Digital Changeling

March 31, 2013

The Phantom of the Fake Geek Girl: Why do Geek Women Believe in Her?

Filed under: Comics,Costuming,Feminism,Games,Mythos,Programming,Steampunk — Eva @ 11:01 am

The storm of “fake geek girl” articles seems to have abated but in the heat of that I got into an interesting conversation with @koboldstyle I want to write about.

 Why do geek women attack other geek women?

To answer that question, I have to back way up to when you joined a geeky hobby for the first time (sorry, this does presuppose geeks are reading this).

What makes you identify as a geek? Do you love a particular subject like anime, comics, or tabletop RPGs? Have you spent weekends at conventions or reading fan sites? How about long evenings glued to your computer learning the intricacies of a programming language or discovering the possibilities of open source projects for the first time? When did you first realize that particular part of geekdom was a part of you?

When you started out learning about and loving the geeky things you love, did anyone tease you because you were new? Maybe because you didn’t quite know everything yet or got something wrong? Did anyone assume that you weren’t a geek because of how you looked or talked or the username you wore?

Not everyone experiences this kind of hazing when they join a geek community, but a lot of people do. Many parts of the geek community are defined by knowledge and when you’re perceived as not knowing, people can be vicious.

Now imagine the knowledge tests and teasing didn’t stop when you proved your knowledge the first time. Imagine that every time you met new geeks they assumed you were an outsider. So you prove yourself and prove yourself… and prove yourself… and there’s just no end to it. Your old friends understand you, but every time you meet someone new you have to start all over again.

Gentlemen, this feeling is familiar for a lot of geek women. It happens to them, over and over and over. I know you’re thinking, “I would never do that to a fellow geek,” but what if you didn’t see them as a geek to start with? What if they’re “just a girlfriend that tagged along” or “just hanging around because they want to date that one guy”? Are you sure your internal geek-identifier isn’t ignoring people it should give the benefit of the doubt to?

Back to the ladies. You’ve spent your time proving again and again that no, you aren’t “a pretty face trying to snag a boyfriend” and no, you aren’t “a girlfriend who tags along.” Where do these stereotypes come from and why do you have to deal with them? You start to think, are there women out there who are “a girlfriend who tags along”? Did they create that stereotype?

And then you get mad. “What the f**k!,” you think, “Why do I have to deal with the fallout from what those stupid posers do?” “Why can’t they get the hell out of geekdom so I don’t have to deal with this stereotype anymore?!?”

 You’ve walked into a trap. Are there any posers out there? Probably a few. Are there enough of them to justify the stereotypes? Not a chance in hell. But you’ve accepted that the stereotype must be true. If so many people assume it’s true about you, how can it not have a basis in fact, right?

Not all geek women go down that route of logic, but a few do and that’s how we end up in a place where women write articles about how fake-geek-women are ruining geekdom and how the posers should all get out. That’s is how we end up with women devaluing other women based on how they entered hobbies (so what if you’re the girlfriend of a geek? how does that make your interest in something geeky invalid?).

I’m not blaming anyone for believing what they’ve been told over and over. If you’re told anything often enough you’ll believe it. But right now women are accepting second class citizenship in many parts of geekdom. That’s not where I want to be.

Men, don’t do this to geek women in your life. Assume we’re inside the club instead of constantly making us prove ourselves. Women, don’t do this to other women either. Question the things that geekdom tells you about yourself and your gender.



If you’re wondering what the whole “fake geek girl” kerfuffle is, here’s some reading material.


Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away

The Girlfriend and The Geek

 Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be

Confession: I’ve been a girlfriend

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!”: “Geek Girls” and the Problem of Self-Objectification

The Girl Geek Community is Hidden, Ever Wondered Why?

October 12, 2010

What does Bechdel really mean?

Filed under: Angry,Books,Comics,Feminism — Eva @ 11:43 am

A friend of mine recently posted a rant about how the Bechdel Test was BS. She pointed out that there’s no reason women shouldn’t be allowed to talk about men in movies. It can be a topic that develops their characters and has a valid place in moving the story forward. She thought it was stupid that female characters had to stop talking about men to pass the test. This is my response.

The Bechdel Test is not about women talking about men. It’s about women talking about nothing, but men. So long as they also have a conversation about something else they pass.

For a long time the test really annoyed me too. I mean really, really annoyed me. Once I knew about it, it was often in the back of my mind when looking at other things like books and comics. Several works that I really loved didn’t pass it and one that I adore passed like 10 pages from the end. The whole thing made me wildly unhappy because it seemed so arbitrary.

Then I started looking at it the other way around. What do male characters talk about when they’re alone? They talk about women sometimes (it depends on the story how much). They also talk about all sorts of other things: the weather, the road to X city, where the suspect lives, how to recover the data from this damaged computer, the list is endless. Most male characters have a neutral role in plots that lets them deal with all sorts of things that are not cross-gender relationships. Even male characters who are immersed in romantic plots, often have some other goal they’re pursuing during the story.

Then I thought, well, there weren’t that many women in X or Y so I can see why they never “got around” to having neutral conversations. It didn’t seem wrong at the time that there weren’t more women in there. But, isn’t everything that happens in this story something the author chose to happen? Why did the neutral roles need to go to male characters?

So I went back and started examining the roles the male characters took. The number of those roles that had no link to gender, that could have been changed with nothing but different pronouns, absolutely appalled me. I was forced to wonder, why weren’t women cast into some of those roles? Why didn’t I find it strange that women weren’t cast into any of those roles? What has my culture made me blind to?

In the real world, women do all sorts of things, many of them practical normal things, not related to how we deal with relationships (with men or women). I don’t spend my day chatting about my husband. I write software, read email, learn new programming languages… if you wrote my story, would I just be replaced with a male character unless I needed to be a romantic foil? Why? What’s the point of not letting women also do normal things in stories?

The conclusion I came to was, the Bechdel Test is not about men. It’s about clearly highlighting a lack of women. It’s about token women in only romantic roles and constantly casting neutral characters as men, when there’s no reason they need to be.

At it’s core it’s about seeing women as nothing beyond partners for men. We fill no other role in many stories and that’s really sad. I have no problems with having characters (of either gender) in a story for purely romantic reasons. There should also be characters of both genders that move beyond that role and the gender balance shouldn’t be the mess that it is now.

I struggled with this revelation. I know it sounds stupid simple, but when you’re reading or watching an actual story, there seems like there’s always a plausible reason for the characters to be the way they are: the order of sword-mages is all male, well he’s a janitor, it’s just one more hacker guy, this scene is handled by the romantic male lead. I forced myself to remember that each of those reasons is a choice the creator made. They could make different choices and often the work would be just as compelling. The order could be mixed gender or all female, janitors and hackers can be women, and there’s no reason why the female romantic lead couldn’t push that part of the plot forward instead.

Everything in fiction is the way it is because someone made it that way. They can choose to make it a different way. Despite what some high-muckety mucks think, having more female characters won’t drive audiences away. Having more women in the world certainly doesn’t make men hide in underground bunkers.

If you want a view of this from a different angle, I’d highly recommend Katie’s article on the Reverse Jane Austin Principal. It captures part of the phenomenon of “rewriting stories to include romance” and it’s alarmingly apt.

August 19, 2010

The Response of Penny Arcade to Criticism

Filed under: Comics,Feminism,Games — Eva @ 1:19 am

(Trigger warning: There are triggers throughout this post and in many of the linked pages.)

There’s a whole firestorm going on across the blogosphere about this Penny Arcade comic. If by some chance you haven’t heard about it, there are a number of interesting pieces covering it. The PA guys have made two responses: one comic and some blog posts.

There are a bunch of factors colliding here and that various people are upset for various reasons. It’s really sad that the PA folks have chosen the path of responses that they have. They’re good people who have done good things for the world. They set up Child’s Play, an awesome charity that has encouraged people to donate to children’s hospitals all over the world. They created Pax, which I’ve heard touted as one of the most female friendly cons around.

I can see the argument that the internet is vast and that free speech protects dark humor, even morally. I respect that they have a right to create things that I may not like. I still think they responded poorly. It is possible to explain yourself while still apologizing, acknowledging the issues you inadvertently tread on, and treating others’ concerns with respect.

While I fully support their right to free speech, which includes the right to saying things other people find offensive or distasteful, other people also have the right to criticize them. Freedom of speech is a two way road and we don’t have to be assholes about it in either direction. We can have different opinions, different interpretations, and hold different issues as more or less important without being dismissive or rude.

The part that makes me really sad is, PA don’t seem to understand the insidiousness of how they’ve casually dismissed the criticism. It implies that they don’t see a deeper issue. It is just a joke to them and the “complainers” are silly to suggest the whole topic should be treated any more seriously.

There are several problems with this. One is that casually dismissing criticism with hyperbole is a common technique used to silence feminists. Think along the lines of “What are you getting upset about? This is no big deal, stop being so hysterical.” This means that the way they’ve approached the criticism resonates even more painfully with the people they’re addressing. This was a bad call on their part. It will only hurt and alienate more people. As one of my friends put it, it makes the original comic look a lot worse.

Looking at actual content, the idea that a slave might be raped is not a new one. But for many people in America, that idea is so far removed from modern reality that it only exists in fantasy books and video games. They may know in the abstract that there’s slave trading in the modern world or that there are people who are forced into prostitution against their will, but it’s not part of their reality. It has no actual impact on their instincts or fears. They see no real threat that it could happen to them or to anyone they love.

I would urge you to go take a look at the story that started Love146, a charity that is working to end child sexual slavery. I think it’s important that the issue is real to you. It’s less important that it changes how you think about the PA comic, and more important you have a gut understanding that real slaves are being raped.

As I see it the problem now becomes, people read the joke in the comic and if they lack that gut understanding, the joke will further distance them from seeing the rape of a slave as reality. The over-the-top humor relegates the act and the situation even further to that world of fantasy and fiction. It makes the victim of the crime even more of a faceless, theoretical person who exists only in jokes and video games.

If there isn’t a systemic problem, a joke like this isn’t a big deal. In the case of rape, there is a systemic problem in our culture. One tiny chip at a time, jokes start to slowly turn people into that hero who walks away, because they don’t believe the crime is happening (or could happen) to a real person.

Yes, I’m being a little over-dramatic here. But no, I’m not kidding. I don’t think PA committed some sort of mortal sin with their original strip. I mostly thought it was a kind of tasteless joke when I first read it. They made things much worse by dismissing the whole issue so quickly and crudely.

Like I said before, I respect PA’s right to say what they want in their comic. It’s a shame they aren’t taking the issues behind the criticism of their work more seriously. There is a lot that could be learned and a lot of good that could be done.

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