The Cosplay Feminist

April 2012 archive

Graduate school is not puppies and rainbows.

grad student signA photo of a sign posted in the halls of the English department at Texas A&M University before a meeting about graduate students. The sign reads, “Things some of us [grad students] have overheard or been told in this department: ‘Graduate students don’t have rights.'”

People who know me are probably really sick of me bitching about graduate school. Really. But I do it because I feel like I am surrounded by a culture that either has decided that higher education is completely worthless and professors are lazy, freedom-hating communists, or that graduate school is this perfect wonderland in which you can be creative and carefree, and where everything is wonderful if you just work hard enough and have enough passion. And both of these are so obviously, ridiculously wrong that I, a pacifist, am inspired to commit violence.

I don’t talk to conservatives if I can help it, so that former viewpoint is often one I only hear coming out of politicians’ and family members’ mouths. I’m going to assume all my readers know better than to think that higher education is bad. So let’s address the latter view. The Chronicle ran this awful article today entitled “Graduate School is Art School,” which tried to convince readers that going to graduate school for the humanities is, like, just THE BEST.

By far the worst argument is actually the first one the author makes. She writes,

1. You get to teach. Yes, enforced reading and grading of undergraduate papers is akin to sadism or abuse, like minimum-security confinement. (It’s significantly worse than I anticipated, to tell the truth.) But teaching is otherwise exhilarating and fun. You have the opportunity to give young adults—right at the moment when they have opened back up a bit—the gift of your attention. They will occasionally have realizations during the course of your semester with them. This is significant work.

They also surprise you on a regular basis. You can encourage them to see meaning everywhere they look, to be curious, to see language as a secret code filled with intrigue and mystery, to be willing to make mistakes. It’s a rare kind of opportunity.

Oh for fuck’s sake. You get to teach? Is that a joke? Look, I love teaching. In fact, I love teaching freshmen composition (that class every graduate student teacher has to teach, and most loathe). I do! But I also know that teaching a class is a fucking service I provide, for which I deserve to be compensated fairly. GATs (graduate student teachers) are not. Period. When I worked as a GAT at Texas A&M University, I made $1,100 a month. I taught one class, and I was expected to make a syllabus, prepare and deliver lectures, come up with assignments, and grade at least 4 essays per student per semester. Technically, I worked “20 hours a week.” In reality, if I was being fair to my students, I worked 30-40 hours a week. On top of my full-time graduate course load. Often, I had to be unfair to my students. To top off the shitty pay, you were not allowed to have another job. In the first couple weeks at my program, a student was told that if he didn’t quit his part-time job at a book store, he would be kicked out of the program.

When I left the department, they were increasing the teaching load from a 1/1 (1 class in each semester) to a 2/1 (2 classes in one semester, 1 class in the other semester), without increasing GAT pay at all. When the English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) talked unionizing, the department made it clear that that sort of thing was unwelcome. This isn’t abnormal. Most universities are very anti-union, particularly for their most vulnerable instructors, like GATs and adjunct instructors. As scATX points out:

Yes, we get to teach. But inside ever-increasing exploitative systems. Those of us lucky enough to teach our own courses are not called “Instructors” but rather “Assistant Instructors,” though we assist nobody. The latter title makes it legally easier for a university to pay you less.

The thing is, universities don’t even bother to hide how much they screw over GATs. They tell us, “It’s part of your education! We’re doing you a favor by making you do a valuable service for us for a pittance.” And, just…no. GATs are doing a job, for which they deserve to be fairly compensated. And when universities are transparently taking on more GATs, because they can’t even be bothered to fill their classrooms with poorly-paid and non-unionized adjuncts anymore? Even though taking on more graduate students is patently irresponsible, when the market is so flooded that a humanities PhD candidate has a 1 in 5 chance of getting a tenure-track job? You are not valued there as an employe, and the university wants, point-blank, to make you work as much as possible for as little as possible. That is not exactly a creative, nurturing, and rewarding environment. And it’s not any better for the undergraduate students you teach than it is for you as a student and teacher.

I love teaching so much that I am currently an adjunct at a Texas community college, where I make $1750 per class, per semester. That is goddamn miserly. I would be a better teacher if I was offered health insurance (a healthy teacher is far more productive), if I had enough money to pay for gas and car repairs (I’ve had to cancel classes because I couldn’t get there), if I had less stress because of unpaid bills and lack of food (I can’t grade on an empty stomach). This is not an exciting or rewarding job for me anymore, because I can’t ignore how much I am being exploited by my university. I can’t ignore an empty pantry, or the bills piling up, or the endless letters demanding I pay back my extensive student loans. That shit affects how much I can enjoy teaching. That shit affects how well I teach. And it was worse when I was a graduate student, taking out thousands in loans because my stipend simply didn’t cover it.

Short answer: Teaching without fair compensation is a reason not to go to graduate school.

But don’t worry! This article is full of more stupid and simplistic arguments!

3. You get to have an audience for your (sometimes substandard) work. And a smart audience to boot. You have peers, colleagues, and mentors who take your creative work seriously, offer you earnest assessment, try to guide you, and, although they are horribly overworked, often try to give you what you need and desire.

Where else can you get such exquisite attention for your writing as you do in graduate school? Outside of this setting, you would be sending your work to your mother, who would say, “it’s very nice, dear.” Or you would present your work to some highly eclectic writing group, which includes at least one person who would like to discuss his most recent UFO sighting.

Work in an office job and what you’ll find is that your boss, however decent, is, by necessity, a very nice, highly civilized task master. You do what you are told—period.

Graduate school or your mother! Those are your only options! Look, I’m not saying that being a writer and researcher outside of academia is easy, but it’s not impossible. I have many colleagues and smart people willing to read over my work and give me guidance. I have many readers who provide me with encouragement to continue doing what I do. And I don’t think I’m an aberration.

Yes, “real” jobs are often not creative. They don’t offer you the kind of research freedom you have in grad school most of the time. But grad school is also full of “do what you’re told to do” moments. Half the research essays I wrote for my program were about shit I did not care about. Because I was forced to take classes in medieval lit, Romanticism, and French. They didn’t even offer classes I desperately wanted, like science fiction courses and fan studies courses. Hell, they only offered one popular culture course while I was there. So, I found grad school really limiting.

Even though grad school is significantly cushier than what I do now, because in grad school I’d have access to library resources and student loans, I would not go back, precisely because I know I would be limited in what I could research. Now, I just live at poverty level and write what I want, when I want. In graduate school, I’d be living at poverty level and writing what I had to based on limited course selection and what my professors thought was “appropriate” for university study. For free. At least I get to get paid for my writing sometimes as a freelancer.

Short answer: Graduate school and academia are not as free and creative as advertised, and you can often do your work outside of them.


6. Graduate school is like a rite of passage. If you make it to the other side of your Ph.D. (or even just your first couple years of teaching), you feel enriched and empowered. You feel strong (although also perhaps jobless). You did what you were not sure you were capable of doing: You stretched yourself.

Ugh, this reason is the worst. See, there’s this attitude within the confines of academia and graduate school. According to this attitude, graduate school is a rite of passage; it separates the wheat from the chafe. It separates the strong from the weak. And what people mean by that is, if you fail at graduate school, it’s because you’re weak, or not passionate enough, or you don’t have enough drive. But let me tell you something: these claims are stupid and ableist. Most people in graduate school deal with the stress of the experience by abusing alcohol or drugs, or by becoming unhealthy workaholics. Almost all of my friends (and myself) at Texas A&M used alcohol in a manner that was completely unhealthy. We joked about it, but we all knew it wasn’t actually funny. There was a woman in my program who just didn’t sleep, so she could get more work done, and she almost passed out in class in front of me because of the exhaustion. And we were encouraged to be more like that. To tamp down the stress, deal with it however, and just work harder and more. We did have access to some mental health resources, which was good, but we were rarely encouraged to go use them. And since we were all competition, not just colleagues, not everyone (including myself) felt comfortable opening up to each other. We were all pretending it wasn’t killing us, so to admit otherwise was to expose your weak underbelly to someone who wanted to beat you at the grad school game. Not a good idea, even if you were friends, in an environment where friends became enemies at the drop of a hat. (Seriously, I could never keep up with who stabbed who in the back, or who was talking about who to professors, or who was spreading malicious rumors about who, or who was no longer friends with who, in my department. It was exhausting.) The department pitted us against each other, and pretend as we might, we were all influenced by that. We all competed for the same funding, and the same fellowships, and the same conference grants. My victory was almost always someone else’s defeat, and that shit is personal in such a competitive environment.

So if you are miserable and depressed in your program? (And almost everyone I knew personally enough was.) You’re on your own. If you’re lucky, you can find non-backstabby friends. If you’re not, you can’t get too personal with most of the advisors. You may be able to find a therapist on campus that you like, but usually no one will tell you that resource exists. You won’t find professors who will give you a lot of slack for issues like depression or exhaustion. (I did find some sympathy my last year, but it was because [TW] my stepdad waved a loaded gun at me. That was a pretty extraordinary circumstance.) And you’re told that if you aren’t succeeding, it’s because you just aren’t strong enough. And that ableist crap is something you’ll hear from pretty much everyone.

So yeah, I guess it’s a rite of passage. Or something. But so is publishing a book, or getting your first freelance article published, or getting hired to do your work somewhere that isn’t a university. Graduate school is unnecessarily stressful and inaccessible. You are not weak or not-dedicated if you don’t go, or don’t finish. There are other ways to do the work you want to do, and a PhD doesn’t prove much of anything, except that you got a PhD. If you don’t want to work in academia, I can’t imagine why you would subject yourself to the undue stress and exploitation of a humanities PhD program.

This is not to say, “Don’t go to graduate school.” I’m glad I got my M.A. Hell, I think I might eventually go back (to a less limiting program) and get another one in sociology or something. But you should not go to graduate school thinking it’ll be this creative, nurturing space in which smart people congregate to do smart things. Go with your eyes open. Make sure you make and keep friends outside of academia and grad school. Make sure you have the emotional resources you need to stay healthy. Remember that work is not more important than taking care of yourself. Remember that you shouldn’t do things for free, no matter how good they look on your CV. Remember that you deserve to be fairly compensated for the work you do.

Even if you do those things, you’ll probably be bitter in the end. Most people are.

Short answer: Remember that graduate school is temporary, a means to an end. If you let it be an end in itself, you’ll likely find yourself deeply disappointed.

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!”: “Geek Girls” and the Problem of Self-Objectification

Cross-posted at Doctor Her.

I just returned from the PCA/ACA conference in Boston this year. I’ll be doing a write-up on the other fan studies/geek presentations I saw, but I wanted to post mine first. ‘Cause I’m self-centered like that.

My presentation had a powerpoint. I’ve embedded it below. You can also download it, if you like.

Oh, you sexy geek!

I’m fairly certain the embedded video for “G33k and G4m3r Girls” won’t work, so here it is:
And here’s the actual presentation I gave:

In July of last year at Comic-Con (the largest media convention in the country), a panel titled “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” purported to address the trend of female geeks dressing “sexy.” From the panel description:

Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? When geek girls show off, are they liberating themselves or pandering to men? Do some “fake fangirls” blend sex appeal with nerdiness just to appeal to the growing geek/nerd market, or is that question itself unfair? And what’s up with all the Slave Leias?

