Friday, August 15, 2008

A serious note.

Hello, everyone. John here. I "help" Bully out with his blog, but there's some things can't be said in the voice of a little stuffed bull.

A couple weeks ago at San Diego Comic-Con incidents of sexual harassment were confided to me and I overheard others. I wanted to write about it but was uncertain whether Bully's blog was the proper place. After much thought and discussions with friends and colleagues I've decided to post it here:

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.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the "prettiest girl at the con." They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he'd targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it's to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you're dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining "Convention Policies," which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a "Where Is It?" guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There's no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she's sympathetic to the situation but who doesn't have a clear answer to my question: "What's Comic-Con's policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?" She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there's little that can be done.

"I understand that," I tell them both, "but what I'm asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what's the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?" But this wasn't a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like "Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room 17."

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more rep-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I'm looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I've retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn't have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

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.

Fellow bloggers have also kindly posted my essay on their sites, and you can also read it at any of the links below.
I'd ask that you please treat the comment sections of my colleagues' blogs with respect for this serious subject. I'm pleased to say that they feel strongly about this subject as well, and thank them for their support on an uncomfortable but vital subject.

Comics oughta be fun. Comic book conventions ought to, as well. But as long as harassment goes on and there is no clear-cut official written rules on convention behavior and what to do in circumstances or physical or mental assault, our hobby runs the risk of alienating and endangering those within it.

Edit on 8/22: has initiated the Con Anti-Harassment Project. This is good news and a step forward to be applauded. Please check out their out their campaign here, especially the thorough and well-written FAQ.


paperghost said...

Creepy. I see this happen sometimes at security conferences (where there is a huge emphasis on "booth babes", more often than not) but nowhere near as bad as the incidents above.

Thinking about it, I doubt most security conferences have a policy on this kind of thing either.

Anonymous said...

Hey John, caught your post via the ISB and wanted to say thanks for bringing this issue up for discussion. Generally regressive and offensive attitudes towards women often gets a pass in the comics-world (and the "real world" for that matter), so it's refreshing to hear commentary that advocates for basic respect and human decency.

David Campbell said...

Well said my friend.

Novice said...


Please tell John that I am telling sending many people here. Especially some friends of mine who live in the San Diego area and attended Comic-Con. This kind of behavior is appalling and should not be tolerated.

Marc Burkhardt said...

Well said, John.

You know, in 40 or so years of reading comics I've never actually been to a convention.

This sort of behavior doesn't exactly compel me to pack my bags and go to San Diego next year.

Truly a shame.

-Hen Da de Lao Wai said...

Isn't it wonderful when geeks show the world why we're stereotyped as emotionally stunted, socially inept assholes.

Not that I get harassed, but people like this being at cons is one of the reasons why I tend not to go.

John Seavey said...

Jeepers. I've never attended SDCC (DragonCon and GenCon, yes, but SDCC no), but I certainly hope that something changes about this. I'd never even thought about it, honestly; I just assumed that behavior like what you described would result in immediate ejection from the con. It's very sad to me that certain people just don't know how to behave in public, and I support measures to make sure that things like this don't happen again.

Jeff said...

Have you raised this issue with the comic-con organizers.

If not, you should, for their benefit. They are liable for anything that happens on the convention floor and any one of these girls could have a law suit based on what you've reported in your blog. It wouldn't be hard to prove tortious indifference.

Anonymous said...

I know Animazement in Raleigh has a zero-tolerance for that, though it's not enforced that often. (Usually it's girls doing it to guys with glomping) Glomping isn't AS bad as those stories though.

Personally, I think you need a zero-tolerance policy, throw a few bums out, and the message will get out quickly.

SallyP said...

Thank you, John, and thank you Bully. I've never been to a big convention, but I've been to smaller shows, and yes, I've been leered at and pinched. It is embarrassing and infuriating. The boys think it is funny, and the mob-like atmosphere just encourages them.

It WOULD be nice to have an official policy.

Unknown said...

Hi Bully. FWIW I reposted this at my own LJ, here. Thanks.

Rae said...

Thank you for posting this.

I had my own creepy encounter at SDCC, but nothing on the scale that you've described. The cavalier and entitled attitude many con-goers seem to have toward harassment, and the lack of clear policies or guidelines for responding to it, bloody disgusts me.

AKASashimi said...

