Real geeks only. Apply within

Apparently, calling yourself a geek is a minefield. If you don't meet someone else's arbitrary requirements, you don't belong in the club.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
4 min read

Apparently, calling yourself a geek is a minefield. If you don't meet someone else's arbitrary requirements, you don't belong in the club.

(Treehouse in ToonTown image by Dazdncnfuzd333, public domain/CBSi)

Not this old song again. Forbes blogger Tara Tiger Brown has opened up about a topic that seems to be causing her quite some unhappiness: fake geek girls.

"I thought being called a geek meant you liked something so much that you were willing to forgo social outings and popularity. That still seems to be the case, but the once coveted term is now being used as a marketing gimmick, and those who truly deserve the label are lost in the noise," she says.

Aside from the fact that she contradicts herself implicitly here (how can being a geek be socially unacceptable and coveted at the same time?), how does one decide who "deserves" to be called a geek?

Moving on, she adds:

"Pretentious females who have labelled themselves as a 'geek girl' figured out that guys will pay a lot of attention to them if they proclaim they are reading comics or playing video games."

How dare you not like what I like! Wait! How dare you steal my thing!(Credit: Memegenerator)

I'm so bothered by the writing, in the first instance. "Females"? Are we anteaters or bonobo monkeys now? Is Brown some great cultural anthropologist, studying what the female creatures do and then deciding who deserves to be given a label? It's so ... mean-spirited.

But Brown seems genuinely offended that other women can call themselves geeks.

"Girls who genuinely like their hobby or interest and document what they are doing to help others, not garner attention, are true geeks. The ones who think about how to get attention and then work on a project in order to maximise their klout, are exhibitionists."

(It's spelled "clout". I can't help it. This hurts my inner copy editor.)

In other words, if you start liking something because you saw someone else liking it, you're a big fat phoney.

"Those that are deceitful about being a geek do it because deep down they want to feel that hunger to be so into something you can't eat or sleep, but just haven't found their thing yet."

I'm confused. Where's a newcomer supposed to start?

The whole premise is so flawed that, to be honest, I don't quite know what to do with it. I don't even know why she cares so much what other people do. Is she worried that somehow she's not going to get the attention she deserves for being a true geek girl, because these fakers are taking it away from her?

This is an attitude that, frankly, baffles me, but it seems to be grounded deeply in jealous anger. Take a look at this video that was created to accompany an article about the disingenuousness of famous women talking about comics and video games.

Most of them sound like they know what they're talking about, but that doesn't stop people getting all mad about it.

"Oh," they say (I'm paraphrasing here), "I didn't have friends in high school. And that woman is pretty. It's not fair! She didn't have to get picked on to be called a geek! She doesn't like it anyway, not really, I know more than her!" As if that somehow delegitimises her interest in Batman — or says she can only call herself a geek if she can name a dozen obscure Batman villains who never appeared on the television from memory.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon says:

"'I love Star Wars, so I'm geek squared,' confesses Jamie Alexander. Wow, that's some brave confessing there, ladies. What must it be like to live on the fringes of society, part of that marginalised community of Star Wars and Star Trek fans? Perhaps you'll also enjoy the wonders of the Rolling Stones, IKEA shelving systems, Levi's and coffee. Because you're special."

She seems mad.

Or what about the astounding negativity with which the Twittersphere exploded when the newly crowned Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, had the temerity to say she was a "history geek"?

I love the smell of slut shaming in the morning. Because personal hygiene and video games are mutually exclusive ... and sex is bad when women like it.
(Credit: kiwala)

What does it take away from anyone if a woman who's never read Transmetropolitan but loves anime calls herself a geek? I'm actually quite serious here, I'd like to know exactly why it makes people so upset. It's not like a treehouse, where there's a finite amount of room. And have you ever noticed that it only seems to apply to women? I can't recall ever seeing an instance where men got hate for being pretentious.

Further, can't these people see the irony in complaining about being excluded, then behaving in an exclusionary fashion?

Brown later went on to clarify her position on Twitter; she's only referring, she said, to fakers; anyone who genuinely has a passion for Warhammer or Fushigi Yuugi needn't worry. That's a relief. But again, this brings me back to: why care so much? Does it really dilute the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy? If it does, perhaps it is your enjoyment that is shallow.

Don't worry, though. If you're a newbie trying to get into quadratic equations and unscrewing your computer case, Brown has some advice.

"Don't pretend to love something because you think it will get you attention. Don't think that you can take a shortcut because there isn't one. Dig deep, dig to the roots, dig until you know things that others you admire in the subject matter don't know or can't do. Then go ahead and proudly label yourself a geeky girl."

Golly. That sounds messy. I'd rather just read a book, but thanks. I think your club's a bit too mean for me anyway.