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An Old-School She-Geek

Hello, visitors!   I left this journal entry public because I thought some interesting discussion might develop, which it has. But I don't know all of you, and today someone has left a comment here attempting to bring a vitriolic argument on a related topic into this space (it hit the spam filter and was screened). Please don't do things like that in my space.

It's been a bad couple of weeks to be a geek woman, what with the Readercon Creeper (see linkspam) and before that hit, the CNN article about how good-looking young women in skimpy costumes aren't really geeks (see Scalzi's blog, which has a link to the original piece).

Among the comments on the Scalzi "Who Gets to Be a Geek" piece was something that crystalized for me some uneasy feelings I'd been having myself about the recent co-evolution of geekdom in general and the women who are part of it. One commenter stated:

Speaking personally: I used to think that geek culture was one of the few places that I, as a non-femme fat chick, would find acceptance. It was exciting to know that I didn’t have to look like a bikini model in order to make friends and potentially find partners. Unfortunately, now that there really ARE bikini models running around in my spaces, I’m feeling more and more marginalized. My one refuge from my culture’s violent reinforcement of body standards is evaporating, and it’s upsetting.

I don't want to feel as this commenter does. But in my heart, I sometimes feel that way, even though I know it's wrong.

Some 50 years ago, there was a bookish little girl called Cho-chan. (Yeah. transparent distancing device is transparent.) Cho-chan was always a little pudgy, bad at sports, shy to the extreme, and bored and annoyed by what is now called performative femininity. Clothes usually didn't fit her well, her feet were too wide for girlish shoes, she wore glasses, and though she liked cute things such as baby animals, she didn't see what cute had to do with her.

She was a source of irritation to her mother, who had appearance issues of her own and who came from a New York garment-industry family in which dressing smartly was a way of life. However, she did allow Cho-chan to read books for escape at family events and sometimes pick out her own clothes and dress fabrics.

Cho-chan broke up with her queen-bee best friend from infancy when both girls were 8, and by the end of grade school, her friends were one other girl who liked horses and a couple of boys who were not embarrassed to play space ship (play as in "let's pretend," not a video game: there were no video games yet) or talk science with a girl. Her lack of interest in dolls (except as action figures), clothes, and later on, pop and movie stars gave her little in common with most of the girls her age, and also, she wasn't scared of bugs or snakes or worms or gross things like that. "Cho-chan is so weird."

As Cho-chan grew older, it became permissible for girls to wear trousers to school, and by the age of 15, she wore jeans and T shirts and clunky shoes (Earth shoes, for instance, and desert boots) all the time, except when she was forced into a dress for religious observances and major family get-togethers. When she and the other girls in Home Economics had to sew cute little 1970s tunics with matching shorts, all the other girls obtained pop-art bright or pastel flowered prints. Cho-chan managed to find a brown-and-black on cream Polynesian tapa-inspired print. Her sewing project stuck out like a licorice bonbon in a wad of cotton candy.

Cho had made some early more-or-less solo forays into fandom as a small child, with a series called "Space Cat," and she continued with The Hobbit and Star Trek:TOS (which was just "Star Trek" back then). By middle school, she was reading both science fiction (Asimov's Foundation series, Dune) and the new wave of YA fantasy that was just coming out (Susan Cooper, Patricia McKillip, etc.). Other girls generally ignored her or made fun of her, and on one memorable occasion, threatened to beat her up in the gym locker room.

In high school, she found a few other fannish people - mostly boys - and had an actual social life for the first time: she was on stage crew (as the only female electrician), the literary magazine, the TV quiz team ("It's Academic"), and the Diplomacy Club. When she went away to college, she knew what to look for, although she was still very lonely at times. She joined the gaming club and the SCA. She went to cons and tournaments and feasts. (And squirmed uneasily away from SCA asshats who looked down her cleavage and got grabby, but that's another story.) She met her husband in the SCA.

During this entire time, she usually only had one or two female friends at a time. Most of her female socializing was with either her younger sister or an old friend from high school (who was a languages geek and had also been on the quiz team), and later with her sisters-in-law.

She would not have multiple female friends at one time until 2007, when she started blogging on LJ.

So, my fandoms and me. It's always been mostly book fandom, until I discovered manga in 2006. By about age 25, I had more or less given up on TV.

