While I was in LA, doing Wil Wheaton-related stuff and largely staying away from the Internets, the fandom-related portion of Teh Intarweebs exploded with events surrounding an incident of sexual harrassment at Readercon, a science fiction and fantasy convention. And when I say exploded, I do mean exploded; here’s a long list of blog posts related to the event, starting from the first post by Genevieve Valentine, who was the one harassed, about the incident. That list should keep you busy for a while.
For those of you who don’t want to wade through the list, the short form is this: Valentine was sexually harassed at Readercon by a fellow named Rene Walling. Readercon has a “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policy, which means anyone who is found to have harassed someone is meant to be permanently banned from attending the convention. In the case of Walling, however, he was banned from the convention for two years, an amount of time which is less than “permanently” would be. Said eruption of the Internets ensued, because the stated policy wasn’t followed, because there is the belief that Mr. Walling was let off easy because he’s a well-known fan who has run Worldcons and other conventions, and because there is the belief that Readercon has ultimately sided with a harasser rather than the harassed.
Understand I am conveying only the bare bones of this whole event; you really should check out at least some of the commentary compiled in the piece I’ve linked to above.
I’ve gotten e-mails and tweets from all over the place wanting to know my opinion of the thing, both as myself and as President of SFWA. Toward the latter, I am going to remain silent for now, because as I am fond of reminding people, I Am Not SFWA, I’m just the president. This is something for board discussion, something we haven’t had yet in part because I was away from the Internets for several days. Moreover, per my standard policy, I am loath to discuss SFWA matters here at Whatever in any manner other than the most basic. I can point you to SFWA’s statement regarding Sexual Harassment, posted last November, however.
Personally speaking? It’s probably easier to present my thoughts in a brief list.
1. No one should have to fear sexual harassment at any science fiction or fantasy convention. The fact people still do — the fact women still do, let’s not dance around that little fact of life — is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this community.
2. It doesn’t matter whether the person sexually harassing someone else is a big name in the field or is well-liked or is otherwise a decent human being or feels really bad about it in retrospect.
3. Conventions should have policies and procedures in place to deal with sexual harassment. Those policies should be unambiguous and clear. They should apply equally to everyone.
4. If a convention has a policy on sexual harassment which it then does not follow, then it has failed — failed the person who was harassed by not living up to its obligations to them, failed its guests by not following the rules by which it purports to run, failed the community at large by continuing to allow exceptions and exclusions and excuses to those who harass, and failed itself by not being the convention it claims to be.
All of this seems pretty straightforward to me.
And all of this seems pretty distanced from events, so let me also say this: I’ve been at conventions where I’ve seen a guy zoom in for unwanted physical contact and seen the woman flinch back, dreading what was about to happen. I’ve been the guy who’s told some dude hovering over a woman made visibly uncomfortable by him to back off. I have friends who have been harassed (or worse) at conventions by men. Some of these men were clueless, for whatever reason, about the fact that they were being harassers. Some of them almost certainly were not.
It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, everyone at a convention should be free to enjoy themselves without being sexually harassed. At the end of the day, everyone who goes to a convention has to be assumed to understand basic concepts like “no means no,” and “leave me alone.” At the end of the day, a convention is responsible for being a place where those who don’t get those concepts — or choose to believe they do not apply to them — find themselves on the other side of the door. All of them, equally and without exception.
Update, 8/5/12: Readecon has essentially reversed its earlier ruling and apologized to Ms. Valentine.