Sunday, November 25, 2012

Twoo Wuv

For some reason I get sick right before every big move we have ever made. I say that like it's not really obvious that it's the insane stress and lack of sleep that makes my immune system run away screaming.

When we moved to San Diego from NY about 4 years ago I got the worst flu maybe two days before. I was so sick I basically lay around on our futon trying not to die. I was still sick when we started the 5 day drive and slept through most of the South. I remember New Orleans, thankfully. I also remember the 2 days through Texas less thankfully. Lots of tumbleweed, rocks, and serious state pride there. And then we were west coasters and that was rad. When we moved up to San Francisco I didn't get sick, but that was like an 8hr drive so I don't count it as a "big" move. The cats didn't pee themselves so it was just a solid win.

And now, in 5 days, we are moving to Germany. I'm not sure about the mileage, it might technically be less than the 3k we moved to get here. It is, however, 9 hours into THE FUTURE. Also, German. Which I don't speak. So. That's a thing. That's happening. In 5 days.

Which of course means that I got sick. This time with a cold which is generally your standard mucusfest. A few hot showers, some lying around sleeping, a bit of cold medicine, you get the drill.

But because I am incapable of ever having anything not be totally humiliating, things had to get weird. It didn't start off that way. Basically, yesterday I decided to take the previously mentioned hot shower. I figured it would help clear out my head. Well. It did. Kind of.

You see, about five minutes into the shower I got extremely dizzy. I thought, okay, this is different. It'll subside. Not so much. Everything spun, and continued to spin, and I tried to stay upright but it was really difficult to tell what direction that actually was. And then I fainted.

No, seriously. I fainted. Like some swoony girl in a novel. Only, you know, minus the corset and flowing hair and grace. More like naked in the shower with a thud.

Somehow I managed to not fall on any of the myriad bottles that seem to sprout like mushrooms in every bathroom I occupy. Which is good because I don't think being impaled on shampoo would've improved the experience. I wasn't out for long, but it was a distinct faint.

My husband called out "Are you okay?" and I said "No." He came in and opened the stall to find me, sprawled, water still pouring down. I looked up with a face apparently drained of color and said "I think I'm going to..."and then I did. Throw up, obviously. While naked and plunked down on the floor of the shower with my husband worried about me.


Always with the dignity. That's me.

He helped me up. Got me a towel. I felt a LOT better, though obviously just ever so slightly embarrassed. My color came back. I got dressed and lay down. He went out and got me ginger ale and bread for toast. Gave me a kiss and a hug. Later, we watched movies and napped.

That, my friends, is love. And it's why I'm not really worried about moving to Germany, because I'll be with Chris, and a guy who doesn't bat an eye when you yak on yourself while naked in the shower (not to mention all the assorted humiliations of my kidney stone episode earlier this year) is the kind of person worth moving anywhere with. And it'll be okay because we'll be together and all that other sappy stuff. And even if it isn't, we'll figure it out. Because that's what we do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Comics: Please. Stop.

So. It's Thursday and it's 5:30am and I can't sleep, so I'm writing because that's what I do. It's been an "interesting" week so far in this grand old comics industry of ours, and by "interesting" I mean "OMFG what is going on???"

On Sunday night I wrote this blog post addressing a certain meme posted by a fellow comics professional that unfortunately perpetuated, among other things, the apparently scary and rampant issue of "fake" nerd/geek girls. It also equated "some" of them with whores, and the whole thing was kind of really not great. I got a lot of comments on the post, some incredibly, you know, bad, but there were also a lot of interesting discussions and it's now been reposted over at the New Statesmen. It's a really long piece, but I thought I needed to say it and be as thorough as possible. It's not the first time I've had to deal with this particular discussion within our industry and I knew it wouldn't be the last.

How right I was. Unfortunately.

Because the very next day this happened. I was already pretty tired from the previous "debate" and was up at some other weird hour, and about the only reaction I had for a good long while was this:

Because, I mean, seriously??? Just, no, comics. No. Please stop. This makes us look really bad.

Frankly, I could probably just go and change the name in the open letter of my last post and swap out "meme" and "whore" for  "cosplayer" and "con hot" and "yer not comics" and be addressing almost the exact same issue. Which seems to basically boil down to: there are more women in nerd/geek spaces than there used to be, participating in ways they enjoy. Some guys are very suspicious of this and wish they would either go away or participate differently because by not participating the way they think they should, they are "fakers" and should be called names for reasons. Because they're there. Wearing costumes and maybe not reading comics and stuff.

