Convention Harassment Policy Follow-Up

Interesting responses and questions out there to me announcing my new personal policy of requiring the cons who want me as a guest to have (and actually be willing to enforce) harassment policies. No harassment policy, no John Scalzi as a guest (nor am I likely to attend as a fan).

One very positive response, in my opinion: As of me writing this, nearly 500 other creators, fans and humans have co-signed onto this policy, including but not limited to writers, editors, publishers, con-runners and con staff (update, 7/6, 11:00pm: Now it’s well over 700). This is encouraging, especially because many of these folks signed on during a holiday here in the US. We’ll see where it goes from here. If you are one of the people who have co-signed: Thank you. I’m glad to have written something worth your participation.

Apropos to this policy, I was asked how one might go about implementing it. Well, here’s how I am going to do it, and all y’all can adjust for your own potential needs from there.

1. If I get an invite from a con to be a guest, or otherwise decide I want to attend and/or participate, I’m going to go to the con’s Web site and see if I can find their harassment policy. If I can find it, then hooray! That makes everything a lot simpler.

2. If I can’t find it, then I would write back to the con and say something along the lines of:

Hi there —

I am interested in attending your convention. However, it’s important to me that I attend cons I know have policies to prevent harassment of guests and con-goers, and it’s important to me that those policies are enforced. It’s important enough that I choose not to attend cons without such policies or the commitment to enforcing them.

I’ve looked on your site and I can’t find any information on your con’s harassment policy. So, let me ask: Does your convention have a harassment policy? If you do, is it something that you make sure those attending your convention are aware of? And will your convention assure me that this policy can and will be enforced?

Let me know, so we can move forward from here.



3. If the con responds with “why yes, we have one, and we’ll happily publicize and enforce it,” then, again, hooray! Easily sorted. If they don’t but say they will, then I’ll tell them to let me know when they have and I’ll be happy to consider them then. If they don’t and don’t know where to start, I might point them at some examples of current con harassment polices: Here’s one that’s fairly involved, for example, here’s one that’s a little more compact (scroll down a bit) and here’s a general resource on such policies. Then I’ll tell them to contact me again when it’s all sorted. If they don’t have a policy and don’t want to create one, then we’re done and I won’t go.  I’ll note that I’ll reserve the right to note publicly that, look, here’s a convention that not only doesn’t have a harassment policy but refuses to create one.

So that’s how I am going to do things moving forward.

And now, some responses to questions/comments that have been asked of me or that I’ve seen online about or relevant to this new policy of mine. The comments/questions will be paraphrased/condensed/etc because they’re all over the place and I want to get through them.

You can’t do this.

Sure I can. I just did. And, incidentally, I got almost 500 people so far to agree with me.

No, I mean you can’t expect conventions to make changes just because you say so.

Conventions are entirely free to do what they want. What I am doing is setting conditions for my participation in their convention. If they want me, this is what I require. Other guests might have other requirements: For example, some guests might require business class air travel rather than economy. They might require that they only have to do two events a day. They might require a room with handicapped access and an aide to help them navigate the convention. And so on. This is something I now require. And for me it’s a non-negotiable.

You might now not get invited to some conventions.

Oh, well.

Lots of conventions already have harassment policies, so you’re just grandstanding on a non-issue.

Indeed many conventions do have harassment polices, because a) they want to be places where people feel safe, and b) they understand they have liability issues and they want to have their asses covered. However, some don’t, and in some cases conventions with harassment policies are hesitant for whatever reason to adequately publicize those policies or to enforce them. A convention with a harassment policy that no one knows about is little better than one without one; a convention that will not enforce a harassment policy you could argue is worse, since they’ve assured its con-goers that it has their backs and doesn’t. So I’m happy to grandstand on this one a bit longer, thanks.

You’re just doing this for the feminist cookies and/or to suck up to the women and minorities and/or to get laid. 

Toward the latter, I trust most rational people will understand why “I have asserted you have a right not to be harassed at a convention NOW IN EXCHANGE YOU WILL DO ME LIKE A FEVERED STOAT” is actually not a winning strategy.

Toward the former, I would be perfectly happy if women/minorities/queerfolk of all sorts feel like I fully support their right to go to a convention (and, in general, go through life) and not get harassed for it. The problem is not that I would be happy about this. The problem is the people who think being happy to be seen that way constitutes “sucking up.”

For the record, the reason I’m doing this is that I know too many people who have been harassed at conventions, and who, if they want to go to a convention, have to factor a certain amount of harassment into their day. For every person I know who has to do that, there are twenty people I don’t know who have to do that too. That’s complete bullshit, and I want it to end. I can’t easily stop every single harassing asshole at a con from being a harassing asshole, and when I’m at a convention, that’s not my job anyway. What I can do — and am delighted to do, by the way — is make it more difficult for them do it at a convention I am part of. I can also encourage others — creators and fans — to do the same, so the harassing assholes have less and less cover at a convention to do their thing.

Also, you know what? Fuck these assholes. I’m sick of politely sharing cultural space with the sort of pissy lump of a human who sees nothing wrong with being a racist and/or sexist and/or homophobe, who attacks and harasses people because they feel they have a right to, and who goes out of their way to make the places I work and socialize in uncomfortable and even threatening for too many of the other people I work and socialize with, and for so many others as well.  Having robust, visible and enforced harassment policies at conventions will go a long way to making these assholes behave, or making them go home. Either is fine with me.

But free speech!

Spare me. Conventions are private entities that have every right to put conditions on attendance, including on conduct, including harassment. Conventions also typically take place in private property (i.e., hotels, convention centers), so that’s two layers of private entities you’re dealing with.

But political correctness!

Leaving aside that there’s a high correlation between the sort of person who uses the phrase “political correctness” and the sort of person who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the next thing coming out of their mouth or fingertips is going to make most everyone else in the room cringe in embarrassment for that person, and then look for a way to gracefully exit the conversation: Why, yes, it is politically correct not to harass another human being at a convention. It’s also, without any additional modifier, correct not to harass another human being at a convention. This should not be difficult to grasp.

But oversensitive people!

That’s why you have a policy and a process, quite obviously; to allow the con to sort out the genuine problems from the misunderstandings. Likewise there are some people who genuinely don’t know they’re doing something that’s making other people uncomfortable and will happily attempt to correct their behavior when it’s pointed out. Good for them, and that should be allowed for. On the other hand, when you don’t have a policy and process and an institutional memory for these things, a harassing asshole can play the “oh, I didn’t know” card multiple times. That’s no good for anyone but the harassing asshole.

Back in my day, a man could go up and would graphically proposition every woman at a convention! As a way of saying hello!

And? You used to tool around without seatbelts in a car filled with leaded gas, too. You don’t do that anymore. You used to smoke on planes, too. Another thing you don’t do anymore. You used to listen to Edgar Winter on your 8-track! Seems doubtful you do that anymore, either. Wide lapels! Medallions! Sansabelt pants! Members Only jackets! Polack jokes! Tab! And, I don’t know. Maybe you miss the days. That’s fine. But you’re probably not under the illusion Sansabelts and 8-tracks and leaded gas are suddenly going to come back.

Also: the dude back in the day, going up to every woman at a convention, saying hello by asking them if they want to fuck? Harassing asshole. Mind you, back in the day apparently no one was going to call him on his shitty harassing actions. Now they would. And they should. Because they are. Welcome to the future!

The corollary to this is the handwringing that now the sort of awkward people who go to cons won’t ever be able to meet people/you can’t talk to people without worrying that you’re going to offend them/no one will ever get laid at a con again. Jesus, people, have you been to a convention lately? The kids are doing just fine. Also, of course, if your flirting strategy is indistinguishable from harassment, it’s not everyone else that’s the problem.

Let’s also be clear that this mindview is not about how old you are. There are older people who are appalled at harassment; there are younger people who don’t see what everyone’s complaining about. Likewise there are people of good will who are used to particular approaches and attitudes that worked perfectly well at one time that don’t any more — dealing with harassment through “back channels,” rather than making a public deal about it, as an example. I’m all for good, constructive conversation there. It can be had.

You have no right to lecture people about harassment when you harassed that woman when you were on Oprah!

This is the latest stupid dude attack on me. They’re talking about this clip, and specifically me briefly touching the upper back of the woman I’m sitting next to, at about the two minute mark. For the record, if my memory serves, she and I had a perfectly nice chat before the cameras went on, and I let her know why I was there and what I might be doing, so she was neither surprised nor upset with me. I think that’s fairly obvious, but then I’m also not one of those people who believe a robust and enforced harassment policy means no one will ever touch at a con again, ever, so.

I will apologize for the sweater. It was 1996. Like Sansabelts and leaded gas and (hopefully) harassment as an acceptable convention tradition, that sweater is never coming back.

How do you feel about N.K. Jemisin’s amendment to your Convention Harassment Policy?

I agree with it entirely. I’ll note that with this policy of mine, I intended to speak to harassment as a general thing, not just specifically relating to sexual harassment. However, at the moment, thanks to Elise Matthesen’s choice to report her harasser, sexual harassment at conventions is at the forefront of people’s minds. Ms. Jemisin’s comment is a reminder that the harassment issue is larger than that.

Do you really think this will make a difference?

It makes a difference to me. That’s a start.

Hey, Kids! SciFi Comedy Improv!

So, about two and a half years ago, Mary Robinette Kowal and I did a show at Borderlands Books in San Francisco called “John and Mary Show You Their Shorts,” in which she and I presented a bunch of short humorous pieces that we wrote — some with her by herself, some with me by myself, and a couple with the both of us. I’ve put up audio files of the evening before, but now someone with the YouTube handle of “Zombie High Fives” has posted video of most of the entire show (minus the q&a periods). To which I say: Sweet!

Here’s the entire set (seven videos, about an hour’s worth), but I’m going to embed on of the video here, the one called “The Petmaster 2000,” which Mary and I did as an improv bit, i.e., we were totally making it up as we went along. I think it ended up being pretty good. You tell me.

If you enjoyed that then go check out the rest of the evening. It was a lot of fun, at least on our end.