ComicCon doesn’t have a harassment problem: society does

Blaming geek culture isn’t only insulting, it’s simply wrong

Beware ladies, there is a new threat roaming our streets, and it masquerades as superheroes and villains. It is… the male nerd.

With the announcement that the Montreal Comiccon would be implementing new measures to prevent sexual harassment at its event, the media went into a feeding frenzy. The Montreal Gazette typifies this, stating that “creeping at the con’ has become a widespread problem.”  Although probably written with good intentions, such reporting is hurtful to the two major groups who attend such conventions: men and women.

For men, the message put forth is that only a certain type of person would be associated with fantasy and sci-fi genres. Through the mysterious and threatening language used, the stereotype of the “ultimate nerd” is evoked: that of the forty-year-old man who lives in his parents’ basement, subsists on a diet exclusively of Cheetos, hasn’t seen the sun for at least five years, and is deeply sexually frustrated — an individual who would commit acts of sexual harassment out of social ineptitude.

For women, the message is not always one of protection, but sometimes of subtle blame. Many news outlets reporting on this note that some of the costumes worn by female attendants are skin tight and revealing.  Making that point feeds into the concept that if one dresses in such a way, one must be asking for the attention, looking for sexual harassment to occur. Such a line of thinking places blame on the victim, which is simply not the case. These women are lovers of the genre wanting to go, in character costume, to a convention.

Further, such reporting calls into question whether women are welcome at such events or even a part of the community Comiccon is geared towards. Through the stereotype of the “male nerd,” women are essentially shut out. Comiccon risks being portrayed as a boys’ club. Such a view excludes a large portion of the convention-going public.

None of these criticisms change the fact that sexual harassment exists. But this issue is not relegated to convention halls: it’s in the classroom, the workplace, and any area where people gather. In all other public places, a special group — most often a human resources department — is tasked with dealing with cases as they occur and offering training to try to prevent such situations. Comiccon is following this trend in an attempt to stop sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment does happen wherever there is a large enough gathering of people. Its victims are women and men alike. To date, the only report on male harassment at Comiccon is by the CBC. Unwanted attention, directed at both sexes, is a conversation that society needs to have.

It is easy to lose focus of the fact that it is a small minority of people at the convention who engaged in unwanted activity. Through magnifying the issue, the popular media is, in essence, doing something akin to equating all Christians to members of the Westboro Baptist Church. One would never do the latter, so why make it different for those who like comics, sci-fi and fantasy?

While the media hype will probably die down in the next few weeks, the issues it raises should remain a part of our public conversation. Lovers of these genres should put aside their ideological differences, take up their swords/staffs/light sabers/phases/mystical artifacts of unknown origins and say that enough is enough. Sexual harassment will not be tolerated, nor will those who commit such acts be welcome.

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