Cosplay Is Not Consent

I’ve wanted to write about cosplay for a while now.  I was lucky enough to go to DragonCon in Atlanta last month and it was an absolute blast!  I also went to Comic Con a year and a half ago in San Diego and had a great time there as well.

However, ask any female cosplayer about her experience at a convention, and you’re sure to hear her mention at least one instance of disrespect or an invasion of privacy from a male con attendee.

For anyone who doesn't know, cosplaying is “costume play,” where people dress up as a character from their favorite comic book, anime or manga, TV show, or an idea in their imagination.  You can dress up as anything really.  Generally though, cosplay is related to sci-fi or Japanese art or comics.  It’s also generally considered really nerdy.  Which is fine by me.  I’m a big nerd.  I had a huuuuge anime/manga phase in middle school, and I genuinely still love it (though my walls are no longer plastered with pictures of big eyed, big breasted anime girls).  I’ve always loved Star Wars, and I think comic books are fun.  And – obviously – I LOVE dressing up.  Suffice to say I will not pass up any opportunity to put on a costume.  So I was stoked to attend both of these conventions. 

Now, I’m not much of a seamstress, so I generally stick to fairly simple costumes (one of these days I’m going to put in the work and the hours and create a crazy costume completely by hand).  For Comic Con I dressed up as Emma Frost (an X-Men character), and for Dragon Con I wore my Nurse Witch Komugi costume (look it up, it’s a super cute show, I made her black cat outfit).

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect at my first con (almost two years ago).  So when I was bombarded by people – 98% men – asking to take my picture, I was a little bit taken aback.  However – and if you read my last post you’ll know – I love having my picture taken.  Call it vanity, call it a side-effect of being a model, call it whatever you want, but I genuinely enjoy having people take my photo.  So it wasn’t that weird for me.  As long as the person asked, I obliged.  Toward the end of the day, it did get a little exhausting.  I’d be in line for the bathroom and someone would ask if they could take a photo.  I’d be eating a piece of pizza (warning: do NOT eat con pizza) and someone would wave a camera in my face.  The couple of times I said no, the photographer would huff and puff and act like I’d done something terribly rude.  They expected – because I was in costume – to automatically agree to have my privacy invaded and my photo taken.  I get that – sort of.  Sure, I’m at a convention dressed up - you’re more than welcome to ask for a photo.  But do not get pissy when I refuse you.  My costume is NOT consent.   And furthermore, do not try to sneak a photo of me.  Specifically, do not try to sneak a photo up my skirt. 

That’s a form of sexual assault.  Yup, creepy photographer, you’re committing a crime.

I’m a very docile, sweet person – I hate conflict and I’ll be nice to the point of self-destruction.  I have a really hard time saying no for fear of upsetting someone else.  Even someone who might want to hurt or take advantage of me.  This has caused me a lot of problems – particularly with men, strangers and otherwise.  So, at that first con, when guys would give me attitude or make inappropriate comments about my outfit, I let it slide.  I’d begrudgingly smile and acquiesce to the photo.  I’d ignore the comments, and tell myself it was harmless and that, in some ways, I was asking for it.

Thank god my boyfriend was there and prevented anything really weird from happening.  Since I started attending cons I’ve heard countless horror stories from women – about being groped, even raped.  Oftentimes, when guys at cons aren’t trying to get into the girls pants/skirts/dragon costumes, they’ll act aggressive and dismissive.  Gaming and comics are still heavily male dominated, and often women are seen as unwanted intruders.  I know women who have suffered serious threats at cons, who were forced to leave in order to stay safe.  And it’s not just guys.  Girls can be destructive at cons too.  There’s an extreme level of competiveness, and I know plenty of female cosplayers who have been called sluts or whores by other ladies.  Seriously girls?  Not okay.

All of this is terrible – it’s preventing people from enjoying or even attending cons.  Thankfully, many cons and cosplayers are working to fix things.  Just this year, members of Geeks for CONsent launched a petition asking San Diego Comic-Con to adopt a formal anti-harassment policy.  Cosplay is NOT Consent is a Facebook page dedicated to empowering cosplayers to speak out against inappropriate behavior at cons.

At Dragon Con, I was much better prepared for the potential catcalls and unwanted photographs.  This time, if I didn't feel like having my picture taken, I said no firmly and walked away.  If I caught someone trying to photograph me without permission, I called them out on it.  And I urge all other con goers to do the same.  Speak up and speak out – don’t let anyone do anything that makes you uncomfortable.  Just because you may be wearing body paint and a g-string doesn't mean the guy dressed as Chewbacca gets to touch your boob.  If he does, feel free to punch him in the nuts and report him immediately.  But it is not your responsibility to fend off the advances of perverted guys (or girls).  As with so many issues regarding sexual assault and abuse, we need to target the perpetrators.  We need to teach people that it is NOT OKAY to act inappropriately at conventions.  There needs to be education and consequences.  Do not blame sexy Spock or Cat Woman.  Blame the fucking asshole who took her picture without permission.

Everyone should feel comfortable and safe at conventions – they’re meant to be fun for goodness sakes.  Join the fight and here and let’s spread the word that cosplay is not consent!

And - sort of relevant side note! - the same goes for Halloween - regardless of what a woman is (or isn't!) wearing, that does not give anyone permission to catcall her, touch her, photograph her, assault her,objectify her, etc.  And don't even try to tell me, "But she's dressed slutty!  She's asking for it!"  That is pure bullshit.  She can wear whatever the hell she wants and that doesn't entitle you to ANYTHING.