• Convention harassment is bad. This isn’t rocket science.

    by  • April 8, 2013 • Essays • 4 Comments

    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.

    From Hark! A Vagrant


    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.



    I’m an occasional game illustrator, and game designer, long-time LARPer, and player of tabletop roleplaying games (mostly indie games). I have a terminal addiction to board games. I also play both PC and console games – mainly RPGs of all stripes, but I do enjoy puzzle games like Katamari as well. My main source of gaming notoriety, however, is the feminist gaming blog Go Make Me a Sandwich. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am a photographer and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.


    4 Responses to Convention harassment is bad. This isn’t rocket science.

    1. avatar
      April 10, 2013 at 02:58

      I suspect the gaming community is behind the curve on this issue. It’s been my observation that a sizeable percentage of the population in question are less than socially adept. They gravitate to gaming because it gives them a refuge from the difficulty they have with dealing with real life. Guys like that won’t pick up on the social cues and I imagine they get angry when a woman doesn’t respond to them the way they want. Already being socially inept, they espress their anger through harassing behavior.

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    2. avatar
      April 11, 2013 at 13:23

      Just de-lurking to say how disheartening it is that you need to say the same thing year in and year out…

      and to thank you for saying it!

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    3. Pingback: Consent & Consequence at Cons: An Alliterative Appeal to Acknowledgement | Karina Cooper : Author

    4. avatar
      April 24, 2013 at 21:03

      I don’t know. I just don’t know. I read this post in the morning. It is evening now. And all I’ve got as a comment to this article is that Jim Sterling (who I remember you used to talk about him back on Go Make Me a Sandwich) recently called bullshit on the sexism in the video games industry: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/7044-The-Creepy-Cull-of-Female-Protagonists

      That is all I’ve got to comment on in this article. You have summed up the excuses people use to justify sexism in gaming culture that you’ve run into and fought against in previous articles you and the other members of Gaming as Women wrote about and you explained why each of the excuses is garbage. What am I supposed to say that is not already in the comment sections of the previous articles on this topic? I just don’t know.

      All I have to offer is some maybe good news about one of the people you used to tear into on GMMaS calling sexism in video games a problem. I hope it helps.

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