It was sort of widespread and fairly well known at the time that prolific author Isaac Asimov had a bit of a thing for inappropriate touching. But there is a bit of disagreement as to its degree.
He once suggested – in jest – that he deliver a short speech on ‘bottom pinching’ and received as response from the organization to which he was to speak with enthusiasm for actually delivering this lecture. But his own reply was that he would only do so if all parties involved (Meaning the recipients of the groping) consented.
Imagine this was the lecture. Guess which half of the audience would be incredibly uncomfortable
There’s also allegations of affairs, but consensual affairs are the stuff of tabloids and muck-raking. I don’t really care if he was a womanizer, my concern is his playing what – at the time – would have been referred to as ‘grab-ass’ with women he met or ‘slap-and-tickle’ if this were a Monty Python sketch or pantomime, but we currently refer to as ‘Sexual Harrassment’ because that is what it is in no uncertain terms.
I’m not here to excuse his behaviour, but perhaps suggest that that we allow him a bit of context. First and foremost, Asimov was an extremely progressive writer, championing not just equality for women, but also speaking out against racism and probably most shocking of all for his time – promoting equal rights for gay people (Indeed in ‘The Naked Planet’ Lije Bailey – an agoraphobic – finds himself overwhelmed stepping outside and clutches himself to the chest of his humaniform companion in a very homoerotic scene)
So when I look at Asimov and compare what he did to, say, what other famous authors did before him, I would encourage us to look at him with an understanding that he may have been lecherous, yes, but he was not malicious. H.P. Lovecraft is enjoyed by many geeks, but the man was insurmountably racist and unapologetic about it. Conan Doyle – though I adore his works and own the Annotated Complete Sherlock Holmes – was racist (Particularly a joke Holmes makes in ‘The Adventure of the Three Gables’), and Harlan Ellison, well, his views on queers have been very much voiced and documented during our lifetime.
And that’s one of the key differences I think we need to observe – Asimov’s behavior is inexcusable, but it didn’t come from a place of hate and malice. In my opinion, he genuinely probably thought his behavior was ‘a bit of fun‘ or ‘incorrigible’ no more nasty than a schoolboy with a crush pulling a girl’s pigtails (IS THE ROAD TO AVONLEA SONG PLAYING IN YOUR HEAD? IT SHOULD BE!)
But the second point that is just as important – some of his male peers should have had the courage to step forward and told him to cut it out. If it was the ‘open secret’ as it appears to have been, people who are not the victims have a responsibility to stand up for those who are, especially when a victim would have to be the first to complain.
The term ‘sexual harassment’ was not even present in the lexicon at the time, and so it really behoved his male friends to simply say ‘These women are not impressed, stop it‘. It would have been great at the time had a woman said this, but unfortunately as is all too often the case, victims are dismissed because ‘No one has complained so far’.
So, let’s not lump Asimov in with Lovecraft, Ellison, Doyle, or Bradbury. The degree to which every person can enjoy the works of someone who contained an amount of bigotry borne of hate is up to each individual person to decide.
But Asimov was a man of his time, and let’s hope that were he around today, he might apologize. Somehow I doubt those other authors would even consider re-evaluating their views.
Am I wrong on something? Don’t hesitate to let me know. Just know that ‘inexcusable’ is the closest I’ll get to being an apologist for his activities.