15 Reasons We Still Need Feminism in 2015

“Why do we still need feminism in 2015?” someone asked me on Twitter recently. “What has it done lately?”

I actually did a double-take at the question. To me, the answer was obvious—it addresses important issues that affect people I care about, and it takes on problems both subtle and glaring that persist even when legal equality has largely been achieved.

I’ve spent years listening and reading, and those experiences have created a lens through which I tend to view social issues. For me, social consciousness is a learning process I’m continually undergoing, as part of a general broader goal of having empathy for other people, and maybe in the end, understanding the human condition a little better.

I do this partly because I’m a writer—and the better you understand other people, the better characters you write. But I also want to do what I can to make the world a better place—and the better I understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, the better equipped I am to do that, regardless of whether I agree with them on all the details of how the world works or not.

But to try distill all this—both the concrete and abstract—into a few blurbs on Twitter seemed impossible. Naturally, my conversational adversary took my silence as an admission of defeat.

So I wrote this list—15 Reasons We Still Need Feminism in 2015. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, nor it is ranked in order of importance, nor does it necessarily even include the most important ones. What it’s meant to be is 15 real-life issues—social, political, economic, educational—that feminism still has a role in helping to address in the modern world. (This is directed at the Western world, particularly America; international women’s rights is a much bigger topic, but for this I particularly wanted to address things that Americans still encounter in daily life.)

Obviously, with 15 items, these aren’t comprehensive discussions—talking about these problems in depth, with side effects, solutions, and ramifications, would require far more than a few thousand words. Indeed, many stories, articles, and dissertations’ worth have already been written. But next time someone asks me (in good faith or not), why feminism is needed in 2015, well, here are a few reasons to start with. You may agree with some or all of them– or you may think I’ve left out some big ones– but it’s a start.

1) The United States is the Only Developed Country with No Paid Maternity Leave

Every developed country in the world— and many developing countries, too– mandate paid leave for new mothers. That is of course, except for the United States. In the U.S., only unpaid maternity leave is guaranteed by law, and there are several large exceptions to even that. For example, women in corporations with less than 50 employees, or who work part-time, are not guaranteed any paid leave at all by federal law.

Paid paternity leave is also a thing in many countries, to allow fathers to bond with their children and help support mothers as they recover from the physical ordeal of childbirth– but once again, not in the United States.

2) Too Many Clueless Men Still Try to Control Women’s Health Care

Just a few days ago, an Idaho lawmaker made the news when he asked if women could swallow a camera to perform a gynecological exam remotely. This man sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center, and moreover, helps set the laws governing how and when women can receive health care for an entire state.

Across states and across the country, lawmakers (predominantly male) are ignoring science and setting destructive policies that hurt women’s access to health care solely in order to appeal to a reactionary part of their constituency. Government shouldn’t impose itself between a patient and a doctor– unless that patient is a woman, apparently.

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, which devote a huge chunk of their resources to providing health care of all kinds, are targetted by conservatives because they happen to also provide abortions.

Were “pro life” forces sincerely interested in decreasing abortions, you’d think they might educate teenagers on safe sex (see #10) or focus on the improving the plight of single parents (see #14). Instead, their entire focus is on preventing women from having access to safe, legal abortions, even allowing religious belief to trump factual science in the name of decreasing women’s access to health care. Could it perhaps because their concerns are motivated by base politics rather than any sort of sincere altruistic belief toward either woman or baby? Perish the thought, surely.

3) Women Still Make Less Money than Men at the Same Jobs

The reasons for this are many and complex, but the White House estimates that women make 77 cents on the dollar to men for comparable work. The Pew Research Center pegs that estimate higher– at 84 cents on the dollar— but the gender wage gap is nevertheless present. The statistics also vary by race– while Asian-American women make about 90 cents on the dollar, the figure is 64 cents for African-American women, and 56 cents for Latinas.

Some of the factors at play include that women are more likely to take time off or interrupt their careers for children (see #14). Women may also be more reluctant than men to negotiate hard for salary benefits, for fear of being seen as pushy (see #11; it’s worth noting that conflicts over salary are cited as part of the reason Jill Abramson was fired.) In addition,  not only are women often discouraged from asking for raises, but doing so is more likely to have negative repercussions for women.

4) There is Still an Unconscious Bias Against Women in Math and Science

From elementary school through college, there is an unconscious bias exhibited by both men and women against female students and job applicants, probably because these are thought of as traditionally “male” fields. When tests and applications are made anonymous, women score higher than they did if the reviewer knew their gender.

This is deeply embedded in our culture, too. How often, when a man does something particularly nerdy or geeky, whether it be something scientifically brilliant or something rooted in geek pop-culture, is the joke made that he doesn’t have a girlfriend, or is obviously a virgin? As though girls could never find those things interesting? I know plenty of geek girls who would say otherwise.

5) Women are Drastically Under-Represented in STEM Fields

Being discouraged from science and math in their early years often means that when I.T. firms (and other firms looking to fill high-paying jobs in STEM fields) go looking for applicants, there are far more male applicants than female. Moreover, the unconscious bias from #4 doesn’t just disappear as students enter the workforce– it continues to persist, not just in applications and hiring but in corporate culture as well.

This one hits home for me because I’ve seen it play out in my own experiences in the I.T. field. In my department doing software support at a Seattle-area company, our department had 18 people– 1 of whom was female. She was an incredibly skilled and dedicated worker, but often underappreciated– she was often hit on by tech workers and salespeople. Moreover, in meetings, she sometimes felt shunned by higher ups, who would ignore her and talk to her male co-workers even when she was the lead on the project being discussed.

Unfortunately, this bias in corporate culture also serves to drive women away from the field, so as a result this problem tends to be self-perpetuating. The only way to fix it is to be aware of it, and make conscious effort to overcome the unconscious problem.

6) Men’s Voices are for Everybody; Women’s Voices are for Women

Shannon Hale is a New York Times-bestselling author. She’s written over a dozen children’s book and young adult novels; she’s co-written several graphic novels, and one of her books has been turned into a motion picture starring Keri Russell.

Sometimes, when she visits a school, the girls are given permission to skip class to see her, but the boys are not. Why? Because apparently her books are seen “girly.” Boys can’t enjoy a book that has “Princess” in the title or is written by a woman, right?

See this Storify for the full story, as told by Hale herself, as well as some of the reactions from other authors.

When we police content by gender like this, we do a disservice both to the women authors who are excluded from a big chunk of their potential audience, as well as the boys who are told that they should only like certain kinds of stories. Girls get to read all kinds of stories, but boys only get to read stories that are judged “manly” enough by their parents, teachers, and peers.

This is a problem, not just because it marginalizes female authors, but because it contributes to the issue of toxic masculinity that I blogged about in my previous post. We need to do a better job raising and educating both boys and girls, and this shit isn’t helping.

7) Men Outnumber Women in Congress by over 4 to 1, and as CEOs by almost 20 to 1.

In the current Congress, there are 104 women out of 535 members, for a ratio of 18.5%. 26 women lead Fortune 500 companies, for an even lower rate of 5.2%. There has never been a woman president in the United States, though that may change in 2016.

There seem to be various reasons for this-– some of them are undoubtedly related to #11. But there is still a bias against women speaking up and taking leadership positions in the workplace, at least partially related to the fact that women who do so are breaking our preconceived unconscious notions of how women “typically” behave. As the linked article states, hopefully this will be overcome as we have more women role models.

