When people bring up sexism in today’s modern society, one very common topic is definitely street harassment. Street harassment is, according to stopstreetharassment.org, ‘’unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent’’. As more and more women become interested in geek culture and attending comic, anime and video game conventions, a new form of street harassment has become a particularly prevalent issue on the con scene.
What is cosplay?
A portmanteau of the words ‘’costume’’ and ‘’play’’, cosplay is a performance art in which participants, called cosplayers, wear costumes to represent a specific character, often from pop cultural sources.
As a female cosplayer myself, I have become an observer and sometimes even a target of what we now call ‘’convention harassment’’, or con harassment for short. Like that time when my friend Val and I had to zip up and cover up during a photoshoot when we noticed a group of young men trying to discreetly take unauthorized pictures of us.
In fact, 25% of comic fans and professionals say they have been sexually harassed in the comic industry. With this issue gaining in importance, conventions everywhere have begun rolling out anti-harassment and zero tolerance rules to prevent sexual harassment by threatening to ban attendees displaying such a behaviour.
In the meantime, my interest and disgust in and towards this phenomenon has prompted me to concoct a small project. Wanting to fuse the genres of photo journalism and vox populi, I reached out to fellow cosplayers through social media platforms and encouraged them to share their stories of harassment to me.
To my surprise, many people reacted positively to this project, either encouraging or approving my initiative, and whether they had personal stories to share or not. In the end, I managed to gather testimonials from five women; here are their tales.
When sending me her pictures, Maude added ‘’Screw the guys who did this to me.’’ As I asked her to elaborate on how she felt at the time, after realizing what they had done, she told me she wanted to figuratively kill them on the spot, yet had no time to react or identify them.
Frédérique, also know as award winning cosplayer and blogger Shmuberry, had a similar experience to share. ‘’At Montreal Comic Con, when I was wearing Janna, there was a camera crew and guy holding a microphone right outside of the convention gates. When I passed by him, he asked: ‘’So what makes you want to dress up like a slutty elf?’’ I was so taken back, I paused and I didn’t say anything. Now, I wished I shoved his stupid microphone in his face.’’ On another experience in which she was told by a man wanting her picture that he’d ‘’tap that’’, she told me it only made her feel violated and caused her to cover up for the rest of the day.
In Christel’s case, harassment did not stop at words. As she was wearing her cosplay of busty Neliel from the Bleach anime, she tells me she was forcibly groped by a man after having been asked inappropriate questions about her bust.
‘’I’m still mad thinking about it even if it was years ago. Some people don’t know the limits. I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it, and just walked away after telling him he was impolite,’’ she confessed.
Ria came to me with several stories of her creepy run-ins at conventions, telling me to pick my poison. From being asked to be motorboated (the act of placing one’s mouth into the area of a woman’s breasts, followed by rapidly shaking the face in a side-to-side motion while making an engine noise) to being asked to squeeze her breasts together for pictures, she’s been left feeling unimpressed in general.
Finally, Marjo messaged me with her story, showing how exactly a group of men harassing her reacted to her telling them off. ‘’I was in my Morrigan outfit. I was hanging out alone, taking some time away from my group. A group of three guys wave at me and come sit by my side, kinda circling me. One of them put his arm around my shoulders and started complimenting me, and then the awkwardness began. They asked me questions about my breasts, asking me why I was shy and if I could smile more, and inviting me to late night parties. When I told them I wasn’t interested and had someone in my life, they called me a bitch and a prude.’’
A lot of women, victims of sexual harassment, do not know how to react in these situations. When confronted by people who are impolite to us, we wish to remain as polite as we can in fear of getting treated the way Marjo was treated after telling them off.
A lot of people are quick to resort to victim blaming and slut shaming in these situations, going so far as calling out cosplayers voicing their concerns and telling them they should expect harassment if they dress in such a way. Is cosplaying sexy characters a call for attention? Sometimes, yes. And attention is not necessarily a bad thing! Here’s the problem though:
- While cosplayers may enjoy feeling sexy, cat calling and sexual harassment are forms of negative attention and are most certainly not enjoyable to a cosplayer. It makes many of them self-conscious and nervous.
- Stop with the victim blaming. Many characters, males included, are designed as being dressed in revealing ways. Cosplayers make replicas of these costumes; it’s hardly their fault their favorite characters were designed that way.
- I speak from experience when I say that even fully dressed cosplayers receive this kind of treatment due to people projecting their own fantasies regarding a character onto them.
- Cosplayers, under the makeup and costume, are normal human beings. People should not treat people that way.
- Just don’t do it.
In sharing these five women’s stories and feelings about harassment, I hope I have managed to inform people on how much of an issue this still is. We are making progress, with San Diego Comic Con including a clear warning in emails to attendees that anyone caught or reported harassing someone will be banned from convention grounds. And to all convention goers of any gender who behave flawlessly around cosplayers: keep on being awesome.