Jennifer K. Stuller: Reflecting Upon GeekGirlCon 2011A other interview article by: Kyrax2
After attending GeekGirlCon a few weeks ago, I caught up with Jennifer K. Stuller, author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology and one of the driving forces behind the convention. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Kyrax2: What did you hope to accomplish with Geek Girl Con?
Jennifer K. Stuller: At first we simply wanted a safe space for a distinctly female geek convention that reflected our diverse interests from feminine perspectives. What we've evolved into is an organization that provides community, recognition and celebration throughout the year as well as one that culminates in an annual weekend event. We hope we continue to create opportunities for women to find inspiration, friendships, and networking opportunities.
Kyrax2: Did you accomplish your objectives?
Stuller: Above and beyond. I'm still trying to grok it all and yet am also not all at all surprised. Our team of volunteers is talented, passionate and driven. But that you all came out with your friends, with your colleagues, with your children, with your families and, even in some brave instances, by yourselves to learn and to make friends -- it’s incredible
Of course, for those of us on the production end, it was a little difficult to recognize at first how well it was all going -- with any intense project brought about by an extended personal investment of blood, sweat and tears, you are extra sensitive to audience reaction. But as day one went on it became clear that GeekGirlCon wasn’t just special to us, but to so many others as well.
Kyrax2: What most surprised you during the convention?
Stuller: What surprised me was how many people were saying things like, GeekGirlCon felt like home. One person noted that they arrived and it felt like drinking a cup of tea. Everyone was truly, truly happy. There were infants crawling around on blankets. (I’ve never seen so many moms at a convention and was thrilled that we made ours a family-friendly space.) Of course, we wanted to create a warm, welcoming, inclusive and safe environment, but I was truly moved by how successful we were in doing so.
I was surprised by just how much of an emotional impact we made, as well as creative and intellectual. That people are using words like "game changer" and saying how they are inspired -- we couldn’t ask for greater compliments.
But most of all, I'm surprised by the outpouring of heartfelt expressions of gratitude. People will always, always, take the time to criticize, and the Internet only fuels the ease with which people can tell you what you did wrong. But when people actually take the time to say “Thank you. Your team did an amazing job.” . . . That’s huge.
Our enthusiasm has proved infectious, and all of you are giving back what we hope we've given you. Let’s all keep it up!
Kyrax2: GeekGirlCon was described many ways, before, during and after the convention, but one term that I heard over and over was "safe." What was the convention safe for, and what was it safe from? Why was it so important that the convention be a "safe space?"
Stuller: These are great questions! (And I’ve noticed that sentiment being repeatedly expressed too -- it gives me warm fuzzies.)
We want GeekGirlCon to be a safe space whether in online interactions, at special events or at our annual convention. And we will continue to work towards building safe spaces that are inclusive.
Speaking for myself, this would mean a place that’s safe to be nerdy, safe to not be as nerdy as everyone else, safe to be curious, safe to say "I'm a feminist and a geek. " Safe to ask questions about isms and what we can do better to make sure more identities are represented -- in culture, in industries, at our con and in our org. Safe to meet new people, whether that’s new friends or new mentors. Safe to ask, "How do I become a scientist/get into grad school/learn puppet-making/become a cartoonist/get into Doctor Who? " Safe to speak without being spoken over. Safe to speak your mind without worrying about being belittled or marginalized. Safe to critique without it being seen as an attack. Safe to agree to disagree and still build community. Safe to bring your children. Safe to not have to worry about someone taking a photo of your ass and posting it online with a lewd comment. Safe to come out of your shell. Safe to be who you are and to be a part of something.
Kyrax2: Was there anything that didn't go according to plan? What do you hope to do differently next year?
Stuller: I think there are little kinks that will provide lessons for next year, such as more time between registration opening and the programming start time. We’d also thought of just about everything -- GGC is an organization of women who love making check lists -- but there were things we found we needed at the very last minute that we had to send people out to procure.
Our con weekend volunteers were amazing, but next year, we’ll definitely need more help -- there were times when I found myself being pulled in different directions and attempting to carry on three or four conversations at once, line-wrangle, check badges and help with AV. I know this was the situation for other staff members too, and while everyone was happy to do it and remained extraordinarily helpful, polite and professional throughout, it was definitely overwhelming at times!
Kyrax2: What was your favorite moment of the weekend?
Stuller: There were so, so many! Being able to sit on a panel with Gail Simone and Trina Robbins, seeing little girls in costume, receiving a hand-drawn and colored thank you card from Katie Goldman and finally meeting her inspirational mother, Carrie, all the warm and sincere greetings and introductions, seeing footage from my friend, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman and being filled with pride, seeing everyone smiling, being stopped by strangers who said, "You’re the programming director, right? You have done an amazing job. This is the best con I’ve ever been to." The University Book Store vendor telling me that in his 27 years of selling books at conventions, he’d never been to a better event and that we had the happiest attendees and the kindest volunteers. Gail Simone as our Twitter advocate. Being able to tell Trina Robbins in front of an audience what she has meant to me, and how grateful I am to have her as a mentor and a friend. Getting teary-eyed over applause during my presentation and not feeling weird or girly or ashamed but like I was in a room of my people.
And speaking of my people, turning around in the JBL theater for our Labyrinth screening to see 200 joyous people receiving a sock puppet demo from the delightful Karen Prell, singing along to David Bowie, quoting lines from the movie, seeing you -- our Batgirl hero -- giddy and knowing that we all made this happen together, this community, this potential future.
Kyrax2, in her secret identity, is:
A. A part-time model.
B. An ace World War I pilot.
C. A mild-mannered office manager.
She has a bachelor's degree in:
A. Was sent to Earth by her real parents to escape the destruction of their home planet.
B. Is secretly a robot who can remove her own head.
C. Loves comics and reads any she can get her hands on. (I know, this one's pretty farfetched!)
A. Races ultralights for fun and profit.
B. Used to have a crush on Kitty Pryde.
C. Was born during a total eclipse of the sun.
In her spare time she enjoys:
A. Reading (books and comics), writing (fiction and non), gaming (everything from tabletop wargames and RPGs to Cardcaptor Sakura, Tetris, Rock Band, and DCUO) and watching TV (mainly anime, animated superhero cartoons and Rifftrax).
B. Building emissions-free vehicles out of recycled materials.
C. Alligator wrestling.