The Sexist

Courtney Stoker on Feminist Geek

star wars corset

Courtney Stoker is a blogger, gamer, and graduate student of Victorian science fiction who describes herself as "a science fiction fanatic of the H. G. Wells/Connie Willis/Octavia Butler/Joss Whedon/Doctor Who/Star Trek variety." In other words, she's a bit of a geek. She's also a feminist. And these worlds: They do not always exist in perfect harmony.

Case in point:

"While sci fi fans don't mind (and often excel at) criticizing their sci fi shows, they are generally only supportive of criticizing that focuses on 'literary' details—plot holes, bad writing, continuity in the canon, inconsistent application of science," Stoker says. "But as soon as you start talking about the bigger structures in a show's texts, like racist logic, sexism, classism, whatever, some douchey white dudes with serious entitlement issues are going to dismiss you."

Indeed. So Stoker, who blogs at From Austin to A&M, agreed to answer my questions on navigating geekdom as a feminist—from the subversive potential of Doctor Who cosplay to the social implications of sexy Star Wars corsets:

SEXIST: Sci fi shows are often dominated by white guys—either as lead characters or creators. How can female fans—and other fans who aren't well-represented in that narrative—subvert the perspectives of these shows?

Courtney Stoker: Fan communities have the potential for an extraordinary amount of subversion. The old school stereotype of the sci fi fan is one in which the fan does not think critically about the object of his (obviously, the old-school sci fi fan stereotype is a dude) fandom. The sci fi fan collects and memorizes trivia without adding anything to the story, and this is a marker of his lack of imagination.

I think cosplay is often seen this way as well, by people who are not overly familiar with it. Cosplay (I use this term very broadly, encompassing the related activities of dressing like a character, wearing sci fi show-related items of clothing—even if it's just a Doctor Who scarf with regular clothes— and role-playing as a character) is usually seen as straight-up copying and appropriation, in the same way that collecting is usually depicted as the uncritical consumption of a franchise. Even fan fiction, that extraordinary genre, is sometimes seen by the non-initiated as a sign of a lack of creativity and talent—most fan fic writers even separate their fan fic from their “real” writing. But all three of these activities—collection (of physical items and knowledge), cosplay, and fan fiction—are places where the fan can critically talk back to, interpret, and deconstruct the object of her fandom.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a graduate student studying English literature, my preferred method of subverting science fiction TV (and the fan communities of which I am a part) is literary critique. I do this through my blog, mostly, but plan on doing academic research later in my career. Critical writing has the upside of being taken more seriously by other fans and non-fans, even in blogging. It's also something I do well, but it can lack the joy of cosplay, for example.

Any act of participation in the creation and deconstruction of the show can be a radical act. By cosplaying, by writing or reading fan fic, by blogging about the (good and bad) choices made by the writers, a fan asserts her importance, her active consumption and interaction with the material. She is not a passive consumer, forced to accept the narratives and values given to her, but a creator and a critic.

All of which is not to say that it isn't important for sci fi shows to get their collective acts together, and start portraying the experiences and narratives of people who aren't white dudes. But a fan who loves these shows doesn't necessarily need to feel guilty about loving them, because she can subvert their weaknesses and actively participate in them.

SEXIST: What obstacles have you encountered in raising a feminist viewpoint in geek/subculture communities?

CS: I should preface this answer by letting you know I haven't been at it very long. I've only been a sci fi fan for a few years. And I stayed away from certain fandoms because of their reputations. I'm a Star Trek fan who doesn't care about canon and finds the original series unwatchable, so I steered clear of ST forums and fan spaces. I love Joss Whedon (LOVE him) and everything he's ever done, but I'd heard horror stories about how horrifyingly sexist those fan spaces are (*cough cough* Whedonesque), so I didn't touch them.

I think the only reason I even tried to participate on Doctor Who fan forums is because a) it had been a while since I've posted on forums, and I forgot how bad and emotionally exhausting they can be and b) Doctor Who fandom is U.K.-based. I have this (entirely inaccurate) fantasy of the U.K., where it's just the U.S., but with more socialism and no Tea Partiers. But being based in the U.K. also meant that the fandom didn't have the reputation that, say, Whedon fandom has. I just assumed that a British sci fi fan community would be feminist-friendly and safe. And I had fallen in love with this show with the breathless abandon of a teenager falling in love for the first time. It consumed my life and I talked and thought about it constantly. I watched all four seasons in the space of two weeks, and was literally sobbing the entire last ten minutes of David Tennant's finale. I hadn't been this passionate about a show since Buffy, and I wanted desperately to share that love with other fans.

Unfortunately, that love and passion made me a little vulnerable. I joined Gallifrey Base, the biggest DW forum out there, with an inordinate amount of trust and enthusiasm, and was promptly crushed for my trouble. I lasted a whole week or two before being told that I was a crazy, over-emotional lady, using my crazy, over-emotional lady problems to ruin everyone's good-natured fun. I avoided forums after that, but still listened to podcasts and found a few Doctor Who blogs that weren't overly upsetting.

I've blogged about Doctor Who and geek culture quite a bit lately, and I'd say about half of the responses I've received have been positive (and a few bright shining ones have been thanking me for saying what needed to be said). The others vacillate between mocking me for being a lady (the implication being that I am silly to talk about feminism or sci fi like I Know Things, on account of my obviously inferior lady-brain), mocking me for being a feminist (usually one Made of Straw), accusing me of inserting my dirty lady-feelings (irrelevant and irrational!) into a discussion of sci fi/geek culture, and determining that I am a Bad Feminist for any number of reasons. It's hard, sometimes, because I only talk about sci fi things because I am a fan. Sci fi is a huge part of my life and my
research. To have members of this community tell me that I am not qualified to Talk About Things on account of being a lady or a feminist is exhausting and disempowering. When I first forayed into this community, I thought that it would be progressive, feminist, and proud of its lady members (and not, you know, for their boobs). It's been a hard let-down.

While sci fi fans don't mind (and often excel at) criticizing their sci fi shows, they are generally only supportive of criticizing that focuses on “literary” details—plot holes, bad writing, continuity in the canon, inconsistent application of science. But as soon as you start talking about the bigger structures in a show's texts, like racist logic, sexism, classism, whatever, some douchey white dudes with serious entitlement issues are going to dismiss you. (It's actually sort of funny, because they can't really, like the rest of the world of douchey white dudes, tell you you're reading too much into the show, or taking the show too seriously, because ten minutes ago, they were posting about insignificant detail x in an episode that aired 20 years ago.) If I complain about the complete lack of plot in Avatar, for example, I'll hear murmurs of consent in a room full of geeks. If I say Avatar is inexcusably racist, however, that same room will suddenly get defensive.

SEXIST: Because these communities situate themselves outside the mainstream, is there any reluctance to recognize that mainstream forms of sexism—like privileging male voices or objectifying women—could be a problem in the community?

CS: Absolutely. Geek communities (particularly, in my experience, geek men) see themselves as outside of mainstream in several ways. They often consider themselves counter-cultural (in the U.S., this seems to be linked to the current trend of anti-intellectualism), progressive, and isolated. Because geeks situate themselves outside of the mainstream, it's difficult for them to either accept that sexism is a problem in the community (this is so patently obvious, however, that only the most sexist of geeks will not acknowledge it) or that sexism in the community is not a special and different case of sexism. The idea that geek sexism is unrelated to mainstream sexism is related to the Growing Up Geek narrative.

In the narratives about Growing Up Geek, geeks often frame their geekiness as a disability; these narratives make it sound like the vast majority of geeks grow up without any institutional power, even when the geeks in question are white, straight, cis-gendered, abled, middle- to upper-class, and male. The responses to the oft-asked, “Why are geek communities so goddamn sexist all the time?” often begin with the special case of Growing Up (a Male) Geek. The narrative goes something like this: Geeks are smarter than everyone else, and ladies like hot, not smart, so geek men have almost no contact with women until they become adults. They're socially stunted and bitter about their lifelong rejection by women, so they lash out at women to make themselves feel better. The cause of their sexism is their sexual frustration, not mainstream misogyny, even though many tellers of the Growing Up (a Male) Geek narrative will admit that male geeks often find the hypermasculine standard of our misogynist culture to be an obstacle to their social acceptance.

The problem with this narrative and how it functions in conversations about geek misogyny is that the hypermasculine standard that leads to geek men feeling disenfranchised while growing up is the result of a patriarchal culture. By becoming misogynists, geek men actually reinforce the sexist standards that lead to them getting beat up or made fun of as kids. Patriarchy is still to blame. And the inability to recognize this, not only by the individual geeks who become misogynists, but by critics of geek culture, makes sexism in these communities difficult to diagnose and counteract.

Secondly, very few geeks who cite the Growing Up Geek narrative are actually that institutionally disenfranchised. It's particularly precious to see white straight dudes complaining about how marginalized they were growing up. While I certainly don't want to disregard these geek men's experiences—undergoing daily abuse, whether verbal or physical, for one's geekiness is certainly disempowering and not acceptable—the experience of Growing Up Geek is not equivalent to a lack of institutional power. And since a lot of the sexism in geek cultures come from the actual media and events—video games, television shows, award committees, cons—the most prevailing sexism is actually coming from geeks who control the media. Talk about institutional power! The Growing Up Geek narrative is, in most of these conversations about sexism, a hand-waving exercise, designed to make women feel sorry for geek men and forgive them for the sexism that is present in their community, while obfuscating the fact that misogyny comes not just from miscellaneous geek assholes, but from positions of power and wealth in our communities and in culture at large.

SEXIST: How do female fans navigate worlds where men are often heroes and women are often objects? How does that dichotomy contribute to the subjective identity of the female sci-fi fan?

CS: Obviously, women are going to internalize the perceptions of women in these narratives, in a similar way that women internalize the impossible standards of beauty depicted by magazine or advertising images or the male gaze found in films. When your favorite media shoves women into refrigerators, sexualizes violence against women, and aggressively objectifies women, it's easy to internalize misogyny.

Lots of geek girls reject everything feminine when growing up, so as to fit in with the boys. Lots of geek women still devalue their own gender by figuring themselves as different from regular, silly, squeeing, stupid women, as one of the boys. These women regularly agree with geek men who , for example, assume that any show with a primarily female fan base must be crap. They regularly agree that women, as a category, don't get or don't write good science fiction, but they are an exception. It's a classic move of the anti-feminist. Sure, Sarah Palin may want power and position, an exception to what she believes is good for women, but only because she's special. She's one of the boys. She hunts wolves from helicoptors! I don't think this is necessarily strategic. While it's difficult, when you're an intelligent and awesome woman, to consider yourself inferior to male geeks, there's a lot of internalized misogyny from the way that women are portrayed in your favorite media. It's a contradiction that's difficult to rationalize.

SEXIST: What do you think about women gaining an entry into sci-fi worlds through the creation of object-heroes? I'm thinking about Femme Doctors in high-heels and corsets, and lady Stormtroopers in halter-tops.

CS: This is where some geek women find their acceptable place in geek communities, because even the most sexist of geek men is going to be okay with women being around as long as they're dressed up like sex objects. Too often, women in geek cultures are only welcomed if they are decoration, sexy versions of the the things geek men love, not equal participants or fellow fans. Forever Geek (one of the very few non-feminist blogs I bother with), for example, has, in the just the past two months, posted with glee about female models naked except for high heels and stormtrooper helmets gracing skateboards, a car wash in which women dressed in sexy Princess Leia costumes washed cars, and Star Wars corsets. Geek communities love women, as long as their members don't have to think of those women as people. And cosplay has become an unfortunate site of, as you so aptly put it, the creation of object-heroes.

I find the femme Doctor trend in Doctor Who cosplay to be simultaneously irritating and wonderful, and that's because it's complicated. Some women do the femme Doctor that you describe—miniskirts, high heels, corsets. Some of this is capitulation to the object-hero trend, a result of internalized sexism and wanting to be accepted into this community. Some of this is also an attempt to reclaim femininity and female sexuality within a community that doesn't often recognize those things as legitimate. While I see value in that, these Doctors also suggest to me that a female Doctor would necessarily be useless decoration, because she sure isn't going to save the world in high heels and a corset.

But that's not the whole picture of femme Doctor cosplay, however. In researching my recent cosplay post (in which I addressed the femme Doctor trend), I actually found more pictures of creative, sensible (and still, many times, sexy) femme Doctor costumes, in which the fans wore clothing in which an actual female Doctor could function. And this manifestation of the Doctor, who is feminine but not a useless object, is, I think, the site of the most potential subversion. These femme Doctor costumes make up for a deficit in the actual show and the fan community, allow female fans to see themselves as the unquestionable heroes of the show, and make it clear that the role of female fans and female characters should not be decoration or objectified sidekick. These fans are not simply eye candy for male fans, but a representation of what a female Doctor, a female hero, could look like, and these cosplays make it increasingly clear that Doctor Who is doing its female viewers (and, frankly, its male viewers as well) a disservice by only including female characters as sidekicks and love interests.

UPDATE: Now with a very special bonus question!

Photo via Forever Geek.

  • Daniel Hemmens


    Umm, no. That's not the same at all.

    Okay, let's put this to an *empirical test*. Let's have a discussion about *violence against men* and see if the people on this thread start using their wicked silencing tactics against us.

    I'll start:

    In 2002 I was mugged by a group of three men when I was on my way back to my then university accommodation. I turned a corner and was greeted by a the sole of somebody's trainers hurtling towards my face (I still have quite a vivid memory of that moment, but the rest is something of a blur). They knocked me to the ground, kicked me a few times, then let me go after I gave them my wallet and my mobile phone. This really shook me up at the time, and to this day I'm a little bit leery of walking around the streets late at night. I also take corners on the outside.

    Now as it happens I can be pretty sure these guys wouldn't have attacked me if I'd been a woman - they were looking for fairly specific targets (for some reason they thought I was Jewish) and like many muggers they picked on young males, because we live in a culture where beating up men is considered far more acceptable than beating up women because hey, if a man can't defend himself that's his problem.

    This, for what its worth, is what "Patriarchy Hurts Men Too" means. Those three guys felt that it was okay to attack me (when they probably wouldn't have felt it was okay to attack a woman) because of *endemic social ideas about the sexes*. A man should be able to fight, so if you attack a man, and he doesn't fight you off, he deserves to get beaten up. This is *sexist and stupid and wrong* and it's exactly this kind of *sexist and stupid and wrong* thinking feminists are talking about when they talk about "patriarchy".

    Now, what I suggest is this: we'll give it, say, twenty-four hours and if I'm flooded with responses from people telling me to get my filthy man-feelings out of here, or telling me that it was *my* fault they beat me up *because I'm a man* I'll concede that you're right. If not ... but of course we don't have to consider that eventuality, I'm sure the tide of hateful, silencing, shaming comments is already starting.

  • PD

    Toysoldier, just so I'm clear on what you're trying to say:
    male geeks who are hostile to female geeks have probably been hurt or alienated by women at some point in their lives. Women trying to break into the male-dominated, misogynistic geek subculture would be better served by not criticizing male geeks because it's just going to make those men more defensive and hostile. I see your point, but I think that since it's really inarguable that geek culture is male-dominated, and the women (who are also usually already alienated for their interests) are the ones trying to gain acceptance and entrance, to level the playing field, it's the men who need to be more yielding, not the women.

  • Daniel Hemmens

    If, however, you think women should just back off and leave men alone, that we don’t deserve equal protection under the law AND equal treatment, well then, it IS about you – and I wonder why you’re here, at a feminist blog, unless you want to have your mind changed

    Looking at the contents of his posts, and at the blog he linked to, I suspect he's here to look out for "men's rights."

    Because, y'know, there's so few people doing that.

  • Em

    Elise: we have been asking that same question of Toysoldier for a while, and he never really answers. I think Daniel Hemmens hits it on the head: he's here to look out for the menz and hijack the conversation. Saying that outright makes him look like a dick, so he dodges the question. Troll-la-la!

    It's a logical fallacy that by talking about how an issue effects a specific group of people, you are saying that you don't care about other groups of people who may or may not be facing similar issues. That's not the case. Feminists aren't people who only care about women, they're people who care about ALL people, and believe that better gender equality and awareness will improve the lives of all people. It's not a conversation to shut out the men/women who don't identify with us--without them, there is no conversation at all.

  • Elise

    Well, then, if he's trolling, why are we even bothering to answer his questions? Instead, I feel we should treat him like a troll deserves . . . but then again, I have a low tolerance for trolls and "men's rights" activists (not to be mistaken for the academics who genuinely want to study the construction of masculinity in our society and the problems it causes for both men and women - I like them. In fact, I'm one of them)

  • Toysoldier

    Elise, considering that I am part of the group being discussed, should I not offer my opinions on the matter? More so, is it not hypocritical to tell someone not to take generalizations personally when you take such generalizations about your group (feminists) personally? The comments made about male geeks treated them as a collective, cohesive group, as if they were the Borg. Some male geeks may treat women poorly, but is it really justifiable to borgify all male geeks as being that way?

    Hemmens, your "test" would be akin to telling someone to deliver shocks to a person if that person answers a question wrong after telling them that in reality no shocks would actually be delivered. It would not work. A better test would be a person using feminists' treatment of male victims as an analogy in order to explain why some male geeks might react negatively to valid criticism, and then some feminist responding to that with "Patriarchy Hurts Men Too" in an attempt to dismiss the analogy and the experiences of male victims. Coincidentally, that already occurred.

    PD, no I am saying you are not going to win over male geeks by stating they are a part of a "male-dominated, misogynistic geek subculture." That kind of overtly hostile statement does not lead to acceptance. It tends to get read as "I hate everything about you," and I doubt many people want to associate with those that harbor that kind of attitude. I also doubt that people who formed a subculture to get away from the "I hate everything about you" sentiment will be anything other than defensive and hostile towards people harboring that attitude.

    Em, it would be a logical fallacy to claim that talking about a specific group means one does not care about other groups, which is why I never made such a claim. I did state that insulting and vilifying male geeks probably will not win them over. I also stated that no one should dismiss male geeks' experiences or tell to them grow up and get over it. Those are reasonable arguments that I doubt anyone would disagree with if I had referred to female geeks instead. That is the disconnect I mentioned before.

  • Matthew BELMONTE

    Thank you Ms Stoker for being an example of the geek who excels both at
    the detail-oriented skills of systemising and also at the people-oriented
    skills of empathising. (We actually have data on this, showing that at
    the level of populations - but not necessarily instantiable to any
    particular individuals - females are far more likely than males to excel
    simultaneously in these two cognitive domains: see
    "" or
    "".) The world - especially the geek world - needs more of you!

  • Daniel Hemmens

    A better test would be a person using feminists’ treatment of male victims as an analogy in order to explain why some male geeks might react negatively to valid criticism, and then some feminist responding to that with “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too” in an attempt to dismiss the analogy and the experiences of male victims. Coincidentally, that already occurred.

    Umm, yes you're right that would be an excellent analogy if you had provided ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL that feminists treat male victims with ANYTHING OTHER THAN TOTAL RESPECT. You haven't.

    And nobody dismissed what you were saying. They said the analogy was false, because it was based on a false premise, because it is.

    "Patriarchy Hurts Men Too" is not a silencing tactic. It is a statement of political reality. It is *the answer* to your supposed "questions" about why feminists don't treat male victims better. It is, in fact, evidence that feminists treat male victims EXACTLY THE SAME as female victims. If this does not look like equality to you, it is a problem with your perception, not with feminism.

    I'd also add that I have now actually contributed to this thread AS and FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF a male victim of violence and YOU - not any of the women, not any of the feminists, you - have actually dismissed my experiences. Strangely your boundless sympathy for the poor, poor male victims who the cruel feminists treat *so badly* vanishes the moment you encounter an actual man who actually wants to talk to you about his experiences.

    PD, no I am saying you are not going to win over male geeks by stating they are a part of a “male-dominated, misogynistic geek subculture.”

    Well no, this is true. A much better strategy for winning over male geeks would be to tell them that geek subculture is *totally not* male dominated and misogynistic. Male geeks would love to hear that.

    Of course it wouldn't change the fact that geek subculture *is* in fact male dominated and misogynistic. You seem to be operating under the (surprisingly common) misapprehension that "feminism" is political movement dedicated to making men feel good about themselves.

  • C

    No one should have to 'make peace' with misogyny. No one should have to 'make peace' with racism or homophobia, either. This thought process is what often leads people to eventually think it's ok - 'It's just LIKE that in Sci Fi!'. Don't make peace with it, get angry, make valid and concise arguments, be loud and speak up over the general din, and work hard to change perceptions, and the status quo.

    This, by the way, was a brilliant article. I especially enjoyed the thoughts on females that help to set their own gender back, by agreeing they're the 'cool exceptions' to these horribly outdated stereotypes of women that many of their male friends have. I have to admit that I have been guilty of this in the past, but I think it stemmed from my own insecurity, and wanting to be viewed as 'awesome' and 'better' than other women among my guy friends. That entire 'I am the exception to the rule, and I am awesome, so everybody love me and harbor secret crushes towards me' type bullshit, but no more. Thank goodness for finding my own self confidence. And so many apologies to those that follow behind me, for having been one to temporarily contribute to that crap.

  • Elise

    Daniel Hemmens, if I could like your comment, I would. Thank you for taking the time to explain why noting that "Patriarchy Hurts Men Too" is NOT a method used to shame men, but a (quick and dirty) way to explain why men and women are both victims of violence, and both can be complicit in the violence directed against them. HOWEVER, it is highly important to note that saying someone is complicit in violence directed against them in some way IS NOT the same thing as saying that violence does not matter/is not important/does not deserve attention. It simply notes that VICTIMS of violence must work together to help end the violence, and cannot wait for others to save them from the cycle of violence currently in place in our society.

  • Toysoldier

    Hemmens, I did provide evidence for my assertion. I linked to a blog post that listed several examples supporting my position. However, you dismissed that post outright. So it is not matter of me failing to present evidence; it is a matter of your refusal to accept the evidence (assuming you read it).

    I never dismissed your experiences. I did dismiss the your "empirical test" because it was anything but empirical.

    Treating feminists with respect and civility will not change that they belong to a female-dominated, misandrist political subculture. However, it would make feminists more inclined to engage in discussions if a person did not start off by saying that. Feminists might be even more likely to engage in a discussion with a person who did not accuse all feminists of misandry. I would think that the better winning strategy would be to treat male geeks as people rather than the Borg, and to not vilify all of them for the actions of a few. After all, it does seem that the "You're All Misogynists" strategy is not working.

    Elise, so when people say that women are complicit in the violence directed at them by virtue of their gender, their state of dress, or their behavior, it is really just people saying that women "must work together to help end the violence and cannot wait for others to save them from the cycle of violence currently in place in our society?" I think feminists would call that victim blaming. However, thank you for demonstrating that some feminists do use PHMT to victim blame male victims.

  • Elise

    Sorry. Let me spell out what I meant by complicit word-for-word, then.

    Complicit, here, means that we participate in the patriarchy, not that anyone was "asking for it" or any such thing. No one ASKS to be abused - but we do participate in the power structures that make abuse, such as rape or verbal abuse, seem more acceptable than it should be. I used complicit in the sense it has always been used in the academic discussions I participate in, not as if people were complicit in their abuse by "asking for it." No one - NO ONE - asks to be abused (outside of certain sexual fetishes, but they are not applicable to this discussion) and that is NOT what I meant by being "complicit" in violence.

  • Elise

    Oh, and participating in the power structures doesn't make us bad, or imply in any way that anyone deserves or is asking to be abused.

  • Daniel Hemmens

    I did provide evidence for my assertion. I linked to a blog post that listed several examples supporting my position

    No, you linked to a blog post that *repeated* the assertion.

    The blog post you linked to, which I did read made several assertions about feminism, most of which were false, and about the notion of privilege, most of which failed to understand it. It did not contain any examples of feminists *actually doing* the things that you accuse them of doing.

    This is roughly the equivalent of me claiming that you believe the earth is flat, and trying to "prove" this by linking you to a blog post in which I say "Toysoldier believes the earth is flat".

    To address the points in that post specifically:

    You don't like the idea of "male privilege". Well that's your right, and nobody is going to deny you that right. You then attempt to argue that male privilege doesn't exist because (as far as I can understand it) men are more likely to get drafted into the army than women.

    Again, this is argument is *provably wrong*. Yes, it is true that men are more likely to be conscripted than women (particularly when you take the worldwide view). This would only be a reasonable argument against the concept of "privilege" if the term meant "is always better off than in any and all situations, with no exception".

    What you are trying to do is to argue against a theory by citing evidence that is *actually predicted by that theory*. It's like trying to argue against gravity by pointing out that the moon stays in the sky. It's an argument that only works if you ignore what the theory *actually says*.

    What you have given me examples of is instances of violence against men which, for some reason, you think feminists have a moral duty to address. What you have *not* shown me is a situation in which feminists have dismissed or belittled the experiences of these people, except insofar as you (erroneously) believe the *very concept* of "male privilege" to be an attack on men's rights and experiences.

    Treating feminists with respect and civility will not change that they belong to a female-dominated, misandrist political subculture. However, it would make feminists more inclined to engage in discussions if a person did not start off by saying that.

    Were I feeling glib, I'd ask how you knew what you could achieve by treating feminists with respect and civility since, whatever you may believe, you haven't.

    I'd also say that I think we're coming at this from very different perspectives. Where I'm coming from, if you *genuinely* believe that feminists are part of a "misandrist political subculture" it's *far* better to say that upfront than be coy about it. That way everybody knows who they're dealing with.

  • Daniel Hemmens

    Daniel Hemmens, if I could like your comment, I would.

    Sorry, I'm probably missing something obvious here. Are you making a joke about Toysoldier's insistence that feminists aren't allowed to agree with anything men say, or are you saying that I got something Seriously Wrong?

    HOWEVER, it is highly important to note that saying someone is complicit in violence directed against them in some way IS NOT the same thing as saying that violence does not matter/is not important/does not deserve attention

    Ah, I think I see where you're coming from - yes, you're right that I've been saying "nobody is saying men are complicit in their own abuse" when actually it's a bit more complicated than that.

    Basically for me "complicit" is a word I'm comfortable using for describing broad abstract things (complicity in harmful social structures) but am much less comfortable with using in reference to *specific* acts of violence (complicit in his/her own abuse). It's a purely personal reaction, but "complicit" to me is a term that has victim-blaming connotations.

    It simply notes that VICTIMS of violence must work together to help end the violence, and cannot wait for others to save them from the cycle of violence currently in place in our society.

    I *think* I see where you're coming from here, but I think it's also important to recognize that responsibility for preventing violence ultimately lies with the people who perpetrate it.

    It is certainly *desirable* for the victims of violence to work together, but again I'm uncomfortable with the idea that victims of violence have a *responsibility* to work together to end violence.

    Sometimes, the victims of violence *really are* unable to break the cycle, and I don't think it's quite right to talk about people "waiting for others to save them". Again that feels - to me - to be saying that abuse is the fault of the victim for being too passive, not of the abuser for abusing.

    I absolutely agree that everybody (even women, even abuse victims) is complicit in supporting the social structures which allow abuse cycles to perpetuate, but I'm uncomfortable with abuse victims being described as complicit in their own *specific* abuse.

    I'm not saying you're wrong, or that it isn't okay to express things the way you've expressed them. I'm just explaining why that particular way of using the word "complicit" makes me uncomfortable.

  • Elise

    Damn. I really shouldn't write stuff on my way to work, before having my coffee - apparently I mis-word things, and say things without re-reading them deeply enough. Damn. My next comment explains my stance better, especially on the word "complicit" which is really a weird word, and troubling in the way I used it, without proper explanation.

    Maybe I should get up earlier so I can have coffee before checking my e-mail, etc. . . .

  • Daniel Hemmens

    Yeah, I've since read your other two comments which sort of clarify that you meant what I pretty much assumed you meant but wasn't entirely sure.

    But yeah, "complicit" is a really weird and difficult word because it's got so many different connotations.

  • Diane

    I've been a female nerd for years and after all this time I've discovered I only want one thing - characters that represent me.

    I've been watching through TNG again and got to the episode "Ethics" (5x16) and was really affected by it. It's half Dr. Crusher dealing with the medical ethics of another female doctor and half Worf dealing with his son and possibly being disabled the rest of his life. It was incredibly female centric and the part about Worf is very much about dealing father roles, responsibility, and emotions through the help of counselor Troi. I was blown away by the impact female representation had on me - an aged nerd.

    Giving women voices and representation in nerd culture makes an impact. We are here, please give us a voice. Please create characters that are like us. Please take us into account. Please don't marginalize us. Please create safe spaces for us.

    (btw I want to agree with the poster above who talked about the inclusiveness of PAX. It's an incredible place.)

  • Diz

    Y'know, for someone who's whining about men being silenced, toysoldier is sure trying damn hard to silence the experience of women in geek culture.

    Pot, meet kettle, you'll get along famously.

  • Daniel Hemmens

    Y’know, for someone who’s whining about men being silenced, toysoldier is sure trying damn hard to silence the experience of women in geek culture.

    But men are so *badly treated*. I mean why do we have *feminism* but not *masculinism*. Why do people talk about *womens* rights all the time when nobody talks about *mens* rights.

    And look at all the awful *silencing* tactics women use.

    Like this time when I tried to explain something to this woman, and she told me she already knew about it.

    Or the time when a woman was talking, and I wanted to be talking, and I interrupted her, but she asked me not to.

    Or the time when a woman *disagreed with me*.

    Silencing tactics I tell you!

  • Toysoldier

    Elise, complicity means "the state of being an accomplice; partnership or involvement in wrongdoing." There is no other meaning of the term, and I am sure that if someone said women were complicit in their rapes due to the clothes they wore you would understand the intended meaning of "complicit," so I doubt your problem is that word is weird or difficult. However, if you find the word weird and difficult, perhaps you should retract your statement rather than try to embarrassingly defend it.

    Hemmens, I linked to a post that provided a fuller explanation of my position, which also happened to analyze particular examples from a semi-popular feminist blog. It is no different than what Stoker did in the above post, so I fail to understand your objection. As for the other point, if one wants to have a discussion, let alone build a friendship, it is unwise to start off by insulting and attacking the other person. That would not work well. Likewise, disagreeing with a feminist position does not silence female geeks (most of whom are not feminists), nor does challenging whether it is fair to label all male geeks misogynists. Ironically, those feminist responses bear striking similarity to what feminists accuse male geeks of doing to them.

    Diz, for someone complaining about feminists being unwelcome in geek spaces, feminists are sure trying damn hard to make male geeks unwelcome in feminist spaces. Pot, I see you are well acquainted with kettle. As I stated above, this is not a one-sided situation, and I suspect that remarks like yours do not help your cause.

  • PD

    Recently, an artist for a show on Cartoon Network had been hanging around the /co/ (comics & cartoons) board on 4chan (arguable nexus/black hole of internet geekdom), taking commissions from forum participants for sketches. Eventually she was run off the board by the tremendous amount of grotesquely insulting responses she was getting: "show us your cunt, bitch," was fairly common. /co/ is, incidentally, one of the more female-friendly boards on 4chan. I haven't seen anyone ask any of the men on this thread to get in the garage and change the oil in our cars, or yell DICK OR GTFO, etc., not even once, so I'm pretty sure it's not exactly the same.

  • Arielle

    Great article! I wonder where predominately female "fandoms" like the Harry Potter fit into this framework. Why are women able to safely crack into those particular online communities? What about Twilght fans who have an incredibly problematic canon from a feminist perspective and yet are predominantly female?

  • Diz

    toysoldier, need I remind you that you're the one on a feminist space crying "what about meeeeeee and the meeeeeen, how dare the women demand respeeeeect!!!!"

    When you experience something like "dick or GTFO", them you might have a leg to stand on. There are website for the up with men types like you and the troll space is already taken up by Keith B. around here.

  • PD

    Arielle, I imagine it's mostly because women create those fandoms. My experience with woman-dominated fandoms is that men experience a sort of mixed bag when they try to join in-- they can get picked on by other men and women alike for enjoying something "girly," and sometimes at the same time they can be like heroes to the community: "TWIGUYS ARE SO SEXAAAYYY!!!!11!" But they're safe spaces for women because that's who's creating them and mostly participating in them, as opposed to fandoms like Star Trek or video games.

  • reggie

    wow, somebody really hates men, how many times can she diss men in an interview, I think she bitter with men and doesn't know to interact with men.

  • Danny

    As has already been said it seems that geek culture started off as an attempt for those geeky guys to have a safe space of their own to go to after being rejected. No it might not be a matter of getting rejected every single time by every single woman (just as more than likely a lot of the women who have experience sexism from men have probably not experienced it from every single male in every single interaction in her life) but as anyone who has been rejected or otherwise treated unfairly knows it doesn't take a lot for it to hurt.

    So when you have some members of the very group of people who rejected you trying to get into that space you feel invaded upon (this goes for nearly any group under the sun). Kinda like a "hey we built this space to get away from you and you're here too?" thing.

    Also as most people know to be male to been given and expected to live by the script that says men don't show emotion, men don't admit weakness, when it comes to pain "real men" just suck it up, etc... You internalize and bottle that sh!t up long enough there's a good chance it will blow up and come out in inappropriate (to say the least) ways.

    Now of course this doesn't justify the way some male greeks treat women it may explain where it may be rooted and for such treatment to be done away with the root cause needs to be dealt with.

  • NancyP

    One word for the feminist geeks out there:


  • AndiS

    Excellent post! I'm also a sci-fi fan and a lady, I absolutely hate it when the boys ruin my fun with their stupid hangups. I'm going to check out your blog.

