By this time, many of y’all are probably familiar with the harassment incident that happened at Readercon last weekend, described here, and the Readercon board’s baffling decision about it, seen here (Valentine’s reaction to the decision is here). Now, I’ve never been to this con, but as a fan of SF and an extreme anti-fan of harassment and harassers getting slap-on-the-wrist punishments for their behaviors, this has been a really upsetting story to follow. I feel a little ridiculous about how fucking angry I’ve been since I read about this, but this story is also coming on the heels of several stories of convention harassment (and really ugly responses to it) in the atheist/skeptic world and I am so tired of hearing over and over how people just do not. fucking. get it. and insist on victim-blaming and/or downplaying the actions of perpetrators. It’s disgusting and disappointing and it makes me feel like I need a hot shower to scrub off the layer of slime that accumulated on me just from reading about this shit.
There are a lot of things I could say about this case, but there’s a lot being said already and I think if I write everything that’s in my mind, I’ll get way too angry and worked up about it (which has kind of happened already, oops). So I’ll focus on just one aspect of the Readercon response: the issue of reform. From their official statement, linked above:
“If, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.”
Ok, I do actually agree with the spirit of this. I do think there is and should be room for abusers and harassers to reform. People who are abusive and predatory won’t just stop abusing on their own – they’ll find other places to sneak in and take advantage of others, and without a radical change in their thinking they won’t change their behaviors, either. If someone doesn’t want to change then I’m happy doing whatever it takes to keep them away from potential victims, but sure, I’d rather see someone go through a lot of reflection and change and stop offending. That’s clearly the best-case scenario.
However, that process should not take precedence over the safety and comfort of a perpetrator’s victims, and it is not Readercon’s job to provide a serial offender with his personal redemption narrative. The convention’s job in this case is to keep its general attendee population safe. If someone’s self-aware enough to say to a convention board “I fucked up and I’m sorry” then he should be self-aware enough to realize that changing his attitudes and behaviors is his own fucking job that he can do on his own time. If he’s truly remorseful, he should probably step away from Readercon according to the harassment policy as it existed at the time of his offenses whether or not the board decides to enforce the policy.
Maybe he could release a statement saying “I fucked up and clearly I need to work on my interactions with women, especially in a convention context. I’m going to take a break from cons for a while, and I will be removing myself from Readercon permanently.” That would show he’s taking his problems seriously more than an apology to the board and a two-year suspension does. Yes, he hasn’t released a statement that I know of, but the fact that there is the two-year suspension makes me think he either argued for it or didn’t say “no y’all, I messed up and I should really adhere to this harassment policy and not come here any more” when they talked to him about it. And that’s troubling.
Also, the world of SF cons is pretty large; if he wants to attend other conventions in the spirit of reform, he has plenty of other places to try out his bold new non-harassment plan, assuming others don’t ban him as well. And frankly, if he does get banned from other cons, or feels like his professional or personal fandom experience is otherwise impacted by his own actions, that’s just too fucking bad. I honestly don’t care that much for the feelings of perpetrators, and I don’t think that’s where the focus should be in this discussion. Sure, as I said above I would love to see a change in his behavior. That would be fantastic! But until things do change (and again, I think this should be personal change that happens in private before he ventures into the convention world again) I don’t see any reason why his feelings should be taken into consideration over the safety and comfort of women he’s harassed. How is this even a question?
I know there’s been some talk over this decision being partially about the perpetrator being a Big Name in SF fandom, and while that could be part of it I’m really unsettled by the fact that the official reason is because he apologized and felt bad. Don’t people on the Readercon board know that this is what serial offenders do? That this is part of the cycle of abuse? You apologize profusely when you’re caught, so that people will let you go about your business more or less in peace and you can wait for the right time to offend again. And if the board’s looking for “substantiated reports” of further harassment on his part, then he’ll just time incidents for when no one else will be around, won’t he?
Yes, the Readercon board has truly struck a great blow against harassment and intimidating behavior at cons. After several years of not being particularly interested in attending conventions, I’m excited to be dipping my toe into that world again (FOGCon earlier this year, Worldcon in Chicago this fall, and I’m planning on going to WisCon next spring)! But there’s no fucking way I will go to Readercon if the situation stands as it is.