Women at Gaming Expos

Telling women what to wear under the guise of being against female objectification is not a positive action. There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about the role of ‘booth babes’ and ‘sexy’ cosplayers, their treatment by fans, and how game expos can help.

One way that does not help is to make it ‘illegal’ to attend in sexy attire. One way that certainly does not help is to send home paid employees whose companies asked them to attend in sexy attire.

Li Ling dressed as Athena from Saint Seiya

This happened at a game expo in China. Li Ling was acting as a booth babe, and was asked to leave because she wasn’t wearing enough clothes. Not only that, but she was told she was not to return the following days.

I want you to think about this – what happened to that woman after? She was humiliated and criticized, publicly. She was no longer able to do her paid job, and so she was likely not paid for the entire weekend. She had to go to her boss and explain why she was unable to return to the Expo, which is certainly a degrading experience. All because her employer paid her to wear something that was not allowed under their regulations – a penalty that would surely do better going to the company and not the model.

Meanwhile, closer to home, PAX has had a ban on booth babes for a couple years. Jessica Nigri went through three costumes of the heroine from Lollipop Chainsaw before they finally ‘approved’ her costume.

Punishing women for dressing up like their favourite characters isn’t progressive, though. It certainly isn’t what women need in order to feel more included within the gaming culture. I understand that women are trying to redefine their presence in geek culture – and that being oversexualized and harassed is a huge problem. However punishing the women isn’t the solution.

It’s a simple case of placing the blame of male behaviours – creating sexy video game characters, drooling over sexy women, being rude and objectionable and treating women like objects – and placing it on women. To ‘empower’ women, they decided that a woman needs to submit their costume idea to a man in order to have it approved.

Jessica Nigri in her ‘offensive’ and accurate portrayal of Juliet Starling.

Honestly, I’m surprised there is not more outrage. Penny Arcade had plenty of hate over their treatment of the dick wolves fiasco, and rightly so. I read the initial ‘dick wolves’ comic and took it to mean that in MMOs, we could take one of the worst things that could happen to someone – rape – and simply ignore it once our quest has been completed. Perhaps questionable, but I didn’t think it made light of rape. Some people did, and they complained.

And their treatment of those people, who were largely women, was disgusting. Mockery. Taunting. Bullying. They sold dick wolves T-shirts. They then went on to make dick wolf jokes all throughout the expo, drawing a picture of one during their live drawing. Their fans – largely male – loved it. When they removed it, they said that while they thought everything they did was fine for their site:

PAX is a different matter though. We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees.

So their idea of making everyone feel welcome is to tell women they can’t dress in accurate cosplay of their characters. They’re telling us when it’s okay to be offended — when there’s a scantily dressed woman — and when it’s not okay — when we discuss rape culture. It’s sad because the two things are so closely tied together that recognizing one to be problematic while ignoring the other is just a missed opportunity. Meanwhile, the one they’ve decided to fix requires a change in female behaviours and financial opportunities, but not in men’s.

Men telling women what to wear isn’t a feminist action. It’s not an allied action. It’s taking the punishment for being rude and sexist from men and putting it on women.

We could talk about the cultural reasons why women might want to dress sexy, especially in geek culture. We could talk about the reasons why a model might take a job as a booth babe. We could explore the deep roots of sexually explicit characters in geek culture, about the way women are portrayed, about how problematic it might be. We can talk about the reason men have issues with female sexuality.

We could look at all of these things, but the one thing we absolutely should not be doing is putting the blame on women and telling them how to dress and behave.

Also, I really would suggest everyone watch Jimquisition’s video on the topic. I really like his thoughtful take on it, especially in regards to job loss for women.

Related Posts on Femmedia:

Non-Violent Video Games – The patriarchy hurts everyone, including men, by forcing them to only feel comfortable expressing appropriate emotions – anger, rage, and a repulsion towards anything considered ‘weak’.

No Girls on the Internet – Women have to try harder to prove themselves in geek culture because they’re never thought to be ‘true’ geeks.

