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July 28, 2012

How to have a problem with fannish things
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:37 AM *

It’s been a heck of a week for feminism in our neck of the internet, it really has.

First there was Joe Peacock’s rather unfortunate rant about women who don’t meet his standard of geekitude. Mercifully, I only ran across it via Scalzi’s rebuttal and general manifesto on what it is to be a geek*. But it was still an unpleasant read, as much for the careful explanations of how his screed was not sexist as for the actual complaints he articulated.

So I was a little a-twitch when I saw Jim Hines’ tweet† about a Reddit thread where rapists are telling their stories. There’s a good deal of discussion going on about whether that conversation is a good idea or not. Jezebel thinks it is. Hines disagrees, and has withdrawn from a Reddit Q&A as a result. I know, and I see that he knows, that the separate sections of Reddit are not accountable to one another for their respective content. But I get the feeling he’s just too put off to want to deal with any aspect of the community. I can’t say I blame him.

And then there was this morning’s LJ reading. I was aware of Genevieve Valentine’s unpleasant experiences at Readercon this year, which led her to report someone to the concom for harassment. Because she’d helped a friend with a similar report in 2008, and seen that miscreant expelled and banned for life, she trusted that her harasser would be as well. Unfortunately, she has now heard that he’s only banned for two years, as long as the concom don’t hear any bad stories about him in that time.

Reaction has been universally negative, both about the penalty (particularly since it violates the con’s own written policy, eroding trust in whatever rules they write next) and about the reasons behind it (“he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions…[i]f, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.”). A growing list of people are questioning whether they want to keep Readercon on their list of regular conventions.

It can be hard, reading this sort of thing, not to lose heart about our community (even while rejoicing that it contains people like Scalzi, Hines and Valentine). It can be hard, as well, to be fair to people who don’t seem bothered by these issues.

My own coping strategy, when I despair, borrows a lot from How to be a fan of problematic things, but turned around the other way.**

Explain the bad points. We’re pretty good, in the fannish community, at articulating when there’s a problem (vide supra, frex). I find those articles interesting even when I’m not involved in the original problem. I tend to link to interesting ones here and on Twitter, both because I like reading them and because I know others find them useful references.

Acknowledge that the other person cares about the thing in question. Some people like problematic things for deep social reasons that I didn’t see, or that don’t work for me. And sometimes they care simply because it makes their synapses fire in a pleasurable fashion. There is not yet a great enough oversupply of joy in the world to render “it makes my day brighter” a negligible, disposable value.

Assist in productive conversation about the issue. We all know the drill. Listen generously. Speak carefully. Preserve nuance. Value attention and thoughtful interaction. Discourage demands to be spoonfed or attempts to derail. Acknowledge others as genuine, valuable human beings. Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

Find a way to go on that adds to our strengths and reduces our weaknesses. I choose for myself what I will and will not support. I try to respect (and defend) others who make different decisions, particularly if I know they’ve based those decisions on careful thought and on principles that I respect. I try not to make too many assumptions about others based on their associates and their fandoms, and hope that they will return the favor. Instead, I try to use what they say and do as the basis for my judgments. It’s the equivalent of reading the original texts rather than the translations.

Of course, this is all hard work. It can require significant emotional control (or frequent dandelion breaks). It can make it difficult to form movements and create effective boycotts. But there’s a lot of value in resisting the temptation to turn all of our issues into black-and-white, good-and-evil conflicts. After all, real life is complicated. More than one contradictory thing may be true at the same time. The same book may help one person out of grave trauma and gravely traumatize another.

The other thing I do is to go reread something our nerdycellist said in a previous thread:

In dog training there is a thing called the Extinction Burst. Let’s say you’re training the dog to not bark when someone comes to the door. You’ll be chugging along, working your operant conditioning like a boss, and you’ll notice your dog is finally starting to catch on. “Oh, you mean if the doorbell rings and I woof my servant monkey turns her back to me and ignores me, but if I don’t make a noise I get a treat? Awesome!” But just when you think the dog has it all down and it possibly the smartest dog in the universe, your friend will ring the doorbell and the dog will go bugshit crazy, barking, woofing, yelping, whatever, and you’ll just want to sit down with a pitcher of margaritas and give up. Don’t do that. Keep going, because what you’ve just experienced is the Extinction Burst. A few more tries and your dog will be so silent it’s like she’s bored whenever the doorbell rings - like she never even reacted in the first place.

Whatever divergent strategies we each take to dealing with sexism, discrimination and rape culture, I think—I hope—we as a larger community are getting somewhere. I suspect that much of what I’ve been reading about these past days is part of an extinction burst for some of the bad stuff.

(If not, I guess we just have to keep working at it.)

* I did have my own problem with part of his argument, which he did address when I brought it up. I still have a deeper, wider issue which I may write up sometime, but the margins here are dedicated to something else.
† He has since deleted that tweet, for which I’m grateful. I clicked on the link, and wished I hadn’t. The top story didn’t trigger me, but I know a number of people whom it would have knocked down for hours. Or longer.
** Of course, this is really just an instantiation of the abstract “disagreeing with people you love” model. Fandom is, after all, a community.

Comments on How to have a problem with fannish things:
#1 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 07:09 AM:

I have some sympathy with the desire to allow for the possibility of reform. The concept of the irredeemable criminal seems to permeate, and distort, American culture.

Had the ban been set as permanent, with the promise of a review after two years, and revocation if the culprit can show he has reformed, it would have been clearer. The statement implies, to me at least, that the culprit only has to avoid being caught.

Is that too subtle a distinction?

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 07:19 AM:

Dave Bell @1:

This isn't like society, or the internet: things of which there is only one. There are lots of conventions in the community. Banning him from this one for life would not seriously impede his con-going career. He could always take his reformed self to other gatherings of fandom.

In the end, the concom had to make the same choice I make when I ban people from Making Light: whose presence do we protect in this particular community? Because even if he reforms, forever and for good, I suspect the women he's already harassed are not going to have an easy or comfortable time with him around at the same convention where it happened.

Also, Readercon did actually have a rule in place. One can argue that it wasn't a good rule—I know there's a good deal of discussion about rewriting it—but if that's what the rule said, and they overrode it, then they're quite clearly in the wrong. A preference that overrides convention rules is going to add to the damage that he did in the first place.

#3 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 07:56 AM:

I just sent the board an e-mail expressing my strong dissatisfaction, and saying that if they fail to resolve this situation to the satisfaction of the victim, and re-establish a policy in which sexual harassment complaints are taken seriously, I'll have to seriously consider whether I can return to the convention in good conscience. (Readercon hasn't been an every-year convention for me, but I've attended maybe 8-10 in the last couple of decades.)

#4 ::: Alexandr Kazda ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 08:09 AM:

Hello, I'm de-lurking to ask a question: Today, I got into an argument with a person I know about a sexist joke he posted on Facebook. I reacted in a direct way, stating that the joke is not funny and degrading women is wrong. I'm trying to attack the joke and not the poster, but even so I'm likely in for a flame war which will accomplish little.

So my question: Does anybody here know any more productive way to react to this sort of low-level sexism?

#5 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 08:33 AM:

This is one part that stood out to me:

It was made very clear to him that if we receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at any venue - during or after the suspension period - his suspension will become permanent.

Substantiated reports. Substantiated reports.

What the hell are substantiated reports?

Cons have various policies. Some are ... well, less enlightened than others. (Let's just say I've been involved in the atheist / skeptic community in the past and leave it there.) This translates as "stay away from cons that care for a few years, and we'll let you back." Or "stick with people who are clueless and/or won't report you to the con staff" -- e.g. newcomers, people who are isolated, and young people. (*) Or, of course, "guilt trip people into making sure they don't release your name." (Because, you know, if you're 'sincerely' apologetic, they might give you another chance. Particular if they either haven't heard your name, or if you convince them that your behavior wasn't *that* inappropriate and, if they tell everyone what happened, you'll be kicked out of *another* con.)

I don't know enough about sf / f politics to be sure this could happen in this community, but, like I said, I'm aware of several communities where it *could* easily happen.

I had a few complaints with Readercon (most of which I pointed out and will hopefully be addressed in some way or another), but, overall, it was a positive experience and I was looking forward to going again next year.

But not if they take *this* approach to sexual harassment I won't.

(*) And people with ASDs. I am absolutely *sick* of people using social cluelessness to excuse people who make others uncomfortable. I'm socially clueless too. As a woman, that doesn't mean I come across as creepy. What that means is I can't read early warning signs.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 08:50 AM:

Alexandr @4:

Sometimes there is no way to avoid the argument. You can either not feed it further ("I've said what I said") or try to address misinterpretations as they arise ("To be clear, I said that the joke was sexist."). It's often helpful to express disappointment ("I was surprised that you'd tell a joke like that.") or link to explanations by other people about why that particular joke was problematic.

Sometimes all you can do is agree to disagree, in the end, and hope that over time and with thought your friend will change their mind. Also, remember that there are probably more people reading the conversation than just the participants. You don't know which of your female mutual friends will be sitting at her computers murmuring, "Thanks, Alexandr" after seeing your post.

I've certainly been known to do that when my male friends have stood up. Indeed, thank you for doing so now.

#7 ::: Jim C. Hines ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:10 AM:

My apologies to TNH and anyone else who clicked on that first Tweet without knowing what they were getting. I was pissed off and not thinking. I deleted it as soon as a friend pointed out what I'd done, and posted one with a clear trigger warning.

Alexandr - one thing I've started trying to do more in those situations is to make my point and walk away. On Facebook, I'll unsubscribe because I don't have the energy for the flame war. Some people will hear what I'm trying to say, and others won't, but in my experience, there's usually very little to gain in sticking around for the flames.

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:12 AM:

(psst, do know it wasn't Teresa who wrote this post?)

#9 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:18 AM:

While I agree that forgiveness and the possibility or reform are important (and that "zero tolerance" policies are often problematic) the Readercon case doesn't seem like it should have been a hard call. Readercon had made a clear, public policy, there's no dispute the offender broke it (both "in letter" and "in spirit"), and he should have gotten the stated penalty.

My comment on the Readercon Livejournal site (which I also emailed to the stated email address) avoided getting sidetracked on whether the policy was the best one, or whether they should change it for future incidents. Instead, my letter pointed out a problem I thought they would readily recognize, the consequences, and my recommended action.

The problem: They had made made a promise to their members, one that they deliberately broke, and were now trying to justify breaking. The consequences: I'd seen dozens of people online now reconsidering attending Readercons or flat out saying they wouldn't go. (Which should have been no surprise; breaking a promise like this betrays the trust not just of those who complained, but of the entire membership, as I pointed out.) The recommended action: Reconsider and revise their decision, enforce their stated policy for incidents occurring while it's in effect (as it still supposedly is, in writing), and apologize to the community.

I admit I couldn't resist a little snark (I speculated that after an apology "who knows, maybe some of those [now protesting the decision] will be back in two years", alluding to their own term of limited exile). I'm hoping that didn't detract from whatever persuasiveness the message might have had. But it sounds like they're also getting an earful from a number of other people.

#10 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom entertains some gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:23 AM:

Not sure what Word of Power I used (there were no links), but I'm hoping my comment will be freed soon. In the meantime, we have some marshmallow jellied salad in the fridge.

#11 ::: Jim C. Hines ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:28 AM:

Abi - aw, crap. I'm sorry. I don't know how I managed to misread that.

#12 ::: Tracy Lunquist ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:41 AM:

Alexandr: let me echo abi's sentiment that anytime a male goes to bat against sexism, I am supremely grateful. I, too, struggle with how to respond to sexist comments and jokes, especially when made by people who otherwise have shown themselves not to be total jerks. I have been, and thus tend to assume I always will be, shut down as being too thin skinned or having no sense of humor or some other dismissive thing if I express that I don't think a sexist joke is funny. I have yet to figure out the delicate art of pointing out that such dismissals are even more sexist and damaging than whatever comment started the discussion.

All this to say, thanks for standing up, and if you discover a way to avoid, or even just to win, the flame war, I'll be keen to learn from you. (for the record, I do know that the only way to win Global Thermonuclear Flamewar is not to play.)

#13 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:51 AM:

@9: I'll guess the word of power is Lv Jrnl (rolling saving throw ...)

#14 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:02 AM:

Tracy @12

I'm afraid that being female will reduce your standing to complain about sexist jokes as long as there are sexist people making them. After all, it's "only a joke".

I've had all of those dismissals, as well as accusations that I'm going out of my way to find something to be offended by. There's really not much you can do about it to change the "joker's" mind.

However: some of the people watching/listening may realize that the sexist comment actually wasn't funny, and that I wasn't over-reacting when I objected.

It seems to have more impact when a male objects, though.

(To my great frustration. I wish I didn't have to rely on a male to make the point that females shouldn't need to be protected. And by "shouldn't need to be protected" I don't mean "should grow thicker skin", I mean "shouldn't NEED to grow thicker skin".)

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:02 AM:

Jim @11:
Not the first time, won't be the last :-)

John @10:
Actually, it was three spaces in a row. Spammers started using that to defeat our filters.

#16 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:17 AM:

If the desire to see someone who's repeatedly harassed women outweighs the desire of those women not to be around that man, I really don't care about what prompted that desire. You cannot privilege men in this situation by allowing a redemption that pisses off the woman who was wronged in this instance.

That is NOT redemption as I define it. It's spending 2 years not getting caught, and at the same time letting the woman who was harassed feel betrayed and unsafe at the con.

I am happy to talk about redemption, but we have to define what it looks like first. And the Readercon board basically defined it as "don't get caught" so far as I can tell.

If there was some sort of nuance in the definition, it was lost on me.

If they intended to help the victim feel safe, it was lost on her.

If they attempted to help women feel safe reporting harassment at the con, the evidence speaks for its self.

#17 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:31 AM:


This is one of those places where online discussion is harder than in person discussion, I think. There are many times in a face to face conversation where someone drops a turd into the conversational punch bowl, and almost no words need to be spoken, because the facial expressions and body language make it clear to the turd-dropper that this is not a good idea. The great majority of people catch on with no more than a "Jesus, Fred" and a wince.

Online, it's hard to see the grimaces on everyones' face, or the way the temperature at the table drops 20 degrees. An uncomfortable silence while people look at each other in mild disbelief is hard to tell from nobody posting for awhile.

This has good sides (some uncomfortable topics need discussing), but the downside is that a lot of the informal mechanisms that keep conversations comfortable for all involved go away online. And that drives many people from the conversations.

I suspect (but maybe wrong) that a long explanation of what's wrong with the joke or comment is less useful than some short comment by many people. Something like "-1" or "*wince*" or "Aaaannd Fred drops a turd into the punchbowl....".

#18 ::: Alexandr Kazda ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:50 AM:

Abi, Tracy Lunquist: Thanks for your thanks. I hope I have managed to do some good.

The idea that a man standing up for women's rights can have greater effect than a woman doing the same still baffles me a bit, but it seems to be true. I complain about sexism and other -isms when I have the time and energy, but I admit to quite a few counts of unsubscribing/ignoring.

In case you are curious, the argument I wrote about is heading towards the "agree to disagree" finale. It seems to me that Facebook provides so many distractions that maintaining a flame war there is quite hard.

#19 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 12:43 PM:

It's pretty clear that the ReaderCon board felt that their own policy (zero tolerance, lifetime ban) was stupid and inappropriate. In general I think zero tolerance policies do more harm than good. But when an offense happens people want the organization to follow its own rules. The offense was obvious and undisputed. The rule is clear. The board does not have the authority to be lenient.

#20 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 01:38 PM:

Alexandr @4:

A strategic error, I think, (and I realize this is a bit belated) is to go with "not funny." It allows the conversation to be about whether or not the joke was "actually" funny, and also implies that if it was funny, then it was okay.

My approach, where it is not too patronizing, is to frame it as "because I think you are a person who [eg. does not want to make the internet hostile to women], I mention that your joke contributes to the idea that [substance of complaint goes here]."

The discussion can then veer into whether or not "people are too sensitive" but I prefer that to "No, my rape joke is hilarious!"

#21 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 02:02 PM:

If Readercon wanted to ease up on its ban policy, the time to do that would have been during whatever annual meeting they hold for general business. Definitely not while responding to a harassment charge.

Also, does anyone know who, exactly was making this decision?

#22 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 02:22 PM:

Dave Harmon @21: the Readercon Board of Directors consists of Bob Colby, Merryl Gross, B. Diane Martin, David G. Shaw, and Eric M. Van. If they didn't make the decision (and I have no reason to believe they didn't) they at least signed off on it.

#23 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 02:28 PM:

Dave Harmon #21: The official Statement from the Readercon Board of Directors (which Abi linked to in the main post) includes their names.

#24 ::: Genevieve Williams ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:16 PM:

Alexandr, in my experience, people are more willing to consider correction/advice/opinions from people they disagree with if it comes from people who they perceive as being like them. This is why allies are so important generally. Thank you for being one of them.

#25 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:33 PM:

abi @0: Joe Peacock’s rather unfortunate rant

I love where he pulls the "Some of my best friends" card.

I did have my own problem with part of his argument

One of the things I'm steadily paying more attention to is your principle of resisting the urge to Other. It's an interestingly difficult imperative to implement, involving, as it does, the "sound of one hand clapping," as it were. Which is to say, I notice I find it hard to think about an Issue without immediately going to Opposing Forces. Like pulling back and releasing a pendulum, and trying to get it to swing only to the middle and no further. Not even a question of binary dualities (or gradients). Instead of "black<=>white," it's like trying to get to, "black<=>gray." If you see what I mean. Adjusting Levels, like.

Speak carefully. Preserve nuance. and Discourage demands to be spoonfed

I know it's not, because it's you saying it, but could you expand on this distinction? At first blush, they seem like mutually-contradictory directives.

One of the things that motivates my ever-increasing interest in the things you have to say is the way that you manage to break things down into specific points and principles, and innumerate them in objective and measurable terms. (Takes a lot of the Scary Unknowability of Being A Human Among Humans out of being human.) I'm curious about this: How much derives from your own personal interests and tropisms? How much of this derives from your experience of being a parent? Question for you and Teresa: how intrinsic is this skill-set to having the moderation knock?

#26 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:35 PM:

I think Readercon made a pretty seriously bad decision here. At the same time, I'm strongly opposed to the idea that they had no choice but to follow their own rules. Sometimes there are exceptions, and sometimes you make a rule that looks good but turns out to be the wrong rule. I don't really think this was the place to make an exception, and if it was I think Dave Bell's formulation is a damn sight better than theirs. (Particularly since, by its similarity to the US parole system, it carries an unspoken suggestion that that lifetime ban is still in the wings should our reformed character slip up.)

I was, however, deeply unimpressed with their explanation of what they thought their mistake was in the original rule-writing. It sounded as if they'd written the rule on the assumption that harassment would be either a) a misunderstanding involving a clueless awkward admirer, or b) an act perpetrated by a caricature of evil. Suddenly, when confronted with an actual non-caricature human who had done something actually wrong, they decided that he could not be made to suffer the consequences of his decisions because he is sorry.

#27 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:38 PM:

Alexandr @ 18: The idea that a man standing up for women's rights can have greater effect than a woman doing the same still baffles me a bit, but it seems to be true.

It may make more sense if you think of this phenomenon as a natural phenomenon of the sexism -- conscious or unconscious -- that the problem people are already displaying.

Someone who thinks denigrating women is funny, is very likely also to think that women aren't worth listening to. The sexism that makes someone find a sexist joke funny is the same sexism that makes it easy for them to dismiss women.

The pattern repeats for every bigotry (racists dismiss the voices of people of color, homophobes dismiss the voices of QUILTBAG individuals, etc) which makes allies of privilege absolutely essential to fight against social oppression.

Somewhat related:

I had to leave a job because the male CEO had very deliberately surrounded himself with female subordinates who wouldn't call him out. It's easy to do if you make the environment very hostile for anyone who's willing to speak up.

The first danger sign was when a new hire left in her 2nd week, citing harassment, and the CEO's response was to call us all into a meeting whose practical purpose appeared to be to reassure him that we didn't think him capable of harassment. And everyone else in the room did in fact so reassure him. One of the staff actually speculated in that meeting as to whether the accuser might possibly be undergoing or need to undergo therapy.

Check: "All these women think I'm not sexist, so what I did can't be sexist!"

Check: "The woman who accused me of sexism -- she's probably just crazy."

That was the point when I should have given my notice. But being a creature of habit and feeling like some of their important functions would collapse without me around, I didn't actually give notice until the day when I was the target of the "we're all fine; YOU'RE just crazy" treatment. And then I still gave them 30 days instead of 2 weeks because I felt responsible for making sure someone else could run those database functions.

Insert thesis about women being socialized to take responsibility for everything to the point of self-sacrifice, perhaps.

Of course, by getting out of there, I was silencing the only voice in the office willing to call the CEO out. But you've gotta choose your battles, and thankfully I wasn't so dependent on that job that I couldn't choose to save my mental well-being by getting the hell out.

#28 ::: Sara E ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:39 PM:

This makes me shake with rage. The whole damn board should be fired, voted out...whatever it takes.

If they didn't like the policy, then should they change it at an official meeting dealing with the revision of rules and policies, NOT when dealing with the harassment complaint itself.

They SHOULD be ashamed. I fear they are not.

#29 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:50 PM:

Re: voices of privilege. One of the times I've been very, very proud of my husband was when, years ago, while working as a purchasing agent of a multi-million-dollar private corporation, one of his vendors made a casually racist comment to him, apparently under the assumption that "we're all white guys here, so it's cool." My husband threw the salesman out of his office, called the salesman's corporate office and told them in no uncertain terms that he (my husband) would not ever buy any product from that individual again AND WHY (this was a vendor that was Very Important to the business my husband worked for; my husband bought millions of dollars of their product each year), and then walked into his own boss's office, told his boss what he had done and why, and that if the boss wanted his resignation for his action he was willing to give it. (The business was privately owned and my husband's boss was one of the owners.) To my husband's boss's credit, he (also a white guy) backed my husband up. The vendor sent another salesman who never breathed a word about race....

#30 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 03:51 PM:

Alexandr @4: I work in the software industry, which has a serious problem with chronic sexism. As such, it is very important that people telling discriminatory jokes be called out immediately when they make them, preferably by someone in authority in that venue. If the calling out does not happen, then the implication is that their offensive jokes are acceptable and tacitly approved. It is more important for you to send a message to the other people in the venue about what is and is not acceptable behavior than to reform the jokester, a task which may be impossible.

That being said, you also need to assume ignorance rather than malice. Most people making offensive jokes are not intending to be offensive; they are genuinely not thinking that they might hurt someone. So an approprate message of censure would be like this:

"That joke is highly inappropriate for this forum. We're trying to create a welcoming community for [women/blacks/muslims/christians/teenagers/whatever] here, and your joke offensively demeans them. Please don't make jokes like that here again."

I've typed statements like that at least a dozen times over the last few years on email and IRC. 3/4 of the time, the jokester says "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't think," and alters their behavior. Everybody wins. The other 1/4 indignantly defend their offensive behavior and have to be banned (and not just for 2 years, either).

It is important to have the ability to ban jerks, which is why anti-harassment policies are useful.

(and yes, believe it or don't, I once had to ban someone for chronic unwarranted attacks on Christians. Goes to show that jerks can be jerks aboout *anything*)

#31 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 04:07 PM:

Alexandr @18: The idea that a man standing up for women's rights can have greater effect than a woman doing the same still baffles me a bit, but it seems to be true.

I think this happens because the men who make sexist cracks do so from a position of privilege which renders them unaware that what they're doing is privileged. (That's one of the toxic effects of privilege: it's invisible to its beneficiaries.) The sight of other men, who are also privileged in this context, denouncing the sexist framework is about the one thing that's likely to make the unconsciously-privileged experience the cognitive dissonance they need in order to start questioning their assumptions.

Another toxic effect of privilege is to systematically devalue the opinions, effort and speech of the un-privileged. So it's harder for them to make their voices heard by the privileged.

(This works for race, religion, class, caste, wealth, age, gender, and most other situations where there's an imbalance of social status between groups.)

((And this is just my personal analysis; it may be flawed, in which case I'm open to nuanced input.))

#32 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 04:12 PM:


1. I wasn't at Readercon this year. So I have no more standing to speak than anyone else in the peanut gallery.

2. FWIW, I agree with TomB @19. Zero tolerance/lifetime ban policies are draconian, but if you've got such a rule you should enforce it consistently. Making new policy on the fly is a really bad idea. Breaking your own rules is even worse. Also: the reek of unignited privilege pooling under the leaky fuel tank is making me nervous.

#33 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 04:42 PM:

Alexandr @ 18: The idea that a man standing up for women's rights can have greater effect than a woman doing the same still baffles me a bit, but it seems to be true.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little makes the very good point that the person being addressed probably doesn't think women are worth listening to.

I think there's also "us versus them". Humans are pretty hard-wired as pack animals, and the man saying something that a woman objects to expects support from other men. When he doesn't get it, that's powerful. Same principle applies when the white person tells a white person that their comment is racist. Having someone from the same group object also helps slap down that whole "Oh, you are just too sensitive/humorless".

I love this video Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street.

#34 ::: Merricat ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 04:45 PM:

LMM @ 5:

"(*) And people with ASDs. I am absolutely *sick* of people using social cluelessness to excuse people who make others uncomfortable. I'm socially clueless too. As a woman, that doesn't mean I come across as creepy. What that means is I can't read early warning signs."

Even males with ASD, I find, make me "uncomfortable" in a different way than straight-up creepers. People with ASD will stay on a topic of conversation longer than the other participants are interested, or fail to "toss the ball" in small talk. They might make/not make eye contact in weird ways. They might ask me personal questions in an unusually forward or abrupt way.

But they very rarely: invade people's personal space, touch other people in uncomfortable ways, or willfully ignore back-off signals. I can mostly tell the difference between someone not seeing a signal, and someone seeing but choosing to ignore it because whatever THEY want is more important.

#35 ::: Merricat ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 04:45 PM:

LMM @ 5:

"(*) And people with ASDs. I am absolutely *sick* of people using social cluelessness to excuse people who make others uncomfortable. I'm socially clueless too. As a woman, that doesn't mean I come across as creepy. What that means is I can't read early warning signs."

Even males with ASD, I find, make me "uncomfortable" in a different way than straight-up creepers. People with ASD will stay on a topic of conversation longer than the other participants are interested, or fail to "toss the ball" in small talk. They might make/not make eye contact in weird ways. They might ask me personal questions in an unusually forward or abrupt way.

But they very rarely: invade people's personal space, touch other people in uncomfortable ways, or willfully ignore back-off signals. I can mostly tell the difference between someone not seeing a signal, and someone seeing but choosing to ignore it because whatever THEY want is more important.

#36 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 05:17 PM:

For what it's worth, I believe the reason for the lack-of-permaban for the harasser is the fact that he's a person that lots of people like.

I'm not naming names HERE, because I don't know what kind of community policies y'all want to maintain here, but on my LJ, I've been using real names -- and, indeed, pictures, for people who know the harasser by sight but haven't put together the name.

And the thing is -- he's a guy that lots of people, including me, like. So when someone you like, who you know to have redeeming features, does something wrong, you naturally want to give that person a chance to make amends and redeem the breach.

The thing is . . . that's not what anti-sexual-harassment policies are for. They're not for making harassers sit in the corner and think about what they've done so that they can become better people. If that happens as a side effect, yay! That's wonderful! (And, heck, like I said, I like the guy and feel that he has redeeming features, and wouldn't be surprised if he DOES sit in the corner and become a better person.)

But that's not what they're for. Anti-sexual-harassment policies are to MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE AREN'T SEXUALLY HARASSED. And, just as important, to make sure that people feel SAFE that they won't be sexually harassed. To show that they can actually TRUST the community to stand behind them and to recognize that This Is Bad.

The Readercon Board managed to undermine the actual purpose of having the policy in the first place, in pursuit of a goal which is fairly noble -- the reformation of a wrongdoer -- but is not the goal that they're SUPPOSED to be pursuing.

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 05:33 PM:

Jacque @25:
I notice I find it hard to think about an Issue without immediately going to Opposing Forces.

Let me quote you a quote from one of my favorite books.

How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession... Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.
—Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, The Left Hand of Darkness

I think that if we love a thing, we should talk about the joys of having that thing, rather than the evils of its absence. Likewise, I don't think we need to spend time and energy on Those Bad People Who Aren't Us (and who are often mythical or misinterpreted for the purposes of the narrative). I'd rather we use that bandwidth to talk more about what defines Us, or about the good thing we're advocating, instead.

It doesn't have to be a pendulum. Things don't have to be balanced, any more than both sides of the political narrative have to be true.

...could you expand on this distinction? At first blush, they seem like mutually-contradictory directives.

1. Speak carefully: say only what you mean to say. Say it as clearly as possible, with as few references, elisions and dogwhistles as possible.

2. Preserve nuance: assume that your interlocuters have spoken carefully, too. Try not to elide or oversimplify their positions in your responses. And strawmen are Right Out.

3. Discourage demands to be spoonfed: It is everyone's responsibility, in these difficult conversations, to pull intellectual weight for themselves. But how often do we get people who want the difficult concepts to be handed to them in bite-sized chunks, each of which which they can either accept or reject? It's an attempt to transfer the responsibility for doing the work of understanding away from every participant in the conversation to everyone but the person demanding to be spoonfed. I can't count how often I've seen one person suck all of the energy out of the conversation that way.

This is not to say that there isn't a place for people who don't understand some of the terms of art and foundational concepts we've hammered out to work through these problems. Nor is it to say that we will all agree about either the concepts or the terminology in the conversation. We aren't all operating from a shared understanding or a common mental model. There's always work to do when sub-communities overlap, finding where our maps agree and differ. Figuring out how to talk to each other.

But a mutual struggle for understanding, or someone genuinely looking for resources to broaden their own understanding, is one thing. The impulse to make a conversation all about one's self, rather than the quest for common ground, is quite another.

Discouraging demands for spoonfeeding is a way of refusing to feed that hunger for attention.

I'm curious about this: How much derives from your own personal interests and tropisms? How much of this derives from your experience of being a parent? [...] how intrinsic is this skill-set to having the moderation knock?

Well, crossing subthreads, I'm a borderline-Aspie, of the subtype Explainer. Like a lot of Aspies, I bridge gaps in my instincts with intellectual effort. In my case, I do a lot of pattern-matching and rule-derivation from large datasets.

About ten? twelve? years ago, I realized I was tired of not having any clue why people did what they did, and started gathering inputs. I read a lot of online conflicts, and put a lot of time and effort into figuring out what had happened in them. Over time, I've come up with a bunch of observations, rules of thumb, and hypotheses.

Some of them are just blinding glimpses of the obvious. Some of them are wrong. But sometimes I guess I get things right enough, or can explain them enough (having derived them from first principles) that they're of use to others. My kids have found some of my lessons useful. You've paid me the compliment of saying that things I've have said have helped you. I have a decent record of not screwing up too much in moderating this community.

I also talk too much, sometimes.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 05:42 PM:

It strikes me that the Readercon Board has decided to changes horses in midstream. You're not supposed to do that. It is a worthy thing to say that wrongdoers are capable of redemption, but if the policy is that offences are to be punished, and the punishment is X. Declaring that the rule is to be arbitrarlity changed is a major ethical violation.

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 05:44 PM:

Alexandr Kazda #4: You did the right thing. Sometimes you have to be direct, and you didn't attack him, you pointed out the sexist nature of the joke. That's exactly right.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 06:01 PM:

Ian Osmond @36 has his finger on something I've been trying to figure out how to tackle. He's talking about the Readercon matter in particular, but it's a more widely applicable challenge:

What do we do when the people who damage our community are members of the community? Do we banish them as "other"? Do we embrace them in a way that excludes their accusers or victims? There's a long history of doing both.

How do we hold mutually incompatible people in the same community? And what do we do with people who are at once good guys and bad guys?

There are no clean answers, because we're not a clean species. We don't form clean communities. At best, we achieve a kind of dynamic balance, made up of exceptions, best-guess fits, and charity.

(It's midnight, and I've been watching a rerun of the Olympic opening ceremony. I may be painting with too broad a brush at this point.)

#41 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 06:41 PM:

abi #37: The thing is, autistic-spectrum disorders do give various handicaps.

But humans tend not to let handicaps just "handicap them"... they compensate¹. Now the thing is, these compensations can do better or worse. Sometimes, folks get good enough to get by, perhaps with some side effects. Sometimes, the person grow to match "normal" folks, even in their own weak spots. And then sometimes... sometimes, people grow "strong at the broken places".

¹ Psychological term of art, but close to the "intuitive" meaning. The formal meaning is very broad, everything from crutches and habits down to neurological remodeling over the course of one's life.

#42 ::: David Harmon has been gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 06:42 PM:

Bread's in the oven....

#43 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 07:11 PM:

Ian @ 36

Oh, the whole "No, I mean, we know so-and-so, he's okay, he's not really the kind of creepy stranger we made the policy to get rid of" thing. Man, I lived through that one, and the community I was in took the stance that anyone they were friends with couldn't be a bad person, so the usual rules shouldn't apply. Bad business, all around.

Tracy @ 12

At the risk of being hlepy, in my experience, if I can be simultaneously firm, undefensive, unapologetic (and maybe a teensy bit contemptuous), most jerks will back down pretty quickly, regardless of my gender. The people who matter will be on my side no matter how I call a spade a spade, and if nobody is on my side, I start to ask whether the group as a whole is worth my time. (I have some vague ideas about how the - I think, common - female socialization patterns I grew up with disadvantage women in these situations, but they're not settling out in any useful way right now.)

But I really appreciate it when people speak up in defense of other people too, and I'm sorry your experiences doing so have been unpleasant for you. I like to imagine I'd have happily sided with you, had such a situation occurred in my presence.

#44 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 08:59 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @27 is of course perfectly correct (and if I'd got as far as her comment before posting I wouldn't have bothered).

#45 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 09:47 PM:

abi @ 40

I've been thinking about this matter myself in other contexts, and I suspect a lot of the problems which are now getting attention in geek and fandom culture have their origins in the various Geek Social Fallacies, in particular fallacies one and two combined.

What I'm not sure of is what can be done to deal with the problem. On the one hand, I like to believe that no one person is irredeemable - behaviours can be changed, behavioural choices can be influenced. On the other hand, in the cases of people who are involved in seriously socially toxic behaviours (such as stalking; harassment; sexual harassment; openly expressed misogyny, racism, or homophobia etc) their actions affect and influence more people than just themselves, or even their immediate victims. So the question is of who's valued more by the organisers - the single friend, or the numerous people this friend is busy influencing in a negative manner.

I suppose one option might be to set up a "buddy system" - if the friends of the person with the toxic behaviours think that this person is capable of being salvaged, then fine, we'll give them a second chance. But the second chance comes with conditions - the friends of this person have to monitor them in all public spaces, and correct their errant behaviours. If there are any reports of problems under such conditions, that's their second chance blown - out you go. If they slip away from their friends and cause problems, that's their second chance blown. If they go through one event without problems as a result of this supervision, then fine - but they've had their second chance, and any further reported incidents mean they're out on their ear.

The honour guard has to be organised ahead of time; they have to be briefed by the organisers on the kinds of behaviours this person has been reported for previously; and they have to speak with any of the previous reporters to get their side of the story too.

Yes, it's a lot of effort to go to. I suppose it's up to the friends of the individual in question as to whether the effort is worth it.

#46 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:04 PM:

Declaring that the rule is to be arbitrarily changed is a major ethical violation.

Fragano at 38, this sentence makes the anarchist in me extremely twitchy. I don't wish to defend the Readercon board here. I think they made a mistake in not applying their rule, and I suspect (though I don't know this, because I know none of these people) that they were conned into the error by a charming serial harasser.

But taking a step back from this particular example: sometimes rules and policies are badly thought out, and it only becomes apparent that this is so when they are applied, or are about to be applied. The folks who scream about stupid government regulations are sometimes dead right, and non-governmental entities can get equally trapped. We are all subject to the law of unintended consequences.

Again, less I be misunderstood, I want to stress, the above is a meta-comment. I think the Readercon board made a mistake in not applying its rule. The harasser should have been expelled and banned. I think it's important to see what's at stake here. If the rule is applied: the convention environment is safe; the person who was harassed is respected and listened to. The harasser, if he's truly repentant, will show it by accepting the ban, shutting his mouth, and quietly attending other conventions, at which he behaves appropriately. Were that to happen, there's a good chance the furor would fade. (If he repeats his behavior, one would hope and expect the proverbial ton of bricks to fall on his head.) But if the rule is not applied: well, it's clear that by not applying their rule, the Readercon board loses the trust and respect of con attendees. For the women who were harassed: they are treated with disrespect by the harasser and again by the board, and are forced into an adversarial position with people who they thought were allies and friends. Indeed, an entire community of convention goers no longer knows who to trust.

Bad show, guys.

#47 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:11 PM:

me at 46...

whom to trust?

Grammatical correction requested. Brain tired. (It's a wonder that I managed to spelled "harasser" correctly.)

Thank you.

#48 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 10:48 PM:

Megpie @45:

That's asking an awful lot of the person's friends, just in terms of total person-hours. It also assumes that the offender has enough friends who can actually be counted on to be helpful to the community on this, rather than not getting why the problem is a problem and making excuses. The failure mode here isn't the monitored person needing to leave or spend half the con in his hotel room alone. It includes "testimony" that "No, he didn't do anything wrong, I know because I'd have noticed it" from someone whose definition of "anything wrong" isn't useful. It includes the alleged-buddy who doesn't believe that their friend really needs a hall monitor, so will say "I was with so-and-so from dinnertime until the con suite closed" and not mention that "with" means somewhere in the same room as (which would be useless at a large, crowded, or dimly lit party).

And it includes the risk that if the harasser re-offends, the complaint will be dismissed because it's the victim's word against the harasser and his monitor. Or against two harassers.

This isn't like being a designated driver for someone who understands that drunk driving is a bad idea. It sounds more like hiring someone's best friend to be his probation officer.

#49 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:24 PM:

@45: That suggestion ... triggers me in SO many ways. Cliff Pervocracy wrote a post very recently about similar policies in the kink community (no link, on my iPhone, long story). Basically, that sort of approach turns official policy into a mystery religion. It harms newcomers. It makes victims suffer.

It's also ridiculous. You know that joke list which recommended rapists use a buddy system to prevent themselves from raping someone? That's that policy. Except worse, because it amounts to several people who like the harasser and probably don't believe he did it following him around - a great way to feign ignorance of the next event.

You know a better approach? Get rid of the guy. Write him off, no matter how big a name he is. There are other cons. There are other communities. There are other people.

Zero tolerance policies, IMHO, are designed to be applied to elites and well-known group members. It doesn't take a zero-tolerance policy to throw a nobody out. Nobody knows him. Nobody is sympathetic. It's when the person is known that people start feeling angsty - and that's when you point to the regulation, shrug your shoulders, and blame the rules. Not me, sorry. We're just enforcing rules. Sorry that they were applied to you.

As it stands, this makes it politically impossible for any con to substantiate a harassment charge against this guy - because now it will be their fault he's punished. You don't want to do this, do you?

Yes, he's a community member. Now. Five years from now, he doesn't have to be. He's not irreplacible. And it was Readercon's job to make that happen.

They failed. It would have been an easy decision. Now it won't be.

#50 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 11:25 PM:

Lizzy L @46, part of what's going on with the Readercon thing, from what I've been reading, is that the zero-tolerance policy was primarily a way of enabling the con to rid themselves, a few years ago, of a particularly troubling mentally ill person who'd long been making difficulties for the local cons, and who (I think) had sued another con which had ejected him.

#51 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 12:13 AM:

abi @37: Wow. Very interesting and chewy response. Thank you.

I think that if we love a thing, we should talk about the joys of having that thing, rather than the evils of its absence. Likewise, I don't think we need to spend time and energy on Those Bad People Who Aren't Us

Focusing on the joys of having a thing can be hard when one becomes afraid of people who one perceives as trying to take that thing away.* (Which is really, IMO, what "hate" boils down to at its core. It's fear that has gone rancid and is rotting unseen in the deep pit of one's mind.)

How do you think about situations like that?

It doesn't have to be a pendulum.

This is a tendancy of mine I've been becoming more conscious of lately. I think it's a common tendency, and I think "pendulumness" derives from a tendancy to go after issues from a panicky, "OMG I've got to hit it or it'll eat me!!!" reflex. Sorta like when all you have is a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail. It can be hard to slow down, take a deep breath, and realize that maybe hammers and nails aren't really relevant when you're, say, balancing your checkbook.

Discouraging demands for spoonfeeding

Okay, I think I'm a little clearer. Like when a coworker wants you to just fix their computer for them (again), and can't be bothered to learn the basics about the tools they use in their jobs.

Basically, "spoonfed" refers to refusing to do their thinking and their research for them. Yes?

I read a lot of online conflicts, and put a lot of time and effort into figuring out what had happened in them.

It shows, believe me. It's easy to forget that Deep Insight is the end-product of a lot of hard work, and mistake it for some sort of innate characteristic.

The other thing I've been observing you articulating more explicitly lately is your own explicit valuing of "joy, wisdom, and knowledge." Dealing With Life is nearly always, IME, much simpler when one has a clear idea of what one is trying to achieve. How did you arrive at this set of objectives? Is it recent? Or is it just recently that you've been saying it out loud here? (Or have you been saying all along and I'm only now starting to wake up enough to notice?)

I also talk too much, sometimes.

When!? I keep groping for your chatty-string. It's well-hidden, I assure you. :)

& @40: It's midnight, and I've been watching a rerun of the Olympic opening ceremony. I may be painting with too broad a brush at this point.

No, I don't think so, because this is a question that permeates the whole of society. (And one of the reasons I think society would be better served by "law enforcement" that acted on a medical model rather than a military one.) And it's a fractal problem, scaling from having a healthy balance of microbes in your gut all the way up to nations living peaceably with each other.

* I can't possibly be the only one who finds it deeply ironic that Joe Peacock is complaining that geek cachet has now become such that one can plausibly allege that "pretty girls" are trying to get geek attention. I mean, really?

KayTei @43: I have some vague ideas about how the - I think, common - female socialization patterns I grew up with disadvantage women in these situations, but they're not settling out in any useful way right now.

I'll be really interested to hear what you have to say once your thoughts have gelled sufficiently that you want to share them.

#52 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 05:58 AM:

Jacque @51:
I don't want to derail this conversation too much—when my houseguests leave, I may port some of your questions into the open thread to answer them. But to touch on a couple of things that I think fit into this discussion:

Focusing on the joys of having a thing can be hard when one becomes afraid of people who one perceives as trying to take that thing away.* (Which is really, IMO, what "hate" boils down to at its core. It's fear that has gone rancid and is rotting unseen in the deep pit of one's mind.)

Sometimes, perhaps. But sometimes it's not "hate", or hate in that context, anyway. It can also be hierarchical rather than defensive—and that's when I have a problem.†

There's a very human temptation to value things by competition rather than by intrinsic worth*. "My thing is good because not-my-thing is bad" rather than "My thing is good because my thing is freaking awesome." It doesn't matter whether not-my-thing wants to take away my-thing, wishes it were my-thing, or is completely uninterested in my-thing; the danger and the damage is in the impulse to find a bad guy to prove your guy is good.

There are a bunch of reasons that this isn't optimal behavior. It's not the best thing to find one's self the target of. It starts unnecessary feuds. It causes people to denigrate the not-my-stuff instead of seeing the value in it and (perhaps) learning from it. It's adds competition to places where cooperation is a better model, and gets everyone talking about what is bad rather than what is good.

See also, negative campaign ads.

Basically, "spoonfed" refers to refusing to do their thinking and their research for them. Yes?

Yes. Surely you've seen this dynamic, particularly in discussions of privilege or rape culture. Someone who doesn't believe in the underlying principles makes everyone else explain the matter to him—and it's usually a him—in little bitty bite-sized chunks. Then, after sucking everyone's energy, he decides that he still doesn't believe it. All collapse, exhausted and no further forward.

† I have a related problem with the current trend of sneering at hipsters, but these margins are not the place for that.
* I'll wave at pervasive market ideology as I pass it by, but I'm not stopping there to bide.

#53 ::: branford ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 08:35 AM:

This is why America is full of zero-tolerance policies. Because it is full of zero-tolerance citizens.

From the "victim"s description, this guy was an obnoxious loser. But he didn't touch her private areas, or threaten her. Yet most of the people here want him banned for life. Here's a surprise for you: NERDS LACK SOCIAL SKILLS. He needs a smack, and a chance to get a clue. If that fails, THEN ban him.

To the people who think EVERY come-on is a crime against humanity: I'm sorry you were raped/molested, but you need to deal with it, not take it out on every man in the world.

#54 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 08:41 AM:

abi @37: "1. Speak carefully: say only what you mean to say. Say it as clearly as possible, with as few references, elisions and dogwhistles as possible."

Sorry; term of art there I'm not familiar with. In this context, what is a "dogwhistle"?

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 08:54 AM:

branford @53:
Wow. Coming onto a thread about how to have a productive discussion with such a relentlessly unproductive line of discussion? Really?

I might have bothered to answer you despite your use of scare quotes on the word victim. But this line here excuses me from any such effort:

To the people who think EVERY come-on is a crime against humanity: I'm sorry you were raped/molested, but you need to deal with it, not take it out on every man in the world.

The first and third clauses are trolling hyperbole, unsupported by any evidence. The level of failure to listen to, or engage meaningfully with, other human beings that they reveal bleaches the middle clause of any genuine sympathy.

Come back when you're capable of engaging with the other people in this conversation as nuanced human beings rather than strawmen. Or don't. I'm not convinced, based on this evidence, that you're capable of adding any meaningful content to this or any other sincere conversation on this subject.

Everyone else in the conversation: ignore the derailing infrapont*.

* The Derailing Infrapont is the name of my next Gorey book.

#56 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 09:07 AM:

I hereby declare Branford the winner in the mopping-up-gasoline-spills-by-throwing-in-a-lit-match stakes, on the basis of comment #53.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 09:21 AM:

Cassy B @54:
In this context, what is a "dogwhistle"?

In this context, a word that sounds innocent to those of your audience who are not "in the know", but is a loaded term (usually a sign of group membership) to a subset of them.

It's not about using the super-seekrit password to the Happy Fun My Little Pony Lovers' Club in public, either. It's a term for using, for instance, racist vocabulary that most of your audience will miss but which tells the white supremacists that you're one of the club. It can also refer to seemingly innocent comments that are designed to infuriate or insult their targets.

It's one of the mechanisms of saying really awful things while maintaining plausible deniability.

#58 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 09:54 AM:

#42: David Harmon has been gnomes

Gnomes, plural? Is this anything like how David Sedaris has been elves?

#59 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:17 AM:

Branford, we're still talking about Rene Walling here? The Chairman of the Hugo Marketing Committee? If it's true that he's socially inept, I wonder what he's doing chairing a marketing committee.

Of course, if he's a socially manipulative stalker instead, I'm still wondering why he's still chairing a marketing committee.

#60 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:18 AM:

" need to deal with it..."

How many people have ever seen 1950's "Outrage", which was directed by Ida Lupino? It dealt with what happened to a young woman raped by a man who is never brought to justice, and the aftermath, and how she 'deals' with it, a process that involves the much needed support of others.

#61 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:19 AM:

Folks, please don't reward trolling. In this case that means ignoring branford's squeaks, snorts and grunts.

#62 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:23 AM:

Good point, Abi. Go ahead and delete my comment. Really.

#63 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:27 AM:

No, Serge, I'm not going to delete comments. But it stops here.

#64 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:33 AM:

Abi at 2 "Banning him from this one for life would not seriously impede his con-going career"

well, actually, now that this story outnumbers everything else in a Google search of his name, maybe it does.

#65 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:46 AM:

"Abi at 2 'Banning him from this one for life would not seriously impede his con-going career'

well, actually, now that this story outnumbers everything else in a Google search of his name, maybe it does."

You're probably right, at this point. The thing is, if he'd quietly accepted the penalty and not made a fuss about it to try to get the board to let him off, he'd probably have been able to go other places without much trouble, since this wouldn't have gotten nearly as much publicity as it has. But by trying to avoid facing up to the consequences to his actions, he made it much worse for himself. (The same principle applies to the ReaderCon board at this point.)

While this can be awfully uncomfortable for the people involved (as I'm well aware, seeing the same sort of thing happening with my church and my state's flagship public university), I consider it a good thing overall. Far too much abuse gets a pass due to the actions of people who think it'll be easier to sweep things under the rug than to confront and deal with them properly. Maybe less of that will happen once it gets pounded into enough people's heads how much worse it can get when you try that dodge.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:46 AM:

Erik Nelson @64:
well, actually, now that this story outnumbers everything else in a Google search of his name, maybe it does.

Banning him for life from Readercon would have had less impact.

And you know what else would have had less impact? Not harassing other congoers.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that anyone deserves to have the internet fall on their head. It's a random and hideous event, and it triggers a level of fight-or-flight reaction that shuts down listening and learning. It's not an effective punishment. At best, it's waste heat, the product of friction in the mechanisms of the internet community. At worst? It's hell.

#67 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:47 AM:

I find the idea of using a temporary ban as a time-out so that a socially maladept harasser can "redeem" himself an interesting concept, but I'm wondering why we as a society continue to worry about being fair to the perp rather than empathizing with the victim. To bring it back to dogs, It doesn't matter to me if I get knocked over by a dog who is happy to see me, or body blocking me as part of an attack. I'd like to assume the first people on the scene would help me up and not worry too much about whether Fido hurt his knees bowling me over.

#68 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 10:52 AM:

nerdycellist @ 66... I'd like to assume the first people on the scene would help me up

Darn right we would.

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 11:33 AM:

Then, after sucking everyone's energy, he decides that he still doesn't believe it. All collapse, exhausted and no further forward.

And then he complains about how he's misunderstood and mistreated by everyone, especially by the mod at that site. Because It's All About Him.

#70 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 11:37 AM:

abi @52: Thank you for the bit about competitive value; that's going on my bulletin board so I can think about it further.

#71 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 12:33 PM:

Abi @57: It's one of the mechanisms of saying really awful things while maintaining plausible deniability.

Ewwww. I've run into the phenomenon but never knew a term for it. Thanks. It really helps me to conceptualize a concept (is that redundant?) when I have a word for it. Dogwhistle. I'll not forget that, now.

#72 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 02:19 PM:

I had a particularly objectionable bit of dogwhistling pop up on my Facebook stream yesterday: a supposedly-funny meme-pic quoting the "how can you talk without a brain?" dialog from The Wizard of Oz and then pictures of a number of well-known rappers.

I limited myself to pointing out that the list was remarkably monochromatic, since this was a friend of a friend who I don't know well at all, and I was not in the mood to get into a big argument. Not sure if I shouldn't have been more explicit; the use of a five-syllable word may have made it too complicated for the original poster - but I wanted to say something to point out that this wasn't at all right without going directly into "take this racist crap and shove it". I'd be interested to hear how others here would have approached it.

#73 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 02:33 PM:

Abi #52: Someone who doesn't believe in the underlying principles makes everyone else explain the matter to him—and it's usually a him—in little bitty bite-sized chunks.

I read this as Schopenhouer 18, with perhaps a cover of #31. Getting the explanation isn't the point....

#74 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 03:10 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 44 - I'm glad you bothered. Your post added some nuances that I think mine left out.

I think that the Venn diagram of similar posts in response to the same post covers more area than a single post, and the sum adds a thing the parts cannot: the confirming effect of other people voicing a similar sentiment. The "It's not just me" factor can be very reassuring.

#75 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 03:10 PM:

Sadly, I had not the foresight to bring a fresh batch of pralines.

#76 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Cassie (#54) -- Dogwhistles are coded references to people whom the speaker would prefer to insult directly. So-called because they are designed to be heard only by people who agree with the speaker. For instance, referring to eating fried chicken and watermelon when the speaker would rather use an insulting term for people whose ancestors came here from the African continent.

I don't know anyone* who doesn't like fried chicken and watermelon, and probably the speaker's listeners have these comestibles at all of their own summer potlucks, but still, they know what it "means".

*Well, okay, yes, I do know some vegetarians.

#77 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 04:52 PM:

Older @74: one point worth noting is that one culture's dog whistles may be another culture's non sequiteur. For example, the "fried chicken and melon" thing is meaningless to a native of the UK unless they're familiar with American cultural history. While the colour orange has no political significance to an American but can be associated with the worst kind of ethnic bigotry in Scotland or Ireland.

#78 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 05:13 PM:

Erik Nelson @ 64:

"well, actually, now that this story outnumbers everything else in a Google search of his name, maybe it does."

Whether you meant this as concern for Walling reputation or not, thank you for inadvertently helping me see the connection I have been trying to articulate to myself between this and the whole debacle where Austin Zehnder and Will Frey's rape victim was ordered by a judge to not talk about, among other things, their conviction for raping her.

I would like to point out that while a google search of Will Frey, Austin Zehnder, and Rene Walling (at the moment) does indeed make their actions visible to the entire world, Savannah Dietrich and Genevieve Valentine are not immune from this affect as well. Although Valentine's part in this is the least visible, looking at the google links, it's still there, and Dietrich in particular is most well known for what these boys did to her - and the actions she took in response. So, this isn't a special thing that is happening only to Frey, Zehnder, and Walling - it's something that is happening to everyone involved in the story, because that is what talking about these things means.

The part that bothered me most about the gag order for Dietrich wasn't even that the judge was exercising a power that is is not clear she has, it was the extent to which the judge relied the shame heaped upon rape victims by culture to maintain a silence that was actually quite honestly impossible for Dietrich to do. The pictures of her rape being publicly accessible on the internet, and her name being attached to them, means that other people would continue to bring up this very topic with her throughout her life. By issuing the gag order, the judge was not only taking away her ability to construct her own narrative, she was hampering her ability to deal with the social fallout of being a publicly known rape victim in order to ease her rapists ability to deal with the social fallout of being rapists.

This is one of the reason why concerns about the harasser and rapists reputations bothers me so much (aside from the obvious): because they ignore the realities of what everyone else needs to do.

What is going on is not: someone did something wrong and the other person didn't, and therefore now the second persons needs are forver prioritized. It's that Dietrich needs to have tools at her disposal to deal with the possibility of being judged for what was done to her - and for possibly being the target of further assault. And her need for that cannot be valued as less - or even merely as - important as Frey and Zehnder's ability to move on with their own lives. Likewise, the ability of the larger Readercon and SF community to deal with this crap, Valentine's ability to feel safe and supported when she participates in this community, possible future victim's ability to recognize potential danger and seek help for any wrong-doing that occurs - all of this must be prioritized over whether this will hurt Walling or not.

Most of all though - this concern that reputations be protected encourages silence and secrecy in public, while encouraging rumors elsewhere. Dietrich was not being asked to not talk about her rapists, she was just being told she couldn't do so in any public venue that mattered, without any acknowledgement of how both social media and her rapists own actions had completely obliterated the traditional barriers between public and private. Much of the idea that serial harassment in particular should lead to complete and irrevocable social shunning is actually a result of the fact that, for ages, victims have not been able to rely on organizations like Readercon to enforce their policies fairly. The rumors of who is known to do what are tools used to deal with a culture that prioritizes harassers reputations over victims safety. Making harassers names and actions public - yes, to the point of being google searchable - actually helps making everything more transparent and citable and ensure that the rumors do not stray widely from the publicly accepted facts.

#79 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 05:21 PM:

Lizzy L #46: I agree that, quite often, rules are wrong or wrongly applied. But they need to be changed by due process not by an arbitrary decision. The Readercon Board acted in a manner that certainly seems arbitrary. That's a huge problem.

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 05:32 PM:

Mod note: although the incident that jennygadget @78 provides useful parallax, I would rather not get into a discussion of the details, implications, and rights and wrongs of that case.

Quite frankly, I think that a move away from discussing how we in fandom deal with harassment and its more serious sequelae to how the wider society deals with them is likely to generate more heat than light, and less actionable intelligence than painful fury.

#81 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 05:54 PM:

I liked Daniel Nye Griffiths' comments on the Peacock column:

In partcicular, this:

The underlying premise here is that male geeks are so unattractive, indeed so collectively repulsive, that there is a 50% gap between what they will find attractive and the attractiveness standards of any given other human being.
A normal-looking woman will, simply by standing near geeks – people Peacock seems to believe to be only 66% as attractive as regular people – become a supervixen. From “OK, maybe” to “oh, X-baby!” in a single bound.
And, conversely, if a woman in a Batman shirt ever speaks to you at a convention without having first established her credentials, the correct response is immediate suspicion. After all, they couldn’t be attracted to you, or just want a conversation. Chances are, they are after your attention.
If this is making your skin crawl, that’s sort of the point. It’s a pretty awful way to feel about one’s own culture, before we even get into how it is likely to corrode one’s feelings towards women.
There is a certain amount of bad self esteem operating here: all geeks are unattractive, thus any attractive person has an ulterior motive. There's also the stereotype that geeks are rich computer programmers, so there's a gold-digging theory there too.

#82 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 05:59 PM:

@79: Oh, it's not *arbitrary*. I think a lot of us would be far less infuriated if it were. It's about hierarchy (which RC, I might point out, already suffers from), and the fact that, if you're Important, you can get away with anything.

Omelas and all that.

#83 ::: Liz Bourke ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 06:05 PM:

abi @80:

I've been following all these conversations with interest, and I don't want to overstep my bounds here... but also I don't think it can be easy to separate how fandom deals with issues of harassment from how wider society deals with it. We are a part of our societies, after all.

But I think perhaps I am misreading. Could I ask you to clarify the limits of fandom vs. wider society? (Or is this one of those cases where I should take my puzzlement away for a few days to avoid derailing the conversation?)

Speaking for myself, personally, my participation in fandom has been for the most part limited to online interactions, in part for reasons of distance and money, and in part for concerns not dissimilar to those arising from the Readercon incident. The four cons I attended, I felt neither safe nor welcome at. I was just at the point of getting up the courage and the funds to try another one, because of everything good I'd heard about it - Readercon, as it happened.

Leaving aside the Dietrich situation and my request for clarification, though, I do have to agree with jennygadget's point that concern for reputation or comfort of a harasser being allowed to outweigh the safety and comfort of a con's other attendees is likely to prove to have exactly the opposite results, when the victims speak up in public fora.

#84 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 06:17 PM:

Alan, #81: Also, some women actively prefer geek types to the "cultural male standard". Others do what we're all told we should be doing, and look past the physical to see a fine man underneath, and are drawn to that. I'm reminded of an exchange from the New Mutants comic, between Cannonball (an awkward geeky type, whose background is back-country poverty) and Lila Cheney (an internationally-famous rock star who is interested in him):

C: "But you're beautiful and famous. You could have any guy you wanted."
L. "So when I say I want you, you should believe me!"

(It's been a long time since I read the comic, so the quote may not be exact, but that was the gist of it.)

#85 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 06:18 PM:

Following up on my @43

I had commented that "I have some vague ideas about how the - I think, common - female socialization patterns I grew up with disadvantage women in these situations..."

In addition to the previously-mentioned need to please everyone and "be nice," I think there are several problematic influences worth taking a look at.

Overtly, there is the idea that women shouldn't argue with men. (I got called on that one - explicitly - in high school in the late nineties, so no, I don't really believe it has gone away, though it has obviously lessened.)

I find that it seems to be difficult for many women to speak directly about themselves (it is certainly a thing I try to pay attention to, myself). The most common context where I hear about this is in praise-claiming, but I think it is equally present in situations where women have reason to speak up about their own discomfort. My observation is that women tend to wait longer for someone else to speak up in their defense, before speaking up on their own behalf, and that they run a higher risk of being shut down hard for speaking up in a critical way. (The notion that women have to choose between being bitches or pushovers is a pernicious lie, but also one that is still being actively spread around by supposed allies.)

I think self-confidence also obviously has a role, because bullies prey on perceptible weakness, and that definitely, in my opinion, is part of the dynamic of overt sexism. That includes things like body posture, eye contact, speaking patterns...

Because I also think women are taught less than men, how to throw up a front of false confidence to deter would-be attackers. I know proportionately more women who lead with their weaknesses, admitting to them up front. And when you do that, you establish a narrative that others will hold you to, putting you in a weaker position later, when you have to challenge someone. (In many cases, their supposed weaknesses aren't even really that significant, but the women in question feel exaggeratedly self-conscious about them.)

But I also think that when people are comfortable being authentically themselves, it's grounding in a way that makes challenging other people significantly easier. And I don't know how it is for men, but a significant proportion of the women I know are obsessed with the idea that they aren't "enough." (My husband and I used to joke about my "housewife porn." But he never felt like he needed anyone else's validation or had to buy anyone else's advice or do any research to help him get better at being an adult, and I really sincerely did - even though I was yards ahead of my next closest peers, in terms of accomplishing my goals. That's a really common gender split, in the couples I know.)

I also find myself looking at studies about how when people are reminded about sexism and gender differences, they perform more poorly. I really wonder how much that does play in, because I know that one of the major breakthroughs I made was realizing that I do seven more unconventional things before breakfast than merely outpacing some men. When I explicitly decided to stop letting myself be intimidated by the stereotypes, it got a lot easier to deal with individuals and specific situations.

And, obviously, YMMV. I'm not saying everyone goes through the same challenges, or that any of this is stuff that only applies to women. But I think the ways in which this stuff seems to come together for many women of my acquaintance make it harder for them to effectively challenge people about sexist behavior or harassment.

#86 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 06:44 PM:

Liz Bourke @83:

Primarily, I do not want the thrust of the conversation to move to a discussion of the Dietrich case. There are a lot of details specific to it which do not add light or perspective to the things we face in the fannish community.

Also, some of those details are contentious, triggering, difficult, and controversial in their own right. And, if I may be blunt, I have to go to work tomorrow. I have a busy schedule. And although I can moderate a long, painful thrash about a matter that I know little about and have less time to research, it's not my first choice of evening activities for the next few days.

Thus: it (and other examples) may be a source of parallax, but please do not make it the center of the discussion. To the extent that the impulse to talk about the influence of wider society on the problems our community is facing does not entail detailed discussions about contentious elements of specific cases outwith fandom, go for it.

To the extent that it does, or will otherwise turn into a thrash...have mercy on my schedule, energies, and sleep patterns.

#87 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 06:49 PM:

#77 ::: Charlie Stross :

More on the weird specificity of dogwhistles: It's "fried chicken and watermelon". "Melon" would default to cantaloupe, and so far as I know, there's no way to insult someone with a cantaloupe.

#88 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 07:39 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz: "Melon" would default to cantaloupe, and so far as I know, there's no way to insult someone with a cantaloupe.

There's an old Vaudeville joke about the couple that's so poor they cantaloupe, but unless Mrs. Parker arises from the grave I agree we're safe from the possibility of that item being used in an act of verbal aggression.

#89 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 07:55 PM:

"watermelon" is "melon d'eau" in French and is thus never confused with "cantaloupe", and I'm afraid we're about to get into Gallagher territory.

#90 ::: Liz Bourke ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 08:46 PM:


Thank you for the clarification.

#91 ::: ericket ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2012, 09:01 PM:

Abi, the reading of all comments will take me some time so I will say "Thank you for this post" now. I appreciate conversations about social etiquette and interactions. It makes fuzzy things clearer.

#92 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 02:44 AM:

Shifting slightly away from convention behavior modification - not because it's unimportant, but because I'm interested in the other part of the original post and I'm unsatisfied with my analysis.

I came upon the Peacock thing on another site or two and there are a couple things going on. Here's what I've got:

* Sports fans hate posers who jump on the bandwagon. You're not a REAL Kings fan unless you have been watching them lose for a decade.

