Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What I think about when I think about SDCC

SDCC is rapidly approaching, and amidst the stress of figuring out my flight, hotel, booth duty, and what the hell I'm going to wear so I don't feel uncomfortable but also don't look crappy for 4 days...I'm thinking about two incidents that happened at my first SDCC (which is about 5 years ago now, maybe even 6) that have forever colored the way I view it and every other convention I attend, and likely will attend, for the foreseeable future.

In short: during the 2nd night, at the Hyatt, I experienced two separate physically and sexually threatening situations. The first was a groping that I was too shocked to register until the next day. The other was being cornered, touched, and made uncomfortable by two drunk men.

Both left me feeling shaken, upset, and like I had done something wrong. I kept thinking: how did I get in that situation? What did I do to provoke it? What mistakes had I made? How did I allow this to happen? Why didn't I make a huge scene? Basically, I immediately started blaming myself for being a woman who did not prevent someone else from making me an object. Something that I had absolutely no control over, did not deserve, and yet still feel responsible for in some way, to this day.

First, the groping. I was standing with a group of fellow professionals I had worked with for years. Most of them I knew quite well, one not very well. They were all drinking, I was not. I suddenly felt a hand trail down my back and cup my right...er...posterior. My stomach immediately flip flopped and I turned to the guy, shocked. He was talking to someone else and then stumbled away. He did not look at me once. I said nothing, because I had already started telling myself it hadn't really happened, I must have imagined it, who does that, no way.

The second happened about an hour later. I had drifted away from the group I had been talking to, to write an idea down in my sketchbook. I was against one of the large windows. There were many groups of people around, as there usually are. I did not notice the two men until they were towering over me. I was stuck and felt very small and uncomfortable. I looked around to see if anyone I knew was close by, but they weren't, and in any case, couldn't see me because these two men had neatly blocked me from view. I didn't know them at all and, the clearest thought I can remember when I realized I was cornered, is that I wished I was wearing my boots. I had left them at home because they're a pain to deal with at the airport. I was wearing flats after a day of standing on my feet, and I suddenly felt about two feet tall (I'm actually a little over five feet tall). They started asking me what I was so intent about, why was I so serious, what was I doing at SDCC, was I a friend of someone there. I said, no, I'm an editor. This was a mistake as they were then curious about why a girl worked in comics. They moved closer. I backed up, but there wasn't anywhere to go. I could tell they had been drinking, likely a lot, and for some reason I felt compelled to be...nice. I was scared to be mean or just get away, afraid they'd get mad or rough. I felt like I was stuck to the sidewalk. One of them men reached out and touched the front of my jacket, telling me I looked like a Tim Burton character. He tried to run his hand down the stripes and that's when I unfroze. All I could think of to do, because for whatever reason I just couldn't yell, I said...oh, I see some people I know, bye. And I quickly moved away. I had to squeeze myself against the window and duck. I practically ran to open the door and went up to my hotel room where I proceeded to have a very hard time sleeping.

My mind raced. I had every cliche thought you can think of. Had I been wearing something "wrong"? Not unless you think being covered from neck to ankles in baggy black, with a striped jacket is "revealing". Had I somehow suggested I wanted attention? Not unless being shy and a little freaked out at my first SDCC indicates that. Had I acted inappropriately? Other than a bit awestruck and not drinking (which might be considered weird at a convention), no. Had I, in short, done something to deserve what happened?

Although I am rationally aware I did not, and that you can't "deserve" being objectified in any case...emotionally, I was convinced I had done something wrong. Namely: that I had moved away from people for a brief moment, thereby allowing myself to be in an unpleasant situation. I had not been vigilant. I had not been "smart". The groping I felt less responsible for, because it had just...happened. And I was sort of convincing myself it hadn't, like somehow someone's hand would trail down your back and cup your ass by accident. I just couldn't process it. And it didn't occur to me at the time that experiencing both in one night was perhaps a lot to deal with and that I was having a panic attack. I felt sick, I remember that.

The rest of the convention I didn't really go out at night. I avoided the bar. I was at my industry's largest event, with all kinds of people I admired right downstairs...and I was scared to leave my room. I felt wrong, that's the only way I can describe it. I spent the rest of the convention nervous, on edge, and not because of how big it is or the fact that it was the first time I'd been there. That was overwhelming enough. I had wanted to be this strong, independent professional...and instead I felt like a groped, disrespected, thing. 

I didn't feel like I could talk about it because I'd be confirming all the stereotypes about women being harassed at conventions...and I was worried people would blame me. That they'd say I should have done something different, not been alone, yelled...or worse...that it was something I would just have to get used to.

In the years since, I haven't had a single experience like it at SDCC or any other convention. And yet, it colors the way I view every nighttime event. I don't always have the option to go to something with a group, and professionally, going to the bars or hotels to interact with creators and publishers is important. It keeps you visible, lets people get to know you a bit in a more casual setting, and can lead to opportunities. And it can also be cool to run into the various other people who go to cons, you never know who you might get to chat with. It's supposed to be, you know, fun.

