Please stop touching my breasts, and other things I say at cons

UPDATE: Part 2, Stopping Harassment, is here.

I wasn’t going to post this today, because I have a lot of other things going on, and another post I need to make this afternoon, but I’ve put it off long enough. Not only do we–as writers, and women–have to deal with sexism, and the agressive insistence from some men that we all just settle down, but we also have to deal with being harassed at conventions where we’re supposed to be fans, writers, editors, and publishers. (Those links go to other writers saying the same thing.) Worse, because so often it goes unreported, many people’s response has been, “I didn’t know that happened.” How can you stop something we don’t talk about? So, okay, let’s talk about the details.

Hi, I’m Carrie, and I’ve been sexually harassed at genre conventions. (Putting this behind a link because triggering. You’ve been warned.)

I’ve been going to cons since I was 19. Which, if you’re doing the math, meant I attended my first con in 1992. From that first event, I’ve been groped, fondled, kissed, physically picked up and carried off, licked, shoved into corners so I can’t escape, hugged, propositioned, wrestled into a submissive position to “prove a point”, and actually thrown on a bed, by men who didn’t have permission to do any of that, and almost never introduced themselves before they started. I’ve attended several more conventions over the years, and the only thing that’s made a difference in how I get treated is whether I’m standing next to another man at the time. Being with a group of girls? That works too, sometimes, though just as often it means we’ll all get harassed as a group, or one of us will get cornered the second we’re alone.

Examples:

  1. I was asked to hand a Big Name writer a drink at a con party, I assume because I was standing next to the person pouring them, and without the author even knowing who I was, he asked me if I the girl who’d be blowing him later, or was that a different girl? He wasn’t joking, he really didn’t know which young fan would be giving him oral sex on demand, but he knew there’d have to be one.
  2. I was picked up by a man I didn’t know and carried out the room, all while I progressed from “Hey, put me down” to “Let go of me!” to hitting him until he dropped me. His response: “Fuck, you’re no fun.” The response of everyone around me: Nothing. No one tried to help.
  3. Guys have, more than once, walked up to me, put their hands on my breasts, and said the equivalent of “Nice tits, they’re real right?”
  4. Heard, “I can’t help myself, you’re just so hot,” more times than I can count.
  5. Been kissed on the back of the neck by a guy I didn’t know and hadn’t seen walking up behind me.
  6. Had my clothes pulled down, up, or otherwise adjusted so they could see my tattoos.
  7. Had an established writer, after hearing I was a fan of SF, put his arm around my waist and say, “I should show you my appreciation. Or do you want to show me yours?”
  8. Been hugged by men who’d never met me before, and either didn’t know at all or only had a limited online relationship (Twitter/Facebook) with.
  9. Had guys follow me from one panel to the next trying to convince me to go to the bar with them.
  10. Heard multiple variations of “You can’t leave yet, you haven’t tried/heard/tasted/given me a chance to convince you to stay”.
  11. Told, “You said you liked my work, I thought you were flirting with me.”
  12. Had (always older) women tell me:
    1. “What did you expect?”
    2. “That’s just how he is.”
    3. “You’re lucky, he doesn’t go for everyone.”
    4. “I’d be flattered if it was me.”
    5. “You have to get used to that if you want to come to these things.”
    6. “You just have to be clear with him if you really don’t want to. He doesn’t get the hint right away.”

The examples above? Not all from 20 years ago. Some from in the last couple of years, after I moved to the East Coast and started attending different events. At least one of these things has happened at each of the cons I’ve attended here, including Philcon, three years of Readercon, and WFC Toronto.

And before you ask: I don’t cosplay. I don’t dress provocatively. I have worn dressier clothes to conventions recently, because I’m there in a more professional capacity, but before that I mostly wore boot-cut jeans and a genre-related tshirt*. Apparently by being 5’8″ with red hair and D breasts, I was inviting attention. Do nothing but standing in the corner of a room, waiting for a friend, not engaging in conversation, I was asking for trouble–or so I’ve been told.

I got better about attending cons with male friends/partners/spouses, and that helped, too, though it just meant they got asked if I was free game. I didn’t. My permission doesn’t get asked, but these creeps will ask the man standing next to me if he’ll be offended. I put on weight after a while, and that saved me from some of it too. Part of what took me so long to start working out and getting in shape again is the knowledge that being almost 40 hasn’t diminished that I’m not bad looking. Though I’m never going to be attractive enough that everyone’s head turns when I walk into a room, I don’t need to be. Most women get harassed regardless of what they look like. I got some of this even when I was 100 pounds overweight. What’s going to happen now that I’m not? It was my safety measure, for so long. My new defense will have to be talking about it online enough that people know I will, and writing enough to become one of those famous women authors who don’t get touched because their name protects them.

Until this attitude at conventions changes, and they truly become safe spaces, those are my only options.

I mentioned elsewhere that we should be better about providing support to fellow writers, someone to do nothing more than stand by them while they go through the process of reporting incidents like these to the appropriate con staff, and amongst the “good idea!” comments were also ones reminding me that, you know, cons have always been places where people went to find sex. Yes, I do know that’s sometimes been true. People go to a lot of events, not just conventions, looking for sex, even though it isn’t always appropriate to do so, and in most cases there are others attending the same events for non-sex reasons. That’s just a fact of people. In any large group someone’s likely to be on the prowl.

To be clear, I don’t object to casual sex/hookups/short-term relationships, or any variation on the theme of consenting adult humans being happy with each other. There’s a difference between consenting and getting harassed. I want people to both be free to use their con hotel rooms in whatever manner they want, and ALSO be free to wander the con without having to be groped, kissed, pressured, etc, without their consent. To my mind this means “be polite and non-agressive when you ask for permission to move forward” and “stop when the other person says stop, and double-check if they don’t say stop but don’t seem happy about it either”.

It also means making sure that cons are safe places for people to say “no” without fear that they will be ignored, or worse, insulted/blacklisted because they spoke up. I think the only way to be sure those saying “yes” are free to do is to make sure we’re all given a space where we can make that choice for ourselves.

I don’t consider this issue to be triggering for me, in that I don’t get upset/scared/emotionally fragile when talking about it. I accepted that I’ve had these experiences, try not to expect conventions to be this way, but am aware it’s always possible. I feel strong and I have my eyes open, but I’m over the nightmares and social panic I used to have.  I have to mention that because I’ve already been told, today, “Oh I can guess why this is triggering for you,” as if that’s the only reason I’m complaining. The truth is that I’m lucky to have someone who attends cons with me and who would, if I asked, certainly step in, defend me, or more. Not everyone has that, and while I’d hope we didn’t need it, right now we do.

If that means I have to be the one to stand up and say “I’ll be there with you when you report what happened to you,” then I will.

Note: Of course, this is not an example of all men, but I guarantee it’s an example of someone you know. I don’t hate men; I like lots of them. The ones I like happen to be the ones who treat me like a person, and talk to me like I’m capable of understanding them, not just as a way to count down until it’s “safe” to proposition me. And, by the way, it sucks that I have to make this disclaimer, because someone will read all of this and instead of thinking, “Oh, we should change that,” will think, “Man-hating feminist is just pissed she’s not hot anymore,” or “You just don’t understand genre conventions,” or “Bitch wants to ruin everything,” cause I’ve heard it all before.

Which kind of proves my point.

* None of which would mean I deserved to be treated that way, but I’m getting the usual stupid excuses men make out of the way.

(Bits of this are quoted from things I’ve said elsewhere in the last week or so; if it looks familiar, it’s all me. I haven’t quoted anyone else.)

EDITED TO ADD: Because it came up on my Facebook, I want to say this here too:

I do want to be clear that not all of those things happened at just one con, as if conventions are a giant cesspool of inappropriateness–it’s an incomplete list drawn from 20 years of being a woman in genre (as a fan, and now writer). Some of those things happened at the same con, some of them happened repeatedly over several cons. Some happened in the early 90s, and some happened last year. It’s meant to be a broad overview to show this is a big enough problem that it warrants conversation/solutions, not to scare anyone away from attending conventions.

97 comments

  1. Can I ask what states you’ve been to conventions in? I’m 17 and considered conventionally attractive and been going to cons in minnesota for 4 years, the worst I have gotten is an unwanted arm on the shoulder and many many offers for booze and people’s hotel rooms. I feel like the fact that I mostly go to small conventions helps, but I am about to go to conventions in Atlanta, Georgia and I’m worried about the inappropriate behavior increasing as I go to bigger conventions.

  2. Not all geek guys are shits. I would treat all women as I would want my 21 year old daughter to be treated. I have been the guy foil for a few geek gal freinds. Sad that it has to resort to this but having a male freind around can ward off the obnoxious jerks.

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