I agree with what you say. A lot of males who attend these things don't realize that girls are not the same as the characters in the comic books and are not their simply for their sexual amusement. The guys need to learn the difference between a real girl and a fictional character and comicon needs to insure the safety of the female inhabitants.

bellatrys said...

A sincere "thank you" for being part of the solution.

Jennifer deG said...

I agree completely, John. This is the kind of thing that happens to women a lot in crowded places. When it happens at comics conventions it just adds to the feeling that comics culture is not a safe place for women.

Did you contact anyone higher up the chain at Comic-Con? Just talking to private security and volunteers won't get the message to the people who need to hear it. I know both Fae Desmond, who runs the whole convention, and David Glanzer, the public relations director, and they are great people who are very concerned about this kind of thing. I told David earlier about a fake Comic-Con MySpace page that was posting pictures of women under the caption "hot chicks who like comics and geeks" and he took immediate action to get it taken down.

-Jennifer de Guzman

Mary Sue said...

Thank you for saying this. One of the reasons I do not attend conventions as much as I'd like is that I typically travel alone. While I am a fat, older woman and therefore less likely to be targeted for harrassment, the few incidents I have experienced ranged from annoying to that-guy's -lucky-I-didn't-break-his -arm, because I was sure trying. I always consider my wardrobe carefully before I do attend a convention, and I will no longer wear low-cut shirts (the almost-broke-arm incident was when some 'gentleman' stuffed his hand down the front of my v-neck shirt. Ten years of martial arts training and an elbow lock later, he was on the floor crying).

Anecdotal, but I fear it's a telling anecdote. My godbrother is heavily into cosplay and therefore attends way more cons than I could even afford to (aw, youth. It's adorable). He informed me that the volunteer security at some smaller con in California kept getting complaints about harrassment and even violent attacks from female con-goers. So many complaints, in fact that these (volunteer, mind you) security guys put up a sign at their booth that said "Pics or it didn't happen." My godbrother did not understand why that horrified me so much.

Anonymous said...

Apparently my post posted. I was asking if I could/you'd like me to repost this on my blog to spread the word. Or would you rather I link folks back to here? I helped run a small con back in the '90s and even we had a harrassment policy; I'm shocked the SDCC doesn't.

Jonathan Miller

Dan said...

Just adding my voice to the chorus of those saying thanks for saying it. It's really despicable that an event as major as SDCC doesn't have a clearly-stated Zero Tolerance policy for things like this.

paperghost said...

It's heartening to see that "links to this post" section keep filling up, isn't it?

Eric Reynolds said...

When I was a teenager I worked in a comic book shop. My girlfriend would hang sometimes on the slow days. She routinely would suffer strange behavior from male customers that we thought was weird and a little creepy but in hindsight was probably grounds for harassment. John's anecdotes sadly come as no surprise.

Julia said...

WisCon has some policies which might be helpful.

There is general information about accessibility, which in the bottom part has information on adjusting attitudes towards people with disabilities.

Also from the pocket program.
Behavior, Public

Members should respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. WisCon does not tolerate harassment of any kind.

If you are being harassed and would like support in dealing with it, report the incident to a member of our safety team or ask a concom member for help. You will be able to recognize members of the safety team because they will be wearing colorfully decorated safety vests while on duty. WisCon reserves the right to revoke membership without refund for violation of convention policies.

The pocket program is not currently online, but you can e-mail the concom to get a copy of the PDF.

Arisia (a Boston con) also has one
General Demeanor— Common Sense Required

Arisia expects its members to respect each other and behave in a generally civilized fashion. Members should respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. If you wouldn’t do it at home, please don't do it here.

Please report to the convention committee any incidents in which a member of the convention is abusive, insulting, intimidating, bothersome, or acting in an unsafe or illegal manner. Arisia reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership of anyone for just cause. Persons violating the law may be turned over to the police or the hotel security force.


Program participants and event coordinators are responsible for the comfort and safety of convention members in their areas. Disruptive behavior by children or adults is not acceptable, and any actions disturbing to attendees may result in a request to leave.

notintheface said...

It's like a certain Caped Crusader would say: Jerks like that don't need a reason to harass women and behave like barbarians. What the need is somebody to give them a reason NOT TO. Comic-Con needs to BE that somebody.

Bill D. said...

John, I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to post this on my blog, too.

