Incident Report No. 20

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This week we take a brief respite from our regular small press crime fiction week in review and talk about something much more important.

Last week there’s been quite a bit of talk on social media regarding sexual harassment within the crime fiction. This doesn’t mean that the conversation has not been occurring prior, see Alexandra Sokoloff’s #MeToo Facebook posts, it is just where I’m coming in.

At Do Some Damage Renee Asher Pickup’s “We Need To Talk” combined with Jay Stringer’s Facebook post created a lot of activity within in the crime fiction community. Renee writes,

We are not immune. Women are speaking out and not being heard. Most of our conferences and conventions don’t even have a way to report misconduct (of any kind, let alone sexual harassment). When an act is inappropriate but not criminal, that means it simply cannot be dealt with. When it is criminal, that means the victim doesn’t have the support of the conference if she makes the difficult decision to involve the police in a city she doesn’t live in and must leave in a few days.

Everyone should please read this article.

Over at Stringer’s post there was a lot of conversation from this simple post,

Somehow, feels like our little crime fiction corner of the world steadfastly refuses to have the public discussion that every other industry is having right now.

Lord, I’m discouraged.

There were many good ideas such as Alexandra Sokoloff writing that “Sisters in Crime, MWA and ITW could issue a joint letter to their members offering people who have been sexually harassed a forum to report to.”  There was the suggestion for all the mystery conventions putting out policies on appropriate behavior as well as ways for people to report sexual harassment.

Another conversation took place on Ed Aymar’s Facebook page. For men, I believe Danny Gardner’s comment spot on.

Respectfully, and with my appreciation for starting the discussion, I see the answer is to publish more works by women, provide them equal opportunity in marketing and promotion, and advance creators who are willing to provide perspective on issues related to gender, of which sexual harassment is one of many. To do so, we must hire women into positions of power in Mystery/Crime, granting them a measure of authority to address sexual harassment as well as other gender imbalances. We must share the stage with women creators of Mystery/Crime and acknowledge, uphold and reinforce the contributions and achievements of women in mystery/crime. It’s easy to make an example out of men who are suspected of committing sexual harassment and sexual assault. It’s harder to admit and address/redress issues of gender bias in our genre. We do so and the culture changes and the value of women in our business beyond false notions of their sexual utility happen by default. Blacklists and lynchings would be carried out by men, which is the flipside to the same issue of allowing/aiding and abetting predatory behavior. Step aside and allow women more power. Don’t fix it for women. Get out of the way and allow women to take the lead and they’ll fix it for all of us.

If you think this is all overblown, you’re wrong and you need to read Sokoloff’s Facebook post after Bouchercon. Though I’m reposting the entirety of Sokoloff’s post, please go read it because the comments are equally as important.

#MeToo continued. Just this weekend, at Bouchercon: a professional dinner. The male author I don’t know from Adam sits next to me, the only woman. The table is having the conversation about Trump and Weinstein and sexual harassment. And every two minutes this guy touches me on my bare arm to make a point. Dozens of times in two hours – while I inch farther and farther away from him. It was aggressive, it was dominant, it was an invasion, and outrageously inappropriate in any circumstance, much less during THAT conversation. I didn’t stab him through that hand with a fork only because we were in otherwise lovely company and I would have put someone I care about in an awkward dilemma.

My male friends know how much I love hugging and physical contact. But guys? If you are not ABSOLUTELY SURE that your friends or a woman YOU DON’T KNOW wants you to touch her? DON’T. And dozens of times? I don’t go near that guy EVER again, and the next man who tries it gets the fork no matter what the setting.

No. That’s not entirely true. It’s possible, and it’s deserved, but it’s not the answer. We have to change the culture. We have to change hearts and minds.

So. I’ve been turning over how best to handle this that would do the most good for other people, going forward. I’ve written to him, spelling out exactly what he did, exactly what men like him do it for, and exactly what I would do if I find any reports of other behavior. I want to see how he responds. I know that it’s possible for people to course correct. I think writers are more capable of it than other people. We need to start rehabbing the ones who are capable of it. We’ll see how he responds.

For my part, I can listen to the victims and I can support decisions made by the community. I know I need to step up and call out other men when they are behaving badly. I can no longer stand idly by and let this behavior continue. We have no more excuses; I have no more excuses. I truly believe Gardner is correct that men need to step aside and let women lead. I promise I will follow. In the spirit of that, let me listen to the end of Renee Asher Pickup’s article:

Ask her if she wants to talk about it. Ask her if she wants to report it. Ask her.

If you are in a position to take some kind of action against the perpetrator, but feel you need her first person account, ask her if she would like to talk to you about what happened so you can take appropriate action. And use those fucking words. Don’t ask her for evidence. Don’t make it clear that you’re “investigating” or that you’re dealing with the shock that “such a nice guy” could hurt someone. Because it is not about your heroics. It is about facing a serious problem in our own community that will take women out of your conventions, away from your publishers, and off your social media.

There is a type of man who would be totally okay with this, I hope our community is good enough  to know it’s unacceptable.

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