Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Place to Talk With Blondein-Tokyo

This is a place reserved to chat with Blondein-Tokyo about subjects to do with feminism and scepticism if she wants to. The intention is cover such ground as "talking about the actual issues, like the use of the word "cunt", the necessity of harassment policies and what they should contain, how to make women feel more welcome" and so on. If you aren't BiT and wish to join in then feel free but please remain civil and back up any statements with some reasoned proofing.


  1. This is Dave testing the comments to see is anonymous guests can post.

    If you use this feature please do me the favour of typing some sort of name or preferred pseudonym at the end of your post like so:

    - Dave

  2. Hi Dave! Thanks for this. Where do we start? Is there a specific question or topic you would like to address? I think sexual harassment policies might be a good one.


  3. Well first I was thinking we could say a bit about ourselves -which I hope will help us see one another as rounded human beings rather than concentrating wholly on controversial topics on which we may disagree. Once that's out of the way we can talk about sexual harassment policies.

    So I am 37 and currently a student again. I live near Belfast in Northern Ireland though I am from England originally. I am in year two of a psychology course. Areas of interest are psychology, evolution and natural history, wild food and foraging and fantasy fiction.

    I've been watching the developments of current disagreements in the atheist/sceptic community for a while but I don't feel hugely involved. That thread I spoke to you on on JV's blog and my posts about Rebecca Watson's talk on psychology are the only times I've really written anything about my opinions. However I have been thinking about it quite a lot so it would be nice to talk more.

    So that's why I'm interested to talk more. If you'd like to say a bit about yourself then we can move onto our respective notions about the need for sexual harassment policies and what form they should take...

  4. That's a good idea. :) I'm 39, soon to be 40. As you can tell from my handle, I live in Tokyo. I'm originally from the Midwest in the USA but came here directly following graduation from uni and have lived here for nearly 20 years. Right now I'm working at a big Japanese electronics conglomerate as a business trainer. My areas of interest are similar- evolution and natural history, which came about due to my atheism, and I love science fiction. Of course, I'm also interested in feminism and consider myself a sex-positive feminist. My heroes in that area are people like Susie Bright, Dr. Annie Sprinkle, Tristan Taormino, Greta Christina, etc.

    I'm bisexual, polyamorus and active in the GLBT community here in Tokyo. I'm also a big craft beer geek and a big hobby of mine is bartending. I have a small apartment, but one big cupboard is reserved for my alcohol collection. :)

    I've been following the current disagreements since "elevator gate" broke, and while I have read most of the related blog posts, I haven't really commented since usually the blog spaces are full of people who do nothing but snipe rudely at each other and throw insults. I began commenting a little bit over at Atheist Revolution, since vjack has been quite fair minded, but I found that people assume that because I say "I'm a feminist" it must mean I agree wholeheartedly with everything every other feminist says, which of course isn't so. I managed to convince a few people over there that I am fair-minded, and they have thawed out enough to talk a little bit, but there is still a lot of hostility and the limitations on commenting on blogs doesn't really lead to good, in-depth conversations. Thus, I have been hoping to find a spot where I could talk with people more directly. I want to understand other perspectives and hopefully learn something I hadn't thought of before. As we say in Japan, "yoroshiku onegaishimasu" It's nice to meet you. :)


  5. Good to meet you too, and as a bit of comment on some more overlaps I'd like you to know that I am straight but have been a regular participant in Belfast's Gay Pride events and the Queer Arts Festival over the last few years. For a while I was obsessed with Japanese culture (particularly cuisine) and had ambitions to travel there. Alas, I got distracted into doing other things. My mother used to work as a management trainer for Fuji.

    I relate to a lot of what you say in your last paragraph. It seems that it is hard to present any sort of idea without being lumped in with other people who might share that idea and dismissed according to guilt-by-association. I am not sure where I stand on feminism. I used to find a lot of what people like Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolfe said made sense to me (though I don't feel bound by their philosophies either).

    However I do feel that a lot of the feminist thought that has informed the FTB/A+ stuff is quite negative in both tone and effect - it seems to be less about hailing the contribution and talent of women in favour of doing down the input of men. I realise this may have its place - particularly as a political tool - but I feel it runs into serious issues when parcelled with scepticism for a number of reasons (which I'm sure we can get into later).

    Anyhow, I will post this and then write some stuff about how I feel about harassment and harassment policies.

    Dewa mata!

  6. My current feeling is that the recent online debates about sexual harassment policies for conventions have been polarised between those who want far reaching and detailed policies, and those who think they are not desirable at all.

    My own feeling is that if I were to run a conference I would include a short note on what to do in case of harassment, for two main reasons beyond the obvious:

    1) I think the cat is now out of the bag and that even if there isn't actual need for such notice, the desire for some sort of acknowledgement creates a de facto need.

    2) Whilst I think the sceptic community seems quite well behaved in terms of conventions I would not want to encourage a culture of denying there is an issue if there actually is. I think that being of the opinion that "we don't do that sort of thing" is a good way to invite it to happen (look at the catholic church as an example of what happens when the assumption that you are a moral force is taken for granted).

    That said, I do think it gives the wrong impression to implement the sort of policies we have seen used in recent months - they strike me as being far too detailed and authoritarian. I must note that I have never been to an atheist/sceptic convention (though I have been to a few sci-fi and gaming cons both as a customer and in a more professional capacity and use these as my primary frame of reference).

    I do feel that some policies mooted go too far in making people feel that they have to worry about what they say and do to an inordinate degree.

    I also worry that the current mood is one where some of those arguing for the necessity of policies are being a bit ... creative ... about what amounts to an infraction. I worry that people who are awkward or cheeky are more likely to fall afoul of these policies than those who are actually predatory or dangerously louche.

    I also feel that the policies could be used to just punish people for not being PC (by which I mean they are not being actively PC, rather than actively being rude or bigoted). I take the recent to do with Justin Vacula as an example of this.

    I think if I were a convention organiser I would treat harassment much as I would first aid - the details aren't important in terms of what I put on the website or in the flyers - but it is important that people know who to go to if they have a problem. If it were a big convention I think it might be good to have a few staff with whom you can sit down with and come to an agreement about standards. If it was a small convention I would probably just ask people to come to me personally if they have a problem.

    As a bit of a personal anecdote to illustrate issues I might have with staff in general dealing with a detailed set of rules: as I mentioned I used to go to a number of gaming conventions when I worked for a company who made toy soldiers, and one of the only times I wished I hadn't gone is when one of the convention staff gave me hassle over my behaviour.

    Now in this case it was nothing to do with harassment - he didn't like that I was eating food other than that which could be purchased in the on-site café. He was probably acting within the letter of the law to some degree, and I didn't mind him asking me to stop. But he did so in a rather unprofessional manner, made it personal and followed up with another complaint a bit later because although I did stop eating the food I hadn't hidden the offending item. This did impact my enjoyment and it was a lot less embarrassing than being termed a harasser of any sort (let alone because I was unwittingly making someone feel uncomfortable).


  7. I do worry that the more detail is added to policies, and the more seriously the convention staff and organisers are urged to take them, then the more examples we will see of people being told off for things that are essentially innocent. Some of these policies say people can be told off for as little as following people who happen not to like it - even if they are wholly unaware that they are doing so.

    The other side to this is that we are already seeing a couple of conventions who have adopted a policy but then failed to act on it (in hiring a comedian whose material contravened the policy, or by stating that people may not use sexual imagery in talks or presentations whilst inviting speakers who have sexually-charged pseudonyms). To be fair to them, acting would have been petty given the nature of the infractions, but it does make the policies mooted seem unworkable. It also makes it seem like the people adopting the policies are doing so as a token gesture to placate the feminists as opposed to actually agreeing that the problems the policies address are important.

    The policies therefore seem to be more about theory than practice. Yes, it would make me feel bad to be followed about by someone I had asked to stay away from me - but has such a thing been an issue at a convention before and -if it has - have the staff been helpless to prevent it because it wasn't in any publically available written policy?

    So as you can see I am a little torn as to what I think. In short: I would like to see some advice given on who to go to if a genuinely upsetting case of harassment occurs, but I do not support the dissemination of a detailed and far-ranging policy which then gets abused or ignored.

    One last thought. I think that even though some people are being rude about this, even being clearly misogynistic at times, the sceptic community remains one with fairly liberal and inclusive attitudes relative to most other movements or clubs. I worry that this reputation for being moderately-but-not-radically-progressive is being jeopardised through this controversy.

  8. Hi Dave, I'm sorry I have not written you back. I was on vacation for a few days (there are holidays in Japan May 1-7) and the last week or so has been HELL at work, so I haven't had a lot of time for myself. Anyway- I'll answer your last two posts, and if you want to keep going, I'm still game. :)

    1) Agree. I think sexual harassment is serious enough an issue that it deserves attention, even if there have been no actual complaints of sexual harassment at conferences.

    2A) Agree. I think it's fair to say that there are assholes in every community, so I have to question why anyone would think ours be an exception. Even though atheists/skeptics/free thinkers are generally better educated, more liberal, and better behaved than most communities, there are bound to be some of them around. I am including women in this, too; it's not just guys who can be sexually aggressive or pushy. And, it's better to have a policy and not need one, than need one and not have one.

    2B)I honestly think you need to be specific about what is/isn't acceptable behavior. If it's too general people will be able to dodge responsibility by pointing out loopholes. But I also think the event staff should take mandatory training as to how to properly interpret the policy and be given leeway to judge whether the infraction merits any disciplinary action. Would you say that is fair? Do you think with training, monitors would be able to judge each case fairly?

    As for making people feel worried about what they say or do, I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. I think people SHOULD be continually self-assessing their behavior. I know I have to do it myself- I tend to be very um..boisterous. :) I swear like a sailor, and I like to joke around. I often saying things that are rather shocking to people who on the socially conservative side. When I'm drunk, I get very touchy with people and sometimes it makes them nervous. I recognize this, so I often self-check and remind myself that certain behavior may not be welcome at this particular venue with these particular people. When I'm at the gay bar, jokes about anal sex and talking openly about fisting is fine. But when I'm out with a group of people form work...not so much. :) Is it so bad, then, to have a policy that would force people to be more self-aware? I'd argue that we should be doing that anyway. How about you? Do you think it would really ruin people's fun if they were forced to think about what they say when they are around people they don't know well?

    2C) Your anecdote about the monitor who was unprofessional makes a valid point. Which comes back to my idea that the monitors be given training, and encouraged to use their personal judgment. But I do think it is valid to be somewhat concerned about people who, when they get a little power, enjoy throwing it around. While it is a valid concern, I think the trade-off, which is to make people feel their concerns will be taken seriously, is worth it. Do you agree? Would you trust monitors to be as fair as possible, treat everyone's concerns equally, and use good judgment?


  9. Second post-

    I think this again comes down to trusting monitors to use common sense and good judgment.

    I also think using good judgment would include assessing whether the contents of a presentation violate the policy. For example, let's take the "no sexual imagery" rule. There is a huge and discernible difference between a man who walks up to a random female attendee and shows her a pornographic picture, and Greta Christina including erotic art in her "godless perverts" group gathering. Would you agree that it's fair to say it is not that difficult to judge the difference between an intellectual discussion of sexuality (i.e, Dr. Darrel Ray's book) and a random ejaculation of pure smut that is meant to intimidate and harass? (pun intended, LOL)

    In addition, I do believe that each presentation has a short description on the program, and it would be quite easy to require each presenter to include a "warning" if they wish to include adult content. That would go for the entertainment, as well. With a description as well as an announcement before the presentation starts, each person would be able to judge for themselves whether or not they would like to attend that particular presentation or show, or just leave.

    In summary, I think there might be bumps along the way and some people might feel they were unfairly treated, but that is par for the course when implementing any new set of rules. I think the "kinks" so to speak ;) will get worked out after they've been tested and put through their paces a few times. I think we'll wind up with a very workable and fair policy if we can just give it a chance. And, I would completely support a revocation of any policy if it were shown to cause more trouble than it subverted.

    As for your last thought, I don't think I can agree. I don't have any actual numbers to back me up, but from reading various blogs and blog comments, I think that there is only a very tiny majority of people who really began to worry about their safety at conferences. It's a pretty insignificant number, and I think most of them are people who have been exaggerating the "danger" to the point of hyperbole. Ahem...Ophelia Benson...Ahem... :)

    And yeah...I hate to say this, but it's true- generally speaking, women who are on the internet have come to expect a certain amount of trolling and sexual harassment, and it doesn't stop them from blogging and/or commenting on blogs.

