We’re not unicorns, we exist: How the "Fake Geek Girl" concept inspired the "Geek Girls are Real" Project.
“I understand what you are trying to say, but the problem is that finding a girl that likes comics is like finding a unicorn”. This was the first comment I received last year after finishing a panel about gender equality in geek culture at Wizard World Chicago. The truth is that 40% of attendees at Wizard World and many other comic and gaming conventions are women, so hearing this from someone actually at the convention was surprising. Just look around you dude! Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “but most women at conventions are fake geek girls that are only there to get attention” or something among those lines. You know, because everything we do is to attract attention…
I’ve heard this argument so many times that it’s ridiculous. The fact that the term “Fake Geek Girl” exists is ridiculous.
If you are reading this, there’s a high probability you are a nerd or geek of some sort. As a nerd/geek we all know that these two words were often used as an insult, sometimes they still are. You probably got called nerd, geek, bookworm, dork in a derogatory way while growing up. Calling someone a fake geek? That’s a double insult…
Nowadays, geeks have become the bullies and oppressors. People are often excluded from the geek community because they are not “geeky” enough, knowledgeable enough or dress appropriately enough to be in the presence of geeks.
The thing is that being a nerd or a geek is no longer defined by specific standards. Now it has become a spectrum. You can either be a fiction writer, a tech savant, a gaming noob, a cosplayer, a superwholock fangirl or fanboy, a comics collector, or a movie buff. It doesn't matter. You are passionate about something and obsess about it? That's enough.
Unfortunately, the geek spectrum is still in progress and as more and more women embrace their nerdy sides and are comfortable enough to share it with others, they are being greeted not by welcoming nerds but by angry ones. Women are forced, again and again to prove their nerd cred. We have to prove that we know everything about that specific show, book, game, character, etc.
Here's a nifty little example for you: Not so long ago I mentioned to another geek that my favorite show of all time was Star Trek and immediately was asked what Captain Kirk’s middle name was. This person wanted to make sure that I was a “real” fan. And let me tell you this, knowing that Captain Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius doesn’t prove anything. You can still love something and not know every single detail about that something.
Of course not all members of the geek community behave like this. I’ve actually met amazing men and women that are as excited as I am to discuss geek stuff, without quizzing me first. But we have to be honest and realize that we still have work to do regarding sexism and gender equality in our community.
That includes the concept of “Fake Geek Girls”. It is just a way to specifically target women that refer themselves as geeks but are not considered geeky enough in the eyes of a specific subgroup of people. The concept has originated multiple jokes and memes, including the “Idiot Nerd Girl” meme.
This meme gained popularity a couple years ago and continues to make the rounds online. It promotes a very sexist stereotype, puts down enthusiasm, and continues to make misogyny normal. This meme and the “Fake Geek Girl” concept make the geek community threatening to females who want to join it and to females that are already a part of it.
The Idiot Nerd Girl meme is basically just a nerdy girl that took a pretty cool photo. But, let’s say for just a moment that this girl is not really a nerd… who cares? Really... WHO CARES? Why are members of the geek community allowing a girl with NERD written on her hand to create so much anger and discrimination against self-proclaimed female geeks? By acting this way, all you’re saying is that geeks can only fit a certain mold and that we should ignore any other geek communities that fail to fit that mold. This attitude towards female geeks is the reason why we feel intimidated to admit we are geeks and actually talk about our interests with you. But then you complain that geek girls are like “unicorns”. Geez… I wonder why.
“Oh but this only applies to some girls. I can differentiate a fake geek girl from a real one” Guess what? You don’t get to decide what women deserve your respect. If you are so concerned about the "geekiness" of certain women, then maybe you should help them explore their geeky side, rather than criticizing them and calling them attention seekers. Let's stop labeling people “fake geeks” just because their interests are different than yours, their passions less intense, or their appearance different from your own standards.
“Oh, but there are geek guy memes that are offensive too!” That is very true and they are also hurtful. Indeed these memes continue to promote the stereotype that male geeks are virgins that play computer games all day, live in their mom’s basement and have no concept of personal hygiene. I know these memes offend men, the same way the Idiot Nerd Girl meme offends women.
But, even though these memes are offensive and shouldn’t be tolerated, you can also notice how they are different from the Idiot Nerd girl meme. None of them question the men's geek credentials, intelligence, or their presence in the geek community. They are actually accepted in it and most of these memes, even though hurtful, promote the idea that these guys are smart and know their geek facts. In addition, trying to find a variety of geek guy memes is very challenging and every single search combination will lead you back to images of the Idiot Nerd girl meme... for which there’s an almost overwhelming variety.
There’s no Idiot Nerd Guy meme either… but if we followed the criteria used to create the memes targeted at women, there should be idiot nerd guys out there. To insinuate that only women are idiot nerds is absurd.
An effort to take back the meme was started by Dark Horse Comics editor Rachel Edidin, by changing the meme into statements that reflect the reality of the situation.
But seriously, let's stop and think for a minute. Don't you think it is truly amazing that people nowadays are actually interested in our culture? That guy or girl from high school who thought D&D was lame, may now see it is an awesome game that they missed out on. Opening the doors of the geek community should apply to everyone. But, when we as women, get these doors closed, telling us what to read and not to read, what to watch and not to watch, what to wear and not to wear, it is very difficult to actually enjoy being a part of it.
Remember that not everyone has to like what you like in exactly the same way you like it. There is no high council issuing membership cards, submitting you to tests, asking you to sacrifice a goat to join the geek community. You just join, learn and have fun. There are people that claim to be geeks just for the attention, but not all of us are like that. This is what inspired the "Geek Girls are Real" project which will consist of photos and interviews about the geek girls in my community. Not unicorns, but actual geek girls. They will all have different backgrounds, fandoms and even opinions, but they will all be geeks. It will be a way to debunk the fake geek girl stereotype but at the same time, it will be a way to shine a spotlight on real, normal girls. Stay tuned for it!
Now, when I was a kid, science fiction opened my eyes to other worlds and different cultures. Sometimes those cultures were cast as alien and different, but the message of acceptance came through loud and clear. Science fiction was the place where humanity struggled for some kind of equality enlightenment. Only when equality was achieved, once it didn’t matter what your gender was, or the color of your skin, or your sexual preference, once you were accepted for who you were and the skills and knowledge you brought to the table, only then were the characters able to thrive and succeed. It made sense to me then, and it still makes sense to me now. The key is to respect people, listen to what others have to say, and be a voice for equality and acceptance. I have faith in you reader, so go ahead, go respect others, do your part.