New York Comic Con Was Not a Giant Rape Party

Sexy cosplay drama follows on the heels of any con and every con. Sexual harassment is one of the strongest polarizing forces in the cosplay community... and it's not always necessarily on the con creeper to fix.

The madness has ended, the sea of crushing, jabbering humanity has melted away, and attendees for NYCC 2013 have staggered home to nurse the hangovers, blistered feet, and maxed-out credit cards. 

This is not to say that what happens at NYCC stays at NYCC. Immediately following the con  - and indeed, even before the con itself had actually ended - the stories began to filter throughout Facebook, Tumblr, and various other parts of the internet. 

Con creepers.

Immediately conjuring up visions of unwashed, overweight mouthbreathers squeezed into tiny sweat-stained Wonder Woman shirts with one hand clutching a camera and the other down their pants, the con creeper is a full half of the drama machine in the cosplay scene. The exacting shade of blonde for Sailor Moon's odangos and the use of satin shiny side up or down doesn't even come close. 

From such attention-gathering movements as Cosplay =/= Consent has come the steadfast resolution from cosplaying women (and men, but mostly women) that no one can treat you like a prize goat up for auction and get away with it. 

Which isn't wrong.

It is the decades-long struggle of women trying to own their own bodies so that it is possible to be sexy without it being solely for the sake of male acceptance and pleasure. This iteration just happens to be wearing a jetpack and Lycra spandex.

While I believe that much of the retaliatory ridiculousness has stemmed from good, even great, intentions, this much is true: you shouldn't have to stand for anyone being an asshole to you. 

Put in practice however, such movements have also helped spawn a back-and-forth, highly emotional, and highly personal internet war where disrespect, self-victimization, defensiveness, self-righteousness, and generalization run rampant. 

This is not a new situation, nor has it been one for a very long time. It is the decades-long struggle of women trying to own their own bodies so that it is possible to be sexy without it being solely for the sake of male acceptance and pleasure. This iteration just happens to be wearing a jetpack and Lycra spandex.

No one side can be blamed for the constant warfare, but it is inevitable that after every convention (big name or otherwise) there are always new standout incidents that tug the sleeping dragon's tail - whether it is a case of skeevy press chasing Black Cat cosplayer Mandy Caruso's tail at NYCC 2012, "Fake Geek Girl Advisory" stickers slapped on unsuspecting cosplayer asses at RTX 2013, or Bethany Maddock's run-in with disrespectful film crews at this year's NYCC. 

Thrown into this volatile mix is this article, Buzzfeed's "What is the creepiest thing someone's said to you while cosplaying?" which seems specifically engineered to fan the flames, and kick the crowdshaming up a notch. From the enormous showfloor of New York Comic Con comes a whole host of cosplayers with little white signs detailing just what new levels of lame and cheesy this year's NYCC has sunk to.

To be sure, a large portion of these aren't actually all that creepy.

Several sound as if they were made up, and the rest run the gamut of awkward nerd humor to creepy-depending-on-the-speaker. 

While it looks like Buzzfeed is just being Buzzfeed and trying to get a rise out of people by cutting everything down into cutesy little sound bites, this kind of approach - and this kind of reaction - is largely unhelpful and unproductive. Articles like these simply polarize the situation even further - we portray cosplayers as catty, oversensitive bitches that aren't willing to do anything but snark about it after the fact, and then the people who are offended by them as misogynists who simply respond with the simplistic "don't have your ass hanging out in public if you're not willing to let anyone look." 

There were a lot of background stories to some of these situations if you're willing to look deeper, but people don't. And the article doesn't actually go on to mention any of it either. The end result simply causes an uproar without resolution, and just causes more bad blood on both sides. 

As Geek Goddess model and entertainer Kearstin Nicholson says on the subject: "This does NOT teach or tell the 'perpetrator' he/she's done something wrong. This is public crowd shaming, and it doesn't help anybody."

The incidents I have linked up above (Mandy Caruso, etc.) are all ones in which the girls in question actually tried to step up and take care of the scene as professionally and understated (as the situation allowed, anyhow) as possible. I suspect that not all of these people on Buzzfeed tried to do the same.

