I wonder if this kind of thing would stand up in court? Is it even legal to expulse people with no refund when the guidelines are vague?
Personally I don't go to conferences for the same reasons I don't go to concerts -- too expensive when video is much better -- but I would be pissed if they threw me out for not measuring up to the arbitrary standards of some random enforcer of political correctness or for (horror) talking to girls in an elevator.
Oof, you're getting downvoted right from the get-go. I disagree with your stance, but better to talk about this than to just blindly vote you into oblivion.
First, yes, it's legal to throw people out of a private event for any reason you'd like. They can be mad at you for your vagueness, but being vague isn't a crime. ("Thank god!" say a thousand programmers and designers who've been forced to make presentations or give speeches – I kid, I kid.)
Second, your little "for (horror) talking to girls in an elevator" struck me as a snotty little dig at a serious issue. I know that you're most likely taking a shot at the Rebecca Watson affair [http://www.metafilter.com/105214/the-existence-of-greater-cr...], but some users might not, and your snideless passes over the complications involved in that incident.
Would you say that men, all men, take it for granted that they know how women feel about possible male aggression in private situations, especially late at night? That they know women have legitimate reasons to be worried about strange men who confront them, even in a seemingly harmless manner, in private situations? Would you say that women have a right to speak about their feelings on this topic, explain why they feel the way that they feel, or even just vent about how bothered they get by those situations?
Rebecca Watson didn't get anybody "thrown out" of the World Atheist Convention, she discussed an incident that happened there, and some people got really bothered that she considered it an incident. It was a complete flustercuck, not because talking to a woman on an elevator is HORRIBLE RAMPANT MISOGYNY, but because there are reasons why Watson found the gesture creepy, and there were many man – from your post, you included – who simply refused to admit that Watson had any legitimate point whatsoever.
Which is why, by the way, these codes of conduct are necessary. It's not necessarily that you would do something horribly wrong or alienating or offensive, but if something as simple as "being hit on at 4am by a strange man" is still sneered at as a legitimate concern, then probably some people think they're entitled to far grosser and more outlandish actions as well. And that means that either women might be actively harassed (possibly even assaulted), or they'll feel like they're not actually a part of the group, and then they'll leave, and the community will be immeasurably diminished for their leaving.
Again, the downvoters were wrong to knock you down – your opinion was relevant to the discussion and stated concisely – but your attitude here is exactly the problem which codes of conduct will attempt to enforce. I doubt anybody will miss your presence at the conferences, or at those expensive concerts for that matter. Enjoy trying to mosh in your own living room. :-P
Thank you for the discussion. I disagree with your stance as well.
Why is female->male fear different than other kinds of irrational fear? If we substituted white->black in your comment would you still support it? What makes it different?
"Would you say that black people, take it for granted that they know how whites feel about possible black aggression in private situations, especially late at night? That they know whites have legitimate reasons to be worried about strange blacks who confront them, even in a seemingly harmless manner, in private situations? Would you say that whites have a right to speak about their feelings on this topic, explain why they feel the way that they feel, or even just vent about how bothered they get by those situations?"
Also I'd like to point out that you make the assumption that only men can run afoul of a code of conduct and only women can be protected by it. Not convincing that these standards will be fairly applied.
> Why is female->male fear different than other kinds of irrational fear?
That's the problem: it's not an irrational fear. It would be irrational if a woman was convinced every man was a rapist, but that's the thing: they have no idea whether a man is a rapist or not. Rape is common enough, and harassment even more common, that they have to be wary.
> Also I'd like to point out that you make the assumption that only men can run afoul of a code of conduct and only women can be protected by it. Not convincing that these standards will be fairly applied.
Women can absolutely run foul of them, but there's a systemic bias in favor of men. Ours is the overwhelmingly dominant gender, socially speaking; we assume male interest to be the norm, to the extent that any discussion of media will come to revolve around ideas like the "male gaze", which is the thought that in many films and TV shows, the camera operates as if it were the eye of a man, looking at/emphasizing things which are of special interest to a heterosexual man. The problem with the male gaze isn't that men are evil, it's that men are presented as the default.
