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"If you care about WisCon, rebuild it."
July 29, 2014 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.
Elise Matthesen talks about what happened after she reported being harassed at Wiscon 37, in a post also posted at C. Lundoff, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stephanie Zvan, Sigrid Ellis and John Scalzi's respective blogs.

As discussed here previously, Elise Matthesen was harassed by somebody who was later identified as Tor editor Jim Frenkel. Shortly after this, he was no longer. It turned out that Matthesen's experience with Frenkel wasn't unique; he'd long had a reputation in some circles in fandom.

Wiscon at first seemed to take the harassment complaint as seriously as Tor had done, but then it turned out that not only had Frenkel been allowed to attend, he had also been allowed to volunteer at this year's Wiscon.

That was in late May. Wiscon was slow to react to this but eventually formed several subcommittees, one to look into the general problem of harassment and safety and two to look into specific allegations, with the one looking into what happened to Elise Matthesen finally reporting its verdict on the 18th of July, formally banning Frenkel but only for four years:
WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is "provisional" because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

Allowing Jim Frenkel to return is not guaranteed at any time, including following WisCon 42; the convention's decision will always be dependent on compelling evidence of behavioral change, and our commitment to the safety of our members. If he is permitted to return at any time, there will be an additional one-year ban on appearing on programming or volunteering in public spaces. Any consideration of allowing him to return will be publicized in WisCon publications and social media at least three months before a final decision is made.
Responses to this announcement were largely critical, with e.g. Kameron Hurley calling for Wiscon to be abolished completely while others said they'd be unlikely to attend Wiscon in future. Elise Matthesen herself had already said she wouldn't, despite the loss in revenue this would cost her.

In response to this criticism, one of the members of the subcommittee handling Matthesen's case wrote two blogposts in a personal capacity explaining and apologising for the process with with the committee had handled the case.

From the discussion in those two posts it became clear Wiscon had been doing what Rose Fox had warned about two years earlier, in the context of a similar harassment case at Readercon:
When someone does something we find noxious, they become the focus of attention: how will they be punished? Will they apologize? Can they be brought back into the fold? Meanwhile, the person they targeted with their noxious behavior is forgotten, dismissed, or scorned. Harassers are often charismatic, which is how they get close enough to harass, and they often target the shy and vulnerable, who are that much easier to ignore if they manage to speak up at all. We are all intimately familiar with the narrative of sin-repentance-redemption, and it’s startlingly easy to try to follow someone through it while all but forgetting that they wouldn’t have even started down that road if they hadn’t treated another person badly.
They also pointed out that focusing on the harasser's redemption means at least two other people would no longer be comfortable at Wiscon.

Following up on all this criticism, Wiscon put out an update saying that
1) In light of the intense community response to the Frenkel subcommittee's decision, and the concom's own concern about the "provisional ban," the WisCon concom is itself currently appealing the subcommittee's decision and will vote on the matter this week.

2) Debbie Notkin has resigned as Member Advocate, effective immediately.

3) The Bergmann subcommittee is assessing if they can continue given the valid concerns about Wiscon's existing process.
To which Elise Matthesen's post was a response.

Further reading:
posted by MartinWisse (314 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh, the member advocate Debbie Notkin, along with Frenkel, was employed by Tor. Massive conflict of interest. For shame.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:54 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'd strongly recommend reading the posts by the committee member linked as "explaining", and in particular the many comments in it. (Debbie Notkin, the member advocate and chair of the subcommittee, comments 2 or 3 times as wild-irises.) The Bergmann case appears to be about a poem she wrote which was (or was not) explicitly aimed to insult Rose Fox, but I have not followed that as strongly.

(I feel that, had my life been slightly different, I would have been the sort of fan who goes to cons and volunteers and stuff. But I am not.)
posted by jeather at 5:56 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Harassers are often charismatic, which is how they get close enough to harass, and they often target the shy and vulnerable, who are that much easier to ignore if they manage to speak up at all.

This certainly matches what I've seen. Experienced and effective predators choose their victims with great care, and seek out support equally carefully.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is all pretty much par for the course with any instance of harassment in organizations. The incident is reported, and the process begins, but all the focus is on the harasser and how he or she will be affected by the accusation, and on the less-than-perfect character of the person reporting the harassment. Somehow, we want an ideal world in which harassment is unremittingly evil and obvious and conducted by someone whom everyone hates, and in which the harassed person is a pure and innocent snowdrop whom everyone adores. And in that ideal world, the sanction of the offender, of course, should be immediate.

Instead, because of the complexity of human interaction, the harasser is often someone who fits into the system more effectively than the accuser. People have an investment in keeping the harasser in place and dismissing the accuser, whether it's because of fear, political expediency, sympathy, friendship, or simple cynicism with regard to the harasser. Therefore, no one wants to "ruin the life" of the harasser (even though I've noticed that on the whole it doesn't do any such thing), and many people impugn the character of the accuser, water down the accusation, or make the whole thing disappear.

One more thing: I've done the job of harassment counselor and I've watched another organization go through the throes of developing a policy, and I have to regretfully assume that a handful of the people who most vocally fight the process all too often want to be free to harass others themselves.
posted by Peach at 6:11 AM on July 29, 2014 [36 favorites]


Very related to this is when things get legal. "SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is a silencing tactic which is sometimes used against women/feminists to prevent them from, or punish them for, drawing attention to sexism, harassment, or similar issues."

There's examples of this, from the tech, skeptic and library communities, on the Geek Feminism Wiki.
posted by Wordshore at 6:19 AM on July 29, 2014


I hope more authors will follow our own jscalzi's lead and adopt an non-participation stance for cons without a clear, effective harassment policy.
posted by Harald74 at 6:20 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]




What this says to me is that a well-intentioned organization has to have their ducks in a row before there's a call for a policy to be put into effect.

I could easily see my younger, more naive self become very focused on "how can we reintegrate [the offender] into the community after he has [done an unlikely thing to prove that he has changed]". I could see myself doing this in the face of evidence that suggests that most committed, intentional sexual harassers don't change*, and I could easily see myself failing to say "hey, even if we ban this dude for life, we're not banning him from oxygen or housing or medical care, we're just banning him from a con; this isn't some kind of crisis where we have to weigh his needs very heavily".

The reason I'd never say that stuff now is precisely because all this has been scaffolded for me (on metafilter as well as in other places). I'm not a special extra-perceptive person on this score, I've just had some intellectual preparation for some of the more obvious kinds of harmful thinking.

It sounds to me very much as though Wiscon did not have a coherent policy or a coherent group of experienced women to handle this, and they had not worked through the basic intellectual mistakes that we are socialized to make in a misogynist society.

The thing is, I know from experience how difficult it is to kick someone out (admittedly, I've mainly been in situations which were not sexual harassment and which were much murkier). It's really difficult to escape your own brain's tricks and rationalizations, even when you're trying. In my experience, it's important to be ready for this stuff, and it's important to bring in some outside mediators/advisors with expertise in dealing with the wrong that was committed so that they can keep you focused on the problem.



*I've known a couple of guys to change - one because he stopped drinking and went through some huge personal changes; one because he had not truly internalized how creepy he was being and thought it "romantic" on some level. Both were under thirty when they began to change their ways and both were not strategic about victimizing women. In general, though, creepers creep.
posted by Frowner at 6:31 AM on July 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


What I don't get is why they didn't just decide that given his position as a serial harasser who abused power when he had it that he was banned for life? Going to a con is not a Constitutional right, banning a person for life is not the same as putting them in prison.

By saying that they'll allow this person to return to the con in four years, and volunteer and have power in five, is that basically they think **SOMETHING** he brings to the con is worth him harassing con goers. What is that something? Why is he so super duper special that it's very important to keep him around even if it means that he harasses some congoers?
posted by sotonohito at 6:39 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Does anyone here know of a link that describes the harassment Jim Frenkel was doing? I couldn't find a description in any of the first six links I opened in this post. I don't question that he did it-- I just want to understand the people who are upset. I agree with this bit of the WisCon ruling that it hurts the discussion not to have it be out in the open what Jim Frenkel actually did:
The subcommittee would like the WisCon community to know that we have been constrained both in what we can do and how we can explain it by matters of confidentiality on all sides. We believe the whole question of confidentiality in harassment complaints--who it benefits, who it protects, and who it constrains--is a matter for deep community discussion.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:40 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


By saying that they'll allow this person to return to the con in four years, and volunteer and have power in five, is that basically they think **SOMETHING** he brings to the con is worth him harassing con goers. What is that something? Why is he so super duper special that it's very important to keep him around even if it means that he harasses some congoers?

Ah, I think I see your problem - you're trying to figure this out using logic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


We believe the whole question of confidentiality in harassment complaints--who it benefits, who it protects, and who it constrains--is a matter for deep community discussion.

It benefits the entrenched power structure. It always benefits the entrenched power structure. That's the point of entrenched power structures.
posted by Etrigan at 6:47 AM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


If you don't have a measure of confidentiality, almost no one will ever lodge a complaint.

An additional note: Often, people who harass are startled, horrified, embarrassed, and extremely apologetic when they are called on it, especially when it's a third party (harassment counselor, in my case) who tells them it's not okay. And even if they are just getting a warning, they don't do it again. Which is why it's important not to let the behavior keep going. Early intervention with someone who's just being an unreflective jerk is far more effective than dealing with a chronic, self-justified, habitual, entrenched jerk.
posted by Peach at 6:48 AM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Another con, another wretched hive of scum & villainy. Where's my orbital weapons platform when I need it?
posted by aramaic at 6:49 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I would really like at some point to see someone who's done something like this return to a visible role in some element of fandom after a real change of heart (and behavior), but more than that, I think zero-tolerance permanent bans create a problem of people not wanting to say something because they feel like that person will be forever excluded and it will be their fault. They shouldn't feel like that, but I've seen it come up a couple times in non-convention organizations, anyway. But zero tolerance at least proves that you think it's a real problem and you're taking it seriously. This just proves that you've realized there's such a thing as an internet and people turn out to be paying attention. I'm not going to feel safe going somewhere that has that attitude. The last time I went to a Con, bad things happened and I never said anything and I really wish I had, but I was a kid, really, and it was more than a decade ago. I would like to feel safe enough to go to another, but this kind of thing makes that hard.

This makes me curious: does anyone maintain a reliable list of conventions that have solid harassment/abuse policies and have actually been known to enforce them?
posted by Sequence at 6:52 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Many people do not understand that the standard of evidence for this type of investigation, and your ability to act on it, are much lower than something in the courts. The standard here should be "a preponderance of the evidence," and if that is met, then you can easily ban the person for life. If that isn't met, you shouldn't ban them at all. In other words, the response shouldn't be tailored to the evidence, the evidence should either be there or not, and the response should be tailored to the offense.
posted by OmieWise at 6:53 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


What a post. Thank you. I thought this (the Rose Fox link above) in particular raised a point we don't usually engage with:
When someone does something we find noxious, they become the focus of attention: how will they be punished? Will they apologize? Can they be brought back into the fold? Meanwhile, the person they targeted with their noxious behavior is forgotten, dismissed, or scorned. Harassers are often charismatic, which is how they get close enough to harass, and they often target the shy and vulnerable, who are that much easier to ignore if they manage to speak up at all. We are all intimately familiar with the narrative of sin-repentance-redemption, and it’s startlingly easy to try to follow someone through it while all but forgetting that they wouldn’t have even started down that road if they hadn’t treated another person badly.

As for popular, commonly understood narratives for people who have been targeted by harassers: well, we don’t really have any. We notice them only long enough for them to accept an apology or teach the transgressor a lesson. The closest we get to a complementary narrative to sin-repentance-redemption is victimhood-struggle-triumph, and that still focuses the person’s entire story on the perpetrator’s behavior: experiencing it, coping with it, learning from it, being made stronger by it. These are all just different kinds of objectification, of the person as acted upon rather than active.
posted by rtha at 6:53 AM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


I understand the desire to know more details, because debating the correctness of the punishment is difficult without them.

The reality is that knowing more details just leads to more victim blaming. "That's not harassment! She's just overly sensitive."
posted by smackfu at 6:55 AM on July 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


I'm just depressed that something that should be as simple as WisCon has to have an harassment department.

My buddy's GF does a shit-ton of anime/cosplay stuff, and the horror stories she has are frightening. When the blue fuck did this become okay?
posted by Sphinx at 6:57 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


....Does it fucking matter?

Yes?

We can agree there are levels of harassment, right? From inappropriate overt glances to outright ogling to unacceptable propositions to physical touches to whatever. If you're going to take the position that he should get a lifetime ban from the first then maybe it doesn't matter. I'd say it matters.

This said, reading between the lines on the posts it doesn't seem this was confined to the first. In my experience women don't warn each other about serial oglers, so to this end I'd say it probably doesn't matter whether or not what he did is public, but it does matter. If only to put an answer to those who are wondering if the punishment is fitting to the crime (like smackfu says).

Rather than leading to more victim blaming though, I'd suggest obscuring accusations doesn't serve anyone other than Frenkel. Sometimes an individual's purpose is to serve as an example to others. To put it out there that, If you do this, then expect this, is a good lesson to learn. In this case though people are wondering what the this is.

For the record I would have given the guy a lifetime ban. If his employer thought it was sufficient to fire him, then I am not worried about his redemption story.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:59 AM on July 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


What I don't get is why they didn't just decide that given his position as a serial harasser who abused power when he had it that he was banned for life?

Well, because they're trying to follow a judicial model of sorts. Looking at his provable behavior at the con, and deciding based on that about his right to attend. Looking at that they thought a suspension from attending was appropriate. I think their decision would probably have have been different if they'd gone back to the original complaintants to look at it fresh, or if they had looked at the sum of his behavior in and out of the con over time.

They just started wrong. The question they considered shouldn't have been "is there evidence to deprive him of a right," but instead "this is a social gathering, do we want this guy at our private party?"

I personally think they're entitled to bar anyone they like, so long as it isn't for a prohibited discriminatory reason. They're just reluctant to say "He's banned because we think he's an asshole. He can put on his own party." But their broader membership and social media wants exactly that, so they scream bloody murder at a decision that was seeming crafted to be proportionate with some single act which they have a summary of.

When you look more broadly, and drag in the Bergmann case, it's clear that an "asshole" test is what's really wanted. Bergmann basically wrote and read a poem mocking someone's nationality and accent, and implying they were a wicked witch. Trying to shoehorn that in to a model that was more intended for safety and sexual harassment is quite a stretch, but if you look at it as a more general desire to kick obnoxious guests out of the party, it makes more sense.
posted by tyllwin at 7:01 AM on July 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


When the blue fuck did this become okay?

This isn't something that just suddenly started happening. It's been happening all along and it's only just now that people are starting to talk about it.

So this didn't just "become okay" recently. It's always been perceived as "okay", and it's only recently that others are saying "no, actually it's not".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on July 29, 2014 [47 favorites]


I'm just depressed that something that should be as simple as WisCon has to have an harassment department.

I don't think running any organization that gets together hundreds (or thousands) of people who are basically strangers to one another in a relatively confined space over the course of a single weekend can ever be described as "simple". I feel like I'm herding cats trying to organize a D&D game with four people who all know each other and all live in the same city.
posted by Sequence at 7:06 AM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


I think their decision would probably have have been different if they'd gone back to the original complaintants to look at it fresh, or if they had looked at the sum of his behavior in and out of the con over time.

It's interesting to think about this aspect of it in the context of the "judicial model," because that's precisely not how the US legal system works. Guilt or innocence is decided on the single act alleged, but punishment is often based in large part on how many bad acts you've committed before. Here, I think the outcry is based (in part) on the fact that the punishment doesn't seem to take into account the harasser's lengthy history of harassment, which 1) calls for a stiffer punishment and 2) suggests that he's profoundly unlikely to change.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:07 AM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


This said, reading between the lines on the posts it doesn't seem this was confined to the first.

Definitely not. There's more discussion and links in the post from last year, if I'm remembering right.

It can be a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation, in the way that pretty much anything in the context of women being sexually harassed is. If we don't give details, then how is anyone to know if it's *really* harassment? If we do give details, then the chances of being nitpicked to death are pretty high. I mean, even famous whatshisface (sorry, not enough caffeine yet) who grabbed Connie Willis' boob IN FRONT OF EVERYONE got that whole thing laughed off as "oh that old goat ha ha ha." So, really, even being a harassing asshole on stage in front of the entire con is apparently not enough to get harassment taken seriously by some people.
posted by rtha at 7:07 AM on July 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


If you do this, then expect this, is a good lesson to learn. In this case though people are wondering what the this is.

For the record I would have given the guy a lifetime ban. If his employer thought it was sufficient to fire him, then I am not worried about his redemption story.


Other than the fact that this just seems like a chance for the usual assholes to double down on their "he said, she-said" assholery, the second paragraph probably explains the first. It may very well be that the terms of dismissal don't allow for anyone involved to discuss it. That leaves it up to cons to institute clear harassment policies, which is why people like Scalzi are looking at them very closely and steering clear of those that don't have policies or don't make them clear.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:13 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Bergmann case appears to be about a poem she wrote which was (or was not) explicitly aimed to insult Rose Fox, but I have not followed that as strongly.

Rose Lemberg, not Rose Fox. Different Rose. There's more information on that incident available here. Wiscon hasn't formally responded to that one yet (although, as with Frenkel, the harasser in question was allowed to volunteer at the con this year) -- the committee was waiting for the results of the Frenkel committee first.
posted by pie ninja at 7:15 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Patriarchy gonna patriarch.

If we think that *any* space is probably going to be free of this kind of behavior/environment, we're starting from the wrong premise. If we want to *make* a space free of this behavior/environment, we have to start with smart and effective policies and practices (the challenge being, what they heck would those be?)
posted by allthinky at 7:16 AM on July 29, 2014


Sorry, my mistake.
posted by jeather at 7:18 AM on July 29, 2014


What happened harassment-wise? Verbal? Touching?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:19 AM on July 29, 2014


IME, for every time someone gets caught in this kind of behavior, there are many other cases where they got away with it.

Maybe convention organizers feel that they shouldn't need to craft policies and procedures to deal with the problem, and maybe they feel that they, like U.S. courts, can't take patterns of behavior into account. And in an ideal world, maybe they're right.

But the situation on the ground is that a convention isn't an exact analog for society at large. They're aware that they have this specific problem that tends to manifest itself in a certain way during these certain events, so they need to face up to the fact that they need to create policies and procedures that address the problem as it exists.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:21 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am personally quite pleased by the amound of light being shed on the situation. My earlier comment was in fact referencing Debbie Notkin, and I'm just as glad she's out of the position which she is wildly inappropriate for.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:22 AM on July 29, 2014


Generally speaking, a procedure for dealing with incidents of potential harassments precedes the law. It is something for making sure you don't have to engage the law. The problem is, people seem to think engaging harassment procedures is legal action and has the same standards. It's not. It's something that helps you avoid having to go there. It's something that's designed to make the behavior stop when it's still not quite definable as criminal. It's not something that follows after the behavior has gone over the edge irretrievably and someone has been injured.

It often works if it is followed correctly. The confusion over whether it's legal action or not is what keeps it from being followed correctly, because people have a set of folk rules for what "legal" means and they try to apply it indiscriminately.

Even when a policy is followed correctly, of course, sometimes people continue to harass, and sometimes a policy is simply insufficient to deal with what is criminal behavior. However, and this is important, if the law is engaged the organization can show that it followed procedures in good faith. If you want an organization to have a harassment policy, it's that which will convince it, because it allows the organization to qualify for insurance.
posted by Peach at 7:24 AM on July 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


they're trying to follow a judicial model of sorts.

This is not an unsolved problem, nor is it really complicated. Minutiae of interactions aren't always important to the decision.

Bars and dance clubs deal with this all the time. Barring for life is common, and can happen in a heartbeat. Kicking someone out of a con is not denying them oxygen.
posted by bonehead at 7:24 AM on July 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


Does anyone here know of a link that describes the harassment Jim Frenkel was doing?

I don't have any specific links but I've been following this on the internet from the beginning. Elise Matthesen has never publicly said what specifically Frenkel did to her. However, there was another harassment compliant against him from Lauren M. Jankowski and she said that he verbally harassed/insulted her and threw a book at her (it missed). Also, Mikki Kendall didn't file a formal complaint with Wiscon but she said "the first time I met Frenkel he spent the entirety of a fortunately brief interaction staring at my breasts"

Apparently, his general modus operandi was to state he was interested a woman's writing as an Tor editor and then to ask her questions about her sex life. Implying that if she didn't answer, he wouldn't look at her book.

Anyway, the big deal about Frenkel is that apparently it was known in scifi convention back channels that he was a known harraser for years. So, everyone was expecting him to get banned for life. However, the people on the subcommittee who handled his case, 1) were just random people off the street and had no real experience in handling harassment complaints so they didn't do as through a job as they should have and 2) were not into scfi con back channels so they had no idea about the rumors or Frenkel's behavior.

The interesting thing about this to me is that Debbie Notkin, the chair of the committee, has been involved in fandom for a while and totally should have known about the rumors about Frenkel so I can't quite grasp why she didn't mention them to the committee, even if it was just "FYI, may not be true, but Frenkel has a rep as being a harasser." From the things I've read about the committee, it really looks like she did her best to minimize Frenkel's actions to the other committee members, which is all kinds of fucked up.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:25 AM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


If we think that *any* space is probably going to be free of this kind of behavior/environment, we're starting from the wrong premise. If we want to *make* a space free of this behavior/environment, we have to start with smart and effective policies and practices (the challenge being, what they heck would those be?)

