Of Conferences and Creepy People

May 24th, 2012 by Karen

Last week, I was pleased to be able to attend two wonderful conferences in the Austin area and for the most part, I had a great time. For the most part. Oh how one little prepositional phrase can change the entire meaning of a sentence. The conferences themselves were really wonderful. The speakers had a lot of great information (though I must admit, I was a speaker at one of them, so I might be a smidge biased), there was some great opportunities for networking as well as some really fun activities. That being said, there was this disturbing undercurrent present that a week later is still really bothering me.

Jerk #1
The first night of the first conference, there was a rooftop networking party hosted by several companies and when I arrived, the party was in full swing. This means that while I was completely sober, there were a lot of folks who were well into their cups due to the open bar. I found a knot of my close industry friends and was there only about 10 minutes when this incredibly drunk guy came up to me, told me I was pretty, told me his name and what kind of company he worked for, then unceremoniously gave me a terribly uncomfortable slithering hug and kissed the side of my neck. In retrospect, there’s a 1000 things the angry Xena in me would/should have done to the jerk, but I was too stunned to even react. All I could think was “Did that just ACTUALLY happen?”. Now of course I’m kicking myself for not at least dumping his drink on him or making him sing soprano for several days.

Jerk #2
The second disturbing thing that happened to me personally was later in the week at the second conference. Breaking from the traditional “stand around in a room” type of networking, we had a little networking R&R out on a lake. I’m a total water-baby (despite my fair skin, I spent more than 6 hours of that day in the water between the lake and the pool…thank you SPF 100 sunscreen!) and a lot of folks were swimming, so it wasn’t long before I was in the water. I was so there. One of the boats had a slide on it and after a bunch of my friends went down it, I was goaded into doing so as well. Now, I’m no longer the svelte lacrosse & hockey player I was in my 20s and I’m much curvier than I used to be, but as I came down the slide and into the lake, one of the childish guys in the water hollered up at me “Show us your boobs!”. What. The. Hell. I’m sorry, but last I had checked, my fabulous hubby was still home in California as our three amazing kids had a lot of activities going on and we both couldn’t get away and he’s the only one remotely even allowed to make such an request…and certainly not at an industry event! After I came up from my slide, this guy with a frat boy mentality and half full of beer starts treading water next to me and making suggestive comments. After a moment or two, I actually swam over near the conference organizer and some of his staff who were also swimming just to get away from the guy. Later that night in speaking with another friend, I came to find out that the exact same guy had made her a completely inappropriate proposition that same day.

I heard other stories while I was in Austin, but since those were third party, I’m not going to include them here. Suffice it to say however, this sort of misogynistic behavior (drunken or not) is wholly inappropriate AT ANY TIME and when they happen at a conference is it certainly a horrible reflection on the company those two guys represent. (And yes, I haven’t named names or companies, but I will certainly not being buying any ink or shoes online from either of them. And the shoe guy? I was a customer. Not any more.)

Folks, if you can’t handle your liquor, don’t drink at an industry event. Even if it’s free. Free booze does not give you free license to be a jerk or come on to every person with a XX chromosome in a 100 yard radius. Your lewd comments to ANYONE are unwelcome. Just because I’m traveling alone/a girl/kinda geeky/”insert your own adjectives here” doesn’t mean that I’m so lonely that I’m going to jump at the chance to run to your hotel room. Nor that I want you to follow me to mine. Quite the contrary.

This is a very serious issue and I’m still kind of pissed off at myself for not making a huge stink and throwing a fit about it right there and then. (I still haven’t really figured out why I didn’t. I didn’t want to embarrass them? I didn’t want to make a scene? All the reasons that come to mind are terrible.) According to RAINN, every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted (this includes sexual harassment) and 1 out of every 6 American women and 1 out of every 33 American men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. I’m not trying to be alarmist, but this is a significant portion of the population…just take a look at your list of friends on Facebook and do the math.

I can’t say what I’ll do the next time it happens to me (cynical note: there was no “if” in that statement), but I hope that I’ll have enough backbone to stand up for myself right when it happens. In the meantime, I will continue to surround myself with loving, good-hearted people that I know have my back and make sure that I’m never somewhere alone while I’m traveling.

And to the two gentlemen who took it upon themselves to insist on escorting me all the way back to my hotel room door at the resort on two subsequent nights simply because they were concerned for my safety, thank you.

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