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.

Victoria Miro Gallery
Show Hide image

Why are people queuing for hours for a 30-second glimpse of some light-up pumpkins?

Art-goers have been enduring three-hour waits for the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, just for a solitary glance at her work. Is queuing part of the experience, or is it just for the Instagram mirror snap?

Dazed magazine provides an A-Z “Definitive Guide to Yayoi Kusama”. For the letter Q, it offers “Queues” to be a defining feature, crucial to understanding Japan's most prominent contemporary artist.

Wildly popular, Kusama exhibitions are famous for drawing crowds” and “queues are an integral part of the experience”, it states. Her retrospective “Infinite Obsession” saw over 2m visitors while travelling in South America. In New York, 2,500 people a day queued around the block during Kusama’s exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery. As I arrived at London’s Victoria Miro gallery on Saturday, it was confirmed that queues are something of an inevitability if you wish to get a glimpse of Yayoi Kusama's exhibition (including her pumpkin sculptures).

One woman at the beginning of the line told me she had been waiting for three hours. I didn’t have a chance, seeing as the last entry was in an hour, and the line was currently half way down Wharf Road, she informed me. So I turned away. But curious as to what the hype was about and determined to see Kusama’s iconic pumpkins in the flesh, I returned to the gallery on Tuesday.

Despite arriving at opening time, I still had to queue. And the lines didn’t end when I eventually entered the gallery. Outside each mirror room that makes up the exhibition, I was again met with queues of individuals, gripping their iPhones or Canon cameras, desperate for a glimpse (or photograph) of the Kusama craze.

“On average, people spend a net time of two hours queuing, to see two and a half minutes of art,” the gallery assistant told me.

                            

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins Queue (2016) Photos: Rosie Collier

Once you’ve endured the wait in line to Kusama’s All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, and the gallery worker opens the door and grants you entry, you are given 30 seconds within the space. That’s 30 seconds to acknowledge the illuminated reflective pumpkins surrounding you, tap the camera on your phone and take a photo of your reflection, and actually look at the art. Once the door closed I suddenly felt overwhelmed with panic. How can I do all this all in half a minute? In a matter of seconds (literally) I was in and out of the space, with one Instagram-worthy photo and a spinning head.

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016) Photo: Victoria Miro Gallery   

But does all this queuing really bring anything “integral” to the experience of viewing Kusama’s work? Waiting in continuous lines to go inside her mirror rooms made the whole thing feel more like going through airport security rather than spending time within an art gallery.

A gallery should be a space for contemplation, but this felt tense and too rushed for anything of the kind. Gallery assistants were equipped with stopwatches, measuring your every second in each space and scrutinising and regulating your enjoyment of the art. Inside Kusama’s Chandelier of Grief, the combination of the bright lights of the chandelier and the camera flash inflicted by tourists made my head ache. Mirrors pervaded the whole exhibiton, confronting me with the image of myself, which I didn’t really feel like facing in 30 degree heat. I felt on edge. 

 

Chandelier of Grief Photo: Victoria Miro Gallery   

But is this not precisely what Kusama wants to achieve? Rather than a logistical decision to ensure as many people as possible can actually see her art each day, the regulatory 30 seconds granted is perhaps essential to the experience of viewing her work. Though her mirror rooms are static in the space they occupy within the gallery, they are simultaneously transitory in that individuals are only with her art for a brief moment. There is something about the ephemeral nature of her magnificent displays that make them all the more striking.

The bright lights and flickering personalities of her mirror rooms, and the panic and overwhelming confusion they evoke is again, intentional. The artist has long suffered with mental illness and now resides in a psychiatric institute, working in her gallery opposite the building daily. In an interview with the Financial Times in 2012, Kusama talks of her experiences of hallucinations.

“Suddenly things would be flashing and glittering all around me. So many different images leaped into my eyes that I was left dazzled and dumbfounded.”

Stepping into her All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins is an experience almost identical to this moment Kusama describes. It is as though we are stepping inside the artist's mind for a few seconds. We leave as "dazzled and dumfounded" as Kusama’s own hallucinations left her.

Her work is uncomfortable, but undeniably beautiful. The myriad reflective images of her illuminated, infinite pumpkins and chandeliers are breathtaking. Kusama fragments the boundaries between visual art and the viewer as she creates this immersive space, even if you do have to wait for hours to experience it.