I identify as a female geek. I’ve been a geek my whole life. I wrote Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfiction in middle school. I memorized an encyclopedia of dinosaurs for fun. I edit this website which is all about women in geek culture. And sometimes I see the perfect opportunity come up – the opportunity to edit an RPG rule book, a friend looking for a co-creator on a project, a new LARP initiative, a convention calling for panelists – and I don’t apply.
My initial instinct is that I should apply, but I don’t. Why? Impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.” (Source: Caltech Counseling Center.)
The reasons behind why I experience impostor syndrome are many, especially at this point in my life. Beyond interpersonal relationships, I remember a very damaged American economy: one that told me my years of experience and education were not valuable enough to earn money; now I still have a hard time believing they are.
Why I Don’t Often Mention Impostor Syndrome or Reach Out For Support
I don’t really talk about impostor syndrome often. Because unless you enjoy watching gaslighting unfold on your Facebook wall just for funsies, you probably shouldn’t post that you’re experiencing impostor syndrome because among the genuine encouragement you might receive (or in my case, private messages from other marginalized geeks saying ‘I feel the same way!’), you’re going to get a couple of dudebros who tell you one thing: it’s all in your head.
While I observe various types of people experiencing impostor syndrome, I see it happen really often among women in geek culture.
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Speaking for myself, I know I shouldn’t need tons of validation from other people (especially men) to have value in my hobbies and in my professional life, but the struggle is unfortunately very real when it comes to living in the patriarchy. White men have been the gatekeepers of geek culture, and even though that’s changing with con panels, events, and media for, by, and about women in geek culture, the past traumas are still evident and must be recognized and addressed.
Notice how I began this post by listing my geek cred? That’s what it’s like to be a woman when you walk into a comic book or gaming shop, sit down at the table to play Dungeons & Dragons, or cosplay on the convention floor. You need to be willing to fight to prove your value if your tribe isn’t there to support you.
What Motivates Me to Move Past Impostor Syndrome?
I have my own tribe of people who are on ‘my team.’ I can confide in them regardless of the situation. If I need some encouragement or genuinely worry that I’m about to make a decision that may take my life in the wrong direction, I consult them and receive honest answers.
They can do this because:
- They have my best interests in mind.
- They are aware of my short and long term goals, and when those change, I keep them informed.
- They can detect and encourage my enthusiasm over a new career or extracurricular opportunity.
- They know I have limited spoons and will tell me when I’m overdoing it vs. simply trying to gatekeep an area of nerd culture.
The Geek Woman’s Myth of Curing Impostor Syndrome
I always tell myself things like “once I speak on a panel at a small local comic book convention, I’ll feel totally qualified to speak on a panel at New York Comic Con.”
Then I do it. And then I don’t feel qualified. When you’re constantly challenged and made to feel like your experiences are not valid, you realize it’s like chasing happiness and other figments and fables of the American dream: that thing without you won’t validate your quest or your self-worth; it’s just an outside value you can brag about for a limited amount of time.
That said, I still want to speak on a panel at NYCC. Someday. When I’m not submitting my press pass request at the last minute because even though I’ve been approved as press for the event for years, I’m still terrified of the rejection.
As a mentor of younger women in geek culture, I’m hesitant to confess to self-doubt, but now that I’ve done it, I think it’s important. It’s a very real thing and we shouldn’t let others dismiss it as unrealistic or frivolous.
Can we maybe get through this together?
Are you a woman in geek culture who experiences impostor syndrome? How do you overcome it? Let’s talk about it in the comments.