Are we there yet? Sexual harassment at ICANN

by Maria on March 8, 2016

Pretty much every woman who’s ever called out sexism and sexual harassment has met the same kind of response; ‘he didn’t really mean it’, ‘it’s just a misunderstanding’, ‘you must have misinterpreted it’, ‘I don’t mean this the wrong way, but are you sure you’re not exaggerating just a little?’.

It goes deeper than just a bit of mansplaining suggesting to women that what just happened to them actually didn’t. Many people simply don’t see sexual harassment, even when it’s happening right under their noses. It seems normal that young and often not so young women* should spend part of their professional efforts graciously fending off unwanted sexual attention in a way that doesn’t damage anyone’s ego or their own reputations.
Here is a definition of sexual harassment:

“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”

(Note to readers: if sexual behaviour is something you are trying to make happen in the workplace, it is almost certainly unwanted. Do you want to risk your colleague’s sense of wellbeing on the sub-1% chance that she really ‘wants it’?)

Another kind of response to complaints about sexual harassment at work is to flip it back onto the person who is calling the behaviour out and try to undermine them or make them seem less credible.

Another response – one that goes irrationally alongside saying something didn’t happen or isn’t happening – is to say it’s not such a big deal anyway.

Another response is to say that all women it happens to have a responsibility to report it, putting the onus on individual women to solve a widespread social and political problem.

Yet another response is to tell them to stay quiet as saying something will ruin their reputation because they will forever be ‘that woman’.

(This last one reminds me of a frequent debating topic the year I was on the McGill debate team; ‘that this House believes homosexuals in the intelligence services are a threat to national security’. Yeah. Only if you have a problem with homosexuals, i.e. the problem isn’t the person, it’s your opinions about them.)

A couple of years ago, I blogged here about a public incident of sexism at an ICANN meeting.

I was grateful and glad that a prominent male member of the ICANN community had this to say of efforts to minimise what it’s like for women to deal with the every day sexism of a tech conference:

“Guys, you might do something which, after a few drinks and alone in some exotic place with one of the women of the ICANN community, may seem to you to be a “misunderstanding” or simple social faux pas. You may find that, well, obviously it wasn’t all that bad because the next day she had the discretion not to make a big deal out of it, or otherwise call you out and embarrass you.

Please do not make the mistake of believing that what you did was okay, understandable, or that you were just having an unlucky evening. The reason you are not called out at the microphone for exactly what you are is that she has to continue to be a cooperative member of the community of which you are unfortunately a part. It’s part of what she has to put up with here.”

But you know what? It’s actually not something we have to put up with. There are plenty of men – in my experience, most of them – who don’t think this kind of behaviour is normal or right. And most women, even if they’ve developed their own successful defence tactics over time or, like me, pretty much aged out of the problem, do not want other women to think this is something they have to put up with.

So – and this is addressed largely to the ICANN community, with apologies to regular CT readers for whom this sort of debate is so very 1997 – let’s look at some new responses to this perennial problem.

Let’s accept at face value that this stuff happens and it happens all the time, and let’s not try to minimise or undermine or explain away particular incidents. Let’s try something new; simply believing people when they talk about it because the barrier to talking about it is already dissuasively high.

Let’s situate our response to this behaviour alongside that other perennial at ICANN; inclusion and diversity. We would do a lot better to retain the many young women we attract into our arcane policy processes with a supportive environment that communicates clearly and frequently that dealing with sexual come-ons are not part of the job.

Let’s understand that this isn’t a question of imposing ‘Western’ values on different cultures. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a culture where it was considered desirable to openly proposition socially equal females for sex. Which goes to show this is not about sex. It’s about power.

Let’s remind ourselves that ICANN is not unique. Other communities, organisations and conferences have recognised sexual harassment and taken public steps to deal with it. Many of us have been doing Internet policy in a lot of places for a lot of years and are colleagues, acquaintances, even friends. It’s horrible to think that we or people we know and care about might actually have done this and that something thought of as just a bit of harmless fun is deeply upsetting to the other person. Let’s get over ourselves and recognise that we are not special or unique. We need to deal with this problem, too.

Let’s start with other organisations that have dealt with this problem, and look at sexual harassment policies developed by people like the Ada Initiative or others. Their policies may not suit our community precisely – barring people from meetings isn’t something we’ve ever yet considered – but they are a good start. In a well-worn recognised ICANN Bingo phrase, let’s not reinvent the wheel, here. Let’s take them as a starting point and get something onto the meeting materials and into our organisational DNA by the time we meet in Helsinki in June.

Let’s accept that this does not start and finish with our current rules on acceptable behaviour. If the problem is still here, the rules are not working. We need to communicate more effectively about what sexual harassment is – and with it the idea that the person doing it doesn’t get to define it – so that everyone understands what is and is not ok. (And while we’re at it, a lot of what currently pass as acceptable behaviours toward staff are emphatically not ok.)

Let’s show some solidarity and not personalise this issue, nor gossip about people on either side of it, but focus practically on how to shift our culture. Because incremental cultural change actually doesn’t happen by itself. People actively change their behaviours; institutions consciously develop, communicate and enforce new norms.

At an ICANN meeting, everyone is here to work. This space that we create every time we come together is not just our community; it’s our workplace, and we don’t come to work to be propositioned and objectified. Let’s sort out this issue so

    all of us

can focus on what we do best.

(*I deal here with sexism and harassment against women, but I do understand while we deal with this most frequently, we are not alone in it.)

{ 319 comments }

1

Anon. 03.08.16 at 6:36 pm

I unironically love the implication that your readership is so ugly that only 1% of the opposite gender would consider having sexual relations with them.

2

Plarry 03.08.16 at 6:37 pm

Not ICANN specific, but a related op-ed on STEM was in the NY Times two days ago.

3

Sumana Harihareswara 03.08.16 at 6:52 pm

Maria, my best wishes to the ICANN community as it works on this issue. And thanks for your post.

There are now a few different activists who use the Ada Initiative materials to offer trainings to help communities learn skills to be better allies. People who are not usually affected by sexist or other marginalizing/harassing behavior can learn to be more perceptive (to notice problems) and get tips on how to effectively prevent and stop problems. Is this kind of workshop something that you’d like to get onto the agenda for an upcoming ICANN meeting?

4

Gareth Wilson 03.08.16 at 7:22 pm

“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”

I feel offended, humiliated, and intimidated by this blog post.

5

Older 03.08.16 at 7:43 pm

Wow. Way to miss the point, dooooodes.

6

Lynne 03.08.16 at 7:43 pm

Hi, Maria!

It’s really too bad this issue is still an issue, but good for you for addressing it.

I don’t think your definition of sexual harassment is really workable (sorry!)

This seems to be the gist of the post: “At an ICANN meeting, everyone is here to work. This space that we create every time we come together is not just our community; it’s our workplace, and we don’t come to work to be propositioned and objectified.”

It is pretty straightforward to argue against sexual advances at work. But at conferences there is also social time, no? Within the community which is also the workplace, and that is where it is harder to say clearly what is and is not okay. Flirting isn’t harassment, is it, if it is during social time? This is not my world, so I’m just thinking out loud, so to speak. Obviously the issue needs to be addressed, but it seems more easily done in the workplace than in the social gatherings.

7

marcel proust 03.08.16 at 8:10 pm

I am very unclear about what is going on with comments 1 & 3 above. If I am reading them correctly, I hope one of the bloggers will either delete or disemvowel them. If I am not reading them correctly, I hope that someone will explicate them for me.

8

David 03.08.16 at 8:37 pm

I presume 3 above, at least, is a reference to the idea that sexual harassment by this definition is an entirely subjective issue, because it’s behavior which, whatever its content and whatever its motive, makes someone feel offended. Thus follows, logically, a demand that people refrain from any behavior which could, hypothetically, make that person feel offended.
This is a coherent argument, but obviously one that is difficult to apply universally, since all sorts of things make all sorts of people feel offended, so in effect we are obliged to single out certain types of subjective response as being more important than others.
If you want to go with this argument fair enough, but don’t ignore its obvious limitations.

9

christian_h 03.08.16 at 8:40 pm

I dunno Lynne, I find Maria’s post straightforward and convincing (I attend math conferences not ICANN but I’m sure the dynamics are similar). I think flirting is flirting. Propositioning (“hey wanna go up to the room and do it”) isn’t flirting. Considering any apparently not paired up woman at the hotel bar open season isn’t flirting. It’s really strange to me every time this issue is brought up, there seems to be this concern that smiling at someone or making conversation will now be outlawed.

10

Lynne 03.08.16 at 8:54 pm

Christian, I may have misunderstood Maria. You are right in making those distinctions so maybe it is much more straightforward than I think to ask attendees to modify their behaviour. I may have got hung up on disliking the definition.

11

Chris 03.08.16 at 10:01 pm

There seems to me to be a discrepancy between “Do you want to risk your colleague’s sense of wellbeing on the sub-1% chance that she really ‘wants it’?”, and this site, found by googling “chart where people met spouses”, which says that 17.9% of surveyed 18-34 year-olds met their significant other “through work”. I guess they are apple/oranges numbers, and I know nothing about that site.

I do feel very saddened by the harassment that women to have to go through. And my rule of thumb is, if a woman says I’m being sexist, then I am sure she is right. But, 17.9% of partners were met through work. Do we want that number to be 0%? Having 2 daughters in their mid-30s currently without significant others, I would say, definitely no. But I also don’t want my daughters harassed.

12

Sledge 03.08.16 at 10:40 pm

I think that Proust might actually have been referring to comment #4 (“I feel offended” etc.) when he called out comment #3. That was originally the third comment, but was bumped to the fourth position at some point.

13

Paul Davis 03.08.16 at 11:49 pm

I’m not just saddened, I’m embarrassed and indignant about the BS and the harrassment that men put women through.

But like Chris, this seems to me to a slightly trickier issue than Maria is acknowledging. Tricky in that I hope we can all agree (OK, I know there are pick-up artists who will never agree) that we don’t want women harassed by sexual/romantic come-ons (or worse) while working (or anywhere else).

But for most of us humans, the part of our lives where we find partners to have sex with, and then frequently form stable relationships of some duration, and possibly have kids with, is a pretty big part of life, and we put quite a lot of effort and time into the first steps down that pathway. I don’t think that Maria or anyone else is trying to argue with that – the point is “Not at work, dammit!”. But isn’t the issue simultaneously broader and narrower than that?

Isn’t it really that too many men just don’t have a clue when it is appropriate to flirt with let alone proposition a woman? Too many men who fail to recognize that a woman acting in a professional capacity does not AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME (at the very least) want to also be considered a candidate for some male idea of flirting/propositioning, that she (like her male colleagues) would like her skill/ideas/suggestions acknowledged and processed for their worth, not her attractiveness. Too many men who fail to be willing to acknowledge anything other than a very strong “leave me alone!” or the “sorry, i already have a partner” before they will back off from what might otherwise have been some acceptable level of early dating repartee. Too many men who don’t even understand what acceptable early dating repartee looks like at all. Too many man who think that their position of employment (or possibly even just their basic masculinity) gives them a lever with which to convince (some would say force) a women to react differently to their propositioning and flirting.

Because it seems to me that if in fact all men got this stuff right, then whatever flirting and propositioning too place in the workplace would probably be considered reasonably acceptable. Sometimes it would still be “wrong” (as in, “oh my god, I’m not all interested in him, or anyone in this office”), but it wouldn’t take place in a way that women felt undermined their competence, autonomy, self-determination and safety.

But is that even possible? Even if it was possible to wash out the hogswill of masculine idiocy and offensiveness, can we even construct workplaces in which power relationships and other office politics could ever make this stuff work in a way that isn’t a problem for women?

Because people are going to carry on looking for other people to date, to have sex with, to maybe marry and have kids with. And they’re going to keep doing that even with people they work around, because that’s who they spend the most time with. I don’t believe we can stop this behaviour – so how can we shape it to make it either less or absolutely not threatening and offensive to women?

14

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 12:13 am

And they’re going to keep doing that even with people they work around

I can’t link, because I have reached my article limit, but Wapo Wonkblog has an article based on surveys just this morning on “There are only three ways to meet a Romantic Partner” or some such: through friends, at bars, online.

“At work” has fallen off a cliff in the last thirty years.

Simple enough. No. Not at work or work-related events. Never.

15

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 12:24 am

Having said the above, which has been a truism for a long time though phrased more crudely forty years ago…”Don’t **** where you eat” was the expression before the 2nd wave…

…I could look this under the perspective of biopolitics, in which the employer has total, undivided , and unarguable control of your sexual and emotional life while you are under her employ, telling you exactly when and where you can flirt and when and where it is forbidden…

…and we can see how modern feminism as “protection of women” serves capitalism in a new but very comparable way to 19th century patriarchy. Neoliberalism is kinda cool.

16

Helen 03.09.16 at 12:31 am

Petulant outbursts of “well then, no one will ever meet any life partner at work or work related events. Never!!” don’t exactly advance the discussion.
Rather than looking through a prism of “women don’t want anyone flirting with them at work or work related events” please try to look through an alternative prism of “women want to be considered and related to as coworkers first at work or work related events”. Therefore, if there is some kind of mini-symposium going on in a hotel room, women don’t want to be assumed to be consenting to sex just because they have entered someone’s room – to give one example. Women don’t want to be viewed as a pool of more or less likely sexual partners first and conference attendees second. That doesn’t *rule out* approaching someone you like the cut of, but hey, it might be an idea to go for coffee of something rather than go the full on flirt, if lasting relationships are what you’re talking about. If that’s not acceptable, you’re probably more in the zone of “I want to get my end away on this conference/work trip” in which case why should we pander? Hope this helps somewhat.

17

Helen 03.09.16 at 12:32 am

“…and we can see how modern feminism as “protection of women” serves capitalism in a new but very comparable way to 19th century patriarchy. Neoliberalism is kinda cool.”

Oh YAWN. That kind of brocialist pabulum goes down quite well at Spiked I’ve heard.

18

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 12:36 am

I hate to do three in a row, but it may not have been clear.

This isn’t about

As women became larger and more valuable factors of production, behavior that might impede efficient and profitable work processes came to be necessarily managed by corporate and capitalist norms, women needed to be moved from social reproduction to actual surplus production, and needed to become entirely commodified labor and viewd, by men and by themselves as desexualised affectless commodities.

19

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 12:43 am

17: Like I said, neoliberalism is neat.

150 or 50 years ago, the “protection of women” from such as the brutal physical hardships or emotional stress or predatory men, was also used to limit wage competition and keep women at home providing free socially reproductive labour.

IOW, they also used extra-economic arguments (like religion) to disguise the capitalist purposes and create an illusion of agency and moral legitimation.

20

js. 03.09.16 at 1:03 am

I don’t think this is that hard, actually. OK, so 18% or so whatever age group met their partners through work. But presumably they weren’t making out at work—at least to begin with! I’d think a significant percentage of people meet partners through work because an even more significant percentage of people make friendships through work. And so you end up socializing with coworkers outside of work, getting in bed with them, etc. No one’s objecting to this, obviously, but it’s clear enough where and when flirting is appropriate and where and when it’s not.

Speaking of which. I think the Paul Davis-style “men just don’t know how/when to flirt” defense is kind of weak actually. Men seem to be able to figure out appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior in pretty much every other context (cf. “Men: just can’t figure out how to talk their bosses; keep getting fired!”), so if they can’t figure out obvious social cues when and only when it comes to flirting, that itself would be revealing and problematic. But I don’t even think this is true. If women are being to feel uncomfortable at workplaces or work events, it’s probably not because of some honest confusion, but rather because it’s a fucking power play (and not only because women can also probably tell the difference between honest confusion and a power play and react differently).

21

marcel proust 03.09.16 at 1:31 am

Sledge is correct. What had been 3 is now 4. I should have remembered that this occasionally happens on CT and linked as just have.

22

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 1:50 am

There remains a small tension as to who controls and manages, whether workplace and work-related interactions are to be bureaucratized, managed, codified or left to intuition, judgement, discretion, reportage but over the last decades it is pretty clear as to which, the former, is winning. This should make it obvious who is working for whom, which ideology serves and which rules.

Because the facts are making the argument irrelevant. As Wapo shows at 14, workplace-initiated romances are in fact disappearing.

23

Belle Waring 03.09.16 at 1:55 am

Most depressing. Comments. Ever

The world will not plunge into a “Children of Men” dystopia if dudes don’t mack on their colleagues. People who meet through work often have a set of acquaintances and friends whom they have met through work. Among these friends, two people might end up joining others for lunch with a number of other people. Then, one of the people might ask if the second is interested in getting together for coffee, just the two of them. Then, the second may agree and thus start a relationship through a series of meeting together outside work. If the second person seems even vaguely flaky about the one-on-one coffee, then the first person should shut up about it so it doesn’t make worklife hard for them. There isn’t a Boner Butterfly Event that will cause no one to have sex ever if people follow the soothing and low-key HR guidelines at their office.

24

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 2:04 am

Boner Butterfly Event that will cause no one to have sex ever

No one is claiming that. There are such ample opportunities in bars, online, at friends that I don’t understand why the feminists here want to keep the workplace as a romantic opportunity while attempting some personal rather than bureaucratized control of the consequences. It isn’t necessary, and we should all spend less time at work. And like I said, it simply isn’t happening. This is not the fault of feminism, if it is at all a problem.

Boeing Dow and Microsoft do not care about your feelings, they care about your (and your co-workers) productivity. Romance adds no surplus value.

I won’t give WaPo my $5 but it is an interesting article about social changes, people are longer meeting up through family or churches for instance.

25

Kiwanda 03.09.16 at 2:07 am

Helen 16: “That doesn’t *rule out* approaching someone you like the cut of, but hey, it might be an idea to go for coffee of something rather than go the full on flirt, if lasting relationships are what you’re talking about…..Hope this helps somewhat.”

It is quite well established that there are circumstances in which asking someone to have coffee with you is semantically equivalent to openly propositioning them for sex. I hope marcel proust will join me in asking that Helen’s (and possibly Belle’s) comments be deleted, or at least disemvoweled.

But really: I think this might be a case where education and changing social norms could actually have a positive effect. There are some number of people (er, men) who don’t actually know just how awful they’re being.

26

Plume 03.09.16 at 2:09 am

Helen @17,

Thanks for that word. “Brocialist.”

Had not previously bumped into it. Looked it up and found this article. Would you say it’s a fairly accurate description of the term:

https://newrepublic.com/article/116012/defining-brocialist-leftists-new-feminist-portmanbro

27

The Temporary Name 03.09.16 at 2:13 am

There’s another way to look at it Bob. It’s much nicer to be treated like a colleague than an available ditz or a fireable crone.

As women became larger and more valuable factors of production, behavior that might impede efficient and profitable work processes came to be necessarily managed by corporate and capitalist norms

I might have mentioned this here before somewhere, but Larissa Remennik has written interesting things about the transitions Russian Jews make upon ending up in Israel. It seems that moving into the neoliberal economy from the former Soviet Union isn’t necessarily all that great because female engineers don’t get hired the way they would in the USSR (which did its ham-fisted best to educate and employ women in male-dominated fields).

In other words, Bob, capitalist norms have a long way to go to catch up with the socialist revolution.

28

Gareth Wilson 03.09.16 at 2:13 am

” If the second person seems even vaguely flaky about the one-on-one coffee…”
Then the first person has committed sexual harassment.

29

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 2:17 am

26: About as accurate and fair as Mark Fisher’s “Vampire Castle” Google that one.

1st rule: Always personalize everything. Not about what is said, but who is saying it.

30

Bruce B. 03.09.16 at 2:37 am

As usual, Belle Waring beats me to the point worth making about this. There’s a vast continent between “Do me now, if you know what’s good for you” and stony wistful silence.

31

Helen 03.09.16 at 2:54 am

“There’s another way to look at it Bob. It’s much nicer to be treated like a colleague than an available ditz or a fireable crone.”

Yes, thanks, that was what I was getting at, TTN.

32

Helen 03.09.16 at 2:56 am

“” If the second person seems even vaguely flaky about the one-on-one coffee…”
Then the first person has committed sexual harassment.”

SH is only committed if the first person continues pressuring regardless. It’s a concern that people here seem to be not aware of this distinction. It just shows that the discussion and culture change *are* badly needed. What Bruce B. said, too.

33

Belle Waring 03.09.16 at 3:00 am

I don’t think anyone’s superior or supervisor should ever ask them out for coffee; it can be tantamount to asking, ‘hey, are you dtf?’ I also think it’s a good idea not to shit where you eat. I was just outlining a potential path to that love between co-workers which will otherwise dare not say its name. People could, in theory, start going out like that. It would be dumb because it will make work difficult after they break up, but it wouldn’t be of necessity immoral as a character arc. But the thing that is often missing from this discussion (though mentioned above) is that men are quite good at discerning the mental states of their male co-workers and bosses. They will know if someone dislikes them, for example, or is competitive with them, or is morose. That guys continually make “honest mistakes” about whether someone is sexually interested in them is disingenuous. They don’t. If you go out to coffee with a bunch of your co-workers you probably already know pretty well if any of them has eyed you with sexual interest. I’ve been sexually harassed plenty in my life and there’s never been any “honest mistakery”…save my middle and high-school teacher? I don’t know about him. Maybe the type of person who “falls in love at first sight” with a 13-year-old is fooling himself about her feelings? Naw, mostly predatory grooming, I think.

34

Gareth Wilson 03.09.16 at 3:00 am

Not according to Maria’s definition.

35

Ecrasez l'Infame 03.09.16 at 3:00 am

This is the perfect example of everything that’s wrong with corporate feminism.

The camel in the room is that ICANN55 is currently being held in Marrakech (where I assume this is addressed to / blogged from). Morocco being of course famous for couscous, tagine, Sharia courts, being rated number 129 of 135 countries for gender equality, women drinking rat poison to avoid marring their rapists, and so on…

What’s the travel advice for conference goers, you ask?

Observe and respect local clothing customs. Dress modestly to avoid drawing attention.

In some countries, a lone female traveller is a source of curiosity: avoid traveling alone outside of hotels and populated establishments.

Okay. So my main suggestion for ICANN on the sexual harassment front would not to hold conferences in Islamic shitholes; that way women attendees won’t have to be encouraged to cover up or have to worry about becoming a “source of curiosity” if they venture out alone in public. I think that’s possibly a higher priority than condemning Czechs for handing out postcards…

#4 (nee #3) nails it by pointing out that *if* the problem with sexual harassment is that it makes a “person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated”, then you’re basically taking a broad stance against any speech which causes offence. All sorts of groups can jump on the pro-inclusion anti-“offence” bandwagon, including Muslims. Unfortunately, if you get co-opted by that agenda you’ll end pretty much where ICANN is – spouting boilerplate inclusion rhetoric while cluelessly holding court in a country where women are treated like animals.

MacKinnon, to her credit, thought that sexual harassment was wrong because it was discrimination against women. That’s the problem, not offence, and if ICANN wanted to seriously object to that they wouldn’t be in Morocco.

36

Belle Waring 03.09.16 at 3:05 am

Also, I was responding to the “no one will ever get into a relationship with anyone they meet at work” canard. I do think conferences are different and that everyone involved should just not invite anyone anywhere for anything, because it makes life unpleasant for the invitees who do not return the mild, harmless sexual inclination that has been keeping the world turning lo these many years desire to fuck someone while in a serious relationship with someone else at home idle lust.

37

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 3:31 am

Belle @33 … granted, I haven’t worked in office for years (decades, even), but I am pretty sure that despite my general respect for your posts, you’re dead wrong about this:

If you go out to coffee with a bunch of your co-workers you probably already know pretty well if any of them has eyed you with sexual interest.

I might agree that in a LOT of cases, maybe even MOST cases, this is true. But I’m really deeply convinced that it isn’t true, especially in offices/workplaces with a lot of younger folk who haven’t entirely got the dating thing figured out yet.

Still, saying this from the cozy confines of solo-workspace-in-the-back-of-the-garage does expose me to some potential ridicule …

38

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 3:34 am

Belle @ 33 part two:

men are quite good at discerning the mental states of their male co-workers and bosses. They will know if someone dislikes them, for example, or is competitive with them, or is morose. That guys continually make “honest mistakes” about whether someone is sexually interested in them is disingenuous.

And yet, there’s this book (series) called “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, which has sold a lot of copies and seemed to be wildly welcomed as at least a start on explaining some issues with male/female communication and understanding.

No?

39

Plume 03.09.16 at 4:17 am

Sexual interest. I think it’s a hell of a lot harder to read than some are saying here. And in my case, I often got it wrong in the opposite direction. Still do.

As in, throughout most of my adult life, I’ve been overly sensitive to signals that had “no” in them somewhere, or so I thought. At work. Outside of work. Even on first dates. And second. And third. I was all too quick to assume that “no.” I pretty much saw that as the baseline — automatically. And in literally dozens of cases I found out later that the woman was sexually interested in me, in that moment, and wasn’t saying “no” at all. In fact, she thought she was clearly saying “yes,” but I couldn’t see it. This caused a great deal of frustration on her part, and then, of course, for me, too, once I discovered the truth. Or we had a really good laugh. Some of the best laughter, evah, in fact.

In short, anything that gets in the way of an honest, truthful, open display of sexual interest or the lack thereof . . . . be it the culture at large, religion, sexual politics gone wild, mixed messages of various kinds . . . . Well, if it’s not a tragedy, it sure does diminish potential for happiness, brief though it may be.

We need to stop the games, scrap the fictions, scrap all of the unnecessary guilt trips, and tell the truth. Life really is too short for this nonsense. And life is too short to make this more complex than it really is. Either it’s mutual or its not. And being mistaken about sexual interest isn’t a crime. Well, until it is. But until it’s a crime, I think people need to be a lot more forgiving. And we now know the act of forgiving itself is very, very healthy.

40

oldster 03.09.16 at 4:39 am

I suppose cases like Plume’s may arise now and then, and perhaps there is some marginal loss of human happiness involved in the man’s thinking she means “no” when she meant “yes.”

However, the amount of unhappiness that this causes is laughably, trivially, tiny, in comparison to the amount of misery and destruction of lives that is routinely caused by men who think that women’s mere existence means that they must be saying “yes” no matter what words are coming out of their mouths.

In other words–guys? You are going to make mistakes in reading women, because you are hopeless at it, even before your own vision is clouded by lust. And since you are going to make mistakes, then please make them in the direction of assuming “no,” as Plume did, rather than assuming “yes,” as harassers do. Just assume “no.”

If you are wrong, then you can have a nice laugh afterwards, like Plume did, instead of driving another woman out of her profession, or into despair.

41

Helen 03.09.16 at 5:34 am

“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”?
Really?
…Really?
This is Crooked Timber, not the Daily Telegraph.

42

derrida derider 03.09.16 at 5:50 am

“men are quite good at discerning the mental states of their male co-workers and bosses. They will know if someone dislikes them, for example, or is competitive with them, or is morose”
I call bullshit on that – lots of men and women are not very discerning of others’ mental states at all.

The point is that IME (I’ve been a line manager for lots of people) harassers fall into two camps. (1) Arseholes who know what they are doing, and are generally arseholes in matters non-sexual too (2) Socially inept people who simply do not read subtle signals and therefore require very unsubtle ones.

Now group (1) should get what arseholes deserve. But I think it really is reasonable to ask the harrassee to give those unsubtle signals before they assume their interlocutor belongs to group (1) and act accordingly. There is no point in getting upset at ineptitude rather than malice – it is too common.

But bob mcm is right too – SH should be seen in the context of general arseholery in the workplace that carries a twisted economic logic.

43

derrida derider 03.09.16 at 7:17 am

“I suppose cases like Plume’s may arise now and then …”
As I tried to say, they are in fact extremely common. What I think Plume is trying to say is that a clumsy, even inappropriate, but respectful pass is not sexual harassment – and I agree.

That said, mixing business and pleasure is often bad for both – worse for the pleasure than the business, in fact. Sensible people try to avoid sexual entanglements at work. But then sometimes the heart (or perhaps the genitalia) has its reasons of which reason knows nothing, so let’s cut people a little slack here.

44

bad Jim 03.09.16 at 9:14 am

The default assumption for any colleague, whether male or female, whether at work or a conference, ought to be the same: sexual advances are unwelcome. More strongly: assume the other person is as serious as you are about what you have in common, which is whatever sort of work in which you’re both engaged.

45

Maria 03.09.16 at 10:16 am

What bad Jim said. This has cropped up (again) at ICANN because of a woman being propositioned (again) in the middle of the day. The only unusual thing is that she was the first person ever, it turned out, to officially complain about sexual harassment at one of these meetings. They’ve been going on for about 15 years, so that’s pretty revealing, really. No one ever complained officially before, and the response to begin with was pretty lame.

Lynne, yes, there’s arguably a grey area in that these meetings are intense and involve a lot of obligatory socialising. I’ve never done more of it than absolutely necessary as I’m 1) a blue stocking, 2) an introvert, and 3) too damn tired, so I’m usually on my way to bed by 9pm. But fundamentally, even though (to some people anyway) these things are a lot of fun, we’re all here to work.

I think with sexual harassment too much of the debate focuses on the edge cases and the grey areas but in real life, most people know it’s over the line to imply or directly ask someone you’ve just met in a professional environment for sex. I think we can deal with 80% of this stuff just by communicating that it’s not OK to slowly look up and down the body of a woman you’ve just met, address your conversation to her breasts, or suggest she wants to have sex with you. Let alone follow her around a meeting room or body block her from the exit – all stuff people have told me about just in the last 24 hours. Focusing on the whole ‘but if we have zero flirting at work, how will the species continue’ ignores the fact that most of this stuff is so, so clearly over the line, but goes on happening anyway. I am deeply suspicious of the what aboutery of hard cases when most of this stuff can be dealt with by just assuming what Jim did.

The definition I used is one of many. The point of that one is to put the onus on someone who may be behaving badly to think about the other person and how they might be reacting. It’s along the same continuum of rape advice that says to guys ‘don’t rape people’. That should be our starting point.

46

Saurs 03.09.16 at 10:55 am

Most depressing. Comments. Ever

I thought I’d stumbled onto one of your posts, such is the belchy cacophony of wounded (and, as always, overcompensating) masculinity and bad-faith hand-waving. Plus the usual, disingenuous, man-hating bullshit about what dumb naifs they all are (but conveniently never quite dumb enough to pick a fight with a stronger dude and or fail to faithfully observe all social niceties and minute customs of decorum when climbing the social ladder and rubbing elbows with important menfolk).

Fr’instance, Plume

And being mistaken about sexual interest isn’t a crime.

Neatly putting absurd words in Maria’s mouth he can then argue against, rather than addressing the issue at hand and noted quite prominently in the header: sexual harassment, which is very much a crime, yes.

I think with sexual harassment too much of the debate focuses on the edge cases and the grey areas […] It’s along the same continuum of rape advice that says to guys ‘don’t rape people’. That should be our starting point.

As with rape, Maria, they’re never too keen to actually nail down these particulars because then all their clever pulling tricks would no longer be kosher and they’d have to admit to having committed in the past all sorts of real and figurative crimes. Poisoning the well is the safer scheme.

47

Stephenson-quoter kun 03.09.16 at 11:49 am

Yeah, fairly depressing comments.

Can we try to define some points of agreement and disagreement though?

Let’s start with the things that (almost) everyone agrees are wrong in a work setting: physical molestation of any kind, gratuitous sexual comments, threats or intimidation, implication of favouritism as a result of sexual acts. These don’t need a lot of context to figure out – we don’t even really need to know the relationships between the people involved, these are just things that are verboten in a workplace context (and some of them are illegal in any context, though possibly not in Marrakech). Most of what we’d call “sexual harassment” falls into this category. I don’t think anyone above is arguing that these behaviours are edge cases that might sometimes be appropriate.

“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”

“Unwanted” or “unwelcome” behaviour that makes a person “feel” something is highly subjective. If the purpose of rules is to draw clear boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour then this doesn’t work terribly well as a rule. It’s probably better than no rules at all, but that’s not a very high bar.

My interpretation of the rules is something like this:

People might feel offended by any gratuitous or inappropriate display of sexuality. Yeah, this is socially-constructed, but we have collectively decided that many sexual expressions are inappropriate in non-intimate settings. It needn’t be ‘creepy’ behaviour (exposure, say), but could be something otherwise healthy – two consenting people having sex is perfectly OK, but not in the board room or in a conference booth. People would get offended, and predictably so.

Humiliation might come from commenting on another person’s sex life, either slut-shaming or whatever the opposite of that is. It’s an unwelcome attempt to assert values from one sphere of life into a different sphere, quite aside from the validity of that value system. Shaming people for their sex lives (or lack thereof) is straightforwardly inappropriate.

Intimidation is also clearly wrong. Physical or reputational threat is wrong (and frequently illegal). There’s some crossover with humiliation here, insofar as people may feel intimidated by the prospect of future humiliation. I don’t give a lot of credence to the idea of misunderstandings playing a large role here – intimidating someone is difficult to do by accident.

Now, someone else may say that “offence” is whatever some other person says it is, because anyone can claim to be offended by anything. And that’s broadly true. Some people claim to be offended by homosexuality, and they might therefore protest against shows of affection between homosexual couples in a workplace setting. In some locales, this might even be illegal! The rules as written would appear to side with the person claiming offence, and I doubt that this is the intent. Now, ICANN may have some house rules that are much more nuanced, but it would seem to me that if these exist, they should be publicised instead. I say this with due trepidation, but the gap between the vagueness of the rules and the clarity of Maria’s examples is close to being an example of the two-step of terrific triviality.

All that said, I find it odd that most people’s go-to example is of a woman being offended by a man chatting her up. The old saw that men fear being laughed at and women fear being killed would appear to be validated by this; comment #1 gets to the heart of the male fear that their advances will be deemed so unworthy as to be offensive. Now, I’m not one to deny or dismiss psychological pain, but it seems to me that if this is your problem, you should learn to handle it better. Women don’t owe you niceness or attention but, contrary to what some corners of the internet may say, nor are they plotting to humiliate you for showing interest in them (yes, this does occasionally happen, yes it is psychologically scarring, no it’s nowhere near the worst thing that can happen to a person). To the extent that there’s a male mindset which views these interactions as high-stakes mating opportunities* when they’re clearly not, then solving that underlying problem might make both men and women happier.

* Bullshit evo-psych alert: In highly gender-unequal environments where there are few women, maybe the lizard bit of the brain really does think “hmm, there’s three women and eighty-two men here” and thus adjusts the stakes accordingly. OK, this is probably total nonsense, but I’m struggling to find better explanations of the frankly bizarre male behaviours that appear to be regular occurrences in these kinds of settings.

48

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 12:37 pm

but the gap between the vagueness of the rules and the clarity of Maria’s examples

The gap and vagueness are the point, because like “right to privacy” or “right to bear arms” or the Arian/Theophysite controversy, these gaps are the spaces that enable an associative politics and tests of loyalty/empathy.

There isn’t much feminism about Interstate Highway speed limits.

49

dsquared 03.09.16 at 1:19 pm

But the thing that is often missing from this discussion (though mentioned above) is that men are quite good at discerning the mental states of their male co-workers and bosses. They will know if someone dislikes them, for example, or is competitive with them, or is morose. That guys continually make “honest mistakes” about whether someone is sexually interested in them is disingenuous.

Belle is entirely correct here. I would also add that the community of people who are so totally ignorant that they genuinely can’t pick up other people’s body language and nonverbal communications are is a) really a lot smaller than people seem to think and b) if they’re sensible, shy.

Yes, under sensible rules, trying to flirt with a co-worker is something that can be dangerous to your career. So tough luck, the world is a dangerous place and (controversial opinion) often more dangerous for women than for men. If you aren’t confident enough that your display of affection will be reciprocated to think it’s worth taking this risk then yes you shouldn’t do it. The statement “I would stake my career on it” is often used in business contexts and I don’t see any real problem with making this the relevant standard.

It really does distress me that modern men are so risk-averse that they claim that they won’t do anything at all if there’s any risk at all of adverse consequences to themselves, and that the world needs to be organised as a “safe space” for socially obtuse men, so they can go around bothering their co-workers and everyone has to pretend to ignore it. It’s so … cowardly. God help us if there’s ever another war.

50

Lynne 03.09.16 at 1:22 pm

Maria @ 45, Thanks for the elaboration. I galloped down the wrong path, I’m afraid, after reading the OP precisely because I didn’t take the kind of behaviours you list as the starting point, so I was guilty of focussing on the edge cases. Obviously all the behaviours you list should not happen at work. “I’m working, don’t proposition or intimidate me” is a fair demand.

Read something recently where a woman was talking to a man in her yoga or gym class. He said he always put his mat at the back of the room so he could watch the women. She says, Maybe he was just trying to make a light, humorous remark but he made every woman in the room uncomfortable.

He changed focus, is why. Instead of all being members of an exercise class he objectified the women. Ugh there, and ugh at a conference or any other setting where you’re just trying to get something done.

51

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 1:39 pm

Marias @45

I think we can deal with 80% of this stuff just by communicating that it’s not OK to slowly look up and down the body of a woman you’ve just met, address your conversation to her breasts, or suggest she wants to have sex with you. Let alone follow her around a meeting room or body block her from the exit – all stuff people have told me about just in the last 24 hours. Focusing on the whole ‘but if we have zero flirting at work, how will the species continue’ ignores the fact that most of this stuff is so, so clearly over the line, but goes on happening anyway.

It’s along the same continuum of rape advice that says to guys ‘don’t rape people’.

This seems roughly right to me, except that the definition you’ve offered isn’t really equivalent to “don’t rape people”, which is a clear directive to avoid relatively well-defined behaviour. The list of (appalling) behaviours you list in the first quote above are also relatively well-defined behaviours.

“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”

This makes sexual harassment 100% contingent on the reaction of the non-harrassing party. Even if it is true (and I agree that it probably is) that 80% of harassment is clearly behaviour that doesn’t fit into some gray zone associated with a “I couldn’t figure out what she was thinking”, this kind of definition leaves such a sense of ambiguity over what it encompasses.

I think we need a more precise definition, and one that acknowledges certain social/cultural norms. In “our” culture (not sure what I mean by that), it is generally accepted that there are very few contexts where the direct suggestion of sex is OK (people go to certain kinds of parties and clubs for that). Moreover, in “our” culture, it is generally accepted that dating follows a line from “getting to know you better” towards sex, even if there are widely varying timelines and intensity levels that people follow.

So, I’m thing about @ 47, and leaning toward something closer to “Sexual harassment is spoken or acted behaviour which introduces sex or the possibility of sex into a situation, dialog or discussion in which it is not clearly a topic, without the mutually acknowledged consent of all parties”.

This is on the one hand broader than Maria’s definition, because it makes a base assumption that bringing up sex in the wrong context is a priori wrong, even if nobody is actually offended, humiliated or intimidated. But it also narrower, because it doesn’t rely on anyone’s reaction, and leaves open the possibility of a consensual meandering towards “dating behaviour”. I also tried to work consent in there, since this seems to have been a valuable tool in defining what is and what is not rape.

But I could be way off….

52

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 1:43 pm

Helen @ 41

men/mars/women/venus sold over 50 million copies and was on bestseller lists for more than two years. you don’t have to accept that it represents anything in particular about male/female communication and psychology to acknowledge that its commercial success points to a widespread sense that for large numbers of people, the topic is not trivially understood.

i haven’t read any of them. my allusion wasn’t to the contents, but the sales figures.

53

Belle Waring 03.09.16 at 2:06 pm

Paul Davis: do you know what other book sold millions of copies?

54

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 2:14 pm

…that the world needs to be organised as a “safe space” for socially obtuse men, so they can go around bothering their co-workers and everyone has to pretend to ignore it.

Backwards. The world needs to be as clearly marked as a very dangerous place for men as it is for women, the danger being immediately fired for a failure in judgement. Discretion should be minimized, but where unavoidable, should err drastically on the side of women’s reporting. Also, no workplace romances, firing offense.

Clear bright line universal rules with immediate consequences and no ambiguity or room for discretion, judgement, tolerance, or the determination of “consent.”

I am not sure if Paul Davies’ rule in 51 covers Lynne’s example in50. Comparable would be “You have nice eyes” or “You have nice hips” which may not exactly be introducing sex into a conversation, but is surely actionable.

55

oldster 03.09.16 at 2:17 pm

It’s also possible to read reports of deep differences between male and female communicative strategies in a non-essentializing way, not as claims about what women always and everywhere are like by nature etc. but about how people respond to cultural environments.

E.g., I read Belle’s claims above about “you probably already know” etc. and I thought, of course *you* know: that has been vitally important information for you to know, given how often you have been harassed. People who live in areas with poisonous fauna quickly learn to recognize them, even when the fauna try to camouflage themselves.

But there is no comparable army of predators lying in wait for me, and so I have not had to develop those sensitive antennae. If I am more clueless about those social cues, it is because there has been no cost to my being clueless (or the trivial costs reflected in Plume’s story of frolics forgone). For most women, the costs of not catching those signals can be huge.

And indeed, this is another cost of harassment, or, if you like, another male privilege: I don’t have to attend to these signals and clues and channels, because no one is no one is going to rape me if I get it wrong.

Which in turn means that I have been able to devote more of my processing capacity to studying 14th c. Jongleur guilds, and less of it to trying to figure out why Ronnie is looking at me funny. The cognitive costs of harassment are real, even before the harasser strikes.

56

bianca steele 03.09.16 at 2:26 pm

It’s also possible to read reports of deep differences between male and female communicative strategies in a non-essentializing way, not as claims about what women always and everywhere are like by nature etc. but about how people respond to cultural environments.

True.

And yet, if it were the most natural way to read such reports, the book in question wouldn’t be marketed as self-help.

It’s not really relevant to the workplace, anyway. It is entirely about marital relations. And it insists that women like to talk and men don’t, which a quick glance at the Internet should serve to refute.

57

oldster 03.09.16 at 2:28 pm

I’m happy to take instruction, Bianca, since I have never read the book. (More savings in cognitive economy!)

58

Belle Waring 03.09.16 at 2:31 pm

That’s right: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Hi Stephenson-quoter-June, and also Dsquared!

59

Maria 03.09.16 at 2:32 pm

Lynne, no worries – and sorry, I should have been clearer, I don’t think you were focusing on edge cases, just that a lot of discussion tends to.

As to the definition, or as I put it ‘a definition’, I used, it’s not the only one and it is by nature subjective in a way that puts the burden of policing behaviour onto the potential bad actor.

And a quick update, I’ve heard that ICANN staff have been told to be ‘careful’ about kissing, hugging, faire la bise etc. with community members. AGHGHGHGHGHGH!!!! 1) as employees, they already have a sexual harassment policy. It’s some community members that are the problem. 2)Why oh why do people focus on the most likely harmless grey area stuff instead of the really obvious ‘don’t proposition a young women you just met in the coffee break’ stuff?

Seriously, the conversation at CT is to me not especially depressing and about 15 years ahead of where we are here. Many thanks to everyone for their thoughtful comments and also to Sumana for her constructive suggestion above.

60

bianca steele 03.09.16 at 2:34 pm

Oh, it’s the basic, your hubby will come home all grumpy from a day at the office, and you’ll want to talk but he will be too grumpy, and that’s As It Should Be, you should let him go into his man-cave and stew in solitude. And men should realize that if their wives annoy them, it’s because they’re women, and neither of them has to change as long as the woman recognizes her man’s needs.

With the introduction, it’s possible to briefly amuse yourself thinking “men are Marxists and women are Freudians” or something, so there’s that.

I suspect few of those who buy or recommend the book realize the author is a fundamentalist minister.

Not of much help at work.

61

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 3:07 pm

For crying out loud, I wasn’t suggesting that the mars/venus books were of any direct relevance to the matter at hand. Some commenters have suggested people find it easy to understand each other, both within and across gender boundaries, and I was merely pointing one single cultural manifestation whose popularity suggests that this isn’t so.

Those particular books can be complete garbage and it wouldn’t change the point I was trying to make: the claim that men believe that they understand women (or the men) around them (and ditto with the genders swapped) is too broad to be considered “true”.

62

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 3:14 pm

So let’s try it again: Sexual harassment is spoken or acted behaviour which introduces sex or the possibility of sex or opinions about a person’s physical appearance into a context in which it is not clearly a topic, without the mutually acknowledged consent of all parties”.

63

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 3:17 pm

Maria @ 59:

it puts the the burden of policing behaviour onto the potential bad actor.

but it doesn’t! The jerk just says “I had no idea it would offend her”. Saying that someone should be considered in their assessment about offence, humiliation or intimidation is pretty meaningless when we’re talking about people who by definition are not considerate.

64

Plume 03.09.16 at 3:52 pm

Saurs @46,

My actual quote was: “And being mistaken about sexual interest isn’t a crime. Well, until it is. But until it’s a crime, I think people need to be a lot more forgiving. And we now know the act of forgiving itself is very, very healthy.”

You pounced on the first sentence, without bothering with the rest, or what preceded it.

“Neatly putting absurd words in Maria’s mouth he can then argue against, rather than addressing the issue at hand and noted quite prominently in the header: sexual harassment, which is very much a crime, yes. “

I wasn’t talking about Maria. At all. I would have referred to her if I had been. I was speaking in general terms, and the context of my comment made that more than clear. At least to anyone who was open to a fair reading, instead of those who have already made up their minds before starting the process.

65

engels 03.09.16 at 4:25 pm

Yes, under sensible rules, trying to flirt with a co-worker is something that can be dangerous to your career. So tough luck, the world is a dangerous place … The statement “I would stake my career on it” is often used in business contexts and I don’t see any real problem with making this the relevant standard. It really does distress me that modern men are so risk-averse that they claim that they won’t do anything at all if there’s any risk at all of adverse consequences

By this logic perhaps we should bring back stoning for adulterers (if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…)

66

Anarcissie 03.09.16 at 5:10 pm

I got into the (commercial) computer business back in the mid-1960s. For about ten years (until programmers became ‘engineers’) about half of my colleagues were women. The peculiarity of our work to some extent separated us from the culture at large. We used to have long discussions about what constituted sexual harassment, and related social issues. There was also a good deal of sexual attraction and tension, as one might expect with a population which was largely single and in their twenties and thirties. Liaisons were formed and broken, usually off-stage, but one generally knew what was going on. I think it made work more lively, although no doubt it was distracting at times. There were a few harassers in the sense of persons who introduced their sexual interests into situations where they didn’t belong (in the judgement of everyone else). They were usually treated with salutary derision. The few ‘aggressors’ in those cases were usually but not always male. One serious and persistent offender was extruded. Higher management, who were not programmers and did not understand the work, largely left us alone. On the whole it was an egalitarian anarchy which worked.

When I compare those halcyon days to the numerous, depressing reports of harassment at ICANN and elsewhere referred to above, one difference I see is that the technology, as it expanded, came under the influence and control of the larger society. For instance, under academic and corporate regulation, programmers became ‘engineers’, and we all know what an engineer looks like. The craft’s gender proportions became heavily skewed towards males. The culture changed in the direction of the frat house, at the behest of the social order in which it was embedded. Some of us had thought we were a new kind of people, but as it turned out we were only temporarily lucky. We were no match for the enemy.

I don’t know if these observations will be of any use to you. It seems to me the problem is not intrinsic to STEM, however.

67

Sebastian H 03.09.16 at 5:55 pm

This conversation exposes huge analysis biases all over the place. Men exhibit huge selection effects (I don’t see it so it doesn’t really happen) which warp the conversation on their end. I’m not sure if it is an overreaction to that bias, but the Dunning-Kruger effect being shown from d-squared and Belle is just astonishing with this:

But the thing that is often missing from this discussion (though mentioned above) is that men are quite good at discerning the mental states of their male co-workers and bosses. They will know if someone dislikes them, for example, or is competitive with them, or is morose. That guys continually make “honest mistakes” about whether someone is sexually interested in them is disingenuous.

Yes, you are both smart and discerning people. LOTS of people are not as socially discerning as you. And there is a HUGE self-selection effect for smart and discerning people to filter out less smart and less self discerning people as much as they can over the course of their life times. Think of the stupidest person you are willing to hang out with on a regular basis. That person is probably average or even a bit above average. Think of the least discerning person you regularly hang out with. That person is very likely average. There is a whole world of people who make social discernment mistakes that you would consider completely trivial.

“Men are quite good at discerning the mental states of their male co-workers and bosses.”?!?!?!?!? Are you freaking kidding me? So many HR problems are caused by one person thinking their subtle cues are obvious to the person who doesn’t have a clue about them. Hell, sometimes even not so subtle cures. And I don’t mean harassment, I mean people who fundamentally misguess clues so they think everyone is mad at them, or likes them, or isn’t trying to help them. And that is at work, which presumably people have lots of experience at compared to flirting.

We are still at a stage with sexual harassment where we would be best served by really enforcing the clear 80% instead of trying to over police things at the ‘offended’ level. The non discerning people can understand “Look, don’t undress someone with your eyes” or “Talking about their breasts isn’t OK” and we aren’t even at the place where that level is routinely dealt with. The clear stuff can have harsh penalties because it is clear without feeling like we are squashing basic human interactions.

Trying to apply harsh penalties to the non-clear stuff as if we all had Belle and d-squared levels of discernment is likely to cause significant pushback which may bleed into the clear stuff. There is still a lot of work to be done on the clear stuff,

68

hix 03.09.16 at 6:32 pm

That definition is rather disturbing just like the cultural imperialism with regards to enforcing (stupid) US workplace norms at an international organisation.

69

John Garrett 03.09.16 at 7:15 pm

Is this so hard? Guys, unless and until a woman makes an unambiguous move/statement that she is interested in moving toward a sexual relationship, she isn’t.

JG

70

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 7:21 pm

69:unless and until a woman makes an unambiguous move/statement that she is interested in moving toward a sexual relationship, she isn’t.

And when she makes that unambiguous move/statement, you report her and get her fired.

Right?

71

Kalkaino 03.09.16 at 7:30 pm

Every morning on the subway I see a truncated version (“If it’s unwanted it’s harassment.”) of the formula invoked here: “Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behavior, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.” I must admit it creeps me out a bit.

Maybe it marks me as aspiring harasser, but it seems to me that there is something inherently wrong with such formulae, hinging as they do on wholly subjective criteria, and positing a weird, sort of a priori linkage. It seems to me that there must be some venerable, slightly archaic name for this sort of logical or rhetorical fallacy. Anybody know it? Such a slogan may be useful as koan, helping to raise consciousness on the subject, but as administrative principle it seems otherwise unhelpful, and fraught with potential for abuse.

72

engels 03.09.16 at 7:44 pm

Underlying assumptions seem to be
1 men usually want sex
2 women usually don’t
3 harassment results from men pursuing (a) without regard for incidental offence, discomfort, etc this can cause
4 strong disciplinary threats are needed to address 4
All of this seems problematic to me but perhaps especially 3. Imo harassnent isn’t really about sex but dominance and control – the ‘incompetent suitor’ phenomenon discussed so often here, isn’t really central imo

73

Lynne 03.09.16 at 7:54 pm

The definition isn’t great, but what you are missing, and what I missed at first, was the intended context: a conference which is a work environment where the unwanted actions are the things Maria described upthread.

74

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 7:55 pm

engels @ 72 … this is why my attempt at a definition attempts to move away from a description of a subjective reaction to someone’s behaviour, and towards a presumption that there are contexts (work being an obvious one) where sex or sex-related behaviour is almost never relevant and that introducing it is a priori offensive to all.

75

Ze K 03.09.16 at 8:01 pm

Where I work, everyone has to take an online course on harassment, and repeat it every few years. I never paid much attention (the tests are easy), but as I remember, some advances are a clear/obvious harassment, and some aren’t, but are perceived as harassment (‘make the person feel uncomfortable’). In the latter case, the harassee needs to tell the harasser to stop making these advances, and if it’s stopped then it’s alright.

76

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 8:02 pm

lynne @ 73 maria’s definition didn’t describe specific behaviours, but described things based on the reaction of the person being harassed. She later mentioned specific behaviours which I think just about everyone here would agree should not take place.

The problem is defining some kind of policy/rule/behavioural guidance that unambiguously makes those behaviours unacceptable without (a) relying on the harasser being required to admit that they knew their behaviour would result in offence, humiliation or intimidation and (b) without excluding other work-place behaviour that isn’t actually offensive.

Even if 80% of all harassment is egregiously clearly harassment, I don’t see how it helps to frame a definition or rule about that is entirely based on post-facto response of the harassed, rather than what the harasser actually did. We don’t do this for rape (well, we try not to), where we do not ask “Did the victim feel raped?”. We ask “was there consent for the behaviour that took place?” and if the answer is no, then what took place was rape. I think using a similar standard for harassment would be a step in the right direction.

77

CJColucci 03.09.16 at 8:21 pm

For those of us who have to litigate these things, it is reasonably well understood that it isn’t just anything that someone subjectively finds offensive. There is a an objective component. And most cases aren’t hard. Most of us see the difference between “nice dress” and “nice ass.” Sometimes someone will get bent out of shape over “nice dress,” and sometimes they should if it is said in a leering fashion. But mostly not. And some people are OK with “nice ass” — I’m thinking of a former office mate — but mostly not. There is some confusion around the edges, but mostly we can figure it out.

78

Sumana Harihareswara 03.09.16 at 8:24 pm

People here who would like better, clearer guidance on how to recognize and react to harassment might like the allies training materials developed by the no-longer-in-operation nonprofit The Ada Initiative, which also developed a facilitator’s guide and other materials. This is the workshop I was mentioning in my comment #3. It’s all freely available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence. If you’re interested in recommendations for experienced people to teach this workshop, I can offer those, but I also wanted to link to the curriculum since it offers some concrete dos and don’ts,* e.g., how to react when you’re at a professional conference and you see someone grab a woman’s butt.

* Incidentally: I’ve never been satisfied with how to elegantly and grammatically pluralize “do and don’t” in that phrase, and I welcome advice on that point.

79

Collin Street 03.09.16 at 8:35 pm

engels @ 72 … this is why my attempt at a definition attempts to move away from a description of a subjective reaction to someone’s behaviour, and towards a presumption that there are contexts (work being an obvious one) where sex or sex-related behaviour is almost never relevant and that introducing it is a priori offensive to all.

… the law doesn’t actually have a huge difficulty in prying into people’s states-of-mind. “Mens rea”; “what was this person thinking” is a critical part of more-or-less all criminal trials, and doesn’t cause any particular procedural problem. We can still manage to get convictions for murder even though it requires us to work out what the accused is thinking — even if they lie — and the results and process don’t seem to have been particularly socially corrosive over the hundreds and hundreds of years they’ve been in use. If you want to eliminate this analysis of what the accused knew and when for harassment, then it’s an attempt to special-case harassment, and I think people are justified in asking why.

80

JanieM 03.09.16 at 8:48 pm

@Sumana

Funny, I was just looking that up the other day. Here’s one link that summarizes a few usage guides.

I don’t think you can do it elegantly. ;-)

81

Lynne 03.09.16 at 8:48 pm

Sumana, really interesting material at those links! Thanks!

82

Gareth Wilson 03.09.16 at 8:53 pm

There’s no crime that’s entirely based on the subjective response of the victim. Even hate crimes depend on determining the mentality of the accused.

83

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 8:58 pm

CJColucci @ 77 I don’t think anyone is denying that most cases of harassment are easy to identify.

But one of Maria’s questions was how to define sexual harassment clearly. You don’t come up with a definition just by looking at the easy cases. The edge cases are where the crux of any such definition is made. Why X meets the definition and Y does not isn’t dealt with by looking at the idiots grabbing someone’s ass, inviting them to their room for sex or other clearly harassing behaviours.

84

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 9:02 pm

Collin Street @79 … the issue being raised is not the state of mind of the accused, but the idea of the threshold for harassment being based on the subjective response of the harassed. This has nothing to do with figuring out what the harasser was thinking (though that might ultimately play into it in some way) and everything to do with “X is harassment because it caused P offence, humiliation or intimidation”, a description that relies entirely on P’s subjective response. Even if the behaviour itself would clearly be considered harassment by any reasonable person, this definition doesn’t cover that (e.g. “sexual harassment is behaviour that would be assessed by any reasonable person as …” ; we all know about the rat holes such definitions lead societies down anyway).

85

Paul Davis 03.09.16 at 9:07 pm

Sumana, thanks for those links. The scenarios are great.

86

Lynne 03.09.16 at 9:12 pm

Paul Davis @ 76 Yes, I know, but her comment @ 45 gave the intended context, and listed the behaviours she was talking about. The definition is not the main point here! The things Maria listed—if these could be got rid of, this would apparently be huge at these conferences. (I don’t go to conferences, I hate hearing how common this kind of harassment is.)

87

Matt 03.09.16 at 9:13 pm

Thank you, Maria. I go to conferences for subject matter and shared intellectual interests. There are venues where just showing up indicates that you’re open to finding sexual/romantic partners. Technical conferences are not those venues.

88

engels 03.09.16 at 9:13 pm

there are contexts (work being an obvious one) where sex or sex-related behaviour is almost never relevant

Just a heads up: 10% of hetero American couples met at work

89

CJColucci 03.09.16 at 9:31 pm

Paul, you may be looking for more than any definition can give. Maria’s definition, amended to include that a “reasonable person” would find the interaction offensive, etc., is pretty much what there is. People can get fired and sued over it. If you’re looking for the bright line that tells you exactly how far you can safely go, you’re not going to find it, just as you aren’t going to find it in many things more consequential than being the object of, or being sued over, borderline sexual harassment.

90

bob mcmanus 03.09.16 at 9:32 pm

88: Thanks for linking that, the curve for “met at work” is very interesting, apparently moving up as women moved into the workforce, and then falling off a cliff. The direction, trendline is certainly toward zero.

91

hix 03.09.16 at 9:32 pm

Much higher in most other nations. :-(. Absolutely unacceptable to try to enforce US Puritanism at ICANN. It’s definitly no place where one should have to do seminars on the oddities of American gender norms to keep one’s job….

92

engels 03.09.16 at 9:38 pm

The direction, trendline is certainly toward zero.

Time to buy shares in Tindr

93

Lynne 03.09.16 at 9:43 pm

hix, objecting to sexual harassment = Puritanism? Good grief.

94

John Garrett 03.09.16 at 10:07 pm

This thread perfectly demonstrates why men don’t and perhaps can’t get what it’s like to be a woman as seen by men, and why white people don’t get what it’s like to be black and seen by white people. And I don’t claim to get it either. But let’s try trusting those who do get it because they can’t avoid it.

JG

95

Bloix 03.09.16 at 10:14 pm

@88, 90 – I am sorry to have to tell you that the WaPo story is crap. As usual for statistical stories. That is, the data as to present relationships in that graph may be okay, but the past data is worthless.

The data is from a 2009 study that asked respondents who are now in a relationship how they met their current partner and when:

“The data in Figure 1 are relationships that were in place during the 2009 HCMST survey… HCSMT recorded information only about each respondent’s
current relationship in 2009…”

So for people who are listed as having formed their current relationship last year, all relationships are for a year or less. But for people who are shown as having formed a relationship 30 years ago, all relationships are 30 years standing. There is no data in this graph about people who met 30 years ago, formed a relationship that lasted a year or ten years or 25 years, and broke up. There is no data about people who formed a relationship 30 years ago, and then one or both of them died.

Maybe, on average, relationships might have different longevities depending on whether the people met in church or in a bar? Maybe, on average, people who formed 30-year relationships thirty years ago formed those relationships at a younger age than people in one-year relationships?

If you think that these things, and others like them, might even possibly be so, you can’t use this data for “trendlines.” It’s worse than useless. It makes you stupider than when you started. Which is pretty much standard for newspaper stories about statistics.

96

Bloix 03.09.16 at 10:16 pm

Oh, sorry – link to study and source of the quote in my comment:
http://web.stanford.edu/~mrosenfe/Rosenfeld_How_Couples_Meet_Working_Paper.pdf

97

MrMister 03.09.16 at 10:17 pm

CJColucci, I think that part of what people responded to negatively was the definition offered without the reasonable person qualifier, or (I suspect), the suggestion that the bare act of asking someone out in a workplace setting—even done respectfully, even taking ‘no’ as an answer, even without any sort of supervisory relation, etc. etc.—is behavior that would actually meet the definition even with the revision including the reasonable person qualifier. Aka, people are reacting against the suggestion that reasonable people find any romantic approach via work to be inappropriate, humiliating, etc., just in virtue of it being both romantic and through work.

For my own part, I suspect that part of the problem—and it certainly seems to me that there is one, even if I disagree with certain diagnoses (that this is possible should be kept firmly in mind!)—is that behavior that is individually harmless can nonetheless have undesirable effects in the aggregate. When the background conditions are that gender ratios are so skewed, and when there is a small population of real bad apples poisoning the well, it may be that the aggregate effect of even individually reasonable approaches is exhausting and unpleasant for the women on the receiving end. If this is really what’s going on, I think it would be useful to frame it in those terms—and without committing to much broader principles like ‘it’s always inappropriate to approach people romantically at work.’ There may be nothing inappropriate about the behavior taken on its own, and hence the broader principle may be false, even though in this social context, and with these background facts, it contributes to bad outcomes.

Fwiw, I’m a graduate student, and many people meet, date, and hook up at my work in relatively innocuous ways, because they’re clustered in the right age demographic for that behavior and because this particular line of work is such that people’s entire social lives can end up being defined by it. I can offhand think of four happily married couples who met that way, and that’s ones I met at my department. I’m also gay, and have been to gay-themed conventions where it was not considered inappropriate to proposition people for sex on a first meeting. I met a man I’ve been happily seeing for years by doing just that. So I tend to think that the factors that are salient here are definitely not romance at work or the inherent creepiness of a direct proposition (as opposed to a coffee date, or whatever). Which leads me to instead suspect, as above, that it’s some combination of much more directly toxic behavior and uniquely horrible background conditions. But if that’s true, then it’s no wonder people wind up going directly to the edge cases of principles like “it’s to ask someone out at work without a painstakingly unambiguous green light” or “it’s okay to ask someone out for coffee, maybe sometimes, but it’s definitely inappropriate to ask someone back to your hotel room”—it’s because those principles aren’t actually true as being stated, and that seems like as good a reason to object as any.

98

dsquared 03.10.16 at 12:09 am

LOTS of people are not as socially discerning as you

Well for those people it’s no workplace nookie allowed at all then.

99

doug k 03.10.16 at 12:39 am

Maria, I am sorry..
I like John Scalzi’s checklist for conference attendance, requiring a clear code of conduct:
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/07/02/my-new-convention-harassment-policy/
It is startling that ICANN does not already have such a thing.

Sumana, thank you for the link to the Allies workshop. The examples are boggling. At one point I thought this was concentrated in the computer/programming field, having started in it just before the events that Anarcissie outlined, and seen the degeneration from the inside. However my niece is now attending chemistry conferences and presenting papers: I asked about her conference experiences and it was very depressing. In math too,
http://mathbabe.org/2015/10/14/romance-and-math-meetings/

As one of dsquared’s sensible shy social inepts, my default assumption has always been the ‘no’ that Plume mentions. It has never been the wrong assumption. As a young man in my first two jobs, I had to manage teams of young women. This principle was a considerable misery at the time, but I’m fairly sure it was the right thing.

100

F. Foundling 03.10.16 at 2:44 am

I haven’t read all the posts, but what MrMister says at 97 above seems like a reasonable take on the subject.

Apart from that, *if* indeed most women attending these conferences can agree that sexual propositioning or obvious courtship causes, on average, more discomfort than pleasure to them – sad as that would be – then, certainly, let it be banned. The less suffering in the world, the better. Obviously, ‘sexual behaviour’ will be a bit harder to delimit, though (stealthy ogling? smouldering gazes? suppressed sighs?), so it’s no use formulating a ban so broadly as to make it unenforceable.

@OP

> ‘simply believing people when they talk about it, because the barrier to talking about it is already dissuasively high’

That sounds as if anyone accused will automatically be considered guilty, though. However rare false accusations may be, this gives enormous arbitrary power to those who would make them. That is completely unacceptable in my view.

101

js. 03.10.16 at 2:57 am

I don’t think you can do it elegantly.

I think just avoid it entirely. “Acceptable and unacceptable behavior” is a lot more characters, but the English language will be so much happier!

102

ZM 03.10.16 at 3:35 am

Paul Davis,

“The problem is defining some kind of policy/rule/behavioural guidance that unambiguously makes those behaviours unacceptable without (a) relying on the harasser being required to admit that they knew their behaviour would result in offence, humiliation or intimidation and (b) without excluding other work-place behaviour that isn’t actually offensive.”

Of you look up stalking and harassment statutes they are based on the effect the action has on the victim, eg. Causing distress etc.

There are clauses about the stalker knowing that what they were doing would offend or distress the person they stalked — but even if they don’t, as per the socially oblivious sexual harasser, if the judge thinks this is what a person should generally know, and the effect has been to cause distress and offence, then the action is stalking.

“Even if 80% of all harassment is egregiously clearly harassment, I don’t see how it helps to frame a definition or rule about that is entirely based on post-facto response of the harassed, rather than what the harasser actually did. We don’t do this for rape (well, we try not to), where we do not ask “Did the victim feel raped?”. We ask “was there consent for the behaviour that took place?” and if the answer is no, then what took place was rape. I think using a similar standard for harassment would be a step in the right direction.”

In a sexual harassment situation, if it is at work and the sexual harasser is in a position of power compared to the person they harass, the woman may not know what to do about it immediately, and not express immediately that she does not consent to being treated in that fashion. This is why the laws put an emphasis on the effects of the action on the victim.

There is a famous book in Australia called The First Stone by Helen Garner from the 1990s about a sexual harassment case at a Residential College at Melbourne University. She wrote the young women who sought disciplinary action against the man who harassed them should be like the women in her day and elbow or slap the man instead of taking disciplinary action against him.

But elbowing or slapping the man is not so effective as disciplinary action, and maybe then he would sexually harass other young women, thinking all he would get is an elbow or a slap. I guess they could have elbowed him or slapped him and still taken disciplinary action, but maybe they were shocked and he was in a position of power, so they didn’t elbow him or slap him.

I don’t see why women should be in a position where men can constantly propose to sexually harass them, and the women have to either consent to being sexually harassed or say “no, actually, I don’t consent to be sexually harassed by you.”

Asking women if you can sexually harass them is sexual harassment in my view.

If I was constantly getting asked by random men if I would consent to them sexually harassing me I would find it offensive and distressing.

Maybe someone could start finishing schools for men.

103

geo 03.10.16 at 6:28 am

Sebastian @67: We are still at a stage with sexual harassment where we would be best served by really enforcing the clear 80% instead of trying to over police things at the ‘offended’ level. The non discerning people can understand “Look, don’t undress someone with your eyes” or “Talking about their breasts isn’t OK” and we aren’t even at the place where that level is routinely dealt with. The clear stuff can have harsh penalties because it is clear without feeling like we are squashing basic human interactions.

Assuming it really is 80-20 (I haven’t a clue), this makes a lot of sense. Though that doesn’t mean there can’t or shouldn’t be plenty of educational effort aimed at the 20 percent.

104

bad Jim 03.10.16 at 7:27 am

The larger issue isn’t so much harassment as treating people differently because of they way they appear, distinguishing them by gender or ancestry or what have you. Odds are, the woman you’ve just met is more intent on discussing the professional concerns you share with her than pursuing your romantic fantasies.

Look at it from her point of view. How much fun is it to have all these ridiculous dorks hitting on you when you were looking forward to a discussion of inventory optimization or hashing functions?

We want women in the workplace. They’re pretty good at what we do. That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.

105

engels 03.10.16 at 7:41 am

Odds are, the woman you’ve just met is more intent on discussing the professional concerns you share with her than pursuing your romantic fantasies.

So as I said, the assumption is that (at work) men want sex (romance) and women don’t?

106

Niall McAuley 03.10.16 at 9:26 am

dsquared writes: It really does distress me that modern men are so risk-averse that they claim that they won’t do anything at all if there’s any risk at all of adverse consequences to themselves, and that the world needs to be organised as a “safe space” for socially obtuse men, so they can go around bothering their co-workers and everyone has to pretend to ignore it.

I just wanted to quote that because it is lovely.

107

engels 03.10.16 at 9:44 am

Yes, flirting with co-workers needs to be like Russian Roulette because it sorts out the men from the boys, this sentiment isn’t in any way sexually repressive, macho or connected with patriarchy…

108

bad Jim 03.10.16 at 10:05 am

My experience is that both men and women at work actually want to do their jobs. Some just for the paycheck, some because they find the work interesting, but nearly none just to be an object of entertainment.

109

engels 03.10.16 at 10:22 am

I agree, but that has nowt to do with my question

110

bad Jim 03.10.16 at 10:48 am

A colleague of mine, on being informed that we were going to undergo sexual harassment training, complained that he didn’t need training, he’d been doing it all his life. When it was his turn in the conference room with an assortment of mid-level staffers, mostly women from accounting, there were complaints from the adjoining cubicles about the sound of the laughter within. A generous amount of crude humor is typical in manufacturing companies, and my friend is a master of the form.

Our company, though, had women in key positions throughout, including the VP of manufacturing, who more than held their own as apostles of best practices, typically known by Japanese names even though they were invented here. We had big parties, everybody got to meet each other’s spouses and children.

The dynamics are probably different when everyone is young and unattached. Maybe the stunt man’s rule is appropriate: if I do this now, could I get back up and do it again? If not, don’t.

111

bob mcmanus 03.10.16 at 11:11 am

Yeah, of course I noticed that the OP and many of the comments focus on the “socially inept” and ignore not merely the mistaken but the actual “socially adept.” These are the harassers who “do it the way I like it” flirt and make workplace sexual references (or subtle flirting, I remember the woman stuffing envelopes at my job; the chess scene in Thomas Crown; lot of disguised sex going on) with the skill to look funny, disarming, unthreatening, perhaps challenging. Few of Don Draper’s targets complained before the office environment was wrecked, which is why it shouldn’t really be left to subjective feelings.

112

Sledge 03.10.16 at 11:25 am

As someone who’s been raped and, in a different context, pretty strikingly harassed (you would agree, I promise), I’m finding these “but what about men who aren’t good at flirting” arguments disheartening and frustrating. I’m sure this isn’t anybody’s intention, but what I’m hearing is “sexual harassment isn’t as important as my or my friend’s theoretical right to try to have sex.” There are a lot of places where the writer really would mean that. So I guess what I am asking for is some small acknowedgment somewhere that you’re friendly, and not an MRA.

Apologies for the r-word, but stats say that there are probably other readers here who have been assaulted too, reading about how regulations against sexual harassment play into the capitalists’ hands and reproductively disenfranching awkward people. Of course sexual harassment isn’t the same thing as rape, but I’ll tell you, I sure am flinchy about it.

113

Saurs 03.10.16 at 11:43 am

Women’s autonomy sure seems threatening, eh? And sexual harassment laws (likewise codes of conduct) boast a double whammy of autonomy, because not only do they protect bodies and minds from abusive and retaliatory behavior, but (and here’s the spooky feminazi bit) they allow women, to quote the ubiquitous whinge, to not report harassment if the harasser “looks like Brad Pitt.*” In other words, it’s now codified that women are allowed to have standards, same as men, allowed to apply discretion, allowed to decide whether they’ll overlook something or not. This is controversial because men having standards is to be valorized as a triumph of EvPsych Caveman Visuals whereas women’s standards are to be scorned as Shallow Bitch Hypergamy. For the first time in their life, the reactionary, pro-harassment contingent wants to use the law to level a particular playing field (of the getting laid variety), forcing women to tolerate creeps in the name of fairness (sex as sport, men as players, women as trophies), to be silent and compliant when threatened or harassed (because the harasser might just be dumb! or something! you never know! why you wanna ruin his life and make him cry?) and to consider every possible suitor equally when and wherever they inconveniently pop up in the name of Special Snowflake Nice Guys If You’d Only Give Them a Chance with just a smidge of What’ll Happen to the Human Race If I’m Not Allowed to Corner You in a Elevator to Deliver an Invitation for Inspecting Etchings Later Back at Mine. While this all rankles something awful for the harassers themselves who want more cover for bad and criminal behavior, this is also an existential problem for folk who feel that women are akin to slot machines that ought to treat all men’s money as equally green.

*thereby functioning like nearly every other law governing crimes against people, wherein the victims aren’t obligated to report anything to police unless they want to (curiously, this is never, ever an unpopular policy except when it comes to sexual violence, and then the Vulcanning commences)

114

Niall McAuley 03.10.16 at 11:50 am

Brett, if we’re talking legal offense proven in a court of law beyond reasonable doubt, yes.

If we are talking offense in the sense of giving offense to my co-workers in a professional setting by sexually harassing them, then no – if they feel it, you are doing it, and you should stop.

115

Saurs 03.10.16 at 11:57 am

Also, if someone wanted to help out his fellow “socially inept but well-meaning” men, he is more than welcome to shoulder the never-ending burden of gathering, judging, and then organizing a complete taxonomy of every possible iteration of harassment in all possible settings. Meanwhile, women at conventions have better things to do, and it’s not their responsibility to perform a task that has no legal precedent nor any realistic function.

If you object to any measure of ambiguity or subjectivity when evaluating a report of bad behavior — and make no mistake, that objection is utterly unreasonable, childish, and a sea lion tactic if ever there was — iron out all ambiguity amongst yourselves. Make your lists. Hire your expert consultants. Until then, make do or do your due diligence and refrain from attending events whose requirements you’re not capable of respecting.

116

engels 03.10.16 at 12:02 pm

thereby functioning like nearly every other law governing crimes against people, wherein the victims aren’t obligated to report anything to police unless they want to

Actually in UK at least police are obliged to investigate a crime if anyone reports it regardless of the victim’s wishes. (In theory couldn’t the victim even be compelled to to testify in such a case – ianal and happy to be corrected…)

117

ZM 03.10.16 at 12:09 pm

Brett Bellmore,

“The definition of any offense which carries penalties MUST be objective. Not subjective. That’s the problem here.”

This is not right at all. I know you got violently harassed by a woman when you were young so you’re probably not happy about the discussion centring on men being the sexual harassers since you got violently harassed by a woman yourself, but look at the US federal stalking law:

“Whoever

(1) travels in interstate or foreign commerce or is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or leaves Indian country, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, and in the course of, or as a result of, such travel or presence engages in conduct that—

(A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to—

(i) that person;
(ii) an immediate family member (as defined in section 115) of that person; or
(iii) a spouse or intimate partner of that person; or

(B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of subparagraph (A);

or

(2) with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that—

(A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of or serious bodily injury to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A); or

(B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A),
shall be punished as provided in section 2261(b) of this title.

shall be punished as provided in section 2261(b) of this title.”

You see that it is about whether the victim experiences emotional distress on account of the stalker’s actions.

118

ZM 03.10.16 at 12:13 pm

The only exact offences listed are placing a person in fear of death or serious bodily injury. The other stalking is all dependent on whether it is something distressing.

I guess this is to not make the statute too lengthy prohibiting all sorts of things that are stalking, as then it would go on for a long time, if the legislators had to think up every single thing that a stalker could do, and explicitly prohibit it.

Also the legislature might not think of something and then leave it out of the list of prohibited actions that constitute stalking, being as it was too odd for the legislature to even consider when they made the law, then there would be a problem. So its better just to have the stalking being causing substantial emotional distress.

119

Faustusnotes 03.10.16 at 1:21 pm

ZM hey should add pets to that definition.

I’m sorry but it’s really easy to avoid sexually harassing someone. Really, it’s not hard! Obviously when you enter the workforce at 18 or whatever and don’t have a clue about life a little bit of slack (plus harsh education) is needed but for anyone over the age of about 12 the rules are fairly obvious. Wanna get laid at a conference? Go find a sex worker. Sex works illegal? Wait a couple of days! Have a wank! It’s really not hard not to harass people !

120

Paul Davis 03.10.16 at 3:34 pm

Faustusnotes @ 120: did you read the Aunt Pythia column posted upthread by Doug K. ?

http://mathbabe.org/2015/10/14/romance-and-math-meetings/

Was that harassment or not?

121

Barb Roseman 03.10.16 at 4:09 pm

One thing that harassers and bullies share is the thought that what they are doing is socially acceptable. It’s my (probably naive) belief that we can change that attitude by being actively engaged when someone is being harassed or bullied and make it clear that the behavior is unwanted and unacceptable. At my niece’s school they have a poster that reads:
IS IT BULLYING?
When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s RUDE.
When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s MEAN.
When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it even when you tell them to stop or show them that you’re upset, that’s BULLYING.

I think it’s not too big a stretch to see how this could be applied to the harassment discussion. If someone does something once and unintentionally offends, it’s inappropriate and you tell them so. If they do it intentionally to be hurtful or shaming, report via whatever the appropriate system is and let others know you found it offensive. If they keep doing it when you tell them to stop or are obviously uncomfortable or distressed, they are clearly ignoring social boundaries and it’s okay to reach out RIGHT AWAY to whomever you consider an ally and say that you are being made uncomfortable and want some help avoiding that person. Then, report it via the appropriate system in place.

The more quickly and clearly we all react to the abrogation of social norms, the more quickly the offender realizes that his/her behavior is out of bounds and unacceptable, and will not be tolerated. Now, some will do it because that’s what turns them on anyway, but the overall atmosphere changes when it’s made clear it’s a breach of social norms rather than an individual interaction.

122

Sebastian H 03.10.16 at 4:16 pm

Barb’s concept is more workable than most.

123

Paul Davis 03.10.16 at 4:32 pm

I like Barb’s concept but I’m not sure how it addresses a point raised by MrMister @ 97

behavior that is individually harmless can nonetheless have undesirable effects in the aggregate

It seems that to stop this effect, it is very important the identification of “rude”, “mean” or “bullying” (or whatever the corresponding terms might be in this context) be done a particularly public way. We need to do more than just let the (current) harasser know that their behaviour was “rude”, we need to make sure that everybody else knows this too. Stopping one person from making the transition from “rude” to “bullying” is good, but doesn’t address the collective atmosphere issue that MrMister raised.

I’m not arguing for public shaming, but something vaguely similar needs to be in place, I suspect.

124

Paul Davis 03.10.16 at 4:48 pm

Quoting from a comment on mathbabe:

Everyone agrees that it is sexual harassment if the same man asks a woman out repeatedly. What people don’t realize is that if it is considered permissible to ask a women out at a conference once, then she will be asked out be many men, thus she will be having the annoying experience of repeatedly turning down sexual advances. This is why asking women out in a work environment where the male to female ratio is horrific is so absolutely uncomfortable for many of the women.

125

Sumana Harihareswara 03.10.16 at 6:11 pm

Some people in this comment thread are asking about specific wording for policies. My take is that there are some good starter kits available but a community’s got to genuinely customize it and make it their own in order for the policy to be useful. On the topic of wording and implementing an anti-harassment policy that a community can and wants to enforce, I recommend Christie Koehler’s piece, “The complex reality of adopting a meaningful code of conduct”. As she says:

In this post I explore what I see as the main reasons we experience conflict when talking about adopting codes of conduct in our communities:

* misalignment of perceived shared values
* the relative difficulty of facilitating organizational change
* lack of governance infrastructure and non-technical leadership

That last one — lack of governance infrastructure and nontechnical leadership — is a greater problem in some communities than others, and I am not familiar enough with ICANN to understand how its governance and leadership are, or or not, good vehicles for this kind of policy change and followup.

As the Crooked Timber readership might remember, several months ago CT let me guest-post on the topic of codes of conduct as compared to free software licenses. I developed that essay into a talk that I delivered at FOSDEM in January, and included many commenters’ thoughts in the talk — thanks for those.

126

engels 03.10.16 at 6:52 pm

What people don’t realize is that if it is considered permissible to ask a women out at a conference once, then she will be asked out be many men, thus she will be having the annoying experience of repeatedly turning down sexual advances.

If this is the case then by all means make it a rule of the conference that attendees may not ask others out – just don’t equate this with harassment, which is a crime which involves a course of conduct and a men’s rea

127

Igor Belanov 03.10.16 at 6:57 pm

“What people don’t realize is that if it is considered permissible to ask a women out at a conference once, then she will be asked out be many men, thus she will be having the annoying experience of repeatedly turning down sexual advances.”

I can see why this would be frustrating, but unless that particular woman spends her time outside of conferences living in a cave or wearing a burka, then it is presumably something she will have got used to.

I would suggest that in real life, inside and outside of conferences, people are not asking attractive women out all the time. The reasons for this should be obvious, but I’ll list them if anyone is unsure:

i) They are already happily in a relationship;
ii) They consider said woman to be ‘out of their league’;
iii) They like to get to know women better before asking them out;
iv) They’re very shy;
and so on….

I think these comments may be in danger of parodying themselves, and we are really talking about a very small number of self-regarding and anti-social people, rather than all the world’s men.

128

engels 03.10.16 at 7:06 pm

we are really talking about a very small number of self-regarding and anti-social people

Arguably these are guys with Narcisstic Personality Disorder or who follow Pick-Up Artist ‘methods’ (which seem somewhat like an attempt to mimic NPD behaviour).

129

Sebastian H 03.10.16 at 7:09 pm

Part of this is mission creep language. If you want to be able to take serious action like putting someone in jail or causing them to lose their jobs you are really talking about one set of behaviors. If you want to talk about changing the idea of what counts as rude that is a different set of behaviors and a different set of responses. I’m totally on board with the idea that we need a ramp up of both. The problem is that we are using “sexual harassment” to cover that whole range. That problem seems to have come up in a lot of academic oriented discussions on a wide variety of topics. I wish people would be more careful about it because it practically begs for a diversion into “edge cases”

130

Ze K 03.10.16 at 7:29 pm

What if this conference had a dating website, for the participants only?

Actually, not just dating, but for all social gatherings, where a group of people could be invited for lunch, for example. For drinks, in the evening. And also for a coffee in one’s room. And to give you the option to ignore those, or to disable them, to opt out. Perhaps even by default. With an icon or text indicating that you’re out, no possibility of coffee in the room.

131

geo 03.10.16 at 8:10 pm

engels@127: men’s rea

!!!

132

Collin Street 03.10.16 at 8:10 pm

Arguably these are guys with Narcisstic Personality Disorder or who follow Pick-Up Artist ‘methods’ (which seem somewhat like an attempt to mimic NPD behaviour).

Well, the main complaint appears to be that it’s impossible to know whether any particular behaviour is causing problems to those being… behaved at, at least before the formal complaints are filed.

It’s treating the inner life of others as completely and axiomatically opaque, that people don’t — can’t — have any insight into what other people are thinking unless they get told, or sometimes even if they get told. The ability to know what other people are thinking is treated as some mystical magical power, beyond normal human ken.

I mean… well, yeah. It’s long been my thesis that all right-wing behaviour is consistent with empathy impairment, and this thread — like every bloody thing else, that’s why I think what I think — certainly isn’t providing a counterexample.

133

engels 03.10.16 at 8:21 pm

men’s rea

To my great regret, a typo, for which I can not take credit.

134

engels 03.10.16 at 8:40 pm

It’s long been my thesis that all right-wing behaviour is consistent with empathy impairment

It’s possible, though ime right-wingers I’ve known personally possessed empathy, it was just directed at rather odd and limited objects – their close family and no-one else, or animals rather than people…

135

Igor Belanov 03.10.16 at 9:18 pm

@ 133

“It’s treating the inner life of others as completely and axiomatically opaque, that people don’t — can’t — have any insight into what other people are thinking unless they get told, or sometimes even if they get told. The ability to know what other people are thinking is treated as some mystical magical power, beyond normal human ken.

I mean… well, yeah. It’s long been my thesis that all right-wing behaviour is consistent with empathy impairment, and this thread — like every bloody thing else, that’s why I think what I think — certainly isn’t providing a counterexample.”

The basic problem with this is that ’empathy’ is essentially subjective. Short of a long interview, some kind of psychological fieldwork, or extensive access to someone’s private diary entries, it is difficult to read other people’s minds, or to accurately assess their feelings. Empathy can be very difficult on an individual level, and does require at least some invasion of privacy, or all relationships will be very distant and formulaic.

