Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Hollaback! Ottawa: Cosplay =/= Consent

By Marla Desat

Source: Marla Desat

"Just because we're wearing a costume doesn't mean we're not people," Courtney, CGG’s assistant editor, was one of the four panellists at the Hollaback! Ottawa "Cosplay =/= Consent" panel at Ottawa ComicCon 2014. Hollaback! Ottawa director Julie Lalonde, and cosplayers ÁLI and Rogue joined her, to talk about harassment at conventions. 
The Hollaback! Movement is dedicated to ending street harassment. Lalonde explained that harassment on the street or on the bus is no different from harassment at a convention. Hollaback! interviewed cosplayers who have had photos taken without permission, been groped, or had upskirt photos taken, but many cosplayers don't immediately identify these actions as harassment. "Because we don't name it that, people don't identify it as harassment.”
L-R: Julie, ÁLI, Rogue, Courtney- Source: Hollaback! Ottawa
Harassment isn't limited to uninvited sexual touching, leering, or inappropriate photos. Cosplayers are often harassed for having a different gender, race, or weight than the character they are portraying. ÁLI, a musician, discovered cosplay in 2012. She has used cosplay to help overcome bullying she faces in her career. Unfortunately, cosplay has opened her to other avenues of harassment. ÁLI spoke of a fan whose constant messages online were supportive, but unsettling. Despite getting no response from her, the fan continues to contact her daily. Recently, ÁLI faced bullying from the press over preferring to use ÁLI, her cosplay and artistic pseudonym, to her legal name. 
CGG's Jordan and MJ- Source: Hollaback! Ottawa
Rogue shared stories about online harassment. "Ninety percent of the harassment that has affected me has been online, not at conventions," says Rogue. As a writer for GeekxGirls, Rogue has received death threats and worse for her work. "Stand up for yourself," she says, but also cautions, "There's no tone online. We all read our own tone into comments." Sometimes responding to a cruel comment with overwhelming kindness can yield a better result than anger. 
Harassment doesn't just come from other con-goers or from online comments. Courtney talked about how hard it can be to identify as a geek at all. "I had what I like to call the Kardashian/Cardassian complex. I was really into both mainstream stuff and geeky stuff," She said. "My mainstream friends would give me flack for the geeky stuff and my geeky friends would give me flack for liking mainstream stuff." 
Hollaback provides support and education about harassment, encouraging its three step model for stopping street harassment: direct, distract, delegate. Directly intervene if you can, distract to indirectly stop the harassment, or tell a convention representative about what's happening. In online spaces, you can intervene directly by sharing your views.  Rogue suggests writing your concerns somewhere, even if it's as simple as a Facebook post. "Without a dialogue, we can't move forward," says Rogue, whose first published article was born from a letter to the editor over an article that misrepresented cosplayers.
As ÁLI says, "It's really about a community. We're all connected, so if you see something, say something, do something. This is supposed to be our safe space."

Marla Desat is a recent University of Waterloo grad living and working in Ottawa. When she isn't playing the latest video games, she's geeking out over comic books, board games, tabletop roleplaying games and science. Marla also writes for The Escapist as a freelance news writer. You can follow her on Twitter @mrdesat

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