I'd start with behavioral modification techniques that emphasize that civilized behavior isn't just something we talk about in polite company, but something we actually live and do.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:26 AM on July 29, 2014


Rose Lemberg, not Rose Fox. Different Rose

Yes! Stupid fingers! Type what I really mean!!
posted by tyllwin at 7:27 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


nooneyouknow: Thanks for adding needed context.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:28 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for making this post. A number of my friends are WisCon regulars (and three or four authors I follow on Facebook have spoken on panels) and all of them have been infuriated by the amount of time it took WisCon to get up off their asses and act.

What happened harassment-wise? Verbal? Touching?

We can agree there are levels of harassment, right?

She reported it. It was eventually investigated. Guy was banned. End of story. Input from the court of public opinion is not required or desired.

We have seen time and time again that many men have no problem with attacking women as liars or overly sensitive when they dare to report that they have been harassed. Or even sexually assaulted. Men routinely try to defend other male harassers by casting doubt on whether what was done was actually harmful. By claiming that women make up stories.

Fuck that. She reported being harassed. She went through proper channels. That's enough.
posted by zarq at 7:29 AM on July 29, 2014 [31 favorites]


The reality is that knowing more details just leads to more victim blaming.

I don't know; it might lead to that as well as a lot more other talk, but it's certain that not knowing any details at all leads to fundamental inability to judge whether there was a failure of the conference organizers to live up to feminist principles, or whether it's all a tempest in a teapot. Neither would be unprecedented.

I'll go with the former being a bit more likely simply because J Scalzi seemed to think it a big deal, I guess. But even if the details are so salacious as to be unmentionable, it would be a somewhat less insubstantial story if we had at least a few more people saying "yes I know the details, and trust me it was pretty bad."
posted by sfenders at 7:32 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'll go with the former being a bit more likely simply because J Scalzi seemed to think it a big deal, I guess. But even if the details are so salacious as to be unmentionable, it would be a somewhat less insubstantial story if we had at least a few more people saying "yes I know the details, and trust me it was pretty bad."

We have twenty years' worth of people saying it. As one of the links points out, what does it take, thirty years?
posted by zombieflanders at 7:35 AM on July 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


I mean, even famous whatshisface (sorry, not enough caffeine yet) who grabbed Connie Willis' boob IN FRONT OF EVERYONE got that whole thing laughed off as "oh that old goat ha ha ha." So, really, even being a harassing asshole on stage in front of the entire con is apparently not enough to get harassment taken seriously by some people.

That's not sexual harassment. That's sexual battery. At least in California where the event was held.
(e) (1) Any person who touches an intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery, punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
Call the fucking cops and have him charged.
posted by Talez at 7:36 AM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I read these stories my take-away is that I am glad I am not part of the ConCulture or the Gaming Culture or even one who frequents comic shops. Sure, I like all this stuff, but I don't tend to form a communal bond with other that do as well. I'll watch my GoT or Walking Dead, I'll play my games on the computer, I'll read a graphic novel and see the movie, but I have zero desire to get together with others with these same interests. Every time I read one of these stories it makes me glad I've made this choice, since I'd hate to want to be part of something that is so obviously toxic to a large percentage of their base.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:38 AM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I mean, even famous whatshisface (sorry, not enough caffeine yet) who grabbed Connie Willis' boob IN FRONT OF EVERYONE got that whole thing laughed off as "oh that old goat ha ha ha."

Harlan Ellison.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:38 AM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'll go with the former being a bit more likely simply because J Scalzi seemed to think it a big deal

These comments are common about harassment cases in my experience. I just want to point out that it's okay to take a woman at her own word on harassment and not wait for a second party (particularly a man) to verify that it really happened. My own personal policy is "believe the woman". It's hard when it's a guy I know, but if nothing else, it makes me reexamine my own socialized biases against women's words.

I mean, even famous whatshisface (sorry, not enough caffeine yet) who grabbed Connie Willis' boob

Harlan Ellison. I've never been to a con in my life and am unlikely to go now, but even I knew Ellison had a terrible reputation.
posted by immlass at 7:38 AM on July 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


The general membership of the organization does not need to know if it was a "tempest in a teapot." It's actually not our place to judge whether "actual" harassment took place, if the process was engaged. What matters is whether the procedure was followed.

That said, I respect the desire to know all the details and I would certainly, in my private capacity as a snoop, try to find everything out that I could. But that's my personal policy.
posted by Peach at 7:39 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why only a 4-year ban rather than lifetime?

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers are evil.

I vote Name-&-Shame the gropers and knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers.
"To the wilderness with you, you are SHUNNED! The Mark of Cain TROG be upon you, so that any geek may know you & not accept a D6 or French fry for your hand, ever again."
Hang a dead fox-pelt by the chicken coop, I say. See how many trogs copping a feel that snaps into line.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:40 AM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


I just want to point out that it's okay to take a woman at her own word on harassment and not wait for a second party (particularly a man) to verify that it really happened.

Exactly right.
posted by ambrosia at 7:43 AM on July 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


Input from the court of public opinion is not required or desired.

Isn't that what this whole post is? It's a referendum on whether or not the punishment is fitting and the repercussions of the committee's ruling on those who were victimized. It's pretty much the topic of every linked post.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:44 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


She reported it. It was eventually investigated. Guy was banned. End of story. Input from the court of public opinion is not required or desired.

I agree that discussion that go down the "it wasn't really so bad," road are horrible, but I think this statement is wrong. Input from the court of public opinion is clearly being sought here. There seem to be two broad issues at play: 1) Did the Con follow appropriate procedure and do the most it could to safeguard the complainant and the integrity of this process?, and 2) Was a four year ban appropriate given the offense? Both are questions addressed to the public in this discourse, even if they are presented as statements. The second one is unanswerable without more information about the harassment, unless the position adopted here is that any amount of harassment should result in a lifetime ban. If so, that should be stated, because that's definitely something that should be discussed.

Note that this is very different than wanting to know about what occurred in order to try to argue that it didn't.
posted by OmieWise at 7:45 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


nooneyouknow

Thank you so much for the context. Given that, I am relieved I didn't post my snarky opinions about the "bloodthirst" of those not satisfied with a four-year ban as consequence for a single formally reported incident of harassment.

A convention tribunal is not a court of law, and if Frenkel was notorious for harassing women this should have been accounted for in their sentence even if there was no formal record of his history.
posted by The Confessor at 7:45 AM on July 29, 2014


If a vendor at a con were engaging in petty rip-offs, they would be banned so fast that there would be a popping sound as they were ejected. Police might even be called.

Sometimes the con organizers may want to know if it's more than a simple dispute, but clear evidence of wrong doing is an easy ban. Nobody seems to be really upset with circumspectness and lack of detail in those cases. Not wanting to interfere with police, and potential for civil repercussions seem to be understandable reasons in those cases.
posted by bonehead at 7:46 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


We have twenty years' worth of people saying it.

Actually, we don't. We have people saying that there is 20 years worth of people saying that Frenkel is a harrasser. But very few people are willing to state straight up what Frenkel did. People of have been saying "I have heard rumors of Frenkel being a harasser for years." But most of them don't provide any details beyond that. And that's fine if you trust the people saying "Frenkel is a harasser" or the people who say "Trustworthy people told me Frenkel is a harasser". But for people outside the science fiction community, it's a little much to ask them to take the rumors on faith since they have no idea who anybody in this is.

I think Frenkel's a harasser because I've been lurking in sci fi fandom for years now and the people who say he is are believable to me. But I don't blame the people who haven't been involved in fandom for wanting more than a stranger's word.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:47 AM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


What matters is whether the procedure was followed.

Umm, no. What matters is what sort of results the procedure achieves. Otherwise, you have no check on an inadequate or even counterproductive process.
posted by tyllwin at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am relieved I didn't post my snarky opinions about the "bloodthirst" of those not satisfied with a four-year ban as consequence for a single formally reported incident of harassment.

This is pretty gross.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:50 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Maybe convention organizers feel that they shouldn't need to craft policies and procedures to deal with the problem, and maybe they feel that they, like U.S. courts, can't take patterns of behavior into account. And in an ideal world, maybe they're right.

The thing is, WisCon was founded by feminists who among other issues were fed up with what they found at other conventions. Fed up with sexists like Isaac "Butt-Pincher" Asimov and the convention organizers who not only allowed him to predate upon women but encouraged him. The title of that link is "We Don’t Do That Anymore" and it's particularly apropos.

WisCon is a convention that hails the contributions of women to the genre and in theory is supposed to be a safer environment for them. The organizers should have handled this incident far better than they did.
posted by zarq at 7:52 AM on July 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


(e) (1) Any person who touches an intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery, punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

Even in the Ellison case, where the incident occurred on-stage during a major awards ceremony and there is video and photographic proof -- even here, people can argue that no, it doesn't meet this definition! He was joking! It was funny! It wasn't for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse (from the California reg in question) so it doesn't count!

(Note that I am not arguing that; I'm just pointing out that other people have.)

There is NO BEHAVIOR that cannot be explained around by people who really really don't want to have to cut out a BNF, or editor, or major writer. So really, I get why it's often better to just not get into the details.

There are some indications that the version of the incident that the committee got is not what was actually reported. However, that's a failure of the committee and the process, not an argument for widely reporting the details of sexual harassment cases.
posted by pie ninja at 7:53 AM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Call the fucking cops and have him charged.

If the cops are more likely than not going to be doing the same kind of "well, did he really grab her boob or was it maybe just an accident" kind of thing that the security at the con is doing, what's the point?

This is why it is so frustrating that people are asking "but what exactly did he do?" I hear what you're saying about how "but if we knew exactly what he did it would serve as a warning to others to not do that shit", but in our experience divulging details doesn't lead to that outcome - it's more likely to lead to second-guessing, "but that doesn't sound like harrassment/but maybe she just misunderstood him/but maybe he's just socially awkward/but maybe you should have called the cops" second-guessing.

It doesn't matter specifically what acts Jim Frankel did. The staff at WisCon knows, and deemed that he was indeed guilty of harassment. The problem is that they then only gave him a slap on the wrist for it.

This isn't about whether he did anything. He's already been found guilty, he was just given a really lame-ass sentence.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:53 AM on July 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


I am relieved I didn't post my snarky opinions about the "bloodthirst" of those not satisfied with a four-year ban as consequence for a single formally reported incident of harassment.

One of the things that those who want to bend over backwards to forgive/excuse a harasser because it's so terrible to ban somebody tend to forget is that doing so effectivly bans the people they harassed from the con. As I said in the post before, Elise Matthesen already decided no longer to come to Wiscon due to Frenkel and especially the way the situation was handled. In her case that meant giving up a huge chunk of income.

Why is this okay but we should be cautious about not banning her harasser for too long?
posted by MartinWisse at 7:55 AM on July 29, 2014 [30 favorites]


Jesus, the committee didn't even interview the complainant? Which allowed a seriously watered-down version of events to be the only evidence they considered? Good lord. Reading the ignorant-but-good-hearted committee member's explanation (thanks, jeather, for singling out that "explaining" link and its discussion as a good place to focus) is just painful. How on earth did no one on that committee decide to interview the complainant?

Debby Notkin has a lot to answer for, and her responses in the thread jeather points out are awful, and she seems to know it, too:

Of course I was not unaware of those decades (though came to the information rather late, in 2011 or so).

I am not going to atomize my choices here. Some of them were good, some of them were bad at the time, some of them are bad in hindsight.

All of you can atomize all you like. All I'm going to do is correct facts where I think they are wrong, and see where this goes. I've done my part, for good or ill.

posted by mediareport at 8:02 AM on July 29, 2014


Isn't that what this whole post is? It's a referendum on whether or not the punishment is fitting and the repercussions of the committee's ruling on those who were victimized. It's pretty much the topic of every linked post.

It's part of the topic. Not all of it. A post isn't a referendum. Part of this post is devoted to the way WisCon handled reported harassment, and whether it did so appropriately. Considering that Ms. Mathieson's report was apparently not reported in full to the Chairs, and the convention subsequently lost reports from other people who alleged harassment from other men during the con, and then only took action when a threshold level of public complaint was reached, it would seem they did not.

The fact that Frenkel had a history is not in question. This is linked in the post, but worth reading: Previously on MeFi:
"Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded. " -- Well known science fiction fan Elise Matthesen was sexually harassed at Wiscon and decided to formally complain to both the convention and the harasser's employer.

posted by zarq at 8:03 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, I think some description of the behavior is warranted, given that this is a huge post about a backstory and fallout from an incident happening. That doesn't mean I'm asking for salacious details. It simply helps as a point of reference and adds to the story.

I'm not asking to "defend" anyone or attack a victim. It's just that the story on the crime part is so vague that it's hard to interpret the consequences and subsequent actions taken by the parties involved.

And yes, physically groping someone is worse than making suggestive comments, though both are out of line.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:04 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


We're way past that point, jeff-o-matic. There is no doubt among the folks who saw the reports and spoke to the accused that harassment occurred.
posted by mediareport at 8:06 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, physically groping someone and throwing a book at a person both goes beyond sexual harassment.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:07 AM on July 29, 2014


I've seen folks banned for life from bars and such for lesser offenses (goodbye never come back don't let the door hit you on the way out). The four-year thing seems like an awful lot of handwringing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2014


Call the fucking cops and have him charged.

The thing is, very often people don't want to call the cops - they don't themselves want to go through the awfulness and publicity of a trial, they don't want to introduce cops into their community, they feel that though something was totally assholish it is not best dealt with by the legal system, etc. That's why it's so important to have a robust non-cop system. Your choices should not be "call the cops on [clueless creeper/famous and powerful older writer/your best friend's drunk asshole brother/member-of-a-socially-vulnerable-group-likely-to-get-knocked-around-and-mistreated-by-the-cops] or do nothing at all and put up with it".

It's not just the judicial model of handling complaints that is unsuitable for conventions; very often it is the whole legal/call-the-cops model of handling complaints. You don't have to be a fire-breathing anarchist to believe that it's important for communities to be able to kick people out without calling the police.
posted by Frowner at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yes, I think some description of the behavior is warranted, given that this is a huge post about a backstory and fallout from an incident happening. That doesn't mean I'm asking for salacious details. It simply helps as a point of reference and adds to the story.

I'm not asking to "defend" anyone or attack a victim. It's just that the story on the crime part is so vague that it's hard to interpret the consequences and subsequent actions taken by the parties involved.

And yes, physically groping someone is worse than making suggestive comments, though both are out of line.


I'd like to suggest that perhaps you make your judgement BEFORE hearing what happened, and then see if it measures up to your standards afterwards.

Let's assume he grabbed her in a sexual way. If so, does this action count as "not okay"? What if she, in some way, "asked for it"? What if it was a joke?

What if he didn't physically touch her but said something sexual or inappropriate? How bad would it have to be? What if it was a joke she took out of context?

Whenever someone asks for details before passing judgement, it can seem like they are looking for ways to dismiss women's testimony and experiences. I think people should have to figure out, BEFORE they know what actually happened to a specific woman, EXACTLY WHAT they consider bad enough, including thinking about any mitigating circumstances. There are a lot of people, including but not exclusively men, who genuinely believe, or at least purport to believe, that they take harassment seriously and, in some cases, I think genuinely don't understand that they are setting an impossibly high and unfair bar for "harassment" or women's negative experiences. If we make people decide ahead of time what they think "counts", this means both that actual experiences can't be explained away AND that, hopefully, some people will realize that they are only acknowledging negative experiences of women in very specific cases, something they might not have realized before.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:14 AM on July 29, 2014 [28 favorites]


I think from the fact that he was FIRED over it, you can conclude that it was pretty serious. I have never once in my whole life seen details proffered in a situation like this that didn't immediately and with great scorn proceed to picking apart all the details to make the accused innocent and the accuser a terrible human being. I mean, look what happened in the Steubenville case, for crying out loud! I think the calls for details are 100% inappropriate in light of the long history of this sort of thing.
posted by KathrynT at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


I'm not asking to "defend" anyone or attack a victim. It's just that the story on the crime part is so vague that it's hard to interpret the consequences and subsequent actions taken by the parties involved.

This sounds an awful lot like you're making the claim that there are instances of sexual harrassment that actually aren't a big deal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not judging anybody. I'm reading a story composed of a bunch of callouts and links about an incident that happened and its aftermath. I found that some salient details were missing and asked about them. It's posted as a news story, and there was some missing info. Again, not asking for salacious details.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:20 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just curious, do the people who run WisCon also work for the NFL?

Frenkel got the Ray Rice treatment. Ugh.
posted by inturnaround at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2014


If dude had been caught stealing and were banned because he stole shit, no one would ask what he stole.

Dude was banned for harassment, thus, he harassed. Maybe this derail should end here and we can continue talking about ways to reduce harassment.
posted by fraula at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


Yes, I think some description of the behavior is warranted

We're not entitled to it.

Elise said that there was physical contact, Frenkel made her uncomfortable and she believed his actions were sexual harassment. She reported him to the authorities. It's not our place to pick apart her story.

One of the bloggers who picked up on what happened was Theodore Beale, who goes by the pseudonym Vox Day. Beale is a fundamentalist. A misogynist. Racist. Basically, he's the David Duke of the genre. Or worse. Read the comments on his post about this situation from a year ago, if you can stomach them. Nasty stuff. Enough to make you weep for the ultimate fate of humanity.

Now consider this... the details of what happened haven't been released. Yet there's a vocal contingent of men commenting on that blog, who victim-blame, call her a liar, a slut and worse. Releasing the details would only give those MRA assholes more ammo.
posted by zarq at 8:22 AM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


But wait a second, in this very post, there's descriptions of groping and throwing objects at another person. That's why I was asking about the nature of this crime in the first place. Groping is assault, not harassment.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2014


Groping is assault, not harassment.

Jesus christ, and people wonder why the details don't always get reported. AHA! someone says. It wasn't harassment! It was assault!

So. What. He violated Con policies. He got tossed, at least temporarily. What else would you like, exactly?
posted by rtha at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2014 [18 favorites]


I'm reading a story composed of a bunch of callouts and links about an incident that happened and its aftermath. I found that some salient details were missing and asked about them. It's posted as a news story, and there was some missing info. Again, not asking for salacious details.

No one is accusing you of salacious intent. We are questioning exactly why you feel the exact specifics of the crime in question makes such a difference to you.

It's like, suppose we were talking about someone who was found guilty of murder but then only got a weeks' community service as his sentence. What you're asking is the equivalent of, "but wait a minute, did he kill them with a gun, or a knife?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


I've seen folks banned for life from bars and such for lesser offenses

This analogy keeps popping up, and it's not what I'd call strong. A bar is a place one goes after work. Get banned and you've got a city (or town or whatever) full of other options. Whereas a convention is part of someone's work, so if you get banned from one, it can have a serious effect on your livelihood.
posted by philip-random at 8:30 AM on July 29, 2014


OK, jeff-o-matic, you have asked your question. And you have gotten your answer -- no, you are not going to get details. What are you going to do with that answer?
posted by KathrynT at 8:30 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


A bar is a place one goes after work. Get banned and you've got a city (or town or whatever) full of other options. Whereas a convention is part of someone's work, so if you get banned from one, it can have a serious effect on your livelihood.

There is more than one convention in the world, you know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Whereas a convention is part of someone's work, so if you get banned from one, it can have a serious effect on your livelihood.

Not to mention the fact that he did, indeed, get fired from his actual job over this.
posted by Floydd at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


A simple description of "shooting" or "stabbing" would be included in any competently written news story.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:33 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whereas a convention is part of someone's work, so if you get banned from one, it can have a serious effect on your livelihood.

There's more than one convention, and more than one job. Harassers should consider that their actions might cost them some portion of their livelihood. Maybe. Eventually.
posted by rtha at 8:34 AM on July 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


A simple description of "shooting" or "stabbing" would be included in any competently written news story.

"Harassment" is a similarly descriptive word that would be included in any competently-written news story.
posted by zarq at 8:35 AM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


Hell, "...stole a pack of gum..." or "...stole $30,000 worth of ice cream..." would be included in a story about theft.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:36 AM on July 29, 2014


Whereas a convention is part of someone's work, so if you get banned from one, it can have a serious effect on your livelihood.

There's more than one convention, and more than one job. Harassers should consider that their actions might cost them some portion of their livelihood. Maybe. Eventually.


Sorry to derail. I wasn't arguing for anyone's innocence here. Just attempting to critique a sloppy analogy ... perhaps sloppily
posted by philip-random at 8:36 AM on July 29, 2014


jeff-o-matic, YOU HAVE YOUR ANSWER. Badgering us isn't going to get it. The only parties who have the details have agreed not to share them.
posted by KathrynT at 8:37 AM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


So. What. He violated Con policies. He got tossed, at least temporarily. What else would you like, exactly?

The implication is that we should be up in arms over a slap on the wrist, when a lifetime ban was merited. Maybe we should. It's a question of proportionality. Take two hypothetical harassers.

Harasser 1 is 16 years old and accused of staring a woman's breasts. He's turning red as he apologizes.

Harasser 2 is 50-year-old professional accused of groping while asking salacious questions. There's evidence he's done it for years.

