If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Recently, a friend posted an article on his Facebook page about the pervasiveness of the “fake geek girl” in our society. It was an interesting read. (Author’s Note: I’d love to link to the article that inspired this piece, but disorganized creative type that I am, I never bothered to bookmark it. Ooops.) It’s no secret that it is now hot and trendy for girls who aren’t into a subculture that’s considered “geeky” to dress the part and show up at conventions and events. They aren’t there out of love for what everyone else loves, and are therefore largely either despised or objectified. Many of these girls are there because they’re either looking to meet a certain type of guy, or because they realize it’s a great way to get attention and fulfill the ultimate fantasy of many a geeky guy. It’s a lie, of course, and a game, and I don’t defend it.
Yet, I see why it’s necessary, or why some girls feel pressured to fake it in order to feel accepted by their friends, their significant others, or the group of people around them. It’s not any different than the pressure for women to adhere to the mainstream ideal of attractiveness when going out to a popular club, even if that’s not really representative of who that girl is.
Since most of you don’t know me and don’t read my blog or follow me on Facebook, I suppose I should share a little bit about myself. I’ve always been an intelligent, outgoing, unconventional girl who happens to frequently date guys and become close friends with guys who are the opposite of me (personality-wise, not intelligence-wise). I’m somehow well-suited to the guys who never seem to approach me; the introverted ones who you won’t meet at bars and who, if seen at a party, are afraid to talk to you. Some of them have gone on to become hugely successful. Some are the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. Some are the most memorable and affecting love affairs I’ve had in my life. Some are people I bond with in a way I’ve never bonded with anyone else. I’ve had to work to get to know many of these more introverted, driven people who tend to be both less emotional and less expressive than myself. But it largely works. I know many “geeky guys” who have changed me for the better and helped me grow, and I hope the reverse is true as well. Many of my friends don’t get it. They ask why I date “geeks” instead of more traditional types, the type of guy most of them would imagine I’d want in my life. They tell me someone isn’t good enough for me based on how they dress or how they act at parties or because someone would rather sit at home in front of a computer screen than do shots at a club on a Friday night. I see the judgment from mainstream society, and it annoys me terribly. I also see the judgement from a subculture that should know better, as they know little about me. It annoys me that I’d be seen as a “fake geek girl” or representative of something that is destructive to a community of people because I choose to show up at a convention that someone in my life is really excited about in costume to show my support for that person’s interests. If I don’t do this, if I reiterate my “non-geek girl” status, then instead of being a fake, I’m someone who simply doesn’t belong.
What annoys me even more is the sense of non-acceptance from the “geek” community. My boyfriend of quite a few years is a geek. He likes sci-fi and comic books and works as a computer programmer, and each year, we’re involved with a number of events that are most certainly “geeky” in nature. (What most people don’t know is that he watches some of the same reality TV shows I’m into, will sit through the opera or ballet, and is happy to keep up with my hectic social schedule–and be more amiable than I am in the process, at times. We’re all multifaceted.) I’m a very open person, and I tend to embrace even things that really aren’t part of my comfort zone. I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable about things I am not or that I am passionate about things that I have little interest in. However, I’m interested in getting to know other people and learning about their passions. I’d always assumed I’d encounter the same in response.
In truth, during my years interacting with the “geek subculture” I’ve encountered everything from being ignored and ostracized to having groups of girls make up mean nicknames for me and gossip behind my back. I will literally sit there at an event and nobody talks to me despite the fact that I’ve always been the approachable, chatty type who will make friends everywhere I go. I was shocked to realize that a group of people that had encountered so much judgement and non-acceptance was relatively uneasy with the idea of accepting me.
I do not advocate for the “fake geek girls” of the world, the ones who are simply out for a self-esteem boost and may have ulterior motives, although I don’t really believe one should be judged for enjoying admiration and appearing in photographs. In general, I do not advocate for “fake” anything, and thus, I’m not a “fake geek girl”. I don’t play video games or watch sci-fi, and I haven’t read a comic book. I’m a writer with a degree in musical theater. I’m outgoing. I plan parties. I like to be the center of attention. I’ve spent my whole life onstage. I’m not dumb, not an airhead, I just don’t like video games. I don’t like being made to feel I should apologize for being a high-school cheerleader because I’m with a group that got picked on by that crowd when we were all much younger. I was never the girl who did that, although maybe I didn’t stand up for the underdog or talk to the outcasts as much as I should have back then. I’d like to think we’ve all grown tremendously since then.
Yet, when I am part of a community that isn’t willing to accept me because I prefer Survivor to Stargate, I feel like I’m back in high school. Only this time, I’m not invited to sit at the “cool table”. It feels crappy to wonder why you’re invisible.
The irony is, it has nothing to do with intelligence, this type of judgement. I have a higher IQ than most of the self-proclaimed “smart, nerdy kids” who won’t talk to me because I mix up Star Wars and Star Trek. (yes, my secret is out.) If they wanted to talk to me about books or politics or philosophy or psychology or religion or almost anything else, they’d discover that. They’d discover I’ve led a pretty fascinating and well-rounded life, and a majority of the people in my world happen to be very high-achieving, intelligent, talented, and impressive people in their own right. However, once I mention I fell asleep during Firefly, I see the look of disinterest and dismissal. It really is a type of rejection.
