Gender and Nerd Culture: A Year in Review

Watching Star Wars once or playing a video game won’t make you a “geek girl.” … at least not to most of nerd kind.

In a talk that was both short and sweet Allison Wilhelm hit on some of the milestones in nerd culture in 2012, mentioning things like the first gay superhero marriage, the abundance of “bad ass” women in movies like Katniss Everdeen and Black Widow, and the problem with “booth babes“.

Not necessarily a stigma,”Geek girls,” had a special place in her talk, “Gender and Nerd Culture: A Year in review,” as a term that continues to get the nerd community fired up because of the different ways it can be interpreted. “There are fake geek girls out there and we should make fun of them because they are annoying and they are enforcing some damaging stereotypes.” Wilhelm said, “others say the meme itself is what’s causing those stereotypes to exist because we’re all kind of assumed to be fake geek girls until we prove ourselves otherwise.”

A “geek girl” is not a “booth babe”. While we might laugh at the nuance in the terminology they are two very distinct things.  Wilhelm cited an article by Joe Peacock, “Booth Babes need not apply,” for CNN’s Geek Out Blog, that sparked both a backlash and a lot of heated debate.  In his article Peacock rails against poser “geek girls” who he claims are polluting the culture and ruining it for the women who are the real deal.  “I’m not gonna say he wasn’t entirely right, but he wasn’t entirely wrong either.  I’m sure there are a very small minority of women who do, do this.” she said. “But they’re not really hurting anyone, are they? I mean, I can think of way worse people at conventions that I think should be kept out.  Like rude people, smelly people, creepers.  I mean why are fake geek girls the worse things at conventions?”

To me this was one of the most important parts of her talk.  Why do these women, in particular, inspire so much hate? Wilhelm added that added that while most people would prefer someone tending the booths who were also fairly knowledgeable about what they were representing, she pointed that “booth babe” is a legitimate job .  And while you might not like the idea of eye candy standing at a booth for your favourite game you really can’t blame a girl for trying to make rent.   She also talked about convention harassment and the problems faced by professional Cosplayers like Jessica Nigri and Ginny McQueen, who make their living as promotional models at gaming conventions, among other things.

Wilhelm also spoke briefly about Anita Sarkeesian, a vlogger and media critic who created the video series Feminist Frequency “Tropes versus Women.” While Sarkeesian has sparked a lot of intense controversy because of some of her projects and practices, Whilhelm did express admiration for her video “Women in Refrigerators” in which Sarkeesian talks about the superfluous use of female superhero deaths purely as a plot point for male character growth.  While you may or may not agree with Sarkeesian and what she says, she makes a compelling argument.

While there are certainly things to look forward to in the year(s) to come such a Sailor Moon reboot, the Joss Whedon created S.H.I.E.L.D series seemed to be particularly interesting to her. “There is going to be a lot more women in this than in The Avengers,” she said, “and Joss Whedon is doing it and he usually has a lot of respect for women when he makes these movies.”

But, for Whilhelm the big questions is, “Where do we go from here?” Perhaps what’s more important than finding an answer is continuing the conversation which something that Wilhelm seemed very happy and excited to do.

What was amazing about her talk is that despite it’s brevity, she managed to touch on several topics that are important not just for “geek girls” but women everywhere.  With only a glancing knowledge of Comicon and gaming culture, it’s strange for me to think that there would be so much sexism in a group that I have always assumed would have a welcoming embrace for anyone.  But her message wasn’t all bad and while I may never have any cred or be a bonafide geek girl, and while I might never dress up like Sailor Moon and go to a convention, that doesn’t mean I would ever want someone to tell me I can’t, or shouldn’t, if I wanted to.

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