Sunday, January 27, 2013

Don't Bash The Casual Fan

Recently, there's been an internet trend of questioning the geek cred of women. This debate centers on women who wear sexy costumes to comic conventions, but it encompasses all women who are casual comic book./sci-fi/fantasy fans - women who enjoy Batman, but couldn't pass a trivia quiz on the subject. Author Joe Peacock called out "pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention" on his blog and comics artist Tony Harris wrote a scathing and profane rant against "fake fangirls" on facebook. I won't publish any excerpts from Harris' piece here, because I try to keep this blog family-friendly, but it was harsh. (You can read the whole thing here, if you must.) Peacock's piece, while more eloquent, was little better. In it, he says that "I get sick of wannabes who couldn't make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead."
Does he stop every girl in a Batman T-shirt and quiz her on Dark Knight Trivia and Lore? I really want to know.
My first reaction upon reading these essays was gratitude. Not for the works themselves, but for the fact that I've never encountered this attitude in real life. I have a number of fanboy friends, both male and female, who accept me as a geek without making me prove myself. That's a good thing, because I'm probably the type of casual fan Harris and Peacock are talking about.
I'm dedicated enough to embroider my own Evil League of Evil shirt, though. I want points for that.
In my teens, I'd hole up in my room reading comics for hours on end. I'd go to comics shows in musty auditoriums and search for all of the back issues I needed to complete my collection. I stood in line for midnight showings in costume. But I'm a mom now, and a business owner, and I don't have time to hole up in my room. I download all of the most recent issues onto my Kindle, but weeks go by before I have a chance to read them. I learned of Johnny Storm's death from a friend at a party. It's been months since I've done anything Star-Trek-related.
I named my hamsters "Tribble" and "Trouble." That's Trek-related, right?
Unfortunately for Harris, Peacock and their ilk, I think my brand of casual fandom is where geek culture is headed. As comic book and fantasy movies become mainstream, more adults are becoming interested in what were formerly hardcore geek pastimes. Adults don't have time to be well-versed in trivia because we're working and raising kids and juggling bills and responsibilities. But, that doesn't diminish our love for Superman or the Avengers.

This mainstreaming of geek culture is exciting to me. It means that young geeks can probably wear a Captain America T-shirt without being gifted with a wedgie for their troubles. That's a luxury I didn't have in high school. And, it means I can share my love of cosplay on facebook and receive positive comments. And, yes, it stings a little that they're selling The Walking Dead trade paperbacks at Target, when I had to drive 20 minutes to a comic shop to buy the first issues back in 2003.
I also had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to buy an issue of Invincible.
But, on the other hand, I can now stand in line at Target with my groceries, drinking a Frapuccino and reading The Walking Dead. I can't find anything wrong with that.

Geek culture is the only culture I'm a part of that frowns on casual fans. Nobody has ever bashed me for being a casual hockey fan. (Which is surprising, considering that I actually live with a rabid hockey fan). Crafters don't look down on other crafters because they only sew on the weekends, or don't know what to do with half of their scrapbook supplies. Geek culture is the only culture that does this.

Some say that it's because a lot of geeks were bullied as kids for our interests. And there might be some credibility to that. It's a little disconcerting that a few of the other moms in the playgroup are really into the Avengers.
Somehow, the Avengers have become really popular with women. For whatever reason.
I know some of these women were probably popular as teenagers. Maybe a few of them would have made fun of me for toting a backpack full of comics back in '87. But that doesn't mean that I should sneer at them for coming to the party late. One of the things you should take away from being bullied is that looking down on anyone, for any reason, is wrong. At least, that's what I took away from it.

Besides, I can now wear my Superman shoes in public, without having to hide them in the back of my closet. Not everybody thinks they're cool, but I'm never going to be bullied for wearing them. I bought my daughter a pair, too. And nobody's told her that they're "boy's shoes," or that she's a nerd. I love that.
They are truly the finest shoes ever made.
I also think a lot of the hate towards women who dress up in sexy cosplay is fueled by the media. I go to Comic-Con every year, and I'm surrounded by other fans in jeans and T-shirts. You see more costumes than you would at the local mall, but convention-goers in costume are definitely in the overall minority. Of that percentage, only a few are scantily-clad women. A few are even scantily-clad men.
If you're going as Dr. Manhattan, calling it a '"costume" is a stretch. 
But, when you watch the media coverage of Comic-Con, all you see are the sexy ladies. Because that's what's going to get viewer's attention.

I think there's also a basic misunderstanding of why women want to dress up and come to a convention. Both Peacock and Harris assume it's to make themselves feel attractive, to prey on men, or to engage in a sort of exhibitionism. In his blog, Peacock says: "They decide to put on a "hot" costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don't get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity."

For the most part, he's wrong.

When I've donned a costume, it hasn't necessarily been a sexy one, but I've always tried to dress out of my comfort zone. I've been known to make a costume girlier or flirtier just because it's fun.
Jayna actually wore pants in the Super Friends cartoons. But I like skirts. Besides, the orignal Gleek was a boy, so I wasn't going for accuracy.
I'm not looking for attention. I don't want to feel like a celebrity. But I like dressing up. I don't get to dress up every day. The fanciest I usually get is a brocade pair of Chuck Taylors. So, when I've got to pick a costume, I'm going to go with Catwoman, because that's who I'm not. That's the whole point.
That and fake ears. Apparently, I've got a thing about fake ears.
Besides, if you're a woman cosplaying as a comic character, there aren't a lot of options out there. If you want to dress up as Wonder Woman, you've got to don a strapless top and panties.
Unless you're five, and your mom makes you wear a skirt instead. Sorry, kiddo.
That's one part of geek culture that I think a lot of women can relate to - playing dress-up. And we're doing it for ourselves, not for men, and certainly not out of some sort of misguided exhibitionism.

Like I said, I've never encountered this attitude. But I hope it doesn't deter women from becoming involved with geek culture at any level, or from attending conventions, either costumed or not. Because, when you do, awesome stuff like this can happen:
That's me and Pete with Invincible and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, who didn't question my geek cred at all. 

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