Interview: Susie Rantz of GeekGirlCon

Interview: Susie Rantz of Geek Girl Con

Find out what makes GeekGirlCon tick in this interview with staff member Susie Rantz.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me mention my excitement about next week’s GeekGirlCon. I will be attending as press and plan on doing and seeing some amazing things. I also have interviews scheduled with my all-time favorite TV writer Jane Espenson and the lovely cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch. But first, to kick things off, here’s my interview with one of the staff of GeekGirlCon, Susie Rantz. And seriously, if this doesn’t make you want to attend the con (which is October 19-20 in Seattle at the Washington State Conference Center), I don’t know what will!

For those of you with plans to attend the con, please look for me. I’ll be tweeting through the course of the weekend and you can always find me in cosplay: I’ll be Rose Tyler from Doctor Who on Saturday and Emma Swan from Once Upon A Time on Sunday.

When was the first GeekGirlCon? What was the first one like and how has the con grown since then?

We had around 3,000 people attend our convention over two magical October days in 2011, with 20 percent of all attendees under 10 years old. Attendees from all walks of life and geekdoms came from Canada and California, Seattle and San Francisco; some even made the trek from the UK! GeekGirlCon 2011 showcased 70+ hours of programming supported by 50 volunteers and 30 staff members (also 100 percent volunteer).

Why did you decided to create a geeky women-oriented convention?

Our Origins: The first inkling of GeekGirlCon took form at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010. Mixed into days of programming focused on superheroes, blockbuster films, and popular television celebrities was a panel called “Geek Girls Exist.” Despite this panel being scheduled at the same time as the popular Scott Pilgrim panel, the room was packed. In fact, there were people huddled around the door to get in. This panel dedicated to female geeks and nerds motivated a huge audience to come together and celebrate geek girls.

It just so happened that many of these women were based in Seattle. Harnessing the momentum, these women and their supporters connected via social media and started tossing ideas around. They held a well-attended public event to brainstorm the possibilities, then began to coalesce into an organization and a purpose.

After many, many hours of hard work and planning, on October 8, 2011, the first-ever GeekGirlCon opened its doors at the Seattle Center’s Northwest Rooms and the EMP Museum. Leading up to the convention, GeekGirlCon put on more than 50 events to connect with other geeks, raise needed funds, and build a strong community.

Our Broad Mission: Broadly speaking, at GeekGirlCon, we believe all people deserve equal recognition and that everyone should feel empowered to pursue their passions. Unfortunately, many women do not always feel welcomed or well represented in geek culture.

Here’s the reality: Women have always been at the gaming table, in the lab, or in your computer programming class. Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace were pioneers in science and math in the 1800s and 1900s; Buffy Summers inspired a generation of tough, strong women in the 1990s; and today, 45 percent of all video game players are women, as are 40 percent of attendees at Comic-Con International.

This truth is not always recognized or celebrated. Until recently, geeky women and their supporters did not have one safe and welcoming place to share their passions, attend or run panels concerning their contributions to geek culture, and celebrate what they love. That is why GeekGirlCon formed, and is why we continue our work to celebrate and empower geeky women, girls, and their supporters.

What can first-time attendees expect when they go to Geek Girl con?

First-time attendees can expect a convention where they feel welcomed, encouraged, and recognized. A lot of our attendees each year are first-time con-goers, and we have a large number of families that come out each year.

Our goal is to create a space that is friendly and inclusive, while also focusing on women and girls in geekdom. We work hard to create programming that meets the diverse interests and backgrounds of all our attendees, whether they love science or gaming — or a little of everything.

Comic book writer Gail Simone described the convention as “endlessly fun and FULL of energy.” For men wanting to attend, this quote from Seattle writer Andrew Williams might give them some perspective: “I didn’t even have to check my Y-chromosome at the door.”

The convention has four floors to explore and will feature panel discussions, opportunities for job networking, crafting workshops, special events, tabletop and console gaming, and an exhibitor hall and artist alley. (More details are provided in the answer to the question below).

Like other conventions, a lot of people come dressed in cosplay to celebrate their favorite characters. You might, however, see more characters like Buffy Summers, Princess Leia, Daenerys Targaryen or Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, and Katniss Everdeen — those often considered strong or powerful female characters.

What sort of panels and events do you have planned for the 2013 con?

Saturday and Sunday programming will feature panel discussions, hands-on workshops including a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Science Zone, and lively interactive sessions ranging from topics as diverse as fandom and pop culture, the portrayal of women and race in geek culture, crafting and cosplay, science and technology, comic books, and the video game industry.

Those attending GeekGirlCon ‘13 include actress Denise Crosby, who played Lt. Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation; puppeteer Karen Prell, who will be joined by Red Fraggle courtesy of The Jim Henson Company; Jane Espenson, writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and producer of the hit web series Husbands; comic book author Kelly Sue DeConnick; and professional cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch.

GeekGirlCon ‘13 will offer a number of special events, starting Friday with a kickoff event at the Tap House Grill and Bechdel Test Burlesque, a geek-themed burlesque show at Re-Bar. On Saturday, convention participants can enter and enjoy a Costume Contest and attend the GeekGirlCONcert at the EMP Museum, which features musicians Marian Call and Unwoman and comedian Bri Pruett. During GeekGirlCon’s closing celebration, The Doubleclicks will perform their hit song “Nothing to Prove.”

The GeekGirlConnections program aims to give women the tools they need to pursue and get hired in STEM and other career fields like comics and gaming. In the GeekGirlConnections Room, attendees can join career-focused panel discussions, network one-on-one with people working in their desired career fields, and receive personalized feedback on their work.

Women make up 45 percent of all video game players, and GeekGirlCon expanded its Gaming floor to meet this growing demand. The convention will feature a range of tabletop and role-playing games (RPGs) to explore, workshops on topics like game design, live action role play (LARP) sessions, and console gaming sponsored by EA and PopCap Games.

What is the most important thing you’d like con attendees take away from this year’s con?

The most important thing we want to convey through GeekGirlCon is that geek girls are out there and we support one another. We hope to create a space where women encourage one another, respect one another, and stand up for one another.

We also believe there is power in numbers. If we come together to demonstrate the true number of female geeks out there, eventually the various companies that traditionally market to males—from comic book publishers to film studios—will acknowledge the female demographic as well. We can’t make a difference if we’re silent.

Finally, we want to convey this message to girls and women of all ages: pursue your geeky passions and strive to contribute to geek culture—whether it is getting involved in conventions; using your voice to advocate for causes you care about; or finding a job in something like game design, mechanical engineering, or another geeky thing you love. The way to get involved will vary person by person, but we really want people to leave feeling empowered to make an impact on geek culture.

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