Do you believe those two deserve the same punishment? I don't. If #1 got a lifetime ban, I'd feel he had been ill-treated. If #2 got a 4 year suspension, I'd feel he got off too lightly.
posted by tyllwin at 8:38 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dude, seriously, why do the precise details matter? She's not facing the court of public inquiry and frankly, she shouldn't have to. We're not the committee who dealt with this; we aren't a jury of peers who need to judge this whole thing. This is to discuss harassment in cons, not whether she got harassed enough for strangers on the internet to deem it worthy.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:38 AM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


A simple description of "shooting" or "stabbing" would be included in any competently written news story.

But it is not the point of this particular discussion, is the thing. We're not discussing "was it a shooting or a stabbing", we're discussing "why in the hell is someone guilty of murder only getting a weeks' community service for his sentence".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


...and here we have a prime example of the kind of derailing that always happens. "I want all the DETAILS", and then if details are provided, microanalysis about how its just not good enough, and how unfair it is to the harasser. Thus ensuring the entire thread is about judging Elise and not on Wiscon's horrible performance.
posted by tavella at 8:42 AM on July 29, 2014 [50 favorites]


Yes, the whole line of questioning is a horribly offensive and frustrating derail.
posted by KathrynT at 8:45 AM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Jesus christ, and people wonder why the details don't always get reported. AHA! someone says. It wasn't harassment! It was assault!

Does your "AHA!" intend to imply that those wanting some specific details about, or even general descriptions of the alleged offense before making any judgment on its nature or significance are eager to find some evidence that it's something more serious than harassment? Because that's what assault would be.
posted by sfenders at 8:47 AM on July 29, 2014


Also, physically groping someone and throwing a book at a person both goes beyond sexual harassment.

#misandryisreal
posted by liketitanic at 8:48 AM on July 29, 2014


Hell, "...stole a pack of gum..." or "...stole $30,000 worth of ice cream..." would be included in a story about theft.

"...for allegedly stealing groceries" would be perfectly valid and far more likely in a story where details have not been made public. Besides which, viewers don't require a shopping list. ("And he stole 2 packs of mentos! And drank half a bottle of Gatorade! And..." Please.)

More likely would be "charged with [alleged] grocery theft" a specific term that indicates the severity of the crime. (Versus felony or misdemeanor.)

The fact that the victim and the Con referred to it as harassment and not assault is an answer in and of itself.
posted by zarq at 8:49 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Usually finding out that it met the legal definition of assault is promptly followed by suggesting that the woman Did It Wrong by taking it to internal con reporting structures rather than the legal system. The "If it was that bad, why didn't you just call the cops?" line of questioning. The fact is, Elise Mathesen thought this was best handled by the con authorities, and she knows better than we do.
posted by KathrynT at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


I think I was the first person to ask for details of the harassment in this thread, and I support setting that question aside, since the details won't be forthcoming-- I'm trying to be a respectful spectator, here.

I can't form an opinion about the appropriateness of the ruling against Jim Frenkel, but at the very least, I have all the information I need to agree that WisCon themselves failed to handle Elise Matthesen's complaint with appropriate care.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't want to derail. Much less do I want to be offensive. FWIW, I totally would support tossing the guy for life on the basis of "we just think he's an ass who makes us uncomfortable."

But I honestly don't understand. The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con didn't do enough, right? How do you address that without second-guessing their idea of "enough?" And doesn't that require asking "enough" in reaction to what? Or do you not think that a range of possible responses is correct? Maybe that details don't matter because any determination of harassment should always be met with an automatic permanent ban?
posted by tyllwin at 8:53 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Apologists gonna apologize ask for details.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


(But thanks for what nooneyouknow provided.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 8:56 AM on July 29, 2014


But I honestly don't understand. The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con didn't do enough, right? How do you address that without second-guessing their idea of "enough?" And doesn't that require asking "enough" in reaction to what?

Okay, let me turn the question around on you to see if maybe this helps:

It has been accepted by everyone concerned that whatever it was he did qualifies as "harrasment". That being the case - can you think of a specific act which both qualifies as harassment and is also mild enough that punishment would need to be mild?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Does your "AHA!" intend to imply that those wanting some specific details about, or even general descriptions of the alleged offense before making any judgment on its nature or significance are eager to find some evidence that it's something more serious than harassment? Because that's what assault would be.

In my experience in discussions like these, when details come out that indicate the act(s) were not "just" harassment, then we get to get on the merry-go-round of well why didn't they call the police this is assault this is a legal matter that regular non-legal people shouldn't deal with blahblahblah.

Basically, it always seems to serve as a platform for why policies at cons (or universities) are ineffective and/or are ill-equipped to handle "serious" matters and therefore just shouldn't exist at all.
posted by rtha at 8:58 AM on July 29, 2014


tyllwin, you can look at goddamn basic procedure. They did not do even the minimal requirements. They did not provide the report given by Elise to the committee, but a slanted and eviscerated retelling of it; they lost the second report entirely. They did not interview the victims and witnesses; they only interviewed Frenkel. They did not check Frenkel's claims.

Goddamn, it's sad to see such butwhataboutthemenz behavior on Metafilter.
posted by tavella at 8:58 AM on July 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


Also, physically groping someone and throwing a book at a person both goes beyond sexual harassment.

In the context of the legal system, yes. However, in the context of a con, harassment is often a bigger tent (including things that are both too small and too large to be harassment in the justice system). There is no reason for a con to exactly emulate the justice system's division of crimes, and lots of reasons not to.
posted by jeather at 8:59 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]



Do you believe those two deserve the same punishment? I don't. If #1 got a lifetime ban, I'd feel he had been ill-treated. If #2 got a 4 year suspension, I'd feel he got off too lightly.


The problem is that we don't know if he's more number 1 or number 2. Heh!

I mean - I take it as given that the accuser is right, and I am not interested in litigating the details of the encounter. That having been said, the details are vague and so it is hard for me to say that a 4 year ban plus firing is definitively not enough. I sort of feel like it is given what I know about it.

Yeah, I know he's got a reputation as a serial harasser, but Bill Clinton has a reputation as a serial murderer and John McCain has several illegitimate children. There's rumors and then there's actual reports. I don't fault Wiscon for basing their decision on actual complaints.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:59 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con didn't do enough, right?

No. The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con brutally mismanaged the process of the investigation, and acted contrary to their own policies. Read Mathesen's statement here for more details.
posted by KathrynT at 9:00 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


But I honestly don't understand. The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con didn't do enough, right?

Not really, no. It's that they didn't even bother to do a minimum of due diligence in finding out what the problem was in the first place.

On preview, what tavella said.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:00 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's rumors and then there's actual reports. I don't fault Wiscon for basing their decision on actual complaints.

The problem is that they didn't do that.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:01 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't fault Wiscon for basing their decision on actual complaints

Do you fault them for LOSING the actual complaints, interviewing the accused but not the accusers, and for the conflicts of interest Mathesen describes?
posted by KathrynT at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


As to "what really happened:" I know both Frenkel and Matthesen in passing; stopping and chatting with either at a con would seem pretty natural, although I wouldn't necessarily seek either out. I like Frenkel , and I am reasonably close friends with women who are friends with him (and are shocked that people call him a creep and a predator). I don't particularly like Matthesen (for reasons which are irrelevant here). So, if anything, I should be defending Frenkel, but I'm not.

Nothing in the story seems remarkable or unbelievable. The fact that Frenkel is likable is irrelevant; the fact that he doesn't harass every woman he knows is irrelevant. Maybe, in this case, it was the "con atmosphere" or alcohol. Also irrelevant. Maybe Frenkel is good at disguising himself. Whatever.

If we are going to take sexual harassment seriously, we need to start believing the targets. Maybe, just maybe, if Matthesen had a reputation as a drama-seeking fabulist, that would be relevant, but she doesn't. I don't really buy the "Tor fired him; he must be guilty" angle; SF publishing has its own cliques and in-fighting, and it might just be a good excuse to let Frenkel go, but this is also irrelevant to the idea that he harassed Matthesen.

There is nothing so unbelievable about her story; her report at the con was deemed substantial enough to warrant action (and the concom subsequently seemed to have fouled the process). That should be enough for us, the armchair jury on the Internet. I'm upset with Frenkel; I'm upset with the WisCon ConCom; I'm wearily upset with much of the response to this incident on the Internet (and MetaFilter).

Our watchword should be "when in doubt, err on the side of believing the woman who says she's been harassed."
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


So the problem with WisCon is that the panel didn't base their decision on the actual details of the complaint?
posted by notyou at 9:03 AM on July 29, 2014


One of the things I don't exactly understand (but know is a problem) is the role of the Member Advocate in the Wiscon process. Is the Member Advocate the person who's supposed to be advocating for the person who was harassed? Because if so, having someone with a professional association with the accused harasser is an even bigger problem than just having that person on the committee.

(If this was addressed upthread, I missed it. Sorry.)
posted by immlass at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con didn't do enough, right?

They handled the entire situation poorly. All of it.

Elise gave a statement during WisCon 37 -- a formal report to a Safety officer. She used her real name, and authorized the report regarding the incident to be reported to the Convention's higher authorities. Most people don't report harassment at cons. Of those who do, some do so anonymously. So immediately, you have a situation that is somewhat outside the norm. Add to this the fact that Elise later learned that Frenkel had harassed others, but those victims hadn't reported him. See Mary Robinette Kowal's post, "Why am I afraid to name my harasser" for an example of someone who had been previously harassed by Frenkel, but did not report him.

The Con didn't act on the report immediately because it remained buried in a log book and they couldn't find it. During this time other reports of harassment that occurred at the Con are apparently also lost. A year(!) passes. Frenkel is allowed to attend the next WisCon, #38. Public uproar. The convention is held in May. Subcommittee starts to investigate what happened at the previous Con in June 2014, (only?) because Elise spoke out against the Con's handling of the situation and people like John Scalzi supported her.

Evidence given to subcommittee reportedly leaves out details of Elise's original report. Subcommittee bans Frenkel provisionally for four years. So a question arises whether they were aware of all the evidence.

Keep in mind, this is a feminist convention. For women in science fiction. Panels routinely feature many women speaking about the genre. So you would reasonably expect the Con to jump on reported harassment.
posted by zarq at 9:08 AM on July 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


it is hard for me to say that a 4 year ban plus firing is definitively not enough. I sort of feel like it is given what I know about it.

The firing is irrelevant in a lot of ways, because he was not fired from Wiscon.

So is a four year ban sufficient? Perhaps it would have been, but if you read the initial statement, it wasn't even clear that it was a four year ban -- it seemed as if Frenkel could, in theory, be allowed in at any time -- and the victims had no say in it. (This was before it was clear that they didn't really pay attention to all the reports, but after it came out that volunteers lied to one victim by telling her the other victim asked that Frenkel not be banned.)
posted by jeather at 9:09 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos
It has been accepted by everyone concerned that whatever it was he did qualifies as "harrasment". That being the case - can you think of a specific act which both qualifies as harassment and is also mild enough that punishment would need to be mild?

With that proviso? That whatever it was was so blatant that everyone concerned agrees? No, I can't. I mean, even my hypothetical 16-year-old who hasn't learned not to stare at people like they're meat would find some defenders. So, no. If everyone who's privy to the details agrees, I don't need them for my own curiosity.

KathrynT and others:

No. The thrust of the problem that's being called out is that the con brutally mismanaged the process of the investigation

Oh. Well, no argument from me on that. I entirely agree. I think I hadn't quite grasped that the anger was less about the result than about the haphazard way it was arrived at.
posted by tyllwin at 9:10 AM on July 29, 2014


With that proviso? That whatever it was was so blatant that everyone concerned agrees? No, I can't. I mean, even my hypothetical 16-year-old who hasn't learned not to stare at people like they're meat would find some defenders. So, no. If everyone who's privy to the details agrees, I don't need them for my own curiosity.

That is precisely the situation which is happening. As the articles all state, Jim Frenkel was found guilty by the board responsible for ascertaining whether someone did violate WisCon policy. Which means, everyone who's privy to the details agrees.

So, yes, you would only be satisfying your own curiosity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


This part of the first link really got to me:
Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.
Lots of people had reported the guy, but they'd been too afraid to give their names, so there was no formal report.

Forty years ago a friend of mine was sexually harassed by a professor at the grad school we both attended. This was far from the first time the professor had done such things, and my friend and a couple of other women decided to file formal complaints. But the backlash was so horrific that my friend decided to withdraw her complaint—and then she took shit for that from people who wanted her to be all feminist and strong and deal with the consequences and see justice done. But she wasn't that strong. Most people aren't. I tried to be there for her and help her feel OK about her decisions, but she was in a horrible double bind and wound up leaving school. I learned a lot from that experience. I'm very glad that society has gotten to the point where women feel somewhat freer to talk about his stuff openly, and harassers have more likelihood of being punished, but it's still really, really hard to deal with, both psychologically and formally, as you can see from reading the first link. So I want to offer my understanding and sympathy to those who can't deal with the feared consequences of making a formal complaint and putting their names on the record, and my awed respect to those who fight past their fears and do the difficult thing.
posted by languagehat at 9:22 AM on July 29, 2014 [41 favorites]


I did, but didn't get the sense that a discussion of whether the punishment fit the offense was a derail.

"Does the punishment fit the offense" is not a derail, and is in fact the entire point of this discussion.

The derail that has been happening, though, has been more about "was the offense really an offense", and that's a question that has already been answered.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I apologize if this was mentioned further up thread, but I thought that Jim Hines hit the nail right on the head in terms of what didn't go right here (and others have expressed well in other places):
I believe very strongly that there should be consequences for our actions. But I also believe in education and rehabilitation.

...

I hope this time is different. I hope the consequences of [Frenkel's] loss of employment and being banned from his local convention force him to confront his choices, and that he comes out a better man.

The problem is when we choose to make his growth and change more important than the safety and security of his victims and potential victims.

When you’ve wronged someone and they throw you out of their life, you don’t get to force your way back in to prove that you’ve changed. You don’t get to violate their boundaries because you want to apologize. If the wronged party chooses to forgive and to allow you back into their lives, that’s one thing. If they choose not to, then you need to accept that loss as a consequence of your actions.

...

WisCon is not a judicial body. They are not a rehabilitation program. In my opinion, they are not qualified to judge the sincerity of serial harassers, many of whom have spent years or decades learning to hide their behavior behind the mask of the “nice guy.” Their job is to investigate complaints, and when those complaints are found to be valid, to take steps to protect their membership.
We don't need to nitpick to the nth degree whether or not a permanent banning is an overreaction in this case, if it's been established that inappropriate behavior is happening to the point that a large percentage of people no longer feel safe.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:31 AM on July 29, 2014 [21 favorites]


Once again, it would be nice if women could be the arbiters of what constitutes harrassment (as it is happening to us), instead of men insisting they have to have a say in what makes it harrassment as well. It's depressing, infuriating, and exhausting in that our word is void until some guy agrees that yeah, that is harrassment.
posted by Kitteh at 9:32 AM on July 29, 2014 [41 favorites]


jeff-o-matic: "But wait a second, in this very post, there's descriptions of groping and throwing objects at another person. That's why I was asking about the nature of this crime in the first place. Groping is assault, not harassment."

I'm more concerned that, given the vague whitewashery that's ensued, that the actual violation is more severe and better documented than we've been led to believe. At the same time, it's completely unacceptable to justify that kind of inquiry. Huge ethical dilemma there: as a con-goer, do I have a reasonable expectation that this concern was dealt with properly? That others are safe at the convention? What if protecting the victim's privacy minimizes the consequences for the attacker? Is there a concern that the reporter was pressured into misreporting a lesser issue?

I don't care if Frenkel ever works again, or is able to attend anything in the future. To me, this is about the ethical bona fides of a convention, and of the possibility that WisCon is employing the tactic of using official reporting channels to absorb and obscure legitimate complaints.
posted by boo_radley at 9:34 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Once again, it would be nice if women could be the arbiters of what constitutes harrassment (as it is happening to us), instead of men insisting they have to have a say in what makes it harrassment as well. It's depressing, infuriating, and exhausting in that our word is void until some guy agrees that yeah, that is harrassment.

Yes, that kind of behavior is infuriating. Is someone saying that in this thread?
posted by OmieWise at 9:55 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter if the punishment "fits the crime". His punishment is not drawing and quartering in the town square at dawn, it's not being allowed at a fucking convention, which is the only thing the committee has the ability to do to to someone who violates its policies. That's it, he can't go to that thing, it's a removal of a privilege that is only important in the sense that he clearly wants to go to it. There's just the one punishment, the only variable is duration, and even permanent banning is still not drawing and quartering at dawn. (It also becomes irrelevant if the convention limps along for another year or two and then dies.)

His firing was a result of a complaint to his employer, made separately from the complaint to the Wiscon powers that be. The Wiscon committee did not fire him because they cannot. Firing is much more serious than permanent banning, and has already happened. The banning is not the blow to his career. The banning is for Wiscon to show that they are serious about harassment and protecting people from a known perpetrator.

The issue at hand is that the Wiscon committee seems to have maliciously rewritten the complaint so as to appear so mild as to not need any particular punishment. There is no aspect of Frenkel's behavior that makes that okay. A person made a report via the appropriate channels and the committee waited 14 months, let the person in question attend again in full good standing, and then rewrote the complaint to justify their behavior. That is not okay, regardless of what happened.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 AM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


What's striking is that what happened at WisCon is so very similar to what we've been learning about how numerous colleges deal with victims of sexual assault.
posted by barchan at 10:02 AM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


There is more than one convention in the world, you know.

That's where I was going in my mind. Since what this guy did was presumably horrific enough for Tor to fire him, should he be allowed to ever attend another Con anywhere ever? (It was mentioned that just because Tor did let him go that we can't know it wasn't also in conjunction with other reasons.) Wouldn't that be the more appropriate message? A Convention is presumably like a business in that it can refuse the right to serve anyone, so shouldn't being a known harasser be enough to ban him from all Cons?
posted by cjorgensen at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2014


If any individual Con wants to ban him based on these reports, that's well within their rights. Nobody in this thread - nobody on EARTH - has the power to ban him from all conventions forever.
posted by KathrynT at 10:06 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Usually finding out that it met the legal definition of assault is promptly followed by suggesting that the woman Did It Wrong by taking it to internal con reporting structures rather than the legal system

There are very real liability issues if you treat an actual crime as an internal harassment issue.

I'd written a lot more about this, but that's the wrong answer, so I've deleted all of that. You won't believe me, and you *shouldn't* believe me. If you are running a con, you should ask your lawyer about this. They will explain, and unlike me, they will explain the little details that come with your particular location.

But there are real reasons why. Go ask your lawyer.
posted by eriko at 10:06 AM on July 29, 2014


There is no universal oversight committee presiding over all extant worldwide fan conventions to make this call.
posted by elizardbits at 10:06 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is someone saying that in this thread?

Yes. Someone in this thread has said they relied on the word of a man in believing Matthesen's account of harassment. (Search for my comments and you should be able to find it.) And you don't believe a woman when she said "people are diminishing accounts of harassment". So that's two.
posted by immlass at 10:10 AM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


[Since no one here has any further details about Matthesen's complaint, it is fruitless and derailing to continue to demand them. Drop it, please. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 10:11 AM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Nobody in this thread - nobody on EARTH - has the power to ban him from all conventions forever.

No, but Conventions that want to advertise as safe places could maintain a list of disallowed individuals.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:11 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


They sure could. You are free to advance this suggestion at all the conventions you volunteer for.
posted by KathrynT at 10:13 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


A Convention is presumably like a business in that it can refuse the right to serve anyone, so shouldn't being a known harasser be enough to ban him from all Cons?

Again, ask your lawyer about the liability issues of taking action when no reportable or criminal behavior has taken place at *your* convention -- oh, and ask the difference between that and not allowing someone who has been convicted of a felony for an action at another convention to joint your convention.

Yes, you can refuse anybody you want - except for many discriminatory reasons. It's like at-will employment. You can terminate employment at any time for any reason. Well, except if you do it for racial, sexual, or another dozen reasons.

So, if you want to pursue this course, talk to a lawyer.
posted by eriko at 10:13 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that nobody is here in this thread as an official representative of any or all conventions seeking advice on banning people pre-emptively from any/all conventions, so we can probably not worry so much about that.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:28 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lyn, I think that was kind of eriko's point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on July 29, 2014


so shouldn't being a known harasser be enough to ban him from all Cons?

That would require a formal petition at ConCon, the Con of Cons that is the UN organizing body on Cons.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


Next thing you know, SMOF murder-teams will be hunting people down!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:36 AM on July 29, 2014


And you don't believe a woman when she said "people are diminishing accounts of harassment".

Where did I say I don't believe a woman? I think you may have me confused with someone else.
posted by OmieWise at 10:38 AM on July 29, 2014


Someone in this thread has said they relied on the word of a man in believing Matthesen's account of harassment.

Found it. That's not remotely what they said. They were speculating about how bad the unrevealed details were, and they said they thought it must be pretty bad since Scalzi (who presumably knows) thought they were pretty bad. This is about the difference between some information and no information, not the difference between a man said it or a woman said it.
posted by OmieWise at 10:41 AM on July 29, 2014


Next thing you know, SMOF murder-teams will be hunting people down!

There's a good amount of people (mostly the 12 Rabid Weasels and their supporters) that actually believe something like this is happening. Not the murdering part, obviously, but that SMOFs, or PC Police, or whatever the fashionable slang is nowadays, are brutally censoring and otherwise oppressing Males Just Doing What Biology Tells Them.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:42 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's not remotely what they said.

