Celebrating the female geek at GeekGirlCon: An interview with co-founder Jennifer K. Stuller

In the pop culture and entertainment world, there will be a lot of discussion this week about what’s happening at New York Comic Con. Across the country however there’s another major event taking place that is just as worthy of attention. In Seattle on Saturday and Sunday, GeekGirlCon will be held at the Washington State Conference Center offering a wide-range of exhibitors and programming focused on everything from comic books to STEM.

GeekGirlCon focuses more on important issues in the community, particularly for women, than the latest blockbuster entertainment news, and it’s a refreshing change from what is often found at other conventions. That’s what has been the draw, in full disclosure, for me to make the trek there for the last three years instead of staying in New York for the rest of New York Comic Con. I’ve been a panelist, panel moderator and organizer, and hosted GeekGirlCon’s first fashion show last year, and every time I go the smaller convention continues to impress. Its roots though can be traced back to another larger convention, San Diego Comic-Con. In 2010 a panel called “Geek Girls Exist” was held and ended up inspiring the creation of GeekGirlCon.

“[The panelists were] all there talking about geek culture because there had been all this controversy online about ‘do geek girls really exist? They’re like unicorns or they’re fakers. Female fandoms like Twilight have ruined comic-con,’” GeekGirlCon co-founder and board president Jennifer K. Stuller told Blastr. “So Kristin Rielly, then of the Geek Girls Network, put together this panel with nine women and the room was packed. The fire marshal had to shut the doors because it was so packed, and there were a lot of people left out the door down the hallway. After that panel somebody said ‘hey, when are we going to have one of these for us?’”

 

In August that year, a group of women and men in Seattle met and decided to create their own convention aimed at women and girls. The result was the first GeekGirlCon held in October 2011, which sold out.

“The tagline is it’s a celebration of the female geek. Basically it’s a space to support women and girls in geek culture, be that popular culture or STEM. So if you are a fan of women and girls and an ally of women and girls and you think that they deserve a place in tech, in video gaming, in comic books, then it is a place for you,” Stuller said. “We have a wide variety of attendees. It’s mostly women, but we have a lot of men. We have a lot of trans persons. We have a lot of gender queer people. It’s a very open and welcoming place and we’ve seen a lot of alternative type conventions, fan type conventions, pop up in the past six years that have those inclusive spaces. Flame Con is the one that comes to mind right now. It’s also small [and] also very celebratory, very joyous, [and] very social justice focused.”

Stuller, a writer, pop culture critic, and historian, has been a part of GeekGirlCon since it began. She was the founding director of programming and directed programming for three years before taking some time off. She was then elected to the board of directors and is now board president where she acts as an ambassador for the convention, speaking with the community about what they’re looking for, how they can bring more diversity to the convention, and more. She also works with the executive director to make sure day-to-day operations are taken care of and helps with fundraising for the convention. Fundraising is important to GeekGirlCon because it’s a non-profit that is completely run by volunteers. That aspect is why Stuller took some time off. Volunteering was 40 to 50 hours a week on top of everything else she was doing.

The volunteer part of the convention remains one of GeekGirlCon’s challenges.

 

“Everybody works really really hard, but it can be exhausting. I think that people get worn out and then new people come in because people are passionate about it, but I think having it be a volunteer gig can sometimes be a challenge as with any massive undertaking where you have 10,000 people coming to your party,” Stuller said.

In addition to volunteering, another challenge for GeekGirlCon is that it often takes place at the same time as New York Comic Con.

“There’s some market oversaturation I think. It’s great [that] geek culture is being brought to the masses, but it seems there are a lot more events to compete with,” she explained. “But we’ve still sold out every year so I think it’s great there are geek events happening for everybody all the time.”

Despite any competition, GeekGirlCon continues to grow and evolve each year. While they had about 2,500 attendees their first year, Stuller said they expect around 10,000 attendees this year. She also pointed to their DIY Science Zone as becoming “bigger and better” and the inclusion of last year’s fashion show as part of that evolution. This year they will also have VR, a nursing area where women can breastfeed, and have expanded to the fourth floor of the conference center for a bigger exhibit hall.

There’s much more for attendees to look forward to this year as well. Stuller said they are excited to see what people think of this year’s different set up and that people should look forward to the Cosplay Contest and an incredible programming line up as well as mentor speed dating, a part of their connections initiative to “help empower women and girls in careers where they’re usually marginalized or where they can’t find mentors.”

 

Looking at the movement that sparked the idea for the convention in the first place, Stuller has seen changes in the last six years and an “evolution from women not being welcomed in the culture, being marginalized, to having a much more normalized and accepted presence.” Even with the change and more mainstream events and media outlets being influenced by the leaders trying to make a difference, the need for a space like GeekGirlCon is still apparent.

“It’s important that GeekGirlCon exists and is around every year because there’s still that desire for this specific community, for female focused events. One where women and girls and female identities are the norm and I still hear stories from people all the time six years after we started, even though so much has changed for women in geek culture,” Stuller said. “I still hear people saying that they didn’t know there was a space like this for them and getting really emotional and excited and grateful for the space so that to me says that there’s still a need for this to be something that people can go to every year and it’s just fun!”

You can learn more about this weekend’s upcoming GeekGirlCon on their website.

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