Tag Archives: sexual objectification

The girlfriend from the video, dressed as slave Leia

Cosplay is fine, girl, as long as you cosplay for me.

This post addresses the trend I discussed in my post on geek girls and the problem of self-objectification.

This post is cross-posted at The Cosplay Feminist.

My friend Lola showed me this video from CollegeHumor (lyrics are available at the website, just scroll down and click the “LYRICS†tab), a parody called “Cosplay with my Heartâ€:

In the first part of the video, the male white singer revels in his girlfriend’s cosplay, because she dresses as Leia from Star Wars, presumably something he’s a fan of. Having a real life Leia is a fantasy for him:

Oh her dress, her dress
It’s so true to film I can’t believe it
Her buns, her buns
How’d she get them both so even?
She’s so accurate
Though I prefer when she does slave

Yeah
I’ll go as Solo
When we walk the con floor
People don’t believe it
And I know these photos
When you search for her
Will be the first ones you see

The line “I prefer when she does slave [Leia]†makes it clear that the singer prefers his girlfriend in the “sexy†versions of cosplay, and he enjoys her cosplaying because it puts his girlfriend’s conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled body on display for his consumption. The “her buns, her buns†line also contributes to this interpretation; the video shows first her butt, then her hair done in Princess Leia buns. The implication of this little entendre is that, while the singer is supposedly talking about the technical aspects of her costume (her hair and its evenness), he is actually just staring at her ass, and enjoying her body. And, there’s nothing wrong with a man enjoying his partner’s body. But this particular man is enjoying only her body. He parrots talk about authenticity and craftmanship because that’s what he thinks she wants to hear (after all, she really likes cosplaying!) but every time he does that, he follows it up with some reference to her sex-object status, like “She’s so accurate/Though I prefer when she does slave.”

What the singer finds exciting about his girlfriend cosplaying is not that she has fun, or that they share a geeky passion, but that she dresses in sexy costumes from geeky franchises he likes. While he pretends to care about authenticity, he is seems more concerned with the fact that her photos will show up on the internet and that people will envy him when they walk the convention floor. He’s enthusiastic about her hobby because of the benefits he gets: a sexy object-girlfriend and envy from other geek men for obtaining said object-girlfriend.

In the video, as her cosplaying moves further and further from this ideal—she dresses as a fantasy for him—he gets more and more freaked out by it. The first unambiguous “she’s a little crazy†reaction from him comes during the lines

Oh you know, you know, you know
I’m really into the scene
But she is REALLY into it
You know what I mean
But hey don’t get me wrong you know I really can’t complain
She likes anime

His discomfort escalates from here. Her next costume is Viking-esque (I don’t recognize the character), with a gold breastplate covering her breasts and torso, and a big-ass axe. He grimaces when she comes out, and again when she playfully and slowly swings the axe toward him. The next costume she puts on is a full-body mouse suit, and while he never says “furry,†it’s implied:

Whoa
Okay you’ve crossed the line
This may be your thing but it’s not mine
Cause girl you are crazy
You’ve taken it too far
Thought there was no such thing
As a girl who’s too nerdy
But now I’ve met her
And she cosplays and LARPs

The jokes about LARPing and furries are, I think, shorthand here. This video is only partly about a geek finding out that his girlfriend is more geeky than him, and more about how gross it is when your girlfriend starts acting like an actual, fully-developed geek, a person who decides what she likes without referencing your desires first, and explores those interests because she’s a person and that’s what people do.

Once we move past the HAHA FURRIES AND LARPERS ARE WEIRD aspect of this video, it’s disturbing. Because he could have stopped at LARPing, and it would have kept its humor, but the writers of this song thought it necessary to include a fursuit. And what’s important about that, I think, is that furry fandom is often portrayed as a sexual subculture, as about sexual desires. The video begins with the singer talking about his sexual desires, fulfilled by his sexy cosplaying girlfriend. And it ends with her supposed sexual desires, which are framed as “crazy†and “tak[ing] too far.†When he says “this may be your thing but it’s not mine,†it wouldn’t make any sense if he was just talking about LARPing (unless he’s a total asshole who thinks his girlfriend should only do things he enjoys), but it makes more sense if he’s talking about being furry in a culture that assumes monogamy and also often believes male sexual desires should determine a couple’s sexual activity.

