There is no question that nerd culture has grown greatly in the last twenty years. New fan conventions are constantly popping up around the world and old conventions are still drawing in thousands and thousands of attendees. There are documentaries and TV shows now that showcase geek culture. Although there are some that fit the Steve Urkel, Sheldon Cooper and Chuck Bartowski stereotypes of how nerds look and act, there are many, many variations that are accepted in nerd culture seamlessly.
Unless you are a woman.
In what has been popularly seen as a “males-only” subculture, there have always been many females who proudly consider themselves nerds and geeks. At San Diego Comic-Con 2012, 40% of attendees were women. And like the men, geeky and nerdy women come in all shapes, colors and backgrounds. But unlike the male counterparts, there seems to be mistrust if a woman labels herself a nerd or geek. And the more a female nerd is perceived as attractive or successful, the greater the level of mistrust and misogyny. No woman is safe. Even Geek and Sundry founder and 100% nerd Felicia Day was accused of being a “glorified booth babe.” Some attacks to female nerds even come from other female nerds.
To explore this topic, I talked to three amazing nerds. Chrissy Lynn is a costume and make-up artist and co-runs Nerdy-Girlz.com. Kate Kotler is a pop culture journalist who writes regular features for popular comic and movie news website Bleeding Cool. Jamie Broadnax is the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a website where all women of color are welcomed to express their nerdiness.
My name is Chrissy Lynn, I’m currently working in digital marketing and project management for The Collective, based out in Beverly Hills, California.
Do you consider yourself a nerd (and why)?
People define “nerd” or “geek” very differently especially with today’s pop culture scene. Like any other trend in society or lifestyle it’s again being used to not only describe ones interests and culture but their “group” as well. Do I happen to enjoy things that are typed as nerdy and geeky? Hell yes I do. but if there was one thing I’m pretty “nerdy” for, as far as speaking passionately, it’s comics, DC Batman to be exact. I grew up (yes, actually grew up as in, 15-20 years ago, not 3 or 4) riding my bike to the comic book shop, one of two in my county at the time, and bought all of Jim Balent’s Catwoman comics as well as some classic trade paperbacks and graphic novels such as The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke and Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Have men or women (or both) challenged your “nerdiness” or “geekiness?”
In high school, about 15 years ago, it wasn’t something that I needed to justify, pander, or prove my interest in. Nowadays there seems to be a stigma about having a vagina and liking video games, BSG, comics or even RPGs. My favorite question I ever received after someone saw my batman tattoo a couple years back was, “So who’s your favorite Robin?” When I replied Stephanie Brown, they had to think about that for a minute and had no idea who I was talking about, I laughed and said, “Exactly, now you were saying?” Overall, I don’t typically get “challenged.” I like what I like and that is that.
Do you feel that nerds and non-nerds judge other nerds by their looks?
People judge people all the time no matter what stereotype we are categorized into at the time, unfortunately. However I do see a lot of judging of people, mostly females, when they are wearing a Justice League T-shirt, or are cosplaying one of their favorite video game characters. Hell, they could be wearing “nerdy” large framed glasses and still be judged! They’ll start asking questions like, “I bet they don’t even know who the JLA are!” The reason for this is simply because, in my opinion, like any trend that’s considered “cool,” those who genuinely have an interest in something don’t appreciate those individuals who use that interest to gain publicity and attention in whatever field they expertise. Of course more genuine individuals are more irate over attractive females who use it to gain attention through the majority of “nerd and geeky” things that are predominantly males. Unfortunately and after all, “sex” still sells!
What would you say is the hardest thing about being a woman and a nerd in our society?
As of course mentioned above, I have to reflect on the fact that 15 years ago I never had to prove or justify my interests, I simply enjoyed reading comic books, watching/reading scifi and horror related hows, films, books, or playing video games. That was it. Was it a popular thing at the time? No, of course not, it was as much of an American pastime as baseball still is! It was in my home and a part of my upbringing. I could walk into my comic shop and pick up what I needed and yes, even at that time the “gentleman” weren’t used to seeing too many females between the ages of 12-19 walking into a comic shop but they enjoyed the discussion and conversation about comics, characters and story arcs like anyone else. I like to blame this whole “society” issues on the internet. Sites who hold contests for geeky/nerdy/gamer/techy girls, have not helped with the self-worth and esteem issues that we have all faced throughout this last century alone. As if film, television and magazines weren’t enough now we have the whole world wide web at our fingertips to compare who’s cooler, who’s hotter, what’s popular and what’s trending. Of course none of that crap can tell you who anyone REALLY is.
How are Nerdy Girlz hoping to combat stereotypes about nerds and women?
