The Cosplay Feminist

December 2011 archive

Cosplay is fine, girl, as long as you cosplay for me.

This post addresses the trend I discussed in my post on “geek girls” and the problem of self-objectification. That post is also available (and expanded) at Geek Feminism.

This post is cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

My friend Lola showed me this video from CollegeHumor (lyrics are available at the website, just scroll down and click the “LYRICS” tab), a parody called “Cosplay with my Heart”:

In the first part of the video, the male white singer revels in his girlfriend’s cosplay, because she dresses as Leia from Star Wars, presumably something he’s a fan of. Having a real life Leia is a fantasy for him:

Oh her dress, her dress
It’s so true to film I can’t believe it
Her buns, her buns
How’d she get them both so even?
She’s so accurate
Though I prefer when she does slave

Yeah
I’ll go as Solo
When we walk the con floor
People don’t believe it
And I know these photos
When you search for her
Will be the first ones you see

The line “I prefer when she does slave [Leia]” makes it clear that the singer prefers his girlfriend in the “sexy” versions of cosplay, and he enjoys her cosplaying because it puts his girlfriend’s conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled body on display for his consumption. The “her buns, her buns” line also contributes to this interpretation; the video shows first her butt, then her hair done in Princess Leia buns. The implication of this little entendre is that, while the singer is supposedly talking about the technical aspects of her costume (her hair and its evenness), he is actually just staring at her ass, and enjoying her body. And, there’s nothing wrong with a man enjoying his partner’s body. But this particular man is enjoying only her body. He parrots talk about authenticity and craftmanship because that’s what he thinks she wants to hear (after all, she really likes cosplaying!) but every time he does that, he follows it up with some reference to her sex-object status, like “She’s so accurate/ Though I prefer when she does slave.”

What the singer finds exciting about his girlfriend cosplaying is not that she has fun, or that they share a geeky passion, but that she dresses in sexy costumes from geeky franchises he likes. While he pretends to care about authenticity, he is seems more concerned with the fact that her photos will show up on the internet and that people will envy him when they walk the convention floor. He’s enthusiastic about her hobby because of the benefits he gets: a sexy object-girlfriend and envy from other geek men for obtaining said object-girlfriend.

In the video, as her cosplaying moves further and further from this ideal—she dresses as a fantasy for him—he gets more and more freaked out by it. The first unambiguous “she’s a little crazy” reaction from him comes during the lines

Oh you know, you know, you know
I’m really into the scene
But she is REALLY into it
You know what I mean
But hey don’t get me wrong you know I really can’t complain
She likes anime

His discomfort escalates from here. Her next costume is Viking-esque (I don’t recognize the character), with a gold breastplate covering her breasts and torso, and a big-ass axe. He grimaces when she comes out, and again when she playfully and slowly swings the axe toward him. The next costume she puts on is a full-body mouse suit, and while he never says “furry,” it’s implied:

Whoa
Okay you’ve crossed the line
This may be your thing but it’s not mine
Cause girl you are crazy
You’ve taken it too far
Thought there was no such thing
As a girl who’s too nerdy
But now I’ve met her
And she cosplays and LARPs

The jokes about LARPing and furries are, I think, shorthand here. This video is only partly about a geek finding out that his girlfriend is more geeky than him, and more about how gross it is when your girlfriend starts acting like an actual, fully-developed geek, a person who decides what she likes without referencing your desires first, and explores those interests because she’s a person and that’s what people do.

Once we move past the HAHA FURRIES AND LARPERS ARE WEIRD aspect of this video, it’s disturbing. Because he could have stopped at LARPing, and it would have kept its humor, but the writers of this song thought it necessary to include a fursuit. And what’s important about that, I think, is that furry fandom is often portrayed as a sexual subculture, as about sexual desires. The video begins with the singer talking about his sexual desires, fulfilled by his sexy cosplaying girlfriend. And it ends with her supposed sexual desires, which are framed as “crazy” and “tak[ing] too far.” When he says “this may be your thing but it’s not mine,” it wouldn’t make any sense if he was just talking about LARPing (unless he’s a total asshole who thinks his girlfriend should only do things he enjoys), but it makes more sense if he’s talking about being furry in a culture that assumes monogamy and also often believes male sexual desires should determine a couple’s sexual activity.

Think about what this video is saying. Cosplaying is fun and cool if you dress as a “sexy” character of a geek franchise I like. Yay slave Leia! All the other boys will be jealous! But as soon as the girlfriend makes it clear that this is her thing, not his, and a passion she has, maybe even a kinky one, and one that she would like to share with him, she’s crazy. She’s too nerdy, and taking it too far. The line of excess here isn’t even drawn at getting sexual pleasure from cosplay, because he does that very thing in the beginning of the song. The line of excess (too nerdy) is drawn where the woman cosplaying gets any pleasure from cosplaying (and role-playing) that is outside of what he likes. And her getting sexual pleasure from it is, well, “crazy.”

This is pretty damn offensive to geek women, even if they aren’t cosplayers or “really into the scene.” The humor of this song relies on the assumption that geek women should express their geekiness by positioning themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption. And that assumption is a big fucking problem, and not at all funny.

(Do not go down in the comments to tell me how LARPers or furries are weird or gross or whatever. It will not get published because I don’t care. People should do what makes them happy, and feminists should not make it their job to police other people’s kink.)