8) Women are Still Seen as a Separate Niche Market, Rather than Half the Population

Instances like this are all too common, in which the default is assumed to be “male” while girls and women are seen as a special subcategory that must be catered to separately.

Toys like Legos have become increasingly gendered, apparently supported by marketing research, but even children have noticed and complainedPeggy Orenstein wrote an excellent NYT Op-Ed in which she acknowledges the differences in play that have been found between men and women, but goes on to warn about mixing up nature and nurture. Playing into gender stereotypes from such a young age can have long-term consequences (see #4, 5).

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine.

In other words, by shoehorning children into such specific and culturally constructed stereotypes right from an early age, we’re denying them agency, likely with lifelong repercussions. And this is just all the more likely to exacerbate #s 4, 5, 9, and 11. (And most of the others, too.)

9) In Reality and Media, Women are Still Seen as Prizes to be Won, rather than People.

This has destructive effects on both men and women.

For women, it takes away their humanity and turns them into objects– not people to be interacted with, but prizes to be won– or perhaps even worse, prey to be duped and tricked into bed. The “pick up artist” industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Men, in turn, are encouraged to weigh their self-esteem based on how many women they’ve been able to bed; how “virile” they are. For men who are late bloomers sexually, or who suffer from depression, or who are just natural loners, the effects can be incredibly toxic. I’ve blogged about more than once.

The alternative (treating women as people worthy of respect, rather than merely trying to get them into bed) is not only healthier for everyone involved in terms of self-esteem, it leads to healthier sexual attitudes, and happier people in general.

10) The Taboo on Sexual Education Means Kids Don’t Learn What They Need to About Sex—or Learn it From the Wrong Places.

In states across the country, schools are discouraged from teaching anything other than “abstinence only” sexual education. This is despite the fact that study after study shows that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior, and that comprehensive sex ed is more effective at preventing teen pregnancy than abstinence alone.

In fact, the societal taboo about having open discussions about sex is so strong that even parents find it awkward, and so children and teenagers may instead learn about it from media, the Internet, and their peers.

Imagine if we had nationwide sexual education that included not just a comprehensive discussion on safe sex and contraceptives, but larger issues such as respect, consent, boundaries, and “no means no” (or even better, “yes means yes”). We could not only help decrease teen pregnancy but perhaps encourage healthier sexual attitudes among Americans of all ages.

This is an issue for both boys and girls, but it’s particularly a feminist issue because of the disparate impact that teen pregnancies have on girls. (See also: #1, 2, 14)

11) Strong Men are Seen as Assertive Leaders; Strong Women are Seen as Divisive and Bitchy.

Because strength, assertiveness, and decisiveness are often seen as “masculine” attributes, women who exhibit these tendencies are often seen as unfeminine at best, or stubborn, condescending, and bitchy at worst. When people break gender stereotypes, it makes people uncomfortable, consciously or not– and that has a detrimental effect on women entering all sorts of leadership and/or high-paying roles.

A very visible recent example of this was Jill Abramson’s tenure as managing editor of the New York Times. Her editorial decisions were praised, as were her skills and effectiveness (the paper won multiple Pulitzers during her tenure), but Politico published a piece extremely critical of her tenure, in which anonymous sources criticized her tone and her brusqueness. (The few non-anonymous sources actually contradicted the thrust of the article.) Here’s a brief sum-up of some of the reactions and problems with that piece.

Unfortunately, because we live in a world where women in leadership positions continues to be a rare thing (and often discouraged, both consciously and unconsciously), women who do make it to the top ranks may actually be more domineering and brusque than their male counterparts (or at least have that side to their personality), simply because they have to shout louder to be heard. But male leaders are given leeway in the personality department that women often do not have.

12) Sexual Harassment is Still Widespread, and too Often Excused with Some Form of “Boys will be Boys.”

There are so many different aspects to this problem it’s hard to know where to begin, For a start,witness the huge debate over the catcalling video that went viral last year. But the outcry was often less about the pervasive nature of street harassment and more about how supposedly men aren’t even allowed to say hi to women anymore.

These responses usually ignored the context of the comments. Even if some women are flattered by it, many more find it annoying or even frightening, and sometimes there’s an all-too-thin line between catcalling and physical harassment. In a world where men are taught to link their self-respect to their success with women (see #9), street harassment can turn to physical violence, or worse, all too easy. Too often men think they’re entitled to women’s attention, and react angrily when such attention is denied. Street harassment is a big issue– and while a small minority of men engage in it, a vast majority of women will experience it.

But catcalling is hardly the worst problem. According to some statistics, one in six American women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape sometime during their lifetimes. And yet rape is still possibly the only crime in which the victim will suffer as much, if not more, scrutiny than the perpetrator; what was she wearing? How drunk was she?

In cases of burglary and robbery, it doesn’t matter how easy it was to break into the victim’s home or car; it’s still a crime. In cases of physical assault or mugging, it doesn’t matter if the victim was walking down a dark street at 1 am; it’s still a crime. Unfortunately, that same mindset doesn’t apply to prosecution of sexual harassment cases. Is it any wonder such crimes are still drastically underreported?

Part of the problem is that sexuality is still often portrayed in culture and media with some sort of predator/prey vibe, like one party is the hunter or pursuer, and the other is the prize or target that tries to get away, resulting in some delightful romantic chase and amusing hijinks… rather than, y’know, stalking charges. (Here’s a thoughtful video in which Hank Green expounds on this topic far better than me.) This dynamic hurts women by taking away their own sexual agency– by making them an object to be desired rather than a person with desires themselves– and it insults men by implying that they’re more or less animals who can’t actually control their own behavior. “Boys will be boys,” the refrain goes, or “that’s how just how men are.” I find this shirking of personal responsibility incredibly distasteful– own your own behavior, people.

It doesn’t help that we really don’t talk about these topics with kids and teenagers (see #10), thus making them have to infer proper behavior from popular media and their peers.

13) Because Facing Graphic, even Violent Gendered Harassment Online is Still Seen as “Normal.”

An increasing proportion of our lives are conducted in the online world. Social media and an online presence are vital for business and networking. And of course, an increasing number of our hobbies are online– video games, for example.

But for women who are outspoken online, graphic rape and death threats are all too common. And for every one person who actually posts horrible shit, there seem to be another ten who excuse it with “this is just what happens,” as though the fact that it happens is a valid excuse for it. And while both men and women can face harassment online, the harassment women face is often uber-violent, laced with physical or sexual violence, and especially designed to intimidate and threaten.

Like the line between catcalling and physical harassment, the line between online harassment and real world harassment is blurry, especially here in 2015, where the two worlds are increasingly interlinked– doubly so for women in tech. (See #5)

Even women who merely go online for entertainment, not business, face some appalling behavior. Another example arose just a few days ago, Curt Schilling’s daughter was the target of some abysmal harassment, and she didn’t even make the post that started it. Those people, at least, faced consequences, but not everyone is as visible or powerful as Curt Schilling, and most don’t have the power or ability to see their harassers brought to justice.

Such harassment cannot merely become “the way things are online”, or too many important voices will be driven off the Internet, and possibly out of tech entirely.

14) Because Mothers Don’t Get Enough Respect and Support.

America’s social programs are in disrepair, thanks largely to the same clueless idiots responsible for #1 and #2. Single parents of all genders are affected by this, but women disproportionately so. The costs of daycare, education, etc. are all through the roof, with few options for people who are financially disadvantaged except to accrue staggering levels of debt.

