This past week, news broke in the SF community that there had been yet another complaint about sexual harassment lodged against a well-known editor. This editor had been censured previously, back in 2010, but it turned out that none of the complaints had been “officially” registered.
That has now changed. And the fact that previous complaints were swept under the table by HR (because nothing “officially” had been done) has ignited a new push to teach people HOW to file a complaint so that it WILL be heard.
Sadly, the news didn’t surprise me – or, probably, anyone who has ever worked in a power imbalance industry (read: pretty much everywhere). There will always be people who try to take advantage of that. But it’s far wider a problem, affecting those outside the author/editor corridor. DAW author Kari Sperring has reprinted her essay from 2010, “What Safety Means to Me” about her experiences at conventions, and she’s speaking for a lot of us.
And if you’re still thinking “oh, but….” then you need to read this: “But He Didn’t Know He Was Hijacking your Ship: On Conference Creeps”, from Maria Dahvana Headley.
Every convention, ever since I was fourteen, there’s been at least one guy who gets up in my personal space, gets handsy, thinking that he’s being charming, or seductive, or just plain entitled to me.
I get less of the harassment than is described by others (although I still get more than should exist, period, like the individual who started telling everyone that we were a couple. That was…creepy as fuck). I’ve always assumed that this was because I started out professionally as an editor, which protected me somewhat – I was higher in the food chain than a twenty-something writer would normally be** and that has carried through to now.
Or maybe, like so many others, I’ve just excused it as “another offensive male who doesn’t have a clue how to behave in society” and ignored it, because we’re trained to be nice.
Screw nice. I have a responsibility to the rest of my community, to not excuse it. To not allow it. If you’re out in public, there are expectations as to your behavior. Going forward, if someone behaves like a creeper, I’m calling them out as a creeper. Your physical existence entitles you to nothing other than your own existence. Do not presume.***
*Although the one time someone tried to give me an unexpected, unasked-for, “friendly” back rub, I almost broke their nose, purely by reflex.
**I got a different kind of harassment, with a number of writers thinking that the way to a book contract was down my pants. I got very cynical very early, because of that.
*** when in doubt, walk up to a woman and say “hi, my name is X, you look interesting, can I buy you a drink and talk to you for a while?” That is how you flirt in the real world, not by laying hands or leering. And the direct polite approach often works. Really.