When Friends Fuck Up, and So Do I
Posted on June 25, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi 101 Comments
So, I’ve spent a day giving myself a small ulcer trying to write this thing well, and it hasn’t been working. So fuck it, I’ll just go for blunt and see where that gets me:
I have some friends who have fucked up in how they’ve been treating women. Specifically Myke Cole and Max Temkin and Sam Sykes and (as an online acquaintance who I’ve been friendly with) Warren Ellis. Variously they’ve fucked up and it’s the first time I’ve heard of it, or they’ve fucked up, been given one strike (by me and others) and then fucked up again. Some have owned up to it and accepted that they’ve fucked up; at least one (as far as I can see) has sort of slunk off.
I’m not interested in excusing or mitigating their fuck ups. When you fuck up, you own your karma. I like and have liked all these guys to a greater or lesser degree, and also my personal feelings about them are irrelevant with regard to how they’ve treated other people, and specifically women (and, additionally, people they’ve identified as women who might be non-binary).
It’s hard and sad when friends fuck up, because they’re friends; you like them and you have a relationship with them. You have friends in common. You have at least a little bit of a life in common. It hurts when your friends fuck up. But when they fuck up, you have to be clear about it.
My friends fucked up. Not accidentally, to be clear. They made choices.
They are responsible for their wholly intentional fuck ups.
Also, I am responsible for my fuck-ups in relation to them — to what extent my friendship implies complicity with their actions, or provides cover, or has allowed me to overlook things I should have been paying attention to, or has allowed me to excuse what they were doing. This is one reason I feel like I have a small ulcer at the moment; the gnawing feeling in my gut that wonders how much of their fuck ups are at my door. In some cases, not much! In others: well, more.
(You should also know right now I definitely have that exasperated part of me that is all, like, look, I haven’t been in the same room as this guy for a couple of years! I don’t have a body cam on him! I don’t see every goddamned thing he does as he does it and to whom he does it! My brain is very full of defensive frustrated whining right now! Which is also a thing I have to work through.)
(And while I’m at it, I’m going through my own interactions with people, especially women, at conventions and other places where it turns out the power differential slides toward me. I can admit that this power differential wasn’t something I truly clued into for a while — I think it took being SFWA President to get it drilled into my head, because that was a big fuckin’ neon sign, wasn’t it — but it was there fairly early, so, uhhh, yeah. I’ve seen people commenting “well, at least we still have Scalzi,” and there’s part of my brain going, oh, man, I sure hope you do! But I also know that I have fucked up before in other places where I didn’t understand my power (see: RaceFail, now a decade back), and because of that what I did or said hurt people. That’s also a thing.)
So, yeah, I have to sit with and work through all of that.
I’m angry at my friends right now. I’m sad for my friends right now. I’m even more angry about and sad for the women who they have made feel unsafe, and who they have harassed, or groomed, or otherwise harmed, because it is unacceptable. I want to be a friend to my friends and I also want to chuck them off the side of the fucking boat and be done with them. I want to think there’s a way back for some of them, for the same reason there was a way back for me when I’ve fucked up before. That’s on them, and right now I don’t know how much, if any, of my personal time and credibility I want to put into helping them. I’m frustrated and I’m tired that we keep having to do this, and I’m ashamed that some of the reason we keep having to do this rests on me. I understand and accept why I need to write this piece and I also fucking resent having to, and that resentment rests solely on my friends, and me.
I’m well aware of how much this piece I’ve made about my reaction, when at the end of the day what it should be, simply, is this:
Women have a right to be safe and secure, and to have full participation in the cultures and communities that they create and work in.
My friends fucked that up. And me too.
I’m sorry my friends fucked up. I am sorry for fucking up too.
I’m going to work on my shit. I hope these men I’ve called my friends work on theirs.
I debated whether or not to open the comments on this piece. I’ve decided for now to keep them on. I may change my mind later. Don’t give me a reason to change my mind.
Also, please don’t argue with me as to whether I have some culpability, or whether or not I fucked up too. Folks, yeah, I did. Don’t congratulate me for writing this, either. I hated having to do it and I’m fully cognizant of the idea I may have taken too long to do so.
Additionally, any victim-blaming here is gonna get malleted right into next fucking week.
To continue, since it was brought up in the comments and I want to bump it up, non-binary and trans folks also have the right to be safe and secure in the communities they participate in and help to create.
Now, play nice with each other and be polite. Thank you.
Women have a right to be safe and secure, and to have full participation in the cultures and communities that they create and work in.
Non-binary people too, I hope! Several NBs have spoken up about this kind of harassment as well.
I have no idea what is going on. Is this just a general, fucked up kind of thing or in reference to something (or several somethings) more specific?
Yes! I do specifically note non-binary people in the piece, and to be entirely clear, non-binary people should be safe and secure and full participation in the cultures and communities they create and work in.
(Trans folks too, although trans women are covered by “women” above, because, you know. Trans women are women.)
There is the added layer that different people had different experiences in unsafe spaces and require different things to feel…compensated (not the right word, at all). I wish better days for all involved.
Thanks for writing this up, John. You’ve done an excellent job of expressing some of the feelings I’ve had in another industry when someone I was on friendly terms with was exposed recently.
I only know these people, and you, though the books and tweets and blog posts you’ve all written. As a reader, which is another way of saying “consumer” or “customer”, it’s hugely disappointing to hear stories like those making the rounds right now.
I hope they put in the work to improve. That’s really all I’ve got.
I completely agree with Shanaqui’s comment. Women absolutely have the right to feel safe and secure in spaces both online and off, but given some of the transphobic and aphobic things I’ve seen from certain of those named men, let’s not forget that other genders have been targets in this harassment too.
John, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think if more men had this level of self awareness we’d see less of this behavior (at least I hope we would). The best way to fix this going forward is to hold those at fault accountable. I think that is what you are trying to do here so thank you.
I have asked a friend of mine, is genuine redemption in real life works? Do we want to accept that people can change?
In many stories there are characters that go through a redemption arc from villain to friend, and in many times (depending on the writing and villainy of character) we are happy to see them changed. But I believe that the value of trust that we give in story and in real life are different, and it’s a lot harder to earn it back in reality. But can it be earned at all?
I think the part that is painful for me is that I gave Myke a pass to start over back when he issued his first big apology back in 2018 and I feel like maybe I should have been a bit more hesitant. I hate that my money and time has supported someone who serially harassed women. And I am just some random nobody who bought their books and engaged on Twitter.
All I can do is try to be cognizant of my own shortcomings, try not to develop foot-in-mouth disease to frequently, and own it when I do. Pretty sure I still have a way to go; sometimes I have to slap myself when I think “Gee, that was a good reaction on my part!” That shouldn’t require an attaboy, but rather, should require no thought at all.
“Women have a right to be safe and secure and to have full participation in the cultures and communities that they create and work in.”
I want to hear more about this.
I’m currently writing a fantasy novel that has some assault on females. It’s set in the future and I included the assault portions because guess what? I don’t think the bulk of humans have the ability to change. Men will still assault women. It has always been and will always be. Period. Pretty depressing thought, eh? But as a woman, that’s how frustrated and helpless I feel to make any sort of change to our society of humans.
So, talk more about how women (and everyone for that matter) have the right to be safe and secure in the cultures and communities where they live and work. Please?
IseultTheIdle says: “I hope they put in the work to improve. That’s really all I’ve got.”
This. And, I have work to do too.
“Women have a right to be safe and secure, and to have full participation in the cultures and communities that they create and work in.”
This. A million times this. Women are not sexual objects, they deserve dignify and respect in the workplace
Thank you for providing a good template for others to make use of. We all have friends who have done things that we really wish that they hadn’t. We have likely also ignored some of this to preserve the friendship without creating friction; or at least friction for them. For us, we end up with the internal dialogue that has splashed out upon your keyboard in which we think about how WE can do better in the future to hold them accountable for their own actions and make it known that our relationship moving forward is going to be different.
But we often don’t go any further than thinking about it, simmering in our own pain and frustration, while they go on living their lives and acting out in ways unbecoming. So thank you for leading by example.
@Shiran: Senator Robert Byrd comes to mind. He went from darling of the Ku Klux Klan to a reliable champion of civil rights, demonstrating via decades of action that his change of heart was real. It does happen sometimes, on big scales like that and on small ones.
John: Been thinking a lot about this stuff, finding out that people I’m no more than one remove from were doing horrendous things for decades and that people I’ve known, liked, and trusted helped keep the abusers in place to keep abusing. I’m doing a lot of in-looking but I know how easy it is to lie to oneself about such things. It’s really pretty shattering all around.
Thanks for writing this.
Honestly, after all this shit went down, I was a little angry at you for not responding sooner. I know I really only became aware of Cole and Sykes through this blog and followed them and Wendig on Twitter literally because of this blog and your interactions with them. I was even following Myke on Insta. (Fortunately he did not find me attractive (in whatever sense of the word you want to take that) enough to follow me back). For a lot of vulnerable people, online IS as much a real world as the real world. As someone who does have a defined policy around harassment policies, I am relieved that you finally responded. I’m tired of this shit. I’m almost fifty, and some degree or other of this has been going on in fandom/cons/etc for much much much too long.
Being the child of one of the feminist leaders in Western Mass. in the 70’s, I grew up thinking that this sort of shit was being fixed, how wrong I was. CIS men have to be told/shamed/however that they don’t own women’s bodies every time and at that time that they are trying to own a woman’s body.
I am Cole. I am Sykes. I am Temkin, and I am Ellis.
I am all of them
I should say, rather, that I have BEEN them. And more. Worse.
But it’s my experience that no one is all bad. Or all good, for that matter. We all have demons and drunk-dialers and insecurities and power trips living inside us. Aspects of our being that make us behave like total shits. And anyone who says, they do NOT have these characteristics, well, that is almost always self-deception. Or you think you can say that because you have never been CAUGHT.
And sometimes, if we are very very fortunate, someone we respect, or someone we have harmed, or even someone we respect AND have harmed… calls us on it. Calls us on our shit so fucking hard that it is physically painful, and embarrassing, and so hard that it makes us wish we were dead and causes us to scrutinize who we really are, versus who we THINK we are, and who we WANT to be.
And therein lies the possibility of redemption.
It takes work. And, as 12-step programs are wont to say ad infinitum, a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves’. Because if you don’t KNOW you are a shitbug, and you cannot ADMIT you are a shitbug, most likely then you will STAY a shitbug.
But I’m here to tell you that it can be done.
It’s not perfect. The demons still live there. Inside you. But if you FUCKING STOP FEEDING THEM, they get weaker. And they don’t exert nearly as much control over your actions. And you can easily tell them to fuck the fuckity fucking fuck off.
First and foremost, I agree with your main point. People who are not cis-males need to be able to participate fully in the cultures and communities they want to.
For Myke Cole and Sam Sykes, this means I hope they will commit to not attending cons anymore. Not just asking if it’s ok, not just avoiding the bar or limiting alcohol consumption. Their presence means that the people they’ve affected will not go, so they should stay away.
I don’t care about their careers anymore. Second chance, no more chance, I don’t care about that anymore. Through my football fandom, I’ve seen exceptional athletes get any number second chances and I’m done with that.
Their personal rehabilitation shouldn’t be about the opportunity to continue to work. It shouldn’t have anything to do with anyone else. If they have friends that are willing to help them through whatever they’ve got going on, that’s good for them. For me, a casual fan who had enjoyed their twitter interactions, it’s easy to say I’m done with them. For people who called them friend, the problem is a little harder, and I don’t envy you the decision you’ll have to make.
I hope that men don’t close up over this and listen to the defensive frustrated whining, as you put it, and instead reflect on times when the power dynamic has been tilted in their favour, and what they chose to do with that. I know I’ve been in my head over it.
Ugh this whole week has been exhausting, between this, the video game industry, the ttRPG industry…. One thing I wrestle with is that I WANT people to get better, be better people, and have the room to become better people. I get that there are women (and men, and others) who will just be done with Sam and Myke. Done done done. And that’s fine. Boundaries must be set. But *I* want them to do better, and I want other people to want them to do better, if that makes sense?
I liken it to a family member of mine who has addiction issues, and has hurt a lot of us. Some of my family have written this person off. They’ve hurt too many of us, too many times. But for myself, I want to leave room for this person to… be a better person. I support them, but from a safe (to me) distance.
Again, I get that there are MANY people who will “cancel” Myke and Sam (and probably the others… I didn’t follow those as close), and that’s fine and just and necessary for them, but for now, seeing the apologies and the work they “seem” to be doing to be better, I want to give them the room to do so.
I feel hypocritical in thinking this way though too… there ARE plenty of other transgressors *I* am done with, and am not interested in their redemption. In that I had a “relationship” with these two, para-social as it might have been, I guess I want to grant them the opportunity to make amends. I struggle with this hypocrisy… which I recognize.
I also recognize that I am not the person that would be able to forgive them. I was not in harms way. I am in solidarity with the women who they have hurt, and I hear them and believe them. I understand the whys of people and organizations who will sever all ties with them. I just hope there is a redemption path, and they work on it.
I have a feeling much of this played out on Twitter, of which I am usually blissfully unaware. There’s probably a sub-thread about “how many times do you forgive someone if they are honestly trying”. I’m glad you’re open about it, John, because at least then we know you’re one of the ones honestly trying.
@shiran go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and you will be able to witness massive shifts in people … the idea that people cannot change comes directly from the state apparatus and it’s disgustingly patriarchal
It’s all connected, the bigotry and the entitlement, the assumption of superiority. Maybe it’s not hard-wired into human nature to feel that certain people are lesser beings, but on the other hand look at religion, culture, art, and government around the world and throughout history to see how pervasive it is. Different cultures may be biased against different skin colors, or religions, or social classes, but our world is set up to keep the heavy thumb on women before all else.
I wish to believe we live in a time when change is possible, but I’m a woman too used to having to be constantly on alert, be situationally aware and aggressively (and yet discretely) self-protective to think that significant change will happen in my lifetime.
But yeah, change can happen. Maybe. I hope so.
As an individual, I’m glad you’re willing to see the entire situation for what it is, and call out your friends and others for their poor behavior. It must have been extremely frustrating to write this knowing that time needs to pass before things can be resolved. I’m sorry you’re between a rock and a hard place, but your declaration is what was needed at this time. It means more than you realize.
Now, here’s a question I want to ask everyone (with apologies). Why is it that it’s easier to apologize to women, but almost impossible to get one for racial and ethnic minorities? What I’m getting at is you’re the example of what POC need to hear from their “majority” friends, which also includes women. It shouldn’t take a huge wake up call for women to recall that they’re oppressed, too.
Shucks. I don’t know how much longer you all will consider one another “friends” after this outing. I suppose interventions happen and people remain together, but I can’t say I’ve seen laundry aired this publicly before. That’s saying something coming from a former Army Cav officer who’s given and received some awful thorough (and both private and public) ass chewings. We’ve all got room for improvement, but I wouldn’t expect your relationship to maintain at the same level after something like this, and maybe that’s the point. If they’ve not grown up, seems you’ve outgrown them, and there’s no use carrying that around when you could focus your time and efforts elsewhere.
Humans are made not just born. There is a huge biological cultural history of how people interact. Like how people point out white privilege, people also point out sexual privilege. As a woman who grew up in the SFV twenty years ahead of you, I can see some of the prior levels of privilege.
I feel that if someone acknowledges their errors and makes a good faith effort to move forward that I need to help them move forward. Especially because of all of the faults and errors that I have made. I am not sure that looking very far back at peoples errors and punishing them now helps. If we all can shape a new culture or refine the current one, whatever into a much more expansive, tolerant one, we will all be better off. Perspective and empathy can be both taught and learned.
“You remain the hero of your own story even when you become the villain of someone else’s.” Anthony Marra Isn’t quite true, our guilt shows us that. I hope that moving forward we can become genuinely guilt free.
Dammit. I’m so… conflicted.
Selfishly, I’ve loved watching the Twitter interactions between you, Myke, and Sam, and I’m saddened to think that those might not / won’t happen anymore.
But on another level entirely: I am currently undergoing my own FTM transformation. Seeing all of this unfold the last few days on Twitter has left me very unsettled. I’m failing to be able to put my feelings — and there are a lot of them — into words at the moment, but I feel like I’m being given a lesson here: If I’m perceived in future as a white male, it’s going to be incumbent upon me to take on certain responsibilities that I’d never considered before. So… uh… thank you? I guess?
I’ve no idea what the details are here (and am not asking for them). I barely know anything about any of them, and know only Scalzi’s public persona (though it seems unlikely he’s a monster in private).
But I do know about fucking up, and friends fucking up.
The part that always gets to me is a set of questions:
Should I have known, and did not or chose not to know?
Should I have spoken up, and did not or chose not to speak?
Should I have acted, and did not or chose not to act?
Was I complicit, accidentally, blindly, willingly, or corruptly?
What debt of loyalty and friendship is due someone who has fucked up?
How can I honorably support a friend without harming those they have wronged?
Is it possible, or welcome, to assist those who have been wronged?
What changes do I need to make in myself?
What changes do I need to support in others and in my circles?
What changes do I need to support in society?
Okay, specifically NOT victim-blaming, but bothsiderism is part of the problem, too.
Let’s acknowledge that women raised and acculturated in an oppressively patriarchal social system also learn to interact in problematic ways.
Then wait for the MRAs to howl “Yeah, YEAH! Wimminz need to change, TOO! It’s not JUST on us poor bewildered Bros!”
There is only one legitimate response to this: YOU FIRST, GUYS.
As John pointed out, the balance of the power differential is very much locked onto one group of people, and thus the burden of initiating, aiding, and sustaining change rests there.
I’ve been wrestling with this one from the white privilege perspective, and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m constantly frustrated and dealing with the kicking-myself dialog on that one, which may be similar to what you’re experiencing, John.
It rests in privilege, and can’t be changed until we SEE both the privilege we have benefited from all our lives, and the harm it has done to other human beings denied their full humanity to sustain our privilege.
I think redemption works. Whether that ends up meaning “it’s reasonable for most people to trust them again” or not varies, though, and my initial guess on that takes a parallel to software bugs. If a bug is reproducible and consistent, then one is more confident in its Having Probably Been Fixed when 1. you identify the problem and apparently fix it, and 2. the circumstances that resulted in a Problem occur again, repeatedly, and nothing happens. If a bug is a sneaky one and only pops up every once in a while and often when you think it was already gone… then there is less confidence.
So, if this was something you could sort of tell was reasonably likely based on other data out of the person (the way they talk about people, whether they have female characters who are human or whether they’re cardboard objects, what the narrator/characters in their works consider “reasonable” behavior), and then they take responsibility, apologize, do the work necessary, *and those markers shift* – then it looks like we’ve maybe got better odds that they’ve done the internal change necessary to *stop doing that thing* when opportunities arise. Whereas if someone has been putting up a believable front and something comes truly out of left field – not “ok, I didn’t see that coming, but oy, I really should have” but “wait, what???” – then it’s harder to come back from that; the person has demonstrated that they are capable of putting up a “respectable” front and that their flags don’t indicate their actions.
That said, “trust them” can be to varying degrees, and, for instance, I wouldn’t accept an un-sealed drink from most peoples’ hands, even if I generally trusted them, ish. And broadly speaking, this is fine, since I don’t *need* to do that – many exploitable situations are simply unnecessary and can (and probably should) be trimmed off by organizations. Does Person X need access to the dressing rooms? Nope? Then Person X should simply not have access to the dressing rooms (see: Miss America). That doesn’t mean we can eliminate all assault/harassment via organizational changes, because of networking/socializing and practical/space/etc. considerations, and humans are inventive jerks. But a bunch of pieces of reducing harassment/assault opportunities are not actually all that challenging; some “grey areas” can just be sort of clipped down by organizations (and, sometimes, by individuals) to at least make this *harder* – and make it *clearer* that certain things really aren’t acceptable.
People *can* change, sure. Most don’t. Most don’t because it’s work, or because changing would mean that they have to take disinterest like adults or handle their own lives or otherwise not impose themselves on others. And I generally don’t think it’s worth the effort to try and get them to change, or even to hope they will.
If someone’s reached adulthood and still thinks it’s OK to pull the sort of shit I’ve heard about from Sykes, for example, I’m not holding my breath hoping he’ll learn and grow. I’m done. If he wants to become a better person, he can do that elsewhere, with new people. Maybe in ten years I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Meanwhile, Sykes and Cole need to stop going to cons, Temkin needs never to be the boss of anything again, and Ellis needs not to engage with teenagers aside from “hey, thanks for your interest in $Work, best of luck to you!”. Otherwise, I’m done caring about their careers, their works, or them as people.
Strange how the pandemic (many of us not working) has given over the space we’ve protected, the isolation booth of our daily routine to now wrestle with things we’ve too long ignored. Racism, discrimination, inequality. A society evolves (hopefully). That means where we are tomorrow is a different place than where we are today. And today we are in a different place than yesterday. We are meant to grow. I DO NOT defend in any way those past (hopefully) behaviors. But does that mean we should banish those of us who behaved poorly in the past if they wish to redeem themselves going forward? Just flush them down the toilet and good riddance? These are such an important issues to resolve, but sadly we are barfing out gasoline on a trash fire by largely having the conversations on social media – arguably THE WORST environment imaginable for reasoned social discourse. Here we are more likely to become divisive than work toward common ground and healing. It leaves me with such a pit in my stomach and an ache in my heart. I have no answers. I am hanging onto my last shards of hope with broken nails. What is to become of us?
Also, look into The Pixel Project. Their current project, live chats on YouTube, are about men who are educating other men, including their male relations, about the treatment of women.
I have absolutely no idea what to believe. I logged onto my dormant Twitter account (Twitter being the only place people seem to be talking about this) to get some sense of what is going on. There are a lot of things being said, mostly in extremely vague terms stripped of names, dates, and specific actions. Maybe I missed something. But there seems to be some disagreement among even the accusers of who did what, and when.
I’m perfectly willing to assume that these individuals have behaved badly in some way, but since even the accusations (much less their truth-value) are mostly unclear, I’m not sure what the hell I’m supposed to think, as an SF fan. (I know, I know – no one can tell me what to think. I’m just articulating my frustration.)
I recognize that folks like you may (or may not – who the hell knows) have more specific information, and I suppose it would be presumptuous of me to demand “receipts” for incidents in which I was in no way involved. On the other hand, this information is being made public, and so presumably the point is to push for some kind of public reckoning. What would that look like? What is the public being asked to do with this information?
At age 72 I’ve reached the conclusion that the only conduct I’m responsible for is my own. I don’t control what others do, I can only control my reaction to their actions. Assuming some level of responsibility for what others have done seems to me to be a fools bargain unless you have aided or abetted their actions in some meaningful way. If so , the apology should be directed to those who were wronged. Without knowing the circumstances of the situation it strikes me that you a re assuming too much responsibility for the actions of others. Also, you can disapprove of what a person does without disowning them. Make your feelings known to them and work to help them recognize what (and who) they have hurt and why that matters.
People are imperfect creations and the sooner we all recognize this instead of holding every action up to some prefect standard of behavior the better we will understand each other.
