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.


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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Son of Saul is rightly harrowing, but somehow transcends the barbarity of Auschwitz

The challenge for any film that seeks to ­address the Holocaust is one of scale: László Nemes choses his canvas carefully

The challenge for any film that seeks to ­address the Holocaust is one of scale. Keeping in mind the persecution and murder of millions is important but it is vital not to allow the audience to become inured to the breadth of that horror. The benchmark in dramatised cinema is Schindler’s List, but even Spielberg couldn’t get the balance quite right between epic and intimate. The most memorable detail from that picture – a child’s red coat singled out in an otherwise monochrome frame – betrayed Spielberg’s inability to reconcile truth with artifice, magnitude with minutiae. Better to restrict oneself from the start to a tiny canvas that will stand for the unimaginable whole.

They don’t come much smaller than the one chosen for Son of Saul, the Hungarian film that won this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. Even before the movie begins, we can see that the screen’s shape has been foreshortened by the 4:3 aspect ratio, making the image claustrophobically boxed-in. The point-of-view will be equally inhibited, focusing solely on a Hungarian-Jewish man, Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), who has been selected to work in the Sonderkommando unit policing fellow prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau. His haunted, hawklike face is so tightly in shot for most of the film that we can count the pores in his skin. He’s our tour guide in hell.

Saul is among those responsible for overseeing recent arrivals off the trains. In two long, unbroken shots, which keep us almost nose to nose with him, he herds the frightened prisoners across the grass and into the changing rooms where a voice urges them to hurry and undress. Should they dilly-dally, the soup waiting for them on the other side of the showers will go cold. Oh, and they should take care to remember the number of their coat hook.

Into the showers they go. The metal doors are bolted behind them. What follows is one of the most upsetting things I have ever heard in cinema. I say heard, not seen, because there is nothing to see. The changing room is now empty. Saul and his colleagues mustn’t waste any time clearing away the belongings to make room for the next batch.

What makes this day different for Saul is the discovery of a boy of about 11 or 12 who is miraculously still alive after the other bodies have been cleared from the showers. The child doesn’t survive for long but Saul becomes fixated on him. Whether this is his son, as the title suggests, or just a means for him to cling on to his own humanity in the face of the wretched acts he has been forced to commit, the boy becomes his focus to the exclusion of everything else.

He devotes his time to finding a rabbi to perform a proper Jewish burial, and disregards pleas to get rid of the body by his fellow inmates, who are planning an uprising. It’s one of the casual cruelties of the film that the prisoners have taken to terrorising one another in an effort to curry favour with their captors. When one prisoner pressures Saul to give up the body, he responds by promising to expose to the guards the location of the other man’s secret diaries.

It is diaries like those that the writer-director László Nemes used as the basis for his spare, controlled screenplay, which throws us headlong into the hurly-burly of life among the Sonderkommandos without pausing to explain the power structure in the unit, or the topography of the camp. Nemes places strict limits on the flow of information. He reduces atrocities to a blur of activity in the background, and bodies to out-of-focus smudges of peach or pink. Tamás Zányi’s oppressive sound design has a big part to play. As with the gassing in the showers, though, it is our imagination that performs the heavy lifting.

Son of Saul is rightly harrowing, but by mirroring in its shape and structure Saul’s own single-mindedness, it serves as an implicit endorsement of his lunatic mission. Somehow his idealism transcends the barbarity of Auschwitz. It would be unfair to claim that Nemes, a first-time film-maker, has succeeded where Steven Spielberg partly failed. Let’s just say that he chose his canvas more carefully and that he fills it to the edges and beyond. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism