These Cosplayers Are Sick Of Being Treated Like Pieces Of Meat

These Cosplayers Are Sick Of Being Treated Like Pieces Of Meat

A huge problem in the cosplay community is harassment: some people see cosplayers and assume that because they’re dressed up, they no longer get a say in what happens to their body. Hence, some cosplayers have horror stories about being inappropriately touched or verbally abused, particularly those that dress “provocatively”.

In response, the folks at 16-BitSirens started a project called CONsent, and it involves photographing cosplayers holding signs that say “Cosplay =/= consent” (the sign might say something different, but the spirit is the same). In addition to sharing the pictures, cosplayers are also encouraged to share their stories of harassment with the world. What 16BitSirens found while developed this project is disheartening:

I presented cosplayers with a wipe off board, simply reading “Cosplay =/= Consent” and asked them about their experiences of harassment. I was not surprised to hear many horrible stories from women and men alike. These can be as seemingly harmless and annoying as not asking for permission before taking a picture or bothering them for a picture or interview while they were taking a water or food break. But the majority of the stories were more serious and ranged from threats of violence to inappropriate touching, and from lewd facebook messages to stalking.

Nonetheless 16BitSirens hope to expand the project so that others can participate and raise awareness on the issue.

Whether or not you are a cosplayer, you can contribute a picture of yourself holding a sign that says Cosplay =/= Consent or anything else you feel is appropriate to convey your feelings. Additionally, whenever you are at a convention and catch someone in the act of taking a sneaky, unauthorised photo of a cosplayer, please snap a photo of them and submit it under #CaughtCreep. You can submit via Facebook (tagging our page in the photo,) on Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr with the tag #CONsent, or directly to us via email. If you are a photographer or organisation who would like to gather many photos and contribute, please contact us about setting up a joint gallery and the materials necessary to make it happen at various events.

Here are a few images from the project, though you can view all the ones they’ve collected over at Flickr.




  • Good luck to these guys, and good on people for a sensible awareness campaign, but I hope they’re going into this knowing that there’s no actual ‘winning’ of this battle. Because it never ends. At least this approach looks like something that could be sustainable.

    Stealing is wrong and frowned upon and we can teach people this, but if you leave all your doors unlocked, sooner or later you will get robbed. Treating people like objects of sexual fantasies is wrong, but if you dress like one, sooner or later someone will treat you like one. Because it doesn’t matter how many people you educate, the funny thing about people is that we keep making more of them. New ones, every year. And they might not have caught last year’s message… or care about it.

    I’m not saying that, ‘Oh! The battle is futile, it shouldn’t be fought!’ Just because we grow a brand new crop of thieves every year doesn’t mean we stop funding police out of defeatism. Keep campaigning, but set your expectations to ‘realistic’. The message may need to be changed up after a while, if it starts losing its impact.

    • In short – we should always fight to change things like this for the better, yet don’t expect it to be easy as some people are (and always will be) jerks.

      • I think it’s something that will gradually get better over the years as geek culture (which includes cosplay to an extent) spreads and the people who are aware of it and its pitfalls become parents.

        Stealing? Old news. Your parents taught you about that, because it’s been around forever and is pretty straightforward. (ie: Sure, pick up things you find, but not if they’re in someone else’s territory – and here’s how you recognize someone else’s territory). But did they tell you about groping cosplayers? Or griefing, in video games? Or what is and isn’t appropriate to put on Facebook to avoid getting denied job applications?

        No, this is newer stuff. You can argue that if parents taught basic respect for human decency and empathy, that these should be simple logic jumps to make. But history and humanity are teaching us time and time again that sometimes people can’t MAKE those jumps, and need to be taught specifics – the earlier the better. The more complicated the sociology, the more difficult the jump.

        So yeah, awareness is great, but this stuff is memetic. Spread it early, sez I.

        • What stuck with me is treat others how you would want to be treated. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb for me, but some people just have no empathy. Apparently.
          You’re right. Aim to get the majority clued in, don’t expect everyone to get the message, but don’t stop educating them because one day it might.

          • Well. It’s bit less black and white than that. Problem with ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ is that it’s open to interpretation due to just how differently we all think. We might not LIKE it, or even believe it, but it’s a fact that we all have different motivations, reactions and methods of thinking.

