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October 18th, 2010


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01:31 am - Wiscon: I'm done.
Saying this publicly, as I've now said it to a couple of other WisCon Concom members privately. I'm tired and angry and don't like that I have to say it, but so be it. Sorry in advance for the tl;dr; too tired to truncate better.

I've been on the WisCon con committee for the past few years. Used to be on the Program committee, specifically; I ran the Writers' Workshop for 2 years, until I became a pro writer myself and wanted to be in the workshop, not running it. Like many formerly active members of the concom, however, I've still been an active participant in discussions about con issues... including the recent furor over Elizabeth Moon's status as Guest of Honor for this year's upcoming WisCon, in light of her bigoted screed against Muslims, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who doesn't fit into the dominant white European Christian paradigm. I've talked already about my feelings on this, including my initial support of the Troika's decision, then my retraction of that support. But outside of these posts, I've stayed quiet on the matter publicly because I believe in working for change from within, if an institution's purpose merits that kind of effort.

On the WisCon concom's mailing list, I was honest with the folks there about my feelings: that bringing a bigot to WisCon as Guest of Honor was counter to the con's feminist mission, not to mention a slap in the face to a whole bunch of people. I advocated for her GoHship to be rescinded because of this -- and I also said that if she came to the con, I planned to participate in protest efforts already being discussed among WisCon's former and current attendees (e.g., turning my back on her during her GoH speech, challenging her when she's on panels). For this, I got verbally slapped by several other concom members with accusations of being abusive, unreasonable, too emotional, hysterical, and worse. I got into a particular battle with one woman who, when I pointed out that second-wave feminism was inadequate for dealing with this issue and it should be considered from a third-wave intersectional perspective, proceeded to try and inform me about how much second-wave feminism had done for me, and the poor black, Irish, and American Indian women who are my immediate ancestors.

Leaving aside the mind-boggling ignorance of statements like this, I was seeing another dynamic at work. All kinds of irrelevant points got brought up during this period: one guy wanted to discuss WisCon's future in light of the advent of the internet (I don't even know), another wanted to revisit the PoC safe space and whether it should exist (yeah, I know), and so on. Basically, WisCon's concom wanted to talk about something, anything, other than the cranky, stinking elephant in the room.

Then things got quiet for awhile, as the concom exhausted itself and we waited for... something. I wasn't sure what. But when two weeks passed in silence, it seemed clear that the Troika had had plenty of time to hear from the WisCon membership, and was either not going to change its mind or was simply waiting for the member rage to blow over. So, annoyed by this, and still pissed off over the Racism 101 reactions I'd encountered on the concom -- I kept thinking, didn't any of these people actually attend any of WisCon's panels? -- I sent a note to one of the Troika members with whom I was familiar, and let her know I was quitting in protest. She let me know about the SF3 organization's resolution in favor of rescinding Moon's GoHship... but also let me know that it didn't really mean anything. In point of fact, that resolution had been passed almost two weeks before (nobody bothered to make it public), and nothing had happened since. It was a pretty, but empty, gesture.

She also reminded me that there was a concom meeting scheduled for the coming (this past) Sunday, but I wasn't interested in attending it because a) I'd already made my feelings clear, and been attacked for them, and b) I didn't think any decision would actually be made, and I didn't want to waste my time. In fact I suspected it was just another step in the lengthy, pointless "process" that the Troika have apparently hit upon to make themselves feel better about the decision to keep Moon; WisCon prides itself on being democratic, so even if its leaders do nothing, they want everyone involved in the (non)effort. And lo and behold, to my non-surprise, at yesterday's concom meeting (which I've been told about by some other folks I know who attended) the decision was made to... do nothing. Scratch that: to wait some more. There is apparently a decision date set for at least a month from now, though I have no idea what the delay is for. As with the SF3, a majority of the concom believes (and stated at Sunday's meeting) that keeping Moon as GoH is a mistake. But they're not willing to do anything about that, or at least not anytime soon.

So the onus for action is on me. And all of WisCon's attendees, past and present and future -- but I can only speak for myself here.

This is no longer about Elizabeth Moon. She's just the trigger. Even if she recants and apologizes at this point, or resigns as Guest of Honor, the damage has been done. What this incident has exposed is a serious, and possibly fatal, flaw in WisCon itself. The decision to keep a bigot as Guest of Honor -- and the decision to delay or avoid reconsidering that decision -- means that WisCon isn't actually committed to the principles of intersectionality, social justice for all, equality, or respect, which are all ostensibly part and parcel of the modern feminist movement. They talk a good game, in other words, but when the chips are down, they're not willing to put their money, or actions, where their mouths are.

I'm reminded of King's thoughts on the uselessness of a certain kind of white liberal, who

...is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.


Replace "Negro" here with any of the groups harmed by Elizabeth Moon and people who share her attitudes, and the figurative "he" with "she" (since most of WisCon's concom is female), and we've got the current situation in a nutshell. There are a number of people involved with the con who actually do believe in the principles of modern feminism, including anti-racism/anti-bigotry, and some of them are actually willing to act on their beliefs. The problem is that those who aren't modern feminists, or who aren't willing to act, have enough power within WisCon to control policy. That's all it takes to fuck up any organization, really -- a large-enough, vocal-enough group choosing to maintain the status quo even when it knows that change is necessary. In WisCon's case, sadly, those people have chosen to support, rationalize, and even honor bigotry.

So.

Having concluded that WisCon is not, in fact, the feminist con that I thought it was, I find myself far less interested in attending it. After all, I'm poor, and there are lots of cons I could attend that are easier to get to, cheaper, and more useful to me from a self-promotion or networking standpoint. The only reason I was willing to travel to the middle of the country and dedicate time, stress, and energy to WisCon's events, panels, etc., was because I thought the idea of a feminist con was cool, and I wanted to support it. But without that feminist component, Wiscon's just another regional science fiction con, lacking even the bells and whistles of most (e.g., cosplay, LARP, a film track, whatever). Might as well go to Arisia instead; it's closer and more interesting. And seeing as there are a number of new cons cropping up with a social justice focus, and also older cons making a serious effort to reconfigure themselves in this way, I might try those for my activist fix -- FOGcon and Readercon spring to mind.

If I find a new job soon and have cash and vacation days to spare when the time comes, I might still fly to Madison come March, but I won't be buying a WisCon membership, or attending any of its events. I'll be there to share fellowship with those friends of mine who are there. This will include Nisi Shawl, who is WisCon's other GoH; I very much want to be there to celebrate/support her. Just her, though. Not WisCon.

I'm making this decision for myself, note. I'm stopping short of calling for a boycott, mostly because I had a conversation with Nisi a few hours ago as I contemplated this step, and she expressed her belief to me that boycotts don't work. I disagree; I think sometimes they can be very effective. But in this case I agree with her; I don't think a boycott will fix what's wrong with WisCon. Its problem is systemic. It needs to decide upon, and act upon, its organizational mission, whatever that is. But while it resolves this identity crisis, I'm going elsewhere.

Breaks my heart. WisCon was the first SF/F convention I loved; it was the first con I actually felt motivated to work for again, after burning out on Shoujocon. I did my first panel there, and met some important mentors for my career, and made some real friends. But WisCon was never what I thought it was, and this incident has simply made that clear to me. So I do hope WisCon finds a way to survive this crisis and continue, but if it doesn't, oh well. 35 years is a venerable age for a con, but no con lasts forever.

ETA: Edited to remove "flyover country" and "dinky regional con". I deliberately exposed my inner snob show in order to emphasize that WisCon's feminism is really the only thing that makes it attractive, but point taken that it's distracting from my point. Sorry, Midwesterners and regional congoers.
Current Mood: tiredtired

(209 comments | WTF?!)

Comments:


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[User Picture]
From:swan_tower
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
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This makes me incredibly sad. It would be one thing if the concom was presenting an argument for why they should go forward in this fashion; then the argument would be out there for people to agree or disagree with, to argue over and learn from. But if what you describe is accurate, then then only word I can find for it is cowardice: a majority of their members think this is wrong, but aren't willing to rock that large of a boat by doing something about it. Even if the cost is the principles for which the organization is supposed to stand.

I've wanted to go to Wiscon for years; I'm very glad this isn't the year in which I finally tried to do so. Whether or not I'll go in a future year . . . that depends on what happens. Right now, it isn't looking good.
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From:nojojojo
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC)
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Oh, they might still do something about it. Maybe. Eventually. ::sigh::
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From:trinker
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:04 am (UTC)
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For this, I got verbally slapped by several other concom members with accusations of being abusive, unreasonable, too emotional, hysterical, and worse. I got into a particular battle with one woman who, when I pointed out that second-wave feminism was inadequate for dealing with this issue and it should be considered from a third-wave intersectional perspective, proceeded to try and inform me about how much second-wave feminism had done for me, and the poor black, Irish, and American Indian women who are my immediate ancestors.

Leaving aside the mind-boggling ignorance of statements like this, I was seeing another dynamic at work. All kinds of irrelevant points got brought up during this period: one guy wanted to discuss WisCon's future in light of the advent of the internet (I don't even know), another wanted to revisit the PoC safe space and whether it should exist (yeah, I know), and so on. Basically, WisCon's concom wanted to talk about something, anything, other than the cranky, stinking elephant in the room.


I am heartbroken to read this. I assume that from the way you've written this, that these members were *not* verbally slapped for their ... AAGH, I have no words to describe that.

And *that* is damning.
[User Picture]
From:nojojojo
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC)
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A couple of other members intervened and pointed out that this was "the tone argument" and some other basic Derailing 101 tactics. I pointed out the use of white women's tears. One of the three attackers apologized; the other two did not, and one of them is apparently planning to organize some kind of honor guard for Elizabeth Moon to protect her from angry brown people like me. That last part is hearsay; I'd quit the concom by that point. But I believe it.
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From:coraa
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:13 am (UTC)
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Thank you for posting this.
[User Picture]
From:pingback_bot
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:34 am (UTC)

Wiscon update - N.K. Jemisin's take on what's been going on

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From:thistleingrey
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:38 am (UTC)
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:(
Thanks for posting about this.
From:vito_excalibur
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:38 am (UTC)
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That is heartbreaking. Thanks for letting us know what's going on with you and them.

I am not hearing any real arguments for why to keep Moon as GoH, and so there's this weird effect where it seems like there's a consensus that the right thing to do is uninvite her...and that doesn't happen.
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From:susansugarspun
Date:October 18th, 2010 09:54 am (UTC)
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I'm on the concom, and have no idea why a decision isn't being made. The troika are the ones who can actually make that decision--all the rest of us can do is tell them what we think the decision should be--and I'm increasingly really frustrated with the indecisiveness.
(Deleted comment)
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From:nojojojo
Date:October 18th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
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I've had a lot of cause to use that quote lately, since RaceFail et al. The persistent problem in the SF/F community is not outright card-carrying deliberate racism, sexism, etc. The real problem is lukewarm, passive, unfocused progressivism. I've seen that most SF/F fans and pros are intellectually opposed to bigotry. But very few of those people are willing to do anything to prevent it, or stop it when it occurs. And worse, many of those people have devoted substantial energy to censuring people who are doing something.

Like this guy, who insists that he wants fairness and diversity in the genre, but attacks every effective method that's been used to achieve it, and refuses to acknowledge the "isms" that make those methods necessary. ::sigh:: I'm too tired to say anything to him. One battle a day is enough, dammit.
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From:maevele
Date:October 18th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC)
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This is wrecking me. I'm still going to the con, because I want to celebrate Nisi and they can't stop me. and because I need wiscon to be the feminist con I thought it was, and maybe I can help make it be that by going and being all pissed off. It's easier for me since I'm local, and haven't been in on the shit that has gone down on the list.
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From:nojojojo
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
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That's a valid response too. It's what I'd been planning to do at first -- but the more obfuscation and delay I see from WisCon's leadership, the more tired and disgusted I grow.
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From:ninamazing
Date:October 18th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
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Breaks my heart too. So deeply disappointing.
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From:dsmoen
Date:October 18th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC)
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Even in the early 70s as a pre-teen, I was disenchanted with second-wave feminism, and I think I had my heart in third-wave even then. For years, I conisdered myself not a feminist because what I thought was so antithetical to what I was seeing in feminism that I was embarrassed by the label.

So the comment in support of second-wave feminism particularly chaps my ass, even as a white Irish-American, because I don't feel that I benefited as much from it as had been promised. And: WTF? In this context, that second-wave comment was downright offensive. We're talking about 2010, not 1971.

I've never been comfortable with order in lieu of justice. There's an undercurrent in groups of women about not rocking boats that I've never been comfortable with, which is why most of my work life and social life has been spent in male-dominated fields. (Also my gender dysphoria, but that's part of why I'm a third-wave feminist and not a second-wave one, too. That's also not to say that I don't leave some boats unrocked -- I do; I've got limited spoons.)

At this point, I'm likely never going to make it to Wiscon, and I'll never make it to the Wiscon that existed before this issue came up. (I'm also head of programming next year for a con running the same weekend).

I hope you can make it to FogCon! It'd be awesome to see you. :)
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From:sethg_prime
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:42 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if second-wave feminists were told, back in 1971, “Don’t make such a fuss about equal employment and birth control! You should be grateful for being allowed to vote!”

I thought the point of being a “progressive” was, y’know, progress.
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From:littlebutfierce
Date:October 18th, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
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This is utterly heartbreaking.

Thank you for posting this publicly; I'm sure it wasn't an easy post to write & it's never easy to say these things.
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From:brainwane.dreamwidth.org
Date:October 18th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
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I second this.
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From:wordweaverlynn
Date:October 18th, 2010 09:05 am (UTC)
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I am so, so sorry. I have only been to Wiscon twice, but I am profoundly ashamed that such behavior is being performed in the name of feminism. We have to do better than that.
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From:rydra_wong
Date:October 18th, 2010 09:34 am (UTC)
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I sent a note to one of the Troika members with whom I was familiar, and let her know I was quitting in protest. She let me know about the SF3 organization's resolution in favor of rescinding Moon's GoHship... but also let me know that it didn't really mean anything.

... I guess that answers that question.

Thank you for posting this.
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From:tanyad
Date:October 18th, 2010 10:21 am (UTC)
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Well damn...I'm sorry you had to deal with such BS and it makes me angry that I gave Wiscon even one chance last year.
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From:karenhealey
Date:October 18th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC)
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This is so terrible, and yes, heartbreaking.

Thank you for posting.
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From:susansugarspun
Date:October 18th, 2010 10:42 am (UTC)
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Nora-- I also owe you an apology, and until I can formulate a more full version, maybe the short version will work. I was initially kind of irritated at the introduction of "this is second wave feminism's fault" as a point in the ConCom discussion, because it felt counterproductive to me, sort of like fighting among ourselves wasn't the way to solve the problem. But I was absolutely stunned by Piglet's recent statement that Moon isn't necessarily a problem because WisCon is about feminism and Moon's books still have strong female characters, or whatever it was she said to justify that weak-ass argument. The last eight or nine years of attending WisCon have done so much for me, personally and intellectually, to help me articulate my belief that feminism is not just about a narrow view of women but about a broader philosophical framework in which many interlocking social issues are under scrutiny, etc etc. And to see someone who nominally represents WisCon retreating into this tiny blinkered view of what we're doing... well, I wasn't just wrong, I was short-sightedly wrong to say that arguing against second-wave feminism isn't part of what we need to be doing. And I'm sorry that I was dismissive when you brought it up, because you were totally right.
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From:dsmoen
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:30 pm (UTC)
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That one has virtues in other arenas (strong female characters, depiction of the autistic, devout naturalist, etc.) doesn't change the fact that Ms. Moon failed in an area that's relevant to Wiscon's core community. But you knew that.

It's difficult for many people when someone is a public mix of virtue and fail: there will always be people who are sympathizers with the areas of not fail [1]. I recognize that Elizabeth Moon has done a lot of cool stuff in a lot of areas -- but that post, well, it did change my opinion of her, especially her response to the comments.

All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not on the concom.

edited to add: [1] ...and then try to explain away the fail with the virtues. That never works. Fail is fail.

Edited at 2010-10-18 12:35 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:spiralsheep
Date:October 18th, 2010 10:45 am (UTC)
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::respect::
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From:rhipowered
Date:October 18th, 2010 11:23 am (UTC)
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This is so bloody appalling. Thank you for sharing your story, it's greatly appreciated.
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From:holzman
Date:October 18th, 2010 11:24 am (UTC)
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I'm sorry to hear the WisCon environment has gotten so toxic behind the scenes, and that the toxin has splashed on you.
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From:rubynye
Date:October 18th, 2010 11:53 am (UTC)
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I am so sorry you had to take this step. Thank you for taking it.
[User Picture]
From:pingback_bot
Date:October 18th, 2010 11:54 am (UTC)

More on Wiscon

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User karnythia referenced to your post from More on Wiscon saying: [...] and Nora posted today [...]
[User Picture]
From:kate_nepveu
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:02 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for the update, as unhappy as it is.

Hey, I'm going to Arisia next year, for the first time.
[User Picture]
From:stormsdotter
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
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As a Boston native, I wasn't planning to go to WisCon, and after hearing this, I doubt I ever will.

I've been going to Arisia since I was 16, I'd love to say hello!
[User Picture]
From:sethg_prime
Date:October 18th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
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And lo and behold, to my non-surprise, at yesterday's concom meeting (which I've been told about by some other folks I know who attended) the decision was made to... do nothing. Scratch that: to wait some more.

This seems like a failure mode that I have seen in a few other leftish organizations, where decisions are on paper made “by consensus” and in reality made by the consensus of whoever can tolerate an eight-to-twelve-hour meeting. I guess the Internet has made it a lot easier to set up decision-making procedures where people shoot for consensus...and therefore makes it easier to filibuster those procedures.
[User Picture]
From:ithiliana
Date:October 18th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
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THank you so much for this post! Signal Boosting.
[User Picture]
From:sairaali
Date:October 18th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
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:( I'm so sorry you got slammed in the concomm discussions. Clearly it's too much to hope that some people learned something from the previous years' programming and conflicts.

I'm so disappointed in the troika and the portion of concomm that are still supporting Moon. You're absolutely correct that this isn't about Moon anymore; the damage to Wiscon has been done no matter what Moon or the troika do at this point.
Nora, World. World, Nora. - Wiscon: I'm done.

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