Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wiscon

At this point, the whole world has probably heard about the Wiscon brouhaha. Do I want to go into it? Not much, but here goes.

There were two complaints of harassment after the 2013 Wiscon, both involving the same person. The con committee dropped the ball on both. Briefly put, information was not transmitted through the con committee, so committee members were not aware the person had been involved in two alleged instances.

The instances were groping one woman and throwing a book at another women. They were not rape, attempted rape, murder or felonious assault. (Well, the book throwing might be felonious assault. -- I just looked the term up. -- It depends on the size of the book.) But they were the kind of behavior modern cons do not want.

The accused person was allowed into the con this past year (2014), though he was not permitted to do programming. A lot of people got very upset about this. The con committee apologized and explained that they had not realized there were two complaints against the guy when they admitted him to the con. They then set up a special subcommittee to decide if more sanctions were required -- and to look at another complaint of harassment, this one against a woman who had read a poem at an open mic poetry reading several years back. The person bringing the complaint felt the poem was aimed at her and constituted harassment.

Okay, is it clear to you?

The subcommittee has now decided to ban the guy for one to four years, depending on his behavior. If he can show evidence of reformation, he will be able to come back earlier. This decision has made a lot of people very angry. The second case -- harassment by poem -- has not been decided yet.

I should add that the woman who was groped complained both to the con and to the guy's employer. (He worked in a business with strong connections to the science fiction community.) He ended by losing his job. In addition, he has had his name plastered all over the Internet as a sexual predator. Getting banned by the con strikes me as trivial in comparison, whether the ban's for one year or life.

(There is more to this story. I'm giving you the brief version. You can find the rest on the Internet, if you really want to.)

It seems clear the guy behaved badly. There were consequences for him. I find the idea of being middle aged and unemployed horrifying, at least in this economy. Maybe the con subcommittee should have banned him for life. If they had been looking out for the best interests of the con, they would have done so to placate the people who are angry.

It's also clear, I think, that the con committee has handled the situation ineptly -- both in terms of PR and in terms of having a process they could defend. I think they should have consulted a lawyer and maybe found an organization that advocates for women to give them some advice. As far as I know, they didn't.

However, I am willing to give Wiscon another chance. Why? Attitudes in the SF community re what is acceptable behavior are changing. SFdom used to be really tolerant of behavior we now call abusive: groping women, following them around, making indecent suggestions to them... Now the community has the job of changing the rules and making it clear to everyone that the rules HAVE changed.

Cons are coming up with new harassment policies and new procedures of handling complaints. I figure mistakes are going to happen. Readercon bungled a harassment complaint a few years back and got egg all over itself.

People are saying Wiscon should be burned down. People are saying they will never attend Wiscon again. I think I am going to lose friends over this.

What I find especially disturbing is the intensity of the anger. It doesn't seem appropriate to the situation. The people involved seem to exist in an echo chamber of rage, bouncing angry messages back and forth. I get the impression that they enjoy being furious.

People disliked what Wiscon did. They have made this clear to Wiscon. It's now up to Wiscon to respond. I am not unhappy with the one to four year ban. I would also not be unhappy with a lifetime ban.

In any case, I plan to continue going to Wiscon. It's the only feminist SF convention in the world and, with all its failings, it's my favorite con.

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