7.26.2012

The Response To The Response To My "Booth Babes" Piece On CNN

(Update 11.14.12: I've written a follow-up to this piece, as well as my other cosplay / geek girl pieces. Please check that out.)


Sooooo... Read anything interesting lately?

In case you missed it, I wrote a piece for CNN GeekOut titled "Booth Babes Need Not Apply." In it was a case built against "fake geeks" who are female, who are infiltrating comic conventions and geekdom in general because they enjoy the attention they garner being a female in the company of predominantly male geeks who are traditionally awkward around women.

This is a followup to that piece, intended to address some points made by people across the internet, and issue two apologies. CNN themselves did a roundup of opinions on the piece. Feel free to read that first. I would also like to point anyone who feels I'm a misogynist to my opinions on Daniel Tosh's rape joke, beauty magazine culture and misogyny itself.


First, the apologies

Before I even get started, I need to publicly apologize to the Frag Dolls. I included them in a category of "not real geeks." The reason I did this was not because I don't know who they are. I've been aware of the Frag Dolls since either 2005(ish), when they received tons of negative attention for the mere fact that they exist on Something Awful and Fark. At that time, my feelings were "Wow, that's fantastic -- girls who like games, gathering together so they can play without fear of being attacked by boys just for wanting to play." And very very quickly, they were gaining attention for being "pretty" from boys in the gaming community more than they were being set up as elite female gamers.

Their marketing reflected this. There are lots of portrait shots and focus on the "female" aspect of "female gamer" -- and that's fine.

My issue comes from the fact that gaming is hardly the domain of geeks these days. It's the highest grossing entertainment medium in the world. People line up around the block for every Call of Duty and Madden release. Frat Boys play HALO. Hunters, fishers and gym jocks play games. I wouldn't categorize the majority of them as geeks. They're just gamers. They're the same as moviegoers and book readers.

 To me, being a "girl gamer" is the same as being a "girl moviegoer" or a "girl reader" -- who cares? And their femininity and attractiveness are being used to position them for roles in the geek community merely for the fact that they play video games. Yes, they're extremely good at games. But being a hardcore gamer, to me, is not particularly geeky. For example, my wife will beat you in Tekken. I know this, because I will beat you in Tekken, and my wife beats me routinely -- and I'm fucking GOOD. She also likes Wii Bowling and Super Mario Wii. She is NOT a geek. Not even slightly.

To me, gaming is not geeky. Geeks play games, yes. But gaming itself? Not geeky.

I am clearly wrong on this. 

There was a MASSIVE backlash about my inclusion of the Frag Dolls in the non-geeky category. I had many, many conversations about this with many, many people, and the vast majority said that, while they saw my point on gaming being mass entertainment, there's absolutely a geek quotient to being a hardcore gamer in and of itself. They don't need to play RPGs, fantasy, sci-fi or other geeky categories of games.

It's the same as arguments I've had about Golf or NASCAR being a sport. Just because my subjective opinion and biases don't agree with the point doesn't mean it isn't a point. Gaming, in and of itself, may not be geeky, but the level of commitment it takes to be a hardcore or pro gamer -- even if it's a game that is popular with non-geeks.

For this, I absolutely apologize. It was my viewpoint on an activity, and that viewpoint disagrees with the vast majority of other peoples' opinions. Because of that, I diminished the geekiness of a group of truly geeky girls. And I apologize.

The second apology I will make is to everyone who didn't get that "Booth Babe" is a pejorative used at conventions to describe any guy or girl who doesn't actually care about the industry, the fiction, the fandom or the culture -- they're just there to get attention or a paycheck. I should have been clearer there.

Those two things, could I do the piece over again, would be changed and fixed. And with that said, those are the only apologies I am making.


A breakdown on opinions on the piece

In reading through Twitter, Google News alerts, the comments on CNN and forums and sites that carried the article, opinion seems to be nearly half and half for and against. In both categories, the feedback seems to be nearly 50% women and 50% men. It's fairly evenly split.

From the emails and Facebook opinions I received, these stats change drastically. I received only two negative emails out of 400+ emails from 67% females and 33% males. I think that email tend to be biased, though. Email is usually only sent by people who are either very happy or very angry with things I've written.

But it does tell an interesting tale that of the two emails I received with negative opinions on my article, both did say "I see where you're coming from" and neither were from women. In fact, EVERY SINGLE EMAIL I got from females responding to my article said, in some form or fashion, "Thank you for saying this." They go on to explain that, when women complain about the phenomenon of fake geek girls showing up to conventions for attention, they're accused of being "bitches" or "jealous" or "Ugly Bettys" and that it was refreshing to hear a male call it out.

I was very glad to see that very large number of female readers saw the point of the article: That these poachers and fake geek girls actually demean advancements in the geek culture where women are concerned. They actually hurt the legitimacy of females in geekdom because they're subjugating themselves. They play directly into the hands of the 13 year old male mentality of "OOOH BOOBS!" It's gross and sad. Personally, I look forward to the day that people don't even talk about the fact that a geek can be a girl, because it's long past relevant what gender you are when it comes to the things you like.