But for me, it rarely is. I can't not think about what happened that night. I still blame myself, if I'm being really honest. It's a big reason why I don't drink, although it's not the only one. I might have a beer I'll nurse all night, but that's it. There are plenty of reasons that's not a bad thing, and I don't wish I could get smashed. But I do wish I didn't have to spend every second being vigilant and on guard. That I didn't have to feel scared, way down, most of the time.

Women tend to get criticized for bringing up scenarios like this, because most people want to believe we did do something to "make" it happen. And I'm sure someone reading this will think, well, you SHOULD have been more vigilant. Honestly, it's exhausting. And no one can keep that up 24/7. Then there are the people who will say it was either complimentary, or I took it too seriously, or they were drunk so what did I expect? Well, I'll tell you what I didn't expect. To have my personal space invaded, to be touched without permission. No one should be assuming, no matter how drunk they are, that other people's bodies are a free for all. The fact that they did shows a profound lack of respect for me personally, and women in general. It's not a compliment, I can tell you that. As for taking it to seriously...no. Other people don't get to define what is threatening to me, and cornering a young woman in the dark is, by definition, threatening. Every man on the planet should know better.

And anyway...shouldn't the men, who acted like that, be responsible for NOT putting me in that position? Being a woman is not a reason to harass me or any other woman. Drinking isn't an excuse. Just...don't do that, okay? It's awful. And I won't be forgetting it any time soon.


  1. it sucks this happened to you. :( those sack of shit drunk guys, goddammit. i'm glad nothing like it has happened since, i hope this year goes well too!!

  2. I feel you on the inappropriate touching department, and it sadly colored my perception of whether I'll ever be comfortable on even being in a close relationship. And I also feel you when it comes to the nighttime events, although that's more out of my own paranoia than actual experience.

  3. I agree that that's awful. I mean, obviously, "Who does that, no way".

    But...being vigilant may be exhausting, but it's something you have to get used to. And by "you" I mean "everyone"; male, female, you, me. I mean, I'm always on my guard, everywhere. Isn't that just how the world works?

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  5. John,

    Ironically, you kind of missed the point. I get what you're saying, but, no. Because it's impossible to be vigilant every second, and even if you are, it still happens. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you, me, or anyone is vigilant. Still doesn't give anyone else the right to do what these men did.

    I didn't say I wasn't used to it, I clearly am. I'm merely expressing the frustration that, though it may be necessary, it doesn't guarantee safety. I got groped when I was being vigilant, and intimidated in a split second when I wasn't. Neither scenario is my fault, even though it feels like it. That was really the point of my post. I did nothing wrong, even if I wasn't vigilant "enough" for a split second.

    I can do what I can do, but ultimately, it's up to other people not to be groping creepsters.

    And I would hazard that most men, in most situations, don't feel the need to be on guard the way I do for the same reasons. That is how the world works.

  6. You shouldn't have to be vigilant every moment. You did nothing wrong and it's brave to speak up about these kinds of things.

    I'm sorry this happened to you.

  7. Do you mind if I reblog this on comicconpervs.tumblr.com? I know this didn't happen this current year, but it is a perfect example of the kind of bullshit I've been posting about.

  8. "Then there are the people who will say it was either complimentary, or I took it too seriously, or they were drunk so what did I expect? Well, I'll tell you what I didn't expect. To have my personal space invaded, to be touched without permission."

    Entirely different situation, but in my teens an aquaintence expressed an interest in a videogame I possessed, so I invited him over to play it. It wasn't meant as a come-on, I meant exactly what I said.

    He ended up pinning me down on my bed and groping me. It freaked me out and I froze instead of fighting back properly. (though that might've excited him more, I dunno). I just avoided him like the plague after that. Seeing him around school made me feel kind of helpless.

    Even the man I'm intending to marry says I should've expected it and seen it coming and it was pretty stupid to put myself in that position. I was 13 :/ late developer I guess.

    And yeah, I get it - teenagers. And also I did actually initiate it by inviting him over in the first place, he may have genuinely misunderstood. And you do (and should) expect better from adults who don't have raging hormones. But the "what did I expect?" and having personal space invaded kind of reminded me of it.

    1. Say WHAT? No, you shouldn't have, and it's not stupid to want to hang out with people. Since when is an invitation to play a game an invitation to grope you? Seriously, the only *profoundly* stupid thing here is the suggestion that you did something wrong, and from the person who's supposed to love and respect you, no less. I suppose you like your future husband, but damn, what an asshole.

  9. I not going to say "Men aren't the way they used to be", mostly becuase they were much worse back in the the day (afterall, it was proper a few decades ago to judge a woman for having a job or wearing pants). But I wonder why some men get taught to respect women and some just don't. Really, I wish the myth of of the "Real men back in the old days" was true now? Where are the real f%8king men?

  10. thedreamingcelestialJanuary 8, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    Jumped here following the link on your more recent write up on sexual harrasment in comics industry and man! I am furious! This is unbelievable. It is more than 3 years old and this horrible infuriating story has only ammassed 10 comments? I had a really violent urge building up inside me to scream wild lamentations reading this but i'll simply just say that men do not deserve to live on this planet. :-(