I wrote an incendiary piece on sexism for Pandagon a few years back that is no longer available at that site. It’s been reprinted a couple of different places, but every once in a while I get a request for it.
I’m thinking about it today because of the situation venture capitalista Tammy Camp talked about on her website. Short version: Camp says she was told she’d be barred from her favorite tech conference unless she fucked the conference organizer. She didn’t name names either of the man involved or the conference she wanted to go to, but a rough consensus in the comments has settled on one possible not-yet-alleged source of the harassment.
Whether the commenters have it right is unknown. What is known is that as in the cases of Kathy Sierra, and Noirin Shirley, the accusers of Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and hundreds of thousands of other cases of alleged sexual assault, there has been no shortage of people lining up to criticize Camp for having made the allegations — either at all, or in the specific manner in which she made them. Camp has been blamed for bringing the harassment on herself, accused of fabricating the allegations, and told that by not naming names she’s not being feminist enough.
There is one sense in which the identity of the harasser is less important than the response by men at large (though men have no monopoly on said abusive responses.) The harasser’s conduct is odious, but he affects one person at a time. Making public comments deriding women who’ve made the difficult choice to say something public — to whatever degree — not only lend cover to that harasser but to all others, and contribute to a mass loss of freedom for any person who has had to deal with harassment. A small minority of men commit sexual harassment. The rest of us merely make it possible for them to get away with it.
So here it is again, sadly not in need of much updating other than a couple links for specific context. (The link on Sierra’s name will take you to the geekfeminism wiki, a brilliant resource on sexism in IT. Bookmark it.) Let’s stop giving cover to the harassers.
How Not To Be An Asshole: A Guide For Men
In the recent discussion about Kathy Sierra and Markos’ febrile and clueless response to her, I see there are some kind, helpful men who are taking pains to make sure emotion doesn’t run rampant in the discussion, that unfair accusations of misogyny or characterizations of harassment statistics get spread in an understandable emotional response to a few very upsetting instances of harassment by piglike men who fall far outside the norm. Surely, these men reason, we mustn’t let these nasty experiences color our judgment of the actual events involved. Surely it helps no one to make wild and baseless charges without looking, in uber-dispassionate detachment, at the actual statistics and methodology and margin of error of the studies that show women get harassed more than men. Come, let us reason together calmly, they say. References to Salem and the McMartin pre-school and such come unbidden to their lips.
I’m a big fan of dispassionate, rational, fact-based discussion of the issues myself, and it is in that spirit that I offer, to my brethren who’ve taken it upon themselves to be a shining light of dispassion on this topic, these fraternal words of guidance:
Shut the fuck up.
Here are a few of the actual facts that prompt the above sage counsel:
— You are not saying anything the women you’re talking to haven’t heard a thousand times before. You are not saying anything the women you’re talking to haven’t told themselves a thousand times before. If you would actually stop your reflexive know-it-all yammering and pay attention to what women actually SAY about the offenses they suffer on the sexual harassment -rape continuum, you will note that almost to a woman they second-guess their own gut feelings about the putative offender far beyond the point where almost any man would.
— You are wrong. If you doubt that the nature of abuse and harassment women suffer, online or off, differs from that men experience, then you don’t know what you’re talking about. Oddly, the Internets offer a way for you to verify this fact for yourself. About a dozen years ago, at the urging of a feminist online acquaintance, I logged on to AOL using an obviously female but non-provocative handle. (”AliciaMN.”) Within five minutes of logging on I had sexually abusive IMs popping up from men I didn’t know. Didn’t matter which room I was in: general chat, politics, classical music. I kept up the experiment for I think four days, a couple hours a day, sometimes chatting with people about non-sexual topics, sometimes just lurking. Two of the men who IMed AliciaMN with blatantly and obnoxiously sexual messages — “Hey, I’m up in Alaska! How ’bout you thaw my dick out with your throat?” being an example I recall — responded to my NON-response by telling “Alicia” she deserved to get raped.
This is neither new nor surprising information to any woman here. I mention it because 1) maybe if a man says it it’ll be taken seriously and 2) it implies a suggestion that disbelievers find a venue equivalent to AOL in its heyday and repeat my experiment, in the spirit of dispassionate empiricism.
— If no woman in your life has ever talked to you about how she lives her life with an undercurrent of fear of men, consider the possibility that it may be because she sees you as one of those men she cannot really trust.
— Finally, let’s assume just for the sake of argument that you’re right. You aren’t. But just as a gedankenexperiment, let’s pretend you are, and that the women who are talking about the massive deadweight silence from men about the harassment they experience, and who are getting all upset and speaking in terms of “war zones” and “hate crimes” and such are just being emotional, hysterical even, and — like the people who forward that bogus email about the guy with the ropes and duct tape in hs trunk in the mall parking lot — just need to be set straight with a calm, measured dose of logic and fact-checking.
In most situations, that’s a fine impulse. There really is no reason to get upset about LSD in blue star tattoos, and Bill Gates really isn’t paying people who forward a chain email.
But this situation is qualitatively different. When the topic at hand is men not taking an issue seriously, suggesting that the issue might not really be all that serious is not being dispassionate. It is, in fact, taking a side. And the people on the side you’re taking, incidentally, include the gropers, the rapists, the sexual-favor-demanding bosses.
In short, if you’re interested in quibbling with the data or suggesting alternate interpretations of what Kos really meant when he called Kathy Sierra a lying “crying blogger,” and your goal is not to be a flaming asshole, shut the fuck up.
And when you shut the fuck up, two magical things happen:
1) You’re no longer actively contributing to the very problem you’re discussing;
2) It’s easier to listen to what the women are actually saying.