In recent months, articles and editorials have popped up all over the Internet and newsfeeds on the so-called “Fake Geek Girl” debate. While arguments on both sides make good points, the debate is so much done to death that you could make a drinking game out of it. So much has been taken out of context and it makes me wonder what groups of nerds are really being exploited and pandered too. I was originally going to write an article along that clearly took a side in the debate. However, I do not like what the discussion is turning into. It’s distracting from overarching issues in the convention circuit – anime or comic con. However, there’s a few points I want to address here:
1. Know the Audience the Author is Addressing
A bullet point as old as your middle school English class. What I have noticed is that the articles and vlogs where the “fake geek girls” are being called out upon are based in the comic con circuit. From what little years of experience I have at comic book conventions, yes, there are more heroine costumes. If any comic book fan knows, heroine costumes tend to be more on the tighter, skimpy side. It’s a part of the culture, it’s there and it exists. If someone likes a character, definitely put the effort in and roll with it!
Most of the ranting I see from the “Booth Babes Need Not Apply” camp come from the comic con culture. That’s the environment they’re writing from. So, when cosplayers that are used to the anime con circuit read this, they react differently. One of the cosplay Facebook groups I am a regular in assumed that one article was talking about the anime convention cosplay community as a whole. This was in wake of the infamous Tony Harris rant. Many cosplayers thought he was talking about them.
As someone mentioned on their news feed, they see more misogyny from the gaming and comic circuit than the anime circuit. Anime and comic cons are two different worlds. You would not see Homestuckers at comic cons, despite being a web comic fandom. Even so, Comic Con International’s (masquerade) community has held contempt for cosplayers, even not recognizing Dick Tracy cosplay as legit cosplay because it’s “too normal.” There is a higher rate of cosplayers at anime cons than there are at comic book themed cons. Because there’s so much popularity with Western pop culture now, the lines between anime cons and comic cons are almost blurring. The demographics are shifting. I’ve seen more Western cosplay at anime cons that I have in previous years.
2. Is There Such a Thing?!
Instead of asking if there is a Fake Geek Girl problem, we need to look at the symptoms.
First let’s stop gendering segments of fandom and sub-culture. We don’t call them the male brony’s or the gamer girls. Second, let’s also remember to read the between the lines. In the CNN article, “”There are lots of geeks who are female. Some of these female geeks are pretty girls. I find it fantastic that women are finally able to enjoy a culture that has predominately been male-oriented and male-driven….I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.” Notice that he clearly distinguishes between the two groups. It bothers me when the nerd community responds to the article without really reading the article. CNN is not bashing on all nerdy girls at the convention.
Yes, the booth babes exist. However, I believe that booth babes are doing an honest job. They are hired and paid to sell a product. They go home at the end of the day with a paycheck and all the more power to them. However, a few photographer colleagues have mentioned that there are models that have decided to tap into the cosplay culture by dressing up. While discussion forums can discuss whether or not Tanya Tate makes a passable Black Canary given that she has a bigger income than the average cosplay; it’s not unusual for companies and working models to exploit what’s trending in the here and now. There’s money to be made.
On the other side, there are people in the community that are bothered by said businesses exploiting the male geek. Mad Mack says,
“No, I am angry at YOU… for validating what the marketing departments think about you. They know that dressing up an attractive woman like that will generate loads of attention from the sad, lonely boys who like to talk big on the internet. I am angry at what you say about her. And about how that reflects your views of women in general and women in computer games.”
Yes, the booth babe you might meet at comic con may be nice to you, but remember, it’s her job to be nice to you. Customer Service 101. At the end of the day, it’s about selling a product and it’s up to you whether or not you want to buy into it. The power is your’s.
3. But what about those skimpy cosplayers?!
It’s part of the beast that a lot of the fandoms that are originally targeted towards guys have the sexy female scantily clad types. Before anyone assumes that I am dissing them all, I have friends who cosplay from Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, and other fandoms because they actually do love the characters. Coming from a crafty point of view, it’s a challenge to make something form fitting that flatters your figure.
If you made your cosplay, more power to you. Cosplay is an expression of love for a fandom. Yes, it’s unfortunate that G4 will focus more on Slave Leia’s than a very well made Mandalorian armor during their interview segments at Comic Con. In one Facebook discussion, a mutual friend mentioned that it was vexing seeing Halloween store type sex-i-fied super hero costumes being featured and the Assassin’s Creed guys ignored in the background. I can understand where cosplayers feel frustrated that their craft is ignored. We’re all artists and we have that eccentric streak. We put hours and even months into labor. We do appreciate the attention, but we’re not hungry for it. It’s just disenchanting when the “Sex Sells” notion gets more screen time.
With that said, attention whores exist. Each one of us can allude to an incident where we have seen the attention whoring and blatant need for attention. 2003 saw the infamous “Crinkle Mai” wherein a King of Fighters cosplayer attempted to make Mai show more skin, yet wearing a cheaply made variation of the character. At Anime Los Angeles one year, a friend and I were just hanging out and one gal sat next to us and said, “I MADE OUT WITH SIX DIFFERENT GIRLS!” I can go into more examples, but any convention veteran has seen examples of attention whoring – cosplay or not. Oftentimes we wonder why girls (and sometimes guys) feel the need for attention. We would like to think we’re nerds who believe that we all should be moving forward, yet what happened to self respect? What happened to class?
There is a difference for enjoying the 15 seconds of fame and blatantly starving for attention. For the most part, the attention beggars have something else going on psychologically whether if they never received any attention as a child or they are having relationship issues. This notion is not just a female issue; I have also seen men act out in order to draw attention to themselves. However, when you begin to think that there are girls (not all) who dress less to make up for some psychological issue, you may want to think twice about what Comic Impact wrote
“We’re entering a new era, and slut shaming is not okay. If a woman wants to show off her skin, if she wants to show off her boobs or her legs, or heck, even if she wants attention, she has the right to all those things.”
What about self respect? Generally speaking, it’s not about how you dress or how conventionally attractive you are, but it’s how you carry and present yourself.
4. Rule 63: Meet Thor’s Sister – Whore!
I don’t have a problem with gender bending. Cosplay is about creativity and creativity should be encouraged. One of my co-workers said it best, “Halloween used to be about creativity. Now it’s about who can show the most skin.” The sad part is that the dressing-up-sexy is reaching younger, more jailbait audiences. One of my students expressed that Halloween is when the school turns into a strip club. Personally, I think this is a concept so old and so done to death. Cosplay is about creativity. Yes, you can be sexy and creative, than fast and cheap. I am glad that websites like Take Back Halloween exist because they encourage creativity in costuming.
However, the overarching issue I have here is the complete disregard for existing strong female characters. I loved 2012’s The Avengers. It was an awesome popcorn movie. It’s not the new fans that bother me, it’s the new fans that fail to acknowledge that there’s a whole other world beyond the movie-verse. Case in point, when I saw a cutesy Rule 63 fanart that featured The Hulk in a very Lolita form, I responded, “But…but…She Hulk exists!! T_T” The response I got was, “Who the fuck cares, it’s cute!” That’s the attitude I am not fond of. We ladies rant about the lack of strong female characters in our nerdy media. The best that we can do is to support them – Valkyrie, Sif, etc are awesome. With that said, Rule 63 can be a creative endeavor, do not be afraid to explore the wonderful world of heroines, even the lost heroines that faded into obscurity.
“But anime and comics only have skimpy cosplay for female characters!” is not a valid excuse. There are tons and tons of options if you do enough research. I had to go through different versions of Zatanna before I found a variation that I felt comfortable wearing in public. Research can be fun. Do it with a friend!
5. As this rage heats on, overarching issues are ignored
Even as the “Fake Geek Girl” debates were heating up, I was wondering where it was going. Justin from Jersey, AntiAiChan, and Black Nerd Comedy were the only ones who came close to how I felt. I have been asked to write the editorial during the height of it. In wake of Tony Harris’ muddled rant, lady nerds have responded and it’s still not pretty. I was wondering why I was seeing “Cosplay Appreciation Day” posts on my news feed. While I do appreciate Gail Simone’s efforts to turn a negative into a positive, I can only ask myself is there really a need for Cosplay Appreciation Day?” Will comic book stores start having a free comic if you cosplay event that weekend? I thought the community already had an International Cosplay Day. So, we have August 25 for International Cosplay Day and November 13 for Cosplayer Appreciation Day? Where does Gail Simone plan to go with this?
The Fake Geek Girl issue bring up many heated emotions. It comes from both sides of the coin. I can think of other issues to get worked up on. I even thought about writing an editorial about how girls should deal with creepers if they are being stalked at a con because I see so many incidents go unreported. There’s also the issue of Nazi costumes and accessories sold at anime conventions and if they have a place at anime conventions. There’s the issue of anime conventions as grounds for younger 20 somethings to act drunk and stupid. They’re not there for the con, but to be there for the wild UC Santa Barbara tier college parties they never had. Which in turn, can be a huge liability for the con. There’s also the issue if anime conventions focusing on Japanese culture is relevant anymore with the sudden interest in fandoms outside of Asia. There’s more I could list that on convention community issues worth discussing that should take more heated precedence than who’s fake and who’s not.
6. No one has to prove anything. No one has to owe anyone anything.
Black Nerd Comedy says it best:
“Just as much guys should stop challenging these girls on their geekdom, girls should stop accepting the challenge. I’ve seen women frustrated to teach the man that they are so into geek and gaming as much as the next guy…if someone is so content in you are a fake geek or gamer girl, you’re never gonna prove otherwise. So, you’re wasting your time…All that energy is all about pleasing other people and these are people you don’t have to please… Just be you. Do what you like.”
In the wake of these rants, I have seen a lot of testimonial themed posts by girls. Stories about being bullied because we were harassed by the mean girls because we were too nerdy for middle school social mores. Ladies, we don’t have to go all out and try to prove ourselves. The past should not define ourselves in the here and now. The only people we have to impress is ourselves – make better on our crafts, advance to the next gaming achievement, and see what other fandoms may look like possible territories to explore. You owe the Queen Bee nothing.
Booth Babes? It’s an honest job, and someone’s got to do it.
Posers? They exist. They usually leave and move onto the next trendy trend.
Exploitation? It happens in every marketed segment – shop smart
Eradicating the word “Slut” from existence? Let’s take care of the double standard issue first
Gendering Subculture? Ah, hell nah!
Attention Whores? Friends don’t let friends become them.
However, I can believe you can be a positive influence in your local community. Organize a gathering, run a panel, and BE the positive change you want to see in the cosplay community.