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Getting Groped – Gender Bias and Genderbending

Last week I talked about my experiences going to conventions in less than conventional dress, but I left the account of my being fondled brief as I thought it deserved its own discussion. This is that discussion, and it comes with what is becomming a distressingly boilerplate trigger warning.

One of the big questions I had when I started wearing my Slave Leo costume was whether I would have the sort of negative experiences that women have reported, the leering, the drooling and most specifically, the groping. The short answer is yes, I did have those experiences, and yes they were negative, but not so much as they could have been.

There are three specific instances in which I was physically accosted, by strangers, without anything that could be mistaken for permission.

The first, I had my ass slapped. This was so strange and shocking to me that I just walked away in confusion having returned to my assailant nothing more than a baffled glance. She was smirking at me in a way that suggested she expected me to have found the gesture flattering.

The second, I had my chest hair ruffled. That isn’t something I even knew could happen until it did. After my first experience, I had decided that I wouldn’t let such events pass without confrontation, so I called her on it. I said something to the effect of “I don’t know you,” to which her response was to again run her fingers over my chest while grinning in a come-hitherish fashion. She clearly didn’t get it, but her friends did, and I suspect that when she sobered up the next day, they made her feel adequately uncomfortable for it.

The third, I had my chest fondled by a woman while I was walking through a huge crowd. I stopped. Told her not to do that. She told me it was okay, and I had permission to do it to her. I hope that our audience here doesn’t need me to do over why her willingness to let me reciprocate doesn’t make it okay.

Not Flattering
I have heard said that while feels that have been copped and leers that linger overly may not be the form of attention one desires, that one should still consider them forms of flattery. There is some logic to this, but having now experienced it myself, I would like to dissuade any who would think to apply this argument.

Much of the attention I received I did find flattering, some deeply so, some so much so that it made me uncomfortable. But that was genuine flattery. Compliments, requests for photos, and even a couple earnest but less wholesome suggestions, were all flattering. But being groped was not. It was an invasion. It wasn’t that I found the women unattractive or creepy, I thought them all beautiful and likely would have blushed at their attention in other forms, but their groping was no more flattering than if they had decided that my dinner looked tasty and had started eating it off my plate. I had something that they fancied and they had a go at it. No respect was given, no consent sought. Any flattery that might have been garnered from the experience was completely flooded out by the offence. I’m sure someone would find it enjoyable, but I didn’t and I suspect most people wouldn’t.

Not The Same
Something I alluded to in my previous post is that there is a difference between men groping women and women groping men. My experience is not universal, of course, but there is a strong gender bias. The difference, I think, lies mostly in the realm of fear.

When I was molested, my brain quietly did a little calculation, a simple, primal, fight or flight set of sums. The result, I win. If the situation escalates, whether I chose to stand my ground or bolt, in either case, I would easily outmatch my opponent. Had the situation been reversed, had I been the predator, they couldn’t have fought or run and hoped to win.

I have had many female friends and acquaintances relate stories of being fondled by men. Those tales always include some accounting of fear: fear of physical harm, fear of being unable to stop them if things escalate, fear of reprisal for attempting to fight back. I felt none of that. But being in the situation brought the difference into sharp focus.

This, then, is the major difference I found in being the objectified cosplay cabana boy rather than a similarly barely attired lady, I am not threatened by my assailants. Even when I’m the one being groped, I’m still in the position of power. So while I have the luxury of deciding exactly how flattered, annoyed, or disgusted I am with the fondling, someone smaller, weaker, and less violent than I might feel trapped, left sorting out whether they were going to get out of the situation unharmed.

So that sucks.

I’m just gonna leave this here.

photo credit: www.convergence-con.org/‎

photo credit: www.convergence-con.org/‎

Featured image, “Slave Leo Reclining” by Angela Clayfield

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Ryan

Ryan

Ryan Consell is a skeptical artist, tap-dancing armorer, juggling scientist, rock-climbing writer, sword-fighting math teacher, uni-cycling gamer, fire-spinning academic and devout nerd. He has a Masters in Applied science, most of a bachelors in Fine Arts, and a very short attention span. He is the author of How Not to Poach a Unicorn and half of the masochistic comedy duo that is Creative Dissonance. Follow him on Twitter @StudentofWhim

10 Comments

  1. December 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for your honestly and for sharing this story.

  2. December 6, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    This is interesting, and it makes me wonder what the women were thinking? Perhaps all of them were just drunk and not thinking, but I wonder if either of the other two were intentionally revelling in the opportunity to turn the tables. Or, instead, if they had been told that groping wasn’t anything to be upset about so often that they had come to believe it (or at least believe that men truly felt that way), and so were acting accordingly? (The latter strikes me as a bit far-fetched, but really what do I know.)

    And your “not flattering” point is well worth emphasizing. Any possible implication of flattery would be completely washed out by the overbearing implication of This-Is-Mine that comes with such direct invasion of bodily space.

  3. December 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Things we can never know. I’m fairly certain that they were all in various depths of inebriation, but whether they were thinking, or reacting or what their internal feelings and thoughts might have been before and after are entirely a mystery. I thought about speculating, but I thought that I should just stick to my own experiences.

