All the Real (Geek) Girls

by on Jan 1, 2013 in Nonfiction | 55 comments

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by Sarah Kuhn

When I was in high school, there was one other girl who loved Star Trek as much as I did. Deep Space Nine was our jam, so our bond was forged in the fire caves of Bajor, solidified by amazing-in-our-minds inside jokes revolving around oo-mox and various disgusting uses for Odo’s bucket. We laughed; we obsessed; we wore matching Bajoran earrings obtained at the annual “Trek” convention held at a grimy motel by the Portland airport. We were an all-female club of two—not exclusive by choice, but because no one else wanted in.

These days, my geekdom is a much larger, messier, and altogether more complicated club. And recently, that club has disheartened me so much, I sometimes wish I could go back to a simple two-person set-up, wherein the biggest disagreement we had was over which hunky hunk of man-meat Major Kira should ultimately end up with.

The source of my disheartenment stems from a certain pervasive notion that pops up with the irritating frequency of a broken Whac-a-Mole. Said notion is two-pronged:

  1. Geek girls do not exist.
  2. If they do exist, many of them are surely “fake geek girls;” superficial pretender ladies who profess enthusiasm for all things nerdy in order to “get attention.”

Let’s start with the first prong. In 2010, I was on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con called Geek Girls Exist. On the placard outside the panel room, someone scrawled: “YOU LIE.” I wish I could say our panel—which featured a wide array of writers and gamers and musicians—totally proved the existence of geek girls to the entire world. Or that the success of GeekGirlCon, a Seattle-based convention celebrating the female geek, has brought enlightenment to those who would deny the existence of lady nerds. Or that, I don’t know, these doubting Thomases and Thomasinas would just open their eyeballs and see the masses of women attending comic book conventions, debating Doctor Who online, and buying entire wardrobes of Star Wars hoodies from Her Universe, actor Ashley Eckstein’s line of clothing for female sci-fi fans.

And yet, the idea that all nerds are white, straight, pizza grease-stained dudes who live in some sort of basement (maybe it’s mom’s, maybe it’s a benevolent uncle’s, maybe it’s even their own, but whatever—it’s always a basement) seems to have implanted itself in the world’s collective consciousness like some kind of mind-controlling chip of dumbassery. We still get articles like Moviefone’s “Girl’s Guide to The Avengers,” which ran last year and started with the line: “As your boyfriend probably told you, The Avengers is hitting theaters this Friday.” (Sidenote: who is this strange, bubble-dwelling lady that gets any and all moviegoing information from her boyfriend? Also, why is he telling her if she’s not going to care anyway? Shouldn’t he be making these plans with his other basement-dwelling friends?)

After getting a hearty smackdown in nearly every corner of the internet, the Moviefone article was re-titled “One Girl’s Guide to The Avengers” (the piece was written by a woman) and slapped with an “editor’s note” claiming satire. But that hasn’t stopped a boatload of other, similar articles from popping up elsewhere.

We also still get looks of utter incredulity from strangers: while waiting in line for a movie, a friend and I had a pleasant conversation with a seemingly enlightened dude who, after learning of our various hobbies and interests and amazing nerdy knowledge, allowed his eyes to widen to the size of dinner plates while exclaiming that we were “true geeks” and that he wouldn’t have initially pegged us as such. I was pretty offended since 1) I was wearing clunky glasses, the stereotypical marker of nerds everywhere and 2) he said it in the tone of a loudmouth boss delivering a super-awesome promotion or maybe Tyra Banks proclaiming someone America’s Next Top Model.

This brings us to the second prong, the “fake geek girl” prong, which to me, is also the “who gets to decide which lucky souls are worthy of the ‘geek’ label” prong. This guy thought he was giving us the ultimate compliment: his stamp of nerd approval. But what he was actually doing was appointing himself an arbiter of who does and does not get to use the “geek” identifier. And he’s not the only one in our community with a weirdly obsessive interest in doing that.

As the default “geek” is still that pizza-stained man-boy mentioned earlier, all ladies requesting admission to the club are often asked to pass some sort of mysterious test in order to be deemed authentic (whatever that means). It’s usually not enough to say I like something—I also have to say how long I’ve liked it, how obsessively I like it, and then answer seventeen kazillion trivia questions in order to prove that I like it. I have never seen my male peers subjected to the same thing.

Because “geek culture” seems to have become “everyone culture” in the last decade or so, I guess some folks are afraid of interlopers, of those who have suddenly realized that labeling yourself as “geek” these days is a prideful statement rather than an embarrassing one and will latch onto that. And they’re most afraid of these mythical “fake geek girls”—the ones supposedly pretending to be nerdy as a way of seeming irresistibly cool (this entire concept is hilarious to me since I definitely got “attention”—not in a good way—in middle school for hiding my Return of the Jedi novelization behind less dorky books. You know, like the AP World History text).

The “we must stop the fake geek girls!” screed pops up about as often as the “geek girls don’t exist” screed, but in a way, it’s more troubling. Because while the “geek girls don’t exist” blather seems to come mostly from the mainstream press and public, the Hulkian rage directed at “fake geek girls” often spills directly from the lips/pens/keyboards of other geeks. The call is coming from inside the house.

This rage has taken on nearly every format imaginable. Sometimes it’s an opinion piece on a major geek website. Sometimes it’s an angry rant on an industry professional’s Facebook page. Sometimes it’s a stupid cartoon that—like the Moviefone article—will later scream “satire!” as a sort of get out of jail free card. Often, it incorporates the idea that geeks are never pretty or sexy and anyone embodying these traits is automatically viewed as suspicious.

