Dec 21 2012 4:00pm

The Mainstreaming of Female Geek Culture in 2012

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren WilligIt started with the release of Lauren Willig’s Garden Intrigue, an amazing book that switched back and forth between historical and contemporary—perhaps the very last place to find a Star Wars reference. But there was one.

It wasn’t something I really thought about again until June. After seeing Brad Paisley’s geektastic concert at Jones Beach, a country music show peppered with more references to science fiction movies and anime than a person could shake a stick at, I read Virginia Kantra’s Carolina Home. It was a lovely contemporary set in the Carolinas that created a firm foundation for a family series. And yet, for the second time in one month, for the third time that year, I came across an unexpected Star Wars reference. That made me think. The bottom line was that neither the Kantra nor the Willig were marketed to an audience that would be assumed to have the basis to understand Star Wars references. And yet there they remained, untouched.

It was food for thought until October. Because on a table in the middle of the Marvel booth at this years New York Comic Con, there were three different comics. One of them was a comic that was co-produced with Benefit, the cosmetics company. The content was discussed all over the universe, with strong voices on both sides of the debate. But it was there: Marketing comic books to people who up until that point, would never have been considered a target audience for comic books. And at the same time, marketing makeup to people who stereotypes insist wouldn’t be interested in it. Especially not to the degree that spending money on benefit cosmetics would require.

Luke, Leia, and Han Solo in Star WarsAs if that wasn’t enough, while reading rapidly through my TBR pile by flashlight during Hurricane Sandy, I came across yet another contemporary romance with an unexpected Star Wars reference—an entry in Susan Mallery’s long running Fool’s Gold series, published last September, Only Yours is the story of the third and final Hendrix triplet. Yet another title marketed to an audience that wouldn’t be expected to understand, or even accept, a Star Wars reference. Yet there it was.

Multiple Star Wars references in contemporary romances and Country Music could all be explained away by the idea that Star Wars is becoming a cultural touchstone in the same way that The Godfather did. Instead of guns and cannolis, we’re becoming a culture that communicates with references to light sabers, wookies, ewoks, jedi and millennium falcons. But that doesn’t explain the marketing of Benefit's cosmetics.

Living the Fantasy by Kathy LyonsIn late September, Harlequin’s Blaze line published the first category contemporary set in the world of video game fandom. Living the Fantasy by Kathy Lyons is about a young woman who agrees to be a model in the launch for a video game. The hero is the CEO of a video game company. A central sequence takes place at Dragon*Con, Atlanta’s annual science fiction/fantasy/comic/gaming convention. Geek related references are constant, as is the amazing entirely contemporary romance.

So what does this all mean? I’d like to think that the romance genre is helping to promote the idea that female geekery is much more mainstream than it’s ever been before. What do you think? No matter what, may you have a fabulous 2013, whether it is filled with geekery…or not.


Stacey Agdern, @nystacey

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1. pamelia
I think it's awesome. I'm a geek-girl and so many of my friends are geeks as well (boys and girls.) Some of my favorite "books" have been comic books and I'm a fan of pretty much all geek-centric shows.
In her fourth Colorado Mountain book "Breathe" Kristen Ashley has Faye who might just be the most geek-tastic heroine in romance history. Her favorite curse word? "FRAK".
Love it!
Virginia Kantra
2. VirginiaKantra
Thanks for the shout out, Stacey! Interestingly, when my husband read over the Carolina Home manuscript for me, it wasn't the Star Wars reference he questioned as being out of the mainstream; it was naming the Fletcher family dog "Fezzik"! No queries from readers on either one! :-)

Hope your holiday is merry and bright!
3. RachelD
I'm a total geek - so I love the references! Even women who aren't "total geeks" probably know the references, especially if they have geek husbands or children. I get into Marvel vs. DC discussions with my son all the time (DC was winning before The Avengers movie, but now Marvel is on top, if you're curious :-)
I'm going to have to download Kathy Lyons' book as soon as my iPad is done recharging.
4. Charlayne
I think that fracking ROCKS. I'm in my mid-50s and have been doing science fiction conventions since 1979. I have been in fandom for what seems like forever and even met my soulmate at Con-Troll in 1993. I've been vampire-crazy since Barnabas Collins strode across my TV screen in black & white in the mid 1960s. I'm also a huge paranormal romance reader (reviewer for Paranormal Romance Guild) and I've noticed that there is a change in conventions toward doing panels on paranormal romance, steampunk (victorian fantasy), and other things that interest the girl geeks out there.

I guess I shouldn't be as surprised that we, the girl (women) geeks out there are mixing our genres and having a happy time of it, I just wonder what took us so long.
5. DianeN
I've always been a geek as well, though more from the Star Trek side of things (and on through Battlestar Galactica, Firefly et al.), and I too have noticed that there's a sizeable number of us--writers and readers alike--in Romancelandia. I think there are more of us everywhere than we may realize. (Marvel over DC, btw!)
6. Shark with Lasers
I love it. Women are some of the biggest anime consumers on this side of the pond, and some of the most dedicated watchers of TV scifi. Keep it coming!
Mary Lynne Nielsen
7. emmel
There's a huge crossover between romance and SF/fantasy readers, so this actually doesn't surprise me. And I'd love to see more!
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