Now that Nerd Culture is just regular Culture, thanks to the Internet, you’d think everything would have been settled, but there are still some skirmishes going on. And only this week a new mini-ruckus erupted and oddly enough, it was among the girls.
Now, one of the GOOD things about the internet is that it has allowed girl geeks to be just as proud and out as boy geeks and to, indeed, show that they like geek stuff, something that was doubted for a long time.
Speaking as a lifelong nerd myself, I can testify that back in the neolithic age of nerditry, if you had girl genes you were not taken seriously as a comics fan, wrestling fan, Star Wars fan, or anything else that boys thought was just for them. Oh, the looks I got when I said I had read Robert E. Howard. For a long time, I felt like I was the only one. In fact while I was at WonderCon, I was chatting to Sergio Aragones about the olden days and he said, “Remember when you were the only girl?” and I could only laugh in agreement.
But the internet and its democratic access proved that girl nerds were around all along! In recent years we’ve seen the rise of geek girls, first as a consumer demographic for all of the above, but also as a new kind of hot chick for male nerds to swoon over. If by swoon you mean…something stronger than swoon. I’m not sure what “G4” originally stood for, but now it means “Girls 4 nerds” as the channel seems to have become a place for male geeks to see geeky things spoken of by hot chicks who have varying levels of actual nerd cred. For instance, Blair Butler is both lovely and knowledgable about many things nerd-like, and has impeccable geek cred. On the other hand, Olivia Munn looks great in a Wonder Woman costume.
In this matter, jocks were way ahead of the nerds. I don’t know when the first “sideline reporter” was invented, but now every network and sports show has a well-turned out reporter with anchorwoman hair to capture a big sweaty man who just scored a touchdown for a serious conversation about how he overcame the zone defense he encountered. Of course, women had to fight hard and long to get taken seriously as sports reporters, and yet they still have men peeping in on their hotel rooms, making a movie of it and posting it on the internet. That’s kinda fucked up.
On the other side of the Hot Girl Nerd trend, we have the very real communities of female fans on many topics. There are huge online cosplay and manga and anime and comics communities. In fact, there’s even going to be a Geek Girl Con in Seattle in October. Because girls like other girls and like to talk about things with other girls.
But every once in a while there’s a girl on girl flame. Such a thing occurred earlier this week when a blogger named Zooey May made the mistake of writing an editorial called “Having Tits and Liking Spider-Man Isn’t Shocking Anymore” which took exception with the name of writer Jill Pantozzi’s blog “Has Boobs Reads Comics“:
There’s actually a woman who’s paid by the fascists at MTV to write about comics. That’s all well and good, but her blog title is Has Boobs, Reads Comics. Really? I’d like to punch her in her stupid boobs. What I’m getting at is that for all you females who think it’s cute to bat your lashes while feigning embarrassment about your adorable nerdiness, no matter what that might be… just… fuck you. Yep. I said it. And while I’m pissing people off and offending the masses, Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans can suck it easy. Seriously people, I’ve worked at two comic shops now, and at both places, the Joss Whedon disciples were the absolute worst customers.
This drew immediate and swift reprisal on Twitter because a) threatening to punch anyone in the boobs is bad taste and b) Jill Pantozzi is one of the most popular people on the internet. (And in real life.) Over on Bleeding Cool, Kate Kotler had a thoughtful response on how women often turn on each other:
Being a geek girl is challenging: Not only do we have to contend with the fact that pop-culture tends to objectify and marginalize women, often reducing geek girls to being a pair of tits and an ass in a Sailor Moon or Catholic schoolgirl outfit – but, we have to also contend with girl-on-girl hate crimes such as this one… The competitive, bitchy, mean girl antics of those who aren’t secure enough in their own geeky glory to resist lashing out at those who are makes it twenty times harder for women to succeed in a male dominated culture.
It’s people like Zooey Mae which make panels like “Killing Cattiness, Creating Community” (which I’m moderating at Geek Girl Con this coming October) so very necessary — so young women such as Zoe can learn via example from geek goddesses such as Gail Simone, Hope Larson, Bonnie Burton, Marian Call, Kat Engh, Kristin Rielly and Jennifer Stuller that it’s so much better when we retract the claws, ban the bitchy and work together to build each other up, instead of cutting each other down.
…I apologized that I hurt Jill’s feelings, because my initial post was hyperbolic and sarcastic, but contrary to what you seem to think, I’m not actually a malicious person. I felt regret that I hurt her feelings, but not for having an opinion, albeit a strong one. I stand by what I said about girls who identify themselves as female nerds before just claiming “nerd” as their title. It seems sexist and totally unnecessary to me to call attention to yourself in such a “yeah, I have tits and I read comics, what of it” kind of way. If we wish to be treated as equals, then behaving thusly would seem to me to be step one, not flaunting our ladybits in an attempt to shatter some already outdated preconception about the nerd community.
