Slave Leias

“Geek girls” and the problem of self-objectification

UPDATE: I have written a better and more developed version of this article as a presentation for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in 2012. You can read the updated version of this article here. (Also, hello WisCon 36 attendees! I wish I was there!)

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

There is a difficult conversation to be had about self-objectifying geeks. (I’m looking at you, slave Leias.) And while feminist geeks have been addressing this issue for a while now, it seems that more mainstream geek culture has caught up with us. Comic-Con actually had a panel this year called “Oh, You Sexy Geek!,” in which they were to discuss the implications of sexy women in geek culture. From the online program:

Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? When geek girls show off, are they liberating themselves or pandering to men? Do some “fake fangirls” blend sex appeal with nerdiness just to appeal to the growing geek/nerd market, or is that question itself unfair? And what’s up with all the Slave Leias?

I’ve been researching and thinking about cosplay for a while now, and one of the most distressing trends I’ve been grappling with is how women will choose characters, costumes, or costume constructions based on how “sexy” the costume will appear on them. This is not just a cosplay problem, but a geek problem. And until we start having an intelligent conversation about it (preferably a conversation that starts with the assumption that it is a problem), it’s not one that geek communities will ever be rid of. (A little unsurprisingly, the Comic-Con panel was apparently sort of terrible. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

As I’ve argued before, the sexisms that persist in geek communities are not special. They are not separable and inherently different from sexist thoughts and behaviors in the”real world.” They are part and parcel of regular ole sexism, not a special geek dude brand invented outside of patriarchy. So with that in mind, it’s important to remember that the sexualization of women is something that women and men consume and internalize all over the place. Though it does seem to be particularly bad in geek media. Video games, comics, science fiction, fantasy: these media forms are often at fault for promoting unrealistic (and, pretty regularly, physically impossible) standards of beauty. They fashion their female heroines and villains as sexy objects to be consumed, unlike their male counterparts.

As I said to Amanda Hess last year, being the sexy object is one of the places where geek women can find acceptance in their communities. From the interview:

Too often, women in geek cultures are only welcomed if they are decoration, sexy versions of the things geek men love, not equal participants or fellow fans. Forever Geek […], for example, has, in 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.

When I was on the “Geek Girls in Popular Culture” panel at ApolloCon, we talked about this nonsense for quite a while, because, as a couple of the panelists pointed out, it seems like a geek woman can only get attention if she’s conventionally beautiful and willing to objectify herself. When geek women choose to self-objectify at geek events, they are not doing so in a vacuum. So while I think it’s possible that some of them are trying to feel empowered in their sexuality, and reclaim their femininity, they cannot escape the fact that this is a culture that embraces female fans almost exclusively as sexy objects. In other words, a feminist can wear high heels, but she shouldn’t lie to herself about what that means.

The problem then, isn’t that women are objectifying themselves. That’s like holding a panel asking if women are liberating themselves or pandering to men for wearing mascara/high heels/Spanx/bras, curling or straightening their hair, or shaving their legs and underarms. Because it’s easy to blame women, right? It’s easy to say that if women don’t want to be objectified, they shouldn’t dress sexy or do the beauty work asked of them.

And it’s easy to get angry at Team Unicorn for so obviously pandering to the male gaze and framing themselves as sex objects for male geeks. It’s easy to hate Olivia Munn and point to her as everything that is wrong with geek women or geek culture. It’s easy to roll your eyes at the ubiquitous sexy cosplayers, and blame them for the objectification of women in geek cultures.

But the actions of women are not the cause of their objectification. Women have a lot of good reasons to perform beauty work and to dress sexy, especially in the sexist cultures represented at your average con. Women aren’t the problem, whether they crossplay and eschew femininity altogether or they pull out the sexy Leia costume. The problem is that women who dress sexy, who frame themselves as sex objects, are rewarded by geek culture for doing so. They get attention, approval, and recognition from the culture when they dress as sexy Leia (or any sexy geek thing). They have pictures taken of them at cons, and they get posted and reposted on the internet. They are recognized as geeks (and generally as somewhat authentic geeks, even if they aren’t talked about that way) and welcomed into the community (maybe not as full members, but at least as desirable). There’s nothing wrong with wanting attention and approval in one’s community. What cosplayer and geek wouldn’t want those things? What female geek doesn’t want to be welcomed into the community with enthusiasm and excitement (instead of derided as a harpy feminist or annoying squeeing fangirl)? The problem, then, isn’t what women do, but a culture in which the only way that women can be recognized as a desirable part of the culture is when they participate by making themselves consumable sexy objects for geek men.

Slave Leias

A group of slave Leia cosplayers gather at Comic-Con.

The panel at Comic-Con was framed poorly, and perhaps that’s why it turned into a goddamn mess, with panelists suggesting the women criticizing sexy cosplayers were “just jealous,” one panelist arguing the women are all a bunch of bitches, another claiming”I can’t help it that some of the characters I like to cosplay are scantily clad,” and the only male panelist showing up 5 minutes before the panel ended and making an inappropriate sexual joke (synopsis from Feminist Fatale). Well, one of the reasons. Another reason is probably that geek cultures tend to think we’re beyond feminism, and Suzanne Scott claims that the panel

devolved into a postfeminist panel, in which feminism was invoked and then discarded as no longer necessary (or too “old fashioned,” or some form of buzzkillery we need to”get over”).

This is unsurprising, if disappointing. Because geek cultures often think of themselves as countercultural, they dont usually believe they are tainted by the sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, ad naseum that infect popular culture. And there are entire blogs that prove that nonsense untrue.

This whole conversation needs to change focus. Individual geeks and cosplayers have their own reasons for dressing as they do or presenting themselves as they do. Those reasons can indeed involve their thinking that dressing as sexy Leia is empowering, for whatever reason. And we shouldnt be dismissing those reasons. But the trend of sexy geek cosplaying, the trend of geek women objectifying and sexualizing themselves, that a whole ‘nother ballgame. We need to be talking about this as a problem of our culture, not a problem that women bring upon themselves.

RELATED UPDATE: I just discovered the Fashionably Geek blog, and what. the. fuck:

Lady Chewbacca costume

Billed as a female Chewbacca costume, but it just looks like another sexy Halloween costume. A conventionally pretty white lady sports a furry bra, mini skirt, and cuffs on her wrists and lower legs.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I’m not too comfortable with how much my post (and now the comments) are hyper-focusing on slave Leia cosplayers. This is about sexy cosplayers of all stripes, including ones like the above, which alter a costume to make it sexy. Please keep in mind that we are talking about a large group of cosplayers, not just the slave Leias.

80 thoughts on ““Geek girls” and the problem of self-objectification

  1. Meredith L.

    I think, too, that part of the problem is not only geek women dressing sexy; but dressing as Slave Leia, period. It speaks volumes that the popular costume of choice isn’t, say, Leia in the white robes of Star Wars IV, or of Queen Amidala. It’s Leia as slave. Sex slave. In my mind that’s like the difference between women who dress as “sexy cops” or “sexy nurses” or “sexy lunch lady” for Halloween, versus women who dress as “prostitute” on the arms of their “pimp” boyfriends. They aren’t only objectifying themselves sexually, they are outright demoting themselves to the status of third-rate subhuman. (I mean, come on. I’ve done white robes Leia for Halloween TWICE now, and it’s a super easy costume consisting mostly of a plain white sheet and a belt.)

    I get that for some geek women there’s a desire to sort of say, “Behind this PhD and my microscope I am still a sexy girl lady!” But for me, at least, the bigger concern is not so much that women are dressing sexy but that they are dressing like sex slaves. Or maybe that’s too fine a line to draw? I don’t know.

    I do agree that this is all a giant problem, and I agree that it’s not solely a problem for geek culture. (See above, re: Halloween.) My question is simply this: is there a point to be made for the fact that geek women aren’t only dressing sexy, but are choosing Slave Leia above all other options, sexy or otherwise?

    1. RedRightAnkle

      “They aren’t only objectifying themselves sexually, they are outright demoting themselves to the status of third-rate subhuman.”

      Umm, I don’t know if it’s what you meant (I hope it isn’t) but did you just basically say that women who dress provocatively (and since your reference point was “prostitutes” I assume you mean sex workers as well) are “third-rate subhuman” and that sex work is equivalent with sexual slavery? I mean there are a myriad of problems with things like “Pimp n Ho” parties, and the over sexualization of, well, pretty much everything, and there are of course people who are coerced or trafficked with in the sex industry, but you basically said that any woman who dresses like a sex worker has debased herself to the status of something that doesn’t even qualify as human. And honestly, I don’t even know where to start with that.

      With regard to the article, I would actually debate whether or not sexy cosplayers are seen as more authentic geeks and are accepted more. While in some cases it may be true, it also seems very prevalent to call into question the geek cred of hot geeks. In a “you’re just doing this to be a tease/to get guys/are you here with your boyfriend” kind of way. I see it basically as the geek subculture analog of “pretty privilege.” Unfortunately pretty privilege doesn’t counter act male privilege, she might have a leg up, but if she doesn’t play by their rules, they can still call her a dumb b!tch and tell her to gtfo.

      One of the privileges you mention though I have to take umbrage with. Getting your picture taken and posted online. At the cons I’ve been to, most guys don’t ask to take pictures. Often the picture taking is covert, often from behind, and there are even upskirts. In fact before CCSD started a tumblr was formed to try and document pervy guys taking pictures, as a kind of Comic Con Hollaback. The pictures are as likely to be used to make fun of the women as they are to be used as fap material, especially if they’re not a perfect 10 in regards to conventional beauty norms. So while yes, they might be getting more “positive” attention, that to me is like saying that someone getting catcalled on the street is receiving “positive” attention.

      But anyway, I agree completely with your thesis that the culture of geekdom (like the patriarchal culture at large) is the problem.

      1. Meredith L.

        RedRightAnkle, you are right; I thought of that after I hit “Send.” I did not in any way mean to demean sex workers; in fact, I am a huge supporter of the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution. What I mean, exactly, are those women who demean themselves by giving up ownership of their sexuality by dressing like prostitutes who are “owned” by their pimp boyfriends, and in that way enslaving themselves. Sex work is one thing (and a thing I am wholly supportive of); sexual slavery is another.

      2. Treefinger

        Is a sex slave really analogous to a consensual sex worker? A sex “slave”* implies a trafficked or forced state of sexual servitude. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that someone who would keep a real slave of any kind views that person as subhuman or worthy of contempt.

        *In the non-BDSM sense of course. I’m sure many would argue that the choice to dress up as a sex slave for fun is kind of like BDSM roleplay, which may be a good point, but it’s complicated by the fact that cosplay is usually a public performance and thus has social effects that private play does not.

    2. Pedestrienne

      I first encountered Slave Leia when I was about 10 and my nerdy mum introduced my brother and I to Star Wars. I felt excruciatingly uncomfortable for my beloved Leia, to see her ripped from her usually (kinda) sensible clothing and shoved into an outfit that exposed her publically in a way she did not normally choose for herself. When she managed to kick arse in spite of the outfit, I cheered for her! So when I grew up and learnt women were inclined to choose to dress that way I was baffled. To me, that outfit still represents an attempt to quash Leia’s spirit and I can’t really imagine wanting to pick that for my cosplay over her self-selected outfits.

    3. Mary

      Meredith: +1 to RedRightAnkle on your comment reading very much like you consider sex workers to be subhuman (and all to be slaves, for that matter).

      People who are interested in a sex-worker-ally 101 place (kind of like myself) may like to start with SWAAY and Scarlet Alliance. (Obviously keeping in mind that it those are just two resources, not the Sex Worker Ally Fully Correct Manual.)

    4. Carlist

      The problem with the white robes Leia costume is that it’s not very distinctive – it’s quite a generic costume, even when you do the hair. Apparently this was one of Carrie Fischer’s complaints about the first two Star Wars films, that the costumes she wore were quite boring and she wanted something more visually distinctive. (She probably wasn’t hoping for something looking like Slave Leia, though)

  2. Regan

    Second to the end paragraph reminded me of a quote from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash:

    But at this phase, the all-male society of bitheads that made up the power structure of Black Sun Systems said that the face problem was trivial and superficial. It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.

  3. Laughingrat

    We can hold women with options (lots of women don’t have options about this stuff, but women with the time and money to attend cons are probably not among them) responsible for their choices to uphold patriarchal norms, while also blaming the cultures that reward them for it. We’re not talking about people having a gun held to their head here. And of course upholding patriarchal norms would be experienced as “empowering” or pleasurable to many women who grew up steeped in patriarchy, as we all have. It’s still a bogus behavior.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      Nobody puts a gun to my head when I shave my legs in the morning either, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely my choice to do so. Geek women live in a culture that is frequently very hostile to them if they don’t uphold certain beauty standards. It’s not appropriate to finger-wag at them because they cave.

      1. deborah

        yes, this, exactly — and in fact hair removal is exactly the example I would think of as well. Nobody holds a gun to my head, but professional dress norms do require that I uphold a beauty standard I dislike and find difficult to maintain. And I do have to uphold professional dress norms — it might be a First World Problem, but is very real to me.

        1. Name *

          Agreed. There’s plenty of things that aren’t “gun to your head” but that nevertheless aren’t entirely free choices.

          That said, I’d think which costume to wear when cosplaying is a fairly free choice – is there really any situation where slave Leia is accepted, but regular-Leia is not ? Or where slave-Leia is accepted as the more genuine geek, compared to regular-Leia ?

          I would think which costume to put on, is a much more free choice than, for example, whether or not you shave your legs.

        2. Gin

          Well, not my favourite example. I worked in a conservative law office for several years. There was a rumour that pant suits may be deemed unacceptable for women. Skirt suits, dress+jackets were known to be a better choice .

          I never shaved my legs, I simply wore opaque black tights to complement my dark suits. No problem.

          Sorry to distract from the article, I just wanted women to know there are options. And, except where I worked, trousers!

        3. Mary Anne Mohanraj

          I was a secretary, and wore bare legs (shaven, reluctantly) with sandals. I was told that I was required to wear pantyhose. Somehow, bare arms are acceptable, but bare legs aren’t. Sigh.

        4. KarenX

          @Gin, whose reply to which I am replying might be below my reply for some reason.

