Geeks Are Sexy has a rundown on a new trend that shouldn't have to exist. Cosplayers are asserting their right to be free of sexual harassment and battery (unwanted touching) by promoting "Costumes =/= Consent."
Although the incident of a douche-nozzle journalist asking a group of Lara Croft cosplayers about their sex lives has been a lightning rod for the issue (see http://www.themarysue.com/pax-tomb-raider-cosplay/ for more details), this kind of thing has happened in the past (please read Megan Marie's Tumblr entry about the litany of sexually explicit commentary others have felt entitled to heap at her here: http://meagan-marie.tumblr.com/post/46396481491/what-would-you-do-if-you-werent-afraid).
As queer geeks, we're well aware of the the hetero-male-centric bias that operates in many of our games, movies, etc.; and as such, we're well acquainted with the tricky pitfalls of beings fans of problematic things. My question is: while these things have always happened, are these instances happening more often because geek culture has gone mainstream? The Walking Dead season finale (and Game of Thrones season premiere) had astronomical ratings; Iron Man and Batman are blockbuster movie franchises; the video game industry is one of the most powerful entertainment lobbies - whether we like it or not, the geekosphere is expanding. By definition, that means that more people (not just traditionally socially awkward geek types) are reading comic books, discovering cosplay, and coming to cons. So numerically, there are more people participating in geek culture. More people means that statistically, more of these unpleasant instances are going to occur.
However, there's an additional explanation to what might be seen as an uptick in harassment of cosplayers (Brief caveat: I'm also mindful of the fact that more of these instances may seem to be happening because more people are speaking up about it, which is a good thing). This is the unfortunate backlash of hetero-male geeks (and sadly some of my gay male geek bretheren) against the influx of female fans into geekdom. These conversations sprung up around convention season last year, when a journalist wrote a pretty inflammatory piece called "Booth Babes Need Not Apply" for CNN. I am loathe to link to the article, because I hate feeding trolls, but since my legal training is still well-ingrained, I feel compelled to provide a citation. The author of that inflammatory, sexist piece posted something of an apology on his blog, but I have yet to see the follow up. My friend Ashley Miller wrote some great pieces on this topic, including NEWS FLASH: even sexy girls & ladies can be geeks and how entry into geekdom does not require an "I-Was-Bullied" permit.
Obviously, the problems of sexism and misogyny (and heterosexism and homophobia and racism) are not unique to geek culture - geek culture has always been an offshoot of pop culture and it can't help but reflect the problems and issues and biases and oppressions of the larger culture. What is unique about geek culture is the fierce sense of community that we feel with perfect strangers. My hope is that we embrace the idyllic, utopian visions of community that we read about and see in science fiction, fantasy, and other geek genres and at least attempt to ensure that everyone is comfortable and welcomed. The geek tent is big enough - let's treat each other right.
Image credit: 16 Bit Sirens, by way of Geeks Are Sexy