We Need To Do More Than Just Be Upset About Abuse In Fandom

By JJ: I was going to post in a File 770 comment a link to a recent blog post, because I wanted to make a comment about the trend it represents – but then I realized that it would be unfair to single out one of many of the same sort of posts being made on blogs and Facebook and Twitter right now, posts which express horror and anger about harassment and abuse in fandom, and then just say “We need to do something about this!”

I know, from my own experience upon finding out that MZB, the author of the Darkover books I’d loved so much when I was young – books I will never be able to read or recommend again – was actually a horrible person in real life, that it’s horrifying for most of us whenever “new” news comes out about someone in SFFdom having done awful things which were enabled, excused, deliberately overlooked, or just not recognized for what they were, by people at the time.

Yes, it’s awful, and yes, we need to talk openly about it, and yes, it needs to stop.

But instead of yet one more piece (and the one I just read is by far not the only one) in which someone waves their arms around and says, “OMG!!! All this stuff that happened 20 to 60 years ago! We absolutely must do SOMETHING!!!”, I would like the people who feel compelled to chime in to do so in a constructive way that accomplishes more than just arm-waving and regurgitating ancient history.

The Geek Feminism Wikia contains a wealth of information about harassment and abuse in SFF fandom. Their Incidents section contains information about things which have occurred in recent history. Those who are outraged about decades-old abuses, but unaware of what has gone on in the last 20 years, should educate themselves about the recent ones.

Their Resources section contains information and links which can help people who would like to know how to actually make a difference: how we can help the cons we work on, or attend, to proactively set up mechanisms for recognizing, reporting, and dealing with abuse; how we can each fight abuse in our fandom, gaming, or other social groups; how we can find the words and the personal strength to speak up when abuses occur in front of us.

For those of you who feel that something should be done, I ask you to read about what people in fandom have actually been doing, for quite a few years now, to change con and fandom culture for the better, so that harassment and abuse no longer happen or get tolerated. For example, many fan conventions have instituted official Codes of Conduct in recent years, and these are being enforced. Last month, ConFusion, whose Harassment Policy is clearly specified here, dealt with an incident at their convention, and did so according to their clearly-written reporting and enforcement guidelines.

For those of you who feel that something should be done, I ask you to consider current efforts and think about what could, and should, still be done, to improve those efforts.

For those of you who feel that something should be done, I ask you to figure out how you can contribute personally to those efforts.

Arm-waving outrage pieces unfortunately do not add value to the never-ending work we as fans should be doing to make our fan spaces into better places. We can, and should, be doing more. I am going to actively try to do more in working toward that, and I welcome constructive comments on this post about ways in which we as genre fans can all work toward that.

30 thoughts on “We Need To Do More Than Just Be Upset About Abuse In Fandom

  1. I think frequently these pieces are natural reactions to shock and grief, when people discover that formerly respected icons had done horrible things. People need some time to process those feelings. Many of the same folks reacting are supportive of current anti-harassment efforts. Not so much the sea lions in the mix, of course, and I can’t say as to people I don’t know.

  2. Yes, we need to do useful things, but many people are, or are trying to.

    But also yes, we need to process our feelings about horrible, distressing news about people we previously admired and considered pillars of our community. We can’t skip that step. It isn’t even healthy to skip doing whatever emotional processing an individual needs to do

  3. Sometimes you have to be practical about these things.

    For me, practicality often means that rather than punish every person who is discovered to have done something wrong going back hundreds of years, it’s more important to do something for today so that there are fewer victims moving forward. If a crime was committed and the person is punishable, then that’s one thing. I just believe that changing the thinking of people now so that the culture of abuse can slowly be changed is the most important thing. Change the rules, enforce the rules for those who break them, change the thinking of the community. I recognize that it won’t and can’t be instant.

    Re: MZB – Like Richard Wagner, she was a bad person. I still like the Ring Cycle.

  4. Supporting cons that have anti-harassment policies and promote a culture where such things are not tolerated. Insisting that cons I go to have such policies. Learning to act better, myself.

    This is really a cumulative, combined effort from the ground up, or else these stories will just continue, and people will still have to rely on whisper networks. Which isn’t right at all.

  5. Lenore and Lis, of course the people who have just found out that a person whose works meant a great deal to them was an abuser are going to need time to process and come to terms with their shock and grief. I was one of those people; I know how it feels, and I support them in getting through that process.

    But it isn’t their posts to which I’m referring, nor am I referring to the posts of the people who’ve been actively working for change. It’s the posts and comments and tweets of the people who seem to be saying “There, I’ve jumped on the outrage bandwagon and condemned it, I’ve done my bit”, as if that alone will be sufficient to make things change.

