This Is Not a Mob
Recently I was accused of being part of a mob and bullying, among other things, including being “out for blood,” pushing men into a corner after they’ve given in to our (the “mob’s”) demands, and that nothing the founders of FanX do is ever “enough” for us.
Among other things. It was a long and painful email to read, filled with ugly accusations and criticisms. Yet I know it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what others, who are leading the charge on this, have endured for weeks and, in some cases, months.
I want to unpack some of the accusations and issues.
First off, bullying happens, by definition, by a person or group in power.
I’m one of a handful of writers, mostly women, with a few awesome men, who have always wanted to save our local con because it’s worth saving. The idea that we have power against this company is ridiculous. They’ve spent millions in legal fees across years over a trademark. (Do you know how much writers make? Yeah, we’re not a rich bunch.)
We are not the ones in power.
In contrast, the founders of FanX have a massive amount of clout, power, and money. They’ve done their best to belittle, dismiss, and even threaten us. But we literally are not the bullies here.
Second, the founders of FanX, Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenberg, have yet to do a few very simple, reasonable, and ethically right things we’ve wanted from the beginning, which can be found in our open letter.
Third, they’ve broken trust and confidence again and again, including violating their own shiny new harassment policy. They’ve re-victimized victims. Instead of seeking help from professionals in creating a policy and a way to carry it out — a group that does not include them (as any decent, unbiased, policy should) — they’ve expected the victims they’ve insulted and dragged through the mud to join them on their team.
That would certainly make Dan and Bryan look good: “Look! The victims are on our team now! They trust us! Aren’t we great?”
But no, that’s not happening. Why on earth would women who have been lied to, attacked, insulted, threatened, and betrayed feel safe enough to join their team? No way.
Fourth, they’ve “apologized,” sort of, but not to a sexual harassment victim. Rather, they (sort of) apologized to a famous author who expressed concern over their lack for follow-through on their own policy.
Then they doxxed her and publicly attacked her. (Check out the Tumblr link above for more on that.)
That wasn’t enough, so they created a secret FB page where they defended their previous actions, entirely negating the apology, and began a smear campaign against the very author they’d apologized to.
Anyone who says we got what we wanted already (so we should back off) doesn’t get that we never got the very basic decent thing we’ve always wanted: an apology for the original victim and for their breach of confidentiality in her report. And we’re asking that they commit to confidentiality in the future.
(I know; CUH-RAZY demands. We’re such bullies. </sarcasm>)
Fifth, they “handled” the original situation after about three months of sitting on the report, and they handled it by holding a private conversation with the accused harasser and then deciding they’d done enough. (Just . . . no.)
(Another one of the demands in the letter is to act on reports quickly. So you know, not sit on them for months. Not unreasonable, we don’t think.)
Sixth, they refused to publicly say that Richard Paul Evans, the accused harasser, wouldn’t return, though they claim they did say so.
Well, they sort of did, but not really.
Bryan said so privately to a handful of individuals. Publicly, he declared that they couldn’t say RPE wouldn’t return, or they’d be open to be sued by him for defamation.
Setting aside the fact that RPE is their dear friend, and that they were actually protecting him for months, and therefore he’d have no reason to sue them, a lawyer chimed in on the issue and soundly debunked Bryan’s insistence that they’d be sued for defamation if they publicly announced that a guest wouldn’t be returning.
Not to mention that RPE has admitted to his actions, but he merely defends them. Apparently American women are too uptight. Or something.
Seventh, I was regaled with stories about how great Bryan and Dan are, with examples of kind acts they’ve done. Great. Glad to hear it.
But here’s the thing: otherwise good men can do bad things. And otherwise bad men can do good things. Real life doesn’t have all-good heroes and all-bad villains. This is how we have major crimes where the perpetrator is arrested, and the family and neighbors are in shock, because the man they knew wouldn’t do that.
One current example in the news: No one can argue the fact that Bill Cosby has done a lot of good over his life: He’s donated tons of money to universities to help black students get educations. He had a long-running sitcom in the 80s that was ground-breaking for race relations and the culture at large. He made made people laugh at his family-friendly stand-up routines. And he had an animated Saturday-morning show that taught kids solid life lessons.
Yes, Cosby has done a lot of good things, but they don’t make him any less of a rapist. Trying to reconcile the good and the bad in the same person creates some serious cognitive dissonance. I get that.
And NO, nothing the FanX founders have been accused of saying or doing is anywhere near that egregious, not by a long shot. I use Cosby as an extreme example to make a point.
Which is this: Dan and Bryan could have been nice guys in a lot of ways and still have been total jerks behind the scenes to a lot of people (read: women). That could be the case even if their events’ 1000 volunteers have never seen that side of their private behavior, a side which did show up in private emails, phone calls, and now, in some social media.
(Speaking of which, someone get Bryan into anger management classes; he has trigger-happy fingers that need to stop reacting to stuff he doesn’t like. His hot mess right now is of his own creation. Even his new communications director has sent things off the rails; she gets personally offended and takes it out on people via social media. And she deletes threads that might not make FanX look hunky dory.)
Here’s what’s really happening with the writers speaking out:
I am one member of a very small group of writers trying to make things right after they went terribly, horribly wrong and keep getting worse.
It’s been a scary, uphill battle, one that’s been draining on me emotionally and a total time suck at a period when I don’t have time to devote to something like this. Yet it’s important, and it affects people I care about deeply, so I’m standing up for what I believe is the right thing to do.
Keep in mind that I’m not one of RPE’s victims, yet this whole thing has taken a toll on me.
Imagine whatever I’ve experienced and multiply it exponentially. Maybe then you’ll have an idea of how difficult and stressful this all has been for those directly in Bryan’s and Dan’s cross hairs.
We are not a mob.
We are not out for blood.
We are not out to bully anyone.
(Seriously, the very idea that we could bully the founders of a massive organization like FanX is laugh-cry hilarious if you know the ugliness that has happened behind the scenes with Dan and Bryan, and if you realize how much power they have.)
Most of all, we are not trying to take down a beloved con. I’ve attended a couple of times and had a blast, and sincerely hope to return one day.
But I will not be back until things get fixed.
So what are we trying to do?
We’re trying to make the con a safe place, and for now, Dan and Bryan don’t seem to understand why it’s not. That’s half of the problem.
A safe con is a place where women, girls, and other groups don’t need to fear that they could be harassed, threatened, or more, only to be ignored or attacked by the very people who are supposed to protect them.
Attendees need to know that if they submit a report, it will be taken seriously.
They need to know that any report they make — which is a scary thing to do! — will remain confidential, no matter what. Full stop.
So far, neither of the founders has shown himself willing to do either of those things, which means they’ve violated their own new policy.
Their otherwise decent policy (if only they’d abide by it!) does have a couple of really bad parts, however.
The first is that confidentiality can be broken if there’s a good “business reason” for it. That phrase is not defined, so in action, it could mean anything. The organizers could decide that releasing another victim’s report to the media would help them make more money. If so, goodbye confidentiality.
That alone would scare the pants off anyone who has been victimized. No one would dare submit a report under such conditions. Instead, they’d be scared into silence.
To make matters even worse, the founders have said that unless a staffer witnesses harassment, then the policy can’t be enforced.
This is the point where every potential attendee should have their freak-out radar going off.
Essentially what they’re saying is that so long as a predator gropes or does whatever else around a corner, where no staff is staring at them, anything is game!
These attitudes create a predator’s haven and an unsafe place for potential victims.
I sincerely doubt that’s what Dan and Bryan intended, but that’s what will happen.
And yet. Is it any wonder so many women don’t dare return, especially female writers like the victim in the original report?
Is it any wonder we want someone else at the helm of this organization — someone with a decent understanding of the seriousness of the issue and the potential effects of both ignoring and attacking victims?
All of the above considered, having Bryan step back for a few weeks of paid paternity leave and then returning to run the con in September after all doesn’t count. He’s proved himself tone deaf to the entire issue, and he’s lost the trust of too many of us through his own behavior and words.
I could go on and on and on, because there is so much more they’ve done, including Bryan’s rude behavior on my own Facebook feed, but for now I hope it’s enough to give some clarity.
To co-sign the open letter, simply leave a comment to that effect on the letter, which you can find here.
I find it interesting that the email I received about this issue said I’d lose readers because I’m part of a bullying mob, and lots of other people agree, yet as of this writing, only hours after the open letter went live, it has nearly 93 comments of additional co-signers.
I believe it’s safe to say I’m on the right side of history with this one.
***UPDATE: In the 12 hours since I wrote this, another 28 people have signed the open letter, in addition to the original six who drafted it and the nine whose names were added when it was originally published (including mine). So far, that’s 136 signatures.***
TL;DR: A plucky group of writers trying to right a wrong isn’t a mob and isn’t capable of bullying powerful men. Those men, when they mishandle serious situations, need to take a step back and make things right — sincerely. They shouldn’t halfheartedly apologize publicly, only to launch secret smear campaigns the next day. FanX has a lot to do to regain the trust of a community who once loved their event.