ETA 6/4: Hey, I’ve written a follow-up post!
ETA2 6/4: Since this post was published Crypticon has put together a Code of Conduct prominently displayed on their home page, which is awesome. Thank you again to everyone who reached out, took my concerns seriously, and took immediate action.
I went to Crypticon 2014 to be creeped out, not to be creeped on.
Ugh, I sort of hate starting this post off like that, because in many ways I really enjoyed my first time at Crypticon. Elisa and I went primarily to meet the Soska Sisters, the directors of American Mary, a horror movie I highly recommend for people interested in female-centric horror and with a strong stomach. (There’s a graphic sequence of rape and several of graphic gore, surgery, and torture. Fun!) I was hoping to meet Doug Jones too, but timing didn’t work out. But we got to meet the twins, with Elisa dressed as American Mary herself, and they were incredible:
They were sweet, kind, and generous with their time, not to mention eloquent in their panel. Meeting them was inspirational in the best way.
We also attended a panel called “Is Horror Still a Boy’s Club?” hosted by the Horror Honeys. It was a panel I wish could have gone on for several more hours, covering everything from the sexism women face when creating horror works or writing about them, to the MPAA’s double standards about nudity and violence, to what makes a good rape revenge movie and what makes an exploitative one.
But Crypticon was not, frankly, a safe space for women, almost from moment one. Everyone knows that sci-fi and comics fandoms have a lot of entrenched sexism, but the horror genre takes it up a notch. In a panel of female horror artists, a panelist called another woman in the industry a four-letter gendered slur within minutes of the panel starting. In a panel on sexism in horror, men in the audience rapidly began taking over the conversation to make their voices heard over the four women on the dais.
It was not a safe space. Elisa asked the Horror Honeys and other panelists to talk about how to respond to men who say things like “but you like [x movie] with violence against women in it, so why can’t I like [y movie] with violence against women in it?” As one panelist began explaining that she thinks a rape scene crafted by a woman will have a better understanding of that act’s effects than a scene crafted by a man, one vocal male audience member interrupted to say, essentially, that that was sexist, that we couldn’t just write off men like that, that not all men—
“Or did you just prove my point?” Elisa said, and the room erupted into laughter and applause and a dude in a kilt in the back yelled “MIC DROP” and the male audience member got angry. “That’s a funny quip but it doesn’t actually mean anything!” he protested — almost yelled. He was mad.
Elisa and I hustled out of that panel, after stopping by the dais to thank the panelists for their conversation and apologize for starting an argument. The panelists were great, but it was not a safe space.
At the Prom of the Dead the Hilliard’s employee giving away free beer looked at Elisa and said, “You’re, like, my fantasy.” Later we were dancing on an otherwise empty dance floor and a young man came up to us and offered Elisa an open beer. When she declined, he said, “Oh, okay, so, either you think this guy you don’t know is offering you a beer and it could be roofied, in which case — smart, be safe — or you don’t drink.”
When it became abundantly clear that Elisa was not going to be receptive, he turned to me and started asking where I lived, where in Capitol Hill I go out to, why didn’t he know me, he knows everyone in Seattle, he has kind of a reputation for getting around, not sexually. The look on my face had to have been dubious, because he started changing tacks, admitting he had a tendency to ramble, talking about his friends, talking about how he’s really open and honest and sensitive and that’s really hard for a guy.”That’s rough, buddy,” I said, arms folded. (Elisa staggered off the floor muffling laughter at this point.) “It is!” he said. “When’s your birthday?” he said.
And I lied to him, because I didn’t want him to have ammunition of any kind. “January 2nd, believe it or not.” And my instincts were right, because he followed up with “What are you? I’m a Virgo.” Yes, he ACTUALLY ASKED ME “what’s your sign?” And I’m sorry, Anton, I lied again and said I don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff. (I’m a Libra, Anton. We’re water signs. I’m afraid you’d need to look elsewhere for the earth sign you were hoping for.) I feel confident that if I’d told the truth and said I was a Libra, said anything to indicate that I went through an astrology phase and was willing to discuss horoscopes and star signs, he’d have used it to try and get in my pants.
(Tangentially, it’s endlessly weird to me that at a genre convention, this guy felt like the best way to engage me was to talk about . . . himself. Astrology. Capitol Hill. I’m at a horror convention, dude, has it occurred to you that I might actually be interested in talking about, you know . . . horror? What’s my favorite horror movie? Do I think Vertigo is the best movie of all time? (Spoiler: I do not.) Vampires or werewolves?)
Unlike Erik the Red, Anton didn’t ever touch me or neg me, and he didn’t keep following us when we left the Prom to check out the other dance party, Biohazard. (I do have a vague memory of joking I’d punch him in the face of he said or did something, but I can’t recall the details now.) But at Biohazard, a photographer spent an entire song taking pictures of no one but Elisa dancing, and would have kept taking pictures of no one but her if she hadn’t told him to stop — and in spite of that, I’m half sure I saw him sneak a few more shots.
Maybe most egregious of all was the man who came up to the two of us while we were dancing and asked “Why are you two dancing alone?”
“Because we’re closed off,” Elisa said. “Because we’re radiating hostility,” I said. “Because we’re holding a bone saw and an axe.”
“Well, that’s just foreplay!”
We immediately turned our backs on him and ignored him for the rest if the night. This didn’t stop him from getting up close and trying to get us to dance with him. Is that scene clear in your head? Two small women in dresses, one with a plastic blood-splattered axe and one with a medical-grade bone saw, who have said out loud, with their words, “we’re hostile” — and a man with a considerably more imposing physical appearance continued to get into our space.
You know the problem with clubs and dance floors is that in any other context, turning your back to someone is read unequivocally as a rebuff. On the dance floor, there is always a very real and very scary possibility that it will be read as an invitation.
Crypticon has no harassment policy posted on its website that I could find. It did not, like Emerald City Comic Con, have clearly posted photography policies reminding attendees to ask permission before taking pictures. The atmosphere at these parties was not one of fans enjoying music and shared interests and dancing around, it was one of men looking to score with the freaky girls who like horror. It was not a safe space. And that kills me, because I’d love to go back — but I wouldn’t feel safe cosplaying, and I wouldn’t feel safe for my friend cosplaying, and I wouldn’t feel safe saying what I thought in a room full of men ready to yell at me for saying horror is sexist, for saying something as innocuous as “women have a different understanding of rape than men”.
I’m not writing this to say that Crypticon should have a blanket “don’t hit on women” policy or something. I don’t blame the con staff for men on a dance floor acting the way men at every club I’ve ever been to act. I do wish they’d had a clear harassment policy; it might have made me feel more confident in dealing with the creepers, with the guys taking pictures of us across the dance floor. It would have made me feel less like I needed to leave the room to avoid Anton; it would have made me feel safer leaving my friend friend when I went to the bathroom. But you know, at Emerald City, a con with a very clear harassment policy and a great atmosphere, there were still men creeping on my friends in skin-tight cosplay, or being jerks to female fans. They had to be more subtle, maybe, but creeps gonna creep. So I’m not writing this post to call out Crypticon’s staff.
While I sit here writing this, a TV is playing CNN behind me and a crowd of talking heads are wondering what could have stopped the killings at UCSB this weekend. All over the internet this weekend, women have been sharing stories about saying no and not being heard, or being pressured to say yes, about harassment and assault and sexism and fear. And yet CNN’s banner reads “Was this shooting an act of terror?” Like that’s a question that needs to be asked about a mass killing by an ideologically motivated person.
Does it not count as terror if you’re not frightened, only on alert, every day of your life? Does it not count as terror when the actual physical presence of a weapon and the words “we’re hostile” aren’t enough to keep someone away? Is it not terror when I wonder if this boy will take my “no” and use it to prove I deserve to die? Is there no war on women, when my female friends and I plan our routes through a party using the Moscow Rules, when we put ourselves between friends and men’s attention like soldiers taking fire for their buddies, when a man jokes about drugging us and has no reason to think that’s going to hurt his chances?
It makes me tired. And sad, and angry, and mostly tired. I’m just one small bespectacled hipster lady, and the last time I wasn’t aware of how dangerous the world is, I was eleven years old; by the time I was twelve and dreaming of acting on Broadway, I was asking for karate lessons because I figured if I was going to live in a big city like New York, I should know how to defend myself.
But it doesn’t make me hopeless. I won’t let it. Because there are men out there like Genuinely Good Guy Greg, as we dubbed him, who joined in the conversation Elisa and I were having about how American Mary and Bates Motel framed their rape scenes, who wanted to listen to us and engage with us without telling us we were wrong and never tried to ask for more time with us than we showed we were willing to spend. Because Crypticon is aware enough of the problems in the genre to address them in panels, to invite female guests and showcase female artists. Because the Soska Sisters are making movies for the WWE, because Peggy Carter is getting her own series, because people are listening to Laverne Cox, because DreamWorks is doing an animated movie with a black female lead, because male feminists like my friend Izzy and the guy in the utilikilt with the killer dance moves are out there.
Because you’re reading this blog, and I think that’s important. I think you and I can change things. I think you can tell men “stop hassling her,” you can learn to listen instead of just waiting for your turn to speak, you can start a conversation instead of a conquest, you can think about why women say “all men” if really not all men are like that, you can boost the signal, you can put flowers in the rifle barrels and defuse grenades and help us instead of killing us.
It doesn’t make me hopeless, because if I give up hope, the terrorists win.
I will not be bullied into silence by men with guns and people who agree with them. I am a little woman, but I’ve got a big voice — and a black belt — and also an axe. Even if it’s only plastic.
Coda: Santa Barbara isn’t the only city mourning after a hate crime this weekend. A gunman in Brussels killed four people at a Jewish museum. Please keep their families in your thoughts, too.
If you want to read more of my (more cheerful) thoughts on horror and feminism, check out A Feminist’s Horror Film Marathon.
If you want to read more of my posts on pick-up artists and street harassment, I’ve got you covered. If you want to read someone else’s posts on the UCSB shootings, misogyny, feminism, etc, I highly recommend We Hunted the Mammoth (formerly Manboobz).