One of the more recent examples of the “fake geek girl” idea was an ad for the website College Humor, wherein a cartoon girl with glasses and a Star Wars T-shirt totes a game controller and bow and arrows and declares herself to be “a huge nerd” because she spends all day looking at LOLcats on Facebook. The ad, which ran in several DC comics, identifies her as “The Imposter” aka one of the “Greatest Villains of Nerd Culture.”

Upon seeing this cartoon, several of my friends had the same reaction: “Hey, minus the incredibly offensive text, that girl looks like me.”

The more you stare at this ad, the dumber it gets. And the more it actually kind of takes down the “fake geek girl” myth it’s trying to spread.

First of all, why can’t this girl be a nerd about LOLcats? Geeky interests run the gamut: if fezes can be nerdy, so can animal-based internet memes. Maybe she’s obsessed with them. Maybe she has a blog dissecting all the different pensive kitty expressions and various font sizes in great and excruciating detail. Maybe she’s taken it to the next level and photographs her own cats in LOL-worthy poses and is about to start a new meme. Or maybe she doesn’t do any of that—maybe she’s just a casual enjoyer of LOLcats and is trying to share that with you. But no one but her should get to decide how she defines herself and how she interacts with her own fandom.

Second: in addition to her bow and arrows, this girl also sports some pretty intense archery gloves. She’s obviously put a lot of effort into this get-up. If I can momentarily declare myself a random arbiter of geekiness, I’d say her dedication to authentic Katniss-type gear makes her way nerdier than the person sitting on his ass typing up yet another lazy “fake geek girl” proclamation.

Finally, if she is a “fake”—and I’d maintain that there’s really no such thing, see the above point about no one else getting to decide how she defines herself—who cares? In all of the arguments against “fake geek girls,” I have never been able to glean what, exactly, their nefarious endgame plan is. To hypnotize unwitting boy geeks with their girlness and then take over Comic-Con and put sparkles all over it? (Er, more sparkles.) To spread erroneous Batmite trivia? To lasso the sheer power of all this “attention” they’re getting and use it to break the world’s entire supply of eyeglasses and then laugh in gigantic-mouthed maniacal fashion? What is this horrible, unspeakable threat?

I said this in a somewhat flippant manner on a GeekGirlCon panel last year, but I swear I was 100 percent sincere: if some “fake geek guy” wants to dress up in a sexy Cyclops costume and come to Comic-Con and “pander” to me, I am absolutely in favor of that. Even if he doesn’t know any Batmite trivia.

* * * *

At the beginning of this essay, I mentioned that I was disheartened. I think it’s because in my heart of hearts, I actually don’t want my geekdom to be a two-person deal. Imagine how amazing my tiny little high school “DS9” fan club would have been with more members. Why, our numbers would have been so great, we could’ve elected a treasurer, hosted a bake sale, and collected enough gold-pressed latinum to throw the ultimate nerdy club event: a pizza party. The debate about Major Kira’s ultimate romantic fate would’ve been off the chain.

So all of this exclusionary crap, all of this eagerness to either deny the existence of geek girls or to come up with some arbitrary, fanboy-approved standard of authenticity they have to meet in order to gain admission to the club…it makes me sad.

Sad enough that after a while, it’s tempting to simply ignore all rants on this topic—and indeed, every time some anti-geek girl screed comes up, I’m encouraged by my less rage-prone friends to do so. Because smart people already know geek girls exist. Because arguing the same argument every time is exhausting. Because acknowledging such rants legitimizes and draws attention to the attitudes displayed within.

But then I remember all of the amazing geeky women in my life—cosplayers and writers and artists and scientists and yes, LOLcats enthusiasts—and I realize it’s not just me in this fight. My club has grown from two girls who loved “DS9” to countless women who love all manner of nerdy things. We can band together like one great, heaving amoeba of diverse geek girldom. We can keep challenging the idea of what a “true geek” looks like and we can loudly remind others that they don’t get to tell us who we are.

And it’s worth it to push back. Because geek girls exist. “Fake geek girls” don’t. Cartoon girl from the dumb College Humor ad? Come sit by me. We’re having a pizza party.

Sarah KuhnSarah Kuhn is the author of the geek romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which has earned kudos from io9 and USA Today/Pop Candy and is currently in development as a feature film. She has written about everything from financial aid to Vulcan mating rituals for such fine publications as Back Stage, IGN.com, Geek Monthly, The Hollywood Reporter, and StarTrek.com. Sarah is one fourth of the mighty Alert Nerd collective (AlertNerd.com), recently contributed an essay to the anthology Chicks Dig Comics, and has served on such popular panels as San Diego Comic-Con’s Geek Girls Exist. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award.
For more information about One Con Glory, visit http://www.alertnerd.com/?page_id=3552.


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55 Comments

  1. But who did you want Kira to end up with?

    • Vedek Bareil

  2. Speaking as a member of early ’70s ST fandom (back when Original was all there WAS), early (and current) player of D&D, convention attendee and cosplayer (well, we called it “costuming” then), writer of fanfic, publisher of fanzines and general science fiction fan then and now…. Guys – if you want to keep the gurrrls out, build a new clubhouse. You’re generations too late.

    And who DID you want Kira to wind up with? :)

    • I loved your article, so great to see what youve done since the times of having sleepovers and playing my little ponies.

  3. Amen. :) The thing that keeps me from getting disheartened about all of this is exactly the fact you mention – that if one just opens their eyes and LOOKS at the geek world, one will SEE the variety of geek girl that’s out there, which makes the idea of the “fake geek girl” just untrue.

    Also, it makes me so happy that DS9 was your fandom, as that’s my favorite Star Trek series, and I hate that I have to “explain” that to other Trek fans who can’t understand why my non-nostalgic, objective favorite would be the one with which Gene Roddenberry wasn’t alive to really be involved. :) Oh, and Nerys and Odo forever.

  4. Amen to that. Great piece!

  5. I’m pretty sure the nerdboyrage is due to their peens getting all excited, and the inevitable disappointment that follows when there is no geek girl receptacle willing to accept said peens. They’re the type who WANT to believe that geek girls don’t exist because it validates their Forever Alone status. Obviously, they’re Forever Alone because girls don’t REALLY like the same things boys do. Phew! Bullet dodged.

    • I agree with pretty much all of the above, but I want to give a serious answer to what geek guys think the fake-geek-girl threat actually is (or at least what this geek guy used to think the threat was).

      In my case, at least, my identification with geek interests and culture was overwhelmingly correlated with lack of romantic success, and that seemed to be true for my geek friends as well (hell, I’m now thirty years old and my social skills are still pretty laughable). My fear was that women would realize that I and my friends were so desperate for female attention that they would take advantage of us. So obviously, there wouldn’t be a fake geek guy who shows up in a great Cyclops costume to take advantage of you; geek girls are already spoiled for male attention. CLEARLY.

      Hey, I never claimed that it wasn’t a really, really stupid fear, okay?

      As others have mentioned, there can be a tendency for a geeky guy to validate his “Forever Alone” status by insisting that some particular geek girl doesn’t REALLY share his interests. Totally stupid, I know, but think for a second WHY a guy would think something so silly. In my case, at least, well, it just wasn’t quite so easy to admit that women weren’t uninterested in me because they hated my geeky hobbies, it was primarily that I wasn’t particularly attractive and had terrible social skills. It’s not easy to come to grips with that, so, maybe, a little understanding, at least?

  6. Sarah, do not be disheartened. Geek girls do exist and their ranks continue to grow. Two years ago, I drove up to MegaCon (a medium sized convention in Orlando, Florida.) I was waiting in line to get Bill Shatner to sign my “Free Enterprise” poster and had the pleasure of conversing with a man my age and his very pretty daughter who was a huge Leonard Nimoy fan and dressed in an original series female crew member uniform. Not only was she extremely knowledgable about the regular series but on many of Leonard Nimoy’s outside projects, especially photography. With the internet age, science fiction and fantasy fandom has become more mainstream and accepted. With the success of the Harry Potter books, Twilight, The Walking Dead… etc… this will only continue to bring more young people into the fold. (not to mention Manga, Cos-play, new Star Trek movies…)

  7. Loved the article. Did you like Voyager?

  8. I think it’s because your a beautiful lady. I know that’s not a real reason but maybe male geeks are in fact not as brainey as they would like?

    Personally I am a geek. I celebrate all the female geeks, because they are usually far superior in brain power than me (point of fact what I read here). Female geeks can be just as sexist as male geeks and I think we have to stamp that culture out.

    The whole “geek in a basement” is maybe Kevin Smith’s fault. However he loves female geeks to. I guess people like to pigeon hole others to make things nice and easy for.

    Which brings me to the second point. You’re not the typical stereotype geek lady. Cosplayer women kind of label themselves as cosplayers and not “geeky”. So what people first see when they look at you (from what I see in your picture) is a beautiful articulate woman, you’re probably outgoing and very verbose. So for them their “issue” is that you are not the stereotype in their head, your some kind of amazing woman.

    I guess also you have to give the geek guys a little bit of “thinking” room. They are a little overawed they have something in common with a beautiful woman. Just remember this “your Looking at some hunky guy who you consider to be Amazing looking and out of your league.. he turns around and is a Deepspace 9 fan and has so much in common with you. That you can talk and talk and finally he has someone who he can share in jokes with. Your astounded that he knows this much” you then maybe understand what an awkward geek guy who has no experience of talking to females, let alone someone who has so much in common with them. Give them a break, smile, let them think and maybe put in “kinda bit sexist doncha think?” then let them get more experience of talking to women (a beauty at that) and let them expand their knowledge. Of course I am not saying you should do this.. just asking nicely. Education stamps out prejudice.

  9. Married a geek girl, and she really is a geek girl, and I do love her so.
    Thanks for the great article.
    C

  10. Good points. As a geek guy, I just have to say I love seeing the width and breadth of geekdom. The more the merrier I say! It’s better to have people actively involved in building and developing their culture than just being passive observers. My female geek friends actually do more to drive and support their fandoms then my male friends do. Also, in light of your point about putting a lot of effort into the fandom, I want to share a recent comic from Dork Tower on this subject: .

  11. “Are you my mummy?”

    “Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.”

    “YOU WILL BE EX-TER-MIN-ATE-ED!”

    “Would you like a jelly baby?”

    Sorry, Sarah, I just had to get a plug in for The Doctor.

    And Major Kira was the doomed to unhappy endings character. Her boyfriend lost his BRAIN! How horrible is that? Alive, yet not alive.

  12. to this article I say DABO!!!

    Also, as a person with a penchant for the outrageously nerdy, I am happy to say that I have never even seen an instance of this weird sexism in our previously small subculture. The more I read about these kinds of things, the prouder I am of ALL the nerds I grew up with. Someone’s gender or sexual orientation or ethnicity or whatever was always such a non-issue because of the inherent marginalization of the [insert nerdy topic/activity]-interest. You’d be happy to meet ANYONE that shared your thing, like Vampire the Masquerade Dark Ages LARPING or figuring out how to make a giant General Martok poster for your bedroom wall. (Yeah, he’s dreamy.)

    So, in short, don’t be disheartened. Take comfort in bell shaped curves and such. There are whole high schools of people like me and my friends too. Happy New Year dawg!! :D

  13. This was well written and timely. I actually have a panel this weekend on this topic and was on the fence and tired of having to discuss this issue over and over. “Is it really relevant, it is certainly exhausting and it DOES legitimize the rants” but you have inspired me to take up the gauntlet of the hand of justice once again. Thanks for putting this out there.

  14. Thank you for saying this far better than I ever could.

  15. So, basically, we need to give a faction of geekdom itself a smack-down on IDIC? How ironic!!! I am proud to know a plethora of geeks from every conceivable walk of life. I welcome any geek with open arms. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations indeed.

    And why not let the posers in, they may become enlightened and no longer need to pretend to be one of us!

    I am TROcutus of Geek. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Your previous designation is irrelevant.

  16. Great article. As an old-school geek male, it saddens me to hear about this incredibly stupid backlash against female geekdom. You are correct: No one has the right to be gatekeeper on the term. And how is having more people want to dip in the pool (however shallowly) a threat to geek culture?

    I’m with you: If a woman wants to come to a convention dressed like Catwoman and ask questions about Star Trek, at least she’s interested. Calling her a poser and snubbing her only makes you look idiotic.

  17. i think maybe to many (not all, but a lot of) geek guys, there can be no “geek girl” because girls are the ultimate “not us.” girls are as unattainable as being popular with the “cool kids.” geekdom is a refuge from the rejection many guys feel, and to have “girls” in the group means that now they’re not the coolest people in the room — now they are second class to the “girls”. so their defense is to “shun” the girls and regain their top status in the group.

    • My money’s on THIS ^

    • Then they need to stop, grow up, or take their toys and go home. Once they realize that we are *human* and not “other” it will be better for them and everyone involved.

  18. I don’t get it. Which is something I (unfortunately) have to say often. I don’t get the idea of ‘geek girl’ – in so far as much as why is there a separate identifier for them?

    And why there is even an argument.

    I work as the office bitch for a chain (by which I mean ‘two’) of comic and game stores in central Texas – I’ve been there for five years. The General Manager – who has been my boss the entire time I’ve been there – is a woman. I’ve had other female managers, and at several points during my tenure there, there have been (significantly) more women than men on staff.

    To say nothing of how many female customers we have.

    Not only that, but my mother introduced me to my gateway into geekdom – Star Trek. She loaned me my first Star Trek novels, which sparked my lifelong interest in writing.

    There have always been geek girls – and there always will be geek girls.

    Trying to proclaim there aren’t is just silly. And trying to argue about the pedigree and veracity of their status in geek culture is also silly: it’s the same thing as a tabletop RPGer arguing that WoW players aren’t ‘real’ gamers.

    At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because those people participate in, support and expand the geek culture by doing the thing they love.

    I just don’t get why it matters if someone is male or female or whether they fit some esoteric and vague as long as they are doing something they want to do, why they want to do it and with people they like doing it with. Whether it’s their first ‘geek’ movie or event or what-have-you or their five thousandth, it doesn’t matter. They’re interested, even if it’s just finding out why so many other people are interested or supporting a significant other (or even someone they want to be their significant other) or because they have a deep and abiding irrational love of some facet or form of something considered to be in the ‘geek’ spectrum of interests.

    I really hope that this ‘geek girl’ argument passes into the same obscure and oft-mocked place the idea of D&D as ‘satanic’ has been relegated to – that dusty and ignored back corner of the proverbial cultural closet where only the folk who can’t grow up and move on stay, because they’re afraid of what might be outside the door.

  19. Excellent article – & thank you!

    I’ve been to Comic Con & witnessed this type of behaviour & for me it kind of echoes the attitude of some male gamers towards female ones. They want to keep their boys club. My husband has characterised a few of his WoW acquaintances as boys or men who’ve had very little contact with women, are bitter about that lack of attention, & so hate any women who show up in their little world as vengeance. I can’t help but think this can be true with the geek girl issues you describe here.

    The part about the man in line’s saucer eyes & making himself the arbiter really struck me – I’ve come across that in the real world many a time, & the sooner they realise what they’re doing, the better. I’m sure most of them don’t mean it, but it is a problem.

  20. That sort of thing makes me angry because I’m old enough to remember that women created Star Trek fandom. I’m male, and I got involved in Trek fandom in the early ’70s when about 75-80% of the fans were female. By that point, females had already done the heavy lifting of organizing a letter campaign to get the show un-canceled after its second season, forming the Star Trek Welcommittee to serve as a clearinghouse for information (no easy feat in those pre-Internet days), compiling the first Star Trek reference book (Bjo Trimble’s Star Trek Concordance), inventing fanzines and fanfic, publishing and distributing hundreds of zines using only the U.S. mail, and organizing the first Star Trek conventions.

    After Star Trek was canceled again at the end of its third season, these women didn’t give up. They turned their letter campaign into an ongoing bombardment of letters to Paramount, demanding that Star Trek be revived, and they kept it up until Paramount saw the light and green-lighted a new series called Star Trek: Phase II (which eventually morphed into the first movie in 1979), an animated series, a line of Star Trek novels and reference books (the Star Trek Technical Manual was published in 1975), and a steady stream of toys and merchandise. The fans (again, mostly female) also organized dozens of additional conventions celebrating and promoting the show.

    Female dominance of Star Trek fandom continued through the ’70s. I don’t think the number of male Trek fans reached parity until the early ’80s, probably as a result of the first two movies.

    This aspect of fan history seems to have been largely forgotten, but I was there and I remember it vividly. And I note that when male geeks like me started flocking to the Star Trek banner in the late ’70s and early ’80s, we were welcomed. Nobody called us fakes and demanded that we pass some kind of test to prove that we deserved to be admitted to the club. The women who built Star Trek fandom from nothing were certainly entitled to be possessive about it, but they never displayed that kind of jackassery.

    Some of these latter-day geek guys need to be reminded that the girls were here first. TV and movie fandom as we know it would not exist without them.

    • (Thumbs up)

  21. I have to wonder: Am I lucky or isolated? Because I have seen a MASSIVE backlash against the, “Fake geek girl” sentiment, but I have seen maybe 2 or 3 examples of the stereotype in practice. It’s about 200 separate angry lads and ladies who are criticizing one dumbass whose post went viral. Don’t get me wrong, it deserves a backlash, but how prevalent is this phenomena? Maybe (To our credit), the geek community is anxious to crank up the community self awareness up to 11, and make our community more inclusive. Maybe in the circles I frequent, ive avoided the worst of it, and it is as bad as the backlash makes it out to be. I gotta ask, how many confirmed misogynists do you truly encounter compared to non-misogynists, and are those misogynists just projecting there ideas to more people?

    Also, just want to point out that at least SOME percentage of the “Fake geek girl” concept is drenched in mistaken irony. Again, maybe i’m lucky, but I read the, “You Lie!” comment as irony. Sure, it’s not all irony, but some of it is, and that needs to be addressed.

    I think that part of the fake geek girl philosophy is a result of good intentions gone awry. I hate to say it, but geek culture is steeped just a bit too deeply in lowest common denominator sexual pandering, and I think its starting to grate on the older geeks. When a video game comes out that chooses to market itself purely with giant tits, and nothing about the content, it’s degrading to both men and women. I think it’s no coincidence that the fake nerd girl issue came up so shortly after the community decided to re-examine the idea of booth babes. Geeks decide to attack the idea that they are nothing but prepubescent, sexually deprived and depraved man-children who will buy anything that has breasts, and there anger gets directed against the women behind the breasts. That sounds a lot more plausible then to say that geeks just tend to hate women.

    Lastly…i’m not sure I buy this idea that there is no such thing as a fake geek. I think that there is a difference between the person who likes something geeky as a fashion statement, and a person who takes it seriously. Not that liking something in a trendy way actually does anything to the more serious connisuer, (You like something casually? Hey, better then not likeing it) but the distinction is there. The joy of delving into the depths of a niche interest is lost when the person your with only knows it skin deep. Besides, a good natured comparison of passions is a time honored nerd tradition. The issue is that
    1) the “Fake nerd” should be treated as a opportunity to help them sink deeper into the niche and really appreciate it on a deeper level, not to drive them away, and
    2)The standards for women and men need to be the same.
    If a women doesn’t know much about something they profess a love for, don’t call them out: Introduce them to MORE. Lend them more comics, books, games or whatever for them to experience. And do the same thing with a guy. And don’t expect more from a female then you would from a male. That way, you can bring up obscure trivia or whatever bit of minutia that is out of their league and have it be a shared experience, not a barrier to entry. And on the flip side, you need to accept the same treatment from females as a male: not only might a girl be able to kick your ass in Halo because gender roles aren’t a straight jacket and plenty of girls can, but maybe girl geeks gravitate somewhat towards awesome niches that you arn’t as immersed in. I don’t think its sexist to say that more girls are into sewing then boys, and that may seem irrelevant to geeky interests right up until they make the most amazing cosplay you have ever seen.

    The way things are right now ain’t perfect, but I think were getting somewhere.

  22. The only possible interest geek boys are to me (IF THEY EVEN EXIST) is if they are pretty and are kissing other boys. Or at least have the potential that lets me write/draw or vid about them doing so.

  23. I’ll play devil’s advocate. I propose there are fake geeks out there. I’m ultimately not concerned with gender so much as I am about those who enter our communities to exploit our fandom for their own ends. Being a geek is all about celebrating those things we enjoy, those things we are passionate about. With “geek” becoming “chic”, and with more money entering the geek ecosystem, I think it’s natural to see an increasing number of profiteers hoping to score off of us geeks. From individual youtubers, all the way up to major movie studios, it’s entirely possible that an individual might be an actual fan, or they might be a poser.
    Now, why should we care? Why should it matter if more people are enjoying this media, and if a minority of people are “fake”? Ideally it shouldn’t matter, and we should all be enjoying the extra money and attention being thrown our way.
    Personally, I worry because of our history with money and popularity. Like the comics bubble of the late 90’s, when everyone was trying to collect “precious” #1 issues of comic books, expecting them to become valuable items. It almost ruined the comic industry. I don’t expect that the current boom is as much of a “trend”, but there are a surprising number of similarities.

    When we geeks stop making crazy amounts of money for others to profit off of, all the fakes (both men and women) will float on to the next fad, but where will that leave those of us who actually are about this stuff?

  24. I was a fan way back when, Star Trek to start then McCaffrey and into the deep end. I am also a glass ceiling breaker, becoming an woman engineer in the 80’s. I think that all being a geek means is that someone is heavily into something, so a person could be a geek over nail polish, make up, even shoes and still be a geek. The question here is not are there girl “geeks” it is do girl geeks exist in science fiction/fantasy fandom?

    I have watched fandom grow and change for years, I joined back in the days where it was considered a rite of passage to be almost sexually assaulted by well known writers, or a big name male fan. Google “Readercon fail” to see how much fandom has changed since then, and medicate accordingly. I have a theory about the no geek girls. In the last 20 or so years fandom has had a bit of a second sexual awakening, one that has climbed on to the convention bandwagon. A convention I attend annually has an entire track dedicated to sex in one form or another. Introductions to polyamory, how to BDSM, if your partner is an Otherkin, and then some. If that is happening at other conventions and in other aspects of fandom I wonder if some guys have equated “geek” with woman who will have casual sex with me? Kind of an “oh your a geek, do me!” When you don’t well then you are not a real “girl geek” It’s the idea that every woman in a slave Leia costume can’t wait to take it off, and if they have every intention of keeping it on, well “poser” It’s a convention not a strip club and most definitely not a brothel.

  25. Another Portland geek girl! I lovingly remember those star trek conventions, they were my very first convention ever.

    I’ve had more than enough experience with the hatred (yes hatred. I have never been treated worst in my life than by my local gaming shops) aimed at geeks who happen to be female. Its a phenomenon I really don’t understand at all. There are women in comics and games, so why is it surprising that women like them? There are men who like My Little Ponies and women who like Batman. Simple.

  26. my message is simple… I love you Sarah Kuhn. thank you for writing this.

  27. “First of all, why can’t this girl be a nerd about LOLcats? Geeky interests run the gamut: if fezes can be nerdy, so can animal-based internet memes.”

    Two words: Princess Jellyfish

    Anyone can be geek over ANYTHING. Gender and subject are irrelevant.

  28. I started to say that I suppose there might be ‘fake geek girls’ who pretend to like something they’ve never read/watched/played in order to fit in or get attention or what have you. But then I thought about myself. I can name and give a quick rundown of a good third of TOS episodes, and probably 20 or so Babylon 5 episodes. I’ve read substantial portions of the works of some of the less-remembered Golden Age (of Sci-fi) authors like Bester and Simak. I’ve got a degree in physics and another in geophysics.

    I’ve got geek cred, and shouldn’t feel the need to pretend.

    But I never got into comics. I have friends who talk at length about the various different versions of the story lines of the various ‘verses. And sometimes I try to chime in with my half-remembered discussions of Wolverine comics or crap from the movies, just to fit in. I’ve posed. Going into Thor and The Avengers, I was far more familiar with the TV offerings of the writers and directors (JMS and Whedon) than I was with their forays into the comic world. I sometimes feel like I’ve got a significant cultural void with respect to many of my geek friends. And every once in a while I try to hide that fact, by pretending I know more than I do.

    You probably have, too. Those guys and girls lamenting ‘fake’ geek girls have all done it. We all have. It’s human nature. But it doesn’t mean that you’re just a Britney fan who put on glasses and acted shy because she saw Lohan do it in Mean Girls. She’s probably got a reason. She’s fighting her own insecurities. That shouldn’t be so alien to geeks, should it? So let’s lay back on the judgement. Any real geek should’ve had just about enough of that crap, don’t you think?

  29. Nice. But, please… the fez, it is cool, yes?

  30. Stereotypical geek-guys *do* get quizzed for credentials. Usually it happens in casual conversation, but I’ve had it happen directly – and I learned something interesting from it. Even geek-guys are just self-declared.

    One guy in particular sticks out in my memory. I had declared I was a Star Wars and Star Trek fan. He didn’t care about Star Wars and wasn’t an expert, so he let that go (no threat to his cred). He *was* a declared Trekkie and felt the need to challenge me. I was treading on *his* turf. So he asked me a bunch of questions in an attempt to verify my credentials and prove his own. The interesting point was that his questions were easy. Though he was a self-proclaimed “huge fan” his questions were superficial. His declared “huge fan”-ness wasn’t the intimidating “How many redshirts died in the engine room in episode ‘mumble-mumble-mumble’?” that I expected. I learned that he was a huge fan because he believed he was – and so was I.

    So, yeah, geeks come in all kinds of depths and focuses. Self-proclaimed is the only true gauge. There are *many* geek-girls in the world. Diversity strengthens community and adds depth and breadth to the concepts and communities being geeked about.

    I believe that, as in most other circumstances, there are a few very vocal sociopaths that desperately need exclusivity for some reason. They need it to be an all-boys-club, or they need it to require a verified level of obsession, or they need to know they aren’t threatened with ridicule by any of the other “members”. They are afraid and are striking out in “self-defense”.

  31. I agree completely with everything that you said in your excellent article, but there’s one point that frustrates me, which I think you missed. To me, the geek sub-culture (especially in terms of conventions) has always highlighted how accommodating and non-judgmental my fellow geeks are. It doesn’t matter if your costume is a bit ropey, or if you’re a guy who wants to dress as Xena, or you’re a bit (!!) shy… everyone welcomes you. Those among us who bitch about ‘fake geek girls’ don’t seem to understand that ethos, which is what makes geek sub-culture the greatest.

  32. The source of the problem is a sense of belonging.

    Human beings need to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves, something to which they can commit themselves. Otherwise, they isolate themselves until they have no connections to society and, in some cases, become harmful to others.

    In my experience, geeks coalesce not only because they share a passion for a piece of culture but also because, for whatever reason, they have been excluded from other social groups. This is why high school is usually where geek communities start to bloom. They do not fit into the established order of teenage cliques and end up an amorphous mass at the bottom of that social food ladder.

    This makes geeks tend to dominate their territory. Rather than learn from their experiences of having been excluded by others, they take it on themselves to follow suit. Having been derided for some shallow quality of their own existence, they subconsciously pass a derision on to someone else. This strengthens their egos. Because hey, I might be a loser but that loser is a bigger loser than I am, and suddenly I don’t feel like quite so much of a loser anymore.

    The focus of this inferiority complex tends to be placed on women simply because it’s the quickest and easiest go-to to boost self-esteem. Male/female is the most basic defining quality of our species – there’s only 2 options. And this attitude is not isolated to geek/nerd culture. There are millions of weak-minded men all over the planet who exclude women simply to placate their own fragile egos. It’s the most worn-out road there is, and, therefore, the easiest to travel.

