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Collateral damage

Goth marquise
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has commented, and is still commenting, on my piece yesterday about sfnal futures and women. I'm reading. I'm nodding and thinking. I'm finding it hard to reply, but I am listening.

A number of people have asked what has been going on with me, that I wrote this (and my long twitter rant, which you can find storified here: https://storify.com/KariSperring/calling-out-the-men-who)
It's this. Lately, I've been feeling like all I am is collateral damage. I seem to have been fighting to be allowed to exist, to be a person and not just a thing, almost my entire life. It's exhausting and draining and endless and I never seem to make any lasting gains. Indeed, as I age, the amount of space I'm permitted to occupy gets smaller and smaller and my sense of existence is shrinking.

And it's not just me. On all sides I see other people facing the same thing. I see brilliant women writers like dancinghorse (Judith Tarr) and scifiwritir (Carole McDonnell) dismissed from the narrative of fantasy and sf because they're older, or because their books have fallen out of print, or some variation and combination of those, because genre history continues to belong to men. I see the same thing happening to QUILTBAG writers and writers of colour and writers with disabilities. On all sides there are wonderful initiatives like the Geekfest Nine Worlds, anthologies and projects promoting the work of writers who are not white westerners, anthologies of queer fiction, blog series on ableism and othering in sf. I love all of this. It's a step forward.

But what I'm also seeing is that in almost all of these, there's a group that's consistently left behind. I'm seeing collateral damage.
I'm seeing older women -- whether women of colour or white women, lesbian, bi or straight, trans or cis forgotten, or only considered relevant once they're dead or long out of print and the limelight (if they ever had any share of the latter to begin with). I'm seeing women writers who debut later -- and women writers, along with writers of colour and writers with disabilities often face additional challenges which mean that they are more likely to debut later -- being written off with no or few reviews, dismissed unread as predictable.
It's the pattern we seem unable to see when we fight for change. It's the pattern we just reproduce without thinking -- and then excuse, usually on the grounds that we -- that insidious, apparently collective sff 'we' which masquerades as all of us but all too often means only those with more privilege -- that we need to attract more new blood, more 'young fans'.
I have never once heard or seen anyone suggest that 'young fans' won't want to see established older male writers. Every single convention, including 9 Worlds, has its roster of established male pros over 40. Whenever I hear this line about attracting the young, my heart sinks. Not because I don't want to see new people in fandom -- of course I do.
Because the people who are asked to stand aside, the people whose work is deemed of little or no interest, are almost entirely older women. The older men go sailing merrily on.
Now, older men of colour are also victims in this: I would never deny that. It infuriates me that our genre is still talking about Robert E Howard but never mentions Charles Saunders, who wrote and is still writing some of the best swords-and-sorcery out there.

What it comes to is this: most women who are now over about 40 have been told their whole lives to be good, to keep their heads down, to keep on working away quietly and to wait their turn. And now, within sff, at the point when their male contemporaries are celebrated, these same women are being told, No, it's too late for you, you don't matter enough; that space is needed. Get out of the way.

We're collateral damage. If we debut later, we may well find ourselves declared over, irrelevant, not worth reading even before the print is dry on our 1st book. If we've been in the industry for years, we find ourselves forgotten or dismissed and our innovations and talents and insights attributed to others (all too often male others).
I've been making a rough list of writers who were big names in the 80s, male and female, and looking at where they are now. The biggest women writers of that period, in my memory, anyway, were Barbara Hambly, R A McAvoy, C J Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Judith Tarr, Julian May, Mary Gentle, Lois MacMaster Bujold, Tanith Lee, and Connie Willis.
Only three of those women are still being published regularly by major publishers (and one of those -- Cherryh -- is largely ignored). Most of the others are still writing, but in other genres, for small presses, or via kickstarter.
The big name men, though. Guy Gavriel Kay, David Brin, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Michael Swanwick, George R R Martin, Samuel R Delany, Charles de Lint....
They're pretty much all still there. They're famous, their books get inches of review space, they're talked about and promoted and cited as influences.
Now, I'm not saying there aren't male writers who have fallen out of contract or seem to be being unjustly neglected. Gary Kilworth springs to mind, along with Graham Dunstan Martin (whose work I love) and the great, great Walter Jon Williams, who does not get the recognition he deserves.
On every side, I see people telling most of those women I listed to step aside. (The exceptions are Bujold and Willis.) I see their books go unreviewed. I see their influence marginalised. Those are some wonderful, wonderful writers, writers you should be reading. There are more established women writers than LeGuin (great though she is). They deserve to be celebrated, too. They deserve their place in genre. So does Charles Saunders.
They deserve better than to be pushed aside while their male peers sail merrily on.

Women over 40, whatever our colour, our sexuality, our ability should not just be Collateral damage.

I call foul.

Edited to add: this isn't about expecting younger women to step aside, either. It suits our patriarchal culture to try and play the dis-privileged off against each other and to pretend that there's only enough space for a few. This isn't about women gaining at the expense of other women. This is about a system that builds in barriers for everyone who doesn't conform to that straight, white, able-bodied, male norm.
GKC
When I was 8, I wanted more than anything to be a member of the crew of the starship Enterprise. I wanted so much to share in their adventures, going to new worlds, meeting aliens, having adventures. And that future I watched on tv every week was filled with women. I was 8: I didn't really think about the coding of their costumes or the roles they were sometimes asked to play. I noticed that they were women who spoke and acted and were listened to. They were not Doctor Who girls, running and screaming and waiting for the doctor to tell them what to do. They were planetary councillors, doctors, scientists, ambassadors. They fought, they talked back. Sometimes they rescued people or took key roles in foiling plots. They had their own guns. And, unlike the active girls in books I read at that age, they didn't have to behave or dress like boys to do this. They got to have long hair and dresses. They got to be feminine.
I was a feminine girl. I'm a feminine woman. I was never a tomboy. But in my childhood books, nearly all the active girls, the approved-of girls were. Girls like me were weak, wet, useless. Until Star Trek. I wanted that future, I wanted those lives, because those lives were exciting and adventurous and fun. It was tedious that sometimes these women seemed to have to kiss Captain Kirk in order to get on with what they were doing, but I reckoned I could duck that bit. I wanted most of all to be Lieutenant Uhura, especially in season 1. On the show, she got left behind more than I liked, but in my games she had adventures too, while Kirk was busy, and everyone was happy. The Star Trek future was big and wide and there was plenty of space for girls like me.
I was a bookish child, and having discovered sf on tv, I went looking for it in the library. The books I found -- Andre Norton, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and so on -- were fun, but there wasn't an awful lot of space for me. That was... It felt odd, because Star Trek had told me there was room for adventurous women in the future. But I kept reading, and, at around 15, I found Samuel R Delany's Babel 17. I had wanted to be Uhura, because she got to help Kirk and Spock in their adventures. I *really* wanted to be Rydra Wong. The book was all about her: every character, every situation, every concept revolved around her and her talents and skills and actions. Rydra Wong saved the world because she was who she was. She wasn't in the right place at the right time, she wasn't an assistant or a prop to be rescued. She didn't take time to stop and nurture her crew or sympathise with her man. She was the centre of her own story. Until I met her, I hadn't realised how unusual that was. Women and girls in the books I read were forever interrupted by their gender. They had to be good and do their chores, they had to stop what they were doing to help others, they had to put food on the table and teach children and clean up even in the middle of their adventures. They were never just heroes. They always had to take time out to live up to their social, female role. The only alternative was to behave like a man and expect another woman to look after you, too. The life of a female hero was full of giving up, being good, surrendering, giving way, giving in. Even in their own stories, their lives were already compartmentalised and full of duties that involved always putting others' interests and needs ahead of their own.
Nobody in Narnia expected Peter to take time to check that everyone was fed. When Susan did -- and it was a sensible thing to do -- she was told off for fussing. Boys' books were full of exploration and adventure. Girls' books were all about looking after others, helping and learning your place, unless you were a tomboy,
I never liked those tomboy girls. I thought they were mean and selfish and that, if I met them, they'd probably turn out to be bullies, too. They usually bullied the non-tomboy girls they shared books with.
Uhura was different. So was Rydra. So, when I met them, were Anne McCaffrey's female heroes. Lessa had her own dragon and went her own way -- and was proved right, over and over. Sara saved her love interest, saved herself, and solved an intergalactic mystery, all while dealing with being marooned on an alien planet. Helva was her own space ship, saving lives and solving problems over and over. They were all at the very centre of their own lives and no-one expected them to step aside.
I wanted that future so much and science fiction told me I would have it.