Which, I think makes her point a lot better than with stupid violence. Because she does have a point. A lot of women are getting attention by PRETENDING to be nerds. Even male fans are beginning to get sick of “hot chicks” who make a show of having “nerd cred”, as in this editorial at Flickcast:
Hot Chicks Need To Stop Pandering To Nerds! by Matt Raub:
With that line blurred, overly attractive actresses in both mainstream Hollywood and independent New Media feel that they need to claim that they’re a “nerd” to be seen as something more than just a hot chick. That’s where I’m putting my foot down. Throwing on an Empire Strikes Back t-shirt and Lisa Loeb glasses does not put you on the same level as me and the rest of the kids who weren’t cool enough in high school to run with the “popular kids” or to give a crap about sports. That’s called pandering, and it’s gotta stop.
Raub links to this video as some evidence: Watching that video, it’s kind of obvious that some of these “hot nerd chicks” are just phoning it in. “I like Star Wars”? Wow, I’m impressed by that courageous and groundbreaking stance! However, just because you are a stunningly beautiful woman doesn’t mean you can’t be a nerd at heart. Rosario Dawson went to comic book conventions long before she had a comic to promote, so she gets a pass in my book. (Plus she’s really nice.)Megan Fox’s nerd cred has long been debated (along with everything else about her) but her early attempts at art are not made up. However, her constantly talking about FATHOM may just have had something to do with being attached to a potential movie about FATHOM…just guessin’.
The reality is that if you look like Megan Fox you don’t really have to know anything about sports, or comics or how to feed yourself to get by. People will be clamoring to feed you by hand. At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams calls shenanigans on all these brave Star Trek loving nerdettes who also take their underwear off on the cover of Maxim:
In recent years, a new breed of sex symbols like Felicia Day and Olivia Munn have carved out their fame in large part due to their relatability. Their very public enthusiasm for geek culture — combined with a talent for looking amazing in a bikini — has connected with the fanboys, and by extension, the world. So if you’ve got a project to promote — maybe one based on a comic and with a game tie-in, or you’re just shopping around for that next hundred-billion-dollar Michael Bay project inspired by an app, you’d best try to make the fans believe you are one of them. Just tell Jimmy Kimmel something about your crush on Han Solo, you’ll be fine.
But what about the battlefield of the Comic-con floor? Well some grrrrl nrrrrds get it and others don’t. I’ve long wondered why all these “proud” girl nerds love dressing as SLAVE Leia and not, say SENATOR Leia or REBEL COMMANDER Leia. Who wants to be a slave? But no question, if you are semi hot, dressing in a bikini is going to get you further faster in man’s world than being a good shot with a blaster or being heir to the throne of a whole planet.
But it will also get you dumped faster too. Remember that marginalization that Kotler was talking about? People will marginalize a Slave Leia in a hot second. And sometimes that marginalization will rub off on those of us dressed as a rebel commander too.
And that brings us back to the wonderful world of girl nerds in comics. To be honest, I’m not crazy about the title of Jill’s blog, but I don’t think it’s a blow to womankind. I quoted the title to a male comics reader who doesn’t know her earlier today and he just started laughing. “Wow that’s pandering!” he said. What he doesn’t know that Jill is a smart writer, a great person and someone that her friends will take a bullet for because she’s so awesome. Once you get beyond the title of her blog, that’s all pretty obvious.
I’ll tell you a secret. It’s actually mind bogglingly cool to be a girl. Because you get to be everything. You can be a bad-ass, a senator, a crack shot, a teenaged boat captain who goes around rescuing people, an astronaut or a comic book writer….AND you still get to dress up and wear different color lipstick and nail polish! THAT IS COOL. And we shouldn’t be penalized by anyone — male or female — for being so cool.
While this was all brewing, I saw another post that seemed to sum all this up on Comics Alliance, about how artist Ming Doyle made a Thor costume and wore it to the Boston Comic-Con:
ComicsAlliance: Ming, your Thor ensemble was a hit at Boston Comic Con! As a resident of Artist Alley, what made you decide to dress up for the convention, let alone as Thor?
Ming Doyle: I mainly decided to dress up because Alexa Rose, my good friend and co-host of the Make Believers podcast, decided to visit for the convention this year. Having a fellow crafty art major on the scene was the motivating push I needed, especially considering that Alexa and I have previously tried our hands at some amateur cosplay (Death and Delirium, then Batzarra and Bizarra at New York Comic Con, 2008).
As you can see from the pictures, Ming pulled it off in style. Because she’s a beautiful woman, a nerd AND a really damn good artist. And just because you’re one doesn’t mean you can’t be all three.
UPDATE: Somehow in all this I managed to miss Jill Pantozzi’s own thoughts on geek cliques on Newsarama. I urge everyone to read the entire post, as it touches on a lot of elements I’ve mentioned and a few new ones, too.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.