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Editorial Boob

Bucky - Spork!

ETA: Based on suggestions in the comments, I will be contacting the major publishers to try to find out who to contact if you’ve experienced this sort of harassment from one of their employees.  I will publish that information as soon as I can.

#

Yesterday I posted about the good that was WFC.  Today I wanted to talk about some of the bad and the ugly.

Over the course of the convention, I ended up talking to several different women about a particular editor from one of the major publishing houses.  Each one of these women, all of whom are writers, described how this editor would ogle their chests, give uninvited massages, or explicitly compliment them on their breasts.

The more I heard these stories and thought about them, the angrier I got.  Bad enough when a random creep at a con puts his hands on you without permission, or sits there leering at you.  What do you do, as a writer, when it’s an editor?  Someone who might be able to give you your big break, but could also ruin you, at least at this particular house?

(Gosh, it’s a good thing there’s no sexism in SF/F anymore, eh?)

And what do I do?  I didn’t witness this behavior first-hand.  Oh no, this guy was always perfectly civil around me.  Nor do I feel comfortable telling other people’s stories for them.  Meaning … what?  I just write a vague post about editors who sexually harass writers?

So far, only a few other options have come to mind.

1. I can point out the back up project.  The project does make a good point that, “it is unlikely that a woman who is already being followed around a con hotel by a strange guy will feel as comfortable asking another strange guy to walk with her to her car as she would asking another woman.”  But if you feel comfortable asking me for backup, I’ll say yes.  And if I see this behavior, I’ll do my best to challenge it.  (Hey, he’s not my editor.  The dude has zero power over me…)

2. I can point out that he has little real power over anyone else, either.  Editors are not as powerful as they think.  The truth is, if you’re a good writer, this guy isn’t your only option.  There are other editors looking for good books.  And ultimately, if your writing isn’t ready yet, then it doesn’t matter how much he looks and/or touches you; he’s not going to buy a book from you.  Either way, this individual has no actual power over you.

3. I can point out that you’re not alone.  I know sometimes this sort of thing can make you feel alone, but if you’ve been harassed by some guy at a con or elsewhere, I guarantee you’re not the only one he’s done it to.

I suspect this sort of thing is often overlooked because people tell themselves it’s not that bad.

I think it’s bad enough.  It’s an unforgivable abuse of one’s position as editor.  It’s an inexcusable way to behave toward others.  And it’s not something that anyone should have to put up with.

Thoughts and discussion are welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

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cathschaffstump
Nov. 2nd, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Although the personnel department at my work does not allow me to go into any details, I can tell you that the reason I am staying late at work tonight is related to your post, and I can also tell you that organizations often can do nothing if individuals do not come forward, even if the organization has a strong supposition that things are going on.

These sorts of people often rely on the power differential to get what they want. Disgusting, but true.

If someone comes forward, chances are excellent the institution this person works for has a process in place to deal with this. If more than one comes forward, the case is strengthened.

If not, there's always legal recourse.

Jim's right. Nothing is worth putting up with this sort of thing.

Catherine
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
Catherine,

What would your school's policy be if the harassment was directed at someone who wasn't an employee or student? I'm trying to find the parallel for the editor harassing someone who isn't an employee of the publisher, but might be a potential contracted employee (i.e., a future writer).

I don't see any sort of sexual harassment policy or information posted on this publisher's web site. Would you recommend just using the "Contact" form on the site to start with?

"These sorts of people often rely on the power differential..."

Or the perceived power differential.

Thanks,
Jim
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time_shark
Nov. 2nd, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this, Jim. It's not the first time I've heard of such things in the field, surprise, surprise, and in the past I've found myself in the exact same situation you describe, unhappy with what I've heard from many others about someone's behavior but not a personal witness to any of it. You've handled it more eloquently than I ever did.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
It's unfortunately all too common. I've heard way too many stories of women pulling one another aside to pass along warnings about various individuals. You also get the men who, because they don't see it themselves, decide that anyone who complains is just inventing problems to be upset about. (Sorry -- still cranky about that whole "no sexism in SF/F" thing.)

When I did rape counseling, we stressed that the decision to report was up to the victim, and I think that principle applies here as well. But I hate feeling powerless to do something about it, you know?
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suricattus
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Never before have I been so glad to have a chest that does not warrant a second look, much less an ogle. Sadly, there are some men (and women) in the field who behave as badly as any rag-mannered fan, and not just to writers.

If any of the women you spoke to would like to, in confidence, contact me, I would be very interested to know if the person I'm thinking of is the person they're describing. If so, then it's past time the industry self-regulates (it's one thing to be a dick to your peers. Another thing entirely to use it on people you have power over, implied or otherwise).
leahbobet
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
Likewise, I'd be very interested to know who not to get into elevators with.
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dichroic
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
On the back-up project: this is one thing readers can do. Editors have NO power over us, and how many of us never plan to submit a book, read them like we're addicted, and would be thrilled to do spend a little time helping for a writer who's given us a lot of happy moments? Or might in future?

A legion, that's how many.

deborahblakehps
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
Great post, as always. I say we sic a goblin army on him. If they're hungry, they might do some real damage in the areas they can reach :-)

I am a big fan of speaking up. I will usually take the time and effort to complain about really bad service or something unfair, even if it isn't going to do me any good--I figure it might help the next person who comes along.

And frankly, as much as I want to get published, the only thing worse than having this guy take advantage during the "wooing" process would be living with him constantly once you had a contract and were "married." Nothing is worth that. Head for the nearest exit, ladies...
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. Once you sign that contract, then point #2 goes out the window, because now he *does* have some real power over you. Ugh...
vylar_kaftan
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for speaking up. Sometimes people don't believe me when I say the "casting couch" is still sometimes a problem for women writers in the sf/f field.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
Well you know, *I* didn't get harassed by my editor or anything like that, so obviously there's no real problem, right?

Sigh...
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silverrose
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:09 pm (UTC)
ogle their chests, give uninvited massages, or explicitly compliment them on their breasts.

Is there any reason to think he's "taking advantage of a perceived power differential" as opposed to just having really atrocious manners? I've known neighbors and bookstore clerks who behave the same way, and there's no reason to think they're trying to exert any particular power over me (other than the charm they're completely lacking in but obliviously believe otherwise.)
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:13 pm (UTC)
By which I assume you're asking whether he's deliberately and consciously thinking "Hey, I can get away with this because they think I have power over them! Let the ogling begin!"

Honestly, I don't care. Whether it's deliberate or not...

1. He is physically and verbally violating other people's space and comfort

2. He's able to do so in part because of a perceived power imbalance

If a random bookstore clerk behaves this way, that's still inexcusable behavior. But when someone behaves this way *and* has the apparent ability to punish you if you don't comply? That's a more serious problem.

Does that make sense?
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celtic_catgirl
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
Thumbs-Up.

Having been a female in fandom for 12 years now I've experienced unwanted outward objectification a number of times, and looking back I was subjected to it mostly when I was significantly under age which I'll say 15 year old me liked the attention, 26 year old me realizes it's kinda creepy.

I almost always run with backup when I am away from my home conventions, but I've gotten pretty good at gently or not-so-gently redirecting men.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
It feels like cons have gotten a little more assertive in posting guidelines to remind everyone of age of consent laws in their state, and I hope the cons are also doing more to enforce their harassment guidelines. But the fact that it's even necessary to remind grown men not to chase after underage girls is just ... ugh.
coppervale
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:13 pm (UTC)
There were similar problems in comics. In the mid 90's it was practically my JOB to walk female writers and artists back to their hotels after late night industry functions. And one of the problem guys worked for our distributor - as in, he can screw with your catalog listing, or shipment, or distribution..

One guy was VERY persistent in pursuing a creator pal of mine - but I'm 6' 3", and 275. All it took was a good stare, and he bailed. But she shouldn't have needed me to do that just to get to her own room.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
"But she shouldn't have needed me to do that just to get to her own room."

Agreed. And it's great that you were able to help, but yeah ... that sort of help shouldn't be needed in the first place.
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michaeldthomas
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
I wish I could say I was shocked.

I actually perform backup functions for quite a few of my female friends at cons (especially at Doctor Who events). At Gallifrey One this year, I left two of my friends alone at LobbyCon on the last night after acting as their wingman for the entire weekend (I needed to sleep for an early flight). It took only minutes for one of the actor guests to start hounding them to be in a threesome with him. :P
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
::Headdesk::

Oh, Michael. You're shattering my illusions as an innocent young Dr. Who fan.

Not that I'm all that surprised, sadly.
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sinboy
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
I have a guess who this might be, but like suricattus, I'd like some confirmation if you don't mind a private message sent my way.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:35 pm (UTC)
I'm struggling between the part of me that wants this out in the open and the part that's unwilling to violate the presumed confidentiality when these women spoke to me. I'm feeling really torn about this, and trying to figure out the right way to go.
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rosefox
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
You can encourage the women to band together and speak up together. Whistleblowing can work. Just look at what happened with Night Shade once writers were willing to say "Where's my money?" in public.

Edited at 2010-11-02 07:39 pm (UTC)
daedala
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
Seconded.

