So, you play tabletop roleplaying games, you have your own World of Warcraft account and you’ve memorized the screenplay of every “Star Wars” movie. Congratulations, you’re now qualified to be accused of pretending to enjoy these things so that men will like you.
While all of the above would generally qualify you for a special, shiny, Authenticated Nerd Badge, your gender might dictate otherwise. The prevalence of the Idiot Nerd Girl meme, in which young girls pretend to be interested in aspects of geek subculture in order to attract men, is evidence of a new focus upon women participating in a culture that has been predominantly male-dominated and male-oriented. The meme itself is a series of captions mocking women that are, apparently, inadequately nerdy – from not playing enough World of Warcraft to not watching enough “Doctor Who.” This alone heavily reinforces the idea that men get to dictate what is an appropriate level of nerdiness, and that somehow, women are incapable of achieving it.
Similarly, I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a local comic book store and been asked if, or more frequently, told that I’m shopping for my boyfriend. This seems to assert that as a woman I have no place within nerd culture, unless I am participating only as a proxy for a man or to gain the affections of one. But the question is – when was the last time a man was told he hadn’t played enough World of Warcraft to be a real nerd? In comparison, men are rarely challenged on the “authenticity” of their participation within the subculture.
But why does this happen? Is this an innocent reference to the supposed demographic of people that participate in traditionally nerdy pastimes? Or is this another means of de-legitimising women within a culture in which we are equally as capable of participating?
While it’s obvious that most nerdy media has been geared towards heterosexual white men (this makes itself obvious upon reading any Alan Moore novels), is it necessary for that to be at the exclusion of all women?
Take, for example, the release of first-person shooter game Battlefield 3 in Texas, which banned women from attending to “protect them from misogynistic insults.” Nerd subculture is viewed as so heavily male-geared, that instead of banning misogyny within these events, they banned women.
This approach is as clumsy as the idea that banning smoke alarms will stop fires. Why are male nerds allowed a safe space in which to practice their nerdiness (and apparently their uncontrollable and rampant misogyny), while the same safe space for women is denied? The recent controversy involving Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for her YouTube series, Feminist Frequency, and specifically a very relevant video about how women are portrayed in video games is just another example of this uncontrollable urge, which apparently results from challenging a male-dominated space.
In a culture where the women that are portrayed are usually sexy plot devices, sexy love interests or sexy villains, it’s no wonder that it is so difficult for a nerdy girl to be seen as an actual human being who just wants to pick up last week’s Spiderman and go home. Nor is it hard to see why, when women do actively participate in nerdy hobbies or activities, their actions are perceived to be nothing more than transparent attempts to please men.
It’s time for us to see some diversity in more aspects within nerd subculture. Perhaps a female lead in a video game that has functional armour as opposed to a slave Leia bikini, or more comic books with heroines like Wonder Woman instead of characters that are only extensions of a previous male superhero (Batgirl, Supergirl, etc). Maybe even a new fantasy franchise that involves a woman slaying dragons and kicking ass who isn’t just trying to prove herself “worthy” to another male character or prove that she’s “one of the guys.” Anything but this ridiculous, recurring plot device that for so long has been the representation of our entire gender in nerd media.
Despite this, there are some noteworthy exceptions to this phenomenon. The Hunger Games, while not something that is entirely rooted within the nerd subculture, features an independent and strong female lead that is uninterested in traditionally female pursuits and instead proves herself to be a worthy adversary and provider. Harry Potter has provided us with the powerful characters of Hermione and Ginny. Most recently, Mark Millar has released the first issue of his “Hit Girl” spinoff series, about the surprisingly assertive, strong and intelligent character Mindy from the original Kick Ass graphic novels, which is definitely a promising advancement for the representation of women in nerd culture. This is something that I hope will continue to push us forward, into the realm of equality within what is a usually wonderful and fulfilling subculture in which there will be more than one notable comic being published that involves such a great female lead.
It’s time to stop laughing at ridiculous memes and start accepting that women have the ability to enjoy and participate in nerd culture the same way men do. The presence of our gender does not threaten or de-legitimise men’s choice of hobbies, and as such we should not be questioned or belittled for our interest. Encouraging the participation of the other half of society has the potential to open up so many new avenues of discussion, creation and innovation within this usually wonderful subculture – it’s time we stop scaring people away from what has been, and should continue to be, a traditionally accepting subculture.
Look out next week for part two of my series on women within nerd culture, discussing the dramatic other end of the spectrum – the idealised notion of a perfect nerd girl.
What do you think about women in nerd culture? Share your thoughts and experiences, join the discussion in the comments!
Written by Jessica Bagnall
Jessica is an 18-year-old student from Brisbane, Australia and Feminspire staff contributor
Opinions stated in our editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Feminspire and its staff as a whole, but instead reflect the opinions of the writer.