Ellison digs himself deeper into the hole

Aaaaaaand there’s more! Via , we have another response by Ellison regarding his groping of Connie Willis. And no, this isn’t him dropping all sarcasm and misguided attempts at humor in order to make a straightforward, sincere apology. (We can only dream.)

Since jfpbookworm did such a great job deconstructing the first “apology”, I think it’s only fitting that we subject Ellison’s newest offering to analysis as well. One, because he’s so spectacularly idiotic – but more importantly, because of the unexamined privilege that drips from his words alongside the expected arrogance. He may be a talented writer, but that skill does nothing to save him from his underlying sexist assumptions.

The format of Ellison’s message board makes it impossible to link to a specific post, but as of now you can see the message I’m referring to at the bottom of the first page. Ellison is responding to this post from “Mark”:

I could go on, but let me share how I have dealt with guys who grab boobs without permission. I’m an out gay man. Four times now I have been witness to “playful” unwanted boob grabs. Each time, I have “playfully” reached over and cupped the guy’s crotch. Each and every one–including the one gay guy–were horrified and offended–including two I’ve known for years. Familiarity has nothing to do with it. It’s an invasion. All you guys here who think it’s no big deal, please stop by so I can hold your balls. All you women here who think it’s blown out of proportion, get some self-respect.

Which, I’ve gotta say, I really like.

Anyway, let’s get started with Ellison’s response:

– Thursday, August 31 2006 21:21:38


Would you be slightly less self-righteous and chiding if I told you there was

NO grab…

there was

NO grope…

there was

NO fondle…

there was the slightest touch. A shtick, a gag between friends, absolutely NO sexual content.

Immediately, we have frantic backpedaling. In his original “apology” (see jfpbookworm’s post for the text), Ellison states that touching a woman’s breasts without her permission is “way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst.” But now he’s trying to introduce qualifiers, as if a “slight touch” is somehow less of a violation than grabbing with a cupped hand. (It might be a briefer contact, or less painful, but that has nothing to do with how much it qualifies as sexual harassment.)

Also, a “gag between friends” generally involves permission, explicit or implied. Ellison already admitted that he had none.

Would you, and the ten thousand maggots who have blown this up into a cause celebre […]

‘Nuff said. I think we know what his opinion is of those who would dare malign his character in public – never mind that he voluntarily performed the objectionable action in public.

[…] be even the least bit abashed to know that I apologized WAY BEYOND what the “crime” required, on the off chance that I HAD offended?

And there you go.

Ellison has gone from saying that the criticizers were “absolutely right” to putting “crime” in quotations marks, as if he doubts his behavior was even wrong. He even seems to think that being offended at his behavior was just an “off chance.” Clearly, those with rational capacities would conclude that he only might have done something wrong, and, in fact, probably didn’t.

Furthermore, he believes that his apology goes “way beyond” what was required. Certainly he used a lot of hyperbole; but are we to believe that this counts toward what actually matters, which is his true sincerity and remorse? I’ve seen far too many anti-feminists and MRAs couch their venom in pretty words to believe that politeness in speech means anything about your true intention. There has to be more to back it up.

Ellison then goes on to scold Mark for commenting on an incident that he didn’t witness. To some extent, he has a point – there’s always the risk of distortion in second-hand reporting. However, I (and everyone else I’ve discussed this with) is going off the simple fact that Ellison grabbed Willis’ breast without her permission. He admitted it. There were hundreds of witnesses at Worldcon. There was even photographic evidence, though this has since been hidden away (as described here). Those who are using this incident as a springboard for criticizing Ellison as a person are not my concern – and not the concern of those who are calling for an evaluation of the acceptance of misogyny by the SFF community.

Does not anyone READ WHAT I WROTE within fifteen minutes of learning of this?

Well, yes. That’s part of the problem.

Does not anyone wonder why, if it was such a piggish thing I did, as one of those jerkwad blogs calls it, Connie Willis hasn’t, after twenty-five years of “friendship,” not returned my call on Monday … or responded to the Fedex packet of my posting here on Monday, which Fedex advises me she received at 2:20 pm on Tuesday?

No, Mr. Ellison, it is not the responsibility of the victim to do something about the perpetrator. It is your responsibility to apologize and make amends as possible. Whether she chooses to accept your apology is her choice, and no one should blame her for it.

Can the voluble and charismatic Connie not even pick up a phone to tell the man whose work she “admires deeply” that he has gone a bridge too far? Is she so wracked by the Awfulness of it that she is incapable of saying to his face, you went too far?

The purpose of an apology is not, primarily, to appease the apologizer. “Making Harlan Ellison feel better” should not be the motivation behind Harlan Ellison’s apology. This reminds me of convicted criminals who suddenly come forth with heartfelt apologies at their sentencing trial.* If you really mean it, then you don’t care what benefit you get out of it; you’re more concerned with the person you’re apologizing to, and how much it helps him or her.

*Don’t worry, I’m not trying to equate Ellison with convicted criminals.

No one EVER asked her to “bell the cat.” She decided that was her role toward me, long ago. And I’ve put up with it for years.

Here we go shifting the blame to Willis. As if, had she not been concerned with moderating his behavior, she somehow wouldn’t have been bothered by the fact that he groped her.

Also, by saying “I’ve put up with it for years” in the middle of a paragraph about apologizing for what he did, he implies that their burdens are equal. That, since he’s had to tolerate her policing for so long, this is somehow comparable to the fact that he violated her personal space, and the trust she had for him, by touching a private area of her body against her will.

Reminds me of people who think the “burden” of having to be politically correct is somehow comparable to the oppression faced by those whom political correctness would protect.

Ellison then goes on to reference more of his history with Willis. As I am unfamiliar with their relationship, I can’t comment on the accuracy of his characterization. However, I will say that describing her faulty treatment of him implies that the grope was some sort of “revenge” – a justification that can become downright frightening when applied to other, more violent sexual actions.*

*I’m not trying to equate Ellison with rapists, okay? Chill.

am I even a leetle bit entitled to think that Connie likes to play, and geez ain’t it sad that as long as SHE sets the rules for play, and I’m the village idiot, she’s cool … but gawd forbid I change the rules and play MY way for a change

Playing? Fine. Joking performance? Fine. There are always boundaries to maintain. One of the things that happens as you get to know a person is that you become familiar with their boundaries; you learn if someone will allow things that would otherwise be unacceptable, such as insults, joking about one’s family – or sexual humor. Ellison can’t pretend to so socially inept as to not understand this. Unless he and Willis had established that they were okay using sexualized humor with each other – something I imagine he would have been eager to point out, if it were true – then she has every right to consider his action a violation.

Because it’s her body. Despite what a lot of people would have us believe, it is still a woman’s prerogative to “set the rules” for what happens to it.

I’ve sat here for four days, quietly, having done as much forelock-tugging and kneeling as I feel — as I — I — not you — not fan pinheads in far places who jumped and bayed and went after me in a second — but I –who is responsible for my behavior — as I feel is proper.

Misogyny, of which sexual harassment is only a part, is a public problem. It isn’t something that can be settled by Ellison himself, or even between Ellison and Willis – Willis can decide when and if she’ll forgive him, but his actions are open to scrutiny. As a public figure who made a sexist action in public, he affects us. Most especially, he affects the women who have come to expect and try to adapt to misogyny, especially within geek communities.

So when you commit an action that violates a woman’s body, in a place where she has rightly earned the highest respect, in front of hundreds of witnesses, and within a community – my community – that currently struggles with its treatment of women, and then act as if you are far more wounded than anyone else has the right to be – don’t you tell me that this is none of my concern.

And for four days I’ve waited for Deeply Outraged and Debased Connie Willis — an avowed friend and admirer of my work for more than a quarter century –to get up off her political correctness and take her pal off the gibbet.

Don’t pull that shit, Mr. Ellison. Don’t try to use that “If you cared about me” guilt-trip that so many men use in an attempt to weasel out of the anger they trigger through their sexist behavior. You made the mistake here. You owe her the apology. Connie Willis does not owe you anything.

Ellison is the one who committed the action, who has sunk to openly insulting her on a public forum. That, if anything, is a violation of their relationship. The fact that Willis is maintaining silence in the aftermath of his degenerate behavior, which shows no sign of alleviating? Hardly.

He acts as if she owes him – beyond a response, beyond an acceptance of his dubious apology – as if she owes him help. Not only is she obligated to withstand his self-serving attempts at reconciliation, she must actively defend him from the criticism he has rightly earned. He’s trying to shift the weight of obligation on her, so that the guilt and blame can leave him.

A sexist jerk gets called on his actions, and expects a (semi) apology to fix everything. Oh, and the victim of the action is the one who owes him the fixing. How many times have we seen that scenario? Of course, as we see here, he follows this up by acting offended that he hasn’t received forgiveness, or even praise for his apology, because by god that’s his right.

I spent more hours traveling this benighted country, for eight years, state after state after state, lecturing in defense of women’s rights and passage of the ERA than any of you have spent mouthing your sophomoric remonstrances.

If you’re the “support” that feminism’s got, then I think we ought to complain.

Seriously, he thinks he can fix this with his political credentials? Lots of people use pretty language about women’s rights and hide their underlying sexism. Lots of people actually mean what they say about women’s rights, but still screw up. The real feminists I know are the ones who admit that and work to improve, rather than indulging in misogyny and then trying to cover it up.

I’d also like to ask, what has he been doing since the 1970s, when the ERA had its heyday? Does he think that, since he put in his time, he’s earned carte blanche about the treatment of sexism? That he’s won the right to tell other women how they should feel about his sexist action?

My last word on this clusterfuck.

So we can hope. I won’t even say anything about his vulgar language – like I said, polite words can amount to a whole lot of nothing when it comes to what you’re really thinking. That sentence is quite possibly the least offensive thing he’s spewed thus far.

You know, I was prepared to shift the focus away from Ellison and turn my attention to the real problem, which is the response of the SFF community. (If we had evidence that the community didn’t tolerate this kind of behavior, it would have just been an isolated incident, objectionable but not cause for concern from the public.) I have the feeling that many people, especially those who weren’t previously familiar with Ellison and his behavior, felt similarly.

When I first saw mention of this additional message, I thought, maybe I should ignore this and focus on the real problem. But if the real problem is rampant male privilege and unchallenged misogyny, then Ellison, as a prominent and influential member of the SFF community, is a big part of that problem.

Remember, Mr. Ellison, you only brought this on yourself.

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9 thoughts on “Ellison digs himself deeper into the hole

  1. I hate these kind of people who behave like nobility. They feel thay have a stature that absolves them from everything. I have been on the opposite side of popularity and acclaim on many issues. This has forced me to watch my P’s & Q’s to a higher level than the average male.

    I have no tolerance for this crap. If somone less popular and acclaimed pulled this they would be rebuked. If an unpopular person tried this they would be removed and beaten to an inch of their lives. This sliding scale of who you are determines the seriousness of your crime is insane.

    His apology reminds me of what you might here from a former slave holder after the civil war giving for his behaviour with a former slave girl. This is harsh but I think the analogy may fit in a reduced modern form.

  2. Steve: I agree with your frustration. It’s bad enough that high-profile people get more slack than the rest of us; their high-profile status also means that their behavior gets the most attention and is apt to be taken as the norm. The greatest danger of Ellison’s behavior, I think, is how other men and women in the field might see it as “normal.”

    Expressing your frustration is fine, though I appreciate your apology. The part of your comment that raised a warning flag in my mind was your analogy to slavery. Why was it necessary to include a comparison to racism? This incident, however problematic, can only pale beside the history of slavery, and drawing a direct comparison appears to minimize the latter. This article is a helpful primer on why we shouldn’t compare oppressions.

  3. Yes I conceed the excess. And I have personal experience with the Venn diagrams of oppression. I will attempt to avoid comparisons in the future.

    But back to harlan some men oppress other men by proxy. All men lose a little respect when these jerks are not brought to heel. What Harlan did was sexual harrassment sliding into mild sexual assault. Ideally he should have been whacked in the balls right there and then, but the moment is occupied with shock and disbelief so instead I will have to settle with saying:
    “this is not good enough!”

  4. It’s interesting how the internet allows people to dig themselves into deeper and deeper holes like this. If it weren’t for the internet, he would have to wait for an opportunity to give his responses to such a large number of people so he would have had more time to think about what he was saying and probably would have thought it out more carefully. He strikes me as someone who does not like to be wrong and has a hard time admitting when he is.

    This is fascinating for me because I see people do it on message boards all the time. They start out saying something that turns everyone against them, and then instead of either humbling themselves or ignoring their critics, they stay to argue, they get madder and madder, and either the things they say make less and less sense, or they start repeating themselves.

    Anyway, I hope I haven’t gone too far off topic

  5. The “feedback loop” on the Internet works much faster than in print media or radio or TV. In the “good old days” (ha!), this kind of controversy could have lasted months, years even.

  6. Y’all rock. Geeks like jeff, steve, dora give me hope for the world.

    As far as the Entitled Aristo mentality, what bugs me even more than someone going “I’m the Great Benefactor, bow down you ungrateful maggots!” is *other* people going “So-and-so’s the Great Benefactor, he gets a free pass on anything ever!” Which I literally heard a lot of – even from female fans – in the wake of this. It’s like they haven’t actually internalized the notion of “created equal” no matter how much lip service they pay to it – or how much they complain about people giving the Emperor’s New Clothes treatment to movie stars, athletes, and politicians. It’s just *different* when it comes to some star in our own culture, see…

  7. Steve: Thanks for being cool about my warning. And yes, one of the biggest ways in which it helps men to work for women’s rights is that it prevents them from being grouped in with unapologetic sexists. The same pressure that would make women responsible for sexual assault also results in them feeling like they should suspect all men. Which, of course, sucks for all of us.

    Djiril: I think your comment has relevance. Certainly I see more people slip up and reveal their privilege (gender, racial, whatever) online, due to the both the instant communication and the anonymity allowed on the Internet. Obviously the latter doesn’t apply to Ellison, but he’s still making quite the ass of himself. As A.R. points out, he gets to see the instant response – which, since it’s largely unfavorable, just pisses him off even more.

    Bellatrys: The community-wide criticism – both of Ellison and the treatment of women in SF in general – have been very encouraging, even despite the vocal naysayers. I agree with you about how fans tend to protect people they admire – also, in a wider sense, I’d say we see the same behavior when people personally know the perpetrator. “He’s such a nice boy, he would never rape/assault that girl,” or, “I know my friend, and he’s not an evil racist,” or, “I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that,” etc. We all hate to see the monstrous in the people we know and love.

  8. “We all hate to see the monstrous in the people we know and love.”

    About that… some truly memorable genre books, films and TV shows deal with precisely this theme: DR.JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, FORBIDDEN PLANET and even THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

    Hence, people who are into genre fiction should’ve have learned to face up to the “Monsters Of The Id” issue long ago, simply as a part of their cultural upbringing…

    … and though many probably did, some never have.

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