Afro Commentary: Sexism in Geekdom is No bueno, man… No bueno at all


Originally published 2013.07.30

Geeks of the female variety have always been treated as an anomaly within the geek culture by males and by society at large. And despite the ever increasing amount of females within the community and the gender equality seen, there are still a significant amount of males either objectifying or just being crass to the girls and women of geekdom. I feel that this needs to stop, tout suite.

First and foremost, the females who are reading this editorial need to know and understand one thing about their male counterparts: All of our gender has the propensity to be assholes very easily. It’s in our genetic makeup and no matter what is done to cull such behavior it will get out in one form or another. I even acknowledge my own assholery, but have tried really hard to condition myself to have it only come out as a reaction to another’s assholery or bitchiness. But make no mistake: It is there and no real good comes of It. I am not excusing or playing down the rude or sexual-based behavior by us males. If anything, I am doing the opposite by putting it out there so no male can have an excuse for that type of behavior. Whether if its harassment or just being vulgar, we don’t know any better and we should.

Whether it be a comic book geek, a Trekkie, cosplayer or gamer – especially gamer – females have been out in full force, especially within the last 20 years. And although our genders have been able to coexist there is still a stigma attached to being a female in geek culture. From being objectified in the wrong ways to being harassed and/or marginalized, it does happen. It’s only been within the last few years female geeks, mostly through shared experiences via social media and blogs, have felt comfortable enough to speak out against the misogyny. And as you will see, this sexism is fairly widespread.

Conventions are a great place to meet fellow geeks and share their experiences with one another. Whether you go to partake in the festivities in your normal attire or in cosplay, cons can be a positive experience, especially for women and girls. Mallory Presly (@Podcastitute) shared with me that her experience at Blizzcon with her guy friends was generally good. I also recall a friend of mine, Christina Janke (@IntroToGeek) attended DragonCon one year and had a great time. Many of the cosplayers who attended SDCC this year had enjoyed themselves overall, from the various photo shoots they were involved in to meeting their many fans. Yet, within the last few years there have been some rather notable, documented incidents where women who attended cons experienced not only pretty crass and poor behavior, but actions that were, at their core, pretty f’n stupid.

Late last year, io9’s Annalee Newitz documented three incidents that occurred at different conventions where attendees were either harassed sexually (such as the author Genevieve Valentine at Readercon), marginalized or both (like Elevatorgate, which involved Skepchick’s member Rebecca Watson at The Amazing Meeting). At New York Comic Con last year, fashion designer/artist Mandy Caruso was subjected to sexist questions and comments by a so-called “journalist” (which she later took to tumblr to blast the individual.) And this year, several Lara Croft cosplayers at PAX East also experienced misogynist questions and comments from another “reporter”, who used the excuse that these women and girls asked for such behavior due to the costumes they wore. Finally there was the incident of Emily Finke where people trolled her at Balticon for her extremely accurate – right down to the skirt length – Starfleet uniform from the original Star Trek series. Now note that these are only the incidents that have been widely and publicly documented amongst the various sites we all visit on a regular basis; I am sure there are many more similar stories from female geeks who attended cons that have gone unrecorded.

But this behavior is not just isolated to conventions. It becomes much worse when it comes to the veil of anonymity of online communities and social networks. I remember from when I was a part of another geek site years ago I observed a certain amount of harassment towards the female members, and this was the more benign “You are nice and I like you” kind that was borderline on creepy-stalkerish behavior. There have been far worse incidents, and not just the treatment the Skepchicks received for speaking out over the events of Elevatorgate. Another example was an incident that we have covered on one of our podcasts, where the cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch was critically objectified and scrutinized for her being Sailor Venus at A-Kon 21 because she was black. And then there was a recent incident with Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, during Microsoft’s presentation of Xbox One launch games at E3. Her comment that criticized the company for the lack of female lead characters caused a major stir on Twitter. Ah, video games; a divider of genders and the last bastion of fake machismo and bravado.

As a gamer myself, I have come across a lot of grown-ass men and boys who seriously needed to be spanked by their mothers due to their behavior. In fact, it is a major factor as to why I have stopped playing multiplayer FPS games. And when a female steps into a Deathmatch, the response is very similar to someone stirring a group of Pekinese into a frenzy of harassment. The reaction becomes even worse when it turns out said female(s) are better than the males, with a barrage of colorful language with such words as “cunt” and “bitch” used. I have experienced such inexcusable behavior during a game of Team Fortress 2, when a girl – who had stated on the mic that her boyfriend was the one playing – wiped the floor with an opposing team of all males. After the match, these same males went on to harass her which resulted in their banning.

Still, I could not get over the vitriol these dudes had for her, especially when you look at the recent numbers from the ESA and other industry think tanks. The ESA reports 45% of women account for 46% of frequent video game purchases, while women 18 and over make up 31% of the overall gamer population. Another industry firm concluded that 70% of females aged 12 to 24 played video games, while 61% of women 45 to 64 did the same. These metrics are impressive and only prove how much influence women have in geek culture. It is also shows us that more and more, this kind of behavior has to stop.

It is not to say that all of these and other incidents not covered have brought positive change on the geek community. In partial response to the PAX East incident, 16-bit Sirens began their popular “Cosplay ≠ Consent” campaign at Wondercon this year. Known writer Paul Cornell has publically stated he would not sit on any convention panel if there were no women on it with him. Readercon’s entire committee resigned in light of the harassment to Ms. Valentine and their inability to ban the volunteer involved. Studio 343 has a permaban in place on their Halo 4 servers for players who engage in sexual or racial harassment or defamatory behavior. But, I feel more can be done here, right fellas?

As guys – or boys if you’re not of age yet – we need to take responsibility for our actions. Stop acting like the penis-driven asshole we are always accused of being. Just because a woman, especially an attractive one, is at a con does not give you the chance nor the reason to try and hook up with her like you’re at the club on Saturday night. Just because a female dresses in cosplay that represents a provocatively dressed character does not give you the right to take ass shots or ask stupid f’n questions about their sex lives. Also, here is a tip to the young bucks: Girls and women don’t like to be followed around or stalked, whether it is in real life or online. And finally, just because a gamer girl just took your ass out cleanly in Call of Duty doesn’t give you the right to harass the hell out of them with crass language. These women and girls are not pieces of meat or living statues for you to objectify or be lewd towards. These are people; they’re sisters, mothers, friends, wives, girlfriends, daughters, nieces and cousins. They are people and should be treated with respect.

Mallory Presley (@podcastitute on Twitter) and Christina Janke (@IntroToGeek on Twitter) contributed to this editorial.

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