Gender MashUp at Anime Conventions

smash 2!!!By Demon Ted

Wanna see a gender-bending mashup? The world turned round? Or at least halfway around? Then check out an Anime Convention.

Anime is Japanese cartooning — a stylized way of drawing that appeals to every gender. At the conventions fans dress as their favorite characters. It’s called “cosplay” from costume + play.

The conventions are remarkably egalitarian, and possibly tilting toward matriarchy.

Yes, there are plenty of scantily clad females, but there are also scantily clad males, and they often switch gender roles.

Anyone can wear a costume of either sex. A friend I’ll call Anne is a huge cosplayer. She usually plays males. Some ask if she portrays male characters because she’s ugly or boyish or gay (so yeah, some backward gender notions can still be in play here), but they’re simply the characters she most relates to. Nobody remotely questions this and she’s known as one of the best cosplayers.

Many women who attend these cons are also fans of Yaoi. Yaoi is homosexual anime comics called manga. They feature strong yet feminine men who have sexual relationships with other men. There’s actually a surprisingly small amount of girl-on-girl content.

While the anime subculture is one of the most accepting places you’ll find, we face prejudice from religious groups. Every year protestors plague our conventions, preaching that we’re a dangerous group of sinners.

Maybe that’s not so surprising. These folks are prude and patriarchal and here we are doing sexy gender-bending, and welcoming the LBGT community.

In another gender-bend, females have more leeway in what’s considered an attractive body type. Men’s standards are more narrowly drawn: lithe, thin, tall, and preferably feminine.

I personally meet this standard and have been subjected to all types of sexual harassment.

Women have run up and jumped on me (a tactic normally called “glomping,” it’s a very physical hug). With a rule change, permission must now be given before attempting a glomp.

Girls have grabbed my junk, slapped my butt, catcalled me with a demand to “shake that booty,” and made sexualized comments. When one woman stared at me with incredibly intense eyes to the point that I felt uncomfortable, a female friend called it “eye rape.”

A girl once came up to take my picture (which is fairly normal) and then told me “I think you’re totally rape-able.” When I saw her later she shouted, “Hey it’s you, the totally rape-able guy.” This was the only time I honestly felt a bit unsafe. It gave me a sense of what women can feel in the real world.

There’s also the Fanimaid Café. A few years back a Butler Café was created to compliment it, but that met a quick demise because female customers got so out of hand harassing the guys.

wonderllandsmallLike I said, the conferences are a world turned around – not perfect. And it’s unfortunate that instead of dwindling away, sexual harassment has become an “equal-opportunity” threat. And so much so that a movement has risen up, with people holding signs that say, “Cosplay ≠ Consent.”

Still, women may dress however they wish, even “slutty,” without being called a slut. No one condemns a revealing costume, and if it’s well done, it’s revered for being close to the original. For the most part, men do flock to sexy women, whom they mostly revere from an intimidated distance.

My girlfriend once wore a revealing costume — a monk, who in game is very strong. Comments consisted of, “awesome” or “badass” or “Jesus, she looks like she could kick our asses.” But when we walked outside men who were obviously NOT con-goers shouted obscenities or told me, “Better protect that piece of ass ‘fore I tear it up.”

While the conventions switch things up quite a bit gender-wise, they are not matriarchal. But they are by no means patriarchal either.

Oddly, I find the conventions refreshing. Here males, females and transgendered folk meet on an even cosplaying field, and the only negative judgment comes from not wearing a costume well.

Demon Ted wrote this while he was a student of mine and gave me permission to post it.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 2, 2014, in feminism, gender, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Yeah I think folks who are really into anime and cosplay in general (generalisation I know) probably tend to be on the more open side with regards to gender norms and sexuality, although no matter how liberal you are you’re going to have some sub-conscious biases growing up in this society. I guess some of these women assume that men always want female attention, or else it’s all a bit of fun, but yes, it does seem a bit inappropriate.

  2. This post made me really excited. Through the years I’ve gotten more and more interested in anime and manga, even to the point of considering myself a bit of an otaku. I’ve never been to a convention, but I follow a self-proclaimed “geek blog” that highlights some of the bigger conventions and I have a couple of friends who cosplay. I’m always excited to see people gender-swapping characters. They are often very creative, sometimes even thought-provoking, versions. If only society/the world was more open to a wider spectrum of self-expression and gender identity.

    I was kind of sheltered growing up, living in a relatively small, more traditional community. Thankfully, as I’ve grown I have been exposed to people with different ideas and identities who have helped me to understand and embrace the uniqueness and individuality of others. I credit a good deal of this to the “blogosphere,” including your wonderful blog, other forms of social media, and equality and awareness-driven groups. I feel blessed to go to a college that has an active LGBTQ and LGBTQ ally club and an anime club. I’ve always considered myself to be an open-minded person, but only until these past few years have I truly come to realize the overwhelming need for change. As a cisgender Christian female, I may not be able to share a ground-breaking story, but I hope that I can at least bring some attention to the issue and open up some minds and hearts.

    I apologize for such a long comment; this post/topic really spoke to me.

    PS: The Mary Sue is a great website for girls and women who are interested in “geeky” pop-culture. Also, princess batman is a great gender-bending cosplay that I think Demon Ted might like, if he hasn’t seen it already.

  3. I’m just curious, why were my comments removed? While I can see why the examples of mainstream titles that contain questionable content might have been excessive, there was nothing offensive whatsoever about my other posts.

  4. I go to a four day Anime convention every year, and much of this is very true. Walking into an anime convention is like stepping into a completely different world, which isn’t necessarily all that great. But one thing I love about these conventions is that many people dress up in extremely revealing clothing and I’ve never seen anyone be shamed for that, both men and women (I’m sure it does happen every once in a while, but I’ve yet to witness any). I’ve also seen the protests that go on outside these conventions, and one year there was a person that actually cosplayed as Jesus and went out to talk to them.

    I do think, however, that there is an extreme amount of fetishization of gay men, or in this case, Yaoi. I have a few female friends that are very into Yaoi, and the amount of fetishization that happens to gay men is very unnerving to me. There’s even an entire section at these conventions dedicated to Yaoi. I feel like there’s a bit of a double standard here because I do think there’s actually a good amount of men that are into watching female homosexual relationships in anime, but it’s just hidden because it’s looked down upon. Men fetishizing lesbian women? Unacceptable! Women fetishizing gay men? That’s fine!

    • Like Ted said, it’s a world turned around, Not a perfect world.

      You use the word fetishized. I’m wondering if the women actually get aroused looking at them. Or if it’s more about seeing yourself as superior as you see men as being all about sex.

      • For most of my female friends, it’s definitely arousal from it. I play games online with a lot of my cosplay family, and since I’m mostly the only male (I’m outnumbered by females about 4-1 when it comes to cosplay in my group of friends), and much of the conversation often gets dominated with them discussing their favorite guys, the relationships that they dream about (called shipping), which is almost exclusively guy/guy pairings. All of the pairings do carry some “gender stereotypes”, in the sense one male is always the strong, masculine type, who cares for the smaller, slender, feminine pretty boy type.

        I do admit I’ve never asked them why they only seem to be obsessed with the male/male relationship, they just have a very high probability of flat out tossing the female character out the window.

  5. It is very interesting to see how the swap of gender roles does not bring lots of critics from this specific Japanese events, cosplay. Being raised in South East Asia, I experienced how influential Japanese games are, especially the online games and console games. Almost all children are playing Japanese games and they see the character from the games as their role model and heroes, which maybe explains how the cosplay events develop. The cosplay, however, does not receive positive feedback from most people, at least in the neighborhood where I raised. They are consider “geek” or “freak”. Which I personally do not believe in. One thing that I have observed and amazed me is more females dress up as male characters and the females receive less critics compared to the other way around. Whenever my male friend put his costume as a female character on my other friend would tease and insult him intensely. I do not know why this would happen but I definitely sense a strong sexism.

  6. Cosplaying has always been a mixed view towards men and women dressing up as their favorite characters. I don’t really think conventions as a way to see a matriarchy society like you said in the article due to the fact that some women are still mistreated in events such as these. I’m not saying that this happens all the time, but there are definitely times where the female cosplayers are harassed due to their costumes.

    I don’t want to sound negative with this, but I want to bring out a different perspective on this matter, women are not always respected in this type of environment. There have been plenty of times where “die hard fans” harass women because of their appearance. Some fans have gone to the length of questioning whether these cosplaying women are even fans of the series that their character is in. There were times where many men questioned women if they were attention whores due to the revealing costumes that women would wear.

    Don’t get me wrong on this, this community with cosplaying is great since many people are open to the gender bending costumes that many people attempt, but this community isn’t perfect just like every other community. There have been times where women were ridiculed for the type of costume that they chose to wear.

    • I find this very interesting. It reminds me of the friction (and sometimes downright antagonism) between various transgender groups. Those who have hormones and surgery, for example, may look down their noses at their part-time counterparts (like me for instance) and sneer that we are not “committed” enough. Meanwhile those who want to look as feminine as possible (like me) may look down their noses in turn at people who don’t (wearing, for example, a skirt and heels but without makeup or wig). These are only generalisations, and examples, but I never fail to be disappointed by it.

      It’s as if some people are blind to the obvious similarities between us, and want to focus instead on the differences. In the wider world, I can also think of religious groups who define themselves as wholly different because of some arbitrary but minor standpoint.

      One the one hand it’s laughable: are you seriously saying you are angry with me because my cartoon-character costume is not as perfect as yours? On the other, it points to some deep-seated tendencies for humans to magnify tiny differences, in the name of– what exactly?


    • Oh yeah, there are times when both genders are harassed, and I mostly assume you are correct, that it’s females who gets the majority, but it may also be a case of men just not reporting it. I’ve never reported any of the sexual abuse I’ve received at cons, and I don’t think I mentioned it in the paper, but I’ve had one male friend actually roofied and raped, (by females), he did not report it.

      And I would like to point out the hypocrisy of the “die hard fans” that you mention.

      This was one of my favorite things to pop up, George Takei posted it as well on facebook. A female did a cosplay, of a decently obscure character, (if you’re a fan of batman you may recognize her, but only if you read the comics) and a “die hard fan” wrote text on the picture and tried to seem superior. It backfired horribly.

      Unfortunately though, for females in this community, the majority of costumes available to them, are almost always revealing, or skimpy in some way or another, it’s getting better as time goes on, (some of the new costumes for female characters are less tit-centric, and more actually practical) and females are finally having their voices heard, but it’s definitely not where I eventually hope it can be. It rests on mine and other male’s in the communities shoulders to push for the equality, because I am constantly outclassed by my female friends in cosplay, and they all deserve that credit, as they make all their costumes themselves.

  7. Caroline Tran

    I’ve never cosplayed at a convention before, but I kind of want to one day with my sister. The only problem is, is that it takes a ton of work making a good costume, but I think it’s pretty worth it since the attention is mostly positive. I’ve been to Fanime with my sister and her friends who were cosplaying and sometimes we’d get stopped by congoers to get a picture. They asked politely and seemed really happy, and it was fun getting to take pictures of other cosplayers too!

    Sometimes, I do see religious groups protesting outside, it’s pretty funny when someone dressed as Jesus is leading his hate group with signs, but I usually ignore them since they’re so small compared to everyone else. One of the bad things about the cosplay community is that sometimes the criticism can be really harsh or racists toward white or overweight cosplayers. There seems to be preference towards asian girl cosplayers whether they cosplay as male or female characters because they look good as them. I think cosplay can be a little less open then say, wearing a costume at a Halloween party since people will take the race of the anime character into account. It’s kind of weird feeling like seeing a black santa, it’s acceptable, but you can’t help but feel something is off. Of course not all cosplayers are prejudice, there are probably as many people that hate on fat cosplayers as there are people who think its okay for anyone to cosplay, and think that the hate is wrong. In the end, it all boils down to human nature I suppose.

    • The jesus guy with the hate groups, is actually a con-goer, he rallies against them actually. He’s also come as raptor jesus as well, he is not part of the hate groups. One year he walked around in front of them apologizing to everyone they were yelling at, holding up a sign that said “They’re lying, I’m not with them.”

      And yes, it really depends on your group of cosplay family that you find yourself in. My particular cosfam is made up of the people with the mindset that anyone can cosplay anything they want. We all personally, will only cosplay people who we fit, (our criteria is we like the character, we decently look like the character, and the costume looks like something we either don’t mind putting up with (IE my cheshire cat from pandora hearts with giant claws that make it so I can’t use my normal hands), or that is comfortable (A uniform outfit or simple suit with wig)).

      But you are correct, I have definitely overheard comments people have made privately to friends at cons about other people’s costumes because they’re overweight, or the wrong skin color, but people like that don’t really get much choice. My friend is black and is always pissed off that he has nobody he can really portray, since there’s so few black people in animes, and the ones who ARE, tend to be stereotypically huge muscle men. And let’s face it, overweight people? Good luck unless you’re a guy.

      The bottom line is, in my personal opinion, cons are for fun, if you’re enjoying yourself, awesome, if you like your costume, great. If you have people giving you shit because of some inaccuracy then fuck those people, they’re a bad mark and most people in my cosplay community, would probably reprimand them. Cosplaying is an art, and nobody is perfect.

  8. Very interesting article. It touches on a theme of mine, which is that young people have more outlets to explore gender expression than they used to. From one point of view, they are doing exactly what I do (young men dress as young women– and vice versa of course). But from another point of view, they might see it as something completely different, and might wish to distance themselves from any notion that cosplay and crossdressing have anything in common with each other whatever.

    I also wrote a post on my blog which touches on a similar theme, which is that people can enjoy stepping outside their daily lives, to adopt (even for a short while) the persona of someone else. This can be fun, liberating, creative and exciting, and need not involve crossdressing. You can read it here:


  9. I think it’s interesting people to see beyond gender boundaries and embrace whatever anime character they would like to embrace based on their connectivity to a character’s attributes. I, myself, have been to a few anime convergences and conference and have also traveled to Japan to check out popular culture. While there, I had the opportunity to go to the heart of cosplay as well as attend Design Festa which is a huge art fair geared toward creatives and there are many cosplayers that attend, sell DIY anime products, and/or perform there as well. From what I saw there and at various anime convergences that i’ve been to, I think that “outsiders” put much more emphasis on gender boundaries than they do. Also, I never felt like men were going to try or even attempt to sexually harass and many of my female colleagues who are way more into the anime thing than I am feel the same way. I almost feel as if these convergences and even the culture at-large on “safe zones” of sorts. I cant speak for other people’s experiences, but this is what I have felt and also have drawn on the hardcore cosplayer that I know personally and what the have told me. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but I’m also not discounting it.

  10. I am not into anime but what I have found out from dating a man who grew up in east Asia (South Korea) that there are many interesting things that go on in East Asian pop culture in relation to gender sterotypes that have fascinated me. Did you know that South Korea is the largest consumer of male beauty products? That in japan, korean (and to a lesser extent china) that it is acceptable for men to wear makeup? And even carry purses!! I was sooo amazed by that. It’s something I wanted to bring up to this blog for awhile. When I first saw a pop music video from Korea I thought that the men singing looked too feminine. Another interesting thing I found out was that there seems to be more sexiness in advertising and music that is more for the ladies. Sexy male bodies are used just as much as female bodies. I loved this because it helps to disprove that only men like to look. Something to look into.

  11. I don’t know much about this particular world so it was learning to find out about the interplay of dynamics that can go on. Curious what it might be like for some men to have certain tables turned due to the mashup and what prompts some women to do the sexual harassing.

    • Yes I was also wondering about what prompted the women who did so to sexually harass. I’m not sure but I’ve got some ideas. I think harassing behavior, whether it comes from men or women and whether it is Street harassment or even on the Internet, tends to come from people who feel kind of powerless in their real lives. Finally, you can feel like you have some power over someone. Maybe that, combined with a feeling of safety at these conventions, prompts some women to see what it feels like to turn the tables.

      • Good points. I also wonder if for some it’s the emulating of what they know- so if they are used to being sexually harassed by men, then when taking on the role that is what men do so that is what they are going to do when playing the part.

      • Maybe. Thanks for the additional thought.

      • For some females, I think you’re right that it’s them emulating what they know. My female cosplay friends are some of the most feminist women I know, but they are also the same people who post INCREDIBLY inappropriate comments about guys. One of them has an recurring post about a boy in her class, he is only known as “booty boy”, and her posts are always basically sexual harassment quotes about what she would like to do to him. These posts are always filled with other women chiming in or encouraging her to do something with him, much the same way some men on facebook will do the same when a guy posts about a woman. (Although to be fair, in much less vulgar ways than men tend to)

        When I pointed out the hypocrisy that she would absolutely kill me if I ever posted something like that about a girl, she bitched me out for a while that she was allowed to because men have done it to her. It seemed like a slippery slope argument, so I refrained from continuing that conversation.

        For other women, it could definitely be the other way, I don’t really ask many questions about it, lol.

  12. I’m so happy to see this! I had to click because I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII right now (the game those cosplayers in the photo you used are paying homage to).

    I’ll be going to my first anime convention this year and I’m crazy excited. They have a lot of interesting events, including some on equality and cosplay. Having never been to one, I had no idea the world was so…. I’m going to go with the word flipped. I have thought of dressing as a female version of one of my favorite male characters. It just seemed like a normal part of cosplay. Maybe next year.

    Also…. I didn’t know there were religious protests….. if I see that, I’m going to have to take photos. Is anime really that bad?

    • I’ll let Demon Ted know I posted his piece. Hopefully he’ll get back to you on this.

    • No, anime isn’t that bad, it’s different to a lot of these people, and like with any form of entertainment, you can find the overly weird, overly violent, overly sexualized things. Of course it also being cartoons means that they’re not restricted by normal things, and thus can create far more graphic results in all aspects. Anime itself, tends to be more fanservice for guys (girls with revealing outfits, etc), with cons being just gatherings of people who all share the interests and celebrate those interests.

      I am sad to say that with cons becoming a little more mainstream, and a little bigger, there are, with any group, more people who will be mean just to be mean. It’s still an incredibly accepting place, but it’s also going to be peppered with the negative people, the people who might shout a rude comment, although most will keep them to themselves.

      As to the protesters themselves, the con staff (I go to Fanime in SJ, not all cons have protesters) works very hard to keep them separate from us, and vice versa, and they are FAR worse than any con-goer. My friend on staff had to ask to be removed from that duty, because she had been driven to tears by the protesters calling her names, making fun of her, being absolute human garbage, because they’re trying to take a page out of the WBC’s book and get violent reactions.

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