Last week I wrote about my first day at Geek Girl Con, a tremendously fun and positive experience. My second day was, if anything, even better.
Sunday, 10 a.m., and it was my turn behind the table. Now I was answering, not asking questions. Comics Superstar Gail Simone and little ol’ me co-hosted the panel appropriately dubbed “Batgirls.” An early panel, it was not as heavily attended as some of the others, but the crowd we had was fantastic. I was nervous at first, but that wore off quickly. It was like being in a room of my best friends.
We started out by talking about portrayals of women in comics. In an earlier conversation I’d had with Gail, she’d made an interesting statement. “I don’t think all female characters should have to be strong,” she’d said. That struck me, and at the panel, I asked her to expand on that. We discussed how there are different kinds of strength, and Gail talked about how much she loves Lois Lane. But I think what she meant was that Gail wanted to be able to see all kinds of female characters: weak, strong, normal, whatever. People. Not forced into stereotypes for whatever reason.
What I call the “buyer’s dilemma” came up again in our panel: Do you have to buy a comic with a lead female character (or a character of color, or a disabled character) even if the portrayal doesn’t particularly appeal to you? If I find myself uninterested in Static Shock and choose not to purchase it, will it reduce the likelihood of seeing non-white leads in the future? I didn’t buy Catwoman; am I “voting against” all titles with female leads?
This struck a chord, and it came up several times in comments and questions. Gail’s stance was firm: You shouldn’t buy something unless you like it. “I don’t know that they’re going to get the right message if we just decide we’re going to buy all the things with female characters, because what if they’re really crappy?” she said. “I’d rather see them disappear from low sales than give the message that crap sells and that we’ll buy anything with a female character. That’s not we want, either. We want good quality stuff.”
Knockout, Kyrax2 at Batgirl, and Comics Bulletin’s own Jason Sacks between them!
Gail also brought up the myth that women are only interested in certain kinds of comics, and how this places limitations and expectations on female creators: “The industry needs to learn that, just because you are female doesn’t mean you’re part of a hive mind. And just because you’re a female creator, does not mean that you’re part of a hive mind that only likes to do pink and purple and romance and stuff like that. I have nothing against those things, but there’s a lot of female creators who, that’s what they’re being asked to do, and they like monsters and aliens and action.”
If you read my write-up of the convention’s first day, these themes probably sound familiar. It was fascinating how they kept coming up at different panels. Of course, I was the one who brought up the “buyer’s dilemma” at our panel, but the discussions of women being seen as a uniform market and of women’s careers being limited by their gender came up independently at multiple panels.
Another point that came up is how we are limited, not just by outside forces, but sometimes even by our own families and friends. Gail told a heart-wrenching story of a woman who had approached her at a convention. “She was probably around my age, and she said, ‘All I wanted to do was draw. And I begged my parents for some real art paper, and they got it for my brothers and didn’t get it for me. My mom said that my job was to grow up, get married, have a family, be at home, take care of all the home stuff and I haven’t drawn much since.'”
(There is more to the panel, some really great stuff. If you’re interested, you can find it here. Note that I missed the first couple of minutes; my first question to Gail isn’t included. The question she’s responding to is, “How does one become a writer for DC comics?”)
“Sometimes I see almost a denigration of girls who like ‘girly’ or traditionally girly things. And I have to say that I disagree with that, too. I think it’s important to let your daughter be a geek who wants to brandish swords and wear lightsabers, but if you have a girl who likes that and also likes the pink sparkly butterfly shoes, that’s okay, and you shouldn’t make her feel ashamed of that part of herself. Letting our kids express themselves means letting them express themselves fully.”
I really loved this, and I loved how she went on to say that we need to actually talk to our children and find out why something appeals to them. I thought it was an interesting contrast to Gail’s story, too– we need to be careful not too push our children too far in the other direction, to push them away from things they love, just because we’re afraid of too much conformity. Someone that says, “No daughter of mine is going to be a princess for Halloween!” or “There’s no way you’re trying out for the cheerleader team!” is just as bad as the woman that wouldn’t buy her daughter drawing paper.
Sadly, a bad headache laid me out for a couple of hours following the “Geeks Raising Geeks” panel, forcing me to miss several panels that I’d really wanted to attend. After a few hours rest, though, I was back on my feet…just in time to attend the closing ceremonies! It featured a showing of Labyrinth. It was truly a shared experience. We were encouraged to sing and shout and joke along as the movie played on the big screen. It was a riotous time, and such a good choice– a growing up story about a girl who goes from a child’s selfishness to an adult’s recognition of the wider world and how she fits into it. The most resonant point, for me, came at the end, when Sarah faced The Goblin King and stated, in a voice tinged with wonder and realization, “You have no power over me.”
I got goosebumps.
Because I *got* it. We women subsume our own tastes for fear of being thought “too feminine.” We are limited by what people think will appeal to us. We are seen as an amalgamation, as though what appeals to one woman will appeal to all. We push our children to be like us, to like the things we like, never realizing that we are repeating the same mistakes our parents made. We’re told that we have to “vote with our dollars,” but when we do choose not to buy something, the action is often ignored or misinterpreted.
And yet, we do have power. We have the power to speak, the power to buy, the power to teach and share and give. We don’t need to listen to those who say that we don’t have any power, that it isn’t ours, that it doesn’t ‘belong’ to use, that we shouldn’t speak, that we should “sit down and shut up.” Because they have no power over us…but
what we give them.
And that’s what I learned at Geek Girl Con.
“The most common way that people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
The documentary Miss Representation premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. I watched the trailer for it the other day, and I was riveted. It will premiee in the US on the Oprah Winfrey Network on Thursday evening, October 20, 2011. This timely movie explores the treatment of women in the media, especially in the USA, and I’m really looking forward to watching it. I can’t think of a more appropriate follow-up to my weekend at Geek Girl Con than to share this brilliant trailer with you and encourage each and every one of you to watch it, to watch the movie if you possibly can, and ask you in turn to share it with as many people as you can.
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