Please Don’t Touch the Talent

I want to start this off by stating my position on the current hot topic of the “Cosplay Does Not Equal Consent” movement that is gaining a lot of momentum. I absolutely agree that a costumer should not be manhandled, touched in inappropriate ways, or otherwise physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. It does not matter if they are female or male, scantily clad, fully armored, skinny or fat…Please Don’t Touch the Talent! I am a husband and father. I have a delightful, happy nine year-old daughter who has recently found she loves costuming with me at conventions. Obviously I have a dog in this fight, because I want my little girl to feel comfortable enjoying a hobby that I am so personally immersed in. I very much want to have conventions and costume events be a safe place where people can enjoy the pastime of dressing up without worrying about being mistreated. I think any movement that is going to work towards bringing awareness to the very serious issue—which is growing with each reported incident—absolutely deserves backing and support from everyone in our community.

My daughter and I.

My daughter and I.

That being said, I do have a few points that I want to raise. I won’t rehash the original post, which detailed some of the incidents committed at past events, the Sirens have done a great job of that. Unless you do not have an internet connection, or cannot read, it is pretty hard to not be aware of the growing problem within our very visual community. Instead of beating a dead horse, I’d much rather focus on the future: preventative measures.

First, let’s identify who and what is committing the wrongdoing. We are seeing abuses from the media: be they website/bloggers doing on-camera interviews, websites looking to get photo fodder for disrespectful internet articles, the average attendee with a camera looking to get upskirts/downblouse/fap photos, and worst of all a quick grab and feel. Before I get into what can be done about these particular things, I would like to ask: where are they getting the idea that this is okay? It is my feeling that we as a community have a little to answer for here. When we participate in websites and blogs that host “Babes of (fill in any event name here),” we paint a picture of desiring to be perceived as pieces of meat. I want to stress that I do not like gender distinction in these sorts of discussions because it is males and females who are in this community. This is in no way a “women shouldn’t dress that way” situation. Nor is this limited to sexually provocative costumes; it is our whole visually driven hobby. We dress up to attract attention—to be looked at and photographed. However, when we hold up, praise, and feed into the “Babes of…” posts, it sends a message that we want to be sexualized. It appears as though we desire to be the most masturbated to.

I have long been a supporter of the right for anyone to dress as they feel in order to enjoy the fun of costuming, to not be afraid to portray characters they love. Characters whom only a tiny percentage of the population even slightly resemble. I am in no way saying that if you dress a certain way you get what you deserve. What I am saying is that how you allow yourself to be represented or misrepresented is where the problem begins. If we are going to let the public viewing audience see that we repost and share dog-and-pony shows of who showed the most flesh at con, then that is where they get the idea that it is okay to cat call, touch, grope, and abuse a costumer.

This brings us to the second symptom: our own community. Right now we are seeing an outcry demanding respect. How can we demand respect when we do not show it to one another within our own community? Until we can limit the absolutely tearing down of one another thru websites/blogs and social media, we cannot expect people viewing us from the outside to give a damn about how we feel. Everyone has  right to purchase their convention badge and wear a costume if they choose, get over it, there will always be some guy in another state planning to wear that same goddamn Batman costume as you, and some woman having the audacity to decide that she is going to be Wonder Woman as well. Eating our own? KNOCK IT THE HELL OFF. If we present a more united front, and start acting like a community, then the outside media might have less of an indication that we are excellent freak show fodder for the next Men’s Fitness magazine article.

So let’s talk prevention. At this point we can pretty much agree that the perception is that inappropriate touching and behavior is going to be committed. What can we do to make sure that it does not continue? I am absolutely behind the Cosplay Does Not Equal Consent movement. We can do more.

