WisCon: The Frenkel Decision

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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July 21, 2014

This past Friday, the subcommittee announced their decision about the harassment reported by Elise Matthesen and Lauren Jankowski.  Here’s the relevant part:

WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional” because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

Allowing Jim Frenkel to return is not guaranteed at any time, including following WisCon 42; the convention’s decision will always be dependent on compelling evidence of behavioral change, and our commitment to the safety of our members. If he is permitted to return at any time, there will be an additional one-year ban on appearing on programming or volunteering in public spaces. Any consideration of allowing him to return will be publicized in WisCon publications and social media at least three months before a final decision is made.

Based on the policies adopted by WisCon’s Harassment Policy Committee before WisCon 38 in 2014, Jim Frenkel has the right to appeal this decision to SF3, WisCon’s governing body. If he enters an appeal, we will make public statements both when he does so and when the appeal ruling is issued.

As you know, Bob, Fridays are among the best days to release news you want to bury. Also good are holiday weekends.

Jim Frenkel has a right to appeal this decision to SF3, WisCon’s governing body. Elise Matthesen and Lauren Jankowski do not. Neither does the membership.

WisCon has, with this decision, decided to prioritize Jim Frenkel’s reformation and redemption over the safety of the women who reported his harassment a year ago and over the safety of all the women over the years that chose not to report.

This is not okay. This is beyond not okay. How, exactly, is Jim Frenkel going to prove that he’s stopped harassing people? It’s not really possible to prove a negative–so what is probably going to happen here is that he’ll lay low for a year, appeal, and he’ll be back in 2016. Or in 2017? It’s hard to tell–there was a clarification posted yesterday that has some really disturbing information in the comments. Specifically that the reason for the four year ban has to due with an agreement he has with his former employer to not speak publicly about this–not even to apologize–for five years. I am honestly not sure what Frenkel’s agreement with his former employer has to do with WisCon.

Shortly after that information became public, Jacquelyn Gill–one of the members of the subcommittee–posted an extremely long and convoluted explanation of their process. A process which, apparently, didn’t bother using Google–since the comments show that the subcommittee had at least one individual on it who had no idea what had happened with Readercon two years ago.

Let that sink in. No. Idea. What. Happened. With. Readercon. As xiphias says, “It feels like Wiscon is lagging behind godforsaken mens’ rights neckbeards in terms of consent culture. Those people are fighting against consent culture — but it feels like Wiscon isn’t even aware that the debate is happening.”

Mikki Kendall is also reporting  that she was asked for information about her encounter with Frenkel during the course of this investigation. And yet based on Jacquelyn Gill’s blog post, they kept to the contents of the incident report and whatever information they received from Jim Frenkel. Mikki’s written a summary of her experience with Jim Frenkel–along with a helpful visual aid.

I am appalled. I am further appalled at the comment left by Elise Matthesen in which she states that at no point was she contacted by the subcommittee and that one of the people on the subcommittee was present when she reported.

Everything that WisCon could have done wrong, they did. They took no action for a year. They buried themselves in layers of bureaucracy and then adopted a quasi-judicial model that is known to privilege the safety of established institutions over that of those who have been harmed.

Here are some other folks’ reactions (I will keep this list updated as I can):

Additional reactions:

But there’s something else.

I can’t find any public statement definitively announcing the permanent ban of Rachel Moss. I looked in the public posts on the LiveJournal community and on the WisCon News blog.  I looked through old issues of eCube–the last one I could find for WisCon 32 was one issued 10 days before the convention happened. ckd found a glancing mention to banning Moss in the first eCube from the subsequent year, but that is it. No discussion of what process was followed, if any. Hell, Moss isn’t even mentioned by name. That is the most hard to find announcement I have ever seen in my life–my understanding is that eCube is the membership newsletter, so it makes a certain amount of sense that old issues would be hard to find, however: when you’re banning someone? Maybe you make an actual public statement in addition to a quasi-public one.

To my knowledge, Rachel Moss has never returned to WisCon. But I suspect she didn’t return not because she was banned but because of the massive backlash against her actions–not only by the WisCon community but by the forum she posted her pictures on. She had no support from any quarter and was not entrenched in the community.

