Adventures in Assholery

An unfortunate follow-up to yesterday’s post on consent:

On Twitter, Jess Haines pointed to a couple of YouTube videos titled How to Pick Up Girls at VidCon 2013. The videos have now been set to private, but what they showed was appalling: A trio of douchebags walking around outside VidCon, literally lifting unsuspecting women off their feet from behind. They seemed to think it was hilarious. Many of their victims weren’t so amused.

This is not okay. Ever. Under any circumstance.

What the hell is wrong with these guys? It is absolutely not acceptable to put your arms around a stranger from behind without their consent. It’s not okay to touch someone without their consent, much less to pick them up and move them. The intention doesn’t matter, that it’s a “prank” doesn’t matter, and that they’re recording the whole thing doesn’t matter. This is a form of assault and the fact that the perpetrators are laughing about it doesn’t change that one bit. Some of those women look absolutely terrified. No wonder; something like that could be deeply triggering to a lot of people.

As one of the many disgusted commenters on YouTube said, this is rape culture in a nutshell. The idea that men can casually assault and traumatize women for their own amusement while they laugh about it. The women in these videos aren’t being treated as people, they’re being treated as comedy props.

It’s pretty damn disturbing that they apparently got away with this stunt for quite a while. Big props to the group of attendees who call them on it at the end of the second video. Too bad this apparently didn’t get the attention of the police or con security.

EDIT: The second video is back up at the moment. See for yourself.

EDIT 2: Both videos have been permanently deleted.

Identifying Professional Writers and Professionalism

A number of writers I follow on Twitter have been abuzz over an article by Lisa Morton published on the Horror Writers Association website. Morton’s article suggested a ten question test to determine whether or not one is a “professional” writer. Ideally she wants you to answer yes to all ten questions but she very generously allows anyone who answers 80% or more with a yes to consider themselves professionals, too.

If you’re sensing a little sarcasm in the tone of that last sentence, you’re reading it correctly. Morton’s test is ridiculous. She insists you must do completely irrelevant things like live in a messy home, turn down chances to talk to or spend time with friends, and voluntarily take lower paying jobs to be a professional. Sure, you can answer any one or two questions no and “pass” this twisted test, as long as you can say say yes to the other eight. To make matters worse, some questions are virtual repeats of earlier questions with slightly different phrasing. There are two questions relating to sacrificing time with friends, numbers 2 and 6. Questions 7 and 8 both ask about financial sacrifice. Number 3 blatantly asks if a minor part of your preferred writing process is the same as Morton’s.

Smarter people than me have thoroughly debunked this silliness already. Chuck Wending has the perfect response. As most of the responses point out, there’s only one test to determine whether or not you’re a professional writer: Are you paid for your writing? If yes, you’re a professional. Period, end of story, drop the mic and walk away.

Let’s not ignore, though, that “professional” can have more than one meaning. Surely that’s what Morton meant, right? Not the pay part but those other qualities that win your colleagues’ admiration as a professional? I work in IT, and I think we all know some IT people who are paid well but are hardly “professional.”

I’d argue that one of the key criteria for professionalism is collegial behavior. Show respect for others in your field, accept them as equals, treat them kindly by default. In most fields, someone who publicly sneers at his colleagues would be called unprofessional, no matter how many hours he works or how well paid he is. This is the major test of professionalism missing from Morton’s article and one it fails by a wide margin.

Professionals don’t sneer at their colleagues for daring to discuss topics other than work and for having the nerve to tell jokes. Professionals don’t insist that their career choices are the only valid choices. Professionals don’t count choosing to work in a different environment against their colleagues. Even (*gasp!*, apparently) working with the TV on.

I know that writing is a different professional environment from other fields, including and especially IT. I can’t imagine, though, any field in which Morton’s condescending article would be seen as anything but unprofessional. If someone in my field said to me, “That’s okay, as long as you don’t call yourself a professional. At least around irritable me,” my response would be, “Then I’ll gladly never be around you.”

Hopefully in the future Ms. Morton will include professional behavior in her criteria for professionalism and adjust her own accordingly.