I do not like to bullshit so lets get down to brass tacks. When we start planning that costume for the upcoming convention season, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see if an outfit is going to elicit some sort of negative response. Be it arousal of the male libido, nasty remarks about Iron Man being too fat (that one’s mine), or Slave Leia is showing too much cleavage (also, ironically, partly my fault), we know damn well that by putting on a costume we are painting a target on ourselves. Should this stop us from enjoying our hobby? NO. However, I ask you to be an intelligent human and take stock of your costume and think about how you can protect yourself. Bottom line is this: the first person who can stand between you and the bad touching game is you. If you know your outfit will garner attention, both good and bad, try to have a group presence. Numbers make cowards of the sneaky. If you can’t do a group costume, find a friend to either costume with you or be a wrangler. Just having a friend there to hold your bag can give you a second set of eyes and a body to step in and tell someone to back the hell off.

I have spent several summers as a costumed character out on Hollywood Boulevard with some very beautiful female friends in costume, and there is no worse place for dealing with drunks, drug addicts, gang members, and grab-happy tourists. My female friends learned how to adjust their photo posing to match any situation. If they got a sense the person wanting to pose with them was “off” they had practiced poses that did not invite the person in to hug or touch them. It is your body, you are not a paid prostitute, and no one has any right to touch you at all if you do not want to. Repeat that a few times right now. When posing with some of us males in costume, we automatically posed so that the male was between the woman and the person seeking a photo. If the person insisted on being next to the woman, they at least knew that they were being watched and a guy was there. Sad news for you, but this is the world we live in, and it got us through long hot days and creepy nights on the Boulevard without any of our female friends being abused. Take ownership of your body, it is alright to get mad and downright nasty to someone who wants to try and grope you. I would rather see a costumer make a scene and loudly call someone out for that behavior than to see one more friend suffer through this. Costuming, love it as we may, is still a hobby, and not worth being violated over. If I walked up to a woman in a mall and grabbed her ass I would be in jail, the same should go for any of our events.

The results of practiced positioning.

The results of practiced positioning.

So in a nutshell, think about how you will pose with people in your costume.You took the time to craft it so lovingly, take a little time to think about how you can deflect unwanted photo poses, and invasions of your personal space. This goes for men and women. I have to consider how my armor suits will limit my ability to see, how a helmet will affect my ability to keep an eye on my child. Will I be able to see and move well enough to not fall over a baby in a stroller? Can I move my hand to my ass when some anime kid runs up to pinch my butt cheek as it squishes out of my butt plate (yes, it has happened to me several times)? Practice your poses, be confident, and be vocal. If you are not comfortable with the arm around the waist, speak up, it’s your damn right. Give the excuse that your costume is delicate, if you must. Women, you have a lot of power here, use it. Most convention guys are timid and the perverts are cowards, because they know that what they are doing is socially unacceptable.

Look out for each other. I know that convention time is exciting and a lot is happening all around you, but keep a watchful eye out for your costumed brothers and sisters. If you see someone looking uncomfortable with a situation step up and say something. Act like the freaking hero you spent a year working to dress up as. I can assure you if enough creeps get verbally shamed for their behavior on the spot, they are going to start thinking twice about using our events as hunting grounds. I will willingly risk getting egg on my face to poke my nose into funny business if it means having your back in an uncomfortable situation. This comes back around to my asking us to work on cleaning up our community from within first, and taking responsibility for ourselves and each other. I want to feel confident that if it were my daughter in costume and I were not there—or distracted by a shiny toy— that someone would be looking out for her and keeping perverts at bay. I will do it for your loved ones…I’m Iron Man, after all.


17 thoughts on “Please Don’t Touch the Talent

  1. Very well put, and I like your comments on awareness.
    It really is about being an intelligent human being and realizing what you’re exposing yourself to. There’s no background check or chivalry test to buy a con badge – the polite folks who ask nicely for pictures and con creepers pay with the same kind of money.
    And there are going to be creepers.
    People ~should~ understand personal space, and all the social rules that apply, I am all for a campaign that educates like the Con does not equal CONsent. There will be some people who get schooled on how to treat costumers, and there will be costumers who realize they don’t have to put up with that kind of shit.

