If you’re anything like me, it takes countless hours just to decide what costume you want to do, and that time doesn’t even include picking out fabric, sewing it together, working on accessories and props, and then getting it all to the convention in one piece. So once you finally have it put together and are ready to step out in all your cosplay glory, it’s disappointing when one of the first things you hear in whispered tones is “fake.”
“I bet she doesn’t even know the name of her character,” someone hisses. “She just chose the sluttiest costume she could,” another adds in. You’ve all heard someone say this; it’s quite prevalent in the cosplay community. In fact, Fake Geek Girls have taken over the media so you’ve probably heard it more than you’d like, and not without reason. Let’s face it: It’s a problem, but not in the way you might think. The problem are those who are so hung up on this label. The problem is that “fake” holds any significance whatsoever.
So what makes a Fake Geek Girl? Is it someone who shows only a passing appreciation towards comic books and video games? Someone who has seen The Dark Knight Rises but never picked up a Batman comic book? This became quite a problem when the Avengers movie came out and new fans emerged. Some had never read a comic book in their life; a few didn’t even know the backstories of all the characters even if there were previous movies that explained them. But if they enjoyed the movie and were willing to learn more, what kept these new geeks from enjoying the movie the same way as other geeks?
Well, that’s an easy answer: the geek culture. It was the other fans that kept these new little geeklings from learning anything else about the Avengers, probably due to words like “fake.” “You’re not a real Avengers fan,” one of my friends was told. “You’ve never read any of the Avengers comic books.” And they certainly weren’t likely to after being told they weren’t welcome among the “real” fans.
So how many comic books does someone have to read to be a fan? Is there a quantifiable number? I certainly didn’t take a geek cred fan test when I started encountering comic books and video games. Did any of you? The fact that there is a dichotomy between “fake” and “not fake” means that there is a line between the two, but the problem lies in the fact that the line is unable to be pointed out. Do you have to read three comic books? A dozen? A whole run of something? Read a Wikipedia article on the character? Collect their image in poster and figure format? If someone can tell me where the line is, I’ll happily retract my statement that the title “fake” makes no sense at all. But there is no line, so no one can tell me.
I once had a pop quiz given to me by a guy whose Transformers tattoo I liked. “Do you even know the names of them?” he asked. I named each of the Autobots and Decepticons without flaw. “I suppose you are a fan,” he said, as if his words held the power to include me in the Transformers fanbase. If he had said otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken away the love I had of Transformers. The title “fake” then is meant more to demean than to be accurate.
It’s not surprising that the word fake holds such significance in geek culture, though, and I can even understand the thought process behind it. Geeks are often bullied by their peers for their interests and shunned from non-geek society. They trade in their alpha-male physical acceptance for learning and book smarts, and this includes information absorbed about obscure comic book characters. With the new popularity wave towards superhero movies, new fans are bound to emerge; new fans that, notably, haven’t had to go through such bullying and character memorization to enjoy the movie.
That is what gets under the skin of other geeks. People are enjoying their hobby without ever having to face the shame that they did. But again, this creates an invisible line. How many times does one have to be bullied before being considered a geek? Is one time enough? Ten times? Or something in-between?
Having to qualify yourself as a geek then becomes as problematic as getting into a club, and anyone seen in the out-group (females, in this case) have to prove their right to be there. The male-geek female-outsider dichotomy is brought up in popular shows like The Big Bang Theory, which illustrates the fact that geeks are to be laughed at while Penny and the rest of the crew try to navigate the sad little lives of these dorks. With shows that highlight just how different it is to be a geek, it’s no wonder that people have gut reactions against anyone who even slightly resembles Penny and the rest of the female cast.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way. To eradicate the image of the Fake Geek Girl, first there has to be some understanding. So let’s look at it this way: all fans are fans; there are just varying degrees of knowledge among fans. I know very little about Green Lantern, but don’t expect me not to be able to drop Deadpool knowledge like a chimichanga in a fire fight. Likewise, I don’t know what a Stargate is, but I can tell you facts about the Tardis that leaves non-fans confused.
