The fake geek girl may not be a real thing, but her shadow is long, and since people started claiming to have seen her, the rest of us have been accused of being her with increasing frequency.
So it’s been a little more than a week since my glorious return from the San Diego International Comic Convention, where I saw cool things, met cool people, and learned that “Hell” is another word for “being on the SDCC exhibit floor in a wheelchair.” I also contracted a horrific cold, and have been fighting my way back to the semblance of health, which is why my relative radio silence on the subject. But that’s neither here nor there: that’s just framework and excuses. Here’s what happened.
Leading up to SDCC, basically every woman I talked to expressed the fear of being “cred checked” at least once. The fake geek girl may not be a real thing, but her shadow is long, and since people started claiming to have seen her, the rest of us have been accused of being her with increasing frequency. She is the geek urban legend, the prowling, predatory female who’s just there to take up precious space/time/swag with her girly girlish girliness, and she’s like The Thing From Outer Space—a creature with no face and every face, AT THE SAME TIME.
I attended SDCC and similar shows for years before anyone said “Gasp! Some of these geek girls ARE TOTALLY FAKE!” and I started getting my geek credentials checked. Since that began, I have been forced to defend my knowledge of horror movies, the X-Men, zombie literature, the Resident Evil franchise, Doctor Who, and My Little Pony.
Let’s pause a moment and just think about that. Men—adult men—have asked me to defend my knowledge of and right to be a fan of My Little motherfucking Pony. My first fandom, the fandom that is arguably responsible for getting me into epic fantasy (not kidding), the franchise that I have publicly credited with teaching me how to plot long-term. A franchise that was, at least originally, aimed exclusively at little girls who enjoyed ponies and hair-play. I think that all fandoms should be for everyone, and I love that My Little Pony has finally found a male audience, but are you kidding here? Are you seriously telling me that the second men discover something I have loved since I was four years old, I suddenly have to pass trivia exams to keep considering myself a fan? Because if that’s the way things are going, I want to hear the Sea Pony song right fucking now.
Most of the female fans I know have expressed concern about this credential checking, in part because who the fuck wants to have to take a quiz when you’re standing in line waiting to get Chris Claremont’s autograph? I mean, really. And there’s always the possibility that you’ll fail the exam, and a) many of us have deep-seated test anxiety, courtesy of the American school system, and b) no one likes being bullied. Telling me I’m not a real geek because I can’t name the members of the Justice League (spoiler: I can’t, I don’t read DC) is bullying. It’s offensive and it’s upsetting and it leaves me feeling like a faker, even when I’m not. Even when I’m demonstratively not.
And this “you’re a fake, you have no right to be here” routine is almost universally directed at women. I see these women in these incredible costumes that took hours to make and will cause chafing and shin splits and lots of other discomforts, and then I see them getting mocked for being “fake” by men in jeans and hero logo T-shirts. Captain America probably doesn’t like you making fun of women, good sir. Just saying.
Then, this year, I saw something wonderful. I was crossing the floor with Amy when we encountered a tall blonde dressed as Emma Frost. I will always stop and admire a good Emma—it’s in my genes—so we paused to study her costume and tell her how amazing she looked. She saw the name on my badge and lit up.
"I was hoping to run into you!" she said. “I remembered that you love Emma!"
One of my fans dressed as Emma Frost and she did it <i>for me</i>.
I have never felt so much like a rock star.
We stayed and chatted with her—because let’s face it, you dress up as Emma Frost to make me happy, you have damn well earned some chatting with—and she confessed that she had been cred checked not long before. “I said Emma was both the White Queen and the Black Queen,” she said. “Was that right?” I started explaining the Dark X-Men. While we were doing that, a man with a camera came up and started taking her picture without asking permission. She stopped talking to us, turned her body slightly away from him, held up her hand, and said, “You can’t take my picture unless you can tell me who I am.”
She was dressed as a very iconic Emma: all in white, with the half-cape connected to a semi-corset top, white boots, and a white “X” logo on her belt. She had small snowflakes on her collarbones, representing Emma’s transformation. She had the white choker. She had the blue lipstick. Basically, if you have any familiarity with Marvel, you would recognize her, and since that version of Emma has been on literally hundreds of comic book covers in the past five years, even most DC readers should have recognized her.
"Storm?" guessed the man.
All three of us laughed, but uncomfortably, like we were discovering a terrible secret. And while Amy and I stood there, this happened four more times: the unsolicited pictures, the refusal, the incorrect guess. Only three of the men actually stopped taking pictures when told to.
As women, we are afraid of being unmasked as somehow “not geeky enough.” Meanwhile, these men, who were clearly just trying to take pictures of a scantily clad woman, not pictures of an awesome costume, can’t identify one of the most iconic figures from one of the largest publishers.
I’ve been saying for a while that the “fake geek girl” thing was a form of harassment: a way of making sure that women in fandom don’t “forget their place.” But this, more than anything, drove home to me just how big of a double standard it is. As women, we’re expected to know enough to “earn our spot,” but not so much that we seem like know-it-alls; we’re supposed to add attractive eye candy to the proceedings, but shouldn’t expect men to stop taking our pictures when asked; we’re supposed to worry about not seeming geeky enough, while never worrying whether the men around us could pass those same tests. The mere fact of their maleness is sufficient.
There was something beautiful about seeing the fake geek girl check flipped back in the other direction, but there was also something profoundly sad about it, because it illustrated just how deep this divide is growing. We’re all geeks. We need to have respect for each other, in all ways—no taking pictures without asking, no shouting “Emma!” at a cosplayer and then saying “See? I told you she knew who she was dressed as” when she turns around. Just no.
It needs to stop.
(And if you were that Emma, drop me a line, hey? I never did get your name, and you were awesome.)