As of right now, well over a thousand people have read my #YesAllWomen post in the last forty-eight hours, and I’ve gotten more comments, tweets, and new connections than I have since the not a pretty girl series.
Sooooo I’m guessing I struck a chord.
The positive support I’ve received from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers is overwhelming. Seriously, I’m overwhelmed, I have a headache right now. People from Crypticon have reached out to me to talk about how they can make the con experience better. Other people have gotten in touch just to talk more about horror. And a lot of women have spoken up to say “Yeah. Yeah, that.”
The Crypticon folks in particular have been great, and I really want to highlight how responsive and communicative they’ve been. Staff members from both the con and the Biohazard party have gotten in touch, and I feel very positive about everyone’s commitment to making Crypticon a safe space. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how Crypticon clarifies their con policies next year — and I’m definitely looking forward to hearing who they’ll get for guests. Their programming was awesome and I expect will continue to be awesome; creepers can’t tarnish that.
With that out of the way: I worry a little that the larger point I was trying to make in that post got lost in the specific discussions of Crypticon and con harassment that ensued. I never wanted to point my finger at a specific con as if the con is the problem and a better harassment policy will cure all ills. I wanted to wave my arms at American culture and say “These things happened to me the same weekend a man tried to kill women for the crime of being women who weren’t having sex with him. Do you understand where I’m coming from now? Do you get why we’re scared? Do you see how much of my life and the life of every woman is affected by predatory men and a culture that refuses to empower women to say ‘no’?”
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.
That’s the thing. These aren’t issues that are isolated to a con, or a dance floor. I have been negged at cocktail parties. I have had drunk men try to pick me up on the street. I have had men order my smiles as part of their meals, not once, but multiple times. Oh man, like, a couple weeks ago, this guy at a farmer’s market I’m working at asked if I could come to the market all the time because I’m cuter than my male boss — this after offering me his wife’s cooking. Ghhkhhg.
And this is still not half what some of my friends have dealt with. I’m pretty sure it would take me more than one hand to count the number of women I know who have been physically grabbed or touched by strange men on the street, or at parties. Let alone the number of people I know — male and female both — who have dealt with things like workplace harassment, sexualized or violent online abuse, partner violence, and the many, many, many other ways that the messed-up power dynamics around sex and gender express themselves.
Men are all too frequently either encouraged to be predatory or just not discouraged from being predatory, and women are all too rarely given the tools they need to say “no.” This is why clear, public, no-nonsense harassment policies at places like conventions are important: the ever-more-ubiquitous “Cosplay Is Not Consent” posters, for instance, usually call out specific inappropriate actions like taking pictures without permission (discouraging predatory behavior) and explain how to report harassment if it happens (giving people the tools they need).
But it’s not just cons that need to change. It’s the whole culture. We need to teach people that their bodies belong to them and not to anyone else; we need to teach girls to say hard “no”s and we need to teach boys to hear them; we need more media that shows women as people, not fetish objects, and we need more conversations that deconstruct the toxic narratives we’ve learned and rebuild healthier ones. All of these things are hard, don’t get me wrong — complex and thorny and sometimes Sisyphean — but that shouldn’t stop us from doing them.
To borrow from myself on Facebook:
This is absolutely why I ended with a call for allies, because you’re right: there are men who are never going to listen to women. They may not ever listen to men, either, but at least the odds are slightly better. Patrick Stewart has a great quote about how no one listens to you unless you’re an old white man, so as an old white man that people listen to, he wants to make the world a better place. And are there problems with speaking for an underprivileged group, yes, do you run the risk of white savioring or mansplaining, yes. Is it still worthwhile as a member of a privileged group to learn how to use your privilege to help others, hell yes. And this particular situation is one where men have got to be part of the solution, since they’re the bulk of the problem.
So, yeah. Whenever I meet young dads of sons I want to pull them aside and say “please teach them that I’m a person and I’m not theirs, okay?” If we can’t change the current generation, it’s imperative we talk to the next one.
This isn’t just a conversation about cons. It’s about all of us, and how we can all contribute to a better culture.
What are you going to do?