Did you hear about the caterer who was so self centered, he thought that parties were a place of business?
Well, there are apparently a lot of writers who think so. Because science fiction conferences are – for them – a place of business and a must-attend, they think that they are the same for everyone else.
As I’ve said before in this space, there is a set of my colleagues so strange that they think the important part of the gift is the box.
But I think it’s actually odder than that. I think my colleagues have lived so long in fictional worlds that they think rules prevent things from happening.
I’ve been getting the usual pitches for cons — mind you this year it’s Ravencon and Liberty con and that’s it, because a) money is tight and b) the reason money is tight is that nothing really got turned in last year, and it must be compensated for this year, so we can sell this house and move (which must be done for various reasons including this house is too much to keep up while having a full time writing job). — and reading them, and about half of them tell me they’ve signed on to the non-harassment rules, so you know, I’ll be perfectly safe.
They’re SO proud of it. And I sit here and all I can think is of the non-harassment rules in work places, and of the normal behavior of fans, male and female, and then I think:
Before you start screaming, I’m not for harassment (who is?) and I’m not even against rules. Some basic, enforceable rules are useful. Say “don’t bring up pron on your computer in a con suite with children playing around.” Or say “Don’t go feeling up people, or cornering them and trying to feel them up. And don’t try to get into their rooms.”
Why, yes, that later has happened to me, (no, I wasn’t doing it, sillies. Well, I do this stuff to my husband — groping, not pron — but he doesn’t mind.) I fail to see in the situation what a rule would have done about that, since the first instance (trying to corner me and feel me up) was done by a — then — powerful editor, late at night, in a semi-deserted corridor on the party floor. Quite frankly, what he was trying to do was already against the rules — civil society rules. I believe forcibly stopping someone and trying to grope them is assault, right? Unfortunately, I also wasn’t carrying a handy policeman in my pocket. I was carrying a knife (I usually am) but you know how con hotels are about blood stains on the carpet.
It never even occurred to me to report it, because a) he was a powerful editor. b) I was a newly published writer. c) No one saw it. d) He was more than three sheets to the wind — and probably wouldn’t remember it in the morning.
Note that C is the killer. It would be he said, she said, and no matter how many rules there are about it, and no matter that it was I saying it, he should be considered innocent until proven guilty. And I couldn’t prove him guilty. Had I been able to prove him guilty, I wouldn’t have bothered the con com. I’d have gone straight to Tor. (Yes, him. Though I only figured that out recently.)
On the other hand, let’s not make of this more than it was — yeah. He made me feel uncomfortable. Am I the only woman in sci fi who went to bars when young? Evading drunk gropers is par for the course, and it shouldn’t make you spend the rest of your life acting like a rape victim.
I had an uncomfortable minute. I’m going to assume that he had a longer uncomfortable time. Our transaction was cancelled in my favor.
And right now you’re thinking “But if you had that happen to you, why would you object to a few sensible rules against harassment at cons? Even if the rules don’t stop it, wouldn’t it be good to remind the troglodytes attending that there are rules?”
The most important part of my objection is this. A con is not this to most people:
To most people — to the fans, the people that make a convention a convention — a con is this:
This means that a set of people who are so far from average they can’t see it with a periscope use conventions as a means of meeting potential mates; of talking to friends they haven’t seen in years; of — sometimes the only time in the entire year — letting their hair down and being themselves. I know that I keep a running check at the back of my head not to freak the mundanes. If I’m talking to someone at church, or in the park, or when the kids were little at school, I have to remember not to use sf references or the geek jokes that are the language of our people. Because even in these days when geek=cool, the wrong word at the wrong time and suddenly you’re:
So if people now have to mind their every word and be very careful what they say and do at a con, suddenly it’s not a place to go and relax anymore; it’s not a place to have fun. Suddenly it’s:
Or depending on the rules, and on the rule creep, and on how much credence it’s given to “she said” versus “he said”, it becomes:
Of course, we don’t have to worry about this, because there are no people in science fiction and fantasy (either professionals or fandom), so exquisitely messed up that they suffer from pre-emptive ptsd. PRE traumatic stress disorder, you could call it. That is, there are no people who freak out at the mere thought of someone maybe, possibly, saying something that could, might, offend them, at a talk they can attend or not, as they prefer.
Because in an assemblage of geeks and outcasts, we never have anyone who either been stomped on so hard, or been raised as such a precious little princess (particularly the guys! ) that they think the right not to to be offended is a basic right. And we NEVER have people who completely misinterpret someone else’s actions and think they’ve been “harassed”.
But it is worse than that. In offices, things can be weird enough. Studies have been done on what’s considered “sexual harassment.” Did you know the same exact come-on from an unattractive man with poor hygiene and from an attractive man with signs of wealth are variously considered “harassment” or “Flirting”?
Mind you, in offices, the business of the company and the reason people are there takes precedence, and if there’s no flirting and no hanky-panky (to the extent that’s possible with human beings) it’s all to the good.
So why do I object to no flirting and no hanky-panky at cons?
Guys, do you hear yourselves? The business of a con is this:
Cross that with the social skills of my people:
How many guys are going to have what they think is a perfectly respectful come-on mistaken for harassment? How many geek girls are going to take offense at the fact that he is — let’s face it — often lame and think they were abused? (I should add here the only cases of SERIOUS sexual assault I know of at cons, and the ones that go largely unpunished/unreported are guy-on-guy.)
This is what is waiting to happen. Over and over and over again:
How long, in fact, before conventions become a bit of a chore and something people avoid?
So I look at all these “rules” being put in place by people who think the world can and should be made safe for them, people who believe that not just sticks and stones, but words can break their bones, and I think of the royal families of Europe, when their kids were hemophiliac, trying to save the royal line by putting cushions around every tree and bush to keep the kids from hurting themselves. It didn’t work for them. For us… Knowing how overworked, tired, uncompensated the few people people willing to serve on con committees are (I put one on long ago, not in sci fi. Trust me) I predict what they’re going to get is an avalanche of complaints from booth babes that some guy looked at them wrong.
The good news is that though rules can’t make a con safe — they can make the con com nuts; they can make everyone uncomfortable; they can create spectacularly involved he-said, she-said situations — people can make a con safe.
You need one rule: Jim Baen’s “Don’t be a butthead.”
And you need a bunch of people ready to enforce that rule. You also need women (and men) who aren’t fainting flowers and, in the last instance, stand ready and willing to defend themselves.
Because no matter how many friends you have, or how many fans ready to defend you, they can’t always be with you at all times — for the same reason you can’t carry a policeman in your pocket — if you do this:
You’re only giving the butthead power he shouldn’t have. RULES CANNOT STOP BUTTHEADS. And there is a hair-fine difference between buttheads and nice guys with zero social ability — which are abundant in our field. Complaining about the nice guys will just make them run away and hide in the basement for the next fifty years.
So, be prepared to do this:
Because that’s something that both the buttheads and the misguided geeks will get and learn from. And recover from — far more quickly than an involved, disciplinary “he said/she said” bureaucratic mess.
Do I expect this to be listened to? What, with people who believe violence never solved anything and that rules will keep them safe?
Never mind. Carry on with your:
But don’t come crying to me if after the first few crazy blowups, fans do this: