When I saw The Safety Dance: Helping End Sexual Harassment at Conventions, I was immediately transported back to one of my very first Linux conferences. A friend walked up to me and tickled me, and then was horrified when I told him that that was totally inappropriate behaviour out in public. Why was I so concerned? Because this story from ConFusion is exactly the sort of thing I feared that could follow:
Recently, I was talking about the convention with a young lady who related to me the story of a â€œa guy being inappropriateâ€ with her. In this story, she was quick to point out at the onset that she was dressed somewhat sexier than normalâ€”in pajamas that were a bit more risquÃ© than those in which she is generally seen around conâ€”so that, as she put it, is was a factor. She was standing, talking with two gentlemen (but, she points out, not flirting or anything, just talking) when this third person approached her from behind, grabbed her in a â€œgrabbing, pinching, kind of tickling motionâ€ on the ribs immediately below breast level, then continued on his way. This is not â€œa guy being inappropriateâ€ for the record, this is assault.
And it happens. I’ve been picked up, tossed around, poked, and generally had people get in my face in a lot of geek settings. In my experience it’s worse in geeky settings: I can enjoy a rock show and only get hit with the odd spilled beer or drunken patron once or twice in a year of concerts, but if I want to take in an anime screening I can expect someone to do something makes me uncomfortable before the end of the night. I was appalled the first time someone tried to pick me up (like a sack of potatoes) at a Linux event, and now I choose my companions more carefully. I’ve written here about why I don’t often dress up in costumes for cons. But random inappropriate physical behaviour has never been limited to days when I’m dressed up.
Let me say this in no uncertain terms: there is no manner of dress or flirtatious activity that gives you the right to initiate unwanted contact with another member of the convention! This is behavior that is unacceptable, period. Full stop. End of sentence. No mitigating factors needed or even allowed. I don’t care if you have watched a young lady kiss every single person in the lobby on her way to you, when she gets to you, you do NOT have implied permission to initiate contact. You don’t get permission to touch, hover over, leer at, or otherwise harass her. I don’t care if a guy has been talking suggestively with you for the last hour, you don’t get to grab him without explicit permission.
And there’s the thing. I go to an event where I know people, of course I want to give out a few hugs. But if I let anyone initiate a hug with me, I never know if some random stranger is going to do it next. Now, I’ve got a pretty good tolerence for hugs even from strangers, but tickling? Keep your hands off. So even friends I otherwise trust will get slapped in public. Shut down loudly and publicly before someone takes “he did it” as an excuse.
I don’t think The Safety Dance is necessarily telling a lot of us anything we didn’t know, but apparently “don’t grab strangers” is news to someone (It seems to be a common rule at anime cons, and I’m sure there’s a reason.) So maybe it’s worth a little signal-boosting so we can see more cons providing and enforcing some basic rules to protect con-goers. I know this sort of thing would make me feel a bit happier about going to events I’ve previously shunned.