* Punks (at least back in the late 80s) hated posers, and there was a sliding scale from "wearing a Ramones shirt, can't name a Ramones song" to "has a clean dry place to sleep and eats regularly". You're not a REAL punk if you haven't been beaten by a cop, or something.

* Geeks (gamers specifically) have a sliding scale that's maybe even worse than punks. If you are in the 20% of people that play RPG's, the 2% that play tabletop RPG's, the 0.1% that play tabletop RPGs that aren't D&D, but you don't play Ars Magica, you are unworthy of my time. And the guy who plays Amber wouldn't spit on ME either.

* What we're seeing here isn't hatred for posers, and isn't geek elitism. It's misogyny disguised as hatred for posers.

* Here's the part I'm not sure about: I think it's a mindset where a woman's job is to catch a man, like Pride and Prejudice. And she's there, obviously, to trap them! This makes their hostility to that woman smart and clever, not fearful and stupid.

So their default assumption is that the woman at a gathering of gamers is not there to game. It sounds dumb when you put it that way.

What am I missing?

#93 ::: iliadawry ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 03:00 AM:

Sandy @92: I think you have the general spirit right. That sort of thing is alive and well in the gaming community; I am a great lover of the White Wolfian tabletop game Exalted, and I know that there are many fans that wouldn't believe it because I don't have enough bona fides this edition*. I've faced this at game shops for a long time, to the point that I buy my books online from one of the great evil retailers instead of frequenting local shops, as I would rather.

This phenomenon is not limited to tabletop games. I faced it to some degree in the World of Warcraft fandom, though it was less pervasive for me there (and I faced server-type discrimination about as much as presumed-sex discrimination in random groups).

My experience at conventions is remarkably limited; the only con I've been privileged to attend has been BlizzCon, wherein I was surrounded by a group of friends (many of whom were male and Of a Certain Height) and pretty much never left alone, which was as I preferred it. This preference, granted, did not come from thin air. Still, it was a convention wherein I had some familiarity with the subject matter, and with the group I felt welcome enough.

*This edition** I have not actually been in charge of rules administration for a game with ~100 players; I just play and run normal-sized games and don't know all the magic by heart. Let that serve as an indicator of the degree of bona fides I have seen people demand of me.

**New edition coming in December! Woohoo! Now... now I need to build another bookshelf.

#94 ::: iliadawry has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 03:03 AM:

Oh dear. I must have invoked a Word of Power.

[Well, you are discussing the MMORPG whose aurous agriculture makes up a not-insignificant proportion of our spam. — Idumea Primrose O'Leary, Duty Gnome]

#95 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 03:52 AM:

Sandy B

If, by your last question, you mean what logic are you missing that would many of that article make sense? Absolutely none. There isn't any bit of it that does make sense.

As far as what else is there to critique? ha! how much do you want?

If it helps, the main bits I got from the article were:

1) A steaming pile of resentment. (The author may or may not actually be resentful himself, that's just how the article came across.) I couldn't help but notice how often the author not only talked about women's looks, but in fact insulted the looks of the women he was talking about. Despite going on and on about how they were using these same looks to get male attention. These women weren't just hot - they also weren't hot enough. It sounded remarkably like how some men react when they are rejected, only extended from an angry exclamation to a lengthy tirade.

2) The assertion that it's his right to guard the gates of geekdom - but most definitely not the right of those sexy women - without any sort of awareness that he is acting this way. Similarly, the way in which his article acts as though he - and men like him - are the default geek prototype. All others are merely variations on that theme. Stray too far from original model and bam! no longer a geek.

There are people that claim that really this is all just resentment that geeks nowadays have it so easy and everything is being mainstreamed and diluted, and I think, as you say, he is attempting (badly) to disguise his sexism as that. Also, that he is getting support in part because this is something people want to talk about and hey! here are people talking about it.

However, I think it's clear that this is not his primary thesis, in no small part because at one point he talks about today's geeky young men and puts them in opposition to these (female, always female) posers, not in opposition to his own harsh early geek years. In fact, he describes these modern geeks as being as outcast as people are saying geeks aren't nowadays - it's only the women that seem to have it easy.

#96 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 09:14 AM:

Sandy B: I think you may be on to something.

I was sort of amused by the way you mentioned Amber DRPG - did you know that abi used to be active on the ADRPG mailing list? So was I, back in the day.

And, going back to John Scalzi's definition of a geek as someone who says YOU LOVE THE SAME THINGS I LOVE LET US LOVE THEM TOGETHER, I wouldn't have cared about your bona fides, as long as you were patient enough to listen to My Theories About Flora's Mercedes, Which Are Mine, or Why Rick Blaine In Casablanca Was Probably Corwin With Amnesia. That last developed in response to some other people's theories about Corwin having been in much less savory things in WWII.

I still do things like that, only now it's Why A Close Reading of Post Captain Proves Stephen Maturin Could Have Been In Kingston To Save Archie Kennedy's Life. (Except I've realized it sorta doesn't, because based on the end of Master and Commander the Charwell probably picked them up when it touched at Gibraltar rather than carrying them all the way from the West Indies. Sigh.)

#97 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 09:48 AM:

I have nothing to add at this time. I just want to say that abi @ 37 and KayTei @ 85 are very helpful to me; thank you both!

#98 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 09:57 AM:

#96 ::: Rikibeth :

Actually, Corwin could both be Rick and be less savory (Nazi?) in WWII-- just in different Shadows.

#99 ::: parkrrrr ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 10:29 AM:

jennygadget @ 95: "I couldn't help but notice how often the author not only talked about women's looks, but in fact insulted the looks of the women he was talking about. Despite going on and on about how they were using these same looks to get male attention. These women weren't just hot - they also weren't hot enough."

There's another possible interpretation for this besides rejection. It's that he's saying "I see through this attempted subterfuge, but all you other geeks are so oblivious or besotted with the female form that you failed your check to see through the glamour. This makes me superior to you, and thus qualified to tell you how it is." In other words, they're hot, if you're just a run-of-the-mill geek, but they're not hot enough if you're able to be objective about it. And he's all about being objective - unlike you, you poor drooling slob.

#100 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 10:39 AM:

I took the whole 6 or 9 thing as "we poor repressed geeks don't even get the really pretty girls." It felt like it was on the same page as being picked last for the team in PE.

Which, if true, is pretty hideously objectifying.

#101 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 10:57 AM:

Abi @ 100... It felt like it was on the same page as being picked last for the team in PE.

As for myself, I *hated* PE.

#102 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 11:03 AM:

Rikibeth @ 96... Where does Capitaine Renaut fit in this? When he and 'Rick' walk away into the fog at the end, are they really going Elsewhere?

#103 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 11:48 AM:

Nancy: Yes: there's one bit in the Patternwalk sequence mentioning "silver eagles" on a hat. Or maybe it was lightning bolts, or both. I'm so lazy I'm not going five steps to the bookshelf to check. I just like to think the hat was on the Other Guys. A shadow he cast, maybe. Shudder.

Serge: I hadn't given it much thought, and it's been some years since I've been active in the fandom. My instincts say no, though; he still had amnesia and couldn't consciously travel through Shadow. I'm going with the implication in the movie, that he'd decided to quit hiding and was off to join the French Resistance or some other aspect of the Allies. Which is where he saw that evil hat on the Other Guys.

#104 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 11:54 AM:

Thank you abi as well, for both the original post and your comments and clarifications.

I'm personally interested in some of these issues with respect to other "geekish" communities, and hope this thread can be useful for that while not derailing or making life difficult for moderators.

Specifically, while I've been to only one "fandom" con in my life (though I'd like to go to more when I get a chance), I've been to a number of conferences and meetings in my line of work, which involves the intersection of libraries and information technology (and in which you tend to get people from a variety of work cultures in those fields).

I've heard stories from a number of colleagues about problems they've had with some of those conferences. They aren't problems I've witnessed myself-- but then, I'm a middle-aged white dude with a wedding ring who's often one of the presenters-- but people I know have decided not to go to certain conferences because of these problems. I don't think the people who run these conferences are badly intentioned, but I also think that in a number of cases there hasn't been a lot of thinking about how to prevent, and prepare to deal with, bad incidents when they come up. Readercon at least had a policy, even if they didn't live up to it. I'm hard pressed to even find a public policy at many of the conferences in my area.

So I just dropped a note to an organizer of one of my favorite conferences in this area, saying basically "Hey, where can I find the conference's public anti-harassment policy? I haven't seen any problems here, but it's good for folks to know what the policy is if something bad does come up." And pointed to the Geek Feminism site with resources for conference organizers.

Hopefully that'll do some good. Thanks to folks here for implicitly prompting me to do it.

#105 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 12:16 PM:

Re geekdom: I distinctly remember having to be told in 1990 or maybe 1991 what a geek was, and what a nerd was. I'd never heard either word before. I had the impression that 'nerd' really took off in the US in the early 80s, 'geek' towards the end of the decade, at which point both terms crossed the Atlantic simultaneously. But apparently 'nerd' got used in Happy Days which I saw in the UK in the 70s, so how come I didn't pick the word up from that? Odd.

#106 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 12:32 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @104:

Asking about a harassment policy is a good first step. Doing it as a "middle-aged white dude who's often one of the presenters" is an even better one.

I'm not a member, but I've been watching from the sidelines as the atheist/freethinking community has begun wrestling with what to do about policies at their cons. The short version is that Elevatorgate started a lot of discussion, very little of it easy or pretty. In particular, there was a lot of difficult stuff on Twitter around the time of The Amazing Meeting (TAM) this year. I've found a timeline with links to more reading, if anyone wants to have a look at that matter.

Given what I see there, it's clear that the fannish community is not alone in trying to wrestle with these issues. Indeed, of the two groups, I think we're doing somewhat better at the moment.

#107 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 12:37 PM:


possibly? There's a hell of a lot of hate on for women's bodies going on in that article though. An awful lot for someone just trying to feel smug and superior to other boys.

I'm not so much trying to say that I think he actually is upset because these women will not give him the time of day - not something I could know, yeah? - but that...between him castigating these women for being both "fake" geeks and "wannabe" models...I kept having the strong urge to ask him if they were only "pretending" to be "girls" as well. The apparent anger could be not sexual frustration/entitlement but that he thinks these women are failing at being feminine by not giving adequate consideration to the comfort of geek guys.

In either case, whether he is resentful of the women in question or not, that assumption - that being feminine means being nice and making people comfortable - it's very much underneath all of what he says. His entire thesis doesn't make any sense without this idea; if this wasn't a pervasive cultural myth, then more people would notice that he is writing about women specifically and not more logical targets - like the scalpers that he briefly mentions.


Yes! regarding the the "6 of 9" and being picked for PE. Same thing with the idea that they are "wannabes who couldn't make it as car show eye candy." He just spends so many of his words talking not only about women's looks, but dissing women for them. O.o is not adequate for what my face looked like while reading it.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 01:48 PM:

So let me say a good thing about the Readercon thing.

I realized, reading the TAM stuff I linked to above, that I haven't seen the same kind of monstrous filth floating around about this incident. (Some of the TAM stuff makes me want to take a shower.) So I went looking. I did some Googling and didn't find any results for Valentine's name and some common misogynist slurs (I didn't click on links, just looked at results pages). Nothing. If there have been threats of other nastiness aimed at Valentine, they've been private and she hasn't mentioned them.

For my part, I'm glad to see (or not see) it. It gives me a lot of hope.

#109 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 02:18 PM:

One of the more infuriating aspects of the Readercon thing is this: according to the linked articles, the harrassment consisted of a couple of instances of nonconsensual physical contact, and then the harrasser followed his target around the convention, repeatedly invading her personal space under the pretext of attempting to apologize. The victim, of course, did not want to be subjected to a long apology/attempted justification--she wanted to be left alone.

In that context, when the Board explains that they going to give the harraser a break because, "it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions," they are explicitly validating some of his harrassing behaviors.

#110 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 06:08 PM:

I have a question for those of you who go to non-geek cons, here defined as "work-related conventions not for the computer/internet industry".

Do such cons usually have a harassment policy? Do women at such cons have problems with harassment comparable to those reported for e.g. Readercon, TAM?

The work cons I've been to have been academic, often with 50% or more female attendees, and there's been very little time for chat (much less chatting up), so I don't think the fact that I didn't notice harassment means much. Also, I developed a rather brassy or even brass-knuckley personal style which tends to be off-putting to harassers.

Anyway, I wonder if this kind of harassment is more common in geek communities, or if the targets are just more willing to speak up.

#111 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 06:21 PM:

Charlie Stross (#77) -- I'm afraid I just assumed that it would be obvious that "dog whistles" are different in different cultures. And cultures can differ even within the same country. I didn't understand the one about fried chicken and watermelon when I first met it, for instance, because in the part of the US I come from, black people are -- I won't say "not discriminated against" -- but they are not subject to the same level of disadvantage as in some other parts of the country. And I *loved* fried chicken and watermelon (and the other faithfully appearing summer potluck foods, potato salad and baked beans -- the macaroni salad not so much).

Fried chicken and watermelon, and yes it *does* have to be *water*melon, are traditional summer fare in large areas of the US. Watermelon is, or used to be, the poor man's ice cream. The melons are easily grown and thus cheap, and when cooled in the creek are cold, juicy and sweet. And you don't have to spend the milk (which could be sold) and buy the ice to make ice cream. See, I really am old.

#112 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 06:33 PM:

Steve with a book (#105) - Our family has for many years used the word "geek" to mean someone who takes a *particular* interest in a *particular* field of knowledge or activity. It is not a pejorative. "Nerd", I don't know, it seems to connote a person who is so into his (or her) own geek interests that he can't talk to other people easily, or without ending up talking about his own interests whether others want to hear it or not.

Geeks now ... back, way back, when all cars had carburetors, a lot of people changed their own oil. But car geeks installed their own carburetor kits, when required, on the kitchen table. (Why yes, I did; whydoyouask ...? I remember the excitement when I dropped a ball valve on the "non-dirt-showing" linoleum. Whooboy.)(I found it -- leeetle bitty thing about three thirty-seconds of an inch in diameter.)

#113 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 07:13 PM:

Doctor Science,

The only cons I have been to are ALA, CLA and (if you can call them cons) the LA and Tuscon Festival of Books.

The former two are populated mostly by women. I'm sure shit happens, because people are people, and not only men harass. But I suspect the gender ratio does affect the overall vibe and people's perceptions of what is allowed; I certainly don't get the impression it happens often. I have no idea if either has an anti-harassment policy, but even if the don't, the ethics of the organization is supposed to carry over into their events and how they conduct them and, being professional library organizations, a lot of it is about respecting individuals and their opinions but also not being derogatory or abusive, so as to be welcoming to everyone. Also, it's a convention full of women who often spend their work days policing stranger's behavior. So, there is that.

The book festivals have a more family atmosphere so I suspect anything that went down there would be handled under the guise of being family friendly. But my take on that may be colored by the fact that I tend to attend the YA and kid lit panels. (hey! it's totally for work! I swear!)

It's also...just very different in the sense that people don't pay or register and anyone can walk on and off the grounds. Also, they are always hosted not by a hotel or convention hall, but a university with their own rules about conduct and who are perhaps more used to stepping in and doling out consequences.

#114 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 07:23 PM:

Doctor Science: I have been to conferences in statistics and bioscience (many years ago, all mostly male) and know of no harassment policies. I also know of no official ones at massage conventions -- but that's a more female than male audience. Neither tend to have the kind of evening open parties that SF conventions do (or at least I never get invited to them).

#115 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 08:00 PM:

For context: I was at Readercon, but not present at, nor aware of, any of the incidents. This was also the first fannish con I've been to in decades. For years I've only been online.

In addition to what abi says @ 108, I'd have to say that another good thing is that almost no one is saying this wasn't harassment. And I am certain that 20 years ago, that would have been entirely different. I believe we are making progress.

Readercon, in particular, seems to have been making real efforts in various social justice areas. They acted like they cared. So the outcome, in this case, was particularly disturbing. It feels like a betrayal.

I also think that the board (like most people) had othered anyone who could be a harasser. They were people who weren't really part of the community. And then, when faced with someone who clearly was part of the community, who they could not, and did not, deny had harassed another member of the community, they blinked. And then probably panicked a bit.

On girls at cons. A friend told me a story about a friend of his (yes, potential urban legend sign), who talked his then girlfriend into going to a con with him. She decided to cosplay, mostly for something to amuse herself with, as she wasn't sure what else she was going to do. They shared enough interests that she wanted to go with him, but wasn't sure that she really was going to be engaged by the panels. Until she found out, on site, about the Buffy comics. I guess, according Peacock, she was cheating somehow, and originally there under false pretenses. Instead she got to connect to a part of fandom she hadn't known existed.

#117 ::: FaultyMemory has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 10:01 PM:

...with regards to a followup link for a topic linked in the writeup.

Are the gnomes fond of biscuits? With kiwi marmalade?

#118 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2012, 10:04 PM:

Steve @ 115

One of our friends got into LARP as an excuse/inspiration for elaborate costume-engineering and hanging out. A-ma-zing talent. I don't know anyone who challenges her geekthenticity.

I mean, the entire notion is ridiculous.

#119 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 05:31 AM:

Y'know, if you reaize you've made an asshat out of yourselves by acting inappropriately, and you feel you absolutely HAVE to give some kind of apology to the person on the receiving end of your behavior, the Magic Word is:


When you've made "the pleasure of your company" dubious at best, inflicting more of that dubious pleasure upon the receiver of your previous asshattery, even if you think you're trying to make amends for that behavior, is... kinda dumb.

(Some of the participants in this discussion assume the "attempted apologies" were just another pick-up-artist technique, just an attempt to recover and continue trying to end up in bed with a cute chick. Maybe, sure, but I'm not a mind-reader, so for the sake of this particular post I'm envisioning a more benign interpretation.)

But a short written note, delivered either via the hotel desk or a neutral 3rd party, saying something like "I acted inappropriately. I upset you and embarassed myself. I'm thinking about how I acted, and I will not bother you again."

And then, after sending such an apology, he should actually, y'know, not bother her again.

If the default reaction to an apology is to dismiss it as insincere, then there's no reason to ever make an apology, however sincere it might be. I think that would be a... not-good... thing.

(But apology for inappropriate behavior can itself be done inappropriately, as I think this particular instance demonstrates.)

Disclosure: Back in my early 20's, when I discovered that I did not in fact rate dead-zero-or-less on every woman's sexual-attractiveness list, that I was not doomed to die a virgin, that there were actually women who wanted to have sex with me... well, I suddenly had a vast new world of possibility before me, one I had thought closed off completely to people like me. And I... explored... that vast new world.

Let us just say that there were missteps along the way of that learning experience. Stumbles. Pratfalls. Was I annoying sometimes? I'm sure I was. Was I inappropriate sometimes? I'm sure I was. Was I laughably inept sometimes? I know I was, because I got laughed at a few times, and actually guffawed at once.

I don't think I ever crossed the line into actual harassment. If anyone ever felt that way, I never got any blowback on it.

(Well, there was one guy who tried to spread the meme that "Bruce propositions everyone nine million times and refuses to take no for an answer." But that was just part of the dirty politics of Iguanacon, after I had publically objected to his and others use of extortion as a Worldcon management tool. And by that time it was pretty common knowledge that any words that came out of Tim Kyger's mouth were utter crap, so I never heard any more about it after that first initial report.)(Anna Vargo's banning me from Iguanacon's registration area was actually a lot more effective, if petty, retribution for my speaking out. I had to send Hilde in to pick up my pre-registration packet. If I hadn't been pre-registered, I'm not sure I'd have been allowed to register at all.)

And embarassment and chagrin, it turns out, is an excellent behavior modification tool. I got better. Not at flirting or seduction, particularly (thinking back on the women I slept with then, I honestly can't explain why any of them decided to accept an invitation from me, or, in a few cases, issue their own invitation to me), but at behaving appropriately for someone who (to my then and continuing astonishment) actually had a sex life.

Okay, I'm going to share one lesson I learned from those early days: Do not try to flirt with someone at a memorial service. Don't. Just don't. Do not do this. For the love of freaking God, DO NOT DO THIS. (What was that I was saying about embarassment and chagrin?)

(For reasons I won't go into, I've been up for nearly 36 hours straight, so I suspect this comment may be getting off-track. I may have more to say later, but I'll probably say it better after some sleep.)

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:09 AM:

I've just run across a pretty unpleasant account of DEFCON, a geek hacker con, that is apparently a nightmare for female participants. (Via Pharyngula).

On the one hand, "it could be worse" is a kind of comfort, I guess. On the other...sometimes, the idea that this is "good"—that I should be grateful that Valentine isn't getting misogynist filth hurled at her and that we're discussing the application of an extant harassment policy—makes me very, very tired.

#121 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:24 AM:

Bruce @ 5:31 AM

Honestly, an apology in this case is still about the dude who made the wrong thing happen. Pretty much all you can do is publicly admit your mistake, and work to stop others from following in your footsteps.

When you've been doing it for a while, you might deserve forgiveness if the person you hurt thinks you deserve it. But that's not the point. The point is you're making the world a better place, in part, to mend your mistake, and in part, that's what you should have been doing all along.

#122 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:27 AM:

This whole thread, plus the Peacock thing, leaves me shaking my head in despair as I watch my 16-yo--who is fairly pretty, if not spectacularly attractive--work on her costumes for NYCC in October.

How many people will look at her and make judgments about her reasons for attending? How many will treat her in demeaning or insulting ways because of those judgments?

