Why the “Girl” Matters: Yet Another Post About “Geek Girls” and “Gamer Girls”

This woman...

The argument comes and goes. the “Geek Girl” argument that isn’t actually one argument, but two.

  • “Geek Girls are attention-seeking posers!” Vs. “No, they’re not!”
  • “We shouldn’t call ourselves geek girls, because we’re segregating ourselves!” Vs. “Geek Girl is a label I wear with pride, because…”

I’m writing this to address the second argument, as that’s the one I’ve seen happening lately, particularly in gaming circles, but I can’t do that without touching on the first, because the first is the reason for the second.

...and this woman...

Bullshit Double Standards

Here’s how I feel about the first:

It’s bullshit. It’s such a bullshit, useless argument that I don’t ever want to have it again. Here’s the deal – the fact that we only have this argument in relation to women, while actors (and potential posers!) like Thomas Jane or Chris Hardwick get to start comics companies or empires built on a geek platform without their geek cred being called into question makes the whole thing bullshit. If we’re going to talk about posers vs. non-posers, fine. But that’s never how it breaks down. Chris Hardwick dresses like the tenth Doctor, and we assume that he has all this geek cred. Never mind that he could be less an actual geek and more a master marketer who is skilled at allying himself, not even with geek celebrities, but celebrities geeks like, not to promote geek culture, but to promote himself. Thomas Jane doesn’t have his geek cred questioned despite never showing any interest in comics before 2004, when he founded RAW Entertainment, perhaps only as a means to an end. Because his rough good looks belong in the realm of action and super heroes, he creates comics that can then be made into films in which he can star.

All Thomas Jane has to do to “prove his geek cred” is dress up like Jonah Hex to get a role. Film School Rejects said, “We’ve got to hand to ole’ Thomas Jane, the man has both serious geek cred and a copious amount of gravitas. The geek cred was shown off over the past few weeks when he went out of his way to dress up like Jonah Hex to show his interest in playing the part.” Really? Cosplay is all it takes? Hmm. Funny, ’cause women usually have to do more than that. Also, the fact that he had to go “out of his way” to do that means that it’s not the kind of thing he’d do normally. Just sayin’.

On the L.A. Weekly blog, Chris Hardwick’s geek cred is undeniable: “To accusations that branding and repackaging the term “nerd” waters it down or takes away his cred, Hardwick responds, “I picked all of the people I wanted to work with, and it’s sort of a weird reality come true. … It’s humble-braggy to say, but it’s true, I wake up in the morning and go, ‘I’m going to sit down with Brian Henson today and talk about the channel, then I’m going to the Weird Al shoot,’ and it still blows my mind that I get to do that … I’m the same person I was before … I still know [the Yankovic song] ‘Nature Trail to Hell’ top to bottom. … Any of those critics in the same position would pretty much do the same thing I’m doing, I think.” He adds, “We’re not trying to be anything but ourselves and do what we want to do.”

This man can undeniably walk the nerd walk — despite his MTV beginnings, most notably hosting Singled Out with Jenny McCarthy.”

Um, he knows a Weird Al song. That’s his geek cred? Yet he “can undeniably walk the nerd walk.” Despite not actually saying anything of substance in response to the question of his geek cred.

The thing is, I’m not calling their geek cred into question right now. I wouldn’t, because I don’t know them. I don’t know what they’re genuinely into, or how they grew up, or what’s in the deepest cockles of their hearts. I bring these things up to point out the ways in which the “attention-seeking” arguments could be applied to men in the same way they’re applied to, say, Olivia Munn, and yet aren’t. Both men and women seem perfectly happy to tear down someone like Munn, going so far as not wanting to watch The Newsroom, what looks like a brilliant new show from Aaron Sorkin, because she happens to be on it.

I guess when you’re a guy, using a subculture as a platform on which to build an empire is respectable. Being ambitious about your career is respectable. Olivia Munn daring to appeal to a geek audience to further her acting career is a huge sin, apparently.

...and this woman...

