Although geeky communities have recently risen to prominence as major cultural contributors, very little attention has been directed towards the women who live and work with nerd culture on a daily basis. Geek Girls addresses this oversight by delving into a world of professional gamers, cosplayers, comic artists, NASA rocket scientists and Lolita fashion models.
I was born in socialist Hungary in the 1980s. Despite the fact that there remains no word for geek in my native language, I spent my youth indulging in classically geeky pursuits: I read comics, played with Lego and model train sets, read walkthroughs and dreamed of playing video games one day. As the innocence of childhood began to fade into the gauntlet of adolescence, I started to hide my nerdy side. I gave up playing board games, because I had no one to play with. I stopped reading comics or playing games, because I was told it was silly.
After I emigrated to Canada, finding the label geek was a revelation to me. I embraced geek culture to the fullest. As I found new friends and rediscovered comics, games and conventions, I came to realise geek culture could no longer be dismissed as a mere subcultural dalliance. Geek had gone mainstream.
Playing games on your smartphone is the new normal. Working in tech is cool. And the games industry has a higher yearly revenue than Hollywood. The diversity and complexity of many geek communities still surprises me, and the deeper I delve into the fandom, the prouder I become.
In 2013, I started working on a documentary film about my experiences as a geeky woman – a documentary that would make my my teenage self feel proud to be a geek. I wanted to make sure the film documented a variety of experiences, not just mine, so I reached out to dozens of women around the world to hear their stories. In doing so, I came to recognise elements of my own experience, to see my own struggles reflected in theirs.
Hearing about their passions, desires, hopes, and anxieties made me realise that rather than welcoming and supporting women, the geek community had reproduced the isolation that defined it by excluding female geeks in turn.
Online harassment, silent exclusion and lack of representation are just some of the glaring obstacles marginalised people face within geek culture. It is not an isolated phenomenon, and it is becoming harder and harder to deny that sexism, racism and xenophobia are ubiquitous in the geek community, and often takes dangerous forms.
Seeking and talking with geek women was one thing. Convincing them to be in the film, to take the spotlight and share their struggles and joys, turned out to be a monumental struggle. Forget embarrassment; in a world where online harassment is so pervasive, it became dangerous for these women to speak their truth.
Founders of international geek organisations and celebrities cancelled interviews days, sometimes hours, before shooting. They each had their reasons; all of them valid. But with each reason came one less voice to hear from. One more voice silenced.
This spring, I finally finished my film. It took three and a half years, an incredible amount of effort, and the most amazing crew who never stopped believing in the film – for a second. At the North American premiere, two teenage girls came up to me, all teared up, to thank me. They said that from now on, any time they feel discouraged, they will just watch Geek Girls and know that they are not alone; they will know that there are women out there who they can look up to when they need role models.
It was a powerful moment, because I had set out to make a film which would empower my often lost and confused teenage self. As I stood with these girls hugging and crying, I knew I had succeeded.
I hope that this film will demystify the geek world to those who don’t identify as geeks, and provide a safe platform upon which geek girls can express themselves. By chronicling the nuances and vibrancy of these outcasts, who gather to appreciate and bond over neglected media forms, I hope people will reevaluate their relationship towards the shy and the nerdy.
Geek Girls ended up being a documentary about much more than my own geek story. It is about all of us who feel left out, different and alone.
In gazing upon the 11 woman in the film, we may not find ourselves facing an enigma – rather, we may find ourselves facing a mirror which reflects the outsider inside us all.
Picture credit for Gina Hara: Anne-Garrity
About the author
Gina is a Canadian-Hungarian filmmaker and artist with a background in art and technology, interested in the experimental aspects and transmedial forms of visual culture. She holds an MA in Intermedia, an MFA in Film Production and has worked in film, video, new media, gaming and design. Her short film Waning (2011) was nominated for Best Canadian Short at the Toronto International Film Festival. Her latest project, Your Place or Minecraft (2016), is a machinima documentary-web series about game studies, available on YouTube.
Watch the Geek Girls trailer here.