Comics / Opinion

Gender Parity and Harrassment at SDCC and Beyond

This week two major surveys have been released regarding participants at Conventions. The first, a survey by Janelle Asselin focusing on sexual harassment at Comic Conventions has shows how serious the problem of sexual harassment can be within the comic community.

The second survey, released by Event Brite for SDCC 2014 (there’s a nifty infographic) collects a wider range of information, but tells us that convention goers have nearly reached gender parity with 45% of attendees identifying as women. In conjunction, the two surveys demonstrate how far geek culture has come in regards to gender, and how far it has yet to go.

Breaking Down Comic Con Attendance

To begin with, let’s break down how EventBrite gathered responses for thier survey. In June 2014, Eventbrite conducted an online survey of more than 2,600 people who purchased tickets to one of the hundreds of fandom events on their platform in the past two years. This means that the survey is not in fact specific to Sand Diego Comic Con, but generally applies to the hundreds of conventions that take place every year.

What the survey found is that 55% of con-goers are men with 45% women – dangerously close to a near 50/50 split. For younger respondents, people under 30 (Woo, I still count as young!) the split was exactly even at 50/50. So young women are flocking to conventions at exactly the same rate as young men.

These numbers were further broken down by fandom categories.  (Hint: the larger number is the male category)

  • Videogame fans had a 65/35 gender split
  • Comic fans had a 60/40 gender split
  • Manage/Anime had a 50/50 gender split

Other tidbits from survey suggest that comic-goer long-timers tend to be male (17% of men say they’ve been going to cons for more than 10 years compared to 9% of women), women are more likely to cosplay (49% of women listed cosplay as the primary motivator for con attendance compared to 22% of men), men like biggers cons (39% said they like con “the bigger the better” compared to 29% of women), and finally, that women blog more than men (23% of women list blogs as their primary channel for social media while only 5% of men said the same thing. For whatever reason, men prefer podcasts 2:1 over women, and both genders display the same spending habits.

To be honest, there’s nothing too surprising about this breakdown. While gender parity has been reached in young conference goers, the fact that there is a divide in older con goers speaks to the notion that women haven’t been going to cons in the same numbers for as long as men have. In the past three years alone female attendance at New York Comic Con has grown over 60%. This demonstrates yet again how exciting it can be right to to be a woman in the geeky world, and yet also speaks to their lack of public presence in past years. (Women have always been geeks, they just haven’t always gone about it the same way as men)

Even less surprising is the fact that women go to conventions to cosplay. While this can (and most likely will) be construed as “Women go to Comic Conventions to look sexy and show off their bodies to get nerd boyfriends” in reality it speaks to a deeper cultural emphasis on image when it comes to women.

According to the National Institute on Media and Family via the University of Washington, in a survey taken by girls 9 and 10 years old, 40 percent of them have tried to lose weight and by “age thirteen, 53% of American girls are ‘unhappy with their bodies.’ This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.”  For a variety of reasons, American culture currently encourages women from an early age to focus on perfecting their own image. Since image is such an important concept to so many women in our culture, can you think of a better homage to a character than donning their image?

And then, the Harassment

However, many con-goers don’t take women’s cosplay as an homage to a beloved character and instead take it to mean “they’re asking for it”. Janelle Asselin conducted receiving 3,600 responses from people that varied from fans to professionals for her sexual harassment in comics survey. The results? 59% of respondents said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in the comics industry. Looking an comic conventions specifically, 13% reported having unwanted comments of a sexual nature made about them at conventions—and 8% of people of all genders reported they had been groped, assaulted, or raped at a comic convention.

To quote Asselin:

To put these percentages into perspective, if 13 percent of San Diego Comic-Con attendees have unwanted comments of a sexual nature made about them this week, that would be around 17,000 people. And if eight percent of SDCC attendees are groped, assaulted, or raped, that’s over 10,000 attendees suffering harassment

While hopefully many attendees are familiar with the Cards Against Harassment initiative, and can use cards that say things like “It’s not a compliment, and I don’t like it,” or “Next time, just say hello,” to confront harassers, it’s clear that there is a systemic problem within the convention community in regards to appropriate behavior towards women.

This past week, SDCC , sent an email to all ticket holders that included a note about how harassing someone could lead to being banned from the con:

“Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy.

Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a Comic-Con staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner. If your safety is at risk and you need immediate assistance you may also use a white house phone and dial 5911.”

This is a step in the right direction for SDCC which has not previously offered an official anti-harassment policy to its attendees.

What the this data finally presents to us is concrete proof of the problem with harassment in convention culture, and evidence that women are a growing demographic with money that business should not attempt to offend. While harassment policies may only change so that companies won’t alienate a rising, money-spending demographic (rather than the goodness of people’s hearts), the change is still welcome and needed. Everyone should be able to attend a convention without fear of harassment, and eventually these small steps forward will add up.

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