Fake Geek Girls: The Only Kind, Apparently

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).


The Pink Princess, by Allison, age 9

So I haven’t really had anything to blog about this week, so here’s a story I found in my memory box that I wrote around my 9th birthday. I seem to remember wanting to send it to “Incredible Story Studio,” a kids’ anthology TV show, where they filmed versions of stories sent in by viewers. Thankfully, I never sent it in – fiction, we’ll say, is not my strong suit. I have maintained typos for posterity’s sake, and added commentary in orange. For extra effect, the whole thing is written in my best cursive writing. I feel like this needs to become a comic, Axe Cop style…

“The Pink Princess”
There once lived a girl named Adelaide. [This was around the time I totally inappropriately played a “Hot Box Girl” in Guys and DollsWhen she was six months old a chemical spilled on her. A few months later there was a fire and her parents died were separated from her. On her 9th birthday the chemical recacted and she became…
THE PINK PRINCESS!! [There is a curve underneath the exclamation points, turning them into a smiley face]

Illustration by NAMOI
Adalaide had a secret castle under ground. When she was out of her castle she looked like a normal girl, but she wasn’t! [gasp!] The pink princess was a superhero, she wore a pretty pink dress, a light pink feather scarf, a dark pink princess hat and a pair of black knee-highs. [fashion icon over here] When shes a normal person she wears a blue tank top, a black scort, purple sandals and a pink headband. [in case you hadn’t guessed, I owned all of the clothes described] Here is a list of her atacks and abilitys: flying, invisisibilty, sing, electric punch, fire kick, water punch, razer throhgh, slap and sleeping powder flower twirl. [I think that I, erm, Adelaide, may have been a Pokémon] One day fire-pants Fred came to the city and fire-pants Fred was a villain who escaped from jail 17 times! Fire-pants Fred got very mad because when he was little everyone made fun of him. Everyone called him this because he studyed fire and and always wore red pants. His name was always Fred.
Adelaide used her scanner to track him down the first place he was was (as every villain, just kidding) the school. he forgot that his “friends” had grown up and he planted a bomb in the school.
The pink princess went to the rescue she got the bomb at 5 and threw it in a lake. [Wow, it seems like that could have been a whole story itself – I spent more time describing my clothes than detailing how I actually would stop the villain. I had my priorities straight.] She and the city were relieved. Fire pants Fred got very , very mad!! [ >:-[ ]They met next at the fire station, (no wonder!!) “Your never goining to beet me.” said Fire pants Fred. “Oh yeah?!” said Adelaide. When Fire pants Fred was close to the wall she was about to use razer through but he threw a smoke bomb and got away. Adelaide made this plan: razer through to get him stuck on the wall, water punch to confuss him, invisible to confuss him more, electric punch and slap to show him whos boss [I was so clearly destined to be a Buffy fan] and sleeping power flower twirl to have time to get the police. She found him and he threw a smoke bomb and hid. So to reel him in she used sing. “Laa Laa Laa Hmm Hmm Hmm” she said waving her arms. Razer throgh, water punch, invisible, electric punch, slap, sleeping powder flower twirl. The police came and got him. They thanked the Pink Princess and on the way to the car they whispered things like “Who is she” and “She could join the police.” The next day she was walking and all of a sudden a puppy stole her head band and started running the way toward Adelaide’s house. [acrobat dog?] The puppy ran downstairs and into the castle. The puppy pushed a button on its collar. A movie ended up on the wall it said: “I’m pinky, I’m a mesenger from your parents they will come and would like you to put this big plastic frog on the lawn.” [Dude, why are you trusting the mystery puppy? He could easily be a bad guy. Plotholes, younger self!] So Adelaide did as the movie told her to and put the frog on her lawn. [I assume that the frog is to denote her house, but since the puppy already knows where she lives, I don’t see why he couldn’t just take her parents there…] The next day her parents came and told her “You might think that chemical gave you super-hero powers, but but you were born with them. So we are super-heros to.”

Premature Posting: Yay Summer!

Hey. Hey guys. You know what this is?

An Eddie Izzard t-shirt is an acceptable but incorrect answer.

The final English paper of my second year! Gender Relations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight… because I was feeling uncreative when I was writing the title. Now I just have to make it through 4 exams, and then summ.. Right. Working. So not really a break at all.

It’s weird actually, I was talking to friends who are graduating this year, and who are going off to get real jobs with real salaries. We were talking about how cool that sounded – the idea of being shoved out into the world, being expected to fend for yourself, became “cool” somewhere along the line, and no one told me. Remember when you were a kid, and summer meant playing outside? My friends and I would make crafts, explore a nearby ravine, or set up sprinklers – or, if we were lucky, Crazy Daisies and slip n slides – in our backyards.

When we were really young, we would head to the park, before they made everything of plastic for “safety” reasons. In retrospect, most of the really fun apparati were pretty dangeous: Slip ‘n Slides, the hanging tires at the park, home made rope swings (especially those over water), even climbing trees frequently ended in injury. But it was always worth it.

Summer for me this year will mainly mean processing mutual funds. But it’s not all bad, because now it can also mean driving with friends to the Elora Gorge or to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to see a show. It can mean outdoor concerts in Toronto, grabbing lunch on a patio somewhere, and late night walks to star gaze. Hey, it can still mean exploring the ravine and playing on the rope swing. I am not above that. The difference now is that I have more freedom. And also a car. I still have two years before I am thrust into the world, and even then, I doubt I’ll stop doing stupid things. I just do different stupid things, mostly at night now.

So yeah, part of me is really excited at the prospect of going out on my own, moving to a cool place and doing something I like doing every day. Until very recently, I wanted to do theatre. Musical theatre, to be exact. I decided to major in English because I’ve always really liked reading, but never so much the writing part. Obviously I’m doing quite a bit more of that now, and it’s starting to actually excite me. I can happily envision myself being a critic or theorist, something other than the actress I have imagined since I was 8 or so. And to be clear, I really don’t see this as “giving up on my dreams” or anything, of which I have been accused. My interests have shifted, it’s a good thing. You crazy drama kids can have lots of fun with your shows, and I’ll miss that sometimes, I admit, but I’ll keep writing and reading, and be just as excited about it. It’s good news.

Childhood Winters with Mitch

It’s beginning to look a lot like Winter… Actually, beginning is a misnomer. There’s snow everywhere and it’s cold, and it’s been like this for a while. Welcome to Canada.

But this got me thinking about winters of my childhood, many of which were spent with my bestie, Mitch.

Now for a collection of winter-related vignettes starring these two fine young ladies.

1.We both really loved Lord of the Rings when we were 12ish. Well, we still love it, but not the same level of rabid fanboyishness these days. One winter, there was this massive pile of snow on my front lawn, so we did what any self-respecting LoTR loving children would do: we turned it into a hobbit hole. Which is essentially a mound with a hole in it, which we covered in chunks of dirty snow which we referred to as “décor”. I was called Mr. Frodo by my friends, and she was called Pippin – her sister didn’t have a LoTR name, so she was Bill the Pony for the night. It had pretty awesome landscaping, better than any other snow forts I’ve ever had.

2. A) For years, Mitch’s family would cover their backyard with plastic sheets and spray them with water, thereby creating a skating rink in their backyard. We were “back door neighbours” – we lived behind each other. She still likes to tease me about one time, around 10:00 at night, they were skating back there, and I shouted from my bedroom window (which faced their backyard) and told them to quiet down so I could sleep for school the next day. I was a lame kid, I admit this.
    B) My fondest memory of that skating rink was “Beauty and the Beast on Ice”, as we called it. We watched Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas and decided that we should adapt the following song into a skating routine on the rink:

EDIT (04/14/2011): Booo the video I had was removed. If you’re really interested, the song was “A Cut Above The Rest” from the Enchanted Christmas movie. It was pretty awesome.

I was Lumiere, Mitch was Belle, and her sister was Cogsworth. I don’t think we ended up performing it for anybody, but we had a lot of fun learning the song and making up a skating routine.

3. Over March Break one year, we went skiing at Blue Mountain. I guess we were there for St Patrick’s Day, since there was a dude at one of the lifts who covered himself in green accessories and called himself Paddy O’Furniture. We thought that was totally hilarious and so creative. We got a photo with him (no idea where it is now) but I remember being disappointed when we left without getting a photo in front of the sign for a trail called “Lover’s Lane’.

