Now, I’m not at all surprised that the SFWA warren is hopping madly with news of a shocking sexual harassment scandal now that it has been made clear by the SFWA owsla that it is open season on all non-crossdressing men in the organization – and at the annual gathering of angry land whales known as WisCon, no less – but even I assumed it would take more than a few weeks before the next inevitable pinkshirt scandal exploded all over the increasingly dysfunctional organization’s face.
As it happens, I
may actually have met know the woman who is accusing a Tor editor of sexual harassment. If Elise Matthesen is the same the Elise I knew back in the late nineties, she was a completely useless and not terribly ornamental member of an otherwise excellent writing group in Minneapolis, she never actually did any writing, and all she wanted to do was talk about herself and babble about feminism, sexual harassment, and so forth. And if since it is her, I will not be at all surprised if it is eventually determined by the publishing house and the convention alike that the “harassment” was nothing more than a product of her fevered but uncreative imagination.
According to Ms Matthesen, the gentleman who sexually harassed her was a Tor editor, albeit one of the old school Tor editors who actually published genuine science fiction once upon a time: “My name is Sigrid Ellis. I was one of the co-hosts of the party Elise
mentions. The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel.”
Now, I have no idea what actually happened, nor do I care in the slightest, but I have to say, I’m a little bit
dubious surprised to learn that it is the Elise of my erstwhile acquaintance, not because she appears to have made a false claim of sexual harassment, (if you’d asked me about her yesterday, I’d have told you that I’d be surprised if she didn’t have dozens of them to her credit), but because the following account would make for the longest piece of fiction she has ever actually managed to write:
“We’re geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at
WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you
ever need or want to know, here’s what I learned and how it went.
Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night
at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking
about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist
theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house
joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I
reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to
check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what
had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company
the harasser was representing at the convention.
The mandated reporter was respectful and professional. Even though I
knew them, reporting this stuff is scary, especially about someone who’s
been with a company for a long time, so I was really glad to be
listened to. Since the incident happened during Memorial Day weekend, I
was told Human Resources would follow up with me on Tuesday.
There was most of a convention between then and Tuesday, and I didn’t
like the thought of more of this nonsense (there’s a polite word for
it!) happening, so I went and found a convention Safety staffer. He
asked me right away whether I was okay and whether I wanted someone with
me while we talked or would rather speak privately. A friend was
nearby, a previous Guest of Honor at the convention, and I asked her to
stay for the conversation. The Safety person asked whether I’d like to
make a formal report. I told him, “I’d just like to tell you what
happened informally, I guess, while I figure out what I want to do.”
It may seem odd to hesitate to make a formal report to a convention
when one has just called somebody’s employer and begun the process of
formally reporting there, but that’s how it was. I think I was a little
bit in shock. (I kept shaking my head and thinking, “Dude, seriously??”)
So the Safety person closed his notebook and listened attentively.
Partway through my account, I said, “Okay, open your notebook, because
yeah, this should be official.” Thus began the formal report to the
convention. We listed what had happened, when and where, the names of
other people who were there when it happened, and so forth. The Safety
person told me he would be taking the report up to the next level,
checked again to see whether I was okay, and then went.
I had been nervous about doing it, even though the Safety person and
the friend sitting with us were people I have known for years. Sitting
there, I tried to imagine how nervous I would have been if I were
twenty-some years old and at my first convention. What if I were just
starting out and had been hoping to show a manuscript to that editor?
Would I have thought this kind of behavior was business as usual? What
if I were afraid that person would blacklist me if I didn’t make nice
and go along with it? If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by
people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have
been able to report it at all?
Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn’t have. I know
this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties.
I didn’t report it when it happened to me in my forties either. There
are lots of reasons people might not report things, and I’m not going to
tell someone they’re wrong for choosing not to report. What I intend to
do by writing this is to give some kind of road map to someone who is
considering reporting. We’re geeks, right? Learning something and
sharing is what we do.
So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked,
“Shall we use your name?” I thought for a millisecond and said, “Oh,
This is an important thing. A formal report has a name attached. More about this later.
The Safety team kept checking in with me. The coordinators of the
convention were promptly involved. Someone told me that since it was the
first report, the editor would not be asked to leave the convention. I
was surprised it was the first report, but hey, if it was and if that’s
the process, follow the process. They told me they had instructed him to
keep away from me for the rest of the convention. I thanked them.
Starting on Tuesday, the HR department of his company got in touch
with me. They too were respectful and took the incident very seriously.
Again I described what, where and when, and who had been present for the
incident and aftermath. They asked me if I was making a formal report
and wanted my name used. Again I said, “Hell, yes.”
Both HR and Legal were in touch with me over the following weeks. HR
called and emailed enough times that my husband started calling them
“your good friends at HR.” They also followed through on checking with
the other people, and did so with a promptness that was good to see.
Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was
stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed
there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for
certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate
behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous
reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal.
Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that
had ever been formally recorded.
Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by
the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at
least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and
here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened
before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because
for formal purposes, it was.
I asked whether people who had originally made confidential reports
could go ahead and file formal ones now. There was a bit of confusion
around an erroneous answer by someone in another department, but then
the person at Legal clearly said that “the past is past” is not an
accurate summation of company policy, and that she (and all the other
people listed in the company’s publically-available code of conduct)
would definitely accept formal reports regardless of whether the
behavior took place last week or last year.
If you choose to report, I hope this writing is useful to you. If
you’re new to the genre, please be assured that sexual harassment is NOT
acceptable business-as-usual. I have had numerous editors tell me that
reporting harassment will NOT get you blacklisted, that they WANT the
bad apples reported and dealt with, and that this is very important to
them, because this kind of thing is bad for everyone and is not okay.
The thing is, though, that I’m fifty-two years old, familiar with the
field and the world of conventions, moderately well known to many
professionals in the field, and relatively well-liked. I’ve got a lot of
social credit. And yet even I was nervous and a little in shock when
faced with deciding whether or not to report what happened. Even I was
thinking, “Oh, God, do I have to? What if this gets really ugly?”
But every time I got that scared feeling in my guts and the sensation
of having a target between my shoulder blades, I thought, “How much
worse would this be if I were inexperienced, if I were new to the field,
if I were a lot younger?” A thousand times worse. So I took a deep
breath and squared my shoulders and said, “Hell, yes, use my name.” And
while it’s scary to write this now, and while various people are worried
that parts of the Internet may fall on my head, I’m going to share the
knowledge — because I’m a geek, and that’s what we do.
It should be fascinating to see just how interested the pinkshirts are in continuing their crusade, not against elderly writers and maverick outsiders, but an editor at the largest genre publisher who is married to one of the finest female SF writers. Especially in light of the fact that his accuser is a well-known whack-job. Which, of course, doesn’t mean she’s lying or delusional, only that she’d better be able to produce some evidence or eyewitnesses to back up her claim.
The best part is that the SFWA leadership genuinely believes that it is people like Resnick, Malzberg, and me who are the problem. They don’t realize that they can get rid of every single non-crossdressing male who has ever published in the genre and that won’t even slow down the more radical pinkshirts, as those women are so angry, narcissistic, and delusional that they are capable of seeing racism in a stiff breeze and sexual harassment in a handshake.
If I ever went to an SF/F convention, I can only imagine the pinkshirts would no sooner catch sight of me in the distance before they’d burst into tears and start racing for the “mandated reporters” to be the first to claim that I beat them to death and abused their corpses.