There are other things I want to say about this year’s Readercon. I want to talk about the panels I attended – the good, the bad, and the wtf. I want to talk about all of the wonderful people that I met for the first time. I want to talk about going to this convention not as a fan but, finally, as a writer and editor and publisher. As a professional.
I want to talk about getting 4 hours of sleep a night and eating too much rich food and laughing my ass off and waking up happy and content each morning.
But I can’t talk about that yet because I have to take time to talk about an incident which makes me wonder if I’m going back next year.
If you follow the con news at all, you’ll know that a woman reported a long string of events where a man followed her, touched her, made repeated advances, and basically didn’t seem to understand the concept of “no means no”. She told the convention committee, which has a solid policy in place – incidents like this result in a permanent ban from attending the convention again. Having seen the concom follow through on this policy in 2008, she felt secure in the knowledge that she would be protected.
The convention Board of Directors spoke to the man in question, and ended up giving him a two year slap on the wrist. A full day later, after much public outcry, they finally released a statement. The man, they said, was sorry. Also, they’d be keeping an ear out for further problems, and if the man continued to act this way, he’d be banned permanently. The original policy, they felt, was too black-and-white, and would be rewritten to be fairer to everyone.
Sounds, well, not good, but ok, maybe there’s some room for satisfaction there. Except, it turns out, that the board already had another incident on file, a letter from a woman who didn’t attend this year because she knew he’d be there. A woman who was stalked, harassed, and eventually had to leave her position with another con, just to get away from this guy. So the board knew it wasn’t a one time mistake, and they acted to keep a guy who can’t be trusted to be respectful of woman over a woman who didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.
Why does this matter to me? It wasn’t me, after all. I didn’t have to deal with the guy, and I didn’t have any horribly unpleasant experiences at this year’s con.
I can easily give you an example of why this matter to me: I was hugged by a dozen different men this year, all of whom were meeting me for the first time. Only one of whom, afterward, said, “Oh I hugged you and we just met, sorry.” A male friend, who was with me all con and who was meeting all the same people, got handshakes instead.
I don’t like to be hugged. I am an introvert who makes an effort to be social at conventions because it’s my job. I genuinely like people one and one and in small groups, so it’s not a matter of being antisocial. I love social! Just not when it’s hundreds of people in a small space (I couldn’t even attend the Meet the Pros party until after the room started to clear out, and I’m sure there were people who thought I was in a bad mood – not at all!) I am one of those all or nothing kind of people – when I’m in a relationship with someone I trust, I can’t stop touching them. In fact it’s a pretty good sign that the relationship is nearing the end when I stop. But otherwise, if I’m not sleeping with you, I’d rather not press my body up against yours. Thanks, but, no.
But I get hugged by people who don’t mean it unkindly, who aren’t consciously trying to invade my space, who aren’t trying to seduce me. It’s a social greeting and I know a lot of gregariously friendly people. I can accept it at a place like Readercon, I can handle it as part of my job, doing business, because I know that there’s a policy in place to protect me from anyone who takes it too far. From anyone who decides that by accepting their hug, I’ve opened myself up to accepting anything else they want from me.
I’ve been in that situation, by the way. I’ve had those guys in my life. I am, as many of you know, a survivor of abuse, of rape, of being a woman with red hair and DD breasts in a world that thinks finding someone attractive and being allowed to act on that attraction are the same thing. I deal with it because I want to be healthy, because I want to be in sane, loving relationships where my baggage isn’t sabotaging us, and because I want to work in a very people-oriented profession.
Being able to trust that Readercon will keep me safe means I can go and focus on work and friendships and networking and memories and learning and the joy of literature. I don’t have to be afraid, because I know that there’s a policy in place to protect me.
Except now there isn’t.