4. We saw Evil Dead: The Musical a couple of years ago, and we had to figure out how to balance not freezing to death on the way to/from the subway, and not getting our jackets covered in the fake blood they threw at us. Mitch was hit especially hard:

It was super snowy, so not only were we sticky and red, we were super wet. So much snow, in fact, that we had a snow day the next day, so that was cool – especially after I had been up until at least 2 am trying to wash all of that off.

5. We went to Vaughan Mills when were 13/14 for the first time in December. Since the place is so huge, they had two mall Santas, and there were no kids around the one in the Bass Pro Shops, so we hung out with him for a while. He was hilarious, asking us these ridiculous questions, like “I don’t care what you want – but what do you deserve?”. I had just bought Mitch a bumper stick that said “5/4 People have trouble with fractions” on it – and we deduced that that was about all we deserved. That guy was a champion, I salute him wherever he is. After talking with him, we explored the Bass Pro Shop, hiding in tents, among other things. Then we took this picture in one of those photo booths:

We were very ready for Christmastime, as you can see.

We had many more good times in winter (such as several New Year’s parties, watching Hercules or painting new Year’s banners) and the rest of the year (creating shenanigans at the Zoo, the Science Centre, African Lion Safari, or just around the neighbourhood) and I suspect dedicated readers will be hearing a lot about Mitch. Consider this a belated birthday post. Love you, you crazy girl. My childhood would have been significantly less awesome – and insane – without you.

Tim Burton

I just saw the Tim Burton exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, and it was kind of amazing. I’ve loved his work since I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas at the tender age of three. I have many fond memories watching that movie throughout my life: before going trick-or-treating as a kid, singing the songs at recess with my friend Natasha in grade 7, watching it in French class in grade 9, and convincing the teacher that we had to watch Oogie Boogie’s song in English, because it just wasn’t the same in French… and many more. It’s always been one of my favourite movies, and I’ve always worn my Nightmare sweaters and accessories boldly in the face of emo/goth kids who tried to claim the movie for their own. It’s a damn musical – it’s not that dark, guys. Get over yourselves.
In short, it has always been a big part of my life, but I didn’t realize quite how important until I saw this image:

…and nearly burst into tears. They had a very thorough set of Nightmare related stuff, including these design sketches, some storyboards, the original poem, and some of the actual puppets used – including those heading this post. Seeing the puppets especially (and these really neat photos he’d taken with them) brought it to life in a whole new way for me. The detail was amazing to see up close, and it was very obvious how much TLC had gone into creating them. Seeing everything up close like that made it so much more real, maybe just because it was tangible, but it was a very nostalgic and weirdly emotional moment for me. So thanks, Timmy, for creating something that affected me deeply so subtly.

The rest of the exhibit was really neat too. It was awesome for me, since much more space was devoted to his earlier projects than his later – of which I’m much fonder. The Edward Scissorhands bit was especially detailed and interesting. It featured a ton of original sketches and a comment from Johnny Depp, who said that those images made him fall in love with the character – and I’m not surprised. In his character notes (also featured) Burton noted that Edward would be try to dress nicely and be very well mannered, but be cut up, due to harmless things like trying to scratch a fly from his nose. His hobbies (apparently) include playing steel drums, and he hopes to someday vacation in the Caribbean. There, an already adorable movie is about 80000 times cuter now. Also on display were a costume from the movie loaned by Depp, one of the Scissorhand gloves, and part of the cookie making machine – the thing with the cookie cutter feet.

The Beetlejuice section had a sandworm used in stop motion filming, and Beetlejuice’s long sleeves, I assume from when his arms turn into carnival hammers – remember that? There were also special pieces made only for the exhibit, which were interesting.

There were also a bunch of other neat things, such as the cape worn by Christopher Walken in Sleepy Hollow, some severed heads and a Martian anatomy chart from Mars Attacks!, the infamous angora sweater Depp wears in Ed Wood, and (playing on loop) Burton’s first short film, Vincent. The exhibit also featured some of his planned but never realized projects, as well as artwork from when he was a teenager/before he was famous.
In all, I had a really good, albeit unexpectedly emotional time. Some of his concept art, especially for towns and locations were so fabulously Expressionist – which, as those who know me are aware, is very exciting for me. I just wanted them on my wall at home. Oh well.
If you’re in/near Toronto and have any interest in Burton’s work at all, I highly recommend checking this out.