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Harassment

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.

Comments

( 153 comments — Leave a comment )
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lamentables
Sep. 18th, 2012 12:56 pm (UTC)
I really admire your unwaveringly principled stance and the grace with which you speak out. I hope no-one tries to make you regret it.
taldragon
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:07 pm (UTC)
seconded!
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - saare_snowqueen - Sep. 18th, 2012 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Sep. 18th, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 19th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
yendi
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:29 pm (UTC)
Anyone can be an harasser.

This is absolutely true, and strikes me as something that shouldn't be controversial in the least.

Part of the rage at SMOFs (at least within the circles I tend to frequent) is that there was (and is) a group of laregely-SMOF folks wagon-circling to deny that anything bad even happened at Readercon, and between that and the initial protection offered to RW, there's been very much a sense that one can get away with harassment if one is in the "club."

But that's no different than editors or professors getting away with it because of their positions of power, or even random people getting away with it because they know many things can come down to "he said/she said" situations (with any other pronoun combination possible there, of course). Anyone who thinks that harassers can only come from one group is sorely mistaken.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:17 pm (UTC)
Yes! That, I think, is what I was trying to say -- that this is about how groups behave, rather than about the way one particular group behaves (with the implication that other groups are better). Thank you.
(no subject) - zornhau - Sep. 18th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:17 pm (UTC)
I really missed being there. :-(
emmzzi
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
You need regret nothing in this fine piece of writing.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
How are you feeling, btw?
(no subject) - emmzzi - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
gillpolack
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
I agree with you wholeheartedly.

The implication is we all need to take responsibility for *not* harassing and we all have to learn how to behave sensibly and kindly towards strangers.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC)
I do wonder, sometimes, at the number of people who seem to forget that they can have responsibilities to others. It's true that it's hard for one person to change anything, but if we get together and try we can do more than we think.
(no subject) - gillpolack - Sep. 18th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - autopope - Sep. 18th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
suricattus
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:40 pm (UTC)
I see no reason why you should regret saying any of this. It's a well-stated variant of "don't be an asshole," which is (sadly) something the human race needs to hear on a regular repeating loop...

And anyone who tries to OhBut! needs to listen more carefully to that loop.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
:-)
I used the SMOF word. It's been niggling at me that the debate keeps going back to blaming conrunners, some of whom have behaved badly. This not only ignores all the conrunners who work to make things better, it also raises the danger of letting other harassers get away with it.
(no subject) - emmzzi - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emmzzi - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inamac - Sep. 18th, 2012 07:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
joycemocha
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
I don't know why you should regret this. It is a well-written piece which needs to be said.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
frandowdsofa
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
Well Said That Woman.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
You are one of my role models, you know.
(Deleted comment)
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
Yep. I stick with the marquis, who has long hair, a beard, and a death stare.
It works. But here we are in 2012 and we are still needing male help to stay safe.
lil_shepherd
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC)
I can't see anything to regret here. (But I'm really, really sorry - and, incidentally, horrified - that you have been harrassed so often.)
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
As I said, I don't think I know a single woman who has not been harassed at some point in her life.
(no subject) - lil_shepherd - Sep. 18th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 19th, 2012 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - watervole - Sep. 18th, 2012 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - mevennen - Sep. 20th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 20th, 2012 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
steepholm
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC)
A very good post - and there's nothing in it that ought to be controversial at all.
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
fjm
Sep. 18th, 2012 01:57 pm (UTC)
Beautifully written.

la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you :-)
xenaclone
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
/\ WORD

This also includes not touching the GOHs inappropriately.

Yes, you may fancy him/her/them [or their character on screen]. Does this means you can throw yourself at the object of your crush/lust/love? Abso-fricking-lutely not!

(I'm thinking of an incident in which the fragrant and handsome Nathan Fillion has his behind groped by a so-called fan).
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 02:43 pm (UTC)
Yes! The way people can behave towards their idols is extraordinary.
sartorias
Sep. 18th, 2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. This is another way of saying "Don't be an asshole."

The problem seems to be what to do next when one hears "But I was just . . ." "No, I didn't mean . . ." or the sly "You are totally mistaken . . ." and then there is the terrifying "So what are you going to do about it?"
la_marquise_de_
Sep. 18th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
It's never easy. But sometimes you have to say, 'Well, it came across like that to me' and *not* let yourself be bullied into apologising to them for minding their behaviour.
As for 'So what are you going to do about it?'... I usually walk away, fast, and go to the nearest safe person I know. I lied like a trooper to that man who pushed me into his car, about the boyfriend I was meeting, and I opened the door while he was still driving and started to get out. In the phone box, I started telling the marquis (to whom I was talking) the exact address and what the young men looked like.
We scream. We yell. We make a huge fuss and attract attention. We kick and bite, if we have to. This is what I tell to my friends' daughters, now all in their teens. I want them never to feel that they are not allowed to make that fuss (which is what I felt, which is why I did nothing about the man who stalked me for a year, or about the man who insisted on spending the night in my room, or all the others, down the years).
(no subject) - sartorias - Sep. 18th, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 06:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - saare_snowqueen - Sep. 18th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 19th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Sep. 19th, 2012 09:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mevennen - Sep. 19th, 2012 10:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 20th, 2012 11:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 20th, 2012 10:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mevennen - Sep. 21st, 2012 08:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 21st, 2012 12:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
caffeine_fairy
Sep. 18th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
Please check out The Backup Project (the LJ comm is on my float) - I think you might find that you have many ideas in common xxx
were_gopher
Sep. 18th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
Seconded. BetNoir has been trying to expand the project over here and with Worldcon coming up it is something to promote.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Sep. 18th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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( 153 comments — Leave a comment )

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