Tag Archives: cosplay

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.

Gender Bent Justice League (for featured image)

Justice League, Geek Feminism style

With DC rebooting their entire universe, it’s not entirely surprising that I’ve seen a lot of Justice League links of late. Here’s three that I think Geek Feminism readers might find interesting, put together in one post.

What If Male Superheroes Posed Like Wonder Woman On The David Finch Justice League Cover?

Apparently, something like this…

The Green Lantern, Batman and Superman, posing in the same style as used for Wonder Woman on the David Finch Justice League Cover

The Green Lantern, Batman and Superman, posing in the same style as used for Wonder Woman on the David Finch Justice League Cover

That’s just three of them: More here.

An Interview with the Batgirl of the SDCC panels

For example, in the beginning of the panel [Dan Didio] took questions from the audience, and one man asked, “Why did you go from 12% to 1% women on your creative teams?” Didio responded, “What do those numbers mean to you? Who should we be hiring?” If you listen to the podcast, [Note: here’s the soundbite] you can hear the hostility in Didio’s tone when he speaks to this man. This belligerence was present every time anyone asked him about female creators.

On the other hand, Paul Cornell came directly to where I was sitting as soon as the New 52 panel ended and said, “I heard what you said, and I’d like to take a minute to try to sell to you directly.” He told me that his new swords and sorcery comic, Demon Knights, would have a majority female cast and that he was committed to keeping it that way. I am utterly uninterested in swords and sorcery, but I will be subscribing to a full year of Demon Knights anyway, because Paul Cornell made me feel like he cared about my opinion, both as a fan and as a human being. I want to give this comic a chance, and I think it would be fantastic if everyone reading this article would at least pick up issue #1 of Demon Knights and give it a chance, too. Cornell’s also writing Stormwatch, and says of Apollo and Midnighter in the linked article, “Yes, Apollo and Midnighter are still gay men. They’re still out and proud. I wouldn’t have written it otherwise.”

Vote with your dollars, people. If you can bear to give DC any of your money after reading the rest of this, buy Paul Cornell’s and Gail Simone’s books. As SilverLocust1 said to me on Twitter, “Please encourage readers to buy comics that prove reader interest, boycotting gives the people who buy all the influence.

I recommend you read the whole interview even if you’re not particularly a DC or comics fan since the talk of women creators, women characters and how we can try to influence the industry to have more of both could be relevant to other media as well.

San Diego Comic-Con Cosplay Spotlight: Gender Bent Justice League

“A couple of us like to do female versions of preexisting male characters. One of our friends, Psykitten Pow, she had a female Flash,” says Tallest Silver, who organized the group and who dresses as Batma’am. “One night, we were all hanging out and I said how funny it would be if we had a whole Justice League with swapped sexes.”

Kit Quinn as Superma'am and Tallest Silver as Batma'am (photo by Shannon Cottrell)

Kit Quinn as Superma'am and Tallest Silver as Batma'am (photo by Shannon Cottrell)

Gender Bent Green Lantern (photo by Shannon Cottrell)

Gender Bent Green Lantern (photo by Shannon Cottrell)

Lots more pictures in the original post and on page two. Wonder Guy’s pose is not as bad as the David Lynch rendering, I promise. And yes, I intentionally inserted photos here of the same three characters as we saw at the top of this post.


I know I also saw some very interesting posts about the reboot of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl but I can’t find it in my history, and I’m sure there’s been a lot more interesting geek feminist friendly commentary on the DC reboot, so please share those links or add your own commentary below!

