So. When people talk about how there is a war on women, there's also this.
And if you haven't, take a look at this and this and this and this and this and this. Follow the links. Read the comment threads, and see how there's the occasional -- or not so occasional -- post from someone who just doesn't get it.
If you're reading this, odds are you've read most of these threads and then some, and I'm preaching to the choir. But, it is so easy to be silent, so easy to be cowardly. Courage needs to be practiced, and one has to start somewhere.
mneme is braver than I am. At this year's Arisia, I met him in the con suite on Friday night, and he was not pleased. He told me that a friend of ours, who happens to be a woman, had been unhappy about something. I don't remember if he knew what it was, but that doesn't matter.
This is what matters: A man neither he nor she nor any of the people they were with knew came up to her. And he said, to this woman he did not know, that she should not look so sad unless someone had just died.
I am not sure what happened next, but I think it involved walking away. mnemex was still thinking about the situation, and he decided that he could not let this stand, and that he really did need to talk to the man who had made that comment. So, he walked over to him and told him that one does not ever do that sort of thing; it is harassment.
The man said something on the order of, "Thank you for harassing me."
After all, if it's harassment to tell someone you have never met that she needs to look the way you want her to look, it's harassment to tell someone you have never met that his behavior is unacceptable, right?
mnemex just said that the latter was not harassment, and we walked away.
Now, note what did not happen.
No one was physically violent.
No one made any threats. This includes threats to call convention security.
Really, no one even escalated. If I want to put a positive spin on this, I can say that perhaps this man was surprised and covered with humor, and perhaps he later realized that he had been wrong. Maybe it's even true, and if so, I wish him well.
But, I don't know. And, whoever he is, I do not feel safe with him around. Did this ruin my convention? No. But, I do not feel as safe as I used to at Arisia, which is one of my favorite sf conventions.
I do not know whether I would or would not have wanted to go to convention security about this if I had been there. On the whole, I suspect it would not have been the correct move. I do not know at what point it would be the correct thing to do, particularly as there is an element of not wanting to make trouble.
I do not think I would have had the courage to do what mnemex did on my own, even if I had been there. I do not know if I would have had the courage to do it with someone beside me, even if I had been there, and I suspect that I would not have. I do not like confrontations. And, oh my, yes, gender is a factor here.
And, this is why it was the correct move for mnemex to tell this person that his behavior was not appropriate.
If I had been the woman in that situation, I think I would have been too stunned to say anything. And, possibly, I would have been too afraid. I don't think I would have been afraid of physical violence, but I would have been afraid of escalation, of saying things wrong, of not knowing how to respond to "you are harassing me by telling me never again to do this", of making the general situation worse.
And, this is not a stupid fear. When I have discussed political matters (and I shall assume that I do not have to prove that how women are treated is a political matter) in safe spaces, with friends I trust, I have generally discovered that I don't know nearly so much as I think I know and that the things that I have said tend to be wrong. And, in safe space, with friends I trust, I can deal with that. No one is hurting me. I try to learn, and I move on.
But, that doesn't make me exactly confident about speaking out in spaces I consider less safe. Sometimes, that's probably a good thing, keeping me from saying stupid, hurtful things without realizing it.
And sometimes, it's not a good thing. As many people note on Making Light, it is important for men and woman to speak up about what behaviors are not acceptable. Swap out "men" and "women" for the privileged and unprivileged groups of your choice.
Deciding you can walk up to a woman you don't know and tell her that she has to smile for your pleasure is telling her, "You're chattel. In fact, I own you."
The rules of the USA are threatening to slide ever more in the direction of making that law. I don't want that.
Again, swap out "men" and "women" for the privileged and unprivileged groups of your choice. And, those of you with courage, if you also have the patience and the inclination, teach the rest of us how to speak up in such a way that at least we can reduce the fear of getting it wrong.