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Editorial: CONsent and striking a chord in cosplay fandom

Cosplay is not CONsent © 16-bit Sirens

Cosplay is not CONsent © 16-bit Sirens 

by Bill Watters, Editor and Photographer

Earlier this week, Sushi Killer wrote a great opinion piece at 16-bit Sirens entitled, The Beginnings of CONsent. At it’s core is a much needed statement about the lack of respect nearly all cosplayers are shown at one point or another. It’s an echo of the broader effort to defend the rights and dignity of women in our culture as a whole.

Other recent pieces include incidents experienced by Meagan Marie at PAX and Felicia Hardy at New York Comic-Con. In both of those cases as well as those expressed by nearly any female that’s involved in gaming, anime, or fandom, it’s about the lack of respect and dignity that’s afforded them in a nearly universal fashion.

The online (and real-world) assumption would seem to be that any female in a skimpy costume is obviously a slut, whore, or simply attention seeking. Beyond that ignominy, comments are constantly made to the effect that they’re wanna-bes, and “not real geeks.” In what universe has any male been forced to defend their geek credentials just for being at a comic-con?

For those of you that have ever been to a comic-con, let’s think back to that ubiquitous moment that you stop at a dealer’s booth, and ask about that issue of Uncanny X-Men 94 on the back rack. They get that glazed look in their eye and you point out which one you’re talking about, and then they have to hunt down a manager to ask about the price. It’s a simple experience, and we’ve all had it, since many booths hire local help that frequently aren’t familiar with the material or the stock. But where are the flames of hate against those poor souls? There’s no posts or rants by industry professionals anywhere to be seen. But if the same individual happened to be a female, or worse yet, dressed in costume, there’ll be hell to pay because they’re fakes and leading on the poor, defenseless geek boys.

Recalling back to Ryan Perez and his profoundly bad idea of tweeting about

[can Felecia Day] really be considered more  than a booth babe”? The firestorm that came back and hit him in the face was entirely and utterly deserved. Where does anyone get the right to determine who is a real geek and who’s fake.

Let’s be entirely honest, prior to the recent incarnation of My Little Pony, there were no “Bronies“. So nearly all of the men that are into the show now are new, have no prior in-depth experience with the show and are utterly playing catch up. Where are the women screaming about these evil invaders into their fandom? There aren’t, because they welcome the expansion of their fandom. It only makes it stronger, and keeps the show ratings up, and it will keep it around longer.

Why is it that women are fine with newcomers to their fandoms, but guys feel that it somehow threatens their manhood if the reverse occurs?

I’m sorry to break it to the haters, but by and large, most females who get into the hobby tend to be better versed than their male counterparts. How many male geeks will get walked up to at an event, and be told point blank, “you’re not real, you don’t belong here,” by people who don’t even know them.

Take the example of the great group of guys at Dragon*Con who dress out as the Spartans from The 300. I’ll challenge you to find one posting anywhere that espouses how they must be sluts, whores, or fakes. There’s a few that question their particular sexual orientation, but again, those posts, every last one, issued by a male writer.

I applaud the women who are making a stand, like Meagan and Felicia, who are speaking out about the abuse and disrespect that women are so regularly shown. It is still unfortunate that in most cases the offenders aren’t mentioned by name. It’s one of the primary defenses used by the perpetrators – they know that the victims will be hesitant to call them out, and that needs to change. Sure there’ll be drama as friends from both sides spin up, but without consequence to improper actions, there’s no motivation for someone who conducts themselves poorly or unprofessionally to stop. Without naming those responsible, it leaves them free to do the same again (or worse) at another event, to another cosplayer.

Just this morning a new posting went up by Aigue-Marine and Andy Rocket Cosplays, both warning about Dave Mirra and his trolling for cosplayers presuming to pull them into a faux-interview only to start pressuring them to strip on camera – even porn producers have better manners.

I don’t agree wholly with Sushi Killer’s article, at an event such as a convention, there is no (as the law puts it), reasonable expectation of privacy. So photos will be taken with abandon. Permission is not required (Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia), however what one can do, and what one should do is very different – such as photographing children, or candid scenes from a distance.

Regardless of the manner in which a photo is taken, or any cosplayer or fan is approached, it should be done with respect to the individuals. It’s one thing to compliment someone on how they look (“you look great in that”, “great suit”, “wonderful work”), it’s another to make comments that go beyond that to the personal, “I’d totally fuck you!”

It’d be one thing if it was pre-pubescent boys that likely don’t know better, but professionals like Dirk Manning and his :

Dear girls who take pictures in slutty clothing & classes and label the caption “nerd lol” You’re not a nerd; you’re a whore who found glasses.

It goes back to the original question – just because a women dresses in skimpy clothing, where does that expressly make them a slut or whore. The assumption as well that those women wouldn’t give a geek the time of day is also so ridiculously wrong. Granted, in the midst of a convention with tens of thousands of people around, it’s probably not the best time to strike up a conversation about the weather. But of all women I’ve met, those at events are the most likely to be interested in talking to a geek boy because they share the same interests.

Some of the most stunning geek girls I know are with guys that aren’t what you’d call “hunks,” they’re just average guys, but as a couple they’re amazing. Treat a geek girl with respect and talk to her about her interests and they’re often more than happy to be friends.

I know of one amazing actress that has frequently cosplayed as a Star Trek: TOS Orion slave girl – legs, boobs, midriff, and all green. She was a 26-year-old virgin (and proud of it), but still labeled by commenters as a bubble headed slut. How a 26-year-old virgin can be a slut is beyond me, but that’s what people would presume to say, or that she was simply a poser (her knowledge of Trek would wipe the floor with almost anyone).

WonderCon 2013

Sure, there are many hired models these days at events that might not be fully into the fandom scene. How is that their fault? One of the primary reasons many comics are first bought is due to the cover art. A walk down artist alley at any convention has the sexiest pictures on display to draw in the crowd. Why is the Gentle Giant booth to be lambasted because they have live Slave Leias cosplayers to draw in the crowd?

I take candid shots of cosplayers on a regular basis. I know that Sushi would disagree with the practice, as she writes so strongly in her piece that it should never be done. To me it’s a reasonable activity, but it requires again the responsibility of the photographer. When I was at Wizard World Chicago I saw a Harley Quinn and Joker couple having a quiet moment with Harley touching up Joker’s makeup. I took a series of the moment, then went up to them, let them know I’d gotten it and exchanged information with them and sent them the shots. If they’d been bad, I’d never have used them. A cosplayer stuffing their face, also not a good shot.

While I shoot to capture the moment, I have an equally strong responsibility to not put an individual in a bad light. We’re there to create excitement and enjoyment around Cosplay, not to put people down. When Men’s Fitness wrote their article on “Flabby Versions of Your Favorite Superheros” (which as since been removed) and said:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got to see cool stuff like Captain America’s costume from the upcoming Avengers movie. But our subjects had no need for athletic-cut performance wear like this. The theme was Homely Heroes and no bodily dimension was too great in their pursuit of squat glory.

Did they never think that showing cosplayers, who had to be brave enough to don spandex and go into public, having a great time, only to return home and be derided by a national fitness magazine would only crush their spirits?

It’s time to realize that women geeks are the peers to the men. Yes, the good ol boys club of the publishing industry still holds sway, but women are finally making genuine inroads.

Comedy is based on shared experience, and anyone who’s ever seen the film Dorkness Rising can relate to the girlfriend who got into gaming, initially being clumsy and new to it. But what happened within a session, she read up on it, found she enjoyed it, and understood the game and it’s mechanics enough to play rings around the guys. It was funny because it was true. It should be a good thing, because that can only help encourage guys to step up our own game.

CONsent is a brilliant movement, because Cosplay <> consent. Just because there’s a cosplayer in front of you that might be sexy, the wrong size, the wrong height, the wrong color, the wrong sex, or anything else – that’s no reason to abuse them. The stereotype geek boy (middle aged, heavyset, living in their parent’s basement), how would you feel if they took photos of you and mocked you to half the Internet? What if they posted photos of you with comments about, “how can they be a real fan, they can’t fit into a theater seat to actually watch a movie.” Then when you tried to defend yourself they call you oversensitive and to get over it. You’re just asking for it. But to those detractors, they’re not “just asking for it.” Being in public in a sexy costume, will indeed engender attention, but it’s not inherently inviting or permitting rudeness, abuse, or harassment – not matter how much the trolls would wish (and insist) that it does.

One cautionary point that I would point out, the original 16-bit article does include one photo of two cosplayers, with one holding a sign saying, “Don’t touch my butt.” While the other is doing so anyway, and both laughing. The problem with that as part of the piece is that it sends mixed messages (almost a ‘no means yes’). Yes, the photo is supposed to be amusing and ironic, I get that, but we’re trying to speak to a crowd that isn’t well known for their ability to pick up on such subtlety. It’s not unlike the case of a friend group that banters with each other and perhaps is overly friendly. Newcomers see that and assume it’s an acceptable way to behave (the presumption of women to be able to grab other women’s boobs without asking is stunning). So while the effort is ongoing to try to change behaviors, some level of caution around sending mixed messages should be taken.

The comments made to one cosplayer dressed as a Molotov Cocktease would make a marine blush, but if she tries to say that they’re being rude, she’s flamed as being a militant feminist that hates men. Just because any particular woman happens to dress sexy, does not mean (and I know this will come as a shock to many) that they’re easy, or a whore, or a stripper, or a bitch, or a know-nothing. The only thing that a costume might give away is that the wearer likely has some connection to the character and it’s series. It’s time to encourage more women to take a stand as others are doing and to push back. There’s plenty of room at the gaming table, it’s time to let women take their place at it and stop fighting them every step of the way. Being a geek IS cool, would you like to know what is also cool? Being respectful of women (any by extension, to everyone).

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One comment

  1. if Felecia Day stopped everything she was doing and stopped “being a nerd xD lel”. I seriously wouldnt notice. thats about as big as she really is when it comes down to it.

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