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.)
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