The panel was Take Back the SciFi. The description? Sexual assault and rape frequently get used as symbolic plot devices with no consideration about the realities of how these events effect survivors and the people around them and the larger social realities of this epidemic. Sometimes these stories get told well but often they perpetuate social myths and stereotypes that normalize predatory behavior and make survivors complicit. How do authors work to create a culture where stories that perpetuate rape myths are not acceptable? Examples?
So. Awesome! I readied my list of examples, bounced around with karnythia planning how we were going to rant about rape culture and lazy writing, walked into the panel, and got... something different.
I need to preface this with something.
As a rape crisis counselor, I need to acknowledge every survivor's experience and ways of coping with it. Even if I disagree with them, which I've struggled with more than once. So. While I was upset with the moderator - at some points outright aghast - I am not going to condemn her as a person. I am but criticizing her moderation here. It was clear, towards the end of the panel and in a conversation the next day, that she was struggling with the subject matter and having emotional reactions she hadn't anticipated; she had not dealt with her experiences as thoroughly as she felt she had. So while I disagree quite strongly with pretty much everything she did as the moderator, I can't say she's a Bad Person, just an overwhelmed person moderating the wrong damn panel.
So. Back to the panel.
We had a very full room, which was awesome - it's a touchy subject, and I'm always happy to see people willing to talk about it, especially at a con, where there are so many way-fun things to do. So everyone there? I salute you, man.
The moderator had us all introduce ourselves, as is standard. But then she started setting forth rules of engagement. Some were fine - like "we're not going to entertain a debate on whether rape in fiction has an effect on rape culture in real life - it just does." I'm for that. But.
She informed us that she had a very strict set of five questions that she was going to keep us to, having us each answer in turn. This is problem #1. With a panel like this, things need to be freeform - it really needs to be a discussion, not a series of answers. Also? The panelists have their own stuff to bring to the table, and the questions left no room for us to talk about a bunch of the stuff that we came to talk about.
And when I diverged in my answers or said "that reminds me of-", I was shushed. Or interrupted.
This is when I started simmering.
Now, I did my best to be professional. When you're a panelist, you're supposed to respect the mod and let them guide. And so I did not want to interrupt her in turn and say "Excuse me" or anything. Upon reflection, I should have. At several points.
And then she derailed us.
She said flat out, "I've changed my mind." She set the questions aside. And she started talking about her own rape.
Now, I have no problem with talking about personal experiences. I encourage this. But that panel was neither the time nor the place for it. We were there to discuss rape in genre fiction. When she started talking about her rape? That led into all of us having to talk about our rape/sexual assault experiences. Which I have no problem with doing in general, but doing that meant that we were SO derailed that it took literally hours to get back to the actual panel topic, and we still didn't get to discuss half of the issues in the topic description.
And. I kept having to jump in and interject things like "I want us to not use gendered language - saying men have to do this, women have to do that - there are male survivors, too, and female perpetrators."
So there was that. But the biggest problem was when she finally opened the floor to questions. Three hands shot up - two men and a woman. And she pointed to the woman and said "By the way, I'm not calling on the men until the very end, because I'm a ass and that's how I roll."
karnythia and I whipped our heads around to stare at her in disbelief. There was a little ripple of shock in the room. And goddamn, I should've called her on it right then. But I could not believe she had actually said that.
Now, I know that this is a feminist con. And that other cons are very male-dominated. Hell, I led a panel at Arisia about sexual politics and problems at conventions. And so I understand calling on the women first. But by saying she was not going to let the men talk til the very end, she was marginalizing them. Silencing them. Discounting their experiences.
I didn't jump in on it because we were already running long, and I really wanted people to be able to ask questions. So we took questions. After the second question, when I tried to answer, the mod cut me off, saying "We're not going to answer that, since we're short on time."
karnythia and I chorused, "But - it was a question. This is the question and answer period." I added, "This is how panels work," as my frustrated little dig. And I answered.
