For those of you not in the realm of geekdom, you may not know what cosplaying is.
Cosplay, a portmanteau of “costume” and “play,” is the act of people dressing up (and sometimes acting as) a character from either a film, TV show, comic book, anime, novel, etc. Comic book characters are the most common types that people choose to emulate (hence, the endless lists of Comic Book Conventions), and anime characters follow close behind.
“You can’t cosplay out of your race.“
In this subset of geekdom, there is a problem that seems to be ignored–the lack of representation of characters in comic books/anime who aren’t Caucasian or Caucasian-looking. As if this lack of representation isn’t bad enough, whitewashing is rampant in fandom/geekdom. My fellow classmates Kaitlyn and Catherine talk about this problem in their video ‘Whitewashing in Fanart.’ There is also a great blog called ‘Stop Whitewashing’ that features analyses of whitewashing not only in cartoons, but in live action works.
You can bet the archetypal white, heterosexual, elitist privileged male (and sometimes female) supergeek looms over cosplayers who cosplay “out of their race” and tuts at them because he/she sees them as inaccurate portrayals solely because their skin color does not match the character’s (one is reminded of the racist reaction to Rue in The Hunger Games film).
Blogs like Cosplays with Color showcase plenty of excellent cosplays of White characters done by PoC. Skin color should not even be relevant because it is the costume and the heart that make a good cosplay.
“What’s your cup size?”
I have to admit. I love cosplaying. It’s fun and…okay, yes, it can be ego-boosting if people really take to your cosplay. I cosplayed at New York Comic Con (NYCC) last year as Sebastian, a demon Victorian butler from a popular anime called Black Butler. (I couldn’t miss out on the chance to wear a waistcoat).
As you can see, Sebastian is a male character and he’s modestly dressed. Not surprisingly, the most attention I got was from hyper teenage girls and the seldom professional photographer. I went to the Con with three other friends, one of whom cosplayed a female video game character that wears a tank top and fairly form-fitting pants. The attention she received was…very different (excited men of all ages snapping photos like hawks descending on prey).
Said friend was not even wearing anything low-cut or too revealing. There are women at conventions who DO wear low-cut/revealing costumes (as I’m sure you’re aware, many female characters in comics are scantily clad). These women are susceptible to the inevitable and intrusive male gaze.
I read a blog post several weeks ago written by a blogger named Mandy Caruso, who dressed up as Black Cat at NYCC and was openly degraded through verbal sexual assault. I was disgusted by what she had to go through. You can read her post here.
She writes, in conclusion,
“…many people at these cons expect women cosplaying as vixens (or even just wearing particularly flattering costumes) to be open/ welcoming to crude male commentary and lecherous ogling, like our presence comes with subtitles that say “I represent your fantasy thus you may treat me like a fantasy and not a human in a costume.”And maybe that will always be how the majority of people see us. But that does not mean we have to put up with shit that crosses the line, it does not mean we owe them a fantasy….I encourage cosplaying women everywhere to be blunt and vocal with their rights, their personal boundaries, and their comfort level at conventions.”
The mentality that “she dressed like a slut so she deserved it” in reference to cosplayers like Mandy, which I see all the time, contributes to rape culture. The reality is that the absence of civility of the person perpetrating the harassment is the problem. Attention is fine, but offensive and intrusive attention is not.
I was pleased to find an Con Anti-Harassment organization (unfortunately, New York Comic Con is not listed as having any anti-harassment policies).
In summary, cosplay whoever you want, however you want…but be wary of unwanted attention.