I’d like to interrupt the current insanity with some helpful definitions.
By this I don’t mean just the SFWA incident, about which I can’t pronounce because they haven’t actually revealed what the horrible horrible incident was, and without that I can’t comment. I can also add I’ve heard rumors about this editor for years, but rumors aren’t proof. So I won’t pronounce on that one way or another.
HOWEVER there has been a lot of screeching and finger pointing and crying of harassment everywhere else too, and frankly, ladies, I’ve had enough.
So this is the part of the blog in which we define.
What is harassment?
Harassment: sexual, political or social has two necessary components – you can’t avoid it, and it’s being perpetrated by someone with power over someone without power who is either an underling or in some other way needs this person to continue working/doing what he/she must to survive.
Take for example the charming habit of just about every Portuguese male over the age of twelve of standing outside café doors and shouting suggestions on what they’d like to do to me/have me do to them (I think some of the things were anatomically impossible.) They were annoying, they often made it very unpleasant for me to go buy an ice cream. They certainly often made me want to unleash the fist of doom. Were they harassment? No. I think they might be a very stupid approach to courting and judging from some women who would shout back at them, it might even have worked.
However, those women – and I – didn’t need those men to survive/earn a living. So at the very worst, the men were incredibly rude and yeah, I wanted to unleash fist of doom, but that would be dignifying their nonsense. Ignoring them OTOH baffled them.
In fact, a month ago I was subjected to the international version of same as road workers called out helpful suggestions in Spanish. Solved by pretending not to understand a word of Spanish.
Was it harassment? No. It was uncomfortable, and unpleasant, but that doesn’t make it harassment.
Mind my words: NO ONE is entitled to go through life without being made uncomfortable. A) it’s impossible B) in some times and places discomfort can be useful. C) It’s impossible to play your whole life at kindergarten level. NO ONE CAN MAKE LIFE SAFE FOR YOU. NOR SHOULD THEY.
Some years ago, at a con, I entered the backroom of the barfly suite, where there were only a dozen guys. They were watching a racy movie and started to turn the channel, then said, “Oh, thank G-d, it’s Sarah” and kept it on. Was I disrespected? Were they objectifying me by watching nudie females?
Ladies, gents and dragons: Watching nudie other sex (or same, depending) is what humans do, and often one of the only pleasures when you live in interesting times. For me to make the leap from what the guys were watching to an insult to me personally would require me to assume that I was one with the skinny little things pretending to have sex on the screen. The only reason for commonality there would be we have similar genitals. PFUI. It takes more than that to make me the soul sister of say Hillary Clinton or – gag – Nancy Pelosi. (Both of which would be very bad subjects for nudie movies.) Besides, seriously. The guys were taking some time off and having fun.
Was I made uncomfortable? Actually no. It would be like being afraid of Night Of The Living Dead. I made some comments on the action, including the “that’s anatomically impossible” and left because it was boring.
But suppose I’d been made uncomfortable. Was that harassment? Well, no. Yeah, those guys were fans. But the only way to make it that they had power over me is to assume every person of penis TM has power over every person of vagina TM. That’s Marxist social theory, and why would he be right about that, when he’s wrong on everything else? Marx can suck my middle finger.
But Sarah, you say, then you’re subjecting women to being made uncomfortable everywhere they go. That might not legally be harassment, but surely it creates an hostile work or play environment. Would you want to live being made uncomfortable everywhere you go?
Sure. I did. I do. The degrees of discomfort vary, and if a place is so bad I can’t take it, I stop going there. This happened with the Nebulas when for two years it became the high palace of leftist twaddle and that’s all people talked about everywhere, and I couldn’t say anything, because, well, it WOULD have meant my career. But the best cons were – some still are (Liberty con excepted) – places where I’m made very uncomfortable by not being able to shout “You lie” and get in fights. That’s life, isn’t it?
But Sarah, what if the hostile environment is at work? What if these people DO have power over you?
Two suggestions – there are two types of work environment that will try you. I only experienced one, but I read a lot about the other, which is “environments dominated mostly by males, who will make terrible jokes, etc in front of the women.” (BTW the reverse occurs too. No? How many times do you ladies discuss your periods where guys can hear it? Isn’t it amusing to see them turn purple?) From what I read in police women and others biographies, the nonsense stops once you become ‘one of the guys’ – this involves not shrieking and giving back as good as you got in the way of jokes.
But Sarah, it should not be needed. They should immediately auto-censure when a woman is near.
First of all that’s not how humans work. Some form of hazing ritual applies to guys too, particularly in dangerous professions. You need to test the newby before you depend on him/her for your life. Second, if they censor their thoughts, they’ll end up missing stuff they NEED to think.
The second type is the (often international; mine was) company where women are viewed as combination servants and eye candy. My response to that, and it worked like a charm, to the point of having my male boss reproach a passing-by engineer who had made a lewd comment, was to draw the line.
Few women are taught to do this these days. But it is coded deep in the male brain and it works. If you know a Southern Lady over fifty ask for lessons. It involves looking neither shocked nor disgusted but inexpressibly remote, like they just put themselves beneath your notice. The term is “freezing” for a reason. Practice in front of the mirror if needed. It works. You will actually be treated above your work position – it works that well. You need to know how to do this, because the world can only be made safe for you by YOU.
Now, let’s talk about conventions. Conventions are tricky places. They both are necessary for work, and they are ultimately parties. You can’t make it totally safe as a work environment because it isn’t.
At one World Fantasy I was propositioned by SIX guys, three of them editors (well, junior editors) including the gentleman who wanted me to “dominate” him. No, I wasn’t wearing black leather. I was wearing a frilly green dress.
Did it make me uncomfortable? Well, it made me worry about what they thought was so dominating about me (It was the theme.) They might have planned it but I doubt it, since I know some of them don’t talk. Mostly it made me laugh and look for my husband to tell him.
See, cons are supposed to be fun. I don’t want to have to stand around minding my every word, and I don’t want my male friends to have to do the same. Getting a little boozed up – or in my case just high on having people around – and flirting or joking with friends is what parties are about. (Flirting is not sexual. It’s a mind game that uses sex as a basis. I enjoy it, even though as far as I’m concerned there is ONE man in the whole world I’m interested in.)
If the screaming delicate flowers ruin my conventions, by making men stop attending, I swear to the memory of Robert A. Heinlein that they’ll live to regret it.
Now, let’s talk about what IS harassment. Harassment is when people use shaming and innuendo and exploit other people’s harmless behavior. Harassment is giving liars the ability – unexamined – to render someone a pariah. ( Yes, women lie. If you’re over 18 you should know this, regardless of your gender, even if younger boy has trouble wrapping his head around it. If your entire program assumes women never lie, you’re making an assumption not supported by all of human history and you should perhaps consider what you’re thinking of is angels, not women) Harassment is what was done to Malzberg and Resnick – trying to destroy their careers, their reputation, and their chances of making a living.
That’s harassment. And that’s wrong.