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This is a very hard post to write. In fact, it’s so hard, I’ve started trying to write it several times over the last couple of years. Every time, I’ve made it part way in and then decided it was better, politically, to just shut up. Let it slide. It’s not *so bad* after all. And there are ways to cope with these things, silently, and on the side, aren’t there?

I’ve learned that most people can see the elephant in the room. I’m just the one who always has the need to point to it and then ask everyone else if they can see it too. Whilst I haven’t necessarily written about this stuff before, I have openly spoken a lot about it on Galactic Suburbia.

Overnight, Elise Mattheson came forward and spoke up about her reporting of sexual harassment at Wiscon. What strikes me most starkly about this is that hers was the first formal complaint about this particular person. I have been aware for several years about this person’s behaviour and I have avoided him at cons since being warned. I was aware of his behaviour at World Fantasy Con in 2010 and of other incidents with people I know. I’m not shocked that it was the first formal complaint but I’m aware that for every time we don’t openly speak out and report incidents, we contribute to the ongoing status quo of allowable/acceptable behaviour in our spaces. As our Chief of Army recently just said – the behaviour you walk past is the standard you set.

I was watching discussion last night on Twitter about harassment at cons. And I found myself questioning some tweets about whether I thought some cases were really harassment. I mean, sure, I’d feel pretty shitty in that instance if it had been me, but did it really constitute harassment? And when I interrogated my own thought process on this, I realised it’s because I’m used to a lot of this kind of behaviour through spending four years with 75% male classes in engineering school with males 17 to 22 years of age. And then again in postgrad in the same school but to a lesser degree. And then ramped up again when I went out into the real world and into a male dominated field – in my first job I was the only woman in my section and usually the only woman in meetings. After that, I ended up in female dominated sections but usually was the only woman when I went to business meetings. You have to grow a thick skin, you have to learn to smile and smooth over situations. You have to learn how to clearly let the other person know their behaviour was inappropriate and unacceptable whilst still being on the side of “professionalism” when you do so. I didn’t always succeed. I was better at it when it came from people other than my bosses.

But my point is, I have a thick skin when it comes to a lot of this kind of stuff – I’ve had to handle it for years in my day job – both sexual harassment and also just plain old sexism. It means, I probably let a lot more stuff slide than others might do and I voice to shut down stuff too.

So all that said, I’ve still found myself pulling away from conventions at home. I no longer really enjoy most of the aspects of conventions. I’m lucky because I have a lot of friends that I enjoy catching up with at cons and I can spend most of my weekend in the bar or out at restaurants deep in conversation with them. I’m also lucky because being a publisher, I can have a dealers table and I can spend the rest of a con weekend at my table. I can still catch up with people, I can still talk about my books, I can still pitch and get pitched projects and I can still check in with my writers to see how they’re going with what they’re working on.

But I’ve long since stopped going to parties for example and I don’t really participate in programming anymore.

I don’t feel comfortable at parties. I’ve been touched and groped inappropriately and without invitation at more than one of them and by people whom I see openly and vocally acting as “allies” and discouraging sexual harassment. I often wonder if they are aware of how they (have) behave(d) or whether they don’t realise it. Are they clueless or with intent? I’ve also been privy to the warnings about members of our community – don’t stand next to that one, make sure you don’t sit too close to him/her, don’t let yourself be alone with them etc. We circulate warnings about people. I do my best to warn those who do not know. I’ve had my own encounter with someone whom I’ve been reluctant to ever really publicly call out. I was drunk. He was not. It was not at a convention. He is known to you. It wasn’t flirting, I don’t think I could have misinterpreted his actions. He was a bit aggressive. I’d spent the evening on the phone texting this guy I liked, in and out of the room to take phonecalls with him. I don’t think I could have been making any invitations for the behaviour that happened. But still, even now, I wonder if I misunderstood what happened. I was drunk, but not that drunk (I’m too much of a control freak to ever be that drunk). I asked others about it later – is this acceptable behaviour among friends? Maybe it was me? Maybe I was too much of a prude? He never ever mentioned it again. And never understood why I avoided interaction with him. He’s not been nice to me since. I don’t think it was my fault. I still feel gross and yucky about it.

