Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Comics: Please. Stop.

So. It's Thursday and it's 5:30am and I can't sleep, so I'm writing because that's what I do. It's been an "interesting" week so far in this grand old comics industry of ours, and by "interesting" I mean "OMFG what is going on???"

On Sunday night I wrote this blog post addressing a certain meme posted by a fellow comics professional that unfortunately perpetuated, among other things, the apparently scary and rampant issue of "fake" nerd/geek girls. It also equated "some" of them with whores, and the whole thing was kind of really not great. I got a lot of comments on the post, some incredibly, you know, bad, but there were also a lot of interesting discussions and it's now been reposted over at the New Statesmen. It's a really long piece, but I thought I needed to say it and be as thorough as possible. It's not the first time I've had to deal with this particular discussion within our industry and I knew it wouldn't be the last.

How right I was. Unfortunately.

Because the very next day this happened. I was already pretty tired from the previous "debate" and was up at some other weird hour, and about the only reaction I had for a good long while was this:

Because, I mean, seriously??? Just, no, comics. No. Please stop. This makes us look really bad.

Frankly, I could probably just go and change the name in the open letter of my last post and swap out "meme" and "whore" for  "cosplayer" and "con hot" and "yer not comics" and be addressing almost the exact same issue. Which seems to basically boil down to: there are more women in nerd/geek spaces than there used to be, participating in ways they enjoy. Some guys are very suspicious of this and wish they would either go away or participate differently because by not participating the way they think they should, they are "fakers" and should be called names for reasons. Because they're there. Wearing costumes and maybe not reading comics and stuff.

Now, I've been told a LOT the past few days that in both cases they weren't talking about "me" or "all" women or "all" cosplayers, so why is everyone making such a big deal about this? They're only talking about "those" girls and they DO exist and they're infiltrating our subculture and ruining everything with their cleavage and lack of interest in whatever subjective geek/nerd rule is currently being dictated to them. Apparently, because they aren't talking about "all" women, just the ones they don't like, it's totes fine and poseurs are a HUGE problem and anyone who disagrees is overreacting and being irrational.

That led me to making this face at my computer a lot as I read this line of reasoning, over and over:

I have to tell you: it's really not the amazing argument they think it is. First of all, I am not an "exception" to these supposedly "specific" rules. You know why? Because I'm a woman and I exist in these spaces. That is literally all it takes for people to assume you don't know anything about comics, films, TV, sci-fi, horror, whatever. It gets applied to all of us, all the time. How do I know that? Because I've had to field those questions. I don't go around with my resume taped to my back as a handy reference guide, so how would you know I'm one of the "good" ones? And being one of the "good" ones didn't stop a fellow comics professional from groping me at SDCC one year, or another asking me at a new gig, after 5 years of editing stuff like Fables and Lucifer, "Oh, so, you think you might want to work in comics, huh?" because he just assumed I was an intern. Even though those things happened (among lots of others) I do not assume all fellow male nerd/geeks are creeps. I should technically be able to, based on the above logic, but I don't.

Depending on who you are, if I Cosplayed at conventions people could then, like, EXTRA assume I'm just there for attention and not for fun or spending time with friends or enjoying the scene or, you know, to be a professional and get work. Because the only reason women wear costumes, especially "revealing" ones is for male attention. Nevermind that "revealing" is a highly subjective term. They must be objectifying themselves and/or taunting male nerds. Judging them. Whispering about them behind their backs. It is, apparently, unfathomable that these girls and women might be there because they want to be and do not care at all about you or what you think. That, supposedly, is not possible. It must be for attention because, in our culture (nerd/geek and general), women do not exist for themselves, but to be looked at and judged by men. Our sexuality is not our own, therefore we can't possibly express it for ourselves on our own terms.

Of course, we're ALL at conventions for attention to some degree. Sometimes we want the attention of a creator whose work we really love. Sometimes we want someone to notice the work we do. I don't go to conventions hoping all the publishers and editors I meet will ignore me. I don't do signings hoping no one will show up. I have no desire to suffer in obscurity and I'm glad that convention attendance across the board has been up. Do I get annoyed at the crowded aisles? Yeah. But the alternative is barren aisles, and that's a whole lot worse than a stray wing in the eyeball or stroller over the foot. More people means more potential readers of comics, more potential watchers of shows and movies, which means I get more of the stuff I love for longer. Yay!

Part of the problem I'm seeing here is a lot of really hyperbolic language about supposed "interlopers". I've seen all kinds of terms tossed around from the kind of mild "poseur" and "faker", to the more epic "infiltrator", "predator", and "barbarians storming the citadel". Look, that's all a bit much. No one has any battering rams aimed at your geeky nerdom. They're just people. Some people know as much as you about whatever it is you love, some don't, and some even know more. Sometimes they're genuinely interested, sometimes they aren't, but absolutely none of it changes what you love about the things you love. It really doesn't.

And seriously: don't refer to women as predators, sucking the life out of men with their costumes and voidness. There's a reason that sounds like misogyny. And no, it doesn't matter that girls have sometimes been mean to you. That is not a good reason or valid excuse for perpetuating that rhetoric.

