If you’re involved in the SF-o-sphere you may have seen the internet go boom in the past week. Elise Matthesen was sexually harassed while she was at WisCon, and formally reported it.
This is actually news, because reporting is so rare – mainly because society in general makes it incredibly difficult for people to report this sort of thing and incredibly easy for the perpetrators to get away with it.
Elise asked several friends to post her essay on their blogs, including John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig, both of whom I already read on a semi-regular basis. (There is a list of the rest of the posts here, along with a resoundingly thorough link round-up.)
I’m not going to talk much about the event itself, because I’m not really all that active in the SF-o-sphere or the Con circuit. I’d like to be, for the latter, but I’m not. (I also haven’t done nearly enough reading yet about the incident, nor was I present for the convention. So I don’t feel comfortable speaking at length about it.)
What I am going to talk about is one specific reaction that has come out of it – John Scalzi’s new policy on cons and their anti-harassment policies, or lack there-of.
He’s said that he will not be a guest, guest of honor, or participant at any con unless these guidelines are met:
That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.
That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their Website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.
In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.
This is important, obviously, because John Scalzi is using his powers for good. He has leverage with cons because he’s an award-winning, well-known author in the SF circuit. They want to put him on the guest list to attract fans to come to the con, because fans coming to the con means the con actually goes on. (You can’t run an event without money flowing somewhere.) This is Event Ecology 101.
What’s even better? A lot of people are co-signing. Myself included.
While many of us do not have anywhere near the same clout as Scalzi does, numbers matter. Enough committed people can start a revolution. There are 377 comments on the co-signing post at Scalzi’s blog.
Hopefully, with enough co-signers + Scalzi’s clout, cons that do not have harassment policies will get them. If your favourite con has no such policy, I urge you to write them and tell them they’ll lose your business until they get one.
I realize some people are not going to see the point of this. People who don’t get harassed, or, if they do, are able to deal with it without much trauma. Whatever, you may say, it’s just a part of going to cons.
No, it’s not. It’s not “just a part” of life, either – or it shouldn’t be. And what you allow, continues.
I’ve been to one fandom con in my life. Dragon*Con, 2009. I was lucky, because I was there with a large group of friends – friends who watched out for me, protected me, looked after me. Especially when I was twenty sheets to the wind, stumbling down the streets screaming “I LOVE YOU ATLANTA!” (1 large Pixie Stick + 1 pint of vodka X 2 = Starbuck!Kat).
I didn’t get harassed. The closest anyone came, if I recall correctly, was when I got a picture with some dude dressed like Snape and he was a bit of a creeper. PSA, folks: if you get a pic with someone you don’t know and you have your arm around their shoulder, don’t rub their shoulder with your thumb. Not alluring, not seductive. Just gross.
But otherwise, no. I had a safe, fun time at my only con, free of harassment. People were nothing but kind to me.
And I realize, fully, that had I not been surrounded by friends I may have had a bad time. It was my first con and it’s probably the biggest con out there. It’s likely I may have been harassed.
This is not a “oh, it only happens at those cons” thing either. It happened at WisCon. The feminist SFF convention.
Harassment happens everywhere and anywhere, and for a long time our entire culture has been helping perpetrators find more victims while throwing the victims under the bus. It is one thread in the tapestry of rape culture – the culture we’ve built that tells folks consent and boundaries don’t have to be respected, tells us that certain folks are entitled to certain things from other folks, tells us that if we follow the rules it won’t happen to us, tells us that if it does happen to us it must have been our fault, somehow.
Read any comment thread on these issues and you’ll see people spouting the same bullshit arguments, ranging anywhere from standard victim-blaming to “OH NOES ,THE FEMINISTS R PUSHING THEIR AGENDAZ ON US”. Yes, the agenda of getting people to stop harassing other people. What a fucking concept.
(Now, granted, the original posts linked in the link round-up will be, probably, much better with the comment threads than, say, the internet in general. But I’ve not even finished reading Scalzi’s comment thread and already people have come in with victim-blaming and OH NOES TEH FEMINISSSTSSSS. So even at a place with excellent comment modding, it will happen.)
So I’ve signed. I don’t have the clout Scalzi does (yet), and so far as I know there aren’t any readers out there who really want me to come to a con (yet). But I am a participant in con life, or I was for one brief shining moment when I could afford the trip out there. And I plan on going to cons in the future – as participant, as guest, as fan and human being.
And, like Scalzi, I don’t want to support any con that does not have a clear harassment policy in place. What you allow, continues, and not having a policy (with teeth!) is essentially the same as allowing these behaviors to continue.
Not only for my safety, but my current and potential fans’ safety, for the safety of any people I bring with me, and – most importantly – for the betterment of our small piece of the world.
SFF, geek, fandom, con culture – all part of a subculture that has been my home for my whole life, it seems. But it continues to perpetrate the oppressive power structures found in the overculture it comes from, and that’s a problem.
I want to see a subculture of the future that is better than that, and I think that we can do it. Especially as SFF fans and creators. We can imagine and do better, guys.
In the next week or so I’ll be compiling a list of cons that have adopted harassment policies I’m satisfied with. There’s a list here already, but I think there may be more out there, so I’ll be doing my own research. I will then list the cons you may see me at in the future.
I’m willing to put in my bit of work to make a future that I can feel better about bringing my future Loon-spawn into.