It’s happening again. The skeptical blogosphere is filled with discussion and debate around harassment at skeptical conferences. In particular, some folks have come out to discuss specific incidents of harassment at TAM. We’ve asked one of the people who reported a harassment incident at TAM to tell their story as a guest post here. Lee’s story is below.
I am sure I don’t need to say this but I will anyway: This is a tough topic. Please keep comments civil and remember the Commenter Code of Conduct.
Lee deLay is a student shortly to be working towards a Masters in psychological research methods, They are focusing their research (and blogging) on gender and sexualities. Lee also is active in the online social justice community where they are actively working to end oppression and work together – privileged and target – to change the system.
Trigger warning: Reports of harassment, sexual harassment, misgendering, and dehumanizing.
When people come out about harassment either to talk about their experience or to report it they are met with a variety of responses, some good – some bad. From pity to compassion, support to denial the person speaking on the subject will see it all. When I reported someone for harassment last year at TAM, I knew I was potentially opening myself up to people misconstruing what I said, telling me I was lying, dehumanizing me, misgendering me and otherwise attacking me for my words. I understand that I have the privilege of being willing to stand up and speak anyway so when I started getting messages saying that people were talking about what happened I needed to look. Lo and behold I was right – in the year since TAM my report has been forgotten, mangled and spread. I am not going to name names, I am not going to tell you who my friend is – deal with it. If they want to come out, if they want to respond it’s their choice and I will not make it for them.
At TAM9 last year, I had someone repeatedly come up and try to talk to me, not entirely surprising – conversation and networking is a huge part of the conference. This person made me really uncomfortable in a variety of ways from standing too close to various comments that they made. I asked them to leave me alone, to back away from me, I asked multiple times. Other people asked on my behalf. Nothing happened. The person still got in my personal space, still insisted on talking to me even when I told them to leave me alone. I should have reported them then but, due to a variety of reasons, I didn’t. Next thing I know I am walking into the Del Mar and see them standing there, with a camera, facing up, on a monopod. No big deal right? Well… it was at their ankle. Facing up. I don’t know about you but my first idea was that it was there to take upskirt photos. Did I see them take a picture? No, I didn’t want to get that close to them and didn’t want to wait to see it happen. I was uncomfortable with it but wanted to confirm so I asked a friend. My friend thought the same thing immediately and we went to have security called; security talked to the person with the camera and life went on.
The problem is that the earlier harassment continued and I found out that it was happening to my friend too. We had heard that it was happening to others but no one else was willing to report it, so we did. We went and found a JREF volunteer and they brought us to a security person for the JREF (or that was my figuring anyway) and we were assisted in writing out our experiences for a formal report. We each had over a full page of incidents. DJ Grothe came to talk to us about it and we were told that it would be followed up on, that the person we were reporting would be asked to leave us alone and that we would be emailed after the event (it was the last day) with what actions were going to be taken. We were satisfied at the time that our report was being taken seriously; the problem is that apparently it wasn’t. I never heard back from the JREF on my report. My friend emailed them enough to have heard back though I can’t speak to what that conversation entails.
Flash forward to now, nearly a year later when multiple incidents of harassment are being talked about – some reported and some not. We aren’t being taken seriously. We are being told that we are misrepresenting what happened, that it wasn’t a big deal, that we should be more skeptical, that we need to present “proof.” Really? What a chilling effect on people coming to events – if an incident happens then we get the third degree from the community by reporting or talking about it? Way to promote a safe space for harassment and an unsafe space for people who feel uncomfortable with the way a situation is going. I should be safe to say ‘hey, what you said or did made me uncomfortable, could you not do that’ and have it listened to. If you don’t listen, I should be able to take it a step further by reporting it and have it listened to. What shouldn’t happen is me being questioned on if it ‘really happened.’
You may have noticed I don’t use gendered terms for this because yes, harassment happens to more than just women. I myself am gender fluid, I use they/them pronouns, I get harassed both because I am not willing to put up with oppressive language and because of my gender – both the real one and the one I am perceived as being. Most people know me as female, I largely look female, congrats everyone – I am willing to out myself for this because of this next point. Harassment effects everyone, male, female, non-binary, trans*, cis and everything in between. Harasser and victim both are harmed by this system. Why? Because this stuff hurts our friends, family, the people we are around. Because we have to worry that if it ever happens to us that no one will believe us. Because we have to worry that even people who claim to support us will interrogate us over and over as to what happened. This isn’t okay. We need to foster a situation where if something occurs that makes us feel unsafe we can report it. Anonymously, semi-anonymously or in public we need to feel safe reporting what happened. Even if the result is someone (or the person who feels uncomfortable) goes up the the person and says ‘hey, that is making someone uncomfortable, could you stop’ and it happens. The behavior stops, done.
Instead things like this are said: (thankfully this comment was removed by the blog but it serves the point)
Plenty of women can be incredible liars. They exploit the current legal environment to demonize men they deem enemies… Its imperative that the skeptical community push back hard on these disgusting beings.
Yup, disgusting beings, incredible liars, exploitative, demonizing men, all in one comment. This is the level of push back we get from speaking up. I know not all cis-men are sexual harassers, I know there are cis-women, trans* people, non-binary people who harass people too but I hate to say it: cis-men you’re the privileged ones here. Come collect your people and make sure they know this stuff is not okay. You see a cis-woman, a trans* person, a non-binary person doing this stuff you come find one of their own to come collect. I think you will find that there is a difference in the response you get. We know that harassment, especially harassment largely happens to those who are perceived as female and who don’t look like they fall in the binary.
We need to create a system where people know how to report things, we need to know that reporting is safe, we need to know that reasonable actions will be taken. We need something like this; on the initial report the person doing the behavior will be told ‘someone has complained about x behavior saying it makes them uncomfortable, please stop that behavior and those like it else further action will be taken and you may be asked to leave.’ Wow, look – gives people who didn’t realize their behavior was making others feel unsafe a chance to change it and makes the person who reported it feel like it was taken seriously. Now, if another report comes in, of the same or similar behavior – the next action is taken. Frankly I think it should be to ask them to leave but it is up to the organization. Now realize please; another ‘don’t do that’ isn’t another action – it’s a slap on the wrist and sends us back to step one – where people don’t feel they can report things because nothing will happen.
This goes beyond sexism, this has to do with the whole system. I am not a feminist (shocking I know), I don’t identify with that label because what I do goes far beyond the aims of most feminist activism. My aims are to destroy the whole oppressive system and rebuild a new structure – not something based on a hierarchy that puts people above others, that is willing to systematically dehumanize people, but something based upon meeting peoples needs, upon mutual learning and respect, where people and their cultures are recognized, where research actually takes into account the people they are researching, where people appreciate others and don’t appropriate. This starts with stopping this stuff. With making sure that we create an environment where this behavior is not okay by anyone. Genderfluid, female, male and everything else under the sun know this stuff is not acceptable. So that when someone reports harassment they aren’t immediately a ‘hysterical female.’ Instead, the systematic harassment doesn’t happen because we know that we can say ‘hey, not cool’ and it stops. Done. It doesn’t need to escalate because the person’s opinion is listened to and respected. Spooky I know. Now, why don’t we all check our privilege and work together to make a better community that welcomes people instead of driving them away?
Cis – a person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.
Trans* – a person whose gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth, whose body doesn’t match their internal body map, and more. (This is complex and many people who might fit in this don’t ID as trans* – their choice not yours.)
Non-binary – A person who doesn’t identify as male or female, a person whose gender changes between genders etc. These are genders like gender fluid, agender, pangender, gender queer and much more.
Featured image courtesy Cake Wrecks. All other images courtesy the book “Agitate! Educate! Organize! American Labor Posters,” taken by Surly Amy.