(Yes, it's been donkey's years since I've posted here. I hope that will change.)
I read a lot of atheist blogs, and recently there's been a lot of discussion--well, discussion, mudslinging, tantrums, etc.--about sexual harassment at atheist conferences. Some women active in the secularist/skeptic/atheist movement have publicly addressed the issue and asked for policies to be put in place that would make it clear to conference-goers that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
It seems to me that most reasonable people would find such policies to be a good thing. Alas, there are a good many sexists and misogynists--and not just men--who are whining and complaining about them. Objections fall into a few different groups: "A code of conduct will make even consensual sexual activities verboten, or too risky!" "Goodbye spontaneity!" "Women: lying bitches!"
Yes, one of the fears is that women are malicious liars who want to get innocent men in trouble. Seriously.
I just love how women's discomfort and even fears are so readily dismissed. The head of one prominent skeptics organization went so far as to say that harassment had never been reported at that organization's conference, only to be immediately reminded by several women of incidents that had been reported--and never acted on.
Another common defensive maneuver is that whatever incident wasn't really harassment. Stupid women! It's all in their mind! And besides--you're ugly! Who would ever give you unwanted sexual attention!
Yes, these are the claims being made and the childish arguments being put forth. They pretty much add up to claiming the inappropriateness of asking men to forgo their self-perceived privilege to proposition women whenever and however they like. To make sexist jokes with impunity. To disregard women's dignity, comfort level, or desire to be seen as a full human being, not just T & A or a set of orifices.
There isn't a woman alive who has not been the victim of sexual harassment. I'm not talking about harassment in the legal sense necessary to prove, say, workplace harassment. I'm talking about women's everyday experiences out in the world. Take it from one who knows: you don't have to be drop-dead gorgeous to experience unwanted attention from men.
When my son was still an infant and I'd take him out in his stroller, it was quite common for some yahoo in a pickup truck passing by to yell at me such things as "Nice ass!" accompanied by a whistle. Does anyone reading this think that's a compliment? Because I sure as hell didn't. I thought, WTF is he doing yelling that at a woman pushing a stroller? And who gave him the right not only to judge my ass's pulchritude, but to announce it to me?
It's a way to put a woman in her place, to remind her that she is not a person with autonomy, but a person who exists in relation to Men. A person who does or does not please Men. A person (or "person") who has no right to go about her business without fear of having her privacy invaded and her body commented on.
Then there was the time when my kids were sick and I'd been up at night tending to them (sick myself) and had to run out to the neighborhood store for milk or bread or whatever. My daughter was old enough by then to leave my son in her care for the 15 minutes it would take me, so in a relative lull I dashed off. I got out of the car to be met with barking noises (clever, right? "You're a dog!") made by men in a truck in the parking lot. "Woof, woof, woof!" Gee, I didn't meet these dickheads' standard of beauty, I guess.
Another time I stopped at a convenience store and was hailed by some guy hanging around outside the store. I don't even remember what he said to me, but when I ignored him he said "BITCH!" Yes, that's right. A woman is a bitch if she does not not immediately gratify some dude's bid for attention.
I could go on and on. It must be a lot worse for a woman who is truly beautiful; I can only imagine how often men think it's perfectly swell to comment on her face or figure. I'm not saying that women never take it as a compliment, just that it grinds my gears that men feel so entitled to judge and proclaim.
Sometimes women just become inured to such assaults on their personhood, as a fish doesn't notice the water it's swimming in. Some women just resign themselves to it. Some women want to be "one of the guys" and join in with the chorus that women don't have a sense of humor, or are too sensitive, or should "grow a pair." (Telling, that ...)
Anyway, I'm happy that despite the jerks who have been trolling various atheist sites and complaining and insisting that harassment isn't a problem and that women are hysterical and liars and malicious bitches, American Atheists has come out with a code of conduct for its conferences that makes it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
Of course there are howls that "just asking someone out could get you reported for harassment," etc., but this kind of reaction is to be expected. In point of fact, the new policy protects men and the gender-fluid as well as women, but the howling is mainly coming from men at the thought that their sense of privilege is being curtailed in any way at all.