Image by Andy Dobson
Once upon a time, there was the geek. The geek was white, straight, and male. The geek developed into a masculinity with its own hegemony and need for gatekeeping (see Lori Kendall‘s work for more on geekdom and masculinity). Eventually women and people of color or of different sexualities (I’ll be focusing on women) began to challenge the hegemony of the geeks. Those male geeks saw geekdom, their refuge from other masculinities that may oppress them (like jocks and bros), as being threatened, and reacted with vitriol. They said women didn’t belong in geekdom; that they were invading a space that was supposed to be safe for men who didn’t fit into other masculinities. The women fired back, saying they’d been in geekdom from the beginning, but hegemony kept them invisible. The as the male geeks lost more and more ground to more open forms of geekdom (as, for example, in 2008 San Diego Comic-Con was invaded by female Twihards there to ogle Edward Cullen), they began questioning the authenticity of these “new” geeks’s credibility.
This brings us to today’s post: why is my research into geek girls important? Because geek girls exist, and shouldn’t have to prove anything. Male geeks see themselves as an “in-group,” about which Gordon W. Allport (1954) says “all use the term we with the same essential significance” (The Nature of Prejudice). The male geek community is a we, and female geeks are a they. They are invading our geeky space, they aren’t really geeks, they were never geeks to begin with. Because of the mainstreaming of geek culture, more women are discovering gaming and comic books and sci-fi/fantasy fandom. I have a friend who never picked up a comic book in her life until she saw The Avengers and fell in love with Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Now she is reading every Marvel book he is featured in, consuming the culture of comics fandom and considering herself part of Marvel’s “in-group” of fans. However, because she discovered comics later in life, many male geeks would declare her fake because she wasn’t reading about The Hulk “back in the day.” She would come across gatekeeping, where her validity as a fan is called into question.
It is for girls and women like my friend whom I am doing this research. The popular entertainment press has debated the role geek girls play in geekdom, but the academy has done little to examine geek girls as a social group – because the experience of geek girls is so different from that of geek guys, there needs to be studies just on the female geek demographic. At the Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association’s national conference this past April, I went to an open session on the genderization of science fiction/fantasy fans, and the conclusion that the attendees came to is that more ethnographies need to be done to show that geek women exist, are taking part in geek culture and have taken part in geek culture from the beginning. That is what I am doing: an ethnography of women who visit fan conventions; focusing on their experiences of sexism and misogyny in geek culture. Geek girls exist, and they’ll keep banging on the gates until everyone is allowed in.
* I should note that Community‘s homage was lovingly done and inclusive of all members of the study group. Community is a show for geeks, by geeks. Compare this to The Big Bang Theory, where the idea that women can join a D&D campaign is seen as ludicrous. It’s a show for geeks by bullies who want to laugh at the geeks. Trust me, I’ve done research on this stuff and everything.