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Harassment and sex-positivity June 19, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, Wes put this post up about how honesty is hard a couple of days ago. And, as usual, people seem to get pissed off about what Wes says.  No news there.  It’s one of the things I like about Wes; while I don’t always agree with him, he does not sugar coat his opinions.  He has strong and often unpopular opinions and he does not veil them, and I find this attribute respectable.

Speaking of which, a commenter of that post embedded this video, which I shall put here because it is quite good, and creates a language to talk about communication in this context:

Speaking of comments; since Wes linked to a post by Jadehawk in his post, Jadehawk has subsequently posted a response to Wes.  I read it today, and my impression is that emotions are getting in the way of clear communication and understanding (it happens), and I posted this comment (currently awaiting moderation):

Jadehawk,

I think that there is a bit of misunderstanding occurring here.  I know Wes fairly well, and I think you may be misunderstanding the message intended in his post.  I cannot speak for him, but being around him frequently and sharing more than a few opinions with him, I can say that your representation of him here is at least partially in error.  Libertarian? lol….

In my view, lack of clear communication is indeed a form of dishonesty.  What seems clear to a communicator is not necessarily clear to the listener.  And while I personally try to be generous with interpretation, sometimes a follow-up direct question is relevant to make sure I am getting the intended message.  I didn’t see you asking for clarification above where ambiguities in language could have led to you understanding Wes’ intentions better.  I saw you running with less-than-ideal interpretations.  I don’t think you did so intentionally.

It is not a lack of impulse control that is at issue here, as I see it.  What is at issue here is that we need to be honest with ourselves with what we actually want, and if we are going to seek a desire that involves another person, we need to be unambiguous about it. That is, once we have decided that this is not a time to reign in an impulse we have (assuming, indeed, that we have free will), we need to be direct about it because veiling our intentions is a form of lying, even if it a common and socially accepted form of lying.  The question is whether this socially accepted form of lying is something we, as rational, skeptical, people, should perpetuate or not.  I think the answer is no, and you may or may not agree with me. That is a discussion worth having.

So, I think we all need to be direct and honest, to not veil our interest, and to learn (as a society) to get used to hearing and answering that honesty (Have you sen The Invention of Lying?).  And while this does not have to include cold hitting on, it may include that.  And I agree that a conference about atheism/skepticism is not be the best place for such cold approaches, if that is indeed what a person wants there is nothing disrespectful about doing it.  It just is unlikely to succeed, so a smart person may put off, temporally, that expressed desire  That is, they do not pretend to have another goal, they just might put off communicating it until introductions and other conversational things are established.  I personally would not coldly approach someone for sex, as my desires do include to get to know someone a bit better before asking for such a thing, but I certainly would not think less of a person for doing otherwise than what I personally want.  I find such directness refreshing, mature, and very respectable.

Some people’s boundaries exist elsewhere.  Some people WANT or even DEMAND direct and blunt questions, and others want some issues to be rarely if ever addressed.  The issue of whose boundaries we accept as the default is not so easy as you seem to argue above.  Why defer to a lower threshold of boundaries, which infringe on those with higher thresholds?  A case needs to be made for that (And I accept that such an argument may exist.  I just have not seen one I find convincing).

The issue is this.  There is a real tension between the important issue of harassment by disrespectful people and sex positivity.  The reason this tension exists is that there is a continuum that stretched from assault on one extreme and enthusiastic consent on the other.  In the middle are things like harassment, being extremely annoying, being amusingly annoying, finding the proposition interesting but not compelling, considering the proposition seriously, accepting it, etc.  The line between unwanted attention and wanted attention will differ, greatly, for different people.

For example, a person coming up to me and putting their arm around me, telling me they think I’m cute, and inviting me to their room for sex crosses no line for me.  It does not matter their gender (I’m heterosexual and male), attractiveness, etc.  I will either say no, perhaps (and discuss what we’re into to see if we’re compatible), perhaps some other time, or “yes! let me get my stuff and I’ll be right with you.”  (Yes, yes, I have privilege which makes this situation non-threatening to me, but I know many women who feel the same way).  For other people, this situation would be harassment.  That’s a problem.

Because leaving out extreme examples, there will be cases where what I find acceptable is considered unacceptable by others.  Clear, unambiguous, blunt questions and answers are the only way to be sure.  And because of our social values of politeness, this is, indeed, hard.

But I am not Wes, so I cannot speak for him.

And, indeed, I am not Wes.  I imagine that he would have a different answer than I would, and we may ultimately disagree about this issue. Disagreement is not bad, however.

My major concern here is that in this larger discussion about how to implement harassment policies (and I think that the OpenSF policies Greta linked to there are quite good), we may possibly run into a real tension between harassment and healthy sexuality.  For example, in the G+ hangout video from a few days ago, the question was raised about whether speakers at conferences should be encouraged or even barred from having sexual relationships with attendees:

You don’t have to watch he whole video, but you should if you are interested in this topic.  The relevant bit starts around 53:10 of the video, where Dan Finke raises the issue about Jen McCreight’s suggestion about having speakers be “out of bounds” (Dan’s wording) for sexual activity at conferences.  Watch the conversation for yourself, and you will see that some people agree with this suggestion.  I agree with Rebecca Watson’s view, that there should be no barrier between any adults at conferences about sexual activity, while others (namely PZ himself), seem to agree with Jen.

This demonstrates, for me, that there is a real tension in this conversation about where the practical and possibly ideal line between harassment and appropriate sexuality in the skeptical/atheist community exists.  This conversation is not just about dealing with harassment–although that issue is the primary and essential issue which needs to be addressed.  But this conversation is also about the line between appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity even where harassment does not exist, and we need to admit that this is part of the issue.

Do I have any certain answers? No.  Do I think that this discussion will lead towards a de-sexualization of conferences? No.  Do I think there will be continued issues about where the line between inappropriate/appropriate sexual activity is? Yes. Do I think sex negativity and sex positivity are relevant issues to discuss in relation to the larger issues? Yes.

Harassment needs to be dealt with unambiguously, swiftly, and as openly as possible without unnecessarily naming specific people.  If and when we successfully deal with implementing harassment policies, there should be more conversation about the problem of sexual activity, appropriate times and places for it, and the issue of differing boundaries and how to deal with them.

I think that the skeptic.atheist community is full of smart and capable people, but  I also think that our culture is rife with ideas about communication which are compatible with conservative (or at least out-dated) modes of sexuality.  We need to think about how the relationship between how we communicate and how we think about relationships affects us.  The conservative hetero-monogamous model of sex is steeped in polite, veiled communication which is quickly becoming obsolete, and I don’t think the atheist/skeptic community is fully aware of this.

One of the first things I learned about how to be polyamorous (which is true even if you are not), is that you need to communicate your needs and desires directly, and that you need to be able to say yes or no clearly, according to your desires. We need to practice saying no, saying yes, and asking for and hearing what is wanted.

Saying “no” can be hard for some people.  Saying “yes” can be hard for others.  Asking for a clear yes or no is hard for most people.  We need to get over this value of ambiguity as a society if we are to grow up, whether we are privileged or not.

As I keep saying, the atheist/skeptic community has a lot to learn from the polyamory community.

 

 

 

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Comments»

1. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

And, as usual, people seem to get pissed off about what Wes says.

yeah. shocking that people might get a wee bit miffed when they’re being lied about.

I read it today, and my impression is that emotions are getting in the way of clear communication and understanding (it happens)

nice bit of sexism there, implying that my emotions are getting in the way of communication while ignoring the blatant misrepresentations of my writing by your buddy. or are his emotions also getting in the way of his reading comprehension?

(currently awaiting moderation)

out of moderation and already dealt with.

2. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

Not sexism. I know very well how emotions get in my way (I have Borderline Personality Disorder), and so I understand that it happens to people.

3. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

Not sexism. I know very well how emotions get in my way (I have Borderline Personality Disorder), and so I understand that it happens to people.

and yet, I still see no claim that the previous post by your buddy must have been caused by his emotions. no, that accusation only showed up now. odd, don’t you think?

4. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

Of course his post was caused by his emotions. All of our behavior is always caused by emotions. The question is whether either of your posts stood on their own rational merits, considering that emotion was at play. I think his post stands better than yours, overall, even though I agree with some of what you said. I agree with him more than I agree with you.

And yes, my emotion plays a part in that too.

5. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

I think his post stands better than yours, overall,

how can that be true, when every time he quoted someone or paraphrased someone, he was doing so in a manner that misrepresented and even directly contradicted what the person was actually saying?

I agree with him more than I agree with you.

that’s irrelevant to who’s being more rational. it’s in fact likely to be the reason why you think his misrepresentations to have been more rational than my corrections of his misrepresentartions, not the other way ’round.

6. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

Of course his post was caused by his emotions. All of our behavior is always caused by emotions.

not actually true, but in any case that’s evading the question I asked. Are the misrepresentations of Jen, PZ, and me in your buddy’s last post caused by his reading comprension being impaired, the way you’re claiming my refutation of these misrepresentations is?

and while we’re at it: are you sure you want to claim that I’m somehow wrong when I write a correction that explains what a piece of misrepresented writing of mine actually meant and addressed?

7. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

tu quoque

He may have misrepresented what people meant, but not what he understood them to mean. I did not read you post he linked to, and my comments were not in response to it, but to the larger issue at hand.

You are misunderstanding what he means as well. As I said, I don’t think you (or he) are doing it intentionally. I think that’s what happens in communication. I don’t see a genuine attempt on your part to understand our point of view. I don’t think you think we have anything worth-while to say. Perhaps we don’t.

The rest of this pertains to your comments over at your blog, since I really don’t see the point in carrying this on further anyway and I don’t really see the point in having this conversation in two places. You don’t like us, I don’t like you, so let’s just agree that each other are douchnozzles, ok?

No, I don’t think you are genuinely interested in what we have to say. I think you are more interested criticizing what you think we mean, since we are nothing but privileged douchnozzles.

Sure making ourselves better is hard, and harder for some.. I don’t demand that everyone succeed or even that they have to think it easy (it never is). I only expect people to do the best with what they have as their circumstances, and recognize it has been easier for me than for many other people.

And I don’t know anything about the show House (I had to Google “Gregory House” to connect the dots, since I didn’t know the character’s first name), so I don’t know if a world full of them would be better since I have never seen the show.

All I want is a world lacking in bullshit and “veiling of our desires” called politeness (which is really misrepresentation of what we want and who we are). Can’t handle directness from people? That’s your issue, not mine.

8. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

tu quoque

precious, but no. pointing out a pattern is not attempting to claim that you cannot say I’m emotional because you’re (or your buddy) is emotional, too.

He may have misrepresented what people meant, but not what he understood them to mean.

this is meaningless and irrelevant. he directly quotes something of mine, and claimed it to be support for lying and against encouraging people to be blunt, even though a means of encouraging people to be blunt is right there in his quote. that’s a misrepresentation. I corrected it. you’re claiming that my explanation of what my (and Jen’s, and PZ’s) words meant is emotion-caused misreading of his point (even though I didn’t address his point at all, my post being primarily about correcting his misrepresentations), but are refusing to say whether his blatant misrepresentation is similarly caused by emotions; are you aware how incoherent that is?

You are misunderstanding what he means as well.

you have asserted this several times now. Care to show some evidence of how my corrections of his misrepresentations are misunderstandings?

I don’t see a genuine attempt on your part to understand our point of view.

I’ve spent the entire time correcting misrepresentations of myself and others/.I have not engaged your point at all. I understand it just fine, however, since it’s neither original or new.

I think you are more interested criticizing what you think we mean

I’ve spent most of my time with you and your buddy correcting misrepresentations. are you claiming that his complete misrepresentation of people’s writing are “what [I] think [you] mean”? That would be a tall order, since you’d first have to show that wes understood and represented me correctly

since we are nothing but privileged douchnozzles.

that’s a strawman. I’m plenty of privileged myself, and that mere fact is irrelevant to my actions. I’ve criticized (asking for) behavior that privileges the privileged by ignoring power-gradients, which is what JT did, and which is what you’ve done.

Sure making ourselves better is hard, and harder for some..

you’ve still to show that what you want people to do is “bettering” themselves, rather than simply requesting a social standard different from, but with an equal number of pros and cons, the one we’re requesting. wes seems to have tried to do this by strawmanning what our social standard would be. if you want me to take you seriously, you have to do this without misrepresentations and claims that we’re pro-lying.

All I want is a world lacking in bullshit and “veiling of our desires” called politeness

there you are again, claiming we-re pro-lying. without evidence for that assertion. considering that the social-standard we propose demands not lying but ascertaining interest and comfort levels before propositioning, that’s a misrepresentation on your part; considering that I’ve even given suggestions as to how to fight against the “politeness” standard imposed on people, you’re also directly misrepresenting me here. And btw, you are now conflating desire with acting on desire, as well. I keep pointing this out because the misrepresentations of me and especially PZ hinge on that point: wes quoted PZ saying that there are appropriate and inappropriate situations for deciding to act on a desire; wes presented it as PZ saying that people should act like Nice Guys, i.e. veiling the acting on that desire in a pretense of friendship.

Can’t handle directness from people? That’s your issue, not mine.

there you are again, privileging your own desires over that of others. brilliant. who cares if people get triggered by your bluntness, who cares if such bluntness creates chilly climates, who cares if people don’t want to be propositioned in contexts they consider non-sexual. courtesy and consideration is apparently Teh Ebil

9. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

there you are again, claiming

implying, rather. and not by itself, of course, but in the fact that you make it sound as if your desire for a world without bullshit is somehow different from ours.

anyway, if you want to continue to claim that I’m misunderstanding and misrepresenting, some evidence would be nice. otherwise, I suggest you withdraw your claim that my emotions are fogging my brain, and attend instead to the misrepresentations clearly caused by the emotional brainfog wes must be suffering from.

10. A. Guest - June 19, 2012

“All I want is a world lacking in bullshit and “veiling of our desires” called politeness (which is really misrepresentation of what we want and who we are). Can’t handle directness from people? That’s your issue, not mine.”

I agree with Jadehawk here. Politeness norms exist because they are _useful_ and enhance social interaction. This is especially true among strangers, and when addressing a sensitive sphere such as sexuality and intimacy.

Do I think that there is a genuine trade-off between sex-positivity (per wfenza) and avoidance of discomfort? Unfortunately, yes: some styles of communication are potentially effective at creating or enhancing attraction and social intimacy, but they’re also liable to being misinterpreted as excessively “forward” or “direct”. Nonetheless, politeness norms (and an awareness of social signals) mitigate this trade-off considerably, while gross boorishness and social obliviousness make it mostly or entirely unfeasible.

11. Gina - June 19, 2012

The argument seems to be being made that one should not privilege one’s own desires over those of someone with different circumstances. Why not? Some people want to be left alone when they go out, others would like to be engaged. Why shouldn’t the people who want to be engaged prioritize that? The ideal situation is that if someone is engaged who does not want to be, they will tell the engager to leave them alone…and then the engager will leave them alone. I know that this is not how it is all the time now, but how will it ever be that way if we don’t do things that are uncomfortable?

If I were to desire an atmosphere where people were blunt and direct about what they wanted, but also took no for an answer, why should that desire be ignored simply because this might be uncomfortable for someone else? Why should the default be to say nothing or use indirect language rather than use direct language?

If the answer is because it is perceived that fewer people will be hurt by saying nothing, then I think it needs to be pointed out that plenty of awfulness has been triggered by refusal to speak.

Please note that I am talking about more than getting propositioned at conferences. I am talking about talking to people in any situation.

12. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

If this conversation is to continue, I think it may be best to discontinue the quoting and replying, as it will lead to spirals that are unhelpful in such conversations. I think a reset button needs to be pushed. If you disagree, feel free to keep doing so, and I will not mind. I will start anew.

I am willing to admit that I am quite possibly misrepresenting you specifically, as I have not spent sufficient time reading your posts to know what your opinion is. This may be my error, and if so then I apologize and am willing to take responsibility for that. it is also quite possible that Wes is at fault. As the editor and administrator to this blog, I share some of that responsibility as well.

I will also admit that especially in my last few comments, I have certainly been emotional, and that likely clouded my ability to be objective and fully rational. Thus, I would prefer to have a conversation that takes that discussion into consideration, but allows us to start anew and declare what this conversation is about.

My interest in the general question at hand in talking about harassment, policies to protect against such, and the relationship of such policies to sex positivity and its place at conferences. The other issue raised above I would like to deal with as well, but my opinion is that those issues are tangential and a result of some miscommunication that we are all responsible for, to what extent we are each responsible is still relevant but secondary to me at this point. I don’t know how to effectively parse the various threads of conversation. Perhaps some email correspondence, if that would be of interest? I would be willing to post any and all such correspondences.

So, this is the larger issue at hand, as I see it:

What I have seen in my experience talking with people about this issue (and I have been talking about this since long before the recent discussion started), is that many people propose maintaining the social tendency to not directly address desires and needs when it comes to things like sexuality, and I think this needs to change. My highest values are honesty and a perpetual self-improvement and self-challenging, which I would like to see more people adopt.

I do not want to privilege my desires over other people in most cases. I don’t want to disregard people’s triggers, as I have my own and know what that is like. But I do want to emphasize that there is a tension between being careful about triggers and a personal responsibility for one’s own emotions and reactions. I will not intentionally trigger someone in the vast majority of cases (where I might do so is a conversation to be left aside for the moment), but I think that if someone were to ask that we all walk on egg shells around all people in case they have triggers is asking too much, and I would prefer people to move away from such views. I am not claiming that you advocate such, only that because there is a tension between social respect and personal responsibility for how we react to things, there will be times when I will say or do something that will trigger other people, and that is not always my fault (for example).

Bottom line, there is a difference between victim-blaming (which I am strongly opposed to) and wanting people to be able to have a better handle on their emotional reactions to situations. I think people have to be generally better at handling unwanted events in life, including unwanted sexual advances. The problem arises where when what one person sees as harassment another may not agree. I think we all (hopefully) agree that harassment is unacceptable. The question is where, precisely, is the line between appropriate expression of sexuality and not appropriate expression of such, and whether harassment overlaps this question or not.

My opinion is that people need to be more comfortable with overt sexuality in their lives, even if it is not something they specifically want at all or often. I understand that some people have experiences which make this hard. I wish that were not the case, but it is.

The standard social rules, as I understand them, privilege a worldview of monogamy, heterosexuality, and a stance leaning towards sex-negativity. I would like the standards to shift towards polyamory, pansexuality (or at least bisexuality), and sex-positivity. How far should the standards shift? I don’t know. That’s the discussion I want to have (Generally, not necessarily here and with you. Unless that conversation interests you).

I hope that helps. And, again, any other issue you would like to continue addressing are fair game. I think we are coming from very different points of view, and we are not understanding each-other very well. I would like that to change. I will do my best to do so on my end, and hope you will do the same.

13. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

The argument seems to be being made that one should not privilege one’s own desires over those of someone with different circumstances. Why not?

because if everyone behaved that way (privileged their desires by acting on them even if there’s no hint that the person they’ll be acting upon wants to be acted upon), especially if one group of people will be more likely to be at the end of this unwillingly received action, you create a society in which the desires of one group of people become more important than the autonomy and agency of other people.

privileging one’s ability to act out on desires over other people’s ability to consent to that action DOES lie on a spectrum with sexual assault. it’s the flaw in the “as long as she doesn’t say no, it means yes” attitude to consent, which is evident in deciding that you get enact your desires on someone until and unless that someone says you can’t.

The ideal situation is that if someone is engaged who does not want to be, they will tell the engager to leave them alone

except that at that point, they have already been engaged. and if this is to be the social norm, they will be engaged a lot, against their will. And depending on the reason they do not wish to be engaged, having their desire overridden by someone else’s desire can cause them more than temporary inconvenience

Please note that I am talking about more than getting propositioned at conferences. I am talking about talking to people in any situation.

but there’s no such thing as a code of behavior for “any” situation. they’re all context specific. you don’t need ask if someone wants sex in a darkroom; you don’t need to figure out if someone might be into flirting when they’re at a singles-party or similar. on the other hand, sexual or romantic interest in a coworker would have to be handled very carefully, while sexual interest in a subordinate should probably best not be acted on at all. it’s all context specific. always.

14. Shifting of standards of communication « atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - June 19, 2012

[...] Tags: communication, relationships, sex negative, sex positive trackback I said this in a comment to my last post: The standard social rules, as I understand them, privilege a worldview of [...]

15. A. Guest - June 19, 2012

“Bottom line, there is a difference between victim-blaming (which I am strongly opposed to) and wanting people to be able to have a better handle on their emotional reactions to situations.”

I don’t think this is the case. I am rather confident that most people suffering from “triggers” would want to take all viable steps to get rid of these unwanted reactions. So your request that people should “have a better handle” on these is just wishful thinking, and not helpful at all. You _are_ skirting responsibility here. This is not to say that anybody is necessarily “at fault” for unintentionally causing a trigger reaction – but people _are_ at fault if they engage in negligent or reckless behavior.
The sexual sphere is _rife_ with such concerns, and this need not have anything to do with our norms being skewed towards sex-negativity or heterosexual monogamy.

There are other issues worth exploring in your comment, but things are getting rather complicated. Suffice it to say that applying the norms of radical honesty, among _strangers_, to the _sexual_ sphere is an _extremely_ …well, radical — proposal. You have not argued for its feasibility here, or even started an explorative discussion of its potential conseqences.

16. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

What I have seen in my experience talking with people about this issue (and I have been talking about this since long before the recent discussion started), is that many people propose maintaining the social tendency to not directly address desires and needs when it comes to things like sexuality, and I think this needs to change.

I don’t know who these people are, but they aren’t me, and they aren’t any of the people on “my” side of the harassment policy issues either. what I have seen however is the same thing that was done with my post(and what I’ve seen done in the past to other people as well): take comments and articles that were addressing something else entirely to mean that people wanted others to be dishonest.

but I think that if someone were to ask that we all walk on egg shells around all people in case they have triggers is asking too much

this is boring hyperbole, since asking to take the effort to get to know someone enough to know where their comfort-zones lie and whether sexual interest might be present before suggesting anything sexual is hardly too much to ask. neither is insisting that in non-sexual contexts, people should primarily focs on friendly interaction (and if they can’t or won’t do that, to find venues where they’ll find other people whose primary goal is getting laid, too). which is all I’ve done, all PZ has done, and all Jen has done.

