25 December, 2011

The Girl Geek: Dispelling Campfire Stories of Women in Geek Culture

The Girl Geek: Myths and Stereotypes Roundhouse Kicked in the Bawls –
Dispelling Campfire Stories of Women in Geek Culture

This guide is brought to you by an actual girl. Before I begin I should start off by saying I’ve worked in the video game industry, played World of Warcraft, subscribed to dog magazines, love science and geology, and have a computer specialization of my Honours Degree.

I’ve always kind of been a square peg in a round hole when it comes to fitting in with certain groups. I have lots of girlfriends who do not understand my geek side, and several male friends who never quite grasped how geeky I actually was. Going through life doing geeky things like installing my own RAM, spending 16 hours playing Final Fantasy and blowing off boyfriends for the newest Zelda release allowed me to experience many stereotypes and mythologies about women geeks. I'm here to dispel and explain the most common ones.

1. There is no such thing as a girl geek, only girls who like geeky things

While researching this article, I was told that some men think that girl geeks are an enigma, an ungraspable breeze in the wind of life, and those girls who actual like nerdy things (Ex: Star Wars) are not nerds per se, but just women who happen to like things deemed nerdy. Basically liking geek things doesn’t make women ‘geeks’.

This is a confusing double standard. Take Star Wars fan #1. They own all the Blu-Ray discs of every single movie (yes, even the bad ones), every single release, every single special collector’s edition, and all the special feature extras. They own plushies, lightsabers, go to Comic Con, dream of meeting George Lucas, and quote the movie. Would it matter if I told you that the geek in question was a man or a woman? It wouldn’t. You would classify this person as a geek, regardless of whatever untouched sexual organs they boast (or don’t boast, you know – whatever).

Food for thought: Would you consider a pro football player who looked like a model a geek if he played Magic: The Gathering? Would you call a Victoria’s Secret model a geek if she watched Firefly? If it’s only one area of geekiness, is it less geek-cred than those who have multiple geeky hobbies?
The truth is, the label geek is self-administered but it’s bolstered by those in your geek community. Any girl can be a geek if she likes socially deemed ‘geek’ things and attributes to the geek culture by indulging in such. AKA buying the movies, talking about Han Solo online, debating the Pokémon starting line ups, or arguing over the notion Batman is not a real super hero (he’s not). If you enjoy nerdy things, and have knowledge of these things in more than a surface value, then you are a geek, no matter what shape your Green Lantern undies come in.

2. Girls pretend to be geeky or lie about their geekiness to seem cute or cool

Being a geek is a personal lifestyle: no longer is it a slur or considered name calling. Being a geek is a personal statement one makes when they identify with a certain culture. Once a very identifiable minority, geeks are no longer visibly detected species, which means I don’t have to wear coke-bottle glasses to be considered as such. This has ushered in a new era for geeks to embrace their geekdom, and is no longer a shameful secret, but more of a bragging right.

As women are apparently harder to come by in the geek-world, the notion that female nerds are scarce has ultimately significantly raised their value. Some men thing girls see this as an opportunity to play the role of ‘Queen of the Nerds’, which they can brag and claim they are really nerdy so that the nerd men gather around them and give them attention.

While this may be true in some cases, it’s easy to pick out a fake geek. Talk to them about it. With social media, the interwebz, and tons of forums it’s easy to pick up memes or information on things without having an obsession hanging behind it. I’ll admit I was never into comic books, I was never that kind of person, but that hasn’t stopped me from googling all the DC and Marvel characters to learn more about them. I could go around Twitter and claim I'm a huge comic book fan, or how much I love certain super heroes, and I bet I would fit in with people having conversations about it, but if a real comic book geek started a conversation with me about it, it wouldn’t be long before I’d be like “What do you mean Baine killed Batman?!” (Er, spoiler alert?)

I once talked to a girl who claimed to love video games. She was a hard core gamer she said, and she played all the awesome games out there. As a gamer myself, we struck up a conversation and naturally my focus went to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a video game staple for any self proclaimed geek or gamer. I made a reference about the Water Temple (anyone who has EVER played this game will know exactly what I mean) and she didn’t understand the joke. The water temple is considered one of the hardest dungeons in the series, let alone the game (arguably in video game existence!), and I knew right away she either didn’t do the dungeon herself, or she never played the game. You may as well have taped a big scarlet letter onto your coat.

So yes girls like this exist, but they are easily distinguishable from the real geeks once you ask something that wouldn’t be written on the back of a box or in the first few paragraphs of the Wikipedia page.

3. Girls who are geeks or gamers are ugly and can’t get a boyfriend

This is a classic stereotype that has been proven false time and time again. Like I mentioned, geekdom is a new era, and with web 2.0 it’s easier to meet those of your own kin then it has ever been before. I can go online and register for a Battlestar Galactica community and meet someone with the exact same interests as me and we could end up dating. It’s easy to label girls as a certain type when they have been portrayed in the media as unattractive, socially inept, and gross. Or the opposite: drop dead gorgeous and a fake geek for attention. “Wow she’s gorgeous and she claims to pwn mad n00bs in World of Warcraft! She’s a dream come true!”, when in actuality she signed up for the 10 day free trial, got to level 10 and died repeatedly in Mulgore by an Ornery Plainstrider.

I’ve met tons of gorgeous gamer girls; they really aren’t as few and far between as the media makes them out to be. They are everywhere; they are playing TF2 with you, they are in your comic book store, they are in the game store buying games, or in the library brushing up on her chemical history. Working in the industry, I worked with and had networks full of gamer and geek women, and the majority of these women are beautiful and amazing people. The same is to be said with geek guys, no longer a shielded basement troll; the majority of geeks live a functioning life that involves social interaction. These folks all have or had boyfriends, husbands, wives, and partners, and leave behind stereotypes that women who play Pokémon have moss growing in their who-ha.

4. Women gamers aren’t very good

If I told you person A went to school to be a nurse, graduated, and is now practicing in the field, would you assume I was talking about a man or a woman? Gender stereotypes are rampant in every field, not just the tech and geek ones. If I told you that men don’t know how to cook as well as women, is that something you would agree with? If I asked you if female doctors are as smart as males, would you refute that fact?

In all fairness, stereotypes still exist, and sadly a lot of them revolve around women not measuring up to men in some form or another. Due to a few bad examples or random happenings, women cannot seem to climb out from underneath the rock known as “not as good as men”, specifically in the video game world, like somehow having a vagina decreases your HP by 9000.
I know women who play as much FPS as men, and can kick your ass in any game you put in front of them. Of course, I know men like this too. Realistically it’s not gender based, but skill based. It’s not “I am a man therefore I am better at video games” but “I have practices while I should have been at prom and have gained a skill at them.”

One time I went to my friends UFC party where two main guys were set to kick the shit out of each other. As you can tell, I'm very well versed in the subject. So beforehand, there was a group of maybe 7 of us all gathered around a huge TV, and someone suggested putting in a UFC game before we watched the fight. My friend’s brother (22 years old) was there and was challenging everyone to a UFC match. He beat a few of my friends and I was asked to give it a try even though I had never played the game in my life and was not really interested, but I agreed. I ended up knocking his ass out in the first 15 seconds, Ali vs. Liston style.

Basically you can argue gender equally until you’re blue in the face, the fact of the matter is having a penis does not make you better at something than I am. Geek women are just as plentiful, just as good, just as talented and interested in the culture and community as anyone else. What people should be doing instead is admitting the fact the face of the game has changed, and no longer are geeks banished to their caves, only to scurry out of sight once their moms turn the basement lights on, but are embracing the terminology and community that comes with being a geek.
Geeks know they are geeks – nobody else can label them. The community is ever-growing and with the connotation of the traditional word changing, it appears that everybody wants in on the geek culture. Jocks who play football by day and Modern Warfare 3 at night, programmers who are turning their ideas into the next big hit, business men changing into their Batman shirts at home, and hipsters searching for the most obscure game titles; don’t worry, you’ve probably never heard of them.

Sometimes it really is hip to be square.

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