Clueless quote of the day via Blaghag, blogging on why women don’t come to atheist meetings after a conversation that ended with this:
“What? It’s not harassment since we’re not in a workplace.”
But wait – there’s more! The same guy then stars in This is why women don’t come to atheist meetings pt. 2
Of course, such arseholeish behaviour is not just limited to atheist meetings, and I have absolutely no doubt that this jerk was not representative of the majority of attendees, a point Blaghag herself made strongly. However, it’s not just one jerk at a male-dominated space that makes women feel unwelcome no matter how nice the other men might be. What made Blaghag feel isolated and unwelcome was that the only person in that room who even raised a visible eyebrow at what the jerk did and said was Blaghag herself.
Let’s be clear here. She didn’t need any man to rescue her from the jerk. She was fully capable of dealing with him individually on that or indeed on future occasions simply by ignoring him amongst other options. Despite the responses from many on her own blog, there was absolutely no need for suggestions as to what Blaghag could have done here to ‘handle the situation.’ What we’re talking about is how the other (all-male) attendees at the meeting might have responded to the jerk’s inappropriate behaviour in a way that would have encouraged Blaghag to feel included and truly welcome in the group (and let’s just be clear on a second point – that this sort of group regularly muses publicly about why more women don’t come to their meetings) so that she would want to come to more of their meetings.
It’s really, really simple, as Kate Harding pointed out years ago now (read the second part of this post) – as long as other men don’t call them out for this shit, guys like this think that all the other guys are on their side. Women being harassed, or seeing other women being harassed while other men let it go unchallenged, have no evidence to the contrary either. If these jerks are not representative of the people they’re grouped with, how are other people supposed to know that if nobody else in the group challenges their jerkish behaviour?
Conclusion: Welcoming? Not.
Here beginneth the rant that is about so much more than just Blaghag’s post, and about so much more than just sexist harassment too. Everybody who writes about social justice online needs to remember this, including me, although for ease of reading I’ll stick to the sexist harasser situation as illustration.
Actions count more than words. If you really do disdain such behaviour as much as you tell us you do here on the Internet, then let the perpetrators know about your disdain right then and there. Otherwise, it’s difficult to conclude otherwise than that your own discomfort at confronting a jerk (in violation of the Dude Code) really does matter more to you than the discomfort of women being harassed by that jerk.
Because here’s what it comes down to when others stand silent while some jerk is a marginalising arsehole towards somebody else right there in front of them: either the silent bystanders really don’t care about others being marginalised, or they are too intimidated to speak out. I suspect that in many situations it’s more the latter than the former, even (especially?) in situations where the only obvious consequence would be social ostracism towards those who speak up; ostracism is a powerfully effective weapon in human group dynamics. Cowardice in the face of intimidation is a fact of life and I doubt there’s any honest person who can say that they’ve never displayed it, but if that’s what’s going on then don’t try and pretend that a space where challenges to inappropriate behaviour have been silenced through intimidation is a welcoming space for the already marginalised.
Women might well fully understand and even forgive this ethical failing in individuals who later apologise when the jerk isn’t listening (hey, everybody makes some ethical compromises to get by) but understanding and forgiveness from women towards vocally remorseful enablers still doesn’t make women feel included, accepted, supported or welcomed by the silent majority of oblivious enablers. It certainly doesn’t make women enthusiastic about spending time with groups full of oblivious enablers, because women are (astonishing!) capable of joining the dots here with respect to how much future harassment they are likely to be expected to ‘have a sense of humour’ about in order to avoid rocking any Dude Solidarity boats.
Which reminds me: it also doesn’t encourage confidence if you bang on about how you never intended to harm the person you left to the mercies of the jerk-wolves. “I didn’t mean to” does not remove the harm done, and it certainly doesn’t generate trust.
So, silent bystanders (and you/we all know who you/we are): commit to calling the arseholes out when they are being arseholes, or stop complaining about how terribly disappointed you are that people who arseholes treat badly don’t want to come to your/our meetings where arseholes never get challenged.