Filed under Books

Zero-Tolerance Except if Sowwies, aka That Noise Happening with ReaderCon

ReaderCon — a convention in Cambridge, Massachusetts centered around readers and authors and how great books are — has recently found itself in the center of a bit of a storm involving harassment of one of its attendees. The results and their response are… disappointing, to say the least. Which I won’t. Say the least, that is. I’m going to say a fair bit.

So let’s start with a summary of what happened, in case this is the first you’ve heard about it.

ReaderCon has a stated Zero Tolerance policy when it comes to harassment:


Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy.

Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.

As always, Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.

Ponder what zero-tolerance means. Keep it at the forefront of your thoughts.

The story first broke on Genevieve Valentine’s blog, when she wrote about what happened to her:

My boundaries were violated physically, verbally, and in terms of my right to feel personally secure. In addition, within minutes of meeting him, I was told to stop saying things, because it made him somehow unable to control his thoughts, which is bog-standard thought policing. And I was subjected to not one, not two, but THREE instances of the man in question hovering near me because he wanted to apologize, and he wasn’t going to stop until he had had his say.

At ReaderCon, Valentine felt threatened. This man subjected Valentine to not only the initial harassment (telling her to stop making him have “bad thoughts”?! ew), but then continued the harassment because he felt bad and it was important he be forgiven. His feelings about being heard and being forgiven mattered more than her feelings about wanting to be safe.

Hang on to that. That feelings thing. That’s a theme here.

In this instance, she was able to go to the ReaderCon board and lodge a formal complaint, with corroborating witnesses. This is a process she is not unfamiliar with. In 2008, Veronica Schanoes found herself in a similar situation, being harassed by another con-goer, and Valentine encouraged her to come forward and acted as a witness.

Schanoes’ situation was, from what I have read, well-handled. Investigation happend, witness statements taken, and in the face of undeniable evidence, the ReaderCon board ruled in a way that was in line with their policy. Aaron Agassi was banned from ReaderCon for life.

It’s later been mentioned that Agassi has some form of mental illness (I’ve heard several different illnesses described, and I’m not sure which might be true). He is also not particularly known in the fandom. I say these things because these things are important.

Return to present day. Valentine has lodged her complaint. Several witnesses have come forward. We have arrived at the point where there is incontrovertible proof that Valentine was being harassed by a man named Rene Walling. He is apparently a chair member of WorldCon, and is something of a BNF.

The ReaderCon board has banned Rene Walling. For two years.

How interesting. Aaron Agassi, unknown person and mentally ill, is banned for life. Rene Walling, secret master of fandom, gets a slap on the wrist.

I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

There’s a very obvious problem here, and it goes beyond what looks to be, on the surface, favoritism and politics as usual in the SFF fandom. It is that ReaderCon has gone on record claiming a zero-tolerance policy, and then have shown they cannot keep to their word. This means that anybody at the convention who once felt safe is no longer able to feel that way. This also means that if you have enough sway in fandom, you can get away with it.

The verdict drew a lot of ire from the Internet. I mean, a lot. To the point where the ReaderCon board finally felt the need to announce the decision on their own terms, and explain the reasoning behind it.

Hang on to your hats, folks.

During the course of our conversation with Rene it became immediately apparent that he realized what he had done and was sincerely regretful of his actions. It was that recognition and regret that influenced our decision, not his status in the community.

Remember that thing I said earlier? About feelings? About it being a theme?

Feelings matter, you see. Specifically, Walling’s feelings matter. Not Valentine’s, though. Well, a little, maybe. I mean, Walling is going to miss two years of ReaderCon. So her feelings matter enough for that.

Valentine feels threatened, unsafe. Walling feels sowwies. There is no question whether or not a crime happened: it did. The board has acknowledged it. But they have gone around their own stated policy and ignored the reality of what has happened because Walling feels bad.

Pictured: Walling’s Feelings

So, hang on, I guess a couple things are happening here.

One: Walling’s feelings matter more than Valentine’s. This is a clear, unequivocal message the ReaderCon board is sending. An attacker’s feelings matter more than the victim’s. This means ReaderCon is no longer a safe space, and apparently never was.

Two: ReaderCon had a posted Zero-Tolerance policy on harassment that was kind of a shiny thing that a lot of people held up as an awesome example of how cons should handle harassment. Then they went and pulled this shit. Once again, no longer a safe space, never was to begin with.

Three: Men with power get away with crimes because reasons. This is a thing that happens, and fandom suffers from it too. Great job, guys.

Four: This is kind of Harasser 101 shit here. Walling was sorry? Of course he was sorry. But was he sorry for what he did, or sorry he was caught? Most harassers/attackers are able to express remorse, sincere or otherwise, and yet they continue to commit the same crimes. And when there is no real punishment, there is no incentive to change their behaviour.

Five: Okay some people out there are claiming that oh what if he’s Aspie and doesn’t know any better which is such bullshit and I’ll let Rose Lemberg tell you why because she nailed it.

This all… I just…

It’s kind of disgusting, what happened here. Women were harassed. The harassment was found to be a real and valid thing. And yet, the perpetrator gets away with it, with just a slap on the wrist, circumventing stated zero-tolerance policies. Making that zero-tolerance policy worth less than the paper it was printed on. And I don’t know that anybody ever printed it out.

I’ve never been to ReaderCon, but I’d heard stories of how great it is, and I figured it was a fun and happy place worth going to. Apparently not. Unless something changes, I’m likely to never go to ReaderCon. And many others have stated the same.

Honestly, I don’t even know what action the ReaderCon board can take at this point to make it all right. There is currently a letter/petition to the ReaderCon board suggesting corrective action, written by Schanoes and undersigned by many others. But, I don’t know, reverting their decision and perma-banning Walling feels like that same tune of bowing to pressure; instead of pressure from a BNF’s reputation and his fauxpology, now it’s pressure from the Internet. If ReaderCon were to take these corrective steps, would it be true change, or would it simply be second verse, same as the first? Would they understand what they had done, or would they simply be sowwies? I’m not sure.

Regardless, ReaderCon has fucked up pretty badly. Let’s see if they can recover. I feel like they will have a hard time with it.

ETA: It appears that Rene Walling’s name is being removed from the Kansas City World Con bid comittee.

ETA 2, The Editing

The entire board is stepping down, and the perpetrator has been banned. I must say, I’m incredibly surprised, and impressed with this response. It is an even and unequivocal apology for what has happened. Read the official ReaderCon statement here.

Many Links for a Friday


Whitewashing, Racebending, and Why “We’re All Human” is Bullshit — I am putting this first for a reason. READ IT.

John Carter is from Mars, and Women are Nowhere in Sight — So apparently the female character in John Carter… does stuff? Is active? You wouldn’t know she even existed going by the trailers. Marketing fail.

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)

Cookie of the Week: Chad Whitacre — Came up with a name for something that was dumb; got called out on dumbness; apologised and changed the name. Win.

Female Students Wary of Engineering Workplace — “Women who have internships or jobs find they are too often relegated to ‘female’ roles of note-taker, organizer or manager…” and “a fair amount of the older men in my working environment treat me like I know nothing and I’m only working there because my dad works there.”

Etsy Hacker Grants: Supporting Women in Technology — in conjunction with Hacker School, Etsy is announcing a new scholarship and sponsorship program for women in technology

Visualizing What it Takes to be a Woman in the Tech Industry: An Infographic

Internet Entrepreneurship is getting Arab Women into the Business World — “Adbullah Alghadouni is CEO of the, a Saudi-Arabian site aimed at helping women find jobs in a nation where they are not legally allowed to drive.”

In a letter from a little girl to Albert Einstein:

I forgot to tell you, in my last letter, that I was a girl. I mean I am a girl. I have always regretted this a great deal, but by now I have become more or less resigned to the fact.

Anyway, I hate dresses and dances and all the kind of rot girls usually like. I much prefer horses and riding. Long ago, before I wanted to become a scientist, I wanted to be a jockey and ride horses in races. But that was ages ago, now. I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!

And Einstein responded:

I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.



Women at Gaming Events — A positive note on women at gaming events: Seems there are more! And not just women, but families! Kind of awesome.

Titular Characters and Gendered Titles — “… when I hear the term ‘Lady Captain’, I hear an unnecessary gendering of my character whose gender was never in question anyway.”