Think about what this video is saying. Cosplaying is fun and cool if you dress as a “sexy†character of a geek franchise I like. Yay slave Leia! All the other boys will be jealous! But as soon as the girlfriend makes it clear that this is her thing, not his, and a passion she has, maybe even a kinky one, and one that she would like to share with him, she’s crazy. She’s too nerdy, and taking it too far. The line of excess here isn’t even drawn at getting sexual pleasure from cosplay, because he does that very thing in the beginning of the song. The line of excess (too nerdy) is drawn where the woman cosplaying gets any pleasure from cosplaying (and role-playing) that is outside of what he likes. And her getting sexual pleasure from it is, well, “crazy.â€

This is pretty damn offensive to geek women, even if they aren’t cosplayers or “really into the scene.†The humor of this song relies on the assumption that geek women should express their geekiness by positioning themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption. And that assumption is a big fucking problem, and not at all funny.

(Do not go down in the comments to tell me how LARPers or furries are weird or gross or whatever. It will not get published because I don’t care. People should do what makes them happy, and feminists should not make it their job to police other people’s kink.)

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Linkspam as portrayed by an actress from a younger generation

Yes, that’s right, linkspams are back! Rebooted! New director! New continuity!

No, not really. Same people. Same style. We’ve just been a bit collectively discouraged by the Delicious disaster, the Google Reader implosion and the neverending freelish.us outage. Talk about making bookmarking unfun. But we’re going to try again, right now supporting pulling bookmarks from Delicious, Pinboard and Twitter. In order to not have to have 200 bookmarks, we’re just going to start afresh with some recent-ish links and go from there. Apologies to people who submitted things in the interim, post them in comments for others to catch up on.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Facepalm: person clutching their face

By request: Booberday

SA asks:

Please, please write about the execrable “Booberday” meme on Google+.

Summary: it’s a “share pictures of your cleavage because of… breast cancer! yeah!” meme. That meta-meme is potent, folks. Got something you want people to do? Claim it’s about preventing or ameliorating or alerting or grieving breast cancer. You are now the untouchable saviour. The end.

Christa Laser on G+, link from SA:

[The Booberday meme is] demeaning, and it is precisely the gateway to harassment that drives women away from online communities. We have a responsibility as early adopters to create a respectful, caring community where everyone feels welcome. If it is acceptable in a community to post a photograph of cleavage, it becomes okay to comment on it with sexual jokes, then to comment on a photograph of a woman in the G+ community with a sexual joke, and then with sexual comments that are not jokes. If left unchecked, an online community that tolerates harassment against women can become dangerous for women, professionally and physically: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/06/gender.blogging.

+1, as they say.

But it’s all worth it cos of the cancer, right? Mmm, let’s have a think about that.

Randall Munroe, whose partner is undergoing breast cancer treatment, writes in Liz Fong’s Google+ and in his own G+ stream:

The really frustrating thing about the “Save the boobies” campaign and similar ones is that it gets it exactly backward. Often, the point of breast cancer treatment is to destroy some or all of the boobies in order to save the woman.

Saying that we should work to cure this disease because it threatens breasts is really upsetting. For starters, it suggests that women are worth saving because they’re attached to breasts, rather than the other way around. But worse, it tells any woman who’s had a life-saving mastectomy that she’s given up the thing that made people care about her survival. What a punch in the stomach.

Barbara Ehrenreich famously wrote about breast cancer as sexy-making opportunity, among other things:

And in our implacably optimistic breast-cancer culture, the disease offers more than the intangible benefits of spiritual upward mobility. You can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more femme. In the lore of the disease—shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors—chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin, helps you lose weight; and, when your hair comes back, it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new color. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing program, opportunities for self-improvement abound. The American Cancer Society offers the “Look Good . . . Feel Better” program, “dedicated to teaching women cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment.”

I could say and quote more, but almost everything I want to say Peggy Orenstein said in the NYT magazine last year:

That rubber bracelet is part of a newer, though related, trend: the sexualization of breast cancer. Hot breast cancer. Saucy breast cancer. Titillating breast cancer!…

Sexy breast cancer tends to focus on the youth market, but beyond that, its agenda is, at best, mushy. The Keep a Breast Foundation, according to its Web site, aims to “help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.” If only it were that simple. It also strives to make discussion of cancer “positive and upbeat.” Several other groups dedicate a (typically unspecified) portion of their profits to “educate” about self-exam, though there is little evidence of its efficacy. Or they erroneously tout mammography as “prevention.”…

Forget Save the Ta-Tas: how about save the woman? How about “I ❤ My 72-Year-Old One-Boobied Granny?” After all, statistically, that’s whose “second base” is truly at risk.

And there’s Twisty’s long running crazysexycancer ‘adventures’. Get yer boobie shot here.

Lauredhel has also been on this for years: “Bring breast awareness back to the workplace”, Scrotes Oot F’t’ Lads!, More “Teehee! Boobies!” from the breast cancer awareness industry, Three Examples of Rape Culture in Nice Guy(tm) Breast Cancer Activism, Mount Franklin Breast Cancer ads. Let’s start a Brown Colon Cancer Awareness campaign.

Summary: you want to reduce incidence of and mortality from breast cancer? Consider funding and fundraising for research and evidence-based interventions. Want to remind the vast majority of women, especially breast cancer patients and survivors, that they aren’t sexy and compliant enough for your playground? Start a “save the tits” campaign today!

Update: there are multiple notes in Randall Munroe’s comments suggesting that Booberday wasn’t originally about breast cancer. I haven’t gone tracking the source of it, but if it’s true that dynamic is interesting. “Ew, sexist” followed by “it’s ok, it’s for breast cancer”, and when Munroe among others challenged that, back to “oh no, it’s just about boobs, so people who are or care about breast cancer patients and survivors can chill out!”

See also Sticking a pink ribbon on it doesn’t excuse “Booberday”.

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.

He can only be defeated via his weakness for linkspam (23rd May, 2011)

  • Win a Scholarship to National Computer Camp: GamingAngels.com and National Computer Camp (NCC) are offering a scholarship for NCC’s June/July 2011 enrollment valued at $985 to a female student (ages 8-18) for one week.” ‘National’ in this context seems to mean ‘USA’. Applications due June 8.
  • (Warning: porny presentation image shown.) It’s the Small Things That Count: Everyone likes to say — gasp, oh noes, there are mostly men here! how horrible, something should be done!!!1! But nothing ever seems to be consciously done by the organizers… to address this. Instead, all these little things seem to slip by under the radar which scream at women: it is not normal nor expected for you to be here.
  • (Note: images of nudity at link.) Company Only Hires Naked Female Web Coders. Our submitter writes I *SO* wish I coded because I would apply here. I would happily strip off all my clothing to see their reaction at a 400 lb disabled woman naked in front of them. I'm sure they only want thin, pretty women.
  • Prime World: “Nival is taking a huge gamble on the idea of tying players’ real-life gender into their game experience… Male and female players have different heroes available to them at the beginning of the game, with female heroes skewing more toward support roles and male heroes tending to be front-line fighters.” How about FUCK NO?!
  • Futurity.org – Wanted: Gender-free job ads: Words like competitive and dominant (male) versus compassionate and nurturing (female) can signal whether a job is typically held by men or women. Both men and women show a preference for job descriptions matching their gender—women more strongly so.Surely part of this phenomenon is that gendered language could indicate a strongly-gendered environment? What woman wants to walk into a locker-room-fest?
  • Fanboy: Alexander Chee on losing ground to the kyriarchy in mainstream comics.
  • (Warning: account of harassment.) How I Deal With Sexual Discrimination in a Positive Way: This past week I was banned from one of my favorite conferences because I wouldn’t have sex with one of the organizers. Given that this is the third time a similar situation has happened in a year’s time, I’m learning how to swallow this pill of injustice without throwing up every time.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

G33k & G4M3R Girls: You’re doing it wrong.

Metaneira is a 30 year old female currently in school for a master’s in public administration focusing on the non-profit sector. Meta has been gaming since she could hold a joystick, and has been blogging in one form or another since 1999. She currently co-hosts a site about mages and feminist issues in World of Warcraft at www.empoweredfire.com.

This post originally appeared at Empowered Fire.

By now you may have seen the video “G33k & G4M3R Girls,” a parody of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” written by a few women involved with geek culture. (If you haven’t, you can see it here: while safe for work, the video features women very scantily clad and has an aggressively cloying auto-tuned soundtrack. Watch at your own risk.) The four women — Milynn Sarley, Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, and Michele Boyd — form “Team Unicorn” and were interviewed by the Official Star Wars Blog about the video. The author of the article says the ladies answer as one unit “cause that’s how they roll.” Fine: “Team Unicorn” it is. Team Unicorn: you’re doing it wrong.

Now, let me get a few things straight: I’m a geek. I’m a gamer. And I’m a woman. But none of those things are me: they are just parts of the whole. Having my entire personality boiled down to a list of nerdy references I get or things I enjoy doing is kind of absurd, but this is what the video promotes. From the very start, Seth Green asks, “Hello friends… don’t you want to meet a nice girl?” The video is not aimed at the women it is purporting to celebrate: it is straight-up pandering to the largely sexist, male-centric geek subculture. It is geek women served up for the male gaze on a shiny latex platter. This is not empowering.

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