Comics and Cosplay
How Cherry City Comic Con Created a Cosplay Crisis Before First Day

Ross Lincoln | 1 May 2014 21:15
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Cosplay is not Consent

The question we're now faced with is just how did things get so bad? It's easy to conclude, once you've managed to wrap your head around the confusing and often inexplicable behavior, that this is a textbook case of institutional sexism and a strong argument in favor of nonattendance. The sad thing, however, is that as conceived, Cherry City Comic Con has attempted to create the precise opposite atmosphere.

The convention's rules lay out strict guidelines for attendee behavior very much on par with what is expected in order to maintain a safe and inclusive environment. Among proscribed behavior is sexual harassment, "Offensive or rude behavior toward anyone," heckling, and "lewd sexual contact or behavior" which is expressly defined as "groping or inappropriate touching," a clarification that seems to be aimed squarely at people who don't understand that, as the female cosplay community has worked so hard to make clear, cosplay is not consent.

So what happened? I suspect there were two things at play. First is the simple matter of a first time convention organizer whose emotional involvement in the success of his venture got in the way of thinking carefully about how one's behavior as a public figure is seen by people who do not consider you a peer, but as somewhat of an authority. A review of the initial reaction to Chana's concern over the gender balance of cosplay photos seems, to me at least, to demonstrate that whomever responded to her complaint was, at least at first, attempting to diffuse a potentially troubling situation with humor. Frustration over being misunderstood led to what amounts to a petulant emotional outburst, and a combination of frustration and fear led Martin to, for lack of a better way to put it, double down on foolish behavior until he shot himself, and his nascent convention, in the foot.

But second? I don't pretend to know Mark Martin, but I will point out that many men in the geek space, including myself at various points in my life, who consider themselves feminists or feminist allies, have not managed to examine their own prejudices and preconceptions deeply. It's easy to assume that because you agree with and support equality, you yourself are not part of the problem. Without that kind of introspection, it's easy for tendencies you weren't even fully aware of to emerge in horrifying ways when you're emotionally compromised. Just for one example, as a very arrogant 18 year old, I discovered to my shame that I had it in me to bleat out a hugely racist epithet after being beaten up. Until that moment I hadn't even considered that bad cultural instruction had managed to affect me in any substantial way.

That isn't to say I deserved anyone's pity for how I behaved, only to point out that sometimes, you need a particularly harsh wake up call to realize you're wrong. Once you realize it, you can change for the better. And that aspect of all this is good news. This episode illustrates the way in which geek culture, and our culture generally, has rapidly changed. While it can be tiresome and frustrating when new instances of bad behavior emerge, part of the reason they do emerge is that they are no longer ignored, but instead confronted openly by the people such instances affect most intimately.

"I think the issue with sexism in any genre, not just geek culture is increasing," Taffeta Darling told The Escapist. "But luckily there are people, women AND men, who are ready to smack that down. And that's all myself and my friends were trying to do."

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