Article – Do we need anti-harassment policies?

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stop_harassment_v_Variation_1[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Sorry dudes, we need anti-harassment policies at conventions. And I’m afraid that’s not the only thing we need.

I’ve been battling with this for a while now and gathering my thoughts after listening/hearing both sides of the argument. After a lot of thinking, I have reached the conclusion that yes, we do need them.

And I think we need something else that is often overlooked and is probably as important, if not more, than the anti-harassment policy: The code of conduct policy.

You see, in any hobby there are bound to be assholes. The gaming hobby is not without its assholes and said assholes make a mess of things when they decide to assault a woman during Notch, or someone decides to harass a games industry veteran, or many of the incidents referenced in the Geek Feminism Wiki.

It is true that most of the people who are into gaming are not assholes. More often than not gamers are a friendly bunch and very easy to get along with. Contrary to popular belief we tend to be socially adept and know how to establish and maintain relationships and friendships with all sorts of people.

But there are assholes. And the problem with assholes is that when they show their face, the whole place stinks. Because what comes out of an asshole is shit.

One of the “reasons” people give to be against these policies go in the lines of “an asshole will behave like one with or without the policy”, and that is true. Other people say “harassment is covered by the law, why do we need to remind people? If they behave in a manner that’s not appropriate then we’ll kick them out.” And others say “but nothing has ever happened here. Why should we implement it now?”

Of course we have the “freedom of speech” evangelists. They want to be able to say what they want and if we are offended, then is on us because we don’t have the right not to be offended. You know, that is true. No one is immune from offense. And no one is immune from freedom of speech, so let me tell you and you’re not free from my freedom of speech to call you on you being an asshole. Freedom of speech goes both ways and I can’t imagine *for a second* why you should have the right to be offensive and I shouldn’t have the right to tell you you’re behaving like an asshole.

Also there is the point that if someone says “hey dude, that’s offensive, tone the language down a bit” it’s only a matter of manners to tone the language down. There might be children around, or maybe – just maybe – your sexist, racist, homophobic shit is simply not welcome. And just because you can’t see it’s racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever doesn’t meant it isn’t, or that you can’t be called out on that one. So giving a code of conduct guideline that says “be mindful of not offending people” is not infringing on your freedom of speech. It’s touching on your right to behave like an asshole.

Then there are those who say that people who complain about harassment are just exaggerating or seeking attention. I consider those being in the “asshole” category and thus won’t even address them.

One thing that we don’t often consider is that people don’t need to harass someone to make another person feel threatened or uncomfortable. Telling someone “your costume is shit because this hero had a different scarf” is not really harassing. It’s just rude and idiotic, though. And proper of assholes.

Sitting close to someone on the same bench without asking permission is not harassment, but it is rude. And yet some people just see a seat and take it without asking “Is this place taken? Do you mind if I sit here?” You know… common courtesy.

Harassment takes things one step further. Harassment also carries some form of intent: the intent to disturb or upset. Also is usually repetitive. Not all inappropriate behaviour carries that intent and it doesn’t have to be repetitive, though it can indeed be. If someone insults someone’s costume, or game, or whatever, what makes us think they’ll think twice before insulting someone else’s costume? Or game? Or whatever.

No. Exactly. They remain none-the-wiser and thus all-the-asshole.

And I think this is where conventions don’t go far enough to make sure the space is a safe as it can be. There should be a very clear code of conduct AND an anti-harassment policy. Yes, both.

Firstly it protects the organisation and it ensures the event is run consistently by all employees and volunteers. Alas, is not just attendees who can behave like assholes, volunteers and staff can too. It set clear rules and guidelines about what is acceptable and not acceptable. And if anyone were to take the organisation to court, the event could prove they’ve done all they can to make sure people knew how to behave.

It is also necessary because not all conventions need the same guidelines and code of conduct. A convention heavy on cosplay will probably have more emphasis on photography rules and conduct. One that’s purely about writing might need something different.

Secondly is necessary because, unfortunately and as it can be seen by many incidents, not all people know how to behave and having a reminder is not a bad idea. Ever.

Thirdly they are necessary because code of contact and anti-harassment policies don’t have to be just about the law, but about safety at the convention. It is about creating an environment in which people can feel protected and safe from actions and behaviour that is not necessarily illegal. Behaviour doesn’t have to be illegal to be unwelcome.

And it’s necessary because sometimes one has to remind people that they are not meant to be an asshole.

But most importantly they are necessary because providing people with a behavioural frame they can refer to so they can identify when behaviour is not acceptable is paramount for a lot of people. To give that code of conduct enables and empowers people to stand up and ask people to stop. They are told, in no uncertain terms that they do NOT have to accept certain type of behaviour and that the organisation is behind them to help and protect.

And whether you like or not, my dear asshole, they matter more than you. The people who feel threatened, bullied, upset, disturbed, harassed and put-off our hobby because you can’t be bothered to behave like a human being, matter more than you.

For every assault, every report, every incident, our hobby is made to look like a pool of shit, even if it’s just one asshole spewing that shit.

It only takes one.

So we need code of conduct. We need anti-harassment policy. And we don’t need assholes.

So if you are against them, please stop. Stop and wonder why you are against them. Are you going to behave like an asshole? No? then you don’t have to worry about it.

You don’t like to be told how you can behave or not? Then stay at home because you’re likely to not know how to behave.

You don’t know if you’re going to be called out for harassing anyone? Then follow the guidelines and people saying you’re harassing them won’t have any ground.

There is no logical reason to want to stop code of conducts and anti-harassment policies in conventions.

These policies have been in place at the workplace, clubs and organisations for decades. They are not new and they are not exclusive to the gaming hobby. So any reason you might have to want to see them gone is probably just your own insecurity.

Well… man-up. Or woman-up. Whichever, just up yourself.

Or stop being an asshole. That would work too!


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