Note: I had to write this for my Interpersonal Communication class. And, well, I liked what I wrote. So I’m posting it here. Also, tonight is the last night I’m 30 and I’m writing about gender bias in geek culture. I’m pretty sure that means I ended 30 on a high note.
Across all cultures and sub cultures there are preconceived notions of gender and gender roles. Narrowing down this blog to one particular topic was nearly impossible for me. As a raving and ranting feminist, I have books sitting around my apartment on the subject of female gender roles. I read an article nearly every day regarding a variety of topics. Where in the WORLD was I supposed to start?
But, if I want to tie in culture then it makes sense to look towards my subculture. Or one of them, anyway. And so, let’s take a little journey over to my corner of the world: geekdom. In a culture that praises itself on being made up of outsiders, gender roles are so incredibly and utterly defined that any person who dares to step outside these predefined roles is attacked.
Fair warning, Professor. This isn’t going to be a short post.
First, let’s examine comics. The gender roles are very well defined in comics. The heroes are big, strong and masculine men. They have power, wealth, good looks and charm. The sidekicks are not quite as masculine as the heroes, though often more layered than their hero counterparts. And finally, there are the women. Some of them may have superpowers (hello, Wonder Woman), but traditionally women are romantic interests, villains or sidekicks (who sometimes have crushes on their male heroes.) Comic books are no longer a hobby left to geeks. Superheroes and heroines have become a part of popular culture. Marvel’s The Avengers has made over 600 million dollars. However, with the nine Marvel films released in recent times, not one of them has featured a female lead. DC has not fared any better.
Lois Lane, for example, is a character most people in America know. I would wager that if you ask the average person her career most, but not all would know that she is a journalist. However, if you asked the average person who her love interest was, they would likely all know the answer. Lois, who in the early editions of the comic was a strong and capable woman. In Forbes Magazine, Christina Blanch, shows us that with the changing view of women following World War II, Lois changed as a character. Blanch also provides other examples of gender bias in comics. Sue Storm’s power is to become invisible. Batgirl who is just as intelligent and capable as Batman is crippled by the Joker and yet Batman does not suffer any permanent damage throughout his encounters.
I could go further into this topic and compare and contrast the way women and men are drawn, but I’ll save that for a giant research paper I’m sure I’ll have to write at some point in my college career. (Note to Self: Somehow you can make this your thesis.)
The views towards women extend from comic book pages to the attitude towards women in the geek fandom. Two particular areas stand out. The first is the objectification of women cosplayers. (For the non geek inclined, a cosplayer is a person who dresses up as a character. It’s much like a Halloween costume, but far more intense.) While women in general are presented with unrealistic ideals for beauty, women who are fans of comic books are presented with fantastical expectations. As a result, own definition of beauty changes. Men and women are eager to dress as their favorite characters from comics, but the characters women identify with are drawn in revealing costumes with perfect bodies. Combine that with the roles these characters play and, well… this is the result. The author of this piece doesn’t say it’s okay to ogle women, but he does say that if a woman dresses in revealing clothing then she should expect to be ogled.
Women are treated as objects in comics and then when those characters are literally represented in the flesh, they are treated as objects. The media presents an image of a damsel or sex object and our culture tells us that this is okay. Our culture tells us that women in the geek world only exist to please men, arouse men, support men or punish men. If that gender bias is so present on the pages, it will transfer to the ideas readers of these comics have.
Which leads us to my last example of gender roles in geekdom. There is even a meme to support this particular bias. The Fake Geek Girl is a further extension of gender bias in geek culture. The Fake Geek Girl is a woman who enjoys comics, but not up to the standards of the men around her. She is stereotyped to wear “geek clothing” and talks about how much she loves various characters, but is not an expert. This, somehow, ruins her authenticity as a fan and earns her the title of fake. This particular instance is different than the others because it is not only men who shame the Fake Geek Girl, but women as well. A Fake Geek Girl is ridiculed for her lack of knowledge, but if it was only her lack of knowledge questioned then surely there would be Fake Geek Guys as well. And yet there aren’t. Only women are singled out in this regard.
Out of all of these examples, the Fake Geek Girl is the most frightening to me because there are other women buying into this. It is an example of bullying and it, quite frankly, breaks my heart. It implies that women must meet a certain criteria in order to be accepted into a culture where men are simply welcomed without question. A woman must continually prove herself and if she fails to meet the standard set by the culture, she is asked to leave. There would be people who considered me a Fake Geek Girl because I could not tell you the first time The Silver Surfer appeared or the name of Peter Parker’s co-worker. But I can tell you the most obscure characters in Harry Potter and don’t you dare challenge me on anything Doctor Who related because I will put your to shame. Even with my knowledge in certain areas, I most likely would be shamed for wearing an Avengers shirt because I do not know everything about that comic series.
All three examples who the gender bias in the geek culture, but more than anything it shows that bias can start in one place (media) and extend out. The gender roles presented in the comics have seeped into the way people in the geek culture think, behave and interact. And, to be honesty, it’s bullshit.