Costumes Are Not Consent: Combating Cosplayer Harassment

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Costumes are not consent. It’s a phrase you may be hearing a lot lately, and one we need to keep talking about. In the past few weeks, the internet has exploded with women speaking up about the treatment we receive at conventions and online. This isn’t a new problem that has suddenly presented itself. The issues have always been there. What is happening now is we finally feel we are allowed to speak up, that doing so will not result in us being ostracized from our community – because we are now acting as a community, a support structure, to create a safe environment for all costumers and convention goers.

A few weeks ago at PAX East an incident happened that would open the door for many costumers to come out and speak up. Meagan Marie, known for her amazing costumes as well as her presence within the gaming industry, encountered a situation that opened up many eyes to the way women are treated at conventions. During a press event, featuring several Lara Croft costumers, a journalist began asking some lewd questions of the ladies. When called out for his actions, he put the onus on the girls; saying that because they were dressed sexy, they were obviously okay with such questions being asked.

This inspired Meagan to write an amazing blog post titled “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid” which explored how she felt it was time to stand up for herself and begin speaking out about the treatment she has received in both the costume and gaming industries. The blog inspired many other women to do the same.

At DragonCon last year, I witnessed a guy take photos of a girl’s backside at a group photo shoot. So many people were so involved with their own stuff, they failed to notice. But I sat there and watched as several people looked on at this guy and they said nothing. I broke off from my shoot and stood in front of the guy taking the lewd photos and confronted him. He took off before I could get any information about him. The girl had no idea she was even being photographed.

It’s easier to look the other way. Standing up and saying something means you have to get involved, you have to put effort into your actions. You may even come across as the bad guy. But standing up means you may save someone’s day.

The ladies at 16 Bit Sirens started an initiative to combat this very problem. CONsent seeks to bring awareness to the way costumers are treated at events, and online, by having them pose with a sign that reads “Costumes =/= Consent” and sharing their stories across the web. Bringing light to this situation, creating a community in which women can feel safe, and giving us a voice to speak up about the treatment we receive is a great step towards educating people about this problem.

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It’s not just women who endure this harassment. Last week, at my Cosplay in the Media panel at MTAC, I had several guys chime in about their own experiences with women touching them inappropriately or making lewd comments to them. Just because this happens to women doesn’t give us the license to treat guys in this manner. One guy shared his story about how women would come up and grab his nether regions while dressed as a particular character. He told us how it made him feel ashamed and upset, and how he had a better understanding of women in similar situations.

As the issue grows, groups and conventions are taking action. Last year at Convergence in Minnesota, the con staff posted signs across the event stating how “Costumes Are Not Consent” as a reminder to treat those dressed up with respect.

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Another show I recently attended, however, did not take the complains of convention goers seriously. Two of my friends, one not even in costume, were assaulted by attendees. My best friend was threatened with “having the shit beat out of her” because she ran into a guy in a crowded area. Another friend was shoved to the corner of an elevator and spit on after she accidentally ran into another guy; all while his three, female, friends looked on. I was told by my friend who was spit on that the hotel would not allow the convention access to the security cameras to identify the man who assaulted her, and the issue didn’t go further than con-ops.

How do we change this? It has to come from you. As con goers, and with our fellow costumers, we have to take the first step to make sure these things don’t continue. If we see someone harassing a costumer (or anyone, for that matter), taking inappropriate photos, or if we encounter a person who makes these lewd advances – it is up to us to stand up and say something. We need to look out for each other. We are a community, a wide and vast family of people who have come together for our love of geeky things. We need to treat each other as such, look out for one another, and stand up for each other – and most importantly, ourselves.

[Photos Credit: 16-Bit Sirens]