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.

98 thoughts on “Please stop touching my breasts, and other things I say at cons

  1. I have to admit that, even at age 44 (meaning I’ve been around long enough to see plenty of stupidity…and be stupid myself), I just can’t fathom people being this inappropriate with their behavior and being able to look themselves in the mirror day after day. I can see people being intoxicated and getting too flirty with their language and feeling sheepish and stupid the next day, but going up to someone and groping them? Making overt, dirty and not-at-all-witty demeaning sexual remarks? I just don’t get it. Why are people that stupid/disturbed/sick/aggressive with their behavior? It is sad. Sad and disgusting and I can certainly see how it is also very anger-inducing, especially when this evidently has been the acceptable practice (in some people’s eyes) forever.

    I guess that as a guy who a) hasn’t attended a lot of conventions, and b) always does so either with my spouse and/or with other well-behaved married men I don’t see this kind of behavior. I’m not sure what I would do if I did. I know I wouldn’t stand idly by. Instead I’d do something stupid myself, probably, because treating people (women or men) this way is just common-sense-wrong. Also I haven’t went to any con parties, I either go out with a few friends afterwards or go home to get rested up for the next day’s activities. I’m there for all the geek fun, not to hook up.

    I’ve been so saddened by all the posts out lately, although I’m happy that you and other women are feeling that the time is long past to be silent and I agree and wholeheartedly support this. I’m also learning a lot of things about the rape culture, about victims and their feelings, etc. that I didn’t know before despite working for over two decades in the mental health field. There are just some things you can’t fully see or understand when you are a white male in America until others open up and explain in a reasonable and intelligent fashion what is actually going on.

    I read about these things and although my first reaction is to apologize for my sex, I feel that this is not appropriate. The guys who are doing this need to atone for their own behavior. What it does make me want to do is continue to put my efforts and support behind educating young men and women at the earliest appropriate age that there are right and wrong ways to treat one another, that regardless of the way society has functioned in the past that the future is one in which men and women should be treated equally and have equal opportunity, and that there is nothing “old fashioned” about guys showing respect for women with their words and with their actions.

    That kind of education sadly has to counteract much of what is seen on television, billboards, movies, etc. but it is a battle worth fighting. And although I know that no one, man or woman, is perfect and that we all make mistakes and say and do stupid things, I do hope that decent and respectful men and women in the SFF community rise up and take an active role in watching for this kind of behavior and stepping in to put a stop to it, in an appropriate manner, when it occurs. The people (mostly guys) who act this way need to find themselves given the cold shoulder, if not also a strong boot to the ass, from now on. There has never been a place in society for this kind of behavior, despite the fact that it has been going on this whole time. Let’s not sit idly by and let it continue.

    I’m sorry you’ve experienced this stuff in the pursuit of your passions, Carrie, and I’m sorry for all those other people out there who haven’t had a safe venue or felt supported enough to speak out about what has happened to them. I hope things are changing for the positive. I hope this is a good first step.

    Also sorry for the post-length comment. Just felt compelled to respond.

    • Feel free to respond at whatever length you need. Thank you for reading.

    • Well said. I feel exactly the same way.

    • Your reply is wonderful and well-said. It is a fantastic representation of the views I’m seeing from a lot of men our age who have been utterly clueless about this and are horrified by the extent to which this behavior has been excused and ignored. Your reply also helps make me feel safer. It is a gift to be reminded that the majority of the men at the cons feel as you do and aren’t looking for opportunities to get away with criminal behavior. Thank you for posting this.

      And Carrie, thank you so much for opening up, making yourself vulnerable, and hosting this important dialogue. I am deeply grateful.

  2. Carrie, I’m very sorry to hear about all this shit you’ve gone through at conventions. If that had been my experience over the 30 years I’ve been in the business, I likely would have stopped attending them a long time ago. I’ve always been somewhat “protected” by my position, although that hasn’t always prevented assholes from behaving inappropriately toward me. But nothin to the extent of your experiences.

    • Thank you, Ellen. Because of this sort of thing, I did stop attending cons for several years, and only came back to them after I started getting sales as a writer. I thought I’d be safer as a writer than as a fan, and I am, though it hasn’t isolated me from all of it. I think the situation has improved over the last 20 years too, but not as much as the rest of the world has. I always expected the SF community to embrace the future, not hold on to the past quite so much as to excuse this sort of behavior.

      I’m hoping people reading this will see that yes, it’s been a problem for a while, and no, it’s not isolated to a few exceedingly pretty new writers (whatever that means), but has affected a lot of women over the years. If I didn’t love genre so much I’d never have come back, and I don’t want us to lose other writers, or the fans who read and support us, just because we’re not talking about the situation that’s driving them away. If you haven’t yet, please do read the two posts linked above too.

      • One thing I’ve learned working in science fiction is that no, the writers of it were mostly not forward thinking in their everyday lives: many were slow to embrace new technology (particularly the web and all its components), many were/still are Luddites when it comes to certain aspects of the future. So it’s not all that surprising that some are backward in changing their behavior in real life. Basically, just because people write it, doesn’t mean they live it.

        I’ve read the posts/blogs/links over the past week.

  3. Thanks for being specific and giving examples (if not names). I expect cons to start running panels on this subject very soon. In a few years, all but the most stupid will get the message. Thanks for being part of the solution!

    • I don’t think it’s fair to say “X person” specifically in the instances that occurred several years ago, because I can’t say for certain they don’t now know it was wrong, and because I do think at least a complaint should be filed before you do that.

      However, when complaints have been made over and over again, and not acted on, sometimes the court of public opinion is the last resort.

      Readercon is hosting panels this year on this and similar topics; it does seem to be spreading, even though there are still plenty of con staffers who don’t see what the problem is. Keep talking, and we’ll get there.

  4. Thanks for writing this, Carrie! I’ve been appreciating your outspokenness a lot lately in various venues *grins* and I think it’s so important to get these stories out there now, while the topic is in people’s thoughts, so that THIS time it won’t be ignored or written off as an exceptional, rare instance.

    I also wanted to address a few words to Carl after his long response: While you’re absolutely right that men who behave this way have to take responsibility for their behaviour, I just want to say that men who think it’s appalling and are willing to say so publicly are HUGELY important right now. Because it isn’t just a generational thing (as many tend to frame it), it’s not just about the men from ‘a certain era’ that have always been allowed to get away with treating women like meat.

    There are new young men coming up in every generation, and while more and more seem to be pretty good at treating women like people, there are still plenty of young ones who aren’t, who are learning bad habits, often from their heroes. So having men like Scalzi and Jim Hines and those in the fan/con community who are willing to model better attitudes whether on social media or in conventions will actually make a difference.

    Many women have been silent on these issues for a long time, but the fact is, many women have been TALKING about it too, for decades, and sadly they have often not been listened to. It sucks that it often takes these things to be repeated by male voices before they are listened to on a wider and more effective scale, but that doesn’t mean it’s not really, really helpful when they do.

    • Thanks Tansy. I often worry about crossing a line when it comes to standing up for women/against improper treatment of women from the standpoint that I don’t want to appear as if, by doing that, I am promoting some “man has to come to the rescue” mentality that adds to the problem. One of the things I hope to learn from female writers and female fans is what do you want men to do in order to be supportive, to champion the causes that are important to you, because in reality they are important to all of us, regardless of sex.

      I don’t want to be just some guy spouting off, but I also don’t want fear of saying the wrong thing to stop me from being appalled at this sort of behavior. I have to some degree instilled a love of SFF in my daughter. I hope to do the same for my niece as she gets older and for grandchildren one day. When I relate the great experiences I’ve had at conventions I don’t want them to go off and come back having been harassed in these ways by guys who should no better than to treat women this way.

      Actually I want to go one farther. These guys DO know that it is improper to act this way, they have just somehow decided that there are situations in which the rules don’t apply to them and years of getting away with it have just continued that behavior. It is uncomfortable and frustrating to read about all the demeaning, degrading and devaluing behavior that has been a part of the SFF community for years and is still happening today, be it the SFWA mess or these recent posts by Mary Robinette Kowal and by Carrie and others. But I am so glad it is happening now because the hope is that these pioneers who are refusing to stay silent will be the folks we look back on and say that they were the catalyst for the revolution that changed our community.

      So as this goes forward all I ask is for more education on what men can do, what I can do, to be an agent for change and not contribute to the problem. If that means simply getting out of the way, that is fine too. 🙂

      • Looks like WordPress ate my reply so:

        I appreciate this, Carl. Trying to be supportive and stand up for the women in your life is one of those times were intention means a lot. It’s difficult to defend the rights of people who are somehow unlike you, but wanting to help is good and actually asking what we need is even better.

    • Thanks Tansy!

      I do hope that adding my voices to others’s helps here. This morning I thought wow I don’t want to put myself out there and say all of this, because I tend toward inversion and wanting to keep my personal life private. But I saw other women speaking out and didn’t want them to have to do it alone. That wouldn’t be fair to them, when I have examples too, and can help prove the point there trying to make.

  5. It is good to air this out – I don’t think everyone would, which added to the weight of the matter when you chose to do so.

    • I’ve been feeling stressed since the moment I posted it– not out of worry someone would be mean but because I don’t usually talk about such personal things. As the day went on and the viewer counter crept up and up, it got worse everyone is looking at me! But I did it because others were starting to share their stories and it didn’t seem fair to make them do it alone.

  6. You know from the groups I run with at Bay Area cons that I not only believe you, I could probably name names and draw faces of people who would’ve done similarly stupid crap. I’m sorry that you had to go through that and I’d apologize on behalf of my gender but that, in part, would be taking responsibility for that and if there’s one thing my mother and going to the university I did taught me it was to respect a woman for the individual she is.

    • I’m partly talking about cons you’ve been at, though maybe not at the same time as me, so I believe that you know 🙂

      I appreciate that you care, and I know you think a guy doing that sort of thing is wrong, which helps.

  7. Thank you for the power of your words and giving voice to this ugly truth Carrie. We stand with you.

  8. Thanks for speaking out Carrie and for contributing to making SFF-dom safer!

    • Thank you for reading. I’m just a little fish with a small ability to get my experiences out there; there are other women risking a lot more and getting more abuse for it. I hope that the more we speak up as a group, the better it will get.

  9. I have been reading the posts about these incidents and I wonder at what we have lost, all those intelligent, creative women who have been prevented from contributing to what I found to be a great community.

    I would like to think that most men would say something/do something in regards to blatant harassment (going forward – as it seems most men in the past haven’t stepped in).

    But I also think we (men) need to be a little more aware of the environment, of noticing a woman being stood over /cornered etc and be able to ask if she’s okay or needs a hand.

    I don’t know do we need to have compulsory refreshers at the start of the con to remind us of how we (men) can contribute to making a con a safer space.

    I get trained every year on reporting child abuse in my role as a teacher, most of its a simple reminder of the psychological barriers that humans have to confront when reporting abuse.

    I think its similar when we might witness harassment at a at a con like the aforementioned cornering. We are likely to brush it off as we don’t want to commit a faux pas. Maybe we need to be socially courageous and reduce the opportunity for these predators. I think women do this for each other at cons already maybe its time to lend them a hand.

    In the end I think it better to have interrupted a budding con romance/ a deep and meaningful / than to find out that the woman you didn’t check to see was okay was harassed.

    I don’t think that’s asking too much of men is it?

    • The best way to help is to start saying something when you witness the drive-by gropings, the guys who follow someone around, the things that aren’t big problems, but are little ones. A simple, “Dude, don’t do that,” to let them know that hey, it was noticed, and it’s not acceptable, will go a long way without anyone having to get confrontational.

      I appreciate your support.

  10. There’s a reason I don’t go to cons anymore — not as an author/presenter/participant but as a fan. I’m a very private person in many regards. I like walking through life invisible until I want to be noticed. I un-invisible myself, say my piece and drift into the background again. Have I witnessed sexual harassment at past cons I’ve attended. Nothing comes to mind although if I thought hard enough I probably did witness something at some time.

    As far as I’m concerned, “no means no” whether the harassment is sexual in nature or merely annoying. I’ve had authors get into conversations with me that I thought were just conversations until they popped into used car salesman mode. Then I realized they were trying to push their self-published masterpiece on me and promptly followed me around trying to make a sale even though I said “no”. What part of no didn’t they understand? I’ve had other con attendees interrupt my enjoyment of browsing a dealer room by forcing an unwanted conversations onto me about some subject I didn’t care about. One guy who apparently had leveled up to be some sort of hyper-nerd started going nuts because I happened to put my hand on some trinket with a “chaos” symbol on it. I suddenly became the focus of everyone’s attention as this mutant regaled me with the history of evil and how a coffee mug might just open a gateway allowing some demon to possess my non-existent soul. Then there was the time when an author at a panel decided to answer my question about something (it might have been Star Trek) by mocking how stupid of a question it was. I didn’t think it was stupid but I suppose not being a hack Star Trek novelist, I just don’t know enough from watching the series to even have a question.

    These lovely memories and a bunch more are the reason I don’t go to cons. I don’t want women to be harassed. I don’t want men to be harassed. I don’t want to be harassed, annoyed, startled or mocked — I just want to go to a con and then go home. Can’t people learn to stop their stupidity? How hard is that?

    • A lot of people are learning. The situation is getting better. It just needs us to keep talking about it so that it does improve to where we’re all safe. I don’t want anyone to miss out on the con experience–I love them.

  11. Ms. Cuinn, you have just been linked on Whatever. I am just popping over from the thread in which you were linked to say that I am appalled by what my fellow male humans are capable of. I am young and busy enough to have never been to a genre convention, but I can assure you that if I ever witness harassment at a genre convention, I will report it–after having a “talk” with the harasser if the harassment is as bad as what you have described.

    Thank you for writing about your experiences, and I hope that you never have to deal with this crap again.

    • It’s not the big moments of deeply awful harassment that you have to watch out for. It’s the little, common, ignored moments that are most contributing to this problem. Right now we mostly just accept that, for example, some guy will rub up against my chest as he passes me in a hall–when he had at least a foot of space behind him and had no reason at all to be that close to me–and grin as he walks away. That happened to me at WFC Toronto in November, and the woman next to me looked at him, looked at me, rolled her eyes as if to say, “Jerk”, and went back to what she was doing. I didn’t even mention it to my friends when I got back to them.

      We’re used to it. It happens all of the time.

      • And the little stuff adds up. I don’t understand why such behavior is practically accepted. If someone did that to me, I would punch them out on the spot–and I’m a pacifist with no silly macho illusions about my masculinity.

        Real men should be more considerate and respectful, and should not use every meeting with a woman as a chance to try to get into her pants. That kind of behavior is wrong.

  12. Thank you for speaking out, Carrie. I do wonder about a large swath of my gender and their inability to treat women with anything on even the same continent as respect.

    • The big bad things are not from a large swath of men. I know that’s not common. But the little moments are. Just be aware, and let people know that you don’t support that kind of culture, and you don’t want to see that around you. If enough of us speak up, there won’t unsafe spaces left.

  13. I used to go to cons a lot, and yes, I’ve been stalked and harassed, inappropriately touched, propositioned, etc. I could tell a ton of stories, but I am sure someone else has already told them. I stopped going to cons for nearly 20 years.

    I decided to go to one in ’08, the first one in forever. Sadly, even there, I found myself harassed by gormless yawps who had no manners. My ‘offence’? I wore a geeky t-shirt, which apparently gave these oiks permission to give me grief. It read, “there’s no place like 127.0.0.1”, and I was repeatedly ‘quizzed’ on what that meant. I used to love conventions- especially costuming and panels, but I am so tired of the lack of respect and outright idiocy displayed by certain men.

  14. The part of this that makes me the angriest is that you felt you had to qualify any of your actions or clothing choices to make it easier for people to pause a moment in their blaming and/or judging you for the actions of these men. “And before you ask: I don’t cosplay. I don’t dress provocatively.”

    • It truly sucks. And yet, as I predicted, those are some of the comments I’ve seen today. That and “oh why are the fat/old/unemployed women bugging instead of writing fiction instead if worrying about what I’d really a compliment”? It’s not most people though, which is what matters.

  15. And I thought I had it bad because some random guy with dreadlocks licked my nose at a con last year…
    It’s really awful that people will even suggest that it’s your own fault that guys behave that way towards you!

  16. Thank you for posting this, Ms. Cuinn. It is sad that there is a need for such posts and points to be made (and sadder that you and others have been so badly treated.) I was dragged to a couple of Cons in the late 60s and early 70s, felt very uncomfortable, and haven’t been to any since. From the descriptions, it seems that some of those years’ private party mores (they were the announced party mores; I could go along, choose not to act that way, or leave) became the standard and obligatory public mores. Not how I was brought up to behave, and I don’t think it would be wise for me to return, I’d be too likely to hand out bloody noses. That probably would not help. They were wrong to treat you so. I’m sorry you were hurt. I hope you find future Cons more acceptable.

  17. Your post is timely and extremely comprehensive, but one thing upset me greatly. You say that ” I got some of this even when I was 100 pounds overweight” as though fat people are clearly so gross that no-one could possibly want to harass them.

    Harassment, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is about power rather than sexual attraction. However, even if it were about attraction I find your implication that people who are “overweight” can count themselves right out of the attractiveness equation.

    I’m truly sorry for your experiences. No-one should have to go through the horror of being manhandled and made to feel objectified and unsafe. However, by saying that overweight people have a built-in safety mechanism against sexually aggressive behavior, you are essentially objectifying an entire group of people as “sexually untouchable,” and that is extremely hurtful.

    • Did you see the part where I said that women get harassed regardless of what they look like? It’s the next sentence down.

      Additionally, I stated at the bottom that I don’t endorse the idea that anyone’s looks or dress is the reason they get harassed, but that those are the stupid excuses I hear, and doing those “right” things, or looking a certain way, doesn’t save anyone. I never suggested overweight people don’t get sexually harassed, I said that you can’t blame sexual harassment on someone being “so hot”, or wearing “provocative clothes” or cosplaying, or anything else.

      I understand why you’d be offended, if I’d said what you’re saying, but please read it again.

      Edited to add: I apologize; my phone’s autocorrect changed “offended” to “offensive” and they’re very different things.

    • Our host may find your utter lack of reading comprehension understandable, but this reader at least advises you to engage your brain before shooting your mouth off.

      • I appreciate that this is a sensitive topic for all of us, but I would like to keep it calm. I’m moderating comments in favor of free speech, for now, but if this becomes too flamey, I will stop it.

        • Sorry. People who can’t be bothered to read are a big pet peeve of mine. You’re a better host than I would make. I normally only comment in blog threads that are well moderated, so I appreciate you dousing the flames, even when I’m the person getting snipping. If you want to nuke all my comments in this thread so far, I won’t take any umbrage. Not that you need my permission, obviously.

          • Gulliver, I thought you were pretty rude to someone who misinterpreted something. There’s “reading” and “reading into” and depending on where you’re coming from a person can certainly misinterpret things that she’s sensitive to.

    • Ellen Datlow is right. It looked like you were intentionally misreading the original post, and I thought that was rude. But even if you were, and I’m less confident of that now, it was no excuse for me to be rude back. I apologize for being an asshole, Charlie.

    • Yes, harassment is about power, not about sex – but sexual attractiveness of the targets is part of keeping score. The harasser’s ego gets more points for having power over the higher-status target.

  18. carrie.. in your place i would have started carrying a taser, nothing gets a “no” across better tan a few hundred volts

    • That’s really not a good idea in most of the circumstances where con harassment takes place, but I understand why this topic makes some people defensive/scared/consider physical attacks. Let’s try not to escalate in a violent direction, please.

  19. manhandle you and throwing you on a bed is not violence?

    My comment may sound in jest but it is not, I have 3 daughters and if ANYONE thinks it is ok to touch them without permission a taser is a mild choice for me

    • Of course it’s violence, and it’s wrong, and I don’t encourage it. At the same time, I don’t encourage violently attacking someone who grabs my ass. That’s wrong, too. I think there are better ways to handle this problem. However, I’m also not telling you not to feel the way that you do–your reaction is yours, and I completely understand wanting to protect your children.

      Though, your daughters will be much safer in the long run if you teach them how to recognize harassment, ask for help, and say, “NO!”, than teaching them that you’re going to protect them. They may not, then, learn how to protect themselves, and the culture of making women into princesses who must be rescued from the dragon is as much to blame for taking away our power as the con creeps.

      • Tasers strike me as going overboard, but an instep-stomp or elbow-to-the-gut has always seemed to me like a proportionate response to ass-grabbing.

        Probably because I’m not carrying math textbooks any more with which to smack the ass-grabbers (okay, in those days it was bra-snappers) upside the head.

        Back In The Day (early 80s), my experience suggested that telling anyone in authority would be useless. This led me to teach my young teenager to go seek out a badass friend of mine if there were a problem, rather than alert con security, when actually con security’s gotten better about it where I am. But old habits die hard.

        Said teenager’s out of HS now, and hasn’t had to deal with more than verbal harassment, and has showed a lot of verbal moxie in shutting it down (I am so proud of my kid). Better than what I dealt with.

        But the fact that it had to be an issue at all makes me really sad.

  20. I suspect the biggest problem with the whole harassment thing for women is that we’re taught (and society expects us) to treat it as though it’s “just one of those things” – like getting cut off in traffic. Yeah, the guy who does it is an asshole, but you’re a bigger asshole if you get upset about it and hit the horn. So these assholes have been getting away with the social equivalent of dangerous driving for decades now, and they’ve been teaching younger drivers this is okay along the way… and now it’s just not safe on the roads.

    Innocent bystanders ask what they can do to help. I’d offer this advice: if you see something, say something. Say to the person being harassed “I’ll stand as a witness if you want to make a complaint; here are my details”. Say to the person doing the harassing “Not Cool Dude!”. Say to security “I saw person X groping/looming over/leering at/manhandling Person Y, and Person Y looked really uncomfortable about it”. Say to employers “I saw one of your employees, X, harassing someone at a convention where they were present representing your company, and I want to make a formal complaint about their behaviour”. Make it damn clear to the small percentage of assholes that their social licence to act as though other people are present solely for their convenience is being revoked.

    • I think this is sound advice. I once worked in an office where the Assistant District Manager spent a good portion of his day following a young co-worker around (and the rest in the management toilet – he was kind of cliche (bad hair piece and all) and it made the whole office uncomfortable). People talked about him all the time, but no one said anything.

      Well, I was transferring out of state (I worked for a federal agency) and one day he said something mildly outrageous. He was generally polite and trying to be courtly, but it was not going well. The whole room kind of groaned and exchanged glances. I grabbed a pen and said, “Oh, that’s a GREAT one for my letter to the EEOC!” Everyone laughed at my “joke” (I didn’t have a letter to the EEOC or plan to write one), but he got the message that his interest was unsubtle and could be a problem for him. He cut it out.

