Harlan Ellison Gropes Connie Willis

Connie Willis, the nine-time Hugo Award winner (more than any other author), was groped on stage as a “joke” by science fiction legend/creepy old man Harlan Ellison, at a recent convention. (This is old news to many “Alas” readers by now).

The best comment I’ve read on the subject, from PNH:

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.”

It’s not okay. It’s not funny. It wasn’t a blow against bourgeois pieties or political correctness. It was just pathetic and nasty and sad and most of us didn’t want to watch it. It’s another thing that’s going to stop.

Curtsy to Angry Black Woman and to Riba Rambles, who has posted a bunch on this subject. And if you want more reading, I think the best blogging on this subject has been at Shrub.com.

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29 Responses to Harlan Ellison Gropes Connie Willis

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  3. 3
    tekanji says:

    Dora will be happy to see that her post has been highlighted :)

    In terms of this incident, I have to say that I’m happy at the sheer amount of people who are speaking up to say that this behaviour isn’t tolerable. What I’m not so happy about, however, is the lack of official response on the subject — well, except I do remember hearing about WorldCon possibly discussing implementing polciies involving sexual harassment/assault, but now I can’t find where I read that…

  4. 4
    RonF says:

    Harlan Ellison is a great writer. He’s also a known asshole, on occasion. And if Ms. Willis wasn’t in on the joke, as it appears from the above, then this would have been one of those occasions.

  5. 5
    Jake Squid says:

    He’s also a known asshole, on occasion.

    There’s a monstrous understatement for you.

  6. 6
    Ledasmom says:

    True, he is known for acting, well, somewhat obnoxious, but as far as I know he doesn’t have a reputation for random groping. This sounds more like a “What the hell were you THINKING, or were you” incident, and I note that Connie Willis (whose wonderful story “Even The Queen” was referenced here, if I recall correctly, during the menstruation discussion) handled it with considerable aplomb. I would have to assume she wasn’t in on the joke, or Ellison probably wouldn’t have apologized at all.

  7. 7
    Samantha says:

    “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.”

    Those are my thoughts on the tremendous increase in publicly-displayed pornography the past ten years.

  8. 8
    Robert says:

    Harlan is one of those people who always has to be right (I wouldn’t know anything about that personality type, *cough cough*). When this brouhaha started he should have said “Jeez, I was a jerk, and it was an asshole thing to do. I’m real sorry, Connie.”

  9. 9
    DavidS says:

    I think that one of the more interesting aspects of this is the discussions that are beginning about how to alter the environment of SF conventions to discourage behavior like this. There may be some ideas here for the rest of us to steal. See, for example,

    http://bellwether_talk.livejournal.com/

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    Back in the Bush I administration (IIRC) Bush I and Queen Elizabeth were walking in a park or at his ranch or some place I don’t remmber and for some reason, Bush I seemed to think that the Queen was in danger of losing her balance and on that basis grabbed her elbow to steady her. Bush I thought he was being a gentleman. But the British papers had a field day. One does NOT touch royalty, especially the Sovereign, without permission. They held that he had shown all kinds of disrespect and was patronizing her.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    Those are my thoughts on the tremendous increase in publicly-displayed pornography the past ten years.

    You think it’s bad here (and I don’t deny it is); have you ever been to Japan? Dang.

  12. 12
    Kevin T. Keith says:

    One does NOT touch royalty, especially the Sovereign, without permission. They held that he had shown all kinds of disrespect and was patronizing her.

    Not to digress, but an even better incident was the last time the Queer Old Dean visited the US. They trotted her around to some sort of low-income neighborhood so she could appear properly in touch with the masses, and when she was introduced to one resident, a large, enthusiastic black woman, the woman beamed at her, grabbed the Queen, and gave her a big ‘ol friendly bearhug that just about sent all of Britain into apoplexy.

    Welcome to America, dearie.

  13. 13
    r@d@r says:

    damn, this is depressing. seeing one of your heroes decompensate publicly in the obvious throes of some sort of senile dementia…it’s like watching einstein piss himself.

    i guess the stranglers’ refrain “no more heroes!” should apply here…

  14. 14
    mythago says:

    Is there some relevance to the Queen anecdotes? This isn’t a matter of Ellison being from some other culture, where he had no idea that Willis and the audience would find boob-grabbing unacceptable, in the way that an American might not know that one doesn’t touch the Queen.

  15. 15
    The Scarlet Pervygirl says:

    Having read Ellison’s fiction, I’m not in the least surprised by his behavior. The themes his stories espouse and his characterization have led me to think that he lacks respect for women as being as fully human as men.

  16. 16
    belledame222 says:

    Ohhhh.

    You know, I used to be a big Harlan Ellison fan–when I was, you know, adolescent, college. I think that’s probably about the right age for his stuff; i think i, you know, grew out of it. and the more i ever come back to even his early writings (he seems to have Woody Allen syndrome in many respects unfortunately), the more i think: “goddam, dude. anger management issues much? and, cringe, and, oh, no you did not just, and…well. okay. whatever. bye, furious hyper-caffeinated (or whatever it is) little dude, you tire me.”

    and oh yeah: just an -eensy- tad sexist, even after he “reformed.” i mean, just a LITTLE bit.

  17. 17
    belledame222 says:

    and yeah, i did catch something about the Final Dangerous Visions business; didn’t really follow all the details, but apparently the short version is, pissed a LOT of people off.

    smart, funny guy, still do enjoy a number of his pieces and a few of his short stories; but, you know, not really much for the introspection. or, well, whatever that is. personal growth? Woody Allen, like i say, i think of him in similar ways–went from funny-angry to just angry, real exploitive jerk in many ways, and god knows he logged in enough hours on the psych’s couch. i dunno. i think maybe it is a special hazard for people who become famous, but who knows–some people just kind of ossify at a certain point.

  18. 18
    belledame222 says:

    and, what Robert said, wuz gonna say.

  19. 19
    alex says:

    I just found a video of the “incident” and watched it. It was no big deal. Connie put her arm around Ellison first. The joke was obvious — she was playing the adult and he was playing the child. He (and she) are both smart enough to know that the “grope” could do nothing other than make him look stupid and her look dignified.

    Just for the record; I love Connie Willis’ writing. Ellison, on the other hand, is a mediocre talent who puffs himself up with showmanship and cheap tricks.

    Also just for the record; remarkable how somebody managed to get in a dig at President Bush, in a context that has nothing whatsoever to do with him.

  20. 20
    alex says:

    Hello again. Video of the “incident” is available at Go visit this site.
    Watch and decide for yourself.

    I want to be clear. I don’t think it was “all right” for Ellison to do what he did, I just don’t think it was a huge big deal either. I don’t think it demeaned Connie in any way shape or form. The only person who was demeaned was Ellison himself — he looked like a vulgar little man, trying desperatly to be funny. Connie looked ladylike and classy (probably because that’s what she is).

  21. 21
    kfarmer says:

    How could it be remarkable to get a dig in at Bush? The family gives us such great material.

    By the way, they were talking about Bush I, who has much more respect than his spawn.

    Barbara, for the record, makes fun of her husband. I know. I was there.

    I actually *enjoyed* having her around.

  22. 22
    Bonnie says:

    Help! Why refer to the man by his last name and the woman by her first? That in and of itself smacks of sexism, of diminishing a woman’s worth relative to a man’s. Ms Willis is an award-winning author of high stature. Seeing high-profile women constantly and almost exclusively referred to by their first names and not by last name and/or last name with title . . . I just don’t understand. Are they not serious and accomplished people whom we should take seriously? Why Connie, why Hillary, why Condi? Why not (Ms) Willis, (Secretary) Rice, (Senator) Clinton? Is the argument that their first names are so distinctive that everyone knows who they are? If so, why not Harlan (thank you, RonF and Robert), Alberto, Chuck?