Of course, this isn’t what I’ve encountered from everyone. I still continue to attend events and wear costumes at Dragon*Con and help out wherever I can, and it is because I have met some wonderful and fascinating people in the world of “geekdom”. It’s simply that I can understand the pressure to be a “fake geek girl”, because if you’re a girl who isn’t into that subculture, and you happen to date guys who are—well, you’re judged. A lot.
I don’t have interest in being someone I’m not. I’m not putting on an exploitative costume or wearing fake glasses or toning down my makeup or replacing my girly-girl fashion style with a witty T-shirt so people will think I’m smart or so geeky guys or intelligent guys will like me. They already do, with my quirky artist/life-loving manic pixie/insecure, misanthropic extroverted personality. Yet, it sucks not to fit in because a group of people who know all about being judged and not fitting in do the same to you.
I don’t, as a rule, judge people as a group. People are not categories, myself especially. I accept people as they are. I’m not a mainstream person. I belong to my own set of subcultures, and so I’m interested in accepting others. But it seems as if those who have most often been judged are the most likely to judge in return, leading a less individualistic person to wonder if it’s just easier to fake it.
I’m not defending the idea of the “fake geek girl”. In fact, I probably dislike this type of behavior more than the die-hard fans of one thing or another that are offended by it. I absolutely get that some girls pretend to be part of a subculture to attract a certain kind of guy, whether it’s geeks or hipsters or musicians or anything else. The feminist side of me cries a little when I see people sacrifice their authenticity in order to attract another person’s attention. It’s uncool, and it doesn’t work. However, I see why some girls who aren’t “geek girls” feel pressured to fake it in order to be accepted, much as with any group out there in mainstream culture. If you don’t, you risk being judged or seen as less than you are–or worse yet, people never get to know the real you. When the real you is worth knowing, and it always is, it’s a hurtful oversight that benefits no one.
The problem isn’t the “fake geek girl”. It’s that we live in a society that requires women to always fall neatly in boxes, usually boxes somehow related to the men with whom they associate, and to dress and act and behave in a way that’s rewarded by both men and women. If you conform, girls like you, guys are attracted to you, and your self-esteem is regularly reinforced. If you don’t, you risk judgment and ostracism and wonder what’s wrong with you. Girls are intimidated because you stand out, and, good or bad, that draws the attention other girls want for themselves. Guys are intimidated because you make it clear you’re playing by your own rules, not the standard ones in effect. Mainstream or subculture, women are still put in boxes that define the way in which they’re meant to be pleasing to others. Not that men aren’t, of course, but I will staunchly maintain women have it a bit harder on that front right now.
The problem is that we live in a world that encourages and rewards the “fake geek girl” just as it does the “fake Barbie doll girl”. It is harmful and diminishes the self-esteem of the women who firmly believe they cannot be loved and accepted without pretending to be something others will find attractive. It also demeans intelligent men, sending out the message that all guys would choose the fantasy over the reality, and they would not. The phenomenon of the “fake geek girl” is just another way women have found to manipulate or to be manipulated, even those who head into things with good intentions. Rather than her intelligence being accepted and encouraged by a community of peers, she’s being rewarded for her sexuality, for her willingness to please, to conform, to be another person’s ideal.
Why can’t we all just be as we are—flawed, interesting, diverse, messed-up, fun-loving human beings? And why, if you happen to be female, does your sexuality come before all of that?
That’s why I’m not a fake anything, and as a result, I don’t know that I belong anywhere in our society. I’m proud of my sexuality, but I own it. It is not something that is defined by the culture I live in, or the guys who want to buy me drinks, or someone who cares more about how I look in a Star Wars costume than my actual ability to converse and share ideas. It’s no different than what you might encounter in any other group of people, at any other social event.
The “fake geek girl” may be a despised, objectified, and often misunderstood creature. Yet, she exists because living in a way that is authentic and self-defined takes either great internal strength and confidence, or the ability to be a hard-headed human being who won’t compromise ideals to be liked, no matter how much harder that choice makes things. Most people prefer conformity or even the illusion of being accepted by a group.
The next time you meet an interesting, attractive woman at a “geek-oriented” event and she admits that she isn’t a fan of whatever happens to be the topic of discussion, perhaps it’s best not to assume she’s a “fake geek girl” there for attention. That assumption demeans everyone. Instead, find out why she is there, the things she’s most passionate about, and who she really is.
You may be pleasantly surprised at the eye-opening new perspective or intelligent conversation you’ll take away from doing so. You may even find you’ve made a new close friend simply by following the age-old wisdom of never judging a book by its cover.
Please read our followup piece to this controversial feature: The Myth of the “Fake Geek Girl”: Addressing the Discourse and Discontent
***The views expressed above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Nerdy Minds (Magazine) as a whole. But they might.***
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