      Sometimes just making people aware of their behavior is enough, and even if it’s not, once people start taking action, the idea that it’s not going to be tolerated anymore will seep through layers of entitlement once people start making reports.

    • The more I think about it the more I think that their needs to be additional focus on bystanders and facilitating encouraging/ training them to be good reporters and ensuring that their reports are taken seriously..

      Everything you outline is excellent advice until the bystander gets: rubbuffed by a couple who are having a romantic interlude, or scoffed at by security or any other number of possibilities.

      You are fighting the bystander effect and you are already asking people to step outside their comfort zone, trying to override that ingrained social learning that says “don’t interfere it’s probably nothing”

      Again from my mandatory reporting experience:

      I recall a case study where a staff member reported that a student had told them they were living in tent( poverty’s not a crime, but being homeless is a risk factor) they thought due to their training they should report the information.

      The person taking the report on the other end scoffed at them and said at least they had a roof over their head.

      Now the staff member despite receiving multiple years of training in reporting what they think might be inconsequential information is back to the point where they are more likely not to report something.

      I think we have the potential for the same thing to occur. And it will undermine any push that might originate online to address this problem, it will undermine the best set of procedures any Con committee can devise. This has to be a whole of community movement. Which is not just having a great Con team but a great set of attendees.

      One weak link in that chain of intervention to reporting to action can derail the entire process.

      Sorry for the long winded reply. And I am not being critical of your suggestions I think they form part of the response.

      Do you think a kickstarter to fund a programme of training would be appropriate here, something that could be used by Con committees across the globe? I am thinking videos with geek personalities ie Patrick Stewart, Wil Wheaton

  21. Good post, thank you. Like Ellen, I’ve not had as big a problem with this, and I suspect in both our cases one of the root causes of our less extreme experiences was pointed out by one of the commenters: “Harassment, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is about power rather than sexual attraction.” By the time I entered the genre convention scene in 2003 I’d dealt with harassment and abuse in my personal life to the point where I might as well have had “don’t mess with me” tattooed on my forehead. But I still ran into crazy, unprofessional objectifying behavior on the part of clueless males. Publicly shaming the clueless and reporting inappropriate behavior should have happened years ago. Glad this movement is snowballing. To me, it means we are coming of age as a community.

  22. I’m appalled at the behavior of these jerks. You would figure since these incidents take place at conventions where a lot of superhero worship abounds that someone would step and be, you know… A HERO! I’ve only been able to attend one con in my life so far – SDCC ’09 – and I’m glad I didn’t witness this stuff first hand.

    If you’re inspired by works which feature heroism, then step up to the plate which those heroes occupy. Its sad that we’re so morally degenerate now that people condone this type of behavior.

  23. “Bitch wants to ruin everything…” It’s been my experience (as a con-going male) that most of the people who complain the loudest about women standing up for themselves and con safety are the ones who benefit the most one way or the other from women staying silent. When they think “ruin everything” that usually seems to mean “ruin everything for *me*”.

  24. I haven’t read all of the replies, so I’m not sure this has been suggested, but I think public shaming is a great way to curb this behavior. Carry a camera, and when someone is inappropriate with you, take their picture, ask their name. Tell them you’re putting it on your blog, and that they should be ashamed of what they’ve done. Make sure they know how to get to your blog (carry a card or just give them the name of it), so they can see all the comments from people chiming in about what a pig he or she is. If more people did this, perhaps people wouldn’t find it so easy to harass an “anonymous” stranger. Just a thought.

    • OOOOOoo.. As nice as that sounds that opens you up to a lawsuit if you simply snap their picture and spread it around. Even if they are an ass. there is something called innocent until proven guilty and unless you have lock solid info, like filming the WHOLE event, that can get them prosecuted, AND you actually report them, they could get you for slander

      I say this because there is case like this going on up here in my region between two people, one whom went around trashing him to cons and getting him banned for a supposed offense at a different con, but the problem is there is no proof of that offense other then he said/he said, and with other he saids saying different things completely. and now the original reporter is being sued big time, because since there was never any official reporting it is now technically libel. You have to have your ducks in a row for that one

    • Perhaps nice in theory and aside from potential legal issues I am not sure its practical advice. You’ve just been groped, you’re in mild shock and you have to dig your phone out of your bag navigate to the camera function etc all while you have adrenaline running through your system and the guy is standing there?

  25. #1, 7, 9, maybe 10 (context matters and not enough is given), possibly 12 (I simply don’t know if that counts as “sexual harrassment” or “rampant dickery”) are “harassment”.

