Problematic conventioners, take two
File770 has an extensive post, with links to several other comments and additional information, and a very long comment thread (which has remained mostly civil): Mark Oshiro Says ConQuesT Didn’t Act On His Harassment Complaints.
I’m more than a bit disappointed in how many people are still jumping to the defense of a couple of the harassers with re-treads of the “can’t you take a joke”/“But everyone knows she didn’t mean anything by it.” One version of that which has surfaced a few times in regards to the person who has a history of taking her pants off at panels is, “she does that all the time; I’m not offended by it; Therefore it isn’t offensive and there’s something wrong with you if you think there is.”
This is an old defense that has been used to excuse sexual harassment and sexual assault for decades. A woman complains that she was made uncomfortable by someone who kept commenting on some part of her anatomy, kept crowding in on her, et cetera, and people say, “Oh, so-and-so does that all the time, but he’s harmless!” By which, presumably they mean so far as they know he has never murdered anyone, or raped anyone at knifepoint. This completely ignores the fact that the leering, crowding, groping, or whatever that he does do makes the person feel very uncomfortable, unsafe, and completely obliterates any enjoyment she gets out of the activity/convention/party/panel whatever.
Similarly, the pants situation this time isn’t just about whether it is offensive for a woman to stand around wearing a pair of mens boxers as outerwear, it’s whether after dropping her pants bumping into and continuously rubbing up against another panelist who has previously indicated he isn’t comfortable with that behavior is an acceptable way to behave. Never mind whether it is conducive to a serious discussion about tolerance for a panelist to do that on stage at the panel.
To switch sides for a moment: I’ve been on the other side of the “is it offensive” debate. There are still people (they got quoted in some of the news stories after the last Hugos, for instance), who angrily insist that even including a platonic gay relationship in a story/movie/TV series is deeply offensive to them. Heck, there were calls for boycotts because a black actor was cast as a stormtrooper in the new Star Wars movie, not long after the calls for a boycott of one of the official Star Wars tie-in novels because it included a gay character. I totally understand that someone merely saying that something is offensive is not justification for utterly banning that something. For those people, seeing me simply giving my husband a quick peck on the lips before heading into a panel room completely squicks them out. And I refuse to stop being who I am just because some bigots think they have a right to live in a diversity-free world.
So, I understand that the woman who takes her pants off may be trying to make a statement about body positivity, and about women being in control of their own bodies and having a say in how they dress. I understand that I don’t have a right to veto her choices about herself. But if I happen to be on the panel with her, my lack of a veto over how she dresses doesn’t mean that I have no right to be upset if she rubs up against me, leers at me, and otherwise tries to turn me into a prop for her performative critique of societal norms. My lack of a veto over her sexuality or identity doesn’t mean I have to participate at that level.
Related to all of this, our local furry convention seems to have finally self-destructed: What really killed RF2016 was RF2011 to RF2015. Yes, I said finally. I know it isn’t nice to pile on when someone is already down, but there were very clear warning signs early (as the person, a recently resigned conchair, who wrote that post-mortem alludes to) that the concom had serious problems. The ones mentioned in the post are bad, but they were the tip of the iceberg from my experiences: as an attendee, as a dealer, as a panelist, as someone who offered to help on staff, and as someone who filed multiple reports of times the convention didn’t adhere to their own policies. The thing that actually brought them down was failing to deal with misbehaving attendees, but that was only a symptom of a deeper problem—just the most obviously expensive symptom.
These things don’t have to kill conventions, though.
Last summer, after the incident of the drunken writer contacting the local police to file a false report that one of the WorldCon guests of honor (with whom he had a political disagreement) was a dangerous person who might commit violent acts at the con, Lydy Nickerson posted a lengthy post about her own experiences as a staff member dealing with problems at conventions over the years: Harassment: What do we do? It’s really well done. She lays out a lot of real scenarios and explains the options and how to take some mitigating circumstances into account and so on. It is really worth a read.