Signs of progress in geekdom

By Sarah Weber

The inspiration for this issue of The Kernel, which celebrates the women of geekdom and their growing impact, came from a trip to an Austin, Texas, comic book shop. Two of them actually.

An interview with comics writer Mairghread Scott published by the Daily Dot turned me onto the Windblade comics—a new miniseries in IDW’s popular Transformers franchise that for the first time featured a female lead.

I walked into Dragon’s Lair Comics wondering if the shop would even stock the title, and was delighted to find one last copy of issue No. 2 lingering on the IDW shelves. When I asked about getting a copy of the first issue, the clerk told me I was out of luck. Windblade was so popular the store couldn’t keep it on the shelves. Issue No. 1 was long sold out.

The next day I dropped by Austin Books and Comics and heard the same story. My disappointment over these thwarted attempts to buy a hardcopy of the comic barely registered, because I was so overcome with how freaking cool it was that my local comic shops couldn’t keep a title featuring a ladybot in stock.

The market had spoken, and it said “Yes! I want to read a comic book about a female character written by an all-female creative team.” Its popularity sure wasn’t lost on IDW, which quickly renewed Windblade for another miniseries.

A few months later, Marvel announced that Ms. Marvel, a comic starring 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl Kamala Khan, would be getting a rare sixth printing, putting it in the popularity eschelon with Wolverine 1982 and Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1. Even more impressive, Ms. Marvel’s digital sales were reportedly outpacing print copies.

The old guard is finally recognizing that female geeks exist, and they’re a hungry and underserved market.

And that’s not the only good news. There’s been massive box-office returns for young adult-fiction adaptations The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars. Fifty Shades of Grey sparked a national conversation about fanfiction, female comic book hero Captain Marvel is getting her own blockbuster (thanks in part to her battalion of fans called the Carol Corps), and there’s skyrocketing interest geek fashion thanks to female fans who demanded more options.

By themselves, each of these points is encouraging. Together, though, they take shape as something bigger. They’re signs that even with sometimes ugly setbacks, progress is being made—if for no other reason than the old guard is finally recognizing that female geeks exist, and they’re a hungry and underserved market.

This evidence of progress also shapes a sort of armor that can help us weather the inevitable challenges we’ll face along the way to parity. I tucked these successes close to my heart this fall as the Internet roiled under the misery of Gamergate—and as I was turned down by every female game developer I asked to contribute to this issue because they feared drawing hateful attention their way.

Clearly, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to shedding old stereotypes, improving the representation of women in science, gaming, and comics industries, and in elevating the discourse about these issues above Internet threats and trolling.

Many women, geek icon Felicia Day and game developer Brianna Wu among them, still expose themselves to threats and harassment just by speaking up. But by refusing to be silenced, they’re helping to make little successes—and inevitably a culture shift—happen. At New York Comic Con in 2013, comics writer Kelley Sue Deconnick said, “I am willing to make people uncomfortable so that my daughter doesn’t have to.”

Here’s to geek girl generations past, present, and future.


Photo via taymtaym/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)