Of geeks and girls
Steampunk and otaku represent at Geek Girl Con 2012, but so did plenty of engineers and scientists.
August 13th, 2012
06:02 PM ET

Of geeks and girls

Editor's note: Rob Salkowitz is an author and business analyst specializing in the future of entertainment, media and technology. His latest book is "Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture" (McGraw-Hill, 2012). Follow him @robsalk.

The term “geek girl” has had to carry a lot of unwanted baggage lately. Intended as a positive self-identity for women and girls with well-developed interests in nerdy pursuits ranging from pop culture to science and engineering, it has become a flashpoint for gender friction within fandom and the target of suspicion among self-appointed guardians of subcultural boundaries.

That’s too bad, not just because girl geeks are as deserving of respect as their male counterparts, but because the emerging persona of the capital-G Geek Girl has the potential to expand old conceptions of both fandom and gender and get us past some of the current silliness.

This positive potential was in full display last weekend in Seattle at the second annual Geek Girl Con (GGC 2012). The program featured celebrities spanning the gamut of nerdom, from comics writer Gail Simone to game designer Corinne Yu, television producer Jane Espenson to Rat City Rollergirl Kitty Kamakaze.

Cosplayers, gamers, Browncoats, makers, steampunks, manga fans and enthusiasts of all stripes were all represented among the crowd of about 3,500. The event seemed busy but not overcrowded, thanks to the move to the more spacious digs of the Washington State Convention Center.

Though much of the programming focused on pop culture favorites like sci-fi, manga, videogames and comics – topics that generate predictable excitement and visibility –several panels featured women in rocketry, robotics, software design and engineering, with special emphasis on helping girls and young women overcome social stigmas against pursuing these areas in school and at work.

Over the weekend, lots and lots of young women came up to the microphone to say, “My friends and I are the only girls at school who like x, y and z. … We just don’t know how to get people to understand us.” Seeing those girls get spontaneous applause from the audience and a panel of respected role models is reason enough to stand up and cheer for GGC.

Social acceptance has been a problem for nerds of all genders since time immemorial, but it’s especially tricky for girls dealing with traditional gender role expectations in addition to the usual conformist pressures. While the male Science Nerd, Movie Geek or Comic  Book Guy are familiar cultural tropes, for better or worse, women do not have established personae that give their geekdom context and history.

Women who have attempted to define themselves within the existing norms either run up against the tribal hostility of the subculture (“are you really as big a nerd as me, or are you just here to get attention?”) or the more generalized gender anxieties of modern American culture (“get lost, feminazi!”).

Sadly, even in 2012 it is still necessary to confront those issues, which is why we have “Girl Geek Con” rather than “Geek Con.”

Nevertheless, men were present in fairly large numbers and not unwelcome. Scenes of fathers and daughters bonding over games, comics or science were common. Lots of exhibitors, whether artists, retailers or fan groups, seemed to be made up of couples in equal partnership. Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin summed things up nicely by observing that “GGC is a con where the default gender happens not to be male.”

The aspect of defining geek girls inclusively across subcultures, rather than exclusively in relationship to male fans and male-dominated pursuits, came through loud and clear at GGC 2012, particularly in the deliberately wide range of female geek personae on display.

One especially fascinating example was the “Sporty Geeks” panel – women in organized competitive leagues for roller derby and Quidditch (a real-life adaptation of the broomstick chase game from the Harry Potter series). The panelists pointed out that the creativity of team names and player alter-egos connects these sports with greater geekdom in the cosplay spirit, in the same style as professional wrestling. But unlike WWE, these are unscripted competitive sports, not just entertainment spectacles. “Women participate in derby because it’s a contact sport, not because it’s a women’s sport,” observed professional rollergirl Kitty Kamakaze. Disrespect her authority at your peril.

The message here is simple. Geek girls just want to have fun and be themselves participating in the great collective social rituals that we’ve built around pop culture, fandom, art and entertainment in the 21st century. It’s not rocket science – except, of course, for the actual rocket science.

In that sense, events like GGC offer a preview of the future of pop culture. Young girls are being exposed to the same kinds of nerdy entertainment and intellectual opportunities as boys, and cultivate the same depths of unabashed enthusiasm for them. The current generation of geek girls, by speaking out and defining themselves in positive terms, are creating recognizable personae that are both authentically geeky and authentically female.

And the sooner people learn to deal with it, the better.

Posted by
Filed under: Brainiac • Fandom
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. punkmonk

    They used to be called Tomboys back in the day. I'm liking "Geek Girl" much better.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • angryblackman

      wrong. tomboys are the girls that want to play sports with the boys and refuse to wear dresses. these are the girls that like to dress up t o get noticed. they wore black makeup were called goth or wierd. they lamented being a teen and becoming a woman..etc...these are the girls that couldnt get a date but had the same crush on the jock as the cheerleaders. These are the thinkers and the women with imagination but also usually the most disturbed and emotionally unbalanced. why do i say all this? cause these are the girls that i have been attracted to my whole life and now there are ways for them to express themselves be noticed and accepted. unfortunately for me I am too old and on the wrong coast.

