So, it looks like Stephanie Zvan has blocked me from her site …

Edit: At this point, the trackback was listed, but I didn’t intend it to — and, in fact, expected that it wouldn’t make it through — so Zvan can feel free to delete it if she doesn’t like it. I won’t mind.

So, I got into a bit of a discussion in the comments here over whether the “if you feel harassed, you were” policy is clear enough, responding to other questions that were raised by others. Now, as is my wont — and has gotten me in trouble before — I went on a bit long. But then all of a sudden and despite my not actually talking to her directly, Stephanie Zvan decided to weigh in on it, with this comment:

Verbose Stoic, if you’re really that concerned about how sexual harassment policies work, I suggest you go study up on the thousands of them that are actually in place and functioning quite well rather than speculating all over this thread.

Now, of course, I wasn’t speculating. I talked about the “reasonable person” standard, which is actually used in Canada:

Harassment is any behaviour that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses a person, and that a reasonable person should have known would be unwelcome. It includes actions (e.g. touching, pushing), comments (e.g. jokes, name-calling), or displays (e.g. posters, cartoons). The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits harassment related to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status, family status, disability, pardoned conviction, or sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment includes offensive or humiliating behaviour that is related to a person’s sex, as well as behaviour of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, unwelcome, hostile, or offensive work environment, or that could reasonably be thought to put sexual conditions on a person’s job or employment opportunities. A few examples are: questions and discussions about a person’s sexual life; touching a person in a sexual way; commenting on someone’s sexual attractiveness or sexual unattractiveness; persisting in asking for a date after having been refused; telling a woman she belongs at home or is not suited for a particular job; eyeing someone in a suggestive way; displaying cartoons or posters of a sexual nature; writing sexually suggestive letters or notes.

But she might not have known that — despite it being one of the most popular definitions in feminist literature for quite some time now — so I’ll give her a pass on that. I replied with this:


Sexual harassment policies, at least here, generally employ the “reasonable person” standard, not the “if they feel harassed, they were” standard. And I am not speculating, but discussing, actually, pointing out potential issues and problems with the criteria Ben said were the main litmus test.

Her reply:

Ben is talking about a real sexual harassment policy, already in place, working just fine, and not at all uncommon. And yes, you are speculating that all these things could cause problems, because you haven’t done the research on how those actual, existing policies work.

Now, as happened before with Russell Blackford, I’m always puzzled by suggestions that _I_ do research to prove their point. And all that was required, really, was a simple answer of how it addresses cases where one person’s feeling of discomfort isn’t reasonable, or if it does, or if that matters. Surely Ben or the person I replied to originally (LeftSidePositive) could address that, although that wasn’t what we were talking about mostly anyway. So not only am I being told to go prove that their system addresses my concerns, I’m being told that by someone who wasn’t in the actual conversation and who wasn’t addressing the underlying issues. But she clearly does think it works and might have reason to be annoyed (I’ll get to that at the end), so let’s go on. My reply:

As does, of course, the “reasonable person” standard, as that, as I said, is what’s used here. Now, are they the same, or are they different? How are they different? Do you have research comparing the two? It seems that the evidence is likely to be similar, and so all that is left are the questions I raised. Which, since you and Ben seem to work under the one you cite, you should be able to answer what it does in situations like that, and how it addresses those issues, if it does. And then we can ask which might be better for the conferences you’re talking about (which do differ from workplaces in some respects).

Note the immediate concession that we don’t really need evidence comparing the two, and that both likely work. Again, a simple reply of “How do you handle situations like the ones I raised?” Note that the ones I really raised were these:

For a couple of examples, I used to work with a couple of Italians, and one of them used to stand very close when talking to people. This bothered me, and likely bothers me more than it does other people. But I knew that he wasn’t trying to intimidate or do anything harassing, but instead was just acting the way I presumed was proper in his culture. So I’d step back a bit, but even if he didn’t take the hint I didn’t leap to “harassment”, but instead simply moved back again. But surely someone could be less forigving than I am, and so call it harassment … and yet, it might be perfectly normal in other cases.

The same thing applies to touching. Incidental touching is actually pretty common in conversations. It bothers me more than it would most people; I notice it more than others. Thus, normal touching that is perfectly fine with anyone else bothers me. Should I consider that harassment, then?

I also raised this one hypothetical:

If someone, for example, cried harassment because someone coming up behind them said “Excuse me” to get them to move aside, surely we’d all agree that that wouldn’t be reasonable. And groping and sexual insults are obvious to the reasonable person. It’s the things in-between where we’re seeing most of the problems, it seems to me.

Which LeftSidePositive thought was trivializing. The point of that hypothetical was just to support the contention that some cases will obviously not be harassment no matter what the person feels, and that some cases will be even if the person isn’t particularly bothered by it. To expand that one more, to make having sex with the boss a job standard is harassment and would be actionable even if the person hired was perfectly okay with it. I think the boss should be fired in that case again even if the person hired was okay with it.