          The problem with wearing black tights to get around the skirt+shaved legs problem is that you are still under pressure to conceal that your perfectly normal legs have perfectly normal hair on them. Hiding hair with dark fabric is equivalent to shaving hair to keep it from being seen by others who would judge you for allowing it to grow.

          It is an option that allows you to keep the hair, but it’s only a workaround. Dark tights to hide unshaved legs because the woman with unshaved legs will be considered less worthy as a professional aren’t really solving the problem. The problem is that women are punished for not conforming to arbitrary standards of beauty.

    2. Courtney Stoker Post author

      @Name*

      When I interviewed cosplayers, one of the most oft-cited reasons for cosplaying is to get attention, to have people stop and take your picture, admire your costume and the work that was put into it. This is an important part of cosplaying for many people; they do it for an audience, for the community.

      And people in sexy costumes get more of that attention. Slave Leias are going to get their picture taken more than non-slave Leias. “Sexy” cosplayers are going to have their work admired and noticed by more people.

      And, Comic-Con has a group picture for slave Leia cosplayers every year. I don’t think they do that for any other costume. That in itself is encouragement to wear the costume, and without any alterations or cover-ups.

      You’re right, there’s no gun. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t damn good reasons to cosplay sexy.

  4. Kate

    I haven’t done a lot of cosplay but during high school and college, I was very involved in LARPing in the World of Darkness games, Vampire in particular. In high school, I was one of four or five women in a full cast of at times around thirty or forty people. As women players, we took on or were cast in rather specific roles, the ones who dressed sexier, the one who didn’t, the one who didn’t present as female. I changed my dress a few times depending on the characters I played but when I was dressing sexy, it was to play to the other players.

    In college, I attended a small all woman’s college and ran a game where we routinely dressed in drag as women would be playing male characters. The way we thought about our costumes was incredibly different from the feel in high school, which felt much more as if I was appealing to the crowd versus the game. When I brought my college players to my high school crowd, it was horrible as the differences in styles of play and maturity were startling.

    I enjoyed LARPing quite a lot but due to the complications of relationships mixed in with roleplaying and ideas of attractiveness, it stands as one of the most sexist environments I’ve been in. The female players were always defined by how they related to the male players and that was usually reflected in their choices with costuming.

    I hope this makes sense as this comment got rather long, but this is something we as geeks need to discuss.

    1. Kim

      … i exempted myself from that? yup, pretty sure i did, and most of my friends there weren’t looking for dates. not that some of the older girls didn’t dress “hawt”…
      I dressed like a gypsy, and acted like one too.

  5. Luna Lindsey

    Thanks for this. It’s an interesting irony to think about.

    I’m not sure that any woman who takes herself seriously, no matter what she’s wearing, can objectify herself. When I put on a black corset and fishnets for a nice night out at a con or just around the city, I still remember who I am. Even when guys are taking notice. I’m dressing that way for myself, to feel sexy, and sometimes to attract attention, and sometimes for lots of other reasons. But I’m owning it, and aware of it. And I remember that I also have a brain full of lots of interesting things, and choose to hang out with people who respect me on those levels no matter how I am dressed.

    We should be careful not to equate sex with objectification. These are two different things. A mature person can be attracted (and attractive) and still respect themselves and others as human beings. It’s only objectification when sex becomes the whole thing — i.e. when a woman, no matter how she’s dressed, is seen as an object useful only for sex.

    And sometimes I want that too, though at times of my own choosing with partners of my own choice, because I know when playtime is over, they will remember and respect the rest of my traits.

    That’s what it comes down to. More of geek culture needs to understand these distinctions, and respect a woman’s brain, feelings, and choices no matter how she is dressed or why she is dressed that way.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I’m not disagreeing with your personal experiences in what you wear, but you still don’t wear a corset and fishnets in a vacuum. I don’t want to equate sex with objectification, but this is a specific kind of sex, one in which women are objects acted upon and men are the sexual aggressors. That kind of sex is what is reflected in the corset/fishnets/short skirt/lots of cleavage aesthetic. Again, one can wear those things and not in fact accept being an object, but you cannot avoid being read as one by the majority of people who see you. And denying that is, I think, counterproductive.

      1. Nicole

        So what you are saying is, I must deny my own desire to wear a corset, fishnets, short skirt, collar, or go-go boots because of the opinion someone else will form

        Hm. That’s pretty damn counterproductive of the whole Feminist movement. Congrats, you have now validated the general opinion that a man, or societies’, opinion is more relevant than any one woman’s opinion is.

        How the hell are you going to teach any young woman to be her own person, if when she makes a choice to please herself above any one else, you are going to turn around and tell her she cannot have that choice, because other people-some not even in her social circle – have formed a different opinion about what that choice means.

        You can either tell us to decide for ourselves or you can tell us to be sheep led by the popular opinion. You cannot have both. It really is as black and white as that. I am either master of my own life or I am ruled by outside forces.

        You cannot change a persons way of thinking about something, ANYTHING, by simply erasing that thing from existence. Corsets will still exist, whether I wear them or not. Some people will equate corsets to hookers whether I buy one or not. You cannot MAKE someone change their opinion. All you can do is present facts that either back up that opinion, or oppose it.

        Also, what needs to change in that case is the opinion that being a sex worker is a bad thing, not that wearing a freaking piece of clothing makes you a sex worker.

        Try aiming your righteous indignation at the real problem instead of the shadows on the wall.

        Making my own conscious decision to dress solely to please myself, regardless of the favorable and opposing opinions, is the cornerstone of feminism. I’m sorry that YOU are confused on what helps and what hurts.

        1. Courtney Stoker Post author

          Wow, not AT ALL what I said. I’m not saying you’re a bad feminist or a bad woman if you wear any of those things. In fact, this article is all about why we SHOULDN’T be placing blame on women for their own objectification. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

          And no, it’s not that black and white. It’s complicated. When you make the decision to wear something, or to do beauty work, you do so with both your own desires (which are, of course, developed within a cultural context) and the knowledge of how you’ll be perceived by others. You also do so within the context of other people’s expectations, with the knowledge that they will either reward or punish you for certain behavior or fashion choices. You have to negotiate with a complex set of desires and expectations, and I’m not suggesting there are “right” or “wrong” decisions to make.

          You and I agree; the problem is not the individual, but the culture that equates certain aesthetics with a certain kind of sex and objectifies women who present themselves with that aesthetic.

        2. Meg

          “Making my own conscious decision to dress solely to please myself, regardless of the favorable and opposing opinions, is the cornerstone of feminism.”

          What? LOL. Dress how you like but it’s not the “cornerstone of feminism” to do so. I think you may be confused about the meaning of one of those two words.

        3. Luna Lindsey

          Courtney, I completely understand what you’re saying — that we have to be aware how others might perceive us when we take any acting, including how we dress.

          I choose to dress how I do anyway. In spite of.

          It’s like coming out of the closet as gay. If you want the world to change their misconceptions about women, i.e. if I want them to understand that I can dress this way and still carry on an intelligent conversation, then by all means, I *should* dress this way and prove it. (Especially if that’s how I like to dress.)

