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Reading about a woman being harassed repeatedly by the same guy at Readercon evoked many contradictory feelings in me.

First, of course, is outrage. I want my chosen family free of fault and especially this fault, the fault of making women afraid. I am also sad about another fault--that no one found a way to stop what was happening during the con.

I haven't read everything people have posted. I'm not clear how much the concom knew at the con, which was a critical time. But someone  knew what was happening, and I'm sad no one officially or unofficially got through to this guy that he was being a jerk and MUST stop. Why did no one take him aside and hit him upside the head with a clue-by-four?

You see, the clue-by-four is one of the things I love about fandom.

So many people find fandom after having grown up ostracized and consequently socially quite clueless. No, that's not the part I love--this is: I've seen person after person who showed up without the social knowledge and skills needed to avoid scaring or hurting others, and who--because someone(s) here didn't just give up on them and commit another ostracism upon them--I have seen the results of them listening when they're told, "You just can't behave that way!"  I've seen many grow into people I'm proud to know.

Sometimes they're told they screwed up by a member of the concom or con security, but more often a friend takes them aside to some private corner or a woman with a sword or a Klingon skullcap (or armed with nothing more than the knowledge that if she calls for help she will get it) confronts them directly and publicly. But more often than not they ARE confronted, not because it's someone's job to do so, but because we care about each other and about having a wonderful safe place for a few precious days where we each can live free to be ourselves--free to be openly geeks, to be openly queer or poly, or even "merely" to be openly playful and creative and unique.

Sadly, it doesn't always happen. Sometimes, collectively, we fail to see what is happening, we fail to step in and swing that clue when it's most needed. Worse, sometimes we fail to take action when even a very pointed and forceful clue is not enough.

It is good to be reminded we can do better.  It's good to be reminded that when we don't speak up, people--sometimes even the creative stars who bring us together--get hurt.

It is also good to see people complaining of harassing and bullying behavior, and saying very plainly "this is never acceptable". (In retrospect, I can identify episodes that upset me, but not understanding what was happening, I could not effectively respond at the time.)

But as valuable as it is to be aware of our shortcomings, it's also good to remember how many of us are better people because one or two or three unsung fans took time out from their convention to speak to us when we were in the process of screwing up--to say not "get out and don't come back" but "get a clue".

It's important to remember that fans don't always fall short, that we do repeatedly keep our women, our authors, our queerfolk, and our geeks safe, or at least safer than they are elsewhere--and we do so because individually and collectively we try to practice and teach something better. 

I wish we always succeeded, of course. I love fandom, and I want it to be perfect (no matter that I know that nothing humans do is perfect).  The best we can do is strive for perfection.  I just hope that as we move forward we can learn from our successes as well as from our failures.




( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Christopher Bull Garlington
Aug. 1st, 2012 04:32 am (UTC)
Good article.
Very good article, D.
Aug. 1st, 2012 04:37 am (UTC)
Re: Good article.
Thank you!
Aug. 1st, 2012 11:18 am (UTC)
If I understand the situation correctly, the con in question had a policy in place--which they then broke when the harrasser was an important enough person. Rules that only apply to some people are not fair.

Also, "don't come back to *this* con" is not the same as "you can never go to *any* con"--which is what actual ostracism would be--and should not be presented as such. It may, in fact, be precisely the sort of clue-by-four the harrasser needs to realize that we really do take this shit seriously and he really does have to stop.

Because if we don't take this shit seriously, it will never stop. Seriously. Part of education is real consequences.
Aug. 1st, 2012 12:51 pm (UTC)
I don't know whether this man's behavior was deliberate enough and serious enough that "banned for life" even from one convention is an appropriate response. I'm glad I don't have to decide that.

I do believe a con should follow their own policies and I don't believe someone should get a pass because they're "important". Certainly such behavior needs to be taken very seriously.

However, the question of how to address this kind of behavior, at cons, in fandom, and in the mundane world is more than whether to take it seriously.

I want us to remember that _how_ we take it seriously matters.

I have more thoughts on that, but must run off to work.
Aug. 1st, 2012 02:09 pm (UTC)
this appears to be the initial report of the incident. (Not the condescending moderator part--the bit below that about someone touching, trying to silence, grabbing from behind, and then stalking throughout the con, apparently believing he had a right to continue contact until he was forgiven.)