It makes me feel like, no matter what I achieve, I can still be reduced to just a sexual object, who can be overpowered and plied with. And maybe that was the intent.

(If this was you, and not me, I’d be encouraging you to call him out, make it known, take back your power! I’d kick and scream and tell you he doesn’t have power over you. I’d have your back and I’d go in and fight for you. I’m aware of the hypocrisy. I write this to illustrate that it has nothing to do with who you are and I understand why people don’t come forward and don’t speak out. If there wasn’t an issue with coming forward, there likely also wouldn’t be an issue to come forward about.)

I don’t go to parties anymore. It’s no fun to spend your evening making sure you’re on the other side of the room as a serial harasser. It’s even less fun when those people seek you out to come and speak to you and the whole time you’re trying to smile sweetly but you’re thinking “please don’t grab my boob, please don’t pull me onto your lap”. I prefer the bar and intellectual discussion and debate. That’s why I go to cons. But I want to be clear, our cons *are not* safe spaces. No matter how many times you say something aloud, that doesn’t make it so. I’ve been touched and grabbed in the act of “friendly hugging” in front of the registration desk or passing someone in the suddenly narrow corridor on my way to a panel.

In the last couple of years, I’ve pulled away from being on programming at conventions too. Programming is an excellent way to network, to promote your work, to make connections and to build your profile. That’s what everyone told me and that’s why, when I was first starting out with Twelfth Planet Press, I wanted to be on programming. And it’s why I continued to say yes to programmers long after it stopped being fun. In my experience, I found them to be highly combative exercises where I had to fight to be able to get a word in edgewise, often not called on or allowed to speak at all, or it was an exercise in belittling the work I was doing and discouraging anyone in the audience who might be remotely thinking any of this gig was fun. I’d walk away from them depressed, despondent, maybe with a sore throat, or bored out of my brain cause I hadn’t brought my knitting for the hour session in which I never got to speak. Having moderators on panels is newish here and for a long time, I’d find myself the only woman on the panel, maybe I didn’t even get a microphone or the one being shared would never be passed down to me on the end. My opinion was rarely sought and rarely valued. I think worse than being spoken over is that polite waiting til you’ve finished and then the rest of the panel carrying on as though you never said anything at all. The last Swancon panel I was on, I actually stopped actively fighting for sound space and waited to see how long it would be before the other person on the panel stopped talking – 30 minutes.

Programming just wasn’t fun. And that’s one of  the reasons we started Galactic Suburbia. Look what happens when you don’t get derailed, belittled or not allowed to speak. Instead of doing programming at conventions, I’ve been paid to give 15 minutes to 1 hour talks and lectures on exactly the same material by universities, schools, writers organisations, other (nonSF) conventions and as a guest speaker at a charity dinner. Instead of doing programming, I’m available for the same discussions in the bar and at my dealers table. But just to reiterate, our spaces are not safe spaces just because we say it so enough times.

I’m writing this post for solidarity. I don’t want to walk by behaviour and accept it as the standard. I want to say that the kind of behaviour being spoken about online at the moment doesn’t just happen at *their* cons, over *there*, by *those* people we don’t know. I’ve found kindred spirits and lifelong friends in the SF community. I’ve been supported, encouraged, nurtured, taught and loved by this community. I’ve been supported through some of my toughest life moments. I’m a better, smarter and more caring person because of this community. I met my husband and I’ve changed my career because of it. I’m finally happy in life, and it’s a lot to do with the friends I’ve made here. I’m me again. But that doesn’t mean that some of these years haven’t been the hardest and most confronting too. It doesn’t mean that everyone is supportive, nurturing and caring. It doesn’t mean that everyone wants the best for everyone else. And as much as we love this community, we need to be sure that the behaviour we walk past really is the standard we want set.



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15 Comments

  • By Keira on 29 June 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Well said, Alisa. Well said. I always found it very difficult as well & never handled it well. I always thought it was my fault. I’m beginning to see, so long past it all, that it probably wasn’t.

