Category Archives: conventions

It’s That Time Again!

WorldCon.

San Antonio, Texas.

One whole weekend of awesome, a frenzied ride from panels on the weird to readings by the bizarre.

This will be my second WorldCon and, as such, I am expecting it to be twice as good.

Okay, I admit, that might be setting the bar a little high. Last year, I had an eye-opening experience in Chicago as I realized that I have a place. First off, all those weirdos on Twitter who seemed to think along the same basic lines I do turned out to be real, living, respirating humans. (For the most part.)

Second, these real people have a community that, up until around two years ago, flew entirely beneath my personal radar. I had no idea that creative types of all sorts bonded together so well online — silly me, because I am fairly certain now that they (or should I say we?) have had a presence online ever since there has been an online.

In my area, there is not a lot going on, creatively speaking. Central Indiana is all about the corn, with some factories sprinkled in for good measure. It is nice to know that I can find some common ground just by clicking over to my personal favorite social media, Twitter, and find a lively and interactive writerly experience. I have even talked to a few people who live in my state and manage to maintain the dream.

Last time I came home from WorldCon, I had a sort of post-con euphoria that I tried to ride into completing all of my projects. That was nice while it lasted but in the end the buzz, as all buzzes do, faded. I did not entirely collapse but fell into a bit of a slump once the high passed.

This year, I am hoping to do better. I will, without question, end up high on the fumes of tightly compacted crazed creatives. Hopefully, I can channel that into some productive times in the following weeks. What I need to avoid, however, is relying on that extra juice to accomplish my normal workload. That is just about as helpful as relying on The (Effervescent) Muse, a tactic which will handily lead an author on the spiraling path to nowhere.

Now that I have a solid 80 days of consistent writing on my Magic Spreadsheet, I am fairly confident I can continue, to not burn out once the magic fades. Of course, one of the main challenges for me this weekend will be keeping up with my minimum word count.

Just to add to the challenge, I shall require myself to actually work on my manuscript over the con weekend. That should be fun.

I look forward to reporting back about my experience.

How to Not Sexually Harass Women: A Guide for Men

This post is targeted to men. I realize that sexual harassment is sort of a four way street, and it can happen with any combination of genders and numbers, but I want to focus on the one-on-one, man-harassing-woman scenario.

The reason for this post is two-fold. First, I want to boost the signal (mentioned in my previous post) of Elise Matheson’s encounter with this problem. Anyone who has not read her post about sexual harassment and what to do about it should do so.  Seanan McGuireJim HinesJohn ScalziMary Robinette KowalChuck Wendig and Brandon Sanderson have all re-posted it on their blogs.

Second, as a man, I know it is entirely possible to do this without consciously intending it. I know this because I’ve done it. I was younger, and definitely dumber, and I regret it immensely now. My harassment was not particularly ‘severe,’ but it was wrong.

Let’s be realistic. I knew what I was doing, just as any man must, but I didn’t really ‘get’ that it was wrong at the time. I didn’t understand the impact it could and would have in a woman’s life.

Sexual harassment does not happen on accident. It is a conscious decision. My point is that men can find themselves making this decision by degrees and end up going further than originally intended.

It’s easy to go to extremes, to say, “All men are just predators,” or, “If a woman is harassed, it’s because she asked for it.” Neither of these statements are true, but our society has these undercurrents flowing through it (and sometimes they’re even said out loud).

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make amends, but I do know I can raise the signal to help other men stay vigilant about their own actions.

Let us begin by defining terms. Sexual harassment:

“…is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.”

(Paludi, Michele Antoinette; Barickman, (1991). Academic and Workplace Sexual Harassment. SUNY Press. pp. 2–5. ISBN 0-7914-0829-9.)

This definition is referenced in the Wikipedia article on the subject of sexual harassment and seems clear and concise enough for my purposes.

This post regards the first part of that definition, namely sexual bullying, one person exerting force upon another in a sexual way.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Unfortunately, this is somewhat nebulous. For unintentional harassers, this can easily start with a misunderstanding on the man’s part, a belief that there is some sort of chemistry or bond between him and the woman.

There’s an easy way to draw the line, however: if you sense any discomfort on the part of the woman with whom you are interacting, politely excuse yourself from the interaction.

If a woman tells you that you need to leave her alone, then obviously you have crossed a line. “Please stop” is a clear indicator. Should a woman state it for you so plainly, just, please, stop.

When I say stop, I mean just that: stop. Then leave. Do not stick around trying to deliver an elaborate apology. You may perhaps say a quick “I’m sorry,” but you are not entitled to any more. You will only make the situation worse by dragging out the encounter.

However, she may be too nervous or frightened to express this vocally.

As the venerable Seanen McGuire has tweeted many times (and it can’t be said enough), “No” is not always verbal.

If a woman is constantly trying to put space between you and her (and you keep moving toward her), this is a sign that she is not comfortable.

If a woman tries to excuse herself and you don’t allow the conversation to end, you are pushing into the boundaries of her personal space.

If a woman flinches away if you try to touch her in any way, that’s a pretty clear indication that you have gone too far.

Perhaps this would be a good time to make clear some things men just shouldn’t do.

  • Do not touch people you ought not touch.

Personal space is important, and touching, even light taps, can quickly become invasive. Again, Seanen McGuire points out a good way to gauge how much contact is proper.

