At a professional convention I am likely to hug you. At a comics/pop-culture convention I am likely to say please don’t touch me

At a professional convention I am likely to hug you. At a comics/pop-culture convention I am likely to say please don’t touch me

It has been heart warming to see honest conversations about sexism, harassment and prejudice in story-sharing communities (be it gaming, books, or comics). Sometimes it makes me cry a little. I find it interesting that now that men are talking about it a lot more it has become news, and I find it a huge relief that men are talking about it. It’s nice to see men talking about men’s behavior in a way that makes my humanity feel heard.

So mostly I’ve been watching and listening, pleased with the conversations, and passing on links.

John Scalzi wrote: Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be. In response to a guy who who wrote for CNN and who’s “not sexist but…” and there have been some great follow up posts. I’m scared of writing down my thoughts. I’m scared that I might be judged negatively, and the guys seem on top of it. But I feel like my words might be useful, and it’s a perspective I have not yet seen in the conversation.

I’m a 6ft tall triple D cup with long hair and a small waist for my height. My face is fairly symmetrical and I smile frequently, which has trained my face to have a pleasant affect.

I love books, comics, games, I don’t remember my first D&D game because I was three, and when I was looking for archetypes to live up to I really wanted to be Tanis Half Elvin, but came to the sad conclusion that I was just Caramon  (and because of that I was tanking in real life before the term was invented).

I am friendly, affectionate and have social skills – skills I developed through blood, sweat and tears. Being a tall, assertive girl, who would not bow her head, and with a sense of style stranger than Dr Who, I got bullied a lot. Three times, in two separate schools, people stole items of clothing and mutilated/set fire to them.

If I meet you at a convention for pros or a convention that has a strong stance against bigotry I’m a fairly affectionate person. I am exuberant, I am joyful, we may hug at some point (if you’re a huggy person yourself).

At NewYorkComicCon, or SanDiegoComicCon or conventions with a high degree of sexual objectification – I am still socially capable, but my professionalism is more edged and I am wary of physical contact. I am still friendly, but part of me is reading the room before anything as ‘girly’ as physical contact happens. I wear suits. I like wearing suits to conventions anyway, but at SDCC and the like it becomes protective armor. The armor helps, but stuff still gets through the chinks.

I hope some day I will have enough of a visual brand that people won’t assume I’m a booth babe. I hope some day I can go to SDCC or NYCC or a convention with a lot of cosplaying without my breasts being an issue. Without someone treating me like arm candy or asking me sneeringly if I read comics while at a comics event, or some random thinking that shouting out to me “Nice shape” in a sleazy tone associated “Nice tits” is somehow complimentary. Or feeling like an impostor because people assume I’m the girlfriend of whatever male professional I’m standing next to.

Even at the sleaziest conventions I’ve been to, the majority of people I’ve spent time talking to have been excellent. We’ve had wonderful conversations, witty banter, thought provoking conversations and even consensual non-skeazy conversations about my boobs.

I hate to miss out on those excellent people, BUT the background radiation wears me down. The knowledge that I need to prove my humanity and ‘realness’ repeatedly if I want to participate wears me down. The knowledge that if I was shorter and dressed more generically I would go from the “booth babe” problem to the “just plain invisible” problem, wears me down. It wears me down and my sense of humor is getting shorter and shorter. As I get older I’m rolling with the punches less and it’s hurting more.

One thing I like about Peacock’s misogynistic rant about the evils of ‘fake geek girls‘ is that it shows what a lot of the general misogyny looks like, the land of “I’m not sexist, but”. I’ll got out on a limb and say every bad experience I’ve had convention comes from a little Peacock or a group of Peacocks assuming that I’m not real.

So thanks to everyone who’s doing their bit to shift culture. This ‘fake geek girl’ salutes you.

Added thought after conversations and feedback on twitter

I called Peacock’s actions “I’m not sexist, but,” because by going to great pains to talk about how he knows Felicia Day is ‘real’ he is trying to contextualize himself as clearly ‘not sexist’. Therefore it would be mean to read his thoughts as sexist, because that’s not his intention.

Intentions don’t matter, except that your chances of providing a good apology and becoming a better ally increase. If you feel a need to credential yourself as ‘not sexist’, so that people get you’re ‘not sexist’, chances are you’re doing it wrong. Peacock’s intentions may have been good, but his article and the follow ups I’ve seen from him err more towards protectiveness of his white male privilege. Dude, there are good models on how to recover after you’ve punched people in the face!

