This was actually created for a class assignment, but hosting it here, on my own blog, still seemed fitting. Created using a cell phone, my drawings and other things directly related to the subject. :)

Think of this post as the science of drawing the space between the pumpkins, while observing human behavior.

 

For my social media class, I needed to watch the documentary, We Live in Public, which is all about the ongoing developments in Josh Harris’ life in how he helped build a portion of where the internet has gone. In fact, people believe that Josh Harris predicted where the internet has gone, with his many projects. He predicted that we would constantly watch and be watched by the internet. His ideas were that we would essentially program each other. And, interestingly, he was able to see something of how the programming of people can work. Even the movie suggests that Harris’ work and philosophy predicted how the internet works, today.

While he made a few correct predictions, I think they’re wrong. There are things that Harris just didn’t take into account about the internet. His perspective was based more on the scary environment we see in works such as 1984, from Orwell, but it is not really what we have now, at this point.

To begin, I should probably talk a bit about my experiences as a webcam model, not too long ago. Once upon a time, as I was navigating the adult industry, I found that doing work as a phone sex actress and cam girl, in the depressed economy of Eastern Oregon, was the best option that I had that could both answer my curiosities about human sexuality and could also earn me money. Making money while learning things seemed like a great idea, especially for someone who’s sexuality had suffered from the extremely biased conditions she grew up in. This exploration not only paid the bills and gave me the information I wanted about human sexuality and the adult industry, in a way that no academic persuit ever could have, it also led to me learning a lot about self-exposure. It was there that my understanding of things like consent, boundaries, privacy and performance were more finely developed than any of my anthropological, sociological or gender studies courses ever could have done.

I lived a life that, for at least 8-10 hours per day, was exposed. While it wasn’t a 24 hour exposure experience, like the experience of Harris and his wife in their wired house, living in public, the time I spent being watched did show me some interesting things. Not only was I in public view for several hours a day, I was also in public view in some of the most intimate forms, much like the people in Harris’ Quiet experiment. There are few places that are an experience of greater exposure while being intimate than the experience of masturbating to a shared fantasy, on camera, while you’re watching someone else masturbate.

But, there is a very dramatic difference between what I did, and what happened in the underground bunker of the Wired City and these things are precisely the reasons why some of Harris’ predictions missed the mark. When it comes down to it, I had control over my experiences, I had the power of ongoing consent, my behavior was tied to my ongoing well-being and ability to support myself and I could have a private moment any time I wanted.

I write about consent quite often. I speak about the topic at events, I train people on consent and ethics and I’m an activist that is known for being an advocate of consent culture. When it comes to the topic of consent, I am generally considered an expert. One aspect of consent that people have some trouble with is linked to the problem that was faced by people in the Quiet experiment, featured in the film, We Live In Public. While the people who went to live in this small city of chaos did so willingly, their ongoing consent wasn’t necessarily respected or even checked on. Instead, their consent was a matter of a social expectation. As happened in the Milgram experiment, the effect of authority, on the situation, led to people being completely willing to do awful things and to let awful things happen to themselves and others. Authority, in this case, can even include the pressure from the peer group. Nobody outside the situation approached these people and checked to see if their consent to be there was still really ongoing and enthusiastic. Instead, it was simply assumed that the consent was there – the consent to be watched, the consent to losing privacy, the consent to be vulnerable and risk victimization. Of course, nobody checks on our consent in most of our every day lives, one could argue, but most of our everyday lives aren’t spent locked in a bunker with cameras on them at all times. (This is the thing that makes many reality shows on TV exist in a very hazy ethical area). Harris’ wife suffered the same fate. She consented in the beginning of their project, “We Live In Public,” but, her consent was clearly not ongoing, and she had no power to turn it off, until she left the relationship. When I was working on webcam, I was able to turn it off anytime I wanted to. I could choose to be public, or I could choose to re-establish my privacy. I could set my boundaries and I could take a day off from the internet, whenever I liked. The participants in these experiments simply couldn’t do that. But most people on the internet, as we experience it, today, have the power to turn off their cameras and we’re developing social norms surrounding privacy, so that they can continue to do just that.

Harris’ experiments also meant that the people involved didn’t really have a lot of control over things that were going on, even when he was the subject, himself. They didn’t know when another person would invade their privacy, unexpectedly. They weren’t able to decide when and where a camera was following them. Their decisions were often driven by the cameras and the viewers. Constantly under the pressure of others, their decisions generally were not about themselves or their own well-being. When I spent time on webcam, my decisions were mostly about me. I had the control, and I enjoyed that. When animals or people are exposed to situations that they feel trapped in, they often learn to remain in those situations, without recognition of ways to get out. They learn to respond helplessly, termed “learned helplessness.” One of the key elements is the perceived absence of control over things that are going on around them or the results of a situation. The theory of learned helplessness implies that many mental illnesses are the result of this problem. So, it is literally the case that my control over my situation led to a very healthy relationship with the interactive media I was producing, in my personal experience, in live pornography. People who felt trapped in Harris’ experiments, however, did not have that control. They were taught by the situation that they were not in control. Harris’ philosophy failed to predict that cameras might have an off button and that society may learn to accept and encourage its use.

Another element of what I was doing is that I was highly motivated to do what I was doing because it helped me to survive in the healthiest way I could, at the time. That isn’t to say I was doing well, as my early days in the adult industry were not financially lucrative, but it kept me alive and kept me from having to do more degrading work (bidding for long-distance office jobs for pocket change, per hour), and I had the bonus of learning something interesting about a subject I felt was important. While the participants of Harris’ experiments were certainly surviving in their environment, their survival didn’t necessarily rely on their behaviors and interactions. Their food was provided for them, their basic needs were covered and they were allowed to be creative and do as they wished. I’m not sure if supporting oneself is really very closely tied to one’s mental well-being, but boredom certainly is and someone considering one’s own survival actually prevents boredom. It also means that the motivation behind my work, as an entertainer, was sometimes more basic than the motivation that these people, used as entertainers for each other, had. And my experience did teach me something very important: Sometimes, you don’t want to be an entertainer. There were times when I wasn’t into my work. Sometimes, I had to turn off the camera, because I needed time for myself. Sometimes, I had to hang up the phone, because I needed time for myself. I never had to feel like that option didn’t exist.

Part of the the message that we get from the documentary on Harris is that he felt that our technology forces us to abandon our sense of privacy. Indeed, many people have expressed that same concern. In a World where people seem to think that we’re always public with everything, now, privacy is the white space in-between. Much like how we make our lives very public, we also need to make our lives very private. As humans, we need social interactions, but we also need the ability to withdraw and make decisions, especially when we’re uncomfortable.