Moreover, even outside government programs, there is sometimes a bias against mothers in the workplace. from both women and men. And the difficulties of being a mother in the workplace are often cited as one reason women are paid less than men (see #3)– even if those difficulties don’t affect the employee’s performance. Merely being a working mother is often enough for companies or employers to lower their offered salary.

15) Because Transgender Women Still Have a Long Way to Go.

Transgender women still lag far behind other women in terms of legal rights, as well as the conscious and unconscious biases they face in larger culture. In many places, someone can still be fired for merely being transgender. On top of the legal bias, transgender people face drastically increased rates of suicide and physical violence.

Additionally, they face a great deal of mockery from folks who seemingly refuse to recognize them as a class of people at all—probably none of whom have ever had a conversation with a transgender person in real life. (Either that, or they’re sociopaths, given the stunning lack of empathy required here. It’s much easier to dehumanize people who you have no experience with.) I hadn’t met any transgender folks more than briefly before I moved to Seattle, but now I am pleased to be friends with many folks occupying places all along the gender spectrum. To acknowledge the humanity of these people is not being “politically correct,” it’s just not being a complete asshole to other people. The fact that this is still in dispute, on its own, is enough to make me a strident feminist.

16 (BONUS): Because Equal Rights Does not Mean Equality.

Over the past century, women have increasingly gained legal rights—the right to vote, the right to not be fired for their gender (although the continued lack of paid maternity leave makes this questionable), and in 2009, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed.

But even if equal legal rights are ensured, the idea that the legacy of economic and cultural oppression merely goes away with the signing of a pen is laughable. Regardless of whether you agree on the nature of that legacy or not, it is still something that needs to be considered and studied—and feminism plays an important role in that. Even if we could wave a hand and do away with blatant sexism, unconscious sexism—both on a cultural and a personal level—continues to exist.

Slavery ended 152 years ago, and segregation was outlawed 51 years ago, but the legacy of oppression is still very much real in the African-American community, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of African-American families still in poverty. This sort of damage is lasting, and doesn’t go away the minute legal equality is realized—and while it may not necessarily affect all members of the community (at least not in the same way), the effects are certainly noticeable in larger trends. And to simply ignore those trends with a wave of the hand and a “you’re on your own, figure your own shit out now” is not only callous, but ignores the reality that we all live in the same world.

It should be noted that equality improves society for everyone– almost all the problems I’ve talked about here, which women face, will help men too if we address them. Single fathers face many of the same issues as single mothers. Transgender men face many of the same issues as transgender women. Both boys and girls suffer from the consequences of growing up in a society where we rigidly enforce sexual taboos and gender stereotypes, and shutting women out of STEM careers means that the entire world is deprived of new voices, ideas, and solutions. Gendered career stereotypes hurts everyone– we could certainly use more men in the nursing and teaching fields, for example.

You’ll also notice how many of the reasons are linked, how some factors into and influence others, creating larger overall systems of bias and oppression that need to be dismantled. (That overall system, and the way it affects us both consciously and unconsciously, is often termed “Patriarchy”, despite the fact, as mentioned above, that it hurts both men and women.)

So that’s my list. 15 seems like a lot, but it’s barely beginning to scratch the surface. It took me about a week to write this, but merely by staying plugged into the news, every day I saw 2 or 3 new articles and incidents that could have been fodder for this article. (Some I added, some I didn’t.) What did I leave out? What do you think is the most important reason we still need feminism?

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He Lived Long, and Prospered

I was at the annual Rainforest Writers Retreat, writing in the lounge this morning, when K.C. Ball walked in and announced that Leonard Nimoy had passed away.

I was probably about 7 years old when I first saw a Star Trek movie. I remember my Aunt was a big science fiction fan, and she thought I would love it, so one evening while she was over, the family watched Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t the strongest introduction to the world of sci-fi that I could have had, but it worked. I can’t remember whether I enjoyed the movie or not, but it definitely planted a seed.

That movie was my introduction to Star Trek, and by extension, science fiction and the world of geekdom. So when I’d heard that Leonard Nimoy passed away, it hit me harder than I expected. I thought about my life, and all the other lives he’d helped to change. Particularly for those of us who didn’t always mesh well with the rest of humanity—because we were shy, or socially awkward, or saw the world differently than our peers—Spock was kind of a reassurance that there was a place for us.

More than any other crew member, Spock adhered to his personal values– and even if he occasionally (rarely) went astray, he recovered. In a way, he was also the conscience of the Star Trek crew—when the rest of the crew were overwhelmed by emotion, or anger, or pain, Spock was there, reminding them of what was logical, of their purpose, of their identity and goals. He kept them grounded amidst the messy business of day-to-day life, and occasionally, interstellar enemies.

Spock was also eminently quotable, distilling tough, complicated subjects down to simple truths that got to the core of the matter—a talent shared by Leonard Nimoy.

Perhaps that’s one reason his death is such a powerful emotional driver—there are so many lines that tug at our heartstrings as we remember him. Even Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet was appropriate for the situation:

When I get home from Rainforest, the first thing on my agenda is watching Star Trek II, so I can have a good cry.

spock

Another Year of Onions and Roses at Norwescon

Last weekend was Norwescon 37, and the fourth I’ve attended since moving to Seattle. Norwescon has become my “home” con, in multiple senses of the word. It’s the largest sci-fi/fantasy con in Seattle focused on literature and writing– which makes it a good home for me as a writer. But it’s also large enough to host a thriving cosplay community, which makes it a good home for me as a photographer. It’s small enough to be friendly and low-pressure, yet big enough to get some energy out of the crowd. Every year I go, the con becomes more enjoyable as I meet more people, make new friends, and feel more a part of the community.

Every year after the con is over, Norwescon solicits feedback from congoers, asking people to submit feedback in the form of “roses” (good things) and “onions” (bad things). So with that in mind, here I go. Some of these are duplicates from previous years, but if they remain prominent in my mind, well, I’m including them again.

Rose: Panels. There were a lot of good panels this time– and some more advanced and creative stuff, alongside the usual Worldbuilding 101 and ZOMG E-Books.

First Page Idol was a panel with some nice audience interaction, where you could anonymously submit your first page and the panel would judge it, which resulted in some interesting feedback. There were also some good science panels– I particularly enjoyed David Levine’s recap of his visit to NASA.

A few of the panels seemed to wander around their subject a bit, never entirely delving into what they were meant to delve into. For my money, anytime a panel can get past the uber-basic introduction that is widely known to anyone with a passing fancy in the subject, into more detailed and interesting stuff, it’s a win for me. This tends to be why I favor panels with narrowly focused and clear-defined topics, especially if they’re dependent on some unique knowledge of the panelists.

All in all, Norwescon is better than most cons at making interesting panels. In fact, the panels are popular enough that they’re frequently standing room only… the Cascade rooms are often too small for the panels they’re trying to host. I don’t know what the solution is there.

I also saw a lot of demo panels, where the panelists were actually demonstrating something and the audience was usually involved. Those were fun. Weapons and armor demos, horror makeup demos– those were my favorites, without a doubt.

Onion: Registration. Norwescon had (as far as I can tell) basically the same process in place as last year. This meant long lines as people waited to input all their information into a computer (there were about eight computers in the reg area), printed a sheet to take to the cashier, then paid and got their badge. For pre-registered folks with a sheet already printed, they could sometimes skip ahead in the line, but if you weren’t registered, or had pre-registered but didn’t have a sheet, well, then, you were stuck.

There has got to be a better system. These days, Norwescon is the only con I go to that has more than a five-minute wait to register, and from my understanding, there were points on Thursday afternoon when the line was at least an hour long. Maybe I just never see peak times at the other cons? When I was at RadCon, I did see the line back up a bit a few times as I walked by on the first day, but never to an hour long.

One difference between Norwescon and most other cons is that Norwescon prints the names on the badges right at registration, whereas most cons pre-print their badges, or use regular old paper stickers for people’s names. Norwescon’s method results in a slightly nicer badge, but it’s never exactly well executed. This year, the badges were printed well (and you could choose to have ONLY your badge name printed– props for that), but the art design of the badge was such that you could only read the left half of the badge, before the black printing blended into the darkly-colored art on the right side.

Maybe this is a case where something is being Rube Goldberg’d that doesn’t need to be? I mean, in the end, I think most people would be happy with easy registration and a readable badge.

Rose: Room parties. As usual, the room parties were awesome. On Friday night, I particularly enjoyed a party that was hosted by Evil Girlfriend Media, celebrating the launch of an anthology titled Bless Your Mechanical Heart. (Side note: Several friends of mine have stories in this anthology. But favoritism aside, I’ve read a few stories so far and am highly impressed.)

Just like last year, my favorite room party was Master Plan, which is always a blast– the mixology contest on Friday was particularly fun (speaking as a non-contestant, anyway).

Onion: Dealer’s Room. The Dealer’s Room was okay this year, however, it did seem to lack in terms of booksellers. There was only one small bookseller, from what I saw (there were a few writers’ associations and authors with booths, both inside and outside, but only one dealer that appeared to sell more than a handful of books). If an attendee wanted to buy a book by the Guest of Honor, so they could get an autograph (as was the case with a friend of mine), it appears they were S.O.L.

It seems like it would be worthwhile to ensure that there’s a dealer who can sell books by the Guests of Honor and the various writing panelists, so that interested attendees can spend their money… but that didn’t appear to be the case.

Other than that, I had no complaints about the dealer’s room. But I can haz books for sale at my sci-fi con please?

Rose: Photography. I feel like the Saturday evening photo area gets a little bit better organized each year. The layout was slightly changed from last year… the standing area was only behind one row of chairs, instead of two, which meant that the people in the second row weren’t caught in an awkward half-standing crouch, like I was last year.

The photo area is set up like an L-shape, with photographers on both sides of the L looking toward the cosplayer(s) in the middle. I was standing on the short side of the L, while all the photographers giving direction were on the long side of the L… which is okay, although I do have a large number of profile shots because the cosplayer just never turned to face the short side. There are two marks for the cosplayers to stand on, one facing each direction, but they would frequently face the long side from both marks, because that’s where the photographers talking to them were. Tip to cosplayers: for a better chance of seeing good shots, face both directions.

Despite my whining, I did enjoy the photo area– it’s a feature not seen at many other cons– and I stood there for over four hours on Saturday night taking pictures.

Speaking of pictures, you can see the full set on Flickr or on my photography Facebook page.

Thanks again to all the folks who made Norwescon awesome, especially the volunteers who put in a lot of hard work before, during, and after. See you next year!

Driving to Pasco: A Surprisingly Good Way to Spend a Weekend (thanks to RadCon)

Last Friday I drove over Snoqualmie Pass, where I-90 threads its way through the Cascade Mountains, in slushy rain, dodging traffic and semi-trucks and snowplows. The purpose behind this taking of my life (and my friend Keffy’s) into my hands was in the interest of getting to RadCon, a weekend-long science fiction convention in Pasco. Pasco is one-third of the Tri-Cities area of Washington, about three hours east of Seattle.

This was my first RadCon– I’d eyed it with curiosity over the past couple of years, but scheduling and general laziness meant I wasn’t able to go until this year. And I’m pleased to say it was worth the danger.

RadCon turned out to be a large costuming and gaming convention, that happened to feature a writing track. I didn’t attend any writing panels– all the topics were too basic, frankly, to interest me. Instead, I spend my days attending a few costuming and art panels. At one panel that was supposed to be about lighting a set on a budget (which I hoped might lead to some ideas for studio lighting), none of the panelists showed up, as they were busy making a movie at RadCon. But nevertheless, us audience members bravely soldiered on anyway, discussing our mutual experience (one of the audience members was a stage magician; another was a blacksmith interested in lighting for tutorial videos). It turned out to be one of my favorite panels.

At the writing events I did go to– which mostly ended up being after-hours parties in the small press room and similar things– it felt small, comfortable and intimate. I joined in a discussion with Howard Tayler, the artist Guest of Honor, and several other pros, and all in all had a good time both seeing friends and meeting new ones. A lot of the usual Seattle writing crowd wasn’t there, although a few were– but despite that, RadCon honestly felt like the friendliest con I’ve ever been to. Frequently I found myself in interesting conversations with total strangers, on topics ranging from photography, to the con experience, to life as a geek, to BDSM.

Part of the reason for that may have been how the room parties were arranged– in most cons, you can only drink inside the room parties, which are almost universally loud, cramped, and dark. RadCon, however, was able to close off an entire third-floor section to people 21 and over, which meant that people could mingle in a large, wide balcony/hallway area and could actually talk to each other without forgoing their drinks. It probably also helped that this was pretty much the only area to party– the bar was dead, and there was nowhere else to go– which meant that everyone found that their way there. Pros and fans mingled, writers and gamers and costumers mingled, cheap Jell-O shots were abundant and all in all I had a pretty awesome time.

RadCon also trended a lot younger than most science fiction cons– there were a lot of teenagers and college students there in costume, hanging out with friends. Since RadCon is pretty much the entire convention scene in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, a lot of local folks (especially younger folks) seemed to gravitate to it. RadCon seemed to be the cool place to hang out this weekend, which was kind of nice to see. I am all for having enthusiastic younger people becoming more involved in the fan scene, even if they’re primarily anime or gaming fans for right now as opposed to readers– although I suspect many of them are avid readers as well.

That’s not to say I couldn’t things to complain about. The food options are rather limited, for one. (I’m just glad the fan suite was selling pizza for $2/slice, because that’s pretty much what I lived off of… that and granola bars.) Taking pictures at the Masquerade was kind of terrible, because the lighting setup was apparently designed by someone with a deep visceral hatred of photography. Oh, and I woke up with a hangover on Sunday… although, admittedly, that last one was entirely my fault.

Luckily I shook it off in time to drive back over Snoqualmie Pass while it was still light. Despite a few dire warnings, the conditions were actually better on Sunday than they’d been on Friday.

Next year I will definitely be braving the pass to head to RadCon again.

In the meantime, here’s the slideshow of pictures from the con. I spent most of the weekend doing photography, and all in all, I’m quite happy with the results. There were lots of great costumes (thanks cosplayers!), and the weapons demo and fire show made for some very pretty pictures as well.

GeekGirlCon: Fandom, The Next Generation

I spent Saturday hanging out at the Washington State Convention Center, enjoying GeekGirlCon. This was my first time attending GGC since its debut year in 2011, and I was blown away by how much it’s grown. In 2011, it was in a tiny suite of rooms in the northwest corner of the Seattle Center; this year, it took up most of the Conference Center at the WSCC.

I loved the atmosphere at GeekGirlCon. The place was busy without being jam-packed, and there were wide-open lobby spaces for easy photography, meeting friends, and even concerts, courtesy of Molly Lewis and The Doubleclicks.

But of course, “atmosphere” means more than the physical surroundings. I got the distinct but hard-to-define sense that GeekGirlCon was a much safer space than usual cons. Maybe it was the prevalence of gender-bending cosplay, and people taking risks with their cosplay that they might not at a usual con. I don’t mean risque cosplay– although there was some of that, too– I mean cosplay that involves stepping out of your comfort zone, to play someone who’s not like you, either in gender, or body shape, or personality. People seemed more willing to open up, try something different, even potentially embarrassing, because of the friendly atmosphere that permeated the con. I suspect that just the name and theme of the con attracted a more open, welcoming, and socially aware crowd, and that was reflected in people’s comfort, and also in the overall atmosphere.

The crowd at GeekGirlCon was an all-ages crowd, but trended toward the young side. It felt like most of the adults I saw were in their 20s and 30s, and there were also a lot of families with young kids. That second part in particular was nice to see– I truly did feel like I was seeing a lot of next-generation fans. And kids at GGC got a chance not just to indulge in the typical range of media properties that are classified as “geek,” but also to kindle the love of creativity and science that to me, more than anything, defines what is at the heart of geekdom.

One of the coolest features at the con was the DIY Science Zone, where panelists and volunteers helped kids do various science experiments. Apparently one of the panelists even brought a small piece of the Chelyabinsk meteor for show-and-tell. I think one of the bigger challenges facing not just geekdom but society in general is how to bring more inclusiveness and diversity to the Science and Technology fields, not just for this generation’s sake but for the next, and so I’m always glad to see GGC maintain such a strong focus on real-life science and tech.

The exhibition hall, meanwhile, was full of local artists and small craft folk; most dealer’s rooms generally are, but I got the sense at GeekGirlCon that there was a much larger portion of artists just starting out, maybe even folks operating a booth for the first time. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; there was a charming, almost homespun feel about the exhibition/dealer area that I liked a lot.

But ultimately, the number one reason I say that GGC felt like the next generation of fandom is because of how open, diverse, and inclusive it felt. To me, it felt like how fandom and geekdom could be, once we get past the misogyny and homophobia and various market-driven forces that seem determined to tell us how to be a geek in present times, how certain pursuits and books and games are “boy” or “girl”. I was only at GGC for one day, but I still felt that in some sense GeekGirlCon represents the potential for what geek culture could become; hopefully it really is a window into the next generation.

Occasionally during and after cons, I hear people fretting about how fandom is aging, or dying out, or withering away, but having been to GGC I’m quite confident in saying it’s doing just fine. Sure, it’s changing, but all in all, I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Anti-Harassment Policies at Conventions in the Pacific Northwest

Completed Updates: 1/12: Added World Horror Con 2014. Addendums posted for ECCC, GeekGirlCon, RustyCon, and SteamCon. 9/25: Addendum posted for GeekGirlCon. 9/20: Addendum posted and conclusions updated for SteamCon. 9/19: Addendum posted and conclusions updated for Penny Arcade Expo. 9/18: Added Rose City Comic Con. 9/16: Added SteamCon; Addendum posted for Foolscap. 9/13: Added Foolscap, GameStorm, GearCon, Kumoricon, Portland Comic Con, and VCon; Addendums posted for Kumoricon, RadCon, and Sakura-Con. 9/12: Added Sakura-Con.

There’s been a strong push recently to ensure that all conventions of a “geek” persuasion– sci-fi cons, comic cons, gaming cons– have clearly worded and strongly enforced anti-harassment policies in place. This effort picked up momentum in the wake of some highly publicized incidents of sexual harassment; I also feel like there’s a growing awareness and consensus that harassment is a problem at conventions, and that it should be strongly addressed. Geek culture is sometimes (okay, almost always) not as enlightened or progressive as we’d like it to be.

Many of us who regularly attend conventions value them as safe spaces; anti-harassment policies help ensure that the idea of “safe spaces” is built into the culture of conventions, and also that cons are not caught off guard by reports of harassment. They ensure that volunteers and staff know what to do; they ensure that resources are in place for victims to seek help; and they spell out clear consequences for harassers.

In July, John Scalzi posted his own personal policy when it comes to attending conventions– namely, if they don’t have an anti-harassment policy, he won’t go. As one of the most popular science fiction authors writing today, it had an impact, and nearly 700 people (including myself) co-signed his policy. You can read it for yourself here.

I must admit, when I co-signed, I thought, “well, it’s a nice gesture, but it probably won’t affect me much. It’s 2013, right? Scalzi is just stating the obvious, right? Pretty much every con has this in place by now– I can’t imagine that I’d actually have to skip a con because of this.”

Well, fast forward to a couple days ago, when I was planning my convention schedule for 2014 and I realized that things were not nearly as clear as I’d expected. Of the major cons I checked in the Pacific Northwest, less than half had a clearly posted anti-harassment policy that met the guidelines as laid out in Scalzi’s post. So I started doing research and e-mailing cons, and below I present the summation of my results. I present it as a resource for other co-signers, or anyone who just wants to know what they can expect at cons in the Pacific Northwest region.

For the purposes of this effort, I considered a good anti-harassment to be one that contained, at minimum, the following elements:

1) A definition of what specific behavior constitutes “harassment”
2) Resources that victims and witnesses can go to for help
3) A description of what actions the con will take in the event of reported harassment

Here’s what I found. If you’d like me to add a PNW con to this list, contact me or leave a comment. I will also update this post as required when more current information comes in:

Emerald City Comicon

The ECCC website has no anti-harassment policy as of 9/12. However, after e-mailing them, I received an official response that one is ready, and will be posted on the FAQ section of their website by the end of the month. In addition, the anti-harassment policy will also be printed in all next year’s program guides.

ADDENDUM: ECCC’s policy is available here, under Section 9 of “Rules and Policies.” It has a fairly comprehensive definition of harassment, as well as instructions for folks who are victims or witnesses to harassment, how to find staff members, and what response can be expected from the con. Thumbs up!

Foolscap

Foolscap does not have a policy on their website. However, when I e-mailed them, I got an extremely fast and thorough response stating that they do print an anti-harassment policy in the conbook, and a promise to correct the oversight of it not being on the website as soon as possible. When that’s available, I’ll add a link to it. In the meantime, here’s the overview of their poicy, quoted with permission from e-mail:

The gist of the policy is that we ask people to report any incidents that they experience or observe – even if they seem small – to a member of the convention committee, and we point out some places where a member can always be found during convention hours. We commit to documenting the report (with whatever detail the reporter wants to provide), quickly convening a subset of the committee to discuss an appropriate response, and implementing the response immediately. We also commit to informing the reporter of what action we’re taking immediately.

It’s tough to judge a policy from an overview, but it seems to have all the pieces in place. I like the emphasis on who to report to, and the commitment to quickly making a response and informing the reporter of what action was taken. And the speedy e-mail response is encouraging as a general indicator of how responsive they are to this issue.

