Nerds can be jerks.
I've had plenty to say on the subject in Gamer Geek Advisory - Nerd Bullies Need Not Apply. Nowadays, it's not the tall jock in the letter jacket with the cheerleader on his arm who's tripping you in the cafeteria, it's the anonymous gamer geek telling you to kill yourself because you don't know what year Catwoman reinvented herself out of her purple spandex and into Arkham City.
"The problem with saying that [cosplay and taking your clothes off] is degrading is that you are once again telling a woman that she needs to be afraid of her sexuality."
The scrutiny is worse for women. Not only do we get to deal with the usual ridicule associated with being a nerd, we also get to face deep suspicion and personal ridicule at the hands of the nerds who think we're just faking to feel better about our real-world "average" looks.
And if you're ugly, fat, possess a lazy eye? Well. Glutted on a steady diet of unrealistically-inflated and gravity-defying breasts on top of nipped-in waists and giraffe-length legs, many of these discerning mouth-breathers aren't going to give you anything but scorn while they hide behind the blank face of anonymity.
"The problem with saying this is degrading is that you are once again telling a woman that she needs to be afraid of her sexuality."
[Please note: all images are from Geek Goddess's public Facebook albums]
But how about if you took away that initial apprehension and suspicion, and could have a pretty good idea that that geeky girl in the Yunalesca costume is really what she says she is? That she's in a Poison Ivy getup because she owns every single issue of Gotham City Sirens and loves her sassy takeover of E. Nigma's pad, not just because she thinks Uma Thurman rocked the pixie dust?
What would happen if you got to actually talk to and interact with that girl? Would that reassure you and manage to stop thinking about her as just a pretty face and hot body you'd like to fap to in the secrecy of your room, as empty and soulless as the character creation menu of a Korean MMO grindfest?
Would that make you respect her and treat her like a real person, even as you admire her eye candy?
Geek Goddess, an adult cosplay website, would like to test that theory.
I caught up with the ladies of Geek Goddess at their booth during New York Comic Con 2013 to discuss their take on feminism, cosplay, and taking their clothes off for money.
What is Geek Goddess?
Founded by two geeky women, Geek Goddess is a membership-based website featuring artistic nudes of the female figure - with a geek spin. If asked:
"We celebrate the true beauty of the geek female and her community. We will raise her up and she will become a Goddess. We prove that Nerds and Geeks aren't just smart, they are beautiful, powerful and SEXY!!!"
And that's not the least of it. With membership, aside from access to a gallery with hundreds of photos, you gain access to the forum sections as well.
"In the forums you can speak with other members as well as the Goddesses about all things GeekGoddess related as well as a number of geeky things that have nothing to do with the site."
The Goddesses aren't just pretty faces stepping in (and out of) store-bought costumes just to get you in the mood. They're real, and they're down for you to get to know them and their nerd selves for what they are.
Lui and I stopped by the Geek Goddess booth late last year while at New York Comic Con to speak to Oracle, one half of the founding partnership, and most often the lady behind the lens.
With a booth in the busy, crushing mass of NYCC's main dealer's room, the Goddesses had quite a number of admiring fans... but the majority of them stayed huddled around the outer rim of the small booth, ogling but largely unwilling to enter.
Was that the booth babe effect? Pretty girls catch attention, but they don't always generate leads. Were the guys just too intimidated?
Oracle wasn't worried. The Goddesses did a pretty good job of getting people to come in and get over their nervousness.
"I think a lot of it is that a lot of geeks and nerds are not used to talking about sex or hormones or naked ladies, and so there's a little nervousness. They like it but they don't know if they're really allowed to admit they like it, or say to the girls 'you're pretty, can I take a picture with you?'
"They think [the Goddesses] will get upset. And it's like... um... they're on Geek Goddess."
Meaning that the girls are sassy, outspoken, and not easily embarrassed. Besides, they take their clothes off on the internet so that you can enjoy it. They know. They're okay with it. And they're pretty dang cool with handling the curious, the shy, and the wackily-dressed.
The wire walls of Geek Goddess's NYCC booth are covered with colorful prints, calendars, and posters of the Goddesses in sexy poses - but they've all still got their clothes on. There is one curtained-off corner however, with just enough of a gap to glimpse a little more skin than what they've got hanging outside.
This is "the Boobie Trap" and there have been plenty of people who've entered it...
"Oh yes. Generally with some happy noises once they do. [laughs] We just make sure no one lingers for too long."
I had to ask: was there a box of tissues just in case?
"Nooooooo. No. We just had someone ask yesterday if they were allowed to remove their pants, to which we said 'nooooo'. I think he was trying to be funny, but it was kind of creepy. [laughs]"
Because come on. They get it. But there are definitely limits to what you should say... or do.
Some of you might be surprised by the idea that Oracle is a pretty serious feminist - and one who has been asked time and again how she can be one, yet at the same time, help start a site like Geek Goddess?
This is what Oracle has to say about something like Geek Goddess being degrading and anti-feminist:
"Even in school I had a teacher who thought I was objectifying women by taking pictures of pale blond girls who fit the stereotype of beauty. And really it was just because at the time I was in college and you shoot your friends - I used to joke that I was cursed with a plethora of pale, blond friends.
"So it's always been something I've thought of, but to me the problem with saying this is degrading is that you are once again telling a woman that she needs to be afraid of her sexuality.
"The problem is that you can't just have it one way or another. The world is not just black and white. You can't say a woman can be empowered and have all the same rights as men... but only if she ignores one of the basic parts of herself."
Quite passionate about the subject, Oracle strongly believes that society still tries to pigeonhole women into two categories, telling them that they can either be a virgin... or they can be a whore.
This is metaphorical of course, virginity does not necessarily have to denote a life without sex. But a women who is in touch with her sexuality, and is empowered by it? Then she must be a whore, she must have loose morals, she's got to sleep around, she's probably diseased and no good will ever come of her.
"The other option is that you could be the virgin. In which case people will take you seriously, they'll think you're smart, but you're never supposed to want sex, you're never supposed to be sexy - unless it's behind closed doors.
"And I think that women are full, whole people... so as long as it's the woman who is making the decision, that there's no one forcing her to, that it's something she wants to do, and she has fun doing it, and it makes her feel empowered... who is anybody to say that that is wrong?"
According to Oracle, a lot of the more puritanical views modern-day America has are still a little backward:
"I think America has its priorities wrong right now, where it's okay for an eight-year-old to see someone get their head blown off but if they see a nipple, they'll be scarred for life."
While one can argue the appropriateness of either sexual nudity or graphic violence for a child, her closing point on the subject is one I certainly can't argue with:
"I don't think woman will ever truly be equal until she is allowed to be a fully, well-rounded person, and do what she wants to do... whether that be [to] take her clothes off, or not."
To make sure that Geek Goddess delivers on its premise, they have a rather stringent hiring process for their Goddesses - to make sure they're exactly what they say they are. Geeks. Goddesses. Professionals.
"We do have applications to make sure that all of the girls are not just models. But part of [the reason for] our application process is because we want to treat the models right. We only open up applications periodically because we want to make sure there's enough work to go around - we don't want to have so many models on the website that they only get to have one set launch a year.
"So that's part of the reason for doing applications period. But also we have an application where we don't just ask 'have you ever modeled?' 'have you ever done nude work?' we also ask them questions about their interest, why they think that they would be a good fit for Geek Goddess... so not all the girls are into every geeky topic, but all of them have some area that would be considered geeky or nerdy that they love."
And that's one of the reasons for the forums. When you like a geeky girl, it's because she's more than just generic fap material, it's because she's also wearing something that you like, and that she (hopefully) is into herself. The Goddesses are more than just the boobs and the bodies.
"When I said [that a] woman should be a full person, there's nothing wrong with a guy finding a woman physically attractive. If there's a problem with that... there'd be no more people. But society [and] marketing tells men that all they're supposed to look at is the woman for her sexual assets.
"We want to show that she can be beautiful, she can be sexy, but she can also be a full human being. [The forums] gives [members] a chance to see that they're geeky and nerdy, but also to see them as more than just an object, [rather] as a full, complex person.
"And it builds a community - so members can talk to each other and talk about things that they may not be comfortable talking about out in the open."
The innovations for the website won't end with just the forums though. Geek Goddess has big plans for expansion in the future - the inclusion of some new, international models for one.
