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Viral Tweet About Fandom Gatekeeping Proves We Still Have a Male Geek Problem

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Over the weekend, a tweet about a mother and daughter’s experience at a convention dealing with gatekeeping male fans has swept the Internet. It’s a sadly familiar story made even more sad by the fact the young woman in question is eleven years old, and was being harassed by a grown man who thought he had the right to make her feel like less of a fan because she’s a young girl.

The story, first shared on Tumblr before circulating Twitter, describes the magical day the family was having at a local con, where the daughter met her favorite actor and Doctor Peter Capaldi. Dressed in her finest Who attire, the family was eating when a man sitting nearby decided to quiz the daughter on her Whovian knowledge. The mother quickly shut him down and got him to leave, then had to reassure her daughter that no one should be allowed to force her to prove herself. You can read the full post below:

So yeah, this is unacceptable. It’s worse that an eleven year old had to deal with this, but it shouldn’t happen to women of any age or in any fandom. And while yes, things have been getting better, gatekeeping still is prevalent and is something that we need to address before it pushes more women and girls out of fandom spaces.

It’s something that is, personally, rage inducing because I can vividly remember two of my teachers, one male and one female, asking me which of the Avengers I was going to see The Avengers for. There was no question about whether or not I went because I was a Marvel fan. No, it was simply because I must have found a Chris attractive. I didn’t have words to express myself then, but I sure do now: it was unfair and, quite frankly, crossed a line with a female student who was just finding the confidence to express herself.

It was around the time that The Avengers came out that the concept of fake geek girls really hit the mainstream. An article published by Forbes author Daniel Nye Griffiths in 2012 talks about the myriad of articles that had popped up that year raging against “booth babes” and “fake geek girls.” Griffiths pulls from those pieces, and let me tell you, they’re not pretty. In fact, they’re borderline incel material.

“They’re poachers. They’re a pox on our culture. As a guy, I find it repugnant that, due to my interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games and toys, I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence. It’s insulting,” wrote Joe Peacock in an article screaming about these women for CNN. Another article on Forbes read:

“Those that are deceitful about being a geek do it because deep down they want to feel that hunger to be so into something you can’t eat or sleep, but just haven’t found their thing yet. Don’t pretend to love something because you think it will get you attention. Don’t think that you can take a shortcut because there isn’t one. Dig deep, dig to the roots, dig until you know things that others you admire in the subject matter don’t know or can’t do. Then go ahead and proudly label yourself a geeky girl.”

Interestingly enough, the latter piece was written by a woman. Holy internalized misogyny, Batman.

The problem is is that women genuinely like things. They don’t just fake it for male attention. And let’s be clear, this isn’t also about just women. Fans of color are shut out of fandom; take white vlogger Grace Randolph saying that Black audiences don’t watch Star Wars. LGBT+ fans are shut out of fandom. If you’re not a cishet, white, able-bodied man, you’re probably going to face some sort of gatekeeping in a fandom at some point in your life, which is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form. We’re all a bunch of nerds who like to spend time thinking about fictional worlds and characters; to behave as if it’s some sort of special elite clique is just nonsense.

The Forbes article I cited above writes:

A woman may be dressed as Batgirl, and yet not able to tell you if she is Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown. That might be because she genuinely doesn’t care, or because she has only just discovered Batgirl, and has nobody to get advice from.

And that might be because whenever she tries to talk about Batgirl, she gets the geekquisition on how deep her knowledge of the Batman mythos is, before being dismissed as insufficiently knowledgeable – a “fake geek girl” just looking for attention. Eventually, they will either learn to dress conservatively and keep quiet, or they will give up – either way, sales and brand equity are lost, for very little gain.

And therein lies the problem. Gatekeeping — and we’re just talking about it in terms of fandom, but it exists in every field from STEM to filmmaking to everything in between — will drive people away from things they love. Because they are told they have to prove themselves and that they don’t really like what they like, and that they’re just fakes. This is a toxic mentality that has cost us countless voices in countless spheres because they were told they were not wanted there. That is a true tragedy.

It’s time for all of us to take a stand to make spaces more inclusive for everyone, and that includes getting rid of gatekeepers. Let’s make geekdom less of a toxic wasteland of hate and more of a celebration of things we love; because, to paraphrase Rose Tico, that’s how we’re going to win in the end.

(Image: BBC)

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Image of Kate Gardner
Kate Gardner
Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.