By Alli Thresher
When I first came across Joe Peacock’s “Booth Babes Need Not Apply” post on CNN’s Geek Out blog, I was intrigued. Here, I thought, based on the title alone, is a self-professed geeky guy delving into the problematic nature of a culture that promotes and uses models as marketing bait. “Excellent,” I thought to myself, “rad even — it will be cool to hear the perspective of a male consumer on this issue.” Boy was I disappointed. The title of Peacock’s post is horrendously misleading. He notes that he’s bothered by booth babes — but doesn’t really delve deeper than that. Instead, the readers are presented with a long, rambling, screed about “fake geek women” and how they’re ruining geek culture for everyone (everyone being dudes like Joe and his friends).
There are so many things problematic with Peacock’s piece — the fact that he rates women on a 1 to 10 scale, that he conflates professional booth staff with models and promoters and regular old cosplayers. That he talks about his own attraction to “real” geek girls but maligns anyone who might be at conventions doing the same thing:looking for a date. And then there’s the ranting and ranting and ranting against “fake geek girls.”
Let’s just get one thing out of the way here. Fake geek girls? They don’t really exist. Seriously. Leigh Alexander has some amazing things to say here. But I searched far and wide, but could not find anyone who’d ever met one of these supposedly toxic, nasty, creatures.
There are some decent points buried in Peacock’s post, but they’re barely touched on and mostly obscured by his complaints about all the nefarious fake women who are apparently ruining conventions for him. For example, he’s right that booth babes are a problem — but, counter to his complaints, they’re not a problem because they’re “fakes” or teases or whatever. Their use is problematic because it lends rise to attitudes like Peacock’s. When the most visible women in a male dominated space are, largely, promotional staff and models, it becomes really easy to write off most other women on the floor — as Peacock and his supporters, do.
As I wrote in another piece, when I’ve spoken to fellow gamers about their issues with booth babes, I’ve found, surprisingly, that male-identified gamers, their ostensible targets, are the ones most vocally opposed to the use of booth babes as an advertising gambit. I hear over and over “they don’t belong here, they don’t play games, I can’t talk to them.” When the women working the floor are written off, immediately, as not worth talking to, it lends to an attitude of models, promoters, and other female staff, developers included, being treated not as people but as, well, something less. It’s telling that Peacock called out both the Frag Dolls, a group of professional gamers, and Olivia Munn, former co-host of Attack of the Show, as “fakes” — I’d warrant that most geeks and gamers count all of these ladies as having more “cred” than the average geek dude, Joe Peacock included. And if Peacock hates the use of booth babes so much, he shouldn’t go after the models, go after the companies that hire them, or the content creators who build a market for hypersexualised, unreal, versions of women.Peacock’s blog struck a chord with me because I’ve run into people like him at conventions before. I’ve had them demand I “prove” myself as worthy of talking to, write me off as just another dumb booth bitch, or talk over me while I try to ask a question or get a demo of a product I’m interested in. But what’s worse, is that I’ve seen violence — verbal and otherwise — directed towards women I work with because of this notion that any woman who looks halfway put-together on the floor is just doing it for attention. It’s a strange assumption. When I’m at a con, either on behalf of my company or on my own, I’m too busy going to panels, watching cool things, picking up swag, and networking, to be hitting on people or making small talk with strangers hitting on me.
Towards the close of the piece Peacock writes: “There’s no doubt about it — girls in geek culture have it hard, and it’s probably going to be that way for a long time.”
Here’s the thing, we geek women do actually have it rough. Very rough in fact, Mr. Peacock, and people like you are one of the primary roadblocks to things getting better for us. We have it rough because we have guys like you who demand we prove our geek cred the second you see us. We have guys like you who assume that we’re on the floor of a con, dressed however we’re dressed because we want to get hit on, not because that’s just how we dress. Guys like you who feel they’re entitled to some sort of explanation or attention from us, and you’re not. Guys who assume that all the women at conventions are heterosexual and interested. We have it rough because we have guys like you writing articles about “our” culture where by “our” you really mean what’s acceptable to you: the white straight guy deciding what’s “truly” geekdom. And finally, we have it really really hard because we have to deal with people like you insisting on a right to define our favorite hobbies and the way that we engage with them. We can’t just be geeks and women and be having fun too. Our place in geek-dom, according to you, is defined by our bodies, our wardrobes, our looks — how you and your pals interpret our attentions — and not by our passion or participation in the things that we love.
To a certain extent, I get the complaints. You’re pissed that the things you love, comics, video games, RPGs, cosplay, etc. are going mainstream. It’s understandable that you’d like to maintain the status quo and keep your hobbies private and purist. But these things you love? They’re not just yours. “Our culture” isn’t some insulated boys-only playground for your pals. Geek culture belongs to anyone who participates in it, who creates content for it, and who enjoys it. Geek culture doesn’t need gatekeepers, and it certainly doesn’t need bullies either. And really, if you’re spending your time at an event walking around trying to spot the fakes, you’re doing it wrong. Get over it and try to enjoy yourself, will you?