It actually is:

fundamental inability to judge whether there was a failure of the conference organizers to live up to feminist principles, or whether it's all a tempest in a teapot. Neither would be unprecedented.

I'll go with the former being a bit more likely simply because J Scalzi seemed to think it a big deal, I guess.


They proposed the question, "is this a big deal or just a hysterical woman?" and sided with 'big deal' because Scalzi thinks it was.

Morover:

"But even if the details are so salacious as to be unmentionable, it would be a somewhat less insubstantial story if we had at least a few more people saying "yes I know the details, and trust me it was pretty bad.""

There were five people linked in the FPP who said this was a big deal. Scalzi was the only man. The commenter wanted 'a few more people', totally discounting the four women's opinions.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:47 AM on July 29, 2014 [31 favorites]


Do you fault them for LOSING the actual complaints, interviewing the accused but not the accusers, and for the conflicts of interest Mathesen describes?

This, actually, I do -- and it doesn't matter what the actual incident was, it was mishandled, and I think the Wiscon's governing model is the key reason why.

(This is not a discussion of the incident, but of the apparent model that Wiscon is governed under. I could be wrong about all of this, because of people using the word "concom" to describe matters that are not being handled by the concom. This, if anything, is advice for you, the con runner, and to help those who don't actually work on fannish conventions understand the challenges.)

It seems that Wiscon and SF3* have a bad organizational design, in that it expects (and the members expect) the concom to handle long term issues.

Speaking as a con runner, that trick doesn't work. Concoms (Convention Committees) change all the time. It is possible for a concom to *completely* change in one year. Concom are staffed up by part time volunteers, who are often working out of their depth in a role that has nothing to do with their actual professional job set. Why? Because they're free, and nobody else is doing it, and you can't afford to pay for conventions if you pay professional convention staffers to run them.

During the con, they're often just a lot short of sleep, to boot. After the con, they tend to not be fannish for a month as they try to catch up on all the real life shit that built up before the con.

So, the fastest failure path I know of is to have Convention X's department heads in charge of getting information to Convention X+1's department heads. That's multiple places for failure.

The fact that one Wiscon concom lost this info doesn't surprise me one bit. That sort of thing happens all the time with the concom-forward model. Bills get lost. Checks get lost. Hell, I've seen half an art-show worth of display panels get lost -- a 4'x8'x4' stack of them, no less.

The trick, here, is the second organization -- the one that the concom is actually a committee of. That's the actual corporation that hosts, but I'll just refer to them as the board.

With a strong board model, at the end of the convention, the board goes up to the chair and says "Okay, we need the bills, the checks, the reports, and we're going to have a debrief." You do this quickly, while fresh in mind.

A conchair is limited in scope to their con. If you think about it, it has to be that way. If the chair-before-me told me I couldn't have a con suite, I'd tell them to STFU and GTFO. Their authority ends with their convention. If I, as the next chair, told them they couldn't have con suite, the STFU/GTFO would apply as well, but to me. If they could, then who's actually running the con? Which chair has the power to deal with incidents? Who actually approves budgets and spending? **

So, someone does something egregious, like, say, gives alcohol to minors at con. What can you do as the chair? Well, you can pull their badge, of course, and arguably, you have to get the cops involved (lawyer question there.) But you can't do anything about the next con. You literally have no authority, unless you are also the chair of the next con, and then you have to remember this for a year.

Bad model.

The right answer is, as part of that debrief, you say "I had to pull the badge of X for giving minors alcohol and Y for being loud and annoying to the hotel staff. Z was tossed out by the hotel and told never come back. I don't know the details of that incident, the hotel informed me that Z was no longer welcome on the property."

Then the board (often with the chair as a member) decides what long term action to take. They -- not associated heavily with the con (or preferably, at all) have the duty of crafting long term policies, and making sure the chairs keep up with them. So, when the next chair comes in, they can say "By board action, X has been barred from the con for three years, Y is under probation -- any action at all offensive to the con gets Y barred for five years, and Z, while having done nothing directly to the convention, is not welcome in the hotel, so as long as that's in force, don't sell them a membership."

And then when the chair after that comes in, the board can do the same again.

You also need the member advocate to report to that board, and *NOT* to the convention committee. Otherwise, you will get a situation at some point where the MA gets fired by the conchair. You really don't want that, ask Nixon about what happens then. Arguably, you want the MA to be on the board, but another workable model is to have the MA have the right to attend all board meeting and to bring business to the board.

Finally, you need built in slow turnover. The simplest way is the way the US Senate does it. You have extended terms (3-6) years, and you make sure that fraction of the board is selected every year. That way, you have 1/3rd to 1/6th of the board new on a given year, but the rest aren't, and can share historical information.

With this model, the responsibility for investigation and punishment falls on the part of the organization that can actually enforce it, and that has the duty and time to make sure those enforcement actions get to the next chair, so that come next con, that person you banned for two years never gets a badge.

The other thing this board does. They set those procedures for the concom to follow, so they don't have to figure out how to handle the complaint in real time. They know that they open the P&P†† book to chapter 7, and hey, there's a procedure, there's a form, and there's who needs to get copied on that form.

And, at the debrief, you ask "Were there any Chapter 7 incidents reported?" and make sure you get all those details, or at least are aware of the details you're missing, so you can then go back and get them.

And, as a bonus, you can have your organization's legal professional review those procedures to make sure that you aren't carefully documenting a successful liability lawsuit against yourself.

But to bring this back around -- I think the core problem Wiscon has had with this problem is Wiscon handling it, rather than SF3. Concoms are short-term tactical creations, and do badly at handling long-term strategic decisions. If Wiscon in fact is trying to have a strong board model, it needs to look at the implementation of it, because it sure doesn't look like that, and actions of that board need to be announced as being from the board, not the concom.


* This is the Society For The Furtherance And Study Of Fantasy And Science Fiction of Madison, WI, not the Science Fiction Fantasy Federation of Greensboro, NC.

** Parliamentary government systems describe this as "Parliament cannot bind Parliament" -- which means that there's no change that Parliament X can make that Parliament X+1 cannot unmake.

† Trust me, this model works, esp. when the MA is willing to be a firm asshole when the board is going to do something that screws over a member -- not that I'm saying I have any experience in that role. And it lets you have a long-term MA without having that person having voting rights far longer than any member of the board possibly can, which is an issue if you have term limits on the board.

†† Policy and Procedures. At least in the State of Illinois, you don't want this as part of the bylaws of the corporation, because whenever you change those, you have to send them into the state as part of your incorporation documents. This is why you put the "how the board exists, what the officers and corporate staff positions are, how selections for the board and staff are made, and refer to the P&P document" into your bylaws and do all the detail work in the P&P.
posted by eriko at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2014 [32 favorites]


Our watchword should be "when in doubt, err on the side of believing the woman who says she's been harassed."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:02 PM on July 29


This modern attitude scares the shit out of me. My attitude is "When in doubt, recognise that there is doubt". Sometimes people lie, sometimes they don't. Sometimes people exaggerate and misrepresent, sometimes they don't. Unless you know (beyond reasonable doubt, naturally), you don't know. If you decide to believe or disbelieve someone when you simply don't know, you're basically operating on prejudice. And you're this far from the witch-hunt mentality. Watch yourself.
posted by Decani at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


There were five people linked in the FPP who said this was a big deal. Scalzi was the only man. The commenter wanted 'a few more people', totally discounting the four women's opinions.

Yeah, I've read the thread. I'm not seeing it. I understand the anger, I just think it's misplaced here, and I think that in this case, that does more damage than good.

I think there is a legitimate, non-sexist reason to want more details here, because of how this story is framed. I think there can be legit disagreement about whether the punishment fit the crime or not, in this case. Or there could be if we had those details.

I have not seen anyone in this thread being an asshole, or a jerk, or even casually sexist in their approach to this. I have seen some people trying to come to terms with it in a way that works for them, and some people saying that there is only one way to come to terms with this and think about it. I've seen no one defend the process used by the Con.

I actually think this is a serious problem. (The insistence that any questioning is bad questioning.)
posted by OmieWise at 10:55 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Nobody in this thread - nobody on EARTH - has the power to ban him from all conventions forever.

Well, an actual no-kidding court might.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:00 AM on July 29, 2014


Our watchword should be "when in doubt, err on the side of believing the woman who says she's been harassed."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:02 PM on July 29

This modern attitude scares the shit out of me. My attitude is "When in doubt, recognise that there is doubt".


Did you miss the part where they said, "err"?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:03 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


This modern attitude scares the shit out of me.

What "modern attitude" would you be referring to? When are you claiming it started - when women finally started to speak up about harassment rather than being shamed into silence?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2014 [31 favorites]


My attitude is "When in doubt, recognise that there is doubt". Sometimes people lie, sometimes they don't. Sometimes people exaggerate and misrepresent, sometimes they don't. Unless you know (beyond reasonable doubt, naturally), you don't know. If you decide to believe or disbelieve someone when you simply don't know, you're basically operating on prejudice.

This is exactly the attitude harassers depend on to get away with their harassment. The "sometimes" in "sometimes people lie/exaggerate/misrepresent" is a tiny fraction of the time, but as long as it's non-zero, apparently we should discount the premise entirely until we have all the evidence and an ever-changing number of witnesses of an impossibly unimpeachable quality. Never mind that harassment is an activity that depends largely on eliminating or suppressing evidence and witnesses, or that the people harassing often wield most or all of the power in the situation and the follow-up, or that this is a long and storied trend just now getting serious pushback. Nope, just hysterical probable liars getting their panties in a bunch going on a witch hunt.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:06 AM on July 29, 2014 [36 favorites]


What "modern attitude" would you be referring to?

The shockingly modern attitude of treating women as human beings, maybe?
posted by elizardbits at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2014 [42 favorites]


There were five people linked in the FPP who said this was a big deal. Scalzi was the only man.

Um. Of those five, he's the only one who indicated in his post that he actually knows Elise Matthesen personally, the only one who I know to have previously posted on Metafilter, the first one whose name I recognized, and the only one whose novels I've read. While I can offer no conclusive evidence that his maleness had nothing to do with my choice in singling him out there (although not quite in the way you suggest: He did not do what I suggested it might be useful if a few more people did), I suspect that it is the case.
posted by sfenders at 11:08 AM on July 29, 2014


So, the fastest failure path I know of is to have Convention X's department heads in charge of getting information to Convention X+1's department heads.

Actually, I'd say the fastest type rip failure is to have a person in charge of distributing the information to have a massive conflict of interest. It honestly doesn't matter what administrator jiggery-pokery you do, when the person in charge of the process is determined to throw sand in the gears.

Honestly, you're making this to be mainly about administrative incompetence, and I don't deny that's a factor. But the real issue is becoming more and more obvious that Frenkel had supporters on the board and ConCom that were making sure that the minimum of effective work was done.
posted by happyroach at 11:10 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This modern attitude scares the shit out of me.

The system works!
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:15 AM on July 29, 2014 [24 favorites]


I have not seen anyone in this thread being an asshole, or a jerk, or even casually sexist in their approach to this.

People saying "I don't believe it when a woman says [x] is happening" particularly when they require a man to verify it, are behaving in a casually sexist manner. Doubly so about sexual harassment, which is a thing women have more experience dealing with than men.

And to close the loop on this, when women say "people are behaving in a casually sexist manner" and you, a man (based on your profile), say "I don't see this" and double down, people may come to similar conclusions about your participation in the thread. It's okay to disagree, but you might be served better by wondering what women are seeing in the thread or the behaviors under discussion that you are not.

Sometimes people lie, sometimes they don't

When a person applies this truth to women and not to men, we have a term for it.
posted by immlass at 11:22 AM on July 29, 2014 [26 favorites]


One of the most depressing things about this situation is that, if any SF con should be trusted to do this right on principle, it's WisCon. Obviously, an event run by volunteers is going to have some problems following up on every detail in a swift and clear manner, but the carelessness and lack of attention would be disheartening in any con, but at WisCon it seems like a violation of everything the con stands for. Ugh.

Decani:
And you're this far from the witch-hunt mentality. Watch yourself.

You know, I almost deleted that comment two or three times while writing it, partly because I am composing it on a tablet where I can't edit very effectively, but partly because I was pretty sure someone was going to come along and take it out of context o get a "Oh noes! They will come for the menz!" Hook to hang their hat on. And here we are.

Let's see if I can say it more plainly. This situation is pretty painful to me. I have supported WisCon for a long time, I know the people involved, and the whole thing makes me sick. Of all the people in this thread, I am probably the most likely to really want Frenkel (and WisCon) to be innocent. But they're not. Not even close. And most of the arguments in favor of Frenkel (and, more tellingly, against Matthesen) rely on casting doubt on her story since, like all the goddamn harassment in this world, it's apparently impossible to believe a woman's story with absurdly high standards of evidence which essentially mean that harassment will never be addressed, ever. And that's the real witch-hunt in this story.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:25 AM on July 29, 2014 [26 favorites]


This modern attitude scares the shit out of me.

It's not so much "modern" as "civilized".

My attitude is "When in doubt, recognise that there is doubt".

Which is why the comment wasn't "assume the woman is always right no matter what" but rather "when in doubt, err on the side of believing the woman who says she's been harassed."

Sometimes people lie, sometimes they don't. Sometimes people exaggerate and misrepresent, sometimes they don't. Unless you know (beyond reasonable doubt, naturally), you don't know. If you decide to believe or disbelieve someone when you simply don't know, you're basically operating on prejudice. And you're this far from the witch-hunt mentality. Watch yourself.

For generations women have endured prejudice, dismissal and injustice when they sought safety from abuse, assault, rape and harassment. These sentiments are ingrained in Western culture. The idea that men must be concerned for their safety -- that they might be subjected to similar harassment -- when the scales begin to shift towards a more appropriately balanced view, is more than a little ironic. Especially since said scales haven't even reached a fair balance-point, much less shifted against them.
posted by zarq at 11:28 AM on July 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


I know it's been stated before, but it bears repeating that a con that is an unsafe environment for women is essentially banning women who don't want to be harassed. It's saying to professional women who want to do their jobs that they either have to put up with harassment or miss opportunities. The whole "but he neeeeeds it for his jobbbbb" knife cuts both ways, and since it takes more work and effort for women to be taken seriously, they need it more.

Also he doesn't need it for his job at all anymore, since he was fired. For being a harassing shitbeard. So.
posted by NoraReed at 11:29 AM on July 29, 2014 [35 favorites]


To be honest, everybody who, like Omiewise is still doubting this, had their chance a year ago, when the original report was blogged and linked here. But even then it was clear that all actually involved parties were agreeing that it was harassment with not even Frenkel disputing this. And remember, he had to "part ways" with Tor as a result of this. It's not like he hadn't got any reason to dispute the allegations if he could.

So the harassment isn't in doubt. What the actual story is, is how Wiscon handled it.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:34 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


This modern attitude scares the shit out of me.

Oh no!
posted by shakespeherian at 11:35 AM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Also it's not a witch hunt if the crimes actually took place.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:36 AM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Oh no!

How many times does the same comment need to be mocked?
posted by cjorgensen at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


How many times does the same comment need to be mocked?

The number of times a comment needs to be mocked is directly related to just how ridiculous said comment is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


So...then....what exactly is it you are objecting to?

the idea of erring on the side of women, because (mumble mumble) witch hunt (mumble mumble) slippery slope (mumble mumble) oppressive matriarchy as shown in in the Drizzt Do'Urden books
posted by NoraReed at 11:46 AM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


Omiewise is still doubting this

I haven't doubted a damn thing about what occurred. As you know.
posted by OmieWise at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually, I'd say the fastest type rip failure is to have a person in charge of distributing the information to have a massive conflict of interest. It honestly doesn't matter what administrator jiggery-pokery you do, when the person in charge of the process is determined to throw sand in the gears.

There is no system in convention fandom that can survive true malice or true incompetence.

But when you have one person responsible, and a board of people willing to challenge them if they're not complying, then you have much less chance of a failure than if you're counting on 20 subhead to tell 20 new subheads about incident X.

Yes, in the strong board model, if the board wanted to protect someone, you'd be screwed. There, your actions are limited to 1) Not Attending or 2) (if Possible) Running for the Board to make sure that doesn't happen again.

But you'd at least know who's protecting them -- a limited sized board. At least you'd know where the direction is coming from.

One of the biggest image problems that I see with Wiscon has right now is it is not clear who's fundamentally responsible for the organization-as-a-whole. That makes it easy to blame everyone, and it makes it easy for someone who is actually responsible to duck blame by hiding behind the condom-as-a-whole and letting the confusion about roles obscure them. Right now, you have a subcommittee of *something* ruling one thing, the concom appealing *to somebody* to look at that again, a member advocate who works for *somebody* but has just resigned, and so forth.

Who is this somebody, and why are they not speaking?
posted by eriko at 11:49 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The number of times a comment needs to be mocked is directly related to just how ridiculous said comment is.

Except it's not a ridiculous comment, especially in context. Sure, that line doesn't stand well on its own, but with the rest of the statement it's a fine position to take. When in doubt believe the accuser is valid. So is when in doubt recognize there is doubt. You may find one position more valid than another, but it's really not worthy of six callouts.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Except it's not a ridiculous comment, especially in context. Sure, that line doesn't stand well on its own, but with the rest of the statement it's a fine position to take. When in doubt believe the accuser is valid. So is when in doubt recognize there is doubt.

Except if you actually RTFA you will find that there is no doubt. Everyone who examined the evidence, as well as the person accused, agrees it happened. Ergo, there is no "doubt" here.

So to whinge about "recognizing that there is doubt" in such a scenario is indeed ridiculous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:57 AM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Except it's not a ridiculous comment, especially in context.

In the context that sexual harassers generally seek opportunities to harass women where there are no witnesses, and often target women whom they think will not report them, because they do not think they will be believed, or because of an inequality in status that they think they will be able to leverage to their advantage?

I'd say that it is certainly ridiculous. It just isn't funny.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


Except it's not a ridiculous comment, especially in context.

The entire comment was a strawman. He responded to a sentiment that hadn't been brought up by the person he was quoting!

Once again, the comment Decani responded to wasn't "assume the woman is always right no matter what" but rather "when in doubt, err on the side of believing the woman who says she's been harassed." So he's concerned about... what exactly? A "modern attitude" he made up?
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


When in danger or in doubt [as to whether a report made to a subcommittee was watered down so far as to leave them incapable of taking appropriate decisions about inappropriate behaviour at a con], run in circles, scream and shout.
posted by sfenders at 12:05 PM on July 29, 2014


Who is this somebody, and why are they not speaking?

Wiscon deliberately obscures who is charge of what. But they have been doing that for a long time since before this Frenkel thing popped up and seems to be how they operate in general.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:08 PM on July 29, 2014


We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision.

It sounds like part of what led to this excessively lenient punishment is that the decisionmakers were deprived of the details that had been reported by the victim of the harassment.

As someone who professionally counsels employers and others on how to investigate and respond to sexual harassment incidents and reports and trains people on how to avoid and prevent sexual harassment, I tend to think Ms. Matthesen is probably absolutely right in her assessment that part of the breach of justice here was the failure of those who received her report to convey the full details of the report to those investigating. It is also egregious of those investigating to not seek out and consider all the details.

I respect Ms. Matthesen's choice not to publicly disclose what the incident was, and I don't think any of us is entitled to know. And it's important that WisCon's decision was made from a position of ignorance at least somewhat similar to where we are, as uninformed readers - but that WisCon's ignorance was the result of a conscious decision not to seek out those details as part of its investigatory and decisionmaking process. I assume (for it is all I can do) that Frenkel's employer, who reached a more severe decision than did WisCon, was more diligent than WisCon in investigating the incident and knowing what the incident was before making the decision. At least that is implied in Ms. Matthesen's criticism that WisCon's decision was made without knowing the full account of the incident.

With that in mind, it's interesting to see so many people here proposing that one need not know anything about the incident other than that someone used the incredibly vague term "harassment" to describe it in order to assess the information provided in the post.

I'd really like to know what the incident was - at least in broad terms. And that's because I'm curious and because I'm reading articles that are taking strong positions based explicitly on the assertion that those who do not know the full details are bound to reach the wrong decision. Respectfully, those in this thread proposing that the word "harassment" is sufficient explanation appear to be speaking from a position of ignorance as to the breadth and vagueness of that term's usage, including its usage in the legal context of sexual harassment (but, in fairness, I suspect it's more a heat-of-the-argument rhetorical flourish, which is understandable in this context).

I assume, based on all the linked material I've read, that the conduct at issue here really was egregious and justified both the employer's harsh action and action by the con much more severe than what was decided on. But I assume that without having any idea what the incident was. And in a case where the victim of harassment explicitly says that the full details are critical to assessing the incident, it is weird to find no description of the incident anywhere and a MeFi page full of people shouting that the details are irrelevant.
posted by The World Famous at 12:12 PM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Except it's not a ridiculous comment, especially in context. Sure, that line doesn't stand well on its own, but with the rest of the statement it's a fine position to take. When in doubt believe the accuser is valid. So is when in doubt recognize there is doubt. You may find one position more valid than another, but it's really not worthy of six callouts.

This is a great example of a toxic internet debating technique -- drag a specific situation into the world of abstract principles in order to take a "high-minded" stance that only makes sense in the world of abstract principles. I wish people would stop it; it's not coolly logical, it's insane.

A couple of people have described how the specific situation, set in an actual context, is pretty much agreed to by all primary participants (ie the people who actually know what happened). Slightly more generally, in the cultural context in which we live, it's pretty clear that "doubt" toward women's allegations of harassment works systematically to deny women justice. So the tactic, in my opinion, is well worth a little mockery -- it's not a serious effort to grapple with the issue.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


Also, for whatever it's worth, I gotta say that I'm actually okay with incidents like this being addressed with "modern attitudes." Ones that offer women safe environments to speak up when they're being harassed, be taken seriously and have people in charge take action. I linked to a blog upthread where the head of a SciFi convention joked with Isaac Asimov that he should give a lecture about "Posterior Pinching" of women, way back when. The current backlash against harassment at ComicCon in SD would have been unthinkable years ago.

We don't let people suffer in silence anymore. And there's an effort underway to stop those who enable harassers. That's a good thing.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


And in a case where the victim of harassment explicitly says that the full details are critical to assessing the incident, it is weird to find no description of the incident anywhere

Here's the difference: we are not tasked with assessing the incident. Wiscon IS. Providing us details of the situation has substantial negative effects for Mathesen, as it has for every person who has ever provided such details. Why should she have to provide those details to us at great cost to herself and no appreciable benefit?
posted by KathrynT at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


zarq: " Maybe convention organizers feel that they shouldn't need to craft policies and procedures to deal with the problem, and maybe they feel that they, like U.S. courts, can't take patterns of behavior into account. And in an ideal world, maybe they're right.

The thing is, WisCon was founded by feminists who among other issues were fed up with what they found at other conventions. Fed up with sexists like Isaac "Butt-Pincher" Asimov and the convention organizers who not only allowed him to predate upon women but encouraged him. The title of that link is "We Don’t Do That Anymore" and it's particularly apropos.

WisCon is a convention that hails the contributions of women to the genre and in theory is supposed to be a safer environment for them. The organizers should have handled this incident far better than they did.
"

"But here’s the thing, this all looks bad. Really really incredibly bad. And I don’t think it is supposed to be such a hot ass mess. But it has come out that way, and I’m…whatever the feeling is past anger and sadness. Resigned maybe? Yeah that sounds right. Resigned to the idea that WisCon isn’t going to be a better space any time soon. WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci-fi con. And compared to some others that I have attended, it is definitely better at paying lip service to being feminist than any of them. At times it is even feminist in its approach. But…that doesn’t make it good at it. That doesn’t make it more welcoming, safer, or significantly more adept at making policies than others. Being less awful isn’t the same as being good. So yes, treat WisCon as a fun place to go with your friends, expect to have some great convos, delicious food, and a whole lot of booze. But, don’t expect WisCon to be a safe space. Right now, don’t even expect it to be a better space. Expect it to be less awful. That’s it." -The Angry Black Woman
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:16 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I feel like you didn't actually read my whole comment, KathrynT.
posted by The World Famous at 12:16 PM on July 29, 2014


(In part because you quoted only part of my sentence.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:17 PM on July 29, 2014


ShawnStruck, a lot of people I know are deeply disappointed by the way they've handled this for exactly those reasons. Thanks for the link to that essay.
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The demands to know more details reads as weirdly prurient to me.
posted by NoraReed at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


The demands to know more details reads as weirdly prurient to me.

What demands? Are you referring to me?
posted by The World Famous at 12:22 PM on July 29, 2014


What judgement or belief is anyone expecting to change by the inclusion of more details?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I assure you, The World Famous, I read your entire comment twice. If you feel I've misrepresented your position please feel free to say so.
posted by KathrynT at 12:24 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


The demands to know more details come from the idea that harassment and sexual assault are subjective, mercurial things and that if we know the Facts About What Happened we can judge for ourselves better than the victim whether what happened is worth all the trouble.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:24 PM on July 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


What judgement or belief is anyone expecting to change by the inclusion of more details?

The people asking for them in this thread have said pretty straightforwardly that there's no way for them to determine if banishment for four years is fair or not without knowing the details of what happened. At least a couple of people have said that they thought that's what the post was about: determining whether the punishment fit the crime.
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Aside: One of the interesting/humorous things to me is that the org I use to work with directly changed how we ran conventions because of Wiscon. Wisconsin had a massive norovirus outbreak one year, and we saw that and became seriously more concerned with food safety since then -- to the point of actually sending people to be trained and certified by the state in food safety.
posted by eriko at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean, obviously from my comments in this thread I think that argument's flawed (to say the least,) but their meaning seems relatively easy to glean from what they've said.
posted by zarq at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2014


I'd really like to know what the incident was - at least in broad terms. And that's because I'm curious and because I'm reading articles that are taking strong positions based explicitly on the assertion that those who do not know the full details are bound to reach the wrong decision. Respectfully, those in this thread proposing that the word "harassment" is sufficient explanation appear to be speaking from a position of ignorance as to the breadth and vagueness of that term's usage, including its usage in the legal context of sexual harassment (but, in fairness, I suspect it's more a heat-of-the-argument rhetorical flourish, which is understandable in this context).

I will ask of you the same question I asked earlier.

I appreciate that you are "curious", but sometimes your curiosity does not trump a complainant's right to own the agency over something that happened to her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


And in a case where the victim of harassment explicitly says that the full details are critical to assessing the incident, it is weird to find no description of the incident anywhere and a MeFi page full of people shouting that the details are irrelevant.

*sigh*

The details are irrelevant for public debate; not so much for the internal handling by Wiscon of the complaint; which, again, the convention seemed to be handling okay at the time of reporting.

It's what happened afterwards, when nobody from Wiscon seemed to reach out to either Matthesen or any of the other people reporting harassment, topped by the appearance of Frenkel back at the next Wiscon -- and only strong protest keeping him from actually being part of programming -- that's the problem.

For this, again, the details of the harassment aren't needed; any sort of harassment should be a no-no and grounds for a ban from the con, but in Frenkel's case there were multiple complaints as well as others coming forward with their stories about him.

But nothing was done and a half assed investigation was only started once Wiscon was forced to by the criticism it received after allowing Frenkel back. (Remarkably, when one of Frenkel's victims complained about this, the concon said to her that in fact it been Elise Matthesen who'd asked them not to ban Frenkel which turned out to be a lie.)

At that point it was clear that there was little or no actual policy about harassment at the con, something that others had also run afoul off, most notably Readercon in 2012 -- which had instituted a proper harassment policy since then, something Wiscon could've learned from but those on the Frenkel committee didn't even know about.

So instead you got an equally half assed ban which, if you read the statement correctly, could've been as short as one year, if Frenkel behaves himself and which only he could appeal, but not those who had been harassed. Who indeed, hadn't been approached about any of this.

Instead the whole harassment procedure was perpetrator/redemptive focused and at this point we should go back to Rose Fox's column in Publisher Weekly commenting on Readercon a year before this all started at Wiscon:
The narrative that conventions should care about is not sin-repentance-redemption or victimhood-struggle-triumph. The narrative is purchase-enjoy-repeat: that is, “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back.” It is the narrative of a satisfied customer, which makes for a healthy business. Anyone who perpetrates harassment at a convention is disrupting that narrative, and convention organizers should not hesitate to write them out of it.
Frenkel disrupted the con going experience of at least two people at Wiscon 37; ergo he shouldn't be welcome at Wiscon 38. What exactly he did is irrelevant.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


One of the interesting/humorous things to me is that the org I use to work with directly changed how we ran conventions because of Wiscon. Wisconsin had a massive norovirus outbreak one year, and we saw that and became seriously more concerned with food safety since then -- to the point of actually sending people to be trained and certified by the state in food safety.
The real irony there is that Wiscon itself also changed massively and acted decisively to tackle the norovirus, but is now apparantly helpless to tackle harassment...
posted by MartinWisse at 12:29 PM on July 29, 2014


3. You will have to relive what happened a thousand times.

You'll describe the sequence of events to people on the scene whose help you enlist. Should you report, you'll describe the sequence of events to convention authorities. Should you go public, you'll have to describe the sequence of events on the internet. The level of detail is up to you; no amount will ever be sufficient. [Emphasis Added]


From Genevieve Valentine's "The Fallout".
posted by bfranklin at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


I respect Ms. Matthesen's choice not to publicly disclose what the incident was, and I don't think any of us is entitled to know.

This seems very reasonable!

I'd really like to know what the incident was - at least in broad terms.

OK, cool! But you understand that you're not entitled to know, right?

And that's because I'm curious


Wait, what? Let's walk it back.

And it's important that WisCon's decision was made from a position of ignorance at least somewhat similar to where we are, as uninformed readers - but that WisCon's ignorance was the result of a conscious decision not to seek out those details as part of its investigatory and decisionmaking process. I assume (for it is all I can do) that Frenkel's employer, who reached a more severe decision than did WisCon, was more diligent than WisCon in investigating the incident and knowing what the incident was before making the decision. At least that is implied in Ms. Matthesen's criticism that WisCon's decision was made without knowing the full account of the incident.

Dude. We are not totally in the dark, here. I mean, we're not in some sort of gnostic oubliette. Matthesen reported what had happened at the time, and she also formally reported it to Tor. This information is available.

So, I'm not sure what's happening here. Do you think that the fact that she has not made this information publicly available means that she has not told anyone - that she left it to WisCon and Tor to work out for themselves what happened? Because that is a really strange thing to think. The problem is not with "WisCon" not knowing the details - it's with inadequate communication of those details within WisCon.

If you are not part of this process, then, yeah, your curiosity is what is driving your desire to know more. And call that professional curiosity or prurience, it remains the case that you are not entitled to know.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


What judgement or belief is anyone expecting to change by the inclusion of more details?

I assume when Ms. Matthesen expressed dismay that the decision was made without all the details, it was because she believed their inclusion might have led to a different result.

I assure you, The World Famous, I read your entire comment twice. If you feel I've misrepresented your position please feel free to say so.

You have severely and unfairly misrepresented my position.

The people asking for them in this thread have said pretty straightforwardly that there's no way for them to determine if banishment for four years is fair or not without knowing the details of what happened.

I can speak only for myself, but I very explicitly and clearly did not say that.

I will ask of you the same question I asked earlier.
It has been accepted by everyone concerned that whatever it was he did qualifies as "harrasment". That being the case - can you think of a specific act which both qualifies as harassment and is also mild enough that punishment would need to be mild?

I thought I was incredibly clear on this in my comment above, but I'll answer you anyway:

I also accept that whatever he did qualifies not only under the almost-totally-useless umbrella term "harassment," but that it was also sufficiently severe to justify both termination of his employment and a far more severe punishment than was imposed by WisCon. That being the case, yes, I can think of myriad specific acts which both qualify as harassment and also are mild enough that punishment would need to be mild. I'm an employment lawyer, and I see situations all the time where employers receive a complaint termed "harassment" by the victim that justifies only a very mild punishment. But I'm hesitant to start listing examples here, because the chorus is likely to ignore what I'm actually writing and pretend that, by directly answering your question with actual real-life examples, which I explicitly state I do not believe are similar to or equivalent to what happened in the incident at issue here, I am trying to minimize what happened to Ms. Matthesen (whatever that was) or to draw a false equivalence. For that reason, I'm going to decline to give specific examples.

I appreciate that you are "curious", but sometimes your curiosity does not trump a complainant's right to own the agency over something that happened to her.

I appreciate your appreciation, but you don't seem to have read the part of my comment above where I explicitly said exactly that.

The details are irrelevant for public debate

That depends on what the debate is about. Here, nobody is debating whether she was actually harassed or whether or not WisCon's punishment was sufficiently severe (that I've noticed). So in this particular discussion (which need not be a debate, thanks), I agree that the details are irrelevant to the points being made. It seems to me that the issue is not only the severity of the punishment, but the incompetence and pace of the investigation and process, and the treatment of the victim. But that's just me.

Dude. We are not totally in the dark, here. I mean, we're not in some sort of gnostic oubliette. Matthesen reported what had happened at the time, and she also formally reported it to Tor. This information is available.

Yes, I read that and I still don't know what the incident was. But I respect her right not to discuss the details publicly, and acknowledge that we have no entitlement to know the details.

So, I'm not sure what's happening here. Do you think that the fact that she has not made this information publicly available means that she has not told anyone - that she left it to WisCon and Tor to work out for themselves what happened? Because that is a really strange thing to think.

For crying out loud.

If you are not part of this process, then, yeah, your curiosity is what is driving your desire to know more. And call that professional curiosity or prurience, it remains the case that you are not entitled to know.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I SAID.
posted by The World Famous at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I assume when Ms. Matthesen expressed dismay that the decision was made without all the details, it was because she believed their inclusion might have led to a different result.

This is a HUGE fucking assumption that is quite frankly, a bit bonkers.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


For crying out loud.

"If you are not part of this process, then, yeah, your curiosity is what is driving your desire to know more. And call that professional curiosity or prurience, it remains the case that you are not entitled to know."

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I SAID.


So, if you admit that your curiosity is all that is driving this, and you admit that you also understand that you are not entitled to know, then why on earth are you still asking?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


You have severely and unfairly misrepresented my position.

OK. The very last line of your comment, in the place where we normally expect to find a conclusion, was: "And in a case where the victim of harassment explicitly says that the full details are critical to assessing the incident, it is weird to find no description of the incident anywhere and a MeFi page full of people shouting that the details are irrelevant."

I cannot find any way to read this other than "Given that Mathesen was angry that Wiscon didn't look at the details she provided them, I feel entitled to look at those details myself." That's the spirit in which I -- and, I venture to guess, others -- have responded to you. Because while you led out by saying that you didn't believe you were entitled, you seem to have contradicted yourself pretty badly by the end of your comment.
posted by KathrynT at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


I can speak only for myself, but I very explicitly and clearly did not say that.

Oops. Sorry. Wasn't referring to your comment. Am happy to clarify that "most people" have said it but not all, and not you.
posted by zarq at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2014


Also, where does Matthesen express dismay? I can't find it in the FPP's links.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2014


This is a HUGE fucking assumption that is quite frankly, a bit bonkers.

I don't understand why you would think it was either an assumption or bonkers. Again, seems straightforward.
"That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18. Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details."

posted by zarq at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


So, if you admit that your curiosity is all that is driving this, and you admit that you also understand that you are not entitled to know, then why on earth are you still asking?

I have never asked. This comment is my third comment in this entire thread. Again: I have never asked. NEVER.

Also, where does Matthesen express dismay? I can't find it in the FPP's links.

Here.

(On preview, zarq has helpfully quoted the text, as well.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2014


That's the second link in this post, by the way. It's above the fold. The entire thing is worth reading, not just the part I quoted. She blasts them for their entire reporting and investigative system being broken.
posted by zarq at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2014


(Oops - I miscounted - my third substantive comment in the thread. My mistake.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:58 PM on July 29, 2014


This is by its very nature something that cannot be proven, something that I can only say I believe to be true nonetheless:

If, at the time of the orignal incident, Matthesen had gone public with the specific details of the incident by, say, putting them on her blog, each and every comment here expressing some desire to know exactly what provoked the complaint would have been replaced with exactly one comment speculating that the information being public somehow compromised WisCon's ability to manage the situation effectively.

Matthesen had no winning play here. No matter how poorly Frenkel behaved, or how badly the people running WisCon fucked up (or deliberately sabotaged) the response to his behavior, Matthesen was going to be held accountable for either disclosing or not disclosing what actually happened. Fucking gross.
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:58 PM on July 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


I think it is an assumption because The World Famous prefaced his belief with "I assume"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2014


OK, here's a direct question, The World Famous. Why do you find it "weird" that there's no public discussion of the details? Why is the "weirdness" of the situation influenced by the fact that Mathesen is upset about the way WisCon botched the situation?
posted by KathrynT at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


From what I have read on here and in the provided links it seems obvious WisCon handled this poorly. So what I want to know, and I'm asking this in good faith: How do people believe this should have been handled? Victims are heard, guy is found to be an asshat at 37 and gets a lifetime ban, existing procedures are reviewed and modified where they failed? Am I close or way off? I'm just wondering if it were possible to play revisionist history what "best practices" in this situation should have been.

When I was in the military we called this an "After Action" review. Win or lose after an engagement you examined what when right, what went wrong, how you could have done things differently, and what needs to change to make sure it goes better next time. Which brings me to my second question.

Where does WisCon go from here? What can they do to regain credibility and to make sure women feel safe going forward?
posted by cjorgensen at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2014


Thinking about this further, I think one thing all conventions really need to do is look at procedures. Many conventions have anti-harrasment policies -- including, to my understanding, Wiscon.

But policies and procedures aren't synonymous. Policies tell you what you should and shouldn't do. Procedures tell you how to do/not do those things and deal with times when those rules aren't followed.

I wonder how many have actual procedures to handle this? It's clear that Wiscon didn't, tried to make up one on the fly, and then messed up hard. Would you try to do the same? Would you do any better? Or would you just find an new and exciting wail to fail? (It's really easy to do! Trust me on that one….)

When something like this happens, it is a huge help to the volunteer who's on the spot when a report is made if they know exactly where to look and who to call, because it's right there in the book. It's also a huge help to later responders in making sure that the information that you've deemed needed is recorded and tracked - and recoverable, in case something goes wrong.

I think this is also a place where professionals who deal with this can make a big contribution by making sure the actual procedure captures all the needed information and does the absolute least harm to those reporting. They can't be there every time, cons can't afford to hire them full time, but having them work with you to build procedures means that your procedures aren't accidentally doing more harm than good.

Finally, there's accountability -- if the procedures aren't being followed, you start at the point person and ask why they didn't. If they say something like "I didn't know about that" or "X told me to do this instead", you then go up the ladder and ask why the procedure wasn't followed.

And, as an member, you can say that "Hey, you have this great policy that you're not enforcing. Why should I believe this policy is protecting me?" Fundamentally, the ultimate check-and-balance on a con is the memberships. No members, no con.

Of course: You have to be willing to enforce this. If you're not, don't bother making them, you won't use them -- and a way to get into a big hurt is to have a clearly written policy and procedures supporting that, then ignore them and do something else. Fundamentally, the board and concom have to be willing to deal with a problem, or no amount of policy and procedure will truly help.

I honestly don't think that Wiscon-as-a-whole doesn't want to enforce their anti-harrasment policy. I do think they didn't think through what that enforcement entailed, and responded with a very ad-hoc and disjointed process that has seriously failed both themselves and the members. I would encourage other conventions to learn from this -- and seriously ask how they would respond if that report was made to them.
posted by eriko at 1:04 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


You guys are misreading the World Famous.

His key point is here (emphasis mine):
With that in mind, it's interesting to see so many people here proposing that one need not know anything about the incident other than that someone used the incredibly vague term "harassment" to describe it in order to assess the information provided in the post.

I'd really like to know what the incident was - at least in broad terms. And that's because I'm curious and because I'm reading articles that are taking strong positions based explicitly on the assertion that those who do not know the full details are bound to reach the wrong decision. Respectfully, those in this thread proposing that the word "harassment" is sufficient explanation appear to be speaking from a position of ignorance as to the breadth and vagueness of that term's usage, including its usage in the legal context of sexual harassment (but, in fairness, I suspect it's more a heat-of-the-argument rhetorical flourish, which is understandable in this context).

Everything before and after that was an attempt to avoid the pile on he got for wanting to know what happened.

Don't want to speak for him, but his point seems to be that in his experience "harassment" is used in incredibly vague ways and saying that someone was harassed without more specific details is not enough knowledge to make a specific judgment. But I'm not sure if he meant judgment of guilt or to punish the perpetrator or something else.


TWF, can you speak more about this: the breadth and vagueness of that term's usage, including its usage in the legal context of sexual harassment
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:05 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Heh.

Given that Elise said outright that she was dismayed the committee didn't have all the facts (among other screwups) that particular assumption by TWF appears to be correct and non-bonkers, MisantropicPainforest.
posted by zarq at 1:06 PM on July 29, 2014


MartinWisse: " The narrative is purchase-enjoy-repeat: that is, “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back.” It is the narrative of a satisfied customer, which makes for a healthy business. Anyone who perpetrates harassment at a convention is disrupting that narrative, and convention organizers should not hesitate to write them out of it. "

At the same time, is it weird that an organization should care about this issue only in the context of consumerism? If they are focused on purchase-enjoy-repeat, with an endgoal of repeat, is there a concern that they might make short term decisions around their harassment policy that appear to focus on that end goal?
posted by boo_radley at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2014


I don't think I'm misreading him. He said that given that Mathesen thinks the details are important to the investigating committee, he's surprised that the details aren't available to the general public. I don't understand why the one implies the other.
posted by KathrynT at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2014


I'm just wondering if it were possible to play revisionist history what "best practices" in this situation should have been.

They could have handled it like Arisia did. Convention harassment can be handled well. It happens. It is possible.

Where does WisCon go from here? What can they do to regain credibility and to make sure women feel safe going forward?

Basically, Wiscon seems to be running through a variation on what happened to Readercon in 2012 (see the link in the OP). Readercon was able to survive, but the entire board resigned and it was a huge process for the con to go through. Wiscon may or may not be able (willing?) to undergo that kind of change.
posted by pie ninja at 1:12 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


KathrynT, I'd like to answer those separately, in turn, if that's OK.

Why do you find it "weird" that there's no public discussion of the details?

Because of (a) my experience in this field, where the details are, in my experience, always the most important part of analyzing the situation, identifying relevant factors, and reaching an appropriate conclusion, and (b) Ms. Matthesen's statements about WisCon's treatment of the details in the second link of the post and the central role of that lack of detail in her own account of her mistreatment by WisCon.

