Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Confessions of a fake geek girl

Lots of the people who know me are raising an eyebrow right now. Bear with me. I really am. Instead of starting this post convincing you how geeky I am, and how female I am, I'm not going to bother. I'm going to be honest with you instead. You can come to the conclusion yourself about whether I am fake. I feel fake. Right now, from where I'm sitting in this debate, that's all that matters. The Atlantic published a piece on Fake Geek Girls in which they said:
That's because geekdom is built on cultural knowledge; on how much you've consumed; on what you've consumed; and on how long before everyone else you were able to consume it. That knowledge is—deliberately, essentially, intentionally—used, and meant to be used, as an identity, and, therefore, as power.
I have no cultural knowledge. None. I don't get involved in quote off's. I don't know Princess Bride backwards, I've seen it once and kind of sort of didn't quite get it. I hate Star Trek, I've watched Next Gen end to end but no one else has. I didn't have a computer or console when I was a kid, I don't know the back story of Nintendo. I didn't get even an eighth of the references in Wreck it Ralph and I don't know who Loki is. I refused to read a Fantasy book until 5 years ago because it involved dragons and for goodness sake,  dragons don't exist, whoever heard of anything so utterly silly?

If knowledge is identity and identity is power, I have no geek and therefore no power.

When did anything to do with the word geek become about power, I hear you cry? Geeks inherited the earth, why they even messing about in this discussion? Why does it even matter?

Well. That's an interesting question because once you've inherited the earth, one would think there was nowhere else to go. But it seems there is, and that's making sure that only one gender inherits it. You see again, from where I'm sitting, that's how this whole conversation looks. Bearing in mind I am not a geek. From the outside it looks like a bunch of people discussing fear. And insecurity. And uncomfortableness with a new found place in the world which doesn't look anything like that place looked 10 years ago.

Wind way back to my first interaction with geeks. Identifiable geeks. I was 13 years old and wanted to know what the group of boys were doing acting all surreptitiously around the bottom of the stairs up to the library every lunchtime at our secondary school. One day, I asked one of the boys who was involved in the midst of our CDT: Tech drawing GCSE class (female membership of said class: 5 out of 20) what they were up to. He explained. I asked if I could come along. He said no. No 'place' for girls.

In retrospect, perhaps he meant the GM had no female character slots scheduled into for that game. Oh, wait, sorry, I'm not supposed to know what a GM is am I.

That lad, called Brian, is solely responsible for what little education I have about 1990's computer games. He let me read his games magazines. I had no chance of actually playing the games as we had nothing to play them on, but nevertheless, I enjoyed reading them a lot. It was a gateway into another world, a clever, beautiful, thoughtful one.

Our school was not a school you admitted to enjoying reading books in. It wasn't until university that I realised it was normal for people to read books, lots of them, of all kinds, just for pleasure.

Somewhere around this point I also read Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson. Mind blown. Yet I didn't go back to another 'sci-fi' book until a boyfriend introduced me to William Gibson when I was 19 or so. Anyone spotting the theme running through my life yet?

Spin forward and here I am. Tapping on a 10 inch laptop with an iPad next to me. Owner of more tech and gadgetry than is entirely necessary, reading George R R Martin avidly but cheering on Arya, not Daenerys and making a conscious decision to point out that that difference is incredibly important to point out. Why is it important to point out? Cos the pretty girls like Daenerys, right? How the hell is a pretty blond haired thin girl with the world given to her on a plate because of how she looks, ever going to identify with any other character Martin has created? How could a pretty blond haired thin girl every understand how Arya feels, locked in a girls body but a better fighter than some of the boys?

If boys exclude girls from their geekery as they grow up, don't think for a second girl geeks don't exclude too. In Daenerys, Martin has created an interesting dichotomy - what perhaps accidentally has become eye candy for the boys in the TV series, has become a trojan horse for at least part of what this discussion on fake geek girls is all about. She's pretty. She uses it. Men assume she is stupid. She uses it. If you're paying attention, she's the most lethal combination of all the characters, the one who doesn't look like lethal. You can't see the qualities she possesses that make her lethal and even if you could, would you see past the pretty face and blond hair?

Of course there are less geek girls than there are geek boys, so they should stick together, right? Wrong. Think of it like this. You're a girl. You're a geek. You're a rarity in your school or town. All the geek boys act like you're catnip, you're guaranteed an invite to every RPG or tabletop gathering, every film night, every trip to a con. You're the centre of the their world. You've listened to their girlfriend (or lack thereof) woes, you've been a shoulder to cry on, you've backed off when their girlfriends have become jealous because they don't understand why they're not invited to sit and watch at the weekly D & D gathering (god forbid they'd join in but it's okay cos it's a personal choice and you'd never force anyone to do anything but you're sure you occasionally catch her smirking when she thinks no one is looking) and you've carried them home the first time they got drunk.

Now imagine some other geek girl comes along. Going to be difficult. Unless they've got the same fandom, of course, in which case there will ensue lots of squeeing, lots of incomprehensible chatter about slash fic and drama llamas and a healthy dose of shopping in obscure online shops. Now if you don't understand fandom, you'd think that would happen more often than not. Trust me. Not.

All of these messages and signals and experiences create something. Or rather, they create someone. A fake geek girl. It's nothing to do with looks. It's nothing to do with size. If you think you've got the monopoly on this cos you're skinny and beautiful, this fat assed girl is here to tell you, you are wrong.

It makes you...hesitant. Hesitant to join in conversations in case someone makes a joke containing a reference you don't get and you'll either not laugh, instantly marking yourself out as not one of you, or laugh but in the wrong place. It makes you...conscious. Of everything that comes out of your mouth as you scramble for the reference you need, the episode title you've forgotten, or the actors name you can never remember but begins with A and ends in Head. It makes you...nervous. Nervous of sticking your head above the parapet and self identifying as a geek in case someone asks you a difficult question and you answer incorrectly. Or of wearing the wrong t-shirt to the wrong convention, or bringing the wrong book from the wrong series for that author to sign, or not understanding klingon or not knowing each of the Star Trek movies by name or admitting that you're a New Who fan and you think old Who sucks or that comics are incomprehensible to you or that you can never remember where Dollhouse actually ended or...

Sound familiar?

It should. It's how geek boys feel when they get cornered in a lift with a football fan on a Monday morning.

Now add tits. You know, those things we can't hide. The things that are the elephants in the room. The things which can be hidden online but we know there's no point because we'll always get found out the second we walk through the front door and attend 'an event', be that a LAN party (showing my age there) or a con. There's just no point in hiding. And so we are starting to not hide. We're starting to come out of the woodwork, to find our voice, and our words and our geekeries and our opinions. We're starting to admit we don't know stuff but be quite vocal about the stuff we do know about. We're writing the books that you read, we're GM'ing the games that you play, we're running your board game nights and we're analysing our own data to see how the world can be made better. We're mapping the streets you walk for free, we're system hacking our way around your cities and occasionally running around under your feet exploring.

We're in your world. We always were. You just couldn't see us because we wouldn't let ourselves be seen thanks to a collision of frankly awful experiences (for every geek girl who had a good experience, there's one who didn't) which taught us to wind our necks in, especially when it came to being around you. Not welcome was writ large across the messages you gave out, whether you were conscious of giving those messages or not. It doesn't matter.

What matters is how you conduct yourselves right now. It matters a lot. And this thing about fake geek girls? If you're one of the people perpetuating this ridiculousness, grow up and grow a pair. You've been telling me for years that it's what's on the inside that counts, that the wrapping is irrelevant, and I have been agreeing with you. Every boy, bloke, man I have ever spent time with, I have spent time with because they were a geek. It was accidental, but it happened. You've introduced me to the joys of being a geek, of thinking, of reading, hell, I've even got over the dragon thing.

Now it's time for you to put your money where your mouth is. Don't judge books by their covers. They're not judging you. You're judging them. All I can see is fear and insecurity that somehow someone might laugh at you.

Stop it.

They wont laugh. They'll/we'll more than likely give you a big hug, ask your favourite author and enter into a Cornell vs Aaronovitch fight. Trust me. I'm a very old girl geek. Woman geek. Geek woman.

Can we work on sorting that out next please? :O)


  1. Not sure what I can say, except to point out that you are wrong about one thing, even though you are right about everything else ;)

  2. Ha ha ha I never knew that song existed!

  3. Rightly or wrongly I link being a geek with being a feminist mainly because as far as I am concerned there shouldn't be a competitive element to either, yet some people find themselves elevated because of some secret code that excludes other people.

    I've written a lot about fandom and how I've seen it work and how I'm not necessarily comfortable with all of it. I've come to the conclusion that you construct your own way of geeking like you construct your own feminism, no one way or right way to do it.

    I certainly see myself outside of mainstream fandoms a lot of the time, does that make me any less of a fangirl? Hell no, I watch I absorb, I enjoy, I squee.

    People who make you feel bad are being dicks.

  4. Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.