Won’t someone think of the insensitives?

Every time sexual harassment at conventions comes up, somebody trots out the red herring that it’s just too hard for certain persons to know when they’re being polite and when they’re being rude, and it’s just unfair to ask these poor insensitive people to read the fickle minds of the lovely mysterious creatures they’re attracted to.

To which I say, with as much respect as I can muster: Please fuck off.

Sensitivity can be learned. Manners can be learned. Manners in fandom are not, much as some fans like to pretend otherwise, significantly different from manners outside it. Erring on the side of being a shy violet because you’re afraid of giving offense may cause you to miss out on a sexual opportunity or two over the years, but if it also causes you to miss out on even one occasion of putting some other person (who, we hope, you’re well-disposed toward, right?) in fear and ruining their convention, then it’s a public service and well worth the sacrifice.

There are people in the world who are physically and mentally incapable of learning to tell the difference between courtesy and rudeness but as a proportion their number is vanishingly small, even in fandom, despite what some self-serving fans like to pretend. And even if it weren’t, their right to hit on people does not come close to trumping the right of other people not to be sexually harrassed.

(Please don’t anyone say “What about the Aspies?” which is usually where this goes next. The autistics and the folks with Asperger’s syndrome that I know are too polite to punch you but that won’t stop me wanting to and my blood pressure doesn’t need it this week, for reasons completely unrelated to SFWA.)

(I know this isn’t a new sentiment and I’m sure it’s been put better by other folks, and recently, but it wasn’t being said in certain venues. So I posted there, and I’m reposting here.)

11 thoughts on “Won’t someone think of the insensitives?

  1. I was an obnoxious semi-Aspie fan boy: I learned better, and I thank every woman and man who taught me to behave like a grown-up human being should. Eventually, I found sex, and then love, within the welcoming shelter of fandom, where smart=sexy.

    When I offended, I had no right to the “geek social klutz” defense. We should always seek to make fandom a a better place for ALL of us to get our geek on.

    (And I belatedly apologize to any and all I offended against along the way.)

  2. This is the exact reason I quit going to Cons. The moment my husband ran or played in a game, the creepers came out. I’d be stared at, especially at my breasts, no matter how well I covered up. I’d be spoken to as if I was a prostitute, propositioned, then even groped. No matter that I did not dress provocatively (I was wearing comfy jeans and a surgical scrub for crying out loud!) I had nothing but miserable experiences. I was more than once told I was “begging for it” just because I was female and at a convention! My husband never saw the behavior and never believed me because when he was by my side no one said or did anything.Of course, his being 6’4″ 265 lbs a blacksmith and a rapier fighter might have had something to do with that. I finally said I would never go to one again.

  3. My son is an Aspie, and he totally knows the rules about interacting with people. He had to learn them in books and through social curriculum at school instead of just picking them up from peers, but he is the most scrupulously polite teenager you’d ever meet. If anything, he oblivious to when girls flirt with him (and they do, a lot, because he’s really handsome). Atypical neurology is a Thing, but it is not an Excuse for sexual assault, or not leaving people alone when they ask. My son appreciates it when people clearly articulate their boundaries, and he respects people’s wishes.

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  5. Yes but.. being rude is NOT sexual harassment. It is being rude. It is something that happens to people in life and something that people deal with every day, at work and at play. It is not something that an internet mob ruins someone’s life over. We are behaving like fanatics, not fans.

  6. Being rude isn’t sexual harassment, but sexual harassment is certainly — for starters — being rude.

    And if you can’t tell when you’re crossing from rudeness over to harassment, maybe you should take extra care to be polite.

  7. Thank you for so efficiently cutting through the bullshit.

    I’m reminded of my concept of ‘tactical stupidity’ (on my personal Web pages’ ‘lexicon’ page, but I’m not sure if URLs are welcome in comments). The dollar shot about this concept: ‘The tactical variety can be distinguished from genuine stupidity by vanishing, the instant those supposedly unable to cope start getting replaced.’

    Likewise, I suspect we’d be amazed at how quickly people who claim its too hard to evince basic manners can learn them the instant they start getting dumped into the street.

    Best Regards,
    Rick Moen
    rick@linuxmafia.com

  8. IIRC, in “The First Stone”, Australian writer Helen Garner described an ugly incident in which she was sexually harassed on public transport – and then blamed herself: after all, since she froze up in fear and didn’t say anything, how was the poor chap to know his attentions were unwanted?

    I’ve never forgotten reading this passage, and being astonished that Garner didn’t understand that his harassment was not clueless and accidental: he was deliberately, knowingly, cynically relying on her to be a passive, polite, helpless young lady.

    I think politeness vs courtesy is a red herring here. Rude people make you cross. They don’t put you in fear of sexual assault. Shouting at the server because your coffee is cold is _rude_. Getting someone into a vulnerable position and sleazing onto them, despite their protestations or obvious lack of interest, is _harassment_. Grabbing someone’s breast is _criminal_.

  9. I agree with all of that, and it’s what makes the continual framing of it in terms of manners so derailing.

    That said, for the honest and well-meaning but clueless, borderline ‘Nice Guy’ congoer who honestly doesn’t want to harrass anybody but can’t wrap his (probably his) head round what harrassment actually looks like, being polite would be a good start.

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