"We don't have [any criteria that says] you have to be in a specific location, so I expect as we grow we'll get more Goddesses in more locations. But really, it's so hard to say, because we want to make sure we stay respectful to the community, respectful to the models, and as we get bigger it doesn't go to our heads."
A large part of this is organizing both a new model and a new photographer in that same location. Geek Goddess has standards of quality for both the model and the work of the photographer as well.
One of the questions that Geek Goddess gets (from both men and women who are curious about the site and what they are trying to do) is whether or not they would consider adding plus size models since they don't currently have any.
"We've actually had a couple geek girls who've approached us at cons and said 'well, I was gonna apply but I thought I was a little too big for you guys.' And that always makes me feel bad because we think there is no one right size or shape.
"We'd really love to have some more full-figured, plus size models... but they have to apply before we can accept them! [W]e're not going to go out there and say 'you need to model for us' and try to force them into it, because it needs to be her choice, and it needs to be something she wants to do."
As you have seen in some of the slides that have come before, there is a definite sliding scale as to the degree of accuracy in each of the girls' costumes. This isn't just for the super-nerds who will nitpick the number of tassels in the Hogwarts school scarf, it's a general rule of thumb for quality construction and photos.
"It really depends on the particular set and the particular model. We do want the costumes to be quality, we don't want them to be something that you bought in a Halloween store. But we also don't require our models to always be 100% accurate in the sense that we do let them do sets that are their interpretation or just sometimes generally geeky.
"For example, Solara did a Gryffindor set. She's not a specific character. But she really likes that series so we let her do that. We do allow sets like that. But the main thing is that whatever they do, it has to fit within our nerdy, geeky goals, and it has to be well done."
I would argue that between the long brown hair and the grumpy orange cat, Solara was channeling more Hermione than any other generic Gryffindor, but it is nice to know how far the rules will bend.
Recently the site successfully crowdfunded a Geek Goddess calendar through Indiegogo in order to produce a new print calendar. Of the modest $3,000 goal, at the close of the campaign, the project received over $9,000 in contributions.
But how well have they been selling?
"Oh, well we just got the calendars at Dragon*Con, so we haven't actually put them up online yet because we were waiting until after Comic Con. But we've definitely had a lot of people who were interested and we had a lot of backers - international backers even, from Germany, someone from South Korea...
"It went really well, it did a lot better than we thought it would. We'd never done anything like it, so we were going 'oh I hope we'll get the bare minimum to make this calendar.' and because it went so well, we have posters that we're going to be able to get published, we can get t-shirts made, and we get to add more updates to the website!"
And the actual numbers Geek Goddess is drawing in?
"We don't talk about our actual subscription numbers, but we are growing steadily so that's good."
And they are making a profit - the site and the models.
"All of the models are paid well. The owners... we still have day jobs. But that happens with this business, we're only a year old. And we're growing, everyone's getting paid on time, all of the expenses are being paid... from what I hear, that's actually kind of surprising."
And the geek girl stereotype? It comes up a lot, and not even when you're part of a company where girls take their clothes off for a paycheck.
"To a certain degree, you can educate someone unless they don't want to be educated and I like picking my battles. So if it's somebody I'm going to basically be hitting my head against a brick wall trying to educate them, i will generally give up. It's a pointless battle, and [I] just let that one roll off and not let it bother me.
"[O]ne con, I had a guy come up to the table and ask what we are. II explained and told them how all the girls are real geeks and nerds, and he [asks,] 'well, how?' So I was going into some of their interests and likes and he said something like 'oh, so they're just a fan of something," and walked away.
"I was like 'do you want me to give you a resumé? I can give you mine and I definitely [have some] nerd cred there. [Plus] I run the company, so it's probably fairly nerdy.'"
In closing, when it comes to people who don't understand what you do, or why you do it, Oracle has this to say:
"Sometimes you have to educate people and sometimes realize that some people just want to drag other people down just to lift themselves up and you just have to let those people go."
From there, even if you're not interested in signing up for membership, you can take a look at some of the Goddesses featured here in this slideshow and learn a little about these smart, sassy women through their blogs or respective Facebook pages.
Many thanks to Oracle for speaking to us at length on the subject. It was great fun chatting with some of the Goddesses at their booth, and I hope to see them around the convention circuit more often.