I recently read an article on Scientific American by Kyle Hill, one of the magazine’s affiliated online bloggers, titled “What’s in a Nerd: A Treatise”. He mainly discusses exactly what defines a nerd versus a geek and how both groups have recently seen an elevation of social status, but he touches on the concept of the “fake geek girl”, oftentimes presented as the “fake gamer girl”. He contends that the reason people in general, not just “fake geek girls”, are snubbed by nerds and geeks is essentially revenge—an idea of “you snubbed us, so we’ll snub you unless you can show us your nerd/geek credentials”. Unfortunately, girls are generally viewed as fakers until proven otherwise within the geek/nerd community, to the point where ‘real’ geeks and nerds attempt to actively drive geek girls out.
Truthfully, there probably isn’t a set definition of what a geek or a nerd is, and there probably isn’t a set boundary between the two, although Hill’s blog post does attempt to break it down via graph, in which one axis is geek and the other is nerd. But I think fundamentally geeks and nerds share one thing in common—a love for something. It could be science, Halo, Jane Austen novels, octopuses, tomatoes—as long as someone has a passion about something it could be said that they fit the bill.
Given this definition, how could anyone possibly be a faker? I think the assumption of the fake geek girl lies under several assumptions, not all of which are related to outdated, preconceived notions of gender. I think there’s an underlying misconception that loving something involves collecting anything and everything related to said thing and having near-encyclopedic knowledge of it. Furthermore, loving something means that you have to love all of it, no matter how problematic it might be. Of course, given this rigid definition of love, it’s a wonder that anyone could be considered a ‘proper’ geek/nerd. This is, of course, the assumption that does not in and of itself rely on gender, but it often gets tied in to the gender-based assumptions.
Nerds and geeks are most often associated with science (be it fiction or fact), math, video games, and comics. The underlying assumption that goes hand in hand with the one mentioned above is, of course, that girls aren’t really interested in these things. My personal view is that the stereotype of girls disliking or performing poorly in science and math comes from the idea that women are irrational, and therefore how could we possibly succeed at reason-based STEM fields? For video games and comics, I’m not quite as sure. I do know that many, if not most, video games and comics have questionable, if not downright awful, representations of women, and multiplayer video games are oftentimes full of players spewing rape threats and demands to see photographs of breasts. This doesn’t create a very good environment for geek girls, and many have voiced their protestations of how women are represented and of how they have been treated. This, of course, prompts fiery retorts based on the assumptions of love—just take a look at all the flack Anita Sarkeesian, producer of Feminist Frequency, has received for her critiques to beloved video game staples.
Many nerds and geeks who identify as men claim that they demand geek/nerd credentials from anyone and everyone who identifies as such, and while that may be true, and they do demand proof from everyone, there is an underlying difference. Girls are assumed to be involved in geek/nerd culture because of men—either we have a boyfriend involved in geek/nerd culture or we’re looking for one. Guys are assumed to be involved in geek/nerd culture because they enjoy it.
As someone who identifies as somewhere along the geek/nerd continuum, I’m in favor of a cultural shift within the geek/nerd community to eliminate the fake geek girl, even if it takes an entire overhaul of geek/nerd culture.