I think WisCon 38’s administration was relying on the same sort of social pressure to keep Jim Frenkel away in lieu of an actual ban.  The problem there, of course, is that the man had been getting away with harassing women at conventions for decades and his activity was the driving force behind Jim Hines’s efforts in 2010. And Stephanie Zvan wrote about an incident from 2002.

There was plenty of evidence that this was part of an ongoing pattern of behavior. Decades of predation.

Have any of the volunteers with WisCon received any formal training on how to deal with reports of harassment and assault?

What will prevent Frenkel from getting a hotel room during the convention weekend over the next four years and hanging out in public spaces? Is the convention committee working with the hotel to ensure this doesn’t happen?

How many resources were deployed to assist medievalpoc with their safety concerns? Did they need more people on their safety committee? I am absolutely not saying that medievalpoc’s outside harassment should not have been addressed. It was–and is–a serious ongoing issue for them and I am glad that WisCon stepped forward to work with the hotel to make sure they were safe.

But at the same time, I find it staggering that the convention chose to address their concerns while simultaneously allowing Jim Frenkel to register and sign up to be on programming (he was pulled from programming after other program participants complained persuaded to step down from programming by a convention volunteer–but he was allowed to volunteer in the consuite). Is this a capacity issue? Did they simply run out of people with time and energy to work on safety? If so, this should have been recognized before the convention and addressed at that time.

Since medievalpoc’s harassers are from outside the community–as was Rachel Moss–they are easier to deal with than with a long-time attendee and former Guest of Honor.  I completely understand that. It’s much more difficult to confront the predator who is part of us.

I don’t know what can be done, at this point, to salvage WisCon as an ongoing institution. They are clearly feminist in name only–if they were feminist in actuality, this would have been resolved last year. If you look at the names of the people who have been involved with both SF3 and the convention committee, year over year it’s the same group of people who have clearly become complacent. They do desperately need new blood–however, this isn’t how they’re going to get it.  Publicly complaining about people not stepping up isn’t going to be how they’re going to get it, either.

I get that WisCon is a volunteer organization. And I get that their internal structure apparently follows that of a lesbian encounter group from the 1970’s. But if you can’t or won’t do the work then you shouldn’t be volunteering.  From where I’m sitting–as an outsider to their community–WisCon is run by a bunch of people who talk a good game about feminism but when it comes down to it, down to making the hard decisions about predators in their community, they can’t actually do what has to be done.

With this decision, WisCon has shown where their priorities lie–and that’s with the straight white men who have connections.  That’s fucked up.  Going to conventions is not any sort of right–it’s a privilege. And if you can’t be a decent human being and not harass other attendees, you should lose that privilege. Fuck this provisional ban bullshit. Fuck it all.

My proposed and slightly selfish solution? Let’s all go to Balticon in May and then to Readercon in July.

My other posts on this subject:

And finally, a poem I keep thinking of as I read the discussions.

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.
Sonnet: Against Entropy, John M. Ford


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  1. --E

    An option for him to appeal isn’t unreasonable, when considered as an alternative to him filing a lawsuit. (OTOH, I’d kind of love to see such a lawsuit happen. Imagine the defense witnesses putting into the legal record statements of all he has done.)

    That said, it was the clarification of “He can appeal this and possibly get back in before the four years” that really sank this decision. It easily translates as “We kinda want to ban him, but we’re willing not to,” rather than “We want to ban him totally, but for legal reasons we don’t feel we can.”

    (Note also: the thought of bringing a lawsuit would be completely unreasonable for most people, who would sensibly say, “Hey, I lost my job over this, and there are a lot of people who could testify to my bad behavior. Maybe digging it up again isn’t a good idea.” But Frenkel and others of his ilk aren’t driven by any sense of shame or fear of notoriety. The fact that he showed up this year proves that.)

    If they had said, “He’s banned for four years. At the end of that time, if he requests, we will reconvene and take testimony from the community regarding his behavior over those four years,” it would have been tolerable. Eternal permaban is the correct answer, but as a compromise action, that would at least have said, “We’re taking this seriously and want to hear from everyone.”

    This business of the committee attempting some sort of academic distance is eye-rollingly awful. How can anyone sort out facts without context? Is that what Academia is these days? I know the drill for postdoctoral publication is often into minutia, but are they actively discouraged from broader knowledge and context?

