This weekend was the first annual GeekGirlCon, a new convention in Seattle dedicated specifically to the girls and women of geekdom. And even though I’m not a geek girl, I decided to spend a day there on Saturday. (After all, I go to Dragon*Con every year despite not being large, green, and scaly…) And sure enough, they let me in! I didn’t even have to check my Y-chromosome at the door.
GeekGirlCon was set up to promote and celebrate the role of women in geek culture. In a perfect, equal world it would not be necessary– however, the world, especially the world of geeks, is neither perfect nor equal. I hate to say it, but there’s a lot of sexism in geek culture– just check out the latest brouhaha over DC Comics’ reboot of Starfire, in which women’s sexual liberation gets twisted into male wish fulfillment– probably because almost all of DC’s writers and artists are male.
On other fronts, Internet culture is horribly sexist, and often claims “irony” as an excuse to be not just blatantly sexist, but racist and homophobic– this is Not Okay. And things are arguably even worse in online games.
There are serious problems outside of pop culture, too: for example, women are still very underrepresented in STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). And even outside the geek realm, societal norms aren’t helping matters.
Given all this as context, yes, we need a GeekGirlCon.
I heard a fair amount of speculation prior to the con that the attendees would mostly consist of lonely guys trying to pick up geek girls (hey, more sexism!), but in actuality that was not the case. In fact, I’d say the guy-girl ratio was about 30-70, based on a few rough counts I did at panels. Admittedly, it was kind of a nice change from normal cons, where the ratio is sometimes almost reversed. The panelists were almost entirely female (again, a reversal of the norm) and the panels were some of the most interesting that I’ve attended in years: possibly because the topics and perspectives were ones that often don’t get discussed at cons.
I attended a couple of panels: one was on Writing Urban Fantasy, hosted by Yasmine Galenorn. It’s not exactly a new topic, but it was presented in a much more systematic way than I had ever seen before, complete with a handout describing the basic formulas that a lot of Urban Fantasy is characterized by, do’s and don’ts, cliches and tropes, and the interplay of reason and magic. And I walked away with some good ideas to work into my NaNoWriMo novel next month.
I also attended a panel on Geek Girls in Culture, talking about the role of geeky women in TV and movies and books, and the good and bad sides of their portrayal, and which ones have geniunely inspired the panelists over the course of their careers. By and large, the panels I attended were some of the most fun, informative and entertaining that I’ve seen– and I’m not just saying that because I want to suck up to the geek girls. I think we did get to see things presented from an angle that is often lacking or underrepresented in “mainstream” geek culture.
By and large the con was well-organized for a first year con. There were some hiccups– like long lines in the narrow hallways prior to the panels, which occasionally intermixed. There were also some quirks to the venue– the con was held in the Northwest Rooms of the Seattle Center, except for larger events, which were held at the EMP Museum about a five or ten minute walk away. The EMP is a big place, and things were sometimes difficult to find– notably the Masquerade line, which unlike almost everywhere else didn’t seem to have any volunteers around. Someone told me that it was the line for Masquerade participants, not spectators, which meant I ended up doing another lap around the building before I figured out that yes, it was the right line after all.
Speaking of the Masquerade, this is pretty much the only area of the con I had any actual complaints. It was held on a stage at the EMP, however, the lighting was the worst I’ve ever seen at a Masquerade. The spotlight overhead was dim and orange, which made photography a total pain and certainly didn’t flatter the costumes. And despite some quick instructions from the MCs, most of the participants simply walked up, did a quick turn, and back off the stage without so much as a pause. Again, tough for the audience to appreciate your costume (or photographers to take pics) if you don’t actually stop for a few seconds. That said, there were some great costumes, particularly in the kids’ division– it’s good to see such a promising next generation of geeks.
But all in all, it was an excellent con, particularly for its first year. It’s filling a unique and (unfortunately) needed niche, and it was definitely a hit with the community. Saturday-only tickets sold out before I got there, so I had to buy a two-day pass. I had hoped to make it back on Sunday, but didn’t– probably because I stayed up until 3 am writing, then slept in until 2 the next day. Hopefully it’ll be bigger and better next year. And hopefully it’ll give more girl geeks (and young geeks in general) a taste of the community beyond what they see online.
Full set of photos from the con here.