I’ve already touched on the extra-special bundle of harassment that us nerdy female types have to deal with in-game, but this recent article by The Mary Sue serves as an alarming reminder that the creepers aren’t all confined to the basement — some of them are disguising themselves as “respectable journalists” and walking among us, leaving a trail of skeev and sense of extreme discomfort in their wake.
In essence, a group of cosplayers portraying Lara Croft at this past PAX East were accosted by a so-called journalist and his cameraman, in what at first seemed like a regular interview. Cosplayer Lauren Wizemann recalls:
We were taking pictures in the booth and then we moved out towards the walkway so that people walking by could see a group of Lara Crofts. We took more pictures and then this guy comes up and asks if he could ask a few questions. His partner had a more professional looking camera and so I think all of us just shrugged and said ok.
Things quickly took a turn for the inappropriate when the interviewer asked “How does it feel to be at a convention where none of the men could please you?” Megan Marie, another cosplayer involved with this incident, describes her reaction on her Tumblr:
My anger flared upon hearing this, and for a moment I almost let it get the best of me. I attempted to calm myself down before walking towards him and the cameraman, and expressing that it was rude and unprofessional to assume that these young women were comfortable discussing sexual matters on camera. I intended to leave the conversation at that, but his subsequent response escalated matters quickly and clearly illustrated that this ran much deeper than a poor attempt at humor. He proceeded to tell me that “I was one of those oversensitive feminists” and that “the girls were dressing sexy, so they were asking for it.” Yes, he pulled the “cosplay is consent” card.
When informed of the incident, PAX East was quick to respond and assured that the journalist in question would no longer be welcome at their events — a heartening display, on their part, of a much-needed dedication to making sure that attendees feel safe and comfortable within its walls. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any mention of the interviewer’s name or the publication he worked for, so there’s no telling if this was a major nerd-news outlet who could potentially remove him from their ranks, or just another example of a creepy guy with a personal blog who’ll just continue to harass women and then throw a temper tantrum when told “not cool, bro.” I’m not sure about PAX East’s guidelines for obtaining a press pass to their event, but I know that some conventions and industry gatherings have historically required nothing more than a fansite to qualify, meaning that accountability for one’s actions is not always an option.
This guy’s statement that if a girl dresses sexy, she’s asking for harassment, is something that sends a chill down my spine. It’s the same rationale used by date rapists all over the world. I’m not saying that if he had offered these cosplayers sodas, they would have definitely been spiked with something, but if he’s already got this mentality in place just for face-to-face interactions with others, what the Hell is stopping him from applying it to something even worse?
How dare a woman dress provocatively, whether in her daily life or for a special occasion? In the eyes of this dude and so many others like him, if we want to be sexy, this is the price we have to pay. If we speak up, we’re the bitches, the whores, the teases, the insert-terrible-name-for-a-woman-who-exercises-her-right-to-say-no. If we had only chosen to wear a T-shirt and jeans and no makeup that day, we wouldn’t have had to endure it.
Another troubling school of thought is that in the case of women who do choose more revealing cosplays, they’re only “doing it for attention” or playing right into this “male fantasy” I keep hearing so much about. I’ve seen and heard these statements being thrown around not just by men, but by women, as well. In truth, I find it to be one of the most oppressive and offensive things you can say for a few reasons:
- By addressing the “male fantasy,” you’re completely ignoring lesbians and anyone not fitting into “traditional” gender roles, such as those who identify as neither male nor female or the intersexed;
- You are assuming that women are silly naive little flowers who can’t make their own decisions on something as simple as what to wear without being consciously or subconsciously influenced by outside sources;
- You are perpetuating the stereotype that the only way to be a “feminist” or achieve equal rights is to deny our own femininity altogether, and any woman even touching a tube of lipstick is sending us all back to the Dark Ages.
It’s the same thing as people who can’t keep their mouths shut about cosplayers who are overweight or who they perceive as unattractive — if you don’t like the way that somebody is dressed, don’t talk to them. Don’t invite them out for coffee, don’t smile at them, don’t ask them to be the godparent of your fifth child. You are not obligated to like someone. You are obligated to not act like a bratty teenager about it. You are obligated to admit that they have the right to dress however they damn well please and be subject to the same level of respect as you are. Slut-shaming is not cool, ever. Whether a woman is dressed provocatively because she’s portraying a particular character who she really likes, or choosing to do so because she enjoys being able to freely express her sexuality and personal aesthetic preferences, she is still a human being, and deserves to be treated as such.