That’s where Harris’ predictions are not as prophetic as people seem to think. He considered people’s desire for exhibitionism and played out his own exhibitionist fantasies, but he didn’t understand the behaviors we have surrounding that. Harris didn’t account for social media to naturally fit into people’s needs for both social interactions and attention and love, but also to fit into people’s needs for privacy, for control and for some sort of sense of security.

Harris was also misguided in how the internet is controlled by us and controls us. He seemed to believe that the internet would somehow shape us in some homogenizing fashion, and his animation, that depicted people with TV sets for heads, being all uniform and such, saying “Come form with me, conform with me,” suggested this very thing. But, that doesn’t appear to be what the internet is doing. Perhaps this is part of my life that is colored by my activist work, but the internet seems to share information so rapidly, that people are beginning to more efficiently create social change and create environments of greater acceptance for those who used to be rejected by society for not conforming. The internet seems to also foster creativity, so that new things are being invented and introduced to us, constantly. Acceptance of diversity is not a conformist stance, and neither is the drive to create new and exciting things. So, while Harris may have been right that the internet would drive our social lives, he was wrong about the degree to which it would and the directions it would take. He was wrong about how we would adapt to it.

Mar 012013

In my Social Media class, and in many places where I’ve seen people go over the topic of trolling and harassment, I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in the approach to the topic. Trolls, in their discussion, are seen as one of the “others.” Much like the ingroup/outgroup approach to other aspects of life, trolls are easier for us to think about when trolls are not us, or are not our peers. But, the reality is, the subject is not so simple.

Trolls, harassment, and other maladaptive traits we see on the internet are related. They aren’t necessarily always seen together, nor are they the same thing. They are overlapping categories of behavior. These categories of behavior, though, have a few things in common. For one, most of them ignore the basic needs of the other, and tend to be more about what the individual wants or does not want, from the other. Sometimes, the individual lacks an understanding about boundaries online. They also tend to be intimately tied to personal biases. Lastly, there is also often a lack of self control, involved, in harmful actions associated with them.

Ignoring the basic needs of other people isn’t really that unusual, by itself. When you go about your day, it is actually pretty rare for you to consider what other people need from you unless their needs are somehow tied to yours. From the person who validates your parking, to the person who washed your dishes after you ate at a restaurant, your brain is too preoccupied with whatever’s going on in your immediate vicinity to worry about them. Sometimes, this tendency involves people much closer to us, too. The needs of an employee, for example, often don’t take priority over the needs of their boss. Many people even behave this way to their direct peers, like their classmates or co-workers. When they’re hungry, the fact that their co-worker hasn’t eaten all day doesn’t really concern them, unless they’ve become emotionally invested in that person’s well-being.

And, not to sound too cynical about human behavior, but this self-interest often involves people requiring those who’s needs they don’t consider to do things to meet their needs. So that person A, who wants a bagel, has no problem demanding that person B, who needs a 15 minute break from their job at the bakery, sell them a bagel with all of their own personal demands being met, instead of waiting thirty seconds for the other bakery employee (I’ve seen that exact thing happen, and similar things, countless times). On the internet, this behavior can translate into some very self-serving forms of trolling. For example, the webcomic XKCD doesn’t just have a huge fanbase, it also has a huge anti-fanbase that revolves around the idea that XKCD should serve to meet their own needs and opinions. This particular group of people don’t seem to be doing it to do any real, actual harm to anyone. Instead, they’ve decided that since XKCD doesn’t meet their own standard, it is worth the effort of maintaining a regular blog on the topic. Said regular blog maintenance seems to even include complaining about the author’s dealing with his wife having cancer through his expression in his own publication. It is as if this community believes that their own need for satisfaction over this comic is more important than another human being’s self-expression about their own experiences, even a very personal and painful one. Their intent may not be malicious, overall, but the effect of it still can cause harm.

Most people are familiar with what stalking looks like in the offline World. If someone shows up, unwelcome, to someone’s home, after following them around, most people understand that is not appropriate behavior. It crosses personal boundaries. Invading people’s privacy is understood to be a personal violation. From the guy who sailed for thousands of miles to stalk a waitress, in an attempt to get her to marry him to the guy who became famous for stalking Jodie Foster and trying to assasinate a president in order to gain her affection, we seem to have an idea of what it looks like when people are uncertain of real-life boundaries. Still, those boundaries get crossed by people who don’t understand boundaries and perspectives. So, in a place where we can’t actually interact with people in a way that shows boundaries, those boundaries might seem even more complicated and are easier to cross, online. When it comes to stalking, many say it feels or seems harmless, because who’s going to know? But stalking your ex-boyfriend might have consequences, and so might stalking a stranger that you think you love.

Many instances of internet trolling seem to involve the crossing of boundaries, online. This can often evolve into stalking. They try to get information about the victim, they follow the victim around in various aspects of their online life and they sometimes encourage others to harass them. In many ways, online harassment is much like harassment that happens in-person. If the person doing the harassing can follow their victim, they will. Just as in the offline world, this doesn’t have to be about animosity toward the victim, either. Sometimes, it is affection. One of my own experiences with stalking involved a man who felt so attracted to me, when I performed on webcam, that he tried to get me to show up to a shop, that he decided on, with a list of items that one might need if they were going on a trip. He didn’t ask me to do this, he told me to, with some sort of expectation that I would do as he said, without question. The man had checked all of my online profiles to learn about where I lived, he accumulated information from my Facebook page, OKCupid, Twitter and places where I had published my writing so that he could try to lure me to one place. While it was pretty scary that he did those things, it was clear that he didn’t do them to be cruel or mean or with any intent to harm. He did them because he thought he loved me and he was confused at why I wouldn’t love him back (I barely knew him, while his online stalking led to him knowing me very well).

Since the internet is a relatively new element of our culture, we haven’t yet developed a system of boundaries that is as clear as those we understand and apply to our everyday, in-the-flesh lives. Ideas like not hanging out where you’re not wanted are not easily translated from real life onto the internet. We more easily understand that, in real life, forcing people into social situations that they may or may not enjoy is inappropriate. But, on Facebook, for example, adding people to groups without asking them is a regular, every day thing. Boundaries, online, should exist as much as they exist in the corporeal world, but because we’ve yet to establish clear ideas about them, many people accidentally cross personal boundaries, all of the time.

Personal biases also play a huge role in motivating trolling behavior. Not only are we reinforced by trying to teach other people how right we are with our biases, when we’re told we’re wrong, our stance may be reinforced. While it is still unknown what motivates internet arguing or trolling, it is quite possible that the reinforcement that people get from pursuing interests, online, is not unlike what they do in-person, but with fewer immediate consequences. Because of the lack of immediate consequences and the reinforcement of personal beliefs, trolls involved in debates and conversations may not think of themselves as trolls, but may think they’re actually trying to educate you or do something positive. Just as most people don’t think that they’re bad people and don’t think they’re wrong. Trolls often don’t think they’re wrong or bad.

