Everyone knows what this is about.
So, many people have already said more or less what I'd want to say about the thing that this is about. But there's another thing I've seen going on. Not a lot of it, no, most people I've seen comment are (completely understandably) outraged. But a couple comments I've seen--that no, the facts aren't in dispute but really we should be making sure there's actually more than the undisputed facts to go on before rushing to judgment, combined with another comment decrying the possibility that If This Goes On it might no longer be possible to flirt at conventions--those are what I'm thinking about right now.
No, don't get mad at them, at those individuals. I think the couple people I've seen say this sort of thing have either rethought their position or have deliberately chosen to disengage with the discussion. I'm not interested in castigating them personally.
Particularly since I've seen this reaction before. It is not confined to one or two outliers, but actually is a reaction I've seen to any number of anti-harassment initiatives or regulations. "But when you make all these rules about sexual harassment, how can you talk to a woman without getting in trouble?" or "How could you ever date anyone?" It always makes me think of the time, shortly after the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas thing, an elderly gentleman came into the faculty club and came up to the bar--which, I was bartending that day--to order a martini, and the first words out of his mouth were, "What can I say to a lady bartender that won't get me in trouble?" I smiled my waitress smile and said, "How about, Hello, lady bartender." I'd probably have lost my job if I'd given him a more extensive answer. Oh, the waitress smile, it has gotten me through any number of difficult situations!
But here's the more extensive answer. If you really think that "speaking to women" is indistinguishable from harassment, there's a problem and it’s not with the rules. If you really think anti-harassment rules bar flirting, you've got an idea of what constitutes flirting that really needs some re-evaluation. I mean, if someone said, "Hey, we should outlaw rape," and the guy standing next to you said, "But that's the same thing as saying people can't have sex!" you wouldn't say, Wow, good point!. You'd look at him sideways. Or, sweet unconquered sun, I hope you would.
If you speak to women the way you'd speak to someone you respect, someone whose boundaries you respect, you generally won't have any problems with women accusing you of harassment. End of story.
When you worry out loud that anti-harassment policies might outlaw flirting, you as much as sharpie a sign on your forehead saying "I DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU WANT AS LONG AS I GET WHAT I'M AFTER."
And the thing is, like I said, this is not an outlier attitude. By default, women are supposed to be available targets of men's desires, and men are expected to have the right to act on those desires. Women's desires are immaterial. You see this whenever someone complains that some nicely dressed woman in a bar (or at a con, or really anywhere outside the house) expressed a lack of interest in male attention, or even annoyance with it, when she ought to just deal with it if she's going to dress the way she did. *
You see this whenever someone says "but men don't understand subtle signals, did you say really clearly that you wanted him to fuck off?" and the woman in question says, "Yes, actually, I did, I said fuck off I'm not interested. About five times." And the first someone says, "But you have to be really clear about it, maybe he was on the autism spectrum!" (Or my other favorite response to that one, "But did you have to be so mean?")
You see this when the reaction to an accusation of harassment is to worry about the feelings and motivations (and possibility for reform) of the harasser, and to wonder how anyone will ever have happy fun sexytimes if women start taking offense at having their boundaries disrespected and being physically assaulted.
You see this in "romantic" movies, where the key to the guy's success is to stalk and harangue the woman until she gives in. You see this every time someone pops a hugely public surprise** proposal. She can't say no on the jumbotron in front of all those hockey fans, can she?!
TV and movies and people's conversations, they all constantly reinforce this narrative of men's desires and women's obligation to fulfill those desires. This narrative of men being people who want things for understandable reasons of their own, and women being objects who exist only in relation to those men's desires. It's a really, really powerful narrative, it affects the behavior and attitudes of people who would, if you asked them, completely disavow the underlying structure, that "women are objects that exist to satisfy men" thing. Men and women both.
And yet they keep telling those jokes and those stories, keep applauding those put-her-on-the-spot proposals, keep talking about how women who go to cons dressed all sexy are only doing it for male attention, keep reacting to accusations of harassment by wondering if the woman really did what she ought to have done, and how we can make things better for the poor harasser.
*It' s been said many times, but it bears repeating--women do not actually do everything with men in mind. Sometimes women go whole hours doing things because they want to, never even giving a moment's thought to what some random guy will think about it. Yes, we are living in the end times. It's true.
**The "surprise" here is key. If you already know what her answer is and you've just decided to announce it to the world on the Jumbotron at the Cards game and show her how happy you are about it, no sweat. If you think you already know what her answer is and are really invested in putting her unexpectedly on the spot in front of thousands of people, I highly, highly recommend rethinking why that might be.
***It occurs to me that a good number of the people I've met who get bent out of shape thinking about how supposedly feminists think all sex is rape are the same people who repeatedly demonstrate that they, themselves, are not actually clear on the distinction between the two.