It wasn’t so long ago that geek culture was synonymous with a boys’ club made up of sex-starved, socially inept basement dwellers who gathered in the back rooms of comic book stores or arcades. They were bullied and mocked, left on the outskirts of society where they formed communities where they could take shelter and share in their obsessions. How the tables have turned. Geek culture has been pushed into the mainstream, and the women who have always been part of the scene are stepping into the spotlight and working to retire those old, tired stereotypes. Female geeks and gamers of all stripes are stepping out and staking their claim despite the often misogynistic and sexist backlash that’s long been endemic in the community.
The Female Geeks
Many of these women came into their own when they recognized they were being ignored by the mainstream marketing of geek culture and then did something about it. Thanks to them, the current geek girls have some powerful women to look up to. As Samantha Langsdale opines in a piece for The Guardian, geek culture isn’t just for boys anymore.
If Marie Curie, the pioneer in radioactivity research, and Ada Bryon, the world’s first programmer, aren’t enough evidence of the influence of women on science, take a look at Trachette Jackson, Melinda Hartwig, and Anita Sengupta, all of whom demonstrate that it’s not only boys who can be the brains behind the operation. Growing up looking up to other minority mathematicians, Jackson defied all stereotypes when she became the first African American woman to be awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Research Award in Mathematics in 2003. Crunching numbers is her thing, and she does it every day as a mathematical biologist in Michigan.
According to a thoughtful profile by Ann Hoevel for The Kernel, Hartwig divides her days between art and archeology while researching ancient Egypt. She’s become quite the sought-after expert in all things pyramids and tombs and has made appearances on both the Discovery and National Geographic channels. Sengupta has long since left all the dorky rocket club boys in the dust: she’s busy launching objects all the way to Mars. That’s just a day in the life of this Cold Atom Laboratory project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Costumes have always been a prevalent part of the geek scene, but there weren’t always many options—or any shred of sensibility—in the clothing designed for female characters. That’s where Ashley Eckstein and Catherine Lewis figured they could make a splash. According to Forbes contributor John Gaudiosi, Eckstein, who voiced Ashoka in the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars series, set up a global clothing brand called Her Universe with female sci-fi fans in mind after noticing that fandom merchandise was completely ignoring around fifty percent of their fan base. Lewis has figured out a way to make playing dress up her job by creating a company, God Save the Queen Fashions, that specializes in custom cosplay. It’s quite the thriving business these days, proving that women are just as geeky as their male counterparts.
Tech Wizards & Wordsmiths
Kimberly Bryant is not only a tech wizard, but also a social activist. She is the founder and executive director of Black Girls CODE, the high-growth, high-impact nonprofit that works to make education about and access to technology available for girls of color. It may have started in the tech hub of San Francisco, but Black Girls CODE is now up and running in seven U.S. cities and in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Women are powerful assets to the geek and tech communities. Businesses hoping to increase profits and build respectability, especially within communities with such rabid and engaged fan bases, ignore women at their own peril.