With over 1 million views since it was first posted, the video has received praise for acknowledging and celebrating female fandom, and criticism for catering to male fantasy in its depiction of women.
When it came to those moments, Grant noted, “That’s where we’re getting a lot of negative feedback from, is actually those particular American Beauty shots, which we don’t really understand. We don’t really understand why it’s bad to be sexy. We are who we are and we happen to love all of those things. I think that if we were different shapes and sizes, we probably would have done the exact same set up, and maybe people wouldn’t be giving us such a hard time. We weren’t trying to alienate any female gamers out there who don’t physically match our descriptions. We were actually trying to be inclusive. When we first started talking about the video, the most major point of discussion that we had was doing our best to not alienate any females whatsoever. We were actually really surprised by the negative reaction from that, because after all, we’re showing as much skin as any girl would show in a bikini.”
On the one hand, I think part of this video is a really cheeky cute celebration of female geeks and fandom. The lyrics are playful, and I appreciate seeing women enjoying spending time together.
On the other, I find the visual reference to American Beauty problematic.
What purpose does a naked woman lying flat on her back – - in a reference to Lolita – -serve? Who are these images meant to appeal to? However they want to define beauty and sensuality geek women have the right to be sexy, or hot, or gorgeous, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But how are these particular images empowering to women (assuming that was the intention)? One of the questions Team Unicorn asks in response to criticism is “we don’t understand why it’s bad to be sexy” – - but that’s not really the issue. It’s how they’re choosing to be sexy. One can claim they are being sexy for themselves, but in actuality they are deriving pleasure from being sexy for male attention. That’s fine, but let’s call it what is.
Personally, I don’t really see how images like these can be beneficial to women, help geek girls be taken seriously, or encourage culture industries to depict our fictional characters as multi-dimensional. If geek girls, especially prominent geek girls, are willing to show themselves as objects of male fantasy, why would male-dominated industries such as comics, film, or even television, bother to represent women as anything else? I’m not advocating that any woman should depict themselves as “sexless,” and any one piece of work or celebration of geek girl culture can’t possibly represent every one of us, but I’d hope that as culture-makers we’d give more critical thought to the images we ourselves are producing.
Additionally, I’m concerned that some are framing this discussion as a war of “hot” geek girls against “other” geek girls. That’s not the issue either. There are plenty of hot geek/nerd/fan women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages, and preferences who appeal to different desires and who wouldn’t feel that showing off their body or using their sexuality was an appropriate or productive way to promote their tastes. But pitting geek girls against one another further marginalizes us as women, as audiences and as a market.
I’m also concerned by comments that the women of Team Unicorn are too hot to actually be geeks, as well as those that cheer the idea that “hot” geek girls are being represented (with suggestions that we’re “not all fat, ugly, basement dwellers” – - as if we not only have to prove our geek cred but our sexuality too). Both of these positions are sexist.
Kat Hill, aka The Action Flick Chick, has compiled a round-up of responses to the video from the web that I recommend reviewing and I applaud her for facilitating this conversation. Hill also interviewed Team Unicorn about the video.
For more on gender and media literacy I’m currently reading and recommending Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas and Maiden USA: Girl Icons Come of Age by Kathleen Sweeney.