Is it time to stop pretending ‘Team Unicorn’ is about Girl Power?
If you aren’t familiar with them, Team Unicorn is a multi-media group of geeky ladies that started back in 2010. The core group currently consists of Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, Alison Haislip, and Milynn Sarley, and these women know their nerd culture. From video games to comic books to Star Wars, there is no question they are serious, genuine fans of all things geek.
With their mission statement to this day being "Like Unicorns, geek girls were not supposed to exist,” you'd think they would be the standard bearers for equality in the geek-gamer sphere. That they would be a safe space for women to fangirl out without the ever-present
Eye of Sauron male gaze. Especially with quotes like, "There are still little girls I know that are going to school and getting teased because they like Star Wars. We really just wanted to create a positive image…this club is for everybody."
But is tacitly saying it’s okay for geek girls to exist, only so long as they are acceptably ‘hot,’ any better than ostracizing them?
That is the question that plagues me every time they put out a new music video. On the one hand, more women in a geeky space, yay! But on the other hand, something always seems…off. For example, take their latest foray with “All About That Base: No Rebels” which is a parody of Meghan Trainor’s hit song.
Who is this video for? Certainly not for ladies. There’s not a lot of “empowerment” in dressing up as Sexy Fetish Vader and/or an Empire Cheerleader. In their current form, Team Unicorn just looks like a remnant of the time when the fantasy of “hot gamer girls” were a commodity to sell to dudes. A time when liking games made you “not like the other girls.” A proto-Cool Girl, the definition of which is to “act like a dude, but look like a supermodel.”
The Internet has come a long way in the four years since Team Unicorn’s inception. What was considered cutting edge material at the time — hot girls like geeky things — doesn’t really hold up in the era of statistics like 52% of gamers are women. Hell, even if you want to get pedantic about what constitutes as a “game,” then 38% of XBOX users are women. When it comes to comic books, market research holds up that nearly 47% of the reader base is female. Any way you slice it, the idea that a chick who likes video games and comic books is a “Unicorn” has quickly become an archaic idea.
But to cut this off at the pass. No, I don’t think the women of Team Unicorn are “Fake Gamer/Geek Girls.” I reject that entire concept outright. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with dressing up and looking sexy! But there IS something wrong when your entire schtick revolves around looking like a geeky wet dream, specifically to appeal to teen boys, and then passing it off as empowerment. Intentions aside, videos like these perpetuate a stereotype that hot girls obviously only play games to get male attention.
If you want to see a good example of how to balance “Let’s dress up and be sexy” without crossing over into straight-male cheesecake, check out Felicia Day. Her “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar” has all the tongue-in-cheek sauciness you can ask for without diminishing the women to glorified objects.
There is definitely a market for Team Unicorn, but positioning them as “Girl Power” sends the same tired message to geeky women we’ve been hearing for years: "Tits or GTFO."