Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poking the Bear: Sexism at Cons

I'm going to be throwing out my opinion regarding the recent dust ups surrounding feminism and sexism in geek culture.  There's a lot of talk about it currently and you can get up to speed with these insightful articles:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/06/19/pandagon-geeks-you-have-a-problem/

These are just a sample of what's going on out there and like racism or any other 'ism' it's probably being discussed so much currently because any time you lift the rug, you find the roaches.  With more and more women not just coming out of the 'geek closet' but with more also learning to love from the outside what it has to offer and jumping in head first, the proverbial rug is getting lifted and the roaches are indeed on display.

If you couldn't be bothered to check the links above, or don't know what I'm talking about, let me sum it up for you.  Many men in current modern culture are sexist. A large portion, I would say, are not consciously even aware of it and distance themselves from the label if asked.  But like any majority, when faced with the inequities that a minority (in this case, women becoming an ever growing factor in geek culture) group is enduring, the defensive walls go up and both sides begin the finger pointing game. In this case, many female nerds and geeks are feeling as though they are in a hostile, sexist environment at Cons and in some cases, online as well.

I don't consider myself a feminist, I consider myself a humanist. To me, feminism is a subset of humanism, it's part of the package. Somehow the term feminism seems too 'active' to describe me. I was raised by my grandmother and mother, who I think did a pretty damn decent job of raising me.  Along the way, I took on the label of ethically non-monogamous when it came to my romantic relationships.  I've had the privilege of being in love with more than one lovely woman at a time and would say that those ladies involved felt I treated them as no less than my equal because of their gender (If any of you are reading this and if you felt otherwise, now is a great time to speak up about it here - please!)

With that said, I'm sure I've come off as sexist or misogynistic multiple times. Why do I say that? Because while I don't consider myself sexist and try to be the best 'man' I can be (unless asked not to be), I cannot control how others interpret my behavior. I may be completely innocently expressing myself and someone else may take it as something completely different.

There was an incident at a Con recently. I'm not going to link to it or call it out, because I don't want to pick a fight. But the short of it was, a woman got into an elevator with a man. The man propositioned the woman. She said no.  The end.  There was no groping or physical contact and he took no for an answer (from the story as I understand it).  The woman went on to write that this situation made her feel uncomfortable and that her boundaries had been violated.

This incident and her response to it are, I believe, at the heart of a big problem when discussing this issue for both genders.  Any woman can relate to that story and that feeling of an unwanted advance in a situation where you're feeling vulnerable. That's totally fair.  But that man was not being sexist or misognystic (as I understand it, again).  He was simply propositioning her. He has every right to express his attraction to her and attempt to make some sort of connection.  She has every right to rebuff it.

Ladies - You do not have a right to not be offended.  He asked, she said no. The end. She can be offended if she wants, but that doesn't mean he did anything wrong.  The guy has no way of knowing what her boundaries are if he doesn't ask. Remember, men are brought up to be the initiators in this society. Women are brought up to be passive recipients of that male initiating (generally speaking). Whether those two generalizations are ethically or morally sound is a different discussion.  If you want to wear a mini-skirt at the Con, you don't have the privilege of deciding which guy stares at your ass. You don't even have the right to not have someone come up and ask your name. That's not sexism, that's humanity.

Men - Stare all you want. Ogle, cat call, make lewd gestures. You have every human right to express yourselves as you see fit. If you want to generally imitate a chimpanzee attempting to get a female chimps attention, go ahead.  One step further, you can, and read this carefully, ask for her consent to begin even more direct interaction. This can be a request for a name, physical contact, whatever.  Do not under any circumstances violate her private space though.

Both Genders - Here is where the all powerful concept of consent steps forward. Once the consenter has been asked, the decision to consent or not must be respected absolutely. Unclear or vague consent is not consent. People should not touch other people without permission. People should not block other people's paths, follow them into personal spaces, get close enough that they are in anyway restricting another's movements, interrupt other conversations or in anyway violate their ability to act freely.

Here's an example for you all.  I grew up loving Han Solo. Star Wars changed my life.  I think most geeks reading this can agree that it's a seminal film series and one that is as close to a modern myth for our culture as we're likely to get.  Remember in The Empire Strikes Back, the great scene on the Millenium Falcon between Han and Leia.  Think back to that for a moment. Leia is working on fixing the ship. Han stands inappropriately close to her, enough so that she shoulders him.  He persists, literally backing her into a corner and interrupts her with a kiss. Aww, isn't that romantic and hot?  Or was it harassment, a violation of Leia's space?

This scene is something men and women grew up watching and learning from.  The guys want to be Han and the women want to be Leia.  No one would accuse Leia of being weak or a victim and while everyone loves to call Han 'roguish' or a 'scoundrel', he's certainly the heroic idol in the film alongside Luke. Yet, in our society, this scene is a clear example of how not to act. Han bullied his way into that kiss. He pushed himself upon her. Both genders, in my experience, love this scene and these characters.  What does that tell us about how our genders view each other?

Gender roles, more than ever are changing. Our modern culture is opening whole new arenas for women and that's great! But both genders need to remember that by virtue of that change, men's roles are changing too, whether we like it or not.  Where women are free to go out to Con's next to naked and expect to feel safe, men are also now in a situation where we don't have a cultural guide book for how to act. Both men and women need to start being a little more self-reflecting on their own personal behavior and little more understanding of the people around them.

As I said earlier, consent is the line in the sand we can all agree on. But beyond that, we need to remember that most of us out there are good people with good intentions.  The next time someone cat calls you, remember that he's likely not a rapist and just trying to show, in the limited way he can, that he likes the way you look.  The next time someone tells you "no" when you ask for a number, remember that you aggressed on them and put them in a defensive spot. Take no for an answer, but don't take it personally.

Everyone should feel safe in expressing themselves however they want. At the same time, we should all feel safe from the expressions of others.  Best of all, when everyone starts feeling safe, we're all more likely to have a good time, make new friends and lovers, and then everyone wins.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.