Monday, September 03, 2012

The Nature of Geekdom

I've written about this before, but I just read this post on Male Privilege in Geek-dom, makes a lot of good, enlightened points, and thought it was worth revisiting this topic. My experiences aren't really reflected in the article because I'm the wrong generation. I turn 60 next year -- a fact I'm trying to not think about much -- and back in the '50s and '60s, being a geek (I can't recall what word we used, other than being weird) was frowned upon for both girls and boys. We girls, of course, could read Archie comics and romance comics, and maybe Classics Illustrated, but that was it. But with parents -- yes, both of them -- who appreciated superheroes, I started reading Superman and Batman titles when I was seven, along with all the other kinds of comics I was reading by then.

By the time I was 12, my friends -- all girls -- didn't want to be seen with me if I had comics visible. I was a shy kid and didn't even talk to boys much because they always teased me, or better, ignored me. In college, I'd read comics in the stairwells -- a popular place to hang out if you wanted to be alone -- or in the cafeteria, the comic hidden behind a textbook. I got my comics at the local candy store/drugstore, and didn't discover comic shops until I was living on my own after graduation. Soon after, I went to my first comicon, a local NY annual event, the Phil Seuling New York Comic Arts Convention held in the old, long gone Commodore Hotel near Grand Central Station, a con I read about in a comic lettercol.

I don't recall cosplaying at the con, though it might've gone on. I do recall being overwhelmed by all the things being sold that tempted me. Creation cons came a bit later, adding toys and collectibles to the mix. I was mostly ignored at the cons, going by myself because none of my friends were genre fans or geeks. When I went to pay for things, the vendors readily accepted my money. Some even talked to me as if I were just another customer.

My experiences at comic shops were similar. So many things to buy! So few other women customers. It was a bit uncomfortable being one of the few women in the stores, but no one at Forbidden Planet, Action Comics (they'd licensed the name from DC and were located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan), and Jim Hanley's Universe ever made me feel uncomfortable or unwanted when I shopped there in the '80s and '90s. The staff was usually friendly and welcoming, but by then, I was clearly no sexy young woman to be hit on. I've been shopping in Forbidden Planet since.

I found geeky friends, mostly through writing fanfic, including a few attempts at comics fanfic for the Teen Titans APA which I learned about from a fan friend. Most of my fanfic was for TV shows and it's through media fandom that I found fellow geeks across the globe to be friends with.

I've been attending NYCC since its inception a few years ago, and I feel accepted. I'm middle-aged, no sex symbol, and I buy stuff. Maybe it's from being in New York, where women work at Forbidden Planet these days, or maybe it's because I'm still mostly a loner fan, but there's this whole experience girls and women have that I've never experienced. I always felt I missed out because fandom was an unknown for me back when I was of an age when I was likely to get interested in an organized fan network of activity.

I started reading comics before there was the feminist movement. The females in comics were just reflecting the norm for me. As I grew more feminist in the '70s, I started noticing things, but it didn't make me like the objectified female characters less. They were already ingrained in my mind the way they were, and maybe, it wasn't as flagrant then as now. But one reason I loved the powerless Wonder Woman was because she got to prove herself a worthy heroine without needing superpowers, the same reason I loved Lois Lane.

I know I'm a woman of my times. For all my feminist leanings -- kept my maiden name when I married, haven't worn makeup since a few attempts in high school, not much for the domestic arts of cleaning and cooking, hate lace and frills, want equal pay for equal work and want legislators to stop trying to legislate reproductive rights, and so on -- I still have an acceptance for the portrayal of female characters others don't. I can bemoan a costume while still loving the character, same as I can wish the males were as sexualized as the women. That should be equal, after all. That Catwoman's zipper used to be up and now is down bugs me but isn't something I'd bitch about. I don't read the book for other reasons that have more to do with the whole new DC than with the sexualizing of the character. But I do get the anger.

The writer of the article that inspired this post gets it. He gets that no matter what one thinks or feels, a man will never understand how it feels to worry everyday that violence will befall you, that someone might challenge you simply because of your sex. Men can be victims, and way too many are -- I just read that more men are raped in the military than women, though the percentage of women is higher, the difference being no doubt that more men are in the military than women -- but a man doesn't sit on a near empty subway car or walk down a street and wonder if one of the people there wants to harm him. As a women, coming home late from work or college classes, those were among my thoughts. I remember one night thinking I was being followed and walked past my building and around the corner in case I needed to run into the 24-hour restaurant for safety. A false alarm, but how many men deal with that feeling?

I was fortunate to work in a profession where women were often management and probably outnumbered the men, but there were men in charge mostly and they did have a way of patronizing the women when we had ideas. I was lucky with my male supervisors, except for one who felt threatened by me, and had more female supervisors who were dismissive, but I know it can be brutal out there for women. Women get treated as everything but just a person all the time, something that rarely happens to men (well, to straight non-minority men, that is), so it's always encouraging when a man gets it.


  1. It IS encouraging when a man gets it, and unfortunately, it seems to be fairly rare. Or maybe I'm just feeling jaundiced from reading all the comments by the usual idiots.

    I'm a little bit younger than you Shelly, but not much, and it was a bit lonely to be a girl comic book fan back in the old days. Nevertheless, we have pretty solid Super Hero credentials, and I must admit to occasionally experiencing the thrill of being able to make some snot-nosed kid in a Comic book store look stupid, when I know more about Green Lanterns than he does.

    I am sometimes not a nice person. excellent essay.

    1. Thanks, Sally! Thanks to the internet, I know I'm not alone. :) And yeah, the only reason to read comments seems to be for the entertainment value of idiots proving their idiot creds.