‘The Unicorn Files’ busts the myth that girl geeks don’t exist

Esandra "Essie Charm" Hollman, Seattle photographer, pin-up model and cosplayer, is featured on the blog and forthcoming book "The Unicorn Files." The project features girl geeks. (Photo by Nate Watters for The Unicorn Files.)
Esandra “Essie Charm” Hollman, Seattle photographer, pin-up model and cosplayer, is featured on the blog and forthcoming book “The Unicorn Files.” The project features girl geeks. (Photo by Nate Watters for The Unicorn Files.)

Terra Clarke Olsen, the community manager for a mobile gaming company and founder of a lady geek blog Have You Nerd?, is fed up with the anti-geek girl sentiments that are prevalent online. She is fighting fire with fire — with a popular Tumblr blog dedicated to showing that female geeks do exist and a Kickstarter campaign to turn the women’s stories and photos into a book.

“I got the idea for this project because about two years ago there was this whole ‘fake geek girl’ thing  going around the Internet where people were claiming that geek girls weren’t real,” she said.

She partnered with photographer Nate Watters to create The Unicorn Files. With the Kickstarter, they hope to publish a series of regional books featuring women who are self-proclaimed geeks.

Full disclosure: after I interviewed Olsen, she interviewed me for her blog when she discovered that I also write for the website Black Girl Nerds. You’ll see a quote from her interview of me on the Kickstarter site, and I may appear in her book.

Olsen is a history and comic book geek who cites Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien and the movie series Star Wars as her favorite fandoms. “I grew up in a really geeky family so I never realized that women weren’t geeks. It would have been considered weird in my family if I didn’t like video games,” Olsen says.

While this was the family norm, when she hit high school she realized being a geek wasn’t cool. “I hid the fact that I liked D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and Magic the Gathering because it wasn’t cool. I was already an awkward and weird kid to begin with,” she said.

Despite her geeky roots she often encounters male counterparts who question her credibility. The title “The Unicorn Files” comes from a backhanded compliment. A male geek called Olsen a unicorn after finding out she liked Magic the Gathering and could quote Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

“I’ve gotten really good at bitch face,” she explained, describing how she usually handles the accusation that she is a “fake” geek girl. A recent accusation came as she watched a documentary about arcade games at SIFF. Olsen and her brother have a dream of buying their own arcade game to play at home, so she spent years researching them. “During the middle of Q&A with the director the guy behind me taps my shoulder and says ‘Do you even like games?’” The guy continued to harass her until she left the theater.

“It was so awkward and I was just so mad at myself for not getting confrontational. Those kind of things happen all the time, the ‘Do you even…?’ moments. I really don’t appreciate the geek cred card,” said Olsen. “It just makes me upset when I see the gatekeepers trying to preserve whatever it is they are trying to preserve.

Many of the women featured have had similar experiences with patriarchal geek culture. These experiences aren’t limited to individual encounters, but are also inherent in how geekiness is marketed. “There are multiple levels to it,” said Olsen. “The execs at these big companies are ignoring that there is this whole female fan base. We’re here and we’re part of the market.”

From Sydney to Seattle, geek women around the world recently participated in a Black Widow Flashmob led by blogger Kristin Reilly. Cosplayers dressed as the character Agent Natasha Romanoff (aka the Black Widow from the Marvel Comics universe). They used the Twitter hashtag #wewantwidow to let the creator of the Avengers know that there is an audience a geek women ready for the ass-kicking heroine to have her own movie.

I really am hoping to inspire other girls and women to feel more comfortable in their own skin as far as what it means to be a geek. I feel like a lot of times women will apologize for not fitting the mold appropriately. But I am hoping to show that there is no mold,” Olsen said.

So far the Tumblr has featured 34 women from the Pacific Northwest including comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, pop culture historian Jennifer K. Stuller, geeky hostess Tara Theohsari, comedian Elicia Sanchez , and local writer and columnist Monica Guzman, to name a few.

“It’s important and awesome that people are speaking out.” Olsen, also a writer for the Seattle Weekly has made a practice of speaking out, but not without controversy. There were over 500 comments on her recent Seattle Weekly article “Son of a Geek.” Many of the commenters took part in a vitriolic battle of the sexes that I haven’t seen since elementary school.

“It’s really a project to try to reach out to people in the community at large to show that these women exist. We don’t all like comic books or video games and we might not all be 18 years old, but we’re out here,” Olsen said.

Editor’s note: this story was updated after getting clarification from Olsen whether Reagan Jackson might appear in her book or her Tumblr blog.