Susie Rantz never stood a chance of not being a geek girl. Having a pilot for a father instilled in her a love of being in the sky and thinking about space from a young age. She grew up watching X Files and Star Trek with her family. The number “42” is tattooed in Tengwar, the Elvish language from Lord of the Rings, on her wrist. And now Rantz is the PR Manager for GeekGirlCon, Seattle’s annual convention dedicated to women and girls in “geek” culture.
“I work in PR for my career, I am geeky, and I really support promoting more women in not just the comic industry but in math, science, technology and arts,” Rantz said. “I just felt such a natural tie [to GeekGirlCon] – I’ve only been on staff for a few months, but it has been fantastic working with so many dedicated people.”
The inaugural GeekGirlCon took place last October 8th and 9th, a convention dedicated to promoting awareness of and celebrating the contribution and involvement of women in all aspects of the sciences, science fiction, comics, gaming and related Geek culture.
From that, Rantz believes that GeekGirlCon doesn’t have the same competitive desire as other conventions. The broad nature of the con lends it to any interest and passion.
“I think the girl part is the most unique [part of GeekGirlCon],” said Rantz. “We have a lot of staff and a lot of people who come to GeekGirlCon but also go to Emerald City Comic Con or Sakuracon or other conventions, but it just felt like there needed to be this one gathering place for people who support girls and women and their role in geek culture.”
GeekGirlCon is not only a convention, but also a nonprofit organization that works throughout the year to host events. These events, like the convention, work towards empowering women in their various roles. “The special events are just a really great way for people to casually get introduced to GeekGirlCon, what our mission is and hopefully people who come and have fun at those movie nights or other events we hold will come to our website more often, will join our Facebook page and start to really interact with other GeekGirlCon supporters,” Rantz said. “So whether it’s through these little special events or through its social media, we really want to engage other people beyond those who just come to the convention.”
GeekGirlCon 2011 was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, both at the convention and online. Two-day and single-day passes sold out the first day and roughly 4,000 attended the event – some coming so far as England and India.
“One of the things that a lot of people don’t always feel when they leave a convention is this enormous sense of community and a welcoming environment,” Rantz said. “And they felt that GeekGirlCon was just that; they had fun and met so many people while at the same time they really felt like they made some significant connections that bettered them as people.”
GeekGirlCon was featured across the web, from CNN’s Geek Out blog! to Seattle’s own The Stranger’s Slog. There was some criticism for the con, but most reviews agreed that GeekGirlCon exceeded expectations not only as a first-year convention, but also for filling a much-needed niche in geek culture.
Tor.com contributor Teresa Jusino’s review of GeekGirlCon highlighted much of the convention’s success and called it the “most welcoming, inspiring con I’ve ever been to":
Women helping women. I know, right? Aren’t we supposed to be all catty around each other? Yet this was the running theme at GeekGirlCon: that while it’s important to encourage change in mainstream media, it’s equally important for women to help other women create the media they want to see. We don’t need the approval of the mainstream, and by creating the quality work we want to create on our own terms, the mainstream will come to us.
Gail Simone, a special guest from GeekGirlCon 2011, wrote of her own experience on her tumblr:
Everything felt a little different. Lest you think this con didn’t have geek cred, let me assure you, the superhero/genre panels were absolutely as hardcore nerdy as any I have attended, but it was from a female and safe perspective. As a whole, the con felt more like a festival at times than a con…it was much less aggressive and without that odd hostility that some big cons have acquired.
Men were also very open and receptive to the con. Rantz thinks that many men who know “geeky women” – potential wives, their daughters, their future daughters – realize that they are friends to support and love. Despite having “geek girl” in the title, the convention is open to any and every one. Men made up about 30% of the attendance, with many Princess Leia daughters running around. “I think a lot of dads want to pass along their passions to their daughters – we had a ton of Princess Leia’s last year at the con, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot more this year,” she said. “I know there is negativity out there and that there’s going to be guys that are excited because it’s a convention of girls who like what they like, but it hasn’t been a big issue for us.”