How we take it seriously matters. Starting with establishing that the rules are the rules, yes, for everyone, yes, even if a man is sorry now he got caught, and no, women are not here to pleasure men, either physically or emotionally. We are not your nurse, your mother, your sex worker, your confessor, OR your teacher; we are here for us, not for you and we have every right to go about our business free of your attentions. If that means banning a harrasser from one convention--he can still go to other conventions; it's not ostracism.

It's a "difficult" decision in the sense that making someone in particular--and a man to boot-- (as opposed to women in general and the victims in particular) unhappy is often difficult. But not really in any other sense.
Aug. 2nd, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC)
I disagree with one thing you say. I think exiling someone from a convention for life is a form of ostracism. Heck, even doing it for one year is ostracism. Sometimes refusing to sell a membership to a particular person because of past behavior is justified, but it IS ostracism.

I don't give a hoot about making this man happy--he deserves to be unhappy about his behavior. I do care about making the world I live in--not just one convention, but all conventions and fannish gatherings--places where everyone can feel safe and respected. I want that for the mundane world too.

I think of all the fat geeky guys I know who were belittled and verbally assaulted in high school by girls and who reached adulthood with no clue how to tell a woman she's attractive without sounding offensive and creepy and I fear that rules that say "one strike and you're out" will make the problem worse, not better.

If we don't teach men how to behave, where will they learn? We certainly can't count on TV and movies!

Perhaps this man does deserve to lose the right to attend that convention ever again. I have read comments that he has behaved this way before, and it may be people did hand him clues that he willfully ignored. Or it may be that people ignored his misbehavior before leading him to think it was OK to behave that way. I don't know.

But we won't change the culture without teaching our men, and any systemic approach to this problem can't be based on throwing away every man who transgresses. (Or it can, but that premise would work very well as the premise of a dystopian SF novel. I don't want to live in that world, and I don't want my daughter and potential grand-daughters to live in that world.)

I look back to when I was in college, and v had decided various governmental entities enacted laws harshly penalizing drunk driving. Then the pundits scratched their heads, because the statistics didn't change significantly. The threat and the reality of harsh punishments didn't get drinkers to change their behavior.

Then MADD started a big campaign, and we heard (over and over and over) "friends don't let friends drive drunk". SADD started. Someone publicized the idea that drinkers should honor instead of belittle anyone willing to party with them and remain sober and call them the designated driver. And more. Suddenly, there were a lot fewer drunk drivers on the road.

The harsh laws probably made sine difference, but the huge change, the cultural change that made the streets safer, came from everyday people who stood up and said, "this has got to stop".

Edited at 2012-08-02 05:30 pm (UTC)
Aug. 2nd, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
Okay. He's being ostracized from 1/25th of his con interactions, which is a teeny teeny penalty, but if you want to apply that word, fine, as long as you make it clear that it is One SINGLE Con, not every con ever.

Your argument that men who are shut out can never learn is, in my opinion wrong on several counts. 1) a man does not need to attend cons to learn to treat women like people--or at least give women the level of respect he would accord a stray dog and not grab. The internet is currently full of women saying thing1, thing2, thing3: DONT do them. This stuff is not hard to find... if you actually care in the slightest.

2) There are several dozen cons the perpetrator has not been banned from where he could practice these don'ts. If he sincerely turned over a new leaf, learned better, and never did it again perhaps in a decade he could ask for the ban to be lifted.

3) If there are no consequences for bad behavior men who have ignored opportunities to learn to this point (as this man has) will continue to ignore opportunities to learn. Consequences that go away if you are a BNF and say you're really really sorry are not consequences.

4) for all those men who don't know how to flirt--so what? Flirting is not necessary. Not at a con, not anywhere else. A perfectly fine reaction is to say "I don't know how to fly a plane; there are probably safe places to learn but trying at a con is probably a bad idea; I won't try to fly a plane here." And the same goes for flirting. If you haven't done it a lot, you can't do it. Don't try where you might scare or offend people who are here for themselves and not you and don't deserve to have their con spoiled because you wanted to practice touch-and-goes. It's not a con's job to teach you to fly and it's not a con's job to teach you to flirt.

Flirting classes might be important but that is so WAYYY another issue and it's certainly not every woman's job to teach them instead of have fun.

Will post this because things have been crashing and entire comments have been going away and I can't keep them all in my head.
Aug. 2nd, 2012 09:00 pm (UTC)

My system crashed. The anonymous comment that included the stuff about flirting being like flying a plane--not necessary and not the con's job to teach you? Was from me. Recreated from memory after a previous longer and more comprehensive comment was eaten without a trace but I didn't realize I was also logged out.

That is going to make the rest of this difficult; bear with me.

Now the outrage you're seeing on the internet about this, that is bothering you so much--the "Readercon should stick to its rules" and the "we want this guy banned" IS the cultural change you want. It IS everyday people standing up and saying "this has got to stop." I guess it's a bit unsettling when you actually see it, but it's certainly coming from the bottom up and not the top down.
Aug. 3rd, 2012 07:55 am (UTC)
Sympathy for your system crashing! My wireless router keeps crashing, not something you can get remote help to fix since you need a working internet connection to use remote help. I drove to get in-person help today and they were already booked. *sigh*

Thanks for taking the time to comment, despite the technical difficulties.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that I'm bothered by the outrage; I didn't say I was bothered by it, and I said it was good to see people discussing these things. I'm actually quite pleased to see the outrage. I'm pleased to see people calling for action. Our culture needs change, though in my experience the fannish culture is better than the mundane world's culture.

I will admit that I am cautious about rules that are born in outrage--too often they cause harm. A different harm than the one they were created to redress to be sure, but harm nonetheless.

This particular guy may have the resources to go to 25 different conventions--but even if he could only access one, his transgressions may warrant ostracism from it. Certainly some women who know him think he deserves it. I'm not worried about him--people who know the convention's rules and who know him and his behavior are tending to that situation quite thoroughly, and I'm content to let them do it. My opinion on whether his punishment is appropriate would be back-seat driving in a very long bus.

However, this situation is prompting discussions by many convention-runners, who will be deciding what policies to impose on the conventions I and my friends go to in the future. I will have to live with whatever they decide, since I'm not likely to abandon fandom--all of my friends are here, after all. I have a right to weigh in on the bigger topic, even though I don't know if anyone who runs conventions or fannish clubs will listen to me.

I want the con-runners to know that one of the things I value about fandom is that I have seen many clueless people learn better here, and in my opinion they learn at least in part because they want to keep the friends they have gained here. Over and over I have seen them learn here when they didn't learn before.

Why is that? Is it impossible for them to learn elsewhere? Like you, I doubt that. Is it likely for them to learn elsewhere? I haven't seen the same thing happening in mundania. Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places--or maybe this is something fandom is doing better than the bigger society we're part of.

Can they learn from books or the internet? They can try. Some will even succeed. But some people don't learn well from reading, they need to hear something or see it in action.

Is it possible that some of them will misunderstand what they read and put it into practice wrong? In my experience, that happens a lot.

Also, they might not even know enough to know what lessons to look for. People mess up all the time because they don't know what they don't know. No matter how much you think you've learned by researching something, you don't know where the holes in your knowledge are until you try to put what you learned into practice.

Being human, even the people who do the research and practice in front of the mirror for weeks, and who understand the basics (in theory) from their research--even these people will make mistakes. Today I saw Olympic champions make mistakes in their own athletic specialties, despite coaches and years of practice and study.

To answer a different part of your comments, no, women should not be required to abandon their fun to cater to clueless guys. Neither should sober people be required to be designated drivers. But the people who do voluntarily do those things make our world safer, and we all benefit from it.

In whatever small way I can, I want to honor the clue-bearers. They rarely get the thanks they deserve.

And while so many people are focused on the parts of our fannish culture that need fixing, I wanted to point out some related things that are working. I think we will be better off adding to the things that are working than we would be if we simply replaced them.
Aug. 3rd, 2012 11:42 am (UTC)
Okay--I think I was kind of misunderstanding the main thrust of your argument; I'm sorry.

I agree that friends don't let friends frighten women.

And I do respect and honor those weilding the clue-by-four. Doing it right is tricky--but a gift both to the offending person and to the community the offending person lives in. Some people won't learn anyway, but the clue-by-four gives people of genuine good will a chance that I agree they deserve.

