“What is a Fake Geek Girl?” I asked myself as I headed toward the so-named AggieCon discussion panel on Saturday evening. The answer, I discovered, a true hydra of a problem facing the geek community. The panel itself was moderated by Dr. Nerdlove and was far more of an audience-participation panel than I had expected. I found myself so intrigued and yet perplexed by the audience members’ comments surrounding this age-old problem with a new name that I feel compelled to discuss it anew some three weeks later.
The concept of the Fake Geek Girl seems to have developed during larger conventions such as ComicCon where major corporations and retailers have hired female models called Booth Babes to dress in provocative outfits and sell merchandise (of which they often know little or nothing) from company booths. The existence of these booth babes has caused an apparent backlash within the geek community. Many geeks, especially male geeks, are now openly hostile toward women (especially beautiful women) who claim that they like such things as science fiction and fantasy video games, TV series, movies, books, comic books, etc.
Many of the men attending the panel commented that most of the warped perception surrounding the supposed Fake Geek Girl comes from men who feel betrayed by the use of Booth Babes in the first place. Several men inferred that they and others have felt duped by the beautiful scantily-clad women who charm them to a booth and then try to sell them something instead of being genuinely interested in the things that they like. Rather than being angry at the corporations responsible for hiring the Booth Babes; however, some of these men express their anger toward the women themselves and allow their mistrust to develop into a wider prejudice toward all convention Booth Babes, all scantily-clad and/or costumed women at conventions, women in general, or some combination thereof.
The women had little to say about the Booth Babes themselves, but several female audience and panel members discussed the fact that they have been sexually harassed, bullied, and quizzed by men to determine whether they were, in fact, Fake Geek Girls. This prejudiced treatment occurred most often when women were dressed as characters from various video games, movies, cartoons, anime, or TV series. Most people attending the panel room vocalized the opinion that wearing a skimpy character outfit should not affect how others treat you.
While I agree with this opinion, I know that it is sadly not a reality. Modern science has confirmed that men are very visually-oriented when dealing with sexual arousal. And even the Bible discusses the fact that “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(1 Samuel 16:7b, NIV). While gender-based bias and the subsequent sexual harassment should not exist, they still do.
Women and men, to a lesser extent, have been fighting sexual harassment in and outside of the workplace since time immemorial. This dirty part of human nature is a fact of life. A fact that is part of the reason most companies and schools require and enforce strict dress codes for their employees. Like it or not, the way we dress has an impact on the way others perceive us. If you or I dress in a business suit, we know that people will treat us with respect and deference. If I throw on a pair of faded jeans, I expect others will interact with me more casually than they do when I am in my business best. If I wear a bikini, I assume others will take longer looks at my body because I am covering it with far less clothing. We human beings are socially and mentally wired to pay attention to how others dress. Above all others, marketers know and use this inescapable fact to their advantage. From book covers to movies to coffee cups and everything in between, marketers know that less clothes equals more looks and more looks equals more purchases. This practice is why we have the many barely-clothed characters portrayed in comic books, fantasy games, and anime which are the usual inspiration for cosplayers and other dressed-up con-goers. That being said, corporations have also looked to con attendees for inspiration regarding their Booth Babes’ standard of dress.
If women and men want to fight and specifically weed out sexual-harassment within the geek culture, then they must encourage mutual respect among all participants—whether they are modestly dressed or not. However, geeks should also realize that that respect starts with you and me. If I, as a woman, do not think myself beautiful enough to attract men without showing off amble cleavage or midriff, then what kind of self-respect do I have? How can I expect others to treat me with respect if I do not give it to myself first? What kind of respect am I showing toward men if I willingly invite men to think of me sexually by flaunting my body around them?
If men and women are to ever achieve true respect for each other within (and outside) the geek community, we must stand together to a) push comic book, anime, and game industry leaders into choosing more conservative outfits for their characters, b) inspire decent dress by all participants at cons, c) directly confront and discourage sexual-harassment whenever we find it, and d) educate people what it truly means to dress respectfully. All of these options are controversial, but are nonetheless required if people want to accomplish real social change.
The social thorns of sexual-harassment, gender-bias, and prejudice all sprout from the same ugly seed: dehumanization. When you or I see others as less human or less valuable than ourselves, we blind ourselves to the true beauty of that person. Likewise if we devalue ourselves, we blind ourselves to our own true worth. The Fake Geek Girl is one very prominent symptom of this blindness.
I will discuss dehumanization more fully in my next SCRAWLS post and explain what it means to the geek community at large. For now, though, I hope my post proves as thought-provoking to you as the Fake Geek Girl panel was to me.
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, email it to me. Thanks!