After San Diego Comic-Con, Continuing The Conversation About Women’s Place In Geekdom

Yesterday, the Doubleclicks released this lovely little ditty, “Nothing To Prove,” and its accompanying video, which is a very funny and psychologically perceptive takedown of the “Fake Geek Girl” trope, the idea that women with no actual interest in nerd culture fake an affinity for it to snare unsuspecting men:

“I know it feels good to have a contest you can win,” the song observes, which is an apt summation of much of the dilemma around opening up geek culture to new participants, be those new entrants women, people of color, folks with disabilities, or LGBT nerds. Geeks, particularly white and male ones, are so invested in the fact that their interests were marginalized, and their communal spaces were a response to that marginalization, that some of them don’t seem to have adapted very well to a sudden flipping of the cultural script that invested their favorite artifacts with enormous social capital, and left a whole lot of people wanting in on geekdom, rather than the community functioning as a protective bubble to keep bullies out.

It’s one thing to be suspicious of people who suddenly see you as people off whom they can make an enormous amount of money without paying any actual attention to what makes geek culture great in the first place, but if that were the case, there’d be a lot more geek hostility directed at, say, Disney for gobbling up Marvel and Star Wars, and maybe J.J. Abrams for jettisoning the social content of the Star Trek universe under his care. It’s quite another to be suspicious of people who just want to participate on the same terms that you do, but who might be drawn to geeky universes for reasons of their own. Turning folks away because they are women, and therefore happen to remind you of someone of the same gender who rejected you sexually, or gay, and therefore disrupt your understanding of the connection between butchness and heterosexuality is counterproductive. Why wouldn’t you want to grow your nation of millions until you’ve taken over mainstream culture, rather than stay cloistered in a confined space, shutting out new people and new experiences?


The AV Club’s TV editor, and a long-standing friend of the blog, Todd VanDerWerff, filed a long report on the nature of Hall H to Grantland yesterday. His reflection focuses on how the enormous wait to get into the biggest room at the Con, where the buzziest trailers and footage premiere, and the hottest panels present, has created a real need in many participants to feel like the effort was worth it, and that everything they see there has made them feel ecstatic, even if it quickly fades from their memory, or doesn’t stand up upon reflection.

But one of the most interesting parts of his dispatch was Todd’s account of what happened when a panel called “Women Who Kick Ass” started — and started raising issues that didn’t conform to some audiences’ expectations of the rush they were supposed to be getting from the room, including stories the actresses on the panels told about retaliation and sexual harassment on set. Todd writes:

The final question — from a young woman about what aspects the perfect kick-ass woman would have — turns into a digression about the many roles that women play in real life and the few that they are asked to play onscreen. It’s all fascinating stuff, with Sackhoff talking about wanting to see someone as kind and strong as her mother onscreen, and Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira talking about the effectiveness of female political protestors in her native Zimbabwe, the sort of story that would almost never appear in a Hollywood film — but the longer it goes on, the more restless the crowd gets. When Rodriguez grabs the microphone again to follow up on a point made by another panelist, for the first time, the audience ripples with something close to jeering anger. When the panel finally ends and the five women on it proceed off to the side for photographs, something done at the end of most Hall H panels, someone shouts something from the audience, to a mixture of supportive laughs and horrified gasps, and the women quickly leave the stage. (I was not sitting close enough to hear what was said, but I confirmed with several people sitting in the immediate vicinity that it was a young man shouting “Women who talk too much!” after the loudspeaker asked attendees to voice their appreciation for the participants in the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel.)

It’s a reminder that, however far this conversation may have advanced in some spaces, there’s still a lot of the geek community that’s on the first level of this conversation, and playing it on the easiest setting.