Do You and Other Words of Wisdom About Female Geekery

This is, to be perfectly honest, one of those posts that should never have to be written but we don’t live in some kind of post-feminist utopia where women are taken seriously as equal participants in anything so I end up having to write this instead of wrapping up the second part of my long awaited series on the female post-crisis batfamily members.

This is a thing that happened. Neither piece represents anything remotely new in terms of the kind of vile attacks that female geeks are subjected to on a daily basis- in this case both from other women- but shit gets real when a female blogger gets targeted with violent language just for daring to attach a signifier of her gender to her blog title. Which is beyond obscene. Before even getting into the whole “hot girls” being geeks thing, I just have to say that these so called commentators have to stop centering hetero-normative masculinity in every single discussion about women and their self identification.

Women- heterosexual identifying or otherwise- do not pause to think of men every time they make a decision. It’s not the real world. That is kyriarchy fantasy land, okay. Give it up. It may come as a surprise, but women do actually think about themselves and each other before men sometimes. It’s a thing that happens quite frequently. Dee and Chantaal, for instance, when they founded this site didn’t really give a shit about what any man had to say when they named it “Girls Read Comics Too.” Their concern, which echoes my own motivations for contributing here, were to reach other women.

Female geeks are essentially members of a vast diaspora. While we don’t have a common physical homeland, we share the feeling of dispersal and isolation that comes from being a group frequently adrift in populations who are indifferent or hostile to us. Being the only female identified geek in any setting can be and frequently is  uncomfortable, alienating, and humiliating. What the Internet- and the web 2.0 platform in specific- offers is the potential to connect this vast diaspora into communities for the first time, which is precisely what many of us have done both consciously and subconsciously. Identifying as female in geek spaces online is not comparable to lighting a candle to attract moths- the moths will always gather, intention be damned- it’s firing a flare from a lifeboat for passing planes and boats to see. Occasionally we just want to talk among ourselves in spaces where we can vent our feelings in a setting where there is common ground and mutual respect. I’m not going to claim that female oriented or exclusive spaces are free of other elements of kyriarchal oppression (ableism, racism, classism, cissexism, heterosexism to name a few), but I do want to make it absolutely sparklingly crystal that the assertion of female identity in geek spaces- especially on the Internet- is rarely if ever done with male attention as the primary motivation. We do in fact wish to seek each other out and increase our visibility.

One of the other incredibly important reasons that women raise their voices as women in geek circles is the very ugly and very real erasure and bigotry that we suffer despite our considerable contributions both monetary and otherwise to the various geek communities of which we are a part. In comics, despite the unavoidable presence of female bloggers, readers, and creators there continues to be a strong contingent both within the major companies and the fandom at large who believe that if women are even entitled to participate in the fandom, they should do so on the terms set out for them by the hetero-normative male establishment. Thus we are forced to assert ourselves to remind them we exist and we intend our voices be heard, yet are frequently rewarded with bigotry and threats of violence.

The other side of the issue is the pressure to de-feminize both our engagement with geek culture and our bodies, as highlighted in the Salon piece. In many cases it simply is not enough for women to assimilate into the means by which media is consumed and discussed by the male segment of our fandoms. Our bodies must be policed as well. Women who are considered attractive by heteronormative male standards are to be seen and not heard; consumed as objects and never respected as subjects. For such a woman to speak in her own voice is a heinous crime. Apparently it is outright heresy to believe that Rosario Dawson- who has appeared in three live action and one animated adaptations from comics, collaborated with the highest profile “geeks” in the film industry (Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Miller, Rob Zombie), and co-created her own comic book- is authentic in her self identification as a geek. It’s an outright misogynistic lie. Why shouldn’t any woman confess to enjoying what are by Generation X and Y standards, quite common pursuits? Is it really that difficult to imagine that Mila Kunis, who has appeared in over a hundred episodes of Family Guy and worked on Robot Chicken, may have in fact reached out to explore some part of the geek culture that the characters she plays take part in whether in a professional or recreational capacity? Why isn’t anyone but Warren Ellis mentioning the fact that Helen Mirren wore a t-shirt eulogizing Harvey Pekar to the San Diego Comic Convention?