I always read books with male protagonists. And as I got older, I identified with them. No one ever made them feel bad for not caring about their appearance. People cared about what they did, not what they looked like. And very early in adolescence, I became entranced that with male-male buddy relationships that I would learn, much later in life, to call "slashy." This suited me, because the relationships these guys seemed to have were the type of relationships that I wished I could have: equal partners, with mutual respect.

As a child, the female fictional characters that I did like or with whom I identified were tomboys: Petrova Fossil in Ballet Shoes (who wanted to grow up to be a pilot - and eventually did so), Goth in The Witches of Karres (who has adventures with the grown-up protagonist and who is rather scary and never, ever cute), Marian the girl with the dogs in The Horse without a Head (the caretaker of all the stray dogs in her town), Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and streetwise cockney Dido Twite in Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. I never felt that I could be as brave and adventurous as these girls, but they didn't care about clothes, their hair, or pleasing boys by being pretty and meek. I could appreciate that. And they didn't mock or scorn mousy brainiacs like me. Sometimes they even defended timid girls and became their friends. (This narrative didn't work so well with my eventual ideal of an equal partnership, but oh well.)

The grown-up descendants of these fictional girls were harder to find during my early adult years. It wasn't that I needed someone who didn't like or was even just indifferent to men, either. Raederle in McKillip's Riddlemaster series was "the second-most beautiful woman in An," but she ran away after her love across several nations without any concern about packing a wardrobe (or even, as far as I could tell, a hairbrush). Paxe, the badass female guard captain in Elizabeth Lynn's The Northern Girl, had both male and female lovers at various times - but worry about her hair and clothes? Are you kidding? More recently, tough demon hunter Maxine Kiss (in her eponymous series by Marjorie Liu) and the various badass women in the manga Black Lagoon have appealed to me.

But to many characters in fiction, as in real life, being a tomboy is something that gets left behind. You grow up and learn to care about clothes and make up and fitting in with our society's ideals of female appearance. If you're pretty enough, you'll stand out, and otherwise, you want to hit as many points of conventional performative femininity as possible so people don't think you're weird. Other women don't talk to you if you're weird. And it's not that you just have to do this to get a man or a job: you have to like it and care about it.

I won't do it, I can't do it. I was never conventionally attractive, and now I am almost 54 years old. I have no patience for clothing that isn't comfortable, my life is complicated enough without taking time to put on makeup before I leave the house (and it won't matter - I'll still have my same blunt, strong features, but with makeup on top), and my feet have become even wider and more tender with age, so that shoes with more than an inch or so of heel are torture after 30 minutes of walking or standing. Alone with my husband, I feel sexy. In the presence of others? Not so much.

For most of my years in geekdom, nobody really cared about any of that. Like the woman whom I quoted at the begging of this rant, it was wonderful to know that nobody except the odd pervy guy was judging me on anything but my enthusiasm for and knowledge of my various fandoms.

Nowadays, geekish enthusiasms are cool. The movies of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter brought hundreds of thousands into at least the fringes of fandom, and people who would never have spoken to someone like me 30 years ago are reading manga, watching geek-cool things like Dr. Who, and talking up fannish topics on LJ and DW. There are large numbers of women involved. And they say things like "It's OK for a strong heroine to be pretty and care about clothes and makeup!"

I ... want this to be true. If it's OK for women to be anything they want, then they can want to be decorative and well dressed and impeccably made up. Of course they can!

But are they going to judge me unworthy because I am not, and don't want to try to be?

I have had younger female fans tell me that liking slash fiction is bad, because it marginalizes female characters. I have had people seem (it may have been in my own head) to tell me I should like feminine female characters in manga series I was reading because I am female and I'm supposed to support female characters: even if they were the type of people who wouldn't have interest in someone like me if I were one of the characters in the cast.

Why do beautiful, self-confident fangirls make me want to run away from the things I love, and hide so they won't see me?

I am way too old to be this insecure.

Aren't I?


This entry is also posted at Dreamwidth. Comment at either location, as you prefer.


( 61 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
Your post has me about my own fan history. I'll have to write up my thoughts tomorrow. I haven't been posting on my journal lately, but I have plenty to say about being a fan girl.
Aug. 6th, 2012 01:10 am (UTC)

I'll be interested to hear your views on this!

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Aug. 5th, 2012 04:41 am (UTC)
I kind of want to write an essay, but I'm still trying to unpack all of this and your comments is probably not the best place. It is interesting, though, because I think I grew up on the F&SF written by women of your generation who felt as you did, and as much as I identified with the characters, I've been feeling a growing discomfort that those books tended to set up "traditionally" feminine women as The Enemy or at least useless and to be dismissed. I still don't really want to read books about extremely feminine protagonists...but I would like supporting characters to have diverse ways of expressing femininity, to show that women don't have to be enemies. I also think that showing characters who perform beauty, who put effort into it for particular reasons, is really important--rather than just having all these Naturally The Most Beautiful Woman in the World types running around. Because so many people don't realize how performative beauty and femininity are: that they can be a survival necessity, a tool, an artistic expression, a way of blending in, a way of standing out. There's a lot of potentially interesting character territory there, I think.

I went to my first con a month or so ago, and it was...an interesting experience. I'm still trying to unpack my feelings about the Bikini School of Cosplay and why it makes me uncomfortable in some ways and indifferent in all ways, and very few of them actually have to do with the cosplayers rather than the way other people react to them.

The thing I was most uncomfortable with was that darn near every pro artist there doing sketches drew men relatively normally (for superheroes), and women as cheesecake pinups. Even artists whose work I normally respect, who are capable of drawing women normally. Because that's what the fanboys want in their sketchbooks, I guess. But that makes me feel more unwelcome than any number of skinny young things in bikinis ever could. The cosplayers didn't invent the characters they're dressing as: for the most part, men invented them, and men supported the products that featured them. Cosplayers refusing to wear bikinis won't force comics creators to start putting their female superheroes in outfits comparable to those of the men.

I very much have your reaction to performative femininity, or at least straight performative femininity (the queer femmes I know are very clear that it's a performance, it's a choice, and some people do it and other people don't--and they're often very appreciative of diverse gender presentations in a way that, say, the good Southern ladies and the East Coast party girls with the spackled-on makeup I worked with last year were...not). Won't do it, can't do it, wonder if those women over there are judging me. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they are not. But it's an awful, awful feeling.

I'm not sure there's any way to win the femininity game, basically.

...okay, I tried not to write an essay. Short version: I often feel similar feelings, but I think there's a lot to unpack about why we feel those feelings and whether we're pinning them on the right causes.
Aug. 6th, 2012 02:22 am (UTC)

>> I'm not sure there's any way to win the femininity game, basically. <<

Yes, I feel the same a lot of the time. I'm happiest when I feel that I can just be a person, and people take me as such, rather than having to worry about whether I'm doing a good job as a woman. Because I feel that I make a pretty good person, but I'm not sure how good a woman I am.

Yes, the reactions to the skimpy costumes are more disturbing that the costumes are. Unpacking one's own reactions is probably the way to go.

I have photographed a number of costumes in the past couple of years at Katsucon, and I just went through them trying to find an example of the real skimpy costume ... and couldn't. Hmmm. I mean, there are some bare midriff ones, or low-cut ones, and plenty of bondage-inspired ones ... .

I agree that there should be more of a variety of female characters. It's kind of aggravating to me that in manga and to some extent in Western adventure stories for older kids, when there's a gang of boys, they are of various types: the leader-type, the impetuous type, the combative type, the brainy one, the strong but phlegmatic one, etc. But with female characters, you get The Girl (princess-hood optional) and maybe Her Best Friend ... and that's about it. (This is one reason I like the manga Bamboo Blade, which tends to be kind of male-gaze-y because it's aimed at adult men who have a moe-thing going on. But the girls' kendo team who are the core cast are all of various personalities: one is a girl jock, one is rather klutzy, one is very feminine, one is a kendo genius but also an anime fangirl, etc. It's great that way.)

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Aug. 5th, 2012 07:00 am (UTC)
I can totally understand where you are coming from, and I'm only a bit younger than you. We didn't have con-culture over here when I was young enough to want to go there, so I have been to exactly one manga-themed con (in my... 30s?... hmm probably late 20s - while I was at university, definitely) all by myself.

