While I’m the ultimate sucker for nostalgia, there is one thing about the past that will always feel off and that’s the fact that society wasn’t more open when talking about things like mental health and sexual harassment. In recent years we’ve woken up and now these are topics we not only talk about more, but have people in high places sharing about as well.
When it comes to sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement pushed the conversation to new heights, and just this year we had a member of Congress, AOC, talking openly about her own sexual assault. With that, I wanted to bring that conversation into the cosplay realm because it’s something we see not only online with crude comments, but also at conventions when some attendees take a cosplayer’s ensemble as an invitation to put their hands on them. Which, no. You never walk up to someone and touch them.
While this is a topic that I would’ve loved to have a myriad of people talk to me about, only a couple of cosplayers participated in this conversation. Spacebabecosplay, a cosplayer with a handful of years in the game to her name who has dealt with this exact issue, and a lifelong comic book geek whose love of cosplay was sparked by his first time at DragonCon by the name of Mo Vermenton (@dominycanknyght_cosplay) were kind enough to share their thoughts, experiences. Along with our cosplayers, I talked to the CEO of Comikaze Entertainment, L.A. Comic Con’s parent company, Chris DeMoulin about such issues as well.
Stepping into L.A. Comic Con years ago, I noticed a sign that basically said cosplay is not consent and to ask for pictures instead of just snapping them. I thought about it for .2 seconds before realizing, OH...I get it. Because sometimes there are cosplayers whose looks are a little on the sexier side, and you do notice some attendees being creepy towards them.
The sign made sense and Chris DeMoulin told us how that came about, “The phrase ‘Cosplay is Not Consent’ specifically came in 2014 after a group called Geeks for CONsent created an online petition for comic conventions to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against the harassment that several cosplayers reported to experience in the convention world. New York Comic Con updated their policy and put out signs that read ‘Cosplay Is Not Consent’ throughout the show floor, which seemed to have worked for them,” he added, “Reported cases of harassment decreased that year. We were inspired and felt it was important for us to do what we could to protect our cosplaying attendees from experiencing sexual harassment at our event.”
Being inside the industry is one thing, but fans took notice as well. Mo said, “It wasn’t something too many people spoke about when I first started cosplaying, but as more and more cosplayers became vocal about photographers and even other con-goers respecting their space, and their right to refuse to be photographed, it came more into the consciousness and awareness of everyone. Cosplay is a form of expression and although I believe the majority of cosplayers would like their work recognized and acknowledged, that doesn’t give anyone the right to push or bully someone into having a photo taken, or taking a picture without consent. There is still a person behind that costume/cosplay and that person deserves their wishes respected.”
While these signs have helped conventions reduce reported cases, Spacebabecosplay believes they could do more, “It seems like they could be posting more to social media to discourage, or creating a place/hotline to report that kind of activity, if they're not already.”
Being as vocal online as they are in real life is something many conventions could do, because the harassment cosplayers receive isn’t always on a convention floor, but rather in their DMs and comments on various social media platforms. Both Chris DeMoulin and Spacebabecosplay mentioned the power of anonymity when it comes to those who harass online. She said, “Just because someone wants to show off their body, or their beauty, through photographs or cosplaying, it is NOT an invitation to flirt or date them or even message them,” adding, “The anonymity and impersonal dynamic provided by the internet embolden those who are less likely to harass someone face to face vs. on social media. Many feel like they are able to do what they wish and get away with it without repercussions. The internet shields them from consequence and rejection.” DeMoulin agreed, saying, “Our personal experience is that anytime someone has a screen to hide behind, the worse their behavior can become.”
More often than not, the cosplayers on the receiving end of this inexcusable behavior aren’t men. Not always of course as Mo explains, “Sexual harassment can take on many forms and I firmly believe male cosplayers can and have been the victim of sexual harassment,” but he added, “Unfortunately in most instances sexual harassment is about power and domination. Men are proportionally more likely to make unsolicited advances of this nature towards women than women towards men.”
In her experience, Spacebabecosplay noted that she had to be firm and stand up to make online harassment towards her stop, “It actually wasn't until I called out the bully/harassers that they stopped. I believe people shouldn't be silent about it - and they should work together with their friends or other cosplayers to help call out and report the harassing profiles.”
DeMoulin said they’re not shy about addressing these issues when they do arise at events, and take them very seriously to insure future events are harassment free. Something that can and should make cosplayers feel safer. As for our cosplayers, Mo firmly believes in the “see something, say something” initiative, “If you see it happening, even if the harasser is a friend, family member, colleague or co-worker, educate them and let them know that what they're doing is wrong. Humanize the person they're objectifying and help them understand that the people in the costumes are human beings as well.”
It’s clear conventions and cosplayers alike are standing up and making the changes necessary to combat sexual harassment in the community with the ultimate goal being to eliminate it altogether, but there is still a ways to go until we see a safe space for cosplayers both at conventions and online in our lifetime.