I'm Afraid I Might Be A "Fake Geek Girl"

Can we still be friends if I admit I've never read the Arthur Conan Doyle versions of "Sherlock Holmes?"
Publish date:
January 18, 2013
sexism, fandom, comics, nerdery, fake geek girl

If you don't spend a lot of time on Tumblr or Reddit, you may have had the good fortune to miss the second terrible incarnation of the "Fake Geek Girl" meme -- and this time, it had pictures.

Much like the first round of idiocy that Lesley detailed back in August, the Meme That Would Not Die continued to maintain that "Fake Geek Girls" -- that is, girls who fake an interest in so-called "nerdy" pursuits -- are just doing so to get male attention.

In reality, it implies, these girls would rather be watching "The O.C." or listening to Linkin Park or whatever the popular kids do instead of participating in good, wholesome geek interactions. (Since this whole thing reeks of middle-school exclusionism, I am basing all examples on the idea that these people never matured past their 2003 selves.) But because the allure of nerdy guys is just too strong, these girls go through the effort of crafting a fake geek persona and -- horror beyond horrors -- showing their cleavage at cons. Those harpies!

I call bullshit. Obviously. And so did most of the women I know. They, like Lesley, were primarily interested in dismantling the meme's cowardly misogyny and taking down any creators who were apparently so caught up in the zeitgeist that they forgot to act like decent human beings.

There was a perceptible outpouring of support, with lots of "there's no gate to fandom, and you're not the gatekeeper"-style rhetoric. And for those women who had been accused of "faking" their interest in comics or sci-fi, this came as a fabulous opportunity to share their experiences with geek harassment and overall jerkassery. (Questionable) victory for everyone!

Except, you know, me.

Because here's the thing. I spend a lot of my professional and personal time knee-deep on the Internet. I used to gallop around my parents' house pretending I was riding a horse to glory when I was far too old to be doing so. I've been taking an improv class, and everyone else gets furious with me when our coach tells us to "be creative" because they have to go along with my inevitable impression of a dragon hoarding its gold. However wrong I might be, I consider myself to be pretty geeky.

But the minute I saw that Fake Geek Girl meme, my first thought was "Oh God, I've been found out." It's not that I use my nerdy wiles to entrap dudes -- I'm pretty sure that guys are way more likely to interest me in dates by quoting "Sherlock" than vice versa. It's more that the minute I become interested in something geeky, I feel deeply insecure that someone is going to catch me out on not being into it enough.

So much of what makes geek culture delightful is the sheer volume of work that lots of creators and fans are willing to put in to make their chosen universe as vibrant and compelling as possible. Take "Lord of the Rings," for example: far from being a standalone trilogy, it acts as part of a canon that extends thousands of years back to the dawn of time. For a certain kind of fan, that makes it all the more alluring. I, on the other hand, get overwhelmed, freak out, and try to ignore the fact that it exists. It's just my way.

Thus, why I really liked the new "Star Trek" movie but have never seen the original series. Ditto with the newest episodes of "Doctor Who." I quite like Neil Gaiman's short stories, but I've never made it through the entirety of "Sandman." "Harry Potter" was fabulous, but my interest in Pottermore is basically zilch.

Even in college, I preferred survey courses to intensive subject study ones, which would make me a pretty great Cash Cab contestant but is unlikely to get me guest starring on any NPR podcasts aside from WNYC'S microniche market of "freckled women who like to look at photos of bats and crows."

Overall, my geeky interests tend to skew more toward "Greatest Hits" than "deep cuts," and, frankly, I feel a little ashamed of it. I don't lack enthusiasm -- anyone who's seen my creepy-ass Tamora Pierce grin-face could attest to that -- but I do tend to come up short in the foundational knowledge of a lot of fandoms.

It's not as if I judge other people for doing the same goddamn thing; I'm usually way too excitedly mouth breathing on them to grill them about their thoughts on Obscure Episode 2x12. And I know that, realistically, it would be impossible for me to read all the back issues and watch all the old trailers and still have time to sleep. But my Jerk Competitive Brain is a powerful thing, and it gives me a stomach-clenching sense of impostor syndrome every time I try to enter into a casual conversation about steampunk or whatever.

Somewhat troublingly, I can kind of understand why other people would frown at me for daring to call myself a fan. A lot of geeky media have such a rich history that they don't have an instinctive "jumping-in" point. Being dedicated enough to burrow through hours of backstory and world building takes effort, and I imagine that it's a little jarring for those willing to do so to meet fellow fans who haven't put in the same time and energy investment as they have.

In fact, when I do meet other fans, I try to downplay my own froth-mouthed ebullience, lest they think of me as a poseur.

So the "Fake Geek Girl" meme totally succeeded on that account -- it made me feel ashamed of not being authentic enough in my excitement. Congratulations, Inter-bros.

The thing is, though, that while I may be a dick about these things to myself, I don't like the fact that dudes on the Internet are using this same disdain to be dicks to women. Though "snaggin' peen" is often weirdly used as the reason any "Fake Geek Girl" feigns a fascination with Comic-Con, I've found that geeks also frequently accuse women of just being into the "hot guys" tangentially involved with the fandom rather than the fandom itself.

When I was first starting to get interested in the Avengers, for example, one of my guy friends asked me who my favorite was.

"Hawkeye!" I chirped for no particular reason except that he seemed kind of surly and I dug it.

"UGH," Guy Friend said. "Do you even know any of his backstory?"

"Some of it," I said. "You know, carnival, brother issues, all that."

"You just like him because he's going to be played by Jeremy Renner," Guy Friend snipped.

At the time, I furiously denied it (even though he was not a little wrong). But I'm starting to get annoyed with the idea that any motivation for getting into a fandom is the "wrong" one. I've noticed that a lot of the "Fake Geek Girl" so-called warning signs tend to use this as their thesis: that becoming interested in the romantic aspects of a storyline or the hot dudes cast as character actors is somehow a less worthy fan-origin than liking the costumes or the violence or any other element.

Sure, I may have perked up when I heard my favorite French bulldog-faced action star was playing Hawkeye, but I've since bought every issue of Matt Fraction's Hawkeye comic to date. I'd consider myself a pretty worthy customer, not matter how invested I am in Renner's rippling forearms.

And, let's face it, it's not as if geek culture holds no sway for heterosexual guys. Yet I've never heard anyone accuse a young man of "only liking 'The Fifth Element' for the titties."

This is why I'm glad that in addition to many Geek Girls coming out of the woodwork to prove their expertise, a growing part of the response to "Fake Geek Girl" is to say, "So what?" when they're accused of not being "geek enough" or of having the "wrong reasons" for being interested in things.

I particularly like Spokane's Geek Girl Project, which invites any woman who self-identifies as a nerd to take photos of themselves at Spokane's Comic Book Shop. It suggests that geekiness isn't one side of a binary, where the other side is "non-geek" (or, as Rachel Edidin suggests, "girl").

Instead, geekiness is a spectrum -- and there's no shame in identifying anywhere along it. The sooner I internalize that, I guess, the happier I'll be.

Please suggest new geeky things for Kate to feel weird about loving so wholeheartedly: @katchatters.