steampunk-tardis-cosplay

Steampunk, Tech, and TARDISes: A Cosplay Tale

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

So the idea of my cosplay project (which I have completed a big chunk of, but am putting on the shelf for a bit, so that I can mull it over in my subconscious) was pretty simple. Most people give these very simplistic answers about their motivations for their cosplay: it’s fun, it’s for the pure love of the show, it’s about hanging out with other fans, I like the character, I like the character’s costume, etc. I suspect, like most fan scholars, that something more complicated than those reasons go into cosplayers’ decision-making. So I chose a particular cosplay trend—women cosplaying as the Doctor—and tried to get beyond those reasons, both through interviewing and by “reading” the costumes. Which, of course, has all got me thinking about my own motivations and decisions in the cosplay I wore to Gally. Obviously, the premise of my project is that cosplayers don’t necessarily consciously know all the reasons they make the decisions they make in their cosplay, and I don’t consider myself an exception to that premise. In fact, I knew I wasn’t sure what it was about a steampunk TARDIS dress that held such a fascination with me. I only knew, as I told a friend at the time, that if I could dress as the TARDIS and wear a bustle at the same time, I’d be a happy lady.

Bustle time! Me in my steampunk TARDIS dress at Gally 2010. The dress consists of a white button up shirt, navy blue corset with appliqued windows, navy blue skirt with panels and a screen-printed “POLICE TELEPHONE” sign, navy blue bustle, and black headband with “POLICE PUBLIC PHONE BOX” painted in white.

Continue reading

Two linkspams, who talk to each other, about something other than a man (26th July, 2010)

  • My Fault, I’m Female is collecting short personal stories of experiences of sexism.
  • The Westboro Baptist Church (famously and aggressively homophobic) protested at Comic-Con for “worship of false idols”. Comics Alliance reports on the cosplay counter-protest at Super Heroes vs. the Westboro Baptist Church and Courtney Stoker has more photos. (Note re triggers: photos are mainly of the counter-protest, the Comics Alliance one looks like it might have a WBC sign in the background.)
  • Speaking of Comic-Con, Kate Kotler reports on the Girl Geeks Tweet-Up at Comic Con.
  • Out of work? Maybe it’s ’cause you’re unattractive: a survey of hiring managers suggests that being attractive is a very important hiring criterion. Right. So education, skills and experience are, you know, sort of relevant, but not as relevant as how you look in a dress.
  • The Invisibility of Women in Computing Jobs: an Intel hiring simulation game had a wee gap. But then, when you went to hire employees…they forgot to include an option to hire any women.
  • Hey, Baby Link Roundup/Open Thread: What I think the detractors are missing is that this is a video game, and it’s helpful to look at it in the context of video games and video game culture. Both Hess and Kesler seem hung up on the violent aspect of the game, but, like it or not, video games are, by and large, violent.
  • redeyedtreefrog is sceptical of another explanation of why so few women in science: …they argue women perceive STEM careers (those in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as largely incompatible with one of their core goals: Engaging in work that helps others.… I admit to considerable skepticism about this. Women and business? Not so altruistic.
  • firecat is wary of completely buying into self-promotion: one argument that comes up is women have to… learn how to play the game and that means learning how to play up their accomplishments.the game often seems to mean trying to crush other people’s contributions so yours looks better in comparison. I think those parts of the game are broken.
  • Heather Albano writes about setting up a court-intrigue/romance game plotline in a gender-equal gaming world.
  • januaryhat: In honor of old-school skiffy: II: In the Golden Age, real sci-fi was brought to you by quality publications such as BoobieShips & TitRockets.
  • The Obscurecast Episode 10 features Pewter of the ‘mental Shaman talking about geek feminism.
  • The solution to everything is a reality TV show. So it shouldn’t surprise you that the answer to women in tech is… a reality TV show.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

The linkspam-whore dichotomy (17th May, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

The Discreet Charm of the Link Roundup (15th September, 2009)

On why I’m going to PAX… and why I don’t go anywhere else

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

My sister and I are currently working on our costumes for PAX 2009. I’m really looking forwards to going again this year because I had so much fun last year.

But PAX is the first fan event I’ve ever attended where I can say I unilaterally had fun. It’s the first event where I’ve immediately said, “hey, I should bring my sister!” It’s the first fan event where I’ve felt comfortable enough to dress up. I’ll dress up in places where I feel safe (the university, the NAC) but I’ve never felt safe enough to do it at a con.

I don’t even attend cons anymore. I used to go out to local events, and frankly, I was stared at, hassled, and generally made to feel uncomfortable. (Don’t get me started on creepy otaku, the reason I don’t use my middle name in public any more.) I think I even snuck out of one or two events, trying to keep someone from seeing me leave so they wouldn’t follow me home. Think that’s just me? Read the geekfeminism post on worst con experiences or take a look through other people’s bad con experiences and you’ll realise I’ve gotten off light. The local 501st joke about how many times someone grabs their butts when they’re out doing their thing… they think it’s funny, but most of them are wearing body armour, so it’s hard to be really offended. Small wonder I wasn’t jumping at the opportunity to put on a metal bikini and join them.

And let’s just say that stories like “EA puts sexual bounty on the heads of its own booth babes” haven’t inspired confidence that things are changing.

But I was trying to be positive here. So let’s talk about PAX.

PAX is the Penny Arcade Expo. Now, I admit I’m not a huge fan of Penny Arcade, but some friends convinced me to go (with the aid of a time-travelling robot, but that’s a longer story). So I did.

You most definitely don’t have to be a Penny Arcade fan to enjoy PAX. It’s a huge gaming convention — tabletop rpgs, computer games, board games, card games, video games, rock paper scissors in the hallway… if you like playing games at all, you’d find something to enjoy here.

But that’s not what surprised me. What surprised me is that PAX feels like a huge community of people who you’d actually like to have as friends. There were people about exchanging cookies for donations to child’s play. People brought their families. You could turn to any stranger next to you in line and say, “Hey, want to play a game?” and you’d quickly find something to try out, and possibly a new friend. People didn’t get that cranky in lines, because they found ways to have fun. There were so many women about that I never felt out of place. On the second day, I even dressed up in a low-cut tank top and skirt I usually wear for dancing, just to see what happened, and nothing did. I felt as safe and comfy as if I were hanging out with my local friends, even though I was on a show floor with thousands of other people. If someone had told me this before I went, I would have said they were crazy, that they just weren’t noticing the bad stuff, but the fact is, I wasn’t noticing it either. And I’m pretty attuned after years of bad experiences.

At PAX, I didn’t even have to think about being a girl. I was just a gamer, a geek. And that was more than enough.

Worst con experiences

Wordweaverlynn, over on LiveJournal, has a post asking people about their nightmare con experiences (especially at science fiction conventions, but others too.) It’s not really surprising to read how many of the bad experiences are gender-related:

Sitting squashed together on a bed with a bunch of people watching a show in someone’s room, and being groped on the breast and ass by a friend (who suddenly entered the “former friend” category thereby) who, in his own later words, “didn’t think I’d mind.”

And…

I expect my least favorite might have been getting cornered at a con in Chicago by a fanboy who wanted to rant at me about how women just aren’t as creative as men, he didn’t mean to be offensive but it’s a fact, as you can see by the fact that there has never been a great female writer.

And…

I fell asleep in my room once and woke up to a man I hardly knew groping me and obviously planning to rape me in my sleep. I don’t go to that Con anymore. Someone, somewhere, gave him my room number and told him my last name so he could get a key.

And…

You may have heard of Sailor Moon? The girls in that show wear leotards with skirts similar to what figure skaters often don for competition. Well, apparently I was dressed as someones most lusted after character, because in browsing post-con reports I found out some man with a camera had followed me around for a good 20 minutes or more taking upskirt photos of me and zoom in shots off my butt while I was waiting for my friends. I was mortified. I’m still mortified. These are my fellow fen?!?!

Thank god for Girl Wonder’s Con Anti-Harrassment Project, is all I can say. You can take a look at their database of cons that have anti-harrassment policies, and join their letter-writing campaign to encourage more cons to have a policy.