Being a geek is so hip it's now passe, but girl geeks are still getting a fair amount of press. The problem: we're being woefully misunderstood.
Sadly, this misunderstanding is fostered by those who should understand the best: other girl geeks. In her "5 Tips for Raising A Girl Geek," Wired's Natania Barron offers solid child-rearing advice, like encouraging your daughter's interests and helping her build her self-esteem. But she also promotes something that's far too common in articles about geekiness — the idea that geeks need some sort of special treatment. This geek-ceptionalism just increases the isolation a lot of people with geeky interests feel as kids, and it also leads to a lot of lame generalizations. Allow me to combat it with a few tips of my own.
1. There is no one Girl Geek.
Articles about geekiness tend to name-check a few predictable geek signifiers. Even if you're not a geek, you probably know what they are: World of Warcraft, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Dungeons and Dragons. Barron, who's actually decent about recognizing the multiplicity of geek culture, still mentions three of these in her first paragraph. As a girl geek of long standing, though, I've never been into Star Wars, D&D, or WoW. My brother, a certified non-geek with a tan, a surfer accent, and basketball skills, is the Warcraft fan in our family. Point is, while people who like to call themselves geeks tend to share certain interests (liking scifi and/or fantasy is sort of a basis for the subculture), they certainly don't share all of them. And non-geeks can like geeky stuff too.
2. Girl Geeks don't necessarily hate "girly" things.
At a very young age I had a proclivity for reading science-fiction and fantasy books. While most girls were reading the Babysitters Club books, I was devouring Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis, soon followed by a host of others.
She's just talking about her own experience here, but there's a general misconception that geeks cannot be "girly." Plenty of girl geeks do like makeup, clothes, and the Babysitters Club — not that any of these things are just for girls. In fact, the idea that girl geeks can't be into anything traditionally feminine is a sad comment on how limiting traditions of femininity are. You can't be smart and wear lip gloss? Like The Hobbit and Gossip Girl? Danica McKellar would have something to say about this.
3. Girl Geeks do not have to date Guy Geeks, nor do they require special wooing.
A while back, Liz at The Park Bench offered 11 tips on "How to Meet and Woo a Nerdy Girl." Some were kind of accurate (look like David Tennant? Yeah, good start.) — but the concept as a whole is a little disturbing. While it's always nice when someone shares your interests, I certainly don't expect men to "Know the complete works of the Nerd Holy Trinity: Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams and Peter Jackson." I don't even know the complete works of these people (see tip 1). And I wouldn't want anyone to treat or "woo" me differently because I happen to like Doctor Who. Just talk to me like a normal person: I am one.
Liz's weirdest tip is #6: "Be interesting." This is news? And moreover, this is something non-geeky girls don't want? Liz elaborates, "whereas a lot of ladies want you to be rich, nerdy women just want you to be interesting." The idea that most women are gold-diggers, but only geeks like you for you, leads me to ...
4. Geeks are not better than other people.
Many young geeklets tend to be smart. Whether it's math, science, English or art (or all of the above), young girl geeks will excel in something.
Newsflash: most young girls will excel in something, whether they are geeks or not. And you certainly don't have to be smart to like Star Trek (it might even help not to be, so you don't think about stuff like why a civilization hundreds of years more advanced than our own still thinks the most efficient uniform for women is the miniskirt). To me, being a geek isn't about intelligence, or even about liking a certain subset of pop culture: it's a mindset, one that privileges minutiae, trivia, and fantasy, but with a lowercase f. Most geeks I know, myself included, enjoy getting lost in artificial worlds, whether these worlds are made of TV characters, historical figures (I know not one but two guys who are geeks for Henry IV), numbers, or words.
Because our engagement with these worlds can get obsessive and uncool, geeks also get picked on a lot. And this makes us mean. It makes us pretend that we're smarter than other people, or it makes us retreat into a hideaway of inside jokes and references. I like The Lord of the Rings as much as anyone, but I get kind of annoyed when an avowed geek drops some sort of jab-you-in-the-ribs Minas Tirith reference (which I guess is what this is — it's a really hard habit to break) into an article or conversation meant for general consumption. Peppering your speech with geeky in-jokes that no one else gets doesn't make you cooler than those regs who like sports and Dane Cook — it just makes you exclusive, and kind of lame. Everybody — even popular kids — has interests that not everyone else shares, but these interests aren't any better for being uncommon.
Except David Tennant.