As a big fan of cosplay, and a huge geek (I edit a geek blog, after all), I am well aware that there are issues between cosplayers and some other convention and event attendees. I’ve spoken out before against the harassment of cosplayers, and advocated that geeks everywhere stand up and say something if they see harassment happen. With that being said, I think that some apologists for the cosplay community can occasionally, in their support for something amazing, see problems that do not exist and declaim persecution that isn’t happening.
A couple of days ago, I came across an article by Noah Berlatsky whose tagline screamed “The backlash against fans—especially women—who dress up might speak to some gender anxiety on the part of nerddom’s gatekeepers.” Wow! With a line like that, who wouldn’t be sucked in? The first paragraph continued with the same level of enthusiasm: “…For many in the comics industry, cosplay—‘costume play’—seems to produce unusual levels of anxiety and bile.” He quoted a couple of industry persons, Patrick Broderick and Mark Ellis, in passionate outcries against cosplay, and then drew the direct conclusion that these men clearly hate women, and their problem with cosplay is a problem of misogyny.
Of course, as with many rants, this one shows only one side of the argument. These comic artists and writers are not actually mad that cosplay exists or that it is dominated by women. The full conversation, preserved for probably ever on Facebook, reveals that these men are actually irritated by types of behaviors that would be considered rude no matter who indulged in them. Broderick’s original post requests that he not be flooded with convention promoters who create entire conventions based primarily on cosplay—entirely his prerogative, since he is a comic artist and does not dress like his characters (at least not in public). Ellis follows this with the legitimate complaint that he is often contacted to be a guest at a convention and is then promptly sent a table price-list—something I would also find insulting, no matter who was contacting me.
Further comments seemed to primarily revolve around the idea that cosplayers who stood in front of artist or vendor booths and attempted to charge money to be the subject of photos were annoying. While I cannot and would not condone personal attacks on anyone, and I do believe that booth owners are at liberty to ask cosplayers to move away from their booths, I do not for one second believe that annoyance with this type of behavior constitutes misogyny and the wagon circling of male comic creators against the onslaught of female enthusiasts.
Whatever Noah Berlatsky’s opinion of whether cosplayers actually add profit or even warm fuzzies to the comics industry, it is ridiculous to draw a causal linkage between the fact that comics guys don’t like the behavior of a group of fans, and their assumed dislike of the gender that is the majority of that group. Straw-man arguments do not help conquer the problems that actually face the cosplay and greater geek communities. I would far rather debate the best ways to make geeks aware of the harassment that cosplayers actually sometimes face without diverting attention to a manufactured gender problem. Dislike of cosplay as a vocation and displeasure with the behavior of certain people does not equal misogyny, and no number of vitriolic rants on the internet will make it so.