Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Thoughts on Current Events

I've seen this everywhere...

Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis at the Hugos. (Point #3)

..and I should say something about it, but.. Ach.. I'm too disgusted about it.

But one blogger (found through Lis) brings up the best point, something to be addressed.
It makes me wonder–how must a woman just entering the field feel about this? Younger female readers? What could they possibly think about this? Could they possiblly think anything good about SF/F? As a field? A community? I tend and like to think as a field we have our shit together. But, much as we have the “digital divide” on the Internet, we have the “sanity divide” or “asshole divide” in science fiction! I’m sure shit like this happens in other fields–but in such a public arena? Where the award-winner gets treated like shit?
And he naturally has me thinking about comics. When the stories about female professionals and the behavior they face at cons get out -- hell, when stuff like Miller's ASBAR SCRIPT gets out -- and we see the harassment and unprofessionalism and general disregard for women behind the often defended as harmless surface material, what do you think we think?

I was nervous going to Chicago. The last con I'd been to was GenCon and that was when I was a teenager, with my sister and two friends (one of whom was such a HUGE guy that only an idiot would threaten him or the little 15 year old talking to him). Here I was a grown woman, nervous that I'd run into trouble there. Making "Group" plans to avoid it.

I've spoken to a number of other young female fans online, and they expressed the same trepidation. Worried that the fanboys at Wizardworld were as bad as they heard. And who wouldn't be? It's sponsored by Wizard Magazine, notorious for pandering to the adolescent male mentality -- we've all seen the cover and the contents.

It turned out to be an enjoyable experience, but Wizardworld Texas (which is far closer to my home) is rounding the corner and I can go there alone. So, of course, the same nervousness is rearing its head. I won't be backed up by three girls in matching shirts. I'll be a single woman. I've told other women not to worry, to just go. If I can get the time off, I will just go, but still... Most of us would rather stay home than risk it.

And it comes back to the horror stories online about how we're treated in male-dominated fan communities, and comic book stores, in addition to conventions. We've all heard them and gone "so that's how it is," and it makes sense, because of the "Sex sells" attitude that actually translates to "Sexy Women sell" in comic book marketing. What are we supposed to think? What kind of message does it send? It all combines to tell us that we are not welcome there.

If you guys wonder why you never see many female fans in person, this may have something to do with it.


  1. re: Connie Willis.
    Oh my goodness gracious. I hadn't heard about this. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I'm teaching Bellwether and "Last of the Winnebagos" this semester, and will direct my students towards this as a discussion-starter.

    What are we supposed to think? What kind of message does it send? It all combines to tell us that we are not welcome there.

    It's sad, really, that this attitude in comics and at cons prevails. What also troubles me are the "girl standard" books, and the immediate assumption that because I'm a "girl," I dont read, say, The Ultimates. Only Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane.
    (Although I do read SMLMJ, because it's a fabulous book, not because it's "girly.")

    Out of curiosity, do you know of any comic book stores run by women? We've only two stores here, and the one we frequent is owned and run by a woman. Quite a different dynamic when we walk in as opposed to the other.

  2. Geez. I know Harlan Ellison delights in his reputation as an asshole, but most of the anecdotes I'd heard before about him depicted his behavior in "charmingly roguish and outspoken" terms. This is something else entirely, and there's nothing charming or roguish about it. This crosses the line from "antisocial" to "sociopathic."

    I'm reminded of how disillusioned I felt upon hearing of similar behavior from Julius Schwartz, and how far down my esteem for him fell.

  3. It's my experience that the "charmingly roguish" are just honest to goodness assholes. I've never understood the worship of Ellison....possibly it's because he gives voice to so many of the angry pissants with small souls.


    Your account of the trepidation experienced female fans was both touching and upsetting. As progressive as the comics biz thinks it is, it's really stuck in the same old ugly, misogynistic pattern from decades ago. For whatever it's worth, there are a few of us men who are genuinely embarrassed and disgusted both by the portrayal of women in comics and the treatment of women by professionals and fellow fans.

  4. Seriously, I'm so glad that there are women out there who have the fortitude to deal with all this bullshit. I can sort of relate (although, i always loathe to compare one type of oppression over another) as a gay man who gets to hear all kinds of feelings from people about me being a gay man. I know that I periodically (at least 2 times a month) get e-mails from straight, white men from ultra conservative backgrounds saying really horrible things...sometimes violent...and very hateful. So, my heart goes out to Connie Willis.

    That said, I wish there was some magic remedy that would turn the comic book profession from boys club to people willing to embrace all people. I know that there are those out there that get it and don't want to get down on all the straight, white men, but there. But, unfortuantely, it is a reality that probably won't be solved in a day. And that's why I respect women like Gail Simone and Devin Grayson who probably have to deal with a lot of this bull crap because if more and more women can break in, the tides are bound to change.

    That's why I'm grateful for blogs like yours and Kalinara's and podcasts like Lene Taylors and the Birds of Geek who are showing us all that women are very much a vibrant part of our comic book community.

  5. RE: Connie Willis

    I saw her on a panel on humor in writing at WorldCon in... ummm... 2000. She was so nice, and definitely capable of handling herself, but... yes.

    She shouldn't have to.

    I don't know. I have no fear of walking through a convention by myself, with or without a bunch of other women wearing polo shirts. But you knew that.

    Maybe I'm just foolhardy. Maybe I'll pay for it some day.

    But it's so much easier to enjoy myself when I'm not being afraid.

  6. Does the comic book industry really think of itself as progressive? Are they really that self-deluded?

  7. "Out of curiosity, do you know of any comic book stores run by women?"

    The Acme Superstore in Orlando is co-owned by a woman, Tory Dinkins, and her husband. Speaking to her, she seemed to me someone clearly used to being in charge--very relaxed, matter-of-fact and outgoing.

    And the store itself is easily the most open, airy, well-lit, inviting, and kid-friendly comix joint I've seen, by a long chalk. Of course this translates into a broader spectrum of clientele, though the store's established nature (25 years old) doubtless helps too.

  8. I've seen this nowhere else and details seemed rather scarce on that other blog, but assuming this is perfectly accurate... it's also perfectly fucked-up.

    If no one spoke up, at the time, they should've. In these types of situations, silence is the enemy.

  9. The thing is, from what I've read of Ellison (even from Ellison himself), this incident doesn't quite surprise me. It disappoints me, certainly, but I can't say that it surprises.

    I can't imagine in any context where that behavior is appropriate.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Sorry about littering the place up. I had refered to Ellison's comments at his site, but after reading up on the matter more, I decided calling it a "confession" might have been a bit inaccurate on my part. Thus I retracted my comment.

    The curious can find his comments somewhere here at:

    (Sorry about the lack of proper linkage. My grasp of HTML is just good enough to get me in trouble.)

  12. Gaachk! There are no words for the walking atrocity that is Harlan Ellison. I hope he's not typical... I hope most women don't think he's typical... of male fans. Isn't it time he was put in some kind of home?

  13. I heard about this just last night and couldn't really comprehend it. Neither can I really understand Ellison's so-called apology, which is really more about him reminding everyone how charmingly roguish he is, and implying that other people are to blame for not stopping him sooner in his career of asshattery.

    For some interesting discussion, take a look at Elizabeth Bear's livejournal, where she posts about both the original incident and Ellison's response.

  14. For what it is worth, this type of thing is NOT typical.

    As is... I may try and talk my girlfriend out of dressing as Black Canary for our first Con together, even if she could kick the ass of any guy who tries something. :)

  15. because of the "Sex sells" attitude that actually translates to "Sexy Women sell"

    I don't think you're being realistic/harsh enough because in my experience "sex sells" usually translates as "we sell women's bodies as meat".

  16. I did not actually witness the event, but are you being overly harsh?

    How old is Ellison?

    Can you apply the same standards to an older person, who grew up with a different set of rules?

    Not that what he did is right, but does that make everything he every did not somehow less?

  17. Amy -- I used to go to one in Mississippi that was owned by a nice old lady, it was jsut off=-base. Walking distance.

    I don't know of one in OKC, but the one I go to is 1/4 Hello Kitty collectibles, 1/4 Anime, and most of the clientele is female anyway. It's a nice atmosphere.

  18. Jim -- I don't give a shit how old you are, you do not touch a woman's breasts without her express permission.

  19. Jim, think about that for a moment. Are you seriously trying to say that a man shouldn't be held accountable for his actions because of his age?

    Groping is a form of sexual assault. Which is a crime. Whether or not Ms. Wills presses charges. Ellison's age does not exempt him from the law.

    And age is a dumb excuse in any case. While inappropriate touching might not have been a prosecutable offense in the past, I think if you asked your parents or grandparents if it was, in their time, acceptable to so touch a woman's body without her permission, you'd STILL get a resounding "No." It's common decency.

  20. I'm not a violent man, and I do like Ellison's writing.

    But if I were Ms. Willis' husband or boyfriend, only Green Lantern level willpower or a huge security detail would prevent me from punching his fucking lights out, no matter WHAT era he grew up in.

    Some things are just NOT okay.

  21. Jim-- Of course it doesn't make everything he ever did irrelevant.

    He still wrote a lot of stories that stick a dagger in my heart. They're wonderful stories. I value his contribution to SF.

    But he _groped her_ on _stage_ at the _Hugo Awards_.

    I mean. Please.

    (There's a bunch of LJ folks trying to address the overarching problem here, that of fandom not being a safe space for women (and other folks), over in this community.)

  22. Age is NOT an excuse! Can you see
    your Grandfather groping someone?
    What is too old, what is too young?For cryin' out loud, men have had
    THIRTY years to get used to the
    idea that perhaps women don't want to be regarded as appliances! If
    he is old, then he's old enough to have some manners and be a gentleman. He's just a creep.

  23. I think the thing to do is persevere (otherwise why make sites like We have to show the men who actively discourage women members from certain communities that we will not be threatened or demeaned by them and they can go f--- themselves.

    I think a group of female artists and writers should make an anthology called "Mostly Harmless" full of male sexploitation. Yeah, see how male fans like that.

  24. Groping a woman no matter what your age is wrong.

    What I'm saying is that older people (especially if their mental facilities are slowing down) have a tendency to do things that people should not do. Older people sometines remind me of small children (no internal monitor to stop impluses).

    All I was trying to say is that let's not villify Ellison too much or forget what he contributed to us.

  25. Jim,

    Since Ellison apologized for his actions and says he was 100% responsible for what happened, your excuse doen't hold water. Read the links from earlier in the post to see what I mean.

    As for the "dementia" excuse, if he was that much of a danger, I kinda doubt he would be doing public events.

  26. He's not being villified, he's being a villain. And I'm not sure what there is about his writing that could or should make it a qualifier when judging his real life actions.

  27. Ellison has since retracted that "apology".

  28. I agree with you, thank you for saying it so eloquently. I for once am afraid of going to a con again. The last one I attended - one in britain, several years ago - had staff that fit to people like this Ellison. I did get groped, very hard, and had several witnesses, and got told that it wasn't a bad thing and that I should suck it up.

    Nuff said, haven't been to a con ever since. And that con was an anime convention, that means there are a lot more women there than at most comic cons.

    Add to that the way people behave in comic stores, and yes. That is EXACTLY why there are so few female comic fans to be seen. Why go to such a con or such a shop when all that happens is that you're getting harassed with no one doing anything about it? Heck, look at this thread. Someone - called Jim - is already making excuses and claims that Ellison is being villified.

    That happens every time. The guy is never at fault, they claim. It's always the fault of the woman. Jim claims that, Ellison claims it. Take his stupid excuse. "She was mean to me earlier so I groped her!"

    I think a group of female artists and writers should make an anthology called "Mostly Harmless" full of male sexploitation. Yeah, see how male fans like that.

    Women do, it's called slash. And yes, many, many male fans hate that with a passion. And slash isn't even pure sexploitation, it just includes male homosexual sex.

  29. If Harlan Ellison really has blood clots in the brain, then so do a lot of much younger men.

    Note how the apologies tend to cross all age barriers.

    When YOUNG men grope and pinch and pull at women, the apologists say:
    "Boys will be boys... they're just sowing their wild oats... It's their raging hormones, they can't help themselves."

    When OLD men grope and pinch and pull at women, the apologists say:
    "He's just a harmless old man, he's just being childish... he can't help himself, he's getting senile."

    Imagine that WOMEN groped and pinched and pulled at MEN in a public ceremony such as the Hugo Awards. Would the same apologists then say:
    "Girls will be girls... they're just sowing their wild eggs... It's their raging hormones, they can't help themselves... She's just a harmless old woman, she's just being childish... she can't help herself, she's getting senile."

    Of course sex is a powerful force. But so is reason and common sense.

    If one wants to explore the tensions between desire and reason, then why not write stories about it? Science fiction can be a good genre in which to discuss questions about free will, desire and power. James Tiptree Jr (Alic Sheldon) wrote several classic stories on the subject.

  30. Ray Palmer, undeserving target of Harlan Ellison’s meanness for many years, is laughing somewhere.

    Ellison has largely made himself a pseudo-celebrity by his outrageous actions. As many older writers and fans remember (but do they DARE to speak?) Ellison intentionally recruited fans to harass and ridicule an aging and already crippled Palmer at SCIFI Conventions in the 60s and early 70s, intentionally distorted and took out of context what the man said, and did everything he could to ruin him. Palmer, of course, was the one-time editor of Amazing Stories who started the whole “Shaver Mystery” rolling. In addition to being a legendary force in early scifi and fantasy publishing, he was a kind-hearted gent who loved the fans and also committed the Harlan-ordained ’sin’ of having an interest in exploring the paranormal, UFOs, and other strange phenomena.

    Yep, Palmer is laughing somewhere, and given Ellison’s history, it’s probably a lot more pleasant somewhere than Harlan will end up--despite all the ass-kissing from pros and fans alike.


  31. Forgot to mention--In one harassing incident, Harlan's stooges caused Palmer, already elderly and crippled, to fall and hurt himself when he was cornered in an elevator at a convention.

    Despicable, but everyone pretends not to remember, and kisses his ass.