Right Where Dr. A Pinched

I received a comment on my post about Isaac Asimov’s habit of sexually harassing women at conventions yesterday. I’ve seen and received other comments like it, but this one hits all the buttons. Because of that, I figure it’s worth responding to.

The commenter arrived via a Google search. There’s no indication that this person is who she says she is, but I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt for the purposes of this post. I’ve certainly seen these sentiments often enough from people I do know belong to old-time fandom. I’ve seen them as recently as the WisCon debacle, when some of these people were forced to confront the fact that a friend of theirs had harassed many women over the years (me included) and the fact that other friends of theirs had ignored and enabled the problem.

In fact, if I hadn’t seen that behavior, I probably wouldn’t bother with a response to this comment. To me, the problems with it are transparent. Apparently, however, that isn’t the case for everyone.

Apparently I’m something of a minority here: I happen to have been a woman IN an elevator with Isaac Asimov. And at least at that time, and that place, in that elevator, we didn’t consider it “sexual harassment”…

You may be in a minority on this blog, but there are plenty of women on the internet who were on elevators with Asimov. They don’t all agree with you.

Women warned each other to stay away out of arm’s reach. Women tried to get away from him. Women “put up with” what he did because they didn’t have the same power he did. They avoided him and confronted him.

Did they call it “sexual harassment”? Almost no one called anything “sexual harassment” then. The term simply wasn’t in common use and didn’t come into broad awareness until 1991, when Anita Hill stood up to Congress to tell the world what Clarence Thomas had done to her and other women. At that point, Asimov was busy dying, not harassing.

…(we weren’t shrinking violets who needed “safe spaces” and “validation” and “support” — we were female SF fans at a time when there were very few of us, and could give at least as well as we got).

Funny thing: There have always been a lot of women in fandom. Women have been the driving force behind most of the innovations in fandom, and they’ve run a ridiculous amount of it. If you didn’t see many women in those places, it’s because your culture was antithetical to them.

I wonder why.

Dr. A was a charming person, and, yeah, he pinched butts. That was who he was.

Okay. He was a charming sexual predator. They’re hardly unheard of. The menacing stranger is a misleading stereotype. Charm is useful camouflage for someone trying to get away with preying on people. That’s why con artists lay it on thick.

More to the point, so what if Asimov was charming? Are you arguing that charm entitles someone to sexually assault people? Are people only allowed to object to being sexually assaulted by people you don’t like?

It was cute, not intimidating;…

Again, other people disagree with you, both about it being cute and about it being intimidating. You’re trying to speak for a generation (or two) of women whose opinions you haven’t done the basics to assess. If you want to say, “I and the other women who didn’t find it objectionable didn’t find it objectionable”, go ahead. It’s a much, much weaker statement and meaningless as an argument, but it at least has the benefit of being true.

…I guess our consciousnesses hadn’t been raised enough to see oppression everywhere;…

If you have to resort to calling objecting to sexual assault seeing oppression “everywhere”, you might want to rethink your position. It’s taking you some very strange places.

…we laughed and hugged him. Yeah, I’ve had my butt pinched by Dr. A.

Again, you laughed and hugged him. Others did not. Again, this seems to have resulted in far fewer women in your area of fandom than elsewhere.

And don’t tell me I’m not a “real” feminist. I’ve been fighting that fight for the better part of fifty years. I’ve fought to change laws, fought to change customs, fought to change perceptions.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you you’re not a real feminist. However, being a real feminist doesn’t mean you get everything right. Why would it?

I, and the women of my generation, and the women who came before us, are the ones who worked and suffered and sacrificed so today we can have “feminism” that’s some kind of special protection for special, fragile, delicate little girls who can’t stand up for themselves.

You’re telling me two things here. Both of them are bullshit.

“The ones”? Really? The fight for fair pay, equal access, and reproductive rights is over? Our culture is in its final resting state? Young women aren’t working on these issues? Are you really so upset that people label Asimov’s behavior accurately that you’ll erase the work of today’s feminists?

Also, if all your activism was only to benefit the strong, it wasn’t about justice or even equality. It was merely about grabbing a bigger chunk for yourself. People who require policies that protect them aren’t lesser or less deserving, just as you weren’t less deserving for needing new laws on your side. You do know that the generation of feminism you call your own is responsible for the laws outlawing harassment in the workplace, right?