Ultimately this is why politeness and formal behaviour have evolved, because we often need to reject ‘overfriendliness’ and set limits to a relationship. That’s also why flirting takes place- a potential suitor needs to know whether they can cross the line into a more intimate relationship with someone. As such it remains perfectly innocent as long as the flirter acknowledges the fact that the ‘flirtee’ is entitled to respond in a formal fashion and reject the advance. If the flirter does not accept this, then we’re moving into harassment territory. On the other hand, to find it offensive to merely be asked, or to be flirted with, is something of an over-reaction and would make a great deal of normal social interaction untenable.

136

bob mcmanus 03.11.16 at 12:09 am

114: Thank you this response. Not quite as on point as I might have liked, but close enough.

137

faustusnotes 03.11.16 at 1:22 am

Paul Davis, the mathbabe example is clearly sexual harrassment. It’s also unprofessional, sexist and deeply insulting, which is why the woman who wrote the letter is so clearly upset. Obviously the standard of “repeated attention” doesn’t apply at a conference since the time frame is limited, but the woman who wrote that letter is going to be suffering this attention constantly at conferences and it’s the responsibility of the dude who pulled the slick moves to recognize that and treat her professionally. The end of her letter is so sad – that she’s wondering if she should tone down her warmth. It’s sad because a) that won’t change anything and b) she’s already, early in her career, thinking about policing her behavior at conferences to stop getting hit on, specifically thinking about not being as nice which sucks, and c) she’s already doubting her technical and professional ability and wondering how much of the support she receives is tits-based.

That’s why it’s harrassment.

Many people contributing here seem to be thinking about harrassment the way republicans think about rape – it’s not really rape unless it was egregiously rapey, and any grey areas need to be resolved in favor of the man because of fee fees. Just like most rapists are not the monster figure of legend, most sexual harrassers are not creepy weirdos with narcissistic personality disorders. They’re just dudes doing what they think is their right and not thinking about the effect of their behavior on the target. That’s why we have sexual harrassment policies – to get these dudes to think about and change their behavior, and ensure women understand that they don’t have to endure this stuff just to do their job.

So yeah, if you aren’t sure whether it’s sexual harrassment or not, don’t do it.

138

Paul Davis 03.11.16 at 2:56 am

faustusnotes @ 138: do you believe that mathbabe believes that the scenario constituted harassment? My impression was that when she wrote her original column, she definitely did not, and that even at the end of this revisit, she was still not exactly clear though leaning towards it. Do you see her interpretation differently?

I also want to make it clear that I have no interest in finding excuses for men who engage in sexual harassment. I would just like to see policies that offer them no wiggle room, either by being too lax or by being hard to defend.

139

faustusnotes 03.11.16 at 5:28 am

I don’t know what Mathbabe believes it is or isn’t, but I think it’s sexual harrassment. I also think that you will never get a policy that offers men no wiggle room, because this is a matter of human behavior, and there will always be complexities and grey areas. That’s why universities have compliance boards and equal opportunity officers and the like. And often these things are not resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

It’s especially important that we have a stricter policy at conferences and workshops than at our normal workplaces precisely because they are one-off events where people gather outside of their normal structures, which makes this kind of thing very easy for men to try once, and women to experience continually. Sexual harassment policy isn’t just about punishing harassers, but also about ensuring that a safe work environment is created.

I have a friend who recently started working for a major Japanese car-maker (in Japan). During her training she was at a special training location with a bunch of people from lots of different subsidiary companies (hers was a subsidiary too), all juniors, and experienced something very similar to the mathbabe post. I and all her other friends (we have a shared chat through our gaming interests, so the issue was aired and debated instantly) encouraged her to report it; she did, and the same day was told the dude would be shifted to a different group in the training sessions, told exactly what he had done wrong and warned against it, and she was given a guarantee she would not have to deal with him again. Nobody was harmed, the offender was warned and the victim assured her presence in the company was valued.

If a Japanese car-maker and all my nerdy gaming friends (from diverse countries working in disparate industries in Japan) can get it, western academics can surely handle it too.

140

engels 03.11.16 at 7:02 am

Obviously the standard of “repeated attention” doesn’t apply at a conference since the time frame is limited

Obviously.

141

Collin Street 03.11.16 at 9:37 am

The basic problem with this is that ’empathy’ is essentially subjective. Short of a long interview, some kind of psychological fieldwork, or extensive access to someone’s private diary entries, it is difficult to read other people’s minds, or to accurately assess their feelings.

It’s not just people, is the part that particularly strikes me. It’s ICANN, which means programmers. Now, a programmer spends literally half their working life trying to figure out just how they fucked up, exactly how it was that despite their best efforts what they wrote down as what they wanted didn’t match what they actually wanted: you do that for a while and — I would have thought — you become reasonably comfortable with self-critique and the gaps between desire, intent, and outcomes. Get a bit humble and all that.

But no, or at least not realiably.

142

Igor Belanov 03.11.16 at 12:17 pm

Well, maybe some of those programmers fancy a break from self-doubt…..

143

dax 03.11.16 at 12:30 pm

“Sexual harassment is spoken or acted behaviour which introduces sex or the possibility of sex or opinions about a person’s physical appearance into a context in which it is not clearly a topic, without the mutually acknowledged consent of all parties”

“That’s a nice shirt, you’re wearing.”

Based on the rules which are made, the codes will develop. If it’s not ok to ask, “Wanta jump into bed,” then people will ask, “do you want to meet for coffee?” And if that’s not ok, it will be, “Can I get a printed copy of your paper?”

144

Ze K 03.11.16 at 12:34 pm

Would you like to come over to check out my stamps collection?

145

engels 03.11.16 at 12:39 pm

It’s also unprofessional, sexist and deeply insulting

Just to be clear, you’re referring to asking a colleague if he/she wants to have a coffee with you? The mere possibility of sex occurring some where down the line makes the whole thing deeply shameful?

146

engels 03.11.16 at 1:02 pm

Would you like to come over to check out my stamps collection?

Let me guess

147

Ze K 03.11.16 at 1:19 pm

If only. If I had those, trust me, they’d be in my Swiss safe deposit box…

148

Anonymous 03.11.16 at 5:26 pm

I think it is true that many men do not understand women’s difficulties in this area, because I am a man an I wish the risks/gender roles/costs/lots were reversed. :-(

149

engels 03.11.16 at 8:26 pm

introduces sex or the possibility of sex or opinions about a person’s physical appearance into a context in which it is not clearly a topic, without the mutually acknowledged consent of all parties

“Would anyone have any objections if I were to briefly mention that David’s shirt is hanging out? No? Great! David…”

150

Collin Street 03.11.16 at 8:27 pm

> Well, maybe some of those programmers fancy a break from self-doubt…..

They can speak to their therapists. I’m sorry, I really do not have a lot — to be honest, any — sympathy with your position.

You get to try and get laid… by your own claim you’re going to harass people, and those people are either going to exclude themselves from the space or get traumatised, probably both. You don’t get to harass people… you don’t get laid. Not that you were going to get laid anyway, because harassment is pretty much the platonic ideal of “not showing interests in what others want”, not an attractive thing in a sex partner.

And, you know, on the great big balancing machine of life, your not getting laid isn’t a problem that’s worth traumatising huge swathes of the population to not even solve.

So I don’t know where you’re going with this “prohibitions on harassment negatively affect my sex life”. If improving your sex life requires — your claim — permitting people to harass, then improving your sex life isn’t worth the cost, and I — and dsqared, and a fair number of other people — are pretty OK with that.

Harassment kills people, Ivor. OK? Not a minor problem. Your lack of sex life does not kill you. Is, in the grand social-policy scheme, a pretty minor problem. Since we’re not omnipotent, can’t solve all the world’s problems at the same time and have to make trade-offs, we have to make a choice between permitting your attempts to have sex and permitting the people you want to have sex with from not being traumatised by your, and other people’s, attempts to have sex with them, and y’know what? It’s no choice at all.

Is it?

151

Sebastian H 03.11.16 at 8:33 pm

“Harassment kills people, Ivor. OK? Not a minor problem. “

This is why I object to classifying EVERYTHING we are talking about under the “harassment” label. You don’t get to count hinting once that coffee might be nice as harassment AND get to pull the “harassment kills people” card.

Either stick to a definition of harassment where that statement makes sense, or don’t try to shut people up with the statement. But only one of those two.

152

Sebastian H 03.11.16 at 8:36 pm

Btw, isn’t it just a little weird that the empathy advocates here seem 100% unable to empathize with people who aren’t good with social cues? Is that my privilege over there on the couch? ;)

153

Yama001 03.11.16 at 8:42 pm

SH, only the truly empathetic know gets the benefit of empathy. It is kind of like the modest.

154

engels 03.11.16 at 8:55 pm

“Empathise with everyone except the unempathic.” Voltaire

155

Anarcissie 03.11.16 at 9:13 pm

Some enterprises take the attitude that people do not come to work, generally speaking, in order to do sex, and therefore any sort of specifically sexual behavior is forbidden. (Regardless of supposed or explicit consent.) I have worked in such places and the workers did not die even if they were terribly frustrated. Given the inability, in this discussion, to define ‘harassment’, this simpler approach might be the best thing.

156

engels 03.11.16 at 9:27 pm

Yet another thread that makes me immensely glad I don’t live in America

157

Collin Street 03.11.16 at 9:40 pm

> Given the inability, in this discussion, to define ‘harassment’,

We’ve defined it; it’s just that working with the definition in real time requires insight into the state-of-mind of other people, which some people have difficulty with, even to the point where they believe that such a thing is impossible, not only for themselves but for essentially all humanity.

Given this state of affairs, we have two choices:
+ the non-empathic, those who don’t have insight into the mind-state of others and so cannot guarantee that their attempts to engage in sexual discussions will comply with our definition of harassment, can refrain from engaging in sexual discussions, or
+ people can be subject to sexual harassment.

Which, like I said, isn’t really a choice at all.

[and, no, you don’t get to make the “oh, I’m only asking for coffee” argument, if your argument is also predicated on your inability to tell whether you’re causing problems for the people you’re approaching, because… you don’t know whether or not you’re causing significant problems, and that means from time to time you will cause significant problems. Also, see discussion upthread about the cumulative effects: but predicting the large-scale consequences of individually-chosen actions under any particular incentive-scheme/social set-up requires, yes, the ability to predict how others will respond to any particular social setup, which, yes, means “empathy”. But I’ve made that point before in political contexts.]

158

Linnen 03.11.16 at 9:55 pm

Sebastian H @153; I’d say that they know perfectly well about ‘social cues’. Otherwise they’d be terminated with cause male co-workers, supervisors / bosses of any type, contractors, trainees, trainers, customers, ….. , and everyone else that they are in contact with during their employment. Funny (not) how that happens.

159

bob mcmanus 03.11.16 at 9:56 pm

If a Japanese car-maker and all my nerdy gaming friends (from diverse countries working in disparate industries in Japan) can get it

Of course I am not claiming perfect practice, but my impression is that the Japanese are instilled with a set of rigid ritualized somewhat asymmetrical anti-harassment social norms starting in elementary school to the point where it inhibits adult interaction.

“That’s a nice hairclip.”
“Don’t be creepy.” (ritualized response)

A compliment on a girl’s physical appearance is akin to a marriage proposal: daters don’t even do it. “It suits you.” is as good as it gets. Like I said ritualized as all hell.

160

Linnen 03.11.16 at 9:56 pm

@ me;
“termination with cause for overlooking social cues with “

161

engels 03.11.16 at 10:05 pm

Funny (not) how that happens

I hate to break this to you but some heterosexual men are pretty well-adapted in terms of social / same-sex interactions but clueless when it comes to women / intimate relationships. (But as I said above really feel the focus on this issue is misguided anyway – iirc most serious harassment is different in kind from a cack-handed sexual advance…)

162

bob mcmanus 03.11.16 at 10:11 pm

Btw, isn’t it just a little weird that the empathy advocates here seem 100% unable to empathize with people who aren’t good with social cues? Is that my privilege over there on the couch? ;)

The socially-skilled and emotionally intelligent are establishing a hierarchy and power relations unbounded by any institutional or codified protections for those less able or less gifted. The ambiguity and required judgement calls are a feature, as Saurs discusses in 114 above, to empower and provide autonomy for one group and paralyzing constraints for the geeks and losers, who can only get in the way.

Saurs, 114: “they allow women, to quote the ubiquitous whinge, to not report harassment if the harasser “looks like Brad Pitt.” Or Danald Drapsquared.

163

bob mcmanus 03.11.16 at 10:21 pm

Understand what Saurs is saying in 114 and you will start to get it.

An office environment where the charming studs fannypat the pretty women while the sad sacks of both sexes watch and ask “What are the rules anyway” is exactly what they want.

164

SamChevre 03.11.16 at 10:23 pm

Collin Street et al,

So I don’t know where you’re going with this “prohibitions on harassment negatively affect my sex life”. If improving your sex life requires — your claim — permitting people to harass…

Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended…

Having clearly established that this includes even statements with no direct sexual content like “would you like to get coffee sometime” (and remembering that harassment can be comments to others about others), I anxiously await the application of this principle to open homosexuality. (Which some people definitely consider offensive, even if it’s just a male colleague mentioning that “my husband and I…”)

165

Sebastian H 03.11.16 at 10:58 pm

“We’ve defined it; it’s just that working with the definition in real time requires insight into the state-of-mind of other people, which some people have difficulty with, even to the point where they believe that such a thing is impossible, not only for themselves but for essentially all humanity. “

And which some people appear to overestimate in themselves.

166

engels 03.11.16 at 11:00 pm

the sad sacks of both sexes watch and ask “What are the rules anyway”

To be fair, they’ll still have access to a huge range of porn sites on the .xxx domain which ICANN recently created

167

hix 03.11.16 at 11:07 pm

Act exactly according to my rigid American normative preferences even at internationally organisations or else people die and go to prison is rather the opposite of empathy.

168

Matt 03.11.16 at 11:41 pm

Ms. Office-cutup told a joke during lunch at the office and everyone laughed. Inferring that joking at work is fine, I shared one of the all time best dead baby jokes.

Why the uncomfortable silence? Why the special meeting with my manager? What are the rules anyway?

She told a joke! I told a joke! We were both telling completely non-sexual jokes. It’s unfair that there aren’t formalized machine-executable specifications for acceptable workplace jokes. It’s like these other jokers can tell in advance what’s going to make others laugh. Are they mind-readers? Seers? Humor androids sent back from the future? In any case it’s unacceptable, capricious, and discriminatory that joke-success is determined by how the audience feels instead of how I feel.

169

engels 03.11.16 at 11:49 pm

No-one (afaics) is objecting to ‘uncomfortable silences’; they are objecting to the threat of criminal penalties and the apparatus of the US carceral state.

170

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 12:02 am

No-one (afaics) is objecting to ‘uncomfortable silences’; they are objecting to the threat of criminal penalties and the apparatus of the US carceral state.

Huh? Nobody’s brought up incarceration for inviting someone out to a movie.

171

bob mcmanus 03.12.16 at 12:07 am

Of course, as the advanced economies seek to find surplus in service, information, education and financialization, social skills, emotional intelligence and verbal dexterity have become valuable commodities in the logic of late capitalism and a social hierarchy that prioritizes and rewards the most talented/attractive and punishes and excludes the inept will prove profitable and reproducible. But more, the avoidance of rigid codes and rules in favor of ambiguous guides will encourage and reward risk-taking and creativity and social distinctions (in intra-office politics and romance) precisely in those most productive workers capitalism needs to uncover.

Neoliberalism is a liberalism burying the old distinctions of race gender class in favor of the more productive distinctions above.

Of course those distinctions have long been considered more pronounced in women, and as women move into the workforce and become powerful, we are encountering the competitive codes of sexual management we have encountered before, for instance when men were off to the crusades and rules of chivalry and courtly love became fashionable. C. S. Lewis’ only readable book.

This is, as the protection of women by men, still all Patriarchy.

172

Collin Street 03.12.16 at 12:11 am

> Huh? Nobody’s brought up incarceration for inviting someone out to a movie.

The continuum of harassment has a continuum of social responses, which includes at one end jail time.

Because of this, all potentially-harassing behaviour is part of a category which potentially includes jail time, which means all potentially-harassing behaviour potentially involves jail time, which means that asking someone to coffee is inviting jail.

Same basic underlying issues and cognitive approaches, only this time it’s not the empathy problems, it’s the other half, the black-and-white thinking flattening all continua to their two extremes.

173

ZM 03.12.16 at 12:16 am

bob mcmanus,

“Of course I am not claiming perfect practice, but my impression is that the Japanese are instilled with a set of rigid ritualized somewhat asymmetrical anti-harassment social norms starting in elementary school to the point where it inhibits adult interaction.
“That’s a nice hairclip.”
“Don’t be creepy.” (ritualized response)
A compliment on a girl’s physical appearance is akin to a marriage proposal: daters don’t even do it. “It suits you.” is as good as it gets. Like I said ritualized as all hell.”

This does not seem to be the case where the Japanese are raised in a psych-rock band environment in my experience.

Then they will stalk and sexually harass and power harass (a Japanese concept for harassment in work situations like concerts)you from the stage even when they are a woman themselves.

This happened to me in 2005 by the daughter in the family psych-rock band Maher Shalal Hash Baz when she played in her band the Tenniscoats. Both bands played the concert with Joanna Newsom who stalked me on her records and Bill Callahan who from 1998 always sexually harassed me by staring at me from the stage in a way which made me look at the ground, apart from one time in around 2000 2001 I outstared the man. Turns out he stalked me on records too.

After the daughter in Maher Shalal Hash Baz stalked and sexually harassed me by staring at me for the whole of her song Sheepies from We Are Everyone I was so emotionally distressed I had a breakdown.

So, you see, Japanese women can sexually harass people too. Perhaps I’m wrong to blame her psych rock band upbringing, maybe it’s just her own personality.

I am going to make recommendations to the government for reforming the Creative Industries on account of what happened to me.

They need workplace procedures and regulations to stop this in the first place,, as now I only am left with taking criminal and civil legal action after the fact of being stalked and sexually harassed since I went to concerts in 1998.

And I got stalked and sexually harassed by Creative Industries women as well as men. And if I made a list of less and most worst – Joanna Newsom would be the worst, then Harmony Korine the film director who made a representation of me in black face and then lynched the representation of me like in Strange Fruits which is racist and sexist I think he is friends with the sadist since I saw in an interview the sadist’s mother likes Harmony Korine, then if you don’t count the sadist who doesn’t make music herself only sings back up, next is Chan Marshall of Cat Power. So 2 out of my worst 3 Creative Industry stalkers and sexual harassers are women.

If anyone has any suggestions how to regulate the Creative Industries so they can’t stalk and sexually harass women they don’t know, that would be helpful. All I thought of was they had to send privacy agreements out to people they wanted to represent and then you could tick a box saying you didn’t agree to be represented.

174

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 12:18 am

@Chris 03.08.16 at 10:01 pm
>And my rule of thumb is, if a woman says I’m being sexist, then I am sure she is right.

@John Garrett 03.09.16 at 10:07 pm
>This thread perfectly demonstrates why men don’t and perhaps can’t get what it’s like to be a woman as seen by men, and why white people don’t get what it’s like to be black and seen by white people. And I don’t claim to get it either. But let’s try trusting those who do get it because they can’t avoid it.

This type of statements are … impressive. Humans of all genders, races, classes, nations and sexual orientations are capable of being wrong, for one reason or another. One needs to use one’s faculty of reason and actually think about each particular case. FGS.

175

engels 03.12.16 at 12:23 am

Nobody’s brought up incarceration for inviting someone out to a movie.

They said it was sexual harassment, which is a crime punishable by prison.

176

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 12:23 am

On the subject of ambiguous guides, I can only agree with those in the thread who have stated that the banned behaviour has to be defined clearly and objectively, so that the would-be perpetrator knows he is committing it and a third party can judge whether it has been committed. This can mean a ban of all sexual and romantic come-ons, and that’s fine if women want it, but certainly not a ban of ‘anything the victim says she felt offended by’ or something like that. That would be unrestricted arbitrary power.

177

engels 03.12.16 at 12:32 am

Perhaps unrelatedly, has there ever been a CT post on the topic of sexual harassment that wasn’t concerned exclusively with the experiences of upper-middle class women (ie. those who attend academic conferences or work at international organisations)? Eg. waitresses, domestic workers, factory workers, benefit claimants, sex workers, etc…

178

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 12:32 am

@bad Jim 03.10.16 at 7:27 am

> Look at it from her point of view. How much fun is it to have all these ridiculous dorks hitting on you when you were looking forward to a discussion of inventory optimization or hashing functions?
> That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.

*Excellent* point. Just imagine – you’re a socially maladept geek, you’re heading for a serious discussion and then, all of a sudden, a whole crowd of chicks rush towards you and insolently demand to have sex with you as soon as possible! They don’t even seem to care about your unique personality and your professional qualifications – all those lewd beasts want is to use your body as a sexual object! Terrible. Terrible.

Seriously, ‘putting oneself in the women’s shoes’ is very much an *impediment* to reaching understanding here.

179

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 12:37 am

They said it was sexual harassment, which is a crime punishable by prison.

No. As an umbrella term you can apply “sexual harrassment” to other things that really are illegal – varieties of assault and so forth – but without the accompaniment of those also-illegal acts it is (if it reaches court) a civil matter. (I think – maybe there’s a stalking law that can be applied to persistent office assholery. Speaking as a not-attorney, corrections of what I’ve pulled out of my ass are welcome.)

180

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 12:39 am

And of course I’m thinking North America, so correction is due from other jurisdictions I’m sure.

181

Matt 03.12.16 at 12:39 am

AFAICT neither Maria nor any posts supporting her in this thread have called for criminal penalties against people who cause discomfort with requests or hinting about a date at professional conferences or in the workplace. It was Brett Bellmore who first insisted that an offense that “carries penalties” must have an objective definition (unclear if he meant even private penalties like a reprimand from a workplace supervisor), and you’re the first to say “criminal penalties.” This turning into a game of telephone where Brett introduces the requirement for formal specifications leading up to penalties, other people think he means criminal penalties, and a hundred posts later we’re going to be arguing about the American criminal justice system’s failures and retributive orientation in general as if Maria had actually proposed imprisoning men who keep hitting women up for dates at conferences. She didn’t. It was a classic bit of misdirection that took us here, like when someone manages to sucker people into debating government censorship and the limits of legal speech after “political correctness” makes their favorite ethnic jokes effectively off-limits in polite society.

182

engels 03.12.16 at 12:41 am

without the accompaniment of those also-illegal acts it is (if it reaches court) a civil matter. … Speaking as a not-attorney, corrections of what I’ve pulled out of my ass are welcome

Good, because you’re wrong, at least in England

183

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 12:48 am

The legal guidance is here: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/stalking_and_harassment/#a02a

That’s fairly far removed from being worried about coffee invitations, but thank you for the link.

184

engels 03.12.16 at 12:53 am

You said ‘”sexual harassment”… is … a civil matter’. It’s not. I am aware that according to English law it doesn’t emcompass a one-off invitation for a coffee at an academic conference. Several people have suggested that it should. I disagree.

185

Collin Street 03.12.16 at 1:01 am

> the would-be perpetrator knows he is committing it

Under no circumstances is this an acceptable requirement. Desireable, yes, as much as possible, but it’s not 100% possible and attempts to get 100% understanding are doomed. Pretty much any framework that requires some form of buy-in by the perpetrators runs into the pretty serious problem that most people think their actions — whatever their actions are — are justified and reasonable under the circumstances.

This is why the law is framed so that “ignorance” of it is no defence; it’s also why mediation is never any damned good for anything, ever, but that’s a side-issue.

186

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 1:02 am

You said ‘”sexual harassment”… is … a civil matter’. It’s not.

It IS. Being picky with that can be just as fun for me.

I am aware that according to English law it doesn’t emcompass a one-off invitation for a coffee at an academic conference. Several people have suggested that it should. I disagree.

Who suggested that? I can’t see it. What I’ve seen is discussion of workplace/conference policy, which is not criminal law.

187

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 1:03 am

>what I’m hearing is “sexual harassment isn’t as important as my or my friend’s theoretical right to try to have sex.”

>we have to make a choice between permitting your attempts to have sex and permitting the people you want to have sex with from not being traumatised by your, and other people’s, attempts to have sex with them, and y’know what? It’s no choice at all.

Again, to be absolutely clear, yes, I agree that propositioning people when they’ve already refused or clearly would be made uncomfortable by it is wrong, and I’m not against banning all sexual come-ons and suchlike at conferences etc., if the majority of women truly consider that to be desirable for their well-being. *But* if we’ll be making some kind of *absolute ranking* between ‘the right to try to have sex’ and ‘guaranteeing at any cost that no sexual harassment will ever, ever, ever take place’, then I suggest we just castrate everybody and call it a day.

188

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 1:08 am

@Collin Street 03.12.16 at 1:01 am

>> the would-be perpetrator knows he is committing it

>Under no circumstances is this an acceptable requirement. Desireable, yes, as much as possible, but it’s not 100% possible and attempts to get 100% understanding are doomed.

Of course nothing is ever 100%. Obviously, I meant ‘so that the would-be perpetrator can be reasonably expected to know he is committing it’.

189

engels 03.12.16 at 1:17 am

TTN you are being a dick and a time-waster. You clearly thought it was a purely civil matter and not a criminal one, which was your objection to my mention of prison, and you were wrong. On the other issue please read the discussion properly, I clearly said (in #127) I was okay (ex hypothesi) with such invitations being specifically prohibited at a conference but not with them being treated as crime.

190

faustusnotes 03.12.16 at 1:25 am

Engels where do you get the idea the mathbabe story is a simple coffee invitation? She says she was asked out “on a date” and is embarrassed that it happened in front of other people. She doesn’t seem to think that it has any of the ambiguities of a coffee invitation, and then backs this up by noting the dude said he “can concentrate on the workshop now” that he has got the date invitation out of the way. She nowhere mentions that it is a simple invitation to coffee.

Also I did raise an example (of my friend) from an industrial setting. But I’m not sure why it surprises you that stories about sexual harrassment on an academic blog should focus on the experience of academics and students?

There seems to be a lot of attempts here to define away sexual harrassment by suggesting it’s nothing more sinister than a coffee or movie invitation with ambiguous intent, easily avoided and harmless in all its particulars. I don’t think that’s what the OP is about and it certainly isn’t what the linked mathbabe letter is about. And even if it is low-grade, largely undisturbing behavior to the person doing it, to the woman who is constantly being reminded at conferences that she isn’t being treated on the basis of her professional position alone, it is not so undisturbing – or even if each instance doesn’t bother her, the accumulated weight of it is telling her something about her place in the community of her colleagues.

If you don’t accept this, then I presume you also think that the woman writing in to the mathbabe example is being hysterical in her self-doubt. If so, that’s pretty disappointing.

191

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 1:36 am

You clearly thought it was a purely civil matter and not a criminal one, which was your objection to my mention of prison, and you were wrong.

It’s true that I was wrong for the UK! But it’s not actually true that it’s the sole method even within the UK of dealing with sexual harrassment, as your 127 seems to imply.

On the other issue please read the discussion properly, I clearly said (in #127) I was okay (ex hypothesi) with such invitations being specifically prohibited at a conference but not with them being treated as crime.

Which zero people proposed, right? It’s an instructive panic, given that so many institutions in the UK have sexual harrassment policies in place that operate without the intervention of constables. So the definition of sexual harrassment in the UK is not solely as a criminal offense, and you’re freaking out over…whose comments again? That’s right, nobody’s.

192

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 1:38 am

Re Saurs 114, I couldn’t possibly vie with McManus’ inspired analysis. As for me, I would just point out that it brings to mind a familiar folktale motif: the lucky one who stands the Princess’ tests gets her and half the kingdom; but until then, the failed suitors’ heads are severed and put on stakes to decorate the courtyard (to the glory of the Princess’ beauty). How charmingly traditional.

193

Linnen 03.12.16 at 1:47 am

further notes;
The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences

You’re welcome.
=================================
For those asking for Bright Lines in the definition (ignoring, you know, CONTEXT):

This is a “How many Grains of Sand amount to a Heap?” problem. Try this, you (generic you that is) are a class A person. Daily you will encounter a significant number of people from class B. (Unless you are a hermit, haha) Almost all of these people can be counted on to touch your upper arm. A majority of these will undertake to poke your upper arm once or more. Some will, in addition, hit your upper arm. And then there is the person that otherwise would ignore, pat, poke or hit your upper arm suddenly decide to break it.
And when you say stop poking, hitting, breaking my arm and display your arm with the non-tattoo colours of blue-and-red from recent events, the black-and-purple last time, and the green-and-yellow from the last week you will get responses like; “Pokers are just saying Hi.”, “Hitters are just showing Comraderi.”, “Hey, class B people have arms broken too!”. And those special snowflakes that say “you don’t have any blood blisters, therefore you have nothing to complain about.”

The reason why Asking for this Bright Line is that is sea lion tactic like JAQing Off (Just Asking Questions). The Sea Lion is asking for a Bright Line so he (most likely candidate) can race up to this line lean over and reach out as far as possible, and announce “A portion of my shoe heels are still on the ‘allowable side’ of the Line (admittedly you’ll need a microscope to make the judgement), therefore what I am doing does not meet your definition.”

=====================

Candidate for CDC to monitor;

Name: Conference-induced Autism

Host: Male attendee. Most likely from one of the Dudebro population employed in a field of technology; example being a Brogrammer.

Symptoms: displays autistic behaviors towards female attendees and conference employees. This behavior is suppressed when the female attendee is their supervisor, recognizable upper management, or recruiter for another firm.
This lasts until the conference has concluded. There is some debate as to whether the agent causing this dies off until the next conference or if it goes into dormancy until conditions are right to trigger another occurrence.

Cures: None known. Suggested ways to alleviate are Constant Direct Supervision by Upper Management, Quarantine to venues that have no female attendees or employees, or Expulsion from the Conference. It has been suggested that outbreaks of this be treated in the same manner as a Zombie Apocalypse. One Female researcher has been quoted as saying; “Nuke them from orbit. Its the only way to make sure.”

Transmission: Unknown. However fresh hires that have not been exposed to the DudeBro corporate culture have been shown to be more resistant to this.

194

Anarcissie 03.12.16 at 1:54 am

Collin Street 03.11.16 at 9:40 pm @ 158 —
If ‘harassment’ was defined in an objective, explicit manner, such that by knowing the definition the harasser would know he or she was harassing, the harassee that he or she was being harassed, and any third party knowing the facts would know that harassment was taking place, all without anyone doing mind-reading, I missed it. It’s as with Due Process: it’s supposed to be possible to know the law so that one can avoid violating it. Since the law or rule apparently cannot be written in the complex form many of you seem to desire, I suggested forbidding sexual behavior at work or at conferences entirely. As I’ve written, I’ve observed large, apparently successful corporations where that was the rule, and they seemed to function well enough.

195

F. Foundling 03.12.16 at 3:03 am

@Linnen 03.12.16 at 1:47 am

Sorry for your bad experiences. Still, bright lines are necessary (the alternative being an order where the police / security guards just automatically haul away anyone you point at), and of course they must be placed in such a way that you will be comfortable regardless of how much people lean over. We are not one big family, we can’t just trust each other, so bright lines are what we need to operate.

196

Collin Street 03.12.16 at 4:00 am

> Still, bright lines are necessary

Why do trapeze artists set their safety nets well above the ground if it’s hitting the ground they’re worried about?

197

Ze K 03.12.16 at 8:13 am

@195, “I suggested forbidding sexual behavior at work or at conferences entirely.”

When you say ‘at work’ and ‘at conferences’, does it include the after-hours social gatherings and accidental meetings (e.g. in an elevator at 1am)? If not, tsk, you failed…

198

etv13 03.12.16 at 9:31 am

ENGELS @ 178: (sorry for the all caps, typing on a kindle) As I recall, sexual harassment was a pretty big component of the tipping thread a few months ago, so yeah, people here have considered the concerns of waitresses.

199

etv13 03.12.16 at 9:46 am

Also, now I think of it, the suggestion that the concerns of upper middle class women are somehow negligible or illegitimate is a bullshit move.

200

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 10:40 am

“Whys it always about upper middle class women” is a bullshit move. Even leaving aside (1) how true is that as a representation of all the posts written at ct about sexual harassment (2) what really are the major differences between being sexually harrased at an academic conference or while working cleaning a hotel bedroom ? ( it Seems the general principles are pretty much applicable acros both situations). It’s probably more generous, and accurate, to see the op as written in the context of someone’s workplace where this issue is at this moment salient , rather than the upper class trying to exert hegemony over the workers. Equally you could ask why are the critiques of capitalism at ct so often shrouded in the verbiage of Marxist jargon and so removed from the concerns of the working man ? Of course neither criticism has a huge amount of merit.
Beside that though, if this post was “don’t hit on your coworker at a low paid job” how would that change any if the sceptical takes expressed above ?

201

Igor Belanov 03.12.16 at 10:48 am

The whole problem with this discussion is that a whole host of different behaviours seem to be compressed into the concept of ‘sexual harassment’.

Off the top of my head I can think of:
i) flirting;
ii) asking someone out;
iii) making a suggestive sexual comment;
iv) asking someone specifically for sex;
v) carrying out any of the above behaviours repeatedly despite refusals and a lack of reciprocal interest.

Now I think there is no cause for the first two to be objectively considered to be sexual harassment or something that needs prohibiting. Three and four are certainly socially inappropriate and on balance I would not object to them being banned at work, but I still wouldn’t consider them sexual harassment unless there is an imbalance in the power relationship, ie. boss and subordinate. The last one is blatantly sexual harassment.

Maybe it would help if others made themselves clear.

202

engels 03.12.16 at 11:11 am

Which zero people proposed, right? It’s an instructive panic, given that so many institutions in the UK have sexual harrassment policies in place that operate without the intervention of constables. So the definition of sexual harrassment in the UK is not solely as a criminal offense, and you’re freaking out over…whose comments again? That’s right, nobody’s.

I wasn’t ‘freaking out’. Fuck off. I was arguing with several people who knew what I was talking about. See for ex. DSquared’s claim that misplaced flirting should be ‘career-wrecking’. Barging into other peoples’ nversation several dozen comments late, not reading it properly and repeatedly making stupid mistakes about what they have arguing over isn’t fun or interesting.

203

engels 03.12.16 at 11:15 am

Also, now I think of it, the suggestion that the concerns of upper middle class women are somehow negligible or illegitimate is a bullshit move.

No-one said they were. Putting words into people’s mouths is a ‘bullshit move’. Done with this.

204

engels 03.12.16 at 11:15 am

I presume you also think that the woman writing in to the mathbabe example is being hysterical in her self-doubt

wtf

205

engels 03.12.16 at 11:25 am

what really are the major differences between being sexually harrased at an academic conference or while working cleaning a hotel bedroom

Jesus Christ, you are an ignorant prick.

206

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 11:31 am

?? What are the differences ? I’m not taking any opinion on the contested definitions of harassment on the thread, but assuming a definition we agree on I don’t see why there aren’t more similarities than differences between being harnessed in different workplaces.

207

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 11:32 am

Harrased

208

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 11:33 am

(Ffs still spelled wrong, well you get the idea)

209

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 11:37 am

Okay, actually I see the problem with the example I picked. Though I’d amend it to say what I said at 207

210

Ze K 03.12.16 at 11:44 am

@201 I get the impression that professional environment is an important element of this controversy. Nothing’s wrong with that, obviously, but I wouldn’t blame Engels for (mistakenly, I’m sure) incurring that waiter flirting with a barmaid is not perceived as equally objectionable… Or is it?

211

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 11:52 am

Ze k – I don’t neccesarily think the waiter flirting with the barmaid , or vice versa, is always objectionable, anymore than I do two conference goers flirting. Which is why I was saying working from a definition we all agree on (groping , consistent propositioning etc) why would class be a more important characteristic than gender ? I mean I could understand where women have different interests etc built on class, but I don’t see why this is one of two.

212

engels 03.12.16 at 12:50 pm

What _really_ are the differences in workplace injury issues (prevalence, type and gravity of injury, institutional and effective legal protection) for a professor of poetry in Boston and an immigrant worker at a meat-processing plant in Texas? Aren’t we all rilly in the same boat

213

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 1:06 pm

213- No, it obviously doesn’t imply “everyone’s in the same boat”, just that there are common interests.
Anyway , The shift to a class based argument seems to me like a sleight of hand. Your objections (afaict)were to (1) definitions of harassment people were working from, and (2) the idea of overly punishing transgressions. I think your objections were largely irrelevant after Maria’s 45 , but nonetheless a class based perspective has nothing to do with your objections, which were on definitions and responses. Bringing “upper class” concerns into it was largely an ad homenin. Imo if Maria’s 45 became closer to the societal norm (which I’m not saying it neccesarily would, based on economic power disparities) it would imo be in the interests of all women who didn’t wan t to be harassed. This implies to me a common interest.
Now if the question is actually over whether or not people should get fired or go to prison for asking someone to go for a coffee, then I agree they shouldn’t .

214

engels 03.12.16 at 1:13 pm

nonetheless a class based perspective has nothing to do with your objections

It is a separate issue which is why I introduced it as “perhaps unrelatedly”.

215

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 1:14 pm

Okay. I have to go something so I’ll leave it there.

216

Anarcissie 03.12.16 at 2:42 pm

Ze K 03.12.16 at 8:13 am @ 198 —
There are always people who will play with borders, so there will be borderline cases. I guess the idea is to set the border so far from actually destructive behavior that there is very little spillover from the border to anything important. If that doesn’t work, you move the border still further away. For example, in the case of one brokerage house I worked at, one person was summarily fired for making a seemingly mild remark to someone else in a back-office parking lot. Conferences may be different. My impression of conferences (in my ‘profession’) was that those attending were chiefly concerned with looking for looking for business possibilities (new job, new contract, expand repute), with maybe some partying on the side. In a sense, then, a conference is not ‘work’ in the way of things that take place in offices and laboratories are and it would be harder to exclude partyish behavior. I am pretty sure it could be done, though. (I never went to them so I can’t speak from personal experience.)

217

faustusnotes 03.12.16 at 2:47 pm

Engels you seem to have decided that the mathbabe correspondent was invited out for a coffee, not explicitly on a date. Am I wrong to think that is your conclusion, given you have repeatedly referred to the coffee date example? If you think she was only invited to coffee, then you must think she is overreacting, given she told the dude “never do that again” and is seeking reassurance that she’s not just a set of tits. If you believe she was just asked out on a coffee date, how do you interpret her reaction to this harmless coffee date except as hysteria? Any suggestions as to how we should understand this woman whose experience you are so intimately acquainted with?

218

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 4:12 pm

I wasn’t ‘freaking out’. Fuck off. I was arguing with several people who knew what I was talking about. See for ex. DSquared’s claim that misplaced flirting should be ‘career-wrecking’. Barging into other peoples’ nversation several dozen comments late, not reading it properly and repeatedly making stupid mistakes about what they have arguing over isn’t fun or interesting.

Dsquared’s claim was about workplace policy of course, and you have given zero examples of anyone claiming the coffee ask was or should be criminal because you can’t. You may rest easy my friend!

219

Linnen 03.12.16 at 5:11 pm

F. Foundling @196
No worries. As male nerd, I doubt I would be a target. I was trying to give a simple, if graphic, example that people could relate. The second half of the middle third is a clumsy retelling of a response to a Bright Line request that I remember from a better commentator on a now nuked comment thread at scienceblogs. The thread in question predated the term “sea lioning” and was part of a group of ElevatorGate / Rebbecca Watson threads.

It is just that this is not the first thread about sexual harassment policies where there was a push-back encapsulating “What about Men?” that I have read. Nor is it the second, or third, or fourth. Thought I should try to open eyes.

Climate debate threads have climate warming deniers, gun control threads have 2nd amendment advocates, and sexual harassment threads have MRAs.

220

Linnen 03.12.16 at 5:20 pm

faustusnotes @218 & The Temporary Name @219;
Freaking out about ‘Asking for a meeting for coffee’ is part of the gag. It allows them to say it is just a way for the ‘socially clueless’ convention goer to arrange for a ‘romantic’ hookup. At the same time it allows them to claim it was all about coffee when called on it.

221

engels 03.12.16 at 6:00 pm

Getting deluged with accusatory questions and gotchas mostly based on tedious misreadings from four or five male nerds after I made it clear I wasn’t really interested in arguing with them on a thread about male nerd harassment hmm

222

The Temporary Name 03.12.16 at 6:13 pm

Linnen, I find the mental leap to criminality (entirely bypassing other UK-specific remedies/definitions in employment tribunals and civil courts) pretty interesting. Also sad and embarrassing for someone who I’m sure was just trying to be clever.

223

engels 03.12.16 at 7:12 pm

Also sad and embarrassing

And yo disk drive

224

Ronan(rf) 03.12.16 at 11:18 pm

I have some sympathy for dsquareds position above, but I’d put it another way. The problem isn’t “risk averse men” but people and organizations who no longer take responsibility for their actions. This is most obvious in (for example) the financial sector or major corporate organisations where the organisational structure is explicitly set up to shift responsibility (as opposed to smes where responsibility generally lives and dies with the owner).
It’s certainly obvious in our political class, in our celebrity class and (by extension perhaps in this context) in ourselves. The problem isn’t a lack of risk taking, but a lack of responsibility.

225

engels 03.13.16 at 12:09 am

It’s certainly obvious in our political class, in our celebrity class and (by extension perhaps in this context) in ourselves. The problem isn’t a lack of risk taking, but a lack of responsibility.

Sounds like an awesome take. If you can spin it out to a couple of thousand words the Daily Telegraph might publish it…

226

Ronan(rf) 03.13.16 at 12:34 am

I know it’s a conservative take. Though it really wasnt anything personal to you, in fact probably more so towards dsquared’s positions. But by all means have at it.

227

engels 03.13.16 at 1:28 am

Slightly preferred it to DSquared’s which was straight up neoliberalism (“men are rational sex-maximizers and require a regulatory framework which ensures their sex-seeking risk-taking carries an appropriate individual cost”)

228

bad Jim 03.13.16 at 8:54 am

Lots of butt hurt here, anxiety about bright lines, nearly no empathy. Sure, no one wants to admit they’ve ever done anything wrong, but those of us of the male sex above a certain age ought to be able to admit that they’ve done things of which they’re no longer proud, of which we might even feel some shame. But that’s not the point. We’re not the point. Guys are not the point!

