Help us, Wonder Woman!
Boy howdy is it easier to be a geek now than it was when I was a teenager. Gone are the days of sending some dodgy person you found on the internet some blank VHS tapes and a few crumpled dollar bills to get your fansubbed anime fix, or having to hide issues of Spider-Man behind books at the cafeteria to avoid getting picked on, or trying to convince your parents you don’t worship Satan just because you play Vampire: The Masquerade. These days, you can buy and read comics directly from your phone, pick up Sailor Moon merchandise at big retail chains, and it’s not uncommon to see men in business suits flipping through trade paperbacks in their lunch hour.
As film and video-game industries grow in popularity – and therefore in funds – it’s becoming more and more acceptable to wear your nerdy heart on your sleeve. Once not much more than a geek mecca, San Diego Comic-Con is now a media and financial sensation, glutting itself every year on increased attendance prices and bloated hotel rates.
Sadly and strangely, however, it hasn’t gotten any easier for a group of people that make up almost half of the demographic of comic-book readers: women. Being a female geek sucks in different ways, but it sucks almost as much now as it did in the ’90s.
Sexual harassment and the continued objectification of women in geek culture is alive and well, something easily witnessed at any convention that allows booth babes or scantily clad women poised at tables in a bid to entice customers. The Hawkeye Initiative has been a fantastic response to the still existing and incredibly insulting tendency of artists and designers to pose female characters in almost anatomically impossible poses to show off their assets, a phenomenon that seems to pass by all the male characters for reasons beyond our understanding.
Beyond simple sexual harassment, rape jokes are apparently not only funny but the dedicated right of PAX founder and webcomic giant Penny Arcade. Its creators, particularly Mike Krahulik, have repeatedly defended their right to not only make rape jokes but to then profit from them. When they were approached by fans who were rape victims, their response was a series of non-apologies and the quick production of merchandise featuring the rape joke that other fans could wear. Groups of men at conventions purchased these shirts with the stated intention of harassing women at conventions. Years later, Krahulik still stands by his decision – clearly another man-child.
Women still suffer from a lack of representation in the industries that have made the culture popular as well. Wonder Woman will be one of the first major films to feature a female character, in large part because the comic-book industry is still considered a dude’s realm. While every member of the Avengers team has their own film franchise, Scarlet Widow’s story is symbolically only told within her male counterparts’ narratives. To date, she has no film scheduled.
And cosplay – whoo man, cosplay. In addition to blanket objectification, we have sites dedicated to making fun of women who dare wear costumes that seemingly preclude them from inclusion into the illustrious spank bank. We have people who believe they are entitled to grab, touch and assault cosplayers for wearing costumes. It’s a problem so common that many conventions erect ‘Cospaly is not consent’ signs – can you believe we actually have to tell fully grown adults that they don’t get to grab Scarlet Witch’s tits just because she’s wearing a corset in public?!
Geek culture, we’ve come a long way. We’ve taken over the box office, we’ve made video games mainstream, and we’ve proven we’re a powerhouse of an industry that’s not to be trifled with. So let’s not turn into the bullies we hated as kids. Instead of using this newfound power to make other people feel crappy about themselves, let’s include them. Before you open your mouth, ask yourself if Willow would flay you alive for saying what you’re thinking. Don’t be the Warren Mears of geekdom.
Comment: What are your hopes for the industry over the next few years?