as easily be labeled as “power delusion.” Whenever any male
    (female as well) obtains enough power, delusions of grandeur are
    invariably in the shadows. Even the purest “souls” do not see it
    coming—just turn the TV on for a few minutes or look through a history
    book. In the end, I feel one must remain optimist/vigilant and not
    disregard a community over an unsettling blemish that is ubiquitous.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 31, 2012 at 1:17 am —

      “I do not see a reason why sexism and stereotyping would
      not exist in the skeptical and atheist communities, which you seem to hint at.”

      What I’m hinting at is this notion that the skeptical and atheist community often considers itself better than other communities. The assumption of many is that sexism and misogyny is always religion-based, therefore our community must not have it. There’s also widespread denial that we have a problem at all, which doesn’t help, to say the least.

      “no woman can deny that things are not
      getting better—just not at a fast as some would wish.”

      It’s getting better in some ways, but the community often feels like a sexist throwback to me. I majored in a male-dominated field in college and have a for-profit industry job but have never experienced the level of sexism present in the community.

      “In the end, I feel one must remain optimist/vigilant and not disregard a community over an unsettling blemish that is ubiquitous.”

      I agree wholly. That’s why I didn’t leave the community and why I eventually became more active — to help change things. At the same time, it’s really hard to advise optimism to people who experience this sort of thing. It’s very demoralizing.

  8. Avatar of Kahomono
    May 31, 2012 at 1:47 am —

    Unless I misread this, your experience with Mr X was that his behavior was unimpeachable. It was only your after-the-fact hearing of his reputation for inappropriate advances that the record-scratch occurred in your head (marvelous image, BTW, thank you for that).

    SO my question is, what level of skepticism did this advice receive? How did you evaluate the veracity of Mr X’s negative reputation? You don’t specify. On one end of the spectrum I can see three or more women telling you of their actual experiences with him. On the other, “well, EVERYONE knows….”

    We don’t give religion a pass for that kind of thing, I would hope we extend at least as much skepticism when it comes to tearing down members of our own community.

    Because if I wanted to diminish the effectiveness of prominent atheists and skeptics, this is EXACTLY how I would go about it.

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      May 31, 2012 at 2:12 am —

      It made her doubt her own ability and accomplishment, regardless of the truth of the rumor.

      • Avatar of Kahomono
        May 31, 2012 at 2:39 am —

        In the spirit of bringing up solutions instead of problems, what possible amelioration is there for that? “Go back in time and fix the whole world” not being a viable option, I mean.

      • Avatar of Kahomono
        May 31, 2012 at 2:44 am —

        Well, let me start again. Your reply invalidates my question, which I guess is OK for your pre-reached conclusion.

        But it’s possible – given the facts we have so far – that the malefactor in Heina’s story is the gossipy person she talked to a week later, not the prominent guy who acted (as far as she’s told) perfectly correctly.

        THAT is what my question gets at, and your telling me that it’s not valid because male privilege or something is more than a little off.

        • Avatar of punchdrunk
          May 31, 2012 at 3:00 am —

          I think this is just a personal story about how sexism has affected her. I don’t think we’re casting villains.

          The only solution is to keep fighting the toxic, sexist culture we’re all swimming in.

          • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
            May 31, 2012 at 4:29 am

            Precisely. My point was to talk about why harassment and sexism, and not talking about and working against it, can be so darn harmful. In an ideal world, the first time this person acted creepy with a woman, it would have been properly dealt with — at least, he’d know not to act that way lest he face the repercussions. Instead, his identity, and the specifics of his behavior, are to be kept from everyone lest we be accused of a “witch-hunt” (which we already have been).

            It’s potentially the same issue as I found with the sexism call-out posts I did: if I did not mention specific instances of misogynistic conduct, then I had no facts to back up what I had to say. If I did mention specific incidents, even ones involving myself, the answer was always, “well, how do we know that was true?” I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “you know what? I think these guys are sexist and I’m going to go after them.” It’s more that my discomfort with sexism took its time in reaching its peak (due to my intense desire for community and validation post deconversion) before I had to do something to make things better.

          • Avatar of Kahomono
            May 31, 2012 at 6:54 am

            “I think this is just a personal story about how
            sexism has affected her. I don’t think we’re
            casting villains.”

            For sure not. What is in the plain letter of the story is this: (1) she met someone who acted in a 100% correct and appropriate way, (2) later someone told her scurrilous things about that person, (3) whether or not the scurrilous things are true, they made her self-confidence quail anyway. Therefore sexism sucks.

            The record scratch this time is the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. I expected better here.

            Heina, one way to be accused of a witch-hunt is to act like witch-hunters. You may know 100% that the accusations you received in (2) are true but — never mind showing us the same evidence — you haven’t even asserted that it exists.

            So that leaves a reader who doesn’t attend “the circuit” in the squicky position of choosing whether or not to believe an unleveled accusation against an unnamed person who did nothing wrong that the writer is willing even to generalize about. And while sexism totally sucks, I could as well have made that point with a blog post about why my city’s buses run late on rainy days… therefore sexism sucks.

          • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
            May 31, 2012 at 8:17 am

            //The record scratch this time is the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. I expected better here.

            Heina, one way to be accused of a witch-hunt is to act like witch-hunters. You may know 100% that the accusations you received in (2) are true but — never mind showing us the same evidence — you haven’t even asserted that it exists.//

            You’re full of brown smelly stuff bro. And you’re doing 2 bad things here (yes BAD things).

            1. You’re breaking Heina’s concern down to a logical fallacy and by doing so invalidating her concern about the undertone of sexualization & sexism in the community.
            2. You’re putting the burden of proof on the victim and saying “don’t be a false accuser” which is what leads women to blame themselves in rape situation and defends the abusers.

            Yeah, you know what, I expect better from you Mr. Skeptic.

            Because bottom line is:
            1. She is NOT NAMING the person so as not to vilify him, so I’m not sure why you’re vehemently defending this unknown person.
            2. She is speaking about what the sexist actions & attitudes of the community make her feel like and it’s a dick move on your part to call that “a fallacy”

          • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
            May 31, 2012 at 3:35 pm

            “she met someone who acted in a 100% correct and appropriate way”
            Part of the problem is that I don’t know if he did. Other people, unaware of his reputation in the community, teased me about how I’m clearly an up-and-coming person if a speaker was flirting with me. I didn’t see or read his behavior as flirtatious, but then again, I’m fairly oblivious.

            “You may know 100% that the accusations you received in (2) are true but — never mind showing us the same evidence — you haven’t even asserted that it exists.”

            It does, actually.

            The main point is that asshole behavior makes it suck for everyone in ways that people might not realize. Not everyone is aware of this type of experience, and I chose to tell my story to bring it to light.

  9. Avatar of robinleah
    May 31, 2012 at 2:48 am —

    Fabulous post. And your comments in the reply section have a precision that I wish I had when explaining the problem to fellow grad students (male) who don’t really understand the consequences of hitting on their female students (freshmen!) and don’t really get the cost of their “idle gossip” about whether or not male professors are interested in the female grads for intellectual or non-intellectual reasons. Your point on the sexual double-standard was point on. I never really thought of it quite that way but I do get punished for the bad behavior of male professors in my department – I pay for actions and choices they made way before my time – and they get to joke about these indiscretions at dinner parties. Cool. Thanks for writing something I can post on everyone’s Facebook page when I am too tired of saying the same thing again.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 31, 2012 at 4:31 am —

      You’re so welcome. I was really hoping that this piece would help people in similar situations. What happened with this dude was a one-off thing and I rather doubt I will have to deal with him acting this way ever again, but I know I couldn’t be the only one.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      May 31, 2012 at 8:19 am —

      I find the way to deal with this, is kind of a direct forceful approach. It’s harder when you’re not the boss, but a peer, and your peers are like “whoah bro, you’re not my boss”, but it’s still worth it to do.

  10. Avatar of krantzstone
    May 31, 2012 at 5:06 am —

    It is, I suspect, bioevolutionary. Not that that’s an excuse, but I think even for the men themselves it’s often difficult for them to separate physical sexual attraction from a more objective assessment of the individual in question. It certainly is for me.

    Is it possible it’s easier for women to separate physical attraction in their assessment of a person?

    I can’t see any easy solutions, short of having everyone post their views and ideas entirely pseudonymously in entirely gender-neutral terms, lest any kind of sexism or sexual favouritism mar people’s attitudes towards the views and ideas expressed. Although that might entirely rule out discussing exactly the kind of important subjects like these where personal, subjective experience informed by one’s own self-identity is an important part of the discussion.

    And of course, conventions would be entirely out of the question, which would make for some very lonely skeptics.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 31, 2012 at 6:03 am —

      I don’t think that’s what I said at all. People are free to be attracted. Heck, people are free to flirt in the right context.

      What isn’t okay is abusing the fact that people are going to look up to you and look to you for guidance to try and leverage your way into their pants. What isn’t okay is doing so or attempting to do so often enough to where any young woman you try to help out and mentor in some way is always going to be suspicious of your motives — or for people to eternally question whether or not she put out for her accomplishments.

