Convention season has become a really sad time for me. What was once a fun, light gathering of comics fans has become a Bingo card of sexual assault. Women of a sadly growing number are reporting various degrees of sexual assault at conventions. And for some reason, we aren’t talking about it.
I am not here to defend the delicate virtues of women. I am not a knight and women are not helpless maidens in need of a “big, strong man” to “save them.” This isn’t the Pirates of Penzance or whatever. This is real life. So, behind that costume (no matter how salacious it may be) is a human being. I want everyone to seriously think about that. Yes, I realize the male comic population might have needs and wants, but you need to understand that is your problem, not anyone else’s. Now, with that, you need to understand that they don’t want to hear about your need either. I hope you are sitting down for this, but the women who go to cons are not there for you. I know, I know. Mom said you were some type of bright, special star, but that means so is everyone else. And if that is true, well, perhaps accosting these women on any level is the morally and ethically wrong thing to do. But maybe you think this is just some women-lovers siding with them “liberals.” I assure you I don’t care about anyone’s politics. I do care about people and their unfettered access to expression and enjoyment of that expression. An enjoyment that does not require you.
Now, maybe you still are feeling the sting of this all. And let me tell you why that doesn’t matter. Because one day, you, me, lots of people, will have daughters. And on that day your daughter or my daughter goes to a comic store, I don’t want to happen to her what happened to my wife.
Now, I won’t reveal the location of this store, as the owner is a good guy. My wife and I went out to enjoy a recent raise I received at work. We decided to indulge our favorite addiction: comics and trade paperbacks. (Specifically we wanted Bedlam and Mind MGMT, if you’re curious). That night in particular was a Heroclix tournament, so there was a fair amount of people inside. We went around and picked up a few comics, no one really talking to us, but a few of the guys definitely leering. Finally, as we made our way to the other side of the store, looking through Sandman trades, one of the guys (drunk, by the way) decided to come talk to her.
“A pretty girl like you likes comics? Come on.”
Now, this in and of itself isn’t shocking. Stupid, ignorant, dickish, you bet. My wife, being the great sport she is, tried to actually talk to him. To show him she knew the Shibbolith that made her a true comic book reader. Right off the bat, this is bullshit. Look, if there is some sort of gender test to reading comics, then the industry is dead right now. Not only is that just awful business (which is the least of the ethical issues here) but it’s also entirely ignorant. Why? Because you are cutting out half the damn population. But, like I said, that is the least of the issues in this business. We are talking about shutting out actual fans. The women that go to cons or read comics don’t do it to fit in with us guys. They are fans too! Who are we to restrict access because we don’t feel you are a “real enough fan.” Whatever the hell that means!
Then this drunk gent (dude smelled like a walking barrel of bourbon) decided this was the right time to launch into a speech about strippers receiving an explicit act to describing how he washes his ass with a loofah. Not kidding. I looked around, waiting, because surely someone was gonna come and apologize and cart this dummy away. But nope. A few guys were giggling like this was initiation for a frat. But I can assure you that my wife’s experience wasn’t a lighthearted college adventure. It took about three days before she could fully shake the experience. Another guy did come over and say that was “just how he is”, but I have a feeling this argument is being used a lot as the reports of sexual assault roll in.
I remember next grabbing him by the elbow, like he was a child, and pushing him away. I said, “Thanks, but we need some space now.” to which he grumbled something and went away. Now, I don’t say this like a tough guy. I was terrified. The guy was more than drunk, possibly on drugs. He could have had a knife or anything. I tend to not trust strangers, especially drunk ones. Is this the type of philosophy women have to adopt at cons now? Don’t talk to strangers because they could sexually assault me? That is horrible, and no man or woman should ever feel that insecure about comic books.
Now, you may feel that this raise in your awareness curtails your needs and wants. Maybe you feel that this is oppressive on some level. Good. I want you to really feel that. How you can’t do something because someone is saying no, or holding you back. I want you to then pretend you have felt this way all your life. Everything around you is telling you how to be, restraining you emotionally, intellectually, and sexually. Then go even further and pretend this extends to the history of your gender. Then I want you to realize this is what we are doing when we sexually accost women! And I want you all to knock it the hell off. Not because you are a “big, strong man” that deserves the sexual affection of any he sees, but because you want to be worth more. That you too don’t want to be known for just your dick. That you too are more than just your sex. Because when you are objectifying women, and reducing them to body parts, you are doing the same to yourself. You are saying, “I am only my dick, and it runs everything.” If that is the truth, you are a sociopath and should seek immediate treatment. (And I am not saying that meanly.)
For the rest of us, let’s make a pact to treat each other with decency, respect, and civility at cons. It doesn’t matter if you are skinny, fat, you have a big nose (I do!), overbites, underbites, or you have breasts. Shouldn’t matter. You should be able to enjoy a con not because of your gender, but because you are a human being in the world.