Because I'm going to talk about something in the body of this post that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I want to bookend it with some palate-cleanser.
So, first: Tansy Raynor Roberts has a pretty entertaining series of posts on Xena: The Warrior Princess. (I have very fond memories of watching Xena on DVD with some other persons of historical bent. We found the Greek in “A Day in the Life” very confusing, until we realised whoever had done the cards had confused the orthography of their nus and upsilons. And oh, the mad yet-classically-appropriate approach to myth reuse and recycling! And the lesbian subtext. Good times, good times.)
So, what's up with all those guys in the last few months complaining about “fake geek girls”? (There's Scalzi's post on the sod from CNN in July, and then mid-November some comics artist bloke decided to have a go at female cosplayers for being neither geeky nor hot enough to satisfy him... and there are more, I'm sure.)
I suppose I'd better make a confession. I'm not a capital-F Fan. I'm not a capital-G Geek. I'm not a Nerd. I don't self-identify as part of the tribe. (I'm even reluctant to go to conventions, since all of the four times I've been to one, I've been struck by how very much out of place I was: neither middle-class nor yet middle-aged, insufficiently comfortable with the American-ness* of the occasion and the conversation, feeling rather alienated by the fact that the space I was occupying seemed to be far less heterogenous than my everyday life. About the only count on which I didn't feel out of place was gender—there. Then. At that time.)
*Articulating how this in particular is alienating to an American audience is rather like trying to find the right way of explaining drowning to fish. (Cultural hegemony! It's what's for supper!) It's a topic I'll revisit if I ever find the words.
This “fake geek” nonsense arises from a rigid sense of self-identification and stringent boundary policing among a subset of (although they don't realise it) a much wider and more permeable community. These men feel their social power being eroded by the increased visibility of a previously much more marginalised class within the community, and the misogynistic nature of their retrenchment is evident in the ways in which they rank the “fakeness” of female participants in community activity in an implied scale based upon the visibility of female sexuality. Participation in community activity is deemed (by these guys, at least) to be a male prerogative: you can be one of the guys as long as you're willing to be one of the guys, and not threaten them by either obvious difference or by being a better “guy” than they are.
So far, so much bullshit on the part of the people deploying terms like “fake geek” and “slut” to devalue the legitimacy of participation of those against whom such terms are used. Am I right?
But the problem is wider than a few... ah, gentlemen... who react to the presence of cosplayers and other visibly female women within community spaces with aggressive delegitimisation.
Do you remember Patrick Rothfuss's Fantasy Pin-Up Calendar?
Does anyone see, perhaps, a small problem with the image of women's participation in genre-community spaces implied by the promotional pictures on view? It appears that this calendar does nothing to subvert the traditional frame of the male gaze, which casts women as passive/submissive receptacles of desire, objects for consumption. The female gaze is irrelevant to this calendar project: the female onlooker is irrelevant, and the presence of active female sexual agency ignored. Not that I judge Patrick Rothfuss for his participation in such a project... but while the vision of fantasy and the voices of the genre community here aren't as hostile as the cries of “fake geek!” it still isn't exactly welcoming for people who are not heterosexual males.
It implies that we're not as much a part of the community as the people to whom this calendar is designed to appeal. And that sort of thing? That sort of thing emboldens the criers of “fake geek” (and “slut”) into imagining more people agree with them.
So who's a “real” part of the genre community and its conversations? Who gets to define “real”? Normally I'd leave questions of ontology and epistemology to those poseurs with undergrad degrees in philosophy**—but here, I think the idea of “fakeness” and legitimacy is a pretty thin smokescreen over plain old sexism.
**That crash you heard was one of the panes in my glass house going SMASH. (Half of my undergrad degree is theology. Can't throw any more stones, or it'll get draughty in here.)
There's no such thing as a “fake geek.” Who can be bothered pretending?
And to close, more Tansy Raynor Roberts. If you missed it, she's written a really interesting series examining the women of Discworld, “Pratchett's Women.” I was pointed at the ninth instalment some time ago, and went back to read them all from the beginning:
The best part is watching the way that Sacharissa steals the novel from under William’s feet. Their romance, if you can call it that, is one of those vague baffled courtships that Pratchett does so often, in which both parties spend the whole time loudly thinking about everything except their attraction to each other, and dance around the subject so subtly that you’re not always sure that he MEANT you think it was a romance at all. But for the most part, Sacharissa isn’t bothered about impressing William or finding herself a bloke – instead she, like William, falls deeply in love with the newspaper business.
This romance is a threeway.
Find Liz Bourke @hawkwing_lb on Twitter.