Now, I know quite a few Cosplayers, have met and seen lots at conventions, and I think they're pretty marvelous. The amount of detail that goes into some of these costumes, the willingness to stay in character, to take pictures with fans, to be friendly and accessible in crowded sweaty a whole lot more welcoming and nerdy than anything I do. I mean, I'd even go so far as to say that a lot of Cosplayers are like ambassadors, especially if they're dressed up as recognizable characters. They're part of the atmosphere and general "Hey, we all love this stuff, isn't it AWESOME??" vibe.  It's fun, is really the point. Do some of them have bad attitudes? I'm sure. But so do, you know, people. I've met and worked with some pretty cranky and grumpy comics creators. I didn't then jump to the conclusion that "most" comics creators were mean.

I don't want to belittle the obviously real concern a lot of geeks/nerds seem to have that the things they love are being overrun by people who don't love them as much. On a personal level, I can see why that feels bad and upsetting. As a generalization, I think nerds and geeks tend to be a somewhat sensitive bunch and it's true that a lot of us faced social ostracism and even abuse for loving the things we love. I know I did. There's an identity in that, and I guess I can see how that might feel threatened by the perception, real or not, that that identity is being commodified or adopted by those who don't really understand what we've been through or what it means to us. But so much of that is built on assuming that certain types of people don't "get it", and it's not really based in anything rational. Being a pretty girl (or just a girl, period) does not mean you have never experienced abuse or nastiness. Being a woman doesn't mean you didn't have an awkward adolescence. Being considered conventionally attractive by others doesn't mean your life has been aces and easy and full of respect and fun times. The amount of people who assume attractive women are stupid, incapable, and have just "coasted" is pretty staggering. It's just a bad idea to assume you know a person based on your interpretation of how they look.

And beyond that, being abused has never entitled anyone to turn around and be abusive. Ever. The thing that makes our subculture awesome is the passion and love we have for these stories and mediums. It has never been based on exclusivity and it shouldn't be.

So, please, comics...don't let me down. Start taking a look at this phenomenon with a more objective eye. Worry less about "poseurs" and more about how we can welcome new fans. It's a much more rewarding way to spend our time.


  1. Wow. Fear makes people do stupid things doesn't it??

    The guys in my "nerd posse" used to put me down in high school. Saying that I didn't know enough about WWE (wrestling)...stupid I know, but a big deal to me in HS. So much so that I believed them. But then one day I was talking to other guys about it and they couldn't believe how much I knew. It was then I realised that I rocked ( know what I mean), and that the guys in my group were just threatened. I told them to get over themselves, and for the most part they did. They realised that each of us had our own areas of specialty and that we made a well-rounded team having a female-perspective. I helped them a lot, they helped me a lot, and that's what friendship/teamwork is. It's also what life is about. If you want to hang with guys (or girls) only, you're in for a rude shock in the real world.

    Time to grow up boys and realise it's not 1950 anymore.

  2. Once again, well said. I think even more than your first post, and your first post was spot on, you get to the core of the issue…beyond the misogynistic shade the discussion has taken on…and that’s ‘why be nasty about it?’. The one thing I've always been impressed with, and enjoyed about nerd/geek culture is the fact that it is so ‘accepting’, and people are allowed and encouraged to let their flag fly as high as they want, and it’s (usually) nothing but positive vibes and people having fun. The fact that more and more girls are doing this alongside us dudes is great in so many, many ways. And if some girl, or guy, with self-esteem issues sees the party we’re all enjoying as a chance to ‘show off’, then so be it. I’d wager that these people, whoever they are, might actually come to like the community and genuinely join in…unless, of course, they’re made to feel like garbage. I think your description of con cosplayers as ‘ambassadors’ is perfect. That’s precisely the vibe I get when I go to cons. They’re all proud fans of their hero/franchise of choice, and by getting dressed up, they are, in their own way, giving back. I can’t imagine how cool it must be for a young kid to go to a con and see all these characters coming to life…and seeing all these ‘grown ups’ acting like kids, and having fun. We've come a long way as a culture…so why now are we trying to pick and choose who we accept? For me, this all comes down to a sub-culture that is facing an influx of new, and more mainstream-minded people, and are afraid it’s going to ruin their ‘secret joy’. It’s the double edged sword any culture/movement is faced with when mainstream popularity hits. On one hand, it only means more products, more opportunity (which is huge!), more ideas in the pot, and everything getting bigger and better. On the other, there’s the chance that some things will become ‘dumbed down’ to cater to the newbies. It might last…it might not last. However, as you have so eloquently pointed out, I think the culture should be a lot more worried about being guilty of treating ‘outsiders’ the way they feel they've been treated, and wouldn't want to be treated themselves…and specifically how it treats women…before we worry about the scourge that is faux-nerd girls in revealing outfits at cons.

    I’m quite sure Mr. Manning did not intend on sparking this firestorm of debate…but thanks his post, I got to read yours, and I must say, its proven to be very enlightening. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us…the net, and nerd culture is better for having had the opportunity to read it!