Young Bluestockings Essay Finalist: Nerd Culture

Princess Leia in Star Wars

The first time I was deemed a “Fake Geek” was at seven years old during my class’ Halloween celebration, that golden period of time when you actually wanted parents to attend your parties because, hey, free food and a ride home on something that wasn’t a school bus.

I was feeling pretty fierce in my Princess Leia costume, pretending that the playground slide was the Tantive IV and staring pityingly at the kids with lame costumes – come on, you’ve been a ladybug for three years in a row – while my buns were positioned perfectly. Suddenly, not giving me enough time to pull my blaster ray, three boys stole my wig and ran, laughing and dangling it over the tan bark.

“Why’d you do that?” I yelled, throwing my arms over my real hair in an attempt to maintain the illusion.

“You’re a girl!” they said. “You don’t know Star Wars.”

But I did “know Star Wars,” and my classmates had unknowingly illustrated one of the most expansive, problematic elements of nerd culture, one that has become glaringly obvious as comic books and their film adaptations take a turn for mainstream media.

While these boys did not intentionally perpetuate a sexist stereotype, the oppressive nature of their and others’ limitative statements have pervaded the culture to such an extent that female nerds everywhere have been disregarded as “fakes.” They are sometimes accused of coercing men to have sex with them by feigning interest in video games, comic books, and science fiction and called “sluts,” a word often thrown at women in an attempt to shame female sexuality.

   But it’s no wonder that this is happening when you take a look at the way the industries themselves portray superheroines and – villainesses. Women are either underrepresented, as seen in Microsoft’s Xbox One E3 conference – which unveiled exactly zero female protagonists – or reduced to bits and parts, as seen on the cover of Catwoman #0, where Catwoman is contorted to an impossible degree in order to showcase her assets. The usage of the female body as a prop in comic books furthers the idea that a woman’s place is under the control of a man. If she dares step outside of her pigeonhole, she is immediately beaten down and told to “get back in the kitchen,” an egregiously outdated sexist ideal.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to be heroic and empowered in a skimpy outfit; I wouldn’t be complaining if that were the case. A trip to any comic book store will reveal the exact opposite of strong, dominant women in sync with their sexuality. Instead, the aisles are filled with increasing levels of female nudity coupled with clearly fetishized portrayals of Asian and African American women, all in submissive positions.

While Marvel Comics has made leaps and bounds through the recent release of books detailing a team of powerful, racially-diverse heroines, DC Comics has regressed by attempting to erase one of the earliest feminist icons in the business – Lois Lane.

Lois appeared before any other supporting character in the Superman mythos and paved the way for other ambitious, intelligent businesswomen such as Pepper Potts and Mary Jane Watson, who, although not blessed with the privilege of physical power, were the backbones for the “hero,” not objects of their desire. She endured years of objectification at the hands of male writers but reemerged as the powerful businesswoman that she was meant to be, only to be left without a variant cover on Superman’s 75th anniversary.

Just as DC attempted to fit Wonder Woman into the confines of the male gaze, they can’t seem to handle Lois as she was meant to be written – instead, they ignored her.

Similar displays of sexism are seen, as I witnessed in fourth grade, on online forums and during public events, such as Comic-Con. Many male comic book readers deny a female presence in their “realm,” either because they aren’t aware that nearly half of all comic book fans are, in fact, female, or because acknowledging real, intelligent women is threatening to their imagined dominance. They are, after all, females and thus automatically ineligible for categories of esteemed knowledge or prowess. To establish their supreme power over everything, these men humiliate girls who dare to like Star Wars or play “manly” video games or dress up as comic book characters for Halloween, putting them back into their respective boxes – the only place they’re comfortable seeing women.

Of course, comic book culture isn’t the only offender, and many writers and readers are very respectful and cognizant of the industry’s problems, but it’s one of the most blatantly anti-feminist assortments of people and media I’ve seen yet. Until major companies such as DC and Microsoft acknowledge the need for a change, there won’t be one.

I shouldn’t have to dodge laughs and stares and hear disgustingly exploitative jokes when I go into my local comic book store. I want more Halloween costume options than a slingshot that barely covers my chest (I’m looking at you, Forrest J. Ackerman, creator of Vampirella.) I want to talk about things that I love without worrying about “proving myself” to a group of Yu-Gi-Oh! players who think that nerd culture and masculinity are inextricably linked, as if being a male is the most important requirement in gaining entrance to “their world.”

These false expectations are partially the fault of a socially-constructed gender binary that separates humans into two distinct categories: male and female. By denying the fluidity of the gender spectrum, people attribute characteristics to certain genders, creating harmful gender roles. When men are supposed to partake in “masculine” activities and women in “feminine” ones, anyone who ventures outside the norm comes under intense scrutiny.

Dear fellow sci-fi, video game and comic lovers: Just because you can pee standing up, that doesn’t mean you have the right to publicly and purposefully humiliate me for no other reason than because I’m a girl. You do not have an automatic monopoly on Legend of Zelda or Star Trek or anything else because of your sex.

Also, I probably know more about the Clone Wars than you do.

By Haley Byam, Young Bluestockings Essay Finalist

All Images via Google Images

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