“I have been woman for a long time beware my smile. I am treacherous with old magic”
-Audre Lorde, “A Woman Speaks”
Despite what recorded history might tell you, women have always been responsible for historic moments and the nerd world is no different. Last year Black Nerd Problems celebrated Women’s History Month by talking about our favorite women characters who deserved titles of their own. This year we decided to celebrate our own stories and the women who have been most meaningful to our own personal history — the women of the BNP staff! From video games to anime to cosplay to literature, these women have been hard at work all year bringing you the best nerd columns on the web. We asked each member to tell us in their own words what it means to be a nerd and a woman. Come celebrate these fantastic writers with us by seeing what they had to say.
I’ve been a nerd all my life. I’ve had the great fortune and honor to have been surrounded by strong, intelligent, and unapologetically confident women of color. Being a part of Black Nerd Problems has expanded my view on the intersection of nerd/geek culture and media, through a lens of Black and POC individuals. I’m a Final Fantasy-loving, anime-critiquing, plushie-collecting, cosplay anthropologist, and I’m damn proud. – Monica
When I was a kid, I saw nerddom as pretty much the equivalent of a six-year-old boy’s play-fort: No girls allowed. Here’s the thing—never tell me I can’t do anything, especially because I’m Black or because I’m female. It’s important to engage with what you love, despite expectations or stereotypes, and on your own terms. However, it’s also important to be willing to challenge what you love—or hate, or feel indifferent about—because we should always hold ourselves (artists, production/publishing companies, the media, consumers, etc.) accountable for the perspectives we privilege, the faces we depict, and the experiences we value in our stories, knowing that some of these stories, though we create them, for good or bad, will ultimately outlive us. –Maya
Being a female nerd is something I’m very proud of but can be difficult at times. People say you’re not nerdy enough or if you’re too nerdy, you’re weird. You have guys questioning your nerd status, saying things like “You like Dragonball Z? Why? Because you think Goku is cute?” or “Posting a picture of Halo doesn’t make you a fan.” You can never win. Nowadays, any guy’s dream is having a nerdy girlfriend but it wasn’t the same when I was growing up. It’s sometimes rather painful to watch other girls being supported and appreciated for their interests when those same things got me teased and called weird when I was in school.
It’s easy for guys to be a nerd because it’s socially accepted. When you tell people you play video games, they just assume you’re talking about Candy Crush and it doesn’t count. Women watching anime, playing video games, and participating in cosplay wasn’t accepted when I was younger. Now, things have gotten better and I’m happy for that. I can express my inner nerd freely without fear of judgment. I’d rather spend money on gear for a video game character then my actual real life body. My cloak needs to match my leg armor. – Anissa
More than anything identifying as both woman and nerd has taught me both how to confront alienation and feel deeply grateful for the support networks that have formed as a result of this shared feeling. Whether it’s surviving the mental, emotional, and sometimes physical exhaustion of misogyny and misogynoir, critiquing the problematic elements of our favorite media, or celebrating the triumph of another woman shattering the glass ceiling, my nerd sisters have provided a strength and awareness that I hadn’t known was possible to achieve.
I’m not sure what age I first begin to identify as a nerd and be aware of the baggage that sometimes comes with being Black, nerdy, and female but I do know that it is only within these past two to three years that I’ve felt most comfortable in the skin that I’m in. It is also within the last two years that my circle of female nerd confidantes has expanded and I’ve loved nearly every minute of it. Whether it was finding and creating safe places for ourselves on social media outlets, deconstructing sexist language and behavior against our favorite female superheroes, doing our part to dismantle rape culture, or celebrating each other, I couldn’t have asked for a better squad. Nerd culture (especially the comics fandom) can be a very hostile place for people who happen to be not be white, male, and cis-gender.
It is on occasion a toxic place for womenfolk, as demonstrated this month alone (see here , here and here, respectfully) but for all the womenfolk who inspire me and encourage me…for all the womenfolk who work in the industry from publishers like “The Big Two” to manga (and manwha) to smaller presses and anthologies, zines and webcomics alike, I appreciate you. I will support you. I have learned from you and I am most certainly a fan.
Remember to praise our fellow female nerds. Remember to stand by them when they face not just varying degrees of discrimination but gender-based violence as well. Remember to support their work by means of RT’s/shares/reblogs/etc but also buying their comics and publications that their work are published in. Remember to commission them. Remember to consider that mentors, free and/or discounted resources and software, and tips on networking are greatly appreciated. Remember that we are their best hypewomen and most certainly some of the biggest fans. Ultimately we are their sisters, their comrades in this ever changing climate of nerd culture where we are reminded that with every step we make to make this space more welcoming and inclusive, there are those whose efforts make our work seem small. – Carrie
Coming up Black and Woman and NERD is not for the faint of heart, especially growing up in the town and era that I did. However, a little backbone ain’t never hurt nobody and I think that everyone I grew up with now realizes that there was a little nerd in them all along. I think I reached peak nerddom in my twenties and thirties, honestly. I found more and more like-minded women to nerd out with and I also became more confident in myself. It doesn’t matter to me as much anymore that some folks don’t get my Potter references or don’t scream when I yell out “EXTERMINATE!” in my best Dalek voice during a fit of road rage.
I do, however, appreciate the times when I can look over at one of my Sistahs In Blerd and share a high five over how badass Jessica Jones is, a side-eye at anyone who denies Storm to be the greatest, and the feels over passing down Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur to the little women in our own families. Being Black, Woman, and Nerd is the best thing that could have ever happened to me… well, that and growing up with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. –Izetta
When we were kids, my brothers collected comics, but I knew after the first time that I set my foot in their comic book store that I wasn’t exactly welcome there. Once I washed the smell of balls and exclusion out of my hoodie, I was still a nerd but I was also still a girl and therefore shut out of a community that I might have loved. But I was (ha! As if this is past tense) still in love with Star Trek and the Terminator franchise. I still loved zombies and androids and sci-fi anything. But finding people my age to talk about all that with wasn’t very easy.
It was not super cool to be reading Stranger in a Strange Land freshman year of high school, but it did shape who I’d become and who I interacted with (generally older female nerds disguised as teachers who were happy to discuss the non-assigned book). Which is to say, thank you comic book store guy. Because of you I ended up forging bonds with people who were not like me in a variety of ways: race, gender presentation, age, region, etc. because we loved similar things. You should try it some time. –Nicole
I know all the best foods to sneak into movies and I can tell you the most effective ways to do it. South Africa is pretty easy with a little planning, the United States is more of a challenge — they check bags there, still, it can and has been done; on several occasions. I once sat down to a full dinner of mashed potatoes, bangers, carrots and peas all snuck in to eat while I watched: a stirring though slow moving character-driven drama. Listen, I’m not saying popcorn is for the birds, I’m just saying, there are options. You fancy some wine, a GnT, crisp apple cider, a soda you didn’t have to pay an unreasonable amount for? I can show you how. I claim this as one of my powers.
When I was growing up my sisters, cousins, and I would put on variety shows for my aunts and uncles, we would rehearse all day then ‘give em the old razzle dazzle’ come night time (I know… I know, I never stood a chance). I’m pretty sure it would be an accurate guestimation to venture that of everything I say about 15% is made up of lines from movies, 7% from songs, and 2% are nothing but Prince quotes. At age 11 I figured movies could change the world and I haven’t been able to shake that notion since.
My love for the arts and having pursued a career in it means I have/am often searching for myself on screen or stage and not always finding her; or that I am the only woman in the room or on the floor. Still, what I love about being a woman and being a nerd is what I found back when I was 5 with my sisters, rehearsing in my aunts’ backyard; community, support, a shared struggle, a common passion, the opportunity to share in this love, this joy (as well as this full pizza you snuck past the movie ushers to eat while watching the latest offering in Marvel’s slightly labored but still entertaining Avengers franchise) and isn’t that something worth celebrating, worth breaking out the old calligraphy pens and writing home for, this spectacular sisterhood? – Thuli
Nerding for me is about connection. I’m not from a line of nerds — my family’s universal obsession with mystery novels aside — so when I discovered Tolkien and Star Trek it was with my girlfriends that I shared the love. That continues to be the case; my fandom isn’t solitary. I’ve been lucky to share my fanaticisms with many women, white, Latinx, Caribbean, and always Black and multiracial women. While so many experience fandom as a place of isolation and hostility, I’ve been gifted to an extraordinary degree to know it as a place where I could enjoy and deconstruct and re-construct and invent and enjoy again.
As the pop culture conversation around the participation of women in fandom evolves, it hasn’t yet accepted what I’ve always known: we aren’t new to this game. Erased and ignored does not mean absent. We are fans of every genre and every sub-sub-sub-category, and we’re creators in all of those spaces. While some sleep on us and our contributions, we keep loving and producing work that feeds our imaginations.
It was other women who fed my love of history and beauty and drew me into Renaissance Faires. It was women friends who took me to my first convention and a woman mentor who put me on my first panel. It was women friends who handed me comics and said “Read this. Ignore what you think you know, ignore what men say and Read.This.” It was women who encouraged me to write and who held my daughter so I had the time to do so. To all of them, this Women’s History Month, I give immeasurable thanks. –Leslie
We come from all over the world, yet our stories have similar beats. We have different styles, but share a love for what inspires us — all that is nerdy, geeky, and weird. We span all the fandoms and realms of pop culture, and come together here to share it with you. We hope you enjoy the site as much as we enjoy bringing it to you. Thank you all for reading, for commenting, for sharing our work our Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and everywhere else. Keep it up — there’s so much more to come. Happy Women’s History month!
Opening image courtesy of Sarah and Catherine Satrun. You can buy it as a print in their Etsy shop.
All other images courtesy of individual contributors.