Recent Internet controversy is swirling in the form of Joe Peacock’s CNN article “Booth Babes Need Not Apply” and the intense backlash that has reverberated across geek girl and feminist sites. I would be remiss in my role as the sole regular female blogger here on the Fridge if I didn’t drop my thoughts into the mix.
We’re about the news and the reviews around these parts, and we don’t get too personal, but a little about my geek girl self – I’m a huge Trekkie first and foremost, a veteran of too many comic and Star Trek conventions to count, and an avid fan of nearly all scifi television of the past 20 years, a Harry Potter fiend, a nerd for great literature, and I worship at the altar of Whedon. I dressed up as Batman for Halloween when I was 7 and it took me a long time to get excited about girl world – shoe shopping and eyeshadow were not fun for me until college. But I’m closer to 30 than 20 these days, and I’ve emerged into adulthood a full-blown geek lady who can argue the finer points of The Next Generation in my sassy heels. I now know the houses of Westeros AND the fashion houses of Europe. You get the idea.
Knowing what you now know about me, perhaps you can see why Peacock’s article garnered my rage. He starts out ok, saying geek culture has produced wonderful kickass female characters that women can identify with, and he’s glad genre work is attracting fans of all kinds (yep, and I am too!). He also says that being a beautiful woman at a convention is not a crime, especially if you’re cosplaying as a beautiful female character. But! He immediately contradicts this, going off the feel-good track and saying he’s sick of “wannabes who couldn’t make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead” before thoroughly denouncing booth babes and the "fake geek" aura they perpetuate. He calls them attention addicts, poachers, and a pox on our culture. He’s insulted that game developers and companies with booths at these cons think he’ll like their product better because hot girls in tight outfits are enticing them to stop by. He rails on companies targeting socially-awkward male geeks who aren’t used to pretty girls smiling at them, crying about how insulted he is. Boo-hoo, man. You're doing a great job of garnering the sympathy of geek women everywhere who, of course, are never insulted by the male geek masses ::eyeroll::.
Joe, you say being beautiful at a convention isn’t a crime. But then you turn around and slam beautiful women who are hired to be there for the men in attendance as if their objectification is somehow their fault. This conversation shouldn’t be limited to talking about how evil giant companies know sex sells and are preying on innocent male nerds, and that booth babes are just doing this to get off on the attention. Models are there at cons, doing the job they do on every billboard, ad, and commercial fed to the consumer population on a bombarding, daily, hourly, every-time-you-turn-on-your-computer basis. Why do you have a greater objection to them on the convention floor than when they are trying to sell you body wash, jeans, or alcohol instead of video games, comic books, or the latest in hard drive tech? Because they are right there, in the flesh and in your face, reminding you that your gender is still driving the advertising industry, steering straight into some fabulous cleavage?
I personally don’t object that strenuously to the presence of booth babes. That may sound antifeminist to my homies who know me as the girl who did her master’s thesis on feminist agency in literature (the ability of female characters to shape the events of their lives), but it’s the truth. Young beautiful women and men will continue to be hired to sell us things from now until eternity. Our culture loves youth and we love being young and fit. So Joe just needs to lay off, and in the meantime, maybe he could use his blogging powers to change the way geek men react to women in general.
Here is where my experience seriously trumps Joe’s – he won’t ever have to justify his love of anime and the Green Lantern to a room full of male geeks. His choice of attire will rarely, if ever, be questioned. While waiting in line to meet the awesome Katee Sackhoff and showing off my heavily autographed BSG Last Supper photo to the guys behind me in line, one of them said disbelievingly, “wow, you are actually a fan, aren’t you?” No man, I’m standing in this line with you sweaty folk for my health. I didn’t cry with the Adamas and have a Battlestar finale party because I’m not a fan.
I’ve been the target of more leering eyeballs not directed at my face than I care to think about, and at certain conventions I feel very glad to be with my posse of gentlemen, almost always the only girl in our group. Actors and actresses of my favorite shows have noticed this, and asked about my bodyguards, my entourage, or if I’m just there with my husband. Nope, you’ve got it wrong - my husband is here with me! Although there have been times when I’ve been on my own and the awkward recipient of sexualized comments about my body. I haven’t divested anyone of their ability to have children, but the idea has crossed my mind. I usually just say something like ‘men are disgusting’, give a withering stare, and walk away.
And with regard to attire, I rarely cosplay at cons (costume parties are another story!). That doesn’t mean I wear shapeless t-shirts or hide in baggy pants. I make an effort to look nice because hello, I am being photographed with my favorite stars today! I accessorize with my Starfleet badge, my pips, and my Galactica dogtags, but otherwise I don’t usually dress any differently than I do when I’m going out for a day of shopping and drinks with my girlfriends. I would like to point out that women are not blameless in this situation, either. Female convention volunteers and attendees have commented about how nice I look as if it’s very strange indeed that I’m not makeup-less and in ugly shoes. This is also insulting!
Genevieve Dempre responded to Joe’s article (and kudos to CNN for giving both sides a forum) very effectively, acknowledging that any female geek with a vocal opinion is going to be trounced all over the Internet for daring to speak up. She also makes this excellent point, worth a direct quote: “The other problem with this whole conversation about which women are legitimately geeks and which women are just faking it for male attention is that it still assumes that men are the ultimate arbiters. It’s another reminder to women that while we may be appreciated for our decorative qualities, we certainly shouldn’t expect to be welcomed beyond that as active participants.” Further: “Geek culture has traditionally been a haven for men who are looking for acceptance and haven’t found it in other places. Why should women be treated any differently? This idea that pretty girls have it all together and that they’re all consciously using their pretty girl powers to hold dominion over nerds really needs to die already. It’s not true. Learning how to be comfortable with ourselves is a lifelong journey for most women.”
Right on, sister-friend! I can’t further improve on those insights, just reiterate that my journey deserves just as much respect as Joe Peacock is giving to his own and to that of his fellow male nerds. Also, I can stand up for my fellow woman – geek girl, booth babe, or whatever role they play at conventions – and tell the male critics out there that it’s time to turn their critical eye on themselves, their behavior at cons, and the sex-driven, male-gaze-dominated culture that surrounds us all.