That this comes on top of last week’s debacle with Simon Pegg drooling over Slave Leia cosplayers is just continuing to muddy the waters.
So, let me see if I can clarify this a little bit: I’m sick and tired of straight men and sexism-compliant women defending booth babes, geek-ignorant cosplaying models, etc. by derailing the complaint into issues of authenticity, rather than the real problem, which is how these women reinforce the sexist standards that are killing other women–us geeks included.
Geek culture of course exists within a sexist metaculture, which means that it’s going to have its share of that no matter what we do. Some subsections–comics and gamer culture in particular–are worse than others, but yes, there’s a whole lotta sexism out there. Feminist geeks have for decades been fighting against sexist portrayals of women in geek media, and against the way women are often treated by male geeks.
So when prominent members of the geek community defend a practice that’s reinforcing those harmful standards, yes, we’re going to be upset.
For what it’s worth, I get that not everyone is going to understand this. Sexism is an incredibly complex and pervasive thing, and most of us acquiesce to it unconsciously, because that’s what our culture trains us to do. So expecting people–even seemingly intelligent folks–to know how to buck that conditioning isn’t all that reasonable. Honestly, it’s a massive load of cognitive dissonance when one first realizes exactly how much one’s behavior is shaped by the culture around us. Unlearning that can take years–decades, even–especially because we’re constantly getting more reinforcment from the dark side (so to speak.)
I also get that many women, who have been conditioned to see self-objectification as empowerment, are going to react badly when the reality is pointed out. When your culture’s been telling you that slavery is autonomy, any suggestion that you might not want to be a slave is going to be interpreted as an attack on your freedom. (See also: working class folks arguing against labor unions. Man, false consciousness sucks.)
But if women are ever to escape the violence that comes with pervasive objectification, we’re going to have to keep fighting against stuff like this. We’re going to have to keep pointing out that equating female sexuality (or even sex itself) with objectification and subjugation isn’t healthy. We have to stop, for instance, arguing that asking women to stop reinforcing sexist standards of attractiveness and behavior is slut shaming. On the contrary: NONE of this is about denying women’s sexuality, but about working toward a sexual culture in which all women, no matter what they look or act like, are entitled to have all the healthy sex they want. Women shouldn’t have to look and dress like bikini models to get laid–not least because the sex that such behavior attracts is almost always awful, because the guys who want women like that don’t care about the fact that they’re human beings.
And here, let me note one of my biggest pet peeves in how other women often argue against this: the “you’re just jealous.” one. Am I, as an ugly butch chick, jealous of the attention that the bimbos get? Not really, no. I’m happily married and get plenty of attention from someone who loves me the way I am. And because I’ve had that experience–the experience of being loved and desired in an authentic, sustainable way–I see that other “attention” for the shallow, social junk food it really is. It’s incredibly sad to see so many women actually harming themselves in a desperate attempt to get attention that isn’t even all that fulfilling. If you try to attract men with just your boobs, you’re going to attract men who only like your boobs. Not only is that degrading to your own sense of self, but it usually leads to lousy sex, too. Guys who see you as a two-dimensional object are crap in bed.
But, I digress!
Again, the underlying issue here isn’t about whether a conventionally attractive woman can be a real geek. Many of them can be, and are. I know a lot of women who were blessed by the gene fairy who have a genuine interest in some nerdy thing or other–often many nerdy things. The issue is with a very narrow subset of women who think so little of themselves and other women that they merrily submit to their culture’s demand that they shut their brains off and put their bodies on display.
If, as I’ve seen argued, women are supposedly empowered enough to make a choice to dress and act like this without being influenced by a sexist culture, then we’re empowered enough to make a choice NOT to dress like this in the service of improving the lives of other women. If your immediate reaction to a request not to do this is one of panic and anger, maybe it’s worth taking a step back and asking yourself whether you really are all that empowered after all.