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The weekend in Science Fiction [Feb. 18th, 2013|11:16 pm]
We packed Harriet off the NH with her grands this weekend and the rest of the family went to Boskone.

Hanna wore her wings and had an awesome time. She bought her first Magic deck, and then rounded up some other kids in costumes to play Magic with her. She stayed pretty busy.

Jason hung paintings.

I went to panels. The interesting ones:

Harassment in Fandom: This was a textbook example of how not to do a Harassment panel at a con. It started with Bob Eggleston telling a story about being harassed online and the rest of the panel participants telling him that didn't count and wasn't harassment. Members of the panel seemed unconvinced that harassment is a real problem in fandom. Their explanation of "the problem" with "the incident at Readercon" was that Readercon had created an inflexible zero-tolerance policy (they didn't say so, but this implied that in the view of the panelists, Rene Walling should not have been banned for life despite a long history of harassing women at cons). Panelists asserted that a high tolerance for random touching has been a long-standing part of fandom and some people like it so it's not fair to tell people to ask before touching others. The claim that fans have poor social skills because many of them have Asberger's Syndrome was trotted out in a completely uncritical way. Panelists asserted that it is the responsibility of the accuser to directly confront the harasser (the phrase "put on your big girl panties" was used). Several audience members were deeply offended. The panelists suggested this was because of a generational divide - apparently, unlike the older women sitting on the panel, the younger women in the audience have not yet learned to tolerate and ignore harassment. This session was bizarre and hostile. The kindest interpretation of this experience was a massive miscommunication. I have not yet figured out what the panel was trying to say, or how participants were selected, or why. Irene Gallo suggested that I write up the panel for tor.com. She said it would have to be done tactfully. Please note that this post is HERE not at tor.com, because of my inability to find a tactful approach to it.

The Fake Geek Girl Controversy: This is a topic of enormous interest to a lot of people, many of whom feel that is has a significant impact on their lives and decisions about participation in fan communities and fannish activities on a frequent, if not daily, basis. These people have been following the issue in real-time since well before Joe Peacock's ill-considered column on the issue this summer catalyzed a series of responses to the issue from multiple perspectives. Alas, these people were not represented on the panel. Instead, two women who admitted they didn't feel it affected them much, and one man who said he had never heard of the issue prior to being invited to sit on the panel but had done a little research since, had a chat in which they attempted to fill each other in. The moderator wanted to give the panel time to talk, so she insisted on no audience questions until the last 15 minutes. The audience of about 20 women thus sat silently seething for 35 minutes. In explaining this problem involving criticism of women's participation in fandom, it was asserted that women are new to fandom. Panelists accepted this uncritically, even after 35 minutes of audience silence was broken and an older woman in the audience pointed out that she had been attending cons since 1971 and numbers of women in attendance have remained fairly constant.

In fact, women invented media fandom. Women have always been fans. As long as there have been cons, women have been involved in them in crucial ways. When Star Trek went away, women invented fan fiction, which they wrote, edited, curated, and published in lovingly mimeographed fanzines that fans could subscribe to for the price of postage. Issues were traded at cons, and trading fanzines was a major activity at cons, and ONLY women wrote fanfic for 20 years, but a whole lot of people read it and a whole lot of people went to cons to collect it. Also, seriously? Bjo Trimble. The panel's ignorance on this issue was galling.

Major Trend in both panels: When in doubt, mention Scalzi's blog.

I love Scalzi's blog. He's an entertaining guy, and he has written some thought-provoking pieces on diversity. While the influence of his essays on poverty, privilege, rape, and women in fandom is unquestionable, Scalzi himself has publicly questioned the idea that he should be seen as a champion of tolerance and diversity. He has asserted on multiple occasions that he is just pointing out things that are obvious, and that many others have pointed out before. He happens to have a megaphone and a certain level of privilege that compels people to listen to him, rather than those other voices. He has been very cautious about appearing to speak for others on issues that affect him only indirectly.

If writing about these issues does not make John Scalzi an authority on them, reading blog posts John Scalzi has written also does not create authority or expertise. "I read Scalzi's blog!" is not shorthand for "I am a fully politically conscious, diversity-embracing, well-informed individual and I've really thought this through."

I also went to the George RR Martin reading. It was packed. He read from _Winds of Winter_ (no release date announced) a chapter from Ser Barristan's point of view involving a battle. It was gripping. He has a great husky voice. He then took a lot of questions, almost entirely about Game of Thrones. He did not mention Scalzi's blog.

[User Picture]From: zombie_mom
2013-02-19 04:31 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this update.
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[User Picture]From: kukkaseksi
2013-02-19 05:51 am (UTC)
I too would find it hard to be tactful about a bunch of misogynist assholes.

Also? Why is it that whenever the good old "people with Asperger have poor social skills" excuse is trotted out to excuse sexual harassment that it always applies to men? Women also have Asperger. I do. My daughter does. I venture to say many females who attend Cons do. But where is the inappropriate touching from us, eh?
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[User Picture]From: scalzi
2013-02-19 12:20 pm (UTC)
"'I read Scalzi's blog!' is not shorthand for 'I am a fully politically conscious, diversity-embracing, well-informed individual and I've really thought this through.'"

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[User Picture]From: persephone_blue
2013-02-19 01:10 pm (UTC)
The women on panel did not say they weren't affected by sexism in fandom.

I suggest emailing Boskone programming about these concerns.
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From: graceo
2013-02-19 04:11 pm (UTC)
To be fair, the women on the panel did not say they were not affected by sexism in fandom. In particular, Brianna Spacekat Wu talked about the impact of sexism on her life and work in the video game industry. She also talked about the impact of the Fake Geek Girl issue on her friends' lives at some length, as an example of women keeping women down. I appreciated her sharing of her experience. I felt that this panel lacked an understanding of recent history that would have brought more insight to the roots of the issue, and that several audience members probably could have addressed that. It might have worked better as a round table discussion with audience participation than as a traditional panel. Or that might be a hideous idea that can only go wrong. It's hard to predict.

The Boskone con committee was very sweet and accommodating to me when I approached them with a personal concern prior to the con. I'm fairly certain that Boskone programming had at least one close contact in the room for both panels and can assess the matter for themselves.

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[User Picture]From: dreams_of_wings
2013-02-19 01:30 pm (UTC)
Wow. Massive, epic fail.
Thank you for writing about it.
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[User Picture]From: cerulinpangolin
2013-02-19 02:47 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thanks for writing this up.

What's the point of putting panels like this into con programming, if they're going to throw random panelists on them that aren't qualified to speak about them? Unless (paranoia hat on here) it's so the panelists will conclude it's a non-issue so the con can absolve themselves of having to take any steps to mitigate harassment?

I'd encourage you to get it written up in more detail for Tor.com, tactful or not, for it's wider readership. Nothing's going to change if we follow the older women panelists' advice of ignoring and tolerating. We need to keep shining a light on it.
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[User Picture]From: kate_nepveu
2013-02-19 02:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the report; I wish I could say I was surprised.
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[User Picture]From: omnia_mutantur
2013-02-20 01:45 am (UTC)
I felt too disheartened by the harassment panel to muster the willpower to make it to the fake geek girl panel, but it sounds like I didn't miss much.

Thank you for posting this. My brain is already trying to tell me it couldn't have been that bad. (this is Kim, by the way)
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From: graceo
2013-02-20 02:49 am (UTC)
The harassment panel was deeply disheartening. I have also had several of those moments when I think that, logically, it could not have been that bad. I like Boskone. I had a mostly good time there. The con does, in fact, have a harassment policy in place. I understand from a VERY brief conversation with someone who seemed to be more intimately involved with NESFA but whose name I do not know that NESFA has held trainings on harassment at the clubhouse. In light of all those things, it doesn't make any sense to me that the harassment panel REALLY went the way it did. But it really did. The panelists really told Bob Eggleston he wasn't harassed and his experience was irrelevant and then they really had a discussion in which they really said all of those really strange things. I think it's clear that something went badly wrong, and I have no idea what.
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