Why I Won’t Be at TAM This Year

During my visit to Germany last week, I was asked by a conference attendee how I thought we could get more women to attend skeptic and atheist conferences. I gave the answer I nearly always give: when we increase the number of women on stage, we increase the number of women in the audience. As usual, I gave this example: The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) run by the James Randi Educational Foundation. I pointed out that when I first started attending (TAM 3), there were very few women on stage and the audience was only about 20% women. I explained that last year (TAM 9) an effort had been made to have women comprise 50% of the speakers. Most of those women were on panels and workshops, but it was a huge step. That, combined with ongoing promotion in places like Skepchick where Surly Amy raised thousands of dollars to give travel grants to dozens of women, helped finally raise the percentage of women in the audience to 40%.

Also, I suggested that more conferences should institute harassment policies as TAM did last year, and they should also enforce those policies in order to help women feel welcomed and safe.

So it’s odd for me to be announcing that I will not attend TAM this year, because I do not feel welcomed or safe and I disagree strongly with the recent actions of the JREF president, DJ Grothe.

I’ve attended TAM since TAM 3 in 2005, and since TAM 4 I’ve actively raised money for grants to send more women. That’s actually how Skepchick got started – selling calendars to raise money for women to go to TAM. Signed calendars were even auctioned off at TAM in order to raise even more money for the JREF. For several years, we at Skepchick actively tried to work with the JREF to help increase the number of women on stage, as well, creating long lists of potential female speakers and suggesting panels and other events that would be of interest to women. TAM was the main event for Skepchick, even after we started running our own event at SkepchickCon.

This year was supposed to be like all the others: I would go to TAM, set up a table for Skepchick with Surly Amy at my side, perform on stage as part of the live Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, and see old friends and new at the conference and at the Del Mar bar. Maybe win some more blackjack money.

Amy and I worked out a plan a few months ago – she would once again run her highly successful fundraising for grants for women to attend TAM; we would get tables together, and plan for fun “events” like Skepchick reader parties at the tables; I’d continue to drum up excitement about the event and encourage our readers to attend.

All that was going very well, with Amy raising even more money than last year.

Yesterday one of the other Skepchick contributors sent us a link to Stephanie Zvan’s site, where DJ was quoted as having said this:

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment. I found that claim astonishing, since I was only aware of women speaking frankly about their own experiences and their own feelings. I couldn’t imagine that DJ would be literally blaming the victim for speaking out. To be sure, I asked him in that thread to give us examples of what he was talking about. To my surprise, this was his response:

Rebecca: Off the top of my head, your quote in USA Today might suggest that the freethought or skeptics movements are unsafe for women. This is from the article:

“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”


Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke, a cunt, a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

This is quite obviously not a safe space for me or for other women who want to be free of the gendered slurs and sexual threats and come-ons we experience in our day-to-day lives. But apparently, DJ thinks I am lying about that, since apparently my feeling that the freethought community is not a safe space is “misinformation.” I should apparently put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t happen, because by reporting on my treatment, I am creating “a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.”

DJ says I am the one doing that. Me, who has never discouraged people from attending TAM and in fact has given thousands of dollars to the JREF in order to send more and more women to the event. Me, who has never said that TAM is a dangerous place for women. I’m the problem.

And once again we see that the tragedy isn’t necessarily in the initial problem – like say a man propositioning a woman who has just said she doesn’t want to be propositioned, at 4am in an elevator – but in the reaction to a mild rebuke from the woman. The nonstop avalanche of rape threats she gets because she had the temerity to say “Guys, don’t do that.”

And so here, the tragedy isn’t in the initial amount of harassment. It was (initially) only slightly more harassment than I had had to deal with in my every day life, after all, outside of this community. No, the tragedy is when the president of the organization that inspired me to join this community tells the world that women feel unsafe and unwelcome because of me. Because I talk about the men who harass me in this community, even while I encourage more women to attend these conferences and stand up and be counted, while I give conference organizers tips on improving the experience for women, and even while I help raise thousands and thousands of dollars to send women to these conferences.

In addition to blaming victims of sexual harassment for being too open about their harassment, DJ has also insisted that there have never been any problems with harassment at TAM (a topic I have never actually commented on, actually, even when on Twitter last year a man told me he was going to grope me in an elevator; when others complained about him to the JREF, they did nothing more than ask him to please not molest me). Ashley Miller pointed out that a drunk man was harassing her and several other women at the speaker’s dinner last year at TAM, and she congratulated DJ for taking swift action when DJ himself had the man thrown out. This should be a wonderful example of JREF acknowledging the problem of harassment and taking the appropriate action to ensure that the man was removed and the women once again felt safe.

Instead, DJ is so committed to his idea that harassment never happens and it’s all just made up in order to drive women away from his conference that he gaslights Ashley, telling her that she isn’t remembering properly. He tells her that she only assumed it was a JREF member who removed the man, despite the fact that Ashley remembered DJ himself participating. There are at least six people who say they witnessed the event. One says she personally congratulated DJ after it was done. One says he tagged DJ on Facebook in a congratulatory comment. But despite the fact that DJ did the right thing, he would prefer it be forgotten so that he can maintain his new narrative. It’s truly jaw-dropping. And now Ashley is dealing with a flood of angry DJ supporters who are demanding she provide evidence that her harassment took place and that DJ threw the guy out and that she’s not secretly a filthy liar.

I bet a lot of women reading that now feel perfectly cool with reporting harassment at TAM.

DJ doesn’t seem to realize that women won’t come flooding to TAM because he claims harassment never happens (and anyone who says otherwise will be badgered into compliance). The way to make women feel comfortable is to show them that when harassment happens, it is acknowledged and fixed. For instance, we had a similar incident happen last year at SkepchickCon, which is a part of the larger Convergence con. A man inappropriately touched one of our volunteers who was serving drinks in our party room. The act was witnessed by a Skepchick, who called for help in having the man removed from the suite. I was found and informed immediately, and we then called for Convergence and hotel staff. Convergence staff removed the man’s con badge and the hotel kicked him out and told him to never return.

I’m not happy that there was an incident of harassment but I am proud that at every level the response was quick and harsh. That response is what kept our volunteer feeling safe and a valued part of our team. And you can be damned sure that I remember the incident clearly, even though it happened late at night while we had a thousand other conference issues to worry about. Because it was important.

So when it comes to DJ Grothe, I can no longer support someone who is so incredibly dismissive of women’s experiences. I can’t give my time and money and energy to a man who blames women for speaking out about their own harassment, and I can’t give my time and money and energy to the organization he runs. I will always have the utmost respect for James Randi, who is responsible for inspiring me and millions of others to think critically and fight dangerous pseudoscience and superstition. It makes me incredibly sad that I can no longer support JREF.

The money that Amy has already raised will, as promised, still go to women who want to attend TAM, and I believe that Amy has decided to still attend TAM this year like a champ, in order to support those women who she is funding. There may also be other Skepchicks who have responsibilities at TAM, who have nonrefundable travel plans, or who just want to go, and that’s completely fine. The events of the past few days have been extremely stressful for all of us, many of whom first met at TAM and who have fond memories of the good times we’ve had.

But officially, there will be no Skepchick presence at TAM this year or for the foreseeable future, and if we raise money to send women to future conferences, we will choose a different conference. I’d rather use our platform to encourage people to attend conferences hosted by groups that have made a commitment to putting on fun events that truly value all their participants – obviously many of us will be at SkepchickCon next month and we hope to see you there. Also, several Skepchicks including myself (and the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) will be at CSICon 2 in Nashville, TN this October, and a few of us will also be in attendance at Skepticon in Springfield, MO in November. I’m also aware of future cons like the excellent Women in Secularism that are now in the planning stages, and you can be sure I’ll be involved as much as possible in those.

Because this has been a shit-storm for the past several days already, I expect there to be a shit-storm in the comments. As a reminder, we moderate comments here so that they aren’t dominated by asshats. Before commenting, you may want to read our comment policy. If you’re not sure your comment will make it through moderation, first try writing it down on a little piece of paper, then crumble it up and eat it. Wait for it to “pass,” and then never bother trying to comment on Skepchick again. Thanks.

Featured image courtesy of Surly Amy, who created it for the Mad Art Lab’s project.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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  1. June 1, 2012 at 9:01 am

    I’m proud of you, Boss.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      Me too. You are the primary reason I am involved in our movement, and I stand with you.

  2. June 1, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Shame on them.

    Good for you for speaking up and speaking out.

  3. June 1, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Great post. I’m glad you’re speaking out about all of this.

  4. June 1, 2012 at 9:04 am

    This is the first (and likely only) year I’ll be going to TAM and I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to get a chance to hear you speak and meet you, but I understand.

  5. June 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Does this mean the SGU live event won’t happen? Or will it just go on without you?

    It’s really sad that this is happening. I feel like TAM and the JREF and DJ have all the tools at their disposal to do this right, but DJ just keeps letting his chances to do the right thing slip through his fingers.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:12 am

      All the SGU events at TAM will happen – they’ll just happen without me. I mentioned this possibility to the guys the other night and I agree with them that it’s important that even if I won’t be there, SGU should still fulfill the obligations promised to fans.

      • June 1, 2012 at 10:28 pm

        I dunno–I would seriously consider that the SGU would have a lot of weight if it dropped out. What DJ did was victim-blaming and UTTERLY unacceptable, and it is appropriate for allies (as I certainly hope your SGU team is) to make a stand on their principles, too. This isn’t just a women-only concern, and it’s important for well-respected men to model for other men what being an ally is.

        I also worry that there are a lot of people who will see a Rebecca-free SGU and think–“Yay! Our harassment worked! We got rid of those annoying wimminz!!” I think it’s important to see men saying they’re not going to cater to those misogynistic men.

        Maybe if one or two other SGU rogues dropped out in protest? Fulfill the absolute bare minimum of the contractual obligation, and make it known that SGU is (I hope) supporting women over DJ’s victim-blaming.

        • June 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

          That is a difficult place for the SGU to be. I agree that dropping out down to a skeleton crew would send a powerful message, but I also think that doing it that way just to make sure they are fulfilling a contractual obligation is the wrong way to go. As Rebecca pointed out, it’s an obligation more to the fans than to the JREF that really matters. Particularly in the world of free podcasting, fandom is a real currency. That seems like an argument in favor of exactly what you suggest, except for two things: 1) Fans are fickle creatures. Dropping out could do more to damage the SGU’s base than to TAM’s. 2) Having the entire remaining team present allows them the opportunity to speak directly to the audience. If they do take advantage of this venue as I hope they will, I think it will have a bigger impact for the whole cast minus Rebecca to make this point out loud at the event. Let’s face it, the SGU is a hell of a megaphone in this community. I think subtracting more of the crew from attendance would only turn down the volume.

  6. June 1, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Thank you. I hope (but i don’t necessarily believe) that your public action here will help kick the movement in the ass about this bullshit. The institutional sexism here is blindingly horrid, and the dismissiveness is insulting to all of us humans.
    Belittling people affected by sexism cranks it up logarithmically.

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      You mean exponentially.

      • June 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm

        You clearly knew what i meant and your pedantry simply serves to ignore the core issue.

      • June 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

        I actually think logarithmically might be correct (at least in my case) because I can’t imagine being that much more pissed off than I am right now.

  7. June 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Well done Rebecca.

  8. June 1, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Sounds like you did the only thing you could do, given the circumstances. Well done!

  9. June 1, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Kudos to you Rebecca! There are countless people in your corner on this!!

  10. June 1, 2012 at 9:14 am

    It’s so worrying to think that, even in a community supposedly dedicated to rationality and free-thought, there are people who believe such ridiculous things. Thank you for continuing to take a stand against them.

  11. June 1, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I am sorry and horrified that the situation is so bad that you had to make this decision.

    I hope that in future years the organizers of such events and the community can find ways of making these events safe and welcoming.



  12. June 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I, for one, am always inspired by your bravery and courage. I am not able to attend TAM this year, but I am terribly sad to hear your decision (though I understand why). I know there are many women who look up to you, and looked forward to seeing you speak, so I know you will be missed at the meeting. If the JREF and TAM would just deal with the “issues” as they happen then there would be not “issues” to deal with later, but for them to deny the existence of them in the first place is really surprising. Big mistake on their part.

    My husband and I will be attending CSICon 2, so I look forward to seeing you there, Rebecca, and hopefully some other Skepchicks, as well!

  13. June 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I’m very disappointed that you won’t be going, as this is my first TAM appearance and I was looking forward to meeting you. HOWEVER! I completely understand your reasoning and it’s more disappointment at the situation in general than at you, personally.

    Thanks for your contributions and for helping send women like me to TAM – I hope the problem will be addressed in a much better fashion and that you will feel safe to return in the future.

  14. June 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Thank you for speaking out Rebecca. You are supported by many. <3

  15. June 1, 2012 at 9:18 am

    This is a good decision.

    I hate all the abuse that have taken and will take for saying the things that need to be said. I’m sorry that you get shit on for saying them.

    You do make a difference and there are many of us that appreciate that.

  16. June 1, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Ah yes, the “hysterical woman” gambit. How pathetic and stereotypical can you get? I had prior to this kerfuffle assumed (my mistake!) skeptics were smarter than the general population but the evidence sure is mounting up against that hypothesis with this stupid bullshit.

    Cancelled my TAM plans now and in the future. When he noticed registration by women was down, why didn’t he post a message reiterating the organizers would do everything possible to make the convention safe and comfortable for women to attend? That would be the logical thing to do. Oh right, instead he assumed some uppity trouble making woman were exaggerating their reported experiences because after all—he’s never been harassed at the conference ergo they must be lying!


    Enjoy your sausage fest DJ.

    • June 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Yeah, I recognized the hysterical woman defense as well. To re-iterate because it bears repeating – the problem is not that women are speaking out about sexism – the problem is that it exists. I realize sexism exists in the general population so we will see it in the Skeptic movement as well, but sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it does not exist only exacerbates the problem. Address it. Institute and enforce a policy regarding harassment. That’s when we’ll feel safe. Telling women not to speak about their real concerns because it might scare other women away is unacceptable bullshit.

  17. June 1, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Good decision.

    This is crazy. Even if DJ is right (and let me be clear I think he is wrong), and there has been 0 sexual harrasment at TAM in the past, and this is all imaginary, a sexual harrasment policy is still a good idea. It has no downside and makes everyone safer. It should be standard for any conference.

  18. June 1, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I’m sad that things have come to this point but I’m sure you’re doing the right thing. I was appalled by DJ’s comments and a public protest is warranted. I hope that you’ll find some allies willing to stand with you (amidst the backlash you’ll certainly get).

    Thanks yet again for exposing this shameful dark side to the light.

  19. June 1, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Damnit, my first TAM and you won’t be there. I thoroughly enjoy your contribution to the SGU and support your position on this this but.. damn.

  20. June 1, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Perhaps DJ should practice what he preaches and not jump to conclusions. I’m shocked to say the least.

  21. June 1, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Ugh. I clearly haven’t been paying attention to recent events and had no idea any of this was going on. I’m so sorry to hear all this, but I definitely support your decision not to attend and not to have an official Skepchick presence there.

  22. June 1, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I admire your bold choice Rebecca and the fact you are not intimidated by the on coming shitstorm that will be directed at you for this action. Keep fighting. We are behind you and I hope this makes the people in charge of these events take these well known problems seriously.

  23. June 1, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Boycotting is certainly a way of protesting and making your views public will provide valuable discourse and debate. That being said, I hope one of the other attending skepchicks can find the forum to discuss this directly at TAM. 51% of the population of the world (women that is) need to be involved in freethinking and skepticism or it is all for naught. I live in Columbus OH and was not able to visit our recent skepticamp because my daughter was in the middle of HS Graduation, but I was looking forward to comments by Elyse Anders on how it went. I have also heard from various women in the local skeptical movement that what is you say is true for them as well when attending TAM. That is unfortunate, but hopefully change can come from within TAM, but if not time to move away forge ahead without TAM. Hopefully change is on the way. Good Luck.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:04 am

      Actually, women only comprise 49.8 percent of the world’s population.

      Not that this matters in any significant way.

      • June 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm

        So why say it?

      • June 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm

        Is the slightly lower number due to the fact that young girls are aborted and die by infanticide for merely be a female? I wonder.


  24. June 1, 2012 at 9:31 am

    If I were able to physically get to TAM, the only thing that may have held me back would have been the negative response to the now infamous ‘lift incident’, which really highlighted to me that safety was an actual issue.

    I’m pleased that rather than just complain about it, there are people suggesting solutions. By using and promoting some of these, I’m sure this would help boost numbers of women attending.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Forgot to add – completely in support of Rebecca here!

  25. June 1, 2012 at 9:32 am


    It is sad , because if he chose to do the PR acknowledging that, like in any other setting, there are harassment issues, but that the organisation does not welcome that behaviour. Everything would have gone different. Instead, he chose to make the dishonest-PR saying that there are no issues.

    It is sad because from the looks of it, TAM was actually doing a good job handling the issues comparatively versus other conferences.

    On the
    What I am reading here is that DJ was trying to make PR for TAM. I think that he chose the dishonest PR rather than the honest one because, a reduction in women attendance is actually the opposite effect of what TAM’s previous efforts were supposed to do. Weren’t them?

    On the other hand, the question is still up. The reduction in women attendance happened before DJ’s comments. What could the reason be? DJ puts the blame on the many emails from women concerned about sexual objectification and child trafficking on female bloggers. But I wonder what could the real reason be?

    this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed.

    We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program

    I think there might be an intentional disinformation and spam going on. It is clear to me that there are outside groups that have in the past tried to take advantage of the community’s TERRIBLE reaction to women calling things out (Read no further than conservapedia’s “article” about ElevatorGate). There is clearly some maliciousness in the emails some people received about child trafficking, if the reports by DJ are true.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Note that we don’t actually have any evidence that the percentage of women decreased. We only have DJ’s word.

      If that were a woman’s word, DJ would call it gossip and misinformation.

      • June 1, 2012 at 10:48 am


        Just wanted to state that I understand and support your decision.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

      You raise an interesting point. If indeed people are referencing child sex trafficking with regard to TAM there’s a very good chance that it has nothing to do with any skeptical feminist bloggers, but with some sort of coordinated outside campaign against TAM and the JREF that we’re not even aware of. Granted, I didn’t read every post on these issues, but I read a lot and I don’t remember even the slightest hint of child sex trafficking coming up before.

      Could there actually be someone out there intentionally spreading falsehoods about TAM and attributing them to feminist bloggers with the intention of hurting TAM and dividing the skeptical community, or even of simply hurting the feminist skeptics? It sounds so devious as to be an unlikely conspiracy, but if we assume they only have one of those goals in mind and the others are unintended, it becomes more plausible. Maybe DJ should attempt to track down the source of the child sex trafficking claims.

      • June 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm

        Actually, I’m pretty sure the “condoning child trafficking” accusations stemed from the fact that Lawrence Krauss was a speaker without mention of Krauss’ support of a contributor and friend of his who was involved in child trafficking.

        That may have come from this blog, hell I might have even said that in the comments, but the thing is there is a huge difference between discussing a problem and hanging an albatross.

        If DJ doesn’t like how some have talked about the organization he heads that’s understandable but it is a giant leap to then blame the “haters” for the failure of his own policies.

  26. June 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    OK, here’s what I don’t understand: Doesn’t DJ have your phone number? Or at least your personal email address? Or Jen’s or many of the other major female skeptical bloggers? Don’t you all know each other? Why on earth would he throw you all under the bus by saying something so mind-numbingly ignorant in a comment thread about something this obviously sensitive and incendiary without, you know, talking to you about it?

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:38 am

      Like maybe he could have contacted you and said something like this: “Rebecca, I’m really concerned about the issues of harassment you and some other have raised lately, I think we’ve tried to do a really good job handling that at TAM, but I’d love to talk to you about ways we could improve. I’m also concerned that attendance by women at TAM is dropping because of this issue. How can we work together to ensure that we have the right policies in place to make women comfortable at TAM and that skeptical women know about it and will want to come?”

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:38 am

      These are terrific questions.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:42 am

      Yep. He has my number. He’s never said anything to me about me being the problem, until that public post.

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

        That makes me sad.

  27. June 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Karen Stollznow, another Skepchick, was treated badly by the Australian Skeptics too. She boycotts them.

  28. June 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I wonder if they’re all just a bunch of drunks? No seriously, like when Charlie Parker fans thought he played bebop so well because he was a heroin addict, perhaps there are a lot of Hitchens fans who think being drunk all the time is a good idea. Perhaps they’re not as rational as they’d like to be.

    Having attended TAM for the first time last year, I found most of the proceedings consisted of a lot of whining about a) how stupid the general pubic is, and b) every government pet project is useless except for NASA, since that’s “our” pet project.

    Basically I left very disenfranchised with the skeptic movement. It’s a real shame, because there’s so much potential to have a great experience at TAM but the community needs to get over itself and realize that skeptics aren’t any better than any other group. Your post just reinforces that view to me.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:27 pm

      The amount of Libertarianism in the skeptic and atheism community is pretty dismaying and off-putting to me as well. Penn Gillette (who has said some pretty WTF things in the past with regard to sexism in the community) is an example, and his political wackiness makes so many Junior Randroids feel empowered.

      • June 2, 2012 at 12:41 am

        I truly believe that this creeping Libertarianism is part of the reason some in the community bristle at the mere suggestion that they shouldn’t do something (like hitting on all the wimminz) because it sound too much like a regulation and that makes them break out in a rash.

      • June 2, 2012 at 9:50 am

        Most of the older, long term libertarians I know like to discuss economic policy and the role of government in our lives. However the newcomers to the movement seem to be much more hedonistic in their views, preferring drug legalization as the primary reason they identify with the movement. Some of that has to do with youth, to be sure, but Penn’s influence on the pop side of the movement is noticeable. They seem to forget that he always prefaces his drug speech #1 with “I’ve never done drugs or drank alcohol…” Well, having been a former smoker (and now watching my cousin die from lung disease) I can tell you that there’s a good argument for controlling some substances.

        I don’t know the answer. Maybe some people DO need religion to tell them the difference between right and wrong.

      • June 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm

        Hmmm… as a skeptical Libertarian leaning atheist, then not sure the need for the broad brush. I’m skeptical that you understand the concepts of a Libertarian, but it isn’t a monolithic group anymore than any other. Of course, you are welcome to your feelings about such sorts as myself. ;-)

  29. June 1, 2012 at 9:34 am

    My jaw dropped as I read DJ’s comments about “misinformation” and his attempts to support the charge. How can he have filtered out the tons of abuse that you and Greta and Jen and other women have publicly endured merely for asking that women be treated like people? If there’s a drop in registrations by women at TAM, surely that’s the first place to look for a cause. The victim-blaming tactic is insane…but I guess it proves that if you read selectively enough, you will indeed be misinformed.

    Bravo for standing up for what’s right.

  30. June 1, 2012 at 9:34 am

    When I worked at a large wine and liquor retailer, I once messed up a customer’s order. My manager said, “Often, a mistake is actually an opportunity––to show the customer that you care, you’re committed to making it right, and you want her to trust you in the future.” The best business practices are often the simplest.

    The Peace Corps learned the hard way that covering up and downplaying the existence of violence and harassment against women is, in the end, a horrible PR move, not to mention morally disgusting (( Sad to see JREF making the same mistake.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Excellent quote, and exactly right that’s what DJ’s response should have been.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:09 am

      ^^^ THIS!

  31. June 1, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Since being introduced to this community in 2008 (when I was only 19) because of the SGU, I’ve been so proud to call myself a skeptic. I’ve learned so much from you all on the podcast and from the blogs (my favorite being Skepchick :). I’ve become stronger in my own beliefs and have taken comfort in the fact there is a wider network of awesome people out there who share my rational world view. The whole elevatorgate saga last year really shook my understanding of one side of the community… I guess I believed, naively, that anyone who thought in a vaguely scientific manner would be above this absolute crap. But now I see that’s not necessarily a measure of a good person (at least by my definition). TAM will no doubt miss you immensely!

    You’re a legend, Rebecca and so are the rest of the team at Skepchick. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what you all do in the community, despite how difficult it must be. I want to be a part of the future you are all creating for us and hope that one day things will be truly equal for all of us. :)

  32. June 1, 2012 at 9:35 am

    I will go, for many reasons but also because of my love and respect for James Randi. He is going through a tough time and needs the support of his friends. Sometimes there are “BIG” issues, but there are also what others might call “small” issues. The one on one feeling of a hug and an in person “you are important to me” needs to be done.

    That is just my personal choice.

    I will also say as the person that hand ironed a transfer on ALL the skepchick party tshirts for TAM2 (using the name SKEPCHICK) which was invented by G6 from the forum (who also came up with the first suggestion of TAM, yes TAM was the idea of a woman from the JREF forum! A very strong woman, who decided for TAM2 she would have a party in her room just for women to laugh and connect. Phil Plait was allowed to attend as “SECURITY”, but mainly because we liked him. I even remember certain tshirts were signed for 2 nice men that could not attend, one for an illness and the other was serving in the military …hoping my memory from TAM2 is correct on the reasons they were not there. So, TAM was a suggestion of a woman and skepchicks first met at TAM2, as I remember making ALL THOSE DARN TSHIRTS!)

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:58 am

      kittynh: You have a special personal connection and it is very cool that you are going. Thanks also for that great historical moment!

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Hey Kitty! It was my room- remember the PJ party? And the on whose doorstep man you accidentally showed up in your jammies? G6 was there and Chani, and Luciana. We added more people in TAM3, and then Rebecca took over and grew it into this amazing community.

      I have not been attending for a while, for several reasons. The main one is because I have a very busy life, two little ones now. But an important one is because I felt that some people at JREF were dismissive of my safety and security concerns. I had been posting and attending under a pseudonym because I had been previously stalked. When the issue came up, long ago now, I felt I was dismissed as a drama queen. Lots of other things happened then too, but it left a bad taste. Funnily, this was on the heels of one prominent skeptic confessing that he ran a background check on me. Go figure :)

  33. June 1, 2012 at 9:37 am

    First: Thank you for all that you do as a skeptic, Rebecca. You and Jen McCreight are the main reasons I became an atheist and a skeptic.

    Second: Thank you for standing up for yourself and for other women who speak out and don’t want to be silenced. And for setting an example for those of us who don’t have a way to be heard but still agree with you. You give me hope that the freethought community can come around if we continue to fight and work together.

  34. June 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    boy was that all funky…remember always to preview before posting! Point was that isn’t it interesting that there have been skepchicks at TAM since TAM2? It was a wonderful party. I have a photograph of us in our shirts and Phil is looking at an ALF doll. First time in Vegas!

  35. June 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Rebecca, I think you are doing the right thing. Considering how popular Skepchick and the SGU are at TAM (and even though the other Rogues will be going on without you), I think DJ has shot himself in both feet and done far more damage to the reputation of TAM than anything he accused you and other women of doing could possibly have achieved.

    I wasn’t going to TAM this year anyway, and now it’s off my list permanently. I will continue to support other events, like Skeptrack at Dragon*Con, and I hope to make it to SkepchickCon at CONvergence next year. Whenever I can see SGU Live and/or Rebecca’s Quiz Show that does not involve going to TAM, I will make an effort to be there.

  36. June 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    While I believe you’re perfectly in the right for choosing whether or not to attend TAM, I have to wonder aloud if the frequency with which this topic is discussed in this blog exacerbates the rhetoric in ways.

    I’m probably not the first person to point this out, but I’ve subscribed to this blog for a long time and it *feels* like recently every other post (by a quick glance at the front page right now anyway) is essentially a call to arms regarding speaking/feminism/sexuality/etc.

    I’m probably naive, but I feel like if the speakers talk about something of substance and value they’ll be treated with respect. Those that don’t can mostly be ignored.

    To be clear, I’m not advocating silence on the issue and I’m pragmatic in understanding that some people are aggressive and need dealt with, but in the conferences I’ve attended, these situations have been the exception, not the rule.

    My 2 cents, we’ll see if this can get elevated to internet flame wars in 3…2…1…

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:58 am

      “I’m probably naive, but I feel like if the speakers talk about something of substance and value they’ll be treated with respect. Those that don’t can mostly be ignored.”

      So speaking about sexism and sex as they intersect with skepticism are not things of substance? And those that don’t speak on things of value don’t deserve respect?

      I absolutely do not agree that the things the Skepchicks have been talking about do not have value or substance. They are real things that affect real people and are important. If they didn’t happen, then there’d be no reason to discuss them. But they do and that is the only reason needed to discuss them.

      Just because someone doesn’t speak about something you don’t find of value doesn’t mean they don’t deserve common courtesy and respect.

      • June 1, 2012 at 10:11 am

        Nice, and in the first response no less!

        You were so wrapped up in what you thought was my interpretation that you failed to clarify what I actually said/meant.

        I was referring to a speaker attending a conference and speaking on a topic of value and substance. I didn’t say (nor even imply) that talking about sexism/etc wasn’t of value and/or substance.

        If you talk about a valuable topic (regardless of its subject) then the need to address the “other” vocal minorities in the room that can’t wait to play a game of grab-ass can be appropriately relegated to insignificant status.

        • June 1, 2012 at 10:22 am

          “I’m probably not the first person to point this out, but I’ve subscribed to this blog for a long time and it *feels* like recently every other post (by a quick glance at the front page right now anyway) is essentially a call to arms regarding speaking/feminism/sexuality/etc.”

          It’s probably because feminist blogs deal with issues of sexism. Since it’s also a skeptical blog, that’s the community they’re writing about.

          “I’m probably naive, but I feel like if the speakers talk about something of substance and value they’ll be treated with respect.”

          The women who have spoken out about personal experiences with harassment had nothing of substance or value to speak about? Otherwise they wouldn’t have been disrespected? Hopefully I’m misunderstanding your point.

          “To be clear, I’m not advocating silence on the issue and I’m pragmatic in understanding that some people are aggressive and need dealt with, but in the conferences I’ve attended, these situations have been the exception, not the rule.”

          I haven’t seen any claims that harassment is worse at atheist and skeptical cons, just that it does happen. To the women who are blogging about it.

        • June 1, 2012 at 10:30 am

          “You were so wrapped up in what you thought was my interpretation that you failed to clarify what I actually said/meant.”

          Look, if you sincerely want to avoid a flame war, then the first thing you need to do is recognize that when someone seems to have completely misinterpreted what you were trying to say, you may have communicated poorly. Your response should be to clarify what you meant, it is not your reader’s responsibility to clarify what you meant, in fact they can’t possibly do that, only you can.

          And I don’t have any idea what you really mean by this either:

          “I’m probably naive, but I feel like if the speakers talk about something of substance and value they’ll be treated with respect. Those that don’t can mostly be ignored.”

          What it sounds like you’re saying is that there are speakers who are not talking about anything of substance and those speakers can mostly be ignored. It’s not much of a leap from there to thinking the speakers you mean are the ones talking about sexism

          Your attempted clarification: “I’m probably naive, but I feel like if the speakers talk about something of substance and value they’ll be treated with respect. Those that don’t can mostly be ignored.” still doesn’t make much sense to me. Of course we expect that many, if not most, people will treat speakers with respect, but obviously enough don’t that it IS a problem. And I think the problems inherent in just ignoring the problem should have been made clear enough by now that I think you must have missed a lot of posts on this issue. Finally, why should the value of what the speaker has to say have anything to do with how they’re treated as a human being? I would hope that if Ann Coulter herself showed up at TAM and gave a talk on how wrong evolution is that the audience would at least keep to attacking her ideas and refrain from attacking her as a woman.

          • June 1, 2012 at 10:36 am

            Something went horribly awry there. The attempted clarification I intended to reference in my final paragraph was this one:

            “If you talk about a valuable topic (regardless of its subject) then the need to address the “other” vocal minorities in the room that can’t wait to play a game of grab-ass can be appropriately relegated to insignificant status.”

            I blame WordPress. Certainly I never make mistakes while copy/pasting.

          • June 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm

            I agree. I am really not sure what information or ideas this poster is trying to convey, and the attempts to clarify did not make things clearer for me.

        • June 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm

          I read it exactly as the first person who replied did. Perhaps you need to work on being more clear in your writing.

          Anyway, your points are still ridiculous. You can’t ignore a problem and hope it goes away. We aren’t talking about an annoying little sibling. This is an institutionalized problem, both by speakers AND attendees. And here is someone of authority completely and utterly ignoring the problem, and basically calling women liars.

          Do you think the great advances in equality since, say, the Civil Rights movement have happened because people remained silent and ignored the problem?!

          That is fucking ridiculous. Your point is ridiculous.

          Being silent is to condone.

          If a friend of yours made a really terrible, and sexist remark to a women, would you just ignore it? Because that’s what you’re implying here.

          This is something we have talked about here before! Being silent doesn’t fucking help.

          And, oh dear, a site with a focus on women in Skepticism talks about feminism, sexuality and other topics pertaining to women! OH DEAR! How awful that must be for you. To read about those silly little issues!

          Something tells me you haven’t really been subscribed long, or you just read certain posts that interest you (translation: Don’t focus on issues women face ‘cuz how boring, right?!), because it’s clear that you haven’t learned much.

        • June 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm

          Perhaps if you said something of value and substance…

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:25 am

      Here’s the thing: this was happening BEFORE we started talking about our experiences. That’s WHY we started talking about them.

      I’ve given talks on activism and vaccines around the country… I don’t talk about issues that don’t have substance because they only focus on half the people of the world. (As opposed to Very.Important.Topics like ghosts and bigfoot which are relevant to like… no one.) And yet, I get naked people propositioning me for group sex after giving a keynote and while standing at my organization’s table.

      So, should I pick a topic that’s less womanly than vaccines? And maybe things will get better?

      Maybe we talk about these substance-free topics because they’re REALLY important, and we want to keep going to conferences and changing the world, but we can’t do that without respect… and we can’t get that respect by waiting for it to happen.

    • June 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      My 2 cents,

      This conversation has a $100 ante.

      You really should have read the quickies yesterday before coming here and acting like you have something original and profound to add. (Hint: you don’t. You’re not the first or last person to suggest such a thing, and defending the status quo does not impress anyone here.)

    • June 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      I for one am glad for the feminist blogs. I like reading about skeptics for a change. It’s a lot more interesting than every article being about people that believe some silly thing for no good reason. That was getting boring. They don’t make a lot of new discoveries in pseudoscience. There isn’t a lot of news.

  37. June 1, 2012 at 9:40 am

    One of the sad parts of all this is that these people, these “skeptics,” can totally recognize and address the problem when it is happening outside of the communities that they identify with. As soon as someone describes incidents within the various communities with which they identify they suddenly act just like the defenders of abuse in every other community.

    I’ve actually seen people say “I don’t believe it because I believe we’re smarter and better than other people, and I trust the men in our community not to behave that way.” They trust the men not to abuse, don’t trust the women to tell the truth, and don’t see the inherent sexism in their position.

    • June 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      “They trust the men not to abuse, don’t trust the women to tell the truth, and don’t see the inherent sexism in their position.”

      That’s exactly it, Joe. Why the hell is it the default assumption that a woman is lying? It should be blindingly obvious from the reactions that she has next to nothing to gain by making up false accusations, and a lot to lose.

  38. June 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

    He’s probably right that the recent statements have scared away some women, and that it’s women skeptics that are making them. The proper response would be for him to say (if he doesn’t remember the incident he was involved in) that they weren’t aware of the problem and they are going to do everything in their power to make the conferences a safe place for women(everyone). If he had, this post might have been about Rebecca acknowledging that the recent threads about harassment may have scared off some participants but that they should feel comfortable with where the policies were going, and rallying women to go to TAM instead of withdrawing her support.

    We’re skeptics. We want the truth even if it’s upsetting. It helps us make better decisions.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Here’s the thing. It’s not the blog posts about harassment that would discourage me from attending TAM or any other skeptic/atheist convention. None of the posts from feminist bloggers on the subject that I’ve read over the last couple of years would do that.

      It’s the RESPONSES to these posts from some men that make me think twice about being more involved in the skeptic and atheist community. Men who belittle, ignore, explain away, and most importantly offer abuse in response to feminist bloggers.

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:55 am

        But, if all those silly feminazis wouldn’t keep complaining then the men wouldn’t have to respond with dismissiveness, justifications, name calling, and the occasional rape threat. So it really is the fault of people like Rebecca and Ophelia etc.

      • June 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

        This. So much. “Sigh” I think this is the first year that I’m glad I can’t go to TAM. “sigh”

  39. June 1, 2012 at 9:42 am

    oh and it was a fundraiser for the men to be “SECURITY”. If someone donated enough, they could “attend” the party. They got a skepchick shirt (I know I made them) with SECURITY on the back. Chip Taylor recently donated his shirt from that TAM2 party for a fundraiser to raise money once again for people to attend TAM. So long history of skepchick (even infant stage skepchick) raising money for people to attend TAM.

  40. June 1, 2012 at 9:42 am

    A+, +1, two thumbs up, like and whatever other rating system there is.

    Totally agree with you and support your decision. Now to get other high profile people to bow out, not necessairly at this one but at future TAMs.

  41. June 1, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I’m saddened by this, and although I have no plans on attending TAM this year it does influence my perception of TAM and events like it. Surely these problems can’t be confined to this particular conference? Forgive my ignorance, but I am shocked and appalled at the actions of the men who act like this and it hadn’t crossed my mind that stuff like this continues to occur to this extent.

    In my world respect is a cornerstone of the skeptic movement, be it in regards to ideas, world views or other people. A view which some apparently don’t share. I hesitate to let the unfortunate shadow of one mans words fall over the entire JREF organization however, but I’ll be happy to revise my opinion as more information is brought to light.

  42. June 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Can’t say I’m surprised by this decision. After reading DJ’s comments earlier I kind of expected it.

    Part of what disturbs me about DJ’s response is that here we have a group, of which some members are being accused of sexual misconduct and the response from a leading figure is to treat it like a PR problem, rather than, you know, an actual problem that needs fixing. Seems vaguely reminiscent of something…

    And, really DJ, really? It appears that female bloggers speaking out about problems that can make cons unsafe spaces for women is making women unwilling to attend cons, and your response is to tell the bloggers to shut up and not warn others about unsafe spaces? Really?

    And as for this: “So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.”
    My initial response is mostly profanity, but after calming down I can say this: No, DJ. It is not ‘locker room banter’ about ‘sexual exploits’. It is women sharing information about sexual HARASSMENT in order to keep each other safe. You know, since you as the event’s organiser apparently don’t give a fuck.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      “So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.”’

      Translation: Women are liars and catty gossips.

      At least he’s being consistent with his use of sexist tropes and stereotypes to describe women in Skepticsm. At least he’s making it quite clear what as exist asshat he really is.

      I have never attended TAM. I wanted to really badly. I live in Phoenix, quite close. I was hoping next year might present some extra money to attend.

      I won’t now, not unless this issue is addressed and DJ comes up with an acceptable solution (or steps down).

      Ah, isn’t that ironic? All these discussions we’ve had about sexism at conferences and in the community in general never made me not want to attend conferences. In fact, I wanted to attend to help bolster the community of women.

      But now? Fuck it.

      Good job, dude.

      I wonder if he actually wants women to be participants? Does he even really care?

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm

        He wants more female participants only to the extend that they have the same values and interests as the male participants. Because, you know, being male is all nice and normal and then there are those odd “others.” All the benefit of the appearance of diversity without having to deal with, y’know, diversity…or having to rethink his worldview on anything.

        • June 2, 2012 at 12:15 am

          Yep. and look! We have at least one person here complaining about the content of this blog(read: Too much shit about women).

      • June 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm

        Sure, he wants more women there…so the men can hit on them.

  43. June 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for stepping up Rebecca.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that the venue is Las Vegas. I really, really, really hate Las Vegas and have never felt safe there. I haven’t been to a TAM because of this.

    Just a thought.

  44. June 1, 2012 at 9:46 am

    My wife and I were considering going to TAM this year, but DJ has totally scrapped those plans. I love James Randi and the SGU, but neither of us can support an organization that throws a fit when victims of sexual harassment speak out. I hope this causes a dramatic drop in the number of attendees, both women AND men. This behavior is unacceptable on every conceivable level, and DJ and the other organizers need to have consequences. The idea that a space should be made as safe as possible for the *entire* group of attendees seems so obvious that it’s hard to understand why DJ would act like this.

  45. June 1, 2012 at 9:46 am

    This is insane!
    I have never actually knowingly met another sceptic, I have friends who are but don’t know about the movement, nor did I until just under a year ago.

    But too hear that the community that I valued would act in this way I find disgusting!

    How can people act in this way? I work in a club and the people in there are more behaved than some of these people sound. And some of the people we get in a horrible looking creatures.

    This is supposed to be a community, and people like this shouldn’t be allowed into any community.

    I am sorry Rebecca and all the other women that have been effected, for the ignorance and revolting nature of my gender.

    I hope all the women that are going to TAM have a great time and those creatures don’t ruin it for them. And that DJ Grothe will realise what a fool he is and that he needs to represent ALL sceptics, or JREF finds a new president.

  46. June 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Oh well hey, what does it matter if women are part of skepticism anyway? Women are just a tiny minority of the population and besides they never leave the house.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

      Seriously. Think of all those pies not being made because the women are all at TAM. What kind of world is that!?

  47. June 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I have to hand it to you, Rebecca: you’ve got balls I wish I had. It takes a lot of guts to take public stands and then take all the shit that the morons throw your way, and do so with grace and a sense of wit. Kudos.

    It’s bullshit that in this day and age, in this movement that is the epitome of thoughtful consideration of issues, that reactionary idiots still wander among us. Please continue to not take any shit from anyone.

    Also, I commend the SGU guys for not bowing to the douchebags calling for your head. Good on them.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:14 pm

      Look, I know you didn’t mean anything by it, and I mean this purely as a friendly suggestion, but maybe you might want to reconsider using a term that equates masculinity with bravery?

      Rebecca doesn’t have balls. She doesn’t NEED them to stand up for herself or her values. People without balls do it all the time.

  48. June 1, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I’m sad to see this happen, but glad you’re still speaking out and taking action (personally – not calling for other people to boycott, but doing it on your own).

    Somewhat unrelated:
    I wanted to ask – does Skepchick ever consider doing any sort of integration with geek-heavy/gamer-heavy cons like PAX? There are some places where Skeptic and Geek intersect, and while I know sexism is rampant at many cons regardless of who attends them, I wonder if the geek component might be a good demographic to work with.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Actually, I wonder the same thing. I ran a discussion panel at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) this year with six women artists talking about how gender identity and geek culture intersected in their personal experiences and we touched a lot on feminist and sexist issues. The room was packed despite the start time being half an hour after the convention floor closed and I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception we had from the audience, which was pretty evenly mixed between men and women. And there is definitely room for overlap between geek and skeptic, so I’d personally love to see Skepchick being represented at those kind of cons as well. And I will say that my experience working with the C2E2 organizers was very encouraging (I should check back to their site to see if the con has a sexual harassment policy in place as well).

      • June 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

        Yep! We have three Skepchick themed panels at Geek Girl Con! And a WHOLE track of panels at Convergence! I love geek cons!

        • June 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm

          Cool! Since I’m located on the East Coast (Pennsylvania), that explains why I haven’t really heard of them much. If anyone’s ever out near Pittsburgh, I’d love to see you at a Pittsburgh Comicon. I think it could benefit from a little Skepchick influence! :)

    • June 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      CONvergence, at which we hold SkepchickCon, is a geeky con:

      Also, some of us will be at Geek Girl Con in Seattle:

      • June 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm

        Cool! It’s unfortunate that I can’t make it to either of them (Pennsylvania resident, so it’s quite a trip). Glad to hear you are involved with some! :)

    • June 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      You seriously want Skepchick to associate with an organization that engages in hissy feats over being called out on promoting a game that entails tentacle hentai rape.

      • June 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm

        One, I’m not sure which con or game or conflict you’re talking about, and two, I’m saying that maybe some Skepchick influence could help to positively change or improve the geek con atmosphere.

  49. June 1, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I was at TAM last year and I was only mildly harassed by an attendee well known for being a creeper. My friends saved me from the uncomfortable situation and I didn’t even think of reporting a creepy guy being creepy. Now I know I should have.

    I was going to TAM this year. I might still go, but I’m feeling less inclined to do so after all this. Blaming women for the problem has to be the worst PR move in history.

    If DJ thinks/knows there’s no harassment problem at TAM, here are other ways he could have handled it:

    – “Hey! We have a great anti-harassment policy at TAM”
    – “TAM is safe, but we have a team of volunteers you can report creepers to, just in case”
    – “Guys, please don’t harass women during TAM, it reflects poorly on us”

  50. June 1, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Rebecca, this is very sad.
    You are absolutely right and have my support.
    Thanks for all the good work.

  51. June 1, 2012 at 10:11 am

    As Greg Laden suggested, maybe it is time for DJ to step down. As many have pointed out, ignoring the problem and/or denying its existence is about the least skeptical reaction one can have. The JREF and the skeptic’s movement deserve better leadership than DJ has shown.

    Rebecca for Prez!!!

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:39 am

      Phil would never have done something like this, that’s for sure.

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:09 am

        Excellent point! There is no exception for misogyny in DBAD.

      • June 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm

        I love Phil. <3

      • June 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm

        This is a good point. The stuff we’re seeing now of DJ Grothe’s foot in the mouth disease would of never happened under the BA’s rule. I believe it was Phil who openly condemned Dawkin’s Dear Muslima rebuttle to Watsons, “guys don’t do that” on his Bad Astronomy blog.

        I’m not sure about Phil’s record of outreach to female participants and panelists at TAM. But I think it would be far more well rounded than outreaching to women, then telling not to speak up about harassment. TAM would be at least more consistant and we wouldn’t be having this head banging on the desk conversation with misogynist apologist/denialists running amok. /sigh

      • June 2, 2012 at 1:51 pm

        Yeah, I want Phil back too.

        • June 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

          Pre-DJ: 10% -18% women speakers. DJ: 50% women speakers.

          What a misogynist.

          • June 2, 2012 at 8:56 pm

            You mean, as long as the female speakers don’t talk about certain things?


            your head

  52. June 1, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I just finished reading about Elyse’s adventure in my hometown of Columbus OH, the majority of the article pertaining to being propositioned by a pair of swingers as a ‘joke’. I wonder if she would have taken them up on it, if the would have said, Oh that was just a hilarious joke we Buckeye’s play on strangers to our town. Sad and even sadder that this unfortunate event overshadowed what I hope was overall a positive experience. I do advocate change from within, but if all the leaders are men, what chance do you really have? Time for a rebellion.

  53. June 1, 2012 at 10:19 am

    The skeptical community needs to take a page from the world of business, at least in two respects: 1 – Treat every instance of harassment as a potential catastrophe. 2 – Steal ideas from other organizations.

    First, If the skeptical community continues to treat sexism and harassment as a non-issue, it will cause harm to the movement. I’d rather treat the assholes as assholes, and lose a small portion of the community than treat the assholes as victims, lose half of our community, and gain a reputation as a bunch misogynistic dicks. The cost/benefit to taking this issue seriously is a fucking no-brainer. DJ should be ashamed.

    Second, surely other communities deal with shit like this, don’t they? Why doesn’t JREF look at other conventions and see how other groups handle the issue? I can’t believe that the majority of other groups blames perceived sexism by lambasting the whistle blowers. Only an imbecile would look at what’s happening, see that other people have had the same problem and solved it, and then plug his ears and claim there isn’t a problem.

    • June 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      “First, If the skeptical community continues to treat sexism and harassment as a non-issue,”

      Straw man… who the hell is doing this?

      “it will cause harm to the movement.”

      and slandering people isn’t doing that I suppose•

      “Second, surely other communities deal with shit like this, don’t they? Why doesn’t JREF look at other conventions and see how other groups handle the issue?”

      What, you mean by TAM being the first skeptical conference to have an anti-harassment policy? Before SkechickCon’s (a couple of days ago I believe)?

      Strangemike, I humbly suggest that you employ “skepticism” with regards to this issue, ie: seek out evidence for these claims, and Rebecca’s absurd slander of DJ.

      • June 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm

        sixto, “slander” is a legal term with a very specific definition. Are you making a legal claim that you’re willing to personally stand behind?

      • June 2, 2012 at 10:59 pm

        No strawman. You’re right here.

        Also, the blathering about unfounded accusations is ridiculous. What the HELL would be the point in that?

        You’re not skeptical. You’re just another guy who deep down thinks if a woman says something you don’t like she’s a liar.

  54. June 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Good for you for making the right decision for yourself – it sounds like it wasn’t easy. Voting with our participation (or lack thereof) and wallets as well as with our voices is a powerful tool.

    On a side note, I found it upsetting that the paid ad that showed up under this column was for a sex chat. Like the behavior of the harassers at cons, I’m betting you had no control over this either.

  55. June 1, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Count down to the jackasses saying this is a call for a boycott in three, two, one.

  56. June 1, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I’m very sad to hear about DJ and JREF being so dismissive of the issues regarding women in this community. I had thought (hoped?) that last year’s elevator-gate would have brought the issues to the surface, actions can be evaluated, plans made, policies created and an enforcement strategy implemented. Instead, it seems that Rebecca stood up, took an insane amount of abuse from all areas of the manly skeptical community and now cannot attend TAM because DJ/JREF just don’t get it. WTF?

    I wish the rest of SGU would have canceled their plans as well to stand in solidarity with Rebecca. I’m not as big a fan of SGU as I once was, it’s usually worth a listen but I think Rebecca and Steve are the most interesting people and with one of them missing, it isn’t really SGU to me.

    I’m also going to skip TAM. I wish I could say that I am doing so in support of Rebecca on this but, alas, my reasons are quite personal, sad and uninteresting to Skepchick readers.

    Happy Hacking,

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

      “I wish the rest of SGU would have canceled their plans as well to stand in solidarity with Rebecca.”

      This was my initial reaction too, but I totally get that they want to keep their commitment to the fans that already have plans to come out to see them. I just really hope they discuss it on the show and decide not to attend future TAMs unless major changes are made. It would be so great if they took a really public stance in defense of Rebecca and this whole conversation.

      • June 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm

        Yeah, I talked with them briefly and they were supportive of me as they always are. But plans have been in place for too long for things like the SGU dinner, where fans have paid for the opportunity to meet the co-hosts.

        Being there for SGU and being there for my fellow Skepchicks are the two greatest things that were keeping me at TAM until DJ named me as being the problem.

        • June 1, 2012 at 11:21 pm

          Could they at least make some public gesture of support?

          • June 2, 2012 at 5:41 pm

            Assuming they support this. And if the reason that they won’t boycott TAM also ,is the commitment to fans who’ve paid to have dinner and meet the hosts… why is Rebecca not honouring this arrangement?

          • June 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm

            @sixto – That is what is known as not your business.

  57. June 1, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Brava, Rebecca. It’s not the decision that I’ve made, but I support your decision entirely. As a leader among the women skeptics, your absence will say more than most people’s presence ever could.

    That said, I will still be at TAM. Why? Well, in my experience, some people are more conspicuous in their absence, while some people can be more conspicuous in their presence. If the JREF wants women to call out sexism *as it’s happening*? Heck, I can do that. Do they want us to pitch a fit when we are inappropriately approached or touched? Again, I can do that. And right now, I am frustrated enough to do so.

    I find it interesting that so many people are mentioning Dragon*Con as a safe space. Have any of the Dragon*Con-goers participated in the Backup Ribbon project? That was what made me decide to go back to Dragon*Con the year after I experienced a dangerous situation there. Yes, D*C itself didn’t respond fantastically initially to security concerns (though they responded better than D.J.), but enough other people did respond in grassroots manners like the Backup Ribbon project that eventually we ended up with a tightening of security at the con and a more significant harassment policy. A harassment policy, I might add, that I ended up having to make use of, and that worked to get someone kicked out.

    That might be an interesting kind of thing to adopt at TAM. (and yes, now I’m considering how to make something like that happen on such a tight timeline. If nothing else, to make a statement.)

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:05 am

      Totally agree with you, Seelix. If you need any guys for a Gentlemen’s Auxillary, I’ll be attending TAM this year and I’d be happy to help in any way.

      • June 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm

        I’m planning to attend next year, Joshua. We could form a gay posse to watch out for Rebecca and the SkepChicks.

  58. June 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Rebecca, I just wanted to throw in my two cents of support for you and to tell you how much I admire your courage and perseverance, and to tell you that you are doing great and necessary work here – work that should not be needed, but clearly is.

    Back in the old days of the NESS, we wanted to be more inclusive and were well aware that our speakers, audience and executive board (Steve, Bob, Evan, Perry and yes, me plus Jay occasionally) were entirely or almost entirely male and white. I think we didn’t realize how important these issues were – we lamented it but didn’t do enough to change it.

    Now we see why it matters. Allow people to immerse themselves in a group that looks, thinks and frankly smells the same and the worst elements will feel empowered to indulge themselves in odious behavior, secure in the knowledge that the rest of the group will close ranks behind them. It’s just disgusting.

    To anyone who is tired of hearing about it, I say too bad. This should be pounded into everyone’s head until we all get up off our asses and do something about it. Nothing will change if we hide from it.

    So, thank you Rebecca, and here’s to the hope that the skeptical / atheist movement WILL be a safe place for EVERYONE.

  59. June 1, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I’ve been meaning to attend TAM for a long time, but I can no longer support an event with such blatant disregard for the *legitimate* safety concerns of 50% of potential attendees.

    Rebecca: thanks for speaking out about what is obviously a serious issue in the skeptical community. If nothing else, DJ’s insulting (and likely disingenuous) comments indicate the extent to which such attitudes are endemic. We’ll only move forward once we can move forward together.

  60. June 1, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Integrity is that moral quality in an individual that requires action consistent with one’s beliefs, even when that action may result in harm to the individual. It’s easy to behave with integrity when doing so means you get to do what you want to do.

    As always Rebecca, you state your position clearly and intelligently…and back it up with integrity of action. Please accept my admiration and humble support; I will not be attending TAM this year either.

    As an aside, this continuing episode provides an ongoing example of the dangers inherent in suppressing opinions. There is at least a glimmer of hope that Grothe is well-intentioned in his efforts to suppress opinions like Rebecca’s; we can at least hope he really wants more women to attend TAM and thinks shushing people whose opinions are backed with ‘scary’ facts will aid in that goal.

    I wonder how often well-intentioned efforts to suppress opinion results in unintended consequences?

    Thankfully, we live in a country where all are free to speak their minds. Because of this, we are all better informed of the bad behavior some women experience at the hands of some members of our community, and we now know of one prominent member in a leadership role who needs our help in finding appropriate strategies for dealing with the problem.

    Clearly, not talking about it isn’t one of them…

  61. June 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

    This whole situation makes me very sad, and I completely support your decision to take a stand.

    Rebecca, please keep doing the good work you do, and try not to let this get you down. I’m sure that’s a whole lot easier said than done, but please know that you continue to have the support of many, many, many people.

  62. June 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Rebecca you need to do what you think is right and I support you decision. It disgusts me that harassment of women may be a huge looming cloud over the skeptics movement.

    I haven’t seen this particular point raised anywhere, sorry if it has been. As skeptics we’re supposed to put eyewitness reports or personal anecdotes at the bottom of the pile of evidence. They should’t be used to prove anything, merely point to directions of inquiry. Again following this with an emotional eye, I’m disgusted. Following it with a skeptical eye, I can only see indicators that there could be a problem, with very little hard evidence. The very nature of the problem doesn’t generate much hard evidence and I’m not even sure what I would consider hard evidence… harassment reports, audio, video, or photos?

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Personal experience and anecdote is all we have when it comes to things like sexual harassment, because these are issues of the way humans interact. Are you seriously suggesting we need a peer reviewed study in order to acknowledge and respond to instances of sexual harassment? When someone calls the police and says they uave been mugged, do the police tell them “that’s just anecdotal evidence, we need scientific proof that it happened.” No – that’s what the investigative process is for, to look into initial evidence and find out what is going on and what is the proper response – not to dismiss it because it hasn’t YET been proven. Just as in science, personal experience/anecdote can be the starting point for inquiry. If multiple women are citing personal experiences then that should be the impetus to look into these experiences and see what is happening and how to address it, not an opportunity to dismiss them.

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

        No I’m not implying that we need a scientific study, I’m saying that it is a problem that all we have are personal experience and anecdotes, when as skeptics we use these not as evidence but as a start of inquiry. After a while many skeptics get used to dismissing personal experience and anecdotes altogether.

        I’m trying to say that this may be a tough pill for a lot of skeptics to swallow because it is harder to qualify and that could be one reason that so little is done.

        • June 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm

          Ah I understand now. I suppose that could be part of it, but if that’s the case then I think the people treating it that way need further education in anecdotal evidence and personal experience and what it means in different situations. The place to begin being that anecdotal evidence IS actually evidence — it’s just not proof, and its reliability is not guaranteed.

        • June 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm

          It’s not harder to qualify. There are pretty explicit behaviors that are easy to identify that constitute harassment. The tough pill to swallow is not that skeptics are trained to set aside anecdote in favor of data; the tough pill to swallow is that an awful lot of skeptics think these harassing behaviors are natural and acceptable and fun and don’t want to stop doing them.

        • June 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm

          Then how do you explain non-skeptics for doing the same thing? Even our politicians!

          This is just business as usual in the world of sexism, honestly.

        • June 3, 2012 at 12:25 am

          Benjamen, it’s not that they’re skeptics. It’s that most of them are men. (Bear with me, I like men, I do have a point).

          Men who like and respect women and see them as actual humans don’t behave this way. They also DON’T SEE OTHER MEN BEHAVE THIS WAY. Or, they might see it, but it’s so commonplace, so pervasive, that they don’t see it the way women feel it when it happens to us.

          Here’s an example. I’m a widow. When my husband died, men came out of the woodwork to proposition me, to grope me, to flirt with me, and cajole and harass me. Married men. Men who were friends of my husband’s and mine. I was absolutely astonished that I suddenly stopped being a person (or, perhaps, never was one) once my owner was gone and I was unbranded. I was going to say “stray”, but a stray dog gets adopted, not run down and roped for meat. I’d never seen this behavior from any of them. Perhaps because I’d only seen them with my husband, and they didn’t do it because he was there?

          One grabbed me from behind and shoved his crotch against me AT A KID’S BIRTHDAY PARTY. NOBODY. SAW. IT. I made full eye contact with two people, members of the extended family, while I froze with disgust and panic, not wanting to to embarrass my family or upset my kid, not wanting to make a scene, and squirmed out of his arms. They just lowered their eyes. I literally have no idea whether they saw and were embarrassed, or thought I had invited this, or just thought, “No, no way, he wouldn’t do that at a kid’s birthday party, I must be seeing things.”

          I mentioned it to other family members after the party because I was so disgusted. The reaction was one of muted embarrassment or shining me on. I didn’t want them to do anything, I never told his wife (how convenient, she wasn’t there at the time).

          The thing is? As if that wasn’t enough, once I got out of his grasp, he had the gall to ask if he could call me…I lived in another state, and he said he wanted to know “how the hunting is there.” (I told him to call my stepson, not me, that I had no interest in hunting and wouldn’t have the slightest idea).

          Don’t believe me? That’s okay. It sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? My mother and sister believed me and supported me, that was enough. They told me stories of their own. The stories, of course, came with the caveat of “don’t tell your father” and “Don’t tell Mike, please!” Because the gropers were their husbands’ friends.

          My point (and I do have one) is that some men really, truly believe that women aren’t quite human. And when good men pick up on the constant, pervasive, Fall-of-Eve notion that women lie (or are “mistaken”, or are “overemotional”, or “misunderstand”), this helps the assholes get away with it.

          • June 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm

            I’m so sorry that happened to you, and that it happens to anyone. I hope it opens someone’s eyes as you intended.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:10 am

      When we stick personal experiences “at the bottom of the pile of the pile of evidence,” we do so because such anecdotes fly in the face of things like existing evidence and Ockham’s Razor. Statements liked, “My cousin saw a UFO,” or, “Well, homeopathy works great for me,” are one thing. Statements like, “I keep getting unwelcome advances at events,” or, “I’ve been groped, grabbed, etc…” are in a COMPLETELY different different category,

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:49 am

        No they are not completely different, they are degrees of the same thing. Your own examples show this degree. From bottom to top: “Well, homeopathy works great for me,” “My cousin saw a UFO,” and “I keep getting unwelcome advances at events,”

        In order from worst to best evidence: The first is impossible, first hand, and fails Ockhams Razor, the second is possible, second hand, and fails Ockham’s razor, and the third is possible, first hand and passes Ockham’s razor. But they are all still poor forms of evidence.

        Based on this I would say we should investigate the harassment and the UFO.

        • June 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm

          And I suppose if I say “I drink coffee nearly everyday” you need me to document that statement each day? Skepticism is a good tool for some things, but it can also be used to gaslight, and that’s what you’re doing.

          You’re saying something that keeps women away. “Ah, well you need to prove it first before anything is done”. Please tell me, who fucking carries around a hidden video camera with them? Who SHOULD have to do something stupid like that to get something done?

          You’re asking victims who have trauma from the experiences to prove that they are traumatized. Exactly the reason women are often afraid to report sexual abuse. Do you see any problem with that Mr. Skeptic?

          Sexism is thousands of years old and present in every society, of course it happens, and to ask for “hard evidence” in the name of “skepticism” before anything can be done to stop harassment is ludicrous.

          Change your thinking.

          • June 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm

            If you actually read what I said, instead of looking for somebody to flame, I’ll first repeat my reply to violets.

            I’m trying to say that this may be a tough pill for a lot of skeptics to swallow because it is harder to qualify and that could be one reason that so little is done.

            Second, my response to martian_bob, I’m not saying we shouldn’t take some personal experiences seriously, It’s a purely pedantic point that there’s a spectrum of personal experience reliability and but it’s all a poor substitute for evidence. I mean we are skeptics here right?

            You say: And I suppose if I say “I drink coffee nearly everyday” you need me to document that statement each day? I couldn’t care less if you drink coffee everyday, there’s nothing to look into there.

            Am I am not gaslighting, I am presenting a hypothesis on why skeptics who are supposed to be enlightened individuals behave this way.

          • June 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

            remove the “sustitute for” in my last comment, personal experience is of course a type of evidence, albeit a poor one. I think I got a few different sentences crossed in my head while writing that.

        • June 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm

          You need proof that sexism exists, for real? You can’t find the evidence for sexism in general, and sexual harassment in particular? Have you looked at all?

          I find it pretty insulting to have personal accounts of sexism and harassment compared to UFO sightings. You’re claiming that all these women are deluded, lying, or mistaken?

          • June 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm

            You say: “You need proof that sexism exists, for real? You can’t find the evidence for sexism in general, and sexual harassment in particular? Have you looked at all?”

            Where are you getting this? Of course sexism and sexual harassment exist. I’m trying to find an explanation for why little is being done and some people are denying the problem exists in the supposedly enlightened skeptical community. Sure it could be because in the end you’re dealing with humans, but could another problem be that skeptics are used to discounting personal experience, rather than use it as a starting point for an investigation.

            Be insulted if you like it’s your choice, but maybe you should choose better things to be insulted over. martain_bob listed types of personal experience and I ranked them in order of reasonableness.

            You say: “You’re claiming that all these women are deluded, lying, or mistaken?” Point out where I say that.

          • June 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm

            “but could another problem be that skeptics are used to discounting personal experience, rather than use it as a starting point for an investigation.”

            Wow. What a nice, neat way to call women liars, or to suggest they are over-reacting.

            You do realize that people already do this, without being skeptics?! This isn’t fucking new. You’re trying to explain away this completely ingrained, common sexist behavior by essentially claiming that skeptics are just being logical! They just need proof!

            COME ON. Every day, Skeptics make choices and decisions based on things that may not be hard evidence. Parenting, for example. There’s no real way to know if you’re doing it right all the time and that you’re kid isn’t going to turn into a serial killer.

            This argument is bullshit. I don’t have a daughter, but imagine she came to you and told you that she was raped. What would your initial reaction be? I really fucking hope it isn’t, “Oh, honey, are you sure? Do you have the proper evidence? I hope you took pictures!”

            This was said by someone recently, but people like you give socially awkward people a bad fucking name. How obtuse can you be?!

          • June 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm

            I miss the edit button. Also, I can’t type on my Kindle Fire.

          • June 3, 2012 at 12:33 am

            Benjamen, I left you a long anecdote above responding to another post of yours.

            If you really want to understand, read it.

        • June 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm

          Here’s the issue, Ben: a woman claiming harrassment is in a completely different probability league as a wingnut claiming an alien abduction. False report rates are ~2-4% for sexual harassment and assault. Alien abductions? I have yet to hear of one that was validated.

          So you have one situation, where there’s a 96-98% chance that the person in question is honest and correct, and another where there’s a <0.00001% chance that the person is honest and correct. And you're saying that we should be treating these two situations the same? That's patently ridiculous.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:20 am

      I wish Rebecca would discuss why the survey carried out by JREF at TAM did not reveal a systemic problem of harassment or even people feeling unwelcome.

      “Of 800+ responses to this comprehensive survey, only two people reported feeling “unwelcome” at the event. Both of these respondents were men. One was a conservative who felt several speakers insulted his political beliefs. The other was a retiree who “hates” magic.”

      No one, including DJ has said there has never been harassment at TAM. But it appears sporadic, not systemic, and the JREF has taken many measures to minimize it as much as possible.

      The other thing missing in all this is what measures have been proposed and ignored by JREF?

      Considering the data it does seem like the response is not commesurate to the problem. IMHO.

      Whether the amplification of the perceived problem by a few is causing lower female attendance at TAM is speculative but it is not unreasonable.

      • June 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm

        As has been pointed out elsewhere, a survey is not the appropriate venue for reports of harassment to be recorded. As has been pointed out elsewhere, a decent anti-harassment policy includes the important element of writing down the complaints, because otherwise they don’t get recorded. As appears to have happened with Ashley Miller. An even cursory reading of the comments here and at Almost Diamonds, among other places, reveals at least two prominent instances of harassment that were not recorded as such, and various other instances where women have not reported creepy/harassing behavior because they A) didn’t know they should or how to do it and B) it wasn’t necessarily more than they’d get at other conferences.

        A is a problem because it means the anti-harassment policy isn’t well-understood, and the lack of recording of incidents suggests that it isn’t well-implemented, or that people aren’t trained in how to enforce it. A decent anti-harassment policy should include some training for volunteers and probably prominent postings. Other conventions have posters up on walls to explain the policies, does TAM?

        B is a problem because it goes to the point about TAM as a “safe space.” It’s a safe space for skeptics to vent about Bigfoot and alt-med and UFOs and the other kinds of bullshit that they might be more cautious about talking about in the wild. A skeptic at TAM is safer (from abuse, judgment, etc.) talking about skeptical issues than they might be outside of TAM (unless the issue is atheism, but that’s another topic). Organizers should venture to make the same true for women attendees. No woman should have to shell out $475–or be a speaker!–and have to deal with the same sexist/misogynist harassment bullshit that they get for free just by existing.

        You said: “No one, including DJ has said there has never been harassment at TAM.”

        DJ said:

        It should be said that there has never been a report filed of sexual harassment at TAM to my knowledge and there have been zero reports of harassment at the TAMs we’ve put on while I’ve been at JREF.

        I suppose you might be basing your statement on the fact that D.J. qualified his “never” statement with “a report filed” (which I addressed, and others have addressed, as a problem with the anti-harassment policy apparently lacking a report-filing procedure/requirement) and “to my knowledge” (which is weasel-wording, but also ignores his knowledge of the event he participated in, which did not get recorded as an instance of harassment apparently). If that’s not the basis of your claim, then you are apparently mistaken.

        the JREF has taken many measures to minimize it as much as possible.

        Yes, “minimize” is precisely the right word. Because at every step along the way, D.J.’s response (and by extension, the JREF’s) has been to minimize the experience of attendees speaking out, calling it “locker room banter” and “rumor,” dismissing actual events because ‘no report was filed’ and no one decided that the appropriate place to file a report was in the post-convention survey. D.J.’s response to women’s actual statements about actual problems in the movement and their actual perception about how they actually feel, and the actual MRAs and misogynists who come out of the actual woodwork and leave actual abusive comments for all to see, has been to tell those women that they’re the problem, and they should shut up so more people will come to TAM.

        Yes, “minimize.”

        You know, it might be my male privilege, but I can’t help but see parallels between “you women talking about sexism in skepticism are driving women away” and “you atheists talking about religion are driving religious skeptics away.” Funny how they both involve telling one group to shut up in hopes that another group will swell the crowds.

        • June 1, 2012 at 3:12 pm

          DJ is the first one to admit a survey will not catch all instances of possible harassment. But it will tell you if the problem is endemic or systemic. Consider that the JREF can not guarantee a that no one will be harassed at a meeting. They can only try as much as they can to prevent it.

          If the policy is insufficient I am sure the JREF will consider any changes.

          • June 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm

            They’ll consider any changes just as they considered how Ashley must have lied, lied, lied about being sexually harassed?!

            Hah! Sure. Sure they will. That will include DJ stepping down. We’ll see if that happens.

          • June 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm

            DJ is the first one to admit a survey will not catch all instances of possible harassment. But it will tell you if the problem is endemic or systemic.

            How so? The data that DJ has shared so far does not address harassment specifically, only whether or not the attendee felt “welcomed,” which can mean any number of things. Once again, the survey is apparently not designed to track harassment, and is not the appropriate tool to gauge harassment. It may be useful to suggest what to look into, but it does not tell us anything meaningful about sexual harassment’s prevalence at TAM.

            The proper, appropriate tool for catching most-but-not-all instances of sexual harassment is a properly-implemented anti-harassment policy. Such a policy would not rely on the subjective, fallible memories of volunteers and employees a year after the events, but would instead record complaints and incidents as they happen. That has clearly not been the case for at least two instances of harassment; consequently, we have no indication how many other instances slipped through the leaky sieve that the anti-harassment policy appears to be.

            Consider that the JREF can not guarantee a that no one will be harassed at a meeting. They can only try as much as they can to prevent it.

            I think we’d all be fine with them trying to do as much as they can to prevent harassment. But seeing that their policy obviously, at the very least, is not well-publicized, and does not have clearly-expressed guidelines for what constitutes a harassment report and how complaints/incidents get recorded, it’s obvious that they have a way to go to “do all they can.” At every point in this conversation, people with more experience running these kind of events have offered resources and advice as to how other groups–like every business in the 21st century–deals with anti-harassment policies. Hopefully the JREF takes some of that advice to heart.

            If the policy is insufficient I am sure the JREF will consider any changes.

            The policy is clearly insufficient. There is no “if.” And on what are you basing that certainty? So far, D.J.’s “consideration” has amounted to realizing that there is a problem with female attendance this year, and looking for a scapegoat, not actually seeking to find out why the problem exists or address it. He has shot the messengers, which (again) is not part of an effective anti-harassment policy. So far, I have seen no evidence that D.J. has any intent to improve on anti-harassment policy enforcement or implementation; he seems to think it sufficient that the policy exists, that there are no filed complaints, and that no one decided that the appropriate time to file such a complaint was in the post-TAM survey. At every step, Grothe has appeared to want to minimize the experiences and reports of female attendees and shut down criticism and discussion; I do not see why anyone would be “sure” that the JREF would consider any changes.

    • June 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Let me copypasta from B&W my response to another fellow with the same misapprehension as yourself:

      That’s because when the usual sorts of anecdotes are used as evidence, they make unwarranted assumptions and they are insufficiently extraordinary for the claim in question. “I know vaccines cause autism because my child got autism after being vaccinated.” “I saw a UFO, therefore aliens visit the earth.” “God exists because my mother recovered from cancer after I prayed.” “I do a tarot card reading every night. That’s evidence enough for me that psychic powers are real.” (That last one is a paraphrase of something a woman actually told me at the supermarket last night.)

      Anecdotes about sexist (or racist or homophobic or transphobic, etc.) experiences don’t run into these problems. Not only is sexism very real and all-too prevalent (ie. the opposite of extraordinary), the anecdotes don’t make assumptions and are nearly always sufficient for the claim being made. “I was sexually harassed, therefore sexual harassment happens.” “I know sexism is a factor in low numbers of women attending conferences because many women have told me that regularly getting ignored, harassed, talked down to, etc. puts them off from coming.”

      If you really find it curious for skeptics to accept anecdotes about sexism (or racism or homophobia or transphobia, etc.) but not about the vaccine-autism connection, aliens, god or psychic powers, then it would seem your approach to anecdotes is irrational and dogmatic.

    • June 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Except it’s not all we have. We have eyewittness testimony in several cases, and we have societal studies on instances of common forms of sexual harrassment.

      According to several major studies, between 15-36% of women report daily sexual harrassment in public areas.

      But DJ says TAM has no harassment problem.

      Given what’s already out there on the issue, “no harassment problem” is the extraordinary claim here, not the reports of women who are harassed.

  63. June 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

    DJ is so committed to his idea that harassment never happens and it’s all just made up in order to drive women away from his conference that he gaslights Ashley, telling her that she isn’t remembering properly.

    This account of DJ’s actions is extremely unfair. The disagreement seems to have been based on a genuine and mutual misunderstanding of the events being recalled. Ashley and DJ worked things out in this comment thread: , and Ashley clarified events in this post: .

    Leaving aside the substance of the rest of this debate for the moment, in the interest of accuracy, it is worth updating your post on this point.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

      Jason, that is not an “account”. That is an evaluation, and based on D.J. characterizing the discussion about harassment from speakers thus:

      “So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.”

      it is neither an unfair nor irrational one. I have no reason he’s to believe he’s going into any of these discussions in good faith. He simply hasn’t demonstrated any.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Oh, I see. It’s perfectly okay that he called her a liar. Just a misunderstanding, then!

      These issues were addressed in the post. Did you read it?

      • June 2, 2012 at 3:41 am

        Thank you for those links. People should be paying attention.

    • June 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Because in light of a 2% false report rate, implying that women who talk about harassment are liars by saying they’re “exaggerating the problem” and “spreading misinformation” is perfectly reasonable.

      It’s just so fair and balanced, amiright?

  64. June 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I can only imagine how exhausting this whole thing must be for you.

    There is a serious lack of social science literacy in the skeptic community. Something I hope to remedy if grad school ever gives me my life back.

  65. June 1, 2012 at 10:49 am

    This sickens and saddens me. I came to the skeptic community through SGU many years ago and was so excited to find this community of people and was eager to get involved. But after diving in enthusiastically, I quickly backed away, well before “Elevatorgate,” due to exactly these issues. I went from active participant to observer because I rarely felt like just a person in the skeptical movement and often felt uncomfortable for various reasons relating to my gender. I have been encouraged that this has been brought out into the open and so inspired by people like Rebecca who are bringing it out and keeping it out. I am great at responding to individual situations, but when confronted with systemic problems, I tend to just leave. I’d simply rather not be where I am not comfortable or welcomed as I am. I am so glad that there are people who will not stand for it and I will continue to support you and others who fight this and try to help where I can.

    I like DJ Grothe a lot and am really disappointed to hear that this has been his response to the problem. I think he needs to check his skepticism if he truly believes that intelligent skeptical women are hearing Rebecca’s words and somehow turning them into fears of child sex trafficking. I think there may be something to the comments above that indicate there may be a bit of deliberate misinformation occurring here too. I can easily see e-mails of the “I am a concerned woman who is scared by what these feminazis are saying” type being sent deliberately. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that has been done.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

      It’s as if he didn’t read any of the posts he’s complaining about.

  66. June 1, 2012 at 10:50 am

    “women not feeling our con is safe is the fault of feminists” is as dumb a thing to say as “racism inly exists because we keep talking about race”. Sadly I’ve heard both statements from self identified skeptics.

  67. June 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Rebecca – TAM will be greatly diminished by your absence.

    One of the truly life-enriching experiences in the last few years has been to hear the fantastic women speakers at the Skepticon events. Because of that, you, Greta Christina, Amanda Marcotte and others are now part of the narrative that I follow regularly – a narrative that is both enlightening and educational. I hope your voice continues to be heard.

    Thank you for that. (Oh, and by the way – photographing you and Greta for the SK4 calendar: coolest! thing! ever!)

  68. June 1, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Does this mean you will have more time that you can spend in the Twin Cities for SkepchiCON? Great!

  69. June 1, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Keep doing what you’re doing, Rebecca. I’m part of a couple Internet communities that are going through a very similar sort of sea change, with some folks speaking out about feeling unsafe in the community and others saying that said out-speaking is driving people away while ignoring the unsafe-feeling. You’re on the right side of history,

  70. June 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Firstly I want to say obviously (well, I say obviously but appreantly it isn’t obvious to every individual) harrassment of any kind is unacceptable and speaking out against it is incredibly important. I think a very real way to decrease harrassment at a convention like this is to increase the % of women (and possibly decrease the intake of alchol!). The % drop in attendance tells its own story about how important whilst speaking out against harrasment women aren’t put off going, it should always be constructive.

    I think both sides of this argument need to be fully aware of how they’re making other women feel, if we speak out against harrassment the final goal that should always, always be at the forefront of any discussion is how to make women feel safer (DJ in particular should have done a better job of this.)

    This has clearly not been achieved and I think both sides should reflect upon how that can be better achieved as we who are truly skeptics want the same thing here, more women involved in the skeptical community – a community which should if anything be THE safe haven for women of this world.

    Finally I just wanted to say that I believe those who are willing to harrasse someone else in this way are in my eyes not infact part of this community at all. We are a community based on shared values and shared passions for logical, evidence based thinking – simply calling yourself a skeptic does not make you one, even if you’ve flown out to TAM. The moment you behaved in this way you lost the right to be part of this community, we shouldn’t be fighting ourselves her but fighting those that make this horendous error in judgement of thinking their ‘wants’ comes before womens RIGHTS!.

    I’ve had this opinion called insensitive in and of itself and I’d really like to hear what the skeptchick community thinks about this stance.

    one final word to Rebbecca, I would have loved to have seen you talk about this live on the SGU at TAM. Whilst I understand your decision I think it could have been amazing, if you can’t do that at TAM where can you?

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Firstly, I want to say obviously that there really isn’t any “both sides” of this conversation. That is, there are both sides, but only one of them–telling women to shut up about harassment that has happened–is unconstructive. Women speaking out about harassment have at the forefront women’s safety, and are giving them information they need about what to expect so they can plan their response. Full disclosure is constructive. Period.

      Secondly, you can’t pass of the blame for harassment and sexism in general onto “not real skeptics.” This is real skeptics doing this, who need to step up and take responsibility for their failure to be skeptics in this instance.

      Women speaking up is not “fighting ourselves.” Men shouting them down is “fighting ourselves.” Women are fighting those that make this horrendous error in judgment you are worried about, and men are fighting them for speaking. Except you want the women to share the burdens of men solving problems they’ve created. You want men to be at least partially absolved of responsibility.

      Yes, your opinion is insensitive in and of itself. But I’m not a Skepchick so you probably aren’t interested in my opinion on your stance.

      I’m pretty sure Rebecca can discuss her decision about TAM on a regular SGU podcast show before TAM. In fact, it’s probably going to be amazing if she does that, because then she can be honest to the podcast audience and provide full information to people who may still be making up their minds. Waiting until TAM would really be too late anyway.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Yeaaah it’s not only insensitive, it’s highly illogical and wrong. Karenx explained why very well.

  71. June 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Rebecca, thank you for this post. You should not attend any event that makes you feel uncomfortable, and I’m incredibly disappointed that that event is TAM. I’m hoping that there’s still time for DJ to correct his stance–otherwise I feel he has sucked all the energy from TAM and from a movement I’ve increasingly identified with by this wrongheaded statements and refusal to deal with the need for a harassment policy.

  72. June 1, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I’ve been reading/listening to Skepchick/SGU for the last year, and I support your decision. It’s really upsetting that the skeptical community has so much sexism in it. Thank you for speaking out against it. Thank you for standing up for what’s right.

  73. June 1, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I have the solution for you Rebecca. Get fat.

    As a plus size woman (UK size 22) who went to the last TAM London expecting to be able to meet new people, exchange ideas and talk about what action I could take to help stop pseudo science etc, not only was I NOT harassed, molested or spoken to in an inappropriate fashion, I was completely ignored. The few attempts I made at conversation with different people (men and women) were acknowledged politely, then brushed off. My boyfriend of seven years tells me I’m pretty, I have an arts degree and a job in desktop publishing and I have bright red hair, so I’m not shy or retiring. I think I’m pretty bright and can hold an intelligent conversation, so I can only put it down to being fat. Get stuck into the burgers and chips and trust me, they’ll leave you alone. Completely alone.

    • June 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      I’m a plus-size woman and I’ve been harassed at skeptic events. The kind of harassment I receive is less sexually-charged and more sexually-based, though. Instead of getting groped or hit on, I get a lot of “well, all women are so complicated” or “teenage girls are all crazy biatches AMIRITE FELLAS?”

      • June 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

        Or, “I have a fetish for fat women, we should bang!” sometimes with a, “you should be so grateful!” hint at the end.

    • June 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm


    • June 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      As has been pointed out, getting fat won’t work. Neither will getting unhealthy. Also, getting old won’t work. Obviously the only thing that will work is for men to fix their behavior. Let’s work on changing that.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      I just looked it up, and a UK size 22 is a US size 18. We are exactly the same size and the one TAM I attended, I certainly had male sexual interest thrown my way despite my husband being there alongside me. Lucky for me it was all of the polite, appreciative but not pushy variety. Other women are not so lucky, and it has nothing to do with how big their thighs are.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm


      As a plus-sized woman who has also discussed with this plus-sized woman, yeah, no. The best part is that fat women are often fetishized.

      • June 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm

        Word. Add being over 6′ tall and a redhead, and it’s all FUNTIMES over here!

  74. June 1, 2012 at 11:26 am

    This is disappointing, especially after just returning from the Women in Secularism conference.

    The one thing that kept knocking around in my head all weekend is how as skeptics we continue to hold onto bias in our life, especially cultural biases. As skeptics and freethinkers these are exactly the sort of things we should be questioning in our communities. Human and civil rights should be a big focus of our movement.

    I’m sad. I’m sorry for the treatment of all the women who have spoken out and embarrassed by the reaction within sectors of our community.

  75. June 1, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I love you, Rebecca. I don’t know how you have the strength to continually deal with as much bullshit as you deal with, but I am grateful that you do.

  76. June 1, 2012 at 11:40 am

    It’s things like this that have kept me from attending any skeptical event. Why would I want to attend something where other men behave so boorishly? It’s also made me look at other events I’ve attended.

    Rebecca, I support you and feel like I am a better person for reading your posts.

    Thank you.

  77. June 1, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I wanted to thank you and say I support your decision not to attend TAM in light of DJ’s comments. I was lucky enough to attend TAM in 2010. I met you, and had previously met Amy and Johnny at the AAI conference in Burbank in 2009. In Vegas I attended the Skepchick burlesque off site party and had a blast. I was never harassed at a conference. But I understand it IS a boys club, seemingly for the most part. And there are speakers who make a habit of womanizing and sleeping with their fans, and there are speakers who I was able to meet, have drinks with, who were respectful, not pretentious, and truly nice guys. I was lucky to meet many of the speakers because a close friend of mine is one of them. But…I guess I would say….my first confetence was in Burbank, and I was surprised at the amount of advances made towards me, it was like being in the lion’s den. But…nothing scary or anything that could be deemed as harassment occurred. The fact that it does happen, and that Rebecca has had to endure those kinds of remarks is horrifying. I totally stand by my woman counterparts, even though, I’ll be honest, and I hate to say say this because it feels like a betrayal, I was not welcomed by the women at the conference really at all. Some were almost hostile. But that’s a topic for another time. Keep up the good work, women!

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      I’m sorry that some of the women were unkind to you. I have experienced that too. I agree that this is a topic that could be examined in the future.

      • June 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm

        Hi Amy, thanks for your response. Is this Surly Amy by any chance?

      • June 1, 2012 at 7:18 pm

        I actually see that it is, indeed, you. I must tell you, your Surly Ramics sticker is the only sticker on my Jeep and has been for years. I’ve given your necklaces as gifts and my daughter and I both wear them. You were very welcoming and kind to me. Johnny as well. I look forward to seeing you again someday. Take care!

        • June 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm

          Aw, Thank you. :)

  78. June 1, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I’m starting to feel these conferences need a large group of scary MMA fighters wearing t shirts that say

    “My hobby is punching people in the face but I came here for the conference. I don’t expect any of you to want to fight me”

    I’m glad you’re speaking up about this Rebecca, this just isn’t right.

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Skepchick does have an intimidating MMA security person. ME. :D

      Having said that–the solution is not to intimidate men and women into behaving well. The solution is to EDUCATE them into behaving.

  79. June 1, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Since the topic of sexism and safe spaces has been raging here and in skeptic/atheist (yeah, yeah, I know… JREF is not an atheist organization… irrelevant) elsewhere since someone decided “Guys, don’t’ do that” was a outright assault on men, just imagine how many women would be going to TAM if the JREF said “we should tackled this head-on at TAM10”.

    And that CERTAINLY, in my opinion, should have been DJs reaction to the drop in women registering versus pointing fingers and trying to spin it into… this. Because pointing a finger at Rebecca and other women who’ve been vocal is ALSO pointing a finger at all the, otherwise, TAM attendees here who agree with her.

    Basically – ‘She’s misled you, it’s not what you think, come to TAM anyway because you’re wrong.’

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

      *fist bump*

      Right on, Maggie.

    • June 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Well said Maggie!

  80. June 1, 2012 at 11:49 am

    I’m extremely frustrated by this.

    Not by Rebecca’s decision, but because this could all have been avoided with a simple Skype meeting between D.J. and some of the women who have been blogging about being harassed at TAM. It would have taken about an hour:

    “We have an anti-harassment policy in place. What else can we do to help alleviate your concerns?”

    He might be shocked to find that the answer to that question is pretty simple, and won’t even make flirting illegal.

    I do not believe D.J. wants women harassed at TAM. I think everyone pretty much wants the same thing — an enjoyable, stimulating experience for all participants. (Almost everyone, anyway — I suppose there are always people with Born To Grope t-shirts.) If he could just swallow his defensiveness, this is an outstanding opportunity to make headway on this long-term problem.

    Hence the frustration. And I’m not even going to TAM — but I’m hoping for an impressive Skepchick lineup at Dragon*Con.

    • June 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      I agree, phlebas.

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      This is a failure of leadership, period. I am surprised at how few people remember that DJ also had a major sexism fail this January, when Greta said she would not return to TAM.

      Leaders take responsibility for what happens under their watch, and act to fix it. They don’t flail around slinging blame.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      Oh great. YOU aren’t even going… …hangs head and sobs uncontrollably….

      • June 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm

        There’s still an outside chance. Depends on the job situation. If I show, I’ll be happy to make change for you as needed :)

        • June 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm

          You are the best!

    • June 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Dragon*Con will be fantastic. Can it be Dragon*Con now?

  81. June 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Frustrating, heartbreaking, and entirely correct. I’m so glad you’re taking such a strong and eloquent stand on this – thank you.

  82. June 1, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I read above a comment in which someone said maybe part of it was due to the Vegas atmosphere and that was one of his reasons for not attending-that it is held in Vegas. It should be said that it is held in a hotel way off the strip out in the middle of no where you might say. It is a smaller hotel and feels it. You see the same people walking to and from lectures every day. Same people around the same handful of bars every day/night. It’s a pretty relaxed place off the strip.

  83. June 1, 2012 at 11:54 am

    All I can say is Bravo Rebecca, this is absolutely the right thing to do, and the right way to do it. I’ve been following the skeptic/atheist movement for what feels like a short time, but have always been impressed by your posts and comments on the SGU. As a white male, you’ve done tons to open my eyes to problems I didn’t know exist, and still would be in the dark if it weren’t for you and the rest of the skepchicks. I wasn’t likely to go to TAM anytime soon (don’t really like Vegas, and was going to CONvergence longer than I’ve been into the skeptic movement), but am MUCH less likely too now based on DJ’s handling of things. Look forward to seeing you at CONverence…although may not partake in the Buzzed Aldrin’s that much…driving home each night and chasing our son who’s dressed up as Dr. Horrible means I need to remember water more than booze. :)

  84. June 1, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Rebecca Watson,

    James Randy might want to institute some better policies. This shouldn’t be happening, and its not like its completely out of their control.

  85. June 1, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Skeptics hate personal anecdotes. Here’s the irony. If you report sexual harassment, such as groping, to a woman, she knows you are not making an extraordinary claim. But some men think it is an extraordinary claim because it is not in their own experience to have their space violated like that. You cannot get away from personal anecdote even if you are the one charging the victim with “over-exaggerating.” I see it that skeptics do not wish to step back and view incidents as a pattern, because see, seeing patterns is a human emotion thing. Perhaps some skeptics cannot get past this in order to see something like institutionalized sexism.

    • June 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      I don’t by it. It’s just an excuse. Non-skeptics use the SAME EXACT shoddy logic. It all boils down to, “We trust men not to sexually harass, but we don’t trust women not to lie about it.”

      Not to mention that even with SIX FUCKING WITNESSES, Ashley is still called a lair. That is hugely telling.

      It’s not just skeptics being too logical. That’s ridiculous and putting far too much faith in the human’s ability to always be logical. We’re just not logical beings, not always, even when we are trying to be. That’s kind of the first thing you need to realize when you are on the path to skepticism!

  86. June 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I didn’t read all the comments, so I simply say “Good for you Rebecca.”
    As you no doubt know this confronting/sexist situation occurs in many fields, from social clubs to sports clubs. It is the scourge of our gatherings. Even those purporting to offer equality in an otherwise compelling endeavor.
    I am sure TAM will be the poorer for your non attendance, so be it. Their loss.
    Andiis. Australia.

  87. June 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Just finished reading the comments on Stephanie’s blog and I think I’ve identified DJ’s problem.

    He is assuming that, because nobody reported anything to him, harassment doesn’t happen at TAM. No proof see? All those times women thought they were harassed, rumors and anecdotes.

    He seems to think that women are as trustworthy as people who see Bigfoot. No proof see?

    Since those who see Bigfoot are either lying our mistaken, given the absence of proof we must conclude that Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Likewise, people who report harassment must be lying our mistaken given the lack of concrete proof. See? Perfect logic.

    Also women are as reputable as Bigfoot spotters.

    I may have found a flaw.

  88. June 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    As the father of a daughter, the husband of a wife, and the son of a mother, thank you for speaking out for them.

  89. June 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    I’m going to say something that’s probably going to get raise hackles on both sides of this discussion, but here goes.

    Let me start by saying that I think what you’re doing, Rebecca, is important, and that you should keep doing it. But by drawing attention to the problem of sexism within this community, you will necessarily draw more attention from the assholes. So your experience will change and because you’re being vocal about it, public perception of the problem will follow your experience.

    You’ve said yourself that DJ and the JREF have taken steps to improve the community and the experience of women at TAM. And I think those efforts are having a positive effect.

    So perception of the problem isn’t necessarily tracking with the experience of most women at TAM. I think DJ has identified a real problem. I don’t know if he’s got a grip on the context of that problem, and I agree that blaming you for it as he does was the wrong move. I think he should have contacted you privately to talk about how to deal with it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t really know what the next step is. I know there was a survey last year. I don’t know what was on it. Maybe we need to spend some time talking about how the experience of people at TAM has changed, with data from that survey to back it up.

    I hope this isn’t just a confused and muddled mess. This is getting complicated, and I hope folks can calm down and stop being so polarized about this.

    P.S., I’m already getting an earful from someone on DJ’s side about this, so I guess my prediction was right.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      Actually no, Rebecca’s experiences aren’t atypical. Case in point–I just joined my local skeptic’s group. A man there used the word ‘twat’ as an insult. I said, pretty mildly, I think, “Hey, I find that word pretty offensive when used as a slur. Can you please not do that?” and everyone but one person, including the leadership of the group, jumped on my case for “creating a problem” and “not accepting his [faux]apology.”

      So no, it’s not just Rebecca, it’s not that Elevatorgate has made her experiences atypical–this is stuff we all face on a near-daily basis.

  90. June 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    It is certainly disheartening to hear DJ Grothe say such appallingly ignorant things. It highlights how much work the skeptical community, and its male component in particular, has yet to do.

    Keep sending the message loud and clear, Rebecca! Eventually, the more thick-headed members of the community will get the idea.

  91. June 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    That really sucks. But I completely support your decision, Rebecca, and I don’t believe I will further support the JREF until they adequately respond to the situation and make appropriate changes.

  92. June 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I don’t have time to read all the posts right now, but I have been sick to my stomach all morning about this.

    I’m worried about Randi.

    Is it too late for Rebecca and DJ to talk about this and work it out?

  93. June 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I’m sorry you won’t be going to TAM and you and other women get treated that way. I think you’ve made the right decision if you and other women get called liars just for speaking out — and get blamed for poor attendance.

    I’m very disappointed in DJ Grothe’s response. I wish I could do more about this.

    Well I unfriended the guy on Facebook so I feel a little better.

  94. June 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    TAM sounds like an awful event with lots of nasty things going on. If it is this bad (I have never been) there really is a huge problem.

    Rebecca, any plans to deal with the SGU forum? That’s a pretty nasty, mean, sexist place as well…

  95. June 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    As other commenters have pointed out, it’s sad that DJ didn’t talk to you personally about it, given your history of involvement with TAM.

    In the past, cost was always my deciding factor in terms of TAM, i.e. against it (hundreds of dollars just for the con, not including gas/food/accommodations? no thanks). Now that there are some many other cons that are more affordable and that have better harassment policies and are led by people who are more supportive of women (sad how all that means is “believe that we’re not lying), there are that many fewer reasons to go to TAM.

  96. June 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you, Rebecca, for being as brave as ever. This movement would not be the same without you, and I wouldn’t be here without you.

    I agree with commenter lepperk unthread who wrote, “Here’s the thing. It’s not the blog posts about harassment that would discourage me from attending TAM or any other skeptic/atheist convention. None of the posts from feminist bloggers on the subject that I’ve read over the last couple of years would do that.

    “It’s the RESPONSES to these posts from some men that make me think twice about being more involved in the skeptic and atheist community. Men who belittle, ignore, explain away, and most importantly offer abuse in response to feminist bloggers.”

    This is entirely how I feel. Women expressing concerns would do very little to keep me away from events like TAM if the response to those concerns demonstrated understanding and effort to improve the situation. Alas.

    Especially when a not-insignificant number of blogs are currently working on solutions to the problem of harassment at conventions (example:, and it is sad and disappointing that DJ would take the approach that he has. It has been widely acknowledge, by Rebecca and others, that DJ has made huge strides to include women in JREF’s activities, and I am inclined to believe that his unfortunately response is a sign of defensiveness on his part–“But I’m an ally! I’ve done good things in the past! This can’t be my problem!” Everyone get defensive (even rational skeptics), but doing so in a public and official context is not the sign of a strong leader.

    TAM was not in my travel plans this year, but I would like to be able to consider it in the future, assuming their leadership steps up and does the right thing.

    In the meantime, I look forward to seeing Rebecca and my Skepchick sisters at SkepchickCon!

  97. June 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    It’s disheartening that things should come to this, but resolute action seems to be called for. FWIW, you have my support and respect for your decision, Rebecca.

    I’ll second Tyler’s comment about Las Vegas itself being part of the problem for TAM this year. I realize some people love the place, the gambling, the drinking, the shows. I also understand that several people involved with JREF are part of the Vegas scene.

    However, I can’t think of too many places that are so overtly demeaning to women on such a grand scale. I don’t think of myself as particularly prudish, but I find Las Vegas uncomfortable, and I have the advantage of being a guy. I can only imagine how it must make many women feel to see the blatant exploitation of female sexuality as the bait to sell, sell, sell.

    That said, Grothe’s accusation that the problem (low attendance by women) is the result of people speaking out about the problem is reason enough to chuck it.

    And, oh, by the way…Grothe should realize that there are plenty of men who object to and protest the demeaning sexualization and harassment of women, men who know that the problem is men’s behavior…not women speaking out about the problem. Perhaps he should join that club.

  98. June 1, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    I tried to talk with DJ at last year’s TAM about my concerns related to the presence of a particular speaker and his association and support of a friend who was convicted of sex and trafficking crimes against minor females. DJ clearly expressed to me that he did not see why this was a problem or why it should be a concern for JREFF/TAM. All I can say is that DJ appears to be distressingly consistent in his inability to perceive and recognize other people’s concerns and experiences and how this has, and will continue to, impact the organization he represents. When I became a skeptic I soon realized that I would need to develop a taste for humble pie and crow because many of my perceptions developed over a lifetime were simply wrong and needed to be changed because evidence and facts were now necessary to support my views. Discounting facts and evidence is not how rational, skeptical and reasonable people should make decisions and policy, and the skeptical community should hold people accountable when this happens. Thanks for staying strong Rebecca.

  99. June 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I have been to exactly one TAM, TAM 4. I had a great time and was very sad when it was over.

    I was not harassed, but I do recall feeling very much like it was an old boys’ club. And old boys’ clubs being as they are, I can’t say this whole mess surprises me. At all. What does surprise me is the fact that JREF leadership is taking such a wimpy stance, and THAT is what makes it unforgivable to me.

    As a point of perspective, I am a Risk Director for a nonprofit that has has more than its share of detractors. Since some of these detractors are loud, threatening, and occasionally violent, online and offline security is key. So I always make it a point to know what is going on “out there” in Internet-land, because, while one can’t control what people are going to say, you can (and MUST) control your reactions to it.

    And of course there is the internal sexual harassment issue and discrimination issues. So — EVERY.SINGLE.COMPANY that wants to stay viable has policies against harassment. It’s been mentioned that JREF has a policy. Great! The problem comes in when you have a policy and don’t enforce it. That is a corporate lawsuit waiting to happen.

    1) How you react in the face of negative feedback or press is key. Business folks use the example of the Tylenol poisoning case. Tylenol recalled a product at great expense to them, and as such was able to survive a horrible situation. We’ve seen this played out over and over. It’s not the situation, it’s the *cover up.* It doesn’t matter whether or not the situation is fair – or even TRUE, for that matter. What matters is that there is this negative perception that is impacting your organization, and you MUST do something or the narrative will be created for you. Which leads me to:

    2) Pertaining to “JREF is condoning sex trafficking”, it is VERY possible that the dissent within the community is being stoked by people who are anti-skepticism posing as people within the movement. I am intimately familiar with this tactic, and it’s a tactic that is becoming more common. Is it likely in this case? Eh…who knows. Probably not, we just don’t have enough clout for these kinds of people to start getting scared. I tend to think that it’s all of our penchant for hyperbole these days. Everything here in the US is extreme now – our politics in the US, our viewpoints, pretty much everything. Just look at the election, and pretty much any offhanded comment is spun to mean the candidate eats puppies with kitten sauce.

    So in my mind, it’s DJ and the JREF’s board’s failure to address the issue for months that is the acute problem in this case. (Yes, of course people need to stop harassing women. And don’t get me started on women who think they can buy security for themselves by excusing or condoning institutionally-supported harassing behavior.) Every group is going to have creeps. But what are you going to do about it?

    All nonprofits, skeptic ones included, are a business to carry out a mission. When your internal crap starts interfering with your ability to deliver on your mission, your leader is held accountable and/or system change is initiated.

    Rebecca, I hope that your absence wakes some people up. If not, JREF is perhaps a bit too far down the road and that brings with it a bunch of problems and in that case, I would worry for Randy’s legacy.

  100. June 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    What a quandary. I very much respect and like Rebecca—and D.J. as well. I’ve been a chief executive of a non-profit that hosted, among other meetings, an annual symposium just a tad smaller than TAM 9 was. We put into place harassment policies to counter many possible issues —sexual, racial, religion, etc. We had little call to employ them over the years, fortunately, but even so it took a while to tune them to work as well as we wanted them to. Initial organizational policies usually are well-meaning, well-thought out, and put into place with great confidence and some fanfare, as JREF did for TAM 9. Once they are exercised a time or two, though, flaws usually are noted and need to be fixed. In my view this is where we stand now, not only for TAM but also for our community’s cons in general. All organizations can learn not only from their own experiences but also from incidents that have arisen at similar events. D.J. not only is a leading skeptic, he also is a top manager of a large organization and, while I, if in his position, probably would have responded to posts on this issue differently, I like that he appears to be working to understand mistakes that may have been made and misunderstandings that seem to have been prevalent in some discourse. Rebecca also is a leading skeptic and leads a powerful group of (mostly) women, many of whom also wield much influence on the community. While Rebecca certainly may choose not to attend TAM 2012, just as any of us can, I really hope she will reconsider. A change is needed, if not in the TAM harassment policy’s aim, at least in its nuances, in enforcement, and in record-keeping. I know JREF leaders (I hope supported by some of us volunteers in the community) can make the policy work in the future—and it is the future we really need to be concerned with when we address reducing harassment of all kinds and making all our skeptical, scientific, secular and atheist events more welcoming to all. The way to make change is not to back away but to be a part of the solution not only at a distance, but also on site. I’ve been fortunate to have been a TAM volunteer in the past, and there still is a cadre, I’m sure, of us who would welcome a chance to be a part of enforcing this policy (since JREF now has hired folks to do many of the admin tasks we used to do). I’m not talking about a “TAM Police Force” or anything so intrusive to the camaraderie we’ve enjoyed at TAM for all these years (at least not to the good encounters and experiences that I think still are in the vast majority). Suppose, though, that by something subtle (a different lanyard, a color on a nametag, or the like) some subset of attendees could readily be identified as go-to people for anyone who feels she (or he) is being harassed. This might help defuse situations and almost certainly would make record-keeping more accurate. Those of us who arrive early in the week (as I and many JREF Forumites tend to do) could undergo training of some sort in ways to defuse situations, if needed. As one of the older attendees, I perhaps have benefited from more years of social situations and have intervened when I noticed something that appeared wonky (yes even at TAM after-hours and, no, not reported because of the informality back then). If you pay attention to what’s going on and circulate, as many of us do, it isn’t all that difficult to notice when one of our attendees (usually a woman) is being pestered by another attendee or Southpoint creep (usually a man). I’ve found that simply joining the conversation and, responding to generally obvious facial and body language from the person potentially being harassed, either redirecting the topic, redirecting the “gentleman” or taking her away to another group, works well and is appreciated. In one instance what I had read as possible harassment turned out not to be, again by watching the interaction, so I just left the two alone—they were after all adults. The point is that I think we, together with JREF and TAM staff, can make the policy better and reduce any atmosphere of fear that may be perceived to exist. Rebecca, I think you could have a far more positive impact for the future of TAM, skeptical cons in general, and all of us if you choose to attend and work within this event to as some other folks in this thread have decided. In any case, though, it’s your call and I respect you for taking a stand.

  101. June 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Rebecca, you completely have my support.

    I am saddened but not surprised by DJ’s comments. This is not the first time that he has shown his utter lack of empathy for women dealing with sexism ( I had attended TAM in the past but made my decision not to attend again while the current regime is in order.

    Conventions are expensive and time consuming, with the growing popularity of the skeptical movement, there are lot ore to choose from than there were a few years ago. If organizers want my money, they need to provide me valuable product. An enforced harassment policy is the absolute minimum. Speakers and subjects that interest me are critical, and as a woman in the U.S., guess what I find interesting right now. Organizers don’t have to listen to me, they can listen to the sound of my money going somewhere else.

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      Good reference to show that this has been a long-standing issue. As is typical on this subject, there is a pattern of demeaning or dismissive behavior before the situation is blown wide open.

  102. June 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I really can’t understand DJ’s position on this. Whether or not anything happened, and I have little doubt it did, he should be making clear they would take steps to prevent it in the future. Can’t really see why he would chose to blame the victim, that’s just going to push more people away.

  103. June 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I think hellboundalleee may be on to something. Maybe most guys aren’t inclined to harass women, and it’s such a foreign idea to them that they can’t really believe that the reports of harassment are true?

    Of course that in no way excuses DJ and others who downplay the problem or blame women for complaining about it. Given that the women complaining are reasonable people, perhaps incredulous men could just trust them – is that too much to ask?

    I’m sad you won’t be at TAM – my husband and I had decided to save up for next year’s meeting, but one of the big draws for us was seeing SGU live, and it wouldn’t be the same without you. Hopefully JREF will sort themselves out and have a reasonable, robust response before next year. (I.e., you can put procedures in place and reassure people that you’re on top of the problem without poo-pooing the people who are complaining of issues and blaming them for scaring off women.)

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      That would make sense if these very same guys weren’t also saying things like, “Well, men are pigs…*wink wink, nudge nudge*”

      I think what’s happening is that THEY aren’t the ones harassed, so they can’t imagine that it would bother someone. They may even think its some kind of compliment (I’ve heard that line of “reasoning” a lot of times). They are so blinded by their own privilege that they cannot conceive of women being disturbed, triggered and traumatized by these events.

  104. June 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I’m flabbergasted. I would never have expected Mr. Grothe to make these remarks. I fully support your decision, and I sincerely hope that, as a skeptic, he will reevaluate the data, reach a logical conclusion, apologize to you and reconsider his efforts.

    If I were an android, I’d be more depressed than Marvin right now.

  105. June 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    “This is the first (and likely only) year I’ll be going to TAM and I’m really disappointed that I won’t be able to get a chance to hear you speak and meet you, but I understand.”

    What she said. I suspect a lot of skeptics and atheists were raised as good little christians and still harbour the deep-seated premises of that experience. One of the core premises is that women should sit down and shut the fuck up. As a father, son, and husband of women, I applaud you for pushing back against one of the more appalling consequences of that premise. I’m off to JREF forums to see what DJ has to say for himself about this.

  106. June 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    I went to TAM9 and felt safe. I was not harassed or threatened, but I felt like if I was, I would be able to get help and remedy the situation.

    I don’t feel that way now. The silencing tactics and lack of support from the organization would make me feel unsafe to be there. I am unable to go anyway for financial reasons, but I’d certainly be canceling my plans if I were able to attend. I wouldn’t shell out ~$1K in travel and attendance money again for an event that would react to an incident by telling me not to talk about it for fear of making them look bad.

    Much support to you, Rebecca. You’ve done a lot to shape my belief that I do not deserve to be objectified and harassed, and I admire your ongoing commitment to standing up for silenced women, probably often at the expense of your own sanity.

  107. June 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Hey Rebecca, that sucks. I’ve never been to TAM and was actually thinking of going for the first time this year. Never been to Nevada either… I’ll have to find some other excuse to tick that state off my list ;-).

    Keep strong, my friend, nil illegitimi carborundum etc

  108. June 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I disagree with this post. I think it is disingenuous at best in it’s take of DJ’s comment. I think that rather than engage in rational argument with DJ the posters here, and Skepchick in general, is deliberately fomenting dichotomy and polarisation. I’m disgusted to put it bluntly.

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Please lay out in detail where Rebecca’s post is being disingenuous? Evidence or citations please, otherwise, piss off.

      • June 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm

        Quite rude response from you. But anyway, DJ appears to be approaching this skeptically in referencing the questionnaires taken by TAM attendees. I think the Novella’s are fond of saying “the plural of anecdote is anecdotes”. Obviously skepticism is not to be used on this occasion.

        Rebecca is accusing DJ of “gaslighting” ie. ” a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception.” (from wikipedia)
        Does anyone here really believe this is the case? That DJ and TAM are pro-abuse in some way and deliberately working to enable it? That is how it’s being framed, and that dear pentatomid is “disingenuous at best”, as I said. At best, mind you.

        • June 1, 2012 at 3:53 pm

          So, if you got mugged or attacked and tried to report it, you’d be totally cool with the authorities saying, “well, there was this survey we did and very few people reported being attacked, so your situation is an anecdote and you should shut up about it”?

        • June 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm

          ‘Does anyone here really believe this is the case? That DJ and TAM are pro-abuse in some way and deliberately working to enable it?’

          Noone is claiming this. Absolutely noone. Well maybe someone, somewhere on this planet is, but that definitely not what Rebecca has said or even implied. Learn how to fucking read.

          • June 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm

            “Noone is claiming this. Absolutely noone. Well maybe someone, somewhere on this planet is”…
            indeed, you only have to look at the posts directly below yours by Marliove.

          • June 1, 2012 at 8:47 pm

            @Sixto, I accidentally replied to you below, rather than here. But seriously, just because DJ did gas-light, and that we have acknowledged that gas-lighting exists, and that it has happened in this case, does not mean we are saying there is some sort of conspiracy going on. That’s just silly and doesn’t take the complexity of the issue into account. Please, do some research on sexism and institutionalization sexism. it is blatantly clear that you don’t know the subject at all.

            Do you have this sort of discussion when it comes to racism?! Or is it just people with vaginas you don’t believe?

        • June 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm

          He all but called Ashley a liar, and said that it was a “misunderstanding” and also said that maybe she just didn’t remember the assault. That is CLASSIC gas-lighting. Did you read this post, at all?

          He also said:

          “So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.”’]

          He’s talking about women making complaints of sexism and harassment! About Ashley, and Rebecca! He is talking about these women when he makes these comments. Women who have had specific examples of harassment and sexism, and who have even reported it. It’s kind of funny, really; we are constantly being demanded to provide more and more and more evidence to support the fact that sexism exists, but it’s never enough, is it?

          And you’re defending him with his same faulty logic. Nice.

        • June 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm

          Blockquote fail, but I did want to highlight this:

          it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,”

          ‘Cuz not only are women gossipy lairs, they are WHORES who then regret being whores the next day so they make shit up to discredit men, ‘cuz of course men can totally be trusted not to harass and rape, but women can’t be trusted to tell the truth about it.

          Again, did you read this post? Did you read the wikipidia article you posted? This is classic gas-lighting.

          A woman makes a complaint of sexual harassment or maybe rape, and she’s told that it couldn’t possibly be true, and maybe she just got drunk and now regrets it. Or maybe she has a vendetta against the man and wants him to be deemed a skeeze.

          You know what makes this MOST sad? That someone so prominent in the Skeptic community can be such a classic fucking example of blatant misogyny, sexism, and gas-lighting. Seriously, that quote is the fucking definition!


    • June 1, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      You’ve got it backwards. Rather than engage in rational argument with women who report harassment about how they can make those women feel more welcome in direct alignment with their own stated goals, DJ and his supporters are deliberately fomenting dichotomy and polarization by telling them to shut up.

      I’m disgusted, too.

    • June 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      You ought to first explain what is rational about dismissing claims of harassment as though they’re something extraordinary.

    • June 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      There a word that describes what’s going on here. It describes the attitude of: “Well, -I- don’t see this going on, so it not be happening!” It explains the gall with which someone can try to use SKEPTICISM to equate things reports of sexual harrassment with like UFO sightings. It enables the status of never having to be victim to something, and thereby being able to blithley handwave it. DJ Grothe has demonstrated it, and now so have you.

      It’s called PRIVILEGE.

    • June 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm

      You’re are a troll sixto, fair and square. So there is no such thing as having a rational conversation with you. You’re just gumming up the conversation with your tripe and stupidity. So just go. Please.

  109. June 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    This situation saddens but does not surprise me. Institutions, especially male-run institutions, are all too often more concerned with their own images than they are with the actual safety of their members/employees, especially if it involves sexual misconduct. In part it’s due to the “Sue the bastards!” culture of Americans (and I am one) and the fear of liability and bad PR.

    But mostly it’s attributable to the lack of value men place on women’s experiences and lives. If there were a ring of muggers operating at these conventions, disguising themselves as members, there would be a huge hue and cry. Instead, there’s a ring of sexual thugs doing the same thing, and because their prey is female, the powers that be don’t care. Nothing sends a clearer image that you are not wanted when your concerns are not taken seriously. Is it any wonder women continue to create their own spaces?

    I’m deeply disappointed that D.J. is reacting to this as a PR problem and not as a legal and cultural problem. But I’m not in the least surprised.

    Boycott, my sisters, until the boys learn to act like adults and take responsibility and police themselves.

  110. June 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    DJ’s comments were inappropriate; just a more polite form of the rape threats you receive regularly, Rebecca. The sexism issue is HUGE and addressing it forthrightly would strengthen the movement. However, my question is, aren’t you repeating DJ’s mistake by announcing your concerns publicly in a blog? PR firestorms burn everybody.

  111. June 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I really wish that weren’t true, but you are as usual 100% correct.

  112. June 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    @Sixto: Sure. If the dichotomy is “shut up about institutional sexism” or “don’t shut up about institutional sexism.”

    I think we can only benefit as a group from doing the latter.

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      Thank you Sulis, you have illustrated my point perfectly.

      • June 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

        Stop speaking with your rectum.

        • June 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

          Thank you for your worthwhile comment.

          • June 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm

            Because your comments are worthwile?! Hahaha.

            He only answered in kind. Quite accurately, in fact.

            Stop talking out of your rectum. It’s quite smelly up there. I imagine it doesn’t make for clear thinking.

  113. June 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    For what it’s worth, I believe DJ when he says he doesn’t remember the incident. He doesn’t have to be deliberately gaslighting Ashley Miller for his initial statement and his reaction to her revelation to be entirely inappropriate.

  114. June 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Sometimes you have to leave the thing you love most to do the right thing and/or keep your dignity. And it sucks balls – but you keep your respect and dignity, and those who matter most get it and support you. Sort of sifts the wheat from the chaff.

    I’ve got damn near same personal experience in a parallel world filled with supposedly empowered women who supposedly take care of each other first and foremost and put their own interests and awesomeness first. Until they don’t. Until the collective tide irreversibly shifted (or I just finally understood that’s how it was all along) and it became “won’t someone think of the mens and their feelings and how to be more inclusive of them?” It was the thing I most loved in the whole world, but because of the unfixable fuckery and how it finally personally broke my heart, I chose to leave it behind.

    I’m proud, wholly supportive and fuck-yeah of Rebecca for her words and actions through this entire arc from Elevator-Gate to dropping out of TAM. I’m proud and fuck-yeah all the voices of women AND men within the skeptic community being supportive and calling bullshit on this whole bunch of asshattery from TAM leadership and other asshats in the skeptic community who don’t get it.

  115. June 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Rebecca: I strongly support your decision.

    DJ Grothe is, after all, THE PRESIDENT of JREF, and presumably is therefore the person who can and should solve, not exacerbate, overall problems with JREF and TAM.

    Over the last few days, I’ve seen some enlightening (rather than enheatening) observations about TAM and why folks might not want to attend.

    Item: the cost is too high for an individual. TAM and DJ must recognize that “the movement” has now become so successful that TAM now has (gasp!) competition! JREF should be deeply engaged in market research to identify the competition; identify the CUSTOMER’s perception of strengths of TAM and the competition, identify, from the USER’s point-of-view the opportunities for TAM to distinguish itself from the competition. This is all “Marketing 102,” if not “Marketing 101.”

    Item: some folks have complained about the environment [both indoor and outdoor] at TAMs. Indoors, TAM should be held always in a smoke-free environment. That is the norm in 21st Century North America, and there’s no excuse for a conference organizer to impose current or stale smoke on anyone. Moreover, smoke-free hotel rooms should be available to the limit of those who want them.

    Outdoor, some folks have complained about the arid heat in summertime Las Vegas. Again, competent market research can shed light on this issue and help suggest, as necessary, alternative conference venues.

    Item: A prominent speaker at secular/skeptical events mentions from the podium (but not a TAM podium) in mid 2012 that she was warned in an informal “XX Network,” about certain skeevy speakers she might encounter IF SHE CONTINUED TO ATTEND AND SPEAK AT SUCH EVENTS. That speaker even said (in a blog, not from the podium) that her friends had to be alerted to be “on the watch with her.”

    THE PRESIDENT of JREF should immediately recognize/verify the existence of such a network (which operates beyond his control or, indeed beyond ANY control he might wish for in his fondest dreams). HE should suspect/accept that it operates at TAMs just as it operates at TAM’s competing conferences, and HE should do HIS best to suss out speakers who ARE PERCEIVED TO BE SKEEVY, and who can thus be omitted from future TAM invite lists based on “XX Network” concerns. Mr. JREF President, the XX Network is real. Deal with it honestly.

    Item: Some folks, some of whom are female, point to the poisonous commentary at the JREF blog as an indicator of folks with whom they wouldn’t want to spend a whole conference or even spend the wait for an elevator. THE PRESIDENT of JREF needs to acknowledge this concern as real and needs to address it as an issue. The JREF blog and JREF’s TAM indeed interact in people’s minds, like it or not. (And for the record: No, I most certainly would not pay to attend a conference of Pharynguloid Endless Threaders, though I’d pay much to attend a conference that gave me the opportunity to share a beer with PZ.

    JREF can’t have it both ways. It can’t officially sponsor its own version of a slimepit and also have its TAM be aloof from that pit. It can’t ask people who know from their personal experience and/or from the “XX network” that Schrodinger’s Rapist exists at conferences like TAM to ignore the odor (or worse) from the pit and yet attend TAM anyway.

    An astute manager and conference organizer would know all of the above, or would learn it fast, or would hire better-attuned someones to manage TAM and/or the JREF blog, or else would resign in the best interests of JREF and TAM.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:50 pm


      The fearsome Pharyngulistas!

      I’m sorry, I just find it funny that Pharyngula posters have become like this mythical stand-in for rude assholes. Because I post both there and here and honestly there isn’t a BIG difference in tone, vis-a-vis sexist trolls and suchlike things.

      And, in the Endless Thread, there’s lots of talk about knitting, crocheting, drinking beer and other libations, personal trials and tribulations, babies, children, music, things about politics that frustrate most normal people, and of course the occasional bout of raising money for people who need it.

      Yes, we’re truly fearsome!

      • June 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm

        I agree (although I love Pharyngula, I don’t comment there or my free time would DISAPPEAR). There is a huge difference between people being crude/loud in a venue where it is explicitly approved by patrons and proprietor, versus a venue where people are *bigoted* or *dishonest.* NOT THE SAME THING.

        Note how Kylie Sturgess got schooled when she tried to say someone was being sexist for calling a commenter/female TAM speaker a fucking liar, and everyone was like: no, there was no gendered language employed, the person in question did in fact lie in the assessment of many people here, and this is the exact same treatment we’d give to any fucking liar on our forum, regardless of gender.

  116. June 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I am so sorry this has happened, Rebecca. I support your decision 100%, and I hope your actions ultimately have a beneficial effect on the general skeptic community. Actually, I know they already are having a beneficial effect, so thanks, and keep your chin up!

  117. June 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I think it’s time to that the JREF pres. should be removed as he is obviously unqualified for public relations duties -and he should be replaced with someone who stands to garner new members from an unrepresented majority group! Hint. hint.

    Oh, well, wishful thinking and all that. Keep on, Rebecca.

  118. June 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    What if it turns out that they don’t need to “suss out” the skeevy speakers, what if the skeevy speakers are an integral part of TAM, a sponsor? What then?

    • June 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Then the whole event should probably be rethought and perhaps the funding should be diverted to an event that welcomes everyone?

      • June 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm

        I personally think that’s where it’s at now; it’s time to stop thinking of the JREF and TAM as the White House of skepticism. Look at all the conventions, meetups, workshops and other events which have sprung up in recent years. Fill them up. Spread out. Expand. Fill niches, expand some more. Don’t keep going to the same well and expect one well to provide for everyone.

        The movement is… moving on. And the JREF might need to step aside a bit as it passes. It can come along, but I don’t think it’s in the lead any more.

  119. June 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Well let’s see @sixto, when asked why his bragged about percentage of attendees to his organization’s event is down he gave one reason, only one. Because of some bloggers repeatedly taking about the sexism that exists in the community, women were scared off from attending. Then when asked what he meant by that he went on to name names, not to say it was simply increased awareness, not to say that he would make sure it wasn’t an issue, no he went on to name names. A big old not my fault bro.

    And what did Rebecca do? She decided not to attend the event she was just told she was ruining. Wow, what a meanie.

    So I ask you, who exactly is creating a dichotomy?

    • June 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      Do you think DJ is deliberately engaged in psychological abuse with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception?

      The conspiratorial style thinking going on here is upsetting.

      • June 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm

        Gaslighting can be done without intent of abuse, too.

      • June 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm

        This doesn’t have to be blatantly intentional. Sexism is quite ingrained and not always overtly apparent until you see it on a grander scale. No one noticed before because this is the first time he’s spoken out so vocally about a problem that women are having within conference he is running. And he failed. Classically.

        “it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,””

        I’ll just keep leaving this here, again, because it is HORRIFYING.

        Sexual exploits?! Women who complain of harassment or maybe even rape just regret t heir sexual exploits?!


        • June 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

          “No one noticed before ”

          With you Marilove, I get that image of Donald Sutherland at the end of Bodysnatchers… you know, the part where he points and makes that horrible noise.

          • June 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm

            If I wasn’t clear enough for you, I apologize, and I”ll try to explain my point. But can you please stop calling the responses of people “rude” then … comment with this utter crap? Perhaps TRY to respond to my points.

            What I mean is that sexism exists. You cannot dispute this fact. However, it’s not always noticed. Sometimes it’s subtle; often its ignored; but it’s there. It is even there at Skeptical conferences.

            Just because YOU don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

            And his response his textbook sexist gas-lighting and sexism.

            He directly said he believes that women are just making this shit up because they had some sexual exploits they now are uncomfortable with and now want to make poor men into skeeves.

            And you’re defending him. You’re ignoring all other points addressed. You refuse to listen. You are part of the problem.

            Ugh. Sexist bullshit, all of it. Period.

          • June 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm

            Well, I only hit submit once… Sorry for the double-post.

      • June 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm

        You’re really hanging all your comments on that previous definition of the word gaslighting aren’t you? Would you care to address any of the issues at all, or is that all you intend to argue about?

        Yes, you are absolutely spot on, Rebecca and everyone supporting her is suggesting that there is a big conspiracy within TAM that is pro-abuse, working to enable harassment, and trying to trick everyone into thinking it hasn’t happened. That is very much the point being made. Not that he dealt with the issue very, very badly, fell into misogynistic language and attacks at the first sign of a problem, alienated one of the con’s most outspoken supporters as well as even more attendees, and has actually damaged his own and his group’s reputation in the process. No, that’s definitely not what it’s about. It’s clearly all about that one word and your very strict definition of it, that no-one else could possibly stray from.

        It’s you that is being wholly disingenuous if you are suggesting for a second that’s what this article is really about, or that you ever even believed that to be the case.

        That, dear sixto, is how to be a grade a wanker.

        • June 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm

          Sorry Lorraine, I don’t think there’s any reason to call me a wanker (incidently, an overtly sexual reference that might be offensive to some) just because I’m sympathetic to DJ’s pov. I mean, we are adults here, able to have a rational conversation without resorting to just swearing at people, right? Oh…
          Anyway. Have a look at your accusation that I’m fixated on the use of gaslighting by Rebecca. Ok; gaslighting doesn’t necessarily mean gaslighting, if you want.
          You say:
          “he dealt with the issue very, very badly,”
          I simply don’t agree with this.
          ” fell into misogynistic language and attacks at the first sign of a problem”
          this just sounds absurd. What misogynistic language? He panicked at the first sign of a problem and suddenly started hated women?

          “alienated one of the con’s most outspoken supporters as well as even more attendees, and has actually damaged his own and his group’s reputation in the process.”

          Well, he disagreed with Rebecca. But what are you saying… that less women will go to TAM because Rebecca is boycotting it? So he had a point after all?

          • June 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm

            “What misogynistic language”?


            Let me guess: You know fuck all about feminism or sexism, except maybe from some pro-MRA articles you’ve seen posted on Reddit.

            You are, indeed, acting like a wanker. Stop right now and educate yourself. And, no, it is not our jobs to educate you on the subject.

            And learn how to listen to women. You are not a woman! How can you even begin to imagine that you understand what it’s like? You aren’t even fucking trying.

          • June 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm

            ” that less women will go to TAM because Rebecca is boycotting it?”

            And seriously, you are infuriating. This is not it AT ALL.

            Some women will choose not to go — including me — because the guy who runs the show is a sexist ass-hat who seems to think it’s acceptable to explain away sexual harassment and institutionalization sexism (it’s not like this is unique to Skepticism, jesus christ!), by calling women liars, and making the claim that they just regret their “sexual exploits” and now want to brand those men as skeeves.

            There have been several people here who made quite a few suggestions on how he should have responded to this problem and any number of them would have been acceptable. I would still want to attend if he had just said, “You know. That is terrible. I am really sorry if anyone does not feel welcome at the conference. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome. We will work together to come up with an anti-harassment policy that will help to discourage such behavior, and we will enforce it. Please share with us any suggestions you might have.”

            Done. Then create a really great anti-harassment policy, and enforce it.

            Don’t say that the women are liars who just regret their “sexual exploits”. FUCKING CHRIST.

      • June 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm

        Since you appear to be arrogant enough not to bother with your own googling, I leave these for you:

        System Justification:

        Gender sterotyping:

        Cross Cultural Study of these problems:

        Perhaps you could be arsed to do research before making claims?

        Also, Rebecca, I think you’re doing the right thing.

  120. June 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    @Sixto, the dichotomy and division already exists, and has existed as long as men have harrassed and assaulted women. Nobody said the word “conspiracy” but you, I believe. There is no conspiracy; there is only business as usual: refuse to talk about the bad behavior of some men and it will go away as an issue. Unfortunately for people practicing that tactic, it doesn’t work anymore. So what’s really going on here is not women create a division, but women trying to heal it by making certain members of community take responsibility for their behavior, and make other parts of the community recognize that the problem exists. You can ignore that division all you want, and accuse others of fomenting it, but all that has to happen is that men have to stop sexually harassing women, and start taking their “anecdotes” (and this isn’t a scientific experiment, so that argument makes no sense anyway) as fact. After all, police reports are anecdote and yet they are admitted as evidence into a court of law. Women’s reports of sexual harassment are not anecdote, they are witness reports. And calling a significant portion of your members hysterical liars is pretty divisive. Or hadn’t you noticed?

    • June 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      “Nobody said the word “conspiracy” but you, I believe.”

      Sure; and, possibly, no-one in Jonestown said the word “cult”. So what?

      “refuse to talk about the bad behavior of some men ”
      Straw man: no one is refusing to talk about this. Nonsensical.

      “start taking their “anecdotes” (and this isn’t a scientific experiment, so that argument makes no sense anyway) as fact. ”

      What the F? Is this where the “skeptical movement” has got to? That skepticism is only for scientific experiments? Human reports must be taken as fact? You realise that, whatever “this” is, it isn’t skepticism?

      “calling a significant portion of your members hysterical liars is pretty divisive.”

      Nice ramping up of the straw man hyperbole. Thanks.

      • June 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm

        Dude, please do some research on this concept:

        Institutionalization sexism.

        Honesty, it may do you some good to also look up at institutionalization racism and discrimination in general as they are often very connected.

        Perhaps then you will stop the conspiracy theory bullshit. This is far more complicated than that.

        You may want to do some reading on sociology in general, as well, because you have … not even a grasp.

        • June 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm

          I found something for that, thought I’d toss it in.

          This is a study of institutionalized sexism in academia across fields:

          • June 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm

            Thank you. Ugh. Honestly, though,it probably won’t do any good. He is stickin’ by his denial and illogical reasoning.

        • June 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm

          “Dude, please do some research on this concept:

          Institutionalization sexism.”

          Yes. It exists. So what… therefore DJ is sexist? Is that your “POW!” moment?
          Aaaand, institutional racism exists, therefore… everyone’s a racist. I’m impressed by your perspicacity marilove. Negatively.

          [I think that, by your rules, if you complain about the above I can dismiss you as a “tone-troll”. Is that how it works?]

          • June 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm

            I take it you skimmed the research I gave you. Here, let me just cover a few little things in those readings.

            First, institutional sexism (racism, class discrimination, any -ism you care to mention, as performed via society and/or organization) exists as a system which we, by virtue of being in that society, participate in whether we mean to or like to.

            Your intention to be a good person, assuming you think yourself a good person, is immaterial to your participation in those ideas and habits. You can think yourself to be wonderful, think yourself to be innocent of any wrong-doing, and it does not matter.

            You participate whether you mean to or not, though you can certainly make things worse by choosing to enthusiastically participate in the -isms.

            Sounds like a pessimistic message, as it is, but several things have become obvious in the 60+ years of modern research on the subject: the ideas may persist, but they can be shifted and not as frequently acted on.
            There are ways to mute the expression of the -isms, indicating that they are constructs which may be abandoned and altered by both individual willingness and by the tide of general disapproval.

            But first, people have to be made aware of their participation. After all, they may have managed to skate through without ever suffering averse (or infrequently experiencing averse; people forget) consequences based on their gender, or apparent ethnicity, or orientation, or apparent socio-economic class.

            To those people, this tends to be panicking and/or they’ve been inoculated with a sense of their own superiority and just won’t listen. By doing so, they choose to continue to participate in societal problems, doing damage to the people around them unconsciously, or because they believe the people around them who are not like them deserve to have damage done to them.

            People who chose to do that do not deserve politeness or even charity, though I am currently extending you a shit ton of it. They have chosen to hurt others and indicated that they don’t care.

            Second, behavior which is less compliant with institutional problems has to be both publicly and privately disapproved of. For those who won’t listen, it has to be clear that reprisal for rude, violent, threatening, nasty behavior will be swift and sufficiently negative to discourage repetition. It helps even more for this pressure to be applied both directly (here are our policies) and indirectly (dude, dafuq is wrong with you?)

            You should try reading those resources.

          • June 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

            I sympathise with your viewpoint and appreciate that you probably have good motives.
            I’d like to point however, that what you have written has a side effect: it is a rationalisation to dismiss criticism and even dehumanise the critic. This sort of absolutist ideology is dangerous. If someone disagrees then you are easily licensed to categorise them as “won’t listen” i.e. their disagreement changes from genuine criticism into a deliberate opposition and thus endorsement of… well, almost anything it turns out. (though normally the extremes of sexist behaviour and sexual violence)
            We’ve already seen women critics dismissed as gender-traitors (now sister-punishers) and the accusation that their views are motivated by men, or the desire to please men. This is sexist in itself.

            So again, I’m sure you have the best motives but the trains running crazy out of control.
            (this mean that I “won’t listen” and so am fair game I presume?)

      • June 3, 2012 at 1:34 am

        You say, “conspiracy”, I say “troll”.

  121. June 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I’ve got nothing to add, but I’d just like to say:

    Go Rebecca!

  122. June 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    SUPER SAD!!!
    I’m sorry for you Rebecca. You’re doing the right thing to stand for you’r principles. I hope you find a solution and prove that skeptical argumentation will eventually lead to friendly co-existance and once again mutual respect.

    I’m sorry if this question has been posted before, but will this affect the SGTU podcast? How are Steve the guys there taking this? I hope you still are friends and they agree with you to some extent at least. I would cry my eyes out if this lead to hostility to each other in the SGTU-group. I love you guys, together, you made me a skeptic, so please, show the skeptical world that feminist principles and skepticism are two sides of one coin and that they complement one another!

  123. June 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Kudos, love, and hugs, Rebecca. I know this was a hard decision.

    Although I haven’t officially registered for TAM yet, I have already set up professional obligations to be there, and I will do that. This whole situation made me question that, but the very least I can do is show up and share my love of astronomy with everyone there.

    Side note: most of the warnings and advice I’ve gotten about sexual harassment at skeptics events come from the MEN in the community, not the women. So it’s those well-meaning, caring guys who are to blame as well?

  124. June 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Rebecca, Though I certainly support your decision, I am sad you will not be attending. I loved speaking with you at the NECSS conferences and was looking forward to seeing you again at TAM (my first TAM!!).

    Now I am getting a little worried about attending TAM. My friend and I will be going together,(safety in numbers…) but will I be safe when I go off to do my own things? I usually don’t even think about this sort of thing at all!! I have not been hit on or leered at or whatever since I was in college (and I’m over 50 now). Should I be concerned?

  125. June 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    “DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment. I found that claim astonishing, since I was only aware of women speaking frankly about their own experiences and their own feelings.”

    The claim is not astonishing. I am not returning to TAM or any other skeptical conferences, and I have curtailed most of my own online participation, because of women skeptics. As a feminist female skeptic I have been horrified by this “you’re with us or you’re against us” attitude that Skepchick and others have promoted. Women who disagree with Rebecca’s or other people’s tactics/techniques/posts/etc. are automatically demonized as rape apologists. Yes, this happened to me.

    The idea that women who do not fully accept what Skepchick and other sites are trying to do should not be anathema to skeptics. We should always be looking at different sides, different factors, things we don’t necessarily want to hear but that might improve things. There is a very unpleasant black-and-white tone to this discussion that might actually have come to something, if those of us who disagree were welcomed to present our opinions and a rational debate followed. Instead: name-calling, grossly unskeptical behavior, false dichotomies, and women giving up on the community or movement or whatever you prefer to call it.

    Because I have to spell it out now, I DO NOT disagree that there have been upsetting incidents of harassment. I DO disagree about the way the discussion has been handled, especially as managed by that small group of women leaders in skepticism to whom D.J. alluded. Yes, I myself dislike being harassed, although it has only ever been by people who decide I am WRONG while refusing to hear me out.

    DJ’s claim is not astonishing. It is true, for me and certainly for others as well. You may deny it all you want, but a real skeptic would examine ALL the evidence before making your conclusions. I am disgusted and disheartened by all the infighting (on both sides, to be clear), but worse, I am really disappointed in Skepchick. You guys were a most wonderful introduction to “skepticism as community” for me, but you’ve also helped strip me of any further interest in that. I sincerely, and not sarcastically, wish you the best of luck.

    • June 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      So you’re not going to go because you feel like you might run into people you disagree with, and you think that’s a valid reason to complain. You also seem to think it is invalid to not go because someone might believe they will face harassment, assault, and possibly rape.

      I’m calling shenanigans.

      • June 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm

        And I am calling strawman, as well as a total lack of focus on the points I actually did make.

        I’m not just “not going to TAM.” I am getting the hell out of community skepticism altogether. And your second statement is ridiculous given what I said in my post.

        The way you read and responded to my comment illustrates my point delightfully. Thank you.

        • June 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm

          Good. Goodbye. I don’t think we’ll miss ya.

        • June 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm

          “if those of us who disagree were welcomed to present our opinions and a rational debate followed.”

          You mean like how you had the opportunity to present your opinion here on this site? Like you just did without being called names? Or like that time you were featured on this blog by me and I did an entire interview with you and helped promote your blog? If you want to leave the community fine but don’t blame us for somehow excluding you based on your views and causing you to leave. That is clearly not the case now and never has been.

          • June 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm

            1. I wasn’t called names on this comment, but do you find the responses positive or even neutral? I HAVE been called names by your coterie elsewhere.

            2. “You guys were a most wonderful introduction to “skepticism as community” for me….”

            Did you read that part? Yes, at first this place was perfect for me. I found fascinating posts and a comment community that was excellent at disagreeing and debating politely. It was an incredibly refreshing change from the general-interest message board I used to admin. I defended RW and everyone else against people who complained to me about the Skepchick calendar and other things they didn’t like about the site. You guys inspired me, and had a huge amount to offer me, and I was happy to participate.

            That was years ago, Amy. That place simply doesn’t exist anymore. The comment section is no longer a safe place to debate, thanks in part to one of my respondents here. And that’s why I’m disappointed. Honestly disappointed, not patronizing in any way. I loved it here. Skepchick is by no means the single reason I cannot stand organized skepticism anymore (nor did I say that), but the tactics and techniques that have come from this site are a major influence in the echo chamber that is the online skeptical community.

            “If you want to leave the community fine but don’t blame us for somehow excluding you based on your views and causing you to leave. That is clearly not the case now and never has been.”

            Please show me where I said “Skepchick excluded me.” This situation has (almost) nothing to do with how I personally have been treated. I stopped commenting as soon as I started seeing people being eviscerated, such as by marilove, for *fairly* presenting opinions contrary to the ones posted by Skepchicks. (Not talking about the jackasshole commenters.)It didn’t happen to me because I didn’t let it. And I didn’t say anything when that was all it was because it is your house after all.

            But what’s coming out of Skepchick and other places now are driving good, smart people out of organized skepticism. (People you probably admire, not talking about me.) The main point I wish to make is that women are leaving skepticism not because of sexism, but because of the tone of the debate. *Everyone* is being dicks, to reference Phil Plait. That is the discussion happening aside from your campaigns. If you would like to claim it isn’t the case, that’s fine, but you simply aren’t listening hard enough to people who disagree with you. Which, in the end, is the overall problem.

          • June 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm

            Correction: “Women aren’t being driven out of skepticism *only* because of sexism.”

          • June 1, 2012 at 10:54 pm

            @ZenMonkey – You say

            I HAVE been called names by your coterie elsewhere.

            Well, that has never happened on the internet before.

          • June 2, 2012 at 1:45 am

            “a small exclusive group of friends or people with common interests; clique”

            I had to look that word up. Neither Amy nor Rebecca has a “clique”. This group is no more connected than any other skeptical group, even if we are mostly women.

            I am tired of this fucking accusation that Skepchick is some sort of “clique”. Interesting that this complaint is only directed at a site focused on women. Huh. I wonder why that is?

          • June 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm


            When talking about how negative and implicitly hostile the tone of the community is, you might not want to use phrases like “horrified”, “with us or against us”, “rape apologists”, “echo chamber”, “eviscerated”, “dicks”, and so forth. You’re contributing to the unfriendly tone here. Indeed, using that kind of language is establishing the poor tone you complain about.

    • June 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Here’s the thing, though. This isn’t ABOUT evidence and nobody needs to prove that harassment is going on to instate and advertise a strict harassment policy. Figuring out the scale of the problem may be helpful in determining how to fix it and what changes need to be made, but even if the problem is being overstated, it DOES NOT MATTER. What matters is his reaction.

      What he should have done is said, here is our harassment policy, we will have clear instructions on how to utilize it and we will enforce it to the fullest extent because we want this to be a safe space for everyone.

      What he did say is, stop talking about this, there is no problem. Which does not inspire confidence in the event’s ability (or desire) to deal with inevitable problems that ALL groups face. Nor is it going to calm the fear that is being expressed.

      I don’t think it’s a Skepchick thing, but rather more of a decent human being thing to be opposed to people who tell women to shut up when they express their concerns and opinions.

      • June 1, 2012 at 9:42 pm

        Thank you very much for your rational reply. I think if this were a matter of two people, or a very small group of people, discussing this, all your points could definitely be addressed and perhaps even solved. I believe things have been misunderstood on both sides.

        The problem as I see it is that instead, “sides” have been created; opinion, rumors, and misinformation have been spread and requoted as fact; most of the response is emotional instead of rational; and people are needlessly demonized. This is what I object to. Of course I think these things are valid concerns (and it’s flat out idiotic of anyone to jump to the conclusion that I do not), but the way things have exploded, I don’t even care anymore what happens, because I’m so exhausted by all the hatred where there *could* be understanding.

        • June 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm

          I hear you, truly I do. If you’ve been around awhile, though, you’ve seen the comments we’ve had to put up with. Here, on this heavily moderated thread, we’ve had our stories compared to UFO sightings, told that we’re harassed because we don’t have anything interesting to say, told we should just shut up about it in order to protect some ‘image’ of the movement, been subjected to bizarre divorced-from-reality-and-humanity arguments, etcetcetc. I can only assume you’ve seen these things constantly in the last year, because I sure have. And worse.

          How much abuse and ‘questioning’ and hostility and belittling do we have to take before we’re allowed to get pissed?

          • June 2, 2012 at 12:13 am

            Absolutely, get pissed at the trolls and the people who can’t appropriately express their point without insulting everyone around them, and so on. I know exactly the kind of comments you’re talking about and by all means, there can come a point where you just don’t feel like taking the high road anymore. While it’s not my style, I don’t object to it.

            It’s the people who fairly and reasonably present an opposing view to the majority, yet still get jumped on that I object to. I’ve seen those kind of comments be subject to the exact rhetoric as the ones that actually deserve it.

            And to mrmisconception: my point is that for everyone whining about being called names, they have no compunction about doing it in return. When someone cries loudly about being called a mean name in a blog comment, and then calls a polite responder not in total agreement an idiot, the hypocrisy successfully drains almost all my compassion.

          • June 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm

            Yet, ZenMonkey, you criticize marilove for growing increasingly impatient with sixto’s nonsense? Who is being consistent here?

          • June 2, 2012 at 4:43 pm

            Ah, but @sixto is being polite. Too bad he is speaking caca.

        • June 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm

          I disagree with you strongly. There is no reason to believe that the skeptical community would change the institutionalized harassment and sexism because a few people comment on their experiences of being harassed. It is only when we speak publicly with a loud voice in large numbers that anyone will listen, and the status quo will change.

          I am glad you have not been sexually harassed, objectified, or faced sexism in the skeptical community. Your luck does not mean the problem is not common and widespread. It also does not mean it does not need to be discussed openly and often until it changes.

  126. June 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    SKeptigal4 says: “Now I am getting a little worried about attending TAM. My friend and I will be going together,(safety in numbers…) but will I be safe when I go off to do my own things? I usually don’t even think about this sort of thing at all!! I have not been hit on or leered at or whatever since I was in college (and I’m over 50 now). Should I be concerned?”

    What do you say Skepchicks? Should she be worried?

    • June 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      There’s gonna a gaping troll-shaped hole in the blog when you get banned.

      • June 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm

        I consider, phlebas, that I must thank you for your comment that dissenting voices are inevitably banned on this blog.

        • June 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm

          Not dissenting voices. Just trolls. Nice pun-work, though.

    • June 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      In fact, this comment is interesting. Yet to ask dispassionately whether a perceived danger is born out factually draws accusations of irredeemable misogyny. Of sin, essentially.
      This is irrational.

      • June 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm

        Just as DJ may not have intentionally gaslighted Ashley but did anyway, you didn’t come into this thread intending to be a privileged asshole and a tone troll, but you are anyway.

        (Feel free to discredit my comparison by admitting you came into this thread intending to be a privileged asshole and tone troll)

        • June 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm

          Thank you for the abuse mightyamoeba.
          Meanwhile, while you state that TAM doesn’t welcome everyone, DJ mentioned actual data collected that points in the other direction. Hmm, what would a skeptic do?

          • June 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm

            Yeah. You’re a troll. At least I fucking hope so. No one can be this damn stupid.

          • June 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm

            Do you mean the thing above where someone hypothetically asked if the skeeviness of the speakers were inherent to the event, and I hypothetically answered that in that case funds should be diverted elsewhere because an inherently skeevy event would not welcome everyone? Hypothetical, hon, and also irrelevant. I don’t know why you’d pick that to address.

            Okay, so even if we pretend away any harassment experienced at TAM and say that nobody has ever been made to feel uncomfortable there, it DOES NOT MATTER. Determining the extent of the problem could be useful for helping to find specific areas that need to be fixed, but this is NOT A MATTER OF EVIDENCE. And here’s why.

            Unwanted advances, to every degree, happen. All the time in real life. TAM is not a magic place where the bad things in real life do not happen. Someone will probably get robbed at TAM, if they haven’t already. There are procedures in place to deal with this, and nobody stands around going, ‘nobody else reported being robbed, so it didn’t happen to you and we don’t need to do anything about it.’

            Even if what you seem to be claiming is true and no women have been harassed, groped, or made uncomfortable by creepy dudes, it WILL happen. It is a matter of time because it happens FREQUENTLY in life. Every day. All over the place. The way to deal with this is to set up a system of dealing with it when it does, not put your fingers in your ears and say it doesn’t and won’t ever happen.

            Also, way to tone troll me calling you a tone troll. Super meta, dude.

        • June 2, 2012 at 7:11 am

          “Even if what you seem to be claiming is true and no women have been harassed, groped, or made uncomfortable by creepy dudes, it WILL happen. It is a matter of time because it happens FREQUENTLY in life. ”

          Of course I’m not claiming that, but this is how the “debate” is being framed: with absurd absolutes and dichotomies.
          But yes, I agree, it happens in life. What I’m objecting to is the irrational rush to condemn DJ as malevolent because he points out that continual highly publicised accusations that skeptics events, TAM in particular, have a greater than normal danger of sexual attacks can lead to a an erroneous perception of danger. The poster above, SKeptgal4 is a perfect example. Some anecdote of my own: I’ve read countless comments that run along the lines of : “I’ve never had a problem, but now I’m worried/not going/have had my eyes opened”

          Again, Rebecca is specifically accusing DJ of being aware of sexual harrassment, of denying it, and “badgering” victims of it into silence. This is quite serious slander, and you’re all lapping it up.

    • June 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      I was asked to walk two women to their rooms who were feeling uncomfortable and unsafe at TAM last year. This was a result of specific threats that were received by some women after they spoke out about harassment issues. Any woman who receives threats should be concerned, any woman who receives veiled threats should be concerned, and any woman who has been made aware of an atmosphere existing where a woman’s concerns’ about her safety has been minimized should certainly be concerned. That you don’t appreciate this confirms to me that you are clearly not interested in a discussion or even listening.

      • June 3, 2012 at 3:58 am

        Yeah… last year was… weird. i’m not surprised you were asked — and, hey, you’re a nice guy, to boot. :) I felt on edge the whole time and, honestly, I kept to my room a lot more than normal. I, and I’m sure others, probably said “you want me to go with you?” a lot more than usual.

        Having seen the bile and out-right sneering viciousness directed at Rebecca and anyone perceived as ‘on her side’ just made me anxious the whole time. I’m not going this year and, frankly, I feel a bit relieved that I won’t have to feel anxious in a room full of people I would have, just 14 months ago, not worried too much about. But the cover has been pulled back on the body and it’s worse underneath than I would have imagined.

        • June 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm

          That’s a nice thing to say, thank you. I’m not anxious in normal social situations or even uncomfortable confrontational circumstances, which is likely a result of being in the business of confronting people about their behavior for a living. And I know I can appear intimidating to some people without saying anything at all. What really irritates me about this whole situation is the apparent lack of willingness of people to just sit down and have a civil conversation. In my line of work we take away peoples children if they engage in behavior that is too risky or results in child maltreatment. There is a fair amount of research that indicates a social worker’s ability to make a professional yet personal connection with a client, regardless of what behavior has put them in your office, has a significant impact on the client’s ability and desire to get their child returned to their care. In other words people can change their thinking and behavior, but mostly through positive supportive relationships, listening and developing connections that foster empathy and thinking beyond your own interests and needs. That there are many in the skeptical community that seem unable or unwilling to stop and listen to the personal histories of women in social situations and understand the weight and impact of the issue is beyond me given rational thought should be a hallmark of how skeptics function.

  127. June 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    [a note on a link in the Comment Policy: My virus protection software says that the site, linked to under the word “derailing” attempts to load Trojan code. This seems to be related to the advertising on the site. You might want to use a different link.]

  128. June 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Regarding the main topic:
    I fully support you. Keep talking. You and others should feel free to describe your experiences, as you experience them. It’s not the reporting of the problem that is the problem; the problem is the problem.

    I my (admittedly limited) experience, I have observed that the groups women find most supportive are generally run by women.

    I encourage you to stand up and do what you think is right.

  129. June 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Hey Rebecca – as usual, you’ve nailed it with restraint and judicious reason. Sexism is a cancer eating away at the atheist community, and just like a physical cancer, there seems to be no permanent cure. It goes into seeming remission, but then erupts again without warning and from the most unexpected areas of the body politic of skepticism.

    All I can say as the father of two adult skeptic daughters, is that I would be much less likely to encourage them to attend TAM after reading Grothe’s comments. To accept that there is a problem and assure attendees that the organization will try to stop that problem: noble. To pretend that there is no problem and attempt to shame those who disagree: pointless and cowardly.

  130. June 1, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Rebecca: Support, respect, and solidarity. The sexism in skepticism has driven many of us away, and while I no longer have any interest in being associated with skepticism as a movement (because of its unchecked sexism, transphobia, and racism) I still am glad for blogs like Skepchick.

    I’ve drifted away from the SGU, too, and sadly I must admit a portion of that is because of I know the rogues don’t run the forum, but the show is still associated with it, and that’s a shame, because it’s become just another anti-Rebecca, anti-feminist ranthole (thanks largely to Beleth’s blindness to his male privilege and the tone he sets with his modding). Right now they’re mostly ranting about how much they hate Rebecca, how bad she is for the show, and how she’s the one who is in the wrong here, not DJ (with the exception of a few posters who have analysis of their own privilege). A few months ago Beleth put up some pompus post about the cast now being open for criticism (read: the boys can whine about Rebecca now), and I figured threads like that wouldn’t take long to pop up.

    I swear, I think some of these raging anti-Rebeccites must spend their free time sitting around writing fan fiction about her getting kicked off the show and them becoming best friends with the Novella boys.

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      Here here! Thank you for bringing Beleth’s open hunting season admin post to my attention.

      • June 2, 2012 at 12:21 am

        Because I’m a total ass and this is a pet-peeve of mine: It’s “Hear, hear”. :)

        Now please to correct all my terrible typing and grammar mistakes, of which I am sure there are many in these comments. :D:D

      • June 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

        A pocket of dumb, eh? I formerly and respectfully withdraw my support. Offense taken.

        • June 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm

          If you were one of the idiots on that thread complaining about me being an attention whore (I assume you’re complaining about these two tweets), then the offense was most definitely intended and I don’t really want or need your “support.”

          • June 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm

            Upon inspection, it’s apparent that Wicked Combover is not one of the folks complaining about you. And yet you paint him with the same “dumb” paintbrush in that tweet that you paint the ones who are.

            This is a chronic issue with you, Rebecca; you don’t seem to mind that you insult a large number of your supporters at the same time you defend yourself against a comparatively small number of actual idiots. Well, your old friends and supporters *do* mind. You alienate yourself from us when you do that.

            Almost 11,000 members on that board, you know. Maybe five or six people have called you out as an attention whore in that thread. I’m sure you can understand why the other 10,994 of us might not appreciate being called “cesspit”-dwellers because of them.

          • June 3, 2012 at 8:45 am

            Beleth, why are you pretending that you support me in any way? Who are you trying to fool here, exactly?

            It’s painfully obvious that my tweets were about the people literally calling me an attention whore in that thread. Either there’s a serious problem with reading comprehension here or else there’s a deliberate attempt to court outrage. Either way, I don’t have the energy.

          • June 3, 2012 at 8:46 am

            Also, you’re the admin. If you don’t like a small number of people turning it into a cesspit, then do something about it.

          • June 3, 2012 at 9:39 am

            No, Rebecca. It is not painfully obvious, especially in light of other things you have said about the forum in the past, that you meant just a few people and not everyone. Words mean things, and the the words you used in the tweets mean different things than the words you are using here. I should not have to be saying this to a person who makes their living writing and speaking.

            And yes, I’m the admin, and when I see someone turning the forum into a cesspit, I *do* do something about it. Which is why the forums are not, in actual reality, a cesspit. It saddens me that you only find the time and energy to visit the forum when there’s a shitstorm. I think you’d like it at other times. Or at least the Rebecca I had dinner with every night at TAM 5 would. You know, I miss that Rebecca. A lot.

          • June 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm

            No, I have been staunch supporter of yours, Rebecca.

            (You actually linked to comments I made on a Steve/skepticblog post not too long ago, in which I and some other of your friends and supporters were calling out the MRA fuckwits on their shit as they were going after you in a coordinated attack.)

            As Beleth has indicated here, I was defending and supporting you on the forums (many people were), bickering with the mods, my friends, and Beleth.

            I am shocked and hurt that you would go after SGUF and all of your fans there. You do actually have many there… ‘Had many’, I should say, as of yesterday.

            I am huge fan of yours, still, Rebecca, and will probably remain so in some capacity. But shooting your fan base in the foot; what do you expect?

            “then the offense was most definitely intended and I don’t really want or need your “support.””

            Copy that. Your intended offense is taken, and your request to not have my “support” is duly noted and is entirely retracted.

    • June 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm

      To clarify: the post was pompous in a good-natured way. It was written in the style of a typical resolution. Sometimes I try to make boring proclamations less boring. Sometimes I don’t succeed as well as I’d like. Oh well.

      If you want to “(read)” it as “the boys can whine about Rebecca now”, I can’t stop you. You’d be only 1/10 right, since girls can also whine about Rebecca, and both boys and girls can whine about Steven, Jay, Bob, or Evan as well.

      • June 2, 2012 at 1:16 am

        No, I get the wry wit in the writing, Beleth. It is funny. But the effect, unintended or not, was one of declaring open season. You should probably put the breaks back on to keep things civil.

        Yes, now we can all whine about Steven, Jay, Bob, and Evan too, but only one panel member has a rabid and dangerous hate club, and a whole lot of dissenters beyond that, including many of our friends, who would go quite a bit beyond respectfully disagreeing with her (as they are doing at this very moment).

        • June 2, 2012 at 5:41 pm

          OK, and now I see this comment so I’m baffled. You seem to understand that there’s a problem on that forum with people spewing toxic hatred about me, but you get offended that I call them out about it? Very odd.

          • June 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

            Rebecca, you can use the Report to Moderator feature to report toxic hatred too.

        • June 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm

          I’ve seen very little dissent in that thread that goes beyond “respectful disagreement”, but I’ll look again and issue warnings accordingly. Remember that if you think that a post goes over the line, you can always use the “Report to moderator” feature to make sure that it catches us moderators’ attention.

          • June 3, 2012 at 8:13 am

            11,000 users, huh? Wow, this goes a long way to helping me understand your delusional self-importance. You’re the admin of a messageboard with maybe 80 regular users, probably half that if you don’t include mafia games or threads on breasts. The forums used to have a diverse and active membership, but under your stewardship people have left in droves.

            Anyway, I hope the SGU has the good sense to distance itself from you and your petty, anti-woman, anti-Rebecca, anti-whatever issue you feel insecure about BS.

          • June 3, 2012 at 10:03 am

            You’re right, materialistgirl. Rebecca is a delicate flower, just like all women are, and she needs the intervention of big, smart, tough men like me to protect her from the mean ol’ unwashed masses who say such unforgivable things like “Rebecca has gone down the road of fear mongering with this, and it’s not healthy” and “Rebecca’s initial reaction to Grothe’s statement was ridiculous”. Rebecca obviously needs to be shielded from anyone who might have a slightly different viewpoint than she has.

            And you’re right about me being incredibly anti-woman. Just ask the 60% of the total moderators at the SGU forum who are women, and the 67% of the permanent moderators I’ve selected who are women.

            In other words, materialistgirl, give it up. Your accusations are demonstrably preposterous.

            PS – Both of the quotes I provided in the first paragraph were from very well-respected women on the forum. Surprised?

          • June 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

            Yet two of those women moderators seem unable to start any post about Rebecca without pointing out how they dislike her personally. The bias there is pretty clear, regardless of your 67% number. Just like that 11,000 number, presented out of context it might sound impressive, but if you look at them in context it seems clear you’re being disingenuous. Go skepticism!

          • June 3, 2012 at 11:42 am

            Disagreeing with Rebecca does not make someone anti-woman or anti-feminist. It doesn’t even make someone anti-Rebecca.

            I’m sure you disagree. But you are wrong.

            I have said my piece.

          • June 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm

            Oh, the SGU Forums and their moderation! Once I’d finally had enough last year and wrote a letter to the SGU Panel asking them to consider how the moderation policies were making it a place not very welcoming to women, they wrote back and said they were pretty happy with how things were handled and didn’t like to impinge on people’s free speech, and then they handed over my name to a moderator and told the moderator I’d made complaints, so the moderator could approach me via private message through the forum boards and scold

            Good times.

          • June 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm

            Ooo, you know my favorite part of that story, KarenX? The part where it must have happened over a year ago, and I don’t see any record of it in either my PM box and my email account (and I save *everything*), so I have no idea what issue you’re talking about or which Panel member you talked to or which moderator you talked to, so this is totally blindsiding me and I can’t possibly respond in any acceptable way to it.

            Good times indeed!

          • June 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm

            Well, there’s no statute of limitations on observations, and I still have the emails and the private message in my mailbox, so whether or not you remember it happening is irrelevant. I guess it sticks in my mind because it is was significant to me.

            If you would like some background information in order to make an acceptable response, the private message to me from you is from July 7, 2011, at 11:33 AM. I sent a reply at 5:07 PM that same day. Pacific Time. The emails were sent from me to the [email protected] address on July 5, and a panel member responded to me via email on July 6.

          • June 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm

            Ahh, I see it now. Thanks. I don’t know why the PM search function wasn’t returning those PMs. And I wasn’t copied on the emails so I only have a vague inkling of what was said in them.

            Anyway, since you have the PMs in question in front of you, I’m sure you can see that my PM to you was more of a request than a scold. You went over my head to get something on the board changed instead of asking me first, and I asked you to ask me first. You responded to my satisfaction, didn’t go over my head again (that I know of), and so I considered the matter closed.

            I still consider the matter closed, and have no idea what relevance this story from almost a year ago has on whether TAM is a welcoming place for women or not.

            Feel free to discuss your grievances against me on the forum, however; I will discuss them with the appropriate people and make changes as necessary.

          • June 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm

            The Forum King has spoken. All hail the Forum King.

      • June 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm

        I’m at a loss now. Stunned. Hurt.

        I feel as if I’ve been broadsided and clobbered by someone I’ve admired and supported for so long; quite vocally and loudly too, in forums and in comments, and in life. Nothing but support and admiration and respect for Rebecca and everything she does. For years and years now.

        I’m really at a loss right now. This really hurts. This sucks.

        Beleth, my apologies here and on the forums. I took a stand in her defense, in support and in solidarity with her, as I always have. I think my heart was in the right place, but fuck… This really stings.

        This really sucks.

        • June 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm

          Oh shut up. Rebecca has been the recipient of vile threats, insults, denigrating commentary, insults and abuse for nearly a year and hasn’t whinged about it nearly as much as you have over this one little comment. Seriously? Cry me a fucking river. If you were really a supporter of hers and took the time for one minute to put yourself in her shoes, you would understand that she wasn’t talking about her supporters in that forum, but rather the jerks who never miss a chance to take another jab at her. Jesus.

          • June 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm


          • June 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm

            @wickedcombover: Wow is right. Wow that you feel like you have to apologize to the moderator of a board for taking a pro-Rebecca stance. Don’t you see all that is wrong with that?

          • June 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm


            No. ‘Wow’ to telling someone to ‘shut up’.

            You may not like what I’ve said, you may roll your eyes at it and go off on a colorful tangent about it. You may not give a crap about who I am or where I’m coming from, and that’s fine. You’re totally welcome to criticize me and/or my position/argument (seriously, I encourage it). BUT silencing someone/demanding silence from them i.e. telling someone to ‘shut up’ is something we are all fighting against. Or should be. At least I thought we were.

          • June 6, 2012 at 12:44 am

            Good gravy. Did I give you something ELSE to whinge about? Clearly you’re not silenced.

          • June 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm

            wickedcombover, I think you’ll find “shut up” is a fairly common colloquial term for people who are frustrated with someone who is being willfully obtuse or self-indulgent, etc., and Kammy described at length what was irritating about your post. I don’t think anyone over the age of, say 10, is really that upset with “shut up” being used ON THE INTERNET.

        • June 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

          I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Even if you didn’t realize I was talking about the people who were calling me an attention whore before, surely you do now? And so if you weren’t calling me an attention whore, you must realize by now that I wasn’t talking about you? Again: baffled.

          • June 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm

            Then I will explain it to you, my dear.

            You sent out two tweets yesterday. One of them read, in part: “It’s weird how my own forum has become a cesspit…” The other read, again in part: “… that forum is a pocket of dumb…”

            In both tweets you said “forum.”
            Not “thread”.
            Not “people who were calling me an attention whore.”


            You said “forum”.


            If you didn’t mean “forum” — if you meant “thread” or “people who call me an attention whore” — then the proper thing to do would have been to use those words in the first place. Failing that, the next best thing to do would be to apologize to the forum members (most of which are fans of yours, you know) and say that you didn’t really mean them all.

            The wrong thing to do, of course, would be to rub salt in the wound and insult those whom you insulted by calling them stupid because they took you at your word.

            I’ve found that people on the Internet will readily forgive those who apologize when they are wrong, and mercilessly hound those who fail to do so. Perhaps you would have a similar experience.

            PS – Do you realize you have been called an attention whore in that thread exactly zero times?

          • June 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm

            Do we need to explain to Beleth that using “my dear” towards a woman in such a condescending way is pretty sexist?

            Also, I love the expectation of such linguistic punctiliousness…for TWITTER!!!

            (And, just because someone doesn’t use the word “attention whore” doesn’t mean they aren’t very obviously meaning the sentiments behind it. IDEAS matter more than the presence of swear words.)

  131. June 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    I can’t go this year anyway, but when I do finally get the time to go to a skeptic con, it probably won’t be TAM. I’m not interested in the academic version of a frat party, nor in supporting people who blame victims.

    As a guy, I’m sure I’d never experience that kind of negative behavior directed at me, but I don’t want to see it happen to anyone around me, and it’d be horrible to see it happen and then watch the con organizers ignore it when I reported it.

