Three women discuss the prevalence of men acting as gatekeepers to sci-fi and fantasy. Why does it happen? What does it feel like?
Editor’s Note: I don’t want you to think this is some kind of attack job. I’m currently learning to speak Sith; my ‘nerd card’ is old and tattered from years and years of wear and tear.
I posed this to my Facebook friends. “I want to write an article about women in cosplay/ general nerdy spheres. Specifically, I want to address the sexism displayed when their legitimacy (true fandom) is questioned by men. What does it feel like? Why do you think it happens?”
I was planning to read their comments and use them as the basis for writing my article. I quickly changed my mind, though. I want to let them speak for themselves.
Here are some of the responses:
“First, there are the acute examples. I often cosplay as sexy characters. I’m young(ish) and I want to enjoy it while it lasts. When I’m 70, I want to look back on my spandex years without thinking I wasted them. That given, it causes me problems. For example, I when I dressed as Kitty Pryde years ago, I spent a great deal of the night explaining to people that no, I was not Rogue or that I did not randomly pick Kitty Pryde from a list of lady characters because my friend already took Rogue. I spent a lot of time shoving my toy Lockheed in people’s faces, as if me having this prop somehow proved that I legitimately loved the X-man I most identify with. Not that it should matter even if I didn’t, but that’s another whole deal. Note: The guy with the not-so-great Gambit outfit in our group didn’t get questioned even once. Note: He doesn’t read comic books.
A few years later, I’m dressed as Leeloo Dallas (MULTIPASS). The bandage outfit, not the suspenders. A man actually told me to show him my tits and got upset when I tried to explain that I was wearing this outfit because I love Leeloo Dallas (MULTIPASS) and not for his viewing pleasure. I believe what I actually said was, “Sir. Sir. You are getting your rape culture all over me.” I said, “Sir.” That’s polite, right? He couldn’t seem to fathom that my body and my costume choices weren’t about him. You asked what that feels like. It feels terrifying. It feels like I might be assaulted because I like a particular character or want to dress in a particular outfit.
In a sad way, though, it doesn’t feel any different from every day. My choices are constantly judged. Yes, I needed to go to the store by myself. No, my short skirt isn’t for you, it’s because I like it. Etc. etc. etc. It’s more frustrating, however, because fandom somehow feels like it should be more accepting. There’s this idea that somehow because nerd-dom is made of outcasts, they should understand bigotry. Really, though, the world is made of small-minded assholes, whether they were discriminated against or not.
On the larger, every day side, I feel like I have to constantly develop conversations about my fandoms to a larger extent than I would so that I don’t give people the chance to question my legitimacy. It’s stupid and it feeds into cultural gatekeeping in a way that I’m not particularly proud of, but it’s still easier than becoming enraged when some asshat assumes I only read The Walking Dead because my boyfriend does, or whatever bullshit. So, for example, if I’m meeting someone new and we are getting into a conversation about Game of Thrones, I make sure to reference A Song of Ice and Fire, specifically, by name, and then quickly discuss something from the books that didn’t make it into the show. Thus, I give myself credibility before I am questioned. I’ve developed this habit (which, as I said, I’m not proud of) after years and years of dudes trying to mansplain shit about sci-fi and fantasy. I get angry quickly about it.
I’m little and can’t fight, and someday my big mouth will get me in trouble, so I’ve figured out how to make it not an issue. I will not be patronized and I will not be made to feel bad because I don’t know every author of Expanded Universe books. I will discuss Timothy Zahn and be okay with it. See what I did there? I gave myself cred by name-dropping. It’s so ingrained I did it without even thinking. That’s how I cope. I guess my best way to explain it, beyond literally doing it in this explanation without even meaning to, is that when I tell people I’ve cosplayed as Princess Leia, I immediately point out that I’ve done Hoth and Endor Leia, as well as gold bikini, whether they’ve asked or not.”
“I think ‘nerd-dom’ is a heavily codified social structure which places pressure on the participants both internally and externally. For example, I think society at large has, for a long time, said “well, if you’re a nerd you are a dude, you’re single, you live in your mother’s basement, you got beat up in school” etc. And those stereotypes are then internalized. So when a woman comes along and is like “I also love Batman!”, there’s a natural resistance, because the woman has become ‘the other’, has become sort of threatening. How dare this attractive cosplayer step into nerd territory? She’s obviously just trying to look COOL, or make fun of the ‘true nerds’, etc etc. I think a lot of it is fear-based. And I think, sadly, (and this is a generalization, so you know – not true 100% of the time), that nerds can be crazy misogynist, partly due to that stigma that says “you, as a nerd, are not meant to be around women”.
The identity of ‘nerd’ has become a sort of safe space where they can hide from potential rejection, maybe? As if, in reclaiming the slur, it was necessary to exclude from it the people who might use it to hurt them. (hot girls, jocks, etc etc high school stereotypes).”
“I’ve been to San Diego Comic Con, Dragon Con, the past three Wizard Worlds in New Orleans, a few smaller conventions in New Orleans, Nerdapalooza, World Steam Expo, and Marscon — And I’ve had positive experiences and interactions at all of them.
The only time someone gave me trouble at a con was at Wizard World 2012. I was wearing my Arkham City Harley Quinn costume (which is a bit revealing) and a guy tried to quiz me on who created Harley. But he was trying to be coy about it and appear as if he wasn’t insulting my intelligence.
I feel like a lot more of the negative stuff happens online. [K] is right about “nerdom” and conventions being a “safe place” for some people, but when women enter the safe place, men are suddenly facing a new threat — rejection. A guy I used to be Facebook friends with would, at first, compliment many cosplayers on their Facebook pictures, but then he’d slut-shame them or call them “fake geek girls” when they refused his advances. And there are many guys like him. I’m not sure if it’s just the idea of women being in this space that makes some men feel threatened, or it’s the idea that women are in this space AND THEY CAN’T HAVE THEM.”
“There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.” – From “The Jedi Code”.
So, I pose the same questions to you: Why does this happen? What does it feel like? And one final question: How do we change this?
Photo- Flickr/ Doug Kline