Cos-Playing with Gender: Subversion and Reproduction of Gender Norms Within the Cosplay Community



Aadahl, Sarah

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This thesis examines how gender norms are both subverted and reproduced in cosplay through subcultural boundaries and character displays and performance. The cosplay community is examined to understand how cosplay is a location of gender dramatization and inversion marked by boundaries that determine who fits in and who does not. Literature on subcultures such as gothic lolitas, gamers, and nerds focuses on how spaces are created and maintained by both members and gatekeepers. This thesis draws on Erving Goffman’s conceptualization of stigma and its role in boundary maintenance to understand the contradictory dynamics of cosplay spaces. This study utilizes ethnographic methods, including participant observation of four East Coast Japanese media conventions and ten semi-structured interviews. Special attention is paid to how authenticity of members is judged by cosplayers, convention attendees, and cosplay fans. Findings indicate that cosplay spaces are dichotomous ones “free of judgment” and full of gender flexibility and subversion through creating and maintaining boundaries of exclusion and inclusion, ideas of belonging and authenticity. Paradoxically, the ways in which members of this community judged and emphasized authenticity reproduced the very stigma cosplayers, convention attendees, and cosplay fans sought to escape, often in gendered ways regarding the particularly harsh judgment of female cosplayers.


This thesis has been embargoed for 5 years and will not be available until April 2024 at the earliest.


Cosplay, Gender, Subcultures, Subcultural capital, Stigma