It is rare that you get to see your decisions and actions, no matter how principled, justified.
And really, when you’re taking a stand against harassment, you don’t want your stance justified. You don’t want to have proof and evidence that yes, that creepy guy really was creepy, and was going to keep being creepy.
Sadly, I’m hearing from friends who attended MarCon this year that the stance about Chainmail Guy’s harassment – the one that some members of the board decided to destroy the con over rather than censure a buddy who was harassing people – was completely justified.
According to multiple accounts, he was very visible in the main corridor, apparently with a table displaying some chain mail. (Which is exactly the setup that spawned problems at Context.) Sure, he wasn’t a volunteer, but had a very prominent bit of real estate. And, much like the complaints at Context, kept inserting himself into private conversations, just as he did before.
Unlike Context, he was in the main hall – and therefore much harder to avoid.
As one person put it, “if you heard about the stuff about Context, you’d get the very clear opinion that MarCon was okay with all that.”
Sadly, this might just be the case.
There were reports (and these were forwarded to the con chair) of another guy suggesting he should “frisk” a young woman after earlier reaching out to touch her without consent.
A corset vendor walked the line between creepy and harassment by insisting their corset fit perfectly, and any impression otherwise was due to the person’s “body issues”. He told another person that “he needed to see me try on one of the corsets and not in a friendly way…in front of my kids.”
And this is just what’s managed to cross my awareness.
It’s good that more incidents are being reported. Yet the people involved – when I asked if I could write about it – asked that I not use their names.
Why? They still fear reprisal. They fear being shunned. This is a sad, but still true, experience of many women reporting harassment. They are still subject to the same bullshit questions and asinine rationalizations that really should have gone out of fashion last century. Please note that “sexual harassment bingo” is NOT something that you want victims to win. And given the experience I had simply presenting the evidence of harassment to CONTEXT’s Con Comm a few years ago, I totally understand why they fear reprisal. I’ve been asked to not be a participant on panels at a convention due to the “controversy” of standing up against sexual harassment… and I’m a guy.
In some ways, this is a self-solving problem. The conventions that do not address these issues – and do so visibly – will find themselves losing attendees and growing smaller, while conventions (like Penguicon) are attracting younger and more diverse crowds.
Nobody wants to be harassed. And sadly, it’s all too common for those who are harassed to be further harassed by those trying to protect others. Research (my research, no less) shows that a strong “we don’t allow harassment and celebrate diversity” tone from leadership produces a statistically significant change in behavior. But we don’t see that.
A vast majority of the people who have publicly reported a harassing experience at MarCon have also said they reported it to convention leadership after the convention. That’s a good sign.
With World Fantasy coming to Columbus in a few months – and especially after the controversy earlier this year – it is vital that the SMOFs of Columbus be transparent about exactly what they’re doing about these cases – and what they’ll do in the future.
Perhaps they will learn that these controversies, that these complaints, are not personal attacks, but are instead a deep desire to make the convention experience better for all people… and that these harassers are the ones who are actively and materially hurting their convention attendance.
And if they do not, they will continue to learn that even tolerating harassment means that they are socially, if not legally, culpable.
In the meantime, if the status quo maintains (which I expect) I’m so much reassurred that I did the right thing by giving up my WFC 2016 membership and for taking an unpopular stance against harassment a few years ago.
But damn, I wish I’d been wrong.