Apologies in advance for all the rambling, but…it’s been a busy day and I’m tired, and I’m still pulling my thoughts together.
First of all, I want to give MAJOR props to the women who have spoken out on this issue, especially Elise Matthesen. Speaking out in the face of physical and psychological harassment is a huge thing, and she’s right. If we’re going to stop this sort of behavior at conventions, especially by people in positions of power, then we women damn well have to make formal reports when sexual harassment happens, no matter how powerful the person doing it is. Period. Full stop. No two ways about it.
I don’t have a lot of convention horror stories to share, for various reasons. Some of this may just be that I flick the verbal harassment back and ignore it. Another is that as a result of years spent around horses in various stages of training (as well as being a middle school teacher), I have a pretty firm set of boundaries/personal space and when they get violated, I’m vocal (and, if sufficiently threatened, well, I have heels, elbows and other stuff and I’m not afraid to use them). I do engage in horseplay occasionally with trusted friends (there’s one gentleman who likes to pick me up when we’re goofing around at parties, but–we’re both laughing and it never crosses my personal boundaries). And that’s the key. They’re trusted friends, with established relationships. If I don’t know someone who puts hands on me, um, well, y’know, I might decide you need to be treated like a recalcitrant stud colt who wants to put his lips and teeth on me. Doesn’t need to be big and dramatic, but I will make a correction. Don’t go there. You might not like the result. I have a Teacher Voice, and I work in middle school, so I’ve had lots of experience observing just how to stage a dramatic scene without worrying about how dignified I look. If you have any dignity, you won’t survive teaching in middle school. That’s just the way things roll.
But, in counterpoint–I have specific circles I run in and I don’t go to a lot of the big, popular cons. I don’t necessarily do a lot of parties because, hey, I have a day job with day job sleep habits so I tend to bug out of parties early. I’m older (55) and that probably puts me off limits. I also have a spouse who goes to conventions with me and I usually talk about him being in the hotel room waiting for me. Sometimes he even comes to panels. In any case, I cultivate the “very married” persona and privilege (which not everyone has as an option). Because I was a political activist in college and spent some time as a legislative intern, I’ve had experience in fending off creepy politicians and lobbyists cruising the cute interns (OMG, now there’s a snake pit for you–being a female legislative intern). As the same activist, I’ve also led more than a few meeting charges (my friends–male–used to feed me talking points, aim me, and have me lead point on some of our political meeting arguments, under the general principle that having the articulate, assertive woman who was young and attractive leading the charge would put our opponents off their arguments. It worked, for the most part.). So I am not afraid to speak out in my defense, even if it burns bridges (ouch!).
Because of the combination of these various elements, I’ve been very damn lucky at conventions. I know it, because that luck hasn’t always held in other settings. I’ve survived one rape (pre-writing, pre-convention era). I’ve been pursued by another rapist when going home from class. In the workplace, I’ve filed one formal complaint for sexism against a supervisor and informally complained about another supervisor (who was so awful that sexism and harassment were actually relatively minor parts of his utter awfulness). That’s recent history. Past history has not been so kind.
At my first job, at an isolated river resort in Southern Oregon (the owners have changed so there’s no need to call them out now), I was specifically directed by my boss (female) to let one of the boat pilots fondle me. In front of customers. Loudly and brazenly. This was in the mid-70s, BTW, so not a lot of recourse then. When I left at the end of my employment, the only pilot available was that one. Who fondled me all the way down the river.
I was young, powerless, and had no options, in an era where I had even less support than women who are the age I was then have now.
There were other incidents at other jobs but that was the worst. I had a stalker confront me at work and the boss took his side. I almost got fired over that.
So…yeah. Convention experiences have not been bad for me, but then again, that’s been a combination of circumstances that have skewed in my favor. Other women have not been as fortunate. And that is absolutely, totally, NOT RIGHT.
And that’s the bottom line. I don’t care how old, how powerful, or how privileged someone is. Age, power and privilege do not convey the right to violate other people’s personal boundaries and personal dignity. This should be social functioning 101.
We should have learned this lesson by now, damn it.