WisCon has reached a conclusion about the harassment complaint filed by Rose Lemberg with the WisCon committee in 2013.
The substance of the complaint was that poet F.J. Bergmann harassed Lemberg by reading the poem “Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen” at the Moment of Change-sponsored open mike at WisCon in 2012. Lemberg felt the audience was meant to identify traits mocked in the poem (accent, nationality, academic background) with her. Bergmann denied this here in 2013 and again here in 2015.
WisCon’s Statement on Findings & Recommendations, posted March 27, determined the reading could not be characterized as harassment:
The subcommittee considers F.J. Bergmann’s poem “Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen” to be both anti-immigrant and potentially sexist. Given the timing of the poem’s genesis and publication, however, the subcommittee was unable to characterize this particular incident – the reading of the poem during the “Moment of Change” open mic at WisCon 36 – as harassment. The subcommittee’s research has documented that the poem was written long before the conflicts between Bergmann and Lemberg began.
Despite that determination, WisCon recommended Bergmann face consequences for what it termed a “pattern of caustic behavior toward anyone she disagrees with,” which include not allowing Bergmann to attend any of Lemberg’s events at WisCon, and limiting Bergmann’s volunteer duties (if any) to “non-public-facing positions.”
Bergmann sent a rebuttal to the WisCon committee, quoted here with her permission. About the overall verdict she says:
It seems to me that the subtext here is that anyone who makes social-issues accusations automatically gets respect and credibility and is instantly and permanently empowered by this community, regardless of actual circumstances or lack of evidence, and that any harm done by the accusations is of absolutely no consequence, or even justified, simply because it is assumed from the get-go that any accusations must necessarily be true. I cannot begin to express the level of my dismay, here: the committee is saying that a) I was not guilty of these charges, and b) I deserved what I got, plus additional penalties? What is going on?
And she does not intend to participate at WisCon in the future:
It is obvious that I will no longer be safe at WisCon—and I know that I speak for others. I thought I was a part of the WisCon community and sympathetic to its agenda of promoting women and their writing, but I am apparently mistaken. What I’m not part of is a dwindling, vociferous clique with axes to grind, who distort evidence to fit their ideology. And the idea that, should I attend, everything I say and do will be surveilled and interpreted in the most negative way possible is nauseating. Fortunately, I’ve found that many people in the larger SF community listened to what I had to say, believed me, and supported me; I am not dependent on the approval of what WisCon has become.
In general, and in this instance specifically, I am not “abrasive and confrontational” without cause. Like many WisCon members, there are issues about which I feel strongly. I was publicly defamed without recourse—privately, it would seem, for a year beforehand and then publicly for another year and a half, nor does it seem to be ameliorating in certain circles, given the tone of the report—by a host of people, most of whom I’d never met or interacted with, who anticipated and circumvented due process. Exactly what is the WisCon-endorsed behavior under these circumstances?
First, covert defamation; and now, being spoken down to as if I were some kind of closet redneck. I have no intention of coming to WisCon under these constraints and negative misperceptions, much less volunteering in any capacity….
The WisCon report included an apology to Lemberg for “our bureaucratic lapses” and to Bergmann and the WisCon community for taking so long bring the matter to an end.
“being spoken down to as if I were some kind of closet redneck.”
Because that would make it ok.
Just because “Meet and Marry a Gorgeous Russian Queen” was written before the conflict between Lemberg and Bergmann erupted doesn’t mean that reading of a poem that’s derogatory to people like the organizer of an open mic event isn’t targeted at the organizer of the open mic event. It’s kind of like “Well, I bought the knife to slice vegetables…” as a murder defense.
And then there’s the other “Oh, Wiscon.”
Yeah, this should have been dealt with much more quickly. Who knows if better results couldn’t have been obtained if it hadn’t been left to fester?
“pattern of caustic behavior toward anyone she disagrees with”
Doesnt that describe most of Wiscon, if not greater fandom?
Maybe I missed something, Andrew, but since when does “derogatory” equate with “harassment”? I am taking no sides here, but the more I read about this incident the weirder and weirder it seems. (And I mean that in a “surreal sense”, lest it get someone’s hackles up.)
Andrew Tremblay: Well, that would really require reading Bergmann’s mind.
However, I believe that Lemberg’s original complaint allowed for the possibility that the similarity to her was entirely inadvertent, even in the reading. Her position was that one can still feel harassed without intent by the harasser.
What sanctions against the unintentional harasser should be applied in such a situation becomes an interesting question.
However, Bergmann took it – not without justification, considering what else was said – as an accusation of intentional malice, and her responses consisted of denying that.
Well now, by this train of “logic”, NO ONE should EVER tell a funny story or joke at Wiscon (or ANY other convention for that matter). Because heaven forbid that anyone interpret what is said or done the WRONG WAY…
Andrew, do you have any evidence to support the suggestion that the reading might have been “targeted”, or is this just rank speculation?
F.J. Bergmann has explicitly denied this interpretation: “I did not know that Rose Lemberg was Russian or an immigrant. Then she read after me and clearly indicated that she was of Russian heritage. At that point, I was worried that I might have unwittingly given offense. I asked one of the anthology contributors whom I know slightly and who was also present whether she thought there was a problem and what she thought I should do. I got the impression from her that she didn’t think there was anything to worry about, so I decided not to attempt to explain myself at the time.”
If you have any information that shows that narrative to be untrue, please share it!
Chris Barkley: I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head. In the worldview of the Rose Lembergs of the world, humor has no real place at “serious” cons like WisCon; it diminishes the academic feel and besides, you might offend somebody.
Let me get this straight… Someone reads a poem and a second person gets pissed off about that poem and files a complaint. The person who read the poem has his/her name released all over the internet due to a single person being annoyed about a poem.
Did i miss something here? If im reading this correctly wiscon is a bottomless pit.
I love this theory of “unintentional harassment.” Talk about twisting the language.
Seriously, this whole victim politics thing has degenerated to farce.
That anybody took this complaint seriously is just absurd.
This decision is very flawed, as it doesn’t support the actual charge that was initially made of harassment, but still imposes a punishment based on nothing more than innuendo. It very much looks like a clique getting what it wanted regardless of the facts of the matter.
OK, let’s go with a simple hypothetical…
In a room with a dozen people, Mr. A tells a fag joke. Mr. B is offended, because he’s gay and thinks the joke is stereotypical bullshit, and says so.
So is “I didn’t write the joke” a defense?
Is “It’s a really old joke” a defense?
Is “The joke wasn’t about you” a defense?
Is “I didn’t know there were any fags in the room” a defense?
Is “You need to get a fucking sense of humor” a defense?
Is “You’re bullying me! Free speech! Free speech!” a defense?
If it’s so difficult to believe that you can’t be offensive without intending to be offensive, I worry. If it’s impossible to apologize because you weren’t trying to be a dick, I worry. If the only answer to all of this is to escalate, I worry.
People are going to screw up, and be dickish when they didn’t intend to. I’m not going to say that doesn’t matter, but I am going to say that learning to “fail better” is more important.
What the hell, let’s unpack a few statements:
“I did not know that Rose Lemberg was Russian or an immigrant. Then she read after me and clearly indicated that she was of Russian heritage. At that point, I was worried that I might have unwittingly given offense.”
“I knew my poem could be offensive to Russians, but I didn’t expect there would be any of them in the room. So it’s not my fault that she was in the room.”
“I asked one of the anthology contributors whom I know slightly and who was also present whether she thought there was a problem and what she thought I should do. I got the impression from her that she didn’t think there was anything to worry about, so I decided not to attempt to explain myself at the time.”
“I consulted a psychic to find out what the person I thought I might have offended was thinking. At least I think she was a psychic, she could have just been some random poet who can’t read minds. And whatever, she wasn’t very clear on her advice.”
Seriously, if you ignore it, it will all go away. Really, it will.
Why on Earth would anyone expose oneself to this kind of action by even attending this convention? In an audience of more than 50 people, how does one avoid offending at least one person, who can then have you banned from the convention? Wiscon has exceeded the fears and fantasies of the most backward chauvinists of the 1980s.
“Stay away from this person who doesn’t want you around them” hardly seems like a punishment, though that is how it is framed by Bergmann. When I larped we called this the “Gentleman’s Rule”, and it was possible to declare a Gentleman’s Rule against anyone else. The staff would then support you in not having to interact with that other person, no questions asked and no proof of any wrongdoing needed. It is a basic, civilized response, not a punitive sanction.
Blake, if there wasn’t any justification found for the charge of harassment then the con had no business taking formal sides by banning Bergmann from volunteering in public spaces as well as barring her from any event that involves her accuser. (Both are poets, and it isn’t hard to conclude that Bergmann would be shut out of most poetry readings at Wiscon because of this decision.) A civil society doesn’t impost such unfair penalties on the basis of nothing more than personal dislike. Wiscon has jumped the shark over this matter, especially considering how caustic one of Wiscon 39’s con chairs is in her own public conduct.