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Cosplay Is Not Consent

The problem of unsocialized assholes forcing their attentions (physically and otherwise) on cosplayers and costumers is not a new one, but for a social conservative like myself it's a pretty frustrating one. There are a lot of things interacting here, starting with the breakdown of traditional roles and behavior -whatever happened to the very basic instruction in politeness, "Keep your hands to yourself!"?- continuing with the increasing sexualization of the culture at large, adding an unhealthy helping of what Lea Hernandez memorably termed "the Manstream", as well as the influence of the Master Race and their not always safe for work portrayals of girls and women. Stir all this together and dump it into the overheated space created by a convention, which almost by definition is the American version of Carnival, and you get the problem we're dealing with today.

Whether people like it or not, clothes are a signaling device as much as they are protection from the elements and a place to put things. As an example, you'll be treated very differently if you show up for a job interview in jeans and a T-shirt as opposed to a suit, or at least a jacket and tie. Women in halter tops and hot pants will be treated differently than those wearing blouses, jackets and knee-length skirts. Sober colors like black and dark blue connote seriousness; pastels not so much and Day-Glo neon colors not at all. All this used to be common knowledge, and people used to learn how to dress for success as part of the process of growing up. Not any more. It's become so common to see things on Casual Friday that would have gotten you summarily canned fifty years ago that HR departments have resorted to creating new dress codes to make sure people don't come in to work looking like they just got in from an all-nighter at the local strip joint.

And so it is at conventions, where most people wear normal clothes but some people dress up in costumes or do cosplay.* Most people know enough not to run up and hug random strangers who are wearing T-shirts and jeans, but apparently for some people the sight of a fellow fan wearing their favorite character's costume completely destroys their common sense and gives them the notion that it's okay to tackle the unsuspecting cosplayer. This kind of stupidity needs to be corrected, not least because it falls under the wide heading of "things that are not okay outside the convention, or in it either." In fact, outside the convention, this sort of behavior is commonly referred to as assault, a misdemeanor in the criminal code,** and will get you a fine at the very least. Grabbing somebody of the opposite sex makes it even worse.

Which brings us around to the cute young ladies in the sexy costumes that often cover everything but conceal nothing. Under the Old (and presumably Bad) Rules, nice young ladies didn't wear clothes like that, but women of "easy virtue" often did. This has changed, and under the New (and presumably Good) Rules, women can wear any damn thing they want, and anyone daring to criticize clothing/costumes as excessively racy gets shouted down as a fun-hating repressive Puritan who's pissing in the ice cream. Now, I like young ladies showing off their sexiness as much as the next red-blooded American guy, but I would like to point out that since the Old Rules are no longer (officially) in effect, they've still had considerable impact on the culture at large. Which brings us back to the topic of signaling: what message is being sent by the cosplayers, and how is it being understood by the onlookers? I would like to further stipulate that figuring out what women want is hard enough when you're not drunk and/or sleep-deprived, and trying to do it when you *are* tired and drunk is cursed near impossible.

I'm also at a loss as to how convention staffs are supposed to deal with catcalls, wolf whistles and rude comments made to cosplayers. No, people shouldn't be mistaking a sexy costume as an invitation to bump uglies and talk smack - but trying to be the speech police is going to make the difficult job of Security damn near impossible.

The preceding should not be used to justify bad behavior, because that's not what I'm trying to do here. I'm trying to provide some context and make people think. I'm saying maybe things have gone a little far when cosplayers have to be told by staff that they're violating the local ordinances on how much sideboob is allowable. I'm saying maybe we shouldn't have teenage girls providing other congoers with easy beaver shots (Link NSFW).*** I'm saying it's going to be damn hard to change the mindset of thousands of people who have become used to thinking of a convention as a place and time where just about anything goes as long as nobody gets physically hurt, and we shouldn't let ourselves be fooled that a catchy slogan and cool art are going to do the job by themselves. This is going to involve changing a subculture that is no longer really separate from the mainstream (or, unfortunately, the Manstream) and that simply can't be done quickly unless you want to use force. Good luck with that.

*Costuming seems more common at SF/media conventions where most people aren't trying to act as the characters their costumes portray; cosplay, on the other hand, has people trying to stay in character.

**I Am Not A Lawyer, but a brief internet search of state criminal codes bears me out.

***Put on some damn underwear, FFS.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 17th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
Well, you can make the argument that convention space is not public, the concom is not the government, and therefore Security has the perfect right to tell you to knock that shit off or get ejected and blacklisted, but I think we agree that this cure would be worse than the disease. I mean, if we wanted Convergence to be like Wiscon, we'd already be handing out burqas, no? ;)

As qob has said elsewhere, "Actions have consequences," and a lot of fans don't get that not everyone is going to react with sedate expressions of approval and pleasure when they decide to be "half-pretty women half-dressed to show it."
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 17th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)
I think this is a problem that Convergence is going to have a harder time with than Anime Detour, oddly enough, because AD has always been at least nominally a family-friendly convention. So if you want to dress in an R-rated costume, staff and security are going to tell you to go back to your room and change, the infamous penis video notwithstanding. Convergence has never had that.

Yeah, the privilege angle is one that grates on me too.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )