Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl

If you are not one already, imagine you are a lady-type. So there you are, at an event, enjoying yourself and the topic/event/display at hand. This is why you go to such events! Good times, good friends, good discussion, perhaps good foods-and-drinks. But something seems off. Or something happens. Something you can’t pin a description onto, or something that you only hear about, in mutterings and I’ll-tell-you-laters. At the time, you may not really know what this something is, but you know it’s not going to be nice when you find out. You try to enjoy yourself anyway, because it’s always something. And nobody ever wants to talk about it… until suddenly, everybody does.

What is this mysterious “something,” you may ask? Something like joke stickers getting slapped onto girls’ behinds. Or some hurr-hurr about forking and dongles. Or some incoherent what-is-this-I-don’t-even. Or just a bit of Twitter concern trolling. (hm, wait.) Or while we’re at it, any of this sort of nonsense.

In response to this extra-special brand of stupidity, a “group of talented, articulate and passionately nerdy women” got together and, with the support of the Chicago Nerd Social Club, put on a fantastic panel at C2E2 discussing geek culture, gate-keeping and sexism. Ok, so C2E2 was in April, but the production was just recently completed  so that I can show you the full panel in all its glory!

Here’s a short(ish) preview:

Starting with a discussion of the challenges faced by women in geek culture, we dive right into some of the weirder dichotomies. Dawn was asked if she was borrowing someone else’s speaker badge. Michi had a distinctly non-zero number of situations where her male friends had to remember ‘Oh, yeah, that’s right… you’re a GIRL. Oh, but you’re not like those other girls.’

“And it takes you a while, but as you get older you start realizing, that’s a little condescending! And it pits you against other women. And it took me a long time to realize that’s not a healthy attitude to have.”

They move on to how some men seem to be astounded that women who enjoy geeky things have somehow magically appeared out of nowhere. ‘Look at all the WOMEN at this con, look at all the women PARTICIPATING and being ACTIVE… Where WERE they this whole time?’ Well, we’ve always been here. But you still get situations like this:

Cool Green Lantern shirt, dude.Can you even NAME any Green Lanterns?

Erin points out, “There’s a lot of women gatekeeping against other women, too… (some) women have the mindset of I have to be the only woman in the group…But it’s not a matter of there’s only one, we can ALL be nerds and it’s okay.”

Is part of the defensive gatekeeping in nerd-dom based in the notion that geek culture has been used as an escape from mainstream culture and heteronormative masculinity, so we have to be protective about who we let in? Or is it rooted in the exceptional idea of limited quantity, special edition items, events, and even time spent with favored people? Will there still be enough nerdery to go around if we start letting just anyone in? Will we still be special, and should we let everyone else be special too? And why do we lash out so hard at anyone ‘new‘?

“Part of gatekeeping comes from having suffered. And I think for women, that’s extra the case. It was extra hard to BE a girl, you had to suffer more! So you’re gonna make that next person suffer more!”

XKCD - Ten Thousand

So what can we do to welcome people? Laura recommends that we keep talking about this kind of stuff, and asks, “Can anyone refer to themselves as a nerd or a geek? Or are we going to close the gate of nerdery and lock it? I don’t think anyone wants that.” And Erin quite astutely wonders, “If nobody new is let in, how are we going to learn anything new?”  One of the points that kept being repeated over and over again was that, regardless of who you are and who they are or what gender they are presenting as or what costume they’re wearing or how well you know them or where they showed up or how long they’ve been there was summed up by Michi:

“That person’s geekdom is not about you. It’s all about her. It’s all about that person’s ability to express geekdom and participate in geek culture however the hell they want. It has nothing to do with you.”

Toward the end, Karlyn makes a really good point about why challenging wrongnesses is a good thing. We don’t point out flaws in the things we enjoy because we want to ‘ruin it for everyone,’ but because we’re thinking “I love this, I want to change it, I want to make it better!”

So go watch the whole panel here. It’s a full hour, but it’s so. Damn. Good. And John Scalzi wants you to!

The Q and A at the end brings up some really great points, so I very highly recommend that you keep watching all the way to the end.

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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  1. I am… I happened to be there, and they wanted commentary. But that’s not the whole good panel video! Did you watch that one?

  2. Thanks so much for doing such a fantastic write up of the panel. Everyone put so much work into getting it off the ground and even a few months later, we’re still buzzing from how awesome the crowd was. I really hope people find the discussion useful and that we’ll have more chances to continue it at other cons. Judging from the level of interest we got at C2E2, it’s a topic people really want to see addressed.

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