On Proving Geek Cred

Real Geek Girls or Not? Image: Nicole Wakelin

I don’t need to prove my geek cred to anyone. Neither do you. In fact, the idea that we need to prove anything about how we self-identify is ridiculous. If I see myself as a geek because I like (insert topic here) then that should be good enough. It’s not like calling yourself a doctor because you think stethoscopes are neat and then attempting open heart surgery. No life hangs in the balance. It’s just an identifier, a description, something as easy to break out as saying you’re tall, or introverted or forgetful. So why does it garner such passionate debate when some who’ve embraced the label claim it is being used unfairly by others?

It happens every few months, usually because someone has written an article about geeks, or labeled themselves as a geek. There is intense Internet debate, usually a good bit of it leaning toward the nasty, as “real” geeks try to explain why the term was unfairly used, why it was undeserved, why it should be given back to those who own it. As if anyone can own a word. You can buy a vowel on Wheel of Fortune, but that’s a game show. You can’t own a word in the real world.

I have been calling myself a geek and a nerd for years. Yeah, comparing those two terms alone is probably a doctoral thesis in the making, but that’s not the point. I think I’m a geek. I think I’m a nerd. Not everyone I meet might agree with me. I don’t wear lots of geeky shirts. I don’t like argyle socks. I love games but am a terrible gamer. I don’t like Lord of the Rings. I am still a geek.

I think that some of the problem comes from what has defined the word geek for so many years. Not the guy biting the head off of a chicken in a circus freak show, but the way those of a certain age had the label applied to them in a none too complimentary way when they were younger. It still happens now. There are times when being called a geek or labeling yourself as one is just fine, and maybe even, dare I say it, cool. But there are still times when it’s used to call someone out as different and not fitting in with the crowd.

But the cool factor, the acceptability, the marketability of the word is still new. The guys who tinkered around with computers in the 80’s, who were aces at Tempest in the arcades and had scientific calculators in their back pockets lived through a time when geek was an insult and never, ever a compliment. This goes for women, too. It was not cool to hang out at the comic store, recite lines from Star Wars or read Tolkien. You were a geek, and by definition you were an outcast.

Clearly, the word has changed over the years. It’s come to mean many things to many people. It is still at times used as an insult, but just as often it’s used as a point of pride. Calling yourself a geek shows that you are proud of who you are and your passions. It shows you are part of a group that generally, is accepting of others because most geeks have at some time felt like an outcast. But, hasn’t everyone felt like an outcast at some time? Hasn’t everyone, from the football fanatic to the comic book collector wished that people understood them better? Yes, I’m going to have to say yes.

So, when someone you don’t think deserves the label geek uses it, just leave it alone. Articles like this one in Forbes calling out fake geek girls are just ridiculous. Sure, geek is having it’s heyday right now and people will use the word however they choose. Sometimes because they genuinely identify with it, and sometimes because they think it may garner them positive attention. Truly, it doesn’t matter. The meaning of the word will continue to change as how we identify ourselves changes.

Geek is just a word. It’s what you are that actually matters.

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20 thoughts on “On Proving Geek Cred

  1. You know, I never realized I was a geek until I was in my thirties. I never thought about it, really, not until I was working on our computer, having to delete a trojan and literally hack together a workable version of our antivirus software to get rid of it. There I was, frowning at the monitor and cursing creatively (because we had small children around) and my husband patted my head and said, “You’re a geek, but you are MY geek, and I love you.”

    And I thought, “WTF??”

    Had to sit back and ponder that. It was like a light bursting over my head, all the things I loved, all the things I did, everything I was into… I was a geek. A nerd. You name it.

    I mentioned it to one of my sisters, who laughed and said, “OMG, you’re kidding, right? You didn’t know? You’ve always been such a geek, HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW???

    Well… I never thought about it. I mean, everyone I hung out with liked the things I liked. They liked Star Trek, they loved reading science magazines and we’d argue about the latest articles, we all read Tolkien… I mean, come on! Doesn’t everyone??

    Apparently not.

    So… I have embraced my geekdom, and I’m raising little geeks, and I’m still my husband’s geek and he loves me. Of course, he’s MY geek and I love him, too! And you’re right. It’s just a word.

    But it’s a COOL word!

    1. It is a cool word, maybe that’s part of why we all get a little stabby about it’s perceived misuse 😉 And “Yay!” for your little geek family!!

  2. While I agree that people should be free to label themselves however they wish, I feel that this article is insensitive to some people who were geeks before it was chic. As you state, there used to be an actual social cost to being geeky; while definitions change, no new word has emerged to my knowledge to reflect those people who are shoved into lockers for their counter-cultural passions. Using that same word to describe a frat boy who plays console video games, while perhaps legitimate etymological growth, bristles nonetheless. “Geek” is the guy stuffed in the locker next to mine, not the guy who shoved us.

    I recognise that, like every generation that came before me, it’s my turn to feel like the youngsters today just don’t appreciate what I went through so that they could play D&D in peace. I’m glad they can play D&D in peace. But I’ve been called enough names in my life, so maybe if I disagree with you about the scope of one of the names I’ve reclaimed with pride, maybe you don’t call me ridiculous?

    1. Oh, I wouldn’t call you ridiculous for your definition of geek! It’s a personal defintion and what works for you, works for you. I would however, call it ridiculous when one geek claims another is a fake geek just because their definition is different. Your definition of what counts is as valid to you as their definition is to them, so calling them fake doesn’t work for me on any level.

      1. True. It’s just a word and it has whatever power you give it. Why anyone would want to keep it negative is beyond me.

  3. The fact is, I most commonly see this as a weapon used against women. Guy says he’s a geek? Swell. Girl says she is a geek? PROVE IT. It is just another frustrating misogynistic tool. So yeah! Anybody who questions your geek cred can go get BENT.

    1. Yup, I don’t see anyone writing up articles en masse claiming that all the fake geek guys need to shush up. It’d be just as wrong, but no one does it. Hmmm….

  4. For the longest time, I denied being a geek. I preferred the term “nerd” because I saw being a geek as a bad thing. Eventually (thanks to online sites like GeekDad/GeekMom), I’ve come around and proudly proclaimed myself a geek.

    However, after that I began to question what kind of geek I was. I’d see Geeks building things. Looked cool, but I’m a bit of a klutz when it comes to building. (Except for putting together a computer.) I love geeky movies but haven’t seen the last 2 Star Wars prequels or the last 2 Lord of the Rings movies. (Parenthood can limit your geek-show-watching time.)

    I seemed to have an interest in nearly all geek sub-genres, but not enough interest to go to the depths that some folks do. Then, I realized I didn’t need to define my geekiness, but, if anyone asked, I’d call myself a Geek Of All Trades. 😉

    1. You aren’t alone in the geek-of-all-trades category. I haven’t kept up with all the new games, we don’t have TV so I’m pathetically behind on shows (although I do rent or download a few). Yet, most everything in my life is focused in the culture of geekdom. From the empahsis on learning and science in raising my kids, to the holidays that really matter to us (never miss a pi day). Even the way we spend our free time. We may not be into just one thing, and we may not be an expert in any one geeky area, but we do lots of geeky things and love exploring the new ones that come our way.

    2. Geek of All Trades is perfectly stated! It’s why we can’t agree on what makes a person a geek, yet all feel we in some way fit the label. And we all do!

    3. Funny TechyDad, I denied being a “nerd” for years and years. I was a “nerd” — as classic as it comes — when “Revenge of the Nerds” came out in the mid-80s. Glasses, braces, violin case, the only one on my street with a computer (thanks to geeky Dad), clumsy, pimply, etc. So in my mind, I was a nerd and nerds weren’t cool.

      The term “geek” didn’t even come back into my vocabulary until at least 10 years later.

      Anyway, like you, sites like this one, and having a circle of friends who embraces everything that interests everyone, is wonderful!

  5. I got into a heated online argument and was even called a troll (by bystanders) over something tangential to this.

    On the whole, in this decade where geeks are coming into their own more than usual, it’s important to remember we have always been a “come as you are” kind of crowd.

    If you wanted to sit at our lunch table, we’d typically say hi and be glad for the opportunity. I have my many of my best friends that way. Why ask for a membership card (or battle scars) now?

    Don’t play Carcassonne or Pandemic? That’s fine. You show me your world, I’ll show you mine.

    Our wedding party included an underwater archaeologist, a geographer, a puppeteer, an accountant, an biological anthropologist, a Trekkie, a couple hard sci-fi readers, a poet, two artists, a university administrator, a system administrator, a church treasurer, four activists, two dancers, four gamers, four movie fanatics, and an amateur magician (among others).

    How many people is that total? 4 geeks- me, Jim, and 2 absolutely interesting friends. Could the Forbes writer spot any of us in a crowd?

    Maybe, maybe not. For now, I’ll stick to reading (and responding to ) blogs like Geek Mom where there is a seat for everyone (geeks, friends of geeks, geek-curious).

    1. We’ve actually had this conversation “behind the scenes” at GeekMom and every time we come back to the idea that geek is what we each see as geek. We all write for the same blog, with the same title, but put us all in one room, and you’ve got an incredibly varied group of women. And likely most of us would never stand out in our geekiness.

      Glad you’re enjoying GeekMom and GeekDad, where all the geeks and nerds and everything in between are welcome!

  6. I want to share a little story:
    I work at a charter school cafeteria. Last fall I went to Geek Girl Con in Seattle where I got the con t-shirt. I always wear t-shirts to school. I think it helps the kids see me as alright and sometimes it breaks the ice. Most of my shirts are from shirt.woot, but all are appropriate for school.

    One day I wore my Geek Girl Con shirt to school. My license plate also boasts the geekiness of our family. I make no secret of being a geek. I even had the whole school celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day. So I was a bit surprised when the principal came up to me and asked me why I’d want to be a geek. You see, to her, it wasn’t about what I did, the t-shirts, the books, movies, weird holidays, or the science stuff (I have a biology degree). She couldn’t understand why anyone would want the label. To her it was a negative term.

    But over the last few years the geek community has worked hard to make it a positive term, and during that time marketing has jumped on the wagon, just like they do every other potentially profitable movement. The result is that young people know longer have to fear the geek label, but it also means that those who fear not being trendy also jump to the term. With our positive gain for the young geeks of today, we have to accept mainstream association. In the long, I think the G+ discussion yesterday nailed this. Real geeks will still find each other, and that is a win. Fake geeks will be easily identifiable and eventually move on. It may have it’s annoyances, but it’s not that big of a deal in the long run.

    1. You are absolutely right, that the mainstream association is difficult for those who grew up without it to accept. It means people do jump on the bandwagon at times, especially from a marketing angle, but it’s such a fantastic thing for younger geeks who don’t have to face some of what older geeks dealt with every day. I’d like to see that acceptance stay even if the hippness of it all fades.

  7. I have the scars from growing up as a geek when it most certainly was not cool. I also had the grades that got me scholarships and the thankfulness when I entered college that high school was a light year away from my college experience. I blossomed in college and I never lost my geek. I just was around so many others with similar differences that it no longer mattered. Now as an adult, as a mom, as a business owner, I am so thankful that my little geeks do not have to endure the hell that was my school experience. Why should I begrudge them the acceptance that I longed for in school? I am not bitter so I do not act in bitterness. Maybe those that are hating on the new geeks should reflect.

  8. Ultimate example of the argument about “What is Geek?” – stop me if you’ve heard this one:

    “I’m a PC.”
    “And I’m a Mac.”

    PC: Glasses, hairstyle, clothing; it all screams classic geek.
    Mac: Casual shirt, jeans, longer hair; he’s cool, not a geek – but he is a geek… isn’t he?

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