A convention prudery counter-current

Over the course of the last week or so, the RPG Pundit has been examining the case of the anti-harassment policy at the upcoming Escapist Expo in North Carolina. It started with a typically understated post by the Pundit entitled Islamic Fundamentalists Versus the Geek Hobbies:

Because the Ada Initiative isn’t about protecting women: its about believing that our hobby is a sick hobby, and a product of a society they despise, and wanting to tear it down.  They hate women who are unafraid of sexuality just as much as they hate men who dare to express an inclination to appreciating female beauty (and NO, we’re not just talking about perverts who touch or inappropriately comment to women at cons; everyone agrees those need to be dealt with, but they’re using that problem as an excuse to wage a Jihad against Sexuality in general!).  Their goal is to impose their puritan values on everyone else whether everyone else believes it or not.  And quite literally, Boris Vallejo or any (even potentially far milder) art of women showing any skin at all is now capable of getting you banned from Expo Con (not to mention if you ARE a woman who wants to show skin, or wants to talk freely and frankly about sex in a positive way), and soon from ANY con, if the Ada Initiative gets their way.

The Ada Initiative is a radical feminist organization that “supports women in open technology and culture through activities like producing codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies, advocating for gender diversity, teaching allies, and hosting conferences for women in open tech/culture.” This is also the outfit that got Violet Blue kicked out of a conference because she was going to be talking about sex. So much for supporting women.

How very ironic that the very sort of repressive sexual mores the feminist Left started off by opposing in the 1960’s are now the mores it is championing in the name of making the world safe for womyn. You want to talk about a “war on women?” It doesn’t get much more warlike than shutting down positive expressions of female sexuality. Feminism used to mean that women should be able to dress the way they want to. Apparently nowadays, that only applies if the way they want to is the way the feminist leaders want them to.

But it is precisely those “codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies” that are at issue. Apparently the Escapist Expo used their model codes as the basis for their own code of conduct. And therein lay the problem.

Specifically at issue was language that stated:

“Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference. … Harassment is defined by the victim. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are required to comply immediately.”

In other words, no “slave Leia” costumes, no Boris calendars, no chainmail bikinis at vendor booths; all things that are regular fare at conventions across the globe. But also no recourse if someone claims they’re being “harassed” for whatever trivial reason might spark outrage. Literally anything… anything… could be deemed “harassment” and, according to the policy as written, there would be no appeal. Balloons are a “trigger” for you? Out they go. Period. Nazi imagery offensive? Out go the World War II wargames. Emotionally scarred by losing a heated OSR vs. 4E argument on RPG.net? Out goes Labyrinth Lord. And anyone wanting to sell or run Lamentations of the Flame Princess might just as well not even show up.

And that was the whole point. To get people to self-censor. To get people so paranoid about what could possibly offend someone else, or be considered harassment, that the whole thing would become an antiseptic, Politically Correct, asexualized, bunch of mush. And as the Pundit pointed out in a later post, that’s no exaggeration:

…the only “room for discretion” would be if you actually turned around and said “we’re going to arbitrarily decide which people we believe”, in DIRECT contradiction to the nature of your policy; and that again leads to a situation where you are judging the PERSON and not the ACT, and where you just decide that some people are more “worthy” of being allowed to make legitimate claims of harassment than others. 

Now, this is not to say that harassment – actual harassment – is a good or acceptable thing. Quite the opposite. No means no, and a smile is not an invitation to grope someone. If you lack the basic social interactive skills to process those simple facts, you should be removed from any convention, with prejudice.

But that’s not what this policy was. This policy attempted to get rid of anything sexual. It was borne of people who hate sex, and hate themselves, and hate anyone who is happy with themselves and comfortable with sex.

Fortunately, the Expo relented, and altered the policy to replace the references to “sexuality” with “obscenity” (fine), and removed the reference to “victims define harassment” (absolutely necessary). Of course the Ada Initiative hasn’t altered their standard forms at all, and I have no doubt that they will continue their campaign to make the world safe for people who are afraid of, or hate the idea of, sex and can’t stand the fact that some people aren’t and don’t.

But there is another bright spot in this whole sorry mess.

In the past few years, there have been several “geek burlesque” acts showing up at various gaming, science fiction, and related conventions. Exactly the sort of venues that the Ada Initiative is trying to target. I think this is precisely the sort of healthy expression of sexuality that is needed to combat the pernicious ideology that somehow sex is bad, sexuality is something to be ashamed of, and any expression of, or even discussion of, sex is somehow anti-woman and to be avoided.

The blog Zero Fortitude recently showcased the geek burlesque act The Glitter Guild. In fact, The Glitter Guild is going to be at GenCon this weekend. There are several others making the rounds. There’s Epic Win Burlesque, and D20 Burlesque, and doubtless others that I’m not aware of.

The point is that there are people out there who are fighting the neo-Puritans who want to make our gaming, science fiction, and other conventions “safe” from things that have been a part of human society since before there were humans. They know that sex can be fun, and flirtatious behavior is perfectly okay (as long as people know that a smile isn’t an invitation to grope), and that being okay with your body is okay, and that having others enjoying seeing your body is okay, and that there’s nothing wrong with actually having FUN!!

To my mind, that’s the sort of thing that those of us who want to fight the neo-Puritans should be supporting. Rather than only being reactionary, and fighting against the Ada Initiatives’… initiatives… we should be supporting these sorts of healthy, fun, expressions of human sexuality and suggesting that the conventions we frequent book them as entertainment.

I’m all for the war against the neo-Puritans, whether they come from the Left or the Right, but I think we can’t afford to ignore the “Positive Front” of that war. Let’s show folks that sexuality and fun can absolutely be combined, and is absolutely okay… better than okay… for conventions.

Previously: Has Fandom become too prudish and unoriginal?
Follow-up: First they came for the saucy-sloganed panties…

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “A convention prudery counter-current

  1. I'd love to see D20 Burlesque in action. My wife is more fortunate than me, she and her friends have managed to attend a male burlesque event that tours locally on a few occasions, and they have a strong "fantasy guy" theme, or so I am told.

    But yeah, there's a movement out there that has confused healthy sexuality as being somehow bad, and lumped it in with genuine issues of harassment.

  2. Okay, whenever I hear "Oh no! The humorless feminists are here to take away our right to see boobs!" I break out the salt lick.

    Especially since you admit that it isn't true. The Escapist Expo may be starting with a restrictive policy, but they are working to modify it to suit their needs.

    It is curious that they turned to the Ada Project for their basic policy, as they seem to be more oriented towards technical conferences than fan conventions. And in the context of a technical conference, the content restrictions do make sense. A woman should be able to attend a seminar on Perl scripting without being subjected to a cavalcade of "pearl necklace" jokes.

    But for a seminar on cosplay, discussion of real-life "jiggle physics" is a valid topic. I hope the Escapist Expo is able to wind up with a policy that allows that sort of discussion while still being able to enforce Wheaton's Law.

  3. I do not, in fact, "admit that it isn't true."

    Merely because the Escapist Expo caved under intense public scrutiny does not mean that the organizers do not still aspire to the goal. Bear in mind that the changes they made were the absolute minimum necessary to deflect the criticism. I would not be surprised if they did not edge back in the future.

    As for the Ada Initiative being more geared towards technology conferences, that is not what they say on their own website, where they tout as one of their accomplishments that they:

    "Made conferences safer for women: Wrote and encouraged adoption of policies preventing harassment of women, now used by hundreds of conferences and organizations in open tech/culture as well as science fiction, fan, gaming, and skeptic/atheist conventions."

    The fact that one conference was forced to make minimal changes to avoid a public relations disaster does not mean that these "standards" are not being pushed vigorously and on a broad front. They need to be seen for what they are and pushed back against at every turn.

    And part of that is to promote a counter-current that realizes that human sexuality is not a bad thing, that sex is not something harmful, and that attractiveness and flirtatious behavior is nothing to be ashamed of.

  4. From my reading, the organizers of the Expo had simply copy-pasted the sample policy without reading it in detail. When the detail was pointed out, it was promptly changed. And I don't think it was intentional. Especially since the D20 Girls are one of the sponsors of the event this year. If there was a serious consideration of a "Sharia-like" cosplay ban, you can bet the D20 Girls and all their fans would be up in arms.

    The Ada Project also links to a list of conferences where their anti-harassment policies have been implemented. There are about 10 geek cons that have implemented an Ada Project Policy (and some that have a policy that is not from Ada), while the list of technology conferences is much larger. So while they may be branching out, that would seem to be their focus.

  5. I think you need to re-read the more in-depth coverage over at the RPGPundit's site. Their reaction was hardly "immediate"; their first instinct was to put the whole discussion under wraps, and they only grudgingly changed it when that was not possible.

    And as for the Ada Initiative, the sooner we stop this "branching out" the better.

  6. Okay, I have an honest question:

    No means no, and a smile is not an invitation to grope someone. If you lack the basic social interactive skills to process those simple facts, you should be removed from any convention, with prejudice.

    A woman should be able to attend a seminar on Perl scripting without being subjected to a cavalcade of "pearl necklace" jokes

    How many of these people actually exist. If you factor out all the incidents that involve alcohol (or other substances) how many occur.

    I'm a Perl programmer and have been for over 15 years. First time I heard a "pearl necklace" joke linked to the programming language was this blog post.

    Now, as for the former, I do know some of these people exist. My grandfather was Navy air and I'm former submarines. However, are they really such a common presence at cons, and they're behavior so commonly considered "well, that's just how some guys are, let it go" that it's a problem that requires a crusade?

    That said, you don't have to be a prude to find the increasing sexuality on display at cons a negative. I'm not at a gaming event for sex. I'll go to sex events for that thank you very much

    My last five events were, in reverse order: Andocon in Atlanta, Southeast Leather Fest in Atlanta, Submissive Journey Weekend in rural Tennessee (as staff even), Frolicon in Atlanta, and South Plains Leather Fest in Dallas. Given only one of those is a gaming con (although I spent more time in the gaming room at Frolicon than in the dungeon) I think it's fine to have sexuality out at event or even be the point of events.

    I'd just rather sex not take over other types of events. While I understand your desire to "combat the pernicious ideology that somehow sex is bad, sexuality is something to be ashamed of, and any expression of, or even discussion of, sex is somehow anti-woman and to be avoided" what about someone, somewhere combating the idea that sex and sexual express is the end all, be all of human experience?

    As insane as the drive to make looking a form of sexual harassment (especially looking at people who clearly are dressing to get you to look and maybe crack a smile) I'm not sure geek burlesque is the mathematically compliment that cancels it out.

    Can't we just go and play D&D or something?

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