liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
There is a big kerfuffle / imbroglio going on regarding a woman who was harassed at Readercon. Readercon decided to make an exception to their written policy and apply a reduced penalty to the harasser. Then the internet exploded, as the internet does.

Lots of people who know nothing about the situation have decided to extrapolate from Valentine's original, measured account of the bad behaviour she had to deal with that the accused must in fact be an evil horrible predatory monster, and indeed are reporting bad stuff he supposedly did that goes way beyond the original account, as if it were established fact. A few people who know nothing about the situation have decided that really, continuing to follow someone around and touch her after explicitly being told this attention was unwanted isn't that bad after all, and maybe he was just a bit of a nerd and didn't understand social cues very well.

And some people do know at least something about the situation. It seems like this guy is rather well connected within SF fandom. There's a prevalent assumption that this is why he got off comparatively lightly. But some people are having to deal with the fact that pretty serious allegations have been made against someone they consider a friend, and not only that, but while the original reported behaviour was at very least rude, the internet has collectively decided to assume the absolute worst possible interpretation of the facts, and then make up new facts to line up with that worst interpretation.

I know nothing about the situation either. I know none of the people involved and I don't want to make the same mistake I'm complaining about here of imposing my judgement on the situation based on my own fears and being too credulous about internet rumours. I hesitated as to whether I should even link to the original posts recounting the incident and Readercon's decision, but I decided that going back to the source would be less rumour-mongering than making vague allusions and leaving curious people to poke around among all the internet opinions being presented as facts.

What I do want to do is link to some interesting meta about how this controversy has played out, because I think it's generally applicable to similar situations. Which do in fact keep happening, because members of close-knit social groups do sometimes harass people, and every time it happens the same discussions play out. And when the social group is largely internet-based, extra dimensions of awfulness come into play.

  • [livejournal.com profile] xiphias talks about accusations being made against a friend, as well as discussing a bit how the principle of not spreading malicious gossip balances with the importance of protecting one's community from actually harmful people.
  • [personal profile] redbird talks about Friendship [and] boundaries.
  • [livejournal.com profile] ann_leckie directly addresses some of the it can't be that bad reactions that typically come up in these situations.
  • [livejournal.com profile] rose_lemberg utterly demolishes the internet diagnosis subset of that utterly, depressingly typical response.

    Side-note on the last, though this is edging close to the unfounded speculation I want to avoid: the "maybe he's just a bit Aspie" non-excuse came up relatively late in the discussion. It seems like everybody who actually knows this particular guy, those who are monstering him and those who are defending him, agree that he is charming and "nice" and highly socially competent. Of course, he could be charming and neuro-atypical at the same time. But that's not the point; when people say "but maybe he's Apsie" they don't really mean that in a medical sense, they mean that the person is socially awkward and visibly weird. There's a problem here. Geek culture is (in many ways justly) proud of being welcoming to people who are socially awkward, whether that is because they are on the austism spectrum or because of their upbringing and personality and whatever other reasons. However, if someone who is socially awkward also doesn't respect other people's boundaries, making an amateur diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome to excuse that person is totally unhelpful. For all the reasons [livejournal.com profile] rose_lemberg outlines.

    Also, people who do in fact make genuine mistakes through being socially awkward very much want to defend environments where people will be reasonably forgiving of such mistakes. Blaming awkwardness on inborn neurological traits can be one way to gain more understanding, but is dangerous because it leads to stereotyping of autistic and austism-spectrum folk. Also, there's a big difference between missing social cues and ignoring other people's preferences and boundaries; some people who themselves would never do the latter can be unwilling to see any rudeness by anyone else as deliberate.

    The other side of this problem is that if you blame all sexist treatment of women on social awkwardness, you end up not being able to get your head round the idea that some people are in fact highly socially skilled, but also treat women (sometimes not all women, but the women they choose to target) as objects for their gratification. And when those women report harassment or worse, they aren't believed because surely a "nice" person would never do anything like that. So you're in a double-bind situation. If someone is socially awkward and also a creep, you are supposed to compromise your own safety in order to make allowances for his social awkwardness. And if someone is charming and also a creep, you are supposed to compromise your own safety so that your social circle can continue to enjoy the benefits of having a charming, likeable person around. CF this excellent Pervocracy post on what happens when you prize social cohesion over safety. (Note that Cliff's essay here is general, nothing to do with the current situation and nobody anywhere has suggested that the guy who received the mitigated punishment from Readercon is actually a rapist.)
  • (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-30 11:53 am (UTC)
    jack: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] jack
    One thing I'm taking away is that when you write policies, you should consider "what happens if this applies in the most inconvenient place possible"? If it's going to be controvertial, leaving it till later to specify the edge cases may often be better.

    But it also means that there's a lot less point saying "if you do X, you will have a lifetime ban" unless you also say "if you do X, you will have a lifetime ban, even if you're the president of the con" because lots of people DO mean it when the say "anyone" but some people don't, and if you're specific, people know you mean it.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-30 12:00 pm (UTC)
    jack: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] jack
    The other thing I was trying to say yesterday is that a lifetime ban, if that's actually enforced beyond two years, may be unfair if the harasser genuinely changes. But it's much less unfair than letting people go on being intimidated and harassed, so the second shouldn't be condoned simply because it's the status quo.

    If you're trying to start enforcing rules that you should enforce but have traditionally been lax, it's pretty much guaranteed that SOME people will get caught out not thinking you mean it or not having got the message. If you deliberately choose an example for a particularly harsh punishment to send the message, that can be immoral. But if you do your best to tell everyone "Look, we really mean it", and someone knows that, but still gets caught by your policy, then it's sad, but you did everything you could, and there's bound to be some price to pay for progress towards a slightly more equal society, you have to pay it sometimes.

    And I mean, the same applies whether the penalty is "suspension from a con" or "death", and people will ALWAYS complain that something is too harsh. But the first is a lot easier to live with, so it's easier and necessary to say "we must enforce this even-handedly, even if some people are penalised more than others", whereas there's a lot more pressure to only enforce the death penalty when you ABSOLUTELY have to.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-31 02:34 pm (UTC)
    jack: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] jack
    *hugs* Thank you.

    Yeah, there are quite a LOT of red herrings here.

    1. If you make a dumb policy, I think often the correct thing to do IS to change it, even if that IS in response to a particular incident. It's just that in cases like this one, that sends a massively bad message that you may be ALWAYS willing to bend the rules.

    2. Zero tolerance is occasionally necessary, but is usually REALLY stupid, even for zero tolerance of bad things. If zero tolerance is accompanied by extra enforcement, that can work, but if it's accompanied by harsh punishemnts instead, the enforcement is usually so inconsistent the punishment has to be massively out of proportion to have ANY effect, which is rather wasteful and can be counterproductive. But it's bad because it creates a double standard of people who are sort of in the gray area and may be caught or not: school children with 3/4 of a nail file ignored, those with 7/8 expelled for life and condemned to a criminal underclass. But none of that matters, because everyone agrees that he DID do what everyone says he did, and (in a minor bright point) no-one's arguing that he shouldn't be excluded at all, they're just arguing about whether fiddling with the sentence is ok or very bad.

    3. It's certanily POSSIBLE for someone to be completely innocent of intent or negligance, and for someone else to be harassed by it. Usually there's a sliding scale where even if someone didn't know, they SHOULD have known. Occasionally completely by coincidence, somenoe is thrust into a situation whcih is threatening to someone else. Occasionally someone's medical condition does trip someone else's panic button. We have to accept that there are SOME cases of genuine miscommunication, while still pointing out that MOST cases are of people being wilfully ignorant or wilfully malicious, which is totally different to social cluelessness or autistic spectrum handicaps. But again, even though that CAN happen, and some people even think it likely to happen OFTEN, people only seem to be raising it as a theoretical possibility -- no-one seems to suggest that, however nice a person he may be in many respects, he SHOULDN'T have known better.
    Edited Date: 2012-07-31 02:39 pm (UTC)

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-31 03:12 pm (UTC)
    jack: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] jack
    Although I say that no-one DOES seem to be arguing he was clueless, in fact, that seems to be a lot close to it. Making sexually charged conversation and physical touching is bad, but the harassee was willing to let that slide, it was following her around trying to apologise and get forgiven that was what brought the matter to everyone's attention. GValentine explained exceptionally clearly and succinctly why this is not ok, but I also suspect that LOTS of people would fuck up and do something similar if they were in the wrong, they're just fortunate enough to usually not be in the wrong. And I can see why if you know and like someone who's story is "I did something stupid and tried to apologise and now everyone hates me" you will listen to that without checking how many sins are hidden under the details of "bad" and "tried". But when I first read the links, I'd assumed this was a case of "someone who will always take advantage when they can hiding in plain sight because they're popular and well-liked", which is a giant problem, especially because people with that mindset ARE unlikely to ever change. And in a case like that (eg. GoH blatently gropes GoH on stage), people are likely not to feel safe if he ever comes back, whether he knows better or not. But it's also possible for something to fall into "he SHOULD know better, but once 'don't touch people even if it's a joke' has been explained again and he gets a two year suspension, I don't actually feel less safe with him than most other people at the con". So I don't know where the flamewar started, but I wonder if it was more with "the committee had to vacillitate because they didn't have time to decide whether to enforce their policy or not", not with the original harassing.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-08-01 10:03 am (UTC)
    jack: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] jack
    If your official reason is not that you suddenly noticed a flaw in your policy, but that the person apologized, ... speculate that he got off lightly because he has friends in high places

    Good point. Yeah, if they'd announced they were changing the policy generally, that would still be problemtatic, but would have been a lot better -- suggesting that they may stick to the new policy, not that they have a policy which they stick to for people they don't like and not for people they do like.

    Zero tolerance has a really bad reputation because it's a totally inappropriate way to do law enforcement.

    Yeah. I think it's also that people are bashful about make harsh judgements if they're discretionary, so zero tolerance is invoked, not because anyone wants what actual zero tolerance (which is good in the right situations and bad in many others), but because it's a necessary excuse to do anything at all.

