'Fake Geek Girls' Paranoia Is About Male Insecurity, Not Female Duplicity

Unpacking an ongoing Internet spat


If you've ever been to a con, you've seen them. Girls. Girls dressed up as Batgirl, or Seven of Nine. Girls clutching light sabers or miniature Tardises. Girls who are clearly too hot—or just too girl—to be dressed as Batgirl or clutching light sabers. One look at them and you can tell that they don't really know the origin of Bouncing Boy. They don't have a clue about the tragic fate of Earth-C or Earth-C-Minus. They just want you to watch them in those costumes. They are...the fake geek girls.

I know the Internet, and I know geeks. And therefore, I can say with some certainly, that there are many people out there who are looking at that first paragraph and are saying, "Fake geek girls?! The Atlantic just learned about fake geek girls? That's so 2012, people. Pitiful."

Of course, this sort of reaction is exactly why the fake geek girls meme/Internet spat took hold in the first place. For those not in the know (or, if you prefer, for those marginally less in the know than I), "fake geek girls" is a term used to describe, "pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention" as Joe Peacock put it in a post on CNN. The idea is that hot women go to cons, dress up in sexy cosplay outfits, and pretend to care about Star Wars or Spider-Man in order to...do what isn't exactly clear. The logic rather breaks down at this point. Something about attention whores, something about taking advantage of geeks, something about male paranoia and a big fat dollop of misogyny seems to be the basic reasoning. Such as it is.

A number of folks have pointed out that the fake geek girl meme is repulsive and depressing. Most recently, Andrea Letamendi at The Mary Sue wrote a lengthy piece explaining that the "fake geek girl" is part of a long tradition of sexism in the geek community, explaining how painful this is for women, and suggesting that men cut it out.

I, too, wish geeks would cut it out. I wonder, though, about whether they can do it—or, more precisely, whether they can do it while remaining geeks.

Most of the folks who write about the fake geek girl phenomenon take at least a minute or two to establish their geek credentials—as, for instance, in this piece by Alyssa Rosenberg, where she points out that she writes about George R. R. Martin all the time and knows more about Star Wars than a con-ful of Jedi, thank you very much. In contrast, I'm not going to offer up my bona fides, in part because I'm afraid that doing so encourages folks like Peacock rather than discouraging them. That's because geekdom is built on cultural knowledge; on how much you've consumed; on what you've consumed; and on how long before everyone else you were able to consume it. That knowledge is—deliberately, essentially, intentionally—used, and meant to be used, as an identity, and, therefore, as power.

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Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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