Don't Worry Geeks, You're No Longer Freaks. Unless, Of Course, You're A Girl.
Did you hear the rumor? The word on the street is that geek culture is dead. I know, you’re confused. “But, but,” you cry out, “geek culture is everywhere!” It’s true, geek culture is in ur summer blockbusters, plastered on ur ironic tees and messing with ur sentence structure. But that’s the point, I guess, fellow geeks, now that we’re mainstream, we’re nothing. This was the thrust of Patton Oswalt’s recent and much-lauded article for Wired magazine where he lamented:
Our below-the-topsoil passions have been rudely dug up and displayed in the noonday sun. The Lord of the Rings used to be ours and only ours simply because of the sheer goddamn thickness of the books. Twenty years later, the entire cast and crew would be trooping onstage at the Oscars to collect their statuettes, and replicas of the One Ring would be sold as bling.
But, listen, my geek friends, once we move past the petulant, playground mentality of “this is mine and you can’t have it,” oughtn’t we rejoice? This sounds like the death to any exclusion to me. Death to wedgies and swirlies and being stuffed in your locker. So go ahead, shout your love for Star Wars from the rooftops without fear of reprisal! Drag your comics out from their dusty hiding place underneath your bed, wear your TARDIS shirt and sport those pointy elven/vulcan/Yoda ears! No one will mock you. Unless, wait, you don’t have boobs, do you? Oh, then we’ve got a problem.
Last week, Vince Mancini of Film Drunk posted a controversial video called “Hot Girls Pandering To Nerds.” The video (put together by Film Drunk film editor Oliver Noble) attempts to expose a group of attractive female actresses “faking” their “nerd cred” in order to curry favor with the male film-going audience. This gendered view of geek credibility didn’t go over well with the collection of female bloggers and authors known as “The Geek Girls” who fired back via Twitter and on their blogs calling for Mancini to apologize for what they perceived to be a very sexist post. The backlash puzzled Mancini who says, “I was surprised by the reaction. Especially the part where they somehow thought I’d implied it wasn’t okay or wasn’t possible to be attractive and be a geek…But just because something’s true doesn’t mean it’s not a cliché or that it’s not pandering.” One of the Geek Girls, Amy Ratcliffe of “Geek With Curves, explains the Geek Girl response, “Besides realizing that I really dislike the word ‘pander,’ I saw his point about some people faking geek cred. I just didn’t like that he focused on women only - that just makes us (geek girls) feel picked on. We respond when we feel picked on; I think we are all protective of each other.”
This is not the first time the Geek Girls have banded together to protect their own. In December of last year, 7 year-old Katie Goldman tearfully asked her mother if she could replace her Star Wars water bottle with a plain pink one because the kids at her school were bullying her and telling her that Star Wars is only for boys. Bonnie Burton of Grrl.com led the charge and mobilized geeks (both male and female) who came to Katie’s defense. Burton explains:
Fans said, “Not on my watch we’re not going to let any little girl be put in a corner for liking Star Wars.” There was a great outpouring of support of comments on our blog and her mom’s blog it was just one of those moments that made me really proud to be a Star Wars fan and a Geek Girl.
In fact, actress Ashley Eckstein who voices a lead character on the popular “Star Wars: Clone Wars” series (ahem, a female warrior) sent young Goldman some goodies from her Her Universe line of geekware exclusively for women.
The next slight to female geeks came in the form of a NYT “review” for the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” In addition to not actually reviewing the show, NYT writer Ginia Bellafante called the sci-fi/fantasy genre “boy fiction.” Once again the Geek Girls mobilized and there was a huge backlash resulting in a non-apology apology from Bellafante and causing Geek Girl Nicole Girtman to create The Geek Girls Book Club. Girtman explains:
I wanted to start a book club for all geeks, not just women. A place where those kinds of books are the norm, and we can discuss them among peers. I hope that people of all ages and sexes will enjoy the books, and mostly the bonds that are made between truly wonderful geeks.
For many the NYT review carried the extra sting that comes when a woman attacks or derides other women. This same sting accompanied Salon.com writer Mary Elizabeth Williams’ repost of the Film Drunk video. When asked to elaborate on her write-up, Williams asserts, “It’s about the fantasy of the attainable girl. And it’s the way these women very deliberately try to create this image as superhot but also superaccessible and regular that I question.” Williams isn’t the only female to share Vince Mancini’s view. Zooey Mae of Synthesis.net attacked women who display both femininity and nerdiness saying, “There’s actually a woman who’s paid by the fascists at MTV to write about comics. That’s all well and good, but her blog title is ‘Has Boobs, Reads Comics.’ Really? I’d like to punch her in her stupid boobs. ” You can read Jill “Stupid Boobs” Pantozzi’s eloquent response here.
Do female geeks pander? Do actresses pander? Were THESE actresses pandering? Well, the general consensus among both the Geek Girls and Mancini and Williams is that EVERYONE panders. Kiala Kazebee of The Nerdist says,
I kind of think they are just hobbyists with socially acceptable body types crammed into tight clothing. You don’t see me getting up in arms about Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins [of “Supernatural”] not being true nerds. Hollywood will market anything and everything - ESPECIALLY a woman’s sexuality. I think it must be a terrible uphill battle as a female in the nerd industry in regards to how much of your sexuality you are willing to er…sell. I do not envy these women. I will say I personally would wish for more personality based geek heroines in the industry and less sexy sex sex ones.
Unfortunately for Film Drunk, Burton et. al. speak to the bonafides of the actresses included in his video and even Mancini admits, “I think [the Geek Girls] were valid in thinking I maybe should’ve left Rosario Dawson and (to a lesser extent) Adrianne Curry out of the video. They definitely seemed genuine, and genuineness is generally seen as at odds with ‘pandering.’”
However, I think the real disconnect between the Geek Girl detractors and the Geek Girl supporters is this question of the importance of the “Geek” label. Both Mancini and Williams declared the geek label as “irrelevant” saying it has lost all meaning. They both used the term “outsider” as if to claim “geek” status is to announce yourself as separate, alone and different. All the Geek Girls I interviewed, on the other hand, glorify the term as one of inclusivity, shared interest and, in the words of the fabulous Geek Girl Diva “empowerment.” The desire to create a welcoming environment, they say, is the reason why they are so vocal in their loves. The reason, in fact, such sites as The Mary Sue, DC Women Kicking Ass and Girls Love Superheroes exist is so the Katie Goldmans of the world know there is a place where they belong. Bonnie Burton explains:
Geek as a positive thing, without geeks we wouldn’t have the internet or science or space travel or imagination. There are a lot of teenage girls in Junior High and Elementary School who may not realize it’s okay for them to like this stuff. So it’s crucial for we Geek Girls to make their presence known so they can be proud of all the geeky things they do whether it be sci-fi/fantasy or hardcore mathematics or hardcore gardening or whatever! You know, everyone has something that they geek out about. Everyone’s welcome to the geek clubhouse and don’t forget your lightsaber.
So welcome to the Geek clubhouse everybody but be careful if you try to attack it because, in the words of the Tenth Doctor, it is defended.