This week’s #FeministFriday coincides with the best weekend of the whole year:
Today through Sunday, the Time Ladies and I will storm the Minneapolis Convention Center in all our cosplaying glory, with thousand of other fans, heroes, artists, experts, and purveyors of all things geek.
However, while I was putting the finishing touches on my utility belt last week, my dad made a passing comment about our attendance:
“It must just be you girls there with all the guys. They must love that some girls come.”
An innocent assumption, though incredibly inaccurate. I reflected that attendance last year had been split pretty evenly, which served to surprise my dad, and I realized that it is still legitimately surprising for some people to discover that it’s normal, and even common to have girls be genuinely interested in geek culture.
Girls in geek culture exist — and of course, so does sexism.
Traditionally, the image of the Average Geek is of a loser guy, chock full of useless trivia, obsessed with comic books and sci-fi television programs and online role play games. The Average Geek is acne-riddled and pale from never leaving his mom’s basement, was bullied in high school, and is completely socially inept — particularly when it comes to women.
The Geek Girl, on the other hand, is nothing short of a unicorn. She’s rare enough to be considered a myth by many, is a self-proclaimed social outcast, but is still conventionally beautiful and intelligent, if a bit ditzy. While lesser geek girls play Mario Kart 64 and gush about nothing but Harry Potter or perhaps Supernatural, The Geek Girl has read every Wonder Woman comic in existence, loves Halo, and always cosplays slave Leia from Return of the Jedi.
When The Geek Girl visits a comic book store or a convention, she is the only female in the vicinity, perhaps the only female to have ever entered the premises, and every Average Geek shuts down because they’re so shocked and awed to be in the presence of a female who can identify the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek — and is actually interested.
Today’s ridiculous stereotypes brought to you by The Big Bang Theory brand of geek culture.
Stereotypes are steeped in reality, but it’s important to understand whose reality. Once upon a time, being a geek meant a social death. It wasn’t cool to play Dungeons & Dragons or have extensive knowledge of Middle Earth mythology. If any aspect of pop culture or personal experience is to be believed, nerds have long been the social — and sometimes literal — punching bag for their more “cool” peers.
Except this is no longer typically the case. Sure, Klingon hasn’t exactly taken over as the hot new method of communication, but geek culture and pop culture are beginning to be one in the same. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham are some of the most popular TV shows on the air, and Guardians of the Galaxy — a film based on one of Marvel’s relatively unknown B-list comics — was the highest grossing film of 2014. People are so excited about the new Star Wars, the official trailer had millions of views within hours of being released, and HBO’s medieval fantasy hit Game of Thrones is the most pirated media on the Internet.
Liking geek culture no longer makes you weird or uncool, because thanks to the Internet and services like Netflix, more people than ever before have access to the plethora of different fandoms and extended universes, and the increased interest has resulted in the explosion of new material we have now.
For a lot of geeks — myself included — this is a wonderful development for an ever-evolving environment. A bigger community of geeks means more opportunities to celebrate and discuss fandoms and outlets that we love and have had an impact on our lives.
But like any sub-culture that gains mainstream popularity, there are fringe radicals (which in this case have nothing to do with Agent Olivia Dunham); purists who have named themselves the gatekeepers of the community.
For the most part, the credentials of these “Geek Gatekeepers” are simply that they have been fans for longer than you have and thus have the authority to determine whether or not you’re a real fan. More often than not, their credentials also include being male and determining that you — as a silly female — could not possibly be a real fan.
Fake Geek Girls! the Gatekeepers cry.
You only like Thor because you think Chris Hemsworth is hot!
You watch Doctor Who? You probably haven’t seen the Classic Era, I bet you just watch for Matt Smith.
You play Call of Duty? Prove it, who founded Treyarch? You don’t know? Get back in the kitchen.
You’re only cosplaying Black Canary to get attention. Have you even read Birds of Prey?
I don’t understand this. Why on earth would knowing obscure pieces of trivia about Jack Kirby deem a girl “worthy” to wear a Fantastic Four t-shirt? And why is not knowing definitive proof that she’s a poser and is only trying to impress guys? Do Gatekeepers really think that the presence and motivation of girls in geek culture only revolves around males?
One theory for this behavior is that Gatekeepers have been raised on stereotypes that they can’t get a girlfriend because girls don’t like the geeky stuff they like; therefore, when faced with a multitude of real, live girls who do like the same geeky stuff they like and still don’t want to date them, they’re also faced with the reality that the problem might lie in their personality, not their interests.
Harsh? Maybe, but last summer when female game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, and media critic Anita Sarkeesian began to point out sexism in the video game industry, the backlash from the male gaming community came in floods of misogynistic slurs, rape threats, and death threats. Quinn’s home address was published on 4chan, and Sarkeesian had to cancel a lecture at the University of Utah last fall due to threats of “the deadliest school shooting in American history” because male gamers couldn’t handle the idea of women being featured more prominently in video games.
The geek community is supposed to be a retreat. It’s a place where people can go to escape reality and live in a world where they can hunt zombies, or train dragons, or travel in time. Instead, for women it’s often a place to be objectified and harassed, and it needs to stop. There is no good reason for trying to keep anyone out of the geek community, and getting bent out of shape because there are girls in a fandom says a lot more about the Gatekeepers than it does about the girls.
Particularly since none of the Gatekeepers seem to realize that science fiction was invented by a teenage girl.
We have a long way to go in terms of representation in geek culture — and not just with The Big Bang Theory. Programs like The Flash, Agent Carter, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have done a good job bringing female (and WOC!) characters into the fold, but the big screen remains a boys club, even among reports that JJ Abrams cast more than one woman for his upcoming Star Wars trilogy.
Black Widow was markedly left out of Avengers and Winter Soldier merchandising, despite being prominently featured in both films, and fans have been begging Marvel for an origin movie since Scarlett Johansson reprised the iconic role in 2012. The super spy was left out of the studio’s impressive cinematic roster, which means of the twenty-two movies currently produced or planned by Marvel, only two will not feature a white male in the lead role, and only one will revolve solely around a female character. Others, like Antman, completely disregard important female characters like Janet van Dyne (who, in the comics, was a founding member of the Avengers and made Hank Pym’s shrinking suit possible).
Fox faced criticism last year for X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which they shoehorned Wolverine into Kitty Pryde’s pivotal time travel role, and cut Rogue to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. DC and Warner Brothers have plans for a Wonder Woman film and the inclusion of the Amazonian warrior in The Justice League, which will be a nice change from the combined six movies starring Batman and/or Superman released in the last decade.
Sci-fi writer/director/producers with cult-like followings, such as Joss Whedon and Steven Moffat, pride themselves on producing strong female characters, which upon further inspection prove to be nothing more than subtle variations of the same tired tropes: conventionally pretty, sassy, possesses a unique quirk that makes her mysterious or particularly enigmatic, brave, intelligent, sexually confident, fiercely loyal, has a penchant for short skirts/low cut tops/tight clothing, and at her core is completely terrified of losing her one true love.
It’s the laziest kind of sexism, and if you think I’m exaggerating, I just described Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Cordelia Chase, Tara Maclay, Faith Lehane, Zoe Washburne, Kaylee Frye, Inara Serra, River Tam, Echo/Caroline Farrell, Sierra/Priya Tsetsang, Natasha Romanoff, Melinda May, Daisy Johnson, Jemma Simmons, Reinette Poisson, River Song, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Irene Adler, and Mary Morstan-Watson — all of whom have been heralded as strong female characters under the rendering of Whedon or Moffat.
None of this is helping people accept the idea that girls are active members of the geek community, or that girls are there for any other reason but to impress guys. That being said, we are there, we’re not a rarity, and most importantly, we are there for ourselves.
I’m going to enjoy Comic Con because it is the best weekend of the year, and I get to spend it with my best friends, surrounded by things we love, in fabulous cosplays of our own design. If anyone wants to call us or any other girl in attendance “Fake Geek Girls”, they can frak off.
Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!