The “Girl” Label

So, the fact that we only ever have this discussion in relation to women makes the whole thing bullshit. But what I really wanted to address was the second point about the “geek girl” label itself. I’ve seen the term – and its sister term, “gamer girl” – get a lot of flack from women who don’t think that other women should take on these labels. On Nuyoriqueña, Chastity Irizarry writes, “I understand some feel due to the imbalance in the industry there was a need to encourage girls to feel comfortable knowing they weren’t alone. But unfortunately, these titles create the very segregation we were hoping to destroy.” On Respawn Reload, Debbie writes: “Generally speaking, if women want a better acceptance in the video game world, then stop immediately identifying yourself as a female.  I’m not encouraging anyone to try to hide who they are, but if you want it to not matter what gender you are, immediately segregating and identifying yourself as female is contradictory of your goal.”

While I understand and appreciate their sentiments, the underlying foundation of their points is shaky, because it comes from a place where the male-dominated mainstream is the default, and the ideal. Irizarry writes, “I do believe there is an imbalance in the video game industry, but we don’t change it by creating cliques who complain together. You have to be invited to the big boys’ table, and that comes with proving yourself. It should be based on merit,” as if the Big Boys’ Table is the place to which we should all aspire, rather than questioning the validity of that table being a “boys'” table in the first place, or the lack of female spaces.

Debbie says, “While women have to bat off comments like “you’re probably fat and ugly” or “go make me a sandwich”, players with many different skin tones have to defend themselves against truly hateful racial slurs.  I have on numerous occasions heard conversations in a lobby where an African American player was being targeted and told things such as “I’m going to drag you to death behind my truck” or “I’m going to hang you from a tree like a slave”.  Ladies, I love you, but being told to make someone a sandwich in no way compares to this kind of insult.  Stop complaining,” as if this were a Suffering Contest. As if racism canceled out sexism, because clearly racism is “worse.”

Both writers make the point that no one differentiates professions by gender: like doctor, lawyer, teacher…apparently forgetting that there are actors and actresses; tailors and seamstresses; and older examples of jobs that used to have gendered titles, like “stewardess” becoming “flight attendant” when men decided it was an OK job for them to do, or “firemen” becoming “fire fighter” after women joined the profession. There’s a huge precedent for this. While I’m not saying it’s right, I am saying that to say that this is inappropriate usage because it’s limited to the geek world is just factually wrong.

However, highlighting how often gendered terms for professions are used demonstrates how powerful a term like “geek girl” or “gamer girl” actually is.

Labels Allow For Specific Needs to Be Met

Let’s take “actors” and “actresses,” for example. Back in the day, women weren’t allowed on stage, and so there were only actors. The term “actress” had to come about because once women joined the theater, they came with their own distinct set of issues and concerns that needed to be addressed separately in a profession so inherently intimate. Dressing areas, sleeping quarters while touring, appropriate vs. inappropriate touch for better or worse are all valid concerns where gender is the deciding factor. Creating the gender-specific term allows for the separate category that allows unique concerns to be addressed. It’s like declaring your race and gender on the US Census. You can’t get the resources specific to you and your community if you aren’t identified and counted.

...are all on the same team.

We Don’t Punish Arsonists By Burning Their Houses Down: What Equality Isn’t, and the Importance of Gender-Specific Spaces

Equality doesn’t mean exactly equal treatment. You wouldn’t market tampons to men any more than you would market jock straps to women, and yet both genders deserve to have access to whatever they need to keep their junk in order. That’s equality. Equality means equal consideration, equal respect, and equal treatment under the law, particularly where circumstances are the same (ie: a man and a woman holding the same job should receive the same pay). It doesn’t mean denying there’s a difference.

Men and women are not exactly the same, nor should we try to be. We have a lot to gain and learn from each other’s differences, and a shared geek space can be where we do that. But the notion that in order for women to have “made it” as geeks, or anything else, they have to join the male sphere doesn’t sit well with me. No one ever says to men, “Hey, the only way you’ll ever be truly valid as a person is if you join the world of women.” Why is the reverse so acceptable? I agree that we need to share a space – we’re sharing a planet, after all – but I reject the idea that the male space and the mainstream shared space are one and the same. A shared space that takes both genders into account equally is what we should strive for, but this doesn’t mean that we need to eliminate an all-male sphere or an all-female sphere, because there are ways in which we grow and things we can learn by being surrounded by a supportive network of people of our own gender.

My friend Alex and some of his male friends have this thing every year called Meat Fest, where they basically go out for steak and scotch in a very manly fashion. 🙂 Now, I love steak, and I love scotch, and as Alex is my “brother from another mother,” I thought he’d think me a sufficient enough “bro” to be able to go to Meat Fest. When I asked, he said no. I thought he was kidding. He was serious. And even though I gave up on asking after a while, I was a bit hurt.

I know you don’t want women there, but I’m not one of “those” women! I can totally hang with you! I’m a guy’s girl!

And just as quickly as the thought came, I realized the horrible flaws in my thinking. First, sometimes men wanna hang out with other men. It has nothing to do with how they feel about women, but with how they feel about men. Men see being with other men as an advantage. A respite. A situation in which they can relax with people to whom they don’t have to explain themselves. Women often have Girls’ Nights, where they can just let loose and be themselves around people to whom they don’t have to explain themselves. The sad difference is that men don’t see their male spaces as inferior to the mainstream, because they are the mainstream. Women see their spaces as inferior, because it’s not where the power is. It’s seen as Mainstream Lite. Fine in small bursts of femininity, but not sustainable, because there’s no future in it. And so many of the ambitious ones, the ones who would build their own security and fend for themselves think that being accepted into the male sphere will allow them to do so, not realizing that by leaving their sisters behind they’re doing themselves harm, bringing down their own worth as women by engaging in the same blanket patronizing of their own gender in which men too often engage.

The only way the mainstream shared space can be a truly equal one is if both sides equally value their gendered spaces. Men are already there, and it’s why they control everything. It’s why, despite being out in greater numbers than ever before, geek girls continue to feel slighted. We feel slighted, because we rely on male acceptance rather than our own; rather than seeing the value in each other and helping each other onward and upward, creating our own successes on our own terms outside the male-dominated mainstream, if need be. There are more of us, after all. If we all prioritized investing in and purchasing female-created comics, or went to see female-helmed films, or otherwise supported female endeavors, we’d have the financial security we need and the geek community we want. Men see “guy time” as a benefit. Many women see “girl time” as a consolation prize. That makes me sad.

Or, they SHOULD be anyway...

I Will Not Throw Other Women Under the Bus

Here’s the second flaw in my feelings about being denied steak and scotch. I didn’t want the guys to think I was one of “those” girls. Whatever that means. So, not only was I trying to ingratiate myself to the boys, but I was perfectly willing in that instant to throw other women under the bus based on criteria that I didn’t create. It’s why I’m now conflicted about supporting stuff like International House of Geek’s Kimmie Britt’s video entry to the Maxim Gamer Girl contest. Rather than simply being the kind of girl she wanted to see represented as Maxim‘s Gamer Girl and convincing us why she IS the best thing for Maxim (for the record, I’d love to see that, too, and I voted for her), she makes it all about what she isn’t, creating a “me vs. them” vibe. She makes a point of saying “I’m not going to show my tits and ass.” Well, good for her! She shouldn’t have to! Yet, it sounds like she’s taking the onus off of magazines like Maxim who use women’s bodies to sell copies, and placing it solely on the women who do what they need to do to get ahead. A wise pimp once said, “Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.” 🙂 But seriously, I don’t think its helpful to misplace blame. A woman can choose or not to participate in something like Maxim. That’s her individual prerogative, and there are certainly alternate ways in which to pursue success.  But the problem isn’t with her. The problem is in the media forcing women to choose between being successful and having a certain level of integrity. I think we should all remember who the real “enemy” is. (Hint: it isn’t each other)

Listen, I’ve done this, too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m writing this, in part, to keep myself in check and be more aware of doing this. I’m trying to make a conscious effort to not think in a way that tears other women down for doing what they need to do. I will not comment on what a woman wears. It has nothing to do with her mental ability or her actual geek cred. I will not comment on a woman’s looks, because beauty and intelligence are not mutually exclusive, and people are attracted to many different types. There’s no such thing as universally attractive. The media perpetuates that myth, because it allows them to sell the most product with a minimal amount of effort. Having a narrow view of beauty means less models to hire, less commercials to film. The beauty standard the media has created is for their benefit, not ours. I will not hold a woman’s looks, history, or choices against her. And if I’m ever creating something, and have the power to do so, I will prioritize working with and hiring talented women that can get the job done.

Let me be clear. This is not about ignoring men, or hating them, or anything like that. Being pro-woman doesn’t mean being anti-man. I shouldn’t even have to say that, but some people can’t keep those two ideas separate. This is about women supporting each other being a priority. It’s about the fact that terms like “geek girl” and “gamer girl” are powerful, because they show our very specific presence, one that shouldn’t be erased or overlooked in the mainstream geek space. The terms allow us to address issues that are of concern to us – like seeing ourselves accurately portrayed in the art we consume, for example. But more than that, it’s about creating a community for ourselves. The male sphere is not the be-all and end-all, nor should we treat it as such. Men don’t worry that women won’t like what they create, because they know other men will buy it.

If only women could be as secure in each other. I think we can be. I think things like Geek Girl Con, Geek Girls Create, and female networks like The League of Extraordinary Ladies are positive steps toward that, but we should do more. I embrace the “geek girl” label, because I believe in the power we can wield if we work together. There’s no one way to be a geek girl any more than there’s any one way to be a feminist, but embracing each other under the broad category despite our differences can go a long way in allowing us to make real change in the geek community as a group rather than constantly being seen as a bunch of fighting cats.

It’s funny, but I feel about women the way 2Pac felt about the black community:

“First ship ’em dope & let ’em deal to brothers.
Give ’em guns, step back, and watch ’em kill each other.
“It’s time to fight back”, that’s what Huey said.
2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead.
I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin’ changes.
Learn to see me as a brother ‘stead of 2 distant strangers.”

And now, I leave the discussion to you! Comment below! I’d love to hear what people think.

*shout-out to the geek girls I know (online or IRL) whose photos I used here! *big hugs*

10 thoughts on “Why the “Girl” Matters: Yet Another Post About “Geek Girls” and “Gamer Girls”

  1. Angela says:

    Yes yes yes! To everything you said, yes! I hate when people make the argument, “X is not as bad as Y, so X should not complain.” Complete logic fallacy. I don’t understand why it’s 2012 and Geek/Gamer girls are under attack for lack of cred. I thought the only cred you had to have was an interest in these things. It’s not like you have to pass a test and pay a fee to get in the club, unless we’re talking about things like XBox Live or Con fees (in which case women most definitely pay their fair share to be in the club). Geekery and Gaming are hobbies and interests, so why all the hullaballoo? It’s ridiculous that you would even have to write such a post, but it’s definitely needed. Visiting any random message board will show what little respect men and women show for Geek Girls and Gamer Girls.

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you so much! And yes, it’s all a bit ridiculous as it really is JUST TV shows and video games. This isn’t rocket science. However, it’s important to me, and I’ll fight about it, because this is the space I happen to inhabit, and so when I see ways in which it can improve – not just for me, but for people like me – I have to mention it. Not everyone’s going to agree with me, of course, but I bring them up as an option.

  2. Cathy C says:

    I play on a mud and the joke is “There are no female mudders!” At first, that annoyed me and I tried to insist upon my existence whenever the “joke” came up, but I’ve been on there so long now that I don’t bother any more. Some of my mud-friends are on my facebook, so they know I’m a girl, heh.

    But I agree, we shouldn’t have to insist upon our existence or prove our cred. It’s the 21st century! ST:TNG had a lady admiral, BSG had a lady president; get with the program, geek boys!

    • Teresa says:

      Oh Lord! 🙂 Yeah, if they don’t know you’re a woman by now, they clearly haven’t been paying attention.

      And yeah, while it may be less necessary to insist on your existence every single time, I think periodic reminders are helpful. Especially in situations like yours where you often don’t see the people you’re playing with, and new people coming in, sometimes the environment needs to be kept in check.

  3. ladyvader99 says:

    what a great article that explores both sides. i applaud your ability to remain unbiased and i totes wanna go to geek girl con or be part of something like womanthology ❤

  4. killerrqueen says:

    For me, I made that video before women were allowed to make their profiles, as moreso of a Me Vs Maxim. Some of it got lost in translation (or editing) but the point of it is that though I could be qualified, the reality is that I won’t win because I just don’t believe they’re legitimately looking at our personality or knowledge. If it was just a Hottest Girl contest, that would be fine because everything is on the table, you know what you’re getting into. Unfortunately for them, a good 98% of the women in the contest are amazing and have personality that can’t be ignored, and I will be more than happy being represented as a female gamer by any one of them. :]

    • Teresa says:

      That’s exactly what I thought you meant, Kimmie, and I’m so glad you’re commenting here! 🙂 And yes, I totally agree with you that Maxim could care less about simply having just a qualified girl gamer. She of course has to be super-drooly-hot, because that’s their bag. Which is all very well and good if they actually came out and said that they were a pin-up magazine. But they try to also be a REAL magazine, and that’s when they get into trouble.

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