MTG Tournament Participants Not Immune to Sexism — Excuse me while I recover from the shock.

Network of Video Game Creators Tries to Equal the Playing Field — “They just assume the woman at one of these events isn’t a game developer in her own right but just there as somebody’s girlfriend… We need to get reality to catch up.”

Bastion and Men as Automatic Protagonists — Why all the characters with stories and motivations gots to be mens, and the one lady character is just a prop? Spoilers for Bastion within.


Sharing my Own Privileged Dumbassery — I feel like it’s been a little while since we’ve talked about how awesome Jim Hines is. Let’s talk about that! He’s awesome!

The Problem is Not the Books — Oldie but a goodie. When people cry about how there are no books for boys to read, maybe let us ask ourselves why we think boys can’t read books about girls (but girls can read books about boys).

Cover Trends and the Female Body — “In thinking about these covers and thinking a lot more about the notion of gendering books, I’ve really found myself finding fault with a lot of ya covers. More specifically, the ones marketed to teen girls.”

The BSFA Awards — So, that happened, and Meaney happened, and it’s worth reading and chasing the links, just to know. It’s also a happy-making to know that apparently many people simply walked out of the award ceremony in protest. That pleases me.


Newcastle Ad: Brewer’s Hands — So, I think what they wanted to say, if I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here, is that they don’t need to use scantily clad women to sell their beer? Maybe? Eh, who am I kidding, they’re sexist assholes too. Great going, beer!

The New Aesthetics of the Male Gaze — An interesting take on New Aesthetic, surveillance, and male gaze.

ok lets see if that thing with glasses chicks suddenly becoming super weird feminine when they whip off their glasses works — hilarity ensues

Why Rape Jokes Are Never Okay — They’re just not, mkay?

Many Links for a Tuesday

Emptying the link coffers. This is just part of it, I don’t want to drown you in links.


Is Game of Thrones Too White? — by Saladin Ahmed

Step Into My Film School: The Importane of Casting In Breaking Open Movie Stereotypes — This is what internalized –isms looks like.

STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math)

NASA Girls, New Mentoring Program — Eligible girls in grades 5-8 can apply to be selected in this program where they will be mentored one-on-one by a woman working at NASA.

Abandoned by Facebook and Foursquare; Creepy, Stalker-Enabling App “Girls Around Me” is Pulled by Developer — This is just gross and I’m so glad it was pulled. I can’t believe it was ever approved in the first place.


There’s No Such Thing as a Good Stereotype — Discussing why stereotypes of positive qualities are still a bad thing.

We’re All the Same Deep Down — Why this statement of how we’re “all the same, really” kind of misses the point.

Evil Straight White Dude — Why opening your comments with “I’m just a straight white guy so you’ll probably ignore what I have to say” is really really stupid.


Mists of Panderia: First Impressions and Nitpicks — World of Warcraft’s new expansion and — surprise!! — sexism.

The Unsung Female Game Designers of Japan — My favorite part? There’s only pictures of the games they made!


Grammar Tip: Woman vs Female — Apparently it’s hard for some people to know when to use “woman” and when to use “female.” Spoilers: one is a noun, one is an adjective.

Misogyny Isn’t Caused by Male Horniness — There was this Cracked article recently about how men are trained to hate women, which kind of missed the mark for me, and thankfully there’s a writeup as to why.

Many Links for a Friday

Couple of book-keepy things:

  • If you are on the Facebook, and you like Team Valkyrie, perhaps you could like it on Facebook?
  • If you are on tumblr, you should know, we are on tumblr too.
  • If you tweet, and want to tweet at us, we’re on twitter.
  • Note that we actually do respond to tweets and questions and stuff on the Facebook, and comments make us happy and make us post more.
  • Also, since we’re about to start a new month, that means we’re about to start a new series of cute animal pictures. April is for Sloths. So say we all.

Okay, now onto linkspam.

STEM – Science Technology Engineering Math

What’s the Big Deal? — “Over the course of this internet argument, I had several well-meaning and curious guys reach out to me to try and understand what all the fuss was about. They seemed like good people, but they were missing something about what it means to be sexist. … So I’m going to take a shot at explaining.”

