Cosplayer Nicole Jacobs On Harassment At Comic Cons… And What We Can All Do About It
Cosplayer Nicole Jacobs writes about experiences of harassment at recent comic conventions. Jacobs writes:
I have been cosplaying since September of 2013, and it's been a ride from the start. This world has changed so many facets of myself and pre-existing stigmas I had, and I can't wait to see what other ways I can continue to grow and learn. Admittedly, I once thought people in cosplay to be weird, thought they did it for the attention. But I was invited to a convention and immediately my eyes were opened. I had so much fun meeting and interacting withcosplayers, I decided to dress up in September for the Baltimore Comic Con as Black Cat. I was greeted with overwhelmingly positive reactions, and simultaneously had my first incidents of harassment.
After being asked for a photo, a man squeezed my butt before leaving. After consenting to another photo, a man barked at me "come on, pretty kitty, gimme a smile to think about later". My favorite (sarcasm) comment was the "whoa there girl, does that ass have a boyfriend?" I'm not sure why, but something about a woman in spandex on the con floor meant to these people that she has immediately, intentionally relinquished her rights as a person. The cost of her ticket and time, the work and love she poured into her costume, its all nullified because her presence is simply assumed as being solely for audience appreciation, and entirely at their disposal. However, at the time, I never realized how incredibly wrong this was, that I was allowed to say "no". Years of being told to "grow a thicker skin", years of continuous emotional and verbal battery from society reiterating the lack of my self worth unless a man find me desirable, men laughing off my visible disgust at the nasty catcalls and comments with "easy, baby, you should take it as a compliment!", these all conditioned me to be complacent and silent. To take this very real harassment and explain to myself that it's ok, it's "just boys being boys". But at what point do we finally hold our boys – and more importantly ourselves – accountable?
I began educating myself on how to combat these encounters as a cosplayer. I read about Hollaback Philly and their Cosplay does not equal CONsent program. I learned that as of now, only a disappointingly small number of conventions hold a formal anti-harassment policy protecting their patrons. And I found scores and scores of women who have also dealt with harassment, from verbal to physical. Equipped with that knowledge, I felt empowered with this new purpose and ready to venture back into the world of conventions. I attended four more conventions before once more being groped.
I was elated to learn of a recent convention's anti-harassment stance, the con boldly placing signs throughout the facility that harassment toward cosplayers will not be tolerated. I felt safe. But before we could finish out the last few hours of the waning con, a man asked for a picture with some friends and I, to which I consented. I even thanked him for asking. Then he asked if he could place his arms around us, to which I once more consented and thanked him for. However, he took that consent as a pass to have at me, and he promptly, forcibly pulled myself and my friend against his body and placed his hands on our breasts, excitedly laughing to the cameraman "HURRY QUICK TAKE THE PICTURE!" I was livid. I was embarrassed. I felt sick. Immediately we turned to a volunteer, who had not a clue as to how to handle the situation. She instructed us to find the attacker while she found security. As we were then forced to confront our assailant during our wait for security, he smirked at me.
He smiled and laughed and despite being confronted by the convention staff, thought his actions hilarious. This is notok. This is not how we are to treat our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives. This is not how we are to treat ANYONE. While the man's badge was removed and he was escorted from the building, never once was I given the option to press charges against him. I don't know his name, and now I can't do anything to potentially prevent this from ever happening again to some other girl who doesn't realize she has the right to fight for herself. Suddenly the convention's anti-harassment posters meant nothing. If security is unresponsive and entirely fails to do their job, who are they really securing? While I don't fault the con for the actions of others, I do fault our society and how we handle these matters, and I think so much more could be and could have been done.
Finding humor in diminishing the worth of another by sexually exploiting them is sickening. And sadly, this harassment is not restricted to women. I have male cosplayers who ask me to stay close for fear other women will continue to grab their butts and stroke them inappropriately. Children who are mocked for their interpretation of a character because they're, well, children. Harassers don't need a reason to harass, but they do need a society to fight back.
We cannot laugh at reports of harassment, at rape jokes or gender inequality jabs. We cannot stand idly by as scores of our peers are giving up on a world they love because it simply isn't safe anymore. I saw female friends of mine called "slut" and "whore" for giving an incredibly accurate representation of a costume, a costume glorified on the comic book pages, and yet scandalized because it's on the con floor. Callie Breusman wrote "[behavior such as this] encapsulates the absurdity inherent in how our culture conceptualizes propriety. We're taught to think that women's bodies are by definition impure and that displaying them is automatically salacious and obscene." Men have called me "frigid bitch" for refusing to kiss them in pictures, have asked if I "really thought [my] boobs were big enough to pull that costume off". These words enforce the idea that my body is not my own, and that by simply being a woman in public, I am inviting the criticism and sexual attention of those around me. It's as if our culture has raised women to be objects; the prize, not the companion. It teaches our boys to be conquerors: that they deserve a Gwen Stacey or a Mary Jane, not that they have to earn her. That presumption is projected onto acosplayer and they are no longer a person but a commodity, a fantasy play thing brought to life for the pleasure of others. And worst of all, we teach one another to stay quiet, "mind your own business". But the silence of those around you is sometimes more deafening than the hateful cries of harassers. Bystanders have more power than they realize to positively change the world around them. HollaBack Philly offers some really interesting ideas on how to help fight harassment, from the direct to indirect:
- "Hey knock it off"
- Tell the person you will call the cops if they don't put that thing away.
- "Are you ok"
- Go stand next to the person being targeted so they know they are not alone.
- Ask the target, "Are they bothering you?"
- Take a picture with your phone
- Look disapprovingly at the person doing the harassing behavior
- Offer to get off at the next stop with the target and catch the next train together.
- "Get away from her/him"
- Don't join in or laugh.
- Loudly say "ugh, that is so gross"
- Talk to your friend later about why you thought what they did or said was uncool
- Ask the target if there is anything you can do to help
- Tell the harasser you saw some cops on the corner and you are worried they will get in trouble if they don't stop.
- Tell the target that the harassing behavior wasn't ok and you are sorry it happened.
- Call the police
- Tell a security/authority worker
- Yell "Somebody do something!!!!!"
- Get a group together to intervene
- Make eye contact with some other bystanders and ask, "What should we do to help?"
Distract the Harasser
- Ask for directions
- Offer the target your seat
- Start a flash mob
- Act like you know the target and say "I've been looking everywhere for you – we have to hurry to meet our other friends"
- Drop your bags to create a commotion
- "Accidentally" spill your coffee
* A note about safety: We don't ever want you to get hurt trying to help someone out. Always think about safety and consider possibilities that are unlikely to put you in harm's way (e.g., calling 911, getting a group together, etc.)
Moreover, Hollaback Philly offers anti-harassment cards, an indirect, non-verbal, non-threatening way of alerting someone that their actions were unacceptable, inappropriate, or commendable for coming to the aid of a victim. Per their site:
RED: THAT WAS HARASSMENT.
If you have received this card, you just harassed someone. You crossed the line from respectful human interaction, to making a person feel scared and unsafe. If this was unintentional, visit philly.ihollaback.org
YELLOW: THAT WAS HARASSMENT.
If you have received this card, you just harassed someone. What you may have viewed as a compliment was actually harassment, which makes the person you harass uncomfortable, as well as the other people around you witnessing the harassment. Your intentions may have been good, but in the future think of the situation from the other person's perspective. For more information about how your behavior can make other people feel, read peoples' harassment stories at philly.ihollaback.org.
BLUE: THANK YOU.
Thank you for stepping up and speaking out against harassment. Your courage has a domino effect, inspiring others to stand against harassment as well. If you're up for taking it one step further, sharing this story with others in your life (and at philly.ihollaback.org) will really ensure that domino effect of support! On behalf of every person who has been harassed when no one bothered to step in, thank you for having our back!
In addition to the above tactics to combat harassment that we as attendees and bystanders should be employing, conventions can do more to protect their patrons. Things like offering minor accommodations, such as a dedicated Reprieve Room for the cosplayers to safely flee the attention of the harasser and potentially open a case. Security can carry basic radios to allow for greater mobility and shorter response times. Patrons MUST know their rights, and if they are groped/molested/attacked, they have every right to pursue intervention and action by the police. Conventions should tag every single badge and associate that badge to a single patron. Even if the patron refuses to relinquish their id, their badge can be confiscated and they can be banned from future events. Volunteers MUST be trained on how to handle harassment cases. The volunteer who attempted to help me made the situation worse by not only not fully understanding how to handle the situation, but by then making me once more confront the harasser. Under no circumstances should the target be made to face their harasser without security or police involvement. The convention has apologized to me profusely for my experience, but the burden does not rest solely on their shoulders to make such an apology.
Warning to message board posters, I will have my banhammer out today.