Most of the time, when people call out a troll, it is because of something that person did that was so extreme, more people can acknowledge the misbehavior as misbehavior. The behavior often has been ongoing for some time, but then it is suddenly highlighted as a problem. People often get obsessive about some things. This can happen to the point that the initial problem that the individual was trying to focus on might be forgotten and replaced with something else. An obsession about being right about a specific topic can sometimes turn into an obsession about the person the individual is arguing against. There is even some self-awareness about this problem. We, as a culture, have acknowledged our inability to leave debates we get involved in (see, again, XKCD’s “Duty Calls”).

Many of these behaviors, if not most, might be found in the average person, to some degree. They aren’t isolated behaviors, so that means that harassment, trolling and stalking can easily overlap and even be linked in a single person’s behavior. But, at what point is it trolling and not normal behavior? When is it harmful?

Well, that all depends on perspective. People can have long, drawn out, healthy relationships that might involve some of the behaviors that I’ve described in this article, but because each party is being polite or accepts the way the conversation has gone, it may not be seen as an unhealthy conversation and each person involved likely don’t see others as trolls. However, if a line has been crossed where there is something that can be harmful, that is done, it is quite possible that the person who did it was actually trolling. The reason is, it doesn’t matter if the person who did it didn’t intend harm. It matters how the person who had to deal with it felt.

If you’re standing in a coffee shop and the person standing a foot in front of you says you’re standing too close. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you’re standing too close. The reality is, the person in front of you set a boundary and you’re violating it. You’re standing too close, no matter if you think so or not. This topic is usually not really about the person perpetuating the problem. Instead, it is about the kind of human hurt they might be causing. It is about how they might be harming others.

In light of these things, perhaps it is a good plan to build an understanding of how boundaries might work, online. Here’s a general (possibly incomplete) guideline:

  1. If it involves insults, with the intent to harm, it is probably trolling.
  2. Don’t follow people around the internet, or even an individual website, unless they’ve given you permission to. It is better to ask permission, than to force that person to deal with feeling like you’re invading their privacy. It is one thing if the person has very public spaces for you to read, like a blog, or an unprotected twitter account. It is implied that since such spaces are public, the public is welcome to view them. But, ask them before friending them on Facebook, or entering any other personal online space, of theirs.
  3. Try to consider how other people see you. Just because you’ve read everything a person has ever written online, doesn’t mean that they know who you are. Our experience online makes it easy for one person to get to know another, without their person of interest getting to know them. If you learn a lot about someone, it helps if you assume that you are completely new, to them.
  4. Don’t ignore criticism. While someone may be very emotional when they criticize something you’ve done, don’t ignore it. They may be right that a bias is showing that you didn’t know was there.
  5. While it is unlikely that everyone you meet on the internet will know everything that you do, you have to assume that other people know stuff. This stuff that they know could help you to understand them. So, ask questions.
  6. Don’t assume that other people online are there for your entertainment or that they have time to spend interacting with you. Nobody is obligated to do anything for you, online.
  7. Don’t depend on your friends to tell you that you are right or wrong. It is your responsibility, all by yourself, to determine if you might be causing harm to others. Take a moment and decide how you would feel if you were the target of your own actions. (For this point, I give a nod to the blog, whatever, as I modified it from their creeper article).
  8. Don’t expect others to share your sense of humor.
  9. Don’t expect others to cater to your desired level of sexual conversation. If they are in their own internet space, it is their right to talk about sex at the level they wish. If you are in their space, though, you don’t get to set that level. Also, don’t expect someone who does express themselves, sexually, somewhere to want to discuss sex with you. Just because someone is sexual doesn’t mean they don’t want to choose how, when, and with whom they are sexual. Being sexual doesn’t make a person less picky about their sexuality.
  10. If you’re interacting with people in their space, on the internet, and they make it clear that they don’t want you around. Leave.
  11. Never contact someone in the flesh-world unless you’ve asked them for permission and they gave it.

Something that I just saw in my Facebook feed brings to mind a complaint I have about an argument that frequently comes up against many of the things I stand for. In cases addressing things like sexual freedom and sex work; in discussing issues such as rape and social expectations about personal safety; in discussions about people’s rights to choose the right birth control or even the right to choose how much clothing or make up to wear, people often respond:

“Yes, you should have that freedom, in an Ideal World, but we don’t live in that Ideal World.”

This statement is usually preceded or followed by that person’s idea of what should be restricted in order to deal with the fact that we don’t live in this “Ideal World.” Some of these restrictions are suggestions for laws and some are suggestions about self-restriction for individuals or social groups. From anti-provocative clothing rants to debates over if laws should allow people to prance around their yards naked, the “Ideal World” argument is used to argue for restricting healthy (or unhealthy, but not harmful to others) human behaviors, especially human behaviors related to sexuality (and this argument doesn’t seem to favor one side over the other, as it is used as an argument in favor of ignoring sex education that advocates consent over rape-defense as well as an argument in favor of banning pornography – it gets used all over the opinionated, multi-dimensional spectrum).

This is a horrible argument. Restricting behavior because we don’t live in an “Ideal World,” for that behavior to exist in, is a ridiculous argument for or against anything. We don’t live in an “Ideal World” for nearly anything that you do nearly any day of your life, ever, to exist in (I only used the term “nearly,” there, because I don’t like absolutes if they aren’t within a proper mathematical expression and/or are a part of scientific laws – so by “nearly anything,” I really mean “anything” and by “nearly any”, I really mean “any”). We don’t live in an “Ideal World” for you to walk your dog in (there aren’t poop buckets and shovels conveniently placed in easily accessible locations, everywhere, in every park and on every street corner); we don’t live in an “Ideal World” for you to wander the wilds in (lions might eat you or zombies or something else that would be a horrifying creature to be eaten by); we don’t even live in an “Ideal World” for you to age in (aging seems to have a strong correlation with dying).

Part of this is because there is no clear definition for this kind of thing. Who’s ideal are you concerned about, anyway? Who gets to define what is ideal and how the hell is that person going to address every single detail of everything, everywhere, in order to define such a thing? And, in the event that this ideal conflicts with the ideal of another, is it still ideal, because of who said it is ideal, or is there some sort of new ideal, set by the standard of the conflicting party? Does such a scenario cause a social implosion akin to matter coming into contact with anti-matter? Or, does the ideal suddenly become Schrodinger’s ideal, simultaneously being ideal and not ideal, at the same time?! (Yes, I absolutely, intentionally, misused the Schrodinger analogy for the purpose of that joke and I am 100% pleased with it, because it made me giggle to myself – neener, fellow nerd folk, neener).  The ideal social environment is either unknowable or is an absolute impossibility (unless we delve into the concept of existence being perfection, which is a poorly constructed argument used to excuse a number of things, in philosophy, including the existence of a deity or islands). Trying to get people to modify behavior because their behavior doesn’t exist in a social vacuum is misguided and it certainly doesn’t help us work towards an environment in which those behaviors can safely exist.

In fact, the very idea that not living in an environment suited for something warrants banning that thing that should be a part of an individual’s rights to make their own choices, is patronizing and basically means that we can’t tolerate teaching ourselves, as a society, to behave responsibly. Thus, we must treat ourselves and each other like perpetually irresponsible children, who need to be protected from ourselves and the horrifying, doggie bag shortaged, zombie and lion risk containing (possibly, with one of those being more risky than the other), aging and dying, non-ideal world out there, in such a way that our protection actually interferes with our own well-being and self-expression (including self-expression that contains horrifying run-on sentences and commentaries in parentheses that might contribute to the expression becoming increasingly more confusing, much to the confusion and dismay of the reader while simultaneously entertaining the author, for no particular reason).

So, if we don’t live in an “Ideal World” so that pornography is always filled with fully willing and consenting and enthusiastic participants, let’s allow pornography to exist and work on ridding ourselves of the flaws in our social structure that keep us farther away from this ideal goal.

If we don’t live in an “Ideal World” where people should be able to be naked on their own property, without having to worry about an attack on them, then let’s not restrict the naked people, but, instead, lets fix the stupid social norms that we have that discriminate against them or might cause them harm.

Dis-empowering people over a concern that we “don’t live in an Ideal World” has never made sense. We will never live in an “Ideal World,” but, damn it, we can get a hell of a lot closer to an ideal if we try to fix the problems that make it less ideal, instead of penalizing those who challenge the environment that facilitates those problems (so let me watch and make my porn in peace, OK, even when zombies are involved).

Last night, when I was playing, of all things, World of Warcraft, a game that I enjoy when I can dedicate some time to relaxing, I went on a quest more serious than any I have ever done in my entire life of gaming: A quest to decide if a rape joke was funny. Not only was this a serious quest inspired by something that happened in-game, but it was because I had made a comment about something that happens regularly in gaming. So, before I tell you all about rape jokes, let me give you a little gaming back ground, to help you understand the example I’m about to use.

In gaming, especially in MMOs, it is really common to get quests to save a population of people represented by non-player characters (NPCs), who face an extreme situation that they need help out of. Usually, though, your quest has a kind of minimum requirement. If you have a quest to vaccinate bears from disease, your quest might only require you to do 7; if you have a quest to save drowning military personnel, your quest may only require that you save 8; if you have a quest to stop the perpetuation of stupid myths about men, women, and family archetypes, once you’ve changed the views of 10 people, you’re done and can turn in your quest. The rest of the diseased bears, drowning victims and sexist douchebags are left to suffer whatever horrifying fate you were asked to save some of them from, because MMOs don’t account for over-achievers. In fact, not only does the quest not make you save more than a certain number, in some cases you *can’t* do more than the number needed after you’ve saved your requirement, due to an equipment limitation. Also, you’re in a game where a few million other people need enough NPCs to save, too, which is probably why some games have that limitation. If someone saved everyone, then everyone else has to wait for more drowning soldiers to respawn before they can finish their quest.

Also, many MMOs have “guilds,” who consist of the people that you regularly cooperate with, in-game, to obtain social perks, to bullshit with while you’re blowing up enemies and to share resources with. So, while I was saving drowning victims, last night, in an area that I was new to, I commented to the guild about how these quests where you save only a few people is basically one that implies that the people you leave behind are screwed. It is an unstated fact, but the fact becomes pretty apparent, to me, while I’m playing. In response, one of my guild mates said that the people over at Penny Arcade had made a comic about that and someone else commented that it had caused a bit of an internet skirmish. So, I began searching on the internet about this comic that I had missed, which my friends informed me was called “Dickwolves.” (Note: This “Dickwolves” thing happened in 2010 – bear in mind some time has passed since then. I don’t wish to revive this controversy for the people involved, I am using it as an example).

So, I’m going to leave that conversation, for a moment, and jump to another experience, and we’ll get back to the Penny Arcade comic, in a moment. A couple years ago, I was visiting a guy friend in Seattle, and he wanted to take me to a movie. So, we went to see The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, because I had heard all kinds of things about it, and I had seen the other movie options available, at the time. I hadn’t realized, though, that there would be a couple scenes that I found disturbing. Once the first rape scene began, I became very tense and felt like I was going to cry. My friend, who’s a very perceptive person, apparently, took notice. I survived the scene, but I was upset as the movie progressed. When the next rape scene was about the happen, my friend leaned over and quietly gave me a warning, so I was able to leave during just that scene, and then return when I thought it was safe. That was very kind of my friend. I don’t have a problem with movies existing that have violent content, or even content with violent sex scenes. However, it is nice when people give me a warning. That’s a polite thing to do. In fact, it is nice when most people are aware enough to help me not have to deal with small mental meltdowns. Because, sometimes, there are things that remind me of what happened to me and while other people are watching a scene in a movie, I have to re-live the worst experience of my entire life.

So, imagine, for a moment, that you’re in an environment where there are lots of people who are familiar with the movie, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Next, imagine that you find out that there are people selling shirts that say, “team Nils Bjurman,” referencing the rapist in the movie. Would that make you feel uncomfortable? Admittedly, Bjurman is a fictional character, but these T-shirts are meant for real people. Suddenly, the fictional character, who was a part of one of the most uncomfortable parts of the film can be represented, right in front of you, in real life, on a real person. Obviously, any person who would want a shirt like that is well within their rights to do so. But, just as nice as it is for someone to give a person a warning about risks before they witness something that could be painful to them, it is mean to force others to deal with witnessing that thing, intentionally. That isn’t to say that anyone who would wear a “team Nils Bjurman” shirt is a bad person, but their shirt does have an impact on others that probably shouldn’t be ignored.

So, back to the Penny Arcade fiasco. Penny Arcade had a comic in which a character, one like what you would play in an MMO, is addressed by an NPC who is apparently the kind he’s supposed to save for his quest. The NPC describes the conditions that he is stuck in (NPCs in danger commonly say things related to the quest, that are designed to inspire empathy), he says, “Every morning, we are roused by savage blows. Every night, we are raped to sleep by the dickwolves.” The response of the player character, though, was to dismiss him because, well, he’s fulfilled his quota that the quest required. The original comic was funny, and given the unlikelihood of a person reading the comic identifying with the dickwolves’ captive, it was at least somewhat well done. When I saw it, I instantly recognized it was exactly in-line with what I was commenting on to my friends in my guild. Even the most horrible situation in an MMO can result in that kind of problem. The Penny Arcade comic was trying to highlight that. So, what was the most horrible thing they could think of at the moment? The dickwolves that rape, obviously.