And this default is by no means a neutral one. It comes with certain attitudes towards both genders, but especially women, that has led to a biased and terrible representation of them in the media. Have you heard of the Bechtel test? It monitors how frequently movies portray two women having a conversation that isn't about men. Which is a ridiculously low bar for "women portrayed in movies" – yet a huge percentage of films released every year don't pass the bar whatsoever. Either there's no women in them, or the women never talk to each other, or if they talk, it's only about various male characters. Yet if you ran a reverse-Bechtel, tracking how many times men talk about things that aren't women, it would be hard to find a movie that DIDN'T pass.
That's what I mean by "systemic bias". It's not that men suck or are evil, but if you're a man it's way, way, WAY easier to assume that your perspective on things is shared by almost every other person. And in many situations it is – lots of universality to the human experience – but situations involving women is NOT one of them, and unfortunately, the media we consume does a terrible job of that as well. Even things created by women: I'll point out that in the Ayn Rand novel you picked your username from, the protagonist is a woman whose only other conversation with other women revolves around men: she talks to Rearden's wife about Rearden's interest in her, and she talks to her sister-in-law about her brother James. That's because Ayn Rand modeled her novels after the pulp fiction of her era, which is notoriously problematic in its portrayal of women as things to be slept with and little more.
What does this mean? Well, it means that if you're a guy, sometimes the ways you think are completely ordinary ways of interacting with women, or of talking about women, are uncomfortable or outright offensive/creepy for the women involved. Take the controversy a year or two back about the programmer who used a pair of boobs as a punchline to a presentation. If you're a straight guy, the pair of boobs works as a punchline – boobs are funny, our obsession with boobs is funny, women are weird, yadda yadda yadda. But presenting a joke like that at a conference suggests that you think straight men are the only worthwhile people in your audience. What's more, you're projecting, to an entire room of people, that you think it's okay to treat a woman's boobs as an object unto themselves, as if the boobs matter more than the woman they're attached to. It's a (relatively) little thing to you, maybe, but to a woman in that room with a bunch of people she considers her equals, it's more powerful for its littleness – an offhanded reminder that not only is she viewed as a minority, a weirdness, but that minority status is so taken for granted that you can make casual jokes about it without feeling any dissonance.
All this is to say that sure, women can do offensive stuff too. And if they do, I expect them to be reported and dealt with – double standards are indeed shitty. But it's not a double standard to say that a code of conduct needs to place special emphasis on dealing fairly with women. There is enough of a systematized problem, enough of a "boy's club" attitude among many programmers, that it's necessary to note that attitude and to say that it will not be tolerated.
This is all counterintuitive, I think, if you're a guy and if you haven't thought about these issues before. It took me a few years of talking to women about how they felt about these situations for this to really sink in – this is a serious problem that's almost completely invisible to me, and its invisible-ness is exactly the problem. I could link you to some interesting assorted perspectives that really clicked with me and started turning my mind around, if you're interested, but I understand if you feel it's not worth any more commitment of your time. This is unfortunately not a pleasant subject to delve into – hopefully I'm keeping this discussion light and interesting and non-nasty, but the real accounts of shit happening to women are pretty comprehensive and sad and ugly, and there's no way real around that without lessening the impact of their stories.
"Why is female->male fear different than other kinds of irrational fear?"
That's a loaded question. One of the core things to understand is that this is not an irrational fear at all. In fact, it is very rational.
If a person has had consistent, repeated experiences in which male conference attendees have exhibited unwelcome and aggressive behavior, then they are quite rational to expect that kind of behavior again. Public codes of conduct give people hope that when this kind of behavior does happen again, it will be dealt with appropriately.
It is wrong and irrational to expect harassing and aggressive behavior from everyone; that is stereotyping. But it is quite rational to expect the overall pattern to continue.
No you are right, I cannot fanthom that anybody could feel threatened by a geek who talks to her in an elevator, no matter the time.
