GENDER-BENT COSPLAY: WHAT’S WRONG WITH ELEVATING EXISTING FEMALE CHARACTERS?
AMBER LOVE OCT-2015 I know this is an unpopular opinion, but there are couple of things about gender-bent or gender-swap cosplay that I loathe. What I like about it can be summed up quickly: it’s a fun exercise in creativity sometimes. The stuff I hate though, that’s worth some words.
It has NOTHING to do with gender identity. If your son wants to be Elsa, then let him be Elsa. That’s different than removing the femininity of Elsa and making her a boy named Elso just to validate the character with maleness.
Because I don’t want to be perceived as picking on anyone’s actual cosplay (or harassment or bullying) for having an opinion, there aren’t photos of the examples I’ve seen except for a friend I spoke to and the cheap offerings of Halloween/party stores.
DIMINISHING FEMALE CHARACTERS
It’s often said there aren’t enough female characters when discussing fiction, especially comic books or video games. What usually needs a little further explanation is that there are a lot of female characters, but they aren’t memorable, important, or made of any substance. They lack iconic status. They lack agency. They most certainly lack recognition by their IP owners. You can probably name a ton of female characters, but how many have had movies, solo comics longer than a miniseries, or TV shows with their names in it?
Due to this perception of the unimportance of female, transgender, or non-binary characters, I am bothered when male cosplayers genderbend a non-male character to be male. It’s important to elevate the female characters as they are and urge the publishers, creators, and studios to make worthwhile stories for them that will drive them to legend like Spider-Man and his 200th reboot. And yes, you need to spend your consumer dollars in support of that or they will never take the risks.
I’m also not raging or losing my mind over this. These are thoughts I’ve wrestled with for YEARS but ultimately, you do you. Cosplay should be about fun and creativity. I choose to examine it closer on a deeper ethical level from time to time. I have friends who genderbend cosplay and I’m terrified of speaking my opinion because it may piss them off. So, in fairness, I contacted one of the best men in cosplay that I know, Gregg Gentile and asked a few questions.
Gregg answered my inquiries wonderfully. I wanted to know his reasons for bending a female character into a male presentation; whether the morals of the character had anything to do with his decisions on who to be and if personality plays a part in it; and if genderbending only makes a character important if they’re male.
“Well that whole group was kind of inspired by Kit Quinn’s Justice League group if they admit to it or not. We just started grabbing characters we liked before they were snatched up by someone else. I really think it might have a little to do with being part of something big for some over and verses doing a character you wanted. Originally I picked Marrow who was a favorite of mine, but then I wanted to challenge myself to do something that you wouldn’t think I would. Emma Frost was something that challenged me in working out of my comfort zone, I typically hate wearing white more or less. Gender bend wasn’t as popular at the time, and my thought was if I’m going to stand out I have to do someone everyone knows vs my usual underdog or obscure. Originally I was one of the few doing a villain as my Emma is more White Queen Hellfire Club era than X-men hero era. I grew up on X-Men so I was definitely interested.
I am not particularly a fan of gender bend myself either, when it is done well, it can be amazing. Although for the most part it seems to be popular because it is against the normal, rebellious, don’t tell me what I can and can’t do that makes it popular. Now it is just the norm so those roots have kinda been washed over a bit as well. I think the reason is the same for me add any other character I’ve done, just out of love for those characters.
I don’t think gender bending takes away or adds to the character as just as it is a twist on a character just like adding any theme. Just a little more controversial, considering you want to be tasteful and show the character respect as not to offend or upset those by uncharacteristically portraying that character.
Also when it comes to gender bend, females have a larger sandbox to work in, being that [there] are countless heroes to work from, where a male has less female heroes to pick from. I think on an entry level it is more appealing to ladies to gender bend because of that large character selection, and they often seem to only have a handful of their own gender heroes to pick from. Although we know as people deep into the comic world there are countless women in comics, the mainstream and focal ones are not as generous.
