Harassers question a woman's validity as "a person and as a real nerd." Photo by PhantmDark via Flickr CC.
Sexual harassment questions a woman’s validity as “a person and as a real nerd.” Photo by PhantmDark via Flickr CC.

“What are you supposed to wear to a convention if your comic book idol’s costume is a corset and thong?” asks sociology professor Dustin Kidd from Temple University in an interview with Philly.com.

Given the dress code at Wizard World Comic Con, the absence of a safe haven for nerds and geeks came as no surprise to HollabackPHILLY, a group aiming to end street harassment. They found an alarming amount of harassment directed at female cosplayers.

Cosplay is a chance to dress up in costume to honor or represent a character, usually from a comic book or similar medium. Unfortunately, many of the female characters are hypersexualized and the women who portray them can get brutally harassed at the conventions. As Kidd puts it,

Women in those kinds of outfits get read by men as displaying themselves for sexual reasons, as opposed to representing a superhero.

Some of the problems harken back to how people view female superheroes. A lot of female characters are portrayed wearing tight clothing or not much at all. Instead of being portrayed as strong and dignified like many of the male characters, they are portrayed as sexual.

As one woman who experienced harassment at AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C., describes,

…A man asked to take a photo with her and her friend. Then, he grabbed their breasts and urged his friend to snap the picture before they could wriggle free.

Psychology professor Kimberly Fairchild from Manhattan College talks about the negative consequences of harassment at conventions, saying

It makes women more likely to self-objectify. They start to think of themselves as body parts, objects, not full intelligent human beings . . . Objectification, in turn, has been linked to depression and anxiety.

To combat harassment, artist Erin Filson along with Rochelle Keyhan and Anna Kegler have created an advocacy group determined to make conventions a safer place. Under their banner of Geeks for CONsent, they have been lobbying for anti-harassment policies, trained volunteers and counseling for victims. Hopefully their efforts will serve as a new kind of kryptonite against nerd culture misogyny.