Cosplay (short for "costume play") is a geek activity where people dress up as (usually geeky) characters. This is usually done in the context of a Comics, Anime, or Science Fiction convention or similar event, though some cosplayers operate primarily online, posting photographs of themselves on Tumblr, DeviantArt, and similar sites.
While people of all genders do cosplay, there is often considerable attention given to female cosplayers. For instance, photographers may focus on female cosplayers, female cosplayers may be seen as "asking for" Harassment or Sexual assault, or criticism may be aimed at women who cosplay but fail to meet sexist beauty standards (eg. plus-size cosplayers).
Many women who cosplay wear "sexy" costumes, either choosing to cosplay characters who are sexy to start with, choosing a sexy outfit for a character whose sexiness may vary depending on what she's wearing (eg. "Slave Leia"), or taking a character which does not initially appear sexy/feminine and turning it sexy by exposing more skin, wearing a corset, short skirt, heels, etc.
Many women who do "sexy" cosplay feel that cosplay gives them an opportunity to dress in a way they enjoy, that they don't get to do in their daily life. Some feel that the environments where they cosplay (conventions, etc) are supportive and safe places to dress sexily. However, there are many issues connected to sexy cosplay when considered from a feminist perspective.
Feminism is about choice, and women theoretically have the ability to choose whether they want to cosplay, and if so, what character they want to cosplay and how they wish to do it.
However, that choice is embedded in a culture which, first, provides a limited range of female characters to choose from, and second, disproportionately rewards women for choosing a character and costume that caters to (presumed heterosexual) male desires.
With regard to limited female characters: female characters are in a numeric minority in science fiction, comics, etc. Those that exist are often not the main "title" character, and fulfil a secondary/sidekick/supportive role -- for instance, in Doctor Who, there has never been a female Doctor, but most of the "companions" have been female. Those female characters who are "main" characters are often intended to appeal to a (presumed heterosexual) male audience, and so are highly sexualised. They wear skimpy costumes, are unrealistically curvaceous, and so on (see, for example, any female superhero.)
Women who choose to dress as sexy female characters, and who have bodies that conform to mainstream standards of beauty, can expect to receive a great deal of flattering attention. They are often featured in galleries of "hot cosplay girls" (try a Google search for some examples) and may get attention in mainstream press.
Sadly, this diminishes and ignores the efforts of women (and others) who put great effort and skill into their non-sexy costumes.
- A Feminist Visits Comic Con (Ms Magazine)
Contribution to sexualized environment
Main article: Sexualized environment
Cosplay (especially sexy cosplay) may contribute to a sexualised environment throughout an event/convention, which can be a problem for women who wish to navigate the space without constantly having to be aware of their own female-ness or to defend against sexual interactions.
Body image issues
Main article: Body image
Cosplay (and costume geekery in general) is enjoyed by people of all shapes and sizes, who should be able to practice their hobby without being harassed or mocked for their bodies, and whose work should ideally be appreciated for the time and skill that goes into it.
Unfortunately, most positive attention is given to female cosplayers who are slim/curvaceous and mainstream-attractive. Many galleries focus on "hot" female cosplayers, but a sad minority exist to mock fat cosplayers or those who don't conform to beauty norms. (Check out the appalling Google search results for "fat cosplayers".)
Relation to harassment
The presence of cosplay at an event can also contribute to harassment of non-cosplayers (see above re: sexualized environment).
Photography is another issue. People often want to photograph cosplayers, or have their photograph taken with cosplayers. Conventions and other events with a strong cosplay culture are generally used to and accepting of photography. However, some attendees (whether cosplaying or not) may not want their photograph taken. Persistent photographers who won't take no for an answer, or who take unwanted sexually-oriented photos (eg. "upskirt" photos) can constitute harassment.
Cross-gender cosplay (aka "crossplay") may provide an opportunity to experiment with or challenge mainstream conceptions of gender. For example, "Female Doctor [Who]" cosplay is a common trope in this area, where a female cosplayer dresses as a feminine version of a Dr Who costume. For example, Female 6th Doctor, Femme doctors.
Cosplaying characters of another race or ethnicity, characters with disabilities, or other minorities, may be Appropriation.
- March 2013: PAX cosplay interview backlash - A cosplayer at PAX, Megan Marie, blogged "What would you do if you weren't afraid" in response to a sexist interviewer. She then got quite a lot of backlash.
- July 2014: Cosplayer assault at San Diego Comic-Con