Anime Conventions and the Extension of Rape Culture

I recently attended an anime convention, one of the major conventions in the United States, and I did “cosplay” a character from a Japan-related film.  I was Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, the movie version released several years ago.

Now, while I did it for my own reasons, which include challenging myself technically and taking on my own body image issues, there were incidents I had while in costume which got me thinking.

As a full disclosure, I picked Pyramid Head because it was a technically difficult costume.  It’s not one you can buy in stores and requires a large amount of labor to be able to do well.  I wanted to do it well, and right, so I put a tremendous amount of effort into my costume.  It did pay off well, as I got a lot of attention for my costume including being called “the good Pyramid Head”.

There are aspects to his character that are less-than savory.


Pyramid Head is one of the only characters in video games to my recollection who is depicted in the act of raping any other character.  In the game Silent Hill II, where he makes his debut, he is depicted raping one of the other monsters within the game.  The sequence does not last more than 5 to 10 seconds and it has symbolic significance to the main character who sees this act – Pyramid Head is a symbol of the main character’s feelings of lack of power and sexual frustration.  This facilitates the creation of Pyramid Head as a representation of the power he does not feel.

As a result of this very brief scene, it’s not uncommon for Pyramid Head to be called a Rapist.  He is a rapist.  I knew this going into making the costume for the convention.

What I was not prepared for was the amount of young girls, many of whom were in early high school, who asked me or told me that they wanted me to rape them.

The convention attendee would ask me if they could have my picture.  I would kindly oblige and strike my “menacing” pose.  Then, the girl would make a comment about having me rape them at their wishes.  I was told the following two things more than once:

“I secretly want you to rape me.”

“Will you rape me, Pyramid Head?”

Something to take into very serious consideration before deconstructing the meaning of this onto the greater culture is that cosplay is *not* LARPing.  I’m not being Pyramid Head.  I’m dressing up as Pyramid Head and am still myself.  I can respond as myself and I can be myself.  It’s exactly like Halloween, but only out of season and with other people nerdy enough to understand your costume (for the most part, there’s been a lot of mainstreaming).

These girls know I’m not Pyramid Head.  There’s no expectations of me being or acting as if I’m Pyramid Head and, most especially, they know in asking me to rape them that they’re not asking Pyramid Head but a random, obviously male, obviously physically strong and physically able person to violently sexually assault them.

I had serious problems with this*.  I was disturbed and horrified at this experience from these girls.  I feared for their safety.  This convention has well over 20,000 people of all ages.  Asking a complete stranger to rape them is not only unsafe but completely foolhardy and wrong.

It made me start to wonder what would precipitate such a reaction as if it is *ever* socially appropriate to make such a comment.

The first thought which was brought to me, as I discussed this experience with my friends, was that of burgeoning sexuality.  These girls have probably gotten the worst sex education that keeps getting hacked away at.  They have been taught in an abstinence only environment and may not even know what rape really is.  They may not even know what sex really is.

They also may be using my costume to confront their own sexual fantasies concerning rough sex, kink sex or otherwise non-vanilla sexual encounters.  Admitting, even in a half joke to a stranger, that they’d like to be raped may not be an admission to wanting that exact sexual behavior.  With a lack of real sexual education, these girls may not know the difference between kinky sex, rough sex and rape.

The other thought, which had occurred to me the next day (where I was never propositioned to sexually assault anyone, thank God), was that these girls did not understand the consequences of Rape Culture.

We live in a society, which is microcosmed in some forms of Japanese media brought to the US, where some characters are “fucked until they love you.”  Whether it’s in YAOI (male-male) where the seme (top) often rapes the uke (bottom) until the uke falls in love with him; hentai where the sex is very similar but the uke is a woman; or even Yuri (female-female) where the masculine woman assaults the feminine one in a similar manner.  This example is set forth and so, in perhaps a twisted pursuit of real sexual love, they think that they can be “fucked until loved”.

It made me wonder what it was I could do about this when the situation arose again, which again it thankfully never did.  The best and most direct answer I could come up with was just the direct answer of “no”.  “I secretly want you to rape me.” “No.” and walk away.

