Friday, August 15, 2008

A Special Crosspost

It's rare, but not unheard of, that we here at WFA actually directly post an opinion directly on the blog. This time, we felt it worthwhile. By John DiBello, and crossposted from his friend Bully's own site:

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Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: "These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, 'cause I wanted to see what her reaction was." This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the "prettiest girl at the con." They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he'd targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it's to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you're dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining "Convention Policies," which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a "Where Is It?" guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There's no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she's sympathetic to the situation but who doesn't have a clear answer to my question: "What's Comic-Con's policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?" She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there's little that can be done.

"I understand that," I tell them both, "but what I'm asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what's the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?" But this wasn't a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like "Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX."

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more rep-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I'm looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I've retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn't have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don't understand why there's no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

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16 comments:

lainie said...

an important point raised. if discrimination and harassment is rampant in the comic con, a code of conduct should be implemented. sounds way overdue

Bentcorner said...

If men just treated women the same way they want their mothers, sisters, daughters, or significant others treated by other men, we wouldn't have any problems. None. Zip. Nada.

I'm all for gun control, but I swear to god I think each and every women should be allowed to carry a concealed handgun. No special permits, no special licenses. If you are a woman, you can carry a gun.

It might not be the answer, but I bet most men would be less likely to squeeze a woman's ass if he thought she might turn around and put a slug in his knee.

Saranga said...

Bentcorner: Lovely idea, except that some men treat the female members of their family and their significant others like crap.
I appreciate what you're saying, but it masks the fact that women are most likley to be assaulted by someone they know, not a random stranger.
Re your gun comment, again, nice idea, but one that puts the responsibility on women having to prevent the attack, an extension of victim blaming. Wouldn't it be far more effective to teach men not to rape/assault and women, and teach them why this is wrong?

Bentcorner said...

Wouldn't it be far more effective to teach men not to rape/assault and women, and teach them why this is wrong?

Some things you just don't have to teach, such as that you shouldn't rape or assault a woman.

I think that most of the men that assault women do it because they feel as though they are physically superior to women. Because they are physically stronger, they can do what they want. My idea of allowing every woman to arm herself would help negate that.

I was already in a bad mood when I read this article. When I read about the guy that grabbed the Ghostbuster girl's ass because he wanted to see her reaction, I was livid. I don't even know this woman and I wanted to find out who did them and beat him down with his own shoe.

Ami Angelwings said...

I dislike guns and would never carry one. I also dislike violence and hurting ppl :\ The onus shouldn't be on me to become a violent, gun-toting person b/c men see me as an object instead of a person. And the problem isn't that men think they can get away with it, it's that they think that they have the right to our bodies and that our bodies exist for their consumption. And Saranga is right, many assaults come from ppl we know and trust, should we just carry a gun rdy to shoot every man in our lives? Should we be expected never to trust again b/c well that's just how men are? >:O I was .. violated.. by somebody I knew, trusted and loved, and I didn't fight back and I wouldn't have been able to bring myself to shoot him, so is that my fault then? There are many women who are sexually assaulted even when they are bigger, stronger or know martial arts, so is it their fault for what happened to them? Why is the onus on us? Men aren't uncontrollable animals who aren't responsible for their own actions! And they shouldn't be treated as such. It's not our job to avoid being sexually assaulted. >:|

I know you are angry, and it's good you are, b/c we should all be angry about this, but the problem is entitled men who feel like they have a right to ppl's bodies like this, not that women all have to be rdy to kill or hurt ppl. :\ I'm not a violent person. :( The focus should be on these men and getting rid of their feelings of entitlement and the attitudes in society that treat women as objects that exist for male consumption. >:| Sexual violence should not be treated as an inevitable, natural thing that is up to women to prevent or avoid, but as a serious social problem that men have to tackle as well.

Anonymous said...

Why is the onus on us?

Because, ultimately, we are the ones who are responsible for our own protection, no one else.

If I travel to an unknown area, filled with people I don't know, with unknown intentions, you better believe I'm going to be more "on gaurd" for a problem, then I would be in the relative safety of my home.

Because, try as they might, the Con security and organizers cannot stop the evil that runs through our world. Unless, they take unilateral action against ALL men, including the guests, dealers, and staff of the show. And if that were done, wouldn't really be much of a show to go to, would it?

It sucks a few jackasses have to play these stupid games. But it all boils down to what "lainie" said concenring discrimination and harassment being "rampant in the comic con."

I'm not seeing that from this story. I'm seeing a couple of isolated incidents, perptrated by (at best) a few immature-minded fools. And while I deplore them for their actions, should rules that might have unintended consequences for many other INNOCENT people be seen as the solution? No, I don't think so.

The onus should be on the individual to watch their own six. I know that doesn't sound very fair or right, but then, neither is the world in which we live. I shouldn't have to worry about being attacked at night, in certain parts of my town. But that's the reality. And I can complain and say the police and politicans aren't doing enough to provide me the protection I want, but in the end, the onus is on me to use some common sense to protect myself. So, I don't got to those areas at night. It isn't FAIR that I have to do that, but it keeps me from being harmed.

