I don’t know about you, but I’m tired and ready for some things to smile about.
Yesterday afternoon, Twitter called my attention to the following comment on a listserv of SF/F conrunners:
“Instead of insulting us, [Hines] could be using whatever influence he has in social media to help recruit more PoC into our circles. They need to know they’d probably be much more welcome here than they might be elsewhere. (After all, many of us would love to befriend extra terrestrials or anthromorphs.)”
I’m told that others on the listserv quickly pointed out how messed-up it was to compare people of color to aliens and monsters, and that the individual apologized, so I don’t want to spend much time rehashing that part of the comment. I doubt it was deliberately intended to be racist or offensive. But I think it’s worth emphasizing that this kind of unintentional and unthinking hurtfulness is, in my opinion, a big part of our problem.
I did post a snarky and sarcastic comment on Twitter in response to that “recruiting” comment:
Knock, knock. “Hello, I’ve come to spread the good news about fandom, where we love aliens, monsters, and even PoC!”
For the record, I consider myself part of fandom. I love our community. I love the friends I’ve made here. I love this part of my life. But I’m not going to ignore the serious problems we continue to struggle with when it comes to sexism and racism and inclusiveness and so on. And when individuals made racist remarks, or conventions botch their handling of sexual harassment, or another convention chair congratulates themselves on their “colorblindness” when their convention is 97% white, I’m going to keep pointing that out.
On Twitter, I was accused of driving people from SF/F fandom, and making our community look bad. I admit to being rather baffled by this. I thought things like conrunners making ignorant racist remarks were what made the rest of us look bad, not the acknowledgement and criticism of such remarks.
This bugs me a lot. It resonates with the dynamics I’ve seen in abusive families, where the most serious crime isn’t the abuse, but talking about the abuse outside of the family. So yeah, this hits a big old button for me.
Then there’s the complaint that I’m not using my “influence” to recruit other groups into fandom. Which got me thinking more seriously about the suggestion that hey, maybe I should work to try bring more diverse fans into fandom.
I’m sorry, but what the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do???
There are a lot of ways to try to make fandom and conventions more welcoming, and to try to encourage others to join our community. Which do you think is actually going to make people feel wanted — comparing them to aliens and monsters, or publicly denouncing the people who make such ignorant and hurtful remarks? You’ve got voices in fandom saying black people don’t come to cons because those people don’t like SF/F. Then you’ve got voices in fandom saying, “That’s racist bullshit, we don’t all believe that, and we as a community need to do better.”
I know which category I’d prefer to belong to.
Some of the ways I see to try to build a more welcoming community include:
I’m not asking for cookies, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always get it right. I’ve messed up plenty of times. But yeah, my goal is, in fact, to make fandom a more welcoming place, and help it become a community that a broader range of people will choose to be a part of. Not by going door-to-door so I can drag a token black woman to my local con, but by trying to address the underlying problems making so many people feel unwelcome.
You know what isn’t going to encourage people to be a part of fandom?
I’m rather fond of this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.“
There are a lot of good people trying to make fandom a better and more welcoming place. Some of them are on that listserv I mentioned in the beginning, where I’m told there has been some good and productive conversation lately. I’ve worked with some great people at cons and on panels. I’ve linked to some of them online. These are folks I believe are working to bring a broader range of people into fandom. Not by dragging or ordering them to attend, but by trying to acknowledge and fix our flaws, and to reshape fandom into a thing more people yearn to be a part of.
I’ve written many times before about reporting sexual harassment in SF/F, and about the problem of harassment at SF/F conventions. While I think it’s important to talk about the problem, and to hold conventions and individuals accountable when they mess up, it’s also important to recognize the things folks do right, and to help groups improve. To that end, and with the help of some friends, I’ve tried to put together a “starter kit” for conventions wanting to create or improve their harassment/safety policy.
1. What’s the goal of a convention harassment policy?
The existence of a clear, published harassment policy sends a message. So does the lack of such a policy. Harassment is a real and ongoing problem, whether you’re talking about a huge media-oriented con or a smaller “professional” event. Choosing not to publish a policy on harassment can suggest that your event doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously, and may turn a blind eye to such incidents.
Defining harassing behavior sets a clear expectation of what will and won’t be tolerated, and can help to prevent common excuses like, “He’s just socially awkward and didn’t know he was harassing her.”
A sexual harassment policy lets attendees and volunteers know how seriously your event intends to respond to incidents. Having a written policy in place beforehand also makes it simpler for people to know how to report, and gives staff the information they need on responding to reports.
2. What should a convention harassment policy include?
The Geek Feminism Wiki has several sample harassment policies that may be helpful to review. No one policy is appropriate for all conventions, but typical policies should include:
Cheryl Morgan suggested the following, which I hadn’t considered, but agree with: “The policy should make it clear that the victim’s wishes will be respected. It is better to have incidents reported and to take no action, than to have the incidents not reported because the victim has reasons not to want action taken.”
From a sample policy at the Geek Feminism Wiki:
“Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, [your specific concern here]], sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.”
ISFiC’s harassment policy includes the following statement of potential consequences:
“Windycon and ISFiC reserves the right revoke the membership of anyone failing to conform to the letter and spirit of these policies, those of our hotel, and the laws of the City of Lombard and the State of Illinois.”
Readercon’s website includes a list of possible consequences, up to banning the harasser from the con and from future events. The same page provides information on how to report harassment, as well as a link to their internal procedures for handling reports.
3. Where and how should the harassment policy be published?
The nice thing about a website is that you have more room to work with. You can lay out the full details of your policy, as Readercon has done. Many people will check out your website when deciding whether or not to attend your event. As many in the SF/F community saw with the run-up to the 2013 World Fantasy Convention, if your website lacks a harassment policy, people will notice.
The program book should also include your convention’s harassment policy. If you don’t have as much space, you might choose to print a summary with a link to the website for more information. But the program book should include the main points.
Of course, lots of people don’t read the program book, which is why it’s a good idea to mention the harassment policy elsewhere. Reference it during opening ceremonies. Post flyers at the convention. (There are some slightly blurry sample flyers from CONvergence here.) Include a copy of the policy at the registration desk
If you have a central phone number and/or email address for reporting harassment, make sure that’s publicized as well.
4. What should the convention do if someone reports harassment?
I’m not a conrunner, and have less information about the behind-the-scenes operation of conventions, so I’m drawing heavily from the Geek Feminism Wiki’s page on how to respond to reports of harassment and input from friends for this section. (Any mistakes or omissions are my own.)
Before the Convention Even Starts:
After the Convention:
Some of this seems obvious, such as finding a safe place to talk. But there have been had instances where someone was assault at a convention, and the con staff basically interrogated her in the middle of the lobby. Don’t do that.
If there’s a problem with a particular individual, the con staff need to be aware of this. If additional reports come in while an incident is being investigated, the fact that this isn’t a first report can affect how staff respond.
Finally, if you have a policy, follow it. Many of you are probably familiar with the incident at Readercon where they received multiple, verified reports of an individual harassing others, but responded in a way that ignored the consequences set out in their own policy. This damaged the trust of attendees and resulted in the entire Readercon board resigning. (Readercon has since done a great deal of work to try to repair the damage done by this decision.)
5. Where can I find examples of convention harassment policies?
There are many more conventions with good harassment policies out there, and more groups are creating and publishing such policies each year. But these should be enough to get you started thinking about how to write or update your own.
6. Do harassment policies really work?
It’s true that publishing a policy doesn’t guarantee your event will be harassment-free. Just like laws against theft and vandalism didn’t stop someone from smashing the window to my wife’s van a few years back and stealing everything they could grab. However, the existence of those laws sends a clear message about what will and will not be tolerated in the community, and establishes consequences for anyone choosing to violate those rules.
Creating and publishing a harassment policy for your convention will help reduce the behavior, let your members know you take harassment seriously, and help you to respond more effectively when it does happen.