I realized I could not change these girls’ behaviors, but what I could do was demonstrate that that behavior was unacceptable through my own actions.  If they said it before a picture, no picture would be taken.  If it was after, I would simply walk away.  The denial of what they want as a consequence of completely inappropriate sexual comments, in public, surrounded by 20,000 plus strangers would be enough.  They may not understand it now, but they may eventually understand it later.

I really don’t know what else I could do in the situation.  A lecture would have gotten me nowhere and they wouldn’t have taken it seriously.

What would you have done?

*There were other ideas I had, like not dressing up at all.  I had, however, put in scores of hours into my costume, took tremendous pride in how it came out and was feeling very self-assured in my body image while wearing this costume – being called “hot” and “cute” among other things.  I was not going to let a handful (literally less than 10) girls who were foolish ruin a costume I’d grown to love while making it.

I also thought that I may want to say, “rape isn’t funny.”  But, that would be taken out of context given the clear mental state of the girls saying this to me.  They would then follow me and ask me why.  They would beg and plead and make a spectacle of something which I was trying to avoid.

Saying “no” was my best option, and while I never had to use it, I had it in my back pocket for use.  I was just so grossly taken off guard and disturbed by this that my friends and I literally spent 3 hours talking it through and forging a plan.  Myself as well as one of the people I went with are sexual assault survivors.  It was also empowering to play a character who could have been the person who almost raped me.

Join the Conversation

  • katemoore

    This is exactly how some people I know are. I don’t get involved with it (which puts a wedge between me and them, and is one of many things that ostracizes me, but that’s beside the point).
    It’s one of the things that pisses me off the most about fandom. I don’t get it and I fucking hate it.

  • Gular

    Yeah, I don’t get it either. I mean, with fandom there comes a certain amount of fawning. You like the character – you might RP in the universe or write fanfiction or whatever – but that doesn’t mean it should translate out into real life.
    The relative lack of the reaction in the overall terms — I got far more “awesome costume” than anything else. I even got a few “damn, nice”, too. It was really self-esteem building for me, but those little incidents chipped away at me because I really did fear for those girls.
    The scenario I kept thinking of was that someone else would hear them say that, stalk them out the entire convention and then actually assault them. In a convention atmosphere where people come, literally, from all over the country to attend, there’s no way to track that person down and prosecute them – unless their DNA is already on file, which it may or may not be.
    I, clearly, would never do that — but what if I was someone else? What if I wore the costume knowing this would happen so I could get “consent” before this act of complete and ugly power?
    The scenarios that kept running through my mind in regards to these instances really, really deeply bothered me. It bothered me so much, I actually thought of posting it here for people who would at least be close to the subculture involved would be able to understand.

  • pleco

    Rape fantasies and rape roleplays are not all that uncommon (I’m trying to remember the name of the recent NYT article that summed up a lot of the statistics and drawing a blank). It’s a world away from asking for an actual rape. I also don’t think Pyramid Head or the plotline of Silent Hill 2 deserves to be thrown in with the generic anime “romance” nonsense, though I agree that anime love/relationships in general are very disturbing.
    As far as asking a stranger to rape you (in the context of a fantasy)? Even as a joke, I’d consider that harassment, particularly the way you’re describing it here. It reminds me a bit of when Disney had to withdraw their Captain Jack Sparrow character from the parks because too many women were harassing the actors who dressed up as him (including verbal harassment, ass-grabbing, and other assaults). While I’m aware of the “lighthearted” Pyramid Head rape meme (particularly in the 4chan crowd which I would guess includes many, many con-goers), I don’t think it’s an excuse for that kind of direct boundary-crossing. It’s unfortunate you had to endure that– “no” is the best possible response. You shouldn’t be the vehicle for other people’s sexual fantasies and insulting humor, just for dressing up as a sexually-charged character.

  • A male

    What you say about the “fucked until they love you” element of anime and manga is true. (Also widely seen in live action TV and movies in Japan.) Even when writers and artists are female.
    But as for those girls, can one ask (give consent) to be raped? (In Japan, there was a genre of adult video called “rape contract.” Though I have never watched them, the claim on the case was the women basically signed contracts to be “raped,” which is what the videos allegedly depicted. If the stereotypical Japanese adult actress “no, no” or physical resistance is real, then it is indeed rape, as consent for those acts were NOT given.)
    What if the girls had not used the word “rape,” or exhibited more “normal” groupie behavior like wanting to hook up with a man they did not really know? Would that have been different?

