Sexism, Misogyny, and Harrassment Policies in the Skeptic Community

Seriously, could anything be more interesting than this? As I was writing the title of this post, I literally became so excited that I had to step outside for some fresh air. It’s all just too much.

The skeptic community has a Misogyny Problem, but the exact extent and nature of the problem is unclear. It didn’t start with Elevatorgate, much in the same way the US Civil War didn’t start at Fort Sumpter. Shit was reportedly getting bad for years before some doofus made a pass at Rebecca Watson.

But how bad? Well, there are reports of sexist speakers at conventions, creepy creepersons taking upskirt photos, marauding hordes of vulva obsessed cannibals, etc. The natural reaction of a group of people led by academics, scientists, and philosophers was naturally… to form anti-harassment policies.

Now, I’m just a simple country lawyer, but my initial reaction to 99.999% of the reported “harassment” is: Call the police. Taking upskirt photos, grabbing vaginas that aren’t yours, exposing yourself, making threats of rape, refusing to leave someone alone, all of these things are against the law. The criminal law, no less! So if you find yourself the victim of these behaviors, call the fucking cops, please. Telling people to call the police isn’t blaming the victim or minimizing sexual assault, but if you need to accuse me of doing that, fine. Just do it after. you. call. the. fucking. cops.

It is indeed an odd rapist who would be willing to risk 20 years in a state penitentiary, but would be scared off by the prospect of censure under an anti-harassment policy. Which brings me to my point: Anti-Harassment policies are good at providing guidelines and structure for people who aren’t well socialized. They’re not necessary for enforcing criminal law. (If you need tips on enforcing a criminal law being broken, please call 9-1-1. Operators are standing by.) They’re good at helping the socially awkward doofus who doesn’t get out much and thinks a handshake is an expression of sexual interest.

One thing the skeptic community has been bad at, ironically, is identifying the scope of the remediable problem and drafting policies to deal with those situations. The policy of the American Atheists would do nothing to stop a man on an elevator inviting a woman back to his room for “coffee.”  It is much to general and amounts to a wordy, “Please behave yourself.” Of course, if this meant the same thing to all people, it wouldn’t be necessary.

So, what to prohibit? I’d propose starting with, “No sexual attention of any kind is to be solicited or given when either party knows, or should know, the attention is unwanted. Sexual attention given in objectively unreasonable conditions shall be presumptively unreasonable. Unreasonable conditions include confined spaces, elevators, stairwells, restrooms [and more!]”

It would be nice if we didn’t have to talk about this anymore, and by that I mean: It would be nice if people would all just calm down and act like human fucking beings.


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