Normally, today I’d be writing about the official start of the Random Penguin publishing era. In case you’ve forgotten, Random House and Penguin have become one entity. Oh, they decided not to use the name everyone has given them — Random Penguin — opting instead for Penguin Random House. The “new” company will have more than 10,000 employees and publish more than 15,000 titles a year. Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, I have to ask myself why it takes approximately 750 employees per title and how much of an overlap of duties there might be — and how much money the new Random Penguin could save by really looking at the new corporate setup and cutting out the fat. How much of that savings could — not that it would — be passed on to the reader or, heaven forbid, be given to the authors of the books they sell? But that will have to wait for another post.
If you read Dave’s post yesterday, and then read the comments, you can see that I’m still more than a bit hot under the collar about the trial by social media that’s been taking place in our profession. As a woman, I cannot and will not stand for sexual harassment. Been there and had it done to me. I’ve seen it done to my friends. There is no excuse for it — but there is also no excuse for this snowballing trial by social media that is taking place today not only when it comes to perceived sexism in the profession but to sexual harassment at cons.
Growing up, once I hit the 5’7″ mark, my mother warned me about elevators and “small men”, as she called them. Stature didn’t automatically determine their inclusion in the “small man club”. What did was how they acted. These were the men who seemed to take the closing of the elevator doors as a signal that they could get into your personal space and make inappropriate comments or engage in inappropriate touching. The response, I was told, depended on the offense. A phrase can be just as cutting as a slap, a laugh worse than a punch. Then there were a girl’s best friends: her shoes. A heel, especially a spike, brought down oh-so-accidentally on the top of the foot was guaranteed to divert attention.
But what was an inappropriate comment? It wasn’t, in most cases, a comment about how you looked. Oh, it could be. Tone of voice and facial expression can turn the most innocent comment into something lascivious. But there were and still are innocent compliments, something that a lot of folks seem to have forgotten.
And that is important, especially in our profession today. Too many people jumping in to bash — and trash — people for not supporting their attempts to eradicate sexism and sexual harassment in the profession and at cons are forgetting a simple fact: you also have to look at the intent of the person being condemned as well as the impression of the person of the “receiving” end.
But that isn’t what’s happening here, especially not when you look at what happened with Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. No one cared what the intent of these two authors might have been any more than they cared what the intent of editor Jean Rabe had been when she approved a “chicks in chain mail”-type cover for the SFWA bulletin. They broke the rules of the vocal few who saw the reminiscence of Resnick and Malzberg as sexist and misogynistic. Rabe was condemned and hounded until she resigned for being “insensitive” to the fact that the cover might insult some women.
Heaven help us if we insult — even unintentionally — someone or some group in a way that is currently perceived to be not politically correct.
But it goes beyond the Resnick/Malzberg situation. Look at what has happened with Paula Deen. She’s been accused of some truly horrible things. ACCUSED is the key word here. Yes, she admitted to using a horrible word some years in the past. She’s apologized for it. When a number of high profile celebrities who had a reason to be insulted by the word she used came out and said to stop making such a big deal out of it, that if they could accept her apology the rest of us should as well, the self-appointed PC police started shouting to the rooftops that she is evil because of what the pleadings in the case say she did.
The pleadings. The papers filed by the other side to establish a reason to have a court case. NOT proof. But the fact they’ve been printed out and filed in court is enough for these folks — the same folks who have condemned Resnick and Malzberg, who condemn Orson Scott Card for his religious beliefs and who have no problem naming the editor accused of sexual harassment at a con — accused, but not convicted and without any description of what he supposedly said or did.
What does this have to do with writing, you ask. After all, Mad Genius Club is supposed to be a blog by writers about writing. Well, writing is more than just sitting down at a desk and putting words onto paper. Writing is a process and it includes interacting with others in the profession as well as with your fans. That means treating people with respect, even if you don’t agree with them or even like them. That’s something too many seem to have forgotten in their attempt to prove their social and moral outrage at real or perceived wrongs. They forget that for every virtual high five they get for jumping onto the social media bandwagon condemning someone for their horrid behavior, they are causing someone else to look at them and wonder why they aren’t asking for both sides of the story. When an author posts a comment on Facebook or on their blog but says dissenting opinions won’t be allowed, it only shows that they are as closed minded as the person or persons they are condemning.
Is harassment at cons a problem? At some of them, yes. At others, not so much. Should anyone put up with it? Absolutely not. But there are ways to deal with it. Report the offense to the concom. If the person who has been perceived to be harassing someone is there in an official capacity, then report them to their employer. If anyone witness the incident, get their names and contact information and ask them to write down what they saw and/or heard. Ask if they’d be willing to tell the concom/employer/whomever about it. And document, document, document everything all along the process until it is done.
Can you go public with what happened? Sure. But be prepared for folks to ask for details, especially if you name the other person involved. Part of it is because there are some people who get a kick out of reading the salacious details. But part of it is because most folks want to know both sides of the story before making a decision. So, either keep names out of it and stick with generalities or be prepared to answer the questions. Don’t kick your feet and pitch a fit just because there are some folks who want to know more. It isn’t putting you on trial. It is trying to be fair.
I know there will be a number of folks who will disagree with what I’ve said here. I’ve betrayed my sex by not instantly assuming that the woman who cries harassment has actually been harassed. I read a comment the other day where someone said the number of false harassment claims was so negligible as to be non-existent. It took me a while to stop laughing. That was almost as unbelievable as the comment that women can’t sexually harass as man. At the risk of being totally non-PC, that’s like saying someone who falls into a “minority” — be it racial, religious, etc — can’t be racist of prejudiced.
If you want to help women and others who face harassment at cons, educate them on what to look for and where to go to report the harassment. Make sure the concom knows your own concerns. But stop the trial by social media. Believe me, if you don’t the day will come when the definition of PC changes yet again and you find yourself in the cross-hair. How will you feel then when everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to condemn you for something you did or said and meant nothing by it?
As for how it effects your writing, write the characters the story requires. Not every man has to be an evil rapist or the gay companion. You can have a “chauvinist” who happens to appreciate and respect women. Just because he opens a door for her and insists on paying the dinner tab doesn’t make him bad or wrong. Just because a woman wants to stay home and take care of the house and raise the children doesn’t make her a doormat or a traitor to her gender. Your characters should be real for the story you are writing. Just be prepared for someone not to agree with what you put on the page. There will always be someone who will say you character isn’t realistic, even if that character is a true reflection of someone you know.
Most of all, judge for yourself about what’s happening. For me, I don’t know if the editor did harass anyone. I’ve heard he has the reputation for it but I’ve heard nothing but rumors. I’ll wait until more comes out before condemning him. That said, it will color how I look at him should I ever find myself in the same room with him. And that, unfortunately, may have been the point of all this. He’s been discredited without ever having his “day in court”.
And that is exactly what has been attempted with too many others in our industry by others in our industry. Suddenly I feel like I’m back in junior high. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.