A Trio of Caveats

Jezebel has linked in and reported on yesterday’s piece on Readercon, which is nice because it helps to widen the discussion of the issue, to which I came late and had a less than critical role in (again, here’s a good collection of posts about the event, most of which were written before I popped in with my thoughts).

Between the Readercon piece and the “Who gets to be a geek” piece I’m getting a lot of press and positive vibes in the last couple of days for being a decent guy , particularly when it comes to women in geekdom. I certainly appreciate it; I try to be a good guy and I try also to encourage others to be the same.

But for the sake of my own sense of proportion, I’d like to note some things, quickly.

1. I’m getting credit that doesn’t necessarily accrue to me, simply because I have a relatively big platform. In the case of the Readercon incident specifically, the reason I keep pointing back to that list of links is to note that lots of other people — staring with Genevieve Valentine, who was the one harassed — had been making noise about it for days. If anything, I offered signal boost to work already done.

2. I don’t mind attention (obviously) and I am delighted to boost the signal to help combat the basic misogynistic crap that women have to deal with in geekdom because holy buckets, we do seem to be having quite a public gout of it these days, don’t we. That said, it’s been noted, and not unfairly, that the fact that the attention on these topic increases when I, a guy, talk about them (I’m a guy! Did you know?) is ironic and indicative of a whole bunch of other things which would take a while to unpack. Some of that attention goes back to the aforementioned big platform, but some of it doesn’t, and that’s worth noting and discussing.

3. I’m happy to be getting credit for being a good guy, and I really do try to be a good guy. But, you know. I have shown my ass on the Internets (and elsewhere) before, and I probably will again; hopefully unintentionally and then I will then hopefully quickly apologize, but even so. I just want it out there that I’m aware that I’m a fallible person, will almost certainly experience fallibation in the future (“fallibation”: not a real word) and that makes me like everyone else. I also want it out there that I know getting credit for being a decent human being right now doesn’t mean that I’ve accrued a “Get Out of Jail” card if I’m a jackhole later. If you see me showing my ass, be sure to let me know. I don’t expect this will be a problem for most of you.

49 Comments on “A Trio of Caveats”

  1. You’re a class act, Mr. Scalzi. I was already a big fan of your books, and I’m a big fan of what you’ve said here, as well.

  2. Nice post to shine light on previous posts, but all this talk of showing your ass makes me want to disable images on Whatever…

  3. John,

    You’ve always been a “good” guy, but if there’s anything that marriage has taught me, it’s that I AM fallible. As when my better half is the first to remind me of my fallibility, I’m sure Krissy will be the first to correct you if you’ve been a jackhole….


  4. Oh Mr. Scalzi. Thank you so much, especially for points 2 and 3. There are so many things about these incidents that are deeply alienating to me, but one evident lately is the phenomenon of self-proclaimed allies who then go and do or say something that they very probably don’t know is crappy but get all self-righteous about it when called out by a little lady who doesn’t know her place. We’re all works in progress! It’s ok to make mistakes, if you listen and apologize when someone helpfully points them out to you. One doesn’t “get out of jail” free for being a “good guy at heart” or well-intentioned or whatever. Kinda the point!

  5. Fallibation is not a word?
    So that is why it gets underlined in neon red when I do it.

  6. I vote for provisional status of “fallibation” as a real word. It is very expressive of a particular concept, and that gets you word-ness in my lexicon. It also qualifies, to my thinking, as a sniglet.

  7. I am not my wife’s agent, and she doesn’t generally like me to talk about her in public. But she’s two of three data points in this comment.

    #1 After my mother earned her B.A. in English Literature, Minor in Journalism, Magna Cum Laude, from Northwestern University, she interviewed for editorial jobs in New York City. Before she could ever remove her diploma from her purse, she’d always get a version of the same question: “So, girl, how fast can you type?”

    #2 In school, my wife asked to take Calculus. “Calculus is for boys,” said the teacher.
    “I will take calculus,” replied my wife,” I will do better than any of the boys, and you shall never say that again.”

    #3 after several years doing Physics research, and space program subcontracting, and management in high tech companies in California, my wife was annoyed that her boss, who also had a PhD, earned $10,000/year more than her, and worked fewer hours… It took 11 years as a professor at her current university before the administration finally realized that the man in question could not teach, budget, write, or administrate, voted him off the island, and promoted my wife to Department Chair.

    Conclusion: America has come a long way, and still has a long way to go.

  8. Scalzi: I’m aware that I’m a fallible person,… and that makes me like everyone else.

    Well, no. Not really.

  9. I will say I’m more likely to tell allies who show they are allies — men who talk about sexism, straight folks who talk about gay rights, etc. — when they are showing their asses because I feel like I can expect a reaction more like ‘sorry’ than ‘how dare you’ or ‘I meant to do that’. A bit like the benefit of the doubt that you’re just doing that ‘occasionally screws up’ thing that all of us humans do, rather than actively trying to be a jerk, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t go un-remarked on. Since that’s how we learn to screw up differently and fail better.

  10. Becca, me three. I don’t even bother pointing out the ass-showing to people who I don’t already believe for some reason to be allies, which is why it is so terribly disappointing when I do get the “how dare you”. Sometimes the prologue “I’m only saying this to you because I like you and consider you well-intentioned so even though it might sting, the fact I’m even bothering to say this is in itself a compliment,” isn’t enough to disarm the hackles.

  11. It’s not that it’s not a real word that bothers me. It’s that fallibation should CLEARLY involve doing something stupid while drunk. It’s got libation right in the word!

    Or, as WC Fields supposedly said, we all need to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.

  12. John Scalzi, you were one of the nicest individuals I have met at a con, remember when you signed that sonic screwdriver for an Asian man dressed as the 11th Doctor at Capricon 2012?

    Anyway, I applaud you for your stance against sexual harassment and misogyny, keep on defending those who need it the most :)

  13. To which I add my own idiocy by misspelling Asperger’s. And it looks like that comment may have been deleted anyway.

    Yeah, time for me to walk away from the internet for a while. Thanks for signal-boosting, John!

  14. [Deleted for responding to deleted comment — Stevie, you’re fine to continue to comment.]

  15. If I happen to show my ass, please let me know, as gently as you can. 90% of the time I will be horribly embarrassed; I will try not to be snippy about my faux pas. The other 10%, I was probably speaking from ignorance; apologies.

  16. Unfortunately, the latest “public gout of misogyny” just happened to come at a time when I was planning to become more active in the sci/fi and fantasy community and broaden my horizons in the converse. I must say, it seems daunting and bleak outside my little world of geek happiness. Not that I’ll let that stop me. Articles like the ones you’ve written (and pointed to) lately give me hope that I’ll end up in a room full of guys like you, instead of huddled in a corner thinking about how my hair would look Arya-style.

  17. You seem to have influence far beyond just being a good guy with a big audience. For instance, I am certain that Barnes and Nobel never carried ukuleles until you started mentioning them and making people want them.

  18. Theresa@2:21pm: Please bear in mind that this latest public gout of misogyny is an improvement over earlier ones.

    The fact that this time there has been a massive public outcry is a huge improvement. It’s a further improvement that the public objection isn’t “Why is nothing being done about this?” but rather “You aren’t doing this the right way.” To have a lot of people demanding improvement on failures is miles beyond the days, not so long ago, when we had just a few voices demanding that something, anything, be done.

    It gives me much more confidence in fandom. More people standing up to say, “Yeah, no, that’s not cool” is a good thing. If this continues to progress, there may come a day when the usual reaction to creeperism will be “WTF is wrong with that guy?” rather than attempts to explain it.

  19. I don’t take the fact you’re a guy to be a problem when pointing out when a woman has been harrassed or treated badly. I was not aware of what had happened at Readercon but because of your signal boost I can find out what happend, take part in the discussion and form an opinion about it. It’s something I can then talk about with my friends, some of whom don’t frequent blogs or news sites. It opens it up to a wider audience in general. So thank you for doing it and long may it continue.