It's a message that needs to be repeated until it's heard by the right people.

~D.Puck' said...

Your comments have been duly noted and a link to your blog has been listed on my own blog space today. Let's hope this situation can be corrected right away.

Unknown said...

I am shocked that SDCC doesn't have any sort of official harassment policy. *Many* other cons do, either explicitly as such, or as part of a broader "unacceptable behavior" policy. I'm mostly familiar with anime/manga cons, though--maybe comic conventions are more behind the times?

CLM said...

How dreadful! I am glad you are speaking up.

Thanks for my books!

KPhoebe said...

Hi John,

Thanks for writing this. I crossposted here:

Anonymous said...

I've made my post on my blog:

And my friend Geoffrey D. Wessel has posted on his:

Sorry, I couldn't get the "add a link" to work. If you could add us to the roll, I'd appreciate it.

Sybille Neumann said...

Thanks for taking position.

Made a post in German here:
with reference to your blog.

I hope there will be more awareness for those kind of problems.

desembrey said...

In every walk of life there are some people who will fail to respect the social conventions, be it guys who pinch a ghostbuster girls bottom or people on buses who haven't bathed in weeks. How do you deal with it? The first step in any offensive situation is to simply say "this is not acceptable".

If the situation is one of assault as a couple of the anecdotes above describe, there are laws that apply and no guidance from the convention organisers will override those.

There is no justification for the vast majority of attendees to these events, who behave in a decent and honourable manner, to be subjected to further excessive security processes due to the actions of a barely measurable tiny minority.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more. The incidents you wrote about made me angry. Convention organizers should send a clear message that reasonable societal standards of human behavior also apply within the convention zone and that harrassment- and most especially nonconsensual touching- is absolutely unacceptable.

Sleestak said...

I added my couple cents and linked to your post.

Arlene C. Harris said...

this is precisely why I end up playing bodyguard at Comicon every year for my goddaughter and her friends who like to cosplay but do not like to be groped. And I have reported things I've seen and gotten good results.

Look out for each other. Step up and tell someone to knock it off, even if the person being bothered is not someone you know. Fanboys do not want to fight on the convention floor because you'll mess up their expensive loot; stand up to them and they will walk away. Take badge numbers and names. Report report report.

In short, it's a superhero convention. Be one.

ps: passing on the linkage...

Matt said...

John, thanks for posting this. I think it's well said and incredibly important.

Sea-of-Green said...

John --

Thank you very much for posting this. Sadly, this sort of thing has been going on in the fandom for many, many years, and for the most part we female fans have had to grin and bear it due to our protests falling on deaf (male) ears. It's nice to see a male fan actually take a public stance against this sort of unfortunate behavior. Here's hoping something will actually be done about it.

Thanks again, and hugs to Bully. :-)

Jodi said...

John & Bully-Thanks for posting this. It's a very important issue. I was one of the people who experienced the same person as #3. I also sort of had stalker who, while probably harmless, creeped out my booth mates on his many visits to see me when I happened to be away.

Donna Barr said...

ALL we girls have had that treatment at the Comicon. It's not just fans -- even self-proclaimed professionals act like that. How about a booth next year to report or deal with sexual harassment? Put together brochures on what to do if these incidents happen. I'll volunteer free illustrations right now. It won't be taken seriously until it's seriously acted upon (And be nice to the booth bimbos! These are hard-working actresses and models wearing very uncomfortable costumes. They are professional media workers, and not for grabbing; if they complain to their unions, SDCC will be in trouble. And very nice people.)

Steve Chaput said...

I was directed here via a link at Mark Evanier's site and have placed a link over on my own.

As I wrote in my blog, this type of behavior should not be tolerated. All of the fans, creators and staff at the SDCC should feel safe to go about the convention, without any type of harrassment.

Thanks for a well-written essay. Let's hope that some of the folks running the convention (and all the other cons around the country) take some action.

Steve Chaput said...

I meant to post a comment earlier when I linked to your page.

I attended my first convention in 1975 and have witnessed all types of behavior. You would think that as the number of female attendees have increased, as well as female guests and staffers, that policies would have long been established.

Personally, I have always had a good experience at SDCC, but I'm your typical white, male fanboy so I am probably not the target of certain jerks at these events.

Let's hope that your article, along with the links and many relevant posts on other blogs will get some action from San Diego and other conventions.

Cons are supposed to be safe & fun for everyone!

Anonymous said...

"I would like to see something like 'Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX.'"

That would be awesome - especially since it covers not only sexual harassment or violence but other kinds too.

"While I am a fat, older woman and therefore less likely to be targeted for harrassment"

OTOH, those of us who don't get targeted with "how dare you be female and not put out for me and all other guys equally" harassment can still be targeted with "how dare you be female and be ugly and be in my line of sight" harassment, whether at comic cons or anywhere else.

"He informed me that the volunteer security at some smaller con in California kept getting complaints about harrassment and even violent attacks from female con-goers. So many complaints, in fact that these (volunteer, mind you) security guys put up a sign at their booth that said 'Pics or it didn't happen.'"

That's practically siding with the harassment.

Unknown said...

Something that should be kept in mind for the future, once a set of consequences are set in place, is for the harasee to use their cell phone cameras as a tool. If they have somewhere to go with a complaint, I very much doubt they will be able, or want to, drag their attacker along there with them. So instead of going to the "authority" figures with nothing, snap a cell phone pic either casually, or be so sly to just ask the person if you could take one. "hey I like you costume can a take a pic," or something of that sort. Then take that to wherever the complaints are filed. Then at least the authorities will have a visual reference of the perp, instead of looking for a bad joker costume in a crowd of 150,000.

But then again none of this will work until conventions have policies in place to dictate and support consequences. Though do not underestimate the presence of police officers at these large conventions. They are there with a considerable presence, and are still meant to serve and protect despite it being Comic-Con or any other day of the year.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I've got nothing to say except yes-- SDCC needs to take a clear, firm stance on harassment right away.

Cassandra James said...

As a rather small-framed female comics fan who has been to a number of Cons before I can tell you that sometimes the experience is very nerve-wracking.
I was at a Con last year and doing random sketch commissions at a booth and the guy I was drawing for suddenly leapt out of his chair and kissed me. I was totally freaked out, I froze and didn't know what to do. Thankfully my fiance was behind me and said to the guy 'what are you doing?' and scared him a bit - but geez.

Hopefully the SDCC staff listen to these concerns and take action to try and prevent harrassment like this in the future.

Cassandra James said...

I have also posted a link here in my blog:

Anonymous said...

BTW, about this:

"When I was a teenager I worked in a comic book shop. My girlfriend would hang sometimes on the slow days. She routinely would suffer strange behavior from male customers that we thought was weird and a little creepy but in hindsight was probably grounds for harassment. John's anecdotes sadly come as no surprise."

That's really bad for business, especially when one can download scans of the comics instead.

Imagine how much more worse off bricks-and-mortar music stores would be, and how much more popular P2P music downloading would be, if music stores had a reputation for creepy and rude people hanging around.

Swinebread said...

WTF - I just don't understand this... I guess if there is no polciy some folks figure it OK... grrrr

reminds of when I was a kid and stalking wasn't a crime... that is until woman was murdered.

Anonymous said...

Here is a con that has some anti-harassment policies.

Anonymous said...

I was looking through your blog entry (and comments), and realized that I had not seen ONE mention of anti-gay rhetoric as an example of sexual harassment.

Surely, if making sexual advances toward someone verbally is regarded as sexually hostile, threatening, and something to be generally avoided, how can speech which belittles someone's sexuality and seeks to distance them through the use of (supposedly "dirty") epithets based upon sexual identity be excluded from the definition?

This form of sexual harassment extends well beyond the bounds of what your group may be comfortable with including. But believe me, every gay individual attending your conferences dies just a little when the word "gay" is used as in a negative, pejorative sense (i.e., "ewww, that's so gay!"). Every gay individual feels assaulted when homosexuality is regarded as a bad thing by a group.

Most minorities can generally be detected within a crowd, just by looking. I assure you, the gay population within your masses is invisible to you, and feels thrust outside the group by negative mentions of their sexuality just as strongly as the females do when the males make unwanted sexual advances. Both actions serve to create an "other" which can be treated as an object unworthy of respect. Neither of them are correct, civilized behavior.

I do hope this may at least spark some conversation within your readership about this form of sexual harassment. It is largely invisible, it is widely tolerated (I have heard such language used ON STAGE by invited speakers without challenge), and it creates real wounds which do not quickly heal.