The other day, my dad and I were chatting about "Deadpool." He had just seen the movie and had a couple of questions about the larger X-Men universe. When he asked about the character Negasonic Teenage Warhead, I explained that her real name was Ellie Phimister and that she was a minor character in the comics. The writers of the "Deadpool" film just picked her because the thought she had a cool name and completely rewrote her powers from precognition and telepathy to the ability to generate explosions. After my information dump, my dad gave me a quizzical look and asked me how I knew all that. I explained that I looked it up, saying that comic books and superheroes are something I love, so I’m always looking to learn more about them. But that’s not the full story.
A good deal of the reason I have an extensive knowledge of Marvel movies and comics is to be prepared for the inevitable interrogations. It’s a nearly ubiquitous experience of being a female geek – you’re standing in line for the midnight release of the newest Star Wars movie, or trying to strike up a conversation about "Mass Effect," or just out buying groceries in your Batman T-shirt, and some dudebro approaches you and begins quizzing you on obscure trivia about your fandom of choice. Although I’ve found them to be a minority, there’s a very vocal and aggressive section of male fandom insistent upon weeding out the “fake geek girls.” The guys I know tend to be far more enlightened than this, but for the faction of you who still lives fear of the invasion of these geek impostors, let me put your mind at ease.
There is no such thing as a fake geek girl.
There are only two things necessary to be a fan of something — enjoyment derived from the media and a self-identification as a fan. That’s it. There isn’t a certain number of comic books you have to read before you’re a real superhero fan. You don’t need to have watched every piece of Star Trek media ever produced to earn the right to wear that T-shirt. There are no fake geeks, just people with varying levels of interest and investment in a subject.
The only purpose of fake geek shaming is to exclude newcomers, particularly women, from fandom. It’s part of the reason so many women are too intimidated to get into geek culture. If you don’t have an instant encyclopedic knowledge base, there’s a distinct possibility you’ll be humiliated out of the fandom. And look, I get it — it’s hard not to feel possessive over something you love. Even while I worried about being quizzed about my knowledge of "Deadpool," I sometimes found myself thinking “But I liked 'Deadpool' before he even got a movie! You guys haven’t read any 'Deadpool' comics! I spent hours on YouTube watching and re-watching all the cut scenes from his video game before you guys had even heard of him! He belongs to me more than he belongs to you!” But every time I had these thoughts, I stopped myself. Because "Deadpool" actually doesn’t belong to me at all, and it’s pretentious and immature to think he does. I’m not the gatekeeper who decides whether someone can be a fan of him or not. And neither, elitist geek guys, are you.
I don’t know why women are automatically assumed to be faking an interest in science fiction or comic books. What would the purpose of that be? “To attract men!” the elitist geek guys cry. “Why are you assuming everything women do is for men?” I reply. “Some (read: a lot of) things are not about you!” (Also, why would a woman seek out a community that’s often hostile and unwelcoming to women and glorifies scantily clad, oversexed female characters and think it’s the perfect place to get a date?) So when you dispel the myth that this interest is all for men, what argument do you have left? Don't women like stories with fighting and action? I’m pretty sure the scores of female fans disprove this. Science fiction and superheroes are only appealing to men? Sorry, but women actually invented both superheroes ("The Scarlet Pimpernel" by Emma Orczy, published in 1905, was the first instance of a masked hero with extraordinary skills and a secret identity) and science fiction ("Frankenstein," Mary Shelley, 1818)! These genres you hold so dear were created by and continue to attract women. The only reason for male dominance in these fandoms is the deliberate exclusion of women as creators and fans throughout their histories. Yep, geeky media isn’t inherently more attractive to men. All we have here is a classic case of sexism.
I’m pretty sure none of us popped out of the womb able to tell the difference between a Halfling and a Gnome or knowing who Ed Brubaker is. We all started somewhere. So instead of expecting everyone to possess instantly the knowledge we’ve taken years to amass, let’s understand that people are at different stages of learning about and consuming our favorite media. Instead of quizzing and shaming newcomers, let’s suggest to them our favorite series and arcs. Let’s stop pretending a geek identity is something you only unlock at a certain level, and instead, give people the freedom to explore and enjoy geeky media at their own pace. Let’s realize that geek culture is often a place where outsiders find belonging, and that exclusion is therefore directly contrary to this community’s ideals. And most importantly, let’s identify fake geek girl shaming for what it is — sexist, elitist bullying designed to keep women out of male-dominated fandom.