This weekend, women from around the nation are converging on GeekGirlCon in Seattle, Washington. The first year had 3,500 attendees, and it's back for more.
GeekGirlCon is for more than just lady geeks, though. "I was really pleased to see the attendance ... last year, it was 50/50 men and women, but just a lot of the programming was skewed more toward women," said Los Angeles's Stephanie Thorpe. Thorpe is one of those attendees, who will also be speaking on a couple of panels. She's an actress who's made a name for herself by acting in and producing numerous Web series.
While men are welcome, this is still GeekGirlCon, and that's a big part of the convention's identity.
"If I have to be really honest about it, I look forward to the day where we don't have to put gender labels on something, where it can be [a] this is for everyone kind of thing. But I think the celebration of the geek girl is so new to the geek culture," Thorpe said.
It can be hard to grow up as a geek girl, as Thorpe knows from personal experience.
"Liking fringe and geek things was something I knew not to publicize. I made the mistake of carrying a comic book and a 'Dragonlance' novel into school one day, and was pushed-slash-nudged down a flight of stairs for that, and actually told by a teacher, that's not what the girls are reading now. And they gave me 'Sweet Valley High,'" Thorpe said.
Conventions give people who care deeply about something the opportunity to gather together and form in person connections, which is something Thorpe is passionate about. She noted that it's become hard to do that at a place like San Diego Comic-Con, which has around 130,000 attendees, while a smaller convention like GeekGirlCon makes it easier to connect.
"You sit down and you find out the stuff that you like and likeminded people. And that's really what a convention is all about, is finding people who speak the same language and really fostering that sense of community and building those connections so that you can go out and make more stuff throughout the year, and have friends," Thorpe said.
GeekGirlCon caters to creative types, according to Thorpe. The convention even runs a "GeekGirlConnections" program to help creative people find one another.
Thorpe also founded a group called the League of Extraordinary Ladies, which brings fans of both genders together for social events, particularly right here in L.A.
"Cons are the breath of fresh air where everyone gets to be in real life together, but more and more we are in front of our social media of choice, in front of the computer, and there's a lot of isolation," Thorpe said. "Social media is absolutely wonderful, and you can make wonderful connections there, but there's something to having that face time that's great, and Los Angeles can be a very isolating place."
Thorpe got her start as a geek thanks to her father.
"My dad will never admit it, but he secretly wanted a boy. So when I was 6 years old and I came home with the Hobbit, and I was like 'Hey dad, this looks cool,' he [said], 'Umm, that's a book for babies, here's 'the Lord of the Rings.' And smacked down the trilogy. And you know, as a six year old, you shouldn't be reading 'Lord of the Rings,' but I did. And as soon as I was done with that, he [said] here's Dune, and here's Gibson, and no 8-year-old should be reading Gibson," Thorpe said.
The world for geek girls has changed a lot in recent years.
"This was at a time where I didn't have access to the Internet and finding groups of girls or boys or people who were interested in the same thing, and I think that that's something that's really awesome in today's world, where you can find someone that loves something that you love. I was an 8-year-old girl reading 'ElfQuest,' and I thought I was the only person in the world reading that," Thorpe said.
Thorpe had a chance to bring to life those characters she loved so much in a fan film thanks to that online connection in "ElfQuest: A Fan Imagining":
"Growing up, it wasn't accepted for me to be a 'closet geek' — I don't think that's the right term, but I knew full-well I could go with my dad to a Star Trek convention on the weekend, but there was no way I was telling the girls at school about that during the day," Thorpe said.
What advice does Thorpe have for young geek girls looking to find their thing?
"Search for what you're passionate about and I think that you can find a group of people that are interested in the same thing, absolutely, and then I think it's really lovely if you can come together in person with that, and I think that's what the con spirit is all about."
With all this love for a smaller convention and smaller events, though, that's not to say that a larger convention can't be rewarding. "At Comic-Con, I cannot say who, because I don't want to jinx it yet, but after the Nerd Machine party, ran into a geek girl who I admire very much, and we were chatting, and we were like, why aren't we making a show together? So that will be coming in 2013!"
Look for Thorpe to be talking about that project on a panel at a comic convention near you next year — perhaps with a high-profile geek girl at her side.
Thorpe will also be appearing in September at Stan Lee's Comikaze in downtown L.A.