It seems like every five minutes, nerd girls are coming under attack. Cosplayers are attention seeking, Felicia Day is a fraud. A lot has been said on this subject, particularly after ex-Destructoid writer Ryan Perez called out Day on Twitter, demanding to know what value she added to the gaming industry, and more recently after Dirk Manning (another interwebs writer) posted this meme to his Facebook wall. What then followed was something of a bust-up between Manning and Jennifer De Guzman, PR & Marketing Director at Image Comics (home of Tank Girl and The Walking Dead amongst many, many others) wherein De Guzman responded with this. Apparently, the two have since ‘made friends’. Their battle may have ended but this by no means suggests the war is over.
I have two rules when debating an issue like this (well, two main rules. I withhold the right to add or edit additional rules on a whim):
- You are entitled to your opinion – as Voltaire is misquoted as saying ‘I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’ However, if you’re going to put your opinion out in the world, do yourself the courtesy of being able to back it up. “Because I said so!” is an argument best reserved for parents at bed time, and even then the alternate “because you are five years-old and you need your sleep so your brain can rest up for all the exciting things we’re going to do tomorrow” would probably help the cause.
- If you are going to enter into the debate (see 1), argue with the point, not the person. You wouldn’t accuse the victim of a racial attack of being overly sensitive due to the colour of their skin, so don’t resort to saying the girls are taking offence because, well, they’re girls.
The angle this debate continually circles back to is this: girls probably aren’t real, genuine nerds, especially if they have the audacity to dress up or be pretty. It seems as though a certain element within Geekdom is holding an entrance exam that the participants don’t realise they’re taking. Having your boobs on display is an instant fail. Being a boy is a free pass to the next round. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, many boys have leapt to the girl’s defence, but the fact that we are having this debate at all – in a time when women’s rights are such a hot topic and even their own bodies are potential up for political management – is worrying at best.
Many girls (and boys, for that matter) spend their childhood hearing that they’re a loser, a geek, a nerd, not pretty enough, cool enough, on trend enough, not welcome here. Now, after staying true to themselves and holding on to their identity – in some cases slowly discovering it over many years of floundering to feel accepted – they finally find a pocket to feel safe in and they’re told they’re not genuine enough to play. Ironically, it seems that part of the crime is being too pretty, too confident, too comfortable with themselves. The question then becomes: says who?
No-one is born knowing Stan Lee’s entire catalogue. No-one arrives in this world completely immersed in the Star Wars universe. Every single self-professed geek out there had to start at the beginning and, whether we’re happy admitting it or not, there are plenty of people out there who know more about our chosen love than we do at any given point.
Censoring people on something as subjective as ‘liking something’ places a person on a slippery slope. Who decides what constitutes ‘genuine’ nerdiness? A friend of mine is a, let’s say keen, Dr Who fan. I’ve never been into it myself, so if she were to quiz me on my nerd credentials based on the good doctor I’d straight up fail. No nerd badge for me. However, if I asked her where the city of Rapture was she’d probably break out an atlas. No nerd badge for her. She wears her boobs well, too. I should probably revoke her Whovian status, just to be on the safe side.
Once we acknowledge that it’s ok to be a geek without an all encompassing knowledge of every nerd creation ever, the remaining hurdles are exclusion and sexism. We’ve all been guilty of feeling threatened by someone encroaching on our territory and we all want to protect the thing we love because to us it’s sacred, but there’s a difference between loyalty to your fandom and blankly refusing to accept that someone else might like something as much as you do. When I talk about exclusion here I don’t simply mean ‘girls excluded from Geekdom’; rather the assumption that being one thing automatically precludes one from being something else – in this case that being female is a direct block to being a nerd.
A cursory exploration of the universe at large would seem to counter this. Out of interest I had a quick scout of my football team’s cheerleaders (gaming, comics and football? Unconscionable!) and discovered, among the teachers and business women who make up the rosters there is also a chemical engineer and a radiologist. At least one of the Saintsations is pre-Med. Clearly, something is amiss here – are they scientists, cheerleaders or football fans? Displaying your body on theme must mean you’re not a genuine football fan – it can only be for the attention, right? – but then you can’t be an academic and a sports fan, so maybe these women are fake scientist whores? I’m confused.
