This afternoon I was pointed to IGN’s article ‘Women of Cosplay Talk Sexism, Femininity, and Cookies in the Mail’. Initially I was pretty optimistic about the article and thought it’d shed a new light on what has become a well talked about topic in the games industry but this optimism quickly dissipated.
A lot of the comments seemed to be centered around feminists (or anyone exploring sexism in the games industry) being general buzz-kills who criticise cosplayers for the outfits they wear. Consequently, the statements of the three cosplayers Vixen Gamer, Black Cat and Ardella seemed to be an attempt to bite back and insult those who have insulted them, rather than their actual viewpoints.
I’ve picked out the quotes that startled me the most and explored why, although I think a lot of this is simply viciousness rather than a genuine perspective I thought it was worth looking at nonetheless.
“You don’t have to sacrifice your femininity to be powerful. I think that’s happening in the gaming industry. We’re seeing a big spearhead of feminism in the gaming industry and I think don’t sacrifice your femininity to fit in.” Vixen Gamer
“It’s not me trying to be slutty, I’m embracing my sexuality and my femininity. It’s a shame [other women who criticise female cosplayers] can’t do the same thing.” Black Cat
Not all women want to be ogled, nor do all women feel comfortable wearing dresses or low cut tops and that is not the definition of femininity. The argument that women sacrifice their femininity to be powerful or to fit into the feminist movement in the gaming industry is based on an assumption that all women are like Vixen Gamer and Black Cat, which they’re not.
Some women are simply more comfortable wearing what might be regarded as unfeminine which is no one’s concern but theirs, the same goes for people judging what Vixen Gamer or Black Cat wears. There are numerous powerful women who are traditionally feminine and, similarly, many who aren’t but regardless of whether or not they’re feminine their position as a powerful woman isn’t undermined or lessened in any way.
I am no more or less of a woman depending on my clothing and to suggest so seemed to me quite naïve and, like many of the sections I’ve picked out from IGN’s interview, they both seemed to be ill-concealed digs at those who criticise cosplayers.
“Sexism is really a point of view. It’s how you react to it, and how you portray yourself as to whether or not you allow people to objectify you.” Ardella
Sorry, what? Let’s rephrase that ‘racism is really a point of view. It’s how you react to it, and how you portray yourself as to whether or not you allow people to racially abuse you.’
These two comments aren’t that far apart but the latter statement is entirely unacceptable in this day in age, why isn’t the first? To suggest that sexism, rather than being inherently wrong, is simply a matter of how the person affected deals with it is ridiculous.
If I’m harassed in the street by men whistling and shouting at me, asking me to suck their cock I should just not allow that to affect me? Firstly, that’s not going to happen. Secondly, how the fuck does that solve anything?
Nothing would ever change if people just accepted whatever happened to them and took it on the chin. Oh, women can’t vote? Oh well, I’ll just show my views in other ways! Oh, black people can’t sit next to white people? Oh well, I’ll just carry on sitting at the back of the bus!
Yeah, thanks for the advice but, no thanks.
“Flaunting your femininity – there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t have this conversation about shirtless guys in videogames, so why the opposite end?” Vixen Gamer
Ugh. Please, not this argument. Don’t suggest that men are just as objectified as women in video games to qualify dressing as an objectified character.
Male characters in video games are what men want to be. Women in video games are what men want women to be. That’s the difference, that’s why there’s only one side that’s argued about because it’s impossible to say that men are objectified because they’re not, they’re simply the person that many men want to be, rather than what women want them to be. Female characters are often shackled by what men sexually want from them, male characters aren’t.
Also, femininity isn’t interchangeable with boobs/figure. If you want to flaunt your body, go for it, it’s not a problem and it’s wrong for anyone to suggest it is but don’t try and dress it up as ‘flaunting your femininity’ because that’s simply not the case and makes you seem naïve.
“A lot of girls react in incorrect ways. They get all offended that somebody touched them at a con but then they go home and don’t do anything about it. If somebody grabs you at a con, you turn around and threaten to break that d–k’s nose. You’ve gotta step up and be assertive, otherwise nobody’s gonna learn.” Black Cat
My first reaction on reading Black Cat’s statement was to laugh in exasperation, turn to my boyfriend and read it out. It was one of those moments where I couldn’t believe what I was reading and had to share it with someone else to confer that I was actually reading it correctly and not in fact imagining things.
This idea so closely resembles the victim blaming found in the press and all over social media that I was struck, and disappointed, to find it in an article like this. I assume it was said in relation to the recent article written by Tina Amini about sexual assault/harassment at E3 but I’m sure there have been many other instances of similar situations at conventions.
The fact that there are so many examples of this harassment ISN’T because victims are dealing with it ‘incorrectly’ it’s because people (mainly men) are fucking doing it, so let’s get that idea out of our heads to begin with.
Furthermore, there is no correct way to deal with sexual assault/harassment. Everyone reacts differently in these situations, it’s ace that Black Cat (and seemingly the other girls) are able to so easily and assertively deal with harassment and assault but not everyone is that confident.
The most common reaction for people who are victims of sexual assault is to freeze. I can only assume it’s etched into our nature somewhere as a defensive mechanism that when under attack, freeze, but that doesn’t make it a wrong reaction. Any reaction to sexual assault/harassment is valid and there is no ‘incorrect’ way to deal with it.
To suggest to such a wide audience that, essentially, if you don’t deal with sexual assault/harassment forcefully and only feel comfortable talking about it when you get home despite inaction at the time then you’ve only got yourself to blame if it happens again, is not on.
I imagine that whilst having a large male audience that see them as walking boobs, these women probably also have female fans who look to them as role models and may see these comments and start to blame themselves for any assaults they’ve experienced and not dealt with ‘correctly’ by Black Cat’s definition.
That is wrong.
The only person to blame for sexual assault/harassment is the perpetrator and no one should ever feel that there is a ‘right’ way to deal with it. There just isn’t.
The whole interview and the majority of the opinions expressed certainly left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, unsure as to what to make of cosplay as a community and the women involved in it. It’s hard not to take these comments seriously as the women were all aware of where it would be posted and the amount of people who would see them and I was massively disappointed to see such victim-blaming on show which does seem to be a genuine opinion.
Perhaps these comments go to show that, far from women being able to help reduce sexism in the games industry, in some cases they almost advocate for it by saying that women need to do X and wear Y in order to be feminine and therefore respected as a woman. Again, I’m sure that a lot of this is just pent up frustration at the amount of criticism they receive but comments like this aren’t going to stop or change that, insulting and criticising other women isn’t the answer to criticism. Engaging in genuine discussion is a much better and more productive way to respond, this response has left me with nothing but rage and disappointment.