The Sexy Geek Ideal Imaginary: Do We Have a Problem?

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I’m going to direct you all to read Geek Feminism’s post entitled “‘Geek Girls’ and the Problem of Objectification” as a starter, because much of what I’m going to say below stems from the fascinating discussion taking place there.  But to start, I’ll offer the following quote:

There’s nothing wrong with wanting attention and approval in one’s community. What cosplayer and geek wouldn’t want those things? What female geek doesn’t want to be welcomed into the community with enthusiasm and excitement (instead of derided as a harpy feminist or annoying squeeing fangirl)? The problem, then, isn’t what women do, but a culture in which the only way that women can be recognized as a desirable part of the culture is when they participate by making themselves consumable sexy objects for geek men.

One of the problems with geek culture is how readily it has moved to adopt the paradigms of the cultures that exist outside of it (the very cultures which at one point looked down at geeks for being, well, geeky).  I don’t have a problem with sexy geeks, or sexy geek clothing.  In fact, most people don’t, in principle.  There’s nothing wrong with looking sexy, or wanting to look that way.  The problems arise when the sexy geek becomes the image we hope to attain (or, rather, that women hope to attain, since men, by and large, are not compelled to fulfill particular and very
impossible physical images in order to achieve acceptance and “love” from others).*  Specifically, it’s a very particular kind of “sexy image.”  An image which says “only people with certain dress sizes and certain body proportions look sexy in the sexy clothes.”  Because that’s an image that women will try to fit, even if their bodies aren’t designed for it.  Even if doing so is bad for them.  Even if doing so could end up killing them or destroying young girls from the mind out.  There’s nothing wrong with sexy, but there’s something very wrong with the way we use it.

Geek culture really shouldn’t have ideal body images.  Not in any immediate sense.  We should be just as willing to commend someone for wearing cat ears and a tail in any body shape (or gender) as we would someone wearing a skimpy ninja costume (is it fair to say that certain clothing is body specific?  I don’t know.  It seems horrible to suggest as much…).  They should be seen as equal forms of expression.  But I don’t think we’ll ever be there, in part because we have and will always be a highly sexualized culture.  Clothing deemed “sexy” will always elicit seemingly positive responses (objectifying responses, but positive nonetheless because of our perceptions).

I would be lying if I said I didn’t have those responses for Slave Leia cosplayers, or that sexy geek calendar everyone is talking about (I won’t buy such a thing, but seeing the images will undoubtedly elicit a reaction).  But I’m aware of those responses.  And it’s never stopped me from saying hello to people who don’t dress like Slave Leia (and, in fact, it’s helped me talk to those people, because I’m uncomfortable around half naked people in public).  But I’m also aware of how many of those responses are socially conditioned — of all those times when I’ve seen someone who doesn’t look like a “hot girl” and reacted poorly in my head.  I’ve had to shut those things out, because geek culture should always be about the geekery, not about what people look like, how they dress (unless they dress in people’s skin or something), and so on.  It’s not about who should be pretty or who wears the sexiest clothes.  It’s about a whole different set of ideals (in my head).  This is turning into a ramble, though, so I’ll shut up and move on.

I say all of this as a geek and someone who has attended geek-oriented events (and hopes to do so in the future).  I’m not particularly pleased by the subversion of geek culture’s original disaffected attitude towards standardized models for engagement.  Maybe what I see in my head is utopian nostalgia, wherein women were more likely to be accepted into the group as people because they were geeks too and not because they wore bikinis.  And, well, it probably is utopia and formed out of nothing.  Because women haven’t been a part of geek culture, largely speaking.  They’ve been excluded for all kinds of stupid or sexist or unintentional reasons.  Not to the extent that women weren’t a part of it at all, mind you, but certainly to the point where you could look around and not find a whole lot of them there.  Now?  It seems like they’re all over the place (and hello to you all), but following on their heels are the ideologies that still turn entire generations of young women into anorexics, etc.  Nobody should have those things forced on them.

What are we going to do about it?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.


* — I don’t want to suggest that men are not susceptible to “ideal” body images.  They are.  But the pressure is less pronounced than it is for women, and likely not as well-researched.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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