Now, I've been told a LOT the past few days that in both cases they weren't talking about "me" or "all" women or "all" cosplayers, so why is everyone making such a big deal about this? They're only talking about "those" girls and they DO exist and they're infiltrating our subculture and ruining everything with their cleavage and lack of interest in whatever subjective geek/nerd rule is currently being dictated to them. Apparently, because they aren't talking about "all" women, just the ones they don't like, it's totes fine and poseurs are a HUGE problem and anyone who disagrees is overreacting and being irrational.

That led me to making this face at my computer a lot as I read this line of reasoning, over and over:

I have to tell you: it's really not the amazing argument they think it is. First of all, I am not an "exception" to these supposedly "specific" rules. You know why? Because I'm a woman and I exist in these spaces. That is literally all it takes for people to assume you don't know anything about comics, films, TV, sci-fi, horror, whatever. It gets applied to all of us, all the time. How do I know that? Because I've had to field those questions. I don't go around with my resume taped to my back as a handy reference guide, so how would you know I'm one of the "good" ones? And being one of the "good" ones didn't stop a fellow comics professional from groping me at SDCC one year, or another asking me at a new gig, after 5 years of editing stuff like Fables and Lucifer, "Oh, so, you think you might want to work in comics, huh?" because he just assumed I was an intern. Even though those things happened (among lots of others) I do not assume all fellow male nerd/geeks are creeps. I should technically be able to, based on the above logic, but I don't.

Depending on who you are, if I Cosplayed at conventions people could then, like, EXTRA assume I'm just there for attention and not for fun or spending time with friends or enjoying the scene or, you know, to be a professional and get work. Because the only reason women wear costumes, especially "revealing" ones is for male attention. Nevermind that "revealing" is a highly subjective term. They must be objectifying themselves and/or taunting male nerds. Judging them. Whispering about them behind their backs. It is, apparently, unfathomable that these girls and women might be there because they want to be and do not care at all about you or what you think. That, supposedly, is not possible. It must be for attention because, in our culture (nerd/geek and general), women do not exist for themselves, but to be looked at and judged by men. Our sexuality is not our own, therefore we can't possibly express it for ourselves on our own terms.

Of course, we're ALL at conventions for attention to some degree. Sometimes we want the attention of a creator whose work we really love. Sometimes we want someone to notice the work we do. I don't go to conventions hoping all the publishers and editors I meet will ignore me. I don't do signings hoping no one will show up. I have no desire to suffer in obscurity and I'm glad that convention attendance across the board has been up. Do I get annoyed at the crowded aisles? Yeah. But the alternative is barren aisles, and that's a whole lot worse than a stray wing in the eyeball or stroller over the foot. More people means more potential readers of comics, more potential watchers of shows and movies, which means I get more of the stuff I love for longer. Yay!

Part of the problem I'm seeing here is a lot of really hyperbolic language about supposed "interlopers". I've seen all kinds of terms tossed around from the kind of mild "poseur" and "faker", to the more epic "infiltrator", "predator", and "barbarians storming the citadel". Look, that's all a bit much. No one has any battering rams aimed at your geeky nerdom. They're just people. Some people know as much as you about whatever it is you love, some don't, and some even know more. Sometimes they're genuinely interested, sometimes they aren't, but absolutely none of it changes what you love about the things you love. It really doesn't.

And seriously: don't refer to women as predators, sucking the life out of men with their costumes and voidness. There's a reason that sounds like misogyny. And no, it doesn't matter that girls have sometimes been mean to you. That is not a good reason or valid excuse for perpetuating that rhetoric.

Now, I know quite a few Cosplayers, have met and seen lots at conventions, and I think they're pretty marvelous. The amount of detail that goes into some of these costumes, the willingness to stay in character, to take pictures with fans, to be friendly and accessible in crowded sweaty a whole lot more welcoming and nerdy than anything I do. I mean, I'd even go so far as to say that a lot of Cosplayers are like ambassadors, especially if they're dressed up as recognizable characters. They're part of the atmosphere and general "Hey, we all love this stuff, isn't it AWESOME??" vibe.  It's fun, is really the point. Do some of them have bad attitudes? I'm sure. But so do, you know, people. I've met and worked with some pretty cranky and grumpy comics creators. I didn't then jump to the conclusion that "most" comics creators were mean.

