Geek Girl Con held its third annual meeting in Seattle earlier this month. GGC bills itself as a geekery safe space for anyone who supports or identifies as female. The con, which melds the traditional fan-con and industry-con experience, had a variety of programming and events, including a small job fair. It also held a few surprises.
Geek Girl Con was started by a few women in 2011 as a response to the rising backlash against women as equals in gaming. Since then, women’s voices in the comic book, video game, fashion, and film sector have swelled as well, and after years of petitions, campaigns, and discussion to bring about a better con experience for women, finally there is a place for them and those men mature enough to support them.
GGC offers a safe place to discuss issues that women face, but upon attending I found that its programming tackled every highly-visible issue within the geekosphere, including bullying, women’s empowerment and equality, minority issues, portrayal of physical disabilities, geek parenting, geek children, cosplay and fashion, and freelance vs. corporate work, just to name a few. Whereas New York Comic Con the week before was a sink-or-swim atmosphere that continued to carry the apparent flag of “industry not issues,” GGC was the stark reverse, a helping-hand mentality focusing exclusively on “issues within the industry” and what to do about them.
You might think that the convention, therefore, was all man-haters and militant social justice bloggers. It wasn’t. The mood was peaceful and the tone uplifting, and everyone — panelists and attendees alike — were searching for concrete solutions to issues. Speakers were happy to chat after their events for extended periods, to learn from shared stories, and to brainstorm.
Panels were made up almost exclusively of women in the industry, a reverse of the controversial norm at bigger conventions. Most were conducted by a crew of five, with a moderator. As each session was only an hour long, and each had time for questions, many of the presentations ran out of speaking time, with one or two panelists dominating the conversation. Fewer speakers or longer times would make for more powerful panels, but there was always time to meet with speakers after.
It’s the kind of small con where you make the rounds at leisure and find yourself talking to other attendees for three hours at a time, making new friends along the way. One unique facet of this convention is that these chats could always lead to new business opportunities. Most cons are not about networking for business, and while NYCC and SDCC offer this, you have to fight huge crowds and be one of a thousand. At GGC, every conversation could become a chance at a joint venture or a job, and employers appeared specifically looking to hire women. Speakers, dealers, Artists’ Alley members, and even attendees were ready to discuss job opportunities or how to get them.
The “Connections” networking/job fair area was small, maybe twelve booths in total, sometimes offering networking rather than job openings. But, there were different companies each day, and informational interviews can be just as useful sometimes as a job opportunity. It was also a relief to go to a job-hunting space where I knew I wouldn’t have to devote half my brain to deflecting immature or debasing remarks while trying to talk up employers about my skill set.
Seattle has a big DIY and organic/fair trade scene, so having the con be, in part, for local geek jobs is a natural progression. The area also hosts dozens of digitech and gaming companies, so many of the speakers and networking booths were proudly STEM related. I even met an astrophysicist from Canada. But never fear, there was plenty of room for artists and writers, too.
The average age of attendee was about twenty-five. There were also more families with small children than I’ve ever seen at a convention. They were more well-behaved than average, too, and while many were there with just their mothers, fathers attended as well. Despite almost all cons billing themselves as family-friendly spaces, they rarely achieve that. This one, however, does, and all of the little girls were in costumes. With programming on parenting such as how to navigate the digital gaming world for small children, hope for a geek utopia is clearly alive and well, and the positive effects of the conversations on women’s empowerment are readily visible.
Another remarkable feature of this convention is that everyone felt safe, and proud, to be who they were. Even transgender and transitioning persons, who attend conventions regularly but still have to be careful about outing themselves, were actively and proudly part of discussions and the scene in general. Whether a person was about anime, manga, American comics, video games, table top games, or just there to check out the scene, this con is the first I’ve seen bridge the many groups of geekdom, and they’ve done it under the auspices of being an open space for women and their concerns. The atmosphere was truly inclusive, and I have never seen so many easy-going smiles at a convention.
The convention is two days, though its badge price at-the-door is the same as a three-days’. (Early bird is cheaper.) It also sold out of badges just after opening, so definitely pre-reg for this one. The Washington State Conference Center is a sprawling modern complex of glass and wide-open spaces that also hosts the likes of PAX, but while PAX packs the whole place, GGC takes up a very small portion. It’s spread out over four floors, however, so it stays novel and uncrowded. The part of the convention center GGC chose to inhabit also has easy handicapped access to all the floors, so wheel chairs, strollers, and Daleks are all easily accommodated. Make sure you get in the right parking ramp, though, or you’ll pay through the nose. There’s a mall just across the street that has every price range of food, a Barnes and Noble, a GameStop, and a movie theater, so all your geeky needs are taken care of throughout the weekend.
If haven’t had enough, Geek Girl Con also hosts events throughout the year such as film screenings, meet-and-greet networking events, and gaming nights, so if you’re in the Seattle area, be sure to check out their site regularly. Whether it’s for the progressive con itself or its after events, you won’t be disappointed.