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.

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**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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