So. Apparently, in the course of a skit during the Hugo awards ceremony in which Harlan Ellison was pretending to be a baby, he grabbed Connie Willis's breast. It happened fast, and many people weren't quite sure what they'd seen.
Video here. Courtesy of Edward Campion.
Ellison contends it was a 'brief touch', but you can tell from the video that his hand stays there for a good two seconds, all while Willis is clearly reacting – she hunches down and away, which Harlan apparently doesn't notice or much attend to, and then ends the skit immediately and moves on with the ceremony.
She reacted with class, even though she was clearly uncomfortable in the situation.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden was one of the first to comment.
I think that Alan DeNiro's response has been one of the most spot-on so far. The act itself is incendiary enough – but the fact that this happened on the stage of a major awards ceremony in the field also unearths the larger issue of sexism and sexist behavior in the field at large, and cons in particular. This stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum.
Many others have also voiced their concerns.
Ed Campion kicks off a secondary dustup.
Harlan Ellison posts an apology, reproduced here in full:
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.
...and then after some dithering, takes it back. Again, reproduced in full:
Would you be slightly less self-righteous and chiding if I told you there was
there was the slightest touch. A shtick, a gag between friends, absolutely NO sexual content. Would you, and the ten thousand maggots who have blown this up into a cause celebre, be even the least bit abashed to know that I apologized WAY BEYOND what the “crime” required, on the off chance that I HAD offended? Let me ask you, Mark:
1) Were you there?
2) Did you see it?
3) Are you standing on your soapbox to chide me via 3rd/4th-hand reportage by OTHERS who weren’t there?
4) Do you also buy the infinite number of other internet brouhahas that turned out to be misreported?
Here it is, Mark; and for any others who fit the shoe:
In the words of that great American philosopher, Tony Isabella,
“Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved.”
Does not anyone READ WHAT I WROTE within fifteen minutes of learning of this? Does not anyone wonder why, if it was such a piggish thing I did, as one of those jerkwad blogs calls it, Connie Willis hasn’t, after twenty-five years of “friendship,” not returned my call on Monday … or responded to the Fedex packet of my posting here on Monday, which Fedex advises me she received at 2:20 pm on Tuesday?
Can the voluble and charismatic Connie not even pick up a phone to tell the man whose work she “admires deeply” that he has gone a bridge too far? Is she so wracked by the Awfulness of it that she is incapable of saying to his face, you went too far? No one EVER asked her to “bell the cat.” She decided that was her role toward me, long ago. And I’ve put up with it for years.
How about it, Mark: after playing straight man to Connie’s very frequently demeaning public jackanapery toward me — including treating me with considerable disrespect at the Grand Master Awards Weekend, where she put a chair down in front of her lectern as Master of Ceremonies, and made me sit there like a naughty child throughout her long “roast” of my life and career — for more than 25 years, without once complaining, whaddays think, Mark, am I even a leetle bit entitled to think that Connie likes to play, and geez ain’t it sad that as long as SHE sets the rules for play, and I’m the village idiot, she’s cool … but gawd forbid I change the rules and play MY way for a change … whaddaya think, Mark, my friend, am I within the parameters of brutish pigginess to suggest if she WAS offended, then I apologize … even if you and a garbage-scowload of asinine pathetic internet wanks get up on their “affront” and tell me how to behave?
I’ve sat here for four days, quietly, having done as much forelock-tugging and kneeling as I feel — as I — I — not you — not fan pinheads in far places who jumped and bayed and went after me in a second — but I –who is responsible for my behavior — as I feel is proper. And for four days I’ve waited for Deeply Outraged and Debased Connie Willis — an avowed friend and admirer of my work for more than a quarter century –to get up off her political correctness and take her pal off the gibbet.
I spent more hours traveling this benighted country, for eight years, state after state after state, lecturing in defense of women’s rights and passage of the ERA than any of you have spent mouthing your sophomoric remonstrances.
As the Great American Philosopher Tony Isabella has said, “Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved.”
My last word on this clusterfuck. If Willis wants in, she knows where you all are. She knows where I am.All the rest is silence.
P.S. Including Mark’s post that precedes this one, I URGE YOU all to post this everywhichwhere, and let the poison drip where it will. Gloves come off now, onlookers.
secritcrush reacts, as does Kameron Hurley. More responses here, and here.
Ellison has a history of stuff like this, but there's a larger issue behind his actions, in part because while all this was happening, people started making excuses. Alan DeNiro has a great visual essay on this process. Further commentary.
A lot of the wagon circling apparently went on in the SFWA boards (inaccessible to non-members) and was largely dismissive of the incident.
David Moles called them out on it. You will note that every single person has asked to have their comment removed.
Some additional commentary on that, as well as here.
And a discussion of the whole thing.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden hits it on the head. It's not about this single incident – it's about this incident, and the reactions (or non-reactions to it) that have spread across the internets. also makes a good point, as does megmccarron.
Jim C. Hines had a great idea about how to encourage discussion, and now a Livejournal group has been founded to discuss the wider issue in fandom.
In the end, I hope Elizabeth Bear is right.
One of the worst things about violations of personal space is that it takes you a second to parse out what's happened. You're trying to figure out if it was an accident, or if you've missed or misinterpreted something. By the time you realize that what you're afraid has happened is, actually, what's happened, the violator has usually moved on, making it hard to kick up a fuss in response. And you're left berating yourself for not moving fast enough, not responding instantly, not just, "Punching him in the face!" as many have suggested was an appropriate response. And while I'm a fan of a good face-punch myself in those situations, the fact is that, often, things like this happen so fast and so unexpectedly that you would have to be on your guard every minute that you were interacting with someone in order to respond quickly to things like this. Expecting people to react on the instant in those situations is asking them to be ready at any second for someone to violate their personal space – to view the world as essentially threatening and everyone in it as a potential enemy.
That is not an acceptable way to live in the world.
Connie shouldn't be left to respond on her own. It is the responsibility of the community to set norms, not to tut-tut-tut after the fact about individual actions and individual choices – it's our responsibility, everyone's responsibility to create a culture in which actions like this are unacceptable, in which wagons are not circled and photographs removed from websites in order to try to silence the storm. This is about more than Harlan, though Harlan's actions are an excellent example.