30 June 2010

Amanda Hess and being a feminist geek

So, I have an interview up at The Sexist! It's here. And it was also linked on Border House! (If you are feminist geek and don't follow Border House, get on it. Yesterday.) I talk about being a feminist/lady geek, subversive cosplay and how male geeks sometimes just want you to be their sex objects. It's exciting!

There's also a rather fabulous bit about the complicatedness of "sexy" cosplay at Sexy Geekery:
The issue is something that Courtney mentions–can any of this be reclaiming of female sexuality and femininity, which is pretty much not allowed to exist on its own terms in scifi? I feel like the opportunity is there. Women can be sexual, and even in a “mainstream sexy” kind of way, on their own terms. It’s so hard to define so much of this, though–where are we are genuinely enjoying this, and where are we enjoying the attention? (Because yes, attention can be fun.) I find this relevant because it’s an issue I have when dating–I have often considered punching a boy in the jaw for pushing too hard for me to buy “sexy” undergarments, even though it so happens that black lacy skivvies delight me. Just, like, let me buy them on my own terms, dude. Do I feel hypocritical? Sure. Does it change the fact that one motivation (and often different shopping location) makes me feel skeezy, while the other doesn’t. Likewise, can one girl wear the same costume and feel both of those feelings? Of course. Can two girls wear the exact same costume and one be motivated by feminism and the other by self-objectification? I don’t see why not. Does this become a tangled mess of how do we define and how do we express? Oh fuck yes.
Yes! It is possible, I think, to be progressive, to be feminist, and dressed "sexy" in cosplay. Because dressing sexy is also being a sexual agent (not all costumes are, obviously, but some certainly), which is a radical thing as a geek lady. The reason I find the less "sexy" femme Doctor cosplays more encouraging is that dressing sexy in geek culture is always within the context of the fact that for many male geeks, the only way women being in their communities is okay is if they are objectified, sexy versions of their geek obsessions. That is slightly less true in mainstream culture, where the ability to be objectified second and sexual first is easier (though not easy) and more fruitful. But! It is a conversation feminist geeks need to have, because while I find certain femme Doctor cosplays happier than others, I also don't want to claim categorically that only certain cosplays are feminist and others simply not. That's just incorrect.

Post your comments about cosplay or the interview or just being a lady geek below!
(For those that commented elsewhere because I was slow as shit getting this up, thank you! I appreciate all your insight and sister/brotherhood. Seriously.)

UPDATE: Part Duex; or, Make Your Dude-Dominated Subculture More Accessible to Women


Adrienne said...

Courtney, you and I have had multiple discussions about this so I know that I'm repeating a lot of what I've already said.. but I hope to see more discussions about this in the future. This feminist sexy or slutty or sexual conversation is really important to me because I enjoy participating in many things from a sexual perspective. I completely agree that the place that mainstream heteronormative culture makes for us females in these spaces is from an objectify sexy space. I can be popular, I can talk, I can interact in geek culture if I go to a Cosplay comic convention dressed as Dawn. I'm not even representing a female "interpretation" of anything because Dawn was originally female. Objectifyingly, sexually female. And I'm buying in and not discussing anything by doing this either. Or dressing up as a bikini clad storm trooper, etc. But as mentioned in Sexy Geekery, can it be down on my own terms? Can it be down thoughtfully? Can I own it? Can I recognize that even as I objectify myself (because I never can move outside of the space where females are objectified sexually in this culture), yet also and importantly own my own sexuality in a space where women don't just automatically have a space owning sexuality, being a sexual subject. I try frequently to own my own sexuality as a subject. I know I fail. I know I problematically integrate myself in a system that I can't step outside of- hello Althusser- but I have to move in this space anyway. So go burlesque dancers trying to reinvent burlesque in the 21st century. And go sexy cosplayers. And go skirts. And heels. And recreations of heroes and heroines.

But don't use this as an excuse to do whatever. To use sexy as a shield. I'm sure it gets tiring and seems worthless after a while- but think about what you are doing. And why you're doing it. Easy? I think not. But I find examining my sexuality and my interaction as a sexual subject and participation as a sexual object to be really important and worthwhile.

Courtney said...

I agree that this is an important conversation, and it's more complicated than just sexy=bad and not-sexy=feminist. There's interesting overlap between the spaces YOU usually cosplay in, which tend to be less un-lady-friendly, and, say, the Gally convention. But there's room, I think, for progressive sexiness in both. It's just that the latter is more difficult, fraught, and probably generally less successful.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I sent you an email to your TAMU account last night (a friend emailed me a link to your interview and blog, and I'm a sociology prof here at TAMU) regarding a call for papers and being on our reviewer list for an upcomping special issue of Transformative Works & Cultures on race/ethnicity and fandom (it can also be found here: http://sociweb.tamu.edu/faculty/gatson/)

I tried to post using my livejournal ID, but couldn't get it to work. If you'd like to post the CFP on your blog, feel free.

--Sarah N. Gatson

Cendri said...

I've found that in cosplay spaces where anime and videogames are the more dominant form of fandom that the "cute" girl costumes are the ones that get the most creepers and objectification. Which baffles me. I remember one costume I made that I did because it was one of my favorite female videogame protagonists, and my variation of her costume was rather covered, lacking high heels, and mostly just pretty.

I've never had more fanboys completely disregard my space or be more disrespectful when I was dressed in that. And the character wasn't even very sexual in her game either!

So I've given up trying not to be sexual, and lo and behold, I'm left alone more now. I particularly love doing genderswapped versions of scarred old warrior characters, which I've found to be offputting to a lot of the objectifying types. XD

Gemma said...

This mostly just reminded me that my Ten costume hasn't materialised yet. God dammit. But yeah, the interview was really great!

I've had similar experiences to Cendri actually- not so much with 'proper' cosplay but at fancy dress parties and such. The sexier somebody's costume is, the more attention they get, and it's not always good attention. It's pretty hard to dress in something that you like, that makes you feel good, and then feel creeped out when people assume you're doing it because girls are there to be looked at and so you're OBVIOUSLY up for whatever.

Also, I think the fact that Adrienne is trying to own the sexy is the main thing- it doesn't matter if you don't always get it right, because noticing the problems and talking about all the pros and cons can be just as helpful as getting it right every time- if not more so.

OldPandaDayz said...

First, I want to say thanks for posting about this topic! It's definitely something I don't see discussed enough. Its always been difficult I think for women in this area of geek/sci-fi culture for the many of the reasons you mentioned. Particularly I identified with what you pointed out in terms of many women accepting or internalizing the misogyny and the objectification because they feel they are/need to be "one of the guys"- the Sarah Palin analogy was pretty spot on. I also think that it's due to the fact that, as is evident, we are somewhat in the minority in this realm so it's difficult to find ways to fight back against the injustices in the same way we have in other areas of society and culture. For example, with video games: I grew up playing video games and I knew pretty much from the beginning that they were stereotyping and objectifying women; but by the same token I ENJOY playing video games and if I want to play certain games I am essentially forced to deal with the fact that the larger market for video games is predominantly 14-40 yr old dudes and THEY want to play a game with some vixen-like supermodel, who often serves no useful purpose in the game whatsoever. At the same time this topic is a little bit strange because I've always felt that one of the reasons I was drawn to sci-fi television, for example, was because the female characters being portrayed in the shows I liked were much more forwardly feminist than women on other shows in terms of being independent and doing things outside of the typical female stereotypes. I was more interested in watching Scully chase aliens on the X-Files or watching Aeryn Sun being super -soldier woman on Farscape, than I was in watching women on sitcoms or dramas lamenting their guy problems and whatnot. And I think Adrienne made a good point on this in the post above- that essentially participating in, recognizing and examining the gender roles and the issues around them is a good start. As she points out it is hard for women in any part of culture to completely escape objectification, but if you can realize the issues and make headway in certain ways than that is a step forward. I mean take Chuck (I consider this show in the sci-fi/geek realm, some might not) for instance: CIA Agent Sarah Walker does fit the objectified geek requirements of looking like a supermodel, and running around incomprehensibly doing kung fu in 5 inch heeled boots and the tightest jeans possible- but by the same token it's nice to have a show with a female character who is only rarely relegated to damsel in distress and even spends a large part of the show saving the asses of the main male characters. It's a bit like making lemonade out of lemons.

Sorry for the long post- but lastly, I highly recommend, if you can find a way to watch it, an episode of the X-Files (I think it's from Season 7) called First Person Shooter. The plot centers around a woman who is a computer programmer who is working on a virtual reality, full immersion, type first person shooter game. She's basically the only woman at her job and on top of it she's steeped in testosterone-fueled virtual aggression all day long. In response to it she creates a female character for the video game that takes on a life of it's own and essentially becomes the embodiment of the woman's internal struggles with a lot of these topics.

Eliza said...

I just read this in the Sexist, and I want to thank you for doing a great interview. I almost never leave comments on blogs, but as someone who is often shamed by her fellow female geeks for daring to like "girl shows," it makes me incredibly happy to see that issue addressed.