This year I attended my first MomoCon, one of the fastest growing cons in the Southeast for animation, comics and gaming, and I was floored at the amazing cosplay I saw. So many fantastic costumes, and often on kids and teens who hadn’t yet reached the drinking age. The attention to detail was phenomenal, and the skill required for the makeup, props and costuming amazing. However, after the con a video began circulating online of a cosplayer, Luna Lanie, who had been harassed at the convention, and I saw it in many places on Facebook and G+. The accusations she made were concerning – she was harassed by con-goers, but what concerned me more at the time was the accusation of misconduct on the part of the convention staff.
The co-chair of the convention, Jessica Merriman, issued a statement that brought to light a different side of things, and one that I think clarified some of the issues involved. Her statement included the following:
“As soon as we saw a tweet from a local cosplayer saying she was harassed, MomoCon co-chair Chris Stuckey personally requested to meet with her so he could apologize on our behalf, provide her his direct phone number, request a description of individual, and have them removed from the convention. Unfortunately, she was unable to provide a description at that time. Our security team would have enforced our zero tolerance policy for harassment.
While her attire that day violated our dress code, Chris did not mention it during the meeting because he recognized this would be victim-blaming. The cosplayer says when she left the meeting and returned to the convention some team [member] of security, who would have been unaware of the situation as Chris did not mention her attire to anyone, rudely said her costume did not meet the guidelines. We have been unable to confirm this, but are still actively attempting to find the involved person(s) in order to ensure they are no longer affiliated with MomoCon.”
Under the circumstances, it seems that the convention did everything it reasonably could to handle the situation. Unfortunately, it is not always a cut-and-dried situation. Clearly, harassment is a problem – I have spoken with other cosplayers who have experienced similar incidents, at MomoCon but also at other conventions. However, there are steps that cosplayers and conventions alike can take (and often do already) that I think can help to mitigate this problem. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to completely eliminate the possibility of a person harassing a cosplayer, but we can do a lot to limit it.
First of all, we as convention attendees can follow the “if you see something, say something” rule. The unfortunate fact is that if you are the one being harassed, you are often not in a position to be noting details about the people harassing you. Countless studies have shown that people who are victims of crimes (which in some cases has happened to cosplayers) have trouble identifying their assailants. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the convention staff or the police to take action against someone if they can’t be identified. MomoCon co-chair Jess Merriman stated with regard to the cosplayer whose video sparked this situation, “Unfortunately she was unable to provide a description at that time. Our security team would have enforced our zero tolerance policy for harassment.” If you see someone being harassed, snap a picture of the person doing it, and then step in and say something. If the cosplayer wants to pursue action against the person, walk them over to security and show security the picture. If we as a community do this, it will be a big step toward limiting this. To their credit, MomoCon has similar advice on their website – but most participants never drill down deep to the policies section, so it bears repeating.
Secondly, conventions need to be sure that their policies are well known to everyone – both what constitutes harassment, and what constitutes “appropriate” attire, which will often change from one convention to another. In the case of MomoCon, their own policies seem open to broad interpretation on their website.:
From the section “A Special Note About Dress Code”:
“Our minimal dress standards are shirt and shorts for men and full-coverage bikini top and shorts for women, with no exceptions for cosplay in public areas.”
What constitutes a “full coverage” bikini top is, of course, debatable – as is “shorts”. There is a world of difference between Bermuda shorts, for example, and “boyshorts”. What constitutes enough cover/obscenity has been a slippery legal issue for decades, dating back to the “I know it when I see it” comment by the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. However, in the section on “Behavior” it states, “Offensive or revealing attire is not permitted.” Unfortunately “offensive” and “revealing” mean many different things to different people. A bikini top could well be considered “too revealing” to some. This is further complicated by the fact that MomoCon’s participation demographic seems to skew much younger than other local conventions, like DragonCon or TimeGate. Merriman stated that, “Moving forward, we will clearly and delicately communicate dress code violations”…however everyone should understand that this is a process, and it is imperfect. MomoCon utilizes over 900 volunteer staff members, some of whom will probably address it more “delicately” than others. Hopefully, a push to make both staff and cosplayers aware of the policies prior to the convention will help to prevent further confrontations.
And as cosplayers, we have responsibilities too. Know the policies of the convention you are attending, and stick to them. Understand that security are volunteers too, and it’s one of the crappier jobs on convention staff. MomoCon’s policies page even goes so far as to state, “Security volunteers and professional security/APD may instruct you to discontinue activities, move to a different location, etc. Such discussions may be difficult and they always should be done professionally and respectfully. However, specific security instructions (which may be delivered at a loud volume to compensate for ambient convention noise) or other related convention issues are not harassment or retaliation.” It is a difficult line to walk, but know that all conventions are trying to keep everyone safe – their intent is good, but uniform enforcement of policies is vital.
Cosplay has exploded in popularity in recent years, and this growth has led to an increased reporting of harassment as well. No convention or other organization can completely control the behavior of its participants, but there are steps that we as con-goers and cosplayers can take on our own to help take on this problem. And while many conventions have policies that clearly address these matters, they are often buried so far down in the program guide or website that no one ever sees them. If a silver lining can be found to this dark cloud over the fandom community, perhaps it is this: increased attention to the subject may learn to increased awareness of the problem, better communications regarding policies, and a greater willingness for con attendees to step up and do something if they see harassment happening.