Safe spaces in/at conventions

I'm working on an entry about some of the issues around bad behavior at science fiction conventions, especially the inappropriately sexual behavior of some men toward some women at cons, but it's ballooning into a bunch of different directions, and there are more people I need to talk with before I can even approach doing justice to some of these topics.

Fortunately, the discussion is not waiting for me. Various people are starting to talk about various aspects of this stuff, but the one place I want to link to immediately is Bellwether, an LJ community subtitled "The Safe Zone Discussion Group." It appears to have been launched a few days ago by Beth B and Jim H. It looks like there's already some great and very useful discussion there.

Relatedly, I recommend stopping by Laurie Mann's Sexually Inappropriate Behavior in Science Fiction Fandom poll. It doesn't cover quite everything that I want this discussion to cover (in particular, it focuses exclusively on touching, explicitly not discussing verbal issues), but it covers a lot of it, and I think it'll provide a lot of useful info. Note, however, that Laurie says there may be a way to see how particular people responded, so it may not be strictly anonymous. Also note that the discussion in comments to the poll entry contains a lot of good stuff too.

One of the things that I'm beginning to think is really important in this area is to provide specific examples--to help avoid the response "yeah, but that's just one case, and I can excuse it for such-and-such reason"--but to do so without names attached. I think that publicly singling out individuals as The Perpetrators of particular actions can easily miss the point about the pervasiveness of the issue. It suggests that if we can only get those individuals to behave better (or avoid them) then the problem will go away. And while I would love to get individuals to behave better, I think trying to deal with the more pervasive problem is at least as important.

It's a messy, difficult, complicated set of interconnected issues. I look forward to a lot of good discussion.

4 Responses to “Safe spaces in/at conventions”


    How pervasive is it? I think singling people out helps make the examples concrete, rather than “I know someone somewhere who was groped once…”

  2. Jed

    Well, part of my point is that my impression (from talking to various people who’ve personally experienced unwanted touch and/or comments) is that it’s quite common; and my impression from observing discussion about conventions is that people don’t often talk about it in public. In other words, I believe it’s much more common than a lot of people think it is, and so I’d like us to call more attention to how common it is.

    Note that I said “specific examples” — I think examples can be quite concrete and specific without naming names. For example, in that Bellwether LJ community, Amy Sterling Casil posted “a list of things that happened to me, or that happened to others that I know to be true.” They’re very specific (and appalling), but she doesn’t name anyone but herself. I’m just saying I think that’s a good approach.

    If you start singling people out, the conversation often starts to be about those particular people, rather than about dealing with the problem in general.

  3. jere7my tho?rpe

    If you start singling people out, the conversation often starts to be about those particular people, rather than about dealing with the problem in general.

    I agree. As asterling pointed out, “Harlan did not act this way in the past and has been known to be active on behalf of gender issues.” If somebody pulled that kind of crap in front of Harlan, I have to think the perpetrator would…well, I’m not sure what Harlan would do, but I wouldn’t want to be in splatter range. I think Harlan makes a particularly bad poster boy for this cause, and focusing on his monumental screwup instead of addressing the problem more generally has made the discussion less useful than it could have been.

  4. ASterling

    Jed, I found an older article written by Jean Gomoll that is an open letter to Joanna Russ. She specifically mentions a project at conventions that was supported by Harlan Ellison, related to the ERA and open dialog with female writers and fans. This is exactly what Harlan had told me about some time ago. She also has some reminisces about Wiscon, about all of the things that have been discussed in recent years.

    I wrote a couple of posts about two stories written by females that I thought were pretty important and cool – “The Women Men Don’t See” by Tiptree, and “Souls” by Joanna Russ, and in researching them, this is where I saw this information.

    If this has not been around since Day One when females began participating as fans and writers, then I’ll be a ringtail cat. It has been, and this battle’s been fought, fought fought fought.

    I thought we were doing GREAT with bookview cafe, which was not intentionally all-female to shut out males. But others participating say they’ve been getting “mixed” response, that I hadn’t heard. I can’t help but think if it were “all male” it would be on the front page of every single source and into other media by now, as this “revolutionary” deal. Sorry, but I can’t help but think that – as I think that Tiptree has been shut out of the larger literary dialog, not just for the SF content, but for god forbid, “coming out” as female.


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