(ADDENDUM: Karen G. Anderson of the FoolsCap ConCom posted the full Foolscap policy in the comments, excerpted here: “Unacceptable Behavior. It’s our aim that everyone involved with the convention (members, guests, and dealers — also visitors and hotel staff) be treated with fairness and respect. If you have concerns about behavior you see or experience at the convention, we urge you to notify a Foolscap ConCom member quickly (during convention hours, find us at Registration or in Hospitality). In case of urgent concerns about someone’s immediate safety at the convention, please notify police and hotel staff. If unacceptable behavior occurs at the convention (behavior so judged by three or more members of the ConCom) the ConCom reserves the right to to revoke a membership and ask the offending member(s) to leave.”

The policy is short– it doesn’t exactly define harassment, but it does urge people to find con staff (or hotel staff, or the police) if they experience or see questionable behavior. The acknowledgement to both witnesses and victims is nice. I do wonder how quickly the ConCom would take action in case of harassment, as it’s a little unclear, but since offending member can clearly be asked to leave it gives me hope that the ConCom’s actions would be quick.)

GameStorm

GameStorm’s anti-harassment is online, listed under their Code of Conduct. Up top, the consequences of violating the policy are clearly spelled out. A nice touch worth calling out is their explicit mention that It applies to all pre-con, at con, and post-con activities that are related to GameStorm. (Some cons will exempt areas or things not under direct con control, like room parties or the hotel parking lot. Props to GameStorm for making sure their policy covers everything.)

Under the “Personal Interaction” section there’s a nice description of harassing behaviors, as well as a section that says If you do not feel comfortable talking with the individuals involved, or if talking to them once does not work, please immediately report the situation to any GameStorm committee or staff member. If possible provide a badge name or name and a physical description of the person or persons involved. The committee or staff member will notify Convention Operations and/or the Con Chair.

There’s no mention of how to identify a con staff member or where the security desk is located, but since this is just a web policy, hopefully those details will be clear on the ground. The site DOES have a web form for contacting security, which is a nice touch I haven’t seen elsewhere.

In the comments, Wes brought to my attention that GameStorm is sponsored by the same fan group that sponsors OryCon (OSFCI), who were extremely responsive to my queries regarding OryCon’s policies and by all appearances take this issue extremely seriously.

GearCon

GearCon’s anti-harassment policy is online, located here; the anti-harassment policy is included in Section 4 (“Code of Conduct”). It’s got some nice notes to it, but is light on specifics. Here’s how they define harassment: subject other attendees to unwelcome sexual attention/behavior, or engage in harassment based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. In particular: role-play and historical reenactment are not justifications for abusive behavior.

I do like the broadness of the definition (if not the vagueness), and the explicit statement that roleplay does not excuse being an asshole. However, there’s no mention in the overall Code of Conduct as to who to make a report to or seek help from. There’s some implicit references to “venue security,” but it’s not clear if there’s a security desk, or an Ops desk, or how to identify con staff to whom you can make a report.

In other sections of the overall policy (i.e. Section 3, “Security”), it does specify consequences (Attendees and participants may be ejected from Portland GEAR Con for engaging in injurious or illegal behavior), however for the Code of Conduct section the consequences seem to be more implied. I’d like to see more specifics spelled out, particularly for sexual harassment.

If anyone involved with, or who’s attended GearCon, wants to chime in (are con staff easily identifiable? Is there a security desk? Who would a harassed con attendee make a report to, and would they be easy to find?), please leave a comment. I’ve also e-mailed them with a few questions and will update this when I hear back.

GeekGirlCon

GGC’s anti-harassment policy is easy to find on their website. It has clear guidelines of what steps the con should and will take in the event of harassment, as well as a few examples of what may constitute harassment (albeit a bit hard to find, under the “Expulsion” section) and who can take a report. And it goes into lots of specifics for how convention staff should address potential incidents.

My only nitpick is that it is clearly written for staff as opposed to victims. Don’t get me wrong– education convention staff is incredibly important, but I’d like to see a section added which starts with something along these lines: “If you feel you’ve been harassed, please immediately report the incident to (con staff/con security/desk located at _______). Con staff can be identified by (T-shirt/Badge Ribbon/etc).”

It’s possible that such an item will be at the con or in the program guide; I e-mailed the con a couple days ago to see if such might be the case, but haven’t yet received a reply.

(ADDENDUM: On 9/24, I got an e-mail from GeekGirlCon with some additional details. Quoting from it, with permission: “We are currently in the process of updating all the convention-related content on our website, and that includes a more robust anti-harassment policy. We hope to have this new language posted by the end of the month. The new language will include some of the issues you raised around the current harassment policy being more directed to staff, and less clear for convention-goers.” I’ll post an updated link when that’s available.

ADDENDUM, 1/12: The updated policy is now available here.)

Kumoricon

Kumoricon’s anti-harassment policy can be found online under the “Registration” menu option. In addition, they also have their Full Program Guide and Pocket Guide Online, which was nice to see, as I was able to verify that the program guide also contains the anti-harassment policy. The pocket guide does not, although it does contain a map with the location of the 24-hour Con Office marked. That’s a good start, although it’d be nice if there was a phone number listed to reach the con office or security.

The policy itself contains a fairly comprehensive list of behaviors considered harassment, as well as clear consequences for those found in violation of the policy. Like many cons, it’s a little unclear about where to seek help (how do you identify con staff? Can the “Ops Desk” labeled on the map be considered the Security Desk?), although as usual, hopefully that’d be clearer on the ground.

(ADDENDUM: Jeff, a previous Kumoricon staff member, posted in the comments with the following: “Having worked staff at Kumoricon before, I can say that staff members are incredibly easy to find. They are all supposed to wear convention t-shirts that have Staff printed on them somewhere.”)

Norwescon

Norwescon is one of two cons that actually posted a brand-new harassment policy while I was researching this post (the other is RadCon, down below). The NWC anti-harassment policy can be viewed here, on their website.

The policy is a good general statement of intent, although it’s a bit light of specifics. The statement on what constitutes harassing behavior is okay, but a bit general: Harassment is behavior which focuses unwelcome attention on a person and either inappropriately crosses reasonable expectations of social boundaries, or continues after a clear showing of disinterest or a request to desist.

Moving on, who can victims seek help from? Well, any staff member wearing a badge may receive a report of harassment. Fine, but how can you identify them? And what about the security desk? I know Norwescon has one, but it’s not really mentioned. I’d love to see some additional victim’s resources listed, including a phone number they can reach the security desk at.

In fairness, it’s likely this information will appear in the convention guide. I hope it does, preferably in the same section as the anti-harassment policy.

OryCon

OryCon’s policy is online and easy to find. The first two paragraphs are very clear about what constitute harassment, so the first element of a good harassment policy is definitely present. Initially, I was a bit concerned that the second element (“where can victims find help?”) was not present. I e-mailed the con chair, who replied and stated that there were already plans to have signs in registration with visual aides of how to find con staff and what their badges looked like.

Moreover, in the past two days I see that a paragraph has been added to the online policy stating: “If you feel have been harassed, please find the nearest OryCon volunteer, identifiable by a burgundy badge ribbon with gold lettering. Alternatively, please contact the Information Desk in the lobby, the Office staff in the Weidler room during operating hours, or the Operations staff at any time in the Portland room on the second floor.”

Someone on the OryCon staff deserves a fist bump for moving that fast in response to my e-mail.

The policy also spells out clear consequences for harassers in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. In fact, of all the cons I’ve listed here, OryCon’s harassment policy is, in my opinion, the clearest and most comprehensive. Props!

