For those of you haven’t yet heard, the otherwise excellent Readercon is at the center of a whirlwind of controversy because of a alleged harassment and the inconsistent application of a zero-tolerance policy. The victim’s (Genevieve Valentine’s) description was first posted on her blog:
At the con, someone introduced himself to me and started a conversation, accompanied by elbow-and-shoulder touches that I moved away from. At one point he said I had to stop saying things that “made [him] want to say “wrong” things”; I shut him down politely, turned my back on him, and talked to someone else until he eventually left.
That night at a room party, I paused in the hall bottleneck and said to a passing friend, “Oh man, it’s crowded.” From behind me, the man wrapped an arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, you and I will have a good time!” at which point I spun and said loudly and clearly “You do NOT touch me,” and moved inside. He stayed in the bottleneck for more than thirty minutes trying to catch my eye before he left; I recruited someone to walk me to the elevator.
Ms. Valentine goes to describe a panicked harasser continuing to harass her about accepting his apology for harassing her. Most people expected René Walling (the alleged harasser) to be permanently banned from Readercon, per their written policy:
Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy.
Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.
As always, Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.
I had worked under him online for a couple years, when he was the chair of Anticipation, then out of the blue when he met me in person he asked me to marry him. I didn’t even know we were dating. I told him no, but since then, I’ve had issues with him following me at events, and he didn’t ever really back off. For this and other reasons, I stopped volunteering entirely last year so I could limit contact. But it got worse after I resigned, he followed me around at SF Contario 2, and I ended up leaving the event early.
I just… I don’t… no. No. Bad fandom. BAD! Were you all raised in barns? Did you receive no home training? Where in the lexicon of Acceptable Human Behavior does it say that it’s okay to stalk someone because you like them, or because you want to apologize to them, or because they don’t like something you like, or because they do but not the way you want them to like it? Why do we express ourselves in this way? What the… who the… GRAAAAH.
Clarkesworld focuses on the light punishment:
This decision surely doesn’t reflect the attitude of many of us and will cause several people to turn away, greatly diminishing us all. The actions of the board place a large dark cloud over the con. If they value the community that we’ve built over the years, they need to start listening and implement their policies as stated at the time.
But it further disturbs me because this is an incident of an author, an invited guest to a convention, being harassed by, no matter the super-awesomeness of his fanhood, a fan. If that cannot be taken seriously, how can any author feel safe at a convention? Because let’s be honest, authors who harass women are already welcome at many conventions, not policed in any way, and those who once harassed and no longer do because they are dead often have their “exploits” extolled with affection and nostalgia at con parties. Big men act with impunity, are even praised for it. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus ’twill be.
If a convention has a policy on sexual harassment which it then does not follow, then it has failed — failed the person who was harassed by not living up to its obligations to them, failed its guests by not following the rules by which it purports to run, failed the community at large by continuing to allow exceptions and exclusions and excuses to those who harass, and failed itself by not being the convention it claims to be.
He seemed mostly drunk. He was dressed like Jimmy Buffet. And he wanted to teach me how to lace my corset. I was doing it all wrong, he said. Women lined up outside of the Renfaire, asking him to lace them in, he said. He was an expert, he said. His fingers hovered about two inches away from my laces, and I froze inside like a deer somehow sensing the rifle aimed and waiting.
This is not an isolated incident, and this story is not over. According to Scalzi, the SFWA must meet in order to issue their own official opinion, and we don’t yet know how the appeals process may work at Readercon. We’ll let you know when we know something more.