Sometimes being a woman and being a geek can be pretty exasperating. The fact that I am a woman has nothing to do with the fact that I am a geek (and vice versa), but for some reason when I am out and about working and playing in the Geekverse, the parts between my legs suddenly become a really big deal. Additionally, the fact that I have breasts and a vagina seems to make some men (and other women) in geek and gamer culture feel they have carte blanche to objectify me and if they are not doing that, they imply that my femininity takes credibility away from my geekiness.
Geek culture has never been particularly kind to the ladies. When they are not written as throwaway love interests for masculine heroes, comic books and video games portray female characters with scantily clad and physically exaggerated hourglass forms, bent in seductive poses even Gumby would have found challenging to attain. (Honestly, I never understood why my paladin in World of Warcraft could put on a set of armor that looks like Iron Man’s suit on a male character, but have it look like a metal bikini on her model.) The vernacular in gaming culture is just as bad as the visuals, with words like “rape” and “pussy” thrown around as derogatory insults and threats that completely take away the original meaning and impact of the words.
Misogyny is an issue at the forefront of the geek community recently, with some relatively high profile “nerd” celebrities coming under fire because they are women finding success in a traditionally male world. Even “Queen of the Nerds” Felicia Day is not immune. A previously unknown gaming journalist by the name of Ryan Perez took to Twitter, calling Day a “glorified booth babe.” His ignorant comment completely ignored the fact that while Day’s entrance into stardom was as an actress, she is also a real actual gamer and the creator of one of the most successful web series in history. Booth babe? I think not.
Speaking of booth babes, why is that suddenly a derogatory term? For those who do not know, a “booth babe” is the term used to refer to a model paid to dress up in costume to promote a product at a booth inside a convention like Comicon. In July, CNN’s Geekout blog ran an article by Joe Peacock entitled “Booth Babes Need Not Apply.” In this article, Peacock lambasts an imaginary group of attractive women (and actress Olivia Munn) who apparently prey on gaming conventions and pretend to be geeks to get attention and fame. I have been to conventions before, and while I have seen numerous models that are paid to be there selling merchandise, I have never met a cosplayer walking the floor who isn’t 100% passionate about her geeky interests.
The disgust for “booth babes” has gone as far as some conventions banning them altogether, like the famous PAX con run by the creators of Penny Arcade. While I understand PAX’s motivation to remove scantily clad women who are paid to sell products from their convention, what I do not understand is Peacock’s hate for the attractive women who choose to engage in cosplay. Is there an attractiveness limit cosplayers cannot exceed in order to be considered “real”? I did not see anything about that on the Comicon website.
Apparently, the first message of geek misogyny is that if I am a woman (especially a conventionally attractive woman), I cannot possibly be a REAL gamer or geek, despite the fact that game and comic culture worships at the altar of the sexy busty babe. Got it.
If that is the first message of geek misogyny, the second message seems to be that the only thing worse than being a conventionally attractive woman in the geek community is being an average looking woman in the geek community. Earlier this year, Bioware writer Jennifer Hepler came under fire in on Reddit for comments she made stating that while she enjoys writing storylines for games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, she does not really like the combat part of playing video games. These comments caused a collective hulk out amongst the socially stunted gamer crowd over at Reddit, with their users not only attacking her on her personal Twitter, but also making harassing calls to her home. She was inundated with derogatory comments about her size and appearance, as well as death wishes and threats against her family. All of this because a bunch of pubescent boys got their boxers in a twist at the idea that someone who may not be a champion at Call of Duty style combat gaming has a hand in creating video games.
Gaming and geekery are not just for the boys anymore, despite all the complaining some of those boys are doing about it. It is no wonder lady nerds created events like Geek Girl Con so they could have a haven from the testosterone fueled mixed messages flying back and forth at traditional conventions. However, as seen in this week’s Nerdery Public guest article by Dean FortyThree and the accompanying comic starring Bella Blitz, even female-centered conventions are not safe from the mocking male gaze. According to the creator of the “This Just In” comic, all we do at “girl conventions” is eat ice cream and share tampons.
I could spend pages pontificating on ways we could help eradicate misogynistic hate from the gaming community, but the truth of the matter is that the only solution is for the geek community to stop being so obsessed with labels. There is no such thing as a real geek or a fake geek. A person who gets really obsessively uncontrollably excited about something (anything) is a geek. There is also no such thing as a real gamer or a fake gamer. Anyone who picks up any video game with any kind of regularity is a gamer, be it the occasional game of Angry Birds on an iPhone or hours of Left4Dead on the Xbox.
While we are on the topic of labels, stop caring that I am female. I am a woman, but that should not matter to a person sitting thousands of miles away on the other side the Internet. It changes nothing about my ability to play and nothing about the validity of my opinions about geek and gamer culture. I am just as good a player as anyone else. (Actually, I am probably better.) The fact that I have estrogen flowing through my endocrine system did not prevent me from out-performing 90% of the men on my raid team in World of Warcraft. I happen to be a woman, but that has NOTHING to do with my ability to pull sick DPS or dominate in battlegrounds. I am just really good at video games, even with my girl parts.
Oh, and one last thing to remember. Even if you respect women as fellow gamers and geeks, you should also remember that respect does not translate to permission to hit on and make sexual comments to women at conventions or in video games. But that topic is a whole other article…