The Limited Acceptability of the Female Geek

Robin Thorsen, who plays Clara on The Guild, would likely have to buy "geek shirts" in men's sizes. We expect geek women, but not geek men, to look a certain way, and then we wonder how we've created a culture full of superficial posers. Image: Brian J. Matis

Yesterday geek icon Felicia Day shared an article by Tara Tiger Brown on Forbes. She wanted feedback on the article and I felt compelled to comment. Not a “me too!” but an actual thoughtful comment.

The point I was trying to make is that style is replacing substance in geekdom, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the expectations of geek girls. Felicia Day’s projects sell merch through Jinx which, like many sites that cater to geeks, have only a limited range of women’s sizes. An XL women’s shirt on Jinx fits a 38″ bust, while an XL women’s shirt at Old Navy fits a 45″ bust, and a 42″ bust at American Apparel. That’s a significant 4″ to 7″ difference.

The message is pretty clear: acceptable geek women have to be a certain size, and that size is slim. What Tara Tiger Brown is lamenting, this twisting of geekdom into a trendy fashion accessory that can be adopted as long as it gains the wearer the right kind of attention, is part of the story of geek women being marginalized in geek culture. Can you really limit the acceptability of geek girls to slim, young aesthetically pleasing girls, and then turn around and complain that there are all these trendy female posers in geek culture? You make “hot geeky girls” something trendy and desirable, and then complain because all these women are adopting the trappings of geekdom for attention without embracing the culture. I think the posers aren’t the problem, but the symptom.

For instance, in The Big Bang Theory the guys aren’t very attractive. Any woman who loves these men will love them for their geeky, geeky brains and not because they are studly. Yet the women they are consistently paired with are extremely attractive. The one exception is Amy Farah Fowler, who is relegated to a sexless relationship with a man who is emotionally and socially immature. Geek women are only acceptable if they meet certain appearance standards, and if they meet the standards for appearance then they can be accepted as geeks without actually embracing that culture. Penny is accepted almost as an honorary geek, with the guys bending over backwards to aid her in navigating her half-hearted forays into geekdom, even though she doesn’t actually embrace the culture and has little personal interest in geek subjects.

What Tara Tiger Brown laments is the rising tide of people who adopt the label, symbols and mystique of geek culture without having any real interest in it or taking the effort to to research, analyze understand or master the geek niche they have adopted. How familiar this sounds to religious people! How often in Paganism do we lament the people who take on our labels and symbols without making any effort towards educating themselves about Paganism, both spiritually and culturally?

When we value style over substance, we do ourselves a real disservice. We give an excuse to shout down those who are genuinely thoughtful, interested and digging deep, and create a culture where the shallow image is revered.

In the internet age, genuine geek cred is easily come by. While I agree with Tara Tiger Brown that it enables too many people to become shallow “experts,” it also nullifies any excuse for poser geeks. If you’re genuinely interested in being a Trekkie, all of the episodes are on Netflix. Watch them. Discuss them. Think about them. Analyze them. Watching the new film and thinking Chris Pine and Zach Quinto are the alpha and omega of Trekdom is lazy. There is no excuse for it. A t-shirt with Zoe Saldana on it does not alone a Trekkie make, and there is nothing wrong with saying that.

There’s no litmus test for geekdom, nor is there one for Paganism, but there’s also no excuse for ignorance. Anyone can use Google. Anyone can find forums to exchange ideas in. Anyone who has a desire for knowledge has the ability to pursue that desire at their fingertips. It’s easy to tell someone with a genuine desire from a poser. The former asks intelligent questions, the latter asks lazy ones.

If you want to cure geekdom of it’s “poser problem” then you need to create a culture where people who ask intelligent questions are prized above those who wear form-fitting t-shirts with Iron Man on them without having an interest in comics. You need to portray characters like Amy Farah Fowler as getting the hot guys who find her intelligence sexy. You need to portray guys like Leonard Hofstadter as dating a chubby, bespectacled woman who’s a bit socially awkward and a brilliant neurosurgeon.

And sites that cater to geeks, like Jinx, need to carry products that real geek women can wear. One of my favorite characters that Felicia Day has created is Clara, but I wonder if Clara could find a The Guild shirt in her size? And who would get more attention from other geeks: the serious gamer and kick-ass Frost Mage Clara dressed normally, or a tiny casual gamer girl in a tight t-shirt?

And while we’re at it, why are we still referring to ourselves as girls? I pay taxes and get mammograms. If I’m any kind of geek, I’m a geek woman.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.


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