Cosplay / Consent

Adri is a girl geek. She writes about being a girl, and being a geek. Please, talk nerdy to her.

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If you’ve ever been to a comic book or video game convention, you’ve seen them—perhaps a wigged, belly-baring “Lara Croft,” a shoulder-padded, face-painted Batman villain, a skirt-and-socked schoolgirl modeled after some unrecognizable (but adorable) Japanese export. They’re cosplayers, those brave souls decked out as characters they read about or play with, fantasize about being, or simply think would make a hot dress-up. And with the Boston Comic Con swooping into the Hynes Convention Center on April 20,

we can expect the Back Bay to be teeming with a veritable kaleidoscope of these delightfully nerdy folk.

Since the dawn of this pastime, there have been innumerable complaints—mostly from women—of grabby, grubby convention-goer’s hands, bizarre sexual solicitations, and a cornucopia of awkward moments engaging with hopeful suitors. From clothes-pulling, to upskirt cameraphone shots, to being followed to hotel rooms, cosplaying women have had some less-than-epic stories to tell.

Frankly, I’m sick of hearing about it.

And that’s for two reasons: 1) Because people still don’t seem to know how to act appropriately around other human beings; 2) Because if you’re a cosplayer who’s going to dress up in public, you need to accept that you may get attention you don’t want.

The “Cosplay =/= Consent” movement has gotten some real stems this year, including the prevalence of articles and blog posts discussing the trials of women working in tech industries; cosplayer and video game professional Meagan Marie’s recent “PAX East incident” (covered here on The Mary Sue), and even last month’s dongle joke debacle (heh, dongle) starring developer evangelist, Adria Richards, which takes the discussion to a whole different place.

In her photo essay CONsent: The Importance of Treating Cosplayers with Respect, San Francisco-based Elizabeth Schweizer (or, “Sushi Killer” as she’s known on geek blog, 16-Bit Sirens) tackles the harassment issue one costumed-gal-with-a-sign at a time.

“As more people started writing articles about the subject of consent in cosplay, I felt there was an element of personal connection that was missing from the discussion,” Schweizer says.

“It’s easy to dismiss a person’s experience if all you see is text, but if you put a face to their story, it becomes much more difficult.”

It’s been such an issue that a group called Nerdiquette 101 was formed to teach men and women how to behave at conventions. Their mission? To educate, empower, and provide tools for people to recognize when they might be causing uncomfortable situations for cosplayers. Comprised of three con-going gals who each have their own cosplay-related horror stories, Nerdiquette 101 recognized the need for some decorum bitch-slapping and began hosting informational panels at Comic Cons.

“You have a large assortment of people coming together briefly in this festive atmosphere—people feel bolder, less inhibited, less concerned about consequences,” says Allegra, a cosplayer and one of Nerdiquette 101’s founding members. “But it’s also an extension of the way society as a whole views and treats women.

We are still, in the 21st century, trying to get people to understand that ‘look at how she’s dressed’ isn’t an excuse for sexual harassment.”

Agreed: there’s no excuse for being harassed. But let’s be real, here, folks—if you’re dressing up like certain characters, some of which have been most literally designed to tantalize (see: DC’s Catwoman, Marvel’s Black Widow, G.I. Joe’s Baroness), you need to be ready to handle a variety of reactions, whether they’re negative, positive or straight-up offensive.

Allison Hourcade, owner of the popular “geeky” jewelry company, RockLove, says it well:

“Cosplay is NOT consent, but cosplaying ladies also need to be realistic about being at a con with all levels of socially inept creepsters.”

Anyone certainly has the right to wear what they want, but don’t don that no-pants Zatanna outfit and then complain that you’re getting attention from it. Instead, be prepared. A convention, regardless of industry, is its own microcosm, with a smattering of personalities and defects. Despite the fact that we don’t want to have to worry about being grab-assed or cat-called while in a, well, catsuit, we need to count on there always being at least one creep amongst the crowd.

Bill Watters, an editor and photographer for, shared his poignant perspective in a blog post last week:

“The online (and real-world) assumption would seem to be that any female in a skimpy costume is obviously a slut, whore, or simply attention seeking. Beyond that ignominy, comments are constantly made to the effect that they’re wanna-bes, and not ‘real geeks.’ In what universe has any male been forced to defend their geek credentials just for being at a comic-con?”

As there’s an array of reasons why someone dresses up at an event—whether you’re simply a fan, doing it to display your costume craftmanship, or, okay, looking to grab some glances, let’s knock off the judgement, shall we? Let’s be respectful, let’s have manners, let’s be realistic and prepared for the fact that life will throw us some distasteful scenarios time and again, and overall, let’s have fun.

We’re all flying the same geek flag. The more, the merrier.

Don’t be a con creep! Stay tuned for 5 tips from Nerdiquette 101!