The older she gets, the greater the risks.

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:44 AM:

Josh @121:

I think there's wide variation in the culture around apologies.

I was raised with the standard that you apologize not for your own good, but in case it's useful to the other person. If it's not—if they ignore it or throw it back in your face—that's their right. But if it makes their healing process easier to know that you acknowledge culpability, then you owe it to them to have given them that tool. (Obviously, you do this in the least intrusive way possible, which in this case would have meant "written and given to a third party to judge if/when/how it gets passed on.")

As far as I can tell, this is not universal. I'd have to let someone else explain the culture that says that apologies are not appropriate. For me, being on the receiving end of a behavior that merits apology and not having the other person try is like seeing someone dump toxic waste in my backyard and move on. It's an added insult: it shows that in their eyes, I'm clearly not even worth the attempt to clean up the damage they've done. Salt in the wound. (Alternatively, I've dealt with some extremely rude and dishonorable people in my life. It certainly feels that way, but I'm willing to believe that there is a cultural explanation.)

Of course, we don't necessarily know which culture the people we're dealing with come from. Because why would any of this be easy?

Note that forgiveness is an entirely different matter. An apology is not a demand for it (it may be a request for it, but that request need not be granted). The apology is simply a just allocation and acknowledgment of blame so that everyone has a sounder basis for going forward.

#124 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 11:45 AM:

Melissa Singer @122:
How many people will look at her and make judgments about her reasons for attending? How many will treat her in demeaning or insulting ways because of those judgments?

Fewer, after Scalzi's intervention.

#125 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 12:26 PM:

Melissa Singer @122:
The older she gets, the greater the risks.
Also, at NYCC, the Javits Center has professional security all over the place. I have two good friends who work there regularly, who tell me that they have many fewer incidents of any kind at NYCC than they do at, for instance, the Auto Show. These aren't just guys who the con hands security tee shirts out to, they're bonded.

Also, since NYCC has merged with NY Anime Festival, which has even stronger cosplay tradition, there is a huge amount of support from the fans. I don't think I've run in to anyone with Peacock's attitude there.

The only word of warning is to remember that the event is huge and crowded, and it can be impossible to get from one place to another in the time allotted between events, unless they are right next to each other. And some events will be overbooked, and it can be unpredictable which ones. They try, but occasionally they guess wrong, and there will be a line with a monitor at the end telling you not to stand in the line.

I've brought my two boys there for the last several years, and have had no real qualms about letting them go and see whatever interests them by themselves. For reference my boys will be 17 and 16 by the time NYCC starts.

#126 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 12:27 PM:

Melissa Singer @122:
"How many people will look at her and make judgments about her reasons for attending? How many will treat her in demeaning or insulting ways because of those judgments?"

I think the question I would try to focus on is "how many people worth knowing will do these things?" And the answer is "None."

So, it's nice that post-kerfuffle some people will grow up at a faster pace than they might otherwise have done. But it doesn't change the large number of people who recognize cosplay as a challenging craft, and one that is fun to witness in play.

Bruce @ 119

You know, I hear what you're saying. I really do, and I have a lot of empathy for being in that spot. But I've spent a lot of time feeling unsafe and objectified in male space, and that is not a good place to be. It's the main reason I didn't go to any cons until I was safely frumpy, because before that the creepy factor was off the charts, even among geeks I knew well. And I was pretty, but not stunning.

I put up with that stuff from guys I knew and otherwise enjoyed hanging out with, because I knew them well enough to judge their intentions and my safety level. I don't know strangers well enough to judge their threat-level. It is profoundly different when it is a friend I know is trying hard, versus when it is a stranger who I have no reason to believe has anything at heart other than his own short-term interests. And believing otherwise, and stopping being on the alert around strange guys exhibiting odd, boundary-violating behaviors, is one way women find themselves in trouble, no joke.

I actually think it's great if dude wanted to take accountability and try to make things genuinely better. But there are ways and ways to do it. At the point where someone is determinedly avoiding you and their friends are running active interference? You need to reassess your approach, because it is not working.

I guess the reason I don't let dude off the hook is that the person who offended, who wants to apologize and is trying to become a better person? They are only half of the dynamic, and they are not the half of the dynamic that is suddenly having to spend every last second worrying about personal safety instead of just having fun. It's even worse if you came alone and don't have friends to protect you, or if the people you know are all telling you to laugh it off or not to be hysterical or asking you why you have to be such a bitch about such a trivial little thing.

#127 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 12:28 PM:

My problem with this (okay, my biggest problem with this) is that the obvious, right thing to do - if there is a legitimate "oops, our policy might go a little overboard" concern (and not just "but this guy's one of Us") - would be to go to the complainant, explain their problem, and explain what they'd like to do, and given the circumstances, would that be acceptable?

If the answer's "no, follow your rules", then follow the rules, change them to what they should have been using the right policy, and maybe, work on a parole-type structure (again, involving the complainant, just like parole hearings) in due time. And maybe not - one might find that this person isn't, actually, someone wanted back after all.

Changing things on the fly, in camera - not good.

I think the rule is not good either, because I don't believe in ZT and I do believe in redemption after education - and there's no incentive for this person to mend their ways with a mandated lifetime ban. I'm conflicted, however; I also totally understand the requirement of the innocent to be safe, and the punishment claimed to be given, with no requirement for the offender to do anything to make things different later, is just not on.

Doctor Science: I help run "cons" (bridge tournaments, actually). The audience is different, but similar (we all know each other eventually, we see "fans" we haven't seen for a while, but the average age is 65 and it's pretty much a straight split). I know there is (and certainly was in the past) harassment, despite the policies; but given the average age, it's more likely to be a random denigration of skill than propositional (now).

But given that it's all under the aegis of a national non-profit, to be sure there are policies for unacceptable behaviour.

#128 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 01:16 PM:

I think that were I in her place, having endured him touching me without my permission and then him following me around trying to force an "apology" on me, any written communication from That Dude would feel like just more stalking.

No matter what was written on the card, to me it would appear to carry the subject of "No matter what you do, I can still get to you. And you can't do anything about it."

I'm also not big on people who "need" to make apologies at the expense of caring whether I want it made. It's like hlepy people who do not take well to being told "What you're doing, it's actually not helping me," and go on about how I should be grateful that they tried to help and it's rude for me to refuse their help. That sort of behavior tells me that they care a lot more about their social standing than my well-being.

Apologizing for doing wrong is a good instinct. As abi says, someone who doesn't express the desire to apologize can come across as someone who thinks they have nothing to apologize for. But if the thing you want to apologize for is forcing unwanted contact on another person, how do you make the apology without doing exactly what you claim to be apologizing for doing?

If they've made it clear they do not want any interactions with you at all (and the cases where a harasser genuinely doesn't get that message are a lot rarer than harassers want us to think; it's more common that they are pretending very loudly not to get that message), my advice is, don't send that note. Respect their wish, and do not force ANY further interactions with you, however "harmless" you think they may be, upon them.

#129 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 01:30 PM:

In my opinion, one of the problems with apologies is that they are so often bundled with an immediate demand for forgiveness. That can be perceived as a further hostile act. Someone who has been genuinely and deeply hurt/discomfited/unsettled/rattled/offended by someone else's behavior is not necessarily going to be ready to say, "I forgive you" when the offender apologizes.

The offended person may need time to decide if she or he is ready to forgive at all. There are times when the offended person may just want to say, "I hear your apology." and not say "thank you" or "I forgive you" or "I appreciate it." or any of those things. The person may not want to forgive--not right then, and maybe not ever.

Yet the person apologizing may (will often?) _demand_ forgiveness. Sometimes that turns into another form of harassment/bullying: I apologized but _she_ won't forgive me!

I feel that forgiveness is not about the person apologizing but about the person doing the forgiving. It is possible to receive (not necessarily accept) an apology and move on without forgiving. Sometimes that is the best option, or the best option at the time. Sometimes a person wants to see actual improved behavior on the part of the offender before forgiving or even accepting the apology.

Also, it's never too late to apologize and mean it. When I was in my early 20s, I was in some ways barely socialized. When I was in my early 30s, I went to several people I'd interacted with ten years earlier and apologized to them for being stupid/tactless/juvenile/whatever. I am forever grateful that they accepted my apologies. In many cases, we became better friends after. But the key is, the apology has to be genuinely offered as a result of the person changing, not as a result of a bunch of other people saying, "you need to apologize." If there's no internal recognition that what you did was wrong, there is no real apology.

(as a side note, it is very difficult for me to apologize; growing up I was made to apologize for disagreeing with certain people, even if I was right on matters of fact. This has made me touchy in all sorts of ways, apologies being one of them. It also created a speech tic, where I will say, "I'm sorry" as I'm about to correct someone.)

Steve @125: I suggest, without rancor, that there is a difference between a 15-16-17-yo boy wandering around NYCC (alone or with friends) and a 15-16-17-yo girl wandering around NYCC (alone or with friends).

Though when I was a teen and younger adult I was fat and not conventionally attractive, when I was at comics or sf conventions, guys assumed that I was fair game. Unless I had at least two other women (and no men) or an older male companion with me, guys would try to hit on me. Sometimes they would try to hit on me in the middle of a professional conversation (I was already working as a science fiction editor by my 20th birthday).

At my first several SF conventions, when I was 19-20, I literally could not sit down alone in a panel room without having some guy try to hit on me. Because I couldn't possibly be there to actually listen to the panel? (this was all back in the mid-to-late 1970s, but I've gotten the "no girls allowed" attitude in some comics shops in NYC within the last 5-10 years) I started bringing needlework to panels because that effectively wards off male advances. And now I'm old enough to be considered dead by most men so it doesn't happen to me anymore anyway.

When I go around NYCC with my daughter, guys hit on her while I'm standing there. You'd think having a parent _right there_ would signal "back off, she's underage," but it doesn't. The last two years, she spends about half her convention time away from me, but usually with friends, and she's already reported "creepy" interactions with men. Luckily, even if I'm not in the Tor booth, everyone knows my kid and unless the booth is completely jammed, they will let her and a friend use it as a refuge. When the girls want to eat, they come and find me, because a) I'll buy food and b) if I sit with them while they're eating, guys leave them alone.

We've been "doing" NYCC since before the AnimeFest merger (went to AnimeFest too), but this year will be the first year she will be going "without me" for pretty much the whole time. I'm glad that she's spreading her wings but I am already nervous.

KayTei @126: You're right that the a-holes may not be worth knowing, but it can be remarkably easy to punctuate a teenager's ego, even a teenager with as healthy an ego as my daughter. I don't really care about the idiots; I care that my daughter is 16, a full-on geek, making her own costumes for the 2nd year in a row, and I don't want _anyone_ to even think about dismissing her, harassing her, or insulting her (or any of her friends, female, male, straight, gay, trans, etc.)

Also, you said this, "they are not the half of the dynamic that is suddenly having to spend every last second worrying about personal safety instead of just having fun. It's even worse if you came alone and don't have friends to protect you, or if the people you know are all telling you to laugh it off or not to be hysterical or asking you why you have to be such a bitch about such a trivial little thing."


#130 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 01:35 PM:

Nicole @128:

A written apology given to someone else to give to her (or not) would be in place of following her around the convention trying to apologize verbally, not in addition to it.

But I can see your point in this case, since the entire problem is unwanted contact.

(I have my own triggers and twitches around lack of apology as a vehicle for disrespect. I apologize for bringing them into this conversation.)

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 02:04 PM:

Re apologies, or lack thereof: I can think of 2 things that a guy who has realized he made an ass of himself might do to try to make amends.

1) He can make his apology by proxy, to one of her friends, to be delivered when the friend thinks it's a good time to do so. In this case, the apology should include a specific assurance that he will leave her alone in the future, and he needs to follow thru on that.

2) He can post on his own blog about how he made an ass of himself at [con] by sexually harassing a woman, and what he intends to do in the future to make sure he doesn't do it again. He should not identify the woman by name -- this is one instance where it's legit to make it All About Him, because it's his behavior problem; who he dumped it on is irrelevant.

The "what I will do going forward to prevent this from happening again" part is very important, because that's what shows that he does understand he did something wrong.

#132 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 02:38 PM:

@Mycroft 127: I don't think that asking the victim of harassment to decide whether the penalty should be lessened is appropriate.

(1) Why do we think she is the only victim? It seems reasonable to extrapolate that there were others who didn't come forward, and their interests are also important.

(2) It strikes me as an incredibly uncomfortable position to put the victim in. I would not want to be put in the position of being the "vengeful one".

More generally : I know people who, in various ways, thoroughly offended and alienated the majority of their social circle, and then improved themselves. They generally have a new social circle. I want to live in a world where people can change, but sometimes the best place to change is somewhere else.

I might be missing some important subtext here, since I'm not a regular con-goer, but my understanding is that the offender here is from Montreal, the con in question is Boston, and the offender is a sociable person. It seems to me that these facts strongly suggest that he has many other social events which he can attend and demonstrate his improved self without needing to let him back at this one.

#133 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 02:50 PM:

Melissa @ 129 - I wish I could disagree, but I can't, which is why I mentioned that my kids are boys. Unfortunately, it is relevant. Harassment is not a symmetric problem.
For my part, I'll be giving my boys that talk. Again. Not because they haven't heard it before, but because they're young, they need reminding, and our culture sends mixed and bad signals about treating women with respect.

#134 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 02:52 PM:

abi, I don't think you did anything wrong by bringing up your feelings about apologies. I usually share that feeling, in fact, and it's an important factor in the apology equations, so to speak.

Heck, if I get to bring up my personal feelings about someone who, having been told "I do not want any personal contact with you," forces personal contact with me (even if just by email or written letter) in the name of "apologizing"... then you certainly get to bring up your personal feelings about people who do you wrong and then show no inclination to apologize!

I do think my creepiness radar would be less tripped by the hypothetical apology letter if, as you say, it entirely replaced the 2nd phase of the harassment incident: 1st step, unwanted physical contact; 2nd step, apology note handed to a friend to hand to her. So I was evaluating the hypothetical apology note in terms of a different hypothetical situation ("What if after Walling had done all that, he'd then done this?") than the one you were thinking of ("What if instead of doing what he actually did, Walling had done this?"), and I got to a different place thereby.

I like Lee's addition of "to be delivered via friend but only when that friend judged it the correct moment."

My thoughts on the apology note may also be biased based on unwanted interactions I personally have experienced: a man of my acquaintance who, after long-standing tension in a shared social group, called me on my cell phone to essentially demand that we talk it over; and that if I didn't talk it over with him then, during the unwanted phone call that he initiated, why, I'd get an earful of it from him in our shared social group next time.

I had to explain to him that I am not obliged to give him closure on his terms, and that I desired absolutely no personal contact from him whatsoever. And that his threatening me with social humiliation wasn't charming.

(Sad to say, he still hasn't given up on trying to get me to respond to his occasional missives.)

Stuff like that makes it hard for me to see any hypothetical apology from Walling, at this point, as other than a subspecies of Male Entitlement To Women's Time/Attention. But maybe I wouldn't see it that way if he hadn't in the non-hypothetical world already shown a tendency to invade personal space with an "apology." Or if he hadn't had a past history of harassment that makes any apology from him ring hollow. As advice for someone who isn't Walling and hasn't already spent time following the harassment victim around, the apology note may well be a good thing.

#135 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 03:15 PM:

Steve @133: fwiw, most of the unwanted attention my teen receives are from males some years older than she is. Interactions with her age-mates tend to be less fraught and more accepting of the possibility that she really is as geekish as she claims to be.

Maybe as part of the overall geeking-out of mainstream culture and increasing tendency for geek males to have more normative social skills? At any rate, age-mate males treat her her as "another geek" rather than "target." At least so far.

I suspect your sons would register as nice even without the refresher course, if you've been having conversations like that with them all along. (and there are nice boys at cons; it's fun to watch them flirt gently with my teenager by saying things like, "your blue hair is really cool" and saying nice things about her homemade Dalek skirt.)

#136 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 03:19 PM:

abi @130 I have my own triggers and twitches around lack of apology as a vehicle for disrespect. I apologize for bringing them into this conversation.

I think the question of the multiple purposes of an apology definitely belongs in this conversation.

There seems to be agreement that an apology for the benefit of the person in the wrong (to make them feel better, or make them look better to others) is best foregone. An apology for the benefit of the person wronged is a touchier thing because it needs first not to wrong them further (by harassing them with demands to hear the apology, accept the apology, offer forgiveness, etc., as Melissa Singer says @129) But I think abi is right that lack of an apology can do additional damage by seeming to say either "I did nothing wrong" or "You aren't worthy of consideration." It seems there's enough potential benefit that it would be appropriate to provide a brief written apology, delivered in a neutral way, and concluding by saying, "and I won't bother you any more." And then don't.

#137 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 03:31 PM:

Respectfully, I disagree that the written or delivered-via-friend apology is appropriate.

First because such apologies are rarely well-intentioned. They are putting my need to apologize over your clear and stated wish to be left alone by me. (If you have read THE GIFT OF FEAR you're familiar with "I just want to talk to you once and then I'll leave you alone" being the predator equivalent of "the check is in the mail".)

And sending it via friend is an extra little dig: I can get your friends to help me harass you!

Second, even when well-intentioned, again it's barging through an explicit boundary.

An OPEN apology, where the target may but need not see it if they wish, is, I think, more productive.

#138 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 03:37 PM:

Older @112 (and Steve @105)

After reading some nerd/geek discussion in John Scalzi's post referenced above, I asked my co-workers how they define geek and nerd. They are Ph.D. biologists but not, as far as I know, self-identified geeks or nerds. Everyone gave a definition that was precisely the opposite of Older's definition. Nerds were defined as interested and knowledgeable in some arcane specialty. Geeks are socially inept. Curiously, definitions given in the Scalzi thread matched Older's definition in #112, while my personal definitions match those of my co-workers; in high school I would have self-identified as a biology nerd but considered "geek" a pejorative (though justified).

tl;dr: If we average everyone's usage, they're probably synonyms.

#139 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 04:19 PM:

Melissa @ 129

Totally fair. I guess I just hope there are still more awesome people who appreciate that sort of creativity than there are jerks.

Nickp @ 138

I always figured nerds were more interested in intellectual exploration whereas geeks tend to emphasize creative exploration. Though I think it's something of a continuum.

#140 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 04:58 PM:

My late 1970s high-school understanding of 'geeks' vs 'nerds' was that geeks were math/science types and nerds were English/history types. Both were more academically inclined than the average kid, and thus at least considered to be a bit (or a lot) socially backward. (I was a nerd; my brothers were geeks.) Completely socially inept and not intellectual kids were 'dorks'.

#141 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 05:57 PM:

My whole opinion on sexual harassment at cons is colored by my day job where Sexual Harassment Training is mandatory by all hires and is reviewed on a regular basis. This also covers third party sexual harassment where a third party is made to feel uncomfortable by the interaction of others who are unaware/uncaring of how they look to others.

On top of that, I've had to take part in a sexual harassment report/investigation, (solely as a by-stander and supervisor of the victim). I've also had to advise an intern (not the same person) on how to deal with a stalker/clueless type outside of work. In addition to this, I've been a victim of sexual harassment, just not at a convention.

It colors my worldview more than a bit.

As far as I'm concerned in convention settings, the only apology that works is "I'm sorry for bothering you, and I won't do it again" followed by the harasser leaving victim alone. Who administers the clue-by-four and/or intervenes is highly dependent on the situation, but a anti-harassment committee is recommended. It also is a fine line between being fair, and making the victim feel worse through the method of reporting.

#142 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 09:12 PM:

Geek/nerd subthread: from what I've been able to tell, "geek" is a compliment west of the Mississippi, while "nerd" is a compliment east of the Mississippi. Of course, my students tell me that neither is a compliment, and they think my enthusiasms are weird but adorable. (I'm just being the change I want to see, okay, that's the story I'm sticking to. Plus I've been like this my whole life and it's too late to change.)

#143 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 09:15 PM:

Now that "nerd/geek" has officially become a subthread, I believe that there is a legal requirement that someone link to this xkcd cartoon. So I am doing so.

#144 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 09:26 PM:

TexAnne (142): 'Nerd' was definitely *not* a compliment east of the Mississippi when I was a kid in the 1970s. But then, neither was 'geek'.

#145 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:07 PM:

On the apology issue - from my reading of Genevieve Valentine's post, there was an apology made, to which she said "Don't want to talk about this, don't worry about it, goodbye," and left.

So why a further pursuit for further apologies, which (I believe I read in commments) did include a written apology delivered by a third party? It wasn't to apologize - that had already happened. My take is that he didn't like the answer to his apology so he was going to keep up the pressure until he got an answer he liked, presumably one that ended in "That's OK" or "I forgive you".

Further, I'd say that if one side is "I want to have ongoing contact with you" and the other side is "I don't want any contact with this guy", any third party bringing a written apology is no longer neutral. They're enabling the harasser to stay in contact and keep the victim's attention.

#146 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:28 PM:

In reference to apologies, let's look at Valentine's description of what happened:

Sunday morning, I fell in with some friends and was chatting near the entrance to the book room, when I saw him, again hovering nearby. My friends, up to speed on the issue, eventually tried to walk me to the table, at which point he cut in with us and started apologizing. I said, "Don't want to talk about this, don't worry about it, goodbye," and kept walking.
So, Walling started to apologize, Valentine said not to worry about it. She's fully aware that he wanted to apologize, and indicated that she's not interested. His insistence on making further attempts (which, I'm told, he did) is about his desires, not hers.