    Sheesh. Sorry to be so off-point, but, sheesh.

  23. 23
    Alex says:

    “Why refer to the man by his last name and the woman by her first?”
    You know folks, I didn’t even notice that when I composed my posts. Later when I reread them, I thought, “Uh-oh I’m going to hear about THIS!”
    So why is Connie “Connie” to me and not Ms.Willis? I’ve never met her, and so where do I get off being on a first name basis? Well I’ll tell you. . .
    One night, about ten years ago, my cat was dying. And my mother was in the hospital with an undiagnosed condition. So I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment with my 13 year old cat struggling for breath, a struggle I know he’s going to lose (cancer, nothing to be done) and I’m wondering if come morning I’m not going to be told that my Mom is headed for a similar fate. And I need something to keep me company while I stroke my dying cat’s head through the wee hours as we wait together for the end. And so I read “Lincoln’s Dreams”. Like an old friend, it was. The cat departed around 4am. Mom turned out to be OK. And Connie is “Connie” to me, and always will be. And I don’t really care who doesn’t like it.

  24. 24
    Bubba says:

    Ray Palmer, undeserving target of Harlan Ellison’s meanness for many years, is laughing somewhere.

    Ellison has largely made himself a pseudo-celebrity by his outrageous actions. As many older writers and fans remember (but do they DARE to speak?) Ellison intentionally recruited fans to harass and ridicule an aging and already crippled Palmer at SCIFI Conventions in the 60s and early 70s, intentionally distorted and took out of context what the man said, and did everything he could to ruin him. Palmer, of course, was the one-time editor of Amazing Stories who started the whole “Shaver Mystery” rolling. In addition to being a legendary force in early scifi and fantasy publishing, he was a kind-hearted gent who loved the fans and also committed the Harlan-ordained ’sin’ of having an interest in exploring the paranormal, UFOs, and other strange phenomena.

    Yep, Palmer is laughing somewhere, and given Ellison’s history, it’s probably a lot more pleasant somewhere than Harlan will end up–despite all the ass-kissing from pros and fans alike.

    -Bubba

  25. 25
    Bubba says:

    Forgot to mention–In one harassing incident, Harlan’s stooges caused Palmer, already elderly and crippled, to fall and hurt himself when he was cornered in an elevator at a convention.

    Despicable, but everyone pretends not to remember, and kisses his ass.

    -Bubba

  26. 26
    belledame222 says:

    Jesus Christ!

    You know, it really is fucking depressing. I’d read enough of his biographical material: he knows damn well what it’s like to be on the receiving end of vileness. He’s smart enough to know better; but, never did take that inward dive, i guess. it’s all the world’s fault, all of it.

    There’s a lot of that about.

    *sigh*

  27. 27
    Walt D says:

    I don’t find a lot to like about a litigious, egotistical, mean-spirited melodramatic writer of florid teen-rebellious prose who grabs boobs as a joke. And those are his good qualities. Didn’t he write “I Have No Class But I Must Scream”?

  28. 28
    Yeahand says:

    I just love self-righteous BS like this. “Oooh, I heard from he said, she said, that he groped this person, so I won’t buy him anymore!” Please. It has long-since emerged for anyone with a working braincell that the so called grope was part of a “Ellison is a baby” shtick that he and Willis were both in on. And the “grope” was a touch of his elbow against her breast, as she happened to be pressing it against his arm. I’m a woman myself, and frankly, while perhaps not entirely appropriate, the degree to which this has been blown out of proportion and the amount of self-righteous bullshit it produced it laughable. Ellison has long since profusely apologized to Connie if she herself found it inappropriate. Considering she laughed and kissed him on-stage immediately afterward…yeah.

  29. 29
    Ampersand says:

    The video is here. He clearly used his hand, not his elbow — pause the video at 44 seconds if you don’t believe me.

    That said, I agree that this is something that happened in the past. But I’m not the one who brought it up again — you are. The post you’re responding to is over 4 years old.