    All of the vicious, juvenile, borderline sociopaths comments that come out in threads like this or any other addressing issues of women’s equality in the skeptic movement make me leery of ever going to a skeptic event to be honest. Who wants to hang out with those kinds of assholes?

  132. June 1, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about all the crap that’s came your way within the sceptic’s movement.

    I can’t think of many things worse than being treated like a freeware sex-toy in what is meant to be an intellectual and political movement. It’s really disgusting to be honest.

    Anyway, kudos for having the cojones to take a stand. I think I can already hear the distant rumbling of 100,000,000 misogynists running here to say revolting things about you :/…

  133. June 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Ms. Watson, I am sorry to hear about this, but I totally support your decision. I also wanted to mention, if it’s any consolation, that your efforts are making a difference. For example, due to Elevatorgate (and the massive shitstorm that ensued afterward) I ended up reading a lot of very thoughtful articles on topics that I had never even considered from my white cis hetro male perspective. I was never an MRA or anything like that, but I may have fallen into the trap of “hipster misogyny” as described in that post by Natalie Reed. I thought sexist and misogynistic jokes were funny and women who took offence needed to lighten up. I now know that view is entirely wrong, and women should react strongly to misogyny and sexism in all forms. “It was a joke” is no excuse. I think part of my problem was that I naively thought sexism was over. That it wasn’t really a big issue anymore. And holy shit, was I ever wrong on that one. So, I’m sorry that I essentially used to be part of the problem. But I hope it is some small consolation that people like you are making a difference. You are raising the consciousness of men like me, challenging us to change our perspective and check our privilege. So, thank you for those efforts. I honestly feel like I am a better person today because of people like you.

  134. June 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    It’s too bad that DJ has chased away an ally like yourself. He has not handled this well at all. Although I’m not surprised that this is coming from the JREF community. I stopped reading their forums long ago as there seems to be a small vocal minority over there that take ‘skepticism’ to a ridiculous extreme and are incapable of nuanced discussion. TAM will be the lesser for not having you there. Best of luck in your other endeavors.

  135. June 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Wow! I have not read all of the comments on this thread but I have read enough on other blogs and comments on the problem of sexual harassment to know that I wish to thank all the women who have contributed to my understanding of these issues. It cannot be easy to try to patiently explain over and over what it is like to be active while female to we men who have no direct experience. We must of necessity depend on women to inform us. Yes, we can read books, peruse feminist websites but direct here and now explanations are very important. I also wish to thank the many men whose comments I can be proud of as a male. And I would like to suggest that those men who are motivated to question what women say about sexism to just take it on board and sit with it a while, let it percolate, sit on their (female) side as much as you can. There is no danger in this effort. Deconversion from male centrism as well as religion and other self restrictions is good for us. Yes, unsolicited advice, sorry about that, can’t help it.

  136. June 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I’ll be honest. I think there is a little of that too. Women who’ve had poor experiences with well-known skeptics who’ve denigrated them. And they’d like to warn other women, but can’t really do that because it’s not, say, legal. There is definitely more going on here in my opinion, than just this. It’s a lot of things. But….maybe I’m wrong.

  137. June 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    For me deconversion from religion was a piece of cake compared to deconversion from male-centrism

  138. June 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm


    There has been complaints about women being harassed at your conference.

    “We understand that there have been some unfortunate events at our conference involving women being harassed. To combat this problem, we are implementing …. We want [conference] to be a safe place for everyone.”

    “We understand that there have been complaints of unfortunate events at our conference involving women being harassed. In response, we are implementing …. We want [conference] to be a safe place for everyone.”

    “We understand that there have been complaints of unfortunate events at our conference involving women being harassed. THAT’S BULLSHIT THEY’RE LYING. But please come anyway. It’s obviously safe because those women are lying.”

  139. June 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I forgot where I first heard it, but one prominent skeptic said earlier this year that it is inevitable that a schism within the movement will occur caused probably by special interests within the movement.

    This present circumstance is sad to me.

    Sad that events, not special interests, but threatening recent events, sharp words, and now anger, no matter how rationally deployed,is about to cause this schism. It is break that could divide us into the small special interest groups that was first supposed to cause the predicted divide.

    The skeptic ( again, I forget who, and I apologize for this amnesia ) said that this division is not necessarily a bad thing, but more a division of labor thing, allowing us to better accomplish our goals.

    But I have a feeling, that at least for the short term, this fracture weakens us, not strengthens us.

    I’m not sure how effective any “rules” are to prevent men from being aggressive toward women or to other men for that matter, or vice versa ( though the frequency of that occurence would be far, far less ) unless , like at a baseball game after the 7th inning, alcohol was banned ( alcohol can bring out the boast and beast, but not the best in people ) but I would have loved to have seen or more cohesive solution that dissolution.

    Thus, while I admire the stand that Rebecca is taking, I am selfishly disappointed that more negotiations couldn’t have occurred or that a special session AT TAMs couldn’t have been held. I’m very saddened that this might be my last TAM if things turn out the way I fear at the event, an event most special because it was the unifying centerpiece for Skepticism.

    Until now.

    • June 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

      I’m not sure I think a schism is likely because of these issues. I think the more likely outcome is that JREF will become more irrelevant in the skeptical movement as it becomes more of what it was often accused of being in years past; a good old boys club of mostly middle age white guys. That will be sad but the responsibility to make sure that does not happen is now squarely on DJ’s shoulders.

  140. June 1, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I support Rebecca and this decision 100%.

  141. June 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Dude, no. This is not a conspiracy theory. The big picture is accepted sexism, often institutionalization, but SPECIFICALLY, the gas-lighting refers to DJ’s direct response to the women who have had complaints of sexism and harassment. I even provided a direct quote where he stated that women are probably just making it up because of past sexual exploits they now feel guilty about, yet you totally ignored that.

    Gas-lighting is part of sexim, but it’s not some damn conspiricay theory

  142. June 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    You are all welcome to hang out in my house that weekend for… The Improbable Meeting! Basic TIM rates start at $47.50 and go up if you expect a clean towel or a non-inflatable mattress. The first five people who sign up get to sit really close to the TV and get a say-so in what I cook for dinner. :)

    • June 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      … enough of you sign up, and I’m buying a smoker.

    • June 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      Spaghetti, or no dice.

      • June 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm

        Seriously? If the first five people want spaghetti, you get your choice of a dozen sauces, half store-bought and half homemade, plus 4-5 fresh-grated cheeses, and a veritable buffet of meat and veggie toppings.

        My wife paid nothing for tonight’s meal, and she got a taco bake with homemade tortillas topped with a five-cheese blend, homemade guacamole, and a radicchio and grape tomato salad with my own whipped up parmesan vinaigrette dressing.

        Show me some cash, and I’ll get all kinds of fancy!

  143. June 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Keep fighting the good fight, Rebecca.

  144. June 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I’m so glad you still plan on attending Skepticon, Rebecca. I’ve always felt comfortable at Skepticon and so far it’s been great.

  145. June 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    This is one of those “Wow” moments for me.

    I’m amazed to hear of such crap going on by people who are supposed to be rational minded.

    And for DJ Grothe to say what he says?
    What the Hell, Michigan?!

    And to hear the shit that’s happened to you, Rebecca?
    That really pisses me off.
    Aside from that infamous event that happened to you, I never knew this crap went as far as what you mention.

    Normally, I don’t attend TAM because of conflicts with my schedule or lack of money. Now I have another reason not to.

    I think the stuff you mention ought to be made public, to make others in the community aware that this crap takes place. This way, we can work together to stamp it out.
    Because it is un-fucking-acceptable behavior by ANYONE, man or woman (the latter as indicated in a previous entry on this site).

    For if we can’t stop the insanity within our community, what makes us think we can stand a chance to those outside it?

  146. June 1, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Goddamn, I’m sorry you have to put up with this, but I think you’re making a stand in the appropriate way. You taught me a lot about myself and my own biases and I’m thankful for that. Stick to your guns.

  147. June 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Looking at this from an outside perspective… I just want to say that the main thing this argument (sorry, “debate”) seems to be accomplishing is to make the skeptic community look like shit.

  148. June 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Denver. Denver needs a con. About fifteen people could come over to my house for coffee. I’m good at breadmaking, so we’ll have some snacks too. We’ll call it CoffeeCon. Whose in?!

    Anyway… I haven’t ever been to any skeptical con. I’m a stay-home mom, so logistics make it difficult to travel away from home for multiple days. Mostly because my Trophy Husband works insane hours and our time all together as a family is precious. Sacrificing his vacation time to hang with the Little Anthropologists so I can go to something like TAM just isn’t appealing to me. Plus the expense! The everything pass, airfare, hotel, etc. is a lot of money to us. Because I am a stay-home mom, and the money I get paid occasionally for my writing doesn’t even cover my caffeine habit.

    But we could figure it out, if I really wanted to go. I have to admit that the sexism is a convenient excuse to just blow it off entirely. Not the you talking about it part, but the way the intertubes explode with misogynistic insanity every. single. time. one of you mentions anything having to do with sexism. There is enough of that shit in the air we breathe as women. The fact that a shocking number of skeptics can disabuse themselves of all kinds of nonsense yet fail to shuck of this most basic form of idiocy is utterly disheartening. Skeptical events should feel like a breath of fresh mountain air, not like sickening smog.

  149. June 1, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    The thing that really pushes this into the realm of tragedy is that all Grothe had to do to keep everybody happy was just ask another human being about why she reacted in a way that he didn’t understand.

    All he had to do was to be curious and generous in learning about other people, and now he’s caused something that will only have bad consequences for everyone–something that was not inevitable and in fact completely preventable.

    I hope this is enough of an object lesson: when somebody makes you angry, don’t lash out at him or her before trying to figure out why her or she did whatever they did. Every time I’ve lashed out at somebody else, I’ve regretted it and I was usually completely wrong.

  150. June 1, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    I am so sorry to see this kind of rift in the community. I am especially to see the rift projected to continue into “the foreseeable future.” I wish there were a way to seek mediation. Have DJ, Rebecca, and other parties they think are relevant join in a panel or podcast (or a series) to address the issue and work out differences. I just discovered TAM and was so happy to see so many women there. I know there will always be jerks and there will always be people who deny the extent of the damage they do in the same way that many people with comfortable income can’t understand the effects of poverty–or even believe them. I would love to watch a forum on this topic with a skilled mediator who could help bring this past the “he said, she said” impasse.

  151. June 1, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    I do not find this sad. I welcome the development of these Deep Rifts (TM) because I look forward to the day when vocal sexists (and bigots of all stripes) are entirely marginalized within the atheist/skeptic movement.

    • June 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

      I agree. When a ship changes course and the fools jump overboard so they can keep swimming in the same direction I’m not that bothered.

  152. June 2, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Are you people aware that some women are naming names on other pages? Do you think this is right? And…the things said about said skeptc were not illegal….they were charges that he had consensual sex with young women at conferences. Regularly. One woman admitted to, from what I could tell, an encounter she regretted, and named the man, and said he was basically a jerk for it. Thoughts?

    • June 2, 2012 at 12:25 am

      Naming what names and why on what pages? What are you talking about? And what does one rumor about one woman have to do with anything? Maybe he was a jerk, maybe he wasn’t, but that is irrelevant to the points at hand. Also, not all sexual harassment is “illegal”. So I’m not sure why that point is relevant…

      Also, we have no control over the individual actions of every woman in the skeptical community.

    • June 2, 2012 at 9:32 am

      So, the text, since you didn’t provide it for whatever reason: “…is the worst offender I’ve heard of and experienced personally, just to name a name. That said, I don’t want to be Monica Lewinskied and be known as the girl who is only a sexual victim rather than a person with useful thoughts on other things. He’s the one with the reputation of trying to sleep with a new to the movement young woman every TAM, and that’s hardly the worst about him.”

      What exactly in this tells you that a woman slept with someone consensually and changed her mind?

      • June 2, 2012 at 11:09 am

        I’m sorry, but for some reason, I did not see your comment yesterday. And you’re right, I was having a hard time interpreting what the woman who didn’t want to be Lewinskied, as she put it, was alleging occurred. And my response to “forget it” was not directed at you, but at another respondent. I was frustrated. Anyway, there was confusion, and I did seem to be talking about something different altogether. Sorry for the confusion.

        • June 3, 2012 at 8:55 pm

          This is almost worse. You read a LOT of sexist bullshit into something that was no big deal. I am astonished. You might want to consider why you automatically went for “bitches be lying hoez”.

  153. June 2, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Forget it.

  154. June 2, 2012 at 12:44 am

    The entire thing is totally relevant to this thread, this topic. It transpired on The Friendly Atheist.

    • June 2, 2012 at 1:41 am

      I don’t read that blog regularly. But I still don’t care about a rumor. It’s still quite irrelevant to the point at hand.

      • June 2, 2012 at 3:10 am

        Lol how do you know if it’s relevant or not if you don’t know what was said? You, um, don’t.

        • June 2, 2012 at 5:50 am

          Maybe if you provided a link instead of being needlessly vague, we would know. As it is, I’m not going to go trawling through every comment thread on Friendly Atheist looking for an unsubstantiated rumour on your say so.
          At this point, as far as I can see, it’s a rumour OF a rumour.

          The major problems here are: pervasive sexism and harassment in the community and the extent to which it makes women feel uncomfortable; and DJ Grothe’s reaction to women voicing their discomfort. One report of skeezy behaviour is largely irrelevant; it’s the PATTERN that matters.

          • June 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm

            You are right. I stand corrected.

        • June 3, 2012 at 8:53 pm

          Lol, um, are you, um, lol, for fucking serious?

          Good loooord.

  155. June 2, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Yes bad PR can torpedo an event and give it a black eye but the answer isn’t to cover up the problem or blame the people making the complaints.

    I’m so very tired of seemly intelligent men just not getting it – at all. I wonder if they treat their mothers or sisters like this?

    I am ashamed

  156. June 2, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Good for you for sticking by your principles.
    I’ve often wondered if people – men in this case – behave worse at conventions than they do in everyday life.

  157. June 2, 2012 at 3:18 am

    Marilove, let’s just say that I know quite a bit about this whole thing, and what this woman said pertains directly to what many of the women involved have been too afraid to talk about. I was just wondering if any of the Skepchicks were aware that this prominent skeptic’s name was mentioned.

    • June 2, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Let’s just say that when these things are available on the web to be viewed? Why would we do that?

  158. June 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Rebecca, I can completely understand and support your decision not to attend TAM. But I’m curious. You have been to three meetings lately none of which had an anti-harassment policy or made any effort whatsoever to make women welcome. Why did you go there?

    • June 2, 2012 at 9:22 am

      anon atheist, which skeptical or atheist meetings did have any kind of policy up until two weeks ago?

    • June 2, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Seeking out inconsistency are we? Rebecca is not allowed to treat TAM differently than any other meeting without screams of hypocrite?

      Look, DJ named her as one of the reasons that TAM has fewer women registrants this year for simply discussing possible problems, this despite that facts that were pointed out of Rebecca’s championing TAM and raising money to send women to TAM. Her withdrawing her support is more than reasonable.

      As for the other cons, well they are separate issues and I have no doubt that Rebecca addresses their lack of a stated policy when necessary.

    • June 3, 2012 at 10:25 am

      Seriously? You’re “curious”?

      You’re asking, “Oh, dear, I’m curious…why do you women leave your houses, when you know there are bad men out there in the world…?”

  159. June 2, 2012 at 6:34 am

    I’ve already paid for my plane tickets, TAM registration and hotel deposit and arranged for vacation time, so I guess I’m going but I doubt it will be as good an experience as last year, and I’m not looking forward to it as much as I was yesterday.

    My question is will there be some way for those of us who support you will be able to identify each other? Buttons or badge stickers or “Practice Safe TAM” Surlies or something? I expect that some might view this as divisive, but dissent always is.

    • June 2, 2012 at 10:44 am

      If most men went in drag it would send a powerful message. This would also put a different kind of fear into drunk men who are fond of hitting on women in elevators.

      • June 2, 2012 at 11:20 am

        Fight sexism with transphobia?

        • June 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm

          There’s a huge difference between transsexual and cross-dressing. There is also a huge difference between cross-dressing and a guy that throws on a dress and a wig. Other than this, thanks for the feedback.

          • June 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

            Happy to help!

    • June 2, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Just come hang out with me at the Surly table. :)

      • June 4, 2012 at 3:24 am

        Thank you! I get to hang out with the cool kids!

  160. June 2, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Sad to hear such things.
    If it turns out that these kind of gender issues are insurmountable for the foreseeable future, perhaps a change in approach is necessary.
    What would stop you and Skeptchick in general from making a parallel TAM where male guest can come only by invitation. Maybe in the beginning only males speakers can attend.

    I know it sounds bad, maybe even as segregation or discrimination, but I as male do not see it that way. I see it just as a temporary way to stir up things and not have a never-ending uphill battle with male mentality dominated power structures.
    I’m sure that within several years it will become the place to be, dominated by female presence and maybe 30-40% male that do know how to behave in the society at large.

    • June 2, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Hear that ladies? The answer is to have a separate but equal meeting. Except that it won’t be equal because of all the respectful male voices (a large percentage) that will be missing.

      @danielsjk – I’m poking a bit of fun not because your suggestion is terrible but rather it’s not the answer.

      To start a different meeting to exclude men would be just as silly as starting a meeting to exclude theists, or people of color, or Republicans, or any other group for that matter. It would defeat the purpose of the meeting and it would be harder than making it known to all participants that this type of harassment is simply not acceptable.

      What DJ has done here is to raise the question as to whether the JREF and TAM are committed to that goal, and that is just sad.

    • June 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      I am going to come right out and say it: That is an awful, shitty suggestion.

      • June 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

        I wont disagree with that. Maybe you can use that shit idea to fertilize better ones.

  161. June 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

    I’m deeply sorry on behalf of the unexamined and privileged men in the sceptical community. Every time I try to de-normalise the dismissiveness and the advocacy of violent treatment of women, there’s a daunting beehive swarm buzzing on about extremism and liberty and suppression… There’s so much work to do. I wouldn’t blame you if you left… but you’ll always be a personal hero of mine for your work on women’s issues and the sceptical world.

    I’ll try to help more actively some day.

    -Kyle, From Vancouver

  162. June 2, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I am sorry to see this development, but I am fully behind the decision by Rebecca (for what it’s worth). Grothe’s comments were way beyond the pale.

    I had hoped to make it to TAM next year, but unless things change drastically, I will aim for a different event instead (maybe Skepticon).

    One thing I noted in the Berlin conference was that they had put all the socializing in the mornings rather than during the evenings (though some stuff also happened there). I missed drinking beers with other skeptics, but perhaps this is a way to make it easier to provide a safe environment.
    Unfortunately I had to leave for the bus to Copenhagen before Rebecca’s talk there, so I didn’t hear – I hope it is put up on the internet soon.

  163. June 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Dang. I support you in this, and I’m deeply saddened by the situation. I’m very disappointed that you won’t be at TAM. I’d hoped to introduce someone who enjoys Penn & Teller and Bill Nye to the awesome that is Rebecca Watson.

  164. June 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

    I am sorry to hear that. But to cheer you up: I came to Berlin because of you. So you increased the number of women in this audience at least by one.

  165. June 2, 2012 at 11:08 am

    My first husband did this a lot; he’d declare a problem “solved” or non-existent, and that was that. If I protested, then I was just “being difficult”.

    Rebecca, I’m glad you’re the voice out there saying this isn’t okay. That it’s NOT OKAY to continue to tell women that there isn’t a problem. And it’s definitely something that needs addressing. It’s not going to just go away because the president of the JREF says so.

  166. June 2, 2012 at 11:46 am

    My question is this – and I am by no means defending misogynistic behavior specifically or bullying behavior in general – but will this action change men at conferences or anyone, male or female, who are boorish by nature? I think not. Because cognitive dissonance will not allow them to recognize it in themselves.

    Now, will it effect those who perhaps drink to much, gain confidence in a bottle, and behave in an abhorrent manner? How? If intoxication is the issue, they will not be able to control this sad, bad impulse.

    So who does this action prevent from behaving in an unwanted manner? Perhaps the socially awkward? Perhaps. Hopefully.

    So, while I think this action solves little and while I’d rather have seen it handled at a special panel session AT TAM because I think that would have demonstrated a desire to educate rather than to blame, ( though these forum posts are, at least, making for a coherent discussion ) I feel if ANYONE – Rebecca, me, ANYONE – feels unsafe anywhere, then it is up to each and everyone of us to make that decision for ourselves.And it is up to us, as a community, to ensure that safety as best as possible.

    Quite honestly, the rules for treating each other begin at home though; my sons are gentlemen. Always! My sons treat women with respect. Always! I like to think that myself and my wife have a little bit to do with that.

    The schism WILL now begin. And if there IS a split between men and women ( hopefully not ) then this movement will crumble like a foul, stale piece of bread. This changes nothing. Except the community. Hopefully, Jake and other thought leaders are right are right – that this is a good thing, not bad.

    • June 2, 2012 at 11:54 am

      will this action change men at conferences or anyone, male or female, who are boorish by nature?

      It’s not meant to, but of course if that was some kind of side effect, I wouldn’t complain.

      The purpose of this action is simply to protect my own mental health and clearly tell DJ that I’ll no longer fund and promote his conference while he blames me for his problems.

    • June 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      It’s nice if boors change their behavior, but it doesn’t really matter much if they do. What matters to me is now everybody knows where the boors are, so they can be avoided. If TAM ends up being the show the boors go to, so be it.

      And everyone talks about the Great Skeptical Schism over Sexism like it’s a bad thing, even though everyone proudly proclaims in other instances that skeptics are not a monolithic group and can’t be herded like cats and rugged individuals and we don’t think feminism belongs here anyway. A Great Schism might be the thing needed to put these tensions to rest.

    • June 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      What would change things is DJ calling Rebecca and telling her that the hit she is potentially delivering to TAM is one the JREF cannot afford, and then asking what it would take to get her back on board.

    • June 3, 2012 at 9:43 am

      Yes, hal, men do change.

      They change even faster if the men who are already there speak up against this behavior instead of trying to “keep the peace” by nudging women to shut up.

  167. June 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    “will this change men”

    No, but not being aware of all the details makes it’s impossible to accurately voice opinion. That said from an idealist position it would seem not going would be a retreat.

    I wonder how much the site of the venue has influenced this situation. I’m not making excuse for boorish nature but Las Wages certainly has more of a reputation for the permissiveness, the bizarre and absurd than for intellectual enlightenment. ‘What happens in Vegas’ is for the most part a freak show inclusive of many of the visitors using it as an excuse for boorish behavior.

    • June 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      No, but not being aware of all the details makes it’s impossible to accurately voice opinion. That said from an idealist position it would seem not going would be a retreat.

      What information do you think is missing? DJ Groethe said things publicly that everyone can read. Rebecca and others are responding to those statements. It is a PR thing. That is all the information you need for a PR thing. We’re not doing science here. PR is all about perception, and what people say they perceive is exactly the kind of information that is required.

      And the idealist position is sitting out the boycott. It’s an active stance, withdrawing like that. Plus the TAM committee is worried that there are too few women, and Rebecca has decreased the number of women by one to make her point. They were wondering why there were fewer numbers than expected, and Rebecca is showing them why with examples.

      A retreat would be DJ apologizing, mea culpaing, acknowledging the legitimacy of reactions to harassment generally and this blow-up specifically, changing his position, and making extra effort to undo the damage TAM has caused by exacerbating its own problem. The idealist position is that TAM would retreat from its stance.

      Rebecca is not retreating; she has actively made a point. No one has retreated; DJ is sticking to his guns so far, by not modifying his opinion.

      It’s a personal peeve of mine when people use words to express the opposite of what is happening.

  168. June 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    You have been and will remain one of my heros. I am sorry this has happened, but I believe you are doing the right thing.

  169. June 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Rebecca you ROCK! It is TAM’s loss. Hope things are better next year. And sorry once again about the rainbow farts. It’s a medical condition.


  170. June 2, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Can we all just dispense with the dumb-ass notion that skeptics are not allowed to reach a conclusion or have an opnion unless they have hard-and-fast proof in non-scientific cases.

    The plural of anecdote is not data is true with regards to science. We are not talking about science here, anecdote backed up by eyewitness accounts should be taken at face value in this case since we are not claiming that a dragon entered the room, we are saying someone was sexually harassed which is (unfortunately) an every day occurrence.

    Unfortunately DJ has decided that women talking about real life concerns are the only cause of a reduction in woman attendees and, when the ridiculousness of that statement was pointed out, he doubled down on the claim and will not back off of it. A very human response, but not very skeptical or very presidential.

  171. June 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Hal: “will this action change men at conferences or anyone, male or female, who are boorish by nature?”

    Rebecca: “It’s not meant to, but of course if that was some kind of side effect, I wouldn’t complain.

    The purpose of this action is simply to protect my own mental health and clearly tell DJ that I’ll no longer fund and promote his conference while he blames me for his problems.”

    And thus stated, I completely stand by your decision.

    Selfishly, I will miss your influence and presence.

    Finally, I am saddened that you have been repetitively threatened by others. I know, from what has been previously stated here and elsewhere, that this has been an ongoing issue for you for quite some time. I truly do not understand their cowardly, ugly motives, but this TAM situation seems to be the last straw. We all have a boiling point of action, a last straw. I’m sorry you feel so threatened. I’m sorry we haven’t alleviated that fear. I’m angry that others have given you something TO fear!

  172. June 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Everyone know that sexual harassment would not be a problem if women would just stop complaining about it. Look! It says so right there in Bloomberg!

    When I read that this morning I immediately though of this post, and all the hundreds of times I have heard this specious argument made over the years. Still specious after all these years.

  173. June 3, 2012 at 12:13 am

    “What information do you think is missing? DJ Groethe said things publicly that everyone can read. Rebecca and others are responding to those statements. It is a PR thing. That is all the information you need for a PR thing. We’re not doing science here. PR is all about perception, and what people say they perceive is exactly the kind of information that is required.”

    Copy you, in that case it’s clearly a retreat.

  174. June 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Rebecca: Sorry for not responding to this sooner; I was flying much of the day Friday and got to the hotel late, and Saturday was busy with skeptic events in the D.C. area.

    First, let me say how sincerely and deeply regretful I am that I blamed you as the messenger. No woman – no person – should ever be blamed for being a victim or for speaking out about sexism or any social problem. I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

    I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements, that any reports of harassment or assault at atheist and skeptics events need to be taken seriously and recorded, and acted on effectively, and that those who make reports of such harassment shouldn’t ever be blamed for such. And I am mortified to find out that you have been “groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways,” etc. I had absolutely no idea. It disgusts me and makes me angry to hear it. I assure you that if any such offenses at TAM were reported, the offender or offenders would have been removed from TAM, and/or law enforcement called. I think it is very important that such incidents are reported to security or conference organizers or law enforcement, and that this is the most effective response.

    I know that the atheist and skeptics communities have had serious problems when it comes to women’s issues, and this is something I have personally worked to combat over the last decade and a half I’ve been involved, including by making better hiring and programming decisions when it was within my power to do so. One way we worked to combat problems was by publishing a code of conduct for our particular event last year ( Other ways include focusing on these topics on the program: a few years ago, I asked you to moderate a panel on women in skepticism and also run a workshop on related issues, for which JREF was grateful. And we have grown in the direction now of TAM having the highest number and percentage of women speakers at any major skeptics’ conference (50% solo speakers last year were women).

    When we ran reports this year and discovered that while 40% of attendees at TAM 2011 were women, but that at the time I made my initial comments in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook wall about these issues, only 18% of TAM 2012 registrants were women, we were deeply concerned. That Facebook wall comment on a friend’s wall was partially quoted and blogged and reblogged a lot last week, and I think this discussion is important, especially if it helps improve the situation at atheist and skeptics meetings – which is our common goal.

    My concern was that the message going to women who are not already familiar with the skeptics movement and TAM in particular be balanced. I do not deny that there is a problem with sexism at atheist or skeptics conferences, nor any of the accounts blogged about in general terms by women who have attended TAM or similar kinds of events, but I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women.

    I and the rest of the JREF team are passionately invested in skeptic outreach to diverse communities. Skepticism is for everyone, not just privileged straight old white men. My sharing survey data and other data from last year’s TAM was an attempt to suggest that despite many blog posts and other public messaging focused on how unsafe and unwelcoming atheist or skeptics events may be for women, the data suggest we have at least been partially successful in making TAM safe and welcoming for women. If this data is wrong, due to underreporting, then I think we should work together to correct that. (Unfortunately, the atheist movement has almost a universally bad reputation for being bad to women. Just a couple days ago on a popular non-movement website there was advice for readers about how not to be “creepy” at atheist conventions:

    Talking about sexism isn’t the problem, sexism is the problem — I completely agree. But when trying to solve the problem, I believe reporting instances of being groped or grabbed (these may be criminal acts) to be the most effective way to help organizers make sure events are safe for everyone. This week, there were over twenty blog posts about TAM specifically, many containing misinformation. Many commenters on these blogs, mostly on one blog network, appear to believe that going to TAM or similar events in the skeptics or atheist world means they will be assaulted, harassed, or worse. Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed, and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders. Many solutions were proposed in these blog posts, even as no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging which I believe has the paradoxical and opposite effect of making our movements seem less welcoming to women than they are. (I concede that blogging may come more naturally to some folks than direct dialogue, or that vague public messaging about problems may feel safer than reporting incidents to law enforcement.)

    Rebecca, you are a talented, funny, influential skeptic who has introduced skepticism to new audiences. I have always admired you for that in particular. Indeed, that is why I have featured you so prominently at TAM in the past. (And I believe that years before I came to lead the JREF, TAM was the first conference you ever spoke at.) You have contributed a lot to our communities of reason over the last few years. That’s why I regret not only how you have been treated over the last year especially, but how issues surrounding feminism in atheism and allied movements — issues for which in some ways you have become the standard bearer — have grown so divisive, with reprehensible behavior on all sides. Invective and enemy-list making. Bullying. Dishonest mischaracterizations. I have to remain optimistic that these are growing pains in our fledgling movements and that civility and honest disagreement over best strategies will eventually win out. People of good will may disagree on which strategies are best to address serious problems, and should be able to do so without being vilified. I believe we need more good will, and less us vs. them thinking, in atheism and skepticism.

    Before I close, an important correction to a misstatement of fact in your post: no one reported to JREF staff or hotel staff any incident of assault or sexual harassment at our speakers reception last year, and no JREF staff were told about nor knew about any such incident until last week. In fact, someone was removed from the speaker reception because he wasn’t permitted to be there, and was apparently drunk. In her blog post and in further comments, Ashley says she didn’t feel like she needed to personally report the alleged harassment to JREF staff or hotel staff at the time because she thought someone else reported it, and that it had been taken care of. Unfortunately, neither she nor anyone else mentioned the incident of sexual harassment in one of the TAM attendee surveys, nor made any other report of it at the time. I find this regrettable, because without knowing about it, we (JREF, hotel security, etc.) were not able to do anything about it.

    Let me be clear: If I or any of the other TAM staff or hotel staff would have known that someone (or possibly more than one person) had been sexually harassed, or assaulted or otherwise accosted at our speakers reception, we would have contacted security and removed the offender immediately from TAM, and/or called law enforcement. As it turns out, someone was just removed from the speakers reception because he didn’t belong there and seemed drunk. A complaint has since been reported and recorded (last week), and appropriate action will be taken to make sure the person won’t be able to assault or sexually harass again at one of our events.

    In light of this new information JREF received this week, we can no longer say that there were no reports of sexual harassment at the event last year. This only motivates us to redouble our efforts to create a space where everyone is safe and welcome, so that we can focus on what brings us together at these events in the first place.

    D.J. Grothe
    President, James Randi Educational Foundation |
    (323) 229-7771 cell | (703) 226-3784 voicemail | (703) 226-3785 fax

  175. June 3, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Rebecca: Sorry for not responding to this sooner; I was flying much of the day Friday and got to the hotel late, and Saturday was busy with skeptic events in the D.C. area.

    First, let me say how sincerely and deeply regretful I am that I blamed you as the messenger. No woman – no person – should ever be blamed for being a victim or for speaking out about sexism or any social problem. I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

    I should also say that I believe I understand why there has been so much vituperation, anger and emption surrounding these issues: we want to protect others from harm (indeed, this is a central motivation in skepticism) and if we think people are being harmed, it angers us. I hope that we may increasingly refocus that anger toward working together on solutions to these problems.

    I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements, that any reports of harassment or assault at atheist and skeptics events need to be taken seriously and recorded, and acted on effectively, and that those who make reports of such harassment shouldn’t ever be blamed for such. And I am mortified to find out that you have been “groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways,” etc. I had absolutely no idea. It disgusts me and makes me angry to hear it. I assure you that if any such offenses at TAM were reported, the offender or offenders would have been removed from TAM, and/or law enforcement called. I think it is very important that such incidents are reported to security or conference organizers or law enforcement, and that this is the most effective response.

    I know that the atheist and skeptics communities have had serious problems when it comes to women’s issues, and this is something I have personally worked to combat over the last decade and a half I’ve been involved, including by making better hiring and programming decisions when it was within my power to do so. One way we worked to combat problems was by publishing a code of conduct for our particular event last year ( Other ways include focusing on these topics on the program: a few years ago, I asked you to moderate a panel on women in skepticism and also run a workshop on related issues, for which JREF was grateful. And we have grown in the direction now of TAM having the highest number and percentage of women speakers at any major skeptics’ conference (50% solo speakers last year were women).

    When we ran reports this year and discovered that while 40% of attendees at TAM 2011 were women, but that at the time I made my initial comments in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook wall about these issues, only 18% of TAM 2012 registrants were women, we were deeply concerned. That Facebook wall comment on a friend’s wall was partially quoted and blogged and reblogged a lot last week, and I think this discussion is important, especially if it helps improve the situation at atheist and skeptics meetings – which is our common goal.

    My concern was that the message going to women who are not already familiar with the skeptics movement and TAM in particular be balanced. I do not deny that there is a problem with sexism at atheist or skeptics conferences, nor any of the accounts blogged about in general terms by women who have attended TAM or similar kinds of events, but I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women.

    I and the rest of the JREF team are passionately invested in skeptic outreach to diverse communities. Skepticism is for everyone, not just privileged straight old white men. My sharing survey data and other data from last year’s TAM was an attempt to suggest that despite many blog posts and other public messaging focused on how unsafe and unwelcoming atheist or skeptics events may be for women, the data suggest we have at least been partially successful in making TAM safe and welcoming for women. If this data is wrong, due to underreporting, then I think we should work together to correct that. (Unfortunately, the atheist movement has almost a universally bad reputation for being bad to women. Just a couple days ago on a popular non-movement website there was advice for readers about how not to be “creepy” at atheist conventions:

    Talking about sexism isn’t the problem, sexism is the problem — I completely agree. But when trying to solve the problem, I believe reporting instances of being groped or grabbed (these may be criminal acts) to be the most effective way to help organizers make sure events are safe for everyone. This week, there were over twenty blog posts about TAM specifically, many containing misinformation. Many commenters on these blogs, mostly on one blog network, appear to believe that going to TAM or similar events in the skeptics or atheist world means they will be assaulted, harassed, or worse. Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed, and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders. Many solutions were proposed in these blog posts, even as no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging which I believe has the paradoxical and opposite effect of making our movements seem less welcoming to women than they are. (I concede that blogging may come more naturally to some folks than direct dialogue, or that vague public messaging about problems may feel safer than reporting incidents to law enforcement.)

    Rebecca, you are a talented, funny, influential skeptic who has introduced skepticism to new audiences. I have always admired you for that in particular. Indeed, that is why I have featured you so prominently at TAM in the past. (And I believe that years before I came to lead the JREF, TAM was the first conference you ever spoke at.) You have contributed a lot to our communities of reason over the last few years. That’s why I regret not only how you have been treated over the last year especially, but how issues surrounding feminism in atheism and allied movements — issues for which in some ways you have become the standard bearer — have grown so divisive, with reprehensible behavior on all sides. Invective and enemy-list making. Bullying. Dishonest mischaracterizations. I have to remain optimistic that these are growing pains in our fledgling movements and that civility and honest disagreement over best strategies will eventually win out. People of good will may disagree on which strategies are best to address serious problems, and should be able to do so without being vilified. I believe we need more good will, and less us vs. them thinking, in atheism and skepticism.

    Before I close, an important correction to a misstatement of fact in your post: no one reported to JREF staff or hotel staff any incident of assault or sexual harassment at our speakers reception last year, and no JREF staff were told about nor knew about any such incident until last week. In fact, someone was removed from the speaker reception because he wasn’t permitted to be there, and was apparently drunk. In her blog post and in further comments, Ashley says she didn’t feel like she needed to personally report the alleged harassment to JREF staff or hotel staff at the time because she thought someone else reported it, and that it had been taken care of. Unfortunately, neither she nor anyone else mentioned the incident of sexual harassment in one of the TAM attendee surveys, nor made any other report of it at the time. I find this regrettable, because without knowing about it, we (JREF, hotel security, etc.) were not able to do anything about it.

    Let me be clear: If I or any of the other TAM staff or hotel staff would have known that someone (or possibly more than one person) had been sexually harassed, or assaulted or otherwise accosted at our speakers reception, we would have contacted security and removed the offender immediately from TAM, and/or called law enforcement. As it turns out, someone was just removed from the speakers reception because he didn’t belong there and seemed drunk. A complaint has since been reported and recorded (last week), and appropriate action will be taken to make sure the person won’t be able to assault or sexually harass again at one of our events.

    In light of this new information JREF received this week, we can no longer say that there were no reports of sexual harassment at the event last year. This only motivates us to redouble our efforts to create a space where everyone is safe and welcome, so that we can focus on what brings us together at these events in the first place.


    D.J. Grothe
    President, James Randi Educational Foundation |
    (323) 229-7771 cell | (703) 226-3784 voicemail | (703) 226-3785 fax

    • June 3, 2012 at 10:08 am

      D.J., this isn’t something that is just between you and Rebecca, and it’s long past the point where you can act as though it is. Rebecca is merely the biggest name among the people you decided were part of the problem. Where is the apology encompassing and public enough to deal with the rest of the people engaging in the same behavior you named Rebecca, Jen, and me for?

      Where is the serious grappling with your statement about women and their “sexual exploits” with prominent speakers? That one is important. It’s not going away because you reacted to people sympathizing with Rebecca.

      Then there are the new bits of misinformation:

      Many commenters on these blogs, mostly on one blog network, appear to believe that going to TAM or similar events in the skeptics or atheist world means they will be assaulted, harassed, or worse.

      That’s not what people are saying. Many of them are saying that has happened to them at events. Many of them are saying they wouldn’t feel safe specifically at TAM because of the dismissive way you’ve been treating the issue. Not paying attention to the criticisms that are made of you is not going to help with that.

      Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed, and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders. Many solutions were proposed in these blog posts, even as no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging which I believe has the paradoxical and opposite effect of making our movements seem less welcoming to women than they are.

      This is a lie. It may be a lie out of ignorance, because you’re still not paying attention, but it’s a lie.

      I’ve written about a third of those posts that you’re talking about. I’ve also talked directly with the majority of conference organizers who have made announcements that I know of. And the other people who have been writing about this at FtB? They knew I was doing this. They didn’t need to duplicate my efforts.

      I have also urged others to contact conference organizers directly, and people have been doing that. JREF was among the organizations contacted, by kimbo jones. She has requested that TAM’s policy be placed somewhere where people considering registering for the conference can easily find it.

      That still hasn’t happened, by the way. The point is, however, that you have every reason to know that what you’re saying is a lie (like this one: and just more of blame-spreading that got you into this mess in the first place.

      You don’t fix that problem by doing more of it.

      • June 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm

        As a note: DJ seems to be missing that the fact that I haven’t seen anyone say that TAM is worse than any other public event. Just that sexual harassment happens, and here’s what we want to deal with it.

        Sexual harrassment is a regular occurance for the majority of women, DJ. TAM is most likely no exception to this rule. You seem to be operating under the assumption that it is, and as has been said here and elsewhere, that claim is extraordinary, and your evidence is not. Your assumption that sexual harassment is some uncommon occurance is not borne out by the studies that have been done on the subject, and by all standards that have been established in the science on the subject, your data-gathering efforts are very poorly designed. While I don’t believe this is intentional, I do believe that you can’t in good faith use a vaguely worded survey that did not explicitly ask about acts of sexual harassment as evidence that there was no sexual harassment problem.

