On Being a Woman, and a Nerd

Evil Queen cosplay at Blerdcon
Author cosplaying the Evil Queen from "Once Upon a Time."
By Sarah Patnaude

CW: sexual harassment

Recently I struck up a conversation with someone working for Microsoft. No, we didn’t discuss technology – we talked about what everyone talks about when they meet someone new: Spider-Man!

Yes! I am a woman. I am also a nerd.

The reactions of men when I make a Marvel Comics reference or bring up cosplaying range from trying to belittle my nerd knowledge to staring at me with a flabbergasted face as if I was the Demogorgon itself. Men tend to be shocked when I show the slightest interest in nerd culture, never mind my love of many parts of it. This shock is only intensified when I do not conform to the nerd stereotype prescribed for women. I do not cosplay Disney princesses or any typically perceived sexy heroines; I prefer villains and time-traveling murderous witches.

Men do not see me as someone who can spiel off digits of Pi or go into the background of the Jacobite risings, and their reactions are not surprising given the roles that women characters often play in comics, graphic novels, TV shows, and movies. Let’s be honest: women are often the ones needing to be saved or playing the love interest for a man, who is usually more fully-developed as a character. Just look at Daphne from Scooby-Doo, Vanessa in the Deadpool movie, and Iris West in Flash.

But let’s get one thing straight – women can be nerds too.

“Geek-splaining.” It’s a thing.

In addition to being surprised that women and girls can show interest in nerd culture, men have a tendency to disbelieve that women can have just as much knowledge – if not more – of various nerd topics. Kimi Patnaude of RVAvengers defines “geek-splaining” as the phenomenon where individuals, especially men, over-simplify and explain nerd concepts to someone who may know what they are talking about in a condescending manner. When women participate in a conversation about topics within nerd culture, they are often aggressively questioned about the topic with the intent to prove (or rather, disprove) their knowledge or fan loyalty. Does anyone ever question the authenticity of a man’s knowledge of Batman or Han Solo? Of course not. “Nerdiness is not, and should not, be a competition,” Kimi explains. And on that note – just because someone does not know every tiny detail of something does not make them any less of a fan of it, nor any less of a nerd.

Evil Queen cosplay at Blerdcon
The author cosplaying the Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time.

Oh, and cosplay does not equal consent.

Let me repeat: cosplay does not equal consent. For the people in the back, repeat after me: “Cosplay is not consent.” Making snide comments about someone’s butt is not appropriate. Touching someone’s body parts (this includes biceps, thighs, butts, chests, abs – any and every part of the body) without their consent is not appropriate. Taking pictures of someone’s chest from across the room is not appropriate.

All of this applies to cosplayers. Costumes do not give others authority or possession over someone else’s body. It doesn’t matter if Supergirl is your all-time favorite hero; you don’t have the right to touch someone cosplaying her without their consent. Supergirl can and will break you – no qualms.

Dressed as Merida from Disney Pixar’s Brave, Kimi once received this  comment from a man attending a comic con: “I would like to pull my arrow from your quiver.” In what scenario would this comment be deemed appropriate? Unfortunately, cosplayers of all genders are sexually harassed – both verbally and physically – on a routine basis.

As a cosplayer myself, I am ultra aware of what I wear to comic cons for this reason. My favorite cosplay is the Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time, which also happens to be my most revealing cosplay to date. Since many of my other costumes cover me from head to toe, as the Evil Queen I feel extra exposed. Every time I walk through convention halls, I worry about whether someone is going to make an inappropriate comment about my exposed chest. I think about how I can cover up my chest without ruining the appearance of my character. For pictures, I tend to position my body in a way that limits chest angles. But why? Why should women cater our apparel to combat sexual harassment? If women cosplayers want to dress as a certain character, we should be able to do so without the fear of others crossing our boundaries.

Geek Girls are not magical unicorns. We exist and we are strong.

The nerd identity and community are not owned by men. As Kimi says, “Geek Girls are not magical unicorns. We exist and we are strong.” Cis men and women, transgender and non-binary people of all races, ages, religions, sexual orientations, and abilities are nerds. It’s time we start creating a more inclusive atmosphere in the nerd community – an atmosphere where all nerds have the freedom to let their nerdiness shine. So let us unite as nerds! But tomorrow – there’s a marathon of Game of Thrones starting at 8.

1 comment

  1. This article is amazing. I was just dealing with this the other day about Magic the Gathering. A guy felt he HAD to correct me into submission and prove he knew more and played longer. Sadly the playing longer wasn’t a thing. Any way Thanks for bringing this to light.

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