I don't have real life girl geek friends, either ^^. The most I managed was during the university years. Thank god for the internet, I say, whatever crap also happens here.

Insecurity isn't a privilege of the young, anyway ^^. The only thing that makes me sometimes think so is that a lot of grown-ups don't DARE to actually put their insecurities into words and get really aggressive when you stumble across it by accident. Because insecurity will often be seen as a weakness to exploit, if useful, I think.

It's like fellow teachers telling me that I shouldn't admit I repeated a school year - because it's not DONE for a teacher.

Edited at 2012-08-05 04:31 pm (UTC)
Aug. 6th, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)

Thanks for telling me that! Yes, some days I really don't want to be a grown-up. But I don't have really misty-eyed nostalgia for childhood either.

It's funny, there are a couple of older geek women in our tabletop RPG group. They're in their early 60s - real old-school geek women. But I have found it tough to get close to them, even though I have known them for years. I find myself wondering whether they have built up layers and layers of defenses against being too close over the years.

Edited at 2012-08-07 02:00 am (UTC)
Aug. 5th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
I think I'm guilty of belonging to this new generation of fangirls. I came into fandom right at the cusp of this new surge, which was smack in the middle of my formative years and ended up being very interesting to grow up in. I think the main thing is that fandom has become intensely, mmm, meta? Analytical and willing to self-criticize, which can really make for a weird environment. I'm glad that fandom as a whole is willing to question its identity, but I hate that it undermines anyone's sense of security. And unfortunately, we're never too old for insecurity.

As an aside, I didn't realize you started on LJ in 2007! I could have sworn I saw you around earlier than that. For what it's worth, you're one of those names I've seen around everywhere and have always thought was deeply cool.
Aug. 6th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC)

Awww, thanks! Well, I used this name on both the Neil Gaiman Board in the early 2000s and the C.J. Cherryh message board, Shejidan, in the mid- to late-2000s. But I started doing LJ in early 2007 when sanada told me I'd find more people to talk about manga here.

>>I'm glad that fandom as a whole is willing to question its identity, but I hate that it undermines anyone's sense of security. And unfortunately, we're never too old for insecurity.<<

Thanks for that too - it's comforting to hear.

Aug. 5th, 2012 12:46 pm (UTC)
I'm not 54 but 33, but the history of life is pretty similar in my case. I'm still doubting about me being right in not putting on make up (what a hassle!) or dressing with more style or putting on some weight when the truth is that, deep inside, I don't want to care about that, dammit. I know my own value, I don't know why I have to worry about looking beautiful for that value to come across to society. I've always thought that people give too much (way too much) importance to the "girl" and "boy" stereotypes. What the fuck, why can't you play with dolls if you're a boy? It's fun! Or why can't you play with cars if you're a girl? It's also fun! Like killing zombies! What does sex, or gender, or however you want to call it have to do with what you like or should be doing? I hate shopping, I hate talking about clothes, I don't give a fuck about what famous people are doing, I think shoes are a good idea because walking barefoot hurts, but that's all, I just need two pairs or trainers and some flip-flops for summer!

Since I was a child, I always wanted to be the prince in the fairytales. When I played with my dolls, there were so many female dolls and just a lonely guy and the guy was always the "princess" and the girls the ones playing the adventure to save him. I wasn't trying to make a statement (with seven years you rarely do), it was just the natural thing for me. Because I also wanted to be the prince and have adventures. I can't fit into the role of the princess because I don't want a man to protect me, or save me, or whatever. I want an equal partner to love and to fuck, but not to do things for me when I'm the one who should be doing them. IS THAT SO DAMNED STRANGE???!!!

So, no, I'm not trying to act mysoginic by erasing feminine characters from the stories I read or write. I'm just more interested in a fictional world where everyone is the same and has the same oportunities and the same physical equipment and can face other characters on equal ground. And, what's more, I'm fed up with people trying to psychoanalyze why I like slash. What the fuck do you know? Do I try to say to you why you like soccer?

On the other hand, it's so difficult to still be true to yourself when you've been taught all your life that you have to look pretty! Especially when you see that beautiful people obtain everything more easily.

So, I don't really know what to say to you. Because I understand where the insecurities come from. But it's unfair, because you know deep inside that you are right, dammit, and that Disney is right and you are fine as you are. But it's so difficult to also believe it, as well as know it...! Aaaarrrghhhh!!! For me geekland is still friendly because in RL I have my male friends and I'm just one of them, and for the slashy pursposes I have my Internet friends and for me, their appearance is their icons and that's enough. But I can understand how someone with some RL geek territory could feel threatened by the changes.

Hugs, in any case?
Aug. 6th, 2012 02:48 am (UTC)

I sometimes care about clothes, but it's sort of the way that some guys care about clothes (I imagine Gojyo thinks his leather jacket in Reload is way cool, for example). I can't wear sneakers (trainers) to work, but I'm always searching for shoes that are just that comfortable ... .

I'm with you on the prince thing! The princes got adventures and a romance at the end - why did the princess have to just moon around and wait? Although I have read a bunch of theory and so on on the strength of yin and not always having to take action, I think both men and women should have either option. I like that in Black Lagoon (at least in the first several volumes), Revy is the angry warrior and Rock plays her conscience. (Although he's getting tougher and more cynical too, if not more violent.)

LOL, yes: I like to psychoanalyze why I like slash, but I don't like it when other people do it for me.

When I sit down and make a list, I actually find quite a number of het couples whom I admire in fiction ... but most of them have non-existent fandoms. I mentioned Maxine Kiss in the post because she has a male lover (later her husband), and he's magically powerful, but she's the fighter and the one with the Huge Destiny. It's a current series - a new volume just came out - but no one I know seems to be following it. So it's usually the guys for me when I'm writing fiction or talking online.

I'll always take hugs from my friends! *hugs you*

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Aug. 5th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with Scalzi. And I sympathize with your feelings; but I don't think you can get away from judging (or feeling judged) in any arena, and it's not possible to create a space like that, because people will always compare themselves to others - whether it's 'prettier' or 'less-socially awkward' or 'smarter' or 'better writer' or what have you.

As you know, we grew up in the same place at the same time (more or less). I used to go to the SF conventions like Balticon, Disclave, Boskone - I was the skinny girl in the chainmail bikini. But I also had few female friends, was in the SCA-offshoot, read an awful lot of SF and fantasy. I understand that not-conventionally attractive geek women feel threatened by attractive ones, but I don't want to have my experience or validity erased just because I'm not overweight and/or unfeminine! (And I never felt particularly attractive, either, compared to the cheerleader standard of the 1980s.)

I don't know. I agree with a lot of the second part of your post, in that as I have aged (I'm about to turn 49) performative beauty is less important to me. I have rarely worn makeup and have little fashion sense. And I don't really feel the need for it, nor do I care if I'm judged for that. But I also don't think it's right to judge people in the opposite direction. It's like fat people saying 'how dare you judge me for my weight' but then judging me for being slender. And yes, I fully get that in mainstream society they are judged more harshly than I am - but I don't want to be denied my participation in fandom just because of this! Can't we all just appreciate each other for who we are? (Yeah, pipe dream!)
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:45 am (UTC)
I cannot speak for chomiji, but I think you may be missing the source and target of the discomfort here.

There's nothing wrong with BEING sexy in fandom. There is something wrong with the pressure that women MUST be sexy in fandom or not count as fans, or even people; and there's something wrong with women being treated rudely for not being "attractive" enough.

For example, I've had male friends drop out of conversations with me without a word, either to ogle or chat up a passing women they found more attractive and/or more likely to actually sleep with them. This is rude regardless of the genders involved. I'm not sure it's very flattering or respectful to the passing woman, either (see: the original post by a man about how bikini cosplayers are all manipulative fake fans and attention whores. Not very respectful of the so-lucky conventionally attractive).

Everyone should be treated at a baseline level of courtesy and humanity regardless of "sexiness." That we, and particularly women, are not, is a problem.

The only people I want to erase categorically from fandom are the creepy sexually harassing jerks of the world.
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Aug. 6th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
Oh man, the complicated FEELS, I HAZ THEM!

Anyway, I think we have briefly touched on stuff like this before, and I just wanted to say that coming from (sort of maybe) the other side—very femme girl who liked other girls and women and dolls and grew up with Patricia C. Wrede and Robin McKinley and hated that the only way you could be a hero was to not like stuff like embroidery and frippery—I want there to be all kinds of women.

I just. I wish there were more narratives where all the girls and women team up and talk about stuff like this, where some of them perform femininity because they like to and because it is a weapon and some of them hate it and swear off it all together. I get so frustrated with how female characters are shoved in holes in different genres: having to be girly and frilly in shoujo or having giant boobs and skimpy outfits and being kickass in other things or never being able to see warrior women who don't have hourglass figures and etc.

I think this is part of why I love Code Name Verity so much; I love having that slashy dynamic between a woman who is very typically feminine and uses that and a woman who isn't and wants to be a fighter pilot.
Aug. 7th, 2012 01:41 am (UTC)

smillaraaq and I are that way as friends. We like so many of the same fannish things but she loves clothes and such. But I always like the odd-couple-ish couple as a trope - that's why I ship Gojyo/Hakkai in Saiyuki. I'd love to run into a fmeale equivalent. (Sounds like I ought to read Code Name verity, between your review and rachelmanija's. Although I think the story will make me sad.)

The funny thing is, when I was younger and life was less complicated in terms of time management, I used to do all sorts of arty/crafty stuff, including embroidery. But I also wired my doll house with electric lights (my dad gave me the low-voltage transformer, coated wire, tiny lights, wire cutters, and just basically let me go to town). I think my main feeling is that every woman ought to have the option to choose her interests and such, and not have them dictated by others.

Yes, I want there to be all sorts of women in stories too! (And believe me, I would love to see some not-so-young and not-so-slim women in manga too ... I mean, not played to complete chibi stereotype like Tokine's grandmother in Kekkaishi.)

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Aug. 6th, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
It was such a crappy week to be a girl in geekdom. Jeez.

I really hate how hard it was, in the past, and how hard it is, still, today. I guess I take some comfort in a couple things. The online world has made it so much easier to connect in a way that removes (some of) the judgy barriers. We don't see each other, which in some ways makes communicating difficult, but in other ways is (for me at least) very freeing. Nobody knows if I'm wearing my Eyore pjs when talking! Er. Or look femmey, or boyish, or anything--and that's a huge relief in so many ways.

The other thing I love is that technology makes it possible to find others who love what I love, regardless of locale, and that opens things up, too. (I so wish I could have found this community of people fifteen years ago when I was devouring the collected works of Cherryh, for instance.)

What still makes me upset is how much societal force there is, even now, on all of us, to divide us, to make us all feel crappy (for being not femme enough, for being too femme, for being too sexual, for not being sexual enough, for being one way or another). I think it's a divide or conquer patriarchy thing, but even if I know that in my head, it doesn't always work on my heart. Which sucks.

I want it to be easier for all of us to get together and enjoy ourselves, and not have to worry about those forces, that harrassment, all of that....ick that seems to cling to so many things, so that we can enjoy each other and revel in the beauty of what is, not what 'should be', because dammit, so many of the people I love *are* beautiful, even if they're not what some societies say counts. Am I making any sense?
Aug. 7th, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
but in other ways is (for me at least) very freeing. Nobody knows if I'm wearing my Eyore pjs when talking! Er. Or look femmey, or boyish, or anything--and that's a huge relief in so many ways.


All of your comment, really.
(no subject) - chomiji - Aug. 7th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 7th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
I'm 34, and before I got into anime and manga I spent a couple of years hitting the local sci-fi cons (back when we had more here). I seem to think I felt less insecure about clothes etc. back then, even though I paid a lot less attention to them than I do now. (Which is not to say I'm terribly focused on them these days either. *g*)

That said, I'm not sure where any of the causes and effects for that shift to increased insecurity lie. I'd have to do some serious thinking about it.
Aug. 8th, 2012 03:24 am (UTC)

So ... what's a scenario where you feel insecure about clothes?

(no subject) - umadoshi - Aug. 9th, 2012 12:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chomiji - Aug. 9th, 2012 01:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - umadoshi - Aug. 9th, 2012 10:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 7th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC)
"If it's OK for women to be anything they want, then they can want to be decorative and well dressed and impeccably made up. Of course they can!

But are they going to judge me unworthy because I am not, and don't want to try to be?"


I'm so sick of all sides telling me who and how to be. I am what I am, which is a fat, geeky, 39-year-old, mom, crafter, knitter, cake decorator who doesn't wear makeup or high heels. I am no more nor less qualified to be in a geek space than a thin, geeky, 20-year-old, childfree, programmer, X-Box player who wears makeup and high heels.

I actually wonder how much of these pressures to be a certain kind of female geek are really the old guard establishment - mostly male - working to keep us divided and therefore all marginalized. Feh. I won't stand for it. I'm here, I'm nerdy, get used to it.
Aug. 8th, 2012 03:31 am (UTC)

I have a hard time thinking of the male old guard as that organized. I think that a lot of individual greed for control can have the same effect, though.

It's also tough for me to think about it that way because a number of guys were friends to me at times when most women wouldn't give me the time of day.

But yes, we should all be geeks together. One thing I like about the manga/anime cons I've attended is that there's generally a greater diversity of races, ages, and sexes than at conventional SF&F cons.

Teresa Axner
Aug. 8th, 2012 08:46 am (UTC)
This post, as well as the comment thread really resonates with me. Beware, for here comes an essay.

I'm 32 years old and have been a self identified geek since forever. I was the weird kid who read too many (too long, too strange) books, drew orcs on my binders, played tabletop roleplaying games, larped. all that stuff. I was also - but only in geek circles - considered one of the "pretty girls", as I was lucky enough to enter into a geek culture that had several other teenage girls as members.

Being suspected of being a traitor to geek culture was a constant, painful part of being a female gamer. I handled this by playing power games with the dudes. Not sexual ones (which would have *completely* defied the purpose), but getting into those annoying "I'm a better geek than you" rivalries. Which a lot of the time would pidgeon hole me away from my female friends: "Teresa is the real deal, but so-and-so is just a poser".

I tried and tried to stop people from doing this to other women (although, I think that I also played right into it by supporting the narrative of "who is the better geek"). That (and the constant sexual harrassment) was the least fun part of an otherwise awesome time. Talking to other geeks has made me fully appreciate the magic of actually having a RL geek space to share with several people (many of them women) during your teens.

Anyway. I live in Sweden, and a few years ago the concept "geek feminism" *really* made a splash here. What happened was that I and a bunch of other women started a separatist facebook (and RL) network called "Geek Women Unite!" which went super viral and recruited over 1000 women in a week (in a country with 9 million people). This, paired with the fact that some of the founders had a lot of media connections, got us a lot of attention.

Now, all the women who founded the network (which purpose is a) for female geeks to hang out and not have their gender be a factor b) help them feel less like impostors) are serious geeks, (larpers, SF-fans etc). But most of us are also pretty femme, and a few of us are even semi-celebrities (not as in rock stars, as in well known journalists).

At first I was super excited to do interviews. Spreading the word! But reading the articles was less fun. The narrative that most of them went with was: "When you think "geek", you think of disgusting basement trolls who've never talked to a woman. But the NEW geek is a girl! and HAWT!"

Predictably, we got some bad reactions from older, male geeks who thought we were in fact impostors, but the thing that really chilled my soul was the thought of all the geek women who didn't fit this narrative, and who once again were being left out in the cold. Also, I wasn't super thrilled that journalists had spinned a story about geekdom into something where my body was the main character, but that's somehow easier to live with.

I try to fight for women's right to not be sexualized. I actively network with other women and support them and their right to represent themselves however they frickin' like without pushback. I go out of my way to make other women feel included in geek culture. But I think I'm also read as "the pretty girl" that makes other women uncomfortable. Basically I hate the femininity game.

Also: Writing this, I feel an overwhelming need to backpedal from calling myself conventionally attractive, to quantify, to say "it's not like I'm ACTUALLY beautiful". Yay patriarchy :(
Aug. 9th, 2012 01:19 am (UTC)

>> Basically I hate the femininity game. <<

I hear you. We are what we are.

One of the few physical things I like about my face is that my lips naturally have color. I once recounted to my younger sister an incident where some other women were convinced I must be wearing some sort of lip color/lipstick, and I felt guilty about it, as though I were boasting. And my sister frowned and said I should never feel guilty about having positive feelings about myself. She's a good sister!

You are conscious of the issues and of the effect that you may have on others, and you're trying to counter some of the less (dare I say) attractive fallout from that. I can't really ask more than that.

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