Oh You Sexy Geeks, the Takeaway: We need to Reject the Premise
Going into the Oh, You Sexy Geek panel on Thursday morning, I was excited by the prospect of seeing some of the latest attacks on the concept of women as geeks dissected. The panelists were knowledgeable and varied: Bonnie Burton, Adrianne Curry, Jill Pantozzi, Clare Grant, Kiala Kazebee, Clare Kramer and Jennifer K. Stuller are steeped in geek cred.
Unfortunately, there are two things that soured some of the discussion for me: Ms. Stuller (ironically or not,) referring to herself as a, “Humorless feminist,” and late arrival to the panel, Chris Gore, talking about being willing to stick his penis in any member of the panel.
I can take a joke, but that summed up the problem for me pretty succintly. The misogyny and pre/proscriptivism that we get from external media sources is driving the continued marginalization of women as geeks. I also felt that Ms. Stuller’s inference wasn’t simply that she was there as the academic, legitimate voice of, “Humorless,” i.e., “Serious,” feminism, but that the rest of the women on the panel somehow weren’t. I don’t know Mr. Gore or Ms. Stuller, and I’d like to think these were simply bad jokes gone awry, but if they aren’t. . . these extremes are exactly why this panel exists.
So I’m rejecting the premise. Can women be geeks and be sexy? Let’s ask Nathan Fillion how being a sexy geek is working out for him. Are hot starlets pandering to a geek audience? Oh, hey, John Barrowman says he’s a lifelong sci-fi geek, let’s ask him if he’s pandering. My rule is this: unless it is a direct biological function, asking someone of any gender whether they’re capable of being x, y, or z is unacceptable.
The panel was too short, and Chris Gore’s flippant comments felt like they derailed a conversation that was turning over at least a few of the issues faced by women in the geek community. I’ve never met Mr. Gore and I’m not ascribing a motive, but tacky doesn’t begin to describe that remark.
If a man looks at a woman while thinking he’d like to screw her and simultaneously thinks that she can’t possibly be an authentic geek, there’s the breakdown in a nutshell. If women look at other women and think that because men will want to screw them, or because women look like they don’t mind men thinking they want to screw them, they can’t possibly be an authentic geek, are two sides of the same coin. There’s no one way to geek, or be a woman, but I’ll be damned if people don’t keep trying to say there is.
I found most of the discussion productive, but the fact is: there are so many intersections when it comes to simply being women, that when we’re talking about being geeky women, let alone sexy, geeky women, it’s the big red button of overload. There’s not enough time to cover everything in a meaningful way. I also felt that with so many panelists, it was hard to ensure that everyone got equal time. Bonnie and Adrianne were obviously the most extroverted members of the panel, and addressed the questions asked by both moderator Katrina Hill and the audience, with blunt aplomb.
Some women just identify as geeks, without the qualifier. This is no more or less valid than my choice to identify specifically as a geek girl, because I want recognition that I’m both. That we see repetitious questioning of women’s geek credibility, and then see the marginalizing of attractive women who claim to be geeks, is and will always be absurd.
A high point for me, among all the discussion of cosplay, comic book characters’ costumes, and the what is sexy/is sexy okay for female geeks, was some discussion of why there aren’t more sexualized male characters in geek media. I loved that the panel, most prominently Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry acknowledged how underserved the female gaze is. Yes, we do need more scantily-clad men in comics and cosplay. The female presence at SDCC is growing, and if we’re not at least half the attendance numbers already, then that day is coming soon. Again, it’s time to reject the premise that we’re in the minority. We’re not. We’re half the audience. Some of us consider ourselves sexy, some of us don’t. Some of us want to be, some of us don’t. Some of us are more introverted, some are extroverted. None of those things determine our value as people, as women, or as geeks.
The panel got me thinking, hard, about why we’re still having these conversations. Is there misogyny in geek culture? There is. Is there girl-on-girl violence in terms of how we should express ourselves as geeks and as women? Yes, there is. What keeps stirring things up and marking the gender-division in high relief, is the media. Every time someone says that an actress is pandering, or that any woman isn’t allowed to be something, because it doesn’t fit with expectation, the media sets us back. When a woman calls another woman out on being, “Too sexy,” the media latches onto that and the battle rages on.
Ah, the media. My take-away from the panel was an aspect that didn’t get enough discussion: the media feeds into this BS. It gets them pageviews and comments and it gives them a chance to be lazy in covering a story. It also allows the misogynists and trolls to come out of the woodwork. They’re out there, but when they see their opinions validated, they go into a feeding frenzy. One aspect of the discussion that I’m sure is going to be treated with derision is one I would have liked to see more of: Women dissing women for their appearance. We live in a culture where a woman’s primary currency is her appearance, this is drilled into our consciousness 24/7/365 from birth. We live in a culture where gender roles are pre- and proscribed. We live in a culture where we expect men to be competitive with each other on the sport or career field, while women are inculcated with the message of competition over attractiveness and husbands, because the cisgender, heteronormative message is what we are fed by society. The ways in which women police each other are conflicting: society at large gives us the too fat/too thin/too ugly/too pretty/too sexual/not sexual enough/too career driven/not career driven enough constant flow of messages that tell us that we will never be good enough the way we are. There is a vocal segment of feminist culture (that doesn’t seem representative of the wider feminist community) that also gives us the anti-sex/anti-sexy message. Feminism is supposed to be about giving women the freedom to make whatever choices we want. When feminism starts trying to decree what those choices are, there’s conflict with the interests of women. Why is it threatening to a woman’s power if she wears a Slave Leia or Emma Frost outfit, or dresses like a, “Slut,” and feels perfectly confident doing so? Because our society teaches us that women aren’t allowed to have ownership of their sexuality. The traditional attitude of adopting more masculine modes of dress, or a desexualized appearance if you claim to be a feminist, is one that lurks beneath many an argument about why sexy is bad. If we like to look or feel or behave in sexual ways, we’re in rebellion against the notion that being sexual makes us a tool of the patriarchy and the oppressive media. Yes, messaging matters, but any feminist who brushes off the notion that there are incredibly oppressive elements in feminism is in denial. Confronting the fact that whether it’s motivated by jealousy or by a set of rules that are just another version of the patriarchal model, is necessary.
It was gratifying (and for reasons having nothing to do with him,) irksome, when Seth Green added his two cents to the panel discussion. He said a lot of the things I was thinking, and I’m glad he said them. I just wish that there had been more of that discussion, and less of specific instances, by the panel. It’s too easy for the audience in the room, and the media coverage, to hinge on one person, rather than the prevailing attitudes. This doesn’t make the conversation move forward, so much as it traps us in a feedback loop. Mr. Green has a thorough grasp of where the BS and the breakdowns in discussion come into play. It’s not up to any one of us to tell someone else that they can’t choose to be empowered and sexual at the same time.
I say again: reject the premise.
I think we’re going to have to keep having these kinds of conversations for a while. However, I’d like to see a panel that gets those journalists who’ve felt justified in questioning the geek cred of women, under the microscope. Let’s get the reporters from FilmDrunk and Salon and Ginia Bellafante on a panel with geeky women and see what happens. We know that women can be geeks, we know they can be sexy geeks, and we know that there isn’t just one way to geek. Let’s start calling out the people who don’t know that, instead of feeding into a false debate with each other.
Like I said: I reject the premise of the question. I reject giving up the definition of my self, to someone else’s opinion. What do you think?