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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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