      September 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  2. Kane Marko

    I was in a Hot Wheels club when I was five. I hated all the "Posers", who bought the cars, but not the really cool ones, and said they were in the club, but didn't actually mail in the receipts and get their official membership cards. Then they'd be, like, "Oh, I'm such a Hot Wheels junky". So this article really struck a chord with me, and it almost made me cry. I can so relate to all the people who this actually matters to. Female "Hot Wheeler's" must have felt JUST like this. Hey, I bet they were the original Girl-Geeks!! In closing, lets sum this up by saying "Who Cares?".

    August 21, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • Gosia

      Nice page, will be in town for a week in Nov to party just wondering if you can suseggt any club that places trance/techno/hardstyle? Also do you recommend checking out time as I can hardly find any detail (photo, booking detail etc) about that club anywhere. Do you know if Palladium has a website as we wouldn't mind checking out that place.I have already reserved a table for Republiq for sat and weds so looking forward to that!!Cheers mate

      November 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  3. Eh?

    Oh CNN, when will you ever tire of beating a dead horse?

    I'm a woman and I attend cons, and I could care less about the posers. Stop paying attention to them and they'll find another place to go.

    August 15, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Mike

      Or, better yet, pay attention to them, and maybe they'll stop posing and start immersing themselves in the culture.

      August 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  4. talkic.com for a change

    love it...and necessary.

    August 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Nicole

      Hey Max, thanks for the fedeback.Got a HUGE list of books to read, like 100, but I'm going to add these books to the list, and not just the list but actually read them.Behavior modification and alpha bl, hmm. that sounds pretty interesting.Yeah I'm committed to go out daily. I know I'm progressing.

      October 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  5. Rachel Edidin

    E-d-i-d-i-n, thanks. Great write-up; I suspect I'll end up quoting that third-to-last paragraph a lot.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  6. wrenthefaceless

    Nothing wrong with geek girls, in fact in terms of cosplay they outnumber the guys probably more than 2 to 1.

    The issue is not them, but the ones that are claiming to be 'geek girls' for the attention since geek is the 'in thing' these days. Go look at a flicker stream of San Diego Comic Con pictures, you can tell who cares about what they dress up as, and whos just 'halloweening' it.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mike

      I think this is, more or less, the reverse of the point the article is trying to make. A lot of people are just beginning in Cosplay, or don't have the money to "do it properly", so they get shunned by the crowd they're trying so hard to identify with. This leaves them in an awkward place... shunned by society at large for their geeky interests, but shunned by their fellow geeks for their apparently-not-geeky-enough interests.

      Both guys and girls of the geek/nerd variety often have issues of acceptance... not just of being accepted, but of accepting others. I've been as guilty of this as anyone, and even having conciously tried to weed those thoughts out of my behavior, I still find myself thinking "What angle are you trying to play here" when someone a little too non-geeky tries to be my friend. When you've been stung so many times by people who got close to you just to pull a prank or make you look stupid in front of their friends, it becomes hard to accept people, even as an adult. But realising it's a problem, and that it's YOUR (MY) problem, is the first step to overcoming it. We've been "the unaccepted" for so long... the best way to fight back is to accept people unconditionally.

      August 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Patricia

      it's true. Girls actually go for looks more than guys. They're ultra picky just bsuacee society makes the guys go after the girls, so they (women) gain this ego from being sought after so much. This ego makes them think they're so hot, you see it all the time on myspace pages with those stupid slogans (Your girls turn heads, my girls break necks) lol what a bunch of dumb ho's.

      September 15, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  7. meredithslota

    P.S. Didn't realize I was logged in as my real name; this is Kitty Kamikaze! :)

    August 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Rajiv

      Hi Quinnlin, I read your Mom's blog cos I want to be a special needs tehaecr when I get out of university and so I feel like I've got to know you and your brother just a teeny bit.Anyway, all I wanted to say is that I am a Girl Guide (Girl Scout) leader in England and I am so so glad you found a troop where the girls are nicer to you! I loved being a Girl Guide and I want every girl to have that chance I wouldn't let the mean girls get away with treating you how they did if you'd been in my troop!Best wishes, Katie xx

      September 12, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  8. meredithslota

    Wow, thanks for the mention! GeekGirlCon is such an amazing event and I was so thrilled to participate. To learn more about girl geek sports like roller derby, visit us here: http://www.ratcityrollergirls.com (I'm here: http://ratcityrollergirls.com/teams/derby-liberation-front/).

    August 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm |