I have been a nerdy girl all my life. This love of science fiction, video games, and comic books wasn’t just some phase that I went through; at some point society stepped in and taught me all about “normal”. Girls are supposed to like make up and doing their hair and all things pink, right? I know I’m over simplifying a stereotype, but you get my point. This idea of normal and the pressure to conform to it can be immense. As a girl who also does like a lot of “girl” things, it was just easier for me to compartmentalize myself and the things I liked as shareable or secret. I didn’t stop watching Star Trek and playing video games; I just didn’t publicize those activities. Even as an adult, this behavior continued. I had developed a love of MMO’s, Firefly, Dr. Who, and tabletop gaming, but I didn’t generally talk about those things outside of my small group of friends who shared those interests; and then I met Jondi.
Jondi and I became fast friends and in October 2011 I finally gave in to her gentle prodding about the D20 Girls Project. What could be better than an organization full of women who loved the things that I loved? But the more I embraced the side of me that qualified me as a nerd girl, the more I realized just how out of my depth I truly was. There seemed to be this unwritten list of requirements for claiming to like something, as if a fandom were some sort of old school boys club that I had no right asking for membership unless I could remember the character who died in episode 3 or what the main character’s mother’s maiden name was.
I went to my first convention in March of 2012 and I instantly found that I both loved and hated conventions with equal passion. Here you are, surrounded by the things you love and people who also love those things, but if you express interest in a fandom you suddenly have to prove your right to like it. The word fake flows pretty freely through all of nerddom, but it wasn’t until that first convention that it hit me how similar to high school this had become. The desire to be normal hadn’t changed, but the definition of normal had taken on new meaning… and I still didn’t qualify. I love Dr. Who, but I haven’t watched even a full season in order and somehow I suddenly felt like that was important; like I couldn’t really claim to love Dr. Who because I hadn’t put in the same amount of hours as the fans who have watched every season and movie ever produced. I was suddenly immensely afraid of saying anything about Dr. Who at all for fear that I’d be quizzed, fail, and be labeled fake. At some level this also made me question if I could really say I loved Dr. Who, even to myself.
This sudden bout of self-doubt could have easily pushed me back into that shell where I’d put my nerdy hobbies neatly into their boxes and pretend that I wasn’t as into them as I thought I was. But being part of the D20 Girls had introduced me to an amazing group of girls who have never once held their nerd cred over me. Instead of feeling fake, I embraced my lack of knowledge as a problem of education, not a lack of passion. To put it more simply, it became a perfect excuse to throw myself into being a nerd.
In recent months a spotlight has been turned onto the issue of “fake” nerd girls. And while this isn’t a new sentiment, it is disheartening. It’s an issue we can all relate to. We’ve seen those girls at conventions wearing skimpy outfits and it’s easy to let jealousy or cattiness color our perception of these girls. We pick apart their costumes and ask them questions about the nerddom they are promoting and when they don’t know “enough”, we tear them apart. This behavior is not limited to cosplayers; it’s as familiar as the hallways of the high school that we thought we left behind. We grow up comparing ourselves to others and pointing out others’ flaws to distract from our own. We want everyone to look at someone else because we’re afraid that if they don’t, they’ll turn all that animosity on us instead.
We seem to forget that underneath the skimpy costume is a girl who tried her best to look like the character she’s portraying; it’s a double edged sword. The girls who don’t fit the body type are torn apart, but a girl who can rock those costumes is called slutty and fake. Have we forgotten that the characters they are portraying wear these outfits too? I could go on and on about the way that females are portrayed in most nerddoms and how unrealistic those images often are, but I won’t. The point I’m trying to make here is that you’re bashing someone for trying to fit a mold that is incredibly hard to actually squeeze into, and most of the time they do it for no other reason than for the love of the source material. Sometimes that love comes with larger doses of knowledge than others. I’m not naive, I do realize that sometimes girls squeeze into these outfits because they were hired to do so, and occasionally they not only don’t know anything about what they’re wearing but they don’t care that they don’t know either. We often forget that those booth babes are employees. Hired by vendors or sponsors to work these events and this job, like so many others, often comes with a uniform. It would be easy to claim that we should be mad at vendors for hiring these girls but that’s not fair either. The vendors are there to make money, and this form of marketing is clearly working for them, which speaks more to the market that they are selling to. So why is it that in this scenario, it’s the girl that we’re angry at?
As a community we should be welcoming new faces, encouraging people to embrace their hobbies, and grow in their fandoms. And that isn’t about what your gender happens to be or how many hours you’ve logged or even the amount of facts you know. It’s about the sheer joy you get from something you love. We need to fully embrace that feeling of community and stand up and say that we’re not ok with bullying. I was struggling with my feelings on this issue when I stumbled across a Facebook group called Pigtails for Peace. This amazing group was started by a girl who had enough of being bullied. Her response to being bullied for wearing pigtails to school wasn’t to yell and scream or get violent; she made her statement by continuing to wear them and getting her friends to wear them too. Now they’re getting national recognition for standing up to “bullies of every gender, race, domestic lifestyle, and social class.” I like that message and the fact that standing up to these bullies is as simple as a set of pigtails.
For this issue of the D20 Girls Magazine I asked the D20 Girls across the nation to take pictures of themselves in pigtails and nerdy shirts or cosplays. The message in these images is one of pride, in ourselves and in our fandoms. It’s also a message of resolution: to stop making the idea of being nerdy into a competition and to start making it about sharing what we love with others. And perhaps most importantly, it’s an admission of our imperfect natures. We aren’t perfect, but we’re still learning and growing, and we’re making an effort. ALBinWonderland, a youtube vlogger, said it best: “There is no such thing as fake geek girls. There are only girls who are at different varying levels of falling in love with something that society generically considers to fall under the nerd culture category.” I’d argue that this could apply to even those booth babes, if they just gave nerddom a real chance. Until then, let’s all stop pointing fingers at each other and simply enjoy the fact that we share a love for some really awesome things. You could always follow the golden rule: if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.