2006-09-01

Harlan Ellison - Connie Willis Incident

Dora at Shrub.com reports an incident in which
at the Hugo Awards ceremony at Worldcon, Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis on stage.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden was the primary source of the news:
Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos wasn't funny and it wasn't okay. I understand (from third parties; I haven't spoken to her about it) that Connie Willis's position is that Ellison has done worse and she can handle him, but I really didn't want to watch it and neither, I think, did a lot of other people in the audience. Up to then the comedic schtick aspects of the Hugo presentation had been genuinely funny. After that, I think, many of us just wanted it all to stop.

Just as with George W. Bush's now-famous uninvited shoulder-rub of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the basic message of Ellison's tit-grab is this: "Remember, you may think you have standing, status, and normal, everyday adult dignity, but we can take it back at any time. If you are female, you'll never be safe. You can be the political leader of the most powerful country in Europe. You can be the most honored female writer in modern science fiction. We can still demean you, if we feel like it, and at random intervals, just to keep you in line, we will."

Dora goes on to make a few things clear:
First, let’s be clear about what I’m not saying:
-Ellison is the oppressor of all women
-Ellison is the personal cause of oppression for Willis
-all men are horribly sexist
-touching = the root of sexist oppression

Nota bene: That's not what this is about. More from Dora:
This is what Ellison did: he invaded a woman’s personal space, and furthermore, touched a private body part (at least, it’s private in Western society since we sexualize and obsessively cover up women’s breasts). He did something similar to another woman at the same convention. Groping Willis was not a freak incident, but an indication of his disregard for personal space - the personal space, it appears, of women.

I’m not saying that Ellison took a moment, thought, “Boy, I disrespect Connie Willis! Let me show her who’s boss!” and grabbed her breast out of malice. The point is he didn’t have to stop and think. He simply assumed that it would be all right to grab a woman’s private body part without her prior permission, on a stage in front of a massive audience.

That’s the whole point. That assumption. The general attitude that makes people believe, without consciously thinking about it, that it’s okay to touch a woman without asking. (See George Bush’s invasion of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal space at the G-8 Summit.) The assumption that goes along with that belief is that, somehow, women just don’t get as much say over what people do to their personal space. Over who touches their bodies.

How many times have you seen a man touch a woman without asking: pat her head, pet her hair, grab her arm, put a hand on her waist? How many times have you been that woman? Both men and women do it - both genders absorb the idea that it’s somehow okay to do it. Women are expected to put up with it ...

Read the rest at the, yes, link. Don't miss Dora's thoughts on "when good authors suck as people".

Harlan Ellison's statement is here.

You don't have to be anti-Ellison to find this behavior disgraceful, any more than you have to be anti-Bush to find the President's contact with Ms. Merkel highly inappropriate.