Over at Livejournal, Brooke writes about harassment at SF conventions in a long post worth reading, not the least of which being for the observation that men, overwhelmingly, have no idea it’s even going on.

There’ve been a lot of these posts lately; Amy’s post specifically got Brooke going; Scalzi hosted a guest post by Elise Matthesen about how to report harrassment after getting creepered by James Frenkel and a followup post laying down conditions for his attendance (I’d’ve written about that last week if I hadn’t been on the road); and Jim Hines talks about how Mr. Frenkel’s been doing it for years, because people get talked out of formally reporting it.

And there are many more, because a lot of women in fandom have decided that they’ve had enough of this bullshit.

I’ve seen this too, of course. I’ve talked about my adventures with Neckbeard Wondermen who lecture me – errantly – about computers. I’ve certainly had my share of talking-over… attempts. And I’ve had – in the past – the gropers and such.

But I don’t get harassed on the same scale. Not close to it; not in person, which is an important distinction. I’ve intervened between creepers and targets; I’ve got them thrown out of conventions – tho’ I’ve no idea how permanently – and I’ve seen it often. But I’m just a little too scary.

See, here’s the thing: harassment is about power. It’s about dominance, it’s about pushing people perceived as weak around, because you can, and because it’s safe to do so. The societal context tells men it’s okay to go after women in this way – large-scale religions tend to have this as a core value – and the constant barrage becomes wearying, making it easier. A slow grinding, if you will. (See, again, Brooke’s post.)

And all I had to do was become somewhat notorious as a supervillain with a penchant for disproportionate violence and questionable stability to stop it… in person. I have broken peoples’ ribs for pushing the wrong button – no, literally, for pushing the wrong physical button, it’s a funny story, I should tell it sometime.

To paraphrase The Annihilator, once one does that, choosing me as a target doesn’t seem so very safe anymore.

In person.

But get on, say, YouTube, or Google+, where there’s a lot of physical separation? And all those plays pop right back out.

Last year, Shanti and I hosted a series of online Google+ musical hangouts. They weren’t the hangouts-on-air, they were the original type, still in operation, where the attendance is limited to ten and you can’t boot people out. We were taking turns playing and inviting others in; the first couple of times were a lot of fun, and we met some people.

And that’s when the creepers started arriving.

Without fail, after that, when either of us did these, we’d start seeing men who would pop in and masturbate at us on camera. Whether we were both there, whether it was just one of us hosting alone, who else was in the room, none of that mattered. I hosted a session one night where I had four. They’d come in, drop pants, set camera on engorged dicks, and masturbate at us.

And we couldn’t kick them out. The only way to block them was to get everyone in the room to block them, and that was almost impossible – particularly when they’d show up in pairs to prevent it.

See, it’s all about power. The sexual component is power, and – even moreso – in violating your consent. And I can be all the supervillain I want to be, I can be as scary and intimidating in person as I want to be – but that doesn’t help if I don’t know where they are and can’t reach them.

Did we report this? Oh hell to the yes. Over and over again. We begged them for a solution of some sort, a moderated version of the hangout that would let us boot these people.

Google never even responded, not once, no matter how much we reported it. So I started posting about it in public; nothing. And then I took it to Twitter, posting about it several times a day for a while, tagging Google.


So you see, it can be, will be, and is that bad, and the powers that be – whoever they are – will tell you to sit down and shut up, if they even deign to respond.

Even being a supervillain isn’t enough to change that. Mute it, sure. In person. Even people who don’t know the supervillain thing can feel the threat in my body language.

But as soon as they feel like they can’t get hurt? Oh my, yes, the game is back on. The only thing keeping it at bay is the threat.

And if that doesn’t illuminate clearly enough for you what sexual harassment is really about – well, I can only assume you don’t want to know.

This post is part of a collection of articles on sexism and racism in geek culture.