SDCC 2011: Panel Report: “Oh You Sexy Geek”

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, panelists included Bonnie Burton of 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, 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.


  1. I can’t imagine anyone being surprised that someone from G4 is a douche. Of course. The whole channel is a mockery of everything geeky.

  2. Loved this panel. I went because it was a lot of people whose opinions I respect and who I find entertaining, but wasn’t sure that there would be much to the topic than, of course women should be allowed to represent themselves however they want. However, fascinating discussion, and I was super impressed with Seth Green in particular. Also didn’t know how funny Adrianne Curry is, and Bonnie Burton was a great speaker as well. (Sad that Kiala didn’t say more.)

  3. flakbait- Easy there
    attack of the show is  pretty opportunitistic in it’s “geek” presentation
    But the whoe channe?  G4’s gaming and comic book coverage is pretty spot on.

  4. It’s great to see a positive exercise like this put on by the female geek crowd. Sometimes I really feel that area of fandom can get a bit too weighed down by negativity and complaints. It’s good to see that energy put to better use by discussing what can be done to help change what is seen as a problem instead of just complaining about it.

    I read elsewhere about Seth Green’s appearance and I’ve got to applaud him and the Girl Scout’s initiative to promote media literacy. I think that should be one of the central issues going forward in education. In our increasingly media saturated world, people need to learn to view and consume their media critically, only then will you have more diversified content and an audience with large enough numbers to rise up and draw the spotlight on the stereotypical/sexist portrayals that can be so prevalent in the media. i encourage everyone to check out the girl scouts youtube PSA that Seth Green helped produce.

    Great debrief Ali!

  5. @ericmci i totally agree with @flakbait im embarrassed that G4 is the only place on tv where i can find geek related coverage. it reminds me of wizard magazine. it’s disgusting in it’s portrayal of women and geek culture in general. If that how we are representing ourselves on television, no wonder mass media looks down on comics, video games and tech. G4 is perverted and juvenile

  6. Excellent and level headed review of this great sounding panel…definitely the best write-up of it I’ve seen on the net. Seth Green seriously nailed my feelings on the head, as whenever I hear cries of “SHE’S NOT A REALLY A GEEK RAWR!!!”, I feel quite ashamed of the fanbase I associate myself with, as I feel we’re bullying for no real reason.

  7. Is there a podcast of it available?

  8. mikegraham6- Have You watched Fresh Ink the comic book show or X-play Ever?
    Or are just judging based on attack of the show and Olivia Munn
    Be honest

  9. I think Morgan Webb and Blair Buter would take exception with you  based on how they present themselves as women.

  10. Thanks for covering this, Ali!  And I can only get a little glimpse of it here, but Jill’s Cyclone costume looks amazing.

  11. 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.” It’d be interesting if  you’d address some of those sound bites that did get a lot of criticism from other parts of the web. From your write-up and the write-up of others, it sounds like you all attended different panels. While I can understand that people see and hear different things, I’d like to see those other opions challenged rather than just written off out of hand. 
    Is there a pocast of this panel out there? I’d like to hear it. 

  12. About the more controversial aspects, I will say. . .if women in fandom are going to get allotted to a single fandom per year at SDCC, it’s perfectly understandable that everybody is going to expect to get — and then hear and perceive — different things out of it.   

  13. *single panel per year.  

  14. @ericmci  I used to download the Fresh Ink podcast regularly, until they quit doing it as a separate podcast. Blair did a good job and highlighted a lot of books I would have missed otherwise. Then I found this place and, pffft, waste ALL kinda time here…

  15. @ericmci I’ve watched both. X-play is just as guilty. They have booth babe features during e3, it’s disgraceful. I’m talking about coverage, not correspondants. I think Morgan Webb and Blair Butler know what their doing but I’d be interested to hear their honest thoughts on how their network handles coverage involving women

  16. 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.

    The problem is, the industries that people like the Kardashians traffic in are just as dismissive of people who aren’t in that target demographic. So for several of the panelists to dismiss speaking up about that disconnect as “jealousy” is also a derailment.

    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.

    Gotta respectfully disagree here. If this is how G4 wants to be represented at an event like SDCC, both Gore and his employer should be called out on it, on as many forums as possible. Otherwise they’ll continue to feel safe hiding behind “satire” as a shield for those kinds of comments.

    Back to Seth Green. I really can’t say enough how impressed I was with his comments.

    Green’s heart and sentiment were undoubtedly in the right place, but in a way, he was almost as disrespectful toward the panel as Gore was. It’s problematic when, as Caroline mentioned above, one of the few panels geared specifically toward womanhood and geekdom – let’s not forget Girls Gone Genre – gets taken over by two cis-hetero males. It’s also problematic when Stuller’s attempt to steer the discussion toward media literacy was seemingly dismissed by her fellow panelists while Green got the run of the floor for, what, almost 10 minutes? I don’t blame Katrina Hill or the panelists for what happened, but Green and Gore did not help the proceedings much at all.