Stranger rape (as opposed to date rape) is so extreemly rare that it makes the news when it does happen -- and it will almost certainly not happen in a conference elevator. Especially when there is a lot of males around -- who are glamoring for a chance to be the hero.
Stranger rape is not especially uncommon, unfortunately. Something like 1 in 5 women, possibly even more, are sexually assaulted at least once in a lifetime.
Are you suggesting that geeks can't rape people? Seriously? I'm sure it's not because of their inherent gentleness or sunny dispositions. It's not because geeks aren't frequently sexually frustrated – so frustrated that they resort to asking women out to drinks at four in the goddamned morning just because they were unlucky enough to board the same elevator. Is it because geeks are weak or something? Because brother, I know more geeks who own knives and switchblades than people of any other social substratum, and knives make it pretty easy to overpower somebody in, say, a small cramped space.
If you think rape never happens on elevators, or in public places, or amidst other "males" who are "glamoring for a chance to be the hero" – well, buddy, you're starting to sound a little silly. I'm not saying you should be kicked out of a conference for asking a girl out in such a stupid, oblivious way, but Rebecca didn't have him kicked out. She just said that it "bothered" her and that she felt it was "creepy". And for that she received a lot of harassment from people just like you.
It really makes me sad to see on HN arguments of the form, "I cannot understand/perceive X, therefore it is unimportant."
I get that you can't fathom it. But so what? Nobody put you in charge of deciding when people should feel unsafe. Or whether I should have sympathy for those who do. Or whether we, as a community, are willing to let a lot of otherwise useful contributors walk away because they don't feel safe.
I don't want to be a hero. Heroes need villains. I want a good conference, where everybody feels safe and welcome and we can all focus on learning. And this seems like a step in the right direction.
Homer Simpson isn't a role model. He's apathetic, stupid, and constantly convinced that he's more important of a man than he is. In fact, he's more a critique of that kind of man than an endorsement.
It's telling that Homer's redemptive characteristics are that he's capable of loving his wife and his children, and through his love, he's willing to realize that his opinions on things, his actions, are not perfect just because they're his. He can admit to being wrong; he can start caring; he can grow, ever-so-slowly, as a man.
I'm not suggesting that a person model their behavior after Homer.
The point I'm making in quoting him is that caring and understanding are distinct axes. You can care/understand, not care/not understand, not care/understand (Homer), and care/not understand. Each of these ways of being tends to bring different results.
I'll echo what I said elsewhere in this thread. When it comes to this topic, reality is irrelevant. FBI crime statistics are entirely unimportant in this discussion.
What is important is that you understand, accept, and modify your behavior to be more amenable to, the fear and emotional fragility that other people hold about the topic. It is not their responsibility to become more educated about actual risks - it is yours to behave as if these perceived threats are as likely as they think they are.
Look, we can quibble about how many women are actually raped over the course of their lifetimes. Can we agree that it is "a scary amount"? As in, enough that there's reason for women to be rationally nervous about people they don't know making sexual advances on them? At four in the morning? In a context that doesn't even remotely suggest "I want to go get a beer with you and then maybe have sex?"
As a guy, it bugs me that I am, in a lot of situations, seen as a threat. Walking down a quiet city street at night in my favorite hoodie, women have a hard time recognizing that I am a pretty good guy. They avoid eye contact, and a few cross the street to avoid walking near me. Sometimes it gives me a sad!
But honestly, my minor butthurtness goes away when I think what their experience is like. I'm just not at the same kind of risk they are. An order of magnitude less for sexual assault, and substantially lower for a lot of other crime. So I do everything I can to appear as unthreatening as possible: leaving plenty of room, trying to stay in the light, not boxing people in, changing my pace so it doesn't seem like I'm following anybody. Small things, but it's what I've got.
It's a little unfair that as a guy I have to deal with the fear caused by a relatively small number of total jerks. But having to live with that fear is much more unfair. So I'm entirely in favor of the community shouldering the (minuscule) burden these polices represent.
Thank you for not attending conferences. For the record, should you change your mind, you are strictly unwelcome at anything where I have a say in the attendance.
