I generally don’t speak to the various kerfuffles in F/SF Fandom, for two reasons:
1) I choose to spend my moral energy in dealing with issues closer to where I live, and closer to my heart.
2) I’m not really IN Fandom yet. Not as a fan, certainly, and not as a writer, yet. So I don’t know a lot of the people who have been the targets of harassment, or who have harassed, demeaned, insulted, etc. other people. I don’t go to a lot of cons, and very few people know who I am.
But there is a phenomenon I have noticed in many, if not most, of the incidents of harassment I have read of. I have read of it over and over again in the essays and posts and rants and screeds. It’s familiar to anyone reading this: the phenomenon of “That’s Just Bob.” We all know Bob. He’s the charismatic Elder Male Writer (sometimes Fan) who assaults a woman (or belittles her in public). Then, when she cries foul, Bob’s fans try to explain that it wasn’t really a big deal and she shouldn’t feel victimized, because “That’s Just Bob.” Sorry. That’s just the way Bob is. And a lot of people have correctly pointed out that this essentially means: We value Elder Writer Bob, the Predator more than Nobody You, the Victim. Because there’s only one Bob and there’s thousands of nobody girls. And there is a lot of outrage because sexual assault shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. I agree. And people say that the problems are Rape Culture, White Male Privilege, and Sexism. And that’s where I disagree.
Before I become the target of justifiable outrage, let me expand: I do not disagree that sexism is a problem. I do not disagree that Bob is sexist, still less that he has privilege. I disagree that sexism, privilege, and Rape Culture are the core problems with Bob’s behavior. So what is? Allow me to illustrate from my own experience, the which I can speak to very well:
Many years ago, before I had ever made a professional sale, and when I was just getting, however tenuously connected to a community, a particular Bob was mentioned at a rather well-known Clinic I attended. I had heard of this Bob, of course. Everyone had. Bob was (and is) justly famous for his unique style of writing and his iconoclastic behavior. I had read some of Bob’s work and enjoyed it. And yet, when I read about Bob in real life, it was always about him being exceedingly rude to those around him. At the Clinic, I got to know some Friends of Bob, and they began telling stories about him. Stories of how Bob behaved around young writers. How he would ruthlessly mock their stories*, tear them to shreds, and then issue judgments about whether they would ever become successful writers (Hint: it didn’t end well for most of them). They were laughing and having a fine time, recalling the cruel things Bob had said.
I opined that it sounded like Bob was kind of a jerk.
“Well, but that’s just Bob,” I was told.
I opined that this did not make it okay for Bob to hurt people on purpose, for his own amusement.
“But you don’t understand,” I was told. “Bob’s really a great guy. If Bob’s your friend, he’ll do anything for you. He’s your friend for life.”
I said that I didn’t want to worship at the throne of Bob in exchange for that.
I was told: “You know what Bob would say to that if he were here? He doesn’t care.” And I was out of the conversation.
But what I thought was: yes, exactly, Bob doesn’t care, and that is the problem, because what you have said reduces to: We value Elder Writer Bob more than you, the nobody, because Bob is a god among lesser men and he LIKES us. That’s what separates us, the Chosen of Bob, from common little nobodies like you. He has RECOGNIZED our genius, and that gives us hope that we too may one day be Bobs ourselves. We are IN, and if lesser people have to suffer the Wrath and Mockery of Bob, it is not our place to care. They are beneath us.
Is it any wonder, then, that Bob thinks sexual harassment is entertaining and his right? After all, he is applauded by his friends for mocking the very people who came to him to learn. Why should they not applaud a different form of degradation? I mean, no one said Bob’s victims were arguing with him, or challenging his credentials. If they had, then Bob’s mockery might have been somewhat justified, or at least provoked. No, the universal consensus was that their sin was… not being good enough for Bob.
And that’s why I say the core problem with Bob and those like him is not sexism. It is not sexism, and it is not the privilege that leads to failure to call Bob out on his sexism, or to report him for his harassment. No. The core problem with Bob is the Bob Privilege that leads to failure to call him out on his presumption, his rudeness, his mockery, his bullying, and his inexcusable discourtesy to anyone around him that doesn’t fit Bob’s notion of what a writer or a person should be. All of these are faults that anyone but Bob would be called out on. But Bob we worship. And since Bob is used to being worshiped, he demands the deference as a right. Of course he’s sexist, racist, and whatever-the-hell-else-ist. Because that’s the basic ingredient of every -ist that plagues humanity: the fundamental belief that you can treat people however you want because they aren’t good enough for YOU!
I will not name Bob here. He is not worth naming, and I do not shame other people in public, deserved or undeserved. Besides, there are a lot of Bobs out there. I will point out, instead that if we wish to remove sexism, racism, and the other -isms from among us, I suggest we look a little harder at ourselves and the Bobs we choose to follow. Because the Bob we worship today for mocking, insulting, and bullying people we hate and despise may turn his or her wrath on us next. But more likely, Bob won’t target us; we’re the Chosen, after all. No, Bob will choose his victim, and there we’ll be. Saying nothing. Doing nothing. Because it’s not as important as sexual harassment or racism or any other sin we hate. And we know our Bob would never do those things. He’s a great guy.
Until he does.
And we, the Chosen, will have to choose.
*I do not mean, of course, that Bob or those like him should not, especially in a teaching situation, call out bad writing. One of my least favorite teachers at the Clinic called one of my stories out and ripped it to shreds. And it was painful. But he was right. And as much as he ripped it to shreds, he didn’t tell me I’d never be a decent writer. He just handed me the truth. But there is a difference between doing painful surgery on people and giggling at them as they writhe in agony.