  17. @aboynamedart I wouldn’t say that the panel was “taken over” by Green. He was just an audience member who was called up by the panelists themselves. They WANTED to hear what he had to say. I wasn’t there but I’d think they were trying to steer Hill away from discussing media literacy because that is such a huge topic that could be tackled in another panel entirely, but when Green brought it up, maybe they rethought the position and saw that it was an issue the audience really wanted to discuss. I’ve been in situations where topics have gotten dismissed at first, but after having it brought up again the discussion just naturally flowed to the topic

  18. @mikegraham6  Beg your pardon, but Green wasn’t just “an audience member.” When he announces to the crowd what he does for a living, from a reserved seat, he’s indulging in celebrity privilege. Not to mention the fact that there had been actual audience members in line to ask questions prior to him being called upon to speak. Speaking as someone who was there to support Katrina, Jill and Jennifer, I thought he would have been better served making a short statement or two and then turning the focus back to the panelists.

  19. Just a thought – there’s more than a litte objectifying and drooling over the abs on Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans here – but if the “assets” of Black Widow are mentioned or someone actually enjoys how Wonder Woman looks in her bathing suit costume- it’s sexist.
    Funny that.

  20. I’m bummed I wasn’t able to make it to this panel, made it to last years Geek Girls Exist and that was great. I’m curious, why was Chris Gore there? I see all the other names on the list (and besides the obvious of being women) I get why those people were there and what they contribute. What the hell was the Attack of the Show DVD reviewer doing there? 


  21. @ABoyNamedArt  Ahh, I shouldn’t have assumed there was one panel!  i wasn’t at the con and only know about the programming what I happen to see linked around.

    I’ve heard several comments about Stuller being dismissed by the other panelists, and I don’t want to discount that. I just haven’t heard enough context to know what that consisted of.

  22. @ohcaroline  No worries, things get lost in the sdcc shuffle enough when you’re there – I imagine it’s just as bad reading about it afterwards.

    To address your second point, though, I think the Green example stands out for me vividly: his point wasn’t that dissimilar to Stuller’s, but – because of who he is and what he does – he got a wider platform. There was another moment where Stuller made the point that media criticism is not the same as “hatred,” but it might be more fair to say that that particular argument wasn’t engaged by the other panelists. A couple of them made remarks to the effect that diminished that sentiment to jealousy or the projection of issues.

  23. From what I witnessed at the panel, which I very much looked forward to, I came out with a slightly different view from that of Ali’s. First off, while Bonnie was freak’n amazing, Adrianne Curry was not. She seemed very self involved and seemed to make every question about her. Curry had to have the last word on most comments and I think it scared off some panelist from speaking (at least early on)…plus, her comments weren’t witty. She was simply plucking severely low hanging fruit.

    Gore’s brief presence and statements, while at the time I knew he’d get shit for them, were shocking enough to make me gasp with a bit of a smile (the crude line about…in so many words…wanting to be with everyone one of the panelist). His moments were inconsequential, and I don’t think anyone really cared. He took-up 2 mins. Tops.

    Green was invited to speak by the women on the panel, so I blame them for allowing him to continue on. But, he was not wrong with his statements and he did help try to push the panel towards fan questions instead of regurgitating the same comments in different words. Plus, the less Curry the better.

    I was un impressed by Kat’s moderating skills, and I wish I heard more from other panelists. Oh, and I kind of disagreed with the take on Princess Leia kicking ass in the bikini. She did it because she was fighting for survival and because males made her wear the bikini. If she wore a shirt that said “I’m a huge Chris Gore Fan” would that have been empowering? (Well maybe…if the shirt implied sarcasm.)

    Overall, the panel was ok, but could have been much better with a person like Green on the panel, a person like Curry off the panel, and a moderator that asked more specific questions and kept the Sexy Geek machine moving.

    But maybe that’s just me…

    – Dom

  24. At last year’s Dragon*Con, I’m pretty sure me and a friend c*ck-blocked a fairly drunk Chris Gore.  At the time, I felt bad about it.  In hindsight…not so much. 

  25. I think any panel that opens up discussion of this topic is great. Any group can get very protective of itself. With geek culture I think a lot of effort is spent trying to find ways of excluding other people to protect ‘your’ slice of geek life.

    I’ve read and heard about the pressure put on female geeks. You hear stories of dismissive, rude, and sometimes hostile fanboys and it’s really sad. Some of it can be put down to social awkwardness but a lot of the time it’s just someone being an asshole to someone else because they’re different. There’s a ‘girls in the clubhouse’ mentality that pervades some areas of geek culture and panels (and panelists) like this are the driving force behind breaking that mentality.

    This is one of the many panels that I’d have loved to be at. Hopefully it sticks around for many Cons to come.

  26. Based just on the fragments I’m hearing, it sounds like this might not have been a very well-conceived panel — or else it was conceived differently by the different members of the panel, some of whom saw it as an upbeat “Geeks can be sexy” cheerleading session and some who saw it more of a place for cultural critique. With the way the panel was framed, I”m not surprised that cheerleading won the day, but to the extent anybody said that people with other opinions were being whiny or jealous, that’s disappointing.

    Also, I have to agree w/ Dom about slave Leia. I’m not about to tell anyone who they should or shouldn’t cosplay, or for what reasons, but I think to say, “Women pick this version of Leia because she kicks Jabba’ ass” sounds disingenuous. Certainly, some of them might have but that’s not the first idea that costume conveys.

  27. Anyone who doesn’t follow Katrina Hill on Twitter needs to do so immediately. She’s easily one of the coolest, most interesting people on the internet. Go to her website and read her stuff. she’s great!

  28. god, i hate team unicorn.

    do nerdy guys come off this annoying? no wonder girls hate us then

  29. @reg5000 
    There’s a ‘girls in the clubhouse’ mentality that pervades some areas of geek culture and panels (and panelists) like this are the driving force behind breaking that mentality.

    The thing is, it’s not just about who’s new in the clubhouse – it’s the exotification and prioritization of certain members of it based on business interests that creates the disconnect.

  30. @ABoyNamedArt Could you elaborate on that and give examples?

  31. It seems like most of the “outrage” over this panel is split between Adrianne Curry and Chris Gore’s comments. I totally understand why Curry was on the panel. She seems to be a posterchild for the, “She’s a faux geek!” movement.
    What I don’t get is why this Gore guy was there. My extremely brief Google search didn’t shed any light on it.

  32. This entire discussion is so not punk rock. People can call themselves whatever they want, and who cares?

  33. I have to say, I’m so glad to see a good discussion going on here! Yay, iFanbase 🙂

    To the few who have asked about a podcast of the panel – I don’t think it was recorded and I’ve yet to find anything online. (Geek Girl Network did a liveblog of the panel, but it’s text only).

    I did my best to keep this article as balanced and objective as I could. To give you some context, I went into this panel not ever having heard of Adrianne Curry (probably because I live under a rock when it comes to reality TV), so it was easy for me to give her the benefit of the doubt. That said, I found her to be a genuine and passionate panelist, regardless of whether or not I was agreeing with her opinions.

    Adrianne and a few of the other panelists are getting a lot of criticism about dismissing Jennifer’s points about media literacy and the media’s very, very narrow definition of beauty. As I stated in the article, I believe that each of the women on the panel believed media literacy and education are important. I’m hoping to see a panel dedicated to this topic alone at Geek Girl Con. But what I think the other panalists were trying to convey was that regardless of how the media defines sexy, you need to believe in yourself and love yourself for who you are. And that’s what’s “sexy” – not the garbage that’s force-fed to you but mass media. I think they were being dismissive of the media, not Jennifer’s point, it was subtle and not conveyed as well as it could have been.

    I believe that was also the sentiment during the argument of women being antagonistic towards other women – the topic was not about valid criticisms, but malicious “cattyness”. Again, Adrianne is getting flack for dismissing this kind of thing as something based out of jealousy and insecurity. But what’s getting glossed over are Bonnie’s eloquent points about breaking this kind of passive aggressive cat fight behavior between girls and women. I think anyone who is familiar with Bonnie’s work on Girl Against Girl would know, without doubt, that the point being made was again to believe in yourself and not let other people’s judgements prevent you from being who you are. I think it’s a more empowering message and one that was best suited for the panel, given its constraints.

  34. I think self identifying geeks spend a lot of time and energy trying to defend our exclusivity because one of the traditional disadvantages of becoming a geek is lower social standing compared to the “normals” (negative media perceptions/reduced desirablity in social or romantic situations).

    When our failings, such as being exclusive and hard to please, are called out by people that can be argued to be the opposite of the geek stereotype (in this case popular attractive women) there’s a defensive backlash that happens. What gets lost in these conversations is that while “geek girls” have every right to like what they like and have an equal voice, geeks don’t feel like they have an equal voice in the general society, especially when compared to popular attractive women.