Half the possible workforce finds collaboration nearly intolerable because of our behavior, our leering and groping and salacious invitations. Okay, I’m bullshitting; most of our potential collaborators were weeded out a long time ago because we all know women can’t do math, or they just have babies, and they bleed from wherever. The ones who persevere get patted on the butt and kissed on the forehead. At best.

We have a pervasive problem and guys are worried about getting laid.

229

ZM 03.13.16 at 9:06 am

Ronan (rf),

“It’s certainly obvious in our political class, in our celebrity class and (by extension perhaps in this context) in ourselves. The problem isn’t a lack of risk taking, but a lack of responsibility.”

I agree with this.

I also think one dispiriting thing of this thread is all the people who want lists of every action that is sexual harassment, and complain the law should be objective not rest on the woman being distressed.

If someone wants to learn about actions which are criminal sexual harassment, they can read all the case law. This will not tell them everything since case law evolves, but it will give them an idea of the principles used in working out the decisions.

The statute cannot contain every possible action that could be sexual harassment, not only because it would be far too long, because women are not all the same.

The book I mentioned The First Stone shows this, since the author thinks the young women shouldn’t have taken disciplinary action just slapped or elbowed the man. Other women wrote essays in defence of disciplinary action. If one woman is happy to elbow a man who sexually harasses her, that is up to her, but it is not fair that other women who are more distressed about being sexually harassed can only elbow someone. That is why the law allows for some judicial discretion resting on whether significant distress has been caused, with the provision that the judge also thinks it would be reasonable to foresee the course of action would cause distress. If someone is not distressed, they can just happily elbow men who sexually harass them and not press charges.

It is up to men (or women) to work this out themselves about individual women (or men) I suppose, but they should err on the side of caution or they could go to gaol for years.

This is like other laws, such as recklessly causing injury by acting or failing to act. The cause of the injury can be all sorts of things, the injury can be all sorts of things. The law simply is about recklessly causing injury by acting or failing to act, with the general idea that people should not be reckless in their treatment of others.

230

bad Jim 03.13.16 at 9:32 am

Guys, let’s level with ourselves. We actually did enjoy the pats on the butt, having someone else pay for drinks and being invited to his room, didn’t we?

231

Ze K 03.13.16 at 9:57 am

@bad Jim

This is, perhaps, indicative of a patriarchal mindset, to think that workplace flirtation and the discomfort of having to decline thinly-veiled sexual advances go just one way, from men to women. It’s most definitely not the case. It depends on the conditions; for the most part, obviously, the gender balance situation. In the techies’ world, yes, mostly. But if you were working at a place with 50 women and 2 men, they’d be hitting on you… Yeah, you’d feel uncomfortable… So, it probably makes more sense to view this as a ‘human condition’ phenomenon, rather than ‘men are pigs’…

232

engels 03.13.16 at 11:31 am

But if you were working at a place with 50 women and 2 men, they’d be hitting on

Iirc there’s quite a funny scene where this happens in Made in Dagenham (which I highly recommend)

233

faustusnotes 03.13.16 at 11:46 am

That’s funny, I’ve spent most of my life working in workplaces where the workforce is almost entirely women and gay men, and yet it’s only the gay men who hit on me …

234

Igor Belanov 03.13.16 at 2:53 pm

“Half the possible workforce finds collaboration nearly intolerable because of our behavior, our leering and groping and salacious invitations. Okay, I’m bullshitting; most of our potential collaborators were weeded out a long time ago because we all know women can’t do math, or they just have babies, and they bleed from wherever. The ones who persevere get patted on the butt and kissed on the forehead. At best.

We have a pervasive problem and guys are worried about getting laid.”

This encapsulates the problem with many of the comments on this thread, they massively overemphasise the breadth of this problem. It’s not a matter of guys ‘worrying about getting laid’. Whether because of existing relationships, a sense of decorum and decency, or just shyness, the vast majority of men do not behave in this manner towards women. The sex pests that do exist usually stand out a mile, and are treated with suspicion, dislike or disdain by most men. One of the problems is that they do have a measure of ‘success’ with certain women, which gives them an unfortunate sense of encouragement. Describing ‘men’ as a group with a shared attitude to women is just as crude a stereotype as applying characteristics to other groups in society.

The idea that romantic and/or sexual relationships should be outlawed at work seems to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It should really be possible to define behaviour that constitutes harassment, and everything else should be governed by the usual etiquette and social norms that regulate social behaviour. I’m sure that many women would choose to reject the kind of over-protection that has been suggested and do not want to follow a logic that leads to the chaperone or, god forbid, the burka.

235

hix 03.13.16 at 3:26 pm

No one’s hitting me either, but then women in particular tend to look upwards in terms of social status, not downward, so that’s a sufficient explanation for my particular case. It’s still throwing arround nuclear bombs to narrow those dis comforts of an unequal gender balance down to sexual harassment using such a broad non definition. The Anglo threshold to what behaviour is already sexual harassment here really is so low that the absence of such behaviour would be considered rude by most women with many different cultural backgrounds. The claim that sexual interest vis co workers is less than one percent of male attemps looks like it’s outright from a parallel universe. Also I’m fealing uncomfortable all the time, it’s called an anxiety disorder and while I’d really love it if the world would change till I feal comfortable even in a regular competitive job environment with international conferences and such, I’m still thinking there’s ultimately also a problem with my level of sensitivity not just with the environments level if empathy or asking that low level should be punished.

236

Plume 03.13.16 at 3:30 pm

Sexism and misogyny are rampant in society, and it goes without saying that sexual harassment is wrong. It also goes without saying we shouldn’t have a patriarchy. It shouldn’t exist.

That said, where things become problematic is with the idea of a different kind of repression and punishment regime put in place to deal with the above — especially if it isn’t directed at predators, but engulfs the entire workplace, etc. etc.

The key issue is equality, obviously. In this case, gender equality. If this is the goal, and I think it’s safe to say it’s the goal of most here, then this means that neither gender is “privileged” when it comes to having their assertions remain unquestioned. We get into dangerous territory when we just stop questioning all authority, male or female — or worse: attempt to shut down all questioning with variations of preemptive scolding from men or women.

One example of this is the morphing of “mansplaining” from a righteously implemented response to “There, there. Don’t worry your pretty little head about this. We men to can handle it!” . . . . to an automatic response to any question regarding a woman’s assertion that X is the case. Guys don’t get that privilege, as can easily be seen in any social interaction or online. We all (should) question assertions, and online, we often ask for links, evidence, etc. etc. That doesn’t somehow change when it’s a woman who makes the assertion. It’s the rough and tumble of debate, and guys can’t fall back on “You don’t get to question my perception of reality!!” It doesn’t instantly become another case of “mansplaining” if someone does.

No one should expect unquestioned acceptance of their words. No one. Of course, one should ask the questions in a fair manner, avoid patronizing, avoid condescension, ask for elaboration in a civil way, and never be abusive or overly persistent . . . but the mere questioning of someone’s take on an event shouldn’t automatically provoke scorn . . . . and online, endless piling on.

See the endless parade of false accusations levied throughout history by men and women — accusations which, like the religiously oppressed teenage girls in Salem, can sometimes lead to death (20 of them, in that case).

This morphing of “mansplaining” is now the go-to recourse in political arguments involving Hillary and Bernie supporters. I’ve seen “Berniesplaining” often used as an instant rebuke when people simply try to advocate for Sanders. When they just say why they support him, they’re often met with that passive-aggressive attempt to silence debate.

This helps no one, and it certainly goes entirely against the goals of achieving equality.

237

Plume 03.13.16 at 3:46 pm

In short, perceptions of events always have subjective elements. Any discussion about current events, politics, sports, the arts, etc. etc. shows this. It’s rare when a group of people, all viewing the same exact thing, sees that thing in the same way. And in our discussions about that thing, this comes out, sometimes in angry differences.

Go onto a sports board and watch the interplay between (mostly male) commenters regarding one game, or one player in that game. Disagreements can oftentimes get heated, and no one is simply assuming anyone else’s perception should go without questioning.

Again, this should be done with respect, and civility. But it’s not at all wrong to question assumptions — even women’s assumptions. Male or female, it’s a part of the deal. In the example of the mathbabe, the author of the blog asks several questions and initially, at least, doesn’t understand why the letter writer was offended. She did nothing wrong by asking those questions, seeking elaboration, seeking understanding, etc. etc. Seeking that understanding is likely the best possible way to bridge our differences, and to try to shut it down is a huge mistake.

238

hix 03.13.16 at 7:24 pm

Wundering whats going to happen at USAicann if say an old Greek guy tries to kiss a young female attendee on the cheek. Or maybe there just arent any non US socialiced participants in the first place, but that would be something that needs to be changed as soon as possbile, not made harder.

239

Lynne 03.13.16 at 8:26 pm

Maybe she’ll elbow him in the stomach. What would you _like_ to happen?

240

Anarcissie 03.13.16 at 8:35 pm

Just publish the rules. ‘No sex.’ Then a long, long paragraph in small print in several languages defining ‘sex’ for the slow of uptake.

241

Lynne 03.13.16 at 9:10 pm

I’m ambivalent about ending the drought of female commentators that’s been happening in this thread but it seems relevant to mention the recent resignation of the Dean of Law at Berkeley over allegations of sexual harassment. His assistant, a mother of 5, says he persistently hugged and kissed her, almost daily. He admitted it, though not the frequency, and claimed there was no sexual intent.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/berkeley-dean-sujit-choudhry-resigns-amid-sexual-harassment-suit/article29167296/

242

Lynne 03.13.16 at 9:24 pm

ZM, apologies: I should have said near-drought.

243

F. Foundling 03.14.16 at 12:00 am

@ZM 03.13.16 at 9:06 am
>I also think one dispiriting thing of this thread is all the people who want lists of every action that is sexual harassment, and complain the law should be objective not rest on the woman being distressed.

I agree that an exhaustive list (as opposed to a definition) would probably be impossible. I also don’t necessarily object to the victim’s distress being part of the definition, it’s just that it shouldn’t be the only criterion. The arbitrariness can be reduced with a clarification such as ‘distress, where a reasonable person would anticipate that reaction in the circumstances’, as they have done here: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/bad-business-fact-sheet-legal-definition-sexual-harassment. So, one might say sexual harassment includes actions which the perpetrator should have known to be unwelcome or to cause distress either because the victim has indicated so, or because it should have been obvious for other reasons. In my opinion, asking someone out on a date or for coffee and moderate flirting do not per se meet this criterion and it is not appropriate to call these behaviours ‘sexual harassment’. That doesn’t preclude banning them separately and specifically if that is deemed necessary.

244

bob mcmanus 03.14.16 at 12:03 am

Bspencer at LGM gives me a review

“That being said, I’m still convinced that Crooked Timber regular, bob mcmanus, is doing some kind of Kaufman-esque performance art. All his posts are truly a thing of beauty. The revolution will come some day, my brother.”

Least I don’t totally fuck up a simple 8 word sentence. That comes from thinking in thought-free cliches. Try “truly things of beauty.”

245

F. Foundling 03.14.16 at 12:06 am

@bad Jim 03.13.16 at 9:32 am
>Guys, let’s level with ourselves. We actually did enjoy the pats on the butt, having someone else pay for drinks and being invited to his room, didn’t we?

*His*? Well, if one is into men, why not? And I can’t imagine why any straight man would mind any of that coming from a woman. So no, the comparison really doesn’t help much.

246

geo 03.14.16 at 12:30 am

@245: “All of his posts are things of beauty” sounds a little clumsy to me. Better: “Each of his posts is a thing of beauty.”

True, too.

247

engels 03.14.16 at 1:06 am

I find the LGM blog bizarre.

“Good lord, those comments. I ESPECIALLY love all the people quibbling with the definition of sexual harassment.

Guys, guys. Psst. That definition is THE DEFINITION, minus a word or two. Sexual harassment — similiar to all workplace harassment — is unwelcome behavior based on a person’s sex that changes the person’s conditions of work by being severe or pervasive enough to create an offensive or hostile environment.

That’s close to what the Maria says at CT. There’s nothing to quibble with.”

And here’s the definition in the CT post:

“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated”

They’re not equivalent, or close to it. The second turns on the victim’s subjective feelings whereas the second turns on an objective injury (‘changes the person’s conditions of work by being severe or pervasive enough to create an offensive or hostile environment’). The much discussed one-off date invitation appear to violate the second but not the first.

And why if someone proposes a legal or institutional ban on behaviour defined in a certain way is it ‘quibbling’ to explore that definition’s extension and object to it if behaviour that one does not feel ought to be proscribed falls under it?

248

engels 03.14.16 at 1:10 am

(I would have posted the above question at LGM but it seems you have to register.)

249

js. 03.14.16 at 1:21 am

engels — exactly how would you determine that the conditions on the objective inquiry had been met?

250

Plume 03.14.16 at 1:46 am

Engels @248,

That seems to be a distinction with a difference.

And the key here is legal punishment. If it’s just a matter of insisting on a very broad definition, in social terms, to provoke an overall change in the culture, that’s one thing. If, however, this definition becomes a legal standard, then it must be made tighter, and as “objective” as it can be. The difference between how someone makes us “feel,” subjectively, versus an actual, concrete offense, which hopefully can be corroborated . . . The first becomes an even more untenable definition if we are not even allowed to question these “feelings,” if the mere questioning then becomes a part of the original complaint, folds into it, adds to it, causes further pile-ons, etc. etc.

And this obviously works in reverse. A male complaint about women, too. No one should be above questioning. No one. Again, it should be done with respect and civility, and without condescension, etc. etc. But it should be okay to question all authority and all assumptions.

251

F. Foundling 03.14.16 at 2:08 am

I think MrMister at 97 and Igor Belanov at 202 sum things up rather nicely. In the end of the day, I think MrMister was right that the main problems with the OP’s formulations were the absence of the reasonable person qualifier (hence the criticisms referring to arbitrariness, subjectivity etc.) and the apparent suggestion that any pass, however respectful etc., would meet the definition even with the reasonable person qualifier.

So basically, AFAICS, everyone here is against the indisputable sexual harassment as generally understood, but some of the commenters have (mostly very cautiously) expressed various concerns to the effect that the definition/policy should probably be tweaked so as to avoid covering certain cases that it shouldn’t cover, and the others (at least half and probably more) have (mostly belligerently) argued either that these cases are simply too unimportant to even be worth taking into account, or that even these cases should in fact be covered. Apparently, this is what passes for an MRA fest at LGM. Oh well, whatever. Enough of this thread for me, anyway.

252

Witt 03.14.16 at 2:30 am

Thanks, Sledge at 112. Important points.

As far as the thread overall, I’ll just say again what many others have said before: When the overwhelming response to people raising serious concerns about their safety and health is other people defensively demanding a list of ways they are permitted to behave, the meta message is very clear: WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR SAFETY OR HEALTH.

253

MPAVictoria 03.14.16 at 3:08 am

Look sex can be fun and some people want to have sex with those they interact with at conferences or meet at work. Sure that’s fine. I have done it and had a great time. That said if you misread the situation and make the other person feel uncomfortable or harassed that is on you. There will, and should, be consequences. So take the risk if you want but don’t bitch about the consequences or try and lawyer your way out.

/bob Bspencer is worth ten if you so fuck off.

254

Anderson 03.14.16 at 3:37 am

I don’t find it terribly surprising that the same blog that regards Hillary Clinton as intolerably evil also attracts commenters who think sexual harassment is just a feminist fraud.

255

MPAVictoria 03.14.16 at 3:37 am

Of you…
/Christ my kingdom for an edit button

256

Anderson 03.14.16 at 3:41 am

245: that’s “all his posts,” singular, Bob, as the opaque mass they are, rather than making the indefensible statement that each and every one of your comments is a thing of beauty – something I feel confident that no one has ever, ever thought.

257

Layman 03.14.16 at 3:42 am

@ Anderson, you should get out more. Any blog that mentions sexual harassment is certain to attract such comments, regardless of the views or desires of the blogger.

258

Plume 03.14.16 at 4:05 am

Anderson @255,

“I don’t find it terribly surprising that the same blog that regards Hillary Clinton as intolerably evil also attracts commenters who think sexual harassment is just a feminist fraud.”

Admittedly, I haven’t come close to reading all 258 comments in this thread. So I may have missed them. But I haven’t seen anyone here comment that “sexual harassment is just a feminist fraud,” nor have I seen anyone say Clinton is “intolerably evil.” The hyperbole in the first part of your comment doesn’t exactly make a person too confident regarding the second part.

Basically, this looks like a case of talking past one another:

“Look at my child!! He has bruises all over him!!”
“We are investigating this, Mr. Smith. Our school counselors are busy talking to his classmates and –“
“So you’re okay with children being abused in your school!!”
“No, Mr. Smith. We are adamantly opposed to that. No one here wants –“
“I’m not surprised you don’t care about child abuse here, given your condemnation of Christianity, every chance you get!!”
“Sir, we’ve never condemned Christianity and would never do –“
“I should have known it! Godless communists, the lot of you!!”

259

Paul Foord 03.14.16 at 6:27 am

260

bad Jim 03.14.16 at 8:13 am

There seems to be a general lack of understanding that a sexualized workplace is acutely uncomfortable for a great many people, and generally works to women’s disadvantage.

Back when I was the part owner of a company, I found that executive conferences became less stressful and more productive as the proportion of women increased. Granted, that was largely due to getting rid of one male asshole, and one of the women was an old friend, but I’m still of the opinion that powerful women are an asset, and you don’t get them by treating anyone with tits more as a potential recipient of sex than an equal partner.

261

engels 03.14.16 at 8:47 am

engels — exactly how would you determine that the conditions on the objective inquiry had been met?

Er iana legal theorist but crudely a judge or jury applies relevant normative standards to the situation at hand I think. Why do you ask? Eg. are conditions of work ‘severe’, ‘pervasive’, is environment ‘offensive’, ‘hostile’ – none of this amounts is a question how how the victim feels although I’m sure that would be relevant…

262

engels 03.14.16 at 9:01 am

if you misread the situation and make the other person feel uncomfortable… that is on you. There will, and should, be consequences. So take the risk if you want but don’t bitch about the consequences or try and lawyer your way out.

Does this principle apply to all human interactions or just sex?

263

engels 03.14.16 at 9:06 am

you don’t get them by treating anyone with tits more as a potential recipient of sex than an equal partner

So seeing someone as sexually attractive precludes seeing him or her as your equal?

264

engels 03.14.16 at 9:13 am

When the overwhelming response to people raising serious concerns about their safety and health is other people defensively demanding a list of ways they are permitted to behave, the meta message is very clear: WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR SAFETY OR HEALTH.

So mananger is concerned about fire risk at work, bans ‘smoking on company property’. Employee asks can you clarify if people can still smoke outside the building?
“the meta message is very clear: WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR SAFETY OR HEALTH”

265

engels 03.14.16 at 9:33 am

I don’t find it terribly surprising that the same blog that regards Hillary Clinton as intolerably evil also attracts commenters who think sexual harassment is just a feminist fraud.

Not gonna bite.

266

Tiny Tim 03.14.16 at 11:00 am

personal anecdote:
I was at a professional conference a few years ago. The hotel bar closed. The nice woman I was talking to said where can we get another drink. I said my hotel room had a minibar. She said great, let’s go have a drink. Yay me. Nice attractive woman wants to come up to my hotel room! But here’s the thing. At no moment did I think nice attractive woman wants to shag me in my hotel room. She said let’s go for a drink. We had a drink. Then she left. I don’t think my superpower is reading people, or women, but at no point did I get the sense that she wanted to do anything but talk. We talked and had a nice time! Later we actually did start a relationship, but pretty sure if I’d made a drunk pass at her that night we wouldn’t have. Again, yay me, I did something right. Met a nice woman at a professional conference and eventually dated her for a few years.

The negative side of this story is that her colleague, not quite her boss, but someone higher up in the food chain in her organization, saw us going up to my room and spread lots of gossip under the guise of “I don’t know if this appropriate behavior.” Even though it was completely appropriate. This woman was an adult. I was an adult. We can have a drink or have sex or whatever and it would be appropriate if it was consensual of course. He certainly would not have done that to a male colleague, who would have gotten a big high five instead. Fortunately this did not negatively impact this woman’s career in any way I could discern. Anyway I tell this story because a)I’m bragbragging about the wonderful woman I got to spend a few years with (not everything lasts forever) and b) to point out that slut-shaming is also something women have to deal with in the workplace. Your male colleagues might want to bone you, but they’re going to trash talk you if you bone anyone else.

267

engels 03.14.16 at 12:27 pm

‘The Madonna-Whore Complex and the American Petty Bourgeois’ Discuss with reference to people who think inviting academic colleague on a date is ‘deeply insulting’ and ‘if you want to get laid go find a sex worker’

268

MPAVictoria 03.14.16 at 12:37 pm

“Does this principle apply to all human interactions or just sex?”

It applies to sexual harassment in the workplace which is the topic under discussion you turnip.

269

engels 03.14.16 at 12:48 pm

Right, and my question was whether you think it applies more generally

270

MPAVictoria 03.14.16 at 12:53 pm

@270 It depends.

271

engels 03.14.16 at 12:54 pm

if you misread the situation and make the other person feel uncomfortable… that is on you. There will, and should, be consequences.