  2. Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    All of this has shown me that unless I’m expressly invited, I don’t see any reason to change my regular Memorial Day convention plans. As it is, Miscon (in Missoula, Montana), is quite nice and mellow and it brings in good people. There’s a solid mix of ages and fandoms; it’s well worth the trip.

  3. AlexvdL

    While I consider Balticon to be my home town con, and have enjoyed it for over twenty years now, I recently moved to Kansas and while googling I found out about ConQuest. (conquestkc.org) Memorial day weekend, Midwest, Brandon Sanderson, George R. R. Martin, NeNe Thomas, and Mark Oshiro for 2015. So there options.

  4. Josh Jasper

    –E Quoth: “An option for him to appeal isn’t unreasonable, when considered as an alternative to him filing a lawsuit.

    A lawsuit, That he’s been refused entry to a members only event at which he commited a firing grade offense? If the con is afraid of that they have other problems

  5. --E

    Josh Jasper–

    Just because a lawsuit is entirely without merit doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. Self-absorbed assholes file nuisance suits all the time, often pulling back just before a judge would slap them, but after they’ve wasted a collossal amount of the defendants’ time and money.

    Given that Frenkel is deluded that he’s done nothing wrong (as typical of his ilk), I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he filed a suit of some sort.

  6. Alexandra Erin

    Hello. In the interest of transparency, I wanted to identify that I am also Blue Author. My DW/LJ automatically feeds to Tumblr (and other social media) but not the other way around; at the time I made the post about what I’ve gleaned, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into the context for curious family members who would see it on my journal.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @Alexandra Erin: I was about 95% sure that was the case but I didn’t want to make the connection explicit–I know that sometimes people will post on one platform but not another for various reasons, and since I didn’t know your reasons, I didn’t want to draw the line between the two identities.

  7. SMD

    @Josh Jasper: Considering the financial burden of fighting a lawsuit, even one they’re likely to win, I can understand why a con would want to make a decision that would circumvent that. That said, the wording of the decision is the real problem, as it suggests that the committee is more concerned with Frenkel’s redemption than the safety and comfort of WisCon’s members.

  8. Elizabeth

    Just wanted to point out that the year Elise reported Frenkel, he was presumably attending Wiscon under Tor’s aegis, which would bring his agreement with his former employer into play. (No direct insider knowledge in this case, just years as a professional bookseller at cons, where I learned that publishers pay the way for their employees to attend, throw parties, etc.)

    But you can add me to the list of people who are gobsmacked that he was allowed to attend and volunteer this year.

  9. --K

    To E and others, Jacquelyn Gill stated she wasn’t concerned with lawsuits at all when making the initial ruling.

    http://antarcticlust.dreamwidth.org/257808.html – Search for ‘lawsuit’ in the initial post.

  10. Mike Glyer

    Not only is there “a dude” at File 770 asking what Jim Frenkel did to get himself banned, another dude who doesn’t know what Frenkel did nevertheless has submitted a comment speculating about what he might have done. (I have yet to decide whether to post that one.)

    You’re probably in the best position of anyone to answer this question — what percentage of people blogging about the Frenkel ban know the literal harassing act(s) he committed?

    Was the information circulated through the back channels you recently blogged about? Or have the people who know kept the specifics confidential?

    There’s no reason to indulge gawkers by publicizing the details. My question is more about calibrating the use of rhetoric — for example, when I read someone at another site who doesn’t know the details confidently describe Frenkel’s behavior as “heinous” I assume he is getting carried away. But if somebody who actually knew said it was heinous, I wouldn’t make the same assumption.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      I’ve responded to Mike’s comment via email. Any comments speculating on details will not be allowed out of moderation.

  11. Coriolanus

    A Google search shows that “that dude” regularly materializes in the comments sections of articles about sf fan sexism and con harassment, to make sure that no INNOCENT MEN are being smeared or railroaded by the jackbooted sff gynarchy etcetera etcetera. A very recognizable type, and one not worth seriously engaging.

  12. MadLogician

    Those tweets from Antarticlust – her tweets are protected, you can only read them if you’re already a confirmed follower of hers.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Crap. They were public when I linked them. They basically say that she contacted Macmillan legal and that they confirmed no NDA; ie Frenkel was lying.


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