Penny Arcade Expo

PAX’s anti-harassment policy can be found here: Rules and Guidelines for PAX

It’s very light on specifics. The first element I’m looking for (what constitutes harassment?) is pretty much entirely absent. It does say who to report to, and having been to PAX, I know that Enforcers are pretty much omnipresent and easy to locate, which is nice.

As for the third element, there’s a chain of escalation mentioned, but no mention of what consequences harassers might expect. (Warning? Eviction, with or without refund? Permanent ban from PAX?)

(ADDENDUM: As of 9/19/13, PAX has posted an updated and much more comprehensive policy, located here. It gives a fairly specific definition of harassment, and lays out clear consequences for harassers. It also tells people who to report to, although it’s a little vague on where to find them– PAX enforcers are generally easy to find, but the policy specifically mentions “Enforcer Safety Circle members.” Does that cover all Enforcers or a particular subset? I’m sure any Enforcer could help, but I’m curious.)

Portland Comic Con

Portland Comic Con is run by Wizard World; as a result their site is big on marketing and promotion, but on-the-ground policies are hard to find. That said, through Google I was able to locate the Wizard World anti-harassment policy.

The first and second sections give a broad definition of harassment, with few specifics, but enough to at least suggest they’ve put some thought into it. There’s also a section directed at folks who want to make a report: Anyone who sees or feels that their experience is being compromised due to unacceptable or questionable behavior is encouraged to speak with Wizard World staff immediately with any concerns for appropriate action. Wizard World staff can be located in the Registration area and throughout the show floor in black polo shirts marked STAFF. Props for that.

And finally, there are defined consequences in the second paragraph, with a clear note that harassment is grounds for eviction without refund. Probably my only nitpick with this policy is that it could call out examples of sexual harassment a little more clearly (while I like to see harassment broadly defined, I do think sexual harassment is still the biggest issue, and some more specifics on what constitutes “harassment” would not go amiss). But for a simple, straightforward anti-harassment policy, it seems like a pretty good one.

RadCon

Along with Norwescon, RadCon is the other con to post a brand new policy online this week. It’s on their website and easy to find under the “Info” menu.

It starts by clearly listing what behavior constitutes harassers; it moves on to a list of consequences for harassers, and a section with directions for victims (“If you feel you have been harassed…”) My only nitpick is that I wish it were a bit more specific as to how to find resources for help. How can you identify a con staff member? (Badge marking or color? T-shirt?) How can you find security? Is there a number to call?

Again, as with Norwescon, I expect that this information would be in the program guide, in which case– awesome! I hope it’s easy to find, preferably located in the same part of the guide as the policy itself for easy reference.

(ADDENDUM: Elizabeth Vann-Clark, RadCon’s Vice-Chair, adds the following in the comments: “Thank you for the revision suggestion to our code of conduct/ harassment policy. Folks who attend RadCon can easily find our security staff, as they wear t-shirts and vests that are labeled “Security” in large letters. Their station is also marked on our convention maps and displays a large banner. Out of all of our staff, they are probably the easiest to find 🙂 Which is why we didn’t consider describing how to find them in RadCon’s policy. Other con staff have distinguishing badges that do not look like typical membership badges.”)

Rose City Comic Con

It took me a couple e-mails to get in touch with them, but the response after the second e-mail was prompt (albeit short)– just a link to their FAQ page, where they had posted their Anti-Harassment Policy in the few hours between the time I e-mailed them and the time they replied. That link I shall now share with you.

It seems like a very good harassment policy, overall. I like the extra emphasis on photography, as I do think (merely based on my own anecdote-based data set) that tends to be a common form of harassment at large comic cons. It covers various forms of harassment (and lists a few specific types), then states clearly that harassment is defined by the victim, which is a nice and sometimes-overlooked touch. The policy proceeds to lay out some options on how staff can choose to respond, and it also very clearly tells people where to make a report. The encouragement of victims not to take matters into their own hands isn’t something I think I’ve seen elsewhere, and I generally agree with it (seek the help of professional security or, if not available, the cops).

It’s interesting that they call out social media, though. That could be uncharitably interpreted as “please keep quiet about this,” although hopefully it just means “please report the incident and do not post on social media in lieu of seeking help.”

RustyCon

I was not able to find an anti-harassment policy on RustyCon’s website. I e-mailed their Board of Directors asking for more information, but have not yet received a reply. It’s possible that they will have a policy at the con or in their printed guide. If you are on the RustyCon staff and you are aware of any such information in this area, please leave a comment or e-mail me via the Contact tab up top.

RustyCon is the smallest con on this list, but if anything, I would suggest that almost makes it more critical for them to have an anti-harassment policy in place. If you’d like to contact RustyCon yourself, their contact page is here.

ADDENDUM: RustyCon now has a policy located on their website. It feels a bit thrown together and too focused on legalese, although it does include a broad definition of general harassment and various categories; where to take a complaint (it could stand to be more specific– how do you find a security person? Hopefully that info, and the convention office location, is in the RustyCon guide). And it lays out consequences. So I’m pleased to see that RustyCon is now “Scalzi-compliant.”

Sakura-Con

Sakura-Con’s policies are located online (and props for having a Japanese version!) Their basic Code of Conduct is in Section II, which touches on harassment, but then Section III-K covers harassment and assault in depth. It contains a fairly good description of what constitutes harassment, and well-established procedures for dealing with and punishing harassers. It lays out a three strikes policy (Section III-Z), with no time limit between strikes, with an exception for criminal actions which will lead to immediate ejection.

My only concern about the online policy is that, as with a few other cons, it’s not immediately clear how to find someone to report an incident to or seek help from. What are the identifying markers of con staff? It says to report the matter to Sakura Attendee Services, but how would a victim find it? Is there a phone number?

But that’s just the policy as stated on their website; hopefully this information would be easy to find on the ground and in the program guide. (I’ve never been to Sakura-Con, because it conflicts with Norwescon every year, so if any Sakura con-goers have firsthand info, please leave a comment.)

(ADDENDUM: In the comments, John B. provides some additional info on Sakura-Con:
“Identifying staff/S.A.S.: All staff members have a clearly identifiable badge, as well as a distinctive staffer shirt. Sakuracon Attendee Services have a unique badge as well. All staffers, however, are briefed on what to do if they’re contacted by a victim, and know where/how to find SAS personnel.
Policy availability: The anti-harrassment policy is presented in the souvenir booklet given to all attendees, >and< directly linked with the rest of the policies from the registration page. Attendees must read and sign off on the policies before registering.")

SteamCon

SteamCon does not appear to have an anti-harassment policy available online. I e-mailed them asking for more information, but have not yet received a reply. As with RustyCon, it’s possible that they will have a policy at the con or in their printed guide. If you are on the SteamCon staff and would like to fill in any details, please leave a comment or e-mail me via the Contact tab up top.

(ADDENDUM: SteamCon’s Code of Conduct can be found here. Sexual harassment is sort of mixed in with general harassment, which isn’t necessarily bad, although it would nice to see a line item or two that specifically calls out sexually harassing behavior. They do emphasize “if someone tells you to leave them alone, then walk away and do not approach them again”, which is good. Hopefully at some point they will post them on the main SteamCon site itself. (If it’s there, I couldn’t find it.)

VCon

VCon’s policy is online and clearly available under the “About Us” section. The definition of harassment is broad, which is good (VCON does not permit harassment in regards to sex, gender, sexual orientation, dress, age, race, religion or lack thereof, disability, or involvement / non-involvement in any group or activity at any VCON event or venue), but in the following paragraph also goes into specifics of what harassment actually is, which is nice to see.

