Costuming and the ‘Wrong Attention’: A Media Commentary
I interrupt my usual con-going nonsense to eat a scone today (GenCon refuel at the local wifi hub, Panera!) and comment on another media article about costuming. This one was passed along to me by my friend Zach on Facebook (the center of all information sharing, of course!), so thank you Zach.
The article comes from The Washington Post, which makes it a hell of a lot more reliable than the last news source (pheh, RT News). This article, found here, discusses the sometimes problem of the male attention often drawn to cosplayers at anime conventions, particularly to the oft-underaged female cosplayers in skimpy costumes.
Now for anyone who has attended an anime convention, or any convention for that matter, this is not a new issue. Gaming conventions, media cons: there are girls walking around in revealing costumes, whether they are cosplaying their favorite anime characters (who often are scantily clad by design) or costuming for games in which they choose to wear something revealing. There’s even the folk who just want to go out in a corset and a nice short skirt because, hell, it’s a convention and why not? But with that choice often comes the downside: the (often unwanted) male attention, particularly of the socially awkward, slightly predatory persuasion.
The article discusses whether or not the conventions should be more aware of these situations and do more to protect against them. They cite an incident where a man was convicted of coercing and enticing a minor into sexual activity because he was found to have had sex with a 13-year-old con-goer at Katsucon, an anime convention. The article also points out that anime can be a very polarizing fandom as well, with a large part of their fanbase being adult males and another growing population being young women (and young boys, they don’t leave that demographic out of the potential underaged sexual quagmire either).
This whole situation is a strange sort of morass of ‘who is responsible for whose safety?’ Is it the conventions responsibility to screen their entrants, as Katsucon is suggesting they do? They’re talking about running their registry of con-goers against sexual predators lists. Is that an invasion of con-goers privacy or a way to try to protect their underaged attendees? Is it the responsibility of the younger attendees to be aware of their behavior and conscious of their actions, including being aware of the attention they might receive if they walk around in what might amount to the equivalent of underwear among thousands of strangers? That treads for many too close to the line of ‘she was wearing that outfit so she must want the attention’ comments or the ubiquitous ‘if she dressed like that, she had it coming’ argument trumpeted by conservatives.
I’d say that in a perfect world, the exploration of cosplay as an art form would be free of any such real-world concerns as sexual predators and young women (and men) could dress as their favorite scantily clad anime (or comic book) character without fear of harassment. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world. It would be lovely if I could say men, check your drool at the door and be aware of how uncomfortable you can make young women. Don’t be -that- guy who oggles and takes pictures to fetishize the costumers, and certainly don’t be the ‘can I get a hug?’ guy so you can grope on the costumers. But I also know that saying that will NOT inform those who actually do these things.
Instead, I lay this out: costuming is an art form that is growing in all conventions, especially anime but including gaming and comic book conventions as well. Convention security must be diligent for the kinds of issues that can occur with predators using the cons as happy hunting grounds. Con attendees and costumers also have a responsibility, however, to look after themselves. Don’t engage in what would be consider ‘risky’ behavior. Would you pose for pictures for everyone? Judge who you’re dealing with. (Hell, I’ll say I sometimes even feel strange asking to take some people’s pictures, and I’m doing it for a blog!) Oh yeah, and if you wouldn’t normally hug someone, just because you’re at a convention? Don’t! Conventions can become bastions of permissive behavior because, hey, we’re all here to have a good time and enjoy the same things? That makes us similar! I can trust you… until the creepiness comes out and suddenly, it’s a convention horror story about ‘that time that…’
Don’t be that guy, folks, but also costumers… don’t put aside your safety considerations just because you’re in a ‘permissive’ atmosphere. If you feel uncomfortable, make it clear and make it known. You’re at a convention for the love of your art forms and your fandoms, not to put up with bad and (potentially criminal) behavior. And conventions, be aware of the atmosphere you’re creating. Make sure that you enforce a ‘No Predation, No Question’ policy at your events. Just because we’re at conventions doesn’t mean we can’t remember the rules of ‘play nice with others, don’t stare, keep your hands in safe places unless asked’. We all should have learned those in pre-school, let’s try to remember that and keep our conventions safe and fun.