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Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture

Posted by on Jun. 12, 2013 at 6:53 PM
  • 20 Replies
1 mom liked this

Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture

Last month, science geek and costumer Emily Finke attended a sci fi convention dressed in a screen-accurate uniform from Star Trek: TOS, where she was met with microaggression, mock-concern and men intent on outing her as a Fake Geek Girl. So she decided to write something, "because I haven't caused enough flame wars on the internet this week."


“Honey, your skirt is a little short.”

To be fair, it was a little short. It was short intentionally. I was dressed in a science officer costume from Star Trek: The Original Series. Not the sleek little work-appropriate but still sexy jewel tone tunics from the new movie, but the flared, strangely-constructed, unapologetically teal and chartreuse polyester cheerleader dresses that fit perfectly with the (now) retrofuturistic vibe of the original show. It’s a screen accurate dress. And by “screen accurate” I mean “short”. And at the beginning of the day, I just assumed the lady who commented was pointing out that I needed to tug down the dress a bit. That was the first comment. After the next 30 or so, I had had enough.

I was at Balticon, a great science fiction convention that leans more to the literary side than the ones that are normally in my wheelhouse. This was my second year going to this con, and my second year costuming there. Last year I brought several costumes, but only wore one: a fairly conservative X-Men costume that didn’t involve skintight spandex, cleavage or even any bare skin below my neck. I did that because I knew the moment I walked in that it wasn’t the kind of con I wanted to wear my Ms Marvel costume. I wore that outfit for all of Saturday, became extremely annoyed with the response I was getting and then dressed in normal clothes on Sunday.

Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek CultureExpand

Finke dressed in her X-Men costume at last year's Balticon

As a costumer, you have to develop a fairly keen sense for what is a safe space and what is not. I felt safe at Balticon both years. It isn’t a space where any harm would come to me. I could wear anything I want there and I wouldn’t come to any legal form of harm. That said, the responses I was getting made me want to run away. Or possibly take a shower to wash off the feeling of eyes and comments.

This year, in my Star Trek dress, I was just as uncomfortable, but I decided to say frak it and ignore them. The discomfort came from a constant stream of microaggressions. A constant flow of women leaning in and stage whispering in mock-concern about how short my skirt was. A constant flow of men grilling me about whether I had watched the series, and trying to trip me up on trivia. And many of them looking affronted when I corrected them that I was not, actually, Nurse Chapel or Yeoman Rand. For one thing, if I was Yeoman Rand, I would have the perfect blonde basketweave beehive. For another thing, the rank braid on my uniform shows that I’m a LIEUTENANT, thank you very much, Mr. Fake Geek Girl Screener. I assume I passed?

At a convention like Dragon*Con, or CONvergence, or Pandoracon, in costume I feel like I’m part of the convention crowd. Yes, I’m a good costumer, and I look good in my costumes, but at the end of the day, I’m another nerd geeking out like crazy over her favorite subjects.

Dragon*Con isn’t perfect, and in most ways, is a much less safe convention for a woman. However, at Dragon*Con, I am accepted as a costumer. At a con like Balticon, I’m celebrated as eye candy. I felt like I was placed in the role of Convention Booth Babe, receiving both the objectified interest from the men and the scorn of the women.

That’s a problem.

I do need to point out here, that none of this came from people involved with the con. In fact, everyone even slightly officially affiliated with Balticon was respectful, concerned and nerdily-excited about my outfit, my hair, the screen-accurate seams. The staff, the volunteers, the program participants, even the people working the tables for other events were all wonderful.

The people attending, on the other hand, were Not Comfortable With The Way I Chose to Present. I felt like they really, really wanted me to go back to my room and change into a long, historically accurate, shapeless Medieval dress. Or jeans and a geek t-shirt. Either would be acceptable: not too aggressively feminine, but not dressed nicely enough to make them nervous they were being invaded by mundanes.

We in the nerd community have a tendency to make fun of the “fashionable people” or the “cool kids”. The ones who dress alike and spend their lives being sheep to the newest styles. Part of the fascination on social media with watching Abercrombie and Fitch’s fall from grace seemed to be a form of schadenfreude, against the pretty people who had made our lives hell in high school/college/life and who so proudly wore that brand as a mark of tribal membership.

We celebrate our community for being thoughtful and intelligent and welcoming of weirdness. But we do the exact same policing to our own that we see in mainstream society. Women who, at one end of the spectrum, put too much effort into their looks, whether in costume or not, are ostracized. Women at the other end of the spectrum, who don’t meet the standards of nerdy attractiveness set by the menfolk, are ignored entirely. If you don’t fit that happy medium of “kinda hot, but not hot enough that you know you don’t have to sleep with me”, you’re either a non-entity, or a walking Barbie and treated as such.


The Great Geek Sexism Debate

Over the past few months, three of the most influential conventions in geekdom — Readercon (for science fiction writers), The Amazing Meeting (for… Read…

This is not a problem unique to nerds, of course. It is just an extension of the same in-group presentation policing that every aspect of society does. However, once again, it’s coming from a community that delights in being offbeat, in being accepting, in being interesting. But only interesting within the narrow margins of what white male geeks consider “real geekdom”. Once a woman decides she wants to dress up as a character, or decides that she’s going to wear an awesome outfit even though she’s heavier than what society says should be acceptable, or, heaven forbid, decides to speak up on nerd topics, she is immediately ostracized, ignored or objectified. Often in much more subtle and ostensibly socially acceptable forms than the abuse heaped on Anita Sarkeesian or Rebecca Watson. Often in ways that are neither obvious nor actionable. Often in ways that are extremely mild until they pile up interaction after interaction, hour after hour, day after day.

So how do we fix these problems? The subtle ones. The microaggressions. The people who don’t realize that they’re causing harm through their words and actions. The women who want to make sure I know I look a little slutty. The men who might think they’re just having a conversation, but are really hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can.

Cosplay is not Consent campaigns are great for events like Dragon*Con and CONvergence, but the kind of problems at this con were different and not easily addressed through something like that. No one touched me, or even made inappropriate come-ons. No one groped me, cornered me, made me feel like I was in danger. I never worried about walking the halls alone, even late at night, costume or not.

Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek CultureExpand

Finke, far left, dressed in her Star Trek: TOS uniform at Dragon*Con | Photo by Wille Escaba

These things aren’t really things a convention can control, except through patient modeling of appropriate behavior, and reaching out to a more diverse audience. Balticon is trying to do that, and I give them kudos for that. I really enjoy going to this con and I plan to go back next year.

Unfortunately, the default assumption of convention space is “male space” The really annoying thing about this whole discussion? Convention space has never been a space that was solely the domain of men. From the very beginning of the fandom that I chose to represent at Balticon — Star Trek — conventions had women. Women creating costumes, dressing as Klingons. Women discussing gender and racial politics in the series. Women participating in collaborative remixing of the canon. There have always been women objecting to “warrior women” on the covers of books and magazines and protesting the misogynistic habits of male writers who enjoy pinching and groping. There have always been women using science fiction to rewrite gender assumptions. They were there. They are there. They’ve always been there. The history of geekdom is not a history of men, it’s a history of invisible women.

At this point I could easily throw my hands up in defeat and say “It’s always been like that. I can’t do anything to fix it. I’m just one person in a long history of women and other minorities fighting for their voice in nerd space. And yes, I get tired of fighting it. Sometimes, like last year, I get so tired that I wear ‘normal’ clothes for the rest of the convention, just so I don’t have to deal with the crap.

But that’s not going to fix anything. If other women are feeling the same way I do, they might be turned off from that con entirely. Or lose all desire to attend any cons. Or participate in geek culture at all. It happens. All too often. The story of the woman dealing with comments about her costume is the same story as the girl who walks into a comic shop, only to have all of the denizens come to a complete stop and stare angrily at her. It’s the same story of the girl gamer who plays as a man so that she doesn’t get the come-ons and “compliments”.

So, in my case, I’ve decided that my solution starts with me.

Rather than bitching to my friends about the comments, backhanded compliments and trivia grilling sessions, I’m going to say something. I will respond to comments about my skirt being too short with questions about why that’s a problem. I will call out men grilling me about trivia (I do that already, but I need to do it more consistently.)

There is no reason I should have to do this, but I came to realize something in reflecting on events at Balticon: I am, at all conventions, surrounded by people who accept me, who care for me and who are willing to hand me a gin and tonic or three when I look like I’m about ready to punch the next person who comments on my skirt. It’s not a position of power, but it is a position of safety. Every place I go will not be a safe space, but the people around me make it one for me.

So my solution? Not be invisible. Not anymore. Not let my legs and skirt short speak for my presence, but speak for myself. Challenge the male gaze both metaphorically and literally. Sitting in the bar and fuming at other convention attendees won’t help. Opening my mouth and answering them just might. Or it might make other people witnessing the exchange think about what happened. Point out that I can both wear a short skirt and have a brain under my beehive. Out loud. And probably snarkily.

I have a privileged position, in that I can do this and then safely retreat to my friends and colleagues. I am not walking into a convention alone and for the first time. So if I can speak out a little bit and make sure that other women, who don’t have the space to safely challenge the microaggressions, might stick around and develop their own support network, I will challenge it. Because I can. I’m tired of being invisible except when being objectified, so I’m not going to be anymore.

And if anyone wants to fight me about it? You can find me in the bar. Surrounded by 40+ skeptics, costumers and science communicators who have had a little too much bourbon, and who fully embrace my right to be there. Good luck with that.


http://io9.com/slut-shaming-and-concern-trolling-in-geek-culture-511721655


by on Jun. 12, 2013 at 6:53 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Arroree
by Ruby Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 6:55 PM

"So how do we fix these problems? The subtle ones. The microaggressions. The people who don’t realize that they’re causing harm through their words and actions. The women who want to make sure I know I look a little slutty. The men who might think they’re just having a conversation, but are really hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can."

As a geek girl who's attended conventions of since the early 80's i've seen this played out countless times. This article really speaks to me.

Arroree
by Ruby Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 6:56 PM

One of my favorite comic artists has this to say about it



Just a few thoughts about sexism and women in 2013 geek culture. When I was a Red Sonja cosplayer (before the word cosplay was ever invented) back in the late 70s, near total nudity was common on the masquerade stage. My Red Sonja chain mail bikini was modest compared to many a topless Deja Thoris or bottomless "Eve" (as in "Adam and," dressed only in a boa constrictor (!). As Red Sonja, with acres of skin showing, I rarely felt offended when men came on to me. What else were they supposed to do? What else did the costume suggest or invite? The cool thing was, I used those come-ons to stay in character and portray how Sonja would react. She definitely had a feminist, f**k off! man-hating persona. Only once did I ever actually get groped while in costume. The guy heard some choice language and went slinking off, believe me! Basically I took responsibility for what I was doing and played the game to the hilt without apology or sense of victimhood. Today I see young, attractive women cosplaying all sorts of provocative characters that, frankly, come across as quite trashy. Often the costumes are poorly made; boobs and butts billowing forth from tight spandex bandaids like squished marshmallows. Nip slip is also common. I just have to ask geek girl cosplayers of this ilk, "what the hell do you expect from nerd boys when you sport your assets so sloppily?" Unfortunately, this sloppiness spills over, by association, onto expert cosplayers and craftswomen who also get harassed (so sorry about that lack of respect for true artistry). While not taking their side, I must say it's awfully hard for immature, hormonal fanboys to perceive the difference between art and costume malfunction. Ladies! Goddesses all! Take responsibility for your own position and your own dignity!! Dress as sexy as you want, but do it with taste, class and artfulness. Raise the bar and I bet you'll see less and less BS from those prowling packs of foul-mouthed male jackals who are, of course, cowards at heart.
Just a few thoughts about sexism and women in 2013 geek culture. When I was a Red Sonja cosplayer (before the word cosplay was ever invented) back in the late 70s, near total nudity was common on the masquerade stage. My Red Sonja chain mail bikini was modest compared to many a topless Deja Thoris or bottomless "Eve" (as in "Adam and," dressed only in a boa constrictor (!). As Red Sonja, with acres of skin showing, I rarely felt offended when men came on to me. What else were they supposed to do? What else did the costume suggest or invite? The cool thing was, I used those come-ons to stay in character and portray how Sonja would react. She definitely had a feminist, f**k off! man-hating persona. Only once did I ever actually get groped while in costume. The guy heard some choice language and went slinking off, believe me! Basically I took responsibility for what I was doing and played the game to the hilt without apology or sense of victimhood. Today I see young, attractive women cosplaying all sorts of provocative characters that, frankly, come across as quite trashy. Often the costumes are poorly made; boobs and butts billowing forth from tight spandex bandaids like squished marshmallows. Nip slip is also common. I just have to ask geek girl cosplayers of this ilk, "what the hell do you expect from nerd boys when you sport your assets so sloppily?" Unfortunately, this sloppiness spills over, by association, onto expert cosplayers and craftswomen who also get harassed (so sorry about that lack of respect for true artistry). While not taking their side, I must say it's awfully hard for immature, hormonal fanboys to perceive the difference between art and costume malfunction. Ladies! Goddesses all! Take responsibility for your own position and your own dignity!! Dress as sexy as you want, but do it with taste, class and artfulness. Raise the bar and I bet you'll see less and less BS from those prowling packs of foul-mouthed male jackals who are, of course, cowards at heart.
stormcris
by Christy on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:01 PM

I am curious if Dragon Con has less of such issues because it encompasses so much.

smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:08 PM



Quoting Arroree:

"So how do we fix these problems? The subtle ones. The microaggressions. The people who don’t realize that they’re causing harm through their words and actions. The women who want to make sure I know I look a little slutty. The men who might think they’re just having a conversation, but are really hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can."

