Geek Policing: Fake Geek Girls and Contested Attention

Joseph Reagle


I frame the 2012–2013 discourse about “fake geek girls” using Bourdieu’s theory of fields and capital, complemented by the literature on geeks, authenticity, and boundary policing. This discourse permits me to identify the reciprocal relationship between the policing of identity (e.g., Am I a geek?) and the policing of social boundaries (e.g., Is liking an X-Men movie sufficiently geeky?). Additionally, geekdom is gendered, and the policing of fake geek girls can be understood as a conflict over what is attended to (knowledge or attractiveness), by whom (geekdom or mainstream), and the meaning of received attention (as empowering or objectifying). Finally, despite the emergence of a more progressive and welcoming notion of geeks-who-share, the conversation tended to manifest the values of dominant (androcentric) members. That is, in a discourse started by a woman to encourage other women to be geeky, some of the loudest voices were those judging women’s bodies and brains according to traditionally androcentric and heteronormative values. Consequently, in this boundary and identity policing, women faced significant double binds, and the discourse exemplified a critical boomerang in which a critique by a woman circled back to become a scrutiny of women by men.


authenticity, boundaries, geek, gender, policing, subculture

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