It’s March, and we are now weeks away from the beginning of Convention season.
I know that conventions actually go on year-round, but March is often considered the kick-off of convention season with Emerald City Comicon at the end of March and going through New York Comic Con at the beginning of October.
Already, I hear the laments of cosplayers trying to get their costumes done in time. I hear fans complaining that San Diego Comic Con sold out in under an hour, again. I have friends doing panels at conventions who are stressing about what they are going to say. I had one person explain to me how the Gen Con Hotel lottery system is broken and how he wrote a program to fix it, if they would just respond to him.
All in all, pretty normal stuff.
But this year feels different.
There has been a lot of stress lately in geek culture and, with convention season almost here, people have to deal with what is happening in person instead of just online. The concerns about harassment, and even violence, have a lot of people on edge.
Most of what is going on is not new. I have been covering it here for the last few years. A lot of the old factors are still at play: misogyny, gatekeeping, fear mongering, and privilege. What has changed is the level of focus.
It would be easy to say that this is all Gamergate’s fault, but that would be over simplifying the situation. Gamergate is not the cause of what is happening, it has simply provided a rally point for the problematic aspects of geek culture. The old triggers are still at the heart of what is going on, but what has caused things to go ballistic is actually the fact that things have been improving.
Last year we saw several conventions adopt harassment policies that were well worded and comprehensive enough to actually be effective. You have also seen women, minorities, and LGBT come forth and demand representation and a safe place to be geeks with the rest of us. You’ve seen the industries that fuel geek culture start to respond positively to these segments of their audience.
Sadly, for many people, strides made by others are seen not as an expansion of geek culture but as a threat to them. It’s as if even though 95% of everything is still being about them, they begrudge the other 5%.
Thus, we have the atmosphere of fear that now pervades geek culture. The old guard fear that they are losing something, and they use fear to try to drive off those they see as interlopers. And with the escalation of threats, there is a legitimate fear of violence.
But as awful as Gamergate is, it also has a silver lining.
Yes, there are people being driven off, or deciding never to join in geek culture due to this, but others are being galvanized. People who might have just been going along have become activists to show that the harassers are a vocal minority and not representative of our culture.
The escalation of harassment is terrible, but it has caused wider exposure to it, resulting in more discussion on how to deal with it. It has also led to more mainstream media attention, which helps.
I am not saying it is all rainbows and kittens. I know several people who have been targeted. One had to find a new bank, due to repeated hacking attempts at her account. Another deleted her twitter history after receiving a Gamergate education post, so that she could remove any potential information about her daughter.
As a white heterosexual cis male, I doubt I can even begin to imagine what it is like to be a woman, minority, or LGBT on the internet.
I also do not expect any of this to just go away. I have been writing about it since 2012 and I expect I will still be writing about it, on some level, in 2020.
But as long as we still talk about it, and make sure we as a culture strive to be better, I can have hope for the future.
Until then I am still going to several conventions this year, and plan to do my part to make sure they are safe and inviting events for everyone there.
Convention season is upon us now and with it the questions about acceptable behavior have reared their heads again.
Specifically you had Fan Expo Canada, which was March 7th thru March 9th. In an effort to drum up last minute sales, they sent out an email which included the line “escape the deep freeze this weekend – cuddle a cosplayer.”
This obviously caught the attention of several people and eventually was brought to the attention of Jill Pantozzi of the geek news site The Mary Sue. There was concern that the statement could be seen as encouraging the harassment of cosplayers. Pantozzi reached out to Fan Expo Canada to attempt to get a response on their intent with the ad. The response she got was that they had thought about pointing out that consent was implied but felt bringing focus to the rules all the time would hurt the fun of the convention. They did resend the ad but added “with consent” in brackets to the end of the statement. So far, the only official response to this has been to accuse the Mary Sue of being inflammatory and making false statements. As the convention just happened, I expect more news to be coming out about this story, in the coming weeks.
While this was going on, another issue occurred with the Capital City Comic Con in Austin Texas. The convention, which is going to be held this upcoming July, put out several fliers; one of these was a close up of Power Girl’s Breasts with the tag line “Everything is BIGGER in Austin.” When a commenter complained about this on the convention’s Facebook page, the convention replied that the flier was all in fun and questioned if the commenter had ever been to a convention. A couple of days, later the convention responded to the issue as it started going viral. They stated that both the staffer who made the comment and the designer of the flier were no longer with the con staff, and apologized to the fans for what had happened.
Standing in contrast to this is Emerald City Comicon. The same week the two issues above were occurring, ECCC posted an image of the anti-harassment posters that will be going up around their own convention. The title of the posters is “Cosplay is not consent, and it goes on to detail the convention’s anti-harassment policy, including who to go to if you are harassed and the penalties you face if you violate the policy.
The contrast in the above examples illustrates where we stand in geek culture, in regards to dealing with the issues of harassment and making events safe and inclusive.
On one hand, you have people who have not matured in how they deal with these issues but find themselves running conventions. They want to grab people’s attention and fall back on the old adage “sex sells.” Unfortunately, they do not consider the broader message of what they are putting out, nor how it can ultimately promote a hostile environment. It is not from a place of malice, but ignorance. The best way to handle it is to do what was done above and call them out. Make it clear that even if they don’t see the harm in it, harm is still there. The ones that are receptive to the message will thrive, and the ones that aren’t will find their reputation falter and their event suffer. The ones that take steps to make sure their events are promoted as a safe and inclusive space will find more people wanting to go, and can use it as a means to actually promote their event. With all the concerns about hostility in the convention scene, the ones that make sure you know they will do everything in their power to make sure you are safe will be the ones that ultimately thrive.
In the shadow of events like Aki Con, (where we saw the worst case scenario play out),and other ongoing tales of harassment, this is going to continue to be a hot button issue. I think this year is going to be very interesting in this regard, and I for one am interested to see how conventions actually play out.
I’ll keep an eye on things, and let you know what comes from this.
Author John Scalzi has opened a new chapter in the ongoing debate about harassment at fan conventions. Scalzi is a successful science fiction author, and until very recently he was the president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. A week after his tenure as president ended, Scalzi announced what he refers to as his new hard requirement for any convention that wants him as a panelist, participant, or guest of honor. The convention must have a very clear and readily accessible anti-harassment policy. Said policies must include clear guidelines about what is unacceptable behavior, and where attendees can go for help in those circumstances. The policies have to be made available in places such as the program book or the convention website.
This comes in parallel to another recent incident involving Penny Arcade. You can find more specifics here, but in short Penny Arcade co-founder Mike Krahulik got into a fight on twitter over comments involving transgender issues. The commentary got heated and Krahulik made what many people felt were transphobic comments. Taken on its own it is bad enough, but there was also the specter of the “Dickwolf” controversy from a couple of years ago, which had many people starting to look at Penny Arcade and it’s convention PAX as a hostile environment. The irony here is that PAX has one of the strongest anti-harassment policies of any convention out there. Immediately people started distancing themselves from Penny Arcade, including one game company canceling their booth at the event.
During the Dickwolf issue Krahulik stuck to his guns, which turned a lot of people off. In the time between then and now, he and the people around him clearly learned from the experience. The two days after the transgender argument saw Krahulik issue multiple apologies, admit he has an issue of getting hostile when feeling threatened, and a vow to try to work on these issues. He also made a $20,000 donation to the Trevor Project as a sign of contrition. He also acknowledged that his behavior was damaging to the Penny Arcade brand.
So with these events having just happened, we are once again having the conversation of how welcoming the fan community environment is to people. The positive in both these cases is that there is clear recognition that there are issues and that they need to be dealt with. I also feel they show that progress is being made.
In the Penny Arcade case, in the past this issue would have just festered, but now there is acknowledgement that there was a problem and an actual apology. It is a step in the right direction.
In the case of John Scalzi, you have a prominent author using the cred he has built up over the years to attempt to influence positive change. As of this writing, several 100 people, myself included, have co-signed his pledge.
This does put me in a slightly awkward position, of course. My local convention, Norwescon, is one of the conventions currently lacking in such a policy. However, they aren’t ignoring it. They had a discussion forum that I participated in at this year’s convention about adopting such a policy. Also someone connected with the convention posted in Scalzi’s comment section that they are forwarding the discussion to the convention committee for additional consideration. It is all about getting these important conversations started.
