Xiphias Gladius (xiphias) wrote,
Xiphias Gladius

Pulling out to the top level a few more thoughts on the sexual harassment Readercon situation

I've been expressing some thoughts in the comments of the previous post which I kind of want to pull out to the top-level. So I'm doing so.

A bunch of what I'm going to be saying is either stuff I've said before, or is implicit in stuff I've said before, so I'm probably repeating myself. But I'm trying to stack it up in a slightly more illuminating, I hope, manner.

Again, I'm cut-tagging this, so people who don't want to see it don't have to.

Some people are suggesting that the Board of Readercon went easy on Rene Walling because he's a Big Name Fan.

I don't think that's it. I think the Board went easy on him because he's their friend.

And I don't mean that in a "the Board gives their cronies a pass, because they're corrupt" sort of way. Rather, I mean that "the Board made the absolutely human error of thinking that Bad Things Are Done By Bad People."

And a bunch of other absolutely human errors that follow on to that.

Here's my brief definition of what "harassment" is, as I see it. "Harassment" is when a person prioritizes their own DESIRE to have an interaction with another person over that person's RIGHT to avoid such interaction. In the general case, allowing for exceptions, edge cases, and so forth, one has no RIGHT to interaction with another person; in the general case, allowing for exceptions, edge cases, and so forth, one has the absolute RIGHT to AVOID interactions with another person.

Sexually-charged interactions are an Even More So situation, because sexuality is very much tied to the Self -- both in terms of a person's control of his or her own body, and his or her own emotional state -- and therefore, sexuality is EXTREMELY closely tied to self-determination. Which is why sexual harassment is a heightened form of harassment.

All harassment is about the harasser trying to exert control the victim, which thereby abrogates the victim's right to self-determination, which is, I think, the most fundamental right.

So, let me go over my understanding of what transpired:

At the con, Rene Walling instigated an interaction with Genevieve Valentine which she soon found uncomfortable and unwelcome, and which soon became verbally inappropriate. She walked away from said interaction.

That night, outside a room party, Mr Walling started another unwelcome interaction, which included him putting an arm around her. She felt EXTREMELY uncomfortable, and shut down the interaction as clearly as she could.

Over the course of the next day, Mr Walling attempted to instigate other interactions, presumably to attempt to tender an apology. Said interactions were equally as unwelcome as the previous ones.

Now, here's the thing.

The Board perceives Mr Walling's attempts at tendering an apology to be a mitigating circumstance. But they're not. They're an AGGRAVATING circumstance.

The later interactions were JUST as unwelcome, and JUST as much an abrogation of Ms Valentine's rights as the prior ones.

I believe that Mr Walling had a genuine intent to apologize. I believe that he had a genuine desire to apologize.

And so he prioritized his DESIRE to apologize over Ms Valentine's RIGHT to avoid interaction. That is, the attempts to apologize were harassment in their own right, compounding the harassment in the previous two interactions.

Were Mr Walling's attempts sincere? Did he actually want to tender an apology and make amends? Well, I think probably yes. But one doesn't get to unilaterally DECIDE that. To make that unilateral decision IS to harass.

The Board didn't recognize that. They didn't recognize that harassers aren't mustache-twirling villains who wake up and say, "Hmm! I think I shall go and harass someone today!"

Rather, they are people who pursue their own desires over the discomfort of other people, in ways which infringe on those people's rights. In their own mind, their motives are harmless, ordinary, or even admirable. "Tendering an apology." What could be more appropriate, and socially acceptable?

The Board therefore was lenient on Mr Walling, because he wasn't INTENDING to be bad. He was just clueless. So they didn't feel like they had to punish him that severely.

That was ANOTHER significant mistake. Because a lifetime ban for sexual harassment isn't ABOUT punishment. It's about not having sexual harassers.

Do I think Rene Walling is a bad person? No, not really. Do I think he's a harasser? Yes, absolutely. Why? Because he prioritized his desire to flirt, or whatever, with Ms Valentine, over her right to NOT flirt with him; and then he prioritized his desire to apologize to her over her right to not interact with him.

Do I think he should be harshly punished? No, not particularly. But a lifetime ban from Readercon isn't a punishment. It's simply a way to avoid having people there who prioritize their desires for interaction above other people's rights to avoid such interaction.

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