GeekGirlCon went so far as to include a “Very Special Dudes” panel featuring prominent men in the geek world and discussing their views on feminism, geeks and women.
With the recent popularity of geek culture in the media, what constitutes a geek has become difficult to define. According to Rantz, to “geek something” is to be extremely passionate about it. Anything can fall under that category, which has created a new generation of fashion geeks, rock n roll geeks, science fiction geeks, video game geeks – the list could go on forever.
The geek world has gained many stereotypes, especially for geek girls. Rantz names a few: the gamer girl popularized by “booth babes” at previous conventions – beautiful women who might have had a pair of glasses thrown on them to make them look intelligent; the Hollywood stereotype who is really intelligent or likes geeky things and “all you have to do is take the glasses off, brush her hair, put her in really fancy clothes and suddenly she’s sort of this whole new person; and then the same stereotypes that guys get – where you spend all weekend in the basement with your friends.
Not only is there a divide between geek girls and geek guys, but whatever the stereotypes area, it seems that the elusive “geek club/community” still hangs on to some exclusion.
“One of the things that I think that guys and girls do to each other, or to girls, is make them have to prove their geek cred a little bit more,” said Rantz. “So if you say, “Yes I like video games” well [they say] “Which ones do you like? Do you know this one?” Guys do that to girls, and girls do that to girls because if you have been welcomed – especially as a girl – to the geek community sometimes, you almost feel like you’re in an exclusive club as well and so you need other people to prove they have that same level of ‘geek cred’.”
This multifaceted aspect of “geek” lends itself well to GeekGirlCon, allowing the convention to host panels in whatever topic is of interests to the attendees. The programming and content relies heavily on feedback from its audience.
“Last year, we heard a lot from people that even though they felt it was fantastic and really welcoming, some people didn’t feel like it represented diversity enough,” Rants comments. “They wanted to see more representation of people of color, more discussions about people with disabilities. And we’re actually going to have some panels related to those topics this year because people demanded it.”
Panels have not yet been decided for this year – open submissions for panel ideas closed recently, and the programming directors are in the process of narrowing down the ideas. GeekGirlCon takes this process one step further by reaching out to those who submitted the panel ideas and encouraging them to build their panel into reality. The potential for GeekGirlCon 2012 is about double of last year. They have moved from the Seattle Center to the Convention Center, which allows for 4,000 people per day – whereas they were only able to accommodate 4,000 total last year. This means every aspect of the convention gets more room – gaming will have its own floor, vendor space will increase, and panels will have more than enough room to operate.
Similar to other conventions, GeekGirlCon holds various panels constantly during the two days and has worked hard to bring in several major guests, such as Jane Espenson, Trina Robbins, and Jen Van Meter along with locals Corrinne Yu, M.J. McDermott and superhero Purple Reign. Greg Rucka and Gail Simone will be returning as well.
“We have a huge advocate in Gail Simone – she is a writer for DC Comics – and she had such a blast last year at GeekGirlCon,” said Rantz. “She actually tweeted this year that she was coming back before she even told us that she was because she was so excited!”
After such a great response to GeekGirlCon 2011, plans for the future are two-pronged. In the short term, hosting the physical convention is at the forefront – all the planning, collaborating, guests, etc. necessary for such a weekend.
In the long term, GeekGirlCon hopes to expand farther than Seattle. Rantz also is most looking forward to the opportunity to motivate young girls and teens.
“The jobs of tomorrow are in science and technology, yet girls aren’t being encouraged to pursue those careers,” she said. “There are a lot of young girls – young adults – who are just thinking about what to do when they grow up; to be able to encourage them to do what they are passionate about even if it’s something they have been told previously that they shouldn’t or that it’s not really a girl’s place. And that passion can be anything.”
Rantz even hopes for a day where GeekGirlCon wouldn’t be necessary in the future.
“I think we do have a ways to go still, so it’s hard to say looking in the near future whether GeekGirlCon will be necessary but we have made significant strides overall in how women are viewed and treat,” commented Rantz. “The more and more fields [there are] in sciences and technology and the more women are speaking up to fit into those careers, the less I think it’s going to be necessary but I still think it’d be fun.”