Geek Girl Con! And why it matters to me.

10/07/2011 at 1:18 am | Posted in General Nerdery, News & Explanations | 25 Comments
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I never would have called myself a geek as a kid.  I was just a girl who spent every waking hour reading and exploring computers and drawing and learning and buried deep in the land of imagination.  I was just a girl who spent every recess in the library or the counselor’s office, who was socially awkward around people, who fantasized about being a robot or an alien to explain my differences from my peers.  I watched TNG every week with my Dad and wrote Star Wars spinoff stories.  But I would have been deeply confused if anyone had described me as a geek.

Because boys got to be geeks and nerds.  Thirteen-year-old me knew this from movies, adults, my peers, and especially from cartoons, ads, and shows on TV.  Boys got to have comic books and LEGO and play D&D and video games and wield plastic lightsabers.  And the truly geeky boys got beat up and ostracized and mocked for it (like my little brother), so they formed small outgroups proudly identifying more and more deeply with the activities they enjoyed.  Me, I admired those groups from afar – and retreated deep into books, drawing, writing, the land of imagination, where I could write my own adventures.

I quickly learned not to bring up the things I loved, or how much I loved them, around other girls.  I definitely learned how uncool it was to like my homework and my teachers and computers.  I grew practiced at hiding my talents in spelling and math, hiding my love for tests, so as to have any friends.  (It’s still damn near impossible for me to say out loud, “I went to Stanford,” because it’s alienating.  (But I can tell you, because you’re the Internet.)) So childhood was a wonderful but solitary journey.  I have no complaints about this — I don’t see it as a serious problem — it was just my formative experience.  A lot of people nurtured me and my interests, especially my family and certain teachers, and for them I will always be grateful.  But this part of my childhood defines me, it’s my central narrative: hiding my books and my drawings and my test scores.  That was me.  And I wouldn’t change that.

Fast forward to 2006.  I came to Myspace (a little late).  And as I filled out my “interests,” as an adult, with no peer group watching and no pressure to edit myself, I found that the list looked very, very geeky indeed.  And when I started meeting my very first few online friends — through Nathan Fillion’s Myspace page, of all places — I was surprised.  Surprised out of my shoes.  SO MANY OTHER GIRLS LIKED THE STUFF I LIKE.  Including old friends of mine with whom I had played Barbies when I would have rather built pirate ships.  We had been hiding from each other when we were young.  And here we were, all exposed by social media.  And I learned just how many other girls had also secretly been having an experience like me growing up.  I learned how many other girls are embarrassed by their academic accomplishments and love of sci-fi.

I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to find you belong to a community when you thought you were alone.

By joining the “geek” community I have met female friends who enjoy what I enjoy, and who had childhood experiences like mine.  I’ve also met plenty of awesome women who were unafraid to be themselves all along, who boast about their accomplishments and their nerdiness, and I admire the heck out of them.  Geek girls are nothing new, but our openness about it is.  Lightsaber battles are not just for the boys anymore.  And I’m so happy to finally be able to join in the fun as an adult.

These days, geek girls are finding one another and showing up at conventions and comic shops, faster and more vocally than the boys were prepared for, I think.  And it’s a good thing.  But it’s tough.  In a way we’re invading a safe space that once belonged to boys who, at least in their youth, were most comfortable away from those bizarre female aliens.  And I know what it’s like to have a safe space, and to have that space invaded by people who make me uncomfortable (not because they’re evil, but because I’m socially awkward around them, and I’m suddenly a little less free to be myself, bound by awkwardness). So I can empathize with the confusion of this new world for the boys and the suspicions that accompany it.  I’m not surprised this demographic change comes with its rubs and scrapes.

And honestly, certain parts of geek culture are slow to catch up to the fact that we’re here — women have suddenly altered the makeup of the audience, but women are only beginning to become a significant percentage of content creators.  So there are lurches and bumps and internet flame wars along the way to learning to live in a larger community, a community that was a male-dominated outgroup and is now much larger and more diverse than existing social constructs are prepared to grapple with.

GeekGirlCon this weekend in Seattle aspires to be a positive, open, fun celebration, inclusive and accessible to all types (men welcome! kids under 10 free!).  I look forward to seeing how it goes.  I have reservations, but I have a lot more hopes.  I especially hope it empowers people to be who they are and like what they like — perhaps some young girl like me who feels she’s alone in loving school work and Star Trek will learn there’s a larger community she can grow into.  Perhaps some young boy might learn it’s OK to invite that cool tomboyish girl to his D&D table even if he feels pressure not to.  Perhaps we can empower younger folks to reach across the gender divide and find pride in who they are.

The practical stuff:  GeekGirlCon passes are very accessible, starting at $20 if you pick them up in person at local businesses. The con will address some serious issues, like cattiness and sexiness and gender in comics and gaming — but most of the panels and topics are just the same geeky fun you find at any convention.  It’ll feature amazing guests like Jane Espenson, Bonnie Burton, Amy Berg, and Chase Masterson.  And me!  I’m on a Sunday panel about creating community.

And I’m playing in the awesome kickoff event!  It’s open to all, not just con attendees! YOU SHOULD COME!  I recommend tickets in advance as we’re close to sold out/standing room.  BUT IT WILL ROCK.

Seattle, WA // Fri. 10.07.11 – Geek Girl CONcert with Molly Lewis & the Doubleclicks
Tickets now on sale! Molly Lewis out of Seattle, and The Doubleclicks out of Portland.  This very special concert will be held at the Great Hall in Green Lake at 8pm – it’s an all ages show and younger folks are more than welcome.  Tickets $10-15, reduced for students and GeekGirlCon pass holders.  Facebook event here.

I have lots of thoughts about the various geek/gender battles that have broken out on the web lately, but mostly, I see all of it as a sign that we’re undergoing the birth pangs of creating a better community.  I want real discourse, healthy discussion, some education and hard listening, and that’s damned difficult to come by (especially on the internet).  But it’s beginning to happen.  We’re learning to play together.  It’s better than it was, not as good as it will be.  For my part, I want to stay positive and I want to hear some of the opinions that are difficult for people to voice.  I want to hear personal stories more than diatribes that generalize about gender.  There’s a lot of gunk we have to just get out of our systems (and out in the open) to make this community work, and let’s face it, it’ll probably be rocky.  I see myself as a peacemaker and an artist generally.  So I’m reluctant to get too deeply involved in controversies, myself.**

Because mostly?  I just want to have fun.  I want to get back to geeking out about awesome stuff.  And I want a safe community to geek out in.  That’s possible.  We can make it happen.

**********************

**Odds on the comments/response to this post winding up in controversy are entertainingly high.  I will be taking bets as to the topics that will inflame people about a relatively non-inflammatory personal narrative.

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  1. I thought I was the only one who stuck my nose in a book, shouted answers out to the TV when Jeopardy was on (still one of my favorite interactive shows) and watched Star Trek and Space 1999.

    I am a generation ahead of you, one of the late boomers; born in 1960 so I’m a true child of live space flight (and very disappointed that I’ll never fly to the moon or anywhere beyond the atmosphere) and the late 1970’s and 1980’s.

    Like you I kept my geekiness to myself and it took my own daughter to tell me to “embrace my inner geek”. I fell for Firefly, joined MySpace late also and I’m still a great fan of Nathan Fillion. I finally got on the internet also and found a lot of women just like me. I made great friends and was part of an internet group(we called ourselves “Nathan’s Ninjas” back then) that helped to organize “KidsNeedToRead”.

    I finally made it to Dragon Con in 2008 (and got my picture made with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk!) and have been every year since. It’s like a great class reunion and I really look forward to it every year.

    I really wish I could make it to GeekGirl Con but I live on the opposite coast. And I’ll be listening to your new CD and wishing I was there.

  2. Thanks for sharing this — I had a similar experience growing up, and I remember vividly being absolutely mortified when my college roommate (still my best friend) accidentally found out my SAT verbal score. It took me years to find my geek community and I only really embraced my love of sci fi, comics and cons once I turned 40. It’s terrific that you’re involved in an event that will help young women, actually all young people, to be comfortable with their interests and themselves no matter what others might think.

  3. I was “lucky” and grew up in a neighborhood that a lot more boys my age than girls… and some of the boys I liked playing with better were geeks. I was also fortunate to go to a pretty big public school with a great gifted program… which meant I had an easier time becoming friends with (or at least seeing) other geek girls.

    I proclaimed my nerddom proudly. And I’m so glad that you can now, too. Geekgirls unite! And huzzah to the geekboys that support and encourage us… they are a fine breed of men. :)

  4. I’m sad for the geek girls who had to remain closeted when I was growing up … if they existed at all.

    Also sad that I grew up before being a geek/nerd was cool. And I worked so hard in my 20s to shed the nerd stuff … that much of the Internet passed me by.

  5. Personally, I think there’s something sad and potentially tragic about a culture that encourages us to hide our intelligence, our passions and the things that make us unique. You can’t change the world for the better if you’re kept busy being just like everyone else.

  6. […] the original post: Geek Girl Con! And why it matters to me. « Marian Call's Official Blog Categories: Books, Uncategorized Tags: books, from-cartoons, from-movies, lego, peers […]

  7. I love this blog entry! I was one of those boys who revelled in being a geek. I read comic books (Howard the Duck was a favorite, along with Adam Warlock — I went for the troubled anti-heroes that somehow I related to), I loved science and had an early Scientific Calculator (and a hard carrying case that went on my belt), and I loved satire (Monty Python, SNL – the first cast) and Sci-Fi (Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999 and Quark, as well as the works of Heinlein, Clark, and Asimov, et al…). I programmed games on the High School’s one (4K memory no HDD or floppy — cassette tape) computer (now I’ve gone and dated myself — not that anyone else would). I always wondered where the geek girls were…

    Now I’m raising my two girls to be geeks. ;)

  8. The skeptic community and the geek community are going through similar growing pains at the moment, and I agree that it’s only going to make them better. Posts like yours by strong female voices help enormously, I think, by non-confrontationally drawing attention to the issue.

    For myself, I have an entirely selfish reason to want things to improve. I’m tired of working in an industry and participating in communities overwhelmingly dominated by one gender. Every geek or skeptic who’s deterred from participating now is one less person who could be making the whole community a more vibrant, interesting, and diverse place.

  9. Every child should feel secure in being how they are and, if they can’t find friends with the same interests in their own communities, we as adults should help them to make those connections to establish and encourage those interests.

    I want to see my nieces grow up to be confident in who they are, and their love of science and media be unaffected by small minds and narrow perceptions of who and what they should be.

    RAWR! Geek power!

  10. I was a quiet girl, never having many friends, definitely not having much in common with any of them though I definitely did try being interested in makeup and boy bands. (That didn’t last long.) I don’t remember actively hiding the fact that I liked Star Trek… though I wonder now if maybe I thought my friends weren’t smart enough for it. That’s kind of a shameful thought, I know, but I don’t think it was something I chose to believe— I just never brought it up in front of my friends, and I think this might be why.

    They definitely didn’t do as well as me in school, and that did set me apart from them. They also weren’t as intrigued by learning new things, and I felt sorry for them for that. I don’t remember hiding my interest in science or my love for math, though I never ever wanted to flaunt it. I mostly felt sorry for the people who found these things difficult— which might explain why I am so excited that I am choosing a career that will help people get over these difficulties.

    I don’t remember acknowledging the feeling of loneliness, except one time in the year before highschool (so, age 12ish). My previous group of friends had sorta abandoned me (maybe because we had so little in common?), and pursuing these particular friendships seemed difficult, awkward, and unlikely to be effective. I was standing alone, waiting for recess to end, and a guy I sorta had a crush on came up to me and asked, “Why do you always stand here by yourself like a loser?” Taken aback, I thought about it for a moment, but could only reply, “I don’t know…” with genuine puzzlement, because I honestly had no idea why nobody liked me. I knew I had an issue with being too timid to approach people, but I didn’t know why nobody approached me. (Too good of marks, maybe, intimidating them?)

    I do remember declaring how much I enjoyed taking tests, though. In highschool, I harnessed my excitement in a silly way by lining my desk with good luck charms before writing any test. How could test-taking NOT be fun, with a tiny treasure troll and lucky dice nearby?! I think I was hoping it would make me cool, or at least make my geeky tendencies more cool because they were funny instead of awkward. I was actively choosing not to be shy anymore, perhaps because of the comment about standing by myself “like a loser”. It helped. I ended up having a few groups of friends, some of which were the ones who I had little in common with (except a dirty sense of humour, and interest in boys) and some of which I had a lot more in common with (the ones who liked playing card games at lunchtime, and most of which happened to be geeky boys).

    It was freeing to let go of the idea that girls had to be girly-girls and have a lot of girly-friends. I wish gender differences didn’t make people think they had to behave differently, or be weird if they don’t behave like their gender. I wish more people just treated all people like people, rather than as girls and boys who are “soooo” different from each other. (I loved the comment about “bizarre female aliens”! Hah!)

    At the same time, I wish I wasn’t so bothered by the idea of a “geek girl con”, because it sounds like it really is more about encouraging the minority contributors and fans to feel empowered and joyously welcomed, so as to bring balance to the force… I mean, to the genders. I just hope that this is a step towards a far less gender-biased society, so that people of all genders and gender identities can feel welcome and appreciated and free to share their perspectives with others.

  11. Thanks for writing this post. I may not have the chance to attend Geek Girl Con, but I can certainly empathise with you on the whole “Should I conceal my true self lest I be deemed nerdy, repellant, and boastful of my knowledge and achievement?” I’m not exactly a fan of mainstream male-dominated sci-fi, but I have various other “geeky” interests that I used to have problems talking to most people about – movie trivia and classical music.

    But I wonder while growing up the need to play down the geekiness is an issue that concerns straight girls who fear being “unattractive” and “undateable” to boys, alongside being ostracised from and condemned by the community of cool for all eternity?

  12. Such a great time to be a geek girl! I wish I could attend this event, but if this is a growing trend it might be reasonable to expect a Geek Girl Con to come to me some day. Great post, Have fun!

  13. From a geek guy to all you geek girls. I only wish I had known you all were out there when i was a kid. It was tough being a geek as a child and part of what made it hard was not having friends that were girls. Had I known there were so many of you out there with the same interests maybe being a geek would have been a little easier for all of us.

    Course it gets cooler to be a geek every day thank god. Hopefully that trend will continue and there will be a true revenge of the nerds in the future!

    Awesome post Marian and great comments as well.

    One last thing I found this post through someone sharing it on G+ You should get a +1 button!

  14. Thank you for sharing this.
    I was not a geeky kid; no one watched Star Trek in my home, I wasn’t into D&D, and I’m stupid with computers. I found my geekiness as an adult, with a passion for Doctor Who, an appreciation for Star Trek and Marvel, and a rediscovered love of fantasy and sci fi. I’m going to Geek Girl Con, and I hope to find people like me, even if I’m not Stanford smart and I don’t speak l33t.

    I’m sorry I will miss the concert but hope to see you in your panel or at the signing! thank you so much!!!

  15. I’m a half-century older than most geek girls, and I’m late developing that part of me. But somehow I raised a wonderful skeptic/geek/feminist son who is even now in Seattle getting his camera ready to leave for the concert tonight. I wish I could be there, representing and speaking for the older/est geek girls, but instead I’m out here on the east coast following the #geekgirlcon twitter feed and learning. Still learning. If you see my son b!X out there at the con, go over and say hi. He’ll probably be wearing a camera and a pork pie hat and a “Call Girl” t-shirt.

  16. I can’t believe how much this was my life. i wasn’t included in any geeky circle till I dated a geeky guy and 1. I got made fun of by the entire school to my face, 2. I dated him for a year even though he said he was in love with someone else, but all of a sudden I had a bunch of geeky guy friends who didn’t feel uncomfortable about being around me and I finally had my interests incorporated into my friendships instead of always doing what my girl friends were interested in. That and more intelligent discussion about science and all things geeky made my girl friends shopping trips for clothes almost unbearable, and all the bullying not matter. But even though I was in a terrible relationship, i had never felt so free in my life to actually talk about the things that excite me and that I enjoy. What sucks is that I felt I had to be in a relationship with a geek to feel like I could be in with the geeks. Fast forward five years and some of them are still my closest friends, and they admit that if I just started talking to them, they probably would have been too uncomfortable to talk back.
    (and yes I was very very stupid im not saying to date a geeky guy to feel in, just that i was an idiot and somehow life turned out better anyway)

  17. I just wanted to thank you for your very insightful and heartfelt comments at the “cattiness” panel on Sunday at GGC. They spoke to me very deeply, and made me think about my own defensive knee-jerk reactions when someone attacks something I love – or at least I think they are. Afterwards I was inspired to apologize to the good friend I’d come to GGC with for unthinking, hurtful comments I’d made the night before, when I thought a thing that is important was being attacked. Which it wasn’t :-) Thank you!

  18. I love this post, but have one question. Why is it so important to identify with one group or another. I’m both a pop culture whore and a geek, a girly-girl and a tomboy. I could easily be found loafing on the couch watching trash like “the real housewives” or “doctor who”. I could get dressed up and go to a friends cocktail party, but earlier that day was hanging out with some of those same friends playing RPGs. I hate labels, I am not defined by how smart I am or how much I like things other than popular things. I am defined only by my character in how I approach the things I do and love and I personally feel Im a pretty good human. And it if you treat others with respect and dignity, I’d be happy to call you my friend. Come on over, we can get dressed up and play some DnD!

  19. […] self-criticism is tempered now, but it was not always so. As a child, she suffered the social plight of many brainy introverts: feeling, and being made to feel, that it isn’t ok to be smart or eccentric or intense. The […]

  20. I was lucky. I knew a few “out” geekgirls growing up. And I can speak for a very, very large number of geekguys, both the adults and the 13 year-olds, when I say that “girls==aliens” does not compute. Girls==girls. What “==aliens” is the non-geeks. Geekguys are a lot more at home with geekgirls in the group than we would be with nongeek guys.

    You know…”this is our thing, and if you want to join it we’ll be glad to have you, but if you want to change it, you’d best keep on walkin'”. Geekgirls, from what I’ve seen, mostly want to join what we’ve already got. Nongeek guys (to the extent they pay us any attention…which is a much greater extent nowadays than it was when we were kids) want to change it.

    The sad thing, I think, is the way a lot of secret geekgirls adopt the protective coloration of mundanes in order to fit in, and then find it difficult to cast off that coloration in order to fit in among other geeks. I hear some echoes of that in your story too. Hopefully you and others like you can help them find a better way.

  21. Thankfully I grew up with mostly boys so I didn’t feel the stigma so much (breyer horse in spaceships, anyone?).
    Keep warm up there this week.

  22. I love this post! Your music is one of my exciting new discoveries of 2011. That’s why I nominated your blog for the Versatile Blogger Award. You can check it out here: http://yearningforwonderland.blogspot.com/2012/01/awards-of-versatility-15-magnificent.html?showComment=1325891539455#c541672334698232973

    Keep playing!
    Anna
    @ruanna3

  23. Re-reading this blog post makes me HELLA proud to be a staffer and HELLA excited for next weekend! Thanks for the additional support, Marian. You’re one of my favourite Geek Girls, for DAMNED sure : )

    It’s an ALL CAPS EXCITED KINDA DAY!!

  24. As a self-proffessed geek, I didn’t have trouble accessing my inner geek, but no matter how often my mom would ask me if there were any girls I wanted to invite over, no names ever came up. I didn’t even have what I considered a “smart” friend who was female until about 5th grade. I hung out with the boys from kindergarten until forever and I had no problems until my mother said that I shouldn’t go to D&D because there were no other girls there. She wanted me to bring my 15 year old brother ( im barely 14) or a girl who wasn’t interested in coming.I had to appeal to my dad, and I was only able to go to pax this past year. Even now, I can only think of 3girls other than myself who are “geeky” and Im not even going to high sschool with them as Im going to the local governor’s school (ranked 16 in the country.) And they are continuing the normal route… I was not as accepted in 6th grade by the boys and it baffled me, because at the time I had one female friend. That was tough but in 7th it was better. I met my D&D group and became hitty towards bigots. And I NEVER got in trouble. Ahhh, the joys of being teachers pet.
    I wish that I could go to geek girl con, but I live in the east coast and I am not allowed to go to PAX prime, let alone something my brother wont go to. I love your story, and I plan to raise any daughters I may have in a geeky enviornment.

  25. This was beautifully touching and achingly familiar. So glad you’ve embraced yourself! There’s quite a lot if girls like us.


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