Nerds: Stop hating women, please

One comic creator's rant is just the latest example of misogyny in geek culture.

Tony Harris is in no way a household name. But as the artist behind some of the most critically acclaimed comics in the last 20 years, noteably Starman with James Robinson for DC and Ex Machina with Brian K. Vaughan for Wildstorm, he was a hugely respected figure in the industry.

"Was".

Today, Harris posted a rant on his Facebook wall, which was re-posted to Tumblr by Jill Pantozzi, the associate editor of The Mary Sue, a site dedicated to "girl geek culture". Harris writes (and I've not edited this in any way):

I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap.I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male. Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff ( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake) but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics.So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE: "Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl, you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC. But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis. But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? You are what I refer to as "CON-HOT". Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate. After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION. And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.

The simple misogyny on display would be enough to ruin most people's view of Harris, to be honest, and to them I apologise for going further into the issue. Clearly, even writing about how great cosplay (dressing up as characters from… well, anything, really. Some great examples here) was, and how welcome female cosplayers were at comic conventions, wouldn't render the tone of this rant any more acceptable.

But the views Harris expresses aren't just held by virulent misogynists – instead, they are depressingly common in "geek culture". Too many nerds have basically internalised the stereotype of themselves as ugly, friendless losers and decided that anyone who doesn't fit that stereotype – particularly women – is a "fake geek", taking advantage of the fact that being a geek is now "cool".

The stereotype has been bubbling around various geek cultures – gamers, comics and sci-fi fans, and even niche ones like board- and tabletop-gaming enthusiasts – for some time, and a number of pieces have been written about the damage it does to women in the community. The Mary Sue's Susana Polo, for instance, says it better than I could:

I understand the desire to weed the “posers” out of your personal life and interactions. But I have never, actually, in the flesh, met a “fake” geek girl. Or guy. I don’t think those people actually exist outside of painful daytime news segments, the occasional job interview (where, in this economy, I’ll excuse anybody for trying to be a little bit of something they’re not), and internet memes. But I understand.

But who are you to say that a stranger, someone you’re never likely to meet, is not genuinely interested in the thing they appear to be interested in? Who are you? I just… what? I’m rendered incoherent. Here at the Mary Sue, when an actress goes on a talk show and describes her personal affection and involvement and enjoyment and FANDOM for geek properties, we take it at face value. Why? Because we don’t actually have a reason not to. Because the alternative breeds a closed community of paranoid, elitist jerks who lash out at anyone new.

The proper response to someone who says they like comics and has only read Scott Pilgrim is to recommend some more comics for them. The proper response to someone who appears to be faking enthusiasm is to ignore them and not project their actions on an entire gender or community. The proper response to someone who appears to want to be a part of your community is to welcome them in. End of story.

And the same applies to this specific example. Jamie McKelvie, designer of the much-cosplayed Captain Marvel, reiterates:

I've never met a cosplayer who isn't a massive fan of the thing they are cosplaying. Also: some of the sweetest people you could meet.

But here's the thing: even if the cosplayer has never read any comics other than the one they're dressed up as – even if they've never read any comics at all, and just enjoy the dressing up – it doesn't matter. Nobody is going to take your hobby away. At worst, at absolute worst, it is someone finding enjoyment in a different aspect of something you like. At best, as Polo says, it is a future friend, someone who could be a part of your community, and someone to spread your love to.

Or maybe some nerds just don't want women in the clubhouse.

Tracy Ho and Demir Oral cosplay at Comic-Con 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Meet Richard Murphy, “the man behind Corbynomics”

The accountant and tax justice campaigner explains how his ideas ended up in Jeremy Corbyn's economics plan.

Which economist made his name blogging about the global financial crisis and got sucked into politics in 2015? Yanis Varoufakis is one correct answer. Richard Murphy may be another. The “man behind Corbynomics”, as the 57-year-old accountant from Norfolk has been dubbed, chuckles at the comparison with Greece’s former finance minister. “No one has suggested I’m the UK’s Varoufakis,” he says, “but the thought has occurred to me.”

Murphy’s sudden rise to prominence occurred early in August after it was reported that Jeremy Corbyn’s economic plan relied heavily on his writings. The two men have known each other for about ten years after meeting through the Left Economics Advisory Panel. “If you drew a Venn diagram of my economic ideas and those of Jeremy Corbyn you’d get a large overlap,” Murphy says.

His world-view was shaped by a career in finance. He trained as an accountant with KPMG and established his own practice in his mid-twenties. Murphy says his work there and in business – among other things, he helped manufacture the Trivial Pursuit board in Europe – gave him an insight into the inequities of the global tax system, which favours large corporations and the rich.

After selling his firm in 2000, he considered becoming an academic, and then focused on new economic ideas. He starting blogging nearly a decade ago and has written roughly 12,000 posts, mostly about tax and monetary policy. (His forthcoming book is called The Joy of Tax, which, though unlikely to repeat the success of Alex Comfort’s 1972 illustrated sex manual, nevertheless shows a sense of humour. “The book is about the second most exciting three-letter word that ends in ‘x’,” Murphy says.)

Even though he and Corbyn are acquaintances rather than close friends, Murphy was pleased to see the veteran socialist enter the Labour leadership campaign. “There’s a clear desire from a great many people to know there’s an alternative to the system we have got. No one allowed them to articulate that feeling until Jeremy came along.”

Murphy did not approach the Corbyn team but, “When you create ideas, you want people to use them,” he says.

Some of the main pillars of Corbynomics relate to tax. Murphy wants higher taxes for the wealthy and large companies, and a big clampdown on tax evasion, which he says could bring in £20bn. The most talked-about policy is the so-called people’s quantitative easing, which Murphy first wrote about in 2010, calling it green QE.

Under conventional QE, a central bank uses newly printed money to buy government bonds from investors such as banks and pension funds, increasing the amount of cash in the financial system. Critics say the biggest beneficiaries of this policy in the UK have been the banks and high-net-worth individuals.

With people’s QE, the Bank of England would print money, in effect, to allow the government to build houses, schools and hospitals, thus stimulating the economy.

Like Varoufakis, Murphy is not short on confidence. “I believe that people’s QE will become the next big tool used by governments around the world,” he says. 

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism