Convention season is fast approaching, and with the advent of convention season comes the return of the furor over the problem of convention harassment and how to deal with that. And because I read several blogs in other areas of geekdom besides gaming, this is a theme that I’m seeing repeat over… and over… and over.
Most recently, the internet shitstorms have been circling around the case of Adria Richards, a woman who tweeted about bad behavior at Pycon and was ultimately fired when the internet exploded with rape and death threats.
Now, yes, Pycon is a tech conference, not a gaming convention. However, tech and gaming are both male-dominated nerd subcultures that have a history of tolerating rape culture and punishing women who dare to speak out against those who perpetuate it. And the same kind of wrong-headedness seems to pervade discussions of convention harassment no matter which sphere of geekdom the conversation happens to be taking place in, so I thought I’d address some of the most common points that I’ve seen circulating in my feed the last week or so.
Trying to enforce anti-harassment policies puts you in a he said/she said situation, because one person’s “assault” can be another person’s “hi, how are you?”.
This argument is wrong-headed for two reasons. FIRST:
The spectre that is always raised in these discussions is the issue of false reporting and the fear that those nasty evil sneaky women are going to go around accusing men they don’t like of harassment to get them booted from the event. Because I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do than risk damaging my professional reputation, my personal safety, and having to face ostracism from my community so that I can falsely accuse a man I don’t like of sexually harassing me for some lulz. …yeah.
Here’s the thing. The number of people who falsely report harassment, assault, and rape is vanishingly small. We live in a rape culture that trivializes the victimization of women and stigmatizes those who experience sexual violence. Is it entirely impossible that someone would falsely report? No. But the social, professional, and emotional consequences of reporting are so great that it is not something that is going to be done on a lark.
SECOND, this sort of thinking assumes that sexual harassment is something that you can accidentally fall into. Like you go to start talking to somebody and you trip on something and then you’re sexually harassing them. And, man. All I have to say is that if you’re worried that you don’t know how to talk to someone without sexually harassing them, let me just propose that that says more about you than it does about them. If you’re really not sure where that line is, then maybe it’s best for you not to attend such events until you figure that out.
Enforcing rules is scary because lawyers!
Businesses make rules all the time that must be followed if you want to be served by that business. Despite the fact that toplessness is perfectly legal in New York, I’m sure I would have trouble finding a restaurant willing to seat me were I to walk in topless and ask to be seated. How hard is it to say that if you violate the rules of the convention, you will be asked to leave? No one’s asking anyone to chase purported harassers down, tackle them dramatically, and turn them over to police at the head of a ticker-tape parade.
If you feel you need to add a blanket disclaimer to the effect that attendees can be ejected from the convention at any time at the discretion of the convention organizers, cool! Do that. But if you’re going to make a rule to the effect that harassment of your fellow convention attendees will not be allowed, you need to be prepared to enforce that rule. Failing to enforce it is just going to send the message that harassment is tacitly condoned by your organization.
We can’t expect everyone to be safe at a convention. Come now, that’s just being silly.
You know what? I’m so done with hearing this one. SO. DONE. Especially because this argument inevitably gets used by people who have sufficient privilege that they don’t have to be concerned for their safety at such events. You try going to a convention and having to be aware of who you get into an elevator with, or having to ask people to walk you to your car or your hotel, or having to be aware of where exits and potential allies are in case a situation arises and then tell me that I’m being unreasonable for wanting a universal expectation of safety.
If you are willing to accept the proposition that some classes of attendees should not have the reasonable expectation of safety, then fuck you. I will never attend one of your events, and I will preach it from the rooftops that other women should stay away as well. Bad enough that I have to worry about being victimized by members of my own community. I don’t need convention policies to tell me that I’m “asking for it” simply by attending.
This kind of thing is just part of gaming culture. If you can’t handle that, then don’t go to conventions.
Putting the onus on people who experience harassment to put up or shut up is BUUUULLLLLSHIIIIIIT. Sexual harassment is illegal. If I was to say “well doing lines of coke at the game table is just part of gaming culture, if you don’t like it then you just shouldn’t come” or “stabbing people is just part of game culture, you just need to learn to deal with it”, you would (correctly) look at me as if I were from the moon. But because we’re talking about sexual harassment, criminal behavior is suddenly okay? Yeah, no. You’ve just branded yourself a willing enabler of rape culture, and this is the end of our conversation.