Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Confessions of a fake geek girl

Lots of the people who know me are raising an eyebrow right now. Bear with me. I really am. Instead of starting this post convincing you how geeky I am, and how female I am, I'm not going to bother. I'm going to be honest with you instead. You can come to the conclusion yourself about whether I am fake. I feel fake. Right now, from where I'm sitting in this debate, that's all that matters. The Atlantic published a piece on Fake Geek Girls in which they said:
That's because geekdom is built on cultural knowledge; on how much you've consumed; on what you've consumed; and on how long before everyone else you were able to consume it. That knowledge is—deliberately, essentially, intentionally—used, and meant to be used, as an identity, and, therefore, as power.
I have no cultural knowledge. None. I don't get involved in quote off's. I don't know Princess Bride backwards, I've seen it once and kind of sort of didn't quite get it. I hate Star Trek, I've watched Next Gen end to end but no one else has. I didn't have a computer or console when I was a kid, I don't know the back story of Nintendo. I didn't get even an eighth of the references in Wreck it Ralph and I don't know who Loki is. I refused to read a Fantasy book until 5 years ago because it involved dragons and for goodness sake,  dragons don't exist, whoever heard of anything so utterly silly?

If knowledge is identity and identity is power, I have no geek and therefore no power.

When did anything to do with the word geek become about power, I hear you cry? Geeks inherited the earth, why they even messing about in this discussion? Why does it even matter?

Well. That's an interesting question because once you've inherited the earth, one would think there was nowhere else to go. But it seems there is, and that's making sure that only one gender inherits it. You see again, from where I'm sitting, that's how this whole conversation looks. Bearing in mind I am not a geek. From the outside it looks like a bunch of people discussing fear. And insecurity. And uncomfortableness with a new found place in the world which doesn't look anything like that place looked 10 years ago.

Wind way back to my first interaction with geeks. Identifiable geeks. I was 13 years old and wanted to know what the group of boys were doing acting all surreptitiously around the bottom of the stairs up to the library every lunchtime at our secondary school. One day, I asked one of the boys who was involved in the midst of our CDT: Tech drawing GCSE class (female membership of said class: 5 out of 20) what they were up to. He explained. I asked if I could come along. He said no. No 'place' for girls.

In retrospect, perhaps he meant the GM had no female character slots scheduled into for that game. Oh, wait, sorry, I'm not supposed to know what a GM is am I.

That lad, called Brian, is solely responsible for what little education I have about 1990's computer games. He let me read his games magazines. I had no chance of actually playing the games as we had nothing to play them on, but nevertheless, I enjoyed reading them a lot. It was a gateway into another world, a clever, beautiful, thoughtful one.

Our school was not a school you admitted to enjoying reading books in. It wasn't until university that I realised it was normal for people to read books, lots of them, of all kinds, just for pleasure.

Somewhere around this point I also read Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson. Mind blown. Yet I didn't go back to another 'sci-fi' book until a boyfriend introduced me to William Gibson when I was 19 or so. Anyone spotting the theme running through my life yet?

Spin forward and here I am. Tapping on a 10 inch laptop with an iPad next to me. Owner of more tech and gadgetry than is entirely necessary, reading George R R Martin avidly but cheering on Arya, not Daenerys and making a conscious decision to point out that that difference is incredibly important to point out. Why is it important to point out? Cos the pretty girls like Daenerys, right? How the hell is a pretty blond haired thin girl with the world given to her on a plate because of how she looks, ever going to identify with any other character Martin has created? How could a pretty blond haired thin girl every understand how Arya feels, locked in a girls body but a better fighter than some of the boys?

If boys exclude girls from their geekery as they grow up, don't think for a second girl geeks don't exclude too. In Daenerys, Martin has created an interesting dichotomy - what perhaps accidentally has become eye candy for the boys in the TV series, has become a trojan horse for at least part of what this discussion on fake geek girls is all about. She's pretty. She uses it. Men assume she is stupid. She uses it. If you're paying attention, she's the most lethal combination of all the characters, the one who doesn't look like lethal. You can't see the qualities she possesses that make her lethal and even if you could, would you see past the pretty face and blond hair?

Of course there are less geek girls than there are geek boys, so they should stick together, right? Wrong. Think of it like this. You're a girl. You're a geek. You're a rarity in your school or town. All the geek boys act like you're catnip, you're guaranteed an invite to every RPG or tabletop gathering, every film night, every trip to a con. You're the centre of the their world. You've listened to their girlfriend (or lack thereof) woes, you've been a shoulder to cry on, you've backed off when their girlfriends have become jealous because they don't understand why they're not invited to sit and watch at the weekly D & D gathering (god forbid they'd join in but it's okay cos it's a personal choice and you'd never force anyone to do anything but you're sure you occasionally catch her smirking when she thinks no one is looking) and you've carried them home the first time they got drunk.

Now imagine some other geek girl comes along. Going to be difficult. Unless they've got the same fandom, of course, in which case there will ensue lots of squeeing, lots of incomprehensible chatter about slash fic and drama llamas and a healthy dose of shopping in obscure online shops. Now if you don't understand fandom, you'd think that would happen more often than not. Trust me. Not.

All of these messages and signals and experiences create something. Or rather, they create someone. A fake geek girl. It's nothing to do with looks. It's nothing to do with size. If you think you've got the monopoly on this cos you're skinny and beautiful, this fat assed girl is here to tell you, you are wrong.

It makes you...hesitant. Hesitant to join in conversations in case someone makes a joke containing a reference you don't get and you'll either not laugh, instantly marking yourself out as not one of you, or laugh but in the wrong place. It makes you...conscious. Of everything that comes out of your mouth as you scramble for the reference you need, the episode title you've forgotten, or the actors name you can never remember but begins with A and ends in Head. It makes you...nervous. Nervous of sticking your head above the parapet and self identifying as a geek in case someone asks you a difficult question and you answer incorrectly. Or of wearing the wrong t-shirt to the wrong convention, or bringing the wrong book from the wrong series for that author to sign, or not understanding klingon or not knowing each of the Star Trek movies by name or admitting that you're a New Who fan and you think old Who sucks or that comics are incomprehensible to you or that you can never remember where Dollhouse actually ended or...

Sound familiar?

It should. It's how geek boys feel when they get cornered in a lift with a football fan on a Monday morning.

Now add tits. You know, those things we can't hide. The things that are the elephants in the room. The things which can be hidden online but we know there's no point because we'll always get found out the second we walk through the front door and attend 'an event', be that a LAN party (showing my age there) or a con. There's just no point in hiding. And so we are starting to not hide. We're starting to come out of the woodwork, to find our voice, and our words and our geekeries and our opinions. We're starting to admit we don't know stuff but be quite vocal about the stuff we do know about. We're writing the books that you read, we're GM'ing the games that you play, we're running your board game nights and we're analysing our own data to see how the world can be made better. We're mapping the streets you walk for free, we're system hacking our way around your cities and occasionally running around under your feet exploring.

We're in your world. We always were. You just couldn't see us because we wouldn't let ourselves be seen thanks to a collision of frankly awful experiences (for every geek girl who had a good experience, there's one who didn't) which taught us to wind our necks in, especially when it came to being around you. Not welcome was writ large across the messages you gave out, whether you were conscious of giving those messages or not. It doesn't matter.

What matters is how you conduct yourselves right now. It matters a lot. And this thing about fake geek girls? If you're one of the people perpetuating this ridiculousness, grow up and grow a pair. You've been telling me for years that it's what's on the inside that counts, that the wrapping is irrelevant, and I have been agreeing with you. Every boy, bloke, man I have ever spent time with, I have spent time with because they were a geek. It was accidental, but it happened. You've introduced me to the joys of being a geek, of thinking, of reading, hell, I've even got over the dragon thing.

Now it's time for you to put your money where your mouth is. Don't judge books by their covers. They're not judging you. You're judging them. All I can see is fear and insecurity that somehow someone might laugh at you.

Stop it.

They wont laugh. They'll/we'll more than likely give you a big hug, ask your favourite author and enter into a Cornell vs Aaronovitch fight. Trust me. I'm a very old girl geek. Woman geek. Geek woman.

Can we work on sorting that out next please? :O)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sci-fi weekender 4 (#sfw4)

The Cosplay finals at SFW4
Home. Dry. Warm. Clean. Unfortunately, these are all things to celebrate. But we'll come to the calamities later. Let start with the ace stuff.

Thursday evening my other half and I headed off to deepest darkest Wales on the Lleyn Peninsula to attend the fourth year of the Sci-fi Weekender, which used to be known as the SFX Weekender. SFX pulled out last year, I suspect because Future Publishing were having heart attacks at the perceived brand destruction being perpetuated by a couple of incredibly unhappy gobby geeks who didn't quite get the teething issues a new event will experience. In the end, no matter how much you love doing something, if it's not your main reason d'etre, you're going to quit. So off SFX went to 'focus on their digital proposition'.

Step up Chic who also run Hard Rock Hell, and a few other smallish weekenders revolving around rock music in some way. No, I don't quite know either. But from the very beginning of the SFX Weekender, Chic have been involved.

And now they're on their own.

The good...

