There are few times in life when you have the opportunity to collectively experience something extraordinary. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to partake in a few of these things. Mostly music festivals, but this past weekend, I had my first experience with a convention, C2E2. Music festivals don’t necessarily demand that you have a love for music. It’s more so a place for wannabe 21st century hippies to do drugs and dance like a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-waving-tube-man. Which, trust me, is a ton of fun, especially because people on drugs give zero craps about race, gender, age, and all other things that one could be discriminated against.
Unfortunately, the crowd of people who attend these geek-culture-oriented events like C2E2 are very protective of who they let in to their club. The good and talented people who organize these massive events should (1) expect more of their veteran attendees, (2) be welcoming of their newcomers of all shapes, sizes, and genders, as well as (3) make their expectations for everyone crystal clear.
Sadly, C2E2 cannot have those set expectations for their attendees until they set the bar for themselves.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I had a fantastic time at C2E2. Jon and I splurged a bit and rented out a nice room for the weekend, we ate some Chicago pizza and saw The Bean, wandered around and got lost, and spent way too much money on comics. All in all, it was a great weekend. While at the con, I had been looking forward to one particular panel on the last day. Since I am a girl after all, Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl was sincerely at the top of my list of things to do.
It was in a room that I had not been to yet- I had gone to mostly larger panels, and one teeny tiny one (Adding Character to Your Character- I think about 20 people showed up for an intimate talk on character development). FGG started at 12:15pm. Around 11:45am, I departed with Jon and made my way upstairs. Pretty normal departure time for most panels, I think. Especially one that I anticipated to be quite large, given the hype that the FGG theory has caused within the past year (a lot).
For reference, let’s refer to this PDF. I got in line and talked to some fellow geek girls and their counterparts while we all waited anxiously. Now, the gig was in room W473. If we look to our PDF, we see that there is 809 square feet available in W473. I would like to note that my apartment is just over 900 square feet. The line kept growing and it eventually trickled down through the grapevine that there were only 30-50 seats available. The crowd stretched from the door of the room all of the way down to between rooms W471 and W472. Something isn’t adding up here. Obviously, the people who would want to attend this panel were not all going to fit in here.
As a long time Geek Girl, and as a first time Con-goer, this was a huge slap in the face. Chicago Nerd Social Club were offering an intelligent discussion on the obsession with Fake Geek Girls, gate keeping, and general discrimination in the geek culture, but the organizers at C2E2 made it very clear that they didn’t think anyone would be interested in such a thing. And if they were, well, it was only going to be girls, and how many girls go to cons anyway? Considering we make up over half of the population, I think it’s safe to say that at least half of the attendees this past weekend identify as female.
While chatting it up with some other people waiting, I noticed that not everyone in queue was -gasp- female! A good chunk of the attendees for this panel were male, as well as black or trans or tall or short and or cosplayers or non-cosplayers or Who-vians or Killjoys or pirates or WHATEVER -and this filled my heart full of butterflies and unicorns because (take a lesson here, con organizers) if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. Seeing such a smorgasbord of different people queuing up for a panel discussing one of the many hurdles we as a group haven’t quite figured out how to jump proves that we can. We’ve been doing it for some time, so the big unanswered question is, why is it still a topic of conversation? Why are our expectations for each other set so low?
It’s become a never-ending cycle of bitching and moaning, expecting things to change, but never taking any action. It’s often advised that the best defense against a troll is to just not respond. While we could consider these gate keepers and discrimnators trolls in their own form, we as a group and as a culture need to stand up and hold each other accountable - even (and especially) massive entities like C2E2.
Now, I understand that the great people at C2E2 probably didn’t intend to slap anyone in the face (not in a mean way, anyway. Maybe a slap of awesome, but I digress), and that sometimes things come up and shit gets jumbled. Let’s consider though that there was one other panel dedicated to women, one booth that I saw that was dedicated to African-American geek culture (forgive me, as I can’t find the name of that exhibitor), LGBT Speed Dating, and some booths for certain fetishes. Out of the literally thousands of opportunities to incorporate all stops on the spectrum, only a select few made it. I find it hard to believe that someone on the staff simply did not have the capacity to do some internet research and get in contact with vendors, exhibitors or special guests to come and display their work, share their experience, or generally provide a safe space for every Geek represented. And if C2E2 doesn’t have someone working that position, well, I’ve got experience in Community Outreach and would be happy to step in (cough hire me cough).
Regardless of this little bump, I had a genuinely spectacular time at C2E2. I hope to attend again next year and maybe even muster up the will power to make a costume. Seeing such a massive event pulled off semi-flawlessly is awe-inspiring. Of course, there’s always room for improvement (i.e. diverse panels and exhibitors, a more efficient in-and-out process, increasing the number of activities for adults, providing a better outlet for attendee feedback), but organizers learn new things with every year. This year, the biggest take away that I hope cons will acknowledge is their ever-changing demographic. Geekdom is adaptable. Geekdom is flexible. Geekdom is excited to share itself with others and wants everyone to be happy. So let it.