Science fiction lied. As I got older, not only did I see the insidious cracks in the futures I loved (the clothes, the endless kissing of Kirk, the problematic nature of some of McCaffrey's ideas) I also saw how rare these women were. For every Rydra, there were 40 interchangeable space babes, screaming, being patronised, being handed out as prizes. Female space captains, once marooned, needed to have photogenic lesbian sex with their colleagues for the enjoyment of the male gaze -- women need sex and they need it with someone else, they cannot be fulfilled alone. Their male counterparts were above such needs. (Thank you, John Varley.) Female scientists were plains and marginalised and developed inappropriate crushes which made them a hazard to themselves and others (thank you, Asimov). Women's main fulfilment having babies, even if they also enjoyed astrophysics on the side (thank you, Heinlein). Many books did away with women completely, except perhaps as a two-line secretary or left-behind wife.
And women were nearly always young -- men could be any age -- and nearly always pretty. Star Trek had offered me women of varied ages in various roles. Star Wars existed in a galaxy that seemingly held only one woman who could talk or act -- and she was captured and made to wear a leather bikini. No-one made Han Solo dress in a g-string while captive. Society told me, as I went on into my 20s and 30s, that things were better now, that women had equal rights. But the futures I was shown by the genre I loved seemed narrower and narrower. Book after book had no space for me, except as a handmaid, a nursemaid, a servant, a person who remained a perpetual walk-on in their own life. In Dune the Bene Gesserit manipulated worlds, changed lives, and came in all ages and sizes and colours. But all that energy was focused on achieving the perfect male saviour, and once he existed, the women in that world -- in the sequels -- went back to being love-interests, mothers or bad girls who needed controlling. Babylon 5 offered a future rich in philosophies and cultures, with fully-rounded alien characters, and men of all ages and sizes and colours and degrees of attractiveness. But for any woman over about 30, any woman of colour, any plain woman, any woman who was not super-model-thin, any woman who didn't want a life that revolved around a man, that future offered only erasure. The inconvenient women, the women who wanted to be at the centre of their own lives had been written out of existence. There's no room in the future for Rydra Wong. The Battlestar Galactica reboot looked better, was better in some ways. Women could hold power without also being 25 and pretty, drink, swear, sleep around, fly fighter ships, be negative and cruel and manipulative and complicated -- just like the men. But they had to be white, pretty much, they had to fall in love with men (the one lesbian turned out to be Evil). They might have special destinies, but they had to take time-out to endure rape, to find True Love. They couldn't have a story that did not involve them caring for a man.
No woman could have a share in the future unless she placed a man at the centre of her life. No woman could have a future for herself. Over and over, that was what the books, the shows, the films told me. The future is shiny and exciting and male. There is no space for me, except as an adjunct, a prop, a decoration. There is no life4 for me except as someone male's servant. At some point in the 90s, I began, slowly but surely, to drift away from science fiction. I'd been promised a future full of agency. Instead, I'd been told to keep my place, be pretty and focus on men. Oh, there are still books out there that delight me, new Rydra Wongs, but they are few and far between and they are getting rarer. For every Torin Kerr (from Tanya Huff's fine Valor series)< there are 20 Joe P Sciencedudes. Rydra is a fully-rounded person with a life outside her book and her companions. She's not a 'kickass heroine', battling vampires or space slugs to hide the pain of abuse, and only really finding fulfilment when she meets the right man. She's not a photogenic star captain written by a man, having tomboy adventures in a skin-tight suit. She's herself.
And now I live in the future. On all sides, I see women beleaguered: storms over sexism in sfwa, harassment at cons, book shops that privilege the work of men, reviews skewed towards male writers, images that tell me that I must be young, thin, white, pretty, or else I must just not exist at all, just like in Babylon 5. I see gifted women writers ignored, dropped by publishers, trolled and derided. And over and over what I see praised and promoted in my genre are stories about men, futures for men, lives that revolve around men. I see a future that's a vacuum for women.
I don't like it. I don't want to be erased. I want Rydra Wong and Torin Kerr and Uhura with her own command. I want to be allowed to breathe.

