The second in a series of posts leading up to C2E2, where the author will be on a panel called Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl: Discussing geek culture, gate-keeping, and sexism.
I was in the wilderness, far from civilization, electricity, and wireless when the world of geek feminism exploded over the summer. When I got back, and caught myself up on the enormity of the issue, I was shocked--although in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been. Essentially, some male nerd had been incredibly misogynistic in a very public forum. It’s happened before (though not so vividly), and it will probably happen again.
It did. I mean, it has. Many times since then. Google “fake geek girl” and the search returns over 5.5 million hits.
So it’s popular, for sure. And it’s sexist--anyone can spot that. But why is it a problem? What does it say about geek culture? About sexism? Who does it implicate? How can we fight it? Below is the tip of the iceberg of the Fake Geek Girl.
The summer started out on an individual bashing note. Aisha Tyler received insane backlash after she hosted the E3 press conference. She defended herself and her lifelong love of gaming, but it was only one instance of the increasingly visible misogyny in gaming culture. Anita Sarkesian received an incredible amount of horrible hate--or, as she calls them, image-based harassment and visual misogyny (serious serious trigger warning--the images are very hateful and disgusting). And then Felicia Day was denigrated as a “booth babe” on Twitter, because she didn’t make any serious contribution to nerd culture.
But those personal attacks were just the beginning. It got broader, much broader, with “Booth Babes Need Not Apply” by Joe Peacock, in which he misused the hugely visible platform of CNN’s Geek Out! blog to denigrate women who have “no interest or history in gaming taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a ‘model.’” In one breath, he heaps admiration on those women he deems “real geeks” (ironically defending Felicia Day) while slamming those who he considers “booth babes” saying that “they're poachers. They're a pox on our culture.” He accuses these “fake geek girls” of being the reason that “real geek girls” like Felicia Day get attacked.
There are, of course, a hundred horrible assumptions made right there. The first of which is that there are such things as “fake geek girls,” ie women who are not at all interested in geek fandoms who spend hundreds of dollars on costumes, hotels, and con tickets just to get a thrill from being seen as attractive for a few days by a bunch of men who inside are “13 year old boys who like to objectify women and see them as nothing more than butts and a pair of boobs to be leered at.” (His words, not mine.) Last I checked, most of the women who cosplay do it because... well, they like to cosplay.
Let’s be clear. There are no fake geek girls.
Why is that? Well, because there’s no such thing as a fake geek. John Scalzi’s excellent rebuttal “Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants To Be” really tackles this issue. Plus, it’s snarky, well-argued and eloquently phrased. He sweeps away everything negative that Peacock argued and starts from the ground up in a refreshingly positive way. My favorite bit will forever be this gem about nerd culture: “Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing.” Everyone’s geek interests, and the extent of their interests, are entirely their own.
The problem of gatekeeping is an issue I’ve had personal experience with, both positive and negative, and Scalzi’s commentary was a big part of the inspiration for a previous article of mine on the subject.
Because the internet delivers, there are many more wonderful reactions to Peacock’s post. Daniel Nye Griffiths tells us how How Geek Gate-Keeping is Bad for Business. Amanda Marcotte points out how Peacock conflated cosplayers with women who are paid to dress skimpily at cons to sell products (and there’s nothing wrong with those women, either). Genevieve Dempre argues that this whole conversation pretty much assumes that women are at cons solely for the enjoyment of men. Dr. Nerdlove busts the idea of nerd cred and phonies.
All the passionate defenses of women, female nerds, and the openness of geekdom make me feel quite proud. But the internet delivers the negative goods too. And one of those things has taken the form of the Fake Geek Girl meme. Take a quick Google search to see what I mean. It takes all the denigration of Peacock’s piece and puts it into casual, funny, complacently misogynistic terms of a typical meme.
And then in November, comics artist Tony Harris was somehow possessed to post a truly immature, obnoxious, sexist, and horribly ungrammatically correct rant on Facebook about how much he hates fake geek girls. Guess what? It’s worse than Peacock’s post. He defines the trope as the majority of women who cosplay, who know nothing about their character, who are merely “con hot,” and who do it merely to prey on poor nerd boys. After a huge outcry, he refused to apologize, denied that he was sexist, and said he loved his wife and daughters (which is somewhat like saying “I have friends who are black” when you’re accused of being racist).
Foz Meadows brings up a number of points: one, that women in comics, which Mr. Harris draws, are usually drawn in heavily sexualized and objectified positions, not to mention highly revealing outfits designed for the male gaze. Two, that when women dress as those characters (regardless of whether Tony Harris has personally drawn/created them), they are slut-shamed. Three, that they are being slut-shamed for wearing the very outfits that were created by men for their pleasure. And fourth, that those outfits can be used by women, too, for their own purposes. Women do not exist merely as the objects for men.
With all this hate and misogyny floating around, it’s easy to say that it doesn’t matter. That we geek girls should just ignore it, that the men writing these articles shouldn’t influence our community, that we shouldn’t let them bother us. But guess what? They do. They bother me immensely. Jon Peacock and Tony Harris are popular, as a commentator and creator, respectively. Double the danger.
Geekdom is my home, and the home of many other women, and men, and trans* identified individuals. It should be--and it needs to be--an inclusive place, with no boundaries, no fences, no gates. And anyone--no matter how famous, no matter how obscure--who tries to police that culture, on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, or knowledge, is a threat. It doesn’t matter that its a falsified trope, as The Mary Sue points out. Remember, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” And for whatever reason, this is a powerful lie.
So let’s fight back. When someone brings up the issue of fake geek girls, or less real nerds, or half-assed fans, let them know they’re getting it wrong. Geeks are meant to share their interests with anyone else who shares them. If you don’t like the way someone is expressing their interests, kindly take your opinion elsewhere. There is no standard to live up to, and in spite of TBS, there is no such thing as King of the Nerds. When we find out about someone else’s interests, our reaction should be less like the Green Lantern comic above, and more like xkcd’s approach.
Keep fighting, keep geeking, and keep cosplaying. I know I will.