Although I’ve long since learned that thoughtful and well-researched articles of popular journalism about almost any aspect of fandom are the glaring exception to the rule, it was still quite frustrating to see The Washington Post follow suit in a recent article devoted to Otakon 2011, held at the end of July in Baltimore, Maryland. There are many inaccuracies, infelicities and false assumptions in the article, starting with the implicit idea that the likelihood of someone being sexually harassed or assaulted has anything to do with what they’re wearing. (It doesn’t.) As a long time Otakon attendee, I’m honestly surprised to realize that the con, which is 18 years old in 2011 and has grown to be the second-largest anime convention in the United States and the largest on the East Coast, doesn’t have an official anti-harassment policy, particularly since the con bills itself as “family-friendly,” and con staffers are usually quite vigilant about prohibiting behaviors like glomping. But, for the purposes of this blog, perhaps the most tired canard the article deploys is its blithe assertion that

Men have long been the foundation of the genre’s fan base, but they’ve been joined in increasing numbers by teen girls, whose embrace of the medium’s more fantastical side to new levels of stateside popularity. Conventions that were once cult gatherings attended almost exclusively by VHS-trading college-age (and older) males are now overflowing with young females…

Excuse me, WashPo, but female fans of anime and manga have been attending conventions for a long, long time. Rather than a purported recent rapid increase in the number of female anime fans, in the nine years since I started attending Otakon in 2002 I’d say the real demographic shift has been the con’s growing embrace of other subcultures and fandoms beyond anime, manga, and video games — but that’s another post. As I’ve gone from a character goods-obsessed high school student to an official convention panelist, one of the things that has kept me coming back to Otakon, aside from its unabashedly fannish atmosphere, is the rough gender equality among attendees (a marked contrast to many science fiction and fantasy conventions of my experience, I have to say). This experience of mine, moreover, is mirrored in the experience of just about every female fan of anime and manga that I know or can think of. Many of us Stateside started watching anime or reading manga in high school — if not earlier! — and didn’t meet any male fans of anime and manga for a good long while; when we did, the fandom was a rough gender balance, if not majority female. Female fans of anime and manga have even — gasp! –founded and run conventions and written books and articles devoted to those media, and have played crucial parts in their popularization and expansion, all by themselves. All of which is to say nothing of the fanbase of anime and manga in Japan and around the world, of course. Whether or not creators and critics and marketers and journalists realize it, female fans have been reading manga and watching anime since the beginning. Just last week, as I was enthusing about a recent manga based on Tezuka Osamu’s Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) to one of the administrators at my program office here in Kyoto, she commented that in 2003 (Atom’s birthday in-manga) she thought that, having read the manga and seen the anime as a child in the 1960s, she was glad to have been able to see the year of Atom’s birth for herself. These are the sorts of stories and experiences for which popular conceptions of anime and anime fans have no room, and it’s high time to put those misconceptions to rest. It’s long past time, moreover, for harassment to not be a predictable part of the Otakon experience for female attendees, regardless of cosplay or the lack thereof; it’s long past time for Otakon to introduce an unambiguous anti-harassment policy and code of conduct (a la OSCON and O’Reilly Media’s recent announcement). And it’s long past time to acknowledge that girls and women and female-identified people are in your anime and manga fandoms, your cons, and your fannish history, and that we’re not going anywhere, because we’ve been here all along.

[META] Telling a Truth about Otakon (and Other Things)
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