The responses ranged from confused (“Is this even a thing?”) to outrage (“HOW is this even a thing?) to SMH (“As a genuine geek girl, I resent fake geek girls.”)
That last one stuck in my craw, because dear sweet shiny God, feminism.
And then I read through this post on Forbes.com.
“Pretentious females who have labeled themselves as a “geek girl” figured out that guys will pay a lot of attention to them if they proclaim they are reading comics or playing video games.”
Really? Because back when I played a lot of video games, I don’t remember it winning me any beaux. And are girls after those guys specifically? Because it seems like a lot of work to get into comics or games just to snag a man.
Honestly, when I was a college student I wanted to attract the attention of the poetry-writing rugby player, not the guys who were into the things I liked. (Full disclosure: never attracted the attention of any of them.)
Aside from that ridiculous fiction, the thing that grabs me about the Forbes piece is that it was written by a woman. She is both supporting the idea that the Fake Geek Girl exists, and protesting what she believes is the watering down of her geekdom by telling newcomers to get off her lawn. As if there’s not enough geek to go ‘round. It’s an elitist philosophy and it bothers the hell out of me.
I’m not saying that male-to-female sexism isn’t at the root of the Fake Geek Girl.
In many ways, the FGG phenomenon is an outgrowth of both sexism and misogyny in the geek community. This is a problem that goes back to the roots of some of the things we love: Wonder Woman’s bondage-y beginnings; Dejah Thoris swooning around Mars wearing only her barrettes, the 2,777-year-old Arwen being treated like a 16-year-old girl, the original Star Trek uniforms.
So that’s there, but I think The Fake Geek Girl comes from a flaw more deeply rooted in the geek community, and that feeling is not sexism so much, but inferiority. Many geeks, male and female, grew up with low self-esteem.
I’m going to quote Virginia Woolf here, writing about sexism in A Room of One’s Own in 1928:
“Without self-esteem we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority… over other people.”
Think of all the geeks you know. Think of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory. There is always someone who has to be Geekier Than Thou.
Geekier Than Thou.
People who need to be Geekier Than Thou don’t limit their condescending behavior to the female members of the community; they try to outgeek everyone. You can read a little Elvish? Which Elvish exactly, they’ll ask you in Quenya. You love Firefly? Your love of Firefly can’t be real unless you saw it broadcast out of order on Fox in 2002. Call yourself a Trekkie? It’s Trekker, and if you were a real fan, you would know that.
It doesn’t matter to the Geekier Than Thou among us if he is attacking a male or a female. He’s making himself feel better by grinding people into the dust and – like a tomcat – by protecting his territory from people he perceives as interlopers.
Let’s stick with that tomcat simile for a second. Two tomcats might hiss and fight, but you add a lady cat to the equation and things get messy. Combine sexism and someone who is Geekier Than Thou, and the oneupmanship tends to get amplified. Mr. Geekier-Than-Thou is showing off his knowledge to impress the lady, but like the tomcat, is being aggressive about it. His own issues and insecurities about women might get bound up with his need to be better than everyone else and he may proclaim her a Fake Geek Girl or say something even worse.
And also? The Internet.
I don’t want to go too deep into why people suck online, but I think I need to mention it.
Think about it. If geeks are insecure people, they’re not hanging out in person. They’re on the Internet, where people seem to comment first and think later. A hateful thought comes into a person’s head? He or she will type on impulse what they might never say to someone’s face.
It’s an equation that I think makes a lot of sense:
All the Geeky Ladies.
This brings me back to my point, and it’s the real reason I hate the phenomenon of the Fake Geek Girl. Because not all Geekier Than Thous are male. Some are female, and I think they suffer from two things: low self-esteem and the dislike of other women that our society tries to beat into us from an early age.
A telltale sign? When a woman brags that she doesn’t have any female friends or doesn’t like other women. Why is that? Maybe she’s reacting to the exclusion of an in-crowd by hoarding all the like-minded men for herself. Maybe she’s defending herself against intruders. Maybe she’s afraid that if she’s not the Queen Bee, she’ll be kicked to the curb.
Whatever her reasons, she will encourage a Fake Geek Girl witch hunt to ensure her position as a genuine Geek Girl. This particular phenomenon is the most dangerous one, because not only do we find ourselves dealing sexism from males, but from insecure females. It’s a Showgirls mentality, and not one I want to encourage.
I think we need to clean our own house.
I feel that if all of us ladies could stand together, the Fake Geek Girl problem would soon fade. I think things will improve across the board: Our fandoms will become less sexist because there will be more of us posting, writing and ultimately, creating things that don’t objectify women. (Or, if there must be lots of photos of Slave Leia, at least they will be balanced by an equal number of shirtless Snapes.) Men who fear women will get a forced dose of exposure therapy that will probably do them good.
This is my call to action. Geek Women (because we’re women, not girls), let’s rid ourselves of the Fake Geek Girl. Welcome your sistern into your fandoms. You don’t have to cosplay with her. You don’t have to read her fanfic. Just welcome her. Tell the Sheldon in your friend group to stop being a jerk. Stand up to the guy who is trolling a lady blogger. Your cachet will not drop if you do.
Life will improve for all of us if we stand together, although there are those who question that the geek community can be fixed.
This Atlantic article about the Fake Geek Girl phenomenon suggests that geek culture is inherently mean-spirited because it’s a culture based on a hierarchy of who knows how much, and this culture can’t support itself unless there are insiders and outsiders:
…maybe we could start by considering whether geek culture, for all its good points, might ultimately be a problem rather than a solution.
But I don’t think that’s the case. I believe that you can have a geek community that is supportive and inclusive.
Some of my most satisfying interactions online are with a group of about a dozen women who are as geeky as I am. We’re different ages, different lifestyles, different fandoms, but they’re my go-to girls if I need to squee over the cute new Dr. Who valentines on Etsy, or if I want to argue about Tolkien’s poetry.
There will always be someone who is Geekier Than Thou out there. There will always be sexists. There will always be air-kissing backstabbers as well, but we don’t have to encourage that behavior in our own enclaves.
We don’t have to play along; we won’t play along if we’re playing nice with each other.