Thursday, July 26, 2012

What does it mean to be a geek girl?

I'm going a little off topic today (which would imply I'm ever ON topic, which I'm not).

I read an interesting article on CNN (see the article here) about "booth babes" and their negative impact (according to the author) on the growth of the nerd culture. Basically the author's argument is that these model-type women who couldn't hack it in the real world have infiltrated the geek world to boost their own egos. They have no real interest in gaming or comics or cosplay, they just want to dress up in skimpy outfits and show up at conventions and be fawned over by men they wouldn't give the time of day to in the outside world. According to the author, they give true girl geeks a bad name, and set back their cause in geek culture.

On one hand, I agree with the author. I appreciate someone FINALLY calling out Olivia Munn, because I for sure don't think she's actually interested in anything nerdy. In fact, she's done a good job spinning her "geek girl" celebrity into other acting ventures and distanced herself from her original persona. Do I think she was ever a real nerd? No. And I'm not a fan of anyone leveraging a pretend interest in something just to get their foot in the door.

But what really struck me about the article were the comments. Good gosh are they horrible. Everything from people saying "it's fine if you use them, since they're just using you, just make sure they don't poke holes in the condom" to "geeks don't care what girls are into as long as they're hot and wear skimpy outfits." I have no idea who these people are, if they're just trolls looking to tear down the internet a little more, but it's horribly indicative of a disrespectful and potentially violent mindset. These kinds of comments aren't just opinions, they're pre-excuses for bad behavior. And coming from the "geek community," they're particularly appalling. This isn't a traditionally aggressive community (aside from all the primeval online slaughter).

I confess myself more than a little out of touch with this community. When I was a kid, a "geek" was anyone who preferred reading over the jungle gym at recess and was really good at math. Since then the definition has expanded into the digital world, and I'm afraid I've lost my street cred as a geek because I like reading and don't play video games. If there were tiers of nerdery, I'm probably toward the bottom rung.

Still, as someone with lingering nerd fantasies of mythical worlds and magical powers, I find these comments disturbing. And I find the idea disappointing that women have to battle again for their identity and their right to be part of a culture. I really think it messes with girls' heads to be told "be hot, but not too hot, and you only really belong if you meet standards we set for you." That's the surprising message I get after reading this article and the comments, and it makes me sad. We spend so much time deciding what other people should be, and we end up excluding or judging others for what reason? To claim true geekery?

For myself, I think I'm old enough and don't care about opinions not my own enough to say I am a nerd, and a geek if I feel like it. And the way I dress, or the ways I choose to define my nerdery, are not up to anyone else's opinion but my own.

Do you consider yourself a geek or a nerd? What defines the term for you? How do you feel about "booth babes" and their impact on geek culture?


Dianne K. Salerni said...

I definitely consider myself a geek and a nerd. I played Dungeons and Dragons in high school, and wore a Star Wars shirt on my first day in college.

But I wouldn't pay attention to comments posted to online articles. There is an entire sub-culture (and I do mean sub- like from under a rock) of internet trolls who get a thrill posting inflammatory comments.

I have a bad habit of looking at the comments under CNN articles. My husband says, "Why do you look under the rock?" I can't explain it. I don't like gross, wiggly slugs and worms, but as a writer, I can't help but be a little fascinated by the character of someone who enjoys writing these things.

mshatch said...

I wasn't a geek girl in high school but I'm pretty geeky now since all I do is write and play skyrim and blog and sit at my computer 24/7 (okay, not really 24/7 but I am sitting here a lot!) and read and watch shows like Eureka and BSG (oh how I miss it). Fortunately, I'm old enough not to care too much about being "hot." I do think geek means something different now than it used to and I can only feel sorry for "booth girls" who obviously don't have very much self esteem if that's what they do to get noticed.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Like Mshatch, I wasn't in high school, but I'm probably more so now. I guess it depends on the definition of a nerd, though, which, you're right, has changed. I enjoy urban fantasy, I spend a lot of time on the computer, I play time management games, I liked X-Files enough that I have the collector's cards (and the Aussie set since hubbie went there for business and got them for me, haha). I'd love to go to Comic Con, though I don't read comics (but actors from my favorite shows go there, like Psych and Supernatural, as well as Fantasy authors). Anyway, all that to say I have no idea, but I think I'm more geek now than I was when I was younger.

I'm married to a computer geek who likes online gaming and does LAN parties. But I think when you're an adult, geek is a completely different thing. It's okay to be a geek as an adult; it's school age that people give you issues over it. Geeks sort of rule the world these days; they earn respect for their very geekiness.

I can definitely see what that article writer was saying. I've noticed that trend in photos, of the "hot" girls in costume, and wondered if they were there because they enjoyed it or because they got off on having a bunch of guys drooling over them. I see your point, too, though. If those women truly do enjoy it, and just happen to look good in those costumes, who are any of us to judge or to assume they're in it for attention instead of a genuine interest? We can't know that, only they and those close to them know it.

Sigh. Compelling blog post!