Entertainment & Arts

Comic-Con: Women tired of groping geeks and credibility checks

Guest in cosplay attends Comic-Con International 2015 10 July 2015 Image copyright Getty Images

The Fempire is striking back.

Women who attend comic book conventions, many dressed as their favourite comic characters, are tired of being manhandled as they pose for photographs. And they're sick of having their geek credentials questioned.

Once a world mainly inhabited by so-called "fanboys," nowadays half of Comic-Con's 130,000 attendees are female. And if a woman chooses to dress as her favourite superhero or villain, that can mean some skimpy outfits. It's not just Wonder Woman who fights crime in a tiny bodysuit and stilettos.

"You get a lot of harassment when you're in costume," says Brittany Fonseca, who attended the event dressed as Rogue from X-Men, in a green and yellow bodysuit she sewed herself.

"What are you doing in costume? You're just trying to get attention. You don't know anything about that character. Why are you here? You're not a real geek - get out of here."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPeter Capaldi: "Doctor Who wouldn't have been around for this length of time if it wasn't for its fans".
Image copyright Reuters

Ms Fonseca says she also gets a lot of positive feedback on her costumes, a practice known as "cosplay", and that most people are friendly and ask for photographs with her out of respect for her creativity.

It's common at Comic-Con for male and female cosplayers to be photographed in the crammed halls of the San Diego Convention Centre.

"All of the effort that we put into sewing and dying and painting, walking in the boots and high heels, it's all an expression of how much we love the content and the characters," she says.

"The fact that we still do it even though there's all these, shall we say social obstacles, is really a credit to how much we love the comics and the characters."

Image copyright Reuters

'More costumes changes than Rihanna'

So why do women dress in costumes? Despite the groping tales and irritation at having their geek credibility questioned, women overwhelmingly described the experience as "empowering."

And the serious cosplayers at Comic-Con have more costume changes than Rihanna or Madonna during a concert.

Luna Lanie, 20, dressed as Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn, the bubbly and psychotic Batman super-villain. Throughout the four-day convention, she plans to also dress as Rikku, from the Final Fantasy X-2 video game and also as Katarina, an assassin in her favourite video game League of Legends.

She makes all the costumes herself. As Harley Quinn, armed with a baseball bat, sequined red and blue "booty shorts" and ripped fishnet stockings, she was mobbed by fans asking for photographs.

"I didn't have a lot of friends in high school so I just played video games. It was an escape from reality. So this is what I think Cons are: you become someone else to escape every day life, the grind of 9-to-5 working jobs and school. So it's a fantasy outlet," she said.

Image copyright Reuters

"I love it. But cosplay doesn't equal consent."

That phrase is often tweeted and published on social media groups for cosplayers. But women say the online attention to their cause has not translated into change in the non-virtual world.

While manhandling is not the norm and most fans are respectful, the problem is pervasive enough that the men who grope are widely known as "con-creepers."

Lauren Bregman, a corset maker dressed as Emma Frost "if she were a punk rock anarchist," says she thinks people are used to making lewd comments anonymously online and forget that the characters they see in corsets and bodysuits have real women inside them.

"I've never been grabbed but I had people with selfie sticks taking up-my-skirt pictures at Dragon Con last year," she said. "People get nasty online because there's the anonymity thing and it's reflecting how people behave in real life."

Like most women we spoke to, Ms Bregman did not report the incident.

Image copyright Reuters

Claws out

Con-creepers are certainly not the majority of fans, but plenty of women who attend conventions have at least one creeper story. They say men treat them like they're asking for it because of their costumes. Comic-Con says 130,000 people attended the event in 2014 and that 44% were women.

Women say the disrespect is tied in with the question of nerd credibility. As so-called geek culture becomes more mainstream, it's become common to quiz both men and women about their credentials and boasting is a given.

The late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien, who is broadcasting live from the convention, boasted that he knows more than any fan and even took a "Comic-Con citizenship test" on his show answering questions like: "Wolverine's claws are made of which metal?"

The answer is adamantium. He got it right.

Image copyright Getty Images

A new hope

Nerdist writer Amy Ratcliffe, who is an authority on Star Wars, thinks there has been a pop culture shock for some fans as their sci-fi and fantasy worlds become beloved by a broader audience.

"I think part of it is a little gatekeeping," she said. "There's a little 'should we be protecting our territory?' - and instead of doing that or talking about it they go more towards demeaning women sometimes."

Ms Ratcliffe says women need to get better at standing up for themselves and assert that they don't need to prove their fandom.

"I used to be more shy, but they are micro-aggressions and they add up."

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites