There’s been considerable noise of late over what makes a real geek.
And, unfortunately, a lot of that has honed in on whether certain girls are geeks. Specifically, cosplaying girls.
Need some history? It’s not the origin of the issue, but a decent starting point is this January where Joe Peacock ran a column on CNN called Booth Babes Need Not Apply. One of the big problems, of course, being that it ran on CNN which “legitimized” the attitude. Making it appear to be more of a rallying cry of geeks. The thrust of the article was that cosplaying girls are only there to get nerd attention and be fawned over. They are co-opting nerd culture for their own use.
John Scalzi, who was a big blogger even before he became a best-selling science fiction author, wrote a response on his blog that called Peacock on the carpet for, among other things, misogyny. More importantly, he pointed out that there is no prophet of geekery.* There’s no Central Nerd Authority. This is partially because it’s not an actual organization, and partially because there’s not a real unity of geekiness. Some like anime, some like dressing up, some like western comics, some like science fiction, some like fantasy.
Then earlier this week, Tony Harris wrote a screed on Facebook about, well, pretty much the same thing.** Then, John Scalzi put another word in on the subject and Madeline Ashby had some related words.
Here’s where we get to what I want to talk about.
Scalzi’s words are condescending, and in the view of many (including me, a little), rightly so. He points out that Harris is maladjusted and has issues with girls. Ashby points out that this sort of thing isn’t attractive and doesn’t attract women (or anyone, really, but so far this brouhaha has had a hetero-normative view and the offenders have all been heterosexual men).
And I think they’re right, as far as they go, but using Harris as a inspiration for these comments isn’t really apropos. Harris has a history that belies the misogynistic angle implied in a lot of these discussions. (Let me be clear, I’m referring to the larger discussion — Scalzi’s latest post and Ashby’s referenced post both fall just short of directly charging Harris with misogyny). Harris has a history of working directly against the objectification of women in comics that is, frankly, so out of control that it’s racing Thelma and Louise to the cliff’s edge. In terms of feminism, Harris is on the side of the “good guys” (the good guys being those who think both women and men should be treated, first and foremost, as human beings).
This got me thinking about it. These rants aren’t inspired by an inability to attract women. The roots of the issue are muddied enough that both sides think there’s a bit of that, at least in part due to the fact that the targets of the comments tend to dress on the skimpy side. And the issue isn’t really about geek men having issues with their (in)ability to deal successfully with the opposite gender in social situations.
It’s more about their historical inability to deal with society in social situations.
I want to make something else clear. I don’t know much about Peacock or Harris on a personal level. Almost zero. I noticed that Harris has a brother. That’s pretty much the extent of my familiarity with them other than professional output. I don’t know how close they come to the sweaty, Cheeto-stained, basement dwelling stereotype. Or if they ever had any match to that stereotype.
But it doesn’t matter. Because if you grew up loving comic books and science fiction, you have a feeling of that shared heritage of pocket protectors, skinny white legs, and wedgies from jocks.
For those of us who share in that heritage, comic books and Star Wars were what saved us. We were bullied, it’s true, but speculative fiction was an escape from that. The X-Men accepted us for who we were. This was our coping mechanism. It was our only way to live in a society that marginalized our self-confidence into oblivion.
What Peacock and Harris were really saying is that this is a little bit of sacred ground that you’re treading on. If you’re not socially oppressed, you’re taking something away from us. That terrifies us beyond reckoning. There remains no place we can go.
Basically, we basement dwellers have embraced flight for a long time as a way of dealing with conflict.† Flight is being taken away as an option, which means all that’s left is “fight.” Geeks, unfortunately, have a very poor history of fighting well. Or intelligently. But that’s what I think is causing the lashing out here. It’s not “she’s pretty.” It’s “she’s taking away my refuge.”
Here’s the thing though.
Yeah, science fiction and fantasy are still marginalized a bit. Terry Goodkind thinks he’s not writing fantasy. The fact that his first book is called Wizard’s First Rule because it’s about using magic and the rules thereof is irrelevant. He’s writing Literature because he talks about important philosophical issues. And thus we see that, Tolkien notwithstanding, fantasy cannot be Literature or non-superficial. (This is where we roll our eyes so hard it’s audible).
So yeah, there’s some of that. But, guys! Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Joss Whedon’s Avengers. J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek. These things were almost objectively awesome. Of course society outside your little niche is becoming interested in what you liked as a pimply adolescent.
None of these people (the jocks playing XBox or the pretty girls dressing up at your con) are out to persecute you. They aren’t even interested in you. And they certainly aren’t “preying” on you. They just like dressing up, and because your genre is interesting, it has interesting things to dress up as.
So, no, I don’t think most of these complainers about “cosplaying chicks” are actual misogynists. At least, not so consciously. But I also don’t think that most of these complainers really understand what it is that has them so defensive.
And I don’t think that the attitude is healthy. I’m very sympathetic for you if you’re bothered by this trend. But I also gotta tell you, you’re coming off as a wannabe hipster. “I liked it first” altered to “I liked it first and better.”
That your favorite genre is becoming popular is a good thing. So she can’t name Power Girl’s rogues gallery. I’ll bet you can’t identify the techniques she used to make that more than improbable costume work right. The fact that she dresses up is common ground and should be the basis for friendship. Or at least friendliness. If fandom is truly a refuge, it has to be accepting. What’s destroying your fandom is your reaction to your fandom no longer being marginalized.
Nick Mamatas gets it. He’s harsher than me, but he gets it. It’s time to start marching with humanity, my fellow geeks.
* Personally I feel someone like Stan Lee may actually be the prophet of geeks, or at least comic/superhero oriented geeks, which the issue has seemed to focus on. And I don’t think he has anything against basement-dwelling nerdlings (like myself) or hot cosplayers or even non-hot cosplayers. But all that’s not very relevant. (go back to where you were reading)
** Incidentally, this screed prompted another, considerably more civil, considerably less misogynistic, blog post by Joe Peacock. But it didn’t appear to me to take a different view even though it was about “rethinking” his position. It suffers from the same misunderstandings of this behavior that I think Scalzi and Ashby have. (go back to where you were reading)
† No, I’m not claiming that speculative fiction is only a way to escape reality. The overwhelming majority of fans of science fiction, comics, and fantasy would love them anyway. I’m just saying that fandom functioned this way for many of us, and therefore sparks these stupid outbursts. (go back to where you were reading)