Metaneira is a 30 year old female currently in school for a master’s in public administration focusing on the non-profit sector. Meta has been gaming since she could hold a joystick, and has been blogging in one form or another since 1999. She currently co-hosts a site about mages and feminist issues in World of Warcraft at www.empoweredfire.com.
This post originally appeared at Empowered Fire.
By now you may have seen the video “G33k & G4M3R Girls,” a parody of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” written by a few women involved with geek culture. (If you haven’t, you can see it here: while safe for work, the video features women very scantily clad and has an aggressively cloying auto-tuned soundtrack. Watch at your own risk.) The four women — Milynn Sarley, Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, and Michele Boyd — form “Team Unicorn” and were interviewed by the Official Star Wars Blog about the video. The author of the article says the ladies answer as one unit “cause that’s how they roll.” Fine: “Team Unicorn” it is. Team Unicorn: you’re doing it wrong.
Now, let me get a few things straight: I’m a geek. I’m a gamer. And I’m a woman. But none of those things are me: they are just parts of the whole. Having my entire personality boiled down to a list of nerdy references I get or things I enjoy doing is kind of absurd, but this is what the video promotes. From the very start, Seth Green asks, “Hello friends… don’t you want to meet a nice girl?” The video is not aimed at the women it is purporting to celebrate: it is straight-up pandering to the largely sexist, male-centric geek subculture. It is geek women served up for the male gaze on a shiny latex platter. This is not empowering.
The women who participate in geek culture do so primarily for one reason: we like it. Some of us may have gotten introduced to it via a male, but a lot of us discovered it on our own and enjoy it for its own merits. We are not doing it to get dates. We are not doing it to appeal to the Nice Guy in our guild. We are there for the exact same reason men are — because it’s fun. This video perpetuates the idea that we’re only in it for the male attention: it’s a list of geeky references wrapped up in skinny, conventionally beautiful white girls wrapped up in sexy outfits. (Or, in some cases, not wrapped up at all.) It isn’t really about geek women at all — it’s just about how men would want to have a smoking hot girlfriend who can talk about Star Wars and play D&D with them. That’s all you need, right? A hot body and a willingness to watch anime?
We’re more than that, just as you are. We’re not just a list of things we like. I want to be judged by the content of my own character, not my WoW character. And I’m tired of a subculture telling me that the only way I can belong to it is if I offer myself up as a sex object to the men involved. When I sat down with the guys in college to play GoldenEye and Halo (yes, I realize I’m dating myself here), I wasn’t doing it to find a boyfriend: I was doing it because I liked shooting other players in the head. We would meet for a weekly Halo night, and every time a new guy was introduced to the circle, he’d ask whose girlfriend I was (no one’s), whether I was actually going to play (damn straight), and then make awkward overtures at romance (never asking me out, of course — just inviting me to dinner “as friends” and then pressuring me later). I’d be told I played well “for a girl.” (Which I will never, ever understand, by the way: didn’t I just win the game? Looks like I play pretty well, period.) But it was in that way that my status as a female in this male-dominated space was always underscored: my Otherness had to be reinforced at frequent intervals. I didn’t really belong.
It was hard for me, and I’m sorry to say that for a while I ended up doing what a lot of geek women do when we’re in a male-dominated environment: I adopted the misogyny of the subculture. I would call the other men “pussies”, which always earned a chuckle because ha-ha, a girl is saying it. I would use the word “rape” to describe beating someone at MarioKart. I picked apart other women because the men were doing it and I identified more with the geek men than non-geek women (something which Geek Feminism blog author Mary addressed in a recent article). I prided myself on how cool and laid-back I was, that I didn’t get my “panties in a twist” over these things. I was funny and not just “for a girl funny.” The guys liked me for me.
But as it turned out, a lot of the times, they didn’t. They liked the idea of me: a cute geek girl who could validate all their own geeky interests. But as far as actually getting to know me as a person? Not so much. It took a long time before I was able to retain my feminist ideals and participate happily in geek culture. It took a long time before I stopped responding to the guys who slobbered the second they saw I was picking up FPS games at the local gaming store. And it took a long time for me to feel comfortable revealing my gender in an MMO, when I was afforded some degree of anonymity (as long as I never spoke in Vent, that is). And it would be a while after that before I’d speak up about the things that bothered me — that rather than just passively participating in the subculture and wincing at what I didn’t like, I would address the issues head-on. I’d call people out on oppressive language. I’d ask people not to trivialize sexual assault by comparing it to player-versus-player events. And I’d try to educate others, men and women both, about feminist ideas and how women and other minorities are marginalized in the geek subculture we all enjoy.
I’ve slipped up, of course. When you’re steeped in a misogynist, homophobic, racist, ableist culture, it’s pretty hard not to. But as I’m getting older I’m becoming more confident in my own person and my own ideas. Still, watching the Team Unicorn made me cringe. This isn’t the snarky satire of “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar?”; this is an endorsement of the sexist attitudes of the geek and gamer subculture, created by women who are putting themselves on display as sexual objects.
Does Team Unicorn realize this? Probably not. Just like me ten years ago, they may be at an earlier stage of embracing their geekiness. They probably just wanted to make a fun, cute video. (Though I find the song excessively obnoxious, I assume that’s mostly the fault of the original being parodied.) Cosplay and hanging out with Stan Lee appeal to a lot of geeks, so I can’t really fault them there. But where I can find fault is the idea that geek girls are a list of hobbies all wrapped up in a “nice girl” package, that only exist to be pleasing to the schlubs in the video. That’s not at all what I identify with.
Geek women exist. We come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, sexual orientations and identities. And we participate in geek culture because we enjoy it. We’re tired of being made into objects of sexual pleasure or derision. And instead of celebrating geeky women, this video just reinforces our role as the Other: aberrations from the norm, free to be used as sexual objects.
Team Unicorn, you’re doing it wrong.