Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to Not be a Creeper (Cosplay Edition)

I was recently added to a fantastic social media group for female geeks, with a heavy emphasis on cosplay. In addition to the serious levels of talent the ladies in this group have, there is also an incredible level of support for one another. It's inspiring (to say the least), but it also means I've been reading several stories from group members who are struggling with issues like online harassment and stalking. All I want to do for these women is wrap them up under a wing of protection, find the individuals responsible for their pain, and cleanse them with fire.

Clearly, though, that's not an option (also, possibly not the healthiest of reactions). Instead, let's try to discuss this like rational human beings, ok? Ok, here we go:

First and foremost, if you're not caught up on my previous post about Cosplay Etiquette, you should go do that now. It's cool; we'll wait....... Done? Good. So, we all know the most essential cosplay rule: No touchy, touchy! You've also likely seen signs proclaiming that "Cosplay Is Not Consent" either strewn around the interwebs or proudly displayed around your local convention.

Like NYCC, whose harassment policy I was honored to co-author.
What does that mean, though? I mean, we already know that we shouldn't put our paws all over strangers, isn't this just another way of saying that? Yes and no. Yes, the no touching without permission rule is included, but there is more to it than that. Among other things, "Cosplay Is Not Consent" means:

1. You need to ask before taking someone's photo. "But it's legal for me to photograph anyone I want in public! It's my right!!" While that is technically true, that badge you spent all that money on to get into the convention should have been your first clue that conventions are not public places; they're private events. You might not face arrest for photographing someone at a private event, but you can absolutely be ejected with extreme prejudice (i.e. without refund), and face arrest for trespassing should you attempt to return. Look, taking all of 3 seconds to ask a cosplayer "Do you mind?" really isn't all that horrible now, is it? (Also, and I can't believe I still have to say this in 2015, there is no situation in which non-consensual 'up-skirt' photos are ok. Period.)

2. No one is obligated to be your friend. Cosplayers (like actors and other performers) are not their characters; they're real people from the really real world. Assuming that because someone puts on a costume they are automatically inviting you to be their friend, lover, or otherwise is just wrong.  Generally, you will find cosplayers to be friendly people who are happy to smile, take a photo with you, discuss their costume, and maybe even chat for a few minutes, but that does not automatically make them your friend anymore than chatting for a minute with the guy behind the counter at Starbucks makes you two BFFs.

3. You do NOT have permission to 'cat call' cosplayers. I don't care if they're wearing little more than dental floss and glitter; there is no excuse for yelling out to a stranger about how much you like their tits or how bangin' their ass looks in those tights or what you might want to "do" to them in the bedroom. Yeah, just don't do it.

Now, what about online harassment of cosplayers? I'm not talking about the kind of horrific harassment/doxxing/death threats/etc that have been in the news as of late. I'm referring to what is, essentially, online cat calling and can escalate to straight-up stalking. Persistent romantic pursuits (often by complete strangers), aggressive and relentless comments about their appearance, and an unwarranted expectation of personal contact are all much too common issues cosplayers (and many women in general) deal with online. Hell, I'm not even a cosplayer and I was propositioned earlier today. Apparently, posting the following photo to a friend's page with an offer to wear this shirt every day that she goes in for her radiation treatment (you know, to show solidarity and all that) in the hopes of cheering her up after a devastating medial diagnosis, was actually code for, "Please, strange person I've never met, send me a private message asking if I'm single and like to have fun."

If someone like me got a message like that from posting a photo to a friend's thread about being diagnosed with cancer, imagine how insane a cosplayer's inbox must be every time they post a new costume image. Now, you might be thinking, "Dude, that's a completely different situation! They're posting pictures of themselves in order to get attention! They're totally asking for it!" Well, aside from the fact that NO ONE IS EVER ASKING FOR IT, unless we're discussing photos that have been posted to a dating website, you cannot just assume that their goal is to be propositioned by strangers. Perhaps, and I know I'm going out on a limb here, they're posting those photos to show off the new costume they just spent weeks making by hand, not to entice you into telling them how hot you think they are (especially when that's followed up with hefty insults should they not reply "properly").

Photo: Gweneth Bateman
Is it nice to receive compliments? Sure! Is it still nice if those compliments are dripping with expectation and hold the threat of abusive retaliation if they're not responded to in exactly the right way? Not so much. That is, however, exactly what many women (and in this particular instance, cosplayers) potentially face with each and every online encounter. The above image was taken from a Buzzfeed article about a sort of social experiment by a young woman who found herself consistently "complimented" by strangers online and then insulted by those same strangers when she replied with anything other than abject gratitude, or if she neglected to reply at all (because, you know, Stranger Danger). She found, unsurprisingly, that when she began posting these exchanges online, several other women responded with similar stories and exchanges of their own. Does this mean that everyone who compliments someone online is an abusive creeper? Of course not, but the pervasiveness of such behavior means that everyone who sends a cosplayer a compliment has the potential to be a creeper, and that can be bloody terrifying. 

So, how does one avoid being a douche-canoe online?

It's actually super easy! If you've come across a cosplayer whose work you admire, feel free to follow their page/profile and even comment on their photos, but recognize that these are human beings, and be respectful. Keep in mind that clicking 'follow' 'friend' 'like' 'share' 'comment' etc, does not grant you permission to demand a person's affection or gratitude. Don't get offended if you don't get a response, and remember to check your entitlement at the door. If you're looking to hook up online, set up an online dating profile or hit up a classified section. Otherwise, enjoy the pretty pictures and then go on about your day! I realize that this goes against much of our online culture today, but let's try to keep cosplay civil and fun for everyone before we ruin it completely, ok?


  1. It's like people just forget all commonsense when they go to conventions. Just treat people with respect and manners and everything will be good!

  2. Thank you for this. And for your use of the term "douche-canoe."

    1. I agree with Mariko on both counts. :) Really though, this is an awesome post. It's kind of sad that it needs to be said, but I think you managed to unpack "cosplay is not consent" in a great way. Also, love the gifs! :)

    2. Thank you both so much! I aim to please!