Cosplay: Respect and the Costuming Community

Published on March 10th, 2012

As convention season draws closer – tickets are purchased, collections reorganized, and sewing machines revved up – it is time again to examine the coming year and what it has in store for us.

For me, well, a new set of opportunities are opening up! As you all may or may not have noticed, my name is Roxanna Meta, and I’ve been the Reviews Editor for Comic Impact since last year. It’s been a privilege to work with such a comic-lovin’ group of people, and I’m happy to announce that I will now be able to contribute more to the site: upcoming articles drawing on my experiences and thoughts as a long-time cosplayer.

I’ve been in the superhero costuming community since 2007 (although I’ve been making costumes for a lot longer than that), and I’m looking forward to sharing some of my thoughts, tips, and observations from my five years in the hobby. There are always things that newcomers want to know; there are always hot and exciting new costumes being made; and there are always deep-seated issues in our community to be addressed.

I think it’s an opportune week for me to begin, as one of those issues has come up in the past few days, and this seems a good place to start expressing some of my feelings on a somewhat controversial problem that female cosplayers face. This week’s incident was the posting of photos of cosplay ladies on a pornography-sharing site, apparently with accompanying derogatory captions labeling them sluts and whores.

blackcanaryNow, I am firmly of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with being a slut in the technical sense, nor do I think there’s anything wrong with sex work, but there is a lot wrong with using language with the intent of degrading and objectifying other people. Sadly, almost every cosplaying girl has encountered attitudes like this, not only on the internet but even in person at conventions. We’ve all had our pictures taken, been catcalled, and so forth; but I’ve known ladies who have had upskirt or rear photos taken while they weren’t looking, been physically assaulted, had all kinds of defamatory comments made about them online, etc.

Before I go on, why, you ask, am I only talking about the women, and not the men? I read an article recently ( linked from the blog of a wonderful cosplayer, Elise Archer) describing a class in which women and men were asked to state what they do every day to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted. The men had no answer. The women had a long list.

The truth is that women face issues on a daily basis that men simply do not have to deal with. Why is it, in our society, that women are constantly forced to protect ourselves from objectification, degradation and violence? The scales are tipped, whether we like it or not, against us. Before going out in a revealing outfit, like the ones many comic book characters wear, we steel ourselves to defend our bodies and our reputations. Some people would say that a woman wearing a spandex thong and fishnet tights in public is “asking” to be objectified, to have her picture taken inappropriately, to be labeled a derogatory term. It’s true that when I dress up as Black Canary and go into public, I make that choice knowing what I am getting into; I’m realistic about the way my body and my personality might be perceived, and I am committing to participate in a somewhat risky activity I have full knowledge about. But why should seeking attention, even while knowing what I’m getting into, also mean that I welcome degradation, or objectification? Unfortunately, this attitude towards cosplayers comes dangerously close to the classic phrases “she was asking for it” and “blaming the victim.”

I ask, to those who enjoy the work we do in our hobby, and especially (with thanks) to those who enjoy how we look in our work, that you treat us with politeness and respect, the way you would any beloved woman in your life. Ask us politely if you can take our picture (sure, you can take a picture of my butt if you’re nice!), and when you post our pictures, write only what you’d be comfortable reading about your mother or your sister. Just because we’re wearing an outfit made up by Dave Cockrum, doesn’t mean that we’re asking to be shamed.

Conversely, I also ask the members of the cosplay community to remember that the comic community, like the world, is made up of an incredibly diverse selection of people with incredibly diverse tastes, both sexual and otherwise. What will happen behind closed doors will happen behind closed doors. We cannot control the thoughts or choices of others, nor should we; what we can do is to respect those with different likes or different points of view, and in return, we have the right to ask that WE are respected.

If you ever see your photo posted somewhere you are uncomfortable with, you can ask for it to be taken down. Unfortunately, the legal rights to a photo belong to the photographer, and in order to legally force the photo to be removed, the photographer must become involved. That said, I don’t see any reason not to attempt to have your image taken down; a responsible poster, or at the least a responsible website, should honor your wishes. Gladly, in the case of the recent pornography incident, the website did take down the images in question. And thanks to them for doing so. That is all that can be asked, without violating the privacy and dignity of anyone else; and in my opinion, it should be left at that.

Let’s stop the cycle of women in our community feeling that they have to protect and defend themselves at all times while enjoying their hobby. If you enjoy what we do, encourage us to continue doing it by being respectful in public or on the internet. And let’s respect each other too, within the community, while we’re at it. If we could manage this even 90% of the time, the only things a cosplay girl would usually have to worry about would be why her serger is jammed, or the silicone just won’t set.

Comic Impact, the entire staff and I wish to express our appreciation for the beautiful ladies and gentlemen of the cosplay community, and to let them know that you will ALWAYS have our respect and support. If you have any issues you’d like me to address in upcoming articles, please feel free to comment, or send me an email at I, and Comic Impact, are really looking forward to the upcoming season – let’s make it a good one!

Roxanna Meta