Every now and then an article will pop up about sexual harassment in the geek community; we have all seen them. Be it harassment in online gaming or at conventions, hundreds have weighed in on the topic. Blame has been cast on all sides and solutions of varying viability have been suggested. But there are still voices that cry out that sexual harassment isn’t a problem, or at the very least not a big one. They say that writers are just looking for scandal and that while sexual harassment does occur at conventions it is in no higher incidence than day to day life.
It is because these voices still exist that I want to tell my story.
I went to my very first convention when I was thirteen and have continued to attend at least two annually since then. Conventions still feel like one of the only places where I can be truly open about my interests and express my love for the various media that have inspired me throughout my life. It is a unique social experience where I can meet new people with similar interests and not be considered the weird girl for knowing more about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Silent Hill than Glee or Gossip Girl. Conventions are therapeutic, especially through the tough social years of high school where the smallest oddity can result in being completely ostracized. However, conventions are not the total safe haven for me as they can be to other people. Over the years, I’ve been the target of sexual harassment at a convention on several occasions. I’ve had my butt grabbed four times. My breasts were grabbed. I’ve had my bra strap snapped by a stranger. I’ve been pinned into a corner and was saved by a complete stranger. And men have placed their hands a bit too low for comfort when posing for photos and made lewd comments more times than I can remember. All of this has occurred in only seven years. Now, just to offer up a comparison to the rest of my life, I have only received three lewd comments and been touched inappropriately once outside of a convention.
Admittedly, this is only a single case study, but the evidence here is still pretty damning. There is something very wrong with convention culture. Inappropriate touching and provocative slurs are not the tip of the iceberg; I have personally had to care for a friend who was roofied at a convention in 2008. Though we had a very good idea of who the man responsible was, we had no evidence and nothing could be done.
And what has this done for women in the geek community? I constantly find myself taking precautions at conventions in order to avoid being touched. I refuse to give hugs to people when they ask. When men request a photo with me, I offer to take the photo back-to-back, or I stick out my arm and put my hand on my hip on the side that’s closest to him. It creates a barrier so that he has to put his arm around my shoulders, not my waist or hips. I also always try to have a male friend with me when I’m moving about the convention space, as all the sexual harassment I have received was when I was alone or with another girl. And the saddest thing is that all these measures come from a feeling of fear. Because of everything that’s happened over the years, I don’t feel safe at conventions. And that flies directly in the face of everything that a convention is supposed to be for its attendees.
Perhaps the most telling factor of all this abuse is that it always happens when I am in cosplay. Contrary to popular belief, it seems to have nothing to do with the “sluttiness” of my costume, as I never wear revealing cosplay and have even been sexually harassed when cosplaying a distinctively male character. I will not deny that wearing a costume to a convention invites attention. You are physically displaying your interests and devotion to those interests by spending time, effort, and cash on turning yourself into a character from someone’s intellectual property. So while cosplay is certainly a display of affection, it is not asking for them. Something about being in cosplay changes the way people look at you. It is almost like you are no longer a person; as a representation of something fictional, you have become an object. You are no longer treated like a real person in the same way that celebrities are sometimes objectified by fans.
And it doesn’t just happen to women. In the video above, Lucy Liu reveals how fans have asked her to spank them, and David Boreanaz tells how fans frequently ask him to bite them. In what other scenario could you imagine this being a common request to be receiving from complete strangers?
Ultimately, the issue of sexual harassment at conventions cannot be dismissed. We need to, as a community, acknowledge this issue and work together to change the factors that contribute to it. This is a problem that is spoiling everything that conventions are supposed to be: a safe, open environment where people can express their love of various media without fear of judgement or ridicule. But instead of celebrating our fandoms, we’re objectifying each other. I shouldn’t have to fear being touched when I pose for a photo. I should be able to walk around the convention on my own without concern. Tight corridors shouldn’t make me nervous at a con. This is a social condition that needs to be changed. We need to remember that people in cosplay are people first. They should never be treated as an object and a costume is not consent.