We have got to be better than this

Executive function, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is that part of the mental and cognitive load that handles high-order decisions. Executive function includes the ability to categorize things, to recognize similar features, to establish hierarchies, and to make decisions. Executive function is the thing that runs out when, at the end of a long day, you find yourself unable to decide between pizza or Chinese delivery for dinner.

Executive function is what lets us make the hard decisions.

Now, I always liked to think of my executive function as somehow separate from my feelings. (Of course, personally speaking, I like to think of EVERYTHING as separate from my feelings. But that’s a different topic.) I liked to think that I could make decisions based on facts and values, and that my feelings in the matter would not make a difference in the outcome.

This is silly. I was wrong.

When Elise Matthesen reported Jim Frenkel to Wiscon staff for harassment, I had lots of feelings. Elise is a friend. Frenkel had made many of my friends uncomfortable over many years. I knew where I stood. What I felt like doing and what I believed to be the right thing to do were in alignment. All my decisions were easy ones. There was no strain on my executive function.

When it came clear that Wiscon as an institution had not handled the harassment in ways I supported, I felt more conflict. I am friends with the people who run Wiscon. I wanted to believe better of them. I … didn’t want to call them out. I wanted them to take better actions without me having to say anything negative. Knowing what I wanted to do was in conflict with how I felt, and it made the decisions harder.

I said recently that I know my generation has come into power because we are the ones screwing up.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet we have to be better than this.

The fact that it is hard does not mean we can avoid doing it.

The fact that implementing sexual harassment policies is difficult, the fact that it involves our friends, neighbors, coworkers, or loved ones, does not remove from us the burden of making the effort.

We must change our culture. We must stop supporting harassers and abusers. When we find them out, how do we prevent them from causing further harm? When they have apologized, made reparations, expressed contrition, and effected personal change, how do we let them back in? We must let our communities know that we will investigate harassment reports responsibly. That there will be appropriate consequences.

We all have to do this together, whether or not we are on concoms and boards. We all have to educate ourselves on appropriate actions, on reporting, on supportive things to say to victims of assault and harassment. We can be a part of the process. We all have to decide to be better than we are now.

I know it’s hard. It strains the executive function, trying to figure out what to do. But we can be better than this.

Think of the last convention you were at.

A sexual assault occurs on average every two minutes.

How many people were at this convention? How many minutes did it encompass?

How many people were sexually assaulted at the last convention you attended?

Groped. Verbally harassed. Grabbed. Touched. Intimidated. Threatened. Forced. Raped.

Every two minutes, remember.

Tick, tick.

We have got to be better than this.


3 Responses

  1. I’m wondering: if we can become better in the little microcosm that is fandom – does that act as a successful incubator of ‘right action’, and does it then grow when we transplant it to the larger world? Are the things we’re learning here applicable to the rest of our experience?

    I know this post is essentially “we need to do better”, but it actually makes me a little more hopeful than I was before I read it.

  2. It strikes a hopeful note because if someone is saying “we need to do better,” and is asking “how can we do better,” it means someone else knows there’s a problem in the first place and they want to fix it, even if it means facing some uncomfortable choices at the least, and a world that will actively resist change at the worst. And hey, fandom’s as good a place to start as any, isn’t it?

    A lot of what’s wrong in the world is complacency, imo. People either don’t know there’s something broken, or they know and they don’t care enough to un-break it. Just my two cents, though.

  3. Or they feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done, don’t know where or how to start, are discouraged from trying by whatever power structures are in place, or think they can’t afford what doing the work will cost them.

    Or they think it’s somebody else’s job.

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