Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 14 November 2012

For at least the second time in about two weeks, the whole "fake girl geek" meme has reared its ugly head. There's a belief among a segment of the geek-identified population that there are all these girls and women out there just pretending to be interested in geeky things in order to score themselves a geek.

The Presumption that Geek == Male

There's a trend in these discussions to only refer to fake girl gamers (and almost always phrased as girls, not women) and their attempts to trick geeks (almost always referred to as geeks, not boy geeks/male geeks/geek men). The underlying presumption here is that geek == male. For instance, take this passage from Tony Harris' rant:

You are what I refer to as “CON-HOT”. Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU.

He is saying a lot of things about average comic book fans. He is claiming that they are socially inept, rarely or never speaking to girls, that they are male, and are so desperate for attention that they will be easily preyed upon by these women. First, this doesn't match my experiences with the male geek audience. I know plenty who are married or otherwise involved in a relationship with someone. Sure, many of them may appreciate the female form, but I'm a little unclear about how they are being preyed upon in vast numbers.

Additionally, it's hard to get a good read on what percentage of fans are male versus female. One study of self-identified comic fans on Facebook showed some interesting results. For instance, gender bias varies widely by age, with more female than male fans among those under the age of 17. The lowest percentage is about 31% for those 62-64. While people were quick to point out the 7% number for the DC in-store purchases by women, the online survey had the number at 23%, for an overall audience of about 20% women. Similarly, women constituted about 40% of the opening weekend audience of The Avengers, 36% of Dark Knight Rises, and 42% ofThe Amazing Spider-Man . At San Diego Comic Con, about 40% of the attendees were women, and a similar number (40-50%) of NYCC attendees were women as well.

Women's Behavior is all about Men

Another trend in these stories is an attempt to always frame women's behavior in relation to men. The only possible explanation for women dressing this way would be to get male attention. It couldn't be because female characters that show off skin get more "air time" in comic books and in movies and tv shows, leading to greater awareness and recognition of the characters both among those who might cosplay and among the general audience. It couldn't possibly be because recreating some of the gravity and decency defying outfits takes a lot of skill to pull off. It couldn't be because the number of barely clothed female characters far outnumbers those who would meet a more conventional definition of "sensibly" dressed.

A number of studies have found that men are more likely than women to interpret sexual communication from the clothing choices of women and they are likely to misinterpret what is being communicated. The assumption tends to be that a woman wearing certain types of clothes, especially body revealing clothing, is looking for male sexual attention.

You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate.

The other ideas, the other reasons why women might wear these clothes, never enters his description. It's obvious to him, and apparently to others, that the only reason these women ever do anything is to get male attention.

So why is that? Well, for one, traditionally many of our stories have revolved around the main character entering into a heterosexual relationship, either "getting the girl" or "getting the attention of the boy." Since our culture tends to celebrate and normalize male aggressiveness and female passivity, the common narrative is one of women competing for male attention through their looks. Other forms of attention compete too directly with men and may lead to a feeling of emasculation. Couple this with the lack of female protagonists and lack of stories that present the female point of view, and we end up with a bias towards interpreting women's activities as centering around men and men's experiences.

Defining Fandom to Exclude Women

Another issue that's part of Harris' rant is the definition of geekdom to center of traditionally/stereotypically male expressions of fandom. Throughout his piece, he shows that he values encyclopedic and "hardcore" knowledge of the characters and their stories, particularly through the comic books themselves, over knowledge of items such as costumes or other ways of consuming those stories. His definition of fan precludes a large segment of the female audience and devalues traditionally feminine hobbies such as sewing.

What we include or exclude can have large effects the overall demographics of the hobby. For instance, in that Facebook survey I mentioned earlier, if Manga is removed from the list of terms, we now have more male than female fans in the age group 17 and under. Likewise, if we exclude certain types of artistic expression, say sewing and costuming, we can dramatically change the demographics.

In his post, Harris does just that:

Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.

Besides just sounding bitter, it's clear that he thinks the artists and writers are higher than people who create costumes. It creates a hierarchy that values the contributions that are typically tied to the male creators over female contributions. We see this bias elsewhere too in entertainment. Writing and art staffs in comics, TV, and movies tend to have a male bias whereas things like costuming has a female bias. While both are necessary to entertain the fans, one is valued as being more of a "profession" than the other.

Women as Manipulators

Another common tendency in these discussions is to frame women as manipulators.

And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics.

Eve convincing Adam to eat the apple. Delilah convincing Samson into revealing his weakness. The women who are gold diggers and those who supposedly get pregnant to force men to marry them. All these narratives revolve around women as manipulators. Harris' rant is just part of a long line of these stories about women and reveal a fundamental misunderstanding on his part. First of all, why is it that women can only participate in geek culture if they are available (with an emphasis on sexually available) to the people he claims are the typical attendee, the socially inept man? What if I'm married or not interested in men sexually? Suddenly, I'm a liar and not part of comics?

All of these issues quietly lie under the surface of many discussions about women and particularly about women in geek culture. Hopefully one day we can get past them and learn to celebrate the wide diversity within our hobbies. In the meantime, let's work on identifying and pointing out these tropes and their sexist origins where we can. And before he accuses me of being a poser, I haven't cosplayed yet, largely because of people like him who will group me in as people who aren't really interested in the hobby. I get enough of that as it is, thank you very much.


Thank you Sarah. I love your blog and I particularly like this post. This type of crap drives me nuts for a variety of reasons. Not least of which is that it's such a stupid move. Why on earth would he write a post like that and alienate a big chunk of his fan base?

Why are some people in our subculture so OBSESSED with ferreting out "real" fans? I honestly don't understand the reason for it. I say (and have always said): The more the merrier. More fans with diverse ideas and interpretations of comics, sci-fi/fantasy, RPGs and video games can only enhance those media. Bring 'em on!

Indeed. I've been reading comics since 1991, playing tabletop RPGs since 1994, cosplaying since 1998, and having to recite that like some kind of geek cred CV the entire time.

Whenever I'm in costume, I always have to be like, "I didn't make it for you!" I don't know why so many people think that I am dressing up for their benefit. I made my costume for my friends from out of state, the woman choreographing our routine, my drinking buddies, and maybe on occasion the small children who get *really* excited when they see costumes of characters they recognize. (If you ever need a mood boost, wear a Disney princess costume. Small children will fly at you out of the air as though you were Santa Claus.) Sometimes I make things just because I can't figure out how to make something, and that's a good way to learn new techniques. I have nothing against random strangers at conventions, but they are not why I am dressing up.

Whenever these posts come out, people are always like, "Oh, not you. You're a good girl. This is about those shameful costumed sluts over there." But I don't want to be separated out, and I don't particularly need someone to grant me geek legitimacy. Those girls are cosplayers, even if they're the straw cosplayers I hear about so often who are just in it for "attention," and I'm not OK with them being body-snarked, slut-shamed, or called misogynist names.

I don't think its a compelling argument is that the group of women in question want to "score themselves a geek" since just saying hi is probably more than enough. I think it's more that the mild to more famous "geek girls" are not really into geek topics, it's just a way to further their career or ego. As to whether the latter is true for any specific woman, I'm not sure how you could find out beyond finding their pre-fame peers and asking what they were like then.

I disagree it's true, but let's say for the sake of argument it is. How is that any different from the vast majority of geek men out there?

Great article! I agree with all your points and love that your response to an emotionally charged rant was a well reasoned and analytical article.

I've seen a few responses to Mr. Harris' rant recently on G+ and now here, and my only thought is, who is this guy? Why does anyone care what he says? I had never heard of him before this and based on his infantile diatribe I feel safe in assuming I wasn't missing much. Does he have any degree of social influence? Is that why he is so topical right now? I only wonder this because I agree with Sarah's assessment of most gamers NOT matching Harris' asssumed demographic profile, thus who is his audience? It seems to me that such an obvious idiot should be ignored, not empowered with added attention. The old adage of not feeding the trolls seems to apply here.

On the other hand, if he is the most recent example of a growing trend of geek girl bashing, then this activity deservedly needs to be outed, as was so skillfully done in the above post. It is my hope that people like him are the vocal minority.

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