Tags:

The women genre doesn't see

Caspian
You taught us: girls should be seen (prettily) and not heard, and we learnt to listen and be polite and nice and charming.
And you blame us now, when we fall back, for not speaking out.

You taught us: nice girls don't show off, and we learnt to keep our abilities and ambitions low key and out of sight.
And you blame us now if our achievements go unrecognised, for not drawing attention to our work and reprimand us if, with our courage in both hands, we do self promote, for being pushy and strident and inappropiate.

You taught us to be helpful and supportive to others, and we learnt to put you first at all times.
And now you take our help and support and labour for granted.

You taught us our value lay in our looks, and we learnt to hate our faces and bodies.
And now you call us vain or trivial and judge everything about us by our looks.

You taught us our anger is ugly and unacceptable, and we learnt to squash it down inside, to turn it into depression and eating disorders, anxiety and pain.
And now you call us emotional and unbalanced and irrational.

You taught us we come second, and we learnt to lose gracefully and put ourselves last.
And now you blame us for being doormats and tell us we should be more assertive.

You taught us our ambitions and dreams were silly and we learnt to release them or put them off
And now you tell us we should have tried harder.

You taught us we had to wait our turn, and we politely stood in line.
And now you tell us we're too old.


Yesterday was a bad day: I was running on very little sleep and in pain, and the internet was full of spite and anger, over reviews, over Evil Old Fans, over women who speak up and male authors who object. Over lack of diversity and prejudice and abuse. All day I watched men complain and demand, and women of all ages try at length to find answers and compromises, to help, to support, to nurture, to explain, to ameliorate. And the men ignored them or said 'Not good enough.' I noticed the Very Important Men interact with each other and reflect each other and ignore all female input, unless it came from a very small selection of Women Who Matter, who were almost all young, pretty and successful, and usually also white and heterosexual and able-bodied.
I saw, in particular, older women of all races say and do intelligent, positive things, and be ignored. And I saw men of all ages tell those older than them to step aside, and then mansplain when those same older women raised issues of ageism. 'Oh, don't worry,' they said, 'we'll honour women. Look over there, at that young hot woman. It's okay, we're on your side.'
On our side if we are young and hot (in face or form or talent.)

There is no end to patriarchal and racial dominance while debates are controlled by white men and while entrances are guarded by them. There is no equality when only one elite group controls what equality means. Equality under the hand of the privileged leaves their privilege intact. It comes at a cost not to them -- which it should -- but at the less privileged groups who surround them.

I spent most of yesterday fighting this fight, neglecting my writing, clamping down on my physical pain and the emotional pain building inside.
I have your backs, all you men who want things. I was trained to serve.
When in Nine Hells will you have mine?

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Caspian
Ten Reasons Why the Three Musketeers have girl cooties
1. They are obsessed with their love relationships
2. They care about how they dress
3. They hug and kiss one another all the time
4. They have sleepovers
5. They like horses
6. They gossip
7. They go everywhere together (possibly even the bathroom, though Dumas does not specify. I bet Porthos hogs the mirror, though).
8. They love to go to parties
9. They swear to be BFFs
10. They are awesome, swordfighting heroes.
This sequence inspired by the thoughts expressed in This article
NB The musketeers are my all-time literary heroes and favourites.

Skirt of the day: blue wedgwood

Don't be part of the problem

Goth marquise
I've just seen yet another man, in a comment thread, say that the men who harass women at cons are 'clueless' and possibly on the Autistic Spectrum and, well, what can you do? He see it going on, but these poor guys don't know any better, it's a shame, what can you do?

I may be angry about this/

I remember fandom discovering the existence of Aspergers. I remember who self-diagnosed. I remember when it became part of the package thrown at women who said 'no', alongside 'but this is my safe space because I was bullied and you have to say yes because it's my safe space and you're spoooiling it and it's my safe space so you haaave to and you're a mean cow because it's all about me and how I missed out and you haaave to.' To these guys, I'm not a person, I'm an amenity at the con for their consumption.

I know people, adults and children, with genuine Aspergers and Autism. They don't, in general, treat me as an amenity. They understand 'no', usually. They don't manipulate and emotionally blackmail and bully me.

The 'he's clueless' defence is, quite simply, part of the problem. It enables the behaviour. It supports it. A lot of these creeps only listen to men -- women, after all, are of about the same status as chocolate machines. Every time a man shrugs and says, of another man he sees harassing a woman, 'oh, he's clueless', he contributes to the problem and continues to uphold the culture of harassment. Every time a man listens to a 'clueless' friend complain about a woman who has distanced herself or said no, and then goes to the woman and tells her to mend her ways (yes, this has happened to me) or passes on the idea that she's a mean bitch, he's part of the problem. Every time a man singles out a woman and lectures her about how she's doing being-safe-at-cons wrong and how she *should* behave and what she *should* do and how she's causing her own problems, he's part of the problem.

The woman's behaviour is NOT the problem. The problem is how the men behave. Pure and simple. The length of my shirt isn't an invitation. The colour of my hair isn't an invitation. Nor is my chest, or where I am, or who I am. Its not difficult. Women are people. Please treat accordingly.

And if you see another man making a woman uncomfortable, don't shrug and say 'He's clueless'. Don't be part of the problem.

Edit: this piece by Jared Axelrod is of interest here, too.
Marquise
Not everyone on the internet agrees with each other. Not everyone is kind or nice or decent. Some people are controversial, for good or for bad. It's part of how we are as a species -- we argue, we confront, we question. Some people are painful to know, to read. Some people speak frightening truths.
Some people are just disgusting -- racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic -- the list goes on. Usually, when I see such people in action, I back button, refuse to give a platform to their prejudices.
Not today.
Today, writer and blogger Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale, has called a fellow writer -- a gifted, intelligent, brilliant woman writer of colour -- inferior and uncivilised on the grounds of her skin colour.
This man stood as President of sfwa and failed -- but some people voted for him.
This is not acceptable . Not in any way acceptable. I cannot read his words and stay silent. No, Mr Day, you do not get to say that and be allowed to pass in silence. You don't get to pull your 'freedom of speech' card on me. Freedom of speech cuts both ways, applies to all parties. You've had your say.
Here's mine.
It's you that's uncivilised. You are a racist, sexist bigot and I am ashamed to be in an organisation which contains you. I intend to write to sfwa petitioning them to withdraw your membership. In the country I come from, what you posted is hate speech. You are of course free to dismiss me as a feminazi, to deride my opinion on the grounds of my nationality (I'm British), to claim I have no right to any opinion, to post insults about my writing, appearance and career. I don't care. I've had enough of you and the culture of prejudice, privilege and institutionalised abuse that you represent.
And you don't get to silence me.

I'm not linking to his blog. I'm not interested in increasing traffic for him. Readers can find it if they wish.

Why I started #Womentoread

Living With Ghosts
So, yesterday I decided to indulge in another round of that intermittent habit, poking the internet with a stick, by starting a hashtag -- #womentoread -- over on Twitter. I asked people to recommend sff by women. The response was astonishing: I'd hoped that some of my friends would pick it up, but... One of the very first to do so was seanan_mcguire (Thank you, Seanan!) and it just took off. All afternoon (my timezone) and well into the evening, people were naming their favourites, exchanging names and recommendations and ideas. It was huge fun and the enthusiasm and engagement and excitement was just wonderful. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who joined in and help this happen. Towards the end of the day (my time) writer Harry Connolly (burger_eater) gave me the idea of capitalising on all this momentum by linking it to a series of blogposts about specific women writers and post links to these pieces on twitter using the hashtag. (You can read Harry's article here.) I've written about women writers whose work I love before, of course, but the problem has been that relatively few people saw them -- mainly my existing social circle and readers. And that is a key issue for many women writers: underexposure. But the hashtag, as I said, has some momentum, so this seems like an opportunity to try and raise the profile of writing by women and to address that underexposure to some degree.
But why now, exactly. I've done something like this before (last year with the fantasy by women thing). That's part of it. I am an activist to my bones: it's coded into me to try and *do* something when I see an injustice. And I know far too many really great women writers who are underrated, under-reviewed, under-recognised. I see male writers praised for doing things in books which women did before them, which women are doing as well as them -- but the women are ignored and sidelined. It is a fact that books by women are reviewed less frequently than books by men, and that prestigious review locales pay less attention to women than men.
This year's review survey came out two days ago. During the day, my twitter feed was full of men -- many of them high-profile and influential -- decrying the under-representation of women writers in reviews (and I am very glad to see them recognising this and commenting on it) but immediately going back to talking about, promoting and praising works by other men. Last week, jemck found ourselves in a major branch of a major UK book-chain in Oxford and noticed a promo table for fantasy. We're both fantasy authors, we took a look. The theme was clearly 'If you like George R R Martin, try this". It was a table about 4 foot x 4 foot square, piled high with fantasy. Great.
Except... all but three of the writers represented were men. And of the remaining 3 -- the women -- two were not epic fantasy writers but established Big Name Bestsellers -- Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins and the books by them on that table were both sf. That's fine. I love sf by women. But those two books -- The Host and The Hunger Games weren't there because they were 'like' A Game of Thrones; they were there because they're already bestsellers in a related field. The other women present was an epic fantasy author and a good one -- Robin Hobb. Who has a gender-neutral name.
I'm not saying the men on that table aren't good: there were some excellent books there, by excellent writers. There were also books by men I've never heard of, which are quite probably also excellent books. But the overall impression was 'This is A Man's World'. Jules and I started making a list of who was *not* on that table, of women who are epic fantasy writers and published in the UK.

