Comicon, Cosplay And Consent

June 06, 2014

Phoenix Comicon is underway downtown, and the event has long been a haven for those who immerse themselves in what is affectionately known as geek culture.

"Cons" as they're called, are meant to be inclusive spaces, where everyone,  no matter what their interests, can be a part of a community. But some women have talked and written about ways in which they’re not treated respectfully — specifically by men, and especially when they’re dressed in costume, something known as cosplay.

Libby Johnson attends Comicon and has been a comic book fan for about 20 years.

"When I go, do I notice the feminist textbook male gaze going on sometimes? Yeah, absolutely. But the thing is, I even notice when someone’s in full cosplay I tend to stare at them, too," Johnson said.

She says it's hard not to look at how elaborate the costumes can be.

Some of the difficulty women face at Comicon has to do with men not giving women their due as "real" fans — and assuming they don't know as much about the characters and all as the men do.

But Johnson says she’s never had any problems.

"Every Comicon I’ve been to, I’ve been treated like a comic fan, not like a female comic fan. I’ve had a really egalitarian experience at all the comic book conventions that I’ve been to," Johnson said.

Still, sometimes more serious problems arise. Stacey Gordon has been a vendor at Phoenix Comicon for seven years, selling puppets. And, she’d never had a problem, until this week.

"Actually, just yesterday, I wasn’t even in costume. They have this saying called 'cosplay does not equal consent,' and non-cosplay also does not equal consent. I had somebody come up to my booth and actually kiss me, without me wanting them to," Gordon said. "I turned away, so he couldn’t get my face. And then I asked them to have a great day. Then I talked to con staff, and they were really, really great about it."

Gordon says she’s seen stuff like that happen to other women, especially at night, when convention goers have had a bit to drink. She says she prepares for Comicon the way she does to hang out with her friends — she lets other people’s behaviors dictate what she wears.

"So, when I do cosplay, I do things that are more modest, that don’t draw as much attention. But, normally, I think it’s just being aware and being assertive. It’s really no different than being a woman in the rest of the world," Gordon said.

Both Gordon and Johnson say there are far more women at Comicon now than there were in the past — which they both say is a good thing.

Megan Calcote, who’s been going to Phoenix Comicon for about four years, says her experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

"I’ve never been put through the fake geek-girl quiz, but I have heard stories from people who have experienced that. It definitely happens. I do think it’s the minority," Calcote said.

And for Johnson, who says she was once the only girl she ever saw at Atomic Comics in Mesa, it was another little girl who inspired her to take the next Comicon step, to cosplay.

"I was actually at Comicon last year, and walking around, visiting the different booths, and I saw probably a 5 or 6 year old little girl, who was dressed in cosplay as my favorite character, Miss Marvel, definitely a very pro-girl, feminist sort of character," Johnson said. "But I looked at this little girl dressed up as my favorite character and I thought to myself, ‘I can do that. I’m totally gonna do that next year.’"

Sadly for her, she says adult responsibilities got in the way of those plans — but she promises she’ll be in full dress next year.