Like Nicholson says,

"If you put your fresh new pie on the open window sill, people walking by are going to want to smell it. Some will honestly feel like they're forced to smell it since it's in their face. Some will want to go farther and ask you what kind of pie it is. The percentage of those who ask if they can actually eat your pie is so slim it's almost embarrassing that messages people give about the community are generalized as "CONVENTIONS ARE GIANT RAPE PARTIES. THERE ARE CREEPERS EVERYWHERE AROUND EVERY CORNER. NO ONE IS SAFE". ...

[In reference to the girls in the Buzzfeed article.] Did you stop him in his sentence to tell him how inappropriate that was and how uncomfortable it made you feel? No? Did you instead, giggle awkwardly and went "ehhh okthxbai"?" ...

Some people actually have mental issues. As in, needs to be treated. I know that I have a decent amount of followers who do. I find these things out when I actually take the time to talk people who approach me. Women never consider that. Learning disabilities, etc. And it's a very big thing in the nerd scene, since that's what and where social awkwardness or instability comes from or how nerds even get stereotyped. Teach people, don't shame. Some people have the mind of a child, some don't. Doesn't matter how old they are, if they're a "grown man" or not. It's the chemicals that are brewing in their brain, the way they were raised, the downright inability to compute certain behavior. Tell them at that very moment what they did "wrong" and tell them what would have been better. Then go about your day."

I was at New York Comic Con. I was alone for a large portion of it, and I was in costume (Rinoa from FFVIII). People approached me, people complimented me. Some trashed me for my lack of perfect accuracy. One small child proposed to me, and then started to cry when I told him I was waiting for my Squall - then jammed his hand between my legs.

The good, the bad, and the ugly, all in one day.

In this case, it's not always about what happens to you, it's about how you deal with it. At a con, the situation is almost always controllable. I walked away from that last encounter with two very embarassed parents, one extremely apologetic child, and a general sense that such a thing would never happen to any other girl ever again.

The nerd world has the greatest concentration of awkward and general lack of social skills than an other kind of identifier. Even those wearing a press badge, as my coworker pointed out to me once at this year's Comic-Con, are not necessarily exempt. We may have the outer veneer of professionalism, but many of us are nerds first... and not necessarily comfortable looking you dead in the eye. 

This is by no means an excuse for skeevy film crew behavior, and an interviewer conducting said interview with your breasts should be told firmly that hey, the show's up here. You can admire someone's body, and you can talk about sex as an adult. Some people don't know how to talk like an adult. And you don't have to put up with that.

However, you also have to be clear - just like in sex, don't leave it to the guy to read your mind. Tell him when something makes you uncomfortable. Take control of the situation. Most of the guys who think they are being so clever are just fronting. They're trying to get a reaction out of you, good or bad, because they don't know how to do it right. They can and will fold like a stack of cards if you stand toe-to-toe to them, and if you know how to not to be bitchy, they will respect you all the more.

And that's what you want, right? You want to feel strong, sexy, and respected, regardless of what you're wearing.

Just remember that you aren't owed that, and running home four days later to post about it on Facebook and Tumblr won't give it to you. You have to earn it in your own way too - right then and there. 

Featured Columnist

Avid PC gamer and long-time console lover. I enjoy sneaking, stealing everything not nailed down, and shooting zombies in the face. I'm also a cat.

Published Jan. 2nd 2014
  • Tantric989
    "misogynists who simply respond with the simplistic "don't have your ass hanging out in public if you're not willing to let anyone look."

    This comment really stuck with me out of any in the article. As a guy, it's really frustrating to see the victim blaming that goes on with sexual assault cases. We don't blame banks for bank robberies, and we shouldn't blame the victims in this case either.

    What's really ridiculous is the mindset of "well, you shouldn't wear slutty clothes if you don't want people to stare/follow you in the dark/worse things" really says "men just can't help themselves." Wrong. This kind of mindset merely defends rapists and blames the victims. Which reminds me of this article on how not to rape women in 7 easy steps.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    I think in some ways, it is victim-blaming, but with a grain of truth. After all... if you leave your ass hanging out there... people will look. I think as a cosplayer, you would inherently understand this. Where it falls short is the expectations that follow. You're still owed some modicum of respect, even if you're not in pants, and you sure as hell shouldn't be blamed for it. Some people forget that.

