Girls and geekdom: fiction vs. reality
I shouldn’t have to point out to any sane person why the very concept of “fake geek girls” is, in fact, pure bullshit. But the sad fact of the matter is that the portrayal (or rather, the lack of portrayal) of female members of the geek community in fictional media is definitely not helping.
The most typical (and stereotypical way) of portraying geeks in fictional media is via young white males hanging around geeky places like comic book stores, making jokes about how pathetic they are, and how they have no chance of ever getting girlfriends because they hang out in places like comic book stores that are complete wastelands as far as girls go. Or, we might see those same geeky guys go to a comic/anime convention, and the joke once again becomes that they’re just being dorky guys and they have no chance of meeting any girls at these places.
Usually, it’s meant as a joke on how pathetic the guys are, so we can point and laugh at them. And then also feel a sense of accomplishment when one of them manages to get a hot girlfriend outside of the geek community by the end of the episode/movie/season, and then we can all go, “He got a life, hooray for him!”
Not only is this image completely wrong, but it’s also actually hurtful in its own way.
Firstly, what’s wrong with having a “geeky hobby” and drawing joy from that? Why can’t you be both a geek and a well-rounded person? And what’s wrong with being a geek? What do you care what I do in my spare time? How is reading comic books any less worthwhile than bird watching, dog breeding, stamp collecting, watching sports, or any other time-consuming hobby? And why can’t you do all of the above if you want to?
Secondly, the idea that there are “geek” places that are a completely devoid of girls is just bullshit, and only serves to further propagate the image that girls don’t know how to have fun and don’t understand geek culture. And what I’m led to believe is that the men writing these movies and shows have in fact never actually been to a convention.
I, however, have been to a number of comic/anime conventions in three countries now (England, Denmark, and Austria) and here are some of the things I’ve observed at them. These may not be true everywhere in the world, but it’s actually been true at most of the conventions I’ve been to!
Girls love to dress up as male characters, even from fandoms mostly considered to be male.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the SVS anime convention in Herning, Denmark. I was driven by a lovely young woman, twenty years old, and while I was being more conventional and dressing up as Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, who did she turn out to be?
Well, duh, Mr. Freeze, of course!
And she wasn’t the only one. At this convention alone, which in the grand scheme of things is a pretty tiny convention, with only around 360 people attending, I also encountered women dressed as:
- Soldiers from Attack on Titan (widely considered to be the most blood-spewing-est anime to come out in the last few years)
- The Riddler
- Three different Links
- Four different Monkey D. Luffys
- Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee
…Just to mention a few.
Now, not all girls were cosplaying as male characters. I would say 60% of them were cosplaying as females, and many of them were in nice beautiful dresses or sexy small costumes.
But what does this tell us? It says that women are certainly not limited in what they like in a character. Girls are attracted to interesting, unique characters just as much as being feminine and pretty. And this is why we’re so often led to cosplay as male characters, simply because there are a greater variety of them.
I even had a conversation with my Mr. Freeze, where she openly admitted she cosplayed as Mr. Freeze because she loves his character as portrayed in Batman: The Animated Series, and loves being able to spew out all those ice puns. But at the same time, we both agreed we’d like to cosplay as pretty princess types at one point. And why should we have to choose between the two?
The girls at these conventions are just as knowledgeable of geek fandom as the boys.
A woman who can list off all the Batman villains in Batman TAS is actually not as rare as you think. At a geek con, that’s downright normal. Girls who own several gaming consoles and play tons of RPGs with a passion? Also not a rarity. And well, maybe it’s just because of David Tennant’s sexy butt, but I can’t help but think that there just might be a few more female Whovians out there than male Whovians.
I had conversations at SVS with members of many different fandoms, all the way from One Piece to the upcoming Superman vs. Batman movie, with people from both genders, all of whom were just as into these franchises and fandoms as I was. This is rather unlike The Big Bang Theory, where a woman will just look numbly upon a man talking about the law of Thor’s hammer, isn’t it?
What does this tell us? Well, for one thing, that the very idea of women not knowing anything about geek culture is complete and utter bullshit. Believe me, I wasn’t the only woman raiding that comic book stand (I bought Batman: Hush, thanks for asking). There’s a genuine audience here to cater to, and the portrayal of women in fictional media is not only wrong, but kind of hurtful when you think about it for more than two seconds.
More than half of convention attendees are women.
I’ve noticed this for a good while, and I always make a point of being aware of it whenever I go to a con. But every time, my experience only confirms what I already know: that the female gender completely dominates the scene of anime conventions and cosplay culture!
You heard me right: not only are women present in big numbers when it comes to dressing up in capes and masks for a weekend of fun, but in general they outnumber the males. Granted, not all “geek” gatherings seem to have that much female representation—in my general experience, it breaks down like this:
- LAN parties will have the occasional woman or two once in a while.
- Tabletop role playing games in general have just a few women present.
- Premieres of big superhero movies will have at least a fair attendance of women.
- At LARP games, one-third of all attendees will in general be women.
- Anything Doctor Who-related will pretty much have a fifty-fifty showing.
- And cosplay gatherings will most likely have a predominance of women.
What does this tell us? Where do I even begin? All of the above is the indisputable reality that I’ve experienced by simply stepping outside of my house and going to a local convention in town. It’s not a wasteland for women—quite the opposite.
Women show up, not for some higher purpose, but because they love being geeks and geeking out over all of these things. There’s no need to assume that only men are watching geek movies. Heck, I’m quite sure that a lot of women really appreciate shirtless Thor, in both of his movies.
It seems that movies, television shows, and comic books have yet to catch up to the reality of girls in geekdom, and that’s pretty sad. And it’s insulting to be told by the media that you don’t even exist. So please, spread the word, and if you happen to be a creative person, think twice about the way you portray women and geeks in the things you create.
Fandoms belong to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or nationality. That’s what geekdom is all about: A liberating space for everyone, where anyone can act like a crazy idiot if they want, appreciating the things they love and the things that bring some small amount of joy to their lives.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]