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.
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.
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.
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.
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.