On time and SF/fantasy con behavior

When I began attending SF/fantasy conventions in the early 90s, men acting badly there was taken as a matter of course.

The big name pro who ranted and raged and abused others with his words? “Oh, that’s just A—– being A—–” attendees told neopro-me. “He doesn’t mean anything by it.”

The big name fan who started the con drunk and stayed there, while the fans around him pressured others to drink with him, because drinking was what you did at cons? “Oh, that’s just B—– being B—-” I was told. “He doesn’t mean anything by it.”

Another big name pro known for flirting with young women far younger than anyone of his years had any business flirting with, without it being clear that said women ever invited him to do so? “Oh, that’s just C—– being C——. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”

Except, of course, neither A—–, B——, or C—– were any one person. They were types of people found over and over again at cons. And over and over again the message was clear: These people were not only tolerated, but respected. It was my job to tolerate them, too, to learn not to mind.

Most of the time the bad behavior wasn’t aimed at me, but I did mind, just the same — minded for the sake of those who were directly affected, minded for the deeply uncomfortable environment this created at cons as a whole. I began resolving simply to avoid all these men acting badly as much as I could. I was pretty sure I was mostly alone in considering them an issue, given how often women as well as men kept telling me it was really okay, but they were an issue for me just the same, and I couldn’t bring myself to pretend they weren’t.

It was only when a big name male writer groped a big name female writer at the Hugos in 2006 — 15 years after I’d started attending cons — that younger fans and pros alike finally said, loudly, “No, this is so not cool” (even as the very person who’d been groped insisted that no, it was okay, H—– was just being H——, she didn’t mind — ETA: Not true, within a day the writer actually did express indignation, too) It was a relief when that happened. It was a sign that finally, enough attendees of my generation or (mostly) younger were showing up who were not content to simply admire men who acted badly because of their place in our field or our community. That was huge, because when I started attending cons, I’m pretty sure there would have been no pushback.

It took way too long for the SF/fantasy community to get to the point of simply being able to say, “Men acting badly is not all right. It is a problem.”

We’re still working on doing something about it. Here’s an account of a guy — not a big name, but a neopro himself — harassing women at this year’s World Fantasy Convention.

The good thing is, there seems to finally be a will towards putting policies in place to make it easier for con-goers to do something about guys like this in the future, in large part to the efforts of Jaym Gates and others with her, who saw what was happening and did not simply accept it, but who persisted in taking action repeatedly until the writer in question was evicted from the con.

I’m hugely proud of younger fandom for being the ones to finally deal with this, and somewhat uneasy with older fandom for leaving it to them, for all the years they told new writers and fans to put up with this sort of thing — though I see attitudes changing there, too, and I know that breaking free of the assumptions of one’s culture from within isn’t easy, either. But it’s time, and past time.

If we want new fans to keep finding their way to cons at all, we need to fix this. Because while it’s not universal yet (and needs to be), more and more women are coming to understand that they don’t have to put up with being treated badly. If cons don’t continue working toward not only understanding, but having policies in place to deal with this, younger women won’t learn to tolerate it. They have other options now, and if genre SF/fantasy cons don’t feel like safe places, more and more will do what any sane person would do when being treated badly — go elsewhere.

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