Thursday night in the Mash and Barrel, the entire pub singing along to Bon Jovi, bizarre conversations overheard, lots of smiles at my t-shirt (Souffle Girl, most got the reference), massages being given as and when needed from a team set up by the door, and a very happy shiny chilled geeky atmosphere. Lovely. A few panels stood out - the urban fantasy panel, the here come the girls panel, Robert Ranking trying to interview Brian Blessed (and failing), the costumes and the effort gone into them. Watching the conga being led around the dancefloor by Pacman, followed by his ghosts followed by most of the rest of the dancefloor, the battle between Highlander and our friend Phil who had misappropriated his girlfriends whisk which belonged to her Dalek Jane outfit, Professor Elemental, Theremin Hero and the DJ Last Knight were all stellar. I've never seen such a bunch of happy geeks - think Jaguar Skills but with lots of geeky cultural references and you've got it. I turned around at one point to find 4 rows in front of the stage bouncing with their hands in the air and someone making the heart sign. Brilliant.

The trader area was stellar. It was stellar cos there was something for women to spend their money on. And so I did, on books and jewellery that I'd never find elsewhere. I could have bought a stuffed Enterprise, a knitted K-9 and a set of Russian dolls which were all the Doctors nestled inside each other one by one - but I was a bit more restrained than I usually am. 

Starbucks and the quality of food generally was brilliant. Reception and checking in was a breeze compared to last year at Pontins and the staff were in the main, incredibly helpful and friendly. We managed to have a laugh and joke with most of them and it really did make a difference. 

The bad...

Our caravan. We'd been sold it as VIP luxury. It was a freezing cold box which by midnight on Thursday had a growing puddle under the sink which backed onto the wall the toilet backed onto, a wet carpet, wet bedding, a mattress which I think was cunningly concealing cheese wire somewhere and a temperature in which I could see my breathe. I grew up in a house with no central heating. I was bone cold. And not drunk. I shouldn't have to get pissed to be able to endure accommodation I've paid for.

We were warned about the cold. Chic said pack extra if you're staying in basic accom. So why were we so flipping freezing when we'd paid the not inconsiderable amount extra to upgrade? Who knows. Certainly not us. Reception shut, security on the gate not interested, we froze and shivered our way through Thursday night and woke up as wet as the bedding covering us. 

Finally found someone to talk to about it after 5 hours sleep. Offered another caravan after pushing. The fire didn't work. Swore. Booked a hotel. Cue lots of dashing around and eating fast food as we'd planned to self cater and suddenly couldn't. Apparently we might get a refund. Nice of them to consider it.

Sound. Oh. my. god. A sound engineer who leaves such long silences that the acts themselves have to ask the engineer to start their music? Okay so teething problems on first night perhaps? No. Even worse the second night. Sound in the panels was appalling in the 'Spaceport'. Couldn't hear the audience questions through the mic on the floor so Paul Cornell ended up walking off the stage, asking the person to tell him their question, and then climbing back on the stage to relay it through his mic to the panel.

Laughable. Pathetic.

Evening entertainment. Having been pwned by the quiz last year we avoided and went to the 'Main Void' both nights. Friday consisted of exactly the same acts as we'd seen 2 years before. I'd literally seen Chris Cross's show, word for word, and Mental Dave's rabbit must be feeling very claustrophobic by now. Area 51 did their usual. It's become their usual. It's done beautifully and well, but it's their usual. Saturday night involved what I can only describe as a car crash as Robert Rankin and some bloke who used to be a comic czar in the 70's tried to be funny and weren't, doing things they'd clearly not rehearsed or planned, and frankly, the only reason I didn't leave was that the quiz wasn't going to be any easier this year. For two hours I sat as questions were asked, crowd participation was requested but reluctantly given (the clue was there guys, I'm sorry, if you're dying, quit) and a funny quiz which I'm sure was funny on paper just pissed me off as slide after slide had spelling and grammar errors all over them. 

Healthy food on site. Fixed once Starbucks got a food delivery on the Sat. What the hell happened on Friday? 

Cold. I don't mean to bang on about it, but which flipping idiot thought it was a good idea to have the air-con on full blast all day in the Main Void? When it's 3C outside? The pictures of people in waterproofs and jackets huddling together that I've taken speak volumes - I assume someone was just ignoring the Twitter stream pleading for warmth.

Guests. People who've been in sci-fi shows in the last 10 years? We think zero. Loved the authors, loved the author love but it's just not quite enough to keep me going for two days. The consistent emptiness of the VIP area of the Main Void should speak volumes about the popularity of the panels scheduled in there. If no one is turning up, you're doing something wrong.

