The Controversy of Cosplay Is Not Consent and SDCC

AnimeJapan 2014

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.

29110839eThe 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

1813q05019qrnjpgWould 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:

  1. 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
  2. If you do social media, unfollow those accounts that are preying on cosplayers and allow for harassing behavior- and let them know why
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. Obviously, we all have to be vigilant to protect each other at Comic-Con by speaking up and reporting illicit behavior

33866_440119579385835_1666546761_nThe 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.

22 thoughts on “The Controversy of Cosplay Is Not Consent and SDCC

  1. This absolutely should be a community-wide discussion and effort, thank you for this thoughtful post. Changing policies, raising awareness, training volunteers — none of that is enough if we as a community aren’t going to hold conventions accountable to actually enforce and improve upon those efforts. However, that effort cannot include giving large-scale conventions a free pass, especially when they have no shame in refusing to acknowledge harassment as a problem in their spaces. SDCC’s response silenced the thousands of voices saying they feel unprotected and unsafe within those convention spaces. If the leading convention in the country is allowed to say “whatever, we have a harassment policy that is more vague than both our pets and our weapons policy, and we think that is sufficient” — that tells every other convention in the country they don’t need to bother taking this seriously. The solution and culture shift has to include holding that sort of mindset accountable, while also, as a community, changing the culture amongst ourselves.

    • Fair enough- and I don’t disagree with anything you stated. I am just wary of putting my faith in a few lines of text on a website. However, I do believe SDCC should review and improve their policy. I just want our awesome community to all feel the responsibility of making Comic-Con a safer place by advocating through various channels. Please know too, by having a website called Geeks for CONsent, I would expect nothing less that you all are bringing awareness to this issue. This is what you do and more power to you. My main concern is other sites not using their voice to empower the community for change verses pointing the finger at one organization. Thanks so much for the healthy dialogue and appreciate all you do for the con community.

  2. We are too! A few lines of text on a website is completely insufficient! Hopefully with more people writing about it, and talking about it, and insisting we as a community do better — we’ll be able to solve the problem from every angle! One thoughtful blog post, and another insistent petition, at a time!

  3. Tony, I don’t know of anyone in this movement who is “putting their faith in a few lines of text on a website.” Have you seen anyone claiming that once that happens, everything will be perfect? Your suggestions for personal responsibility, community change, and taking care of each other are fantastic and very well needed! But please don’t dismiss the people who are working to hold Comic Con accountable for following what’s rapidly becoming a basic conference and convention best practice. Having a clear and enforced policy is not a panacea but it’s the groundwork for supporting attendees who run into trouble, and it’s symbolic of their company’s commitment to the goal of safe, fun conventions for everyone.

    • Skye thanks for your thoughts. Like I stated several times in my article- I do believe Comic-Con should be more specific, post signs, and train staff. I am nearly asking- will it create the change that we all ultimately want? For instance, since 911, better security, more anti-weapons signage, and more staff have helped- but really the best preventative measure has been travelers reporting suspicious behavior. Now on every flight, passengers are quick to report (or take matters into their own hands) suspicious behavior as we have seen on a couple of instances. Those that intent to violate the rules won’t follow the rules in the first place. So we need the basic policy and security in place then it is up to us to create a culture of awareness. I don’t disagree with anything you are saying (or Geeks for Consent) just placing more emphasis on our role in protecting cosplayers. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Good points across the board, Tony.

    As to Geeks for CONsent, I hope some of their energy will be directed at the New York Comic-Con instead of just at the San Diego Comic-Con. There was some terrible behavior that occurred at NYCC last year.

  5. Good points across the board, Tony.

    As to Geeks for CONsent, I hope they’ll direct some energy at the New York Comic-Con and not just at the San Diego Comic-Con. There was some terrible behavior that occurred at NYCC last year. If any con organizers need a talking to, it’s them.

  6. Hey Tony, I am in no way advocating against anything suggested here. I think many of these things can be helpful. However, how about some responsibility for those cosplayers, who dress in suggestive, revealing, sexual clothes AND act the part of being a seductive character. How can they not expect some suggestive talk back at them? Many women, wearing this stuff are not just wanting people to look at the costuming. Men can be pigs, and flaunting one’s “assets”is not an invitation for modest behavior.

    Again, this is not an ok for men to act like pigs, but maybe the women ought not give them slop to get them worked up? It seems like this would also help with not treating women like objects, IF the women don’t dress like objects. I say this as a father of two girls and it troubles me that even Halloween costumes for young tweens come in all variations of sexy nurse/superhero/fairy.

    • Derrick,
      Thanks for commenting. I understand what you are saying- and that perspective has been the most common counter-thought I have heard in the conversation of cosplay is not consent. However, to be frank, that mindset is part of the reason why ‘rape culture’ has proliferated over the past few decades. What it insinuates is that a female dressed provocatively directly or indirectly deserves to be sexually harassed. I know YOU are not saying this, but if you play it out to it’s logical conclusion, it puts a part of the responsibility on cosplayers. It’s like saying, because you are walking down a dark alley- if you get mugged, it’s a little bit your fault. The key isn’t simply to merely encourage sexual modesty, it should be to create a culture that is intolerant of disrespect. No one should feel unsafe at conventions (or anywhere for that matter) regardless of how they are dressed. Most cosplayers are big girls and boys and can handle a fair amount of unwanted interaction, but how far is too far? To me, one case for harassment is too much. That’s why I feel a policy won’t be nearly enough but it takes interactions like this to raise awareness and to create change. Thanks so much for your honesty and I hope my answer was helpful.

  7. I think another step in changing our behavior is to look at cosplay as a more extreme form of showing what you love about the pop culture world. Instead of a t-shirt with a character on it, you ARE that character. In the same way you’d walk up to someone and strike up a conversation about a logo or image on a shirt, that’s how you should treat cosplayers as well. This is straight up giving you a polite ice breaker!

    Yes, when you cosplay, you’re looking for a certain amount of attention but (and maybe I’m just speaking for myself here) the kind you want is for people to recognize who you are and the work you put into becoming that character. Sometimes being super accurate means a sexy outfit, but your choice of costume should in no way determine the amount of respect you receive or don’t receive. We need to start looking at cosplayers not as girls in costumes (because let’s get real here, most of the abuse is happening to female cosplayers and it’s NOT OK) but as super fans, proudly displaying what they are into. Talk to them about it, give ’em a hi-five, and show some respect for your fellow nerds.

  8. Tony, thanks for responding.

    A couple questions and/or responses. What do you mean by “rape culture”?

    Like I said, I don’t think women deserve excessive harassment, but part of the problem with harassment policies is the idea that what is harassment for some is flirting for another. Plus they are difficult to enforce. And while I think it is important to place the bulk maybe all) of the blame on those doing the harassing, I still think that there needs to be some wisdom (and some blame?) in the provocative nature of some of the cosplayers.

    I think Reena makes a point with the cosplayer being a character wanting attention for her costume or love of a character, but
    if a woman dresses as slave Leia, I do not think she has much ground to stand on when folks make comments or treat her like an object. She is doing it for attention. I think this does put some of the responsibility on cosplayers using wisdom or at least not being surprised by some of the results. If a person stage dives, for example, they ought not be surprised when folks touch their body. Groping is not ok, of course, but touching is gonna happen.

    Or, in your example, if I go into a dark alley, and I get mugged, yeah, I think it is a little my fault for making myself an easy target. If I leave my keys in my car, it is a little my fault if someone steals my car. It doesn’t make the theft right, but I will want to be more wise next time, which means I need to be more responsible.

    I didn’t realize this was a huge issue, other than the creepy leering from the nerds. I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable with the way some of the women are dressed. I think they have a cool costume, but I have to look at their over-exposed body to do so, I will often move on. I almost feel like I am violating just by staring, at times. But, I have my wife and daughters in mind. I want to treat them the way I would want my girls to be treated…But then, my daughters would be going out in some of those getups over my dead body 🙂 because I know how guys think…and sadly, how they act. Keep fighting the good fight.

  9. I agree with @Derrick Bright … Bottom line is we can only control ‘one’ person. Ourselves. The first thing women will say is: “I can wear what I want, it’s a free country. I should be able to wear what I want…” and that’s true. You are free to wear what you want but… Everyone and anyone is free to react ‘how they want’.

    Ask me right now if I go in the questionable part of town in the middle of the night. NO. but it’s a free country right? I should be able to do what I want right? Yep. I sure can. BUT. If I go there and get robbed, I must realize that though I am free to go where I want when I want, those that see me where I am, especially in this part of town, are free to react/do what they want. Do I want to get robbed? No. So I act and direct myself in the best ways possible to not be in that situation.

    So when you know the historical, statistical response from large groups of men in large events where women are scantily clad (lol, yeah i said ‘scantily clad’) why would you dress in such a manner that you ‘know’ generates a certain response? just to prove that you ‘can’. sure you can. but remember. on-lookers ‘can’ respond how they want. you can choose your action AND consequence.

    So this isn’t about CCI. It’s about the people. disrespectful men who don’t know how to conduct themselves with class and women who pretend as if they don’t know their surroundings or reality of wearing revealing/seductive clothing. The people need to own up to the role they play in all of this. Men need show more restraint and respect for women in general (it always gets worse in large crowds) and women need to think twice before they leave the house with nothing covered but her pelvis and areola.

    In addition, I’ll say this, since I don’t see many parents stepping up about this. I’m making a call for women in general to tone down their clothing. At Wondercon (where I was lucky to meet you Tony) I saw a woman dressed as the white queen with breast all out and a thong and butt-cheeks everywhere. Usually the ‘man’ in me would say “Wow, look at that” but the only thing I could think are “Kids are here… what is she thinking?”

    Think about it.

  10. My 3rd year at SDCC, and all this CONsent issue is out of the blue to me… never heard or seen a thing about it til after the con was over this past week. I’ll flat punch a moron out for grabbing some woman/girls body if she doesn’t beat me to it. Think anyone will point a finger at me as being the ass? No. They’ll agree he tripped and fell on his attitude, and I was helping him regain his footing. I get this from experience as an MP… yeah, not everyone has been a civilian their whole life, some us went to war, saw places, did things, came back and blend into the crowd. I read the entire article here, and then the rape culture article, top to bottom, then all the previous comments. My point of view is that going out into the world looking and smelling like food will get the attention of the hungry. Going out into the world and blending in will cloak you in nondescript camo. Isn’t that the crux of this issue? Don’t tease the animals. If you poke the snake, will it strike? If you torment the tiger, will it lash out? Were you acting the ass in poking and teasing? Yes. Do you deserve an animals reaction when you provoke it? Yes. Now lets discuss males and females of the human race. We are beasts in a thin layer of civilization. We humans will fall into behaviors of abhorrent disgusting actions very quickly if not kept in line. Abu Ghraib. The males aren’t going to the con and grabbing balls that are thinly covered by spandex, nor slapping guys asses. That happens on football fields. Yeah, it’s not a male female thing I’m talking about, it’s a behavior issue. To get back to the con, and the women in costume… I want to point out no one mentioned women in street clothes getting harassed. Why? If this is a “rape culture” issue, and I contend it isn’t, then any male seeing any female would be as likely to be a pig (sexually speaking). But that wasn’t mentioned anywhere here or in the rape culture article. Why? It’s the nearly naked females with overtly sexual appearances triggering a response from assholes. Agreed? Maybe you don’t, please discuss or email me to discuss. I’d even welcome a talk over coffee or cola just to cover this topic and all other con related, and website related matters. We have those in common. Anyway, so when groping pigs cause this problem, is this a matter for the CCI to handle? I say no. They operate in a country with laws that don’t stop at the convention center doors, they have security, police, etc wandering around. They are acting responsibly, and within reason. Unless women require bodyguards, I think the CCI is doing all right. You’ve seemed to concur in the comments section, so I’ll move on. The amount of glutes on women openly displayed was surprising, as was the amount of breast flesh to the upper line of the areola. Too much? Not in a Victorias Secret lingerie show… and I want to point out… no one invited the VS angels to the con. Nor is it the beach and tiny bikinis are uniform of the day. It’s a convention… another definition of convention is a ” a way in which something is usually done, especially within a particular area or activity” and it’s not usual for women to bare all but the pink parts in public. It’s just not socially acceptable. Why is it this topic of this article that gropes and sexual harassment are occurring? Is it out of line to conjecture that the convention of socially acceptable appearance by risque costumed women is being broken at the SDCC and other comic cons? I think it’s not out of line. It’s the lingerie look that is at the heart of this matter… and yeah, that may be what the character is drawn as, ala Jessica Rabbit “not bad, just drawn that way” however, no one pulled a gun and forced Jane Doe to pull a Victoria’s secret ensemble out of the underware drawer and wear it to the con, then claim a right to not be sexually objectified. That is stupid, as it’s not logical. Yeah, logical isn’t exactly the strong suit of anyone protesting behavior they find offensive… emotionally they’ve left logical behind. Cause and effect, is what I see, and I haven’t seen anything but Boy Scout behavior at the con, and I’ll damn well make sure it stays that way in my fists reach. I’ve been actively respecting the women’s more outstanding representatives in another category, automotive, in my primary website Justacarguy blogspot so basing your opinion of me on this not alone would be hasty. I’ve got years of setting men straight on their hasty behavior around women, as I’ve got a specific poem that left a lasting impression on me and though I’ve begun a website on the poems I think amazing, I can’t find that poem there, yet. But it’s basically a soldier shutting down the pigs in a restaurant who are giving the waitress hell, and pointing out to them that she’s someone’s sister and he’ll stand in for that brother who off to war. Another similar poem is about an old mother . Anyway, I agree cosplay isn’t consent, and I would ask you to ponder that lingerie is provocative, and so are the sexed up costumes showing as much breast flesh, and honey catches more flies than vinegar. Asking CCI to bust balls is as stupid as asking them to bust bras. Your thoughts and reply please?

  11. Pingback: 10 Best Cosplay Controversies |

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