Aposiopesis
The breaking off of thoughts
The problem with sexual harassment... 
29th-Aug-2006 01:18 am
str
...Is that it's done by individuals, and this then leads to other individuals saying, "Oh, Cindy has been doing that for years, isn't she horrible?" or "But Iggy is a National Treasure! Things he does are just Iggy being Iggy!" or "Well, /that's/ not OK... Oh, it was Bobby? Bobby always means well..." People create so many reasons a) not to confront someone, or b) to excuse other people. Because people (and society) resist change. (And, often, because people are scared. But anyway.)

I'm still not talking specifically about a particular incident just at the moment, because often, talking about a specific incident gets people all het up about that incident and that incident only, ganging up on the aggressor. Then they feel better, having "solved the problem," and don't talk about the uncomfortable stuff underneath. It's kind of the gender version of "mean people suck" racism.

Anyway, so sexual harassment is a power grab, generally designed (usually not very consciously) to (among other things) retain power and confuse and/or intimidate the people involved. Once you start talking about the non-general sense people always have some kind of reason or logic behind the action, and that's when you get muddled. (Also, tangentially, rape is about power. Although this seems to be contary to feminist accepted wisdom, rape is /also/ about sex. So, too, is sexual harassment about sex (or rather, sexual attraction). It's just /also/ about other things.)

Zo, as pir_anha says, often, looking at the specific instances of harassment may lead to going, "Well, maybe they have a relationship in which that is OK," or, "It seems to have been part of the schtick," or whatever.

'Cause there's always circumstances.

None of which, of course, actually makes any of it OK.

I have all sorts of points here. For one thing, I don't really like hearing that Harlan Ellison grabbed Connie Willis' boob at the Hugo Awards ceremony. (And in so doing made audience members feel uncomfortable.)

(Couldn't tell you if it made Connie Willis uncomfortable. That matters, of course, but given as this was a public event, the audience also matters. And of course, you can be harassed and yet feel OK about it. (Also raped. And stolen from. And... I could go on. But I won't.))
Comments 
(Deleted comment)
29th-Aug-2006 05:51 am (UTC)
Yeah, PNH kind of mentioned it at the end of his post that I linked to. It does seem to have been part of a larger and fairly raunchy performance (as toastmaster, possibly?), but basically, there are lines, y'know?
29th-Aug-2006 06:01 am (UTC)
Harlan Ellison may be a great writer, but he's also a twit of the first order.
29th-Aug-2006 07:00 am (UTC)
"Gee, Mr Ellison, do you really thrown fans down elevator shaAAAAAAAaaaaaaaa..."
29th-Aug-2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
But that's the point. People are seeing this as, "Harlan Ellison is being a ____," with the spoken or unspoken rider, "...like we know he always is."

But this isn't being a twit. This is publically sexually harassing someone, and getting it excused for him by thousands of people.

Because being condemned as a not-nice person (twit, asshole, whatever) *is* 'getting away with it' unless there are some actual repurcussions, which there do not seem to be. Ellison does not seem to be censured by anyone who has authority over him, or whose opinion of him matters to him in the slightest. He dines out on being an asshole. Stories about his assholedom are a significant part of what make him famous. They make him a Personality. They are, in other words, good press disguised as bad press.

He can be rude, and people can like him or dislike him for it, and that's how personalities go. I don't think much of it, and I'm entitled to my opinion. *This* action is not 'being rude' or 'being a twit' or any of the rest of it. It's sexual harassment, and it calls for meaningful censure, which doesn't seem to be happening - I'm not seeing, for instance, a, "Let's make sure Ellison never gets to hold a microphone at the Hugos again," move, rather than a "Oh, that Harlan, what can you do," move.

Sorry, didn't mean to rant at you. It's not that I think you don't get it, it's that the way you phrased it made me think about all the people who genuinely *don't* get it, and think, "He's a twit" is the beginning and end of response.
29th-Aug-2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
I don't see him being excused for it. (In the context of the ceremony, there was a good deal of physical horseplay; I did not see him grope Connie, personally, and I was in the second row.)