This comic, though, was found to be offensive by many people who feel that rape jokes shouldn’t be made. And so the Penny Arcade guys did a couple things, one of which was probably a bad move. First, they made a comic about the offensive comic and how they felt about the response.

It used to be common for people to ask, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” And, until very recently, people thought it was a profound joke, because chickens lay eggs and chickens come from eggs. For a very long time, people argued that joking about rape would desensitize people to rape, making them more likely to be comfortable with it. Being a rapist, they claimed, would probably make it easier to find rape funny. Which came first, the rapist or the rape joke? The second Penny Arcade comic, which referred to the first, addressed only this problem, but ignored much of the rest of the commentary about what they had done.

Then, they made a T-Shirt (and apparently a pennant), that looked like a school mascot emblazoned, team logo shirt that might be worn by someone in college or high school, and it supported (can you guess?) Dickwolves! Yes, they made a “team Dickwolves” T-Shirt.

While Penny Arcade did not take down the comics that people found offensive, they did eventually take down the Dickwolves T-Shirt. But, they didn’t seem to like it. It seems that someone did manage to make some good points, but their reasoning for taking it down, they said, was to keep people from feeling uncomfortable. The didn’t, however, acknowledge that maybe that shirt was tasteless or maybe there was an element of something not-quite-right with it.

Now, I did notice, in the conversations I saw, a lot of people complaining about censorship. So, I’m going to make a brief note on that. When someone censors themselves, it is OK. Along with the right to freedom of speech, we also have the right to self-censorship. We especially have a right to self-censorship when not censoring ourselves might allow us to continue with selling something that might be considered a mistake. No controlling body stepped in and forced Penny Arcade to remove the shirt. They chose to do that, themselves.

I also want to note that I don’t have anything against Penny Arcade and I hope that people don’t angry-face-on-the-internet at them for something they did a few years ago that they probably hoped was past them, by now. I used them as an example because it was a perfect example for what I keep encountering in the conversations online about rape jokes. When people ask if a rape joke can be funny, there are several schools of thought. Two schools are completely opposed to each other and represent the extreme:

  1. NO, rape jokes are never funny.
  2. Yes, rape jokes are funny and we shouldn’t complain about comedians.

Most people, though, seem to land somewhere in between those.

Last year, Daniel Tosh made this comment to his audience a while after a girl heckled him about a rape joke: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

That joke brought the reality of rape out of the funny for a lot of people. Would it be funny if the girl got raped, right then? No, and most people seemed to realize that. The reality was, Tosh’s joke labeled the woman as a victim, right there, and real people as her attackers. That’s not funny, anymore. That brings the joke about something horrible into a possible reality of something horrible. I would have felt pretty uncomfortable, too, if I had witnessed it.

Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade managed to make a joke about rape, that was not set in reality, that was funny and that we could use to reasonably view something as horrifying, but keep our distance from it, so that it could be seen as funny. BUT, they also put an element of that joke into a reality that made people wear the label as supporters of the actual horrifying thing.

So, what makes a rape joke something to be concerned about or something that we can laugh at? Well, it seems that at least one thing that comes into play is that joke’s proximity to reality. Famously, George Carlin commented that anything can be funny. “Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd,” was Carlin’s proof that rape can be funny. Just prior to that, though, Carlin said that he thinks rape is hilarious, in his lead-in to that joke. But, his example was a joke about rape in a fantasy context. It was put in a safe place, where we don’t have to identify with it; where it didn’t have a real form; where the horrifying nature of rape is a part of what made the joke funny.

Also last year, after Todd Akin made his comments about rape, The Renegade Raging Grannies, a local group, came up with this clever song. It, too, was a rape joke. It was a rape joke that made fun of the horrifying nature of what Akin had said, and that is what made it funny. Here are the lyrics, from their website:

“Legitimate rape” is great birth control.
So says Todd Akin, and he oughta know.
If we are raped we can rest unafraid,
‘Cause we can’t get pregnant if forcibly laid.

Our female bodies are clever that way,
We only get pregnant when we say “okay.”
Doctors have told him, so it must be so,
The stork only comes if we don’t say “No!”

Rape won’t make babies and that is a fact;
There’s no global warming; the Earth’s really flat.
We heard it on FOX News so it must be true.
Well, Mr. Akin, we say “FUCK YOU!”

So, rape jokes can be funny, but there’s reason to examine why many rape jokes should be avoided. It isn’t because people want to tell you what to say (an accusation that Carlin made), it is because it is more polite to not put people into the uncomfortable position of seeing it as a personal reality. Much like it is polite not to force someone to witness something that is a serious reminder of a traumatic experience, or to help prevent that. Essentially, you can joke about anything you like, including rape, but don’t actually be a Dickwolf.

Every year, it seems, people in the North American (specifically, the U. S.) culture, look forward to the Superbowl as a cultural tradition. Even people who don’t enjoy watching football throughout the year will tune in to the event and many tune in just because of the famous advertising campaigns which are launched during the Superbowl. After the Superbowl, there are, then, reviews of the commercials to talk about what was the funniest and there are reviews of the ads to find out which were the most sexist. And, traditionally (however sad that is), many of them are sexist.

I watched the Superbowl because Sushi Fairy* and some of his family invited me to watch it with them. It was a good time to be around awesome people, for me, and while I can’t sit through a Football game and give it my complete attention, I was able to pay attention to most of it, get some reading done and see all the commercials that I cared about. There was one commercial that, as soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to get emails about. I even commented to the people I was with about what I thought was problematic with the commercial, and I logged into Facebook, anticipating what messages I would get related to it.

What I was expecting was an email that would ask if this commercial was a violation of someone’s space – was it a sexual assault or some sexual violation? I didn’t expect the question in those words, because that’s not how people usually write to me about these things. Since I have spoken about topics such as sexual assault and sexual harassment, before, and because my approach is not based on reactionary ideas, and because I train people to not harm others and because I teach people how to deal with the crisis of facing a potential sexual assault or being sexually assaulted, many people ask me for input on various situations that they think might be sexual assault. I was expecting emails that might have been even so extreme to suggest a Superbowl not-quite-rape commercial. Fortunately, that’s not what I got. In fact, the question was so well asked, I suspect the person had an idea of what the right answer was, but just wanted to be sure. So, I decided to write about it, right away, even in my sleep-deprived state, right now.