Such a good set of questions. ThHe answers to some will be hard, but the questions themselves provide some form of clarity.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think it’s important to note that we’re dealing with two separate questions here.
Can the offenders change and learn to be reasonable human beings? I’m sure the answer is yes, but in a lot of ways that’s kind of irrelevant.
Because the second question is about forgiveness, and they’re not owed that from ANYONE regardless of the personal changes they make. Not fans who’ve followed them on Twitter and read their books and decide not to in the future. Not cons or publishers who may not want their brands associated with serial harassers. Not friends. Certainly not the many people who’ve been made to feel unsafe or even had to limit or change their career plans because they didn’t feel safe in the professional spaces that these men occupied and lost access to opportunities as a result. (If you’re attending a con in a professional capacity, that con is a professional space.)
Basically, personal change is great, but no one is required to give them the opportunity to prove that they’ve changed when that opportunity comes at the expense of the well-being of everyone their behaviour has impacted.
Hi John. As you know language is important. Describing what they did as ‘Fuck ups” minimises the harm.
I think you said this very well indeed, Scalzi, and thank you for doing so.
I feel like these issues everywhere right now. I’m in the professional theatre community in Washington DC; in the past 4 days, artistic directors at two prominent local theatres have been charged on social media with harassment, and have stepped down. The facts are still unclear – they may NEVER become clear – so some folks are seeing it as “trial by Facebook” and a torches-and-pitchforks situation. Others fully believe the allegations. Many of us don’t know what to believe – my husband and I have both worked at both theatres and never saw any impropriety, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I suspect at least some of it did. The arguments about it on social media are absolutely shredding my theatre community, which has long been a strong, unified, deeply connected community … and it’s awful.
I’m going to share your column with my husband; as a cis white male, he’s been particularly hesitant to speak out about any of it. Your column is an example of a cis white male doing so magnificently, and I hope it will help him think through how to proceed.
Strange how the pandemic (many of us not working) has given over the space we’ve protected, the isolation booth of our daily routine to now wrestle with things we’ve too long ignored. Racism, discrimination, inequality.
And most white/male/indoctrinated-into-mainstream-cultural-values will never realize how much it HURTS the victims that you never thought their pain was important enough to deal with until the pandemic came around. That’s a double load of pain to hit them with.
As a reader who is also a woman who has always loved SFF books, watching all of this unfold has been so deeply unsettling on so many levels. I think of the work that was never created. I think of the authors who never got a chance to create, or had their creativity stifled, or their work dismissed or passed over. It’s infuriating – how DARE any person make another person feel less than, just because they want to. Because they can.
I don’t know if any of this current crop of douchcanoes can have a redemption arc. Because from what I am seeing, they have so, so far to go. From the stories that people have reported, they don’t see entire groups of people as *people* – much less as equals. Women are an interchangeable series of body parts. I have to believe that non-binary people, trans people, or men who don’t fit into some specific category of “MAN” are considered even less to them, since they don’t even provide sexual entertainment or gratification potential.
How do you get to redemption when you start so very far behind the curve? When your first steps must be “regarding all other humans on the planet with you as inherently equal”? If they lack that basic knowledge, and it truly seems as though they do, given the stories about their actions, it’s going to be a long road for them.
I hope they begin the work. I hope they continue with the work. I hope that two years from now, there isn’t another series of apologies and mea culpas and the realization that they were never truly sorry for the actions, only sorry that people exposed those actions. Right now, that hope feels very faint.
@betsyhadley: “But does that mean we should banish those of us who behaved poorly in the past if they wish to redeem themselves going forward?”
The alternative is “banishing” those of us who those people harmed, or people who hear about their behavior, see that the scene still welcomes them, and decide to peace out.
I have, luckily, never been harassed in a professional setting. But I did have someone I thought was a friend try to gaslight me into fucking him. He didn’t succeed, due to the timely intervention of other friends, but still *other* mutuals wanted us to “just meet up and talk it out.”
I don’t think much of those people now. I sure as hell don’t care about finding “common ground and healing” with that guy. And I don’t think I’m obligated to.
Michael J. Parry:
Someone else noted that on Twitter, too. I think that we use “fuck up” differently, because I think it’s entirely possible to fuck up with full intent, when you know what you’re supposed to do (or how you’re meant to behave) and you don’t do it. It’s a choice. Obviously, your mileage will vary on this.
With that said, and for the purposes of be clear that I’m not minimizing: These friends of mine made their choices, and they’ll live with them. I made some choices, too, and have to look at them.
I also made that intentionality more explicit in the post.
This reminds me of the time when a guy I was friendly with in feminist free software circles, who totally talked the talk, choked his partner and later hounded her legally for speaking up until she killed herself.
You fuckin’ bet we’re not friends anymore.
While their actions are not your actions, you’re truly not obligated to stay friends with an shitstain. If they actually do the work and redeem themselves (which is uncommon; let’s not err on the side of assuming it happens most of the time, shall we?) they can start over and find some new damn friends.
And I’d take a little time to evaluate what factors led you to be friends with not just one shitstain, but several.
@sbradfor it’s both. I know a lot of specific things have come out about Sam in the last day or two. From what I understand Myke already apologized for his past actions, but there was an incident from before his apology that came to light so he apologized again…and brought out the same apology he gave originally
@Aaron – for starters I’ve seen at least three very specific accounts about Sam, all from people I have 0 percent reason to doubt. No dates, but the actions are very specific and paint a very awful picture. There have been also accusations that Sam was aware of the things that Myke was doing in the past, and in some instances did nothing to prevent them or protect the women involved (and in a couple cases, warned people or did step in) – thus far, all he’s apologized for is standing by/being silent, primarily (I think he did apologize to one person who confronted him directly). I can’t speak to the rest, but if you search his name and read the threads, you’ll see some very specific claims leveled at Sam.
I don’t know all the details John and I don’t think I’d want to either.
I’m not tied into the online life at all other than following a few writers on their blogs.
I can’t imagine from what I’ve read here today or in the past that you did horrible things.
Bad things maybe. (mainly through inaction or mistakes)
But you own up to them. (as all should strive to do)
The ulcer comes from wanting the perfect statement here.
Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.
(In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of the good)
— Voltaire – François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778)
Perfection is the enemy of the good enough.
This is good enough.
I have been in a somewhat similar situation and I think there exists a (very narrow) path to tread where you can (1) provide emotional support to your friends in private (in person/e-mail/phone etc) while not excusing their harmful actions and (2) mitigate the harm in public and professional spheres. My situation was different but I don’t regret lending a listening ear when my friend was at her lowest but I tried to do so in a way that would not cause any additional harm to the people she hurt.
I appreciate this post, as I have been wrestling with similar concerns. I wonder if you have thoughts on how to deal with such friends going forward, if they have chosen not to reform? If your goal is to reform them, is ostracism or continued engagement and empathy the more effective tool for persuasion?
I like this Captain Awkward column for situations such as these, BTW: https://captainawkward.com/2018/08/08/1131-the-aftermath-of-harassment-allegations-a-friends-responsibility/
I wish you’d opened with the bolded part, because that’s the part that’s not about you.
Isn’t it about time our Constitution said “All people are created equal…”?
I appreciate this post. Self-reflection and self-awareness are painful.
I am also aware that there is a lot of real grieving involved in damaged friendships. Hopefully these characters can and will improve, but they have abusive traits, and one sign of an abusive relationship is that the abuser apologizes… and does it again. It’s really hard to trust someone who does that.
So, grieve. Your relationships will never be the same.
Thanks for the post John. I’m asking myself a lot of the same questions right now, having helped give them exposure as a con-runner that gave them a higher profile to be able to be jerks to people. Really disappointed and angry about this.
John, this is an apology, of sorts, but it doesn’t really fit the framework of a good apology. My friends at SorryWatch go into this in a couple of posts, which can be found with a search on this term:
sorrywatch good apology
2. To the person or persons you injured
3. Specify what you did
4. Name the actual harm done
5. Explain how it happened
6. Tell them what you will do to avoid doing this kind of thing again
7. Listen to the them
You’re a public figure and it would be good if you can be more specific, publicly, about ways you erred and what you are doing now and in the future to prevent these things. You don’t need to post or post about apologies to specific people, but you could be more specific about the ways you believe you fucked up and what you are doing to change.
Though I haven’t been seriously harmed by these folks in particular, I have been seriously impacted by the kind of harassment and abusive behavior that’s been discussed in this latest round of reckoning about the SFF community. I wanna push back on this:
@MostlyBoring: The best way to fix this going forward is to hold those at fault accountable.
Holding people who’ve behaved badly accountable is absolutely necessary, but it doesn’t fix any of this. There are a hundred more abusers behind them, and a hundred more behind each of them. We fix this going forward by changing the culture that at best ignores and at worst rewards this behavior, so that people don’t keep getting hurt.
And we fix this right now by addressing the harm done to the actual victims and survivors of this behavior, because even if we prevent others from getting hurt? We are still here, and we are still hurt. Not just emotionally, but tangibly and financially. This behavior and the culture that suborns it has stolen professional opportunities from us. It has stolen time and energy and confidence we could have spent on creative work. The SFF community has also been robbed of the contributions we could have made if we hadn’t been derailed by this bullshit, though that’s by far the lesser issue because we are still people even if we’re not making art people value.
I did a whole twitter thread on why “can these men be redeemed” is the wrong question and I don’t want to regurgitate it, so click on my name to see it–but the short version is that it’s essentially asking, can we make this situation okay for them? Can we restore their comfort?
Hearing that a friend or an author you admire has been hurting people is never fun. Feeling guilty and/or betrayed is understandable. So is wondering whether there’s a way back to the status quo that got blown up by revelations of their behavior–if they clean up their acts, does that mean you finally get to be friends with/a fan of the people you thought they were?
But when we are reckoning with our own complicity, one potential path forward is to do what serial harassers don’t typically do in any meaningful way: focus on the people they most harmed, and ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do to help make them whole, or any way we can restore their comfort. Not just in the general sense of making the industry more welcoming, but opening doors that these harassers closed to their specific victims.
Maybe there isn’t anything we can do, and maybe the folks most harmed don’t want anything from us or anything to do with us. But the way we fix this isn’t by closing out the story that started when the harasser got caught. It’s by closing out the stories that started when their victims got hurt.
First, I think it’s great that you took a little time to think about it before responding. Knee-jerk responses are rarely good. At least, mine aren’t.
Second, I appreciate the commitment to looking at your own mistakes, conscious or not, and working on your own self. I really think that’s what we all ought to do in regards to, well, pretty much everything. I mean, if everyone was doing that, we would all live in a better world.
And, thirdly, I appreciate you feeling in some way responsible for your friend’s choices. That’s a much more difficult thing to sort through. I mean, I don’t hold other people responsible for my mistakes, so why should they hold themselves responsible for my mistakes? I made them and they’re my responsibility to deal with because I’m an actual independent adult. So, maybe it’s worth considering that more deeply for all of us; where we stand up and call out our friends and where we allow that it’s their responsibility to make choices. Though, yeah, sometimes, when friends continue to make the same bad, abusive choices, they stop being friends. That’s a hard thing, too.
Your non-fiction and political writing always gives me something new to think about, no matter how I feel about what you wrote.
@Mike Grupa- then you are part of the problem, and a large part of why these guys get away with it. It’s not about being “perfect”, it’s about meeting , what IMHO, is a relatively low bar.
John, thanks for these words. i am struggling myself with what to say, because I feel partially responsible. I helped give them a platform, that in hindsight, they used in bad ways. used in bad ways. That is solely on me, and I really need to think going forward, about who and why I’m giving anyone one.
I also want to say w/r/t to Sm and Myke in particular, that I never saw anything. Speaking to a friend who is industry-adjacent, she never did either.I bring this up because both of have spent a fair amount of social time in both their company, but when we i.e., people who could be perceived as having power, they knew to behave, making some of these apologies disingenuos at best.
None of that of course, excuses my culpability in helping to create the kind of space I never wanted any part of- one in which harassment and harm existed and flourished.
One thing to remember is that predators are very strategic, and if they are in the company of people they don’t believe will support/cover for them, they won’t act in that skeevy predatory way. They are entirely capable of waiting until there are no witnesses to their behavior (or at least no witnesses who would object) other than the person subject to it.
Which is why I have trouble with the whole “I grew up in a time when this was okay,” or “I have a compulsion, I can’t control myself” arguments: if they actually couldn’t control themselves or thought it was okay behavior, everyone would see it. But instead they hide it from anyone who is in a position to critique or punish them, and that’s how they get away with it for so long.
Which is not intended to assuage any discomfort you may feel, Scalzi, but might explain why, in some cases, you were unaware of the behavior. Men don’t pull this shit in front of people who would challenge it.
I wonder if you have thoughts on how to deal with such friends going forward, if they have chosen not to reform? If your goal is to reform them, is ostracism or continued engagement and empathy the more effective tool for persuasion?
If you’re going to continue engaging with such friends, you need to understand that the message you’re sending to their victims is that you’re okay with the behavior of your friends.
As for redemption and growth — look, I’m in a super-niche geek hobby, and I know a LOT of people (many of whom are still my friends now) who fucked up hard in their 20s and 30s. Some of those folks committed actions that were unforgivable — or should be — and some of them have managed to redeem themselves. The difference that I’ve seen is pretty clear. The former folks 1) committed much more egregious actions, 2) did so over a prolonged period of time and more recently, and 3) only reacted when (and some of them haven’t) they were called on it. The latter committed offenses that were more in line with the norms of 20 years ago, even if they weren’t awesome, and owned up to their problematic actions on their own because they were consistently putting in time to make themselves better humans.
We tend to — by the nature of the hobby — do a reset of the community about every five years or so. There are some people who will never be welcome back, but we tend to allow the more minor offenders a clean, but very carefully monitored, slate. (Although this has gotten less generous over the years.) This seems to work as a balance between forever shunning and letting people change.
There is irony in being told about apologies.
And also, I don’t know that I would classify this as an apology post. This is more of a “more or less stream of consciousness because I need to say something and I’m not getting it right being more polished so wheeeeee here goes” post. Since it’s that it’s well open to formal criticism. And I have seen criticism! Which is fine, and also, not unmerited. This is not a perfect post. Just the one I had to write for myself.
Ahahaha! Yes, irony.
I might not have seen that post before, since it’s from 2013. I first read one of your books in 2015* and I can’t remember whether I started following you on Twitter or reading Whatever as early as 2013. Also, the two authors of SorryWatch are friends I’ve known for decades and i cite them whenever I can.
* I have a LIST.
And I see that Susan McCarthy of SorryWatch commented on your 2013 post!
We all “fuck up*,” but we are not all public figures who rely on our reputations to sell our product. I get that.
I also understand that other public figures must be seen to cut all ties with the people who have “fucked up” because their reputations are reflected in the company that they keep. I hate that part, but I accept it.
I believe that some of these people are still good people and that they will do better in the future, and I will continue to support them and their work until they give me reason not to. Maybe that’s also a reflection on my reputation, but I’ll take that burden for some of them.
I’m not saying “it didn’t happen,” to any of it. It did, we know it did, but we cannot change the past. I’m hoping that the individuals involved will do better in the future.
*The use of the phrase “fuck up” isn’t intended to trivialize what has occurred.
Tom king posted an anti-harrassment pledge for people in the comics industry that I felt was helpful:
“First, “To never abuse, harass, groom, or manipulate women and all people of marginalized genders and sexes.
Second, “To hold myself accountable for my own actions, be open to the comments and concerns of my peers, and educate myself.”