            Some people are so averse to attention that the concept of cosplaying is utterly alien to them – you might as well ask them to put themselves in the mind of a serial killer. That’s one extreme. Another extreme might be the guy who would absolutely LOVE to be the centre of attention of members of the opposite sex, including groping. Hell, for that guy maybe groping is the *point*.

            Given that people can fall anywhere in that spectrum, it’s not exactly surprising that if a group of people put themselves outside of the socialized norm (which we have well-established cheat-sheets for handling) by cosplaying, some people might flounder in interacting with that group.

            Empathy is great, but acting out of step with social conditioning throws off the radar, and resolving that disconnect requires a degree of emotional intelligence that MOST of us have, but a high-impact minority of socially-awkward individuals don’t. And where do you think you might find a good concentration of socially-awkward individuals?

            That’s why awareness campaigns are good. Some people have a method of thinking that requires clear instruction.

          • Sexual harassment is sexual harassment. If there is anyone out there that thinks that it doesn’t apply to someone in a costume, they’re kidding themselves and are likely to end up in a lot of trouble when they grope the wrong (or right) lady.

          • Of course they’re kidding themselves. Kidding themselves is the otaku’s stock and trade. We’re talking about people who convince themselves that they are married to their video game character, people who sleep with (‘next to’, hopefully, but let’s not kid ourselves) pillows with game/anime characters on them. And they’re pandered to by pop idols who shave their heads out of shame for having a boyfriend because they’re supposed to be ‘available’ and supporting the delusions of people for whom the the line between reality and fantasy isn’t just blurred, it’s a hopscotch grid.

            It’s probably a lot more helpful to say, “These people are exhibiting this behaviour because of a social incongruence, so let’s bridge the gap in understanding,” (and a message like ‘Cosplay =/= Consent’ displayed prolifically is a wonderfully simple way of doing that) than saying, “Eww! What creeps! Throw them in a dark hole where they can die alone!”

            Because people don’t really want to be in the dark hole to die alone and if they don’t understand why they’re in there, they’ll just crawl out again and carry on as normal, assuming that the people who put them there are meanies, and nothing changes.

            ‘I shouldn’t HAVE to explain this, it should be obvious!’
            Shouldn’t have to, but do have to – at least, if we actually want change instead of an excuse to vent righteous moral outrage.

          • They’ve got every right to do both. The fact that they are trying to help people change is remarkably tolerant on their part. It’s not their job to educate anyone.

    • transientmind is speaking some serious gospel here. Wasn’t expecting that much clarity from the comments first thing in the morning before I’ve even had my coffee. He / she should be writing the articles..

    • I keep getting redirected to the Kotaku US lately, and yeah, the comments section for this article was atrocious.

      However, I am amazed at how constructive almost everyone is being here. Kudos to @transientmind for driving the conversation.

  • As “geek” culture and cosplay become more visible and mainstream, I think that it’s definitely time for a message like this to start becoming equally visible.

    Most people are decent, but we also don’t like confrontation – having a simple principle like “Cosplay != consent” front-and-centre makes it far more acceptable to call someone out when they’ve crossed a line, which is really all that cosplayers are asking for. Lowering the barriers to asking “are you OK?” if someone looks like they might be a little harrangued.


      • I was raised on Java and C++ but I think the slashed equals works better in a potentially non-programming-savvy environment due to the potential confusion of:
        Cosplay ! = Consent

        Enthusiastic cosplay equals consent? Noooooo

  • The “unauthorised photo” bit kind of confuses me. I mean, they say it’s when you don’t ask for permission first (which in itself seems kind of strange since I don’t get why anyone would go to all the effort of dressing up and everything if they didn’t want to be photographed :P), but then it seems like there’s plenty of situations where people would be photographed without being specifically asked, but there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently wrong with the situation at all nor have I seen anyone have any problems with any of them. But hey maybe I am just dumb or something.

    • Probably because they’re big on presentation. I remember reading an interesting article asking a cosplayer if they minded missing the convention’s presentations due to always being asked for photos and posing, and they replied that to them, that WAS the convention. It’s a performance, to some, and these people put a lot of time and effort into their costumes and want to see it displayed in the best way possible.

      Similarly to how you don’t store old paintings in a rack and flip through them to take your photo of it, the cosplayer probably isn’t stoked about someone’s candid photo of Lara Croft picking her nose or Cortana slouching and drinking a pepsi.

