She woke up like she did every day: slowly pulling her motorcycle helmet off, then shaking her head slowly back and forth to reveal a long, blonde ponytail. Everyone gasped. “That’s right,” she said, kicking the winning football goal before sliding into a sheer, sexy camisole under a blazer and playing as hard as she worked, “I’ve been a girl this whole time.” One of the guys, the real sexy one, shook his head in slow motion, as if to say “wh-wh-wh-whaaat?” You know the kind. His mouth was kind of open while he did it. He was totally blown away.
She walked off the field, and she knew everyone was looking at her butt, and she totally loved it. “Sorry, boys,” she called out over her super-sexy shoulder. She always called men boys, because she knew what gender was. Now she was carrying a briefcase and wearing a pencil skirt and sex glasses. She was at law.
“Your Honor,” she said, and the Honor paid attention, “I’d like to win this case,” and she totally did, she totally beat that busted-looking male lawyer who had the mushy face and wore suits that didn’t fit. She gave a little fist-pump, because even though she’s tough, she’s still relatable. “Girl power,” she said, high-fiving her curly-haired friend, who had just appeared behind her.
“Girl, you need a drink,” her curly-haired friend said, “and I need a man.” She laughed because her curly-haired friend didn’t really get it yet, but she was getting there…
Nowadays the princesses all know kung fu, and yet they’re still the same princesses. They’re still love interests, still the one girl in a team of five boys, and they’re all kind of the same. They march on screen, punch someone to show how they don’t take no shit, throw around a couple of one-liners or forcibly kiss someone because getting consent is for wimps, and then with ladylike discretion they back out of the narrative’s way.
On the posters they’re posed way in the back of the shot behind the men, in the trailers they may pout or smile or kick things, but they remain silent. Their strength lets them, briefly, dominate bystanders but never dominate the plot. It’s an anodyne, a sop, a Trojan Horse - it’s there to distract and confuse you, so you forget to ask for more.
So here’s the scoop, kids, all other problematic issues of this article— and there are a lot, I had a bulleted list in an IM window earlier— aside.
Cosplayers, from all indications from their own community, are not attending comic conventions to perform sexual exhibition for the attendees. Full stop.
Cosplayers are not “bringing an element of gaze” to your comic convention— on the contrary, they bring their creative work to your comic convention and then have gaze imposed upon them when attendees observe their costumes. That gaze can range from appreciative— “that’s a great X-23”— to sexually aggressive, invasive, and unwanted.
Any given cosplayer may or may not be consciously or unconsciously performing to please the crowd. Most of them aren’t role-playing until engaged by an observer— they’re just walking around in costume until someone says “Hey, Ms. Zatara!” or asks for a photo. They may or may not have shaped their dress and performance to adhere to conventional standards of attractiveness and sexual appeal.
(Mulvey says all gaze is male gaze, after all, and Mulvey’s the one who gave us all “male gaze” as an expansion of Lacan’s work in the first place, and this is film-studies and feminist critique 101 stuff that you can go look up very easily if you want to go hard on theory.)
But performance is not exhibitionism, and even sexual exhibitionism is not an invitation to sexual aggression of the sort allegedly displayed by Brian Wood towards Tess Fowler when she was in costume during the incident she recounts in her Tweets.
But, at the end of the day, you’re projecting your own concepts— “what Captain Marvel should look like,” “what is attractive/ appealing to me”— onto the cosplayers. You’re not required to share your observations with them, and they are not asking you for them. They’re there performing an activity they enjoy and they’d probably prefer that you not share invasive, aggressive, hypersexualized, or other offensive opinions with them while they’re out having fun.
I’ve had people ask me what the best response is to an attractive cosplayer, and my response is going to stay the same every time I get asked how to handle it:
"Gee, I love your costume. You must’ve put in a lot of work on it."
Let’s stay off the cosplayers and focus on the institutionalized sexism, racism, and other forces at play in the broader, commoditized comics market.
“10 Things A Black Woman Writer Must Do:
1) Do not be a black woman writer.
2) If you come from an island in the Caribbean, that’s a mistake. The islands are not a proper place. People from places like the islands can’t write about being alienated, because how can you feel alienated in a place where people like to wear bikinis? Be a writer from England. Do not mention you are black.
3) You mustn’t write long sentences.
4) You mustn’t write about yourself.
5) Do not be abstract.
6) Do not write about race. Everyone will say you only write about race.
7) Write about race. If you don’t, they will point out that you haven’t written about race.
8) Do not be a black woman writer.
9) Do not be a black woman.