          The alternative was worse. For a lot of years, I did everything I could to hide my body. I wore baggy T-shirts and cut my hair short and ended up looking like a guy. I was ashamed of my boobs and obsessed with trying to hide them. Take about objectification…

      2. Maria

        Did you mean to imply that women can wear, say, calf-length A-line skirts in a vacuum?

        It’s been my experience that I can’t avoid being read as an object by a certain fraction of people who see me, no matter what I wear. I can to some extent control whether those people see me as an object designated for the personal use of a particular man, or as an object for general public use. Men who respect my husband’s claim on my services might not target me for obnoxious sexual aggression, but that’s not at all the same as genuine respect for my sexual autonomy.

        Being in denial about life on the “virgin” side of the virgin/whore dichotomy isn’t really any better than being in denial about the whore side.

    2. deborah

      I respect individual women’s choices, but as others have said, those choices are not made in a vacuum. I think the easiest way to see the societal pressures at work is to ask yourself how many men do sexy cosplay? How many men dress up as Sexy Zombie for Halloween?

      The problem is not an individual woman’s choices, it’s the structure in which she makes those choices. And this is a structure in which women who are enjoying dressing up as their favorite science fiction characters dress up as Slave Leia, and men don’t.

      1. DL

        Do we have a male equivalent to “Slave Leia”? Conan perhaps?

        This is an interesting conversation to follow, and I sit with a number of hats. One is as a card-carrying feminist from way back, when something like this would have seen me outraged. One as a ‘geek’ who has watched ‘geek culture’ go mainstream, and thus changing the dynamic of who’s attracted to this stuff in the first place. And finally as a mother of both gendered children, who is helping them navigate their way through puberty. My little boys – even as early as age 4 – had a very different reaction to Slave Leia than to the other Leia’s. Right from the get-go she was called “Sexy Leia”, a term they would never have heard from either myself or my husband. So I would argue a great deal of male reaction is biologically pre-programmed and not merely a cultural phenomena. (Procreation is based on female’s attractiveness to males, after all.)

        What I do find interesting is the variety with which women are allowed to dress, and the various characterizations they are allowed to portray. I don’t see men getting that variety. Does the fact that men are almost always perfectly and completely clothed make them the superior character? I don’t think so. If anything geek culture is wrestling with the various forms of what it means to be female, while male is still quite limited to Hero and Villain.

        North American society as a whole is extremely uncomfortable with sexuality. If you look at all of our curse words, they are all about women and sex. (Conversely, when you look at French swearing culture they are predominately references to Christian objects, so that tells you what that society wrestles with.) It is not sexist to allow women to explore what their bodies feel comfortable in or see how that effects others. That is power, and my daughter at the age of 13 is already exploring what wardrobe and make-up can get for her. What WOULD be sexist is if society had the EXPECTATION that this was all women could be – but it doesn’t.

        Women and sci-fi/Geek Culture have traditionally had a very limited relationship, but that is changing and in this process there will be ‘growing pains’. Do I enjoy seeing a bunch of semi-naked costumed women drape themselves object and other characters? Not particularly. But do I enjoy seeing women claiming their power in all it’s forms and enjoying the feel of their own body? Absolutely.

        This conversation is really just beginning, and to focus on outward appearance lessens the focus on the emergence of women as complex characters in this medium. In my experience women are just as guilty – if not more so – of objectifying other women as men are.

      2. 2ndnin

        deborah, what would a sexy male cosplay look like?

        While I agree that there is societal pressure for women to dress sexily finding something that a large proportion of any given audience will find sexy on a man seems to be a much more difficult proposition. So perhaps it isn’t that men don’t dress sexy so much as men find it really hard to dress sexy?

        Taking an example I often see men dressed as roman legionnaires or similar at Halloween, yet none of them come off as sexy to me in the same way that say Russel Crowe does in Gladiator or Brad Pitt in Troy… the outfit itself will not make the wearer sexy. In contrast a larger proportion of women seem to be able to pull off sexy because of their outfits – what we class as sexy in women is much broader than in men (see slave Leia’s – which tbh isn’t really sexy imo but hey :)).

        So what is sexy in a man?

      3. Lou Doench

        How many men dress up as Sexy Zombie for Halloween?

        To be fair, just as our patriarchal society rewards women for being sexy it also punishes men who do so (not to an equivalent extent mind you;). A guy who dressed up as “sexy zombie” for Halloween could be putting himself at risk of gay bashing. This is definitely part of the same patriarchal system that we are all immersed in.

    3. Amy

      Thank you so much for this comment. I was reading this article with some reservations and frustrations, and your comment summed up where my head was at on this issue.

      Part of the problem is that for geeky girls, we are used to being thought of as either “one of the guys” or as sexual objects, but never something in-between. For some, dressing in a sexually provocative way is a way for women who are tired of having to be one of the guys to be accepted to instead be WOMEN and sexual beings while still liking the things they like. For me, dressing in a sexually provocative way but still being (and acting like) a full-fledged individual in geek culture actually is a way to fight against the paradigm of ‘one of the guys’ or ‘sex object’. I am who I am – geek, feminine, intelligent, sexy, powerful – whether I’m wearing a geeky t-shirt with jeans or a slave Leia outfit, if a slave Leia outfit is what I want to wear (and not only what I think geek boys want me to wear). By being who I am and acting as I act, no matter what I choose to wear, I am subverting the expectations of those who pigeonholed me in the first place.

      (Note: have never actually dressed as slave Leia, but definitely planning to dress as Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones this Halloween.)

      1. 2ndnin

        Amy, isn’t being ‘one of the guys’ really acceptance for who you are or am I misreading this? Being accepted into a social group means generally that you become one of them and are accepted as you are. Asking the men in your social group to not only accept who you are but also recognise you as a sexual being (and not act upon any feelings they have for you as a result of this / treat you differently) seems to be a little like having your cake and eating it.

        While the standard of male-as-default isn’t great if you are being treated like any other gamer is there an issue? If there is an overlap that makes sense then I understand why being a woman and a sexual being rather than a gamer would make sense but in a generic context what do those aspects bring that they need specific recognition?

        1. Amy

          Amy, isn’t being “one of the guys’ really acceptance for who you are or am I misreading this?

          But that’s just it – I’m not a guy. I may enjoy quite a few geeky, male-dominated things – programming, gaming, sci-fi – but I *am* a woman, and I do enjoy many woman-dominated interests as well, such as shopping for clothes and makeup. I talk about my feelings and cry sometimes, and I have boobs and like wearing skirts (OH THE FREEDOM). I don’t want to be treated like “one of the guys” – which, in that context, also means being treated as sexless, being ragged on and called names (because many guy friends do this to each other without a second thought). I don’t want to be treated as lesser, because I’m not lesser, but that doesn’t mean I want to be treated exactly the same either.

        2. Nightsky

          Being “one of the guys”, in my experience, means that guys treat you like another guy. This means that guys continue to set the geeky agenda, so to speak. They’ll assume you’re interested in whatever they’re interested in; they won’t necessarily bother to find out what you’re interested in.

        3. 2ndnin

          Amy:

          What difference does being a girl/woman, having boobs, wearing skirts, or pretty much any of those things make Amy?