  4. December 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Ryan, and I’m really sorry this happened.

    I think another big difference between your experience and that of many of your female counterparts is the frequency of such experiences. With both physical and verbal harassment, it’s really difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t been there what the cumulative effect is of things like happening over and over. When posts like the recent Brain Scoop video about harassing emails, or posts about getting catcalled on the street go up, I see well-meaning commenters all over saying things like, “Just ignore them–they’re idiots and it shouldn’t get to you.” That might be possible if it just happened once or twice, but when it’s a somewhat regular occurrence, the impact of the collection of experiences is more than the sum of its parts. It wears you down.

    I know you’re aware of this, but I wanted to bring up this side of it, too.

  5. December 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I feel bad for Ryan, who is an amazing artist by the way, and anyone else who has had this happen to them. It is nice to see the message get out from both sides of the genders.

  6. December 7, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    This is a really wonderful post for all kinds of reasons — you do such a good job of pointing out how uncomfortable this made you feel while also acknowledging your privilege and how different it is for a man. I do wonder what the post would have been like had any men groped you. I truly hope you will not find out. And I’m sorry that these incidents happened.

    I wanted to point out a few other differences you may or may not have considered. Anne S above points out the frequency difference — you had three experiences in what — a year? I’m willing to wager that Slave Leias probably get groped (especially in cons without well-explained policies on sexual harassment) at least this much every _evening_ if not more.

    The other thing that you have not dealt with is looks, groping, and leering since you were very, VERY young as most cis women have. Whenever a man would leer at me on the street, holler, or grab me, it was not only upsetting in the moment (and, as you point out, physically frightening in a way your experiences weren’t), it also re-traumatized me as it triggered memories of similar things happening: dozens and dozens of them, back when I was essentially a child. For me, it started when I was thirteen and didn’t even have breasts yet or any interest whatsoever in attention from boys — let alone men, who were mainly the ones subjecting me to this harassment. It was terrifying, humiliating, bewildering, and truly nauseating — and even as an adult woman with more skills and experience in dealing with this stuff, it always reminded me of these moments when it would happen.

    And there is one other aspect to being groped that is very different for men: women are constantly afraid of reacting not only because of the individual male in that situation, but because they fear that people will not believe us, or will tell us to stop being so whiny, or tell us we deserved it due to how we were dressed. Or we fear the taboo of seeming angry and self-righteous. We bear an enormous amount of cultural baggage whenever we decide to speak up (and, ironically, when we decide _not_ to. There is pretty much no way for us to react that will not garner criticism, threats, victim-blaming, or laughter).

    None of this is a criticism of your excellent post; these are just thoughts that came up reading it. Also: AMAZING, thoughtful, beautiful, and brave cosplay, dood.

  7. December 7, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for this post. I have to admit, my first thought was, “well, what did he expect? If he didn’t want to get groped, he shouldn’t have dressed that way.” What was I thinking! Women have been told that exact same thing for years. “You were asking for it by the way you were dressed and/or behaving.” For decades the way a woman dressed was used as permission for a man to harass her, or worse. It has been said so many times, that it is still my initial thought to hearing about you being invaded. I guess we still have a lot of teaching to do that just because someone is wearing revealing clothing does not give carte blanche permission to invade a persons space and molest their body without permission.

  8. December 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Great post!

  9. December 9, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Sadly this doesn’t really surprise me as it all sounds very much like a few experiences I’ve had whilst wearing a kilt. You are quite right about the power thing though. I’ve never felt threatened when it has happened to me; annoyed and uncomfortable but never threatened.

  10. February 28, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Thank you for this, Ryan. Also, awesome costume idea!

    I want to echo and piggyback on the post by haddayr. As with her comment, this is not criticism, just further thoughts related to the subject that I wanted to bring up.

    While unwanted physical touch is certainly a clear and major offense and harassment, I want to point out that not all serious or traumatizing sexual harassment requires physical touch. In fact, the worst harassment I ever received while in costume did not involve physical contact, but instead simply a camera lens. A group of friends and I were dressed as the Amazoness Quartet from Sailor Moon (look it up for further details, but all you need to know is we were in outfit as revealing as your average bathing suit) and were being mobbed by photographers in the ever so ego-gratifying way that so many cosplayers love. At some point a man came out of the crowd and walked right up to us and proceeded to film us close up, seeming to focus specifically on our chests and behinds. We just laughed awkwardly and gave each other sideways glances, shocked and not really sure how to respond, our minds simply refusing to process what was going on and telling us not to break our poses so as not to ruin the photo so many others were trying to take. It wasn’t until after that we realized exactly what happened and were upset with ourselves for not calling the guy out on his inappropriate behavior, and equally shocked no one in the crowd surrounding us though to step in either. This was of course back in 2009, well before the Cosplay is not Consent movement had taken shape, much like the instance of your behind being groped was a learning experience for us about being more aware of our surroundings and ready to stand up for ourselves.

    I’ve been lucky that this is the worst it has been for me in the convention world, and I am not easily shaken by the more fleeting forms of harassment most likely to occur at conventions, but I always worry about younger, less experienced cosplayers who have not yet gained such inner strength and confidence to shrug such instances off simply offended but not distressed.

    Thank you again, Ryan, for continuing this discussion, and helping raise some points that other men may relate to and understand more easily. We live in a culture obsessed with objectifying others, and it’s only by taking stock of ourselves and our actions that we can learn how disrespectful that can be and where the line falls between generally acceptable flattery and truly offensive harassment. Keep talking. The more people who join the conversation the better chance we have at teaching others what is acceptable and what is not.

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