Yes All Geeks: Curbing Harassment in the Geek World

anti-harassment policy

I attended the “Yes All Geeks” panel at New York Comic Con because I’ve become passionate about issues of respect – and sometimes the lack thereof – in the geek community. These issues crystalized for me because I follow Anita Sarkeesian’s brilliant “Tropes vs. Women” series in which she examines the negative portrayals of women in games. Her style is far from inflammatory, but the response has been just the opposite: an incessant campaign of online threats, intimidation, and outright terrorism. A mass-shooting threat recently forced her to cancel a Utah State University appearance.

The name “Yes All Geeks” takes its inspiration from the Twitter hashtag “#YesAllWomen,” which was used to share stories of sexism and harassment following Elliot Rodger’s misogyny-inspired shooting spree in May 2014. Yes, all women are subject to negative treatment based on their gender. Yes, it’s true in the geek world too. And yes, all geeks must deal with it.

The Comic Con panel focused primarily on real-life harassment, rather than the kinds of online mobs that have targeted women like Sarkeesian; game developer Zoe Quinn, who has been the subject of vicious, crackpot “GamerGate” conspiracy theories; and fellow developer Brianna Wu, who too has been targeted for her feminism. However, many of the same rules apply in life as they do online.

cosplay is not consentHarassment is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it has sparked more discussion now than ever before, in large part because of the rise of social media. According to writer and feminist Mikki Kendall, “People who are being victimized are using a megaphone they didn’t have.” Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and various other outlets give victims the opportunity to tell their stories to a wider audience than ever before, allow them to find and support each other, and allow the rest of us to learn of behavior that might otherwise have been hidden from view.

25% of women at pop culture conventions report instances of sexual harassment, according to a statistic from Bitch magazine, and one of the most important steps in addressing this kind of offensive behavior is to “believe the victim,” said Kendall, because only a minuscule percentage of allegations prove to be false. Writer Emily Asher-Perrin added that a bystander witnessing such behavior should also “check in with the victim”; that simple act of support can empower a target of harassment who may feel paralyzed or isolated by the experience.

We should also take a zero-tolerance approach to this abusive behavior. “I know we like to pretend like kicking someone out of a con or fandom is like they’re drawn-and-quartered, but all you’ve done is make sure they can’t come to your party again,” said Kendall. “We do that in our house, why wouldn’t we do it in our fandom?”

lgbt-comics-panelIn addition to convening a panel on the subject, New York Comic Con took steps this year to make its own policy clear. Blatantly visible signs were posted throughout the Javits Center explaining that “Cosplay is not Consent,” warning that a suggestive or playful costume is not an invitation to make unwanted advances. With input from the Mary Sue, NYCC also established a zero-tolerance anti-harassment policy that was just as prominent throughout the Con.

Though I only mildly dabble in cosplay and am not as likely to be targeted as most women are, I was gratified by the prominent signage. They were important not just for the message they sent to potential harassers, but for the message they sent to potential victims: You’re safe here.

Link to Bitch magazine article: