As a follow up to the Doubleclick’s powerful “Nothing to Prove”, I wanted to talk a bit about the sign I submitted (1:40).
Firstly, I like both this song and video not because they are “anti-“ or “against” this fake geek girl nonsense, but because the whole song and vibe of the video are more of a Oh, c’mon. Give your head a shake. You’re being so silly. It’s not a push back, or an attack, or a scream so much as it’s a palm to the forehead and raised eyebrow and a “Did that really just come out of your mouth? Really? ‘Fake Geek Girls’? Do you maybe wanna… think about what you just said?”
Secondly, my sign:
“I have to use a gender-neutral pen name to be respected.”
So here’s the story: I’m a science fiction and fantasy author. Most people automatically assume that as a Caucasian female (cis-female, identifying/presenting female, bisexual) writer, that means I write Middle Grade or Young Adult fiction. When they learn that I generally write for the Adult market they assume Romance or Erotica. When I write genre books, then the next assumption is Urban Fantasy, Dystopian, or Magical Fantasy – fairies, princesses, dragons, like that.
When I explain that no, I write Science Fiction mostly, the next reaction is usually “Oh, but that fluff stuff, right, no real science?”
What, I can’t science because I’m a girl?
Leaving aside the fact that no, actually, I don’t write a lot of hard science fiction because I find the science-telling often gets in the way of the story-telling. (That’s not to say that what science I do include in my books isn’t rigorously researched. I have a military advisor, a historical architecture advisor, two historians, an ex-military dude, a NASA physicist, a biologist, and a poisons expert in my roster.) But the implication is there:
I’m a girl and therefore I can’t science.
(People often conveniently forget writers like Julie Czerneda, a bonefide biologist, or Erin Bow who worked at CERN.)
The implication of these conversations is that I’m a girl and therefore I have to write books for kids about princesses getting rescued, and unicorns, and fairies with rainbow wings that vomit bubbles. Or ‘trashy’ romance books. (Which… I hate that stereotype. Romance books are never trashy or worthless.)
Now, there are lots of lovely MG, YA, NA, Romance, Erotica, Urban Fantasy, Dystopian, Magical Fantasy writers out there of all genders and sexual inclinations –I’m not harping on those writers. They write what they enjoy, I write what I enjoy, and it’s okay! I prefer to write Social Science Fiction. What I’m harping on is the assumption that I can’t write “real” science fiction because I have ladyparts. (Instead of getting into the false assumption that “Accurate” = “hard” = “good” science fiction writing, I’ll just link you to my article on such.)
And that assumption also ends up playing out in such a way that female science fiction writers just don’t get the respect from the readers that male ones do. I haven’t been neglected by the critical press (thanks PW, Lambda, and CBC!), but it’s incredible to be at a convention and what male shopper’s eyes gloss entirely over my books simply because I, a girl, am sitting behind the table. When I take a break from my merch table and ask a male friend to watch my stuff, my sales inevitably go up.
Shortly after Triptych was published, I got an email inviting “Jim Frey” to do an interview with a media outlet I won’t name. I often get called “Jim” in emails, because it looks a lot like “J.M.” with a quick glance. I replied, saying I would be delighted, and sent along my media-kit PDF, where the interviewer could find a bio, my bibliography and filmography, etc. Including my photo. Generally I find interviewers like to have a foundation of research, so I put that page together to make it easy for them. I signed it “J.M.”
When I arrived at said outlet to do the interview, I was shown in, my hand shaken by the interviewer, and he said: “So, you’re Jim’s assistant then? Is he on his way?”
I stopped, stunned, and said. “Jim? Who’s Jim?” (Having forgotten that I’d been addressed as such in the email)
“Jim Frey?” the interviewer said.
“J.M. Frey,” I corrected. “Jessica Marie. That’s me.”
The interviewer was stunned. “You’re a girl?”
I couldn’t help the scowl. “I’m a woman, and yes. I did send you my media package.”
He made some noises when I assumed meant he couldn’t be bothered to read it. As you can guess, it wasn’t a very good interview. He had no idea what to ask me, and in fact had no clue about my work or my history as an academic. I didn’t enjoy myself, he was clearly unhappy I wasn’t who he thought I was, and I have never actually seen anything come of it.
And would he have asked me to the interview if he had realized I was female? Probably not. As bummed as I am that it was a missed marketing opportunity, I’m more peeved because I realized that this interviewer was glossing over what was probably hundreds of fantastic writers just because they’re female.
Needless to say I mentioned James Tiptree Jr and George Sand as often as I could.
Rewinding a bit:
A few days before I had to turn in my decision on what name was going to be on the cover of Triptych, I was browsing the aisles of a big-chain book store, trying to get a sense of what sorts of ways people were titling themselves. I had done a few things (publications and film credits) as J.M. Frey because I felt “Jessica” was just a little too Sweet Valley High to really fit the brand I was trying to build with my work. But for my debut novel, did I want my full name on the cover?
I eavesdropped on a pair of guys, completely in my target demographic, as they browsed the aisle a few feet away from me. My choice to remain “J.M. Frey” was made when I overheard one of the guys say, “Oh, this looks interesting. Read this back cover. Nice blurb from… oh. It was written by a chick. Never mind.”
My photo is also not on the novel for the same reason.
I have it on my website, because I figure by the time a reader is invested enough to search me on the internet, they won’t care about my gender, just about my writing. But for the people just browsing the book shelves, it matters.
And the thing is?
It shouldn’t. What’s between the covers should matter to a reader, not what’s between my legs.
I like playing video games. That makes me a gamer.
I like nerdy stuff. That makes me a nerd.
I identify with my hobbies and my interests because they are important to me. You don’t get to choose what I should call myself. You don’t get to decide if I’m a “real” gamer or a “real” nerd. You can create arbitrary criteria for what makes a person “real” or “fake,” but that has absolutely no bearing on my life whatsoever.
So it’s been a little more than a week since my glorious return from the San Diego International Comic Convention, where I saw cool things, met cool people, and learned that “Hell” is another word for “being on the SDCC exhibit floor in a wheelchair.” I also contracted a horrific cold, and haveâ€¦
So, Seanan wrote this post yesterday, which you should totally read, and as I commented on it, I realized that I had a lot more to say than would fit in a comment. And then vixy wrote this, and the thoughts started bouncing around in my brain some more. This has been in my head since I first heard about this video (The Doubleclicks, “Nothing to Prove”). I had wanted to submit something, but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say.
I haven’t always identified as a geek, but I’ve always been geeky. My dad was always a fan of fantasy and SF. He introduced me to Lord of the Rings and Star Trek (he taped every episode of TOS on VHS). I was a regular fixture at my local public library, and I burned through the fantasy section (I don’t have a clear memory of everything I read back in those days, other than there being a lot of Piers Anthony…). I wore out a VHS tape of The Last Unicorn, and when I saw The Princess Bride for the first time, it promptly became one of my all-time favorite movies. But with the exception of a couple of good friends I could occasionally geek out with, I didn’t really travel in geeky circles as a teen.
I didn’t read comics. I didn’t play video games. The internet didn’t even exist until I was in college.
(Once the internet existed, though? I was all over it.)
After college, I started to really embrace my geekiness, little by little. I got into geeky TV shows, like The X Files and Buffy.I discovered Harry Potter. I made friends with some fabulous geeky ladies in an online writing group (which later led to Toasted Cheese).
But it wasn’t until much later (2004, to be exact) that I really got introduced to the whole idea of fandom. That happened when I met my husband. (If you click the link, the one on the left is mine.) He read comic books, and played music at science fiction conventions, and was part of this thing called filk (which, I should add, I had been introduced to before meeting him, by way of one of my Toasted Cheese friends). He started bringing me with him to filk conventions in 2005, and I kept going back.
It might be because of Rand, or it might be that I don’t go to large gen cons like SDCC or DragonCon, but no one has ever asked me to prove myself, or questioned my credentials as a geek girl. Still, whenever this topic comes up, I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious.
Because I’m afraid, if questioned, I would fail.
I read some comics, but I haven’t read all the comics. I haven’t seen all the right movies, or all the right TV shows, or read all the right books (some I’m interested in and just haven’t gotten to them yet; others, I’m simply not interested in at all). And there’s a little tiny part of me that wonders if people think I’m only part of this world because of Rand.
And every time I catch myself slipping into this line of thinking, I have to kind of shake myself out of it.
I am not a fake geek girl.
I am not a fake geek girl because the fake geek girl is a myth.
And I am a part of this community because I choose to be.
It may be true that, technically, I am here because of Rand (would I have found my own way without him? who knows…)–but I stuck around because of me.