Third, “To actively intervene when we see or know of abuse, harassment, grooming, or manipulation.”
Fourth, “To ally for women and all people of marginalized genders and sexes experiencing abuse, harassment, grooming, or manipulation.”
Fifth, “To actively call out our friends and peers, even when no one else is watching.”
Finally, “To commit to this pledge for the long haul and keep this conversation alive in the industry.”
“Fucked up” does not take away intentionality. “I fucked up” is owning one’s mistake. “They fucked up” is laying blame at “their” feet, whoever “they” are. Those who say otherwise are turning a complex and enotionally wrought situation into a pedantry war to score points.
Also, you are responsible for what you do and dont do. You are responsible for what you see and address and what you see and ignore. But you are not responsible for some specific thing that happened out of your sight, hearing, and awareness. If you knew about an assault but did nothing, thats on you. But if you never knew and just found out, i dont think anyone reasonable can hold you culpable.
Finding out someone you were friends with did something bad, that you didnt know about, that would reasonably cause an emotional turmoil for you, but it doesnt make YOU culpable for THEIR actions.
It is amazing how hard it is to get the words right sometimes. I have typed, erased, typed again, erased, reread your post. I can’t seem to find the words. So I will just say this. I am right there with you. I have fucked up. It hurts. I strive to be a better ally.
@cofax: “One thing to remember is that predators are very strategic, and if they are in the company of people they don’t believe will support/cover for them, they won’t act in that skeevy predatory way.”
Yes, absolutely. I’ve had to navigate around a hell of a lot of predators in a wide range of communities, and I noted very, very early that hey! Predators who continue to be predators, who survive for a long time as successful predators, are, guess what, REALLY GOOD AT IT. They are good at choosing their audiences, and they are really, really good at choosing their prey. They choose their time, choose their location, cover their tracks, deny and deflect.
This is why it’s so insanely important to listen and believe when victims tell their stories. You haven’t seen your best bud creeping on women? You would have said something if you had seen it? That’s why you didn’t see it. He didn’t creep where you could see — not enough for you to reach the level of admitting it. This is part of his mental index card on every one of his buddies: how much of his ugly behavior they can be counted on to ignore.
Not knowing the particulars, I can just say this: It’s great to see someone trying to do the right thing, when silence would be so much more comfortable. Except, you know, in your soul. One of my personal ah-ha moments was when my wife called my attention to my internalized homophobia. What? I protested. No! I’m don’t… Of course you do, she said. And she’s right. In my childhood, the insult of choice for any boy was to call them gay. And when I my first gay friend came out to me, I had to consciously stop and weigh that cultural hate-training against my personal knowledge of the individual. That time, I passed the test. But I was also trained to be racist, to objectify women, to hold every vile value prevalent on the schoolyard of a white-flight suburb like the one where I was raised.
And I have not always passed the test. But I try and frequently succeed. When I misgender my non-binary scion, it’s force of habit (I knew them as gendered for fifteen years) not hatred or rejection. And I resolve to do better. When my black friends call attention to prejudice that my white privilege allows me to overlook, I listen. And what I’ve learned about overcoming sexism and homophobia and racism is mostly that its messy, that everyone starts from a different place, everyone is at a different stage, and no one does it perfectly.
And so I always award points for trying. Because I need them. Good journey, John. For what it’s worth, I think you’re on the right path.
Up until about lunch time today I was saying “At least we have Myke Cole.” Before I knew what was going on, I responded to his “bowing out” tweet with something that could be construed as not believing his victims.
but we cannot change the past
That was at another con/fest and besides, the wench is dead, sort of thing?
We don’t change the future by trying to speedwalk away from the past. We don’t help anyone to improve or redeem themselves by declaring that they are “good people” – as if the essential nature of their souls, or their D&D alignment, was at issue, rather than their behavior. That’s especially so if we do so not because they are dear friends but because we like their art or they’ve had a lot of witty tweets and figure that’s a reflection of their worth as people.
Just checking, did you intend to word your statement this way “I believe that some of these people are still good people”? It makes it sound like you think someone who is a good person is also someone who makes women/non-binary people unsafe in a work setting.
I would totally agree that the people involved have the capacity to be good people in the future but suggesting that they *are* currently good people definitely minimises what they’ve done.
I know I’m quibbling about tenses but I feel like the distinction is really important.
Annalee: ” “can these men be redeemed” is the wrong question … it’s essentially asking, can we make this situation okay for them? .”
The idea of redemption includes owning ones mistakes, apologizing, and making ammends. Redemption is not -easy-. Christ had to die to redeem the world. Hopefully redemption isnt always that hard. But it isnt -easy- either. If someone is trying to be sneaky to avoid the cost of redemption, then that isnt redemption, and should be called out. But actual redemption is a good thing. The world can use all the redemption it can get.
” focus on the people they most harmed, and ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do to help make them whole, or any way we can restore their comfort”
Is there anything I could do for you to restore your comfort? If it is in my power i will do my best to honor it.
I was going to read all the comments before I commented but that usually causes me to rethink my comment. I promise, I will read all the comments after this:
You are not the only one that fucks this kind of thing up. Men are not the only people that fuck up the gender thing.
I had a managerial role in a male dominated field and had called a meeting with several vendors. They all sent their Project Managers. One of the PMs was a young, attractive woman. I dismissed her in my head. I paid less attention to what she said. After the meeting, I learned that she was the daughter of the owner of the company that she was representing. This seemed to “validate” my thoughts. I was wrong. She is smart, capable and adaptable.
The thought of this woman bugged me for days, until I realized that I did to her what I am pissed off about being done to me.
This is a cultural thing (this is not an excuse, there is none). We are taught/drilled that women are less than men. We are fucking wrong, about this and so many other things that are similar.
I am a woman that supports other women but my first reaction was dismissal because of her youth and beauty. I have been ashamed of this for years and will probably never not be ashamed.
I decided to do my best to help this young woman and provide her with more knowledge and tools to move forward in the “man’s world” that we both live in. I like to think that she learned a lot from me, but I learned more from her. I will never again have a “first impression”. Every meet is followed by why I am thinking what I think about that person. I continue to work on this and am sure it will never end. Thank you, X.
WARNING: Very, very lengthy, aggregated post addressing multiple posters:
To quote my favorite TV quack, “when you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”
Anyone who wonders whether a woman’s experiences with a creep is worth toppling said creep’s job prospects and legacy should think long and hard about the above sentiment.
More importantly, finding empathy for victims and working to prevent further attacks shouldn’t take a hypothetical scenario in which one’s own sister/daughter/mother/ wife is a target.
There’s no question that amazing strides have and continue to be made on our behalf but, for the most part, we still get treated like second class citizens whose sole purpose is to make life easier and more pleasant for men.
Be too choosey about your sexual partners and get labeled a rigid bitch or a Stacy.
Do what you damn well please with your genitalia and get labeled a slore.
Dress modestly and get dragged for being unattractive. Don’t dress modestly enough and get slapped with other slurs.
The sad part about all of this is that every single one of the four choices outlined above has and continues to get women singled out for sexual and physical violence.
Every single one of them is rooted in the idea that women exist to make life easier and more pleasant for men.
Unless and until this attitude dies in a fire, the phenomena outlined above will continue.
I’ll also add that the rush to abandon feminist principles when beloved celebs like, say, Kobe Bryant are involved needs to die in that same fire, please an thank you.
I can’t believe how many *feminists* devolved into misogynist Gayle King anti-fans and victim blaming rape apologists when it was The Black Mamba on the chopping block.
For the record, King got the dragging she deserved for picking that particular place, time, approach and audience.
She’d have also done well to offer a genuine apology for the harm she did to Kobe’s family.
Still, my point about selective feminism stands.
People, feminists in particular, who burn women on the pyre of prominent men’s’ legacies are clown shoe as hell.
Worse, they’re little more than screws in the power structures they purport to want to dismantle.
The quick and dirty answer to your question is probably fear and sexism.
Admitting women to the clubhouse for first class citizens might not seem as threatening to the SWMs who built it, as women, white women in particular, are likely regarded as extensions of their racially pure husbands/fathers/other male relatives.
Start admitting all ethnicities to the clubhouse and, like that, the “universal truth” of your biological and economic superiority begins to crumble because you’re having to share that space with other men who, to your mind, are far more threatening than women of any ethnicity.
Of course, some white women might not be as keen on sharing that space with women of color, either (see the suffrage an earlier feminist movements), as their feminism and its gains must necessarily involve the subjugation of black and brown women. Can’t have the nanny/housekeeper/babysitter pools drying up. Can we?
What did they do?
I have made plenty of serious mistakes in my time (though never anything as bad as this), and the friends that I have always respected the most were the ones who did not accept me when I did wrong. If I do something wrong, I do not expect my friends to defend me, and should not feel guilty. They did not do anything or influence my decisions when I made those mistakes.
Holy shit. I guess I need to go figure out what the hell is going on.
This isn’t directly related to this specific situation (I’ve been on a social media break and have no idea what the specific situation here entails, I’m assuming inappropriate sexual behavior), but situations like this enmass. When people screw up, as humans do, what is the end goal of the social media mob? If they apologize and own what they did, then try to be better moving forward, then when have they “served their time”? If their professional career takes hits, how much do they “deserve” and who determines it? If the internet harassment escalates to physical spaces, or physical threats, and they have to involve the authorities to keep themselves and their families safe, how is that earned by the anger of the internet?
I don’t have answers,I’m just thinking that I’ve seen situations do all the above, and worse, and I don’t see how it’s fair when people ,by our very natures, are imperfect.
You did the right thing by posting about it, as someone who occasionally fucks up himself, I know (approximately) what you went through to do so, it wasn’t easy. Doing the right thing isn’t supposed to always BE easy, but you do it anyway because it IS the right thing to do. I will remember this the next time I fuck up.
I guess it depends on the kind of “imperfection” you’re talking about.
When that “imperfection” causes serious and irreparable harm to another person, consequences should follow, especially if the victim has no legal recourse or if the “imperfect” person is insolated by prominence and privilege.
Rapists, sexual batterers and sexual harassers, for example, get what they ask for, and internet justice is the least of what they deserve.
Furthermore, it behooves public figures with families to consider the profound and far reaching consequences of their actions, both for themselves and for said families.
That said, I read a fictional series about the wife of a notorious serial killer who, after a body was discovered in the family garage, had to go into hiding with her children because of vigilantes and trolls.
The first in the series is entitled Stillhouse Lake and provides some interesting insights into what life might be like for the friends and relatives of notorious criminals.
Ultimately, my sympathies and efforts will always go toward helping victims; their attackers have their families and apologists to hold them up.
@Diamonds: First of all, there is a fairly large difference between “imperfect” and making creepy sexual approaches to people newer than you in your field, in the second damn decade of the 21st century.
To answer the specific questions: I can’t answer for all of the “social media mob,” whatever that may be. Most of the goals people I’ve seen have stated involve reducing the power of toxic people to do harm in one or more of three ways:
1) Let the people themselves know their behavior was witnessed, remembered, and unacceptable.
2) Keep con organizers, publishers, etc, from putting them in situations where they might cause further harm, either to other victims or by reminding former ones of their assault.
3) Make the wider community aware of the danger the people possess, thus making it harder for them to, say, corner young women at bars.
4) Make the wider community aware that most people do not consider this charming or even remotely okay.
“Served their time”–well, this isn’t a trial. That’s up to the people they hurt, and the people who look at their actions and say that, y’know, I don’t really want that sort of behavior in my company/at my convention/around my friends. And there’s no maximum limit on that. We all get to decide what sort of actions we’re willing to tolerate, and other people get to judge us accordingly.
Likewise, if their career takes hits, that’s up to the publishers and/or fans who decide that there are many authors out there and we can spend our money on those who treat women like people.
Physical threats (other than maybe “stop hanging around me or I’ll punch your teeth in”), especially against family members, are never okay. I’ve never seen anyone suggest that they are. Bringing that into the argument seems a touch disingenuous.
And I know you’re talking about “situations like this enmass,” but…there aren’t “situations like this enmass” in the way you seem to be implying. The action makes a difference, as does the time since it’s elapsed, whether or not it’s part of a pattern, and whether the person has apologized and changed rather than trying to double down.
Patterns of harassment and predation are different from bigoted manifestos that their authors stand by, which in turn are different from dubious comments that the people who make them own, apologize for, and never make again. And none of them are the sort of easily-brushed-off, why-pencils-have-erasers thing you seem to be implying with your last statement.
I’m not a perfect person. I forget my keys a lot, I was a deeply irresponsible pet owner when I was a teen, I can’t park for shit, and I once drank three candy-apple martinis and barfed into a rhododendron outside a Holiday Inn. I am, however, sure that I don’t have an ongoing pattern of harassing people in my industry.
I’m seeing an awful lot of talk about “Redemption” and what it means here, and less talk about the people, mostly women and NB folk, who’ve been pushed out of having careers and successful novels, who were offended, who were sickened, and who DIDN’T FEEL SAFE ENOUGH TO TALK UNTIL NOW, by several rather gigantic assholes (who could be charming if you were in the right place, to be sure) being gigantic creeps WHILE PRETENDING TO CARE ABOUT FEMINISM.
Myke and Sam were not the only ones. More names are being mentioned. Some of them also might be people you know. But outside of names and specific incidents, it’s clear that these kind of assholes are still making spaces unsafe, upsetting people, and indubitably driving folks away from events, because who the fuck would WANT to go to a con is this is the behavior you might run into?
And also, we have a really good track record of “redeeming” people who end up being creepy abusive assholes again. Maybe we should stop caring so much about redeeming horrible people who end up being horrible people all again and reflect on the huge amount of damage WE caused by that. Maybe we’re the ones who should redeem ourselves, and maybe cancelling these guys up front would have saved a lot of women and NB folks from being hurt, offended, turned off by our “beloved genre” and so on.
I might be a bit angry right now.
I don’t have answers
Well, to be fair, you’ve begged the questions enough that they’re hardly necessary.
John, thank you for sharing your pain and your struggle in such an honest fashion.
People fuck up. I did recently and had to do a lot of growing to understand how to be a better person to my friends.
I hope my efforts to live better by them earns back the trust I broke. And I think that’s where I find myself able to forgive others and let them back in.
You have always impressed me as a person of clear eyed self reflection. Your novels have introduced me to characters of depth and profound humanity and I believe your skill in this comes from your well developed self awareness.
It is always a pleasure to read your words. Live beautifully!
Anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship knows what it feels like to realize that the apology – however groveling, however apparently sincere, however full of self-loathing – isn’t separate from the abuse but part of it. It’s a strategy to make the victim feel like they’re being unfair if they don’t give the perpetrator one more chance; it’s a strategy to string the victim along with hope. It won’t prevent exactly the same thing from happening next time. I’ve been burned by this before; I’ve been berated for not accepting an apology (forgiveness is Christlike!) when I had entirely lost trust that the other person was capable of not treating me badly.
I have no interest in picking up pitchforks and torches, but neither do I have any interest in treating an oops-I-got-caught apology as proof of sincere repentance, in the absence of evidence that a person has actually changed.
(Because I realize with some horror that this is ambiguous, in my previous comment I am referring to the people who’ve been credibly accused of a pattern of harassment, rather than to our kind host with the mallet, or any of the other people who have said “I’m sorry I promoted that guy,” “I’m sorry I was friends with that guy,” etc.)
Realizing with some horror that this is ambiguous: I am specifically referring to people who’ve been credibly accused of a pattern of abuse, not people like our kind host who may feel bad or apologetic that they’ve been friends with a person who’s been credibly accused of a pattern of abuse.