I’m betting, right now, that most of you are trying to guess at which commercial I’m talking about. Some of you might think I’m talking about the godaddy commercial, from a company which is notorious for sexually provocative commercials. Though their commercial, this year, reinforced horrible stereotypes, that’s not the one. Some of you might think it is the single boy prom commercial, where a boy drives a an Audi to prom, without a date, and then kisses the prom queen, seemingly without consent, and then got a black eye for it. While that does have some problematic moments, that’s also not it. Here’s part of the message I received, a little while ago:

I don’t know if you watched the Superbowl, but there was an ad that bothered me. Having woken up after a one-night stand, a guy tries to sneak out, but first tries to take his shirt off of the girl sleeping in the bed. It is his shirt, but she’s unable to set her limits when she is sleeping. Is he doing something wrong?

I like this question! It offers a situation that opens up communication, about something people can identify with, without making it confrontational. The reality is, that commercial was uncomfortable, but most people are unlikely to know why, because the situation is one that many people identify with. The one-night stand is a commonly referenced aspect of our culture. We see it as something people do, and we see it (rightly so) as a healthy aspect of human sexuality. So, let’s give this situation some serious thought.

First, let’s consider the context implied in the commercial. The young man seems to wake up in a strange place, under strange conditions, presumably unaware of exactly what happened the night before. It is assumed that they had a good time, but since he seems mildly confused and panicked, the scene is already set in the uncomfortable shadow of the unknown. With one side of a pair of handcuffs still dangling from his wrist, he prepares to go, realizes that his T-shirt is still on the person, in bed, who apparently put the handcuffs on him, and he wants his shirt. So far, there’s really not any indication of malicious or horrifying behavior, but there is a hint of unawareness. In most one-night stands, the topic of sexual boundaries isn’t necessarily discussed, unless it comes up while the sex is happening. But, we don’t actually know what the boundaries were in this commercial. Since only one side of the handcuffs are still on the guy, we can assume something was mentioned about boundaries, because we think he probably consented to the cuffs being put on (but we don’t know, really).

But sexual boundaries while having sex don’t necessarily extend to boundaries when one is asleep. Many people don’t like to be bothered or touched, when they are sleeping. It is also not a common practice to talk about boundaries and sleep before people are in a sexual experience together and probably not before sleeping together after the sexual experience. So, it is unlikely that he had prior permission to remove the shirt from her. While removing the shirt is not, itself, sexually violating her, it is violating her in that there’s no reason to believe that she gave him permission to handle her body, while she was sleeping.

When I saw the commercial, I said something to the others in the room to the effect of, “why doesn’t he just wake her up?” To which Sushi Fairy’s friend said, “because he’s trying to sneak out.” I knew that, of course, but I didn’t clarify my question, because it was a bad time for the discussion that would necessarily develop. Basically, he’s already had sex with her, but even with that level of intimacy that he’s experienced with her, he can’t be bothered to face her, in his awkward-post unplanned sex experience, to wake her up to get his property. He wants to sneak out because, in our culture, that’s what you do to deal with post-sex regret.

But that tendency is maladaptive. We actually don’t have a post-sex discussion trend, we don’t know how to deal with post-sex. Even the kink community doesn’t talk about how to safely deal with casual sex. We do have a very rational movement to encourage people to talk about sex and STIs before having sex, but that movement isn’t very strong and it often ignores the fact that people thinking in-the-moment, while intensely sexually driven, are unlikely to talk about it, beforehand. If they’re very well informed, they might talk about condoms, or they might assume that condoms will be used and then use them. But, they’re not likely to discuss the details of sex and STIs. That means that there’s sexual aftercare that should be done, but that people are likely to be opposed to: The after-sex conversation.

In an ideal World, this would not be necessary, but in the World where people have sex and don’t plan ahead, this is very important. You have to talk about what you did. You need to know about when the person was last tested for STIs. You need to talk about protection you used and how to deal with it (disposing of condoms properly is generally a good idea, and worth talking about). If you had full, heterosexual intercourse, you need to talk about pregnancy risk. And, especially, if people were intoxicated, you should probably talk about what happened, because finding out later that something ethically shady or unpleasant for someone occurred would be worse if you waited, rather than talking about it right then, and letting the person know that their safety and concerns are important and valid. The conversation of “where do we go from here?” is also a reasonable conversation to have, even if the answer to that is, “I can’t see you again,” or, “I really just wanted sex, and I should have told you that’s all I wanted, before, but that was my mistake, sorry!”

I realize that such expectations are likely to seem extreme, to many people, but if we are to take our sexuality seriously and if we want to be sexually healthy individuals, we need to be able to ethically and rationally respond to our sexual experiences. Taking responsibility for one’s sexual actions is not a Bad Thing ™. Sneaking out of someone’s house after a one-night stand is not taking responsibility from one’s sexual actions, it is avoiding the responsibility.

So, this is more than just about who owns the shirt and how he didn’t have permission (I’m guessing) to touch and expose a sleeping person. This is about responsibility for all of one’s actions and avoiding being a person who is willing to not only avoid their responsibility to the person they had sex with, but doing so while violating that person in some manner.

Before people’s panties get in a bunch, bear in mind that:

  1. I’m not calling this rape or sexual assault. I know how many in the community like to claim that people are crying ‘rape’ when they aren’t, so I wanted to put that out there. There’s not enough information in the commercial to see the full context of what happened. The advertisers left that open to interpretation.
  2. If she gave him permission before going to sleep to take the shirt off of her while she was sleeping, then there is nothing wrong with what the commercial portrayed, based on what was in the commercial.
  3. It is a new and controversial idea to question what the norms are after a one-night-stand. I’m aware of that, but I think the conversation needs to be had.
  4. I have no problem with one-night-stands, when everybody is a consenting adult.
  5. I acknowledge that there’s a hint that the couple in the commercial were intoxicated, but since nothing told me to what degree, I won’t bother discussing alcohol, sex and consent, right now, other than to say if someone is more than mildly intoxicated, the odds are high that they can’t actually give informed consent because their judgement might be impaired. I didn’t see a reason to assume that applied in the story conveyed by the commercial.

I’m really glad that the person who first asked me about the commercial did so in a thoughtful way. This is one of those elements of culture that are worth questioning, but are also hard to question. We often examine what has now been termed rape culture, but we do it in clear terms, using black-and-white scenarios, not the grey area scenarios that commonly exist. These scenarios, where there’s some question as to what, exactly, happened, are some of the most useful examples we can discuss.

 

*For those who don’t know, Sushi Fairy is someone I’m in a relationship with who I refer to with a pet name to try to help him maintain his privacy.

