I’ve always called myself a “girl geek” or a “nerd girl.” In the strange mix of sci-fi, grammar obsession, zombie movies, computer parts, and feminism that is my brain, it’s recently floated to the surface that maybe I should take a look at those labels. So I’ve been wondering lately, why the qualifier? Why do women who enjoy traditionally “geeky” pursuits need a special label? Why can’t we just be geeks? I’ve come up with a couple of theories:
-Geekery (geekism? geekishness?) is still widely perceived as a male characteristic. Which is really strange, because there are so many women who would identify, or be identified, as geeks. There are a huge number of women who enjoy video games, sci-fi, computer programming, comic books, and other traditionally “geeky” interests, yet we’re still looked upon as some kind of elusive beings, the stuff of legends, rarely seen in person. That’s a load of bullshit. Women have interests just as varied and intellectual as men, but it’s still seen as unusual or remarkable in some way.
-Unfortunately, even in this day and age, men are people and women are women. “Male” is the default. So if a woman wants to identify or categorize herself, she’d better make sure to be clear: she’s not a “geek.” She’s a “geek girl.” Like a different species.
-We still have something to prove. How many female gamers have gender-neutral gamertags or male avatars? And how many did that because by identifying yourself as a woman, you open yourself up to not only the ridiculous and often horrifying treatment you get from other (male) gamers, but because when you play as a woman, you have to be better, faster, more aggressive, and more skilled than the guys who are playing? You’re a girl, so you’d better be exceptional if you want to get into the clubhouse. Guys are allowed to be mediocre. If not, it’s because they’re still getting used to the game, or they’re having an off day. If a girl is mediocre, it’s because she’s a girl.
-We want to set ourselves apart. We’re not “those girls.” We’re not vapid and stupid and concerned with superficial pursuits. That’s all well and good, except it’s self-defeating. By painting the female default that way, we’re making it harder on ourselves to show that being intellectual or nerdy or fun is normal. It’s not unusual or weird. Not to mention, I find very few guys who feel it necessary to justify that they like video games and Star Wars as well as being sports fanatics and gearheads. People are complex. I can lose an entire day watching a Firefly marathon and still spend an hour at Sephora looking for the perfect neutral eye shadow. I can build a computer or a network from the ground up and still get pissed if I break a nail in the process. I’m allowed to be multi-dimensional.
-We think it gets us respect. And, to an extent, it does. A little bit of nerd cred never hurts, and can be a huge asset in certain situations. Sometimes it catches people off guard, and that can be an asset too. It’s a little insulting to be judged on looks or gender first, and then intelligence as an afterthought, but it happens all the time.
-Guys like it. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes. No, I don’t personally care if guys like it, as I’m married and my husband is perfectly happy with my current level of nerdiness. However, the “hot girl gamer” archetype is so pervasive that it’s almost a joke. Since I mentioned Firefly already (and will do so whenever I have a chance), I’ll use this example. I follow Nathan Fillion on Twitter. I love Nathan Fillion. If Nathan Fillion ever retweeted or followed me, I’d devote a week of blog posts to subjects of his choosing. Recently, he tweeted: “Help me settle a bet! Hot girls play Halo! I know at least 5! Back me up, @Rileah!” (Rileah being Rileah Vanderbilt, a member of “Team Unicorn,” a group of very good-looking women who play video games and recently made a video parody to prove that geek girls do exist.) He got tons of replies; I’d guess hundreds, if not more than a thousand, many with pictures to prove it. Here’s my question, though: why does it matter if the girls are hot? Is it because a good-looking girl is made even more attractive by being interested in “male” pursuits? Does it not “count” when girls who aren’t traditionally beautiful-looking play FPSs because they’re doing it for their own enjoyment, not to impress dudes? I’m not trying to single out Nathan Fillion, but he brought up an interesting point, one that comes up all the time: do hot girls have more credibility if they’re geeks? Or do geeks have more credibility if they’re hot girls? Why can’t women just like to shoot things without trying to get attention for being a girl who shoots things?
One of these days, I hope we can progress far enough that geeks are geeks, regardless of gender, and that people will stop being surprised when girls are smart and interesting and multi-faceted. In the meantime, I’ll be in good company with some really awesome girl geeks.
Geek out with PoM at her blog, where this article originally appeared.