I’m very lucky in one regard. I’m not accused of being fake at every convention I go to. Whenever I put on my Eleventh Doctor costume, I’m welcomed to the fold, given hugs, told that bowties are cool (they are), and oftentimes handed a mop. I’m automatically part of the fans because I, a woman, have gone above and beyond the normal fan reaction and am crossplaying the Doctor. But other women aren’t so lucky. When they step out in the costume of their favorite characters, they’re called sluts or worse. But why am I the lucky one? Because I’m more covered?
Look at what fills the pages of comic books. Look at the expertly sculpted figures. I’m guilty of owning them. Girls sticking their butts out and turned impossibly so that you can also see their breasts. A list of unrealistic pictures of women as long as the day is. But I’m not here to point out the sexism in comics, though it is there, I’m here merely to highlight that many geeks continue with this sexism in the very communities that were formed as tight-knit groups against bullies.
If a woman wants to cosplay from a comic book, look at the costumes she has to choose from. And yet when she does the character justice, she’s attacked as a fake fan, a slut, or someone doing it just for attention.
First of all, why does the attention aspect bother people? Why is it so upsetting that someone is getting attention for their costume? Let me tell you, straight from someone who often feels looked over for not dressing as a female at conventions: It’s straight out jealousy. Go ahead and admit it to yourself. Everyone has a little green eyed monster in them. “Why aren’t you getting that attention? You know so much more than them,” the little monster whispers. And while the monster may be right (Who knows? Maybe you do know more than that person), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them wearing a costume that celebrates a character whether it does or does not garner attention.
So if girls are cosplaying for the love of a character, how do we fight the Fake Geek Girl image?
Well, it’s going to take a lot of self-reflection and effort. It’s not going to happen overnight. But I think we’re already taking important steps to fight it just by talking about it and what causes it. So pat yourself on the back. Now, get ready for some more tough advice:
If you want to combat the idea of a Fake Geek Girl, stop believing they exist. Remember what I said earlier? There are only fans in varying degrees of knowledge? That’s true. Why would anyone bother to put on a costume, pay money to go to a convention, and then stand around for pictures? For attention? Perhaps. But they could also get attention at dance clubs or other functions. Cons aren’t the only way people get attention. Even if someone knows little about a subject, they still know a bit. They’re new fans then, so don’t chase them out by acting like they aren’t fans at all.
Fake Geek Girl culture also lies in the belief that women can’t do anything without trying to attract someone sexually. Erase this thought from your mind. I certainly don’t wake up in the morning and think, “How can I find myself a mate? Perhaps I’ll go to a convention and dress like a comic book character.” While we may find women in certain costumes attractive, that doesn’t mean they’re doing it simply to attract a significant other (despite what some really adamant comic book artists believe).
Talking to girls at conventions that you suspect of being fake will also help you erase this image. You may actually find that they know quite a bit about the subject they’re cosplaying. Ask them what they have an interest in. Talk to them about their costumes, not their bodies. Talk to them about their interest in the character, what they like about the character or the comic the character is in. You may be surprised at the thought out responses.
Finally, if someone doesn’t know as much as you, don’t beat them up for it. Screaming fake and pointing will only make you look petty. Instead, why not suggest more reading for the person? Suggest things similar to their other interests. Help them dig into the geek society instead of pushing them away with accusations.
As a final note, realize that calling anyone a “fake” geek is just as much bullying as what non-geeks have done to geeks. This makes the geek community as unsafe as non-geek society, leaving little to nowhere for people to go when they are both women and fans. If you’ve ever been guilty of contributing to Fake Geek Girl society, take your actions into consideration and then see if you can’t reform your thinking by the methods listed above. Geek society is for everyone, so let’s make geek society safe for everyone, including those who may not know as much as you.
What are your thoughts on ‘Fake Geek Girls?’ Leave a comment below!