Recently in Documenting Incidents: the SFF harassment revelations

SFF fandom and professionals have been keeping the team at the Geek Feminism Wiki busy updating their Timeline of Incidents.  Cue Deep Rifts! The post by Elise Mathesen (posted in John Scalzi’s blog and Jim Hines’ blog (with commentary by Hines) and Adam Lipkin’s blog) where she lays out a how-to for reporting harassment following her experiences at Wiscon-2013 has been particularly illuminating for many people regarding the challenges of reporting harassment and how reports known to have been made in past years have not been included on a  permanent record because they weren’t classified as formal reports. The response from other women who regularly attend SFF gatherings has been even more illuminating e.g. Mary Robinette Koval’s post Why Am I Afraid To Name The Editor? (before she went on to do so) is a must-read on the extent of the barriers to reporting (see Geek Feminism Wiki SFF Revelations 2013 page for various related links, and if you know of more, leave a link in comments below and I’ll pass it on).

Carrie Cuinn’s Please stop touching my breasts, and other things I say at cons gives a depressing litany of incidents she has experienced (the quote below is just the introduction to her list of specific incidents):

I’ve been going to cons since I was 19. Which, if you’re doing the math, meant I attended my first con in 1992. From that first event, I’ve been groped, fondled, kissed, physically picked up and carried off, licked, shoved into corners so I can’t escape, hugged, propositioned, wrestled into a submissive position to “prove a point”, and actually thrown on a bed, by men who didn’t have permission to do any of that, and almost never introduced themselves before they started. I’ve attended several more conventions over the years, and the only thing that’s made a difference in how I get treated is whether I’m standing next to another man at the time. Being with a group of girls? That works too, sometimes, though just as often it means we’ll all get harassed as a group, or one of us will get cornered the second we’re alone.

These posts are vivid illustrations of many of the points made in Mary’s 2009 Why We Document post on the Geek Feminism Blog: without documentation perpetrators and the communities which enable them (consciously or unconsciously) cannot be held adequately accountable for aggressions and micro-aggressions which make marginalised and oppressed identities feel unwelcome/unsafe/unrepresented, and this lack of consequences leads to hyperskepticism on one side from those who don’t want to acknowledge the extent of the problem and recidivism on the other side from the harassers themselves as substantive repercussions fail to materialise (as seen in the case of Mathesen’s harasser Jim Frankel who has been confronted for other harassing behaviour years ago and tearfully apologised and adamantly promised he would reform, yet here we are again with no improvement from him at all).

This particular quote from Maria Dahvana Headley’s post on Conference Creeps stuck out for me:

There’s been a lot of talk about conventions being “safe spaces” – but one of the very unfortunate things is that a lot of conventions, while being safe spaces for people who don’t fit into societal norms, have also managed to make themselves safe spaces for sexual harassers.

It’s  a reminder of how difficult it can be to drill through the stereotypes and mores associated with Geek Social Fallacies (especially GSF #1 in a toxic combination with geek-gatekeeping). But it’s not just Geek cons, of course. The exact same problem (and hyperskeptic pushback against addressing it) is happening in atheoskeptic and other outlier communities who have built up myths about themselves as better and more accepting and more inclusive than mainstreamers because they know what it’s like to be excluded/bullied/vilifed and therefore would nevereverever do that themselves. It’s not just sexist/sexual harassment either – there’s plenty of racist/classist/homophobic/transphobic/etc harassment to go around as well, it’s just that feminism has a larger contingent of members with mainstream/normative privileges which mean that their voices are more likely to be paid attention to, and who have the resources to keep this issue on the agenda.

Serial harassers are all about setting up situations where they have plausible deniability for their transgressions and then manipulating the social etiquette of giving others “a fair go” and “the benefit of the doubt” and avoiding “drama” so that their complainants are perceived to be the ones who are “ruining the fun” (when of course what anti-harassment complainants and activists really want is for cons/meetings to be more fun for everybody* (except the harassers)). This is why the harassers hate comprehensive anti-harassment policies and come up with Gish-Galloping rationalisations (often contradictory) for their opposition to them, and unfortunately their rhetorical tricks do work on subsets of regular attendees who like things just how they are and are easy to panic into pushback.

Documentation (including Timelines and FAQs and How-Tos and Model Policies) is beginning to cut through.  That’s why the pushback is so strong, and it’s why the documentation has to continue.

*I read a post within the last few weeks where the key point made about anti-harassment policies was “more fun for everybody” but I can’t find it.  Crowdsource plz?

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, social justice

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Very interesting post on the problems with just relying on back-channel warnings about who to avoid: too many vulnerable people never get to know about the back-channel and never get the warnings that might help them.

    Harassment and the Back Channel

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