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The skirt length is Starfleet Regulation. It was short intentionally. I was dressed in a science officer costume from Star Trek: Not the sleek little work-appropriate but still sexy jewel tone tunics from the new movie, but the flared, strangely-constructed, unapologetically teal and chartreuse polyester cheerleader dresses that fit perfectly with the now retrofuturistic vibe of the original show. And at the beginning of the day, I just assumed the lady who commented was pointing out that I needed to tug down the dress a bit.

That was the first comment. After the next 30 or so, I had had enough. I was at Balticon, a great science fiction convention that leans more to the literary side than the ones that are normally in my wheelhouse. This was my second year going to this con, and my second year costuming there. Last year I brought several costumes, but only wore one: I wore that outfit for all of Saturday, became extremely annoyed with the response I was getting and then dressed in normal clothes on Sunday.

As a costumer, you have to develop a fairly keen sense for what is a safe space and what is not. I felt safe at Balticon both years. That said, the responses I was getting made me want to run away.

Or possibly take a shower to wash off the feeling of eyes and comments. This year, in my Star Trek dress, I was just as uncomfortable, but I decided to say frak it and ignore them.

The discomfort came from a constant stream of microaggressions. A constant flow of women leaning in and stage whispering in mock-concern about how short my skirt was. A constant flow of men grilling me about whether I had watched the series, and trying to trip me up on trivia.

For one thing, if I was Yeoman Rand, I would have the perfect blonde basketweave beehive. Fake Geek Girl Screener. I assume I passed? I felt like I was placed in the role of Convention Booth Babe, receiving both the objectified interest from the men and the scorn of the women. I do need to point out here, that none of this came from people involved with the con. In fact, everyone even slightly officially affiliated with Balticon was respectful, concerned and nerdily-excited about my outfit, my hair, the screen-accurate seams.

The staff, the volunteers, the program participants, even the people working the tables for other events were all wonderful. I felt like they really, really wanted me to go back to my room and change into a long, historically accurate, shapeless Medieval dress.

Or jeans and a geek t-shirt. Either would be acceptable: The ones who dress alike and spend their lives being sheep to the newest styles. We celebrate our community for being thoughtful and intelligent and welcoming of weirdness. But we do the exact same policing to our own that we see in mainstream society.

Women who, at one end of the spectrum, put too much effort into their looks, whether in costume or not, are ostracized. This is not a problem unique to nerds, of course. It is just an extension of the same in-group presentation policing that every aspect of society does.

Often in much more subtle and ostensibly socially acceptable forms than the abuse heaped on Anita Sarkeesian or Rebecca Watson.

Often in ways that are neither obvious nor actionable. Often in ways that are extremely mild until they pile up interaction after interaction, hour after hour, day after day. So how do we fix these problems? The women who want to make sure I know I look a little slutty. No one touched me, or even made inappropriate come-ons.

No one groped me, cornered me, made me feel like I was in danger. I never worried about walking the halls alone, even late at night, costume or not. Balticon is trying to do that, and I give them kudos for that. I really enjoy going to this con and I plan to go back next year. Convention space has never been a space that was solely the domain of men. From the very beginning of the fandom that I chose to represent at Balticon Star Trek conventions had women.

Women creating costumes, dressing as Klingons. Women discussing gender and racial politics in the series. Women participating in collaborative remixing of the canon. There have always been women using science fiction to rewrite gender assumptions.

And yes, I get tired of fighting it. If other women are feeling the same way I do, they might be turned off from that con entirely. Or participate in geek culture at all. The story of the woman dealing with comments about her costume is the same story as the girl who walks into a comic shop, only to have all of the denizens come to a complete stop and stare angrily at her.

I will call out men grilling me about trivia I do that already, but I need to do it more consistently. There is no reason I should have to do this, but I came to realize something in reflecting on events at Balticon: Every place I go will not be a safe space, but the people around me make it one for me. Not let my legs and skirt short speak for my presence, but speak for myself.

Challenge the male gaze both metaphorically and literally. Opening my mouth and answering them just might. Or it might make other people witnessing the exchange think about what happened. Point out that I can both wear a short skirt and have a brain under my beehive.

I have a privileged position, in that I can do this and then safely retreat to my friends and colleagues. I am not walking into a convention alone and for the first time. And if anyone wants to fight me about it? You can find me in the bar. Good luck with that.

This entry was posted in geek culture.


We saw you at Balticon (high five!) and thought you were rocking the uniform like a champ. I have no idea who these nay-saying jerks are, but I think I represent the silent majority in saying you brought a nice bit of flare to the con. Emily Kearns, 27, from Downtown Indianapolis, explained how she started used dating website WhatsYourPrice. She said she never expected to fall for .

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