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
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
Hey! Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand.
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.
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.
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.
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.