The Harlan Ellison Incident

A few days ago at the Hugo Awards ceremony at Worldcon, Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis on stage. The primary source of the news is Patrick Nielsen Hayden, though Ellison himself confirmed it in the (ostensible) apology on his message board. (Text provided here by Elizabeth Bear. Also see her post on the original incident.)

He wrote the “apology” yesterday, even though the event occurred a couple of days ago, because he had no idea that there was a problem until he saw the reaction online. In other words, he didn’t know it was wrong until someone else told him. This is the kind of behavior that you would expect out of children developing their sense of politeness and ethics, not a grown man (especially one with as inflated a sense of self as Ellison apparently has).

Connie Willis is one of the most respected science fiction authors writing today – certainly one of the most well-known women in the field. She did not invite the groping, nor did she give him permission. Ellison calls it “intendedly-childlike,” and supposedly it came as part of a comedic schtick. However, Willis was not previously informed about his intention, and since she immediately removed his hand and continued on without comment, it’s obvious that she didn’t feel inclined to join in on the “comedy.”

His behavior – the fact that he even thought that this was an acceptable action (or at least funny, maybe “cheeky little bastard,” but not reprehensibly sexist), and furthermore, had to be told that it wasn’t – speaks to a deep disrespect for women. A disrespect that, really, isn’t all that uncommon.

An opening caveat

First, let’s be clear about what I’m not saying:
-Ellison is the oppressor of all women
-Ellison is the personal cause of oppression for Willis
-all men are horribly sexist
-touching = the root of sexist oppression

So anyone freaking out about how I’m attacking Ellison/blowing the situation out of proportion/hating on teh menz can calm down. Okay? Okay.

The acceptance of sexual harassment

This is what Ellison did: he invaded a woman’s personal space, and furthermore, touched a private body part (at least, it’s private in Western society since we sexualize and obsessively cover up women’s breasts). He did something similar to another woman at the same convention. Groping Willis was not a freak incident, but an indication of his disregard for personal space – the personal space, it appears, of women.

I’m not saying that Ellison took a moment, thought, “Boy, I disrespect Connie Willis! Let me show her who’s boss!” and grabbed her breast out of malice. The point is he didn’t have to stop and think. He simply assumed that it would be all right to grab a woman’s private body part without her prior permission, on a stage in front of a massive audience.

That’s the whole point. That assumption. The general attitude that makes people believe, without consciously thinking about it, that it’s okay to touch a woman without asking. (See George Bush’s invasion of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal space at the G-8 Summit.) The assumption that goes along with that belief is that, somehow, women just don’t get as much say over what people do to their personal space. Over who touches their bodies.

How many times have you seen a man touch a woman without asking: pat her head, pet her hair, grab her arm, put a hand on her waist? How many times have you been that woman? Both men and women do it – both genders absorb the idea that it’s somehow okay to do it. Women are expected to put up with it – to speak up and refuse a touch would be considered rude, heaven forbid. We’re expected to allow our personal boundaries to be blurred on a normal basis. This is one of the reasons why it’s so goddamned hard to recognize and react to sexual harassment. You don’t want to be the rude/uppity/bitchy one who says no; you think this kind of behavior is normal; you don’t know where to draw the line, how to tell when someone is trying to mask sexual invasion under acceptable “polite” behavior.

On the other hand, you very rarely see men being the receiver of this kind of unwanted contact. Especially from other men. (“Oh, but that’s different!” people say. “That would be weird and gay.” Well, if men touching men without asking is a sexualized violation, what does that make men touching women without asking?)

People don’t actively think this, think “touching women is okay!” when they do it. Of course not. You don’t have to. It’s just assumed.

When good authors suck as people

One thing I’m (shallowly) glad of is that I never read any of Ellison’s work. It’s frustrating and disappointing when I find out that authors I like are actually jerks.

But, you know, it is possible. The seriousness of this incident doesn’t negate the fact that Ellison is a well-known author of many admired works. You can be a good writer and still a social jackass – I greatly admire Margaret Atwood’s writing, but I hear she’s a very unpleasant person (which I can neither confirm nor deny, not having met her, but I am open to the possibility). Despite the horror stories I hear about Anne McCaffrey’s treatment of fans, I still look back on her books with affectionate nostalgia. And Anne Rice – well, okay, Anne Rice apparently fails at both literary and social skills, but whatever. XD;;

Beyond his writing skills, these incidents don’t even negate the fact that Ellison could be an otherwise good person – as I like to emphasize, you can be a good person and still be sexist/racist/whatever. But in many ways, your goodness is irrelevant. You still have to own up to the *ist behavior. If you’re a good person who’s also sexist, you’re just as sexist as the irredeemable asshole who’s also sexist.

