For the most part, Fem and I’s experience at Geek Media Expo (GMX) was positive. We were impressed with the vibe of inclusiveness and did not witness any overt sexual harassment. Our attending GMX was in many ways an experiment. We were testing the waters, attempting to see for ourselves if the environment at pop culture and technology conventions was as hostile as it is sometimes portrayed. This problem got a lot of press recently when some trolls pinged the wrong woman at NY Comic Con, but this is an old issue. Mags the Axe, gaming podcaster extraordinaire, does an annual panel about sexual harrasment at cons. Not to mention the sad need for CREEPER penalty cards at DefCon , and public push back over emergence of “brogrammer” culture.
Though we had a relatively pleasant time, there was an explosion of sexist incidents within geek culture on or around Halloween weekend when we were pre- and post-gaming our episode about GMX. I wanted to give a quick run down and relate some of the incidents back to thoughts that came up during our GMX episode. Fem tweeted this story about an online BDSM community’s reactionary hostility to one member’s account of public harassment. ‘Geek’ and ‘kink’ are kissing cousins. The same weekend at GMX there was a vampire themed fetish ball here in Nashville. We met the promoter at GMX. Linked in the above story, is SkepChick’s parallel experience within the (thoroughly geeky) skeptics community; i.e., dare say anything about male misbehavior and start receiving death threats. As we mentioned in our episode, also taking place in Nashville during GMX was the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Conference from which this tweet emerged:
Lest we not forget the third pillar of geek government – technology, the number of sexual torture threats to Anita Sarkeesian after her successful Kickstarter to study female representations in video games has become a larger story than the study itself. She actually hasn’t reported any results yet, just the fact she is doing the study has garnered threats of torture. (I find this eerily similar to the case of Malala Yousafzai. The only difference being that in Yousafzai’s case the threats were carried out.) Drawing parallels between male leadership of the open source community and charlatan imps of the GOP, Valerie Aurora blogged about the diminution of rape by Ted Ts’o on open source email lists in the wake of some attendees finding offense in the content of the keynote at Linux Conference Australia. This incident set the stage for the brogrammer article in Mother Jones. Aurora’s blog prompted Fabian Scherschel, a prominent open source and gaming podcaster to respond, “One thing that isn’t helping is feminists. I don’t fucking like feminists.” This was a few sentences after declaring there needed to be more women in the tech industry and that he would like a woman to be a permanent co-host on his show.
It seems obvious that everyone’s experiences at conventions and conferences are not as positive as ours. It seems obvious that geek culture including BDSM, technology, science, and (horror) fandom remain steeped in misogyny and double standards. There is a stereotype of geek culture being populated by adolescent male basement trolls. The above incidents don’t do much to dispel the stereotype. During the Why is She Arching Her Back Like That? panel at GMX, I brought up the notion that superhero comics are expressions of male power fantasies as compensation for feelings of powerlessness. I was actually hoping that someone would challenge this assumption and start a dialogue. No one did. The vitriolic reactions to any woman who speaks out lends evidence to the theory that feelings of powerlessness and (sexual) fear permeate geek culture. Though the image of a wealthy, professionally powerful dom is an enjoyable fantasy for many, the truth remains that many seek to dominate others because they themselves have been disenfranchised.
Generalizations can be comforting but realities are often far more complex and varied. This brings us to the skeptics, persons that pride themselves on their rationality. Some members of this community appear not very rational. (How “reason” and the scientific method can be used as an oppressive force is bigger than this blog entry, but an important component.) I assume when skeptics attack feminists they are engaging in what they perceive as an unpopular but necessary critique of ideological groupthink. This is a position I am sympathetic with. Indeed, one of the intentions of The Whorer is to examine kneejerk feminist responses to horror films. The error here is the belief that feminism was somehow overwhelmingly successful in its efforts in combating historical patriarchy and now men, and free thinking women, must fight back against misandric totalitarianism. Besides the incidents listed above, I present the following as evidence to the contrary: the necessity of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, anemic number of female film directors, CEOs and heads of state, and the prevailing use of heterosexual male gaze pornography as a marketing tool. I hope the anarchists reading this will object to some of my examples. A culture of misogyny remains intact with many citizens more than willing to fanatically (a pun on fandom?) defend it. The only thing that is helping / helped is feminism. I fucking like feminists.
I hope The Whorer is part of a positive solution. There is some evidence that things are getting better. The first incident I mentioned at NY Comic Con resulted in some serious backlash to the harassers and public triumph for the (empowered) victim. Related is the public outing of notorious internet trolls. Again, this is a grey area. Should someone’s personal information be revealed as punishment for having an unpopular opinion? How valuable is privacy compared to transparency? If exploratory sex play is healthy, who decides what crosses the line into uncouthness, into illegality? I hear Fem shouting in my head: it is all about consent! Consent! CONSENT!
Our exploration continues.