  20. I really appreciate this post. I am very glad to see you make all three points, but most especially point #2 — it’s important to keep in mind and I am extremely glad to see you doing so, and acknowledging its complication clearly and carefully. I’ve particularly appreciated many of your posts over the last few months, but this is really another post of a class act: thank you for it.

    Also, Yes.

  21. Yeah, fallibation is that last drink, after which you keel over. And aspbergers are what they serve at Cleopatra memorials? And I need another cup of coffee…

    (But seriously, folks) as –E says says, the more folks involved in this discussion, the more it becomes about us collectively dealing with our problem, and less about something unpleasant happening over there. Shine enough light on it, and it changes. And John, you have a big flashlight and you know how to use it. Keep doing the good work!

  22. A Good Person wouldn’t have made me cry while reading RedShirts, YOU GREAT BIG JERK.

  23. A. If I ever see you showing your ass on the internet, the first thing I will do will be save the picture to my disk. THEN I’ll tell you.

    B. “Captain, the shields are going into fallibation! If we don’t stop it the ship will come apart!”
    “Better send Ensign Soontodie into the Jeffries tube to refocus the defallibators!”

    C. Seriously, everyone has said why this is cool. I agree but have nothing to add.

  24. @Xopher “refocus the defallibators”. Great, ANOTHER thing to shout when my “education” in ST:TNG continues. (I’ve avoided it for years, but my reckoning has come due. I blame Redshirts and the fact that it’s now free to stream for Amazon Prime members.)

    PS John, just another voice in the chorus to thank you for speaking up. You do have a large platform, and I appreciate that you often put it to good use. I’m still not going to walk around alone at GenCon in two weeks, mind, but I never have, and that’s hardly your (or most male con-goer’s) fault.

  25. I’m going to join the chorus of people saying “Thank-you” and “Good Job”. You’re right to state that it’s not quite right that because your a guy your take on the whole matter seems to getting higher traction than the original post. Still, that fact that we’ve progressed to the point where we can realize an acknowledge that fact and most of us are doing what we can to combat it is heartening.

    So thank-you John for continuing to be an example for the rest of us, and don’t worry, if you show your ass on the Internet we’ll do our best to gently rebuke you rather than slapping your bare bottom.

  26. I’ve been liking the posts, Scalzi, but I think you’re overreacting to a lot of these sorts of things. Peacock rightly pointed out that certain non-geek women like to pretend to be geeks in order to promote their modelling careers. He sees it as exploitation; I see it as just more eye candy at Comicon, and don’t think they do any more harm than buying a badge that a “real” geek might want. But their numbers are small, and they definitely add to the flavor of the event.

    I get your point with Peacock (he went way beyond the above), but with the sexual harassment, it seems as if your only objection is that they showed leniency to the harasser. If the Con had a two-year ban policy for harassment, it seems like you wouldn’t be upset about it, as Justice Would Be Done. You just were objecting to the fact that they didn’t throw the book as hard at him as their policy said they would – *but that’s how justice works, when justice is working*.

    Judges are fully empowered to reduce sentences when they feel it is appropriate, and I don’t think you are I have enough facts to second guess these people. Sure, if they reduced the punishment solely due to cronyism, that’s one thing, but nothing I’ve read shows this to be the case. (I could have missed this, of course. There’s a lot of writing on the subject.)

  27. @shakauvm: The outrage in the fannish community seems not to be that the sentence was reduced, per se, but that:

    1) In previous cases at this same con, the sentence has not been reduced.
    2) The policy has not, so far as I’ve seen in all this, been changed; they’ve just offered a one-off reduction of sentence.
    3) The man in question is a Big Name Fan with Big Name Friends.
    4) The justification given for reducing the sentence is that the person said he was very sorry and would not do it again.
    4a) …in terms that are depressingly like those often used by serial abusers/sexual harassers.
    4b) …and he has a long track record of doing this to other women at other conventions.

    In particular, #s 1, 2 and 3 are leading many people to feel this is a case of favoritism rather than actual justice, particularly given that #4 leads many to feel that the contrition is both insincere and insufficient reason to make an exception.

  28. And yes, that perception may be inaccurate. But half of public relations *is* perception, and right now, Readercon has clearly failed miserably there. If the perception is inaccurate, they probably need to address that fact and explain the decision in more detail.

  29. shakauvm:

    It seems your comment would probably be better suited for the “Readercon, Harassment, etc” thread, for which is it more on topic. I don’t particularly have an interest in replicating the content of that thread here.

  30. Personally, I think point #3 needs to be said louder, or in bold print, or something.

    I am also a guy, I also try to be a good guy, I have also shown my ass on the internets, and even considering the spectacular differences between your market penetration and mine, I feel comfortable saying that I’ve probably done a better job of that than you have. And the resultant Feminism 101 smackdowns I’ve deservedly gotten for it have made me aware of at least the scope of how much it is that I not only don’t know, but am incapable of knowing, because there’s shit that women have experienced time and time again that, frankly, wouldn’t even fucking occur to me. …even when I’m the one that’s doing it. I’ve got my Male Privilege card, so I skipped right past the ‘get harassed’ line.

    And one of the things I’ve come to realize after, I dunno, the third or fourth time I got the Feminism 101 speech read to me, is that no one else has a responsibility to read me this speech; it’s entirely on me to figure this shit out on my own. And God knows I’m trying, but I’m still a little nervous. There’s only so many times you can be told “dude, you’re an idiot” before you start to think “…okay, maybe I am, how about a little help?”, and then hearing “Totally not my job, figure it the fuck out yourself” before you start to think “okay, maybe the smart move in this conversation is to say nothing”.

    And that’s a bummer. I don’t want to say nothing. In the extant case, I’d really like to say something about how this Rene Walling guy sounds like a total doucheweasel, and it seems like the Readercon board has slammed their dicks in the car door. And as much as I’d like to generally support the idea that “wouldn’t it be cool if no men were doucheweasels?”, even accounting for the fact that I’ve deservedly been blown up for being on the wrong side of something, I’m even less excited by the prospect of being blown up for trying to be on the RIGHT side of something.

    And as I reread this comment, I can already hear feminist acquaintances of mine saying “wah wah wah, shut up, jackhole”. And maybe I deserve that, I dunno. I lack an adequate frame of reference.

    …but maybe I don’t.

  31. Huey, sounds to me like you get it. Don’t let your awareness of your own privilege stop you from being a vocal ally! I don’t speak for All Feminists Everywhere, but you have my permission, fwiw. Very few have unlocked the Perfect Feminist achievement and if only those spoke out, they’d be lonely voices indeed.

  32. re: Jonathan Vos Post

    I worked with a brilliant woman who had applied for Med school at a Big 10 land grant college around 68-69. During the interview one of the admissions people asked her “Tell me why we should give this slot to a girl when you will only be a doctor till you get pregnant and quit”

    She was not admitted but has taught biology at a highly respected university and is not dept chair.

    Sometimes I can’t even believe I lived in such ignorant times.

  33. One of the posts linked through that link you share about readercon is mine! I’m totally going to take this to mean you read a post on my blog, even though you probably didn’t read every single link, BECAUSE I CAN.

    thank you for commenting on the readercon issue!

  34. Huey, I am a woman and consider myself a feminist. But I occasionally do or say things that other feminists think wrong, and have had discussions in the comments on my blog and others where my viewpoint clearly annoys other feminists (this is usually around my opinion that I don’t have to repay my debt to previous generations of feminists by fighting the battles that other feminists want me to fight but instead get to choose my own battles… but a full discussion of that is a huge derail so let’s not go there. If you want to discuss it with me, go over to my blog, find my recent posts on Marissa Mayer and have at it.) I have also been wrong about things, feminist-y and otherwise, and come to realize I am wrong via discussions on the internet.

    My point from that is twofold: 1. Feminists don’t speak with one unified voice, so it is not necessarily a thing of shame to disagree with someone who is a feminist provided you are doing so from a position of respect and a basic understanding that women are equal human beings and deserve to be treated as such, and 2. we’re none of us perfect, and it is OK, if a bit painful, to have to learn sometimes. The important thing is what you do next.

    Personally, if I come across a man who is willing to genuinely listen, I am usually willing to explain. Sometimes I even learn something from the discussion.

  35. This post pretty much sums up why I read Whatever every single day. I may not comment much, but I always read and I always appreciate hearing your take on things.


  36. 1) yay for nice guys! And unlike so many other people, I’m not going to reassure you that you are a nice guy. I know of you, I’m not a close friend, and it’s great to think that a few folk can be nice just because.
    As far as point number three– yes indeed, men listen to men much more than they listen to women. Men who hear other men say “Listen to women!” might, someday listen to the man who said it– so keep on saying things. I often take advantage of my white privilege to parrot the things my friends of color have told me to white folks. It’s nice. It means my friends of color don’t have to say it. Again.

    Huey, that includes you. You know you don’t know everything– but you just might know something you can tell your other friends, like “Dudes, women are totally worth listening to!

    Also, one good way to frame that “explain this to me” question is; “Where can I find out more?”

  37. You’re a class act, Mr. Scalzi. I was already a big fan of your books, and I’m a big fan of what you’ve said here, as well.

    Corrosive Rabbit said it for me in the very first comment.

  38. I’ve been reading the “who gets to be a geek” thread, and as an almost-total outsider (the only con I ever attended was the “Babylon 5 Wrap Party” here in the UK and it rocked, but circumstances have conspired against me since) I have some questions which I can’t ask there, seeing as it’s closed now. So in the hope that I’m not totally hanging my arse out to dry, I’d like to ask here, please: if I’m less than coherent please call me out or apply the blue pencil.

    So…people are saying that geeks like to share their enthusiasm. Some people are also saying that they think that these “booth babes” who attend these conventions don’t know nearly enough about the characters they are portraying.

    So why is the first reaction that of “burn the witch! cast her out!” rather than very respectfully asking her something along the lines of “so how much do you know about your character?” and when she answers “not a lot” offering to explain? If she so happens to respond positively, chances are you’ve got a potential convert on your hands: if you don’t mess it up totally, even a potential new friend (where it goes from there would be entirely context sensitive so I’ll leave that for the student to complete).

    Am I completely wrong-footed in thinking that a geek’s “first duty” is to share the excitement with anybody who’s happy to receive? Why the need for hostility?

  39. Huey — I’m in the same situation regarding race issues, being a white woman. No, it’s not the job of members of an oppressed group to educate the privileged. Some folks are nice enough to do it anyway, and usually they have some sort of educational posts sitting around online so they don’t have to answer the same dumb questions over and over and over. The thing to do is head for Google (or your search engine of choice if different) and search on “Feminism 101.” I just tried it myself and got over 4.4 million hits. Start reading. No, you don’t have to read them all. :)

    On my side, I did a lot of Racism 101 reading, and also subscribed to a number of blogs hosted by people of color who discuss race issues, whether regularly or solely. I mostly lurk, reading and learning. Occasionally I feel like I might have a valid opinion or observation, or a reasonably intelligent question, and I post something. I’m aware that I don’t have the personal experience to Get It on an instinctive level, so I’m careful and have been welcome wherever I’ve posted.

    It sounds like you’re doing the same thing, essentially. Just do more of it, read and listen and learn, and check out that Feminism 101 thing. It’ll probably take some time; that’s okay.

    As a female type person, I appreciate guys who want to learn about these issues, particularly when they don’t go all mushroom-cloud when they’re called on their privilege. You’re doing it right; just keep going.


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