I'm sure there are a lot of you who are chomping at the bit to hear my analysis of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (my ego would certainly like to think so). As tends to happen, though, I encountered something during the week that I thought more urgently deserved my attention. Hopefully next week I'll be able to return to my regularly-scheduled anime subject matter.
I follow quite a few feminist resources on twitter, many of them gaming-related blogs. Unfortunately, anime is still so niche that there really aren't many websites or blogs dedicated specifically to the roles of women in anime (at least that I know of; if you've got a link, feel free to leave it in the comments section and I'll be sure to check it out!), so I get my fill of geek-centric feminist commentary by reading about video games. One of those blogs is the strikingly-named Fat, Ugly or Slutty, which details the type of harassment that women receive while frequenting gaming communities. Yesterday, the blog's twitter account linked to a post on the CNN Geek-Out Blog, in which writer Joe Peacock laments what he sees as the "scourge" of non-geeky women using their sex appeal to take advantage of real, bona-fide male geeks.
Let's back this train up for a second.
In my reaction post to the ANNCast episode in which the participants discussed sexism in the anime community, I criticized the panel for slut-shaming cosplayers who dress in sexy costumes and labeling them attention-whores. Unfortunately it's still a widely-held belief that people (primarily women) who express their fandom through costuming and happen to wear a particular kind of costume need to have the legitimacy of their fandom questioned. In the CNN article, Peacock writes about women who he labels "posers" and defines as those who participate in geek culture simply because they aren't getting enough attention elsewhere. His definition paints these women as predators, using their feminine wiles and sexy geek-centric costumes to trick innocent, sex-starved geeky men into giving them the time of day. He makes a point of noting that he doesn't think that all attractive women who call themselves geeks are out to take advantage of men, and even proclaims that he has several attractive, female geeky friends.
I'm guessing that he considers this singular concession to his female friends permission enough to make broad generalizations about entire groups of women throughout the rest of his article.
"It's okay to make generalizations about this marginalized group, because I'm friends with someone from that group and they said they didn't care."
What bothers me about the CNN article is that Peacock is essentially demanding that the women of whom he speaks defend the legitimacy of their fandom, as if he is some sort of gatekeeper to the realm of what constitutes true geekdom. He makes several assumptions about women who choose to dress in a sexy manner, or women who are paid to stand at booths during major industry conventions. Let me explain something. There are women who choose to wear sexy costumes for a multitude of reasons. Some are fans of characters who wear sexy costumes. Some are confident about their bodies and want to wear costumes that emphasize that. Some enjoy the challenge of creating a fitted costume and using the types of materials that tend to be more body-hugging (and more difficult to work with). Some simply see a character and think, "wow, that's a great costume that I want to wear!" And you know what? These and other ways are all legitimate methods of participating in fandom.
Let me explain something else. So-called "booth babes" are models who are hired by companies to look pretty and entice passers-by into checking out the product on display. To ascribe some motive to these women beyond "receiving a paycheck for doing the agreed-upon job" is incredibly presumptuous on the author's part. In the article, he complains repeatedly about the prevalence of booth-babes, "models-cum-geeks," and even the FragDolls (an all-woman professional gamer squad), calling them "poachers" of geek culture. Why he chooses to pick on the FragDolls (a group which has not only competed-in but won several gaming tournaments and participates in advocacy for more female presence in the gaming industry) in particular is a mystery to me, besides the fact that they are attractive women, which obviously makes their motives suspect following his line of logic (barf), but in the case of the other groups and individuals he references, I find it especially insulting that Peacock would appear to place the bulk of the blame at the feet of these women, when in reality it's the companies who choose to hawk their wares in a manner that objectifies women and presumes a mostly-male presence at these industry events. If he finds the practice of hiring attractive women to sell goods so abhorrent, the correct course of action would be to speak directly with the companies who continue the practice (and in doing so making sexist assumptions about the audience for their products), rather than criticizing the hired models for not being experts on said products. Speak out against the generalization of geek audiences instead of making generalizations of women in the geek community, Mr. Peacock.
Peacock brings up "Fat, Ugly or Slutty" in his piece, and decries the violent sexual imagery that shows up in many of the posts at that blog (while at the same time threatening violence towards the perpetrators; that's not how you do it, bro). The unfortunate truth is that many of the statements he makes throughout the article actually contribute to the environment of violence and non-consensual activity that plagues women who choose to wear sexy costumes at conventions. The way he speaks about these women, reducing them to numerical scores based on his own scale of how he perceives their attractiveness and speaking about them in other ways that call their motives into question, dehumanizes them and turns them into cartoonish abstractions - the less his audience thinks of these particular women as human beings deserving of respect or equals within the culture, the easier it is for them to rationalize the frankly rampant victimization that occurs when they dress in sexy costumes at conventions (see the above image for an example of the type of action that's being taken to keep cosplayers safe from this harassment). It's the same line of logic that blames rape victims for being raped while dressed a certain way.
You know what? I will criticize anime I don't like until the cows come home. I dislike fanservice and it irritates me that female nudity and the sexual exploitation of women is such a large part of an entertainment medium that I otherwise enjoy. But to translate my criticisms of those series into a judgment of a person dressed as a character from Queen's Blade or Ikki Tousen would be completely out-of-line, no matter what their motives for doing so might be. On a similar note, it would be disingenuous to criticize a model for doing her job, whether that involves walking down the runway in a fashion show or manning a booth at E3. What Joe Peacock needs to learn is that he cannot in one breath blame a group of women for "preying" on men's sexual urges while in another acting as an apologist for the so-called "unavoidable" expression of those same urges (and don't get me started about that sad, old, tired stereotype that men are unable to practice sexual self-control in the presence of a beautiful woman. Grow the hell up). He does not get to pass judgment on the motives of women who dress in a sexy way or otherwise dehumanize them just because he does not consider their expression of fandom to be legitimate. It's unfortunate for him that he feels threatened by the women he describes, but that does not give him license to criticize them for not falling within his definition for what an "acceptable" female geek should be.
Despite how utterly off-the-mark Peacock is regarding the tone and construction of his piece, I imagine that, in his mind, he was trying to do a service to the geek community that he truly loves. It's very telling, though, that his criticisms are so completely focused on the sexuality of women as it relates to male fans. To this day there seems to be a fearfulness surrounding the expression of genuine sexuality and sexual agency by women; booth-babes aside (since they truly are hired to cater to a male audience), the fact that Peacock insinuates that these outward acts of sexuality are performed by attention-seeking cosplayers solely to solicit attention from male fans is sadly, but unsurprisingly, a very male-centric view of the fandom world. Speaking only for myself, sometimes I feel like dressing in a sexy way because it makes me feel confident and in-control of myself. I can only hope that some element of the backlash to this his article will get the author to re-asses some of his prejudiced conclusions about the groups upon which he's decided to pass judgment.
Next week, I promise more Panty and Stocking goodness. For now, though, I think I'm going to go play some video games.