Jennifer K. Stuller is Co-Founder and Director Emeritus of Programming and Events for GeekGirlCon — an organization dedicated to the recognition, encouragement and support of women in geek and pop culture and STEM. I met Jennifer on the ‘Most Dangerous Women of Comic-Con’ panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and this lady rocks! (Our Anastasia Washington will be covering GeekGirlCon, so stay tuned!) Jennifer is also a writer, scholar, media critic, and feminist pop culture historian. You can check out her work in Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology, and the editor of Fan Phenomena: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can watch her in action at the Comic Arts Conference, the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, and San Diego Comic-Con International. You can also head up to Seattle this coming weekend to participate in GeekGirlCon! If you’re going, send up pics!
Legion of Leia: Can you talk about how GeekGirlCon came about? How do you balance this being an event about women in geekdom and the many male/transgender fans? Why is it important to have an event like this?
Jennifer K. Stuller: Sure! GeekGirlCon’s legendary origin story begins in 2010 at San Diego Comic-Con International with a panel organized by Kristin Rielly called “Geek Girls Exist” – a panel that was so popular that the fire marshall had to shut the doors. The conversation that happened that evening inspired one Seattle-based woman in the audience to wonder about creating a celebratory event that focused on women in geek culture.
Over the course of a year and a half, an all-volunteer staff of people (who really had never done anything like this before) founded an organization that fostered an online community, hosted local events – often in collaboration with other geeky entities, and organized a two-day convention that sold out moments after the front doors opened. At four years old, GeekGirlCon’s annual event has roughly 100 hours of programming including kick-off events, concerts & other performances, panels, demonstrations, mentorship sessions, a masquerade, an exhibitor hall focused on indie presses and small crafty businesses, an artist’s alley, and lots of opportunities to connect with like-minded geeks.
As you know, geek culture hasn’t been very friendly to women – as characters, as creators, as thinkers or bodies, as consumers, or as members of the community. So GeekGirlCon’s mission is to create a safe space for celebration, critique, and community. ANYONE dedicated to that mission, and who comes in with an open and respectful heart, is welcome. There are many male-identified persons who are committed to that mission (some of them are GeekGirlCon staffers) and of course, transgender women are women. Additionally, GeekGirlCon takes an intersectional approach to its program and mission. So while all content should be mindful of female empowerment, it also takes into consideration other and additional identity politics, including race, size, dis/ability, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, and more.
It’s important to have an event like this because it creates opportunities for community-building, conversation, and consciousness-raising. With an online community of well-over 20,000 and an annual event with roughly 5,000 attendees, it amplifies the visibility of female geeks within the culture, as well as their needs and their contributions.
Legion of Leia: Tell us about some of the things we’ll get to see at the con.
Jennifer K. Stuller: GeekGirlCon’s open call for submissions brings incredible programming content to the con: presentations, screenings, readings, workshops, mentoring sessions, and roundtable discussions from women and men in geeky professions around the world that are women-centric, woman-positive, and pay attention to issues of diversity, intersectionality, and inclusivity. This year, expect to see the return of GeekGirlConnections (a career, networking, and mentorship track), the annual CONcert, and programming related to cosplay – particularly for all bodies, and issues in diversity, including race, ability, and sexuality.
Of course, there will be a gaming area, artist alley, and exhibitor hall. And there are always wonderful surprises!
Legion of Leia: Talk about the writing you do outside of the con and how you balance everything!
Jennifer K. Stuller: I am so glad you asked this! I have actually spent the last year working on balance. (And I’m lucky to be able to do so.)
As a freelancer I write articles, do contract work, and give public presentations. I also write and edit books. Occasionally, I contribute chapters to anthologies (though I’m doing this less, as I’m turning down most unpaid work these days). Most of my work is on representations of women in media, specifically popular culture. I also advocate for media literacy, study fan activism, write scholarly articles on comics, and was the dramaturg for the 2014 production of Whedonesque Burlesque.
I’m a co-founder and the former Programming Director for GeekGirlCon, but after the con in 2013 I moved into an advisory position because a daily commitment was no longer personally sustainable. Many people don’t realize that GeekGirlCon is an all-volunteer endeavor, and often one with full-time hours. That means to produce an event like this, and one of such excellent quality, contributing all those hours becomes a navigation around day jobs, families, housework, and other personal time. It’s absolutely worth it! And GeekGirlCon staffers are innately passionate, hard-working, people.
But I wasn’t balancing. I thought I was – but like many innately passionate, hard-working, persons I only realized I’d taken on too much when I crashed. So how do I balance everything? I’m learning! I only take on two or three simultaneous projects at any given time, and I’ve learned to accurately assess how much time and effort those things actually take. I pay very close attention to my calendar and space out commitments accordingly. I’m surrounded by people like me, and we remind each other to take care of ourselves!
Legion of Leia: I know you speak all the time at Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses. Tell us about that and what sort of topics you cover. What does Buffy mean to you?
Jennifer K. Stuller: The Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses is a biennial academic conference hosted by the Whedon Studies Association – a non-profit organization devoted to the study of the works of Joss Whedon and his associates. I first spoke at the conference in 2006 and presented a paper on post-Buffy female heroes. I returned in 2010 to present on Joss Whedon’s pop culture influences, and in 2012 I presented “Numfar! Do the Dance of Seduction! Nerd Burlesque, Performing Fandom, and the Whedonverse” – a talk on how the Whedonverse isn’t just made for burlesque, the Whedonverse IS burlesque. For the most recent Slayage Conference, I was honored to be a Featured Speaker and was asked to talk about fan activism and community building. “All That Matters Is What We Do: Fans, Community-Building, Love, Social Justice, and Other Activist Lessons From the Whedonverse” – my most personal presentation to date evolved out of that invitation.
The Slayage community is a wonderfully supportive one, and is but one example of the kind of created family present in much of Joss Whedon’s work. I am grateful to be part of that family.
Legion of Leia: What was the first sci-fi/fantasy character that resonated with you as a kid?
Jennifer K. Stuller: I would have to say Dorothy Gale. I wanted so badly to be able to go to Oz, and would look into a mirror and ask Ozma to bring me there, just as she did Dorothy. One year, my mother made me a beautiful Ozma of Oz costume based on the illustrations from the books. But there were other strong, adventurous girls that resonated with me. Pippi Longstocking was definitely one of them.
Legion of Leia: Talk about your work with STEM and getting young women interested in that side of education.
Jennifer K. Stuller: I haven’t personally done work with STEM, but recognizing that math, science, engineering, and technology are a part of geek culture – and often as problematic for women as popular culture or gaming – GeekGirlCon has made strong efforts to include STEM in its programming. In the past there have been speakers from NASA and JPL. Young women from F.I.R.S.T. robotics have showed us their robots. Most impressive is the DIY Science Zone organized by Dr. Raychelle Burks – an area of the convention that features over a dozen scientists from all over the country and across disciplines. There are lots of experiments, and oodles of SCIENCE!
Legion of Leia: The past few weeks have been challenging for women in geekdom. What advice do you have about moving forward and working on the issues?
Jennifer K. Stuller: I think the past few years have seen a lot of challenge for women in geekdom. (Just take a look at the increase in reported incidents on theGeek Feminism Wiki.) How we move forward is to keep coming together to use our voices. It’s really hard to watch the attacks on women who do use their voice, and I know I feel helpless (and sometimes scared), so I rely on my communities for support and for guidance. Organizations and initiatives like GeekGirlCon and Legion of Leia are critical, as they carve out space to amplify the concerns of the marginalized, to have difficult or complex conversations in safe spaces, to bring awareness to issues in geek culture, but also to women working in, celebrating, and contributing to the culture. It requires patience and drive and commitment, but also logistical steps like advocating for anti-harassment policies irl and online.
Legion of Leia: What projects do you have coming up next?
Jennifer K. Stuller: I have an article on how women are changing the face of geek culture coming out in the Winter 2015 issue of Bitch magazine. I’ll be back with Humanities Washington’s Speakers Bureau for 2015-2016 and speaking around the state about Geektivists, Geek Grrls, and Gaymers – and am also working on a book on the subject. I’ll still be involved with GeekGirlCon in some capacity. I imagine I’ll always be involved in some capacity!
And of course, practicing balance is an ongoing project!
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @InkAmazon!