The Myth of the “Fake Geek Girl”: Addressing The Discourse And Discontent

Over the past few days, I’ve gotten quite a reaction from an article I posted titled “The Myth Of The Fake Geek Girl. Honestly, the reaction was quite a bit more intelligent and insightful than I expected. I read and received feedback [as a comment on the original post, as well as on Facebook and other social media sites] from people who’d experienced different types of discrimination, judgment, or ostracism in the geek universe. I also read and received feedback from people who told me I didn’t understand geeks and that I should not expect to be accepted or embraced by a culture with whom I do not share key common interests. I’ll be completely honest; a few comments even felt personal and hit home.

One of the repeated negative comments I received was regarding the fact that I chose to call this article “The Myth Of The Fake Geek Girl”, while focusing on personal anecdotes that dwelt upon my refusal to turn myself into some version of a “Fake Geek Girl” in order to find acceptance within a community that did not initially embrace my presence with the enthusiasm and friendliness I am used to in life.

This article was originally posted as a personal reflection on my blog, which is both intensely personal and what one might consider “feminist” in nature. (Yes, I said the “F-word”.) I briefly considered calling it “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t” . The reason is that the intent of the article was not to define the “myth of the fake geek girl” nor to prove or disprove if such a thing did in fact exist. The intent was to point out that the world of “geekdom” often puts women in an awkward position. If you are a relatively young, attractive, outgoing woman who is not really that big of a fan of most of the things you’d encounter at Dragon Con, Comic-Con, or your average geek-related group, yet your friends/significant other(s) are and you don’t wish to be left behind, you have some choices. You can become the most enthusiastic fan of that thing you don’t really love, dress in cool costumes, wear T-shirts promoting that new thing you were kind of indifferent toward, be really friendly to your less extroverted counterparts—and inevitably face being called out as a “fake”. In a way, if you do this, you’re not really being your most authentic self, you’re just trying to fit in, and that is a little fake. Some might resent this. Others might applaud you for being supportive and attempting to broaden your horizons.

The alternative is to expose yourself to aspects of said geek culture, realize you don’t really find it that compelling or entertaining, and be honest about it. There’s no need to put others down by saying, “Oh, hey, I saw that Avengers thing and it SUCKED.” However, if someone asks you if you liked The Avengers, it’s perfectly OK to say no. It’s even OK at an Avengers Meetup, because chances are good that you have other reasons for being there besides The Avengers. Also, you can assume the people you will meet have other interests that will come up, and you may share some of those.

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Likely, you will assume wrong. People will ostracize, exclude, and ignore you for not liking what they like. In most places, this is not considered good social practice. I’d be missing out on knowing awesome people if I took that tactic to socializing with my peers. In fact, I may have no friends at all if friendship was built on the foundation of shared niche interests. Yet, a comment I received explained this was considered OK at a geek-related function because people are there to discuss one thing, and, “If you don’t like the thing I like, why should I talk to you?” This comment went on to address a number of really intelligent points and provide perspective into the mind of someone who may be attending a geeky event for reasons other than socialization. However, in my mind, I kept coming back to that statement. It most clearly summed up the mentality that led me to write this article: “Either learn to like what I like, or don’t be surprised that I don’t have interest in meeting you.”

If this is a prevailing mentality in many geek-related circles, and I’ve seen evidence that it is, there are some challenges in actually meeting new people. There’s already been a wall erected, designed to exclude you. For the average girl who is not a geek girl but happens to have friends or a significant other into the scene, it can truly be a struggle. It can be a case of “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t”. Much like any aspect of mainstream society where conformity is prized and rewarded, it becomes tempting to “fake” being a certain way or liking certain things simply to not find oneself ostracized. Each year, plenty of girls feel pressured to put on some face paint, a cap, and a jersey, and pretend they know more than one thing about football just to support the consuming passion of a friend/boyfriend/husband/partner. Yet, nobody is condescendingly looking at all women at a football game and quizzing them on knowledge of the home team’s stats. I wrote this article because I found it utterly surprising for a culture that grew out of finding a lack of acceptance from mainstream society might be one of the most difficult cultures in which to find acceptance, just because you are different or like different things.

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For the record, most of my close friends are introverts. According to Meyers-Briggs, I’m an extroverted personality, but a fairly well-balanced one. A number of introverted souls like me because I am not like them. I am the person who will introduce them to new experiences and help them take steps outside their comfort zones. I am the person who is wonderful at providing encouragement and wanting those I care for to grow. I do understand how geeks and introverts think, having been close to so many over the years. I suspect I attract a certain type of person into my life because I value intelligence, one-on-one conversation, and not keeping things at a surface level. In the same way I have been told I’ve helped many of the more introverted, socially anxious people in my life to overcome these things, the same people have taught me the value of deep emotional connections and quality over quantity in human interactions.