Which is why it pisses me off to see that Stephen Brust decided that now was the time to post a paean to Ellison’s virtues and discourage attention to the groping incident. Now? Before most people in the SFF community have even heard what happened? Before (to my knowledge) there has been any sort of official response? Before we’ve even heard from Willis herself?

It smacks of trying to wriggle out of dealing with the incident, of trying to calm the rocking boat without even seeing what huge-ass boulder fell into the water in the first place. It also strikes me as a small – very small – version of the “but he was always such a good boy” defense of rapists, in that the perpetrator’s previous good behavior is used in an attempt to gloss over the objectionable action. Brust isn’t trying to deny what happened – there’s a large audience of witnesses and Ellison’s own admission, all in addition to what Willis says – but he is trying to minimize the censure directed toward Ellison, to hurry us on ahead by (ironically) emphasizing Ellison’s past good deeds.

Easy for you to say, Stephen Brust, a man who’s never been a recipient of male-on-female sexual harassment within a society that largely normatizes the behavior. (Now, I’ve actually read his stuff – but only one novel, and I didn’t like it that much, so that makes me less disappointed.) Something tells me his reaction wouldn’t be quite so detached if circumstances were different – maybe he can’t ever be a woman who’s harassed by a man, but he could know one. What if Ellison’s victim had been a relation to Brust, his wife, mother, daughter, sister? Would he be saying the same thing? My guess is, even if he still didn’t abandon Ellison, at least he wouldn’t be saying, “Sure, this was bad, but let’s make sure we remember the good that Ellison has done.” Instead, it would be more like, “Sure, Ellison has done good, but let’s make sure we acknowledge how bad this was.” In other words, the emphasis wouldn’t be on sweeping the incident under the rug.

In conclusion: Ellison is not an evil man. But.

As I said, I don’t find that Ellison is an anomaly – his action might have been outrageous, but his attitude is one that’s largely accepted. I’m not going to call him an evil sexist monster any more that I would call every man (and woman) that who shares his attitude toward women’s personal space. The point of my criticism, of all feminist criticism, is not to point fingers and declare this or that person evil, or to target someone for attack. The point is to reveal sexist attitudes and beliefs – attitudes and beliefs that we all fall prey to, to some degree – so that people can refuse to accept them.

But Ellison’s actions do need to be recognized – and criticized. (Especially since I find his “apology” lacking; you can read it and judge for yourself, but I get the impression he’s more enamored of his literary cleverness and bad-boy image than what Willis feels.) A lack of response to this incident – by fans, authors, and perhaps officials from Worldcon itself – would only reinforce the “boys’ club” impression of SFF.

Immature side note

Now I’m doubly amused by his run-in with the Penny Arcade folks last year.

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26 thoughts on “The Harlan Ellison Incident

  1. I’m only moderately familiar with Ellison’s work; I know “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and “City on the Edge of Forever.” I read some of his short story collections in high school, but I don’t remember any particular stories, just a general sense of “look how hard-core I am” in a way that’s meant to appeal to adolescent and post-adolescent males. Basically the literary equivalent of bands like Rush or Queensryche. (What’s the modern equivalent? System of A Down?) I don’t think his hypermasculine writing style and his abuse of male privilege are unrelated.

    I also think it’s *precisely* because of where Ellison stands within SF fandom that this needs to be called out. He’s considered to be one of the Grand Masters who can do no wrong, and his actions do suggest that women – even Connie Willis, who’s at least as good a writer as Ellison – who want to be involved in the social side of fandom should have to put up with this sort of behavior.

  2. Huh. And I almost went this year. Look at what I missed! 😛 This reminds me too much of a random anecdote I heard the other day about Issac Asimov groping random women at cons…ew.

    The fact that you have to make so many disclaimers in order to get to your actual analysis makes me sad, but they’re probably necessary given the audience this post will attract.

  3. Aw man, Asimov? I don’t know much about Harlan Ellison, but I’ve always liked Isaac Asimov. And while on the one hand, it shouldn’t change anything about his writing, on the other it does color one’s perception of a person to hear they’ve done something you think is wrong.

    The assumption that a woman’s body is open territory is something that I’ve struggled with, as someone who just isn’t a touchy-feely person. And I’m never sure whether it’s just me being oversensitive or if there is a problem (Well, of course there IS a problem. The question is whether it’s worth the trouble of doing anything about it).

    There’s nothing borderline about the Harlan Ellison case, though. Argh.

  4. Sure, this was bad, but let’s make sure we remember the good that Ellison has done.

    There seems to be an attitude among some fans that Ellison has somehow “earned the right” to behave abusively toward others by virtue of his work. I can’t help but wonder if the outcry would have been audible if his actions were directed toward a woman who wasn’t Connie Willis.

  5. Dora,

    It does me good to see that certain members of the community refuse to accept these red herrings and insincere apologies. It seems that there’s a small but strong swell of people who are saying “Not around us” – see in particular Patrick Hayden’s response to Brust.

    As a side note, Harlan Ellison has made a long career of abusive behaviour – to the point of inspiring Sharyn McCrumb to lampoon him in the thoroughly amusing if unfortunately titled Bimbos of the Death Sun. I’m deeply pleased to see members of the community finally taking a cohesive stand against his self-absorption.

  6. jfpbookworm: Agreed. His status as a writer, and the public nature of the incident, mean that this is the business of the general public. And that’s the only way his writing matters – regardless of its quality, it doesn’t win him a free pass for misogynist behavior.

    earlbecke: Now, I’ve actually read/liked Asimov, so that saddens me.

    And yeah, I noticed that I was making a lot of disclaimers. One of the reasons is that this incident involves SFF fans, a different online population that isn’t necessarily used to feminist debate, and so there’s more risk (than usual) of exaggeration and misinterpretation.

    Becky: I hear you. I’m a shy person around strangers, so my level of comfort regarding physical or verbal forwardness is different from some people’s. The best thing to do, I think, is to look to the context of the behavior to see if you sense underlying misogyny, hostility, or simple thoughtlessness. In each case, of course, you’re still justified in saying that you’re not comfortable with something.

    Perinteger: Thanks for the link to Hayden’s comment – I really like how he’s been responding to this incident.

    As for: I’m deeply pleased to see members of the community finally taking a cohesive stand against his self-absorption, I say yes and no. If this is part of a pattern of bad behavior from Ellison, certainly that needs to be acknowledged; on the other hand, too much focus on how much of an asshole he is in general can drown out the specific problem of misogyny in this particular instance. It also gives ammunition to people like Brust who would paint all criticism of Ellison as a bunch of overreaction fueled by personal vendettas against the man.

  7. While this entire situation is unfortunate, I would like to make a couple of simple…observations, I supose.

    Firstly, on the topic at hand, I’ve never heard of eather of these individuals. *though it turns out i’m a fan of some of Ellison’s work in the Babalon five series* However, with a simple google search that ended with a quick stop to wikipedea…I found that he is KNOWN for being an uncuth, inplolite, rude, bastard. He HAS no social graces, no respect, and his only seeming social salvation is the fact that He can write some things, very, very well.

    What I mean by this is…why the HECK is this suprising? And is it really right to use a extream example of someone who is, quite honestly, ALLWAYS an asshole, on such a conviluted subject as sexual hurassment?

    I view sexual hurassment strait out. There are some thing’s id do with women that I would not with men, and vice versa. *I’m not gay. Thus, sex, with women. And …well, actually, I can’t think of anything I’d do with a guy that I would not with one or another of my female friends* Were equell. physicaly different, but socialy and capability wise, equall. I would nock a womans jaw off for the same actions I would a mans.

    But with a large number of my female friends, touching, *giving, receaving* hugs, jokeing pokes at asorted body parts and organs, and so on, are a matter of corse. It’s not sexual hurassment. It’s not unwanted…The key is to know WHO is comfortable with it, with you specificaly. And not to asume every woman *or man* out there WANTS you, specificaly to hug, tickle, poke, or, indeed, stand close to, them.

    And…on a second only slightly related subject “Connie Willis is one of the most respected science fiction authors writing today – certainly one of the most well-known women in the field.” I find this quote to be quite…amusing. While she has a number of awards, a good number, *I beleve a dozen or so* of published novels..She’s not “well-known” compared to a LIST of other scifi authors who happen to be female. Indeed, before this, I had not heard of her beond a little bit here and there in passing. McCaffery, Rowling, *however you spell her name* And so on have not only fairly large fanbases *admitedly because of there popular subject maters, and ease of acess to younger people, while in McCafferies case, still holding enough science and gumption and real…well, flair, to hold an mature mind’s atention* But are comonly known names, to others than those who enjoy and read there books. There are a large number of people who have at least HEARD of the Pern novels, and EVERYONE knows Harry Potter.

    So really, I just question the statement… she’s not that well known, all in all, at least, outside of those who enjoy her writing style.

  8. Didn’t you love the poster who implied that since it went over at the Academy Awards, it’s okay now? I guess I’ll just take my faminist ball and wear it for a gag.

  9. Tamora Pierce: Right! That’s why I don’t stand for people who tell us not to “make a big deal” out of a single incident … because acceptance of that incident will then be used against us, because hey, we let it slide before.

    Drackar: Your comment was caught up in moderation because it risks violation of the discussion rules. In particular, please see #10 and #11 about dismissing the point and victim-blaming. For example:

    What I mean by this is…why the HECK is this suprising? And is it really right to use a extream example of someone who is, quite honestly, ALLWAYS an asshole, on such a conviluted subject as sexual hurassment?

    Whether you intended it or not, this statement implies that we, or Connie Willis, can’t be angry because we should have expected this action from Ellison. That implies that, somehow, Willis bears responsibility because she should have predicted it. However, Ellison’s actions are his own, and this situation is entirely his own fault. Additionally, being a general asshole is a different matter than being sexist – the former can be tolerated or even found humorous, but perpetuating misogyny is something that needs to be called out and stopped. That’s why this action, as opposed to any instances of him being rude, is getting so much attention.

    But with a large number of my female friends, touching, *giving, receaving* hugs, jokeing pokes at asorted body parts and organs, and so on, are a matter of corse. It’s not sexual hurassment. It’s not unwanted…The key is to know WHO is comfortable with it, with you specificaly. And not to asume every woman *or man* out there WANTS you, specificaly to hug, tickle, poke, or, indeed, stand close to, them.

    I address this in my follow-up entry, and I agree that sexual touching isn’t always sexual harassment. The point is that you know what your friends are comfortable with, and therefore have implicit permission. I assume you would also listen if one of your friends told you she wasn’t comfortable with the behavior. Ellison, on the other hand, did not have prior consent, and now doesn’t seem to care that Willis is upset.

    As for your point about Willis’ level of fame, I was indeed basing that statement on her awards (as well as the years she’s been in the business) rather than how many books she has. Rowling, and even McCaffrey, definitely have cross-genre appeal; but among hardcore sci-fi fans, I believe Willis is a big name. However, your fan experience may be different from mine.

  10. Drackar:

    While i don’t dispute the validity of your experience, you are approaching the incident from a position of no-knowledge{1}.

    The reason for the whole (from your apparent viewpoint) tempest in a teapot is the stature of the two people involved within the tightly-knit field of science fiction fandom.

    Connie Willis’s work is on a different level entirely from Rowlings’, and HE has a lot more credits (many of them incredibly brilliant work) than just B5.

    That said, his action, from my own middle-aged white male viewpoint, differs only in degree, not kind, from out and out rape.

    And his subsequent “apology”:

    IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. When George W. Bush massaged the back of the neck of that female foreign dignitary, we were all justly appalled. For me to grab Connie’s breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.

    So. What now, folks? It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn’t–till now–reached your level of outrage.

    I’m glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.

    With genuine thanks for the post, and celestial affection, I remain, puckishly,

    to say the least, undercuts, in the ending graphs, the apparently heart-felt apology of the first quoted graph.

    “I just do that sort of thing and I’m cute and boyish and I Write Real Purty, so it’s all just a big joke, so why can’t you get over it?”

    AND, to make things worse, he has no further “responded” with a “She was asking for it” type screed that tries to make the whole thing CW’s fault.

    (Which, incidentally, can be found here, with absolutely hilarious interlinear translation…)

    The more Harlan tries to exculpate himself, the further he manages to ingest both of his pedal extremities.

    {1} The original thought was to say “Ignorance”, but i decided that that might be taken insultingly, though meant only in the sense of “not knowing or aware”

    {2}It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re more likely to have heard of my kid brother, David Weber, who regularly plunks books on the Best Seller list, than either Willis (whose work is more nuanced and directed toward a smaller but loyal audience) or Ellison (who, really, hasn’t written muc of anything of stature in ten or fifteen years), but i promise you, within the organised (ha) SF fan community, they are both as well known as McCaffery or Rowling and probably more highly-regarded.

    (Which is not to denigrate either McCaffery or Rowling, but rather to say that both Willis and Ellison (when he was actually producing) work at a different and [arguably] higher level.)

  11. Ooops. I thought i had extirpated all significant typos from that before i let it fly, bit i seem to have missed one.

    Though it may be obvious to all or most that where i typed “…he has no further “responded”…“, what i meant was “…he has now further “responded”…“.


  12. As a long-time fan of Ellison’s writing, I have to say this is disappointing, though not entirely unexpected, behavior on Ellison’s part (the grope, the near-apology, and the later backpedalling). I have to say, though, the comments and later posts go off-track — the point here isn’t so much that Ellison is an asshole (which he’s been trying to tell us for 40 years) but that you don’t have to be an asshole to violate a woman’s personal space this way, or indeed to indulge in sexist behavior of any sort.

    Ellison is, believe it or not, one of my early feminist influences — several of his short stories attack misonyny and misogynous behavior, he was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement (iirc he was a Freedom Rider), and wrote passionately in defense of the Equal Rights Amendment, famously sleeping in his car at a convention in AZ because he refused to spend money in a state that wouldn’t ratify it. His history is one of, at least, being a good ally to the feminist cause, if not a feminist himself.

    BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH. That’s the point — that even the best of us (and I’m not claiming Ellison is among “the best”) fall prey to the social conditioning and norms that shape us and our societies. As Dora points out, it’s unlikely at best that Ellison acted out of conscious disrespect — a man in American society doesn’t have to be disrespectful the least little bit to act in a sexist way. Sure, I’d like to see him pay some true attention to the import of his behavior and act as an example, issuing a true apology, but the point here isn’t so much how one man acts, is it? It’s that *any* man might do the same thing Ellison did, because we live in a society that says it’s ok — or rather, that doesn’t even say it’s ok, it just *is*. Women’s personal space is infinitely permeable in our society — from the hair touching mentioned to the eroticization of the female form to rape to abortion regulations to the thousand little surveillances that women are subject to in the course of their daily lives.

    Now, Ellison is the kind of guy that thrives on misbehaving, and thrives even more on the attention it brings him. For all the respect I have for him as a writer and defender of women’s liberties, I very much doubt he’ll issue much in the way of public apology, even if he realizes he’s wrong on this matter. It wouldn’t be nearly as much fun for him. And that’s sad, of course, but not as sad as thousands of people attacking him for a sexist act that they and millions more around them have, will, and do do without thinking twice about it. If this is about Ellison, then the point is already lost.


    Thank you! I think that entire paragraph summed up a major problem that feminists face — the “but, look, this person did these feminist things so they can’t be sexist (or do sexist things)!”

    It’s not that doing something sexist invalidates any good things that were done (anymore than doing good things invalidates sexism), but rather that, as you said, it’s not enough. Believing in equality is more than just giving lipservice to it sometimes, it’s doing your best to live your life that way. Yes, we’ll all mess up sometimes, but when that happens it’s our obligation to eat some humble pie and see what we can do to prevent further misbehaviour.

    Anyway, enough ranting. ^^;

  14. Tekanji, what you’re saying is true, but what’s disappointing me about the way this is being handled — on feminist blogs, no less — is that everyone’s railing at Ellison instead of getting the point that if someone with Ellison’s track record can feel up a distinguished female writer in public without even thinking about it, then we *all* have a lot of work to do still. I’m sure I do at least one sexist thing every day — like, I catch myself saying “fireman” in class. THe class I’m teaching. The WOMEN’S STUDIES class I’m teaching. The WOMEN’S STUDIES class I’m teaching about the kinds of assumptions we make about who is and is not suited for difficult jobs like fire fighting! Do I do this because in my heart of hearts I just don’t give a damn? Well, I certainly hope not! I think I do them because that’s the way the language and the cultural norms I’ve inherited work, and it takes an awful lot of effort to remain constantly vigilant about things that operate far below the level of conscious thought.

    You’re right, though, that what matters is how we deal with our slip-ups. When I do something in class, it gives me a great opportunity to talk about how these mostly unconscious behaviors structure gender relations — I can’t just shrug it off. In the rest of my life, it’s a wake-up call, a notice to have a look at my assumptions about “x”. Ellison has definitely dropped the ball there, or at least decided it was better for his image, and maybe better fun, to act as if he had (I’m not sure anyone is interested in a sweet, gentle curmudgeon, and curmudeonity is Ellison’s public persona). But like I said, this isn’t about Ellison, it’s about all the men who read this and other blogs and feel very aware and are still likely to make the same kind of gaffe Ellison made — and all the men and women who do the same with regard to working class folk or sex workers or non-white folk or immigrants or…

  15. Dustin: I’d like to think that, on this blog, we’re doing a good job of balancing the focus between Ellison and the wider sexist trends. Similarly, see posts from people like Written World or Riba Rambles, which consider the wider implications of the behavior. There’s also been the creation of the Bellwether community – which, from what I can see, doesn’t even mention the Ellison incident. Responses like this make a good balance between recognizing Ellison’s individual fault while also emphasizing the wider nature of the problem. I definitely don’t want to forget about Ellison’s part in this – if he continues his behavior, he deserves to get called out, which is why I wrote my follow-up post – and I think it’s possible to do that without taking too much attention away from the big picture.

    I wonder where you’re finding the responses that fixate on Ellison, and what groups they’re part of – if, for instance, there’s a difference between how geek and non-geek bloggers are reacting. Geek feminists are well aware of the problems of sexism in fan spaces; perhaps non-geeks, being less familiar with the community, are just pointing to Ellison himself as the object of attention.

  16. Well, the comments above mine are one place — a lot of abuse is heaped on Ellison, several by people who don’t know who he is. The later post fisking Ellison’s apology is another example — I suppose this sort of thing merits doing, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Ellison’s not The Enemy (as Dora is careful to point out in this post) he’s just a guy who feels entitled to act in abusive ways because that’s the unexamined privilege of maleness. But I also clicked through to a lot of the links here, and through the links on the sites SHrub linked to, and so on, so I can’t say for sure at this point where stuff like the woman promising to knee him in the groin if she came across him was found — may well have been at the geeky blogs and not the geeky feminist ones.

    Here’s my thing: if we found out that Ellison had a tumor the size of an Audi in his head that made him act the way he did, would these comments seem appropriate, or would they seem suddenly cruel? If the latter, then there’s something wrong: we’re picking on a person, not a social problem.

  17. Okay, I agree that the comments above do get to criticizing Ellison himself. I’m not trying to defend everyone else in the conversation (not saying that you’re making me!). I’m sure that some people are using this incident as an excuse to unleash their general dislike of the man. I can’t say that’s a bad thing, though; he’s a public figure notorious for bad behavior, so it’s not like he’s completely undeserving.

    However, I get the impression you’re not so much concerned with Ellison as an individual, as the fact that we’re focusing on an individual person at all. I do see your point; however, just because we’re criticizing the wider social forces at work here doesn’t mean that the person who committed the specific wrong gets off the hook. We all make the choice to either comply with or reject social conditioning; the fact that sexism is so pervasive and powerful just means that the choice is difficult, though not impossible. I sympathize with people who are in this struggle, but that doesn’t mean anyone gets a free pass for taking the easy path. There are still people who have been harmed by Ellison’s action – maybe Willis (I don’t know how exactly she’s handling it), but definitely a lot of female SFF fans who feel less trusting of fannish spaces. He’s not responsible for all of the sexism of SFF, but he’s definitely contributed to it, and he deserves to get called out for it.

    If Ellison had some sort of condition that absolved him of responsibility, then yes, I would lay off him. But that would be an exceptional circumstance, and I’m going by the default that people are culpable for their actions. As it stands, he made a choice; he wasn’t swept along unwittingly by sexist forces outside his control.

  18. OK, I can accept that. I’m not trying to absolve him or anything like that, simply pointing out that… well, let me put it like this: that really great guy who works with you on whatever issues you really care about? He’s gonna do something stupid like this. In fact, several of the powerful, deeply-conscious feminist women that you look up to and admire will *also * do stupid, sexist, power-to-the-patriarchy type stuff like this. Individuals should take responsibility and accept the consequences when they screw up, of course, but the question is what can the rest of us learn from their example? I don’t think every commenter has missed this point, and I think Dora’s post makes it very well, but too much of what I’ve read about Ellison ignores the fact that Ellison isn’t the only one with a sense of male entitlement where women’s bodies are concerned — he’s just the schmuck acting it out on a public stage.

    I didn’t mean to come off too harsh on the commenters here or too easy on Ellison, so if I did, that’s just my own failure to communicate.

  19. My impression of your argument was something along the lines of, “society-wide sexism is the problem more than Ellison, so let’s leave him be.” I disagree with the last part of that sentence – but I also see now that that wasn’t your argument. I think we’re approaching the same argument from different perspectives based on the responses we’ve been reading.

    My partner, who’s that “really great guy” who works with me, does slip up sometimes. I agree with you – it happens to all of us and I certainly wouldn’t kick him to the curb for it. 😀

  20. Well, and there is another general principle here which i think extends beyond general misogyny; to wit, the whole,

    “Oh, that’s just so-and-so. You just have to get used to hir.”

    Well, actually: no.

    It’s like: sweetheart. Being an asshole is not, last I checked, one of those inherited and immutable conditions. If you KNOW you’re an asshole then you can try to STOP being -quite- so much of an asshole, at least, can’t you?

    and for other people: if you KNOW sie’s an asshole, then why do you act like it’s some sort of Act of God or something? Yeah, this especially comes up wrt sexist harassment and worse (O, boyz will be boyz, tee-hee!), but it’s not limited to it. Whatever the rationale: it bites. Never too late for socialization is what i say; and if it is, well, never too late to firmly escort the asshole off the premises, no matter how lionized sie is.

  21. Pretty amazing to read that Harlan hasn’t changed his act in all these years. He was notorious in the ’70’s at Cons and his lack of respect for women was well known then. People forget that to be a writer you have to be good at being alone, a lot. Being a good writer doesn’t mean you make good company or have any social graces. I disagree with the premise that Harlan groping Willis is any comment on what is or is not acceptable today. Harlan was a manipulative jerk when it came to women years ago and apparently still playing the old games though now in a bit more pathetic way. In no way does the non-sexual contact between Bush and Merkel fall in the same category as this. It’s a sad commentary on our confused puritanical society that we have such trouble distinguishing friendly contact of non-sexual intent from kind of obvious groping that Harlan and other man of his ilk have liked to engage in as form of establishing power and dominance. In the US culture as kids we learn early to be wary of touching and now due overblown generalizations as argue here American feminists are just reinventing the puritan ethic of all contact being morally suspect.

  22. kbs, you seem to be unaware that groping women at cons is *still* a huge problem and that *plenty* of guys (and a very few gals) leaped in to defend Ellison’s present-day offenses – including the odious William Sanders of current Helix bigot eruption infamy, all across fandom.

    Also, if you missed the “Open Source Boob Project” mess, count yourself lucky. If you want to blame “puritanism” for not liking being felt up in power plays by total strangers, well, I doubt very much that you have ever been on the receiving end of it, and I wonder if you are male, or just very, very, VERY sheltered? Most of us can tell quite easily what’s “just” friendly nonsexual touching, and what’s skeezy sexual power-plays like having your boss try to feel whether or not you’re wearing a bra, as has happened to me in the past six months at my job – repeatedly. (And no, he doesn’t rub up and down the back of the male coworker, either.)

    Either way, your comment (“sad commentary”) reeks of patriarchal privilege, and I hope someday you learn what it’s like to be without it.

    Moreover, I know plenty of isolated types – I myself am one of them – and plenty of writers, only some of whom are reclusive. Yet nevertheless, we recluses and writers mostly manage not to sexually abuse and humiliate people in public. So your justification with the “Great Lonely Artist-Man” theory doesn’t hold water.

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