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Geek Girls on TV: Sending a Good or a Bad Message?

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In a recent article, journalist Ellen Gray argues that geek girls "rule on TV shows," giving examples such as Astrid on Fringe and Angela on Bones. But do they, indeed, rule? And what message does it send about female geeks?

In the Philly.com article Geek girls rule on TV shows, Ellen Gray specifically defines geek girls as intelligent, science-minded, computer savvy females - as opposed to the more dorky, awkward kind of geek some girls may instead identify as. None the less, any promotion of geek girls is good, right? Or is it?

In her article, Gray uses the TV shows Bones and The Big Bang Theory as examples of having strong female geek characters, and writes,

If seeing is believing, some think having girls grow up seeing women on television with math and science backgrounds may lead to more women pursuing careers in those fields.

What I think is important to remember, however, is that the particular geek girls mentioned in the article - Angela on Bones and Amy and Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory - are supporting characters.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow was the one the shy geeky girl whom fangirls could idolise, while main character Buffy - as much of a girl power role model as she was - was a skinny, blonde cheerleader who cared about fashion and boys more than homework and technology. In terms of geek girl progression, Buffy is a very problematic show, and it's not the only one. Fringe may have Astrid, but Olivia is the lead - and while she's a far cry from Buffy, she's not in any way a geek. Neither is Brennan on Bones, or Cordelia on Angel (whose leading geek girl Fred is brilliant, but ultimately secondary).

In fact, skimming across the field of American TV culture, Geek Girls are often relegated to comic relief. Is this the image we want popular culture to project of us? That dorky can be adorable, but ultimately we will always be relegated to the sidelines?

Of course, one new series which is taking a different approach is New Girl, an American sitcom that premiered in the UK this January, in which actress Zooey Deschanel portrays Jess, the dorky, awkward protagonist who cites The Lord of the Rings and makes up theme tunes about herself. Yet there is a fundamental difference between being a geek in a nerdy pop-culture kind of way and being a "science geek" who is intelligent and involved with maths, computer programming, biochemistry or similar.

Zooey Deschanel and New Girl send a great and positive message, but from Ellen Gray's perspective, here is yet another female main character who is not allowed to be intelligent and geeky. It seems it always must be one or the other.

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