I just had the impression you were recommending the clue-by-four instead of taking steps to keep women safe in public places--hence my misplaced annoyance.
Aug. 7th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
It's OK. Our culture pushes people to assume that any and all different perspectives must be meant as oppositional disagreement, rather than an addition to the conversation.

In case you didn't see this yet, I'm sharing a link: http://readercon.org/publicstatement.htm

Aug. 2nd, 2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
I do agree that rules should apply equally to everyone, and that men with privilege, in particular, should not get out of paying fair penalties for bad behavior.

For all the outrage I have read that the concom did not follow their own rules in this situation, I can't judge whether that is true because I don't know what rules they were supposed to apply.

As someone who works with lawyers, I know that even a very clearly worded rule/law/contract/etc. can be interpreted differently by different people even when the people are trying to interpret it fairly--and most rules are not worded very clearly.

As a human being, I also believe some rules are just plain bad rules.

I have stayed very carefully away from expressing an opinion about whether the penalty exacted for this man's bad behavior was within the rules or was fair because I don't know enough about him or the rules in question to make those judgments.

Instead I wanted to speak about the feelings reading about this situation evoked in me, and to share some things I would like other concoms, other fannish clubs, and fans in general to keep in mind while pondering how best to make our little subsection of the world a better and safer place.

Aug. 2nd, 2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
The rules the concom were supposed to follow were "harrassers will be banned for life."

The concom's excuse was roughly "when we made that rule we were expecting harrassers to be unrepentant. But he said he was sorry!" The problem with this is that abusers are often very, very good at saying they're sorry. It's an important part of their toolkit, to be able to do that, and do it convincingly. Perhaps they even actually mean it at the time; it's hard to say. But they almost never stop, which is really the main issue.

And in the meantime the concom is now putting the victim in the position of having to go back to the con with her harrasser, or to stay away, effectlively "banning" herself. But apparently that's okay because it will be *her* doing it, not them. And hey, it's much more important to be fair to him than to her, right? Which is good because this alternative is much more unfair to her, the innocent victim than the original rule would have been to him, the harrasser. It's a good thing unfairness to women is so much less important; otherwise this decision would be a travesty.

So your concern that men be treated with perfect fairness and kindness is noted. Fairness and kindness to men are very important. Lovingly helping men learn things is important. However, I think there will be a lot of people making that point, so, knowing that it's completely covered, I will continue to voice other points that get less attention. Like "women don't exist for men's pleasure and shouldn't be treated as if we do." Like "women deserve equal access to the public sphere." Like "fairness and kindness to women is just as important as fairness and kindness to men, no really it is. Stop laughing."
Aug. 6th, 2012 07:04 am (UTC)
I stand up for women far more often than I do for men. However, I want people--people of all genders, even men--to be treated with fairness.

I love it that you speak up so loudly and clearly for women. I think it's a valid choice to speak more often and more loudly for women, since so many people speak only for men.

However, when people are talking about rules that will apply to _everyone_, not just to men and not just to repeat offenders, I remember many men (and a few women) I have seen arrive in fandom totally clueless who grew up into people who treat others with respect.

I also remember the (untrue) things my ex said about me at the time of our impending divorce. He was good friends with a number of concoms--had such rules existed then, could he have gotten me banned from cons I love forever? Probably. He convinced most of our joint friends to stop talking to me. He also got me kicked out of an APA we were both in, and while eventually the woman he pressured into doing that apologized to me privately for letting herself be manipulated into doing so (admitting that kicking me out was not fair and was not due to anything I did or failed to do) that didn't change the fact that I suffered that small ostracism--at a time when I was particularly vulnerable and lonely--because she wasn't willing to stand up to him.

Would he have actually tried to get me banned if he thought he could? I can't speak for his conscience, however, he had no qualms about going to a convention and telling everyone that I "kicked him out" shortly after he decided to leave our house (even though one of his friends witnessed that it was his unprompted decision that he would leave and that the house would be my problem).

Aug. 6th, 2012 10:56 am (UTC)
You have my sympathies about your ex poisoning your social circle. Nobody is at their best when breaking up and most people end up doing things their better selves would be ashamed of in that miserable and stressful time but I must say that is a particularly eggregious example of bad behavior.

