WMC News & Features

Feel Like Letting Your Geek Flag Fly?


Previously male-dominated pursuits relating to science and technology are increasingly the domain of proudly geeky women, who are gathering in Seattle for a one-of-a-kind convention.

Some 7,000 women are expected to get their geek on at Geek Girl Con, a convention opening August 11 in Seattle to celebrate women in the traditionally male activities of comics, sci-fi, gaming, science professions and tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

This is the second annual Geek Girl Con, which was born of Comic Con, one of the largest comic book and pop culture conventions in the world.

Two years ago, a Comic Con panel called “Geek Girls Exist” drew a standing-room-only audience, recalls Geek Girl Con organizer Erica McGillivray: “The room was super packed, as in the-fire-marshal-was-there packed. Afterward some of the women in the panel and in the audience said, ‘Wow, there are so many more of us than we actually realized. What would be amazing would be if we had our own convention.’”

Comic Con also frustrated some women for what they saw as sexist attitudes—in everything from reluctance to acknowledge the dearth of female comic book writers to what McGillivray calls “male-centered geekdom where women were harassed or uncomfortably hit upon.”

Using Twitter, a group of women began planning the first Geek Girl Con for 2011. They chose to hold it in Seattle (“a wonderfully geeky city,” McGillivray says) and met at the city’s Wayward Vegan Café to organize.

This year’s two-day affair includes the usual con mix—discussion panels, career workshops, social events, vendor displays and a gaming room—but with several quirky twists.

For example, the discussion “Geeks Raising Geeks” will attempt to resolve a vexing predicament, according to conference materials: “What do you do when your daughter would rather play Barbie than Dungeons & Dragons?”

Another panel is “Science, I Am Just That Into You,” and there’s also a discussion of the “geek-jock intersection” of quidditch and roller derby. The craftsy, Etsy crowd will not feel left out either.

“We try to embrace a variety of geekery: everything from science and math to people who really really love to crochet—people who want to crochet Daleks for their 'Doctor Who' action figures,” she says. (Daleks are a race of extraterrestrial mutants in the TV show “Doctor Who.”)

Comic books—a geek staple with massive influence on pop culture—will get their due at Geek Girl Con, which is hosting Gail Simone, a writer at DC Comics and critic of sexism in the comics industry. Also on hand: feminist video blogger Anita Sarkeesian, who was recently depicted in an online video game enabling players to punch an image of her, leaving her face progressively battered.

Sessions on space travel, science and careers are all of interest to Nancy Holder, an author specializing in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” novels, and her daughter, Belle, who likes robotic car design and dressing up My Little Pony figures in sci-fi characters' outfits.

The ability to combine imaginative fantasy or sci-fi with more traditionally girlish interests (dressing up, My Little Pony) is one of the things that makes being a geek girl so appealing, Holder says.

“In the past, sci fi and technology were kind of cold and no-frills. Lots of girls love glitter and sparkly things, and so were torn between the geek world and the world of rainbows and ponies. But now we have My Little Pony geekery, and steampunk with tons of gorgeous clothes,” she says.

Support rather than judgment—for obsessions that range from gamer fashion to coding—is the official credo of Geek Girls Con. In a sort of manifesto, “No Geek Cred Required,” the con’s planners collectively pledge on their website to support geeks of all stripes. And that goes for geek newcomers, the website assures:

“You won’t be challenged to prove your love for ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ by sketching the seating chart for Ten Forward, [or] to demonstrate your Star Wars knowledge.”

Another message on the website calls for women to avoid criticizing one another for not being geeky enough, or perhaps for being too geeky:

“Competitiveness like that is something eschewed by Geek Girl Con. We are building community, and you are welcome here. Geek cred be damned.”

The hope is that by opening the door to outsiders and a range of eclectic interests, the geek label, once disdained as one-dimensional and limiting, can instead be liberating. Holder applauds the spirit of inclusion. “Women are asserting their individuality and fulfilling their true geek potential,” she says. “In other words, they are becoming the geeks they were destined to be.”

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