Life as an Extreme Sport

Thoughts on Gender and the Philly Geek Awards

I’m lounging in bed this morning, not so much hungover as sleep-deprived, and I’m trying to figure out how to put last night in to words. It’s a bit of a sorry state for a writer, but I have a good excuse: I was exposed to one of those things you always hear about but never think really exist, and then coming face-to-face with it rearranges your reality enough that you just have to stop.

What unicorn did I run in to? Philadelphia Geeks.

I mean, sure, I’d heard here and there that Philly had a vibrant geek community. There certainly seemed to be a lot of space for techies and co-work places and the like. And I’d seen some glimpses of the potential when I went to Mega-Bad Movie Night at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

But still. You know how it goes, right? You hear about great possibilities and then they don’t really live up to it. Or, worse – they’re misogynistic. And what with everything that recently happened with ReaderCon and Scalzi having to explain how not to be a creep, and the general continuing argument/debate over misogyny in geek/gaming communities (see, the internet, always), you can’t really blame a girl for being apprehensive – especially when a lot of the promotion for the geek scene comes from mostly a bunch of guys.

Well, they’re mostly a bunch of guys I owe a giant mea culpa and apology to. Tim, Eric and the rest of the Geekadelphia crew put together an amazing event: The Philadelphia Geek Awards. Last night was the second year of the awards, a black tie event held at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and it does just what it sounds like: celebrates the local geeks.

Except it did so much more than that.

Geek of the Year Tristin Hightower. See the full gallery of pictures at this link.
Take a look at the nominees for hacker of the year. Stephanie Alarcon and Georgia Gutherie. Both women. The nominees for the Philly geek of the year? All women. And the rest of the nominees were healthily represented by not only women but Not Just White Dudes! (Which I admit I’m not going to focus on, but holy diversity! That was amazing – especially at the after party! In my PNW geek experience, you find the geeks by looking for the pasty group. At National Mechanics, you identified the geeks because they were dressed to the nines!)

Sure, you think – in categories where only women are nominated, clearly a woman will win. But look who took Local Annual Event of the Year: Women in Tech! To screams and ovations!

The scientist of the year, Dr. Youngmoo Kim, bragged about his wife having multiple degrees and just how sexy it was that she was smart. Female presenters got up and proudly declared they were scientists and engineers. It was actually rare to see an award on stage without a woman as a part of the team – and it was clear that the women weren’t tokens.

I know, I know. I’m gushing. But, geeky women – tell me, honestly. When’s the last time you were out at a bar and guys approached you asking what flavor of geek you were, and then wanted to talk about that? Sure, I got oogled – and I did a lot of oogling myself, because damn, Philly’s geeks (male and female) clean up nice! But I had conversations. I just want to emphasize this: I had conversations! In a bar! About Doctor Who and medicine and science and stem cells and MakerBots and Firefly and Joss Whedon and comic books and philosophy, all while drinking and dancing and – it was just a bar of geeks who wanted to be geeks!

If you don’t know how rare that is, you’re so lucky.

And I am so lucky to have seen that this kind of world can and does exist in Philadelphia. So thank you, Eric and Tim and Jill and everyone else involved in making last night happen, and for the many folks I talked to, drank with, and had an after-after party with, for making a bit more room for one more geeky girl.


  1. Dang, you’re making me want to move to Philly. I don’t think I’m leaving Seattle any time soon, though.

  2. Sean, you’d really like Indy Hall and the Hacktory. …and I apparently need to figure out how to get actual replies working on the blog. Oh well, weekend project. (I see the layout flip also screwed up picture display. Fun.)

  3. I know this response is really late but I was directed here from your more recent post about the “What a Geek Looks Like” infographics.

    All I have to say: this post made me teary. I’m so proud of the community that’s been growing in Philly, proud of this fun and mostly inclusive event that’s been sold out two years in a row, and now even more proud to be even the tiniest part of Geekadelphia.

    Thanks for writing this Kelly!

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