No, You Shouldn’t be Afraid of Conventions

Disclaimer: This piece is a response to a comment made at the end of discussion last class when a classmate said they were “deathly afraid of going to conventions.” The comments struck a nerve with me as someone who loves attending conventions.

You should not be afraid of conventions.

I mean that two-fold. In one sense, you should not have to carry the fear of being in a place where you don’t feel safe. That is, of course, inexcusable. No one deserves that.

But, I’m going to argue that you should not be afraid of going to a convention. The myth that anime or gaming conventions are dangerous is one that has haunted the con scene for decades. And it’s still not true.

I say this because I feel safest at anime conventions, where I can be my true self. They are one of the few spots where nerds can reach out and talk to anyone without judgment. Before I started cosplaying and attending conventions, I was socially awkward and afraid to make friends. Thanks to the kindness of costumed strangers, I became a lot more confident in myself and my hobbies. It’s safe to say that conventions are the reason I am able to be outgoing in most situations. I don’t say this lightly- my admissions essay to Amherst was why anime conventions are my favorite place in the world.

I have been going to cons for 7 years. Never have I had an experience that made me afraid, uncomfortable or embarrassed. I have cross-played (taken the role of a character of the opposite gender) and received nothing but support from fellow attendees. Some of my closest friends have been strangers I met at an expo.

 

Well…maybe you should be afraid of these guys.

Are there some odd characters? Yes. Mind you, you are in a convention hall for dedicated fans of mostly-obscure entertainment media. Chances are, you are a little odd too. You might bump into someone who has forgotten to tend to body odor, or has a trait like autism that makes them a little less socially able. But to assume that these people are dangerous or unhealthy is stereotyping the very community that you are a part of.

Admittedly, I am a guy; my experience is different. But I can also say that for those 7 years, I have consistently gone with my tight knit circle of 5 female friends. We’ve never had a problem with sexist remarks or inappropriate conduct. My closest friend, who loves wearing more revealing cosplays, has even said that cosplaying at cons is like a safer Halloween, where she doesn’t have to worry about lewd commentary from bystanders.

To anyone who is afraid to go to a convention, don’t let preconceived notions stop you. When you visit a convention already afraid of what might happen, you open the flood gates for more fear. At my first con, I was nervous when people would stare at me. I thought perhaps they were judging me or my body- but I quickly realized they weren’t. They were appreciating my outfit, or trying to remember when they’d seen my costume before. Most would come over and apologize, then ask me questions and show their interest.

If you have attended a con and had problems, I’m sorry. But it’s important to remember that such an occurrence is not representative of the experience and shouldn’t stop you from attending. If you let someone’s silly remark keep you from coming back or wearing a costume, you’re only letting that jerk win. And if you’ve never been to a convention but act like you know what they’re like because of one thing you read on tumblr once- please stop. You’re only hurting this hobby with a false narrative.

I’d also like to highlight the extreme effort that convention staff, both hosting the event and center staff, take to make sure your experience is a safe one. In the past few years, most major conventions have started running police report checks on per-registered attendees. At a well-managed con, any sign of harassment results in an automatic expulsion and removal of an attendance badge (in some cases, also criminal charges).

Can “things” happen at conventions? Yes. But those kinds of things can happen in any public space, and are not more likely to happen at a convention. The fear that you are more likely to be in danger at a convention is like the irrational fear that airplanes are more dangerous than cars. And the more you propagate that fear, the more likely you are to cast a negative image on one of the most welcoming events a nerd can go to.

 

0 thoughts on “No, You Shouldn’t be Afraid of Conventions

  1. I think it’s very understandable that you don’t want a group that you identify with to be vilified, and I’m really happy that you were able to find a safe space in cons where you could really be yourself. That is not a small thing, and it’s really great that you’ve found that.

    That being said, I think it’s really unfair of you to try to tell people that they can or can’t be comfortable in a convention space. It’s great that your friend in particular is okay with it, but the truth is that many women are not. Female bodies are sexualized without consent. Even when a female gamer/cosplayer is just trying to express appreciation of things she loves, her body is ogled, and commented on. Just because there is anecdotal evidence of one female friend being okay with it does not mean that you can apply her approval more widely. That relative safety and fun is not by any means a universal experience. I also have friends who cosplay, and they have had bad experiences with men staring or touching inappropriately, or in one case, even following them around for an extended period of time.

    This has not happened to you, so I really don’t think it’s okay for you to tell others that they can’t be afraid of this happening. It’s also very much not irrational- many women have been taught (for good reason) to be vigilant at all times against potential rape or assault.

    I’m not saying that con-goers are any more or less likely than the general population to be sexually disrespectful. But this is exactly the problem- our society is extremely disrespectful of and violent towards women and their bodies, so fear is a very valid response, in all social spaces.

    1. I understand this is a tricky topic, so I appreciate the comment.

      I’m not trying to tell anyone they can’t be afraid of conventions, but I am trying to express that they are not, in my eyes, a space filled with sexism or assault. I would not so eagerly attend them if they were, because those comments DO make me uncomfortable, even if I’m not the recipient

      It basically comes down to anecdotal evidence against different anecdotal evidence. My mother, an old fashioned woman who loves arts and crafts, had very seedy preconceived images of conventions before she went to one with me. She adores them now, because she gets to see other people in costume. They dispelled all the negative imagery and now she loves to tell stories of how accepting they are.

      When you say, “many women have been taught (for good reason) to be vigilant at all times against potential rape or assault,” I think you center on what I’m trying to argue with. The blame (as in class) is placed on the convention, when in reality the person is already naturally afraid of a more global issue.

      When I’m at cons, I’m very careful not to misplace my belongings or leave anything out. I’m on high alert because I’m in a large crowd of people. It’s not because I’m less trustworthy of people at conventions. I’m just more aware. That awareness does not make me not want to go to cons or paint them as areas full of thieves, as so many people seem to do with concerns about sexual comments or harassment.

      1. I know this is old, but in light of the new projects, I’m going to push back on this.
        Firstly, you’re providing anecdotal evidence. That’s doesn’t adequately support your argument.

        Bitch Magazine conducted a survey of 3600 comic convention attendees. 55% of those who responded were women, 39% were male, and 6% were nonbinary. You can find the raw data here: http://tinyurl.com/ln5j4hl

        Of the recipients, 8% of attendees (for the record, SDCC has 130,000 attendees a year, so think about the amount of people across *all* comic conventions) reported that they were raped, assaulted, or groped while at a con. Assuming we only think about SDCC, 10,400 attendees were assaulted, raped, or groped. That number only increases when you consider all of them.

        To argue that conventions are largely safe spaces is to devalue the experience of tens of thousands of survivors. It’s erasure. That’s not a few bad seeds, that’s a sizable portion of convention attendees who objectify and hurt women. That’s unacceptable.

        It’s a safe place for some. I’m happy for you that you’re included in that portion of the population, but it’s important to remember that your ability to feel safe constitutes privilege. So yes, you should be afraid to go to conventions. Just because it is a safe space for you does not mean it is a safe space for everybody–the numbers even prove it.

        1. Thanks for your input!

          I am actually familiar with this poll. My reason for not including is because it has some severe drawbacks(and is just one study in a mostly unexplored field). Distributed through twitter by a feminist publication, it is likely going to be limited to someone who is already vocal on the topic or may be hypersensitive to the issue(thus be biased). In a similar way, it also struggles to reach the people who attend conventions casually. Most people who would visit a con 1-5 times in their life(a good portion of attendance) will likely never see this survey.

          Likewise, the poll does not refer to a single convention. It asks if you have ever been groped or assaulted at a convention. Applying the stats to a single con is inaccurate. I am certain that you’d find similar(if not greater) stats asking if you had been groped at a mall or grocery store.

          I’d love to see more research in the area, particularly a study done on police reports at conventions and their sexual assault rates. As it is now, we have to rely on mostly-anecdotal evidence. I’m not trying to silence victims or belittle their experiences, I’m arguing that a moral panic is only going to hurt us in the long run.

          1. Being vocal on the topic does not increase one’s chance of being raped, groped or sexually assaulted. Similarly, attending cons casually also does not reduce one’s chance of being sexually assaulted while at a convention.

            I applied it to one convention to illustrate a point. SDCC represents a small portion of the convention going population. Applying the 8% to that small fraction of the population illustrates how massive that 8% actually is when one applies it to the entire population. It’s 8% of a subset. Further, the frequency with which rapes and assaults go unreported undermines any study that uses police reports as the basis for any sort of conclusion. To belittle the accounts of survivors by demonstrating skepticism echos a pervasive distrust of the victim rather than the victimizer. We can’t dismiss it as “moral panic” because that implies that somehow assault/rape/groping aren’t inherently immoral. That notion is more than just a little rape apologist-y,

            Also, for what it’s worth, you’re not arguing that a grocery store is a safe space.

  2. One thing that I think is important to acknowledge is that many conventions hire female models to dress in skimpy outfits and walk around. This itself should be alarming for the female community attending these conventions.

    Blizzconn hires many female models to walk around dressed as elves and other fantasy creatures. However, there are very few male models dressed similarly. Why is this? Because a lot of the conventions are more populated by men and the makers of the conventions believe that men want to see women in little clothing.

    My goal is to attend blizzconn and cosplay, but this is scary. When guys look at me, are they appreciating my costume or are the looked at the less clothed areas?

    1. Interesting point! I understand where you’re coming from and can see why that might be off putting.

      The kinds of conventions that have those scantily clad females are not actual conventions but entertainment expos. Places like Blizzcon or E3(to a smaller extent, comic con) are not really conventions. They’re expos, where a company is trying to push a product and will use the same “sex sells” techniques as in commercials. Rather than places for nerds to meet, they are places to unveil new products and build media hype.

      It’s worth noting the technique is very successful because those commercial cosplayers get on the top of most major gaming sites. I would agree there are a lot of lewd costumes, but only because companies like blizzard want to advertise their new characters who already have bad designs. Nintendo, for example, goes out of its way to showcase all types of characters. One year they had Bayonetta right next to Mario, Pit, Link and Donkey Kong.

      Actual gaming or anime conventions typically don’t have these cosplayers who are paid, and that’s a very big difference. If you see someone in a less conservative outfit, its their own free choice. The fact that we confuse the two types of gatherings is part of the problem, conventions have a stigma associated with them due to misinformation.

  3. I will like to say that I was the one who claimed they were afraid. Not “deathly” afraid, per say, but scared enough that I have stopped going. It’s part of my everyday routine as a woman to be confronted with harassment, so I can’t be deathly afraid or I’ll never leave the house.

    I will also like to say that harassment is not “silly.” It’s not something you can just brush off. It’s not something that you should take with a grain of salt. I’m happy, ecstatic, even, that you have never had that experience. I’m happy that your friends have had amazing experiences at cons.

    A lot of young women, however, have not, for various reasons that all relate to the sexualization and unwanted idealization of the female gamer.

    We are either praised or ridiculed. We are sometimes not seen as credible. I have been called “slut,” “noob,” or have had men come into my personal space without me wanting it. It’s degrading, it’s dangerous, and it happens more often than you think.

    Please keep in mind, then, that your experience is not an all-inclusive one either. There have been many women who have turned away from not only conventions but the whole of the gaming community because of certain groups of people who happen to be more vocal. While it may not be a majority that does this, they have an affect are a large group of people, and you can tell that group of people to just roll with the punches because we’ve been rolling with them for a long time.

    1. I’m sorry you have been harassed and feel that way. Because I think by letting that fear take grip, you’re missing out on some truly great experiences.

      Like you say, if you were scared you would never leave the house. Why then do you feel that a convention is more fearful than going to the mall? In my experience, conventions are incredible safe spaces for nerds, regardless of gender, and it’s not beneficial to try and act like they are hotspots of rampant sexism. Acknowledge something can happen, but that it rarely does.

      There are often over 25,000 people at conventions. If you have a weird experience, recognize that it is a fluke(and don’t be afraid to contact a con organizer for help). There are over 24,999 people left who will still support you. I’ve yet to see any solid statistic that conventions are more likely to spur on insults or sexism than anywhere else in the world.

      I’m not trying to belittle victims of harassment (I am one, albeit not from cons), but there comes a time when we realize that we need to move on and not let one asshole’s comments keep us from something we love. As you said in our conversation, you no longer go to cons because you are afraid of what will happen. But you’ll never fix the problem by not going back.

      When I was younger, I loved playing the Pokemon TCG. I went to competitions, prereleases and the like. One mother, whose child I beat multiple times, tried to bully me into leaving. She accused me of cheating, attacking her son, and spread rumors about me online. But I didn’t stop playing Pokemon. I didn’t let my bully get her way with me. Her desire to push me out of Pokemon only made me more fervent in excelling. I think if you truly love gaming or anime, you should keep going to conventions. Prove to anyone who thinks you don’t belong there that you, in fact, do.

      What upset me most was that the class discussion quickly turned into an attack on conventions and the people who attend them as dangerous, misogynistic people. That’s not accurate in the slightest, and it hurt me to think that people thought it was acceptable to fear monger over my favorite events of the year as well as the friends I’ve made.

      When you tell an entire class that you are afraid of conventions in such a dramatic way, you are doing the same that a bully or harasser once did to you. You’re scaring them away from something that is not what you make it out to be. Instead of spreading the few horror stories we’ve had, we should make sure people know that conventions are incredibly safe, but still to simply be cautious.

      It’s a disservice to the industry and the people in it to make con sexism out as a major problem. Especially in an environment that is so much more accepting than the outside world.

      1. I think it’s pretty unfair of you to say the following in response to Iris:

        “When you tell an entire class that you are afraid of conventions in such a dramatic way, you are doing the same that a bully or harasser once did to you. You’re scaring them away from something that is not what you make it out to be. Instead of spreading the few horror stories we’ve had, we should make sure people know that conventions are incredibly safe, but still to simply be cautious.”

        The fact is, conventions may be safe for you but they are NOT for some people. Some people have been verbally or physically harrassed or followed, and just because that doesn’t happen to you doesn’t make it a “horror story.” It is something that happens fairly frequently.

        Also, I am not trying to vilify cons in particular, but our society is extremely misogynistic and any large public space is, to some degree, dangerous for women. This is not diminishing nerd culture or the value of safe spaces, but merely pointing out that these safe spaces are safer for some than for others.

      2. But con sexism is a major problem. It’s one of the biggest problems in the industry. I haven’t had 1 out of the 24,999 people to harass me, but way more than that. And the harassment spans from outright aggression to smaller forms like staring and sly comments. All of this is harmful, especially when directed to women, women who already go through enough scrutiny in the gaming community.

        I’m sorry about your bullying experience, and I know you’ve talked to me about that, and I thank you for confiding with me and the rest of the community about it. However, the issue with gaming culture is a subset of bullying that includes misogyny, sexual harassment, and a certain way we treat women in settings such as conventions.

        The issue isn’t conventions, the issue is some of the people who attend conventions, the people who gawk at my cosplays or when I simply wear a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, the people who ask me really inappropriate questions that I don’t feel comfortable posting on this blog. Like Dina said, it’s not the conventions but the fact that it’s simply a large public space that makes it dangerous to women, especially women.

        I don’t go to cons not because I’m scared. I’m over that, even though there is always a tinge of fear inherent in me being a woman.

        I’m just tired. Really, really tired.

  4. I would like to point out that your argument that harrassment is a minority experience at conventions is playing into victim silencing. When people say things like “that’s only one experience” “that rarely happens”, then they’re playing a large role in keepin victims silent about their experiences which only reinforces the (false) assumption that these are rare occurrences. Just because you are lucky enough to ind yourself in situations where (to your limited knowledge) no one is feeling harassed, doesn’t mean it’s not true. It just means its not being talked about.

    Also, you do not get to tell people to “move on” or get over it and face their fear/harrassment. That is not up to you who doesn’t want negativity associated with his passion. That is up to the individual who had to deal with the harrassment at the time and everyday since (in their memory). Some people’s experiences are more violent than others, and even if its just a “jerk comment” it is unfair of ou to put the onus on the victim. Even microaggressions are aggressive and hurtful and damaging, especially to groups whose identities are targeted on the daily in every facet of life.

    No it is not the convention itself that is degrading and harmful. But we, just as you, are allowed to want and expect that we can enjoy cons and gaming and anime, our passions, without harrassment in any form. And we’re allowed to be upset (and express that upset) when they fall short.

    1. I completely agree. I think that it is important to acknowledge that this is not an attack on conventions as a whole or in any way a general statement about everyone who goes to conventions. It is, however, a very real fear for women. It is an extra thing for us to think about as we put on our cosplay and look in the mirror. It is an unfortunate part of being a woman that we need to take into account how others may react to our outfits.

  5. Hi Will! This post, in spite of in-class controversy, really helped me understand not all people are bad. I will stay guarded, but this post especially helped me understand the spaces people do feel safe in and the spaces people don’t feel safe in. Thank you for posting this, it was very brave of you and your willingness to be vulnerable on the comment thread I must acknowledge and congratulate you for it.

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