The Sexist Interviews Courtney Stoker On Feminism and Geek Fandom

Today, Amanda Hess posted an interview with blogger Courtney Stoker about being a feminist and a nerd, and participating in geeky fandoms where sexism seems particularly rampant. She doesn’t talk about games, but her experience is probably all too familiar for many of our readers:

I’ve blogged about Doctor Who and geek culture quite a bit lately, and I’d say about half of the responses I’ve received have been positive (and a few bright shining ones have been thanking me for saying what needed to be said). The others vacillate between mocking me for being a lady (the implication being that I am silly to talk about feminism or sci fi like I Know Things, on account of my obviously inferior lady-brain), mocking me for being a feminist (usually one Made of Straw), accusing me of inserting my dirty lady-feelings (irrelevant and irrational!) into a discussion of sci fi/geek culture, and determining that I am a Bad Feminist for any number of reasons. It’s hard, sometimes, because I only talk about sci fi things because I am a fan. Sci fi is a huge part of my life and my research. To have members of this community tell me that I am not qualified to Talk About Things on account of being a lady or a feminist is exhausting and disempowering. When I first forayed into this community, I thought that it would be progressive, feminist, and proud of its lady members (and not, you know, for their boobs). It’s been a hard let-down.

Courtney also talks about the roles women and girls are expected to play in geek fandoms, how some white male geeks appropriate the experience of oppression, and the politics of cosplay. It’s a great read.

I’ve definitely gone through this sort of thing in the various gaming communities I’ve tried to join. It’s often these sorts of experiences that lead people to create communities like The Border House. Is Courtney’s story familiar to you? Are there any fandoms that are more welcoming? If you do participate in fandom, how do you deal with marginalizing comments?

[The Sexist: Courtney Stoker on Feminist Geek]

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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10 Responses to The Sexist Interviews Courtney Stoker On Feminism and Geek Fandom

  1. Maverynthia says:

    The only fandom that seems to be more welcoming to me it seems is the furry fandom. That only seems to be because everyone is objectified, and more than not the person in the Renamon costume is a guy. I haven’t seen any form of “Your a woman and thus are stupid!” in that fandom at all. Most of the drama seems to be arguments over who is doing what with whom and for how many art commissions.

    The fandom that seems least welcoming now is the LUA “fandom”. I found a LUA engine called Love (which seems to look cute and unassuming), but soon found people titling their code as “BOOB” (fighting game code) and “LUBE” (Netoworking code) it just seemed so childish and put me off to even using the engine entirely. :/

    • Jayle Enn says:

      I’ve always felt that furry is less welcoming, and more desperate for attention, to the point where members of the fandom will sometimes co-opt elements of unrelated media. The biggest controversies I can remember involved the… ‘porn-concerned’ Burned Furs movement, ‘cub play’, and that one episode of CSI.

      • Maverynthia says:

        From what I can tell, those two “controversies” were about pointing out moral flaws within the fandom concerning sexual deviation to the point where it becomes illegal. Basically people taking a stand against bestiality and pedophilia that they felt was giving their fandom a bad name. That doesn’t ring to me as “being desperate for attention”, but more like “Hey furs, let’s clean up our acts… seriously!” The CSI thing was them pointing out “Hey, not all of us act like that!”

        Similar to how feminists try to call attention to the female supremacists and say “Hey peeps, can we tone down the man hating? The rest of us aren’t being taken seriously because of you!” or point out the straw feminists theorists and say “Hey, not all of us act like that!”

        To say furries go out of their way for attention is to say that feminists go out of their way for attention. My friend doesn’t like to say she’s a furry because she knows she’ll be harassed and insulted and I don’t really like to say I’m a feminist because I know I’ll be harassed and insulted.

        • Jayle Enn says:

          I’ve no idea why I used ‘attention’ when I meant ‘acceptance’, but whatever. It’s welcoming to a fault– a large fault, when there is actual resistance within the ranks to making zoo- and pedophiles feel unwelcome, and the rest would rather go back to being melodramatic over IRC logs and art. It’s a thirty year old fandom that has all the maturity of a middle school clique. That’s why self-professed furries are insulted, and not because they’re considered a threat.

  2. Jayle Enn says:

    Thinking back to when I was a young geek, I recall rolling my eyes and making dismissive gestures at feminist criticisms of commercials or movies, and literary analysis in general. Despite liking to read and wanting to write when I grew up, I was extremely literal-minded and resistant to the concept of subtext– the words on the page were the author’s sole intention, end of story. I don’t think that I was alone in that.

    I’m not saying that geeks tend to read novels like stereo instructions, or watch the Simpsons with an eye to (programming?) errors, but the geek I was and the geeks I knew were more interested in tangible facts and mastery of the topic. Anyone coming in from a different angle was a disruption, an excuse to argue or circle the wagons. See the great debates over Kirk vs. Picard, or Enterprise vs. Star Destroyer. In cases like that, the territory was at least familiar. If someone brought up something like emotional context, or the treatment of women, we would have been baffled. Then we would have sat in uncomfortable silence until they left. Trying to learn from the interloper wouldn’t have occurred to us– we were too busy being embarrassed and socially inept. In the case of the people that Ms. Stoker encountered, that ineptitude came out the way that it usually does on the Internet.

    On other parts of the interview, I have to admit that I never really considered the possibility of fanfic as an actual genre before. I’m going to have to do some hard thinking on that.

    …and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who dislikes the midriff-baring stormtroopers.

  3. Ultraviolet says:

    The sexism among geeks is goddamnawful and i have to agree, from my own experience. Thing is, it can’t be sorted from outside. Someone from another subculture (let’s face it it’s true, it’s two subcultures) steps in and tells everyone: you’re doing it wrong, step aside, children and watch me. Guess what happens?

    But being a geek woman there’s things you can do. I ran romance and emotion focused RPG campaigns. Granted the predominantly male geeks whined about that (and the queer themes here and there – *evil chuckle* i did those too). But it had lots of good things – their gfs were more likely to get involved thus improving gender balance and also taking the justification of absence stress out of equation. And when i emigrated they actually found the H&S jobs elsewhere seriously emotionally lacking.

    Now imagine what would have happened if i allowed myself to manifest AnG3r? or if instead of adding queer themes, romance and strong female characters i’d have started to twist the campaign into a thinly veiled political allegory? Or if i was casting the emotions as there because of (Look At)me and fundamentally female and ‘other’ – rather than encouraging the folks to think of them as theirs?

    Lol about the stormtrooper piccy. Insanity. Plain howling lunacy to wear that atrocity in battle. Then i am not entirely certain whether it is not a move to the same effect as a drag performance. Which i suspect it is and you’d be likely to find a high femme twist on a stormtrooper like that in smuggler den taverns rather than battlefields. Unless….

    …unless we are talking a Sith risen from the stormtroopers and still in command. TBH Vader’s armour is not much more practical. Sith is about the image and lightsaber deflection does make up for the exposed flesh. There we go into the shades of gray – and I’d actually consider a character like that canon. I’d also be tempted to play one ;)

    That said when all female characters are like that, it starts really getting on my nerves. And i wish for heavy battle armour.

    • Brinstar says:


      Lol about the stormtrooper piccy. Insanity. Plain howling lunacy to wear that atrocity in battle.

      Hi Ultraviolet: We appreciate your comments and perspectives, however with respect to awareness of how language can be used to oppress and marginalise, please don’t use words like “insanity” or “lunacy” to describe things which are ridiculous. These words are derived from ways which unconsciously reinforce ableism, or the oppression of disabled people. For a more thorough explanation, you can read the excellent Feminists With Disabilities / FWD post about it.


      • Ultraviolet says:

        I suppose you’re right there. Sorry, i probably should have phrased that differently.

  4. Treehouse says:

    I haven’t found many fandoms yet that I feel comfortable in. Either it’s able-focused, male-focused or straight-focused.

    It’s not for me not looking. I’m a one-person finding machine… it’s like they’re just missing.

    Sorry to be so maudlin, it’s just sad to be a human without a group. It feels isolating and cold. Even when I think I’ve found one- a few cold slaps in the face later and I’m wondering ‘just what did I sign up for here?’.

    I’m a whovian and Gallifrey Base is one of my many stops. Sometimes it’s okay, other times it’s horrid. I’m a gamer and that area is very, very rarely accepting of me as a genderqueer person- but oddly enough very supporting of me being less-than-perfect mobility-wise.

    The most accepting fandom I’ve found is the Browncoats. It makes me proud to be a part of it. Perhaps it’s because the show incorporated so many dynamics. Perhaps I should write a paper on it?

    Every time I come here I feel safe. I didn’t realize how un-safe I felt other places until I found the Border House. So perhaps, the most accepting fandom to belong to is the Border House fandom.

    • Alex says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Treehouse, they mean a lot to me. Our biggest goal is to keep TBH as safe a space as possible for discussion. I’m glad you feel safe here!

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