What is Consent?

A recent post on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever prompted a brief discussion in the comments about consent. The post was a response to a couple of American political scandals. The exact details of those scandals aren’t terribly relevant here because the issue of consent goes well beyond one politician sending inappropriate pictures to unsuspecting women.

I’ve been thinking a lot about consent since Scalzi’s post. Obviously consent is the defining line between a sexual encounter and sexual assault. Beyond that – or maybe more accurately before that – It’s also an issue in any number of other potentially unwanted behaviors that contribute to rape culture and a broad disregard for others.

I recognize that I’m approaching this from a male point of view in an issue that overwhelmingly affects women and girls more than men. I’m not trying to exercise privilege here, though. I’m trying to suggest a standard for my young son to follow as he grows up and for the girls in our lives to expect from others as they grow up. This is meant to be a clear, universal standard to prevent confusion about what is and isn’t consent – and to prevent any false claims that someone was “confused” about the nature of consent. I think these are the critical elements of consent but if you think I’ve missed anything, please let me know.

Consent is…

  • before the fact.
  • affirmative.
  • freely given.
  • proactive.

Consent is, most importantly, before the fact. Whenever you hope to have an interaction with another person that requires their consent – a sexual encounter, taking a picture of a cosplayer, sending someone dirty pictures – you need to have their permission first. It is never, ever better to get forgiveness than permission. If you need consent, you get it first.

There is no such thing as “consent after the fact.” If it’s after the fact, it’s not consent. Period. It is always up to the recipient of the unconsented action to decide how and if to respond. Sometimes the recipient chooses not to respond to an unwanted action. She (or he) may be too afraid to respond, might not want to “cause trouble,” or might not consider the action important enough to respond. However, a lack of negative response should never be mistaken for consent. Once an action has been taken, the recipient’s choice to give consent has been taken away. As I said at Whatever, you might call it approval or acceptance or some other word, and it might negate the lack of consent, but if it’s after the fact it isn’t consent.

TL;DR: If it ain’t before the act, it ain’t consent.

Consent is affirmative. Silence is not consent. Consent is yes. It isn’t no, it isn’t wait, or slow down, or maybe later. It’s not reluctantly going along with something. The answer must be unequivocally positive to count as consent. If it wasn’t clear, ask again before going ahead. If the responder seems unsure, ask again.

If the answer was a clear no, stop. You don’t have consent. Don’t try again. Don’t badger. Don’t sulk. Being careful about consent is a sign of respect for the person you’re asking. Continuing to press them after they say no shows that your respect is insincere. It’s a sign that, despite the show of asking for consent, what you want is more important to you than they are.

Consent is freely given. It is not given under duress or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you ignore my advice above and harass someone until they give into your request, you’ve gotten concession, not consent. It isn’t the same thing, either practically or morally. A gift given under pressure isn’t really a gift and consent, however minor the favor you’re asking, should always be treated as a gift.

Someone who isn’t mentally in a state to give consent as they would when they’re stone-cold sober also isn’t giving their consent freely. The insincere consent may be coming from a bottle, rather than from your pressure, but it’s just as not-real. This should go without saying by now but the Steubenville rape case has made it sadly clear that a lot of people still don’t get it.

Finally, consent is proactive. Consent cannot be assumed. If you want someone to do something for you, it’s your responsibility to get their consent. It is not their responsibility to tell you no. This is such a basic aspect of consent that I nearly didn’t include it but I wanted to leave no room for confusion. If my son wants to play with a toy another kid in his kindergarten classroom has, he has to ask them. He doesn’t get to go take it unless they tell him not to. The same thing applies to us big people. If you want to play with someone else’s toys, you ask first.

In this post I’ve consciously separated the elements of consent from the situations that require consent. I wanted to establish what I see as the requirements for consent so that they can be used in any instance that requires consent, rather than getting caught up in specific behaviors. I fully intend this to be a living post with edits made as necessary, so if you have feedback I’d love to hear it.

Even a Fortune Cookie Can Speak Wisdom

If any great American literary tradition is in danger, it’s the fortune cookie. The people who write these things aren’t even trying anymore. These days they seem to be just recycling one liners from business books and making random predictions about the reader’s future. Once in a great while I get a good one, though. The one I randomly picked up at lunch today had a great reminder for aspiring writers:

The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing, because you think you can only do a little.

I may have to tape that one to my monitor.

Got a Weasel Problem? Call the Exterminator

As you may be aware, for the last month the SFF community has been embroiled in a series of controversies regarding sexism within SFWA, blatant racism aimed at author N.K. Jemisin, and, somehow, the shocking notion that sexual harassment at cons isn’t okay. I have many, many thoughts on all this, which I’m planning to post about in the next few days.

In the meantime, Mary Robinette Kowal has the smartest response by far to all this nonsense.

Here’s what Mary’s post looks like as a dramatic presentation:

ETA: Seanan McGuire has an equally awesome follow up.

Taking Progress Where I Can Get It

One of the hardest things I have to learn about writing is something I’ve known for years: It’s okay to write first drafts that suck. I know it but somehow after all these years I still don’t know it. I haven’t internalized it to the point that I believe it at a gut level when I’m busy writing some of the worst crap in the history of mankind.

I started writing today. It was maybe a couple of hundred words typed into OneNote with the onscreen keyboard on a borrowed iPad in a crowded, noisy waiting room. Still, I wrote.

But ye gods, did it suck.

I knew it sucked as I wrote it. It took all my self control to keep writing, to keep putting one disjointed, misplaced thought after another. To not delete the entire thing, smash the iPad against the floor, and burn its remains for being the vehicle for such abomination. But I did it. I wrestled the ego monster that insisted I should be ashamed of allowing such crap to exist and I beat it.

And, yay. Good for me. I used to write by agonizing over every sentence before typing it out, then revising the newly typed and massively overthought sentence several times before moving onto the next. I learned that the glacial pace of progress that imposes is very discouraging to me. Plus I often found that overthinking still led to crappy prose, so what was the point? I’ve been trying for years now to switch to writing drafts that aren’t meant to be anything but drafts, then add the good in the revision process. It’s very hard to break lifelong habits but so far it’s much healthier mentally.

So. Today I wrote something that sucked. And I’m happy about it.

Writing Scares Me

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the fifth grade. That was, I’ll just say, a while back now. In the years since then I’ve been a spasmodic writer. I wrote a lot in high school and college, had another burst in my mid-20s, and a smaller one as I approached my mid-30s. In between those periods I never stopped thinking about writing. I imagined stories, characters, places, and things. I told myself, “Someday…” As any successful writer will tell you, though, thinking about writing doesn’t put words on a page. “Someday” never comes unless you decide that it has.

I’m deciding that someday is now. I’ve ‘someday’-ed a significant portion of my life away. Not that I’m old…but I’ve let a lot of youth pass me by. If I don’t jump on that horse and tie myself into the saddle now I might actually be old the next time I look around. I believe – have always believed, deep down – that with enough work I can be a good writer. But that work will take time, and probably a lot of it. I could continue to bitch and moan in my own mind about how much time I’ve wasted already…or I could just quit wasting time and get down to the work. 

Now I have to face the demon that’s held me back for the last 25 years: fear. Writing terrifies me, as much as I love it. While I’m doing it I’m sure it’s no good. I second guess each and every word in every sentence before I even type them. I revise before I write because I’m afraid of writing something that sucks. Which is damn stupid, obviously, because then I write nothing. Beyond the immediate fear in the actual process of writing, I’m scared of the business of writing. I’m afraid of the rejection that’s a constant companion of most writers. I’m afraid of criticism. I’m afraid of working for years and years and never making it. I’m afraid of failing.

I know these are common fears for a writer, especially someone just starting out. I bring them up now to pull them out of the shadows, call them by name, and take away their power. If I’m going to be serious about this venture I have to refuse to be intimidated by ancient terrors. My first step has to be confronting and defeating this monster hiding in the dark that’s kept me cowering under the covers for so long. Then I can start the long, hard work waiting for me.

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