  • By AlisaK on 29 June 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Knowing you, I really don’t think it was your fault at all.

  • By Alex on 29 June 2013 at 1:02 pm

    xxx

  • By Joris M on 29 June 2013 at 4:08 pm

    The more comments I read on the issues so many people encounter the more it seems to be cultural institutionalized gaslighting.

    So many stories seem to involve having the victims doubt what just happened to them, or indeed blame themselves.

  • By AlisaK on 29 June 2013 at 4:26 pm

    It’s a very effective way of shutting it down to maintain the status quo.

  • By Sally on 29 June 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Thank you for posting this (and linking to Elise’s article), Alisa.

  • By Grant Watson on 29 June 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Thank you for writing this, and I am so sorry that you’ve experienced this sort of behaviour. At cons, not at cons, anywhere. It’s all so fucking depressing.

    I feel tremendously guilty, because some years ago while dealing with a particular incident, I briefly became a target for many people in my social circle to e-mail me with stories of their own harrassment experiences. I know the names, and I don’t know what to do about it, and that makes me feel like a total gutless asshole.

  • By Ju on 29 June 2013 at 10:51 pm

    So much of what you’re saying here resonates with me, and yet I can scarcely admit to it, worried that the things I’ve experienced are different somehow, less real or less harassing or bullying.

    This comment is taking forever to write because I just don’t have the words. I’ve never really tried to say them.

    I thought it was accidental that I didn’t go to programming or volunteer. I thought it was just because my geeky isn’t really the kind that people do or go to panels on. I didn’t realise until recently that it’s because the whole experience is deeply unpleasant even when the topic is one I’m interested or invested in. Even when I like the panellists.

    Between the original post, Tansy’s, Mary’s and your post, so much has been stirred up in my heart over all of this. Memories. Feelings. Fears. Failure. I’m glad that there are amazing people around me whom I respect and appreciate. People whom I admire. It balances out some of the yuckiness.

    I’ve done what I can to contribute to things being better, to improving the communication and engagement at cons, to talking about safer spaces not because cons are safe but because they aren’t and we wanted to give people tools, and share experiences and support each other and make it okay to have, set and enforce boundaries, and to hear that happen in return. And this is where the feeling of failure kicks in, because it’s still happening. And I’m still afraid to talk about certain things because of the person involved.

  • By Sir Tessa on 30 June 2013 at 9:30 am

    Thanks, Alisa.

  • By Sean the Bookonaut on 30 June 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thanks for the post Alisa.

    It triggered a memory of an incident that happened in my teens where I was the target from unwanted attention from another male. It was on reflection sexual harassment and the feelings I experienced in that one situation, the sense of powerlessness, the questioning of myself, the why didn’t I do something – I am lucky to have only have experienced once.

    One such incident is enough to have life long effects. That women in our community may be targeted( or fear so) every time they go to a convention makes me physically ill.

    That we lose female voices because of it makes me angry.

    It’s not so much not walking past for me (I like to think that this is the minimum) but being aware and open to the possibility that harassment is occurring, to notice peoples body language, to be on the lookout so to speak for people in need of support.

  • [...] at a convention, and out tumbled two things: anger, and stories of women putting up all the time in this subculture with creepers. The experiences are not new; perhaps the willingness to talk about it is only [...]

  • By Steph on 3 July 2013 at 7:57 am

    Thanks for this post, Alisa. With so many US reports I know people who don’t really believe we experience harassment at Australian cons, and I’m grateful that you’ve chosen to share this post.

  • By Attack of the Girl Cooties | Cora Buhlert on 3 July 2013 at 12:21 pm

    [...] Cuinn, Alisa Krasnostein, Cherie Priest and Maria Dahvana Headley talk about their own experiences with harrassment at [...]

  • [...] about harassment, procedures, and gender issues.   Some of the related posts we discuss: Alisa: It’s Not Just Them Over There Tansy: Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions (links mostly) Genevieve Valentine on “Dealing [...]

  • [...] convention, and out tumbled two things:  anger, and stories  of women putting up all the time in this subculture with creepers.  The experiences are not new; perhaps the willingness to talk about it is only [...]

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