The discussion at Comic-Con was framed in terms of individual choices, not structural influences, and this limited the conclusions the panel could come to. The dichotomous choice offered—“Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? […] are they liberating themselves or pandering to men?”—fails to take into account the complexities of women’s positions in geek culture, the politics of cosplay, or how cultural ideals of beauty influence women’s fashion decisions and choices.Geek cultures—centered on video games, science fiction and fantasy, and comic books—are traditionally thought of as boys’ clubs. Even though women often make up half of geek populations, their roles in geek culture(s) are limited by the perceptions and actions of advertisers, producers, designers, marketers, and fans. Women are considered valuable additions to many geek cultures, but usually as decoration. Which means that most of the women “celebrated” in geek cultures are conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled cis women who position themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption, usually via cosplay. For the uninitiated, the term cosplay is a combination of “costume” and “roleplay” or “play,” and refers to when fans costume as characters or objects from their favorite media (like video games, movies, and TV shows). Cosplayers usually wear their costumes to conventions, and the “roleplay” aspect of cosplaying is often minimal in North America, and limited to the poses struck for photos or occasional interactions in the convention hallways.

This presentation will explore the ways in which female geeks’ choices are limited by geek cultures, how the trend of self-objectification among geek women can signal both a hostility towards women as equal participants and a resistance to that hostility, and how blaming women’s performances is a hand-waving exercise intended to gloss over the culture(s)’ problems.

The sexism that persists in geek communities is not special. It is not separable and inherently different than sexist institutions and behaviors in the “real world.” This means that the sexualization and objectification of women is not unique to geek cultures, though it is particularly severe in geek media. Video games, comics, science fiction, fantasy—these media forms are often at fault for promoting unrealistic (and, pretty regularly, physically impossible) standards of beauty for women. They fashion their female heroines and villains as sexy objects to be consumed, unlike male counterparts. Further, geek industries bring the objectification of women into the real world, hiring, for example, booth babes for conventions. Booth babes are conventionally attractive models hired by media companies to wear skimpy clothing and entice convention-goers to their respective booths. Geek women exist within this culture, which devalues their contributions as producers of media and meaning, but values their contributions as adornment.

This project is about self-objectification, not objectification by others, but the two are not wholly separable, any more separable than my putting on makeup and high heels this morning and the objectification of women in advertising and fashion magazines. Just as media representations of women influence women’s decisions to diet, wear cosmetics, get plastic surgery, lighten their skin, relax their hair, shave their legs, and wax their bikini lines, geek media representations of women influence geek women’s decisions to dress in “sexy” cosplay.

By “sexy” cosplay, I mean cosplay that appeals to heterosexual male fantasies, participates in the objectification of the cosplayer, and (purposefully or not) positions the cosplayer as an object for consumption by male geeks. There are two ways to participate in sexy cosplay; one is to choose a character whose costume is already sexy, and another to alter a character’s costume in order to make it sexy.

First, let’s look at cosplayers who do not alter their costumes. A rather visible example of this kind of sexy cosplay is women who costume as “slave Leia.” The Star Wars character has two main costumes that cosplayers choose from. [Next slide] The first, and least popular, is the costume from A New Hope. This is the costume with the iconic buns. [Next slide] The second, and more popular, Leia costume is “slave Leia,” the bikini-style costume worn by Leia in Return of the Jedi when she is the prisoner of Jabba the Hutt. At major science fiction media conventions, like Comic-Con and Dragon*Con, it is common to have an official group slave Leia picture, because of the popularity of this costume with cosplayers and other convention-goers. In the slave Leia cosplay, we see a classic example of sexy cosplay in which the costumer chooses a costume that is already heteronormatively “sexy.”

Next, let’s look at an example of a cosplayer who alters their costume to make them sexy. [Next slide] This is LeeAnna Vamp as Chewbacca from Star Wars, who is on the left. This cosplay was featured on IGN, a website about gaming and entertainment. Notice how Vamp positions herself compared with the actual Chewbacca. Chewbacca stands firmly and aggressively, feet apart to keep him stable. LeeAnna, on the other hand, stands off-center, with her legs together and crossed: a passive position. In the kneeling photo, her position suggests sexual availability and exposure (not sexual aggression), with a slightly open mouth and legs parted. These positions, along with her revealing costume, position LeeAnna as a sexual object for consumption. [Next slide]

In both altered and unaltered sexy cosplay, we thus see a desire to be seen as attractive by straight men. These women visually signal to a viewer (there’s always a viewer for cosplayers) that they are conforming to heteronormative beauty standards. They do this by positioning themselves as sexually receptive and passive; by wearing costumes that emphasize body parts that our culture associates with sex appeal, like breasts, hips, buttocks, and navels; and by emphasizing their femininity and conformity to beauty standards.

As Naomi Wolf points out The Beauty Myth, women in the U.S. are rewarded for capitulating to narrow and often impossible beauty standards. She claims that beauty is a currency, with which “women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves” (12). Ariel Levy’s exploration of raunch culture in Female Chauvinist Pigs demonstrates, however, that women must often do more than merely perform beauty work. She argues that “hotness doesn’t just yield approval. Proof that a woman actively seeks approval is a crucial criterion for hotness in the first place.” In a world of booth babes and sexy cosplay, this is apparent. What makes the sexy cosplay sexy is not merely that the cosplayers are thin, young, and buxom, but that they are performing and actively seeking male approval. [Next slide] For a particularly egregious example of this, I’m going to show you the video created by some geek women, mostly actresses, who formed a group called Team Unicorn. [play to 1:28] The video is very repetitive, so we can stop it there.

Almost everything about this video marks it as a performance in the service of geek men. Of course, the participants in the video, Team Unicorn, consist of young, thin, light-skinned women who conform to cultural beauty standards. There are a number of particularly porn-like shots, in which the young women are naked, strategically covered by light sabers, video game controllers, or DVDs, and on piles of geek toys, movies, or comic books. Meanwhile, the men in the intermittent shots do not match cultural standards of male beauty or masculinity. They wear cheap costumes and dance in awkward or silly ways. The women in the video wear sexy and high-quality costumes, and their dances mimic those of pop stars, which is to say, their dances are meant to appeal to straight male viewers. The video is also framed by Seth Green saying, “Hello friends. Don’t you want to meet a nice girl?,” positioning the video as an introduction to women as dating partners or sex objects. The video is not meant for geek women to view, and feel empowered by seeing representations of other geek women. It is meant to be viewed by men who wish to believe that, despite their own inability to meet cultural standards of masculinity, there are geek women available to them who are “sexy” in two ways: 1. These women do fit a physical standard of beauty, and 2. These women want to please men, want to be sexually appealing to them.

The video’s YouTube description claims, “This music video parody proves Geek and Gamer Girls really do exist.” Since, at the time, there had been multiple headlines proclaiming that women make up 50% of gamers and Comic-Con attendees, this description seems disingenuous. This is because geek women who are not “hot” are routinely ignored or erased in geek culture. This video would more accurately describe itself as “proof that conventionally sexy women who are also geeks want to have sex with you, presumed straight geek male viewer.”

Because geek women are often clearly aiming their performances at geek men, geek men and women often place blame on the women who dress this way. [Next slide] A comment on Geek Tyrant, written by a blogger who is posting a collection of “cosplay cleavage,” is illustrative. Venkman writes, “And ladies, maybe some of you will find these images offensive, but these are women that are dressing like this. We didn’t ask them to, they do it on their own, and if women dress like this, the fact of the matter is…guys are going to stare [sic].” This sentiment lands the blame for the objectification of geek women squarely on the shoulders of women, and characterizes men’s responses to these women as inevitable, natural, and uncontrollable. [Next slide] Needless to say, however, the images included in the blog post make it clear that these geek men feel they have nothing to apologize for. The blogger is not suggesting that men do not objectify women (after all, they go to cons to see “cleavage,” not to meet women or fellow geeks), but he refuses to accept responsibility for this. Rather, he suggests that women need to just accept that “guys are going to stare” at women who perform a certain version of “sexy.” It is thus women’s responsibility to prevent their own objectification. [Next slide]

There are some obvious problems in this kind of hand-waving exercise, but the most important one for us today is that one of the reasons geek women seek the approval of geek men is that geek men have positions of power and privilege in both geek industries and in geek fan communities. While women understand that sexy cosplay won’t get them respect, per se, they also know that it is most likely to get them positive attention, recognition, and limited acceptance in geek communities. Women who do not or cannot seek sexual approval from the male geek community are more likely to be ignored, derided, or dismissed. They are more likely to be called harpy feminists or annoying squeeing fangirls than to get approval and acceptance. Team Unicorn, for example, was rewarded generously for their performance with relative fame and funding for a slick new website. They also managed to buy legitimacy in this video with the inclusion of Seth Green and Stan Lee. One has to wonder, would Seth Green have agreed to a video proving the existence of female geeks if those geeks had been fat, queer, or disabled?

The pressure is on for geek women to position themselves as sexy consumable objects for geek men. When they do so, their decision is framed as a freely-made choice. On the other hand, men’s behavior in reaction to sexy cosplay, like leering, sexual harassment, or other forms of objectification, is usually framed as inevitable and natural. The pressure women feel to perform “sexy” for their fellow geeks is usually ignored or dismissed, and the conversation becomes similar to the “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” panel at Comic-Con, in which the problem is framed as about geek women, not geek culture. Are women selling out, or being empowered?

The answer to that question is that it’s more complicated. While women performing sexy for their fellow geeks are unquestionably doing so within a culture that encourages this performance and values women merely as decoration, they may also be using sexy cosplay to subvert that culture’s objectification of women.

In John Fiske’s Understanding Popular Culture, he describes jeans as objects of popular culture that can embody contradictory meanings. Jeans, he argues, have multiple meanings given to us by jean producers, such as associations with heteronormative femininity, youth, toughness, and/or hard work. These meanings come from the top, and represent the interests of those in power. People can tear their jeans (or write on them, or bleach them, or cut them off) to subvert and resist those meanings, but this doesn’t mean that the original meanings just go away. Rather, both meanings coexist in the garment simultaneously. According to Fiske, this means that popular culture objects, like jeans, “can entail the expression of both domination and subordination, of both power and resistance. So torn jeans signify both a set of dominant American values and a degree of resistance to them” (4). Sexy cosplay works in the same way. There are ways in which individual sexy cosplayers incorporate meanings resistant to the culture’s demand that they proffer themselves as consumable objects.

[Next slide] Olivia Waite, a geek and erotica writer, wrote about her personal experience with the slave Leia cosplay, after I had blogged a version of this essay at the Geek Feminism blog. Waite was a big fan of Star Wars when she was a child, and her favorite character was Leia, who she describes as “badass, intelligent, and passionate.”

She writes that when watching Return of the Jedi,

as soon as [Leia] shows up in the gold bikini, with the high ponytail and the neck-chain, every cell in my being went, She must be so pissed about that.

Because what people forget, when they talk about Slave Leia outfits, is that it’s the one costume she doesn’t choose for herself. She’s forced into it, compelled to wear that bikini for Jabba’s dubious and slobbery pleasure. And I can see why people are upset that this happens—because if there’s one thing we do not need to gratify so much, it’s the male gaze in film—but at the same time, I think it’s important that this happens to Leia, because it happens to plenty of women, all the time, every day, around the world, with or without help from a gold bikini.

And here is what Leia does, when you force her into a scanty outfit and choke-chain: she takes that chain, and she kills you with it. She doesn’t let her clothing get in her way or limit her more than she can help—she waits for her moment to strike, and then she conquers her would-be conqueror and saves the day.

And I was a little kid, not yet desensitized to violence […] Jabba’s death scene freaked the hell out of me. It wasn’t a clean blaster shot to the chest or a slice from a lightsaber that sent sparks flying or made you turn invisible. There were struggles, and flailing, and twitching limbs. The shots are close-ups, and very dark—it’s vicious, and vengeful, and physical, and very very personal.

So for me, wearing that gold bikini does not mean Here I am, a sexy toy for your amusement and gratification.

To me, that gold bikini says, If you fuck with me, I will end you.

It says, What I wear is not the same as who I am.

Waite’s is a particularly powerful example of how women can create subversive meanings in their sexy cosplay. Hers doesn’t even require an alteration in the costume, though it may include a more aggressive stance for pictures, or even a performance of the chain choking. But it is, all the same, resistant to the cultural meanings put onto the costume by the producers of Star Wars and by the powers that be in fan communities. In Waite’s cosplay, the gold bikini is a symbol of female power and resistance to objectification. At the same time, it holds those dominant meanings as well. It contains the raunch culture assumption that women are primarily valuable for their performance of “sexy” and a resistance to that gross objectification. It symbolizes the titillation of women in sexual slavery and a challenge to women’s subordinate status as the sex class. From my own experiences in geek fan cultures, I don’t believe Waite is an anomaly, a pioneering feminist geek who uses sexy cosplay to challenge the messages found in geek media and geek culture. There are others like her, whose sexy cosplays are also challenges to the status quo.

It is also important to note that not all cosplay (sexy or not) is progressive or oppositional, either. As Henry Jenkins points out in Textual Poachers,

To say that fans promote their own meanings over those of producers is not to suggest that the meanings fans produce are always oppositional ones or that those meanings are made in isolation from other social factors. Fans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests; there is already some degree of compatibility between the ideological construction of the text and the ideological commitments of the fans and therefore, some degree of affinity will exist between the meanings fans produces and those which might be located through a critical analysis of the original story. […] Readers are not always resistant; all resistant readings are not necessarily progressive readings; the ‘people’ do not always recognize their conditions of alienation and subordination. (34)

That is to say, not all geek women recognize their conditions as alienated and subordinated members of geek cultures. Not all sexy cosplay is (or can be) oppositional or progressive, as Waite’s reading of the costume is. However, this does not mean that geek women are somehow to blame for their objectification. As Jenkins notes, fans make their choices in the context of their cultures, and not in isolation of social factors. The beauty myth, raunch culture, and the male domination of geek culture(s) all contribute to female fans’ choice in sexy cosplay, even if they choose to resist the meanings handed down from those in power. In order to fix the culture of objectification in geek culture, we cannot look to individual women and cosplayers, but rather to those in power, whether they be content creators (like George Lucas, Stan Lee, Felicia Day), influential commentators (like Chris Hardwick, Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik), convention organizers, or forum moderators. The problem here is not “self-objectification,” as my essay title suggests, but the pressure to perform sexy (or be ignored, derided, or dismissed). The fact is, “sexy” is not the only way that geek women represent themselves; it is merely the representation recognized and rewarded by geek culture at large. That has to change before the position of women in these culture(s) can change.

Works Cited

Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Kindle ed. New York: Free Press, 2005. AZW file.

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!” Panel at Comic-Con, 21 July 2011, 10:45 AM. My Comic-Con 2011 Sched*. Comic-Con, n.d. Web. 25 September 2011. <;

Venkman. “Collection of Cosplay Cleavage.” Geek Tyrant. Geektyrant, 15 July 2011. Web. 9 April 2012.

Waite, Olivia. “In Defense of Slave Leia.” Olivia Waite. Olivia Waite, 29 August 2011. Web. 8 April 2012.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991. Print.


Let me know what you think! And keep an eye out for my PCA/ACA write-up.