On Anger and Community

Just a handful of links today because I feel like I have things I want to say about them. They are both quite long but very much worth reading in their entirety.

I’ve been thinking about what these articles are saying a lot. A lot a lot. A lot.

And then I read my friend Melissa’s post about Jian Ghomeshi which describes a whisper network (among many other things). And I thought about my own post about whisper networks.

Yesterday I tweeted about whisper networks and how they serve a necessary purpose but they are, by their nature, fundamentally flawed. One of their flaws is that they help keep abuse confined to the shadows and the corners. They can, in some ways, serve to further isolate people already vulnerable to abuse.  I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know if it can be fixed.

I would like to see community action come from these networks–a chorus of voices is stronger and louder than just a single voice. But even that comes with risks.

I have spent a lot of time the last two years angry.

I’m tired of being angry. If I keep on being angry, I’ll be no use to anyone–not myself, not my family, not my community.

This isn’t any sort of high-minded pledge that I’ll never be angry again. That would be foolish. But it is, perhaps, a reminder to myself to remember that anger is a tool. It’s a tool best wielded carefully and with precision.

banner-always angry

I Don’t Know Who Was In My Room

This is a post about a con, but it’s more than that. It’s about agency and decision-making, and things that happen sometimes, which means it’s about life in general, and conventions in general.

I’ve been trying to write about this year’s Readercon for a while now and have been running into a wall.

For the most part, Readercon was wonderful. I flew for the first time in years and it was a better than expected experience. I saw old friends and met new ones and went to great panels and I think I was pretty okay on my panels, too. There was good food and drink consumed and there was swimming and there was the butt panel which was the best thing, I hadn’t laughed so hard in such a long time.

But this other thing also happened, see. This thing which has ended up overshadowing the entire convention for me and I have been upset and sad about it ever since. And I’ve been wrestling with whether or not I should write about it publicly. If it’s worth it.

The conclusion that I came to is yes: I need to talk about this, in public, so I can move on.

Here’s the summary: A party was held in my hotel room without my consent.

I know, I know. How does that even happen?

Well, how it happens is that you talk in public about having a small makeup party with a couple of friends–one of whom is sharing your hotel room–on Twitter and an acquaintance invites herself (screencap) and then gets really pushy about making it happen once the convention starts.

Then when it does happen, it turns out that you leave to spend time with another friend and when you come back a few hours later your room is empty but it’s obvious a whole bunch of people had been in there, because there are used glasses, food, and discarded clothing scattered about the room. More than could be generated by the three people who were in the room when I left and the only people I expected to be in the room while I was absent.

A room, that while on the party floor, was not ever intended to have a party in it. For look: my dirty laundry was piled on my suitcase. My pajamas were on the bed. My jewelry box and laptop computer were on the desk, unsecured. I am so lucky that none of those items went missing.

I don’t know who was in my room.

But surely, my roommate must have consented to this, right? Not explicitly. And the thing is this: I was the person paying the hotel for the room. My credit card was the one on file and if there had been damages to the room, I would have been the person on the hook. Not my roommate. Not the person who decided to invite a whole bunch of people into our room.

The absence of no is not yes.

I asked my roommate what happened the following morning. And they told me that there was a knock on the door, the acquaintance — Shira Lipkin — opened it, asked if the people knocking could come in–my roommate assented, not knowing how many people there were–and then apparently there was a crowd of people in the room. There is tremendous pressure on us in social situations to go along to get along and there’s a scale issue at play here.

Many people who engage in predatory behavior claim to be socially awkward or otherwise vulnerable while, at the same time, they exploit these social pressures to gain advantage. They test boundaries and every time they successfully violate one, they push further.

This is what Shira did by inviting herself to a private gathering and then pressuring both me and my roommate to make sure that the private gathering happened.

I know that people had a good time–I’ve talked to a few people who were in attendance, enough to know that a good time was had. And I feel terrible about taking that away from them. However, their good time was had without my knowledge in my room.

I’ve been blaming myself for this, as well–if only I’d had a discussion with my roommate about private space staying private, if only I’d said no to Shira when she invited herself, if only I hadn’t gone off to spend time with another friend, if only I had come back to the room earlier…

But ultimately, Shira did this. She is the one who made the decisions that lead to a party happening in my room–not me and not my roommate.

The absence of no is not yes.

I want to emphasize, again, that explicit consent for a party in room 620 was not received from either of the people who were actually staying in that room from the person who chose to “shift an entire party” (screencap) from its originating room.

Where do you draw the line? How many random people are okay to invite over to someone else’s room?  If it were just two or three people, I wouldn’t be writing this post and I wouldn’t have filed a report. I would have chalked it up as a learning experience and left it.

But I’ve been told that the door was propped open and that Shira was in the halls inviting people to come get their makeup done and generally behaving as if it were her party. So this was not a private party out of control: my room was turned into a public space.

Additionally, there was alcohol brought to the room (screencap)–which added another level of potential liability to the situation.

