Feminist Geeks: Why Geek Culture Needs Feminism

"New Batgirl" | Art by aerettberg. Used with permission.
I‘ve said before the The Lord of the Rings was my foray into all things geek. I was 13, in my first year of high school, and LOTR was all I ever talked about. If there was one thing to know about me, it was that I loved LOTR; even my teachers knew about my obsession.

At the time it didn’t strike me as odd that it wasn’t the norm for me, a girl, to be a geek. I was just a kid who loved something and wanted to share it with everyone else. No one at my school told me it should have been otherwise. Looking back, I’m extremely grateful that I had the freedom to grow in my identity as a geek.

Over the past year I’ve been donning the cape and gloves of a new identity—that of feminist.

I do not see myself as a damsel in distress or a temptress.

I know “feminism” is a scary word to both Christians and geeks. I also know it comes with a lot of baggage. Cries of “man hater!” are inevitably shouted from both sides. So before I go any further, and before anyone jumps to any conclusions, this is what I mean when I say I’m a feminist: I believe that men and women are equal; men are not “better” than women and women are not “better” than men. That’s it. That’s the fundamental belief of feminism.

Why should geeks be feminists? Why does it matter how women are portrayed in books or movies or video games or comics? Because I’m not the only girl who read LOTR at the age of 13. And because there are young girls who are just now starting out as geeks and are going to find out that in this industry, which is still mostly dominated by and marketed to men, women are seen as objects; either we are passive damsels in distress, only there as a prize to be rescued, or sexual fantasies.

It’s extremely isolating and discouraging to see oneself portrayed as an object. But we do not see ourselves that way.

Over the past year I’ve been donning the cape and gloves of a new identity.

I don’t want to just lay the blame on men, though it’s true that the dominant shapers of geek culture have been, well, men. Looking back to our earliest mythologies and fairy tales, they have informed so many of our narratives in geek culture. They show how men during those time saw women, not how women saw themselves. We all know the stories of Cinderella and Snow White as told by Disney. Both women need to be rescued by men to escape their hopeless situations. But have you noticed that the goddesses in Greek mythology are all distinguished by whether they’re virgins are not? (Virginity being the most prized virtue in a woman.) Most notable is Athena, who has many “masculine” qualities; she is the goddess of wisdom, courage, law and justice, strategic war, and math. And, oh, she is also a virgin. Time and time again, women have been written unrealistically from the male gaze.

I do not want to read a novel in which the female characters are objects. I do not see myself as a damsel in distress or a temptress. I’m a poet, a gardener, and an ultimate frisbee player. I work with my partner to build our life together. I make mistakes and try to fix them. Female characters should be allowed to do the same.

Without feminism, without giving women the agency to write realistic portrayals of ourselves or helping men to do so, geek culture will continue to alienate an entire demographic. It will drive away the very people who can make it rich with their own stories and perspectives. As a feminist and a geek, I don’t want that. I hope for a place where women are understood as equal.

Kyla Neufeld

Kyla Neufeld

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Kyla is a poet, writer, and editor. She writes about various sci-fi and fantasy series, and is interested in the intersections between geek culture, feminism, and social justice. She lives in Winnipeg with her husband, the Sith Lord, and her daughter, the Nazgûl child.
Kyla Neufeld