Decorative Flower
Her Realm, Personal website and blog of Cole
Jul 26

Divisiveness and Misogyny in Geek Culture

I experienced a brief touch with fame yesterday. I woke up and saw Felicia Day tweet the following:

Dear reporters, getting a bit tired of being held up as an “authentic” geek as you write posts against women who “exploit” geek culture

I replied to her, tongue-in-cheek, not expecting any response. I told her not to worry, because journalists call her out too. You may recall an incident with Ryan Perez, calling Felicia a glorified booth babe a while back. I hadn’t yet seen the article to which Day was replying with her early-afternoon tweet, but as a lady geek, I felt her.

You see, there’s this interesting paradox about geek girls. We can be funny and smart and slightly obsessed.. but we can’t really be attractive. If we happen to be attractive, then we’re probably just cosplaying and flaunting in front of the geek boys. Yea, we’re just faking it. After reading Felicia’s post, I recalled how Olivia Munn gets flack for her work on G4. Now, I can’t say for sure that Munn is or is not a geek but, then again, it’s not my place. All I know is, I never thought it was appropriate to call her out, seemingly only because she’s good looking. Since when does attractiveness disqualify someone from being a geek? After all, plenty of good looking geek guys exist. Natalie Portman has also been on the receiving end of this you’re-too-pretty-to-be-a-geek criticism, too.

I saw this from a feminist viewpoint, and I thought that was where Felicia Day was coming from, but plenty of the  dozens of people who replied to me/us saw it as a general issue with elitism, not just sexism, within geek culture.  Felicia replied to me, asking who is helped by that divisiveness and the ridiculous of levels of geekery, and I completely agreed. I don’t understand why there has to be such a litmus test. In order to call yourself a geek, you must do X, say Y and look Z. Really? Says who? Because this elitism is not only shitty, it’s the exact reason I didn’t realize and, then when I did, feared coming out of the geek closet. I constantly struggle with the douchey geekier-than-thou types, because I just don’t pass the test, I guess.

The problem, it seems, is that everything that was exclusively geek territory has become popular. Now, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like meeting people and seeing how everyone has a little bit of geek in them, but others don’t. Others perhaps feel a sense of territoriality, as if the masses encroaching upon their hobbies is the worst possible thing that could ever happen. In this definition, the masses and the mainstream somehow include anyone without a penis. This became increasingly obvious as I accidentally stumbled across the CNN Geek Out blog article–and its comments–to which Day had originally been responding.

In it, Joe Peacock discusses booth babes at conventions. In general, most people agree that this practice is annoying and mysogynist. If Peacock had stopped there, I doubt there would have been any backlash. But he didn’t. He went on to call out any woman who has ever been a booth babe, specifically mentioning Olivia Munn. It is those words that, to me, seemed to rub Felicia Day so wrong. How dare he hold her up as the pillar of geekery, while he alienated others. After all, what does he know of any booth babe? If you look at the comments on Joe’s article, you can clearly see some some self-proclaimed geeks who have also been booth babes. Shocking!

But you can also see plenty of commentors who agree. They cry that the culture isn’t what it used to be. They bemoan the popularity of things that used to be counterculture. It’s not the booth babes they really have a problem with. It’s sharing. Funny, they seem to share that personality flaw with Mr. Peacock. Articles like those by Peacock are sensational, and when Felicia Day asks who they help, the masses are right when they return with “the journalists.” It makes for a headline and, perhaps, a heated debate, but it does nothing to further the geek culture. It alienates those who don’t feel geek enough, while it gives a false sense of superiority to those who feel geekier-than-thou for no good reason. It’s like they’re saying “Well back in my geeky day.” Times change, you gotta change with ’em.

And in these times, geekery is pretty mainstream. People are loving comic books and video games, SciFi and fantasy. Word of Warcraft isn’t some secret society. You’d be surprised who joins a tabletop gaming match every Sunday night, and these people don’t live in their parents’ basements. So does this dilute the definition of geek? Does the lines between geek and “normie” blur? Perhaps. But is this always a bad thing? It seems like it’s only a negative if you’re insecure. Isn’t the reason that geeks flock together partly because the rest of society turned up their noses at us? So why would we want to do this to someone who might experience similarly frustrations or be trying to find themselves in the world? There’s no reason to exclude part-time geeks or geek newbs. Didn’t we all start somewhere?

But, above all, as a geek woman, I can’t help but think that the additional limitations and expectations placed on me simply because of my reproductive organs is extra shitty. Women don’t need anyone dividing them. Society doesn’t do this to men. And we certainly don’t deserve to have our identities scrutinized over our god-damned level of attractiveness.

So, good call, Felicia Day. I agree completely, and I’m glad you tweeted me!

Others have also had some things to say, with which I mostly agree. Check out Daniel Griffiths’ piece on Forbes or the post on Geek Out by Genevieve Marie.

3 comments on “Divisiveness and Misogyny in Geek Culture”

  1. Dez

    I really wish I had something witty and interesting and thought provoking to add to this, but you hit the nail on the head. I don’t think that you can define any label into a clear cut mold. I think they are always evolving. I also don’t think that you can say “You’re too pretty to be this”. It’s like middle school cliques all over again.

    Did you know that Vin Diesel is a gamer/geek? He plays Dungeons and Dragons. Yet “He’s too X” to be that.

  2. @Dez: Actually, I DID know that. I remember seeing it on some list of celebs who you wouldn’t figure to be geeks!

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