    And women who are out in public, who attend conferences or go to clubs, bars, and other venues where large groups congregate, are fairly used to the idea that there is the possibility they will be sexually harassed. And being fully cognizant of that possibility doesn't stop them from going out. I don't speak for everyone, but I'd say most of us are Big Girls and can handle a little bit of skeeze or an occasional ass grabber. :)

    Personally, I handle them with an arm twist or a kick in the shin.( LOL...joking...mostly.)

    That's about all for now. If anything I've said wasn't clear, please ask me so I can clarify. I'm the first to admit that I'm not the world's most succinct writer or deepest thinker. I'm open to hearing your opinions and considering that there could be something I haven't thought though well enough.


  10. Hi there and thanks for the response.

    No worries about it taking a while to reply. In fact I think taking this at a moderate pace improves the conversation.

    And in that spirit I am going to take a few days to digest and respond to your last post, which I find interesting and with which I largely agree. There are still a couple of areas of contention, and I want to do them justice by giving them some thought.

    However, I think we agree on pretty much all the substantial points, and just vary a bit on a couple of issues.

    You touch on something that I wanted to talk about to - that being the sort of events men and women flock to in great numbers, and I suppose that combines a couple of the stated topics of discussion in that it pertains both to harassment policies and how to have an event appeal to women.

    So I will think that too.

  11. Having given it some more thought then.

    I think you mistake my final point - though it is probably because it is at variance with something else I said and I wasn't as clear about this as I should have been.

    I feel it is an asset of Movement Atheism (such as it is) that it is pretty liberal - at least in comparison to most religious movements. I know that on the few occasions that I have debated atheism/theism with people online and IRL one of the major strings to the bow is to point out that atheism is not bound to texts which extol the values of yesteryear.

    So part of my misgivings about the current controversy within Movement Atheism (and I think calling it a controversy is nearly as grandiose as calling it a movement - but I hope you get my meaning) is that some people are now pinning charges of misogyny to the set - when in comparison to other sets it is actually quite egalitarian.

    This doesn't actually mean much in regard to policies - I suppose - it's just an illustration of why I'm less enthused about them than I might otherwise be.

    You ask about monitors and I think it is an important issue in regards to possible abuses of authority.

    In my (albeit limited) experience the opportunity to train convention staff is pretty limited - as most of them are volunteers raised on a short term and temporary basis.

    I suppose venues have staff with whom they could take time to discuss such matters as how strictly to adhere to a code of conduct - but most conventions, certainly smaller ones, won't have much influence on what standards they are taught.

    It would seem best to me that the organisers of conventions have a serious think and discussion about such issues and then require any reports of harassment to be passed up to them. This would make sure both that the person raises the complaint gets treated seriously, but that both they and the people they complain about get treated according to a decent standard.

    I am intrigued by your notion of ratings or warning systems for certain talks or rooms or whatever. That might be a nice idea to try and see what attracts most attention - would a PG13 con do better than an R rated con or what? That has the appeal of being something you could actually get data on.

    Regarding your point about the difference between an erotic or naked image in service of a presentation or display and one that is employed merely to offend or intimidate other attendees. I agree with you on that distinction, but I wonder if in such cases a less detailed policy would serve better than a more detailed one. If a lengthy policy includes such caveats it would have to reach encyclopaedic lengths in order to plug loopholes, whilst a more general "being deliberately unpleasant to people will have consequences if they complain, if someone is being unpleasant to you our staff will listen to your complaints and take appropriate action" might actually serve better (provided the staff aren't a problem themselves, of course).

    At this point I feel we pretty much agree aside from the issue of how detailed to make the publicly available information on the policy. Beyond minimal reassurance that complaints will be heeded and who to go to in order to report them I tend to feel that less is more. I do take your point that some people will look for loopholes, but I feel that sometimes extra detail facilitates extra loop (what makes a "presentation"? what distinguishes erotica from gross-out content? and so on...).

    And I think the only way to really resolve that particular difference is to look at what different places do to what effect, which is a bit of a daunting sociological prospect.