The myth of the fake geek girl

The last few months on the Internet, one of the more interesting, as well as controversial, debates has revolved around the notion of “fake geek girls.”  One of the major aspects of this has concerned the phenomenon of attractive women cosplaying as sexy female comic book characters at comic book conventions.  There has been a lot of back-and-forth about whether or not these ladies are “real” fans.  I’ve had some general thoughts about this percolating in my mind for a while now, but I didn’t really take the time to organize them into any coherent form.

Then a few days ago on Facebook, someone posted a rather humorous image. Someone had created a meme featuring a girl cosplaying as “steampunk gender swapped Joker in a Willy Wonka hat,” stating that this lady was “trying too hard.”  Right next to it was a screen capture from a message board where someone else astutely pointed out that this gal was portraying an actual comic book character, Duela Dent, and that the next time someone accused someone else of being a “fake geek” they ought to do their research first.

Open mouth, insert foot.

Open mouth, insert foot.

I think my initial reaction to this was along the lines of “Oh, shit, the guy who created that first meme got totally pwned! Ha ha!”

(Credit where credit is due department: I just learned that the responses on the right, and the final image epically putting down the ill-informed douche who created the original meme, were assembled by Lizzie Taz Scism, a cosplayer herself and a friend of the lady who was garbed as Duela Dent.)

So I was at my temp job today, doing a whole bunch of data entry.  My mind began wandering, and it somehow conjured up the memory of the above image.  This started a whole row of mental dominos tumbling for the next couple of hours, leading to this blog post.

Please keep in mind, in addressing the “fake geek girl” controversy, I really do not want to make any sort of sweeping generalizations concerning any aspects of fandom.  That is why, as with my other recent post, Old vs new: fan wars and Doctor Who, I am attempting to frame this solely from my own individual perspective and experiences.  I think a lot of people have been dancing around a certain aspect of the reason why these accusations occur, so I’m just going to come right out and confront it head on.  If I offend anyone, I really do apologize.

When I was growing up, I was painfully shy and socially awkward.  I had few friends and mostly kept to myself.  When I wasn’t busy reading science fiction novels or comic books like Captain America, Batman, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was watching reruns of Doctor Who and Star Trek, plus innumerable cartoons.  I had a hell of a lot of action figures.  In other words, I was a major geek.  And the other kids at school knew it.  Throughout most of my public school years, I was taunted on a daily basis, repeatedly called a “nerd.”  I was fortunate enough to avoid getting beat up most of the time.  But, as some people observe, words can be just as painful as physical blows.  And a few times in high school I did get punched in the face.  Once, someone even hit me in the head with a football during gym class.

Significantly to my young self, a great deal of the taunting and mockery seemed to come from the girls in school.  I don’t know, maybe it was my young imagination, but practically every single girl I went to school with seemed to find it especially enjoyable to torment me with those mocking cries of “nerd.”  And when I hesitantly attempted to befriend any of those girls, or even tell them that I thought they were pretty, well, that just encouraged them to redouble their efforts to make my school life unbearable.

By the time I was in high school, it appeared to me that most of the popular guys were the ones who played school sports, or who were in the band or orchestra.  And they were also the guys who always seemed to be going out with one cute girl or another.  I couldn’t think of a single kid I knew who was into stuff like sci-fi or comic books and who had a girlfriend.  The girls seemed to automatically gravitate to the jocks or the musicians.

In my college years and my twenties, I began to gradually come out of my shell.  Even so, I really did not date much.  Most women still seemed to be attracted to the athletic type, or guys who were in bands, or just plain “bad boys.”  I did befriend a few comic book artists who I ran into regularly at NYC comic cons.  Hanging out with those guys at parties and bars, I did notice that a lot of women did think that it was really awesome and cool if a guy was an artist who made their living drawing comic books.  But if you actually read the damn things, well, the ladies still found that pretty unappealing.

Next person to say I'm not a real fan gets decapitated!

Next person to say I’m not a real fan gets decapitated!

