Exclusion As Default: Female Geeks

Posted: April 12, 2014 in Critical Hit
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A couple of years ago, while attending an SFF convention, I made the mistake of participating in a geek trivia contest. Normally, I love this sort of thing, even when I lose badly: I spent a not inconsiderable portion of my tweens and teens playing the original edition of Trivial Pursuit for fun, despite the fact that even the most “recent” events on the cards were all older than me by more than a decade. My parents used to beat me hollow, but I loved it, because I always felt like I learned something. So, understandably, I embarked on this particular quiz with a feeling of optimism. I didn’t care that it was billed as “ridiculously hard” – I just wanted to have a good time, and maybe learn some cool, obscure facts about the history of SFF. Instead, the whole thing quickly became the single worst experience I’ve ever had at a convention.

The Round 1 topic was meant to be SFF literature: no time period specified. Not unreasonably, given the sheer breadth of SFF as a field, I’d expected the questions to cover a reasonable spread of works – some old, some new, some obscure, some famous. Instead, the range was much more limited; obliviously so. Before we all swapped papers for marking, I called out to the straight, white, middle-aged male MC (who’d also written the quiz) and asked a question: was there any answer to Round 1 that was not either a Dead White Male or an Old White Male?

He paused, looking stunned. “Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t noticed that.”

The film round was more of the same: the most recent movie referenced was a work of B-grade 90s SF. Everything else was from the 50s, 60s, or – more commonly –  the 70s. No answers involved women, let alone POC. At this point, the MC decided to hand out the sheet for the picture round. When he reached our table, he pointedly said to me, “You can’t call me sexist now, because an equal number of questions on here are about women. I made sure of it.” Which is to say: on the bonus round that was about identifying SFF characters and celebrities by their predominantly naked or scantily-clad arses, three of the pictures were of women: Ellen Ripley, Catwoman, and Seven of Nine. Three others were of robots, and the remaining four were men. Surprisingly, this didn’t cheer me up.

Next was a Star Wars/Star Trek round, which distinguished itself by featuring a single answer that involved a woman. (The question: what was Seven of Nine’s real name?) By this point, four of the five tables were visibly losing the will to live: the remaining team, which boasted two straight white men in their forties or above – one of whom was close friends with the MC – was something like 30 points ahead of their nearest competitors, and it was becoming increasingly apparent, from comments made by the MC, that the entire quiz had basically been designed as a series of in-jokes between him and his mate; this did not, however, stop him from calling the losing teams “pathetic”. To make things worse, once he’d handed out the arses sheet, the MC started deliberately mispronouncing and mocking our team name when he read out the scores, something which he continued to do for the rest of the evening. As we were the only ones to received this treatment, it was quite obviously meant as retaliation.

Then came the Doctor Who round, which had two questions that referenced the reboot and the rest of which was all about the classic series; which would have been fine, was the focus not specifically centered on a handful of obscure episodes that seemed to be personal favourites of the MC and his mate on the winning team (who was, unsurprisingly, the only one who got the answers right). At the start of this round, the MC announced loudly that these questions would “separate the men from the boys”. At this, a WOC from one of the other teams – who’d also noticed the somewhat SWM-heavy material – turned to me and said, “Well, what about the girls?”

The results of this round were so heavily skewed in favour of the MC’s friend’s team that even he acknowledged there was no point in doing the extra Doctor Who questions, and skipped straight ahead to Round 5, which asked us to list the shows, books, films or series responsible for particular swear words. The answer to the first question was Battlestar Galactica, which was, from memory, the most recent work referenced in the entire quiz. After that, we marked the arses. (Most recent, and most prominent on the answer sheet: a naked Daniel Radcliffe in Equus, though how that counts as SFF, I don’t know. Oh, and the Green Lantern.)

Naturally, the team captained by the MC’s mate won by a landslide; we came last, with a score the MC called “shameful”. By then, it was after midnight: the quiz had dragged on for hours, and the overriding mood among the participants was one of exhaustion, with expressions ranging from grim to baffled. Not unsurprisingly, the most irritated people were, pretty much universally, women and POC, all of whom had been actively excluded by the increasingly hostile host. I didn’t care that we lost: I cared that, at a convention with a diverse range of attendees, and which had put some effort into promoting discussions of bias in SFF, an event that should’ve been a fun end to the proceedings and a celebration of shared experience was instead turned into an exclusionary old boys’ club.

Which is what came to mind this evening, when a not-so-snappily-titled Buzzfeed quiz – What’s Your Geek Number? – cropped up in my Facebook feed. The whole thing is 300 questions long, and in that entire, lengthy list, which mentions a hefty number of specific titles and works by name, only two are created by women: Harry Potter, and My Little Pony. Everything else listed has either been written or created by men, and it’s notable that while there are multiple questions about the purchase and possession of merchandise in the male-oriented franchises, particularly relating to comics and Magic: The Gathering, neither of these female-dominated fandoms is explored in similar detail. In fact, male fans of My Little Pony even get a bonus point for liking the show, as they can effectively answer the same question twice, while women – the show’s traditional fanbase – cannot:

Buzzfeed Brony question

Which is sadly typical of the entire thing. While fandoms, behaviours and pastimes that are commonly held to be male-dominated are discussed in detail – programming, mainstream comics, Star Trek, Star Wars, Magic: The Gathering – there’s a conspicuous absence of female-dominated media. Right at the end, for instance, there are three questions about fanfiction, and a couple of passing references to artwork based on favourite series (though the term ‘fanart’ is never used), but there’s no mention of cosplay, costuming, knitting, filking, fanzines, slash, book blogging, meta-writing, YA novels, webcomics, or any other subcultures known for having a high percentage of female geeks. Which isn’t to say that women don’t program, or read mainstream comics, or like any of the other things the quiz puts a premium on; nor am I suggesting that, at 300 questions, the whole thing was really too short. I know this is just a random Buzzfeed quiz – which is to say, a literal timewaster – and that my analyzing it like this is going to have lots of people rolling their eyes, because why the fuck would anyone take it seriously?

But here’s the thing: at a time when various geeky cultures and subcultures are still gripped by lurking paranoia about the existence of Fake Geek Girls, and where women are so often asked to prove their geek credentials in ways that men just aren’t, creating a quiz whose content perfectly mirrors the extant debates about what “real” geeks are, in a way that makes it clear that “real geek” is code for “guy”, kind of helps to demonstrate the problem. Whenever mainstream culture stereotypes geekdom as a bunch of greasy, cheeto-stained white guys in sweat pants mouthbreathing in the basement of their parents’ house, we bristle collectively, because we know it’s unfair and inaccurate – a caricature some forty years out of date. But when we ourselves make assumptions about what the “average geek” looks like, we still tend to picture some variant of this same guy, with his Boba Fett statues and Kirk v Picard t-shirt, and treat him, if not as a yardstick, then as genesis: the archetypal Patient Zero who first spread the disease of dorkness to his likeminded fellows. We think of women and POC as interlopers, latecomers, erasing the history of their participation in fandom in a bid to reassure a particular resentful, insecure cluster of white men that, even if they’re not the only fans around, they’re still the most important, because they were here first: that men like them were solely responsible, not just for fandom as a concept, but for all those geeky fields – like computing, video games, movies, science fiction and fantasy – with which it’s now associated.

Only, no: they weren’t. Not exclusively. Not by a long shot.

The first ever novel, The Tale of Genji – which was also, coincidentally, a work of fantasy – was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu in around the year 1000, and is still being read today. In 1666, Margaret Cavendish published what is arguably the first ever work of science fiction, The Blazing World; but even if you discount her work on the grounds of obscurity, Mary Shelley is still recognised as the mother of modern science fiction for her 1818 publication of Frankenstein, which she wrote at the age of 19. The first ever crimefighting vigilante to go don a mask, a cape and a secret identity was the Scarlet Pimpernel, created by Baroness Emma Orczy in 1905. Women have been creating comic books since the late 1800s; even in the male-dominated Golden and Silver Ages, women like Nina Albright, Ruth Atkinson and Marie Severin were still known quantities. The whole concept of young adult novels – and, indeed, of teenagers as a distinct literary audience – was introduced by Sarah Trimmer in 1802, while the novel most widely held to have prompted the separate categorisation of YA in the modern era was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, published in 1967.

The earliest surviving animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was written and directed by Lotte Reiniger in 1926, while the world’s first animated films were the work of Quirino Cristiani. The first female film director, Alice Guy-Blache, was working as early as 1894; depressingly, though, it wasn’t until 1991 that Julie Dash became the first African-American woman to both write and direct a full-length film that was given a general theatrical release, Daughters of the Dust.  Such is the exclusionary strangeness of Hollywood that from the 1920s to about 1940, the only woman working as a director was Dorothy Arzner; yet during the same period, the majority of screenwriters were women. June Mathis was the first female executive for Metro/MGM in 1923; Mary Pickford founded United Artists in 1919; and writer Frances Marion became the first person ever to win two Academy Awards in 1932.

The world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, wrote her famous algorithm 1842; and even in the modern world, as hard as it is to believe now, computer programming was originally considered to be a female occupation, and as such was female-dominated right up until the late 1960s. The first compiler for a programming language was developed by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper in 1952 – just one of her many pioneering developments. Modern spread-spectrum communication technology is based on an invention originally developed and patented by Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil. Many of the famous Bletchley Park codebreakers were young women; notably Mavis Batey, who cracked the Enigma code used by the German secret service while in her early twenties, thereby ensuring the success of the D-Day landings.

The majority of attendees at the first Star Trek conventions were women. It was Betty Jo Trimble who successfully campaigned to keep the original series running after it was nearly cancelled, just as it was Lucille Ball who pushed NBC to give the show a second chance after they initially rejected the pilot. The first, small Star Trek convention was the work of Sherna Comerford, while a much bigger second convention was organised by Joan Winston. The contents of the first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia – which was produced by Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford – literally defined modern fanfiction, and by 1973, 90% of Star Trek fanfiction was written by women, which fandom also gave us the term Mary Sue (whose origins, contrary to popular belief, were purposefully satirical).

Women have also been involved in video games since the early days, too: to name just three, Roberta Williams co-founded Sierra Entertainment, Carol Shaw designed her first video game in 1978, and Anne Westfall programmed the hit EA game, Archon.  As early as 1993, it was reported that 64% of girls played video games for at least one hour a week, while in 2008, a study found that 94% of girls play video games. I could go on, but hopefully, I’ve made my point: that not only have women and POC always played an integral role in fandom, but that even in geeky arenas commonly held to have been white-male-only spaces until very recently, the assumed narrative is far from accurate. The histories have been glossed and elided, the narrative of white male supremacy touted as the natural result of innate interest and aptitude, rather than the purposeful consequence of exclusion, bigotry and ongoing bias.

And even in the present day, the elision continues. Everyone knows that Joss Whedon wrote Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog; what’s less well-known is that it was co-written by his sister-in-law, Maurissa Tancharoen, who also worked on Dollhouse and Avengers Assemble. We know that Mamoru Hosada is the breakaway director responsible for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, but not that all three scripts were written by the same woman, Satoko Okudera. After decades of adoration by girls and women – decades in which the franchise has been roundly shunned as ungeeky  – My Little Pony has rocketed to prominence as both a valid fandom and within public consciousness, not because women are now being taken seriously, but because male fans have deemed the franchise worthy of their attention, thereby legitimising it. Here’s how quickly things have changed: in 2005, Penny Arcade ran a strip where a female character was mocked by male geeks for her My Little Pony casemod; come 2013, the Penny Arcade Report is running a supportive piece on bronies battling Hasbro.

Which brings me back to that stupid Buzzfeed quiz, and why, when it evoked the memory of that awful convention trivia night, I found I was physically angry. As innocuous as such small slights are in the abstract, they’re ultimately predicated on something bigger and more insidious: the ubiquity of bias, and the many ways in which ignorance feeds itself. This is why women in fandom are still suspected of being Fake Geek Girls: because the history that supports our claim to geekdom is a history too many of our peers have never learned, and have in fact been actively encouraged not to seek. Until sufficient male support legitimises female-dominated fandoms, we are forced to accept a lesser, periphery status; but once the men do take an interest, then suddenly, the women were never there to begin with.

I don’t care that some mook at Buzzfeed thinks that playing Magic: The Gathering is a more natural and obvious geeky pastime than cosplaying characters or writing fanfiction: I care that he no more seemed to realise he was making that distinction than the MC at the convention trivia night realised his quiz wasn’t just generally difficult, but specialised to the point of exclusion.Liking different fandoms is one thing, but assuming your fandoms are the only, the realest, the most legitimate fandoms, whether consciously or unconsciously, Because Dudes, is a quite another. And I, for one, am sick of it.

  1. The Buzzfeed quiz did have two brief questions about LARPing; to compensate for presenting this quibbling mini-fact in the comments for a post of such necessary and righteous truth, I’ll also add that the first draft of the screenplay for Empire Strikes Back was written by famed female sci-fi author Leigh Brackett. (She also worked on Rio Bravo and The Big Sleep, so, you know, buckets of awesome right there.)

  2. Jean Lamb says:

    Er…wasn’t Frankenstein in 1808?

  3. Beth says:

    Frankenstein was 1818, not 1888. (/pedantic)

    What annoyed me to no end was the college lit class that insisted all the good parts of Frankenstein were rewritten by Percy.

    • fozmeadows says:

      It was a typo, sorry – have already fixed it.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Also: EW.

    • T Guy says:

      When was that college lit class? 1955?
      I thought that the default position nowadays (as revealed in the Norton Critical Edition) was that Percy Bysshe ruined Frankenstein by rewriting it (specifically by replacing Anglo-Saxon words with their romance equivalents).
      I am eager to see the original version myself.

  4. jamesworrad says:

    Totally derailing point for which I apologise, but I’ve never got why Genji gets the first novel medal. Why don’t Satyricon and The Golden Ass get it? They’re long prose works featuring main characters involved in plots.

    It’s a bit of a silent prejudice against classical literature that’s so ingrained in academia it even climbs over its own deep eurocentrism and racism to hand the accolade to a non-western culture (not knocking Genji here, great work). It’s a total mystery to me why this bias exists, but it’s clearly there. Of course, it’s possible I’m missing something about the definition of a novel but…

    • fozmeadows says:

      As I understand it, the difference is that The Golden Ass and the Satyricon are based on mythology and existing folklore, whereas Genji is a wholly original narrative.

      • jamesworrad says:

        The Satyricon isn’t based on mythology: it’s entirely realist (aside from occasional allusion to myth, but then Genji does that as I recall) and is a fascinating window into the lives of the Roman underclasses. It’s just these guys going around and getting into social difficulties basically.

        Anyway, I’m dragging my own obscure bugbear into an innocent comment roll. Good post by the way.

    • Chris Kern says:

      Genji is not typically called a novel by academics, it’s more the casual use of “novel” to mean “any story in prose”. And you’re right, there’s no reason why Genji should be the first novel under that criteria. If you’re going with a technical literary definition of novel then Genji is not a novel, and if you’re going with a casual “prose story” definition of novel it’s not the first. It wouldn’t even qualify as the first Japanese novel under that casual definition.

  5. You have my sincerest gratitude for saying these things, for sharing with the me, a person who had no idea they even existed, the reality of the genres I have loved so much as a child that I had to enter as an adult. I never knew any of these points you mentioned about the women who were so deeply involved in the development of this genre, to say nothing of its founding.

    Thank you, so much for this.

  6. Helen says:

    Another pioneering Hollywood female director for you – Ida Lupino, who first directed in 1949, after a couple of decades of acting, and directed for the next 20 years. She’s rather awesome.


  7. Ani J. Sharmin says:

    Thanks for writing this. 🙂 Also thanks for all the links to information about female geeks.

  8. Looking at Lupino’s IMDB page there’s a science fiction connection: “Not only is she the only woman to direct an episode of Twilight Zone (1959) (“The Masks”), she is also the only person to star in an episode (“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”) and direct one.” http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0526946/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

  9. bringreaner says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It really has gotten ridiculous in so many ways…as a geeky girl I sometimes do feel like a rare specimen to be put in a tube and forgotten in a far away laboratory.

    On the one hand it’s kind of fun to surprise people that you’re a geek…until you think too hard about why it’s surprising.

    One of my newest fandoms is the video game League of Legends. But as much as I enjoy playing it, things about it really bother me. It’s sort of assumed by everyone that everyone else is a boy…and this causes some of the stupidest insults. Rape is tossed around so much, and when I saw one person request that the word be stopped, they were bombarded with people yelling that they’re being oversensitive, or just saying the word rape as much as possible after that. And when players are irritated or angry, a lot of people say ‘ooo, must be on your period.’

    And I wish I could say the game-makers have our back, but…I wrote this post a little bit ago about the art on League: http://greanerpastures.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/of-broken-backs-and-league-of-legends/

    It just feels hopeless to protest sometimes. So I really felt this post.

  10. […] Exclusion As Default: Female Geeks – Foz Meadows über die Ausgrenzung von Frauen aus dem Fandom. Als ich gestern die Fragen von Buzzfeed beantwortet habe (66), dachte ich überhaupt nicht daran, wie sehr diese doch auf ein männliches, weißes Publikum im mittleren Alter zentriert sind. Da ist aber was Wahres dran. Das Fandom ist in großen Teilen konservativ und veränderungsresistent. Platzhirsche versuchen ihr Revier zu verteidigen und so junges, womöglich noch kostümiertes Gemüse stört da nur. Außer wenn es leicht bekleidet ist, dann ist es super zum Gaffen und Grapschen, wie es wohl auf der Leipziger Buchmesse passiert ist. […]

  11. Tina Black says:

    Seanann McGuire wrote a piece that is very much in this vein on her LiveJournal. It was about some idiot demanding that she provide her geek credentials. All you have to do is read her books! She has been nominated for ten Hugos in two years, an unmatched accomplishment. My local group has been pretty good about recognizing prominent women in SF — we were the first to invite CJ Cherryh to be a convention guest, and we have had many women Guests of Honor over the years. I’m a geek, and I am not into comics or gaming. The Buzzfeed quiz was trash. So sad the author of it was ignorant. 🙂

  12. You’ve missed Myrtle R. Jones, responsible for the “Woman of the Future” and “Man of the Future” costumes at the first Worldcon. Somehow her then-boyfriend still gets top billing in that story, even from people who acknowledge that he had nothing to do with the design or construction of the costumes. (And he’s always been clear, at least in the interviews I’ve read, that it was all Jones’s idea, so this didn’t come from him trying to grab credit for himself.)

    Speaking of Worldcon, it got its first female chair in 1952.

    The part that frustrates me the most is seeing many women in the present online conversation about geeks framing it as the new liberated generation storming the bastions of a previously all-male community. I’ve been thinking of writing a post pulling together examples from throughout fannish history to have a place to quickly link to when explaining how wrong that is. Though this post covers most of what I would have mentioned, so maybe I’ll just use this.

    • And the chair of that Worldcon was this woman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_May. Women may not have been there at the beginning, but we’ve been in fandom in decades.

      • Linda Ross - Mansfield says:

        C.L. Moore was there in the forties and fifties as a writer and editor, as was Judith Merrill . Andre Norton too was a great writer who was a woman. I can remember a casual discussion I had in the late seventies, of strong female characters in SF and why so many male writers seemed to not write them. An ardent young man asked “What about James Tiptree Jr.?” He didn’t know that it had just recently been revealed that this was the pseudonym of a woman, and it broke his heart to lose the shining example he had looked to as a good example of men who -could- write good female characters, and he rather despaired that he had lost a champion for his point.

    • T Guy says:

      A question for the next Geek Quiz:

      Did the New Liberated Generation of female Geeks begin with:

      1. Mary Shelley writing the first STF novel in 1818
      2. Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore in the Golden age of SF
      3. Star Trek fandom in the swingin’ ‘sixties?

      I have made this question multiple choice to make it easier for the ignorant.
      And I suppose that the ignorant don’t know that Trek fandom was started by women… if you’re one of the ignorant, you’ve just been informed. And think of the dominoes falling over after rek fandom began… the third season of Trek, the film and arguably all the Geekish TV series from Next Gen onwards.

