Costume is not consent – or a free pass to behave badly

San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) happening this week has reminded me of something I’ve wanted to write about for a while.  There has been a lot more dialogue in recent years about harassment of cosplayers and the wonderful campaigns to stop that, such as the “Costumes/Cosplay are not Consent” movement – the idea that just because someone is dressed as ‘slave Leia’ or a short-skirted Sailor Moon does not mean that it is ok to ogle or touch him or her.   And more cons are taking measures to enforce safe environments.

There have been some very high profile incidents of harassment of cosplayers in the last couple years, and all too often some even nastier backlash against those who stood up for themselves.  Fandom has seen several new (and growing) movements in recent years to combat discrimination and harassment of many kinds that happens at cons, within professional and fan organizations, and online.  The conversation to date is overall good, and progress is slow but gaining momentum as far as I can tell.

Another, less visible issue, though, is that of certain cosplayers themselves behaving badly towards their fellows – the idea that a costume allows the wearer to get away with things for the sake of ‘being in character’ that are actually unacceptable.  Costumes, especially those that allow some bit of anonymity due to a mask or other covering, can sometimes embolden the wearer and result in behavior ranging from annoying to absolutely reprehensible.

For example, someone dressed as Iron Man might have a bit more swagger than usual, and think it’s ok to actually act like Tony Stark in real life – that’s the minor end of the scale.  On the uglier end, though, the costume is an excuse to harass someone from the same world/book/show/movie/comic.  An Eleventh Doctor cosplayer feels entitled to walk up and kiss a stranger dressed as River Song, for example.  Or a Han Solo thinks he gets to grab and grope anyone dressed as Leia.

In each case she didn’t remotely consent to that, but for some reason a lot of people think it’s ok – both the offender and frequently the bystanders as well.  I even heard a tale this week of a woman who was thrown to the ground and assaulted on stage during a masquerade by a fellow cosplayer, whose excuse was that he was “just re-enacting a scene from the book so the cosplay would be more authentic.”  Except it was without her consent or prior knowledge.  Costume is not consent, and cosplay is also not permission.

Those who use their costumes as an excuse to behave badly or as something to hide behind while they harass or even assault others are cowards.  They need to be held accountable for their actions while they are dressed up – yes, for things they do even while they are ‘in character.’



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2 responses to “Costume is not consent – or a free pass to behave badly

  1. This reminded me of a blog post from two years ago by the author of the Help Desk webcomic:

    He’s also written some really good posts about self-publishing, DRM, and other subjects (he self-published a sci-fi novel, with reasonable commercial success).


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