Woman In Red: slutshaming at Anime Boston

Recently, I was contacted by someone who had witnessed an incident of slutshaming involving a cosplayer at Anime Boston. Given that I have discussed sexual harassment and cosplay, as well as other gender and harassment issues within or directed at the geek/nerd communities, he asked if I would post his story anonymously. Here it is, unabridged:

 

I write this as a white cis-gendered gay male, recognizing the privilege this has given me. Tonight was the second night of Anime Boston, something that I thought would mean an overcrowded commute and possibly some epic costumes to look at since I work right next to the Convention Center where Anime Boston is taking place. Very quickly it became something more. Earlier today a coworker posted the following publicly on his facebook, “I didn’t know Anime day was walk around in your bikini and breast out!” Depending on who I spoke with throughout the night, comments on costumes ranged from the tame, “Have you seen a Jessie or James yet? What about a Doctor Who? Wow look at the creativity of that one,” to the vulgar, “Did you see the tail on that one,” commenting on more than just the costume.

Cosplay is not consent. This is a mantra I’ve been seeing throughout the internet in response to cases of harassment at these events and what struck me most about the evening were not these comments but the following situation.

I was approached by a lovely woman in a sparkly, red, strapless dress that was floor length. If it was not Anime Boston one might think she was going to prom. She asked if the oldest person in the store was a manager (he looks about fifty or sixty). I responded he was not and told her who the manager was. Visibly shaken up, she responded with a curt, “Ok thanks.” I asked her if she wanted to talk to the manager and if she wouldn’t mind telling me what was wrong.

She proceeded to explain that when she took off her shoe to put a band aid on she was asked by the oldest person in the store working if she wanted to use the ladies’ room. She told him she was fine and he responded with, “Ok, I just thought you might want a little more privacy, but (someone like)* you might not want privacy at all.” I apologized profusely and asked if she wanted to speak with the manager. She said she wanted nothing to do with the store and just wanted to get out (understandably so). I asked if she wanted me to speak with the manager on her behalf. She said that would be great. I pulled the manager aside and explained the situation. I saw him pull the associate in question to the back. I was then asked to make a written report but tell no one about the situation.

I am grateful the manager proceeded to do something about this, but I feel I cannot be silent. I feel the “cosplay is not consent” mantra usually comes from cases of harassment due to costumes, but in not as many words my co-worker was telling this young woman she was a slut simply for what she was wearing. From what I have gathered (not being a cosplayer myself) cosplaying is about empowerment. I know what it is to need an escape, theater happened to be mine and I feel for others cosplay gives them the same opportunity. For some time they get to be that character, escape their problems, and find what they need in the character they portray.

I had hoped the young woman would come back to the store so I could assure her something was being done. Far too often things are not done, but this situation raised awareness for me. Cosplay is not consent does not simply mean don’t sexually harass others. Cosplay is not consent could and potentially should extend to; unless you are commenting on the artistry, effort, or character portrayal of a costume, you do not have consent to comment on the costume.

Those who know me know I tend to leave with more questions than answers so the questions I have related to this are: What does “cosplay is not consent” mean for you? What does cosplaying do for you? What does being in community with other cosplayers do for you? How do you feel when people ask for pictures with you in costume? Do you interact inter-generationally with other cosplayers? What has that experience or lack of experience been like for you? What has the experience of going outside of the cosplaying space in costume during the time of the event been for you?

A final question I thought of is unrelated to this situation. At many of these events I hear of gender-bending costumes. Most commonly around women dressing up as the Doctor from Doctor Who. One of my favorite characters of that series is River Song. She was an incredibly powerful and well-written female character. I wonder what it would mean for me to dress up as a male incarnation of River Song. Would this been seen a co-opting a powerful woman? Would this be as celebrated as the gender-bending Doctors? Would I need to explain why I chose to be a male River instead of the Doctor?

If you have any thoughts please comment on this blog. I will check back regularly and hope to be able to continue the conversation.

* parentheses added due to discrepancy of which was said

 

 

My anonymous good Samaritan’s story is hardly an isolated incident. This kind of reaction, whether sexual harassment or slutshaming (flip sides of the same coin), happens all the time. I invite you to share your thoughts and stories on the matter to further draw attention to and address this issue.

For more on sexual harassment at cons, cosplay as consent, or general sexism/harassment issues in geek communities, check out the following articles:

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About boundandgaggedbooks

Shannon is a freelance writer and folklore buff. She has a degree from Hampshire College in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion, with an emphasis on epic/oral traditions, their anthropological implications, and their modern counterparts. Her work can be found in Fabulously Feminist, Wolf Wariors: The National Wolfwatcher Coalition Anthology, The Concord Monitor, Redhead Magazine, and The Climax.

8 responses to “Woman In Red: slutshaming at Anime Boston”

    • OP says :

      Thank you sharing my story.

      • boundandgaggedbooks says :

        For the record, I think you’d make a dashing River. I think people assume “girl” characters are a lesser tier. It’s a “why be Batgirl when you can be Batman or Supergirl when you can be Superman or the Pink Ranger when you can be the Red Ranger” sort of mentality. Dressing as River implies that she’s not a lesser female option or the token girl but her own character and every bit as much worth emulating as The Doctor.

  1. mide says :

    That’s horrible, I have come to many cosplay events and my forum has managed bunkasai with cosplay event in my campus several times, but nothing like this ever happens….

  2. OP (Original Poster) says :

    Important follow up: The employee in question was recently fired. From speaking with a manager not directly involved in decisions about hiring and firing it had something to do with inappropriate comments to customers. I am proud to say that something was done by my employer. The situation never should have happened in the first place, but I am glad that action was taken.

    • boundandgaggedbooks says :

      I appreciate that your supervisor took action. While it is unfortunate a man lost his job, that sort of behavior is neither acceptable nor professional. Only by sending a clear message that it will not be tolerated will we begin to turn the tide of rape culture.

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