December 12, 2011
In her introduction to Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits are Taking Over the World, Leslie Simon defines a geek as “a person who is wildly passionate about an activity, interest, or scientific field and strives to be an expert in said avocation.” What distinguishes a geek from his or her close relatives—say, a nerd, a dork, or a dweeb—is that a geek “does not necessarily sacrifice social status to participate in area of expertise; instead, person will often seek out like-minded peers—in both the real and virtual worlds—in order to connect, bond, and celebrate mutual love for this area.
With this sociability in mind, Leslie aims to unite geeky girls worldwide. She notes that geek guys have sucked up the air in the room—Seth Rogen, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Cera, to name a few—and that it’s time for women to claim some of the oxygen; but first, we must learn to recognize one another. This is where Geek Girls Unite, an amusing field guide to geekdom, lends a helping hand.
There are many types of geeks out there: there’s the comic book geek, the music geek, the movie geek, the comedy geek, the geek who enjoys the domestic arts, and those geeks who always have their nose in a book. Using pop-anthropology, Leslie profiles each of these types, highlighting where they can be found, their outward signifiers, and who their historical predecessors are.
Having written something of a manifesto, Leslie says, “Embrace your quirkiness!”—and with Geek Girls Unite she makes it a little bit easier.
Leslie spoke with me about the impetus for the book, her research, finding geek mentors, and growing up geek.
What was the spark that led you to write Geek Girls Unite?
I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to remember what or who it was that sparked the idea for Geek Girls Unite and the only thing I got out of it was a big lump on my noggin. Odds are, I was probably standing in the middle of some weird L.A. party, feeling completely out of place and having horrible high-school flashbacks. Or maybe I was watching 30 Rock, basking in the amazingness of Tina Fey and her Liz Lemon alter-ego while sucking back a glass of wine. Either way, I’m sure it was inspired by how I used to feel my quirks and idiosyncrasies held me back—when, in fact, they probably helped propel me to where I am today.
You’d mentioned feeling ashamed of your geekiness growing up. I can totally relate. When I look back at what I did to fit in I cringe. How did you react to, or against, your inner-geek—and when did you finally accept that it was who you were and you weren’t going to change?
I still consider myself a work in progress, but my geek evolution started happening when I was eighteen. Once I went away to college and realized that I could choose my friends, it was a whole different ballgame. I wasn’t forced to socially cohabitate with people just because they lived in the same zip code; I could actually choose my comrades based on similar interests and outlooks. (What a concept!)
What would you tell your teen geek self if you ran into her today?
I would definitely tell her to loosen up and live a little… or a lot! In high school, I was so scared of life—scared of not doing well on a test, scared of my friends thinking I was lame, scared of getting in trouble for missing curfew, scared of disappointing my parents. I really didn’t understand the concept of unconditional love, whether it was coming from my friends, my family or myself. When you want so badly to be liked (and/or loved), it’s easy to lose focus on who you really are and what’s really important. I know that now… but it would’ve been nice to understand it a little sooner.
You have a section in each chapter called “Geek Love” where you give a description of a guy who would be compatible with the specific type of geek girl outlined. Finding a good match, especially in high school, can be difficult, if not impossible. What were your dating experiences like in high school and what advice do you have for young women negotiating the hormonal minefield today?
First of all (and unrelated to your question), I’d love to say that while I highlight male love matches in each of the chapters, I really mean to spotlight whoever your beloved might be: male, female, transgendered, animal, mineral, vegetable, what have you. It was a huge yet unintentional oversight on my part, and I want to make sure that my readers know that geek love knows no gender.
Okay, now that I’m off my soapbox, I’d like to say that my dating experiences were nonexistent in high school. Zero. Zilch. Nada. At the time, I think I was more interested in having boy friends than boyfriends—or at least that’s what I told myself to avoid a full-on emotional shame spiral. (Plus, I spent most of those four years lusting after my best guy friend who I’m pretty sure ended up being gay. That’ll put a slight cramp in your romantic life, huh?) Ergo, I’m probably not the best person to give romantic advice. However, if I had to muster up some pearls of wisdom, I’d tell said hormone-fueled geeks to be patient and not to settle. It might take a while to find the He-Man—or She-Ra—of your dreams, but that person is out there. Trust.
Where was your weakness in compiling this book and how did you overcome it?
Great question. I think I was most nervous about compiling each geek’s character sketch because it’s such an intimate portrait of who these girls are. Thankfully, I was able to pick the brains of my friends and acquaintances, and that really helped to humanize all of the characteristics that I was trying to paint together into one cohesive picture. I also spent a lot of time agonizing over which Geek Goddesses to include in each chapter. It’s hard to pick only six women to represent an entire subculture, but I gave it my best shot!
You’re a self-professed music geek—did that make the music geek chapter easier or harder to write?
I’d have to say both. Going into that chapter, I knew I had to be really focused because it would be easy to overwhelm the reader with all sorts of tangents and sidebars. Seeing that my past two books were primarily music-centric, I also didn’t want to repeat anything, so it was quite a challenge to write things from a fresh perspective, even if I had tackled them in some way before. That said, I didn’t do as much research for that chapter because I felt super-familiar with the subject matter, probably more than any other content in the book.
Do you feel there’s something women bring to music journalism that’s unique to them? Something a guy might not necessarily be able to tap into, express, or just miss completely?
When it comes to communication styles between the genders, they say women are more interested in rapport and men in report. Generally speaking, of course, women music writers seem to connect more with the emotional side of music as opposed to the technical side—at least that’s why I started scribbling about bands, although I’ve never thought of myself as a music journalist. I’m a writer who just so happens to write a lot about musicians because they have amazing stories to tell and I’d like to be the one who helps them get the words out.
You mention that young geek girls should seek out mentors — find someone in a field that they’re interested in and contact them for advice. As someone working in a hectic field you know that life can be busy, emails tend to pile up, and general inquiries, if not presented correctly, can go ignored. What tips do you have for approaching professionals?
Before you reach out to anyone, I’d recommend that you research them as much as possible. Not only will it help you focus on the questions you’d like to ask them about their career trajectory, but there’s nothing worse than getting a query that appears to be a cut-and-paste job. Plus, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: People love to talk about themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask questions! Finally, while I try to write back everyone that contacts me, I know I’m prone to write back faster if we have a friend or acquaintance in common. So go ahead and ask for a virtual introduction or recommendation if you’re a couple degrees away from your would-be mentor.
Leslie Simon is the author of Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide To Your Favorite Music Scenes and co-author of Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture. She is currently the Senior Creative Director at Warner Bros. Records. You can find her online right here.