So you’ve probably heard by now about recent misogyny at a Television Critics Association event, when Todd Macfarlane and other significant creators claimed that comics are a man’s world, and that creators shouldn’t have to write about non-straight-white-dudes, because who else is reading comics? Apparently he also doesn’t understand the difference between idealization and sexualization, between a power fantasy and a sexual one, since he believes that men are objectified to the same degree that women are (and he uses the term “stereotype,” which shows a blatant misunderstanding of the issue).
I know I write about this topic A LOT but given this crap (and after Tony Harris’ ridiculous sexist comments about female cosplayers last year), it seems like time I posted this piece, originally written for the Queen’s Feminist Review.
Some content was taken from another post I wrote last year, but overall I think this piece is stronger and more concise.
In addition to identifying as a woman and a feminist, I identify as a geek – a difficult mix. I am surrounded by hyper-sexualized representations of women in all streams of media, women characters dying to torment and motivate the men who love them, conflicting messages about how I should look and dress and act, and men decrying my audacity at complaining about any of this.
I first learned that girl geeks are treated differently than the boys when I received the Lord of the Rings books for my tenth birthday, about six months before the first film was released. I adored the books and movies to the point that my grade school nickname was “Mr. Frodo.” Yet boys in and outside of school could never accept that I was a “real fan” like they were. They assumed that as a girl, I was only watching the movies for the cute boys, so I’d be asked if I’d ever played the video games, exactly how many of the appendices I’d read, and minute trivia about the books and movies to prove my legitimacy as a fan. I’d always win these contests, of course; I’d read the series twice by the time I was twelve, I knew a thing or two about it. I would prove myself to be a worthy fan in their eyes, unlike the “fangirls” only in it for Orlando Bloom’s face.
Hostility in geek culture can be neatly summed up in the fact that fangirl is held as a derisive term. According the geek community, fanboys are a little too interested in their geek interests, but fangirls are only interested in attractive men and romantic plots. Not only do these concepts ignore the potential for women to have different interests, they delegitimize the sorts of media that are associated with femininity; there is nothing in romance to make it inherently inferior to other genres aside from its association with women. Society has very strict ideas of what women are allowed to like and engage in, so exploring media outside this bubble is treated as suspect. As a result, women are shamed for enjoying traditionally feminine interests, but are told we only seek male attention if we enjoy the more masculine. Women gamers are constantly assumed to be less skilled than the men, and women who cosplay (creating realistic, detailed costumes for conventions) are criticized for wearing the revealing costumes assigned to women characters by their often-male creators. According to masculine-heavy sections of the internet – fans and men in the industry – women cosplayers select the skimpiest costumes they can find in the hope that they will be showered with praise from male nerds. Yet again, the idea that women could be genuine geeks is not within their realm of possibility.
Basic belief in the difference between legitimate and false nerds is present in less obviously hostile ways however, such as the prevalent concept of the Fake Geek Girl. Pictures, articles, tweets, and every other form of Internet expression have been written at length criticizing the women who conform to all of the stereotypes I’ve discussed; women who know nothing about their chosen geeky interest, or express their love for it in the wrong way, or don’t love the right aspects of it. Even other women will lament losing nerd cred by proximity to these Fake Geek Girls – but I’ve never witnessed any women who fit this mould. If women don’t know as much about something as other geeks, they are shamed for having newly discovered it, or for having less investment in it than others do. In the end, women are discouraged from liking anything, and can be scared to admit their interests, because no matter what they do, someone will question their validity.
I understand some of the motivation between distancing yourself from a ‘fake’ geek. Being a nerd is cool now, so we want to have some kind of exclusivity to our title. But there’s no number of hours one has to log in order to be a geek. No one was expelled from the womb with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Batman. A geek is just a person with a lot of enthusiasm for something that has been deemed geeky. Yet this extends further than nerd culture; girls who like sports or hardcore music can face similar problems with perceived legitimacy. In any of these areas, decrying fake fans – especially when we only attack women – results only in women being afraid to express their love for things, not in some kind of exclusive identity. We should be working to make this a supportive community, rather than policing arbitrary concepts of geek purity.
Girls, we don’t need to be afraid to express our love for the things we like. Being a geek is cool, and there are safe spaces to share the love and learn about new things. Be a geek, be proud, and don’t listen to the guys who say that your love is less legitimate than theirs or that you love it for their attention. I never would have made it through elementary school if I’d let their attitude get to me; I survived on my one Lord of the Rings zinger question, since none of the boys could remember what Éomer’s sword is called.
(By the way, it’s called Gúthwinë).
This was originally published in Vol 21 of the Queen’s Feminist Review (2013).