I will point out though, that even had he been associated with the con, he couldn't have got you banned for behavior that didn't occur at the con, nor could he have gotten you banned for breaking up with him. If he's willing to lie about you kicking him out of the house I suppose he might be willing to lie about you following him around the con and making suggestive remarks and grabbing him... I suspect he would have a hard time selling that story but I suppose it's possible. So I understand your concern.

I would also like to point out 1) the revenge on ex-lover scenario is, as a matter of public record, not the case in the Readercon debacle 2) not, to my knowledge, an issue in any previous reports of harrassment and 3) if it's not happening (and I think I'd like some actual evidence before I just assume that it is), then making it harder for women to resist real harrassment that is happening right now because it might be unfair to some hypothetical man in the future, is, at the very least, counterproductive in terms of working our way up the justice ladder.

I am all for the use of the clue bat. But "go away and leave me alone" *is* using the clue bat. And if the clue bat doesn't do the trick, it's time to toss the guy out so hard he bounces, because that's the next level of clue bat. Because, sure, some people need the clue bat applied more than once, but "first you get the mule's attention."
Aug. 7th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC)
You can point out whatever you want about this particular incident--I have already said that this guy may well deserve to be banned for life but I decline to personally judge him from afar. That does _not_ mean I'm exonerating/forgiving/apologizing for him! It just means that I'm not comfortable condemning someone I don't know based solely on a collection of blog entries.

As to whether a concom might apply a penalty to behavior that happened outside of a con, that depends on the rules they're following--which brings me back to the importance of having good rules. (I would actually argue--very cautiously--that there are some (limited and extreme) circumstances where it would be appropriate to ban someone for behavior that was not at the con.)

What I would have preferred to read about was a concom that escorted an abusive jerk out of their convention immediately (or perhaps, if unsure that an accusation was accurate, assigning someone in con security to monitor his behavior) rather than letting him stick around to do whatever he wants for the rest of the weekend and then debating whether to ban him for life. Immediate protective action is, in my opinion as a woman, far superior to later punitive action.

Additionally, as a mother, I can testify that immediate corrective action is more likely to create a change in behavior than delayed punishment.

You may think I'm soft to want to teach men instead of simply banishing them, but merely banning a man from conventions and fannish events won't guarantee I never see him again. And I very frankly feel much safer at conventions, where I know I have dozens of friends and hundreds of acquaintances to call on for help, than out in the mundane world.
Aug. 7th, 2012 12:11 pm (UTC)
I agree that escorting a harrasser out of the con immediately would obviously be the ideal. You'll have to wait to have the opportunity to read about that (again) until a con with a no-harrassment policy gets a report of harrassment during the con which for many reasons did not happen this time. (Though it did happen the time before and the abusive jerk was in fact ejected immediately, in addition to being banned for life.)

I think teaching men is a wonderful idea. I think a combination of teaching men (which as I noted is happening, and which could certainly happen more and I wouldn't object in the slightest, and I'm pretty sure no one else would either) and giving harrassers actual consequences (which don't need to be banning-for-life, but need to be simultaneously consistent, serious enough to get the mule's attention, and something that makes the victim(s) safe from the harrasser to the limit of the con's ability) is going to work better than teaching alone. Because I think teaching men instead of giving harrassers actual consequences will not stop those harrassers that in fact are not clueless, which I think is a high proportion of them. If someone tells you "go away and leave me alone" and you don't that's not cluelessness anymore.

That said, I am of course happy that your personal experience is that you feel safer at cons. That is mine too. I simply want it to be everyone's, and it's quite obvious that right now it's not.
Aug. 1st, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
Very well said. Within fandom and also outside of it, I have found that situations play out better when I remember that people are considerably more likely to be Clueless than Malevolent.
Aug. 2nd, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
That IS an important thing to remember especially in fandom where so many people who (through atypical neurology or atypical upbringing or both) don't realize how others interpret their behavior.

It is also important to remember that concoms are only people and by the time a con starts are generally overtired and overbooked. Sure, they signed up to take care of problems at the con--but they can't be everywhere. We need to watch out for each other, and I'm well aware that giving clues to the clueless is only a part of that.

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