    It’s human nature to reject a deal you see as unfair, even if the results of such a deal are positive. Old Guard Geeks don’t think “geek girls” have paid their dues. The geek culture was intially built as a support group for those who felt rejected for their love of things on the fringe for those who are already embraced by general culture to get that support without the struggle is seen as unearned.

    Personally, I’d perfer geek culture embrace all comers and become a welcoming and unstoppable social force but seeing as geeks at the end of day are just people (with all the good and bad that entails) I think we may expect too much too soon. Both sides need to make concessions until the sides fade into one united front.

  35. @WonderAli  what I think the other panalists were trying to convey was that regardless of how the media defines sexy, you need to believe in yourself and love yourself for who you are.

    I think one of the reasons the waters were muddied there was the use of the term “media,” a term commonly associated with the press, to describe business interests – the modeling industry, the gaming industry, the comics industry, etc. iFanboy didn’t create that new Starfire costume – DC Comics did. And while the panelists’ sentiments are admirable, the fact remains that the businesses many of them are involved with and benefit from aren’t taking their lead. Adrienne Curry might say, “love yourself regardless of body type,” but she’s part of an industry that promotes her particular body type as an ideal. That isn’t her fault, specifically, but there’s a dissonance at work there that the panel could not or would not address, and that might be one reason for that particular criticism.

    Old Guard Geeks don’t think “geek girls” have paid their dues.

    This is revisionist history. There was an article in Newsweek awhile back – more like a photo essay, really – that dealt with the early Star Trek conventions. As the photos showed, and one of the show’s costume designers said, the majority of fans at those gatherings were, in fact, women. So this isn’t about Old Guard vs New; women have always been involved in fandom and genre fiction, as participants, creators – O HAI ANNE MCCAFFREY, OCTAVIA BUTLER AND MARIE SHELLEY – and performers. The idea of these hobbies as a man’s domain, I would suggest, has been in large part created by the same people who tell consumers they should aspire to look like the Adrienne Currys of the world – or to want to date them above anybody else.

  36. Not to be a Negative Nancy, but why are we all acting like there are not fake nerds out there? Can a geeky girl be sexy? Yes. But there are quite a number of girls who attend Comic Con in skimpy costumes not to be empowered or pay tribue to their favorite superheroes: They do it to get the attention of the mostly male attendee base.

    Now, it’s one thing if there is some creativity, but to show up in nothing but a bra, underwear and knee high boots when others have worked really hard to make kick ass costumes kind of sucks. I’m all for feeling confortable in your own skin, but we don’t need to see all of it, you know? There was one woman who was NAKED claiming she was Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones (I’d post the link, but it totally NSFW).  

    Should we embrace new geeks? Yes. Can a girl be sexy and have major nerd knowledge? Of course! But should we assume that just because someone dresses up that they’re down with geek culture? No. I’m trying really hard to not be a hater but I ran into too many poorly dressed bubbleheads this year including one in a silver bikini and furry boots who kept trying to hit me with a light sabre, thinking she was funny.

  37. what no Kari Byron?

  38. the big question is: if someone is “fake nerd” like @ThatReenaGirl alludes, who cares? to each thier own. It doesn’t make a difference to me whether someone wants to dress up like a Game of Thrones character just to get a attention or because they genuinely like the show. let them do whatever they want and live with thier own choices.
    Sometimes the most minute things get so blown out of proportion on the internet….

  39. the way i see it, the real issue is with the elitist mentality that there are “fake” and “real” nerds and that qualifications must be met, and resume’s must be submitted in order to wear a $8 T shirt that you bought at Target. The problem isn’t with them, its with you. 

    I’ve started to resent the terms ‘geek” and “nerd” as i’ve seen them turn into  this “punker than thou” style of elitism. 

  40. @Walter  It’s possible her schedule conflicted with the event.

  41. all labels are stupid

  42. @Apotheosize  Tell me that when you’re trying to pick out peanut butter!

  43. @josh  allergic

  44. Awesome!

  45. I’m not gonna lie. I’m against exploitation but if that story about the Daenerys girl is true, she’s my new goddamn hero. 

  46. @Apotheosize  All the more so! Jelly then!

  47. I don’t know if it shows my age that I’m hyper-aware of friction between old and new models of feminism, and that embracing *what feels right for the individual* vs. weighing every decision against *being* a feminist seems to be prevailing. I am thrilled by this, and I really loved most of the discussion that took place. I, for one, do not want to see the conversation be about what the individual chooses, but about what the media is selling us in terms of both beauty/sexy standards and under-serving the female gaze, (or serving it on the sly,) and trying to force the hot-can’t-be-geeky, (therefore geeky can’t be hot,) divisions on us. I love your take on the panel, and I think you captured so many of the reasons I think it has merit to continue the conversation.