This year, I achieved an important milestone in my own personal Heroine’s Journey: I cosplayed for the first time.
Okay, so yes, I suppose you could also count the time I threw together a raggedy pink gingham ensemble in order to portray Lily Tomlin in Big Business for a friend’s birthday, but that was definitely amateur hour. This time, I was serious: I’d targeted that seething amoeba of humanity known as San Diego Comic–Con as my venue; I’d reserved a sizable square of costume space in my already overflowing suitcase; and I’d even purchased a pair of those cheerleader shorts–underwear hybrids so my ass wouldn’t fall out of my tiny red skirt.
I was going to be Sailor Mars, bitch. As I adjusted my tiara and multiple bows in the mirror, I felt my energy shift, as if the air around me had actually morphed into a sparkly transformation bubble. For the first time in years, there was no cloud of anger, trepidation, or weariness surrounding the geekdom I was about to participate in.
I only felt joy.
It’s entirely too cutesy to say it’s hard out there for a geek girl…but man, is it hard out there for a geek girl. These past few years, it seems as if we’ve reached multiple tipping points with regards to women in fandom. There’s always some new article or blog post that ignores us, dismisses us, or mocks us as interlopers and attention–seekers. Every time a woman in geekdom speaks out about, well, anything, she’s pretty much guaranteed a slew of threats, ranging from the “joking” to the “will make you sick to your stomach and force you to call the police.” I tweeted recently about Wonder Woman being a feminist and immediately received profanity–laden responses from some dude who had created an entire account purely to search out any woman who’d ever mentioned superheroines and equality for women in the same breath and send them charming 140–character “truth bombs” about the state of their reproductive organs. And on the Grand Scale of Shitty Internet Harassment, that’s pretty mild.
It feels like it keeps getting worse, too, this toxic attitude toward nerd women. I don’t know if it’s just that my awareness has increased over time, but to me, it feels like we’ve gone from disbelief that female geeks exist to outright hostility toward anyone who dares string any variation of “woman” and “nerd” together. We’ve gone from “Are you a fake geek girl?” to “Actually, I don’t even care, just get out.” We’ve gone from quizzes over credentials to death threats.
Not to go all “When I Was A Kid” on this, but if I compare the current state of things to the state of things when I was a kid: There was no internet, and I had to travel at least an hour outside my miniscule hometown to go to an equally miniscule Star Trek convention, and you can bet I totally did that, but even if there were more Spocks than Major Kiras in attendance, I never really got the idea that I didn’t belong there. Once I got older and expanded both my fandom and my geographical reach, I started getting The Tests: Do you really like the X–Men? Can you name them all? Do you get what that shirt you’re wearing means—no, what it really means? I developed the feeling that my presence was a surprise, but still not necessarily an unwelcome one.
These days? I feel unwelcome.
I feel unwelcome when I’m at a convention and some guy behind me yells at a Game of Thrones cosplayer: “Hey, Daenerys, I’ve totally seen you naked! So take it off, bitch!”
I feel unwelcome when men chime in loudly to tell female comic book fans they’re wrong to even consider being upset about that Spider–Woman cover where her ass is all up in the air.
I feel unwelcome when yet another friend shows me a rapey string of tweets she’s been subjected to after she posts an article about sexism/posts a picture of herself/commits the unforgivable act of being a woman on the internet.
And all of these things brought up a recent moment where I asked myself: If I feel so unwelcome, why am I here? Why do I stay in geekdom? Why am I fighting so hard to be part of something that seems to actively not want me?
In the past, two things have helped me power through these kinds of feelings. One was my near–constant underlying simmer of rage: How dare you tell me where I do and do not belong? How dare you quiz me on the freaking X–Men when you just told me you were “more of a DC fan” and can only name like two of them? How dare you try to deny my love of these things I’ve clung to since childhood, these things that shaped me as a person? I am here and so are countless other women and I’m going to keep saying it until you shut up.
The other thing was the love that brought me to fandom in the first place: Passion for the kickass women of the X–Men comics, adoration of Major Kira’s combat–footed stomp, the ability to fall headfirst into an obsessive analytic inner monologue about Princess Leia’s various hairstyles.
But even that pure love was starting to wear thin. One reason I’d gotten into sci–fi/fantasy and comic book fandom in the first place was the abundance of awesome female characters, as well as the thought that their numbers and awesomeness would surely just increase and improve over time. Instead, the newer X–Men movies tend to shunt the female characters to the side; what was once Kitty Pryde’s story is now Wolverine’s. The Star Trek film reboots have given wonderful Uhura maybe half a story arc. And when that new Star Wars cast was announced, there was only one new lady in the mix, and pointing that out meant you were a fun–hating killjoy. (Yes, they later added a few more. Still.)
As for the aforementioned rage? I was starting to just feel tired.
As is usually the case, it took wise words from a friend to snap me out of this funk. And those words were, “Hey, so I finally found really high–quality Sailor Scout costumes, and we should totally buy them. They come with tiaras.”
Now let me just take a moment to discuss the Sailor Moon element of this whole thing, because it’s an important one, although it took me a while to realize how important. I loved Sailor Moon (originally envisioned by a female creator, manga writer–artist Naoko Takeuchi) when I was younger, but it wasn’t necessarily one of my primary fandoms. Still, I was constantly inspired by it: The magical girl element, the team of girl superheroes element, the amazing costumes with matching accessories element. But when the property made a definitive resurgence earlier this year—classic, remastered episodes on Hulu! Also, episodes of the all–new show, Sailor Moon Crystal! New fans, old fans, it’s a total Moonaissance, everyone loves Sailor Moon!—I found myself completely and totally obsessed. I thought about Usagi Tsukino constantly. I wondered if my heavy bangs made me more of a Mars or a Saturn. I considered how a team of tempestuous teenage female superheroes is such a simple, delightful, wonderful concept that seems created for me yet has never been replicated in such a perfect way. And then, happily, a few friends and I started a long, extremely involved email chain about any and all aspects of Sailor Scouting, Sailor Crafting, Sailor Storytelling. Every time one of these emails popped up, I’d get a little frisson of happiness.
For whatever reason, I didn’t connect this resurgence in my own Sailor Moon fandom to my bigger geek–type fandom. It was just this separate little wonderful thing. It felt new and shiny and fun and like the friends I was participating with were getting as much untainted delight out of it as I was.
It felt like that moment in childhood, when I first became a fan of anything.
As I gleefully sorted through the ever–growing email chain—wherein we were now discussing the various attributes of the Scout costumes we were thinking of ordering and whether Mercury also wanted to spring for a blue wig—I realized something.
We weren’t the only group of female fans doing this.
And by “this,” I don’t specifically mean, “Participating in a really long and increasingly detailed and involved email chain.” I mean finding awesome female characters (often created or shepherded by female creators) and championing them and enthusiastically engaging in fandom with a pure, unadulterated joy that keeps sending the message I mentioned earlier: I am here and so are countless other women and I’m going to keep saying it until you shut up.
I thought about the Carol Corps, a sprawling, powerful, and very visible group of fans (of all genders, though the ladies really seem to take the lead) dedicated to Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers) and her comic book series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. If a con’s happening, you can bet my Twitter feed’s about to be taken over by the #carolcorps hashtag and a bunch of amazing Instagrams of wildly creative Captain Marvel costumes and reports from the group’s various meetups and panels. And the Kamala Korps, a similar fan group for Kamala Khan, star of the G. Willow Wilson–penned Ms. Marvel. And the countless female–led fan groups around pretty much any nerd thing you can think of that I see gathering every year at GeekGirlCon.
I thought about how, when I look beyond the beloved genre tentpoles of my childhood, I’m seeing and experiencing major excitement over new female heroes starring in their own stories: Katniss Everdeen and Elsa of Arendelle and Abbie Mills and Maleficent and Lizzie Bennet and the Lumberjanes. I thought about how whenever some new sexist bullshit happens in geekdom, it seems to get more sexist and more bullshitty every time…but there’s also always a backlash. I thought about all the amazing women in geekdom I’ve met in person and online, how their combined voices are loud and powerful and inspiring. How hopefully, the female characters they’re championing will continue to rise and make way for more characters and creators worth getting excited about.
How even when I feel angry and tired and fed up, I am never alone.
The larger geek community may feel unwelcoming these days, but these are the communities that matter, the communities celebrating Usagi and Carol and Kamala. These are the communities that represent the future of fandom.
These are the communities I will always want to be part of.
As I was sashaying my way through Comic–Con in true Sailor Marsian fashion (I opted for sequined boots over the spiky red heels, thinking Mars would probably understand that conventions involve an epic amount of walking), I heard a voice behind me:
“Mars! Hey, Mars!”
I turned with a bit of dread, wondering if it was going to be someone catcalling me—like the guy who’d demanded to see Daenerys’ boobs.
Instead, it was a beaming, well–outfitted Sailor Mercury, waving a camera.
“Let’s take a picture!” she said. “I’m collecting photos with fellow Scouts!”
We took one, Sailor Smiles bright and shiny.
“Have fun, Mars!” she sang out, giving me a wave. “I’m glad you’re here!”
“Thank you!” I called, grinning as I watched her twirl off.
And then, even though she was already gone, I added: “I’m glad you’re here, too.”
© 2014 Sarah Kuhn