[Caution, this post contains a blend of serious content and satire. If you don’t want to read about the latest hurricane in a petri dish, skip today’s post and I’ll have lighter content later this week.]
So, once again, problems arose at a large Con because of costumes and the, shall we say, overly touchy (both the cosplayers and the observers.) Which lead to cries for written harassment policies, mandatory anti-harassment and awareness training for all Con personnel, and complaints about “objectification” of (mostly) women.
First things first: here’s the original AP article, and I’m certain more will appear around the blogosphere this week, given the size and importance of San Diego ComicsCon. Here’s the official ComicsCon policy. In short – harassment is not tolerated, if someone is harassed, they are to go to Con security and let them know, and the harasser can be tossed out and denied re-admittance. It’s pretty darn clear, as can be read in the link, and it sounds quite adequate to me, especially if Con Security is easy to find and takes their job seriously.
What’s harassment? I suspect part of the problem lies in the definition. If someone gropes you without express permission, it’s harassment. I don’t care if the gropee is wearing a slave Princess Leia costume or is dressed like Leonidas of Sparta from 300, no touching. And a revealing costume does not imply consent, male or female. If someone makes passes at you, you tell her to stop, and she keeps suggesting that you come up to her room for a little recreational procreation, since you obviously have the equipment for it and so on, it’s harassment and needs to stop pronto. So go to ConSec and . . .
Come on, folks, that’s basic how-to-live-past-age-16 level behavior skills. It’s like airplanes at an airshow: look, don’t touch. Don’t make passes at people who are not interested. If they say no, take them at their word, just as if they say “No, thanks, I don’t like ice cream/beer/WoW/LARPing/whatever.”
BUT, say the protestors, women were subject to harassment through unwanted looks and objectification! That’s wrong and must stop! OK, how do you define “unwanted looking” when you are in costume? Guys (or gals) trying to get up-skirt photos? Yup, that’s unwanted and should be reported to ConSec. Gals ogling a guy with 6-pack abds and great muscles wearing a Conan the Barbarian costume? Not so much. Teenaged males staring at the chest of a gal doing anime cosplay? Possibly, but remind them that staring is not polite and that if they want pictures, they should ask. If they get stupid about it, go to ConSec and . . .
BUT, say the protestors, booth-babes and women standing around for no good reason while a guy talks about the Hercules movie are encouraging the objectification of women! That’s wrong and must stop! I admit, booth-babes anywhere don’t do much for me, be it car show, air show, gun show, tech show, or comics convention. Booth-hunks might be a different story, but I have yet to see many. Let’s face it, guys, and some gals, are attracted and distracted by the presence of females who meet the current standards of physical attractiveness and are wearing somewhat revealing clothes. And they do seem to be willing to part with more money when such women are around, or at least do not complain to the vendors about said women. If you have a problem with booth-babes (or hunks), let the dealers know. Write their advertising people, write the sales manager, tell the person at the booth why you are not buying their thing. Be polite and then walk off. It’s working with gun shows, so it might work in the Con scene, too.
BUT, say the protestors, we should be able to wear whatever we want without anyone looking at us funny. That’s wrong and must stop! Then host a private con, or a costume con-suite, and don’t allow the general public in. Because people come to Cons to see folks in cool costumes, and the majority of cosplayers want to be seen, admired, and complimented. Jane Q Public can’t tell you, the unwatchable, from Shelly who loves being photographed and to talk about her costume.
Before you heap coals of scorn on my head for being a traitor to my sex, yes, there is a problem with people acting like idiots at Cons. It’s not just because of certain aspects of gamer and fanboy culture, either, although most people familiar with the scene will agree that it doesn’t help. Society has shifted in such a way that we’ve lost the traditional restraints on behavior, and some younger people are not getting taught that you don’t stare at chests (or crotches), and that a costume doesn’t equal permission to touch or to make persistent invitations and lewd comments. And some people seem to think that being in costume themselves gives them a license to be stupid. Happened to me at a Con, I told the guy I wasn’t interested and to back off. He did, and that was that. I “used my words,” as they say.
The problem with harassment policies and training is that they won’t work as hoped, and they may backfire. How many people will volunteer to help with a Con if they have to go to 8 hours of required anti-discrimination and harassment training? And what happens when you get someone who decides to use the anti-harassment policy to punish those they disagree with? It’s already happening, and is turning well-meaning folks off the Con scene entirely. Providing a laundry list of “harassments” will just encourage the sleaze to be more creative, and trip up the socially-unaware (which tends to describe a LOT of the folks who go to Cons). And the true harassers will still do their thing. Predators are like that – paper doesn’t stop them. H-ll, they’ll probably use the “Thou Shalt Not” list as a checklist!
Alas, given the legal and political climate around a lot of Cons, what I foresee happening is something like this (mildly exaggerated for effect):
“Welcome to PlainsCon. Please be aware of our policies. Looking at people in costume is not allowed without written permission. There are permission forms in your Con packet, and more can be obtained from volunteers with the paperwork trolleys. Looking permission does not equal photography permission, and those forms (blue) are to be filled out and signed by all parties. Posing permission forms are pink, and poses with physical contact need the orange form.
“If you wish to speak with a fellow Con attendee, please look at their name badge. Red badges mean the individual does not wish to be spoken to by anyone. Yellow badges mean they only wish to speak to people of their prior acquaintance, while green badges signify a willingness to speak with strangers. You will find yours in your bag. We recommend putting your badge on a satchel strap or similar place so other Con attendees will not need to obtain prior permission to look at you in order to ascertain your desired level of verbal contact.
“If you are reported as a harasser, you will be ejected and banned for life. We have a zero tolerance policy, and if you are reported to Con Security, you will be escorted out. Appeals may be filed with the ConCom starting one week following the last day of the Con, and must include at least five witness statements. Harassers appealing the ban are not permitted to confront the individual who requested their removal, in order to protect the rights of the victims.
“Thank you, and have the kind of time you hope to have at PlainsCon.”
Updated to add: Welcome to all new visitors! I’m sometimes a little slow approving comments, but don’t worry, it came through and I’ll catch it as soon as I can.