Once More Unto the Breach

[Content Note: Rape culture; harassment.]

There has been another resurgence in interest in the series of posts documenting the Penny Arcade Dickwolves rape joke comic and subsequent fallout, after game designer Elizabeth Sampat wrote a piece last week called "Quit Fucking Going to PAX Already, What Is Wrong with You," which documents the many despicable fails of Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, followed by a piece by Rachel Edidin at Wired entitled "Why I'm Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo," in which she documents what happened last Monday at the most recent Penny Arcade Expo (PAX):
[O]n Monday at PAX, in front of an audience of thousands, Krahulik told business manager Robert Khoo that he regretted pulling the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store — merchandise he had created as a "screw you" to rape survivors who had had the temerity to complain about a comic strip. While the audience burst into applause, Khoo nodded sagely and said that now they knew better; now they would just leave it and not engage.
Much has been written about this incident already, following the predictable scripts, and I don't have anything new to add about how Krahulik and Holkins are rape apologist assholes. That much has been evident, to anyone who wanted to acknowledge truth, for three years now.

I will, however, make this one observation: A lot of discussion about whether PAX is a safe place to be (separate from discussions about whether it's a decent place to be) has centered around Krahulik and Holkins personally. That's understandable given both the roles that they hold, as well as their personal influence over which way these sorts of conversations go, within their community.

But I keep coming back to "the audience burst into applause." The audience cheered for an expression of regret for showing the tiniest bit of compassion for survivors and/or anti-rape advocates.

Irrespective of Krahulik and Holkins, how safe should anyone feel at PAX amongst attendees who delight in belligerent hostility toward people who object to sexual violence?

The audience burst into applause.

That certainly does not come as a shock to me—nor, presumably, any other woman who's written about the Dickwolves debacle—given that Penny Arcade readers inundated me with violent rhetoric "from exhortions to kill myself to threatening emails and comments to a coordinated campaign against me and the blog...which explicitly encourage[d] Penny Arcade readers to stalk and rape me."

Presumably, some number of these dedicated Penny Arcade fans, who took time out of their lives to harass me for criticizing the authors of their favorite webcomic, are attendees at any PAX. It was never a safe space.

Realistically, no conference is ever totally safe. (Ahem.) The rape culture is insidious; predators are insidious. The best—but also the very least—any organizer of any conference can (and must) do is create clear and inflexible consent and safety guidelines, then model and enforce consent and safety. And expect consent and safety of their attendees.

Krahulik and Holkins didn't even bother to do that. And when the men (used advisedly) defining a culture, no matter how large or small, model hostility to anti-rape advocacy, consent and safety isn't going to spontaneously generate in contravention of what they're modeling.

Building safe spaces takes work, but, crucially, it takes leadership that is desirous of a safe space in the first place.

The audience burst into applause.

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