Nerdy-Girlz.com is a site that lets girlz embrace what they get all “nerdy” for. It’s a home, a sisterhood of empowerment and support. We adore all girlz of any shape, size, color, or interest. We explore not only comics, video games, and genres but we have girlz who adore puzzles, RPGs, Horror, Zombies, Music and even LARPing. Our girlz are so passionate about their interest and hobbies, that we encourage them to write about it, whether it be a review of a game, movie or soundtrack, food, convention experience or even a board game. I personally adore writing about what I love and know well, comic books, and cosplay. Our galleries are filled with our girlz portraying their favorite characters and settings from books, movies, comics, games and more. And the nice perk to our site and our girlz is that you will always get a genuine and honest response to any query about their interests, because they aren’t panderers seeking attention or profit for their interests, they simply just love sharing those interests.
My name is Kate Kotler and I’m a pop-culture journalist. I am extremely lucky in that I get to spend my days writing about comics, music, movies and other geeky things. Currently I write for Bleeding Cool.com - a really super awesome site run by Avatar Press and edited by Rich Johnston.
I’d have to say that at varying times I consider myself both. I’m definitely obsessed enough with very obscure aspects of pop-culture that I can be classified as a “geek” and my deep knowledge of chess, consumer technology and social media might also qualify me as a “nerd.” Really, though, I consider myself “just me.”
Sure. Geeky/nerdy women were far less prevalent in popular society when I was in high school and college, so there was a tendency for the young men who self-identified as such to challenge the “cred” of young woman such as myself… I think that the idea that geeky/nerdy women are “unicorns” (i.e.: we don’t exist) is slowly being dispelled, but every once in a while I run into someone who wants me to go toe-to-toe with them to “prove” my knowledge. But my geeky/nerdy side is pretty publicly displayed for all to see…
Sometimes. It’s kind of built into the human condition to judge people by aesthetics – to a point. More so in that often geeky/nerdy women are fetishized by men (both geeky/nerdy and normals) who have in their heads that to be a geek woman means you’re big boobed, bespectacled, cosplaying (Catholic school-girl is one I hear a lot) chick with pig-tails and stripper heels… But, in reality, there are as many ways for women to express their geekdom as there are ways for men to express the same. To buy into those tropes and assume that all people are one way is dangerous…
For myself, the most difficult thing has been to break into a profession which a lot of people still view as “male dominated” and excel. As a woman writing about comics and sci-fi I’ve had to be better at my job than my male contemporaries just to get a foot in the door. Once that foot was wedged in there and I had my opportunity, I had to work really hard to win over both fans and critics alike. I don’t know that I’ve completely done that as well as I should have at all times – however, these days I’m at a place in my career where I’m writing for a publication I love and my writing (and career) is being supported and fostered by great editors who get what I want to be doing and are invested in helping me achieve those goals… so I’m pretty lucky, I think.
[Insert exasperated sigh here.] Honestly, I’m tired of this kind of rant from women. There are about as many ways to be a “geek girl” as there are stars in the sky. What is right for one person, might be repugnant to another… but, who are we to judge what makes other people happy? Personally, I don’t get cosplaying in the slightest, nor do I participate — but, who the hell am I to rain on some other girl’s parade because she feels awesome when she dresses up in a sexy Batgirl outfit? There is nothing wrong with embracing your sexuality and expressing it through cosplay – as long as it’s what makes YOU feel good and you’re not doing it for the approval of some dude or society or some equally ridiculous reason.
“Slut-shaming” pisses me off royally because it’s just another, more subtle albeit, way for girls to be mean to other girls. I honestly think that if *some people* spent a little more time focused on themselves, rather than projecting their own insecurities onto other girls and being all judge-y the world would be a much better, happier place. I say: Do what makes you feel good. And, if that happens to be dressing up like Sailor Moon, go for it. Be bold, be brave and be the absolute best fucking Sailor Moon you can possibly be and tell all the haters to go fuck themselves. Empowerment starts in the brain and if you need someone to back you up and say “hey what you’re doing is awesome” – hit me up on Facebook or Twitter or Bleeding Cool and I’m happy to give you a pep talk and remind you of why each and everyone of you gorgeous ladies rock… whether you cosplay or want to wear trainers, jeans and a graphic t-shirt… (Or, like me, dress all girly like and rock a vintage dress like it’s 1969.) You are awesome and beautiful and there is nothing wrong with you expressing your geekdom in whatever manner you feel best befits you. /end rant
My name is Jamie Broadnax and if you chose to look me up in a dictionary here is my definition: Jamie Broadnax (n.) – A self-proclaimed blogger. Nerd aficionado. Geek. She-Ra. Single. Social networking addict. Shaken–but not stirred.
