I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and trying to sync up our con schedules. I asked if she’d be selling her art at a certain convention we’ve met up at in the past. “I’m not going to that one anymore,” she said.
Curious, I asked why. She said there are a couple guys at that convention who make her uncomfortable, who follow her around and won’t leave her alone, who on at least one occasion followed her back to her room. “Why didn’t you report that to staff?” I asked, horrified.
“They were staff,” she said.
If you recognize yourself in this story, congratulations. You’ve successfully discouraged an artist from coming to your convention. If your immediate reaction to this is “she over-reacted” or “I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm, they were just trying to get to know her,” then you need to re-think your mindset. It is not a woman’s job to divine whether your clumsy, harassing behavior means harm or not. It is your job to understand social cues, to err on the side of caution, and if a woman is not expressing interest, or has explicitly told you to go away, then go the fuck away and leave her alone. I don’t care if you think you’re in love and she’s the only person you can imagine yourself being with. I don’t care if she let you hug her once. If you can’t act like a reasonable fucking human being around her, then get lost. Reasonable human beings, FYI, are not characters from romantic comedies or sitcoms who persist charmingly in the face of rejection after rejection. Reasonable human beings regard other human beings as people with feelings, not a receptacle for your affection or an audience to show how awesome you are. Reasonable human beings don’t stand around someone who is clearly ignoring them for hours on end, or try to touch them when they’ve made it clear that the touching is not welcome. Reasonable human beings don’t follow people back to their hotel rooms without being invited (in what, the hope that “hey, if I’m just standing out in the hall maybe she’ll invite me in!”?).
If your reaction to the above story is, “that’s an isolated incident,” then sit down.
I know (secondhand) of a woman who reported harrassment to a furry convention staffer, only to be told that she was the problem.
I know women who have left furry convention parties because the same guy or guys kept brushing up against them or contriving to be near them.
I know women who have had furries stand at their dealer table for hours, or even come around it uninvited, invading their personal space without asking (or with a cursory “do you mind if I come around?” as they are in the act of doing so).
I also know of one case where harassment was reported to a furry con and handled appropriately, so score at least one for the cons.
The above are just the stories I have heard casually from knowing a good number of women who attend furry conventions. And the part that is almost as bad as all these things happening is that the women involved often don’t feel comfortable enough to do anything about it, especially if they’re younger artists or new to the fandom.
“I don’t want to make waves.”
“I don’t want to be labeled as ‘one of those bitches who complains.'”
“It’s easier just to leave.”
If you look at the code of conduct on many furry convention websites, you’ll find something close to this (this one is taken from the RainFurrest site specifically):
Harassment and Assault
Harassment is defined as any behavior that intentionally annoys or alarms another person. This includes making any unwanted physical contact, following someone around a public area without a legitimate reason, or threatening to physically attack someone. Please remember that if you approach someone and they tell you “no” or to leave them alone, your business with them is done. If you do not leave them alone as they have requested, your actions may be grounds for a complaint of harassment. If you feel that you are being harassed, or you have been assaulted, please report the matter immediately to event security.
Kudos to the cons for including this. It’s a great first step. But I’d like to see convention staff (not just event security–some conventions do do this) also educated in how to deal with a harassment report. I’d like to see dealer room staff specifically asked to keep an eye on tables and offer to help in situations that look awkward–like if the same guy has been hovering over an artist for hours. Artists/dealers are perfectly free to say “No, no, it’s cool,” and maybe you’d make your dealer room a place where they feel a little bit safer.
Most of all, though, I’d like to see furries be aware of how we treat each other, and specifically the women in our fandom, so that nobody ever has to report anything under these policies. Guys, I know that sometimes dealing with other people in a big convention setting feels as complicated as rocket science. I know it sucks when there’s someone you just want to hang out with because they’re cool and you can’t figure out how to be one of the friends they’re always spending time with, especially when it’s a woman you’re attracted to. I know that a lot of furries are isolated in their non-convention lives, that we are in general very worried about our social skills, that sometimes you can’t tell whether you’re causing a problem. I think many furries who are guilty of harassing behavior don’t intend it to be harassing (but I’m an optimist). None of this changes the fact that that behavior makes other people feel uncomfortable and even threatened. Maybe, you say, it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be part of a society that views men’s actions toward women in a threatening light. Well, neither did the women ask to be part of a society where they have to view men–all men–as potential threats(*). We’re all living together and we have to deal with it, and dealing with it means understanding these baseline realities and showing consideration for each other.
(*) Read some of the #YesAllWomen posts going around on Twitter this week–yes, that was partly the inspiration for this post–and the blog posts they link to. One of the ones that affected me most was a guy talking about a class he’d taken on sexual assault where the instructor asked the men, “What do you do on a daily basis to keep yourself safe from sexual assault?” After nobody answered, he said, “Okay, women, what do YOU do on a daily basis to keep yourself safe from sexual assault?” The answers filled his blackboard.
So what can we do? Well, first off, be aware of your actions and those of others. Being gay (as I suspect many of my readers are) is not an automatic pass; one of the situations I mentioned above involves a definitely gay man who nonetheless was the harasser. Probably unintentionally, but as I said above, it is your job to be aware of how your actions affect others (and not just women, of course). But also, if you hear about harassment going on, call it out. If you see what looks like an uncomfortable situation, don’t be afraid to step in and see if everything’s okay (how to do this is a whole other post, but if this is an artist in the dealer room, you can at least break up a situation by asking about the merch on the table and pulling the artist out of whatever other conversation is going on).
If your friends include women in the fandom, ask them what you can do to help. Some of them might not want your help. Some might ask you just to keep an eye out for them. Some might point out specific people that they have a problem with. I guarantee you that none of them will be upset at you for asking to help.
If you are part of a convention staff, make sure everyone knows what to do if harassment is reported, and take harassment claims seriously.
If someone has the courage to tell you that you’re making them uncomfortable, stop what you’re doing, apologize, and go away. Don’t get mad at THEM for telling you. (And don’t follow them around the convention insisting that they accept your apology–this is also harassment, cf. ReaderCon 2012.)
And talk to people about it. A lot of this harassment continues because nobody wants to speak up. We’re all part of the same fandom, men and women, and we want our fandom and our conventions to be places where everyone can have a good time and feel safe. We do not want them to be places people avoid because they’re afraid of what might happen there.