Cosplay, consent, and the 2014 Calgary Expo

There’s a fine line between enjoying someone’s cosplay and making the assumption that bare skin is an invitation to touch. Unfortunately, a shocking number of people don’t see the difference between the two, which is why this year the Calgary Expo took pains to stress the fact that sexual harassment—in any form—would not be tolerated.

Their campaign, entitled ‘Cosplay is Not Consent’, consisted of posters, a five-minute video, and the presence of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA), who had a booth at the Stampede Park throughout the entire event.

Lindsay Elyse by Vivid Vision Photography

The basic premise of the campaign was to emphasize the fact that cosplay, no matter how overly-sexualized, is not a suggestive invitation for sexual acts, lewd comments, or groping.

The Calgary Expo, as Canada’s second largest comic and entertainment exhibition, regularly plays host to a number of attendees outfitted in elaborate, excessive, and sometimes revealing costumes—on both men and women. The level of effort in some cases is astounding: this year saw characters such as Mr. and Mrs. Bane, shirtless Goku, and a remarkably accurate Jessica Rabbit.

Jessica Nigri and Vicky Lau by Vivid Vision Photography

Bare chests, cleavage, and naked thighs might have been in abundance, but the Cosplay is Not Consent campaign seemed to have made its point. A number of cosplayers and attendees at the convention expressed their surprise that people seemed more respectful this year.

“I certainly noticed a big difference this year in people asking politely if they could take photos of me in costume rather than just snapping them without asking,” said Deez Wallis, illustrator for Rocketfuel interactive entertainment.

“It was awesome to see so many women be confident in their costumes; I didn’t hear about anyone misbehaving either, so I’m really happy about the campaign,” said Andrea Brown, Happy Harbor Comics employee and co-founder of LADY GEEKs uNITE (#LGNYEG).

“I knew if I felt uncomfortable or unsafe I could say something to Expo staff and that it wouldn’t be tolerated and I wouldn’t be blamed/shamed for my cosplay,” said Sylvia Douglas, co-founder of #LGNYEG and employee at Happy Harbor Comics, FAVA, and the Walterdale Theatre.

“I didn’t cosplay but I still felt it was effective. You are well aware that there was no tolerance for lewd behaviour and that you can easily reach out to con officials for help,” said Stephanie Chan, Art Director for Sequential Tart web zine.

“I feel that people are more respectful this year from the experiences I had.” – Vicky Lau

Edmonton cosplayer, model, and photographer, Vicky Lau, is the co-founder of Vivid Vision Photography, where she spends a lot of time working with scantily-clad cosplayers and models. After her experience manning the Animethon booth at the Calgary Expo this year, she has no doubt of the effectiveness of the Cosplay is Not Consent campaign.

“This year I wore more revealing outfits, so I was expecting attendees to be touchier,” said Vicky.

“But out of everyone that came up to me to ask for a photo, I only had one person that “touched” me. And when I mean touch, they just wrapped their arms around my waist. The rest of the con-goers that asked me for photos either just stood there beside me, or just used hover hands! I feel that people are more respectful this year from the experiences I had.”

Vicky Lau by The Will Box

While this particular sexual harassment campaign has appeared to make its mark on a very well-attended convention, the future of cosplay rights is yet to be determined. The fact of the matter is that many people use overly-sexualized fictional characters for masturbatory purposes. Seeing real-life incarnations of these characters may make it difficult for them to realize where to draw the line.

Which is, of course, no excuse for sexual harassment, but it’s an interesting quandary. There’s nothing wrong with fantasies, but when those fantasies infringe upon the rights of a stranger, it creates a clear problem. As long as sexual harassment issues continue to be taken seriously at pop culture conventions, cosplayers will hopefully feel increasingly safe in expressing themselves through costume.

“I’ve had major issues at past conventions with harassment and inappropriate comments,” said Deez.

“This year, I didn’t have any issues at all and it was great. I really think the campaign has helped bring awareness to the issue and let costumers feel more confident and safe about being at the con.”

CC Photo Credits: Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, The Will Box, Vivid Vision

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