HomeAsian AmericansIs Comic-Con Culture Racist and Sexist?

Is Comic-Con Culture Racist and Sexist?

By Sophia Whittemore
AsAmNews Intern

When I went to a local comic-convention (Comic-Con) near my house, I had the time of my life. There were Harley Quinn and Joker couple costumes, video game demos with the newest combat mechanics, celebrity panelists, and an entire lineup of tabletop gaming/ exclusive comic books still in the plastic wrapping. Yet, the space had a few problems too. Namely, I was one of the few female non-white people attending. A few older (middle-aged) guys whistled, some walked up to me and said “my dress looked just adorable”, and then smirked, waiting for my reply until I mumbled something and walked away. Others asked me where my boyfriend was. (I couldn’t have gone alone, could I have?) Adjectives describing me included: “cute, girly,” and “fake geek”.

Let’s just say that this was highly uncomfortable.

I got home from the convention (still mostly having had a good time despite the awkwardness), and tried to see if any others had the same problems that I did. It turns out that JC Lau summarized the icky feeling pretty well in her piece, “The Asian Geek Girl: A Study in Stereotyping”.

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There’s also the notion of otherness: within geek culture (and society, more generally), there’s an expectation that the norm is a White male. As someone who is neither White nor male, the assumption is that I don’t fit in. Here’s an example of such otherness: Cosplaying is an area where stereotyping becomes quite apparent…

Once, I cosplayed as Lara Croft, and nobody called me Lara Croft. Instead, I got “Asian Lara Croft”. When a (White) friend cosplayed as Lara Croft at another event, nobody called her “White Lara Croft”. She was just Lara Croft.

Thinking about how Asian women are portrayed in geekdom seems to reflect this. From anime schoolgirls (although, note that the schoolgirls need not be Asian; it’s just the fact that anime is itself Asian) to the ass-kickery of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent May or Thuy Trang’s Yellow Ranger, the stereotype is there. What geek culture tells me about people who look like me is that if I’m not wearing a school uniform and looking cute, I’m going to parkour up the wall and karate chop you in the throat.

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Being a self-proclaimed “lover of geek-nerdery” myself, I’m here to share ten survival tips for Asian/Pacific Islanders at any convention. And I mean any intersection of so-called “geek culture” (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Avengers, Justice League- just sign me up) Whether it be comic books, cosplay, anime, superheroes, women warriors, medieval enthusiasts, book-clubs, DnD gatherings, or even the big San Diego Comic-Con itself, use these ten tips wisely when attending as a minority.

  1. Cosplay is for EVERYONE. You don’t have to be the same gender as your favorite character if you want to cosplay as them. Just be tasteful with it, and don’t offend anyone with your choice of costume.
  2. If somebody confronts you with a bad stereotype, educate them. There are some overused, bad Asian/Pacific Islander tropes out there that some people, unfortunately, believe. Don’t let it hurt you, but do redirect others (safely and carefully, of course) if they’re ignorant. Or seek help.
  3. It’s okay to be a “geek” or “nerd”. Most people at conventions accept this proudly, and bullying is despised in all contexts. You definitely shouldn’t be stereotyped by race, however. And if you are, see step two.
  4. Support any actors/authors/artists on the convention panels who are POCs. We need more of them in Hollywood!
  5. It’s hard being a “geek/nerd of color” since geek culture was seen as a niche that wasn’t too open a while ago. Now that it’s gaining popularity, however, it’s also gaining a global perspective, and you don’t have to be a straight, White male to enjoy it. Dive right in! Take a chance.
  6. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that most people in the “Con Culture” are super friendly. Most bond instantaneously over the love of a single fandom (fan-gathering) for their favorite show, movie, comic, book series, or actors. Reach out to people, take a chance, and make new friends.
  7. Attend convention panels if you’re an aspiring artist/musician/author and want to hear some advice from the pros!
  8. Bring friends with you. A support network always helps.
  9. Or just go by yourself. Be an adventurer. Pull an Indiana Jones/ Lara Croft and rule that convention. BUT if somebody confronts you in a way that makes you truly feel uncomfortable/in danger, then get out of the situation as quickly as you can and seek help.
  10. Stay hydrated and pace yourself. Renaissance Faires, Comic-Con, tabletop gaming, Disney expos, video game exhibitions, etc. are more marathons than they are sprints. You don’t have to see everything in one day. Enjoy what you can!

Again, I know there are really creepy stereotypes out there in the “fandom” communities, comments that make women, LGBT members, or POC feel excluded from these spaces. (Look at what happened with a female Doctor Who). However, you should be free to enjoy what you enjoy just like anybody else. If you love poring through fan theories at 3 A.M. about the latest episode of Sherlock or how the Pixar Universe is interconnected, then don’t let ignorance stop you. Don’t let ignorance stop you from being a geek, and PROUD OF IT.

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