    But wilful ignorance is also a thing

    Oh yes! My point was supposed to be that when someone's caught out doing something hurtful, they're USUALLY being wilfully ignorant and are completely culpable of ignoring what they SHOULD know by now. And people bringing up the topic of actual, unavoidable, non-culpable ignorance are generally being wilfully ignorant jerks themselves. And it's right to not accept wilful ignorance as an excuse: you may need to explicitly say "you have a responsibility to educate yourself about this" if you want them to get better, but we shouldn't go on getting away with "oh, I didn't know".

    I probably failed by mentioning the exceptions at all, because with a subculture, the case is almost always wilful ignorance, and I didn't want to perpetuate the idea that "oh, well, this one might be an exception". But I think it is also important to recognise that when you mix subcultures you will get a much higher level of ignorance about each other, and it is more plausible to hurt someone inadvertently, and if so people should resolve to do better, but may not be able to insist that every sincere apology is accompanied with an admission of wrongdoing.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-08-02 01:03 pm (UTC)
    jack: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] jack
    I think we're pretty much emphatically agreeing with eachother here!

    Yeah, I think we really are, but I find it hard to stop...

    I don't think and have never thought that cultural misunderstandings have anything whatsoever to do with this case and have specifically been trying to avoid suggesting that they do. (Everyone involved is a regular congoer, and probably general American, so SHOULD know "don't follow someone about" even if they don't.)

    But even though when HE followed someone around, he most definitely SHOULD have known better, I still feel squicky saying "X isn't cultural ignorance" of the behaviour, because it sounds like before passing judgement on this incident, I have to know that which behaviours occur legitimately in NO culture, and I'm very bad at knowing that in advance...

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-30 01:42 pm (UTC)
    elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)
    From: [personal profile] elf
    [personal profile] megpie71 points out that being socially awkward is often not the problem, and certainly not here--socially awkward people are OBVIOUS:

    "It takes a lot of social skill to develop a set of behaviours which are both threatening to the recipients and innocuous to disinterested bystanders. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be able to perform these behaviours in a public setting on a regular basis without drawing attention to oneself."

    A man who "just doesn't understand boundaries" comes across as creepy to everyone, not just his targets. (So does a woman, but is usually considered less dangerous.) A guy who knows how to hover far enough away that only the victim feels threatened... is not "socially awkward."

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-30 04:47 pm (UTC)
    elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)
    From: [personal profile] elf
    This is a man who chaired a Worldcon and was Fan GoH at Arisia; he's also a regular blogger at Tor. None of those would've happened if he weren't socially savvy. (I'm aware you probably haven't read up on all the history and whatnot of this particular situation; this is extra info, not "you shoulda known that...")

    There *are* cases of "competently social but lacking the ability to sense fine nuances;" this isn't one of them. With an all-volunteer staff, the person in charge has to be, well, personable. Fan GoHs get invited because people enjoy being in their company, and that doesn't happen with people who can't tell when a conversation is over.

    If he doesn't take women's autonomy seriously, it's sheer sexism, not a sign of of weak social skills.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-31 08:37 pm (UTC)
    redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
    From: [personal profile] redbird
    That plus the strong impression that, even if the original policy wasn't specifically to get rid of one widely disliked creep, the different ruling this year was less "we've been thinking that zero tolerance is excessive but haven't had a meeting about it" than "We know and like René, and we want him to come back to our con."

    "I know and like this man" is a reasonable basis for deciding whether to keep lending him books, or even have him over to dinner if the person in question feels safe in his presence. But "zero tolerance except for friends of the board" is a really horrible policy, especially from the viewpoint of the huge number of us who don't know which people the board counts as friends.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-30 08:46 pm (UTC)
    dharma_slut: They call me Mister CottonTail (Default)
    From: [personal profile] dharma_slut
    when people say "but maybe he's Apsie" they don't really mean that in a medical sense, they mean that the person is socially awkward and visibly weird.

    This is such a tangent, but I have noticed it too. And it's funny because that's what "insane" used to mean-- not schizophrenic or psychopathic or bipolar or narcissistic, suicidally depressed, or anything else we know understand as mental disorders;

    "insane" meant palsy, epilepsy, tourettes, the manifestations of schizophrenia-- things that were *visible to onlookers* and disturbing to see.

    All of those less visible things were considered 'personality.'

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-07-31 12:54 pm (UTC)
    con_girl: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] con_girl
    Thank you for this.

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-08-13 05:22 pm (UTC)
    atreic: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] atreic
    Oh, I love your blog, it's rubbish I only remember to read it when you post LJ links. Does it work if you feed dreamwidth into the LJ syndicated feeds? Would that be horribly offensive to you if I did that (or has someone done it already? I don't think I can check without risking creating a feed you might not want created)? I know it wouldn't do friendslocked stuff, but the extra reminders that this blog existed would remind me to come over here and check for that...

    (no subject)

    Date: 2012-08-13 08:50 pm (UTC)
    atreic: (Default)
    From: [personal profile] atreic
    Oh, excellent! I don't know why I didn't do that ages ago :-)

    [I will admit, I personally and selfishly would rather you automatically cross posted, but I assume you have good reasons and respect them, and the feed will help :-) ]

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