    And on the cosplayer side... well, people are allowed to look. They are allowed to take pictures of you because you are out in public. They don't need your permission, that's just a courtesy. Some people forget that too.

    And... I'll admit it, I laughed hard at that link. Men can't help themselves... pff.
  • Scott_3557
    I agree with you all the way except for that last line. "Just remember that you aren't owed that." Everyone there, regardless of what they are wearing, is owed respect because we are human beings. To say someone is not "owed" respect because they don't know how to talk to the guys who are doing the wrong thing is wrong. A lot of people who cosplay are just as "awkward" as the men you are talking about, just as you said, nerds have the reputation they do because many of us don't know how to communicate effectively. Everyone there is owed respect, and to say someone doesn't because they don't know how to handle a situation is ridiculous. I agree with you, that when someone is wrong the only way to fix the problem is to let them know, but I disagree that not doing so makes it ok for people to disrespect you.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    I believe that you are owed respect as a human being. You should get that, and I would never say that not trying to fix the problem makes it okay for you to be disrespected. When you don't get that, that is not okay. That is

    However I believe there are different levels of respect also. Respecting someone for their personality, their behavior, and their effect on you, is far above what they are owed as a human being, and you will never get that without doing something to earn it.

    I also think that if they disrespect you to begin with, you will never get it by not speaking up. I don't believe in shaming people for not doing something, but rather to encourage constructive action in a given situation. But that part, I think (and hope!) came across to you as I had meant.
  • Alskari
    Had to chime in and compliment you on a great article.

    Asking people to act constructively in difficult situations is a dicey task, but I think you walked a fine line perfectly.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you. I did worry that there would be some readers that would take it as an accusation that in a similar situation, if you didn't do anything, it's all your fault! No! Far from the fact! No one should blame you for being unable to say something, but, (and I like your wording best) constructive action is always better than no action at all.
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    As a long time cosplayer, I'm with you on this. Change the situation while you're in it - the impact will be much more effective. Waiting until you get home to rant on Facebook may result in lots of likes and 'hell yeahs!" from friends, but it won't change the behavior of the person who made you uncomfortable in the first place.

    That said it can be daunting, some people may have to work their way up to giving direct feedback in the moment. But it's a skill that will serve you well in cosplay and in life. Well worth cultivating.

    Re: Kid situation - I have never heard of or encountered anything like that. Points for keeping your composure and working with the parents.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    It is definitely not easy, and I hope no one walks away from this thinking that I'm blaming them for not stepping up and taking charge. Far from the fact. I have awkward turtle'd my way through too many a social gaffe not to completely understand. But people will be assholes, and we can either wait for them to stop, or we can be one of the forces that tries to make them stop.
  • Cerbereth
    My favorite story about comic cons is one I read about Ed Greenwood (he writes the Elminster series) he would always tell his wife crazy stories about things he heard or saw at comic con and she didn't believe him, so he talked her into going with him to one of them. They go to the thing and sometime during the event a young woman walks up to him and asks him if he would like to go up to the room she rented. He explains to her that the now angry woman standing next to him is his wife. She tells him that's ok I rented a big bed.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Did he rig it and take her to a swingers convention by any chance? :P
  • Cerbereth
    I don't know for sure if it actually happened. I just remember it from an interview with Ed Greenwood I read some time ago. Whether or not it actually happened the story has a great punchline.
  • Tantric989
    If you're going to do something like that, definitely need to plan for all possible scenarios.
  • Steve Lawton
    I have to be honest, I didn't notice any creepy people milling around. Of course I'm neither a cosplayer nor female so I'd imagine the creepers left me alone for the most part.

    You can't say it much better: No matter one no one should be an asshole to you. You should be allowed to have fun with your friends and fellow nerds without fear of someone thrusting their hand between your legs (I can't believe that happened!).
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    Steve... WE were the creepy people.

    I told you that halter top with the sequins on it was too much.
  • Steve Lawton
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    I was the only one NOT judging you. Literally everyone else was judging you.

    They were both disgusted and perplexed by your behavior. Meanwhile I was mildly amused. You're like watching a monkey use tools for the first time or seeing a baby discover object permanence.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    There is a distinct possibility that they were always on the opposite side of the convention to you two. Just like I was. THE WHOLE CON. ;-;
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    But it matched his nail polish so well...

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