I have some of the same people you named in my FB friends list – not because they were bosom buddies but because they were industry colleagues and somehow we ended up on the same lists and we’re all connected on some level just by being part of the same industry. (some of those people are no longer on that list…) First I heard of at least ONE of the “fuckups” you reference was literally yesterday – and yet it didn’t begin yesterday. There is so much that we do not and cannot know until someone brave enough – for whom ‘yesterday’ was a long time, too long a time, ago, finally speaks out about it.
I don’t think that there’s a single woman I know who doesn’t have a story of this kind somewhere, some ugly, some just awkward and inconvenient. But there. lurking and looming. just THERE.
Not much YOU can do about it other than continuing to NOT be one of the ones perpetrating the perpetrations, and speaking out against them when you find out. But yes, it probably hurts when they’re people you personally know, whose behaviour was shadowed from you. Thank you for writing this.
Josh Jasper, THANK YOU.
And Mr. Scalzi, you were right to be upset and right to start grappling with all this. It’s an ongoing thing, certainly.
I’ve fucked up, I still fuck up at times but those of today are nowhere near what they were years ago.
I got lucky enough to become friends with a young lady who was a-sexual when I was still in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll age. I learned how to listen and that served me well as my horizons expanded. I learned to back off when it didn’t seem like it was running smoothly.
It didn’t always work that way.
If you shun someone they will not have a chance to learn from their mistakes. Some still won’t learn and their are a few people that are truly evil. Most, though, need a chance at redemption, a chance to be pulled from the water before they drown.
John, because I know you and Sam have had fun making rather amusing Twitter jokes in the past, I went looking for your reaction when I found out about this whole thing Wednesday night. I discovered your tweet saying you were going to sleep on it. Honestly I was disappointed. I didn’t expect that you would know what to say regarding your friends yet, but I thought you would have at least stated that the victims should not have been treated the way they were. That should have been easy to say. The fact that you didn’t, does say something, though I’m not sure what, exactly.
@Alma Alexander For years I looked at all these accusations of sexual harassment and thought myself lucky to having never experienced anything. Until I remembered two incidents from decades ago that I had not really forgotten but hadn’t classified as traumatic enough, I guess. The first was an anonymous phone call when I was a pre-teen, and the second was my first ever pelvic exam (at Planned Parenthood!) by a male physician with no other person in the room, in my early 20s.
Seanan McGuire thread on harassers and second (or third or more) chances:
@Formerly: If other cis het men want to give them that chance, *in private*, away from cons and vulnerable people…well, that’s on them. It’s not an obligation, and it comes dangerously close to enabling in most cases.
But speaking as a member of the population these guys target: I don’t pay $200 a weekend to be someone’s second chance or learning experience or any of that bullshit. And if “a chance to be pulled from the water” means people at industry events have to be around abusers…said abusers can go ahead and drown, even if they absolutely pinky swear they’re not abusers any more you guys. There are obvious priorities here.
Women are not rehabilitation centers for assholes.
In the 70s, I went to my first con. I was a teenaged girl who was writing short SF stories in my bedroom at night and this trip to a con seemed like a chance to see what the world I wanted to enter looked like, up close and personal. Here’s what it looked like: I stepped into an elevator and nearly squeed my heart out because there was Harlan Ellison. He looked me up and down, then reached out and grabbed my by the left breast. “Nice” he said, and dropped his hand just as the door opened.
A few years later, I was a student at UCSD where I took a freshman comp class taught by Kim Stanley Robinson. He read a story I wrote and told me I should use it as an entry submission to go to Clarion. I didn’t know how to tell him I was terrified of the SF community and that Clarion was far too scary for me — Ellison had been involved with Clarion, even I knew that.
I never went to Clarion, never wrote another SF story, and it was two decades before I wrote any more fiction at all. It wasn’t, and probably never will be, SF.
Harlan Ellison is dead and I am in my sixties. What am I worth? What is the worth of my potential, that seemed to impress KSR but was largely wasted because of my fear of what powerful men could do to girls and women in the SF community? Everyone knew — after the elevator, which happened on day one of the con, I was warned by several different people, always in private and in whispers, not to let myself be alone with Harlan. I am not the only person who was driven from writing SF by the behavior of men who thought our only value was as walking pairs of tits.
I don’t give a shit what happens to the careers and lives of the men who do this kind of thing. I want to track down all the voices who have been silenced and teach us to sing again. Unless your focus is on the victims and how to make them whole again, then you are part of the problem.
Thank you John for recognizing that sitting on the sidelines is not good enough, even if you don’t know quite what to do with yourself yet.
@Darquis – OK, I was able to find a few (2) specific allegations about both Cole and Sykes. (Also to be clear I’m not really talking about Ellis here; those allegations are more concrete.)
I still feel as though many of the participants in this conversation should consider speaking more carefully on social media, especially if they don’t have direct experience with the behavior. I had to dig to find those allegations; most people are speaking very generally about how so-and-so is a “harasser” or “abusive” or “trash” or some such. And a lot of the more specific stuff is unsubstantiated: someone noted that they had “learned” that Sykes had groped a teenager (!!!) and thrown someone’s book across a room (less alarming), but I was unable to find the sources of those accusations. Someone also noted that Sykes has written disparagingly of “asexual and aromantic” people, but again, no links were provided. I could find more examples, but honestly I simply don’t want to go back and dig through Twitter again because I think the site is fundamentally toxic and broken and I find it emotionally draining.
This is just my perspective. I may be wrong, and also my mind is subject to change. Also, if this conversation is not appropriate here, I’m happy to drop it.
I honestly used to think that the chummy public bromances of men in speculative fiction or horror were sweet. I always envied their breezy, effortless success in promoting each other’s work and building each other’s platforms–and their tireless enthusiasm for the work of other male authors in their chosen genres.
The only thing I was ever sad or sorry about is that I couldn’t find a way to break in, to become a member of Our Gang and bask in that sunlight of promotion and opportunity and humor and fun.
Maybe I should have taken more note of the fact that…apparently NO woman was ever good enough to join the group. Not even one Darla in Our Gang? That’s worse than the 1920’s. That’s…pretty fuckin’ cringey, really, if you think about it.
As time has gone on, it’s starting to look more and more as if networks of male creatives and their chummy bromances are actually…not cute at all. And never cute at all. They might actually be an outwardly benign-looking symptom of something innately and ALWAYS toxic– something that looks good, but is always bad. Reminiscent of the way people used to believe that tuberculosis made you pretty, because the victims were thin and pale just like a woman is supposed to be…
Nowadays I really wonder if you can EVER have a social circle of male creators without it being an intrinsically misogynist incubator of harm, which is inevitably going to grind their female peers down, exclude them at every level of opportunity and recognition, and destroy young women physically and emotionally…without cease.
I’m getting the message that I never had a chance of joining Our Gang, and that no woman really does, unless she’s going to be complicit in harm to a LOT of other women.
As a friend of mine said earlier today….I guess we have to build our own clubhouse. Even if we’re invited into the old one, it’s not a safe or healthy place to be,
Really? Do you not think that they might, for example, learn from being shunned that other people don’t want to be around creeps, and therefore they should stop being creeps in future?
The idea that one’s behavior affects other people’s willingness to associate with one is something that we easily teach to small children. (“That’s right, Bobby doesn’t want to play with you right now because you hit him and took his toy.”) It seems reasonable to expect that grown men – who, let’s remember, have admitted both to doing shitty things and that the things they were doing were shitty – are perfectly able to figure out, all by themselves, why other people are shunning them and what things they might to do show they have stopped behaving badly.
Let’s, please, do better than this toxic combination of infantilizing men and putting the responsibility for their future personal grown on literally everyone else. Beating the drum for Geek Social Fallacy #1 is no way to go through life.
I’m taking a break from online stuff through the end of June, so comments are off.