#147 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2012, 10:29 PM:

Dammit, I took long enough writing that it became redundant.

#148 ::: jennygadget ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 02:32 AM:

Regarding apologies, I think that apologies are part of a larger process that involves repairing the harm that was done - to the extent that this is possible.

This means that there are times when apologies are not the most significant part of this larger process, and may, in fact, be counterproductive to it. At that point, I don't think that there are any generic guidelines for what will be appropriate and what won't, there's only the specific situation. Whether an apology is appropriate or not will depend on the extent to which the things that need to happen for the apology to be delivered undermine the rest of this process - or not.

And yes, when it comes to unwanted attention that does rule out apologies in a lot of cases. I think that any apology that forces the victim to pay attention to the harasser in order for it to be given undermines the larger process. Whether it be in person, on paper, done on time delay and by proxy, or anonymous but public, etc.

That doesn't mean there aren't times to give an apology for harassment, but they tend to be limited to when the victim is already paying attention to you and it's clearly their choice to do so.

#149 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 02:40 AM:

Sandy @92: You played Ars Magica? Wow! Soul-mates!

#150 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 03:00 AM:

Fungi, Avram:

If a note was a useful thing, he should have handed it to one of her friends was first thing Sunday morning rather than trying to apologize verbally. And she should not have had to deal with him again in any way for the remainder of the con.

Of course, if we're into "shoulds", the whole incident should not have happened.

#151 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 10:45 AM:

Looking at Abi's link to the Defcon story triggers my lawyer instincts.

Don't these people realize that this sort of thing is civilly actionable? If you run a public acccommodation (like a convention), you cannot permit attendees to make it a hostile enviornment for women.

Readercon is probably several steps away from a situation that gets them sued successfully--although they need to think very carefully about how they handle any future harrassment complaints from the point of view of potential liability, whether or not they care about being decent human beings.

Defcon, on the other hand, is so far over the line that you can only marvel at the organizers' cluelessness.

#152 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 01:07 PM:

132 David S: You may be right at that. But it can't be worse than what actually happened - exactly the same thing, except the victim got no say in it whatever.

It does look like Ms. Streisand Effect is doing what the Readercon board didn't. I've explained my issues with this modern iteration of peer pressure before, and I'm not sure it is right here, but it isn't wrong.

#153 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 02:16 PM:

There was no attempted written apology, that's all people playing "well what if..." and it getting conflated.

I think it's quite clear that reasonable people can disagree about what is the right thing to do in this situation, as we see in this thread.

My own reaction would have been a short formal email apology the next day.

#154 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 02:40 PM:

Jo Walton: It would creep me out excessively to have someone who had harassed me turn up in my personal email. I would feel stalked.

#155 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 03:05 PM:

#148 ::: jennygadget
to follow up on my past post and with Abi's annual abuse thread firmly in mind. (I've had an evening to think. I realized I had a hotter hot button than I knew)

All of the reports coming out of fandom this week read like bad romantic fanfic about dysfunctional couples.

The Apology/Forgiveness dialog is just that, conversation between attacker and victim. The attacker by offering an apology and asking for forgiveness is wanting validation, essentially saying "see, I'm not so bad." If the apology is accepted, the offender is assured "I'm not a bad person for following my instincts and acting on my desires"

If the apology is not accepted and forgiveness withheld, the sexual harasser is told "You are a bad person for following your instincts and acting on your desires." Which is why denial of wrong doing and/or insisting on getting a "you're forgiven" from the victim is so very important to the perpetrator. Being told unequivocally that "you are bad, here's why, and now you will be punished" is untenable for some people. It attacks their sense of importance and value to others.

That is why I think offering an apology is important.

I also think that not forgiving is also important if the victim feels the act is unforgivable. No one should attempt to change the victim's mind or act as a go-between.

In the sexual harassment mediation I've been involved in through my employer, apologies and forgiveness are neither required nor asked for. Exhaustive interviewing of all parties concerned are. The He Said/She Said are recorded and compared by an appointed panel of neutral third parties. Education takes place, notes are made on permanent records, and situations are adjusted so that the harassment never happens again. The incident is never, ever treated like a relationship that needs outside counselors and go-betweens.

Looking back and looking around, I see why this is done in professional environments. (I was sexually harassed at a job where the employer had no mediation/guidelines in place. Which resulted in me and my concerns getting blown off by the boss.) But fandom is not business, even though some treat it like it is. Fandom is a bunch of enthusiasts getting together to share. Sometimes fans overshare, but unless we want non-fans to intervene in our lifestyles (i.e. lawyers, judges, and juries) we, the fen, have to self-police.

Which is where the "back off"/"forgive me?"/"(no,) I will (not)" comes into it. If the aggressors in fandom need to know why they get rejected, they should also know they never apply to the rejectors for the reasons why. If it takes a fannish mash-up version of Dear Abby and Miss Manners to get the job done for the lovelorn and eternally clueless, then we in fandom need to create that resource.

#151 ::: rea
I agree even though I am not a lawyer. Fandom is getting more and more mainstream. I do believe that Fandom will be hit with a lawsuit sometime in the near future if the "we're all one big family, and sometimes we disagree, but really, let's all be friends" mentality is not addressed where this topic is concerned. Sexual harassment is a mental, emotional and physical assault and should be treated like any other kind of assault. Being groped by a member of the opposite sex is no different than being hit with a fist in the face. Being made afraid for your safety in a group of partiers is no different than being threatened with a gun or a knife during a mugging.

Readercon, I suspect, is a victim of the "we're all family, and it's okay to be free and easy with family" brainwashing. I also suspect that the rules are being changed mid-incident because "a respected elder of the family" is the aggressor. We're trained to respect and defer to authority. Enforcing a "rule of law" is hard when a beloved elder is found to be guilty of a wrongdoing.

Defcon, I suspect, is a victim of the "old boys club" brainwashing where "guuurls need not apply unless they're hookers for our entertainment" in the "grand old tradition" that's been judged to be illegal. It certainly has all the hallmarks of one based on the linked reports.

#156 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 03:12 PM:

Jo @153:

Thanks; you're quite right. We need to be very clear on the distinction between what did happen and how we speculate that things might have gone better.

more generally:

Several conversations over recent days have made me think long and hard about yet another aspect of how we as a community deal with these issues. And I'm not confident that we're pursuing a course of justice here, right now, in this conversation and the others happening elseWeb.

Basically, the whole "internet falling on someone's head" phenomenon is feeling more and more like another kind of extra-judicial punishment to me. I'm not trying to create some kind of false equivalence: the two are differently sized, but in a way they're shaped alike.

Neither one is a formal penalty of misbehavior. Both are devastating, but neither is inflicted predictably or controllably. Neither is reliably just, nor proportionately applied based on the magnitude of the offense. Indeed, innocents suffer as well. And a certain proportion of the bystanders gleefully predict it, and kinda look forward to it occurring.

There are differences, of course. Most significantly, there is no formal, controlled process alongside which this operates. So maybe it's the closest we get to justice. Perhaps this kind of rough music is baked into our non-hierarchical community structure.

I suspect this particular incident's contrast between formal penalties and actual outcomes is part of what brought this analogy to my attention. But now I see it, and I don't think I can unsee it. I don't yet know what I'll do about it, as a member of our community and a blogger.

This is all just me speaking for myself, of course. We all have to follow our own moral compasses.

#157 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 03:35 PM:


Absent the specific references to an individual event, these are important conversations to have.

Learning to recognize harassment (acknowledging that there is an "I know it when I see it" component).

Learning that one's own behavior may cross the line, some times, with some people, and trying to recognize when that happens.

Determining what--as a community--a good response to harassment might be, or growing toward a determination of harassment, cannot happen without these conversations.

Developing a fuller understanding that common elements like apologies are not always appropriate or integral and that there is no one good way to offer an apology--that seems a worthwhile piece of conversation, though it is confusing and confounding and contradictory.

Unfortunately, without precipitating incidents, it is rare that these conversations are held or that any policies are developed.

I think it's good and important to think about those larger issues, in the hopes that as people of good will, we can figure out better responses and better support systems.

I agree, however, that using these conversations as an excuse to punish individuals is not, generally speaking, a good idea. No one wants to have the internet fall on their head, and there is a question of appropriate response to the original incident.

I've taken several rounds of sensitivity training, required by work, and I am often amazed at questions asked, which are clearly boundary-crossing to me but are innocent to the questioner. So obviously people need to be educated. And without conversations like these, there would likely not be even the groping (no pun intended) and sometimes ineffectual forms of education that currently exist.

#158 ::: Melissa Singer has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 03:36 PM:

probably for punctuation, as there were no links nor, I believe, Words of Power.

I have a few Godiva truffles in my desk, which the gnomes are welcome to.

#159 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 03:44 PM:

abi @156 The internet falling on someone's head is an interesting phenomenon. I mostly read about it secondhand, as I tend to avoid places where the tone is contentious. But I think it's a combination of factors, some of which are desirable and some undesirable.

It's desirable, even encouraging, when a grassroots swell says "This is Not Okay." That kind of widespread reaction can change culture.

But the grassroots swell can turn into mob action, a rumor mill run amok, and bullying.

I'm not sure how you let all those little corpuscles of opinion run all over the net without them occasionally bunching into an undesirable clot.

#160 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 04:52 PM:

Melisa @ 157:
... growing toward a determination of harassment ... ...sensitivity training, required by work, ...
This may have helped clarify something for me. I've been to various 'Harassment Awareness Training'* classes every few years for the last at least 15 years. I suspect that many members of fandom do not work for large companies that tend to require these classes. So there are things that I have taken for granted, that it doesn't seem that everyone has.

In particular, the notion that a sequence of events, each of which on their own may not be harassment, may, in total, constitute harassment. So, if I stand to close, or touch you when I speak, or stand between you and the exit, once, I may be creepy or clueless, but I might not be harassing. If I stand to close, and touch you, and stand between you and the exit, and I do so more than once, I almost certainly am harassing. Even if I do it only once, quite possibly.

And, of course, (not it goes without saying, because almost nothing in the discussion unfortunately does), there are behaviors that only have to happen once for them to constitute harassment. Offers of quid pro quo is one of the standard examples in training.

It is one of the reasons that I've tended to think that zero tolerance policies for harassment are imperfect. It may tend to delay reporting behavior that is inappropriate, and getting it on record, before it becomes harassment.

* "It's Harassment Awareness Training, not Harassment Training. The goal is not to make you better harassers."

#161 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 05:07 PM:

Steve: Even in the workplace, it's very difficult to deal with harassment. Even if you have a documented policy.

Someone still needs to be willing to go on the record. And there are points in going on the record where one cannot be anonymous, where one must be identified, even if just to the person you are making the report to.

Often, it is laughably easy for the person who has been reported to figure out who did the reporting, even if that person's identity is not specifically made know to the (accused) offender.

I've seen numerous situations where in the end no formal complaint is made because of these and other concerns. The problem is that without a complaint, the (presumed) offender cannot be asked to take sensitivity training (beyond the general stuff we have to take every 3 years and which is mostly geared to the interview process). The victim receives no counseling and no actions are taken to protect him or her.

There is, there seems, a basic lack of trust even in the process that exists, when and where it exists.

#162 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 05:19 PM:

I was the one who introduced the idea of a written apology as possibly being a better way to apologize (if an apology was sincere) than creepily hanging around where your presence is unwelcome. It was always meant to be a what-if, alternate-world scenario, and I'm perplexed that anyone needs to emphasize or re-state that a written apology was NOT made in this case.

I think we're all in agreement that Rene Walling screwed up, and that Readercon screwed up.

Looking at photos of Walling, he's a nice-looking guy. He's reportedly intelligent and charming. But he also apparently feels that being pushy, touchy-feely, or stalkerish is a good way to attract women and get laid.

I'm going to ask a question here, and I'll warn in advance that it may sound like victim-blaming. But it's a question that's genuinely perplexed me and millions of other guys for generations.

Because being pushy, being touchy-feely, being stalkerish, being a creep, jerk or asshole... WORKS. Women go to bed with these guys. Sometimes they even marry them. They get rewarded for bad behavior often enough that they continue it, and seeing these guys succeed is one reason why succeeding generations emulate their behavior.

So: Why DO women go to bed with creeps, jerks and assholes?

The particular example that comes to mind is a local fan. He's frequently described as "repulsive", "loathsome" and "gross". He's known for being pushy towards women, bordering on assault. (This is the guy Teresa smacked in the face at Iguanacon when he tried to grab her breast.) In a just world, the only sex partner he would have ever had would be one that comes with a patch kit.

But over all that time, he's almost always had a girlfriend living with him, even several at a time on occasion. And the women who live with him aren't always "damaged" people who think the scraping at the bottom of the barrel is the best they deserve. The woman he's been living with most recently used to be married to a close friend of ours. She was smart, she was talented, she was sociable, she was one of my favorite people. But after her marriage broke up, she ended up with... THAT? WTF? My heart bleeds a little every time I think of her.

For a super-extreme example, there's the case of J.T. Ready, who was an out-and-proud-of-it white supremacist, anti-Semite and self-declared Nazi here in Arizona. Somehow, he ended up with a girlfriend who had previously been married to a Hispanic man. I cannot wrap my head around the idea of any woman getting involved with a guy who thinks having sex with a Mexican is being a "race traitor" and who believed (and stated to people) that her half-Hispanic daughter was a subhuman mongrel. When she tried to break up with him several months ago, he loaded up his AK-47, then slaughtered her, slaughtered her daughter, slaughtered her daughter's boyfriend, and slaughtered her 15-month-old grandchild before turning the gun on himself. WHY in God's name did she ever get involved with a man like that?

#163 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 05:48 PM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 119

>> .. some kind of apology to the person on the
>> receiving end of your behavior, the Magic Word is:
>> Stationery

Oh. I thought you were going to say "Seppuku."

#164 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 06:31 PM:

Melissa, #157: I've taken several rounds of sensitivity training, required by work, and I am often amazed at questions asked, which are clearly boundary-crossing to me but are innocent to the questioner.

There's a cultural component to this as well. In many parts of the Deep South, it's considered polite and friendly to ask questions that those of us not raised in the culture may find deeply intrusive -- and refusing to answer them, no matter how tactfully handled, marks the refusee as a suspicious character. "Not One Of Us," as it were.

#165 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 07:15 PM:

Lee at 164: thanks for pointing this out. Also: some of these differences are cultural, and some are simply personal. I find myself increasingly reluctant to share personal information with people I don't know well, and sometimes I am not so deft at politely fending off what in other circles are friendly inquiries.

It can be difficult.

#166 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 08:34 PM:

Melissa @ 161
I do remember one of my friends who works in HR describing her horror as she realized that couldn't identify the reporter or the situation because there were to many others that were essentially the same. And trying to remember the names that he mentioned without writing them down in front of him.

Strongly bi-modal distributions. When investigating she learned she would find either 0 or 1 other issues, or many. And many was more common.

#167 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 08:56 PM:

I thought that I had read something in comments on one of the (many) posts on the topic which indicated that there had been a written apology attempt. I've gone back and can't find that again to reference. My apologies for apparently promulgating incorrect information.

#168 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 09:01 PM:

Because being pushy, being touchy-feely, being stalkerish, being a creep, jerk or asshole... WORKS.


These are not all the same thing.

My partner is frequently touchy-feely with me. We're married, so I do not assume him trying to touch me is hostile. Which does not mean that there is never a time where I squeak and pull away, or HE squeaks and pulls away. There is negotiation, and really quite a lot, tho it may not necessarily be visible to someone outside the relationship.

He is sometimes pushy with me, and vice versa. If we don't state needs outright, they may not get met reliably, and our culture has some really pernicious ideas about romantic partners magically meeting needs without negotiation. A little pushy to open up negotiation is ok. Taking what you want without negotiation is not an ok kind of pushy.

Asshole/creep are IMO not very clear as our culture does not use these words to describe just one sort of behavior.

Stalkerish specifically means acting like a romantic partner when you're not in a mutually agreed upon romantic relationship. There are a couple issues here. For starters, see the previous bit about toxic cultural messages around pushy. There's also a cultural message floating around that it's romantic if a guy acts like your romantic partner when he is not. There's also the problem of if you are in an agreed upon relationship, a lot of behaviors that would be unpleasant in an acquaintance are necessary for actually getting stuff done. Like making sure dinner happens on time if one of you is at work late can take a lot of communication...

Really, all this stuff comes down to boundaries. It is ok and even desirable to have one set of rules for interaction with one person, and a different set for someone else. We do not need to treat everyone alike. We don't even all need to put the same values on relationships. Your sister might be a flake who has a hissy fit if you can't talk for long when you answer the phone. Mine rarely calls if it's not important, and she's happy to wait for me to call back if I can't interrupt what I'm doing. Treating those two sorts of people in the exact same way would be crazy... But a lot of the pernicious messages about romantic relationships basically come down to the idea that it is not ok for women to decide who they value and then act on those values. Which if you think about it is really rather disgusting.

#169 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 09:05 PM:

I'd be open to hearing an argument that zero-tolerance policies and lifetime bans are extreme. But there are good ways to reconsider a policy, and doing it in the heat of the moment like this was not one of them. Oh yes, they've changed their policy. They may think they were just making a special exception for a guy who is well-known and a smooth talker, but now the precedent is on the record for the next time something like this happens.

#170 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 09:31 PM:

#155 ::: Victoria :

I also think that not forgiving is also important if the victim feels the act is unforgivable.

For me, not forgiving can mean that I'm still angry, not that I think the act is abstractly and generally unforgivable.

#162 ::: Bruce Arthurs:

I don't think this is the whole story, but a lot of women get hooked by the idea of being able to redeem a problematic man.

#168 ::: Torrilin:

Stalkerish specifically means acting like a romantic partner when you're not in a mutually agreed upon romantic relationship.

That's at least a large piece of it.

#171 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 09:36 PM:

#162 ::: Bruce Arthurs:

I've noticed that "why do women" questions can frequently be made more accurate by modifying them to "why do some tiny fraction of women".

I'm not faulting anyone for not having noticed this already-- I just figured it out myself about two days ago.

Some fraction of men do amazingly self-destructive things (including obviously bad choices of partners) without it being handled as a huge gendered mystery. That might be prejudice too-- I suspect that men are expected to do stupid things.

#172 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 09:38 PM:

Bruce Arthurs @162: Predatory social behaviors "work" to get women into bed - by which I mean, to have sex without physically fighting back - for the same reason all predatory social behaviors work. They prey on people's tendency to try and behave in socially acceptable ways, and in the case of male predators targeting women, they especially play on women's social conditioning and what behaviors are accepted in the social group from women.

So predators will engage in behavior that pushes boundaries and overlooks the "polite" signals that he should stop. The target then has the choice between sticking with the "polite" signals - which aren't working - and being overt in a way that violates social norms and, of course, will get her called a bitch who is totally blowing things out of proportion. (For that matter, she herself may worry that she is misunderstanding his approach.)

Of course, when the conduct escalates, the target is now in the position of having "led him on" and "created expectations".

You might as well ask why it "works" for con artists to sell shoddy roof repairs to trusting elderly people.

#173 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 09:48 PM:

Bruce Arthurs, #119:

"Anna Vargo's banning me from Iguanacon's registration area was actually a lot more effective, if petty, retribution for my speaking out."

Speaking of creepy stalker people.

I have had it -- Teresa and I have had it -- with you trying to use Making Light to re-enact your bizarre grudges over the internal disputes of a Worldcon committee THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO.

And now you're slagging off and impugning someone -- Anna Vargo -- who's fucking DEAD and can't respond to your stupid accusations.

Dude, you are banned.

For more than A THIRD OF A CENTURY, Teresa and I have lived with the constant implicit threat that you, Bruce D. Arthurs, will be MORE INSANELY ANGRY AND TROUBLESOME than we have the time or energy to deal with.


Our side of it ends here.

You can do what you want. Make up all the stories you like about people who are dead and can't defend themselves. Or who have hobbies other than brooding about the 1978 World Science Fiction Convention.

The nuances of your opinion? We don't care. They change every time anyway.

Stop harassing us.

Go. Away.

#174 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 10:03 PM:

I've been at the storm center of more fannish thrashes than most, and I've never seen one where confusion wasn't a major component. Sometimes it's taken years to see where the confusion was concentrated, and why, and what it was about. The biggest concentration of it may be yours, or the person or group you're most opposed to, or some person whose role in this mess is opaque to you; but it's always there.

It is never evenly distributed.

What I've learned:

1. Stop the behavior that's hurting people. That includes everyone who's getting hurt. Nobody wins the Biggest Victim sweepstakes. Start with the ones who are getting hurt the worst. They won't necessarily be the ones making the most noise.

2. Look askance at unforgivable and completely justified. Everyone is making unclear choices under difficult circumstances, balancing partial good against partial evil. Never give up hoping for truth and clarity, but avoid the assumption that you're currently in possession of them.

3. There is no good in a pile-on. I don't care what it's about. Pile-ons are destructive. If you're in a position to shut it down, do so. Otherwise, avoid contributing any more hot air to the cyclone. Yes, your intentions are good. Don't do it.

#175 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 10:29 PM:

Mythago @ 172
Predatory behavior may not trigger anything in the target where they consider that they are being manipulated. We are social animals and respond to social cues below the level of rationality. Someone who presents themselves as an intimate will often trigger reciprocal behavior. And then the rational mind will backfill an explanation.

