Throughout 2014, there’s been a national conversation on harassment at comics conventions—and now Comic-Con has been caught up in the discussion. For weeks, the nonprofit group Feminist Public Works has been pressuring SDCC to revise its language and training regarding harassment. With the website GeeksforCONsent.org and a campaign
titled “Cosplay ≠ CONsent,” it’s bringing to light accounts––from SDCC and other
shows––of sexual harassment of fans, primarily women, who often attend the con in
elaborate costumes, many based on comics and movie characters.
SDCC’s code of conduct does prohibit offensive behavior, according to David Glanzer,
SDCC’s director of marketing and public relations. It reads: “Attendees must respect
common-sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and
respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated.”
Feminist Public Works, the larger organization behind Geeks for CONsent, says that’s
not enough. It also has a petition, now with some 2,500 signatures, asking SDCC to
distribute materials to help fans report and deal with complaints of sexual harassment,
as well as add signage to publicize the harassment policy. It’s also asking that convention
volunteers participate in an one-hour training session on handling harassment.
“It’s really about the feeling of safety,” says Feminist Public Works director Rochelle
Keyhan. “You can’t control every person and what he or she is going to do, but if
people show up and feel like they’re protected and that the convention has their back...
that’s all anyone is really asking for.” Along with her partners Anna Kegler and Erin
Filson, Keyhan recently led antiharassment training for volunteers at AwesomeCon in
Washington, D.C. At SDCC, they plan to survey attendees, costumed fans, and Comic-Con International volunteers about harassment issues. “We’re going to test the
safety and the ability to report harassment, using that information to continue pressuring Comic-Con,” Keyhan says.
Feminist Public Works has applied pressure on Glanzer for weeks, and its rhetoric
has caught the attention of the media. But Glanzer says the code of conduct isn’t changing, although it was under review. In fact, SDCC policies are under constant review,
he notes. “We have spoken to our attorneys regarding our policy, and they have informed us that the policy, as it is currently written, affords us more latitude in dealing
with people who behave in a manner that is inappropriate. So if an attendee feels he or
she has been the victim of offensive behavior, [no matter] whether that behavior meets
the legal definition of harassment, we are still able to act upon it.”
BUT MEANWHILE AT THE BOOTH...
Controversy aside, SDCC remains as popular as ever among devotees of both pop culture
and comics. In March, membership badges sold out in less than 90 minutes, and during
the four and a half days of the show, more than 130,000 attendees will descend on San
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From the long view, Comic-Con International: San Diego
(SDCC) has been the same for years: big, loud, and unforgettable. But the shifting demographics of Comic-Con attendees are changing the playing field for this institution, and the fiery rhetoric about the convention’s
code of conduct on inappropriate behavior has been
heating up. This year’s show—to be held July 23–27—
will doubtless be a testing ground for new realities, and
policies that address those realities.