I most definitely take an “all-inclusive” approach to socialization and group activities. If I throw a party, I invite people I know via all walks of life and have met through different interests and activities. Time after time, those I know from the geek-oriented groups will not show up. They will only show up to socialize with others exactly like them, where the focus will be on geek-related topics. This is hard to wrap my mind around. Even my most introverted friends have the desire to go out in the world and step slightly outside the comfort zone. Most certainly, I’m welcoming to all.

Yes, I am used to being well-liked. Yes, I am used to being popular and the center of attention. However, that does not necessarily mean I judge anyone. It does not mean I look down upon anyone’s passions. It does not mean I haven’t tried to expose myself to different things and new ideas. I am open to knowing all sorts of people. My question, when I attend an event where I don’t share that passion, is always this: “Aren’t there so many other aspects of you, besides this one thing we don’t have in common? Why are you closed off to the idea of getting to know me, just because I’m different. In my eyes, you’re different too.”

In a way, isn’t this mentality just reinforcing that how we saw ourselves and the world at fourteen years old really defines our entire lives, and how we interact with others? I’d hate for that to be true, frankly. Most of us were insufferable messes at fourteen, complete with low self-esteem.

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The idea of acceptance and embracing those not quite like you is most definitely a two-way street.

The same comment mentioned that the author might never end up talking to me at an event, because while I don’t like a certain geek-related interest, that person would be equally indifferent to reality TV. It then goes on to mention, “Except Dance Moms, which I watch.” In my mind, I’ve just made an instant connection in a social situation with someone who said there was no reason to know me. Were we sitting at a bar making conversation, we’d discover we both watched last week’s episode of Dance Moms. People generally have more in common than they think.

Another comment mentioned this article was written by someone who was “trolling”. In my 13 years of blogging, it is the first time I’d been accused of such a thing. I actually had to clarify what it meant by asking a member of the staff.

I’m not “trolling”. I’m telling a personal story about my experiences and relating it to societal issues I encounter, because I’ve spent most of my life living life online. I am the first to admit I am not a “geek”, but there are things about which I am very passionate. I like to think those passions do not make me inaccessible to others. (If you accompany me to an event where everyone talks about opera, you are free to mention you fell asleep during Marriage Of Figaro, and people will not shun you.) I’m a writer with a degree in musical theatre. I run a large social group in Atlanta. Most of my close friends are introverts, and many are geeks. My ex-boyfriend worked as the CEO for two companies you’re probably rather familiar with if you use the internet. My current boyfriend is the organizer for the Atlanta Browncoats. Each year, I go to DragonCon, and I have a good time. Once a month, we have Meetups, which I attend. The article was written about how tough it was for me to fit into a group of people who disregarded me completely once they found out I was not into sci-fi. I did not sit around and announce loudly, “You and your interests are lame!” But when someone asked me what my favorite sci-fi series was, I’d honestly answer: “I’m not a big fan of science fiction. I’ve given some of the shows a try, but it’s not my cup of tea.”

My article was about the pressure to conform, and how by admitting you’re not into sci-fi, you may find yourself completely shunned by a group of people. For the record, admitting that you’re there “to support your guy/girl” doesn’t work either. I had someone say, where I could overhear her, “What right does she have to run events for this group when she’s not even a fan? She’s not a part of this. She doesn’t do anything but sleep with the organizer.”

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Clearly, honesty didn’t work and was blatantly disrespected. I was friendly to everyone, invited them to my parties, attempted to befriend people—and often sat in the corner, ignored. I was not the only one who felt this way. Some people left the group because they felt unwelcome and left out. So, my point is, how is this any different than the sense of ostracism that many “geeks” have felt throughout their lives?

In my mind, it’s not. Exclusion and judgement are not healthy. It’s not. It’s no worse, and no better. Whenever you’re making someone else feel excluded simply because they are in some way different from you, you are hurting another person. Many times, you are making a person feel pressured to either become or act like someone they are not. The subtext is always: “We’ve judged you, and who you are is not worth knowing, because you are not one of us.”

I like musical theatre. I like reality TV. One of my close friends is someone who said to me the other night, “Musicals are boring and put me to sleep”, and rolls his eyes and laughs at me for my dubious taste in TV shows. We agree to disagree and that we like different stuff. Yet, we have things in common, discovered once we took the time to know one another…and as a result, we have a valuable friendship. That was my point. Once you look beyond a very narrow focus of who a person is (“I like sci-fi, and you don’t. We’re different. We don’t need to know each other.”), and talk about any of the 3,000 other life experiences out there, you focus on what you have in common with others rather than judging on what you don’t.

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I’ve been told I don’t belong because I don’t watch sci-fi or read comic books. I’ve heard more Big Bang Theory references than I need in a lifetime. I’ve been called a “manic pixie dream girl”, more than a handful of times. In reality, I’m just open to meeting all kinds of people. I’m not looking to change anyone. I’m just looking to connect, to know someone new. I bond well with introverts who are into one-on-one, intellectual conversation. (Agree with my points or not, I hope it is obvious that I am indeed quite intelligent.)

Many of those in my life like sci-fi, and they don’t care that I don’t. Life is about showing up and participating in the lives of others, though, so I do. I don’t find it “fake” that I choose to do so without sharing that passion. Earlier this month, I donned costumes and walked in the parade and partied into sheer exhaustion at Dragon Con (where I did not feel uncomfortable or excluded.). Last weekend, I threw a party to raise money for a screening of Serenity. (I do the volunteer coordination and run the ticket table, and will spend my Sunday doing that, even though I won’t be watching the movie. I’ve already seen it.) Next week, I’ll be helping run registration at a video game conference. I don’t own a video game. It doesn’t matter, because I’m creative, video game designers are creative—hence, common ground. Many of the presenters and sponsors are fond of me and my outgoing energy. I often end up befriending “important” people others would like to know. I suspect it is because I am open to doing so, and because it is especially refreshing that I’m not trying to impress anyone. I don’t know who they are until they tell me, and some people are modest enough that they never do. I’m more interested in who a person is than if they share all my interests. Good people are simply hard to come by in the world.

The “fake geek girl” comes about when someone says, “Isn’t it easier to just pretend you like this stuff and nod and smile?”

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No. It isn’t ever easier to be inauthentic for the benefit of another. It’s also not cool to judge me for not liking the same things you do if I don’t judge you for not liking the things I do. Why not just get to know one another as human beings, well-rounded people?

The “fake geek girl” comes about when anyone feels entitled to question why that girl is at an event, or why she dresses as she does, or what her knowledge of anything is. After I posted the original article, numerous women posted stories about being “quizzed” by guys on their knowledge of geek-related topics. This is certainly preposterous. The only criteria for attending Dragon Con is that you buy a badge and are willing to put up with an unreasonable amount of heat, waiting, pushing, and shoving. If you see me wearing a Wonder Woman t-shirt, it is irrelevant whether I know everything about Wonder Woman or I thought the colors and glitter looked awesome on me. There is no entrance exam to prove you “belong” somewhere. The fact that a girl wants to be at a convention where “geek girls” may gather is reason enough for her to be there, even if she just wants to drink and have her picture taken.

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My favorite comment was the one I found the most sensible and rational: “Half of the joy of our subculture is finding people who share your niche interests. The other half, for me at least, has always been the lack of judgment. Why would anyone want to lock people out?”

Why, indeed?

———–

***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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13 thoughts on “The Myth of the “Fake Geek Girl”: Addressing The Discourse And Discontent

  1. “Like a dog lyin’ in a corner
    They will bite and never warn you, look out
    They’ll tear your insides out
    ‘Cause everybody hates a tourist

    Especially one who thinks
    It’s all such a laugh
    Yeah, and the chip stain’s grease
    Will come out in the bath

    You will never understand
    How it feels to live your life
    With no meaning or control
    And with nowhere else to go”
    –Pulp, Common People

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  2. You are such a wonderful writer (and now you have another follower).

    The only thought I had the entire time I was reading this was, simply, “Why does she have to explain/defend herself?” I find the whole situation pervasive in all walks of life, but amplified on-line. It’s like every little thought has to be challenged and back the original writer/artist/etc. into a corner. This isn’t always the way things were. Yes, intelligent debate is something I love and welcome, but this culture of forcing others into explaining themselves, even to the point of defense, is reprehensible. I’m sorry you had to do so. Your first article was fine in of itself and did not warrant such extreme explanation, even if brilliantly written, in my opinion.

    I’ll put my soapbox away, now…

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  3. Two very well written articles. I do not see the need for the second one. The first stood on its own. If you write anything remotely provocative, people will try to tear you down. This is because you are challenging their worldview and it scares them. This is what good writing does, it challenges and for those open to new ideas, it changes them. I hope you contiune to write challenging articles, but please try to avoid unnecessary defense of them.

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  4. I’ve always found it amazing how a group that gets ostracized and ridiculed will turn around and do the same to someone who is doing nothing more than just trying to meet new and fascinating individuals/people. Have they learned nothing from their own experiences being on that end of negativity, or have they been protected from it by always just being “one of us”, so to speak? Honey, just keep doing what you do and accept that some people will never be more than close minded while others will look outside the group and accept someone different.

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  5. It’s sad – rather: unacceptable – but true: those most hurt by or fearful of being ostracized are those most guilty of inflicting it on others. “If you don’t like the thing I like, why should I talk to you?” is a sign of someone dooming his or herself to a pretty narrow slice of existence. Unfortunately, I’m not going to suggest this is only a problem among geeks – I am afraid parts of our culture are moving rapidly toward this “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” kind of mentality. That may be a little drastic of an example… But what’s key for me (and something I hope for you, Princess Alayna), to remember is that the sorts of people who would consider that comment true are unlikely to change. They sure won’t change without some inner work. It may sound trite, but stay positive. There are so many people out there who appreciate you and how you tick: why make yourself worry over those who won’t?
    Signed, a kinder, fuzzier geek. 🙂

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  6. Sigh. That’s extremely unfortunate that you had to deal with those kind of reactions. The excuse that “well, geeks and nerds were bullied growing up, it’s totally understandable they’d be suspicious of outsiders – especially girls!” might go toward explaining some of that attitude, but it does not excuse it and is problematic in a number of assumptions as well. 1) While some geeks and nerds were bullied growing up, not all of us were, and what about the geeks and nerds who didn’t come into liking geeky and nerdy stuff until they were adults? 2) Bullies are not exclusively women, so why are women getting the lion’s share of suspicion? and 3) Who made these exclusionary geeks & nerds the final arbiters on what the boundaries & “qualification” of geekdom & nerdom are? What gives them the right to make their definitions of what it means to be a geek or a nerd the final say?

    It’s frustrating and angering and saddening all at the same time. We shouldn’t have to refer to pieces like John Scalzi’s “Who Gets to be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants To” (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/26/who-gets-to-be-a-geek-anyone-who-wants-to-be/)

    There shouldn’t have to be a giant list of resources on why the fake geek girl thing is a sexist bullshit myth (or much less that it’s actually a real problem because I still run into people who think it’s “not a problem.”) (http://challengebygeek.com/blog/fake-geek-girls-an-introduction-to-the-nonexistent-phenomenon)

    I organized two panels this year at what are arguably Chicago’s two biggest geek/nerd cons (C2E2 and Chicago Comic Con) where we talked about the fake geek girl myth – why it’s sexist, why it’s a problem and what can be done about it. While it hurts immensely that this is a cultural issue that needs to be talked about, it was heartening to see our panel rooms filled to overflowing with people who *wanted* to learn more and help push back. (http://www.geekmelange.com/2013/05/the-exorcising-the-spectre-of-the-fake-geek-girl-panel-says-thank-you-to-c2e2/).

    Pieces like this and your previous piece play a huge part in pushing back against closing the borders of geek- and nerdom based on arbitrary (and often sexist, racist, homophobic) standards. You shouldn’t ever have to explain yourself or justify why you are a geek or a nerd, but these are so well-written that I’m bookmarking them both and adding to my reference file for future panel/discussion events. Thank you, and keep going!

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  7. Hey Alayna, provocative is good. Responses positive and negative are good! Way to rock the boat!

    It’s funny you make the football reference. There are casual watchers of football, and then there are those who run five fantasy teams and have all their players and stats memorized – and then look at you like you are poser when you can’t remember the running back on your only one. And yes, she was a girl. Geeks and nerds of any stripe are all about the details.

    It’s not your fault you feel ostracized at geek events. I guarantee the people you run into want to meet people exactly like them because chances are this is their only chance – once they leave they may sink back into introversion and irrelevance. With that lens, it is easier to understand their disappointment when they learn you prefer musicals.

    Nice article.

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  8. Its simple. People are insecure. Truly secure, happy people don’t need to belittle anyone. It is most likely a reflex regarding something they feel sensitive about. All you can do is act towards others how YOU feel is right.

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  9. I would like to commend you on a thoughtful, well-written article. I think you showed your viewpoint on the subject and as an artist, you should not feel the need to defend your work when it is done in an artful forum. You did not try to publish it in Scientific American or the New England Journal of Medicine as factual. You, as an artist, have your opinion on a topic. You were considerate and as objective as you could be. Please keep writing and planning parties and everything else that makes you you. And, don’t succumb to outside pressures to defend art. And, definitely don’t take it personally.

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  10. Pingback: :: jaded elegance, v3 :: » Tar And Feathers Are A Great Way To Make An Exit…

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