That awkward moment when George Takei’s Duela Dent Facebook post turned into a geek girl gender war

George Takei posts Duela Dent cosplay

So I accidentally (and I think subconsciously) participated in a not-so-obvious gender battle yesterday. Or perhaps it was never a gender battle to begin with. Let’s discuss. It involved a mistaken cosplay shame meme. An Internet troll posted a meme, shaming a cosplayer’s Duela Dent costume, unaware that she was actually a legit comic book character, but instead believing that she had just put together 3 different ideas into a (very good) mash-up cosplay.

Let’s talk about the language on the meme. “Trying to hard” connotes shaming for effort. Why would we ever shame someone for putting in too much effort? Even if this was, as the meme maker falsely believes, a gender swapped steampunk Joker…. so? If someone tries to do something, and they put hours and hours into it, and it’s obvious they’ve put a lot of hard work into it, why would we try to shame them for it? This raises the question – if it was a male cosplayer with a similar 3 way mash-up, would he be “shamed” for extra effort? Even if the cosplay was executed terribly, if the effort was there, how could we shame someone in the cosplay community for partaking in a hobby we all love so much? But sadly, shaming exists. It isn’t something I ever expected to find so predominant in the geek community, but here we are.

It’s obvious the quality of her costume is incredible. But the meme maker’s issue seems to be with the quality – as well as diversity. It sounds to me like this person doesn’t like cosplay in general, with a statement like that. If they were a true cosplayer, I would doubt they would shame a member of their own community, no matter what they wore! I personally would give a 3-way well executed mash-up costume 5 stars! Mash-ups are hard! I did a “Dalek Princess” at New York Comic Con last year, and I don’t think most people got it. And anyway, if you’re going to be taking issue with any mash up cosplayer, it’s gotta be this guy first and foremost. *shudder*

I’m not sure exactly why I commented the way I did. Oh yeah, that’s right, because I’m an Internet pixie. I make stupid jokes. And I think I did immediately think, “Oh it’s because she’s a woman!” Looking back, yeah, it’s not blatantly about the fact that she is a girl, and a geek. But I think it might be, and even subconsciously, I was wondering, if this sort of thing is related to her gender. Is it that the meme maker (who obviously never heard of Duela Dent) assumed she was doing this for attention? For sexual glances? For something we’d stereotype the “Idiot nerd girl” for doing? What exactly makes the meme maker so mad? Is the meme maker a man?

I put my feelers out to the Geek Girl Pen Pals Facebook community and got some fantastic responses.

Post a comment to let me know what you think about my comment, this meme, and gender roles in the geek community in general. Did this thread get turned into a gender war for no reason? Or is it secretly about the fact that she’s a woman all along? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Other cool articles on the topic
Blogpost # 3: Discrimination in Cosplay
Misogyny and Size Discrimination in Cosplay
The Negative Side of Cosplaying
I’m a Black Female Cosplayer And Some People Hate It

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27 thoughts on “That awkward moment when George Takei’s Duela Dent Facebook post turned into a geek girl gender war

  1. When I first saw it, I thought the person who made the “trying too hard” image clearly did not understand cosplay. I feel like part of the point of cosplay is you can do/be whatever you want. Even if you *don’t* put a lot of work into it & do it well, if you like it & have fun, I say more power to you.
    …& it probably was some insecure male who believes in the “friend zone”, desperate for attention on the internet, trying to be clever.

    • Haha! “The friend zone” – yeah I couldn’t imagine a female creating this meme, but who can say? It’s such a fantastic costume, I can’t believe anyone would try to put her down about it.

  2. I love this post!
    I think that a lot of people don’t immediately notice when memes subtle-y target female geeks and call their “geek validity”, or what have you, into question. I’ve seen a huge number of memes on Pinterest about how “people who are mad that the new Doctor isn’t young and hot should get out of the fandom, aren’t real fans, etc etc”. Obviously, the memes don’t come right out and say “fake geek girls get out!”, but they’re clearly targeting young, female Who fans who may or may not lack knowledge about the show’s 50 year history.

    Shit like that drives me crazy, and I’m glad you had the balls to get right to the heart of the problem, which is that male geeks rarely get shamed for “trying too hard.” “Trying too hard” is an insult reserved for people who want to belong to a group that only has disdain for them. Like when an unpopular girl buys all the designer clothes and gets a makeover, only to have the popular crowd roll their eyes and tell her she’s “trying to hard.” That’s basically saying, no matter what you do, you don’t deserve to be here.

    It’s definitely an insidious gender-biased meme. I’m glad you said something, and it seems like most of the other commenters agreed with you (based on your screen shots).

    • You’re completely right about the “trying to hard” and its parallels to girls’ wearing designer clothes and getting a makeover. It’s almost like a kind of Mean Girls stance where you’d shame a girl who never wore lipstick to school for suddenly deciding she wants to start wearing lipstick. Does that “trying to hard” thing ever happen to men? I think it probably happens much more often to women because of how they are constantly objectified for their image/weight/clothes/look.

      • I agree. There’s almost a “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” element that women deal with that men never do. It’s all appearance-based. If you’re a professional lady, then you should be wearing make-up and coming to work dressed smartly–HOWEVER, too much make-up or too trendy clothes will get comments, and not enough make-up or attention to appearance will get comments.

        UGH. Being a chick is HARD.

  3. I would say the meme was blatantly, not secretly based around the fact that the cosplayer is female. The entire thing stinks of putting women, in this case specifically geek-oriented women in their place. Continuing to make sure that the idea (myth) that women and girls don’t know anything about the geek community and are just there to gain attention through physical appearance is kept out there.

    I agree completely with Kaiwilli and Commodore Valerie.

    • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who initially thought that it was gender based. I had to second guess myself because I didn’t want to be all like “RAGING TAMPONS” and make it about gender if it wasn’t about gender – but I think it was and I’m glad to know people can agree and talk about it <3

  4. Personally I think it is because nerd-girls aren’t supposed to be pretty, sexy, hot, or any other positive adjective you want to put with it. I remember a hundred years ago (at least it feels that way) when people argued that Velma (Scooby-Doo) was too pretty to be the nerd. The image most people seem to have of geeky-nerdy females is thick glasses, greasy long, straight hair, zits, unbrushed teeth…you get the idea. So were you right in your guess that it was a gender thing? I think so. Was the meme maker ignorant? Clearly. In more ways than one. Should he have done his homework? Absolutely. Since he clearly didn’t that says to me that he is a geek poser. Obviously not a real nerd or he would have researched the costume before making a mean meme.

  5. I got criticised at Comic Con last year for my Doctor Who / Adventure time mashup, but it was just one jerk and I highly doubt someone made a dumb meme out of it but it still sort of bummed me out. Who are you to say what my costume should be! I can’t even imagine what Comic Con must be like from a girls perspective and that makes me sad. It’s supposed to be a cool and welcoming community. Why is ‘trying too hard’ even a bad thing?

  6. I’ll admit, I’ve seen this meme multiple times and have ALWAYS read it as being gendered. There is no specific indication that it is about her being female or that the original troll is male but it smacks of it. It could be a knee jerk response to make this leap, based on the all too constant attack on female geeks, but I feel it is still a safe assumption because the meme deals with knowledge of an obscure character not ability. Obviously this young woman is an experienced cosplayer. The costume is detailed, well constructed, and complete – whether Duela Dent or a Mash-Up, no one can see this and think she’s a novice. So her status as a cosplayer is not in question – it is content not construct that is being called into question. The original troll is assuming that this cosplayer is overdoing it – mixing what should not be mixed, blending too many fandoms (as if that’s a thing). The original poster is a geek purist. Perhaps the original meme creator would give props to a well-constructed Batgirl or Phoenix costume, so long as it remained pure but isn’t that response gendered in itself? That you can only cosplay your gender? That she’s trying too hard because she gender-swapped Joker and added steampunk? I ignore the jibe about Willy Wonka because the hat is just as easily steampunk and really in no way reflects Wonka specifically. The indication to me seems to be that because she’s a GURRRL she doesn’t know any better and ought to have stuck with something simple.

