Or: Why Nerd Culture Isn’t Exclusively Male (And Never Was)
In recent years, what has been perceived as strictly “nerd” culture has become increasingly more popular. The film adaptations of popular franchises such as Marvel comic’s Avengers, the new Star Trek, and Peter Jackson’s forays into Tolkien’s world, have made what was previously “geek” territory into common pop culture ground. This has led to an influx of new geeks exploring the source content and participating in these fandoms. Combined with the popularity of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, it’s easier for fans to engage with the material (and one another) in new, creative ways. In short, what was once a fringe culture has become part of the mainstream.
Lately there has been a disproportionate amount of focus on the influx of women into this culture. While the comments made about the “new” wave of geek girls have ranged from annoying to downright misogynistic, there seems to be an unspoken agreement that geek culture is, or was, male territory. This implication is completely false.
It’s true that the visibility of women in fantasy and science fiction has left a lot to be desired in the past. However this is merely a symptom of a greater problem.
The fact of the matter is, geek culture only appears male-dominated because the visibility of women in the subculture and in general was, until recently, almost nonexistent.
Let us examine this through the lens of fantasy and science fiction literature.
Speculative Fiction: Where Are All the Women Writers?
It’s blatantly obvious to anyone who regularly reads speculative fiction novels and comics that the genre is pretty heavily dominated by male writers. A quick glance through NPR’s list of top 100 Fantasy and Science Fiction novels show all the usual suspects: Tolkien, Adams, Herbert, Clarke, Dick, Orwell, Martin, Huxley, Asimov, Gaiman… these are all names we’ve heard before, and all definitely male.
Does this mean that women aren’t interested in writing fantasy and science fiction. Well no, obviously that’s not the case. This is merely the result of a bigger problem: the writing industry is still predominantly male.
The folks over at Vida do a yearly breakdown of the number of female versus male authors whose books are being reviewed in popular magazines and journals. The numbers are dismal.
This lack of female writers is one of the many remnants of a pre-feminism society in which it was the job of the women to be the homemakers. Writing? Why that a man’s job, and even if women wrote poetry and novels very few of them could ever hope to be as good as men. Yet not even this line of thinking completely prevented women from rocking the literary world, even in speculative fiction. There is one standout example of a woman who has been influencing the world of science fiction since the year 1818:
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Maybe you’ve heard of her.
If a woman was one of the pioneers of science fiction, then why don’t we see that many female sci fi writers today? The answer is they’re out there, but again the writing field as a whole is still dominated by men. Fact is, there are female science fiction writers and have been for years. Women like Judith Merril (who was also one of six female members of the Futurians, a sci-fi club that included Asimov), Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler and Madeleine L’Engle have all be important contributors to the realm of speculative fiction. In fact, here have a list of female writers who have kicked butt in this genre.
We are making slow progress: 6/15 of the current top earning writers in the world are female, three of whom (Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer) write in the genre of speculative fiction. The fact that they all are writing in the young adult genre is perhaps another issue. And while it’s arguable that Stephanie Meyer’s writing isn’t the paragon of feminism, the work she’s done in paving the way for a whole slew of female authors in the paranormal romance genre is respectable.
With all of this in mind, it’s blatantly obvious that women have always participated in this subculture, just without the same visibility as men… until now.
Geek Girls and the Social Media Revolution
While the geek girl revolution is slow-going in the traditional industry of publishing and other media (television and film), it has exploded online. Websites like Youtube, Tumblr, AO3, blogging platforms, Deviantart, etc. have given women a voice that is outside of the control of the male-dominated media. And we sure have taken to those outlets and used them to make sure our opinions are heard.
Female fan participation in the realms of fan art and fan fiction is huge. There are also several girl sketch groups dedicated to making fandom parodies (Hillywood and Not Literally, anyone?) who are rocking YouTube.
Social media has given your average geek girl more power than ever before. The proof of this can be seen in the recent backlash against the concept of “fake geek girls”. While the idiot nerd girl meme certainly went on for far too long before being called out, the current response levels have completely drowned out those who would criticize the new wave of female fans. The number of articles and video responses by women (and even some men!) expressing their exasperation over Tony Harris’ comments and the concept of fake geek girls is a heartening response.
If anything, I would like to thank Tony Harris and the creator of the idiot nerd girl meme for their distorted views. It has brought the inherent misogyny in comics and geek culture to the forefront of everyone’s attention. Now we can work even harder to rectify the situation and with more support than ever before
So this whole “fake geek girls” thing? Who cares.
The bigots and bullies may call us fake but we know the truth. This is a call to all geek girls to keep on keeping on, and make sure your voice is heard. They can bully you, but they can’t silence you.
Now, let’s resume taking over the world, shall we?