On “Fake” Geek Girls

There’s been some grousing for a while about “fake” geek girls, girls who – gasp!, shock! – pretend to be geeks in order to get attention! As geek culture has been growing in influence and cultural significance, more people have taken notice of us. This, in turn means that more people are willing to market to geeks… and others are perfectly willing to pander towards them or even exploit them.

The latest go-round of pearl-clutching, beard stroking and deep-seated harumphing was kicked off when Joe Peacock – self-appointed gatekeeper of all things geek – took up arms against this supposed pox upon the community with an article on CNN.com entitled Booth Babes Need Not Apply, complaining that San Diego Comic-Con- amongst other offenders – was “populated with “hot chicks” wearing skimpy outfits simply to get a bunch of gawking geeks’ heads to turn, just to satisfy their hollow egos.”

Now while I’m willing to believe that Peacock’s heart is in the right place, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. In an attempt to comment about “Booth Babes” and “poachers” in geekdom, he manages to dip both feet in a frothy mix of nerdrage. sexism, slut-shaming and epic fail and jam ’em rather firmly in his mouth.

All Them Fake Nerd Girls

You see, Peacock is quick to inform us, the problem isn’t TRUE geek girls. Oh no, he loves him some true geek girls. No, the problem are the faux geek girls, who parade around in their scandalous token nerd-bedecked undies in order to bask in the attention of the hapless males who flock to them like socially maladjusted bees to a particularly attention-seeking flower.

To quote Peacock:

What I’m talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a “model.”  I get sick of wannabes who couldn’t make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead.

I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.

I’m not entirely sure where to start to be honest. I mean, there’s always the fact that he feels that the best way to “defend” geek culture against these “poachers”  – his words – is to slut-shame them for daring to taunt these nerds with their luscious bodies. Fie upon them for having the temerity to induce nerd boners by being hot and clad in a Slave Leia costume and commit the sin of being unattainable! Oh those tempestuous harlots and their wicked ways!

Of course, not content to stick to mere denigrating women for their wanton displays of girlflesh, leaving men powerless as their involuntary erections sap all blood from their brains, he decided to kick it up to the next level. It’s not enough that these sluts are taking all the attention by pretending to be geeks, but they’re ugly to boot.

Yup. Apparently the fact that they don’t measure up in the “real world”, they have to go after the less-discerning nerdboys because, hey, it’s not like nerd boys are gonna know any better right? . They are, as he so cleverly lablels them “6 of 9’s” because… well, to quote Peacock again:

They have a superpower: In the real world, they’re beauty-obsessed, frustrated wannabe models who can’t get work.

They decide to put on a “hot” costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don’t get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity. They’re a “6” in the “real world”, but when they put on a Batman shirt and head to the local fandom convention du jour, they instantly become a “9”.

Evidently it would be less insulting if they were more objectively hot instead of being “con cute” – hot only because they’re the only girl in the room. Part of what’s so damning about this quote – from somebody who’s presumably interested in helping – is the way he knee-jerks straight to the two most common insults levied at women who are acting in a way men don’t like: call them sluts and then insult their looks. For all that Peacock is interested in supporting “true” geek girls, condemning the “poachers” others for not being hot says a lot about the value that women are supposed to bring to fandom.

 No True Scotsman…

The presence of female geeks means that the fiction we’re reading is broadening and, frankly, getting better in quality. It means nerdy films and television shows aren’t relying on damsel in distress stories and objectification of women to draw readers. It means content is broadening and becoming smarter and more accessible. I want more of that.

That’s all well and good; I agree with him about the appeal of more accessible, less cliched, less trope-bound content in my geeky entertainment. The problem is that as much as Peacock opens greater female involvement with one hand and then limits it with the other:

And be it known that I am good friends with several stunningly beautiful women who cosplay as stunningly beautiful characters from comics, sci-fi, fantasy and other genres of fandom. They are, each of them, bone fide geeks. They belong with us.

They “belong” with “us”? Really? Do I really need to point out how this sounds?

Flaunt it if you got it – and if you’re a geek, male or female, and you’re strikingly handsome or stunningly beautiful, and you cosplay as a handsome or beautiful character, more power to us all. Hot geeks are hot.

Being sexy is great… as long as you’ve passed this ideological test that shows that you are indeed a True Geek and not one of these hideous poseurs. I’m sure Peacock means well, but what he is saying is “Ladies, you are only allowed to express yourself sexually if you follow my rules”.  This is continuing the long-running attitude still prevalent in geek culture that women are allowed to partake in fandom and geek culture if and only if they fulfill specific criteria and even then, only if they participate in the pre-approved manners.

And what makes a true geek, since Peacock knows them so well? How are we to know the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff?

Well, he doesn’t really say. Male poachers, he says, are people like those who perpetuated the Speculators Boom of the 90s, snatching up every poly-bagged Death of Superman and every embossed, die-cut, chromium variant collector’s edition #1 cover from Image and Valiant, only to turn around and sell them for a profit. They don’t care about the art form, only about the money that can be wrung out of it.

Female poachers… well, he doesn’t seem to be entirely sure, other than they’re scantily clad succubi, preying on nerd attention and draining away our precious bodily fluids.

Oh, and also, supposed fake “gamer girls” like the Frag Dolls, nerd-baiting actress/models like Olivia Munn and booth babes.

Hotness and Nerd Street Cred

Famous, attractive women who participate in geek culture are forever getting accusations of not being “real geeks” or “pandering” to nerds. Groups like the Frag Dolls, actresses like Aisha Tyler, models like Olivia Munn and Adrienne Curry and even adult stars like April O’Neil and Dana Dearmond regularly face accusations of being “attention whores” and regularly face demands to justify their nerd credentials.

