quartzpebble: (you can't see me)
[personal profile] quartzpebble posting in [community profile] fogcon
I emailed this letter to the FOGCon ConCom today. I'm posting it here to offer feedback to the community from a fan and a feminist who thinks FOGCon sounds neat. Several of my friends attend; I'd been thinking about going in 2015. I was dismayed to read the ConCom's response to concerns raised about the appropriateness of someone who's harassed in the past acting as head of Safety. I hope that this letter can help open up a conversation around what this community wants its "welcoming back" to look like.

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To the FOGCon ConCom:

I am writing to offer feedback on your response to the concerns raised about Alan Bostick heading Safety.

Your response entirely elides the difference between offering a reformed harasser "the opportunity to come back into the community" and offering them the opportunity to become head of Safety. I am all for the first. I think the second is a grave mistake--and not because members might feel uncomfortable reporting an incident.

Your response focuses on the mechanics of incident reports and reassures members that "the head of Safety has never been the single point of contact for reporting harassment complaints." I am glad to hear that--it is an important element of a robust harassment response policy. I expect that if I experienced obviously unacceptable harassment while at FOGCon (groping, slurs, assault) that the situation would be handled appropriately and compassionately. That said: this is not the primary problem with someone who has harassed others in the past acting as head of Safety. The head of Safety should be victims' first and fiercest advocate. I do not think that someone who has harassed others, however long ago, is suited for this position.

Mr. Bostick writes: "As a harassment target, I would personally much rather report a new incident to a person who had done similar work of self-examination and was open about whatever their history might be. But everyone is different." I do not know whether Mr. Bostick has in fact been the target of harassment. I do know that I have been the target of overt and subtle sexism in my personal and professional life, and that many of my friends have been through much worse. We've experienced the small acts of boundary testing and the entitled determination of those who "don't notice" and ignore our "no"s--first soft "no", then hard "no", and then we pick up our pieces and try to move on. When we tell each other about these experiences, we notice the common patterns and offer sympathy and support. Our acquaintances and colleagues who have never had to go through anything like that offer "it sounds like he was just trying to be friendly" and "maybe she didn't know how that would come across" and "you know, he's a really touch-y person." Even our friends who are working to eradicate their own entitlement often hesitate before allowing that there is probably a reason for our discomfort. I don't wish those experiences on anyone else, but what we've learned from them lets us keep ourselves and each other safer, sooner.

I am truly glad that Mr. Bostick is trying to understand these dynamics and rid himself of the entitlement to others' attention and bodies that enabled him to make his past choices to harass. However, the ConCom writes in its post: "The chief duties of the head of Safety at FOGcon are to recruit, coordinate, schedule, and train Safety volunteers." The "recruit" and "train" portions of this concern me. It is human nature to want to work with people who are similar to
ourselves in outlook and values. Someone with that visceral knowledge of how harassment or abuse tend to escalate is more qualified to head Safety than someone who first had to fight down his own rationalizations to be able to realize some forms of harassment are wrong.

As I'm not a FOGCon member, I'm writing you to offer honest feedback, not force a change. A bit about myself: I'm an under-30 fan of genre fiction who's a geek and a feminist and is currently active around women in science (http://modelviewculture.com/pieces/i-didn-t-want-to-lean-out) and hacker/makerspaces (founding president, Seattle Attic Community Workshop; http://www.seattleattic.com). I facilitated a discussion on creating welcoming communities earlier this year at Foolscap (http://foolscapcon.org/), which brought some tensions to light and allowed the Foolscap community to begin to address them openly. Your con had been recommended to me by friends whose judgement I trust and I think I would enjoy attending. If the ConCom had not made this decision, or if Alan Bostick had not decided to remain head of Safety, I would now be strongly considering attending in 2015. After hearing the thinking behind this decision, I am unlikely to attend FOGCon unless the organizational culture and reasoning that led to this decision change.

Sincerely,

(quartzpebble)

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I firmly believe reconciliation and change is possible. I think that having a supportive community is essential to helping people who have harassed change their thinking and actions. That said, this support cannot be uncritical. It requires unflinching compassion to sit with someone as they figure out which of their attitudes made them think it was ok to help themselves to someone else's time, attention, or body. It is hard to come to terms with how you (a good person; most of us think we're good, deep down) could have hurt someone in a community you care about. This is hard work and I deeply appreciate those who do it and those who help others with it.

But welcoming someone back into a community is not the same as offering them a position of power in it, and accepting someone's offer to run programming (a random example) is not the same as allowing them to head Safety. Based on their statements, I think that Alan Bostick and the FOGCon ConCom made the wrong choice for the wrong reasons. I am sorry to see that, especially because FOGCon seems like the sort of space I would otherwise love. I hope it becomes possible for me to attend in the future.
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