A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… geeks were teased and taunted for their not so cool hobbies and interests that generally revolved around comics, sci-fi flicks and video games. In this distant past, small groups of like-minded individuals would huddle together in secluded basements and arcades to play a private game of Dungeons & Dragons. From this time period arose the easily recognizable geek stereotype: a socially awkward male, usually donning glasses and a Star Trek T-shirt.
Today that same culture is nearly unrecognizable. What began as small interest groups has blossomed (with the help of the internet) into the global, multifaceted, billion-dollar industry that is nearly everywhere you look. Geek culture has become mainstream. Comics and videogames have invaded the movie screen, the bookstore, the toy aisle, even the fashion world. No longer at the bottom of the social hierarchy, people now proudly label themselves as geek. In fact, the term ‘geek chic’ has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines the term as “The dress, appearance and culture associated with computing and technology enthusiasts, regarded as stylish or fashionable.”
Times have changed. But some people haven’t. According to statistics, female participation in fandoms and event attendance has largely increased and is now equal in number to males, despite popular culture still clinging to the stereotype of the male geek. For example, the gaming industry alone rakes in over $23.5 billion per year and women make up over 40 percent of game purchasers. In fact, women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (31 percent) then boys age 18 or younger (17 percent). While it is true that comic and gaming industries have historically catered to men, women have always been a part of this culture. In recent years, women have finally started making their voices heard, but it’s going to take more than the Master Sword to defeat this lingering stereotype.
I was fortunate enough to get to meet up with Tori Masterson, a local Shoals cosplayer and proud geek, for a brief Q&A to get her opinion on this resurgence of women in geek culture.
Hali Black: Tell me about your experience as a cosplayer. How did you get into the hobby and what keeps you interested?
Tori Masterson: I first got into cosplay by becoming a living history re-enactor with a local group called the Zholdak Kozaky. As a cosplayer I love the fandoms and the endless supply of characters I can become; however, my absolute favorite thing about cosplay is creating my own twist on the character I’m portraying.
HB: What projects/costumes are you currently working on?
TM: Currently I’m working on several cosplays such as the Black Canary, a Steampunk masquerade Harley Quinn and several more.
HB: What do you think about geek culture becoming more mainstream?
TM: I have seen the amazing impact it has on strangers coming together in a community just from having similar interest in a fandom or character.
HB: Despite the ever-increasing number of women in gaming/comics culture, society continues to claim that females are not real fans. Have you ever felt the pressure to prove your authenticity?
TM: Women shouldn’t have to prove themselves at any convention or event, but it has happened. I’ve had to prove my knowledge on a few rare occasions, in which a person assumed that I was ignorant about the cosplay I was doing.
HB: How do you think women have or can positively affect geek culture?
TM: Women should encourage other women to participate more.
HB: Millions of women are working to overthrow the antiquated belief that this culture is predominantly male. Does a certain female figure come to your mind that you feel deserves recognition for their efforts of making geek culture more inclusive and welcoming?
TM: Three local women come to mind: Amber Anglin (Con director for Anachrocon), Leana Scott (Leader of the Zholdak Kozaky), and Michelle Stumpe (Leader of the Shoals Steampunk Society).
HB: What advice would you give to the next generation of geek girls?
TM: The best thing you can do is be you. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box.