Because, although I don’t think either one of us really knew it at the time, when he brought me to that first convention…
People kept asking for these shirts yesterday, so now they exist. Based on the brilliant Josh A. Cagan’s sign from “Nothing to Prove” and designed by Caitlin Hansen —– these t-shirts can be purchased on spreadshirt, and the profits will go straight to AppCamp4Girls, a fantastic organization that encourages young women to learn about programming through camps!
My first experience with gaming happened when I was 7 years old. I went with my dad to pick up Diablo II way back in 2000. He was an avid PC gamer, and a major fan of the first Diablo game, so it was only natural we get the sequel the day it was released in North America. I had no idea what gaming was, or why it seemed to be such a big deal, or why so many other men stared with disgusted confusion at me when my dad handed me the box it came in so that I could hold it and look at the different pictures. I was only seven, and already, the dark clouds of female geek discrimination had formed on the horizon.
This video sums it all up for me. For years, I thought something was wrong with me and could never understand why people made fun of me. The older I got, the more I realized that it wasn’t me… it was people being not being accepting to the things I love.
This morning on the walk to the station, I got chatting to a neighbour of mine, in her mid-eighties. We spoke about science fiction and fantasy novels, with her mentioning she loved E. E. Doc Smith, and had been a reader of Terry Pratchett since the release of The Colour Of Magic.
Girl geeks have always existed. There should be no argument that this is a new development.
Someone once remarked to me, and I think he was right…
That geeks understand other geeks, even if they don’t geek out about the same things.
Because being a geek is less about what you love than it is about how you love it.
Any geeks reading this will know what I mean, that feeling of delirious enthusiasm, where you could just take this thing that you love and read it/watch it/play it/study it/draw pictures of it/write absurdist fanfic about it/talk on and on about it all day and all night forever.
That is what being a geek is all about. It has nothing to do with your gender or how attractive (or not) you are or even how much Batman trivia you can spout.
And no, I am not interested in attempting to justify to anyone why I love the things I love, nor am I interested in proving I’m somehow “worthy” to join anyone’s club. I’m a grown-up now, and I’ve had enough of that schoolyard-bully nonsense to last a lifetime, thankyouverymuch.
So if you need me, I’ll be over here, wearing my Captain Marvel lucky hat, reading a Tolkien novel and eating tiny candies out of my Darth Vader Pez dispenser. Because that’s fun, dammit, and that’s all that really matters.
These were the primary (but by no means only) bookshelves in my childhood room. I would’ve been about sixteen when this was taken, and this collection didn’t build itself overnight. Some of the authors in evidence: Terry Brooks, Sara Douglass, David Eddings, Raymond E. Feist, David Gemmell, Traci Harding, Robin Hobb, Brain Jacques, Robert Jordan, Victor Kelleher, Katharine Kerr, Stephen Lawhead, C. S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Melanie Rawn, Kim Stanley Robinson (the gap around The Years of Rice and Salt is where my copy of the Red Mars trilogy usually lived), J. K. Rowling and Douglas Adams. The bottom shelves, the ones out of shot, are taken up with a buttload of mythology, science, history and animal reference books.
This is me being a complete nerd in our local paper, because I wrote a script that won a thing, and also did Latin, which was apparently noteworthy. (The bookshelf behind me was one of dad’s. We had a lot of books in our house.)
Me aged ten or eleven, playing Tetris on a borrowed Gameboy. (I’d later save up $300 of my own money to buy myself a yellow Gameboy Advance and a copy of Pokemon Blue.)
There’s more geeky photos of the younger me elsewhere, but those will do for now. Point being: you think we all just woke up a year ago loving this stuff? HELL no.
I must say, I’m tired of the occasions where myself or one of my friends is tested for “geek cred”, since somehow women aren’t supposed to fit into nerd culture. I’m tired of planning possible responses when I go to a con (in or out of costume), comic book store, etc. I’ve got nothing to prove to you. I love being a geek and nobody gets to tell me that it’s not something I’m allowed to be or that I am faking it for male attention. I don’t need your attention. I am too busy looking for the latest issue of Captain Marvel.
In fact, I think it is more likely that a woman would pretend to be a geek because she is a soul-hunting demon than because she is trying to get attention from boys. So, I created The Diary of a Fake Geek Girl, which follows the story of a demon who does just that. I’d recommend that all bullies leave the geek girls alone unless they want to end up a little more soulless than they already are.