  • Sara

    I've been a female nerd forever. I DM a D&D game, lead one of the top wow guilds in the country, regularly attend magic events, and in general get my nerd on AND I consider myself a feminist. But I don't agree with Courtney and didn't appreciate her speaking for me.

    Courtney as an individual is offended by some things, and now she has stood up and spouted her histrionics on behalf of female nerds. Now next time I show up at an event someone is going to read this nonsense and treat me differently than I want to be treated. I'm a different person from Courtney and our mutual possession of a vagina doesn't give us any more in common than our mutual possession of hair.

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  • TB

    toysoldier, stating a culture is misogynistic does not equal stating that all participants in the culture are therefore misogynistic.

    one could say that american culture is materialistic and imperialist, but that wouldn't mean that every american has those qualities.

    geek culture is full of rampant sexual objectification of women. all of american culture, in fact, is full of the same. i do not believe every geek or every american embraces sexually objectifying women. but it is quite simply a fact that we are steeped in such culture here.

    your argument in part comes down to tone. you think the dominant cultural forces in geekland will listen better if people who dislike this aspect of it are nice to them about it and understanding. as an activist in civil rights movements, i can tell you being nice to the people in charge only gets you so far. after a point, making change requires demanding a real hard look in the mirror for this community.

    in FPS land, it's as common to call someone a "fag" as it is to shoot some d00dz. as a queer person i can't stand this. when i have pointed this out, i get back, "it's just how it is, it doesn't hurt anybody." whether i say it as a complaint or whether i say it very nicely with a context of "i know you're not homophobic but---" doesn't make a difference. the fact that i'm hurt, angered, and pissed off that this is the dominant insult in this subculture, one that belittles my identity and makes me feel totally unwelcome, doesn't matter - i'm not anybody, i don't count, no one is interested in what i feel about it.

    i don't actually get much out of shooting people so i stopped bothering to try to change anything about FPS land. but this experience is akin to what it's like for feminists (who by the way include many, many men) fighting against the dominant narratives in geekland. whether you say it nicely or not, the cultural forces declaring "gigantic cleavage on women? that's just the way it is!" are intensely, intensely strong. and it leads to people being pissed off and feeling unwelcome.

    i don't think being nice will get us anywhere, but an honest discussion and commitments to change WILL.

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  • MK

    I'm a bit troubled that you grouped together "female models naked except for high heels and stormtrooper helmets gracing skateboards, a car wash in which women dressed in sexy Princess Leia costumes washed cars, and Star Wars corsets." I don't see Evening Arwen's corsets as inherently objectifying or sexist.

  • makomk

    Diz: there's one small problem with that. This blog post is already about him, or more specifically about people like him. It looks like Toysoldier's already covered most of the obvious stuff about the culture of male-on-male violence, the uselessness of supposed male privilege in defending oneself from it, and the different amounts of latitude given to male and female victims for issues related to their experiences.

    Em: oh lovely, the insidious idea that feminism is just talking about issues as they affect women. In practice, the problem is it talking about them as though they only affect women. For example, consider the idea that (for example) rape is a form of gender-based violence aimed at oppressing women. That's pretty clearly not just saying something about female rape victims, it's making a statement about male ones too. This is probably most clear when feminists at sites like I Blame The Patriarchy use this idea to claim men can't really be raped, but it's inherent to the argument itself.

    Daniel Hemmens: you'd be surprised how few people there are really taking on the issue of childhood sexual abuse and rape against young boys, especially in a systemic fashion.

    Also, I'd like to know how that's meant to be a defense of Patriarchy Hurts Men Too. Because you're just agreeing with what Toysoldier is claiming: that PHMT is used to justify a gendered approach that treats female victims differently in spite of evidence contradicting this. I've never seen PHMT followed up with an actual analysis of how the patriarchy hurts men and the implications of this - on the contrary, it's generally used to avoid having to think about the problem. Now, there is some consideration of the effect of patriarchy on men, but it's fundamentally broken - not enough willingness to go beyond the aspects that affect women.

    Finally, I note your experience. In practice, the culture of male-on-male violence seems to be one of the biggest things missing from feminist treatment of male culture and experiences; would you have brought it up in a feminist space normally? (I generally only see this come up in the form of arguments that subtly erase or ignore it. Like, for example, pointing out that a much smaller percentage of violence against men is domestic violence than of violence against women. That's a really common one.)

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  • Jo

    I'm massively late with this, but just wanted to say what a wonderful, wonderful post this is and how much I enjoyed reading it. Courtney, you have another new subscriber!

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  • Sashira

    Mini-skirts and high heels are not necessarily bad things. I'm 5'2", and am much more functional when I can reach high shelves. I can also run just fine in my heels.

    I'm just sayin'. If a Femme Doctor can travel through time and space at a whim, she can probably kick ass even if she's not wearing serviceable coveralls. Anyone who tells me I can't be a legitimate heroine because I'm taller and have some leg showing is underestimating me.

    And what the hell is wrong with corsets? They provide great back support and were the garment of choice for the laboring class of the middle ages. The LABORING CLASS, people.