Emerald City Comicon is also in the same boat. I expect they will be addressing this soon as well. At least I hope they do.
It is worth noting that San Diego Comic Con also lacks an adequately published policy. They have one apparently, but it is not where you could find it.
If you are looking for a good listing of which conventions do or do not have policies in place, the site Girl Wonder is compiling a database that can be found here.
While it is clear that we still have a lot of work to do, I feel hopeful that we are seeing positive change, and that geek culture is coming around in regards to how it treats everyone.
I’ll be keeping an eye on all of this and I am sure we will be talking about it again in the future.
While I was off enjoying my honeymoon, the whole fake nerd girl issue roared back to life with a vengeance. This is not to say that it ever went away, but the day I flew out to Disneyland to build some memories to last a lifetime with my wife, veteran comic book artist Tony Harris decided to let loose on the subject.
I’m not going to quote him verbatim, if you want to read exactly what he said go here. What I took from his rant is this: women who cos-play at conventions are just attention whores with no love and appreciation of geek culture and should just accept that their sole purpose is to be lusted after and it is their fault if men act badly around them.
I feel dirty even writing that previous paragraph.
Tony Harris is one of the best artists working in comics today. As an artist I am always going to be a fan of his work. However, after reading his rant it is clear that he has some issues that clearly need to be addressed. And he is not alone, not by a longshot. It has been going on long enough to spawn a meme and to have become a catchphrase.
What the hell? How did this happen?
It’s a complex question and a lot of people have been discussing this for a while now. As a simple male geek who loves his subculture while at times wanting to throttle it, I will now give my two cents worth.
To start with we have to understand the idea of gatekeeper behavior. This is where someone in a particular social group decides it’s up to them to protect the group by determining what is and isn’t appropriate for that group and attempting to purge that which they deem inappropriate. Pick any type of group that a person could be in, political, religious, social, or professional and you will find people who act as gatekeepers for that group.
By their very nature a gatekeeper is going to be a conservative member of that community as they want to keep it pure.
Now how do we apply this to geek culture? You have to remember that as we have said before the various subsets that make up geek culture have traditionally been male dominated industries that cater to a male dominate fan base. But smart business owners know that it is good to expand your consumer base and the best way to do that is to appeal to as broad a market as possible. For a male dominated market this means trying to bring in the rest of the human race, in other words females.
While this seems simple on the surface, there is a catch. That catch is that while someone new may enjoy something, they way they enjoy it may be different than how you do.
I think I need to illustrate that last point.
My sister and I, despite both being very geeky, are very different in how we approach it. Both of us love Horror, Disney, and roleplaying. However she is not a comic book fan and I am not into fanfiction. This is not to say that either of us hasn’t read comics or fanfiction, but there are subcultures to both and those are ones that she and I do not share.
So when the Avengers movie came out, as I comics fan I was stoked. What I was not aware of was that the fanfiction community also embraced it. Due to this my sister is now a huge Avengers fan, She loves the movie just as much as I do, but for different reasons. She will never know who D-man and Rage are, and I will never get Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers as a married couple.
Now a gatekeeper is going to say that she is wrong. She needs to appreciate the Avengers for its appeal to the comic fans and that legacy and enjoying stories about Tony and Steve adopting Peter Parker is wrong and should be shunned.
So this is where we have the origin of the issue. Maybe that Cos-player dressing as the Black Widow was inspired by the movie. Her interest is in putting together the costume and after all that hard work she wants to show it off. The best place to do that is at a convention. Does this mean she knows the entire backstory of the character? Who knows? The point is that this is how she has chosen to enjoy the culture. This is fine, and she should be allowed to do so. However the gatekeepers go into hyperventilation. This is the root of the fake nerd girl. The claim that she is a trespasser in our community that needs to be put in her place.
Another part of Harris’ rant was that ok, you have chosen to be here dressed like that, accept that you are going to be treated as an object, not a person.
No, just no. this is not even a little ok. In fact go back and read my article on misogyny in geek culture. Or any article on this subject.
So basically what we have an issue where people are feeling threaten because other people are doing things differently.
