This is the week of San Diego Comic-Con, arguably the biggest nerd gathering on the planet. Thousands of fans will descend on the massive convention, eager to get great swag, buy fantastic merchandise, check out vendor booths, cosplay incredible costumes, see celebrity panels … and probably get harassed.
Sorry, what? That last item on the list didn’t fall in line with your idea of a wonderful, long-anticipated nerdy weekend? Yeah, mine neither.
But here’s the thing: It’s probably going to happen to someone. There’s a long history of such things. And while a lot of cons have stepped up their game lately, SDCC hasn’t. Though they theoretically have a harassment policy, it’s only printed in their programs, and isn’t even up on their website. And all evidence suggests that they don’t spend too much time thinking about it– evidence that might present itself by posting the policy more widely, or talking about it, or training their staff how to deal with it.
Harassment is a problem. Harassment at cons is also a problem. But the past month has been pretty good for the nerdy world. Why? Well, because a number of very courageous individuals have come forth with their stories, both of harassment and of reporting that harassment. Elise Mattheson is the most prominent example. Cherie Priest is another. Maria Dehvana Headley is a third. Elise’s post is particularly insightful for the script and formula it provides for reporting such incidents to convention staff.
I’ve never made it to San Diego (and my budget may never allow it), but I’ve been to my hometown’s convention, in cosplay and out. And I admit, the first time I walked onto the floor wearing a costume that tactfully revealed my midriff (a sari-style TARDIS dress), I was incredibly wary. I stayed with groups of friends for a good reason. And I was lucky. I only encountered minor instances of harassment. Only one grab for my ass, only a few leering comments that I could walk as fast away from as a sari allowed.
I look back on what I just wrote, and it makes me shudder. It is a good month not because the creepers went away, or stopped creeping, but because a few wonderful women have spoken out against harassment? It’s a good month, because one of them successfully reported her harasser to the con and was met with a supportive response? And I was lucky, because I only was harassed a few times? Well, yes. That’s how it is. So many of us have accepted that. And it saddens me, that merely hearing these stories told is considered a victory of sorts.
Because as obvious as it is: These things shouldn’t be happening at all. We shouldn’t be having to deal with this. There shouldn’t have to be grassroots campaigns on how Cosplay =/= Consent. Websites shouldn’t post articles about convention etiquette. Maybe I’m cynical, but I have a feeling that the people who most need to know what not to do will never read those kind of articles.
But at least the conversation has been started. And sci-fi author John Scalzi has taken advantage of the fact that it’s at the forefront of many people’s minds. He’s announced that he will only partake — either as a guest, or an attendee — in conventions which have clearly publicized and operational harassment policies, which deal with incidents fairly and promptly. In other words, no policy, no attendance. The response to his declaration was so overwhelmingly positive that at the time of writing this, 1,117 people agreed with him and co-signed his pledge. I was one of them.
So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe things will change. Maybe SDCC will, quite miraculously, be harassment-free in 2013. But regardless of what happens this weekend, if I were an organizer of that massive event, I’d start planning hard for next year. Because we will not tolerate this issue being ignored by the industry’s biggest convention any longer.