In the wake of the sexual harassment at Readercon that is being discussed all over the internet, (and there is a petition you can sign if you wish to object to the Board’s handling of the case), I’ve been thinking a lot about sexual harassment. I’ve written about it a bit before, and I want to call up one of the comments that old post received, from Cyndi:
“As another post said, life isn’t fair. Get over it. Live your life, your way, and stop looking for ways to claim you’ve been oppressed/denied/overlooked. We all have been, in one way or another.”
What, you may ask, did I say in the post to elicit such a response? Was I whining or crying or talking about how unfair life is? Um, no. I wrote a calm and reasoned essay talking about what it meant to me to be a feminist, and bringing up, among other points, the existence of sexual harassment that women experience in their professional lives. Which, apparently, we are all supposed to just get over.
In fact, we’re not even allowed to talk about sexual harassment without being dismissed or being told that we’re looking for “special” treatment. Because apparently having one’s sexual and physical boundaries be repeatedly violated is par for the course, and we should lie down and take it without a murmur.
And then we wonder why feminists are sometimes angry.
Genevieve Valentine was incredibly brave, both in reporting the harassing incidents to the Readercon board and in publicizing what was happening. Both of these actions are ones that many women will choose not to do, for many reasons. Because we don’t want to be any trouble or cause a fuss. Because it is embarrassing. Because we might not be taken seriously or be believed. Because it might have future repercussions to our careers or to our very safety. Because we don’t want more confrontation with the person who has harassed us. Because we don’t want it to have happened.
But it IS happening. And it is not expecting special treatment or playing the victim card to bring it up, to talk about it, to ask that one’s basic expectations of safety while attending a convention be met. Not only was Genevieve Valentine harassed, but the same man who harassed her had previously harassed another woman to the point where she no longer felt comfortable volunteering. There was the infamous series of incidents at World Fantasy in 2011. I myself had an uncomfortable incident occur at Worldcon in Reno last year, which–guess what?–I did not report. And that is not the first such incident I’ve personally experienced in the field, either.
I firmly believe that this is not a problem for only the people who are harassed, but rather a problem that faces our entire community. And on a larger scale, a problem that faces our society. Because when we look the other way, when we say that this behavior isn’t so bad, then we are perpetuating the problem. When someone says, “Oh, but this has never happened to me,” that person is saying that because they haven’t experienced something personally, that means–what? That it’s never happened? That it’s not really a problem? That they don’t want to be bothered with dealing with something they aren’t forced to deal with?
Unfortunately, some of us don’t have a choice as to whether we’re going to deal with harassment.
Another quote from that old post of mine, this one from Jessica:
“Life isn’t fair, period. Only we can decide how to navigate through it & when we say we believe in equality perhaps we should consider what that word really means because it takes countless selfless acts & the removal of one’s own selfish needs to see what’s truly needed for a greater good.”
It sounds like she is saying that sexism in the workplace is needed for the greater good, and objecting to sexism and harassment is therefore selfish. And I’m sorry, I generally try to be respectful, but that is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard. It is not selfish to not want to be treated badly. It is not selfish to want to feel physically safe while working, whether at an office or at a convention. It is not selfish to want to feel physically safe period. It is not necessary for women to be selfless and allow men to paw them and make sexual jokes at the woman’s expense. Please. Next thing I’ll be hearing is that it’s selfish for a woman to not want to be raped…especially if she is wearing a low-cut top and a short skirt. Oh, wait. People say that kind of stupid thing, too.
Talking about the problem is the first step. I don’t know what the next steps look like. But I know that saying “get over it” isn’t one of them.
I’d love to hear from you: your experiences (at the workplace or not, as a writer or not, from any gender because I’m very aware that it’s not just women who get harassed), your thoughts about sexual harassment and the Readercon debacle in particular, etc. I am going to be wielding a particularly hefty mallet in the comments section for this post, because I want this to be a safe place for discussion of a difficult issue.