As of late, many women within the atheist community allegedly have problems with sexual harassment and individuals requested that a harassment policy be made for each conference. When women speak out about the alleged harassment, disputes and controversy ensues, with few productive conversations to resolve the issue.
These accusations have stirred conflict and even denial within the community, with even a request that DJ Grothe resign from JREF, because people feel he is sweeping the complaints under the rug. In return, some accused those making the harassment complaints trying to harm TAM, when the original poster, whoever that was, said the original post, which ever one it is out of many, did not mention TAM specifically.
However, some accuse DJ of ignoring the problem and even excusing misogynistic threats of violence, especially when he asked why women are not attending TAM. In fact, DJ also posted that women are not attending due to bloggers posting about harassment and then declared there were no harassment reports made at TAM, which people found this statement untrue.
Many well-known women in the community declared they are not attending TAM due to harassment. To that end, PZ Myers, who is concerned about this problem, called a video meeting to discuss these problems and think of ideas to eventually resolve them, of which nine people from the community attended.
PZ opened the recorded meeting with this statement:
The latest controversy to embroil freethoughtblogs is over the James Randi Educational Foundation’s big yearly meeting, The Amazing Meeting, or TAM for short. After DJ Grothe, the president of the JREF, announced his concern that, despite the fact that he’d done a fine job of making the roster of speakers well balanced, at roughly half and half men and women, the registration of women in the meeting was significantly down from last year. What to do?
Well, he could have asked big boosters of TAM, like Skepchick and Freethoughtblogs, to rally together and help get more women involved, as Skepchick has done every year. Instead, in a bizarre twist, he basically accused Rebecca Watson and a certain blog network, ours, of scaring women away with our horrible stories of sexual harassment. He also denied that sexual harassment had ever occurred, a story that has been steadily unraveling over the last few weeks.
Then, to make matters worse, a number of poorly informed people have been ranting that we, that is people like Rebecca Watson and Stephanie Zvan, want to “harm TAM” — another weird claim that ignores the history of our involvement with skeptical and atheist meetings.
So the point of our session today is to clear the air, get our position expressed, and maybe vent a little frustration.
Personally, I have only attended Skepticon for four years, with no problems and it was mention that Skepticon is one of the better conferences for women. The organizers of Skepticon work hard to please people and even give assistance when needed. Not only that, I found DJ a nice person at Skepticon, as well as many of the speakers, but that does not mean these things are not happening at other conferences or that DJ is not trying to deny or ignore the problem.
Ophelia Benson was speaking at TAM, but due to email threats, she decided she is not attending either. That, on top of the other reports of harassment, is very disconcerting and, in my opinion, signals a very serious problem.
There is obviously a problem, which dates back before the man in the elevator with Rebecca, of which I still say the man had plenty of opportunities to talk to her in public.
The discussion PZ called seemed like a reasonable and rational discussion, with concern from each person about sexual harassment and ideas for solutions to the problem. Sexual harassment is a serious problem in many settings, which needs addressing and solved, not swept under the rug, denied, or ignore. Hopefully, the atheist community can resolve it so that women can feel more comfortable about attending the various conferences.