If it sounds ridiculous, it’s the same logic as applies to booth babes and cosplayers. Hot girls don’t like geeky stuff and do love attention. Heaven knows hot girls have a really hard time getting attention so they dress up at conventions in the hopes that someone will finally look their way. Of course, there are girls who dress up for the attention (or, heaven forbid, because it’s a job. As an aside, I wonder how many men would question the ability of the girl draped over the hood of a Camaro to identify all the parts of the engine inches below her…) and probably couldn’t tell you what Picard says over the Next Generation titles. But then, there are boys in muscle-padded Batman suits who don’t know that Dick Grayson grew up. Or even who Dick Grayson is. Who’s the fraud now?
This is where sexism plays a part. I could say that the boys who don’t want the girls to play are still the pale, skinny, virgins living in their parent’s basements, terrified that if the girls come in they might expect interaction and induce an asthma attack. I could say that, but it would be just as unfair as saying cosplay is something for the boys to look at. What about the happily-in-a-relationship fancy-dressers? What about girls who like girls? Are they doing it for the boys too?
Girls can be nerds. So can boys, old people, young people, lawyers, dentists and models. Anyone. So what if they don’t reach the lofty standards prescribed by some? Your universe is not being invaded. It doesn’t hurt anyone – you still have your love of whatever you love, you still have your friends and your forums and your in-jokes. Nothing is being taken away from you by the girl in the Cat Woman costume. Yes, sometimes she is a sexually forward girl having a laugh, but if a nerd-girl can dress as a cheerleader, acting, like, all, stoopid, for Halloween, it’s ok for a ‘non-nerd’ to dress as the adorkable Zooey Deschanel. It’s not intended as a threat, even if taken as one. No-one is trying to out geek anyone – except, apparently, the geeks.
There are many strong, female icons within Geekdom; not only in the pages of the graphic novels (where they are usually really underdressed for the situations they find themselves in) but creating and producing, writing, directing, innovating. How can we hold up the example with one hand and then slap down anyone audacious enough to aspire with the other? How can we say that it’s ok to idolise our pen and ink heroes, but it’s not ok to dress like them? How can we suspend our disbelief enough to allow an alien to fly through the skies of Metropolis, but not enough to allow that not everything women do is for the sexual gratification of men? If it’s ok to give people a good, metaphorical kicking for daring to differ from our exacting standards who decides how much of a kicking that should be? Should I stop at calling you a liar, or do you deserve to be called a whore? How about I actually kick you?
Ok, so that might be taking the debate a little far, but I am genuinely concerned that if it’s possible to justify vitriol over being a ‘genuine nerd’ the gate is opened to more and more narrow-mindedness. There’s enough segregation and intolerance as it is. In a world where a schoolgirl is shot for wanting an education it seems ridiculous that when there’s the option of being inclusive – for absolutely no additional effort – particularly in a group where the main tenets are tolerance, understanding, acceptance and being a hero – it is apparently necessary to find an excuse to belittle and exclude. To say everyone has to like the same things to the same degree is like saying everyone has to like sage green, no other green, and they’d better like it as much as everyone else. It’s not necessary and it’s not up to anyone to decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t. What works for you may not work for me; you don’t have to like it, but once people start taking it upon themselves to impose their standards, unilaterally, the boundaries begin to blur. What if I were to say no-one’s a geek unless they can redraw the fourth panel from Watchmen, accurately, from memory and then, with no prompting, correctly name the (and by ‘the’ I mean ‘my’) top ten characters from a genre I will not identify? What if I then graded your importance within the community based on your efforts? Any boys who’ve been the gym go straight to the bottom. To declare a hierarchy of ‘liking stuff’ is sad. To base it on gender is appalling.
Right now I’m sitting wearing a Wonder Woman t-shirt and there’s a decal of Iron Man on my laptop. Part of me is waiting for some jumped up ego to ask me to recite Wonder Woman’s story after the Infinite Crisis to justify branding myself up like this. It’s the equivalent of asking me the exact shade of blue my jeans are, with the hexadecimal code. I don’t know. I just like it. I’ve never read a single Wonder Woman comic, so I don’t profess to be an expert; if someone asked me if I was a Wonder Woman nerd I’d say no, if they asked if I was some kind of nerd, I’d probably say yes. I have a nerdy love for many things and I feel comfortable calling myself a nerd. You don’t have to agree, but frankly it’s none of your business. How about we let me decide.