          From the way you describe it you are being treated exactly the same way the rest of the group is – sexless, ragged on, called names, and accepted. That doesn’t sound like being treated as a lesser being but rather as an equal.

          If you want to be specially treated (as you state) then can you really complain that some of that special treatment is as a sex object (though object here is really wrong since they acknowledge your humanity and status) because you want to be treated as a sexual being Surely equality is being treated the same way?

          Nightsky, if you are one of the guys why can’t you set part of the agenda? I know from experience that there tend to be a few members of any social group that set the major plot roles but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t get a subplot or two in there.

        4. Amy

          2ndnin – I’m not looking for special treatment as a woman, I’m looking for individual treatment as an individual human being. I’m not signing up for the army where everyone is given the same set of expectations and no excuses. (And for the record, boy geeks are not treated as sexless by their peers. Sex — or lack thereof — is a constant topic of conversation.)

          People make a set of assumptions about you when they meet you. If you’re a geek, that’s one set of assumptions. If you’re a woman, that’s another set of assumptions. It’s normal and natural… putting people into categories helps us to form a coherent picture of the world… but it can be destructive too. I want people — my friends, particularly — to stop making assumptions and start treating me as a person. (Fortunately, my friends do this. That’s why they’re my friends.) When I say “Yes, I am a geek, I like geeky things, and hey, I can be sexy too!” I am defying people’s assumptions about those categories. And in my mind, that’s a good thing.

        5. Duma

          Because “being one of the guys” is to essentially subsume all “feminine” traits – because they’re seen as being lesser. If, at any point, you do something that makes your actual femaleness salient; like wearing a skirt, or pointing out that what they’re saying is sexist crap, or getting upset, you instantly are demoted from “one of the guys” back to “girl.”

          Essentially being “one of the guys” isn’t gaining full human status, rather having to repress yourself to become a bad copy of a guy.

        6. scrumby

          The problem with being one-of-the-guys is that geek male culture polices masculinity just as hard as your average fraternity. They mock other men for doing feminine things and a girl in that position will be subject to the same mocking for stuff that in normal context is perfectly acceptable behavior. By putting her femininity and sexuality front and center a geek girl is forcing her male compatriots to acknowledge her preferred gender status in a way they are preconditioned to approve. The ideal result is the guys start to see her as a person with a complex personality instead of the shallow dude that only likes what they like.

      2. Amber

        I think the term “one of the guys” is the problem here. How about “one of the humans” instead? I hate how guy is assumed default human and if you’re treated as just a buddy and fellow traveler it’s assumed you’re “one of the guys” rather than “one of the people with similar interests and sex is irrelevant”.

  6. Peta

    I find it interesting that in that photo of the slave Leias, so many of them are covering up with what little fabric they have. It speaks volumes that a significant proportion of those at the front of the photo have not only draped the skirt (for wont of a better word) entirely over their legs, but in one case she appears to be clutching the back and front halves of the skirt together for even more coverage.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      This is an interesting point. While I’m sure many women personally find their costumes empowering, I wonder how many are actually kind of uncomfortable wearing the slave Leia costume, but wear it anyway for the approval of the community.

      Also, this is horrifying: for the Comic-Con slave Leia group picture (they do one every year), there are rules about what your costume can look like. One of them is that you can’t wear boyshorts under your skirt.

      1. havocthecat

        That’s a horrifying rule. Ugh. And here I was thinking that one of those women (lower row, farthest right) had done a modified Slave Leia costume by making the skirt into pantaloons (which I would have LOVED, but that’s because I consider pantaloons to be incredibly comfortable), but no, on closer look, she’s got it draped to look like pants.

  7. Kate

    Part of the problem, too, is that when you play – in costume or not – you want to feel good. The aim is to feel bad-ass, powerful and, yes, sexy. Men want that when they dress up as heroes. It’s just that the ways in which women are allowed to be powerful are only through being sexy. And, specifically, sex objects. Even sexy villains are ultimately there to be used and consumed, they are not sexually powerful in their own right.

  8. Kevbo

    Lots of great material for discussion here but I do find some of the declarations in the article to be a little bit too black and white. A few points I would have made have been covered above already so I’ll just focus on one sentence:

    “a culture in which the only way that women can be recognized as a desirable part of the culture is when they participate by making themselves consumable sexy objects for geek men”

    Not true!! I think that is certainly true with some guys but it is wrong to generalize about all geek men like that. Honestly, a female showing up in any state of dress with shared interest in things geeky would be (and were) immediately accepted as a peer in the circles of male friends I’ve kept over the years.

    There are even many of us XY-chromosome bearers who, while adoring and appreciating the women who do choose, for varying reasons, to dress sexily, are actually a little bit wary of some of those women. Are they just trying to launch a modeling career? Are they pandering for profit? Are they just hired “booth babes”? Are they just looking for an ego boost? Are they doing it just to be objectified and desired? I’m suspicious of being suckered. ARE THEY REALLY GEEKS AT ALL? If you’re going to wear the attire, you better be able to back it up with the geek-fu, ladies, otherwise leave the convention floor! (Roll d20 for saving throw against being thrown out)

    I’m in early middle age now and absolutely thrilled with the number of women participating in what was traditionally the domain of pimple-ridden, four-eyed, akward stereotypes across the land. We were shunned for being nerds/geeks by a pretty large portion of the female species. Good luck to those of us who came of age more than a couple decades ago in finding a woman that would openly admit a love of Zork, Star Trek, D&D etc. They existed of course but you were considered extremely lucky to find one. The world is so much better now for the real emergence of the female geek/nerd!

    There are obviously a variety of reasons that women have for displaying themselves in a “sexual” manner so don’t forget there are many different kinds of gaze that may come from males. There are many of us male geeks who will have more than just sex on the brain when encountering barely costumed women! (“I wonder what color dice she’s carrying under there?”)

    Hope I haven’t accidentally mansplained anything. More power to geek women!

  9. Winter

    I myself am a big cosplayer and as I was reading this I kept thinking “is that really all that you notice and think about this?” I want to point out that a big part of cosplaying is portraying that character. I am sure that women do cosplay slave Leia because of the empowerment and sex appeal, but there are plenty of girls like me who, when they love a character, they will want to cosplay them and either want to make all the that characters outfits (therefor wearing ones that are sexy because thats one of the outfit the character whears), or do the outfit that they think the character does something cool. For example, when leia is in that costume and she is feeling degraded, she overcomes and fights awesomely, so some cosplayers will cosplay that outfit so they can portray that aspect.
    I also want to point out that outfits like that are not the only ones that get you “accepted” into the community. A cosplay that is well made and is accurate is also noticed and photgraphed by big photographers all the time. I have many friends that are fairly famous in the cosplay/geek world and they rarely/never dress “sexy.” They dress in their favorite character or favorite outfits that are well made and accurate and they, a lot of the time, get a lot more attention than the scantily clad cosplayers.
    Just wanted to make sure that people are not only looking at those cosplayers and judging the community on them, and also knowing that not all those girls are doing it because of the environment or anything.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      Um, no, it’s not. I’ve written a lot about cosplay, and am particularly interested in “femme” versions of male characters. I have a lot to say about the motivations (conscious and subconscious) and rhetoric of cosplayers. This is just one issue among many.

  10. Samia

    All those Leias look pretty white, too. I wonder what women of colour feel when they dress as fictional sex slaves.

    1. Elusis

      Thank you.

      And of course “slave Leia” isn’t a trope available to fat women, unless you want to get roundly fat-shamed and macro’ed online afterwards. I have a suspicion that a lot of the male geeks affirming the value of women participating in geek culture only mean a certain type of woman.

  11. Nightsky

    The point where one panelist said “I can’t help it if the characters I want to cosplay are scantily clad” was the point I started grinding my teeth because, wow, way to fail to engage. The whole “but feminism is about choices!” thing is becoming a gotcha, on par with when right-wingers smugly inform liberals that we’re the intolerant ones for not tolerating intolerance.

    Choices, yes, but choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Last summer, a fellow contributor on Geekachicas reviewed a magazine called d20 Girls, and let’s just say that, if they were aiming for the female gamer market, they were rather wide of the mark. I mean, none of us thought that what we needed, as women gamers, was pictures of sexy women suggestively licking dice. But the publisher took the time to show up in the comments to whine that the women had chosento pose like that.

    Feeling sexy is an empowering feeling–great. I get that. But why is it the only way women are allowed (nay, encouraged) to feel empowered? And why this narrow, very specific definition of sexy? Look at how awesome the women of this gender-flipped Justice League look. Are they not sexy, while still being able to plausibly do heroic things?

    The underlying trouble, I think, goes back to elevating “feeling sexy” over all other forms of female power. Writers want to show that they aren’t sexist, so they want to write “strong” (also, “feisty”) female characters… so they make her sexy. A male character can be pudgy and balding and still be the best safecracker in the world or whatever; his female equivalent is certainly allowed to be the best safecracker in the world, but she still has to be smoking hot.

  12. Nightsky

    Or, in other words, “what everyone else said”. *sigh* Must not skim comments.

    With respect to the SDCC panel: its failure may have been in part a venue problem. If you’re speaking to what is still a majority male audience, and you can either take the conversation to uncomfortable places or you can validate their feelings, well…
    A similar panel at WisCon or GeekGirlCon would probably get more trenchant conversation.

  13. Me

    As a young woman I remember clearly being told that I was too masculine, unattractive etc. because I was funny, outspoken and sharp. Certain girls definitely dumbed themselves down or feigned weakness to get male approval in my high school. The thing that most attracted me to nerdy guys was that they encouraged me to be me. They laughed at the same things I laughed at and they weren’t going to pretend to be anyone else either. Smart was sexy. Capable was sexy. Knowing the words to the Star Ranger theme song could prompt a marriage proposal, instead of making me a social outcast. Yes, by now “Wow, will you marry me..huh huh..” is cliche’ and corny, but at the time it rocked my socks off. I don’t think anyone is making these women dress in revealing clothes. I don’t think they are conforming. I think they’re rebelling. I see that sea of cleavage as one big middle finger pointed at all the people who told these nerds and nerd fanciers that they could not be sexy. Let’s remember that slave Leia chokes her capture to death. She doesn’t stay a slave. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s brave and she’s hot. No, she doesn’t dress like that when she isn’t forced to and that is worth taking time to consider. Yes, I’d like to see more Leia’s as the bounty hunter (What a princess who doesn’t need to be rescued, but does the rescuing? That blew my mind as a kid.) and maybe in time I will. But, if this makes these women happy. If it makes them feel good, then more power to them.

    1. Me

      ..and while we’re discussing the sexism of female costumes, let’s examine the fact that the male characters are often armed, implying a macho stereotype that embraces violence. From Kirk to Mal to Han, most of there guys are not only armed, but in pants so tight you can guess their religion. Meanwhile the nerds and fanboys I grew up with played D&D and chess, instead of being on the football team. They were more often seen in the halls drawing and reading than fighting or flirting. Just as we female geeks and nerds were told we weren’t feminine enough, they were told they were not “real men”. They were told that they would die lonely virgins too. There were not pep rallies for the chess team or the drama club. Those same guys who fought male stereotypes that told them they were too imaginative, too soft, too shy etc. will then turn around and dress like a Klingon (and know the language too). Why? Should we worry about them and the message they are sending other men? Maybe. Maybe women obsessing over how other women dress is in itself internalized misogyny taking the form of slut shaming. Maybe it’s a valid criticism. Maybe it’s both.

  14. Lou Doench

    They were told that they would die lonely virgins too.

    Well, it did take until I was 25… ;)
    Seriously, thank you for this comment. I think one of the reasons that geek guys get very testy in these kind of discussions is that we consider ourselves victims of the patriarchy as well

    Trust me, I remember the 80′s (and if my eye don’t deceive me many of the young women in the Leia photo may not have been born yet). Back in the day before the success of the PC and the internet forced the mainstream to take notice and thru the miracle of the profit motive accept geek culture, being a geek/nerd/whatever was almost as bad as being gay. For a lot of us, the gaming club or the anime club was our only social contact. That was even if we were good at sports or had a lot of school spirit or whatever. The only way to be mainstream accepted was to stay in the closet with your dirty geekness.

    Not making excuses, just looking for explanations, but just like there are parts of the female experience I will be hard pressed to empathize with for reasons beyond my control, there are elements of geek culture that are hard to reconcile unless you know what it was like to be a very lonely 14 year old geek back in 1984…;)

    1. Desiree Arceneaux

      I think one of the reasons that geek guys get very testy in these kind of discussions is that we consider ourselves victims of the patriarchy as well.

      The problem is, geek guys also tend to adamantly deny that they benefit from male privilege in any way, which is simply not true.

  15. Phage

    When the few girls come down to the Magic: The Gathering tournaments, they are treated like royalty. And, no, they aren’t always very attractive and they certainly don’t feel compelled to dress up like the “objectified” characters on the cards. They are always treated with reverence and respect, held to a much higher social order than the men.

    I don’t know if there is some kind of problem with cosplay, but stop throwing around the word geek as a generalization because you must not go to many Magic Tournaments, LAN gaming sessions, HAM radio club meets, or other places where women rule the room of geeky men like they were slaves to their every whim, no matter what the hell they are wearing.

    1. Annalee

      Actually, many of us have been to tourneys, LAN parties, etc. I sure have, and the creepy behavior you’re describing is precisely why events like that tend to have such drastic gender imbalances.

      There’s nothing “respectful” about treating women “like royalty.” I don’t show up at geek events to help geek men fulfill their personal dream of getting to be the chivalrous knight. I show up to geek. Treating me like I’m a princess from a cheap fantasy paperback is demeaning. It’s a way of singling me out; telling me I must be a woman first, and a geek a distant second. That I can only participate if I follow a prescribed role.

      If you want to show the women at geek events that you respect them, try treating them like human beings.

    2. Meg

      And that is why I never attended more than one M:tG tournament. You have no idea how creepy it is to be treated like an exotic zoo animal rather than a fellow player.

  16. Andy

    Great article, and a topic that needs to be addressed more often.

    I was planning on doing a SDCC 2011 Cosplayer spotlight thing on ComicAttack.net, but when I got to Con and saw all the female cosplayers (mostly under the age of 21) being photographed by all those dudes (mostly over the age of 35), my stomach turned. I only took one cosplayer photo this year, and it was of a guy dressed as a mermaid because he made me laugh my ass off.

    I dunno. Maybe I feel this way now because I recently had a daughter, or maybe I’ve realized cosplay is getting really, really…weird.

  17. Richard Crawford

    A friend of mine says she was annoyed by this article because it suggests that it’s the “hot, sexy” women who are most affected by this issue, and women who don’t meet these standards of beauty are marginalized. How does this affect the topic of this article?

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I’m not sure how your friend would get that from this article. Women who conform to conventional beauty standards (and expected beauty work) have the option of getting this attention and approval, which may not be great, but is probably better than dismissal and criticism. Women who don’t are affected worse; fat cosplayers (particularly women) are often criticized and made fun of by geeks and non-geeks alike. Female cosplayers who “femme” a character without making it sexy may get jeered by their fellow fans/geeks. Women who are not conventionally beautiful are often seen as people who shouldn’t be cosplaying AT ALL, which means this issue affects them the most. And the culture that we’re talking about is the reason these women face censure and/or don’t cosplay AND the reason that pretty girls dress in sexy cosplays.

  18. Stephen J.

    I appreciate a lot of the problems and difficulties raised here, but I do feel obliged to note that the final appeal is for something that may be, shall we say, an unrealistic ideal.

    To say “I want the geekdom/fandom subculture to stop rewarding female self-objectification!” sounds reasonable, but think about what it means in practice: You want a bunch of mostly straight men, in an insular community defined by esoteric interests, to stop paying sexually-charged attention to attractive women who share (or appear to share, or at the very least appear willing to indulge or condone) those interests, and even more so to women willing to make a public display out of both the attractiveness and the interests. Does anyone honestly think this is ever going to happen?

    We may be able to inculcate sufficient chivalry in male geeks that this is not the only way for women to gain recognition and popularity in geekdom. Indeed, I know many female geeks who earned acceptance the same way their male counterparts did, through strength of personality, imagination, creativity and argument (and are perhaps no more publicly visible than any given male geek as a result). But public display of geek-themed attractiveness — what you call, and rightly so in many instances, “self-objectification” — will always exist as the easiest and most visible shortcut to that popularity, for geek girls sufficiently attractive and willing to take advantage of it. That’s not a cultural problem, that’s a human problem.

    For what it’s worth, one point to remember is not to confuse intermittent temporary visibility with long-term acceptance or participation. How someone dresses for two days once a year at a con may not be a fair representative of their relationships and behaviour with RL day-to-day friends. And I’ve noticed it is almost impossible to maintain popularity in the geek community unless, in addition to being attractive and performative, you are also a legitimate geek (cf. Olivia Munn or Liana K). So if we can’t avoid judging by appearances altogether, we do at least put some effort into judging by substance as well.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      “Does anyone honestly think this is ever going to happen?” I do think that men who consider themselves feminist or decent dudes are not doing enough listening. They don’t necessarily question their actions, and yes, I think hearing an argument like this might change their behavior. No one here (including me) is convinced this will change overnight. That doesn’t mean I’m going to just not make the argument, or claim that it’s okay if we just kinda change a little.

      “But public display of geek-themed attractiveness — what you call, and rightly so in many instances, “self-objectification” — will always exist as the easiest and most visible shortcut to that popularity, for geek girls sufficiently attractive and willing to take advantage of it. That’s not a cultural problem, that’s a human problem.” Yeah, except it’s not. “Sexy” is cultural, and so is women using “sexy” to gain relative status and power. Hell, female beauty has only been a commodity since the Industrial Revolution in North America/Europe. That kind of self-defeating argument is not a good starting place for trying to solve oppression.

  19. Sebastian

    You know, I always found HL2′s Alyx to be the sexiest female videogame character by far – not least because there actually aren’t that many female video game characters. And I’ve always wondered why I’ve never seen any good Alyx cosplay…

  20. Jayn

    If people are gong to complain that geek women are too often trying to dress up in sexy cosplay outfits (using the term liberally in some cases), they might was to look at what our options are. In many areas, it is difficult to find a female character that isn’t wearing a sexy or revealing outfit. I’ve only done three cosplays, but two of them are fairly revealing–the third is a traditional FF black mage.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I hope that everyone realizes my post was precisely a REJECTION of “complain[ing] that geek women are too often trying to dress up in sexy cosplay outfits.” You’re right that one of the reasons women do this is that there may not be many other options in the media they want to emulate (although, happily, altering costumes is becoming more and more popular in cosplay). There are a lot of other reasons women might dress in sexy cosplays, too. The point is not to dismiss these reasons, but to look past them and ask better questions. Why are there mostly scantily-clad female characters in geek media? Why do we expect not only our female characters, but our fellow fans and cosplays, to be sexualized objects? How can we change this culture?

      1. 2ndnin

        Are they really better questions Courtney?

        Why shouldn’t female and male characters be allowed to be sexualised even if this is not a primary role for them. Giving a character like Sephiroth or Squall sex appeal doesn’t really seem out of place given we tend to make our main characters either well worn, or sparkly new. What we need is more female characters that equally lack ‘motive’ for their actions and like many male protagonists act as avatars for the viewer / reader, and at the same time more male characters that are allowed emotion and yes sexualisation.

        Why should this culture change? Again I understand your reasons behind this but if I and a group of friends find an area to be ‘wrong’ can we simply change them? Should feminists shut up and go away because some proportion of the populace dislikes their attitudes and approaches? Simply demanding a culture change to fit your views rather than creating the culture you want and growing it to challenge the other culture seems very dictatorial. Why not get like minded people and start conventions / games / books / whatever that actually meet what you want to reach and then work from there.

        Finally… seriously depriving people of agency there. I don’t think we expect our characters, fans, or cosplay to be sexualised objects. Perhaps there is an expectation of characters to be more sexualised than men but I don’t hear many people asking for female characters to have no agency or character.

        1. Courtney Stoker Post author

          “but if I and a group of friends find an area to be “wrong’ can we simply change them?” Um, what? Are you suggesting that I’m forcing people to change? I’m making an argument about why we should change, and why this conversation should change. All I can do is hope that I will convince some people and that geek culture will start to engage in structural critique about their treatment of women. And yes, I think you’d be perfectly justified to try and change something you find wrong within a community you belong to.

          “Why not get like minded people and start conventions / games / books / whatever that actually meet what you want to reach and then work from there.” You do realize that’s what this site and others like it does, right? Also, demanding that feminists like it or leave it is, well, simplistic. I am a geek. Geek culture is my culture. I have the right to demand that it respect women as equal and desirable (for their contributions, not their boobs) members. Especially since this isn’t just a geek culture problem. This is an American/1st world culture problem, and I don’t have the option to just leave, even if I thought that was the most productive strategy. (I don’t.)

          I am not depriving anyone of agency. You can’t just dismiss all structural critique because it doesn’t focus on individuals. Well, I guess you can, but then you’re also dismissing most of feminist theory.

  21. Lisa

    I came here via a link from some people who seem to have completely missed the point.

