AMBER LOVE 09-MARCH-2014 On Wednesday, March 5, 2014, a court in Massachusetts said it’s not illegal to SECRETLY photograph under a person’s clothing. That’s SECRETLY as in WITHOUT CONSENT! I’ll explain here how this type of legal loophole affects us in comics and cosplay.
Fortunately for “women and children” a new law was passed within days. I can’t understand why it isn’t worded “people” and specifies only “women and children” are protected. Men do experience unwanted harassment. They just don’t talk about it often.
This case was won based on the semantics and letter of the “peeping Tom” law which specifies that the subject of a photograph would have to be at least “partially nude.” The defense of Michael Robertson, 32, who was charged with taking photographs up women’s dresses and skirts on the MBTA trolley was that the law simply doesn’t apply in this case because the women were covered by their clothing.
CNN recapped both sides of this:
Prosecutors had argued that the current statute, which prohibits secretly photographing or videotaping a person who is “nude or partially nude,” includes upskirting, according to documents.
But Robertson’s lawyers argued that the female passenger on the trolley was not “nude or partially nude” and was not in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy, according to court documents.
This is rape culture. If you don’t recognize rape culture you can get caught up quickly through basic internet searches. When rapists get away with crimes because they are athletes (of any age or status), politicians or other public figure, wealthy, or able to build a case that dehumanizes and disgraces the credibility of a woman based on her private unrelated sexual history or based on what she wore or that she’s at fault because she was barely conscious – that is rape culture and it’s just a part of how vast the problem is. Believing that a woman, a complete stranger on a trolley, was born on this earth for only your sexual gratification is rape culture.
RAPE CULTURE IN COSPLAY
Let me reel this in to the scale of the comic book community, particularly cosplay. It’s well known that the conventions are full of great people with a sprinkling of real shitheads. If probability has any part of it, I’d wager that every single comic con has had a sexual harassment incident but it’s impossible to track when people don’t talk about it. It’s also impossible to track if you don’t even know you’re a victim.
How the hell can you not know you’re a victim of sexual harassment at a con? Easy. The answer is this “upskirting” maneuver that is done time and time again almost exclusively to women. When creepers go around with their cameras and cell phones low and have it on record or click the shutter in the cacophony of attendees without anyone the wiser, they collect images for sexual pleasure which they might keep to themselves or they might post online. There are galleries on flickr dedicated to just cosplayers’ asses. One was fetishizing Ms. Marvel exclusively. Friends of mine have needed a male companion to block creeps from snapping pics of their costumed asses.
And here’s the moment when the victim blaming enters: Well now, you’re dressed in tight spandex and metal bikinis, so surely you cannot expect men to act with any kind of decorum and NOT photograph your butt. *sigh* Yes, people really do believe that bullshit. I think I should be able to expect accountability on the part of someone taking photographs that I will not be humiliated nor degraded.
Yet, this week, the staff at FanExpo Canada decided to promote the sale of tickets to their show by saying, “come out of the cold and cuddle a cosplayer.” This was alarming to some of us in the cosplay and convention scene. The MarySue website posted an investigative look into this particular incident. You’ll be able to see my response there and that of Dee Pirko who is responsible for bringing this to light.
Through Twitter, the staff of FanExpo said the character limitation did not allow them to respond to the controversy so anyone with questions was invited to email them. I was one of the people that emailed. I was not satisfied with the response which only said they are too busy to respond at this time. People from all forms of entertainment and genre fandoms have taken to demanding that convention producers create and post a clear set of guidelines about behavior and how to report incidents of harassment. It’s kind of astonishing that some won’t do it as seen with Anachrocon until the organizer was removed from the head position and replaced by his wife. It’s like the old belief that putting seatbelts in cars sent a message that the cars were unsafe. You make the policy because it establishes boundaries before people even walk in the door. You post it clearly all around the show so that if anyone experiences unwanted advances, it’s easy for them to find information. You put it on your website so that fans and guests researching your reputation can see that you take their safety seriously.
Cosplaying is an art form. When you admire an artist’s painting do you only ask for the part of the canvas with the boobs or the ass? You buy the whole painting. So if you are in any way “admiring” someone’s cosplay, you photograph the whole thing or at least what someone else would reasonably recognize as a positive portrayal like a portrait shot or from the waist up. Cosplay already is a fetish market but not everyone who participates chooses to fetishize it. Even if they did, someone’s behavior in the privacy of their own bedroom is not going to be the same thing as how they expect to be treated in a public gathering. Those public spaces should be safe. You should be willing to let your 15-year-old daughter attend a show dressed as a Sailor Scout, Princess Leia or Lara Croft and not worry that some pervert is humiliating or harming her.
Though cosplay is already fetishized, I have never denied that I partake in a specific branch of it having done adult entertainment parodies of comic book characters. I feel like a broken record when I have to explain the basics of context and appropriate outlets. I do not want under 18 followers on my site because I tend to be rather raw and harsh. And two of the published works I did were for a paid adults-only website. I’m proud of my work. I don’t take costumes into my own bedroom activities — that’s what people assume. I like the photography of it but I don’t deny that some people use it as a sexual fetish outlet. That’s precisely why paid sites of cos-porn can exist successfully.
Context: Places like adult website or adult conventions don’t allow harassment and are … wait for it…. for adults. If you can’t get away with harassing someone in a porn environment, why should cosplayers or anyone put up with it at general public shows? The reason people get away with it is because of a lack of reporting. I did not report any of the incidents where I was harassed. At Exxxotica, when I was groped, I left the show. I didn’t tell anyone but my audience when I made a vlog of my experience. I didn’t report the inappropriate encounters to ReedPop when I was harassed at New York Comic Con multiple years. I didn’t report the incident at Detroit Fanfare when I was verbally harassed and humiliated by someone with “press” credentials. After years of this bullshit, that Detroit incident was the last straw for me. I made sure that I had the guy’s name and posted all about it as a warning to others. Here’s the outcome: my companion that I thought would look out for me in a strange place, excused this assclown’s behavior by saying it’s how the guy is – it’s his schtick – besides “you handled it”. I was victim-blamed by someone who loved me.
This is why I don’t report incidents. Even if I’m believed, I’m clearly in a world where I’m seen by others as “too sensitive” or able to “handle it.” Was I too sensitive when a TEENAGER asked to take a photo of my thong for his scavenger hunt? Was I too sensitive when an adult man put his hands on me?
History: The worst physical encounter was an adult expo which I discussed on my old YouTube vlog and it’s clear if you watch it that I was suffering from victim-guilt thinking I was “asking for it” by the sheer fact that I was a woman at an adult show without a bodyguard. It’s at the 5:21 mark.
As I explained months ago, before I arrived in Detroit, I had contacted their organizers and asked about a policy because I couldn’t find one on their site; they created one and posted it and got back to me within days of addressing my concerns before flying out. That post also goes into some background about when the discussion of policies really was a buzzing topic because of John Scalzi trying to champion the cause.
Underage girls in cosplay are being harassed all the time and it needs to stop! I personally met a Princess Leia cosplayer (episode IV original white gown version) who was 15-years-old and publicly faced sexual remarks by the judges of a cosplay contest. This happened right there in front of the audience. I wasn’t there but my friend and writing contributor Jesse witnessed it. He said she handled herself well and basically gave the person grief in return.
I’ve personally witnessed a famous Wizard World cosplay judge ask a contestant if her breasts were “real or after-market” while she was on stage. He told me privately later, laughing about it, that he always does that to one girl in a contest and tells the other judges it’s only okay to ask that when they are obviously real.
The Grandmother Test: One of my fears in addressing the harassment subject is that people will think those of us looking to make changes in policies are being aggressive or unfriendly or as FanExpo said not putting the fun first. I’m more than happy to put an arm around someone to pose and have an arm of a stranger around my waist. It’s when it’s done without asking and when boundaries are crossed. There should be common sense. Imagine your grandmother in a costume. She’s fun. She’s carefree. She’s the best darn granny ever. If you wouldn’t want someone doing something to your grandmother, don’t do it to someone you are not in a comfortable relationship with just because they are costumed. Don’t ever grab my ass or brush up against my breasts and try to pretend “whoops I got pushed into you!” *snicker snicker har har har* You’re not fooling anyone. You’re a dick.
In conclusion, if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can see that there was a problem and pass a law legislating a specific type of inappropriate behavior (creepy upskirt photography) then so can a convention producer.