Just A Compliment, Geez

When women are harassed, whether it’s a creepy come-on, an “accidental” grope, a sexist joke, or whatever form it takes, we often ignore it to avoid being considered moody or hard to work with.  Especially in the working sphere, we weigh the consequences of letting an inappropriate behavior slide, and we weigh the consequences of being considered someone who can’t take a joke, who is moody, or bitchy, or so high maintenance, or who can’t just take a joke, who makes a big fuss over nothing, etc. etc.  I’ve done it myself, letting obnoxious, sexist comments slide because I liked my job.  In creative work, being considered high-maintenance and moody has very real career consequences, and women on the receiving end of harassment think long and hard about risking the negative reputation that comes from being the whistleblower.

Genevieve Valentine‘s now-famous ReaderCon experience is more than a garden-variety harassment story, because after she experienced the inappropriate behavior (full account on her blog), she didn’t shrug it off or ask a friend to walk her around for the rest of the con.
She went to the con organizers, with a name of her harasser and witnesses to his behavior, and expected ReaderCon to follow its stated zero-tolerance policy for harassment.

But ReaderCon didn’t ban the harasser from the show, as their policy stated. Instead, they gave him a pretty minor slap on the wrist, and when bloggers and attendees responded with shock, ReaderCon said that because this fellow, called Rene Walling, apologized for his actions, so he can come back. (A quick Google pulls up this fellow’s ties to Boston’s Arisia, to WorldCon, to the Hugo Awards, and to Tor, and plenty of bloggers have already suggested he used his influence and friendships to avoid consequences for his actions.) The heartfelt-apology defense seems pretty weak, and I expect that anyone caught, say, pocketing items from the dealer’s room wouldn’t be able to say sorry and escape consequences.

The problem with harassment is that it’s so very easy to defend the harasser. He’s a nice guy, he was just flirting, he meant you were pretty, it was a compliment, you know that gamers/comic geeks/scifi guys are awkward, don’t you?, fandom’s a weird place, you should be flattered, it was just a joke, you’re being too sensitive.

There are several petitions asking ReaderCon to rethink this decision, and one member of the board has stepped down after the show’s decision to give Walling a token penalty. A loud and growing chorus of science fiction writers and show attendees aren’t planning on returning to ReaderCon.  I hope the organizers of this show, and conventions that would like to invite women game designers, women comic artists, women scifi authors, heck, just women) will consider the type of space they are creating by the rules they make and enforce.

It’s most important for all of us to consider the double standard in which a woman feeling unsafe is probably just misinterpreting things, but a man feeling sorry now has total awareness of his actions and will never do it again.

Other blogs:
Genevieve Valentine: Readercon: The Bad and the Ugly (Disclosure: Genevieve was one of my roommates and cheap theater buddies in London, so I’m extra super angry that this happened to a good friend and an amazing writer.)
Shea Wong: When enough is not enough: Rene Walling, Genevieve Valentine, and Readercon
Ekaterina Sedia: That ReaderCon Thing
Team Valkyrie: Zero-Tolerance Except if Sowwies, aka That Noise Happening with ReaderCon
Nicholas Kaufman: Not Cool, ReaderCon

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6 Responses to Just A Compliment, Geez

  1. Pingback: Under the Beret » The Readercon Thing

  2. Bill says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s not how Zero Tolerance works.

  3. Andrea says:

    I didn’t realize you knew Genevieve, that’s kind of awesome.

    Jim C. Hines also wrote an excellent piece about it, here: http://www.jimchines.com/2012/07/the-readercon-mess/

    as did John Scalzi: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/31/readercon-harassment-etc/

  4. bridget says:

    In the working world, the only thing you can really do is hope that a male colleague will stand up for you on your behalf. It then ceases to be a woman problem and becomes a him problem. Perhaps if his boss is a woman who doesn’t put up with that, you may also recruit an ally.

    Non-business world? Different story. If he comes up behind you and grabs you, turn around and knee him in the groin. Then, “I’m soooo sorry!! I thought you were someone else! Some other six-foot tall, dark-haired guy I barely know who is totally sketchy! I mean, obviously, that describes you, but it doesn’t, ’cause you aren’t sketchy when you grab women you don’t know. And for your inherent goodness, you got kneed in the balls! What is this world coming to? Soooo sorry! Hey, do you need ice on those?”

    (Eric doesn’t read your blog very often, right?)

    • Meg says:

      In a situation where being considered moody, hard to work with, that diva who can’t take a joke, etc. could cost me my job, I ignore and hope that someday I’m successful enough to fire or discipline that attitude out of my company… I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of guys who really are allies, not just in saying they support women, but in NOT making dirty comments at work, not giving the creepy eye, not making sexist “jokes”, and not standing for it, either.
      Sadly, “but I was just just kidding!” is still a prevalent attitude in male-dominated workplaces.

      (And Eric only reads my blog when I post something awkward.)

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