So, yeah, in the last several years, when I’ve started to see female cosplayers become more and more prevalent, attractive women dressing up in sexy superhero costumes, there is a part of me that cannot help thinking “What the fuck is going on?!?”  I mean, it seemed like every single cute girl in school made it their mission to inflict as much misery upon me on a daily basis, and that they found guys like me completely unappealing.  So what the hell were all these women now doing hanging out with all those “nerds” and “geeks” that they had derided years before in their teenage years?  Why were they at comic book conventions dressed up as Wonder Woman and Power Girl and Black Widow and Witchblade, when based on all the evidence of my experiences they ought to be on the arm of some jock at a football game, or swooning while their hard-living musician boyfriends belted out tunes on the stage of a trendy nightclub?  And there’s inevitably that extremely paranoid, neurotic, irrational part of my thinking that ends up concluding that the reason why these women are cosplaying as sexy superhero babes is for some sort of ulterior purpose.

I am sure some of you are wondering, what sort of underhanded motives could possibly cause a woman to dress up in a revealing, skin-tight spandex outfit?  Well, let me put it this way: there are a lot of comic book and sci-fi fans who have a lot of money.  I used to work in downtown Manhattan.  There was this one comic shop that was literally two blocks away from Wall Street. And every Wednesday, aka “new comic book day,” at noon, like clockwork, a whole bunch of businessmen & stockbrokers would come flooding in and spend a ton of money.  Even more telling, many people I know in the original comic art hobby will regularly drop several thousand dollars on a single piece of artwork.

Let us say, then, that you had a childhood similar to mine, full of awkwardness & insecurity, marked by a lack of friends, especially female friends.  And from all of your experiences in the past, it seemed like every girl you came across regarded comic books and sci-fi as things only a loser would be interested in.  Now you are an adult, still a fan of those same things, and suddenly there are all these hot babes parading around in sexy, revealing outfits at comic book conventions.  Perhaps it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to wonder if maybe some of these women are in fact “fake geek girls” who are looking to sink their claws into a well-off, socially inexperienced guy and milk him for all he’s worth.  It is probably not a logical reaction.  Hell, as I said, it veers dangerously into paranoia.  But from a certain perspective it makes sense that some guys are afraid of this.

Even after all this time, I still haven’t overcome a lot of these types of fears.  I mean, I’ve been in a relationship with Michele for five years now, and a lot of the time I cannot help thinking to myself “What the hell does she see in me?”  I mean, she’s attractive, outgoing, funny, intelligent and clever.  She’s also a talented artist who has been published nationally.  Guys seem to flirt with her all the time.  She could probably have anyone she wants.  And I’m a depressed, moody, neurotic, short-tempered geek who suffers from mood swings who spends half the time either acting like a crab-ass or isolating from people.  So why is she still with me?

Pondering all of this, I have to conclude that two major factors come into play (and, yes, here I am going to risk engaging in generalizations).  The first is that that, after all these years, many adult comic book fans, myself included, still suffer from insecurities that linger from their childhood.  Sometimes those traumas aren’t easily overcome.

The second is a fear of female sexuality.  Let’s face it, not just comic book fans, but the majority of men, at one time or another, have done their thinking with their crotch and not their brains.  Men can do extremely stupid things when motivated by lust.  And so there are plenty of men (again, not just limited to geeks) who worry that a sexy woman is going to take advantage of that and use their eroticism to control them.

On that later point, I think that ties in with society’s misogynist desire to sexualize women yet, at the same time, control them, turn them into non-threatening objects.  But that’s opening a whole other can of worms, and you could write entire books on that subject.

Anyone who accuses Harley Quinn of being a

Anyone who accuses Harley Quinn of being a “fake geek girl” gets a mallet upside the head!

You may well ask where the hell I am going with all this.  Well, my point is that, growing up, many of our peers, because of their narrow-minded views & biases, prejudged and labeled us, put us down as unworthy of their respect.  I believe that when we as adult comic book fans allow the baggage of our pasts to influence our perspectives, to judge a wide swath of female fans as “fake geek girls,” we are doing the exact same thing that was previously done to us.  I realize now that just because you didn’t happen to go to school with any girls who were into comics or sci-fi doesn’t mean that they weren’t out there.

Fandom is full of diversity.  It is made up of an entire spectrum of fans that enjoy many different things.  It is a mistake to offhandedly dismiss any one of those groups simply because of our own preconceptions.  And, yeah, that includes female cosplayers!

