Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions.June 29th, 2013 at 22:43
An important guest post went up across several high traffic, popular author blogs, written by Elise Matthesen. You can read it in various places, but I first saw it at Jim C Hines‘ blog, and then (with Mary’s commentary) at Mary Robinette Kowal‘s. You should read it in Elise’s words – her post is a clear account of what happened after she was sexually harassed at the recent Wiscon by a well known editor in the industry. She discusses not only her personal reaction, but particularly the process she went through in reporting the harassment, both to the convention committee themselves, and to the editor’s employers at Tor. In both cases, she was treated with great support and respect, which I think is an important aspect to the story – that sexual harassment policies were backed up with effective and non-confrontational procedures.
I’ve heard this incident discussed in various places, from private mailing lists and forums to personal conversations, and of course comments on blogs. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the story of how many people’s response to hearing the editor’s name was “Oh, well. Yes. I’m not surprised.” Because, people always know. Either they turn a blind eye, or they quietly warn their friends, or they hold off from speaking it aloud because of not wanting to make waves, or risk their careers. Speaking out is scary, especially when a serial harasser is someone who has power and influence in our industry.
Elise Mattheson is very brave to speak out, and indeed to put her name to the formal report, something many have not done, but… she has spoken out, and the world has not ended. She has friends and many people of great influence who have been willing to stand up with her and say ‘this isn’t okay.’ Which is important because of course, many harassments do not get reported NOT because of a lack of bravery, but because women feel powerless, or are afraid of being blamed or told they are making a fuss about nothing. I don’t know if I’m imagining it or just in the wrong (which is to say, right) places, but it feels like there has been less pushback this time around, as compared to what happened to when Genevieve Valentine went public about being harassed at Readercon. [Edit: She recently wrote a killer post about her experiences with sexual harassment more generally over her life, and how she's doing a year after Readercon: Dealing With It.]
It feels like fewer excuses are being made, less complaining that this is even an issue, and that overall our community is doing a better job of dealing with these issues. Am I imagining that? Are we actually making progress here? Or have I just filtered my internet too completely?
What has been happening today, in response to Elise making her story public, is that other women have been standing up and telling their stories.
Cherie Priest says Maybe It’s Just Us, talking about her various experiences being sleazed on to or harassed at conventions, and how women often group together informally to protect and warn each other because they are used to not being listened to.
Mary Robinette Kowal talks about why she hesitated to name the editor Elise was talking about, and the societal baggage that comes with making sexual harassment complaints.
Alisa Krasnostein says It’s not just them over there, talking about sexual harassment in its various forms (being groped at a party and being talked over on a panel, all part of the same thing which is being treated as less of a person because you are female), which aspects of conventions she is least comfortable attending, and why she prefers to be in the bar or the dealer’s room with people she trusts.
Maria Dahvana Headley talks about conference creeps, and why calling a convention a “safe space” doesn’t mean it is one, unless you meant to say “safe space for harassers” and lists the many experiences she has had of being treated as if she is at a convention for a harasser’s benefit rather than her own. It’s a horribly funny post, particularly the comparison to pirates at the end which had me laughing out loud.
I also think that Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) tweeted a very important message in relationship to the subject:
“If this summer seems relentless where talk of harrassment in SF is concerned? Recognize that’s because it IS relentless.”