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Sci-Fi Luminary John Scalzi Swears Off Cons Without Clear and Prominent Sexual Harassment Policies

A Lesson in Humility

John Scalzi‘s no stranger to taking his clout as a successful (not to mention Hugo and Nebula award nominated/winning) science fiction author, the (now former) president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and a blogger with no small amount of renown and using said clout to do good things for women who create and are interested in science fiction, and sometimes even for women in general. He participated in the first Humble EBook Bundle, where fully half of the items available where created by women, was up for a photoshoot with Jim C. Hines, and when the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure defunded Planned Parenthood for very clearly political reasons, he donated all proceeds from the sale of his ebooks to Planned Parenthood.

Now the author, often asked to be a prominent guest at science fiction conventions, is issuing an ultimatum to any con that wants him on their floor that is as simple as it is firm: have specific, clear rules about sexual harassment and a path to report them, and make sure that everyone knows it.

If you’re going to look for recent well publicized incidents of unwanted physical contact or harassing speech at conventions these days, you don’t have to look far, but for folks who’ve been involved in the convention scene for decades it’s not exactly new news. Nor is sexual harassment it simply a problem with the unwashed masses, so to speak, but also with established members of the community that creates the media these gatherings congeal around. Scalzi published his friend Elise Matthesen‘s account of one such story on his blog last week, with her permission. Matthesen spoke of how she discovered that the prominent convention attender (left nameless) who had behaved inappropriately to her would not be removed from the con, even though it was general knowledge that he’d been involved in several such incidents, merely because she was the first person to make a complaint through the formal, con-approved channels.

Rachel Edidin, comics editor of many years, also talked about the same sorts of situations on her blog, and how industry cred can make it less likely that harassment will be reported or acted on:

Sometimes, the harasser is a prominent industry professional and their victim is not.

Sometimes, the harasser is a “missing stair” with a long history of misconduct and an extensive support system dedicated to letting them get away with it. Sometimes that system extends so high, and the harasser has become so notorious, that their victims will always be blamed for not knowing to avoid them, even when everyone around has done their damnedest to cover up previous incidents.

Without clear paths to reporting harassment, con staff trained or experienced in how to receive such claims in a professional manner, and clear rules for attendees to follow, both reporting and creating consequences for inappropriate behavior becomes very difficult, for victims who feel that no one with the power to make changes will care that their feelings of safety were violated and for staff who wish to identify repeat offenders. Here’s John Scalzi’s step towards a solution, three rules that cons must follow in order to gain his attendance:

1. That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.

2. That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their Website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.

3. In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

With this announcement, Scalzi has taken the firm stand that if folks can use their press, panelist, or special guest badge to get away with treating people inappropriately, then he can use his to maybe create the structures of accountability that will make that harder. It reminds me very much of comics writer Paul Cornell‘s pledge that if he ever again finds himself on a con panel without a 50/50 gender ratio, he will step down and find a female industry professional who can speak just as well to the panel’s subject as he can, in an effort to make the women in his industry, already a minority, more visible.

As an established and valued member of the science fiction community, Scalzi is in the best position to do this in a number of ways. First, his status as a celebrity means that cons without such policies who’d hoped to attract attendees by having him as a guest will feel the hit. But secondly, it’s worth remembering that this is not a stance that many less established writers or artists can take: the money and publicity involved in participating in the convention circuit is too valuable to a struggling career to turn down opportunities. It’s a stance that I wouldn’t mind seeing more prominent industry folks taking up.

(via Think Progress.)

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