And at one point, the mod said "Have I forgotten anyone?", and sterling_raptor said, "What about the men?" There was a murmur of assent from the audience, and the mod gave up and finally called on one of the men...
Who said, "I am a male survivor."
Hot damn, I'm glad he spoke up. That could not have been easy.
And we got towards the end, and I saw that sterling_raptor had her hand up and had fire in her eyes, so I called on her even though I wasn't the moderator. And she addressed the mod, saying, "I am so angry at you right now."
Sterling talks about this here. In inadequate summary, one of her beloved male friends was raped. He contracted HIV from the rapist and died. And when the moderator silenced and marginalized the men in the room, it cut Sterling deep.
It cut me deep, too. Not just because I have male friends who've been raped. But because, as one of the audience members pointed out, rape does not just affect the victim/survivor. It affects their families. Their friends. Their communities.
And I will not be part of anyone saying that someone's experience doesn't count because they have a penis.
Yes, this is a feminist con. But my brand of feminism does not silence and marginalize men. Hell, I love men. My brand of feminism = women being equal to men. You know?
And besides male rape survivors - and there were at least three in the room - there's everyone who's ever loved someone who's been raped. If you try to tell me that my husband isn't affected by rape, I will laugh in your face.
We are all affected by this. And we all deserve the chance to speak, and to not be discriminated against based on gender.
The mod blustered for a bit, trying to discount Sterling's objection - which Sterling stated very calmly, despite her anger. I turned and said "I agree with Sterling." So the mod said "I am sorry, Sterling."
She did not apologize to the men.
She did say, during the conversation the next morning, that she'd run into the first male survivor to speak up, who was one of those first hands up, at a party later, and that she had apologized to him there. Which is good. But I wish she had apologized to the guys then and there. EDIT: Her apology apparently was Not a Real Apology; details in comments.
The panel officially ended then and there - but we still had so much to talk about, and no one had the room after us, so we kept going.
This was a four-hour panel. Four. Hours. We eventually hauled it back to genre fiction, then branched out into how rape and sexual assault are handled in fandom and fannish communities; eventually we just pulled the chairs around in a circle, and karnythia and I facilitated the discussion til the end. It was good, and it was productive. At least one person, another male survivor, went right out and posted about his experience for the first time, which was very cathartic. And I got to disseminate a lot of info about the sorts of programs rape crisis centers offer beyond hotline services, and several people said they would find their local center and see how they could help, so there was some win.
But oh god damn that was a lot of fail from that moderator. And I'm barely even touching on it, because it's still getting me upset.
So yes. I think this panel should recur next year. With a different moderator. karnythia suggests that this panel should have been a facilitated group instead. That could work. And karnythia and I are up for tag-team co-facilitating next year. I discussed this with the programming director, explaining that with something like this, the moderator needs to be more sensitive to the issue at hand; the programming director nodded, saying she hadn't been familiar with all of the panelists. And I totally grok that running a con is huge and busy and hard and you can't deliberate over each individual panel composition. But I'm on the record as wanting to moderate next year's panel, or co-moderate it with karnythia, or have karnythia moderate it.
For the record? This was the only fail the con held for me; the con was otherwise made of win. But this was large and it upset a bunch of people, so I felt the need to address it. I don't even know if I've addressed it well; I kinda just let it pour out onto the little LJ window. Just needed to get it out.
If you were at the panel, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
EDIT: And lo, we have thoughts!
trochai: Feedback from a male survivor.
asim: Take Back the Future.
pretzelcoatl: Spurred into activism.
If you see any reports, please let me know; I'd love to include them!
Also, karnythia and I have started takebackscifi so we can actually have the panel. Please join! We'll post the intro soon. We're just winding down from Wiscon first. And if this is all you've seen at Wiscon, rest assured that this was a single pint of fail - the rest of the con was great, and the fail here is not from anything the concom did. So totally come next year!