The number of women who experience some form of rape or sexual assault is absurdly high (I believe it is 1 in 6). Even if we make the (completely unrealistic an hyperbolic) assumption that that is off by an order of magnitude. That is 1 in 60. It means that at least 2 women in the room I'm sitting in have been assaulted. Crazy.
That means that women have a pretty reasonable case to be wary. So they are bit more sensitive to certain situations, like being enclosed in a box with a stranger. How dare they be concerned for their safety right? Nope. If you have a problem with concern for personal safety, do the world a favor and demonstrate how awesome not being afraid is and stand on busy train tracks for a few hours.
So now we have rules by which a woman can report that she felt uncomfortable or concerned. Fortunately those rules also include the chance for the accused to defend himself. OK cool. If it was a situation that was a mistake, reasonable people will say "this is a mistake, stay away from the woman, she is OK with this, but if you try to contact her for the rest of the event, we'll ask you to leave". Everyone moves on - seriously it isn't even unfair, who wants to hang around someone who is uncomfortable with them anyway?
So yes, what this does is open the door for some really unbalanced person to report harassment in a false way. Fortunately this is extremely uncommon. Probably less common than people actually being creepers. But say it does happen. Someone gets kicked out for nothing. OK. That really sucks, and potentially has further consequences of a social sort for the person removed. But you know what - if someone wanted to falsely accuse a person of harassment, the existence of a policy is not going to stop them, they will still do so loudly and unfairly. That person still may be asked to leave, even without the policy - organizers have that power.
So having the policy costs what? Nothing to the hypotheical and unlikely falsely accused or hyperbolically accused person. What does it profit? Peace of mind that actual creepers will be dealt with.
So, with that in mind - the only reasonable conclusion is that the people who are terrified of a code of conduct policy are the ones who are creepers. This is why I've banned you permanently from anything I can. You must be a creeper or at least proponent for creepers. Neither ar things I find acceptable.
The specific something minor already had a gender bias which I was responding to "talking to girls in an elevator". I never said nor implied men couldn't be harassed by women. Or men by other men. Or women by other women. I was addressing a specific difference between talking to girls in an elevator and harassment of women.
Second - I have been aggressively pursued by men and women before, this was uncomfortable. In all cases it stopped with a simple, single request. Not harassment. Similarly, I haven't really seen any of my male friends go through harassment either. I have no insight into that situation from the male perspective. If you do have experience with it, I would be glad to learn from it. On the other hand I do have experience witnessing my female friends go through it. I have talked with them about it. It has given me some insight into the matter, so I stuck to what I actually have some knowledge on.
Thank you for grossly misinterpreting the situation though, and assigning me a random caricature tho, I'm sure it makes your persecution complex easier to deal with.
Well the codes of conduct in question actually specify that the conference is only to take action if the reporter wishes that to be the case. Second, the codes actually have measures to prevent "moral panic" in them, in the form of getting both sides of the story, and in the case of pycon, using some form of consensus technique to discuss the ramification/consequences. This doesn't mean expulsion, it could simply mean a warning or a requirement to stay away from the reporter. These are reasonable reasonable responses to unwanted continued/"forced" discussion in an elevator.
Further should overreaction occur, there will in fact be backlash against the conference and organizers. This is the internet. You know it is true.
And no it isn't comparable to privacy concerns. It is comparable to people rejecting theft laws because consequences for a wrong action are unfair and someone could be framed. I doubt you rail about how theft laws are unfair because someone could be framed. There can be reasoned discussion about actual penalties being too harsh or not harsh enough, but railing against the existence of such laws only benefits thieves.
Yes, it is legal. It's a private event, with written guidelines. Also, what would you prefer; no written guidelines with me as chair able to do whatever I wanted to whoever I wanted to with no oversight. With no written rules, staff would be largely free to kick you out of a private event for say, wearing creepy vibram five finger shoes.
You appear to misunderstand the principle. Behavior is acceptable or not in the context in which it occurs. Trying to make hard rules that specific actions are harassing is a no-hoper from the beginning. Behavior that might be perfectly acceptable with someone I know well could be completely harassing to someone I don't know.
The key issue is that if someone tells you that they consider your behavior offensive or unacceptable then you are expected to back off. To persist is one way of harassing people. Nobody's asking you to be a mind reader, but it does help if you have some empathy towards your fellow humans.
You appear to misunderstand the principle. Behavior is acceptable or not in the context in which it occurs.
Let me try to help tomjen3 out. What holdenweb is saying is that it is your responsibility to be psychic. You are required to know, a priori, the current emotional state, the degree of emotional fragility, and the receptiveness to new ideas that your chosen conversational partner possesses.
Most of the "context" of these types of occurrences are judged by the geekfeminist zeitgeist to be centered around the fear experienced by, and emotional state of, the other party -- which you are expected to know through various psychic processes.
I know common sense can't be easily codified – wait, no, actually it can, it's called etiquette and it's all the rage in certain other social circles – but "having common sense" does not require you to be psychic.
For instance, if I am at a party, and people are drinking beer, and there is music playing, common sense tells me that it's okay to ask somebody I don't know to dance with me. If I meet a girl who's a friend of my friend in a casual social circumstance, and we get along, common sense says that maybe I could ask her if she wants to get a drink sometime. If I'm at an atheist conference and it's four in the morning, and a woman gets on an elevator, common sense says, "There is no reason this woman is looking to have a conversation, let alone go out for drinks. Probably she is looking to go to sleep, as that is why many people board elevators in hotels at four in the morning. Likely she is tired, and not super in the mood for conversation."
Perhaps in that situation, if I'm feeling soooo social that I just can't pass up on a chance to make a human connection, I say a small talk thing, like, "I'm really liking this conference!" But just blatantly asking a girl out to drinks? That's aggressive, and unexpected, and quite possibly comes across as annoying or creepy.
Common sense tells us all of this. It is logical. We're all nerds here, right? We love logic? This is basic logic that is easy that you can follow. You can defy these conventions, ask a woman out to drinks anyway, and not be a horrible human being, but it's stupid to say that Watson's reaction to the dude on the elevator wasn't completely justified.
Oh bullshit. Quit whining about the ghosts in the closet like a child. It's really quite simple. Do you have a rapport with the person in question? If so, you know what they are OK with. If not, perhaps asking them to have sex in the first 5 minutes is a bit forward.
If you don't know how to have a conversation with a person and gague their comfort level, there are in fact courses on this. Take one. Some basics tho: start with a simple, neutral topic. "like the conference?" "great talk! I liked the..." "hi, I'm ... , what is your interest in conference?". If conversation from that point forward is comfortable and easy, feel free to gently escalate. If body language suggests wariness or discomfort or even disinterest, just move on, or suggest talking about it later. You are 50% of that interaction. An interaction needs a 51% or greater consensus to continue. If you take it easy, there would never be problems.
I've been in conversations with women who were obviously uncomfortable with it. Once I spotted it, I politely disengaged and moved on. I have never been accused of harassment. I may have been declared creepy, but whatever the general consensus of my peers is that I am not, so I assume I am not (generally). If some of those discussions I mentioned may have left the woman feeling that way so what? I am not entitled to have anyone think anything else of me but what they do think. Could be I was actually being inappropriate and not realizing it, could just be that the other person was having a bad day, it doesn't matter.
Point being, it isn't that hard to have completely acceptable conversations without any worry about consequence, even if the other person is uncomfortable, so long as you respect that discomfort. Hell, it's even pretty easy to get laid at conferences. In fact, at least in academia, conference sex is a common thing that is openly discussed and joked about in mixed gender company (without resulting in harassment or whatever charges).
No what holdenweb is saying is that you use your common sense, and when someone tells you to back off, you back off. Being a bit creepy isn't harassment, being a bit creepy when you've been told to stop is.
Thank you. There's a difference between being psychic and being sensitive to the needs of others. We all make mistakes, but if we apologize if it's required and most of all if we don't continue along an unwelcome vector there should be no need for any invocation of a code of conduct.
