Last weekend, it was my privilege and very great pleasure to attend the first ever GeekGirlCon– a convention celebrating women’s contributions and participation in all things geeky.
At Geek Girl Con, women and men came together on an equal playing field. Geeks of all stripes were in attendance. I saw Trekkies and Twihards, Star Wars fans and Harry Potter enthusiasts, coders and gamers and mathletes and science geeks and otaku and yes, even comics geeks. Everyone was welcome. Everyone was treated with respect, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, weight, height, or any other factor.
I jumped right in to an early panel, “Comic Books For Breakfast,” hosted by Jennifer de Guzman, Rachel Edidin and Mariah Huehner. People were still trickling into the convention at this point, which meant that the panel wasn’t widely attended– and that was a shame, because it was smart, savvy, and extremely interesting.
One of the first issues discussed was that geek girls participating in male-dominated geek communities may find themselves sidelining their interests and self-censoring if they fear that their tastes are “too feminine.” One panelist pointed out that it becomes a professional consideration, too: “Do you want to be the person who not only gets the ‘girly books,’ but who has your career really actively limited by peoples’ perceptions of what you will and won’t edit?” She spoke of how her own push to bring in more female-oriented content has caused people to associate her with that content, despite the fact that it’s not the bulk of what she edits.
That really made me sit up and take notice, because it’s something I’ve been wondering about: whether women who do work in the comics industry have to self-censor or feel that they have to cater to certain audiences, even if the content isn’t necessarily to their own taste.
Of course, the panelists also discussed the myth of the “female hive mind,” that is, companies that treat “women” as a demographic as though all women like the same thing. Obviously this isn’t the case. Some women like Lovecraftian horror, some women like sparkly pink unicorns, and many like both! Yet the female audience is frequently discussed and treated as though it was a uniform entity that will either like or not like something. As one panelist remarked, some companies seem to think that marketing “to women” consists entirely of making something smaller and painting it pink.
Or Sometimes Both…
We’ve all heard the argument, “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, and they’ll get the message,” ad nauseum. So it caught my attention when the panelists stated that this argument is flawed, particularly in regards to the mainstream comics industry. How can publishers “get the message” from an audience they assume doesn’t exist in the first place? Discussing the short-lived, ostensibly female-targeted comics line Minx, one panelist pointed out, “They’ll get a message, but whether it’s the message you intend…I remember when the line folded and in their press release, DC said, ‘this just demonstrates there isn’t a market for comics directed at girls.'”
Whether or not I must buy every comic with a female lead or a non-white lead has been a personal struggle for me. I didn’t buy Catwoman, because I didn’t believe, based on Judd Winick’s description of it, that it would be a title that appealed to me. However, by not buying it, am I voting with my dollars against Catwoman? Or am I voting against all comics with female lead characters? It’s a real dilemma, and one shared by anyone searching for greater representation in comics.
During the question and answer portion I brought up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and the widespread popularity of the show among adult males, or self-titled “bronies.” Said one panelist, “Bronies are awesome, and they need to keep being there, and keep being really loud.”
I was really excited about the next panel, called “Very Special Dudes” and featuring Sean McNeil, Greg Rucka, Mike Madrid, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Alan Kistler. A lot of other people were excited, too; this panel started later in the day and was widely-attended.
Starting off, the panelists spoke of their frustration that “we’re not farther along” in terms of feminism. Said one panelist, “I’m sick of apologizing or explaining or justifying to female friends of mine stuff that happens in comic books or action films concerning how women are portrayed. I’m just, I’m sick of that. Why isn’t this better already?”
“Voting with your dollars,” came up again in this panel. Javier Grillo-Marxuach discussed how important it is, and how freeing it is, not to feel like you have to support a portrayal you dislike of something you do like (his example being his own struggle years ago with whether or not he wanted to watch the movie Batman and Robin). During the question and answer portion, I brought up my dilemma, asking whether it would do any good to vote with my dollars if the mainstream comics industry doesn’t believe I exist. Greg Rucka gave a measured and thoughtful response that left me intrigued and hopeful.