Behind all the misogyny and body policing of female geeks lies the very simple truth that there is absolutely no dichotomy between femininity and geek culture and women have been engaging with a geek culture of their very own for decades before the gatekeepers of male geek culture decided to validate any kind of female participation in their hallowed pursuits. Where- might I ask- is the line between my Monster High Frankie Stein doll and the Power Girl action figure who stands not six inches away? Mattel is selling an SDCC exclusive Superhero variant Ghoulia Yelps doll this year, and had an exclusive Frankie Stein last year. It’s a completely arbitrary distinction.

Women don’t magically become geeks when they engage in male dominated geek culture. Women become geeks when they apply the geek ethos to whatever they lay their hands on, whether it be fashion, doll collecting, or World of Warcraft and they will bring their feminine sensibilities- however those may manifest themselves- with them. A guy might repaint an action figure with an obscure costume, a girl might do the same or even modify a Barbie doll into her favourite mutant. Not every pursuit and insight that women bring to geek culture will be comfortable to men. It may be difficult to believe, but women don’t exist anywhere to comfort and reinforce male thought.

Attacking and invalidating women who choose feminine identities is an inherently sexist act that seeks to limit the ways in which women are allowed to express themselves, to deny them agency. As part of the dialogue surrounding the two pieces mentioned above, I stumbled into some pretty disgusting criticisms of Team Unicorn, a group of self professed girl geeks whose mission statement includes reversing femme erasure and bashing in geek circles, going so far as to define themselves as not being meant to exist. A specific piece of criticism against their parody of Katy Perry’s California Girls caught my attention. Team Unicorn was, according to one commenter, dressed to appeal to straight men. Again, I have to wonder at why the dialogue surrounding women and their choices has to be viewed through a lens of masculinity. Who is this person to discount queer female desire? When has it ever been a fact that queer women aren’t attracted to conventionally female presenting women? I’ll readily admit to having sexual fantasies about Rachel Maddow, especially when she’s wearing glasses, but I’m no less attracted to Cate Blanchett and why shouldn’t I be? Female sexuality- heterosexual or otherwise- conforms to none but the individual woman’s personal narrative. It’s just one more way that hetero-normative male geek culture seeks to control female participation, their desires must conform to expectation.

If you’re a woman who wants to assimilate into hetero-normative male geek culture, then do you. That’s a valid choice. However, these two pieces- both written by women- are emblematic of a very disturbing phenomenon. Out of some inexplicable need to exercise their sizable internalized misogyny, they attack the perfectly valid choices that other women have made, creating a fog of war around the place of women in geek culture as the misogynist element of the male population latches onto these attacks as validation for their disgusting behaviour. It’s nothing more than women quite willingly underwriting misogyny. It’s not a part of any kind of debate. It’s an ugly and ignorant campaign that has no place in the discourse whatsoever.

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15 Responses to Do You and Other Words of Wisdom About Female Geekery

  1. Men hardly need to bash women–we do a great job of it ourselves. And of course if a woman says something about other women, it automatically becomes Truth for all time, no questions, and may be repeated and reinforced by men. The fine line is always there: a man might want a woman he can talk about things with and not have to watch romantic comedies with and be himself around, but if she knows too much about Ultimate Thor it’s threatening, but if she knows too little about Zelda she isn’t a real fan. Blah, blah, and blah. What it comes down to, as you have made so excellently clear here, is that many women’s participation in comic conventions, sports, video gaming, and other “traditionally” male venues has nothing to do with men and everything to do with what these women enjoy.

    …Guess I forgot that enjoying a thing means a person has agency and will and desires. Women certainly don’t have those things! Silly me.

  2. John Izumi says:

    Agree with this full heartedly; people need to get it into their heads that gender is not a definition of character.

