Objection! Girls Can Be Geeks, Too!

Joe Peacock really ruffles my feathers. You may have already had the misfortune of reading Peacock’s newest tirade against what he calls “geek posers”. This newest installment is specifically against those geeks who just happen to be female. In it, he claims that attractive girls who cosplay or wear “geeky” attire at Cons are “poachers.” He claims these poachers are women who resort to wearing skimpy outfits because they are incapable of finding companionship outside of the legions of mouth-breathing, desperate nerds. The outfits, according to Peacock, supposedly make these women feel better about themselves and impress the basement-dwellers at the Cons.

Wait, back up. How exactly can he make this argument, anyways?

The Clubhouse

Let’s start with what we know about Joe Peacock’s stance on the matter generally. Joe has already made his views clear on how he believes the geek community should be regulated in previous articles. Mr. Peacock has this belief that, if you now become interested in the geek community or its myriad topics, you must be a “poser”.  For Peacock, this is doubly-true if you are an attractive woman, since you’re here just to boost your self-esteem (more on this later).

See, according to Joe Peacock, if you weren’t in the clubhouse already, you must only be in it now for the popularity contest, because you had ample opportunity to get in before it became cool, but you just couldn’t bring yourself to do it.

I contend that this is just factually incorrect. Geeky pursuits of all varieties have had varying (but mostly low) levels of public exposure for a long time, and much of it has been negative. Sure, people outside the “inner circle” knew about these pursuits–but were they actually exposed to them?

Let’s also not forget that everyone has to come to this community somehow. I am lucky in that my Dad made me watch Star Wars as soon as I was old enough to understand the plot, but that doesn’t make me a better geek than someone who watches Star Wars for the first time today and throws themselves into it–it just makes me an older geek. Why is it less legitimate for someone to come to enjoy geeky pursuits now?

The insistence of people like Joe Peacock on holding aloft their geek credentials like some kind of rallying point is troubling. When did this community become a clubhouse, anyways? We should be welcoming new minds and hearts to our geeky pursuits of choice, not discounting them based on timing or gender, as Joe would have us do.

We can’t exclude people based on their gender, physical appearance, or their relatively new arrival to the community. What we should be doing is encouraging new geeks, not trying to shut them out of our clubhouse. Joe does state that he is willing to teach the “posers”, and I believe that what we’re seeing from him is likely a genuine love for “geek culture”, or whatever you want to call it. He states:

“‘Geek’ is what happens when passion overrides your need to be accepted or fit in. It’s loving something so much that you throw yourself wholeheartedly into it.”

This is an interesting (if somewhat poetic) description. The sad part is that Joe feels that he is able to both define the parameters as to what constitutes a “real” geek and also to decide who fits this description ahead of time, thus regulating the whole community. The argument he presents is basically “if you’re not as passionate as me, you must not be a real geek.”

The Poachers

Specifically, he shows us his lurking fear of geek girls.

I give Peacock credit for identifying the entertainment industry’s increasingly common attempts to reach the geek demographic, but this fact does not an argument make (or at least not this one). Is the entertainment industry trying to introduce more geek-friendly programming and icons (including female icons)? Sure they are: they see it can make them money. Love it or hate it, that’s how capitalism works.

But Peacock takes this and runs too far with it. Does this mean that the attractive girl in the Cammy outfit is only at the Con because she has low self-esteem and wants to be idolized by nerds? No, that is a leap even Mario would have trouble making.

Yet here Joe finds himself:

“I get sick of wannabes who couldn’t make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead.

I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.”

Joe tries to soften this blow by stating beforehand that he knows beautiful geek girls who are “bona fide geeks.” That’s great Joe, really great. Couldn’t you consider that the girls you dismiss offhandedly as being “attention addicts” could also be legitimate geeks? Why is that so difficult for you to believe, and what gives you the right to act as ultimate arbiter over the status of any geek girl you see at a Con that you don’t personally know?

Why does anyone have to prove anything to you?

I am not a champion of the cosplay community, so I allow for the possibility that this kind of person could exist. Even so, you cannot pre-judge someone based solely on their appearance. Even if you positively ascertained that someone is a “poacher” by talking with them (again, this is a stretch and no one is obligated to prove anything to you), wouldn’t it be better to try to show them the joy that is our hobby rather than kick them to the curb? And ultimately, even if they were one of these mythical “poachers”, what harm have they done to you? Matt Dukes (@direflail) of Critical Hits echoes my sentiments on Twitter:

Joe does betray some of his feelings on the topic by using the word “Infiltrating,” though. He seemingly views geek girls as invaders or outsiders. What damage they are doing to him, or even to the community at large, is not elaborated upon with any amount of clarity:

“They’re poachers. They’re a pox on our culture. As a guy, I find it repugnant that, due to my interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games and toys, I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence. It’s insulting.”

I can’t speak for Joe or anyone else, but not once have I ever been at a Con where an attractive woman in a costume walked up to me and demanded that I feel honored in her presence. Of course, no one is actually insulting Joe–he’s just threatened or maybe confused by the fact that an attractive woman at a Con might actually enjoy the same things as him. I don’t know why this is difficult for him to believe. Anyone can be a geek.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that Joe equates these women with Olivia Munn immediately afterwards, claiming they have no investment in the culture. Reality check: regardless of your personal thoughts or feelings on Olivia Munn, she was being paid by organizations with a vested interest in expanding the types of viewers they could attract. You can argue whatever you want about Olivia Munn, but an attractive woman cosplaying at a Con does not have anything in common with her besides her gender, as far as you know.

And I can’t help but feel that this is part of Joe’s real issue.

Though he gives props to Felicia Day and allows for the existence of “real” attractive geek girls, it seems like he is unwilling to implement these beliefs at the ground level. To him, these new attractive geek girls are poachers, until proven otherwise. He’s already counted them out. But then, he ironically goes on to claim that he is not the one objectifying women:

“However, you “6 of 9s” out there? You’re just gross. There’s an entire contingent of guys in geekdom who absolutely love you, because inside, they’re 13 year old boys who like to objectify women and see them as nothing more than butts and a pair of boobs to be leered at. Have fun with them, and don’t be shocked when they send you XBox Live messages with ASCII penises.

Those of us who actually like substance? We’ll be over here celebrating great comics, great games, great art, great movies and great television, because we’re actually attracted to a completely different body part: the brain.”

Honestly, it was a shame that this section was left until the end of Joe’s piece, because if he had put this at the beginning of the post, it would have been better for everyone involved. Joe has excluded these women and reduced them to nothing but “butts and boobs” by dismissing them as poachers without allowing them the possibility to just be attractive geeks. Perhaps my favourite and most telling reply to the article came via Twitter, from Felicia Day (@feliciaday):

Inclusivity is what the geek community needs, and what will make the community a stronger and better place to share all our geeky joys. Any man or woman can be a geek. No one person has sufficient geek cred to pretend like they get to decide that.

Unfortunately, inclusivity is the one thing that Joe–and people like him–are not willing to compromise on. They’re too busy deciding who the “real” geeks are.

Have something to say about the state of modern geekdom? Sound off in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Objection! Girls Can Be Geeks, Too!

  1. Hi Josh,

    I find it incredibly naive that people think that the behavior exhibited in Joe’s post doesn’t exist or that people don’t perpetutate it. They do.

    What I will agree with you on is that this behavior can come from both genders. I can name men and women in various communities that obviously don’t play the games that they have used to build an audience, so I do think it is an equal opportunity offense. And I can name names if prompted, I have no problem with that. Suffice it to say they are out there and that type of behavior is not okay.

    I find it interesting that geek culture is in such a place where it has become almost taboo to ask someone about their background or the experience that they have playing a certain game or relating to a certain topic. I write a priest blog. If you ask me for more information, you can see my priest, you can see that I am experiencing the content that I’m writing about, you can see that I’m taking my own advice, and that I’m not trying to be something that I’m not.

    If I read another priest’s blog, I don’t think it makes me rude or brash to ask them what their background is and to see their Armory profile and to know how far progressed they are, in terms of content. I also don’t think it makes me a bad person to not want to read another priest’s blog, if I know that they either do not even have a priest or do not have the experience to tell me how to handle certain levels of content that they themselves have never witnessed.

    At the end of the day, I agree that communities of all stripes could stand to be more inclusive. There are still communities where women, people of alternative lifestyles, or different ethnicities are still very much the minority and I would like to see that change. However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with establishing who is genuinely interested in what we are because they are interested in it and who is just trying to use it as a stepping stone to something else (be it a career path, more friends, etc.)
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    • Thanks for the comment Oestrus! Made me think more in-depth about credentials, and how I personally use them.

      I think asking for credentials depends a lot on the circumstance and the result of asking for them. I don’t consider it taboo, but I do think the intent is important. Peacock suggests that attractive geek girls are mostly poachers unless proven otherwise. I think we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

      Asking for credentials is for me something I do to determine what level the conversation should take place at. If someone is not thoroughly versed in a topic, there’s no point in me going in-depth–but I may be able to point them to something more their speed, for the moment. I understand that some discussions can only take place at a high level of knowledge, but we need to encourage, not destroy, the ambitions of our fellows.

      I think asking for credentials becomes destructive when we begin discounting people based on them. For example, Peacock calls them posers and you can almost sense the derision in his voice. It’s this elitism that we need to avoid. Sure, maybe they aren’t as immersed in the topic as you yet, but we shouldn’t be kicking these people to the curb, we should be trying to show them how to continue their exploration of the topic. If we discount anyone with less experience than ourselves, we do a disservice to the community.

      Now, if we’re talking about blatant misrepresentation of credentials, that is not something I can support. But an attractive geek girl in a Batman t-shirt is not a misrepresentation of credentials. It’s a woman in a Batman t-shirt.

      • I don’t like the idea of it being so brazen as “asking for credentials,” personally. I tend to look at it as just knowing what kind of conversation we can have. I tend to start geeky conversations with a qualifier question, so I know how far down the rabbit hole I need to go.

        I find that “have you seen Firefly?” or “Have you been able to read any of the New 52 yet?” are so open-ended and harmless that you can’t offend people with them. And if they say no, then there’s the opportunity for introducing them to an awesome property.

  2. I wasn’t aware that to be a geek you had to have a golden ticket and be part of the gang! I must apologise to Joe for being a girl “geek”, having breasts and oh gosh, liking fantasy, video games, science fiction and so on. And I’m not stating these “geek” things that I like just to court the attention of “geek” boys. I do it for myself because it is what I enjoy, not to have men bowing at my feet! Must be off, I have my “geek” certificate of authentication to sign! Hehe, his comments have made me laugh and thanks for a great article in response :)

  3. The conversation is amusing to me, having never thought of myself as a geek. I’m certain that growing up I made fun of my fair share of geeks and always thought I was part of the “cool” crowd. However, I always loved animation and anime, sci-fi, comic book heroes (though I never had comic books), playing video games (though I was never obsessive about it until much later), etc. Yet I still don’t feel like I can officially call myself a geek, even though other people might. Maybe it’s partly because of the stigma that had been attached to it until somewhat recently. I’ve always been very social, fashionable, and hip on my own terms, but not what I thought of as a geek. Maybe it’s because I have my own version of what a geek is. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have very many black female geek role models (Aisha Tyler is a boss though). I consider myself fairly attractive and I’m a flirt who now talks to people that perhaps I never would have, if we didn’t have say, gaming in common, but I’m not trying to infiltrate any private club. Do I have the proper credentials? I don’t know. Yeah I saw the Star Wars. Yeah I get addicted to certain MMO’s. Yeah I have boobs and a butt. Yeah I’m probably a geek…at least to some people.

  4. Having physically or socially-desirable and accepted members in one’s group removes the persecution identity. No one likes to be a victim, but playing the victim can give people a strange sort of pleasure in being the underdog, if only in their own minds.

    It may also be an excuse for bad behavior. Lack social skills? It’s okay, you’re a geek and keeps don’t have to have those (I’m not getting into the nerd-geek difference; for these purposes I am using them as the same). As long as you can keep your group defined by such traits, you’re safe, because you’re only acting in the rules of your group. If others come in, with similar interests, but without the social handicaps, that threatens the bubble of the group identity, removing the shield against justified criticism of one’s own flaws.

    • I’ve had people tell me that I’m not geeky enough to call myself a geek before. I just laugh at them. They’re basing what they’ve said based on the fact that I have a professional position and tend to wear a suit/tie to work instead of a utilikilt and vintage t. Whenever I’m called out, I tend to make sure I school them on whatever they’re talking about (in my few experiences, it was people grossly misunderstanding WoW theorycrafting or SF continuity), then go about my business with a smug smile.

      Is that the way to be? No, probably not.

      The thing is, I wish that geekdom weren’t identified by the labels and traits. I wish that places like SDCC were more inclusive because I’m not at the point in my life where I’d be comfortable going to a con like that. Even though I’m just as geeky as most of the people there–moreso than many–the level of zealous fandom that Peacock discusses does nothing to help geeks. It only hurts us. It divides our subculture from within, which only makes people looking in from the outside see us even more unfavorably.

      • I might be contradicting my earlier comment with this, but I wonder if your response promotes the problem. Why does the geek label even matter? Surely the lack of the label doesn’t make you stop enjoying what you enjoy. Maybe you’re not a geek after all, and so need a new label. If labels are going to be so flexible and expansive, what is the point of them at all? The solution might be to add adjectives: comics geek, Marvel geek, Wolverine geek (maybe a bit too specific).

        I don’t mind rejecting a generic geek label. I don’t have anything against comics, but putting me in the same box as comic geeks does both of us a disservice, similar to the “gamer” label, which would put me in with the fag-spewing FPS crowd and possibly Farmville addicts.

  5. Thanks for the mention of my blog post. I do deal with this kind of discrimination every day that I go into work. Customers will look away, look through me, or even turn and walk away when I ask them if they need any help. Customers who refuse to speak to me will have detailed conversations with my male coworkers.

    I can usually tell when a customer doesn’t want to be approached. It could be rudeness, social anxiety, or a myriad of other issues on the customer’s part, but more often than I’d like, it’s because I’m a girl.

    It’s something that I deal with quite a bit. I just try to let it make me a more considerate person, to be sure I don’t leave anyone else feeling the way I do when I’m judged by my gender.

  6. Pingback: Identity: Gamer « The Bossy Pally and the Giant Spoon

  7. I remember during my high school days that one of my female classmate beat my male friend on a computer games with her top score. She loves computers and she is even updated about pc models and function. :D