Why is the "weirdness" of the situation influenced by the fact that Mathesen is upset about the way WisCon botched the situation?

It has nothing to do with her being upset. It's not influenced at all by the fact that she is upset. It is influenced by the fact that a major part of WisCon's mishandling of the situation is, according to Matthesen, the fact that WisCon leadership "never gave [Gill] all the details [Matthesen] had reported as evidence," that "WisCon gave [Gill] a version that watered down [Matthesen's] account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading," and Matthesen "wonder[s] whether the chairs at WisCon37 were even given the details."

nooneyouknow, I'm afraid to go into detail here describing the breadth of conduct that is regularly called "harassment" in my line of work, as I'm concerned people will then pile on me again, accusing me of drawing false equivalence with Matthesen's situation, which would not be the case.

Part of the reason we, as employment lawyers, conduct regular sexual harassment training for employers is that people have vastly different understandings of what the term means and what constitutes sexual harassment - though most problems arise from people setting the bar way too high, not way too low.

In Matthesen's case, she says WisCon leadership gave the subcommittee an account of the harassment that, although found to be harassment, "downplay[ed] the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading." Just using the word "harassment" does not convey severity or even convey the speaker's understanding of the meaning of the term. I've seen people nearly fired over incidents described as "harassment" that I can assure you nobody here would consider worthy of any discipline whatsoever, but that was, nevertheless, inappropriate. Again - because I have no faith in MeFites anymore - I am not saying what happened to Matthesen was not severe sexual harassment. By all available indications, it was not only extremely severe, but was sufficiently severe that it is wholly insufficient to merely refer to it as "harassment." Based on her own account, it at least included physical contact so severe that even characterizing it as sexual harassment could, without all available detail, be "grossly misleading."
posted by The World Famous at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


It has nothing to do with her being upset. It's not influenced at all by the fact that she is upset. It is influenced by the fact that a major part of WisCon's mishandling of the situation is, according to Matthesen, the fact that WisCon leadership "never gave [Gill] all the details [Matthesen] had reported as evidence," that "WisCon gave [Gill] a version that watered down [Matthesen's] account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading," and Matthesen "wonder[s] whether the chairs at WisCon37 were even given the details."

You do understand that members of WisCon have in fact admitted and confirmed the numerous ways this situation was mishandled, yes? That even though Matheson's word on the matter should remain perfectly acceptable, multiple people have also come forward to corroborate those complaints?
posted by zarq at 1:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Because of (a) my experience in this field, where the details are, in my experience, always the most important part of analyzing the situation, identifying relevant factors, and reaching an appropriate conclusion, and (b) Ms. Matthesen's statements about WisCon's treatment of the details in the second link of the post and the central role of that lack of detail in her own account of her mistreatment by WisCon.

Ok but why does that imply that the details should be PUBLIC?
posted by KathrynT at 1:20 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I mean, if you have a mass removed, and you feel that the pathologist didn't do a good job of investigating whether it was malignant or not because she never looked at the surgical report, does that mean you need to post the surgical report to the Internet?
posted by KathrynT at 1:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


He said that given that Mathesen thinks the details are important to the investigating committee, he's surprised that the details aren't available to the general public. I don't understand why the one implies the other.

In case I didn't explain this adequately in my comment above, I'm surprised because I've never seen a situation where someone makes so much of a situation public in such a thorough way but nevertheless chooses to very carefully refrain from giving even a general description of the incident. I respect her choice to do so. Given her assertion that it was possible for the physical contact to be downplayed so much that it would be grossly misleading - but that the downplayed version still was unquestionably sexual harassment, I can only assume that the incident was outrageous and shocking, and I can understand why she would not want to repeat it over and over and have it scrutinized, given the predictable results of people on the internet dissecting something.

You do understand that members of WisCon have in fact admitted and confirmed the numerous ways this situation was mishandled, yes? That even though Matheson's word on the matter should remain perfectly acceptable, multiple people have also come forward to corroborate those complaints?

Yes. I understand that. And that's yet another reason I'm surprised that there's no description anywhere of the incident. Not that I think there should be one, but that I'm surprised there's not. It is laudable - and surprising - that those multiple corroborating sources have respected Matthesen's wishes that the outrageous event they witnessed not be described publicly.
posted by The World Famous at 1:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ok but why does that imply that the details should be PUBLIC?

It doesn't. I didn't say it does.
posted by The World Famous at 1:23 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


what does the law have to do with this.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:26 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


You said that it's weird that they aren't. That implies pretty freaking strongly that you think that they should be. If that's not what you meant to imply, then perhaps you should consider that your writing on this topic has been unclear and ineffective.
posted by KathrynT at 1:26 PM on July 29, 2014


Given that Elise said outright that she was dismayed the committee didn't have all the facts (among other screwups) that particular assumption by TWF appears to be correct and non-bonkers, MisantropicPainforest.

Well, to be exact she was dismayed at the failure of procedure - that the WisCon leadership did not give the subcommittee members the details that were in her report, and which may not have even been recorded in the logbook.

We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision.

That's not what TWF was assuming was the reason for her dismay. To quote:

I assume when Ms. Matthesen expressed dismay that the decision was made without all the details, it was because she believed their inclusion might have led to a different result.


That assumption remains unproven. It's not inconceivable, but it's not certain, either. There are plenty of reasons to be dismayed that a Con failed accurately to record or report an account of harassment.

However, this is somewhat academic, to be honest, because the issue here appears to be that TWF has been enthused by the opportunity to bring his knowledge as an employment lawyer to bear here, but in his enthusiasm is failing to take into account that we are not in fact talking about, e.g. Title IX sexual harassment here, but rather the violation of the Con's harassment policy.

(One can read the WisCon harassment policy here.)

This is a fairly important distinction. Likewise, a cursory examination of the sources available will reveal that Tor did not terminate Frenkel on the grounds of harassment, sexual or otherwise. They simply terminated him, and wished him the best of luck in his future endeavors.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2014


The whole "we need details!" thing operates under a truly bizarre set of assumptions, the strangest being that judgments made by concoms and online discussion fora must meet the same standard as judgments passed down by a court of law. Here on MeFi, this is most often embodied in the persistent calls for "details" and "evidence," the precise dimensions of which must be fully satisfactory to each and every random-ass 'hey, I'm just curious' inquirer who requests as much. And it's almost always invoked because a woman's word is effectively useless unless a man magnanimously agrees to lend the necessary weight to her words by confirming them with his.

For real, our previous discussion on this exact topic had at least one dude who stated that three or more witnesses must be available to provide "corroborating evidence" before any claim of harassment can be treated as anything but frivolous hearsay. Not even by a judge or jury, by a concom! Elise Matthesen's word is simply not enough -- I mean, without the details, she's probably exaggerating, right? And with the details... well, she's still probably exaggerating. This flies in the face of the fact that harassers and abusers walk among us! They aren't visibly monsters. They don't wear red flags or masks or scarlet letters, and they prefer to isolate their victims because -- surprise! -- it makes it even more likely for the victim's word to be disbelieved.

So while we haven't yet explicitly gone down the "innocent until proven guilty" track like we did last time, "how can we be sure that this instance of harassment is truly deserving of punishment, unless Ms. Matthesen relates her experience to the public in unflinching detail?" smacks of much the same delusion.

Regrettably, I am once again moved to link Sexual Harassment Conversations, in Comic Form.
posted by divined by radio at 1:29 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


You said that it's weird that they aren't. That implies pretty freaking strongly that you think that they should be. If that's not what you meant to imply, then perhaps you should consider that your writing on this topic has been unclear and ineffective.

I appreciate the criticism of my writing. Thank you.
posted by The World Famous at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2014


I wonder how many have actual procedures to handle this

Not just the organization, but, also, the locality itself.

A few years ago at a professional convention, a group of female colleagues and I were groaning that a certain colleague would be chairing an event we'd be attending. He had a "convention rep"; most of us had had some kind of interaction with him that at the very least was uncomfortable. (The year before I had forcibly bent back his fingers to get his hand off my thigh under the table at a dinner meeting.) One colleague then detailed a recent encounter that made us afraid of hers and our own safety; we encouraged her to report it, promising her to back her up with our own accounts if necessary. It was a huge deal - this man was an important professional who could impact our own lives - and potentially very humiliating for the women involved - a lot different than if he had stolen something for people making that comparison.

One of the women in the group surprised us with the news that our professional organization had a very specific policy in place regarding this, as did the convention hall. We found the appropriate person, and my colleague reported it. The man was asked to leave the convention that morning by the convention hall personnel and not allowed back for the duration.

We stood by, waiting to support her, and while we did, it turned out not to be really necessary. It was investigated, promptly and thoroughly by security personnel - not his colleagues - and then the information was passed onto to our org. Within a week our organization informed him he would not be allowed back for a minimum of five years.

There was a policy and procedure in place; we were all satisfied with the results and the process. (I think it helped that the convention hall itself had procedures, so it was kind of mish-mash.) And he wasn't even sure who his accuser was- as it turned out, when questioned, he had done a similar thing to a few other women and wasn't sure which "innocent situation" where he was just "joking around" was being referred to!

This at a place where companies would bring in scantily clad belly dancers for their booths, and the first reaction to my colleague's report was, "But he seems like such a nice man!" But they took it seriously because it was a serious complaint. That's how it should work, and it did. We were all pleasantly surprised, but couldn't help but wonder what incident(s) had created the procedure in the first place.

I know not all conventions halls are big enough to have security or procedures of their own, but it was extremely helpful in this case. I do wonder what have happened if they hadn't.
posted by barchan at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


I'd hate to be one to spread rumors that SF conventions have always been highly sexually-charged affairs. Hell, I'd bet that back in the 30s people went to them who'd never thought about sex. Per se.

But as soon as the fantasy element began showing up ...
posted by Twang at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2014


However, this is somewhat academic, to be honest, because the issue here appears to be that TWF has been enthused by the opportunity to bring his knowledge as an employment lawyer to bear here, but in his enthusiasm is failing to take into account that we are not in fact talking about, e.g. Title IX sexual harassment here, but rather the violation of the Con's harassment policy.

To be clear, I work with this sort of thing outside the employment context quite a bit, as well, including in contexts very similar to this one. But you sure showed me there, and I do appreciate it.
posted by The World Famous at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: "I've never seen a situation where someone makes so much of a situation public in such a thorough way but nevertheless chooses to very carefully refrain from giving even a general description of the incident."

In my experience, it's fairly common for women who have been harassed or sexually assaulted to choose not to disclose the details.

It's also, unfortunately, common for onlookers to insist that they have a right to those details.

So I'm unsurprised by this entire exchange. Seventybillionth verse, same as the first…
posted by Lexica at 1:45 PM on July 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


In my experience, it's fairly common for women who have been harassed or sexually assaulted to choose not to disclose the details.

Yes, that's my experience, as well.

It's also, unfortunately, common for onlookers to insist that they have a right to those details.

Yes, that's why it surprises me that all the onlookers have respected her wishes that they not disclose the details.
posted by The World Famous at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2014


But you sure showed me there, and I do appreciate it.

Your sarcasm is...ick.

You said above that you were just surprised that no one who knows the details had released them - that they all respected the process and person enough to not spread them around for everyone to judge for themselves. I'm sorry if it's been your experience otherwise, but....so what, I guess? And it took you umpteen comments to express this surprise? I dunno. It's tiring and tiresome to read and read and read all the justifications why the details should be public (because it's normal for people to gossip, or because now the consequences are public, everything else should be, or whatever else).
posted by rtha at 1:51 PM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


the strangest being that judgments made by concoms and online discussion fora must meet the same standard as judgments passed down by a court of law.

Cargo cult legalism.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2014


Your sarcasm is...ick.

Noted. Thanks.

And it took you umpteen comments to express this surprise?

No, it just took the first one.

It's tiring and tiresome to read and read and read all the justifications why the details should be public (because it's normal for people to gossip, or because now the consequences are public, everything else should be, or whatever else).

I agree. I wasn't one of the people saying the details should be public.
posted by The World Famous at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you at least understand why so many people read your comment that way? Or is dry snark your only contribution to that situation?
posted by KathrynT at 1:58 PM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Do you at least understand why so many people read your comment that way?

Yes. I think I do.
posted by The World Famous at 2:00 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


[Come on, folks, drop it already. If TWF hasn't explained his position well enough already, he's not going to. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:07 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


The details odd the harassment ARE irrelevant to the actual scandal, which is that WisCon acted with a mixture of incompetence and conflict of interest. It's that the Convention Formerly Known as Feminist has revealed itself as an unsafe place, with compromised procedures for dealing with harassment.
posted by happyroach at 2:19 PM on July 29, 2014


It is, it seems, the doom of man to be ever curious. However, if man is not able to provide an actual instance of behavior, man is unlikely to gain knowledge. Also, man probably isn't actually hearing shouting over the Internet, unless man has tinnitus or something.

So, back on topic, some of the posts around the initial account of reporting might at least help the curious to see the... possibility space. This, from Maria Dahvana Headley, seems to be relevant:
1. My first convention. I’m at a party, where I know maybe 2 people. A respected SF writer beelines up to me, kisses – with tongue – up my arm from wrist to shoulder without introducing himself, mutters “stunning” and is gone. Later that night, he googles me, sends me an email through my website informing me of his identity, and telling me that he is the man who left his “spoor” on my arm. I write back. I say, “you know, you should have actually spoken to me. I’m an interesting person, not to mention I’m one of your fellow invited pros, and I’m smart, and a writer.” He writes back to me, having done some more googling. He says, oops, I didn’t know that you had a husband (and, implication mine, are his property, therefore not on the open market). I didn’t mean to disrespect him. (Ital mine.) My soul is yours. I’ll blurb you if you need a blurb. He doesn’t speak to me or acknowledge me professionally ever, though we are at the convention together for days.

2. Same convention, some guy in the dealer’s room with whom I’ve been having a brief conversation about whether or mot my book is stocked picks me up and holds me in his arms, as though I am a toddler. I instruct him to put me down. He looks bewildered. It’s because i’m little, he says, and because I’m wearing green, which is his favorite color and which means we have a connection. I’m 5’3″. I’m not big. I am also not a toddler. And even if I was? I WOULD NOT BE ASKING A STRANGER TO PICK ME UP. EVEN IF THAT STRANGER LIKED GREEN. I DID NOT WEAR MY GREEN DRESS IN ORDER TO BE PICKED UP. My dress is not an invitation, yo.

3. Moments later, another guy, a fellow writer, hugs me tenderly from behind, though I do not know him. When I turn, startled, to protest, he says “You have the greatest smile. It just makes me want to hug you.” I’m doomed to avoiding him for the rest of the con, because he’s always wherever I am, charging at me with open arms, hugging me in elevators and moving at me to hug basically just wherever I go. It’s gross. He becomes known to my swiftly formed girl posse as The Hugger in the Hat. And when I say hugger, I mean full body contact with erect bits against my thigh. I don’t report him. I’m new to the scene. I feel awkward. I’m used to being harassed in the world. This is bad, but it’s not insane in terms of how much wrong attention I get from creeps in cities. So, I don’t report.

4. What Cherie Priest says in her post on this is true. We form protective posses. Descriptions of creepers are traded like cards. Women say things such as “Do you need back up when you walk through that room?” “What color is his shirt?” “Oh, I saw The Hugger In The Hat in there – I’m getting between you and him.”

5. Conversely, when I complained about The Hugger anecdotally to men, most of them said he was just clueless and didn’t mean to creep me out, and that if I was clear that I didn’t want to be hugged, I wouldn’t be, because The Hugger was a nice guy. Don’t get me wrong. Most men are great. But I think most guys have also not been witness to a lot of this. Creepers wait til you’re with your girls, or alone. Because Creepers calculate.

6. The Hugger wasn’t hugging the guys. Nor was Spoor Guy licking their arm and then sending them love letters. Nor was Dealer’s Room Guy lifting them off their feet.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2014 [41 favorites]


(How do you even French kiss an arm? It has no mouth! Yet it must scream...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


ROSF -- those stories are horrible, yet so typical. Sf Cons are full of many wonderful people, but also people who are really messed up. And I hate that "he was just clueless and didn’t mean to creep me out," because it doesn't f-ing matter! It really doesn't matter what your motive are when you are creeping people out!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:30 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


And I really, really doubt he's that clueless.
posted by jfwlucy at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm starting to get the impression that the SF con scene is one of the most toxic cultural environments I've ever heard about in the US for women.

Seriously, a brand-name writer sexually assaulting a women *ON-STAGE* and getting away with it.

I'm curious from a legal liability standpoint - if other convention organizers know about a person who has a history of sexually assaulting women (on stage, hundreds of witnesses) do they possess any liability when they ask him to come to their con (as an invited speaker, not merely as a attendee)?

In this instance it looks like the incidents were handled in such a way to make no one happy. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes when you make no one happy you are not making a skilled compromise, but rather fucking it up in every possible way.
posted by el io at 3:10 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


By saying that they'll allow this person to return to the con in four years, and volunteer and have power in five, is that basically they think **SOMETHING** he brings to the con is worth him harassing con goers. What is that something? Why is he so super duper special that it's very important to keep him around even if it means that he harasses some congoers?

This seems like jumping to conclusions to me. You could just as easily jump any of a myriad of (less-nasty) conclusions, but you choose this one. Well, here's a reason for someday permitting his return that holds some appeal to me: by allowing the possibility for the guy to rehabilitate, it takes the rug out from under people demanding extensive court-like trials and committee deliberations and presumed innocence, which means you can move towards a situation where these bans can be handed out like candy (or parking tickets), creating an environment where everyone knows there is no messing around - be a dick to people and you're gone.
Similarly, because it's not a Big Permanent Bannanation, you can get more traction and fewer reservations about moving towards a vegas-casino-style ban where if someone is banned from one con, they're banned from all of them.

Making punishments bigger doesn't create more deterrence, it just creates a higher bar for victims and authorities to struggle to jump over to actually get the penalty applied. (See: the death penalty). Making punishments smaller is how you get them into regular routine uncontested use, and that's what the con needs right now - swift reliable routine response. You gotta walk before you can run.
Once swift reliable routine response is part of the fabric of the culture, then moving to bigger penalties will be examined, but... perhaps by that point they won't be necessary.
posted by anonymisc at 3:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seriously, a brand-name writer sexually assaulting a women *ON-STAGE* and getting away with it.

Couple of things about Ellison. None of what follows excuses his behavior in any way. Just trying to add context.

I've attended cons where he was a speaker/panelist/honored guest and my impression of him has always been that he's a grouchy, curmudgeonly bastard -- his reputation as an asshole is accurate. That said, I'm not actually sure there's a history of him sexually assaulting women on stage or off? The Willis incident was the first I'd heard of him doing anything of the sort. Which of course doesn't mean he didn't have a known reputation in that regard. Perhaps he did and I just wasn't aware of it. That said, never mind a history -- once should never have happened.

There's a possibility that his physical attack on Willis was deliberate revenge for the appropriately nasty, extended roast she gave when he received the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association earlier that year. That was one of the "all-in-good-fun" excuses he gave in his non-apologies.

He retired from Con appearances 4 years ago. He's making an exception this year for some sort of Trek convention in Vegas. But otherwise, he's being invited nowhere. I believe his invitations to appear at Cons began to dry up after he assaulted Willis. Good.

SciFi conventions have traditionally been very free-for-all affairs, especially after hours. Long-time attendees usually know who to avoid, and do tend to verbally warn / look out for young unaware authors so they don't find themselves being harassed or worse. It's not ideal. It's changing over time, though.
posted by zarq at 3:41 PM on July 29, 2014


Making punishments bigger doesn't create more deterrence, it just creates a higher bar for victims and authorities to struggle to jump over to actually get the penalty applied. (See: the death penalty). Making punishments smaller is how you get them into regular routine uncontested use, and that's what the con needs right now - swift reliable routine response. You gotta walk before you can run.

Well... I think a possible flaw in that argument comes from the ReaderCon incident in 2012, where ReaderCon - which has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment - announced that it was going to ban a Big-Name Fan for two years for harassment. The Con was roundly criticized for not abiding by its own rules, the entire board resigned and the BNF was banned for life.

The supposition that there are currently no harassment policies in place, and that punishments therefore need to be slowly and gently frog-boiled into being isn't entirely accurate - nor that congoers as a whole necessarily resist the idea that harassment should not be addressed firmly.

Of course there will be people insisting on extensive details, high bars of proof etc, but that's not going to change - it is not changing right now, as is clear in this thread and elsewhere. However, there are also many voices that want harassment to be taken seriously.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:44 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


And I really, really doubt he's that clueless.

Probably not, I agree. But I think it's worth removing that defense from the discussion all together. To make the issue the fact that women at the event are being made to feel unwelcome and threatened. It doesn't really matter whether the harassers are malicious, clueless, mentally ill, drunk or whatever -- by focusing on the outcome of their actions rather than the cause of their actions, you remove a layer of uncertainty from the situation.

I think eriko made some really good points. It's not enough to have a "Policy on Harassment." You need to have clear procedures as well -- reports have to be made like this, they have to be shared like this, the penalties are this, and so on. Is four years a "fair" punishment? Four years with "time off" for contriteness and good behavior? Life? These should not be made up on the fly by a committee which may have feelings for or against either party. It should be laid down in a procedures manual, and it should be followed. Yo could then argue if the procedures are correct, but it removes the image of a random committee basically pulling a "sentence" out of thin air, a situation which can't possibly be just in either any specific case or for the con in the long run.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm starting to get the impression that the SF con scene is one of the most toxic cultural environments I've ever heard about in the US for women.

