The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy by Sam Maggs (book review).

December 5, 2017 | By | Reply More

While contemporary geek culture often sees itself as progressive and liberal, the reality is that it’s still one where women can struggle to feel completely accepted and at home. That’s a crying shame because, fundamentally, geek culture should be a celebration of precisely the sorts of idealism and diversity that characterise pretty much all modern Science Fiction and fantasy books, games, TV shows and films.

In ‘The Fangirl’s Guide To The Galaxy’, Sam Maggs writes what’s both a handbook to the world of geekdom and a self-defence manual for young women who might feel themselves out of step with their male equivalents.

So if we take the book as a field guide, we get an overview of the different types of people who the author puts forward as the major categories, ie anime fans, ‘Star War’s fans, comicbook fans and so on. Now some readers will, I’m sure, object to the synonymy of geekdom with the popularity of particular entertainment franchises, this reviewer included. Many women read and write ‘proper’ Science Fiction and fantasy, but in fairness to Maggs, she’s writing primarily for the young women who want to talk about Japanese animation or dress up as video game characters for Hallowe’en.

But the darker side of geekdom is the way young women have sometimes been treated by their male peers. Whether you want to call them neckbeards or sexist jerks doesn’t really matter, the point is that having created a sub-culture on the back of historically male interests, such as comicbooks and video games, some men find it difficult to accept real women into their world. It isn’t as if geek culture lacks fictional women characters, but these have overwhelmingly tended to be hyper-sexualised, something feminists have taken issue with over the years.

Maggs’ approach here is to recommend ways in which young women can engage with geek culture while retaining a certain degree of awareness of the latent misogyny out there. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes and if you’re going to sign up the a ‘Star Trek’ forum to debate the merits of Janeway over Kirk or visit ComicCon dressed as Harley Quinn, it’s logical to think about what you’re going to do there and what might go wrong. This isn’t to suggest that Maggs sees the geek culture as threatening. In many ways its one of the safest spaces for people of all different types and she’s very much of the viewpoint that geeks are, regardless of gender, all fans of the same sorts of things.

Let’s be frank here: this book is a real eye-opener for male readers who see themselves as part of the geekdom. Again and again, this reviewer recognised behaviour he’d seen in person or online and, while he hadn’t thought much of it at the time, on reflection it’s easy enough to see how simply writing things off as ‘boys will be boys’ has allowed a certain degree of misogyny to persist to the present day. At the same time, Maggs truly does celebrate the best of geek culture as diverse, welcoming and, above all, potentially empowering in providing ways for women and men to constructively engage with each other over a common interest. All too often hobbies are seen as either male or female endeavours, it’s good to see that geek culture bucks this trend, providing role models for both genders as well as ways to disassemble historical norms from societal demands.

Overall, a good little book and an ideal gift for any geeky young woman in her teens or twenties. If the book has any flaws, it’s probably that it assumes geekiness is identical with an interest in Science Fiction and fantasy franchises, rather than, say, engagement with the STEM subjects at school and college or, for that matter, an interest in ‘hard’ Science Fiction and fantasy in the form of printed books. Indeed, there is a certain irony in Maggs’ book in the assumption female geeks are happy to dress up as astronauts but don’t want to become astronauts.

Neale Monks

December 2017

(pub: Quirk Books. 207page smaller hardback. Price: $15.95 (US), $16.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-59474-789-2)

check out website: www.quirkbooks.com

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