Ellen, you said, Im sure people get groped and have unwanted passes made at them in fandom and at conventionsjust like in the outside world. I dont buy your contention that theres a prevailing attitude that condones it for anyone.
Im not sure condones is quite the word its less visible than that, less explicit. But I do know that several young Clarion female graduates (in multiple years, usually at a big convention like WorldCon) have come to talk to me, quite distraught, after being fondled, grabbed, etc. at conventions by senior male writers and editors in the field. And they werent sure whether theirs was an isolated incident, or what, and whether they should do anything about it, or even what they could do, other than try to stay out of grabbing range which is often quite difficult to manage someplace like a crowded Tor party. (I dont want to give specific names of offenders in public, but Id be happy to discuss this further with you in private e-mail, with concrete details.)
I didnt know what to tell them honestly, especially if they were a shy, anxious young writer, terrified of upsetting someone powerful in the field and potentially damaging their chances at a future career. I couldnt guarantee that wouldnt happen if they made a loud noise in protest, and thats tragic, a disgrace to a field that has been so forward-thinking about womens issues in the literature.
Im not sure why these young women came to me, other than that I was a female editor of about their own age who seemed potentially sympathetic I wonder how many other women there are who never say anything to anyone.
Sadly, I hear far more reports of this in sf/f publishing circles than I do in mainstream circles which is unsurprising, perhaps, given the extent to which sf was an old boys club for so long. Its changed radically in the last few decades, in no small part due to your own presence and efforts. But we still retain the legacy of those earlier decades, and its clear that many of those men have made no adjustment to their behavior.
And then later, I wrote in private e-mail:
I think this is part of where you and I diverge -- I think of conventions as professional environments. I didn't when I was just a fan, and I had just as much fun as anyone else flirting, dressing seductively, etc. If I'd been groped by a stranger at a party as a fan at a convention, I'd have been annoyed, but that's probably where my reaction would have ended.
But when I started trying to sell fiction, and when I started editing fiction, conventions became a professional environment to me.
That played out in a bunch of ways for me personally, that might well not apply to others. It meant that I pretty much stopped flirting with people I didn't know at cons, because any one of them could turn out to be a writer submitting material to me as an editor, and I'd hate to think that they were either trying to flatter me with the hopes that I'd publish them, or that if I did reject their story, they'd think it was due to something in our flirting/sexualized interaction. I wasn't nearly as affectionate as I'd normally be with people I was involved with in convention public spaces (in a private room party or at a private house part different rules applied) -- that's probably why you didn't realize for years that Jed and I were romantically involved. It just didn't feel appropriate, just the same way I wouldn't smooch Jed in front of a class of my students. I don't want students / people in a lower position of power / aspiring writers to have to deal with my sexuality in a professional environment.
And yes, it meant that conventions were much less fun for me in certain ways. I sometimes complained about that to Jed, so he'll witness for me that I did very much miss the flirtation, the sexual freedom of those earlier cons. There were a number of people / writers who I would have liked to make advances toward, and I probably missed out on some fun and possibly even serious relationships as a result. For me, personally, I'm willing to sacrifice that for the sake of avoiding what I consider inappropriate and potentially damaging sexual conduct in a work environment. Obviously, lots and lots of people think differently -- from the appropriateness of dating at cons to even thinking of them as work environments. But that's definitely where some of my response to all of this is coming from.
Now that I'm no longer actively editing, by the way, my standards for my own personal behavior have loosened considerably....Sometimes it's nice to not be in a position of power anymore. :-)
And a last bit from e-mail:
Perspective and scale do come into this in a major way, don't they?
I wonder whether part of the reason there's *so* much indignation and angry response from what seem to me to be the youngest women involved in this discussion is a result of their simply not having experienced much sexual aggressiveness or violence in their lives. Perhaps that's the generational aspect at play -- my generation had to deal with some of this bullshit -- the previous generation had to deal with a lot more, and the next generation has to deal with much less. (On average, of course -- specific individual experiences will vary wildly.) And that colors our responses -- what the previous generation sees as a minor incident (compared to all the far more major incidents they've encountered), the next generation sees as a major incident -- because they've never had to deal with any of it before.
If that's the case, then I think there's rather a hopeful conclusion to be drawn -- that the absolute amount of this kind of harassment is decreasing over time (whether in the sf community or out of it). Though perhaps I'm just an optimist.
And of course, I agree with the cultural aspects Susan L. brings up -- in Sri Lanka, my female friend and I got an explicit harassing sexual comment from every man we walked by on the beach in the early evening (still light out) -- and that's the beach right outside a five-star hotel. Something like a hundred men, who all thought that the appropriate response to two women walking alone in the evening was an aggressively sexual response. Frightening. Infuriating. Makes you so relieved to come home to America.