If all goes well, I’m still sleeping right now, after getting up to try to see Comet Lovejoy. (Since it sounds like Comet ISON may not have survived its close encounter with the sun )
Anyway, here – have some links of fun and niftiness!
I’m thinking I should take a lesson from the Internet and promote my books under different titles to try to attract more attention. What do you think? Would you buy any of the following?
The Goblin Series:
The Princess Series:
Magic ex Libris
The sad thing is that it was slightly easier to come up with the joke titles than it’s been thinking of the real ones :-/
First off, a self-promo link. For any SFWA members who might be interested, I’ve posted a copy of my story “Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy” in the SFWA Forums. This is the superhero-with-cancer story I’ve spoken about.
Now, on to this week’s links:
The World Fantasy Convention was held earlier this month. I wasn’t able to attend this year.
Let me repeat that. I wasn’t at WFC this year. What follows is based on online announcements from the con itself, a screenshot or two, and various blog posts and discussions. My main goal here is signal-boosting and hopefully helping more people to understand that this stuff matters. And also to vent my own frustrations…
This year’s WFC had problems. From accessibility trouble to the great fee-charging kaffeeklatch SNAFU and so much more. One of many concerns raised before the con was the lack of a sexual harassment policy. Their website originally said only:
“World Fantasy Convention 2013, as with any other predominantly adult gathering, will have a number of rules and regulations for the safety of attendees. These will be clearly stated in our Programme Guide, which will be given to each attendee when they register. In the meantime, we refer you to the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act 1997.” (Source)
This was tucked away in the FAQs, by the way.
A comment in the WFC Facebook group suggested people shouldn’t worry, because “…it is extremely unusual for this kind of behavior to take place at a World Fantasy Convention, as it is largely a professional-oriented event.” (Source)
In fairness, this comment doesn’t appear to have come directly from the convention board, but it does seem to capture their general attitude that we don’t have to worry about that sort of thing because we’re so professional!
Which is probably why someone programmed the following snarky announcement on the display boards in the lobby on Sunday morning:
“It’s Sunday. No one has lost their badge and no one has been harassed.” (Source)
That would have been a dickish thing to write even if it had been true. As should surprise nobody with half a brain, it was blatantly false.
Afterward, the convention sent out a follow-up report which acknowledged:
“Regrettably, we learned of one small harassment incident that occurred on the Saturday night when an extremely drunken fan made a nuisance of himself in the hotel Lobby. Unfortunately, he was not reported to either of the professional Security guards who were on duty at the time or any member of the con committee. As a result, by the time we had found out about the incident and ascertained the details, the individual concerned (who was not attending the Awards Banquet) had apparently already left the convention. The person affected did not wish to pursue the matter with either the hotel or the police and, for legal reasons, we cannot publicly identify the individual responsible. However, after full consultation with the Hilton management and our Security team, we have passed the name of the nuisance-maker on to the organisers of next year’s World Fantasy Convention, who will decide on any appropriate action to take.” (Source)
What a bunch of minimizing, factually inaccurate, victim-blaming bullshit.
Cheryl Morgan has a post breaking down, to the best of her knowledge, who is responsible for the problems that plagued this years WFC:
“So my view on this complex mess is as follows. Steve Jones and his co-chairs are directly responsible for how the convention was run. The World Fantasy Board is responsible for having granted the convention to Jones in the first place (and they have enough experience of his behavior to have known what to expect). The Board is also responsible in that it has the power to set policy regarding how the convention should be run, and to select groups to run future conventions wisely.” (Source)
I don’t know how many people were sexually harassed at World Fantasy Con, nor do I know how many harassers there were. I do know that multiple instances have been publicly reported. I also know that these things tend to be under-reported, especially when an organization makes it clear they’re not really interested in taking such reports seriously, as this year’s WFC did from day one.
Here are a few tips for anyone who wants to run a convention that actually gives a damn about its members:
I’m off to Windycon. Have some cool stuff!