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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Geek Culture and Inclusivity

December16

I’m female, fairly geeky, and in my (early) 30s. Like a lot of geeky women my age, most of my friends are male. This isn’t because men are more awesome than women, or because I’m uncomfortable around women. It’s because for people my age, nerdy geeky interests were more heavily discouraged in women than in men, so when I found people who were, say, really into Star Wars and science fiction and role playing games, they skewed heavily toward the male. Thanks to the internet (I LOVE YOU INTERNET) I now have a lot more ladygeek friends and oh my GOSH, ladies, I love you so much. But this is because I can easily chat with people in different states and countries. If I want a face to face get together, most of my friends are still dudes. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Dudes are pretty rockin! I love my friends a lot. But, unlikes a lot of older female geeks, I’m very lucky. My guy friends are pretty feminist and don’t treat me like crap.

That’s sad, isn’t it? I’m LUCKY that my friends TREAT ME LIKE A HUMAN BEING. Isn’t that sick and gross? But for a lot of female geeks, that’s just how life is. Geek demographics are changing and more women are joining the club. But the social hierarchy is still heavily male, and young female geeks face a hell of a lot of prejudice and discrimination and outright hate (hdu invade our boysclub with your tits and opinions! Go make a sandwich!) even while there are more of them. Will their greater numbers turn the tide? Will some measure of equality be achieved? Or will young geeky girls just get turned off by the geek macho posturing and turn their interests elsewhere? No idea.

But there is a reason that the face of geekdom is overwhelmingly male (and white and able bodied).

I’m not saying that every geeky/nerdy guy is a misogynist or a dickhole or evil. I’m just saying that we all live in a culture that privileges (white, straight, able bodied) men over everyone else and subcultures by and large reflect that.

So what’s a guy to do in a subculture that contains The Open Source Boob Project, Big Name Authors Sexually Assaulting Women, Developers not understanding (caring?) just how very real Rape Threats and Violence Against Women are, the overwhelming majority of published authors being white and male, industry editors and publishers sexually harassing (female) employees and potential authors, enough incidents of sexual harassment/casual misogyny that a wiki is needed to keep them all straight, and more? I mean, this is just stuff I found in like 5 minutes of google searching/remembered personally. And this doesn’t touch on racism, ablism, homophobia, or the million other ways predominantly straight white able bodied dudes actively and passively (whether meaning to or not) make it clear that other people aren’t welcome in their social group.

I have male friends who’ve asked just that question. A lot of them have leadership roles in their friend groups. They run games, they’re the ones who have the house everyone visits, they’re the ones who organize movie outings, etc. Most social groups have at least one person like that. So they’re poised to help guide and shape social mores or at the very least speak up when someone’s out of line.

Here’s a post on the effects of making rape jokes or dismissing rape/assault allegations. It’s a good starting point. You can apply those points to any sexist commentary or “jokes.” 1 in 6 women has been raped or assaulted, according to statistics. Almost every woman I know has been raped or assaulted. When people in your social group use “rape” to mean “killed” or “cheated” or “beat me at something” or “stole” or “unfair,” the women in your group hear that you consider a relatively major crime that mostly happens to other people (women) on par with relatively minor inconveniences in your own life. Some women are cool with this but a lot of women aren’t, and unless you know that woman well you won’t know where she falls on the spectrum. 1 in 12 women will be stalked in their lifetime and 25% of women (1 in 4) report being physically assaulted or raped by a domestic partner, which makes jokes about beating your girlfriend/a female NPC kind of tasteless. (And FYI, 1 in 33 men are raped per year. I know two guys who have been the recipients of domestic assault, one who was in a homosexual relationship and one who was in a heterosexual relationship. Male reporting rates of domestic violence are really, really low and a society that mocks and belittles men who are the recipients of violence/have been raped is part of that. If you care about your friends, don’t make them feel bad because someone acted violently towards them. Men, especially, are less likely to talk about having been raped or beaten, so you’re really unlikely to know if one of your male friends has experienced this.)

So purging rape and abuse jokes is a good start.

The next step is purging unwanted attention. Ladies! They are pretty awesome, right? They smell good and have nice hair and they have tits and everything. Wow! How great are ladies? Here is a clue: while many ladies enjoy flirting and being sexy on their own terms, ladies were not put on earth for you to claim as your very own. Which means don’t flirt with a woman who doesn’t seem interested, don’t “hit on” a woman who is anything less than encouraging/enthusiastic, don’t stare at a woman’s body parts or tell her/tell other people how hot she is. If you are a straight dude, think about how a gay dude might act around you. Would he corner you and talk about how great your ass is and how you should totally get together and not give up that line of thought ever? Probably not. If he did, how would you feel? Kind of gross and used? Frustrated? Bored? Threatened? A little flattered but uninterested? Part of why gay dudes don’t do this in mixed company is because it’s considered incredibly socially wrong, but it’s somehow totally ok for straight dudes to do this to (presumably) straight ladies. Why is that? Because straight dudes have power and control that gay dudes and ladies do not have. Don’t do that. It’s really gross and off putting and a lady who had to deal with that in social setting will eventually find a new social setting. Perhaps that social setting will consist of non-geeky people. Perhaps it will consist of people on IRC. Perhaps it will consist of a group of totally awesome geeks that she will never invite you to join because ew, you have terrible manners. WHO CAN SAY.

If you see someone harassing a woman– commenting on her, staring at her, flirting aggressively with her even though she’s tried to turn him down, cornering her, dominating the conversation, step in. On the one hand, women don’t need to be “saved” by men. On the other hand, women are often taught to be “nice” and to avoid confrontation (and you seriously never know when a woman’s tried to turn aside a dude who’s flirting with her and it escalated to violence and so she learned not to escalate or take a stand because she likes having her face bones unbroken). So step in. Go over there. Ask the woman if everything’s ok. Distract the guy. Don’t go in with the idea of saving her– or of claiming her as your own! God no!– go in with an offer of help that she may or may accept.

So that’s another pretty basic socializing thing. What’s a more sophisticated one?

Consume– and discuss– media by and featuring women. I have actually heard actual men who I thought were intelligent up until they said this thing, say that they don’t read books by or about women because they are not worth reading. Oh HO! Apparently women, the gender stereotypically known as the communicative/chatty/talkative gender can’t write books. OH NO THAT IS FOR MEN TO DO. Also: women are just not that interesting! Yes, yes. That’s right. The gender that makes up literally half the population of this earth, the gender that men are told they want to spend their sexy lives with, is not interesting and has nothing important/fun to say. OH WOW THAT IS NOT SEXIST AT ALL. When you say that you don’t read books, watch movies, listen to music, etc when they are by or feature women because they are inherently bad for featuring women, you are saying that women are inherently bad and there’s no reason to talk to them or be around them ever. Which, ok, if you really believe that, please say it loudly enough and often enough that everyone who thinks otherwise can easily pick up on that and start avoiding you. But if you think women are actual human beings whose thoughts and words are worth something, consume media by women and featuring women. Discuss that media. Talk about it with your friends. Review it online. And while you’re talking about books and movies and stuff, talk about the problematic stuff. Like female characters who do nothing but get rescued or give the (male) hero sexual relief or who are killed off quickly so the hero has something to avenge. Or how often rape is the sole defining character trait of a female character.

When someone in your social group makes jokes about rape or makes jokes about how women are stupid or unfunny or whatever, shut him down. Tell him it isn’t funny. Don’t put up with that shit. It’s really easy to sit back in silence and let one person bloviate about how women are inferior or they just can’t do math or drive or they need to make more sandwiches while giving him head. But your silence tacitly supports his sexist/misogynist comments. When you don’t say you disagree, he assumes you agree with him, and everyone else assumes that everyone in the social set holds the same views. Be prepared for backlash, for being called PC or “overly” PC, for being called “butthurt” or “a girl” or “a pussy” (NOTE: the worse thing you can call someone is a feminine designation. SEXIST? NOT AT ALL.). This is pretty much nothing compared to the backlash women get when they point out sexism, which generally starts out with allegations that the woman is “overly sensitive,” “lacking a sense of humor,” “hysterical,” or the like and often ramps up into threats. Why is asking someone not to make comments/jokes that make you feel uncomfortable or safe such a big deal? Because there is power and status in being able to unquestionably put other people in their place. Being called on that is an erosion of power and status,and some people take it as a personal attack. What fun!

If someone in your group consistently makes sexist comments and jokes and acts inappropriately despite interventions, ask them to leave. Stop inviting them to things. Tell them why. If a friend came to your house and was cruel to your dog or urinated in the sink every time he used the bathroom or constantly insulted your dad’s political views/appearance/whatever you’d step in and say something. If they kept doing it, would you keep them around? Probably not, yet people are very willing to sit back and tacitly encourage folks in hateful and harmful behavior toward women.

Remember that the goal of this is not to treat women as “special” or “put them on pedestals.” It’s to treat them with respect and consideration. It’s to leave them feeling welcomed and safe and part of the group, not like an outsider being allowed in and granted a small measure of acceptance which can be revoked at any moment if she doesn’t behave appropriately (laugh at the jokes, endure the tit-staring, tidy up after get-togethers, etc). For some reason, a lot of people think that “not verbally berating someone” means “condescendingly treating someone like a special princess on a pedestal.” If there’s someone like that in your social group, dump them. They’re toxic.

Women have been geeks and nerds all throughout history, and for big chunks of history have been denied, stifled, excluded, or not given credit. We are in the 21st century and it’s time for women to stop being excluded from society and instead welcomed. Do your part.

(a lot of this can be applied to racism, homophobia, ablism, cisexism, etc but I’m taking a lot of my responses and advice from what I know personally, so have focused mainly on sexism. Yes, my privilege is showing. Please feel free to comment on that, as well as offer other advice on this topic.)

(edited to change some mildly problematic wording)

2 Comments to

“Geek Culture and Inclusivity”

  1. On December 16th, 2010 at 5:09 pm Cassandra Says:

    Loved this, love you and couldn’t agree more!

  2. On December 17th, 2010 at 1:04 am Brigid Says:

    @Cassandra

    Thank you so much!

    Your art is really terrific. :D