Monday, June 17, 2013

Geek + Femme = Geektacular

It's coming up to the time of year when my geekiness burst forth full force - it's nearly time for the Supanova Expo in Sydney! As you might have gathered from my post about the Melbourne Supanova Expo, I get pretty darn excited about these pop culture expos. It's a chance to spend a couple of days in the company of people who get my jokes and like the same things I do, regardless of whether we actually know each other or not. For someone who is used to being regarded as the "weird" one, it's a blessed relief I look forward to every year. What does this mean for you, my dear readers? It means this is the start of a WEEK OF GEEK here at The Reluctant Femme!

Apart from getting me stupidly hyper, the impending con has also got me thinking about how my geekiness intersects with my femme fascination. One of these things is much older than the other - I've been a geek, a nerd, a dyed in the wool weirdo since I picked up my first fantasy book at about six. All things femme however have only held any interest for me over the last couple of years, and I started thinking about how my geekiness might have contributed to me being so femme-shy for so long. I've written here before about how the perception that makeup, fashion, and femme were for "other" people held me back for a long time, but I've since realised that my reluctance to be anything like the popular kids only carried through until maybe the last year of high school. After that, the popular kids and I went our separate ways, and I don't think I've spent any significant time with anyone "normal" since then. This means there was still something else encouraging me to shy away from femme, something encouraging me to deny and smother any inklings of interest I experienced. And I think that sadly, it's largely down to spending so much time with geeks.

I would NEVER have been on the Cool side of this list
If you're not part of the geek/nerd community, it can be hard to understand how defensive it can be. One of the defining characteristics of almost every nerd I've ever met is that they love to judge people on their "geek cred". How much do they know? How big is their collection? How much of this media have they consumed? How much do they love this thing that you love? This judgement goes double for girls, because there are a lot of nerds who have the stubbornly old fashioned view that the world of geek should be a strictly "no girls" club. While this view is becoming less prevalent than when I was a wee proto-Cassie, it's still quite viciously alive and kicking - just take a look at the crap Anita Sarkeesian copped for daring to tweet that maybe video games could have some more female characters. And that's just what happens when a girl tries to open her mouth and voice an opinion in a geek space. The apparently endless debate over Fake Geek Girls - how to define them, whether they exist, what threat they post - shows that just being Not A Boy in a geeky space is enough to piss some people off.

Now I'm older and tougher, I know this sort of bullshit for the mysoginist crap it is, and know to not put up with it. But Proto Cassie just wanted friends. I just wanted people to like me, especially people who liked all the same shows and movies and books as me. It seemed too good a deal to throw away. So when I saw my geeky male friends dumping on "girly girls" for being Fake Geek Girls, I didn't tell them to shut up. I just decided to do everything I could to make sure I wasn't deemed too Fake to be friends with. It was as simple as that. The boys I wanted to be friends with got to define what was and wasn't acceptable for me as a girl in "their" space, and I went right along with it.

Which is a bit shit, now I stop and think about it like that.

Of course, I didn't think about it like that at the time. I just wanted friends, and if the rules were that as a girl I would be taken less seriously and possibly made fun of for being too girly, then I was willing to go along with that. I began to pride myself on being different to "normal" girls, on subverting the expectations of the geek boys I met. The first LAN parties I went to, I made a point of letting the guys know I had no issue with them watching porn while I was around - not like "normal" girls would. I showed them I could keep up with, and even beat them at games like Doom - I just made sure I didn't beat them too often, and was still suitably impressed by how good they were. I made sure they all knew just how smart I was, and how much I knew about a wide variety of subjects - not like those "normal" girls who didn't use their brains. It hadn't occurred to me yet that one could in fact use their brain AND care about their appearance, so I went ahead and assumed that my male geek friends were right when they said pretty girls were stupid. I wore cargo pants and t-shirts to show how relaxed and low maintenance I was in comparison to "normal" girls. I spent the vast majority of my first couple of years out of home trying desperately to prove to the geek boys I knew that I deserved to hang out with them. I very much felt as if I would be judged for being too femme, that my opinions would carry proportionally less weight the more feminine I appeared.

Interestingly, the first thing that got me out of this rut was sex. I started having it, and quickly decided I would like to have some more of it please. But the geek boys I knew weren't interested in sleeping with me. Not only did they view any woman who appeared interested in them with ENORMOUS suspicion, I'd spent years doing everything I could to convince them I wasn't REALLY a girl, not in a girly sort of way, which funnily enough really hurt their perception of me as a sexual option. So after a while, I started spending more time with boys who wanted to have sex with me, and less with the ones who liked the same things that I did. It took me a long time to find a nice balance between the two., but I did eventually figure it out. It just took me a little longer again to shake the idea that I wasn't "allowed" to be femme.

The second thing that helped me become more comfortable with the idea that being femme doesn't effect your geekiness (or your intelligence) in the slightest was meeting some amazingly femme, awesomely geeky women who served as role models of a sort. (Some of you are probably going to recognise yourselves in the upcoming paragraphs - I apologise in advance if this comes across as fangirly and weird, I just think you're awesome)

At first, most of them were of the "alternative" school of femme - goth types with piercings and rainbow hair, or rockabilly babes with perfect coiffs and even more perfect eyeliner. They could wear the longest and spangliest of fake lashes without their eyes watering, but also built computers in their spare time. It was good to know that they didn't feel their delight in having long, blood red manicures clashed with their obsessive knowledge of Harley Quinn, but I did always feel like they were exceptions to a lot of rules anyway. In that wonderful way my brain does, it twisted their alternative aspects into a reason why *I* couldn't pull off being femme and geeky, by reasoning that they pulled it off so well BECAUSE they were so alternative and cool. I've never been as alternative as I wanted to be, and lord knows I've never been cool, so I felt like I still wasn't really "allowed" to be femme and geeky.

Then much more recently, I've met some femme geeks who aren't alternative at all. They come across as entirely and utterly "normal". They shop at the same shops as "normal" girls, they have normal colour hair and wear things I've seen in Vouge; but some of them also get SUPER excited about having lab quality glassware, or organising a cabinet of CAT5 cable into a nice neat pattern. While I would still consider these women rather cooler than me, they aren't alternative at all. So if alternative femmes can be geeky, and mainstream femmes can be geeky, why can't *I* be femme and geeky?

The answer is, of course, that I absolutely can. And I'm doing my best to make up for lost time now I've finally figured this out.

When I look around me at geek culture now, I get the impression I'm just one of millions of women waking up to this realisation. There is getting to be a huge amount crossover between femme and geek, especially when it comes to accessories and cosmetics. You might remember the rocking Stargate pendant I picked up from Artitude at the Melbourne Supanova, and for the Sydney Supanova I've got my eyes on a bracelet from Glam Comix who make stylish and sexy accessories out of comics. Simply plug "geek jewellery" into Etsy and you'll be overwhelmed with more choice than you could possibly ever need! Indie polish makers like Loki's Lacquer are always putting out geek themed nail polish collections, and there are a couple like Fanchromatic who ONLY do geeky nail polish. There is even a geek-centric cosmetics company, Geek Chic Cosmetics, who release their eyeshadow collections by show and have a Riddick themed solid perfume. (I will have a review and interview with them up later this week!)

These will be mine. Oh yes, they will be mine.
The exponential explosion in the indie market has meant that people can make what they like, and it turns out people really like geek chic and nerd femme. This increased availability I think helps contribute to the normalisation of being geeky and femme. If every geeky girl you know has some sort of femme affectation, be it a TARDIS pendant or Farscape themed eyeshadow, it becomes harder to view geek and femme as necessarily distinct and separate. If you see more and more geek girls who are also proudly femme, it becomes less unusual and confronting, and becomes more acceptable. There are still male geeks who will judge, and cry Fake Geek Girl - but they're ever so slowly being drowned in a sea of Zelda earrings and Super Mario nail polish, and I couldn't be happier.


  1. I think it's not just geekdom that suffers from this. At the most basic level, I think my generation (born in the 60s) got the choice of looks or brains. And to be taken seriously as an intelligent person, any hint of femininity was not helpful. Individuals aside, Australia remains quite a misogynistic society. It's quite depressing.

    1. I'd be interested to see how prevalent this attitude is outside geek culture - I'm pretty much unable to get outside of it from where I stand these days :)

  2. I arrived in Australia in my early twenties already nerdy & geeky & femme. I found I got more negative feedback on the femme part from lady-geeks than gentleman-geeks. I now think maybe I wasn't playing by the rules and downplaying the girliness.
    Also it got better. It just took me longer to befriend Australian women than men. This was strange as my Finnish friends were nearly exclusively female.
    So for me it's all mixed up with being foreign and working out Australian culture while developing new geeky interests.
    I only got into showy, aggressive girliness in the last 6 years or so. I felt a bit suffocated at the end of my first relationship which involved a lot of time trying to please him rather than myself. It started with sockdreams and developed from there. Life is so much more fun since I stopped trying to please anyone but myself with fashion.
    Also I agree that a lot of my female friends, who are also mostly geeky, have more visibly started reclaiming feminine looks. I think it's actually quite empowering.

    1. I think your point about the female geeks objecting more strongly than the male geeks to you being femme is an interesting one. I didn't experience this myself simply because the geeks I hung out with didn't really hang out with other girls (I was the token girl), but I've heard this observation from a couple of other people. I wonder if the hostility comes from a feeling that you're "getting away" with something they feel they can't?

      Also, Sockdreams is the debbil.

  3. Also, recently I was talking with a bunch of my make friends about weight and differences in how women and men are observed and food policed etc. And one of my friends said, I might get more vocal attention for my shape, because I 'dress like a skinny girl, but you're not'. He qualified it with a lot of I hope this doesn't offend etc. I thought it was actually pretty cool that he thought of me that way.

    1. *blinks* It took me a couple of goes to get my head around that statement, but I guess if he meant is as a way of observing that you don't dress self consciously, that IS a compliment.

    2. Yeah. It was weird and hard to explain, but it didn't feel like a rebuke, but definitely a it's great that you do that because your body looks pretty good.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Melissa :) If you're into Janeway, you're going to want to swing past later in the week!


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