Our group was still kinda new and it was a new idea, we all we’re excited by the idea and inspiring each other to do it. Once it was done the group kinda died, although it still exists.
For me personally I pick my gender bend characters just like any others, character I like and or can relate too. I intend to gender bend Rogue myself, and I wouldn’t of said that before I started dying my hair, but I said this pretty much since I did Quentin, other than that I’m not sure I’m really interested in gender bending again until the idea excites and grabs me, which usually involves Bryan and myself going omg we need to do this. It is just much easier when you can couple/duo the outfits.”
I still feel a bit offended when seeing a male cosplayer jack a female character. It makes a character male who traditionally isn’t, that sends the message that s/he is only worth the attention, commitment, time, and energy when presented as male. DC Comics has a built-in caveat for this by having one of the 52 universes be gender-swapped, Earth-11.
Some of them I don’t get because gender isn’t really an issue to begin with – like Stormtroopers who are agender in presentation. Have you seen how badass the new Captain Phasma is? I love the over-the-top sexy genderbent stuff in a certain setting like for a burlesque show because I find burlesque thoroughly entertaining.
This doesn’t even begin to get into whether the Caitlyn Jenner (or any transperson) costumes are lacking in taste and judgment. Will men wear them? Will women wear them? Apparently Jenner came out in support of the Vanity Fair Caitlyn costume that’s being offered. Maybe she’s making a licensing fee from it. But it certainly opens the door for transphobia even for those who think “it’s only a joke” and “hey, they met a transwoman once!”
My identity is not a costume pic.twitter.com/KOcgCjqxBa
— Sarah Brown (@auntysarah) October 19, 2015
SEXUALIZING MEN WHO ARE VIOLENT
I love a well-done sex/porn parody. Let that be known. I’ve talked about it a lot. But when you feel the need to take a male character, present it as female, and then sexualize the fuck out of it, that’s saying a lot too. Sure, I’m pretty much done with all the “sexy Indiana Jones” women out there, but it’s the ones that are gross that really get to me. Sexy Freddy Krueger. Sexy Hannibal Lecter. Sexy Jason Voorhees. Sexy Joker. Even that murderer/rapist from A Clockwork Orange. WHY?
Take characters that are child molesters, rapists, and serial killers and add tits and ass. How is that interesting exactly? How is it even creative? It’s working at the lowest denominator of character development.
One such example are the male characters of Mad Max: Fury Road – the villains, not Max. Why would you play a femme version of a character that imprisons women and enslaves them as property? And what would that mean in that cosplayer’s fantasy world? Does that mean the Femme Whoever now continues violent tendencies against the regularly cast women-as-victims? Or are we the viewers of the fantasy roleplaying supposed to pretend this is now a killer woman after men?
The killer woman role is problematic leaving the door open for men who believe that women are all “crazy” especially with their “uncontrollable hormones and periods” that they’ll never understand (just look at our elected officials who think you can get pregnant from blowjobs). It’s this same fear against women we know exists keeping them away from being CEOs or world leaders. Killer women beliefs are side-by-side with the transphobia that someone is out to deceive men with the end goal of hurting them.
Men already fear women. They don’t need to add fuel to that fire with a fantasy that women will gladly kidnap, torture, rape, and murder them. (Consensual private roleplay? That’s your business; I’m talking about comic cons and parties.)
The Joker is equally heinous across the board to all genders. Depending on the writer, he’s not more prone to torture women than he would men. And if it’s Kevin Smith’s version, he’ll rape any man that comes in his line of sight too. I still firmly believe that Batgirl (TW) variant was in poor taste and triggering. So I honestly try to restrict my Joker experiences to more tolerable styles of crime.
As I’ve said a lot, I don’t need to see yet more “Joker abusing Harley” plots (looking at you, Suicide Squad). Yet there are a lot of female fans who love to make female versions of the Joker for reasons I can’t figure out.