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A view from one community to another

There has been a recent spate of women writing about having been harassed at sf conventions. If you haven’t been aware of it, you could perhaps start with Elise Matthesen’s essay (posted various places) and then read Carrie Cuinn’s note Please stop touching my breasts, and other things I say at cons. There have been several others worth reading as well. And, of course, this is far from the first time that the topic has been written about—I am not really a member of the community, and I believe I recall three different waves of discussion about Making Conventions Safe Places. Look, I wrote about it myself in 2006! So it’s not like this is news, as such.

It occurred to me, though, that back during racefail09 I took some of the Stuff in the specfic community and tried to apply it to the community theater world. And… let’s just say sexual harassment is a huge issue in the community theater world. The theater world generally, of course—professionals and schools and amateurs and everywhere. And while the specifics of the incidents Ms. Cuinn describes are beyond what I’ve personally witnessed at a rehearsal space or cast party, they… aren’t that far beyond. And I think it’s fair to assume that there are incidents I haven’t witnessed that are far beyond those I have.

And, of course, there’s this—in the last few fully-staged productions I was in, there were three bits where the big laugh came from a male character coming into contact with the female characters bosom, which were accomplished by the male actor actually coming into contact with the female actor’s actual bosom. The actresses did not object—did not voice objection where I could hear nor indicate discomfort with the whole thing. In fact, they all indicated a certain confidence and pride in the whole business. Which is great! Only we must reflect that (a) these were all talented actresses, and (2) the incentives were for them to indicate confidence and pride whether confidence and pride were real (vaddevah dat means) or not. Which is not to say they weren’t OK with it! I think they were! Probably! Yeah!

And I feel super-delicate about all of that, because I want to totally and completely support their OK-ness with it, and also totally and completely support their not-OK-ness, if they aren’t OK. I think that fundamentally this whole thing is about consent. All three of the actresses consented—but of course they consented in a situation where both the norms of the community and the incentives of future parts in plays (not to mention the other incentives of, you know, getting a big laugh) are pressuring consent. And the history of theater is just chock-full of stories where women consent to stuff they aren’t really consenting to because they feel they have no real choice. Were this individual cases part of that horrible history, or were they part of the other story, the one of women feeling empowered to use their own bodies for their own purposes?

…I’m pretty sure it’s the good one. Pretty sure.

Which gets me to my actual point. Did you know I had an actual point? Here it is: the specfic con-going community, and the wider specfic community, have this thing that’s like an actual community, where people talk to one another, argue with one another, listen to one another, and generally create community together. And within that community—I’m willing to say at the heart of it, because it appears that way from the outside—are a whole bunch of women who write really, really well. Who are, in fact, professional writers. Writers and editors and illustrators and so forth. And who have written a whole bunch of great, great essays (and comments and tweets and tumblrs and gifs) on this topic. And those things are being spread around, argued with, refined, clarified, extolled, criticized, shared, linked, retweeted, digged, starred, all that crazy community stuff.

Community theater has nothing like that.

I would guess that none of the three actresses in the incidents I’m talking about—don’t get me wrong; I am not criticizing them. They are all readers, they are all active on the internet, they are all smart women with an understanding of women’s issues, all women I have had great conversations with. And I’m pretty sure none of them have written essays about their experiences with sexual harassment in community theaters. Never even considered it. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure none of them read any blogs dedicated to the experiences of community theater. I don’t. I don’t even know of any, not that are regularly updated. These women (and men, such as YHB) are existing in a space without that written backup support. Yes, there’s gossip and sharing and so forth, and that’s all great as far as it goes, but the con-going community has been seeing that as far as it goes isn’t far enough.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


That is actually a really good point. I've been reading (and getting downright depressed by) all the blogs about sexual harassment at cons--and about how it's been either not reported, or reported and reported and reported for decades and "nothing changes"--and as usual, I'm pretty appalled by it. Mind you, I'm not a member of the con-ning community, just like I'm not a member of the theater community;I have a gut feeling it happens anywhere there *is* a community, because people fall along a distribution of behaviors and anywhere you get a large enough distribution you're going to get some people out in the tails (as it were!). And marginalized communities, the freaks and geeks, tend to be more accepting of what society considers "odd" behavior anyway, so even though the culture of the group may not be as accepting of harassment as society at large is, somebody out in the tails is going to take advantage of that overly generous tolerance, or not see the difference. You see it in churches too.

But the blogging about it, the writing and communicating--that is an unusual aspect of the sf community.

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