  • ElleStar

    Wow. This was really interesting.
    Part of me wonders if you had answered with, “If you really want it, it isn’t rape,” it would have made them confront their own watered-down images of sexual assault.
    Probably not.
    I’m involved in a couple of anime fanfiction fandoms and it frustrates me to no end whenever the discussion between between “non-con” and “rape” comes up. There’s the stereotype that plays out a lot in fanfiction that female characters (or male characters in YAOI) really want sex despite anything they say and will enjoy it if forced into it.
    I’ve had to learn to just step away. The people who are making these arguments are usually dumb teenagers who have no sexual experience, good or bad, and rely on their fantasies to inform what they THINK reality is.
    While you were cosplaying, I think the girls who commented to you were enacting some kind of fantasy. I think you were right to answer them as you did.
    BTW, just looked up images of Pyramid Head. Wow. I bet your costume looked really scary.

  • Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

    Wait, WTF? The vibe I’m getting from this comment isn’t so much “Don’t ask random cosplayers to rape you because it’s creepy and and harassing and boundary-crossing even as a joke” as “Don’t ask random cosplayers to rape you because somebody might overhear and really rape you.” The victim-blaming undertones are really creepy, and the automatic assumption that these girls can’t differentiate between rape and rape fantasy is condescending. God knows there are plenty of people in fandom who can’t differentiate, but immediately assuming that about the specific people who made icky comments to you is going a bit too far with the generalizations, especially when it’s followed up with “oh these poor clueless girls, they know not what they do.”
    There are really two different issues at play here: people being creepy to cosplayers, and the exaggerated rape culture in anime fandom. Propositioning cosplayers you’ve never met before to act out your sexual fantasies of the character they’re playing is Not Okay any way you slice it, but that’s true whether those sexual fantasies are completely vanilla or rape fantasies or a blue-spiky-hair fetish. And while that kind of behavior is completely inappropriate, IMO it’s also inappropriate to speculate about why they have those fantasies and assume it’s because they don’t know any better or don’t know what rape is. Some people who have rape fantasies can separate them easily from reality, others haven’t disentangled them from rape culture and the Cult of the Magic Penis; those categories aren’t necessarily related to what kind of person is messed-up enough to harass cosplayers at a con.
    Rape culture in fandom (especially anime fandom) is definitely a problem, but the way to address it isn’t “don’t share your rape fantasies in public for your own good.” It’s definitely not “don’t share your rape fantasies in public because you obviously have no idea what rape is and if you keep mentioning it/making advances/wearing that short skirt, you might find out the hard way.” What exact combination of factors was fueling these girls’ fantasies and whether those factors are valid isn’t really your business, despite their inappropriate attempts to make it your business.

  • rustyspoons

    I’ve noticed a lot of younger girls seem to think using the word “rape” is somehow edgy and provocative. I can’t tell if they have any actual understanding of what non-consensual sex is or if they just see it as synonymous with rough sex.

  • Sehnsucht

    I’ve noticed a lot more violence in porn and hentai (anime porn) over the past few years. Of course, since we live in a “porn chic” culture now, women as well as men are very into these things. And I think this is where a lot of them get their ideas about rape and “rape fantasies” from.
    It’s like with mainstream fashion and whatnot. I know a lot of girls who know it’s all pretty much pointless and that physical beauty isn’t all that important, yet are still dressing themselves up like the fashion magazines tell them to. Some girls know that rape is really really bad, but they see it over and over again in a “positive” or “desirable” and they begin to feel that they should act as if they want it.