And I don’t know who was in my room.

Sunday afternoon and evening, I started looking at social media and became more upset. Shira wrote about the party as if it took place in her room (screencap). There were tweets about shifting an entire other party into the “sparkle party room”–a party of military SF writers that she either convinced (screencap) or pressured (screencap) into having their makeup done.

I was–and am–upset by what happened. After discussing this with trusted friends, I decided to file a formal complaint with Readercon’s Safety Committee.  I feel very comfortable with the process so far and I expect and hope that the main outcome will be clarification that their code of conduct applies to room parties as well as to the convention itself.

I have asked is that I not be put on programming with her in the future–should I be on future programming at Readercon, never a guarantee–and I am willing to take responsibility for this during program sign-ups.  This is also something I will take responsibility for at all conventions where we will both be on programming (such as at Capclave next week).

But as I implied at the start of this post, getting to this point has been a process.

Folks reading this may be tempted to cast some blame on my roommate: I want to make it very clear that I do not. They didn’t invite themselves to a private gathering. They didn’t invite a significant number of people into the room. They were placed in a position where, if it had occurred to them to ask people to leave–after being invited so authoritatively by Shira–they had no idea how people would react. As far as I am concerned, Shira trampled everyone’s boundaries here–including those of the people she invited to the party.

I chose to make a report to Readercon’s Safety Committee and make this public because of that boundary violation. Personal space is not just one’s current physical presence. It is also where one lives, even if it is just a hotel room for a weekend. Shira invited herself into a space she was not entitled to and claimed it as her own.

We’re learning to recognize and speak out against about people invading someone’s immediate personal space with unwanted touching or attention in public areas. We need to be equally aware that private physical spaces should be protected as well.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: responsible adults know to get permission before throwing parties in other peoples’ rooms. Shira Lipkin didn’t.

And I still don’t know who was in my room.

57 Mind-Blowing Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Books

…how’s that for a clickbait title?

So there was a community post on Buzzfeed today–although as far as I’m concerned that makes no difference whatsoever–that listed 39 SF/F/H books coming out this month. Oh yay, I thought, as I went to see what was on the list. And then I noticed it. Noticed that there were a lot of male names and that the preponderance of the titles were of a–how do I say this?–of a more apparently literary bent than specifically genre in terms of their covers and blurbs.  Did some counting. Ranted on Twitter.  Did a bit of very shallow searching on Amazon (seriously, their advanced search is pretty good for casting a wide net with a few specific criteria) and came up with a lot of speculative fiction written by women. 57 titles, in fact.

Astronaut Hello Kitty tours the lady SFF in my library, starting with Lois McMaster Bujold.

Astronaut Hello Kitty tours the lady SFF in my library, starting with Lois McMaster Bujold.

Got home from work and did some more tabulating.

Of the 39 titles listed in the Buzzfeed post, there were 45 unique author names (one name appears twice).

Seven of these titles were anthologies. Two were edited solely by women, three by a mixed-gender editorial team, and two solely by men. Okay, that’s not completely terrible except: on two of the mixed-gender editorial teams, the female name appears last. Which can give the appearance that they were not the primary anthologist working on the book.

So of the 32 remaining books.  Three were non-fiction, including–inexplicably–a biography of Tennessee Williams.  One of the novels is an reprint omnibus and another is a graphic adaptation. All the YA titles are by men.  Of the 29 novels/single-author collections, twelve are by women.

Astronaut Hello Kitty's tour of lady SFF continues to the Kage Baker shelf.

Astronaut Hello Kitty’s tour of lady SFF continues to the Kage Baker shelf.

I know, by now you’re all saying, “Natalie, aren’t you making a really big deal out of a Buzzfeed listicle?” Sure. And the reason for that is pretty simple, actually. Buzzfeed drives a massive amount of traffic–their stuff is eminently shareable and the fact that so few women are included–and so few writers of color, too–shapes the conversation. These sorts of easily shareable meme-units contribute to women and other marginalized people’s invisibility within the genre(s). A list that a casual SF reader posts to their Facebook page, that might be the only list of SF/F/H titles that some people may see that week or month.

This list can send a few messages–it draws lines around who is and is not included in the genre. What kinds of stories–and readers–are acceptable. Notably absent are urban fantasy and paranormal romance titles. I wonder why?

The compiler of the list, Andrew Liptak, is himself an anthologist and editor. And he’s writing a history of science fiction so one would think he’d be more aware of this issue and the ongoing discussion around it. I am really saddened that this list is so heavily weighted towards male writers. A quick look at Liptak’s bibliography shows that he’s extremely well-read in a few specific subgenres of SF/F/H and this may be a contributing factor to the books he’s selected for this listicle. However, he’s not writing just for readers of his preferred subgenres, but for all of Buzzfeed’s audience. Which I think we can safely assume is quite diverse.

Astronaut Hello Kitty continues the tour, this time to the land of Sharon Shinn.

Astronaut Hello Kitty continues the tour, this time to the land of Sharon Shinn.

So, back to my experiment with the advanced search tool on Amazon to see how many SF/F/H books written by women I was able to find that were being released in September.  I’m including a handful of reissues and some short story collections and one non-fiction title.  These are in no particular order and I’m sure some of them aren’t very good.  I also excluded self-pub titles on the grounds that I don’t know very much about that segment of the market to be confident that the titles aren’t 20 pages of story for $2.99. But there are certainly more than 14 SF/F/H books solely authored or edited by women coming out this month.

You’ll note that a lot of these titles are urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Interesting, no?

  • Son of No One, Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson, Patricia Briggs
  • The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire
  • Dark Blood, by Christine Feehan
  • Night’s Honor, Thea Harrison
  • Black Water: A Jane Yellowrock Collection, Faith Hunter
  • The Witch with No Name, Kim Harrison
  • Night Unbound, Dianne Duvall
  • Wood Sprites, Wen Spencer
  • Ghost Layer, Robin D. Owens
  • Forged by Desire, Bec McMaster
  • Dragon Age: Last Flight, Liane Merciel
  • Love Bites, Angela Knight
  • House Immortal, Devon Monk
  • Dangerous, Jacquelyn Frank
  • Wickedly Dangerous, Deborah Blake
  • Beauty’s Beast, Amanda Ashley
  • Doctor Who: The Official Quiz Book, Jacqueline Rayner
  • Hunter’s Trail, Melissa F. Olson
  • Fortunes of the Imperium, Jody Lynn Nye
  • Rogue’s Paradise, Jeffe Kennedy
  • Chained by Night, Larissa Ione
  • Priestess Dreaming, Yasmine Galenorn
  • Battle for the Blood, Lucienne Diver
  • Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress
  • Stories of the Raksura: Volume One: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, Martha Wells
  • The Clockwork Dagger: A Novel, Beth Cato
  • Species Imperative, Julie E. Czerneda
  • The City, Stella Gemmell
  • Generation 18, Keri Arthur
  • The Gifted Dead, Jenna Black
  • The Seventh Sigil, Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes
  • Summer Moon, Jan DeLima
  • Watermark, E. Catherine Tobler
  • Heir of Fire, Sarah J. Maas
  • Trial by Fire, Josephine Angelini
  • Shattered, Mari Mancusi
  • The Jewel, Amy Ewing
  • The Caller, Juliet Marillier
  • Illusions of Fate, Kiersten White
  • Mary: The Summoning, Hillary Monahan
  • Belzhar, Meg Wolitzer
  • The Vault of Dreamers, Caragh M. O’Brien
  • Winterkill, Kate A. Boorman
  • Of Monsters and Madness, Jessica Verday
  • The Perilous Sea, Sherry Thomas
  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The Winter People, Rebekah L. Purdy
  • Winterspell, Claire Legrand
  • Tabula Rasa, Kristen Lippert-Martin
  • Firebug, Lish McBride
  • Falls the Shadow, Stefanie Gaither
  • Silvern, Christina Farley
  • Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, Christine Heppermann
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Lark Rising, Sandra Waugh
  • Color Song, Victoria Strauss

This list–a very fast, cursorily compiled list–makes me think of Joanna Russ and How to Suppress Women’s Writing:

The Double Standard of Content is perhaps the fundamental weapon in the armory and in a sense the most innocent, for men and women, whites and people of color do have very different experiences of life and one would expect such differences to be reflected in their art. I wish to emphasize here that I am not talking (vis-à-vis sex) about the relatively small area of biology–about this kind of difference in experience, men are often curious and genuinely interested–but about socially-enforced differences. The trick in the double standard of content is to label one set of experiences as more valuable and important than the other. This we have added to She didn’t write it and She did, but she shouldn’t have, a third piece of denigration: She did, but look what she wrote about. (40)

Astronaut Hello Kitty is a huge Joanna Russ fan. Huge.

Astronaut Hello Kitty is a huge Joanna Russ fan. Huge.

Faith in Humanity: Restored (For Now) or, The 2014 Hugo Award Winners

Look at this list of awesome Hugo Award winners!

Oh, my heart. Fandom.

And yes: there are a few parts of the nominating and voting results that warm the very cockles of my heart. Like “No Award” coming in fifth place for Best Novelette.  Delightful.

My main entertainment today, apart from watching the Hugo livestream has been watching my new bird feeder in the back yard. We have goldfinches and house finches and cardinals! So far!

What Happened After I Reported

Elise Matthesen–who I am honored to call my friend–has written the following essay about what happened after she reported harassment at WisCon 37.
Comments are moderated. The ban hammer is out.

Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment. One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite — WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18. Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee. To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension. People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one. Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation: (1) act promptly, (2) gather all existing written information and reports, (3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct, (4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation; (5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and (6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way. WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate. In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

“Is it you?”

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