The (Fake) Geek Girl Project / 4: Why this debate, and why now?

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 12 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!”. 

Lundsford's fully clothed superheroines

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.

About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am an anthropologist living 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. I like to knit while watching Star Trek. Reach out to me for collaborations!

There are 16 comments

  1. lly1205

    The theory that some geeks are responding as if to an invasion – that made so much more sense to me! I had trouble understanding where the problem was originating from.

    Incidentally, I’m getting ready to attend a Comic-Con, where I’ll be cosplaying as a Pokemon ranger from X and Y. I’ve never been bothered before, but I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that Ottawa Comic-Con is only a few years old. Plus I’m usually with my boyfriend.



    1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

      Hi Lily! Thanks for stopping by!

      There are other ways of looking at the debate which I did not go into, and reading some more material from the debate could providing additional insight if you are interested. I might do a video on the topic soon in any case. The debate has many sources.

      I will not be able to attend Ottawa Comic-Con this year, but here will be a panel about geek girls. That could be interesting!

      I’ve never heard of anyone being harassed at Ottawa or Montreal Comic-Con. I really want to dig deeper, but it seems to me that these two events have a pretty good vide overall. Every geek event has its own dynamics, and I think that is a avenue of investigation for the future.

      Thanks for your input!


  2. Lunar Archivist

    Personally, I think the negative backlash against “fake geek girls” has its roots in negative experiences from high school, specifically interactions with the stuck-up teenage fashionista/trend follower. I’m pretty sure everyone’s familiar with the stereotype: the attractive, snooty, stylish, immaculately dressed girl who was at the apex of the high school social food chain, mindlessly followed what was considered “in” or “cool”, looked down on anyone that didn’t do the same, and immediately dropped a fad once it ceased being popular or went too mainstream. The kind of girl who looked down on geeks and nerds, mocked them, and generally made their lives miserable.

    Flash forward to today, where geek chic prevails and being a hardcore fan has gone is now considered “in”…and the problem should become immediately apparent. I suspect that the more vocal, misogynistic fans are concerned that the women “invading” their fandom are not there because of any genuine love for the material, but because they’re just mindlessly following another trend and will not hesitate to leave once the fad is over. They’re mentally associating these women with divas/princesses who tormented them in high school and releasing years or decades’ worth of pent-up aggression and anger.

    Then again, it could just be the blowback from aggressive feminist tactics, something that veteran Linux hacker Susan Sons described as a “sexual moral panic”:


  3. Lexi

    I left this post fangirling you open in my LiveJournal (LIVEJOURNAL IS NOT DEAD! I’s just . . . somewhat comatose), because I figured it would amuse you.


  4. Ana Bastow

    I can’t wait for the conclusion!
    I do have a personal theory that the Fake Geek Girl hate comes from the concept that female interests are inherently stupid, silly or unimportant. So when girls start to visible take interest in male dominated endeavors the men that have absorbed this concept feel is an attack on their own interests “If women only like stupid things, then they liking my nerdy hobbies means they are stupid too….THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!” Hence the need to attack the girl geek and prove she is a fake to keep the importance and in many cases the superiority complex of the hobbies they had invested so much time and money in.
    Anyhow is just a theory. I’m sure your conclusions will be more enlightening.


    1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

      Thanks for sharing this theory: it is one that bronies and pegasisters, fans of My Little Pony, often talk about. They feel that bronies are made fun of because they like something that is meant for girls, and because things that are marketed towards girls are considered as silly and stupid.

      In the case of the fake geek girl debate, I think the key element isn’t so much what geek girls like, because that’s the same as other geeks appreciate. Instead, geek girls are mocked because they aren’t considered ”real” fans, ”real” experts. They are accused of faking their interests to get attention, etc.

      I agree that for some geeks, having women share their interests might seem to ”contaminate” their hobbies, and that is an interesting avenue to explore. In the rants and the responses I analysed, I certainly saw indications that some geeks want to prevent geekdom from being ”destroyed” or ”ruined” by outsiders.

