Kleefeld's Fanthropology #21: Fake Geek Girls

Kleefeld's Fanthropology

I've actively avoided the "fake geek girl" discussion so far for a few reasons. First, it's asinine. Who the drok do you think you are to question anyone's interest in any fandom? That someone even feels the need to openly denounce the legitimacy of another's fannishness says more about the accuser than the accused, so you accusers would do best to shut the frak up.

Second, I was really hoping everyone -- everyone -- would recognize how blatantly obvious the first point is and it would stop. Foolishly optimistic of me, I know.

Third, I am a white male, and have the privilege of never having had my fan credibility checked. Which means that I've never experienced the issue first-hand, and I'm probably socially conditioned to even miss second-hand events in action. I'm largely only familiar with the issue from after-the-fact reports online. And let me state, too, that I do not doubt a single instance of the stories I've read; while I haven't witnessed these types of things personally, I can all too easily visualize them happening on a regular basis. As I said, though, I'm looking at his from a position of privilege, and have decades of social conditioning telling me that "normal" and "respectful" are the same thing. (And to ensure you don't miss the sarcasm here, they're not.)

Seanan McGuireSeanan McGuire relayed a story this week of something she witnessed at this year's Comic-Con. I'd like to quote a bit from it:

While we were doing that, a man with a camera came up and started taking her picture without asking permission. She stopped talking to us, turned her body slightly away from him, held up her hand, and said, "You can't take my picture unless you can tell me who I am."

She was dressed as a very iconic Emma [Frost]: all in white, with the half-cape connected to a semi-corset top, white boots, and a white "X" logo on her belt. She had small snowflakes on her collarbones, representing Emma's transformation. She had the white choker. She had the blue lipstick. Basically, if you have any familiarity with Marvel, you would recognize her, and since that version of Emma has been on literally hundreds of comic book covers in the past five years, even most DC readers should have recognized her.

"Storm?" guessed the man.

McGuire goes on to say how that happened four more times... while they were standing there talking! The men were just taking pictures of any scantily clad women they could find, not taking in any appreciation of the craft that went into the costumes, much less even trying to connect with the cosplayer based on the character they were portraying.

And sadly, this is a fairly tame story. I largely chose it because it was the most recent one I've read. But the idea of women being pushed to the side in fandom goes back decades. I was surprised when I first started work on my book about comic book fans how the first draft of my history chapter scarcely mentioned women at all; then I realized that was by societal design. Men have dismissed the efforts of women for so long that the idea of a "girl" (because "woman" conveys too much respect) doing anything of significance in fandom was ludicrous.

Long-time comics and science fiction fan Maggie Thompson was at the original Alley Tally, the first significant gathering of comic fans. Her mother was Betsy Curtis, a Hugo-nominated science fiction author in the 1950s and '60s, so Thompson went in with a pretty solid pedigree. And yet it was her husband who was selected for the Alley Award's nominating committee, not her.

Wonder Woman: Super Secretary!Even Wonder Woman herself was relegated to the role of secretary in the original Justice Society stories, not allowed to actual go on missions with the team, but just record them and take notes during the meetings. Not surprisingly, those issues were written, drawn, and edited by men.

Part of the problem is that girls have cooties.

Honestly, I don't know if the idea of cooties still exists in grade schools, but the concept is basically the same here. Men can recognize that women are different, and therefore are part of an outgroup. That is, "they" aren't "us." So they're seen as different and "other", and by definition (however wrongly it's defined) are necessarily to be treated differently. They're to be pushed aside and run away from lest they infect you with their otherness.

And while you don't see people going around conventions trying to quarantine people for having cooties, they use more subtle social pressures to achieve the same result. They question a woman's authenticity as a fan. They question whether she has the "right" to be on the con floor. They question that she's there for any purpose other than to be oggled.

Folks, this is fandom. If someone says they're a fan, then they're a fan and no one has any frakkin' right to question that!