    This post is part of my attempt to do more than just express outrage, and I am inviting others to try to do so as well.

  6. Thank you, JJ.

    Two thoughts; first, I think that training for bystanders is a wonderful idea. The power of just one person who steps up and says, NOT COOL, or one person who can quietly go to the aid of a person who is obviously or possibly being harrassed — these can actually be really effective.

    Second: Good training for con personnel is going to be essential.

    The #MeToo movement is just one facet of the type of abuse you are talking about, but I am so encouraged that there seems to have been a huge increase in reporting now, because people are seeing that they will be listened to, and that they are not alone as victims or targets of this crap.

    So training the responders to act on complaints and reports will be crucial, especially in the con world where the person who is accused may very well be an old friend.

    To sum up, I think we are at a wonderful tipping point where this kind of crap is no longer going to be as tolerated. Cultural change is slow but when it happens it’s a wonderful thing.

  7. I realize that this is an SFF blog and thus the focus is on cons and fans and the like, but I wanted to say something generally here.

    My experiences in this arena are mostly from college and everyday life. I learned several things close to 40 years ago and they bear on concrete actions you can take.

    One, I learned that when someone expressed a reluctance to be around someone, to take them seriously, even if they remained vague as to why. I got asked (a lot) not to leave when particular individuals entered rooms. I stuck around and/or walked female friends to class or wherever so that they weren’t alone with specific people (generally male). I talked to people and started noticing behaviors. Invariably, the people others were most skittish about turned out to be creepy at best. The majority turned out to be abusive in some way. At least two were later convicted of rape.

    Two, I learned to pay attention to behaviors. If someone keeps trying to cut off contact with old friends and seemingly to isolate you or someone you know, be proactive. Keep in touch with that friend as much as possible (or if you’re the one being isolated, try to stay connected to old friends).

    The best thing you can do is pay attention and communicate anything you see if it’s troubling. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but the problem is serious enough that even the obvious cannot be stated too often.

    I’d rather be suspicious now and be wrong than regret later not doing enough and something bad happens.

  8. Thanks for posting this, JJ. I have yet to attend my first con, but plainly action needs to be taken in all spheres, and it looks to me (from outside) as if SFF is taking a lead from which others could profit. It seems particularly important as Trump waves a sad farewell to the fifth woman beater leaving his “administration”.

  9. I left the community over it, years ago. The first SFF fans I interacted with in real life were part of the extended MZB social circle, where creepy behavior and predatory sex were widespread. Later I found similar scenes in music and independent journalism and I ended up attributing it to the baby boomers’ botched handling of free love. After an incident around the turn of the century involving extricating myself from dealings with a narcissistic business associate who, as it turned out, liked to roofie and rape attractive younguns (I had one of them couch surfing at my place at the time and got to witness the devastation from up close), I decided the futuristic community couldn’t handle its collective dick and became a hermit. I couldn’t stay away from SFF though, it turned out to be only an extended break until Kindle Direct made it possible to engage with SFF while avoiding creep cooties. The fact people are actually addressing and dealing with this bullshit fills me with inspiration. Thank you, JJ, and everyone else that is stepping up to make SFF a less horrible place.

  10. Just a few days ago, I woman I know told me about how men can help. This was for the more ”adult” type of parties, but perhaps some lessons can be re-used.

    She said that there is a certain kind of man who always goes around circling, never socializing, never talking to anyone. But sometimes behaving very creepy around women. It can sometimes be hard to know if they are only shy or if they really are creepy.

    A man can help here by striking up a conversation. Most shy people show a kind of relief that someone talks to them in a friendly way. Most nore creepy people behave strangely. If you later notice the same people always trying to corner women, then you know who to keep an eye on.

    Perhaps not for large SF conventions, but something to keep in mind for smaller gatherings.

  11. JJ, thanks for the response. I had a lengthy argument with a sea lion last night (on FB), who started out using similar language, but progressed in an unpleasant way, eventually ending up saying that feelings are inappropriate. So I’m a little sensitive.

  12. @Charon D.: I’m far from sure the problem of harassment and sexual abuse is worse in the science fiction movement than in other areas of life; to me the main differences are that we are likely to have a higher proportion of socially awkward or clueless people, and that we are a few years ahead of the curve here compared to mainstream society in both realising the scope of the problem and in starting to deal with it, due to the scandals around Readercon and Wiscon a few years back.

  13. @Karl-Johan Norén — the fact people in this community are working to change the status quo does seem to be ahead of the curve. Perhaps the fact we have more socially challenged folks (and I’m a hermit so I’ll definitely include myself) forces us to be more mindful of the situation than, e.g., superficial Hollywood types.

  14. Thanks for this post, JJ.

    @Charon D.
    The free love generation of the 1960s and 70s often did go overboard and were so focussed on getting rid of social strictures that they tended to overlook the issue of consent. They also tended to harbour abusers in their midst and turn a blind eye towards their behaviour.

    My teachers were mostly of that generation and at every school I ever attended past grade 4, sexual harrassment among students ran absolutely rampant and the teachers did nothing at all about it, even if kids were driven to the brink of tears, while teachers were looking on and sometimes laughing. But if a kid fought back by hitting or kicking the harrasser, they got in trouble. It took me twenty years to even accept that no, this was not normal and I wasn’t wrong or a prude for feeling uncomfortable in that atmosphere.

    Coincidentally, members of the 60s and 70s free love generation, including those who lived conventional lives in conventional marriages, are also the people who completely fail to understand the #MeToo movement and complain about how horrible things are these days and how the young people are all so sensitive and prudish.

  15. @Cora Coincidentally, members of the 60s and 70s free love generation…

    Tempting though it is to blame the hippies for everything, there’s plenty of rape culture in the romantic comedies of the 20s and 30s… or the poems of Catullus, for that matter. It’s been a key part of patriarchy from the beginning – at least in the Western cultures I’m familiar with.

  16. @Tom

    That isn’t always the case. A fair bit of open source software is still a single-person endeavour. I wouldn’t expect those projects to have a code of conduct. However when the project gets to a certain size and has participants from outside the creator’s immediate circle then yes codes of conduct are a great idea.

  17. @Cora: Come now, let’s not parrot the puppy rhetoric that this is all the fault of those dirty hippies and free love. After all, the puppies are among the most hateful and violent people among both authors and fandom, and they’re largely GenXers, millennials, and teenagers. Their direct compatriots in Gamergate and similar violent hate groups are almost entirely from the same generations. The current faces of Nazis and sexual assault/harassment apologism are people like Richard Spencer (born 1978) and Bret Stephens (born 1973).

    And neither are those former flower children collectively against movements like #MeToo. The Women’s Marches I’ve been too have had just as many people in their 50s/60s/70s as there were younger people. A lot of the people, both women and men, speaking out these days are from that generation as well. Some, like my parents, have always been aware of these issues, and have offered their assistance and even their home to assault survivors and LGBTQ friends of both their children for decades. They don’t blink an eye at correctly gendering someone or using the singular they/them.

    Were there some aspects of the movements of the 60s and 70s that may have contributed to a certain extent? Sure, but the bigotry and assaults and harassment have always been there, and there’s always been some level of pushback.

  18. Thanks for this post JJ, and thanks for the links Cat Rambo. I forwarded them to my work email to share with some of my colleagues.

  19. Much of the furor about the past seems to be a combination of signaling one’s virtue while diverting attention away from the present day.

    So let’s look at more recent things. Marissa Lingen’s excellent account of her experience at Confusion is terrific because a) it models what a con should do, b) it tells people behaviors that they can use if they run into a similar situation, c) it may (or may not) let involuntary harassers understand why what they’re doing is harassing, and d) it underscores that gendered harassment is often not about wanting to stick one’s bits in them but about the fact that women are often less able to fight back, sometimes because of societal conditioning.

    Sometimes people genuinely don’t know better. Last year I talked with somebody who’d gotten a rep for being what we ladies call “a bit handsy” and who was totally distressed to find it out. “I’m affectionate by nature!” they exclaimed. So am I, but I also have learned to check before hugging someone and I try to be careful about casual affectionate touches except with the people who I know it’s okay because we have established that. Times change, and with them social mores. Times change, and we change with them or else we ossify and are incapable of interacting with those who have learned more modern ways.

    How do we get past the defensiveness, as well as the current backlash I’m seeing of “OMG #metoo is ruining men’s lives” (from both genders)? How do we identify the people who ARE predators, who are finding people and forcing things that the other does not want, whether that violation is small or major? (Small often paves the way to major, as we’ve seen.) How do we help the people coming into a community, who are the ones least likely to be hooked into gossip and yet the ones most at risk to such predators?

    Here’s one thing that would signal to me things are getting better: going through 2018 without another “this convention has no harassment policy and/or is not accessible” furor. Any bets?

    Sorry, this is Sunday morning philosophizing over a cup of coffee, because I want this conversation to continue, because it is one of the things that can create change.

  20. @andyl: I recently set up an open source project for some code that I wrote, and GitHub required a code of conduct. I’m the only maintainer at this point, but anyone who wants to can enter a bug, make a suggestion, or submit a pull request. The code of conduct obligates me to treat the with respect and not discriminate. I really would like other people to use the source code and suggest improvements, so it’s best to have a code of conduct in place.

  21. @Lenore Jones
    Yeah, I saw you talking to that guy. He was… something else. I appreciated JJ’s clarification because the posts I’ve mostly been seeing have been people working through their emotional responses, not as much the ones JJ’s talking about.

  22. One of the things that jumps out in Marissa Lingen’s account is her rights to free speech and freedom of expression, and the rights of her co-panelists, were being trampled by this guy who was behaving badly. A code of conduct policy doesn’t limit free speech, it protects free speech for everyone, by limiting bad behavior and defining norms of courtesy and good behavior.

  23. Dana Lynne wrote:

    Two thoughts; first, I think that training for bystanders is a wonderful idea. The power of just one person who steps up and says, NOT COOL, or one person who can quietly go to the aid of a person who is obviously or possibly being harrassed — these can actually be really effective.

    This is what the Ally Skills Workshop trains people to do. It answers the question “what should I do when ___ happens in my organization or community?”


    I teach it. I was trained by Valerie Aurora, whose page I linked to above and whose post Cat references above. The co-author to that post was Leigh Honeywell, who also teaches it. Any of us can be hired to teach an ASW for your organization, place of business, university, Con, etc. Leigh and I travel; Val stays closer to SF lately but also teaches ASWs online now and then. We give general talks on why allies are important (and what it means to be a “good” i.e. helpful ally) as well.

    Val now gives talks to companies on “The Paradox of Tolerance” (“does throwing racists off our platform/panel/etc. conflict with free speech and tolerance?”) Sample conference codes of conduct are out there, as others have mentioned. These are learnable skills. If anyone is interested, feel free to reach out.

  24. Thanks, Muccamukk. Yes, I appreciated it, too. As I said to JJ privately:

    Thanks, JJ. I do think it’s useful to challenge people to think about the next steps – how they can support people who are subject to this kind of behavior, by *noticing* it if they’re present, intervening if appropriate, believing complainants rather than making stupid remarks about why they didn’t do things differently, and supporting conventions, employers, etc. in their efforts to clean up and to maintain safer spaces. Being alarmed and angry is important, but it’s just step one.

    I guess the same applies to racism. I’m sure I am not doing enough.

    (Edited to correct spelling of name)

  25. JJ: Thanks for a good article, and for starting this discussion.

    Hampus: I went ahead and cited that bit of advice because it strikes me as absolutely win-win, in that shy men in a social group tend to be left to their own devices more often than shy women, and deserve better, AND it gives a way to possibly help watch for, and identify, possible creepers before they act, with no risk of harm if the identification turns out to be incorrect.

  26. What was second wave feminism but women baby boomers sick of patriarchy? Title IX, the quest for the ERA, Roe v. Wade, Code Pink…

    And as @genufelt rightly points out, Puppies, Gators and neo-Nazis are all much younger than boomers. Are they the fault of, I dunno, the girls who hold their own in boozing and crassness with the boys (who won’t date “prissy ladies”), like Gen X-Y-Z?

    No, they’re just evil young assholes — likely descendants of Nixon’s “silent majority” (Pups even use that concept!), a more-toxic younger version of Mitt pinning down the “hippie” kid in his school to cut off his long hair, the acolytes of pre-Boomer Reagan and followers of Koch daddy’s Birchers. The anti-hippies bunch spawned them.

    @Dr. Addison: Any helpful hints for those of us who can’t afford to pay for training?

    @Robert Reynolds: If only more men through the years had done the bare minimum that you did, in believing the women who didn’t want to be around the creeps. The fact that you then went on to observe and agree is miraculous — though it shouldn’t be. Maybe you can teach some workshops to the young men.

    I’ve decided to vote with my feet and dollars; if an event doesn’t have a CoC (and a disability policy), I don’t support it or go to it. If I find out an event only gives lip service to those, I don’t support it. I’ve decided when I hear something through the whisper network, I don’t keep that to myself or just a few, and instead let everyone know about the missing stair.

    Let’s hope that slowly (but faster than we’ve been for decades) that events will sort themselves into ones with effective CoC that decent people can go to, and scuzzy ones that scuzzy people can be offensive at.

    Like JJ said, no point in litigating the behavior of people who are dead. Lament about it, regret losing Darkover or whatever. Then get over it in private and work so that it doesn’t happen again, so that 50 years from now your grandkids don’t have things to lament about. And so your peers don’t have to avoid cons today.

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