Last weekend at Wondercon 2013, I began work on a project I have wanted to do for some time now. As many of our readers may know, there has been escalating tension within the convention going community regarding the physical and emotional safety of cosplayers. Last week, cosplayer Meagan Marie spoke out against the people within the gaming industry who treat female cosplayers as pieces of meat, only there for the enjoyment of men. This, and the continued discussion within my circle of cosplay friends has pushed my plans forward, and I now present to you the beginnings of my photo essay, inspired by #IneedFeminismBecause; “CONsent: The Importance of Treating Cosplayers with Respect.
I presented cosplayers with a wipe off board, simply reading “Cosplay =/= Consent and asked them about their experiences of harassment. I was not surprised to hear many horrible stories from women and men alike. These can be as seemingly harmless and annoying as not asking for permission before taking a picture or bothering them for a picture or interview while they were taking a water or food break. But the majority of the stories were more serious and ranged from threats of violence to inappropriate touching, and from lewd facebook messages to stalking.
The consensus is that it isn’t safe to be a woman in cosplay. Yirico, a cosplayer known for being a Crunchyroll Ambassador and an excellent demonic form Catherine cosplayer, mentioned to me that when she wore that particular costume (which covers literally her whole body head-to-toe and even covers her face in thick, white foundation,) someone still made her self-conscious by commenting loudly on the size of her bottom.
“Men often start with their hand at my waist or shoulder when they ask for a picture with me, one young woman recalled, “But then their fingers wander to my butt, or stroke my back… And it makes me so uncomfortable. I just want to yell, ‘Hands off!’
Another said, “Lots of guys have used asking for my photo as a segue to asking for my number. When I turn them down, they always call me a bitch or something much worse.
And cosplaying women aren’t the only ones this problem affects. “Some guys will put their hands on my girlfriend right in front of me, one non-cosplayer said of his fantastically costumed girlfriend. “I can always tell that she hates it, but I can’t really step in to help her without looking like a possessive jerk or an obsessed fanboy.
One photographer mentioned that when he is working with a cosplayer and sees someone trying to take a picture of her butt or up her skirt, he jumps in front of their camera, blocking the shot with his own crotch. This draws attention to the pervert and can shame them, while also protecting the cosplayer. This, and the constant attention I got as a female photographer in cosplay myself, also prompted me to expand my project to include a gallery of “Caught Creep photos: pictures of photographers trying to take sneaky and/or pervy pictures of cosplayers without their consent.
EDIT: Please note — this was not intended as a personal attack against people who were taking normal convention pictures from afar without asking, but rather meant to point out and stand up to people who were trying to take inappropriate pictures of cosplayers without their consent (e.g. an ass shot, down the shirt, while they were bending over, right after they specifically said “no” to a picture, etc.) This is also not intended as defamation in any way, shape, or form. Many cosplayers frown upon those who don’t ask for pictures, but we would like to take the personal stance that this can be ok under certain circumstances that don’t endanger or majorly inconvenience them. We also would like to state that when in doubt, it is ALWAYS better to ask a cosplayer for permission.
As disheartened as I was by the stories, I was also inspired by the enthusiasm and encouragement that so many of them had for the project. Often, before I could rattle off my intro speech, cosplayers would read my sign and shout “YES! “OH MY GOD, THIS!” or “THANK YOU SO MUCH! Many of the cosplayers and photographers I spoke to even wanted to personalize their statement or use this project as a venue to speak their mind about the subject. Others beckoned more of their friends over to participate too, or mentioned that they wanted to contribute more to the project somehow by spreading it through their fan pages or local communities.
This is just the beginning. I will be traveling to as many conventions as I can across the West Coast and taking more and more portraits, but I am only one person. There are so many places that I, alone, will not be able to reach… Even with help from the other Sirens, this project cannot succeed fully without the help and support of the global fan community.
That is where you come in. Whether or not you are a cosplayer, you can contribute a picture of yourself holding a sign that says Cosplay =/= Consent or anything else you feel is appropriate to convey your feelings. Additionally, whenever you are at a convention and catch someone in the act of taking a sneaky, unauthorized photo of a cosplayer, please snap a photo of them and submit it under #CaughtCreep You can submit via Facebook (tagging our page in the photo,) on Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr with the tag #CONsent, or directly to us via email. If you are a photographer or organization who would like to gather many photos and contribute, please contact us about setting up a joint gallery and the materials necessary to make it happen at various events.
We are looking for stories and more images starting immediately! We would love for as many people to participate as possible, but in the end we would like to have a complete gallery on flickr (and maybe even work towards making a formal book) so please let us know what you have contributed, no matter how small, and how to credit you when reposting your submission in our galleries.
To share your story, you can comment here, on facebook (publicly or via private message,) via email or any other method you can think of. If you wish to remain anonymous please say so in your message. We humbly ask that you keep us in the loop and mention us in your submission so that we can better keep track of every image to have the most complete gallery possible.
The full gallery collected thus far can be viewed on our flickr page here. Thank you for your support and I hope you are as inspired by these brave individuals as I am.