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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Our Bodies, Our Cosplay: Geek Girls and Objectification

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San Diego Comic-Con, a giant annual festival of all things geeky, happened earlier this month, and reverberations from this event are still being felt throughout the land. There was new footage from The Hobbit, Twilight and many other movies and TV shows that will keep fans buzzing for a good long while (read about highlights here. There was also cosplay (for those unfamiliar with the term, “cosplay” is a mash-up of “costume” and “roleplay” that generally refers to people dressing up as and sometimes acting like their favorite fictional characters from movies, TV, books and comics). Lots of cosplay. Sexy cosplay. Freaky cosplay. Gender-bending cosplay

Actor Simon Pegg got in a bit of trouble for tweeting a picture of a group of women dressed up as “Slave Leia” from Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi accompanied by comments that could be construed as objectifying. This led to a flurry of responses on Twitter and several blog posts about “sexy” cosplay (such as the ones here  and here, geek culture and feminism.

This debate reminded me of a column I had written previously about “sexy” Halloween costumes, especially those worn by women. As I said then, when it comes to “sexy,” women are caught in a double bind from which escape is nearly impossible. Our culture tells us from a very young age that women should be “sexy” to gain approval from men and from society at large. Yet, when women dress in a manner that is considered sexual, they are called sluts, harassed, shamed and publicly commented on, by both men and women, and are then told that this harassment and shame is “their fault” even though they are ostensibly following the code that our culture has given them. This happens every day as women go about their normal lives, but the effect is magnified a hundredfold in spaces like Comic-Con and Halloween where bringing our fantasies to life is encouraged. Layered over this is the fact that our typical cultural definition of “sexy” is very narrow and excludes those who are fat, people of color, disabled, gender non-conforming, old(er), etc.

Some people, like Simon Pegg, publicly compare “sexy cosplayers” to donuts that they would like to eat. Others, like the original poster here, say that “sexy cosplayers” are not real geeks and are, in fact, attention whores who should not be allowed in geek spaces. Both of these attitudes are equally damaging, especially since they do not take into account the original intent of the women who are actually doing the cosplay. These attitudes are also equally understandable. It's OK to feel appreciative of someone's sexy cosplay—but publicly commenting on it to thousands of people is objectifying. It's OK to be angry that blond, thin, white, “hot” women in revealing outfits get more attention than women who are not dressed “sexy”—but shaming sexy cosplayers instead of deconstructing the larger cultural context that creates these values is not right.

For a much more thoughtful, in-depth paper/presentation about sexy cosplay and how it's discussed in geek spaces, go here.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side. She has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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