Why? Well… mostly because they’re hot. And the hotter they are, the greater level of cred they have to prove in order to validate the fact that yeah, they’re actually geeks. They game professionally? They’re not good enough! They’re just corporate shills! She’s a model who shows up at SDCC in costume? She can’t possibly be a gamer/a comic nerd/a Whovian/ a Browncoat/ an otaku, she’s just trying to get attention by being the hottest women in the room. Watching and enjoying Dr. Who suddenly isn’t enough to be a geek. The hotter the person, the more scrutiny she faces.

I’ve known some professional cosplayers – Ruby Rocket, for example – who can quote you chapter and verse about their favorite Green Lantern story arc or explain in great detail why they think that Carol Danvers is an amazing-yet-underused character get accused of being an attention whore because… well, she cosplayed as the Dr. Mrs. The Monarch or Black Cat at DragonCon.

It’s a sad case of how much geeks have absorbed and internalized our own stereotypes of what a geek looks and acts like that  having and displaying sex appeal is automatically suspect.

It’s hardly confined to the professionally pretty either. Women at cons regularly face accusations of being attention whores or sluts for being dressed in an attractive manner or flirting with guys she meets. It perpetuates the idea that women must downplay their looks in order to be taken seriously, whether in the professional world or in the culture she enjoys and wants to take part in.

The Problem With Booth Babes

Where I will give Peacock credit is on the subject of booth babes and the way companies treat nerds:

 As a guy, I find it repugnant that, due to my interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games and toys, I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence. It’s insulting.

He’s right: it is insulting that the supposed sexual inexperience and social maladjustment of nerds is pandered to by companies. By using sex to sell your product via the objectification of women, you make the woman the product as much as whatever it is she’s being paid to sell you. It drives women away – after all, if the only way you’re seen in geek culture is as a consumable object, why would you want to participate? – and it actively insults male intelligence and sexuality. These companies are saying that they think that guys are stupid enough to be lead around by their erections and and a nice set of cleavage is better able to sell their product than letting it stand on it’s own merits.

But this is hardly confined to geek culture. Sports bars, restaurants, dance clubs, car shows… all of these use scantily clad women to draw in men. We’re not singled out by cynical marketers who’ve never thought to use skimpy clothes, artificial smiles and professional flirtiness to separate men from their money.

Peacock’s rage at the booth babes who taunt him with their curves and bare midriffs and skimpy costumes is misplaced: these women aren’t pretending to be geeks to fuck with your head. They’re being paid to hawk merchandise and the outfits and forced smiles are conditions of employment. The fault doesn’t lie with the employees trying to make a living, it lies with the companies and corporations who gleefully insult you to your face while they attempt to extract money from your wallet.

But What About All Those Phonies?

Well to be perfectly honest… who the fuck cares?

The “fake” geek girl is the nerd equivalent of the welfare queen – a semi-mythical beast who somehow ruins things for everybody by… well, nobody’s entirely sure. Confusing their poor sad boners, evidently. Nobody has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction just how this hurts geek culture. Somebody dressing up in a sexy costume because being ogled makes them feel good doesn’t affect me or my friends’ participation in geek culture in any meaningful way. Putting the blame on these fake geek attention grabbers for narrowly defining the role of women in geekdom only serves to absolve the men who act as gatekeepers, insisting that the only role open to women is to be a sexual object rather than a full partner – while denigrating them for doing so at the exact same time.

The idea of the “fake” geek girl only serves as a way of dismissing or diminishing the presence of women in geekdom; if she doesn’t conform to some arbitrary standard, she’s clearly a fake, only in it for the attention… because if there’s anything women do, it’s spend hours upon hours of time and effort just to rile dudes up with absolutely no payoff. Especially men that she couldn’t stand otherwise.

Peacock’s rage at the supposed phonies in geek culture requires that men be helpless bystanders in their own sexuality, powerless before the fearsome beauty of a pretty woman. At the same time, it requires that women be heartless bitches whose only joy comes from preying on those hapless, helpless geeks. It places the blame on women for confusing men – who couldn’t possibly figure things out on their own, bless ’em – as to whether she’s a “true” geek, a paid shill or a ruthless Mean Girl who teases the poor geek with the illusion of his heart’s desire only to yank it away, the better to laugh at him in his impotence and pathetic misery.

Never mind that men aren’t passive participants in their sexual interest. Nevermind that it’s the fetishization of geek girls that makes this sort of trickery possible. It’s all the women’s fault for being succubi and feasting on the attention of the men who simply can’t help themselves. Those poachers. Those “6 of 9s”.

Worrying about who’s a true geek and who isn’t is throwing up artificial barriers to fandom in the name of preserving some sort of bullshit ideological purity and misses the point of being a geek in the first place. The whole point of being a geek is not caring about what other people think. It’s about the joy of loving something without worrying about being “cool” or being part of the “in crowd” whether the in crowd is dressed in Dolce and Gabanna or Star Fleet uniforms. It’s about loving things because they’re awesome. It’s not about street cred or being “casual” versus “hardcore”. Its about taking unabashed pleasure in the things you love.

Ultimately, whether you think that women are invading “safe” geek spaces with the hope of basking in the glory of the male gaze or not, it really doesn’t matter. Women who want to be part of geek culture should feel free to take part, fully and without reservation. We don’t need some sort of passport control, checking their credentials and bona fides against some artificial and arbitrary ledger that dictates who is and isn’t a “true” geek.