  3. kara says:

    i think that with a recent main streaming of geek culture it is easy to forget that traditionally the stereo type of geeks has been of socially awkward teen age boys who have difficulty talking to girls & congregate together & confide in each other……….i am thinking of the show the big bang theory as being a very typical example. & as with much of the inter net it becomes very easy & normal to just state things as facts even if wrong & / or rude. these two elements collide a little with ‘old time geeks’ commenting on the inter net. it certainly does not make them right………or some times even worth listening to………..but i have to think that they are more in need of pity than anger………& this is just my 2 cents rightly or wrongly. :)

  4. Considering geeks are traditionally the victims of criticism and bullying from ‘cooler’ members of society it never ceases to amaze me that they have no qualms bullying their own. Regardless of gender, geeks tend to be an exclusive bunch, scorning anyone who admits to watching the film but not reading the comic. But it is especially annoying when women – a sub-group within a sub-group – attack each other like that. I’m just happy to encounter anyone who shares one of my passions – it’s certainly a rare enough experience.
    And as for the assumption that ‘hot women’ must be lying when they say they’re geeks, that’s just ridiculous. Why can’t women be feminine and nerdy? That’s like people who call themselves feminists then look down on women who like to wear flowery dresses. Surely the point of feminism is that women deserve to be taken seriously whether they’re dressed in a masculine suit or in feminine florals?
    Having said that, I recently went to my first con (Kapow in London) and met nothing but friendly, welcoming people of both genders who were happy to listen to my opinions. So we’re not all bad!

  5. Zaratha says:

    This is an absolutely amazing post, and it really needed to be said. I think it’s a rare female geek that doesn’t grapple with this kind of internalized misogyny. I’m nearly thirty, have been gaming (computer and tabletop) and participating in geek culture for my entire life, and it’s only really been in the last few years that I’ve consciously begun to unpack this mess in myself. I still relapse from time to time. My nerd identity was one of the biggest reasons why I hesitated to claim a femme identity for so long, and still struggle with it, even though I love makeup and fashion (albeit of the gothic flavor).

    I really don’t think it’s as inexplicable as you say it is, though. I’ve been involved in geeky subcultures for a very long time, and the mentality is sadly very simple to break down. I had a much longer comment here that I’m just going to turn into a post, but the tl;dr version is that it stems from the “bargaining” female geeks–especially those of us who’ve been around long before the mainstream started co-opting geek culture–have been essentially forced to to in order to be accepted in our hobbies. I’m not trying to excuse it by any means, but I very much understand where the mentality comes from. And I think it’s important to understand that, because it’s the only way we can really begin to unpack and dismantle it.

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  7. All of this is true, I just wish I didn’t understand what the other side must be going through. Don’t be too hard on frustrated girls, any anger always comes from hurt first. It’d be better if all sides admitted what the real problems are.

  8. CraftyGeekGirl says:

    While I agree with what you’ve posted, I can understand some of the frustration with those that feel the need to constantly point out their geek-hood or gender, at least in analog life. I understand that sometimes is just because they’re unfamiliar with the store they’re in, I’ve been a bit awkward in a new comic or gaming store several times in my life, or maybe just recently accepted their inner geek, I always want to run over, give them a hug and then guy them over to the stuff by some of my favorites. Sadly, more often than not it seems to me that this behavior is to get attention, again though, that’s in analog situations. An example of this is something I’ve seen multiple times at my favorite comic store, which is managed and co-owned by a woman. She usually walks around the store talking to/helping customers, restocking stuff and all the other bits that go with the job. Multiple times I’ve seen females come in, make a big production about how they’re girls that like comics and then walk up to one of the male customers to ask questions, because obviously, they must be the ones that work there.

    I’m female, I love my comics, my games, my sci-fi and my action figures, I also enjoy knitting, crocheting, sewing and the occasional shopping trip and will happily combine any of those interests in multiple ways. And while I feel most comfortable discussing those interests in primarily female oriented forums, I don’t feel that my gender makes a difference to my geekiness.

