Oftentimes when we think of geeky topics, things like video games and comics come to mind. However, one of the panels set up at GeekGirlCon ’15 by GeekGirlConnections featured a mixture of women from various Washington state scholarship, seeking to answer the question, “What does it take, as a woman, to have a career in STEM?”
The panel consisted of six women working in various areas of science and technology. Erika Harnett has a Ph.D. in physics, and works in computer simulations. Erika Wagner wrote a Ph.D. how to keep humans healthy on the way to Mars, but she also added that “but now I sell rockets”. Beth Linz is a graduate of Central Washington University with a background in computer science, and now works as software engineer. Jamie Waldock holds a MA in aerospace engineering, and is a test engineer at Aerojet Rocketdyne (working on propulsion). Irina Menn is the founder and CEO of Hopela, a mobile app to connect local orgs and millennials for donation; she holds degrees in science and computer science. Finally, Christine Washburn is a professor of physics from Everett Community College.
Sunday morning at GeekGirlCon ‘15 brought us one of my favorite panels of the Con. Jessica Udischas of Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl, Jenn Popkin of Gender Justice League, and Alyson McManus of Trans Lifeline teamed up for a retrospective and analysis of trans representation in genre media. (They gave the caveat that all three are able-bodied white trans women, so they only speak for a small portion of trans experience.)
Trans people are more in the spotlight than ever before, and trans representation is growing, but also changing. As Udischas pointed out, more doesn’t necessarily mean better. She gave the example of older representations such as Agent Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks. The language now seems dated, and the character was played by a cis man (David Duchovny), but in some ways the representation was more respectful than some more recent depictions.
With Daredevil returning for season two this week, let’s revisit our GeekGirlCon panel on the show! I attended a panel with Elsa S. Henry, a feminist scholar and disability rights activist. She also happens to be legally blind and, given that Daredevil is a show with a blind protagonist, she had several misconceptions about vision impairment to clear up.
“You can still like Daredevil, but here is a perspective you might not have had before,” Henry explained to a full room at the start of the session. She began by disproving several presumptions about what it was like to be blind. “Not all blind people use braille. So a lot of what you see isn’t accurate towards a blind person’s life,” she said, with reference to Matt Murdock’s constant use of a braille output device. “Most people use text-speak; you can hear it and don’t need to mess around with machines. When I watch the show, it’s very difficult not to notice things that don’t make any sense.”
The first panel you attend at a convention can easily set the tone for the whole time, so I was thrilled that this last year at GeekGirlCon ’15 I was lucky enough to have my schedule set up so that my first panel was “We’re Not NPCs: It’s a (Straight, White, Cisgendered) Man’s World.” This panel has gone through lots of iterations at several different conventions; I’m pretty sure I’ve attended panels of the same name at different PAXs as well as previous GeekGirlCons. Each year, though, as the media circus continues but doesn’t quite evolve, it’s always a great way not only to see where things can improve but also to get some great recommendations.
I myself definitely wouldn’t be called thin, but I’m not fat, and even I struggle to see my body shape represented in the media I consume. So I found it interesting and, above all, inspiring to hear other women who are more actively interested in representation and the importance of safe spaces for fat geeks at the GeekGirlCon ‘15 panel “Fatness and Fandom Reloaded.”
There are not a lot of overweight characters in the games, shows, movies, comics and other things we love—and when there is, those portrayals are almost always founded on negative, embarrassing tropes. So what can we do it about it, and why is it important?
What were you doing when you were twelve? For many of us, we might have been pursuing our geeky interests, but the speakers at the Next Gen Geek Girls panel made me (and several other people in the audience) feel completely inadequate!
Introduced by Whitney Winn, the Next Gen Geek Girls at the panel were two twelve-year-olds, Maddie Messer and Rowan Trilling-Hansen. Both of them had deep-seated, wonderfully geeky interests: Rowan loves comics and Maddie –who I had the pleasure of interviewing for the GeekGirlCon blog last year—plays games on her phone.
Both of them made waves in 2015 when they addressed gender disparities in the representation of women in comics and games. Rowan wrote letter to DC for more women in comics and merchandise, and was featured on the Today Show. She said that she had loved comics for her whole life. However, her issue with the representation of female characters began when she got into the DC Chibi collection. Rowan showed the audience the packaging for the Chibis, which lists the ones that are available. Of the twelve characters, only two were women. “I just think it would be really nice if they would add more female characters to the set,” she explained to the panel. “When I was looking at the pamphlet I kept thinking something wasn’t right.”
One of the biggest turnouts at GeekGirlCon ’15 was for a panel that was announced at the last minute. “In Conversation, Anita and Zoe” featured special guests Anita Sarkeesian (creator of Feminist Frequency) and Zoe Quinn (game designer and co-founder of Crash Override Network) as they discussed what it was like to be high-profile women in tech, online harassment, and what action we can all take to prevent online abuse.
Elizabeth Sampat, who moderated the panel, started by posing some questions to Sarkeesian and Quinn. “You are both successful women in the public eye,” she said. “What kinds of things do you have to do or put up with that men in similar positions don’t have to do?”
Quinn answered first: “I’m worried that people will see me in public and I look like crap.” With the amount of focus that goes into evaluating women’s appearances, she voices her concerns about how if she doesn’t look “acceptable,” she will find threads on Reddit the next day criticizing how she looks. “There are all the things that go into appearance. I got into game dev and writing so I didn’t have to see people but now with this public thing I have to use makeup. It’s easier now when I think of it as painting a Warhammer mini.”
The panel took its title from a quote from Michelle Rodriguez. Ambushed coming out of a bar, she was asked about rumors that she was being considered for the role of Green Lantern. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said. “Like, stop stealing […] all the white people’s superheroes.”
What did she mean by that? the panel asked.
“Part of me wants to justify her comment,” said Hassell. “We should have our own.”
But as DePass pointed out, Rodriguez was reinforcing the idea that comics are for white people, that “nerd stuff isn’t for us.” The well-known names belong to white people as the default humans.
And when I say famous, I mean my pictures have been tweeted and re-tweeted about 50 times. So obviously, I expect to be getting calls to model geek couture around the world.
Any minute now…
GeekGirlCon ‘15 had a brand new feature this year: the GeekGirlCon ‘15 Fashion Show, in association with PNW Fattitude. The idea was sort of radical in the “typical” fashion world: use models of all body types, shapes, and sizes, and let them strut their stuff on a runway. And what better place to showcase the kinds of clothing geek girls love to wear than at GeekGirlCon? Most of the geek wear in the world seems to be made for guys; I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a serious geeky t-shirt collection, and almost all of them are the standard t-shirt cut made for guys. Even the companies that make and market shirts for girls don’t usually have shapes and sizes for anyone but the smallest geek girls, so those of us who don’t fit into baby doll t-shirts opt for the guy t-shirts over nothing at all.
This one-hour panel, given by Elizabeth Sampat and Zoe Quinn, was a crash course in how—and why—to make your own game. Between them, the two designers have made video games, tabletop games, board games, and other entertainments, and they brought their breadth of knowledge and experience to GeekGirlCon attendees. Each half of the panel could really have been an entire talk of its own, being condensed versions of talks and workshops that Sampat and Quinn have given elsewhere. If you’re interested in more in-depth information on these topics, check out Elizabeth’s and Zoe’s websites.