Sexual harassment and SFWA

I posted the following in the SFWA forums a few days ago and hereby grant myself permission to quote myself:

Jerry Pournelle raised the historical example of a friend of his and
his eccentric habit of politely, and very directly, inviting women to
have sex with him.  Two things became clear in the course of the
discussion that followed, which was a) most of the members commenting
believed that this single polite invitation constituted sexual
harassment, and b) most of those members believed that their position
was the popular and mainstream one.  As I suspected that the consensus
opinion of the vocal membership on sexual harassment is somewhat out of
the mainstream for various reasons, I took a poll of the readers at one
of my blogs.

I first asked for the sex of the reader, then asked the following question, based on the example Jerry cited:  Do
you consider it to be sexual harassment when a man asks a woman with
whom he is unacquainted, once, politely, and with no physical contact,
if she is willing to have sex with him? 
I counted most answers with conditions as “YES”.

MEN: 121 NO, 13 YES


One woman commented: “I am astonished at how many men are saying
yes or trying to qualify the answers with conditions and settings. Most
women get propositioned in some way, shape or form (not necessarily the
question directly, but jeezly, even innuendo, joking, and waggling
eyebrows convey the same question in a different format while leaving an
out of “I was just joking!”). You just say no if you are not DTF. It is
not a hard set of questions. If you have the victim mentality, which I
know some women do, then you will feel threatened by the mere asking.
But if you have a shred of backbone, you might be shocked at the
forthrightness of the question, but shock is not feeling threatened and
“harassed.” Any man or woman who says yes to the second question is an

And one individual took the question to his company’s HR specialist. “It
is not, under [state] and Federal law, harassment to ask ONCE. 
However, if it got to court, it is even money to be ruled sexual
harassment if the question happened at work and was unwanted. Full
discloser, we have a manager who was sleeping around with his
underlings. Nothing happened since he was “good looking” (no law suits).
Also had a supervisor buy flowers for another staff member’s birthday.
That was viewed as harassment and he was forced out. He was old and fat.

So, it should be clear that many people outside the organization
disagree with the consensus opinion expressed here and that the core of
the problem here is that the men one encounters at cons too often tend to
violate the unspoken rules of avoiding the commission of sexual harassment:

1. Be handsome;
2. Be attractive;
3. Don’t be unattractive.

Now, one can certainly presume that the male and female readers of my
blog are a different subset of humanity than the members here.  I would
not dispute that, my objective is merely to point out that the present
groupthink here is not necessarily the societal norm and that by
attempting to take on the role of SF Sexual Police to the convention
world, (at the very least), SFWA is not only stepping far outside its
legitimate responsibilities, but will also look completely insane to
people who are, to be polite, of different socio-sexual classes than
most of the SFWA membership.

I am no stranger to sexual harassment.  I was in a successful band on
a gay-run music label in my early 20s and I can safely assert that I
have been sexually harassed by more men and women than most members
here. It can be annoying, and for women I’m sure it can at times feel
threatening.  And even so, sexual harassment is still irrelevant to the
organization’s primary purpose of helping the members write and publish
science fiction and fantasy.  Therefore, it is something that the
organization should not make itself look ridiculous in attempting to
combat, at SF conventions or anywhere else.

Needless to say, this lead to a civil, rational, and mutually edifying exchange of views among the professional science fiction writing membership, which was so exceedingly civil that the poor moderator was forced to lock it down barely two hours later.  And while the shambling shoggoths didn’t hesitate to declare their objections to, well, everything, it should nevertheless be readily apparent to all the members of SFWA that their position concerning a single polite but unsolicited invitation amounting to sexual harassment is not necessarily the societal consensus.

It would seem remarkable that those apparently least likely to receive such invitations appear to be the most terrified of them, until one reflects upon what sort of bottom-feeding omegas are likely to make a pass at a shambler.