Why is it when male nerds start seriously courting a woman, they provide the object of their affection with a laundry list of pop-cultural artifacts that she simply has to experience? ("I can't believe you've lived this long and not seen Starship Troopers/heard of Watchmen/watched Buffy/read Hunter S. Thompson!") Women often receive more required reading and viewing at the beginning of a relationship than some freshmen liberal arts majors, and that deal—consume this entertainment if you want to know me—rarely happens in reverse.
Part of the problem is that autonomous female geek identity isn't projected onto the culture at large—the common understanding of women in geek culture is as "the girlfriend," a passive member of a partnership. This weekend's GeekGirlCon is the latest in a series of steps to correct that misperception. Organizers believe it to be the first femalecentric general-interest nerd-culture convention in the world. (Earlier this year, Dallas hosted a "Women of Sci-Fi" convention, and Wisconsin's long-running WisCon has been feminist-friendly for years, but GGC ambitiously ranges from horror to video games to TV to books to comics and beyond.)
GGC germinated from a series of informal discussions about the need for a female fan convention, both over the internet and at 2010's San Diego Comic-Con. GGC programming director (and author of a feminist study of nerd culture published last year titled Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology) Jennifer Stuller, who has never programmed a convention before, describes the central philosophy of the convention via e-mail: "There are more female cartoonists, filmmakers, scientists, and engineers out there than we think. And there are women looking to get into those professions that don't know how because role models might not be visible."
The GGC lineup is impressive—panels on Star Trek, science, zine-making, writing genre fiction, and sexism in the video game industry run side by side with Joss Whedon–themed burlesque shows, presentations by professional stuntwomen, Yoda-puppet-making workshops, and structured conversations about parenting, sex, and business ownership. The convention boasts more than 200 panelists. (The goal was to be comprehensive while still being discerning: Stuller says even though "I definitely want to make sure that everyone has a voice at our convention," one of the most important things she learned while putting the show together was "one of the most valuable things a woman can learn—how to say 'No.'")
So are men allowed at GGC? Of course, Stuller says. And the panels feature female-friendly male nerd icons like author Greg Rucka. But Stuller chafes at the fact that she's had to answer so many mancentric questions in the buildup to the convention, because it's kind of beside the point: "We have men that support us, we have men that we love, but GeekGirlCon is designed to create spaces for women to show their work and celebrate their interests." In a culture where the masculine imperative still overwhelms the discourse—visit any sci-fi comment-thread discussion about sexism to see how Neanderthaloid geek culture remains—it's important to define a space where women can create and celebrate their own essential texts.