      Of course sex, gender, sexism, appearance, attraction, and all of that stuff you deem “bioevolutionary” will affect people and their perceptions of other people. We can, however, behave in a manner befitting people who respect other people and their feelings. All I am suggesting is that people be mindful of themselves, their actions, and how their actions affect others. If someone thinks that’s too much to ask, then frankly, that person needs a reality. We all modify our behavior to ensure a more civil society.

      Not that you were necessarily saying or implying this, but it reminds me of this notion of “skepticism” meaning “I can do whatever I want and should not face any sort of criticism because it’s SCIENCE,” with said “science” being dime-store-equivalent evo-psych theories that somehow manage to replicate 1950′s American gender roles.

  11. Avatar of Kahomono
    May 31, 2012 at 8:35 am —

    // 1. You’re breaking Heina’s concern down to a logical fallacy and by doing so invalidating her concern about the undertone of sexualization & sexism in the community.
    2. You’re putting the burden of proof on the victim and saying “don’t be a false accuser” which is what leads women to blame themselves in rape situation and defends the abusers //

    @Dr.Dr. I don’t know why your note came with no Reply link

    Anyway, I am not doing either of those things.

    1) There’s a difference between sexism encountered and sexism thought-about. Heina’s reaction is APPARENTLY to the latter because…

    2) I am not asking her to provide anything remotely like “proof.” I understand the reasons not to name-names on a blog. I would like her to tell us she got SOMETHING more than “my friend said her friend had a bad experience with him.”

    After all, from Heina’s telling of Heina’s encounter with whoever-it-was (I truly never cared who it was), he acted unimpeachably. So the whole “event” is the reaction Heina had to what someone said to her about him and whatever he may or may not have done prior to meeting Heina.

    I am not asking her to fulfill a burden of proof she doesn’t have, but it would be nice to know how many levels of indirection we’re discussing here.

    Because after some small number of such indirections, my reaction starts to place some responsibility on the reactor simply for not being SKEPTICAL. We like SKEPTICAL around here, right?

    Sexism does suck, but long before it’s diluted to 30X it’s up to people to have a just little mental armor and keep going.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      May 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm —

      /////I would like her to tell us she got SOMETHING more than “my friend said her friend had a bad experience with him.”
      +
      Sexism does suck, but long before it’s diluted to 30X it’s up to people to have a just little mental armor and keep going./////

      I think she clearly has a LOT of mental armor and is keeping going. But what you’re saying is that “she should shut up and ignore her feeling that she might be objectified, because she has no proof”.

      That’s straight up gaslighting brother. And why is it gaslighting? Because what you don’t get is that whether he did or didn’t act badly is **NOT THE POINT**. The point is that this behavior happens a lot in general in the community and it makes the women start to wonder if they’ll ever be valued soley for their contributions by men or if they’ll always have to deal with lots of sexual interest mixed in with appreciation of their contributions.

      So whether he did or didn’t doesn’t matter so much, what matters is that this sexualization is so rampant in the community that she’s starting to wonder if she can contribute to the community without objectification. Hearing about this guy is just one example of what makes her doubt it.

      //1) There’s a difference between sexism encountered and sexism thought-about. Heina’s reaction is APPARENTLY to the latter because…//

      Well start thinking about what causes sexism “thought-about”. It’s the ongoing INAPPROPRIATE sexualization of women and the ongoing struggle of women to be recognized for their contributions without sexualization.

      Want examples to satisfy your so called “Skepticism” surrounding this issue? Just ask any of the women here.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      May 31, 2012 at 3:39 pm —

      “I would like her to tell us she got SOMETHING more than “my friend said her friend had a bad experience with him.””

      There are various, varied, substantiated reports on this particular person, actually. The record scratch moment was about that.

      “After all, from Heina’s telling of Heina’s encounter with whoever-it-was (I truly never cared who it was), he acted unimpeachably. So the whole “event” is the reaction Heina had to what someone said to her about him and whatever he may or may not have done prior to meeting Heina.”

      I don’t know he was flirting. As I mentioned in another comment, others noticed him paying attention to me and gave me shit about it, jokingly and not-so-jokingly. There is this trope of a young woman not realizing that the man paying attention to her is not paying attention to her ideas, but trying to get into her pants. It’s not something I worry about most of the time, but it sucks to be perceived as some naive idiot for not seeing the advances for what they are.

      It’s pretty undiluted sexism when I’m talking about fears of being perceived as a stupid young thing who doesn’t get that men are only interested in her for her orifices.

  12. Avatar of Kahomono
    May 31, 2012 at 8:49 am —

    // 2. She is speaking about what the sexist actions & attitudes of the community make her feel like and it’s a dick move on your part to call that “a fallacy” //

    @Dr.Dr. again

    She is not speaking about any such thing. You’re inventing something that is not in the post. She did not report encountering any sexist action at all, and the only negative attitude she reports was about Mr X, not from him.

    Hearing that about someone she she had a positive experience with is what made the record scratch.

    Please reread the post before accusing me of “dick moves” based on things I didn’t say, about things Heina didn’t say.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      May 31, 2012 at 12:50 pm —

      ////She is not speaking about any such thing. You’re inventing something that is not in the post. She did not report encountering any sexist action at all, and the only negative attitude she reports was about Mr X, not from him./////

      ORLY??? I’d like to hear what Heina says about this.

      Also, I think you really need to read this article: http://www.fugitivus.net/2009/08/25/a-few-things-to-stop-doing-when-you-find-a-feminist-blog/

    • Avatar of freemage
      May 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm —

      Kahomono: One thing you’re missing is the extremely recent push to add actual reporting procedures to sexual-harassment policies at conventions. This is NEW. Five cons that have never had such policies before are adding them now. This is vital, precisely because without them, the only option women have had is the sort of incident described by Heina. It IS inadequate, but it was a case of ‘inadequate or nothing’, because event organizers had been ignoring the issue.

      Her experience took place in an environment where there was no relative assurance that if the guy was genuinely exploitative, that he would’ve been called out on it at some point before her own encounter with him.

      Also, you really, REALLY need to stop tossing around the word “Skeptic” like that. Skepticism is to be applied in proportion to implausibility. It’s reasonably plausible that some speakers are using their status as a means of trolling for sex at events. In an environment where there is no better test for whether or not a specific accusation is true, women have been forced to use a gossip-channel that denies them the actual ability to employ evidentiary standards that would be lovely to have.

    • Avatar of kagerato
      May 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm —

      This isn’t about one particular man, so your repeated insistence on focusing on the evidence about one guy among millions is completely off target.

      Further, the bigger problem is that you dismiss accusations of sexism even though you have no counter evidence whatsoever to believe that they are false. That’s bias. There is no gain to be made and a lot of ground to be lost for a woman making false accusations. That you assume otherwise strongly implies that you think the power structure of society favors women and takes their word seriously.

  13. Avatar of banyan
    May 31, 2012 at 9:33 am —

    Well I just want to affirm that your contributions here have been among the best.

  14. Avatar of James Fox
    May 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm —

    Great post and I really hope that men in the skeptical community will read stories like this and understand the systemic effects and impact of sexism and sexual harassment. I’ve always been fascinated and alternately irritated when I hear men in the skeptical movement make statements about how they are willing to change their mind about things when they are presented with new facts, yet they discount the factual accounts, stories and experiences of women as complaining, whining or simply too much drama. I left religion when I realized what I’d been told and believed did not fit the evidence and facts available to me, and I’m a feminist because the facts and evidence I’m aware of fully support the need for a feminist philosophy. So if feminism is rational and based on known facts and irrefutable evidence, what else does a skeptic need?

  15. Avatar of donboc
    May 31, 2012 at 1:46 pm —

    Hey, sorry for the spam, reposted this elsewhere and just wanted to reach some of the people I was interacting with the other day since the other threads might not have much traffic. (This will be my last posting of this comment.)…

    A couple days ago, I posted a few questions on the “Sex and the Keynote” thread. 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.

  16. Avatar of Luarien
    May 31, 2012 at 4:13 pm —

    First, I’d like to gloat a little bit that I was linked on Skepchick by Heina. I might faint.

    Anyway, I think this is a really important thing to tell people about and the way you wrote this is phenomenal. I don’t think a lot of people, especially men who are feminists, have really grappled with the poisoning-the-well problem of sexism and sexually-motivated interest advancement.

    Likewise, the same well-poisoning happens when people discount the experiences of other people, Kahomono. We have to be willing to trust people, initially, and investigate things. We can’t just discount the word of someone else because it’s a disparaging word. We can’t just discount the word of someone else because it’s about someone else’s history of being a creeper. We have to be willing to trust them because ignoring them just because it’s about sexism is, well, sexist. It’s just ignoring the problem rather than being willing to investigate it. It implicitly protects the creepers to say that the necessary proof is higher than an accusation when there are no official channels for creating a case-history.

    In any case, it’s bad form to say that a commonly understood problem of sexist culture isn’t really a problem here.

  17. Avatar of joshuazucker
    June 2, 2012 at 11:06 am —

    Thanks so much for writing this. It really opened my eyes to an effect of sexism that I hadn’t thought about in quite that way before. I hope I’m summarizing correctly to say that it’s not only unwanted advances that are problematic, but also the uncertainty about why someone is interested in you can be painfully difficult.

    I think there are a lot of people who don’t see why complimenting someone on their appearance could be a bad thing. Maybe the explanation you give here can help them.

  18. Avatar of mark7300
    June 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm —

    It is very frustrating. It happens to men as well. The number of times I have been impressed by the work of a woman only to have my motives questioned by other men and women. We wanted to hire a business development person and interviewed a brilliant young woman. Smart, friendly, full of energy and a real like minded soul. Unfortunately for her she was (is) also a very attractive blonde.

    The result was that almost everybody I know assumed we wanted to hire her because she was a blonde attractive female… In fact I am sure almost nobody believes us when we say she would be great at the job and fit in with the team.

    It sucks indeed.

  19. Avatar of dawshoss
    June 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm —

    The irony is, it sounds like the guy can’t win either now. Consider the alternatives, is he now supposed to be rude and grouchy or act like a jerk towards someone just because they’re an attractive female? I think that route might garnish just as bad a reputation over time, albeit of a different sort.

    We need to remember to not get stuck in false dichotomies, the answer could very well be both. He could think you have a lot to contribute AND that you are an attractive woman, and in fact, that you have a lot to contribute made you even more attractive to him. I know seeing a woman has a great mind makes them all the more attractive to me.

    Sure being attractive is going to make people more friendly and positive towards you than others, but welcome to how the world works. Straight girls are probably also going to be nicer to you, (studies say…). To fight against that, you might as well fight against gravity. But it doesn’t always mean a compliment isn’t deserved or true.

    If you’re really having self doubts just let the fruit of your work bear out and let the chips fall where they may. Ask anyone in a long term relationship, that initial attraction, and the bias that comes from it, wears off after awhile and it becomes the deeper things that matter.

    And if you really want, you could switch all your online icons to something anonymous, and for real life go around with no make up, bad hair, ugly clothes, and a pot belly… :P

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      June 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm —

      ShaunPhilly made some very similar points to yours, especially re what you call a false dichotomy; I’d recommending reading our comment exchange above for my response to the “well, he could be into your tits AND your ideas” argument. Here’s the most relevant part of it:

      If it were to become known that leaders were sleeping with their proteges, how many men in the community would berate the women for it? It’s bad enough that many of us deal with accusations of tokenism (i.e. “you’re only there because you’re a girl!”). Imagine how bad it would be if it was “you’re only there because you sucked his dick?”

      The world is not some sex-positive, healthy, affirming, embracing place. It’s hard enough to earn respect as a woman. If it were even hinted that any sort of prestige or accomplishment were aided by someone with whom a woman had had sex, the fallout would not be at all pretty.

      “The irony is, it sounds like the guy can’t win either now. Consider the alternatives, is he now supposed to be rude and grouchy or act like a jerk towards someone just because they’re an attractive female? I think that route might garnish just as bad a reputation over time, albeit of a different sort.”

      He has a reputation based on some very real, very slimy things that he has done. It’s not a false reputation. He could acknowledge what he’s done and apologize, but he won’t.

      “If you’re really having self doubts just let the fruit of your work bear out and let the chips fall where they may.”

      That’s exactly what I’m doing. I don’t have any doubts now. As I said, I’ve been validated through what’s been happening with me now: I’m a writer here and I’ve had speaking engagements. My point was that this earlier experience nearly drove me out of the movement before I had the chance to do what I’m doing.

      “Ask anyone in a long term relationship, that initial attraction, and the bias that comes from it, wears off after awhile and it becomes the deeper things that matter.”

      Are you assuming that I’ve never had a long-term relationship? I have, actually. I am aware of how they work and see what you’re trying to do in terms of analogies, but I don’t think that personal, private relationships are quite the same as publicly-perceived relationships.

      “And if you really want, you could switch all your online icons to something anonymous, and for real life go around with no make up, bad hair, ugly clothes, and a pot belly…”

      I am a fat chick with a belly, so clearly, that is no deterrent. Additionally, I’ve experienced plenty of street harassment and groping while dressed in a pretty plain and/or ugly fashion. It’s a myth that clothing stops sexual harassment. An outfit comprised of a ragged hoodie and baggy jeans is not a magical solution to the problem.

  20. Avatar of thatchick
    June 5, 2012 at 12:06 am —

    Thank you so much for writing this, Heina. This is exactly what I’m experiencing right now. It’s a no win situation to not know where you stand, especially when you are given conflicting information on all sides.

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