Geek Culture: not so great actually

A few days ago, this image came across my Facebook feed.

The accompanying text reads “F*** Barbie. I’m buying my daughter a ray-gun.”

It stood out because on the surface, it seems to be an overall good message. There are probably very few people who haven’t heard of at least one of the women on the top row. Each of them has achieved some level of fame or notoriety (or infamy). To identify any on the bottom row would require a certain level of dedication to watching science fiction space traveling TV shows, aka being a geek. I suppose I need to turn in my “geek” card somewhere because the only character on the bottom row that I could identify on my own was Zoë. But because I am a perfectionist dedicated to thoroughness, I’ve identified all 10 women for you.

The top row labeled Pop Culture:

  • Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki
  • Kristen Stewart
  • Kim Kardashian
  • Kat Von D
  • Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga

The bottom row labeled Geek Culture:

  • Claudia Black as Officer Aeryn Sun from Farscape
  • Gina Torres as Zoë Washburne from Firefly
  • Claudia Christian as Commander Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5
  • Terry Farrell as Lt. Commander Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space 9
  • Amanda Tapping as Major Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1

I find it very interesting that each of the Geek Women played military characters (or similar? I’m not 100% familiar with each of them) . (The character of Zoë Washburne was a corporal during the Unification War. (Wikipedia powers go!)) Remember this because in a few paragraphs I’m going to talk about the Strong Female Character trope. The women of Pop Culture are, of course, entertainers of one sort or another. (Kat Von D’s TLC show qualifies her for this, I think.)

At first glance a person might see this image, read the accompanying text, and give an internal “Heck yeah!” for something that goes against the “mainstream”. I know that when I first saw it I was mostly in agreement. And then I realized wait a minute, Geek Culture is actually really terrible for women. It only takes a few moments of looking at the comments on this image for that to become really apparent. A small sampling, emphasis my own. Otherwise they are all straight copy/paste, errors and all. Except for censoring a few words.

Proving that this is a “hotness” contest

Hey! They left out 7-of-9!

but in ‘real life’ most of the geek girls are fat, socially band and ugly. So I vote for the pop girls.”

Is it sad the only one that looks hot here is lady gaga? ..and I hate her..

oh man that geek one is missing seven from nine from star trek… she is far hotter than all them geek chicks

where is Scarlett Johansson?

Princess Lea in servitude to Jabba the Hutt. Nuff said.

The slurs

ovte for number 4 top row!! the top row cept last ok first three are c***s (yes i meant it to be downgrading) not to women cuz they are not that =(

Female whore models.

I hate the KarTRASHIANS so much. Lazy whores.

Beacons of hope

RIGHT ON. THis is just a different standard for men to objectify. All the comments about how there are TOTALLY hotter sci-fi chicks than these confirm it.

Geek culture has plenty of objectification of women, what about Lara Croft, the numerous sexy ladys on star trek for kirk to seduce, or how about Stevie Case or Killcreek?

Oh wait my bad, there are very very few comments like the two above. There were a few others that were quite critical. And long. And as far as I can tell, completely ignored. (Except for the one guy who made the defense that Lara Croft dresses like that because she goes to hot places.) After looking through roughly 20% of the 2400+ comments just trust me, they are the minority.

All of this, over an image that is supposedly demonstrating that Geek Culture is more supportive of women. And yet the women of the second row can’t win for losing. The women of the top row are degraded, insulted, and dismissed because of their hypersexualized existence. OK Snooki and Kristen Stewart aren’t oversexualized (that I know of), which may be worse because then they’re only being treated thus because they dare to exist. Yet the women on the bottom row are also being judged (for the most part) on their hotness, their “bangability”. Very little, if any, of the discussion about those five women had anything to do with their strength of character, flat out strength, or intelligence. No, it’s about how hot they are compared to other geek women. See again: the multitude of comments asking where 7 of 9 is because “she’s totes hotter”.

Let me show you some of the things that are going on lately in Geek Culture. The abomination that is Lollipop Chainsaw. (One of the achievements is to get up-skirt shots of other characters. And the main character is a barely-legal skimpily clad cheerleader.) This Catwoman cover. The firestorm after Anita Sarkeesian created a Kickstarter project for her “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” web series. This story about a video game journalist who quite literally had the keyboard taken out of her hands because obviously she wasn’t interested in/wasn’t capable of playing the FPS up for demonstration. And while there have been some well thought out defenses of Black Widow in The Avengers (a movie that doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test) there is this image to consider, which contrasts the ways that female superheroes are posed vs male superheroes. Video games and comics are most certainly within the realm of “Geek Culture.” Those are five things that I can name off the top of my head this month. And I haven’t even scratched the surface. So when someone (usually a guy) says “but it’s only some people who are like that!” I don’t buy it. The world is full of people “like that.”