  13. In your talk of women involved with Star Trek, you talked of fanfic and fandom, but you could also mention DC Fontana, who wrote many episodes for the original series and Next Generation, as well as Star Trek novels. There were also a lot of other women writing Star Trek novels (probably just about as many as there were men), as well as episodes in later series.

  14. The “brony” question may not be as sexist as it seems – “brony” originally referred to male fans of My Little Pony, but has for quite some time now been used also as a general term for fans of the series of both genders. Though if they really wanted to be inclusive, the question could have been
    “do you identify as a ‘brony’ or ‘pegasister’?” since some refer to the female fans with the latter term.

    • Periwinkle says:

      Though if they really wanted to be inclusive, the question could have been “do you identify as a ‘brony’ or ‘pegasister’?” since some refer to the female fans with the latter term.

      Better, but why have an implied age boundary? If we must issue geek points, children who are fans of My Little Pony fans should earn one point. Adults who like My Little Pony get one point as well, but shouldn’t receive more points just because they are outside the target demographic.

      Otherwise, there should be bonus points for everyone who isn’t a straight cis white guy, who is a fan of shows made by and for straight cis white guys. (As we already know, that’s pretty much all “western” movies and television.)

  15. delagar says:

    “What annoyed me to no end was the college lit class that insisted all the good parts of Frankenstein were rewritten by Percy.”

    I’m teaching a Women’s World Lit class this semester, and in the very first class, this comment got made: “Isn’t it true that Frankenstein was ACTUALLY written by Shelley’s HUSBAND?” (Comment delivered with a smirk, I might add.)

    File under, “She wrote it, but she had help.”

  16. Great piece! I turn 50 this year. Grew up ten miles north of Silicon Valley… been here long before most. There have always been women and girls.

    • I turn 50 in two months and it’s really bizarre seeing stuff we lived through be forgotten so quickly to the point that there can even BE a debate about women in fandom. Women have always been active in fandom and frankly most conventions would be SOL without the women who volunteer their time on the concom.

  17. FWIW, in the early Magic: the Gathering releases, half the artists were women, and of the first four art directors, three were women. I don’t believe any other game has reached that ratio, and very few publishers.

  18. tj says:

    Make your own quiz?

  19. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

    I took my wife to a gaming convention. When she signed up to play Star Fleet Battles, the other players laughed. When she shot the hell out of one of them on the second turn, they all freaked. Everyone of them took shots at her for the next two turns, making her the first player out.

    I told her it was a complement. She scared the wits out of them.

    But twenty-five years later, she still shudders when she remembers that.


    • I don’t think having an entire group of strangers temporarily band together specifically to prevent you from playing a game is as complimentary as you think. She proved her competence, and they punished her for it. They put all other competition and strategies on hold until she was destroyed. If that’s what happens in a friendly competition, can you blame her for shuddering 25 years later?

      • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

        So I was supposed to make her feel worse? No way.


        • Geekwife says:

          Why would she feel worse if you were like ‘yeah. They were total assholes.’ or maybe lodged a complaint with the officials? ‘They’re jealous, pay no attention.’ probably made her feel worse frankly.

          • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter says:

            They did get called misogynistic morons, by both me and her. I still don’t see why I should make her feel worse, about what was a majorly horrible experience.


            • Aphotic Ink says:

              I think there may be three interpretations of the feedback happening here?

              I’m guessing that what you said to your wife, Wayne, was something along the lines of “Those frigging assholes just reacted badly to how awesome you were; it only proves you were awesome, even if they were snivelling cocknoses. (I love you, you are awesome.)” Am I off-base?

              (I cannot imagine that making anyone feel worse. Yes, it confirms that a bad thing happened, but she already /knew/ a bad thing happened – that is reinforcing that (1) she wasn’t imagining it and gets to take it as seriously as she wants and (2) she is still an awesome person.)

              I’m guessing that what crankyfacedknitter read you as saying to your wife was something closer to “oh, don’t take it badly, it was totally a compliment that you were bullied out of what should have been fun!” Crankyfacedknitter, am I off-base?

              (That, I can TOTALLY imagine making someone feel worse. Because when you have had a bad experience and are told “oh, no, feeling upset would mean you’re reacting the WRONG WAY which is wrong and bad, so just make yourself feel better you wrong bad person” it’s not the kind of thing that makes you feel supported or loved or like the kind of person who deserves to be listened to.)

              And you seem to be reacting as if you think Crankyfacedknitter was expecting you to say to your wife “Yes, you went out to have fun and people bullied you so you should totally feel horrible about that, never forget that trying to have fun just gives assholes a chance to bully you.”

              (This, uhm, would make someone feel worse. But is a fairly implausible thing to read someone as advising you to say; it strikes me as more implausible than either of the other two possible things which were said.)

              Telling your wife an upsetting thing happened won’t make her feel worse. If she’s still shuddering at the thought a quarter-century later, she KNOWS an upsetting thing happened.

              I think people are just trying to point out that having her husband believe and support her when she says an upsetting thing happened is unlikely to make her feel worse.

  20. Sara Robinson says:

    Of the 13 early organizers who launched the Game Developers Conference, five were women: Brenda Laurel, the aforementioned Anne Westfall, Nicky Robinson, Susan Lee-Merrow, and, um, me. Those early years in the business were tough ones for women (this being the 80s, and before Anita Hill), but we’ve been there since the beginning, doing everything the boys did — backwards and in Doc Martens.

    I think all of us had hoped that by this point, 25 years on, geekdom would be a far more hospitable place for creative women. Instead, the misogyny has been codified into genuinely hostile memes like Fake Geek Girls and Brogrammers. Given how high our hopes were, it’s rather disappointing to realize that ground has actually been lost.

    • Rebecca Heineman and Jenell Jaquays (another two notable women in the gaming industry, for those who don’t know) did a Q&A at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo last fall, and when someone asked them about women in gaming, they said it seem like the share of the video game industry which is female has actually fallen since the 1980s.

  21. zoebrain says:

    Speaking as the winner of the Sydney Australia “Stellar Conquest” comp, 1978….

    Let’s hear it for Hedy Lamarr too.Inventor of spread-spectrum frequency hopping as well as actress.

  22. […] Foz Meadows recalls participating in a trivia contest at a con that saw white, male, straight geeks as the default—her retort is to list off the ladies who invented, among other things, superheroes, science fiction, and the novel. Brilliant. […]

  23. Rose says:

    Reading through that list on Buzzfeed, another problem I have is that being a geek requires money. Spending over 50 dollars on a board game, shows that you have lot of money. Being a completionist collecter of comics also requires money. Going to conventions requires money.

  24. bblackmoor says:

    1) Let the con organizers know what a fiasco that activity was, and why (stick to the facts: went way too long, moderator was rude to guests, quiz was rigged so the moderator’s buddy would win).
    2) Make a point of not ever being on a panel at a con with the person who moderated that event, and make sure the con organizers know why (stick to facts: see above).
    3) Make your own quiz.

    • Clarkson says:

      she starts it out with ‘a couple of years ago’, so I sadly think the water under that bridge is already been recirculated through the city’s plumbing a few times.

  25. What bothered me most, even more than the ranking of Geeks, which is a real problem, is the fact that this quiz seemed to support immature behavior that fails to separate fictions from reality as true nerd cred. Judging others on their perceived lack of knowledge and falling out with friends over in-character decisions gives you points on the quiz. That’s pretty screwed up.

  26. […] A couple of years ago, while attending an SFF convention, I made the mistake of participating in a geek trivia contest. Normally, I love this sort of thing, even when I lose badly: I spent a not in…  […]

  27. Jesslin says:

    I sometimes wonder if the male bias in geek quizzes etc. isn’t simply because there’s a male bias towards ‘proving’ themselves in *anything*. I don’t know many females who get into “more geeky than thou” contests, even though I know a lot of geeky people in general; it’s still usually the men who start the, ‘Oh, but do you know about *this* [insert minutia here]?’ contest. I can’t speak a whit about POC/non-binary gender content, simply because I don’t have a reasonable demographic experience to extrapolate from.

    I don’t currently know of any geek quizzes written by non white male uber-geeks. I’d love to see one, just to see the difference 🙂

  28. Yep. I almost took that quiz, but then didn’t. Another thing to be angry about: the opening to Portlandia, Season 3, Episode 5, a show which I didn’t expect that from.

