Joanna: Recently on G+, I saw some comments on a post that struck me. Women were saying how they feel unwelcome at gaming conventions. That was a surprising word to see, unwelcome, and something I want to explore. Instead of derailing that particular thread, I thought I’d start a separate discussion.
I have never felt unwelcome at a game convention. Sometimes I wonder if I’m living in some strange alternate universe to some other women gamers. Sure, there have been times I’ve felt out of place, or uncomfortable in particular situations. I’ve been sexually harassed on more than one occasion. But feeling generally unwelcome, never.
I don’t want anyone to think my comments are out of anger or defensiveness. I am genuinely interested in learning about other women’s experiences and fears. I am saddened that other women don’t have the positive atmosphere or experience that I have, and I want them to.
One of the things that makes my convention going feel safe is that I have always been in the company of people I trust. Often I’m traveling with a posse of gaming friends. If I’m arriving alone, I’m always meeting people there. I don’t have to hang out with friends every minute of the day, but having a team available to talk to is important to me.
Also, having a place to retreat is important to me. If I have a hotel room available, that’s great. If I’m going to a one day thing, I will check the area for retreat spaces like a local coffee shop or book store. I may not go there, but knowing it’s available is good.
Brie: I feel out of place at most game events, and have felt unwelcome in a lot of gaming environments, so I’m interested to see how my con experiences go. Gaming is supposed to be a fun hobby for me, or at least something fun to work on, not something I want to be required to wade through creepers to enjoy, yanno?
I am one of those people who attracts negative attention. I know I am abrasive by nature, and I work on it, but it’s still there. Even when I am not abrasive, though, I attract the creepers, I attract the jerks, I am the one who gets ganged up on. I either get ignored or targeted. Online, I have been luckier because there’s an opportunity not only for people to get to know me first but also because I can block people or mute people or whatever. This is not exclusive to gaming or comics. Many conferences I have been to that are not gaming/comics related have these issues too, BUT part of it is what I said before – I don’t want to have to fight to be able to enjoy myself. I don’t want to feel like I have to struggle. I’ve always worked in companies that were male dominated population wise – mechanic shops, engineering companies – before that it was male-dominated socially, so while I’m used to it, it’s stupid and exhausting. I think I have a habit of trying to blow it off because I don’t want the negative reactions, I don’t want to be frozen out, and more now because at work, calling people out is risky. I still do it a lot, but with some people I’m less likely to do it than others.
It’s always possible I’m just totally crazy and that my past experiences were either bullshit or complete anomalies, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Examples of things that make me feel welcome that don’t involve assault or verbal harassment are things like staring at me but not talking to me, talking around me, talking down to me, immediately leaping to tell me I am wrong, surrounding the place with sexist discussion or imagery, and invading my space in a way that implies they are ignoring my presence.
I also am into comics – and while my comic shop owner is cool, I get uncomfortable at our ComicCon when I go because I feel out of place, a lot of the stuff is super sexy ladies, and while I like sexy ladies myself, that doesn’t mean I feel comfortable being either a) the girl that wears sexier clothes and gets stared at or b) the girl that wears normal clothes and gets to be totally ignored, because it can feel that polarizing at times.
There are a lot of things in place here. Let me break it down: First, I already have social anxiety and I don’t do well with crowds. Because of this, if people are rude to me or violate my personal space, I feel very threatened, in part because, second, I have been assaulted in the past (on the street, by people I knew – verbal and physical), and that is in part influenced by, third, the people I spent time with when I began coming into the geek circles, and the rural culture I’ve been brought up in, and fourth, I suffer from being not conventionally attractive (I’m overweight and I’m built a little big in the first place) OR very girly, but I’m not “tough” enough to be “one of the guys”, so I don’t fit into either category of what’s accepted by most guys (or girls) I had met in gaming up until recently (or, hell, people in general).
It is a weird feeling – I know I have extra problems some people don’t (the anxiety, the past experiences, etc.), but that’s the thing: some people have these problems just like I do but are afraid to go to conferences for those reasons, not because of something they heard on the internet (an assumption that really gets to me). That’s why I push for anti-harassment policies. Knowing cons have those makes me feel less afraid to attend, and I think it will help other women. It’s not just geek cons, it’s all cons. I know women who have gone to business and legal conventions and been hit on, propositioned, followed back to their rooms. It’s not okay, it’s scary, and when I witness these things first-hand, it makes me even more concerned.
It is also, in part, because until now I would not have known anyone at geek cons. My husband can’t always go places with me, so I would have been on my own. That’s terrifying.
I don’t mean to be a jerk to those of you who haven’t had a bad experience. Sorry if it comes across that way. That has been used against me in the past a lot (the “not all girls feel that way so it must not be true” thing), so I’m sensitive to it.
Elin: Swedish convention culture is different from US convention culture, but personally I never felt unwelcome at any event. There is normally a 30% female presence, a friendly atmosphere and there are usually no alcohol involved. Swedish convention is held by non-profit gaming clubs and is based on volunteer work. They are usually held at schools the city letting the club use over the weekend or holiday. Sleeping arrangement are communal, usually it is groups of 20 people sleeping on pads in sleeping bags in classrooms. Usually it gender mixed. While I can understand everyone might not be comfortable with that (for other reason then snoring, uncomfortable pads and disturbed sleep) it is possible to arrange other sleeping arrangement at a hotel of you feel like it.
Filamena: I feel uncomfortable at cons because they don’t wear ‘I’m a Molester Badges‘. And the fact that I’ve heard stories like this by more than a small number of women. Gamers. Organizers Industry people. It’s still ‘boy space’ in a lot of minds, and until that changes, I will feel unwelcome.
Meguey: I love going to conventions! I would go to at least one a month if I could. In all the cons I’ve been to, I can think of only one where I felt uncomfortable. That was not due to being a woman at all, and was entirely about the over-the-top SS cosplay. I love meeting new people and running games and being on panels and all that stuff. Once or twice I’ve had random con-goers be dismissive towards me, but the vast and overwhelming number of people who are polite, helpful, friendly, enthusiastic and out-going make up for those couple guys in boat-loads. I liked Joanna’s break-down about why she feels comfortable, so I’ll follow suit.
When I go to a convention, I know exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing. I like to work like mad at a convention, so usually there’s someone to tell me “you have a panel here, run a demo here, and then come to the booth and sign books at this time”. That gives me solid support and ground control. My job is to show up 120% and rock it. And any down-time is usually filled by talking with folks or moving from one place to another, so I very rarely feel adrift.
If I am unclear about anything, I ask. That goes for directions in the airport or help getting a badge or confirming dinner plans. I ask all the time. I’ll ask for directions every twenty paces if I need it, like in an airport I’ve never been in before (hello Heathrow before the Olympics!) Being uncertain about something makes me feel, well, uncertain, so I head that off at the pass.
I make sure I eat and sleep. When I was 15, I could go like mad on 3 hours of sleep a night – now I recognize that I have more fun if I get at least 6. I don’t drink, but that’s more of a personality thing than anything about conventions and comfort. It does put me out of the way of some of the crap I’ve heard about dealing with drunk con-goers, because by that time I’m either playing a game somewhere or asleep.
I practice being aware of my surroundings. Like noticing the exits and who’s acting weird and how many people are wearing hats and whether there’s enough genetic variance in the room to safely repopulate after a zombie apocalypse and that sort of thing. I don’t mind traveling alone, I don’t mind sharing a hotel room with strangers that trusted friends can vouch for, and I just don’t care too much that there’s still a perception that rpgs are a “male-dominated hobby”. This is my hobby. I’ve been playing for over 30 years, going to conventions for over 20. I have all the right to that convention floor, and so do the women I meet there. I hear you, fellow players who do not feel this way, and it makes me want to stride purposefully across a crowded foyer to meet you and welcome you to a convention and help make it a comfortable space for you, too.