Like Tearing Off A Scab

Moving this from FB at a friend’s request so that there’s a link. I originally wrote this as a thought after reading the amazing thing that Laurie Penny wrote, which can be found here.

About three years ago, a few of us took on a violently aggressive harasser at the World Fantasy Convention. Touching, screaming, threatening, stalking, he tried it all, but the testimony of half a dozen women wasn’t enough to convince the chairs of the convention to remove him.

Even when he finally put himself in a position that I could escalate the matters out of the convention’s hands, the chair of the convention argued with hotel security, trying to convince them that it was a misunderstanding.

By the end of the night, I was forced to ask a man to verify my words. He repeated my statements verbatim, and the threat was removed.

The statement of six+ professional women–women who were, by that point, hiding in their rooms from fear–didn’t make the impression that one man’s second-hand opinion did.

I learned a lot about misogyny that weekend. After that, as we began to create policies and responses within SFWA to deal with the issue, a series of other incidents happened, spread across the industry. Some of these are still on-going problems.

The last few years have been an unending grind of minuscule wins amidst greater losses. Many, many women have stepped up and put their safety, dignity, and comfort on the line to bring known problems to light. Many, many men have stepped up to support them.

Many of us have spoken to media outlets, from small industry blogs to the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal–a call I took in Seattle, between meetings with Wolfgang Baur and Paizo. The WSJ interviewer was angry that anyone was interested, because “This happens everywhere. We’ve all dealt with this. Why does it matter now, in your little industry?”

Earlier this year, the renovated SFWA Bulletin ran our new Anti-Harassment Policy, a system we spent three years working on, with the aid of attorneys and related professionals. At the same time, I wrote a piece on inclusiveness and professionalism, which ran alongside the policy.

We’ve also worked extensively with a number of conventions, large and small, to implement this policy. Most of them have adopted some variation of it willingly, some have required a little more convincing, but, industry-wide, we’re seeing positive change.

And now the gaming industry is seeing that same upheaval. It is a horrible experience, filled with fear and grief and uncertainty. It lasts longer than you thought possible, and wounds your trust, confidence, and hope in humanity. It chases people out of the industry and drives away fans.

But the fact that these awful things are happening–and particularly that they are happening in such a loud, visible, awful way–is good. It means that things are getting dragged out in the light and examined. The nasty infections are being cauterized.

I can only wish the best of strength and courage to the women suffering the harassment for daring to speak up, and hope that we are able to keep this wave going until no one can say to me, “But it’s this way everywhere, why does it matter?”

Two follow-up posts:
Angry Virgin Nerds
Social Justice Meteor

5 thoughts on “Like Tearing Off A Scab”

  • It matters because it seems we second wave feminists had to fight this battle on the factory floors and the executive offices, in farm fields and in restaurants. Our daughters and nieces (and our sons) will have new batlefields, like gaming and conventions and fandoms. But you and we will never surrender.
    In my lifetime we have gone from segregated facilities and “the love that dare not speak it’s name” to the Civil Rights movement, a mixed race President and to gay marriage in nearly 40 states. The ativistic throwbacks and their words shock us because we have come so far, and you, half my age, have lived in a much more egalitarian world than the science fiction I read as a kid in the 60s dared to dream.
    We make progress. The fact that the WSJ writer had no fuss made over her troubles is a shame on her collegues, not on her, or you.
    Keep fighting.
    Best wishes,

    • Kay, this is a gorgeous reply. Thank you. And thank you for all the endless, hard work your generation, and the one before it, did.

      My great-grandmother was one of the first female preachers in the country, and served in the Peace Corps. I’m related to Eleanor of Aquitaine and dozens of other women who weren’t afraid to pick up their swords and words and fight for a better world. I’m proud to follow them.

      A more equal world doesn’t just benefit women, it benefits all of us.

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