No, you can hear the same stories about academic, professional, military, sports, etc conventions. (In fact, there was recently a pretty good article about women speaking out about safety at academic conventions.)

SF cons, though, are where women are gaining enough of a voice to do something more than pass along warnings on the whispernet, and have enough desired money to threaten to take it elsewhere and have anyone give a shit.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:03 PM on July 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


To be honest, everybody who, like Omiewise is still doubting this, had their chance a year ago, when the original report was blogged and linked here.

I don't see anything worth being skeptical about in last year's post at all. Sexual harassment happened, it was reported to the relevant authorities, and for a lot of reasons it's more difficult than it ought to be to do that. Nor does there seem to be any need for controversy about the ReaderCon thing.

In the course of trying to figure out what is supposed to have happened this year, I did just now happen across a comment about the general nature of the harassment incident itself that would have it fit in very well with some of the more egregious stuff running order describes above. It doesn't matter, and I was wrong to think that knowing that bit would make any difference.

The thing I was trying to express some doubt about, and which World Famous more capably did unless I'm misreading him too, is whether the "Wiscon leadership" screwed up as badly as they've been accused of doing. Was their policy clearly wrong? How misleading was the evidence they had, and how did it become so? Was it deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, or not? It's at least hinted at that it was, so who did what, and why? We can assume that Matthesen has some good reason to be irate, but might there not be some other side to the story? Why exactly did Notkin resign and what if anything does she have to say about it? Without some of *those* details it's a frustratingly vague story. To the extent that I've been looking for any "high bar of proof" it's for accusations against the management of a feminist-oriented science fiction convention, not some misbehaving editor.
posted by sfenders at 4:07 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am so thankful for this discussion because I am in the midst of writing a policy. I've been working on it for some time, and I was using reference material. This discussion pointed out to me half a dozen things that I had taken for granted, but which need to be spelled out explicitly. It will be a better policy (and procedure) for all this. Thank you.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:12 PM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


>> My attitude is "When in doubt, recognise that there is doubt". Sometimes people lie,
>> sometimes they don't. Sometimes people exaggerate and misrepresent, sometimes they
>> don't. Unless you know (beyond reasonable doubt, naturally), you don't know. If you
>> decide to believe or disbelieve someone when you simply don't know, you're basically
>> operating on prejudice.
>
> This is exactly the attitude harassers depend on to get away with their harassment.

That doesn't mean we can do without it.

There are many attitudes (and legal safeguards) like this one, behind which some bad things and some bad people have sheltered. But they are there mainly to protect people who are not bad. If you think "I'm not bad, I don't need this" and discard the safeguards, they will not be there to protect you when the winds of politics and social mores swing around and blow against you. As, eventually but inevitably, they will.

ROPER
So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

MORE
Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER
I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE
(roused) Oh? (advances on ROPER) And when the last law was down, and the
Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast. Man's laws, not God's.
And if you cut them down--and you're just the man to do it--d'you really think you
could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (quietly) Yes, I'd give the
Devil himself benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.


[Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons]

Policies at a con are not the same as the laws of the nation. But the laws of tomorrow will be formed by the attitudes of today.
posted by jfuller at 4:12 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Then I hope the attitude of today is "We will believe you. If you come forward, we will believe you." It's not comfortable to admit, but it's easier for us to believe that a woman is lying than to believe that we sheltered and liked an abuser/harasser. It means that our judgment of a person was wrong. We know from many many studies that there is a vanishingly small chance that someone is lying. Look at this very thread - would you choose to be subjected to this for a lie? Wouldn't you choose something else to lie about if you wanted to ruin someone's life? The math just doesn't work out on lying about sexual harassment. It's crazy to think that women aren't doing that calculus, and deciding that not only would they not lie about it, they're not going to come forward when it actually happens.

Communities are NOT making laws. They're choosing what behavior will be tolerated. That's a far lower bar than what will get someone thrown in jail - as it should be. I can choose that I don't want to hang out with a creep without thinking he should be thrown in jail.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


As always, people developing and applying a heuristic model for interpersonal interaction get conflated into arguing for the elimination of ALL LAW, with attendant Man For All Seasons quote.

It'd say it's a surprisingly stupid ramrodding, except I'm not surprised.

Since, as I learned by reading and understanding the links in the post, the problem is not the simple existence of "policies at a con," but rather their haphazard and hamfisted application, with no apparent structural guidance in the form of procedures and really-fucking-obvious gathering of institutional knowledge, the per forma Man For All Seasons quote is hilariously misapplied.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Policies at a con are not the same as the laws of the nation. But the laws of tomorrow will be formed by the attitudes of today.

If this includes DashCon, things are going to get super weird.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:52 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


>>Making punishments bigger doesn't create more deterrence, it just creates a higher bar for victims and authorities to struggle to jump over to actually get the penalty >>applied. (See: the death penalty). Making punishments smaller is how you get them into regular routine uncontested use, and that's what the con needs right now - swift >>reliable routine response. You gotta walk before you can run.

>Well... I think a possible flaw in that argument comes from the ReaderCon incident in 2012, where ReaderCon - which has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment - announced >that it was going to ban a Big-Name Fan for two years for harassment. The Con was roundly criticized for not abiding by its own rules, the entire board >resigned and the >BNF was banned for life.


Actually, the ReaderCon situation proves anonymisc's point. ReaderCon's original policy was one incident and banned for life. And as it turns out, the concom/board was totally against banning someone they liked for life and didn't do it. Their replacements banned him in accordance with the then current policy, but they also immediately changed the policy so that it was no longer one and out. It is now, to paraphrase, "we will take steps varying from telling the perpetrator to stay away from you up to kicking them out of that year's con. We will meet up later, after the con, to decide if and for how long the perpetrator should be banned from future cons." To sum up, zero tolerance polices are a bad idea always and forever.
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:24 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Crap. I didn't know Isaac Asimov was such a creeper. That's depressing to know.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:49 PM on July 29, 2014


Any policy that is ineptly or inconsistently enforced is a bad idea, surely? Which is kind of where we came in with this very FPP. The new Readercon policy, verbatim, says:
Readercon will always prioritize the safety of all our attendees over a single person's desire to attend or participate in Readercon.
How and whether that can be enforced consistently will be a big question. The Safety/Social Safety guidelines also forbid people from touching other people without explicit permission, which is kind of awesomely hardcore. It'll be interesting to see how that goes.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:53 PM on July 29, 2014


The narrative that conventions should care about is not sin-repentance-redemption or victimhood-struggle-triumph. The narrative is purchase-enjoy-repeat: that is, “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back.” It is the narrative of a satisfied customer, which makes for a healthy business. Anyone who perpetrates harassment at a convention is disrupting that narrative, and convention organizers should not hesitate to write them out of it.

This quote jumped out at me and makes so much sense. The question shouldn't be "how bad was his crime and does the punishment match it?" Instead, it should be "what do we need to do in order to make the convention fun, safe, and enjoyable for all the attendees, including the women?"

If he's making other people have a bad time, he needs to be kicked out, regardless of the severity or lack thereof of his actions. In fact, the details of his actions matter not at all, but the fact that he is making women feel unsafe and harassed matters totally.

This only works, of course, if you think that the purpose of the convention is for people (including women) to have a good time -- if the purpose is for men to have unfettered access to women for creeping purposes, then the old polices are obviously better (and indeed facilitated that creeping for many decades).
posted by Dip Flash at 5:55 PM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


running order squabble fest: "Any policy that is ineptly or inconsistently enforced is a bad idea, surely? Which is kind of where we came in with this very FPP. The new Readercon policy, verbatim, says:
Readercon will always prioritize the safety of all our attendees over a single person's desire to attend or participate in Readercon.
How and whether that can be enforced consistently will be a big question. The Safety/Social Safety guidelines also forbid people from touching other people without explicit permission, which is kind of awesomely hardcore. It'll be interesting to see how that goes.
"

How is that hardcore? I don't have the right to someone else's body, nor do they have to mine.
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:01 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, absolutely: it would, for example, mark out the Hugger in the Hat as someone unambiguously contravening the rules - so, the whole "he's just socially inept/friendly/harmless/a big teddy bear" thing could no longer fly... as long as it is reported, and as long as reports are taken seriously.

It may just be that my confidence is at a bit of a low ebb, between ReaderCon 2012 and now this whole thing, but I think it's going to take some pretty serious education from the top down to ensure that congoers are not socially pressured not to report Huggers in Hats, and con staff do not then try to talk people out/down from pursuing infractions in the interests of harmony/peace. Hopefully the blowback over ReaderCon 2012, and also perhaps this situation, will encourage people to be diligent and consistent... but you only have to look at the comments to any discussion of this kind of thing to get a lot of "why would you break a butterfly on a wheel" stuff. And those people aren't exempt from being members of staff...
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:15 PM on July 29, 2014


Any policy that is ineptly or inconsistently enforced is a bad idea, surely?

Certain policies are much more like to ineptly inconsistently enforced than others. Zero tolerance policies are more likely to be inconsistenly enforced than an more flexible policy.

Readercon will always prioritize the safety of all our attendees over a single person's desire to attend or participate in Readercon.

But that doesn't say "and therefore anyone we find guilty of harassment will be automatically banned from ReaderCon for life." The next sentence lists the actions they might take, including not do anything. I don't see how this is zero tolerance, like previous policy was.

To this end, Readercon reserves the right to:
request that someone who is causing problems change their behavior.
revoke access to some or all convention spaces.
revoke convention membership.
involve hotel security.
via hotel security, involve local law enforcement.
deny membership for a period of one or more years, or permanently.
choose not to take action

posted by nooneyouknow at 6:17 PM on July 29, 2014


Readercon will always prioritize the safety of all our attendees over a single person's desire to attend or participate in Readercon.
The problem is in what constitutes "safety"* -- virtually everyone would agree that someone who had stabbed a fellow con goer should be banned, but what if you groped someone? Propositioned someone? Leered at someone? Had done any of these things somewhere else entirely to someone who wasn't even at this con? Had been accused of these things somewhere else entirely by someone who wasn't even at this con? Had been accused etc. twenty years ago? Forty? There's a long slope of things that actual human beings need to make judgment calls on, and that's a hard thing to do, especially when you want to be inclusive, not just of women, but of people who are socially awkward.

Not to say that Readercon is doing it wrong, just that no policy can't be rules-lawyered, and at some point, it will come down to a judgment call, and someone will be pissed off. It's just a matter of who you're more willing to piss off. (Hint: piss off the creepers; make it a better place for women and the men will come back anyway.)

* -- Well, also the fact that "all our attendees" can be read to mean every attendee collectively, and what they probably meant was each attendee individually, but it's easier to say "Oh, come on, you know what we meant" about that.
posted by Etrigan at 6:30 PM on July 29, 2014


Well. I think that you're trying to win some sort of fight here, nooneyouknow, but I don't think there is a fight to be won. Any policy that is agreed to by congoers and applied consistently and competently is a viable policy. On the current evidence, the issue is both possessing and being seen to possess that consistency and competency, whether your policy is Readercon 2012 or WisCon 2013, or indeed any given FutureCon.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:57 PM on July 29, 2014


A respected SF writer beelines up to me, kisses – with tongue – up my arm from wrist to shoulder without introducing himself, mutters “stunning” and is gone. Later that night, he googles me, sends me an email through my website informing me of his identity, and telling me that he is the man who left his “spoor” on my arm.

this world can only be cleansed with fire
posted by elizardbits at 6:59 PM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


ROSF, I wasn't trying to fight with you. I just don't understand your description of the current ReaderCon policy as zero tolerance. But I'm letting it go. Good night to all and to all a good night.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:10 PM on July 29, 2014


Ah, no. I don't think the current ReaderCon policy is zero tolerance, nor did I say it was. I did say that I don't think it matters as much as you do whether a policy is "zero tolerance" or not. I don't think anyone - not even Sir Thomas More - has so far made a convincing argument in support of the statement to sum up, zero tolerance polices are a bad idea always and forever.

The problem with ReaderCon 2012 was not that the policy was so awful and draconian that no people of good conscience could ever apply it. It was that the board decided not to apply it. And they decided not to apply it, at least according to them, because of the need to focus on reform/redemption:
During the course of our conversation with Rene it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions. It was that recognition and regret that influenced our decision, not his status in the community. If, as a community, we wish to educate others about harassment, we must also allow for the possibility of reform.
Thing being, that's a terrible reason not to apply your own policies as well (even if you take them at their word). And this is all relevant because we are talking about how a con board appears to have focused on the redemption of a harasser to the exclusion of the safety of other congoers.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:37 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Harlan Ellison. I've never been to a con in my life and am unlikely to go now, but even I knew Ellison had a terrible reputation.

Yeah..."Hello, little fuck," indeed.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:50 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


By the way, on Tuesday San Diego Harbor Police arrested a 29-year-old man in connection on charges of sexual contact with a minor and contributing to the delinquency of minor...at San Diego Comic Con.

Reports have been circulating online that a young (as in underage) cosplayer was found unconscious, and with blood around her, on the side of a street. The woman is being treated at a local hospital.

This follows a story from a couple of days prior about Adrianne Curry beating up a guy for sexual harassing her friend (model Alicia Marie) at San Diego Comic-Con. The assailant stuck his finger down Marie's butt crack.

No word if SDCC has made an official comment on either incident. But given their Code of Conduct promise zero tolerance for this sort of thing, while simultaneously expecting persons being harassed to go find Security if they don't feel safe, there may be pressure on SDCC to police their convention spaces better.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:52 PM on July 29, 2014


I can see circumstances where it's appropriate to kick someone out of a con for an hour or a day (say, if they're offensively drunk). I can also imagine circumstances where it's appropriate to ban them forever. What I can't see is any case where it's appropriate to ban them for a period of years: is it a supposed to be punishment, or is it a feeling that the perpetrator will eventually amend his behavior?

I don't think conventions should be in the business of punishing people - that's the job of the courts - and I don't think they have any basis for estimating that a perpetrator will have "gotten over" bad practices after a period of time. My feeling is that there should be no middle ground: someone who is bad for the convention should be banned for life. I suppose there's always the possibility of revisiting the decision in later years, but at least that would take a deliberate choice to admit Mr McFeely rather than just let him return quietly, and without any opportunity for his victims to speak up.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:17 PM on July 29, 2014


I don't think conventions should be in the business of punishing people - that's the job of the courts - and I don't think they have any basis for estimating that a perpetrator will have "gotten over" bad practices after a period of time. My feeling is that there should be no middle ground: someone who is bad for the convention should be banned for life. I suppose there's always the possibility of revisiting the decision in later years, but at least that would take a deliberate choice to admit Mr McFeely rather than just let him return quietly, and without any opportunity for his victims to speak up.

I think it's important to not structure the debate around "punishing" the harasser (much as I think the debate should be around the reactions of the harassed as opposed to the intentions of the harasser). Any action of the con (as pointed out above) is to ensure the most pleasant con experience for the largest number of the target audience. I know a lot of people like the "punishment" frame, but that just leads us into the "paid for his crimes to society" narrative, which is not necessarily the most useful.

As to lengths of bans; I don't know. Any of the options is likely to result in various kinds of dissatisfaction. I personally think asking a harasser to leave immediately, losing their membership for the year, for a first offense is a workable plan. It is the clearest possible statement of no tolerance. After that, the appropriate response may depend more on local custom than national consensus. What it shouldn't depend on is who has more friends on the ConCom, which is why procedure (including penalties) need to be clearly defined.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:41 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can see circumstances where it's appropriate to kick someone out of a con for an hour or a day (say, if they're offensively drunk). I can also imagine circumstances where it's appropriate to ban them forever. What I can't see is any case where it's appropriate to ban them for a period of years: is it a supposed to be punishment, or is it a feeling that the perpetrator will eventually amend his behavior?

A bit of both, I think. in this case - but the emphasis on the reform/redemption of the perpetrator over the safety and comfort of the victims (or other potential victims in the future) is definitely what's been criticized heavily in this case, and in the original judgment after Readercon 2012 also (although that was also a criticism of the Con board deciding to alter its own policy in mid-case, on the grounds that when the policy was created the possibility of someone acknowledging their behavior and expressing contrition had apparently not been considered).

So, for example. This four-year ban (kinda sorta) has been criticized for the procedural failings leading up to it, but also for placing an unreasonable level of uncertainty on the victims of the harasser's behavior, and other people whose decision to attend the con might be contingent on whether a known harasser would be there, since he might actually be allowed back at any point after 2015.

(This got more awkward when it was revealed that the four-year mark was based on a - possibly incorrect - belief on the part of the subcommittee that Frenkel was not allowed to apologise/discuss the issue in public - a necessary but not sufficient part of a demonstration of "behavior change" - as a part of his severance deal with Tor for another four years - i.e. that it was there in reaction to that.)

The closest comparison is probably the judicial or employment law model, where a judge or manager can stipulate that someone subject to a complaint of harassment undergo some form of counselling or training, and prove to an institutionally-set level of satisfaction that they have attended to the lessons conveyed, in order to mitigate the consequences of the complaint. And the problem - that this often serves as a figleaf, where a harasser is in effect given a pass in exchange for answering some multiple-choice questions and making a show of remorse - is also inherited from that model.

The decision stated that any consideration of the lifting of the ban would be communicated three months in advance through Con channels, but - as someone pointed out in the comments - people often plan for the expense and cost of WisCon, and the need to book vacation for it - far more than three months in advance.

So, the argument is that the judgment represents a failure of process and of priority, and after the failings of the subcommittee's process were revealed (to her credit, by a member of the subcommittee) the ConCom is going to vote on whether to overturn the ruling.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:42 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I read these stories my take-away is that I am glad I am not part of the ConCulture or the Gaming Culture or even one who frequents comic shops.
......
Every time I read one of these stories it makes me glad I've made this choice, since I'd hate to want to be part of something that is so obviously toxic to a large percentage of their base.


cj, I'm way late to the thread as usual, but I wanted to drop in and challenge your point by explaining that I am of the "be the change you want to see" mindset and invite you to hang out with MY gamer friends if ever we meet offline; a wildly different bunch.

I grew up immersed in "gaming culture", but was raised in a feminist progressive household, and I have been going to gaming cons for most of my adult life. Whether as an attendee or now as a guest speaker/performer, I've always kept it in the front of my mind to make people feel welcome in anything I'm a part of, whatever their gender or nonconformity thereto. I favor questions from female panel attendees because they less frequently cause me to respond with "What is your actual question?"

Dude, I completely get where you're coming from, and I agree that it's terrible and toxic in a lot of areas. But the only way we're ever going to make it a safe place is from within. Call out creepiness and abusive language when you see it. Call out rape jokes. Call out "thats gay". Call this shit out and tell people WHY it's not okay. One mind at a time. Games, and gatherings related to them, are supposed to be FUN and COOL and ENCOURAGING and INSPIRING for EVERYONE.

I'm not just bullshitting, I'll be at the upcoming PAX Prime, doing a panel about chiptune music. PAX needs love and positive influences, as has been discussed previously at length. Ladies, fellas, *, <>, !=, let's talk about some chiptunes. Actually, hell, the chip scene itself is one of the most inclusive and diverse I've ever seen in music OR gaming culture, among our very best and brightest are queer folk of all stripes, badass crazy talented women, and ultra-campy drag queens fistpumping with Nintendo DSes. Not even exaggerating. I might actually talk about this issue specifically. Ha!!
posted by jake at 7:14 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


But given their Code of Conduct promise zero tolerance for this sort of thing, while simultaneously expecting persons being harassed to go find Security if they don't feel safe, there may be pressure on SDCC to police their convention spaces better.

This article from June of this year discusses how SDCC handled the Code of Conduct by...not publicizing it. The article quotes an interview David Glanzer, head of SDCC's public relations, about why they didn't do so:
…because we’re really an international show, and have 3,000 members of the media, I think the story would be harassment is such an issue at Comic-Con that they needed to post these signs around there. Now, people within the industry, and fans, know that isn’t the case, but the general public out there, and I think the news media, might look at this as, “Why would you, if this wasn’t such a bad issue, why do you feel the need to single out this one issue and put signs up about it?” I think that’s a concern.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 AM on July 30, 2014


In PR, it's usually better to turn changes into positives rather than keeping them secret.

It doesn't have to become a big, negative story if you get out in front of it. "We're being proactive about this issue and taking it seriously because we want to ensure all our visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience at our show."
posted by zarq at 8:06 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


This follows a story from a couple of days prior about Adrianne Curry beating up a guy for sexual harassing her friend (model Alicia Marie) at San Diego Comic-Con.

This made my day. THIS is how you handle creepster a getting out of line. THIS is what they understand. All the Kumbaya talk about redemption and repentance and growth…

Predators understand one thing: The threat of being victimized the way they victimize others by someone nastier than them.

In India when troops of rhesus monkeys are terrorizing your compound, you call in a monkey handler with a pet langur. Because the langur is bigger and nastier and shoos off the smaller ones rampaging through your stuff and ruining it. The phrase "Monkey On A Stick" refers to killing the leader of the troop and hanging his corpse like a pirate in a gibbet.

As a warning to others.

Redemption is for church, and Geek Social Fallacies are for high school.

