Cosplay Is Not Consent: Sexual Harassment at Conventions
By: Alyssa Torres
Whether you’re donning a cape or admiring con-goers in armor from afar, most of us can agree that one of the most thrilling parts of cons is cosplay. Shortened from “costume” and “play”, cosplay, the act of dressing as fictional characters, holds its spot as one of the most prominent aspects of geek culture and continues to grow in popularity.
What’s also growing is female presence at conventions, where female geeks can dress as their favorite superheroes and make their voices heard. According to Daily Mail, half of the 130,000 attendees at San Diego Comic Con 2015 were expected to be female while The Mary Sue also reported that the percentage of female attendees at New York Comic Con rose over 60% within three years.
People like to think conventions are a safe place and geek hub for all con-goers, but as the amount of female attendees grows in number each year, so do the cases of sexual harassment, especially among female cosplayers.
Let’s get this out of the way— no matter the amount of clothing people decide to incorporate in their own cosplay, they are not “asking for it”. People are allowed to make their cosplay as “sexy” as they want while still not wanting to be objectified and definitely not wanting to be harassed. Cosplay is an art where people have creative freedom and the right to interpret their favorite characters’ costumes however they want. Cosplaying is supposed to create a sense of community and act as a way of self expression, not an invitation to invade anyone’s personal space or make cosplayers feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
A survey done by Bitch Media at SDCC 2014 found that “If 13 percent of San Diego Comic-Con attendees have unwanted comments of a sexual nature made about them this week, that would be around 17,000 people. And if eight percent of SDCC attendees are groped, assaulted, or raped, that’s over 10,000 attendees suffering harassment”. It’s not a rare occurrence where cosplayers encounter unwanted groping, inappropriate picture taking, or verbal harassment about race, body image or gender.
In response of the growing issue, an anti-harassment organization called “Geeks for CONsent” was created, campaigning to strengthen anti-harassment policies at comic conventions. In hopes to create a safer environment for con-goers, Geeks for CONsent serves as a place where people can share their stories and get involved with the movement. There you can find “Harasser Cards” (currently unavailable) which users can hand out to those crossing the line at conventions, tips for when you witness harassment and other ways to get involved with the community.
Emerald City Comicon and New York Comic Con have taken action to raise awareness of sexual harassment at conventions by putting up posters and signs reading “cosplay is not consent”. San Diego Comic Con also took steps toward awareness last year days before SDCC 2015 by sending out their anti-harassment policy which read, “Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate the nearest member of security, or staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner”. Being the biggest of Comic Con conventions, people are still petitioning to get physical reminders put up throughout SDCC.
In a society where rape culture is so present, we are led to believe that “it’s no big deal”, making those who face harassment at cons less open to reporting these incidents. People are more likely to brush off this inappropriate behavior in fear of victim blaming because it has become so normalized within geek culture and our society as a whole. It is no one’s fault that they were harassed and by no means is it okay to invade someone’s personal space and comfort. Cosplay is not an invitation to take pictures of con-goers without consent. Revealing costumes are not an invitation to touch anyone’s body. Cosplaying as Deadpool is not an invitation to verbally or physically harass con-goers because of the nature of your cosplay. It doesn’t matter who you dress up as or how others chose to dress, cosplay is not consent and cons need to be a place where people are free to enjoy themselves without feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.