Female geekdom celebrated at second annual GeekGirlCon

Female geekdom celebrated at second annual GeekGirlCon
Heather Pingree as Jayne Cobb (left) & Mo Stewart as Malcolm Reynolds (right) in this Firefly cosplay. Courtesy GeekGirlCon Flickr

This weekend brought the triumphant return of the celebration of the female geek.

GeekGirlCon, the second annual event dedicated to all things geeky created by and for women, returned to Seattle August 11-12 at the Washington State Convention Center’s Conference Center.

The event boasted “awesome geekery” including: two days of jam-packed programming and panels all related to women in comics, media, popular culture, video games and more; workshops; a whole floor dedicated to gaming (tabletop and console); and events such as a nerdy improv show, geeky concert, masquerade for those dedicated to cosplay, and for the most diehard of Whedonistas – a Buffy sing-along.

Much like last year’s 2011 inaugural event, the weekend has already been deemed a success on all accounts from attendees who already are experiencing withdrawals and are sharing them via Twitter, to panelists and planners. From attendance numbers, to the new, larger location that offered more opportunities, to the varied panels and attendees who reveled in them, the celebration of female geekdom is something that only seems to be gaining steam in its second year of existence.

“This year, we had over 3,000 people attending each day,” Susie Rantz, PR Manager for GeekGirlCon revealed the day after the weekend-long event. Last year, the event brought in over 2,000 visitors per day to the then Seattle Center locale, proving that there is clearly a growing audience for this type of female-focused event.

For those in attendance last year who couldn’t make this year, there were many changes that arose from the experience of putting on a con for the first time that ended up benefiting the event for newcomers and returning geek girls (and men and kids) alike.

“First, the larger space,” Rantz said. “We added a whole floor for gaming, where last year there was just a room. Extra space meant more room for exhibitors and panel discussions.

“Based from feedback last year, we added GeekGirlConnections. We heard that (attendees) didn’t feel like they had time to connect with experts. So we created an open room for attendees to chat with them, and lots of guests had specialized times to be there. It was a great way to meet people in your chosen field,” Rantz said.

NASA was in the room both days, and guests such as the only female comics writer on staff at DC Comics, Gail Simone, television writer of shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Battlestar Galactica,” Jane Espenson and Dark Horse Comics were available for conversations and guidance. “Writers were able to receive immediate feedback from editors at Dark Horse,” Rantz said.

Another element that arose out of last year’s event was a panel that some attendees felt wasn’t represented in the inaugural event. The fact that these individuals spoke up about it changed the dynamic and opened up the possibility of starting conversations about topics that are rarely discussed in the media.

“The attendees make the con. We want to put on a con that our attendees desire. What we heard last year was that disability advocate, Day Al-Mohammed, felt that she and others weren’t addressed, much like in comics or mainstream media,” Rantz stated.

“We encouraged her to put together her own panel, and she put together a fantastic panel,” Rantz said. “She put so much thought into it, and that’s what we really want. If people have feedback on what’s missing this year, they should let us know that they want put together their own panel to represent it.”

A few other highlights of the event were comics author Greg Rucka speaking to why men write women so poorly; a panel of women discussing their geeky, tech jobs; a spotlight on Purple Reign, Seattle’s own female superhero (a part of the Rain City Superhero Movement), a talk discussing gender roles in Dr. Who; “Go Make Me a Sandwich,” a panel discussing barriers to women’s participation in online spaces with a presentation by Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian, and so much more.

Rantz affirmed the planners had their own picks of special highlights. “We were really, really excited that Jane Espenson launched the season premiere of season two of her web series ‘Husbands’ here. In addition, the volunteers that agreed to be a part of the convention were fantastic. The Connections room was a place to empower and encourage young girls and women.”

Another highlight of the event that Rantz admitted wasn’t so surprising? “The many panels related to the topic of sexism in geek culture were so well attended,” she said. “People really want to talk about these controversial issues and topics. They’re uncomfortable but this is a great place to start these conversations, and a great place to address these issues in a thoughtful way.”

She acknowledged another nice highlight that any attendee may have noticed as well: there were many more families in attendance this year, which could be attributed to the con’s addition of more kid-friendly events this time around. “It was adorable to see young kids in costumes and also dads and moms encouraging young children to pursue their passions and loves,” Rantz stated.

What was the underlying message that attendees left with? There were a couple, Rantz confessed.

“Firstly, that women support each other,” Rantz said. “We’re told so often that we don’t through many forms of media, but this con felt so welcoming and everyone felt included. It’s very important to feel supported by fellow geeks and women in general.”

Secondly, Rantz noted a message that’s echoed for many people, but something that feels harder to swallow for women some days. “It sounds a bit cheesy, but anything is possible for you. There are so many ways for women to make an impact, and it can be something small. Like seeing Gail Simone speak, asking a question at San Diego Comic Con to speak up about something that you believe deserves attention. Or speaking up against harassment in an online forum, whether it be for yourself or someone else.”

Something that can’t be planned but that seemed to arise organically as a result of putting on an event that is so personal and so important to so many attendees is an overwhelming sense of community and belonging. Twitter was booming over the two days with users utilizing the #GGC12 hashtag to share about panels they loved, heroines they met in person, memories they’ve made and new friends they will undoubtedly keep in touch with online.

The heart of the event started here in Seattle last year, but the community has long outgrown the confines of city limits and IRL meetups. It has created the beginnings of conversations. Women and attendees can now connect through and remain aware of each other and their accomplishments throughout the year online, in forums, through blogs and the constant conversation happening via social media, until they meet again next year.

Dawn Quinn is a copywriter, freelance writer, food blogger and social media-ite. She is a self-proclaimed geek who enjoys graphic novels, cats and their viral memes, and vegan cooking. She begins the MCDM graduate program this fall, and can be found blogging about Seattle vegan food and events at www.veganmoxie.com and on twitter at @yellowdresses and @veganmoxie.