Guest Post by Jessica Mason
There’s a moment, I think all of us self-identified geeks know it, when you walk into your first con and think: I have finally found my people. Where once you existed in isolation, able to share your passions with a few anonymous faces on line, suddenly you’re among other, actual, living, breathing, nerds. The thing about you that had to be hidden – your nerdiness – is something that is shared with this mass of people and celebrated. The only thing comparable I can think of was my first time stepping into a gay pride festival, fresh off of coming out. It was so welcoming and so much fun, and I was indeed suddenly so proud to be myself. Cons are like that. The moment when you’re walking down the street and see the first person dressed as Poison Ivy adjusting their bodice or Darth Vader in the coffee shop, and you know it: you’re home.
I felt that moment profoundly the first time I attended Geek Girl Con in Seattle in August of 2012. GGC was in its second year, just getting its feet wet, and it was still an amazing experience. As I roamed the aisles full of crocheted Avengers, independent game developers, geek community organizations, writers, and artists; I was amazed at the passion and creativity of fans like me, which I had never seen in person. I attended panels about misogyny in gaming and depictions of disability in geek media. I geeked out with dozens of others who were just as nerdy and passionate about these things as me. It was awesome.
I left that first con in awe of female geek culture, and its boundless capacity for critique, transformation, and creation. I didn’t know then how lucky I was that this was my first con experience, and I think it has profoundly shaped the way I view fandom as a positive space for dialog, community, creativity, and especially for women.
Because it’s not always that way.
Big cons can be both a disheartening and perilous place for women of the geeky sort. In the years since my first GGC I’ve had the privilege to attend many different cons, varying from niche cons for one specific show to massive events like Emerald City Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con. I’ve luckily never experienced any harassment or hostility at these events, but none have felt quite the same as GGC.
Going to a big con as a woman is fraught with perils big and small. We’re often presumed to be there as partners or family, and thus ignored or dismissed. The things we’re interested in are either not legitimate, or if we are into something that the fanboys like, we’re presumed to be doing this for attention. These things are especially true when it comes to cosplay. Women in cosplay are presumed to be doing this to serve the male gaze and are fair game to be hit on, photographed without permission, groped and assaulted. Whether it’s the false trope of being a fake geek girl, or the equally pernicious idea that our cosplay makes us fair sexual game, or the idea that we like a show just because of attractive male leads, women in geekdom are placed in a very limiting box. Everything we do is in some way related to sexuality as it relates to men.
But that’s not what female geekdom is about at all.
The idea of Geek Girl Con was born at the big daddy of cons, San Diego Comic Con, when a group of women held a panel titled simply “Geek Girls Exist.” Despite being up against Scott Pilgrim in Hall H, the panel was packed and a huge success. Many of the attendees began to network, and group of Seattle lady geeks worked for over a year to plan and launch the first Geek Girl Con in fall of 2011. They took extra care to make the con the best it could be because they feared backlash from the darker parts of fandom, where any mention of feminism or women is met with harassment and fanboy rage. Luckily, there was no backlash and the grumbling and attacks didn’t come. The first GGC was a roaring success and it’s been growing ever since.
The founders of GGC saw how thirsty geek girls were, and still are, for a place to call our own. Two weeks ago I myself hosted a Feminism and Fandom panel at Rose City Comic Con (based in Portland, Oregon and in its third year) which was filled to bursting with amazing women wanting to talk about how we are treated by fandom and our society. Spaces like GGC are special and treasured because they are so few and far between: they recognize that women have so much to say and contribute to geekdom and that we need a place where we are allowed, encouraged and supported in doing it.
It is important for cons like GGC to exist, not just because they encourage and celebrate the participation of women in geek culture, but because the very way females engage in geekdom is different. We don’t come from a place of privilege as a fanboy would. We share male geeks’ passion and love of different worlds and adventure, but female geekdom is not just about worship and collection, it is about questioning and transformation. Geek girls need support from each other and from geekdom in general in order to continue growing and changing our culture. Things like fanfiction, cosplay, shipping, social critique, networking and support are indeed part of the greater nerd culture, but they are elements driven by women. And as such they are often relegated to footnotes in the greater geek narrative. Geek Girl con and the emerging world of female geek culture is about bringing those elements to the fore and celebrating them.
Or at least I hope it is. I’m heading back to GGC in a week, this time as a panelist and also as a researcher and scholar of fandom and female fan culture. I’m excited for the experience and to meet more wonderful fangirls and talk for a whole weekend about the things I love. But I’m most excited for the moment I get to step through the doors and smile, having returned to my tribe.
We are so excited about GGC and about Jessica writing for us here at acollectivemind.com.