writing rengeek magpie mind

October 2014

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writing rengeek magpie mind

noted without comment

Harlan Ellison issues a public apology.

Would you believe that, having left the Hugo ceremonies immediately after my part in it, while it was still in progress ... and having left the hall entirely ... yet having been around later that night for Kieth Kato's traditional chili party ... and having taken off next morning for return home ... and not having the internet facility to open "journalfen" (or whatever it is), I was unaware of any problem proceeding from my intendedly-childlike grabbing of Connie Willis's left breast, as she was exhorting me to behave.

Nonetheless, despite my only becoming aware of this brouhaha right this moment (12 noon LA time, Tuesday the 29th), three days after the digital spasm that seems to be in uproar ...YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!

IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN'S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go 'way over the line in terms of invasion of someone's personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. When George W. Bush massaged the back of the neck of that female foreign dignitary, we were all justly appalled. For me to grab Connie's breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.

I agree wholeheartedly.

I've called Connie. Haven't heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.

So. What now, folks? It's not as if I haven't been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn't--till now--reached your level of outrage.

I'm glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.

With genuine thanks for the post, and celestial affection, I remain, puckishly,

Yr. pal, Harlan

P.S. You have my permission to repost this reply anywhere you choose, on journalfen, at SFWA, on every blog in the universe, and even as graffiti on the Great Wall of China.

Comments

I do not, frankly, care whether he's insecure.

I care whether he grabbed a fellow-writer's breast.


I think how he felt about his action afterwards speaks to his motive. There is, after all, a big difference between an inappropriate grope motivated by misguided tomfoolery and an inappropriate grope motivated by a genuine disrespect for the woman.

For which insecurity does not begin to be a pretext, far less an excuse.

I don't think anyone's calling it an excuse.
I don't think you grope somebody you respect, period.
I don't think you grope somebody you respect, period.

Wow. I couldn't more strongly disagree. I've badly wanted to grope people I deeply respect on many occasions. It could be there's something wrong with me, but if so, it extends to me not knowing why that means there's something wrong with me.
You know exactly what I mean, and don't play syntax games with me. I take it poorly.
You're right, I do know what you mean, and I'm not playing a syntax game. I'm saying I think Ellison meant the gesture in an affectionate and playful way. It could be that his action sprang from an unexamined sexist part of himself. But I don't think he had any conscious bad intentions. I'm not saying I know, it's merely how it seems to me at this point.
So you're saying you would see nothing wrong with walking up to a woman who you had a professional relationship with and grabbing her breast at a business meeting?
No. I'm saying Ellison did a bad thing because he wasn't thinking properly, instead of doing a bad thing because it's a reflection of his beliefs.
And I think there's an intrinsic lack of respect for another person's personal sovereignty sort of implied when you commit an assault on them.

He may have been drinking, he may have been weirded out and overstimulated, he may have gone a little crazed under the lights. It doesn't excuse the action.
And I think there's an intrinsic lack of respect for another person's personal sovereignty sort of implied when you commit an assault on them.

Possibly. It's certainly not something I would do. But I'm not sure it applies to everyone. I also think it's possible that Ellison considers himself more sovereign than everyone else in the world.

He may have been drinking, he may have been weirded out and overstimulated, he may have gone a little crazed under the lights. It doesn't excuse the action.

I agree. But I think there's an important difference between murder and reckless manslaughter.
I also think it's possible that Ellison considers himself more sovereign than everyone else in the world.

How is this not a lack of respect?
I think it would be a lack of respect. Note I said "it's possible." I meant to pose it as an alternate possibility to the one I'd been talking about so far.
I think it's interesting that you're attempting to excuse the behavior of somebody who has already admitted that it was inexcusable.

As far as I'm concerned, this is not different than Mel Gibson shooting off at the mouth about his anti-semitism while drunk. Being drunk does not excuse the attitudes that lead to the shooting off at the mouth in the first place.
I think it's interesting that you're attempting to excuse the behavior of somebody who has already admitted that it was inexcusable.

I think I've already indicated three times now that I'm not trying to excuse his behaviour. At most, I'm saying I don't hate him.


As far as I'm concerned, this is not different than Mel Gibson shooting off at the mouth about his anti-semitism while drunk.


I think that's definitely a possibility, but I'm by no means as certain. There are a lot of differing factors here--Ellison was probably trying to make people laugh, and comedy is often accomplished by doing what everyone knows is dead wrong. Again, I'm not trying to excuse his behaviour. It was a bad idea, if that was the case. There's also the fact that Gibson had to know that what he was saying was hurtful, while I'm stilling willing to believe Ellison was being stupid, and wasn't necessarily aware at the time that what he was doing was going to hurt anyone.
(It was amusing reading the progressively-narrower posts in this thread....)

I'm stilling willing to believe Ellison was being stupid, and wasn't necessarily aware at the time that what he was doing was going to hurt anyone.

Let's assume that what you're willing to believe is true, that the act in question was an honest mistake. Then let's examine the apology. It starts out very strongly, if it's not over-the-top, it's pretty close to the top.

Then the cracks start to appear. 'I've always been like this, and I've been classy about it.' In other words, he's moved away from 'I did the wrong thing' and is now attempting 'How could you possibly be angry with a charming rogue like me?'

