I spent Thursday night at Boston’s South Station terminal in a clean, well-lighted place with a bunch of other people and plenty of staff and security around, and in the middle of that environment, a man stalked me around the terminal over a period of several hours.
He continually stared at me, and whenever I got uncomfortable and got up and moved out of his line of vision, he would get up and move so that he had a direct view of me again. At one point I moved with the intention of sitting on the floor so he couldn’t see where I’d gone. He walked around the terminal, clocked my location, walked by, and remarked, “charging her cell phone!” loudly as I passed. By this point I was incredibly freaked out, and got up and moved immediately again.
As soon as I moved, he moved to where he could watch me, and I realized that I needed to do something or this would go on for the rest of the night. I was shaking from nerves and freaked-out-ness and the feeling of knowing that I was being followed. I got up, marched over to him, and told him very loudly and angrily in view of a bunch of people, that he needed to stop following me around the building and that if it happened again I’d call security. He started trying to argue with me. I yelled at him to fuck off as I walked away. (Then I moved out of his vision and later quietly alerted security anyway.) I was really, really glad that I said something, because he didn’t bother me after that, and when I finally got up later he was gone.
Saturday night at the con, in a crowded elevator full of girls, I was treated to a guy making lewd sexual remarks about the girl who’d just gotten off the elevator. After he made them twice, I told him, “That’s unacceptable.” (What I’m kicking myself for not saying instead: “This con has a harassment policy, and you just broke it.”)
"We don’t need Tumblr social justice at a con," he retorted.
Despite having just written the day before about how men online use buzzwords like “social justice” to shut-down call-out attempts, having someone actually say this to me IRL left me a bit flummoxed, and I angrily said that I didn’t need to know he was making this elevator full of girls uncomfortable.
"Well, I don’t care," was his response before he got off on his floor.
I say all of this to preface what I’m about to say, which is that on Friday I wrote an article about a really nice panel that the staff of Anime Boston held on boundaries, consent, and cosplay at conventions.
At the panel, the panelists emphasized being polite if you called someone out on their behavior. They did this because they were prioritizing the idea that you shouldn’t be unnecessarily rude to con-goers who genuinely might not have realized that they’ve done something wrong in a convention setting.
I do think it’s possible for people to indulge in a wide variety of common convention behaviors (glomping someone without asking first, taking photos without asking) without realizing they need to ask permission first. And I think in those situations, depending on context, it is nice to be polite.
But I also want to make clear that my experience of harassment (generally outside of cons because I don’t cosplay) has never, ever been harassment that I felt was unintended. It always feels very intentional. It’s just like that guy on the elevator said: “I don’t care that I’m making you uncomfortable.” In fact, that’s probably a bonus.
So while the panel dealt mainly with the etiquette around cosplay and consent, I want to make it very clear (as I did during the panel and when i wrote the article) that I don’t think someone feeling uncomfortable or feeling harassed ever has an obligation to be polite. I get really loud and angry and defensive and vehement and flustered when I feel put on the spot, and the few times this hasn’t happened have been during incidents of harassment, where I felt awkward but felt forced into trying to be polite so I wouldn’t cause further upset.
That’s a debilitating experience. I went through it once during the very worst incident of harassment I’ve experienced, and even though it happened after I’d written about how women are taught socially not to speak up during harassment, and even though I was sitting there going “Aja, say something, speak out, yell, scream,” I couldn’t make myself say anything, and it was horrible. And I feel like ever since that moment I’ve been trying to yell and be loud and noisy and screaming and rude and that angry uptight feminist reddit warned you about, because I never want to be put in that position again.
I spoke up in the elevator because I wanted to practice making myself speak up in these situations, and because I wanted everybody else on the elevator to have examples of someone speaking up, to know that they *could.* After the guy got off, I apologized to everyone for making a scene. “No,” one of the men said, “he shouldn’t have said that.”
My personal experience has been that it’s really hard and scary to speak up even when there are lots of people around. I don’t really want to promote the idea that women should be worried about how they speak up. “Stop” and “i’m uncomfortable” are hard enough to say as it is. If someone is making you uncomfortable, you don’t have to be polite to them.
The part where she says he probably enjoyed it is half the point. The other half is group-bonding with other men who endorse the action, or, at very least, let it pass; the other half of the point is getting tacit endorsement from other men, which is why men have to start withdrawing that endorsement.
Bolded for emphasis.