Within the nerd sub-culture, there exists another sub-culture: female geeks. This is the world the documentary Geek Girls seeks to explore and expose.
Nerd culture is hardly new. It’s also hardly rare. The Geek Girls documentary emphasises this straight from the off, with director and protagonist Gina Hara strolling around (being squished around*) the Japanese convention ‘Comiket’ – a convention attended by over 500,000 people each year. FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND! The point is, geek culture is huge, and it continues to grow.
Yet somehow, despite the millions of loyal geeks who hail from all different ages, races and sex, female geeks have found themselves stuck in the culture’s shadows. Very little media attention – and attention in general – has been given to female involvement in gaming, conventions, and simply, the nerd community. This is what Gina attempts to address.
However, this is surprisingly difficult. And that’s because being a geek girl is also surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) difficult. Gina struggles to persuade women to discuss their experiences within the nerd community. Most are afraid. Yes, afraid. Scared.
Before I get to this, I want to highlight what so many characters in the documentary define being a geek as: ‘Being different’. It’s a collection of people who have different interests and personality traits to mainstream society, and find solace in a culture that embraces a lack of conformity.
Geek Girls quite clearly contends though that, despite the community being formed by individuals who have experienced exclusion, there exists a culture within the community that excludes and bullies a large segment of itself: geek girls.
Throughout the documentary, female geeks tell tales of not being taken seriously. Game developers rue people asking which male was responsible for their coding. Female bloggers scroll through comments of men asking them to stick to something they’re good at, like discussing food. There seems a complete ignorance about the desire for female-oriented comics and games.
And then there’s the literal danger. One professional female gamer discusses how hard it is to be constantly bombarded by sexist insults, which go as far as rape and death threats. She laments how it’s no longer possible to just “switch off” – there is no escaping it. She understands why some women can’t handle it.
But of course, it isn’t just the geek community that challenges geeks – it’s the wider community too. Trawling the streets of Tokyo – supposedly geek heaven – in an attempt to find female geeks, Gina struggles. Nobody is willing to go on camera for fear of their reputation being tarnished.
Eventually, Gina manages to convince a couple of Japanese girls to speak in front of camera – albeit with fake names. They explain how harmful the stigmas of being a nerd are in wider society – how it can literally prevent you from employment, as well as affect your social life.
Yet Geek Girls isn’t all doom and gloom!
While the women featured in Geek Girls criticise big parts of the geek community, they also offer reasons to be optimistic. Many do their bit to popularise female geekness, subsequently encouraging greater acceptance.
We meet the founder of Black Girl Nerds, whose website and podcast have amassed a following of likeminded black women, many of whom admit they didn’t realise there were other people like them.
We meet a comic-book artist, whose soft-core porn comics about men fill a void in the market and balance the sexualisation of women in nerd culture and comics.
We meet successful female coders, who encourage more women to go into game development.
There’s even a female NASA scientist and self-labelled geek who grew up obsessed with sci-fi. She acknowledges the daunting nature of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, but also says how she is far from the only woman in love with outer-space, and if you work hard enough, any woman can achieve a job in the industry.
Ultimately, the Geek Girls documentary emphasises that, despite their marginalisation in the community, there is a huge number of female nerds. And not only do they simply exist, they are also shaping the ever-evolving geek culture in a unique and positive way.
If the Geek Girls documentary peaks your interest, you can arrange to watch in your local cinema, whenever you want. Pretty cool, huh?. To find out more, check out Demand Film.