Space Ramblings

Examining Female Role Models in Pop and Geek Culture

female role models pop vs geek

Variations of this infographic have been making the rounds for a while. It’s comforting for “geeks” to believe this is true, but it could just as easily be switched around to look like this.

female role models pop vs geek real

If I wanted to rub it in, I could swap out the Pop section with Adele and a few better role models. Which do exist. Just as they exist in geek culture. They’re just not that representative. Just like they aren’t in geek culture.

Here’s the thing about geek culture.


1. Geek culture is mostly not made by geeks.

Not if you take the examples of TV shows as representative. Even on the rare occasion when a TV show is created by someone you can claim as a geek, getting it to the air is the work of producers who are not geeks and who treat it like any other product.


2. Geek culture is representative of the culture as a whole.

Big shock. You can call the general culture Mundanes and call geeks Slans or any of the other names that pretend there’s a fundamental boundary, but geek culture comes out of and then influences pop culture. There’s no forcefield or magic barrier here. And even if there were, the same attitudes and drives would still influence both. And that includes is attitude toward women.


3. Geek culture is mostly not meant for geeks

Most geek culture, and I don’t mean the people who cynically pander to that narrow demographic like John Scalzi or Cory Doctorow, is not intended specifically for the consumption of a special group of people. The cult hits are usually the things that failed to reach a wider audience. Think of Star Trek or Firefly.

The ones that hit that audience, like Star Wars, shook off the geek crowd and thumbed its noses at them. Remember Shatner on Saturday Night Live. He didn’t need the geek crowd and he told them that. Then he decided he needed them again. Remember Nimoy, “I Am Not Spock”, “I Am Spock.”


4. Even when Geek culture is aimed at geeks, its creators have no idea what geeks want

Star Trek Voyager producers thought that fans wanted an emotionally dead woman in a silver catsuit. And they did the same thing with Star Trek Enterprise. Take a look at all the booth babes.

Geek culture is not created by geeks. It’s mostly created by people who have stereotypes of it and who program in terms of those stereotypes. And those stereotypes are a mark of contempt. Not just toward women, but the entire audience.


So that was quite a few things. But here’s the punchline.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are heroic narratives. So there are going to be more male and female role models in the mix. Heroes are heroic and even if there are 200 women in skimpy clothes whose only job is to cling to the hero while begging him to save them, there are going to be some heroines. And there are going to be more than a few heroines, because writing the other kind of female character is boring even to the most sexist writers.

That also means Science Fiction and Fantasy will have more heroines than pop culture, which isn’t running on a heroic narrative. It will happen to have more role models, not because it set out to create them, but because it’s adventure oriented. That may be why it’s better for boys and girls. Not because it’s progressive, but because it’s adventurous and adventures summon characters who have to be better than average, who can face challenges and overcome them.

Science Fiction and Fantasy will have characters of all races and genders doing amazing things, not because it set out to create role models, but because it tells stories about people beating the odds, traveling to other worlds, slaying dragons and saving the planet. And those people can be anyone. They’re likely to be like the people telling the story but that’s human egotism. And enough of them aren’t that geek culture is better than pop culture, not because it’s made by better people for a better audience, but because it tells a different kind of story. A story that used to be common until it got replaced by the story of people getting famous and screwing up their lives.

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  • pxfowemdm September 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Simple, yes, feminine also yes.Beautiful, uh, not really.

  • Custom avatar
    Carly January 9, 2013 at 1:05 am

    The top row of characters aren’t bad role models because they’re half naked. They’re bad because they live dangerous and unhealthy lifestyles, and are still considered role models for children and young women (except Lady Gaga, she totally doesn’t deserve to be on the top row).

    However, your altered, second row (meant to illustrate that geek culture is just as “shameful”) is full of kick-butt, smart, independent, strong women, who make great role models (except Caprica six, who no one in their right mind would consider a role model because SHES AN EVIL ROBOT who represents temptation and sin and, just like Lady Gaga, has no place in this discussion). Your argument stands on a false premise: that women are inherently bad if they are sexy or sexual. This is incorrect, offensive, harmful to society and is called Slut-Shaming. It needs to stop.

    The purpose of the graphic is to illustrate that a lot of pop culture (reality TV and movies where women are NOTHING if they do not have a man) is damaging to children, and that nerd culture is better about this. You said it perfectly, “Science Fiction and Fantasy will have characters of all races and genders doing amazing things, not because it set out to create role models, but because it tells stories about people beating the odds, traveling to other worlds, slaying dragons and saving the planet. And those people can be anyone.” That is the point of the original graphic, not the sexuality of the characters.

    Please educate yourself about slut shaming.

    • Space Ramblings January 9, 2013 at 2:03 am

      Great role models?

      An emotionally dead ‘robot’ woman in a catsuit, a prostitute, a woman with the mind of a child and a robot seductress?

