English: Team Unicorn cosplaying during the production of their music video “G33k & G4M3R Girls” aka Geek and Gamer Girls Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Tony Harris is a man who illustrates comics. He has won several Eisner awards which is a huge achievement and I appreciate his work on Ex Machina written by Brian K Vaughan. Apart from this he has never really been on my radar, nor have I expended much time or effort to consider him beyond his abilities as an artist. Recently however he has come to my attention in a most upsetting way in his rant about women cosplayers.
Geek women (such as Team Unicorn on the right) put up with a lot of shit. I have been lucky to have experienced internet geek culture largely from a safe, predominantly female space but when you dare to venture outside those spaces you expose yourself to unwarranted ridicule and abuse. Frequently women are made to feel as if they are intruding on a sacred male preserve by daring to play games, attend cons or dress up as characters despite the fact that women now make up approximately 42% of US gamers. Geek women and girls of all stripes from gamers to comic fans receive constant abuse from their male counterparts in games, message boards and emails. Even geek goddesses such as Felicia Day are not immune to criticism simply because they are women.
Other than mindless misogyny and attacks focused on the sexual freedom and/or attractiveness of the women and girls in question the primary issue for women is that men refuse to see them as real geeks. In his rant Tony Harris manages to combine all three of these problems in one unhealthy, immature, diatribe. Tony Harris rails against women who dress up in sexy costumes to portray their favourite characters firstly because they are “CON-HOT” (apparently merely “quasi-pretty” in non-convention spaces) and secondly because he believes they “DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER” [sic]. Lest you think this is one lone nut job with his all caps and raging insecurities I point you towards Joe Peacocks very similar rant on CNN’s geekout blog “booth babes need not apply”.
The assumption behind both these articles are two fold: 1. women will go to cons, dress provocatively and prey on awkward geeky men for attention and 2. conventionally attractive or even “hot” women are not geeks.
The first is a damaging assumption to make because very few women are like that and assuming they are is offensive to the vast majority of perfectly nice women who also happen to love Black Widow or Black Canary or Cat Woman – the list is endless. The fact is there are limited costume choices for geek women because there aren’t that many female comic/game/book characters to begin with and those that do exist are always scantily clad. That you cannot control yourself in the presence of these women is not their fault, it’s yours. However not only is the assumption hurtful to women, if you – the awkward geeky man – cannot control yourself and/or spend your life assuming that any attractive woman who speaks to you is using you, you will have a sad and lonely life. My final note on is even if women are dressing up in outfits they know nothing about for attention – so what? I don’t love the idea either but seriously move on with your life.
The second is just an outright lie. I shouldn’t even dignify it with a response except it makes me livid. In my travels on the internet I have met many men and women of varying levels of attractiveness but the thing that united them? Geek fandom. Who are you to say who is or isn’t a geek anyhow? We all know John Scalzi is the only one allowed to do that.
Geek culture claims to be an all inclusive place that doesn’t care what you look like as long as you really love something but for women this is far from the truth. I believe women have done you wrong in your life but that’s not a good reason to hate all women especially women who are trying to connect with you about something you love. Women the world over choose to be geeks because they love to dress up or because they read Harry Potter at an impressionable age or because they love comics or any number of legitimate reasons that haven nothing to do with how attractive they are. Mainstream culture is finally coming around to the idea that women are able to make their own choices, geeks need to grow up and realise the same thing.
More exciting and articulate people than me have written the recommended reading: