By Samantha Lee Donaldson, a guest writer for GeekGirlCon
In 1992, only 21% of individuals coming from families with annual incomes of $25,000 or less qualified for admission to a four-year university, and only . 8% were minority graduates. Unfortunately, the numbers have not changed nearly enough in the last decade. However, with a significant increase in female college enrollment since the 1970s and the rise of women in technology, the ability to teach skills to students from low-income neighborhoods then can be utilized to help them succeed in life on a much larger scale is extremely enticing.
Therefore, when Eben Upton and a group of his colleagues at the University of Cambridge decided to create a cheap and efficient computer that could be used to show children the power of code and computer technology, the game was changed forever. Thus, the Raspberry Pi was born.
Six years ago, GeekGirlCon was founded on the belief that anyone can be a geek and that geek spaces can and should be inclusive, welcoming, and accessible to all. Our convention—which this year had over 11,000 attendees—seeks to teach, appreciate, and inspire geeks from all walks of life. We celebrate diversity because we each have unique experiences that are worth sharing. When we say “Every Geek, Everybody,” we absolutely mean it.
GeekGirlCon is still here. We will continue to work toward a better future for women in STEAM fields, games, comics, and more. We will keep carving out and embracing spaces for us to do what we love. Because we believe that everybody deserves a place where they can fearlessly and fiercely be themselves.
If you would like to back our efforts, you can donate to or volunteer with GeekGirlCon. You can also show your support for some of our partner organizations. Or, if you are currently unable to donate or volunteer, there is still a lot that you can do. Learn. Love. Grow. Share. Make time for self-care–your feelings are valid. Inspire others with your optimism. Continue to be kind, empathetic, and compassionate to each other.
We’re here for you and invite you to connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Early next week, we’ll be posting some of your thoughts. What are you doing to foster community? Who are some women in STEAM you would love to see blog posts about here? What media are you turning to for inspiration right now (this letter from Leslie Knope is helping me immensely)? Share your favorite quote about empowerment. Community and conversation are key at this juncture, and we’re happy to help foster them in every way that we can.
Thank you for being part of our community and allowing us to be part of yours.
I have a pretty established preference for the serious when it comes to T.V. drama. (TGIT, anyone?) However, one night, about a year ago, in a room-cleaning daze, I happened upon the silliest, most light-hearted, and most romance-novel romantic series I know of: Jane the Virgin. It’s the opposite of everything I’ve come to expect from a binge-worthy dramatic T.V. series and yet, I love it.
Jane the Virgin is about a woman, Jane, who, in the midst of finishing school, getting engaged, and suddenly reuniting with her long-lost superstar father, is accidentally artificially inseminated. The premise is loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, and is a jarring but captivating juxtaposition of telenovela tropes and real characters and problems. The drama is decadent, the writing is masterful, and the characters are hilarious, but that’s not the reason I will recommend the show to anyone and everyone. That’s not what has caused me to write not one but two academic papers analyzing the story’s development. I love Jane the Virgin because I love Jane.
It’s dark in space. Cold. And after a while, it’s a job just like any other. This is the world we are dropped into at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Alien.
Through voyeuristic cinematography, we’re introduced to the crew of the Nostromo. There is nothing glamorous about this version of space. Their jobs seem something akin to long-haul trucking, and their living quarters are about as clean. They make small talk, give and receive orders, and generally look bored. Of course, that all changes when they run into an alien species.
I’d love to wax poetic about the incredibly tense, bare-bones script of Alien that follows, but that’s not my focus for today.
My focus is warrant officer, Ellen Ripley (played with femininity and strength by Sigourney Weaver). She is one of the best examples of a truthful female character to date.
From the first moment she appears on screen she is treated with an equality rarely afforded women in film. She is shot with the same camera angles and lighting as everyone else. She wears no makeup because a person performing a job such as hers would not be wearing any. Her uniform is the same cut and fit as the rest of the crew. Nothing about her is highlighted in a stereotypical leading lady fashion. She’s just one of the crew.
The story moves forward as the characters struggle to make sense of the creature threatening their every move. Ripley fights, second-guesses, and makes mistakes along with the rest of the crew, but she is never treated differently because she is a woman. Certainly, she is strong, but she is notjust strong. She is frightened, flawed, intelligent, and most importantly, human. Her strength comes from her resilience in the face of being imperfect.
Ripley finally prevails over the creature, but not before being forced to give up everything, even (temporarily) the atmosphere in her escape pod. Her desire to survive is found in all of us. It’s coated in humanity’s DNA. It knows no gender. It is singular in its pursuit.
It is worth pointing out that the character was originally written with a man in mind. That piece of information gives the idea of strong female characters a whole new perspective. The character of Ellen Ripley is competent, real, and entirely female. This is because she is presented to us that way.
Armed with this simple behind-the-scenes knowledge we are given the most blaring example of gender-as-construct. Ellen Ripley identifies as female, so the actions she takes are viewed as female. Having strong, complex, emotionally alive female characters is as simple as focusing more on the character’s desires and actions and less on their presented gender.
Who we are is determined by what we do. When we create female characters with this focus in mind, they will be filled with all the tenacious strength humanity has to offer.
As a bit of a recap, Cassius is a story from Arbitrary Muse Comics, the collective mind of Ann Uland and Emily Willis, and, while inspired by the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar, it’s clear almost right away that this is probably not the sort of story that Shakespeare imagined. Junia, the protagonist, inherits the mysterious mark of Cassius from her mentor—while on the run from would-be assassins—has to discover the meaning of the mark and what her destiny is.
I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, but I’ve never really found many that address my non-comic political interests. A possible exception has been Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ The Unwritten series, which discusses things such as metastories and political philosophy, but that’s just one instance. Exceptions are rare.
This is why I was super excited to have the opportunity to review Cassius, which on the face of it, was going to address some of my other interests: I love history, I love Shakespeare, and I love dynamic female characters. Cassius has all of these things in scads, which pleases me immensely.
It was my best friend who pointed it out to me first—there aren’t many women on the radio. She sings along to the songs more than I do and she was complaining that too many were out of her range. When I started to pay attention, it was shocking how long I could listen to certain stations for before I heard a song with a woman on vocals, let alone a lady-only band.
Because I am who I am, the next logical step for me was to crunch some numbers and analyze just how big this disparity between the genders on the radio was. I contacted several Seattle-area radio stations in hopes of getting data directly from them (including Star 101.5 FM, KISS 106.1 FM, Kube 93.3 FM, The End 107.7 FM, and KEXP 90.3 FM), but only heard back from program directors at STAR and The End. Both stations provided a list of their most-played bands and artists from late May and early June. Luckily, KEXP has charts available online that, if I’m correct, show similar information.
When most people think of South Park, I doubt that feminism comes to mind. For years, the satirical show has been best known for its crude humor and irreverent catchphrases. To me, though, one of the most impressive elements of its ongoing eighteen-year run is the development of Wendy Testaburger’s character.
“When you can be this for as long as you have to be, then you’re a razor. This war is forcing us all to become razors, because if we don’t, we don’t survive. And then we don’t have the luxury of becoming simply human again.” Admiral Cain in Razor
Michelle Forbes as Admiral Cain. Syfy Channel Photo: Carole Segal
Not all strong female characters are role models—sometimes they’re villains. And sometimes they’re both. Though she appears in only a few episodes and the made-for-television movie Razor in the Battlestar Galactica series, Admiral Helena Cain has a lasting impact and is one of my favorite characters in the series.
The Battlestar Galactica reboot certainly didn’t lack for strong female characters, and it’s one of the reasons the show earned a lasting place in my heart. From the swoon-worthy swagger of Starbuck to Cat, Boomer, Dualla, and President Roslin, the series gave women a chance to portray strong, intelligent, flawed, complicated characters.
Admiral Cain certainly has all of those qualities: strong, intelligent, flawed, complicated—but especially flawed. She’s well-suited to military command as a confident, fearless, tough leader whose first loyalty, always, is to her crew. That loyalty is proved in a twisted way when she orders the takeover of civilian ships in order to get parts and supplies, ordering her soldiers to use lethal force if necessary. In her view, she must have those supplies at all costs, and the civilians must comply or their families will die. It’s a harsh necessity and she entertains no other options. She may feel some sorrow over the loss, but she won’t feel a speck of guilt for her decisions that result in the deaths of thousands of the last human survivors. Regaining the home planet and ensuring the elimination of the Cylons are worth paying any price.
At the same time, she proves herself to be nurturing, in her own way. With both Kendra Shaw and Starbuck, we see her taking younger women under her wing. She recognizes the smarts and potential behind the sometimes surly attitudes of both young women and encourages them to step up and grow into bigger responsibilities.
It’s safe to say that she is blinded by her unyielding hatred of Cylons, and that hatred is given more fuel when she discovers that her lover Gina is actually a Cylon (Six). She gives one of her officers free rein to torture and rape the Six, ostensibly in order to learn more about the Cylon plans and also about these humanoid Cylons themselves. But it’s pretty easy to see that the vitriol and disgust she feels toward Gina is also about her own betrayal and hurt feelings. On the one hand, she claims that Cylons aren’t people, don’t feel emotions like people. On the other hand, why would she order such brutal actions that are designed to hurt and humiliate if she doesn’t believe in Gina’s ability to feel hurt and humiliated?
When she is finally killed by Gina, it’s hard to feel much empathy for her, given some of the horrific things she’s done or has ordered others to do. Still, her unwavering bravery coupled with a hard-to-deny vulnerability as she stares down the barrel of a gun make me admire her and feel for her, even if it’s just sadness and frustration at her decisions that led to this inevitable end.
And no discussion of Admiral Cain would be complete without talking about Michelle Forbes, the actor who plays her. Forbes has a history of playing formidable, strong-willed, whip-smart characters in sci-fi and fantasy, including True Blood and Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has that quality of being able to seem like she’s looking right through you and all your b.s., a trait that is both terrifying and extremely sexy (or maybe that’s just me). She’s able to bring a steely depth to Cain that lessor actors would not.
All in all, Helena Cain is a total BAMF, worthy of the title of Strong Female Character. You may not like her or agree with her actions, but you can’t deny her strength and her appeal.
What flawed or villainous female characters do you love?
“This is great! I must really be onto something hot if they’re trying to kill me!”
In the very first 1987 episode of the cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, these are the words April O’Neil utters to herself while being chased by a gang through the sewers. Before we ever even see the Turtles, we’re introduced to April via her Channel 6 news report detailing a recent crime outbreak in New York City. April’s not just sitting at a desk behind the camera for the story, though. She’s in a science lab investigating a recent robbery of powerful equipment. This leads to the run-in with the gang, and her fateful initial encounter with the Turtles.
When I think of strong, fictional female characters, April O’Neil is the first one that comes to mind. Within minutes of this episode alone, she shows her priorities and grit: get in the thick of it and get the scoop. Not only does she not shy from danger, she welcomes it, at one point encouraging her nervous camera crew with a hearty, “Come on, this’ll be fun!”
April’s lifestyle and activities vary slightly in each incarnation of her—from the original comics all the way to the current cartoon reboot—but I’m most familiar with and fond of the Saturday morning cartoon show of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unlike many leading ladies in superhero worlds, she is no mere damsel in distress. At the age of twenty-eight, she has an apartment of her own and an admirable career as an action news reporter. Always witty, curious, and bold, she frequently goes against the demands of her bumbling news station boss in order to do what’s best for herself and the city depending on her journalistic prowess.
April’s fashion style is nothing to mess with, either. Anyone who can pull off a bright yellow jumpsuit, white boots, and a mop of red hair must have some killer confidence! While she’s obviously physically gorgeous, her appearance isn’t a fallback plot device, nor the most noticeable quality to those around her. She assists the Turtles as the main link to the world outside their lair, gathering and sharing information on Shredder, the Foot Clan, and evil-doers in general so they can collectively stop their nefarious plans. With her drive, intelligence, and unique skills, she is a force for good in her own right.
Let’s recap April’s stand-out characteristics: She is a woman in her late twenties who wears bright colors, lives downtown in her own apartment, drops both knowledge and puns on people left and right, works as a reporter, never goes anywhere without her camera, hangs out with wise-cracking vigilantes, and uses her passions and profession to help others.