(image cred: Nerd Stash)
Cosplay is such a wonderful part of comic conventions. Everyone loves seeing all the elaborate and creative costumes, but for those wearing the costumes, just one person can ruin the entire experience. Although there is tons of information about how to treat one another with respect during these events, unfortunately many people still cross the line of acceptable behavior.
Cosplay Without Consent is a movement aimed “to empower fan convention costume enthusiasts (aka “cosplayers”) to SPEAK OUT against inappropriate social behavior of a sexual and/or stereotypical nature for themselves and fellow fans… cosplay is NOT consent!” Meaning, that just because you see someone dressed in a skin tight hero suit, that doesn’t give another person permission to cat-call, touch them, sexually harass, or in any other way make them feel uncomfortable or fear for their safety.
There have been tons of articles dating back to 2013 at the beginning of this movement, but I feel this is a topic that still needs to be shared. Some people are still under the impression that cosplayers have no rights if they choose to dress in costume. This is what’s really important about this movement:
Cosplayers Are Real People
I’m not sure when the disconnect happened, but the offenders seem to all have one thing in common: they don’t treat cosplayers as real people. As in, if someone is wearing a costume (skin tight or full body armor) then they must not have feelings or worse yet, their feelings don’t count.
It reminds me of the difference between working in customer service at the front desk in comparisons to just on the phones. It’s so easy to scream and curse out the voice at the end of the line about all your problems because they don’t have a face. It’s just a voice. They don’t count and whatever the issue, it’s all their fault. Working the front desk, I found those same people showed more constraint because there was a real-life person to look at. I very rarely heard cursing at the front desk. It doesn’t excuse the behavior at all, but I have seen this type of maltreatment from both men and women for years. Whether behind a mask or a voice at the other end of the line, we need to break this habit.
So just because someone is in costume, doesn’t mean they are immune to hurtful or sexually charged statements and gestures. It can hurt and even frighten people, who are just there to have a good time like everyone else.
Cosplay Does Not Grant Permission
My favorite cosplay is dressing up as a pirate wench during Ren Faires. There’s great brews and music, the side shows are hilarious, and my friends and I can practice our ridiculous accents while having a good laugh. Now with all good wenches during these faires, my girls have been very carefully positioned and are “shelfed” for all to see. This costume however, in no way ever gives someone else the permission to touch, fondle, slap, or grab at any part of my body. I have such a hard time understanding the mentality of why others think this is acceptable behavior.
In school we were always taught “keep your hands to yourself.” Children are taught this to wean them off their impulsion habits, but adults literally have no excuse. These same adults who grab at cosplayers would never grab at a stranger’s butt hanging out of some cut-off shorts standing in a grocery store line. So why do they feel they can do it at a con? They can’t. Costume or not, touching someone else without permission is wrong.
In the picture above, I asked the hilarious “drunken barbarian” to take a photo with me. He asked if he could put his hand up to pretend to grab me for the photo op and I agreed. As you can tell we were hysterical about the whole thing. And that’s all that was needed for mutual respect; we both asked permission.
The Murky Line Between Inappropriate And Harassment
I’m going to make a statement that’s going to piss you off, but hold off the pitch forks until you’ve finish reading. Dressing in costumes is going to attract attention, including negative attention. That doesn’t mean that everyone is acting in a harassing manner. Let me explain the gray, murky diving line.
If I wear a skin tight costume, people are going to look. Hell I want them to look. I spent a lot of time planning and creating my costume, makeup, and hair and I want to proudly show off what I accomplished. I would love people to stop and look, and ask for photos, and compliment me on what a great job I did.
But sometimes people are just a-holes and will make stupid remarks to help themselves to a laugh. For example, whether I am wearing a Zombie Holly Golightly outfit, or a well-fitted tee, it’s apparent I have huge boobs. If I hear “Hey nice boobs” in either outfit I’m not offended. THIS DOES NOT EXCUSE THEIR RUDE BEHAVIOR, but it’s not harassment. Those types of jerks are everywhere, and unfortunately we probably will never be able to make them understand that those comments are not funny. Of course it should be pointed out that they should have more courtesy and respect. Those jerks who gaze just a bit too long or try to make a pun at the expense of a cosplayer are definitely in the wrong, but it’s not a criminal act.
The thick, gray line exists when those looks turn into long stares, even after it’s been established that the cosplayer has become clearly uncomfortable. It’s when those comments from the same person continue to belittle or berate the cosplayer. It when there’s a touch that’s unapproved. It’s at the very moment that the cosplayer decides the words, act, gesture, touch, or situation is unwanted. When the offender has made the cosplay feel uncomfortable, uneasy, sad, or fearful. There is no excuse for these kind of negative acts towards another person. This is harassment. This is when we need to speak up.
Cosplayers should be allowed to enjoy their experience without unwanted negative attention. Their freedom to enjoy the con shouldn’t be taken away because other people would touch without permission or make hurtful comments about their costume or physique.
Who’s Responsibility Is It?
The short answer; everyone. But firstly, anti-harassment policies need to be upheld and enforced at every con. A few lines of text on a website won’t cut it either. The convention culture needs to change so that authorities actively protect the safety of all attendees. But until this changes, cosplayer needs to continue to speak up, especially when the offense is happening. And fellow attendees need to step up to help each other by pointing out abusive behaviors and calling for authorities.
It is never okay to touch someone else, to take pictures without consent, make sexually charged comments or gestures, or in any way violate another person’s right to enjoy a convention. We should keep talking about this. We should keep sharing. And we must protect each other to make each convention a positive, engaging, and safe experience for everyone.
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