A SYTYCB entry
NOTE: To “cosplay” is, essentially, to wear a costume. It’s short for “costumed play” and usually refers to people who wear costumes to nerdy conventions.
Today I came across a story on Jezebel about a cosplayer who was solicited to strip at an anime convention in Las Vegas. I’ve never been a real fan of the growing cosplay burlesque/strip tease trend, but this took it way too far.
Ginny McQueen is certainly known for her work with cosplay. She’s won numerous awards, she works for cosplay.com – she’s very good at what she does. She’s also attractive, slender, and often flaunts it with sexy, tight-fitting costumes. Still, to send her an e-mail asking her to strip at a convention is going a bit far. Especially when you know that there are cosplay burlesque troupes that already exist – they’re the ones who usually perform at conventions, not ordinary cosplayers who happen to be sexy. And you’d think there would be plenty of actual strippers, nerdy or not, in Las Vegas who would be up for that gig. But just because someone wears sexy costumes doesn’t mean she’s willing to strip.
The deal looked a bit sketchy to me, really. I’m sure Animegacon is a real thing, I’m sure they do have burlesques and raves, but to send her a contract via e-mail (not even in a PDF or anything, no real legal language, just what they’re offering and what they want her to do, with a spot for her signature) is a tad weird. You’d think they’d proposition her first and then send a contract if she was willing. Sketchy or not, it was certainly presumptuous. Only after they send her the “contract” did they want to meet with her and discuss it further.
I don’t really have much to say about the cosplay burlesque/strip tease events. Nothing I can say other than personal issues with it. I went to one once, hoping for a great show, and I ended up leaving feeling sick to my stomach. Yeah yeah I know, there were guys in the show too (though I’m not sure they were really the main attraction – I wonder how many guys put on a Magic Mike kind of show and how many do it just for laughs), I’m sure there are guys in all the shows, hence why I can’t call them sexist, from what I hear they’re technically equal opportunity sexualizers. And I can’t really blame a Las Vegas convention for wanting to bring in a little, uh, local flavor. In general I’m not big on the huge raunch culture at conventions, it was part of what prompted my interest in gender and nerd culture after reading Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, although I understand that book is controversial even within feminism. More importantly I’m not a fan of female cosplayers being sexualized and fetishized.
There are whole websites and photo galleries dedicated to cosplay girls. Not so much for male cosplayers although I don’t doubt there are some out there. Still a bit of a novelty, many conventions result in “The Girls of [X Con]” webpages and articles (even on feminist leaning websites for women); we’re fascinated and titillated by the idea of girls in pretty and sexy costumes at conventions. I’ve known men who have expressed appreciation for all the cosplayers at conventions, commenting that cosplay girls are hot. Female cosplayers, especially those in sexually appealing costumes, are unfortunately likely to experience sexual harassment at conventions. Women are sometimes advised to dress modestly or don’t cosplay at all if they don’t want people to stalk, grope, or catcall them. While part of this problem stems from the “anything goes” atmosphere of nerd conventions, it seems as though women who wear sexy costumes are assumed to be sexually available and slutty – “asking” to be harassed, “asking” to be followed around, “asking” to be upskirted and touched inappropriately. That’s what they’re there for, right?
In the case of Ms. McQueen, it looks like women who wear revealing costumes are either assumed to be strippers – or willing to strip – or they’re simply perceived as sex objects, only valued for how they present themselves at conventions. As if her willingness to show off her body is more important than her ability to make amazing costumes by hand. I don’t blame the woman, it might have been an amazing deal, but the assumption would no doubt insult many women in nerd culture.
Self-objectification in regards to cosplay and the fetishization of female cosplayers are two separate – yet complexly interrelated – issues in nerd culture. Putting cosplay girls on a pedestal might seem like a good thing for women, something we should all appreciate and enjoy, but it does the exact opposite – it makes it even harder for nerdy women to achieve truly equal footing with their male counterparts at conventions.