    There will always be creepers, though, and the costume planning phase itself should involve a thorough evaluation of whether or not the costumer is willing to deal with the creepers. Once an affirmative decision is reached, they should then have some kind of plan in mind for when the creepers do come out.
    One costumer I know, adore, and respect is adept at reducing creepers to piddling piles of moosh with a few strong words. She’s that confident in herself and knows exactly where her boundaries are.
    I’m shy. I get all deer-in-headlights when an unwanted confrontation comes up, so I keep company with large, fairly aggressive-looking costumers who reduce creepers to a different kind of moosh.

    A couple years back at Dragon*Con, there was a system in place: People who were willing to act as help/bouncers/bodyguards all wore purple ribbons that said “Back-Up”. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and certainly helped with the unity problem you mentioned.

    Learning self-defense is not a bad plan either. It does build the confidence to tell other people where your boundaries are, and if shit goes seriously downhill, you have one more means of protecting yourself (and live up to the persona of whatever superhero you’re pretending to be.)

    But yes, as much as the community needs to come together over this, individuals need to realize that there will always be creepers.
    It’s not victim-shaming; it’s not “you dressed like that so you asked for it”
    It’s “There are always going to be assholes, my friend, and regardless of your intentions, you need to be ready to deal with them.”

    • I love the idea of the purple ribbons. We should really incorporate that somehow into the bigger con scene. I have absolutely NO problem jumping in and getting loud when someone harasses a friend of mine, or even a random cosplayer who’s face is sending out an SOS! I know I can’t be the only one

  2. Thank you SO much for writing this. It has become fashionable to reject all common sense and any consideration of decision-making to be seen as “supporting respect”. What I liked most about your entry is that (unlike so many articles on cosplay issues) you clearly wrote to be inclusive of many people’s hurdles and experiences. I would add one thing though – the industry itself has a HUGE role in this. Their choices in female character costumes creates an almost unavoidable pressure to get into those outfits to begin with. I am not “against” those, but it would be great if we had a much broader range of choices for women to begin with.

  3. Y’know after reading your post I didn’t feel as offended with this topic. I have to be honest, I played devil’s advocate on this one and felt it was unfair to assume that stereotypes plague the photographer community with the word “Creeper” I feel that if a cosplayer has had a few bad experiences doesn’t give them the right to demand more respect over the normal con-goer. Granted I’m not against the idea of protecting yourself or calling out a real creeper. I am in favor of your suggestion of being aware and prepared and said the same thing for both sides. I feel that cosplayers can get out of hand as well and I feel it isn’t fair to judge.

  4. I loved reading this, and you made many great points. While not much of a costumer myself, I do enjoy seeing people in costume at cons. All the time I see people running up and just trying to touch costumers or just taking pictures when the costumers (mostly the females) are in awkward positions that I’m sure they don’t want to be photographed in. I’ve called people on this many times. I always try to be respectful of the costumers by getting their attention and asking for a picture, and if I want to touch a piece of the costume I ask as politely as possible (sometimes know the material used gives ideas for future costumes).

  5. Bravo. I have had to armpin two gentlemen in my adventures cosplaying and unfortunately get them removed from the convention (remember gents and ladies, you never know who might have a black belt). I agree with everything you’ve said above. The problem starts with us, the community. Respect is what we need to give in order to receive. Here’s my advice if you are cosplaying. I have worn everything from short skirts to full length robes and in every instance I always get one or two over-exuberant con-goers. Most are innocent, some are not. It starts with us, the cosplayer, putting our foot down. A simple flat palmed hand up usually stops the offended in their tracks, then its easy enough to ask them if they would like to take a photo with you. If someone does touch you inappropriately do not be afraid to make a scene. Yell, scream, jump-up-and-down, do whatever. The more embarrassed the “groper”, the less likely they will do it to someone else. And remember! No matter how skimpy the skirt, there is always a pair of shorts or swimming bottoms you can use to prevent upskirt shots. ALWAYS wear something underneath.

