A brief report from the first annual ETSUCon.
ETSUCon was this past Saturday and I’m very pleased to say that it was a success on many levels. It was my first convention experience, and in my opinion it couldn’t have been better. I had heard convention horror stories of cranky cosplayers cramped and cornered, and of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching of women who, admirably and painstakingly, created perfect facsimiles of the iconic outfits of their favorite characters (which are often portrayed in a hypersexualized way) only to be treated with disrespect. I have to admit I was worried about this prospect myself, since I went dressed as Lara Croft, one of the most well-known and infamously objectified characters of all time, especially since Lara Croft cosplayers have notoriously been harassed at cons in the past.
My version of Lara was from the newest game in the franchise in which she is portrayed in a much more realistic way, with a bit more practical clothing choice, but it’s important to remember that convention harassment typically happens regardless of how women are dressed or how conservative the attire of the characters that they dress up as are. To place the blame for sexual harassment on a woman for the clothes she is wearing as if it were an invitation to violate her personal space and safety, is to engage in sexist slut shaming and victim blaming. This sort of thing is also sadly common as a means to justify inappropriate behavior in a society with a horrifying rape culture.
At ETSUCon, however, I am proud to say that I felt quite safe and respected by the convention goers. Those in charge of the event had a firm grasp on things and exhibited adept organizational ability. The attendees, at least in my experience, were quite respectful of personal boundaries when engaging with me or asking to have their pictures taken with me. I didn’t feel ogled or vulnerable, and I was personally not made uncomfortable by anyone at any time. I would hope that my experience is reflective of the whole, but I obviously can’t speak for every attendee. All of the feedback that I have heard thus far has been incredibly positive.
Speaking of feedback, the feedback that I received about our two feminist gaming panels at ETSUCon, “Feminerds Unite!” and “Sexism in Video Games” has also been incredible and makes me feel extremely proud of all the panelists (Caroline Locke, Women’s Studies student and panel organizer for “Feminerds Unite!”, Jon Shell, Chloe Conner), and also a sense of pride and accomplishment myself for participating in both panels. I also want to give a shout-out to my Feminerds Unite! co-panelists mentioned above, who did a remarkable job (Caroline did an amazing job in particular with the panel organization and moderation), and my Sexism in Video Game co-panelists and good friends Jennifer Culp, Cameron Kunzelman and Samantha Allen. Their insight was powerful and brilliant, and I think that it’s a safe bet that not only are our attendees now more informed about the prevalence of sexism within the “nerd” community, but they feel more empowered to confront it and shape a positive, inclusive community where no one need feel threatened for their identity.
All in all, it was one of the best weekends of my life, and on a personal note it was rather interesting to see what people unfamiliar with the ETSU campus found appealing or interesting – Cameron and Samantha were particularly enthusiastic about how awesome our spinning globes in front of Gilbreath and Burgin Dossett are. They also found endless enjoyment in the name of the company that owns the bookstore, Neebo. My good friend Frederic Poag also deserves a lot of recognition for the admirable job that he did. He ran around the entire day making sure that everything went on as planned, personally assisting myself and my panelists to get ready for our panels and to get to where we needed to be. The panels both had a wonderful turnout and the crowd provided some awesome questions for us to answer. I hope to have audio of the panel up in the next few days.
The first annual ETSUCon was an experience that I feel privileged to have been part of. I cannot express enough how happy I am to have had the conversations that we did, or to have seen the way in which our audiences reacted to our message. It gives me hope not only for the future of this convention, which has a strong foundation on which to build, but also for our society, seeing these enthusiastic young leaders in the fight against oppression right here in Johnson City. We may not be known for very much, but rest assured, these gamers are not to be taken lightly.
Other special thanks to my friends Justin Mitchell for moderating the Sexism in Gaming Panel, my friends and adopted kin Joseph Culp and Haein Lee, Ben Schaller for all of his personal support and encouragement, and everyone in attendance at ETSUCon for such a great time.
You can find photos of both panels in this album on our facebook page.
Until next year, as Lara Croft would say, “Just Keep Moving”.