On Being "One of the Guys": Geek Culture Edition

This post is not about video games.

It is also not a review of Fanboys. (Well, here’s my one-sentence review: Star Wars fans will appreciate it, and it certainly has its moments, but it’s clearly got Apatow’s dirty, homophobic-racist-misogynist fingerprints all over it.)

What this post is about: Zoe.

Zoe is the female “fanboy” from the movie, and she is played by the awesome Kristin Bell. She is also, in many ways, me: a female geek trying to fit in with the guys. In the movie, she bails the four main fanboys out of jail, then joins them on their journey to Skywalker Ranch. Later, it is revealed that she has harbored a crush on one of the guys (Windows), and she eventually admits as much, but only after Windows professes his love for her first. Aside from being yet another “schlubby guy gets the hot girl” story (thanks, Apatow), the romance subplot rang a bit too true for me: in one scene, Windows complains about his nervousness around women, and Zoe points out that he’s just fine around her. And then he makes a pivotal mistake by responding along the lines of, “But you’re not REALLY a girl–you’re one of the guys!” To which Zoe understandably storms off.

The “you’re not really a girl” line is one most female geeks are all too familiar with, whether they’ve heard it jokingly or straight (and Windows uses it in all seriousness). I used to find it funny, but after hearing it so much, it’s gotten quite stale, and it’s based on moronic and outdated stereotypes about how women can’t be nerds. YES, women and girls can enjoy video games, Star Wars, and/or D&D. We even use the internet. Get over it.

Moreover, that line can be deeply hurtful, as evidenced by Zoe’s reaction. It’s denying an integral part of her identity. She’s a nerd, but she’s also a woman. Women have to work very hard just to meet minimum expectations, and that one sentence completely undermines all that work, telling her she is not working hard enough or is inherently inadequate.

Furthermore, the other part of that devastating line, the “you’re one of the guys!” part, is a blatant lie. Zoe ISN’T treated as “one of the guys.” First of all, she endures endless sexual harassment from Hutch. This is passed off as some kind of silly thing he does; Zoe just rolls her eyes. She expositions that this is something he has been doing since they were in SIXTH GRADE. Considering these characters have been out of high school for some time, that is almost ten years, people. Secondly, no one thinks to take her on the road trip in the first place. Maybe she was left out for plot convenience, but no one even says anything like, “Hey, we should get Zoe before we take off and make all our dreams come true”? If she were really one of the guys, her name should have at least come up! But that’s the thing, isn’t it? A woman can never really be “one of the guys”–only an honorary one.

Now, it is painfully obvious when nerdy guys try to write cool female characters. Most of the time they are good at video games, will gleefully engage in nerd-arguments over comic book trivia, are jaw-droppingly hot, and are inexplicably head-over-heels for the protagonist (who stands in for the author and presumably the audience). Not to mention Zoe is the name uncreative people give to characters they want to seem offbeat and cool–I would know, half of my female characters from stories I wrote in middle school were named Zoe.

And yet I identified with this character so strongly… except for one thing that really bothered me: she repeatedly insults or teases her friends by calling them “girls” or “ladies” (and uses “gay” as a pejorative at one point). She IS a woman; why would she feel that her identity should be insulting?

A feeling that is probably familiar to many female geeks, especially if they don’t have geeky girlfriends, is of not identifying with other women. They may say things like, “Girls have way too much drama, I only hang out with guys!” (Sadly, I was there once. And honestly, people, guys have just as much drama as girls do.) This kind of person may try to fit in with the guys and show that she’s different from those other women by using “girls” as an insult. But that person would also take the “you’re not really a girl” line as a compliment, so clearly Zoe is not like that. It doesn’t fit with her character.

We have so few nerdy female characters to begin with, and they are almost always written by men. They come so close to being characters that speak to my experiences as a female geek, but there is always something off, and it always turns out that their only purpose is to be dream girlfriends for the presumed male audience (which, by the way: what is Zoe’s goal in life, other than to work at a comic book store and hook up with Windows? Unlike with Hutch and Eric, we never find out). What I want to see is female nerds telling their own stories about wild roadtrips to midnight game releases or wacky LARP hijinks. A girl can’t be entertained on The Guild alone!

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6 thoughts on “On Being "One of the Guys": Geek Culture Edition

      • Dorothy Catherine Fontana wrote “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, “Friday’s Child”, “Journey to Babel”, “This Side of Paradise”, and “The Enterprise Incident.” Under various pen names she wrote “That Which Survives”, “The Way to Eden” and “The Naked Now”.

        She also wrote “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Dax” from TNG and DS9 respectively. Also she worked on Babylon 5, 6 Million Dollar Man and Logan’s Run.

        Learn your shit, she’s easily one of the most accomplished screenplay writers in genre fiction.

  1. They don’t take her with them for 2 reasons; Somebody had to watch the comic book store, which she mentions when she bailed them out, (so you wouldn’t steal all the copies of runaways), and she wasn’t around when they planned it all out in 5th grade. She does get of my favorite, and probably the most unappreciated jokes about Picasso’s Blue Period.
    With that being said, I was also disappointed with her role. I felt like her being a girl was kind of like how in some movies, to add diversity (an old old wooden ship from the civil war) they’ll put a black movie. I kinda felt Zoe was the black ghostbuster.
    the line “You’re not really a girl” I think, is sometimes the line guys use to try and say “I see you as a friend, not as a possible girlfriend” but almost always comes out wrong.
    Most of the time men will fail at creating great female characters. Usually because men don’t know that its like to be a woman. Maybe its time to crack open those notebooks and put out some of those great stories that you’ve started, I don’t mean that insultingly or sarcastically, I’ve read little bits and pieces and liked them.

    BTW this reply was ment with well intentions, then i became discouraged and then it was well I spend 20mins on it, Im not gonna not write something, then it was well its an important topic, try to sound intelligent. I tried…I’m going back to twitter

    • “Somebody had to watch the comic book store”

      Thanks for reminding me of that. Still, it is a bad excuse. She is still the one treated differently; they would have never asked Windows or Hutch to stay behind. She’s treated differently because she’s The Girl, and not truly one of the guys, despite what Windows says.

      “the line ‘You’re not really a girl’ I think, is sometimes the line guys use to try and say ‘I see you as a friend, not as a possible girlfriend’ but almost always comes out wrong.”

      Guys can and should be able to have friends that are girls that aren’t possible girlfriends, so yeah, that is a really bad way of expressing that particular sentiment.

      “Most of the time men will fail at creating great female characters. Usually because men don’t know that its like to be a woman.”

      But women can write great male characters. And there ARE plenty of male writers who write great female characters (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman being two of them). So that’s really no excuse. But, point taken, and thank you. *hugs*

    • Somebody had to watch the comic book store, which she mentions when she bailed them out, (so you wouldn’t steal all the copies of runaways), and she wasn’t around when they planned it all out in 5th grade.

      Elaborating on Eleniel’s remark about it being a “bad excuse”, it’s important to question why it was the Girl (emphasis because of her clear tokenization) that wasn’t around in 5th grade to plan, and then was the one asked to watch the bookstore.

      It’s not necessarily the situation itself that is bad — after all, it’s a pretty accurate representation of the marginalization of women in geek culture — but that the writers (according to Eleniel’s description; I haven’t seen the movie) used it as an excuse, rather than a tool to highlight the shit situation many female geeks are placed in.

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