Ask yourself how well you know this person (and how well this person knows you), and think about whether you are familiar enough for any extended physical contact. If you’re not sure, then you have your answer. You might think that a quick tap to get someone’s attention is okay, but if there is any lingering doubt, err on the side of caution and simply use your voice to get her attention. A simple “Excuse me, I’m a fan…” or “Excuse me, I’m interested in what you’re talking about…” can be more effective than an undesired touch.

  • Do not corner people.

If someone is standing off in the fringes of a crowd, especially if this person is distracted (by a phone, for example), understand that she (or he) is by herself (or himself) for a reason.

This applies to anyone. I saw Neil Gaiman at WorldCon last year just after he unexpectedly (at least unknown to me) showed up. As much as I wanted to go and introduce myself, he was standing off to the side of the hotel lobby, tapping at his mobile. It was not the right time or place, and I let the ‘opportunity’ pass. Non-celebrities (and future-celebrities, you never know) deserve the same respect.

Also, don’t try to start a conversation in the wrong place. No-fly zones include: bathrooms (inside or just outside), hotel hallways, outside the convention areas (in the city, for example), sparsely-populated convention rooms (if she is the only other person in the room, you should probably just leave). Use common sense and avoid any inherently-threatening situations.

  • Do not try to drag out a conversation with an unwilling participant.

This is just good manners. Keeping it in mind can not only save you from embarrassment, but also help you avoid any potential harassment.

Allow conversation to come to an organic end. If it is a fellow convention-goer, it’s fine to mention that you’re a pretty big fan of that series she’s examining at a publishers table. If it’s an author or editor, it’s good to let them know that you really like their work. Further conversation might come from this, but if not, part with the person on positive terms.

(This is a lesson which I learned at WorldCon last year, as I accidentally over-extended a conversation or two. I am lucky in that those involved are very considerate people and didn’t seem to take away a bad impression after dislodging from my excited ramblings.)

  • Do not make profuse apologies to those you may have violated.

If you realize you have crossed a line, the only proper course of action is to step back and end the situation. The more time you spend with the woman, who is already uncomfortable, frightened, and most likely looking for a way out, is to be the one who steps away.

Sticking around and trying to clarify your intention or position will only make matters worse.

If you misread the signs and excuse yourself from the conversation unnecessarily, it’s really not the end of the world. You have committed your due diligence in controlling your side of things. The conversation was going great, and maybe you will talk with her later. Let her approach you. Be sure to stay in a place with a lot of people around and that you don’t force your way into her space. Don’t try to strike up another conversation if she’s clearly uncomfortable; it’s simply time to leave her alone.

A lot of this might seem like common sense, but in the rush of a convention or conference, men need to be actively aware of these boundaries. It’s easy to go a little too far, and once the threshold has been crossed, some men might decide it’s okay to go further.

Again, sexual harassment is not an accident. It happens by choice. As men, we are responsible to choose to act with honor in our dealings with other people, especially women. Use this to help gauge your actions, to make it easier to decide to do the right thing. The only person you can control is you, so use that control to make your slice of the world a little brighter, not to bring pain to those who would be your sci-fi / fantasy extended family.

Choose to make this amazing community a better place.

Please feel free to re-post this if you think it may be helpful to your viewers. This post is personal and doesn’t really have any factual basis behind it, but is a summary made up from my experiences and various discussions I have heard on the matter. Input, if constructive and helpful, is most welcome. 

Sexual Harrassment at Conventions

I’m relatively new to this community, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a stand when something important is happening. And this ‘something important’ is critical, because it affects the community as a whole, fans, authors, editors, artists… everyone.

I’ve been reading about sexual harassment at conventions, and it is very upsetting. There seems to be an undercurrent of keep-it-to-yourself, but many are now taking a stand.

This blog was posted by several authors, including Seanan McGuire, Jim Hines, John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Chuck Wendig and Brandon Sanderson. It can and should be read in full at one of these sites.

Elise Matheson wrote this blog to detail what she had to do to successfully make a report about sexual harassment, because not every report is equal. It needs to be truly ‘formal,’ and not anonymous, if it is to make a difference. She wrote,

…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.

Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because for formal purposes, it was.

I understand why formality is necessary, because it is possible for an unfounded claim to damage a person’s reputation. When abuse of this sort occurs, especially regarding a corporation like a publishing house, there is a process for dealing with it, and those who suffer from attacks like these need to be willing to use it.

Elise offers a very straightforward and sensible guide to handling sexual harassment, specifically in the realm of conventions. Unfortunately, this ought to be considered beforehand so you don’t have to try and figure out what to do about it should it happen.

Though I would certainly boost Elise’s signal because it is important, I also have a personal stake in this. My wife, Heidi, went with me to WorldCon in Chicago last year and will be with me again in San Antonio. I expect that as my career picks up, we will attend more conventions. We don’t always stick together because we are interested in different panels.

I would like to feel confident that the community is aware of this, that the convention staff are vigilant against it. While sexual harassment is a possibility anywhere two or more people are gathered, I want to feel at home and safe when surrounded by like-minded people.

And, you know what? I believe that the sci-fi / fantasy community is fully capable of achieving this, with strong voices willing to speak out against harassment and abuse.

We, as members of this generally-amazing community, should not deny that sexual harassment happens, but should actively stand against it.