When I detailed professional cosplayers’ struggles to get respect and fair pay for their work, I didn’t expect backlash. But I got one.
The story’s critics thought the answer was simply: “get a real job, not a hobby.”
One particular troll trashed the mere idea of cosplayers getting paid.
Maybe people should stop putting their hand out for hobbies they’re already doing for free. Cosplay is a fun hobby, not a job.
— Bad Andy Rox (@BadAndyRox) July 28, 2017
People like the above Bad Andy Rox argue that “this society” hasn’t deemed cosplay a job, therefore cosplayers cannot demand fair pay.
I don’t dismiss it because it’s a hobby, but because the marketplace is determining that it’s not really a job in this specific society.
— Bad Andy Rox (@BadAndyRox) July 28, 2017
As with most fields, the work that women do is valued less, if at all. In theater tech, for example, lighting, sound and carpentry are more often done by men and costume design tends to be performed by women. According to a series of surveys of The League of Resident Theatres, the largest theater association in the U.S., male tech jobs generally pay more and have more support, whereas costume designers are paid less and given fewer resources.
While not for theater, cosplay combines costume design, modeling, and influencer marketing, all mostly female fields. It is therefore undervalued in the same way theatrical costume design is, because it’s just girls playing dress-up.
Elsa Hiltner, a Chicago-based costume designer, textile designer, and wardrobe stylist, writes in HowlRound that the inequity “stems from our culture’s gendered views on who makes clothing, how much their time is worth, and the often skewed understanding of what skills are required to design and build a costume.”
People like Bad Andy Rox assume cosplay design, construction and modeling requires far less skill and effort than it does. Because costume designers and cosplayers are generally women, gender is inextricably tied up in that disconnect and the result is female costume designers and cosplayers aren’t valued for their craft.
As Natalie Chen, cosplayer and porn actress points out, there are plenty of professions that can double as hobbies.
Art is a fun hobby, not a job.
Filmmaking is a hobby, not a job.
Sports are a hobby, not a job.
Yeah, going to disagree with you there.
— Natalie Chen (@TSNatalieChen) July 28, 2017
It’s a chicken/egg problem: any kind of art gains legitimacy through people receiving money for their time, effort and skill. But you’re not allowed to demand reimbursement for anything less than a “real” job.
Porn star Natalie Mars also weighed in:
A lot of people say porn and camming aren’t jobs either.
— Natalie Mars (@theNatalieMars) July 29, 2017
Her comment points to Bad Andy Rox’s hypocrisy, because according to his Twitter bio, he produces porn. This may or may not be true, as I was unable to find links to his actual work. Regardless, he has deemed it a profession worthy of a Twitter profile. But plenty of people in the capitalist system he champions don’t see porn as a valid profession. He is demanding money for the hobby of masturbation.
Natalie Chen told me she gets his reaction often. “It’s the usual,” she says, “because people don’t value stuff that isn’t tangible, for work.” Which is funny because most professional cosplayers like her, Mel “WindoftheStars,” and Steff Von Schweetz (from the original story), create their costumes as well as model them. But as I wrote in the original story, there are many ways cosplayers make a living. It’s therefore easy to criticize the profession as a whole, because it’s hard to understand what the profession even is.
Standing up for her livelihood, Mel commented that it’s not about the money but about respect.
The struggle isn’t about is making crap tons of money, but more to get paid in general for our time, knowledge and services.
— Mel @ Otakuthon (@WindoftheStars) July 28, 2017
That’s true. But the fact that she even had to put such a disclaimer up is part of the problem. We are a capitalist country where people are rewarded for finding innovative ways of making a living. Yet women, female artists in particular, are held to a higher standard. “Don’t worry, I’m not being DEMANDING. I don’t want MONEY for this thing I enjoy; I’m a better person [i.e. woman] than that.” Because if you like something, you shouldn’t need or want money for it. Which is like telling a therapist they shouldn’t “demand” money for being nice.