The (Fake) Geek Girl Project / 2: Fight the Attention Seekers!

You may read the foreword to this series, As Always, it Started With Star Trek: A Study On Geek Girls and the first part which offers an overview of this series and of the methodology used in this project.

In my quest to better understand the fake geek girl debate, I analysed 6 rants and over 40 responses*. The first of the six rants, the Idiot Nerd Girl meme, was created in 2010. Originally used to mock girls self-identifying as nerds but considered as ignorant and idiotic, it exists in hundreds of variations, which generally draw a comparison between a girl’s claim to be a geek or nerd and her alleged lack of knowledge on a specific topic, her lack of involvement in geek spaces and activities, or her physical appearance.

Slash B

The meme was reverse engineered to contest the original intent behind its creation. In 2012 Rachel Edidin, a Dark Horse Comics editor, created a tumblr page listing thousands of new variations of this meme with the help of friends and Twitter followers. Through this process, Edidin wished to highlight what she considered an entrenched misogyny in geek culture. Several of these new memes suggest that women’s limited participation in geek spaces and activities may be due to men’s creepy or aggressive attitudes towards them.

Examples of this meme will presented in this series, but will not be discussed directly. Nor will I discuss the debates related to College Humor’s The Six Supervillains of Nerd Culture series, which represented a girl as ”The Imposter”. You may consult the Mind42 chart I created for more references on the debates linked to both rants. In the interest of keeping this series relatively short, I will focus on these 4 rants :

1. A Forbes online article written by Tara Tiger Brown, a Forbes contributor and technology advisor and entrepreneur. Published on March 26th, 2012, the article is titled Dear Fake Geek Girls, Please Go Away.

2. The second is a blog post titled Booth Babes Need not apply, which was published on the CNN Geek Out! blog by Joe Peacock on July 24th, 2012. Peacock is a web designer, an author and he owns the largest collection of Akira production art in the world.

3. The third is an image shared on Facebook by Dick Manning on November 10th 2012, and the discussion that ensued between Manning and Jennifer De Guzman, author and PR and marketing director at Image Comics. Manning is a comic book artist and a contributor to various blogs.

4. Lastly, a comment Tony Harris shared on his Facebook page on November 13th, 2012. Harris is a comic book artist who has worked on Iron Man and Starman.

Manning

These rants express various ideas and their form, tone and length differ greatly. For instance, Brown’s article is very different from the other rants as she makes no mention of women’s physical appearance. Instead, she says that women who are truly geeky are humble and do not seek attention. In what comes across as a manifesto of geek girl virtues, she insists on the value of humility and hard work.

Girls who genuinely like their hobby or interest and document what they are doing to help others, not garner attention, are true geeks. The ones who think about how to get attention and then work on a project in order to maximize their klout, are exhibitionists. –Brown

Her article echoes Patton Oswalts’ 2010 article Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to die, as she expresses nostalgia for the geek culture she used to know. She compares what, in her opinion, being a geek used to mean (real devotion, humility and hard-work) to what it now entails (being trendy and asking for attention). She and Harris both mention that the Internet allows anyone to ”pose” as a geek.

Peacock and Harris’s rants, despite their very different forms and length, are both closely related to women’s physical appearance. They rant about pretty girls, but also describe them as not actually being hot, but only con-hot: that is hot enough to work or cosplay at conventions, but not enough to work as ”real” models. Here’s a quote for all the Star Trek fans out there:

I call these girls “6 of 9”. They have a superpower: In the real world, they’re beauty-obsessed, frustrated wannabe models who can’t get work. (…)

They decide to put on a “hot” costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don’t get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity. They’re a “6” in the “real world”, but when they put on a Batman shirt and head to the local fandom convention du jour, they instantly become a “9”.–Peacock **

Both Harris and Peacock state that these women wouldn’t actually give nerdy or geeky men any attention outside of conventions, and that deep down, they think nerd men are pathetic.

And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. – Harris

Harris further insists on this idea, describing nerdy men as the prey of the women he talks about :

Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common?  The are being preyed on by YOU.  – Harris

Peacock, Manning and Harris all denigrate women who choose to wear sexy apparel and express their sexuality. They accuse them of wearing ”skimpy outfits”, of having hollow egos and no substance, and call them ”whores”, shameless and ”gross”.

Despite these differences, Brown, Peacock, Manning and Harris seem to agree on four main notions.

1. They think the women they target are pretending to be nerds/geeks to obtain the attention of men, and that this needs to be denounced and addressed.

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. -Brown

2. They think the women they are referring to fake their geekiness and do not actually have any credibility as geeks.

And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER.- Harris

3. All authors seem to agree that fake geek girls are a threat of one form or another either to geeks and/or geek culture. Peacock states that women who pretend to be geeks make the life of real geek girls harder: real geek girls not only need to create a place for themselves in a male dominated-culture, but also need to prove they are not posers like ”these other women”.

Manning thinks women who pose as nerds reinforce negatives stereotypes about nerdy men as socially inapt and unable to talk to women, while reinforcing a type of objectification of their own body.  Brown and Harris think women who pretend to be geeks take away the attention from those who deserve it.

That still seems to be the case, but the once coveted term is now being used as a marketing gimmick, and those who truly deserve the label are lost in the noise. –Brown

Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up. – Harris

4. The four ”ranters” state that there are some women who are truly geeky, and list some of their characteristics (humility, knowledge, real passion, hard work, forgoing attention, etc.).

Brown provides her own example and mention other girls she considers as true geeks to create a comparison with those she calls Fake Geeks. Peacock, Manning and Harris state that they do know some women who are real geeks. Peacock also states that he considers women’s participation in geek culture to be very positive, and that ʺbeing beautiful is not a crimeʺ, as he knows ʺseveral stunningly beautiful women who cosplayʺ and who are ʺbona fide geeksʺ.

And that’s totally fine! However, you *OBVIOUSLY* weren’t the target there, either. I have lots of “nerd girl” friends…- Manning

Now, before every single woman reading this explodes, let me disambiguate a bit. I absolutely do not believe that every girl who attends conventions and likes “Doctor Who” is pretending to be a geek. –Peacock

 Harris, however, indicates that these women are the exception to the rule.

I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics. So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. – Harris

Thus, the authors express what they perceive as criteria of geek credibility, more specifically female geek credibility. Indeed, all these rants focus specifically on women.

Peacock does briefly mention that he simply hates poachers and that some men can also profit from geek culture without respecting it. However, all the other rants, as most of Peacock’s own intervention, are strictly about women. Interestingly, Tara Tiger Brown speaks broadly about what it means to be a geek, but when talking about posers and geek virtues, she speak specifically about women.

This and many others elements were the object of much discussion in the responses the rants elicited. I will discuss these in the next piece which will be published next Sunday.

What do you think of these opinions? Do you think fake geek girls exist? Let us know in the comments below!

* You may consult this Mind42 chart to read the rants and responses analysed in this project.

** In a blog post published after his article on CNN’s Geek Out blog, Peacock stated: ”It was a Star Trek reference, specifically about Jeri Ryan who knew nothing at all about Star Trek before taking the role as 7 of 9 in Voyager. She’s pretty, she took a very geeky role, and now is a geek celeb — and she’s not particularly interested in the culture.”

About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am a graduate student of anthropology in Laval University, located in Quebec city, Canada. I specialize in native studies and anthropology of health. I am a geek. I founded and now co-manage The Geek Anthropologist blog. I am working on transforming my memoir into a book and journal articles. And yes, I am looking forward to the new Star Wars trilogy.

There are 15 comments

  1. Sumbu

    Wow. Great read, thanks for that. I haven’t been aware at all that there’s even a debate going on about fake geek girls and that it’s pretty heated up. The interesting thing about this debate and the men’s points of view is, for me, the aggression they display. They sound threatened, frightened – as if they were scared that something might be taken away from them.

    However, I’m really glad that the “ranters” carefully pointed out that being a geek/a nerd is inevitably linked to knowing everything about comics (I’m surprised they didn’t put that down in Klingon). I always thought that geek/nerd culture consisted of much, much more. Silly me🙂

    Like

  2. emmawolf

    Reading this was really disturbing. It’s really disgusting that females have to prove their geek cred to be part of the community they like. And the revolting 6 of 9 crap, assuming that women need the attention of men to feel…anything. And the Harris bit about women not giving him the time of day speaks more to his own insecurities and social awkwardness than the fakeness of women.

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    1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

      Your comment echoes one of the theories expressed in some of the responses I analysed, that perhaps the rants against alleged fake geek girls tell us more about their authors’ insecurities towards women. In Harris’ case, he also commented quite clearly in his rant that in his opinion, comic book conventions are supposed to be about the comic book artists and writers, not cosplayers. He seems to be expressing nostalgia and fear of loosing some of his business, although rather aggressively. In any case, there as many layers to this debate!

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      1. zodak

        yes we are insecure. we are also awkward losers. and have never had girlfriends. etc.

        i love how some women just confirm what harris says when they are trying to insult him.

        also, everyone has to prove their cred. and in fact no one has to dress up. one can go to cons without dressing up & enjoy all the media one wants without drawing attention to oneself. it’s not that hard. thousands of men do it all the time.

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        1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

          I disagree: although geeks may feel insecure about the future of geekdom, their safe space, I dont’ think we can say that they are ackwards loosers. All geeks are different, geeks are not all the same. And what does it mean to be an ”ackward looser” anyway? Who determines this? Let’s leave that aside for now.

          The Tony Harris rant was written in pure anger and is very disrespectful. Of course some of the answers to it will be to it will be insulting towards him. It does not prove any of the points Harris is trying to make. In fact it would be very difficult to prove any of his points because, again, there is not enough data about geek culture. No one even agrees on what geek culture is. In any case his rant was closely related to comic books, conventions and cosplay. A lot of the things he complains about do not reflect other fandoms.

          Some geeks do argue that we all have to prove our cred. Others disagree. But again, no one has the same definition of what that credibility can be measured by.

          Thousands of men go to conventions without dressing up, and so do thousands of women. Not everyone is into cosplay. But cosplaying should not be seen as necessarily a form of attention seeking, and even if it was, where is the problem with it? When you think about it, what is the real problem with the fact that people want attention for having spent months creating a detailled costume? It’s not crime. We must also ask ourselves why women in particular are harrassed when cosplaying. Because a lot of men do cosplay, and many do so in revealing outfits.The 300 Spartan costume? It’s a classic in conventions.

          I don’t find it particularly sensible to allow people to attend conventions in revealing outfits. Men and women alike should cover themselves a little bit, if not a lot more. Kids go to conventions. But if we want to have a dialogue about cosplaying at conventions, we can do so respectfully, and in a constructive way. We can email the comittees in charge of planning conventions. We can write open letters. We can talk at geek events. But taking the aggressive path isn’t a solution. It only polarizes geek culture and fosters an unhealthy climate.

          That’s what I think anyway!

          Like

  3. lly1205

    I can’t think of a “fake geek girl” among my acquaintance, although I’m sure they exist – there are videos and memes and anecdotes! Then again, there are videos and memes and anecdotes of almost everything!

    I have quite a few thoughts, but to avoid a TL;DR, there’s a clear incentive based on female costumes in geek culture to dress up in them (skimpy! shiny!). Because you’ll get attention regardless of how much you know. You can’t really blame people for following incentives…

    Lily

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    1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts on part 3, and I do think you might find it interesting to read some of the responses I analysed. Kate Kotler, for instance, wrote about the incentives you mention. Several other inviduals’ whose responses I read also critized Harris for drawing women in ”skimpy” outfit and then criticizing cosplayers for recreating them.

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      1. lly1205

        I’ll be looking around for part 3 now that I have computer access again! I do think that if females in the genre are drawn in a certain way then people should anticipate the consequences.

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