Lately it seems like the internet views the words “sexy” and “geek” as oil and vinegar – two things that only go together when forced. It’s a frustrating and usually circular argument. But it’s something that should be explored, and I’m very glad that a panel of smart and savy ladies were able to do so at this year’s Comic-Con.
The “Oh You Sexy Geek” panel was a discussion of women and sexuality within nerd culture. Moderated by Katrina Hill of ActionFlickChick.com, panelists included Bonnie Burton of Grrl.com and author of Girls Against Girls, Adrianne Curry from America’s Next Top Model, Clare Grant of Team Unicorn, the Nerdy Bird Jill Pantozzi, Clare Kramer from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kiala Kazebee of thenerdist.com, and Jennifer Stuller of Ink-Stained Amazons and coordinator of Geek Girl Con.
Kat Hill opened the panel with the question that brought it all together – do “fake geeks” exist and why is there criticism about women who are identified as “sexy” being geeks. Bonnie Burton did a quick (and silly) poll of the audience to see who had actually bitten the head off a chicken. The point being there are many different definitions of the word “geek” and that because someone may not fit your definition of geek, it doesn’t mean they’re not a nerd in their own way. "There are all kinds of geeks and there are all kinds of sexy," said Jennifer Stuller.
The topic moved over to cosplay, with Adrianne Curry dressed as Leelo from the Fifth Element and Jill Pantozzi decked out as Cyclone from the JSA. The panellists seemed to be in agreement that cosplay was more about celebrating the characters you love and not just putting on skimping costumes. Bonnie Burton made the point that while the costume was skimpy, “Slave Leia kicked Jabba the Hutt’s ass while wearing that bikini – that is EMPOWERING!” She also encouraged cosplayers, and women in general, to dress in costumes and suggested everything from Jabba to Godzilla to the Chrysler Building. "That's what's sexy. That you're confident in you own skin. No matter how much of it you have or how much of it you show," said Bonnie.
Kiala made a very strong point about how sexy is perceived. "We need to broaden the definition of sexy,” she said. "There are unrealistic expectations of what women need to look like to be sexy. We need to redefine that definition and then sexy won't be such a loaded term anymore." Jennifer took the opportunity to try to steer the the discussion towards the very narrow definition the media has of “sexy.” Clare Grant mentioned she doesn’t read magazines that promote an unhealthy image of women for that reason, and Bonnie brought up the point of voting with your dollar when it comes to the types of media you support.
This was obviously a topic that requires a lot more than just a bullet point in an hour-long panel. While I think everyone on the panel believed media literacy and education are important, I don’t think it was a discussion that could be had during the panel. Kat took the opportunity to ask a more positive and proactive question: "What can everyone else do to change the media's view of sexy?" The fast answer from Adrianne was "Rock anything, stop beating ourselves up and have a good time!" Again, driving home the importance of being comfortable in your own skin.
Bonnie and Adrianne were the panel’s more dominating members. Both women are very quick and witty, and share a fantastically dry sense of humor that just doesn’t come across in when context is stripped from a medium – like a live blog. There’s been some criticism of their soundbites from the panel cropping up on a few blogs that I think is unfounded, given the nature of internet reporting.
The next topic was using sexuality to get work in the male-dominated geek culture. Bonnie made an excellent point about the difference between leveraging your gender and using your sexuality to get work. She brought up the new Womanthology project as an example of ladies working together to make some awesome comics.
"When I started writing my blog I named it something I thought that was funny. I did it for myself, and put myself out there,” said Jill, who’s blog is called Has Boobs, Reads Comics. The internet being what it is, the blog and Jill started to get quite a bit of negative attention. “It's kind of uncomfortable because it's not what I'm doing. I can present myself however I choose to present myself and if people don't want to hire me then they don't have to hire me.”
In the most controversial moment of the panel, Chris Gore of G4TV's Attack of the Show walked into the room 40 minutes late and made a couple very off-color, sexist jokes. While people are rightfully up-in-arms about this, it shouldn’t ruin what was otherwise a fantastic panel. Gore had nothing else to contribute and was almost immediately upstaged by a surprisingly eloquent Seth Green. If Gore didn’t have enough respect for the panelists to show up on time, then I believe he shouldn’t get any attention for his actions at that panel. Move along, people, nothing to see here.
Back to Seth Green. I really can’t say enough how impressed I was with his comments. After half raising his hand a dozen times, Kat called on him to share what was quite visibly on his mind. Green shared his thoughts on geek culture and how it can, at times, be very excluding. We live in a time where the Kardashians are wearing Transformers underroos, and while it’s tough seeing people who haven’t (or aren’t) as invested as we fellow geeks are, it’s no reason to be so dismissive of them – regardless of gender. He suggested geek culture embrace these newer nerds and use the opportunity to spread the word about the things they’re so passionate about. My favorite quote of his was, "I don't feel like you can be pandering if you're sincere." And I don’t think anyone should make judgements on a person’s sincerity without knowing them.
At the end of the day, the spirit of the panel was about embracing the diversity of geek culture, being self confident, and celebrating strong, empowered women (both fictional and real). Burton concluded by encouraging the audience to "Show your geek in different ways." I went to a fair share of panels at San Diego, but this one was my favorite. All of these women are smart, articulate and strong. And it was an empowering experience to see them in action.
Ali Colluccio is a geek and girl, and she is very, very proud to be both.