This may be too short to say all the things it should. Maybe. I tend to write long when I don't have time.
I am not surprised be the revelations about RH/WF/BS. I've known about the first two for a long time, and I wasn't aware of BS till I got pointed to Nick Mamatas' post on Ello. I am not surprised that many of RH's victims have spoken out so eloquently. Many of her victims were victims because they stood up to her abuse, either for themselves or others. In my experience, that sort of eloquence is often the result of having dealt with abuse over time.
Depressingly, I'm also not surprised at how many of the comments echo the bandwagon jumping that surrounded so many of RH's campaigns in her war against whoever was too white for her little, twisted universe. I don't, and never have, understood her defenders. I'm not a person to call another evil, or irredeemable. But this doesn't have my opinions. As far as I'm concerned, the person who is known as RH is one of two things: either incredibly fucked up and in need of some help -- as most abusers and drama instigators are; or she is wicked, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Malicious -- actively so. Honestly, I don't care. The results are the same. There's not a damned thing that can make a difference. And never, ever has.
One of the things that has always made me angriest, and most uncomfortable, is the way she has used issues of race to manipulate people. All sorts of people. She's played on the guilt of white people who want to be allies so badly that they abandon any semblance of justice in order to be seen as authentic allies. Whatever they are. I don't buy the concept. It implies a monolithic enemy. It implies absolutes that ignore history, geography, cultural difference... it divides people along artificial lines, and denies the possibility of genuinely shared interests and goals. It denies the existence of intersectionality. If #feminismisforwhitewomen, RH and her ilk are the white women of this conversation. Race is constructed and nuanced. It isn't the same everywhere. And, as more than a few people at Loncon3 pointed out, even terms like PoC are problematic in parts of the world where white isn't the default. Despite all of this, an awful lot of people seem bound and determined to ignore not only nuances and issues of intersectionality, but also evidence.
So I don't call myself an ally.* I'll call myself white, because that's what people see, and what people see is one of the things that affords me privilege in most situations where race is an issue. It's not what people see when they see at least half of my family. It's what made people assume my grandfather had a bit of hidden money: surely the attractive black woman helping him with his grocery shopping must have been his maid. It never occurred to them that she was his wife. It's what people saw that allowed me to shut down the questions of people who started abusing their white traditional fan privilege in sessions. The irony was not lost on me.
Did RH hurt me? no. Not personally. But she did hurt people I care about an awful lot. They happen to be white. That doesn't mean it hurt them less. And the people who jumped on her bandwagon? a lot of them were white, too. And you know what? A lot of them weren't on her bandwagon because they were great defenders of social justice or heroes in the war against privilege. A lot of them were there because their favourite (and white) authors were called out for their own hypocrisy and ignorance, for their inability to see the nuances of intersectionality, and the outrage they felt on her behalf. And those people have every right to speak out, in safe spaces. The same rights, as victims.
I'm saying this here, because this is my space.
And it's a safe space for anyone who wants to talk without acting like a fuckwit. There are lots of them talking at the moment. Some of them are just embarrassing to read. This is not a safe space for people who want to tell PoC how they should act, or feel, or that they should speak up more, or less. If I see any #notall[insert group here] comments, I'll shut them down. Disagreement is a part of civilized discourse, and is welcome; statements that indicate an unwillingness to check one's own privilege or disagree with the realities of institutionalised privilege in North America and Europe are not.
I'm not publicising this as a safe space per se, because some of my friends who have done that have ended up with comments that make people feel unsafe. I will delete comments if I have to, although I'd rather leave as much as possible, because I'd rather keep a record of fuckwit behaviour for when it's needed.
*EDITED TO ADD:
Just to make it clear, I entirely support, and try to do everything I can, to check my own privilege, get others to check theirs, and to actively work to chenge the institutions that prevent us from living in a just society. I just don't like the word 'ally' in this context. To me, it's just doing the right thing.
This was -- is -- to be my first WorldCon. I've been reading and talking about sf, fantasy and comics/graphic novels for a very long time, i.e., since I was about 7, over four decades ago. I've been playing RPGs and MMORPGs (and some MMOFPS) for about ten years. The first time I heard of cons was when I was in eighth grade, when most of the members of our Star Trek fan club went to a con in San Francisco (I was grounded at the time, IIRC). That would have been about 1975ish. I've always had friends who loved sf, and over the years, I've come to count among them authors, critics, artists, and experienced con-runners and con-goers. Many are also academic colleagues, and a couple of them are people I've worked with as council and executive members of a rather large (over 60k members) organization manned by over a hundred sections, all run by volunteers. I've been on lots of campus committees, and been involved in academic conference organization. And alongside my main specialties, I teach courses that revolve around understanding privilege, intersectionality, and constructions of race, gender, and the Other. Not surprisingly, I've kept up on those issues within the sf/f and gaming communities, especially. So this essay is premised in part on the following understanding, based on a lot of reading and discussion and personal experience:
The overlapping communities of sf/f fandom, comics/graphic novels fandom, and gamers is largely still a world where straight white guys are the visible majority, and normative behaviour has long tended to be defined by what they think is acceptable and/or excusable. For at least the past five years, more and more people have been standing up and saying, "Hey, we are here, too -- those norms? They really aren't acceptable and they make a lot of people feel excluded and unsafe." The responses have not all been friendly, but among them have been clear efforts to make the communities and their gatherings more inclusive and safer. The Committee of Loncon3 seems to have taken especial care to do this, until last weekend.
If you can't agree to this premise, and to considering what I have to say in view of my own background, you might as well stop reading. OK? But I hope you'll stick with me.
So... one of the things that has been nagging at me since the whole Jonathan Ross thing broke is this:
How is it that Neil Gaiman issued the invitation?
Here's the thing -- Gaiman is not on any of the committees. He's not a GoH (or not listed as one). So as far as I can tell, one of three things must have happened:
- without consulting the rest of the Committee, the Chairs took it upon themselves to ask Gaiman to approach Ross
- Ross mentioned in passing (or values thereof) to his friend, Neil Gaiman, that he'd be willing to do it, and Gaiman approached the Chairs and was given the go-ahead to invite Ross
- Gaiman thought it would be a cool thing for his friend and worked it out with the Chairs, either before or after asking Ross.
Let's remove the WHO, and focus on the WHAT here. There is a Committee. Even without a written code that says that the Chairs MUST consult on important decisions (and really, for a WorldCon, isn't hosting the Hugos an important decision??), a committee structure implies that there will be consultation. And frankly, my experience with working with volunteers who are doing a hell of a lot of work has shown me that having a part in important decisions is one of the reasons people volunteer in the first place.
Notice how there is a problem without it being Jonathan Ross. Or Neil Gaiman.
Next thing: a person not on the committee, but with status and power in the community, somehow is instrumental in extending an invitation to a personal friend who is in the community, but is not really of the community as a whole.
Do you see where this is going?
Now remember, the Committee has promised to try and address previous problems, primarily by increasing inclusivity and making the con a safe space. Let's also remember that those things depend on challenging normative white male privilege (let's assume that 'straight' and 'abled' are generally part of that, because this doesn't need to go all intersectional to be clear).
So first, we have a Big Name not involved with the organization involved in the decision-making.
I don't know the Chairs, so I don't know what would have happened had the Big Name also been a woman. But privilege being what it is, I think it somewhat less likely that a woman Big Name would have been consulted or had the same sort of access. More likely is that a woman Big Name's suggestion would have been considered and maybe reported to the rest of the Committee. In this case, too, there's Stardust.
Neil Gaiman isn't just a Big Name. He's a fucking Star. He's never struck me as someone who was pushy or demanding, but then he's in a place where he doesn't need to be. Because Stardust has powers over fandom.
Stardust is that thing that makes people attribute only good to those whose work they admire. It prevents the clay from showing through the gold on the idol's feet. Ross seems to have that sort of Stardust amongst comic fen. Stardust is what makes people not bother to think about whether a Big Name is appropriate for a particular event. It makes all the shiny shinier, and keeps people from focusing on the job at hand. Stardust also seems to have an effect on those who are covered in it. It's like privilege on a speedball -- totally ramped up to stupidly high, and yet so cool and mellow that it makes the Star's unchecked privilege even harder to recognize. People who are susceptible to Stardust are likely to forget that Stardust wasn't part of the criteria; in fact, it becomes the only important criterion.
The result in this case is that not only are there people from outside the organization helping to make an important decision, but (in part, I suspect, because of the Stardust), people within the organization who might normally expect, and be expected to take part in a decision that is fundamental to the event, are completely omitted from the conversation. And the funny thing about Stardust is that it seems to make people genuinely surprised when the sober people don't see the total and complete coolness of their actions. Under Stardust, there are no bad intentions, because the shiny is irresistible.
And then there's the person who is relatively immune to Stardust, or at least the second-hand type. Except in this case, there are a lot of them. They are the people who have been invested in changing the atmosphere at cons. They are the people who have been groped, or otherwise physically assaulted, or verbally assaulted, or bullied. They are the people who are used to others telling them how they should feel about the things they have experienced. They are, I dare say, people who love sf/f because it offers so many alternate worlds where individuals are valued for their contributions to the group. In those worlds, when Stardust exists, it is recognized for what it is, and it cannot take hold.
I am one of them. I am also someone who has watched Jonathan Ross's show on more than a few occasions. It's not usually my choice, but I have a family, and some of them really like the show. I've found moments funny, and some of the interviews are good. But there's never a show where he doesn't resort the sort of personal, sexualized humour that makes me uncomfortable. I think he's gotten a bit tamer, but I once went to see Dame Edna on stage. I find Ross's schtick a bit like that: people often seem to be laughing because they are either glad they aren't the target, or because they don't want to be thought of as not having a sense of humour. I think it's pretty easy to understand why a lot of people feel that it's the sort of humour that makes a place feel unsafe. It's the sort of humour that can make it very difficult to, "to ensure that the behaviour of any individual or group does not disturb other attendees or detract from the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere of the event." (LonCon code of conduct) There have been an awful lot of comments about how unfair it is to judge Ross on what he might do, and a few cracks about people predicting the future. Ironically, many of the same people have simultaneously argued that he wouldn't be like that at the Hugos. Logic isn't really a strong point there. While I am sure that some people may have made their judgements based on articles like the one in the Mirror, I think it's best to assume that a lot of people are making up their minds based on evidence and experience. Given the number of people who weren't laughing at some of his stuff at the British Comedy Awards (I watched most of that, too), especially the women, there's honestly no way to tell which Jonathan Ross would show up.
I know, it's just jokes. But it's not. It's really not. When you've been the victim of physical assault (sexual or not), verbal abuse (sexual or not), bullying, etc., there are things that you learn to watch out for. There cues, changes in atmosphere, when you know that a group of people who seem to be more or less equals is on the verge of turning into a pack of hyenas. Even those who have never been on the receiving end should recognize it: such moments are enshrined in film and literature alike. If you are the sort of person who reads fanfic, you're probably familiar with the words "trigger" and "triggery" in the sense of, "if you have gone through X sort of traumatic experience, you may not want to read this because it may bring back sense memories -- or memory memories." I mentioned above that there has been an ongoing conversation about cons and sexual harassment and assault. Victims of assault often suffer from PTSD. Many don't, but here's a fun fact: people can experience sense memories whose cause they cannot quite identify, and which bring on inexplicable anxiety- or panic attacks or worse, up to full-on replays of the trauma and the emotional sensations they experienced without being diagnosed with full-on PTSD. Nevertheless, the sensations and experiences are real. Just to make things more fun, being put into a similar physical or emotional situation can put people into a state of hyper-vigilance: a person's lizard brain senses a situation resembles one where there was danger in the past, and the body reacts by letting out masses of stress hormones and noticing everything. In fact, the body is screaming "I am not safe here!"
I'm going to go out on a limb big enough to hold an elf's cottage here and say that when people are talking about safe spaces, they generally mean spaces that are not only physically safe, but are friendly and unlikely to do that atmospheric shift where suddenly there's a pack of hyenas. Think again about your own experiences, and those in film, and literature... Think about the locker rooms, and the pubs, the senior common rooms, and any number of other venues where the mood has defaulted to "a bunch of blokes having a laugh -- piss off if you can't take it!" Will humour that relies on such attitudes help to create a break from the past and help make cons more friendly for a more heterogenous assortment of people? or will it simply reinforce a status quo that privileges 'geek-guy dominance' and the rest of us to feel like we've only been allowed a day pass that might be revoked at any minute?
I'm pretty sure from the reactions to Loncon3's announcement Saturday morning that an awful lot of people think the latter. I'd like to think that, if Mr Ross had been presented with something like this before he was chosen/approved/volunteered through a friend, he'd never have accepted. He withdrew his name rather graciously, and he seems not to have done anything to encourage his supporters to bash people at the con, even if he also hasn't come down on them. I would sort of like to see him on a panel discussing gender and sf/f, and how he, and perhaps Gaiman, see these issues -- and what they might change -- when they look at them not as fans or writers, but as fathers of daughters. Hell, I'd buy a round to have that talk.
So to sum up: Guidelines and procedures are helpful; Stardust is a harmful substance; there are good reasons for people to think Ross's humour would be out of place at the Hugos, and even if there had been no objections on that point, there's still the problem of a couple of Big Name middle-aged straight white males with no position in an organization being involved in a decision-making process that excluded people who are in the organization and who one might expect would be involved in choosing a host for the Hugos. In other words, a whole lot of privilege went unchecked, despite assurances that this con would be different. Comments suggesting that this happened because people are small-minded, or engaging in cyber-bullying, merely demonstrate why the con needs to follow through on its promises of safe space and non-discrimination.
ETA: html fixed, I think...
You might want to read Why I have resigned from the Committee of Loncon3.
Make sure to read the actual letter of resignation at the end. To anyone who understands written English and knows Jonathan Ross's track record, it's clear that, in choosing him to host the Hugo Awards, the Chairs willfully ignored their own charter.
ETA: Ross withdrew, rather graciously, today. Also, I want to make it clear that I have seen Ross's show more than a few times over the last several years -- it's popular with some of my family. So I didn't need the Mirror piece to know that his performing as host could be triggery for a lot of people. But I am sad that so many people focused on what was wrong with Jonathan Ross rather than on the importance of providing a safe space and what that entails.
This is open for now. If people act like assholes, I'll close it. But I'm posting because I am seriously pissed off at having my words misrepresented, at least once, by someone. It wouldn't bother me as much, except that people on my f-list seemed to believe the accusation. I'm perfectly able to say things badly, or to be unthinking and need to apologise, without somebody who makes her living with words either deliberately misrepresenting what I've said or being too fucking stupid or self-focused to read carefully. Given what started this fiasco, I'm going with too fucking self-focused and willing to take offense to go back and read carefully, because she's gone into another 'omg, people are mean to me on the internets' spiral.
Here's the thing:
I commented on one of those 'sure to encourage a shitstorm' posts the other day, a post in which the author pointed out that an internet bully was hiding behind SJ language to hide her bullying, and that the bully was not applying the same standards to everyone, including herself. And that the bully had also not done her homework before throwing out accusations of racism and using language that, if used online by someone else, might be considered incitement to violence or hate language. In my comments I mentioned a couple things, in a couple of separate places. The first was that I thought that there was a difference between careless cultural appropriation, and trying to write another culture with the best of intentions and getting it wrong. One is not respectful, and the other is. Both can come off badly, but the person who is operating in good faith will apologize and, depending on the situation, not do it again, or try to get it right the next time. Moreover, I thought, based on my own experiences and reading, that different people have different understandings and reactions to what the appropriation of their culture is, so simply declaring any use of another culture by an outsider was problematic. Finally on that subject, I said that I thought if no one ever wrote outside her own culture, then we'd have nothing interesting to read, and that the work that went into trying to represent other cultures probably on balance helped to promote an interest in other cultures and possibly even more understanding and respect for them. If it's done well in the first place by people who care.
The other comment was directly in connection to the people who were using the internets and charges of racism to bully at least one person I love very much. The point of the initial post, the sentiments of which I agreed with, even if I think they might not have been expressed as well as the author wanted, and which came across as problematic to me. Most of the bullying had been sparked by a conversation on my misrepresenter's LJ. The misrepresenter and several other people who otherwise seem sane and pleasant were exchanging comments with the bully-in-chief, tacitly giving her support for her attacks. The bully-in-chief had been supportive of my misrepresenter on M's LJ -- of course she couldn't have been racist or guilty of cultural appropriation, because white people's culture can't be appropriated (even if it's the culture of ethnic minorities who have been stifled). And my misrepresenter did nothing to diminish the ever-growing clusterfuck that came from her having misread, or misunderstood, an initial comment that she took as a personal criticism - but wasn't. And that was clarified several times as not having been a personal criticism.
Given all of these things:
*a person who wrote something that engendered a lot of comments by outsiders that felt like cultural appropriation by an insider
*an escalating campaign of dogpiling and bullying against an individual (and then several individuals) that was directly connected to her reaction on her LJ to what she thought was unfair criticism (at the time -- I believe this is no longer the case)
*giving tacit support to the bullies, by not only demurring from saying that things seemed to be out of hand -- which is something I don't agree with, but can accept, since I usually don't do more than ask people to play nicely, myself -- but also by carrying on twitter conversations with the hatemongers that reinforced her association with their actions
I asked, "how is someone who is not [a member of a particular ethnic group] using [ethnic group] username and [ethnic group] artistic motifs on her LJ not cultural appropriation?"
Let me make this perfectly fucking clear, because I am angry about this:
In no way did I ask, tell, or imply that I thought my misrepresenter should change her username. In fact, in the context of my comment on cultural appropriation done in good faith, there is no way I could have done this and remained consistent to my own beliefs, unless it were proved to me that my misrepresenter had operated in bad faith. I had, nor have, no such evidence. What I was doing, in a post partially about hypocrisy and the use of double-standards, was pointing out more evidence for that hypocrisy. NOT, by the way, any hypocrisy by my misrepresenter, but by the bully-in-chief and the people she'd been stirring up. While accusing two people of racism and silencing anyone who tried to have an actual conversation about the issues, they had totally given my misrepresenter a pass on the same exact thing!
My comment wasn't about you. It isn't always about you. I don't now, nor did I then, give a rat's ass about your username or decor. I assumed you had done so because you had some special connection, because these things were important to you. I also do not hold you responsible for the bully-in-chief's actions. At all. I hold you responsible for your actions. Your actions, your choice, was to appear to be friendly with a group of bullies who were victimizing someone else, and to never once say, "hey, you know I think perhaps there's been an honest misunderstanding." Now I understand that, and from all of your comments on your own LJ and elsewhere, I am guessing that you were understandably afraid of drawing their wrath. I hope it was that, and not that you can't see that going along with bullies by not actively standing up to them is one of the reasons bullying continues to be a real problem with tragic consequences. I'm sorry you feel so hard done by. I'm sure you felt very brave writing about how I (who, by the way, have no power, no authority, no position, except as the person who points out elephants) "called you out." I'm glad that so many, many people have offered you their support. You seem to need it.
The thing is, they really seem to like you as a person and love your writing. So you didn't need to misrepresent what I said. You could have had all that love without making someone else the bad guy. Without making me the bad guy.
- Current Mood: angry
( here it is, behind the cutCollapse )
This all means that I think it's incumbent on all of us, but especially the person who has the power in a given situation (and that's usually going to be the man), to back the hell off if there is any non-positive response to an advance, verbal or physical. And obviously, if you've never even had a proper one-on-one conversation with a person, any sexual advance or comment is ... best case scenario... inappropriate, ill-judged and creepy.