Harassment and Cons: Problems First, Solutions Second

digital comics museum. wow comics 2

Whenever you mix lots of people from various backgrounds, interests, and geographic locations in a not-my-real-life experience, there’s bound to be friction. Most women, and some men, have sexual harassment stories from attending parties, or bars, or even professional development conferences. Harassment isn’t limited to comic cons.

As an amateur cosplayer and con goer who has attended San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), I can appreciate Geeks for CONsent’s campaign, but I have an issue with their campaign. The petition isn’t as well-presented as I would have hoped. Their campaign title and video leave enough leeway for people like David Glanzer to point out its flaws, like when he references SDCC’s existing anti-harassment policy, a policy the petition title implies doesn’t exist. It’s too bad, because the group offers lots of great ideas to help fix the problem.

Let’s back up a minutewhat exactly is the problem we’re trying to solve? The petition title tries to take on both sexual harassment and harassment at the same time. Discussion of harassment at cons can include women who felt uncomfortable being called a fake geek girl or can be limited to certain groups like cosplayers. It’s true that “cosplay is not consent” but neither is wearing a geek t-shirt and a skirt and riding in the elevator.

I’d love to see a targeted approach, addressing one problem at a time so we can get a better handle on how many people are doing the harassing. This would help to ensure the solution is targeted at harassers and does not alienate other guests. From personal experience, with the way some of the con policies have been written, I’m afraid to put my arm around someone’s back or shoulders for a pic or am panicked about taking a photo of cosplayers walking away from a hallway photo opp that I just barely missed.

If we think about the problem in terms of the 80/20 rule and determine that most attendees are not harassers, we’d find that about 25,000 attendees at conventions would be harassers; SDCC has an average of 125,000 attendees. If we apply the same rule to the number of women who attend SDCC, about 40% of the attendees, we’d have about 10,000 women being harassed. I honestly don’t know what the actual harassment percentage is, but it’s helpful to get a sense of the number of people affected and think about the best way to reach them.

Education will be a huge piece of any solution, and that’s what I love about the Geeks for CONsent’s petition. Education helps those who may never have been exposed to cosplay, transgender geeks, or even a geek girl in real life, to learn the boundaries of this new and exciting realm. With a problem so pervasive, everyone can benefit from a reminder of the boundaries.

The Geeks for CONsent’s petition gives options on how to showcase the code of conduct and suggests a clear mechanism for reporting issues and follow-up, which falls in line with recommendations from the Con Anti-Harassment Project. I personally like how the PAX conventions handle it, by printing a short Rules of PAX on the back of con badges that includes “Don’t harass anyone.” Even for those against harassment, it’s not always obvious what attendees can do when they are being harassed, or see someone being harassed. Education can help here as well. Cosplayer Nicole Jacobs shares different approaches from HollaBack Philly and suggests using Geeks for CONsent’s Harasser Cards, business-sized cards that you can give to your harasser to help educate them on their behavior.

And for those jerks still intent on entitlement body grabs, non-consensual touching that crosses the big no-no line? Let’s make stricter policies that address just those folks. After all the education, they will not be able to plead ignorance and will have no excuses to hide behind.


Brenda Noiseux

Brenda Noiseux

Community builder, artist, convention organizer, gamer, geek writer @womenoncomics, @Sidequest_BHP. Owner, Bittenby Studios