Geek Culture, Misogyny, And Harassment

Geek culture seems to have a love-hate relationship with women. On the one hand, where would so many classic science fiction and fantasy tales be without a princess to rescue? But on the other hand, as soon as women try to involve themselves in geek culture, asserting their right to be there as fans of the multifaceted culture, there’s a lot of pushback from the men. A LOT.

In Defense of Lady Geeks argues that while women are “appreciated for our decorative qualities, we certainly shouldn’t expect to be welcomed beyond that as active participants. It’s another hoop to jump through, and a glaring indication of the fact that we’re seen as girls first, geeks second, and that we’re always going to have to work harder to prove that we belong.” Sure, almost any subculture will try to make people prove their worthiness and demonstrate that they’re invested enough… but in the case of geek culture, the constantly-testing-atmosphere can get draining.

Take, for instance, the idiot nerd girl meme. Because any girl who’s into comics or sci-fi films must be faking it for the attention, right? There is, thankfully, a challenger to this meme. I’d have a Gundam Wing marathon with her any day!

Another issue is the harassment that women report at conventions (whether the theme of the con is science fiction, comics, gaming, you name it). One recent instance of harassment occurred at Readercon, a convention that has a zero tolerance policy which it then failed to enforce. Fans (many of them female) were understandably outraged: if they can’t feel safe even surrounded by their people, at a con, where then should they go to share their love of their subculture?

I’ve previously written about stalking and harassment in another post, but I’ll end by noting that geek culture has the incredibly transformative power to draw people from all walks of life, and to attract them to a subculture that offers hope of acceptance despite its glaring misogyny (and racism and homophobia, too). I’ve invested enough in geek culture (you should see my sci-fi/fantasy novel collection!) that I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water, but I also don’t want to waste my time or endanger myself by entering spaces where I’m not welcome.

This makes me think back to a post I made on gender and gaming, and I’d like to conclude on that same note: it’s worth being inclusive! Not sure how? Ask, be polite, and remember that everyone who’s in a subculture is there out of love, not because someone’s twisting their arm. These are good things to keep in mind.

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.