Answering criticisms of “Women and Secular Community” discussion

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Included in my previous blog post (and also embedded above) was a live discussion — “Women and the Secular Community” — I had with Karla Porter. As expected, and was welcomed, various criticisms and general questions followed this discussion. Some of these criticisms and questions were levied during and following the show (thanks to EllenBeth Wachs) while others were sent in e-mails.

Overall, I thought the discussion was very productive. Karla and I engaged various arguments in a very respectful fashion. The chat room — including some people from the dreaded ‘slimepit’ — was even a very respectful exchange throughout. Karla said she and I set the tone for respect in this discussion (read the chat log for yourself)…and that’s what we got. We had callers who agreed with us. We had callers who disagreed. Everything went pretty well. …and we only promoted two days in advance!

Here are some of the criticisms and questions and my short responses to them. Karla may also weigh in on this.

What was the purpose of the discussion?
There wasn’t just one purpose for this discussion. In the event description, though, I noted, “Topics to be discussed are sexism, harassment at conferences, anti-harassment conference policies, harassment, tone, specific posts and comments by identified feminist bloggers, and much more.” During the live show, Karla and I touched on these issues and many more. An open discussion — rather than just one focus — allowed for a general survey of issues.

There seemed to be an ‘agenda’ here…
Admittedly, there was much focus on blog posts and the blogosphere…and it’s no secret that I am not a fan of Rebecca Watson — who was mentioned in this discussion — because she has a very dismissive tone, jumps to unfair conclusions about those who disagree with her, doesn’t defend her reasoning when asked by those who disagree with her, and much more. It was also not a secret that I was in agreement with Paula Kirby’s recent “Sisterhood of the Oppressed Letter.” It was also not a secret that I am not fans of bloggers ‘Lousy Canuck’ and Stephanie Zvan. The blog posts, though, were good conversation starters and were helpful to address specific claims rather than general claims which some viewers might respond to with “well, that wasn’t said.” …and the blog posts weren’t the only things mentioned in the discussion (as they often served to be conversation starters). At many times in the discussion, too, as is usually the case when I am on with Rodney, I played ‘devil’s advocate’ and asked Karla to respond to certain objections that are commonly voiced.

It seems like you attacked certain people…
I don’t understand this evaluation. At 33:20 in the discussion, for example, I said that even those who say nasty things about certain feminist bloggers should not do so. As is a recurring theme on this blog, I say, “Attack ideas, not persons.” Karla and I discussed specific posts by bloggers and explained why we disagree with the reasoning. We didn’t engage in name-calling, personal attacks, etc. at any point. 

You seemed to be dismissive of Ophelia Benson’s threat…
Indeed. I was dismissive because it overwhelmingly seemed to be, as Karla said, something that was way over the time, not serious, etc. I explained that it seemed that Ophelia acted in an inappropriate manner following what she considered a threat. A proper (or perhaps much better) response would have been to investigate the threat first to determine whether it was credible and then take action rather than backing out so soon. I think a main problem here, as may be the topic of a very good future blog post, is a sort of ‘epistemological relativism’ in which people believe that the target of a threat or an alleged threat has the ‘final say’ and that this person is justified no matter what the action because those on the outside ‘don’t know what it is like’ as they are not the person. I don’t think this attitude is appropriate. While some might ‘not know what it is like,’ it is possible for an outside observer to have a reasonable informed opinion about others’ actions.

You were blaming victims…
Karla and I, at points, said things like ‘people should be vigilant,’ ‘don’t put yourself in a bad position,’ and encouraged people to report assault/harassment. Karla even went so far to say (and I would agree with her) that if people fail to report, the harasser/assaulter gets a ‘free pass’ to do so in the future because they think they will get away with it. At 41:35, Karla said that people shouldn’t be aggressive. At many times in the discussion, Karla also said that blaming the victim is not appropriate. I also agree with Karla that all people — if they might feel that they will be in an unsafe situation — to take precautions. We also reccomended proactive solutions such as going to places with friends, have a ‘buddy system,’ watching for your friends, getting out of a bad situation, etc.

If you have some criticisms or questions, please feel free to comment here. As was the ‘policy’ for the live discussion, everyone is invited to weigh in.

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