Welcome to day #13 of the 30 Day “One Question” Series. If you want to learn more about the series, be sure to check out the first interview.
Back in the late 80s, when I was a youngster starting high school, I became friends with a girl whose sister was so totally kickass I couldn’t bear to look at her. Joanne was three years older than us, smart as hell, a totally amazing artist who also wore combat boots, dyed her hair crazy colors, and wore spiked collars around her neck.
I had just moved to Atlanta from a smaller city in Louisiana where everyone dressed in the same guess jean overalls and polo plaid shirts… and the most outrageous thing you did with your hair was wear it flat. Joanne was the complete opposite of everything I thought you were supposed to aspire to be as a teenage girl. She wasn’t sweet, she wasn’t cute, and she certainly never dreamed of wearing some football jock’s letterman jacket.
She scared the bejezus out of me… but at the same time, there was a part of me that envied her confidence and freedom. In a school ruled by girls who made the ones in that “Mean Girls” movie look tame, Joanne snubbed her nose at being anything but who SHE was. I admired her for that more than I could ever say.
20 years later, I have that same admiration for gamer, writer, game designer, and historical couturier-in-training, Rowan Cota.
I decided to contact Rowan because of a post I read on her blog entitled “The Same Conversation.” In it, she speaks about her heartfelt love for the games, movies, books, and art that make up geek culture and her pain at the feeling that she and other gaming/geek women continually had to force the men of the culture to make space for them at the table. She says:
But the place at the geek table that is made for me is still so small I don’t fit in it. I get to pull up a chair and sit right outside the conversation. I get told that when I play a video game that has the option to play a woman character, that should be enough. I shouldn’t want that character to reflect what I look like, what I sound like, what my hopes and fears and motivations are.
And I’m tired of it. I love you geek culture and I’m tired of you telling me you will only love me back if I comply with the place you’ve already made for me. So I fight. I push and shove and criticize and point out where the cracks are. Because I want you to show me you love me too, not just tell me that it’s okay if I hang out.
Although Rowan wrote this speaking specifically of geek/gaming culture, I felt like it spoke to issues that women still experience at large in the world… where a woman’s creative work is only accepted and respected if it’s frame in someway by male acceptance. And that made me wonder why women bother to continue to compete in the game in the first place.
So I wrote to Rowan, saying:
As I get older (and more cynical), I think I lean more and more toward “taking my ball and going home” versus beating my head into the wall of trying to gain acceptance from those who are hell bent on denying me opportunity for their random reasons. I’m interested in understanding your thoughts on why joining the guys on their turf is important to you… (if it is). My one question for you is..
Based on your experience as a female creative (and fan) in a male dominated creative industry, what advice/wisdom would you share with other women about staking their claim at the table and (again, in your opinion), why is important to stake your claim at the guy’s table versus creating a woman-friendly arena to participate in?
Especially in Western culture (which is the culture I’m soaked in and stuff) if you break off a separate space that’s “women’s space” it becomes ghettoized. Even if the women involved cherish and respect it (which they usually do) in the context of larger culture it’s seen as a secondary space. The “main conversations” never happen in women’s space in geek culture.
For an example of that, you can kind of take the Brony phenomenon. Even though My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show targeted at girls (and maybe at women to some extent) there’s an aura of aggressive ownership that male fans (aka Bronies) have taken over it. And I’ve seen situations in which girls and women were criticized for being the wrong kind of fans, even though this is a media property that they should feel really comfortable being fannish about in whatever way appeals to them.
Because of that, I think it’s important to carve out a seat at the “guys” table and say things that make it clear that this can be our space too. And it helps when creatives in the “guy” sphere want us there. (My favorite example right now is the comic Hawkeye, which makes it really clear that it’s got a progressive, woman-friendly framing.) But to get to have a stake in geek fandom, we need to make sure that we’re participating in the main conversations as much as we can.
Because of that, I’d say my biggest piece of advice is, “Be willing to hold your ground and own your voice.“
People will tell you that you’re wrong, or they’ll try to talk over you, or whatever, but if you’re a fan or a creative…if you have an interest in the thing…you have as much right to be there and participating as the next person. And there are people out there who want you to be part of this community.
If the people in front of you don’t, it’s their loss. You don’t need to change yourself to accommodate them.