Denver Comic Con 2014 – Cosplay: A Gentleman’s Perspective

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This year’s Denver Comic Con did a great job of addressing the need for respect on the convention floor. There is absolutely no reason that people shouldn’t be allowed to dress up however they want without the fear of being harassed, physically violated or having their sense of security compromised. Cosplay is supposed to be a fun, and often empowering, experience that lets you be whoever you want to be for the few days that you enjoy the con. Our writer Charlotte wrote a well-articulated and extensive piece on how cosplaying as a character can lead to being targeted and how to how to deal with possible harassment at the convention. It’s a great read; I highly recommend it to anyone who is unfamiliar with cosplay and the delicate balance of admiration and total gawkiness that has made it so popular.

However, and there is a big however, I feel like the constant bombardment of cosplay etiquette is aimed in one direction – towards men. All men. Let’s not beat around the bush any longer than we have to; male supremacy mentality in this male-dominated industry are having a tough time letting go of control and letting everybody come to the table and play. For every fifty guys who can handle being around such empowered women, there are one or two people who ruin it for everybody by being too touchy, coming on too strong, or just being plain creeps. Unfortunately, we’ve all been grouped together as a pack of savages who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Being an Egyptian, I have had my fair share of profiling based on the foul deeds of the minority, so let’s get in to the real problem.

Pretty Boy Flizzy from The Boondocks S4E1

Pretty Boy Flizzy from The Boondocks S4E1

I get it; Pretty Boy Flizzy is the last person I want to represent my mantra for how to treat a woman. This chauvinistic jerk-wad from The Boondocks represents what feminists’ nightmares are made of. He’s insistent that women enjoy being degraded and abused. This is the guy that’s making it tough for all of us. Now, as I wonder around the convention, it’s hard to deny the power of sexy all around us. Heck, we even heard of one guy who was so wrapped up staring at a passing cosplayer that he accidentally clipped the stroller he was pushing and out tumbled his toddler. His wife gave him an earful, but the damage was done (not really, the kid was fine). These are not victimless crimes.

Sure, we can blame the nerd industry; comic books have used women as sexual objects for decades, movies are full of T&A, and don’t even get me started on anime. By design, the female characters in most of the things we love are either scantily-clad or wearing unrealistically curvy bodysuits. Since we were boys, we were groomed to love the bad-ass women in geek culture – slave Leia, Lara Croft and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, to name a quick few – and think immediately of them when we think of qualities we want in a woman. The fact that they were strong characters barely eclipses the fact that their sexuality was on full display, something the characters often used as another weapon in their arsenal. So when a beautiful woman decides to dress as their favorite character, be it a cleavage-window Power Girl, dazzling Miss Marvel unitard, or even a crazy Mass Effect alien like Liara, they are going to be some nerd’s fantasy.  I’m by no means excusing creepy behavior, but rather finding the motive behind some of the indiscretions.

This year, there were panels dedicated to cosplay etiquette, namely “Women and Objectification in Cosplay – Being a Sex Symbol” and “Cosplay Not Consent.” From what we heard, both did a great job of addressing the issue without coming off too strong, but who attended this panel? Unfortunately, the panel audiences were comprised of mostly women, which highly detracts from the sense of education the panels sought to instill. Instead, what we usually end up getting in these panels is a call to arms, fueled by multiple women giving their most horrific stories about how they were objectified. I would never belittle the situation, but there has to be a better solution to this than hate-mongering (AKA Fox-newsing) the issue by gathering a collective of people with the same mindset to discuss a passionate topic. There needs to be some diverse thought.

The first step is to recognize that there is a line between embodying a fantastical character and showing up half-naked to a family-friendly convention. Women and men of all shapes and sizes can wear whatever they please – I have no issue with 400 lb men wearing slave Leia costumes. However, wearing literally nothing but a low-cut shirt and novelty underwear from Hot Topic like you’re at some smutty sorority party? That is not cosplay. That, I can’t get down with – especially in Denver, where the cosplay game is one of the best in the country. The issue isn’t about the amount of clothing, but it detracts from those who put effort into making their costumes unique.

I kid you not, we saw this girl (bless her little heart) wearing a crop-top t-shirt that said, in bold letters, “I DO ANAL,” her costume completed by a novelty penis sucker from the bachelorette party aisle. I mean, it was shocking and hilarious, but is that really what we’re trying to accomplish in the Denver cosplay community? There needs to be a baseline for what is considered acceptable and it can’t be based on whether or not the staff considers the cosplayer fit to wear such an outfit.

Even though some of these costumes look better fit for a porn star convention, even they have strict rules on how to behave (albeit, they are very gross rules). If guys can contain themselves at events designed to sell sex, then there is no reason to believe that men can’t do it in a family-oriented environment.

So gentlemen, there are THREE easy rules to interacting with women at a comic book convention. Number one – eye contact. I know this is a toughy, but you have to avert your eyes from the sexy… or at least make an attempt. Behind those real-life boobs is a real person, and she might just be flashing a smile at you. Don’t be gawkward; if you want to stare at lady parts, there are specific venues for that. Another biggie is asking for permission to take a photo. We recalled a specific time we were walking around and noticed this girl wearing just underwear, and were almost punched in the face by this guy following her, zooming in with his 55x lens to snap a pic of her booty – not a good look. And finally, keep to appropriate levels of intimacy. The best rule of thumb here is to pretend like her dad is snapping the photo. Body language is a good indicator whether or not she is comfortable with touching, and if you do embrace, keep it a shoulder touch or back pat. Friend-zone the shit out of that picture with the hover hand if it feels right, because believe it or not, nobody likes to be man-handled by a complete stranger.

Changing the culture of cosplay is going to have to be a directive of the entire community. Booth babes aren’t a thing of the past yet, and women are still being straight up harassed, fondled and stalked on the convention floor, but at least we’re starting to recognize that it’s a problem. The cosplay community has risen to the challenge of creating something other than a sexy Pikachu costume, so it’s up to the convention community to show that we appreciate it. As men, we owe it to one another to let each other know when we turn into slack-jawed idiots over something as trivial as a woman in a bikini: call out the neanderthal making lewd comments, point out the guy with his camera practically up that girl’s butt. There’s no better reinforcement than public ridicule of a pervert. As a collective, we’re well on our way to all becoming a fancy-pants bunch of nerds, but we can do better – and we can do it without painting the picture of the villain.

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