There’s a section detailing who to report to (though it’s a bit light on specifics– this seems to be an overall trend with web-based policies) and a clear statement on potential consequences.

World Horror Con 2014

WHC2014 is in Portland, Oregon, and sponsored by OSCFI, the same folks who sponsor OryCon and GameStorm. Which is good, because it means I have high confidence in their anti-harassment policies. You can find WHC’s by scrolling down here, on the WHC site.

That said, the WHC policy (at least the online version) does omit some things, like how to identify staffers or the procedure for reporting harassment or filing a complaint. Hopefully that will be clearer at the con and/or in the written materials– I’ll be e-mailing WHC to confirm this.

CONCLUSIONS

In the process of researching this post, most of my initial concerns were assuaged. As a co-signer of John Scalzi’s convention policy, the only cons on this list that I would have reservations about attending is RustyCon. (Since I have direct assurance from ECCC and SteamCon that they will have such a policy in place shortly, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for now.)

Finally, just because we all like a list, here’s my own personal ranking of the harassment policies listed here. This is, of course, just my opinion, and it’s based only on what I can see on the web. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll do a followup post based on how things seem on the ground and how cons live up to their stated policies.

BEST
OryCon
GameStorm
Rose City Comic Con
ECCC
VCon
Penny Arcade Expo (As of 9/19)
GeekGirlCon
Portland Comic Con
Sakura-Con
RadCon
Kumoricon
Foolscap
Norwescon
SteamCon
RustyCon
GearCon
–THE SCALZI THRESHOLD–
Penny Arcade Expo
WORST

INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION: RustyCon, SteamCon, ECCC

POST-SCRIPT

If you are on the staff of any of the listed cons and would like to update or clarify the information here, please leave a comment.

Similarly, if you disagree with my assessment in any case, or think there are other factors I should have taken into consideration, please comment. My objective with this post is to contribute to a dialogue, not present myself as an authority.

Want to make your own list, or add information on a con that I’ve missed? Add a comment! Or write up a post on your own site and I’ll be happy to link to it.

Feminist Musings from a Cosplay Photographer

This week has been a rough week for women in fandom. Just in the past few days, we’ve seen:

Controversy, controversy, everywhere.

First, some context: I am a straight white male. I grew up middle class. I have never had to go hungry, and never been financially destitute (despite the ongoing efforts of my mortgage company). I am pleased to be in the position I’m in, and I recognize that a lot of people have things a heck of a lot tougher than I do, for various social and economic reasons.

As I’ve gotten more involved in fandom, and met a lot of awesome people, I’ve had my perspectives challenged and expanded. I’ve watched and chimed in via Twitter as fandom struggled with questions of diversity vs. political correctness, whether it be the Readercon fiasco, back-and-forth criticism of sexuality in cosplay, or the dirty jokes that led to two people getting fired. (That last one is more “tech” than “fandom”, although the two circles heavily intersect.)

On a more positive and well thought-out note, I see interesting re-imaginings like Michael Lee Lunsford’s fully clothed superheroines, which got a lot of positive reaction a few days ago. But some of the praise verged on the suggestion that beauty = modesty (a dubious statement– the two concepts are only tangentially related) and that women who cosplay scantily-clad characters and superheroines are, to say the least, not helping the feminist cause. This is perhaps best personified in this reaction, in which the author laments the oversexualization of cosplay. Oh, if only cosplayers wouldn’t parade their butts around and show so much skin!

For my part, I consider myself a feminist. I’m also a cosplayer, a photographer, a writer, and a creative person. I’ve shot photoshoots with gorgeous models, I’ve done bodypainting (on both myself and others), and written erotic fiction. And here’s the thing: none of those are mutually exclusive in the slightest. Rather, being successful at any of them starts from the same place: Respect. Whether the person I’m photographing is dressed as Vampirella, Kratos, or Optimus Prime, they are a human being, with all the motivations, insecurities, temptations, shortcomings, feelings, and thoughts that entails. Therefore they are worthy of respect, period, full stop.

Respect isn’t something people earn, it’s something they deserve. It’s a direct benefit of existence. Even if she (or he) is in a sexy or provocative pose, wearing next to nothing, or partaking in some other action that you disagree with either on a rational or a moral basis, that doesn’t and never will countenance being disrespectful or harassing.

In a previous blog post, I said that happiness isn’t so much a result of what happens to you, as opposed to how you react to it. In a similar manner, respect– and class, and dignity, and a host of other adjectives– aren’t so much about what happen to you, as how you react to them. Are you a journalist interviewing a gorgeous woman dressed as Black Cat? How you comport yourself in that interview says everything about you, and nothing about her. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that you don’t have control over your own behavior.

To which I say, loud and clear, bullshit. This is a call to all the males– all the people– of fandom, of geekdom, of cosplay, hell, of the whole goddamn world. YOU have full control and responsibility for YOUR OWN actions. Whether you’re a football player in Steubenville, a journalist in New York, a professional author, or a cosplay photographer in one of countless cons across the world. Take some fucking responsibility. Believe it or not, you have 100% control over what you say and how you treat people. The awesome places you find yourself, the sexy people you might find yourself talking to and looking at, do not under any circumstance excuse or justify, even in the slightest, a bad reaction.

For me as a photographer, this means that no matter who I want to take a picture of, I always get their permission first. I walk up to them, tap them once on the shoulder if I need to get their attention, and ask, while maintaining eye contact: “May I take your picture?” If they’re in a conversation, I will apologize for interrupting– if indeed I interrupt at all. I try not to stop folks who are clearly busy, no matter how great their costume is or how sexy they look. I recognize that even though they are cosplayers, I am not actually entitled to anything. And I wouldn’t touch a cosplayer inappropriately, no matter how they dress, any more than I would inappropriately touch a stranger on the street.

This attitude has benefits. For one, it works in reverse. If I react under the default assumption that others are worthy of respect, then it means that I am worthy of respect. This is a huge self-confidence booster; in fact, I’d say this attitude, more than anything else, has boosted my self-confidence more than anything else I’ve done in the past couple years, including taking anti-depressants. It means that when others don’t treat me with respect, I feel okay about leaving the situation. People aren’t entitled to things from me any more than I’m entitled to things from them, and that has stopped a lot of second-guessing on my part when it comes to my social anxiety. Moreover, it means that I’m naturally less awkward in social interactions, whether they be with beautiful women or anybody else– I know how I’m going to behave, and the other person’s clothing, mannerisms, etc. is pretty much irrelevant to that.

One of the greatest things I’ve learned in the past year is that it’s possible to flirt with people while still staying true to every single thing I mentioned above. In fact, some people will be so surprised that you’re acting this way that they’ll take regular conversation as flirting, even skillful flirting, simply because you’re confident in yourself while still treating them like a human being. Seizing and holding on to full responsibility for my own actions is the greatest and most liberating thing I’ve ever done, and I highly suggest people try it, regardless of your gender, sexual orientation, skin color, costume, or political beliefs. And– this is key– regardless of the gender, sexual orientation, skin color, costume, or political beliefs of the people you interact with. That’s my advice to fandom. It’s simple, perhaps even seemingly obvious, yet amazingly overlooked by too many people.

To paraphrase Aretha Franklin: R-e-s-p-e-c-t. That is what it means to me.