Then the cracks get worse, the last paragraph is a not-thinly-veiled statement that he is being criticised due to 'political correctness'. He's turning on his critics and attacking them.

This is not the behaviour of someone who has accepted responsibility for doing something bad - this is the behaviour of someone who is trying to find the right words to make the critics shut up.
(It was amusing reading the progressively-narrower posts in this thread....)

Yeah, it's like reading Japanese all of a sudden.

This is not the behaviour of someone who has accepted responsibility for doing something bad

See, I recognise this behaviour, and I agree it seems designed to take some of the heat off of him, but I don't think it necessarily means he doesn't feel he deserves the heat. I think his self-deprecations were honest. That he's trying to be charming only suggests to me he's automatically trying to ward off pain.
On issues like this, I'm very much a member of the 'take it like a man' school of pain management. The way I see it, the more it hurts this time, the more incentive he'll have to not do it next time.

I agree that the bits of the statement I'm unhappy with are intended to ward off pain. But I think the pain can't be separated from the lesson.
I think there is a very big difference in perspective here.

The only one who is allowed to grab a woman in a playful or affectionate way is her lover. No one else is allowed to do so, ever, for any reason. Being female and having breasts does not give the males of the world permission to do as they will, when ever they feel like it.

Harlan's actions did not spring "from an unexamined sexist part of himself." A man, any man, who sees nothing wrong with assaulting a woman like this does not view women as fully human. They see women as property to be used as they see fit. There is no respect for women as unique individuals in a act like this.

Assault like this is all about power and control. It is all about asserting dominance. It is no more about being playful and affectionate than rape is about sex.

This is not an isolated action on Harlan's part. It wasn't even the first time he'd touched a woman in a way she objected to during this con. It was just the most public instance.

And frankly, attempts to excuse his behavior make me slightly ill. I'd hoped the days of women being viewed as playthings and so much meat were long over.
The only one who is allowed to grab a woman in a playful or affectionate way is her lover.

In my social circles, and presumably yours, yes, that's true. I'm not sure that applies to everyone at all times. For example--actors on a stage. Which sort of seems to be what Ellison claims to have mistaken himself for.

Being female and having breasts does not give the males of the world permission to do as they will, when ever they feel like it.

I'm not saying that.

A man, any man, who sees nothing wrong with assaulting a woman like this does not view women as fully human.

I agree. And so, according to Ellison, does Ellison.

Assault like this is all about power and control.

I'm not sure I believe that's universally true, but I do believe it's frequently true.

And frankly, attempts to excuse his behavior make me slightly ill.

I'm not trying to excuse his behaviour.
The only one who is allowed to grab a woman in a playful or affectionate way is her lover. No one else is allowed to do so, ever, for any reason.
I might add nursing children to that list, just to avoid attracting the ire of lactivists. ;}

But only children who have been nursing from those particular breasts (not any nursing infant) and only those recently nursing (not long-since-weaned teens).
There is, after all, a big difference between an inappropriate grope motivated by misguided tomfoolery and an inappropriate grope motivated by a genuine disrespect for the woman.

i agree, and i concur that he sees this as the former, and there seems to be some evidence that he and connie have the sort of relationship where he'd lead himself to believe this sort of thing was among the foolin' repertoire.

and i am also not calling that an excuse. i call it an explanation. i call it an explanation because he says he's willing to apologize for what he did to connie; this bit is just to tell the rest of us that he wasn't actually disrespecting connie. the explanation makes sense to me. it's certainly not the first time that i've seen jackanapery go wrong because one party thought it provided more leeway than the other(s). or because somebody just didn't THINK too hard, because hey, they were comfortable with each other. or because something that's ok in private is mistakenly carried over into the public sphere.

so i don't think this is an apology at all, and treating it as such will lead to many of the conclusions people here have come up with already. i believe that he thinks he owes one person an apology, if she is offended, and that one person is connie. the rest of us he owes a statement that what he did was wrong. he made that statement, he made a phone call to connie to see how she took it all; as far as he is concerned he's doing the right thing. and i think that for many occasions, this would be the right thing. if A wrongs B, A owes B an apology, not necessarily the rest of B's friends.

unfortunately he's having a huge disconnect here. because if you do things in public that make your audience feel that you've dissed or even attacked one of their own, you've thrown them into a tizzy as to whether they should have intervened, should have made it clear that community expectations do not allow for such behaviour. and if you didn't actually mean to do that, then you have failed as an decent person in that moment. the best thing to make up for that quickly is an apology. and the best way to do that is to not explain, but to just say sorry without reservations. (me, i like explanations with my apologies, i like to know what motivated the idiocy, so we can, you know, avoid going down that path again. but lots of people conflate that with excuses and won't have it, not at the same time.) oh, and you can't joke around while apologizing either.

i don't think he groks that aspect of it at all. and it'll all fall down on that. which is sort of unfortunate because i perceive him as wanting to do the right thing here, within his own code of ethics, and that's actually good to see.
I think you are right.
so i don't think this is an apology at all,

I guess this is the only point on which I'd disagree with you. I think an apology to the public is implicit in his public admission of wrongdoing. But I do agree he botched it.