There’s a post that has been making its way around the feminist-geek webbernets, about some of the reasons female geeks tend to be much more visible and vocal online than in real life; and, as a corollary, why so many of us gravitate to alternative, female-only, or female-oriented geek space. There’s a lot to it, and you should go read it yourself, but I want to talk a little about the bit that hinges around this line:
"…until conventions stop feeling like I’m being forced into a beauty pageant…"
Boy howdy, do I know that feeling. For those of you who know me only as Scrapscallion: I work in the comics industry, in a position that requires a certain degree of public visibility. I’ve seen people on a public forum discuss my face, body, and relative fuckability, and those of my colleagues and friends, in context of professional events—not because we were available; nor because of what we said or even what we wore, but because we had the sheer fucking temerity to show up and some stranger took a photo of a panel we were on.
'Cause, see, that's what it means to be female in public, and doubly so in the geek community at large: Regardless your qualifications, your point of view, your interests, and your personality, regardless your consent, you will be—not always, but likely often, and certainly eventually—reduced to the object of a public game of hot-or-not.
And oh, what an elegantly rigged game it is. You can iron and style your hair and put on make-up, but if anyone catches you at it (or even if you’re just naturally thin and pretty), you’re a dimwitted whore fishing for attention or a conniving bitch manipulating her captive audience. And if you decide not to play (or even if you try your hardest but you don’t have The Face or The Body to back it up), you’re a fat, ugly self-hating dyke and maybe people would take you more seriously if you put some effort into not looking like such a fucking troll. Thanks for playing.
No wonder so many of us first come out of our shells and embrace our interests only when we discover female or feminist-oriented and otherwise deliberately alternative geek spaces. No wonder so many of us are reluctant to leave the (very relative) safety and anonymity of the ‘net and be seen. No wonder we shy away from crowds: better to fade into scenery than be relegated to it.
I make noise about dressing and styling like a goof out of punk ideals and making a point of not taking myself or capital-F Fashion seriously and subverting bullshit beauty standards, but—if I’m going to be honest rather than flip for once—it’s also—maybe mostly—a means of deflection and diversion:
If I’m going to be judged for my appearance anyway, I’m fucking well going to make sure it happens on my terms.
If you write me off because of my bleached-out ‘hawk with the ridiculous spitcurl that keeps showing up in the front, or my eyebrow rings, or my six clashing patterns and fingerless gloves, or even the genderfuckery, I still get to retain some agency. If—when—I’m reduced to my appearance, at least I’ll be reduced to aspects of my appearance that I adopted deliberately.
I’d rather be a freak on my own terms than anywhere on your one-to-ten scale.