Proposals and Societal Expectation – Even women in geek culture have this idea that using geeky themes in are contrary to how a wedding proposal – something done primarily by a man to a woman – “should be”.


  1. Jumwa says:

    Since this whole thing came up I have felt several things: disgust, outrage and sympathy.

    Disgust over the notion of dictating to women what they can and can not wear. Outrage over the very poor treatment of particular women for either A) doing their job exactly as directed or B) engaging in a culture of fandom the same as men do. And lastly sympathy for those very same women.

    Yes, by all means, stop hiring on women to be purely ‘eye-candy’ at expos and conventions. Stop that. But to punish the models themselves instead of just telling the people who hired them to stop? Sweet hell, that is disgusting!

    This isn’t empowering or helpful to women. Disagree with a cosplayers choice of outfit, believe that booth babes should be a thing of the past at gaming conventions (I do), but don’t take it out on the women themselves. That’s far worse than anything you are conceivably ‘fighting’ against.

    At best it’s more shaming of women’s bodies based on some puritanical notions of modesty and sexuality for no real reason. And as you’ve laid out here, it’s once again robbing men of responsibility and placing all blame upon women.

    • Anjasa says:

      I absolutely believe that this is, in part, motivated by certain men’s fear of the ‘fake gamer girl’ — that all powerful, all sexy, all fantasy girl that seeks to ensnare and entrap men.

      I really don’t believe that gaming culture — especially men in gaming culture — have gotten to the point where they can look at something and say that it’s sexist and unfair to women. From all the forums I visit, all the outrage I’ve seen feminists and females bring out in these men when saying something as simple as ‘this video game has nothing but tits and ass and is aimed towards men’, it just doesn’t seem likely that they’re so enlightened of a group as to do this for benevolent reasons.

      Which makes it even worse, because instead of trying to do something positive — making gaming culture a more gender inclusive place — they’re doing something mean and spiteful and punishing to try to ensure that women match up to their ‘standards’.

      But that will likely end up being a post in and of itself.

      • Jumwa says:

        The ‘fake gamer girl’ outrage and the move to ban ‘booth babes’ all stems from the same place, and that place has nothing to do with what’s right for women. It stems from men’s insecurity mainly (from those women who object, it’s a different matter of course.)

        They feel inadequate and threatened, so they try to control and hurt women, rather than risk exposing their own inadequacies.

  2. Claudia King says:

    Blah, this is one of those really sticky issues where I feel a lot of unfortunate sentiments have come together to make something a lot worse than it should have been. I’d agree with Jumwa, honestly I don’t blame anyone for enforcing dress codes during an event, and phasing out booth babes is definitely something I can get on board with, but demonising women who’re hired (or want) to dress like this just directs attention in completely the wrong direction. I’d love to think the same dress codes would apply if a guy showed up to an expo dressed in a loincloth, or looking like a bum, but in such a tetchy evolving subculture my money’s on the “sexy cosplayer girl” card overriding everything else.

    • Jumwa says:

      Only female behaviour is so regulated. It takes a lot for anyone to care about what a man does on most any matter.

      Any dress code is going to probably reflect that, in part because society doesn’t put men to such judgement and in part because our culture doesn’t glorify the male form in the same way as it does womens.

      But yeah, I can’t see someone coming in dressed as Conan the Barbarian getting booted out of a convention, for instance.

  3. […] Women at Gaming Expos – Telling women what to wear under the guise of being against female objectification is not a positive action. […]

  4. […] Women at Gaming Expos – Telling women what to wear under the guise of being against female objectification is not a positive action. […]

  5. Gareth says:

    One of the things I’m wondering about is, in fact, booth babes. On the one hand, people say that we use women as sexual objects to sell video games to men, and as such some expos have banned them to curb the idea of objectifying women. But I agree with you that stopping women from dressing as they want is sexist, so where does the answer lie?

    Does the answer really lie in punishing men for their sexuality? Or would it not be a problem if men could find them sexually attractive, but not be creeps about the whole thing? I think your post might be lacking on WHAT it is that men do that’s the problem, because you make it sound as thought it’s the whole sexuality of men in general that’s the root of this

    • M. Keep says:

      I think men learning to be less creepy is a start. Social skills aren’t something inate, it’s something we all work at, but it’s not an easy answer. I mean, some people are just socially awkward and are absolutely lovely and sweet people. As well, some people have certain disabilities or mental issues that make them behave socially inappropriate. So those are the large issues.

      The small issues, I feel, is the acceptability of oggling, and of being crass and rude and mean. Men pat each other on the backs for it, and it make it feel like it’s okay. So calling other men out, saying something as simple as ‘Hey, man. You’re making her uncomfortable’ can go a long way to making it feel a lot better for everyone involved.

      You see it in strip clubs as well. Some men are very kind, very grateful that the women are willing to be sexual with them, to be naked, and they show their appreciation respectfully. Other men act like it’s their right to see women naked, and are very aggressive and mean. I think men calling others out on their poor behaviour – kindly, and without much embarrassment – would do wonders.

      Have you read Captain Awkward? They are absolutely fantastic for outlining detailed ways to fix problems, and I only wish I could word these things as well as she. http://captainawkward.com/2012/08/07/322-323-my-friend-group-has-a-case-of-the-creepy-dude-how-do-we-clear-that-up/ is a wonderful post for people who don’t understand that their behaviour is making others uncomfortable, and details why it’s important for men to help out and support women in these cases.

      • Gareth says:

        Thanks for the link, I am so reading that. I think I like your answer alot. I think we as a society need to find a more acceptable way to express our sexuality. Not to get rid of it, but some way to be more respectful. Men should be able to appreciate the female body, and vice versa. I definitely don’t believe that trying to remove sexuality from places should be the right move

        • M. Keep says:

          I’d weep for a future without sexuality!

          I think it’s just this double standard where sex is everywhere, but we still demonize and try to control women’s bodies. Especially in the States right now, where women are fighting for birth control, and their right to have an abortion without being raped (using the FBI’s own definition of “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”) A couple of states are now requiring an intrauterine ultrasound which requires a doctor to perform an ultrasound through the vagina. Even if the woman agrees, it’s under coercion.

          We want women to be sexy, and sexual, and yet we punish them by not allowing them to take control over their pregnancies, and we’re not teaching them autonomy. It’s this weird disconnect that definitely isn’t helping.

          • Gareth says:

            Yes, I agree that the war on women is horrible. It’s really a pity misogynists keep getting in Government…

            You’re right on the double standard, but I think there’s another double standard. Atleast where video games are concerned. In whole, we all agree that women should be allowed to show their sexuality, and not be ashamed of it. Or atleast, people who actually think things through. But on the other hand, with video games atleast, we demonise men’s sexuality. We talk about how men enjoying games with boob physics is immature and sexist, or we talk about how men appreciating booth babes and their skimpy outfits to be misogynistic. I see them as expressions of male sexuality. Yes, fighting is more fun when the characters and moves appeal to you sexually. Yes, we appreciate game companies that try to give us something to look at

            I’m not saying that there’s not sexism in gaming culture, I think it’s obvious enough that it is, nor am I saying that gaming culture should stay the way it is, it’s fairly closed off to females at large. But I am saying that attacking games that appeal to men sexually is not a good thing…

            I forgot what my original point was. I’ve read all of your replies, and agree with pretty much everything you’ve said, so this is the first time I’ve actually had a reply to write to your reply

          • M. Keep says:

            I think that it’s one of those sticky situations where we’re trying to swing the pendulum too far.

            I like asthetically pleasing characters. I know that in part this is cultural – society teaches women to sexualize other women as well – but I also just don’t really want to play a character that’s unattractive to me. Of course what’s attractive will differ from person to person, and I’m a big fan of variety because of this (can I please get some more a-cup characters?), but generally don’t believe that scantily clad women in video games have to disappear.

            It would be nice to also have some more male eye candy as well – I love Tera for this because both the male and female characters have some very sexy options. I think that coming to terms with our repressed sexuality will help a lot in regards to how we treat other people, and that finding healthy ways to express and explore our sexuality is very important for a progressive society.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: