Friday, June 28, 2013

I don't take my sword to work

The SFF internet pretty much exploded this morning, after Elise Matthesen was brave enough to speak out about her experience of being sexually harassed by editor James Frenkel at the most recent WisCon. Here's the link to the post at Whatever. (It appears at many of the larger SFF blogs.) Elise originally did not name Frenkel, but it was later announced elsewhere, and she confirmed that he was the person being spoken about.

Like many of the women in my field, I talked about my experiences with harassment at cons on twitter. I haven't been to a con yet where I haven't been harassed, either by fans, or by other professionals in my field. It's a thing. It happens. It happens everywhere. I originally wasn't going to blog, because I didn't want to distract from Elise's post. But then an entire conversation grew, and Cherie Priest and Maria Dahvana Headley wrote about their experiences as well.

So I'm writing to say that my experience is much like theirs  - the hand that slides down to the ass during a group photo, but now is when we're supposed to be smiling. The person who decides we're not done having a conversation, so he follows me into the women's bathroom (I stood in the doorway, shaking, speaking as loud as I could. I've taken off one of my high heel shoes, and am holding it like a weapon. Thankfully, another pro on his way to the men's room interrupted.) The person who follows me onto the elevator, and follows me off. The guy who pulls the top of my dress off my shoulder so he could read my tattoo. The guy who attempts a quid pro quo - he'll get me published, if...

The first time I got a verbal list of "don't be alone with these guys" was at Clarion. And by "these guys" I mean other professionals. When I go to cons now, my friends and I have hand signals, code words, that will let our friends know we need rescuing. Because here is one of the truths about cons - when I attend, I attend as a writer. I often have panels, readings, sometimes signings. I am there to be accessible to fans, to editors who might want to commission a story. I am there to be nice. 

Nice ladies don't stomp on the foot of someone whose hand has "slipped" onto their ass during a group photo. Bitches do. If we rescue ourselves, we do so with the knowledge that there might be trouble.

I smile a lot. I make conversation with people. I dress up, and wear makeup. I've been told all those things are invitations, coming from a pretty girl.

It becomes a danger on two levels - if I tell him no and leave, will he follow me and make things worse? If I tell him no and leave, have I messed up part of my career? Five years in, the second question worries me less than it did in the beginning, but the fact that it lingers is a problem.

The other reason that I'm writing is because a couple of the responses I got to my comments on twitter included suggestions that maybe I (or other women writers) should just bring swords to cons. I'm KatWithSword there, so it's not a completely out of the blue response, I'm sure it was mostly a way of adding levity to a tense discussion, and I don't mean to call anyone out. But it is not my job to defend myself from harassment. I shouldn't have to carry a weapon to feel safe when I go to work. None of us should.

NB: You lot are generally great. But I have work to do, so I'm closing the comments.