Ask each individual woman, "Is it ok if I connect you with the other women who have spoken to me about this specific issue? Because you're not the first -- he's a serial creep."
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amy34
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's awful. I wonder, can anything be done? It seems to me that a letter to the publisher might accomplish something, if it were received by the right person. After all, this is very similar to workplace sexual harassment and has a whiff of "potential lawsuit" about it. I realize that the writers who were harassed might not want to send such a letter, for fear they will get blacklisted (and perhaps for other reasons).
hyperbard
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
All I can say is, Jim you rock! Even doing the backup thing is a big help to people.
rachelmanija
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
This is such a catch-22: everyone who's experienced the harassment is afraid to say anything publicly for fear that their careers will be damaged, and so there can neither be repercussions for the unknown harasser, or even advance warnings for other women writers unless they happen to be in on a private conversation. And so women will continue to be harassed.

If anyone feels like it, though, there is the option of anonymously saying who it is. There is an anonymous post asking who it is - perhaps someone will reply anonymously: http://community.livejournal.com/fail_fandomanon/3733.html?thread=17302165#t17302165

I think you're underestimating exactly how much a career-damager this could be. If a woman were to publicly name names, even if that particular editor isn't the Lord King of all publishing, she will still get a reputation as the sort of person who names names. That could easily have ripple effects that would make many editors unwilling to work with her - even if they are not personally harassers, they may foresee that she might someday say something about someone at their house. At least, that's how it works in Hollywood. "You'll never eat lunch in this town again" is no joke.

It's also hard enough to make a sale, especially with so many publishers getting swallowed up by other publishers, that one person may have a larger impact than seems likely.
rosefox
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
That comment is an awesome idea, but "No pictures, real names, no detailed locations." suggests to me that anyone answering will have their answer deleted.
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sylvanstargazer
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
Hope you find a good answer
The Back Up project is a great idea, but unfortunately it's unlikely to help with potential retaliation or casting couch-like incidents. Definitely wearing a ribbon or badge is a good idea. On the other hand, if the best response we've got to "I've experience harassment" is "that's not acceptable, but we can't really do anything about it" the project is unlikely to change much, especially for more subtle sexual harassment. These women were clearly already willing to go to you, so that part's good. The question is what to do about it.

My ideas are:
1. Encourage the World Fantasy Convention to establish a policy on sexual harassment. As far as I can tell they don't currently have one. Suggest offering to protect anonymity of complainants and allowing people to report observed behavior, not just experienced behavior, to reduce the likelihood of retaliation.

2. If you are willing to risk any hit to your own reputation, you can contact the HR department at his publishing house. Sexual harassment is illegal when targeted at employees, which authors probably don't qualify as, and Ohio doesn't have laws covering independent contractors. However, if he did that next year in California to anyone who had a contract with his publishing house the . Additionally, he may well have been violating company policy even if he wasn't violating the law. It is important that HR be notified, because it means that in the future if someone does sue they have prior notice of his behavior.
If fellow employees observed the behavior he could also be responsible for contributing to a hostile work environment for them. Basically, the HR department should care about how their employees behave while representing their company not only because it reflects on their publishing house but also because they could get sued.
If any of those sources are willing, the publishing house might have procedures in place for anonymous complaints (without knowing which house, clearly, I couldn't say). You could also ask HR what complaint options are available for people who might experience this sort of harassment at future cons.

3. You could consider publicly calling him out by name, or recommend that the women who experienced this behavior do so. This is the only way to let other women know not to end up alone with him in the future. The other reasonable option for women is to never be alone with any male editor, which is both unfair to a lot of other men and likely to hurt their careers. Making it about an individual instead of a general class of behavior shifts responsibility to the harasser and lets people protect themselves rationally.
This does open up the real possibility of retaliation and social consequences. I still think that, long-term, it is the right answer. Behavior like this needs to have personal and professional consequences before it will stop. There would, of course, be all the people who come out of the woodwork to defend the behavior, to accuse whoever said it of lying, to yell and scream about how unfair it is to be accused of sexual harassment and how harassers deserve the benefit of the doubt, about how everyone talking about harassment is out to ruin careers. Ultimately "he ogled breasts" isn't going to doom anyone's career and if you don't want your behavior talked about you shouldn't do sketchy things. The public is perfectly capable of evaluating whether the complaint is an isolated incident or part of a pattern of behavior.

It took a YouTube video of Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willas on stage for people to believe that his long-practiced behavior (http://blogs.feministsf.net/?p=60) might be unacceptable, and people still defend him. Chances are no one who isn't the target of harassment at cons would even notice an alert by name.

5. Finally, I wonder if it would be helpful to start a mailing list or community or something where it was explicitly okay to talk about these incidents using names with the expectation of privacy, just for informational purposes. That way it wouldn't show up to future employer searches and no one who's going to scream and yell would see them. Since I'm not an author I don't know how much need there is for such a thing, but it is a technique that's been used successfully elsewhere.
starcat_jewel
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
Am I being hopelessly naive in thinking that a word to someone top-level at the publishing house about "why I would be hesitant about ever submitting to you" might do some good? I keep hearing that publishers want good writers, and phrasing it that way makes it clear that it's not the house that's the problem, it's this one guy.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC)
Not hopelessly naive, no. (Of course, as someone who's pretty darn naive myself, I'm not sure I'm the best one to judge someone else's :-)

I'm thinking hard about how to follow up on this, and drawing on a lot of the ideas and suggestions...
daedala
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
The behavior reminds me of predator theory. I hope it's not actually at that level. Given the intoxication level at con, well.
biomekanic
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
Well, the only thing I have to add is that it's not just editors.

Someone very close to me refers to a certain BNA as "Creepy Uncle Bad Touch" after he attempted to pin her in a corner. She was lucky enough to have backup on hand to help her out.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
I am in ALL-CAPS AGREEMENT on this. Authors can be equally slimy, and equally willing to take advantage of their perceived fame to engage in rather predatory behaviors.
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rose_lemberg
Nov. 2nd, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for this, Jim.

In a similar vein, I posted about the changing gender balance among editors in short fiction zines. After Cat Rambo stepping down as an editor of FM, and RoF closing, and Susan stepping down as the editor-in-chief of SH, Cat Valente is the only woman editor left in charge of a pro-paying speculative fiction zine. As Shweta Narayan points out, "Overall, even awesome-ally men are simply going to find some stories inaccessible and not realize how important they are. Which doesn't necessarily limit the number of women writers who can find homes in these places, but I think it limits the sorts of stories we can necessarily send there."

So no, if you are a good writer, you will not necessarily find a pro-paying home for your work. I will not name the context, but I recently had people laugh at me for pointing out that I'd like to write a story about a woman going through menopause. I want to see more diversity among female characters depicted - not just swashbuckling heroines, but mothers, women with disabilities, matriarchs lost in a new country, old women, menopausal women, women who are afraid, women whose powers are not sexualized, women who are not the swashbuckling UF or sword and sorceress heroine. I think we need to have editorial diversity for some of this to happen. And more discussion. And less assholes in positions of power.

Thank you again for this.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Agreed. Diversity at all levels is a very good thing, and would greatly strengthen the genre and the community.

I recently came across a review by someone who loved my goblin books but picked up Stepsister Scheme and wrote something along the lines of "Who wants to read about a pregnant Cinderella?"

And thank you for those links!
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jmmcdermott
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
I recall World Fantasy Con last year, when a particularly ornery editor made a young writer cry and accused me of speaking out of both sides of my mouth for daring to express a nuanced position when I was trying to mitigate the horrible experience she was having just trying to introduce herself to an editor and ask some relevant questions about what that particular editor was looking for. He stormed off in a huff of rudeness and bad behavior.

Won't name negative names, but I will say I lead that shell-shocked young writer who was just horrified at the treatment she received for politely asking pertinent question around the dealer's room to meet some of the other editors present, including the polite, considerate folks at EDGE/Tesseract Books, Ross Lockheart at Nightshade Books, and Jacob Weisman at Tachyon, among a few others to demonstrate with absolute fact that the behavior of that one editor was absolutely not industry standard, and that the vast and overwhelming majority of editors are incredibly nice, approachable, professional people. In fact, I was just as shocked as she was by this one particular editor's bad behavior.

Personally, I know I have a very long memory when it comes to stuff like that, and you would have to pay me very, very well in advance to get me to put up with that guy. I doubt it's the same person.

Publishing is full of people. People remain people, no matter how matter how many books they read. There is always going to be a few bad seeds ruining it for everyone else.
mzmadmike
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
I wonder if this is the same guy I've heard about, dating back to MidAmeriCon.
stormsdotter
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)
I was at another con (smaller) this weekend, and work my "Back Up" flag on my badge. A number of people asked me about it, all of them men. I explained what it meant, and the reactions varied from "Huh, that's good to know," to "Good for you!"

I neither saw nor heard of any problems.
moiread
Nov. 4th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
I know this is off-topic, but I'd love to know the story of your "Back Up" badge!
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sarraceniaceae
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
I despise people who feel free to abuse their positions of relative authority to sexually harass newcomers who don't yet feel they have the standing to object. I really do. I don't have anything particularly useful to say about it, I admit. I suppose you could ask your friends for permission to share their (perhaps anonymized?) stories with either the editor's boss or the internet at large. But there's only so much you can do going off hearsay, unfortunately.
bondo_ba
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
I know we have irreconcileable differences (see your own link above), but this is something I can support you on whole-heartedly. People like that make the world a worse place for everyone, and should be treated like the scum they are. I don't know who it is you're talking about, but it is inexcusable.
jimhines
Nov. 2nd, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you agree that this is bad, though I'm not sure how you reconcile it with your stated belief that there's no sexism in SF/F.

However, given that you continue to casually lump me in as part of the Thought Police, I have zero interest in tilting at that particular windmill with you.
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