Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cosplay and Consent

I initially wasn’t going to make a comment on the “Cosplay is not consent” movement, but this picture was retweeted by someone and it just sent me over the edge.  Upfront, let me get a few things out of the way: I am female.  I am a cosplayer.  I have been cosplaying for around seven years now, and I have been to a wide range of conventions both anime and comic book and from small hometown cons to 10k+ people in attendance.  I’m not going to say I am an expert, but I think I have a fair amount of experience, enough experience to have an opinion.

This is the image that I initially saw about the “cosplay is not consent” movement.  I was harmless, actually I found it was cute and somewhat relatable.  The only time I have ever had even the smallest issue with another congoer was while I was in my Black Cat costume, but I’ll get to that story later.  

Then I started seeing pictures like this, which I can sorta get behind, more as a reminder to the people who are at a convention for a first time or for the ones that simply need the reminder.  

Then ones like this came.  Which okay, I get why someone may possibly have an issue but by then I was starting to feel both a bit beat over the head with the movement and also I began to really think about it.  

But this one is the one that just pissed me off and I totally disagree.  It’s not that I have an issue with the fact that men should be offended that so often they are portrayed as these carnal animals that can’t control themselves.  I know that isn’t the fact, I’ve swapped clothes in front of and been helped into costumes by men before.  All of them were gentleman about it.  My issue comes with the idea that women think that no matter how they dress or act that they should be treated with respect when they, many times, clearly are not deserving of it.  

In a nutshell here is my argument.  If you willingly decide to dress up as a character that wears something that would be deemed provocative or that you decide to be a cocktease while in some costume you have no right to complain if you are treated as an object and not as a person.  You brought it on yourself, and you have no grounds to not think someone would not make suggestive comments toward you, or try to make good on those comments.  Now I will agree there's a certain line that should not be crossed and everyone shouldn’t have to worry about being treated that way; however, so often I’ve seen people not saying no and therefore making the situation worse.  Basically, we are all dressing up for attention in the end, you got what you wanted, just not in the way you wanted it.   
When someone is dressed in a costume, it is the responsibility of the cosplayer, and not the other people, to decide when something is appropriate or if something makes them feel uncomfortable.  They need to speak up and clearly state that whatever behavior someone is exhibiting is not something they allow and if it continues they will leave/tell the nearest security person.  The other attendees of the convention are only responding to what you put on, and its not their fault for doing so.  They don’t know you, they don’t know that in real life you don’t dress or don’t act that way.  You can’t fault them for coming to the wrong conclusions.  Also the cosplayer needs to understand what they are getting themselves into.  They should be ready for comments and such; it makes dealing with issues, if the time comes, easier.  A large majority of people at a convention know, people dressing up are not how the characters are in real life.  However, I have noticed that the ‘nerd’ population is incredibly harsh to its own kindred at a convention.  I always say it’s the pecking order trying to reestablish itself, suddenly people who are used to being picked on and the “outcast” are in the spotlight and every possible way they could be a douche comes to light.  But that doesn’t mean that the cosplayer who is being picked on has to suffer, telling someone ‘no’ is always an option.  
If someone can’t speak up for themselves, be it they are too shy or that non confrontational, be the good friend or the Good Samaritan and tell whoever it is to go fuck off.  I’ve had people creep on me at a convention, many times without even me realizing it till a friend pointed it out.  I have been blessed with friends that are protective of one another and have no issues coming to anothers defense if its needed; however their are still times where they aren’t around and if something happened I wouldn’t have minded if a Captain America decided to step in.  
I said earlier that in my years of cosplay I’ve only had one incident that I would have even labeled harassment, and,  honestly,  I think it was just a pervert being perverted.  I cosplay as Black Cat, for those unfamiliar with the character she is a sometimes nemesis, sometimes lover of Spiderman.  She’s Catwoman to his Batman if you will, and, like Catwoman, she has no issues using feminine-wiles to get what she is after.  Her costume is a relatively simple black catsuit adorned with some fur.  I knew the moment that I crawled into that costume that people would treat me differently while I wore it.  The costume is tight, the character is always considered sexy, and thus I would be treated like an object not a person.  I understood that, and fully accepted it.  So when I was trying to cross a street at DragonCon and some guy asked. “Can I do a like of cocaine off your ass?” I took it in stride, told him a simple “No thanks.”  I ignored him till the light changed and we were able to cross the street.  I didn’t freak out, I didn’t go running to the nearest cop or hotel security, hell I didn’t even feel violated.  I simply gave him the brush off and went on about my day.  Looking back at it I was completely in character, Cat wouldn’t have given him the time of day and neither did I.   Now I’m not saying that harassment of a greater sort doesn’t go on at a convention.  Certainly if the gentleman (I use the term lightly) had decided to pursue me across the street and continue making comments I would have told him a more colorful no, and if he had still continued I would have made an attempt to find some form of security.  But I’m not blaming him, nor am I saying I was wrong for dressing up as Black Cat.  I simply understood that dressing that way would be inviting that sort of behavior and that I should be ready for it to happen.  Knowing that, I would never wear a Goblin Queen or Vampirella costume around a convention.  Wearing it for a photoshoot it's one thing, but being that scantily clad in public would be intolerable because of the attention I would receive.     
(Now [slightly off the main topic but I feel that it applies], are the girls who decide to do ‘sexy’ versions of their favorite character.  I’ve seen a lot of Robin’s running around this way.  Robin’s costume does not show cleavage yet on multiple occasions I’ve seen inches of cleavage on some of these girls, and with their asses hanging out.  Personally, I don’t see how they can be comfortable walking around in public like that.  I would feel exposed, and would be paranoid that something would slip or I would move wrong and their would be a horrible wardrobe malfunction.  Apparently I’m in the minority though.  But, I’m sorry ladies, if you decide to walk around with your tits hanging out and think that men are not going to treat you like some sort dog then you need to really step back and think.  In our society a woman who walks around like that on a daily basis would be labeled a slut or easy or whatever you want to call it, and comments and touching are welcomed by that sort of dress.  And while yes one could argue that it is ‘sexy’ it ruins your credibility to be anything more than boobs with legs, and it screams “treat me with less respect than a real person.”  Now if you decide to wear your Star Sapphire costume to a convention it is a slightly different animal, however its still just as revealing and you should be mentally ready for whatever the convention would throw at you.  Detour over, back to my point.)  
I feel like I’ve simply been bashing on the women who decide to throw themselves out there, but I’m not trying to single them out.  Its just the easiest example I can provide.  I’ve already given you both how I view verbal harassment and how I deal with it, but I know part of the movement is talking about the physical harassment some people have had to deal with.  Honestly this is something I’ve never had to deal with personally.  There have been a few times that someone came up wanting a picture and he grabbed my waist more then I would have liked or, I know, tried to sneak a peek down the top of my shirt.  But that is trivial stuff, at least in my mind.  If a stranger walks by and tries to grab my ass or something else of that nature you can better believe I’m going to call them on it.  And I’m going to do it loudly.  I’m going to draw attention to that person and make people stop and stare.  Nothing like public humiliation to make them leave you alone.  
The easiest way to avoid having to deal with that behavior though, is to stay in a group.  The pervert at DragonCon probably wouldn’t have said anything if I had been with a couple other people or just with a guy.  Ladies, I can’t stress this one enough.  Make friends with the boys, I don’t mean be a slut, I mean actual friends with them.  You want them to have that “she’s like a sister to me” mentality, because when you're walking around oblivious to that’s going on, they see things you don’t.  All guys have their weird ability where they can look at another guy and without saying or doing anything tell him to back off.  I’ve seen it happen multiple times, and trust me I know its probably part of the reason I’ve never had anyone come up and try something.  If you’re uncomfortable with that, stay with a group of girls, which ask any guy is quite intimidating.  But remember over everything that people will assume something is okay unless they are told otherwise.  You may run the risk of coming off like a bit of an ass, but you won’t be bothered.  
In the end it comes down to respect.  One person's respect for another, and a persons respect for themselves.  Logically everyone should know not to come up and glomp another person or bump into them without saying ‘pardon me’.  But people lose their mind at cons, and manners go flying out the window.  People forget to respect other people as real human beings rather than the idols they love, they forget to respect the hours of work the cosplayers have spend in creating their costume and the amount of money involved in the costume itself.  So don’t feel bad if you have some creeper which needs a refresher course in his manners, but don’t expect to be treated like a Queen when you’re dressed like a whore.