    • June 3, 2012 at 11:34 am

      DJ–what do you have to say SPECIFICALLY about the fact that you said that women discussing sexual harassment were “recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are later deemed to be ‘skeezy'”? The VAST majority of what has been described has been of non-consensual behavior toward female speakers and attendees. Why exactly did you describe this non-consensual behavior as “sexual exploits” on the part of the women?

      Furthermore, you seem to be disgracefully misunderstanding the nature of the complaints about TAM and of conferences in general. Of all the hundreds of comments on this issue, I have seen exactly TWO–one here and one on FTB saying people are worried about the absolute level of harassment. The vast, VAST majority of what everyone else was saying is that the harassment isn’t much more than they experience in daily life, but they are very turned off by the way you are dismissing people’s experiences and discouraging people from speaking publicly. This is highly irresponsible behavior on your part, and it gives a very strong impression–whether you are conscious of it or not–that your primary concern is to protect your image and not support victims.

      The very fact that you have provided no evidence for your theory that women speaking up are even the reason female attendance rates are down, and your repeated denigration of people discussing this issue publicly as trying to stir up blog hits, shows, in my view, an over-eagerness to silence women who are bringing up an issue.

      Furthermore, please understand that discussing these issues openly on the Internet and discussing them through organizational channels are not mutually exclusive. Changing social attitudes is a complex process, and even if the organizations mean well, people deserve the opportunity to discuss their concerns publicly and address the more widespread social problems leading to sexual harassment in atheism/skepticism and in society as a whole. Even the best harassment policy in the world won’t do anything if the people attending swamp it with inappropriate behavior–so it is important to address the public attitudes surrounding harassment. If you think your organization is not as involved as you would like, YOU are welcome to say, “I really support the work you guys are doing, how can JREF be involved?” This is a much more respectful way to have your organization be influential than chastising others for using the means with which they feel comfortable and that they perceive as most effective, instead of the means you prefer. People seeing JREF as an ally has to be earned, it cannot be demanded.

      Also, when you say things like this: “but I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women,” you are sending a very strong message that you are putting your institutional reputation over your concern for victims. You may not realize this, but try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes here: you are acting like they *owe* it to you to appreciate your organization, even if they may have had a bad experience. This is especially nonsensical when none of the conversations–to my knowledge–directly addressed JREF before you joined in.

      Further, it’s great that you want people to report–I understand your motivations behind this are entirely well-meaning. HOWEVER, I’m afraid you will need to understand that many people in our society feel very uncomfortable reporting sexual assault (and the way you’ve been rather legalistic and pedantic in your treatment of Ashley Miller does NOT give the impression of someone who will be supportive of victims, even if you don’t mean it like that). Sexual assault is under-reported in ALL institutions in which it has been studied. It’s also interesting that you think reporting sexual assault to law enforcement is the most effective response–well, there are many people who have been belittled, shamed, and ignored by law enforcement when they tried to seek help for their sexual assaults, so please understand that FOR THEM, it is not as simple as that. When our society makes reporting very painful for the victim and does not take action against the perpetrator, it is a rational response for the victim not to seek support through official channels. You can’t change an entrenched sociological phenomenon just because you’d like to, and moreover I haven’t seen you show why exactly you and TAM are going to be more welcoming and responsive–you’ve just told them what you think they *should* do, when you haven’t had their experience.

      I appreciate that you have finally acknowledged the problem of under-reporting in your survey, but this is not how it came across: it came across that you were using your survey *against* those who had negative experiences. It’s great that you now say you want to work together, but really, it’s important to do that from the start: open the matter with “We take sexual harassment very seriously, we tried to look into this at TAM with a survey, and we thought we had great results and we were doing very well. If that hasn’t been your experience, what are we missing?” START with that, not with insisting your survey is accurate, and downplaying those who disagree.

      In conclusion, please strongly consider asking more questions about how to be helpful to women’s concerns, rather than telling us what you think we ought to do.

    • June 3, 2012 at 11:55 am

      I don’t want to speak for Rebecca or anyone else here, but I know that I have some problems with some of what you’ve said, DJ.

      I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re suggesting that your previous statements have been misconstrued. I’ve read various of the comments you’ve made, and fail to see a more charitable explanation for your opinion than the one that has proliferated here and elsewhere. If your words and your intentions are so at odds, then it may be cause to take more care in your messaging. Does the JREF have a PR person?

      I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements,

      Do you see how using dismissive terminology like “locker room banter” makes it hard to accept that you believe women need to be taken seriously?

      I assure you that if any such offenses at TAM were reported, the offender or offenders would have been removed from TAM, and/or law enforcement called.

      But actual recording of the incident would be left to…whom? The exit survey? Bloggers a year after the fact? Your fallible human memory?

      We’ve already seen at least one instance of sexual harassment go unrecorded as such. This represents a pretty clear hole in the enforcement of the anti-harassment policy. A poster called Pteryxx has posted this link to common anti-harassment guidelines, which seems like it would be a good place to start for improving the policy at TAM. Note especially the points “don’t shoot the messenger” and “write it all down.”

      It is distressing that you still seem to be laying the blame for Ashley thinking that the reports which had been made also included the point that the person was harassing women. If you want it known that you think women should be taken seriously, it would help if you would recognize this also as a failure of the anti-harassment policy and its enforcement. This is not to say that the policy is useless, only that it is clearly imperfect. A well-implemented policy should not leave open the possibility for such confusion, should have further explored the reasons behind the complaints about the intruder (“what was he doing?” would have been a good question to ask in the moment, and then write down), and should not leave reporting up to “interpreting the exit survey question about feeling welcome to mean ‘were you harassed?’.”

      This is an important point which you continually seem to be missing: judging by the data you’ve shared, the exit survey does not specifically ask about harassment or the behavior of other guests/speakers/attendees. If I am mistaken in this, please let me know. But “did you feel welcomed” is a very broad question and should not be the only, primary, or even significant method for gathering data about harassment. It is distressing that you continue to cite it as evidence, apparently thinking that all surveyed should interpret “did you feel welcomed?” to mean “did anyone at the convention, whether staff, guests, or attendees, harass you or make you feel uncomfortable?”

      I would appreciate if such reports were balanced with an acknowledgment of the great effort the JREF goes to ensuring that TAM is a safe and welcoming environment for women.

      I hate to make this comparison, but this sounds an awful lot like “why don’t you atheists ever talk about all the good things religion does?” You are making an effort, and that is commendable. However, your effort is insufficient, and you need to work harder–that has been made abundantly clear throughout these threads, and people have suggested many ways to do this–a clearer, more prominent, better-enforced anti-harassment policy; a good-faith investigation into why women might not feel that TAM is a safe space (and an effort to understand what “safe space” means); a reticence to jump to conclusions that the reason women are attending is because of “misinformation” about the level of harassment at skeptical gatherings (especially based on the flawed data you have regarding what the actual information would be); cleaning up the cesspool of the JREF forums; not making knee-jerk accusations of others and laying blame elsewhere; refraining from using minimizing/dismissive language to describe women’s concerns…all of these and more have been suggested as methods to improve the situation. I hope to see some of them implemented.

      But you need to recognize that you’re not going to get a gold star for “making an effort,” especially when you undermine that effort with poorly-phrased or poorly-considered comments like the ones that have led to this recent dust-up.

      Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed, and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders.

      What you seem to not understand is that, for women, going outside means they are likely to be assaulted, harassed, or worse. Far more likely than for men. It is worrisome that you, based on an evaluation tool which is not specifically designed to track harassment continue to assume that women bloggers are exaggerating or misinforming others about the prevalence of harassment at conventions and the like. You need to recognize that your data are flawed and incomplete at best, and not just because of underreporting, but because of the failure of the policy to record instances of harassment and the use of an imprecise measurement tool, the exit survey. You do not have a good basis for your claim that women bloggers are spreading “misinformation.”

      Many solutions were proposed in these blog posts, even as no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging which I believe has the paradoxical and opposite effect of making our movements seem less welcoming to women than they are.

      You also need to recognize that these bloggers may be reflecting an accurate picture of how “welcoming to women” the movements are. They may be inaccurate in how welcoming you intend the movements to be, but you are basing your position on a very limited sample of data (the exit survey) viewed from the position of an outsider (i.e., not a woman). You are not in a prime position to judge how welcoming or not the movement is to women.

      And a casual glance at the invective and vitriol, the harassment and threats levied at any woman who speaks out about these issues, should give you a crystal-clear picture of how “welcoming” the movement is to women. It’s so welcoming that a woman cannot say “guys, don’t do that” without receiving nearly a year of slurs, threats, and verbal abuse.

      You need to consider, DJ, that perhaps yours is the mistaken apprehension of how welcoming the movement is to women. It does not appear that you have done this to any appreciable degree.

      You are apparently making various assumptions, and those coupled with your dismissive comments here and earlier make it little surprise that women would rather go public with their concerns, knowing that some would take them seriously, than contact the JREF directly, which does not carry that assurance.

      After all, you decided to “go public” with your concern that women bloggers were giving an inaccurate description of the atmosphere at TAM and in the movement in general, and did not apparently feel the need to contact those women privately to share your concerns. Why do you think these women would behave differently?

      Furthermore, this is the 21st century. If the JREF does not have people actively monitoring blogs and social networking for ways to improve their conferences and policies, then they need to take care of that post-haste.

      I hope that you’ll read and take to heart these comments, DJ, and I appreciate that, flawed though I think your post and position are, you made an actual apology, and not an “I apologize if you were offended” not-pology. That said, there is still a long way to go.

      To the end of hopefully addressing some of these concerns, I will be e-mailing the text of this comment to you (though I notice that your signature lacks an e-mail address…but has a fax number? DJ, get with the times). I think it might be worthwhile for other commenters to do the same.

    • June 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      This is an improvement over your first few responses to the issue, which were atrocious. However, you’ve got a ways to go still:

      (1) When issuing an apology, you need to make it clearer why the statements were wrong. Specifically, show understanding of how marginalizing and dismissive you were being. Try to tie this in with how common the exact attitude you took is.

      (2) Distance yourself from “supporters” who have explicitly approved of your previous comments, preferably by criticizing the insulting (and sometimes violent) messages they have issued.

      (3) Don’t show concern for “balance”. That suggests you think people’s feelings of safety are only at the same priority as the perception of the conference. The former is much, much more important than the latter. They’re not even in the same ballpark, so don’t make associations between them. Doing so gives people the suggestion that an ulterior motive underlies your desire to have more women attend.

      (4) Refrain from suggesting critics have said things they didn’t. For example, that atheist or skeptical conferences are somehow more unsafe than general society. Or that any the atheist community on the whole is substantially more sexist. Or most especially that going to TAM specifically means a greater chance of being harassed or assaulted. Those you are responding to didn’t say that, so bringing it up is actually revealing your own biases.

      (5) Avoid focusing on asking the victim to do all of the fundamental work. Putting too much emphasize on forcing victims to report incidents creates an oppressive atmosphere, exactly what you want to avoid.

      (6) Make specific plans to develop better methods of data gathering on the problem, instead of a mere admission that the information “might” be wrong.

      Just some public relations advice.

      One other thing: it takes ten times as much effort to regain lost trust than it would have to avoid violating it to begin with.

    • June 3, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      Hi D.J.,

      I personally am glad to see this response, but I have a criticism as a scientist, and that is that you still seem to be implying that the onus is on the harassed to make that harassment properly known. This is a kind of victim-blaming, but more importantly for your assessment of the situation, it’s bad measurement. You can’t blame the thing you’re trying to measure for being difficult to observe. If you’re interested in gathering the data, it’s your responsibility to find an effective way to do so.

      Reporting harassment carries some potential costs to a harassed person, and it’s not hard to imagine why someone might not report. Maybe they’re upset or embarrassed. Maybe they don’t know where to go to make such a report. Maybe the person harassing them has a reputation or following that intimidates them. Maybe they’re worried their identity won’t be adequately protected. Maybe they feel it’s easier just to leave and forget about the skeptics movement than it is to go and tell a stranger about a very recent experience that makes them feel badly.

      So if you really want this information to get to the JREF and be handled appropriately, you need to understand all the reasons someone might not report, and do everything you can to remove those barriers to reporting. I strongly recommend talking to as many different women as possible, especially those who have experienced harassment, and figuring out what would make it most likely for them to report that harassment. I don’t believe there is any shortage of women who have a lot invested in this movement, and would love to help you make it more welcoming to people like them.

      • June 3, 2012 at 10:04 pm

        This is very probably the most sensible thing I’ve seen written anywhere about this topic. Very well put.

    • June 4, 2012 at 9:01 am

      Just a helpful hint to people writing apologies: if it runs longer than one or two paragraphs, you’re probably not writing an apology anymore. You’re likely writing an explanation on why you actually weren’t wrong after all.

    • June 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

      I’ll just go on record as sharing the concerns of many of the other people replying to this: Stephanie Zvan’s points about this being a larger issue that frankly should be addressed through official JREF channels with an apology that includes the large number of women who DJ insulted; her point rebutting DJ’s assertion that no one has been working directly with organizations to develop policies (I can also be counted as a person who has been working behind the scenes on this); Tom and others’ point that you claim your words were misconstrued yet you provided no other possible intent that fits with what you said; and finally, the point that the TAM 9 anti-harassment policy is not posted anywhere prominent and so it isn’t even clear that this policy applies to TAM 10 and any future events the JREF might sponsor. Why?

      These are just a few of the many valid concerns that others have raised that I’d like to see addressed as well.

      • June 4, 2012 at 12:48 pm

        Rebecca, I don’t mean to put any undue demands on your time, and I totally respect your right not to get buried in this…but may I just say that if you were to do a full post deconstructing this apology and the reasons it is inadequate, I would positively squeeeaaaal with glee??

        (And it would totally have valuable educational benefits in terms of enlightening the community as to what is and is not appropriate apology vs. excuse-making, what real accountability looks like, important issues that have not been addressed, the lack of clear commitment moving forward, and so on…but mostly, glee. And squealing.)

  176. June 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Mr. Grothe, you weren’t addressing me, so I hope you don’t mind if I respond.

    First, I think that was a lovely apology. I absolutely believe that you want this problem resolved and will do everything you know how to do to solve it.

    Second, your remark

    I believe we need more good will, and less us vs. them thinking, in atheism and skepticism.

    detracts from the message a bit, in my opinion.

    There is no “us vs. them” thinking when women are trying to be heard. Just massive, massive frustration when men who say they respect us seem to unconsciously buy into the constant, sneaky, pervasive attitude that women are lying when they talk about harassment. Over time, after literally thousands of instances of hearing “where’s the proof” and “Well, I never saw it, so aren’t you ladies just looking for things to get upset about?”, any rational, reasonable human being would get really, really exhausted and crabby.

    And women are rational, reasonable human beings.

  177. June 3, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Oh. Also. Sometimes even when good men DO see it, they don’t really see it. (Not because men are bad or wrong, just…they don’t see it, because it’s as pervasive and invisible as the air we breathe). I think that’s been made crystal clear by Ms. Miller’s report that you were there and helped remove the guy, and yours saying that no harassment happened.

  178. June 3, 2012 at 10:20 am

    “Additionally, the week before that, there were around a dozen blog posts about how if you’re a woman, going to an atheist or skeptic con likely means you’ll be sexually harassed,and how many women have been warned about certain men on programs as likely sex offenders.”

    I haven’t seen any posts asserting that harassment is more likely at atheist or skeptic cons than at any other con. Nor any assertion that the men they’re talking about are sex offenders. I see women talking about their personal experiences with conventions and harassment. Perhaps I’m missing something?

  179. June 3, 2012 at 10:24 am

    I’m not a woman and I don’t know what it is like to be harassed or assaulted, to keep that in mind as you read forward.

    I personally think that the solution is not to quit TAM or the JREF. It is to change TAM and/or the JREF.

    These are flagship meetings/organizations for skepticism etc. Abandoning them removes your voice and the voices of many talented women from the discussions.

    Furthermore, TAM/JREF lose a catalyst for improving the climate for women and all people.

    Knowing the personalities involved in TAM/JREF, the future will feature increased sensitivity with or without Skepchick et al. Why not be part of that change?

    • June 3, 2012 at 10:30 am

      Kevinf, have you read the comments thread?

      • June 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

        Hi Cara, Yes… at least to some degree I’ve looked at every comment. There is a lot here to digest.

        There are a minor few at TAM etc (and many groups) that are at least unenlightened and at worst criminals. The institutional response was wrong or inappropriate at several key watersheds.

        I just question the mass exodus from an event that is something that we all agree upon fundamentally. It will forever change the texture of TAM and be a blow to the mission of JREF.

        One part of the machine is broken and it can be fixed. With the influence of those harmed it will be fixed faster and more effectively.

        • June 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm

          I just question the mass exodus from an event that is something that we all agree upon fundamentally. It will forever change the texture of TAM and be a blow to the mission of JREF.

          But it doesn’t seem that a mass exodus WOULD be a blow to its mission.

          If that were the case, what women say would be taken seriously. If the organization really wanted more women in it (as something besides decoration, that is) then there wouldn’t be all this brouhaha in the first place.

          The guy in charge wouldn’t have had a fit about women daring to tell the truth. He wouldn’t have done the standard “quit bitching, you’re making us look bad” routine.

          If that’s the stance, if the mission is simply to have the guys remain comfortable so they can spout off however they want, I’m not sure everyone DOES agree fundamentally. I think a lot of women would just as soon NOT spend a bunch of money to be treated like crap. We can walk out the door for free at home for that.

        • June 4, 2012 at 7:05 am

          The issue is not that there are a few bad apples at TAM. We know this. Whenever your n is large enough, you will get people both on the good end and on the bad end. Though, it must be emphasized that harassment is not an outlier situation, given that between 15-36% of women report it daily and around 60% report it regularly (more than once a week). But there are those who harass and those who would like to stop harassment.

          The issue is DJ’s contined dismissal of victims, dishonesty, and blame-shifting in this situation. It is his refusal to research the issue and his continued attempts to use data that have been shown to be collected in such a way as to minimize the reported incidence level (probably unintentionally, however, all established science on the subject indicates that his way of collecting data is one of the worst you can use). And it is refusal to correct these issues, even after being called on him, and his insistence on continuing to misrepresent situations even after he’s been corrected.

          And the issue is that when the head of an important skeptical organization refers to women establishing a support network as “locker room banter” about “sexual exploits” later regretted, women get the message that in spite of a ~2-4% false report rate, the default assumption is going to be that we’re lying about it. And that makes us reluctant to go. Not reports of harassment, because we know it happens everywhere, but rather the message from the head honcho that in spite of all science and many women telling him otherwise, we don’t have a problem here.

          We’re being told to sit down and shut up (figuratively, not literally), and until DJ realizes that’s not the answer, I honestly don’t see anything productive that can be done with TAM. And that’s a damn shame because yes, they were a leader until very recently, and it’s unfortunate they’ve decided to take such a big and substantial step backwards.

    • June 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

      I echo what cara said and point out that this discussion really started years ago, not just this week.

      What you suggest is what women have been TRYING TO DO for some time now. But how long do you keep butting your head against a wall until you get tired and go somewhere else?

  180. June 3, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Do the experiences bloggers have described make me think I’m more likely to be harassed at skeptical/atheist events than others or even in general, everyday life? Nope. I haven’t seen anyone claim that either.

    What their stories DO make me think? “I’m so glad people are speaking out about the pervasive sexism women experience everywhere in our culture because people who pride themselves on being rational should know better, and being only as bad as our general culture is NOT acceptable. ”

    And when the president of a prominent organization thinks it’s acceptable to say or imply that dirty slutty women who later regret being dirty slutty women are part of the true problem (because we know all skeptic women suffer sex shame since they have strong religious beliefs prohibiting such behavior–no, wait….) I am not inclined to attend events held by that organization–not because bloggers have made me so histrionic with fear that I believe if I walk into the event I’ll be raped in the foyer. Please.

  181. June 3, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Heeeey DJ apologized!

    Now Rebeca can forgive him and they can go to TAM together on a cupcake farting unicorn into the sunset.

    Ok, it won’t be that simple, but if it happens I call dibs on a cupcake.

  182. June 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Sixto: This is where I tell you I teach college, Sociology to be exact, and that I find it amazing that you believe sociology to be a dangerous ideology.

    • June 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

      I should add, every link I’ve left is not some weird ideology, but actual research (as in subjects, approval by an IRB, literature review, peer review, and the kind of critiquing which can strip the skin from the unprepared.)

      Say what you like about the ideas, but you should know they are actual science.

      • June 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm

        That’s obviously not what I was saying, so I’m sorry that you misunderstood. Apologies for not being able to explain more clearly.

        • June 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm

          Exactly how should I be taking the following?



          I sympathise with your viewpoint and appreciate that you probably have good motives.
          I’d like to point however, that what you have written has a side effect: it is a rationalisation to dismiss criticism and even dehumanise the critic. This sort of absolutist ideology is dangerous.”

          Absolutist ideology is not what I would call a correct description of the discipline of sociology, which has been the substance of what I’ve posted. I would also not call the discipline a rationalization.

  183. June 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Late to this, but I am going to second the comment above that the issue might (in part) be the venue for these conferences.

    I mean really — discussing the issues of sexism in Vegas is like going to the Vatican to hold a conference on contraceptives or to Maricopa County to talk about anti-Latino racism. I know that one could make the case that it is precisely the reason such a conference needs to happen there. (And maybe the Maricopa County analogy breaks down here). But the fact is whenever I see Vegas as a conference venue I can’t help but think business was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

    Hey, I have never been to TAM or any of the Skeptic conferences really (I live in NYC and can’t always make it out to places). So I don’t know if it’s a cost issue, a central-location issue, or what.

    But it does seem to me that by locating such a thing in Las Vegas to begin with, well, that isn’t helpful. I mean, Madison, Wisconsin? Seattle? San Fran? Austin? I can think of a load of cities located near airports and highways that are a) more central and b) cheaper and c) don’t have tourist slogans that say you can engage in all kinds of behavior without consequence as part of the whole bloody point. (New Orleans comes close, I suppose).

    This on top of the institutional problems that Rebecca has pointed out a zillion times. Seems to me a recipe for Bad Things.

    I know changing a venue won’t solve anything in itself. But Vegas by its very existence seems antithetical to many things that people in the skeptic movement (defined loosely) stand for.

    So, to be more constructive, has anyone floated the idea of TAM anywhere else? Has it been anywhere else?

  184. June 3, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    DJ, for me the most distressing of all the things you said is this:

    So much of that feels to me more like rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited, especially when it is from just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits they’ve had with speakers who are eventually deemed as “skeezy,” and whom they feel should be not allowed to speak at such conferences going forward.

    This is exactly the same kind of language that rape apologists use; they insist that consent was given and the victim later lied about it out of regret or vindictiveness. I know you are not a rape apologist, so I hope you will apologize for this comment and make a sincere effort to avoid language that comes across as blaming the victim.

  185. June 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    DJ – a couple of questions.
    No woman – no person – should ever be blamed for being a victim or for speaking out about sexism or any social problem. I was wrong to write anything that could even be construed that way, and it was never my intent. I am sorry.

    I’m afraid I don’t see how that could have been anything but your intent, given the content and clear meaning of what you said. I don’t see how what you said can be construed as anything but blaming women for speaking out about sexism. Can you elucidate? Can you explain what you did intend by saying that?

    I regret not only how you have been treated over the last year especially, but how issues surrounding feminism in atheism and allied movements — issues for which in some ways you have become the standard bearer — have grown so divisive, with reprehensible behavior on all sides. Invective and enemy-list making. Bullying. Dishonest mischaracterizations. I have to remain optimistic that these are growing pains in our fledgling movements and that civility and honest disagreement over best strategies will eventually win out. People of good will may disagree on which strategies are best to address serious problems, and should be able to do so without being vilified. I believe we need more good will, and less us vs. them thinking, in atheism and skepticism.

    Again, how were your own comments not just more of what you reprehend there? That’s certainly how they struck me, since I’ve written several posts (on that unnamed “one blog network” – Freethought blogs) about sexism in the skeptic/secular “community” myself in the past few days. Given that your comments certainly seemed (to some observers) like a stark example of us vs. them thinking, can you explain why you’re now advising against it?

    • June 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      That comment could be condensed to: “No I’m not, you are!”

      • June 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm

        Thank you; that’s enormously helpful.

        It can’t, actually. My questions are real questions and I hope DJ answers them. I ask partly because I’m a speaker at TAM this year, so I have good reason to want to understand DJ’s views.

        • June 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm

          Fair enough, I apologise for the unhelpful snarky comment. Sorry.

          • June 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

            Accepted, thanks.

          • June 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

            <blockquoteFair enough, I apologise for the unhelpful snarky comment. Sorry.


  186. June 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    And I should add after reading through the comments and DJ’s response that I think Rebecca’s decision to not attend TAM was the right one.

  187. June 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I read DJGrothe’s link on 10 rules for flirting, or how not to be creepy .

    A failure to follow this common wisdom, indicates a major deficiency in the universal, elementary understanding of how to communicate with other human beings. I have seen this problem at scifi conventions, where they deemed it necessary to have a panel on how to approach and flirt with others.

    I may be overgeneralizing this, and I hope I’m wrong, but it appears such special niche communities are being treated as receptacles for the social outcast. This is an especially unfair burden for those with intact faculties of higher cognitive function. It illustrates to me the utmost importance of enforcing a code of conduct to discourage illicit behavior, and to address said behavior swiftly.

    If the TAM goal, for quieting voices of discontent, is to make TAM events enter the mainstream, it is a poor wish. The skeptic communities need only reach out to those with a genuine passion for empirical investigation. The TAM must prioritize the needs of its true adherents to make a strong example, to retain its spirit, and this in turn will allow more women and people of color to come, because when the crime is either ignored or trivialized, it bars their access. It says they are not welcome.

  188. June 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Well, I was referencing lines such as: “They have chosen to hurt others and indicated that they don’t care.” with respect to people who don’t specifically agree 100% with your worldview.
    “For those who won’t listen, it has to be clear that reprisal for rude, violent, threatening, nasty behavior will be swift and sufficiently negative to discourage repetition.”

    Bearing in mind that I agree sexism exists and equality a high priority goal in society, it’s the *framing* of the argument that has evolved into an ideology, quite frequently (by Rebecca herself indeed) compared to The Matrix,( a deeper reality, once you wake up like me, you’ll understand) and, as your comments above illustrate, that those who are ignorant or disagree with aspects of your narrative are “asleep” and therefore part of the “simulation” and viable targets. Expendable.

    What this means is that the narrative gives you (or *can* give you) license to act in normally unacceptable ways or paradoxically, ways that contradict the narrative i.e. the spiteful bullying of women by Greg Laden, the marginalisation and shaming of female dissenters by calling them rape-apologists, gender traitors etc. or that their opinions are invalid because they are “playing up for the boys” – behaviours that should really be considered sexist yet are not because the targets have been deemed, in your own language, “won’t listen”… actively choosing not to, therefore active participants in whatever you want to call it… the Misogynist Matrix.

    Now, I’m not accusing you of actively doing this Mouthy, or even saying that it is necessary that it happens or trying to be confrontational with you and lumping you in with a “them”. I’m not excusing abuse that has flown in the other direction either.
    I’m saying that this is a danger of simplifying things into “RW is right, DJ is wrong therefore DJ is misogynistic etc” kind of debates.
    Be know it’s more complicated than that and as skeptics should be wary of the simple answers and black and white, them and us etc.

    What do you think?
    [btw, yes the whole Matrix thing is off the wall and OTT, but came from a post Rebecca wrote.]

    • June 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      oops, that should have been @Mouthyb

    • June 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      People don’t care about what you think because what you’re saying doesn’t make sense and denies their entire experience. Stop the meaningless complaints about being marginalized (from the privileged position!) and how they all must be wrong because they’re so ideological and you might have a chance to actually understand something.

    • June 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      1) If you have a problem with the Matrix analogy, make it on that post.

      2) Saying that cognitive biases exist and that we are blind to certain assumptions of our culture isn’t exactly earth-shattering.

      3) I don’t know what you mean by Greg Laden bullying women. Without a link I cannot assess his actions, nor the actions of the other people involved.

      4) You have not established that we’re “marginalizing and shaming female dissenters.” What about just disagreeing with them?

      5) Rape apology is a thing, sixto. It’s only wrong to call something rape-apology if it is not, in fact, rape apology. You have not provided any argument that someone was INCORRECTLY labeled a rape-apologist.

      6) “Playing up for the boys” is also a thing. People have described in detail what this behavior is and why it is problematic. (For the record, I do not support the use of the term “gender traitor” because I understand it has other transphobic connotations of which the original coiner was not aware.)

      7) Saying someone “won’t listen” is not exactly dehumanizing them. It is a criticism of their behavior and/or thought process, which is entirely within the purview of legitimate debate.

      • June 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

        I could provide links etc and rehash old arguments but I’m not sure it would be particularly helpful or lead anywhere on this post. I also suspect that It would accelerate my banning.
        Rather, I was hoping for a broader point: that about the language that mouthyb was using (my comment was after all addressed to him, if belatedly :)

        that ignorance, or continued disagreement becomes a refusal to listen and therefore an active endorsement of all the worst extremes of the other sides argument. Sorry if this is too opaque.

        • June 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm

          This, sixto, is where I ‘fess up to being female, tits and all. I am extraordinarily highly educated, and one of the things I was drilled in is the ability to intellectualize my own emotions and experience, for good and ill. I suppose, for that reason (among others) I am not surprised that you think I am male (since, obviously, men are the only people who are capable of intellectualizing an argument and doing research /snark), though I am a bit annoyed by it.

          As for the “absolutist ideology,” it is nothing more than an evaluation of the choices made. If, when presented by research and the experiences of others, or even when presented by cases where someone has been hurt, a person chooses to keep contributing to the problem, they have made the choice to hurt others.

          The people who are being hurt do not owe the person hurting them anything. If they choose to be polite, the way I am choosing to be polite, that is a generosity.

          If they choose to tell the person to fuck off, they are being hurt by that person, and it’s reasonable to tell someone to fuck off while they’re hurting you.

          And yes, if you tell someone that their behavior is causing you to have a difficult time working, or just going through the day, and they choose to keep doing it, they are making the choice to impair your ability to perform.

          I think, on some level, you recognize the extraordinary distance between your own ideology and the ideology of feminists and sociologists specializing in gender, power and/or organizations, race or inequity. To that distance, you appear to have attributed extremism.

          My ideology, and the ideology of people who do research (since theirs informs mine), represents a fairly mainstream understanding of power dynamics in societies, within those fields. I appreciate that you acknowledge sexism exists (I’ve had that argument before and it’s annoying). Let me make something clear: this is not about agreeing with me, it’s about notifying you and others that the body of research stands on the side of not just the existence of sexism, but on the pervasiveness and often unconsciousness of that ideology.

          Feel free to check my post for today for research on the subject.

          And, as a side note, I’m not sure how RW’s ‘I have no intention of going to this event and I’m tired of being blamed for making the problem’ is in any way an extreme statement.

          • June 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

            Firstly, I appreciate your patience and measured tone. Thanks for that.
            Of course, I’m disappointed with myself for putting a default masculine for a neuter/unknown. I don’t suppose that it’s convincing to say that the mouthy b**** and peacock feather had already suggested a female, yet because of the historical romance language norms the ‘he’ slipped out? Well, perhaps there is the subconscious sexism you’re talking about and I won’t labour the point. [also: methinks he doth protest too much?]
            You have, however, also made the assumption of sex, doubtless led by my attractive avatar and masculine name (Sixto: the sixth)

            Anyway; I agree with pretty much everything that you say. I’m agree sexism exists, subconscious and otherwise and needs to be combated. What I’m questioning is the mode of discourse. Maybe there is some sort of “trolling” name for this too!
            As much as you avoid it, there is a tendency to attach the ‘extremes’ to dissenters. I’m sure sometimes this is warranted. You say:

            “And, as a side note, I’m not sure how RW’s ‘I have no intention of going to this event and I’m tired of being blamed for making the problem’ is in any way an extreme statement.”

            This is not a side note, this is the quid, or the crux. That statement above is not extreme, but because of a disagreement with DJ it’s ok to say that he’s a misogynist and deliberately denying harassment cases that he has knowledge of exist, and that he has tried to “gaslight” Zvengali style a victim of an attack… *that* is extreme, and that’s my point.
            That a great ally in furthering equality is guilty of the *extreme* because of a disagreement.
            Hmm, I’m still having trouble describing it with clarity. Do you get what I mean?
            [still, it’s nice to talk about this without the usual abuse, so thanks for that.]

          • June 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm

            Sixto, people said he was engaging in misogynistic BEHAVIOR, not that he himself is a conscious, mustache-twirling misogynist. Misogyny does not only refer to the outright hatred of women; it reflects the CULTURAL hatred of women, and things like assuming people who report sexual harassment are having “sexual exploits” and change their minds, and question women’s motives for speaking up for themselves as “trying to get attention” are classic misogynistic actions. It is not wrong to call them such, and no one I’ve seen has made a claim of doing so consciously.

            People have also told you that gaslighting is something that a perpetrator can do unconsciously–in trying to shore up their own self-image, for example. Yet, you STILL continue to strawman in insisting we’re claiming his behavior is intentional (when we’ve said over and over again that we mean it’s not).

      • June 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm

        Lot’s of “we” in your comment. Just noting that.
        “DJ doesn’t seem to realize that women won’t come flooding to TAM because he claims harassment never happens (and anyone who says otherwise will be badgered into compliance)”. – OP

        Do you have a problem with this sentence?
        That’s the first random one I grabbed. It’s the *framing* going on here I have a problem with.
        “DJ is claiming that harassment never happens.” This is untrue, we know because DJ stated this himself. Check the text.

        “Anyone who says otherwise will be badgered into compliance.”
        This doesn’t sound like a straw man saying this, neither subconscious nor unconsciousness.

        You say: “People have also told you that gaslighting is something that a perpetrator can do unconsciously”

        Perpetrator. Just noting that use of word applied to DJ.
        You’re rationalising Sphino… with all due respect. Re-read the OP.

        • June 3, 2012 at 11:27 pm

          I used perpetrator in regards to anyone who gaslights. Gaslighting is a harmful action–what word to YOU use to describe engaging in harmful actions?

          Yeah…I’m totally rationalizing…by giving you academically accurate descriptions of phenomena. Moreover, I DID reread the original post–nowhere in it does Rebecca state or imply that DJ’s harmful behavior is out of a conscious intent to do harm. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    • June 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      You agree sexism exists, you agree women shouldn’t be harassed…why are you being so ridiculous, then, when women talk about it? What is your damage?

  189. June 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Good for you.
    I’ve never been to TAM…. and now I’m not sure I ever will.

  190. June 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    I’m sorry that’s necessary for you to make this choice, and I’m even more sorry that you may be forced to deal, still/again with the backlash.

    For what it’s worth, you have my support and admiration, and if there is ever anything I can do to help, I will.

  191. June 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    So I put up a few tweets regarding a story at Salon that had *nothing* to do with TAM or skeptic’s conferences or anything like that. It was a story about the struggle at Fetlife over women trying to get some accountability from men who abuse them by telling their stories about these men, using only screen names, mostly to warn other women not to play with these guys because they cross boundaries. But some screeching, obsessed weirdo named “The Tim Channel” tweeted baseless accusations about me (claiming that I was “whining” about being blocked….when literally all I said was perhaps the only protection women in the BDSM community have is to tell each other who doesn’t respect consent) and this entire TAM thing. You know, even though I’ve not really addressed it in public. So, I blocked him, because WTF.

    Conclusion: The guys who are all bent out of shape over this are interested in more than just preserving some image or whatever of skeptics. They just are generally interested in making sure men who enjoy harassing women don’t have even minor obstacles in their way. I suggest creating a Guys Who Call Rebecca Watson A Cunt List, which will double nicely as a list of men you don’t want to talk to, much less be alone with. I mean, there’s no value to be had out of such an interaction.

    • June 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      A most effective social guide methinks. I’d personally add a few more to that list of certain to be assholes including guys (and gals!) who call Rebecca an attention whore and the host of other slightly less-worse-than cunt pejoratives (fat, stupid, liar etc.)–as well as those who do the same but with nicely written, florid pieces lacking definitive profanity. A politely written asshole is still an asshole.

    • June 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      Apart from the very obvious cunt-calling, may we also have a list of anyone who has ever used the phrase “polite invitation to coffee” to describe Elevatorgate? I’ve seen that exact verbiage several times over, and it never fails to show a willfully dishonest asshole.

    • June 4, 2012 at 12:27 am

      I think there’s an elephant in the room. It’s hiding in the cherry tree right behind the “Guys who call Rebecca Watson a cunt” list, and it has painted its toe-nails red to blend in.

      We know from the oft-cited “meet the predators” studies that around 5-10% of men are rapists who will plainly admit to it when it’s phrased in other more weaselly words. About what percentage of male conference attendees or blog commenters are calling Rebecca Watson a cunt? I think I might have seen something grey over in that tree.

      I’m tired of going “oh those poor ignorant menz who accidentally look like rapists; it’s just rape culture/patriarchy; we all do it, it’s not their fault, they need educating.” Actually, no. Some of them look like rapists because that’s what they are.

      The others, who aren’t predators but who do accidentally look like it, really should be back-pedalling with all their might by now. It’s gone on long enough. By this stage in the discussion, if you are continuing to justify harassment with rape culture tropes, then you are sending a pretty clear message about yourself.

    • June 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Amanda, the same guy – who also goes by “Tim Fuller” – was calling Rebecca every name in the book on Twitter yesterday.

      I could help with that list. I know a lot of names that go on it.

  192. June 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    I’m probably not adding anything new here, but personally I’m not impressed by The Big Concession and Apology being buried in the comments section of a blog instead of being posted on the JREF or TAM page, and the bit about how women and men need to work together to solve the problems that (basically) men have created is a little rich.

    • June 3, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      I know, right? He’s the head of a major organization–he should act as such!

  193. June 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    So we have gone from if women wouldn’t talk so much about harassment it wouldn’t be a problem and besides it is mostly just women regretting their “sexual exploits”
    women should balance talking about the harassment they experience with talking about all the times they weren’t harassed.

    So far he has hit three of the most common totally wrong things said to women who have been sexually harassed. Nice going.

  194. June 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    This is awful. I’m so sorry that you and other women have been treated this way, Rebecca. Straight men can be often absolute assholes, especially in groups, where they behave like even bigger morons than they do individually.

    What I’d recommend is hanging out with the gays at TAM. We would absolutely love to pal around with you! You get all the benefits of being with the guys without the nasty chauvinism and sexist abuse. Get yourself a gay posse, Rebecca. You can count me in!

    • June 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      Alternately, the gay posse could find Rebecca at a Skepchicon or Women in Secularism Con and hang out with here there!

    • June 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      Sadly, no. Gay men are not less likely to be assholes about sexism, as DJ Grothe demonstrates.

    • June 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Commenters have also reported being sexually harassed BY gay men, and/or in gay bars that they hoped would be safe spaces, and having been told they were lying or “it didn’t count” for that reason.

      One example from FTB comments:

      I go to the gay bar in town (there’s only one, sadly), and I still get groped. Because the creepers realized a few years ago that women were going to the gay bars as a safe space and apparently, their desire to creep on women outweighs their homophobia. And the bouncers there don’t believe that I got groped by a dude because “this is a gay bar, Miss”. Rrrg.

      Really, there’s no way to fix this except to take harassment complaints seriously from everyone, regardless of gender or orientation.

    • June 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      Yeah, unfortunately some of the worst sexism and misogyny I’ve personally witnessed has been from gay men. Plus, Rebecca already has a queer posse over at Queereka. =P

  195. June 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I’m not gonna add anything new I suspect. But just.. ffs. I mean I know sexism exists, anyone denying that is, willfully or not, ignorant. It is also painfully obvious that DJ’s way of dealing with this is either sexist or a really botched PR job, especially in a movement where we’re supposed to be somewhat interested in truth over spin. And even if it is “just” a botched PR job, it is implicitly supporting sexism in it’s misrepresentation of the truth.

    What I need to say, is that even though it doesn’t come close to the amount of pathetic male-rage that ensued after the “don’t do that” video, it is still incredibly discouraging to see so many people somehow defending DJ, and attacking Rebecca, when it is so… incredibly… obvious that Rebecca is in the right, and DJ is in the wrong. It is like… it is like the numbnuts who tried to defend Dawkins’ “dear muslima” bullshit. I mean… meh. I’m never going to TAM either way, since I live in Denmark which is a gazillion miles away, but if I had the chance to go to TAM, it’d only be to wear a shirt spelling out exactly how dumb I think DJ is acting, and his supporters too. And it is so… weird, when he did the podcast and was just interviewing people he was awesome, now he is… sucksome :/ Anyways, point is that I couldn’t be more supportive of your position Rebecca, and I am somewhat miffed that SGU are going since it, to mee, seems like the obvious choice to use their popularity-power to point out how stupid this behavior is.

  196. June 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm



    (sorry, thought this thread could use some levity)

  197. June 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Oh god. I lolled. :D

  198. June 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Haven’t read for awhile. Sad to hear that so much hasn’t changed.

    Some of this reminds me of a group that I recently learned about called They formed to try to support women entering the field of computer programming / software development. Their attended tech conferences are dominated by men. Too many of these men, often young men, seem clueless about how to understand a woman’s perspective. Simple things – like a woman has the right to her feelings and perspective about an event that happened to her. They fail to grasp that a woman, as a man, deserves simple respect and courtesy. These women also voice that too many men aren’t understanding that it isn’t amusing to be threatened with rape (hey… just joking?) or be told they are too sensitive when called vile names or being sexually objectified. Women won’t even blog for fear of threats to their children or themselves. The notion that their conferences should include childcare options goes over the men’s heads. Too many think the women are too sensitive because they suggest that you shouldn’t use half-naked women in a technical presentation while making veiled sex jokes. Face palm!

    How do you get more women into these tech fields for a career? It magnifies the same issues as how to get more women to merely attend conferences.

    Perhaps skepchick and devchix should talk.

    Keep up the good fight.


  199. June 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    You outlined one of the two main reasons why I don’t care to associate with the sceptic community.

  200. June 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Rebecca. I am new to posting here, but not new at all to this blog or your work on SGU. And I am a complete supporter of you and your decision to boycott TAM this year.

    I posted a question on DJ Grothe’s FB page (in a thread started by one of his friends. I asked him why, before going public, he didn’t just pick up the phone and call you.

    He responded: “Good question L (hiding my name). First, my initial comments were part of a friendly Facebook discussion on a friends wall and made no mention of Watson. Then part of my comment was quoted and blogged about and reblogged about, and in a comment on one of those posts, Watson asked me to name an example of someone who might be messaging on the topic. I gave a number of examples with links, including her statement last year to USA Today, and I’m sorry she felt personally attacked. I do think saying in the media that our movements are unsafe for women sends the wrong message, is untrue, and makes some women not feel safe or welcome, which I think is paradoxically counter to Watson’s and my shared goals to reach out to diverse communities since we both agree skepticism is for everyone, not just old straight white guys etc. ”

    And he continued (the agreeing is that Rebecca can be a valuable resource for improving the sexual harassment policy): “L, agreed. Watson and many others have offered advice, some great and some untenable, albeit not directly as much as publicly on blog posts and video blogs. That is part of my suggestion that undue public messaging about how the atheist movement is supposedly anti woman may have the paradoxical effect of making some women feel less welcome or more unsafe than matches the experience of the women who come to our events or get involved with local groups etc.”

    Then I posted: “I wish you could see, DJ, how a different frame would improve your position. Don’t say that the talk is causing a problem, say that the talk has increased the JREF’s desire to continue making TAM a safe and fun place for women.” And he replied: “I certainly agree, and don’t believe any conversation about sexism is the problem — sexism is the problem. But there may be disagreement about the best ways to combat that problem. I favor direct communication and reporting harassment and naming names (such helps organizers remove offenders etc). And I remain optimistic that people of good will can disagree on such strategic issues and continue working in common cause.”

    I just wish he’d pick up the phone. You said that he has your number.

    • June 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      When, exactly, is he going to learn that as the president of an organization, the Facebook page that he uses to network with people regarding that organization IS a public statement?!

      When is he further going to understand that when he says “Oh, yeah, I totally support you speaking out, just not so…publicly!” he comes off as a little disingenuous?!

      Where does he get the idea that he’s *entitled* to have these conversations take place privately (especially when they’re not just about his organization!), and where does he get the idea that talking about this on blogs is wrong?!


      • June 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm

        And when will he stop using “message” as a verb? Repeatedly. In everything he writes lately. He’s fucking obsessed with buzzwords. Fixations on trendy “tactics” in communication are diagnostic of people who don’t have anything substantive to say and a whole lot to say about how they’re going to say it.

        • June 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm

          “One problem that recurs more and more frequently these days–in books, and plays, and movies–is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love. Husbands and wives who can’t communicate, children who can’t communicate with their parents, and so on. And the characters in these books and plays and so on–and in real life, I might add–spend hours bemoaning the fact that they can’t communicate. I feel, that if a person can’t communicate, the very least he can do is to SHUT UP.”

          –Tom Lehrer

          • June 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

            I think I’ve managed to successfully rename myself LeftSidePositive to be consistent with my other blog personas…so just in case you didn’t realize, we were agreeing with each other about this on FTB, too!

          • June 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm

            And by “I” I mean sphinooccipital, now LeftSidePositive. By “you” I mean spokesgay.

            And by “mean” I mean I can totally communicate with a modicum of clarity on a forum, FFS!!!

      • June 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm

        He sounds so reasonable and calm. But he doesn’t seem to get it at all. That is more a concern to me than anything else.

        • June 4, 2012 at 12:43 am

          It’s worse than that – it sounds like he hasn’t read a single thing anyone’s been saying here – in posts or threads. What he thinks people are saying isn’t what people are saying. It’s baffling. And whenever we try to find out why he’s responding to things that were never said, there’s silence. It seems like he can’t even be bothered to read what he’s complaining about. It’s like he’s not listening all.

          • June 4, 2012 at 12:57 am

            And he repeats strawman arguments from the Lawrence Krauss days and acts SHOCKED by them…

            Did he *actually* not understand why people were criticizing him over that?!?!

            Does he work to willfully misunderstand people so much?

      • June 4, 2012 at 8:47 am

        Especially considering he didn’t bother to have a private conversation before airing his own suspicions.

    • June 4, 2012 at 11:59 am

      He favors directly reporting harassment?! But how do women who might report harassment know he won’t call it locker room gossip about sexual exploits now regretted?!!

      Plus there is a problem with reporting harassment, which is that by its nature it DOES NOT LEAVE EVIDENCE, so reporting it is always risky for the woman. And by god we’re seeing that play out right now.

      • June 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

        Exactly! People who harass you are also very pone to gaslighting. They know exactly how to make you feel threatened and uncomfortable, while leaving themselves just enough room to protest, “Whoa! You are reading me all wrong. Wow! How did you get the impression I was coming on to you, crazy person! It was a joke, duh!” What happened to Elyse is a perfect example. I think this is a reason that so much harassment goes unreported. You have to know you will be trusted and believed, and honestly, why would any woman in this movement feel that way right now?. I get tweets from random people I have never heard of any time I even mention Rebecca, to let me know how “delusional” she is, and we have all seen the countless “skeptical” demands of “where is you evidence???” Blurgh!

  201. June 3, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    sixto: Sixto: Well, the ending of the name is masculine (Spanish), which I assumed you knew when you chose it. However, I can’t find any uses of ‘he,’ or ‘him’ or in describing you, because I don’t know for sure what you prefer.

    If you’re referring to the fashion in which I am speaking to you, I referenced anyone/a person on purpose: women are also capable of system justification.

    To the accusation of misogyny, we have to go back to expressions of sexism in society and their relationship to violent acts:

    This first study links the expression of small acts of sexism with a culture which allows violence against women to flourish, using a US murder of 3 women and the situation in Ciudad Juarez:

    This is an article on the shootings in Canada of 14 female students and societal attitudes:

    This discusses victim blame and different kinds of sexism in US society:

    There is a tie between sexism and misogyny (along with sexism and violence), and it’s cumulative.

    • June 4, 2012 at 8:04 am

      Sixto is a boys name true; however Rosario, a girls name, also ends in o. But you’re right, it’s unusual in this regard. (Amparo tmb, :)

      Nevertheless, I fail to see the relevance of the articles you posted unless it is to demonstrate my own argument: that anyone disagreeing with a small aspect of your narrative can be easily deemed guilty of the worst extremes of misogynist behaviour. I think that this is problematic in that it can lead to the justification of almost anything, and has led to the justification, paradoxically, of sexism towards women who disagree.

      • June 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm

        As you will. But your failure to understand is not a product of the lack of evidence– it’s a product of outright refusal. You’ve dragged the standards for evidence all over the place, been incredibly disingenuous and have demonstrated nothing to me (and others) but your own unwillingness to understand anything but your repeated accusations, not even able to concede when one of them was proven false.

        Were you a scientist, I would remind you that we go where the evidence is, not where we wish it was.

        Were you a rhetorist, I would remind you of the baseline conditions for persuasion and conversation.

        Since you are neither a scientist or rhetorist (or I wouldn’t have to remind you), and neither are you interested in evidence, I suppose you go where you want.

        • June 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm

          Well, that comment was something of a surprise (mainly the army of strawmen) but perhaps I shouldn’t have been.
          You say: “But your failure to understand is not a product of the lack of evidence– it’s a product of outright refusal.”

          Understand what? That sexism exists? I’ve already agreed, and with institutional sexism. What have I failed to understand? If it’s that I mustn’t question, then I’m beginning to get that idea.

          You inadvertently lend weight to my point with every comment you make: I am “refusing” to understand you. A deliberate act. You are making my point for me, even while trying to ignore it and ride your narrative home.

          Also, your talk of going where the evidence leads is a little ridiculous, seeing as DJ had been doing that very thing only to be accused of deliberately lying and obfuscating.

          As to the evidence provided, I must mention the article re Juarez: while I may agree with the premise and even conclusion, the article was awful. Merely assertion with absolutely no evidence. If this is the standard that you’re used to then my surprise evaporates. A shame as I thought we might have gotten somewhere, but your tone indicates that having to think and engage in a conversation, rather than post links to psalms, is uncomfortable and probably scary. Sorry about that, and thank you for your time.
          Mariiiica, k porqueria!

          • June 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

            “Mariiiica, k porqueria!”

            Desconsiderado chacon. Si tengas cebro, tu podria ser pensas.

            But as theraputic as it is to call you a pig after you called me a piece of trash (pro tip: people on the webs speak Spanish, so it isn’t like you managed to sneak in an insult no one else would understand), I’m thinking your purpose here is to troll. I am amused by the fact that you resorted immediately to name-calling with me long before I’d called you anything.

            I included the article on Juarez because it was more conversational than the previous articles, which you appeared either unwilling or incapable of reading, because it’s been my understanding, after reading your comments, that you either lack much formal schooling, or that your education has serious deficits. Either way, as has been demonstrated repeatedly on this thread, you lack the resources (even just the basic willingness to entertain a point) to follow these discussions.

          • June 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm

            Re: mouthyb’s statement below (it won’t let me reply directly myself)

            A) Do you really think it would like a “secret” language? Spanish for gawds sake!
            B) You mis-translated horribly. I in no way called you a piece of trash or whatever. WHy do you say that? That’s dishonest.
            It means, roughly, “buddy, what crap”, but even a lot less harsh than that.

            So there you have it. More dishonesty. I’m appalled.

          • June 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm

            This is the comment that convinced me to finally ban sixto. Long live sixto.

          • June 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

            Marica translates as ‘fag’ in the US, and porqueria translates as ‘trash.’

            Well, you’re half-right. I am queer.

          • June 4, 2012 at 8:28 pm

            Actually, it could mean sissy or magpie but I’m sure he meant no harm considering is followed a pat on the head and him telling you to leave the scary thinking to the menz.

            He’s been a condescending twit for quite some time and he wouldn’t take “you’re wrong, here’s proof” for an answer. He got even more belligerent in this thread because he knew the banning was coming.

            I say good riddance.

  202. June 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    There’s a lot of comments here, so I know I will be but a tiny peep in the din. But I thought I would throw in my own thoughts. Because, ahem. They’re so important.

    But seriously, count me among the many who admire and support Rebecca’s stand on this matter, and on the larger issue of sexism both within skepticism and society at large. I don’t exactly count myself as a member of the skeptical movement, mostly because I’m a lurker at best. I listen and read, but rarely engage. Still, I try to BE a skeptic, and I find Rebecca’s example, and the examples of all the Skepchicks, serve as a guide for me. I fall short more than I’d like but less than I would without them.

    As an observer, what I find most unfortunate about this situation (and about the whole elevator fiasco before it) is it tells me that despite the self-regard many in the skeptical movement have for themselves, too many are no better than those they hold in contempt. If the goal is to advance skepticism itself, this knee-jerk hostility when Rebecca and others call out sexism is a poor means to do so. For me, someone interested, eager to learn, and anxious to improve myself despite my limitations, this tiresome, defensive backbiting by people who resort to the very logical fallacies skepticism exists to combat is disheartening.

    Hell, it’s downright depressing.

    I suppose someone might counter I’m just a Rebecca fanboy. All I can say to that is I suppose I could be. Though what I hope I am is an admirer of intelligent, engaging folks who demonstrate critical thinking and have a sense of humor about it. And not a cruel, self-serving sense of humor, but a playful, self-deprecating sense of humor. Rebecca isn’t alone in this regard. Many in this movement share these traits.

    But those who don’t, well, watch out. I listen to SGU every week, but one visit to the SGU Forums was enough to show me what a hellhole of misogyny and irrationality that can be. For that matter, I often avoid the comments even here, because inevitably someone like this Sixto character or Beleth show up to cherry pick, misrepresent, or pearl clutch to the point I want to vomit. (Is this Beleth really a MODERATOR at SGU? If so, it explains a lot about why it’s so awful there.)

    The thing I wonder is if a lot of people might dance around the edge of the skeptical movement, curious and interested, but upon encountering the same thing we see everywhere else decide who needs the grief?

    The problem, I reiterate, is NOT Rebecca and others speaking up. It’s the ridiculous and virulent response.

    If the last year in US politics alone has taught us nothing else, it’s that sexism remains rampant, and harassment and abuse continue to be a huge problem. Only a willful blindness or a commitment to the status quo could keep anyone from seeing that. Minimizing or denying the problem won’t make it go away. And attacking messengers like Rebecca will do nothing for the cause of skepticism but harm it.

    • June 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      The problem, I reiterate, is NOT Rebecca and others speaking up. It’s the ridiculous and virulent response.

      Quoted for truth.

  203. June 4, 2012 at 12:06 am

    So, I promise this is not me trying to spam out my blog, but my comment got so big that I needed an entire blog post to contain it…

    • June 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm

      It’s a good comment, I hope everyone clicks over there and reads it! :)

  204. June 4, 2012 at 6:43 am

    I am following the SGU for a long time but have never read this blog before, so I am quite shocked by this sexism controversy that seems to be going on for some time.
    As a male computer scientist I can only admire my female colleagues for their resilience in the face of discrimination. I find the two worst things really are
    1. the hurtful things said out of nerdy ignorance and social ineptitude for which the victims are blamed afterwards (it was just a joke, do you have no sense of humor?)
    2. the women (often female professors and authority figures) who openly oppose anti-sexism measures and claim that “everyone can make it there’s no sexism” just because they made it.

    It seems to me if a fight has been officially declared as “won” by society, everyone who doubts this victory is labeled a quarreler. Many young women I talk with have a very distorted view of feminists and see them as a bunch of 70s leftovers with unshaven legs; not even realizing how much of their current day freedom they owe to these women.

    Anyway I also have to criticize Rebecca:
    She went to Germany in the only week of perfect sunshine we had ALL YEAR and came back complaining on the SGU that she saw no beaches? Come on! This sort of weather is rare here! Show some appreciation!

  205. June 4, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Rebecca, I feel sorry for you having to miss out on an event that you clearly care much about. It must have been a very tough decision, but the right one.
    I wish you all the strength to get past this. And I hope some people will come to their senses and will try to make ammends.

    With deepest repect,


  206. June 4, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Has anyone noticed the near-constant stream of sexist assholes deploying from the JREF forums and elsewhere who are almost universally claiming that sexism is nonexistent except as a weapon against people who simply “disagree” with Rebecca Watson in particular or feminists in general? There’s no real or honest attempt to explain why they disagree, because they’ve convinced themselves that being called sexist or misogynistic means that they win the argument by default. They don’t think they are being sexist or misogynistic even as they claim that women are feminists because they are ugly, or because they aren’t “successful”, or because they are sluts who slept their way to where they are, or because they are angry that they couldn’t sleep their way higher, or really just because Rebecca Watson.

    You see it from racists in the same way “I’m not racist because Al Sharpton”… is there a name for this fallacy/delusion? Other than “being a giant sexist douche canoe”?

    • June 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

      Sounds like special pleading to me.

      • June 4, 2012 at 10:38 am

        Well… I thought special pleading was the one that explains how the men in skepticism are too noble and wise to engage in sexism, and the women in skepticism are too craven and immature to not lie about it.

        • June 4, 2012 at 8:32 pm

          Sure, it’s related. Sexism exists everywhere but here ‘cuz we’re special.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:30 am

      Yeah, that’s where I bash my head in and want to scream, With WHAT do you disagree?!?!?!”

      Have you noticed that they never actually say?!

      If you’re disagreeing with the very idea of respecting your fellow human beings, then yes, the fact that you’re disagreeing DOES make you a bad person, and DOES perpetuate harmful, demeaning attitudes that I have every right–nay, obligation!–to denounce!

      And, further, who’s to say “just because”–how do I know it’s “just because”? Could there be, I dunno, OTHER reasons why they are excoriating you, besides the fact that you “disagree” (Assuming that disagreement is even ethically defensible, see above). Might you be making absurd strawman arguments? Might you be stating very harmful sexist stereotypes or slurs? Might you be willfully ignorant of ideas or facts that have been pointed out to you? Might you be derailing? How can you be sure you’re being chastised for “just disagreeing”???

      • June 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

        Those guys join the conversation not to discuss things, but to make a top-down declaration of what other people’s reality is, and for your own good too! and therefore disagreeing with them shows not only an intellectual failing but also a moral failing.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Moreover, I’ve gotten some doozies of faux-reasonableness and look-at-me-I’m-the-victim-because-I’m-being-criticized…

      Over at Friendly Atheist, there’s a guy, IndyFitz, who starts out like this:

      As I said earlier, it’s annoying to object to this and be accused of being a misogynist, which I absolutely and most certainly am not.  This just isn’t the place for it. 


      Good point.  To me, it seems that screaming “Misogynist!” and attacking others for innocent things like only weakens an cheapens the cause of feminism.  Personally, I think ANY group that takes itself so radically seriously tends to do its cause more harm than good.


      What happened to discussing different opinions without hating the other side and calling them names and misdirecting the debate to such negative things?  It’s disappointing.

      Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Just someone who wants to elevate the debate. Just an open-minded person interested in a discussion with an honest point of view (although experienced readers of this stuff will probably note that “weakens and cheapens the cause” is a HUGE red flag!) ….

      Then, when women disagreed with him and gave substantive detailed explanations for why they objected to his contentions (in this case, that an issue regarding feminism was relevant to Friendly Atheist), he refused to even ADDRESS the vast majority of their arguments, and started a few of his replies to my points with “I’m sorry, did you say something?” and then tone-trolled instead of replying to anything substantive.

      Only about halfway through the debate, he was saying this:

      I disagree with you, because you don’t seem capable of rational thought or reading the entire discussion.  But you’re cute when you try!


      I bet you’d look good with a d*ck in your mouth, Coyotenose.

      and then he replied to well over FIFTY different posts (at least!) with the same retort:

      You man-hating misandrist.  I love you anyway.  I offer my friendship.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Another illustration of the same point, from FSQ on the same thread. Sorry it’s long, but I think it’s just a perfect example of this faux-victimization.

      It starts out with:

      You dinks simply cannot master reading comprehension or skills. You start pulling out the misogynist scalpels left and right, but all indiginant when someone dare to say sometng other than that agenda. If uou go and read, you see I have not said I am anti-woman or even anti-feminist.

      Then the mask sort of begins to slip…

      Yes, by all means let us begin to formulate a set of spically accepted words. Anyone who diverges off this prescribed and arbitrary set of words shall be silenced…yes, that is wnderfully progressive.

      People like you scare me as much as the far right.


      Again, not even HALFWAY through the discussion, this guy was saying this to me:

      You’re cute when you get all worked up like that. You should consider applying to compete in “The World’s Hottest Feminist” pageant.

      Submit some photos, tasteful nudes only please, and perhaps a little write up about some skills or talents you have. You know, like maybe a bit about how many words per minute you can type, or perhaps a nice recipe for muffins you bake for the school bake sale. Men like to read about gals that can do things inside and outside the home.

      Now, I enjoy the fire in your belly, and between you and me, I think it is hot. But you might want to consider toning it down just a shade for the application. You gals are cute when you are fiesty at home, but outside the home, it may negatively affect the application process. Just some thoughts….


      See, i am just joshing. Cant you tell the context. I have emoticons!!!
      All is well sugar, all is well.


      This. This is the stuff of application gold. I tell you fish-pants, you get this into the application and sister, you are on your way to the title of World’s Hottest Feminist.

      You have the feisty fire in the belly girlfriend. Now if we can just get the “whizzy biscuit” hygiene taken care of you are on the home stretch….speaking of which, you don’t have any stretch marks do you? If so, perhaps some lotion or moisturizer? Just some thoughts….


      See everything is okay, I am like Captain America with a shield of emoticons…

      Yep…totally can’t IMAGINE why people were calling this guy a misogynist! Totally can’t IMAGINE why his “I’m just joking” stance didn’t hold up. (As Anita Sarkeesian so brilliantly said, “They aren’t making fun of or pointing out sexism–they’re DOING it!”)


      • June 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

        Oh yeah. And don’t forget that these sexist assholes often start with “Why are you treating me like every other guy who says these exact things? I’m DIFFERENT!” before following the exact same script including the resorting to more and more overt sexism as the conversation continues and people don’t simply shut up and let them dominate.

        “Fuck” barely covers it, does it?

        • June 4, 2012 at 12:02 pm

          And of course, per DJ, we’re “unfair” to these guys if we don’t take everything they say at face value, or if we call them out for blatantly disturbing patterns of behavior. Of course, as long as they don’t say “fuck,” they’re reasonable people who deserve to be heard. Who cares if our assessment of them turns out to be right? We were still badiggity-bad-bad for diagnosing that on the evidence we had available, and only when DJ acknowledges that someone is harmful can we possibly say so…(not that he would have said anything if we hadn’t said it first and directly asked him if he thought it was harmful….but…but, we’re still wrong).

          This is very similar to David Frum’s “All those feminists were too judgmental and intolerant of Sarah Palin all this time but now I’ve come to see that Sarah Palin is a cancer on the Republican party….but the feminists were still wrong.”

          • June 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm

            Well, and it is all very top-down authoritarian in the defense of privilege isn’t it? What we all need is some rich white men with titles to tell the rest of us what we should think and what we should say and how we should feel about the way we are treated. The anger at women bloggers is greater than at male bloggers saying the same thing, which is indicative of the sexism involved, but they really don’t like the sort of bottom-down grassroots activities going on here and over at FtB. The fact is that no one is asking their permission, and it is KILLING them.

          • June 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm

            And if you point out the rather obvious sexism in how the male allies are treated versus the women, you’re “hysterical,” “mischaracterizing,” “blowing things out of proportion,” and “vituperative.”

            Just like how mentioning DJ’s name and child sex trafficking is BEYOND THE PALE (oh but it does actually refer to something and yes actually he fucked up pretty bad but still you shouldn’t be talking about it and he got CRITICAL EMAILS–don’t you understand, CRITICAL EMAILS?!?!eleventy!1!! Just for defending a friend of his who vouched the character of a convicted child-sex-trafficker…why do you have to bring up child sex trafficking at a time like that?!).

          • June 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm

            Well, it is so circular, isn’t it? Women are wrong even when shown to be right, and therefore all of their complaining is proof that they are emotional and illogical and not to be trusted, which isn’t at all a sexist thing to say because look how hysterical they get whenever you point out how irrational they are!!

            It is like trying to “prove” that black people are violent by walking up to a black person and calling them racial slurs until they punch you, and then justifying the use of the slurs with the fact that you got punched.

          • June 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm

            Excellent points, LeftSidePositive and Improbable Joe. I’m often beside myself with disbelief at how all these supposedly well meaning commenters cannot see any of the glaring warning signs in their own words and behavior. It’s willful ignorance when it’s not outright venomous hatred, and either is very, very easy to identify.

    • June 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      It always seems to me like they’re thinking “fuck the evidence, I like my idea.”

      • June 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm

        More like “fuck the evidence, I like my privilege.”

        • June 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

          Obviously, the evidence has been tainted by girl cooties.

          • June 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm

            And “girl cooties” is apparently the highest level of skepticism that the JREF folks can rise to when confronted with this issue. UFOs and Bigfoot are easy for them, since those things don’t exist. Real live women who they might have to deal with in an in-person situation and who take sexism seriously are simply too much for those “skeptics” to handle.

  207. June 4, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Rebecca, you are absolutely in the right here and many of us stand with you. Given your long personal involvement in TAM, this must have been a sad decision to make and I am sorry that it was necessary.

    While this action certainly is and will be seen as a boycott, I chose the word “necessary” above deliberately. As you have withstood not only insults but absolute threats, the very fact that the primary point person of TAM has devalued your comments about the treatment of women at skeptical events makes this TAM merely an uncomfortable event, but an unsafe one; what if one of the wackjobs who has threatened you decides to act on it while there? How much can you– or any other woman– trust the measures taken to make this a more welcoming place for women if the administrators of the conference don’t take the complaints of women as seriously as they should?

    I hope DJ, and the TAM organizers in general, learn from your action.

  208. June 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Why I won’t be reading this blog anymore: DJ made a false step, and because of this Rebecca decides she’s taking her toys elsewhere. I’ve heard nothing here that makes me believe that TAM isn’t committed to tackling the issue of harassment; quite the contrary. DJ was complaining that in some cases, the tone of the complaints are likely to push away women who might have otherwise have come. And frankly, the best way to prevent idiots from harassing women is to have more women present.

    You’re being a child, Rebecca, and cutting off your nose to spite your face. You’re showing your age (or lack of it). And I’m tired of this idiotic knee-jerk idiocy. I was with you with “Elevator-gate” (in that I did agree that the guy was a jerk), but this is just too ridiculous to support.

    So you won’t be at TAM. I’m sure TAM will miss Skepchick. But someone else will eventually take you place, and continue the work of being more inclusive to women. You just go play in your own private sandbox.

    • June 4, 2012 at 9:40 am

      “Made a false step”? You can’t be remotely serious. More like “ran a false marathon.”

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

      1) DJ has provided no evidence whatsoever that the women objecting to harassment are actually responsible for the decline in women’s participation.

      2) When people are being harassed, it is completely insensitive, narrow-minded, and insufferably entitled to chide them about “the tone” with which they voice their concerns.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

      The thing is, what DJ did initially was a misstep but when that was pointed out to him he decided to double down and then kept right on digging that hole.

      I don’t believe that he is doing it out of malice, he has simply joined a to long list of prominent skeptics who do not take well to criticism of the way they deal with society’s treatment of women.

      When it is pointed out that you are downplaying the worth of women and then refuse to take any responsibility for your own words there is good reason to believe that sexism (even if unintended) is the root cause, just ask Richard Dawkins, and Brian Dunning, and Ben Radford, and Lawrence Krause, and so on and so on. DJ is not the first and regretfully will not be the last the decide that their reputation amongst the men in the movement it’s more important than possibly alienating (and driving away) those women who would speak out and their supporters.

      That it’s a quality that is not acceptable in someone who wishes the be a leader.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

      Oh, and dismissing adult women who you disagree with as being a “child” and focusing on their age is generally recognized as being sexist, so good job there.

    • June 4, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Project much? Who is being childish here? The one who attempts to address a problem, or the one who sticks their fingers in their ears and runs around in circles repeating the same old bullshit no matter what happens?

    • June 4, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      Hey, that sandbox has a name. It’s “the relevant part of the skeptics’ movement.”

      Have fun chuckling at the ghost hunters, geezer.

    • June 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      What I don’t understand is why us atheists gave up on the church so easily. I mean, surely religion must make some good points, but here we are being childish, taking our toys, and deciding to run away from the playground. You know, maybe all of our complaining about religion is actually turning possible atheists away from our cause. Can you imagine what the world would have been like if the very first atheist, instead of stepping out of the God discussion entirely instead had been mature enough to just stick it out and quietly put up with the nonsense parts and worked quietly -with- the theists?

  209. June 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I don’t care if any women show up to atheist conferences, and I wouldn’t care if men didn’t show up while women did. Why should this be equal? Atheism isn’t wages or rights, and certainly atheist conferences aren’t. I don’t get it. Can anyone explain this to me?

    • June 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      It doesn’t really matter if any women show up at atheism or skepticism conferences (or any member of any underrepresented group). It makes not one whit of difference. But unless a group with a mission looks like larger society, and understands the multitude of issues within larger society, it can’t really speak to larger society. If atheism and secularism hope to influence anyone about anything, it needs to be diverse enough to empathize with and offer real solutions to actual problems people have.

      Men and women (and different races and different social classes) all move through society. You want to reach them, you have to know them. And this predominantly male group from mostly affluent backgrounds has shown its unwillingness to really get to know them. They need more voices to be heard. And yet they keep shouting down these new voices when they show up to help.

      Unless they don’t really care if they are heard or affect anything on a large scale. In which case, see first sentence above.

      Diversity is objectively valuable.

  210. June 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Benjamenjohnson wrote:

    It’s a purely pedantic point that there’s a spectrum of personal experience reliability

    This is not a pedantic discussion. Take your hair-splitting and shove it. We are not here for your scholarly amusement. Way to minimize people’s lives and experiences. This is just another way to derail the discussion.

    DJ Grothe’s description of women’s warnings as “locker room banter” is un-fucking-believable but part of the same “women lie” prejudice.

    Tyler Wilson, if you want to hear Randi speak, you find him at CFI conferences as well. They have the added benefit of not being in Las Vegas.

  211. June 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Cara, do you know what’s just as inconspicuous as having someone’s crotch shoved at you from behind? Leaning a few inches to the side and elbowing him in the solar plexus.

    • June 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      Believe me, if there had been any way to wound him and be inconspicuous or make it look like an accident, I would have.

  212. June 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Quoth D.J. Grothe:

    “…at the time I made my initial comments in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook wall about these issues…

    …no one entered into direct dialogue with organizations on these issues, preferring instead to engage in a kind of public messaging….”

    So, DJ, why didn’t you enter into direct dialogue with “some female skeptics” before publicly blaming them on Facebook? You know, to clear up any little misunderstandings?

    • June 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm

      Maybe he’s “socially awkward”!

      Maybe he’s really obviously lying, since I know for a fact that several people have entered into “direct dialogue” and have got those organizations to adopt anti-harassment policies, so Grothe is either deeply ignorant or deeply dishonest, and in either case is deeply incompetent.

      • June 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm

        Maybe he’s “socially awkward”!

        You owe me a new keyboard!!!

        • June 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm

          No, see… this month you’re the Fearless Leader and I’m the Trusty Sidekick, so you pay for your own keyboard!

          • June 4, 2012 at 5:36 pm

            Heavy the head that wears the Captain Obvious crown, I suppose…

  213. June 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    All of my jobs have been in fields where women, LGBT folks, and different colors/ethnicities are welcome. My primary careers (yes, more than one) have been in the arts or research/libraries/archives. Not totally perfect fields, not utterly without bigotry, but fields where a person will not succeed if he is unable to work respectfully with someone different. That does not mean that we do not quibble or call each other out. But rape threats and calling someone you have never even met a cunt is not quibbling or calling them out.

    In all of my working life, since 1981, I have never, in the fields where I work, seen the sort of irrational reaction to a woman saying that she has a right to be as safe and as welcome (not loved, just welcomed) at an event in her own damn field, now twice. I’m not talking about DJ here– he screwed up, but his reaction is not tinged with the malice and emotion and stupidity that burns through the message boards on this.

    All of this leaves me baffled. This is 2012. We are talking about the skeptical community, a group which, by its very definition, should be able to handle a simple statement (“This is inappropriate.”) and then deal with it decently, whether one agrees or does not. We are talking about a community with a much higher count of people in the sciences than what I normally commune with. Why, then, do they behave so much more like children fighting over toys than adults trained in logic, when I compare them to the painters, musicians, writers, historians and journalists who have populated so much of my life?

    So, this is for those of you getting caught up in the mob, thinking that women folk are getting all uppity for speaking publicly about how, gee they don’t want to be treated like shit or inflatable dolls, or even be threatened with attack or rape:

    Not only are you wrong, but you are also not normal. Most men and women of intelligence in first world countries, who have not been brainwashed by a sexist religion or other colloquial influence, do not think that women should not address sexism or harassment. They do not think people of color should just wish away racism. They do not think that if gay men just ignore the assholes calling them “faggot” that anti-LGBT bigots will evaporate. They look at thousands of years of people demanding to be treated as equal humans, and the shit that goes down when people are not treated as equal humans, from Matthew Shepard to slavery in the Americas and on and on, and realize that in our personal lives and as a members of a greater society we must speak up for ourselves and everyone unfairly depreciated in our community. And that we must take those people seriously when they do speak up. If we disagree, we address where we disagree.

    Either you are not thinking clearly if you think women should just roll over and take it silently, or you are fucked up. I’ll be nice and assume the former.

    That makes this very much an issue for the skeptical community. Sexism is irrational. Bigotry is irrational. Sexist thinking and speaking, such as whinging because a woman publicly addressed a serious problem and that problem is with the behavior of men and hearing that makes men cranky and makes other women aware that there might be a problem, is irrational. For that matter, thinking that fending off sexual come-ons when you have work (or sleep, or a meal, or running 5 miles) to do is not annoying, not uncomfortable, not worthy of complaint, is irrational.

    I never want to hear, ever again, that the skeptical community is “being distracted” by sexism. I do not want to hear that it is “not what skepticism is about,” is “a side issue,” (all of these are quotes from podcasts and blogs). It is not the only issue but it certainly is a skeptical issue.

    • June 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Epic win.

    • June 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      Tell’em Steve-Dave!!!

      Or, in other words, your post kicks ass and I have nothing to add.

  214. June 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I would like to ask a question and get some advice. First of all, let me start out by saying that I am a community organizer, I am female, I am a feminist, and I agree completely with Rebecca’s position here and have from the beginning. I am not asking this to disagree, I would like some practical, implementable advice for organizers that don’t just tell someone to “check your privilege” or “you just don’t get it”. I’ve said those things myself, so please take this as trying to be clear, not trying to condemn.

    I am completely on Rebecca & Stephanie’s side on this. What I want to know is, if all this sexism is “invisible” to people like DJ, what can they actually *do* to help? Let me give a specific scenario so that I get answers better targeted towards my concern.

    Let’s say that I am hosting an event. Let’s say that all the event staff are women and men and transgendered who all self-identify as feminists and many of whom actually have academic sociology backgrounds like college degrees in women’s studies. The entire staff is already predisposed to be concerned for safety and sexism.

    Now let’s say that we have an anti-harassment policy posted. Let’s say that we’re a fairly young organization, so we just took this one ( and used it as-is, since we haven’t had enough events to know of any special quirks specific to our event that would require tweaking.

    Now, let’s say that the event is happening, and there have been 6 instances of some kind of harassment. One was a guy who followed a woman into an elevator late at night and, while alone & trapped, asked her back to his room for coffee, after she had just said she didn’t want to be hit on and she wanted to go to sleep. One was a girl who got her ass grabbed at a bar, but she couldn’t identify the offender because the bar was crowded and there were no obvious culprits and no one owned up to it. One was a girl who got asked, politely & respectfully, for a coffee date, but when she turned him down, he insulted her by calling her names like “dyke” and “prude”. The fourth was a woman who got asked for a kiss by a guy who was clearly drunk, and she had to turn him down 4 times before finally pulling out a pocket knife when he grabbed for her, to which he then put both hands up, apologized, and fled. The fifth was a group of women & men walking down the corridor past the bar, where a loud male voice was heard to say “looks like the [type of women who attend this event] just keep getting fatter and fatter every year!” And the sixth was a man who attended an after-hour party and had a woman aggressively flirt & send innuendo at him, which made him feel uncomfortable and which he tried to deflect without being rude, but she didn’t seem to get the hint until he finally left with his wife.

    Let’s say that not a single person filled out a report or complained to any event staff or hotel employee, just to their friends at the event.

    Now, I KNOW that there are penalties for reporting such events. I KNOW that we shouldn’t leave all the responsibility on the victim of an assault or harassment for reporting things. I KNOW how hard it is – I’ve been there. What I want to know is, as one of the organizers and as one of the staff, what can I do to make the attendees feel safe, to ensure that offenders are punished, and to accurately report the level of incidents such as these if no one tells me about them, without me waiting a year or more and hopefully stumbling on someone’s blog who is complaining about the event so far after the fact that I can’t help? If these sorts of events are kept from me, how can I do something about that which I can’t see?

    Now, clearly, in the case of TAM & the skeptic’s community in general, we have years worth of blogs all complaining about past events, and organizers can make changes to policy based on what we’re now hearing and talking about from the past. I do not mean to dismiss any of this, and I am strongly behind the public discussion of harassment and sexism happening in the skeptic’s community right now. What I want to know is, as an organizer, what can I actually *do* to make my events safe and to protect my attendees if I don’t hear about the offense until months or years after it has happened? What can I do *today* to protect my attendees *today* from the assault or harassment they felt *today*? And how can I do that without the victim feeling as though she is completely responsible for her own safety and forcing her to go through a painful reporting process? If no one tells me these things are happening in time for me to do something about the individuals in question, how can I stop the actual offenses in question from happening or punish the offenders? I can possibly change things for the future, but how can I help the people *now*?

    Also, 4 of the 6 examples I used in my hypothetical scenario are things that happened to me, personally. Obviously, we all recognize the elevator example, and the male example at the end happened to a friend of mine. So PLEASE take this as an honest question on how to help, because I really and truly do believe there is a problem, and it’s not with the public discussion. As a woman, I feel this sexism issue every day. But as an organizer, I feel caught in a catch-22 – I am expected to help, but people aren’t telling me when I need to step in and do something. Even though it should be blindingly obvious that I’m on their side. If the problem is “invisible”, and if, by the very nature of who the organizers are, the organizers just cannot see it, and, if the victims are unable to report the problem, what can an organizer do about it?

    • June 4, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      Joreth, I think that if an organizer became aware of any story of harassment that involved either physical contact or insults like “dyke.” then even if he or she doesn’t know the alleged victim personally, he/she should attempt to contact the complainant. So if the organizer becomes aware of the story through social media, he/she can use the same media to make initial contact with the complainant and ask the complainant to contact the organizer in a non-public medium so that steps can be taken to prevent future problems.
      Regardless of physical contact or insults, if the organizer becomes aware of a story of harassment and already has some sort of personal or professional relationship with the complainant, the organizer should absolutely contact the complainant and get the full story, and maybe be able to get some idea of how widespread the problem is. Personal contact with the complainant and through the complainant to other people who may have commiserated & shared their own stories with the complainant will give the organizer more insight into some aspects of the problem than a generic questionnaire, and some people who have not felt comfortable in the past filing a complaint may be more comfortable in the future if the reputation of the organizer is that such complaints are taken seriously.

      • June 5, 2012 at 1:45 am

        Thank you for the suggestions, and I will pass them along to my staff for what to do if we find out after the fact. I am still interested to hear how we can handle incidents that happen at the time they happen without requiring the victims to actually report anything, since one of the biggest complaints when an organizer (or a man) says “you have to report harassment” is that there are penalties for reporting & we shouldn’t make it the victim’s responsibility.

        So, OK, I’ll go along with that – the victim shouldn’t have to make a report if they don’t want to. Now, how do I handle incidents within the time frame of the event without requiring any reporting? In the examples I gave in the original post, I didn’t bother to report those incidents to the staff either, I just left the venue, so I’m not being flippant or dismissive about the problems with reporting – I’m agreeing. I’m pretty sure no one affiliated with the event has any idea that anything bad happened. What could they have done about these events without making me responsible for reporting?

