Alien Cheese

They Said/They Said and Plunging all Fandom Into War

[[Error correction – when I first posted this essay, I called it “He Said/She Said”  Not long afterwards, I realized that this title was completely wrong.  Only a few people doubt what she or he said in relation to what happened at Readercon this year.  The real problem has been what “they” said to further incite the situation.  OK, and I may be a “they” in this case, but I would really rather see reasonable discussion of this problem rather than general ranting, which is, sadly, what has often been happening.]]

I’ve been very active in science fiction fandom since 1975.   We science fiction fans are generally people who love to read, love to speculate and love to argue.  But…an awful lot of us are socially awkward and/or bad tempered.  We don’t always read people well.  To use a Big Bang Theory analogy, there are many Leonards and Howards in fandom, and a few Sheldons, and not too many Rajs.  And these archetypes exist in both genders in fandom.

When I got involved, there weren’t that many women in fandom. However, I always felt very safe in fandom.  I can think of a couple of times having long discussions with men, sometimes in their hotel rooms during SF conventions.  A few of them came onto me – a kiss, a grope, whatever.  I said no, and we just resumed our conversation.  No meant no, but an unwanted kiss did not mean I’d just been raped.  Fannish men were smart, right?  Fannish women knew how to stand up for themselves, right? By contrast, during my freshman year in college, I knew two women who’d been raped, and a third who was probably raped but was too drunk to know for sure (that was in a fraternity basement).  At the same time, I never heard about a woman being raped at a con.

People in fandom seemed more enlightened about gender issues than people (especially men) outside of fandom.  Generally, but not always.  There was always a lot of discussion about the patriarchy and the move towards equality among some groups of us. The number of women now active in fandom approaches 50%, which is great.

However, there are some trends in fandom that are making me uncomfortable. In particular, there was a recent incident at Readercon which was unfortunate, has been blown up way out of all proportion for a number of reasons.

The basic overview – man follows woman, puts an arm around her, she says no, he follows her some, trying to apologize  (I think he was sent away 2 or 3 times).  I believe the woman involved, because of the way she described the man’s actions.  I’ve known the man for years, and can see him reacting in the way she described – he was really trying to apologize, and she just wanted to be left alone, which was her right.

This incident, which probably happens at every convention every weekend, was blown up because the woman’s friends got very angry at the man, but also because Readercon has a conduct code, and, according to the code, the man should have been banned from Readercon permanently.  Instead, he was banned for two years, which caused a huge overreaction.

Here are just a few of the things I’ve heard about this incident:

  • The man was likened to an infamous alleged child sex rapist who was very active in fandom until he got into trouble with the law.  For various reasons, his case has never gone to trial.  
  • A Hugo-award winner was criticized for mentioning the name of her longtime friend in her acceptance speech, who happened to be the man involved in the Readercon incident.
  • Some people have stated the man did nothing wrong.
  • Some people think he should be banned from all conferences for all time.

I’m very much in the middle on this issue – while the man clearly misbehaved, I don’t think he did anything close to being banned from all conventions for all time.  But, to liken stupid behavior by a man to a man accused of child rape is particularly enraging. Rape is rape – a bad pick-up line isn’t rape.

We need to try to be respectful of each other, but if we can’t be respectful, we should just walk away sometimes.  I got involved in two arguments I didn’t really want to get involved in again at Chicon.  In both cases, I walked.

I am going to try to walk away from arguing about the Readercon incident in the future.  I’ve made my argument, I’ve said my piece, and I don’t believe this incident should be plunging all fandom into war.

But, if there can be reasonable discussion of some of the issues around men and women in fandom, I’d like to be a part of it.  We can’t be afraid of each other.  Sadly, the level of vitriol around this incident can set the general egalitarianism in fandom back by decades.

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