Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Girly Nerdery 2: Cosplay, Cons, and the Intersection of Rape and Geek Cultures

I absolutely,  in my heart of hearts, believe that the way creepers at conventions think it's okay  for them to do their creeper thing at said conventions is a direct result of a combination of both rape culture and the hyper-sexist environment of geek culture. It doesn't matter whether a woman is  fat,  thin, blonde, brunette, white, of color- women are treated like crap at cons and in geek culture.  

TRIGGER WARNING: I'm going to be discussing real sexual harassment I've experienced at an anime convention, as well as bringing up other real-life accounts I've heard of online. 

There are lots  of posts online about how women at cons get harrassed. I think there's a strong misconception that only women in skimpy outfits face it, or only heavy women. I saw this on FB and I think it gets at some of this:
Contra to what a lot of people  on the comments there and  on the place I saw it on FB think, this image isn't about fat-shaming per se. It's about how women of any shape and size are treated like crap at conventions- heavy women, like the woman brave enough to draw this, are made fun of for being "too fat" for their costumes (much like this gal was here). BUT. The strip also shows how women with that "ideal" body type are called sluts and oggled at by the same people, and their "legitimacy" is constantly tested. 

In May, I hosted a bachelor/bachelorette party at an anime convention. Sort of. It was held at the  con, during the con, and myriad  of the  guests did con things throughout the weekend. I didn't- another friend and I got a room together at another hotel, so whenever I was at the convention hotel, I was running back and forth doing things prepping  for the party. So I was never in costume. I did, however, try to be somewhat in cognito by bringing a nerdy shirt for the day  I knew I'd be around  the con more. When waiting for an elevator whilst wearing this  shirt, a very tall, bulky dude that looked like David Bowie in Labrynth, except with  green skin, said to me, "Can I have your autograph?" I chuckled and said  it'd be pretty useless. He stepped closer and said, "Well how about you come up to my room?"

"Ah, no, I'm not that kind of person," I said, backing away toward the larger, open space of the lobby. I stopped parallel with a group of three guys that weren't in costume, but rather really outlandish  hats. They apparently had been watching and listening to the whole thing, because they were sniggering and looking at me. 


"You sure?" Bowie said, taking a step in my direction. 

I shook my head, but my body froze. Bowie glared at me for a moment, then said, "Psh, cunt," as he started to turn  around. The  hat guys started laughing as I bolted.

I found a staircase and took that upstairs.


Then about an hour later, as I was getting ice for the party, a dude in a Mad Hatter (ala Johnny Depp) costume said as I was passing him, "Hey, baby, where you goin' in such a hurry?" tipping his hat up a little as he overexaggeratedly looked me  up and down.

In my shock, I blurted, "Party!" as I started to walk much, much faster, which meant I had to go past him. 

From behind me, I heard him say, "The party's right here!" 

So to clarify, I was propositioned inappropriately not once, but twice, while 1) having absolutely no "provocative" clothing on, and 2) while still being the same shape I've been for ages, i.e. overweight. Yeah, big boobs, but in a shirt like that, plus with the sweater-wrap thing I had on over it, I prolly looked more like a black-and-grey blob than anything else.

Yeah, anecdotal evidence isn't always generalizable, but given the plethora of pieces about harassment at conventions and shady stuff that gets reported then ignored by the people that should care, it's hard to deny there's a problem. And it's obvious there needs to be better security and measures for people to report violations of their privacy or person.

But the misconception that it only happens to hot chicks in skimpy outfits is I think one of the biggest problems. This article from Kotaku has a good cluster of variant incidents, but some "highlights," if you will:


  • A security guard getting up in the grill of a journalist.
  • A game developer kissed a PR gal's head in a bar, and another kissed her neck.
  • Another PR gal was accused of not doing her presumed job of taking a picture with a dude that thought she was a "booth babe."
  • Another journalist had a man take a zoom-in shot of her breasts.
  • One dude confessed to another that his usual strategem of making women to feel down on themselves in order to bed them wasn't working.

One thing all the women in this piece have in common is they either presumably or explicitly weren't even in costume. And you'll notice (if you read the piece) the rather entitled reactions of some of the men- that they have every right to pick up on these women and get in their space, and it's the women violating some social norm by not fucking them or not being pleased with their behavior. 

You know what that is? Rape culture.

I've had countless instances where I was harassed on the street or in a mall or something. I've been followed into stores, I've been cornered in buildings. I've had men call me a "cunt" and a "bitch" for telling them something as innocuous as, "No thank you," (in a very timid voice, I may add). And all this while being overweight, not a "hottie" at all. 

And I've had people that find out ask  me if I was wearing a short skirt or low-cut top. I've had people ask if I fought back when I was raped (and some even say I "must not have been trying hard enough" when I say that yes, in fact, I did). As if I somehow was at fault, or at least partially to blame. I can't win- just by being a woman, I'm both a cunt for resisting, but to blame for not resisting enough. My only purpose is to please men, and anything that goes "wrong" with them is my own doing. 


This  is what conventions are like, only at conventions, it's concentrated and hyperactive. I think maybe  it has to do with the pseudo-anonymity of being there- it's not in the "real world," so inherent assholery and douchebaggery are magnified and less restrained. I think this is intertwined with the sexism in geek culture that gets so adamantly defended by men, too, of course. I've discussed some of this already; and my next "Girl Nerdery" post will most definitely tackle this from the pro-feminist perspective ala Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash anyone expressing dissatisfaction gets.

But men at conventions are, after all, men from the real world, so the contradictory/paradoxical assumptions about women irl translate to cons pretty smoothly. And I think the tight spaces and brief timeframe make the behavior in itself more extreme. If the idea of geek-culture is a boys' network, conventions are the closest to the tangible manifestation of that- so it follows for women at conventions to be mistreated and viewed as subordinate at best, as entirely lacking autonomy or individuality or even humanity at worst. 

There's this entirely false assumption by men at cons that women there are only present to provide entertainment and sexual gratification for them, the men. If women aren't buying into cheesy pickup lines, the reaction is, "Psh, women." If they don't want their picture taken, they're a "bitch." There's no second thought to asking them entirely inappropriate questions like their bra cup size, their sexual fantasies, if they'd go to the man's hotel room- it's deemed "harmless" by these men. 

Women in costumes are called names, judged negatively for being dressed as such, but they're also called similar things for not taking lewd remarks as complimentary. If they voice a complaint, they "shouldn't have been dressed like that, anyway."* And like  with the "fake geek girl" bullshit, they're assumed to now know anything about what they're there for.
Wearing a costume does not equate free gropes or open legs, let alone does the mere state of being female at a convention. Gay or transgendered doesn't mean a person's internal thought process is, "Please, please, make a comment about your semen winding up on my face!" Having ovaries doesn't entitle anyone else to the right to copping a feel. 

And yeah, I think a few reasons people should find this (more) disturbing (than they do) is the overall lack of response from convention personnel, the visceral reactions against anyone speaking out (the comments section on that Kotaku piece, for example, turned into a blob about how the dude that took the camera from the guy that took the boob-picture was the asshole last time I looked, for example- even men  trying to do something about it are attacked), and the way women are basically expected to expect that kind of treatment. Men aren't held accountable, women  are lashed out against, and we're supposed to remain silent. This last is the most disempowering: We're expected to literally take  it lying down in some instances, and it's a big shocker if we don't.

That's rape culture.


And I think one thing that's rather sad about it is the environments within conventions are entirely constructed and created by people, and those people do nothing, or not enough, to create a space free from harassment or violation; and people choose to go to these things without stopping to consider that maybe, just maybe their impulse is inappropriate and invasive. And  why should these guys tone it down? They don't face repercussions! 

Women at conventions aren't there for men to oggle. They're there because they're fans, too. And their legitimacy is questioned- it's a disgusting  double-standard that is entirely constructed at each convention. Wil Wheaton,  bless is nerdy heart, has this great quote from The New Statesman on his Tumblr:
"A man can wear a bow tie and a fez and he's in costume. A woman can spend hundreds of pounds or weeks of her time on an exact replica of an outfit a minor character wore onscreen for five minutes, whilst reciting  the Prime Directive in Klingon, and she's an attention-seeking slut."
I'd go further  and say that, should she decide the comments she's getting are inappropriate and  have the gall to say as such,  she'd be called even worse things. 

Now I've been to two conventions besides the one I talked about above. I was with a large enough array of people each time, and with enough men, that I don't think much, if anything, negative really happened to me- it would have stuck  with me. So make no mistake, I'm not saying every woman that goes to a convention is going to get slut-shamed, made fun of, propositioned, and attacked. But what I am saying is that it happens a lot, and when it does, it's a reflection of the values of society writ-large and geek culture specifically.

And that is rape culture. 




*Nevermind that the most popular female characters are also usually pretty gorram skimpily-clad, but that's a topic big enough for its own post.

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