This past weekend, all five members of GeekGirlCon’s operations team resigned in a fairly public manner, using the corporate email to send a message to attendees, vendors, and everyone else on their mailing list. The email made allegations of discrimination and bullying, and raised questions regarding some of the finances. Given the convention’s stated values of inclusiveness, diversity, empowerment, and community, these allegations naturally rose concern among many people.

GeekGirlCon formally responded later in the day apologizing for any confusion, emphasizing that the convention is still on schedule and that other members of the team will pick up any slack from the resigning members. They further note that all of the accusations were addressed by the Board of Directors previously, who found no supporting documentation to corroborate the claims. Which means that, at least as of this writing, this boils down to a he said/she said argument from the standpoint of outsiders. (It should be noted that the five team members who left were all white men, and their accusations largely amount to claims of reverse discrimination against the women of color running GeekGirlCon.)

Regardless of whose side you personally choose to support, this situation can be used to illustrate the notion of the prototype. While in casual definition, we tend to think of prototypes as an initial working model, but within psychology, prototypes are better defined as the ideal model. That is, they’re the unwritten ideal everyone within a group is striving towards becoming.

What’s interesting is that ideal changes over time. That could be because of external factors such as new technologies or changing fads, or because of internal factors like newer members challenging the status quo. When the latter happens, that will generally lead to one of two outcomes. Either the prototype will be changed within the group, and members will start gravitating towards this new model, or the original members will force out the newer ones in order to leave the prototype unchanged. Which of these occurs depends on any number of factors, but primarily it rests on the strength/power of older members relative to the newer ones, and the severity of the changes. The more drastic the prototype needs to change to accommodate newer ideals, the less receptive older members are likely to be.

I think that’s essentially what we’re seeing here. As GeekGirlCon has grown, it’s brought on more people and it would seem that the operations team disagreed with what the prototypical GeekGirlCon representative should be. GeekGirlCon even alluded to this in their response, stating…

[W]e recognize that progress and change often come with conflict and differing visions for the organization. It is inevitable to run into disagreement… Growth is necessary, and unfortunately not everyone will be in agreement on how that growth is implemented.

While in fandom, these disagreements stemming from changes in the prototype are ultimately relatively superficial matters, that these particular accusations include items that could potentially have legal ramifications, I don’t want to dismiss this whole event as a trivial clash between fans that might be on the level of which house in Hogwarts is best. The allegations here, if accurate, are indeed serious, but the fundamental differences between the parties isn’t uncommon in growing groups; that it’s happening more publicly here is a reflection of the more public-facing nature of a convention.