Getting Shirty

Photo courtesy of @LandryQWalker's Twitter feed
Photo courtesy of @LandryQWalker’s Twitter feed

Okay, so I WAS going to do something on character visual design, but this bullshit blew that clean out of the water. Character design can wait til I’ve patched the hull; let’s discuss what’s really so wrong about a company selling this shirt at WonderCon and why their response to public criticism shows that they are not mature enough to be running a company.

Let’s look beyond the sexism here. It’s not implied; it’s very overt. You’d have to be a space alien to miss it. It’s already been discussed and decried by people who are much more articulate and well-known than I am, and there’s nothing new I can add to that discussion.

And I’m only going to make a passing mention of the heinous disparagement of the Holy Beverage, because if there is ONE THING that has fuelled the gaming, film/television, comics and tech industries, it is coffee. There’s a percentage of the population who either don’t like coffee or can’t drink it for one reason or another — in my experience, they make up roughly 10% of the population. But even then there are very few people who would express an active hatred of coffee; congratulations, you’ve alienated 98% of convention attendees.

At any rate, the company says they make the same shirt, but using the word “fanboys” instead; come on, it’s not sexist, it’s funny! Har har har.

When I was six years old, I broke down in tears in the schoolyard because I realised quite sharply that I didn’t have any friends.

(Princess aurora belongs to Disney; Jedi art by Saehral)
(Princess Aurora belongs to Disney; Jedi art by Saehral)

Allow me to clarify: I had plenty of friends. I had classmates I could work with on projects and swing on the monkey-bars with, and for some unfathomable-to-me reason there were even a few of my classmates who went out of their way to be in my company. We had sleepover parties and worked on homework together, and goofed around in our families’ pools on hot summer days.

But there was nobody who really understood me; nobody I could talk to about the crazy abstractness that exists inside my head. From before I could read, I was a nerd, raised on a diet of classic fantasy and sci-fi by a mom who wrote code for the US Navy and a dad who taught high school physics. Concepts of history, astrophysics, earth sciences, fantasy worlds where the rules are changed, and magic which has direct connections to the existing world rather than for its own sake, utterly fascinated me — they still do. And I recognised that my rejection of societal norms for little girls and preference for advanced books made me difficult for others to understand. I also didn’t care that this was the case — in a very vocal and typically hard-nosed way — and my parents actively encouraged me to do what I wanted rather than what everyone else expected.

The feeling of being the odd one out only got worse as we hit middle and then high school. I tried, I really did; there were more people, as the middle school caught the populations of three elementary schools and the high school took on students from a neighbouring town, and there was a hope that there might be someone among them all who would share my interests. But every time I would try to start conversations about the so-bad-it’s-good B-sci-fi movie I’d caught on TV that weekend, or the awesome steampunk cowboy series that didn’t last more than a season (it’s called Legend, it co-starred John de Lancie, it was awesome), people would stare at me like I was speaking, well, Greek.

Or as if I was a particularly annoying pest that wouldn’t take the hint and find some other lunch table to sit at.

We speak Geek, not Greek.

So I stopped trying, and it wasn’t til junior year in high school when a classmate transferred back from the tech school that I found a bunch of genuine nerds who spoke my language. They’d all gone to the tech school, a route I had considered in order to go into electrical engineering; alas, the tech school didn’t have a choir program, and so I stayed in the local public school instead.

I wouldn’t call the ostracism I experienced bullying. It hurt, sure, and a few people did bully me horribly once in a while — and I still remember the names and what they did or said. But by the end of high school I didn’t really talk to or hang out with anyone except the tech school guys — even my first boyfriend was from that school. I wasn’t the only nerd in my own school, but it was the sort of environment where the nerds seemed to avoid associating with each other lest it jeopardise their acceptance with the other social cliques.

That’s a brief summary of eleven years of my life, and I can guarantee you that a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, comics and gaming fans have experienced something similar. The loneliness, the fear that you’d never be able to share your love for things that don’t exist in this world with anyone else. That there is literally nobody who understands you except The Doctor, or Elric, or Dragonrider Lessa.

Now. NOW.

Does this help explain why, in an environment filled with people who survived that sort of childhood — or who are just then experiencing that childhood — who bear the scars of the hard lesson that a majority of the world thinks you’re cracked for wanting to explore fantasy realms, it is so abhorrently juvenile to attempt to market a t-shirt at a convention which actively expresses scorn for the attendees of that convention?

My problem with the shirt isn’t the sexism or lack of respect for coffee. It’s the casual way in which it promotes bullying. The high-school-jock attitude of the shirt’s designers regarding people’s objections shows they really don’t understand, or just don’t care. Hell, maybe it’s just a marketing ploy; companies do objectionable things all the time in order to get people talking about them, anything for publicity. But it’s okay, right, because the fans are the ones wearing it! It’s like Jewish people telling Jew jokes, it’s cool, maaan.

There’s a huge gap between self-deprecating humour and telling others that they are less than worthy.

The fandoms already have “gatekeeper” types who behave as if they are the only “real” fans and everyone else is a poseur who is somehow attempting to… honestly, I don’t know what they think everyone else is trying to do, but they act like their dearest treasure is under threat and nobody else has a right to enjoy the same things they do. That type of attitude destroys the heart and soul of the entire nerd subculture. It’s a form of bullying, and its needs to be spoken out against by those who are mature enough to recognise it.

2 thoughts on “Getting Shirty

  1. To me, the issue is that in many areas of geek culture, it isn’t being a fangirl that is met with disdain, but being a girl. The distinction between what we categorize as boys and fanboys to girls and fangirls is vastly different and to say there is equality in the movement is stupid.

    Making jokes about males in a male dominated sector is one thing, but making them about women is punching downwards. If there wasn’t such hostility within such sectors towards women, and their demographics within the community were much more equal then the shirt would not be a problem. But there is, so it is.
    Should they be allowed to sell it? Absolutely. People should be able to create whatever the hell they want, regardless of if I agree or disagree with it. But anyone who does wear a shirt that says a bellendy thing like this should have it pointed out to them that they are a bellend.

    1. Precisely the reason why I felt compelled to blog about it. My personal issue isn’t that they’re being allowed to market such shirts, but that there’s a market FOR the shirts.

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