I posted this article over on wordofthenerdonline.com but wanted to posted it here as well.
I am a Canadian Geek Girl and I am always looking for inspiring geeks to connect with and hear stories from. And I decided I wanted to put together some interviews with a few Canadian Geek Girls to get their take on geek culture, as a whole, as a girl and in Canada.
I put the call out online looking for geeky girls to answer some questions, and I found 4 awesome ladies to interview.
Kenickie Street is a part of the burlesque group Nerd Girl Burlesque.
Liana K. is a Canadian entertainment personality as well as a well known cosplayer.
Erika Szabo is a Youtube personality with her own geeky channel.
Inka Kennepohl is a Canadian geek girl who is a part of several online communities.
Here is what they had to say about Canadian Geek Girl culture.
1) Did you find it hard fitting in as a geeky girl growing up? Or did you manage to find your place fairly easily?
Kenickie: When I was a kid there was no shortage of phone calls or doorbell rings, the other nerds and I were always cooking up something. I was never lacking for plans on a weekend for sure. Most of my friends were boys, and the rotating group of girls that they seemed to always be swapping as their “girlfriends” (it sounds way more nefarious as it actually was) were always around too. I had a hard time connecting with girls as a teenager. I was into more than make-up, clothes and boys and when you have no common ground to start from it’s hard to build lasting relationships. I would usually approach the new kids at school their first day and we would become fast friends, but within a few weeks they would be “rescued” by the “popular” clique. At my school we had several cliques and they were pretty free flowing with kids being members in more than one usually. I was in about 7 I think. For the most unpopular kid at my high school I sure did have a lot of friends.
Liana: I had a unique childhood because I grew up in the Jane Finch neighborhood of Toronto. There was so much diversity. Sure, I had geek moments, but… this is so embarrassing… I chalked my awkward moments up to being a white kid in an area where dancehall reggae was more popular than grunge in the 1990s!
Due to these unique circumstances, I think I probably ended up with less of a chip on my shoulder than some other geek girls. You’re talking about a neighborhood where the world was viewed through the lens of poverty and racial tensions, and if you had a skill that could help people improve their lot in life and were willing to share it, I think that mattered more than being “cool”.
At the end of the day, yeah, I got made fun of, but people also respected my intelligence. It was a little easier to be different. I was also in the gifted program in elementary school and enriched programs in high school. These places are pretty much nerd central, so I’m sure that made it easier. Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of bullies to fight off. I still had my teen crisis moments of feeling like a loser, not being able to get a date, being called a “brainer” as they said back then, but if being a Jane Finch kid makes you anything, it makes you tough.
Being a teenager isn’t easy for anyone, and the way I see it, at least I had a strong identity. Back then I wished I was more popular. Now I’m glad I wasn’t. I’m glad I was a natural iconoclast. I think it stopped me from getting into the really self destructive stuff that plaugues isolated teens — drugs, alcohol, high-risk sex, smoking — that sort of thing. I didn’t do any of that stuff. I was too much of a nerd! But the flipside was, people didn’t pressure me to do that stuff as much as other people… because I was a nerd! *laughs*
Erika: In ways, yes, but I always made it a point to be myself. There were definitely parts of myself that I unleashed more of simply to fit in, but I always made my passions clear.
Inka: I don’t think I had trouble fitting in, but rather trouble learning how to fight the impulse to change myself so that I fit in.Being yourself is harder than fitting in. Discovering such large geek/nerd communities online has really helped me to understand that there are people out there who like what I like.
2) What advice would you have for young girls who are trying to figure out their own geeky path and may be afraid to take part in the geeky activities that interest them, for fear of being ridiculed as just a girl?
Kenickie: Try everything! There really is NOTHING to be afraid of. Take that step, take that chance because sometimes you only get that one moment. I STILL live by the seat of my pants and it’s pretty great. If some guy accuses you of being a nerd to get attention, show him the true meaning of “roll to hit”. I am a grown woman of *%&^$& years old and I am STILL asked to defend my nerd cred on a regular basis. Those jerks are everywhere but you have to justify yourself to no one but yourself. And if a non nerd person gives you flack, forget them too. Can you imagine living a life where you are passionate about nothing? Passion breeds nerds.
Liana: There are two Hillary Rodham Clinton quotes I live by. They are:
- “We are, all of us, exploring a world none of us understands…searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living…for the integrity, the courage to be whole, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences…Fear is always with us, but we just don’t have time for it.”
- “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”
It’s patently impossible to avoid criticism. It’s a part of life and a reality of the world that people are going to be mean. Girls are trained from a very young age to internalize criticism, to see being criticized as proof of an inherent lack of worth, as opposed to just encountering an asshole or… heaven forbid… needing to improve on something. The reason I like video games is that I can screw up a level as many times as I need to. I’ll improve to the point that I advance. Women are not given that chance in the modern world, since our “ideal” age is nineteen to twenty-one. You’re still a baby at that point. You have no idea what you really want out of life. And I think that’s part of the reason that our patriarchal society overvalues youth in women: we really start learning lasting self esteem in our late twenties and thirties. Then we become “bitches”. If you want to exist in the gaming world, you gotta be a bad bitch. Yes, that means some people are not going to like you. There are people who won’t like you the minute you accomplish something, precisely because you accomplished something. We’re trained to fear that. Fuck it. You need two things to be a woman who likes so-called “geeky” things: a brain and a spine. Everything else is just a style point.
So how do you get better at handling criticism? It has a lot to do with how you approach a situation emotionally. We geeks tend to have weaknesses in our emotional development, because our intellects get the focus. So first of all, criticism hurts. It does. But the difference between it hurting a little and hurting a lot is something that is in our control. For example, I do a weekly gaming column and someone always says something intensely shitty in the comments. It’s not a question of if, but when. One time, it was in response to a legitimate error I made, and I felt really dumb. But I was tired and overworked and mistakes happen under those circumstances. So I reminded myself of that, felt kinda dumb anyway, but I moved on and wrote my next column. Yes, the criticisms were overly nasty, like “What kind of idiot are you?” while the commenter attempted to show me how clearly superior he was. But I had made a mistake, and I was able to separate that legitimate point from the heavy serving of mockery that came with it. Other weeks, commenters just think I’m a moron because my opinion differs from theirs. But it’s hard to take seriously people who make a big deal that a particular game or character was left off a list with only eight options. The great thing about this particular column is that it’s co-written with a male writer, Marc Morrison. Sometimes, the commenters get in such an angry lather that they confuse us, and start referring to me as a he. It’s good to know that at least in that forum, my gender really doesn’t matter! *laughs*
I find it helps to understand the psychology of people on the internet. The internet gives every person the opportunity to be kind of famous for doing very little. So almost every online action is designed to add to that fame. Under those conditions, a nasty comment isn’t about the recipient so much as it’s about the sender trying to show their online power. My rule of the internet is that I’m there to have fun. I’ll either do that with you, or at your expense. The form I choose is up to each individual. So if someone’s cool, we’ll have some great chats. If someone’s an ass, well, I’m either going to ignore them or make fun of them. What I’m not going to do is sit there feeling bad about their pointless rudeness.
There’s no getting away that it does “matter” that you’re a woman. It matters if someone’s a person of colour. It matters if someone practices a particular religion. Sexual orientation is also relevant. The problem develops when different values are assigned to various perspectives. If someone is seen as having a less relevant opinion because they are, say, a transgendered African American, well, that’s making our industry suffer, because diversity leads to good art. Most people you’ll encounter, however, are just extremely insecure, and want things to be as similar to their own situation as possible.
The inclusion of women in the video game industry is a really big deal that, fortunately, the industry is addressing in a real way. I can’t say the same for the press corps, however, which is predominantly made up of white bald guys with glasses. That’s the mainstream’s idea of what a techie looks like at work, however. That’s not the industry setting that paradigm. It’ll change. Slowly, but it’ll change. Media outlets just don’t like dealing with two variables at a time, so they separate “woman” from “gamer”, and think “woman gamer” is too niche. Ohhhh if I had a nickel for every time I heard an idea was “too niche”.
Erika: Don’t be, it’s as simple as that! No matter if you’re teased or ridiculed, always be yourself and be proud of it. You’ll quickly realize that having that confidence in yourself and your interests will change others outlook of you as well. Negative people tend to feed on that lack of confidence, don’t ever give them a chance. Be proud and you’ll be happier and healthier for it.
Inka: I definitely understand that it can be difficult to pursue what you love if it’s not socially acceptable, but there’s really no way to do it besides teaching yourself to not worry about what others think. There will always be people like you, no matter how strange or different you are, and no matter what your interests, if you pursue them proudly, no one will doubt your confidence, so pretty much fake it until you actually don’t care about the opinion of others.
3) Do you have any geek/nerd role models?
Kenickie: Several. The first is Liana K. I remember watching Ed’s Big Wham Bam and the show with the hot tub girls and thinking, “wow that chick is AWESOME! I want to be her when I grow up (not realizing that she’s not much older than I am).” Like for reals this lady plays video games, for a living… and knows everything there is to know about comics and gaming AND she’s a huge defender of equality for all. What’s not to love.
Then there’s Katherine Curtis, AKA the Naked Nerd. This lady is one helluva spit fire! Sassy, sexy and smart. And her tongue is as sharp as any blade. I wish I could command attention the way she does. She’s amazing.
And thirdly (and lastly, I could seriously go on forever) is author J.M. Frey. She’s so smart that sometimes I have a hard time keeping up. Her writing is absolutely amazing. Her attention to detail is outstanding and can we talk about the fact that she is constantly writing? I mean, it took me how many weeks to answer a few questions? She’s created entire worlds in that time. I admire her perseverance and patience the most.
Liana: Hillary Rodham Clinton, obviously. Comic Book Writer Gail Simone is another big one. Tori Amos isn’t exactly a traditional geek, but she was a child piano prodigy so I say that counts! She’s my patron saint of authentic art. I learned a lot from Cliff Bleszinski about building a public persona to deflect some of the criticisms. Bioware and Naughty Dog just blow my mind with what they manage to consistently produce. I think Ubisoft’s corporate structure should be taught in business schools. I’d love to have Bill Roper’s childlike energy and enthusiasm. Vander Cabellero is a frikkin’ hero to me because he’s a pioneer in video games as something different than bloody bullet orgies or Mario clones… I could go on about people in the video game industry that I admire for ages. There’s so much creativity there right now.
Erika: To be honest, I don’t really have many role models when it comes to geek culture. Frankly, it’s the games themselves that drive me forward. I’m very much a nostalgic gamer, with retro games being my primary directive in life, these games have opened my mind to so many wonderful characters, emotions and atmospheres. These games instill a sense of ease in me that keeps me spirited, even during the toughest of times, and compel me to keep going. The fact that something like a video game ignites so much hope and motivation is, frankly, crazy, and still blows me away.
Positive people add a sense of reality to all of this fantasy. There are several positive people out there who have helped me become who I am today and who have helped me realize how far a positive, practical outlook can take you. I’m thankful for all of those people, no matter their gender, no matter how small their contribution, for showing me that I’m not alone… that we’re in it together.
Inka: Many, but mostly John and Hank Green because they inspire people to pursue their interests, and are good at explaining complicated things in a way that doesn’t make them seem boring, and Spock as well, because he’s logical, and when things are confusing thinking the way he does can help.
4) What do you think of the geek culture here in Canada? Do we get enough exposure? With us being so spread out do we need more conventions?
Kenickie: Conventions? Canada has conventions? I thought they were fandom themed cash grabs, oops I mean trade shows. I lost faith in “conventions” when I’d say a combined 1/4 (in not 1/3) of last year’s Fan Expo was taken up by CTV, Zellers and EB games. I would love to see real conventions come north of the border (cough PAX cough)
Liana: Oh LORD. This is going to get me in trouble. We don’t have an overall geek culture in Canada. We have a bunch of shows that do not communicate with each other, and too often, people are forced to choose sides in stupid turf wars that benefit no one.
The amount of exposure right now has led to an increased stigma of certain activities that harm no one. Geek stuff is splitting in two: the freak show the media wraps around groups like furries, bronies, cosplayers, and role players; and the “geeks with lives” who see movies like The Avengers, Batman, and Star Wars, but don’t define themselves by those interests. Then there are the increasingly marginalized literary communities who don’t fit in either place. They predated the boom in geek media, and they’d really like things to go back to the way they were in the 1980s. That kind of thinking doesn’t attract any new people, but I will say that their events are much quieter, and the level of conversation is more cerebral, than the big media shows. Unfortunately, I’m seen as more and more of an outsider among those groups, because I’m not strictly into science-fiction novels and I advocate for video games being incorporated into conferences that deal with storytelling. I’m sort of in my own little exodus period right now, wandering in the desert, looking for a homeland.
It’s also really ridiculous to think of the whole geek thing as a niche anymore. When you represent the most popular sitcom on television, and the biggest summer movie blockbusters, you are mainstream, with everything that comes with it. The larger media does not support a community. It supports making money in as mercenary a way possible, using the fan community as a smoke screen when it’s convenient. There are certain exceptions to this rule. Shows like Lost Girl and Continuum have great connections with their fans, but those are the Lost Girl and Continuum communities, not a general Canadian fan community. The egos are too big, the vision too small, for there to be any cross-country cohesion. The Aurora Awards are supposed to encourage a country-wide community, but the scope is too small to make a dent in how protective various convention runners are of their own little fiefdoms.
Meanwhile, we’re waiting for a community to be created by media and businessmen. That’s not the way community works. Community is built through a spirit of giving, and I keep seeing too much “I was beat up as a kid, what’s in this for me?” for anything to take root. We’re trying to do things differently with my charitable fundraising organization, Futurecon, but changing “the way things are done” is difficult, and too many people see these attempts at community as an ego trip on my part. I still don’t understand why anyone would think I’d do charity work to puff up my own ego, but in the fan world, it makes sense: changing the way things are done involves excluding people who willingly cling to the status quo. This willingness to exclude bad behaviour is seen as egotistical. The taboo against actively and publicly disliking someone is, currently, the only thing holding any semblance of Canadian geekdom together. I say this because I still have hope for change. I can’t change things alone.
Erika:It depends on the location, just like it does in the U.S. Having grown up all over the U.S., primarily rural areas, having access to things in geek culture wasn’t always easy, but every now and again you’d find those places and people who made you you. The same goes for Canada as well, you take what you can get. Living in or near a city is obviously an advantage so I think it really comes down to the amount of geek culture in both rural and urban settings than anything else. I’d like to think that, with the popularity of geek culture in full swing, both areas have seen a dramatic increase. The fact that conventions all over North America, no matter the size, are getting bigger and bigger each year is proof of this and serves as an uplifting look into the future.
Inka: I don’t know much about geek culture here, most of what I do is through the internet, probably because, like you said, we’re so spread out that even going to another city for a convention/meet up would be difficult, not to mention a different province. More meet ups isn’t necessarily the answer, but maybe trying to get a meet up in different places around Canada, so that at some point there will be one near all of us.
5) This is a fun one, if you could be any character from fiction, movies, games, etc who would you pick and why?
Kenickie: ONLY ONE?!?!?!?! harrumph! I’d probably say either Jaenelle Angelline (Black Jewels Series by Anne Bishop) because even though she literally had all the power in the world she never abused it and everything she did was for the good of others.
Kitiara Uth Matar (Dragon Lance, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis) She is the definition of Swagger (kind of like the aforementioned Kat Curts) and has a dragon to back it up. How freakin cool would that be?!
Liana: If I could choose? Oh geez. The character I most identify with these days is Flemeth from the Dragon Age video games, but if you know anything about Flemeth, no one chooses to be Flemeth. Flemeth is who she is because she wouldn’t go along to get along, and dignity and honor mattered to her. I’d just want to be able to turn into a dragon and do magic.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and Lion-O, and Beast from X-Men. I have since realized that I lack the correct plumbing for those characters. I also secretly believe I’m the Little Mermaid in the Once Upon a Time continuity, and I just somehow got separated from the others when the curse hit. I love that show.
Erika: Mikasa from the popular anime series Attack on Titan. In no way would I dream of living in such a dangerous world, but Mikasa’s driven, calculating nature is so grounding, amidst all the chaos. Her inner strength unleashes the power to fight, whether it be the vicious titans or oppressive government. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and do the just thing, but takes caution in her actions as well — she has a sense of control that can only come from someone living under such hardships. She’s an amazing, strong-willed character I admire so very much.
Inka: That’s a hard question, but I would be the doctor, because he has the ability to travel through time and space, and he lives for a very long time, meaning lots of adventure and opportunities to learn much more than a human ever could.
6) Do you have any other advice for geeks/nerds out there?
Kenickie: Seriously, let your freak flag fly. Be passionate, embrace life and always respect yourself.
Liana: You need to see yourself as a whole person to accomplish anything. You are informed by your past, but you’re not defined by it. This whole “geek” thing is becoming way too intense. No person can read every comic, play every game, or see every movie. Anyone who starts giving you a hard time for that isn’t worth your while. Anyone who ”tests” you on your geek knowledge isn’t worth your while. That being said, have a brain, don’t be afraid to use it, and carry yourself with dignity. Do what’s right, even when it’s hard. Some people won’t like that, but it makes it a lot easier to live with yourself when you’re not at a convention or in a multiplayer match.
Erika: Be proud, be positive, be practical and be yourself.
Inka: Be yourself and you’ll always meet people who will accept you
You can find more information on Kenickie Street at http://nerdgirlburlesque.ca/the-girls/kenickie-street , Liana K at http://www.nerdgirlpinups.com/profile/Liana+K , and Erika Szabo on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/user/erikaszabo