BEFORE SHE LEFT FOR SEATTLE, I ASKED DIANE WALTON if she'd kindly give me a report on her impressions of the Geek Girl Con which ran over the October 19/20th weekend. It sounds like a worthwhile and fascinating event, one that I'd like to attend in the future. (For now, I'll content myself with living through her experience vicariously - but next year, who knows?)
IT HAS BEEN A FEW DAYS SINCE I RETURNED from my first Geek Girl Con, and my brain is still processing all the interesting and occasionally disturbing things I heard through the weekend. GGC was formed two years ago with a simple mandate - to support geeky women, with no need for anyone to have to prove their “geek cred”.
Wait a minute. GEEK CRED? If you are not part of the community, this may not mean much to you. Here’s an example. Geeks are generally assumed to be young and male. But there are girls who identify as geeks too, lots of us, because we love the culture. Heck, I’ve been involved in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community since my first convention in 1978. I don’t ever remember a man or boy telling me that I was not geeky enough to belong to his precious club. If he had, I probably would have laughed out loud. Sadly, it isn’t a laughing matter now.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, that boys’ club became a place where girls were not very welcome. Girls, it seems, were a threat when they wanted to play with the boys’ toys and games. And then some guy named Tony Harris went on a Facebook rant in which he voiced his disdain for the women who attend the big comic expo events clad in the often scanty costume of a female comic superhero and they probably haven’t even read the comic! How dare they? How dare a person of colour dress as a white comic book or RPG character? How dare a woman want to enjoy an online role-playing game with men, without being subjected to rape jokes? How dare an Asian person NOT dress as someone from manga? How dare a woman cross-dress as a man in cosplay? How dare a female author write a story with a strong female protagonist who doesn’t need a man to rescue her? How dare a plus-size person cosplay as a superhero? There was a powerful moment during the Q&A at one panel, when a woman stood up and said something like,"I appreciate what you are all saying about women and gays and people of colour being harassed and how wrong it is, but what about the fat girls? We seem to be the only group that nobody jumps up to defend when we get ridiculed for a costume or just for our appearance." And these are all accusations fans and pros have faced, in person and on-line. "Don't be a jerk," was the strongest message of the weekend.
Nobody told me there’d be an entrance test. Nobody told me that my geek cred wasn’t sufficient to get the respect of those guys who paid their dues by buying and memorizing every available issue of The Walking Dead. Oh well. So it goes.
But we are in the age of social media and instant communication, and oh yes, trolls. Anita Sarkeesian, one of the guests at Geek Girl Con, is an example of how ugly the backlash can be when someone muses that an examination of gender tropes in video games just might be useful.
Here are some of the panels I attended: Deconstructing the Mary Sue Myth; Labour of Love: Women Writing Transformative Works (referring to fan fiction, among others); Changing Culture in Mainstream and Alternative Spaces; Creating Inclusiveness in the Geek Community; Towards a Universe of Equals: Gender Equality, Past, Present and Future; Fan Studies: Academic Studies of Fandom; Comedy as a Tool of Social Change; Bullying and Cosplay; Feminism and Pop Culture; and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Fan Phenomena. There were at least a dozen more sessions I could have gone to, but cloning was not an option.
All in all, I applaud the organizers for putting on such a powerful and uplifting weekend event, which brought together such a diverse bunch of people often marginalized by the gatekeepers of popular culture. Not just women, but people of colour, people in the LGBTQ community, cross-dressing cosplayers—all have experienced their own personal brushes with ignorance, fear, and hatred from the so-called “real” geeks. Oh yeah, and the “old white guys”, to quote one woman at a panel, who was talking about trying to inject some new ideas into a traditional SF convention in her home city. One panelist spoke of starting a gaming convention specifically for LGBTQ gamers. When he was criticized for creating this ghetto, and told he should stay with the bigger conventions and try to make change from within, he simply said, “Why can’t I do both?”
And that is where Geek Girl Con comes in. I am willing to bet that many of those young women I saw last weekend will also go to a Comic Con, or a Gaming convention where they may face harassment, ridicule, or worse. I am also willing to bet they will be much stronger for having spent a weekend with 4,000 avowed feminists at a convention made just for them.
The Doubleclicks were part of the featured entertainment, and they closed the weekend with this lovely anthem for geeks. Repeat after me: I've Got Nothing to Prove.
Diane's Bio: Diane Walton currently serves as Managing Editor for On Spec, and coordinates the Literary stream of programming for the Pure Speculation festival in Edmonton. She's been attending conventions since 1978, and is proud to be both a feminist and a geek. She also seems to be a magnet for stray cats, but hopes to never be a Crazy Cat Lady.
(Thanks, Diane. I definitely want to go next year.)