Sisterhood Is Powerful

I’m writing this on a bed in room 819 of the Madison Concourse Hotel. Next to me, Robyn Fleming is updating The Hathor Legacy. On the other bed, Karen Healey and Elizabeth McDonald are skimming the Girl-Wonder forum. At the desk in the corner, Andrea Rubenstein is working on the next issue of Cerise.
We’re all tired and a little grouchy, catching our breath from the crash of WisCon ending earlier today. Later, we’re going to order pizza and maybe watch some bad television or dive into the dozens of books we’ve bought over the course of the con. We’ll probably stay up too late, regardless. Tomorrow, my friend Michael will pick me up; I’ll spend the next day with him, then fly back home on Wednesday, and it’ll be back to work and life.
But I’ll be going back with something I didn’t have beforefaces to the names (and, in some cases, names to the handles) with which I’ve grown increasingly familiar over the past year in the feminist community. Also, I bought some porn, which may be another column in its own right.
For now, though, I’ll stick with names and faces, and the people behind them, and to start, I’ll make a confession: I’m scared of women. Not all women, of course, and certainly not in a shriek-and-run-away sort of way. And it’s not fear preciselymore like discomfort, or maybe mistrust. I worry that they’re talking about me behind my back, holding me up to standards I can never even try to meet.
In high school, when I started gaming, it was always me and the guys. There were other girlsGracie and Heather, who huddled together and giggled behind their hands but neither of them gamed, and I was never really one of them. Instead, I occupied a frustrating and lonely liminal space. The girls made it clear that gaming and comics and other such geekery was guy stuff; they preferred to whisper and occasionally burst out laughing at the guys’ silliness. The guys were friendly enough, and quickly accepted me as one of their own (you know you’re one of the guys when they start telling embarrassing masturbation stories) but never quite gave up on the idea that I was somehow closer to Gracie and Heather, connected by the invisible link of our gender. I was intensely lonely, but because I was a generally fucked-up and angst-ridden adolescent, I didn’t think much of it.
In college, it was a little bettera few girls gamed, and a few read comicsbut only a little. Most of the women I gamed with were still trailing reluctantly behind their more enthusiastic boyfriends and made it emphatically clear that they were not gamers. They were dismissive of ‘geek stuff’ like comics and video games. They liked to plan ‘girl time’ for while their boyfriendsand I, who was again denied membership in that exclusive club, or perhaps just forgotten along the waywere gaming or hanging out at the comics shop. It was a less painful space to occupy than it had been in high school, because my friendships with the guys were much closer, but it was still awkward, and it was still acutely lonely. I wanted friendships with other women, but I was tired of those friendships being conditional on my pretending not to careor at least staying carefully quietabout a substantial slice of my life.
Groups were the worst. There were some women who I knew were geekswho had pull lists at the comics shop, who played in CCG tournaments and waited breathless for news of the latest World of Warcraft expansion. One-on-one, we could chatter happily about our interests. But when there were more people around, everything changed. My friends would jump back into their girly, non-geek personae. They’d clam up or even outright lie.
By the time I started at Dark Horse, I had very nearly given up on having many close female friends who didn’t tacitly dismiss or outright mock my hobbiesand now, my career. When I was first introduced around the editorial department, it was with growing dismay that I discovered that many of my coworkers were women close to my age: even though they made comics for a living, I was quietly convinced that nothing would changetheir jobs must simply be anomalies. They couldn’t really be into comics, let alone video games; I couldn’t imagine that any of them collected dice.
When Samantha Robertson asked if my partner and I did any tabletop gaming, my first thought was, ‘Oh, fuck. Am I that obvious?’
‘Yeah, some,’ I said.
‘What systems?’ she asked.
It turned out Sam played tabletop games. She also played video games. Jemiah wrote vampire novels and adored classic movies. Katie, who had a Fray poster and a sticker that said ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention’ in her office window, was a rabid fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and didn’t care who knew. They were liberal. They were brilliant. They were women And they were confidently self-identified geeks. I suddenly had a pretty decent of how East Berlin must have felt when the wall fell.
I started posting on comics forums not long after and was lucky enough to find Girl-Wonder almost immediately. I had been abstractly aware that there were female and feminist comics fans out there, but finding an organized community of them was a revelation akin to connecting with the other women at Dark Horse.
But it didn’t clicknot really, not so I believed ituntil WisCon. Attending an explicitly feminist conventionmeeting and touching and talking and living with the women I’d connected to on Girl-Wonder and elsewhere in the feminist geek communitygave me a whole new understanding of just how much those connections matter. In an industry in which we make up an often overlooked or dismissed minority, taking time to celebrate and connect with each other is not only importantit’s necessary. Our individual experiences and beliefs may differ, but as we celebrate and recognize the common ground that we are breaking together, to share ideas and join forces, the old adage of a whole greater than the sum of its partsa whole that, by existing, adds to those partsbegins to make sense.