And if you scratch beneath the surface you will find it is not just the fake nerd girl meme at play here. I have heard from a friend that right after Harris posted. He had friends of his say that they hate it when people are at an anime convention and their cos-play is not anime specific, and how they want those people banned. I have also heard of a steampunk convention where a member of the convention committee went through the dealer’s hall and kicked out any dealers who they felt did not have merchandise that was “steampunk” enough.
And the worst part is that for every idiot who spews this nonsense, they will have people backing them up. If you read the comments from Harris’ post a lot of people thanked him.
That right there is why I am writing this and why others need to keep at it. We have to point out that this behavior is not right and cannot be condoned. And right now we really need to keep at it as this meme has got legs. This next image is from an ad you can find in DC comic books.
Yes, this got approved by an editor somewhere.
I’m sure I will be writing more about this in the future. In the meantime please keep this issue in mind and let’s do what we can to combat it.
Misogyny is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately in the geek community. A lot has been written on the subject of misogyny in geek culture recently. It would almost seem redundant to write another piece on the subject. And yes I realize I am a guy writing about this, but here is why it is needed, because there cannot be enough voices speaking out about it. In fact with so much misogynistic speech going on in geek culture right now, to not speak out on it would be an act of moral cowardice.
I’m about to go into some specifics now so if you are reading this and the subject of various ways women can be attacked are triggers for you it would be best to be prepared.
So why are we seeing so much misogynism now. Well I don’t think it is a recent development. I don’t think a bunch of guys went “Oh man, the women are getting uppity; I better act like an entitled prick to put them in their place.” It’s always been there, but a couple of things have made it more visible .One is the internet. People can communicate online more easily and rapidly then they use to. Add to that the anonymous nature of online communication and you have people who feel they can get away with things they would never have dared in the past. That’s the bad news, the good news is that people are not shutting up and taking it as much now. These two combine to create the greater visibility.
Of course why it happens in the first place is no secret. From the start the collections of interests and hobbies that compose geek culture have been traditionally male dominated. And not just any males, these are usually the guys that were not part of the popular crowd in high school. Add a tendency for those with already poor social skills to be drawn to fandom and you have your stereotype of the geek.
And now you have to look at how women are traditionally portrayed in comics, science fiction and fantasy. You have the damsel in distress, who waits for the manly hero to save her, or you have the kick ass female who makes up for poor character development with skimpy over-sexualized attire.
Here is a great example; this is the cover for the upcoming issue #0 of Catwoman
Notice how you can see her face, breasts, and butt all in the same shot. For that to be possible her spine would need to be made of rubber. In fact rubber spine is fairly common in female superheroes.
So your average woman looking at this is not going to feel welcome in most geek settings. This has led to women in fandom historically being treated as rare as a unicorn.
Of course these days you have women who are making their mark in fandom. And here is the seed of the misogyny. The guys have had it as their special corner and now the ladies are showing up and expecting to be treated as people. A lot of guys do not know how to deal with this and feel threatened, and when people feel threatened they often go on the attack.
In the end the misogyny is all about power. The guys employing it want to make the women do what they want and are using what they perceive as the best tools to do it.
No better example exists than Anita Sarkeesian and her Kickstarter campaign to fund her web video series “Tropes vs. Women” which looks at how females are portrayed in video games. Since this is certainly going to look at the sexist way a lot of games treat women (We’re looking at you Duke Nukem) a backlash arose against Sarkeesian and took on a very ugly misogynistic tone. Beyond sexually harassing messages on line people have made pictures of her being raped by video game characters and one person even went so far as to make an online game where you can beat her up.
Clearly the goal was to shut her down, but the good news is that it has had the opposite effect. Her Kickstarter goal was $6,000. At this point she has now made over $100,000 and is looking to expand the scope of the series. Rather than make her shut up, the attack has given her an even better chance to speak and brought supporters out in droves.
This is a part of the story that seems to keep coming up again and again. The use of misogyny to make women shut up is being met with defiance and a refusal to be backed down. It is by no means easy. I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian has had many low moments during this.
Other examples include the recent incident where a writer for the gaming website Destructoid, Ryan Perez, went on an extremely sexist rant against Felicia Day, and the very recent incident of comedian Daniel Tosh joking that it would be funny if a female who called him out on making a rape joke were gang raped right then and there.
Perez did apologize and is no longer with Destructoid. The back lash against Tosh was so strong that he had to issue an apology less than a day after the story broke. But in both cases it feels a lot like both apologies were more prompted by “we got caught” then “we are truly sorry”. Also a lot of people came out in support of Perez and Tosh saying they should not have been called out in the first place.
Moving away from the power struggle itself for a moment, one of the big laments of people in the comic book and gaming industries is the desire to bring in more female consumers. However while they say this they still put out the objectifying material to appeal to the male demographic.
It doesn’t help that in most of the geek industries that not only are the customer base primarily male, but so are the creators. Let’s face it most men are not sure how to write or present women.
Here is an example. Here is how the Black Widow poster for Iron Man 2 looked
Now here is the Black Widow poster for the Avengers.
So it is the same actress, the same character and the same basic costume. But one looks like she is posing for a Maxim cover and the other looks like she is about to kick your ass. So what is the difference? It think it is that the Avengers is directed and written by Joss Whedon and he likes to present strong women that are actually empowered.
While we are on the subject of the Avengers I should note that a lot of reporters would tend to ask Scarlett Johansson questions that were the verbal equivalent of male gaze. One reporter asked if she wore underwear under her costume and she asked if he would ask her male co-stars the same question. The best thing to come out of that was the fact she would not put up with that crap.
As I said earlier, in the comic book industry a constant effort is put forth to bring in more female readers. However you just need to look at that image of Catwoman again to see the problem there. Another hurdle is the phenomenon known as women in refrigerators. For those not familiar with the term it comes from a story line where a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, was chosen. Kyle had a girlfriend Alex DeWitt. 6 issues after she was introduced Alex is murdered and her body stuffed into a refrigerator for Kyle to find. This is what sparks him to take being a superhero seriously.
Writer Gail Simone cited this as a prime example of writers in comics using the murder or abuse of a female character to propel the story of a male character. She maintains a site called Women in Refrigerators listing the significant examples of this trope. It also has a listing of responses it has gotten. Want to take a guess at the tone many of them take?
Another view on this is more personal. My sister* and I use to both work at Wizards of the Coast. During that time we both would be sent to conventions to work the booth. It amazed me that amount of guys who thought she was just a “booth babe” and didn’t know what she was talking about. For the record she is just as much a gamer and con geek as I am and most definitely knows what she is talking about. In fact go check out her site and tell me if you think she knows nothing.
The point of this is that the geek culture has a bad habit of objectifying women. The end result is that you do not see them as people, and this can make it way too easy to treat them horribly.
So how do we fight this? The first thing is easy to say, but hard to do. Speak up about it. When you see someone make misogynistic comments you call them on it. Even if dozens of people jump on you, you need to speak up. The peer pressure can get really bad. People feel a sense of entitlement when they make these comments and no one wants it pointed out that they are on the wrong side of the issue. But this is not an issue with two valid sides, misogynism is wrong, period. If Anita Sarkeesian can handle the crap being hurdled at her, you can stand a few flame posts.
The next part is even harder. You need to take a long hard look at your own comments, especially you guys. The misogynistic attitudes are cultural and it can get so indoctrinated that you can fall into it without realizing it. I know I have caught myself more than once. We have to make sure that we are not part of the problem. The best advice I can give is take your brain with you. Think before you comment. Remember that the people you are dealing with online, at a convention, or at a comic book shop are in fact real people with feelings that can be hurt.
If you want to read another site that covers this really well I would like to point you to Geek Girls Rule. This is a site that covers geek culture from a female perspective. As you can imagine they have covered this subject more than once and have received more than their fair share of grief for it. But they know what they are talking about.
As for where we go from here, this site is still going to be about celebrating geek culture and I will be going back to the fun stuff soon enough, but I am also pretty sure the we will be covering this again at some point in the future.
In the end I would rather say that I am part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
And if you feel the need to flame me for saying this, bring it.
*(We aren’t actually blood relatives. I may get around to explaining the nature of that relationship someday. I call her father dad and he refers to me as son, so it’s good enough for us)