Guest Post by Jessica Mason
Pros and Cons
Fan conventions are funny things: they look different from inside. It’s actually much easier as an outsider observer to notice trends and take in everything about a con. For instance, I felt like I knew much less about all the panels at SDCC 2014 because I was too busy racing through the San Diego Convention Center and surrounding climes to keep up with Twitter and Tumblr and all the news that was emerging. In a way, that’s what can make a con fun. You are completely enclosed in your little world. There are usually too many people taking up bandwidth to make actually readings tweets and tumblr feasible, and the reception is always crappy, so you get to exist in this nice bubble. You hang out with your fellow fans, make friends, stand in long lines, forget to eat, squee and generally enjoy your time fangirling. And that was to some extent my experience at Geek Girl Con 2014 in Seattle over the 11th and 12th of October, except the real world’s very ugly head kept finding ways to butt in.
Let’s get this out of the way: GGC14 was amazing. I got to meet so many friends I’d only known on-line and get introduced to countless more awesome folks. The panels I attended were uniformly entertaining, informative and fun, and the whole con was run very smoothly. My own panel on Queerbaiting was very well attended and we had a great time. There were awesome cosplays, great people and GGG continued the tradition of being the most family and differently-abled-friendly cons I’ve attended. The contributors were amazing and I had a great time on my own panel.
The thing which was not amazing through was the consistent theme that ran through about 80% of the panels I attended and permeated any social media that touched on the con: violent, disgusting misogyny. I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to see woman and after woman address death and rape threats and constant internet harassment as a simple fact of life online. Being a geek woman with any sort of profile means that it should be taken as a given that you will face the very worst cyber-face of mankind on a daily basis.
The first panel of the convention, which was what set up this theme and tone, was a packed conversation with Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian is the face of Feminist Frequency, a great web series that for the last few years has been exploring misogynist tropes in video games. I highly recommend checking out her videos; they’re well made, intelligent and imminently reasonable. And so of course the trolls of 4chan and the gaming community want to kill her. Now when I say they want to kill her, I’m not being hyperbolic. Sarkeesian has been getting death and rape threats since she started this project in 2012. She attended GGC that year too and I saw her speak at that con about the harassment she received. In the intervening years it’s only become worse.
Security concerns for Sarkeesian were so pronounced that she was not even listed on the GGC schedule until a few days before the con. We had our bags checked for weapons going into her appearance and no one was allowed to ask questions or records the panel, because of fear of things going wrong. The panel itself was fun and showcased how graceful and poised Sarkeesian has remained in a situation that much be incredibly stressful and draining. She’s kept her sense of humor and her focus. The fact that she receives such reactions can even be seen as an affirmation that he’s doing something right.
The few trolls behind “GamerGate” and the abuse Sarkeesian and others receive are relentless though. I livetweeted the panel and one of my tweets got some traction and quite few retweets…and that of course meant I got to see firsthand a fraction of the online abuse Sarkeesian gets every day. People replied to me calling her a whore, a liar, and a con artist, and of course, threatening to kill her. I wasn’t alone in this though. Anyone who tweeted with the tag #GGC14 got replies with bomb and death threats to Sarkeesian.
That wasn’t the last I heard about harassment. It went on throughout the con as so many women I admire talked about the pitfalls of having a public female persona in the geeky world and the misogyny we must face. GGC is a great con, and it’s a wonderful place where women support women, but unfortunately one of the things that we have to support them in is facing this unrelenting tide of hate from horrible corners of humanity.
What continues to happen with Sarkeesian is a problem that permeates online spaces though. Cultures of bullying and hate perpetuate themselves, until the perpetrators feel safe and justified in taking it out of cyberspace and into the real world. They create real life consequences, and in doing so perpetuate a culture of fear in fandom. Their hate has a chilling effect, it makes us all question who we should reply to or tweet about, whether it’s safe to be public about what causes we support or even who we ship. These trolls have succeeded in creating a culture of fear.
The answer to that, happily, is right in front of us, when we’re at these cons. Because at a con we have real, solid evidence that most people are not assholes. Most fans are wonderful, supportive people who look at these jerks with the same disgust as we do. All it takes is saying hi to your neighbor in line and more likely than not, you’ll meet a person that gives you hope for humanity.
Cons are their own worlds, but they’re also a microcosm of fandoms. And in those fandoms, the haters may be loud, but they’re few. And even the loudest, most hateful single voice can be drowned out by a hundred good ones.