Beyond that, though, I don’t think you have any grasp of what it takes to report harassment, particularly publicly, or to work for effective policies and enforcement. I’ll presume you’ve been involved enough in fandom to the headache it is in general to get rules changed and problems acknowledged. Now combine that with receiving the additional harassment and character assassination that are the favorite tools of some of the folks who oppose harassment policies.

The people who’ve reported sexual harassment at cons are some of the strongest people I know. They’d still deserve protection if they were weak, but they’re anything but.

Yeah, you don’t do that anymore. That’s why I gafiated … you don’t even know what you’ve lost.

Actually, I know exactly what I’ve lost. It isn’t butt-pinching, in case you were worried. It isn’t even celebrity butt-pinching. It still happens. “Grab-ass” is a thing. The younger generations haven’t given up on sex any more than your generation invented it. Sex, as it turns out, is pretty durable.

What I’ve “lost” is the requirement to plan my cons around avoiding the celebrity butt-pinchers if I don’t want them pinching my ass. I’ve “lost” the demands on my time and energy, meaning I can spend more of both in activism or creating new work that finds fans for me, not some coddled lech. I’ve “lost” the work that made me look weaker because I was carrying more than men in the same circumstances.

Or I would have. The problem is that people keep insisting I justify being unwilling to be treated like some guy’s Real Doll because I want to go to a con and maybe take the elevator. And women like you keep popping up among them. Congratulations on making it worse.

I keep the memory of that pinch in the same mental file as shaking hands with Chuck Yeager.

The mental file where celebrities paid some attention to you because you happened to be in the same place?

And anyone who doesn’t like it can kiss right where Dr. A pinched.

Meh. I think it’s silly to treasure the memory of someone who treated you the way they did merely because of your gender and proximity, but if it makes you happy, whatever.

I do object, however, and will continue to object every time you claim that everyone should feel the same way you did. It wasn’t true then. It isn’t true now. The difference now is that we don’t tell people they have to like being sexually assaulted to keep participating in our cons.

I’d much rather brag about that.

Right Where Dr. A Pinched

22 thoughts on “Right Where Dr. A Pinched

  1. 1

    My first sweetie and I went to Worldcon in Boston in… um… 78 or something like that. And she got cornered in an elevator by Asimov who grabbed one of her boobs. When she found me a bit later, I proceeded to gear up to go find Asimov to deliver a beat-down, but several of the conference people, who had been listening in, deflected me and ejected me from the conference. I’m still angry about that, judging from the way my fingers are shaking as I write this.

    At the time, apparently, Asimov’s habits were well known and he had protective top-cover.

  2. 3

    being willing to speak up against sexual harassment (and the creeptastic active enabling of it) means being “special, fragile, delicate little girls who can’t stand up for themselves”?

    as in: standing up for oneself and for others means not being able to stand up for oneself?

    that makes absolutely no fucking sense.

  3. 4

    They gave as good as they got?

    Oh please – tell me about all the times you walked up to a strange (famous, powerful) man in a confined space and pinched his ass.

    What customs did she fight to change? That of saying women who are sexually assaulted should “relax and enjoy”?

    If getting your ass pinched is the same as shaking hands, why don’t we see President Obama pinch John Boehner’s ass prior to delivering the State of the Union? When you are job hunting, do you approach the hiring manager and pinch her/his ass?

  4. Rob

    At some point, and for me it was surprisingly late in the piece, you realise that one of the disappointments of growing old is that people you admired are, in fact, just people.
    The number of scientists, writers, musicians, actors, artists, philosophers, activists and politicians I’ve admired who turned out to have some pretty shitty aspects to their beliefs/behaviour would fill a book. I still grapple in some cases to keep the good untainted by the bad.
    Nice rebuttal of the ‘random fan’ Stephanie

  5. 6

    I keep the memory of that pinch in the same mental file as shaking hands with Chuck Yeager.

    So, A Random Fan is a celebrity groupie? Granted, there is nothing wrong with being a groupie, but as Stephanie implies, not everyone wants to go to Cons to be a groupie. Today, groupies and be groped, if they wish, and those who want to go to a Con can go without fear of being groped.

    Sounds like a Win-Win.

  6. 7

    The link with the comment about people holding someone down so that he could pinch her really upset me and chilled me to my core, colder than the chill emitted by Random Fan.

  7. 10

    but several of the conference people, who had been listening in, deflected me and ejected me from the conference.

    They ejected you?! Awful. And it seems no one even tried to sit him down and tell him to knock it off, they even aided him.

  8. 11

    I am close to the age of “random fan”–67–and maybe I can see things from her viewpoint. Back in those days, a woman was only important if her appearance was acceptable, and being validated for being cute was important. Feminism has grown, feminists are growing up, and we are seeing things differently now. I’m glad my nieces and granddaughters know that being pinched is an assault and not a compliment, and I am glad that we can retrospectively point out that our SF heroes were jerks.

  9. 12

    Sure, “back in the day”, it was harder for a woman to be taken seriously in F&SF, (or as a worker in STEM for that matter), as compared to the present. But I thought the whole point of feminism was to make gender irrelevant to such things, not just to celebrate the victories and personal fortitude of those who managed to triumph over sexism *and* win the Hugo or the Nobel prize.

    As Stephanie points out, it’s about the waste of time and energy that people who are targets of harassment need to expend unnecessarily, which has the potential of reducing their effectiveness and/or increasing their stress levels and/or driving them away altogether. Hardly full and equal partnership for women.

  10. 13

    They ejected you?! Awful.

    Big stupid muscled-up punk kid saying he was going to punch out a superstar? Yeah. It’d probably play out the same way today. Maybe worse.

  11. 14

    I, and the women of my generation, and the women who came before us, are the ones who worked and suffered and sacrificed so today we can have “feminism” that’s some kind of special protection for special, fragile, delicate little girls who can’t stand up for themselves.

    Well you can’t have fought for abortion and reproductive rights, as that would have meant supporting bodily autonomy (and thus opposing non-consensual gropes). The same applies to marital rape, domestic violence, objectification and porn. You would have opposed any sort of legislation for equal pay, as that would count as “special protection,” which would also rule out supporting Title VII and other legal protections against sexist discrimination.

    I’m confused, in what way are you a feminist?

  12. xyz

    This was a great response. Yes A Random Fan, you fought to change certain customs and laws to give women a voice – and some women are now using their voices to disagree with things you found acceptable. That’s one of the things about history, it just keeps on happening!

  13. 16

    Cheezus, is this person trying for the Bestest Woman In the Whole Wide World award?
    You got your ass pinched and saw no problem with it. Okay, fine. That’s you. But to try to insist that everyone else who reacted differently is somehow wrong (or worse, ‘weak’) is bull. Not everyone is like you, and they deserve to take up the same amount of space as you do.

    But people like this aren’t exactly looking to make things better. They just want to trumpet how much better they are than everyone else. So, if we give you the BWinWW award and a cookie, will you go away?

  14. 18

    “Back in the day” I thought Dr. A was a great guy because I loved his books. Never met him, just assumed. I grew up. Ran into men who thought they had rights to my body just because they were men and I wasn’t. Learned to establish boundaries. Still learning, actually. Back in the day I would have been flattered if he’d pinched my butt. Things change. I want to think it’s progress that so many more of us understand that we have the right to stand up and protest assault, but obviously too many haven’t hopped aboard that train. Hey guys, would you understand better if Dr. A and others pinched YOUR macho butts? I’m betting we’d see a lot more black eyes emerging from elevators.

  15. 20

    I’m guessing that I’m of the same age, approximately, as your respondent. Sure, many of us didn’t think at the time of such things as being sexual assault at any level; we may have thought it was cute. But most of us rethought that as we realized the impact of such one-sided behavior. Imagine if one of those women had pinched a pincher back in the same place — would that have been so acceptable? The men who did this would recognize immediately that it was not appropriate — because it was a power game, part of patriarchal assumptions about who has control over whom.

  16. 21

    I guess, if you don’t feel you can do anything about it, you will yourself not to find it objectionable, but then when people object to it loudly enough that something is done about it, you experience that as being called out. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for this person being so defensive.

Comments are closed.