Jun 282013
 
creeper mermaid

creeper mermaid!

Lots of talking online today about [harassment at cons]. I did some tweeting but thought I might be more coherent with paragraphs.

I have been creeped on at cons and at parties. Guys (offhand I can’t think of any that weren’t presenting male) who got into my personal space, made inappropriate comments, hugged for too long, or just treated me like less of a person with less of a mind. I’ve never had an incident that I consider reportable, but (at least for the past few years) I’m comfortable pointing out this behavior and the people in question to my friends.

People with that pattern of behavior tend to 1. escalate, test boundaries, escalate more, get away with wrong things before moving on to escalate to horrific things and 2. carefully present themselves in a really personable way to non-targets. The behavior is a system and it increases their social standing to give them more credibility. Listening and believing and reporting help identify creepers who always do this so that action can be taken against them.

In the past when people have told me their stories about harassment, I haven’t always responded the way I wish: listening, believing, evaluating how I can help. Sometimes I’ve been good, others not so much. The right course of action is to always believe someone who reports being a target of abuse, but I will be honest and say there have been times I haven’t done that.

Now I will be more honest: I’ve been the bad guy. At a party once, I outrageously violated someone’s physical consent. It horrifies me that I did that. I’ve also made people uncomfortable with my jokes, my words, and sometimes my revealing outfits. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. I want to learn how to do better, how to be a good part of fandom, building and enjoying safe spaces.

Many of us have done incorrect things, made other people uncomfortable and so on. For me, taking a hard look at what I’ve done to other people and trying to learn from it helps me when listening to other people’s experiences. To put that backwards: being in denial about doing bad shit can mean trying to justify the same bad shit when someone else does it.

I want to be a safe and caring person to report to, even if the bad guy is my friend. I want to know when I screw up. I want people who aren’t serially, escalatingly abusive to not act they are, because not everyone who fucks up is that way, but to someone on the receiving end of some harassment or assault it doesn’t make a fucking bit of difference if this is everyday behavior or an isolated incident, it still feels horrible.

I don’t have good answers to the problem of convention harassment other than, hey, let’s keep speaking up, always listen, and work like hell to make safe spaces.

  15 Responses to “Trying to be better”

  1. Good post; it makes me think. I’m always a sucker for that. Here are some things I wonder about:

    You say: “I’ve also made people uncomfortable with my jokes, my words, and sometimes my revealing outfits.”

    What we’re getting to here is Thom Digby’s remark that, “Of course your right to swing your fist ends at my nose, but how long a nose do I have the right to grow?” No, we don’t want to make people uncomfortable. But at some point, to me, the issue stops being, “I’m making you uncomfortable,” and becomes, “to what degree do I let your sense of comfort control my actions?”

    There is no formula that can provide an answer; but it is worth asking the question.

    Thanks for posting this.

    • That’s a very good point, about the length of the nose. It comes back around to a need to pay attention, because each situation is unique.

      If I’m making someone uncomfortable, I may change my behavior or not. I’ve been asked to cover up some anatomy and done so, and another time I told the asker no. I try to err on the side where people are still willing to let me know that I’m making them uncomfortable.

      To bring a specific into this, the other day we were joking around on twitter, and a person was offended and asked me to stop making that joke. The offended party has known you longer than they’ve known me, but didn’t ask you to stop. Could have been because she didn’t think you’d be willing to stop or because she didn’t notice you or just felt her request applied to you even without name-checking. Who knows. But that’s the sort of stuff I worry about.

  2. I’m with you up to your “revealing outfits”, where I have a question, not a disagreement: How does that jibe with “slut-shaming”? I’m assuming you’re not talking about revealing outfits worn in people’s sacred places where modesty in the physical rather than mental sense is simply being respectful.

    • Entirely possible that there’s some overlap with slut-shaming in those instances! Right or not, I’d rather have someone tell me that I’m making them uncomfortable. If they’re just annoyed that I have tits they can’t grope, that’s their problem. Sometimes, yeah, I’m crossing a line of propriety that can bring up consent questions. It gets tricky and I’d rather wear a longer skirt than make a friend upset.

  3. Interesting and thoughtful post. In terms of nose v fist, I agree that paying attention is key. Also, for me anyway, I try to be aware of power. If I’m older, more veteran, more at home I try to keep my nose shorter and pull my punches. I’ve been young, new and out of place and know it didn’t take much, in such circumstances, to make me feel welcomed and safe instead of alien and on edge.

    • It’s a tricky metaphor. On the one hand, yes, you don’t want to get in people’s faces or make them flinch. But on the other, if they’re making you get a nose job and keeping you from dancing, you should rethink who has the power and ask what they really want.

      • Skye – thank you, and yes. For me also some of it is a matter of asking myself whether I have some power over that other person that I can easily give up. Then again, I kind of have a thing for giving up power (unless I get backed into a corner and therefore stubborn).

        Will – Another level to the social dance. Am I giving up a little of my power or a lot? Am I giving it freely because don’t want to make my friend sad, or is an acquaintance holding social credit hostage for it? I think it can go a lot of different ways, and I like to assume good faith (being free to make that assumption is an unearned luxury that I admit not everyone has).

        • I fear my quibbles will sound like I disagree more than I do, because I think your general principles here are right. But:

          There is no power greater than making someone think they’re choosing to surrender.

          And assuming good faith is not a luxury; it’s a philosophy. Now, how much weight you should give to good faith is another question: I am always on the side of giving the most weight to deeds, and if someone is hitting you, it doesn’t matter whether they’re trying to beat the Devil out of you or steal your watch.

          • The first doesn’t feel like a quibble at all, more of a well-connected thought.

            As to the second, I think what I mean about assuming good faith isn’t that at all, but rather, assuming that if I evaluated what I know about the person’s material conditions, I’d come up with an answer that allowed me be okay with surrendering that bit of power. (This is not so much me arguing a point as me trying to figure out on what basis my backbrain is reacting in a social setting.)

            There’s a difference between “hey, what you just said hurt me” and “ooh, I caught you saying something you shouldn’t!” I try to evaluate for that too, I think.

  4. Excellent post. The part I thought was most important was having the not inconsiderable guts to say “yeah, I have done this, and I want to act better”. That’s a meaningful contribution toward having the process be about identifying bad behavior so we can all work to avoid it, as opposed to identifying bad people so we can all deride them together and feel wonderful about how perfect we are.

    To Steve and Will’s point about noses vs. fists, I think where we wind up is that since teleological ethics (that assign the value of an act based on intentions) let anybody do whatever they want as long as they can make up a good story about how they meant well, and consequential ethics let anybody circumscribe anybody else’s behavior however they want as long as they can make up a good story about how it harms them, we wind up having to sit down at the table with fucking Kant and mostly have ethics that address the act itself, hopefully with some sensitivity to context. So we wind up saying, “blowing up Argentina was not a reasonable act, so your good intentions are not much of a factor in how we’re going to respond to that” and “we’re sorry you were made uncomfortable by Jen wearing only pasties and a merkin, but it was a burlesque-themed party and it was a reasonable thing for her to do”.

    Lacking a single reliable philosopher-king to dictate what acts are reasonable in what circumstances (which I would be excellent at, by the way, if anybody’s hiring), we wind up drawing those lines by consensus. Hopefully we leave a little room for good intentions, if credible, to mean something, and if we’re worth the time of fucking day we continually observe consequences and feed that back into the development of consensus.

    Because consensus, of course, can change. And this conversation about response to harassment is part of it doing so.

    • I less than three this comment, and thank you.

      …and if we’re worth the time of fucking day we continually observe consequences and feed that back into the development of consensus.

      This one point gets to me a little, though. Sometimes the sheer weight of watching other people NOT give a fuck about the consequences of their actions (or worse, give a fuck in the wrong direction) can become wearying and then we start to wonder why the fuck we’re getting up in the morning.

      • Yeah, that’s rough. My main way of addressing it is recommending not stressing about trying to be a better person than one cares to. Because it’s not like we’re going to drag down the average, and who are we trying to impress anyway?

      • What Chaos said. One of the reasons I’m fond of Jesus stories is sometimes he looked at the people around him and said, “I need some time in the desert now.”

    • I may have to read some Kant soon.

      The moving line of consensus will get almost everyone someday. One of Robespierre’s last thoughts must’ve been, “Fuck, we set one bad precedent.”

      Also less than threeing yr. comment.

      • If you like act-in-itself ethics, you will love our Immanuel. Definite recommend. I may talk shit about him, but he gets a lot of points for really pushing the idea that people shouldn’t be treated as instrumentalities; I like a man who isn’t scared to promote ideas that would literally destroy society as it exists if ever actually given more than lip service.

        Moving line of consensus getting everybody: yeah, it probably will. Which is one reason I think it’s important to make the focus feedback and improvement, not demonization and destruction. When they come for the snarky writers, it might not be so bad if it’s an intervention party, not a death squad.

        Thanks! 🙂

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