Women in Geek Culture

While browsing around the internet, I came upon this article on CNN deriding women who Cosplay as sexy comic book characters for not being “real” geeks.  It annoyed me, because as a female geek/gamer, it feels as if one has to constantly prove their worth or competence as a nerd.

Note that for the purpose of this post, I’m using the words “geek” and “nerd” interchangeably.  Yes, there’s a difference, but it’s very subtle and at this point relatively irrelevant to the discussion.

There are a couple dynamics at play that give me mixed feelings about Joe Peacock’s article.

One of the most important is the popularization of geek culture in the mainstream.  Note that I believe that CNN’s GeekOut blog that Peacock is writing for plays into this phenomenon.  There’s a lot of resentment from the folks that got picked on in high school for their interests who now see those same interests becoming popular with the in-crowd.  With that in-crowd comes hot girls.  The thing is, if you have tits and are a geek, guy geeks tend to automatically assume that you’re a poser and just there for sex appeal or following a trend unless you prove otherwise, even though outward appearance has nothing to do with geekiness.  This stereotype is then further reinforced at conventions when companies hire hot models to promote their products.  Everything gets blown out of proportion and a gender-based mistrust is built.

I’ve noticed this when gaming.  While playing WoW, sometimes it’s inevitable to use voice chat with people who aren’t in-game friends, and the reaction is generally the same.  The moment you speak and people hear that you’re a girl, the conversation goes silent.  Then there are a few minutes where everyone is kind of like “Oh my god, a girl… shit.  We should censor ourselves.  *recalls everything that might have been offensive that’s been said in the previous five minutes*,” at which point I reassure everyone that I’m not easily offended and to carry on as if I’m just a normal player.  Because I am.  And then everyone assumes that you’re not competent until they see the meters, at which point you can finally start being accepted, although at least one person in the group is still likely to hit on you.  Mind you, I refuse to speak in voice chat unless I’m sure that my character can out-heal or out-dps nearly everyone else’s, because under no circumstances do I want to be seen as a poser or an attention whore.  It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is.  Sometimes I’d even pretend that my microphone was broken to avoid having to deal with it altogether.

At the same time, there is a very real phenomenon of girls trying to use geek culture for attention.  There are plenty of times when I’ve been in a group with some people trying to kill dragons/demons/zombies when some chick has to be all like “I’m a girl.  I bet you wanna see pics.” etc.  If you’re playing a game and nobody can hear your voice, your real life gender is 100% irrelevant, and bringing it up is pointless.  Nobody cares if you’re a girl/guy/something-in-between.  It annoys me when girls do beg for attention like that, and it makes those of us with an actual interest in playing games more likely to be looked down on by the community at large.  The “I’m a girl gamer” types get on people’s nerves because it’s completely unnecessary to point it out.  You’re a gamer.  Part of the reason why I’m torn by the article is that the annoying attention seekers do exist, and as much as the sexism in gaming culture is annoying, it’s not like Peacock’s observations are coming out of nowhere.  In fact, such sentiments can be found in many gaming and internet communities.

I suppose it’s too simple to want everyone to just treat everyone like people, but when geeks start being suspicious of other geeks and expecting them to conform to certain nebulous standards of geekiness in order to be considered authentic, then we’ve got a real problem.  There are many different types of geeks, and geek culture is wide enough and inclusive enough that everyone who wants to should be able to find their niche.  You shouldn’t have to have every single issue of every iteration of Batman memorized to be able to wear a Batman shirt at Comic-Con, and you should be able to play CoD but not Mass Effect if you want to.

And before I go, here are a couple other responses/reactions:

“Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be” by John Scalzi

“In defense of geek girls” – also on CNN

Peacock responds to Scalzi’s article (omg, civil discourse on the internet!)

If you have any other reactions you think I should add, let me know and I’ll link them.

20 thoughts on “Women in Geek Culture

  1. Unfortunately, just as it can be easy to categorize male geeks as a certain type of guy who is socially awkward, it can also be easy to create a general picture of a female geek. As a Doctor Who fan, I find it easy to dismiss the female segment of fans who’ve come to the new series as those who have a crush on David Tennant. And while there is a segment of the female fandon whose interest is that Mr. Tennant is a nice looking man, that overlooks the segment that finds something appealing about the series—probably a lot of the same thing I found appealing when I found the series twenty five plus years ago. But I find that a certain segment of the fan population is the one that gets all the pub or is the most vocal. Or makes a better soundbite. A clip saying “David Tennant is hot” or “I love Dr Who” is easier than having a substantive discussion of the show and why you look it as something more than the appeal of the star on a physical level or something else like–wow, that sure is cool.

    1. Mhm, and there are the people who claim to be major Batman fans when all they’ve seen is Dark Knight. The problem that I have is that the assumption tends to be that you’re a poser unless you prove otherwise.

  2. One thing that bugged me about that article was the use of the term “booth babes” and the vitriol towards people like Olivia Munn. I think there’s a fundamental difference between people wearing sexy costumes to get attention vs. people wearing sexy costumes because they’re paid to do so. So what if the actresses/models who take the “booth babe” jobs haven’t read every back issue of the X-Men? Excuse them for wanting to cash a paycheck and pay rent and eat.

    I’ve definitely been there re: pretending the microphone is broken or deliberately choosing a super-gender-neutral server nickname. It’s just so much easier not to “out” myself. Part of me feels like I should fight to be treated like a normal human being on game servers, but dammit, sometimes I just want to kill monsters and not be A Representative of Women in Video Gaming.

    1. Yeah. There’s a difference between cosplayers and people who are paid to be there, and the people who are paid to be there are just doing their job, and the author of the article didn’t seem to understand that at all.

      A lot of the time it’s just too much effort to deal with people on a voice server. I play games to relax, but when people freak out and get all weird the moment they realize you’re a girl, then it ceases to be relaxing and turns into unnecessary stress. It gets better if you find a decent guild and aren’t dealing with random people, but it’s still frustrating to even have to worry about it.

  3. I definitely agree with what you’re saying, but I think it should also be pointed out that there are a lot of poser, male attention whores in the geek world as well. If I see one more god damn spartan or wolverine that’s never even opened up a comic book before I’m going to seriously punch someone in the face. People like attention, whether they’re male or female, and when they’re really desperate for it, they’ll seek it out in whatever culture is most convenient.

    Point being, I think we need to stop pointing out gender and just pointing out the shit ton of posers that are trying to co-opt geek culture because they think it’s cool now. And even them, I take with a grain of salt. Why do we even care that the things we like are popular? We’ve always known they were awesome, and now film and television are showing everyone else how awesome they are.

    Problem is that nearly every geek still has a deeply hurt and insecure inner child that still can’t get over being picked on, laughed at, beat up, and generally harassed, so we hold onto our anger and resentment for the people we still blame. I think it would be a lot healthier, more fun, and generally beneficial to the community if we could just let everyone in and say, “Hey! We’re Geeks, and we’re awesome, and we love sharing our awesome stuff with everyone!”

    Instead we’ve delved into our deep rooted insecurities and turned into a bunch of arrogant pricks (over generalization here) that don’t want anyone around that can’t prove their obsession and life-long dedication. It’s the exact some bullshit we dealt with as children, and now we’re all trigger-happy and power hungry, now that other people want to explore our culture. We can be elitist. We can laugh in their face. We can call them names. We can be a dick holes, and it’s stupid and lame.

    Embrace your Geekdom, forgive other people their fears and insecurities, and lets just all try and be friends and have a good time dressing up and playing pretend. Geek Love.

        1. Yes! “I definitely agree with what you’re saying, but I think it should also be pointed out that there are a lot of poser, male attention whores in the geek world as well.” This a million times over. But on message boards, those people just get dismissed and whatever without becoming a reflection on their entire gender, and that’s exactly how it should be.

          I’m all for more people discovering sci-fi, comics, games, etc. Someone has to keep the artists and devs and writers in business. I’m also one of the first to get pissed off at the “I’m a girl gamer, bet you think that’s weird” types that I see out there. At the same time, people have to start somewhere, and it isn’t a crime to enjoy even being on the fringes of geek culture. I’m hoping it’s a phase they grow out of eventually. It’s almost flattering, in a weird way, when people see one or two shows and then want to be a part of everything, even if they’ve got a lot to learn. The influx of new people is causing a demographic shift, and we’re all bound to have some growing pains.

          Also, massive rants are always appreciated. 😛

  4. This post rules. Sorry it took me until today to read it.

    I always bristle at people (of all genders) who do the whole “lol im such a geek” shtick, or who are clearly co-opting that label because they think it’s cool or du jour. (The best example: the mobs of idiots on social media writing, “It’s ‘Star Trek’ Day! May the Force be with you!”) But I know that hatin’ isn’t helpin’. I should focus instead on being the best geek I can in my own areas of expertise.

    Like you, I really hope we get to a point someday soon where being a girl gamer isn’t seen as any different from being a gamer. Where things don’t fall into categories of “that’s for boys” and “that’s for girls” (hence, what I was trying to make fun of with my own blog’s title). One day, maybe. One day.

    1. Exactly. There are plenty of people who will say “Oh, I’m a geek” because they’ve seen an episode or two of Big Bang Theory and are saying it for the attention. It might also be that people would normally be the jocks/popular crowd/etc. are stepping outside of their comfort zones and discovering new things that make them a wee bit anxious. Either way, it’s frustrating to see people try to use the label to try to get attention. It just bugs me that when girls do it then people assume that all geek girls are like that. I’m hoping it’ll get better over time.

  5. I find all the reactions to the original article interesting, and actually bristled at the beginning of your post a bit until I got to the part where you agreed with me xD. As a through and through geek and nerd who also likes to dress up and be pretty for cons, I hope that no one ever mistakes me for a poser. Though I think the second I open my mouth it’s pretty clear where I fall along the geek spectrum (waaaaaay down where book bloggers and gamers live :D). I find booth babes horrible though, particularly after viewing video footage of several of them thinking it wasn’t a big deal that they weren’t into the tech they were selling because no girls are….. And any time anyone thinks that myself or my friends are below her, I get grouchy, because my geeky guy (and girl!) friends are so much cooler in my opinion xD.

    Thanks for pointing out these articles and responding to them!

    1. I don’t even mind the fact that the booth babes are there; I get that it’s just part of modern marketing (not sure how effective it is, but that’s a different story) and that they need to put food on the table. They probably make more money doing that than I do at my job, alas… The problem that I have is when people act as if geek girls are on the same level the booth booth babes, when we’ve got interests/opinions/etc.

  6. Always refreshing to meet other girl gamers who are actually just gamers. I don’t run into the problem a lot because I don’t do much online gaming (I prefer to slaughter my enemies solo – nothing so annoying as someone else interrupting a perfectly good beheading), though I am active in some game forums. I generally try to avoid the subject of gender. A gamer is a gamer in my book. Sadly, as you said, posers do exist and do create a stigma for the rest of us.

    Oh well. Game on! 🙂

  7. Reminds me of Lollipop Chainsaw actor that played her. Mainly it makes us look bad….and sexist. It’s funny how she was kicked out of Pax East due to wearing tight clothes (needed to be family friendly) when half the games show was a gore-fest (this is family friendly). Also when Devil May Cry IV was as E3, they built a entire stripper bar with game demo. Most people played the demo then stayed there for the other thing.

    I will be frank. Most people are shocked when a female plays a game that is not seen a “casual”. This is due to social stigma that females will never play these games due to marketing focused to the male demographic or the limited about of females that play these games. Many games like Crusader Kings II,Europa Universalis III, Victoria II, Civilization I-V, ect. Aren’t games I’ve ran into where females play them. But during the development of those games there has been a token female(s) out of the group.


    As for using geeks or nerds as being one in the same…that something we sorta going to have a long talk about. I never called myself a “geek” due to being a lower social order or nerdom. Mainly specialization of a major field of interest; which mine so happens to be physics.

    Also this is something for you:


    1. Oooh, that last link mentions some great authors. I’ve read Butler and Silverberg, and I’ve got books by Stross, Doctorow, Kress, and Sturgeon sitting in my bookshelf waiting to be read.

      I’m not picky on geek vs. nerd as a label. The internet tends to portray one as really smart and one as a bit of a hipster, but I don’t think it’s a fair characterization. There’s a lot of overlap between the two.

      I think with a lot of single-player games the number of female players might be under-reported, just because players don’t end up connecting in quite the same way as with an MMO. Sometimes I do wish that I played more single player games, I just haven’t gotten into them quite as easily.

      1. I think this article is the most informed about this issue. The lack of sources means truth or lack of. Still this is a worthy source for the issue at hand.


        I think they are. Unlike MMO’s they aren’t listed sense their information is not well known. Though the Nintendo Club does ask the sex of the person who plays the game for Nintendo coins. I’m sure it’s similar to the others. I’ve played MUD’s more then MMO’s. The only MMO I’ve ever played was Phantasy Star Online and I don’t recall seeing many females. I mean most females in the game were all males. If you wan’t a single player game to try well here is a list:


        Ask Mike if he has any of these games, I know he does.

        Rudy Rucker is amusing.

        Also get this…you will get it!


        1. Mike’s played most of the games that you mentioned.

          I actually like that most of the people with female avatars on MMOs are guys; it means that if I don’t speak, nobody knows that I’m not a guy too. It can be useful.

  8. Great article, you voiced many of my own thoughts. I’m not a gamer, in the least, mostly because playing video games makes me violent towards computers. But I get tired of all of this gender segregation in the nerd/geek community. It annoys the crap out of me. I’m also not a big fan of the guilty until proven innocent mentality that a lot of male dork/geek/nerds have. I don’t feel the need to cite volume and issue of a particular comic character to say I’m a fan. Isn’t the point of being a nerd the ability to like something without having to justify why or how?

    1. Mhm, and the community should be celebrating the fact that more people are discovering how awesome shows/comics/books/etc. are, rather than being all defensive. The whole, “Hey! Stop liking things that I like!” crowd is gonna have to get over it.

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