Background, for those who don’t follow the SF/F convention scene:
A few years back, Jim Frenkel was banned from Wiscon and lost his job at Tor following complaints of persistent harassment against a number of women. More recently, Odyssey Con decided to install him as their Guest Liaison. When their Guest of Honor, Monica Valentinelli, told them that Frenkel had harassed her in the past and she felt neither comfortable nor safe interacting with him, they blew off her complaint; when she withdrew from the convention, they posted her private emails on their Facebook page without her permission, characterized her behavior as trying to “dictate” who could and could not attend the convention, assured everybody that Frenkel and another named problem are great guys, and swore that they’re totally a safe space and will handle these problems appropriately if and when they arise.
They’ve since taken down the emails and their initial statement, so Damage Control Mode is a go. But it’s too little, too late: it is already abundantly clear that they are not dedicated to dealing with harassment in a professional manner. They don’t understand privacy, safety, or basic common decency.
But there are plenty of other people dissecting the daisy-chain of failures here. I want to talk about something slightly different.
I have, in a non-convention context, dealt with a problem like this. I am on the board of an organization that received complaints of harassing behavior and assault by a member — someone I have known for years. I was not part of the group tasked to investigate the complaints, but I was one of the people who had to decide what to do after we received that group’s findings. I’m the one who wrote the email announcing our decision to the membership at large, hand-carving every word in an attempt to minimize the risk of misunderstanding or unintended implication.
It’s hard. No matter what you do, you’re going to upset somebody — and that includes doing nothing. You have to wade into the muck of information you’d rather not hear, examine your reaction to each and every piece of that information, weigh potential responses and their repercussions, and then figure out how to translate all of that into statements and actions. Then, once you’ve done that, you get to deal with the fallout. From start to finish, the whole process sucks.
Too bad. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.
And if you can’t — if your reaction to a complaint is going to be to assume it’s no big deal, to let your gut guide you instead of looking at the evidence, to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la” in the hopes that the problem will go away and trouble you no more — then don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to deal with these things. Because the days when you could just skate along and know the woman (it’s almost always a woman) will slink quietly back into her corner? Those are over. These days, if you do this bad a job of handling a known problem, you can and will be pilloried for it. And you will deserve that pillorying, because resources and guidelines for how to do better are readily available, and it was your decision not to pay attention to them.
Creating a “fun, safe, welcoming, event where fans of all kinds can come together and enjoy themselves” takes work. So do the work. Words alone are not enough.