June 10th, 2013
Ever wonder what happens when nerdist social awkwardness is crossed with gender theory and the internets? Well here it is.
It’s long, but trust me. It’s worth it.
“Honey, your skirt is a little short.”
To be fair, it was a little short. It was short intentionally. I was dressed in a science officer costume from Star Trek: The Original Series. Not the sleek little work-appropriate but still sexy jewel tone tunics from the new movie, but the flared, strangely-constructed, unapologetically teal and chartreuse polyester cheerleader dresses that fit perfectly with the (now) retrofuturistic vibe of the original show. It’s a screen accurate dress. And by “screen accurate” I mean “short”. And at the beginning of the day, I just assumed the lady who commented was pointing out that I needed to tug down the dress a bit. That was the first comment. After the next 30 or so, I had had enough.
I was at Balticon, a great science fiction convention that leans more to the literary side than the ones that are normally in my wheelhouse. This was my second year going to this con, and my second year costuming there. . . .
As a costumer, you have to develop a fairly keen sense for what is a safe space and what is not. I felt safe at Balticon both years. It isn’t a space where any harm would come to me. I could wear anything I want there and I wouldn’t come to any legal form of harm. That said, the responses I was getting made me want to run away. Or possibly take a shower to wash off the feeling of eyes and comments.
This year, in my Star Trek dress, I was just as uncomfortable, but I decided to say frak it and ignore them. The discomfort came from a constant stream of microaggressions. . . .
At a convention like Dragon*Con, or CONvergence, or Pandoracon, in costume I feel like I’m part of the convention crowd. Yes, I’m a good costumer, and I look good in my costumes, but at the end of the day, I’m another nerd geeking out like crazy over her favorite subjects.
Dragon*Con isn’t perfect, and in most ways, is a much less safe convention for a woman. However, at Dragon*Con, I am accepted as a costumer. At a con like Balticon, I’m celebrated as eye candy. I felt like I was placed in the role of Convention Booth Babe, receiving both the objectified interest from the men and the scorn of the women.
That’s a problem. . . .
The people attending, on the other hand, were Not Comfortable With The Way I Chose to Present. I felt like they really, really wanted me to go back to my room and change into a long, historically accurate, shapeless Medieval dress. Or jeans and a geek t-shirt. Either would be acceptable: not too aggressively feminine, but not dressed nicely enough to make them nervous they were being invaded by mundanes. . . .
Cosplay is not Consent campaigns are great for events like Dragon*Con and CONvergence, but the kind of problems at this con were different and not easily addressed through something like that. No one touched me, or even made inappropriate come-ons. No one groped me, cornered me, made me feel like I was in danger. I never worried about walking the halls alone, even late at night, costume or not. . . .
So, in my case, I’ve decided that my solution starts with me.
Rather than bitching to my friends about the comments, backhanded compliments and trivia grilling sessions, I’m going to say something. I will respond to comments about my skirt being too short with questions about why that’s a problem. I will call out men grilling me about trivia (I do that already, but I need to do it more consistently.)
There is no reason I should have to do this, but I came to realize something in reflecting on events at Balticon: I am, at all conventions, surrounded by people who accept me, who care for me and who are willing to hand me a gin and tonic or three when I look like I’m about ready to punch the next person who comments on my skirt. It’s not a position of power, but it is a position of safety. Every place I go will not be a safe space, but the people around me make it one for me.
So my solution? Not be invisible. Not anymore. Not let my legs and skirt short speak for my presence, but speak for myself. Challenge the male gaze both metaphorically and literally. Sitting in the bar and fuming at other convention attendees won’t help. Opening my mouth and answering them just might. Or it might make other people witnessing the exchange think about what happened. Point out that I can both wear a short skirt and have a brain under my beehive. Out loud. And probably snarkily.
I have a privileged position, in that I can do this and then safely retreat to my friends and colleagues. I am not walking into a convention alone and for the first time. So if I can speak out a little bit and make sure that other women, who don’t have the space to safely challenge the microaggressions, might stick around and develop their own support network, I will challenge it. Because I can. I’m tired of being invisible except when being objectified, so I’m not going to be anymore.
And if anyone wants to fight me about it? You can find me in the bar. Surrounded by 40+ skeptics, costumers and science communicators who have had a little too much bourbon, and who fully embrace my right to be there. Good luck with that.
Right now, you’re asking yourself two questions. (1) Is this for real? Because it reads like the parody version of an essay on this topic. Except that the Onion could never get it this on-the-nose. That said, so far as I can tell, it’s genuine.
And (2) Are there pictures? Oh yes. Yes there are.
Are those pictures real? I doubt it. It looks like someone who is made up to fit the platonic ideal of the voice that authored the essay. It’s too perfect a fit.
I am at a loss for words, except I find myself wondering if you married the right person, wanting to propose a Smith seminar on this topic, using this as a primary source (Northampticon?), and wishing I had been on the next barstool over to hear her “point out that I can both wear a short skirt and have a brain under my beehive.”
Gotta get back to my own invasion of the mundane.
Name dropping Smith after this essay is too perfect! I am suddenly cast back in time to when I was a soldier visiting my then-fiance at Smith and the discussions my mere presence triggered.
She misspelled Funke.
I’m thinking Kitty, with the new implants: “Eyes up here, Michael!”
I wish she would ask me at a con. I have no trouble telling her, “because your ass is hanging out. Did you intend to have your ass hanging out at the con?”
She went to a SFcon dressed as a Science Officer from ST-TOS and wore it darned well from the pics, and people gave her grief about it?
What is wrong with people? If I saw her at a con, I’d say “Good Afternoon Lieutenant, how are you enjoying the convention?”
One of P.J. O’Rourke’s hippie war-stories essays was about a bad encounter with a group calling itself “the Balto Cong.” Though superficially different from Balticon I believe there could be commonalities