FANGIRL UNLEASHED: There’s No Such Thing As A Fake Geek

The ‘fake geek’ insult isn’t a new one: the suggestion that certain women ‘pretend’ to be geeky for male attention. (See also: liking football/sports/tech, it being a well-documented fact that the only reason women do anything is for male attention). I’ve always been a bit baffled by this – mainly because I wonder, does it ever work? I’ve been a geek my whole life and it’s never got me a date. But more to the point: why should I care? It’s a free country: providing you’re not coming to my house and nicking my Star Wars boxed sets, it really doesn’t bother me how you define yourself. But lately the argument has started to get ugly.

Much of the recent furore was sparked by Joe Peacock’s piece on the CNN website, berating “booth babes”, the girls who turn up at conventions in skimpy costumes, for being in it for the attention and the ego-boosting.  As has been repeatedly pointed out, he seems to blur the line between actual “booth babes” – who are generally paid models, therefore why the hell should they know any more about geekery than about boats or cars or whatever the hell convention they are paid to attend? – and cosplayers.

While there is of course a discussion to be had about the use of models at these things and whether it’s sexist, that’s not the discussion Peacock wants to have: he just wants to call women ‘gross’ and ‘poachers’.) But, even if it’s true – and it’s probably not, since it takes time, effort and money to create a costume and attend a convention – why does it matter? What’s wrong with wanting male attention? Just who are they hurting?

Bloody women, always seeking male attention. Oh, no, wait...

There seems increasingly to be the idea that there is some level of arcane knowledge required to be a ‘proper’ geek, but only, of course, if you have a vagina. Nobody’s calling the guy dressed as Thor a fake – hell, it wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t spell Thor, nobody would think to question that he belonged there. But there is still an ingrained suspicion that girls aren’t really geeks – or, if they are, they should look a certain way, and dress a certain way. Dare not to fit into a category you had no input in defining, and you’re a ‘fake’.

Men: you can dress like this! That's OK!

This kind of bullshit is only ever thrown at women and, alas, not only by men. (I would stress that it’s only by a small proportion of men – I know plenty of guys who are open and supportive to female geeks of any persuasion – it’s just a shame the morons are so bloody vocal). I hate it, but you do see women spouting this kind of crap at one another, and it makes me really sad. Maybe it’s natural to feel frustrated when someone in a skimpy costume is getting lots of attention, but you know what, that’s life: women in skimpy clothes get attention. But you can’t make the leap to saying that’s WHY they are wearing the skimpy clothes.  I know plenty of women who love heels, fishnets and corsets (oh, wait, one of those would be me) – less because it gets you male attention, than because it’s enjoyable to dress up in those things.

I’m too lazy to be a cosplayer – all that effort! – but it looks like a blast. Frankly, if I had the kind of body that could carry off a Catwoman outfit, I’d wear it to the shops. Because, seriously, look at some of those women. They are smoking hot. They’d get attention anywhere: you really think they need to go to a conference and wear a costume to get a man to look at them? Or isn’t it just a tad more likely that they do it because it’s fun, it makes them feel great, and they’re enjoying being in a space where they can safely indulge their passions without being mocked? (Or, at least, that should be the case). Their passions may not be yours, they may express them differently, but unless they are actually harming you, what the hell business is it of yours?

If I had that body, I would dress like this ALL THE TIME


As Joe Scalzi wrote in his eloquent response to the Peacock piece, geekdom is self-defined. His idea of geekdom is one of my favourites: that it’s not just about being passionate about something, but also wanting to share that passion. You are happy when people like the same things you do: you don’t criticise them for liking them in the wrong way. Because otherwise, who decides just who gets to be a geek? Who sets the bar? Why should it be Joe Peacock, and not me, or you, or the hot girl in the Xena outfit?

So, here’s my message: geekery is not an exclusive club where bouncers like Peacock get to check your credentials before you get it – it is a wide, wonderful and welcoming community. Seen Avengers 20 times because you crush on Tom Hiddleston, but have no idea who Stan Lee is? Watch The Vampire Diaries to see the hot boys take their shirts off? Enjoy cosplay because lycra makes your arse look great? Come in, take a seat, let’s chat a while. You might find more things you like, you might learn something (as might I) or you might just want to stick with the things you know and enjoy the things you enjoy. Either way is fine – nobody gets to judge. They might think Twilight is stupid and that vampires shouldn’t sparkle; it’s their right to think that. But nobody gets to tell you you can’t like it, or that you get thrown out of the geek club because of some failing of taste – or even because you look great in tight outfits.

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll be back in a fortnight but in the meantime, feel free to pop over to Body of a Geek Goddess to say hi. And remember I am continuing to shamelessly plug my book Dark Dates.


  • Fats Mclemlich

    Obviously the mentality is childish and becoming quite a problem, BUT, I definitely understand the origins of this whole “I’m nerdier than thou” debate. It’s just how people react when they feel like their group identity is losing its exclusivity.

    Parallels to religion, ethnicity, and politics can be drawn. Again… douchey, and it needs to stop, but it’s a problem within group identity… not sure if this could ever be resolved.

  • Kat

    I certainly remember being 15 and mightily pissed off because some bam in my class liked a Pearl Jam song that got on the mainstream radio. It’s kinda the same thing. I kinda got over it at 15 though.
    I’m just pissed off there are not more hot geek boys cutting about in Thor or Han Solo outfits randomly taking their tops off for attention.
    Oh, and for the record, I would go to work in a Slave Liah costume if I could carry it off.

    • Ciaran James

      I’ve not been to too many conventions but I’ve seen guys (most of whom think they are in ALOT better shape than they actually are) cosplaying in sometimes skimpy outfits – I don’t think cosplaying is really for me, I’d be far too embarrassed should someone I know saw me

  • delphia2000

    Okay, coming out of the closet here: I’m pretty sure I’m the first of the ‘booth babes.’ I used to ‘date’ Jim Steranko and he had me tend his table at the SDCCs that we attended back in the early ’70’s. I dressed up like Val just for fun for one day (1975 I believe) and got lots of attention and got people to come over to our table. It was a marketing ploy, but it worked and, I repeat, it was FUN. (I have the photographic evidence to back it up, btw.) I’m not gorgeous, then or now and it was a pretty tame costume by today’s standards. At that time I was definitely a comic book nerd. Today, not so much. I’m on the net a lot, but I have missed the controversy. I considered myself a ‘hippy’ back in the sixties, but I still didn’t live in a commune or drop acid. I had the charge of ‘plastic hippy’ leveled at me back then. I see some similarities with this issue. I think what it seems to me is that geekdom is a great big ole sandbox
    and everyone should be welcome to play at any level they choose. I got excluded from the jock and cheerleader and popularity cliques back in school. I know what that feels like. I’d rather not make anyone feel that way. I say, come on in and if you don’t know about fandom, we’ll be glad to tell you.

  • Tracey

    I agree – I think a lot of geeks come from a background where they were excluded – let’s not do it to anyone else. Thanks for the comments, guys.