Content Warning(s): Contemporary News, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Rape Culture, Nudity
Day nineteen! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!
First of all, some news: I heard today that Bill O'Reilly was fired from working at Fox News for sexually harassing employees. Yet, somehow, this didn't factor into the current POTUS's election. If you see anyone celebrating the fact that sexual harassment was "addressed," ask them to consider all the people who had to experience the harassment before it came to light. Ask how many people didn't come forward at all out of fear of retaliation. Ask how many other instances of sexual harassment and worse are happening right now to people not just in the news, but in every class of citizen in this country. Remember how Fox News still supported the election of this POTUS despite hard evidence of his bragging about sexual assault. This firing should not be a celebration; the fact that it's considered a scandal informs us that being fired for sexual harassment is a novelty and not a regularly-enforced occurrence. We have a lot of work to do.
Today's planned topic: Personal experiences regarding the double standards we place on survivorship, particularly as it relates to cosplay.
In this journey of speaking up about being a survivor, I've found that I've encountered some unexpected backlash. I expected there to be people like my dad, the "boys will be boys," the people who wouldn't believe I was raped or that my rapist was the one who did it. What I didn't expect were other women, who had in fact told me that they were also survivors, who said things that were somewhat hurtful.
You see, "slut-shaming" doesn't actually have to use the word "slut" to *be* slut-shaming. For example, I think about a time when someone called out a cosplayer for doing nude and semi-nude photo shoots under the guise that it was "cosplay" and this person didn't see it as being cosplay. When I reminded them that I've done more than a few bikini photo shoots and have been interested in boudoir and burlesque, I confronted them with the question of, "How does that make me different from this person?" The answer I got was something along the lines of, "When YOU do it, it's classy."
So I'm okay, but my sister exposing her body isn't? Is it only okay to expose your body when you don't explicitly add an element of sex appeal? I've got some news for that person who thinks my brand of exposure is classy, therefore purer: sometimes I like to wear revealing cosplay JUST for the sake of wearing revealing cosplay, getting reactions and pictures and attention from the courage to go to a con "wearing that," whatever "that" may be. I've studied burlesque and love the appeal of creativity in the costuming as well as aspects of dance and performance. I'm a fan of lingerie and would love to add that flirtatious, adventurous aspect to several characters I've cosplayed. Does that make me as "bad" as the nude cosplayers, or am I better than them because I haven't acted on it? Or is it the fact that I'm cosplaying scantily-clad women to take my body back after the rape that makes me okay? What if they also went through that and are seeking an outlet for healing?
I think most people relegate nude or semi-nude photo shoots as lewd and only for lewd, crude sex workers. If I say the word "stripper," what comes to mind? Someone who's a second-class citizen for how they earn their money? Someone who's "not classy" for knowing how to take off their clothes in a provocative, entertaining fashion? What about the strength it takes to be a pole dance artist? Why are we treating sex workers or people who choose to wear little clothing as though they don't deserve respect? This goes for the world of cosplay as well as the world at large. Why isn't it considered art? Plenty of artists draw nudes and pornographic images of their favorite characters, but when a cosplayer does something similar through photographs of their own body as those characters, suddenly it's no longer art.
Let's reiterate: It was "okay" for me to wear something revealing because this person knew me and saw me as a classy person, which we can assume was linked to the fact that I'm not marketing myself as a sex-selling cosplayer. It was "not okay" for someone to wear very little clothing (but still wigs, props, etc) and call it cosplay because that "isn't art." Starting to see the issue? First of all, art is in the eye of the beholder as well as the artist. An installation featuring porcelain toilets that the artist arranged, but did not make, is still art. Art provokes your mind to think about things it might not normally think about. What's so different about a barely-there cosplay? That cosplayer is choosing to portray themselves in a way that they desire, that they consent to and stage and want attention for. Any sympathy for their choice is rape culture, because it assumes that nudity is a "sin," and if you haven't seen how puritanical values are causing the U.S. to implode, I hope you at least take a moment to consider that not everyone is Christian and views subjectively "bad" actions as "sins."
To wear less clothing as a choice is NOT "asking for it," whether it's now or later, whether it's a sex worker or a cosplayer or a stranger, whether the comments they get are positive catcalls or behind-closed-doors whispers about how "she needs to cover up." We need to support our fellow sexily-dressed, scantily-clad cosplay siblings and raise them up. If you want to worry about their future, worry about their present. Accompany them to their photo shoots and make sure they're respected. Provide a safe space for them to vent about the intricacies of being vulnerable. Speak up to help them if you're a bystander in a situation where you witness a sexily-dressed cosplayer being harassed. If you claim to be supportive of all cosplayers regardless of race, weight, ability, gender, sexuality, on and on, then you also need to consider cosplayers who cosplay in lingerie, burlesque, and bikinis. We already face violence and discrimination from society for expressing our sexuality through our clothes; let's not perpetuate the sister-hating myth in our cosplay circles as well.
Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be regarding the "callout culture" of framing character pairings of "abusive" by young fans and how it is detrimental to both survivors and non-survivors in fandom.
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