Kate Elliott
Judith Tarr
Freda Warrington
Gail Z Martin
Trudy Canavan
Karen Miller/K E Mills
Glenda Larke
Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Gaie Sebold
Juliet E McKenna
Tanith Lee
Amanda Downum

That was in about a minute. Now, you can argue, very reasonably, that some of those women are out-of-print here (but you might like to think about how they came to fall out of print in this context, given that contracts depend on sales, sales depend on exposure -- and women do not get the exposure).
A table that censored women from a genre.
A twitter feed that decried a wrong -- and then went back to the male default
I saw red. At some point on the 22nd April, I asked, rather wistfully, if we could declare the next day -- yesterday -- promote women writers day. I got two responses, both from women, saying, yes, lets, and so...
I did.
You can see some of the responses and recommendations here. You can find more by going to twitter and hunting for the hashtag #womentoread.
You can share the idea. You can write a review of a book by a woman. You can blog about a woman writer you admire. You can post a list of links to the websites of women writers you love. It doesn't have to be ep;ic fantasy or even sff. It can be any genre. And then, please, go to twitter and tweet that link with the #womentoread hashtag. If you're not on twitter, post the link here in the comments and I will tweet it for you.
This isn't about me. I know how it can look, I'm a fantasy writer. But really, it isn't. This is about all those fantastic women writers whose books I've treasured for years, about Tanith Lee and Evangeline Walton, Judith Tarr and Kate Elliott, Anne Gay, Storm Constantine, Sherwood Smith, Rumer Godden, Juliet McKenna, Barabar Michaels, Elizabeth Goudge, Liz WIlliams, Dion Fortune, Sheila Gilluly, R A McAvoy, Barbara Hambly, Leah Bobet, Sarah Monette, Justina Robson, Amanda Downum, Claudia J Edwards, Sharan Newman, Freda Warrington, Stephanie Saulter, Lisanne Norman, Jaine Fenn... I could go on and one and on. Some of those writers are long-established, some are out of print and out of contract, some are new, some are dead. But they are all great.
And me? Later today I'll be blogging here and on my website about a woman whose books were a lightning bolt to my writing world, Nancy Springer.


PS: another interesting piece on the gender imbalance in reviews here

Harassment

Goth marquise
I'm going to regret this...

Sexual harassment is never acceptable. By anyone, of anyone. That is, for me, the bottom line. I've been on the receiving end of it on and off for most of my life. In my earliest memory, I was about 12 and a boy from my class walked past me in the school corridor and grabbed my crotch. Nobody said anything to him. Nobody said anything to me. It was just a thing that boys did. Ever since then, from time to time I've been randomly groped, grabbed, handled and commented on, backed into corners, stared at in ways that made me scared or uncomfortable, and generally treated as a object several times every year. Some of this happens in public -- on the street. Some of it happens in private spaces. Some of it happens within fandom, some not. Sometimes it happens at work. It is, sadly, part of my life. It's part of the life of every woman I know.

The worst incidents... The two scariest (the man who pushed me into his car in a country where I knew only one person, who was not there and where I did not speak the language, the group of young men who crowded into the phone box I was using and starting threatening me) happened out there in the real world. But I've had a fair number of incidents in fannish spaces, too. Most recently, a man I had never seen before in my life managed to make me very uncomfortable in a lift at Chicon 3. No, I don't know who he was. I was trying not to look back at him. I was trying not to give him an opening to move even closer or to try and start a conversation. I am, you need to know at this point, 50. This is 38 years and counting of intermittent harassment.

But here's a thing. These men (and twice, women) have come from all sorts of backgrounds and places, they have been older than me and younger. The man who forced me into his car was probably in his 60s. The one who followed me all over a con despite the continuous presence of the marquis and kept trying to get me to go off alone with him was probably no older than 21. I've been groped by strangers who were as strange to everyone else present as they were to me, and people 'everyone knows'. The behaviour -- touching, hassling, harassing, demanding attention, demanding a piece of me -- is not unique to any age group, any social group, any background.

Sometimes, I've had help when this happens. The people who help come from all backgrounds, age groups, social groups, too. The person who rescued me from one of the scariest things that's happened to me within fandom was someone who is a serial conrunner and possibly a Big Name Fan. I've been helped by friends and fellow fans, by strangers, by fellow writers, by officials (thank you, the porters of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, for rescuing me and my friend C from the man who was following us).

I am a serial volunteer at conventions (and I've been involved in the running of several small cons and one big one, though I am not a SMOF) and a lot of the hassle I've got has been when I was working. There is, sadly, a subset of convention attendees who forget that volunteers are people, too, and who become entitled, demanding and sometimes abusive, because volunteers are there for their convenience, and no other reason. Some congoers, frankly, treat the con staff as servants, and not servants they respect, either. (Yes, there are rude volunteers, too. Yes, some of them can be mean to congoers.) Volunteers are often in the front line when it comes to dealing with abuse. Female volunteers are particularly vulnerable. People with a grudge, a grouse, people looking for someone to manipulate often target the women who are working as a first move, because, culturally, we in the UK expect women to put up and shut up. And if we talk back, we're more likely to be told off for it, too.

I could draw various conclusions from this, most of them blindingly obvious -- I get more hassle when I'm alone or with one or two other women of around my own age than when with a larger group or with the marquis; some people think that having spoken to me once when I'm doing something official (like working in Green Room, which I do compulsively and have done since 1989, I think) means they know me and can follow me everywhere. I get more hassle at cons where I know fewer people (though as a side note, US cons are worse than Canadian or European ones for this. I do not have a theory as to why). When I look at the women I know, and the incidents I know about, though, there are two things overall that emerges about harassment at cons.

1) Any woman can be harassed, but women who are newer to the environment, or working at the convention are more vulnerable because they are more often either alone or with people they don't know well, and are more obliged to talk to strangers.

2) Anyone can be an harasser. ANYONE. It's not unique to older people or younger ones, to BNFs or walk-ins.


The most recent prominent incident that the sff community has been discussing involved one man who is prominent in fandom and two women. A BNF, a writer and someone who volunteers at conventions. Last year, at World Fantasy Con in San Diego, a man who seems to have been new to the sff community serially harassed and groped a number of women, some writers, some not. The year before, also at WFC, the harasser was an individual in a position of power in the professional world. All of these incidents are appalling.

And this is the bit I'm going to regret.

This isn't just something done to women by SMOFS. Editors do it. Writers do it. New fans do it. Established fans do it. People who are staying in the same hotel and are not anything to do with the convention do it. Other people say stupid things about it, because they don't want to think their friends can do bad things. But this is not just about SMOFs, or older fans, or conrunners. This is not a behaviour that can be attributed neatly to only one group and suppressed. I repeat.

Anyone can be an harasser.

And that includes me and you and everyone we know.

La femme celte

Goth marquise
I'm blogging today about the myth of the Celtic Woman, over on Charles Stross' blog, for those who are interested. Comments are down there, at present, due to spambots, but you can comment here, if you're interested.

Skirt of the day: red and gold silk wrap.

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