“I know for a fact that on an economic level, they’re not looking at your wallets. It’s stupid that they’re not, but they’re not. They need to be made aware, because more than anything else, money speaks to these people. You have to be vocal, and it’s been hard to be vocal. It really has. It’s gotten hostile. You also have to find– this is the trick. Fifty-two new titles came out. If only two of those new titles gave you the representations that you wanted to read, buy those two. And then say, ‘I bought these two because.’ The problem with any emerging line, like it is now, is that they don’t know who they’re shooting at. They’re sort of spraying wildly, and they’re hoping that this will catch somebody, but they’re all shooting, basically, at the same area, and as this settles, it’ll be like a contour map, and they’ll see where their different audiences are. But you have to be vocal as the audience, I really believe that, and it’s hard, it’s asking a lot of you guys on top of spending your money to then go out there and say ‘This is good, I would like more of this,’ and ‘I’m not reading this, because you’ve basically hung a great big sign saying Do Not Enter.'”
Greg Rucka: A Very Wise Man
Is DC really just flailing around wildly, throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks? It’s a theory backed up by ComicsBulletin.com’s own Steven Savage, and certainly some of the apparently random and downright bizarre choices DC’s made of late seem to admit of no other explanation. If that’s the case, though, what an opportunity this is for fans! If there was ever a time to speak up, it’s now, especially with New York Comic Con happening this weekend. Keep it up, folks. Keep asking for what you want and rejecting what you don’t.
After the “Very Special Dudes” panel (which some jokingly termed the “token male” panel), I got interviewed for a documentary and then caught a late lunch with some friends and basically enjoyed the atmosphere of the convention. I didn’t get to my final panel of the day until it was getting dark out.
“Geek Girl Power: Can’t Stop the Signal” was up against the Masquerade. It was a small, scholarly, low-key crowd, and the discussion was interesting. Karen Burrows and
Alison Mandaville each presented a unique take on comics. Burrows’ paper discussed the representation of queer family in comics while Mandaville’s talked about teaching using comics in the classroom.
During the question and answer portion, we discussed the dearth of mother/daughter and female/female interactions in all types of popular mainstream media. I pointed out that the only time we tend to see women interacting with each other is when it’s in a vehicle specifically marketed to women, or, as Mandaville added, when they’re viciously cutting each other down.
Or When They’re Awkwardly Posing Together…
Said Mandaville, “We need our archetypes, and we need stereotypes, because we can’t tell stories without them.We need plots that we recognize, actually. What’s interesting is we don’t have those for women-women interactions, very much. When my students try to write, like in my autobiographical writing class, I’ve had a number of my students try to write stories about how important their friends are to them, or moments when their same-sex friends have been important to them, and it’s hard to figure out what the plotline is. We know all these other plotlines, and we know the buddy story plotlines because they’re dependent on rescuing a woman or something, or rescuing a country, but we don’t really have a sense of what are the plotlines for women’s relationships with each other.”
Of course, we can all come up with individual counter-examples from modern media, but I was nevertheless struck by the truth of Mandaville’s statements, particularly where “family” or “general” entertainment is concerned. The male viewpoint is very much the default viewpoint in mainstream media, and even shows, movies, and comics which feature intelligent, interesting women don’t often feature these women interacting with each other. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are just that: exceptions. In contrast, consider how many shows/movies/comics feature male characters interacting directly with each other. According to my personal experience, I see male-male interactions more than ten times as often as female-female interactions in mainstream popular media.
Geek Girl Con was a supportive, welcoming environment that encouraged intelligent conversation just as much as it encouraged geeking out over the things we love most. I wish I could give you more than just a tiny taste of a few panels at Geek Girl Con, because the experience was so much more…and this was just the first day! Next week I’ll share with you highlights from the second day, including from the panel I shared with Gail Simone, so tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!
The Final Squeak
One of the panelists was the great Kristina Horner, popular video blogger, and she did a fun little video about Geek Girl Con on her YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/italktosnakes. Kristina, you’re not the only one that loves D&D dice! I also bought a set at GGC.
You can listen to the audio version of this post below:
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