X-Women and the Power of Geek Girls

In a groundbreaking step for the comic book world, X-Men has finally released its first all-women superhero team. Marvel‘s latest issue of X-Men #1, Vol. 4, brings together six female mutants—Storm, Rogue, Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, Rachel Grey and Psylocke—at the woman-named Jean Grey School for Higher Learning to form a mold-breaking ensemble, both for the 50-year-old X-Universe as well as the whole of nerd culture.

A popular series boasting several feature films, animated television shows and countless comic books, X-Men explores generations of mutants learning to harness their various abilities for the good of humanity. Among these mutants, many are powerful and recognizable women characters who play significant roles in major storylines. But until volume 4 of X-Men #1, these women have always been accompanied by a male mutant.

X-Men isn’t the first series to launch a team of superheroines. Rival powerhouse DC Comics has been publishing Birds of Prey, featuring a long list of women led by Batgirl/Oracle, since 1996. Marvel has also been showcasing women as headline heroes in Captain Marvel and Red She-HulkMarvel even previously attempted to push for an X-Woman-fronted series called X-23 about the self-titled female clone of Wolverine, but the series was discontinued. Red-She Hulk is expected to meet the same sad fate come August.

What makes X-Men #1 particularly bold is that its all-woman cast takes on a mainstream title and the women aren’t shuffled into a lesser-known extension of a more popular male-fronted series—thus they’re less likely to face series extinction.

As series editor Jeanine Schaefer has said, these women are X-Men, and their inclusion as such disrupts expectations of popular comics and challenges fans’ male-catering comfort zones. The issue is not without criticism, however. Some argue that not calling them “X-Women” means there is a fear of losing male readership. And, apart from Schaefer, the production side features little female influence: The book is written and drawn by two men (which might account for Storm’s disappointingly typical comic book cleavage). Still, Schaefer and writer Brian Wood say they are dedicated to being more sensitive to things that “turn women off from comics” (lack of women characters, reduction of women to love interests instead of being adventurous on their own, sexual violence against women, etc.).

On top of that, a much-needed sensitivity to geek girls makes X-Men‘s change so important: Like it or not guys, women are in your comic book stores, reading your comics, consuming your nerd culture—and they deserve recognition.

Nerd/geek culture is no longer a niche market: It’s everywhere. In most clothing and gift stores, you can’t help but run into a Batman, Superman, or Avengers logo. Comic-Con, which once drew less than 1,000 attendees, is now a nerd extravaganza with 130,000 convention-goers and numerous appearances by pop culture superstars. With this rise of nerds, it’s becoming less stigmatized to come out as one, male or female.

And we don’t mean a just few geek girls here and there. Blogging and social media makes it increasingly evident that, like geek culture, geek girls also defy niche status, and it’s the support of girls that keep many geek franchises alive. Brett White captures women’s uniquely powerful role in fandoms:

The Avengers was pretty darn huge, and if Tumblr is any indication, a whopping portion of the people driving that fandom online do not possess a Y chromosome. Women engage in fandom to levels that men do not. When women get behind something, their sheer numbers and passion force it into the mainstream. That’s why you can name the actor who plays that werewolf kid in Twilight and probably sing at least the chorus to one Justin Bieber song. What do tween boys like? I have no clue. Sports? Probably sports.

Unfortunately, outspoken women in the nerd community are often met with backlash and skepticism. It’s not uncommon for women to be grilled by men about their nerd knowledge at conventions, or be questioned for daring to wear a Green Lantern shirt in public.

Gender essentialism in nerd culture has even spawned the distasteful trope of the “Fake Geek Girl,” someone who latches onto nerd culture because it’s trendy, not because she’s dedicated all of her free time to leveling for The Horde or viewing all 798 episodes of Doctor Who (which, for some reason, is an incredible offense that warrants scrutiny and ridicule).

The Fake Geek Girl is basically what every woman is assumed to be until she can prove otherwise (if she can prove otherwise), which is not only unfair and sexist but has also turned this community that once provided a haven for outcasts and underdogs into just another gang of judgmental bullies. Women shouldn’t have to prove themselves to anyone in order to belong—especially not to nerds.

It’s time for nerd culture to eschew misogyny and make a bigger effort to welcome female fans. More nerd outlets need to take X-Men #1‘s plunge and put dynamic, powerful women where they deserve to be: On the cover, front and center.

Variant cover art from user Barucca at Marvel Wikia