I don't want to belittle the obviously real concern a lot of geeks/nerds seem to have that the things they love are being overrun by people who don't love them as much. On a personal level, I can see why that feels bad and upsetting. As a generalization, I think nerds and geeks tend to be a somewhat sensitive bunch and it's true that a lot of us faced social ostracism and even abuse for loving the things we love. I know I did. There's an identity in that, and I guess I can see how that might feel threatened by the perception, real or not, that that identity is being commodified or adopted by those who don't really understand what we've been through or what it means to us. But so much of that is built on assuming that certain types of people don't "get it", and it's not really based in anything rational. Being a pretty girl (or just a girl, period) does not mean you have never experienced abuse or nastiness. Being a woman doesn't mean you didn't have an awkward adolescence. Being considered conventionally attractive by others doesn't mean your life has been aces and easy and full of respect and fun times. The amount of people who assume attractive women are stupid, incapable, and have just "coasted" is pretty staggering. It's just a bad idea to assume you know a person based on your interpretation of how they look.

And beyond that, being abused has never entitled anyone to turn around and be abusive. Ever. The thing that makes our subculture awesome is the passion and love we have for these stories and mediums. It has never been based on exclusivity and it shouldn't be.

So, please, comics...don't let me down. Start taking a look at this phenomenon with a more objective eye. Worry less about "poseurs" and more about how we can welcome new fans. It's a much more rewarding way to spend our time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Fake" Nerd Girls, "Whores", and Sexism

(Note: This is an open letter to Newsarama columnist and writer Dirk Manning, who earlier today posted this meme on his Facebook. I'm responding to that and the comments that followed.)

Dear Dirk Manning,  

I'm a fellow comic book writer and editor, for about 10 years now. I’ve read your posts at Newsarama and while I don’t know you personally, I generally found them helpful for those looking to write and create work in comics.

Which is I why I have to say, I'm disappointed to see you perpetuating the “Fake Geek/Nerd Girl” meme. Sure, it’s a repost, but what we choose to share on our social platforms matters. You’ve endorsed the underlying sentiment of the meme, to the degree that you feel that women who aren’t “real” nerds by your definition are "objectifying themselves", pandering to a lowest common denominator, and therefore it's okay to imply, based on how objectionable you find the word "whore" to be in this context, less-than for the sake of humor. You reposted this particular take on it because you felt it was relevant, I’m assuming. All I have to go by is the fact that you reposted it and then defended it. What you're like in your personal life is beside the point, as you chose this particular meme to express your views on a particular subject, and further explanation was dedicated to justifying it.

I’m sure it seems harmless and “fun” on the surface, but memes like this are indicative of a much larger and much more problematic attitude within geek culture. Namely: if we don't like how (specifically) a woman/girl identifies as a nerd, or displays their nerdery, based on rather arbitrary & subjective definitions of what being a “real nerd” is, we can label them a whore/slut/fake. Which, by proxy, indicates that they are not only not a nerd, but are also something of a social/cultural pariah. The word “whore” is pretty specific and, especially in this context, is clearly not meant to be anything other than demeaning and dehumanizing. That you don’t think “all” women are whores is really not the issue. The underlying sexism of the "fake" nerd/geek girl rhetoric is.

This meme unfortunately perpetuates an attitude that is exclusionary and unnecessary. For those of us who have to deal with that attitude frequently, just for being in nerd culture and being female, it’s not really so funny or minor. Reposting those sentiments condones them, if that reposting is not followed by either a criticism of the meme or a real call for discussion on it. Anything else is, at best, passively granting it legitimacy.

The thing about sexism, even when it seems “minor” or playful, is that it has real world consequences. The idea that women in particular must adhere to a set of arbitrary standards in order to be treated with respect and not called “whores”, makes it difficult for all women in a given space. Because although I’m sure you think your idea of what is and is not acceptable is fair, it changes from person to person. What, exactly, is dressing “slutty”? Who defines that, you? Me? How does being a fashion model exclude someone from also being nerdy? Why is it different when a girl poses in a costume then when a guy does? How much cleavage is "too much"? Is being conventionally attractive enough to justify people being suspicious? How are these things mutually exclusive to being a nerd? What criteria must we meet to be a considered a “real” nerd? What are the parameters? Do I go by your definition of "slutty" and "pandering" or some other random internet poster? What about my own definition, does that not count? How long do I have to be a nerd in order to be a "real" one? What nerd activities must I participate in? Can I like Lord of the Rings and not Superman? etc.