On Women in Tech — My favorite quote from this is the header “Frats Preserve Tradition, Startups Disrupt it”

Rachel Graham, The Jane Goodall of Sharks — Awesome!

Women in physics: A Tale of Limits — Really long, lots of data, kind of depressing, but good knowledge, because knowledge and understanding can lead to action.

Some Things to Think About Before You Exhort Everyone to Code — Why telling minorities “just learn to code!” doesn’t really work.

Amalie Noether, The Most Significant Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of


Show, don’t tell: why they need to be there — On the importance of diversity of main characters in fiction, and what it means to readers

You Don’t Read Women Authors, Do You?

Should science fiction and fantasy do more than entertain? — Opens with the image caption of “Poor representations … The 2012 film John Carter continues to rely on racial sterotypes to establish the ‘otherness’ of its alien characters.” and goes from there. Comments are mixed.


On being the “face of the community” while female


Geeks Respond to Their Friend Coming Out — Kind of awesome, read the whole thing.

Surprise! I’m Not a Booth Babe


I’m introducing a new linkspam category because I think we need it. Reality is ugly, folks.

NOM Strategy: Divide ‘Blacks’ and ‘Latinos’ Against ‘Gays’ to Get Critical Votes — So, this happened. Excuse me while I deal with this surprise.

Women’s Media Center’s Media Guide for Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates and Politicians — Because we really need this, as pathetic as that is.

Ellen Oh, YA Book Covers, and the Race Discussion (Still?)

So we’re still talking about having characters of color be featured on book covers. Still. You’d think by now we’d be past this. I mean, with all that noise around Liar and Magic Under Glass we might have learned a little something. We might have grown as an industry. Right?


For the unfamiliar, in recent YA publishing history, there have been two (of several) kerfuffles where a book about a character of color featured a white girl on its cover. Both Larbalestier’s Liar and Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass both suffered from what we call “whitewashing.” In both cases we have a happy-ish ending, because after a fuss was raised, the covers were fixed to accurately reflect the contents of the book. But the fact that we even had to go there kind of sucks.

And the discussion still isn’t over. Ellen Oh has noticed that, if you hit the YA section of the bookstore, if there’s a girl on the cover, she’s a pretty, thin, white girl, ninety-nine times out of one hundred. (There’s a bonus problem Oh doesn’t mention, where a lot of these girls are also passively post and/or dead, but that’s a rant of a different color.) She refers to the Best YA Book Covers List on Goodreads as evidence of this.

Putting pretty white girls on all your book covers is the book equivalent of what all our fashion magazines do. An idealization of beauty that is unrealistic and dangerous to our youth.

The problem isn’t one instance, the problem is the norm. One single book cover isn’t a sin. But a wall of book covers that all look near-identical is. Idealizing a specific image of beauty at the expense of others is not healthy, ever. Not seeing representations of yourself in media, ever, has this slow and subtle buildup, worse for some than for others.

What really kills me is the excuse I often hear touted about. “Black covers don’t sell.” I’ve heard this only anecdotally, but so many times, from so many sources, both within and outside of YA. This is a problem that exists in all publishing, it seems. I suggest you read NK Jeminsin’s post Don’t Put My Book in the African-American Section.

So basically, books with people of color on them rarely exist because they “don’t sell.” Even when the person inside the book is a person of color, the cover can’t reflect that. And when the book is about people of color, and the person on the cover is a person of color, they get shuffled off to the various ethnic-book sections, because white people don’t buy black books, and the majority of people who buy books are white.

People. It’s twenty-fucking-twelve. Can we please at least pretend we’ve matured as a society?

Racist Hunger Games Fans Outraged That Black Character is Black

So on Monday, the Jezebel pointed out the Hunger Games Tweets tumblr which is a sad display of humanity and may make you feel new levels of rage. See the “problem” these fans tweet about in regards to the Hunger Games is that Rue is played by a black girl in the movie. Now for those of you who haven’t read the books, Rue is a young black girl as described by Suzanne Collins.

The problem here isn’t really the reading comprehension of a pile of racists (Racists don’t pay attention? WHO KNEW?) it’s that these racists lose empathy for the death of a character because they learned she was black. There are people who will openly and publicly admit that they don’t care as much about a black character. This is disgusting.

I want to thank Hunger Games Tweets for letting everyone get a look at the horrible people out there. Many of these racists have shut down their accounts or gone to private. This is one of those times I wish the internet had struck back and made a mess of things for these people. Shame isn’t enough.

Things like this Tom, The Dancing Bug comic show where we are in modern racism. We’re not anywhere near done with racism, you know who says racism is over? Racists. We have all sorts of horrible race related issues going on and people still find ways of adding them into forms of entertainment. This is where we are with racism, have a surplus that we can add it to anything.

So for all of you out there who can feel sad when a child dies, whether fictional or real, regardless of color or nationality, congratulations you have passed at least one test of proving you aren’t a racist. Fun Fact: While watching the Hunger Games film, I realized the teen audience IS the Capitol and they will likely never realize it, and that was the saddest moment of all.


On Writing “On Writing Women”

I see a lot of advice about writing women. Some of it is out-and-out sexist, basically saying women are solely comprised of tears and feelings which you have to slough through in order to get to the bit you want to fuck (usually written by men). Some of it is right on the money, or damn near it (usually written by women). But the bulk of what I see lands in some in-between area, where it’s clear the author means well, on some level, but is simply clueless (usually written by men). I’m going to talk about that third category.

The anatomy of these posts tends to be quite similar. They expound upon how women are under-represented in fiction. They might do things like quote the Smurfette principle, or the Madonna/whore complex, or something else they saw on TVTropes. They will state that women are people too, because we need reminding. Often there will be a list of statements which are “true” about female characters. “This is how you write REAL women” they tell you, nodding sagely.

And all the while, they speak of women as one monolithic group, with which they have had naught but fleeting contact.

Here’s the thing: If you have to break from your typical mold for creating characters to create a character who is also a woman, you’re probably not off to the greatest of starts. If you need advice about writing women, and you’re reading posts about how dudes write women, you’re not helping the situation.

I wish that every time one of these people is tempted to write about how they write a certain demographic to which they do not belong, they instead refer to the work of people who are in that demographic. I would never write an essay on how to write persons of color, or disabled people, gay people, or trans people, because I am not of those demographics, and I would rather hear their better-educated opinions on the matter.

But as a woman, I might have something worthwhile to say on the matter of writing women. So here goes. You want to know how you learn to write women? How to learn about writing female characters, and have women in your stories, both as secondary and as primary characters? To write authentically, to capture a real, honest experience of a woman’s life in your fiction? All it takes is two simple things:

One: Read stories about women, by women; both fiction and non-fiction.

Two: When women say something, listen to them.

And while I’m not about to go off about how to write other demographics of which I am not a member, I suspect you can replace “women” with any other group of people you do not identify as, and these two steps should carry you pretty far.

And in the process, you can elevate the people whose work you are reading, by sharing their writings, and encouraging others to buy their work. Because just as we need more diversity in the stories we are reading, we need more in the writers we are reading.

Basically, I’m tired of “How to Write Women” posts written by dudes who are looking for their feminist cookie. No. You don’t get a fucking cookie. You’re not helping. In fact, you’re making it worse. So knock it off.

The 2011 Galactic Suburbia Award: Activism in Scifi and Fantasy

Galactic Suburbia announced today the winner of its first Galactic Suburbia Award for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction. (For the un-initiated, “speculative fiction” is an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, and all the interstitial stuff in between.)

The Honor List:

And the winner…

Good stuff, all around, all really awesome things worthy of your time.

The 2012 Rainbow List

The American Library Association has released its 2012 Rainbow List, a list of books which the both the Social Responsibilities Round Table and the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Queer Round Table, in a joint effort, have decided to highlight as awesome.

Some of the super-awesome bolded titles are Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray, Huntress, by Malinda Lo, and Shine, by Lauren Myracle.

Outer Alliance Podcast #16: The “Queer SF&F” Panel at Arisia

At Arisia there was a panel about queer science fiction and fantasy, hosted by Julia Rios. The panelists were JoSelle Vanderhooft, Meredith Schwartz, and Don Sakers. Rios recorded the panel, and posted it on OuterAlliance as a podcast. Go listen. (Be advised: It’s an hour and fifteen minutes long.)