  • Gular

    I think there may have been a misunderstanding with what I was trying to say.
    I do not ever believe rape is an ok thing and no one ever deserves to be raped. It’s a horribly traumatic event that scars many women and men for years after the event.
    However, yelling to be raped in a crowded room is much different than wearing a mini-skirt. There’s a safety concern involved because there could be a rapist there, that you don’t know about, and there you are screaming for the rape to happen. You don’t know who else is in that convention center with you and you certainly don’t know the potential of those people. In a room crowded (literally) with strangers, it’s really not wise to express a desire to be sexually assaulted.
    Would I hold the perpetrators any less responsible for their actions? Not in a million years and more.
    Do I still think it’s an unwise choice to yell a desire to be sexually assaulted in a room full of strangers who are coming from all over the country and could easily not be tracked? Of course I do.
    Being raped is not these girls’ fault ever. It never will be and it never should be considered as such.
    But using common sense and giving some twisted freak “permission” to do it is something entirely different and does threaten safety. Again, it’s not the same as wearing a mini-skirt or showing some extra cleavage.

  • Gular

    The boundary crossing is also an internal issue for me and doesn’t address why this is also an external problem and reflective to the point of being appropriate for the forum here. As I said, I had to do reflection on to my own boundaries, why I was surprised they were crossed and how it was I was going to protect myself from that in the future. But I think also trying to postulate as to why someone would ever do such a thing that would cross those boundaries is something, I think, also warrants discussion.

  • Gular

    I felt that it was relevant because, as both were topical to the place I was at the time and could be presumed to be media these girls were taking in, it could be another relevant source from which they draw the conclusion that the behavior is appropriate.
    I’m aware that rape fantasies are very common and I’m not someone who is opposed to that fantasy — the scene can be stopped if it progresses too far. It can be used, in some cases, to help people who’ve been assaulted reclaim their power over the situation and that part of their identity back. I do feel, however, that these fantasies should expressed with a GGG partner and not with a random stranger in a costume (where it seems you agree with me).

  • Gular

    I got a lot of compliments on it. Getting splattered with fake blood is fun (though very cold). I think the most fun I had was constructing the helmet and getting it to look right.
    In my initial reaction to the situation, getting to some of the bulk of your comment, I dealt with it by reminding myself that they clearly don’t know what rape really is (or are ignoring it for shock factor) because asking gives consent. It was a quick fix until I could get back to my room and change out into normal clothes again. It obviously didn’t last too long, but it was like a quick patch over the wound to stop the bleeding before the stitches could go in.

  • Gular

    I’m not sure of your last question.
    Do you mean if this person was in costume, or just in some other context? I think in this situation, context is key.
    If these girls had said “fuck me, PH” I would be as equally disturbed by the behavior, though I don’t think it would have caused me as much lingering after taste. You don’t know anything about me. All you know is I’m a dude in a skirt (seriously, it’s a skirt) and you’re asking me to have sex with you? I’m also someone who looks very clearly over the age of consent (I am my profile picture here). While my face is obscured, you can tell I’m at least over 18 by build and hair alone.
    There were actually plenty of people who asked me for hugs, which in context is normal. I was covered in paint and didn’t want to ruin their costumes, so they hugged the helmet. It made for really cute photo ops, to be honest, and it doesn’t imply progressing anything further. Hugs, high fives (which I also got) and other inovertly sexual propositions are fine.
    But, I will entirely admit that it’s a personal line and not everyone will or should feel the same.

  • Gular

    That’s the question I’m left with, as well. Do they understand what rape really is, or do they think it’s just some sort of really rough sex that happens?

  • Gular

    PS – I sadly expected the jokes, but not the propositions.

  • katemoore

    Well, my friends use to encompass things like randomly hugging each others, so I’m going to say it’s mainly a dictionary definition. Abstract. Like the term “war,” maybe.

  • ebetty

    Are you averse to/ uncomfortable having a conversation with those people about basically what you said in this post?

  • insomniac

    I think cons, as a general rule, have an atmosphere that can’t really be taken out of context. This kind of reminds me of that infamous Ferret incident with the Open Source Boob Project. I think people do silly things at cons that they would never do in TRW, perhaps because it is a sort of fantastic world, secluded and self contained.
    One thing I always find interesting is how manga and anime is perceived in the West, especially the mundane aspects (maybe mundane isn’t the right word; I’m thinking of thought processes and actions that are an implicit part of the culture). Rape and non-con is quite rampant in hentai and yaoi; I have no clue about the implications of this on Japanese society; rather, I do, but that would derail this thread.
    What I have noticed is that the innate Japanese behaviour of humility and reserve doesn’t translate exactly when taken with a Western understanding. It is a traditional Japanese trait to say ‘no’ many times before accepting something (of course, times are a-changing and all, but not that fast). Then again, in the West, women are supposed to be (according to the conservatives) nurturing, selfless and chaste, thereby implying that they are supposed to say ‘no’ even when they want something. I think the difference is that in Japan, this rule applies to everyone, not just women.
    My question, that I throw out to everyone is, is there something here in this difference? I feel like there is, but I’m unable to extent my thoughts further.
    Sorry for the rambling post, but I couldn’t restrain myself when i saw “anime” and “Japan” in the post.

  • Gular

    I’m averse to it if only because I don’t think they would really listen. They’d laugh and say something like “the interwebz are srs bizniz” because they’d be uncomfortable. I’d be a stranger lecturing them at that point and, strangely, suddenly wouldn’t be PH anymore.

  • Icy Bear

    Um, I’m pretty sure there is no ‘innate’ Japanese behaviour of humility and reserve. I am fairly confident that any humility and reserve we may observe is a result of a very complex system of historical circumstances that is often closely tied up with Orientalist, nostalgic and exoticizing impulses (coming from both the West and Japan).
    That little gripe aside, I tend to think that anime fandom in America (and presumably other places in the West, I am just most familiar with America) should be seen as a completely different culture from that of anime fandom in Japan; it is a subculture of its own, that takes certain elements from the Japanese products consumed, but construes them in a way that is related first and foremost to their own context as (often young) Americans. In that way, it seems to have little to do with Japan, and a lot to do with Americans navigating their own identities. I think if these fangirls are glorifying rape, it probably says more about youth in America than it does about anime in Japan – although of course that does not make it any less problematic that such disturbing sexual relations are being glorified in mass media.

  • ebetty

    Sure. I wouldn’t start by lecturing. Just start a private conversation, maybe. I’d probably ask something general. Or, “but if you want it, isn’t that not rape?” Sometimes people will open up *because* it “iz on teh internetz” — the relative anonymity might be appealing. You could be a source for these girls to learn textually about sex and different kinds of sex. Eventually you could bring up information like the origins of their fantasies such as–
    While studying sexuality I came across theories on why women have rape fantasies. Here’s an article that discusses the issue. I think “sexual blame avoidance” applies in our culture and, from personal experience, doubly in East Asian cultures:
    Sexual Blame Avoidance;col1
    “The most frequently cited explanation for why some women have rape fantasies is that these fantasies allow women to avoid blame or responsibility for expressing their sexuality (Crepault et al., 1977; Deutsch, 1944; Hollender, 1970; Knafo & Jaffe, 1984). According to this explanation, women have been socialized as to the importance of not being perceived as promiscuous, overly sexual, or insufficiently reticent with regard to sex. Powerful labels, such as “loose,” “easy,” “tramp,” and “slut” have been used to control and restrict women’s sexual behavior and, by extension, their sexual feelings. This theory suggests that, for some women, a sexual fantasy of their own in which they participate or seek out consensual sex may arouse anticipations of self-blame and feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression, which would inhibit sexual gratification. By having the fantasy take the form of rape, the woman is forced to do something she does not want to do, so she cannot be blamed for what happens. The use of force combined with her own nonconsent allows her to avoid blame, reduce guilt and shame, and therefore enhance sexual gratification as compared with engaging in a fantasy of consensual sex.”
    In my mind this is an explanation for why anime and manga (even the genres geared towards *women*) is saturated with rape/ rape fantasy. In my opinion, the response to that needs to be a balanced education and the ridding of shame from sex.

  • ebetty

    Oh, and I should add. The research for that particular theory is inconclusive. If you are interested in how accurate it is or in the other theories read the source article.

  • insomniac

    Yeah, I think I used the wrong word there wrt “innate”. I guess what I meant was that those were important character traits that are expected out of a exemplary Japanese citizen. I think that extends to a lot of East Asian and South Asian cultures. Does that make any sense? I mean this especially in comparison to the West where explicit confidence is something admirable.

  • Tom

    Am I the only one who wants to see a picture of this costume? :P

  • Toni

    I’ve never played Silent Hill but I’ve seen the movie. I also go to many anime conventions. I went to 4 last year and already been to 2 this year. Since all my cosplays have been good guys, no one has really said anything that sexual to me. Also they all have been female characters. I’m open to crossplay but I haven’t thought of a male character I’d like to do.
    I watched the rape scene on YouTube. It’s disturbing as it should be as it is a horror video game. But it’s hard for me atleast to actually see rape. I do kind of see it but it looks like everything else I’ve seen of this game.

  • pleco

    That is not the scene from the game– it looks like a music video or machinima made by a fan, and utilizes a lot of SH3 imagery. SH2 is not a game that stands up well to being excerpted, but here’s the actual scene for the curious (NSFW, trigger warning, etc):
    This is the first time you see Pyramid Head in the game.

  • Gular

    I’ve not yet read the study since I’m at work (I’ll do that when I get home in like an hour and a half), I wanted to address something else about sitting them down.
    I think it’d be inappropriate for a random, male stranger to have a sex talk with high school girls about rape, kinky sex and appropriate social behavior no matter the context.
    I think if it was a woman to woman conversation it would be more tolerated (sexism…), but would still be a bit inappropriate.

  • Gular

    LOL I can link you to my flickr where all my nerdiness dances in the sunshine.

  • ebetty

    Ok. I’ll concede to that.

  • Toni

    I would like to see it too as I’m also a cosplayer. If anyone is interested here’s my most recent cosplay: Shana from Shakugan No Shana. Who I think is a great feminist character but that’s a topic for another day.

  • MASHBengal

    I’m not sure if I agree with Yaoi and Yuri being lumped in 100% with the “fucked until loved” category. Sure there are titles that contain that element, but many titles I have read the sexual acts usually happen after both sides admit their love for one another. Or maybe I am just reading the context wrong.
    This goes along with the rape culture (I think), is the allowance of sexual harassment in some of the anime fandom. Such as a person dressing up as Mikuru from the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, who is molested by the the main character. Some cons have a blanket ban on all contact without permission and others just turn a blind eye to it.

  • Gular

    Just in case people are like “LOOKS NOTHING LIKE THE VIDEO!!!”, I did movie version PH and not game version.
    One of my friends was a nurse.

  • Gular

    This also gives you an idea of how much you can actually see who I am.

  • ElleStar

    I don’t think the OP was saying that 100% of YAOI or yuri has “non-con.” In fact, he said “some characters are ‘fucked until they love you,'” and that it takes place in YAOI, yuri, and straight stuff, too.
    And the rape culture in anime is really problematic. I hate that it’s often portrayed as funny and I hate that fans emulate such behavior. It sounds as though the blanket ban on all contact is a good way to go.

  • Gular

    I apologize if I’d given that impression. I own some YAOI which is of the sweet variety — the two characters spend more time angsting about whether or not they like each other than actually doing anything (no point, no plot, no problem, anyone :-p). I didn’t mean to suggest it’s all across the board falls under there, but it happens with a decent frequency, especially the doujin yaoi for popular series (I’m looking at you Bleach yaoi doujin),

  • Devonian

    “What you say about the “fucked until they love you” element of anime and manga is true. (Also widely seen in live action TV and movies in Japan.) Even when writers and artists are female”
    ESPECIALLY if they’re female, actually.

  • insomniac

    I think it’s also important to differentiate yaoi from gay manga (the former is targeted at women and girls, the latter at gay men). I don’t know if there is an equivalent for yuri.


    After reading the post and the comments I am appalled at the comments Gular received. But am I the only one disturbed that Gular wanted to dress up as a rapist?

  • Meep

    Gular specifically mentioned that he wanted to make this particular costume because of the technical skill and time required. There are few characters that I know of with similarly complex designs. He also pointed out that cosplay ? LARP and he did not “become” Pyramid Head, wasn’t pretending to “be” Pyramid Head, he was wearing a costume of a character from a famous video game.

  • Meep

    Erm, that random “?” was supposed to be the “is not equal to” sign.