Sometimes I Feel Like I am a Fake Geek Girl

There is all this talk about the concept of the “fake geek girl” — essentially geek culture’s way of othering women by presuming they can’t possibly really be into geeky things for any reason aside from the attention.  It’s a ridiculous thought that people could create an identity for themselves simply to gain the attention of the opposite sex.  And while I don’t personally do anything just to attract wanted attention, sometimes I feel like I’m undeserving of calling myself a geek at all.

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Me, dressed up as a Warcraft Night Elf for Halloween 2009

Here’s the part where I admit a bunch of things that risk making me seem “less cool” in the circles that I frequent.  I’ve only seen one of the Star Wars movies (the oldest one) and I don’t really like anything related to space.  I got bored halfway through watching Firefly.  I find superheroes to be boring and though I was forced to watch some of the movies I didn’t enjoy any of them (Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, etc). I’ve never liked comic books, and my few attempts to get into them ended up with me wasting money on things I barely touched.  I never finished A Song of Ice and Fire (I stopped after book 3).  I have only finished two Neil Gaiman books, Coraline & The Graveyard Book.  I’ve never read most of the sci-fi and fantasy classics (Lovecraft, Dune, 2001, Lord of the Rings). Most TV shows that ‘geeks’ are into are shows that I’ve never watched or haven’t been able to get into such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Supernatural, Arrested Development, Farscape, Battlestar GalacticaAlias, Fringe, etc. and I can’t seem to enjoy anime no matter how much I try.

In the videogame world, my experience is also pretty limited.  Growing up I only played console games, and typically it was games in the Mario, Donkey Kong Country, Zelda, or Sonic series’.  I didn’t get into PC games heavily until discovering EverQuest, which introduced me to the world of MMOs.  Since then I’ve played just about every MMO released since 1999, but still my PC and console gaming experience is severely limited.  I never finished Mass Effect, I never finished Dragon Age.  I didn’t play any of the Fallout games.  I’ve never played the first two Bioshock games.  I never finished Portal 1 and never played Portal 2.  I’ve never played a Half-Life or Halo game.  I never played Age of Empires, or Civilization.  My videogame knowledge is vast in that I read about these games and know about these games, but I’ve never found the time or desire to actually play them.  I’ve never done cosplay and have no interest in it.  I’ve only played D&D a couple times and the campaigns died after one or two sessions.  I have very little roleplaying skills, I can’t write fiction piece,

My experience in games has been pretty limited too.  Once I found MMOs, they stole the bulk of my attention from 1999 to 2009.  I dabbled a bit in games like Oblivion, Black & White, Warcraft III, and The Sims.  Mostly, though, I played EverQuest, EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, and every other MMO.  I lead guilds, blogged about MMOs for many years, even traveled across the country to meet people I’d met in videogames.

I can’t help but feel like I’m faking it when I say I am a geek.  Though I’m obsessed with videogame culture, I make games for a living, I helped start this very website, I attend GDC every year, consider myself pretty knowledgeable about industry trends, love Game of Thrones and select other fantasy worlds, I’m learning to code….there are just so many people who are geekier than me and seem so accomplished in what they’ve read, watched, and played.  I could be unemployed for 10 years and I’d never catch up on all the fandom pieces that I have missed.  I am perpetually behind and feel inferior as a result.

I know that I’m not really faking anything as I’m pretty up front with the holes in my experience, but sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t even call myself a geek because I’m missing so much ‘critical geekdom’.   It feels like geek culture is a competitive and not-inclusive space with invisible hierarchies.  Does anyone else ever have this feeling?

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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26 Responses to Sometimes I Feel Like I am a Fake Geek Girl

  1. addie says:

    Yes. A thousand times, yes. I also work in geek circles and have all manner of things I’m geeky about (BioWare games, Harry Potter, anime, Game of Thrones, etc.) but I never got interested in Buffy or Firefly or Dr. Who, have not read any number of classic sci-fi novels, have only dabbled in tabletop gaming, don’t read any ongoing American superhero comics (just a few outstanding US titles like Saga, Fables, Watchmen, and a handful of webcomics), etc.

    And sometimes I feel like no matter how many geek hours I spend in a year, somehow not having read any Superman comics or having never seen a single episode of Dr. Who is going to convince someone– male or female, this isn’t entirely a gender thing –that my “geek card” needs to be “revoked.” (Most likely in jest but sometimes not, y’know?)

    So I feel you, all the way.

  2. Alexandra says:

    Good article. This one line struck me…

    “so many people who are geekier than me and seem so accomplished in what they’ve read, watched, and played.”

    Speaking as someone who really, desperately needs to put themselves out in the world more often — and consequently needs to stop wasting so many countless hours in the fantasy worlds of videogames — I find this line kind of humorous. I’d gladly give up 3/4s of my supernerd knowledge if it made it easier for me to lead the more balanced life I strongly yearn for.

  3. I think, honestly, with how much there is to be geeky over, that there are certain badges of honor you have to get to be considered a real geek.

    First of all, there is not just one kind of geek, geekiness is varied and far reaching. There is no reason someone who owns every high fantasy book ever can’t be a geek just because they haven’t seen Star Wars (which, by the way, is based on the Hero’s Journey and is not innovative or really interesting story composition wise). There is no geek litmus test, geeks don’t all have to like the same thing.

    And just because you like one type of geeky thing doesn’t mean you will like all similar geeky things. For example, I love Firefly and Star Trek:The Next Generation. I hate Star Wars with passion. Yet they’re all “spacey sci-fi geeky series”. It doesn’t make me less of a geek, it just means I have different geek taste.

    Second, I think you would honestly enjoy Doctor Who just because of it’s feminist underpinnings.

  4. Julie Burness says:

    While I’m not a fan of anyone else determining the validity of my “geekiness”, I can’t say that this is a new thing. When I was growing up being a geek wasn’t cool. I certainly didn’t run around, announcing to the world I was a geek. My actions and hobbies helped define me as a geek, while my peers had no problem attaching the label. It didn’t matter that I hated anime, comic books, and liked all the girly things that the popular girls liked. I used a computer, liked math, and was a bit awkward; in their eyes, I was a geek.

    I deviated just enough from the norm to be labeled an outsider. I embraced my differences and gravitated toward people who were more accepting of me: my fellow geeks. As our hobbies became more mainstream, the geeks became the same group that once excluded them. It didn’t matter that I loved my computer, liked math, and was a bit awkward. I was attractive, not too interested in anime, and liked to socialize; in their eyes, I wasn’t a “real” geek.

    It makes me cringe every time I see depictions of a “fake” geek vs. a “real” geek, as if someone’s appearance can really say that much about their interests and gaming abilities.

    I think it’s time geek culture as a whole took a step back and looked at its roots. We’re a group of outsiders who welcome other outsiders with open arms. We don’t need a checklist to determine whether you fit or not. If some other group excludes you? Guess what, you belong with us. You’re a genuine, 100% geek.

  5. Joni says:

    I know how you feel. My own geek interests are very nearly the opposite of yours, but I also sometimes feel like I just don’t qualify. But here’s the thing:

    Nobody in geek culture loves or even knows about every aspect of geek culture. Being a geek (or nerd) doesn’t mean that you have to LOVE ALL THE THINGS that other geeks love. It just means you have to love the geeky things you do love with ALL THE HEART.

    That’s it. Just love what you love and be passionate about knowing what you want to to know about.

  6. Switchbreak says:

    One of the things that hit me when that CNN blog did the story about how the author was sick of all those fake geek girls: I’m way more fake than any of them. Here I am, a guy who makes no secret of actively avoiding Star Trek and Star Wars and superheroes and any other number of geek signifiers, and not once has someone demanded my card or written on CNN about what a fake I am. If I’m here and I’m playing games, it’s assumed that I’m doing it because I like it, and the rest of my identity is free to be as eclectic as I please.

  7. Switchbreak makes a good point that the authenticity question is a question we ask much more of women than men.

    Also, to make you feel better here are my own confessions: I’ve never played a single MMO, the only comics I’ve read were Dead Space comics, I have zero interest in Dr. Who primarily because it doesn’t appeal to me aesthetically and I last watched an episode of Star Trek in 1998.

    I do love space, though. :-P

  8. Shannon says:

    “Most TV shows that ‘geeks’ are into are shows that I’ve never watched or haven’t been able to get into such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Torchwood, Supernatural, Arrested Development, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, Fringe, etc. and I can’t seem to enjoy anime no matter how much I try.”

    I like your article! And I have to say I feel the same way – but I have to say that most of these shows don’t stand up to a feminist/literary/media critique so I don’t really feel bad. I may be geeky as all hell, but I have *standards.* :D

    • Jellyfish says:

      I disagree. These are also some of the best written, acted and directed genre shows of the last couple of decades IMO. Some have even excelled in creating great and influential female characters and relationships, and represent important landmarks in the portrayal of women in sci fi and fantasy. Some of them are award winning and widely recognised which is a big deal considering how sidelined genre shows are by mainstream award bodies. I’ve learned a lot about writing and characterisation (and yes, feminism) from these series’ triumphs as well as their failures.

      I’m not trying to be argumentative but in my experience I’ve seen so many people in ‘geek circles’ dismiss shows/films/games they’ve hardly or never watched or played. I find myself doing it sometimes too and I have to hold myself back. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism in geek culture- there is such a pressure to know everything that when a gap in someone’s knowledge is exposed that person tries to paper over it by saying ‘meh, who cares, it sucks anyways’. I think geek culture is bad at distinguishing between ‘Personally I’ve never been able to enjoy this thing’ and ‘This thing sucks and has no value.’

      • Shannon says:

        Shrug. It’s all opinion. I also really don’t think there is a litmus test for how much rubbish media you have to consume before you’re allowed an opinion on it. That and given how generally exclusionary geek media is, I don’t think marginalised people should have to stomach all the -isms and phobias just because otherwise they’re “not allowed” to have an opinion.

        I do also think that learning from media is one of the reasons that geek culture is so stale for the most part – so much of the most popular shows at the moment are rehashings or recyclings or reboots or Lorde help us, a medley of tropes with zero self-awareness (at least the latter is fun to pick apart…).

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  10. BourneApprox says:

    My primary takeaway from this article was that maybe it’s time to just flat-out retire the word “geek.” Even as a cultural descriptor it’s become so broad as to mean absolutely nothing. Does it mean the sci fi/fantasy/comics interests? Tech-saviness? Respect for science? Does it mean the obsessiveness? The fandom? The social outcast status? Maybe it’s just that I’m getting old, but basing identity on cultural consumption seems like a recipe for exclusion rather than inclusion. Particularly in a world where “geek” encompasses not only the unpopular kids at the lunchtable, but the founders of multi-billion dollar tech corporations. We’re people who share a broad set of semi-related, often overlapping interests, rather than a distinct social caste. At some point “geek culture” just became mainstream culture.

  11. Matt says:

    Sometimes I wonder if I should just stop using nouns to refer to human beings, with some specific exceptions (human being, individual, person, etc.).

    The entire issue feels so utterly manufactured and designed to create a new niche for conspicuous consumerism for people who would otherwise think they’re too smart for that sort of thing, that I’m feeling slightly repelled from newer things I might otherwise have liked.

  12. Tzu says:

    The “geek community” is murky and loosely drawn at best. Many of the better known and oft cited interests of geekdom are based on exclusion, sexism, racism, and the glorification of white power. Some brief examples in no particular order: orientalism (often via anime), steampunk (the idealization of the Victorian and Industrial eras-times of waxing European power), fanservice (particularly in video games/anime as related to the objectification of women), and power fantasies (via games and comics, often the sites of prejudices). Thus, it is logical that a community that contains many such elements create both a simultaneously difficult to define and harshly enforced code of conduct for what it is to be a “geek.” This makes it very easy to be singled out as an outsider for almost any reason. In my own life, I often feel like I’m an “outsider” in the geek community simply because I’m an exclusively PC using gamer. Mario references carry little weight, Zelda game names are a foreign language of subtitles, and I took more flak than a WWII fighter plane when the nostalgic platformer Braid elicited a lukewarm reception from me. All of this frequently makes me feel distant from other geeks despite the fact that I’ve been gaming since Doom and Quake. The fact of the matter is that if you stray from the hazy definition of geekdom in any way, be it by choice or by birth, you will be judged and othered to some extent by the zealous geek guardians of the internet and beyond.

    However, it is my belief that socially conscious blogs like this one represent a different spectrum of geekdom; one that is newer, cleaner, and more intelligent. Thus, as contributor, reader, or supporter, one is still placed squarely in the soil of geekdom even if one has little experience beyond the blogs. Such an interest is not outside the community, but rather in the avant-garde.

  13. jccalhoun says:

    The whole “fake geek girl” is, obviously, super sexist. I’m a straight white man near 40 and although I’ve seen pretty much every scifi and horror movie anyone would care to name and tons and tons of FPS games, I haven’t played basically any console games since the NES era with the exception of the original playstation and original xbox. Never played a metroid game or megaman. The only Zelda game I’ve played is Occarana of Time (which I can’t even spell right). I only played Final Fantasy 7 and part of 8 before I got bored. Never played World of Warcaft or Everquest. Only played Starcraft like once and never played Diablo. Don’t play DotA or LoL. Don’t like fantasy so I’ve never read any Game of Thrones and the only HBO show I’ve ever seen is Curb Your Enthusiasm (oh, I did fall asleep halfway through an episode of Sex in the City once). I’ve never played Settlers of Catan or any boardgames that you couldn’t find at Walmart. I read comic books but I don’t read X-Men or Batman.

    I could go on and on but basically there are huge holes in my video game playing experience and “geek” experience. Despite this, I’ve never, ever, been called a “fake geek.” I’ve little doubt that if I were a woman, this wouldn’t be the case.

    To slightly derail, I am interested in what we get out of calling ourselves “geek?” I don’t call myself that. Maybe it is because I’m old enough to remember being called a geek was unambiguously bad. Maybe it is my straight white male privilege to chose not to label myself. I’m not sure.

  14. DJ says:

    I don’t identify as a geek in the first place so that solves that problem for me. I am too cool (also bad at math and science). Julie’s got the shape of it: being a geek didn’t used to be cool. It’s only cool now because it’s become a club that people (especially people who were themselves outsiders before) can be elitist and shitty about. No thanks.

    I simply like the things I like, don’t care about the things I don’t, and that makes me more authentic than someone who wants to berate you for not knowing enough about Star Wars or only having enough time and money to play the kinds of games you like.

  15. ERose says:

    Personally, I don’t actually care if I’m a “geek” or not, so I’m also not actually interested in whether my geek bonafides pass some test. I get annoyed at the whole “fake geek girl” conversation for two major reasons – 1) I don’t appreciate a bunch of total strangers attempting to police whether I ought to be “allowed” to recreate as I please assuming I am breaking no laws and not actively making a nuisance of myself the way I would if I were, say, barging up to other people and demanding they establish their right to be there. 2) Far too often a major indicator of “fakeness” is an unavailability to geek men. I mean, I don’t figure a genuine interest in books is at all correlated with whether you’re willing to talk about authors you like when I see you at the library and then go get coffee after. It’s really not reasonable for me to get upset if a mutual interest in Victorian literature doesn’t automatically mean you’re in the mood to talk Great Expectations with someone you’ve never met. You’d think the same would apply at a con or comic book store or midnight premier.

  16. Nonny Blackthorne says:

    You’re not faking! But you are not the only girl geek I’ve heard this from; I have had similar concerns, myself, even though I am very definitely geeky (and second generation at that — I grew up reading SFF and going to Star Trek cons with my mom!).

    The idea that you have to have experienced ALL THE GEEKY THINGS EVER to be a Real True Bonafide Geek is, to put it bluntly, fucking asinine. Look, I know plenty of male geeks that don’t like Star Wars or Star Trek, don’t like certain types of video games, haven’t read Neil Gaiman, so on and so forth… and nobody really questions whether they’re geeks. But women get judged a lot more, and the bar is set higher… when there shouldn’t be a bar at all. :(

  17. Christina Nordlander says:

    I feel the same way about subcultures as I do about religions: if someone says that they’re something, that’s enough. Whether that “something” is “Muslim” or “geek”.

  18. marco says:

    To be honest, I can relate. I just don’t like Neil Gaiman (ironically, I feel ashamed for that around my SO’s English major mother and our English major friend, both who enjoy and talk about him somewhat often), and a good part of our friend group is into Firefly/Torchwood/Doctor Who and I just can’t feel it. But it’s interesting to me the spaces in which I feel (technical) geek culture and how I can/can’t relate and feel welcome (by my own feelings and no one else’s).

    On the otherhand, I am a manga/anime geek and am fortunate that a majority of our friend’s are, and one particular friend and I stand in different ways as the two main geeks there at times (me for older stuff and her for recent stuff, with some overlap). Same goes with gaming to an extent, but with it spread more evenly in the group. And yet, I sometimes feel like my knowledge or geekness is overlooked or something? I guess I just feel that I’m not considered geek enough at times on these matters when they’re not directly consulted/discussed with me (and instead with a guy that may not know as much or definitely doesn’t), and sometimes the circumstances aren’t that simple. Nonetheless, the feeling happens, and I have to kind of navigate my through the fact that it came up, and figure out the situation for myself (is it just me being paranoid/insecure? Or was I actually being a bit excluded?).

    Geekdom is just really weird to me. I feel like different criteria always shift (and not just between groups, spaces and individuals), and that between one’s self and those we interact with (or don’t even) in these different groups/spaces, it’s hard to keep track of anything (what makes geekdom, what is appropriate to be a geek of, etc). What I am not a geek of, I’m pretty open about as well, because I can’t keep up with the conversations and I really just get bored if I try to (even when I know quite a bit about it but am just not into it). But at the same time, sometimes I don’t like professing myself as a geek (though I have a bad habit of trying to be overly knowledgeable and spouting out anything I know), because I don’t want people to question my geek status; more like, I don’t want them questioning how much I know about something and how much I love it.

  19. Lise says:

    I definitely don’t think you’re alone. I too feel this way. I’m not sure if it’s specifically “fake geek girl” syndrome or a more general “imposter” syndrome. It probably is more common in women, overall, though I can’t say for certain.

    But yeah, I have this feeling a lot. I joke that I am a “fantasy hipster” because I tend to know about fairly obscure series, or the niche areas of popular series. If you need to know stuff about Dragaera, or the Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft, or obscure Elder Scrolls lore, I’m your girl. But I watch very little “geeky”TV or movies, don’t read comics, don’t play console games, and read exceptionally little SF. There are many geek touchstones–Zelda games, any of the works of Joss Whedon, superheroes–that just go over my head.

    I think I need to accept it’s just not realistic that I’m going to be able to catch up on ALL popular media. Geekishness is, I opine, really about the obsessiveness; the topic is a little incidental.

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  21. JV says:

    Perhaps it is just my background, but I never saw geekiness as being related to exposure to any specific culture/media. There has been a trend in recent years for people to say, “I love this show, I’m such a geek” or “I’m so nerdy I’ve read all of the books in this series twice”, and I think this is part of why it has become more socially acceptable (and even desirable) to be seen as a geek. It has become simply another term to describe a set of common interests, in this case encompassing things such as sci-fi, fantasy, video games, comics, science and math. That is, I think, where this whole notion of geek hierarchies and “real geeks” come from. You’re not a *real* geek unless you like and/or have seen these things, read these things, partaken of “geek culture”.

    But the way the term was always used when I first learned English was to describe someone who was so passionate about their interests that others could not help but roll their eyes and say “Oh, there she goes on about molecular biology/music composition/16th century poetry/cinematography/string theory again.” And while I refer to supposed “intellectual pursuits” as examples here, even someone who was so into sports that they had memorized the stats of every football player would be called a “football nerd”. In other words, to be a geek it does not matter where your interests lie, just that you are engaging them to the fullest even if it means that others think you are weird to care so deeply about something that seems trivial to them.

    In the end, a word is just a word, but I think I prefer the second definition. The first is a way of putting yourself in a box, a word that can be used to conjure up a quick stereotype of who one is (and which promotes an implicit hierarchy based on how well one fits that stereotype). The second seems to me to be the opposite, a word that means “My interests lie where they lie, and phooey to you if you think that it is wrong for me to pursue them because it doesn’t fit into your preconceived notions of what I should like”.

  22. FairyGodfeather says:

    I am the fakest geek of all.

    My main problem is I have a short attention span and I lose interest. Even things I previously liked, I’ll lose interest in and wander away and miss the last season or the last few books, or the third installment of the trilogy.

    I’m terrible at computer games. I’ve not played any mainstream games in years. I do play games extensively but mostly indie games, browser based flash games, and story based games.

    I don’t own a tv. I’ve not seen most of the geek shows people speak about extensively. I’m not even a huge fan of movies.

    I absolutely love reading reviews of things though, and plot synopsis, and sometimes I’ll even watch a let’s play on youtube. I’ll read episode guides and I get far more enjoyment of that than I would actually watching/reading/playing.

    I am a fake geek who uses reviews and wikipedia like the spark-notes- cheat-sheet version of geek culture to keep me informed and you know what? It doesn’t matter. The only person’s business is mine.

    I wanted to say that I loved the above article. It was so well written and… I don’t think you’re a fake geek at all, unless you want to be. But you shouldn’t feel inferior for your lack of knowledge in certain areas. Not everybody can know every single aspect of geeky things, there’ll always be some obscure thing out there.

    Just enjoy the areas of geekdom that you enjoy and do it how you get the most pleasure out of it.

  23. J. Keep says:

    I had never watched Star Wars until I was in my mid twenties, never touched a tabletop RPG system even in the slightest until I was nearly thirty, haven’t read a comic book since I was a teenager and can’t stand anime. Top that off with the fact that when it comes to video games I’m not big on most ultra-violent stuff, and I remain a big fan of what has been described to me more than once as “fake geek girl games” like Zelda and Mario (basically most anything by Nintendo, as I’m still a child at heart).

    Yet from the time when “geek” was a moniker that was thrust upon me for being a weirdo/outsider, to the time when I was still described by others as one yet with positive connotations, I’ve never had my “geek credentials” called into question. Being a cis male means I’m above such suspicions I guess.

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