It’s too subjective. We aren’t all nerdy about the same things & we don’t all participate in nerd culture the same way. By attempting to make ourselves the arbiters of nerdom, we create a space that’s hostile and more like a high school clique than an inclusive culture. Which, frankly, hurts industries like comics a lot. Mainly because we alienate huge audiences with this attitude.

In terms of how something so "harmless" can be applied to the real world: there have been two recent, high profile instances of this memes attitude in action. First: Anita Sarkeesian and the reaction to her Kickstarter about sexism in gaming. She was (and continues to be) subjected to a level of misogynistic outrage and harassment that is frankly unconscionable. The idea that women are not "real" nerds, or have no right to discuss nerd topics, was quick and vicious. She was called a "whore" a lot. It did, however, bring this issue front and center. This resulted in a lot of other women in games, comics, and other nerd spheres coming out and discussing the backlash they get, constantly, for being women in these spaces. Aisha Tyler was one of the most vocal.

Second: Felicia Day. A writer on a gaming site who clearly did not know her resume made comments that reflect almost exactly this meme’s rhetoric. It showed not only a stunning lack of any knowledge of how influential she is in nerd culture, but showed exactly how problematic those assumptions are. They are based exclusively in personal definitions and criteria, and are applied to any woman who happens to exist in nerd spaces, no matter what. 

The reality is: this kind of meme exists to criticize women, specifically, and does not bring anything constructive or useful to nerd culture. All it does is perpetuate a tired and frankly absurd generalization that’s highly gendered and erroneous. It doesn’t call out men who are apparently “using” nerd culture unscrupulously, and it is not a catch all for "anyone" displaying this behavior. Men simply don’t have to deal with the assumption that they don’t belong, automatically, because of their gender. They aren’t required to “prove” their dedication to nerdom based on their gender. They aren’t asked to dress differently. They aren’t called specifically gendered insults if they don’t meet a given person’s standard.

Further, the comments aimed at Jennifer De Guzman, a highly respected, intelligent, and dedicated former Editor-in-chief and now PR and Marketing Director at Image, are pretty condescending. Just because she disagrees with you does not mean she is “overly sensitive”, that she has no right to be angry, or no right to voice her objections. Being angry does not mean she cannot also be rational and articulate in her criticism. Suggesting otherwise, or allowing others to make that claim, is highly irresponsible. If you have the right to post this and have it as a pet peeve (which you do) then someone else addressing a concern about why it’s problematic is equally valid. We have the right to say what we want. Other people have the right to comment on it. Being able to post whatever we want to doesn’t absolve us from criticism about it.

For instance: there are people who will disagree with this letter. That’s their right. They may even get angry about it. That's also their right. 

At the end of the day, we define our nerdom for ourselves, it is not dictated to us by the whims or definitions of others. No matter how other people may arbitrarily disapprove of us or how we display our nerdery individually, women are nerds. No meme will change that.

-Mariah Huehner
Editor, writer, nerd

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Hello there, blog readers! Or random people! I like you all equally. Except for trolls. You, I'm not so fond of.

Anyway! Figured I should probably mention on this blog about my OTHER blog, dedicated to a project I'm putting together called MONSTROUS:

It will be a collection of prose/comics/poetry/art on body image for girls/women. Stories can and will be in any genre, open to any and all creators, published and not. At the link, in the first post, you'll find submission guidelines and other information.

I've gotten a lot of wonderful feedback, encouragement, and story submission so far. Feel free to share and repost wherever.

In other news: My husband and I are moving to Hamburg, Germany, at the end of November. It's a huge, exciting, change, and we're both terrified/thrilled. Life is weird but the way I figure it, you have to take opportunities when they arrive.

What else? Oh! I'm writing an EMILY THE STRANGE series for Dark Horse Comics called EMILY & THE STRANGERS. You should check it out when it hits comics shelves in January. :}

And finally: HAPPY HALLOWEEN! I made a goblin mask out of toilet paper, Elmer's glue, acrylic paint, and ALL THE GLITTER.