I spent last weekend in Seattle as an attendee of Emerald City Comicon, and honestly, I’m still coming down from the whole experience. It was awesome. While it was my third time attending ECCC, it this was my first time cosplaying. It was my first time cosplaying EVER. I had no idea what to expect, but I could not have asked for a better con to dip my toe in the cosplay pool than this convention. ECCCs inaugural event was in 2003, and has since grown to be the third largest comic convention in the United States. While the con has been lauded for its comics and creator focus, that’s not the only thing that makes ECCC wonderful to attend. Let’s talk about ECCC’s zero tolerance anti-harassment policy.
On the first day of the con, I walked to the Washington State Convention Center in the rain; a young couple cosplaying as Marshall Lee and Fionna of Adventure Time emerged from a side street, making their way up Pike just ahead of us. I smiled. Nothing signals an impending comic con like cosplayers out on the street. A few blocks from the Convention Center, one of the stoplights changed, and we all waited, albeit impatiently, at the street corner. As we waited, a man on the street began talking to Fionna. When she didn’t respond, he started screaming. “Girl you look good” almost immediately escalated to “YOU’RE ASKING FOR IT GIRL.” The light changed. Unnerved, we hurriedly made our way across the street. Now, this man wasn’t a con-goer. This was not something that happened at ECCC. But con harassment is inextricably linked to sexual and public harassment at large.
Con harassment is by no means an isolated incident. It is a behavior that is incubated in, and largely condoned by our culture. While comic conventions are intended to be safe spaces for people to express themselves, this is not always the case, in particular for women, and even more so for women cosplayers. That said, ECCC did a smashing job of creating a safe space for its attendees, with concerted efforts dedicated to cosplayer safety. Con management communicated their anti-harassment policy long before the convention halls opened and posted the following on their Facebook page at the beginning of March:
“Emerald City Comicon’s mission is to create a safe, awesome environment where geeks of all kinds can come together. We have a zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind.”
If leadership talks, others keep talking. And not just on the internet. An article on the con in Seattle Weekly, published prior to the onslaught of ECCC, featured multiple paragraphs devoted to cosplay and cosplay etiquette. At the con itself, this message was one of the strongest. The anti-harassment policy was on the first page of the program, front and center. The zero tolerance policy was advertised in signage plastered on the walls of every convention hall. When a con-goer started behavingly inappropriately, staff identified them on Twitter and held them accountable.
There is a male #ECCC attendee dressed as Chell (white tanktop orange jumpsuit) taking inappropriate photos. Plz let us know if you see him
— Emerald City Comic Con (@emeraldcitycon) March 29, 2014
It was clear that ECCC was serious about con harassment, and had developed strategies to effectively address it. ECCC felt safe.
On the second day of the con, I cosplayed. I was April O’Neil (from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle series, of course). While my costume wasn’t particularly sexy, I was cosplaying a character that has been, and still is, highly sexualized, so I was unsure of what to expect. My experience was nothing but positive. The other attendees were respectful, and often incredibly sweet. When people wanted to take a photo, they asked politely. People smiled at me. Everything that came out of other attendees’ mouths was kind and complimentary. From what I observed, the same courtesy was extended to other cosplayers.
On the last day of the con, I watched as the embodiment of the socially awkward geek guy politely asked a Power Girl cosplayer to take a photo with him. “Would Power Girl be ever so kind as to allow me to take a photo with her, please?” It may have taken time to get to his point, but he did ask, and the cosplayer consented. Would this interaction have been the same if not for ECCCs anti-harassment policy? I hope so, but I know that the policy set the tone for what was expected of attendees. Everyone was expected to be respectful, regardless of what someone was wearing.
ECCC staff and management did an exemplary job, and anyone in the business of con management would do to follow their model. Include your anti-harassment policy in your marketing and communication plan. Make your anti-harassment policy visible, online, in print, and in the physical space of the con. Follow through with your anti-harassment policy, by being available and responsive during the convention. Do your best to make your convention safe for all its attendees; that’s all we ask.