I Read It So You Don’t Have To: Geek Girls Unite-How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the World by Leslie Simon

geekgirlsunitegraphic1For the longest time the world of geeks was a “Boys Only” club. Guys could be passionate, or let’s say, geeky over music, comics, science fiction, film, technology and books, but the girls could only get passionate over shoes and chocolate. But now the ladies are staking their claim and the world of geek-dom, and they are proud to do so.

Being a bit of a geek myself (at least when it comes to books, politics, baking, fashion, film and crafting) I was delighted to come across Leslie Simon’s Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits are Taking Over the World. However, after reading it; I’m less than delighted.

Simon starts off Geek Girls Unite defining what exactly a geek is. Simon defines geek as, “a person who is wildly passionate about an activity, interest, or scientific field and strives to be an expert in said avocation.”

Simon then devotes individual chapters to different types of geeks. There is the fangirl geek who obsesses over anything from World of Warcraft to Star Wars to Hello Kitty. The film, music or literary geeks are pretty self-explanatory. There is the funny girl geek who loves Tina Fey and there is also the domestic diva who is devoted to cooking, baking, crafting and gardening. Simon also provides different subsets of geek-dom, which include fashionista, political, retro, technology and athletic geeks. Apparently, these geeks are only geek-lite; they don’t deserve their own individual chapters.

Each chapter with a little quiz testing your knowledge (spoiler alert: the “right” answer is always C). Apparently you can’t be the proper geek if you get any answer wrong.

Simon then defines each geek in very rigid terms. For instance, I earn my film geek street cred by knowing Alice Guy-Blaché was the first woman to run her own film production studio, but my cred is on shaky ground because I have yet to upgrade my DVD player to Blu-Ray.

Truly bothersome is Simon’s idea of frenemies, the type of non-geeks who are foes to geek girls everywhere. I found this offensive. Someone who has different taste and different interests than I do is not some kind of adversary. We can celebrate being a geek without slamming other people.

And in the spirit of Cosmo magazine, Simon describes the perfect guy for the geek girl, not quite realizing that not all geek girls are straight. Nor are people attracted to perfect carbon copies of themselves. A literary geek girl can fall in love with a sports nut.

While reading Geek Girls Unite, I couldn’t help but think of Simon as not as a geek but of a “cool” girl lowering herself to let us lower life forms know, “ hey, it’s okay to be different.” I thought her idea of starting a sorority of girl geeks, or as Simon puts it, a geek girl guild, was just silly.

Now perhaps this book is skewing towards a younger audience and I’m just too old. As a teenager I would have loved to have found a book that said it’s cool to care about things other than the homecoming game or becoming prom queen. There are some positive moments to Geek Girls Unite. The book provides resources including websites, movies, music, books and magazines that might interest the reader. I did like some of the quotes from girl geeks. Simon also names notable lady geeks who rule their realms and are worthy of checking out. On a local note, Simon mentions Milwaukee’s Faythe Levine’s documentary on crafting Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft and Design.

However, these positive elements can’t make up for Simon’s snotty tone. There’s enough divisiveness in the world. Let’s not bring into the domain of geek-dom. Geek Girls Unite is just “Mean Girls” disguised as “You Go, Girl.” Geek girls of all kinds deserve so much better.

 

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Reading to Reels: Handmade Nation

handmade-nation-dvd-lgSeveral years ago, my friend Kristine and I got to see the documentary of Handmade Nation at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I wrote a review of the book of the same name, now I have a review of the movie. Enjoy!

Handmade Nation is the brainchild of Faythe Levine, a local indie crafter, musician, entrepreneur and film maker. Levine, who has been involved in the DIY art, craft and design scene for years, wanted to find others who shared her passion. She traveled throughout the United States to interview talented, passionate, creative and inspiring men and women who shun the homogenized mass-produced for something handmade and personal.

Handmade Nation grabs you from the opening credits where stop-motion animation shows the creation of handmade embroidered graphics. And throughout the just over an hour-long film, we visit crafters in places like Austin, Chicago, New York, and yes, my hometown, Milwaukee. We meet them at their personal work places and at craft fairs. We meet them in galleries and in garages. Some of them make a living doing their crafts, and others work bread and butter jobs while selling their wares on places like Etsy.com.

But one thing binds them, passion, and it is this passion that makes Handmade Nation so absorbing. In the film we meet a young woman who is setting up her wares the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. We meet the guys behind Buy Olympia, a one-stop shopping website for independently made products. One crafter designs erotic hook rug patterns, and another creates embroidered pictures of objects like sushi and celebrities like Loretta Lynn. Seeing one crafter create glass beads and another create intricately cut paper cut-outs was riveting. I really admire both their artistry and devotion to their craft. I was thrilled to see JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. As Imentioned in my book review of Handmade Nation, the three of us toiled together at Discovery World. And Levine pulls a major coup in getting an interview with one of my she-roes, Debbie Stoller, the founder and editor-in-chief of Bust and the goddess behind the Stitch and Bitch books.

These crafters got into their work for a multitude of reasons. Many of them were put off by the mass-produced stuff they found at places like Wal-Mart. Some of them wanted to make a living out of something they loved to do. Many of them expressed interest in supporting fellow crafters and artisans. But so many of them do it because it’s so much fun. They can look at their work and say, “I created this. This is mine.” Crafting very empowering. For me personally, making my own soap is more about making something that will keep me clean. It’s about experimenting with scents and colors and making something uniquely my own. And when I cut my soap into smaller bars, and none of the sizes are perfectly uniform, it’s okay. Imperfection is part of the charm of crafting.

When Handmade Nation was over, Kristine and I could not stop talking about how inspiring it was. Every once in a while Kristine and I have “crafternoons” where we drink wine, watch a DVD, and yes, make crafts.

But I don’t think you have to be a crafter to get something out of Handmade Nation. I think anyone who appreciates artistry and creativity will like this charming documentary.

Book Review: Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl

Handmade NationYears ago, if you would have asked me to go to a craft fair, I would have laughed. Why would I want to go to a craft fair? Weren’t craft fairs filled with crocheted toilet cozies and gingham-clad rag dolls made by blue-haired grannies? That wasn’t my scene. Well, my attitude changed when I attended my first Art vs. Craft Fair here in Milwaukee in 2006. I was overwhelmed by the multitude of interesting and creative crafts made by young men and women (some with blue hair). I was so impressed by the T-shirts, candles, jewelry, toys, journals, knitwear and assorted artistic items. I bought a few things, and talked to the crafters about their wares. Crafting to them wasn’t just a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon; it was a calling.

Art vs. Craft was the brain child of Milwaukee crafter, musician, documentary film maker and boutique owner, Faythe Levine. And along with Cortney Heimerl, Ms. Levine has written the book Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design. In Handmade Nation, Levine and Heimerl interviewed various crafters throughout the United States and tells their stories in the crafters’ own words. The crafters make everything from jewelry to toys to clothing. Some of the crafters are able to support themselves through their work while others have regular day jobs and work on their projects in their spare time. In the essays, the crafters explain how they came to crafting and why they create. And they don’t just describe the nuts and bolts of crafting, they describe the philosophy behind their work. Many of the crafters profiled said they got into crafts not only for the creative aspect, but because its also an escape from the generic and mass-produced. There is more joy in purchasing something unique at a craft fair than the same-old thing at the mall.

Crafting is also a community, with many crafters talking about the support they receive from other crafters, sharing ideas and advice about all aspects of crafting. The crafters profiled aren’t just funky artistic types; they’re also business people, organizing craft fairs and setting up their own shops on Etsy.com. And I’m happy to say that I know two of the people profiled in Handmade Nation, JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. JW and Melissa have been designing art posters for years and they also teach how to create silk screen prints. I was fortunate to work with them at Milwaukee’s Discovery World where they ran the print lab and I was a copywriter. To see two such talented people profiled in Handmade Nation is quite a thrill.

Aesthetically, Handmade Nation is wonderfully designed. The photographs lovingly capture the crafters’ themselves, their work and their workspaces. The words give life to what each person profiled creates. I also liked the hand-drawn timeline of the DIY crafting scene. Not only is the timeline charmingly drawn, it’s also very informative. Even after I was finished with this book, I found myself looking through it again and again. Sure, I was jealous of the huge workspace some of the crafters had. It can be a bit toiling and trying to make my soap and other bath products in my tiny kitchen. But mostly I felt inspired to do more crafting, and not just making bath soap. Now I just have to get some of my crafting supplies more organized and figure out what I want to create. My brain is filled with possibilities.

Still, Handmade Nation left me wanting more. I wanted to learn more about the crafters and other crafters throughout the United States. And Handmade Nation isn’t just a book; it’s also a documentary. *

In the end, Handmade Nation is an excellent primer on the world of crafting and DIY projects, and an interesting read for both crafting veterans and crafting novices.

* I was fortunate to see this documentary when it was shown at the Milwaukee Art Museum a few years ago, and I will post a review of it shortly.