11 Thoughts on TAMpocalypse 2012

I’ve been asked by a few different people to respond to Rebecca Watson’s post, so I’m going to be brief with my thoughts.  I think the first three are the very most important things that everyone who is writing about this needs to understand and, in their anger, some people seem to be forgetting.

1. Rebecca Watson is not a bad person, cares deeply about making TAM the best it can be, and has contributed greatly to making that happen.

2. DJ Grothe is not a bad person, cares deeply about making TAM the best it can be, and has contributed greatly to making that happen.

3. I care deeply about JREF and TAM and have been honored to speak there in the past. I owe TAM a great deal, and want it to be the best it can be.  I do not hate nor am I mad at DJ.  I continue to owe DJ a debt of gratitude for helping me last year and he’s always been nice to me, even through this.  I do not consider anyone in the skeptic movement my enemy.  I can’t say they all feel that way about me, but that’s OK too.

4. DJ has a habit of saying things poorly in comments and getting himself into trouble.  Telling Rebecca that it is partially her fault that women are not coming to TAM was a major misstep.  If I was told that I was the problem by the president of an organization that I had devoted that much time and support to, I would feel unwelcome and not want to participate.

5. Rebecca boycotting the event is likely to hurt TAM in the short run.  It’s possible that this will lead to the organization doing a better job of communicating in the future, it’s possible that it will weaken the organization longterm.  It is her choice and I understand it and I hope that even the Rebecca haters could put themselves in her shoes.

6. TAM is a safe event for women, but it is not a safe space.  These are two different concepts.  DJ has policies in place to protect women.  They are enforced.  There are problems with how TAM keeps tabs on what happens, but that does not mean women are in danger.

7. I believe DJ and his explanation of his recollection of events.  I also believe he had initially forgotten the event entirely, though I am surprised that he did not try to find the answer before publicly accusing me of making it up.  However, after seeing several other people verify the story, he did the research and confirmed the event.  The initial misstep was rectified and we worked through it amicably.

8.  I would not have used the term gaslighting to describe DJ’s immediate response, but I don’t know that Rebecca’s use of it was incorrect.  He was intentionally trying to make me doubt my own memory, but because his memory disagreed with mine.  I was very fortunate to have so many other witnesses that corroborated my story, many women do not.

9. I am surprised that when being alerted to bad behavior of a man towards women the only thing he remembered about the event, once he figured out what we were talking about, is that the guy wasn’t on the invite list.  The invite had nothing to do with why it was pointed out to DJ.  I can’t personally imagine being alerted to bad behavior of a man towards women and not thinking harassment immediately and not writing the incident down.  But I also am a woman who has been harassed by men, so my perspective is different from DJ’s.

10. DJ did the right thing when (re)alerted to this problem and located the guy to whom I was referring and asked me for a written report, which is now on file.  He has been very vigilant and polite to me — even when he thought I had no idea what I was talking about, he did it in the politest way possible and in an attempt to reach a conciliatory conclusion, not to create a fight.  He handled this with more grace than I would have.

11. The question DJ refers to on the survey is whether you felt welcome at the event or not, not whether you were sexually harassed by attendees.  These are massively different questions.

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About ashleyfmiller

I write, give occasional speeches, and am currently getting my PhD in Mass Communications from South Carolina. Before going back to school, I worked in Los Angeles in reality tv, web series, and film.

Posted on June 1, 2012, in feminism, skeptic and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Nicely doneo, I hope everybody reads this.

  2. Doneo is of course the latest hip slang.

  3. Well said, Ashley- clear, fair, and level-headed.

  4. Thanks Ashley. I really appreciate your contributions. As a long time fan (I’ve listened to SUG for years) I feel it only fair to note that I think Watson also spoke poorly when she said TAM was not a “safe space” without making it clear what that means. I’m embarrassed to say that I only recently learned the term. I clearly thought she was saying TAM is not safe. I’m also a bit disappointed in some of her past rhetoric which was extremely inflammatory (though I understand her anger).

  5. Couple of questions,

    1. What makes TAM safe but not a “safe space”?

    2. What are you using as criteria for defining a safe space and what measurements of TAM have been done to compare it to that criteria? The definition on wikipedia seems so broad that I can’t imagine that any gathering of over 1,000 people could ever be considered a 100% safe space, since the wikipedia definition is essentially if anyone is made to feel uncomfortable for some prejudicial reason then the space is not safe.

    Even if you had 1,000 fully well intentioned people and no assholes, it would seem that some people would feel “unwelcome” or “uncomfortable” just by misinterpretation, mishearing or misspeaking.

    However there is another definition in there which seems more specific, more measurable and more sensible:

    “terms used to indicate that an educator does not tolerate anti-LGBT violence nor harassment”

    Does TAM tolerate anti-LGBT violence or harassment?

    I also think the term “safe space” is a confusing term since it invokes the concept of physical safety, meaning anyone unfamiliar with the specific definition on wikipedia (which I would assume is most people) will see “TAM is not a safe space” as “TAM is not safe”. Is there are reason why a less ambiguous term can’t be used to describe the same perceived problem? If what was really meant is “TAM is not a place I feel comfortable speaking”, why not say that? Certainly seems less inflammatory from my point of view.

    • For people who spend a great deal of their time working with women and LGBT communities, safe space is simply the term they use because it is extremely common and well understood — it’s difficult to completely eliminate terms you use in every day life from your speech, particularly when they are relevant to the topic at hand. I am sure there are less confusing ways to describe it to those not in the know, but it is an extremely common term and used because of that, not to be inflammatory.

      TAM/JREF are not proactive in creating spaces in which women, minorities, and LGBT are not dismissed for being those things or where slurs are discouraged. It’s really the dismissiveness that’s the problem — a crowd that will mostly dismiss any woman’s argument because she is a woman is not *harassing* that woman, but is also creating a hostile environment for her. A group of people who say racist, sexist, or homophobic things not aimed at an individual is not harassing anyone, but still not creating a safe environment for them either.

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