Ladies, if you go to a huge comicon like SDCC, be smart about it. Keep aware of your surroundings, try to watch out for people who don't "look right" and be proactive in your own potential need for defense. I don't agree with "bentcorner" about every woman carrying a gun. But how about a small can of pepper spray in your purse? There are things anyone can do to protect themselves in unfamilar places with large crowds.

So, yes, the onus is on you, in the end, to watch out for yourself, not just because the events security can't be everywhere, nor that any policy they could pass might cause more harm than good, but because that's simply the way of life.

Go to the show. Have fun. Talk with the creators you admire. Buy some stuff you really want. But don't think that just because you think you have the right to be protected in an unfamilar place, that you can lower your guard entirely. Don't give up your intelligence, to play the role of a victim. Lord knows you are all much smarter than that.

notintheface said...

"Wouldn't it be far more effective to teach men not to rape/assault and women, and teach them why this is wrong?"

I'd say the vast majority of us men, at least in America, HAVE been taught this, and most have learned the lesson, but for some the lesson didn't take, and that minority then goes out and gives the rest of us a bad name.

Even with better rules and security, this behavior may not be totally eradicated, but saying that the onus falls on the attendees is giving the Con too much of an easy out. They should at least have some sort of organized policy in place.

Anonymous said...

All "free hugs" and "GLOMP ME" signs need to go out the window. I'm seeing comments in reaction to this at other sites where these have become issues for individuals. One woman was harassed when a guy with "free hugs" wouldn't take NO for an answer the first time. Another lady posted about a teenage male relative who HATED being glomped by strange girls with no warning. The harassment isn't confined to gender, although that's a whole double-standard issue I won't get into here.

"The onus is on us" - It IS true EVERY PERSON at a convention should be aware of their surroundings and are responsible for their comfort and safety. It's great advice. You're right, security and event staff are not there to protect us 24/7. I believe conventions should be very clear about harassment - that the convention hall is a zero-tolerance zone for that bullshit, and ensure there is a plan for handling such on-site complaints that both staff and attendees are aware of.

I would love to see nothing more than some pervert getting tossed out and banned from a convention for slapping someone's ass without consent, but just as it's our responsibility to protect ourselves, it's also our responsibility to report that shit. Will most security and event staff care? Maybe not...but it's better than doing NOTHING and letting some jerk think they can continue to get away with immature behavior "just to get a reaction."

I'm also all for taking such people outdoors for an old-fashioned ass-beating, but the real world doesn't work that way. :)

Saranga said...

@ Anonymous, notintheface and Bentcorner.
Bentcorner said:
"Some things you just don't have to teach, such as that you shouldn't rape or assault a woman."

Firstly I'm very glad you're angry and that you're talking about this! I'm also really glad you know it's wrong and are quite clear about why it's wrong.

I agree we shouldn't have to teach this, but seeing as rape and sexual assualt happen on a very regular basis, it's pretty clear that actually some people (I include men and women in this) haven't learnt it.

I see and hear discussions all the time where people say the victim was drunk, or wearing provocative clothing, or was walking in the wrong neighbourhood, or had had sexual relations with the attacker before. Therefore she (and in these cases it is overwhelmingly a woman who is attacked) should have expected something to happen and should have protected herself more.

If we accept that these instances occur, then we need to accept that there are shedloads of people out there who do think sexual violence is ok, and who haven't been taught that it's wrong. Another aspect is that a lot of people don't seem to realise is that sexual violence isn't limited to strangers in back alleys. E.g. You can be attacked by someone you know and you can be attacked when you're drunk, and it's still assualt.

Grabbing a random woman's ass is assualt. Hugging and kissing a person without their consent is assualt. Stalking a person is wrong. It seems to me that there's a lot of people who don't know that this is wrong. Let's teach them. We can do that via the internets on blogs like these and we can do it in our day to day to lives via discussions in rl, but mostly this sort of stuff should be taught in school, from a young age, like 4 (the age kids go to school in the UK).
The onus shouldn't be on me to protect myself (if it is and then something happens then it's my fault). If the only reason an attacker doesn't carry out an attack is because the other perosn was more violent or strong then them, the message that goes out is not that assualt is wrong, but that you need to find someone else weaker to attack. Then it's fine.
I do think it's possible that we can stamp out this shit through education.

Apologies if i'm repeating myself.

Anonymous said...

If we accept that these instances occur, then we need to accept that there are shedloads of people out there who do think sexual violence is ok, and who haven't been taught that it's wrong.

I don't think that is true. I believe almost everyone knows it is wrong. Some people JUST DON'T CARE. Like the guy who grabbed the Ghostbuster girl's ass, just look at his statement. He knew it was wrong, but getting a reaction from her was more important to him. That's why he did it, not because he was unsure if it was wrong.

And that's the rub. You can teach someone all you want. If they don't care, though, you can't make them. As long as humans have free will, there will be those who simply do not care. They are inevitable, which is why the onus IS on you to watch out for yourself. Because as unfair as that might seem, it beats the alternative of having my freedoms taken away or limited, just so I can have someone else worry about protecting me.

The onus shouldn't be on me to protect myself (if it is and then something happens then it's my fault).

The key word in what you said is "shouldn't." There is a LOT of things that shouldn't be. You shouldn't have to worry about someone trying to blow you up, because of their religious zealotry. You shouldn't have to worry about getting shot up at your school, because you were at the wrong class when someone snapped. You shouldn't have to deal with verbal bullies online, because jackasses like that don't deserve the privilege of Internet access or a computer. Yet, with all of those things, they do happen, despite that they shouldn't.

We live in a dangerous and unfair world, which forces us to do things we shouldn't have to. That's just a reality of life. It is also a part of the price of the freedom we all enjoy so much. And while it is right that others do what they can at certain times to keep us safe from those evils, ultiamtely, no one is going to care for your safety as much as you will. That's why you must always remain aware and prepare as best you can.

Don't defeat your attacker because you are "more violent." Defeat them because you are SMARTER than they are. Being prepared and able to handle your own protection is the best way to do that. And not being stupid about the realities of the world you live in is another.

Ragnell said...

Anonymous -- and that's what this is about. A prepared person knows where to go for help and how to keep safe. Set guidelines in the con handbook that give a central place and a set method of reporting, as well as a set policy condemning this behavior makes a person THAT much more prepared.

One thing they train in the military was that no matter how alert and careful you are, something can always go wrong so you need to account for possibility of the enemy having a good day.

So you can attack this issue on three tiers here: Have something in the con handbook condemning, thus discouraging it, and a few people who would otherwise do it decide against it. You have the con attendees themselves alert and assertive, thus discouraging a few more people. And finally, for the one person who just doesn't fucking get it and manages to get around the other two levels, you have a procedure for reporting and resolving complaints of this nature.

Anonymous said...

So you can attack this issue on three tiers here: Have something in the con handbook condemning, thus discouraging it, and a few people who would otherwise do it decide against it. You have the con attendees themselves alert and assertive, thus discouraging a few more people. And finally, for the one person who just doesn't fucking get it and manages to get around the other two levels, you have a procedure for reporting and resolving complaints of this nature.

That's fine and reasonable. But I wasn't seeing a lot of that here. I was eeing a lot more finger pointing at the con folks and demands they do something to stop it all. And, as you know, when people push off personal responsibilities onto other organizations, that always works out so well. Just look at air travel security today. Look at the "war on drugs," too. Both these examples were set up by the individuals demanding others (i.e. the airline industry, the federal government, ect.) take up the repsonibility for what, in the final analysis, are really personal responsibilities.

Mad rushes by people making demands of other organizations, telling them to set up policies and whatnot, to give us "better protection" has often, throughout history, lead to unintended consequences, for which many of us are still paying the price for today. I simply don't want to see more of the same here. I don't want to see comicons running full body cavity searches, nor do I want some rushed policies put into place, in the name of protection, that might be easily abused by people who want to use them in ways other than they were intended.

Should SDCC do more? Yes. Should they alone be the ones responsible for this? No. And do we want to let our emotions rush us into actions, that might come back to hurt more than they help? Certainly not.

I haven't seen many people expressing the latter two points, just the first. And that's why I spoke up about who the onus for your personal protection is turly on. I've seen folks get all head up on this kind of thing and have the best of intentions end with disasterous results. I don't want that to happen here.

peppers-pray said...

Pepperspray. I stupidly hadn't thought I would need that at a convention, but good to know for next year. You can bet I'll be using it and ruining someone's afternoon if they think to ruin mine. >_<

Ragnell said...

Anon -- What you're seeing is the start of a concentrated effort to get SDCC to alter their standards, which is a difficult thing to do.
Getting anyone entrenched in the comic book industry to change anything is difficult.

This isn't the place to be discussing what the attendees can do, Sequential Tart had a wonderful article last year on con safety and most of the women I know apply certain tactics to their daily lives. John's essays had at least one example of handling it at the lowest level.

But the crux of his essay was that the top tier, what SHOULD be in place to discourage it over wasn't there and that it needs to be there along with the third tier. This is about what the institution is doing to discourage or encourage this behavior. OF COURSE everyone is talking back and forth about what Comiccon can or can't do and should or shouldn't do. That's the point. Talking about this worthy subject doesn't mean that people aren't taking responsibility for their own actions. People ARE doing what THEY can.

But the other two items need to be there too, and that's up to Comiccon. So yeah, there's finger pointing. We've done what we can do, we need to get them to do what they can do.

Erica Friedman said...

Most anime conventions have anti-harassment policies. Because I ran a con that catered to fans of lesbian animation and comics, our policies had specific rules about zero tolerance for harassment or related behaviors towards anyone by anyone.

Rachel said...

@peppers-pray:
As far as I know, most cons ban pepper spray (and other weapons) on the floor. It's also super unsafe to use in crowded areas--even if you have the kind with a tight stream, the odds of hitting a bystander are pretty high, and a lot of people react REALLY badly (in a choking way, not in a being angry way) to even the fumes, and in a tight space, you'd run the risk of getting a faceful yourself.

Big stompy boots, on the other hand...