Another approach to convention harassment policy

Barry Gold recently sent me a sketch of some text for a convention harassment policy, with permission to quote it here. He says it’s just a draft which he and Lee worked up, but it’s helped to clarify in my mind just how seriously speech-code policies go wrong; not only do they impose restrictions which are contrary to fandom’s spirit of open discussion, they may actually make it harder to act against harassment. Here’s what he sent me:

We’ve been having a discussion about this on the LASFS’s Facebook group, and getting feedback that some women are too nervous to come right out and say “No.”

I think we need to add some empowerment to the start:

You have the right to say “No.”
You have the right to say “Stop.”
You have the right to say “Go away!”

If the person doesn’t seem to hear the first time, say it louder. You have the right to say it as loud as needed. Scream it at the top of your voice, to get attention from other people in the room.

Don’t bother with subtlety. Subtlety is wasted on fans.
Don’t bother with politeness. Politeness is wasted on fans.
Fans are, on average, less good at social skills than mundanes. That’s part of why we are here: Fandom is more tolerant of our inability to guess what other people are thinking.

Just come right out and say it. It’s allowed. We’re not in Mundania any more {, Toto}. Stand in front of a mirror and practice saying, “No” and “Stop” and “Go away” until it comes out easily.

Then, if something happens at a convention or a club meeting or any other fannish event that makes you uncomfortable, use those words. Think of them as magic spells: you must use those exact words or the spell won’t work.

If you can’t bring yourself to say, “No,” maybe you should consider teaming up with somebody who will say it for you.

Whether this is the right text depends on the convention. It would be overkill for a small convention with no history of problems, but could be appropriate for a larger one. I’m more interested here in the approach than in fine-tuning the policy.

The speech-code approach bans conduct that will “cause offense,” or any comment that “demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment.” People who are too nervous to say “no” are very likely to see this as applying to them. They may think that if they respond vocally and indignantly to mistreatment, the concom won’t look kindly on them, especially if the pest has strong connections in fandom or gives the impression that he does.

The con committee can’t be everywhere. Its members usually aren’t trained in evaluating testimony. It can ban people, but it needs to go to the hotel or police to enforce a ban. On the other hand, a person on the spot can sometimes dissuade a pest with some calm but firm words. Those words damn well should cause personal humiliation and embarrassment if the pest deserves it.

Every convention attendee should help to make the convention welcoming for all its members. Intervening is something many of us (including comcom members) aren’t much good at, but whatever efforts we can make will do more good than draconian policies enforced by the concom.

Update: One further thought, inspired by a comment in rasff. “Politeness is wasted on fans” certainly isn’t true. “Politeness is wasted on rude people” is more defensible, but even there courtesy can often defuse a situation. If the response you get proves that it really was wasted, then escalate as necessary.

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