There Will Be Girls There: A Few Notes on the Changing Face of Fandom

Mario_cosplayers_at_FanimeCon_2010-05-29_2As I begin writing this, it pains me that such a post is even necessary here in the early years of the twenty-first century, to a group that purportedly celebrates things like the future, science and reason. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I have a young daughter, and I don’t like the kind of world we’re leaving to her.

Then again, maybe it’s the group I’m addressing. We shouldn’t be having this conversation with each other, should we? After all, science fiction fandom is forward-thinking and all-inclusive and lovey-dovey, right? These are the folks who will offer their spare couches–or sublet their hotel rooms to ten other strangers–so that everyone can enjoy their favorite conventions. We shouldn’t have to talk about sexual harassment should we? We shouldn’t have to explain to anyone in fandom that “No” means no. Do we?

As has become sadly apparent in recent months, it turns out we do.

And I’m not the first person to notice. Mark Finn recently blogged about this topic, as have John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal (several times) and Mur Lafferty. And we probably won’t be the last, not as long as the problem persists.

As Finn points out, the whole thing probably got started with cosplayers, particularly female ones. A recent innovation from our friends in Japan, cosplay is the act of dressing up in screen-accurate representations of costumed characters from movies, television and comics, many of them quite attractive members of the female persuasion. SF has always had female participants, but these girls are different. They actually look like they stepped right out of a comic book and onto the convention floor. And they’re here to stay.

I know it hurts, Bucky, but it’s time to face facts. The girl who spent all year working on her Alice from Bioshock costume is every bit the fan that you are, and her hard work, dedication and attention to detail aren’t negated simply because you don’t know who that is.

I know it feels weird walking into your favorite con, where the Secret Masters of Fandom brag about the three hundred subscribers they have for their hand-mimeographed fanzines, or lament the fact that they can no longer slip their manuscripts over the transom to Lester del Rey, and see girls walking around dressed as things you’ve never even heard of, because they weren’t in an issue of Astounding. And I know they’re pretty, and it’s OK to talk to them, but there are rules. And you should know most of these rules already, so it’s time to start acting like it. Cosplayers already have a litany of idiotic things they have to deal with, and beginning every conversation with “Dude, I’m up here” shouldn’t be one of them.

But it isn’t just cosplayers dealing with the occasional mouth-breathing fanbody. If only.

Women professionals in the field have to deal with this crap too. Not from fanboys (at least not all the time) but their fellow so-called professionals, both writing colleagues and editors. In this day and age there is simply no excuse for this behavior.

So what is to be done about this?

Mary Robinette Kowal has a great idea: tell them to go away. In other words, don’t feed the trolls. They will all die out eventually.

Speak out. If you see or hear of this happening to someone, whether at a con or online, speak out about it. Tell them it’s not cool. A few people have said online, “If this happens to you, just come find me and I’ll take care of it.” A nice sentiment, but the protectors are never around when they’re needed, and searching a crowd of thousands for some random guy who said he’d help you on Facebook just isn’t going to be an option. That’s why convention security staffs should put a clear no sexual harassment policy in place, and enforce it with as much frequency and zeal as when they’re bouncing someone who doesn’t have a con badge.

If you don’t want someone treating your mother, wife, sister or daughter this way, don’t do it to someone else. If you don’t even want someone thinking it about your mother, wife, etc., then don’t even think it. The stuff we teach our children–keep your hands to yourself, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all–gets lost on us adults, but it is still good advice.

As I said earlier, I wish I never had to write this post. Such a post should be unnecessary in the twenty-first century, when addressing a group that prides itself in its intellectualism, inclusiveness, and rational, forward thinking. We must remember that we are all one human race, and that without the so-called least of us, the greatest of us has no chance at all. Be good to each other.

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  1. I hope these conventions do start upping security and reforming policies. Some of this crap wouldn’t even fly at a strip club … .

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