This is the second to last installment of this series. You may read the foreword to this series, As Always, it Started With Star Trek: A Study On Geek Girls, as well as parts 1, 2 and 3.
Why did the Fake Geek Girl debate reach such intensity in 2012?
Regardless of their opinions, the authors o the interventions I analyzed, rants and responses alike, formulate two main theories to answer this question.
The first theory is that the passage of geek culture from the margins to the mainstream of popular culture is causing important changes which can in turn lead to tensions and infighting. According to this theory:
- Groups of people who were previously considered as absent or rare in the culture, such as women, LGBT and members of ethnic minorities, are increasingly present and visible;
- Their growing presence in geek spaces contests the traditional definitions of geek, which was usually that of a white, adult, rather unhealthy and heterosexual, male;
- Some individuals react to the changing demographics of geek culture as they would to an invasion: by raising a barricade, and witch-hunting the various types of individuals they consider as invaders: these may include so-called jocks, hipsters and fake geek girls;
- Because being geek is now cool, those who used to mock ”real” geeks choose to pose as a member of the culture, which makes those who used to be rejected and bullied angry. (See Badass Digest for an example).
I had originally intended to further explore this theory and draw comparisons between geek culture and other cultures which emerged in the margins, such as Hip-Hop or Punk culture, as they have also undergone the process of mainstreamisation. Indeed, the ways in which each culture passed from margin to mainstream bear striking similarities, with infighting and gatekeeping being evident examples. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Sell. Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed, offers interesting examples of this.
However, while mainstreamisation could account for increased gatekeeping, and the labelling of any type of individual considered as being outside of the geek norm as a potential imposter or threat, it does not allow us to understand why attacks against women are particularly numerous and aggressive.
So-called hipsters and jocks may be mocked within geek culture, but they have yet to experience attacks and rejection that compare to what is expressed in the rants I have described previously (see part 2). additionally, mainstreamisation alone cannot explain why women are labelled as fakes mainly because of their sex and physical appearance, while men are labelled according to their sense of style, personality, attitude, interests, their level of knowledge and passion towards geek culture, as well as appearance and other characteristics.
The second theory highlighted in the debate is that women’s more active, visible and vocal participation in geek culture is generating strong reactions on the part of some members of the culture. More precisely, what are regarded as women’s denunciation of misogyny and efforts to carve their place in a male-dominated culture are said to generate resistance on the part of men.
Indeed, more and more initiatives emerge within geek culture to question gender roles and gender representations, particularly regarding the representations of women. These initiatives, be they a large-scale project studying the tropes about women in video games such as Feminist Frequency’s Trope Vs Women video series or a simple redesign of female comic book characters with more ”proper” or practical clothing, may receive much praise, but are also targeted by extremely aggressive, threatening and disrespectful attacks.
For instance, when Michael Lee Lunsford created fully clothed versions of superheroines last April and shared them on his Tumblr page, he received much positive press with mentions on The Mary Sue and the Huffington Post, to name only these few. But he eventually took down the redesigns from his Deviantart page, published this Compilation of Explanations page where he addressed some of the many negative comments he had received, such as ”stop ruining comics!”.
While both the theories I described are good to think with, neither of them considers an aspect I find particularly relevant in the debate: regardless of their opinion, the authors of the interventions I analyzed express that female participation in geek culture is recent, or that it has recently reached an unprecedented level.
Many of the women who took part in the debate state that they have been geeks for years, even decades. They talk about their past personal experiences with harassment, quizzing and rejection, and some even say that while the heated debate about Fake Geek Girls may be new, the concept of fake geek girls is not. They have lived with its perverse effects for years. Colleen Doran stated:
Say kids, I’ve been in this comics business for over 20 years, and I was accused of being a fake geek by men and some very insecure women more times than I can remember, and recently, too. –Colleen Doran
And yet despite this, the notion that geek culture has always been populated by an overwhelming majority of men is overwhelmingly left unquestioned in the debate. In fact, I only found a few interventions in which women stated clearly: ”We’ve always been here”, Cheyenne Wise’s Enough With This ”Fake” Geek Girl Crap video and a recording of the C2E2 2013 panel titled Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl.
I think this (apparent) concensus needs to be further examined.
First of all, there is almost no demographic data about geek culture which could either allow us to confirm or infirm that women have always been a minority in geek culture, or that their participation is increasing.
In addition, a number of books and documentaries highlight not only the involvement of women in various fandoms, but also the value of their contributions. For instance, as I stated in the foreword to this series, several women were interviewed in the documentaries Trekkies I, Trekkies II and Done the Impossible: The Fan’s Tale of Firely and Serenity. These women lead fanclubs, organize meetings, contribute to fanmade films, volunteer at conventions, and even coordinate campaigns to save their favorite TV show when it is threatened by cancellation.
In fact as I pursue research on women’s contributions to geek culture, I make one surprising discovery after another. As it turns out, there are more geeky women that what is generally known, and their contributions are most likely even more relevant than we know.
Furthermore, I found several indications that some women who have long been involved in geek culture avoided, or still avoid, geek spaces such as comic book stores and conventions or simply did not feel compelled or able to invest these spaces.
In the light of this, I feel that we are left with important questions to address:
Have women really be absent or rare in geek culture, or have they simply been invisible or ignored? If so, why? What role have they really played in the culture? How have they contributed?
Through critical study of history, feminist historians such as Micheline Dumont have highlighted how women have been ignored in history, their contributions devalued and thought to be without consequence. Women’s contributions, these historians argue, are remembered and celebrated when they are seen as exceptional, which makes men’s involvement in history seem natural and that of women appear as an oddity. In a way, an androcentric focus makes half of humanity appear as a minority.
In other words, we may have to revise the history of geek culture altogether.
In the last installment of this series I will discuss avenues of investigation to further our understanding of the current gender dynamics within geek culture. My concluding remarks will introduce the Geek Girl Survey, the second step of the research process I have initiated, and some consequences of the Fake Geek Girl Debate.
Dumont, Micheline, 2001, Découvrir la mémoire des femmes. Une historienne face à l’histoire des femmes. Les éditions du remue-ménage, Montréal.
Potter, J. H. and A. (2005). The Rebel Sell. Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed (Trade Pape., p. 374). Toronto: Harper Perennial.