In Which I Realize I Have Much to Learn

Today, GeekFeminism.org ran a thought-provoking article entitled, “‘Geek girls’ and the problem of self-objectification“. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re interested in issues of geekery and feminism.

There’s a lot of sexism in geek culture. We geeks, nerds, dorks, whatever, like to believe that we have overcome the various prejudices and hangups that exist in the society at large, just because, say, we read Heinlein’s books and enjoyed his stories of alternate sexualities. But the sexism persists nevertheless: whether it’s a booth babe being ogled by a fan or a woman computer scientist receiving death threats for her comments on a tech forum, it’s there. The objectification is there, just as it exists in society at large.

But the question that Geek Feminism raises is how much of that objectification is “self-objectification”; that is, how much are women in geek culture (specifically, women who cosplay at conventions) buying into the notion that they have to look sexy in order to be accepted as a member of that culture? Take a look at this spoof PSA starring Kaley Cuoco:

Are the women who dress up at Slave Leia doing so because they enjoy feeling sexy and beautiful? Or are they doing it because they are objectifying themselves in a culture which rewards that behavior? Chatting with @HelloTheFuture on Twitter yesterday was certainly helpful for my thought processes in this regard. Certainly there are women who dress up in terrific cosplay outfits because they genuinely enjoy the attention, being sexy and attractive, winning costume contests, and so on. But how many of them do it because they feel they won’t even be taken seriously as a woman or even as a geek unless they dress and act in a way that panders to male expectations of what women should be? There are “booth babes” who are objectified in this manner, that’s for sure.

I’m still working out my feelings on this matter. I do know that however a woman dresses, that decision is hers and we shouldn’t judge her for it.

I don’t know. What do you think? What are your opinions?

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2 thoughts on “In Which I Realize I Have Much to Learn”

  1. Are the women who dress up at Slave Leia doing so because they enjoy feeling sexy and beautiful? Or are they doing it because they are objectifying themselves in a culture which rewards that behavior?

    For starters, these are not really dichotomous. The whole reason that sexism is a complex topic that continues to be discussed ad nauseum is that we can’t tease apart individuals’ motivations in that way. I think it’s more useful to think about what a trend says about the society’s values as a whole than to ponder to what degree an individual slave Leia has been influenced by societal sexism.

    And it is a question of degree. There is no such thing as a woman who is not influenced by society’s expectations about female beauty. So an American woman could say “I wear makeup because it makes me feel beautiful and sexy, not because I’m bowing to societal pressures…” but I think it’s naive to think that those pressures have zero influence.

    The same is true for Qatari women who wear niqab. Westerners say, “They only wears it because society pressures them”; they say “I wear it because it makes me feel closer to God.” Can you really say it’s one or the other? Would wearing niqab make them feel closer to God if society hadn’t taught them that it’s virtuous?

    What I found most useful about the geekfeminism article was that it took the conversation OUT of the realm of “Why do women dress as slave Leia?” and “Should they?” When we ask those questions, we are problematizing what the women do instead of problematizing the messages society sends them.

    1. Marjorie,

      Thanks for your comment. This is why I titled the post, “In Which I Realize I Have Much to Learn”. *grin*

      I remember years ago when I was working with the Rape Prevention Education Program, one male participant said that he was above these concerns. “I’m not influenced at all by society’s expectations and norms,” he said. “I’m totally uninfluenced by society”. Fortunately, I managed to avoid laughing at him.

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