Rumors have a way of spreading at conventions, and so the first time I heard that some guy was being abusive toward women at the 2011 World Fantasy Convention, I didn’t pay much attention, figuring it had already been addressed. The second, third and fourth times? I started paying attention.
By the second day, he had gone from nuisance to threat, and women were hiding in their hotel rooms to avoid him. A friend, knowing my experience in working security and helping resolve harassment issues, asked me to take it up with the WFC Board.
By Saturday night, the behavior had escalated from threats to ‘accidental’ touching of breasts, attempts to force a kiss, and more. Eventually, I had to call hotel security to get rid of him…and then watch people defend his actions.
But I’ve already written those reports many times, and there’s no sense in getting bogged down on it now. You can find the link here, if you want to read more.
This isn’t about one incident, or one guy, or one convention, or one bitch with a bee in her bonnet. It’s about the #1reasonwhy tag on Twitter, talking about sexism in the game industry. That topic would go on to be written up in leading genre sites and national magazines. It’s about the ReaderCon incident, the rape ‘jokes’ on online articles, the claims that ‘nothing’s wrong with us’.
It’s about how frequently this happens, how little recourse there is, and how damaging it is to the industry at large. It isn’t a problem for a subset of women, or women in one particular industry. It isn’t just about rape or inappropriate touching, this isn’t just some ‘bitch with a bee in her bonnet’ (as one abuser called me).
It’s about respect, safety, dignity, honesty and pride. It’s a problem for the men, too, because most of them are not rapists or abusers, but they end up being treated with the same caution because there’s no sticker that says ‘danger danger’. It’s a problem for conventions, because it means women are less likely to attend, and men who understand the issue are less likely to attend, and then things just keep going downhill from there.
But here’s the thing. I’m tired of talking about it. I realized, as I was writing this article, that everything I want to say has already been said in so many ways, at so many places. We’ve raised our voices. We’ve brought attention to it. What more is there to say? We need to stop just talking and start doing something about it.
An excellent example of this is the Readercon fiasco. A woman was harassed, the ball was dropped, other people came forward, the community demanded a response. The board was replaced, and things simmered down. We all felt very proud of ourselves.
And then we got reports that he was at WorldCon, helping out behind the stage, and continuing to make women uncomfortable.
Now, the outcry was the initial key that got this going. We did make good progress, yes. Things were briefly better. But the problem is, it is more damaging when one goes into what should be a safe environment, and isn’t, than when one goes into an environment that is known to be unsafe. It is traumatic to have that safety compromised. It’s like getting into your house and finding a burglar waiting for you. That’s your sanctity, your safe place.
How many women did we lose from the conventions in question, because of that? How many men? How many people?.
It is about not just paving the way for the future in terms of new technology and cool products, but in basic human decency, too. Science made amazing breakthroughs last year, but we’re still caught up in trying to figure out if women have the right to feel safe in a social circle. SF needs to decide if it’s a clubhouse or an industry, because it can’t be both ways.
Fixing this isn’t going to be easy, and it sure won’t be fun. We’re going to have to stir up the bees’ nest, and we will get stung. We’ll lose friends, and people will be hurt, but it has to happen.
And until it does, we have no right calling ourselves the ‘genre of the future’.
Jaym Gates is the publicist for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Pathfinder Tales and more.
Her work includes anthologies Rigor Amortis and Broken Time Blues, short stories in Aether Age and M-Brane SF magazine, nonfiction in Fantasy Magazine and Crossed Genres, and blog appearances at Science In My Fiction, Apex Book Company, Booklife Now, and the SFWA blog.