10) Do not be black.
”—Jamaica Kincaid, during a lecture given as part of Columbia University’s creative writing lecture series (via ethiopienne)
size was not the only aspect of my body dines had an opinion on. i wanted tattoos and to stretch my earlobes (i have two large pieces of ink now and ears stretched to 3/4″), but whenever i talked about body modifications, dines would get a look of disgust on her face and tell me that was a way of internalizing my abuse and re-victimizing myself by permitting the infliction of pain… and then, of course, the management of body hair. any maintenance of body hair, whether it be plucking my eyebrows, shaving my legs, or waxing my bush, was subject to detailed analysis, and, quickly determined to be submission to patriarchal oppression.
when i met her, i was actively organizing for the rights of transgender students, putting together panels discussing the discriminatory practice of accepting transmen to my all-womens college, but not transwomen, and to have gender-free bathrooms in our under-construction library. however, dines argues that transgender men and women reinforce gender stereotypes and therefore reinforce patriarchy.
this is all valid an important stuff and i definitely don’t want to diminish it but can we please stop throwing the baby out with the bath water?! Dines has said some incredibly important stuff in her critiques of porn and that stuff doesn’t deserve to be diminished or dismissed because of her being an asshole anymore than her being an asshole doesn’t deserve to be diminished or dismissed because of her having created some excellent analyses. both are equally important. there are a lot of people with shitty stuff going on who also do and create positive things. she does NOT deserve to be excused for being an asshole and absolutely should have her assholery critiqued and called out but that doesn’t mean her valuable analyses can’t be used in positive ways at the same time.
Gail Dines has no analysis. I spoke on a panel with her at Yale University in 2012. Panels are done on the fly and it’s funny how she avoids labor issues as a ‘Marxist Feminist.’ Let’s take the argument that sex work is the domain of the desperate. How does removing a last resort help to empower women? What is being offered as the economic alternative right now? Job training for a minimum wage job is not enough to live on and Dines and her ilk are nowhere to be seen when an ex-sex worker is hounded off their non-adult industry job for having worked it in the past. In the Dines strategy, those who have done sex work are to be cast out as dissents. This is crucial when examining sex work from a class analysis. Attacking porn solely, calling women who work to change the workplace experiences of porn ‘traitors to feminism’ or the ‘pimp lobby’ as she is apt to do to feminist pornographers who point is a chilling silencing tactic. One of the most important words is ‘and’ because there isn’t a single banner we can wave that’s going to lead to liberation. It’s going to be a string of and’s until there’s enough people to topple the bullshit. It’s fascinating the sheer amount of class analysis and prison system abolition theorists and scholars, the best of whom were women of color involved in revolutionary tactics outside the safety of the ivory tower, to come up with the theory that it’s pornography that is causing the greatest harm to women today.
I say this because Dines in particular identifies as a Marxist feminist. To posit pornography as the thing causing the greatest harm to women today is to be out of touch as fuck. For every porn image you’ve ever seen as an American, you probably engaged with this other category composed of every other piece of non-porn media more than you did graphic explicit sex. People IN PORN ITSELF who edit it still consume tons of other media from Disney to action films to advertisements that are everywhere from the side of the road to inside subway cars and on buses and the radio. Not only do I disagree, I think it’s an outright problem to teach students that if you remove pornography or sex work in general from the (legal) equation, that the rights of women will improve. If porn could be outlawed tomorrow, what would happen to the women who are too stigmatized to be more or less allowed to do any other form of labor? Marxism does apply to porn and there is an analysis to be made. She isn’t doing that. She makes a long list of emotional reactions she had to watching porn backed up with statistics that ignore the problem of capitalism as a whole, especially when she’s doing so as a tenured professor.
"But the characters HAVE to be white, it's set in Germany!"
"They could have easily set it somewhere else, if they cared to do so."
"The little mermaid can't be black, you can't have a natural redhead who isn't white!"
"And the story doesn't work if her hair isn't red? Also, I wasn't aware white people COULD have natural fish tails."
"But it's 18th/19th Century France! There wouldn't be any black people then, and if they were, they'd be slaves!"
"Tell that to Alexandre Dumas, both the 18th Century French General and his son, the famed 19th Century French author"
"...If I acknowledge the existence of racism in the things that I enjoy, then I have to confront the possibility that I might sometimes be unconsciously racist, and it's easier for me to pretend racism doesn't exist and blame others for bringing it up than it is for me to unlearn a lifetime's worth of societal conditioning to accept white supremacy as the natural order of things?"