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.
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.
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.