Readercon: The Bad and the Ugly
[A more fun roundup of things is here.]
So, a couple of pretty frustrating things happened this year at Readercon.
Programming guidelines decreed I had to be on a panel in order to do a reading; despite not being comfortable on panels as a rule, I signed up for the Frankenstein panel. I was the only woman (which didn’t seem to be a rare thing, this year), and despite making some comments which would indicate I am an adult with a functioning critical-thinking module, the moderator, Theodore Krulik, made me the object of several patronizing comments and the sort of leading questions you pose to a three-year-old.
This happened repeatedly. I was the only woman on the panel; I was the only person made the target of these questions. (Apparently at one point, he called me “Missy.” I don’t remember this, though I admit that several times I was trying my hardest to ignore him and actually engage the topic being discussed. If I had heard it, I would have addressed it.) Several people later sought me out to express their frustration with how I had been treated – which gives some indication about the level of nonsense we’re dealing with here – and that was reaffirming, but sadly does not negate the sexist behavior. (It’s also worth noting that mine was far from the only panel that had a case of token-woman-itis, so my experience is probably not unique.)
And speaking of unacceptable behavior!
At the con, someone introduced himself to me and started a conversation, accompanied by elbow-and-shoulder touches that I moved away from. At one point he said I had to stop saying things that “made [him] want to say “wrong” things”; I shut him down politely, turned my back on him, and talked to someone else until he eventually left.
That night at a room party, I paused in the hall bottleneck and said to a passing friend, “Oh man, it’s crowded.” From behind me, the man wrapped an arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, you and I will have a good time!” at which point I spun and said loudly and clearly “You do NOT touch me,” and moved inside. He stayed in the bottleneck for more than thirty minutes trying to catch my eye before he left; I recruited someone to walk me to the elevator.
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.
Later, he stopped by the Clarkesworld table again and hovered for so long that a friend stepped in while I went elsewhere.
While I am in contact with the Readercon concom about these incidents and thus do not wish to name him here, I want to talk about this.
Because seriously, let’s review. My boundaries were violated physically, verbally, and in terms of my right to feel personally secure. In addition, within minutes of meeting him, I was told to stop saying things, because it made him somehow unable to control his thoughts, which is bog-standard thought policing. And I was subjected to not one, not two, but THREE instances of the man in question hovering near me because he wanted to apologize, and he wasn’t going to stop until he had had his say. (If this sounds like stalking, I want you to think about that.)
All the aspects of this harassment (and make no mistake, that’s what it is) are indicative of something greater, not just in the fan community, but among men in general. Let me break it down for everyone:
A brief conversation is not an opportunity to try your luck.
When someone moves away from an overture you are making? You are done.
When someone indicates something you have said makes them uncomfortable and then turns their back on you? You are done.
When someone turns to you and tells you in no uncertain terms that you are not to touch them again and moves off at speed? You are so incredibly done.
And when you have offended a woman with boundary-crossing behavior, you do not get to choose how you apologize.
If a woman has indicated you are unwelcome (see above, but also including but not limited to: lack of eye contact, moving away from you, looking for other people around you, trying to wrap up the conversation), and especially if a woman has told you in any way, to any degree, that you are unwelcome, your apology is YOU, VANISHING.
You have forfeited the right to unburden yourself by apologizing to her until she forgives you, assuring her that you have learned things until she praises you. When you have made a woman uncomfortable, you show her you are sorry by leaving her alone. Hanging around the only exit to a space for an extended period of time, and hovering near someone at length, may feel to you like waiting for an opportunity to apologize, but from the outside it is, in fact, indistinguishable behavior from stalking, with the same roots — your motives and feelings trumping the woman’s right to exist in a world without you in it.
Dudes across the world need to understand this; until then, they’re just adding creeptown to injury.
Overall, Readercon was a wonderful time — I got to catch up with friends, and meet new people who were great, which is what all the best cons are about. But I also wanted to talk about this, because I think that’s important, too.