PASS just published an anti-harassment policy reminder, quickly followed by a blog by Wendy Pastrick (about a bad experience at last month’s conference, and why it took a while to report it).
We’ve had some conversation on Twitter about it all, and a couple of jokes, and some back and forth. Here are a few related items, and my thoughts on them.
PASS anti-harassment policy [jokey jokes here]
We had some fun at the expense of the anti harassment policy, what, last year was it? And there’s always some discussion along the lines of:
- Now we can’t say “shit” in public.
- Yes we can / no we can’t but the important thing is safety.
- It’s not just about safety.
- It’s all about safety.
- This is a slippery slope to the policy being misapplied.
There are a lot of concerns, and we could have a longish talk about all of them. But bottom line for me: Harassment is an issue, for men and for women. Organizations should have a policy in place publicly, and a means for dealing with harassment when it happens.
There’ll be more talk, there’ll be process refinement, there’ll be stumbling blocks. But this is a start, and none of the arguments I’ve seen have convinced me that the anti-harassment policy is a bad idea.
But PASS can’t police what happens outside of the conference
Yeah, actually it can.
First: Is it legal? Yes, to my understanding, a private group or company can manage itself (and its membership) in any way it sees fit, so long as the rights of protected groups aren’t infringed.
To put it simply, PASS can keep anyone out based on any reported behavior. It can’t discriminate based on several protected categories (e.g., they couldn’t kick me out for having Irish ancestors), but they certainly could kick me out for how often I link to Bee Gees videos on YouTube, or any other random criteria.
Second: Is it within the rules? Don’t be silly. An organization makes its own rules. Again, to my understanding, the org can make up whatever rules it wants, so long as they do not infringe on the law. While it wouldn’t benefit PASS to require all members to wear purple to the Summit, they could certainly make that rule. (Making an anti-harassment policy is allowable and beneficial!)
Third: Is it moral? Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Do I personally think it’s moral to restrict membership and participation based on behavior outside of official events? Hell yes I do, and here’s why:
Imagine this…I’m going to throw a party at my home. I’m going to invite 30 people from Facebook. I hear that one of those people got rowdy and annoying at another friend’s party. I selectively dis-invite that person.
Now imagine that instead of a party at my house, it’s a party at a bowling alley (go with me on this), sponsored by my software company. Do I still have the right to un-invite Person X? Oh yes I do.
How is PASS any different? “PASS is an independent, not-for-profit organization run by and for the community,” says the website. Does the not-for-profit part limit the kind of control that PASS should have over its own spaces? Nope. How about the “run by and for the community” part? I say nope again. We can talk about community involvement in the rules if you want, but generally speaking, I say yes. PASS can morally make these rules.
How big of a problem is this, anyway? / You’re doing it wrong.
Talk to a dozen women, and most of them will tell you that harassment is a big problem. I’m a woman, and here’s what I say: in any sufficiently large group, you’re going to have a significant number of harassers. (This is true for many small groups too, by the way.)
When people respond to these incidents and stories, they often use various messages that either say, or can be taken as, “Hey you, the target of harassment…yeah, you’re dealing with this wrong.” Oh man, that’s just a hard road to go down. So let me bottom line something first, and then we’ll talk about the problem itself.
Bottom line: Shut up. You might mean well, but people in general (and I’ll venture to say women particularly) are getting very tired of getting critique and blame when something happens to us. Here are a handful of better responses than, “You should… / You should have… / Well did you…”:
- Are you okay?
- Do you need anything?
- Do you want me to do anything?
- Would you like me to report this?
- Oh, that really sucks. I’m sorry that happened.
What’s harassment like, anyway?
There are too many flavors of harassment to define them all. There’s the physical stuff: from too-personal contact (think hand high on the arm, arm around the shoulders, hand on the small of the back, hair touches), butt grabs, “accidental” boob brushes, and more.
There’s the non-physical: being followed, being leered at, one-sided flirting, flirting after we’ve said “no” or tried to gracefully shut it down.
The problems are multiple. First, odd as it sounds, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s over the line, and what’s not. Behavior exists on a spectrum, from “welcome”, to “uncomfortable”, to “really uncomfortable”, and then to “harassing” and beyond. For a person on the receiving end of a behavior that makes him or her uncomfortable, it can be extremely hard to make that determination: “am I just uncomfortable? Was that over the line?”
As a side note, I agree wholeheartedly with this, because it is a spectrum:
And then of course, a lot of people are averse to making a big deal out of an incident, even if it’s really clear that it’s over the line. Maybe this is a friend of a friend, and it’s easier to overlook that butt touch. Maybe I’m in the middle of the expo hall and I don’t want to make a scene. Maybe my first inclination is to be polite. Maybe I suspect that people won’t think it’s a big deal, or they’ll imply that I could have handled it better, and on and on.
So what’s it like? It’s intensely uncomfortable. Maybe even shameful. I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.
Yeah. The anti-harassment policy is a good idea. It says, “if something happened, we’ll listen and we’ll do something about it”. That’s important.
What’s not harassment?
Harassment really is in the eye of the beholder. Even so, I’ve seen the term under-applied, and over-applied.
I really, really want people to feel like they can talk to someone, get something done, about a person who is harassing them.
I really, really don’t want people to start thinking that anything uncomfortable is by necessity harassment. It’s a fine line to walk. Here’s how I draw the line (though you may have a different line, and that’s fine):
Someone I don’t know well hugged me and I felt compelled to hug back. Nope, not harassment to me. Hugs are within the normal bounds of contact in my social groups, and I think I should figure out how to handle it better when I don’t want to hug.
Someone insisted on hugging me after I said “no hugs today” and “seriously, I’m not huggy”. Yeah, harassment.
Obviously this doesn’t cover all situations. It’s just a starting place to illustrate how I think about it.
Okay, that’s enough for today. I expect the conversation will go on, and it should. We’ve all got to figure this stuff out.