As a geek girl who's attended conventions of since the early 80's i've seen this played out countless times. This article really speaks to me.

I don't know why you would choose an Old Star Trek costume if you weren't wanting some attention. I've worn one before to a sci-fi convention, although it was red. I put it on knowing I was going to get attention and that was a big reason why I put it on. That was when I was in my early 20's though.  


smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:10 PM



Quoting stormcris:

I am curious if Dragon Con has less of such issues because it encompasses so much.


Dagon Con has a lot of women with electrical tape over their nipples and nothing else. Short skirt doesn't even register on the radar. Smaller conventions there aren't many females there to begin with so a woman in a short skirt really sticks out. 

autodidact
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:12 PM
1 mom liked this


hoping for attention for your attention to detail in costuming or your costume making skills is quite a bit different from sexual harrassment, and to seek the former is not to invite the latter. 

Quoting smalltowngal:



Quoting Arroree:

"So how do we fix these problems? The subtle ones. The microaggressions. The people who don’t realize that they’re causing harm through their words and actions. The women who want to make sure I know I look a little slutty. The men who might think they’re just having a conversation, but are really hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can."

As a geek girl who's attended conventions of since the early 80's i've seen this played out countless times. This article really speaks to me.

I don't know why you would choose an Old Star Trek costume if you weren't wanting some attention. I've worn one before to a sci-fi convention, although it was red. I put it on knowing I was going to get attention and that was a big reason why I put it on. That was when I was in my early 20's though.  




Autodidact, Unrepentant Heathen

stormcris
by Christy on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:13 PM

The nipples being taped doesn't register there either. There is just no comments in that direction about what you wear being wrong or inapproriate or testing you knowledge of what you present.

Do you think when they get into smaller groups they go into some sort of clique mentality?

Quoting smalltowngal:



Quoting stormcris:

I am curious if Dragon Con has less of such issues because it encompasses so much.


Dagon Con has a lot of women with electrical tape over their nipples and nothing else. Short skirt doesn't even register on the radar. Smaller conventions there aren't many females there to begin with so a woman in a short skirt really sticks out. 


smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:55 PM


Sci-conventions are a lot like Halloween. A lot of women wear skimpy outfits to get noticed for their skimpy outfits, not necessarily the detail. You get stopped to take pictures. If you want to be noticed for your costume detail, then you make a costume that has a lot of detail. In my mind, that wouldn't be an Old Star Trek outfit. My DH had a Star trek the movie costume which he'll get stopped for for the costume detail. I just find her costume a weird one to pick if she didn't want anyone to notice her legs when most women wearing that costume want attention for their legs. That's why I've worn one. I was in my early 20's and a bit less mature. :)

Quoting autodidact:


hoping for attention for your attention to detail in costuming or your costume making skills is quite a bit different from sexual harrassment, and to seek the former is not to invite the latter. 

Quoting smalltowngal:



Quoting Arroree:

"So how do we fix these problems? The subtle ones. The microaggressions. The people who don’t realize that they’re causing harm through their words and actions. The women who want to make sure I know I look a little slutty. The men who might think they’re just having a conversation, but are really hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can."

As a geek girl who's attended conventions of since the early 80's i've seen this played out countless times. This article really speaks to me.

I don't know why you would choose an Old Star Trek costume if you weren't wanting some attention. I've worn one before to a sci-fi convention, although it was red. I put it on knowing I was going to get attention and that was a big reason why I put it on. That was when I was in my early 20's though.  






Euphoric
by Thumper kid spanks on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:57 PM

 bump

smalltowngal
by Platinum Member on Jun. 12, 2013 at 7:59 PM


I think there is a little bit of a clique mentality. I have been at sci-fi convention with a friend who wore a slave Lei costume and she got some negative comments at a smaller convention. She did get a lot of comments from men that she enjoyed but the author might not.  I think part of the problem is a lot of women dress a certain way at conventions looking for attention that not all women are comfortable with. 

Quoting stormcris:

The nipples being taped doesn't register there either. There is just no comments in that direction about what you wear being wrong or inapproriate or testing you knowledge of what you present.

Do you think when they get into smaller groups they go into some sort of clique mentality?

Quoting smalltowngal:



Quoting stormcris:

I am curious if Dragon Con has less of such issues because it encompasses so much.


Dagon Con has a lot of women with electrical tape over their nipples and nothing else. Short skirt doesn't even register on the radar. Smaller conventions there aren't many females there to begin with so a woman in a short skirt really sticks out. 




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