    What works for me when I encounter someone treading this road is this – I keep them talking and I listen for the context in their words that says, “I just want to belong.” Invariably, I hear it and I try to guide the conversation to that oasis and away from their fears. I try to make them understand that they do belong already, regardless of the make-up of the overall community.

    When someone tries to exclude you – you can apply this to any context – when someone tries to exclude, what they’re really saying is, “I want to be included.” If you can assure them of that, there are no more isms.

  33. This is the same thing that has been debated by my friends and I (AKA The Geek Camp Girls) and I actually wrote a blog post myself on our blog about it. (Which can be found at http://geekcampgirls.blog.co.uk/2012/12/02/girls-can-t-be-geeks-yes-we-bloody-well-can-a-rant-15272076/)

    I have an ever expanding group of friends I have met through attending what was the SFX Weekender and will now be the Sci-Fi Weekender. Of this group the majority are actually female. Luckily for us all the males in our group are awesome and accept us fully.

    Interestingly enough there was a huge outcry of disgust between my friends and I last night after a TV show here in the UK “madeover” a geek girl, pretty much telling her that she’d never get a bloke by being a geek. I could get into that now but that’s opening up a whole other pandorica….

  34. I married a Geek Girl. She speaks fluent Klingon and Elvish. She likes to dress up more than I do. I welcome more geek girls, compliment their costumes and ask what they like. If only more were willing to be publicly acknowledged, we might get somewhere with these “Anti-Geek Girl” types. I wish they were more common so that all geeks can get rid of their fear of the opposite sex and maybe the “Solo, horny geek” trope will become the “Happily well-adjusted coupled” geek trope. — for Heterosexual geeks. I know lots of Gay geeks, and, well, the “Solo Geek” trope doesn’t seem to apply or bother them at all in finding company.

    That, I think, is part of the backlash. To be considered a geek in male terms is to accept a gender role of being “Not Quite Male.” Having our sexuality questioned by outsiders and banding together in homo-social groups gave us some degree of protection from our internalized fears and the taunts of the majority. Accepting Geek Girls who may/may not be interested in us is a direct threat to that social grouping. It says to outsiders: “Look, they have women like themselves and still can’t get a date… they must not be fully men. Therefore, we (outsiders) have the right to pick out the women and thereby exclude this social group further.” No women, no direct threat to their gender bias/self-concept.

    Any Geek Girls well versed in Feminist theory care to comment? (I am serious here… a good Feminist critique of the above would maybe start good dialogue here.)

  35. This article was great. Us geek girls in science professions feel the same way at work sometimes. In fact most geek guys i’ve met are great. Most of my friends are geek guys. But then one or two can be particularly cruel, especially in online forums, and really make us girls feel marginalized. So geek guys, please, take down those who make nasty comments online or in public. Just saying “she knows what she’s talking about” means a lot.

  36. guys who get so offended at the idea of geek girls do so because it makes them face their own social awkwardness and ineptitude. Yes, a geek can be pretty/attractive/socially adjusted and still be a geek!

  37. The aspect of this that I constantly find hilarious is the idea that someone is a “fake” geek because they haven’t mastered every obscure, trivial detail about these ridiculous shows, books, games, and comics.

    Look, I’m a geek, I like comic books, I play Final Fantasy games, I’ll put my bona fides up against anyone, but let’s be real, we’re not talking about physics or engineering. There’s no real downside to lacking comprehensive knowledge or making mistakes. They’re just past-times.

    Anger should be saved for folks that pervert science – anti-vaxxers, creationists, alt-med weirdos… – actual harm is being caused. I would like someone to explain the downside of failing to memorize the origin story of Aquaman’s sidekick.

    Of course, there are bigger issues relating to gender discrimination going on, but it is just bizarre that folks would be judged and harassed based on how many of Hordak’s minions they can name.

  38. And let me just add the following:

    Please keep up the good fight. You have support. What you’re doing is important.

  39. But surely a much more productive approach than trying to argue with the males on those bad forums is to go and continue to succeed at whatever part of geekdom you are in. When women win the games comps, or make up half the writers at a PC mag, or serve you every time you go to buy warhammer stuff, or make up 75% of the cosplay competition, or are some of the trusted reviewers and suppliers of geek items, or are simply 50% or a con panel, and it’s audience, then they won’t be able to ignore women any more. (And in many parts of geekdom this is surely true now.)

    Part of growing up is learning to treat people as people, period. To do otherwise is simply lack of confidence or lack of growing up. To stop seeing females/males as different, or as sexual, allows one to talk to them more easily I find. To treat them as individuals, to talk to each one slightly differently as you get to know them is even better.

    And when one guy is talking to you fine, then makes a stupid comment, not a totally offensive one, like the guy in the theatre, I would hope you give him the benefit of the doubt. I would hope for a subtle reply to make him think about his comment without pushing him away. Maybe, “Of course, we have been real geeks since high school.” Or “I know you probably didn’t meant it that way, but it makes you sound like you are the judge of who is a a real geek. You probably shouldn’t say it like that to other people.”

    However I find the geek guys equals pizza eating basement dwellers to be so untrue it’s laughable. Most geeks I know are simply people. Each of them different. I see groups of teen girls hanging out giggling and having fun, but in costume. I see teen/20’s guys proclaiming they can beat each other, but they are in costume. I see people in their 50’s from all walks of life (both sexs) who have been training for 30 years in using swords and armour, and who think nothing of having 20 dish feasts using medieval ingredients, and having banners waving over their period tents. Gaming is a normal everyday activity nowadays. You would never know they are a geek from looking at them, or what their non-geek profession was when you see them in character. I know labourers who know much more about comics and gaming than me. But then most of these people don’t label ourselves as geeks, nerds, or suchlike either. I see mother and daughter cosplay combos, who probably see themselves more as “and this is my cool mum who enjoys the cartoon I watch, and made it’s costumes for me, and come here and is wearing them with me.”

    Anyway I also hate the booth babes, and the glorification of female skin in games and comics, Tv, Anime and Movies, (and lately cosplay). And I support people who wish the creative industries would grow up and learn to rely on decent gameplay, imagination, characterisation, plot, etc. I mean how much skin did the Pirates of the Caribean or MIB or HALO have to use to be successful? Of course that doesn’t mean that every booth babe is a fake geek. But it is also designed to attract a certain sort of attention, that has nothing to do with geekdom. I expect that peoples opinions on this subject will vary widely. But I would hope that sometime people could actually stop and listen to each other and discuss it like adults. Honestly I hope that as industries mature they will drop the eye candy as being no longer necessary to sell stuff, and possibly harmful to their image.

  40. Awesome article! I’ve always been a geek myself, and it’s very weird to see the things I used to get isolated for are now very popular.

  41. I for one, working in an environment full of men and women equally nerdy and proud of it, love this article. It speaks loud of how the culture, even supposedly changed, has still not changed enough for the masses to notice that there are many women out there that are just as geeky as the men.. This should not be a gender specific identifier. I for one think that it is awesome that when I am playing an MMO and actually run into a woman playing think it is great. Just as much as I enjoy working with all the awesome women that work at my company. They are just as passionate about the same things I am.

    But I will say that media makes nerdy women out to be a joke, like they take some super-model and put glasses on them and call them a nerd, are they or is this just the depiction they are trying to get more readers or viewers of their show? One example would be on “The Big Bang Theory”, the nerdy women are wearing frumpy and are shown to be of the basic and unattractive type and the unintelligent one is the one across the hall and is all beautiful, etc. These stereo types are portrayed on TV and in magazines and are not true. Nerdiness does not hold true to just the unattractive and homely types, there are people of all walks of life that are nerds, but I will say this just by putting on a pair of nerdy glasses and speaking nerdy does not make one a nerd. Its more of a down deep type of thing and not a lifestyle that is trendy. Those of us that are true nerds dont look at things the same as others, we are passionate about our nerdiness and am not ashamed to call ourselves nerds and wear it proudly.. I know I am proud to be a nerd and for those of you that are true nerds should also be proud to be one.. We have a great community and I am proud to be part of it..

    • In reply to your comment about the really poor portrayal of geek women on television, may I direct you to “The Guild”? It’s absolutely brilliant, and it really shows a gamut of characters both male and female. Some of them are easy to dismiss at first as stereotyped nerds, (Like Zaboo)but the show does a great job of making them relatable human beings. Even though most of them don’t seem to have jobs and I really don’t understand how that works.

      • Yea i have seen that but that is not mainstream media. I feel our mainstream media needs to catch up and stop using the poor depictions of nerdy people.

  42. Y’know, the more of this I read the happier I am that I ran into science fiction fandom in my early 20’s, and have been surrounded by folks of similar interests ever since. My daughter has been raised similarly, with the result that when some middle school guys didn’t want her in their D&D club, she mentioned it to a group at the next convention and got responses of the “are they NUTS?” variety, from various male fans. :)

  43. Sarah, this is a great essay. What I’ve been wondering for a while is what truly constitutes a “geek” in any form. When I was growing up in the ’80s, “geek” and “nerd” (the more common term) were used derisively towards my friends and I because we played D&D, liked Star Trek, and played computer games. Today, it’s been co-opted by basically everyone like you say and has little meaning. That said, I’m on the same page as you in that people attacking others for being a “fake geek” isn’t good. A main goal is being inclusive and not dismissing people for minute details. Even today, I still wish there were more people at my work and in town who I could bond with over the love of certain TV shows, movies, books, etc.

    • “Geek” etc are actually terms applied from outside. There’s this slightly amorphous thing called fandom, or science fiction fandom, mostly experienced in clubs or conventions. And in the past mostly communicated with fanzines, but these days can be found all over the net. If you’re on the east coast check out the New England Science Fiction Association’s website which has among other things a list of east coast clubs, conventions and whatnot. See also the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society on the west coast, and check Wikipedia for the general sf con list. There are also specialty cons like Anime LA, the San Diego ComicCon (fair warning – is HUGE), FurtherConfusion.. oh, go play with google awhile. :)

      • Thanks for the info. I’m actually right in the middle of the country in St. Louis. My big hurdle right now is time more than anything else. I’m sure their are great groups in town, but making the effort to seek them out is always the challenge.

        • I see the St. Louis Science Fiction Society Home Page here: http://www.stlf.org/stlsfs/
          Can’t claim any familiarity with it, but it might serve as a starter. And if you’re interested in any specific fandom from MLP to Star Trek to Firefly etc, google on it and “fan club” and who knows what might turn up?
          Just be careful – if you stray into TV Tropes you may never been seen again… :)

  44. Lovely article. And don’t be disheartened, us geek girls are legion and WILL conquer the world. Or..well, that’s MY goal.
    After the Moviefone article, I was ranting to one of my geek guy friends and he was kind of — to my utter shock — in agreement. Saying ‘well…I don’t know any girls that are really into that kind of movie.’ I responded by siting about half the females in our mutual circle of friends. Because we’re all big geeks, yet somehow he…didn’t notice? SMH.

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