March 29, 2013

Atheist Alliance International President Explains His Apology

English: A (not yet) regularly used symbol for...
English: A (not yet) regularly used symbol for "atheism". It resembles (but only a little) the anarchist symbol or the "at" @. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For those of you following the recent controversy in which complaints from Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson about my post on harassment prompted a public apology for tweeting a link to it from Carlos A. Diaz, President of Atheist Alliance International, Mr. Diaz has responded in the form of a comment. I wanted to bring this to your attention because I really appreciate him taking the time to respond, and I found his response informative. I know many of you wanted to hear from him, and now you can. You can find Mr. Diaz's comment here.

The most important part of his comment, at least for me, was his explanation about why he felt I had "trivialised harassment of women in the atheist community." As you will see from his comment, he took issue with the section of my post labeled "Behavior that is Clearly NOT Harassment." He indicated that some of what his organization considers harassment was identified in my post as not being harassment. That is certainly a fair point. My post focused on legal definitions of harassment; his organization appears to use a different sort of definition. He pointed to items #3 (wearing clothing with social or political messages at conferences) and #5 (inserting oneself into someone else's conversations and making absurd accusations against them) as examples. He seems to consider these to be legitimate examples of harassment while I noted that they do not seem consistent with the common components of various legal definitions.

Perhaps the entire controversy could be understood as follows:
The post in which I sought to advance the understanding of harassment by examining legal definitions, summarizing the common components, and then comparing the emerging definition with several of the behaviors some in our community have labeled as harassment was perceived as trivializing harassment because those who have been making the claims of harassment define it very differently.
That seems like an accurate statement to me. If someone truly believes that Harriet Hall's t-shirt was harassment, I can understand why they might have read my post as trivializing harassment. This would be particularly true if they thought I was presenting my personal definition of harassment and claiming that it was the only acceptable way to understand harassment instead of trying to explore how the common components of legal definitions would or would not apply to various examples.

I thank Mr. Diaz for his comment, and I want to assure him that I did not feel attacked by his apology. As I explained previously, I do not agree with the suggestion that my original post focused on women (it did not) or that I trivialized the harassment of anyone. As some of you have noted in your comments, I wrote what I wrote in part because I worry that some of those who seem to label any behavior they do not like as harassment are trivializing harassment. However, I do see how my post could be read as trivializing some definitions of harassment by pointing out that they would not meet legal definitions of harassment.

In my original post, I wrote:
I am not suggesting that we must restrict ourselves to a legal definition, but it at least gives us a place to start.
I wrote this because I do not believe that legal definitions are the only valid way to understand harassment and because I intended that post to be the first of what I thought would be many posts dealing with harassment. I imagine that this is a topic to which I will return.