The current top two posts at Rachel Edidin’s blog highlight a problem that I think has been coming to a head for some time. Comic and pop culture conventions are becoming less of a safe and accepting environment, and are increasingly a place for some people to abuse and harass women.
Rachel recounts a personal incident in which a guy at Comic-Con International in San Diego, carrying a “free hugs” sign, approaches her for a hug despite overwhelming objection and, short of a violent response, resistance. I remember seeing these things unfolding at the Con: Wednesday night, I saw one guy carrying a “Free High Fives!” sign, which got a lot of laughs and a generally positive response. By another day, there were plenty of imitators. By Saturday, things were starting to get out of hand–plenty of “Free Hugs,” “Free Glomps,” “Free Lovin'” and the like. Despite my misgivings, there wasn’t any particular official response from the Con. I wondered whether it would only be a matter of time, and other bloggers have done a bit to keep this story alive.
Secondly, Rachel and others repost a piece from Comics Oughta Be Fun discussing outright abusive behavior at Comic-Con, and the absence of an organized, official response to the problem:
Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: “These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, ’cause I wanted to see what her reaction was.” This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.
I don’t understand why there’s no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.
There’s a lot of avenues to discussing the feminist ramifications of all of this. The convention environment objectifies and sexualizes women as a way to attract increasingly fickle and distracted eyes on the exhibit floor. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to dress sexy in an environment where one could draw a lot of personal attention, or with wanting to create good, sophisticated sexually-oriented artwork.
However, any discussion about how sexualization and objectification contribute to abusive and negative behavior is entirely beside the point that this is a major safety issue. Comic-Con doesn’t really have policies or guidelines for addressing this sort of behavior, and the convention staff and security don’t really seem oriented towards handling this.
I think that’s an oversight from the convention organizers, but not a malicious one. I suspect that the organizers of Comic-Con genuinely try to keep everyone’s best interests at heart, but in an environment increasingly focused on heavyweight Hollywood media promotion, I can imagine the difficulty at micromanaging smaller aspects of the convention.
Still, I hope this is something they can address before next year, instead of waiting for these nuisances to escalate to a serious incident.