In a fashion designed to be humiliating

Catching up on my history at the moment.Filling in gaps in my knowledge. I didn’t know the one about Harlan Ellison at the Hugo Awards in 2006. Now I know about it.

Here’s the thing.  When Harlan Ellison took it upon himself to grab the spotlight at the Hugo Awards by grabbing the breast of the Guest of Honor, Connie Willis, it wasn’t funny.  Nor was it clever.  Nor was it satirical.  Nor was it a joke between friends.  And, just be clear, it was NOT part of a scripted routine.  Yes, the shtick between her and Robert Silverberg was a planned routine to make the evening amusing for the audience, but Harlan’s actions were unplanned and unwanted.  It was a power-play.  It was demeaning.  It was sexual harassment enacted in a public environment.  It was reprehensible.

How do I know this?  Let me just say, I have an inside line.

No, really, I do.  This is quite likely the only time in my life I’ll be able to claim an inside line on ANYTHING.  But this time, I do.  Because I know an immediate member of the Willis family—Connie’s daughter—who was there during the Hugos.  And let me tell you, from what I heard from her, Connie Willis is pissed.  And rightfully so.

But at least he apologized to her. Sort of. Well no not really.

So, look folks, here’s the situation:  Harlan Ellison behaved like a predator.  He assaulted Connie Willis in public, in a fashion designed to be humiliating, in a manner that demeaned her, and in a way that was NOT part of the evening’s script.  He grabbed her breast in front of a crowd – and with that intentional grab, he stated to everyone looking:

Hey, everybody!  Connie Willis may think she’s an honored guest.  She may think she’s an acclaimed author.  She may think she’s in charge of this ceremony.  She may think we’re friends and I respect her.  But you know what? She’s my bitch if I want her to be.  She’s my prop.  Her breast?  It’s my breast.  Her event?  It’s mine to disrupt. Her talent?  It’s mine to denigrate.  Her gender?  It’s my weapon and I can use it to pump myself up at her expense.

I am Harlan.  I am male.  I must be the center of attention.  Hear me roar.

But then he did sort of apologize on his website where everybody could see it. Sort of.

He made an encouraging start, I will admit.  Here’s a direct cut and paste quote: “iT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst… For me to grab Connie’s breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.”  Good for him.  He added, “”I am 100% guilty as charged, and NO ONE should attempt to cobble up mitigating excuses for my behavior.”

Yep, that went pretty well.  Until he torpedoed it by then signing off and defining his behavior as “puckish.” Puckish?  Mr. Ellison, combining “puckishness” with your apology makes your apology meaningless.  You were not puckish.  You were not playful.  If you were a lesser writer, I’d say that you just phrased things badly.  But you’re not a lesser writer.  You’re a brilliant one.  To imply that your behavior was somehow winsome or cute is the tactic of an abusive husband who, when confronted by the target of his abuse, says, “Well, Jesus, woman.  It was just a joke.  Don’t take it so seriously.  Don’t you have a sense of humor?”  Believe me, working at a women’s shelter and as a women’s self-defense instructor, I hear these sorts of minimalizing tactics all too often.

Yes but the thing is, women are funny. They just are. It’s hilarious the way they don’t like it when you grab them by the tit unexpectedly. It’s a riot the way they squirm and try to get away without being humiliated even worse.

You can see Connie Willis being hilarious that way in the clip:


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    My dictionary includes a definition of “puck” as “a mischievous or evil sprite”.

    One of those definitions does apply in this case.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    I hadn’t heard about this either. I was a lot more plugged into the sf scene in decades past, though, and I definitely recall hearing from Willis’s author friends back in 1995 that she couldn’t stand Ellison. So this was not just a “friends joshing around” type of thing.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    Ugh. I’ll say it again – when the feets of clay become visible, it’s typically disgusting and repellent rather than merely disappointing.

  4. Rich Roberts says

    I made the mistake of viewing the video on YouTube and then reading the comments. I should have known better not to read the comments on YouTube. 🙁

  5. Lady Mondegreen says

    Remember when Adrian Brody kissed Halle Berry at the Academy Awards? I felt the same way then.

    The woman in each case was in the spotlight. She couldn’t object without looking humorless.

  6. marcus says

    I think “A Boy and His Dog” ,so long ago, kind of captures Harlan’s general opinion on women.

  7. Lady Mondegreen says

    Ellison has talked pro-feminism talk for decades. But he hasn’t walked the walk.

    He has a reputation as a terrible human being in other respects as well. His reputation for filing lawsuits for fun and profit is well known.

    Some years ago I took a writing class taught by a well-known horror writer. He despised Ellison. Called him a coward.


  8. Lady Mondegreen says

    Ophelia, yeah. It was in 2003, when Brody won the Oscar for his performance in The Pianist. She was presenting. He bent her over backward, gave her a big sloppy. Just a big scamp, excited about his win, you know. You’ll still see it on lists of “Best Oscar Moments.”

  9. says

    “Boys will be boys” and ignoring deplorable behaviour was the norm, in the same era that LGBTQ writers were mislabelled “deviants and predators” (e.g. Tennessee Williams, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde). It’s an improvement that the first group’s behaviour is now unacceptable the second is seen as normal and harmless, but we still have a ways to go.

  10. says

    Yup, I missed it. I do remember seeing Connie Willis’s name out of the corner of my eye, but it was one of the several billion items I never got around to exploring further.

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