And now for the shit bit. Sorry. You might want to skip if you're easily offended because this, I'm afraid, is where the rant really starts.

And the really, really ugly

Lads shouting 'get your tits out for the boys' at Chase Masterton. Loudly. From the back of the Main Void. The slight racism in the opening number on the Friday night at the Imaginarium. The child abuse jokes on Saturday night. Never mind the repeated Pope jokes. I thought I was going to a sci-fi convention, not a comedy night which was trying to be as offensive as possible.

For the record, I'm a very lapsed catholic. Make jokes, that's fine. But you went too far. There's a line and you crossed it and it pissed me off.

Segregation based on the amount of money you can afford to pay. VIP seating and VIP only signings. I didn't realise until we got there that only VIP's could initially get signatures but that this has been changed at the last minute to allow people to pay for signatures. The separate seating was uncomfortable, mostly because there was nowhere near enough seating for those non-VIP bods who wanted to attend certain events, meaning they'd paid money to stand up for a very long time. It led to people not engaging with what was happening on the stage, quite understandably, and making lots of noise. Again, quite understandably. It repeatedly got busy at the back with people standing, whilst literally rows and rows of seating were free in the VIP section.

The crowning glory was during the Wool authors talk where there was a grand total of about 20 people in the entire VIP section, and someone at the back had to shout their question because security wouldn't let them come down to the microphone at the front of the VIP section.

It  made me feel excruciatingly, horribly uncomfortable. A lack of seating for all is inexcusable.

Swearing. Loudly and freely and offensively at 11am in the morning when there are kids in the audience. One family walked out. I'm surprised more didn't. 'It's a family show but use your nouse, some of the evening shows might not be suitable for kids'???? You might want to mention to guests BEFORE they've turned the air blue that it's a family show, hmmm?

Atmosphere generally which I think is tied to the first point. When you give tickets away and start cross advertising rock weekenders to sci-fi geeks and sci-fi weekenders to rock bods...well I know both groups super well so I am pretty sure that's not where the problem was but there was definitely a feeling which changed from Thursday/Friday to Saturday of being in a zoo. I went from feeling incredibly comfortable to feeling a wee bit uncomfortable. Like I was being stared at, and yes, laughed at and judged and looked down on. Well, actually, it wasn't directed at me. But I heard it directed at others and it wasn't nice. Geeks and nerds (real ones) spend a lot of their life, as do many sub-cultures, putting up with this shit in their every day lives. Going away to geek out on your fave shows and authors is supposed to be okay, hell, it's called the Sci-fi Weekender for a reason right? I don't wanna hear 'cool' boys dissing someone with facial disfigurations at a Weekender event ever _ever_ again. Geeks don't judge. They don't laugh at people, they include them (mostly, we'll get to geek cliques and how horrible they can be to outsiders some other time I think), they embrace them. It's an open church. No one gets left behind. We're losing that. Lose it completely, and you've lost the soul of the event. The heart and soul of it.

Care needs to be taken in where you advertise with something like this. I don't know what went wrong but I can make a guess about free ticket competitions and tickets being passed to other people and actually, the people who ended up going not being the people who'd necessarily choose to go to something like this and actually ending up finding it all terribly funny and silly, and not in a good way.

Entitlement attitudes. No. You are not more important than me. I am not more important than you. I will get out of your way if there is somewhere to go. Barging, pushing, cutting me up...stop it. Just stop it. And if the stall you want to get to is busy and full of people, don't push in front of people, squeeze them out, then moan you're all hot and bothered and it's really crowded. Poor old you. It must be so hard being so inconsiderate. If you want to chat about work and the boss who's pissing you off, don't do it at the back of an author panel where the sound is shit already. If you want to have a shouting match with your friend, the back of the Main Void during a show which requires people to hear what the performer is saying isn't the place to do it either.

In fact, I think that last point is tied to the one before it. There were some highly unpleasant people present at this Weekender who thus far had been noticeably absent. Short of putting the Weekender on the moon, I don't think geographical location can change this. I do think educating people in the way they are expected to behave, giving people confidence to challenge that behaviour and that security will back them up if it's flagged  is really important in stopping this getting out of hand. If you didn't experience any of this, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about.

You probably spent your weekend in the film room. It seems that that's where all the geeks hid out  for most of the weekend and unfortunately we never quite made it down there. Something I regret because we wont be back.

I am reasonably sure this is where we bow out. Four years, over £1,000 spent and we just don't think Chic can iron out the ugly. Bad I can deal with. But ugly, I can't. So, adieu. We might be back. But I suspect instead, we'll be heading to some of the cons which are a wee bit less well publicised and which are populated by people who are kind, good, shiny and welcoming.

Sad. Very, very sad.