I remember my first comic convention vividly. It was 2012 and I had carefully prepared my Bioshock splicer cosplay with great detail — right down to the ripped tights, the fake blood and wrench, and the vintage-styled dress. As I eagerly walked around the Fan Expo grounds, I encountered everything I thought I would: The over-priced Jedi robe of my dreams, a Zelda-themed ocarina and countless actors.
But as I patiently waited to get a photo with a Lego-man character, the last thing I expected to encounter was sexual harassment. As my boyfriend took the photo and I smiled for the camera, all I could feel was a foam hand quickly inching away from my shoulder and grabbing my butt.
I was completely distraught. It all happened so quickly. I was furious and wanted to yell at (and potentially kick) the Lego-man, but I didn’t really know how to react. There were little kids all around waiting for their turn and I was worried about causing a scene, or potentially getting thrown out of the Toronto Convention Centre.
Unfortunately, many women have had their fair share of sexual harassment at Cons and it’s not out of the norm. This was just one of the topics discussed at the Women in Geek Culture event, hosted by Ryerson’s Centre for Women and Trans People in honour of International Women’s Week. As the feminist movement grows, so does the support between women in what is referred to as “geek culture.”
Despite the fact that things are moving forward, there are still those who believe the culture should be dominated by males. Cue scenarios of women being quizzed on-the-fly by a male whose goal is to dismiss you as not a “real” fan. As a Star Wars lover, this has happened to me many a times. Often, quiz questions consist of the smallest details that only a person unhealthily obsessed with a fandom would know. In a perfect world, women in geek culture would be able to wear a superhero T-shirt without having to prove themselves.
This leads us to affirmational versus transformational fandoms. Affirmational fandom is when everything is done by the books and has stayed the way the creator has left it. It’s also seen as being dominated by males. Transformational fandom – usually dominated by females – sees the fans twisting characters or themes for their own purposes and satisfactions. Seeing a woman of colour cosplay a character who isn’t shouldn’t be an issue. So why is it still argued over in geek culture? Artists depicting male characters as the opposite gender shouldn’t be an issue either. As extremist as Tumblr can be sometimes, I am happy that it’s a safe space for transformational fandom and inclusion amongst women in geek culture.
However there are other areas of the culture that haven’t been so lucky.
In the past year, we have seen misogynistic attacks in the Gamergate controversy, where female game developers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu, and critic Annita Sarkeesian, were targets of online threats of sexual violence and even death. This is because of the general exclusion of women in gaming.
Personally, my male friends would leave me behind in World of Warcraft (WoW) quests when I was new to the game and couldn’t find my character’s body to re-spawn. This sort of exclusivity is exactly what brings together girl-only groups for those who want to learn to play WoW.
The community built around women’s inclusivity in geek culture is like no other. These women — and feminist men — are almost more supportive of you in ways your day-to-day friends could never be.
And the fact that there are initiatives to keep pushing this feel-good culture forward is a step in the right direction.