Monday, July 30, 2012

Say something

I’ve been going to Readercon for many years, almost every year. It’s my local con, and has had a satisfyingly high percentage of Things I Enjoy At Cons. I’ve heard marvelous readings, discovered new authors, met authors I admire, listened to interesting talks, and always enjoyed the bad fiction event.

And it looks like I won’t be going back as long as they refuse to protect attendees.

Despite an undisputed case of repeated harassment this year and a written policy of banning harassers for life, Readercon only banned the harasser for two years. That reflects badly on Readercon, drives people away from attending the con if they feel either vulnerable or sufficiently offended, and adds an unpleasant tinge to the idea of going in the future.

You know what else does that? The fact that apparently not a single other person* who was aware of the harassment while it was going on reported it to anyone in charge or intervened to confront the harasser themselves.

Following an inadequate response after the fact from Readercon, there is now a strong and outraged community response. Where was that community response in the moment?

“Stop following her.”

“Stay away from her.”

“You are making her uncomfortable. Step away right now.”

Any of those may not be enough to stop the harassment. But they are enough to send a message to the harasser, to the target of the harassment, and to the other people nearby that the behavior is unwelcome and that the target of the harassment has support.

The target of the harassment spoke up for herself in the moment. Repeatedly. Good for her, and I wish that had been enough. But it wasn’t enough, and a bunch of people acting as silent human shields in a crowded environment is not the same as a bunch of people speaking up.

Readercon has always been more focused on words than on visuals. It’s even in the name. There’s a remarkably high percentage of authors at Readercon—people who make their living off the power of words. The programming includes lots of readings, highlighting the power of words uttered by the human voice. So use your words, people. Don’t wait for someone else to say something. You are the someone else. Act like it.

Or stop acting surprised when a small group of overworked con organizers act like hypocrites too.

*Perhaps someone other than the target of the harassment did speak up at the con. But that’s not prominent in the narratives I’ve read, whereas the number of untaken opportunities to speak up are prominent. Even if someone else may have spoken up, it does not excuse you from your own responsibility to speak up. Personally, I don’t want to know that Readercon will take some appropriate action in the weeks after the con. Well, I do, but that’s not the point. I want to know that other con attendees will actively help keep their fellow attendees safe right then and there.

Edited to add: In Elf’s link roundup, this post has been bizarrely labeled with a warning for apologetics. That’s ironic, since that’s what I feel people are doing when they excuse the passive onlookers for failing to speak up. I clearly say that the harasser did wrong things, that the target repeatedly did the right thing, that Readercon’s original decision was wrong, that the Readercon board acted like hypocrites, and that I’m boycotting Readercon as long as the board’s original decision stands. I do criticize the passive onlookers—the people other than the target who said nothing when seeing the harassment taking place. The problem, apparently, is that community consensus is that the only wrongs were done by the harasser and the Readercon board, and that pointing out any other failures is somehow read (at least by Elf) as mitigating those wrongs. I don’t view it that way, any more than criticizing the Readercon board’s original decision mitigates the wrongs done by the harasser.


irilyth said...

I remember there was another big story about this at Readercon a few years ago, which makes me wonder: Is Readercon unusual in how much harassment there is there? Or in the fact that they have a strict policy against it, so there tends to be more reporting?

In particular, I wonder if the reason you don't hear about this sort of thing at Arisia and Boskone and so on, is because those places are much better at this -- or if it's because they're so much worse that harassment there is so pervasive that it's completely under the radar.

I don't actually know, but it made me wonder if people are bashing on Readercon now for not following their strict policy, if the takeaway is that if they didn't have a policy, and just ignored harassment problems, no one would be so pissed off at them. :^( That seems like a bad message to send.

Michael said...

Good questions. I don't know if anyone is collecting stats on harassment incidents at various cons. Since the percentage of reported incidents is probably extremely low, my guess is that it would be difficult to get reliable numbers. In my personal experience, Readercon feels like a safe and relatively professional atmosphere. I believe that the participants can have a much bigger impact on that than policies and permabans.

Michael said...

I think a permaban is a reasonable response to the reported facts. But if you oppose a permaban, what about tying it to a percentage of the age of the offender? Say 25% rounded up, 3-year minimum. The older people get, the more slowly they change, so the longer you'd want to wait before taking a chance on letting them back in.