UPDATE:  Here is a link to an extremely intelligent article by Laurie Penny of New Statesman that actually addresses some of what I wrote about above.

http://www.newstatesman.com/laurie-penny/on-nerd-entitlement-rebel-alliance-empire

I wish I had been able to read this a year and a half ago when I first wrote this post.  Perhaps then I would not have made assumptions that had little to no basis in reality, and would have had a better understanding of an alternate perspective on this issue.  But I guess that is the important thing, that you learn from your experiences & mistakes and going forward don’t repeat them.

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14 thoughts on “The myth of the fake geek girl

  1. You left out one important option/observation, but shaved its edge with the golddigger hypothesis – women are absolutely insane when it comes the dreams of being a star, and I do believe that there is an influx of hot women wearing the skimpy attire for $ purposes – whether to sell their costumes making abilities, modeling abilities or the big cheese – getting into one of the 576 superhero movies coming out each year.

    That’s not to generalize all fangirls, but usually the ones with the tight buns or the fake pair.

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    • There are opportunists looking to get famous and/or make a quick buck in any scene or industry, and obviously that is not just limited to women. I think, as far as the cosplay field goes, yeah, there are some very attractive women who probably do fall into the category you describe, but also a lot of others who are genuine fans. The point of my post is that you need to judge people as individuals, and not just automatically lump everyone together under an assumption.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Let’s also consider the fact that pretty women (and men ) grow up being constantly appreciated for their appearance. So much so that it can be kind of addictive. They start to need that validation. Then there are the late bloomers, the awkward kids who realize that they have grown into pretty foxy adults. Both of those groups like to flaunt it. Dressing up is part of that fun and cosplay allows for some pretty extravagant escapism/exhibitionism.
    It’s all good.

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    • Yeah, Simon, I guess that is all true. It just goes to show that “geeks” can have very diverse reasons for getting into sci-fi and comic books, and just because those reasons are somewhat different than yours or mine doesn’t make them any less genuine fans. In any case, I think that if someone, male or female, takes the time & energy needed to create an incredibly realistic, detailed costume of a genre character, that level of dedication probably demonstrates that they have a genuine love of the material.

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  3. I just wanted to mention a thought I had while reading this that is somewhat tangential. Over the last years, many things that used to have an audience limited to “nerds” have become fairly mainstream. All those girls who made fun of you (and, I’m sure, me – but I was probably too busy reading to notice 🙂 would *themselves* have been made fun of had they befriended you. This is the sad fact of our youths, that you are often viewed by the groups you travel in and involvement with groups that don’t fit in with others will tarnish you. And nerdery was certainly one of those you didn’t want to be seen associated with if you had another option.

    To quote Marian Call, from her Geek Anthem, “Time magazine reported that our time had finally come. I guess they didn’t know that we already ran the world.” So NOW, being a nerd is acceptable. I also think it leads to many people who, previously, would not have been interested in SF, comics, etc. really looking at these things for the first time, and many of them becoming sufficiently interested to actually become real fans.

    I also think that the maturation of comics has allowed more people in. More serious works in comics form, such as Maus and – especially since Gaiman has made more and more inroads into other forms of storytelling – Sandman have allowed the general public to take in (in various forms, as comics have been influencing other media for some time) the idea that comics are not simply rags for young boys. It is this shift in public perception that have allowed, not just women, but adults in particular to “come out of the closet” if they were already reading comics (or come into the comic reader’s particular closet, if you will).

    I’m probably rambling at this point, but, in short: There are probably tons of comic fans that were abused to one extent or another, in their youths, for their fannishness. And they, consciously or not, resent that all those other groups feel they can now just walk in on what was our private world and not apologize for the injustices they did to us in the past, despite the fact that these are almost certainly not the same actual *people*. (“Dude, I don’t *understand* how the human brain functions, I just work here.”) But times have changed, and there are (and never were) any locked doors to fandom. People sometimes imagine there are such doors, but they’re wrong.

    It should be obvious that going from “You’re a woman” to “You can’t possibly *really* like comics” is preposterous. Let me know if you ever figure out why it isn’t.

    Yeah, I’m rambling. Hopefully most of that made some kind of sense.

    And, of course, disclaimer: I’m speaking from my own experiences and thoughts, and do not claim this is the only way of looking at things.

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  4. As I read your post, I kept waiting to see some acknowledgement of the nerdy GIRLS in school who got mocked, derided, beat up, and who were ignored by all the cute GUYS. And, quite frankly, by the nerdy guys as well. And I waited for you to consider the possibility that those girls might grow up to be more confident, or more attractive, than they were in school, and that they might look forward to the opportunity to go to a place where other nerdy people are, and to dress up as the characters they love.

    But, despite your ending your post on a generally more supportive note than many other such posts on “fake geek girls,” your focus is just on the “cute girls” who didn’t have time for you, as if there weren’t any other girls in your school. You reach the right conclusion regarding tolerance, but not based on any logical progression–not because it’s more tolerant to believe that maybe some of those hot fan girls might have been high school nerds who grew out of their awkward phase. The notion that a hot fan girl might actually genuinely like comics or sci-fi or any other aspect of geek culture appears to be just too incomprehensible to be a possible conclusion–she must be some kind of Jenny-Come-Lately hopping on your personal bandwagon. How disappointing. It’s like you don’t even see that you’re excluding them the same way you were excluded as a kid.

    You know, when I go to cons, I see a lot of hot guys dressed up in spandex, too, and they don’t look like they necessarily spent their childhood cowering from bullies and taking refuge in nerd culture. But, you know, for all I know, they did. Or, gosh, for all I know, they were hot teenagers who also just happened to like Captain America. Because one thing I don’t do is generalize from my own personal experience to understand everyone around me. I try to take them on face value, get to know them for who they are, without looking at them through the lens of all my own childhood pain and misery. It’s something you might consider.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right. You have some very valid points and criticisms. Sometimes a person such as myself gets wrapped up in what’s going on in his own head that he ends up walking around with blinders and missing what else is going on around him with other people. I do appreciate you taking the time to offer your perspective on this issue, and point out the oversights I made when I wrote this.

      For what it is worth, when I was in my late teens, I did get to know a couple of girls my age who were heavily into sci-fi and comic books, and we became very close friends. I probably should have written about them, as well.

      In any case, you did give me some things to think about.

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  5. Nerds are just easier to exploit for free attention and/or free stuff.

    Its a plethora of dudes just ready to be friendzoned, and theyll be happy just to stick around because they have no other hopes anyways.

    Its an exploitable market, and some girls get some geeky stuff to trick dudes into being a girl they would actually function with.

    In reality its better to find an actual geek-girl, but that can be a hard catch. I managed eventually, but it was outside of game-conventions and all that jazz. She had, just as I had, stepped out of the shut-in bubble, and ventured outside. We hooked up, and figured out we liked the same stuff.

    Going to an event and hooking up with slutty-mario might look like the best idea when it comes to finding a game-crazy partner, but it usually isnt.

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  6. Geek or Nerd? Which one is the chic word these days? Are they interchangeable? I guess it doesn’t matter as the explosion of the comic industry into the mainstream has changed the way people look at the genre IMHO. In high school, I was the jock/athlete and, for the most part, put away the comics for a few years when I was discovering girls. I was an athlete and a semi-closet comic fan (all my friends knew I was into it but not those who knew me casually) from about 7th – 12th grade. After high school, a full time job and a lot of disposable income (as much as you could living at home while working FT at a grocery store) I dove back into the hobby with both feet. To the point of the article, I think attractive women cosplay for two primary reasons – they are geeks/nerds and are passionate about it, and/or they like the attention that is given to them while in costume as we all know that a beautiful women dressed in a character from your favorite hobby is very attractive. They garner a ton of attention and there are plenty of people that thrive on attention. I had never really considered sinister intent as a motivator but I suppose it could be the case at times. In the end, who really cares? I see it as part of going to a show and something that adds to the experience in a positive way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for a very honest and well-written article Ben. I’m not into comic books, myself, but that doesn’t matter. I think another aspect of all of this is the increased popularity of role play in society. From World War I and II to the Viking and Mediaeval ages, reenactment groups have blossomed and spread into many other areas of our pastimes. Of course, role play can also be highly sexualised, too. Perhaps, sci-fi ‘cosplaying’ offers a happy medium ground between the highly sexualised sub-dom world and that of the brownish/grey one of the World War/Viking kind of role players.

    Comic book characters are super enhanced – they are often curvy and sexy, or quite muscled. To dress as one might offer a safer, less blatant outlet for a person than if someone was merely to dress up in bondage gear. I’m probably not articulating my point very well, but hopefully you get the drift.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: “Gamer Girl” VS. “Girl Gamer” | iBLOGalot

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