Last week a casual anecdote in a conference speech by Jen McCreight started a whole lot of balls rolling.
At last weekend’s Women in Secularism conference, I accidentally set off a lot of discussion with something I said during a panel. I say “accidentally” because I wasn’t planning on talking about this specific point, nor did I think it would result in such a reaction. I remarked that when I was about to attend my first major atheist/skeptical conference, multiple people independently sent me unsolicited advice about what male speakers to avoid at the con. The same speakers were mentioned by different individuals, with warnings that they often make unwanted and aggressive sexual advances toward young pretty women and that I should not be alone with them.
It certainly made my first big con a little more stressful. But it became more stressful when I realized this was far more pervasive than I thought. As I started getting more involved in these communities, more and more stories came out of the woodwork. Both female friends and strangers confided in me, telling me stories of speakers that talked only to their chest, groped them against their wishes, followed them to their hotel room, or had goals to bag a young hottie at every speaking gig they did. Once after I had publicly criticized someone on my blog, people made sure to warn me that this person had a skeevy record. I had to request friends attending the con to be extra diligent about making sure I wasn’t alone.
Jen also pointed out why she had no intention of “naming names” who had been reported to her on this Lechers List:
Look at what happened to Rebecca Watson when she simply said “guys, don’t do that” about an anonymous conference attendee. Imagine the shitstorm if there were public accusations of sexual misconduct of some very famous speakers. I’m not ready for the flood of rape and death threats. I’m not ready to be blacklisted and have my atheist “career” ruined by people more powerful and influential than me. I’m not ready to be sued for libel or slander. I’m not ready for the SSA or other organizations I’m affiliated with to also be harmed by association.
Various commenters agreed that having seen the results of ElevatorGate, they too would be extremely hesitant about naming names.
Stephanie Van also blogged about the resulting conversations at the WIS Conference. Both Jen and Stephanie pointed out the problems with informal networks being the repository of this information about harassers (not least the lack of due process and accountability in rumour mills), and proposed more formal ways to report incidents and collate data about incidents. Our friends at the Geek Feminism Wiki got a shout out for their model policy which organisations can adjust for their particular needs.
In encouraging results, several conferences have since publicly committed to establishing anti-harassment policies.
In less encouraging results, blogger Scented Nectar and Abbie Smith of ERV decided to revisit grade school insults, because hey! None of the popular girls had called the uppity trouble-making women ugly yet!