Monday, January 9, 2012

Discussion: Women Are Geeks, Too

It seems obvious. Geekiness is not a gendered attribute; geeks come in all genders. You'd think that would be the beginning, middle, and end of the discussion. However, I've recently had a number of links cross my path that prove not everyone gets this. Whether outright denying the existence of female geeks, or taking the more subtle tack of denying any sexism these women face, there are plenty of people making fandoms and geek spaces uncomfortable for women.

You're a Girl? You Can't be a Geek.

Microaggressions posted an anecdote (though it is anonymous on the blog, I am the original submitter) saying: "'Are you ladies familiar with science fiction at all?' A man approaching me and my cousin. We were attending a science fiction convention, sitting in a members only area of the con, wearing our con membership badges, and playing a science fiction game. I was speechless. I had no idea how to answer such an absurd question."

Another tumblr blogger responded: "I get asked if I’m into scifi when I’m at scifi cons too - wearing my badge, in con member space.  In some cases I’ve been wearing a “con organizer” (concom) badge."

A commenter also responded: "I get this all the time when I go to anime cons... Or 'did you only come because your boyfriend brought you?' No, I introduced him to the con and he came with me, jerk."

The mere sight of women in sci-fi spaces is so bewildering to some male geeks that they have to actually ask and confirm that, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus women can be geeks too. Even if the women in question helped organize the convention, their right to exist in a geek space is still doubted.

You're a Girl? You'll Only Watch Sci-Fi if We Trick You.

Andrew Stanton, the director of the upcoming John Carter movie, changed the name from A Princess of Mars because, according to him, no girl would go to see a movie with Mars in the name. While it's not explicitly discussed in the linked article, I also find it telling that the original title was about a woman, and Stanton changed it so the eponymous character was a man. I suspect this shift in the title, taking the focus away from a female character and giving it to a male character, reflects his opinions on gender dynamics. Considering that in this interview, the actress playing the Martian princess says they reshot some scenes to make her character softer, more compassionate, and less violent, I don't think I'm too far off target.

The worst part of it is, it's a Catch-22. If women go to see movies that sexualize and weaken their female characters, it's proof that the formula is working and there's no need to change. If women stay home, it's proof that women don't watch sci-fi. Making our own is theoretically possible but practically near impossible. 96% of films are directed by men and only one woman has ever won Best Director at the Academy Awards. In short, we are screwed. Like it's our fault producers and publishers are bad at math?

You're a Girl? Expect Sexual Harassment.

Conventions can be a minefield for women in more aggressive ways, too. Harlan Ellison, a spec-fic author, sexually harassed multiple women at a convention, including grabbing a woman's breast while on stage with her. He's hardly the only one. EA Games will even reward you for harassing their female employees. Some cons don't even have a sexual harassment policy, let alone enforce it.

You're a Girl? You Must be Lying about Sexism.

A video, made by The Nerdologues, satirized the gendered dynamics of geek spaces. In the video, a woman enters a comic book shop. The men already in the shop first stare at her and then run away. The comments thread on The Mary Sue filled up with women saying they'd experienced something similar and men rushing to explain that it never happened and it was all in in women's heads. The irony of men telling women they're not ostracized while simultaneously telling them they're delusional apparently escaped multiple commenters.

Blogger Sarah the Beef says: "I also spend two years working in a game store, where I dealt with crude comments, condescending nicknames, and people asking to “talk to a man” every day. [...] Even worse than that, though, is when my male friends and coworkers don’t think it’s an issue."

She's right. The biggest problem with male geeks isn't the ones who think it's okay to be rude, sexual, and outright misogynistic to female geeks (and geeks of other genders). The biggest problem is the male geeks who don't do anything about the ones who do. Silence is tacit agreement. Any time a geek sees this and says nothing, what he's really saying is "I'm okay with this." Why would the jackasses think their behavior is acceptable? Well, why wouldn't they? Hardly anyone is calling them out on it - and when women speak up for themselves, they're shouted down. Yes, there are geeks of all genders who stand up to this bullying. I'm proud of them and I try to be one of them. But we need and deserve more from the community as a whole.

You're a Girl? Great!

Keep fighting the good fight. Myself and plenty of other geeks are standing behind you.

There are a few conventions, such as WisCon and GeekGirlCon, aimed at creating a safer place for female geeks to gather and share. WisCon is going strong in their 36th year. GeekGirlCon sold out all 1600 passes in their debut last year.

The Womanthology all-woman comic anthology reached more than quadruple their Kickstarter goal with a total of $109 thousand raised.

While Twilight itself isn't the most feminist-friendly film, it also made $392 million at the box office with a female director, female author, and female protagonist (and, one assumes, a primarily female audience). Film producers, we hope you're paying attention.

Those who despise the chainmail bikini, take heart! You're not alone.

The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender with a new, female Avatar, is scheduled for release later this year.

Check out some of the great articles on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

For women in spec fic, some classic authors always provide excellent reading.

If you're a geeky woman, sometimes just existing is the most perfect act of defiance. For those who would claim we don't exist, we don't count, and our experiences don't matter - just being a female geek proves them wrong.


  1. Good article. Can't believe the stuff about the John Carter movie, argh!

    I've had a different problem in game stores, but still frustrating. The guys who work there usually wouldn't leave me alone for five seconds to let me browse. They almost treated me with suspicion, asking every couple of minutes if they could help me find something as if to rush me out, while leaving my brother in peace. =\

  2. I know - and to be so blatant about it, to outright say "Girls don't like Mars"'s so frustrating.

    Guys who work at game stores usually either ignore me or treat me with patronization. It's to the point where, if at all possible, I only interact with female employees.


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