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Our mobile harassment team headed out, materials in hand, and roamed the crowds of comic con to let people know that cosplay does not equal consent. We decided to walk around with a sign that said, “If you have been harassed while in cosplay, please come talk to us!” We thought that allowing people to approach us on their own terms was less intrusive and harass-y than approaching people and asking them to talk to us. The tactic worked really well. Even for people that didn’t choose to speak to us after seeing our sign, the sign started lots of conversation. We were able to hear people talking to their friends about it as they passed and either sharing experiences that they had or talking about why we would even be asking that question in the first place.
It was also really interesting to watch people’s reactions to reading the sign. Some people looked offended by the question itself. Others very obviously registered what we were asking and smiled at us, even if they didn’t talk to us. I think that our presence there was something they were grateful for whether or not they felt comfortable actually sharing their experiences with us. The most interesting reaction was from many of the men at the convention. They looked completely baffled by the sign. They could not seem to understand why we would even be asking that question. Several asked us if it was a joke (“No, we’re totally serious. Unfortunately, harassment at conventions is a really big problem, especially for female cosplayers.”) Harassment just does not jive with the life experience of most men and so they were unable to even fathom that it might be happening to other people at their conventions.
The best reactions that we received were women that we so, so happy to see us there. We got a lot of, “You guys are awesome!” yelled at us. Some women would see us and not come up, but after the second or third pass, would decide that they were ready to talk to us; a few chased us down to answer an emphatic, “YES,” to Brandie’s written question. Each woman (and one man) that shared her story was amazing, and it was clear that they loved cons and were not going to let the harassment stop them from going, but they were quite sad about what they had experienced. We met a few women that no longer dressed in cosplay at conventions due to the amount of harassment they received while wearing it. There were also a lot of men that were very supportive of the work we were doing, which was amazing to see. After we spoke to people about their experiences, we handed them a pack of harasser cards that they could hand out to people that harassed them; those were a big hit. People seemed really grateful to have them.
We heard stories of a woman being offered $200 to go home with a guy when she was just 14 years old, women being grabbed and touched without their consent, women being asked inappropriate questions about their sexual preferences, women receiving homophobic harassment for choosing to cosplay as a male character, a man who had been stalked for an entire convention to the point of being followed up to his hotel room and when he reported it, was told not to be so mean to the stalker, and one woman who was just so exhausted from being female in the space of a convention that she was on her way home. They were all grateful to have people there to talk to them and validate their experiences.
One woman spoke to us about non-consensual photos being taken and how problematic it was. We noticed that, too: whenever female cosplayers would pose with our sign, a crowd of men would appear seemingly out of nowhere, to begin taking photos of them. In fact, it happened to us, too! A man walked up and started taking pictures of Brandie with the sign she was holding. She told him he needed to ask her permission before taking photos. The woman that talked to us about it mentioned that Boston Comic Con’s website pretty much tells cosplayers they’re “asking for it” in terms of non-consensual photos. And she is correct.
Will people take my picture?
Probably, by wearing a costume in public you are tacitly giving approval that people take your photograph and immediately post it to the internet. That being said people taking photos should ask permission first.
“By wearing a costume in public you are tacitly giving approval that people take your photograph and immediately post it to the internet.” Um, what? Don’t people have the right to cosplay at a convention without having it publicly posted? What if they want privacy or don’t want people they work with to find photos of them in costume? The convention tacks on that piece about asking permission at the end, but it’s clear that it’s there strictly to cover their ass.
The website also talks about what you can do if someone at the convention is harassing you.
What if some creep won’t stop harassing me?
Tell Boston Comic Con staff or a member of Security immediately. Boston Comic Con will not tolerate any sort of harassment of our attendees whether they are in or costume or not.
Great! Except the problem with this is that for the 6+ hours that we were at the convention, we didn’t see a single staff person walking around. So even if I wanted to report harassment to someone, it would be nearly impossible to find someone to report it to. And this simply is not good enough.
The reception we received from people attending the convention is evidence that there is a real need for people at conventions to be talking about this. Everyone that we talked to said it would make a really big difference to them if they knew that there were people on-site trained to deal with harassment and to take their claims seriously.
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