With class done for the day, I was sitting off campus in the shade rereading my first two issues of Storm when this random guy was walking by, looked down at what I was reading, and asked me if I liked comics. I looked down at my hands, then back up, and wasn’t really sure how to respond because:
And what happened? NONE OF THE ABOVE. No, really. None of that happened!
Instead, I had a sincere, engaging conversation that lasted about 30 minutes on comics and comic book movies with a random stranger. And the best part? No belittling of me or of my opinions on the grounds that I’m not a dude. Also note: no street harassment was involved. MY DEAR WATSON, THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME.
The guy hadn’t been up to date with the current comics storylines so I filled him in the best I could (a great task, since the last he could remember was reading Marvel’s Civil War–and even my recap was sparse ) He also asked me about some recommendations cause he wanted to get back into comics. He was curious about Storm’s solo series so I started to tell him about it and how much I was loving it.
Then he asked a question: why is the mutant known as Storm my favorite? Why was she my favorite superhero/mutant/comic book character? I began listing all the reasons. Then I ended up telling him about how inspiring it was to see someone who looked like me as a kid as I watched the animated show and started reading comics. My earliest memories of her were of a woman who fought for others like herself that were persecuted and misunderstood. From an early age, I saw Ororo Munroe as a woman with beautiful brown skin and who was brave, and I wanted to be like her.
Then I started talking about the issues of her solo series, written by Greg Pak, and just how necessary it was that it was finally happening. I talked about just how important and long coming it was that Storm was finally getting a feature solo series and I burst into tears, probably scaring the guy. As I think back on it, I understand that I was crying because of the deep validation to not only see Storm get what she deserved but also because I needed this see this happen — to be a part of this recognition that is so much bigger than myself.
It is imperative that women and girls can exist in spaces where they are not cast out because of gender. To be able to exist in places where they can express their opinions and offer criticisms without being automatically ridiculed or cast off as unimportant because of the simple fact they are women.
There is such a fine line I feel that I have to walk sometimes: being a woman, being a woman of color, being a womanist by way of feminism, and being a woman who loves many things nerdy. I constantly have my defenses up — and for good reason. I learned long ago that the world isn’t always kind to someone like me.
Every 28 hours a black person is killed by law enforcement, vigilantes, or security. Alongside Black boys and men, Black girls and women are killed at alarmingly high rates by police officers (Aiyana Jones) and gun toting “concerned citizens” (Renisha McBride). The high-profile Ray Rice domestic abuse issue last year reminded women — especially black women — just how little they matter to corporations like the NFL.
Beverly Gooden, blogger and writer, “saw herself in Janay Rice” and sought to combat the disturbing tweets online dismissing female victims of domestic abuse by creating the #WhyIStayed hashtag to help create a safe place for women. Feminism remains to be an ever-relevant topic to me because when all Republicans in Congress (yes, even the women) vote down equal pay for women I’m baffled and at a loss for words. Mao Zedong’s famous proclamation of “Women Hold Up Half the Sky<” rings true on so many levels. If only more people believed in it. It’s further disappointing to hear of the larger wage disparity that women in lower-wage jobs face, earning some thirteen percent less than their male counterparts who do the same work. There’s also a huge issue when female college students are sexually assaulted and the great institutions of education that house them do little to nothing to protect them or support them in getting justice.
Emma Sulkowicz is only one face, only one college student among several women in this new revolution of fighting back against rape culture, and I stand in solidarity with them all. In the nerd sphere: I see women demonized, thrown hate mail and tweets, and slammed with death and rape threats. Gail Simone, comic book writer, recalled going to a signing years ago and having to contact the FBI and having a precautionary escape route because of the threat of a shooting.
Evan, as a matter of fact, a gunman threatened to open fire on an appearance I made and left bullets at the store as a warning. @evanwaters
— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) September 19, 2014
Who could forget the horrific time Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the popular and thought-provoking Feminist Frequency web series, had as death threats drove her to leave her own home? While Sarkeesian had been on the receiving end of harassment for quite some time, the efforts of those who threatened her escalated to their worst with the success of her “Women Tropes in Video Games” series. Yet she has risen above it all. In fact, her first public appearance since that harrowing time was to appear at the XOXO, a Portland-based festival dedicated to “celebrating independent makers of culture,” and led a stage to not only one, but two standing ovations after an inspiring talk on what we can all do to support women online.
So yes, I’m weary. This is exhausting at times. When I’m writing a review for a comic that happens to have a cover that makes me want to roll my eyes back to Biblical times because of how a female character is posed, I steel myself for what might come. When I bemoan the fact that Wonder Woman still doesn’t have a live-action movie I prepare for a dude-bro that will dismiss her in favor of another male-led superhero film because she’s a woman. When I add to a post on Tumblr about plot twists involving women being “fridged” and see notifications of new comments, there’s a part of me that sits in wait for the Kraken.
Pair this with being a woman of color. I identify as a Black woman and it is quickly becoming common knowledge that Black women apparently suffer the most online — at least on Twitter.
Truthfully, I don’t always feel brave. I don’t always feel like pointing out the elephant in the room, be it sexist banter in a comic or explaining to folks why I love a certain movie while also dissecting it to understand why it failed the Bechdel test.
I get tired. This is exhausting. But I stay at it because I belong here. I belong here and I’m not going anywhere. Do you know why? I have an 11-year old god-sister who I love to watch the gender-bent Adventure Time episodes with who tells me that “there needs to be more girl characters,” and smiles really hard when I bring her new comics with female leads. I have Tumblr friends, both male and female, who ask me about comics like Kelly Sue DeConnick‘s Pretty Deadly and artist Afua Richardson‘s Genius, and ask me if they are any good (yes to both, by the way — go buy them). I started being really active with my Kickstarter account just to make sure I’m dedicating myself to projects headed by women so their awesome books, webcomics, and animated shows get the support they need to come to life.
I want to encourage my fellow lady nerds and lady geeks — in real life and online — to support one another. Our contributions are necessary and important. I want us to know that there is no meter or gauge set by any fandom or “expert” that should make us feel any less welcomed to love what they love. I don’t want to shy away and let myself and other women get trampled upon for being bold enough to criticize what we consume. The first step for me was acknowledging who and what I am, all the way down the last layer: a very complicated woman of color who has nerdy interests and identifies as a feminist. The second step was to choose to live fully in such a way where I can be legitimately proud of all those layers, and every facet of who I am. The third step was to acknowledge that the circles I travel through — speaking of the nerd sphere in particular — may not always be friendly or accepting of women, people of color, or queer people for that matter, but it should never stop us from going forward.
Crass words and actions committed by others should not stop me from living fully. It should definitely not stop me from wading out into the water to join everyone else under the sun, celebrating the nerdy things we love. Some days will be harder than others. Some days will leave me frustrated, and others will leave me with tears in my eyes, but it is the only way to know that others like myself belong to an even bigger movement to bring about change we want; to bring about the change we wish to see from the industries that provide us with what we love in the form of video games, comic books, movies, cartoons, and everything in between.
I am Woman. I am Nerd.
Watch Me Conquer. Watch Me Rule.
I am Woman. I am Nerd.
Watch Me P3wn. Watch Me Rule.
I am Woman.
I am Nerd.
I Aim to be Fearless.
I Will be Heard.
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Anjuan Simmons (@anjuan)
This is an amazing piece.
Storm has always been my favorite member of the X-Men. I even built a Storm fan page back in 1996 (yes, 1996) when I was an undergraduate. She was the only Black member of the team (I got to know her WAY before Bishop arrived), and, as an African-American man, I loved her pride, dignity, and power.
I admire your intersection of Black activism, feminism, and geek culture. I think it’s a powerful combination, and I hope that more people use that combination to break down barriers and advance the interests of those who have been marginalized for far too long.
I am a white male older nerd who once wrote Daria fanfic, and I totally approve of this message and the writer thereof.