July 1, 2013
I’ve been trying to write a blog post about sexual harassment against women at conventions and in general. It’s taken awhile because I’ve been reading dozens of accounts and reactions, and pondering. Originally, this was going to be a post about how I haven’t been harassed, and how that makes me lucky. Nothing about me suggests that I wouldn’t be harassed, I’m not all that different, I’m just part of the percentage of women who hasn’t been harassed. I’m just lucky.
But then I remembered that one time at a Worldcon when this guy I’d never met before propositioned me out of the blue. He walked away when I said no, so it was more an annoyance than actual harassment, right? Then there was that one time when that big name writer said something inappropriate to me in a workshop, but I got him back for it (seriously, rendered him absolutely speechless) and we all moved on. And there are the times I’ve been the only woman in the room and wondered if it was a problem, but it generally wasn’t a problem, and I’m pretty good about leaving if I start to feel uncomfortable, and that’s not really harassment. And there’ve been a couple of times at readings & signings where someone made not just me uncomfortable but had other people worried on my behalf, to the point where friends have insisted on escorting me to my car, just to be sure, but things hadn’t gotten to the point of actual harassment, you know? I’ve had situations with actual stalkers, but those were outside conventions for the most part so even though I felt deeply uncomfortable it wasn’t like I was getting harassed at a convention. It’s not like I’ve ever been groped or assaulted. . .
You see how this works. The insidious inner voice that tells us this sort of thing isn’t really harassment, it’s no big deal, you’re just being overly sensitive. . . Then you line all these “no big deals” up together and think, whoa.
I can sit here and say I’ve never been harassed, but is that just because so much of this is ubiquitous background noise that I don’t even notice it anymore? Have I developed an ultra high tolerance because I’ve been dealing with sexism and low-grade harassment my whole life and I’ve gotten so good at ignoring it that I really, honestly, don’t see it? I was 24 years old when my Grandpa Vaughn asked me if people teased me about being an old maid. He was joking, but not, you know? I said, “Well, not until just now, Grandpa.” I realize I have a highly developed “Oh, Grandpa,” response to a lot of this, because I don’t want to ruin Thanksgiving.
I just have one story to tell: I was the first girl to join my high school’s science fiction club. This was 1988. First, my high school had a science fiction club, so yay! It may not be much of a “first” trailblazing milestone. Not like Sandra Day O’Conner or Sally Ride. But I did it. And I was lucky because 90% of the guys in the club were fine with having me there. (In fact, once I brought some of my friends along, they were downright giddy. They realized if they behaved themselves and endeared themselves to us, they would have prom dates forever. It worked.) But there was this one guy. I think I broke him completely, because he could not wrap his head around me being there. He never reconciled himself to it. He argued against inviting me to D&D parties. When I was elected president of the club the next year he informed me that I had stolen the club from him. His abuses never got past the verbal, and never became sexual because frankly, he didn’t have the imagination for it. But as far as he was concerned, women didn’t belong in science fiction.
He lost that fight. Mainly because I kept showing up, and eventually he stopped showing up. I’m sure he’s convinced that I drove him out, but leaving was his choice. I didn’t “do” anything to him. He did it all to himself. I haven’t ever looked him up because why would I, but I have a feeling he’s on the Internet somewhere ranting about the terribleness of uppity women.
I straddle generations. I’m just old enough to be part of the “you just deal with it” generation. You ignore it. You keep quiet because you don’t want to rock the boat, but you keep showing up and doing the work and don’t let them close doors on you. You don’t say anything because no one will listen to you, and you don’t want to get kicked out. And for God’s sake you keep showing up because no one else will fight these fights for you.
I’m also just young enough to be part of the next wave of feminism. The generation that’s standing up and declaring that we shouldn’t have to put up with any level of harassment, low-grade or otherwise. And who are generating a level of backlash I have never witnessed before.
I am a beneficiary of several generations of feminism that went before me and I’m so grateful to them for the right to go to college, to own property, to have access to birth control. To live the life I want to live. I didn’t have to fight those fights. I’m lucky. But there are new fights, aren’t there?
I love science fiction and fantasy. And I love that there are communities of people who love science fiction and fantasy, and I want to be part of that. The thing that jerk in my high school SF club taught me: Keep showing up. Gather your defenses, array your allies around you, speak up. We’re fighting for the generations that come after us.