  6. I love this article and your perspective, as both a rudeness receiver and husband and father to prospective current and future rudeness. I do agree with you that people can in some ways control the responses, however this gets dangerously close to blaming the victims. If females don’t go to cons, they won’t be bothered. That’s an extreme but is an extension. Using your Iron Man as an example. you aren’t in fact too fat to cosplay Iron Man. You may be too large to play him professionally or win a look alike contest, but you aren’t too ‘anything’ to cosplay him. If you are large and go to the mall, is it acceptable that people walk up and say you are too fat, or too fat for your outfit? It’s not. Snarky and rude comments should not be accepted, and this goes back to the cons educating everyone, you can’t be rude (duh), if you are rude, you will get booted, Including and especially if you are in the media. Having said that I still appreciate your tips because they can be helpful, I just think along with that, we should of course promote an atmosphere that it’s the aholes fault, not the cosplayers. Again great read and I love your Iron Man, I’d be proud to pose with you any time! 🙂

  7. Well said My friend! having THREE daughters and a wife all of whom have worn their own hard made costumes to cons, I have to agree with your well written and well thought out article. It is our responsibility to “police” our own and to keep predators where they belong. Preferably beaten unconscious and lying in the nearest dumpster. By the way as a fellow Ironman builder, Your suit is excellent and your daughter makes a great Black Widow!

  8. Well said and totally agree with every word you said here. Good for you speaking out as well as the others that have posted their experiences with these issues and those who are speaking out to change this and make a difference.

  9. I gotta give you a standing ovation for this one, dude. I do know many veteran costumers in the anime community that feel the same way. I feel that there are internal issues that we need to take care of as a community. I keep seeing bickering and high school level pettyness in the (anime) costuming community. It’s really sad. I do appreciate hearing your perspective because I also feel the exact same way. I don’t like it when geek media portrays cosplay as something hot girls do and when said girls portray themselves as objects rather than the heroines they portray. Kudos to you, man…and I hope we run into each other at a con.

    PS: Not to spam, but I wrote this the other day in my con culture webzine that echoes the same sentiments:

  10. Very well said and informative. The part where “the problem is the community itself” is the biggest reason why otaku/cosplay tribalism exists. Will share this on my website. Thanks and keep it up 😀

  11. Let me start by saying this is the best blog/article written about this subject. Ever since this movement started, I felt a little aggravated with the community. They’re putting a hellova lot of blame on people (media, “creepers”, etc) without taking any for themselves. It’s ok for a cosplayer to wear whatever they want without being touched inappropriately. My concern was what were THEY doing about being touched! I’m a cosplayer and no one will ever touch me without a few choice words being said. I know what costumes I wear that will get shady attention and I am armed+ready to deal with it. I guess I assumed all cosplayers were the same way. If not, they sure need to be.

    I hope cosplay gets back to a place where this isn’t a problem. I believe it became a problem when media started making those horrible “Top 10 Sexy Cosplayer” lists and further driving our community into separate groups of people – those that were hot and those that wee “not”

  12. First let me just say that this is the best article/blog that I have read about this topic. As this movement got bigger, I became aggravated with the community. All I could think of was “well…what are YOU doing about being touched or talked to inappropriately?” I feel like you have addressed this so well that I have shared this page on my personal accounts as well as my public cosplay fan page. Yes, the media and “creepers” are apart of the problem, but they are not the only problems. Cosplayers have to start taking it upon their selves to handle these situations AT THE CONS and not at home on their computers. They should know what costumes will illicit these awful actions. They should be armed and prepared to whip out some verbal lashings or alert staff immediately! Even if they don’t assume their costume will get this kind of behavior they should just be ready as a human being to know that they do not want to be fucking touched!

    This all became a big problem when we (i,e cosplayers) allowed there to be this giant divide between us. Media started with those awful “Top 10 Cosplayer” lists and some cosplayers started embracing that. Now any Joe Blow with a pro camera thinks they can ask whatever whenever or touch wherever they want.

  13. Pingback: Looking at gender issues in geek culture | Slightly Nerdy

  14. Don’t be a space invader. This is MY space and that is YOUR space. Never the twain shall meet. That being said, I am totally checking out interesting costumes from head to toe. I am truly interested in the minute details of a costumers work. I will also ask questions about how the costume was constructed.

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