Friday, August 03, 2012

Some Rules of Behavior

Before I get started, let me admit up front that I am white, male, and middle-aged, and so therefore anything I say may be considered automatically suspect. In fact, I grant that the likelihood is high, but what the heck. My inability to form a coherent opinion has never stopped me in the past.

If you're unfamiliar with what happened at Readercon, there are all sorts of things popping up on the web. Me, I'll direct you to Leah Bobet's piece, which is second hand, but which does link to the original story. You can follow down that rabbit hole as much as you like, but long story short, there was a case of harassment at Readercon, it was reported, and instead of the lifetime ban mandated by convention rules, the perpetrator got off with a two year ban. (And this just in: on Twitter, the entire convention committee Board has resigned or will at the next meeting.)

I'm not a fan of one-size-fits-all punishments, but I'm also not a fan of setting the rules and then changing them midstream without, you know, first changing them.

But that's not why I'm here. Instead, I thought I'd throw out a few simple suggestions, which, if followed, might make everyone's life a little easier:

But wait, there's more!

Don't tell yourself that this would have all been fine if only she had correctly interpreted what you were doing and saying. because you know what? She did correctly interpret it. How she views, how she interprets things, these are all perfectly valid from her point of view. You, and everybody else, don't get to say that she is wrong. This is a contextual thing, and everybody reacts in different ways to different external stimuli, based on who they are and what their past history is. And the bad news for you is you have no idea what goes through that person's mind.

If you think a woman is doing this to you just to set you up for the fall, then you're an asshole. Really, get over yourself. I suppose that there might be a million to one chance that this might happen (not that I have done any studies, mind), but consider these odds to be every bit as real as the odds of winning the lottery. You don't ever operate under the assumption that someone is out to get you. Instead, operate under the assumption that people have good reasons for not wanting to be bothered.

On the flip side, if you feel the urge to compare a case of harassment (especially one that involved physical contact that went no further than, say, attempted hugs) to something like the Sandusky/Penn State scandal, then you're an asshole. And I wonder about your common sense, and about the legal issues you or the blogger who hosted your comment might run into.

Also, if you claim online that if this can even happen to an author, then however are we going to feel safe, then you're an asshole. Because you know what? It doesn't matter if you're an author or a fan, so get over yourself.

All that said, I hope that conventions with policies in place look at why they might have nothing but lifetime bans, and whether or not these can be adjusted in advance of more of this shit happening. I also hope that if they do so they do it in consultation with the people who would be most affected by these decisions.

A final point for the males reading this. While not all women react the same way, you need to know that they have reasons for reacting as they do. We males can appear to be threatening in what we assume to be the most innocent of circumstances. For instance (and I have been teaching this one to my sons), I know that walking down a side path when you and an approaching woman are the only two people in sight can be a threatening moment for the woman. If I can't step away, I at least make brief (and hopefully reassuring) eye contact and then make sure I turn my shoulders away from her as we pass. It's a small thing, probably not worth much, but we need to acknowledge that there are men out there who give women cause for fear, and we need to do what we can to lower that threat level.

What we don't need to do is question it. As a friend says, It is what it is.

Correction: The board has resigned, not the committee.
Noted and changed. I knew that, too. Thanks, Dan.
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