From the back of the Branded Saloon in Brooklyn one Saturday in June, the sounds of Animaniacs and Hey Arnold!, along with other classic cartoons, could be heard. If you walked all the way through to see what was going on, you would have discovered a group of women watching, reminiscing, laughing and eating as they gathered for that months’ Geek Girl Brunch hosted by the New York City chapter. With the theme of “Retro Cartoons,” the brunch hours passed with both women who knew each other and women who did not bonding and having fun discussing their interests, their lives and the latest geeky news.
This was just one Geek Girl Brunch event held in June across the country and around the world. In full disclosure, this was one of many events I have attended through the organization, which hosts monthly brunches and other meetups in the hopes of offering a safe and fun environment where women can get together to discuss their geeky interests and more. It’s a group that began in New York City after Jamila Rowser met with a fellow geek girl blogger for brunch.
“There were a lot of geek girls that lived in New York, and we all seemed to be friends online but rarely saw each other in person. Only at conventions or other geeky events,” Rowser told Blastr. “So we had brunch, and I called it geek girl brunch. It wasn’t me trying to make it a thing or anything, it was just ‘oh, cute hashtag!’”
After that initial brunch, they decided to have more and invite other geek girl friends. Their brunches eventually began to have themes like Harry Potter and Doctor Who. The Doctor Who brunch, held at The Way Station in Brooklyn, was only attended by three women: Rowser, Yissel Ayala and Rachel Parker. It was there that they began to discuss making the brunches something bigger, and eventually the three launched Geek Girl Brunch in New York City. It wasn’t long before people outside the city and even the country began to express interest. The first chapter outside New York became Washington, D.C., and Kaiserslautern, Germany, was the first international chapter.
One reason why Rowser thinks Geek Girl Brunch spread is that it’s a unique way for women with similar interests to hang out. There are plenty of organizations out there, but nothing quite like this. She also points to how hostile and sexist geek culture, in addition to regular culture, can be.
“Geek culture is supposed to be a place that should be a safe haven for us, but it’s not,” Rowser said. “We wanted Geek Girl Brunch to be that place for women to not worry about getting harassed for playing video games or talking about any kind of geek culture or even get harassed for not knowing everything. We’re not gatekeepers. You don’t even have to know about anything ‘geeky’ to attend. If you’re interested, come on and hang out. Make some friends, network.”
One of the most attractive aspects of attending a brunch is how it feels like a place where you don’t have to worry about letting your geeky side shine. According to Ayala, they “have a really strong no 'geek shaming' policy.”
“Not everyone is you and has had your experiences and seen everything that you’ve seen and they’re not required to. We don’t care,” Ayala said.
Not knowing some element of geek culture is no reason not to attend a brunch. To Parker, that’s one of the great things about having themes. Other than helping in the planning of the brunches and allowing people to dress up if they want to, the themes open the door for people to bring a friend to learn about the topic just as much as it’s something for those who love it already to enjoy.
“The one thing everyone has in common is that they’re showing up that month just because they have some kind of interest in that one thing and then you spider web out forever from that,” she said. “I really am proud of how diverse the community is that we’ve built. You go to a brunch and people have completely different experiences and reasons for being into that theme and they share it and it’s beautiful.”
As Geek Girl Brunch grew, so did the amount of work the founders needed to do to manage everything. Rowser said with just the three of them, working and with other side projects, managing their time became a challenge.
“We started to bring on more help, like, 'OK, we don’t need to run the social media. We can ask our officers to volunteer and run social media,’ so we started to delegate certain tasks to our officers who were interested in helping out more which is wonderful and that’s something we found a lot in Geek Girl Brunch, in the whole community, how willing everybody is to help,” Rowser said.
Those officers are volunteers who run brunches in every city, including New York, the chapter of which is no longer personally run by the three founders. There are five officers in the New York City chapter, including Akua Harris and Ashley Warren. While their experience only reflects that of the New York chapter, their stories are examples of what Geek Girl Brunch has to offer. Both started out as members before becoming officers. Harris told Blastr her first brunch experience was great and kept her coming back.
“In my set of friends, I was either the only geek or the only girl that was also a geek so I didn’t have other geek girl friends that I could talk about Star Wars and Marvel and everything else with,” Harris said. “It was fun to be able to talk about all of that stuff.”
As New York chapter officers, Harris said they play to each other’s strengths and don’t have official titles. When they plan, Warren said they know they need to represent all fandoms. Recent brunch themes before “Retro Cartoons” were “Wear Your Fandom,” “Anime Brunch,” and “Kick Ass Women in Comics.” In July their theme will be Harry Potter. Those who purchase tickets to a brunch will often find swag and the chance to win raffle prizes too. In addition to brunches, the chapter holds other meet ups in the city including two co-ed events a year: New York Comic-Con after party Fan Girls’ Night Out and a holiday party started last year which had the theme of Star Wars.
To Warren and Harris, the brunchettes that attend are the best part of being involved with Geek Girl Brunch.
“Everyone is so smart and so fun. It’s all about the brunchettes,” Warren said. “I get real emotional about it. This is where I go on my rant about seeing women all together and we are a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry and that’s why we get marketing companies reaching out to us because we are an untapped demographic.”
Warren’s had personal experience with the environment at Geek Girl Brunch being free of gatekeeping and shaming. When she went to her first brunch with the theme of DC Comics, she only knew about Batman and wasn’t a huge DC fan, but went because she was excited about the community. After the brunch, she left with about 20 recommendations of story arcs from she should check out given to her by fellow brunchettes. She also only saw the original Star Wars films last year and never had anyone judge her for that. In Harris’ experience, it really is somewhere people can just be who they are.
“You’re not going to be shamed or teased or whatever it is from anyone in our group and that’s part of the reason that it’s only women that’s allowed to come to these brunches,” Harris said.
As a brunchette, I have never experienced any gatekeeping at these meet ups, either. I’ve been attending their brunches and meet ups in New York City since fall of 2014. While I don’t make it to every one, when I can go it is often one of the highlights of my month. The brunches have definitely improved as time has passed, and are well organized, held at great venues, and feature creative themes. Sometimes, there’s a bit of swag attendees get to take home, and even exclusive artwork. Often, there’s a raffle in which you can win prizes, as well. I’ve won every once in awhile, including at the “Retro Cartoons” brunch where I won three Captain America: Civil War themed items. The best part, though, is indeed meeting all the women who attend. I have met amazing fellow geeks at these brunches that I look forward to seeing again each month. I also enjoy meeting new people every time, sitting at a table with fresh faces to find out what they’re interested in. It's a relaxed environment that is open to both and especially recently, lacks the social pressure that can be found at some other meet ups.
It’s grown a lot since I first began attending, which is heartening to see, and there are no signs of that growth stopping any time soon. The group did not stop their efforts at brunches. Geek Girl Brunch also tries to encourage geek girls to make a difference through their Do Better initiative.
“We decided to make Do Better as a result of me wanting to do more volunteer work and giving back to the community because we have this whole group of geek girls and they’re all exceptional, wonderful people and I think a lot of girls like the idea of being able to give back, so why not just create a separate branch of Geek Girl Brunch that was just devoted to community outreach?” Ayala said. “...I feel like, as Geek Girl Brunch grows, it’s like, what else can we do with it? It started off just as a place to network and make friends and learn something new and now the next step is giving back, paying it forward. We’re having a great time lets give someone else a great time.”
Recent Do Better events include the New York City chapter helping to feed the homeless at The Bowery Mission and the Pittsburgh chapter holding a waterfront cleanup for Sycamore Island complete with Captain Planet-inspired T-shirts. It’s not the only way the brunch is expanding, either. In June, the group held their first virtual brunch on Twitter using the hashtag #VirtualGGB and in July they launched a new series called “Geek Girl of the Month” to highlight women who attend their events.
Rowser, Ayala, and Parker are continually surprised by how Geek Girl Brunch keeps growing. Sometimes, it will take a request from a far-away city looking to start their own chapter to remind them of what the group has become.
“Although we understand how much Geek Girl Brunch was needed in the community, it’s still shocking, because we’re just in the weeds of it so much. We’re working and planning and managing and when we look up sometimes we’re, like ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ looking at other chapters throwing their brunches or Do Better doing community volunteering and all that kind of stuff,” Rowser said. “This all happened because a couple of geek girls wanted to hang out in person. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
They still want to see more happen with the group as it grows. Parker would like the chapters to interact more, and Rowser would like to see more international chapters in places like Africa and Asia. She understands the organization is very U.S.-heavy because it started here, but would love for it to be available for everyone, everywhere. Since brunch isn’t popular in every place, she thinks it would be interesting to see how these other chapters would be run, what the needs are for their own communities, and what they like. Rowser’s actually attended an international brunch through the Germany chapter, where she said she almost cried.
“The girls went around the table introducing themselves, what they liked, and stuff like that but a lot of them were like ‘I’m so glad this community exists because the only person I get to talk to about my video game love is my husband or nobody’ and felt really lonely,” she said. “Something that they are really passionate about and they never get to talk about it is something I understand so...it was making me really emotional.”
Rowser recently moved from New York to Florida, where she attended a brunch. She didn’t have any friends down there, but knew who the officers were at the Geek Girl Brunch chapter and knew that she could attend the brunch to try and make friends knowing that by default they would have something in common. It's another example of how powerful a group like Geek Girl Brunch can be, giving women a place they feel they can connect no matter their geek interests. The three women behind the group hope the brunches will keep going to fill the need for such a space in geek culture.
“The first time I went to a New York chapter brunch that we didn’t plan, I cried because, not only was it great, it was better than anything we had done,” Parker said. “The fact that people feel just as passionately about it as we do helps me kind of picture what’s happening in all these other cities because I haven’t been able to do the visiting of another city like Jamila and Yissel have done so it’s great and the more that they do it the better it gets and it’s almost impossible to imagine where it will be in a year because of where it was last year versus now but I’m sure it will be great.”
You can learn more about Geek Girl Brunch and see if there’s a chapter near you on their website.