Yep. I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I've been musing for a while on whether or not I should bother with the topic – after all, it's been tread and re-tread in depth for quite some time now. Even so; I feel like I've a bit to share on the matter: I've written elsewhere about the "boy's club" of the video game industry; the rampant sexism that exists here. The complaints about 'non-geeks' are very much related to this issue – though it's a bit more complicated than that, and extends to far more than gaming.
See, though the 'fake geek' craze isn't entirely about gender; gender is still at the crux of the issue – the complaints being raised all pertain to women "faking" their geekdom. There's a subtle implication there: a belief that men either don't sink to this low, or that they can't; a notion that reinforces the idea that women are still 'outsiders' where geek culture is concerned.
The Gender Problem
This subtle belief has, in turn, led to a not-so-subtle undercurrent of misogyny which seems to permeate all of geek culture. One only has to look so far as Tony Harris's uncouth rant about "Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girls" to see this – for those of you who don't know, Harris is a fairly prominent comic book artist, with a very clear understanding of female anatomy.
By now, most of you have probably read this rant – it's sort of circulated around the 'net like an out of control wildfire – so I won't get too into a discussion of it. Instead, I'm just going to select a quotation which most adequately sums up my point. I've left it completely intact:
"If ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that con? You wouldn't give them the fucking time of day," he fumes. "Shut up, you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just that thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at cons."
As you can see, Harris doesn't even stop to consider that there might be narcissistic, attention-grabbing males who might attempt to do the same thing: the thought doesn't even cross his mind. Instead, he immediately positions women as the threat to his 'geekdom;' accuses women of being the invaders, the interlopers; the uncaring outsiders who violate the sacred boundaries of geek culture for their own personal gain.
This arrogant culture of defensiveness doesn't just stop there, either: women with 'geeky' interests are constantly forced to validate their passion, continually put on a pedestal, and very often demeaned and berated for liking something which some people seem to think they aren't supposed to like. Most of the time; this demeaning behavior isn't necessarily hostile or even intentional – an off-handed remark can be enough. Dr. Andrea Letamendi refers to these as "microaggressions" in her fantastic article ""The Psychology of the Fake Geek Girl: Why We're Threatened by Falsified Fandom:"
In the article, she holds that even a comment such as "you don't look like a geek" can "communicate a message that excludes, negates, or nullifies the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person...repeated experiences of receiving them can have a long-term psychological impact." These microaggressions, in turn, end up reinforced by actual aggressions, such as the comments made by Harris in his rant, or the sexual harassment that occurred during Cross Assault. It's a hostile culture and a damaging environment – one which is only made worse by how women are often portrayed in comics and games.
A lot of artists and writers seem to be permanently grounded in adolescence.
But we've talked enough about gender – as I've said; though the "Fake Geek Girl" debate has gender at its core, there's still a lot more to it than that. The concept of the fake geek girl isn't just harmful to women – it's harmful to every single fandom that's ever existed.
Look, I don't know what rock Mr. Harris and fellows like him have been sleeping under; but geekdom isn't an exclusive club anymore. Fantasy isn't just something for people who want to escape from bullying and social isolation; gaming isn't a pastime chiefly reserved for basement-dwellers. The underlying idea here is that there's an entire camp of "fake" female geeks pretending to be passionate about a pastime for the adulation of socially inept, lonely young men whose only concept of a woman is based on what they've read, played, or watched.
Don't believe me? Here's another excerpt from good Mr. Harris:
"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? They are being preyed no by YOU."
The idea isn't just mind-bogglingly flawed and completely, entirely wrong; it's also incredibly insulting. According to this concept of 'fake geeks;' I and most people who share my interests are socially inept and awkward guys with no idea how to talk to women. We probably have poor eyesight, no concept of social norms and a weight problem. Supposedly, none of us talk about anything other than our narrow set of interests, and when any of us see a moderately attractive woman who shares those interests, we latch onto her like leeches: exactly as she planned all along.
Pardon my French, but that is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever heard.
The fact is; the game has changed. Geek culture as a whole used to be something for people who had nowhere else to go. It used to be a place for the socially downtrodden; those awkward young men and women who couldn't easily make friends and were bullied because they didn't belong. "Come with us," the message was. "We accept you."
Then the same people who bullied those awkward guys in high school decided to give the stuff a try, and realized...hey; this is pretty cool! It's no longer considered 'odd' or 'unusual' to be a geek in most circles. It's become mainstream; it's gained acceptance.
What IS a Geek?
This leads to another problem with the "fake geek girl" fallacy: it implies some inviolable set of qualities one must possess be a fan of something. It's all well and good to enjoy the Spiderman comics, but unless you can give the exact issue number in which Aunt May was gunned down; you're not a real fan: you're obviously just a pretender.
See how stupid that sounds?
Like it or not, that's one of the most basic issues with 'fake geek girls.' By calling out someone as a "fake fan;" you're stating that "real fans" exist, and that you are one. You're stating that no one has any right to come within one hundred feet of your fandom unless they meet a set of arbitrary standards – probably set by you. It's incredibly egotistical, and completely misses the point of a fandom
Moreover; where does one actually draw the line between a fan and a pretender? Is there even a line to be drawn? How can you tell the difference between someone who's actually passionate about a pastime and someone who's just in it for the attention? Most importantly, though...
Why does anyone even care?
Why We Feel Threatened
There are a few reasons, and I'm yet again going to turn to Doctor Letamendi to help me along. The reason we feel so threatened by fake geeks – the reason any of us even care – can be linked to one of three things:
The first possibility stems from a faulty notion that geek culture is somehow a limited and intangible resource. It's a belief that the presence of imposters somehow cheapens one's own love for their subculture, and the goods within. This is linked to the 'collectibles culture' that's always gone hand-in-hand with geekdom (and really, capitalism as a whole): the idea that something integral about being a geek is somehow limited.
There's also the fact that many of us have a sense of ownership about our identities as geeks – a flawed one. We want to think that being a fan makes us a member of some exclusive club, and that we're somehow allowed to dictate who does and does not belong as a result of that – we want to act as though we somehow earned our love of our pastimes, and that everyone else has to do the same – that they somehow have to pass some test before they are 'one of us.'
Last, but certainly not least...it's possible that most of the people who who piss and moan about "fake geek girls" just have some sort of deep-seated inferiority complex. Their thought process is probably something along the lines of "these newbies haven't suffered for their passion like we did! They didn't have to endure the bullying, the ridicule; the hostility! If they weren't told it was cool by mainstream culture, they'd still hate it!"
In each case, we need to accept that geek culture isn't exclusive, and just be happy that more people like what we like – it just means more people to talk about our passions with, right? We need to stop being so territorial and start playing nice with the new kids.
Do Fake Geeks Even Exist?
Aside from a few individuals, I highly doubt fake geek girls actually exist. At all. Period.
Yes, there are people who pretend to be fans of something for personal gain – just like every other sodding pastime in the history of humankind. The fact is; whenever you have something that's popular, you're always going to have a few people who drift into the pastime just because they want to belong, or because they're looking to gain something.
They could have a wide array of reasons. Maybe their friends are all interested in it, or a guy or girl they like loves something. Maybe they're looking to learn a bit more about the culture to market to it. Maybe they really are narcissists.
Whatever their reasons; you honestly shouldn't even care. They're so small in number as to be completely irrelevant, and trying to 'weed out' the fakes from the fans just ends up alienating a bunch of people; driving away awesome folks who might otherwise have ended up diving head-first into their new fandom and never even stopping to come up for a breath.
It also makes you an elitist asshole.
At the end of the day, everybody needs to cool off, chill out, and stop acting as though a person needs to jump through hoops just to wear a costume or play a game. Also, stop treating geekiness as a guy thing: it's not.
See you folks next week.