In the past five years or so it’s become cool to be a geek, or at least a certain kind of geek. Marvel movies have made it cool to like comics. The Big Bang Theory has brought nerds and their strategy games to the forefront. The rising popularity of RPG style video games like Dragon Age and Skyrim has made it cool to play nerdier games than Call of Duty. The rise of barcades (bars that also have video games or pinball machines) have brought nostalgia video games in to mainstream recreation. It’s a good time to be a geek. Unless, of course, you’re a female geek.
Geekdom has historically been the territory of men. In the old days of geekdom (Gen X and before) women were few and far between and they had to be very brave to penetrate the male sanctum of gaming. They had to be willing to endure hours of mansplaining, even if they’d read the rulebook a hundred times in preparation for their first session. They had to be prepared for numerous pathetic pick up lines. They had to endure borderline if not full on sexual harassment from male gamers and shop owners. It was pretty much guaranteed to be an uncomfortable experience. Before you start hashtagging everything NotAllMen, I know that not every guy was like this, but I also know that many of my female gamer friends described these experiences in their early days of gaming.
In fact, even in the early 2000’s this was my experience as a fledgling gamer. Being a fledgling gamer actually highly contributed to my transformation in to a “cool girl” because I felt that I just needed to “play along” with the harassment if I was going to be accepted. Plus, I didn’t want the guys to think I was too sensitive and alienate me from their gaming sessions. I hate to say it, but in order to be included in typically all male gaming sessions I also did my fair amount of baking and cleaning up after messy boys. In my first tabletop RPG, where my fiance was the GM (game master) I was the quintessential “healer girlfriend” who made my heal rolls on the kitchen counter because I was making muffins. I wanted to be in with them, so I gave in to and reinforced the misogynistic culture. Let me be clear that the guys I started gaming with were not bad guys and I don’t believe they intended to be misogynistic. It was more about the fact that I believed I needed to endure the mansplaining, pick up lines, and bawdy jokes in order to be included. Had I been more vocal about my discomfort I’m sure they would have stopped. It doesn’t change the fact that this kind of misogyny was embedded in gaming culture.
Today female gamers are more prevalent and more widely accepted in the gaming community. In many gaming circles women are treated respectfully and as equals to their male counterparts. This is great progress, but in some circles the misogyny hasn’t really changed, it’s simply taken on a different form. The Internet in all it’s glory has now chosen to sexualize the “geek girl”. If the male dominated gaming community was going to be forced to accept women, they would accept them on their own damn terms.
The Internet’s version of the “geek girl” is much like the “cool girl”, only she’s more in to comics and video games than sports. She’s physically attractive, very intelligent, and very witty. Extra points if she’s super sarcastic. She can beat you at your favorite video game, but not enough to embarrass you. If she’s your girlfriend she doesn’t get mad if you just want to play video games all night instead of paying attention to her. Instead she grabs controller and gladly plays Player 2. “Geek Girl” is cool with spending hours at a time eating Doritos, drinking Mountain Dew, and playing Dungeons and Dragons, and yes, she is usually the group’s healer because she doesn’t mind that all the combat classes are played by men. She’ll marathon all the Star Wars movies with you before the new ones come out or she’ll spend the whole weekend watching Star Trek TNG with you, and she definitely knows the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. She doesn’t mind that the whole group hits on her all the time and she flirts right back without missing a beat. She is the ideal other half to your geekiness.
From this Internet ideal of the “geek girl” spawned the idea that she actually does not exist, for it is impossible for any girl to be that cool! So the “geek girl” is painted as the mythic unicorn. In response to this, women all over the world started showing their geek credentials. They posted pictures of themselves, listed the games they played and the levels of their video game characters. These female gamers wanted the gaming world to know that they existed and that their skills matched if not exceeded those of male gamers. Some of the male gaming community was impressed to see that these unicorns truly existed and welcomed them with open arms. Unfortunately, the rest of the gaming community, who were still trapped in the embedded misogyny, responded by saying that these were not true “geek girls” these were “fake geek girls”. They had seen the sexualization of the “geek girl” and they were responding by pretending to be “geek girls” in order to get boyfriends or sex partners. The Internet was flooded with male outrage over women pretending to like their hobbies in order to “manipulate men”. Understandably, the Internet also exploded with female outrage at having their identities called in to question. The battle still rages today.
As a female gamer, I am obviously outraged to be called a fake. I am amazed at the arrogance and entitlement of the men who think it’s their right to tell me what I like and don’t like and whether or not I am good enough to be included in a community. I should be allowed to identify as a geek simply because I want to identify as a geek. I should not have to prove my credentials to anyone, especially some random man who has decided that I can’t possibly know anything because of my gender. I shouldn’t be required to fit some picture of what a female gamer should be and I shouldn’t be confined to certain roles or characters in games because I’m “the only girl”. Y’all can play healers, I play fighters now. Most importantly I should not have a part of my identity erased because it does not compute in the male brain. I am a female and I am a geek. Because I say so.