    Magic: the Gathering, mentioned that the illustrators were supposed to draw pictures that would appeal to teenage boys, and I responded: http://community.wizards.com/forum/magic-general/threads/1687711

    And now I’m in a web series about Magic: the Gathering whose producers are trying – they’re talking about how what they put into the world affects the world, in particular, with relation to gender and geekiness: The most recent episode is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1AHnPl4n3Y

  29. Reblogged this on Megan's Beaded Blog and commented:
    Oh! How I love it when the facts trip up the stereo-typing and make society-at-large reconsider their judgements.

  30. Ellen says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this. I constantly face the assumption that all geeks are male by default, and that women geeks are the exception. The culture is driven by franchises by and for white cis straight males, and females aren’t on the radar of most. I did not know about any of the women you listed except Mary Shelley and Murasaki. Aside from the goof about the first novel, it is a wonderful list.

  31. […] Even more so than on Twitter, issues like diversity, the objectification of women, and the exclusion of female geeks receive much more coverage, and they can take on lives of their own because discussion is actually […]

  32. patlcooper says:

    So…you obviously have the data to make your own quiz – so start circulating one. I agree with your point of view women end up obscured so put some out there. Thanks for the list. There was a lot that I didn’t know

    • Periwinkle says:

      I don’t speak for Foz or anyone else here, but I don’t like anyone being a gatekeeper for geekhood, not even me. If you call yourself a geek, you are one. You can be a geek about one series, or many. If we turn out to share interests, maybe we hang out, compare action figure collections and share fanfic. If a lot of us share interests, maybe we can have a con to celebrate them.

      If we don’t have any common ground in what we geek over, I shouldn’t try to create a hierarchy where my interests are more geeky than yours.

  33. […] Remember this when you hear idiot men moaning about “fake geek girls.” […]

  34. […] in SFF and geek culture is really having a moment lately — this post by Foz Meadows lays out some of the ways that women’s participation in the history and […]

  35. megpie71 says:

    Let’s not forget some names from the British Sci-Fi side of things – the original producer of “Dr Who” (first series, William Hartnell as the Doctor) was a young woman by the name of Verity Lambert (the youngest producer, and the only female drama producer at the BBC at that time). The original score for the theme was realised by another woman – Delia Derbyshire.

    So yeah, there’s been women getting into the geeky stuff for years now, all over the world. Speaking as a geeky woman who’s been into this stuff for as long as she can remember, it gets more than a little frustrating to be told by someone half your age you’re an intruder or a latecomer, or that you’re only doing it for attention or something.

  36. Great article, thanks for sharing. I recently wrote an essay in French about how geeks had gained a more positive and acceptable image in recent years, what with shows like The Big Bang Theory and the hipster trend of retrogaming, while “tumblr fangirls” and “fake geek girls” were still mocked and ridiculed in their practices of fanart and fanfiction; your experience is a perfect example of this. It’s nothing more than run-of-the-mill misogyny.

    Last weekend I was at HobbitCon in Germany, where there attendees were about 90% female. As I admired the amazing cosplay on display and listened to the insightful questions to the actors during the panels, I remembered the FoxTrot comic strip where three LotR nerds are sitting in a movie theater, surrounded by smitten girls; the caption reads, “Orlando Bloom has ruined everything”. Today, you could very well replace Orlando Bloom by Aidan Turner, aka Kili the Hot Dwarf. But what, exactly, has been ruined? All the fans present were clearly very passionate about the Tolkienverse and Peter Jackson’s movies. You can’t tell a young woman who has spent hours making her own silicon prostetics for her Thorin Oakenshield cosplay that her geek credentials are somehow invalidated by the fact she thinks Richard Armitage is hot.

    No, the only thing that has been “ruined” here is the possibility for white heterosexual boys to play in their very own “No Girls/LGTBQ/PoC Allowed” clubhouse, safe from demands for more diverse representation.

  37. […] Foz Meadows did a blog post about exclusion of women as the default in female geekery. […]

  38. Reblogged this on Cogpunk Steamscribe and commented:
    I’ve been asked to prove my credentials for thirty years. These days, I ask for credentials in return.

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