Calgary Expo 2015 Wrap Up (part 2, Feminism & Honey Badgering)
Calgary Expo 2015 started out with the now infamous Honey Badger Brigade getting evicted from the show. Honey Badger members, who are men’s rights advocates and GamerGate supporters, were accused of derailing a panel about women in comics . They’d purchased a booth in one of the Artist Alley areas to display the work of one of their members, but after several complaints from con attendees the convention staff evicted the Honey Badgers and replaced their booth with a sign stating that Calgary Expo will not tolerate harassment.
The Honey Badgers, for their part, were completely incensed. They accused Calgary Expo of misogyny and harassment, stated that they were arbitrarily ejected when they’d done nothing wrong. They claimed that Calgary Expo had no legal right to throw them out, while Calgary Expo maintains that they’re a privately run organization and can do whatever the hell they want.
The fact that this happened right at the beginning of the show added an edge to the entire experience for me. I appreciated the convention taking action to ensure that their attendees felt as safe as possible, but it was a stark reminder throughout the entire weekend that conventions are perhaps not as safe as they used to be. (Or maybe I just didn’t realize that cons could be unsafe before GamerGate tore through our culture.
There were two panels in particular that were particularly uncomfortable for me because of recent events with GamerGate. One was a women in comics panel (not the one the Honey Badgers allegedly disrupted) that was held by an all-woman panel of comic enthusiasts. My concern about this panel turned out to be completely unfounded. Everyone attending obviously had a real passion for comics and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of obscure comic book history. I learned a lot about minority representation in indie comics throughout the history of comic books, but I was really out of my depth with most of it and the discussion was very academic and pretty dry.
The biggest threat during this panel about women in comics was to my self esteem. It was WAY above my grade level.
I went directly from that panel to one about women in games. Unfortunately, in this case my unease about the atmosphere and the topic was well founded.
I have never seen so many security guards at a panel in my life. There were also a couple of police officers, if I recall correctly.
Before the panel started security did a sweep of the room, checking laps and under seats. I assume they were looking for weapons, but that’s just a guess. The room was crowded and the atmosphere was tense, which didn’t ease when the panel actually started. While most of the panelists were more than content to talk about their jobs and their history within the games industry, there were panelists that seemed aggressively determined to bring the conversation to more inflammatory topics like feminism and GamerGate.
It was evident that most of the panelists were uncomfortable with that line of discussion, but it was equally obvious that the people driving the conversation down these controversial and somewhat dangerous roads were angry and frustrated with recent events and desperate for a platform to express their feelings.
That expression had a powerful impact on the audience. When the word “Feminism” was mentioned there was a vocal response from the crowd that was equal parts cheering and booing. That’s when I got really uncomfortable. It was clear there were a lot of GamerGate supporters in the crowd; in fact, I could see a man sitting near me that was obviously agitated when the conversation touched on feminist topics or negativity about GamerGate.
It was tense and I was worried for the panelists, which made the entire experience an unhappy one. I was also disappointed because several times topics were raised that would have been fascinating; things like the trend for parents to buy games and consoles for their sons but not for their daughters, which supports the idea that “games aren’t for girls”, and how a woman can find her place in gaming culture when she’s introduced to it as an adult. Unfortunately, these topics were sidelined so that the focus could remain on feminism and rage at the fact that so many women have been muzzled by fear of GamerGate.
I didn’t enjoy this panel at all. It wasn’t the fault of the panelists; while I would have liked a broader range of topics, the panelists were interesting and witty. It was the atmosphere I didn’t like.
Hopefully a year from now GamerGate will have faded so far into the background that we can have these panels again without a dozen security guards and without anyone booing the word “feminism”.
Calgary Expo 2015 was an overwhelmingly positive experience and a well-run convention and the problems I encountered were almost entirely due to the current upheaval in gaming culture (and the fact that I’m not smart enough to attend academic talks on comic history).