    I don’t understand what the problem with #11 is, unless it was offered as an excuse for some other behaviour.

    Everything else on that list isn’t harassment. It’s either assault or battery. I realise this may look outrageously pedantic, but it’s important. If you want people to stop harassment, you have to use the word to refer to things that are actually harassment, or the mouth-breathers who haven’t learned better yet will go “Oh, well, hell, I didn’t go up and just grab her breasts, so it must not have been ‘harassment’ when I followed her around taking surreptitious photos of them!”

    IMO, of course, and YMMV.

    • how can you not see that having your breasts groped, having strangers kiss your neck, and being picked up and carried around against your wishes are all forms of obvious harassment?

      i’m a man and i can see it. how hard can it be?

      • What perlhaqr is saying is that some is harassment, some is worse–assault or battery–not that some isn’t harassment and is therefore okay.

      • He’s saying it’s beyond harassment. Sexual harassment is one thing, it’s not a nice thing but it’s one thing, sexual assault and battery is a lot more serious and is actually an arrestable offence.

        Harassment is only arrestable if it’s continuous harassment, and even then, they’re more likely to be fined than something to be truly done about it (unless it effects a minor). With harassment, it’s purely down to the local security to deal with it how they see fit. But basically, it needs to be self-regulated or regulated by the general public “that behaviour is unacceptable and you/I/they should not do it” kinda thing. Most people are intelligent and go “they won’t like that, so I won’t do it” but you get the odd irritating little person who think with things other than their brain.

        The difference between the two is simple; one isn’t very nice but is (sadly) not illegal so the law is not required to deal with it, the second is illegal and is something the law is required to deal with.

    • Unfortunately there are many people who excuse harassment as flirting and truly awful acts as mere harassment. I had to write from that perspective–though I agree, some of the things I mention above are awful, things that only happened to me once, and if I hadn’t been in a space that was so permissive of women being treated that way, I may have called the police. Instead, it’s “just playing around”.

      I hope that this post and others will help us move forward to a place where we can call these actions what they are.

    • Everybody has a different litmus for “appropriate” or “acceptable”. I’ve watched girls who think way too much of themselves flip out over a group of people looking at them, using the term ‘raping me with your eyes’ very loudly.

      Literally all they did was look at her. Because she was cosplaying as Cammy.

      There’s obviously a limit – but you can’t condemn people for ogling someone they find attractive; particularly if they’re dressed as a skimpily-clad character.

  26. Very well put.
    I’ve been going to conventions for a few years now and I have totally seen this. Conventions seem to have this odd effect on people that makes them feel as if it’s not real life and being a decent human seems to matter less than it normally would. So anybody who is already a complete pig is just amplified that much more when they step into a convention.One particular anime convention in my area has been working hard to put this issue to a halt. And they’ve done pretty well for the most part. They have absolutely no patience for sexual harassment of any kind. I just wish that was practiced in other conventions more often, and in the rest of the world.

  27. This is in no way the typical cosplayer experience.
    What kind of seedy cons are you going to? Seriously.
    When I read this, I just got the impression that you’re a professional victim.

    Whenever I’ve had unwanted attention–Or invasions of personal space–there were several people in the immediate vicinity, and a few from far away who heard/saw, ready to intervene to help me.

    • a) I’m not a cosplayer.

      b) I attend genre literature conventions: Baycon, World Fantasy, Worldcon, Philcon, etc.

      c) This list is compiled over 20 years and in no way is about only one convention; nor did all of these events happen all in one weekend.

      d) All of the above information is in the post itself.

      • e)All of which is just as relevant as my own experiences.

        Whether you’re a man or a woman, bad people prey on a meek disposition. If you carry yourself meekly, you’re priming yourself as a target. It sucks – it really does – but you need to be conscious of yourself.

        I’m pretty much never really alone, at cons. I know a lot of people there, and they passively look out for me – and I look out for them.
        It’s the same typical experience at a con as at a carnival, rave or any other large event with many strangers interacting with eachother. Bad shit happens. You can stop that bad shit by being conscious of yourself, and going with friends.
        It’s not some sort of huge issue.

        While not wholly relevant to just being at a con without cosplaying, you should listen to what this lady has to say about keeping friends around you.

        In 20 years, it’s surprising you haven’t thought to do that. Expecting bad people to not be bad because you’re not doing anything to ‘ask for it’ is silly – you have to exude confidence, and be proactive when you’re chilling solo at cons – because regardless if you’re a man or woman, if you’re alone, you’re in danger of strangers mugging or harassing you.

        • Sorry, but I’ve been in a reception, waiting to have my bill for my hotel room finished being processed and had a guy say some horrific stuff. You get people who do this kinda thing no matter where you are, or how confident you are. I’ve seen people shout, across a room, at someone they don’t know, being incredibly derogative.

          I’ve seen it happen to groups of people as well as those by themselves.

          And actually, WHY SHOULD people go around in groups just because some twerps can’t control themselves? No, sorry, that’s backwards. The people at fault are those who make the remarks or actions, not those on the receiving end.

    • Your anecdotal evidence isn’t a typical cosplayer experience either, or a “typical” anything. It’s what has happened to YOU. Just because something didn’t happen to you doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to (many, MANY) other people.

      Perhaps you will enjoy this site: http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/welcome.htm It will help you learn when you are making a point and when you are just making words.

      • Yeah – there’s no arguing with this sort of droning because of the tone and nature of the article – but I’ll leave you with this:
        1) A fallacy isn’t an argument you don’t agree with;
        2)Professional victims only win when it comes to false-alarm rape charges. Otherwise, you have no way to cash in on it, aside from attention-nabbing blogs.

        • There’s only one person here droning

          • As I said: There’s no arguing with this. People will just come to the author’s defense no matter how irrational the blog they posted is, due to the nature of the subject they’re posting about.

          • And yet you haven’t shown how it’s irrational. Calling it so doesn’t make it such

          • Let it go, please. Thank you, though.

          • As you wish

          • Going solo to a large social event (Carnival, rave, con) amongst strangers with no friends KINDA lends itself to putting you in a bad situation.

          • Even if the victim put themselves in bad situations constantly, there’s no way to argue it because white-knights like this will always skitter from the woodworks to their righteous defense.

            I’ll stop replying to your blog – you’re entitled to your opinion. It’s your blog. But you shouldn’t ignore any possible fault that might belong to you on this topic.

            Be conscious. Think critically; not emotionally.

          • There are so many incorrect assumptions in your comments that it’s difficult to know where to start. Don’t go out alone because if you’re harassed or groped or anything else, it’s your fault? The problem is women not keeping a buffer of friends around them at all times?

            Of course, I don’t go to conventions alone. I even say so in my post, when I talk about how standing next to another guy has been the most effective way to keep things like this from happening. In fact, I address most of your points in this post and the second part.

            I get that you have an agenda, and want to blame me or anyone else who has been harassed–or insist we weren’t in the first place. I like freedom of speech, and prefer to leave my comments open as much as possible. But comment on what’s been said. Talk about my actual statements. I’ve asked another comment not to take you on. I don’t need anyone to defend me.

            So, go ahead. Tell me how this is all my fault. I never said I wasn’t partially responsible, because I didn’t speak up earlier. I admitted that. It’s part of why I spoke up now. But I also didn’t put myself into bad situations. I went to cons, with other adults, who shared my interests in genre fiction. I never went off alone with any of the people who were inappropriate to me. Every single one of those things happened with other people around.

            And no, it’s not because I come off as a victim. Apparently (I was told over the weekend, at Readercon) I come off as a sexy school teacher, and some people are amused by trying to fluster me, though it doesn’t work. I edited Cthulhurotica, what could embarrass me?

            You assume I’m profiting somehow from this discussion, yet I’m the one who made a statement, and then went on to talk about other things instead of continuing to talk about this issue. Part 2 of this post a long list of reasons people are seen as victims, how to avoid it, and how to improve safety at cons. A thoughtful look at the issue, instead of an emotional one.

            Because you’re not reading what I (and many other commenters here) am saying, you’re just looking for things to argue your point against, you don’t seem to realize that your statements don’t work. You’re arguing against things you’ve made up in your head, and as long as you’re doing that, making it clear how wrong you are is going to be easy.

            Come back if you want to have an actual discussion sometime.

  28. Would you walk around at 2AM alone?
    If a guy got mugged walking around at 2AM alone, would you say he could have prevented the problem by having a friend with him?

    You type an awful lot; and say an awful little. As soon as you said “I never said I wasn’t partially responsible”, I see that you get all I was trying to get at.
    The victim is not at fault – but they could make better decisions to not be victimized. 😉

    • a little addition:
      You don’t seem all too interested in having a discussion about the issue, either – as is typical for people who frequent this spectrum of the self-assured blogosphere.

  29. If you went to Comic Con, did some of these happen there?

  30. Wow. Amazingly disgusting behaviour. Is this considered normal at this type of convention?

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. I’m pretty proud to be part of the “nerd” community, I’ve met some pretty nice people, and I also met my lovely wife there.

    But this is fucking low.

    This is a level of nigh-solipsistically sexist behavior that needs to fucking stop.

    Like, I can’t find anything else to say.

    It just needs to fucking stop.

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