Oh, I really should have finished writing this post on Sunday. My reputation as a seer would have been made. At least Twitter has time stamps.
In 2010, the behavior of Jim Frenkel, editor at Tor, was the cause of much chatter in the F&SF world. Jim Hines provided information on how to report him and other professionals who engage in sexual harassment while representing their companies to their employers. Some F&SF conventions took a look at their own anti-harassment policies (or their lack) and made changes.
Frenkel wasn’t named publicly.
In 2013, Frenkel harassed Elise Matthesen at WisCon in front of witnesses. Matthesen reported Frenkel, with help and encouragement from her friends, to both Tor and WisCon. She was told by Tor that this was the first time Frenkel had been “formally” reported. She wrote up procedures for reporting with comprehensive detail on how it felt to report. Her signal was boosted significantly by several friends and others who take sexual harassment in F&SF very seriously.
This time, Frenkel was named publicly. Why?
A few things have changed in the F&SF community in those three years. The biggest is that we’ve been talking to each other more. We’ve always talked some, as references to various back channels have shown, but the increase is important.
We’ve told our stories of harassment with trepidation, typically without names. We’ve worried out loud that we won’t be believed, but we’ve told our stories anyways. We’ve gotten pushback–hostile questioning over minutiae and insinuations that we can’t tell what people are doing when they’re interacting with us.
However, we’ve also found out just how many people have had the same experiences we have. Even when we haven’t named names, people have contacted us behind the scenes to tell us who did these things to us. They haven’t asked; they’ve told. And they’ve been right, usually, though sometimes we all discover that there are more names that haven’t yet been named. Because we’ve also learned about the patterns of abuse, how people are targeted because they have professional obligations to fulfill at these functions, products and services to sell by being charming–which is usually incompatible with raising a stink about how you’re being treated. We’ve seen how newbies are assumed to be free game and how their harassment is treated like hazing.
When I talked about my experience with Frenkel, I heard about three other people who had experienced the same thing. One of them commented publicly, two more to a friend behind the scenes. The public validation was good for me in that it reduced the risks associated with speaking up, but the private validation was even more important. When the first person noted on Twitter that the same thing had happened to her, I jumped, then relaxed. I knew that what had happened to me was not appropriate, that it wasn’t some kind of misinterpretation, but in the midst of all the gaslighting that happens on this topic, the confirmation was critical. Just me? Nope. Not at all.
Then there have been the people who’ve gotten angry with us, not for telling our stories, but for keeping quiet. They are wrong to demand more of the victims of harassment, but they are also right that the way things have been done doesn’t protect everyone. It only protects those of us with the right connections. We know that, and it makes a big difference to many of us. Some of us are in a position to do something about it.
Sharing our stories, without names attached, has provided the impetus for us to network, gain support, gain more information than most people will see in public. It has also exposed to us to the other side. We’ve seen the nastiness. We’ve seen the “concern” that maybe we just don’t understand what’s happened to us. We’ve been called the names. We’ve had people go after our reputations. If it didn’t happen to us directly, it happened with enough publicity that we saw how it played out.
As it turns out, it’s really not that much worse than some of what we’ve dealt with, as ugly as it is. And the scary part of it just got that much easier. That makes it much easier to name names. Now that there’s a precedent, expect it to keep happening.
Karen Stollznow did all but that today when her post about being sexually harassed and assaulted went up. (She’s a skeptic rather than in F&SF, but the parallels in how the situations have progressed have been remarkable.) Stollznow didn’t go to the trouble to blur the details of her experiences in a movement that is, after all, really quite small and well-networked, a movement in which plenty of people have been paying close attention to who’s done what for the last two years.
The conference with the overzealous and intimidating security is obviously TAM 2012. Surly Amy and Jamie Bernstein reported the same treatment last year, and it’s anything but standard operating procedure for conferences. The friend who came forward is Ashley Paramore.
Karen’s stalker and assaulter isn’t hard to track down from the information she gave either. Her work history is known. Only one organization adopted the language she quoted. She has an honorary position there. There are very few people there with the reputation for sexism that this guy has, and it hasn’t been that long since he was posting overseas vacation pictures on his Facebook wall. She put the information out there for anyone who wanted to track it down. All she withheld was the name.
But you don’t have to do even that much. All you have to do is look at Twitter.
@Ian_Murphy: FYI, Karen Stollznow’s sexual harasser is Ben Radford. Someone had to say it. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/2013/08/06/im-sick-of-talking-about-sexual-harassment/?WT.mc_id=SA_sharetool_Twitter … #skeptic #atheist #shame
As with Jim Frenkel, this is a situation that a lot of people know about. There were plenty of people in a position to name Radford. Ian just got there first, only a few hours after the existence of the harassment was made public.
This is going to keep happening. We’ve been watching these harassers (men and women) behave like assholes while the rest of us have gotten more harassment for even discussing the topic. They’ve left us very, very little to lose by naming names.
Do you think they’re going to suddenly start treating us and our friends better? Do you think they’re going to go out of their ways to stop the add-on harassment that’s been going on for years? Or do you think we’re just going to get fed up watching how this plays out and decide it’s time for everyone to deal with the aftermath?
I know which I’m betting on.