      • Custom avatar
        Carly January 10, 2013 at 12:57 am

        Does everyone get down on Data and Spock about being “emotionally dead?” That’s because they’re men and they’re “allowed” to be unemotional. I’m sorry she tried to move past your preconceived notions of femininity and that makes you uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong with an emotionally distant woman. Not all women are bursting with tears and hormones. That is so 19th century. And there is nothing wrong her her jumpsuit. Nothing. I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable that she needed an engineered suit that would make her more comfortable after parts of her body were DISASSEMBLED multiple times. I loved Seven when I was younger. She was my favorite part of the show, because she’s a woman and because she gets things done and she’s super smart and she does it in heels.

        Inara is a bad ass. She has control of her sexuality and wields that power in a way that makes people uncomfortable because men like to think they own sex. They do not. In a ‘verse where prostitution is legal, and apparently (at least the way it’s portrayed in the show) actually a pretty awesome job, yeah. She’s doing the best she can in a very harsh world, and she kicks butt doing it.

        I admit it has been a long time since I have seen the fifth element, but from what I remember Leloo is terrified for 90% of the movie and she still fights tooth and nail for her life. And she does it without very much clothing on, which is probably way harder than you think. So yeah. Kicking ass.

        And you must have missed the part where I said Caprica didn’t belong in the line up BECAUSE SHES A BAD GUY AND THEREFORE NOT A ROLE MODEL and has no business on the graphic.

        • Space Ramblings January 10, 2013 at 2:35 am

          If Spock and Data spent the show in bikini briefs with bulges and were only added to the show to appeal to women… yeah there would be.

          Emotionally dead + half naked = sexbot

          Emotionally dead + clothes = repressed

          The skin tight jumpsuit was as logical as the miniskirts on the original series.

          Inara is a prostitute. She’s a strong character but does that make her a role model? And isn’t paying for sex, owning sex.

          Leelo is another of the childlike women who have superhuman powers but still need a man to protect them. At least the Firefly version, River wasn’t wearing band aids as clothes.

          Caprica wasn’t really a bad guy toward the end of the show. She’s probably the closest thing to a role model in this bunch, except for the killing a baby thing.

          • Custom avatar
            Carly January 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm

            It is easy to look at a woman who is displaying her body, in a way that is considered sexual, and say, “Oh yes. She must be gagging for it.” Then when she is not, she is a “bitch” or “cold.” That is incorrect. Do you remember the uniforms from the first season is TNG? Because I was definitely getting an eyeful of some packages. I see no difference between those uniforms and Seven’s. You are saying that she is “half naked.” She’s completely clothed. Down to her wrists and over her feet and up to her neck. Her shape is the shape of a woman. Are women supposed to hide the way their bodies are shaped? Are they supposed to wrap themselves in yards of fabric because the shape of a women’s body turns men into raging sex monsters?

            Am I saying that the producers didn’t totally go, “You need a sexy lady in there!” No.

            Her, today, now, yes, paying for sex is owning sex because sex workers are people who have fallen so low, there is nothing else for them to do. They are slaves, or they are trafficked to a foreign country, or they are so poor there is no other way to pull themselves out of the gutter. In Firefly? Inara chose that position. She chose that life because she wanted to. She makes boss money. Have you even seen the show?

            Since apparently you have failed to look up slut shaming and therefore are still completely uneducated, I will have bring the information to you, since our conversation can go no farther.

            Slut shaming is “…the act of making someone, usually a woman, feel guilty or inferior, for engaging in certain sexual behaviors that violate traditional gender expectations. These include using sex as a form of power or control and depending on culture, having a large number of sex partners, having sexual relations outside marriage, having casual sexual relations, or acting or dressing in a way that is deemed excessively sexual.”

            Men would never be shamed for participating in any of these activities.

            Besides, is what you’re really saying is that you don’t like looking at beautiful women? Or sensuality at all? Because I certainly do. When Captain Kirk gets his shirt torn off, or comes back from the gym half dressed, or comes out of the shower with only a towel, or had an intimate relationship with a different woman every episode, no one cries, “HE’S A BAD ROLE MODEL. GET HIM OFF THE SCREEN.”

            Please meditate on this information.

  • Space Ramblings January 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm


    Meditation complete.

    7 is clothed in something so skin tight that she had to be cut out of it to use the bathroom. That’s not natural. And she’s completely clothed in the way a woman wearing only body paint is completely clothed.

    But that’s not the point.

    7 is not a “slut”. If she were a slut then she would dressing sexually for her own reasons. She isn’t. It’s not her motivation. She’s there to be on display with no motive of her own for doing it.

    She’s there because she’s meant to be on display. She’s an object, not a subject. Or a sexbot.

    So Inara is a prostitute who makes a lot of money. Does that make her a good role model?

    It’s not about sex or sensuality. It’s about their exploitation.

    Kirk was a good role model as a leader and a bad one in some other departments, but he was there on the show in his role as a commander. The same thing couldn’t be said of Inara or Seven.

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