      • Pretty much this! When I cosplay I am planning to be photographed – but wearing costumes is often hard work! Generally there are painfully impractical shoes, and wigs with pins that dig into your scalp, and a ton of makeup (because it needs to stand up to the artificial light of a convention, and your skin needs to look as flawless as possible because your favourite character never gets a fucking pimple on their chin). Because of that I only cosplay one day of a convention – so that the next day I can actually see things! On cosplay day, though, sometimes you just need some downtime.

        I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten the creepy kind of unauthorised photo, but I tend not to cosplay the kinds of characters that get that. But a few years ago my cosplay group was in the two-hour-long line to get up on stage for the competition at Supanova. My shoes were being guarded by my partner, whose mask was sat on top of the shoes. One of the girls’ wigs had slipped so she was holding it in her hands, a stocking covering her scalp (as a wig cap), while we extracted the pins from it so we could get it back on and securely in place. One of the other girls was slumped in a chair, white as a sheet, because her headpiece had been digging into her forehead all day and she hadn’t been able to drink, resulting in a mega headache.
        A lady tapped me on the shoulder, asked us for a photo. I asked if she could hold on a few minutes, because we weren’t really in a photo-ready state. She got offended, insulted us, then proceeded to take photos from a distance – while we were still blatantly not up for photos.

        The problem is that some people have an attitude that cosplayers are part of the entertainment that the convention provides – like paid entertainers – rather than being attendees who just happen to be rocking an epic costume. When the whole sexual thing comes into it, it becomes deeply invasive and creepy.

        Really excited about this movement – I’m not sure it will reach the creepers directly, BUT maybe it will encourage attendees to stand up for cosplayers when a creeper is taking a non-consensual butt photo. Less passive bystanders will make a huge difference – creepers won’t do that shit if they think the guy standing next to them is going to call them on it. Next time I’m geared up, I think I’ll get me a cosplay != consent sign.

        • It’s great to read a take from someone in the Cosplay community along with this article. It is astounding that this woman asked for a photo, but then got offended at your reply (which wasn’t even a rejection). She may as well have just taken a photo without asking in the first place, with that attitude.

  • unfortunately, i see people looking at that first photo and going “it says don’t touch her butt, but the other girl is doing it. ergo, its also ok for me”

  • Personally, I feel that while this is a really good approach, it would also be nice to see some input from con organizers. I’ve been to smaller local cons where people have been kicked out or even banned from all future cons for inappropriate behavior towards cosplayers (among other things); while these were cons of usually no more than 2000 people, I don’t see why those rules can’t be applied to larger cons. Threats of getting the police involved might also make a few fanboys think twice about touching a cosplayer without permission.
    But at least the community is beginning to acknowledge that harassment of cosplayers is an issue and it’s a serious issue. It’s putting a lot of people off of cosplaying at cons, and it’s also damaging the perception of cosplay in wider culture. If cosplay and fandom want to be taken seriously as part of culture, this behavior has to stop.

  • If it continues, there may be a dramatic stop of erotic cosplay.
    …and nobody wants that. (Maybe feminists)

  • On the cosplay topic, it’s not just about discrimination or inappropriate touching. It’s about what you get in regards to respect. Not only to myself but to other who dress up.
    I have forgotten the number of times I’ve been kitted up as an ODST or Spartan and people seem to think it’s awesome to jump on the armoured guy. I also get the “OH WOW IS IT HARD? *punches me* WOW IT IS HARD *punches harder*” a lot, as well as “does this hurt?”. Lucky for me it’s fibreglass and I make my suits pretty well. I’ve started doing it back with the helmet “No, does this?” and they wonder what my problem is.

    I love having my photo taken with people, that is why I do it. Just let me look at a shop for five minutes alone, thanks.

    • People seem to forget that other people around them are people just like themselves. Makes you wonder how they’ve been raised.

  • As a half-serious suggestion, why not just encourage more people to cosplay? That way it ceases to be something unique and more the accepted norm. This kind of thing doesn’t happen at the beach (apart from the universal pervert) because it’s more or less socially acknowledged that at the beach, everyone dresses down. Of course, it never helps that there are always those people that dress solely for the attention and confuse the issue for everyone.

    • Because Cosplaying isn’t as easy and promoting nudism where you just take your clothes off. Cosplaying involves a lot of time, passion, dedication and depending on the chosen costume – craftsmanship.

      Time is a far bigger entry barrier than “acceptance”.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!