One of the reasons guys harass women is that they can. Their actions get excused as harmless flirting, or simply, “Bob being Bob.” The target of their aggression, whether it’s unwanted physical contact, stalking them around a convention, focusing unwanted attention and commentary on her body, or whatever, has generally been conditioned to not raise a fuss. If she does say something, she’s told she’s overreacting, or looking for reasons to be offended, or simply to lighten up.
So much of the time, the harassment appears to go unchecked.
But you know what? Fandom is a fairly small, interlinked community. People in fandom tend to know each other. Take a purely hypothetical situation where you, a random writer, were harassing a woman at a convention. Maybe she didn’t say anything to you. But–hypothetically speaking–she might have said something to a friend later, warning that friend about you. They might have started keeping an eye out for you, watching each others’ backs and passing the word.
They might even have mentioned what happened to someone like me.
I admit, I sometimes have to fight my own White Knight syndrome, the desire to charge out on my horse and smite creeps like you from our ranks. But of course, I didn’t witness what happened. And this was told to me in confidence. The only reason I’m talking about it here is that it happens so often that there’s no way to identify the specific person–the specific people–I’m talking about. Heck, just at ConFusion, I’m aware of at least three different instances of this kind of crap happening to people, and unfortunately, that’s not unusual.
If you’re worried that the creeper I’m talking about might be you, well, that seems like something you really need to sit down and think about.
I won’t get the rapier out of storage and go on a smiting spree. Nor will I call down the Wrath of the Internet to publicly shame you.
On the other hand, I get a fair number of review copies from various publishers. And what do you know, I recently noticed that you were the author of one of those review copies. Yes you, the same dude who was creeping on a friend of mine. What a fascinating coincidence, eh?
Guess which book will never get reviewed on my blog.
Guess which author will never get a retweet, a linkback, or any kind of promotion from me whatsoever.
I may not have the biggest following on the internet, but I’ve built up a pretty good readership over the years, and your actions toward this woman–actions you probably didn’t even think about…actions you assumed would have no consequence–have cost you the chance to have your book plugged to thousands of SF/F readers.
It’s a shame, really. And I can’t help but wonder how many potential readers you lost, all because you couldn’t treat a woman with more respect…
Hypothetically speaking, of course.
From various posts and conversations around the internet…
“If you obviously can’t handle the social interactions at an SF Book con, then perhaps you need to seek some education … I suggest that you never, ever leave the confines of white, educated middle class North American society. In Nigeria and Saudi Arabia they take people like you and kill them with rocks.”
“…during my freshman year in college, I knew two women who’d been raped, and a third who was probably raped but was too drunk to know for sure (that was in a fraternity basement). At the same time, I never heard about a woman being raped at a con.”
“There are several Learning Disorders and Behavior Disorders that affect a man’s ability to understand body language … Some guys are just creeps but some have a true social disorder.”
“Is flirting at cons now forbidden? When does flirting become harassment?”
“Is a convention committee obligated to provide a Utopian space throughout the convention? Should the convention committee have some sort of thought and action police, empowered to pull badges at the merest whisper of complaint?”
“Their eagerness to see and punish harassment worries and befuddles me.”
As many of you saw, Readercon posted a statement about their handling of sexual harassment. The convention committee has voted to overturn the board’s decision and issue a lifetime ban to Mister Walling, in accordance with the convention’s policies. They also offered an unreserved apology for the con’s handling of the situation.
As a part of the larger conversation, I’d like to offer the following pledge. Feedback is welcome, and anyone is invited to co-sign.
My Policy on Sexual Harassment
My goal in convention/fandom spaces, online, and in general, is to interact with others in such a way that all parties feel safe and respected. Therefore…
Much of the SF/F community has posted about the Readercon mess, where Rene Walling harassed and stalked Genevieve Valentine throughout the convention. BC Holmes has a roundup of links and discussion here.
Readercon’s official statement announced that Walling had been banned from Readercon “for at least two years.” Honestly, my first reaction was relief that they had done anything at all, given how often this sort of behavior gets ignored or excused. But then I read further, and discovered that Readercon has a zero-tolerance policy about sexual harassment:
“Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.”
There was no question that Walling’s behavior fell under this definition. The board at Readercon simply chose to ignore their own policy. I’m sure they believe they had good reason. I’m equally sure it doesn’t matter. Whatever you might think of zero-tolerance policies, Readercon made a promise to its members that sexual harassment would not be tolerated, and would be dealt with in a certain way.
