Sunday, August 17, 2008

Do People Have to Be Reminded to Act Civilized?

I guess so! I created this blog to escape from issues blogging, but this is something that disturbs me. It disturbs me that you have to actually tell certain people how to act in public. You'd think parenting, school and socialization would have taken care of these things, but apparently some idiots still haven't gotten the message. Some people can't handle being out in public around human beings who vaguely look like (and in some cases, dress exactly like) those longer-haired, slightly shorter characters in their funny books and on their favorite TV shows.

You know, the not-men. What do they call those again?

In any given group situation, it really does not matter if the person in question is a woman or a man- if they don't want you touching them, if they haven't given you permission to put your hands on them, then keep your damned hands to yourself. The fact that it's a sci-fi or comics convention makes no difference.

Now, I know people wear some outrageous stuff at genre conventions. The Slave Leia costume, a Red Sonja metal bikini and what have you. There will be professional models dressed like Lara Croft or whatever video game goddess is being hyped this financial quarter. And there's a certain relaxation of societal standards to allow for free expression. You're there to geek out in ways you can't at the office. You might meet someone you could be attracted to who shares your esoteric interests. It's totally okay to try to score some phone numbers. Plus, it's during vacation time for a lot of people so cutting loose feels good.

But there are limits. Because here's the thing- clothing does not equal consent. Attendance at a convention does not equal consent. Being simply a woman at a convention certainly does not equal consent. If someone isn't interested in you, be cool about it and gracefully back off. You're not John Cusack in Say Anything.... No means no. No answer means no. An "I'm busy" or "Maybe some other time" means no. Only yes means yes. You really shouldn't have to explain that to anyone over the age of 5 or 6. Certainly not to an adult.

And yet you do. And you do. And you do.

Why do people who somehow have failed to learn this before beginning elementary school get to define fan behavior? Who arbitrarily decided that genre conventions were free-for-all zones where any kind of stupidity goes? Where it's "cool" to grab someone's ass to "see what her reaction was?"

What if I went to a convention and randomly spit in people's faces to "see what their reaction was?" Hell, if they didn't want me to spit in their faces they wouldn't have come to the convention, right?

I'm pretty sure I KNOW how they would react. They'd get upset. I'd get booted out the door. There might even be violence. And you know what? That's not even why I don't do those kinds of things. I don't go around spitting on people because it's wrong. Just as it's wrong to grope someone. Just as it's wrong to make someone afraid. It's simply wrong to abuse people.

No matter how they're dressed. Or where they are.

It's not cool to do these things; it never has been, it never will be. Doing these things makes you an asshole; always has, always will. It's mindboggling that some people don't get this, that they turn off their brains at the convention center's doors and turn into Creatures from the Dorkass Corners of the Id. It's crazy to have to explain basic human behavior to people. It's like trying to explain why you shouldn't touch fire, why you shouldn't point a loaded gun at your head, why you shouldn't eat strange things you find on the highway. Behaviors that are self-evident to everyone except these few jerks.

Who in turn define the rest of us to the world at large. Who seem to define convention etiquette and behaviors for everyone else. And who define a genre convention as a place where three or four maladjusted and misanthropic cretins get to set the standards and tone for the majority who actually know better.

Convention organizers- don't be intimidated by these crude, crass attendees. They represent the smallest fraction of convention-goers. But they make up the entirety of the group doing stupid, outrageous things to the other attendees. Evidently, many conventions DO have anti-harassment policies in place and that's as it should be.

If yours doesn't, then make one. And if it does, make sure all the attendees are very aware of it. Publicize the hell out of it. Make your convention known as a safe space, where everyone can have fun. You know, except the very few whose idea of fun include nonconsensual touching and weird verbal abuse. They shouldn't be allowed to have their kind of fun. And if they tried that at the local shopping mall, they'd be arrested.

You can make a definite statement, put it right on the tickets, right on the signs and in the advertisement, and most people will still show up. It's ridiculous that you should have to explain something that's supposed to be common sense, but spell out in simple, clear terms that sexual harassment and intimidation, that unwanted touching and violence are not tolerated there. Have a visible and clearly-marked place for women to go to (or even men) when they've been violated or harassed. Toss out the jerks. If you want to be cute about it, dress your bouncers like Imperial stormtroopers or the Justice League or something.

I also want to charge the vast numbers of responsible convention-goers not to accept these pissants' definition of who we are and what we do. When you see this stuff happening, confront the situation. You don't have to run up and act like Batman or Wonder Woman, but there are sensible things you can do without being a vigilante. If you read the essay that set this off, that's exactly what the author tried to do. That's just good old-fashioned human decency. A concerned person supporting others to have the most fun possible without ugliness and degradation.

And if your friend comes back to you laughing about pinching some girl's ass or putting his hand down her shirt, tell him outright that's shitty behavior. Don't condone it with your silence. Make him feel the shame he should feel for doing something asinine. Perhaps common sense and humanity will reassert itself and he'll finally learn the damned lesson he should have as a child.

Or, report him to whoever is in charge. Do it in a reasonable way, of course. Screaming about it isn't much of a help, but level-headed insistence that you feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in a place where they allow sexual violence in any degree.

Even if there's not a firm policy in place. Even if there isn't an actual complaint booth. Find someone in charge and let them know your feelings. Everyone do this, immediately. Don't wait until the next day or the end of the convention. Do it immediately. Firmly but politely. If the organizers feel their financial break-even point being threatened, they'll act. If enough fans get involved on a grassroots level, this behavior will stop. Or become less frequent. Hell, I'd be happy if some of the incidents I've read about ended in arrests. I know of at least one involving a creator that more than likely should have if I'm remembering the details correctly.

And if an asshole doesn't come or a groper doesn't get to grope or harass, who gives a shit? Who gave these freak losers the right to violate the human dignity and personal space of others? They can't do that shit at the circus, the carnival, a Renaissance Fair, movie theaters or ballparks; they shouldn't be allowed to do it at a genre convention.

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