Whether it is cosplayer with a whip, or the full force of the Con administration pulling out the red card and chorusing "SHUNNED!" with an accusatory finger, an ass-whuppin or the ban-hammer is the only language creepsters understand.

We'll be able to tell when cons take Harrassment seriously by the number of geek-scalps tacked to the "Groper Wall".

Until then, go Catwoman. Kick his trog ass in public.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:10 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Of course, the fucked-up part is in that scenario, catwoman can probably legally be charged with assault.

Creepster butt-fingers cosplayer. That's assault. Changeable offense.

Creepster walks away. Assault has ended. This is how the law works.

Catwoman chases down creepster and throws him a beating. Legally Catwoman has initiated a new assault on the creepster and can be charged as such.

As righteous as it feels, she could very easily see herself charged with a crime. So could he, but people running around in costumes w weapons who wanna play vigilante gotta realize that the real-world isn't a comic book.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:17 AM on July 30, 2014


"I was disappointed with the lack of reaction from the men," she adds. "Here are women screaming and defending themselves and all the guys are like 'Look at that, that chick just got molested, cool, right on.'"
posted by twist my arm at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


None of the people I know are quick to switch from an "I'll having fun" attitude to "I need to hurry someone now mode". Even the take-no-shit angry woman I know was caught off guard by someone harassing her.

More to the point, that's a really shitty atmosphere to promote in a place supposedly devoted to fun, one that's actively dangerous to the people subject to sexual harassment and violence. Take care of a harrasser through a beatdown? Well what happens when he has four or five violent friends?

Frankly, I don't want to see violence met with violence, that's not the way to a safe convention.
posted by happyroach at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


As righteous as it feels, she could very easily see herself charged with a crime. So could he, but people running around in costumes w weapons who wanna play vigilante gotta realize that the real-world isn't a comic book.

If that's the case, then the guys standing around and watching ALSO needed to realize that the real world isn't a comic book, and the two people getting into an altercation may need someone to help.

This wasn't a geek who "thought she was being a superhero vigilante", this was a woman who was asking for help, getting none, and taking matters into her own hands because no one else was helping out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Well yeah. That was a situation where both the institution and the general attitudes need to change. The general attitude there is "Hey, harassment is normal and cool", and that needs to change, both on a policy and individual level.
posted by happyroach at 8:46 AM on July 30, 2014


This wasn't a geek who "thought she was being a superhero vigilante", this was a woman who was asking for help, getting none, and taking matters into her own hands because no one else was helping out.

Wrong. Her actions are the dictionary definition of vigilante.

Legally, the assault by the creepster had Ended. The need for help was over.

Chasing him down & throwing him a beating was an act of Retribution.

And the law does not allow for citizens to Initiate an assault To get back at someone. I point you to Non Nonsense Self Defense's page on the LEGAL difference between fighting and self-defense.

Catwoman assaulted creepster. If he fought back, not only would he be a punk, but the cops would probably charge both with the crime of Fighting, I.e. "Engaging in consensual combat", which is a crime.

And guess what: he's gonna claim self-defense. They're both gonna claim SD, because everyone does. That pool has been pissed in, and the cops don't really care. Arrest em both and let the judge sort it out.

Chasing him down and throwing him a beating is initiating an assault, plain and simple end of argument.

Now if she had been able to Jack his ass up before he got away from Sally Jupiter, there would be a better argument for "He was in the middle of an assault on my friend".

But the moment he broke contact and walked away, all legal justification for kicking his ass evaporates Instantly.

This is how the law works. How we feel about it is immaterial.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:06 AM on July 30, 2014


can we not muddy the waters with speculative legal arguments that take place in a hypothetical courtroom?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:13 AM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Sometimes, people are prepared to take action that puts them at risk of arrest because of their deeply-held beliefs.

"This creeper should be hit in the face" isn't quite "no taxation without representation", but it's a belief.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:18 AM on July 30, 2014


If she gets charged and convicted for beating the creeper's ass I'd be beyond shocked. There's no way that will happen.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:22 AM on July 30, 2014


[A few comments removed. Everybody needs to chill, and when you get to the "fuck you" portion of a comment it is well time to take a break from a thread and take a walk or something.]
posted by cortex at 9:28 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's no way that will happen.

Considering the number of women in prison right now because they physically defended themselves against domestic violence I would have to disagree.
posted by elizardbits at 9:37 AM on July 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


I agree with MisantropicPainforest that speculation over what would or would not happen in Wildly Theoretical Court is probably not helping.

Con policies and procedures are not laws, but they are the subject of this thread....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:40 AM on July 30, 2014


I don't go to these kinds of cons and most likely never will, but I had no idea WisCon was supposed to be "the feminist con." Really?!

How feasible is it for women to boycott cons like this? It doesn't sound like they're wanted there anyway unless they're town pumps.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:42 AM on July 30, 2014


How feasible is it for women to boycott cons like this?

I think that's already happening to an extent; it'll probably be when men start boycotting a given con that the planners will really start to take notice.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It truly stuns me people are adopting the position of "hypothetical court" when the laws of Cali are specific and up-lookable.

It stuns me that an evaluation of "Was Catwoman's actions a reasonable thing to do given the laws on assault in California" is "muddying the waters".

Because it'll happen again. Some creepster is gonna butt-finger a woman and he's gonna get assaulted by pissed off geeks in vigilante costumes, and it's gonna go to court.

Comicon is not to Hakiem Bey-style temporary autonomous zone where the laws of the mundane world don't apply. It's San Diego, Califorina.

And if we celebrate Catwoman's creepster Beatdown (as emotionally rewarding as it feels) without an honest look at the possible LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF VIOLENCE THAT INCULDE TIME IN A CAGE, then people are just sewing the eyeholes on their masks shut.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:48 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can look up laws, but laws are selectively interpreted and selectively applied by fallible humans.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:53 AM on July 30, 2014


Um, Pirate, you have a point, but it may be best if you avoid the "comic book nerd" sterotyping while you're making it because that may be backfiring on you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


You are the only one celebrating it: This made my day. THIS is how you handle creepster a getting out of line. THIS is what they understand. All the Kumbaya talk about redemption and repentance and growth…

posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:54 AM on July 30, 2014


And so what? What real-world, practical difference does that make, MP?

Fallible or not, the laws & courts exist and we are subject to their jurisdiction.

This is the real-world that exists whether someone puts on a superhero mask or not.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:56 AM on July 30, 2014


So... unless this is some amazing piece of performance art about how male aggression makes work for the administrators of online or offline communities, maybe we can take the tempo down on the whole Law of California stuff?
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:56 AM on July 30, 2014


[Seriously, leave it as Duly Noted at this point and stop insisting folks discuss the hypothetical you want to discuss.]
posted by cortex at 9:59 AM on July 30, 2014


I don't go to these kinds of cons and most likely never will, but I had no idea WisCon was supposed to be "the feminist con." Really?!

Really. Which is one of the reasons why the informality of the reporting system and the negligent way this was handled is so disheartening. If they can't get it right....

Anyway. Yes, they're the foremost feminist convention. Google WisCon and you'll see their first two links are described as follows:

"WisCon
Feminist Science Fiction convention held in Madison. Includes history, programming, hotel information, event calendars and pages, registration, and ..."

Wiscon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wiscon or WisCon, a Wisconsin science fiction convention, is the oldest, and often called the world's leading, feminist science fiction convention and conference."


The entire Con is centered around certain themes. Panels are often made up of women authors, and as a general rule, panels tend to focus on women, gender, support systems that assist female authors, etc. That's not to say every panel will have that focus. But a great many will. WisCon has resisted turning into the commercialized free-for-all that is Comic Con. They have a purpose, and try to do it well.

Attendees most likely know what WisCon's about. Those who follow feminist authors online probably are aware of the nature of WisCon too, if those authors attend.
posted by zarq at 10:38 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think that's already happening to an extent; it'll probably be when men start boycotting a given con that the planners will really start to take notice.

I doubt that applies to WisCon. The majority of important WisCon attendees are women, not men. And in the same breath that some of them are decrying the subcommittee's decision to only enforce a four year ban, many of them have also said they have no intention of boycotting. Even Kameron Hurley's furious, brilliant "Burn It All Down" post encouraged people to volunteer(!) at Wiscon and change it from within. Sigrid Ellis of Apex has been on top of this story from the beginning while remaining unflaggingly passionate and clearheaded, and she isn't quite calling for a boycott either.

Natalie Luhrs of Radish Reviews is maintaining a link list of immediate reactions/responses from around the web. Scroll down to "Here are some other folks’ reactions" for the links.

They're all acknowledging that WisCon must change. The next few years will no doubt see massive upheaval from the aftermath.
posted by zarq at 10:59 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


How feasible is it for women to boycott cons like this? It doesn't sound like they're wanted there anyway unless they're town pumps.

I suggest not falling into this kind of prejudice. You indicate you have no personal experience of cons, you are judging them from hearing about crimes (which could become a nasty kind of prejudice if cons were people), but these are crimes you are hearing about precisely because a lot of people care and are keeping the spotlight shining and working to make the world a better place.

How feasible is it for women to boycott cons? I don't know the numbers, and it varies by event/topic, but it seemed to me while I was there that most of the participants of comic-con were women. Your idea that women are not wanted at the convention... waht?! Women are the convention at least as much as any, if not more. The degree to which con is for women and by women would apparently shock you.

Rather than cutting off your nose to spite your face (women boycotting con seems like a Pyrrhic approach, much like women boycotting cars and footpaths and libraries), it's better to make cons and cars and footpaths and libraries safer, and this is what is happening.
(On the other hand, women have always been boycotting - in the sense that everyone makes their own judgement call about where they feel comfortable, and the less welcoming a place is, the fewer people will attend, or come back the next year. This has been an effective driver of change, yes, and it continues to be.)
posted by anonymisc at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Women are the convention at least as much as any, if not more.

From booth babes to leered-at cosplayers, women run the world!
posted by shakespeherian at 11:37 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seriously? You didn't notice the tens of thousands of buyers, sellers, writers, judges, artists, artisans, experts, readers, viewers, organizers, masters of ceremonies, gamers, game-creators, competitors, collaborators, collectors, and the rest? Con to you is just babes in costumes?
posted by anonymisc at 11:53 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


From booth babes to leered-at cosplayers, women run the world!

Serious question: have you ever actually been to WisCon? Because comments like this make it sound like you don't have a blessed clue what it's like.
posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on July 30, 2014


*grumble* Upon re-read I missed the bit where anonymisc said "comic-con". Dammit. So sorry Shakes.

Still... WisCon is not known for its scantily-clad booth babes. :)
posted by zarq at 11:59 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know the numbers, and it varies by event/topic, but it seemed to me while I was there that most of the participants of comic-con were women.

The ratio of attendees is not far from 50/50. However, this influx of women has been greeted with lengthy, incoherent rants like this, from confused men angry at their boners. Representatives of the the comic book industry have complained that Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girls are getting the attention that should rightfully be given to comic book artists who worked hard to get their beards both lustrous and pointy. And, of course, there have been reports reposted in this thread of women at this year's SDCC being groped and, in one case, sexually assaulted and beaten unconscious.

It's nice that SDCC is attracting more women, but I think Comic-Con is still a fair way from being an egalitarian Utopia.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:55 PM on July 30, 2014


I mean, the population of the globe is slightly north of half women, but that doesn't mean that Earth is, on-balance, especially welcoming to women.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Earth doesn't need to be welcoming (or have any merit at all) to get those numbers, because women don't get any choice to opt themselves into it. Cons require effort to opt-in. Attendees have decided, each and every one, that the convention is a place they want to be, by choice, on merit.
Bad analogy is bad.

Focusing on problems and instances as a means to make the world better is useful and valuable (and is what I think the topic is).
Focusing on problems and instances to cast entire scenes in a bad light is dismissive and ignorance and prejudice.
Do the former, don't succumb to the later.
posted by anonymisc at 6:21 PM on July 30, 2014


It may be worth noting that there is an unusually high bar here - creating an environment where a lot of young women can feel comfortable and safe from unwanted attention even if wanting to wear a skimpy costume while attending alone amidst large numbers of semi-anonymous men - this is a high bar that you are still hard pressed to find attained in any environment, anywhere, especially compared to a lot of nightlife under comparable conditions. This is not just a failing of cons (duh), it's a failing of 21st century civilization.
Cons are trying to build something over and above and more difficult than what the local trade-show convention does, or what the local nightclub does. When a trade-show's failures are less spectacular, that doesn't necessarily mean they've got this thing solved and cons are just showing bad faith in not bothering to do the same thing.
posted by anonymisc at 6:50 PM on July 30, 2014


It may be worth noting that there is an unusually high bar here - creating an environment where a lot of young women can feel comfortable and safe from unwanted attention even if wanting to wear a skimpy costume while attending alone amidst large numbers of semi-anonymous men - this is a high bar that you are still hard pressed to find attained in any environment, anywhere, especially compared to a lot of nightlife under comparable conditions. This is not just a failing of cons (duh), it's a failing of 21st century civilization.

I don't know what Elise Matthesen was wearing, but based on the little I know of her interests and activities I'm guessing she wasn't cosplaying in a skimpy costume when Frenkel harassed her. Mikki Kendall was not cosplaying in a skimpy costume when Frenkel harassed her. In fact, I'd bet cash money that none of the female authors he harassed by pretending to be interested in their writing were cosplaying in skimpy costumes at the time that he harassed them.

The "skimpy costume" thing is derailing and irrelevant to the actual incidents being discussed. It's also insulting to all the men (people, but usually it's men who publicly harass) who are able to see an attractive woman in a skimpy costume and not feel compelled to harass her.
posted by Lexica at 7:24 PM on July 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


It may be worth noting that there is an unusually high bar here - creating an environment where a lot of young women can feel comfortable and safe from unwanted attention even if wanting to wear a skimpy costume while attending alone amidst large numbers of semi-anonymous men - this is a high bar that you are still hard pressed to find attained in any environment, anywhere, especially compared to a lot of nightlife under comparable conditions. This is not just a failing of cons (duh), it's a failing of 21st century civilization.

Lots of men wear skimpy costumes to cons as well, and somehow the women attending manage to control themselves and not sleaze on them because it is a rude thing to do.

Why is it we make excuses for the men who don't get that memo?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 PM on July 30, 2014


And to be really clear, most literary cons are light on the costumes. You might get some steampunk, but Wiscon is plainclothes almost exclusively. It's also heavy on the 40-70 year old demographic. We're not talking teenyboppers here.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:13 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that a lot of the problems are common to those found in volunteer organisations: a lack of institutional memory, people with unwritten privileges because of their long association, a constant need to reinvent the wheel. I wonder if someone could make a living out of being a professional con-manager. Their role would start with making sure the con's documented procedures were satisfactory (and introducing pro-tem rules if they weren't), but they would continue working with the con as a supervisor and auditor, and make sure that procedures are followed during the con itself. I presume a con-manager could handle multiple conventions a year, and potentially save a convention far more than the amount they charged.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:24 PM on July 30, 2014


[I think part of the problem here is that we are now talking about both WisCon, and by extension cons like it, and also about San Diego Comic Con, when actually these two things are very much not like each other, in subject matter or structure.]

Earth doesn't need to be welcoming (or have any merit at all) to get those numbers, because women don't get any choice to opt themselves into it. Cons require effort to opt-in. Attendees have decided, each and every one, that the convention is a place they want to be, by choice, on merit.

Well, yeah. Lots of women love sci-fi and fantasy. So much so that they will go to cons even though in doing so they put themselves at risk of being harassed, and then risk their harassment being downplayed or ignored if they report it. Lots of women love cosplay, and will cosplay even though abusive dudes will treat their cosplay as a justification to ogle, creep on or physically assault them.

Responding to that by saying "hey, cons must be fine for women, because women go to cons!", in effect, seems to me to be kind of ignoring the issue - or more precisely setting a really low bar for "fine". Women should not have to weigh their love of genre fiction or anime against the possibility that they will be harassed (or assaulted, or sexually assaulted) if they attend a con.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:28 PM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Why is it we make excuses for the men who don't get that memo?

Can you please not do this. At no point did I make excuses for these men. I was saying the opposite. Please try to hear what I am trying to say rather than attack your strawman.

I have spent a lot of time in various nightlife around the world, and I am part of a lot of scenes and social circles that do same. I have been drugged, I have had friends victims of predatory attacks, I have helped people and people have helped me. My observation has been that there are aspects of various scenes that we like and are positive which can simultaneously be things that attract a bad element, an unwanted unwelcome element, and/or enable this bad element.

It is more difficult to stamp out the bad element when they are present than when they are not present. In scenes when they are not interested in being present, it is less difficult to get rid of them because they are already not trying to intrude. The difficulty of providing a carefree environment depends hugely on what you are trying to enable in that environment and how open to the public you want it to be. To me this is obvious. Cons are trying to enable more than almost any other environment, including enabling more fun-but-also-creep-magnet things. That is a much taller order than the local church fair, and just about anywhere else.

Because of this, the blanket prejudice on display here rubs me the wrong way. The assumption that cons are failing because they don't care, without consideration to the fact that they are fighting a tougher problem than other scenes because they are trying to enable more for more people than most other scenes have managed.

(Incidentally, it is not the case that "somehow the women attending manage to control themselves and not sleaze on them", however the threat/power dynamics are often quite different)
posted by anonymisc at 11:07 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


(And when I talk about stamping out the "bad element", I don't just mean outsiders whose only interest is predatory, but include people who may have been there from the start but are toxic, such as those mentioned above:
"The ratio of attendees is not far from 50/50. However, this influx of women has been greeted with lengthy, incoherent rants like this, from confused men angry at their boners.")
posted by anonymisc at 11:21 AM on July 31, 2014


Responding to that by saying "hey, cons must be fine for women, because women go to cons!", in effect, seems to me to be kind of ignoring the issue

Fortunately, no-one said that, this is more strawman.

What was said was "Hey - a lot of women have clearly decided that cons are something they want to do, so... how about we work hard to make cons safe and comfortable for this instead of throwing up our hands and burning everything to the ground and leaving these women with ashes because someone thinks conventions intrinsically hate women and offer nothing to women and the task is hopeless, even though they've never actually been to one."
posted by anonymisc at 11:30 AM on July 31, 2014


Dude, three sequential posts is a good sign that you're reaching "leave Britney alone" territory. Although you are saying "strawman" a lot, actually nobody has proposed "burning everything to the ground and leaving these women with ashes". Not even entirely Kameron Hurley, whose piece on this situation is titled "Burn it all down".

If I was going to try to draw a modal line through the arguments of the people you're misrepresenting, which to be honest is already a service too far, it would probably be something like:

"Sci-fi and fantasy conventions - and indeed huge geek culture marketing events like SDCC - are not magically immune from rape culture, and its attendant hostility to concern about and action taken against harassment, and tendency to punish and attack those who report it. If anything, there is a dangerous tendency to argue that sci-fi and fantasy cons need to worry less about these things, because fans often see themselves as part of a mutually supportive and intellectually highly evolved community, and place a great emphasis on group solidarity and consensus.

There are also elements and attendant biases common, although not unique, to sci-fi and fantasy cons - such as large differentials in status between different attendees, and a mixed interpersonal and professional purpose (people go to cons to hang out with friends, to network professionally and in some cases to hook up) - that complicate reporting and addressing sexual harassment at cons. Left unaddressed, these elements and biases create at the very least a perception of impropriety, as they have in the case of both ReaderCon and WisCon's post-con harassment policy judgments."

That would pretty much also describe a lot of trade conferences, and certainly a shitload of tech conferences. Scifi and fantasy cons have their own peculiarities, which are being discussed here. And they are being discussed in the context of a persisting sexism in culture - both general culture, and sci-fi and fantasy fandom culture more specifically - and the resistance to that sexism.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:12 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


If anything, there is a dangerous tendency to argue that sci-fi and fantasy cons need to worry less about these things, because fans often see themselves as part of a mutually supportive and intellectually highly evolved community, and place a great emphasis on group solidarity and consensus.

This is one of the big problems with fan organizations- the"fandom uber alles" attitude means that otherwise unacceptable behaviour is tolerated Because "they're one of us". This leads to things like the Geek Fallacies and conventions trying to handle things on a way where nobody in the in-group is offended. And then things get complicated with relative status, lines of influence, and all those monkeytribe complications.

The upshot for example, was way back when, the anime club I helped run had the guy who would lean forward at the jiggling best scenes in a certain mecha anime, muttering "Thank you, thank you, thank you.", and we did nothing besides roll our eyes. Admittedly, our club was one where there was no overt harassment, but we didn't think to actually talk to this clown, or the guys who would regularly vote for t&a anime in a pubic venue. Because we had the bright shining communal goal if promoting anime to everyone, and how could you exclude someone from that?

That mecha show also brings up another problem. There are commercial enterprises that make money off sexism and objectified women, and so it's against their interest for the climate to change. As long as there's companies and creators that profit of of a pro-harassment environment, the task of making changes will be that much harder.
posted by happyroach at 9:25 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Breaking News - Jim Frenkel has been permanently banned from WisCon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wiscon update:
The WisCon 37 and WisCon 38 concom members jointly reviewed the Frenkel subcommittee's recommendation, and, after extensive discussion and consideration of additional evidence, voted whether to clarify or strengthen the existing ban, or to make the ban permanent.

By an overwhelming majority, the decision is for a permanent ban. This decision cannot be appealed. Jim Frenkel will not be allowed to return to any future WisCon conventions.
posted by jeather at 5:13 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


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