Monday, July 8, 2013

A Conversation About Con Harassment

There is a momentum in SFF communities at the moment, a wave building up, a conversation reaching critical mass. The conversation is morphing and shedding sunlight on many unsavoury parts of professional and community spaces, and it's all interlinked, a continuum of intersecting -isms. Women speaking out about one problematic experience in the system is emboldening others to speak up about others.

I didn't want to post about the latest conversation surrounding con harassment as just another link around and flail at the inadequacies of the world. I wanted to wait until I had something concrete, something different to add to the conversation.

So here's my piece of concrete: this weekend at Au Contraire I'm raising my teaspoons and helping out in a small way by being harassment liaison officer. This came about at very short notice, and I was initially a little reserved about it, but I thought to myself "It's time to stop talking and start doing".

It hurts me to see women and other minorities at SFF cons the world over still being harassed, so if I can help out in my small way, with my small community, I can take part in the conversation about changing attitudes towards harassment (sexual, racial, homophobia, disability). I want the dudes and harassers to know it's not okay anymore - we will not tolerate historic and systemic abuses of the system. I want the harassed to know they can come to me and safely talk about it, know their concerns will be taken seriously, and any report anonymous or official will be acted upon. If you want to bring a friend or a witness, that's perfectly okay. I'll be contactable in person (with my big ol' rainbow gay badge of doom), on Twitter, on email, and through other members of the concom.

I decided to step up and ask about the anti-harassment policy at Au Contraire after the conversation sparked a meta-movement throughout various SFF community platforms. The concom told me the policy is pretty much the same as the last AC in 2010 (I remember the wording, but am unaware whether anything happened at the con that required a use of the policy). This time I'm more aware of what people need and how to deal with reports. I will do my best to help out, though I am liable to my own failings - I am working within a system already in place, but I am confident everyone is on the same page. I've added my own wording touches to things, and made my expectations clear. I'll also be doing this in person at the the Con101 talk and the opening ceremony. (Oh god...I have to talk in public...)

I hope the weekend will be a fantastic fun time and my services won't be required. Also a reminder: this is not an invitation to waylay me in the halls and grill me on policy and how this is unnecessary coz we're all friends and I don't see it happening!11! (yes, we are; no, that's your privilege) and its so unfair that dudes can't flirt any more etc etc. I'm not here to soothe dudely feelz (one must wonder though, at a professional convention, why getting the mack on with teh laydeez is such a high priority over, say, one's writing career), I'm here to look after people negotiating personal autonomy in a public arena. There are plenty of resources available on line to answer the usual questions, some of which I will link below (which have come about as part of the conversation). The Fate of Flirting and Future Population of the World is not important (or even in danger), safe attendance in professional spaces is.

Linkzabout on Con Harassment (in semi-coherent timeline):

  • Elise Matheson "Reporting harassment at a convention: a first-person how to" - cross posted at John Scalzi's place and at Jim C. Hine's place. Both have comment sections with in depth discussion.
  • "Harassment and the back channel" at Radish Reviews. Includes an excellent list of further reading, including stories of harassment, historic inadequacies and stories, links for policies.
  • The #SFFragette hash tag for Twitter/Facebook was invented, and a blog under the same name created. They are aware of the problematic history of the suffragette term, and are engaging in an open discussion about this, so all feel welcome to helping out with change. 
  • John Scalzi "My new convention harassment policy". A pledge about attending or taking part in a convention only if it has a clear and well represented anti-harassment policy. Scalzi has invited people to sign on in support (I have).
  • John Scalzi "Convention Harassment Policy Follow Up", which answers derailing questions, and also recognizes that the policy needs to extend to racial, disability, and homophobic/transphobic harassment. 


  1. One small point; while there are certainly opportunities for professional networking and development, and that may indeed be the main attraction for some members, fannish cons like Au Contraire are primarily social events, not professional conferences. They're for fans to get together, including but not limited to fans who are also writers (whether professionally or as a hobby).

    But irrespective of that, it's awesome that you're helping to make it a safer space!

  2. I found the weekend was equal opportunities for fans, authors, gamers, and artists, producers and fans alike. The writer's track sat brilliantly against the artist's track, the gaming track, and the fan gatherings. It's one of the things Au Contraire did (and does) well bringing them together under one umbrella.

    I hope you had a good time Anon! I certainly did.