This post contains content that may be troubling for some. We’re going to talk about harassment, sexual harassment, consent and similar topics. Our goal is not to distress our readers but to have a safe and respectful dialogue about a very important issue.
I’ve been cosplaying for many years now. I started when I was in my teens, didn’t know better and because of that I was often put into situations that are less than ideal. While harassment is something that many women face bravely every single day, this being FanGirl Nation, I wanted to talk about harassment at conventions (be it comic, anime or the like) and how to handle it.
This photo was taken at a convention in 2010. The photo on the left is me with a friend I made at that particular con and you can see on my face that I am having a great time. I love the photo, I love the moment and I’m happy. The photo on the right was taken at the same convention and if a picture is worth a thousand words than the look on my face should tell you everything. I look uncomfortable. I look unhappy. I don’t seem to enjoy that this person is holding onto me the way he is nor did I enjoy all the comments he made to me while the photo was being taken. These photos tell the viewer something and it’s vital to understand the real impact of harassment at convention.
Cosplayers by nature are photographed and interacted with. No one spends days, weeks, months or years on a costume to not be seen but that does not mean that any cosplayer deserves to be harassed be it by words, physical touch or comments on social media pages. Harassment is unfortunately a broad and at times personal definition. I, as a cosplayer, don’t enjoy the infamous hover hand in my photos so with proper consent before a photo is taken I’ll say “If you want, you can put your arm around my arm” or if I’m feeling particularly fond, I may even offer my waist. Sometimes I’ll ask other cosplayers, when I go to take photos with them, where I can place my hands or if it’s just a picture of them.
Harassment has been an issue for conventions since the inception of conventions and for too many years it was just an accepted part of cosplaying. “Well, if I’m going to cosplay, I’ll probably be harassed or touched against my will.” That’s a tragic way of thinking and I hate that so many young cosplayers (myself included) for accepting that. We have fortunately made great strides to improve the convention experience but harassment is still a problem many cosplayers of both sexes face.
By now, you may be asking: where do we go from here? If you find yourself the victim of harassment, say so. Report the incident to convention staff: they are there to help you. If the convention staff is less than helpful, stay alert and vigilant. I seldom go to conventions alone and usually there is at least one or more persons with me that can better help ensure my safety. If you are taking a photo with someone and they do something you do not like: say so. Say that you are not comfortable with where their hands are or if they are being stealthy, so say. You have nothing to be ashamed of if you are on the receiving end of harassment. Know what makes you uncomfortable and what you are okay with. That may change over time. When I was younger, I was far less okay with being touched at all than I am now and that’s simply personal. That even may change from convention to convention depending on my mood and a myriad of other factors: those are all up to you and your choices and body should be respected.
This is a conversation no one enjoys having and one of my least favorite parts of planning for convention. But it is in uncomfortable conversations that we find truth and strength. Know that you are part of a community of cosplayers of all sexes and genders who are with you and stand against harassment in all forms and stay strong.