What I Told Harlan Ellison
Cross-posted from Harlan Ellison's board:
I bet you can appreciate how I felt at the Hugos. I bet if you were in the audience and someone grabbed the breast of your friend and teacher -- and she soldiered on so as not to spoil the coming triumphs of the winners -- and then her assaulter got an award and an ovation and no one said a word...
I'd like to think you wouldn't be one to laugh it off. That you wouldn't be one of the posters now in the SFWA lounge saying "oh please, it was nothing" or "these PC types always overreact, can't we have a little fun" or (a thinly veiled version of)"it's not like she's young and pretty" or "well they kissed later", ie she must have asked for it, or "let's talk about something *important*."
I'd like to think that if it was your friend humilated onstage -- attacked, not as a writer, but as a woman -- you'd also spend the next week or so in a vengeful boil.
Now you've apologized. I appreciate that you did. I appreciate that you aren't trying to villify Connie. And the apology seems to have been mostly accepted, in this forum, among your fans, as sincere.
But beyond this forum, its tone has worked against it. You express doubt -- maybe even incredulity -- that Connie could have been offended. You talk about "political correctness" (as if you were Rush Limbaugh, for God's sake), which reads like you think people are overreacting. You characterize the apology as "puckish". You are "glad to have transcended our expectations". And you seem to imply that, as a holy fool, childish and irreverent, you are beyond the rules -- that if Connie was offended, you are sorry, but that having offended her is an anomalous, surprising, and bewildering occurence.
And nowhere do you say "I will never do anything like this again". It reads like you reserve the right, as a politically incorrect creature, to trespass and then apologize.
To those who don't know and trust you already, the apology comes across as either mocking and defiant, or simply not taking the matter seriously, like, "hee hee, what's the big deal?"
Here's the context: it seems that a lot of men -- particularly, to hell women my age tell it, older, powerful men -- in science fiction feel like women's bodies are fair game. Whether it's for a gag, a thrill, or a "sit down and shut the fuck up, bitch", this kind of thing goes on beyond the Hugo stage. A lot.
As it does in the wider world. A friend of mine who attended the Hugos had just been tit-grabbed by a stranger riding by on a bicycle in the street outside the Hugos the night before. Just for a minute of fun, because she was a woman, he brought her to tears of rage. For her, you grabbing Connie -- and Connie's first horrified reaction before she covered beautifully and went on with the show -- was the same damn thing, and the message was: you're not safe anywhere.
As long as the sincerity of your apology is in question outside the circle of your fans, it aids and abets the guys who think women just can't take a joke.
Here's the other thing. Nobody thinks it was about sex. Nobody thinks you did it for a cheap thrill. But there exists a very plausible interpretation that it was vengeful. Connie had just made fun of you about The Last Dangerous Visions, which got a horrified, gleeful "oooo" from the audience. You grumbled that she'd gotten the title of "Jefty" wrong. The duct tape, the hammer, swallowing the microphone... sure, it was comedy, but it also reads like an escalating duel. We couldn't tell how well you were taking the joke.
And since we know that Connie was furious; and we know you know her and should understand her reactions; and I for one honestly can't imnagine Connie reacting to the proposal of "hey, Connie, I know, then I'll grab your tit!" with "Great idea, Harlan, that'll slay 'em!" ... the interpretation that it was an angry joke is hard to shake off.
Not that it wasn't *also* tomfoolery gone too far. But that it had a kernel of "ok, shut the fuck up already."
That's how it played. And that's an abuse of power. It's far *worse* than Bush's massage of Merkel. That you were being Bush -- operating under a goofy, smug assumption that grabbing a woman is all in good fun -- is the best-case scenario. That you were trying to punish and silence Connie is the worst.
I mean, I don't know you. If you didn't know the guy in question, what would you think?
In some sense, I don't care about your motive. The public perception is what fills abusers with vindication and pride, and pisses me off. I don't care if you say "yes, there was some of that, and I am ashamed" or "God, I know it could look like that, but..." I just care that you take a stand.
Am I saying you can't be funny? I don't know. Connie, pissed off as she was, was pretty damn funny about it at breakfast. Maybe you can be funny.
But the current level of apology is not cutting it for me. Mind, I'm not worried about Connie. For one thing, Connie's no victim, and for another, that's between you and her.
No, I'm talking about the atmosphere in science fiction. We applauded a sexual assault at the Hugos, and now the web is full of folks saying "what's the big deal? get over it". I don't think I need to tell you that that is fucked up.
I wonder what Octavia Butler would say.
Take a stand, Harlan. Apologize for real.