Convention Life: The Other “Con” — Consent

Maybe you’ve heard the term “Cosplay is not Consent.” It’s a movement within the fan convention community to educate people on how to act — or rather, how not to act. And it all revolves around Consent.

Why talk about consent?

Conventions can be a lot like parties, and at parties people want to have fun. But generally, folks are thinking of their own fun and not necessarily the fun of others. So talking about consent is important both within and outside of conventions so that we can also be aware of other people’s comfort and wellbeing at the con.

It’s also important to talk about consent because having ownership over one’s body is a fundamental right of being human. Setting boundaries on how other people treat us is a healthy way of living life. And consent is a big part of boundary setting.

 

Photo: CARE – Campus Assault ResponsE – http://campusassaultresponse.org/

Consent is simply agreement. It can be nuanced in different ways, but when you drill right down to its basic definition, it is agreement.

Consent means that all involved parties agree to what is happening, whether it’s something physical, like touching or taking a photo, or verbal, such as being catcalled, being talked about, or objectified.

What does consent mean at a convention?

It means that no matter how someone is dressed, no matter how much (or how little) skin is showing, there is no touching without asking. It is not an invitation for other people. It does not mean that the person — usually a woman — is a party favor for your use.

This isn’t just about touching, though. It’s about everything from touching to speaking. It’s about being aware of how the words we say affect the person we’re speaking to or about. It’s about treating people with dignity.

Cosplay is Not Consent is the movement that has come out of the flood of complaints of harassment and, in some cases, assault, that has happened at conventions across the country, from the biggest to the smallest. Check out Geeks for Consent for some great links to news stories about this topic.

Is it all in the gender?

Fan conventions are often male-dominated, so it makes sense that the higher number of consent violations are done by men. It can be difficult to explain to men why being touched without permission or being objectified by verbal comments is unwelcome.

Often, when we, as women, say, “How would you feel if…?” the response tends to be, “Oh, I would love it if a woman just walked up to me and grabbed my ass!”

What these men often don’t have perspective of is that women receive this sort of treatment all the time. Catcalls, inappropriate comments about their bodies, and even unwelcome touches from men. And it is all with no choice in who is doing these things. It can be any man, at any place, at any time.

If men think this is something they might enjoy, I believe they’re envisioning a woman they’re attracted to doing it at a time and place they would like it to be done. And that is not the experience of women who receive this sort of attention from men, both at conventions and outside conventions. These behaviors are done by men, regardless of whether the woman is attracted to them, is in the mood for such attention, or wants any attention at all. In other words, without her consent.

So men who think they would like this often don’t understand that they probably wouldn’t, if their reality matched the reality of women’s experiences.

But men are not the only people violating consent at conventions. Women do it too. Not nearly to the numbers as men, but they can be just as offensive as men. I once watched a woman literally grab a guy’s codpiece for a photo, to the man’s absolute surprise. I couldn’t tell whether he was offended or not, but it was still non-consensual and a sexual assault by its very nature.

Anyone has the ability to violate consent. It happens much more to women by men than vice versa, but it can happen both ways. The only hope in combating this is to make us all more aware.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to police our own actions.

How To Avoid Being ‘That Dude’ (or ‘That Chick’)

Do

  • give compliments or ask questions focusing more on the costume than the body in it — “Did you paint your leggings yourself? Those are really cool!”
  • give generalized compliments –“Your costume is amazing!” or “You look just like Gal Godot! That’s incredible.” etc.
  • pay attention to body language and environment — If they’re waiting in line for the bathroom, be very brief in your interaction, if it’s necessary at all; if they look like they’re on a mission to get somewhere, let them go; pay attention to whether your attention is welcome.
  • be respectful of someone’s time and space — don’t monopolize.
  • ASK — Everyone appreciates someone who takes a moment to ask their consent to take a photo or touch a part of their costume or body; this can’t be stressed enough.
  • Be respectful of the answer to your question — Always remember that they’re allowed to say no. Don’t already be doing the thing as you ask for their consent. Wait for their answer.
  • Say thank you when they’ve agreed to something you’ve requested, because they’re doing something nice for you.

Don’t

  • catcall, unless it’s appropriate — It might be appropriate at a costume contest, or some other situation where an audience is expected to make noise.
  • comment specifically about someone’s body — Consider “You’ve got great boobs!” vs “You look great!” The first is a big no; the second is a big yes.
  • assume anything — And this means anything.

Accidents Happen

So what do you do when you’ve offended someone by accident, or realize you’ve done something inappropriate?

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

~~Martin Luther King, Jr.

It doesn’t have to be about you having made a mistake. It is absolutely about how you handle the mistake you made.

Always, the first thing to do is apologize. And be sincere. Sometimes, this is the only thing you can do. Sometimes the person you offended doesn’t want to hear it and will walk away. Let them go. They’ve made their decision, and you trying to force your apology on them is just another version of the mistake you made in the first place.

But if they do listen, you can then ask what you can do to fix the situation, what will make the other person okay? There may be nothing you can do other than go away. And that’s okay. But maybe you took a photo without asking, and they tell you that you can make it better by deleting the photo. Then delete the photo. Act with integrity.

The final thing you can do has nothing to do with the person you offended. The final thing you can do is remember your mistake. Remember it and do your best not to do it again in the future. Err on the side of caution if you’re unsure. And, again, you can never go wrong by asking.

Conventions can be a great time! They’re big and fun and exciting. We’re among our nerdy tribe and our fellow fangirls and -boys. Convention producers create them for folks to have a great time. But we have to make sure our good time doesn’t make someone else’s experience a bad time. We’re all in this together!

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

5 Comments

  • ketherian August 10, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Part of consent is also learning how to accept a “no” gracefully. All you have to do is acknowledge it and walk away.

    At a recent con, a fan came up to a cosplayer I was escorting and tried to give them a hug. The cosplayer declined. Then declined again when the hugger didn’t step out of the cosplayer’s way. I thanked the hugger, turned to the cosplayer and said lets go, and guided the cosplayer around the hugger and back on our way.

    Yes, I’m keeping gender out of the above because, frankly, it doesn’t matter. The hugger was offering a free hug, something common and relatively nonthreatening to most people. The cosplayer didn’t want a hug. But the hugger probably hadn’t heard someone refuse that often and didn’t know what to do.

    Neither side was offended, but without direction, both the hugger and cosplayer seemed stuck.

    Reply
    • Shara White August 10, 2017 at 10:50 am

      What a great story, and thanks for keeping gender out of it: I know lots of huggers and they really are baffled when people don’t want to be touched. No harm is ever intended (by those I know).

      Reply
    • Venessa Giunta August 10, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks for the response! And yes, great story!

      Even though the answer was unexpected and no one knew what to do about it, kudos for the hugger for asking in the first place. Those of us who are huggers often don’t realize how many people are *not* huggers. I started asking to hug many years ago. You can always tell when people don’t want to hug, but don’t want to be rude. I always reassure them that I’m fine if they say no. My motto is, “Me being a hugger doesn’t override you not being a hugger.” 🙂

      Consent isn’t just about sexual touching. It’s really about any touching.

      Reply
  • Nicole Taft August 10, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    I’m really digging this article and like it when things like this are addressed. It’s always so important that people get reminded that consent for anything needs to be taken into account. Verbal stuff aside, it still baffles me that some people simply cannot grasp the basic concept of someone’s personal space. I’m lucky in that I’ve not yet encountered any of these issues at a con (though granted, I’ve only been to 4 – and customers at work are a different story), but hopefully this information continues to spread around, people recognize it, and I never do.

    Reply
    • Venessa Giunta August 15, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Nicole! I’m lucky to surround myself with people who are really aware of consent as a normal part of interactions. So sometimes when I’m outside of that social circle, I get really taken aback by how SO many people, as you say, can’t grasp the basic concept of someone’s personal space. It’s kinda crazy! It always makes me that much more grateful when I get back to my usual tribe 😉

      Reply

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