The Enlightened Optimist (britgeekgrrl) wrote,
The Enlightened Optimist

On Conventions, Safe Spaces and Being Suckered By The Patriarchy

ETA: this is a public post because, damn, this s*** needs to be talked about. A lot. Out loud and in public.

ETA2: But wait! There's more!

It's a topic that's been on my mind for a long time, but not one I've spoken up about because, honestly, people who are much smarter and more articulate than myself have said pretty much everything I've ever wanted to say.

However, recent events have me thinking that I have to put in my two cents.

For a long time - until quite recently - I was suckered into the notion that if I wore a costume at a convention, any kind of costume, I had to accept unasked-for remarks with good grace, even when they went far past the line of, say, appreciative and into creepy.

I would let people touch me - from arms around the shoulder to unasked-for back rubs - because I didn't want to be the bitch who told them back off.

Correction: I didn't know that I could say "Back off!" without there being horrible consequences.

During my too-brief sojourn in talk-therapy* one thing that was pulled out into the harsh light of day and thoroughly examined is that, because of a couple of traumatic incidents, I have very poor boundaries and great difficulty enforcing them.

Okay then. The lousy boundaries aren't my "fault", per se, but in failing to deal with some matters, I tolerated unacceptable behavior - and by tolerating it, I (silently) approved it and therefore perpetuated it.

So the guy who I let circle me and whistle and say something along the lines of "You've still got it, baybee" (this was a man who I'd threatened with a restraining order some years prior to that incident - we encountered each other in the hallway of a local convention) was not reprimanded by me at the time (I wanted to, even in my clueless state back then, his behavior enraged me) and I'm sure he went on to pull similar BS on other women. And, damn, do I feel stupid for not calling him on it.

At first, I didn't know such behavior was unacceptable. Young, clueless and insecure, I'd accept such things with the equivalent of "tee hee" and tossing my hair. Any attention was good attention, right?

Then, even after I twigged on to the fact that I had the right to be treated as another human being (paging Simone DeBeauvoir!) I kept my mouth shut as I had already encountered the privileged brushoff of "Geeze, calm down willya, it's just a joke!" and worried that not only would my thoughts not be respected, but I would be seriously marginalized. Fandom was the center of my social life. I couldn't afford to find myself booted out of it.

(Don't even get me started on the "But I'm a nice guy / paying her a compliment!" defense. Just don't.)

Tangent: A friend of mine who I consider one of the most liberal-minded and book-smart guys I've ever known told me a few years ago that, in all honesty, that he thought I was taking the whole Barbie-is-not-an-acceptable-role-model-for-little-girls thing "too seriously" and did I really overthink every advertisement in which women were objectified and children sexualized every time I watched TV? It was a few months before I could talk to that guy again. FWIW, he's moved on a lot and I think he gets it now. I think. But I was gobsmacked at the time that he didn't get it, and I see folks who I thought were similarly smart saying the same things. Anyways...

I'm insecure and kind of needy. I want the approval of my friends. I've been into SF/F since long before it fought its way into the mainstream and better-than-it-was gender parity. Many of my friends in fandom are male. Because I'm insecure and kind of needy, I was willing to accept objectification as a form of (male) approval.

Not any more. I've not worn certain costumes for several years and, believe me, the weight I've gained rendering those costumes a bit snug is only one reason of many.

True, I should feel free to wear whatever I want at a convention and if some asshat makes unwanted comments or - worse yet - touches me without consent, I should be able to tell that person where to get off, without fear of being accused of over-reacting, of being shrewish, or being hysterical.

I'll pause for a second while the female readership regains its breath from laughing itself sick.

Shrodinger's Rapist is a very real concern for all women - even at a "safe" event**. I have no way of knowing if the guy who I ask to stop giving me an uninvited backrub at a convention party is going to attack me in a stairwell after the party is over. I don't. So I let him give me the backrub and take a long shower afterwards.

Newsflash: women will "accept" minor assault - and that's what unwanted contact is - rather than risk something worse.

Newsflash the second: in my experience, unwanted attention at conventions (or other public spaces) has always come from men. Always. But that is, to be fair, partially attributable to the gender disparity at conventions, in that case. If BayCon 1996 had a 50/50 gender split, maybe I would have had women catcalling me when I wore the infamous black plastic minidress. Who knows?

And so I've quit wearing outfits that I fear will get me harassed, or that I'm wearing to please the male gaze (see: insecure and needy, above). I've started speaking up when I'm the object of unwanted attention - and speaking up like that scares the shit out of me. There are people out there who will react violently to what they perceive as rejection. Maybe not right then, but maybe later that night, or a week from now, or six months down the road.

But I have to speak up. Have to.

I've been encouraged by the growing awareness of the need to make conventions a safe space for everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, etc. More and more people are encountering unacceptable behavior and calling the perps to account for it. If I want to feel safe, I must join my voice with theirs, rather than try to shrug incidents off and/or convince myself I'm overreacting.

Harassment, marginalization, perpetuation of rape culture... all of that and a dozen more oppressive situations... silence equals consent.

People who feel threatened must speak up. We must support each other. We have to keep hammering on this topic, even when we're dismissed, told to "chill out", patronized and ignored.

We're making progress. Even I, Ms. Oblivious, can see this. Let's keep it up!

*Ended because of financial issues and a twit of a boss who wouldn't let me leave a half hour early twice a month to make it to my sessions. That's changing, now, thank heavens.

**What is safe? A place where I don't have to worry about dismissal, harassment or assault. It doesn't exist, yet, and so I must remain vigilant.
Tags: rant

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