by Doctor Science
Currently there's a huge discussion going around science fiction & fantasy circles about (sexual) harassment at cons. Ground zero is Reporting Harassment at a Convention: A First-Person How-To by Elise Matthesen, which has been posted at John Scalzi's blog, Jim Hines' blog, and Mary Robinette Kowal's blog, among others.
In brief: Mattheson was harrassed at WisCon by a fairly prominent professional editor, reported it to his employer and to the con, and they listened. Her article is a discussion of the procedures she and the people she dealt with followed, with advice for other people who might find themselves in a similar situation.
Mattheson did not say so, but the harasser was Jim Frenkel. Apparently, he is known for inappropriate behavior of the sort colloquially known as "creeping", but while there have been informal complaints before this no-one has been willing to make a formal record.
What kind of thing is covered by "creeping"?
Pamela and Mr. B in the Summerhouse ... Unfortunately, one day while Pamela was sewing in the summer-house Mr. B approached and told her he wanted her to stay, then began to try to seduce/rape her. She is pictured here resisting his advances.But it was OK! because he married her in the end.
Genevieve Valentine has a great post about how these things pile up over a lifetime, things we're supposed to just "deal with", including:
A man touching your shoulder when you’re ahead of him in line, to nudge you forward. A man moving to stand in your spot in an otherwise-empty elevator. (The man who uses this opportunity to ask you a question he wouldn’t ask in public.) A man seeing you kneel to pick up a paperclip and saying, “A woman on her knees gives a man ideas.” ... The man who won’t stop asking you if you want a drink. The man who ducks around the line to cut in front of you. “Smile, sweetheart.” ... The man who says you’re too angry for him to take seriously; if you want him to listen, be calmer.-- and those are just the kinds of things that happen at fan or professional conventions, not on the street or in class or in the workplace.
As Maria Dahvana Headley sums up, "creeping" is Violating the boundaries of personal space or acceptable sexual discourse while maintaining plausible deniability.
An avalanche of women (and some men) in the field have come forward to talk about their experiences; Natalie Luhrs has an excellent link round-up at the end of her post.
I haven't been in venues where this sort of thing happens in a long time, and I never had really major problems -- I tended to be the woman who ran interference for creepees, not the one who was creeped on personally. However, I was never unaware of the need to be *constantly* on one's guard against inappropriate male behavior in public-ish places, because it's part of the price of being in public while female in our culture.
Until a few years ago, though, it didn't occur to me that most men seem to be unaware how much of this stuff goes on, and to what degree women have to plan for it. Maria Headley reports a conversation with Kat Howard:
Me: “It’s really shitty that often what happens is that one’s friends have to circle up and protect you from someone harassing.”For instance, until "Elevatorgate" I didn't realize that many (most?) men aren't consciously aware that women view elevators as potentially dangerous spaces. And yet, I have been to cons where one of the topics women discuss with their "posse" is "which bank of elevators has more creepy gropers", and will go out of their way to avoid using them.
Kat: “I’ve never been at a con where my friends and I haven’t made rescue plans. Harassment happens everywhere.”
In large gatherings, and in large organizations, women have a grapevine where we trade info about which men are creepers: who will stand too close and touch you on the arm once a paragraph, who will tend to back you into a corner, who will "accidentally" press up against your back or stick his hand on your butt.
One of the other things that's happened in the last couple of weeks has to do with a "seduction manual" called Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome With Women by Ken Hoinsky. Hoinsky, a moderator of Reddit's r/seduction forum, had a Kickstarter to turn his forum posts into a book. The (male) comic Casey Malone looked at it, and was enraged:
This guy is no longer just being weird and creepy on the internet. Now he’s writing a book about how to sexually assault women, and he is using something I believe in (Kickstarter) to ask YOU for money to do it. I am offended as someone who believes in the platform, and more importantly I am offended as someone who believes women shouldn’t be treated this way, and that people who say otherwise CERTAINLY should not profit off saying they should.Cue Internet firestorm. Kickstarter was not able to defund Above the Game (which had raised x times more than Hoinsky's original request), but they apologized, and Hoinsky has, too.
This isn’t harmless. People come to these boards because they are scared of being humiliated, and they are saying to the world, “Tell me what to do, because I don’t know what to do." And this guy has chosen to tell them, “You should be a rapist."
Now, I can see how you might argue that Hoinsky's advice wasn't for out-and-out rape. But what he has been telling men to do *is* out-and-out "creeping".
Get CLOSE to her, damn it![bolds mine]
To quote Rob Judge, “Personal space is for pussies." I already told you that the most successful seducers are those who can’t keep their hands off of women. Well you’re not gonna be able to do that if you aren’t in close! "
“All the greatest seducers in history could not keep their hands off of women. They aggressively escalated physically with every woman they were flirting with. They began touching them immediately, kept great body language and eye contact, and were shameless in their physicality. Even when a girl rejects your advances, she KNOWS that you desire her. That’s hot. It arouses her physically and psychologically."
Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.
IMPORTANT NOTE ON RESISTANCE: If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says “STOP,” or “GET AWAY FROM ME,” or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line: “No problem. I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.” Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You’ll be no different. If a woman isn’t comfortable, take a break and try again later.
Notice how this strategy involves crossing a woman's boundaries, seeing how much you can get away with. And how the only "no" it takes for an answer must be loud, unequivocal, and even physical.
Yet, many women will avoid giving that kind of rejection at all costs. Part of it is being (usually) socialized to be "nice", to not give offense or make people feel bad. But a lot of it is plain old fear -- more, I think, than most men recognize.
A woman isn't necessarily afraid that a man she directly rejects will rape her (though the spectre of Schrödinger's Rapist is always there). The fear -- supported by experience -- is that he'll yell, call her horrible names, and then go off to his friends and tell them that she's a "bitch" who needs to [experience some sexual act]. And maybe follow her around the convention/school/neighborhood, to yell at her some more. And the thing is, the guy will transition from "hey baby" to "you bitch" on a *dime*, it's not a process of gradual disillusionment or anything. One moment he's trying to (intrusively) chat her up, the next *BAM* he's screaming in her face. And he's bigger, stronger, has more friends, and is a lot better at punching than she is.
Now Hoinsky says
he met with Ben Kassoy of DoSomething.org, whose petition to ban the project from Kickstarter received 50,000 signatures in one day. Kassoy's was one of “many meetings I will be having with anti-rape and anti-abuse organizations and experts to make sure that the advice I am offering is free of any tinge of sexual assault or rape vibes. I will be rewriting Above the Game under their guidance and insight,” Hoinsky wrote. “My name may have been martyred in the press, but I will be using this opportunity for good.” He will also be doing an AMA on Reddit this afternoon to further the dialogue on the intersection of men's dating advice and feminist issues.It's not clear how well this is going, but I have to say I'm conflicted. On the one hand, he *sounds* contrite, horrified that he's been "martyred" ... but on the other hand, it's *really* hard for me to believe that he's been clueless for so long.
Is it really possible to be an adult who talks and thinks about how men & women interact, and yet not realize that a woman doesn't just evaluate a man on his attractiveness, but also on whether he's likely to be dangerous? That one of the things men should be negotiating when they try to get close to women is the women's *perfectly logical* fear?
Tansy Rayner Roberts quoted Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai):
"If this summer seems relentless where talk of harassment in SF is concerned? Recognize that’s because it IS relentless."There are decades-worth of stories starting to come flooding out, things that women have been "just dealing with", talking about only to female friends if at all. The only way out is through.
 Details of the harassment are not being discussed, because the risk of derailment is 100%: if Mattheson talks about what he did in this specific instance, the conversation will *inevitably* get sucked, as into a black hole, into a discussion of whether it was or was not "really harassment". All that witnesses are saying is that Frenkel has a reputation for repeated incidents of sexual harassment over the course of several years.
 I am fortunate -- and very unusual for a woman from my generation (born in the '50s) -- that I don't recall my parents admonishing me to "be nice". What got drummed into me was "be kind", which is a very different social dynamic. "Be kind" assumes that I have power and responsibility in a way that "be nice" doesn't.