        • June 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm

          Unfortunately, it’s not an instantaneous process. So when you ask what can we do now to stop harassment now, it’s tremendously difficult to give an answer that could actually address all cases. I doubt most people have the expectation that every case will receive a superb resolution, so let’s not set the bar that high.

          From my perspective, what this is mostly about is creating an atmosphere where harassment can be addressed well most of the time. The attitude given off by the conference or event organizers and their official policies and implementations thereof have a large influence on that. It’s not the only factor, though. Who is invited to speak and run the event makes a big impression, too. What specific response is given to not just the egregious examples but the “little” incidents sets the tone quite a bit.

          Changing the atmosphere and perceived attitudes will affect the level of reporting. However, even more importantly it alters the calculations of offenders as to whether they can actually get away with their behavior. Preventing poor behavior is the more fundamental goal of the two.

          To be proactive about the issue is the key. Talk with organizations that already have a lot of experience dealing with this and similar problems. See if you can conduct training sessions for the event staff. Modify your policies so that they are as clear as day, and have all the event speakers and staff explicitly sign off on them. By all means, sanction offenders when they’re caught.

          No one believes this is an easy problem, so it’s already recognized that there will not be a silver bullet solution. A combination of the many various approaches that have been suggested may end up doing more good than the sum of its parts, however.

    • June 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      Joreth – I am not a community organizer so this may not be as simple as I think it sounds. What I would do is post near every phone and in all public places a policy with a phone number that is attached to an 800 number that forwards to staff phones (very simple and fairly inexpensive to set up) and make it known that help is just that phone call away.

      I realize it is not that simple but it is a start. It is frustrating to be held accountable for something you haven’t been made aware of but I think bibliotequetress is right, even if you can’t find the culprit you need to talk to the victims to 1) let them know that it is important to you and 2) to know where the problems are what kinds of problems they are. Plus it send the message to both future victims that their complaints will be taken seriously and possible perpetrators that it will not stand.

      • June 5, 2012 at 1:55 am

        Forgive me if I misunderstand, but it sounds as though you, and others, are suggesting that I encourage women to report incidents of sexism & harassment. Maybe I missed something, but I thought the general consensus was that women should not be responsible for reporting these things since there is typically a penalty for reporting, so many women just don’t want to.

        As I said in another response, in the examples I gave that all happened to me, I didn’t report any of those incidents, for all the reasons why women generally don’t report things. So I’m really not trying to dismiss the problems with victims reporting harassment – I get it and I agree with it. I’m trying to find solutions that don’t require the victims to report anything if they don’t want to.

        So, did I misunderstand? Are you not offering suggestions that require women to report sexism and/or harassment? Or is the solution to fighting sexism & harassment in our communities to report it to the proper authorities when it happens (assuming that the staff has reached the level of “gets it” and will actually do something about the report when it happens)?

        • June 5, 2012 at 5:58 am

          As you already pointed out the situation is a Catch-22 but short of becoming an all-seeing eye there is no way of knowing about the problem if it is not reported.

          So yes, reporting has to be part of the solution but to allow that you need two things (at least) from what I can see. You have to make reporting a low risk and make perpetrating a high risk. It is great that

          • June 5, 2012 at 6:16 am

            Phone sent before I was finished;

            Yes, reporting has to be part of the solution but to allow that you need two things (at least) from what I can see. You have to make reporting a low risk and make perpetrating a high risk. It is great that you staff “gets it” but that is not enough, it has to be conveyed to all attendees in such a way that it is believable, this is where DJ’s statements fall down as they do not send the message that reports will take it seriously.

            Like I said, I understand your frustration but the solution is more than one step and it does include knowing about the incidents and that requires some kind of reporting even if by a third party or after the fact. If that reporting is given the correct amount of weight by taking the feeling of the victim, for example, into account and having a proscribed set of guidelines you can show that not only will those who speak out be taken seriously but also that those who might think to offend should think again.

            Building up this reputation is part of the solution and can not, unfortunately happen overnight. It is a slow process where we might want a fast process but, short of becoming omniscient, I see no way around it.

        • June 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm

          This is smacking of a round of “Technical Foul”. You keep saying you get it because you’re a woman and it’s happened to you, but if that’s true it doesn’t seem to give you any insight about what to do to change the tone at these things.

          If you’re the one in charge (which you seem to be saying is the case), then you say, “This shit has been happening, it stops here, and this is the new policy. We will have stations here and here, we will create placards stating plainly that this shit will no longer be tolerated, and we will tell women if this shit happens to them report at these stations here and here because dammit we’re taking this seriously and we want no more of this shit. This means that everyone–EVERYONE–at the conference gets a heads-up, whether by announcement at orientation, e-mail, Morse Code or a fricking two-hour panel discussion at the very beginning of the conference that sexual. harassment. will. not. happen. here. anymore. And I fully expect you, my loyal staff, to listen, to keep an eye out, and to make it a priority to keep this shit from happening and/or to get it handled if it does.”

          Now. If there’s some other step beyond that, it’s up to the woman in question and your loyal staff to figure that out. But if you’re in charge, step up and make it stop, or make it really fucking miserable for the perps.

      • June 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

        I don’t know if the hotels will allow such notices to be posted by all their phones, mainly because it may confuse their other guests who are not part of the JREF conference.

        Wouldn’t a notice in the conference calendar/agenda, and on the sign up sheet/website telling people the anti-harassment policy and the reporting procedure be enough?

        Maybe there also could be coordination between JREF and the venue where the conference is to take place so that if a guest in the hotel is doing something impermissible that the hotel staff can be involved.

    • June 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      I understand your frustration–yes, on a practical side, there’s not much you can do unless you know about that incident, but of course, expecting the victims to know what to do is unreasonable and unfair. So I guess your goal is to make the victims WANT to report to you…granted, some won’t, no matter what you do, and that’s neither your fault nor theirs. But, if you have signs talking about safe spaces that’s a plus. If you have easily-visible volunteers that’s a plus. Possibly consider an anonymous comment box, if issues are sensitive? That would at least give you data. Maybe you could consider a harassment hotline that people could text in real-time if they’re having a problem? And I think just if people see you make an effort and respond seriously and sensitively to complaints–even if it’s after the fact–will build that trust and they’ll be more likely to want to approach you.

      • June 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm

        I forgot to include–have your programs or other registration materials have something printed that’s clearly visible that gives all relevant contact information for reporting.

    • June 5, 2012 at 2:03 am

      A follow-up questions: we seem to be throwing around “sexism” and “harassment” as if they’re interchangeable. So does that mean that the solutions to both are interchangeable also? Should I be telling my attendees that if they encounter someone who is sexist and someone who is assaulting them, that in both cases, the solution is the same – report it to a staff member? Some of the solutions offered have to do with rape crises and rape prevention and special hotlines, but are those the same responses if they’re just in a conversation with someone who announces to all at the bar that “all women are bisexual but all men are straight, therefore it’s not sexist for guys to like watching hot bi babes get it on” (seriously, another real-life example). So far none of the examples I’ve given, or heard, involve an actual attempted rape, but quite a few jackasses.

      • June 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

        What do YOU think is appropriate? It’s your conference. What tone do you want to set? Will there be any panels addressing sexism in the in-group, or is it just assumed that people can say whatever they want as long as they don’t physically trap other people so they have to listen to it?

    • June 5, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Being a a white, middle-aged, straight, bearded guy, I was wondering if there was anything I can or should do to help. From the template policy you cite:

      “If you […] notice that someone else is being harassed, […] please contact a member of conference staff immediately.

      It sounds like in many cases the person being harassed (I don’t want to say “victim” and other people have used the term “complainant”, but I think that only applies if the person has made a complaint), doesn’t make or doesn’t want to make an official compliant for various reasons, but does discuss it with friends or through other unofficial channels they feel more comfortable with. Should the anti-harassment policy specifically encourage people who become aware of an incident in this fashion to report it, perhaps while shielding the identity of the person who was harassed, or offer to accompany their friend while they report it or otherwise help? (I’m sure this can be expressed more clearly and succinctly. Maybe this can even be made into a slogan, like “Friends don’t let friends be victimized?” Again, there might be a better word than “victimized.”) But you wouldn’t want to pressure people, just let them know that you (the friend) are their friend and will support them.

      Pteryxx’s research and advice also sounds good to me… One thing I would add is maybe rather than (or in addition to) the organizer or a staff member as an individual attending a training session, arrange for the rape crisis center training people give a training session on-site the day before or early on opening day (e.g. Wednesday morning for TAM) for the entire staff.

      Also, having lots of signs around, especially in areas like bars, with a summary of the policy and contact info couldn’t hurt. If nothing more, it would remind people there is an anti-harassment policy.

    • June 7, 2012 at 11:18 am

      Very interesting post.

      Regarding some of it, the disconnect among persons discussing the issue seems to come partly due to what different people do and do not consider harassment or serious enough to warrant some sort outside intervention.

      The guy at the end who was flirted with by the woman — I mean, to me, IMHO, that’s just what happens in a free society. People might find you attractive and try to flirt with you. Just because you’re married, well, not only does that not change that, frankly, as a man, and married, I can tell you that being married increases the attention one gets. But, I digress. In that situation in particular, to me, a grown man ought to deal with it, and not by hinting that it’s unwelcome without being rude — the guy should just tell the woman to lay off because he’s married, and if she doesn’t stop, then go to the hotel management.

      Regarding the ass-grabbing, that’s assault and battery and even sexual assault. However, like anything else, if you can’t identify the culprit, there isn’t anything one can do about it.

      You’ve really honed in on the crux of the difficulty of this issue. Without someone coming forward at the time with an actionable report of serious misconduct, what can be done?

      About people walking down hallways commenting on the fatness of conference attendees, well, JREF or another organizing group can’t do much about that other than to caution the people involved (if identified) or kick them out. Are you going to kick people out for general hallway rudeness? Maybe. But, there is, of course, the inevitable denials — whoever is accused will say it wasn’t them who did it or said it.

      Same thing with the dyke or prude comment. Very difficult questions of proof arise here. It also seems to me that we start getting close to a speech code here, which could result in complaints because someone says almost anything. What if a guy is called a dick or a cock? Can he report the alleged offender and get him or her ejected? Does there have to be proof? What happens if it is his word against the accuser? Nothing? Err on the side of the accuser?

  215. June 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I am completely on Rebecca & Stephanie’s side on this. What I want to know is, if all this sexism is “invisible” to people like DJ, what can they actually *do* to help?

    They need to get it this time.

    It’s really that simple.

    They need to get, in their guts, that they have this THING they don’t understand, and they need to alter their methods of operation.

    What they need to get is that WOMEN AREN’T MAKING THIS SHIT UP.

    I put that in all caps so they could get it.

    Women aren’t lying, they’re not being prudes, they’re not being princesses, or any of the other bajillion things women are accused of when they say, “This guy is creeping me out” or “No, he didn’t want ‘coffee’, his hope was that I’d go to his room with him, and I’m just glad he took no for an answer instead of deciding I was a bitch who should just give it up right there in the elevator because he deserved it.”

    As has been said umpteen times before: It’s often less about the creepers and more about THE PEOPLE WHO COME POURING OUT OF THE WOODWORK TO DEFEND THE CREEPERS’ RIGHT TO CREEP.

    So. What the organizer can do is create a very firm “no creeping” policy and back it the hell up by immediately throwing out a guy who grabs a woman’s ass. And back it up some more. And provide safe spaces for women, and back up those who staff them. And insist that the men under her back it up. And hopefully have men doing some of the heavy lifting so that the “no creeping” policy establishes, over time, a new norm.

    At least for that particular conference. The rest of the world will eventually follow. But it starts with those who do get it refusing to lower their eyes anymore.

    • June 5, 2012 at 1:26 am

      I appreciate you taking the time to respond, but I did specifically ask for advice for actions, not to tell people to “get it”. As I said in my example, I am starting from the position that my staff *does* “get it” and we’re trying to move forward from there. I am not speaking on behalf of DJ or anyone else who is dismissing that sexism & harassment exists.

      How do we help if no one will tell us they had a problem until way after the fact, and they didn’t tell *us*, but they told the internet and got upset that we did nothing when they didn’t tell us anything needed to be done?

      • June 5, 2012 at 7:34 am

        You could increase the visibility of your anti-harassment policy, as well as of your staff. Make sure staff members are easily recognizable as such, and are sufficiently present and approachable.

        As for the people who only talk about incidents after the convention has ended, make sure you don’t shoot the messenger or blame them for not reporting. Don’t lecture them on “if you don’t report, we can’t act” -they know that. Instead, treat it as a failure on your part to make people trust you enough and feel comfortable enough to want to report, and ask them about what you could do to fix that.

      • June 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm

        Look, you were doing the same thing DJ did–“What are we supposed to do if you silly cows don’t report these incidents?”

        I said plenty of other things besides “they need to get it”, which you didn’t *ahem* get in your zeal to spout off about how to talk to you.

        Once again: They get reported if YOU, the one in charge, decide on a policy, set up the policy, make it crystal clear that IS the policy (placards, billboards, semaphore, noisemakers, whatever), set up spaces where women (especially) can be safe, give clear instruction to the rest of your staff that they are to take reports seriously and follow up on them, and then do that.

        But it starts with YOU, the one in charge, setting the tone in the first place so that women know where to go, what to say, and how you WANT the stuff reported. That way, there’s no Orwellian “Yeah, they told me and I threw the guy out, but since they didn’t *report it*, my cyborg memory was wiped clean and it never really happened.”

        • June 7, 2012 at 10:04 am

          Not trying to start a fight, but do women really not know where to report instances of harassment or assault? I would think that anyone subjected to such treatment would go to the organizers of the event or the proprietor of the facility, or both, and report the incident. Any incident of unconsented sexual touching or groping is battery and a crime, and ought to be reported to the police.

          But, your point is definitely well taken. Like all employers, any group organization should have a simple,clear policy on harassment and other misconduct, giving its members, male and females (but, in my view not “especially” either one), ought have a means of recourse within the organization.

          Beyond that, though, I have to say, that folks that are prominent, outspoken, adult, activists, who have no reticence in raising sexual and harassment related issues publicly, loudly and without embarrassment, ought to have no difficulty in handling the reporting of inappropriate comments or harassment when they encounter it. IMHO.

          • June 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

            Your humble opinion seems to be based on the idea that there are no barriers to reporting. There are. I think there’s plenty of information in this thread alone about the internal and external barriers that keep people from reporting harassment or abuse. I understand that from your point of view it all seems so simple. But it’s just not.

          • June 7, 2012 at 10:38 am

            Kammy, I appreciate that. However, I think there are few barriers to Ms. Miller and/or Ms. Watson and/or other activists who are very outspoken on a variety of issues from reporting. I mean, Ms. Watson is what? In her 30s, college educated, extremely outgoing, confident, a public speaker, and leading activist on sex-related issues and feminism. To the extent that barriers may apply to other, less sophisticated people, they wouldn’t apply to these prominent folks, would they?

            I will do due diligence and look through this thread for discussion of barriers to reporting. However, if you could let me know what these barriers, in your view, are, I would appreciate it.

            The barriers that I see pointed out here are:

            1. Not being told what can be reported and who to report it to. I noted in another post that a clear and easy to follow policy published in the JREF agenda for the convention would go a long way to help. A phone number and designated individuals responsible for receiving and investigating complaints.

            2. Not having confidence that the report will be followed up. Well, the only solution to that is to enact a clear policy and create a track record over time of enforcing it.

            There may be others — but, it seems to me that a clear, unambiguous, clearly posted, and consistently enforced policy which includes a process for reporting and investigating incidents would cover most of those concerns.

            I’ll add only a caveat at the end here, that we’re not dealing with children here, and the women who attend these events are not children who need to be handled with extra-special care. They’re by-and-large, strong, confident, mature, competent, able, adults who can be trusted to, generally speaking, handle their own affairs as well as men.

          • June 7, 2012 at 11:43 am

            Thank you, Ms. Watson, for that article, which I had not read before. Very interesting.

            I would say that nobody will ever be free from third parties who weren’t there making comments, even rude comments, about the report. Any allegation, whether of sexual harassment or simple assault or anything else, is going to be met with skepticism from the accused and those who identify in some respect with the accused.

            The key here, I think, is whether Ms. Miller (I think I mistakenly called her Ms. Murphy on another post, for which I apologize) had her issue taken seriously at the time by the organization in question. It seems it was, as the guy was tossed in some respect, although there does seem to be some differences as to what was actually known to whom at the time.

            In the case of any serious allegation, there is, inevitably, a question of proof. If I accused you, for example, of some sort of nasty comments to me, and you denied it, what would JREF organizers be able to do to you? What should they be able to do to you? Should my unsubstantiated claim be enough to get you booted? I daresay no, I doubt most people would think it should be enough.

            Is that the same thing as saying that I’m making the allegation up? No, of course it is not. It’s simply the acknowledgement that a third party can’t know for sure what happened. All they can do is go by the evidence they have.

            I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t think women ought to be made to feel bad for reporting instances of harassment. However, it is likewise true that accusation cannot be all that is needed to demonstrate guilt, even in the non-law enforcement context.

            Thanks for that article, again, and I am re-reading it to get some additional insight.

          • June 7, 2012 at 11:48 am

            Also, just out of curiosity, if you see this, does a post like that (described in Ms. Miller’s blog post) really deter you (Ms. Watson) and her (Ms. Miller) from doing anything or reporting incidents? You two are prominent bloggers, outspoken activists in the community, with no reticence in bringing harassment and other such things to people’s attention. Are you deterred from reporting inappropriate comments and inappropriate touching to the authorities because third parties who weren’t there might ask whether you have any proof? Or because third parties who weren’t there might not believe you?

            I would think that most women wouldn’t care what unrelated third parties think. I know that I don’t, but then again, I’m a man, not a woman. But, I don’t think there is an inherent difference where women get cowed by the opinions of unrelated third parties more than men. As long as the incident is addressed, isn’t that what is important? And, Ms. Miller’s incident was, in fact, addressed.

          • June 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

            Also, just out of curiosity, if you see this, does a post like that (described in Ms. Miller’s blog post) really deter you (Ms. Watson) and her (Ms. Miller) from doing anything or reporting incidents?


            Why do you think that we’re emotionless, tireless super-bitches who have all the time in the world to, on one front, fend off a legion of shitheads who badger us because we spoke up, and on the other front explain to supposedly well-meaning men over and over and over again why this is a problem?

      • June 7, 2012 at 10:19 am

        1. Add a page to the convention itinerary or agenda which states in bold terms the anti-harassment policy, and that policy should cover race, coler, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. Provide a telephone hotline number whereby a person can report an incident and provide the details of who, what, where, and when, the event occurred. Also allow in-person reporting of incidents to designated staff, who will fill out a form to document the report.

        2. When a report is received, respond and investigate immediately.

        3. Take prompt and appropriate remedial measures, whatever they may be. Document the measures taken and the reasons for taking it.

        4. At any time there is a he-said, she-said impasse, hand the policy against harassment to the alleged offender, and state that while you understand that they deny the offense, that your policy requires you to notify them of the policy so that there can be no misunderstandings. Then direct that the parties involved ought have no further contact with each other at the conference.

        Of course, people do need to understand the difficult position conference organizers are in. They aren’t employers and they can’t really just “throw people out” of a place of public accommodation, like a hotel or something. If, for example, I have purchased a room at the Hilton, and the convention is there, I don’t have to leave just because some JREF person says I have to leave. They can keep me out of their reserved rooms, but I am allowed to go where I like. The hotel can kick me out, of course.

        Another difficulty is with one person’s word against another. As much as we know that women would be unlikely to just invent an incident out of whole cloth, when an organizer is relying on one person’s word against another, it can’t be the rule that the accuser gets his or her way by the mere fact of making the accusation. This places an organization in a very difficult position in terms of investigating and determining the truth of allegations.

        Lastly, you will want to review your organization’s insurance policies and liability waivers and releases. Get more insurance coverage, because once you are notified of a problem, if the person can claim that you didn’t take sufficient action to solve the problem, and later something worse happens, you’re going to get sued.

    • June 7, 2012 at 10:54 am

      A “no creeping” policy is not feasible. It is not feasible because it is too general and does not specify what conduct is prohibited. You can’t have a policy against making someone feel a certain way. You can only have a policy that restricts what people can do or say. So, whatever policy has to be specific as to conduct.

      Moreover, much of the difficulty in creating and enforcing a good harassment policy in this case is the venue. These events take place in hotels and convention centers, with bars in them. These are places of public accommodation, and it’s not a place where someone can be kicked out merely because he or she is “creepy.”

      For example, if JREF holds a convention at the Hilton, and Mr. Smith attends the conference and stays at a hotel, if he engages in a come-on to a woman who is creeped out by it, JREF can’t kick the guy out of the hotel. It’s also unlikely that the hotel will kick the guy out because a person makes an accusation. The best JREF can do is bar the person from the reserved conference rooms, revoke JREF membership or the like.

      In formulating a harassment policy, the policy can’t feasibly leave the definition of harassment solely to the accuser (or alleged victim, whatever term you prefer). Much conduct that one person finds offensive and harassing by nature is welcomed by other people, and Mr. Smith (Or, Ms. Smith) can’t know in advance whether a person welcomes it or not. Inappropriate language, for example — many people don’t mind the 7 dirty words, and many people find some of them to be unacceptable. Is it harassment to use one of the 7 dirty words in front of a woman? Not necessarily.

      From the standpoint of the generalized complaints we’ve heard about TAM — like the drunk British guy who made inappropriate comments around Ms. Murphy — that’s really not enough information to take much action. We’d need to know what was said, in what context, whether it was “to” or “near” Ms. Murphy, and whether the offender was notified that it was unwelcome, whatever it was. And, did it involve touching, or just words. Etc.

      The Devil is in the details on harassment issues. It’s not enough to simply say “harassment occurs and needs to be stopped.” When dealing with a specific event that is alleged to be harassment, we need to know exactly what happened in order to know if it was, indeed, harassment and the level of seriousness involved (which would govern what sort of remedy must be applied – like a warning or a caution, up through or including calling 911 for law enforcement assistance).

  216. June 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Everybody, I did some research on how to get training in handling sexual harassment – turns out it’s really easy to get, AND probably FREE. I’ll just leave this here – I spammed it at FTB, too.


    Okay… I talked to my local rape crisis center (located through the RAINN hotline) about the education they provide. Your local center MAY provide similar services, gotta ask them.

    Their educators do sexual harassment and assault education training as a presentation format and Q&A session, usually 60 to 90 minutes long. Presenters will come to your group’s event or meeting place, days or evenings or weekends. This is a free service and summer is a good time to schedule as it’s not very busy.

    My contact says the presentations will cover the definitions of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, how to recognize suspect or dangerous situations, what an escalating situation looks like, the basics of how reporting should be handled, and bystander training in how to intervene as safely as possible. She says they have never dealt with training event staff before, but it shouldn’t be much different from their usual presentation except possibly in scale.

    She also said (which I’m overjoyed to hear) that they RUN INFORMATION TABLES AT EVENTS. That means, if your group can arrange for a educator to run a table, the Backup Project volunteers can have a professional mentor! The educator’s there to teach and answer questions, not to handle reporting, but still.

    One more note – she said that a group should check with their local crisis center BEFORE listing the center by name on their harassment policy, in case it constitutes an endorsement.

    Printable materials can be requested or downloaded from local resource sites. For example:

    which has lists of brochures (in English and Spanish) about non-stranger rape, sexual harassment (in the workplace) and lots of other topics.

    My two cents: y’all who are outraged, make a note to find your local center and either attend a training session or nudge your group, employer, bowling league or whatever to host one. Push this information to the organizers of any events you might attend – they too can probably have a training session for the asking.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      Excellent advice. Thank you for the research

  217. June 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    mrmisconception: Maricon/Marica is used around here (NM) specifically to refer to not just a sissy, but a gay man. I worked in a lot of kitchens, and if someone called you a marica, they were slurring your gender and orientation. When I asked for a translation from the guys I worked with, they translated it as ‘faggot.’

    Which is where I recognized the word from.

    • June 4, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      I appreciate that, but looking in a English/Spanish dictionary (dead tree type) came up with magpie and online I found sissy as well as faggot. In context your translation was probably right but it does appear to mean other things.

      We should just ask sixto… Oh yeah, that’s right. :)
      C’est la vie.

  218. June 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    Apparently, the JREF is so hard up that they are now stealing money from people who cancel in protest of this year’s TAM, and calling it an “additional gift” to their lovely organization. In protest of DJ Grothe’s defense of harassment and telling women to keep their big yaps shut about sexism, I requested a refund for my TAM ticket in protest. Here is what happened.


    Dear JREF:

    I was shocked and horrified to hear what misogynistic things this man DJ Grothe had to say about women.

    I am seriously SICK to my stomach to hear his words.  SHAME, SHAME on him. 

    And because he clearly lied about harassment at TAM (one incident in which he was directly involved), and most of all, because he encourages women to NOT TALK about sexism and harassment, essentially blaming the victim.
    I could maybe understand if it was a one time mistake in his wording, but he continues to defend sexism and his obtuse point of view.

    He makes me sick and should resign.

    Please refund my money for TAM, I will not be attending in protest of his very harmful words.

    Very sincerely,

    Their response:

    Dear X,
    We have processed your refund of $162.50 for $330.00  ticket purchase.
    $162.50 was refunded to the credit card you used when you made this purchase.
    Your support is very important to us. Please check our web site for other opportunities to support us.
    James Randi Educational Foundation

    Apparently, they chose to keep half of my money as an “additional gift” to themselves.

    Student Registration
    0(1 Cancelled)

    Additional Gift

    Event Name: The Amazing Meeting 2012 ?Location: South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, Las Vegas, NV ?Event Date: Jul 12, 2012 ??James Randi Educational Foundation Tax ID: 65-0649443

    ?Original Amount: $330.00
    ?Adjusted Amount: $167.50


    Nice going, a*holes. I am sincerely so sick of the treatment of women in this movement that I am seriously thinking of giving it up altogether.

    • June 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      By the way, since they only refunded half my money, perhaps I shall go to half of the conference (I still have my receipt) and protest there. Anyone want to join? Until now, I agreed with the Skepchick idea to work together, but how are you supposed to work with someone who doesn’t even respect you enough to acknowledge your complaint, and screws you over further by stealing your hard earned money?

      • June 5, 2012 at 12:23 am

        Wow! I guess sending a very upset reply to their response to my cancellation actually got some attention.

        I hand it to the JREF for doing the right thing.

        Their final response:

        Hi, X.

        I received your email to the JREF about cancelling your TAM registration. I’m very sorry you won’t be joining us this year in Las Vegas.

        What you received is a standard, automated receipt for your cancellation. Our published refund policy states that registrants are eligible for a 50% refund if they cancel by June 15, and this is what you received. The difference is listed on your receipt as an “additional gift”, which is standard labeling used by our payment processing software and not our own terminology.

        Despite our published policy, however, tomorrow I’ll look into granting you a full refund in this unique circumstance.

        If there’s anything more I can do for you, please just let me know.

        All the best,
        JREF Representative X


        I hope he follows through.

        I wrote back:

        Thank you so much X.  I really sincerely appreciate your message and your ethical refund of my money.  This is something that I obviously feel strongly about and I am very glad that you are humane enough to recognize this and do the right thing, because the JREF promised an environment friendly to women and I am getting the opposite, I am NOT receiving what I paid for.  This is false advertising at its worst.

        I wish things were different and that DJ was not such an ass.  May I suggest a P.R. representative?  He is really digging himself into a hole here.

        Thank you again very much.  I worked very hard to save the money for this conference and am very sad that it is against my morals to go now.  Now I can put this refund toward my student loans.


        • June 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

          I know that no one in this forum probably cares, but I did write back in the hopes of at least something positive coming of this, because I guess I still hope that not everyone at the JREF is behind Grothe’s strange behavior.

          Dear X,

          I hope you don’t mind if I add a few thoughts, perhaps they might be passed on to DJ Grothe or James Randi if you feel it is appropriate.

          If I take you at your word that I am unique, and the only person who has asked for a refund due to the disparaging remarks from DJ, I believe that it is only due to the fact that I registered so very early, before I found out what had been going on.

          I personally know several women who are declining to go this year for the sole reason of protesting DJ’s behavior. They are not asking for refunds because they did not purchase them yet.

          I am curious, does the JREF as a whole, and James Randi in particular, know everything that DJ has said, and how he is behaving? Is there someone scouring the internet and keeping up to date on this? I ask because I’m very sad that so many people, including me, have lost almost all respect for the JREF, an organization in which we previously held in high regard.

          Is the organization and Randi aware that on his Facebook page, DJ actually defended a man who said:

          Ryan Grant Long: “Greta Christina’s insane followers accused me of being an evil sexist man and wanting to “kick women in the cunt every day.” Let me be clear. I don’t want that for all women. Just them.”

          DJ actually insinuated that the blogger “asked for it” (quotation mine) by saying:

          “He seems to interpret it as Ryan making a reasonable comment expressing dissent; getting dogpiled on and being “egged on” by my “ditto-heads” in an “in group/ out group” dynamic; the situation escalating; and me unfairly and “opportunistically” posting one of Ryan’s more extreme comments out of context. (All quoted words and phrases are D.J.’s, btw.)” -Greta Christina’s Blog

          It doesn’t take much for a reasonable person to stretch DJ’s attitude that women ask to be threatened to be sexually assaulted by getting kicked in the cunt, as it is their fault for egging them on, to the idea that DJ would think the same if a woman is harassed or sexually assaulted in other ways. And how is that supposed to make women feel welcome to attend the conference in which he is President?

          I have a hard time believing that if the organization, especially the wonderful Sadie Crabtree and James Randi knew the details, that they would allow DJ to continue to defend his harmful position against women.

          Would it be possible to get a representative to respond to me personally about these questions?

          I don’t have a blog, I’m not out to “get attention”, and I’m not out to hurt anyone. But I sincerely want to understand how and why the JREF is putting up with this.

          Thank you for your time,

          • June 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm

            I’d be interested to know if you get any significant reply.

          • June 5, 2012 at 10:34 pm

            This entire episode is really bumming me out (partly because it is unhelpful internecine warfare, and partly because I think the tone of this debate makes a proper conversation about the important issue of harassment in the skeptic/atheist/geek culture communities less likely than before).

            I have known D.J. since we interned together in 1999 ( He’s a kind and fair guy, and one who, verbal missteps aside, has done a huge amount to advance the role of women and other traditionally under-represented minorities in skepticism. Since you quote him as defending Long, it is worth reposting his response at Greta Christina’s blog where he notes that he personally wrote a chastising email to Long:

            (Nuance and charitable interpretations seem to be the first things to go in Internet debates.)

            Ultimately, I suspect that 99% of people involved on both “sides” (I don’t think there really are sides so much as tribes in the threads I’ve read) of this debate all want the same thing: an inclusive community where people can work together to further reason and critical thinking. I think that this deeply depressing episode can still lead to good, but only if we acknowledge each other’s good intentions, and talk calmly, rather than rushing to calls of SHAME!

          • June 6, 2012 at 12:22 am

            Jason: please stop tone trolling. We have been greatly wronged by DJ’s thoughtless, sexist, victim-blaming comments, and it is deeply necessary that we speak up and address it fully–that INCLUDES calling out DJ’s irresponsibility for what it is. Notice: he has apologized for NOTHING. Everything he claims to have apologized for he has continued to do in that very apology. A very thoughtful, nuanced discussion of the remaining problems with his apology is here.

            Furthermore, your commenting on what a nice guy he is is COMPLETELY irrelevant–he harmed us, he tried to silence us, AND HE HASN’T FIXED his harmful attitudes. You have not made ANY argument as to why his behavior is okay, you’ve just said you think he’s a nice guy. This is ad hominem argument, and unbecoming of a skeptic. Also, it does me NO GOOD WHATSOEVER if he’s personally a nice guy if he tries to silence feminist bloggers or make insinuations about the consensuality of harassment claims. These behaviors are absolutely unacceptable.

            With regard to Ryan Long, Greta has already written at length about how the reply you quoted was grossly inadequate and still problematic.

            “Nuance” does not mean that we have to excuse acts of sexism. People (or their friends) who have wronged others and insist on “nuance” look like they are avoiding accountability.

            Furthermore, you and DJ may say you want an inclusive community, but when your actions do overt material damage to this important goal, you can and should be criticized.

            Moreover, we are not “rushing” to call shame. DJ has had ample opportunity to address his flawed assumptions but he has doubled down on them. And when it comes right down to it, when someone tells women not to speak publicly about their experiences, and refers to sexual harassment discussions as “recounting sexual exploits” and “distasteful locker room banter,” why SHOULDN’T we call SHAME? That is shameful behavior. It is sexist, misogynistic, and COMPLETELY unbecoming of a president of a major skeptic organization. Insisting that we not call such shameful behavior by its rightful name is just giving privilege to those who engage in such shameful behavior.

  219. June 5, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Yes, there male skeptics are sh*t heads. Anyone that believes in something where they are ‘smart’ enough also might make them superior. It is odd, but harassment is not limited to women. It is across the board. Being skeptic/atheist/agnostic is not the trigger. The holding of an opinion of superiority is the trigger. The same kind of thing happens with far right Republicans or your boss, to the lady in the neighborhood that complains to the homeowner association about the height of your grass.

    We need to diffuse this holier than thou stuff a lot of the skeptic/atheist/agnostic community holds. Just because you don’t believe in a sky god does not make you superior, just enlightened and a critical thinker. It is not license to belittle, abuse, or control. The toe in the water of superiority is getting us wet in a very nasty way.

    • June 5, 2012 at 1:56 am

      My mother raised me with the idea of the Competence to Arrogance ratio–it doesn’t matter how much you think of yourself, in an absolute sense, it matters that your C:A ratio *must* be above 1 at all times. (and really, shoot for around 1.3 at least, just to make allowances for Dunning-Kruger and all that….)

      I think we have a sizable portion of the skeptic community whose C:A is around 0.75 in the sociological epistemology realm…

      • June 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm

        How do you quantify competence or arrogance?

        • June 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm

          Consider it a humorous approximation.

          • June 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm

            You should create a survey that caculates a person’s C:A ratio

          • June 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm

            And if no one specifically says on my survey that someone was being arrogant I can then wave it in the face of all those who are objecting to widespread arrogance? Sounds like a plan!

          • June 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm

            Can you reword your last posts? I don’t understand

          • June 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm

            Nm, I see what you meant. I’m not arguing with you. People can definitely get full of themselves when they think they know something that should be obvious to all, and become arrogant. A lot of atheists are really insecure and smart people. They’ve grown up in the same society as everyone else, so they’ve been marinating in a patriarchal society. And nobody wants to think that they’ve been behaving like a “bad person” all their life. So they get defensive when it’s pointed out to them.

            Anyway, I was just joking with you because you were using specific numbers in your metaphor. They were round numbers. I got it.

          • June 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm

            It’s a good way saying “be humble”. Your Mom is cool

          • June 6, 2012 at 10:12 pm

            Oh, and the bit about the survey was making fun of DJ for insisting that since no one mentioned harassment on his survey results for last year’s TAM, harassment can’t have been such a big problem.

          • June 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm


  220. June 5, 2012 at 4:29 am

    As a father I am shocked and outraged at the behavior of so called “men” in the skeptical community. I abhor the thought of anyone not feeling safe and the behavior and comments of many make me ashamed. The skeptical world is for the discovery of truth, maybe it is time it is for justice as well. I love the Skepchick organization because it keeps me grounded and thinking of how to be responsible and a better father to my daughter. I want her to grow up in a world where she will be safe and accepted, not treated as property or meat. Rebecca I have the utmost respect and admiration for your ability to communicate the needs of women but I also love your commentary on the world we live in and I miss it. Stand your ground Ms. Watson until the JREF comes out of the cave it is hiding in and stands in the full sunlight of truth, maybe than they see the plank in their eye! (so wanted to do something else there)

  221. June 5, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Either you are joking or your reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired.

    • June 5, 2012 at 6:59 am

      I’m sure you have a quote for that, right? I suggest you stop digging…

  222. June 5, 2012 at 8:38 am

    The bullshit circus sideshow just left. Move along.

    • June 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Damn, I missed it! Anyone care to give a quick synopsis? Pretty please? :)

      • June 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm

        Someone wanted in on the hot swinger action at cons.

        Poor digger, you won’t be missed.

  223. June 5, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Whoa, shit he disappeared like the Zoltan machine.

    • June 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

      *drops quarter in, closes eyes, whispers*

      i want to be . . . banned

      • June 5, 2012 at 9:02 am

        Faster than a ray of light…

      • June 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

        That made me smile.

  224. June 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    So… DJ pointed at you as the source of declining female interest in TAM. We all understand this is very silly. But I’m confused. I understand that it’s offensive and utterly irresponsible of him to do so, but why would that be a reason not to attend? Isn’t that kind of just playing into his game?

    Were it me in a similar situation, I would see this as a great motivator to attend and continue on my original plan of making the event a safe space for everyone. Your decision to skip the conference does not advance your aim of expanding a safe space – it shrinks it. Yes, DJ’s comments shrunk it, but not having a Skepchick presence at TAM will shrink it further.

  225. June 6, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    This is very disturbing, I’m glad you are bringing attention to this issue. It is sad to see such behavior at an atheist convention. I’m sorry you had to go through that. Doesn’t sound like much fun.

    I do think this brings up a disturbing trend in the atheist community, particularly young atheists. Now I’m not an atheist and this is just my opinion so take everything I say with a grain of salt, but it seems to me that many atheists, and many people in general especially liberals, have this idea that the right ideology will naturally produce peaceful and moral behavior. I often hear atheists say that they stand for reason and what is right. They often have this attitude that they are enlightened and want to spread the same enlightenment to others. This is a noble goal but one which should be approached with caution. Because, when we are so busy pointing out the intellectual and moral flaws of those who disagree with us, whatever views we may have, we rarely look at our own moral flaws. That may be the issue here, guys like DJ just assume that atheists couldn’t have done such horrendous things, and leave it at that. You can see the same phenomenon in many Christian circles as well. Its a social issue, I find, is rarely mentioned and needs to be discussed more.

  226. June 7, 2012 at 12:09 am

    I missed all the fun, but want to say congratulations to Rebecca for taking a principled stand.

    I am at loss to explain the retarded comments of DJ as I thought that JREF was one of the more enlightened groups.

    I hope this does not result in too much extra bile coming in your direction.

    • June 7, 2012 at 12:14 am

      Weird! The 5 comments below were BEFORE mine – what gives?

    • June 7, 2012 at 4:46 am

      Please don’t use “retarded” as a pejorative; it’s ableist.

  227. June 7, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Rebecca, at Cognitive Dissonance I posted the following comment to their excellent support for women: “I appreciate you position on feminism in the skeptical communities. I think you made many great points and I hope you got through to some thick heads. Sometimes the blunt truth is the best. DJ Grothe’s handeling of this hasn’t been very impressive to me (I am just learning how unimpressive). My 20-something daughter and I are paid up for TAM this year again before I realized this issue. We had an awesome time last year with 40% female attendance. I hope to hell that this year isn’t an 18% female sausage fest. If that happens I’m not going back, like you said, I’m paying a lot of money I can’t really afford to be there. I’m not there to hit on anyone (my gal would be sad), I want to listen and talk to anyone with something interesting to say. Having the other half of the population show up doubles those chances! I do hope that women realize staying away doesn’t help their position, they have to stand up to sexism and harassment. Make noise, make it clear why and how it is wrong. Avoiding it won’t solve it. I’ll stand with them if they are there. I applaud you for standing with them clearly and loudly. Thanks!” I am sad you won’t be there this year, I was looking forward to meeting you if I could screw up my courage. My daughter isn’t one to back down for something like this and I am sure she still wants to go. And I understand the point you make not appearing. It is a good point. As a manager in a large corporation with a high percentage of women engineers and staff, harassment is NOT tolerated. It is reenforced yearly and serious. It is clear and no nonsense. No wink-wink smirks and management to the top supports it. The culture has definitely changed in the 30 years I’ve been there. I didn’t realize this level of tough love is necessary at TAM and elsewhere. Rebecca, thanks for what you do and keep it up!

  228. June 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

    FYI, this thread is in danger of crashing the site at this point so I’m going to shut it down.