Bottom line, there is a difference between victim-blaming (which I am strongly opposed to) and wanting people to be able to have a better handle on their emotional reactions to situations.

it’s a fine line, and rarely does it remain uncrossed when suggested down a power-gradient, especially by random people on the internet (i.e. lack of professional training in suggesting effective emotional management to others, as well as likely lack of sufficient knowledge of the suggestee’s)

My opinion is that people need to be more comfortable with overt sexuality in their lives

*rolleyes*
most women are quote used to “overt sexuality”. they swim in expressions and representations of het male sexuality targeted at them whether they want to or not.

The standard social rules, as I understand them, privilege a worldview of monogamy, heterosexuality, and a stance leaning towards sex-negativity. I would like the standards to shift towards polyamory, pansexuality (or at least bisexuality), and sex-positivity.

so you want one hierarchical standard to be superceeded by another. how is that an improvement, other than it benefitting you personally more?

what should superceede current social standards are standards that don’t structurally privilege any form of sexuality and sexual practice, as long as it’s mutual (which, ok, does always privilege the individuals who want less in each interaction, since otherwise it’s hardly mutual). And the only way to achieve that is to never assume “yes”, but always to communicate and ascertain interest and consent before acting. And that goes for all sexual acts, starting at propositioning for sex and ending at the most exotic and unique kinks. And blurting your desires out regardless of context is not the way to do that. Rather, find or create a context that gives you what you want. I’d not be opposed to a horny-people lounge or similar to be organized at events that otherwise have a distinctly non-sexual context, if screwing around on that particular weekend is really that essential of an experience for some. but don’t burden other people with your sexdrive against their will.

17. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

@Guest

Well, I have found honesty and directness to be extremely helpful for me personally. Yes, it has ended some relationships, but I find that relationships with those people was not much of a loss. It has made me more secure, strengthened relationships that matter to me, and forces me to deal with the truth, because I can’t hide behind lies about myself that I otherwise would keep close.

I had not heard of Radical Honesty before, and am not sure what all of it includes (only after having read the wiki article you linked to). I would not describe my views the way that wiki article did.

It does come across as radical, and I do recognize that it would need some evidential support to apply it universally. I’m quite sure where to start there. What I know is that it is a set of values I highly respect, and would not wish to go back to being dishonest.

18. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

@jadehawk,

I think our views are actually pretty close. What is left in disagreement is not sufficient to even hash out, I don’t think.

I know you don’t know me personally, but I’m actually quite shy and reserved myself, especially in person. I want to be less-so and have practiced being less-so towards great personal growth. When I am in conversation with a person with whom I sense mutual sexual interest (and I have been wrong about that too) I do ask direct questions and declare my desires unambiguously, but I have never coldly propositioned someone for sex, and I doubt I ever would.

But I know people who would and have (I’m not thinking of Wes), and don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that. Contextually wrong? sure.

I often find myself sexually drawn to intelligent, opinionated, and strong-minded women (hell, even some such men make me feel like my Kinsey scale rising). I meet many such people at conferences, and so conferences are hotbeds of sexual desire for people like me. I know there are conferences for that, but the people there are, well, often less than appealing.

19. Alex - June 19, 2012

I know this is not an anarchist blog, but I think anarchism might have something constructive to add to this discussion.

Pinker argues that a key catalyst of social revolutions is the movement of knowledge from the category of individual to the category of mutual. Freedom of association is so valued in democracies, then, because it allows individuals to band into groups to challenge, and possibly overturn, dominance relationships that oppress them.

I can’t speak for Wes, but when I read his post I made the assumption that he was suggesting a way for us to overturn the dominance relationships we currently have because of the hegemony of things like heteronormativity, mononormativity, sex negativity, etc. Those concepts operate as authoritative and thus establish and reinforce dominance relationships between members of the cultures which perpetuate them.

What we often refer to as “politeness” is a form of dominance in which, as Gina says above, some people’s desires/intentions are framed as secondary to others’. But the desires/intentions being defended are not necessarily universal: they are simply assumed, usually because they conform to the relevant culturally normative grand narrative.

Anarchists seek to challenge all forms of arbitrary authority, and one of the ways we do that is by questioning the efficacy of structures of social dominance. Erecting elaborate linguistic structures (euphemism, for example) in an attempt to communicate while maintaining the comfort of “safe” fictions (as in PInker’s “When Harry Met Sally” example) as fallback positions does not seem to be an efficient way to communicate. Thus, this mode of discourse should be challenged.

I think posts like Wes’ and Shaun’s are trying to start the conversation that might allow us to move our individual knowledge into the sphere of mutual knowledge, which might be the first step toward actually changing the nature of our social interactions. I think that’s a worthy goal, though possibly for different reasons than they do.

20. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

but I’m actually quite shy and reserved myself, especially in person. I want to be less-so and have practiced being less-so towards great personal growth.

I’ve always been suspicious of treating shyness as a character-flaw (mostly because it’s too often used as a tool to shame introverts), but if it benefited you, good for you.

When I am in conversation with a person with whom I sense mutual sexual interest (and I have been wrong about that too) I do ask direct questions and declare my desires unambiguously

as long as you don’t confuse blunt crudeness with subtle unambiguousness (the difference between asking if one’s impression that there’s mutual more-than-just-friendly interest is correct and saying “you want me, don’t you?”), that’s hardly a problem.

But I know people who would and have (I’m not thinking of Wes), and don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that. Contextually wrong? sure.

and context was all this ever was about.

I meet many such people at conferences, and so conferences are hotbeds of sexual desire for people like me.

which is fine, and no one is denying your right to your feelings. but your bursts of sexual desire simply aren’t more important than other people’s desires to maybe spend one weekend not being seen as the object of other people’s sexual urges. hence the need for negotiation and getting-to-know someone.

incidentally, I was quite serious when I suggested that at the moment, the best way to encourage people to be blunt to you personally would be to wear that button Rebecca made (or, if you don’t like the implication of ineptitude, making another button that says “please be blunt”). It would be an interesting social experiment to see if/how they worked, and unlike the usually suggested sexuality-signalling buttons, the worst that’ll happen if a guy wears it is that someone will use it as an excuse to be a crude asshole and insult you (I’m just going to assume that you want everyone to be equally forward to you; if not, then the button won’t work for you either, of course).

21. shaunphilly - June 19, 2012

About context. The issue which still remains there is that people will disagree about what the appropriate contexts are. Genuine, non-asshole people, I mean. There is a real conversation to be had about that.

And as for the button, when I first saw that on skepchick I did think it was a nominally good idea. And yes, I want people to be blunt with me, and can take an insult.

22. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

spend one weekend not being seen as the object of other people’s sexual urges.

sorry, that should have been clearer. “spend one weekend not being the object of other people acting out their sexual urges”.

after all, even if half the city is horny for person X, person X will only know this and be able to feel anything about it if they actually act on it.

23. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

The issue which still remains there is that people will disagree about what the appropriate contexts are. Genuine, non-asshole people, I mean. There is a real conversation to be had about that.

probably. but I won’t be convinced that public, non-sexual events are it. most women already deal with unwanted sexual attention every time they step out the door (and sometimes even when they don’t), there’s no need to encourage such behavior any further by declaring conventions appropriate contexts for cold-propositioning.

24. Jadehawk - June 19, 2012

by the way, since you didn’t announce that you weren’t going to read the responses on my blog any more over there, people have replied to you as if you were still reading.

25. Being sex positive is complicated…. | Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History - June 20, 2012

[...] been watching and reading a bunch of posts over at Poly Skeptic discussing harassment at conventions and a bunch of other complicated [...]

26. But Ultimately Honest Communication is Key « atheist, polyamorous, skeptics - June 21, 2012

[...] and, for some unknown reason, haven’t been reading Polyskeptic, you might have noticed a lot of discussion lately about the tension between being expressing sexual/romantic interest in people and [...]


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