This is an article I’ve been putting off writing for a while, despite how close it is to my heart. As a geek and a girl, I have experienced the full array of treatments that our community has to offer women. I have been ignored and insulted; idolized and fetishized; but also welcomed with respect, integrity and open arms. As I sat at my kitchen table this morning eating breakfast and facing an age-old dilemma (attempting to read my comics and eat my food without staining Alex Ross’ stunning artwork), I started thinking again about the recent resurgence of internet hatred for “fake geek girls.” My goal today isn’t to get angry about the constant and abusive griefing of women in video games, or to systematically respond to every self-righteous blogger who wants to list me the reasons why girls cannot be geeks. I don’t have the constitution for that right now, it’s too infuriating. My intention is simply to paint a brief picture of what our experiences are; the good and the bad.
I was fifteen when I went to my first convention: FanExpo. I was excited, and I’d been planning my costume for months. I went as Zatanna, my costume almost entirely comic-accurate, except for the black mini-skirt I wore instead of the leotard panties she wears. My best friend was 80’s Black Canary, magnificent in high black boots and a blue leather jacket. At fifteen, many of the leers and lingering stares I received mostly didn’t affect me, but there was one incident which has stuck with me. A man came up to us, looked us up and down, smiled excitedly. He was carrying a camera.. “Can I take a picture of you for my—I mean our—website?” he asked, leering. Uncertainly, we agreed. He snapped a few shots, staring uncomfortably the whole time. Then, as I went to ask him what organization he represented, he disappeared into the crowd.
Throughout high school, I began getting more and more into video games. I came to the community late, but latched on with enthusiasm. There were two game stores within walking distance of my school: an EB Games, and a small independent retailer, which will remain unnamed. As a young, idealistic teenager, I was keen to fight the big businesses and stand up for the little guy. I went into the place a couple times with friends, hanging back shyly while they chatted with the (all male) sales staff. I knew the stereotype already, and I didn’t want to come across as one of those “stupid girls.” Finally, one day, I was looking to pick up the sequel to a little-known JRPG I had picked up in a Blockbuster sale bin. I walked in, and stood at the counter, waiting for the salespeople to finish their conversations. When they did, however, they turned immediately to other, male patrons. Then to the next ones. I stood at that counter for ten minutes, trying to catch someone’s eye, unwilling to speak up and make a scene. Finally, the owner emerged from the back, saw me waiting, and came over to talk to me. He heard my question, went “No, we don’t have it,” and walked away again. I looked around at the other staff members, all of whom avoided my gaze, and walked out of the store for the last time.
I realize that these incidents, viewed in a vacuum, don’t seem significant. But every woman who’s in any kind of geek community has at least half a dozen stories like this too. As someone who’s always been a geek myself, I understand the instinct to protect one’s culture. That said: I’m no psychiatrist, but I know a defense mechanism when I see one. I understand that marginalized communities (and yes, I realize that many people would argue that this is a misuse of that phrase to the highest degree) feel a need to protect themselves against the outside world. When you’ve been hurt once, it’s too easy to be afraid of being hurt again. But we aren’t the outside world. We’re just the opposite sex.
Like I said, though, this article isn’t about a battle of the sexes. It’s not about pitting men against women, or geeks against the world. I have so many good memories as well: My best friend sitting patiently beside me as I learned the basic mechanics of Final Fantasy X and putting up with my Pikachu cheap shots in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Walking into a comic shop, pulling down a copy of Superman: Red Son, and striking up a conversation with a fellow patron about how it’s the best Superman story ever told. Making eye contact with a complete stranger on the subway and smiling, because we both know we’re playing the newest Pokemon game on DS. We were all initiated into geekdom once upon a time. We all had to learn, and had those wonderful, patient people who taught us everything we know. We’ve all had our treasured times and bittersweet memories. But as a community, we cannot stay this divided. And the easiest way to be reunited is to learn how the other half lives.
(xposted to Breaking the Scales)