For the record: I feel the same way about men who poach women. My wife is a marathoner (and I've even run one myself, and OH MY GOD I'll never do that again). She participates in lots of female-specific events, like Iron Girl and the Nike Women's Marathon. There are men who attend the expos and conferences for these events specifically to hit on women. I feel the same way about them. They're gross.


Engaging in dialog

I tried my best on Twitter to respond to most people, especially those with dissenting or angry opinions. I don't believe in hiding behind my keyboard. I didn't write the piece just to take swipes at people and then slink away.

Last night, I was invited to join MrsViolence and LethalxPrincess on a live Q/A to discuss the article. They were angry and offended, and I wanted to engage in dialog to find out why. It was very uplifting to engage in such a respectful and thorough dialog. I wanted to find out what it was they took offense to, mostly because their critique didn't fall into "YOU JUST HATE WOMEN!" or "LOL U CAN'T GET LAID" types of dislike, and their feelings were in stark contrast to the support I was receiving from other women.

It was a fantastic experience, and I'm very thankful we had the chance to talk and give the topic due attention in front of hundreds of viewers. There was no name calling, there were no wars. We had points and opinions, and we articulated them respectfully. They made me aware of the fact that they were with me all the way up to a certain point in the article (for some, it was the "Booth Babes" overgeneralization and for others, it was calling out the Frag Dolls).

I ALWAYS want to find out what it is people disagree with, when in fact they're disagreeing and not just lobbing random internet insults or trolling. I care a tremendous amount about communicating what it is I'm trying to say. I don't expect (or even want) people to always agree with me, but when they disagree, I like to know why -- if for no other reason than I feel it's always a healthy exercise to discuss and converse. But when I can see that there's an issue with what I wrote being poorly communicated or flat out wrong, I want and need to know those things.


Some responses to paraphrased types of rebuttal I received yesterday

I'm going to lump together types of responses I received yesterday and respond to them in kind:

"I can't see why women would spend hundreds of dollars on costumes to wear to conventions just for attention." 

People spend hundreds of dollars on costumes every year for Halloween, Prom, cotillions, graduation and other events. Those that enter costume competitions can spend into the thousands. The same thing happens at comic, sci-fi, fantasy and gaming conventions, especially those with costume contests.

There's an argument to be made that people who pay that much attention to their costuming and cosplay are geeks simply for the passion they exude, and I can't argue. Being a costuming geek is being a geek.

And then, there's conventions like Dragon*Con, where the Mariott in Atlanta is packed to the gills with scantly-clad women standing around the convention for photo ops, who may not even be dressed as an actual character. Some of them don't even have badges for the convention -- they're just there for the freakshow. I've personally seen this at NYCC, C2E2, WonderCon, Otakon, and other conventions. You don't have to see why, and you don't have to believe it. It happens. I'm not making this up.


"Who are YOU to..."

I'm me.  I'm one of 300,000,000 people living in America, and one of ~7,000,000,000 people on this planet. You can feel free to pay my opinion all the due credit it deserves, which is one person's opinion. I'm no gatekeeper for geek culture. I have no test to administer to judge who is truly geeky. I only have my opinion on the whole thing. I voiced it. If you don't agree with it, you can nullify it by simply not caring.


"You're a mysognist / You hate women / You're a bully / You're a geek who can't get laid (so on and so forth)"

You didn't read the article. Or if you did, you took something out of context and chose to aggrandize it to the point of absurdity. Criticizing a certain type of woman on a certain type of behavior is not hating women, marginalizing women, "slut shaming" or otherwise holding the gender back. It's calling out a type of behavior exhibited by a type of person of a specific gender. I can't help that my being right about what's happening touches on something you're sensitive about.


"What if a pretty girl who isn't a geek wants to come to a convention to see what it's all about?"

GOOD. That's what conventions are for. Gender and subjective measures of attractiveness are irrelevant.


"The Six of Nine thing / ranking women's attractiveness is disgusting."

Eh. It was a Star Trek reference, specifically about Jeri Ryan who knew nothing at all about Star Trek before taking the role as 7 of 9 in Voyager. She's pretty, she took a very geeky role, and now is a geek celeb -- and she's not particularly interested in the culture.

We all judge people, ESPECIALLY on attractiveness. To pretend you're above it is disingenuous at best. We are all predisposed to do two things: find food and fuck. It's biological. The only possible exception to this is Morrissey, who claims to be asexual. You find people attractive. You find some people more attractive than others. If you are 100% honest with yourself, you'll admit that you've thought one person was more or less attractive than another.

Ranking on a scale is simply putting this into words. It was done on purpose. It is not misogynistic, any more than it's feminist when women do it. It is not debasing. It's definitely unpopular. But it was a fantastic play on a Star Trek reference.



Everything else was covered in my article. With the exception of the apology I owed the Frag Dolls and the fact that I wish I'd explained the pejorative "Booth Babe" a little more clearly, I stand by what I wrote.