They broke that promise.
I’m not going to write a long rant here, both because I’m still recovering from the last rant, and because so many others have made the points I would have made (usually better than I would have done). Here are a few links I wanted to highlight:
I hope other conventions are paying attention and taking notes on what to do and what not to do in order to create a safe environment for their attendees.
This time it’s Genevieve Valentine talking about her experience at Readercon.
Do me a favor, guys? Read her post. Reread these points that she makes at the end:
In other words? Respect people’s boundaries, dammit!
And understand that your intentions don’t matter here. The fact that you think you’re a nice guy doesn’t matter. The fact that you’re sure you’d never actually assault a woman doesn’t matter. The fact that you don’t think you’re harassing or stalking someone doesn’t matter.
Yeah, it sucks when someone says you’re making them uncomfortable. You feel hurt. You feel misunderstood. But your hurt feelings don’t justify the continued violation of someone else’s boundaries. If you’re feeling hurt, go talk to a friend. Go vent in a locked LJ post. What you don’t do is keep harassing the other person to try to change their mind, nor do you get to argue and tell them why their feelings are wrong.
If you actually care about the fact that this person feels uncomfortable, and you want them to stop feeling that way? Change the behavior that’s making them feel uncomfortable.
In most cases, this means leaving them the hell alone.
This has been your cranky rant for the day.
I suppose it was my own fault.
I considered it a kindness to ignore you as you whined about how drunk you were and preemptively apologized to anyone you might puke on. As you leaned on your friend and began to swear at people for having the audacity to stop you from reaching your floor, as if they somehow believed they had a right to use the elevator too.
It was my fault for tuning you out as your verbal diarrhea grew even nastier. For not realizing when your mumbled “fuck it!” devolved into “faggot,” a slur you apparently directed at anyone getting off of the elevator. Including me.
It’s my fault for not catching what you were spewing until I was squeezing toward the doors, at which point you apparently took my annoyance as reason to announce my gayness to the world and grab my ass.
My fault for those few seconds of what-the-hell-just-happened shock, during which time the elevator doors closed, robbing me of any chance to respond.
There are many things I could have said and done, had I reacted faster. I could have shouted, “What the hell is wrong with you?” I could have called you out on your bigotry. I could have responded physically, taking your wrist and refusing to give it back until you apologized. I could have snapped a picture or jotted down your badge name and reported you to security.
I didn’t do any of those things. I don’t know your name. I couldn’t tell security what you looked like. Given how wasted you were, I don’t know if you even remember what you did.
Of course, the thing is, it’s not my fault. I’m not the one who decided to grope a stranger in an elevator as some sort of petty, drunken game. I’m not the friend who stood by and did nothing while it happened.
To be fair, I don’t know what happened after those elevator doors closed. It’s possible your friend told you exactly how much of an asshole you were being, but nothing I observed up to that point makes me think anything happened, aside from maybe a little nervous laughter.
In the silver lining department, it was … educational. I have a better understanding of the self-blame; of the way people replay the situation again and again, imagining what you could have done differently; of some of the ways others respond when you talk about it, the jokes and the advice about what you should have done, all offered with love and the best of intentions.
One person commented, “Welcome to the world of women.” While it’s not just women who get treated this way – I was talking to another author this weekend about his experience with a woman who refused to respect the word “no” – it’s certainly far more common for men to target and harass women.
And you know what? It’s bullshit. It’s harassment, and it’s assault.
We focus on what the victims should do. How they should fight back and report it and take responsibility for making sure the other person doesn’t do this to anyone else.
I don’t need to be told what I should have done. Believe me, I played that scenario out again and again in my head, and I guarantee I’ve already come up with pretty much every possibility you’re going to suggest.
None of which helps.
A part of me wants to insist it wasn’t a big deal. I was never in physical danger. It was only a second or two of physical/sexual contact. But it was unwanted sexual contact. It was, however brief, a deliberate violation. And it is a big deal.
I had to keep reminding myself, even though I knew it, that it’s not my fault. That the responsibility belongs with the bigoted asshole who did this. I don’t care that she was drunk. If you’re the kind of person who does this shit when you get drunk, then you’ve forfeited the right to get drunk around people. Because alcohol doesn’t excuse it or make it okay, and if you can’t control yourself when you’re drunk, then you damn well need to stay sober.
And if you’ve watched a friend pull this kind of shit and said nothing – if you stood there and let it happen, and didn’t confront them afterward – then you’re also part of the problem. Because silence speaks too, and your silence tells your friend that his or her behavior is okay. That you’re cool with them harassing people.
Overall, I had a great time at FandomFest, but this pissed me off. It pissed me off that it happens, and it pisses me off that it keeps happening.
Yes, I’ve got a bit of a theme going on the blog this week. Today I was feeling rather snarky, and decided to translate some of the dismissive, minimizing, and flat-out insulting responses you often hear when talking about sexual harassment.
“Boys will be boys.” – I believe that anyone with a penis has a God-given right to harass and assault others.
“They don’t mean anything by it.” – Yay, I can read minds! Also, intention is more important that results. On a totally unrelated note, I’m sorry I backed over your child in the parking lot, but I didn’t mean to do it, so no harm done, right?
“Oh, he’s just lacking in social skills.” – He’s spent years working on skills like finding and isolating victims, intimidating them, dodging blame, and convincing twits like me to defend him.
“But he’s such a nice guy!” – I live in a fantasy world where rapists and harassers have goatees and eyepatches and are named Rapist McScumbag and wear blinking nametags proclaiming their twisted predilections for all to see.
“It’s a compliment!” – I have no idea what the word “compliment” really means.
“They’re probably just autistic or something.” – Autistics are completely incapable of learning rules or boundaries, and I have special powers that let me diagnose people as autistic despite my utter lack of training or experience. (See my previous rant on this one.)
“You should have ripped his nuts off!” – You’re a failure because you’re not a badass like me. Did I ever tell you how I totally would have choked the Central Park Rapist to death with his own genitals? Man, if I’d been in Iraq, I’d have punched Saddam right in the nutsack. I watch MMA every night, so don’t screw with me!
“Why are you being such a bitch about this?” – Women are supposed to shut up and accept whatever guys do to them. What the hell are you doing out of the kitchen, anyway?
“He’s just being friendly.” – I’m sure he grabs, gropes, ogles, and harasses all his friends! Also, I have no idea what “friendly” means, either. Words are hard. Would someone please buy me a freaking dictionary?!!
“Why do you have to get all PC about everything?” – My political party embraces sexual harassment and assault! Vote Douchebag in 2012!
Following up on yesterday’s post, one of the biggest challenges to ending sexual harassment is getting bystanders to speak up and intervene. It’s easy enough to think about what we would have done after the fact. When Jaym Gates wrote about the “WFC Creeper” from World Fantasy Con this year, I kept going over various things I could have said and done had I been there.
But it’s different when you’re in the moment. What if I’m misreading the situation? What if saying something only escalates the problem? Nobody else is speaking up, so maybe I’m the only one who’s getting a bad vibe. I’m not a terribly large or physically imposing person … is there really anything I can do?
It can be hard to think when you’re in the moment, which is one of the reasons I want to think and talk about it now. This isn’t an area where I have any formal training or experience, so I picked some brains while putting this list together.
1. Addressing the harasser. Sometimes someone is simply clueless and genuinely doesn’t get that what they’re doing is unwanted and unacceptable. Say you see someone at a signing who squees and sidles into a chair, wrapping him/herself around his/her favorite author. Sometimes all it takes is pulling that person aside and saying, “Look, I know you’re excited, but that’s not cool. It’s creepy.”
2. Is everything okay here? Another fairly straightforward option is to simply check in and ask if everything’s okay. If both parties say yes, then life is good. But if someone is being harassed and says no, or if they simply don’t answer in the affirmative, then you stick around. Now the harasser is outnumbered. Maybe you offer a way out. I’ve used the “Hey, are you ready for the next panel?” bit to help extricate friends from awkward conversations before, and that sort of thing could work here as well. starcat_jewel and jennygadget suggested questions like “Excuse me, what time is it?” or “Do you happen to know where _____ is?” Both questions insert another person into the conversation in a safe, nonconfrontational way, and asking about directions gives the victim an excuse to say, “Sure, let me show you…”
3. Strength in numbers. If I go up to some guy and tell him to stop grabbing and groping everyone, then it’s a one-on-one situation, and there’s a chance it’s going to escalate. So I grab a few friends first. I suspect most harassers are much less likely to escalate when they’re outnumbered four-to-one.
4. Voice > Muscle. I love working with new students at karate when they ask about stopping bullies or strangers, especially people bigger than they are. I have them play the part of the bad guy and come at me, and right when they’re about to lay hands on me, I drop to the ground with my hands and feet up to protect myself and shout, “NO! STRANGER! BULLY!” On one occasion, the poor kid levitated halfway to the door in fright. Now I’m not saying this is always the best response, but a loud voice attracts attention. If you project from the gut, a firm, “Dude, she said no!” should draw the attention of half the room. At that point, numbers are once again on your side.
5. Report it. I’m struggling with this one. We’re always pressuring victims to report, but that should be their choice, not one I make for them. One option is to talk to the victim and offer to go with them to report it. Another option, if I see something that makes me uncomfortable, is for me to report it to Ops or whoever’s organizing the event. Not to say “Hey, badge number 123 was groping [NAME], and she looked uncomfortable,” but maybe “Badge number 123 is getting sexually aggressive and not respecting people’s boundaries, and it’s making the party/panel/whatever really uncomfortable for me and a lot of other people.” At the very least, that alerts the con staff to the problem, allowing them to take further steps if necessary.
6. Be Aware of Gender Issues. While men sexually harassing women is most common, harassers are not exclusively male, nor are victims exclusively female. Don’t be afraid to speak up just because the gender dynamics don’t match your expectations. Also, men are often more likely to listen to other men, making it that much more important for us to speak up.
7. Ass-kicking. This is the one a lot of people talk about. “We just need to get some big, burly guys to kick his ass!” And the problem may escalate to the point where physical intervention is required. But physical intervention should be a last resort, and it’s much better to let security or the police handle this whenever possible unless you want to risk ending up in a) the hospital or b) jail. See also rachelmanija‘s post “Why Didn’t You Kick Him in the Balls?”
As I noted, I’m not an expert here. I’d love it if others could share thoughts and suggestions. For those with first-hand experience, what have you seen that worked, and what didn’t?
SF/F fandom (and society in general) hasn’t always been very supportive of victims of sexual harassment, particularly when the harasser is a big name or someone in a position of power. Those who choose to speak out are often mocked, belittled, threatened, accused of being publicity-whores, or worse. Even people who want to be supportive might not know what to say or do.
So with the help of some friends, I’ve put together a list of ideas about what to do and what not to do if you want to avoid looking like a dick and actually support those who have been sexually harassed.
1. Don’t Make Excuses. At the 2006 Worldcon, Harlan Ellison grabbed Connie Willis’ breast on stage. Time after time, I saw people jumping in to defend him by saying, “Oh, that’s just Harlan.” That’s a bullshit excuse, right up there with “Boys will be boys,” and “Oh, he didn’t mean any harm.” It’s not your job to excuse, justify, or defend the behavior, especially if you weren’t even present. By doing so, you’re basically saying, “I don’t care about your feelings or what this person did to you; I’m more worried about protecting the person who harassed you.”
2. Don’t Minimize. In one of my posts about sexual harassment, a commenter talked about how she was expecting a bunch of overly sensitive PC whiners who couldn’t take a joke. Don’t be that person. If you’re not the one being harassed, then what the hell gives you the right to judge and tell someone else they’re overreacting?
3. Don’t Immediately Run Off to “Kick his Ass!” Believe me, I understand the urge. When I hear someone has harassed and hurt one of my friends, I want to do something. I want to punish the harasser. I want to teach him (or her) to never pull that shit again … do you notice how all of these sentences start with “I”? How I’m talking about what I want and need, not what the person who was harassed is asking for? It’s more helpful to offer to be that person’s backup: to accompany them if they want to confront the person, or to tell them you’ve got their back during the convention or event.
4a. Don’t be Afraid to Intervene. If you see something that looks like harassment, say something. Interrupt and ask, “Hey, is everything okay here?” Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it can be embarassing if it turns out nothing was going on. But which risk would you rather take: that you might feel a little foolish, or that you’re turning your back and allowing someone to continue harassing another person? I’ll be saying more about intervention in my next post.
4b. Don’t be Afraid to Call Your Friends on their Shit. If you know your friend is harassing people, then for God’s sake, call him (or her) on it. Be harsh. Be blunt. Because your friend might actually listen to you. By staying silent, you are enabling and tacitly allowing that person to continue harassing others.
5. Don’t Try to Speak For Someone Else. When I was at World Fantasy last year, I ended up talking to multiple people about a certain editor who had sexually harassed them. It wasn’t my place to disclose their names or the name of the editor. I did end up writing a blog post with names removed, figuring since this was a common behavior, there was no way to identify the people who had spoken with me. Some of those people still felt that I had violated their confidentiality. Reporting sexual harassment or going public is a very hard choice, and it’s not your choice to make for someone else.
6. Don’t Pressure the Victim. Offer options. Offer to go with the person or to be their backup if they decide to report or confront. But don’t say “This is what you have to do, and if you don’t do it then it’s all your fault when this guy harasses someone else!” Because first off, when that guy harasses someone else, it’s his fault. It’s his choice. If you want more people to come forward and report sexual harassment, work to create an enviroment where it’s safe for them to do so.
7. Check Your Own Behaviors. A lot of harassers either don’t think of what they’re doing as harassment or else they rationalize what they’re doing. So check yourself. Check your physical and verbal behaviors. If you’re uncertain whether a gesture or joke or compliment would be appreciated, ask. If an interaction leaves you feeling weird, ask someone else for a reality-check.
8. Use Your Voice. Especially for guys, it’s easy to sit back and ignore the problem. To let other people worry about it. But your voice matters. Speaking up to say this kind of behavior is not okay matters. It matters to victims, who deserve to know that people are on their side, and it matters to harassers, who have to know that others don’t condone their crap.
About a year ago, I put together a resource post about reporting sexual harassment in science fiction and fandom circles. Given that anything more than a week old is ancient internet history, I figured it was worth reposting.
I want to make it as clear as I can that if you’ve been sexually harassed, it’s your choice whether or not to report that harassment. It’s not an easy choice, and nobody can guarantee the outcome. But I can tell you that if someone has harassed you, it’s 99% certain that he (or she) has done it to others. You’re not alone.
Reporting to Publishers:
As a general rule, if you’ve been sexually harassed by an editor or another employee of a publisher, complaints can be directed to the publisher’s H.R. department. Please note that reporting to H.R. will usually trigger a formal, legal response.
I’ve spoken to people at several publishers to get names and contact information for complaints, both formal and informal. I’ve put asterisks by the publishers where I spoke with someone directly.
Publishers – I would love to expand this list with better information. Please contact me.
Reporting to Conventions:
Often harassment doesn’t come from editors, but from authors or other fans. If this happens at a convention, another option is to contact the convention committee. Many (but not all) conventions include harassment policies in the program books.
A convention committee doesn’t have the same power as an employer. However, if harassment is reported at a convention, the individual may be confronted or asked to leave. In addition, reporting harassment by guests (authors, editors, etc.) is very helpful to the convention in deciding who not to invite back.
To any convention staff, I would encourage you to make sure you have a harassment policy in place, and equally importantly, that your volunteers are aware of that policy and willing to enforce it.
The Con Anti-Harassment Project includes a list of SF/F conventions and their sexual harassment policies (Note – As of October of 2011, this list appears to be a little outdated.)
Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) - Per John Scalzi, current SFWA president:
If there is an instance where someone feels that they have been harassed at a SFWA event or in SFWA online environs, they may contact the board. This should ideally be done through their regional director, or by contacting SFWA’s ombudsman, Cynthia Felice, at ombudsman -at- sfwa.org. SFWA takes very seriously the responsibility to have its events and online areas be places where members and others feel safe and valued.
What to Expect:
Ideally, someone who was sexually harassed could report it and expect to be treated with respect. Her or his concerns would be taken seriously, and all possible steps would be taken to make sure the behavior did not happen again, and that the offender understood such behavior was unacceptable. Disciplinary action would be taken when appropriate.
This is not a perfect world. Employers are required to follow the laws and their own policies, which may mean a report results in nothing more than a warning (particularly if this is the first report of harassment). And of course, there’s always the T. D. factor. You might contact a member of the convention committee, only to discover that they are (in the words of George Takei) a Total Douchebag who blows you off or tells you to get over it.
That said, when I posted about sexual harassment in fandom before, everyone who responded expressed that such behavior was unacceptable. And there were a lot of responses, from fans, authors, editors, con staff, and agents.
As a rape counselor, I saw how powerful and important it can be to break the silence around assault and harassment. However, it’s always your choice whether or not to report. Making that report will be stressful. It may be empowering. It may or may not have visible results.
First and foremost, please do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself.
Please contact me if you know of related resources which should be included here.