As someone else has pointed out, its primary purpose is to reassure those who (reasonably or unreasonably) fear harassment that the issue will be taken seriously if it occurs.
I hope you realize that this is just the fancy version of the argument that runs, "Women! They're unfathomable, and probably made crazy by their lady parts!"
Understanding the mental state of the people around you is called "society". It's not particularly easy, which is why it takes us years to learn it.
But if you need a simple heuristic to not get in trouble at a conference, here it is: do not make sexual advances to people unless you are 100% sure they are welcome. Or, if that's too hard, use this one: do not make sexual advances at conferences. Seriously, it's not hard. You can hop on OK Cupid when you get home.
Seriously, guide lines used to be a good idea but they can only work when everybody agrees (or there is some written record) of what exactly sexual harrasment is.
And 'unwanted' sexual advances? How the hell can you know if the girl wants to talk to you, without talking to her? Heck if I was a girl who got asked out 50 times a day for coffee it would properly be annoying too -- does that make it harressment?
I mean, sure you treaten somebody that is one thing, but only because we have a pretty good societal standard for what is treatening -- yelling at people is, being black in an elevator is not.
"Elevator gate" was a stupid situation wherein a random guy hit on Rebecca Watson in an elevator, at four in the fucking morning, and when she mentioned that she found it creepy a lot of men went "THIS IS PROOF THAT WOMEN OVERREACT TO INNOCENT MEN, CLEARLY THEY DON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CREEPY AND ENDEARING, BLAH BLAH HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO ASK OUT WOMEN WITHOUT HARASSING THEM."
Unfortunately, Richard Dawkins and a few other prominent atheists came out attacking Watson, which made me lose a lot of respect for people I otherwise quite like. It was something of a mess.
> "Elevator gate" was a stupid situation wherein a random guy hit on Rebecca Watson in an elevator
Protip: If you want to not be seen as a creeper, don't hit on people in a situation where they don't have easy exits. Flirting and hitting on people is not a bad thing, but do it responsibly; give people space and let them have the choice to walk away if they so choose. Doing otherwise is just downright disrespectful.
I thought the reason these guidelines are set is so that everyone is protected--attendees feel comfortable, and organizers don't have to feel like they're on their own with making decisions on things that are making everyone(potentially) uncomfortable. Conference organizers certainly don't enjoy confrontation.
Also, thanks for the condescension behind the girl-elevator scenario. That really strengthens the argument. Ladies don't report conversations in an elevator. They report feeling unsafe.
The assumption is that the vast majority of conference-goers have good will and enough social skill to navigate these things adroitly. As is explained in the article, it's a scaling problem. If 99 people out of 100 are good eggs, then a conference of 2300 still has ~23 bad eggs.
Well, conference organizers are holding themselves to the exact same standard (any code of conduct would apply equally to them!)
Organizers tend to be the people who contribute the most to the community of anybody. They work long hours of (uncompensated) volunteer work and endure a lot of headaches. Yes, you may get a petty tyrant or two, but in general they are good people.
Finally, it's not like any of this is going to come into play for the vast majority of people. It's pretty much an agreement to treat others with respect, refrain from harassment and personal insult, and so forth.
Unless a conference attendee does something unkind to trigger these "rules" they are going to pass unnoticed.
The difficulty that you're having wrapping your brain around the concept of empathy is good evidence that that assumption should not be made for conference attendees.
That said, these policies are not even about you. They're there so that people who might be victims of harassment can feel safe in the knowledge that there are procedures in place for addressing it in the rare event that it occurs, and that conference organizers will take it seriously. That benefits everybody too. Don't assume you will never be harassed. I'm a straight white male and I have been made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable before by another person, at PyCon even. I'm not an emotionally fragile glass doll that you and others in this thread seem to be strawmanning. It really doesn't take much to be made to feel unsafe by another person's behavior. If you've never experienced that yourself it's because you simply aren't as likely to as other people.
In my case it was minor enough, and I felt in enough control that it wasn't worth reporting. But I'm glad to know I could have done something about it had things escalated.