So, her response:

I should answer your detailed questions about exactly where the lines fall in a policy I’ve never worried about coming close to violating because I don’t have a problem with empathy or boundaries? Ben should? Why? What reasonable demand do your hypotheticals and speculations have on me or anyone else here? Go do your homework. Or, if you’re really worried that your behavior might cross the lines, have a nice little chat with the staff of any of these events before you go. That should clear up all of your concerns.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to get into the nitty gritty of policy with you, with your history of concern over anything that cuts into male privilege.

Okay, first: What detailed questions? I gave examples, and pointed out potential issues. The only real question is, in fact, how do you handle cases where someone’s discomfort is unreasonable? I didn’t, in fact, actually ask questions. I argued for why the “reasonable person” standard is better. So I have no idea what she’s talking about there. And then she turns it into asking “what reasonable demand” I have on her. But, again, Ben suggested that standard, others — read not me — said it seemed unclear, Ben said it was, I pointed out why it might not be, and so the only demand I’d be making is that Ben defend his own position against raised concerns. Then, we have the repeated comment for me to “Go do my homework”, despite the fact that it was Ben’s claim and I have no need to do any research to defend the claims I’m challenging. They must respond to challenges; it is not my obligation to do it for them. As for chatting with the staff, the whole point of this whole brouhaha is that they don’t have clear, communicated policies, and so I certainly won’t be able to do that at most of these places which don’t even have policies yet. That’s what she’s arguing for and about that got her to raise this in the first place. Can she not even keep her own argument straight?

Look at my examples, and ask yourself if I’m really demanding “nitty-gritty details”. I talked about general incidental touching, and an invasion of personal space, all of which are both a) not hypothetical since they’re about me and b) broad examples that are commonplace. She can’t answer that, and so I’d have to do “research”. Excuse me? If you can’t answer that, do you even know what you’re talking about? And finally, the veiled comment that I’m speaking from male privilege is out of line, and nothing more than a dodge.

I replied:

Um, my history on these matters is rather thin, and making an assertion like that demands evidence, not merely assertion. Additionally, I was replying to people, in this thread, that were debating the vagueness or clearness of the proposed policy. Additionally, the question here is: Are the “reasonable person” policy and the “if they feel harassed, they are” policy the same in that they restrict the same behaviour, or aren’t they? If they are, there’s no conflict. I think they aren’t. Since BOTH have been used as effective anti-harassment policies, one would think that if you really did care about the problem, you’d want to know which of them is better … or if either would do just as well.

I’m not asking you or Ben to do my research for me, but to defend at least Ben’s claim that the policy is indeed clear enough to be used and doesn’t have the issues I say it might. For example, if I ask them for what behaviours will be completely acceptable or ones that will be totally off limits, can they do so without appealing to a “reasonable person” standard?

Her reply:

You go research that. Report back when you’re done.

So, she doesn’t provide evidence of my history, and doesn’t answer the simple questions I asked that should, in fact, require little research. The last comment I made, held in moderation and likely never to appear — because I wasn’t in moderation before this and I doubt that numbers would generate it, and it’s not that long, was this:


So, I join a discussion and get assigned homework. Interesting. But since it is neither the case that I’m paying you nor you paying me, you can’t actually assign me homework, let me try one more time to finish off part of a discussion.

If, say, any conference said that they were going to implement an anti-harassment strategy but were going to use the “reasonable person” approach — recalling that this is a relatively commonly used approach — would you:

1) Say that that was wrong, and that they should use the “if the person feels harassed, they are” approach?

2) Say it doesn’t matter, because they are the same approach?

3) Say it doesn’t matter, since both are effective ways to implement anti-harassment policies?

4) Say you don’t know enough about the “reasonable person” standard to say?

5) Say something else?

If you can answer that, then maybe none of us need do any research or homework …

The first paragraph is indeed a bit of snark, but no worse than what she had done to me or to what other people have done in the comments. It’s a simple question, asking her what she believes. That’s it. If she answers 1), then clearly she would have reasons, and a rational discussion could ensue. If she answers 2), then I disagree, but we likely could drop it. If she answers 3), then clearly there’d be nothing to discuss between us; for her, it might be a mild preference due to familiarity, but nothing big. If she says 4), that’s fair enough, and might explain her reluctance to talk about it. 5), well, that’s always a “I have no idea”, but in this case it might be more of a “I want a policy put in place, or at least a committment to doing it; we can talk about the details of the best one once we start, you know, taking the issue seriously.”

Now, it’s that last one that might explain this rather odd and annoying comment path, that she thought that my discussion was of the sort where someone raises so many challenges to having a harrassment policy that it looks like it’s impossible to implement, which can then lead to an argument that it’s just too hard to define with an actual policy. This does happen quite a bit, and a quick, superficial skimming of my points might have lead to that impression. However, I clearly said that a “reasonable person” policy is better and repeatedly talked about putting the right policy in place, and my comments were a direct reply to concerns that the one they were using was too vague. So, no, it wasn’t that sort of derailment attempt. And even if she thought it was, she could very easily have said “I think this is derailing here, so let’s not talk about it”, directly and specifically without all of this ranting about my having to do my own homework.

Now, I will concede that it is possible that it was not deleted and that it was somehow just caught in a filter — too many comments in too short a time? — and so if that’s the case, well, she can let me know and I’ll do what I did when that happened with Ophelia and update to reflect that. I’ll leave this post because, well, I do want to express my annoyance — and won’t do that on her site — and because I think the issues raised here do mater. I also fully concede that her site is her site and her standards are her standards, and if she wants to block me permanently, well, I know when I’m not welcome and will likely stay away. It is annoying, but not something that I will lose too much sleep over.

I do want to talk a bit more about these sorts of issues, and I’ll do it here with other posts, hopefully soon.

Edit2 – Well, she didn’t delete the trackback but, uh, tried to reply to it:

Turns out Verbose Stoic didn’t like his homework assignment but was perfectly willing to put in the time on a blog post. Go figure.

Wait, she really thinks it was about the time spent? Even though the snark in the comment that I guess she really did delete started with a bald statement that it’s not appropriate for her to assign me homework? Really?

It seems that she is, in fact, utterly convinced that it’s my job to do that “homework”. I deny this. But note that when that happened between myself and Russell Blackford, he didn’t do the search but went through “The God Delusion” to show support for his claim … work that was, in fact, completely and totally acceptable to me and that allowed us, at least from my perspective, to mostly clear it up. That’s why I actually think he’s respectable and worth reading in general, which led me to actually buy his book (and, well, criticize it, but what can you do?). We had a heated but, in my view, eventually reasonable discussion.

Right now, I’m skeptical that that could ever happen with Zvan.


4 Responses to “So, it looks like Stephanie Zvan has blocked me from her site …”

  1. aanimo Says:

    Sometimes, bloggers conversant with certain material prefer not to rehash 101 level material: hence, occasionally, you may be told to go research something if you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts. The idea that bloggers can’t “give you homework” is true. However, they cetainly can request that their discussion space not be dedicated to 101 level discussions. (Your idea that “reasonable person” standard is the common definition of harassment in feminist theory is, sorry, flatly false. Here’s some homework: go read some contemporary feminist theory and feminist political theory in particular. Try reading Judith Butler while you’re at it.) Asking you to familiarize yourself with topic before commenting isn’t “assigning homework,” it is delineating the level of discourse she wants on her blog.

  2. verbosestoic Says:

    Well, first, this strikes me as being akin to the “Atheists need to read serious theology” discussions, that led to the “Courtier’s Reply”. And my reply is that on the one hand it is true that one can be told that they are missing information that would at least mean that their argument misses the mark, but that on the other hand the person who makes that claim needs to at least give a precis or outline of what they’re missing so that the discussion can continue. So, at this point you can probably guess what my reply to Stephanie would be: all she needed to do was pick one of my examples and briefly say whether that should be considered harassment or not. That’s it. No major research or seach required if she did indeed know if they’d fit, and it would clarify the entire position.

    So, I’m not convinced that I need any such education, and the curt “Go do your own homework” and even your reply here that her comment would be perfectly okay if — or, perhaps, since — I didn’t have the required background don’t do one thing to convince me that I am lacking in background information that I could or ought to be able to easily find. The fact that even you here did not address the main issue and gave no sources that I could skim doesn’t exactly make me inclined to think that I’m just missing something I ought to know; here, I gave a link to the standards from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, as well as quotes setting that out, and neither of you were capable of even doing that. So, no, sorry, I’m not convinced that the problem is with my lack of knowledge. It’s really starting to look like neither of you actually do know how to address those simple cases, although either of you could surprise me and do so.

    The problem, again, is that it is never my job to do research to refute objections I raise to your arguments. If it’s been said a million times before, link to it and, ideally, summarize it very briefly so that the conversation can continue. “Go do your homework” is dismissive and is a dismissive way to end a conversation.

    Stephanie Zvan can certainly set the standards for discourse on her blog as she sees fit, and I am free to speculate on what those standards amount to.

    As for your specific point:

    (Your idea that “reasonable person” standard is the common definition of harassment in feminist theory is, sorry, flatly false. Here’s some homework: go read some contemporary feminist theory and feminist political theory in particular. Try reading Judith Butler while you’re at it.)

    That’s actually not what I said. I said:

    …despite it being one of the most popular definitions in feminist literature for quite some time now …

    I still stand by that, and referring to “contemporary feminist theory” isn’t going to be a refutation of that at all. This is also, of course, completely an aside in this discussion as well, and has nothing to do with what I purportedly needed to do research on in the first place. You also have no idea what I have in fact done, so this comes off as condescending and irrelevant. Again, give specific examples and quotes or don’t be surprised when I don’t take your suggestions all that seriously.

  3. Dr. Nerdlove Weighs in on Aaronson. | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] theory isn’t exactly helping on this. When discussing harassment policies at conferences notable feminists including one that claims to work in some kind of HR capacity advocated for a poli…, which technically means that if you even ask a woman out or attempt to flirt in a normal way and […]

  4. Thinking about the Theory of Codes of Conduct … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] should cover what a reasonable member of that group sets as personal boundaries. But, of course, Zvan disagrees with using the “reasonable person” standard. Okay, so then how does she determine what is and isn’t acceptable or reasonable? If whatever […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: