When I think about comic-book and sci-fi conventions, I think about having fun. I think about geeky folks dressed in colorful costumes, rummaging through countless boxes filled with old back-issues and meeting celebrities from their favorite TV shows and movies. But it’s not all fun and games.
The ugly side of conventions was exposed last week when organizers for Chicago’s Chi-Fi Con, which celebrates geekdom with programming on genres including science fiction and fantasy, alternative history, British media and comics, pulled out of an arrangement with a vendor after, according to them, they were unable to reach an agreement on an anti-harassment policy. Apparently they wanted the policy that applies to attendees to apply to hotel staff as well, and that just didn’t work out.
For all the discussion the incident has created, the most common question I’ve heard as RedEye’s Resident Geek is “what’s an anti-harassment policy?” The idea that they even exist comes as a surprise to some, especially in conjunction with events like comic-cons that are often assumed to be family-friendly events.
But there are real concerns.
Anti-harassment policies exist to police behaviors that have become all too commonplace at comic-cons. For examples of what has gone on, you need look only to the Chi-Fi Con website and their anti-harassment policy, which prohibits actions such as physical assault, stalking and unwelcome physical attention. These behaviors, while not often talked about, are actually common occurrences for regular attendees to the world of cons.
One of my geek gal pals told me that one year—while at the New York Comic Con—she got groped from behind so many times she stopped counting. It’s as if some folks decide that seeing a woman in a form-fitting costume gives them license to throw the rules of decency and respecting personal space out the window.
I know of unsavory characters who use the camouflage of crowded convention center halls and escalators to take “upskirt” shots of female cosplayers to later post on the Internet. It’s because of this behavior that conventions need to take the common sense practice of treating others with respect and make it policy.
When you consider that the largest conventions in the city, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) and Wizard World Chicago, both have anti-harassment policies in place, you know it’s something that’s taken seriously.
Chicago TARDIS—the annual “Doctor Who” convention which takes place in Lombard—also has an anti-harassment policy. Convention organizer Jennifer Adams Kelly told me that to her knowledge, there has been no issue with the policy. “The hotel itself should have anti-harassment policies as a matter of course,” she says, “which would come into play should a hotel staff member be the one doing the harassing.”
In the end, it’s all about making these events a place where people from all different walks of life can feel welcome and safe--and most important of all, have fun.
Elliott Serrano is a RedEye special contributor.
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