Fail Better: Fake Geek Girls BE YOU

7

When I was younger, I bought into the Fake Geek Girl thing pretty hard. I didn’t know anybody who observably read comics, nobody at all, and to get into my local comic shop I had to take this journey:

Down an alley of dilapidated commerce, turn right, into another small alley where you can see across a concrete square (it’s more of a covered alcove, really), through a closed door with Emma Frost wide-kneed pin-ups on it, up a rickety carpeted staircase (past wide-kneed Lady Death posters), along a small landing past Witchblade statuettes, through another closed door, into a small room in full view of one of two thin, quiet men. The floor was uneven, the architecture was Tudor probably. Heavy beams, low ceilings.

If there were other customers in there, it was never just a woman. There were never other girls. There was no help to understand which comics were current, or how they related to each other, or what any of them were about. They were all in plastic sleeves. I picked my comics from the rack that allowed me to stand in the room’s one blind spot because masculine observation appalled me. I was unhappy with puberty. But I went every week and spent £3 a pop on floppies (see how I use that word? That’s habit I learnt in order to pass myself off as the real deal) that took me ten minutes to read, full of egg-like breasts, ever-open mouths, and regularly poor storytelling, because: comics. I wanted to be a part of comics.

There were so many hurdles that I was sure and determined that I could jump them all. I would. I could learn all the trivia. I could stand scoffing at everything it did to my self-worth and body image; I could ignore and repress everything I’ve let loose on this site over the past few years. I could know all the names of all the Robins (I’ve shared this before, but once I felt so proud that I could tell people that Robin’s name was Dick Grayson, and he grew up to be a new hero named Nightwing) without giving a single genuine shit about Batman. I could buy trading cards for X-Teams that appeared once and never even had those code names in that book, talk with dry sardonicism about the Generation X film despite having neither seen it nor read the comics, and blah blah blah I could do it all. I could prove myself, OKAY. I knew it, because I knew that I needed to prove myself. I knew I wasn’t who I was supposed to be, to be comics. This was the hill I chose to die on.

stock: Calling All Girls, Parents' Magazine Publication Office, June-July 1945, digital comics museum, April 1960, digital comics museum

I got over it. But sometimes things aren’t destroyed, they just change their shape: I (gleefully, yes) refuse to give the slightest personal damn about Flagship Marvel Cinematics, because at this point… I don’t have to. I am comics. I am myself.

Having worked on this site for three years, amongst a community of people as wrong and valuable as me, I’ve blasted out the cobwebs: I sit in perfect clarity. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, because I have my own worth. My interests are for myself alone, and my identity does not rely on what I can stand, what I can take, or how little I will complain about becoming plasticine to the mould of should-be. My hobbyist identity. My “entertainment identity.” You don’t have to define yourself by stamina! Flagship Marvel Cinematics are closely related to Marvel Comics, and they have themes that I would recognise in and from their source material, and they are ambassadorial, in a way, to the comics audiences of tomorrow. I have no investment in whether or not you like them, reader, or how much. You are master and minder of that knowledge. I’ve read about the ways in which they’re good. That’s cool. But me alone, acting for me? Fuck’em. I don’t care, and I won’t care, because I no longer value the weight of subcultural obligation. Everybody is talking about them. There are so many of these films and shows, and there is constant news of them, and their boring actors, and yet still! Pay attention? I DON’T HAVE TO. Envy me this knowledge, if you don’t have it yet. It can be yours. I promise.

Instead of working to appease that bizarre am I fan enough? guilt (guilt! of all things!), I learnt to work to blow it off. Guess which worked better?

To thine own self, be true.

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About Author

The rock that drops on your head. WWAC Chief Comics Ed. Find me at claire.napier@wwacomics.com

7 Comments

  1. This is wonderful, Claire! I totally recognize this. It’s life-changing to shed the burden of being something for someone (rather than just being).

  2. I didn’t have the same experience that a lot of younger women have now. I came to comics a little later, in part because my family didn’t have the money to spend on them; my first comics were a box from a garage sale (I still have ’em, including Where Monsters Dwell #4). When I started regularly going to comic book shops, I was married, and usually with my husband. A few times I’ve felt uncomfortable in a shop, but I’ve never had to prove my geek cred like so many of you do — maybe because if I’m in a shop at 40+ without a kid in tow, I must be there on purpose and voluntarily, and maybe because I mostly go to shops where the folks behind the counter recognize me.

    I’ve had to prove my geek cred in other arenas; or I should say, I’ve declined the opportunity to do so. I’ve played World of Warcraft since the Lich King expansion. Not since Vanilla, no, and I can’t name every single raid boss (I hate raids), and I can’t recite the loot tables, or the gear tiers, or tell you which dungeons drop which mounts. I don’t care. I have had infantile players say “Tits or GTFO,” and I’ve reported and blocked them.

    I’ve also had to explain to people that the big pile of action figures on the counter were for ME, not the big guy standing behind me (as the clerk addressed him, and not me, the one with the credit card). Yeah, those nearly-500 figs in the basement, those are mine. And by the way, sexist-cashier-dudebro, only a handful of the figs are male, the rest are all female, kthxbai. (Would also like to say that for every dudebro like that one, there’s been several who are really cool about a female collector, so the toy guys are at least not as jerky in my experience.)

    So yeah, I don’t get the nasty pushback in the comic book shop, I’ve never had to prove myself there, but the gatekeepers are out there anyway. If you’re comfortable enough, shove back, if not, the hell with them and their opinions. There’s tons of supportive geek girls, so who needs ’em?

    • Claire Napier on

      I’m not glad to hear you’ve had trouble too, but I’m glad you shared the different ways that these troubles surface in slightly different areas and for slightly different demographics.

      Your last sentence is the killer, though! Our mutual community is SO important!

  3. Manga wasn’t as bad for this, because there was so much shoujo. But it was bad when it came to video games. I can remember going into a store once and seeing two girls behind the counter. I was ecstatic. Girls! Gamers! My people! My role models (as they were older)! On speaking with them, however, I realised quickly that they had been hired for their looks and knew nothing about games…

    …which is exactly what people expected from me when the roles changed and I was the game-store clerk. It wasn’t always obvious – someone would politely ask a question they did not expect me to have the answer to and would be shocked when I did – wait, how do YOU know that the Boxer breed is a collector’s edition DLC for Fable 3? I had one instance where a guy started with, “Do you know – oh, wait, you probably won’t know.” I deadpan-remarked, “No, they hired me for my pretty face. What’s your question?” His friend tried not to laugh as he balked slightly. Regaining his composure, he asked, “Which should I get, GTA or Prince of Persia?” Now I balked. I looked back at the display behind me, before turning to him with, “Well, GTA has sold out four times and no one has bought Prince of Persia. So…Yeah…” He blushed. His bro now openly laughed at him. He bought GTA and left sheepishly. We had the last laugh though – by the time I left, half the staff, including all of the management team, was female. It’s still difficult to go into shops with hubby sometimes, though. If I don’t approach them, they assume I’m just hanging with him, buying gifts, etc. It’s not until I ask them for something obscure, or something detailed, that they “suspect” I might know what I’m talking about.

  4. Initially, I didn’t have the issue of not being accepted. Instead, I was some sort of exotic anomaly. A girl who collects comics? How untypical! (That’s actually what some of my guy friends called me — “UnTypical Girl”). That was in highschool. I always had my little obsessions and, thinking back on it, despite my shyness, I never had issue wearing my Ninja Turtle rings to school or obsessing over Star Wars or Terminator and sharing my comics. I had good girls friends who liked similar things and we befriended the comic and anime shop owners. I fell into or created all the right circles (like the anime club at university), ended up working at conventions and hanging out with artists and creators. I actually have “geek cred” and could provide a resume, and yet, it’s only now in my later years — like since the 2000s, that it seems necessary for me to prove my geek girl status to people who some how don’t believe that I’ve always been part of (or ran) the damn club. It honest to goodness surprises me that *now*, people are still surprised by the fact that a woman can like geek stuff.

  5. Great post! It’s funny, after reading your perspective, I realize that fake geek girl guilt is pervasive no matter which direction you’re coming from. I’m one of the relative newbies who really dove into comics only after the Marvel movies started up. And man, was it (and still is) challenging trying to gain enough knowledge (broad and deep and in every direction) to feel like you have proven yourself to that person who knows more than you. For me it was often other geek girls on their own quest for validation rather than men. And half the time, even after passing myself off as knowing my shit, I didn’t feel any better, because there was someone else expecting me to know something else. It took me a long time to be able to just accept what I knew and what I liked for what it was – my interests!