My lady Michele and I attended the 2015 New York Comic Con on Friday. We started the day peering through a cloud of exhaustion. The night before, we were working until the wee hours on both of our cosplay costumes: she was Bruce Lee from Game of Death (Not the Bride, ok!) and I was Kuma / Jinno, from the animated series Afro Samurai. I made her nunchaku, she made the rest of her outfit and my Kuma head. Michele is a costume and fashion designer, a talented artist, and a geek, among many other wonderful things. I was brimming with a child-like enthusiasm for people to see how well these outfits were put together on such short notice. And it would be a great time to promote Michele’s freelance skill.
Most people at the Con were primarily concerned with her butt, though -and her boobs. I know, because I heard them.
Wearing the enormous bear head I was privy to a strange sonic phenomena. The farther noises of the Javitz Center were filtered away through the felt fabric. The nearer noises sounded like they were reverberating in another nearby room, through a thin wall. Stripped of the cacophonous webbing that obscured the conversation around me when I wasn’t wearing it, I got to hear much of what everyone else couldn’t.
I heard a lot of fucked up stuff.
Now, we know at these kinds of events, both men and women are going to be wearing some fantastic things. Many of these outfits will be revealing, and yes, some will be intentionally sexy and provocative. But Michele was wearing a Bruce Lee cosplay outfit. Her intention was to pay respect to her favorite icon. Now that her hair is short, she could pull it off without wearing a terrible wig. Even her sneakers were legit. This meticulous level of detail, however, went almost entirely unnoticed.
I heard every comment, whether spoken to the offender’s friends or to no one in particular -within Michele’s earshot or not. From “God damn, Bruce Lee”, to “I’d fuck the hell out of her” to “Yo, did you see that bitch??” So, the outfit didn’t matter at all in the way she had intended it to. It mattered only in the sense that it was a catalyst for depersonalization. A way to ignore the level of design completely, and the costume itself, and instead focus on the shapes beneath it. Full, unfettered, free-range objectification. This particular arena is one in which the objectification of women has become woven into the DNA of the culture itself. It’s not only acceptable practice -it’s the norm. The costume wasn’t a barrier between the assault of words and eyes, it wasn’t padding or protection, and it wasn’t an excuse for the behavior. She could have been wearing a Cammy outfit from Street Fighter, or a Slave Leia gettup and the result would have been the same. The novelty of a woman in a male dominated setting is still, as it has always been, and may be for a very long time, a trigger for some very primitive shit.
While Michele was on line for the bathroom, I was standing nearby with my Kuma head by my feet. My neck was tired from holding it up for hours. We were far enough away for me to hear a janitor (who had only a moment ago clumsily tried to spark a conversation with our Mrs. Bruce Lee) say, “Damn, Bruce Lee is looking GOOD” to a confidant at a nearby concession stand.
I’m used to stuff like this, and so is Michele. I shrug it off, every time. But then he continued, leaning in closer to his friend,
“Ey, do me a favor. Take your phone, go near her and take some pictures of her if you can. Then send them to my phone.”
He then grabbed his little trash cart and preceded to finish his rounds, the covert assignment passed off to his friend who would have about ten minutes of visual access to Michele and a camera with HD quality and a silent shutter.
Of course, Kuma wasn’t OK with THAT.
I stepped around the concession stand and leaned toward the stocky, middle-aged janitor and said, “Hey, I don’t think you should do that.”
“Why not?” he replied, incredulously, as if I suggested that he shouldn’t do something absolutely fundamental to us all. Like breathe.
“Because, that’s my lady,” I replied calmly. In my mind I strangled him to death and I threw his body into the sun.
“SO?!” he replied defensively. “It’s just a picture. You can get in it to if you want to, c’mon, we’ll all take a picture together.”
“You weren’t planning on asking her. You were going to have your friend take the pictures of her secretly, and send them to your phone.”
After what could have escalated into a physical confrontation with a man who was both willing to take sneaky pictures of women and also fistfight during work hours – versus a guy in a giant bear head, no less – Michele, calm as a leaf on a summer day, separated us with a clever word or two, vanquished the offending brute with a flick of her hand wielding a pair of faux nunchaku, and kissed me on the cheek. She even thanked me for defending her honor, which is adorably old school. I’m in no way a man of machismo. I just imagine that every woman is someone’s daughter. It’s a simple idea, a platitude even: Would you want your daughter to be treated in any way you have treated a woman?
“I wish you could understand what my life is like.” She said later on. “Imagine if everywhere you went, everything you did – to go get coffee, pick up your laundry – there was someone there ready to find a way to fuck you. I couldn’t even come to this thing by myself. If you weren’t here, this would have been torment. And I would have went home eventually because it would have been crazy.”
That made me very sad. Michele spends a lot of her time planning her day around how to avoid the constant harassment she receives. She is a person with many interests and tremendous talents. The New York Comic Con is a place that houses many of our common interests. Comics, films, martial arts, video games, fashion, fun, free stuff, and best of all, a chance to share it with like-minded people.
From the awkward fanboys who skipped over the masterpiece of the Kuma head Michele made for a picture with Michele herself, to add to their collection of #sexycosplay submissions to IG and TUMBLR, to the washed up male celebrities in their booths trying to squeeze the last drips of their star power into a potion, to the guy who cleans up the carpeted floors of the Javits Center, it is clear that men have still not fully embraced the now seemingly overstated tenants of feminism. Some of its ideas have already become memes and jokes. Many of the fiercest fighters for women, and male sympathizers are scoffed at for being over dramatic, or even counterproductive.
Whenever I roll my eyes internally at extreme and, at times, obnoxious forms of hyper-aggressive feminism, I will remember what I heard through the Kuma head – and what I heard was that we still need that. We need a counterbalance to the pervasive misogyny that not only remains from the ancient days, but thrives in many modern communities—from my own cultural background all the way to the 2015 New York Comic Con.
We need it until it’s not a thing anymore. Every woman is someone’s daughter.
Be a gentleman. Be a gentleman. Be a GENTLE MAN. Remind yourself.
“As you think, so shall you become.” – Bruce Lee
by Moth Cruz