Of course if you are looking for a more formal description of who I am it would be a 32 year old single woman who lives in Wilmington, NC and blogs passionately about being a nerdy black girl. I earn my living as a credit analyst for a telecommunications company, and I have been blogging off and on since 2007. If it were up to me I would choose to earn my living as a blogger/writer, but for now I have to pay all of this outstanding student loan debt first!
Do you consider yourself a nerd or geek? Why?
Both. A nerd is someone who is socially inept or awkward. They are also someone of higher intelligence than most. Although I don’t necessarily believe I’m the brightest bulb in the pack, I do have 3 college degrees to my credit—so that should count for something right? A geek is someone who has a distinct obsession with a thing, culture, sub-culture, or event. In my case I’m highly addicted to social media and the Internet. So I guess you could call me a computer geek or a social networking geek. Nerdiness and Geekiness to me have evolved from the stereotypes that we have become accustomed to in our culture. The terms nerd and geek have been interchangeable at times, but I believe that most of us “nerds” and “geeks” share both patterns of thought in our behaviors. We tend to both be both the wallflower type and the obsessive type. Or the highly intellectual type and the extreme-reader type.
Have men, women or both doubted your nerd or geek identity?
Not really. There were many years where I chose to wear a social mask and pretend that I wasn’t a black girl nerd. I once lived in New York City for a time and I decided that the only way to be socially acceptable to my peers was to become a “party-girl”. I spent many mornings with deep regret and a hangover that felt like a I had been chewed up and spit out—only to relive the experience all over again the next day. The crazy things you do just to fit in, right? I now own my nerdiness and most of my co-workers, friends, and family agree wholeheartedly that I am definitely a nerd. Or a geek. Or both.
Do you feel that nerds and non-nerds judge who is a nerd by their looks? How so? Why?
I do. I think this perception that we have that nerds only wear glasses and wear tight clothes with pocket protectors is a stigma that allowed people to distinctly separate a nerd from a non-nerd. I must admit that I myself have been guilty of facilitating this perception when I first started BGN with mostly images of black girls wearing glasses. However, I found it fascinating and beautiful all at the same time to see Black women wearing glasses and looking “nerdy” is not exactly a common image to see. Having said that—(and yes I do wear glasses) many of us do not wear glasses, are very fashionable, and quite frankly have a lot of charisma to our style. I think Aisha Tyler is an example of a beautiful black girl nerd who does not at all look nerdy in her appearance. However she has defined herself throughout her career as a proud nerd.
What would you say is the hardest thing about being a woman and a nerd in our society?
The hardest thing about being a woman and a nerd in our society is that we are overlooked. There are a small number of us represented in pop culture. In our sub-culture its even worse, which is why Black Girl Nerds was created. I think that women feel that being nerdy is somehow unattractive or less appealing to men. Men prefer vixens and scantily clad ladies. Albeit that is true for the most part, there are a large group of men out there who love and are generally attracted to nerdy girls. As I mentioned before, the nerd archetype is evolving and being a nerd is not what it used to be. Hence the reason why more people feel comfortable coming out of the Nerd Closet.
This year you made a website called Black Girl Nerds. What are your views on how being black, being a nerd and being a woman is portrayed in the media?
My views are that there is a serious deficiency in the representation of black women as nerds in the media. Many media outlets will portray a white girl nerd before a black girl nerd. I believe the reason is pop culture’s lack of diversity in “geekdom”. Many people have assumptions that being nerdy is more of a “white thing” than a “black thing”. I myself have succumb to the pressure of trying to change who I am to fit society’s standards of what it is to be a black girl. The social masks I have worn throughout the years dictate this. In hindsight, I realize that I have always been a nerd and I was just trying to cover it up with a shroud of guilt by being someone I was not.
The worst part of this experience for many black women (and men) is that many of us are accused of “acting white” because we are nerdy. This disturbs me the most because it implies that if you are someone who is intelligent, loves to read, and you are technologically-advanced then somehow you are Caucasian. I don’t really get that, but luckily my blog and other innovators like Issa Rae from The MisAdventures of Awkward Black Girl and Donald Glover of Community are breaking those molds exceptionally and more blerds are coming forward and declaring who they are with fierce pride and reverence for their idiosyncratic personalities.
Kate Kotler works for Bleeding Cool, a great website about pop culture news and deals with important issues in film and the comic book industry. You can check her work at Bleeding Cool at www.bleedingcool.com and at her personal site at http://katekotler.com. You can also follow Kate Kotler on twitter at https://twitter.com/adorkablegrrl.
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