    To be fair though, geek purity is a plague. Though often (mostly?) directed at women, it is also directed at men. Even Hugh Jackman was not exempt when he cosplayed as Wolverine and was told that he was “too tall” for the character.

    • So true. And geek purity is an unavoidable problem in this community. Take a community of people whose basis for their name, “geek,” is their mass obsession with something. Obsession = you pretty much know everything about it, and when someone makes an error about something, you want to be the first to tell them. You have spent hours, days, weeks, tons of time learning all you can about your fandom after all! I’m picturing the guys from Big Bang theory, who are constantly arguing theories, and who knows more about it, etc. :)

  7. I typically ignore memes, due to the fact that I find the majority of them utterly devoid of legitimate humor, or the rhetorical efficacy thereof, but I feel compelled to attempt a contribution to this blog, as with anything that addresses a dynamic of an issue relevant to my moral interest that I neglect to extrapolate prior to its elucidation. Even outside of the specific context, you’re right; the association of the already insipid concept of “trying too hard” with “slutty hoez lol” appears to be abused disproportionately to its other potential connotations, now that you mention it. Then again, the anonymity/metademographic of the internet does tend to exacerbate the absurdly inordinate, cultural obsession with anathematizing women, so I’m not sure if I’d attribute its presence in the aforementioned context more heavily to the partiality of the meme author, or the normalization of such phenomena engendered by the manifest social evolution of the internet populace. Also, nerd culture constituency does not necessitate a particularly valid intellectual focus, nor has it ever. I met almost all of the genuinely brilliant people I know personally from county jails, group homes, psychiatric wards, and shelters (which is to say, not many, but the very nature of outstanding intellect is largely predicated on its anomaly).

    • Vocabulary: You has a good one.

      I think it says something about my brain that I find almost all memes hilarious… but I’m not sure what…

      Something just tells me that trolls like to bash people because they can, for no real reason, woman or not because it gives them a little bit of validation in a weird way. This dude probably has a raging e-peen about the fact that, despite his error in character discernment, this thing went viral. Hell, maybe that was intentional – you never know with some trolls.

      Hehe. E-peen.

      • Heh, yeah; it’s very true that the madness of the internet often stems from trolls, discernible or otherwise, but, despite my surprising lack of perspicacity, I suspect there to be a fairly flagrant kernel of earnesty in a lot of the idiocy that people tend to perfunctorily dismiss as “trolling” (not that I blame them; it certainly isn’t as though I’m unfamiliar with the threshold at which sanity inevitably just breaks down).

  8. To be honest, I liked your snarky (or was it sarcastic?) comment. I think that women who are into geeky things are often seen as illegitimate and need to prove themselves in order to be able to officially say that they are, in fact, geeky/nerdy. There was a meme that I saw a while back about a girlfriend and a boyfriend playing video games and the boyfriend asking to ‘go to bed’, and the girlfriend jumped up and said, “Yes! No more of this boring boy crap!” Because apparently all girls find gaming to be boring. Then, there was another, in the form of a short video, but I don’t remember much of it. …Or maybe that was it.

  9. I saw, and loved this post when Takei posted it, but admittedly didn’t see the comment war unfolding below. When I saw it, I didn’t interpret it as specific to the cosplayer’s gender, but I did feel like it was an unfair bashing of a group that’s already had a lot of crap slung at them–i.e., geek ladies. It may not be in the same vein as the ‘Fake Geek Girl’ meme, but it’s closer to it than I ever want to be. (For the record, I’m speaking as a male, so I grant I may be missing something…)

    What I really loved was that, with Takei’s account posting it, it officially became viral. The shame attempt, regardless of the initial post’s intent, was not only beaten back, but now put in front of a massive audience.

    Honestly, it’s probably more related to the meme-maker himself (or herself, which is possible) being put out by their own lack of creativity.

  10. I’d just like to start of strong, by saying the meme maker is clearly a dick. I’d also like to say that women definitely have more pressure to prove they’re actually “In the club” as it were. But keep in mind, geek culture is NOT a friendly place for casuals. I could just as easily see this being a conversation between two males jockeying for Alpha Geek status. It’s ruthless, and built on being technically correct (the best kind of correct!).

    This is isn’t just a problem with women in geekdom, it’s a problem with geekdom itself. It’s why online games abound with cries of “NOOB!”. It’s why there’s such steep learning curves for games like DOTA2 where people would rather castigate their own teammates for sucking than help them out. It’s a replacement, and a transference, of the shame, isolation and abuse that geeks used to feel back in the 90’s when comics and the like were escapes for those of us who had less than fulfilling lives. Much like any cycle of abuse, really, it’s the abused repeating what they’ve learned in places where they have power.

    Hopefully, ours is the last generation this toxic attitude infects. But I think it’s really short-sighted and selfish even to claim it’s only a woman’s problem, and it derails from the larger issue that we need to stop taking advantage of anonymity, and start treating people better online regardless of who they are or how our personal lives are.

    • I think the problem you are addressing is not explicitly limited to “geek” culture, but the far more epiphenomenal type of cognitive dissonance propagated by all pseudo-intellectuals, as well as those inclined to apotheosize any other type of arbitrarily perceived superiority. This tends to permeate all subcultural affiliations, because it stems from an ecumenically present tendency toward perceived inadequacy, and is made painfully obvious when such agitators are confronted with the expectation to corroborate the putatively pragmatic applicability ostensibly suggested by their incessantly emphasized purveyance of nominal competence, that simply cannot be circumvented in the absence of assiduous conditioning. ugh sry guys i keep stuntin even when i try not to.

  11. Pingback: Geek Girl Pride is contagious! Stop bullies and trolls in their tracks by being proud. | Leslie IRL

  12. I dont know who Duela Dent is but when i saw that picture (before the meme came out i think?) I remember thinking “wow that’s elaborate. She did a damn fine job with that” I’ve only ever cosplayed once and it was as Shirahama Keniichi at an anime convention in Japan so my knowledge of it is limited. But following various cosplay websites or ones that post cosplay pictures (ie Tokyo Otaku Mode) I’ve learned that I dont know a LOT of characters and there are some people that make their own but passion is passion and man woman or vegetable its beautiful.

  13. I couldn’t agree more. When I saw the photo, I was drawn to the elaborate detail of her exceptional costume. Like you said, I was unable to comprehend why, even if it was a three character mash up, she was criticized. Just appreciate the artistic expression. Especially when it looks that amazing.

  14. It’s not gender bent it’s fucking duela dent you damn morons, which is the jokers daughter. Do your fucking homework and stop making is real nerds look bad it’s a god Damn disgrace.

  15. Personally, I just feel like the whole “attacking female nerds” interpretation is way off base (although I understand your perspective). I just didn’t think about gender at all when I read it.

    The gist of the original picture, to me, seems to be about nerds who “try too hard” in the opinion of the meme-creator.

    Likewise, the comeback doesn’t say anything about gender. We don’t know if “frostbackscat” is male or female, and FBC doesn’t say anything about guys or girls or anything like that. The message here is, “don’t open your mouth without understanding what you’re talking about, because you’re liable to end up with your foot in it.”

    The bottom line is you don’t even know at first glance if it’s even a woman or a transgender person doing the cosplay. If they had actually been a transgender person cosplaying as the Martha Wayne Joker from “Flashpoint”, would you still have assumed this was a deliberate attack on women? Would you consider it an attack on transgender nerds? Or is it possible that the creator just hadn’t read the Flashpoint Batman story arc and was unfamiliar with the female Joker character?

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