On Saturday, October 12th, 2013 at approximately 5:30 PM, I was walking through Artist Alley with my friend A, who was dressed as steampunk-version of Death from The Sandman comics. I was dressed in an Asian steampunk outfit (an image can be seen here, taken earlier that day). As you can see in the photo, I was modestly dressed (steampunk!) and carrying my parasol. We had been stopped numerous times for pictures from attendees and interviewed courtesy by another press crew while in the Artist Alley. This is why I didn’t hesitate when a man dressed in a dark T shirt and dark jeans pulled me aside and hurriedly asked for an interview.
My friend A was busy posing for other photographers at the time. I’m noting this in case any other photographer in the room noticed them and possibly took a photo with them in the background.
The creeper interviewer (which will now be known at TCI) was about 5’ 2” – 5’4” tall (we were eye-level with each other), slightly stocky athletic built, short crew cut dark hair, brown eyes and tanned complexion. He had at least three others with him, dressed all in black. One of them carried a full camera with built in sound boom, and one other had a clip board and looked like a production assistant. There was some sort of logo on the cameraman and on the interviewer’s mic (probably some generic “The_____ show” but I couldn’t see clearly).
People have since messaged me saying that they experienced similar incidents with this group. I encourage you to report these events to con security if you are on site. I myself will be emailing the show manager Lance Fensterman (@Lfensterman, Lance@REEDpop.com)
Please email the show manager, too, and report them to NYCC. This kind of behavior must not be tolerated.
My heart broke all over again when I read this post by Stephanie Zvan. Just when I think I can no longer be surprised by the callousness of the police, I read something like this. I’m utterly astounded that these police can get away with making this woman act out her rape with one of the officers playing the rapist. How is that not sexual assault on its own?
Also when I read things like this, I feel less alone and darkly lucky, in a way. The assaults I endured and reported didn’t have physical evidence like Stephanie’s did. They were all by people I knew and trusted and even loved. Mine were not the “stereotypical rape” that everyone pictures when they hear the word rape. Stepanie’s was. Horrific and violence by a stranger. Loads of physical evidence (“deep tissue bruising on my arms, burns on my labia, tearing that went from my vagina to my anus”)…and even with all that, this is how she was treated. This is how she was bullied into recanting, forcing her, like so many others, to become a false rape allegation statistic. It’s also a prime example of how people who suffer from a type of mental illness are stigmatized and blamed for their own victimization.
Here’s an excerpt:
Over the next few months, I submitted to multiple, horrific “interviews” that really felt like “interrogations” as time went on. I was also dealing with a serious medical condition at the time (I almost died; my intestines ruptured, but was almost certainly not a result of the rape, just bad timing). But I still believed in the system. I still didn’t want the man who raped me on the streets. I did everything they requested, answered every invasive question (the were really focused on my mental health history!), even got on the ground and acted out the rape for them, with the head detective on top of me acting out the part of the rapist. Not only was I absolutely hysterical by the time we were done, I’m positive that aggravated my PTSD for a long time after.
And after all that, I was called in for an “interview” to discuss “a new lead in your case”. They didn’t let my rape counselor in the room–again, against the law, I found out later! For about an hour (I think; my sense of time was not that great) they were no longer even pretending to be supportive. They accused me over and over of making it up. They had very flimsy “evidence” (which I won’t go into because it’s both complicated and ridiculous) but mostly it was their “instinct”.
Because I have a mental illness. Because I was hospitalized after attempting suicide. Because I “claimed” I had been sexually assaulted in the past. Because I was crazy, and he was sure I was just looking for attention. He had a bipolar ex-wife, you see, and she made his life a living hell. He told me how he understood mentally ill women, and how we need to create drama. How we’re liars, and we crave attention.
And over and over they accused me of lying. Alone in this tiny room with two large, angry men, I was doing everything I could to keep from having a panic attack. I couldn’t respond to what they were saying; again, I think I was in shock. And they threatened me with jail time, with a felony on my record, destroying my family, public humiliation (he threatened to call the papers–something he did anyway, because, quote, “the community needs to know there was no threat to public safety”). They said I would be charged with a false report, with terrorizing the public (there was a public awareness campaign initially after my attack, though I didn’t have anything to do with it. After the rape, I did everything I could to maintain anonymity, and only told two people–beyond my family and the cops–hat I was attacked. But…I did it for attention, which was why I didn’t tell anyone? I’m just sneaky like that, I guess!). Accusations, threats, anger, pounding the table, over and over and over.
The detective looked at me. His whole demeanor changed; he tried to seem kind, avuncular. “Tell me you made the whole thing up. This whole thing will disappear. Nothing will happen to you. You can leave, if you just tell me you made it up. Tell me you made it up and you’re sorry for lying, and I’ll let you leave.” I tried to hold out–but I didn’t last long. Honestly, at that point, all I wanted in the entire world was just to get out of that room. There are very few things I wouldn’t have done, if I could only leave. So I looked at him and lied. I said, “I made the whole thing up. I’m sorry.”
Next time you hear someone spout the false accusation rhetoric, you can not only tell them that false accusations account for less than 2% of reported cases, but even some of that 2% has been coerced and bullied into recanting.
Olivia M. Grey lives in the cobwebbed corners of her mind writing paranormal romance with a Steampunk twist, like the Amazon Gothic Romance bestseller Avalon Revisited. Her short stories and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies, like SNM Horror Magazine and How the West Was Wicked. Ms. Grey also blogs and podcasts relationship essays covering such topics as alternative lifestyles, deepening intimacy, ending a relationship with love and respect, and other deliciously dark and decadent matters of the heart and soul.
I had the great pleasure of doing two cons almost back-to-back with Ms. Priest in 2011. They were in between my first sexual assault by a colleague, for which I was still both in denial and recovery, and about six weeks before the second by the Steampunk Musician. Needless to say, I wasn’t at my best. Still, I had a lovely time with Ms. Priest during both conventions, and I hope to see her again in the future.
This post “Maybe It’s Just Us” is in response to the SFWA sexism scandal and to Elise Matthesen’s post about how to report sexual harassment,even if (maybe, especially if) the perpetrator is a prominent member of the community. I’m thrilled to see how her story has spread across the internet and inspired these discussions. I’m also so happy to see that the convention took it seriously. More and more are doing so because we’re speaking up. I’ve spoken to three different conventions privately about the sexual assault/rape by that Steampunk Musician after SPWF 2011, and two of the Con Chairs still say: “Yes, so sorry that happened and we take these things seriously, but our hands are tied.” In other words, he’ll still be welcome as GOH and such. The third, however, which will be made public shortly, not only say they take such things seriously, they’re showing with their actions. They will no be bringing him back next year. Yes.
Excerpt from “Maybe It’s Just Us”:
Sure, this other dude is all up in my personal space, but it’s kind of crowded in here, maybe he didn’t mean to rub his arm against my boob. Either of those times. My boobs aren’t very big. They’re easy to miss.
Besides, I attend these events as a professional. It’s my job to be Nice and Warm and Approachable. Therefore, I get Approached.
So it’s easy to wonder if maybe it’s just me, sending out the wrong signals. Getting the wrong approaches. And God knows if I do bring up my discomfort, the odds are very, very good that I’ll hear, “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.” “He’s just trying to be friendly.” “You’re overreacting.”
With enough repetition, enough reinforcement … (enough dismissal) … any reasonable person would start to think, “Well, I’m the common denominator, here. I guess it is just me.”
She concludes that Elise’s post will make it easier for her and other women to report and to stop before second guessing themselves. It will indeed. Every woman who speaks out makes it easier for the next woman. Several have written to me privately saying how my posts at Caught in the Cogs on rape, rape culture, and misogyny, along with my very personal accounts and healing, have helped them out of dangerous situations or abusive relationships. We must talk. We must shout!
Must read post about what women deal with on a daily basis. These are the kinds of things that are dismissed and explained, or a woman is shamed into silence. Must read.
Here’s an excerpt:
An offensive joke told by two men in front of you in line at the post office. “Bitch,” said about someone else. Loud phone calls on the street, as he hopes his fucking ex died or got fat. Women’s representation in any given movie. Hearing a woman’s spent too much money on her appearance. Reading that women who ask for raises are perceived as impossibly pushy, greedy. The man who asks why women wear makeup; he likes women to look natural. A guy saying something cutting to his date. Steubenville. Rihanna jokes. Reports about Charles Saatchi publicly strangling Nigella Lawson, calling it an argument. No one is looking at you, just now. You don’t have to say anything. You can give yourself the luxury of not responding. You can pretend.
Things you deal with:
A man touching your shoulder when you’re ahead of him in line, to nudge you forward. A man moving to stand in your spot in an otherwise-empty elevator. (The man who uses this opportunity to ask you a question he wouldn’t ask in public.) A man seeing you kneel to pick up a paperclip and saying, “A woman on her knees gives a man ideas.” A man shouting at his girlfriend as she looks around for help. A group of teenage boys catcalling on the street. “Bitch,” said about you. The offensive joke a male co-worker tells you. The male co-worker who repeats you and gets the credit. The man who won’t stop asking you if you want a drink. The man who ducks around the line to cut in front of you. “Smile, sweetheart.” The man at the rush-hour bus stop who asks every woman to look at a picture of his perineum. The man who says you’re too angry for him to take seriously; if you want him to listen, be calmer.
These are not the assaults, the beatings, the rapes. These are not the traumas. These are small things, mostly; they happen a hundred times a day, you have to deal with them all. To ignore these is to know they’re collecting little victories of privilege, and to wait for “baby” to turn to “bitch” when you don’t answer. To respond almost always risks escalation, telescoping the amount of time you’ll have to deal with it. Either can be dangerous, if the man has a mind.
I’ve been a yes-girl in my steampunk community for a while. Anytime I’m asked to help with something I say, “Yes. What do you need?” My talents are limited, but it turns out I have a knack for dressing well and looking cute, so more often than not my contributions are posing for a camera and letting people use the results. This year I was asked if my image could be used as a place holder for a page three girl slot in a Steampunk convention’s schedule. The schedule was meant to be in the style of an old newspaper. I said, “Yes, of course as long as it’s tasteful.” I have no qualms with using the sexual nature of humans as long as there is consent involved. However, my picture over/next to an image of a woman’s body divided into cuts of meat. The image was a very classical example of dehumanization and dismemberment (in this case implied) of women in the media. My image was sitting next to the implication that women are meat. Meat to be cut up. Meat to be consumed. At that moment I became meat and I remained meat for the rest of the convention.
Dismemberment of women in media is not a topic talked about often enough. It is so normalized that most people don’t even realize that they are looking at an image of something that was human. The image of a person becomes a part, a chunk, a piece of meat. A woman becomes her thighs, her hips, her breasts. She stops being a person. Once she is dehumanized, she becomes an item for consumption. That is what happened to me and many other women attending this convention.
I’m one of the dismembered torsos in there. I’m the black bustle and red corset with the hip twitch. My head has been cut off. My identity as a human being has been removed, and I’ve been reduced to a headless torso: a piece of meat to be consumed.
The above screenshot was my response to this offensive, dehumanizing video. I was quite displeased that my image was being used without my consent in a dismemberment, creeper-shot style video. To expand a little on the content of this video, there was a mannequin in the mix of female torsos. It is almost completely unrecognizable as such to the point that multiple people on a following thread about this video did not believe it existed. This mannequin served a wonderful purpose in this video. It served to show us that female bodies were being portrayed in such a way that the female bodies were indistinguishable from an actual object.
Later that night the video was apparently deleted after the Facebook altercation. However, instead of a graceful removal of the video with an appropriate apology for objectifying women, there was this:
“And since no one can agree on what is proper or degrading, or ugly or beautiful, dehumanizing or consenting, a proper angle or disgusting view of someone..I have removed the video…The Man who put together video has over 200 hours of video he took at the convention..Those that knew he was video taping you can see they responded by waving or pointing at the camera..the rest were area shots that he took angles and paned up on a scene sorta like scrolling on a picture..Carry on..Find something else to complain about.”
In other words, for “the rest” who did not consent, “The Man” took shots at surreptitious angles reducing human beings to headless tits, hips, and asses in a corset.
The video was removed from the convention’s FB group.
Carry on..Find something else to complain about.
The following comments were along the lines of calling me and my handful of friends who took issue with this video “trolls and haters.” There were a lot of comments about how these “trolls” and “haters” were trying to make everything fail, particularly the convention. One comment that really struck me was, “No statue, monument or plaque has ever been raised to a critic. Just sayin.”
Only they have been raised. Take a moment to think of all of your civil rights leaders. They were critics.
Beyond the dismissive nature of most of the retorts, one of the chairs of this con posted a seething post about how much work went into this with little to no pay addressing the audience as, “To All who love and enjoy Steampunk in any way.” In the same response, begging the fact the photographer that filmed this video has over 200 hours of video, he asked, “So..before you attack or put down someone elses work..take a min..think about it..Does tearing down someone’s work really do anyone any good?” He didn’t address the fact that the women in the video were hurt by this use of their sexuality without their consent all the while implying they don’t care for this scene.
So, did my public admonishment accomplish anything? Did my addressing the fact that my sexuality was being used without my consent do any good? Did pointing out that we have been reduced to objects do any good?
This is how the community responded to blatant misogyny and the objectification of community members (paraphrased):
So what?; There are boobs in corsets; This was about the corsets; There were some faces shown; This is clearly just about consent to use faces; Anyone who is uncomfortable with boobs and bustles is going to have a hard time in the Steampunk community; This is art. People can do whatever they want with their art.
My body and sexuality were exploited in a way that reduced me to sexually objectified body parts ready for consumption. “Who cares?” the community asks.
And I am using my voice to say that this isn’t okay. For speaking out against this blatant disregard for consent and sexual objectification of women in my community, I am getting dismissive, angry backlash.
Women who speak out against sexualized violence get backlash. Jackson Katz in The Macho Paradox says, “Women who dare to break the customary female silence about gender violence are often reminded that there is a price to pay for their boldness. They certainly run the risk of evoking men’s hostility and anger, because to challenge men’s right to control women is to threaten men who see such control as their birthright.”
Right now, in my immediate community, the discussion of how we portray women’s bodies continues. My “tearing down” someone’s work accomplished that. And while the men in charge may not be comfortable, angry even, with this discussion, I won’t be silenced.
I will never be silent again.
So, my request to you is: Carry On. Find Something Else to Complain About.
Don’t stop until misogyny is no longer a problem in our community. I know I won’t.
Jenny Choate is a recent University of Michigan graduate. She spends a lot of time playing table top role playing games, larping,or participating in her Steampunk community. The rest of her time is spent reading up on feminist world issues. She is a no wave, intersectionalist, radical feminist.