One of the things I've now been exposed to and can't unsee as part of this is the whole PUA thing and "game". Weaponized social interaction hacks.And the ideal result is to have the target think it was all their idea.

#176 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 10:35 PM:

Steve Downey @175: Exactly. Sometimes the target knows something isn't quite right, but can't articulate what the problem is.

#177 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 10:38 PM:

TNH @174 -- had a good discussion with Dave Nee about how to stop this sort of flare-up as it's happening. It's difficult, particularly because there are some people who want to keep the flare-up going. Given the distributed nature of the internet, all it takes is a few people who don't want the heat to end so the light can come in. And things will keep flaring up years later. We looked at examples from fandom and the SF Pride Parade....

I applaud your approach, and hope that I will be able to apply it in as many circumstances as possible.

#178 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 11:01 PM:

Tom, you've been there at Ground Zero so many times yourself. You know.

The 1978 Worldcon was the convention with the highest number of people I met for the first time who turned out to be important to me for the rest of my life.

#179 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 11:12 PM:

Mythago @ 176
Or 'wasn't quite right' and 'problem was' with a side order of 'but he seemed so nice.'

Lower on the humanity scale than people who write telemarketer scripts. I know wall St. Traders with higher ethics.

#180 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 11:41 PM:


Part of this pattern (which obviously applied to men as well as women, and to many situations other than trying to get laid) is actively trying to game peoples' defenses. There's a wonderful book called Influence by Robert Cialdini, which talks about different techniques people use to manipulate one another. Those techniques were certainly known to con men of various kinds centuries before Cialdini was born, too.

But there are at least two other things that I think are going on:

a. Getting what you want from someone[1] is, in general, kind of hard. Respecting social conventions and personal boundaries makes it harder in some ways. So there's a natural tension between stuff that makes it easier to meet your goals (like boundary-crossing advances to lots of women in hopes that one will react positively rather than slap you), and respect for other people (who overwhelmingly don't like your boundary-crossing advances one bit).

To the extent that describes what's going on, I think it explains the pattern you often see in many places of bad actors getting good results sometimes. They get good results by, in some sense, dumping some of the costs of their actions onto bystanders. (Similarly, why are so many successful politicians such sh-ts? Why are so many grossly unethical people able to rise high in some businesses?)

The short version of this is: Why do these people act badly and get good results? Because their bad behavior pays off.

The usual solution to that, to the extent it's practical, is to raise the cost of doing the bad stuff that pays off. Socially clueless inept boundary crossing can be pardoned or not, but pardoning it doesn't create huge amounts more of it. Rationally evil boundary crossing can't be pardoned without making the world a worse place.

b. The second part of this, I'm less sure of. But it seems to me that being seen to violate rules and get away with it, at least some of the time, is a way of asserting high status. It's saying "I'm important enough that I can get away with this." And high-status is almost always appealing.

[1] This might be getting a woman you just met in a bar to sleep with you, or getting an acquaintance to lend you some money, or getting the guy buying a car from you to sign on the dotted line, or whatever.

#181 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2012, 11:53 PM:


I remember readign a report on financial fraud (I think by the SFO) a few years back, where there was this consistent pattern from victims:

a. They would recall having some doubts, suspecting something was dodgy, suspecting it was too good to be true. But not acting on them.

b. They would actively hide details of what they were doing from family and friends who they knew would tell them not to do it.

I think this pattern turns up often, in cults and political movements and bad relationships and fraud and all sorts of other places.

#182 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 12:03 AM:

I just wrote this post six times in a row and brilliantly concluded "he is an entitled princeling who doesn't think he did anything wrong."

There's an expectation of forgiveness- we're raised to be nice and get along when someone says "I'm sorry" we say "That's OK". [exhibit 1: Shaun of the Dead.]

There's a behavior when you're engaged in small talk and the other person goes off script and you try to nudge them back on or continue as if nothing happened. ("How was your weekend?" /"Dead anaconda under the porch." /"Thanks for asking, I didn't do much. How bout them Giants?")

When you do something serious you realize that "I'm sorry" really won't cut it and you don't expect the small talk "That's OK."

This guy did not realize he did something serious and then he tried to get her back on script. "You were a creeper." /"I'm sorry."/ "That's really not OK."/" "It must be loud in here. I said I'm sorry." /"I'm leaving now."/"I WILL CHASE YOU DOWN SAYING I AM SORRY UNTIL YOU SAY IT IS OK."

.... and that's how I ended up where most people probably started.

#183 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 12:13 AM:

albatross @180: Also, because they have no aversion to doing bad stuff. It's not an internal conflict between "argh, I want this thing, but I would have to behave badly too." They don't, or choose not to, perceive their behavior as doing something bad, sometimes out of pure non-empathy, sometimes out of rationalizing and justifying their behavior as not-bad. (If they're stupid enough to fall for it, they deserve it. Nice guys finish last. They can always say no. I need it more than they do. And so on.)

#184 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 05:09 AM:

abi @156, TNH @174 I'm not completely convinced by righteously agreeing that internet pile-ons are Bad. Thing is, this week I've read several hundred comments and posts with firm declarations that it is wrong to keep pestering a woman (whether for sex or for apologies or just generally for attention) after she's said she doesn't want to interact with you. I find that considerably heartening.

The original Readercon decision said to me, if you're a woman and you want to participate in fun conversations about SF and hang out with the lovely enthusiastic people Scalzi talks about, well, you kind of have to accept a bit of groping and creepiness as the price of admission. The pile-on says to me, the majority of fandom finds sexual harassment completely unacceptable. If everybody had just sat on their hands and decided, oh, we'd better not have a pile-on, we don't know all the facts here, we wouldn't want the harasser to suffer a disproportionate punishment, I would have continued to feel unsafe and excluded and not really taken seriously as a human being.

And yes, some of those declarations against harassment are over-the-top, they're spreading rumours and character judgements about the harasser that don't match the verified facts and likely aren't fair to him. Also, there's a lot of them; even if it's nothing worse than "gosh, he sounds a bit of a jerk," hundreds of people all saying that at once is scary and unpleasant.

Is that disproportionate to his original offence? Yes, undoubtedly. But what offence did Valentine commit to deserve having her con ruined by someone leching on her and then following her around? Being a woman who enjoys Readercon and benefits from the professional networking opportunities there. What offence did all those teenage girls who've spoken up commit to deserve older men perving on them and preying on them? Liking geeky things and finding it easier to fit in socially among fans than in high school. What offence has been committed by all the women who are effectively excluded for life from attending Readercon (if not all cons) because they don't know whether they can be sure of being emotionally and physically safe there? Talking of extra-judicial punishment!

#185 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 05:50 AM:

individ-ewe-al @184:

I don't see how either my tentative and caveated personal comment or Teresa's experience-based set of principles are fairly classed as righteously agreeing to anything.

Really, I think you're making this more black-and-white than either Teresa or I have. Please don't; it's not productive. Neither Teresa nor I is proposing, as you seem to assume, letting women continue to be harassed at conventions. That's a strawman, and a thoroughly unfair one. I resent the imputation of it very much indeed.

What we're saying that perhaps we can solve this problem in a better, juster way.

And maybe we can't. As I said in that same comment, maybe it's the closest we get to justice. Perhaps this kind of rough music is baked into our non-hierarchical community structure. And your point about the value of having many people stand up and say, "this is not acceptable" is a good one.

But I don't recall ever saying let's not do anything about the problem. So don't act like I did.

#186 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 06:44 AM:

abi @185 I didn't mean to imply a false binary between "do nothing at all and let the harassment continue" and "internet pile-on". I join you in your hope there are better solutions and I am really interested in the discussions of how to get there.

The absolute statement I was primarily disagreeing with was There is no good in a pile-on. I don't care what it's about. Pile-ons are destructive. I perhaps shouldn't have used the word righteous, but I do in fact believe that sometimes there can be some good in a pile-on. Maybe not enough good to justify the harm, but not none.

#187 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 08:34 AM:

CONVergence put really awesome posters all over the con, and designated safe spaces where all harrassment claims would be taken seriously.

Similar posters should, IMHO, become part of the standard signage load-out for all fan-run conventions.

#188 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 01:42 PM:

Apologizing is one thing, and it's a good thing, but demanding a response to an apology is a totally different thing. In effect, it negates the apology, because it is an attempt to *force* the victim to engage with the victimizer.

It's an attempt to force the victim to continue the "relationship" (the victimizer sees it as a relationship) after it has been refused by the victim.

The right thing to do if one has offended someone is to apologize, in whatever terms one can, and then Go.Away. The offended person will know where to find one, should he or she ever want to do so.

#189 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 02:30 PM:

individ-ewe-al @186:
What interests me in these matters is this question:

What is the good—not the blood-on-the-circus-sand satisfaction for the bystanders, but the genuine good for the people who have been hurt, by a pile-on of the miscreants of a situation?

I'm not asking this with the idea that there is none; I'm asking it to try to see if we can enumerate what the answer is. Because if we can establish what that good is, then maybe, given time and thought and experimentation, we can find another way of doing things that would provide that good without the side-effects: the uneven targeting, the misfires, the innocents caught in the crossfire, the excessiveness of it all. The slow addiction of a set of our community to the sight and smell and taste of blood.

I don't think there's a clean, clear solution on the tip of anyone's tongue. Maybe our media doesn't have the means for it right now. But I'd love to have a good shape of the problem so I can watch future developments attentively, in the hopes of seeing a solution.

#190 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 02:39 PM:

Abi @189: You don't ask easy questions, do, you? {wry}

I suppose one possible "good" (although I'm not sure that's the right word) of the Interweb Landing On The Miscreant's Head is that the victim gets emotional support. In some cases, if the internet TRULY lands on someone's head, a considerable amount of it. And considering that in many cases a victim is made to feel like it's hir own fault for being a victim, I don't think this can be dismissed.

Does it justify the harm that the internet landing on the wrong person can do? Or that of the internet landing on the right person but with disproportionate force? I don't know. I don't know how to quantify this. I'm basically just thinking out loud here, and I freely admit I haven't thought things through.

#191 ::: Karl T. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 02:52 PM:

Simple question:

How does one tell the difference between a 'destructive pile-on' and a community rising up to say with one voice: "This is not acceptable"? Especially from outside that community?

#192 ::: Karl T. has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 02:54 PM:

How pleasant to make your acquaintance, Gnomes of Making Light. I thank you for all of your efforts.

#193 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 02:56 PM:

Cassy B @190:
the victim gets emotional support. In some cases, if the internet TRULY lands on someone's head, a considerable amount of it. And considering that in many cases a victim is made to feel like it's hir own fault for being a victim, I don't think this can be dismissed.

Let me tell you a relevant tale.

I've been fairly open, here on Making Light, about the fact that I was sexually abused as a child. But for a long time I wasn't, partly because I blamed myself for it, since I didn't say no at the time.

When I got older, and started to question that enough to tell a few people about it And I got some...mixed reactions, mostly because teenagers and college students don't necessarily know how to handle these things.

But the one that is most important to me, the one I still vividly remember twenty-plus years later, was the reaction of my friend J. In a low, angry voice, he told me exactly what violent things he wanted to do to the man who took me into that garage and did that to me. And having someone else be angry on my behalf was a huge part of allowing myself to be angry, and separating myself from blame for the incident.

I completely get the value of that kind of emotional support. I really, truly do.

But there's a difference between hearing J say those things, and if I had seen him do them. I don't know that my anger would have survived that, much less my escape from guilt.

Though an internet pile-on is not the same as what J expressed a desire to do...

#194 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 03:03 PM:

Karl T @191:
How does one tell the difference between a 'destructive pile-on' and a community rising up to say with one voice: "This is not acceptable"? Especially from outside that community?

Well, that is one of the large-amount-of-currency questions.

One possible answer is that a pile-on piles onto a person, and a rising-up against "this" rises up against an action.

(But then we get into the essentialism, and how many actions define a pattern, and when the perpetrator of a pattern is a legitimate object of objections. It's complicated.)

#195 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 03:24 PM:

re: stalkerish/bad behavior paying off... I think there's another aspect to this, in that a lot of people find admiration in one form or another to be attractive. Someone who pushes the usual boundaries of flirtatious and admiring a little is going to have some people respond-- the example I was given was a friend of my father's observation that at the university he worked for, young men from middle eastern cultures almost invariably tended to have American girlfriends. This turned out not to be because they made any greater effort in the search, but because they had a culturally smaller interpersonal distance, which a lot of women interpreted as attraction. And maybe one in ten would respond to this favorably, which is pretty good odds for finding a potential partner for someone who wasn't even trying.

Extrapolating from there, I would not be at all surprised if a lot of serial harassers have worked their way up from pushing slightly at the boundaries of "good taste" because from time to time they run into people who are not bothered by their behavior, or occasionally those who find it attractive. As in animal training, the intermittent reward is the one that keeps the doer practicing a behavior, and often escalating it when it doesn't quite work the way it's "supposed" to. At which point, it gets a lot more difficult to stop someone, because like the compulsive gambler he knows it's worked before.

#196 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 03:25 PM:

The internet falling on someone's head has at least three big problems as a mechanism for doing justice:

a. It's random--nobody can say when some garden-variety offensive nastiness will trigger this kind of response, rather than the more common consequences.

b. It's disproportionate--telling some guy who groped a woman at a con and then followed her around that he wasn't welcome back sounds pretty sensible, to me. It's a proportionate kind of response. Similarly, telling him "don't come back for the next couple years." But it sure looks to me like this explosion is likely to have bad consequences for this guy for years to come, in areas like employability and his current and future social life. And that looks disproportionate--appropriate for some kinds of misbehavior, but not for what's alleged.

c. Few of the participants are all that well-informed. I know only what I've read, written by strangers and linked to by people I know online. Certainly, I know enormously less than the people at the con who decide on his punishment Whether the facts as claimed are right and complete in this case, it sure doesn't seem like there is any inherent reason to expect them to be in general.

The whole phenomenon feels like a lynch mob, driven as much by the desire to make a public statement that X is bad as by any concern with justice. And no doubt, sometimes mobs have lynched or tarred and feathered or beat senseless someone who was really guilty and had it all coming. But I don't think that's the way to bet.

#197 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 03:25 PM:

Abi @193: But there's a difference between hearing J say those things, and if I had seen him do them. I don't know that my anger would have survived that, much less my escape from guilt.
Though an internet pile-on is not the same as what J expressed a desire to do...

I totally get that, and that's why I expressed some frustration at my inability to quantify it. I honestly don't know if the good outweighs the harm or vice versa.

For that matter, there's also possibly some value in "you thought that was OK and normative but you were wrong". And I'm not sure that's terrible thing, either.

I'm reminded of a scene from a few years ago on "True Blood" (a guilty pleasure of mine), where a nasty bigoted woman is being called out, by her son as it happens, for her bigotry. This is all from memory, but it went something like this. He cites her hatred of a whole slew of people, from various religious groups to homosexuals. And she nodded and smiled. But when, in the lengthy catalog of the people she hates, he mentions blacks, she hisses in horror, "we don't say that". She didn't deny the hatred, but she didn't want to be associated with people who expressed bigotry specifically against African-Americans OUT LOUD.

Which seems to me to be a step forward, if a small one. People are wired to conform, more or less. If people, solely because it's socially frowned on, don't do or say socially inappropriate things (even if they want to), that is a step toward stamping them out.

I'm not putting this very clearly, I know. But there really is a "fake it 'til you make it" thing that happens here; if people feel constrained NOT to harass women or bully homosexuals or whatever bad behavior by social norms (and, perhaps, the threat of the internet landing on their head), then the behavior will become more rare, and the social constraints stronger. Rinse and repeat....

#198 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 03:30 PM:

Albatross @196: All good points. Especially the fact that the mob is mostly uninformed or only hears one side of the issue.

#199 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 04:14 PM:

albatross, #196: Part of the reason it may feel "disproportionate" to you is that (as frequently happens) now that someone has brought the mess into the open, it turns out that this is not an isolated incident by any means -- he's done this sort of thing to a number of other women. And the proportionate response to a pattern of bad behavior is significantly different from the proportionate response to a single incident.

Cassy, #197: if people feel constrained NOT to harass women or bully homosexuals or whatever bad behavior by social norms (and, perhaps, the threat of the internet landing on their head), then the behavior will become more rare, and the social constraints stronger

Yes. Working against this, of course, are the twin phenomena of (1) the people who still believe it is okay providing support and reassurance to the abusers, and (2) the "not hearing what you don't want to hear" thing that enables abusers to ignore negative input. These are specifically things that the internet pile-on may be able to cut thru, and for that it does have value.

#200 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 04:27 PM:

Lee @199:
And the proportionate response to a *pattern* of bad behavior is significantly different from the proportionate response to a single incident.

But it's not universally agreed that having the internet fall on your head is proportionate to a pattern of abuse, either. Abuse varies. Patterns vary. And cranial internet impact varies. It's complicated and not easy to measure.

These are specifically things that the internet pile-on may be able to cut thru, and for that it does have value.

Indeed. But the internet pile-on still has weaknesses, collateral damage, and extremely uneven application.

#201 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 04:33 PM:

Karl T @191: How does one tell the difference between a 'destructive pile-on' and a community rising up to say with one voice: "This is not acceptable"? Especially from outside that community?

One of the big issues with "is this form of peer pressure a desirable thing [in this instance|ever|...]" is that there may not be a difference. It may be both.

There may also not be a difference between a "massive show of support for the victim of unacceptable behaviour", a "raising to consciousness in many of behaviour that, yes, is unacceptable, but never noticed or never considered 'that important'", and a "destructive pile-on".

These are not disjoint sets - note, they are not necessarily conflated, either. It is possible to be one and not the other; it is also possible to have to be one if it is the other. It depends on circumstances.

At which point the question becomes, is the harm done by the destructive pile-on/blood circus acceptable for the benefits of it? Is there a better way?

Of course, a lot of the "better ways" tend to simply be more private ways. Which is frequently the right thing to do; but when it is not, now you have two problems. You also have the problem of, even if it is the right thing to do, it looks like you're hiding something, in which case you have two problems again.

I'm sure I don't have to come up with examples of any of this recently?

Searching my history here will show several instances of me being concerned about these newer internet-enabled methods of peer pressure, because of exactly the concerns in the last score of posts. It's a *very powerful tool*, and like other very powerful tools in the news recently, usable for both good and ill; and even when properly used, the harm can occasionally outweigh the good.

#202 ::: Shandra ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 04:55 PM:

Long, long time reader, but I don't think I've commented before.

I just wanted to say thanks so much for the discussion & quality of thought here and abi in particular for your comments especially @#193, which falls in line with my experience.

I wasn't at Readercon, and am against harassment in any form, and I think maybe these hammers have to fall. But I have been unable to leave it at that in my mind and out of the myriad discussion threads about this, this one helped me come to a bit of understanding of my own reactions, so thanks. :) Hopefully in the future I can contribute a bit more.

#203 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 06:15 PM:

Welcome, Shandra!

About collateral damage: I was just reading today about one of the most justifiable pileons ever. The guy had been stealing artists' work (tracing, painting over photographs, etc.), selling it at conventions as his own work, and telling outrageous lies about his portfolio (claimed to have "ghost-drawn" several covers known to have been drawn by others, and (perhaps most outrageously) claimed to have drawn the Calvin and Hobbes stamp for the USPS). This all came to light and he was piled on most exquisitely. Yay us, right?

Except then some people started threatening his children, who were babies (less than 6 months old IIUC) at the time.

That's never acceptable. No matter what the parent has done. And there are always bozos on the intarwebz who take things too far.

To my mind that doesn't mean never do it. It really took an internet pileon to get Amazon to take down that guy who was just outright copying famous novels and putting them up under slightly altered titles. But care must be taken that it not go too far.

#204 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 04:44 AM:

abi @189:

Thank you, that's an excellent question.

With my first comment, I was thinking of bystanders. I'm not the hurt person in this situation and in fact I've never been significantly hurt in that way. But to speculate, the good that a pile-on can give to the hurt person includes:
- Support and a sense that friends and the community as a whole cares about them and what they went through
- Validation because it's really common for a harassed person to doubt themselves, are they making too much fuss about nothing, did that really happen, should they have done something differently etc. If hundreds of people shout about how wrong it was for someone to treat you like that, it's got potential to be helpful in dealing with those bad tapes.
- Improved sense of safety for the future. Valentine reported that it helped her when people around provided physical support in keeping the creepy guy away from her. A huge pile-on gives some kind of assurance that if it happens again, that support will continue to be available.

In the broader sense, the thoughts that are swirling around in my mind are to do with the definitions of inclusivity. Is fandom inclusive to straight, middle class men who were bullied in high school, or is it inclusive? It's very nice to get away from the kind of petty rules that are only there to enforce bullshit social hierarchy, but if you also give up on the rules that protect people's safety and wellbeing, then anyone who is in the least vulnerable is going to be driven away. And that ends up just reinforcing social hierarchy in a different and often worse way.

You can enforce safety rules, you can take people who get hurt seriously, if for example you have a serious anti-harassment policy with actual sanctions which get applied. So that would be one better alternative than pile-ons. In some ways one of the positive things about the pile-on in this case is that it's acted as a fallback mechanism when the primary protection failed.

#205 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 04:56 AM:

Also more broadly, I am concerned about the rhetoric of violence as applied to people expressing their opinions on the internet. There's no blood here, there's no violence, there's no cross-fire, there's no mob, no lynching, no beating senseless or tarring and feathering. And yet some women at cons are suffering actual violence, physical, bodily violence, while their attackers are not. If using strong language to condemn sexual assault gets compared to lynching, but the assault in the first place is just an etiquette mistake, we have a problem.

Obviously, there are real concerns. The emotional damage of the internet falling on your head is a real thing. Social ostracism does real harm. Albatross @196 is quite right to mention reputation damage and impact on employability and these kinds of things. But if we're going to acknowledge and try to deal with that, I would also like to see acknowledgement that sexual assault, even if it's "only" unwanted touching that falls short of violence, also does real harm. Emotional, social, professional in many cases if female writers have to choose between foregoing networking opportunities and having their bodily integrity compromised.

#206 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 05:53 AM:

indivi-ewe-al @205:
But if we're going to acknowledge and try to deal with that, I would also like to see acknowledgement that sexual assault, even if it's "only" unwanted touching that falls short of violence, also does real harm. Emotional, social, professional in many cases if female writers have to choose between foregoing networking opportunities and having their bodily integrity compromised.

I would have thought it was a given that both harassment and sexual assault do real harm. It's the base assumption of the conversation. If it didn't do real, genuine, powerful damage to the people who suffer them, we'd be having quite a different discussion than we are.

But if something I said makes you feel that I think those behaviors are anything other than deeply harmful and unacceptable, I apologize. If someone else in this conversation did so, I'll be happy to take them to task for it in my role as moderator.

Please feel free to point out what comments you see here that left you unsure that the people making them strongly condemn both harassment and assault.

#207 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 06:40 AM:

abi @206

I am really struggling to communicate here that I'm on the same side as you! We both want less harassment in fandom, we both want better mechanisms for dealing with problems than unpredictable internet-falling-on-heads.

Fair enough, it's a base assumption that harassment and assault are harmful. Nobody in the thread here is doing the thing that infuriates me of saying, oh well, maybe he didn't mean it, he was probably just socially awkward. But I have seen a fair amount of exactly that minimizing in the wider conversation. And this particular incident is I literally the first time I can remember that those kinds of comments are in the minority, which is part of why I called the response heartening.

What troubles me is that the people who are outright condemning the harassment are being called a lynch mob and addicted to the smell of blood. It's true that there are a lot of them, it's true that a lot of people using strong language and escalating rumours and speculating about someone's character constitutes a pile-on. A pile-on is, I agree, harmful. Harmful to the accused (even if he genuinely did wrong in the first place), harmful to the community. But it's not violence. And the reaction against that harm is right here and visible in this thread, whereas the reaction to the harm of sexual assault is just a "base assumption".

I'm not so stupid I don't know what a metaphor is. But it's a pattern I've seen lots of times: negative remarks about actual violence are condemned using violence metaphors, which ends up creating the impression that both sides are just as bad. And it ends up socially punishing the people who are trying to do something about the original problem. (Like the calling someone racist is worse than actually being racist phenomenon.)

#208 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 11:22 AM:

individ-ewe-al, #205: Albatross @196 is quite right to mention reputation damage and impact on employability and these kinds of things.

More broadly than I mentioned upthread, and still in the context that this is not an isolated incident WRT the perpetrator, I don't believe that reputation damage and impact on employability are necessarily bad outcomes here. It's been mentioned that one reason men keep doing this kind of shit is that, just often enough, it works; another reason is that they so rarely suffer any kind of significant social or career consequences for doing so. If I were an attractive woman whose social circle (at cons or otherwise) overlapped that of this guy, I'd certainly want to know that he has a record of pulling stunts like this. If I were in a position to hire him to work in an office where there are attractive women, even more so. Until this behavior starts having actual real-world negative results, why do they have any reason to change it?

#209 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 11:52 AM:

@162: Re: sleeping with assholes and jerks.

One issue with the way that question is always phrased is that it implies that women are responsible for the existence of assholes and jerks in general. I knew a woman in college who was notorious in my social circle for her asshole behavior during her love life -- she was incredibly manipulative and would actively attempt to (and often partially succeed in) destroy the lives of the people she broke up with.

She was, in short, the female equivalent of the sort of asshole you're describing. Perhaps less disgusting in public, but just as dangerous and just as manipulative. But, with *very* limited exceptions, her behavior was blamed on *her*. We didn't go around asking, why are people in our social circle dating this woman?

I suspect we'd have done so had the genders been reversed. I'm not sure that's fair to anyone.

#210 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 01:10 PM:

and LMM @209 triggers yet another lightbulb moment. Frustratingly, of the "I should have figured that out for myself" variety

#211 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 01:34 PM:

individ-ewe-al @207:

Nobody in the thread here is doing the thing that infuriates me of saying, oh well, maybe he didn't mean it, he was probably just socially awkward. But I have seen a fair amount of exactly that minimizing in the wider conversation.

the reaction against that harm is right here and visible in this thread, whereas the reaction to the harm of sexual assault is just a "base assumption".

But it's a pattern I've seen lots of times: negative remarks about actual violence are condemned using violence metaphors, which ends up creating the impression that both sides are just as bad. And it ends up socially punishing the people who are trying to do something about the original problem.

You know what? I give up. It's clearly impossible to have a nuanced discussion about these matters, much less work tentatively toward a better way to deal with each other.

Because we can't talk without carefully and meticulously re-proving everything from ground zero. Otherwise the core ideas that form the ticket of admission and shared context of the discussion are dismissed as "just" base assumptions, things we never said are repeatedly argued against, and conversational patterns we aren't falling into are more important topics of discussion than what we might actually be saying.

I typed a whole long comment about how we aren't doing any of the things that you keep arguing against in this thread, and how we might actually have something more nuanced and high-resolution to talk about if we could stop proving our righteousness against strawmen. I had actual content. But screw it; it won't get read or reacted to, because there's something else everyone else on the internet is saying that is more interesting than the conversation going on right here in this thread.

So let's simplify matters and just have the same discussion that the rest of the internet is.

Sexual harassment bad! Pile-ons effective! Rah! Rah! Rah!

(Yes, I am pissed of. Does it show?)

#212 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 01:48 PM:

LMM @ 209 lays finger right on my pulse. When the question was asked up-thread, "Why do women date these guys?" the major squick-factor for me was not at all mitigated by the caveat "At risk of sounding like victim-blaming, which I don't want to sound like..." Dude, it sounds like it. If you don't want to sound like you're victim-blaming, don't ask a question that boils down to "Why do so many women choose to be victimized?" Ask instead why so many social predators are successful -- and, perhaps, why society so aggressively enables them.

Also, the question "Why do women date assholes?" resonates hugely with the Nice Guy™ pattern. For the Trademark Nice Guy, the follow up question is "Why don't they date me instead?" And it's only ever a rhetorical question, because the Nice Guy™ always knows the answer: "They don't date me because I'm Nice™ and women only date assholes."

I'm sure I don't need to unpack the entitlement and resentment that's lurking under the wrapping paper.

Which is a long way of saying, Please don't ask me "Why do women date assholes?" if you want me to extend you the presumption of good faith. I'll still try, but given the pattern you're falling into by asking it, it's going to be hard.

Re: Internet pile-ons -- Lee @208 expresses my feelings about the manner. But I will add that one of the consequences of harassing, stalking, and sexually assaulting women ought to be a shunning. The harasser has labeled himself unsafe for women to be around; for women's safety, let that label stick. For as many women's safety as possible, let that label be widely visible.

Again, we are not talking about someone who's bad at social skills and non-verbal queues who made an honest mistake. But isn't it funny how women are so very often asked by society to consider the harassment that made them feel unsafe as an "honest mistake," and how we wouldn't want to "lynch" the harasser for his "honest mistake"? How we should instead be kind and generous and forgiving and see it as a teaching moment? How focus gets shifted to how women should act so as not to lead on those poor, clueless, ignorant, inadvertent harassers? And how, across the web, people bring up the "honest mistake" factor in conversations about Rene Walling, who it's clear harasses deliberately and has done so multiple times?

We women are told every day "You're reading too much into it" and "you're inventing sexism where there is not so you can get angry about something" and "you know he didn't mean it that way." For me, the value of the internet pile-on on a confirmed, serial harasser is this: for once, my community is reaffirming that I'm NOT reading too much into it, the misogyny is REAL (and unacceptable), and his intent has nothing to do with the very real harm of his making me feel unsafe.

Is there a way to do that without a pile-on? I don't know, but in this instance I find it hard to care. Let the label stick, and let it be visible widely: Rn Wllng s, thrgh hs wn dlbrt nd rptd ctn, nsf fr wmn t b rnd. Rn Wllng s prdtr. Lt vr cmmnt knw t nd shn

#213 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 02:11 PM:

abi, with all due respect, I think the not-feeling-listened-to is going both ways.

But I find myself unable to engage usefully once the discussion reaches the "OK, I give up" point, with optional putting-words-in-others'-mouths sauce on top. That kind of thing sort of nukes the conversation.

Still, I'd like to throw one more thought out there, for anyone to respond to?

The conversation on Making Light takes place in the context of the wider conversation. It cannot be divorced from that context. A lot of us are going to hear it in that context, and I submit that it's not wrong to do so.

#214 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 02:24 PM:

LMM, #209: I have in fact heard the gender-reversed equivalent of "why do women keep dating assholes," generally from male friends who have watched their friends being drawn to Miss Hot Toxic* like moths to a flame. But you're right, it's much more rarely applied in that direction.

* For example. And yes, generally it has a lot to do with how she looks.

#215 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 02:35 PM:

Nicole @213:

You're right, to some extent. individ-ewe-al, I apologize for putting words into your mouth at the end of my comment. I know your position is not what I stated there.

But I also realize, more generally, is that if this conversation is not to be based on what we're saying here, but rather on what everyone is saying in the wider community, then I must bow out of any substantive contribution to it.

Quite simply, I can't see any way that I can express my views that will not be all to easily misinterpreted when taken in the context of the wider conversation, even though that is not the context of this thread. Because, for instance, without the base assumption that sexual assault and harassment are definitionally unacceptable, it's not really possible to get into the nuances of how internet pile-ons may not be the most effective countermeasure. If talking about the severity of the latter is taken as a minimization of the former, then I cannot see any way to talk about it at all.

So I'm still out of the substance of the conversation, though I will continue to moderate it if tempers (other than mine) flare.

#216 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 02:42 PM:

Nicole @ 212

Again, we are not talking about someone who's bad at social skills and non-verbal queues who made an honest mistake.

Given the conversation here, on this board, it seems like no level of social skills would help.

You have abi saying that "For me, not being apologized to makes me feel like you don't believe you did anything wrong." You have several others, including the original complainant saying, "For me, being apologized to is another unwanted interaction with you."

It doesn't seem like any level of social skills would enable someone who's behaved badly even to know whether he ought to apologize.

I will note that the "you have a policy--you can't change it because it seems like a bad idea in this case to follow it" is an interesting contrast to the "Occupy Chaotic Good" thread a few months ago.

#217 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 02:54 PM:

@212, 214: I get that the Nice Guy phenomenon is largely tied to the assholes-get-chicks mentality. But I'm not even sure that that's the most dangerous part of the assumption.

The first point is, attributing men's personalities to environmental factors while women's personalities are intrinsic is basically an otherization of women. ("I am having a bad day. He is an asshole.")

The second is, the thing about being an asshole to get women is that it's a much easier strategy than doing what *really* works. The hyper-charismatic, uber-enthusiastic, genuinely nice guys I knew from college had loads of girls willing to sleep with them (including me). But it's hard to transform yourself into that, while it's really easy to insult women in the hopes of getting the one who will sleep with you because of it. Those guys -- the really desirable ones -- are mostly in long-term relationships now -- with really attractive, really great women. That's success for you. The assholes you mentioned may have girlfriends, but the fact that they show up each time with a new one means they keep breaking up.

#218 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 03:21 PM:

SamChevre @216: Re. Apologies, yes/no. What I got out of the exchange of views was as follows:

- If you realise you've done wrong, you ought to apologise.

- This should be done (a) asap; (b) in a manner that avoids the wronged person feeling they're being subjected to further harassment; (c) without expectation of any reply/soothing words/validation.

- If you try to deliver the apology and the wronged person doesn't want to receive it, let that be an end to the matter and stay away from the wronged person.

- Finally, if you really want an example of a good apology... (Bujold spoiler coming up, of course) see Zvyrf'f ncbybtl gb Rxngreva va "N Pvivy Pnzcnvta."

#219 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 03:35 PM:

dcb, my very favorite example of doing an apology exactly right. I had a quote from that as a sig for a while.

And frnyrq va uvf bja oybbq, IIRC. A mark of sincerity that's hard to argue with.

#220 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Sam Chevre @216: I think (without going back to reread the whole thread) that you are conflating two things in your post.

I think Nicole was talking about the original offense. There are people with poor social skills who are quite bad at flirting/trying to pick someone up. Sometimes that can _look like_ sexual harassment but isn't, quite. Sometimes it _is_ sexual harassment anyway, because the person does it more . . . knowingly, I guess is the term I'm groping for.

While you are talking about offering apologies, which is, as we have seen in the development of this conversation, a very difficult thing.

I agree that having poor social skills can make it difficult to know when or how to apologize, especially because the offender can't read the offended person's mind to know if the offended person even wants an apology. In situations like this, some sort of official mediator or go-between--not someone who is friends with either the offender or the offended person--might be useful to determine if an apology is wanted (not if the apology is warranted, which is a whole 'nother matter). But involving such a third party would, to my mind, be something that happened as part of a policy on dealing with sexual harassment at a convention (which is, after all, where we started).

Anyway, I don't think you and Nicole were originally talking about the same thing.

Apologies to Nicole and Sam if I have misinterpreted.

#221 ::: Melissa Singer has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 03:50 PM:

and is not sure why this time.

I only have one Godiva truffle left, but it's the double-dark and might serve three gnomes, depending on their size.

#222 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 04:42 PM:

SamChevre @216, apologizing is not the act for which Walling has been banned. If all he had ever done wrong was apologize, there would have been nothing for him to apologize for.

#223 ::: Nick from the O.C. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 05:34 PM:

abi @ 211,

I never post here but lurk from some frequency. I wanted to make an exception to my lurking policy, and let you know that I've found this conversation very helpful as I come to grips with my thoughts and feelings on the Walling issue in particular, and social interactions in general.

Thanks for the moderation. Thanks to you and to others for the thoughtful--and helpful--comments.

#224 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 06:54 PM:

Nicole @212:

You know what? This is not acceptable here on Making Light. Two of the moderators have already expressed strong views about this exact tactic. It's one thing to disagree with us in principle and discuss the pros and cons of the matter. It's something else entirely to use this very thread to do what we have explicitly said we do not want.

As you point out, this discussion is happening all over the web. You want to amplify the message, you do it elsewhere.

Let's be clear. If the choice is between allowing this thread to fill up with comments like that—to be part of the dogpile—and closing it, I will close it.

#225 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 07:27 PM:

Nick from the O.C. @223 (inter alia):

I appreciate the compliment. But I'm not sure, considering how things are going right now in this thread, that I deserve it.

I'm deeply concerned that this is the weekend when this whole thing blows up on our neighborhood of the internet. I remember the last time that happened, and I don't remember it fondly. I suspect that worry is behind both my strong visceral reaction to the recent turns this thread has taken lately and my lurking semi-migraine.

But here's the thing. It's been pointed out that there are many places on the internet that this conversation is going on. Given that, if we collectively cannot get this particular iteration of it back onto a track that fits with Making Light's sitegeist, I'm perfectly willing to decide that it's run its course here and close comments. It's not like I'd be stifling discussion altogether, after all; just declining to continue to host and moderate it here.

Right now, it's nearly half past one in the morning for me. I'm going to bed. When I get up (later) in the morning, hopefully with substantially less stabbing pain and consequent nausea, I'll have a look at where the conversation has gone in my absence and make a judgment call.

#226 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 07:42 PM:

As a follow-up to the original topic, the Readercon Twitter Feed has reported the resignation of most of (all of?) the board.

Also, is offline, probably due to traffic.

#227 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 07:47 PM:

Seconding Nick: this has been a very helpful conversation for me.

For me, abi's post 37 is hugely helpful. (I've spent a long time speaking carefully in a very different way.)

Also, the discussion around apologies was helpful, just to realize that different people's reaction is very different.

#228 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 08:10 PM:

@226: *Jaw drop*, although in retrospect it was coming for awhile.

The website is up, though it doesn't seem to have changed at all since the con.

#229 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 08:50 PM:

LMM @228, I'm not very surprised. There's a petition out there calling for (among other things) the board's resignation, and it's got a whole lot of signatures. And I know the Readercon committee isn't happy with how the board handled things.

#230 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 08:57 PM:

Let it be known that even though abi's gone to bed, I've got several hours of wakefulness in me. Imagine me strumming my fingers idly on the disemvoweler, with the comment-shutoff lever in easy reach. At my feet, a very large wolf-hound gnaws on a troll haunch.

#231 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 09:45 PM:

@229: Oh, I knew the petition was out there -- and I knew the board was almost certainly done for in one way or another. (1) I just didn't think they'd resign en masse (though I suppose that's the way to do it), and I definitely expected the decision to be reversed at the same time if not before the board changed hands.

(1) I don't think this is pile-on territory so much as musings on damage control, but delete if you feel otherwise. The *one* way they could have survived would have been for Walling to have fallen on his sword. Banning himself voluntarily would have made him look, well, better (and is, honestly, such an obvious tactful move I'm really surprised he didn't do it a week ago). Simultaneously announcing that he had pulled strings and pressured the board into their decision would have ruined him instead, but it *might* have saved the board had the statement been believable. Maybe.

#232 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 09:45 PM:

Upon thinking about it, I'm probably overstating the value of the second scenario, however.

#233 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2012, 10:40 PM:

I've seen really remarkably little pile-on when it comes to RW personally (granted, I may not have read all the relevant stuff). Most of the discussion seems to me to have been in more general terms and to have aired things that badly needed airing.

#234 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 05:09 AM:

OK, so I've had a night's sleep. The headache is down to a low throb, not severe enough to trigger nausea. I suspect that that's the best I'm going to get this weekend.

Here is my considered opinion, and the way I would like to proceed with this thread:

1. This conversation may be part of a larger set of conversations on the internet, but those conversations are not included by reference in it. Please have here the conversation we are having here. If you feel the need to bring in elements of the wider conversation, please do so in a fashion that is clearly marked and consistent with this conversation and Making Light culture in general.

2. This is not the place to signal-boost your views, however right, righteous, or useful they are. I rarely play this card, but remember that there are only five people on this site who decide what messages get to ride on Making Light's signal—and two of them get to overrule the other three. Many people say things that the five of us disagree with in the pursuit of conversation, and that's generally OK. But simple declarations for the attention of Google and posterity may very well lose their vowels.

3. Assume all people in the situation are genuine human beings with feelings and failings. Some of them have behaved very badly indeed. Some of them have behaved impressively well. I'd encourage a behavior-based rather than essentialist approach to dissecting the situation. If you would prefer to take a more essentialist approach, do it elsewhere.

4. Be aware that if this turns into another all-internet thrash, I'll shut comments off on this thread—even if the thrash hasn't yet reached these shores. Three of the mod team are at a con this weekend, and the echoes of previous thrashes are quite literally giving me a stabby pain behind my right eye. (Or left. It shifts.) This is not a tenable situation for riding herd on a problematic thread in an incendiary atmosphere.

5. Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate. Pursuant to which, prepare for next rock.

#235 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 05:49 AM:

individ-ewe-al, and everyone:

I would like to apologize again for the end of my comment 211. It was unfair to you and unproductive to the conversation as a whole. It's particularly inappropriate for a moderator to engage in those tactics, because of the imbalance of power that my role entails.

I do have particular problems with the way that you approached the topic, and I will be happy to explain them, either in private or on-thread. I promise to do so in a more moderate fashion, though it's possible that I'll have to do so quite slowly. This is a difficult topic and a difficult atmosphere to discuss it in. There's a consequent trade-off to be made between quick and charitable.

I also promise that I will attempt, in general as well as in particular, to make a better choice in that trade-off. I cannot guarantee that I will do better every time, but I will attempt to.

#236 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 09:26 AM:

There's a remarkable amount of frustration in this thread. I think part of it is that we're balancing some fairly abstract and absolute values against some very particular and personal ones. That's rough, because whichever side you take, the other side's responses are going to feel unsatisfactory.

If any of us were the monsters we may seem at such moments, the rest of us would have noticed it a long time ago.

#237 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 09:29 AM:

Pretty much everyone sticks their foot in their mouth at one point or another. It takes someone with class and compassion to admit it, back up, and try again. Especially in a place where they hold the authority.

Thanks Abi. You're part of what makes this joint special, even when you flub something. I hope to have as much grace as you do when I mess up.

I'll get to the topic on hand again when I've had time to mull it over, and when the result Certain Upcoming Events are made public.

#238 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 09:32 AM:

I'm concerned that people are getting hurt here, in this thread, and am wondering whether it might be better to shut it down for a while.

#239 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 09:36 AM:

I think we shall. Due to our schedules, I'm default mod here, and it's increasingly clear to me that I am not in a position to deal with this difficult conversation effectively.

#240 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 09:41 AM:

Can do. Three days or five?

#241 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2012, 09:45 AM:

Until a moderator has the spoons for it. Which may not be me, not in any predictable timescale. It'll have to reopen when it opens.

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