    Another side to this issue is that, within the geek community these days, you can’t even discuss it unless you joyfully come to the conclusion that we girls can do anything and feeling sexy is empowering. Anything other than that, any critical discussion trying to explore deeper is met with accusations of slutshaming and so on. I’ve never experienced such quick and frequent shutdowns of a discussion from other feminists.

  22. Amber Love

    This has sparked a variety of heated debates. I’m not a psychologist or anthropologist so I know there are far more informed theses out there on the “slave Leia” phenomenon. I don’t know why exactly she invokes such disdain. It’s my opinion that it’s the numbers of cosplayers out there. It’s like a cult. You don’t see that with Red Sonja or Lady Death or Dejah Thoris (who wears nothing but jewelry in the original books).

    I hate that my friends who wear the costume have to defend themselves but at the same time I have no problem admitting how jealous I get that their pictures are in the thousands after a con when I’m in an outfit I worked hard on but can’t any pictures. It’s a level of nerd fame/cred. I design most of my own suits and make them but I always see mass-manufactured-made-in-China-by-children costumes from Walmart on the “sexiest of comic con” lists. That is annoying and disappointing, especially when it’s a sexy version of character that isn’t remotely sexy (like that “chewbacca” in the article or “sexy Freddy Kruger”).

    I don’t know why the Leia outfit was acceptable and encouraged at SDCC but one of the Leias was forced to change when she wore her Aeon Flux outfit. She had do her autograph session covered in a t-shirt then leave and change into something else, but the Slave Leia was promotional for Gentle Giant/Lucas so it’s perfectly fine. What the hell was the difference in level of sex appeal?

    I also hate that the second I say I don’t like the outfit, I’m called fat. Yeah. Uh huh. Whatever.

  23. R

    This has been a question that I’ve struggled with for a long time. As a young fan (21) there are not a lot of options out there in cosplay that allow me to feel sexy and comfortable, which is my goal. I’ve found that I have to focus on what makes me happy and feel good, more than what impression people may have of me for it.

    The issue with the cosplay at ComicCon, in my opinion, is less about the fact that the outfits are revealing and more about the fact that companies bring in generically attractive women to dress scantily to attract people to their booths. If you are a fan who likes a character who has a revealing costume, go for it. But if you aren’t a fan, and you’re being used to manipulate the fact that you’re hot to get people to pay attention to you, I don’t think thats right.

  24. Athenia

    I totally agree–it’s about the culture, not the costume. I mean, we don’t even have to talk about “sexy” costumes here–because what is sexy anyway? Heck, I cosplay as Japanese schools girls and those costumes are hugely fetishized. But you know what’s the common theme? Adhering to conventional beauty standards, that’s what.

    So that’s why at the end of the day, it’s the same ol’ same ol’.

  25. Steelrigged

    I wanna agree with the folks up stream who point out that “sexy Leia” has become equivalent with “slave Leia”. For me Leia was always at her sexist when we got a peak at her political power, on Hoth, or bestowing medals at the end of New Hope. I realize this is not all about Leia, but it seems to me the fetish and reward of Slave Leia over and above all the other good looking versions of Leia (who don’t even have monikers) is a real crystalline difference between a self-empowered, self-expressed sexuality, and an internalized peer-pressure and objectification.
    (Oh and for the haters and blamers, there is a term for people who are immune to unspoken social forces of approval and conformity. The term is “Autistic.”. All neurotypical people are affected by their community standards whether they admit it or not)

  26. Teressa

    There’s this idea, that if a woman wants to look sexy, likes being viewed as sexy, gets confidence from feeling sexy, and thus, dresses sexy, that she cannot be a feminist.

    That’s complete crap.

    I am a geek girl who dresses in short skirts, short shorts, and tight tank tops. The higher the heels the better. And I can build a 4th Ed. Warforged like no other. I’m a huge feminist, advocate for women’s rights and sexuality and it drives me nuts to see other women assume that the ONLY reason women would want to look sexy is because of pressure.

    If we are to celebrate women in all forms, in all states, then let’s celebrate that sometimes women like feeling sexy, and sometimes what makes them feel sexiest is a Slave Leia costume.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I absolutely agree with you.

      “it drives me nuts to see other women assume that the ONLY reason women would want to look sexy is because of pressure.” I hope you don’t think that I (or any of the commenters that I’ve seen on here) would say this or think it. It’s more, we need to be aware of the pressure and how it affects our decisions and even our desires. We can’t escape that pressure; it is part of our lives. It is part of us, even if we don’t want it to be. And ignoring that is dangerous, just as dangerous as thinking that it is the only thing that influences our decisions.

  27. Terry

    On the subject of disastrous feminist programs at cons. This summer I attended a con where a guy held a lecture on Hayao Miyazaki’s feminism. The best I can say is that he had his heart in the right place. But when he started speaking I cringed. And I cringed another 15 minutes before I walked out. I don’t like cringing in embarrassment and pity. It would have been a decent lecture if he had simply done it as a book report of whatever source he was using. But he had decided to include jokes to make it more entertaining. And the jokes were pretty much the kind of misogynistic crud you see on imageboards. It was an awesome display of situational unawareness, or unawareness in general. I strongly suspect he hadn’t actually read much on feminism, relying solely on his source on Miyazaki for the feminist theme of the lecture. Even when I was first exposed to feminist thinking I quickly grasped it was about more than equal rights and positive role models, it was among other things also about awareness of behavior. So the whole thing was like a slow-motion train crash, with the stony-faced passengers silently cursing the increasingly nervous train driver.

  28. Barb Berger

    Example of what happens when a handful who were ready to take offense to a topic no matter what write the blog pieces (totally their right) that misrepresent it to those who weren’t there, and then those who weren’t there so off about it. Except for Chris Gore’s insanity, the “Oh, You Sexy Geek” panel was a huge hit with clear majority of the 1,000 in that room. A Comic-Con audience that doesn’t like what’s being said won’t hesitate to boo. This panel didn’t get booed. They got applauded a lot.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I can’t tell for sure if you’re pulling the “feminist look for things to get offended by” card, but don’t pull that bullshit here.

      If you aren’t, the main thrust of this article is not at all about the Comic-Con panel. Even if the representation I got was wrong (I doubt it, that wasn’t the only blog I read with that report), it doesn’t affect my argument. Further, “everyone liked the panel” is not a defense of the panel. It’s further evidence that we’re not, as a community, taking this issue seriously or considering critically. It’s a sign that geek culture(s) is too quick to dismiss critical thinking when it comes to its own treatment of women, and too quick to blame those women for it. Applause does not indicate rightness.

  29. Clarissa

    It’s the whole subservient image of women only existing to please men that is portrayed in the video games and that is further carried out at these cons that is the issue! Not dressing sexy to get a few looks and cat calls. Yes, they are literally dressed as sex slaves this time but the same thing still exists in all cosplay. Be it anime or gamming, the same theme is always hinted at, women are still portrayed as sex slaves, just with different outfits. And at these cons it is embraced, and it rewarded, and it is held on a pedestal as something to aspire too! That this is the only way we are allowed to express ourselves in the geek world in itself is beyond infuriating, and should be to all women and men alike. That this is the only way we can be accepted into the geek world speaks volumes of the blatant sexism that is still alive and well in this day and age. This needs to stop.

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