      In any case, my conclusion will be more precisly about projects created by geeks to feature geek women and fight against the concept of the fake geek girl.

      I could of course debate several more aspects of the debate which could help us understand why some geeks participate in gatekeeping (past experiences with marginalization, sexism, etc.) but as I stated in this piece, what I found very interesting was the fact that nobody really seemed to contest the idea that female participation in geekdom is mostly recent. I decided to focus on this, but maybe I’ll eventually have to write a more detailled analysis! There were so many fascinating elements in the rants and responses I analysed!


      1. Ana Bastow

        I’m sure that like most human endeavors is a complex issue with many different type of haters.
        I will be waiting to see your particular angle and will share it in my geeky places. I’m sure debunking the myth that women are new to the nerdom will help a lot to change matters for all geek girls around the world.
        Thank you so much for doing this 😀


    1. Caiaphas Cain

      Hi just want to dip in to the debate.:) There are some people who are into geek culture for the attention. Not all girls,and not all boys. Also negative experiences with mainstream society and girls and dating,shape this. Some nerds,such as myself have not even had a date. This leads towards bitterness towards women in general. The one place which we thought was safe from mainstream society,geek culture and people come in from the mainstream of society to trample it seems to annoy me.

      Caiaphas Cain


      1. Marie-Pierre Renaud

        Thank you for providing your input. It is much appreciated.

        This sort of comment is common in the fake geek girl debate, and is expressed by individuals who have drastically different takes on the debate itself.

        What is interesting is that one person can feel, as you do, that geek culture is being invaded by fake geeks, and yet be accused by others of being a fake. In so many of the youtube videos I analysed, especially the ones created by geek girls, the person speaking would argue against the fake geek girl debate, defend the geek credibility of geek girls, and yet state that fake geeks do exist. It’s as if these geeks are saying: ”yes there are fakes, but I am not one of them, and let’s not be mean to them.”

        What I am trying to express here is that everyone has their own definition of what being a true geek means. If we allow ourselves to judge others, and especially discriminate among ourselves, we may very well end up on the other side of these attitudes.

        Being self-aware of the reasons why one feels annoyed by other geeks helps us find the many roots of the fake geek girl debate. Is this debate really about the possibility that more women are invading geek culture? Is it really about the fake that they may be faking their interest in geek culture?

        As there is no tangible data to back either claims, we might look towards the reasons why so many geeks get angry over suppositions. Do geeks become defensive as more people flock to comic-con and take away the space that felt safe to them? Are they reacting out of fear, uncertainty or anger? Your comment and so many others I analysed in the fake geek girl debate do see to suggest that it is so.

        Analysing the fake geek girl debate has led me to be convinced that a dialogue is needed in geek culture to bring tensions down. After all, appearances can be extremely misleading, and geeks may find that people who don’t fit their criteria of geek credibility at first sight actually do, that is if they bother talking to them respectfully for more than 5 min.

        I can relate to your comment: I myself occasionnally feel that some people I know pretend to be geeky for attention, and some of these individuals used to mock me for liking science-fiction just a few years ago. In other words, ”I feel you bro”.

        And yet there is a difference between me knowing one or two persons who I am slightly resentful towards, and assuming that the whole of geekdom is under siege by hordes of fake geeks. More importantly, my impressions of others could be wrong: maybe they have developped a genuine interest in geek culture recently, or maybe they were always geeky but too afraid to say so in the past. Geek culture becoming more mainstream also means that more geeks are ”coming out of the geek closet”, so to speak. And let’s not forget that whatever other people trully feel about geek culture, I’d rather maintain a healthy, safe and friendly atmosphere in the groups I frequent rather than foster feelings of anger and discrimination. Especially considering that I meet my fair share of people who doubt my own geek credibility.

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!


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