Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Being A Geek Girl

Our smart, funny, geeky friend Kate M. posted this fantastic post on her personal blog, and we now reproduce it here with her permission.

In addition to being a student at the University of Utah, Kate M. is a bibliophile, backpacker, international volunteer, and full-time adventurer. She firmly believes in the innate goodness of human beings, the power to change the world through art, and the dementor-alleviating properties of chocolate.

I am a geek.

It’s not always apparent in my day-to-day life, but here in my apartment, it’s obvious. I’m writing this while sitting under a Return of the Jedi poster and a Lord of the Rings wall calendar, wearing an Amazing Spider-Man t-shirt and Adventure Time pajama bottoms. My nightstand holds a reading lamp, an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin, and an illustrated Neil Gaiman short story. My many bookshelves are overflowing with classics and fantasy novels and comic books. Mounted on the wall across from me is a quote by the Tenth Doctor.

I have always identified as a geek. I was a smart kid and a voracious reader. By age six I was spending most of my free time exploring Middle Earth and Hogwarts. My Halloween costumes in elementary school included Hermione Granger, Galadriel, a mouse from Redwall, Captain Holly Short, and an Aes Sedai (Green Ajah, obviously). I collected Pokémon cards, I watched X-Men: Evolution and Full Metal Alchemist, I taught myself Elvish. I had friends in many different social groups, but there was no term I felt described me better—and no group I felt more welcome in—than that of “geek”.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that my geekiness came into question. Sure, I’d seen Star Wars, one guy said when it came up as a topic of mutual interest. Everyone’s seen the movies. But did I know how to spell “Kashyyyk”? At first it was a game. I loved Star Wars. I’d read quite a few of the EU novels. I was competitive and eager to prove my knowledge. The home planet of the wookiees, I replied without hesitation, spelled with three ‘y’s. Give me another one.

But over the years, the questions kept coming, and they weren’t asked in the spirit of fun. It soon became clear that I was being tested, and if I didn’t pass, I didn’t get to be a part of the group. I often failed. I’ve only read a handful of comic books. I haven’t seen all 26 seasons of Old Who. I’ve never played D&D. Worst of all, I’ve never owned a video game console. The hoops I had to jump through to prove my worth as a geek, and the label of “fake geek girl” I was assigned if I didn’t measure up, were frustrating—especially when all a guy had to say to be accepted was, “yeah, I like that too.”

Today, though, I’m beyond frustrated. I am sad and angry and scared. “Fake geek girl,” hurtful as it was when it was first slung at me, is the mildest of the many horrible things I’ve seen and heard to describe women in geek culture in the last few years. I’ve read real people’s responses to everything from GamerGate to the casting of Wonder Woman to cosplay photos to the new Thor, and I have been shocked, disgusted, upset, and terrified. Worst of all, I have been made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in a community that I once looked to as a refuge and a home.

I don’t know how to address the serious issues of sexism and misogyny in geek culture because I honestly cannot comprehend the mindset of those who perpetuate it. I am sickened by the threats made against Anita Sarkeesian yesterday. I find it so hard to believe that a human being can wish—and not only wish, but want to personally carry out—such graphic and grievous harm to another human being. Even more horrible to me is that she regularly receives death threats on par with the one sent to Utah State, and that many other women in the geek community have also been harassed and threatened to the extent that they have to leave their own homes in order to feel safe.

My friends and I are the kind of people who would have attended Anita’s speech. We are female writers, artists, game designers, actors, composers, and critics. We are feminists. We want to see less sexual objectification of women and greater gender equality in film, television, comic books, and games. We are the people that the would-be shooter calls “vile misandrist harpies.” “I’m going to make sure they all die,” reads the anonymous e-mail. I get a little shaky reading it. Like I said, I don’t understand what would make someone want to stage a massacre. It’s even harder to imagine them wanting to specifically target someone like me.

I don’t have a solution. I wish I did, but I don’t.

I can tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep trying to make good art. I’m going to continue watching Flash and reading Deadpool comics and worrying that the third Hobbit film will be as overblown and underwhelming as the other two. I’m going to continue discussing the portrayal of women in superhero movies and contemporary geek literature with my fellow artists and creators, in the hopes that we can someday change things for the better. I’m going to reach out to the geek girls in my life and let them know that I love and support them. I would love it if you’d do the same. Being a geek is all about being passionate; it doesn’t have to be about being bitter and protective and elitist. Celebrate the opportunity to share the things you love. Make new friends, introduce them to the things that make you happy, and welcome them into an intelligent, enthusiastic, and diverse new family.

It’s a family that I’ve always been proud to be a part of. Please help to keep it that way.