I’m not entirely sure how to do this. It is quite possible you are about to read the most uncomfortable thing I have ever written for public consumption. It is very personal and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed about it.

I’ve managed to accomplish lots of unexpected things as an activist. I set out just wanting to help others and educate them, but I somehow managed to reach more people than I ever thought I could. Now, I’m realizing how much I can accomplish because of that. But, there’s a barrier, here. For the sake of my safety and the safety of my family, I never told my complete story. It is scary to talk about and the potential danger is intimidating. I did tell most of my story when I did the interviews on Reality Check, with Dave Fletcher and his wife (1 and 2).

But I left out a fairly important fact, trying to hold to my rule of not talking about something I felt could be dangerous. I didn’t talk about getting pregnant. In the wake of the GOP’s anti-woman, rape denialist bullshit, I did tell the other part of my story, but I asked my friend, Ed Brayton, not to put my name on it when he posted it on his blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

I was a victim of a violent sexual assault that got me pregnant, which led to me getting married to someone I barely knew in a kind of family drama that I wish weren’t so common in this country.

During my marriage, I had another child. I have two kids.

In many of the things I’m working on now, talking about these events could be helpful, and I hope to use my experience to educate others. I don’t want this to be made into a big deal. I’ve seen other people suffer from coming out with personal stories and I don’t want that to happen, here.

All I want is to be able to openly discuss those topics where I think I can do the most good and having the ability to openly talk about my experience is a part of that.

This part, though, is terrifying, to me. I worry about what will be asked of me. I worry about becoming the target of harsh criticism for what happened to me, as have other victims who have come out. I worry about people’s accusations.

I’m not ready to talk about my children or to go any farther than just letting people know I have them and that my experiences are an important part of things that I do and work on. So please don’t ask.

I am willing to talk about my experience as a victim of rape, but please be patient, this is not easy. I have been quite capable of talking about it when I’m with people I know, and I’ve used the experience to help me with things ranging from counseling to educating others, but I haven’t got much experience talking about it in great detail to lots of people.

I also have experience as someone who has a common mental illness: PTSD. I am familiar with mental illness as something that happens to the brain, sometimes as a natural consequence to events. Much like extreme impacts during accidents can lead to broken limbs and other body parts, extreme conditions can affect the brain, and mental illness is a normal consequence of that.

I also have plans to talk about pregnancy and child development. I know these subjects very well, partly because I was super-focused when I got pregnant and I read lots and lots of texts on the subject. Hiding that part of my life has made it nearly impossible to participate in discussions where I could have really helped people. I studied behavioral science, I studied child development, I am familiar with both successful and unsuccessful parenting strategies that have been taught in classes and I’m so familiar with the topic of childbirth, I found that the required reading for most doula courses is significantly less than what I’ve already read and I’ve already attended more births than most courses require for certification.

I know this post is extremely disorganized. I want to get it out of my system before I get scared again. Well, I’m already somewhat scared, but I don’t want to get so scared that I change my mind. Perfection isn’t my goal, here.

So, to recap. I have two kids. I have some extreme and upsetting life experiences. I want to use these experiences to help me with my activist work, so I now want to be more open about it. I don’t want it to become some dramatic thing.

I hope this doesn’t change how people treat me.

It would be an understatement to say that online communities are a new and still adapting environment for the World. As such, it isn’t surprising that the inward battle in Skepticism and Atheism and the backlash against feminist actions online seems to have become increasingly more hostile. I’ve managed to stay out of the crossfire, but that’s mostly because I’m doing a lot of doing, ignoring those who complain and not really caring about what they do with that. This is probably a risky approach and it doesn’t always suit me well. Some people don’t take that very well.

That being said, I’ve watched from the sidelines as Elevatorgate continued for more than a year as a hot topic in the skeptic community. While I’ve been trying to teach people about the sex industry and how to prevent harassment, I’ve also had to deal with my peers telling me that I should pick a side in the various conflicts that have been going on. It seemed as if people thought that to like one point of view, that would necessarily mean you can’t support another person with an opposing point of view. I defended both the skepchicks and those who seemed to have useful complaints. But, most of the complaints are things I didn’t support. The reason being, they were wrong. Continue reading »

I can’t keep up with everyone, so my apologies if I don’t address every tasty bit of information that has been put before me over the last few days. In fact, maybe you should be glad I didn’t, because it has all gone too far and properly responding to everything would take a very thick book. It has been an interesting few days and in the midst of it all, I’m getting ready for a trip to San Francisco, I’m sewing and designing clothing and hats for people, counseling people who need me and trying to also get work done. I have failed to read everything related to the latest scandal, even though it seems I’m considered, by some, to be to blame.

My intentions in suggesting a sexual harassment panel for TAM to D. J. Grothe was just me trying to do what I felt was the right thing. I had heard some people voice concern, I’ve personally talked to a few women who shared their stories (yes, anecdotes) of things that happened at TAM and other conventions and I had witnessed the battles over the last couple years over how to deal with sexual harassment. The thing that occurred to me was that people were taking action, but they weren’t taking enough action and I felt that we needed more for the sake of effectiveness. So, I wrote a request that I knew would probably be turned down. I knew it was late, I knew it wasn’t necessarily in line with what everyone felt should happen, but I felt it was important and because I didn’t see what I thought would help expressed by others, I stepped up and asked about what I thought would help.

I had no idea that it would cause a storm of … whatever ugly kind of thing this is, with the throwing uglies and the talking about uglies and the bumping of uglies in both consensual and non consensual way. This suggestion led to people publicly stabbing each other in the face, throwing red herrings and generally getting ridiculous and I just kinda sat in confusion while I got a little hate mail and was talked about and to by people who I’m pretty sure had no idea that I was anything more than a fart on someone’s facebook notifications until just this week. But this isn’t really about me – I just wanted to do something I felt was important. That attempt resulted in accusations that I wished harm on D. J. Grothe, that I’m not a true feminist ™, that I shouldn’t talk about these things because I’m nothing more than a sex worker, that I don’t have valuable input and what do I know about sexual harassment, anyway?

This spread beyond that, too, there’s the ressurection of Rebecca Watson’s elevator problem and a few other stories that some people would like to not be made into a public spectacle and then there’s so-and-so hates so-and-so and so-and-so is a meanie and why won’t anyone point out that the biggest complaint is about that one speaker, anyway?

I know that was confusing to read, but that’s about how confusing it is to see people with whom I try to engage in conversation with turn into … whatever it is they turned into that I can say that won’t come across as an ad hominem but also embodies the current social battle that is going on, where words have become weapons of mass destruction, people are trying to figure out why others are pissed at them and a few are stomping off in a huff. Quite frankly, I don’t understand the whole thing. I don’t think most other people do, either. What should have been a public discussion about a social issue became a bash fest and a whirlwind of comments and personal vendettas against certain people.

So, I’ve tried writing about it multiple times. I tried to figure out how I could address the problem without turning into one of the beasts from the mess I was witnessing. I wrote things and deleted them, several times. How do I fix this? I can’t walk away quietly, because I feel like now I’m connected to the problem, right or wrong. So, I’m going to look at what I think is important, as well as defend myself (where I think it is necessary), and hope that I can make enough sense for people to care. I hope you’ll focus more on the issue, and only look at my self-defense if you’re one of those peoples who still think I’m totally worthless and a bad person, or something.

I don’t hate D. J. Grothe or anyone else, really. Yes, there are people who don’t like me and who make it very clear, within the community, that they think I’m some hedonistic, awful, person who’s crotch will probably send the whole world to the torturous, simmering, painful, miserable, fanged, carbon-infested, stinky, and perhaps mildly unpleasant, depths of hell. I don’t even hate those people. In fact, I still tend to like most of them because they have good things to say, sometimes, and I just accept that they won’t ever get to know me and they will probably always find me repulsive (that’s OK, maybe I am repulsive -insert overly perky shrug, here-). D. J. isn’t one of those people. Even when I’ve been uncertain of how I felt about D. J., even when I didn’t like something going on in the JREF, I never felt D. J. was a bad person. Besides, D. J. barely knows me. Also, D. J. is a human being with similar goals to my own. He seems like he would be a great ally, even if we disagree. I don’t want him fired or for him to resign. All I ever wanted was for him to listen to and acknowledge an idea – an idea that I was aware was already possibly outside of his capacity to do very much about. In fact, I even implied I thought it was not likely in my facebook post. In fact, my facebook post was about that exact doubt of ability for something to be done.

Yes, I did feel that D. J.’s response wasn’t what I wanted and it was unreasonable. BUT, D. J. can be talked to and that is probably what I would have done, had that moment on facebook not turned into harassmentstorm 101. But, before I jump into my take on D. J.’s comments, let me address harassmentstorm.

I don’t believe that there is a more than average instance of harassment at TAM as compared to other conventions. I don’t believe other conferences have handled it better or worse. My hope was that the people of TAM would simply be (again) ones who took early action on an existing problem. This problem, by the way, saturates many American social groups. it happens often and it is ugly. I don’t feel that people going to TAM or other conventions are destined to get raped. Though, simply because there is the number of people there that we see, it could happen. This is not because every skeptic male is incapable of being sexually responsible, this is because some people are asshats. I also don’t feel that people working for the JREF or people at TAM should be held accountable for things that aren’t related to or don’t happen at TAM (like things that have happened at other conventions or the howlers I got because I dared to say something). I will repeat: I just want the topic talked about because I think it is important and it is something we can work on.

I will defend D. J. from the masses of hate, but I also don’t think he’s correct in his assessment of what’s going on. TAM is a large conference. 1600 people is a huge number of people in a small space. It would be pretty unlikely that harassment doesn’t happen at TAM. In fact, if sexual harassment didn’t happen at TAM, I would be absofuckinglutely shocked. Yes, I’ve heard stories, so I know things have happened at TAM, but I can’t share those stories with others. I’m a firm believer in confidentiality. It isn’t my place to share the stories of others. So, when people keep asking me for hard numbers and evidence, I can’t share my anecdotes. D. J. posted information from his survey, but I hardly think his survey is objective evidence of anything beyond what people are willing to self-report. People suck at self-reporting, for many reasons (this link explains one of the main reasons why self-report in this situation is likely to fail). Victims of abuse, no matter the abuse, also tend to under report what is happening. In situations where the law comes into play in an employment environment they have whistle-blower laws to protect the person who reports the crime. But, these conferences aren’t work for most of the people there and for most of the people there, there is no protection from their peers. If you have an issue in which people are already not prone to discussing their experiences and, on top of that, there are additional social pressures, and on top of that they can see how others have responded to what stories have been openly talked about, it would take a very brave person to report something on the survey D. J. cited, even if they’re trusting that it will remain confidential (note: I would hope that if someone did report sexual harassment on that survey, that their story would not have been shared without their consent). That being said, I’m pretty sure that if someone bothered to talk to D. J. about the flaws in the survey, without attacking him, he might have been more open to reconsidering what they had to say. Maybe, maybe (I can’t guess at something like that, but I tend to be optimistic about some people, I’ll probably keep nagging until I find it).

Also, I agree, Sexual Harassment isn’t about the paranormal or any other exciting topic that usually gets addressed at TAM. But, I think talking about Sexual Harassment with the goal of teaching people how to properly behave is in the best interest of the organization, anyway. I also think that skepticism shouldn’t have pet topics and that there should be no topic that it is too taboo to critically assess.

I agree that most people at skeptic conventions and other places are not bad people and are not going to sexually harass people. I don’t feel that everyone at the convention is going to be improper and harmful, Addressing these issues is not because society deals with regular rape-mobs at conventions or that this is even a major problem at skeptic conventions. Instead, these things are important because there are is a minority of people who don’t understand they are doing something wrong OR, if they know they’re doing something wrong, they’re just enough of an asshole that they will do something wrong, anyway, if they think there is no consequence. Raising awareness for an issue like this is not to keep the majority from harming each other, it is to keep a minority in check so that people aren’t harmed. I think that is an important distinction that is being ignored.

So, in summary, I think we need to do something to deal with the minority of cases where people are misbehaving at TAM. I don’t think D. J. is correct in his view of the problem, but I don’t want harm done to him, I would just like to have a conversation with him about it and I would like it to be calm and reasonable and not full of piss-tossing. I don’t think that there are masses of uncontrollable sexually-charged men at TAM, waiting to turn every tasty lady into a snack. I also feel that this whole thing blew up in the strangest of ways and many of you people confuse me. Stop making this about your personal issues with others and let’s discuss this.

A recent discussion on facebook about the image to the right (a poster trying to convey a message to prevent rape) has led to me realizing that many issues about rape need to be discussed that simply aren’t. The one discussion led to about two dozen sexual-assault related issues being brought up. Specifically, misunderstandings about who commits rape, racist and sexist stereotypes associated with sexual assault, what constitutes sexual assault, how BDSM is related to sexual assault and even victim blaming and the question of if men can be raped (of course they can).

Interestingly, some of the topics brought up in the discussion were quickly dismissed by other posters. Some oversights made by the creator of the poster were seen as minor problems for various reasons. So, this is the starting post of what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about Sexual assault.

I have much to write about, so I hope that you will be a patient audience. This isn’t an easy topic to navigate and I already know it will be difficult for me and may even be difficult for those who read what I have to say.

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