"This Isn't for You, This Is for Me": Women in Cosplay and Their Experiences Combatting Harassment and Stigma

In the past two decades, cosplay, or “costume play,” has become increasingly popular among fans of anime, manga, and video games. Despite the community’s nature of embracing social difference, problems persist with regard to gender discrimination and breaching of consent boundaries. Discussion in the extant literature on cosplay has yet to address the views of women in the community, specifically the idea of cosplay and popular culture conventions being a “boys’ club.” The principle research questions of this study are: (1) What are the lived experiences of women cosplayers at anime conventions? (2) To what degree have they had to endure stigmatization, unwelcome attention, and sexual harassment from fellow convention attendees? (3) What coping mechanisms have they developed to help them navigate this maledominated space? Using a theoretical framework combining Goffman’s dramaturgy and stigma theories with Butler’s gender performance theories, I address these questions through two qualitative methods: participant-observation and in-depth interviews. Traveling to three anime conventions in West Virginia, Virginia, and Ohio, I observed events at all three conventions and interviewed 30 women cosplayers about their convention and cosplay experiences. Findings suggest that women find deep personal connection to the character and to themselves through the performance of cosplay, that women cope with stigma through community attachments, and that subjugation by men is a rare and often unnoticed phenomenon.