Conventions as a "Safe Space"

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the cosplay community about "Cosplay is not Consent", the idea that just because someone is in cosplay (revealing or otherwise), that does not mean that it's okay to sexually harass them. While I'd really like to write more about this and add in my two-cents, it's being talked to death already. I'd like to bring up a related note instead. Why do people feel that it's okay to harass others at conventions (aside from being jerks in the first place)? It seemsrare to hear about someone going out of their way to harass someone else in everyday life, but we hear about it constantly happening at conventions and cosplay events, and we're always surprised by it.

We generally think of conventions as "safe spaces". We're all brought there by a common interest, be it anime, video games, comic books, or what have you, so it seems reasonable to assume that we're all like-minded people. We can think, "I like anime and am a generally good person, so these people who also like anime are generally good people too." Most of the time, this works out, we meet awesome people, and make good friends. However, this thinking works in reverse too, "I like anime and don't mind when strangers touch me inappropriately. These people also like anime and must not mind when strangers touch them inappropriately!" The "safe space" way of thinking can be pretty dangerous. It lets us think that we can do whatever we like, and people will be okay with it. (Which is also how you get people running around blasting music ans screaming memes, by the way.)

This is clearly more common with younger convention-goers (and people in general), and aligns with the thinking of, "That'll never happen to me!" We hear all the time about lewd comments others receive and people who get too close for comfort, but it's easy to think, "Well I've been cosplaying/going to conventions for [X-amount of time], and it hasn't happened! It'll never happen!" along with, "People aren't that bad, it was a one-time incident!" Whether or not it'll happen has nothing to do with probability, it's all about where you're at, who you're with, and whether we like it or not, what you're wearing.

Before I get into this, here's my disclaimer: I am in no way, shape, or form saying that those who dress in less clothing are "asking for it", I'm not saying that people who dress scantily should "know what they're getting into", or any variation of that nonsense. What I am saying is that it's easier for people to sexually harass someone who is wearing less clothes. They're an easier target, and they catch more attention. I'm using the term "they" here, but I do include myself in the instances where it applies (Yoko from Gurren Lagann, as an easy example). Harassment offenders always use the argument (in addition to "she was asking for it"), "I'm only human, I have eyes and urges, I can't help myself." Yep, you're human, which means that in addition to human "urges", you have the capability of forethought, and you can stop yourself from behaving inappropriately. I'm getting way off track here, but that about sums up my disclaimer, back to the matter at hand.

We often think that we can wear whatever we like in a convention/cosplay setting because of this "safe space" way of thinking. It's generally accepted to dress in out-of-the-norm ways at conventions and push the limits of cosplay and fashion. We wear bizarre clothes that would be vastly inappropriate in everyday situations, so it seems reasonable to assume that varying the amount of clothing would be accepted too, and it more or less is. Of course, this comes with the idiots who take that as an invitation. The ones who think, "This is a safe space, if I showed my body, I would want someone to comment on it or touch it. Let's do that to these strangers that we just met!" This goes beyond staring or even objectifying, we're parading around in costume for goodness' sake, of course people are going to look, and it's "easy" to forget that there's people behind the costumes at first glance, but the thing that makes us human is our ability to take a second before opening our mouths or reaching out our hands and think, "Wait a minute, this is another person, and this might make them uncomfortable."

So as normal human being who don't go around grabbing at each-other just because we feel like it, what can we do? Internet public service announcements and blog posts are only going to get us so far, and there's only so many ways to tell people, "quit being a jerk, you're making us afraid for our safety," but it's certainly a start. Hopefully some day soon we can change other people's way of thinking so that sexual harassment at conventions (and harassment in general) are no longer an issue, and conventions could truley be safe spaces, but that seems like such a long, long way off, and may not even be an entirely achievable goal. In the mean time, stay safe. Convention and cosplay events are still public events that anyone can participate in, even unsavory types. Keep yours wits about you and speak up if someone is making you feel uncomfortable. It's much easier to stay quiet because you don't want to cause a scene or because you're scared, but it does much more good than writing about it online or talking to your friends afterward. Don't think "Maybe I'm being unreasonable. Maybe I'm just being socially awkward. Maybe this is really okay." That's how things escalate, nip it in the bud. If it's making you uncomfortable, it's not okay.

2 comments:

  1. I totally agree with what you have written. I have some experience myself and most of the time I dont want to make a scene, but it really makes me uncomfortable when a stranger touches me unpropriatelly. Fortunately there is not too many of them on conventions in my country, but there is always at least one exception per con..

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  2. I'm the same way, I hate making a scene or even being perceived as stuck-up or something, but I'm learning how and when to speak up. Most of the time, it ends alright with an, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that made you uncomfortable" and then there's no more problems. :)

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