Thursday, July 19, 2012

Of TAM and T-shirts

So for those of you who, like me, have been trying to not pay too much attention to the sexism battles going on at FreeThoughtBlogs  and lots of other sites, here's the most recent happening.

A great number of feminist bloggers and activists have boycotted The Amazing Meeting in Vegas this year.  The most prominent group is the Skepchicks, led by Rebeca Watson et al.  Surly Amy decided to go to TAM anyways.  But when she got there, she saw Harriet Hall wearing this shirt:

Now, when I saw this I thought "Right on!"  A nice, simple unifying message: I don't choose to identify as a woman skeptic or a skep"chick", just a skeptic; we're all skeptics regardless of race, gender, or orientation and shouldn't need to specify.  I see this as a very positive feminist message, primarily that women shouldn't be treated or even named anything different just because they are women.

Unfortunately, Amy saw it differently:
I think one of the most hurtful things I experienced while attending TAM was Harriet Hall’s Tshirt that she wore three days in a row. I told her through tears, in the speakers’ lounge, that it was dehumanizing and gender/color blind and very hurtful to me specifically as a person who does have to deal with harassment regularly. I said I was glad she felt safe and that I wouldn’t have sent 22 women to the event if I didn’t think it was safe for them either. So who was she talking to?
OK, so it specifically singled out the term skepchick so it's a personal attack.  Alright, I'm sorry you saw it that way but I can understand that.  So how did the JREF handle it?
After I reported to them that the TAM twitter feed with the anonymous blogging from the event and Harriet’s shirt had upset me to the point of wanting to leave, I had security cameras trained on me and my table where I sat with my mother the entire time. A security/harassment person checked on me regularly. They said I was being monitored and recorded. It was intended, I was told, to help me feel safe but instead it just exacerbated the stress I felt. I changed my flight and left a day early.
So they took your claim very seriously, were concerned for your safety and continued to monitor the situation to make sure nothing happened to you?  What's wrong with that?  What if they had taken your statement and then left you to fend for yourself?  Would you be calling them out for not taking you seriously and ignoring blatant harassment? Probably.

I'm at a loss to understand what the proper response would have been if monitoring the situation and taking your concerns seriously is not appropriate.

Later in the comments thread, a poster named "Bob" offered a different perspective on the incident.
Hey, folks. I was actually there before during the Harriet Hall incident, and tried to be there for Amy because she was quite distressed. My name is likely in the report, since they took it down 
Within about 3 minutes of a trained staffer hearing that Amy felt singled out and targeted by attendees (and non-attendees on the hash tag), the anti-harassment person was in the speakers room, interviewing, gathering facts and formulating a response. Once statements had been taken, not 15 minutes later, he was on the phone with the head of the casino’s security to make sure that Amy was physically safe. And this wasn’t sexual harassment, but feeling singled out was enough trigger a MASSIVE response from the JREF. 
The volunteers were trained to have the consultant’s phone number on them at all times. When he was called, he did everything that he could to keep the situation from escalating and make sure that their guest was safe. I thought that real progress had been made, since Amy had decided to stay–I was really worried that she was going to leave.
I saw JREF take the issue seriously and act with consideration. Based on what I and others saw, it seems rather a stretch to use this incident as evidence that JREF/DJ does not care.
If what Bob says is true, then the JREF responded quickly and forcefully to even being singled out and feeling unwelcome.  It didn't even need to be sexual harassment to launch the JREF into action.  I would think that that's massive progress from any perspective.

But no, this t-shirt could become the next elevatorgate.  All that needs to happen is Richard Dawkins chiming in and we're back to square one. 

For a different, but much less friendly opinion of the incident, head over to Thunderf00t's latest post.

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