I saw Twitter erupt earlier this week over comments regarding women at geeky conventions like Comic-Con. Turns out that comic book artist Tony Harris had some choice words to say about women dressing up for said conventions; the inestimable John Scalzi posted Harris’ comments here, along with a typically humorous and scathing response.
I’m not going to get into the details of what Harris said, nor will I respond directly to his misogynist comments, because Scalzi did a far better job than I. Scalzi is one of those few writers who makes me wish I could write at his level. (Another is Ken Liu; read his amazing, award-winning short story here. I despair of writing anything so profoundly excellent.)
What I am going to do is talk about what kind of environment is fostered by these kind of inflammatory screeds. Because this stuff is giving geeks a bad name.
I’ve never attended a Comic-Con or any sort of geek-inspired convention. The closest I’ve come was when I spoke at DefCon 7 in Las Vegas many moons ago. I recommend speaking to 400 computer hackers as a perfect exercise in both patience and intestinal fortitude. And yet, I found them gracious and welcoming in their own way.
Starting next year, I’m going to be hitting a number of SF/F conventions in order to talk about The Daedalus Incident and hopefully connect with an audience that I think will like my book. Now, I know Harris’ tantrum is an outlier in terms of popular sentiment. The folks I’ve encountered thus far have been very welcoming and incredibly supportive, and I expect that to continue as I meet and greet folks at the cons.
Furthermore, if someone came at me or my book with that kind of vitriol, I would likely vacillate between mild irritation and bemusement before going on my merry way, knowing that they’re in the very small minority. But I’m not new to being disliked for something I’ve written; you can’t spend 15 years in journalism and not have someone irate at you from time to time, especially if you’re doing your job right. Readers have every right to dislike my writing, and so long as they don’t go in for ad hominem attacks, I welcome their opinions.
But to spew this kind of crap at someone simply because of what they’re wearing — or, God forbid, because they’re deemed not geeky enough by some personal and arbitrary standard — cannot stand. Women deserve better. All fans deserve better. Our culture deserves better.
I’ve always found geek culture to be very tolerant. Before being a geek was hip, it was grounds for social ostracism, and many of today’s geek-culture icons remember what that felt like. The vast majority of folks in SF/F and comics are incredibly welcoming of newcomers. That’s why geek is now mainstream. That’s why movies about Batman, The Avengers and the Skywalker clan rank among the highest grossing films of all time. We love this stuff, and we want to share.
People go to conventions because they enjoy comics, science-fiction and fantasy, and they want to be among like-minded folks. Sure, many dress up for the cons, and a few show a bit more decolletage than they might otherwise. So what? Why should they be judged for it? They’re the fans. These are the people we’re trying to connect with, to inspire, to convince that they should buy our work. They’re the ones who are most likely to connect with our art, to share it with others and bring it to a wider audience.
I find it unfathomable that Harris would diss his audience in such a way, and as I said, he appears to be in the minority in such matters. As I prepare to visit various cons next year, I doubt I’ll suffer much in the way of this crap. Then again, I’m a bearded white guy in his 40s; I’ll likely fit right in. But women who want to celebrate their fandom by dressing up should not have to bear this at all, no matter how they dress. No woman should have to face this unforgivably sexist drivel anywhere, but especially in an environment designed to celebrate what they love.
Let’s remember where we came from, think about why we do what we do, and welcome anyone and everyone who wants to enjoy it with us.