Over the past couple of years, there has been a growing awareness of ‘cosplay is NOT consent’ movement among the comic convention community. Cosplayers, like Megan Marie, have led the charge speaking out against (rightfully so) the ogling, groping, and the general disrespectful behavior that some cosplayers have to endure at shows. The conversation has recently been heightened by the Geeks for CONsent Petition and posts by both the Comic Alliance and The Mary Sue each asking for the San Diego Comic-Con to boost their anti-harrrassment policy. The Mary Sue article highlights some interaction with Comic-Con International and calls them out for being vague, general, or too discreet in their response. Even though CCI has had a Anti-Harrassment Policy and substantial security presence for years, the perceived passiveness of organization has been met with disappointment from fans and media outlets- holding them to a higher standard because of their position as the industry leader. So here is my stance on it.
Do I believe that convention organizations should have a robust anti-harrassment policy- absolutely. Should comic conventions have better trained staff to protect cosplayers- you bet. Should there be clearly posted signs encouraging better behavior- possibly. Do I believe we should direct all this accountability towards Comic-Con International- no, not really.
The problem is this. While I am all for the above actions to be taken seriously by all comic convention organizers, the truth of the matter is this: POLICIES DO NOT CHANGE THE HEART. We, of course, need polices in our companies and organizations for the protection of employees and customers- but ultimately, I believe very little will change if the wishes for the petition are fulfilled. So before everyone starts swinging lightsabers and firing blasters at me, hear me when I say: Code of Conduct policies are necessary and important. However, for The Mary Sue to take this up with Comic-Con International, to me, is low hanging fruit. Yes, there always needs to be change but I think this effort is misdirected and will yield limited results. Ultimately, those that have intent to violate the code of conduct are not prone to follow policies, signs, or procedures anyways. To me it would be like asking:
- Target to plaster more anti-shoplifting signs around there stores
- Bars to post the dangers of alcohol and alcoholism on their websites
- Restaurants to trains their waiters on the dangers of obesity
- Gyms to post signs about the negative effects of steroid use
Would all these suggestions help guard against these behaviors- sure, I guess. But you and I know that those that are going to engage in abusive behaviors will care less about a sign or what is stated on some website. We are smart enough to know that more needs to happen at the heart of culture in order to effect change. Change is what we want right? Winning a battle of policy seems like a low bar to me. It’s a start but the fight is so much bigger. If change is the goal, then my solution takes the battle beyond Comic-Con International and puts the ownership on content creators, the media, and ON US. Since the dawn of time, women have been sexualized, objectified, and stereotyped- and comic cons have seen this played out in real time. Sure, Comic-Con can (and should) do more to protect it’s attendees. But I wouldn’t waste time on blaming Target for causing materialism, bars for causing alcoholism, restaurants for causing obesity, strip clubs for causing divorce, or gyms for causing body image disorders. Instead of me trying to cause the aforementioned organizations to boost policy and training, I would rather divert my creative energies to influencing and teaching my fans, followers, readers, friends, and family that COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT. In relation to con culture, I believe this is one of the most worthy causes to champion in the past couple of years. This is why I’ve written posts about it in the past and will continue to do so for this year’s SDCC. This is also the reason why I am cautious to Tweeted, post, RT, Instagram, Tumble, etc sexually explicit material because I would never want to be known for objectifying anyone. My biggest frustration in the past have been with the YouTube personalities and blog sites (which I won’t link to) that use their platform to exploit SDCC cosplayers by talking about body parts and entrapping them into indecent conversations- thus creating the unsafe environment that we are all reacting too. So my challenge to us all is this:
- If you have a YouTube channel and have influence among the video community, do not engage or encourage harassing behavior. This year, make sure to share the stories of cosplayers (and female attendees) that have been victims of harassment and demand that your followers help spread the word that cosplay is not consent
- If you do social media, unfollow those accounts that are preying on cosplayers and allow for harassing behavior- and let them know why
- If you have a blog or website, write similar articles like this and share the stories of cosplayers that have felt unsafe at comic conventions. Encourage and train your followers to elevate the conversation to where justice prevails
- If you are a content creator of any industry (comics, TV, web, or film) you should speak out in support of ‘cosplay is not consent’. Your influence will go a long way to shape the culture.
- Obviously, we all have to be vigilant to protect each other at Comic-Con by speaking up and reporting illicit behavior
The awesomeness of the internet now gives us all a voice and platform. With enough of us speaking out, it will create a movement- and a movement changes culture. I get it, sex sells. But I believe we have to be intentional to celebrate all the beauty, art, and craft that is REALLY at the heart of cosplay. I know MANY amazing cosplayers that don’t get as much recognition because they choose a more modest approach to their art. No judgement on how you choose to cosplay, but we can do a lot to highlight all types of cosplayers within our community. Let’s take it upon ourselves to promote and share the stories at a broader level. Have more courage to speak out against the YouTubers and bloggers that violate the respect of others. And most of all, let us all OWN OUR COMMUNITY and not expect some policy or organization to police it for us. Laws and policies may create guard rails for behavior but expressing heart and conviction inspires others to change. Leadership creates change not legalism.
I hope you know by now that I love the Comic-Con community. It pains me to think that all this negativity is being directed at Comic-Con International when they are mainly a platform for content creators and a place to celebrate the popular art form of comics. Sure, they need to be better, but you know what, we need to be better. I believe Comic-Con and cosplay fandom can be and should be the most dignified, creative, empowering, and accepting community in the world. So let’s fight the good fight and take the battle to the streets, cons, websites, twitter, and to infinity and beyond.
As always, I invite your thoughts and comments, even if it is a contrary perspective.