    Growing up, my mother firmly believed comics were for boys, as were action figures, video games and anything to do with sci-fi. I was in my early twenties and deployed when I, finally, fully got into comics (right around the time Marvel’s Civil War arc was going on). If you want to see a real spectrum of reactions to women enjoying comics, spend a few months in the desert with a platoon of Marines, all but three of whom were male, and order the entire Civil War arc in trades.

    Which brings me to the second post, I feel it should pointed out that it’s not just women that get told “But you’re *insert descriptor here* you can’t be a geek. I know guys that get it too; they’re athletes, attractive, “cool,” or any number of other things that we geeks are apparently incapable of being. For me, one of the events that most changed my perception of how a geek should be was finding out one of my then higher-ups was into geeks. Being a lowly lance corporal at the time, that would be enough to change the opinions of quite a few people. The fact that he was also athletic, intelligent, funny, fairly attractive, popular with most of the people he interacted with, spent upwards of three hours at the gym every night (seriously, he looked like a shorter, not green version of the Hulk) and was just about the most intimidating person I had ever met and was asking on an almost daily basis to borrow another volume because he finished the last one, well, I learned not to judge based on much more than genuine enthusiasm for the medium.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at, in a long and rambly, disjointed sort of way, is that until we can look at other geeks and ourselves as JUST being geeks regardless of gender, appearance, social status and all the other little ways we like to categorize ourselves, there will always be those that want to tell everyone else why they can’t claim that title, or how they’re doing it wrong. And now that my tea’s cold, I guess I should stop. If you made it this far, thank you and I’m sorry for the mess it turned into, I started with the best of intentions.

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  10. kristenmchugh22 says:

    Oh THANK YOU. Everybody keeps saying these pieces are about, “Posers,” and they’re NOT. It’s straight-up (no pun intended,) misogyny, cloaked in pop-culture analysis. MEN are NEVER, ever questioned on their geek cred, and conventionally attractive male geeks are celebrated, ffs.

    I blogged about this on tumblr, the day it happened, but there is an air of proscriptivism and hierarchical thinking, regarding female geeks in particular, that is so marginalizing and hateful, from both men and women writing about geeks, that infuriates and depresses me. Thank you, for spelling it out even more clearly than I did.

  11. Randall says:

    I think “geek cred” has always been a really nasty aspect of geek culture, this idea that you have to prove your level of geekery, whether you’re male or female, young or old, and that’s something that’s really turned me off when it comes to self-identifying, of saying things like “those folks in the Blue Sun shirts? MY people!” nowadays.

    It’s so bad, that often I forget it’s not something that’s equally awful for all geeks, but as I know female, trans, cis folks in geek culture are already seen often as outsiders or oddities or rarities, or just as “other” that those prejudices, those throw-down-the-gauntlet “PROVE YOURSELF” moments become all the worse. When you’re already in an environment and feel like you don’t belong, being questioned in a matter that even those who do feel like they belong must be murder, and I just find myself more disappointed in the culture that this is something that I see almost as being intrinsic with it.

  12. Terence says:

    The Most Enthusiastic, Intelligent, Well-Read
    Sci-Fi Fans Ive had the Pleasure to get to know are Female, and unlike men, are not ashamed of being labelled as geeks. What frightens me is that members of the Transexual or Transgendered Community who are into Sci-Fi/Fantasy, are being targeted as something “evil” or “wrong”. People are People and we need to stop labeling each other and just Enjoy and Celebrate all aspects of what we Love.

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  14. Eric Nath says:

    This is a well written response. I covered this issue a bit on my blog, but you brought up a couple of points that I think are important.

    You mentioned Gen X and Y interests have a lot of overlap with geek culture and so geek culture is becoming more of a norm. So it should be no surprise that as the stigma is lessened, more people will be open about their affiliation with geek culture. The whole having to prove yourself is a silly in-group/out-group bias that needs to go away.

    The other point that resounded with me is that the issue is not for women to be more male like in geekdom (de-feminizing), but to bring a female perspective with them. The community as a whole can only be helped by appreciating these differences. I into geek groups.

    It has been fascinating to watch geeks cannibalize each other over these issues when geeks, you would think, would be vanguards of acceptance.

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