GeekGirlCon ’15 Panel Recap: Next Gen Geek Girls
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.”
It went further than that though: Rowan said that there were other things that annoyed her, such as costuming. Looking at Wonder Woman, for example, she said, “Is that something I would be looking up to? It’s not practical!” Likewise, she noticed that most clothing for women and girls is pink and purple even though the characters themselves didn’t wear those colors.
Rowan wrote a letter to DC comics, and it was posted online. DC comics retweeted it and replied:
Yes Rowan, girls read comics too! Wonder Woman movie & Supergirl TV both in the works, with more exciting girl power announcements soon!
— DC Comics (@DCComics) January 30, 2015
Rowan also described what it was like to get invited onto the Today Show: “I thought that was really fun, I got to skip school for the day!” While she was there, DC sent her a gift basket and also a sketch of a character based on her. Rowan, however, hasn’t lost sight of the bigger picture. Of the experience, she said, “This was special to me but I’m not special. Not all the letters get replied to. It’s really important to speak up.”
Maddie’s story is similar. Last year, she wrote a piece for the Washington Post after watching a friend play a game on her phone. She noticed that her friend was playing as a boy character. “This was an issue with a lot of games,” she said. “The games didn’t have girls, or you had to pay to be a girl.” After doing some research, Maddie found that there were six times as many free boy characters as girls in games, and that most girl characters had to be paid for, with an average price tag of $7.53.
In showing her findings to the audience, Maddie said, “Once I had all these statistics I felt like I had to do something with them.” That’s when she wrote her piece for the Washington Post, and received a huge response from the media. Overall though, she says that the reaction has been positive. There was a game character named after her which she also provided the voice for, and games such as Minecraft and Temple Run also made female characters free and unlocked from the beginning of the game.
How did they deal with the attention from their peers? Rowan said that “it was really weird! A teacher played the segment with me in it when it was released.” Maddie said, “It was ok, because none of my friends read Washington Post, but I was republished in Junior Scholastic, and we get that at school and had worksheets to do about it. So I had to do homework about myself.”
Both Rowan and Maddie think that comic book artists and game developers realize that there has to be greater representation, and think that things are getting better. “It will take time for it to be perfect,” said Rowan. “I am definitely willing to wait because I’m excited.”
During questions, Maddie and Rowan both noted the importance of character choice (across races and genders), and even the standards of beauty for women in games and comics. “A lot of women are represented as very pretty,” said Rowan “I think that it sets up that how we should look like, and instead it makes people feel bad.” Likewise, Maddie pointed out that costumes for women were also awkward or inappropriate. “I am trying to find something that I will like and that my parents would be comfortable with me wearing.”
One of my favorite questions was toward the end of the session, when Rowan and Maddie were asked what their ultimate heroines would be like if they could design them. Maddie said, “definitely not pink, purple or skirts. They’re not seen as favorite colors because they’re seen as girly. Also, a stronger look and availability for races and colors.”
Rowan wanted “a Batman but a girl, but not Batgirl because Batgirl was not as strong as Batman. I want her to have the same skills as Batman. And she should be nice. You don’t often read a lot of girl characters who are just really, really nice.”