And yeah, I don’t care how awesome he has been to kittens or how much we might bond over how fantastic Transmetropolitan is. I care that with an article that starts its thesis with “There is a growing chorus of frustration in the geek community with – and there’s no other way to put this – pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.” goes downhill from there, and has in its concluding remarks “However, you “6 of 9s” out there? You’re just gross…and don’t be shocked when they send you XBox Live messages with ASCII penises.”

He is, through his actions, encouraging and normalizing misogynistic actions and attitudes. I do not agree with his argument, and I do not agree with his placement of blame.

Jay Smooth is one of my heroes of thoughtful activism (when we were moving to America he was one of America’s ambassadors of awesome) and his video on How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist is something I return to. And to draw from his examples, it doesn’t matter that you thought you were providing a compliment or it was funny when you yelled at an attractive woman crossing the street. What matters is that woman just had “yargahbargahargah tits” yelled at her from a moving car, again. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, it doesn’t matter if she’s ‘real’ or ‘fake’.

And Mr Peacock, if you happen to read this, thanks for dropping by. This video might help you listen. Race and gender are different aspects of human experience, but the heart of how to listen to the criticism you are receiving is the same:

20 thoughts on “At a professional convention I am likely to hug you. At a comics/pop-culture convention I am likely to say please don’t touch me

  1. I really, really want to get all the folks who are saying such great things in this conversation together in a room sometime and give all of you a standing ovation.

    Then we can all laugh nervously about it and share a tray of cookies or something before tearing off onto those conversations that make being a geek so fucking worthwhile.

  2. If there was such a thing as a fake geek, you would be disqualified for dropping Tanis and Caramon like it’s no business – a lot of geeks today haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the world of Krynn.

  3. Thanks guys. I hope to see you at a convention or reading of awesome some time.

    … of course I could be dropping Dragon Lance comments just to rudely and grossly prove myself, Fake Geek girls are on the nose like that ;-)

  4. I think you totally just coined a term here.

    Starting a discussion with “I’m not [term]-ist, but…” is now known as “peacocking.”

  5. I both love it… and feel bad about it. The Jay Smooth on my shoulder says “It’s not about who they are, it’s about what they did, are you sure this will be constructive for the conversation?” The word fiend part of me says “but peacocking sounds awesome and it will be a useful language tool. Surely people will forget about its origins.”

    Oooh! I’m genuinely torn! Have I created a monster? Is it a delicious monster?

  6. I enjoyed the article, but I’d like to make one correction. I was Tanis Half-Elven growing up, so it’s a good thing you stepped up off that and settled for Caramon, or we’d have to have an archery contest to settle things.

    I guess that wasn’t really a correction. Sorry, I’m still having some personal issues with how things ended up with Lauralanthalasa.


  7. See, here’s the thing that sticks in my craw; geek women have to prove their geek cred in a way a man who self-identifies as a geek never does. You did it in your article, citing Tanis and Caramon to prove that, hey, you were a Real Geek. (I’m a Real Princess, myself; I can pee through 20 mattresses!) We shouldn’t have to do that. You certainly shouldn’t have to have chaps say “OK, you’re in, based on my judgment of your credentials” or, “What? You can’t recite the names of Strider? You fakey fake McFakerson, you are only here to pick up men and I have a right to dismiss you”. In 2 decades of fandom, I’ve perfected the glacial stare and the equally glacial “So glad you approve” in response to men who assure me that I’m legitimate in their opinions. It sucks that I’ve had the opportunity.

  8. Wonderful post, Liz! I guess I’m always surprised when anyone trots out the “you’re not a ‘real’ _____” argument, as if there was only one way to be a “real” anything. Or, more laughably, that anyone has sufficient corner on the geek market to make themselves an official judge. Again, as if there is any officialness about it.

    If we were talking about physics or brain surgery, sure. But we’re talking an appreciation about things which qualify as geek, and that’s a sliding scale. Even booth bunnies have some geek to them, and people who dismiss the reality of their joy in whatever aspect of geekdom they enjoy are missing the point of being a geek.

    We’re inclusive. Come share this really cool thing with me! Those who are exclusive do so out of their own ego issues. They’re missing the ultimate awesome of the whole experience. And for that I both pity and laugh at them.

    No one has the qualifications to proclaim anyone’s geek to be more pure than another’s. Time for them to get over it.

  9. Thanks for sharing Liz – this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. And it was so apt that you linked the misogyny to racism because, as others have noted also, the whole thing smacks of tribalism. Puts me in mind of an article I read several years ago by a female WOW player that had me ranting and raving to a male colleague who only took away one thing from the article: the score.

    I would like to say that gender equality in online gaming has improved greatly since then, but if the forums are any indication, not so much. It’s gone from “girls don’t play online games” to “if you’re a girl, and you play games online, please don’t tell me your true gender. otherwise, I’m going to judge you negatively.”

  10. Hi Liz

    You write not without pain, big hug from here to you. Don’t remember being aware of the burning garments at school like that…

    I am sure that your towering intellect is something a few find hard to deal with it, always have, always will, life’s burden, also extra burden when you have the sensitivity of a creative rather than rhinoceros skin.

    Stephen J Gould in Dragons of Eden talks of the r-complex
    – the part of the brain inherited from reptilian ancestors and still present – as responsible for much of our tribal ganging-up, as with ants as also with religion. Disappointing for some to have religion associated with such extra-Hsapiens life. But from the social anthropologist’s perspective, focused on what people do rather than what they assert of themselves or ‘believe’, it has value in understanding the persistence of such group behaviour in our species and others. As built-in, built-on, built-over, like DOS in Windows 95 and beyond only more so. Not a problem just to be tolerated, but somehow to be dealt with as existing rather than just wished away in seeking to improve the species.

    This fits nicely with Jay Smooth’s (thanks for the link) approach to talking to people (let me put it this way) without confronting their r-complexes. Can you talk to the limbic or frontal brain and get them to see the folly of one’s r-complexity, to reject being led by the r-complex? The limbic in the triune brain being what we got from primates, which produces what we often call our ‘humane’ perspectives and fuzzy-warm actions; the frontal brain being source of crazy constructions loosely connected to not necessarily much but own constructs. As i’ve said before perhaps, the frontal lobes in my view evolved as a big cooling system for awkwardly upright, inadequately hirsute hominids on the African plain. The upright to see the lions coming, the unhirsute to be ‘shaved down’ and run faster, the heat-losing front lobes going on to unexpected but now dominant functions: to explain, expand and justify both cool and un-cool thought and actions (including this comment) for millennia past, as also will for millennia to come, if we persist, being essentially a Golgafrinchan species.

    Meanwhile, back at ranch gamester-geekster, there will surely always be space commanders, or would-be space commanders who do what they do to avoid being where they can’t cope and who seek to shape worlds to their own discomforting mould. It is hard, if one thinks one is an ant colony, to see the world other than zero-sum, to shift to see the possibility of making room, changing shape, become more, for more, not just to assert more of for the same. But that’s the culture change conundrum.

  11. Yes, this, exactly. I’m not tall, but I was born blonde and blue eyed and with a chest. My job requires me to stay fit. I get marginalized constantly.

    As an aside, I come from a slightly different slice of fandom and didn’t have instant recognition on all your examples, but then, you probably wouldn’t recognize all of mine…if I were willing to give them. I’m obviously much surlier than you are about the whole thing.

  12. Thanks for all your comments and links. I’m so glad people are continuing the conversation here and elsewhere.

    Catseyes, if you feel like anonymously providing examples here or elsewhere I fully support you. I understand providing examples can be painful and not always be safe. Specifically naming what happens has power and I hope this space or other spaces can be useful to vent in.

  13. Attending Geek Girl con on the weekend and reading comments here got me thinking about a resource list for safe places to share information and vent. It’s easy to feel alone when harassed – and it’s in the interest of predators to keep people feeling alone.

    Fat Ugly or Slutty is a site where women can share the misogynistic harassment they receive in online computer games. It’s a powerful tool to share information, laugh at the ridiculousness of the insults and to share with men so they can see what harassment looks like.

    Does anyone have any other suggestions?

  14. I should add Fat Ugly or Slutty comes with a trigger warning, as the title implies. The insults, threats etc posted up there are not censored. The insults are fairly horrifying, but most of the commentators are women laughing at the ridiculousness. So the yuck is articulated and acknowledged, but the resilience of laughter has a strong presence.

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