Sexy Cosplay, Nerdlesque and Men’s “Right to Sex”: Time to Move Past the Karate Kid

Crazy days, friends.  The President is an admitted sexual predator.  There are open debates about whether women should be “redistributed” to provide more sex to more women. But at the same time, there are now feminine Star Wars heroes to choose from, and women are finally getting some much needed, much-deserved justice on matters of abuse and assault.

Incel, The Misogynist Ideology that Inspired the Deadly Toronto Attack.” (Vox)

Blizzard Wants its Diverse Fans to Feel ‘Equally Represented’ by Overwatch’s Heroes“- (Polygon)

Nerdlesque and Body Positive Cosplay.” – (The Geek Anthropologist)

The Redistribution of Sex” – (The New York Times)

…..and finally, “Anyone want to cosplay Overwatch Playboy Bunnies with me?” – (one of the cosplay groups I belong to)

I don’t think it’s too much to say that this is a singular moment in U.S. cultural history.

The headlines above describe the edges of a phenomenon in which women increasingly reject Judith Butler’s “law” of society, and stretch out to make choices that push against multiple canons, societal expectations and collective fantasies.

These events and thoughts, these increasingly violent and entrenched positions have recently led me to believe that there is something really important going on in geekdom, something that could show us the way to how we can get through this moment of gender trouble as a nation.

My Two Cents on What’s Going On

I’ll explain. Let me start from an early essay from Cracked, one of the most perceptive pieces that I had read in quite a while. In 2012, I read this article from David Wong: “Five Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.”

In the essay, as it states, Wong lays out how men are 1. Taught that they are owed a hot girl, 2. Are trained to see women as decorative, 3. They think that women conspire with their penises to ruin them, 4. They feel like their manhood (of the 300 kind was stolen, and 5. They feel powerless because of all of the above.

I don’t agree with everything in this piece, but much of it rings very true. It’s the author’s attempt to explain why, even though men hold most, if not all of the economic and political power, “no amount of male domination will ever be enough, why no level of control or privilege or female submission will ever satisfy us. We can put you under a burqa, we can force you out of the workplace — it won’t matter. You’re still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.” This, Wong writes, explains the rage.

It’s a convincing take on the problem described in the headlines above.

Incels apparently believe they are owed a “hot” woman, believe that women have all the power in society and are filled with violent rage at their lack of power.

And when they are thwarted, and cannot treat women as toys, objects or decorations, they snap and start killing them.

This has got to stop.

We have to stop teaching men that there’s only one way to be a man and it involves big muscles, violence, and treating women like trophies.

so, as I often do, I think cosplay, gaming culture and the fandoms have something to teach us about sexuality, gender, identity and the possibilities of what the world COULD look like, if we could break free of a Karate Kid/Donald Trump kind of world view.

Back to Overwatch: What Can Cosplay Teach Us?

Kiogenic, my daughter, plays Overwatch. Her favorite character is Tracer- a strong, short-haired, fierce lesbian who is as sassy as she is brave.  This is the beauty of Overwatch, as noted above, the game was designed by the people who brought us World of Warcraft, men who realized that women appreciated characters who didn’t just walk around in bikinis. Here is one of the creators reflecting on the decsion to create non-sexualized characters for Overwatch:

“”We’ve heard [from] our female employees and … even my daughter tools me out about it,” he said. “We were looking at old Warcraft stuff on YouTube, a cinematic … and my daughter is like, ‘Why are they all in swimsuits?’ And I’m like ‘Ugh, I don’t know, honey.’

So there are LOTS of choices of representation in Overwatch, the cast list is extensive:

There are lots of different choices for women who want to cosplay or play as non-sexualized and strong women.

Which, frankly, is why I was so confused when I saw the call for Playboy Bunny/Overwatch cosplayers on my Facebook thread.  Didn’t, (I thought), the decision to overtly sexualize the Overwatch players completely undercut the idea behind creating them as non-sexual?

What I’ve decided is…. actually, NO.

While we definitely have a lot of work to do in the representation of women (and men) in society to allow for different types of expression, the “Playboy Bunny” Overwatch characters were examples of women’s agency: their ability, through cosplay, to explore whatever sides of their identity they would like to.

Women, and men, in cosplay, can cosplay, crossplay, gender-bend or make up new and sexually adventurous versions of characters to express and explore their own sexualities freely, and in a healthy way that doesn’t resort to hurting others.

I think it’s GREAT that women don’t have to be confined by either the cage of puritanical “purity” OR the “sexualized decorative trophy.”  Again, I don’t know that women have that freedom everywhere, but I increasingly see it in cosplay.

What’s more, I see an open space for men to cosplay, crossplay or do nerdlesque- breaking out of that toxically limited box of Arnold Schartzenegger testosterone and Trumpian disdain for women.

As Geek Anthropologist Emma Louis Backe writes, “nerdlesque pushes back against pernicious sex myths within the geek community.” Nerdlesque, in which both men and women have the opportunity to perform sexy, burlesque-style performances of their cosplays (Femme Kylo Ren as striptease, for example).  Nerdlesque, as the New York Times, took note of above, is about breaking out of the vicious and damaging hetero-normative narrative about men and women that has framed geek culture for too long. This is the “adorkable misogyny” of Big Bang Theory.  The caricature of geeks as poorly socialized straight men eternally mystified by women hazards becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: a modest but vociferous circle of geek men seems to warily view the entrance of smart, beautiful, and strong women into the geek fold.”

This paradigm would insist that strong women are a danger to men’s power and position, and that non-ideal body types are not decorative enough to be accepted. This stereotype of course, is just nearly as damaging for men as it is for women. It also, of course, excludes queer and asexual cosplayers by framing everything within the nasty, sick anger-generating paradigm that teaches men to hate women.

Where Can We Go From Here?

If Wong is right, and our culture teaches men to hate women, we need to create better, healthier cultural models. Some of this is ongoing- in cosplay especially.

it’s no secret I’m a fan of cosplay as a way to build self-esteem, promote respect for others, celebrate creativity and help people grow. What I would like to see entertainment, economic and political leaders learn from the beautiful and brave artistic work of cosplayers.

Sex isn’t inherently bad.

Women can enjoy sex.

Men don’t have to be Spartan warriors.

Women don’t have to be barbie dolls.

Men do not HAVE to be ruled by their sexual drives

Women can be strong and smart

Everyone deserves to be safe and happy, everyone deserves to be respected.

All bodies are beautiful bodies.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.

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3 comments on “Sexy Cosplay, Nerdlesque and Men’s “Right to Sex”: Time to Move Past the Karate Kid

  1. Yes, women do have a right to enjoy sex and, no, sex is not bad. But presenting oneself as q Playboy bunny does nothing to empower us. If “empowerment” is understood to simply be whatever makes an individual person feel good, the term is meaningless. The Bunny is itself a highly patriarchal creation; a docile, passive, sexual servant. And it’s no secret that Hugh Heffner liked to keep a collection of them around as trophies, strictly controlled in his mansion. That’s truly the tragic state of modern feminism. On the one hand, it’s become so individualistic and lacking in coherent analysis of power structures that individual “choices” can be contextualized and rebranded as expressions of “agency”. On the other hand, we’ve been selling each other on the lie that male dominance is equally harmful to males- as though those who sit comfortably at the top of a hierarchy are just as deserving of sympathy as those they exploit. This is merely an expression of our socialization into femininty: we’re taught to think of ourselves last, to nurture and empathize. It’s like any relationship characterized by abuse. Sure, the abuser misses out on the chance to have a truly intimate, mutual relationship. But let’s not kid ourselves that he’s just as harmed as those he abuses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree on much of what you’ve said here- but I suppose that part of what I wrestle with is what the empowering sexuality would look like (if it does not take the form of culturally accepted and patriarchal forms). If we are all so deeply enculturated to accept specific imagery as “sexy”, and those images are necessarily products of the male gaze, how do we create appearances that present alternative and yet still healthy, sexualities? I don’t have the answer to this, but because I struggle, I suppose I have more sympathy for young women trying to figure it out for themselves.

    Like

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