There is a saying that I’ve heard people, well, say. “Stereotypes exist for a reason.” This is usually said right around the time that person has used a stereotype to justify their generalization of anyone who may fit a stereotype. I’m pretty sure that most everyone knows what I’m talking about, sort of like “That woman is blonde. Blondes make stupid decisions, ergo any decision that woman makes is stupid.” Pretty circular reasoning, isn’t it? Here’s the thing though: stereotypes help no one. It is one thing to make remarks that can refer to a group of people (I’ve done it in this post) and an entirely different one to assume that those remarks automatically apply to a person who is a part of that group.

I’m going to refer you to another post on stereotypes because it articulates the things I can’t. Author N.K. Jemisin wrote a very good takedown of the “strong female character” in her post “There’s no such thing as a good stereotype.” Go. Read it. Now nod your head in agreement: stereotypes are bad. For everyone.

The image that sparked my whole post does nothing but uphold and reinforce the idea that having “strong female characters” just fixes everything else that is wrong with pop culture, geek culture, and society in general. One can be critical of pop culture icons but this stuff doesn’t happen in a void and just because someone may deem pop culture to be worse than others, no one gets a free pass. I mean, look at the backlash that happened when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was photographed without wearing makeup. That same sort of criticism is likely to NEVER happen to a man of her age in a high profile position because this country (and maybe the world) is obsessed with criticizing and policing women’s appearance and behavior. Women are constantly put in double binds: can’t look too sexy but also can’t go without makeup. They are criticized for the time, money, and effort spent on their appearance and are deemed shallow and called whores, yet if they don’t do those things they’re insulted and put down for looking unattractive. She can’t be too assertive because then she’s a bitch but she also can’t be too timid because then it’s just her own fault that the wage gap still exists. Can’t sleep around because that makes her a slut but also can’t not sleep around because then she’s a prude. It’s classic rock, meet hard place. As I said before, women cannot win for losing.

And then there’s the whole “F*** Barbie. I’m buying my daughter a ray-gun” part. Just… so many issues. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of problems with Barbie. But being female and preferring to play with dolls or engage in other “traditionally feminine” activities is not the issue. Being “girly” isn’t by itself any cause for alarm. It is when those traditional female roles and activities are presented and enforced as the only acceptable options. (Lest we forget about the mens, the same is true for enforcing traditional male roles. Remember, stereotypes are bad for everyone) On the other hand, disdain for “Barbie” (where “Barbie” represents feminine things) erases a gigantic piece of society: the women (and very few men) who are the stay at home moms, the work at home moms, and the working out of the home moms who are disproportionally saddled with the every day chores of running a household. Bottom line, having a ray-gun isn’t the only way to be a strong person. Women can be heroes regardless if they’re wielding a ray-gun or a Hoover.

When does it stop? It stops when people quit using “girly” as an insult. When feminine stops being seen as “less than.” When women can have strong opinions and voice those opinions without being called a frigid, controlling, hysterical, killjoy bitch. When people stop using “pussy” to mean weak. When people stop using gendered insults altogether. When “hotness” isn’t the only criteria by which people pick their “role models.” When women stop being seen as strong only when they’re kicking ass and taking names (and also hot). And honestly, that’s just the beginning. Society’s view of women is pretty much screwed up.

I know that this is nowhere near exhaustive and there are many, many more issues that I haven’t addressed. I am NOT saying that it’s wrong for a woman to be sexy or hot. I am NOT saying that all women should be like Barbie. (Who is, incidentally, sexy and hot. Irony: how does it work?) If you think that, you’ve missed the point. Context is important. You can’t just look at one tiny section of any culture and make sweeping declarations about it. Hey, that would sort of be like perpetuating stereotypes now, wouldn’t it?

If the above words haven’t made the point that Geek Culture is just as bad as everything else, maybe an image is worth a thousand words. Here’s the most succinct response I found to the original photo:

Once again for perfection thoroughness, the third row of women:

  • Carrie Fisher as “Slave” Princess Leia from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
  • Milla Jovovich as Leeloo from The Fifth Element
  • Power Girl from The Justice League of America, DC Comics
  • Juliet Starling, main character of Lollipop Chainsaw
  • An Orion Slave Girl from Star Trek (Orion slave girls (also known as Orion animal women) were female Orions who were very popular “commodities” trafficked through the slavemarkets of the Orion Syndicate. *barf*)