But the response I'm seeing to his behavior is overwhelmingly negative.
29th-Aug-2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
What I'm finding heartening (or something) is that it's negative towards him, and at least /some/ of the response is also looking at harassment in general and looking for ways to address it.
29th-Aug-2006 04:15 pm (UTC)
At least from where I'm sitting, a lot of the response is looking at why the community lets this happen regularly enough that we're not surprised by it anymore.

So here's hoping.
29th-Aug-2006 07:10 pm (UTC)
Well, yes. Harassment as it manifests itself in the SF communities and what this specific set of communities can do about it.

By the way, I really loved your post.
29th-Aug-2006 07:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :) I am...still not sure that I did the right thing by posting with blood in my eye like that, but whoo mad.
30th-Aug-2006 02:39 am (UTC)
Well, the way I figure it, anger has a legitimate place in these kinds of discussions. And you progressed quickly from white-hot anger to a more focused, productive rage. So it really worked just fine for me.
29th-Aug-2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this.

I didn't say "HE is a twit" as an *excuse*. I thought he was a twit well before this ever happened.

I wouldn't miss him at all if Worldcon just banned him outright.
8th-Sep-2006 12:31 pm (UTC)
i think it's hilarious that this is the same guy who wrote the "xenogenesis" article about how so many fans are so fucked up.
29th-Aug-2006 07:39 am (UTC)
Thank you. Excellent piece of abstraction. "Oh, it's just Fred" moves the issue from the behavior to the person, which is not where it should be.
29th-Aug-2006 12:21 pm (UTC)
Exactly. Which was what was bothering me about almost all of the discussion of this I'd seen at the time. (I've since seen some broader (and angrier) discussion of it.)
29th-Aug-2006 08:20 am (UTC)
There's been a story making the rounds for many years that the notoriously short and lecherous Mr. Ellison once looked Connie Willis up and down and asked her, "What would you say to a little fuck?" and she looked down her nose at him and said, "Hello, little fuck."

I agree with kathryncramer that her response to the groping should have been, at the very least, "Goodbye, little fuck."
29th-Aug-2006 10:00 am (UTC)
The "hello, little fuck" story is older than Harlan.
29th-Aug-2006 10:07 am (UTC)
Time-traveling gossip! Now there's a story idea. "I want to go back in time, kill my father, and spread rumors about my mother."
29th-Aug-2006 01:47 pm (UTC)
It's certainly older than Connie Willis's professional career.
29th-Aug-2006 11:30 am (UTC)
And, even weirder, to "Zeph? But Zeph was perfectly well-behaved at my last barbecue" as if that somehow made it less likely that zie groped someone at a different event.

Also, well, there are people who have my permission to touch me in all sorts of ways. I doubt very much that any of them would have the poor taste to do something like grab my breast in public, in a situation where (a) consent wasn't very obvious, or (b) large numbers of people were going to have their attention directed to the act whether they wanted that or not.
29th-Aug-2006 04:14 pm (UTC)
Oh. Yes. I was seeing that first bit around a lot yesterday.

And indeed, there are differences between public and private, and ways in which one can understand the shifing bounds of consent.
29th-Aug-2006 11:50 am (UTC)
I'm still not talking specifically about a particular incident just at the moment, because often, talking about a specific incident gets people all het up about that incident and that incident only, ganging up on the aggressor. Then they feel better, having "solved the problem," and don't talk about the uncomfortable stuff underneath. It's kind of the gender version of "mean people suck" racism.

I love you. :)
29th-Aug-2006 12:35 pm (UTC)
*grin* Thank you. It took me awhile to distill into small words, last night. (All I had, at that point, were small words, and yet, it kept niggling at me.)
29th-Aug-2006 03:10 pm (UTC)
But that's exactly the important point - and look how, even here, a lot of the discussion has been about Mr. Ellison.

amaebi has highlighted the right thing - you have *eactly* hit on the problem, and expressed it really well.

And since I've been experiencing this at work, I'm sore about this myself. I have literally been told, "Oh, that's ___. He does that to everyone," as an excuse. No one seems to understand why I might think that would make it *worse*.
29th-Aug-2006 04:12 pm (UTC)
Ayup. I did notice how many of the responses were specifically targetted at this specific instance. (Mind you, most people, in responses to any post, will talk about the specific in favor of the general. Nonetheless...)

And believe you me, your situation did occur to me. (As I was writing it, even. Most particularly all the excuses and rationalizations.)

29th-Aug-2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
Harlan. Fucking. Ellison.

He seems to have taken up the role abandoned by the death of Isaac Asimov as the Horrible Dirty Old Man of Science Fiction.

If I ever ran a big science fiction convention, my security staff would have orders to evict Ellison on sight.
29th-Aug-2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
If I ever ran a big science fiction convention, my security staff would have orders to evict Ellison on sight.

Thank you.

You know, he has done so many truly unacceptable things at speaking engagements, things which go beyond "rude" or even "offensive" or "antagonistic" or "outrageous" into just plain never okay, that I am really wondering why there doesn't seem to be a general SF fandom concensus that we may continue to publish his writing and pay him for it, because we currently run the industry in such a way as that the quality of the writing rather than the personality of the writer should determine publishability, but he should simply never be allowed at a podium or on a stage, let alone be paid to be there.

It disgusts me that the population is willing to enable this behavior, and that's what it's doing by gossiping and bad-mouthing him and continuing to give him public speaking opportunities. And frankly, everyone watching that (or hearing/reading about it after the fact) is learning that people can do this and get away with it - that they can, in fact, if they choose to go that route, become famous, known and talked about and sought after, for behaving exactly this way. Anyone who thinks this is "Just Ellison" is deluding themselves and allowing harm to the community.
30th-Aug-2006 06:14 pm (UTC)
Amen. If I had not had a pressing personal interest in that Hugo category, I would have repaired to the lobby during his appearance.

We need to stop giving this man an audience.
29th-Aug-2006 04:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

Anyway, so sexual harassment is a power grab, generally designed (usually not very consciously) to (among other things) retain power and confuse and/or intimidate the people involved.

Just like the old joke:

"What do you call a [minority] millionaire Nobel Prize winner?"

"Hey, [slur]."

At any point, the harassee can be reduced to a bodily function to be evaluated by the harasser. That's why a contemptuous sexual insult can be just as much sexual harrassment: it's putting the victim into the role of a cut of meat to be judged, tweaked, and dismissed or accepted. And even if you're passed as fit for the plate, you still end up as shit.

What the harassee can do is to refuse to be meat. Not to let the harasser hijack your sexuality and personhood, not to repress them in order to avoid attention. I refuse to allow my sexuality to become a counter in some jerk's power game.

Changing the harasser and the culture of patriarchy will take a bit longer. But I do my bit to re-educate them when they come my way.
29th-Aug-2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
So just to focus on specifics instead of generalities, this reminded me of another story about Harlan. He was the guest of honor at a conference last year, along with the creators of Penny Arcade. So they're all up there and of course HE says something mean to one of the PA guys, who ends up being mean back, because that's how they are. I was going to post a snippet of the story but it's too long and I don't want to take up a lot of space.

Anyway, the PA guy ends up coming back with a retort to HE, saying he really liked the Star Wars stuff he'd written, deliberately mistaking him for someone who'd written Star Wars stuff. HE had no retort for that. This whole thing started a great big flame war between all the fans, which is pretty stupid, but I can't help but laugh at the event, and I tell here as another example of HE's assholery.

But yeah, I agree that people need to stop excusing this stuff and have some repurcussions over it.

Oh, if you want to read the story from Penny Arcade's perspective, it can be found here. You gotta scroll down a bit, but it's there. I think it's pretty funny.
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