Outcast and abandoned, the Nerd retreats to his comics and superheroes, where even the women are comely misfits. The girls at school scorn him and — what’s worse — seem to be attracted to the bullies who haunt his steps. He finds refuge in Dungeons, Dragons, and Doritos. There is also some comfort to be gleaned from the wise Canadians of Rush. Each year he and his schlubby friends make the pilgrimage to the comic book convention, but something dispiriting has been happening more and more: the same women who spurned him are now prowling the convention floor in librarian glasses and fishnets, furry cat ears and Rush t-shirts…
—from Maybe If I Blockquote It I Can Pretend It’s Not About Me
Women wishing to participate in male-dominated geek culture face a Damned If You Do Dilemma: How to negotiate the minefield of being too sexy or not sexy enough, how to let your geek flag fly without your nerd bona fides being challenged, and how to contribute to the hero pantheon in a more significant way than simply dressing like one?
“I’m constantly being challenged on my Geek status,” says Ela Darling who, along with Tanya Tate, represented porn stars in “Fantasy Girls: The Perils Women Face in Geek Culture” at last weekend’s CatalystCon in Los Angeles.
Moderated by Sherri Shaulis of AVN, the panel also featured “Crazy Mary” graphic novelist Michael Colbert. The experiences of Tate and Darling were at the forefront, however, as each reflected on the challenges of being women, self-identified nerds, and porn stars in a Comic-Con world that once had plenty of 2-dimensional women but very few real ones.
“I actually dress down when I cosplay at Comic-Con,” Tate says. Her character, a curvaceous ass-kicker named Lady Titan, is demure compared to some of the women she sees at comic conventions.
“I cover up more because of the porn career,” she says, “and because I don’t want to deal with the wandering hands. Although I often have to slap someone’s hands and they get resentful.”
Both women noted that events like Comic-Con could be sexual morasses, with men not understanding the right way to behave. Porn conventions, on the other hand, have clear guidelines about touching, as well as hovering security.
“At a porn convention, people know the rules,” Tate says.
But “How To Deal with Women” has only recently become an issue at Comic-Con.
“I remember some of the first San Diego Comic-Cons,” says Colbert. “There were 12 guys. It’s kind of a head trip being on that ride.” (Since 2010, the July event has maxed out at more than 130,000 people, most of them really sweaty.)
That geek culture is now mainstream and consumed by both men and women leads one to wonder how many women are involved in the creative process.
Tate noted that a recent retreat for Marvel Comics writers featured no women. “They excluded female writers and made excuses about it,” she says.
“And even female superheroes — like Black Widow from The Avengers — are secondary characters.”
Shaulis speculated that the commodification of nerd culture began with 1984’s “Revenge of the Nerds,” and the panel also talked about Carrie Fisher’s “Slave Leia” in “Return of the Jedi” the year before.
Regardless of when being a nerd became popular or when women started participating in the culture (the panel noted that it was Carrie fisher, and not George Lucas, who wanted to sex up Princess Leia), Darling and Tate encountered some of the same problems when dealing with men at nerdy events.
“Women get grilled about their geek cred,” Darling says. “A man will ask me a hundred questions about who I’m dressed up as — and try to catch me in a mistake. Or they’ll say, ‘Did you come with your boyfriend?'”
While the panel discussed the trials of women in geek culture, Darling’s and Tate’s perspective was that of conventionally attractive women. But whereas a man can cosplay with love handles (he might not get laid, but he won’t be called out), women are more subject to body type rules.
Audience member Karen Hudson elaborated on geek misogyny.
“When I cosplay as Voldemort (a male character) and people don’t know I’m a woman, they just look at me like ‘Respect,’ she says. “When I’m Lily Potter, they say things like, ‘I like the way your hair reflects on your pale tit skin.'”
(#paletitskin is now a trending topic.)
Shaulis said she does not attend conventions in costume because she doesn’t want to be known as “Fat River Song.”
Tate does not have a problem with sexualization of women in the comics world. “I like the sexy stuff,” she says, mentioning Pennsylvania’s Zenescope Entertainment, publisher of comics and graphic novels filled with fabric-busting women. “But I do worry about some of the younger girls at the conventions.”
“Yeah, I just have a problem with people not respecting women’s bodies,” Darling added.
Darling, a former librarian who actually has the Dewey Decimal Number of “Harry Potter” tattooed on her body, says that she needn’t defend herself against being a “fake geek girl” to anyone.
“I understand that people are possessive of their fandom,” she says, “but it’s more than that. They act like I’m stepping on their dick when I don’t let them grab my ass.”
Is it possible that the introduction of sensate and carbon-based women into a culture that rarely had contact with them leads to resentment — another co-opting of a safe space?
“Every revolution gets co-opted,” says Colbert. “Even the mainstreaming of geek culture.”
Darling says that the role women play in geek culture is both visible and limited. It can change the more women create and sell their own comic characters.
“Women are denied their own fantasy if they’re not making their own content,” she says.
Of the men who would exclude women from nerdy events or try to — as Darling puts it — “vet their geek experience” — Colbert says that the female perspective s here to stay.
“The old guard will die off,” he says. (It’s all the Doritos.)
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Adult Industry Moves to Maine Instead