'Cosplay Is Not Consent': Anime Conventions Attack the Problem of Harassment
Anime Los Angeles' Harassment Policy, from the ALA 2013 program
I was flipping through the pages of Anime Los Angeles' program guide when I stumbled upon this line: "Harassment of any kind, including physical, verbal or unwelcoming attention, will not be tolerated." There were a few paragraphs after that -- more on what constitutes harassment as well as the repercussions of such actions ("permanent suspension of membership" to the convention) -- and an illustration of one chibi-styled anime character pouncing on another.
This wasn't the first time I noticed a harassment policy. Equestria L.A. -- last fall's Brony convention, which shared some staff members with Anime L.A. -- had one in its guide as well. Regardless, it was nice to see this detailed on the third page of a hefty program. The statement is obvious, but sometimes the lessons of preschool -- for example, "Keep your hands to yourself" -- are lost on adults.
Over the past year, convention-goers have become more vocal about the kinds of harassment that exist on the show floors. There was Mandy, the Black Cat cosplayer who spoke up when she was pulled aside for a video interview only to be grilled about her cup size. There were the women at Defcon armed with cards to remind men when their behavior is becoming inappropriate. There was the cosplayer who wrote an open letter to the "butt photographer" at Comikaze. Nerd Reactor writer Genevieve LeBlanc recounted her personal experiences with convention harassment. Comedian Andre Medows went off on "creeper" photographers after one approached his friend. There's even a group, Con Anti-Harassment Project, that's urging conventions to take a strong stance against harassment. Most recently, a group of Australian cosplayers put together the video "How to Avoid Being Branded a Convention Creeper."
Conventiongoers are speaking out and the people who put together these events have noticed. "Education, printing [the harassment policy] in the program book, is absolutely imperative," says Chaz Boston Baden, chairman of Anime Los Angeles. "Reinforcing it at the staff meetings is part of that. If you see something going on, tell them to knock it off. Tell ops to boot them."
"We have to, as a little microsociety, and as a society in general, know that we need to take care of us," Baden explains. "If someone's being beastly and his friend calls him on it, or her friend as the case may be, that's going to help correct their behavior. It's certainly not the victim's responsibility to correct the perpetrator. It's the perpetrator's responsibility to not be a cad, not to take liberties with your person and not to get in your face and not to try to get up-skirt photos."
ALA isn't the only local anime convention to have an explicit policy about harassment. Per its website, Anime Expo prohibits "physically or verbally threatening, annoying, harassing, stalking, pushing, shoving or use of physical force, or offending any person; which in any way creates a disturbance that is disruptive or dangerous," as well as "any boisterous, lewd or offensive behavior or language, using sexually explicit or offensive language or conduct, or profanity, obscene gestures or racial, religious or ethnic slurs."
Pacific Media Expo, the annual Asian pop culture convention that takes place in Los Angeles, makes a simple but effective statement about harassment on its website. "We encourage all attendees to be creative and have fun, but having fun does not require leaving one's maturity and social propriety at the door," it reads. "If you experience harassment from other attendees, you are welcome to report it to PMX Security." While these aren't necessarily new rules, it's important for the conventions to reiterate them now that harassment is a hot topic.
"The number of 'con creepers' may be growing, but cosplayers may now feel more open dishing about 'con creepers,'" PMX's industry liaison, Amanda Badillo, says via email. "Knowing that they aren't alone, they're more likely to open up to friends and groups on the Internet as to the kinds of 'creepers' they've dealt with, warn others about 'serial creepers' and giving advice as to how to deal with them."
Harassment is usually defined in terms of action or words. Now that virtually every cellphone is equipped with a camera, though, I have to wonder if photography can be construed as harassment. Specifically, I'm referring to ongoing complaints from cosplayers about people who try to sneak photos of their backsides.
"I feel that those kind of photos can also be seen as harassment," Badillo responds. "It can be extremely embarrassing. What if the photos were to end up on the Internet?"
She continues, "Simply put yourself in their shoes -- how awkward would you feel if you were to find comments directed toward a photo of your backside?"
Both Badillo and Baden reference a phrase that has been used frequently in the con scene, "Cosplay is not consent." Badillo also makes note of the related "Costumes are not consent" sign that was photographed at CONvergence last year and made the rounds on Tumblr. "Just because someone chooses to wear a costume doesn't allow other attendees to harass them in any way they'd like," Badillo says.
What's the best way to deal with harassment at a con? Report it. "Should an attendee feel harassed in any way, they should [find] any available staff member or visit the security team/convention operations to speak with someone about the situation," Badillo says. That advice should hold true at any convention.
"We have kicked out people," Baden says. "I will kick people out. There's no point in having a policy that has no teeth."
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