Should there always be legal or disciplinary consequences for (unintentionally) making someone feel uncomfortable or does this only apply to sex and dating? It wasn’t meant to be a ‘gotcha’…

272

engels 03.14.16 at 12:56 pm

Sorry – X’d

273

MPAVictoria 03.14.16 at 12:59 pm

I think it depends on the context. At work, yes. If you proposition someone and they take offence/feel harassed that is on you.

274

Plume 03.14.16 at 1:49 pm

There are exceptions, of course. But if a guy asks out a woman — for the first time, which is an important detail here — chances are he doesn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable at all. It wouldn’t make any sense for him to want this, if he really wants her to say yes. Even if he’s a really awkward guy, with no social skills, whatsoever, his intention is unlikely to be “I hope she’s really pizzed off at me for doing this.”

I think it’s also safe to say that most of us feel at least some discomfort and anxiety before we do make that first attempt. It’s not easy to take that step. We feel “uncomfortable,” but if we like the woman enough, we think it’s worth the risk of being shot down — and hope she won’t.

To me, it’s just not a “crime” to take that first step — with exceptions, depending upon how it’s done, etc. etc, which is why these things do need additional investigation, questioning and so on. It can move into the realm of the criminal if it persists beyond the first no. She says no, and that should end any further attempts by the guy. That’s a one and done situation. No more. Nada. Zilch. End of story. She said no. Move on, brother, etc. etc. and don’t look back.

But I think a lot of the conversation in this thread has been directed at even that first attempt. And if we “criminalize” such a thing, and go solely on the basis of how the askee feels, we’ve entered dangerous (repressive) waters as a society.

275

faustusnotes 03.14.16 at 2:24 pm

Just for the record Engels, I’m not American and I don’t have a madonna-whore complex. But the mathbabe letter I was clearly referring to clearly showed a young woman feeling insulted by being asked on a date (which you tried to swing as a coffee invite but now seem to have decided was an invitation to sex). I hate to get all feminist theorist on you, but I don’t think wanting to be taken seriously at work independent of your tits singles you out for a madonna-whore complex.

I’m sure you think that when a virile young communist such as yourself offers his colleague a spot of rumpy-pumpy he’s merely showing her a solid bit of proletarian respect, but it appears that a large proportion of your breasticated revolutionary comrades don’t believe that respect issues from the barrel of a phallus, and don’t think that “from each according to their means” extends to their personal assets. That’s not counter-revolutionary sexual kulakism, it’s just basic decency. It doesn’t mean you can’t do the proletarian shuffle with your colleagues, but sadly it means they aren’t going to respect you in the morning if you try it without first establishing a solid basis of revolutionary solidarity. Times have surely changed since a prophet of the proletariat could hump his maid and dump the progeny in a poor house, and even a scion of the working class such as yourself needs to show a bit of respect to basic social norms these days. But with appropriate training I’m sure you can figure out how not to offend the anti-sex league!

276

alex 03.14.16 at 2:26 pm

“The definition of any offense which carries penalties MUST be objective. Not subjective. That’s the problem here.”

There are plenty of crimes that depend on other people’s reactions. Like laws against public lewdness and nudity.

Dallas’s law about public nudity got some fame a few years ago when the cops raided a gay bathhouse and arrested people under a law that had some wording like “behavior is lewd if it could offend or shock”… ok googled:

Of the three individuals whose arrest reports were released to Dallas Voice, one was charged with public lewdness and two were charged with indecent exposure, which is defined as exposing one’s genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify and in a manner that is “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed …”

I suppose you can take the “reckless about whether” part to mean that the law is objective and not subjective, but, really, does that provide any kind of brightline to would-be offenders?

277

alex 03.14.16 at 2:40 pm

I think there are some men who will never understand if they’re told “put yourself in women’s shoes” because, well, harassers are by definition sexist, and sexists make incorrect assumptions about/don’t care about what women think.

So let’s try this: imagine you are a man at work and your boss is also a man. He asks you out to coffee and you know he’s hitting on you. You politely refuse. No harm, no foul, right?

Well, if we’re in the 80% of cases that Maria was talking about, now this guy leaves a bouquet of dead roses on your doorstep. Or you ask to change your schedule and he just raises an eyebrow and says “how about you play ball?” We know that you wouldn’t like this.

Now let’s go to the 20% of cases, where he, every now and then, suggests you get together for a drink. Or he says “nice pants” while staring at your ass (what’s wrong with a compliment?). You get a bad review from him… is it related to this other stuff?

Or another 20% case: he hits on you by sending you a link to his grindr profile. He’s just looking for romance at a place where 10% of people meet their partners!

Obviously, this is harder to imagine. Straight men have ways of dealing with unwanted advances from other men, up to and including violence, which makes even creepy gay dudes reticent to do this sort of thing in the workplace (not saying it never happens, tho).

But, then, don’t gay men have as much right to romance as straight men? if so, why are the penalties for gay men hitting on coworkers so much stiffer? Maybe because this is about power and not socially awkward people looking for love?

278

Brian 03.14.16 at 2:54 pm

All those (apparently male) commenters who claim that sexual harassment policies mean that anything women don’t like is automatically harassment are just creating a red herring. At least under US law, there is both an objective and a subjective component to a claim of harassment. That is, not only must the conduct be subjectively unwelcome, it must also be bad enough that a reasonable person in the place of the victim would find it offensive–the objective component.

279

bob mcmanus 03.14.16 at 2:56 pm

I have never made a pass or harassed in the workplace in any way.

However I have made women mad, even in this thread and on the nets, and watching the gratuitous cruelty, the tribal joy of putting others down, the dishonest means (No, I never recommended nuking Japan. It’s a lie.), for trivial and minimal slights, the fierce competition for discourse territory, and the servile flattery constantly needed, demanded, and received from the women wanting to belong and from the males managing and manipulating…

…I do not trust women with the unrestricted unquestioned “believe utterly” power in principle to destroy my life. I don’t trust men either, but men aren’t asking for the same kinds of power.

Men may exercise such arbitrary power, but they don’t demand it be normalized, valorized, expected as the default attitude of a decent empathic human being.

This is just another needy demand for flattery.

“Trust us. We are all so nice. Why won’t you trust us?”

280

The Temporary Name 03.14.16 at 3:03 pm

I do not trust women with the unrestricted unquestioned “believe utterly” power in principle to destroy my life.

If your fine behaviour in workplace situations slips a little, I’m betting someone will give you a talking-to long before you end up being slapped in irons.

281

Plume 03.14.16 at 3:23 pm

“I do not trust women with the unrestricted unquestioned “believe utterly” power in principle to destroy my life.”

I don’t trust anyone with this. Male or female. And not just the power in principle to destroy lives. But with this unrestricted, unquestioned power, period. Shouldn’t be allowed for men or women, and one would think this wouldn’t even need saying. It’s dangerous.

282

engels 03.14.16 at 3:45 pm

I think the last couple of comments are a bit over the top. Afaics the glee about ‘wrecking careers’ etc seems to have issued from ‘male feminists,’ not women and the sanctions discussed in the OP were much more mild. (If I contributed to this current by mentioning the US prison system in one comment then I apologise).

283

Hogan 03.14.16 at 3:45 pm

@260 I’m pretty sure it’s Andy Kaufman, not SEK.

284

engels 03.14.16 at 3:47 pm

ll those (apparently male) commenters who claim that sexual harassment policies mean that anything women don’t like is automatically harassment are just creating a red herring

No, they’re addressing the formulation on the OP, not positive law.

285

LizardBreath 03.14.16 at 3:48 pm

Bob, on the advisability of nuking Japan after the Fukushima disaster

I’m pretty serious. Fumes from Chernobyl traveled thousands of miles. If those reactors go up in flames, and you’re Obama or the DoD, what would you do?If it’s so very safe, why are they evacuating a good area around the reactors? Has the US told them to? A little H-bomb wouldn’t do so much damage, and would clean up the site.

286

bob mcmanus 03.14.16 at 3:53 pm

278 see 140 Japan anecdote. Not saying anything about her veracity, I’m sure a career was damaged.

283: You don’t have an entire OP and thread over at the other blog dedicated to damaging your reputation, apparently because it’s just plain fun. Tends to make me skeptical about motivations and behavior.

287

bob mcmanus 03.14.16 at 3:55 pm

286: Not a recommendation, merely a speculation and question.

288

MPAVictoria 03.14.16 at 3:59 pm

288: No question mark….

289

bob mcmanus 03.14.16 at 4:12 pm

Ah, ok, not my finest hour, based mostly on ignorance of the disintegration capabilities of a fusion bomb, which was the information I was trying to solicit. Remember at the time, we weren’t sure how bad Fukushima was, or how bad it could get, and the local response looked pretty pathetic. And the fact that apparently most of us survived Bikini, and global dispersal was more moral than leaving all the casualties in Japan.

We still don’t know how bad Fukushima is, or what another earthquake/tsunami could do.

And I tend to get aggressive when piled on. Showing weakness just excites the pack.

290

Ze K 03.14.16 at 5:47 pm

Nuking Japan for the third time, after she’s already made it crystal clear that she is not enjoying it at all? Nice going, Mr McManus…

291

hix 03.14.16 at 6:05 pm

Going on further about the international context problem. In many cultures it’s just polite to say no the first 3 times at least.

And why on earth is there supposed to be a ban on making someone feal uncomfortable. That’s ridiculous, just like the expectation expressed in the op that one has to turn someone down in non hurtful way. The basic problem it seems to me is the excessive regard for public appearance in US culture almost amounting to the assumption that everyone should be threatened as if they had a narcissistic personality disorder.

292

Linnen 03.14.16 at 8:26 pm

Plume @275;

There are exceptions, of course. But if a guy asks out a woman — for the first time, which is an important detail here — chances are he doesn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable at all.

In a conference, likely. In the workplace, less so.

Also, this phrasing waves away the whole “if one hookup fails (sorry, sorry, meeting attempt), there are plenty of fish in the sea.” I’ll cede that meetup with interesting person prevails over hookup with interesting-looking person, but the later occurs in significant numbers. (More than zero.) Think of it in this manner, in a professional setting would you prefer to be known for your skills or how you look?

Also Two, it also waves away that the attempt is likely not the first for her. That will have happened way earlier. I’d even bet serious money on the event that your example’s first attempt being before the woman even getting her conference badge, that she had at least one from at least one man before then.

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Linnen 03.14.16 at 8:42 pm

hix @292? Cites seriously. the only one that Wiki has is the Persian custom of Taarof (maybe the Chinese’s Limao, but that is not an article) where the host wishes to give the guest a gift and the polite guest should refuse at least three times.

I’ve read that in some cultures it is polite to refuse to be paid for your work three times as well. Instance would be Wicca and three-fold witchcraft.

An instance in the other direction is the custom in some Asian countries, like Japan, that the direct “No” is impolite.

294

Linnen 03.14.16 at 9:42 pm

me @ 294;
gah! strong tag shoulda ended at first guest.

295

engels 03.15.16 at 7:42 am

I see a LGM commenter has now diagnosed everyone objecting to Maria as ‘neuroatypical’. Empathy FTW

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bad Jim 03.15.16 at 8:20 am

Discussion at a conference:

A: Supply chain management is my field of expertise, and the speaker had some interesting suggestions.

B: YOU HAVE TITS! LET’S HAVE A DRINK!

This is not the sort of discussion two guys tend to have, even though guys have tits, two.

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Igor Belanov 03.15.16 at 9:55 am

It’s not the kind of discussion men and women TEND to have either. After nearly 300 comments it might be nice for people to acknowledge that not all men are sex pests or even potential harassers of women.

298

Lynne 03.15.16 at 10:53 am

@ and yet virtually all women experience sexual harassment at some point in their lives. So….?

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engels 03.15.16 at 4:42 pm

what really are the major differences between being sexually harrased at an academic conference or while working cleaning a hotel bedroom

Some hotel workers’ experiences here. NB this is NOT to minimise any female academics’ experiences of sexual harassment but I think the idea that there aren’t likely to be “major differences” in both the wrongs suffered and the actions taken by management is… problematic.

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Lynne 03.15.16 at 4:52 pm

@ engels: “NB this is NOT to minimise any female academics’ experiences of sexual harassment” It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?

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engels 03.15.16 at 4:54 pm

Also take the point that there is something very wrong about the overwhelmingly male participation on this thread….

302

engels 03.15.16 at 4:57 pm

X’d. Sorry – why?

303

engels 03.15.16 at 5:04 pm

And late for what? I don’t understand your point at all I’m afraid, or your reply to Igor, not that I exactly agree with him

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engels 03.15.16 at 6:01 pm

there is something very wrong about the overwhelmingly male participation on this thread

…although that also appears to true of both the threads at LGM – make of that what you will…

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Lynne 03.15.16 at 6:21 pm

Engels @ 303, your references to men asking women out for coffee when the OP was not about something so innocuous seemed to minimize the harassment Maria was writing about.

re Igor’s comment about not all men are abusers. No one suggested such a thing, but many comments have been written about what men might want to do at a conference that would be innocent —innocent!— again, after a post about women being sexually harassed at conferences.

Trying (why? this late) to bring the original topic back.

No wonder the women CT bloggers hardly ever blog.

306

Manta 03.15.16 at 6:26 pm

It seems to me that a few commenters (e.g. Alex @278) are conflating two quite different situations: when there is a power imbalance (boss making a pass on a subordinate) and where there is no such imbalance (guy making a pass with a woman over whom he has no power).

307

Bloix 03.15.16 at 6:29 pm

@298 “not all men”
Jesus fucking Christ, is this a parody website now?
http://time.com/79357/not-all-men-a-brief-history-of-every-dudes-favorite-argument/

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Plume 03.15.16 at 6:58 pm

Bloix,

Good article, and the comic is funny. “Defender of the defended,” etc. etc. Well done. It’s also how I take right-libertarian arguments about how the wealthy and capitalism itself are supposedly under siege by the supposedly powerful hordes of (actually powerless) leftists.

But did the author, Jess Zimmerman, mock his own thesis just a little bit, via the title?

Not All Men: A Brief History of Every Dude’s Favorite Argument

309

Ecrasez l'Infame 03.15.16 at 8:25 pm

And a quick update, I’ve heard that ICANN staff have been told to be ‘careful’ about kissing, hugging, faire la bise etc. with community members. AGHGHGHGHGHGH!!!! 1) as employees, they already have a sexual harassment policy. It’s some community members that are the problem. 2)Why oh why do people focus on the most likely harmless grey area stuff instead of the really obvious ‘don’t proposition a young women you just met in the coffee break’ stuff?

Seriously, what the fuck has gone wrong with feminism? Do you really need me to spell out what’s happening? This is heartbreaking. I swear, they could hand out leaflets saying “PUT A HIJAB ON WHORES” and most of you still wouldn’t understand what was going on.

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engels 03.16.16 at 12:05 am

“NB this is NOT to minimise any female academics’ experiences of sexual harassment” It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?

Engels @ 303, your references to men asking women out for coffee when the OP was not about something so innocuous seemed to minimize the harassment Maria was writing about.

I will try to clarify once more and then give up.

Maria doesn’t mention her experiences. I haven’t mentioned her experiences .She made a proposal to sanction sexual harassment at work which defined it as ‘any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated’. Several people claimed that definition outlaws behaviour which appears legitimate (ie. flirting with someone or them out for a drink if they take offence). Others defended it by saying it is not legitiamte(work is not the place for this) or should still be forbidden for policy reasons (collectively invitiatons can become a nusance even if indivudally they are not) – I said I accepted the second approach could be justified. Maria defended it by saying they are ‘edge cases’ and we shouldn’t be focussing them. I don’t believe that is an adequate response.

None of this has anything to do with erasing Maria’s or anyone’s experience s.

The larger issues, which I can’t elaborate proplerly now and don’t really want to when people are being so hostile, are the assumption that sexual behaviour is always a risk or a problem for men and women to be tolerated at best or punished at worstt, the ongoing lack of interest in the experiences of non-professional women, and the suspicion that it feeds into a system where a small class of relativelh privileged women’s status derives s from them being almost completely desexualised at work and a larger class are in jobs which increasingly demand that they be emotionally or sexually available to men (from customer service workers of all kinds to sex workers at the extreme). FaustusNotes’ comments seemed to me to come close to this view when said that asking a female academic on a date was deeply insulting’ and any man who wants to get laid at a conference should find a sex worker.

I dno’t think any of this is fairly glossed at ‘what about the men’ either. I don’t actually think that’s illegitimate either (men are subject these polices after all) but it’s not what I’ve been arguing and it’s how I feel.

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faustusnotes 03.16.16 at 1:37 am

Engels, I agree that it should not be impossible to mingle dating and work, and I agree that there are lots of hang-ups about sex in the west that it would be really good to eliminate with the march of feminism through our institutions, but I think the reality is (from my experience of working with women) that women almost universally don’t appreciate this attention, they get too much of it, and they are much more likely to react like the Canonical Mathbabe Example than go all gushy at the thought that their colleague respects their work and wants their body. I think it’s also pretty well established that most women (and most feminists) want to rid the workplace of its old gender battlefields (e.g. lack of respect for being a woman, not able to be heard in meetings, lack of promotion, family leave issues) before they start using it as a battlefield to resolve the final psychosexual issues of western culture.

A lot of what you’re saying in this comment about this issue of desexualization sounds a lot like what older feminists have heard before, during the 1960s and 1970s, when as soon as women started getting any form of equality at all men parlayed it into opportunities for free love. Until the power differentials in the rest of the social system are removed or weakened, it’s hard for women to view those free love opportunities in specific spaces the same way that men do. It’s important to respect that.

I have personal opinions about patterns of misogyny in western culture that make it uniquely unsuited to respecting women as women in the workplace, which make me think it’s very dangerous to try and mix these things until a whole bunch of other sexual attitudes have been resolved. In particular, until western people can learn to respect femininity and to see women’s difference not as always inferior and suspect; and until western society can remove the deep stain of sexual violence that hangs over all its interactions, I don’t think it can mix sex with work comfortably. Looking now on the west from an outsider perspective in Japan, I no longer view western interactions as being as gender equal as a lot of westerners think of them, and in particular I see a deep, deep hatred of femininity and female sexuality reflected in multitudes of ways through the current of ordinary society. Bringing up sexuality at work ties women to that deep hatred, and until that poison is drawn out of society, I don’t think it’s possible to have a properly sexualized workplace.

You clearly disagree; I hope my perspective from outside, now properly explained, makes some sense; and I think you should consider that 1960s and 1970s experience of women becoming fresh meat in new marketplaces after feminism opened them when considering how to deal with sexual harrassment in modern workplaces.

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bad Jim 03.16.16 at 9:30 am

We are all eukaryotes, whether plant or animal, and thus sexual beings. That said, it’s not necessarily desirable to treat every sort of social intercourse as a reproductive opportunity.

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Lynne 03.16.16 at 10:46 am

Engels, Maria’s post was about a specific conference, not the workplace in general, and while her definition in the OP sucked, she elaborated at # 45, thus giving context for her definition, which made it less sucky, or at least more understandable. Yet many commentators have not been taking this into consideration, preferring to harp on the definition without its context. You are entitled to look at larger issues, of course, but in this case that is changing the subject.

When you talk about the experiences of nonprofessional women you aren’t wrong, but again, it is changing the subject. When you talk about sexual behaviour in general being problematic…well, why would you talk about that in this thread in response to the behaviours Maria mentioned at 45? It isn’t wrong, it’s worth talking about, but it’s ignoring the kind of offensive, even menacing behaviour she mentions.

If you are a woman at a large, male-dominated conference, chances are that the vast majority of the other people there are bigger and stronger than you are, and if one of them follows you into an empty room and blocks the doorway, you are instantly aware of that. I would like to have seen you and some others here try to understand what Maria is talking about, because while I can’t speak for her, it does seem to me that you have missed it. Come to think of it, we all could have asked her for more examples, to be sure we understood what she meant.

Okay, that’s it for me too, now. Maybe we’ve been talking past each other, maybe a conversation about anything to do with sexual violence or harassment is always going to be a train wreck here.

314

Linnen 03.16.16 at 10:47 pm

For general amusement – in LGM, this thread was nominated to category “This cartoon of Milk went bad, take a whiff to check.” Congrats everyone, we have ‘Rick Roll’d’ LGM

315

Kiwanda 03.17.16 at 4:37 pm

Ah, LGM. The commentariat seems to be devolving to little more than reflexive twitching; not quite to FTB levels, but getting there. Those poor, sad, empty souls!

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cola 03.17.16 at 7:09 pm

And a quick update, I’ve heard that ICANN staff have been told to be ‘careful’ about kissing, hugging, faire la bise etc. with community members.

Seriously, what the fuck has gone wrong with feminism?

So, someone in ICANN is going around and warning the men: watch out, be careful, under our new sexual harassment policy, you can’t so much as touch a woman or she’ll report you and ruin your career―

And you think that that person is a feminist? With perfect certainty, without any other evidence?

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engels 03.17.16 at 9:13 pm

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The Temporary Name 03.17.16 at 9:24 pm

Les Crane is an interesting reference in that song.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Crane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yNJaKF9sXA

The whole album has to be heard to be believed.

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js. 03.17.16 at 9:34 pm

I haven’t been taking part in this—partly because I can really only handle one extraordinarily frustrating thread per week—but cheers to Lynne, faustusnotes etc. for making some very sensible points.

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